The American owners of the drilling rig at the centre of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been involved in nearly three-quarters of all significant safety incidents on rigs in the region since 2008, according to new figures.
Transocean, the world’s largest rig operator, has so far avoided much of the fall-out from the environmental disaster heaped on BP by President Obama and members of Congress following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
But an analysis of government data reveals it has a highly questionable safety record.
Over the past five years, the US government has investigated four fires aboard deep-water rigs – all operated by Transocean. British regulators have also issued a warning over a Transocean rig in the North Sea because of worries over a key safety device, the blowout preventer.
Investigators believe April’s explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig – which caused the death of 11 workers and the growing oil slick in the Gulf – was caused by the failure either of a seal meant to keep oil and gas from escaping from a well or by the blowout preventer, which is designed to close off the well in an emergency.
The company recently relocated its HQ to Switzerland, which has a more favourable tax regime for multi-national companies.
It has so far proved far more adept than BP at handling the intricacies of US politics, and last month hired an influential lobbyist and former politician to represent its interests in Washington.
He is ex-Democratic Congressman Bill Brewster of Oklahoma, who remains a powerful figure in Washington among politicians linked to the oil industry.
He is also a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative Democrat Congressmen from the southern states whose support Mr Obama desperately needs in the face of difficult mid-term elections later this year which could see many of his party’s Congressmen unseated.
Questions are certain to be raised when the oil firms involved with the spill are grilled in Congressional hearings starting this weekend.
Records show Transocean has had trouble in the past with both cement seals and blowout preventers.
In 2006, a blowout preventer failed at least in part because of maintenance issues and in 2005 an oil well leaked drilling fluid because of problems with a cement seal.
All executive bonuses at the company were dropped last year after four workers died aboard rigs in separate incidents.
Some industry experts say that Transocean’s reputation slipped after it bought out rival GlobalSantaFe in a £10 billion deal three years ago.
Company rigs were involved in 13 of 39 incidents investigated by the US government’s Minerals Management Service from 2005 to 2007 – 33 per cent of the incidents at a time when it had 30 per cent of the total number of rigs working in the Gulf of Mexico.
However, since the merger with GlobalSantaFe, Transocean has been involved in 24 of the 33 incidents investigated, 73 per cent of the incidents at a time when it had fewer than 50 per cent of the rigs operating in the Gulf.
It came under the scrutiny of the UK Health and Safety Executive in 2006, which issued it with an improvement notice criticising the testing of a blow-out preventer.
A Transocean official said: ‘Safety is the number one priority at Transocean and there is no scenario or circumstance under which it will be compromised.’
It was also pointed out that Transocean’s 2009 safety record, as measured by injuries per hour worked, was better than the overall industry average.
Transocean hired Mr Brewster to help improve its image with the Democrat-controlled Congress last month.
In 1994, Mr Brewster – a major figure in the fight against gun control – formed a caucus of politicians from oil-producing states called the Congressional Oil and Gas Forum and served as its first chairman.
He was also a founding member of the Blue Dogs, so named because it was said they were so loyal to the party they would vote for a blue dog if it were a Democrat.
Last night it emerged that when BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanverg meets Mr Obama this week he will effectively hand control of its dividend policy to the President.
Mr Obama fears BP cannot pay its shareholders and meet the costs of the clean-up at the same time.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1286197/Oil-spill-How-Blue-Dog-Boys-kept-Obama-s-boot-neck-BP-s-US-partner.html#ixzz140LlSDPn
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