Tech worker testifies of 'blue screen of death' on oil rig's computer

Tech worker testifies of 'blue screen of death' on oil rig's computer



A computer that monitored drilling operations on the Deepwater Horizon had been freezing with a "blue screen of death" prior to the explosion that sank the oil rig last April, the chief electronics technician aboard testified Friday at a federal hearing.

"Blue screen of death," or BSOD, is a term most often used to describe the display shown by Microsoft Windows after a serious crash that has incapacitated a PC.
[...]
The machine had been locking up for months, Williams said, producing what he and others on the crew called a "blue screen of death." "It would just turn blue. You'd have no data coming through," Williams said today, according to the New York Times' story.

With the computer frozen, the driller would not have access to crucial data about what was going on in the well. [...]

Now this is not to be construed as a Microsoft bashing exercise on my behalf. XP eventually evolved into a rather decent OS, people I trust tell me Windows 7 is also pretty good and personally, I am a heretic because I actually think MS Active Directory is a great infrastructure for managing morons (even if it is essentially is an imitation of Netware NDS). In any case, Microsoft have lost the crown of Evil Empire to Apple, so that too may have tempered my feelings.

No, whether MS systems blue screen or not is not the primary issue here. The issue is that BP management actually relied on a Windows OS to do something as critical as monitoring the Deepwater Horizon's safety system. Every OS has a purpose. MS offerings are for end users and mid-range office networks. They are NOT for systems where 100% uptime and availability is a mandatory consideration. Let me illustrate with a simple example - airlines DO NOT use Windows to run and control modern airliners for a very good reason. Why? Because a blue screen while attempting to land would be lethal, costly and highly embarrassing. They typically rely on RISC based systems who's core design is aimed at stability and reliability at the expense of fancy bells and whistles. Airlines KNOW better because system failures for them are usually instantaneous and spectacular.

The fact that BP management actually allow Windows systems to monitor their rigs speaks volumes about the complete contempt they have for considering anything other than the bottom line. That they are too big and important to bother with basic things like corporate responsibility or being accountable for their actions. That consequences can be hidden from. That events such as the Texas City Refinery explosion are inconvenient, but acceptable, collateral damage that it is more cost effective to simply ride out than spend money on to prevent. BP are quite simply to important to care.

Will BP be a lesson to others? Not particularly likely. The only chance of that happening is if they are forced to forfeit all of their assets as reparations and their corporate carcass is hung out on a gibbet to rot for all to see. Anything less and corporate hubris will dance along on it's merry way, safe in he knowledge that they are immune to all standards of human decency and it will all be business as usual.

Tags: BSOD, bp, deepwater horizon, disaster, gulf, microsoft

Views: 36

Replies to This Discussion

That was just a token image. Vista bluescreens are a deeper blue, but they are essentially the same - the system is dead, data in memory is lost, all processing has ceased. The dump screen is irrelevant - it means the job that is being done has failed irrecoverably. And the point is that the engineers that put this safety system in place would recoil in horror were the same type of software used if they were ever placed on life support in hospital, nor would they board a plane that used it. I do not believe that engineers responsible were stupid enough to believe the system was fault tolerant - they merely used it out of expediency and no regard for responsibility. It seems to be the prevailing BP culture.
The prevailing BP culture is the actual culprit here. It's true that Windows (or any other general purpose OS or hardware) should not be used where uptime must be maintained at six nines and fault tolerance is the overriding concern. But without knowing precisely what system on the rig had the BSOD, it's not really possible to say for sure that Windows wasn't an appropriate choice. If a smoke alarm was running Windows, yeah, that would be irresponsible. If Windows was being used to monitor a network of detectors, and there was redundancy (multiple Windows machines running a monitoring app or suite), then I don't see why that would be an issue. Odds on a well-maintained Windows machine hitting a BSOD at the exact moment that the rig decided to explode is pretty remote, and a backup machine pretty much takes care of that possibility.

No, the real problem is that a critical system was known to be suffering BSODs and BP's indifferent attitude to safety and maintenance meant that the system was not repaired or replaced, and that there was no redundancy built into the system in case one machine had a BSOD. If they had paid attention to the flaky machine in the first place, it wouldn't have been haywire when they needed it.

And in my experience with XP, Vista, and Windows 7, BSODs are almost always caused by hardware problems. Again, not really that big a deal as long as BSODs are dealt with promptly and backup machines are in place. Unless the machine in question is a heart/lung machine.
I never stated Windows can't be engineered for fault tolerance. I did say you use the right tools for the right job - and that no one runs flight control systems or particle accelerators on operating systems who's design grew out of something for the telephone receptionist to play solitaire on. To have not considered fault tolerance at all shows the sheer magnitude of BP's disregard for safety engineering.
I think we're saying pretty much the same thing. BP clearly doesn't care whether their workers go boom or the environment goes splat. We should always use the right tool for the right job, but it doesn't matter what OS you run if you don't fix it when it tells you there's something wrong.
No, the real problem is that a critical system was known to be suffering BSODs and BP's indifferent attitude to safety and maintenance meant that the system was not repaired or replaced, and that there was no redundancy built into the system in case one machine had a BSOD. If they had paid attention to the flaky machine in the first place, it wouldn't have been haywire when they needed it.

Damn, you beat me to it.
And in my experience with XP, Vista, and Windows 7, BSODs are almost always caused by hardware problems.

How could I forget Hardware Abstraction Layer ? That was supposed to prevent all those problems in the first place.
Tell me this is a joke, and they didn't name something to prevent system crashes after a sci-fi computer that goes crazy and kills people.

Damn, Wiki agrees with you...
You forget what a bunch of sick monkeys the average IT team is comprised of.
I saw a Vista BSOD just last week, while I was watching Psych on Hulu... at work...
I would also add that it is just another sign of them not caring about safety at all in an additional way. Not only are they using the wrong system, but they don't react when it starts failing. Just as they didn't properly test the shut off system, they didn't do preventative maintenance on their computers.

Anything to make a buck.
I saw a story a couple months ago, showing the safety record of BP, compared to every other major oil company. Most of the companies had 3 or 5 violations in the period shown. BP had a number in the triple digits. I'll see if I can track down the story or an AP clone on some other site.

Addendum: BP Safety Record: 97% of the Worst Violations

It doesn't list the numbers of the other companies, but close enough:

BP's problems date back at least to 2005, when the BP refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas claimed 15 lives. When OSHA began an investigation of the industry in 2007, though, it found BP stood apart from its counterparts in the industry, with 872 serious safety violations – 97% of all serious safety violations in the industry since 2007, according to the Center for Public Integrity analysis of OSHA data.

* 760 egregious willful
* 69 willful
* 30 serious
* 3 unclassified


And that apparently doesn't include anything in relation to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
I had no idea it was that bad...yikes.

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