By Steven Levi
As British Petroleum pulls up stakes to leave, one Alaskan has no problem referring to the company as “scum of the earth … at least some at the top.” The man’s name is Chris McIntyre and he says BP is leaving him broke after stealing his idea, an idea that has saved BP billions in damages – and saved the coast of the Gulf of Mexico from environmental extinction.
“BP used my idea, saved the company from ruin and this is what happens? Now the company is slinking out of Alaska and leaving my family and I like roadkill with not so much as a glance behind,” McIntyre said.
It would seem McIntyre has reason to be bitter — millions of dollars of reasons bitter.
Yet, McIntyre does not focus so much on the dollars; he’s more worried about whether his family will “ever be whole again.
It all started on April 20, 2010, when, to quote directly from Wikipedia, an “ultra-deepwater, dynamically positioned, semi-submersible offshore drilling rig” generated an explosion which killed “11 crewmen and ignited a fireball visible from 40 miles.” Suddenly, the largest oil spill in United States history was spewing tens of thousands of barrels of oil a day from a petroleum geyser 5,000 feet down.
And British Petroleum, the “responsible party,” did not know what to do.
So they tried everything. Nothing worked.
Then, when nothing in its bag of scientific tricks proved to be the silver bullet, on May 4, 2010, BP went public and made an appeal for “Alternative Response Technology.”
Enter Alaskan Christopher McIntyre.
Though McIntyre was a trucker, he had a firm grasp of the basics of engineering. He had been working on and off the North Slope for the preceding 20 years so he understood the nuts-and-bolts of drilling. He had been turning wrenches on all manner of equipment for over 30 years. McIntyre may not have been formally trained but “being one of nine children, my parents could not afford college. So the military was my path.”
That path led McIntyre to Alaska in 1983.
When BP went public, McIntyre called BP and asked a basic question: “Why are you working at the end of the broken riser which is a great distance from the BOP (Blowout Preventer) stack when you should be working where it connects to the stack?” This question clearly befuddled the professionals at BP. The hotline response was, “What do we do there?”
McIntyre had better than a good answer — he had a solution. After two more days of back-and-forth with BP, the Hotline personnel said suddenly, “We are not authorized to talk to you anymore, Mr. McIntyre. We have to see what you have in mind.”
This was odd because the spill was increasing in intensity. By June 15th it was estimated the oil was blasting into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of about 20,000 barrels a day and would reach between 35 and 60 thousand barrels a day before the leak was plugged.
Legalities came first and McIntyre was told forms would be emailed to be filled out. While he waited for those forms, conversations continued. When the long form arrived, there was no way to even attach his drawings, so he called again. Then he was asked to send his ideas as a PDF file to an email address given to him by BP for the team, in earlier conversations.
He did. On May 14, at 3:48 a.m. Alaska Time.
Cutting through the technicalities, a critical tool to prevent a well blowout is a blowout preventer, or BOP stack. It has two key components – an upper and lower section – which are married through a hydraulic connection. When a BOP fails to do its job — i.e., prevent a blowout and subsequent spill – the top section can be removed at the hydraulic connection and a new, presumably properly functioning BOP, can be hydraulically attached and remotely activated to shut in the well — usually being the operative word.
The problem in the Deepwater Horizon case was the massive rig’s descent to the ocean floor and the manner in which it sank, with the lateral (sideways) forces pulling on the BOP stack, via the riser, and drill string contained within; the stack was actually left leaning, kind of like the Tower of Pisa. The well casing below the BOP stack had received some of that force as well. Later pictures would actually reveal subsidence of the sediment of the ocean floor on one side of the well head (where the BOP stack connected at the ocean floor.) No one would know for sure whether the well integrity was intact.
What was known was that the Emergency Disconnect System, designed to release the upper section of the stack (LMRP) at its hydraulic connection did not function as designed and did not allow separation. At this point there were several significant questions to be answered. Was the LMRP a chokepoint stopping separation? And how compromised were the hydraulic connections? How compromised was the BOP stack? Even if you could manually remove the upper half of the stack, what might happen if you remove it and cannot get a new one to seat properly? What if you manage to get that done and the hard shutting RAM style valves of blowout preventers kick pressure so hard and fast that any potential crack in the casing below (or other unknown well integrity issues) allows oil and gas to punch through to outside the well casing and “broach” the sea floor?
These were just a few of the questions McIntyre pondered at home in Alaska. Then his phone rang. Many of his friends who knew he was a mechanical whiz, advised him to call BP. “You got something, Mac? They have a call out for alternative technology,” McIntyre recalls being told.
After confirming the public call out, McIntyre initiated communications with BP. To make a long story short, McIntyre suggested holding off on the last resort of removing the top section (LMRP) at its hydraulic connection. Instead, he suggested removing the bolt on riser pipe above the LMRP, attaching a new undeformed riser stub at that “Flex Joint Flange” and install a smaller, lightweight Ball valve or Gate valve above it. This would allow 100% collection ability to awaiting ships, and the ability to slowly and possibly “softly” shut the flow down altogether. It would be a way to “test the well’s integrity.” If the pressure did not hold due to the lack of the well’s integrity, the valve could be opened and 100% of the oil and gas could be collected.
Such a connection point on the top of the LMRP, was not typical — it was unprecedented. This was further explained by McIntyre’s co-counsel in nine short articles online at anchoragelegalexaminer.com or simply entering Chris McIntyre BP on the Internet and reading the professionally written articles which targeted the San Francisco legal community where the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was hearing McIntyre’s case.
In short, what McIntyre proposed was a ventable valve mounted on top of the LMRP, via a new riser stub (“valve on Flexjoint.”) It appears BP understood that upon review, proof of that being the handwritten assessment by BP’s engineering professionals.
But, at that moment, BP rejected the idea in an email to McIntyre on May 17 as “too challenging.”
Meanwhile, the oil kept on blasting into the Gulf of Mexico.
Clearly nothing else was working so, on May 26, on the day of the failed “Top Kill” procedure – as the world watched with disappointment – BP was back in touch with McIntyre.
Supposedly “a similar approach [was being] planned for possible implementation.” But, BP had actually already built McIntyre’s suggested apparatus. McIntyre was unaware of this – it would later be revealed in court documents – so he kept pondering what might be “challenging” for BP, and sent more drawing and instructions on May 28 addressing what he assumed might be their challenges. BP did not respond again until late June.”
But by then, McIntyre had re-engaged in his life and career in remote Alaska, when he received some unfathomable news. In spite of the fact BP had told him his concept was not workable, it had apparently adopted this unique method. Not only had BP snagged his patentable idea, it had shown it as a ready and available option in the May 23 Deepwater Horizon Review to the United States government.
Worse for McIntyre, after building the prototype, BP proceeded to deploy a larger version of the same design utilizing the same novel method. It worked.
McIntyre said he recognized his method and apparatus on July 9 of that year in television presentations, although at that time he was unaware a prototype had been built according to his original design. His submission was listed as available in the May 23rd Review to the United States Government – at the same time BP was telling McIntyre his proposed solution was “too challenging.” When he discovered the duplicity, McIntyre had what he called a “sickening feeling.” He was being shut out from benefiting from his own invention.
After McIntyre discovered what BP had done, he went to the FBI and followed the hearings surrounding BP’s handling of the incident and its aftermath. In McIntyre’s words, “I reviewed all of the documents in the Phase Two Trial and found all the facts, proof, falsifications and BP’s own testimony to reveal the truth.”
BP’s response was the equivalent of “Who’s Chris McIntyre?”
So McIntyre went to Federal court in Anchorage. He lost. Why? Because, according to the court, the invention “even if plaintiff did inspire BP’s ultimate capping method, it did not confer a benefit upon BP.”
This was an error, McIntyre believes.
“My invention safely controlled the well blowout and averted greater fines. It would also be a new ‘tool in the toolbox’ for oil and gas exploration companies to ensure safety in drilling, not to mention BP’s attempt to patent the design with any and all versions of the same, including my original, right in the beginning of the filed application. All of these will be a significant benefit to BP which the court chose not to acknowledge.”
Of odd legal interest, the Memorandum of the 9th Circuit (No. 15-35234) specifically states “NOT FOR PUBLICATION” but, at the bottom of the order, is the line “McIntyre’s Motion for Judicial Notice is granted.”
To date, McIntyre has not received a dime for his concept and he can only watch as the entire oil and gas industry has his patentable IP (Intellectual Property) at the ready should another Deepwater Horizon-style disaster occur.
The cost of having that patentable concept available for drilling rigs is reasonably an expense, which BP, as any business does, passes along the cost to the consumer.
It would seem McIntyre’s patentable concept clearly did and currently does “confer a benefit upon BP.”
But BP is a very big company.
And Chris McIntyre is an individual in a state BP was a major player in until it sold off its Alaska interests to Hilcorp a couple months ago.
Then the story got worse.
In spite of the fact the federal court declared McIntyre’s patentable invention would not provide a “significant benefit to BP,” it is providing a significant benefit to the oil industry. On
April 24, 2017, Upstream Technology, an oil industry professional publication, highlighted the invention in “Stacking the deck against blowout threat.” Not only has BP benefited significantly from the invention, but others have. In this case, especially, Trendsetter Engineering, which was subject of the Upstream Technology article. Now called the “Rapid Cap,” the now-renamed device is “an assembled of parts that were put together in a rapid way to form what in now known as a capping stack,” stated Brett Morry, global technical director for Trendsetter Engineering. “Its main advantage is speed,” Morry noted.
Further infuriating McIntyre, the professional journal even published a picture of the “Rapid Cap,” which McIntyre had no trouble identifying as his own invention.
The pressure on McIntyre has been debilitating, both physically and mentally. The pressure has, he believes, led to two heart attacks. He now lives with an occluded artery in the back of his heart. “I am still alive but with ongoing chest pain,” he said. “Complicating my health, I have been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure along with dozens of ulcerations of my digestive track.”
The ongoing pressure has created “the tonnage of stress on my shoulders, the fear and frustration in my mind, and the pressure within my heart and soul, after nine plus years standing tall has taken on a sincere new meaning. It proves itself difficult on a daily basis. Pain management has been a challenge. However, with the love of my family and God’s will and guidance, I will continue to wake every morning I am given. My foolish pride is ashamed to ask for the public’s help. But it must be done.
Therefore I am asking for public support because I know I cannot win this fight alone.”
And at this point, all McIntyre can say is “BP is leaving me like roadkill as it slinks out of town.”