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Chris McIntyre, the man who saved BP (and the Gulf)? – Part IV: The Shaft

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BPs transition spool riser image showing it being much too long II

McIntyre’s design is on the left. It shows a smaller diameter pipe (green) being inserted into a larger one (red). They are held together by the pressure of inflating balloons called fracking packers. BP’s early design on the right does away with the fracking packers and instead uses a weld to hold the two pipes together. As such, there is no reason for BP’s design to be so long. The entire area represented by the yellow box is superfluous, yet it illustrates that someone may have been working off of McIntyre’s design when they switched from a fracking packer connection to a weld.

The smoking gun?

As discussed in Part III of The Man Who Saved BP, the design for the device that Chris McIntyre provided to BP on May 14, 2010 to cap the Macondo Well described an unusually long riser – or shaft. In fact, McIntyre’s riser was strangely long. This was due to McIntyre’s use of fracking packers in his design, essentially large balloons that when inflated could hold a smaller diameter pipe against and inside a larger one. In order to have sufficient holding force, the fracking packers needed large surface area contact – hence a long riser was required.

BP, rather than utilizing fracking packers in its connection, welded the smaller diameter pipe into the interior of the larger diameter riser. As such, BP’s design did not require the six-plus feet of riser that McIntyre’s did.

BP’s welding technique allowed the company to dramatically shorten the riser. But they failed to do so. This is surprising as several witnesses testified during the Clean Water Act trial that the company was very concerned about the structural integrity of the capping device. BP was particularly worried about the large contraption being top heavy, which could cause the entire stack to collapse to one side.

How does an engineer address a top heavy design? Most would attempt to lower the device’s center of gravity. This could have been easily achieved by shortening the riser. Yet this was never done. Why?

BP Final Schematic

This is BP’s final design that was used to cap the Macondo Well. There is no reason for the riser (yellow) to be this long. In fact, it should have been much shorter. While McIntyre’s original design called for a long riser (in order to facilitate connection), BP used an alternate connection technique (weld v. fracking packers), making a long riser unnecessary and possibly even dangerous. A plausible explanation is that BP’s engineers may have been working off of McIntyre’s original drawings and failed to modify the riser length to better conform with the company’s modifications.

A plausible explanation is that BP may have been working off of McIntyre’s design drawings from day one. If BP had started with its own empty canvas, company engineers would have employed the shortest pipe that allowed for an adequate weld. Otherwise, why would one make it any longer than necessary?

Hide the ball (valve)

During the spill response, BP brought together teams of experts from within the company itself; as well as industry players including Transocean (rig owner), Wild Well Control, and Boots & Coots (well control specialists); competing oil majors like Exxon; as well as government officials and members of academia. These experts were called upon to provide ideas, brainstorm and otherwise troubleshoot methods in which to halt the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

One of the most effective techniques for vetting the various proposed solutions was called the “peer assist.” During these review meetings dozens of experts would meet to critique one idea or the other. This typically resulted in an idea being modified based on peer assist feedback or simply scrapped. BP relied upon the peer assist technique to provide a second and third pair of eyes to evaluate the company’s proposed solutions.

On Thursday, May 13, 2010, a peer assist was held to review the “BOP-on-BOP” proposal. Over twenty people attended this meeting to review what was, to-date, the leading contender for deployment. The meeting lasted several hours during which various “what-ifs” were contemplated and solutions proposed. By all indications the peer assist was a success and engineers left the meeting with marching orders on how to improve upon their initial BOP-on-BOP execution.

But something happened later that Thursday night and into Friday morning. In Alaska, Chris McIntyre, watching video feeds of the oil flowing from the well head and riser, sketched out an alternate solution – a ventable ball valve attached to the flex joint flange on top of the LMRP. Such a design and connection location (above the LMRP) had never before been contemplated. McIntyre emailed BP the design at 3:48 a.m. Alaska Standard Time (7:48 a.m. at the BP Crisis Center in Houston).

A second peer assist was held later that morning (May 14) in Houston, but this one was seemingly kept off the radar, as only seven people attended, not the usual 20+. During this closed-door session McIntyre’s idea (or, as BP would tell it, its idea) was discussed and vetted by a select group of company insiders. Unlike the typical peer assist, no government officials or professors from prestigious universities were invited. This is odd considering the importance BP placed on the peer assist technique.

Cloak & Dagger

We contend that McIntyre’s email of 3:48 a.m. on Friday, May 14, 2010 was the first time BP engineers saw the design that would later become the Transition Spool / capping stack combo. These same engineers realized that this unique and novel approach, if deployed successfully, would save BP many billions of dollars in Clean Water Act fines and civil lawsuits. In addition, any device that could be deployed to stop the blowout of a deepwater well would surely be required equipment on all offshore rigs in the future. Whoever controlled the rights to the design would be handsomely rewarded. For all of these reasons (as well as the possible embarrassment that an out of work truck driver in Alaska bested a team of BP engineers), we allege that Chris McIntyre’s unique and novel design may have been misappropriated by BP.

As such, and in order to maintain the ruse, we believe the May 14 peer assist invites were distributed to a restricted list of strictly need-to-know employees. We allege that this peer assist may have been a sham designed to conceal the identity of the true inventor, Chris McIntyre, allowing BP to abscond with his intellectual property.

Day 3 Afternoon - Duel Image comparing purported May 9 photo of transition spool and actual July photo of Transition Spool being lowered onto flex joint IIII

Left depicts the Transition Spool prior to deployment. Right is the Transition Spool deployed on July 12. Only McIntyre’s design called for a riser the length of the red line. McIntyre’s design required several feet of riser in order to accommodate fracking packers. On the other hand, BP’s ultimate Transition Spool did not use fracking packers, but was instead welded. Hence, no more than a foot or so of riser was required (green line), yet BP still used over six feet. Why? A plausible explanation is that BP may have been following McIntyre’s drawings from the beginning. Not only was there no good reason to utilize this much riser, it was in fact folly, as the longer the riser the less horizontal stability the entire capping stack would have. Click for larger, more detailed image.

Get ‘er done

While a movie could be written (maybe it will be) about the mystery of the origin of the ventable valve attached on top of the LMRP at the flex joint flange, one question continues to nag. If BP indeed had manufactured the Transition Spool by May 9, 2010 (and thus before McIntyre had proposed it) as the photograph above at left suggests, what took the company so long to get the job done? The Transition Spool was not deployed until July 12, 2010, yet it was ready for action on May 9, 2010? Perhaps someone got their dates wrong? Too much does not add up in this story.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit should remand this case for discovery and if need be, trial.

Read Part V: Chris McIntyre, the man who saved BP (and the Gulf)? – What’s in a name?

The case is Christopher McIntyre v. BP Exploration and Production, et al., Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Docket #: 15-35234.

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  1. 100% American says:
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    Looking forward to what comes next. Your doing a good job laying it all out. All rebuttals will be muted. The truth is clear.

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