Four critical errors in the gulf

Missed warning signs

As the gulf oil spill saga continues, it is important to reflect on the decisions that have brought us to where we are today. Regulators and some in Washington allowed one foreign-run company, BP, to continue operating even though time and again the company failed to uphold the industry’s accepted safety standards. Between 2007 and early 2010, OSHA cited BP for almost 800 “egregious, willful” safety violations.

Each of these violations occurred before the gulf spill and demonstrates that BP was consistently ignoring safety concerns. OSHA safety records illustrate a systemic problem in BP’s culture regarding the safety of its operations and workers. BP’s major disasters in recent years such as Prudhoe Bay and the Texas City refinery explosion were clear warning signs that BP had fundamental problems in its operations. BP is, without question, the industry’s safety outlier as it has time and again failed to implement the rigorous standards that its industry peers implemented to keep their facilities, environment, and the public safe.

BP’s lack of responsibility however should not lead one to believe this is an industry wide practice. The oil and gas companies have followed industry practices and standards that are more rigorous than those set by the U.S. government.  These rules and regulations have been effective and have allowed the industry to operate successfully.  BP is the only exception to an otherwise accountable energy sector. Most energy companies have gone to great lengths to ensure they meet or exceed the proper safety standards. A recent info-graphic by the American Energy Alliance demonstrates the vast difference between industry safety standards and BP’s practices. BP simply did not adhere to industry safety standards and records show that the gulf spill could have been prevented if the company had simply followed the same guidelines as others in the energy field.

Politics over policy

The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics has reported that Barack Obama was the leading recipient of political contributions from BP employees in the last election.  Obama also nominated in 2009 Steven Koonin, then BP’s Chief Scientist, as Under Secretary for Science in the Department Of Energy. Longtime BP Executive Sylvia Baca was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management by the Obama administration.  It is also known that under the Obama administration, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) approved BP’s environmental impact and exploration statement for the deepwater site. These close connections between the Obama administration and BP may have made for good politics but certainly lead to poor judgments and bad policy.