BP Culture Made Gulf Spill Inevitable
Posted by Dr. Michael Economides
Earlier this month, the National Academy of Engineering released an interim report on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a document which repeatedly hits on the company’s dubious decisions which led to the April 20 Macondo well explosion. This report is only the latest expert analysis demonstrating just how badly BP bungled its operation in the Gulf.
The best summary of BP’s mismanagement may have been the June 11 letter by Samson Oil and Gas President Terry Barr published in the Wall Street Journal. One advocacy group even illustrated many of the mistakes Barr and others have outlined in a compelling graphic.
After identifying these individual missteps, the question for regulators and industry leaders concerned with improving safety becomes “How do they translate at a macro level?” Houston Chronicle columnist Loren Steffy offers an answer:
“As one former [BP] manager told me recently, no one ever tells workers to cut corners, but that winds up being the result because the emphasis from top executives is always on the financial … The issue isn’t whether BP employees made a conscious tradeoff between safety and dollars, but whether the company’s culture made such a tradeoff inevitable.”
Steffy’s conclusion is supported by each of these reviews — from Congressman Markey’s June 2010 letter to then-BP CEO Tony Hayward to last Wednesday’s National Academy of Engineering report. Separately and collectively, they show that when it comes to companies operating in the Gulf, BP is the exception and not the rule. The 50,000-plus wells other firms have successfully drilled in federal waters of the Gulf offer further evidence of how rare these instances are in an industry that serves such a vital function in the U.S. economy.
This critical distinction between one company’s reckless operations and other firms’ careful adherence to safety and environmental practices is one of the reasons many Americans used their votes in this year’s election to remind our leaders in Washington that our nation needs policies that enable continued, responsible oil and gas development rather than more economically harmful regulations.