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From Bhopal to BP
Posted on Jun 21, 2010
By T.L. Caswell
India defended its good intentions by saying it has been requesting the extradition since 2003 but that the U.S. “has maintained that our request is not covered by the India-US extradition.”
In that same week, Robert O. Blake, a U.S. assistant secretary of state, said in Washington: “I don’t expect this verdict [the Bhopal convictions] to reopen any new inquiries or anything like that. On the contrary, we hope that this is going to help to bring closure to the victims and their families.” In other words, icicles will be forming in the warmest parts of Hades when the United States sends Anderson to face the music.
Blake was wrong about one thing, however—about the verdicts not opening “any new inquiries.” On June 10 the Indian government announced it would form a 10-member panel, headed by the home minister, to look at all issues surrounding the 1984 tragedy.
Certainly there is no shortage of allegations linking the accident to Union Carbide failures or wrongdoing. A number of sources have assembled collections of various official and unofficial charges against Union Carbide that could be placed in the following general categories: slipshod corporate planning and strategies; atrocious workplace practices and policies; faulty equipment; bad maintenance; dealing with employees in improper ways; failure to observe safety standards; failure to respond to a spate of earlier accidents and dangerous incidents.
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Exactly why there was an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig—which BP leased from Transocean, the owner and operator—and why it is taking so long to stanch the resulting undersea oil gusher might be investigated for years. At the moment, no formal findings have been handed down in the case. However, what we do know doesn’t paint a pretty picture of BP’s practices in general and its actions on the Deepwater Horizon in specific. A handful of the reported facts and charges surrounding the BP oil spill follow, and they sketch a disturbing image of corporate negligence.
On June 8 Truthdig reprinted a ProPublica investigatory article that began, “A series of internal investigations over the past decade warned senior BP managers that the company repeatedly disregarded safety and environmental rules and risked a serious accident if it did not change its ways.” The piece, by Abrahm Lustgarten and Ryan Knutson, went on to say, “The confidential inquiries, which have not previously been made public, focused on a rash of problems at BP’s Alaska oil-drilling unit. …” BP’s practices in Alaska amounted to a troubling attack on industrial safety standards, according to article, which provided extensive documentation.
In the latter part of their report, Lustgarten and Knutson tell about Kenneth Abbott, a BP contractor employee who was responsible for doing internal audits and checking machinery on Atlantis, a huge BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Because of what he found and the nature of his dealings with BP, Abbott ended up suing the Minerals and Management Service in May in an effort to force the federal regulatory agency to shut down the operations on Atlantis.
Abbott told ProPublica: “I just hit a lot of resistance from the lead engineers. They got really angry with me. They wanted to shortcut the system and not do the reviews, because they cut short the man hours.” He estimated that BP’s improper maneuverings had saved the company up to $3 million.
“There seemed to be a big emphasis to push the contractors to get things done and that was always at the forefront of the operation,” Abbott said. “I felt there had to be balance. You had to have safety because people’s life depended on it. My management didn’t see it that way.”
In detailing BP’s safety deficiencies in Alaska, ProPublica said that some of the company’s equipment lacked gas and fire detection sensors and emergency shutoff valves:
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