In the Gulf of Mexico, what went wrong
with the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig?

Bruce Bullock, director of SMU's Maguire Energy Institute, provided expertise for a story on what went wrong in the Gulf of Mexico that led to the current oil gusher problem.

By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer

Deepwater Horizon was true to its name. The giant drilling rig, floating on submerged pontoons, set up shop 42 miles from land in the Gulf of Mexico. It was an award-winning rig that epitomized the technological hubris of the oil industry, successfully chasing the hydrocarbons far beyond the continental shelf in what can accurately be termed the abyss.

The drilling of Mississippi Canyon Block 252 this spring looked like an unqualified success. The rig struck oil and gas beneath 5,000 feet of water and 13,000 feet of rock. Executives of BP planned to make a splashy announcement. The Macondo field, as they called it, held 50 million to 100 million barrels of crude.

Then came the blowout. The gulf is now witnessing a slow-motion disaster, one that looked even grimmer Saturday with the bulletin that the containment dome that had been lowered onto the worst of the oil leaks has been sidelined by technical problems.

No one is sure what exactly happened on the night of April 20 to trigger this crisis. Critical pieces of evidence, including the immolated rig itself, sit under nearly a mile of water on the mud floor of the gulf.

What's certain is that more than one thing had to go wrong. Some failure of well control permitted a bubble of gas to surge to the surface, where it ignited and turned Deepwater Horizon into a Roman candle in the night. Moreover, the fail-safe mechanism known as the blowout preventer, a massive stack of valves and pistons that is the most critical hardware in the system, failed to choke the well. . .

An oddity of the disaster was the timing. What puzzles industry experts is that the most hazardous part of the operation, the initial drilling of the well, had been completed without incident. Deepwater Horizon was almost home free.

"They had the least unknowns about the well than at any other stage in drilling the well," said Bruce Bullock, director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. "They knew what the pressures were, they knew what the temperatures were, they knew what the depth was. They'd already gone through all that."

Read the full story.

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