Oil Company Cultural Reform
Company errors, complacency preceded US spill – panel
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A co-chair of the White House Oil Spill Commission took square aim at mistakes by BP and its partners that led to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, saying on Tuesday that they illustrate the need for a better safety culture in the oil drilling sector.
Complacency at BP, as well as at Transocean Ltd and Halliburton, led to serious missteps prior to the rig explosion that unleashed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the summer, said Commission co-chair Bill Reilly, in comments more critical than Monday’s Commission statements that rig workers did not place cost cutting over safety.
“BP, Halliburton and Transocean are major respected companies operating throughout the Gulf and the evidence is they are in need of top-to-bottom reform,” Reilly, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said at the start of the second session of commission’s two-day meeting on the root causes of the spill this week.
Both Reilly and his commission co-chair Bob Graham sought to clarify comments made Monday by the commission’s chief counsel that workers for the companies did not cut corners on safety to save money.
They said the panel’s investigators were not concluding that the companies involved placed enough emphasis on safety.
“The problem here is that there was a culture that did not promote safety…leaders did not take risks seriously enough, didn’t identify risks that proved to be fatal,” said Graham, a former U.S. Senator from Florida.
Critics have pushed back against the idea that profits did not overrule profits before the BP drilling accident.
“Every engineering decision and change they made was tied to a dollar,” Ronnie Penton, a lawyer representing some victims of rig explosion, told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting.
Drilling experts at Tuesday’s meeting were critical of various decisions BP made as it was drilling its Macondo well.
There was a push to finish the project quickly, which is common in the oil industry, said Steve Lewis, an engineer with Seldovia Marine Services.
“The pressure to make progress is actually inherent in the business,” he told the panel. “It takes the stated conscious management presence to counter that.”
Another problem with BP’s project was that BP did not adequately plan to temporarily abandon the Macondo well, according to Lewis.
The lack of detailed planning left BP “scrambling” to update their designs in the days before they attempted to shut in the well, Lewis said.
The panel’s investigators detailed their preliminary findings about the causes of the BP spill on Monday, outlining a series of on-site misjudgements that preceded the drilling disaster that killed 11 people.
Representatives of BP and its partners were questioned by the panel’s investigators for more than three hours at Monday’s meeting. The companies disagreed on key aspects of responsibilities and causes of the spill.
President Barack Obama created the seven-member commission in the aftermath of the BP drilling accident. Its ultimate charge is to develop proposals to prevent and respond to major spills in the future.
The panel’s final report and recommendations are scheduled to be released in January.
(Editing by Alden Bentley)