The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico was the result of deliberate decisions by BP engineers to take “shortcuts” and ignore standard safety measures, a congressional subcommittee charged this week. House investigators found that BP ignored usual industry practice when it chose to install only six of the 21 recommended devices for centering its pipe in the drill hole, which may have led to natural gas shooting up the pipe and exploding at the surface. The subcommittee released damning internal BP e-mails that showed engineers and officials rushing to complete the well, including one from a BP engineer who wrote on April 16, “Who cares, it’s done, end of story, will probably be fine.” Four days later, the well exploded, killing 11 workers and triggering the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
During hearings on Capitol Hill, executives from other oil companies sought to distance themselves from BP. “It’s not a well that we would have drilled,” said Shell President Marvin Odum. But House members assailed the executives for having amateurish disaster-preparedness plans that were virtual carbon copies of BP’s own. Other oil companies “would do no better” than BP when faced with a blowout, said California Democrat Henry Waxman.
This isn’t the first time BP has been accused of “taking egregious safety shortcuts,” said The Kansas City Star in an editorial. In 2005 BP was fined $87 million for an explosion at a Texas oil refinery that killed 15 workers, and an investigation found “organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels” of the company. Maybe having some of its “executives sent to prison” will finally get BP’s attention.
This week’s hearings may mark “a turning point in the way the public views the domestic oil industry,” said Jonathan Allen and Jake Sherman in Politico.com. Waxman has been “building his case against Big Oil for years, and now he has the documents and the forum to carry on his mission.” Could the man who brought the tobacco industry to its knees in the 1990s now do the same to Big Oil?