CSB agrees to investigate the root cause of the BP Deepwater disaster

The chairman of the Chemical Safety Board (CSB), John Bresland, has formally announced his organisation’s investigation into the BP/Deepwater oil rig disaster.  The experience and professionalism of the CSB is evident in correspondence to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce where the scope is defined and additional resources anticipated.

The letter identifies those current investigations that may need wrapping up quickly so that resources can be diverted to the BP/Deepwater investigation.  This honesty has the advantage of reinforcing that the CSB  is begin called on to undertake tasks beyond its resource allocation and is clearly an opening pitch for the next funding season, as a chairman should do.

Bresland writes:

“…the investigation should include an examination of key technical factors, the safety cultures involved, and the effectiveness of relevant laws, regulations, and industry standards.”

He acknowledges that the previous CSB investigation into the BP Texas City refinery explosion has provided a unique  insight for CSB into BP’s safety processes and culture but realises that the CSB investigation should not be perceived as an excuse to bash BP.  Bresland stresses that the new investigation will be independent but may draw on the Texas City refinery findings as one would any other similar incident.

The CSB will also only investigate through to the explosion and its immediate aftermath.  As such the ecological impacts and remediation will not be part of the investigation.

CSB investigations are often very technical as they primarily deal with process safety but when other issues such as management decisions affect the process-related decisions, they are considered.  This approach is likely to mean that the general media will be less interested in the investigation process compared with any interim or final reports.  There will be few if any images of oil-soaked wildlife in the CSB reports.

For those readers outside of the United States who are not aware of the level of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the image below released recently by the World Resources Institute provides an indication of the risk context of the BP/Deepwater failure and how important any process safety findings may be to the region.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

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