A survey of workers who served on BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig shows that many of them felt safety policies were not being adhered to and feared reprisals if management learned of their concerns.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the survey reveals that workers "often saw unsafe behaviors on the rig" and complained about unreliable equipment "which they believed was as a result of drilling priorities taking precedence over planned maintenance."
"At nine years old, Deepwater Horizon has never been in dry dock," one worker complained. "We can only work around so much."
The survey was commissioned by Transocean, which owned the rig and leased it to BP. It concluded that the rig was "relatively strong in many of the core aspects of safety management" and that workers "felt they could raise safety concerns ... if this was within the immediate control of the rig."
But raising issues that would have to be dealt with by company management in Houston was seen as risking reprisal. "The company is always using fear tactics," one worker complained. "All these games and your mind gets tired."
This is not the first time that Transocean's safety procedures have come into question. In May, the Wall Street Journal noted that "nearly three of every four incidents that triggered federal investigations into safety and other problems on deepwater drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico since 2008 have been on rigs operated by Transocean. ... In addition, an industry survey of oil companies that hired Transocean perceived a drop in its quality and performance, including safety by some measures, compared with its peers."
According to the Times, investigators who visited the Deepwater Horizon in March, not long before the blowout, noted "a high degree of focus and activity relating to well control issues," as well as the presence of specialists about the rig to deal with these problems.
A former Deepwater Horizon worker told the BBC last month that he had identified a leak in one of the blowout preventer's control pods just weeks before the explosion. Transocean did not repair the device but relied on a backup instead.
"We saw a leak on the pod, so by seeing the leak we informed the company men," Tyrone Benton explained. "They have a control room where they could turn off that pod and turn on the other one, so that they don't have to stop production."
A petroleum expert contacted by the BBC called the failure to fix the faulty pod "unacceptable."
A separate assessment of equipment, commissioned by Transocean and obtained by the Times, "cited at least 26 components and systems on the rig that were in 'bad' or 'poor' condition" and indicated that many crucial components had not been inspected since 2000.
A Transocean spokesperson, however, told the Times that most of those components were minor and asserted that "all elements of the blowout preventer had been inspected within the required time frame by its original manufacturer." He also noted that the rig had operated for seven years without major incident.