June 11th, 2010
02:40 PM ET

BP's Safety Record

Randi Kaye | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/US/06/08/oil.rig.warning.signs/smlvid.oilrig.fire.uscg.jpg caption="BP's own auditors and others have found the oil giant's been ignoring its own safety policies for years" width=300 height=169]

Even after more than 50 days of one disturbing detail of lax oversight after another, this new information still stuns.

BP's own auditors and others have found the oil giant's been ignoring its own safety policies for years… this according to an investigation by the non-profit journalism group – ProPublica – and the Washington Post. The report alleges instances of BP intimidating employees who reported problems… and delaying safety checks to reduce costs.

ProPublica, says it obtained a series of internal investigations from a person close to BP who believes the company has not yet done enough to eradicate its shortcomings – investigations that over the past decade warned senior BP managers that the company, according to the post, risked a serious accident if it did not change its ways.

"We found numerous instances where BP was putting production ahead of safety and maintenance inspections." says Ryan Knutson of ProPublica.

Among the most egregious:
A 2001 BP commissioned report noted that workers felt BP had neglected to maintain shut-off valves in Alaska, valves similar to those that could have helped prevent the fire and explosion that occurred on the rig in the gulf.

A document obtained by ProPublica says a 2004 internal investigation found BP cut maintenance costs by using aging equipment. The result? Accidents. Like the 2006 spill in Alaska's Prudhoe Bay. 200,000 gallons lost. It was blamed on an aging, corroded pipeline.

Scott West, a former EPA investigator says, "BP failed to follow industry standard practices on maintaining that pipeline"

Scott West was the EPA criminal investigator who headed up the case against BP after that spill.

He says in 2002, BP's own experts warned that the pipeline needed to be checked but BP had been warned to check the pipeline in 2002... but waited four years to do so.

West goes on to say, "It resulted in the rupture of that pipe, and the large amount of oil coming out onto the frozen tundra."

And there's more:
Four years before that, in 2002, court documents show BP was accused of falsifying inspections of fuel tanks at its Carson refinery near Los Angeles in order to comply with the law. In the end, the company was sued. It settled out of court for more than $80 million dollars, but never admitted guilt.

In march 2005, perhaps the most tragic incident of all… BP's Texas city refinery exploded, killing 15 people. Investigators discovered the company had ignored its own protocols.. the plant warning system failed.

BP pleaded guilty to federal felony charges.. it was hit with a $50 million dollar fine from the EPA.

But apparently not much changed… last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined BP $87 million dollars for not improving safety at that same Texas plant.

With a history like this, can anyone trust BP? We tried asking the company, but nobody called us back. BP spokesman Toby Odone told the Washington Post that the company has worked to create "responsible operations at every BP operation" and they expect to have it fully implemented by the end of this year. Odone said the notion that BP has ongoing problems addressing worker concerns is "essentially groundless."

"There is a public persona, a portrayal of BP, being a safety first organization," West says, "however, when you talk to the actual workers and contract employees, you find that it is complete smoke and mirrors. When workers bring that to the attention of management or speak out about it, they often find themselves retaliated against."

What angers Scott West most? That BP's still in business – still putting its workers at risk..

"BP just does not seem to get it... or is convinced that the government is not going to take serious action." he says.

It may take the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, and the deaths of 11 employees, for the EPA to bar BP from any more government contracts something they've been considering for years. Its a move that would cost the company billions, but hardly prevent it from doing business.

Filed under: Gulf Oil Spill • Randi Kaye
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