Profits were not just a tangential consideration in BP’s decisions


Like other independent probes of the BP oil spill, the Deepwater Horizon Study Group is pointing to the same key mistakes by BP and its contractors that led to the disaster. But the group of 60 scientists and independent offshore drillers is also asserting that BP compromised safety for the sake of profits in drilling the Macondo well.

That’s a crucial distinction — one that other investigators, regulators and the industry must acknowledge.

In asserting that BP put profits ahead of safety, the study group is taking issue with statements by Fred Bartlit Jr., the lead investigator of the presidential national Oil Spill Commission. Presenting the commission’s preliminary findings earlier this month, Mr. Bartlit declined to link BP’s decisions on the rig to the company’s efforts to save money. He said there is no “evidence” that anyone at the rig or BP explicitly decided to “do it the cheap way instead of the safe way.”

Commission co-chairmen William Reilly and Bob Graham questioned BP’s decisions. Mr. Reilly referred to what he perceived as “a culture of complacency affecting everything involved” with the Macondo well’s drilling.

But the study group members have gone further, suggesting BP’s decisions were more than tangentially related to the firm’s drive to save money. The study group is correct, and it’s important the national commission gets that right.

The group said that “perhaps there’s no clear-cut ‘evidence’?” that BP or its contractors “made a conscious decision to put costs before safety; nevertheless, that misses the point. It is the underlying unconscious mind that governs the actions of an organization and its personnel.”

We could not have said it any better.

This is more than a difference in semantics. BP has a history of putting profits over safety in decisions that led to other accidents. The company had vowed to change that management culture in recent years — but the oil spill exposed that campaign as insufficient at best, or a public relations sham at worst.

BP needs to change for real this time. And a recognition that the firm has been putting profits over safety is a necessary first step.

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

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