Tuesday, December 12, 2006

BP Texas City: More Evidence That Neglegence Led To Explosion

The Wall St. Journal today reports on a series of internal "accountability reviews" of the 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers and injured 180. The Chemical Safety Board reported earlier this year that cost-cutting at BP had contributed to the accident. The interviews cited by the Wall St. Journal seem to confirm those contentions.

BP had originally blamed the accident on workers' failure to follow procedures and reassigned the plant manager, Don Parus. Parus didn't have kind words for BP's upper management. Parus said
he had been ordered to cut costs by 25% as recently as 2005, according to notes of an interview conducted Oct. 12.

He said he had given a slide show to [BP's global chief executive, John]Manzoni during a visit by the executive in July 2004 showing BP and Amoco had "underinvested" at Texas City for the previous 10 years, according to the interview notes. He said he pleaded for additional funds, citing problem areas such as the poor condition of equipment, and he said he had "exhausted every avenue he had to get the funds and it remained a no," according to the notes.

An attorney for Mr. Parus said his client stands by what he said in the interviews but wasn't available to comment.

Ross Pillari, who stepped down as chief executive of BP's U.S. operations this year, said Texas City had been neglected, according to a BP interview on April 27. Senior BP-Amoco executives at the time of the merger "tried to squeeze as much out of [Texas City], so maintenance was neglected. The directive was to keep expenditures low because of 10 years of lousy refinery margins," according to a summary of his interview. Refinery margins are an industry measure of profitability. Mr. Pillari declined to comment.
And BP CEO Lord Browne wasn't much help either:
In addition to BP's management structure, one executive also cited Lord Browne's attitude toward safety. In an interview conducted on June 21, Greg Coleman, who was vice president of BP's health, safety and environmental programs before he left the company, said Lord Browne "showed little interest" in safety and demonstrated "no passion, no curiosity, no interest" in safety issues, according to his interview notes.
Poor Lord Browne, "repeatedly voted the best businessman in Britain." has had a very bad couple of years, according to Britain's Daily Telegraph, leading observers to wonder whether or not he will be able to stay on until his announced retirement date at the end of 2008:
The first signs that not all was well came in March, when 200,000 barrels of oil spilled onto the Prudhoe Bay tundra from a leaking pipeline. It appeared to be an isolated incident, but it set off a chain of events that led to the realisation that miles of pipes were dangerously corroded. In August, almost half the field had to be shut down.

BP faces a criminal investigation as well as inquiries by regulators and Congressional investigations into its maintenance record, amid allegations that the company neglected its infrastructure for years to boost profits.

In many aspects, what has happened in Alaska merely mirrored what was going on thousands of miles to the south in Texas City, where a refinery explosion killed 15 people and injured scores of others in 2005.

BP settled lawsuits with the families of those killed, but not before a report from the Chemical Safety Board catalogued years of unheeded warnings about the potential for disaster at the site. The regulator claimed that management was sub-standard, unsafe and antiquated equipment was not replaced and maintenance was deficient.

A website set up by lawyers for one of those whose parents were killed in the blast is publishing ever more damaging documents that show that Lord Browne himself knew of the poor safety record at the refinery, where workers feared for their lives every day and where even its managers admitted equipment was patched together with "band aids and super glue".

But if those are the two incidents that have generated the most headlines, they merely head an ever growing list of problems filling Lord Browne's in-tray.

The company was forced to admit that production at its Thunderhorse platform in the Gulf of Mexico would have to be delayed again after more problems were discovered.

BP's trading operations face criminal and civil investigations into whether the company has purposely manipulated the crude oil, petrol and propane markets.

Just yesterday the company found itself on the wrong end of a Supreme Court ruling over royalty rates that could see it forced to pay millions of dollars, on top of $30m of back taxes.

That pales into insignificance compared with the $1.4bn tax bill BP's Russian joint venture was forced to pay the Kremlin this month. The Russian government, in a bid to exert its control over its energy resources, is also threatening to withdraw some of BP-TNK's licences, ostensibly on environmental grounds.
More BP stories here.