The entire world looked on in disbelief, as the Macondo oil well exploded on April 20, 2010. The explosion killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, injured another 16 and forever changed the lives of countless more in the region and around the world. Some damages were immediate; others will become evident in coming years. Blame has been passed around and lawsuits will go on for decades. In the meantime, this horrible event contains a number of lessons for professionals with Six Sigma certification.
Immediate and Long-Term BP Oil Spill Consequences
While the long-term effects of the largest oil spill in U.S. history remain to be seen, some of the known consequences include:
• Oil flowed from the disabled well into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months.
• Nearly five million barrels (200 million gallons) of oil spilled into the Gulf.
• Commercial fishers saw their livelihoods devastated by a moratorium on fishing.
• Oil drilling was halted in the region, affecting workers and rig operators.
• Delicate oyster beds were severely damaged, and may take a decade to recover.
• Nearly two million gallons of chemical dispersants were applied around the well.
• Approximately 8,000 birds were killed.
• Marine animals continue to be affected, with unusual numbers of dead dolphins washing up on shore.
• BP paid $20 billion into a trust for payments related to the oil spill.
• BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward resigned his post in October 2010.
History and Operation of the Macondo Oil Well
In 2008, BP obtained a 10-year lease and permit to drill the Macondo oil well; drilling began in October 2009. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by Transocean, and under contract to BP for approximately nine years prior, was put to work to finish drilling in February 2010. The well was intended to be plugged and operated as a subsea producer.
Ownership of the lease was shared with Anadarko Petroleum and MOEX Offshore. BP was responsible for carrying out the operations at the rig, and subcontracted with Halliburton to perform various services on the rig, including cementing. Cameron International Company made the blowout preventer (BOP) used on the Deepwater Horizon. Cameron recently agreed to pay BP $250 million for its role in the spill, without admitting any liability. BP and Halliburton are currently undergoing a legal battle set to go to trial in New Orleans in February. BP recently alleged that Halliburton destroyed data from tests conducted on its cement slurry just prior to the explosion.
Oil Drilling: A Risky Business
A recent report on the causes of the spill by the National Academy of Engineers found the design of the BOP to be unsuitable, and that it was not properly designed or tested for the conditions that existed at the time of the blowout. Additional findings blamed the explosion on a number of factors, from the design and construction of the barriers used in the well abandonment process to over-reliance on the BOP. The report also states that “the industrial management involved . . . had not adequately understood and coped with the challenges presented by offshore drilling operations.”
Lessons For Six Sigma Professionals
Six Sigma training centers on business philosophies that help organizations improve productivity and efficiency, and reduce defects. In the normal course of business, a manufacturing defect is not typically life-threatening. But in the risky oil drilling business, any deficiency in manufacturing and testing puts lives at risk.
The Six Sigma approach is based in data, with the goal to eliminate defects in all processes. Implementing Lean Six Sigma training in the manufacturing process means that entire organizations are driven to near perfection. While the number of lives saved by Six Sigma methodologies of eliminating errors and manufacturing defects cannot be known, it’s fair to say that a failure to do so has likely cost workers’ lives through industrial accidents.
It’s impossible to know whether employing Six Sigma methodologies would have prevented the Macondo well disaster. Six Sigma certification equips project managers and workers in every industry with the means to improve processes – including safety – and reduce defects, such as those present in the BOP. Six Sigma training might have empowered those involved in preparing the well for abandonment to perform more rigorous tests and analyze more data, which may have revealed warnings of potential failure of the BOP, and allowed for alternative techniques to be deployed to account for conditions. Six Sigma professionals put their trust in data, while reports indicate BP over-relied on the ability of the blowout preventer to act as a fail-safe mechanism.
Article provided by Grant Webb with Villanova University’s online programs. Villanova University provides Six Sigma Training & Six Sigma Certification for industry professionals who want to produce extraordinary results for their organization.