New York – The report released Wednesday by energy giant BP of its internal investigation into the catastrophic explosion in April of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the subsequent spill from the Macondo oil well has been met with criticism by watchdog groups who question the company’s motives.
“BP is distributing the blame and deflecting responsibility for the incident so they can justify their continued operation in the Gulf,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, told IPS.
“Rather than accept the blame and financial consequences for its disaster, BP is continuing to point fingers at everyone it can,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the conservation group Center for Biological Diversity.
Further investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice could lead to serious financial consequences for BP.
“BP is clearly trying to limit its financial liability by blaming other companies and denying there was criminal negligence,” Suckling told IPS. “If the Department of Justice concludes that BP was criminally negligent, its fines under the Clean Water Act will quadruple from 1,300 dollars per barrel to 4,300 dollars. That is more than a 10- billion-dollar difference.”
BP spokespersons were quick to emphasise that the company did not hold sole responsibility for the explosion and the resultant spill – the largest in the petroleum industry’s history.
“We have said from the beginning that the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon was a shared responsibility among many entities,” said Bob Dudley, incoming BP chief executive, in a press release.
Among those said by BP to share responsibility are subcontractors Transocean and Haliburton, who have questioned the report’s accuracy, saying the company was accepting insufficient accountability for its part in the disaster.
“This is a self-serving report that attempts to conceal the critical factor that set the stage for the Macondo incident: BP’s fatally flawed well design,” said Transocean in a statement released in response to the report.
BP’s outgoing chief executive, Tim Hayward, denies that a design flaw was to blame for the incident.
“To put it simply,” he stated in the press release, “there was a bad cement job and a failure of the shoe track barrier at the bottom of the well, which let hydrocarbons from the reservoir into the production casing. The negative pressure test was accepted when it should not have been, there were failures in well control procedures and in the blow-out preventer, and the rig’s fire and gas system did not prevent ignition.”
Environmental groups have said that those evaluating BP’s findings must take into account the company’s poor overall safety record.
“Since 2006,” said Food & Water Watch’s Hauter. “BP has been subject to at least 142.8 million dollars in fines and penalties for workplace safety violations in the U.S. alone – including 87.4 million dollars for allegedly failing to implement workplace safety improvements under a settlement after the Texas City disaster, and 50 million dollars in criminal fines related to that disaster.”
The Texas City disaster refers to a 2005 explosion at a BP refinery in Texas City that killed 15 workers and injured many more.
BP claims that the Deepwater Horizon investigation will lead to improved safety standards in offshore drilling. The report contains 25 recommendations, focusing on better pressure testing and emergency systems, cement testing, rig audits and verification, improving blow-out preventers, and increasing employee competence.
Hauter believes that BP’s investigation focused more on avoiding consequences for the company than on improving safety. “We don’t expect the recommendations to lead to better drilling safety,” she told IPS.
She is sceptical that the U.S. government will be able to do a much better job. “Since the oil industry has a legacy of writing the rules it plays by,” she told IPS, “we don’t foresee any drastically different findings from government investigations.”
Food & Water Watch believes that the government must take firmer action against BP until the company can improve safety. The organisation today filed a lawsuit against BP in federal court for violating a number of laws in the operation of its Atlantis oil and gas platform.
Thirty-four legislators nationally have also called for BP Atlantis to be shut down until its safety can be proven.
“We have evidence that Atlantis is unsafe and is in danger of creating an even worse spill than the one caused by the Deepwater Horizon explosion,” said Hauter. “Tony Hayward’s failure to be forthcoming when Congress questioned him about Atlantis and BP’s inconsistent statements over the last year are an indication that they are hiding the dangerous truth about Atlantis.”