HOUSTON (CN) - Cameron International knew 10 years ago that the blowout preventer that eventually would be used on the Deepwater Horizon had a high likelihood of failure and "was vulnerable to a complete shutdown in the event of an emergency," shareholders say. But Cameron didn't fix the instrument even after Cameron and Chevron, working together in 2009, developed a better blowout preventer that could have prevented the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe, according to the complaint in Harris County Court.
"Cameron itself performed studies as early as 2000 demonstrating that the Deepwater Horizon BOP [blowout prevent] stack was not failsafe, and in fact, was designed so that it was vulnerable to a complete shut-down in the event of an emergency," according to the complaint.
Shareholders say the improvements that Cameron and Chevron devised in 2009 could have prevented the oil spill catastrophe set off by the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon.
The plaintiffs say Cameron's Board of Directors has an "incestuous web of business relationships," and that most of them "are either members or were high level officers and directors of entities which are members of API [the American Petroleum Institute], the self-regulating industry which sets standards for, among other things, the production of the BOP, and which has taken positions against increasing the regulation and safety of off shore drilling in an effort to save money. Thus, these board members ... were aware that API standards governing BOP design were inadequate and allowed for BOPs to be manufactured which provided for a single point of failure, among other design failures."
Shareholders cite a 2003 report by Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, that stated that "the oil industry was so focused on drilling that it was willing to pay higher maintenance costs to keep rigs drilling and avoid downtime rather than address some of the fundamental problems with BOPs."
"The report stated that, 'floating drilling rig downtime due to poor BOP reliability is a common and very costly issue confronting all offshore drilling contractors.'
"The report further stated that BOPs were being rushed into the field with limited testing, given the pressure to drill."
Shareholders say, "There is little question at this point that one of the reasons for the severity of the oil spill was the failure of the blowout preventer or BOP to operate."
A blowout preventer is attached to the wellhead of an oil well and is supposed to act as a failsafe mechanism to shear the drilling pipe and seal the well in the event of a spill. It does this, in part, through shearing rams that sever the pipe from the well in the event of a catastrophic event and seal it to prevent further spillage of oil.
While "both government and private investigations of the cause and impact of the oil spill are ongoing, almost all these investigations have focused upon the fact that the BOP failed to operate, and thus failed to stop the flow of gas and oil from the well," according to the complaint.