CONFLICT OF INTEREST: Trial Lawyer and Lead Investigator on President’s Oil Spill Commission Defended Oil Giant AMOCO in Past


Amid all the research, investigations, reports, claims and counter-claims, it’s hard to know when the most serious work is being done on the BP oil spill. But the detailed “Third Progress Report” out from the Deepwater Horizon Study Group (DHSG) is a must-read for anyone following the spill.

I’ll be commenting on other parts of the report after I study the document more closely (it’s not brief), especially the parallels drawn to the nuclear power industry. But what first jumps out of the report is how strongly it refutes comments from Fred Bartlit, the lead investigator from the president’s oil spill commission who announced that he found no evidence that BP sacrificed safety for profit.

The Study Group is among the more significant independent organizations looking into the spill. Formed by the University of California, Berkeley, it is an international group of about 60 experts from a range of fields – with not only strong engineering experience but also experts in accident investigation, industrial management, organizational behavior, legal processes, ecology…and the knowledge base goes on. They are also all volunteers. They are not being paid.

It’s not common for such groups to call out individuals by name, but that’s exactly what they did (along about page 50) in the case of Mr. Bartlit.

The report reads:

On November 8, 2010, the lead investigator and chief counsel for the National Commission investigating the BP oil spill, Fred H. Bartlit, Jr., Esq., a prominent trial lawyer and who has defended oil giant AMOCO more than once in the past, announced to the commissioners that he found no evidence that anyone involved in drilling the doomed well had taken safety shortcuts to save money. This disputes findings of other investigators, including members of Congress, who have previously charged that BP and its contractors, Transocean and Halliburton, had cut corners to speed completion of the well, which cost $1.5 million a day to drill.

The report continues on to say:

Bartlit stated that “To date we have not seen a single instance where a human being made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety” (emphasis added). Nevertheless, Commission Co-chair William Reilly earlier Monday (November 8th) declared that “safety concerns took a back seat to the pursuit of the remarkable returns available offshore.” And this morning at the outset of the second day of the panel’s two-day hearing, Reilly said “Whatever else we learned and saw yesterday, it was emphatically not a culture of safety on that rig.”

We’ve seen this disconnect between the “spin” and the substance again and again. The most damaging, beyond the initial low-ball spill estimates, was the “vast majority of oil gone” claim that was pretty much refuted in the same report it referenced. It’s hard to see how, given the stature of the Study Group, Mr. Bartlit remains a viable member of the presidential commission moving forward – clearly, the Study Group mentioning his role defending AMOCO will not go unnoticed (nor should it).

The report is designed for the non-expert, and offers not only a professional assessment of the deep-water drilling culture but what to do about it.

See full report here: DHSG Third Progress Report Final

© Smith Stag, LLC 2010 – 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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