Friday, June 4, 2010

BP: Get Safe or Get Out

Given that the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is now the nation's worst spill ever, doesn't it make sense to completely ban ofshore oil drilling?


Good. You're using your head.

Don't get me wrong: What's happened in the gulf is nasty and should not have happened. BP's deplorable safety record:
The violations are determined when an employer demonstrated either an "intentional disregard for the requirements of the [law], or showed plain indifference to employee safety and health."

OSHA statistics show BP ran up 760 "egregious, willful" safety violations, while Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips each had eight, Citgo had two and Exxon had one comparable citation.
shows that the company, at least in the United States -- I don't see this kind of thing going on in England, though it's quite possible I'm grossly misinformed -- thumbs its nose at safety and environmental law. I don't know how they can do this and stay in business, unless, as has been shown, the regulatory bodies are in bed with them.

Shutting down oil drilling and exploration isn't the right idea. It's knee-jerk, it's short-sighted and does absolutely nothing to fill the need for raw materials for plastics, pharmaceuticals and other products, forgetting about gasoline.

So what do you do?

Obviously, BP needs a safety culture. I won't say a better safety culture, because it's clear the company doesn't have one.

Private enterprise can have excellent safety cultures. I work for a subcontractor to CH2M Hill at the Idaho National Laboratory, where the company is engaged in digging up and repackaging legacy nuclear waste to ship it to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico. A lot of the work we do is hazardous, given the radioactive and chemical hazards that are buried out here. And yet I've seen time and again that the company and its workers have an excellent, almost paranoid, safety culture. If one little thing goes wrong, it's not brushed under the rug. It's investigated. It's fixed.

A few weeks ago, for example, we had a fire at work. Repeated drills on fire emergency procedures showed we know what to do. Even better, after the fire was out -- there was some kind of electrical fault in a piece of heavy equipment that started a fire inside one of our waste retrieval tents -- work was shut down for a few days so those in the know could figure out what went wrong and try their best t make sure the event wouldn't be repeated. Yeah, it cost the company some money to shut down operations for a few days, but that it makes subsequent operations that much more safe is worth the money. I'm proud to work with such a company, and proud that I've been involved in writing the emergency procedures that were followed so well.

We even get things like this to reinforce our safety culture:

So I know a safety culture is possible.

So what needs to change at BP? They need some safety-minded folks in charge. Other oil companies are obviously able to do this kind of work safely. BP needs to look at what these other companies are doing.

And if they don't, they need to be regulated to the point that they either engage good safety culture or are disinvited from drilling in the United States. Shutting down oil drilling carte blanche is a stupid idea. Cutting BP out of the game if it can't improve its safety record makes much more sense.

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