BP plc and its worldwide team of experts had been preparing for a lot of good fun at this year’s annual Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), which kicked off Monday in Houston.

Considered to be the largest show of its kind in the world, drawing more than 60,000 participants, the show is usually filled with new gadgets, new services and an array of experts from every energy field.

On Monday, however, it was all about BP and the devastating tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). Many of those milling the aisles at Reliant Center were mumbling that the general public would now “blame petroleum.”

“I was looking forward to this day with a lot of pride and excitement,” said BP’s Simon Todd, who is in charge of the deepwater Thunder Horse development in the GOM. Todd spoke at a technical session to discuss the Thunder Horse and Atlantis offshore facilities.

“My anticipation has become totally overwhelmed” by the loss on April 20 of 11 people who died when Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, Todd told the crowd (see related story). The rig was in the process of completing a majority-owned BP exploration well in Mississippi Canyon 252.

The incident came at a pivotal time for the industry, with many giddy and ready to expand their businesses after President Obama announced in March that offshore exploration could be expanded.

For BP it also revived a nagging safety issue that CEO Tony Hayward, who took over in 2007, had begun to put behind the company with some success.

The Thunder Horse and Atlantis platforms are indicative of both the London-based company’s triumphs in overcoming deepwater adversity, as well as the oil major’s apparent bad luck.

In 2005 the Thunder Horse platform, which then was under construction, was found listing after Hurricane Dennis assaulted the region (see Daily GPI, July 14, 2005). The platform, in Mississippi Canyon Block 778, about 150 miles southeast of New Orleans, was listing about 20 degrees and the bottom of its deck was found underwater on one end.

More than a year later — following the worst hurricane season in years — BP still was attempting to retrieve and rebuild all of the seabed equipment from the Thunder Horse facility after tests revealed a failure in one of the manifolds and defects in the ballast system.

The ramp-up then was delayed to mid-2008 — more than three years longer than originally anticipated (see Daily GPI, Sept. 19, 2006). Commissioning finally got under way in mid-2008 (see Daily GPI, June 18, 2008).

Problems with similar subsea infrastructure at Atlantis also led to a two-year delay in its start-up; it ramped up in 2007 (see Daily GPI, Sept. 14, 2007).

Once the two massive offshore facilities began pumping out oil and gas, they gave BP “a large proportion of our oil production” in the GOM, said Todd, which in turn helped make the company the largest producer in the U.S. offshore.

BP’s work on the two platforms also led to new deepwater solutions that other producers have implemented, including how to monitor ballast systems, said Todd. There also was a new emphasis put on safety, he noted. All of that was to be highlighted at this year’s OTC.

“Some years ago the industry may have had the mind set of productivity before safety,” he told the OTC crowd. Now it’s safety before productivity, he said.

But those lessons have been put aside and now are “overshadowed” by the Deepwater Horizon incident, and BP’s “desire to learn” from it.

Before introducing Todd, BP America’s Jackie Mutschler, who is vice president of Exploration and Production Technology, asked for a minute of silence to honor the people who were lost on the Deepwater Horizon.

“The intellectual power and experience of our industry is focused on solving this problem,” Mutschler said.

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