Is Halliburton Responsible for the Horizon Oil Spill?
Investigators look at the company’s role in cementing the deepwater drill hole in the Gulf of Mexico. Transocean and BP also face questioning.
Investigators delving into the causes of the massive gulf oil spill are examining the role of Houston-based Halliburton Co., the giant energy services company that was responsible for cementing the deepwater drill hole, as well as the possible failure of equipment leased to British Petroleum.
Two members of Congress, Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), called on Halliburton on Friday to provide all documents relating to “the possibility or risk of an explosion or blowout at the Deepwater Horizon rig and the status, adequacy, quality, monitoring, and inspection of the cementing work” by May 7.
Halliburton Chief Executive David Lesar is scheduled to testify before Waxman’s energy and commerce committee on May 12, along with top executives Lamar McKay of BP America Inc. and Steve Newman of Transocean Ltd., which leased the drilling rig to BP.
In a statement Friday, Halliburton said: “It is premature and irresponsible to speculate on any specific causal issues.… The cement slurry design was consistent with that utilized in other similar applications… [and] tests demonstrating the integrity of the production casing string were completed.”
After an exploration well is drilled, cement slurry is pumped through a steel pipe or casing and out through a check valve at the bottom of the casing. It then travels up the outside of the pipe, sheathing the part of the pipe surrounded by the oil and gas zone. When the cement hardens, it is supposed to prevent oil or gas from leaking into adjacent zones along the pipe.
As the cement sets, the check valve at the end of the casing prevents any material from flowing back up the pipe. The zone is thus isolated until the company is ready to start production.
The process is tricky. A 2007 study by the U.S. Minerals Management Service found that cementing was the single most-important factor in 18 of 39 well blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico over a 14-year period.
Halliburton has been accused of performing a poor cement job in the case of a major blowout in the Timor Sea off Australia last August. An investigation is underway.
In its statement, the company said: “Halliburton originated oilfield cementing and leads the world in effective, efficient delivery of zonal isolation and engineering for the life of the well, conducting thousands of successful well-cementing jobs each year.”