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Feds Say Bolt Failures Must Be Debunked

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On Monday, the chief offshore drilling regulator for the federal government said that bolt failures on submarine equipment utilized in offshore drilling must be solved and explained as soon as possible. Brian Salerno is the director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. In a conference on Monday, he said, “We need to have the root cause before we dictate a solution. It’s in nobody’s interest to have a catastrophic failure.”

These bolt failures have been widely reported for nearly a decade, but the government’s concern has only suddenly grown urgent about a solution. This is in part to the mounting frequency of these failures across important machinery such as blowout prevention equipment.

One of three major suppliers, General Electric Oil & Gas, dealt out a worldwide recall after a bolt failure in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2012. The bolt failure resulted in the leaking of over 400 barrels of drilling fluid into the ocean.

The masking of such incidents obscures the wide-reaching scope of the issue. Federal officials said major incidents like this often go unreported. In an effort to change this, new regulations put into effect by the safety bureau in 2016 will call for a report of each occurrence of equipment failure whether or not it results in pollution or employee injury. This will bring light to an otherwise shrouded issue and encourage companies to solve problems as they occur and not when it’s already too late.

Salerno said that the offshore drilling industry had previously conferred over the potential replacement of every bolt failure in the Gulf for many years, but that the dialogue has since stopped to await a better understanding of the issue itself. “There was some back and forth, but the thinking has evolved on this,” said Salerno.

Once the root of the problem is found, repairs can begin as well as planning to prevent future failures. The safety bureau was formed after BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill. The belief within the bureau is that the cause of the bolt failures must be discovered by engineers before any action can take place. A simple possible cause could be the overtightening of the bolts during installation out in the field. A more complex possibility could be defects within the production process itself.

Officials at the bureau have created a task force of scientists from government agencies such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. In Washington on Monday, the bureau held an open forum. Presenters from within the bureau and outside the bureau laid out what they knew and what they thought could be done. Conversation on the topic has already uncovered the possibility that bolt failures under the sea could extend their reach to multiple industries on dry land.

Salerno remarked, “There’s some indications that the problem may manifest itself in other industries,” he then continued, “Pipelines for instance onshore potentially could be affected if the issues are related to torquing or stress corrosion, things like that.”

By Briana Steptoe.

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