Energy companies used to avoid methane hydrates no matter what. Now the industry may be drilling right into danger.
BP, Transocean and Halliburton are placing the blame for the disaster on each other.
The rush to produce more oil has led companies to take more risks, including drilling in areas with methane hydrates.
Methane hydrates could make the seafloor unstable, or turn into methane gas and ignite the rig.
The blame-game has reached hurricane force.
On Capitol Hill, executives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton are pointing fingers at each other, while in Louisiana, Coast Guard officials are grilling lower-level managers from the same companies. But the rush to figure out went went wrong from an engineering perspective misses the bigger picture, experts say.
The decision by BP and many other energy companies to drill through areas of unusual ice-like crystals -- called methane hydrates -- is a risky one fraught with huge consequences for failure.
"Methane hydrates are a geological hazard, and it's been well established for decades that they are dangerous," said Richard Charter, head of the Defenders of Wildlife marine program and member of the Department of Energy's methane hydrates advisory panel. "Until 10 or 15 years ago, the industry would avoid them no matter what."