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Why the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Was Worse Than Hell

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- An investigation into the 2010 BP (BP - Get Report) oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico points to a series of specific failures, including the malfunction of a "blowout preventer" that punctured a critical pipeline, contributing to roughly 5 million barrels of oil spilled into the water. The findings indicate that other deepwater wells are at risk of similar failure.

The blowout preventer was manufactured by Houston-based Cameron International (CAM - Get Report), an oil and gas equipment company. The device and the oil rig that exploded were owned by Transocean (RIG - Get Report). Transocean had been contracted for the project by BP, which leased the mineral rights.

The report by the Chemical Safety Board, an independent U.S. agency charged with investigating chemical accidents, concludes that the blowout preventer, or BOP, activated as it should have when the explosion occurred. The device is designed to cut through and seal off the well. However, the drill pipe buckled under the deep sea pressure, pushing it partially beyond reach. The device was unable to complete its function, instead puncturing the pipe and sending more oil into the broken pipe, to spill out into the Gulf.

"The failure of the BOP directly led to the oil spill and contributed to the severity of the incident on the rig," the Chemical Safety Board said in a statement on its Web site.

Cameron spokeswoman Sharon Sloan, in an e-mail, said the company could not comment on the report.

Eleven people died as a result of the fiery explosion, which led to the sinking of Transocean's Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The deepwater well remained open for 87 days, resulting in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Earlier investigations speculated that the activation of the BOP was delayed, but the CSB report determined that the device activated as it was intended, within moments of the explosion.

A key finding of the report was the buckling of the pipeline under tremendous pressure, 5,000 feet below the sea's surface prior to the activation of the BOP. Called "effective compression," the report said the phenomenon could happen again, putting other wells currently deployed around the world at risk.

The CSB report also found instances of mis-wiring associated with the BOP and two backup battery failures. Despite those problems, the device was still able to activate, the board said.

A statement from the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington-based industry association, quoted in news reports, criticized the report, charging that it "appears to omit significant facts and ignores the tremendous strides made to enhance the safety of offshore operations."

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-- Written by Carlton Wilkinson in New York

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