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The Gulf spill probe

The presidential commission investigating the causes of the BP Gulf oil spill shined an unwelcome spotlight on Halliburton last week.

Its lead investigator reported that the firm, which was working with BP on the oil rig, proceeded to seal the well with an unstable mixture of cement despite three lab tests that showed it failed to meet industry standards. The results of one of those tests were given to BP, which failed to act on it.

The failure of the cement created a cascade of events that led to the April 20 blowout, which killed 11 workers and spewed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The investigator, Fred H. Bartlit Jr., did not identify the failure of the cement as the sole or primary cause of the accident, but he asserted that if the cement had worked effectively and kept highly pressurized oil and gas from the well bore, there would have been no accident. The commission obtained samples of the cement recipe and sent them to a Chevron lab for testing. It ran nine tests, which all failed.

Bartlit concluded that "Halliburton may not have had -- and BP did not have -- the results of that test" before the blowout.

BP's own internal investigation had highlighted the faulty cement as a main factor in the catastrophe. Halliburton, though, defended its work, questioned the Chevron tests and blamed BP for the catastrophe.

The commission, which is due to release interim findings next week and a final report in January, made the disclosure last week because other wells might plan to use a similarly flawed mixture.

The panel, which earlier faulted the Obama administration for its response to the disaster, must keep digging to get to the bottom of the nation's worst environmental disaster. And Congress, whatever its new configuration after Tuesday's elections, should impose tighter rules on oil drilling to head off a repeat.


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