BP: A history of disaster, a culture of empty words

Thunder Horse Rig - Almost a Disaster

A great article in the New York Times explores BP’s track record of disaster, safety violations, and maximum profits at high risk, all the while claiming safety is their number one priority. Much like the talking head politicians on Sunday morning talk-shows, or television and radio programs by your Glenn Becks, Rush Limbaugh’s and Sean Hannity’s, Tony Hayward seems to believe that just because you say something, and say it often, it will be true. In a recent memorandum to his employees that touched on BP’s improving safety record, Tony claimed, “This (Deepwater Horizon BP Catastraphuk) accident has been a terrible exception to that trend and we must learn the lessons from it, but at the same time, it does not invalidate all the hard work you have put in to improve our safety standards around the world. Safety is our first priority. It will remain so.”

First priority? Jesus, I’d hate to see what might happen if it was your second or third. Problem is Tony, a number of facts kind of get in the way of your memorandum, consider:

March 23rd, 2005, at their Texas City Refinery an explosion killed 15 and injured 170. Two months before the accident, a consulting firm named the Telos Group hired to examine conditions at the plant had this to say “We have never seen a site where the notion ‘I could die today’ was so real.” An investigation after the explosion found more than 300 safety violations and BP paid 21 million in fines. Four years later, OSHA inspected the same plant at Texas City and this time, found more than 700 safety violations; BP was ordered to pay 87 million in fines this time, a judgment currently under appeal.

2005: Another oil rig, the Thunder Horse in the Gulf of Mexico almost sank, caused by an improperly installed check valve. When the rig heated up during a hurricane, instead of water being pumped out, the rig flooded, listed dangerously and almost sank. While BP was repairing the damages, they discovered ominous cracks and breaks in the welding throughout the platform caused by bad performance and previously missed. Had the well been started, the cracks would have broken and oil would have poured into the Gulf. Yeah, that’s right: Deepwater Horizon would have been the second time BP did this to the Gulf of Mexico.

2006: In Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, 267,000 gallons oil leaked from BP’s pipelines, the worst spill on Alaska’s north slope in history. BP paid 20 million dollars in fines.

March, 2010: OSHA found 62 violations in an Ohio BP refinery.

May 25th, 2010: BP created the third largest spill on the Trans-Alaska pipeline system, caused by a power failure; it dumped 200,000 gallons of oil.

And lest we forget:

April 20th, 2010: Deepwater Horizon explodes…11 dead and on Day 84, still going strong.

Deepwater Horizon - the Legend - the Champion

There are different takes on the culture and policies of the company of course – BP’s, and everybody else’s.

In the article, BP Public Relations guru, Scott Dudley is quoted, saying it was unfair to blame cultural failings at BP for the string of accidents, “Everyone realized we had to operate safely and reliably, particularly in the U.S., to restore a reputation that was damaged by the accident at Texas City,” he said. “So I don’t accept, and have not witnessed, this cutting of corners and the sacrifice of safety to drive results.”

But as I mentioned, not everybody feels the same:

“Senior management told us they are very serious about safety, but we observed that they haven’t translated their words into safe working procedures and practices, and they have difficulty applying the lessons learned from refinery to refinery or even from within refineries,” said David Michaels, an OSHA administrator.

Congressional Representative, Henry Waxman, whose committee is investigating the Deepwater Horizon accident, also has a different view than BP. When Mr. Hayward testified a month ago, Waxman had this to say “There is a complete contradiction between BP’s words and deeds. You were brought in to make safety the top priority of BP. But under your leadership, BP has taken the most extreme risks.” “BP cut corner after corner to save a million dollars here and a few hours there,” Mr. Waxman said. “And now the whole Gulf Coast is paying the price.”

And now, British Petroleum is expanding their refinery at Whiting, Indiana which already has had hundreds of violations; they are trying to get permission to do both directional drilling under Lake Michigan and exploratory drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Bully…what me, worry?

Read the article:

At BP, a History of Boldness and Costly Blunders – New York Times – Sarah Lyall, Clifford Krauss and Jad Mouawad

And have a nice day…

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