BP Oil Spill: Encouraging signs of more collaborative leadership

July 15, 2010

As BP prepares its crucial tests of the capping procedure, there are signs of a more participative leadership style between BP and the US government authorities

Reports [July 15th, 2010] suggest a less combative stance is being taken by the US government representatives dealing with the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although great technical problems and dangers surround their efforts, the collaboration is a welcome sign that rhetoric is taking a second place to problem-solving. This is at odds with other news that BP faces a ban on deep-water exploration in American costal waters. In this post we examine the more positive story.

Scenario planning

“Upon completion of the tests, the federal government will possess valuable data regarding both the condition of the well – important when action is taken to ultimately kill the well with the relief well efforts – as well as an understanding of our capacity to shut the well in for brief periods if needed to prepare for a hurricane,” the White House said in a statement.

This suggests encouraging efforts at serious worse-case scenario work going on by US officials and BP technical executives.

According to the BBC

According to the BBC, Admiral Thad Allen reported that: “When BP is ready, we will start to increase the pressure in the capping stack”

During the test process, BP will monitor the pressure of the oil in the well. High pressure will mean the oil has been contained inside the wellhead. But if the tests show there is low pressure, this may indicate that oil is leaking elsewhere in the well. BP officials said that if the pressure proved to be low, the cap would not be kept shut and ships on the surface of the Gulf would continue collecting oil. BP has temporarily suspended work on drilling its two relief wells – which offer the only prospect of permanently plugging the leaking well – because of the planned test.

The steps in the testing are reported as

1. The middle ram regulating the oil flow out of the big valve on the top of the new cap is closed
2. The kill valve is closed off
3. The choke is closed; this takes a couple of hours and once it starts the pressure test can be said to have begun
4. Once the well is shut in, BP and government experts will assess progress every six hours
5. But if low pressure is detected they will open the well up instantly
6. Other precautions include extra monitoring, such as by remote vehicles on the sea bed

Participative leadership

The BBC report explains the technicalities of the capping in its usual lucid style. For me, the most powerful point was not technical but behavioural. For the first time, the message coming out is of joint BP/US efforts and a sharing of responsibilities. [But who are the persons referred to as “they”? BP? BP with US Government advice/control?] This is a nice example of a rather old theory, namely that of participative leadership. A rather more grown-up approach than blamestorming, I would say.

Good news, bad news

It is rared to report on a ‘good news’ story that does not have a down side. Around the time I noted the more positive collaborative efforts above, the news was also breaking of a severe blow to BP’s prospects in America. Plans are moving ahead for legislation which will effectely ban BP from deep water drilling in American waters.