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The BP Oil Spill: Could Software be a Culprit?
September/October 2010 (vol. 12 no. 5)
pp. 6-9
Don Shafer, Athens Group
Phillip A. Laplante, Penn State

No one yet knows what caused the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and poured millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. But considering the fact that offshore oil rigs comprise dozens of complex subsystems that use or are controlled by software, is it possible a software failure could have contributed to this disaster?

1. "Deepwater Horizon Incident—Internal Investigation," draft report, Transocean, 8 June 2010, p. 15; http://energycommerce.house.gov/documents/ 20100614Transocean.DWH.Internal.Investigation.Update.Interim.Report.June.8.2010.pdf .
2. B. Clanton, "Drilling Rig Had Equipment Issues, Witnesses Say—Irregular Procedures also Noted at Hearing," Houston Chronicle,19 July 2010; www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business7115524.html .
3. "Can You Afford the Risk? The Case for Collaboration on Risk Mitigation for High-Specification Offshore Assets," white paper, Athens Group, Feb. 2010.
4. Achieving Effective Alarm System Performance: Results of ASM Consortium Benchmarking against the EEMUA Guide for Alarm Systems, Abnormal Situation Management Consortium, Feb. 2005; www.applyhcs.com/publications/interface_design EffectiveAlarmSystemPerformance_CCPS05.pdf .
5. EEMUA 191: Alarm Systems: A Guide to Design, Management and Procurement, Eng. Equipment and Materials Users' Assoc., 1999.
6. ISA 18.2: Management of Alarm Systems for the Process Industries, Int'l Soc. Automation, 2009.
7. NPD YA-711: Principles for Alarm System Design, Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, 2001.
8. Athens Group, "How to Stop the Flood of Superfluous Alarms and Achieve Alarm Management Compliance," to appear in Proc. Int'l Assoc. Drilling Contractors World Drilling Conf., 2010.
9. D. Shafer, "Would You Like Software with That? Where Do We Stand with Oil and Gas (O&G) Exploration and Production (E&P) Software?" white paper, Athens Group, 2005; http://athensgroup.com/nptqhse-resources articles-and-whitepapers.html.
10. J. Garthwaite, "It Wasn't the Software: Toyota Finds Driver Error (Not Code) to Blame," Earth2tech.com, 14 July 2010; http://earth2tech.com/2010/07/14toyota-finds-driver-error-not-software-to-blame-in-some-runaway-cars .

Index Terms:
Information technology, software, oil spill, interface standards
Citation:
Don Shafer, Phillip A. Laplante, "The BP Oil Spill: Could Software be a Culprit?," IT Professional, vol. 12, no. 5, pp. 6-9, Sept.-Oct. 2010, doi:10.1109/MITP.2010.136
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