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BP oil spill report signals need to improve monitoring systems

Early warning systems used to alert workers of problems were not good enough.

A sneak preview of a major report into the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has revealed that early warning systems used to alert workers of problems were not good enough.

The systems used to monitor the Macondo well, which are used across the industry, were too reliant on the right member of staff looking at them at the right time and being able to surmise the significance of reports in the face of a heavy workload.

The full report on the BP well blowout investigation, carried out by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling on President Barack Obama's orders, will be published next week (January 11).

But Chapter 4 has been published in advance. See it here.

The report talks about two systems used for collecting band displaying real-time data which alerts workers to potential problems. Theses systems enable staff to monitor systems from anywhere via an internet connection.

But the chapter says that systems used for monitoring wells need to be better.

"In the future, the instrumentation and displays used for well monitoring must be improved. There is no apparent reason why more sophisticated, automated alarms and algorithms cannot be built into the display system to alert the driller and mudlogger when anomalies arise," said the report. It added that the workers monitoring systems are in front of screens for 12 hours at a time.

"In light of the potential consequences, it is no longer acceptable to rely on a system that requires the right person to be looking at the right data at the right time, and then to understand its significance in spite of simultaneous activities and other monitoring responsibilities."

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