The Justice Department's refusal to tell the AP where BP's jammed blowout preventer (BOP) is looks like a PR fail. The FBI's reflexive secrecy may be intended to inspire confidence in its investigations -- but secrecy about the obvious and unhideable only convinces many skeptics the FBI is trying to hide further efforts to doctor the evidence. The best way to inspire confidence would be to let the media watch.
Since the AP seems mystified about where the errant blowout preventer may be, the Glob will use guesswork to suggest places to look.
It may well still be aboard the Helix Q4000 vessel, where it was put when it was lifted to the surface in full sight of some 147 people, including the FBI and news media. The AP had previously bragged that its own reporter and photographer were the only two news media representatives present to witness the event. The AP story reporting the Justice Department's refusal to disclose the blowout preventer's current location did not state any conclusions about whether the AP was at fault for losing track of the blowout preventer.
The Glob's guess is that the Helix Q4000 will be making its way, with BOP onboard, toward the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility in Michoud, Louisiana. Given that the BOP weighs 300 tons fully assembled, there may be good reasons not to transfer it to another vessel. But Adm. Thad Allen in a Sept. 4 briefing, said that the BOP would be separated from other components and transferred to another vessel before reaching shore. The Q4000 is a semi-submersible offshore rig not well suited for shallow-water operations.
Why Michoud? Previous AP stories had mentioned that the BOP "is expected to be analyzed at a NASA facility in Louisiana."
While the Glob's budget does not allow it to charter helicopters, the AP may be able to afford one in its effort to locate the Helix Q4000 or the vessels she transfers the BOP to. If not, the AP might do an on-land stakeout on the Intracoastal Waterway near the Michoud Canal. Another gambit might be to ask the Coast Guard. Or Reuters.
The Michoud Assembly Facility is one of the few NASA facilities in Louisiana. It is also one of the places best suited for work on a 50-foot-tall structure like the BOP -- a bolted-together stack of valves and other devices. The Michoud facility, one of the largest manufacturing plants in the world, was used to assemble vertical stacks of machinery for the external fuel tanks of the space shuttle. It is located on an 832-acre tract near Michoud in New Orleans East. The Coast Guard also has facilities at the site. Barge traffic has convenient access to it via the Michoud Canal, which branches directly off of the Intracoastal Waterway.
Here's what Allen had to say on the subject Sept. 4:
"Once secured on deck, the Blow Out Preventer Lower Marine Riser Package will then be transported by the Q4000 closer to shore where both Lower Marine Riser Package and Blow Out Preventer will be transferred to other vessels for transfer to the area where the Blow Out Preventer will be taken into custody and at that point will be part of the evidence material that’s been required by the joint investigative team, and this whole thing has been done under the supervision of the Department of Justice. There are law enforcement personnel onboard the vessel supervising each step and has it documented as well as documented with ROV coverage."