Blowout preventers – the last line of defense isn't much of one

Oil rig
flickr photo by sjorford

So after nearly a year, we have an answer to the question that has baffled so many who have studied the BP oil disaster: Why did the blowout preventer – the piece of equipment that the oil industry claims is THE THING that will absolutely stop gushers no matter what- fail?

Turns out that the force of the oil and gas coming from the ocean floor was simply too much for the equipment. Joel Achenbach of The Washington Post explains:

[T]he violent surge of oil and gas up the well — caused the drillpipe to buckle and move slightly off center. That fouled the operation of the blind shear rams, the blades designed to close on the drillpipe and shut in the well.

Wow. Simple as that. The piece of machinery that the oil industry has represented as the fail-safe, foolproof backup system when all else fails, is pretty fallible.

“Blowout preventer is a misnomer,” said an engineer who assisted in the probe and who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the investigation. “People have been thinking of this as a fail-safe device, and it’s more of an operating device.”

Said Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.):

This report calls into question whether oil industry claims about the effectiveness of blowout preventers are just a bunch of hot air.

Meanwhile, this week, the Obama administration granted a fourth permit for deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf.