Bowden engineer on cutting edge at Gulf oil spill

Peter Richards has travelled the world as an oil engineer. His job has taken him to offshore rigs in the North Sea, the Caspian Sea, and to Norway, Columbia, South America and Alaska over the last three decades. But it doesn’t get bigger than his last job.

Peter Richards

Peter Richards

Peter Richards has travelled the world as an oil engineer.

His job has taken him to offshore rigs in the North Sea, the Caspian Sea, and to Norway, Columbia, South America and Alaska over the last three decades.

But it doesn’t get bigger than his last job.

The Bowden resident was called in to help BP’s frantic efforts to cap a well that spewed an estimated five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and became the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

After getting the call, Richards found himself hunkered down in an incident command centre in Houston. He was one of several hundred people directing efforts there to stop the flow of gushing oil as the whole world watched.

“It is pretty amazing to be involved in something that had such publicity worldwide — for all the wrong reasons, of course.

“To be involved in something like that, that was so cutting edge, and then to actually be there when they shut the well in, that was probably the most unique thing I will ever do.”

Richards, 50, was working on a job in Dawson Creek, B.C., when he was first contacted to see if he would bring his offshore experience to the containment efforts.

But he was at a critical point on that job and couldn’t make it to Houston until the beginning of July.

When he arrived, he was made operations manager for one of the containment vessels that was hooked up to the well to siphon off oil before it reached the gulf.

He was there for two weeks and was a witness to the moment when the well was finally shut off on July 15 after 87 days.

“It was pretty amazing,” said the British-born father of three, who emigrated to Canada 10 years ago. “It was almost kind of strange in a way because people had been fighting this for so long.

“It was a pretty intense operation. When it actually all kind of came together, there was a sense of disbelief, then kind of euphoria that it was actually shut in.”

Richards admits he wondered what he was getting himself into. The U.S. media had often been scathing in its criticism of BP and the long-running effort to stop the spill.

When he got there, he found himself in the middle of a massive operation that was testing the limits of available technology.

“Definitely you got the sense (of being) on the cutting edge of really what was possible. This has never been done before.

“Some of the things that were done there were kind of almost unique.

“We got things done that perhaps normally take weeks, if not months; we were doing them in days.”

Richards said the accident was preventable and should never have happened, and lessons have been learned. He expects oversight will be improved, as well as equipment such as the blowout preventers that did not function properly.

“And of course now there’s lots of equipment and expertise on how to deal with something like this,” he added.

The disaster sent ripples throughout the deep water well drilling industry worldwide and companies are already taking a closer look at their operations.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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