Whistleblower seeking to force shutdown of BP Atlantis oil rig, another potential Gulf disaster

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Kenneth Abbott, a whistleblower from BP Atlantis, another Gulf of Mexico deepwater oil drilling rig, has been trying to expose critical safety lapses for years, but his efforts seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Food & Water Watch joined Abbott in filing a lawsuit in May seeking to force the federal government to shut down BP Atlantis until its safety is assured. They say this rig could turn into an even worse disaster than the Deepwater Horizon.

The Government Accountability Project’s whistleblower TV program “Whistle Where You Work” interviewed Wenonah Hauter of Food & Water Watch:

CNN covered this story on June 2 here.

Kate Sheppard covered the story well in Mother Jones June 4:

The Next Deepwater Horizon  (excerpt)

Obama halted new offshore drilling, but allowed existing production to continue—including another BP Gulf rig flying numerous red flags.

… The administration is allowing deepwater drilling operations already in production in the Gulf to continue—including some that may pose a greater risk than the Deepwater Horizon. Exhibit A: BP’s other major Gulf operation, the Atlantis, which sits 124 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Kenneth Abbott, a project control supervisor BP contracted to work on the Atlantis, and the environmental group Food & Water Watch filed suit against the federal government on May 17 seeking a temporary injunction to force the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to shut down the platform. Abbott claims that his contract was terminated shortly after he alerted management to the rig’s lack of crucial engineering documents in late 2008.

According to Abbott, the BP Atlantis lacks more than 6,000 documents that are key to operating the rig safely. Abbott has said that the vast majority of the project’s subsea piping and instrument diagrams were not approved by engineers, and the safety systems are out of date. In March 2009, Abbott took his concerns about the rig to MMS, the Department of Interior office responsible for regulating offshore drilling. He says the agency requested some of these documents from BP, but failed to seek specific diagrams of key components necessary for ensuring the rig’s secure operation.

An internal BP email that came out in the course of Abbott’s dispute refers to the potential for “catastrophic operator errors” on the rig due to these lapses. The suit argues that without these documents, the rig operators “are flying blind, and have no way to assure the safety of offshore drilling operations.” Food & Water Watch began pushing for lawmakers to intervene on the rig back in August 2009.

A group of 19 Democratic House lawmakers raised concerns about the Atlantis in a letter to MMS in February, noting “disturbing reports” of safety lapses and warning of the “risk of a catastrophic accident.”  In a May 19 letter, those lawmakers, led by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), urged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to call for “an immediate shutdown [of the Atlantis rig] until it can be shown that this platform is operating safely.” The Atlantis, which produces 200,000 barrels of oil a day, operates 7,000 feet below the sea surface—2,000 feet deeper than the Deepwater rig. That suggests that if a blowout occurred, the Atlantis could release far more oil than the Deepwater well. …

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