BP Faces Scrutiny on Capitol Hill
by: Sara Sciammacco, May 17, 2007 5:05:00 am
Even though BP had experienced one of the worst refinery accidents in recent history, the management culture was slow to change. And in 2006 a pipeline accident with many similarities occurred at BP oilfield in Alaska. That's according to federal investigators who testified before Congress on Wednesday.
Carolyn Merritt heads the chemical safety board which looked into BP's management practices. She said the accidents were the result of budget pressures and poor maintenance.
"The organization at BP was highly decentralized. There was a lot of people responsible for a lot of things. It was almost impossible to find a chain of accountability for process safety."
In both accidents Merritt found there were improper staffing levels and inadequate training. She also noted equipment problems and lack of safety measures.15 lives were lost and 180 were injured during the refinery explosion, but no one was hurt in the pipeline accident.
The new BP President Bob Malone said he replaced management and spent $7 billion to improve safety at all refineries. He said the company conducts extensive reviews about each investigation.
"Please know we get it, we know what is wrong. We have a plan for fixing it. We have the people and the funding. We just need time to make these changes."
Members of Congress are trying to figure out if the improvements Malone spoke about are being done and will be enough to prevent another catastrophe.
In the Alaska case, Arlington Democrat Joe Barton said the committee did not receive all the documents it needs from BP.
"It looks like BP is trying to do the right thing in public and they are fighting like a tiger in private."
As of result of the Texas accident, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined the company 21 million dollars. It's the largest penalty issued by the agency. Still the safety board criticized OSHA for not doing enough inspections. An OSHA director told the panel the agency plans to launch a new program that will focus on refineries. But Houston Democrat Gene Green wants the agency to move more quickly.
"If we can't depend on the management to do it that means the federal agency has to do it, but again 5 years is way too long. I hope I don't have to go home tomorrow or Friday and see another tragedy.
It's clear from the hearing that Congress at least for now will continue to press BP about its safety record.
For Houston Public Radio, I'm Sara Sciammacco on Capitol Hill.