Missing Oil Spill Commission Document Shows BP Made Risky Decisions in Gulf to Save Time (DOCUMENT)


The companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill made several risky decisions to save time – and consequently money – ahead of the disaster, according to a document that was pulled at the last minute from a presentation of the president’s oil spill commission earlier this month.

The document (pdf) obtained by Greenwire shows BP PLC, Halliburton Co. and Transocean Ltd. made a series of 11 unnecessary decisions that may have increased the chances of disaster. The findings paint a harsher picture than statements made by the panel’s chief counsel during a recent presentation that workers onshore and on the drilling rig didn’t cut corners on safety to save money. And it may be a harbinger of stronger findings in the panel’s final conclusions due out in January.

Before Fred Bartlit, the chief counsel, made those comments earlier this month during the commission’s final set of hearings, other inquiries into the disaster had alleged that BP’s bad decisions were driven by a desire to save money on the project, which was running behind schedule and costing the company about $1.5 million a day. And in preliminary findings released last week, the National Academy of Engineering also said BP failed to assess risks and chose less expensive actions on the project.

The document removed from Bartlit’s presentation shows the presidential commission may be considering similar conclusions.

A spokesman for the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling said the document was pulled from Bartlit’s presentation at the last minute because it hadn’t been reviewed by the commissioners, a requirement. The document was later mistakenly uploaded to the panel’s website but has since been removed.

“The commission continues to stand behind those findings,” said Dave Cohen, a spokesman for the commission. “We wish that the slide had been part of the presentation, and the information will be used, I predict, in the future, either in our remaining meeting or in the final report. But it’s supported entirely by our investigation.”

The seven-member commission appointed by President Obama is investigating the causes and effects of the oil spill. The panel has held a series of public hearings over the past several months, including the meeting earlier this month when Bartlit presented the tentative conclusions. The panel will hold its final deliberative meeting next week before preparing a final report for the president by January.

The missing document outlines 11 specific decisions that BP and its contractors made ahead of the disaster that may have increased risk on the rig. At least nine of the decisions saved time, the document shows, and the majority of the decisions were made by BP personnel on shore.

BP in recent months has tried to downplay the role of onshore decisionmakers in the bad moves that led up to the disaster. In its internal probe of the disaster, BP faulted its own employees on the drilling rig for not picking up on signs of trouble before the blowout. The British oil giant was also critical of subcontractor Halliburton for making bad calls about cementing the well ahead of the disaster.

Bartlit’s comments at the commission’s meeting in Washington earlier this month seemed to defend those BP employees.

“We have not seen a conscious decision where human beings favored dollars over safety,” Bartlit said. “We have not found a situation where we can say a man had a choice between safety and dollars and put his money on dollars. We haven’t seen it” (Greenwire, Nov. 8).

Each of the companies involved in the disaster has attempted to shift blame for various bad decisions made as they prepare to defend themselves against lawsuits and possible criminal charges stemming from the blowout that killed 11 rig workers and sparked the nation’s worst oil spill.

Spokesmen for BP and Halliburton didn’t respond to requests for comment about the missing document as of press time. A spokesman for Transocean declined to comment.

See missing document here: http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/11/23/23greenwire-missing-oil-spill-commission-document-shows-bp-17998.html

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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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