Despite a clear public record to the contrary, BP is continuing its public relations effort to define the blowout that has been spewing oil into the Gulf for nearly three months as an isolated departure from a record of safe and sound practices. The latest BP executive to parade out the claim is Bob Dudley, BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization director, who told PBS's Ray Suarez that other than the obvious belching counterexample, "there is nowhere that I believe that there was a systematic lack of emphasis and attention to safe and reliable operations for our people and equipment."
Bob Dudley said in a PBS interview last week that claims against BP's safety record are dated and tied to a single accident -- the Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 people in 2005.
"There were a particularly large number of violations around that one incident," said Dudley of the Texas City incident. "And as a result of that accident, it shook the company up. The new management of the company who put in place the -- almost the drive in the company about safe and reliable operations -- became the way we started every meeting. That was the way we sat down and planned every project. This was just sort of getting itself deeply ingrained in the company."
The new "safe and reliable" leadership appears to refer BP's CEO Tony Hayward, who took the reigns from long-standing CEO John Browne in May 2007.
But reports show BP has a long track record of egregious safety violations that continued under Hayward's watch. An analysis by the Center for Public Integrity found BP refineries produced 97 percent of all flagrant violations reported in the refining industry over the past three years. Jim Morris and MB Pell report:
BP received a total of 862 citations between June 2007 and February 2010 for alleged violations at its refineries in Texas City and Toledo, Ohio.
Of those, 760 were classified as "egregious willful" and 69 were classified as "willful." Thirty of the BP citations were deemed "serious" and three were unclassified. Virtually all of the citations were for alleged violations of OSHA's process safety management standard, a sweeping rule governing everything from storage of flammable liquids to emergency shutdown systems. BP accounted for 829 of the 851 willful violations among all refiners cited by OSHA during the period analyzed by the Center.
Top OSHA officials told the Center in an interview that BP was cited for more egregious willful violations than other refiners because it failed to correct the types of problems that led to the 2005 Texas City accident even after OSHA pointed them out. In Toledo, problems were corrected in one part of the refinery but went unaddressed in another. Jordan Barab, deputy assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said it was clear that BP "didn't go nearly far enough" to correct deficiencies after the 2005 blast.
"The only thing you can conclude is that BP has a serious, systemic safety problem in their company," Barab said.
In the wake of these citations, BP has been sued for problems ranging from a giant oil spill in the Alaskan arctic tundra to dozens of safety violations at an oil refinery in Ohio. Many of the violations happened under Hayward's tenure.
In 2007, BP paid nearly $21 million to U.S. officials for multiple safety violations and reckless behavior. Much of that sum was paid in October of that year, when BP plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act; the company agreed to serve three years probation, pay $4 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to support research and activities on the North Slope, pay $4 million in restitution to the State of Alaska, and pay a $12 million fine for spilling 200,000 gallons of crude oil onto the Alaskan tundra in March 2006. The same month, BP was also sued for $41,000 by the Minerals Management Service for various safety violations and paid a $6,350 fine for failing to perform adequate corrosion protection inspections at three underground gasoline storage tanks. In June 2007, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality fined BP another $869,150 for leaking underground gasoline storage tanks.
CEO Tony Hayward came onboard in May 2007, but BP's safety record did not improve.
In 2009, OSHA fined BP a record $87 million for more than 700 safety violations at its Texas City refinery - a long 4 years after the explosion Dudley claims "shook the company up" in its approach to safety. OSHA determined that BP was in non-compliance with the settlement agreement, finding 270 "notifications of failure to abate" and 439 new willful violations.
In 2010, BP paid over $3 million in fines for 42 willful safety violations at its Ohio refinery.
That's not a standard record, even in the oil industry. Analysis by CPI shows that only one other refinery has received an "egregious willful" citation between June 2007 and February 2010 -- and that was a single citation, compared to BP's 760 during the same period.
Check out this infographic for technical details on some of the differences between BP standards and industry standards. And watch Dudley tout BP's safety record here: