Dag Vavik recently defended his PhD on the accident at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

His research began after BP's own report on the disaster, according to which one of the main problems contributing to the explosion was the design of the mud-gas separator system — the exact issue that Vavik himself had flagged years before, when the industry instituted its 2001 practice.

In his research, Vavik used data from the sensors and a series of simulations in the lab, revealing that part of the problem was that the system was plugged with gas hydrates, which can form when natural gas encounters cold water and freezes into a kind of natural gas ice. The plug of natural gas hydrates means that there was no way for the crew to know exactly what was going on until right before it happened.

Based on BP's report, he notes that thousands of gallons of fluid were coming up from the well every minute during the last 30 minutes before the explosion. However, he said, the two flow sensors showed that there was no return flow from the well until right before the accident.

He added that the crews' actions before the explosion indicate that they knew there was a plug in the system. The crew was troubleshooting and investigating what may have caused the anomalies they had detected when the hydrate plug suddenly loosened, Vavik said.