OSHA: BP Less Safe Than Other Oil Companies

In the wake of the BP oil spill, efforts have been afoot on the part of the Obama administration to ban drilling off the U.S. coast outright, ostensibly to stop future disasters like that which continues to unfold in the Gulf.

Part of the rationale for such a proposed moratorium is the notion that BP’s practices were not uniquely bad among industry actors, but rather typical and common–a conclusion that appears to be reinforced by a cursory glance at records obtained from the Department of the Interior, as written up by Greenwire today:

To look at the safety records of the offshore drilling companies before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank on April 20, there was little difference between BP America Inc. and its peers in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

But in a revelation that Big Government readers are unlikely to find surprising, sources tell Capitol Confidential that a broader review of relevant governmental data demonstrates that in fact, BP had a far worse record on safety matters than other oil companies.

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Indeed, by one measure, BP’s practices were exponentially less safe than those of environmentalists’ favorite oil industry bogeyman– Exxon-Mobil–a conclusion BP opponents say may support the proposition that a lighter touch regulatory approach, which does not punish companies with good safety records and standards, is more appropriate than a ban.

According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) data compiled and detailed to Capitol Confidential, two refineries owned by BP accounted for an astonishing 97 percent of the most serious violations flagged by government inspectors in the last three years.

Furthermore, of a total 862 citations issued between June 2007 and February 2010 at the two refineries, a stunning 760 were deemed “egregious willful,” with a further 69 classified as “willful.” Shockingly, Exxon-Mobil–widely considered by many environmentalists and liberals itself to be the ultimate bad actor–received only one “egregious willful” citation. Why did OSHA cite BP for more “egregious willful” violations than other companies? Capitol Confidential’s sources indicate that BP, unlike other companies, not only messed up; the company had also failed to take corrective action when problems were flagged.

In addition, of about 850 “willful” violations among refiners cited by OSHA during the period for which data was provided and analyzed, BP accounted for nearly 830 of them. While OSHA has previously said its concerns are not restricted to BP, OSHA citations, regardless of level, have been heavily imbalanced in BP’s favor. Between June 2007 and February 2010, Sunoco Inc., ConocoPhilips and Citgo, had been issued just over 100 citations each, with just a handful being deemed “willful.”

This data deserves to be highlighted, sources say, for various reasons. First, a moratorium threatens thousands of jobs across the Southeast, opponents charge unjustifiably, and closes off energy production in an “anti-capitalistic” fashion. Second, however, BP critics say that in the absence of a review of the full data, BP may be being let off too lightly in the court of public opinion and dismissed as “just another oil company,” when in fact, much of the data suggests that is not so.

For now, the Obama administration’s proposed moratorium has been forcibly shelved, but as debate continues over BP’s role in the disaster, this data is bound to get a better airing–especially by those who charge that BP’s practices are neither best, nor emblematic of the oil industry, and who resent being tarred with the BP brush. Likewise, government’s role in preventing this disaster rather than enabling an actor now universally regarded as “bad” is likely to bear further scrutiny.


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