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

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

By Abrahm Lustgarten and Ryan Knutson, ProPublica

(Page 5)

It was among the issues BP executives were encouraged to fix after the audit of their operations there nearly a decade ago.

BP declined to discuss Abbott’s allegations, telling ProPublica it does not comment on pending legal matters. In a previous statement made to federal investigators, BP said the drawings were updated and in place before the Atlantis began operating. The Minerals and Management Service is reportedly investigating Abbott’s claims and Congress has also launched an inquiry that is still in progress.


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A BP ombudsman letter written by Billie Garde and obtained by ProPublica confirmed Abbott’s allegation that the company had violated its own safety and management protocol by not completing as-built documentation. The ombudsman’s office has not yet investigated Abbott’s claims about the specific pieces of equipment that lacked documentation because Abbott didn’t make that information available until he filed the lawsuit last month.

Shortly after he raised his complaints to BP management, Abbott lost his contract to work with BP.


Among the most important pieces of safety equipment that BP was criticized for not having in place in Alaska, according to its own 2001 operational integrity report, were gas and fire detection sensors and the emergency shutoff valves that they are supposed to trigger.

When gas leaks from a pipeline break or a blowout near a running engine, it’s a lot like stomping on the accelerator of a car: The engine will suck up the fuel vapors and scream out of control. Gas sensors are critical to preventing an explosion, because they can shut down a rig engine before that happens.

Now investigators are learning that similar sensors—and the shutoff systems that would have been connected to them—were not operating in the engine room of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

In sworn testimony before a Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation panel in New Orleans last month, Deepwater mechanic Douglas Brown said that the backstop mechanism that should have prevented the engines from running wild apparently failed—and so did the air intake valves that were supposed to close if gas enters the engine room. The influx of gas from the well gave the engines “a more volatile form of burning mixture,” he said, and caused them to rev out of control. Another system was supposed to kick in and shut the engines down, but that system also failed. He said the engine room wasn’t equipped with a gas alarm system that could have shut off the power.

Minutes later, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in a ball of fire, killing 11 workers before sinking to the seafloor, where it left a gaping well pipe that continues to gush oil and gas into the Gulf.

The investigation into that massive spill is still under way, but these revelations—plus evidence that BP skipped key parts of the drilling process intended to prevent a blowout to save roughly $5 million—echo the problems that BP’s auditors, attorneys and investigators have identified in the past 11 years.

Over the next few months, the Department of Justice will decide whether what happened in the Gulf violates criminal or civil laws intended to protect the environment. Separately, EPA investigators are considering whether to end BP’s ability to do business with the federal government, a sanction that could cost it billions in revenue. The investigators say a pivotal question in that investigation will be whether BP’s record over the past decade amounts to a corporate culture of “non-compliance.”

ProPublica Director of Research Lisa Schwartz and researcher Sheelagh McNeill contributed to this report.

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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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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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