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BP Cost-Cutting Was a Culture, Not a Set of Rules

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Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 1:18 am

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BP Cost-Cutting Was a Culture, Not a Set of Rules

Monday’s statement by a White House commission was a head-snapper. BP cost-cutting not at fault for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill? Say what? But a closer look at the words of the commission’s general counsel says something else: That the commission’s investigation is so narrow it will never point to cost-cutting.

Here’s what the counsel, Fred Bartlit, said about events leading up to the blowout, explosion and months-long spill:

“To date we have not seen a single instance where a human being made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety.”

But that’s a barely relevant statement. In a company with a longstanding culture of profit and expansion over safety, of cuts in pipeline maintenance and scorn for employee safety at its refineries, no “conscious decision,” much less a direct order, is necessary.

If the commission is only looking for direct orders and self-confessed conscious decisions, it has already made a decision in favor of BP’s version of events. That’s not to say Halliburton, whose cement was obviously defective, or rig owner TransOcean didn’t bear fault, too.

But if BP knew about the defective pipeline cement and simply failed to act, isn’t silence the same as a conscious decision? If BP simply defaulted management of the rented rig to owner Transocean, without establishing any effective oversight of safety, isn’t that a conscious decision?

Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, had the right reaction:

When the culture of a company favors risk-taking and cutting corners above other concerns, systemic failures like this oil spill disaster result without direct decisions being made or trade-offs being considered.

What is fully evident, from BP’s pipeline spill in Alaska and the Texas city refinery disaster, to the Deepwater Horizon well failure, is that BP has a long and sordid history of cutting costs and pushing the limits in search of higher profits.

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