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BP Oil Spill Panel Commissioners Fault Lack of Safety Culture

Nov 10, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

The White House BP oil spill commission has faulted the oil company and its partners on the doomed Deepwater Horizon oil rig over a complacent safety culture. The commission also said that BP, Transocean and Halliburton personnel made serious mistakes prior to the April 20 explosion aboard Deepwater Horizon that led to the worst offshore oil disaster in US history.

Bill Reilly, the commission’s Republican co-chair, said in his opening statements yesterday that each company was “responsible for one or more egregiously bad decision,” called them “safety laggards,” and said the firms were “in need of top-to-bottom reform.” Reilly, former Environmental Protection Agency chief under during the George H.W. Bush administration, also singled out BP for having “been notoriously challenged on matters of process safety.” 

BP owned the Gulf of Mexico oil well, Halliburton performed critical cement work on the well, and Transocean was the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

In making his remarks, Reilly pointed to the commissions’ staff reports that cited a host of decision made by the companies. These included “failed cement tests, premature removal of muds underbalancing the well, a negative pressure test that failed but was adjudged a success, apparent inattention, distraction or misreading of a key indicator that gas was rising toward the rig,” Reilly said.

Reilly and another co-chair, former Democratic Senator Bob Graham, also commented on statements by the commission’s chief investigator that his probe did not find any evidence that the companies cut corners on safety to save money.

“The problem here is that there was a culture that did not promote safety … leaders did not take risks seriously enough, didn’t identify risks that proved to be fatal,” Graham said.

Reilly noted that the investigators “didn’t rule out cost, just said they weren’t prepared to attribute mercenary motives to men who cannot speak for themselves because they are not alive.”

The BP oil spill began with an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 men on April 20. All attempts to staunch the gusher failed, until a cap was successfully deployed over the well on July 15. By that time roughly 4.4 million barrels of oil had leaked into the Gulf of Mexico.

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