A draft of Staff Working Paper #6 by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling was released a few days ago. The document is titled, Stopping the Spill: The Five-Month Effort To Kill the Macondo Well (39 pgs).

The study begins with the following disclaimer:

Staff Working Papers are written by the staff of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling for the use of members of the Commission. They are preliminary, subject to change, and do not necessarily reflect the views either of the Commission as a whole or of any of its members. In addition, they may be based in part on confidential interviews with government and non-government personnel.

The Working Paper provides a concise, clear chronology of the various efforts which were taken (and not taken) to kill the Macondo well. More importantly, it affords an intriguing view of the inner workings of the teams of analysts who eventually came together to make critical decisions. Furthermore, the Paper is direct in its conclusions and recommendations.

The National Commission authors waste no time in highlighting their conclusions:

The containment story thus contains two parallel threads. First, on April 20, the oil and gas industry was unprepared to respond to a deepwater blowout, and the federal government was similarly unprepared to provide meaningful supervision. Second, in a compressed timeframe, BP was able to design, build, and use new containment technologies, while the federal government was able to develop effective oversight capacity. Those impressive efforts, however, were made necessary by the failure to anticipate a subsea blowout in the first place. Both industry and government must build on knowledge acquired during the Deepwater Horizon spill to ensure that such a failure of planning does not recur
(p. 1).

One of the more significant episodes described in the Paper occurred on the night of May 28th when the government team asserted itself:

Immediately following the top kill, BP teams in Houston met throughout the night of May 28 to assess the operation.151 Some meetings occurred behind closed doors, without government participation. At one point, Lars Herbst of MMS and Coast Guard Admiral Kevin Cook… entered a meeting and stated that they had a right to be present.152 Apparently, government officials had not previously insisted on joining these types of meetings, and BP personnel were surprised by the interruption. Asserting the right to be present for BP’s top kill analysis was a turning point for the government team
(p. 19).

The Paper concludes by offering six “lessons for Commissioner consideration” (p. 37). Several of these lessons (as well as many other points which are raised in the Paper) are highly relevant to the discussion and impending decisions regarding Arctic drilling.

As stated above, we must indeed ensure that such a “failure of planning” does not occur again.

Stopping the Spill is available here: