Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Basics of Configuration Management - Part III

Welcome to the third, and final post on the basics of configuration management (CM). If you missed part I, or part II, go ahead and read them now. In this post I want to talk about the bad things that can happen when you ignore basic CM practices. The results may not be as dire as this story, but hopefully you can see that CM practices should be followed by all companies to avoid serious problems.

On the morning of April 20, 2010, several explosions rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil platform, and fires broke out. The platform was evacuated; coastguard and other ships were dispatched to fight the subsequent fire, and rescue the survivors. 11 men were killed in the initial devastation, and oil began to rush from the unsecured well head deep under the Gulf of Mexico.

Of course, every oil rig is equipped with many safety devices. When BP engineers attempted to activate a huge piece of underwater safety equipment, it failed. The failure was a result of modified drawings of a variable bore ram, designed to seal the pipe, that did not match the current equipment drawings used by BP. The fail-safe in use did not match any of the drawings that had been given to BP from the equipment owner.

Transocean, the owner of the variable bore ram and of the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig said any alterations would have come at BP's instigation. BP said they never asked for any alteration. These alterations meant that BP spent several days unsuccessfully trying to cap the well. Only after several unsuccessful attempts did they figure out that the drawings they had did not match the actual equipment at the bottom of the gulf. The existing equipment would not cap the well properly, and more work had to be done to finally get the well capped.

It wasn't until July 15, 2010 that the well was able to be capped; almost 3 months later. By this time, nearly 53,000 barrels per day of oil had spewed into the gulf with a total discharge of 4.9 million barrels. The impact on many aspects of the Gulf of Mexico are still being felt to this day, and the full impact may not be fully understood for many years.

Had BP and Transocean followed basic CM principles they would have been able to cap the well within a short time using the proper equipment. No changes could have been made that no one knew about, and all parties would have been able to sign off on any changes. 

Think about this disaster, and make sure you don't get stuck with the same mess. Without CM practices that are followed by everyone, you risk your customers, your products, and your business.

What do you think?

- Jim

1 comment:

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