A 60 Minutes interview with Deepwater Horizon's chief technician, Mike Williams, revealed a series of errors that led to the oil spill. Watch new video of CBS' Scott Pelley's "best interview ever."
Mike Williams was the chief electronics technician onboard the "Deepwater Horizon" drilling rig during the catastrophic blowout on the night of April 20. Deepwater Horizon was a technical marvel and Williams was responsible for all of the rig's computers and electronic systems. He was proud of his position. Just seven months before, he had been part of the crew that drilled the deepest well in history, down to 35,000 feet.
Deepwater Horizon's next project would send her to the bottom with the loss of 11 crewmen. When we sat down with Williams in New Orleans earlier this month, he seemed a little nervous but determined to tell his story. This was his first interview. As we talked, he described a series of problems with the well.
Click Below to Watch an Interview With Deepwater Horizon Chief Technician Mike Williams
Williams says a drilling accident weeks before the disaster cost $25 million in lost equipment and supplies. Pressure was mounting to speed the project along; BP was paying $1 million a day and time was money.
One of the important revelations from the interview is Williams’ description of damage to a vital piece of safety equipment. The blowout preventer sits near the seabed and is the crew's last line of defense against what happened on April 20. But during a test weeks before the accident, Williams says the blowout preventer was damaged and part of a critical rubber seal started coming up out of the well.
• Rick Outzen: Conflict of Interest in BP Legal Fight?To get the most out of the interview, it's important to understand one technical aspect of drilling: the oil and gas 18,000 feet below the Deepwater Horizon was under enormous natural pressure. To keep that pressure from rushing up the well, drillers pump a heavy liquid down the hole as they drill. Drillers call this drilling fluid "mud," but it's not really mud at all. Drilling "mud" is a manmade fluid. The sheer weight of this fluid keeps the pressure down and the well under control. It was during an operation to plug the well and remove this fluid that the blowout occurred.
Williams’ interview sheds a great deal of light on the causes of the disaster, but, by far, the most compelling part of his story is his harrowing effort to escape the inferno after being left behind by the great rig's lifeboats. When we wrapped up the interview, 60 Minutes producer Graham Messick said, "Man, that's about the best interview we've ever done."
Scott Pelley is a 60 Minutes correspondent.