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BP Knew: Years of Internal Probes Warned That Neglect Could Lead to Accidents

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Posted on Jun 7, 2010
U.S. Navy / MC2 Justin Stumberg

By Abrahm Lustgarten and Ryan Knutson, ProPublica

(Page 4)

Panasiti sued BP for $319 million, alleging, among other things, that emissions from the refinery forced nearby schools to be evacuated on two separate occasions. After 24 months of litigation, BP settled out of court, agreeing to pay more than $100 million without admitting guilt. Colin Reid, the plant’s operations manager during the prosecution, was later promoted to a vice president position at a BP office in the United Kingdom. Reid recently left BP; he did not respond to requests for comment.


Allegations that BP or its contractors falsified safety and inspection reports are a recurring theme. Similar allegations were attributed to workers in BP’s 2001 and 2004 internal reports on Alaska, but the internal auditors stopped short of confirming that fraud had occurred. The 2004 Vinson & Elkins report, titled “Report for BPXA Concerning Allegations of Workplace Harassment From Raising HSE Issues and Corrosion Data Falsification,” says investigators did not thoroughly examine those allegations and couldn’t conclude whether fraud had occurred. But the report extensively quoted workers who described how it was done.


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As recently as 2006 a North Slope worker told a BP investigator that he suspected tests had been faked after an inspection team produced 2,500 completed reports from a weekend’s work in remote territory. In 2007 another North Slope safety engineer brought in to examine a pipeline system quickly identified a pattern of problems in an area that had received clear inspection reports for the previous five years.


***


In August 2008, Kenneth Abbott accepted a job with a BP contractor as a project control leader on the Atlantis, a monstrous deepwater drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico that is significantly larger than the Deepwater Horizon rig that sank in April. The Atlantis is capable of producing more than eight million gallons of oil a day from the ocean floor.


Abbott supervised a staff of six charged with doing internal audits and making sure the rig machinery was built to specifications and had the documents and instructions necessary to operate safely. It was an important job on one of the world’s most advanced drilling platforms.


Yet it quickly turned sour. In a debriefing with the person who last held the post, Abbott was told that BP did not have final design drawings ready to deliver to the crews that would operate the Atlantis in the Gulf, Abbott said in an interview with ProPublica.


Final design drawings, called “as-built” drawings, are considered an essential safety component. They prove that a piece of equipment—say a shutoff valve or an engine winch—was built the way it was supposed to be. Those drawings are thus the final checks to make sure the equipment operates properly. They also serve as instruction manuals for emergencies. If there is a fire on deck or a blowout, for example, operators under extreme stress and danger can use the design drawings to find the hidden kill lever that can shut an engine down before it explodes.


Abbott told ProPublica that as-built documents had been issued for only 274 of more than 7,100 pieces of equipment, the equivalent of constructing a house without having an architect or engineer sign off on the blueprint.


In May, Abbott filed a lawsuit against the Minerals and Management Service in federal court in Texas aiming to force the regulatory agency to stop Atlantis operations until BP could prove the documents are in place. He is not seeking monetary damages or compensation.


In the court filings, he said that some of the most critical spill-protection infrastructure, including the wellhead documents, hadn’t been approved. None of the sub-sea risers—the pipelines and hoses that serve as a conduit for moving materials from the bottom of the ocean to the facility—had been “issued for design.” And the manifolds that combine multiple pipeline flows into a single line at the sea floor hadn’t been reviewed for final use.


Abbott—an engineer with 30 years of experience completing design documents for companies like Shell and General Electric—said the completion of “as-built” documents is standard for the industry. Machinery is designed, approved for manufacturing, checked to make sure it was built properly, and then approved for final use. If BP didn’t provide the documentation to its workers in the field, it would be a stark exception.


Yet to Abbott’s surprise BP’s engineers resisted completing the process.


“I just hit a lot of resistance form the lead engineers,” Abbott told ProPublica. “They got really angry with me. They wanted to shortcut the system and not do the reviews, because they cut short the man hours.”


Abbott estimates BP saved $2 million to $3 million by streamlining the process.


“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 peoples’ life depended on it. My management didn’t see it that way.”


Abbot’s complaint wasn’t the first time the company had been warned about not maintaining as-built drawings. According to BP’s internal 2001 operational integrity report conducted in Alaska, as-built documentation wasn’t being maintained at the company’s Prudhoe Bay operations either.


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By last_boy_scout, June 14, 2010 at 5:53 am Link to this comment

Well, BP’s hypocrisy on the matter of that oil spill
shouldn’t come as a surprise to everyone, taking the long-term history of theirs, into the consideration.

I’ve come to read an interesting article on the history of BP and its predecessors and, which is much more important,
on the issues of their connection to the Wall Street financiers.

Oh, and their shared profiteering, of course.

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LocalHero's avatar

By LocalHero, June 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm Link to this comment

This has gone way beyond monetary damages (although the company should be gutted and bankrupted to pay for those too) but the upper ranks of BP need to do long, hard prison time.

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By garyrose66, June 9, 2010 at 10:21 am Link to this comment

BP is a serial occupational killer and a serial environmental destroyer.  That is a demonstrated fact.  The Federal government needs to demand 25 billion from BP to be delivered to the Federal treasury within 90 days, or the US will shut down BP operations in the country.  The Money is to fund GOLF -a Gulf Oil Liability Fund, insurance for paying for all cleanup operations, insurance for personal income and business income losses and medical coverage for those injured and sickened by the oil disaster.  Unless the Federal government takes control of the money it can’t take control of the recovery.  As for BP’s criminaly negligent manner of operating, there is a perfect scientific method to prove they operate exactly as described in this article.  In 1999 BP purchased ARCO, up till that time the biggest Prudoe Bay operator.  (BP kept the ARCO gasoline brand for marketing purposes—so ARCO gasoline is BP in case you want to boycott BP)  This purchase needed Federal antitrust regulators to bend the rules because a foreign entity would be taking control of a majority of Alaskan oil which was technically illegal.  As a 17 year ARCO employee in the environment health and safety department up till the 1999 BP takeover, I knew the ARCO safety and environmental performance in Alaska, and it was outstanding.  ARCO was the gold standard for safety and environmental performance, especially in the 90’s.  In 2000 BP took over ARCO’s Alaska operations and imposed their criminally negligent methods and processes on the ARCO employees and systems.  The thing to do is look at the ARCO Alaska operations from say, 1989 to 1999, and then compare the accident rates and environmental problems within the exact same operations run by BP from 1999 to 2009.  The difference, will clearly demonstrate what my friends at ARCO-BP would tell me over the years, that BP is a criminally negligent serial occupational killer and serial environmental destroyer—just as this article alludes to.  The difference between oil companies and BP is striking, obvious and proves the how management runs a company is directly responsible for the environment and safety performance of a company.

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By tedmurphy41, June 9, 2010 at 7:36 am Link to this comment

If this is proven to be true, then BP’s days, as a viable company, are numbered.

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By felicity, June 8, 2010 at 9:38 am Link to this comment

Welcome to the free-market.  According to the free-market guru, Milton Friedman, corporations have no business engaging in socially beneficial acts.  Likewise, they have no social responsibility, rather they are only responsible for making as much profit as possible.

BP, like any ‘responsible’ corporation abiding by the gospel according to Friedman, has been playing by the rules.  BP is not responsible for the devastation its practices have wreaked on people, places, livelihoods, eco-systems. On the other hand, it certainly has been making as much profit as possible.

If you have chosen the free-market as the ‘best’ economic system going, you can hardly fault BP for operating according to its rules.

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By "G"utless "W"itless Hitler, June 8, 2010 at 9:33 am Link to this comment

I’d have expected to see the freelance industry apologist rico suave on this one apologizing his fingers to the bone on behalf of BP by now?  Where you at, rico?  The American dream needs to be shined up.

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By Jim Yell, June 8, 2010 at 6:20 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Now that they have proof are we going to see criminal charges? If not why not? One more case of the fat and greedy protecting each other. Does our government even exist anymore?

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By esi42, June 8, 2010 at 5:26 am Link to this comment

None of this is a surprise.  I bet all the other oil companies are the same way.  Coal mines too

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By FRTothus, June 8, 2010 at 4:00 am Link to this comment

Off with their heads!

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By RdV, June 8, 2010 at 3:18 am Link to this comment

Meanwhile Obama pushes for more drilling despite the disaster.
Just another indication of who Obama serves and what his priorities are, making anything he says or does a transparent act of going through the motions.
What a squandered opportunity this presidency is.

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