Rig worker recalls race to trigger emergency system
HOUSTON (Reuters) - A supervisor aboard the doomed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig on Friday recounted a failed attempt to activate a fail-safe system that might have prevented BP Plc's well from unleashing oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Christopher Pleasant, subsea supervisor for rig owner Transocean Ltd, told a federal panel in Kenner, Louisiana, he activated the rig's emergency disconnect system, known as EDS, but the system lacked the hydraulic pressure to operate.
Swiss-based Transocean's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20 while it was drilling a well a mile (1.6 km) beneath the Gulf under contract for London-based BP.
The blown-out well has been spewing thousands of barrels of oil a day since the accident, causing an environmental disaster along the U.S. Gulf Coast.
After the explosion, Pleasant said he raced to the rig's bridge and attempted to activate the EDS.
The device is designed to trigger the 450-ton blowout preventer on the ocean floor to seal the well and uncouple the drilling pipe snaking from the ocean floor to the rig floating on the surface.
"I had no pressure in the system that allowed those functions to work," Pleasant said. "I had no flow -- no hydraulic flow."
Pleasant's testimony jibes with information provided to investigators with the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee by Cameron International Corp, which manufactured the blowout preventer.
According to Representative Bart Stupak, Cameron officials told committee staff that a key hydraulic system meant to supply emergency power to the blowout preventer had a "significant leak." Without hydraulic fluid, the device would be unable to close off a series of "rams" designed to seal the drill pipe shut.
As flames enveloped the rig's drill deck, Curt Kuchta, the rig's captain, initially told Pleasant not to activate the EDS, Pleasant said. Pleasant said he did it anyway.
"I said, 'I'm EDS'ing.' The captain told me, he said, 'calm down, we're not EDS'ing.'" Pleasant said. Kuchta left the bridge and Pleasant said he went immediately to an electronics panel that controls the EDS.
At the panel, Pleasant said he met Donald Vidrine, a "company man" from BP who was on the rig to oversee operations.
"I said, 'I'm getting off here,' and Don said, 'Yeah, hit the button,'" Pleasant said, referring to Vidrine, who was scheduled to testify before the panel this week but declined, citing an illness.
"Everything on the panel did what it was supposed to," Pleasant said. "After I saw that there was no hydraulics, I knew it was time to leave."
There were several ways to activate the emergency disconnect system, and BP has said that its internal investigation is focussing on why none of them worked.
The blowout preventer and the rig, which sank two days after the explosion, are still on the bottom of the ocean.
(Editing by Eric Beech)
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