As our maritime lawyers have previously discussed on our blog about blowout preventers, the blowout preventer used in the Deepwater Horizon BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was thought to be a cause of the oil rig explosion last month.  Now, congressional investigators have confirmed the blowout preventor had a hydraulic leak and other problems that likely prevented it from working as designed.

The Congressional investigation found that BP had documents indicating confusion over whether poor pipe integrity was allowing methane gas to leak into the well just hours before the explosion that killed 11 workers and blew the well open.

BP informed the House Energy and Commerce Committee that at some point when the well was being closed with cement an influx of methane entered the wellhead, indicating that cementing the well had not produced needed pipe integrity.

In the hearings related to the April 20 oil well explosion that unleashed a massive Gulf Coast oil spill, it has become clear that there were problems with the blowout preventers before the accident and confusion almost right up to the time of the explosion over the success of the cementing process.  The committee said that there were at least “four significant problems with the blowout preventer” used on the Deepwater Horizon drill rig.

BP confirmed in documents that a leak had been found in the hydraulic system that provides emergency power to a part of the blowout preventer.  When a remote underwater vehicle injected dye into the blowout preventer, a loss of hydraulic pressure was detected, and a large leak coming from a loose fitting was found.  Representatives of Cameron Inc., the manufacturer of the blowout preventor, told the committee the leak was not believed to have been caused by the blowout because other fittings in the system were tight. BP also confirmed that the blowout preventer had been modified so that one of its ram drivers could be used for routine testing and was no longer designed to activate in an emergency.

The blowout prevention device is supposed to be the ultimate safeguard against an oil well blowout by clamping down and sealing a gushing oil well.  But in the case of the Deepwater Horizon, that safeguard failed not only the rig, but its crew, their families and the entire Gulf Coast Region which is now suffering the dramatic effects of what may be the worst oil spill in our history.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hear from BP, Transocean Ltd, Halliburton, which conducted the cementing on the BP rig, and Cameron Inc., all of whom are potential Defendants in the pending litigation for personal injuries and wrongful death.