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BP 'missed big hazard issues' before Gulf oil spill

BP focused too much on small details of personal worker safety instead of the big systemic hazards that led to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a government safety panel found.

WASHINGTON // BP focused too much on small details of personal worker safety instead of the big systemic hazards that led to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a government safety panel found.

The company also was not as strict on overall safety when drilling rigs involved other companies they hired, the findings said.

Eleven workers died in the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and about 757 million litres of oil flowed into the Gulf from the blown-out Macondo well.

The company formerly known as BP had the lease on the well, but the drilling rig was owned and operated by another company, with BP faulting the drilling contractor, Transocean.

The contractor-owner split made a difference in major accident prevention with the oil disaster, the US Chemical Safety Board has concluded.

"BP applied lesser process safety standards" to rigs contracted out than it did to its own facilities, said the safety board managing director, Daniel Horowitz. "In reality, both Transocean and BP dropped the ball on major accident hazards in this case."

The oil company "did not conduct an effective comprehensive hazard evaluation of the major accident risks for the activities of the Deepwater Horizon rig or for the Macondo well" because BP's large risk evaluation programme "looked only at BP assets, not drilling rigs that it contracted" to other firms, investigators said.

A BP spokesman said the company "stepped up" and developed more rigorous safety indicators following the accident.

The safety board said that when BP looked at offshore endeavours it "focused on financial risks, not process safety risks". And after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the company's own accident investigation report "recommended requiring hazard reviews of BP-owned and contracted rigs", the safety board's presentation said.

"That's very disturbing because the Gulf of Mexico belongs to the American people," said a former US senator, Bob Graham, who co-chaired a different government oil spill investigation, one appointed by the US president, Barack Obama.

The Chemical Safety Board's findings, which mostly mirror the report from Mr Graham's panel and another, pointed at a second standard for what BP owned and operated and what it didn't. Mr Graham said he did not know that.

"If that's true, it's reprehensible," he said.

The board's presentation said there was a difference between worker safety and making sure the entire rig and well were safe, and that is where owner BP and rig operator Transocean were "inadequate".

That same lack of focus on the bigger picture of safety bore an "eerie resemblance" to what the safety board found in its investigation of a 2005 explosion at BP's Texas City refinery that killed 15 people, said a safety board investigator, Cheryl MacKenzie.

A federal oil spill commission report, co-chaired by Mr Graham, and a former EPA chief, William Reilly, alongside the National Academy of Engineering, found similar problems.

Reducing lost time for workers and making sure they wore the right kind of boot was important, "but that really doesn't have much to do with system safety", said a former navy secretary and now engineering professor, Donald Winter, who chaired the National Academy of Engineering investigation. "It is fundamentally different."

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