Casey Goodwin" />
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Monday, October 2, 2023

Columns

BP did not learn from its mistakes


Three months, 13 human lives, millions of barrels of oil, one public relations disaster and immeasurable environmental damage later, BP shows no signs of having learned its lesson. As a business, BP’s first priority has always been making money, and its behavior this weekend clearly demonstrated that it still views other issues with financial motivation as the top priority.

On Thursday, BP began testing its latest attempt to stop the flow of oil that has been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico since April 20. The 48-hour integrity test was designed to determine whether a new cap on the wellhead could entirely contain the leak.

The test appeared to be successful, with no signs of any leakage from the wellhead. For the first time since April there was no oil flowing into the Gulf. In fact, the test was so successful that the US government allowed BP a 24-hour extension to continue testing the new cap. By Sunday, when the 72-hour mark passed, BP continued allowing the cap to hold, despite a lack of government approval.

At that time, BP was aware of the chance that the pressure from the working cap would cause oil to leak out from other portions of the pipe. Since the first hours of the test, pressure measured on the cap was significantly lower than anticipated, something BP credited to the fact that the well was drying up. However, there was also a chance that this unexpectedly low pressure is the result of oil leaking out of other portions of the well. If this were the case, the resulting leak would be much more difficult to contain until the relief wells are finally completed.

On Sunday, the Associated Press released that a seep had indeed been located near the site of the oil spill. Not enough information was available at the time to determine whether the seep contains hydrocarbons, but if it does, the oil leak will become that much more difficult to control.

BP’s decision to keep the cap on was one doubtlessly influenced by the company’s desires to profit, which is heavily tied to its public appearance. BP stock prices shot up at the end of last week as investors received news of the cap’s success, but the prices are still significantly lower than they had been before the disaster. If BP unplugs the well and allows the leak to resume flowing the way it had been, the company will fall even more in public opinion.

However, what the company seems to ignore is that by catering to their own financial interests they are putting other things at great risk. By keeping the well plugged, they are increasing the pressure build up and the chances of an oil leak in the sea floor. If such a leak occurs, there will not be any way to stop it until after the relief wells are completed, potentially allowing much more oil into the Gulf than allowing the well to stay partially open for a few more days until more is known.

Casey Goodwin is a mechanical engineering freshman and can be reached at [email protected]


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