The accidents [years ago] should have been the wake-up call BP needed to change that culture. But the mistakes and negligence that took place on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico — which are so profound that everyone I spoke to in the oil business found them truly inexplicable — suggest that the two men never did much more than mouth nice-sounding platitudes.
Which also makes the disaster even more unforgivable than it already is. BP executives had four years to fix the company’s problems before an accident took place that was truly catastrophic. And they blew it.
Before the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, the greatest oil disaster in American history was the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, which spewed 10.8 million gallons of crude into Prince William Sound in Alaska. (By comparison, the gulf blowout is pouring out that much oil every four or five days.) That experience was searing for the country — but it was also pretty searing for Exxon (now known as Exxon Mobil). “A low point in the history of the company,” Exxon Mobil’s chief executive, Rex Tillerson, called it when he testified before Congress on Tuesday.
There is a reason Exxon Mobil has not had a serious accident in the subsequent 21 years. Unlike BP, it used the accident to transform itself.
Immediately after the spill, Exxon pulled together some of its most respected executives and gave them a new assignment: figure out how to embed safety into the core of the company. The message was reiterated by the top brass, including the chief executive, whenever they visited a rig or a refinery. Processes were put in place that had to be followed at any Exxon facility anywhere in the world. Redundancies were built in. Workers were encouraged to bring safety concerns to their bosses. And the statistics bear out the genuineness of this cultural change: by every measure, Exxon Mobil has by far the best safety record in the industry. The company has become so safety-crazed that an Exxon Mobil cafeteria worker takes the temperature of the lettuce in the salad bar.
Compare that to BP’s record these last four years. On Thursday, during his day before an angry House energy subcommittee, Mr. Hayward was confronted with the fact that BP had been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 760 “egregious willful” safety violations in its refineries. Mr. Hayward tried to slough this off by claiming that the violations had taken place in 2005 and 2006 — before, that is, he became chief executive and brought his “laser focus” on safety.
But Mr. Hayward was not telling the truth. According to the Center for Public Integrity, which obtained the data under the Freedom of Information Act, the violations all took place between 2007 and 2010, very much on Mr. Hayward’s watch. What’s more, the company violated something called O.S.H.A.’s “process safety management standard” — which is precisely what that BP advisory panel had been charged with examining after the Texas City explosion. In October 2009, O.S.H.A. fined BP an additional $87 million for refinery deficiencies. It doesn’t sound like the company took its advisory panel’s recommendations very seriously, does it?
Read the whole article, which details all the many, many ways BP deliberately cut corners and set this disaster up. Truly awful management.