BP’s Troubled Offshore Rig Atlantis: Whistle-Blower Who Cited Safety Violations Two Years Ago Still Awaits Hearing


Here’s one for your “putting lipstick on a pig” file: The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) – a.k.a. the former Minerals Management Service (MMS) – is announcing that BP’s offshore mega-rig Atlantis is safe, even though an agency investigation has confirmed a whistle-blower’s charge that it lacks required engineering drawings.

This has been a disturbing case, on a variety of levels, for a while now. The whistle-blower is Kenneth Abbott, and he raised the safety concerns two years ago. He also asserted regulators are too friendly with Big Oil (surprise, surprise) – and he gained credibility when President Obama admitted as much, saying the old MMS had a cozy relationship with the industry.

Mr. Abbott, a BP contractor when he first discovered the problems with the well, said he was disappointed, but not surprised at the recent findings. Abbott is quoted by reporter David Hammer in a recent Times-Picayune article, saying that “…my whole experience with the agency has been that their first job is to protect themselves, and then the oil companies. They may have changed their name, but not their way of operating. I’m certainly not giving up. I entered this fight to help prevent another catastrophe in the Gulf and that’s still my mission.”

This situation stinks to high heaven. The federal agency was dragged kicking and screaming into doing the investigation…then admits it found serious problems…then inexplicably says “so what?” Mr. Hammer reports that the former MMS “…reviewed 3,400 engineering drawings and interviewed 29 people connected with the rig operations and found several deficiencies in the documents. It also said BP failed to file documents with the government showing changes it had made to its production safety system. BP was cited with an infraction, but did not have to pay a penalty and has since provided the required drawings.”

And continuing the long-running trend of federal “regulators” becoming virtual BP flacks, the bureau’s director, Michael Bromwich, said that in spite of the document deficiencies, Abbott’s claims that workers were put at risk is “without merit.” Sadly, we’ve grown accustomed to this denial process, but what the hell is the agency director doing making the case for BP?

What’s exactly at stake here? Mr. Hammer notes that “…BP Atlantis pulls about 190,000 barrels of oil equivalent out of the field each day, an amount nearly four times what was spewing out of the Macondo well when it was capped last July.”

Eventually, this particular issue will likely be resolved not by BP-friendly regulators, but by a court in Houston where Mr. Abbott is joined by environmental groups alleging violations of the False Claims Act. It speaks volumes that Abbott is still awaiting a hearing in that 2-year-old case.

Clearly, the old MMS mentality still infests the recently re-named agency, BOEMRE, with its “do nothing” approach to regulating.

Here’s Hammer’s Times-Picayune report: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2011/03/bp_atlantis_oil_rig_lacks_prop.html

© Smith Stag, LLC 2011 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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