Four weeks ago, how many of you knew that BP was the largest oil and gas producer in the United States – larger than ExxonMobil? Put up your hands. Nobody? I didn’t either.

How many of you had seen BP’s green advertisements – “beyond petroleum”, wind turbines turning lazily in a summer breeze – sort of a corporate equivalent of gambolling in a meadow in slow motion? All of you? Thought so.

Recent events have obviously placed BP into the public eye – with questions now being asked about their green lobbying.

What has this to do with Climategate inquiries?

David Eyton, BP Group Vice President, Research & Technology, is a member of the Muir Russell panel. Only one submission (mine) criticized his presence on the Muir Russell panel. There was total radio silence from climate scientists. Why was this perpetually outraged community so silent? More on this later.

Eyton’s bio is particularly interesting in the present circumstances.

David joined BP in 1982 from Cambridge University with an Engineering degree. During his early career, he held a number of Petroleum Engineering, Commercial and Business Management positions. In 1996, he was named General Manager of BP’s North West Shelf interest in Australia. David later managed Wytch Farm in the UK and then BP’s Gas Businesses in Trinidad. In September 2001, he became Lord John Browne’s Executive Assistant in the company’s London headquarters. Following that assignment, David was Vice President of Deepwater Developments in the Gulf of Mexico and prior to his current role was BP’s Exploration and Production Group Vice President for Technology.

That’s right — Vice President, Deepwater Developments Gulf of Mexico. BP’s Deepwater Gulf of Mexico operations are what make it the largest oil producer in the United States. A big and important job, to say the least. So what’s our David doing making little analyses of CRU emails for the Muir Russell inquiry? See minutes here. Definitely a dig-here.

It’s interesting to re-examine Eyton’s prior publications both in the context of the BP well blow out and the Muir Rusell inquiry.

In 2005, Eyton published The journey to deepwater operatorship, which I’ve placed online here. Eyton’s reflections show a clear awareness of the new and difficult technical problems of operating in the deep and ultra-deep:

Deepwater GoM may be one of the most prolific new basins in the world, but it is still a frontier province. … And in addition, we have to cope with extreme natural environments, the “ultra-deep” in terms of both reservoir and water depths, complex seabed geotechnics and severe metocean conditions in the form of both loop currents and hurricanes.

These are new challenges for the industry, and challenges which are being addressed at an ever-increasing pace. We find ourselves designing floating systems for 10 000 ft of water depth before the lessons of working in 6000 ft have been fully identified. And these new challenges are not just depth-related. Failure mechanisms, such as fatigue, driven by vortex-induced vibration (VIV) and vessel motion, are time-dependent and may take years to become apparent. The same is true of equipment reliability. We know the premium associated with hardware reliability is high, but at this stage, operators still have a limited failure database for forecasting the required levels of intervention in ever-deeper and more remote environments.

Eyton counselled:

In particular, be rigorous in front end loading, and very clear about the scale and nature of the “size of the step” you are seeking to take. Recognize that what may initially appear to be an incremental change can often turn out to be much more profound. Develop multiple contingency plans. And be prepared to work closely with suppliers to drive up reliability and reduce risk.

Eyton’s presentation is noted in a near-contemporary July 2005 conference. The paragraph immediately following Eyton’s presentation described a 1628 design failure arising from the left hand not reconciling with the right hand:

The Swedish warship Vasa, with a fast keel and the finest guns, suffered from design changes that caused the ship to sink within 1 nautical mile of the start of her maiden voyage in 1628. Last-minute design modifications ordered by the king without consulting expert partners caused the costly vessel to go under. Panel Moderator Sandeep Khurana, Senior Specialist with J.P. Kenny Inc., invited operators and contractors to examine oil and gas industry collaboration through lenses of the same color. Deepwater fields are becoming more complex and challenging, and average field size is falling slightly, so there is a real need for innovation in contracting to bring projects through to success. “Investments are high and failure is not an option, so how do we collaborate?” asked Khurana. “Is a commercial arrangement the path to perfect collaboration? Are there inherent conflicts in the way we perceive our roles and rewards? How do operator/contractor objectives mesh?”

Questions that seem timely when BP, Transocean and Haliburton try to blame the other. The author of this analogy, Don Vardeman,
Kerr-McGee Vice President Marine Engineering, pointed out that the same barriers to collaboration on large project developments exist today as they did in 1628, listed these impediments to successful collaboration:

• Imitation rather than real understanding of ideas.
• Goal confusion.
• Obsession with speed.
• Failure to incorporate test feedback.
• Communication barriers.
• Poor organizational memory or knowledge transfer.
• Meddling by top management.

In 2008, as noted above, Eyton was appointed Group Vice President, Research & Technology.

He attended the first meeting of the Muir Russell inquiry on Feb 4, 2010.

A few days later (Feb 9, 2010), he attended the Carbon Mitigation Initiative Ninth Annual Meeting Conference at Princeton – a BP sponsored program – where he presented the BP Review of 2009. Michael Oppenheimer, who appeared opposite me in my CNN appearance on Campbell Brown, is shown as a key figure in the Initiative. A variety of BP executives attended the conference; also in attendance were Daniel Schrag, Director of the Center for the Environment, Harvard University, Steven Hamburg, Chief Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund and a number of other notables.

Due to this prior commitment, Eyton missed the press conference unveiling the Muir Russell inquiry on Feb 11. His attendance at the Muir Russell meeting of Feb 25 is noted, together with the item that UEA had not received money from BP in recent years (though they had contributed generously to Geoffrey Boulton’s Royal Society of Edinburgh, which was conducting the inquiry).

At the March 20 meeting, Eyton was said to have presented an analysis of emails – to be published on completion – I don’t know how someone with as big a job as Eyton would be able to do the sort of thorough job of analyzing the emails that he would expect of an engineer for a BP offshore exploration rig. Eyton attended the April 1 Muir Russell telecon meeting, at which a David Walker materializes as a staffer for the first time (joining Mike Granatt of Luther Pendragon communications and William Hardie of Roy Soc Ediburgh).

On April 19, Eyton was scheduled to deliver a speech in Stanford on governance but was grounded by the Iceland ash. The speech is online here.

Eyton’s speech on governance distilled some important lessons from BP’s operations that Muir Russell (and Eyton) have flouted in their conduct of the Muir Russell inquiry. Eyton discussed the problems of resolving disputes in a community concluding that: unless citizens feel some kind of ownership in the project, you are not going to be successful.

In some instances, the challenges are so great that we form independent advisory committees, also known as ‘blue ribbon’ panels.

For example, in Azerbaijan, we had to build a pipeline from Baku to Tbilisi through Georgia and Turkey at a time when there were quite a few tensions there. We listened to and learned from a wide range of international, national and local stakeholders. The independent panel, under Jan Leschly’s chairmanship, advised us on the things that might not naturally occur to us, including the effects on the local community and political, economic and social conditions. We also sought advice from scientists who had a thorough understanding of that country’s geology. Today the pipeline is carrying one million barrels per day to the Mediterranean.

The same thing happened in West Papua, where we had to move a village in order to be able to build the plant. That is an extremely difficult thing to do well. This time, the independent panel was chaired by former US Senator George Mitchell and included local community leaders. All parties worked together not just to move part of the village, but to rebuild it better. The project is operational today, and the local residents seem happy with the results.

The lesson is: unless citizens feel some kind of ownership in the project, you are not going to be successful.

Unless citizens feel some kind of ownership….

Despite these wise words about governance, the Muir Russell has done exactly the opposite. Despite Muir Russell’s undertaking to exclude panelists with ties to the university or to the climate science debate, Geoffrey Boulton was appointed. Graham Stringer pointed out the panel’s lack of balance, but Muir Russell repudiated the point. Stringer observed: “I think you might find more credibility to your report if you have reputable scientists from both sides. It is a political issue really.” Stringer’s point here is the same point that Eyton had previously made – but ignored in his capacity as a Muir Russell panelist.

The lack of representation is made worse by the failure of the Muir Russell inquiry (or other inquiries) to make the slightest effort to talk to key critics and Climategate targets. The Oxburgh “inquiry” was even worse – breaking every governance rule described in Eyton’s speech.

Given that Eyton is BP Group Vice President for Research & Technology – especially one with prior direct experience in the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater, one would expect Eyton to be visible in the present controversy. But I’ve only seen one mention so far, Platt’s reporting a May 17 statement by Eyton to a conference in Australia. (I guess Eyton was taking a break from analyzing CRU emails.)

In my February submission, I had opposed Eyton’s membership on this panel precisely because of his oil company connections. Now I’m rather looking forward to seeing BP’s position on using a “trick … to hide the decline”. If similar language crops in BP’s correspondence about the Gulf of Mexico deepwater, I doubt whether US regulators would be quite as blase as climate scientists.

Source: Climate Audit

More on ecology:

  1. Beddington and the Oxburgh Inquiry
  2. GUEST LEAD: Colliding tragedies and the missing pie slice
  3. Cautious Optimism Amid Indications of an Increasingly Destructive Oil Leak in the Gulf of Mexico
  4. Gulf of Mexico Oil Begins to Enter the Loop Current
  5. “Top-Kill” Attempt to Stop Gulf Leak: So Far, So Good (Updated)