Profits Before Safety
Whether it's the multiple oil spills that emanated from BP's Prudhoe Bay operations in Alaska's North Slope or the March 2005 explosion at the company's Texas refinery that killed 15 employees and injured 170 people, BP has consistently put profits ahead of safety.
On October 25, 2007, BP pled guilty to a criminal violation of the Clean Water Act and paid a $20 million fine related to two separate oil spills that occurred in the North Slope in March and August of 2006, the result of a severely corroded pipeline and a safety valve failure. BP formally entered a guilty plea in federal court on November 29, 2007. US District Court Judge Ralph Beistline sentenced BP to three years probation and said oil spills were a "serious crime" that could have been prevented if BP had spent more time and funds investing in pipeline upgrades and a "little less emphasis on profit."
Also on October 25, 2007, BP paid a $50 million fine and pleaded guilty to a felony in the refinery explosion. An investigation into the incident concluded that a warning system was not working and that BP sidestepped its own internal regulations for operating the tower. Moreover, BP has a prior felony conviction for improperly disposing of hazardous waste.
The incident involving Deepwater Horizon, now the subject of a federal investigation, may end up being the latest example of BP's safety practices run amuck.
The issues related to the repeated spills in Prudhoe Bay and elsewhere were revealed by more than 100 whistleblowers who, since as far back as 1999, said the company failed to take seriously their warnings about shoddy safety practices and instead retaliated against whistleblowers who registered complaints with their superiors.
In September 2006, days before BP executives were scheduled to testify before Congress about an oil spill from a ruptured pipeline that forced the company to shutdown its Prudhoe Bay operations, BP announced that it had tapped former federal Judge Stanley Sporkin to serve as an ombudsman and take complaints from employees about the company's operations.
That's who the whistleblower complained to via email about issues related to BP's Atlantis operations in March 2009 a month after his contract was abruptly terminated for reasons he believes were directly related to his complaints to management about BP's failure to obtain the engineering documents on Atlantis and the fact that he "stood up for a female employee who was being discriminated against and harassed." The whistleblower alleged that the $2 million price tag was the primary reason BP did not follow through with a plan formulated months earlier to secure the documents.
"We prepared a plan to remedy this situation but it met much resistance and complaints from the above lead engineers on the project," the whistleblower wrote in the March 4, 2009, email to Pasha Eatedali in BP's ombudsman's office.
Additionally, he hired an attorney and contacted the inspector general for the Department of the Interior and the agency's Minerals Management Service (MMS), which regulates offshore drilling practices, and told officials there that BP lacked the required engineer-certified documents related to the major components of the Atlantis subsea gas and oil operation.
In 2007, MMS had approved the construction of an additional well and another drilling center on Atlantis. But the whistleblower alleged in his March 4, 2009, email to Eatedali in BP's Office of the Ombudsman that documents related to this project needed to ensure operational safety were missing and that amounted to a violation of federal law as well as a breach of BP's Atlantis Project Execution Plan. The ombudsman's office agreed to investigate.
MMS, acting on the whistleblower's complaints, contacted BP on June 30, 2009, seeking specific engineering related documents. BP complied with the request three weeks later.
On July 9, 2009, MMS requested that BP turn over certification documents for its Subsurface Safety Valves and Surface Controlled Subsea Safety Valves for all operational wells in the Atlantis field. MMS officials flew out to the platform on the same day and secured the documents, according to an internal letter written by Karen Westall, the managing attorney on BP's Gulf of Mexico Legal Team.
But according to the public advocacy group Food & Water Watch, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, which became involved in the case last July, BP did not turn over a complete set of materials to MMS.
"BP only turned over 'as-built' drawings for [Atlantis'] topsides and hull, despite the fact that the whistleblower's allegations have always been about whether BP maintains complete and accurate engineer approved documents for it subsea components," Food & Water Watch said in a 19-page letter it sent to William Hauser, MMS's Chief, Regulations and Standards Branch.