Thursday, July 22, 2010

If they had listened to workers, maybe there'd have been no disaster, and BP would not need to be "buying" scientists


THE widow of a worker killed in BP's oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico has testified that her husband expressed grave concerns about dangerous work conditions before his death. A survey indicates he was not alone. But the workers, employed by Texas-based Transocean, feared risking their jobs by raising their concerns.

The testimony comes as US news reports allege that while trying to cap the well, BP has also been making efforts to cap criticism of its operations, by buying influence on scientists and academic institutions.

Natalie Roshto, said her husband, Shane Roshto, a 22-year-old roustabout for Transocean, and other workers felt pressure to continue drilling despite frequent equipment malfunctions and setbacks. “From Day 1, he deemed this the ‘well from hell,’ ” Ms. Roshto told US federal investigators at a hearing into the causes of the disaster. “He said Mother Nature just didn’t want to be drilled here.”

Her testimony backs the view that workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig were concerned about safety standards. The rig, which caught fire on April 20, killing 11 men and triggering the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Ms. Roshto testified that her husband had not expressed similar concerns about other wells.

A confidential survey of rig workers conducted a month before the disaster showed that many were distressed about safety conditions and feared reprisals if they reported mistakes or other problems. The survey, commissioned by Transocean and reported yesterday in the New York Times, says workers “often saw unsafe behaviors on the rig.”

When it began its efforts to cope with the Gulf disaster BP did not want to let outside observers and scientists near the scene. But it is being alleged that "taking a page out of the Exxon handbook, BP has now begun buying up scientists from universities along the Gulf Coast in an attempt to prevent them from testifying in court about the dangers of their oil spill".

According to a new report by the Mobile Press-Register, BP is offering large sums of cash to any scientist willing to join their camp. The company has reportedly been meeting with scientists from universities in the South for several weeks, offering to pay $250 an hour in exchange for their silence on the oil spill.

The University of South Alabama declined an offer from BP to “purchase” their entire marine sciences department after BP wanted them to sign a confidentiality agreement that would have prevented them from making their research findings public, even if asked by a court.

Since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in April, the US government (as well as local state governments) has relied on these independent scientists to conduct research on the dangers of the oil spill. Those who choose to sign up with BP – enticed by offers of as much as $104,000 a year – will no longer be able to provide information to the government due to the contracts BP forces them to sign. This mean that when the case goes to court, they will no longer be able to testify about the dangers of the oil spill. Without these experts, it will be difficult for plaintiff’s attorneys to make a case.

The scientists aren’t the only group being influenced by money from the oil industry – A new report by the Alliance for Justice alleges that almost the entire 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has been tainted by the industry. This is the Circuit that recently upheld the lower court’s ruling that President Obama’s oil drilling moratorium wasn’t legal.

The lower court’s decision was also delivered by judge Martin Feldman who held stock in numerous oil companies, including Deepwater Horizon owner Transocean. The 5th Circuit will end up playing a large role in the developing lawsuits against BP, Halliburton, and Transocean (NYSE:RIG), as they hold jurisdiction over the areas being affected by the oil spill.

By keeping the case in an oil-friendly court district, and paying off the scientists who know the true dangers of their oil spill, BP might be able to avoid paying out claims to victims along the Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile, what of the US owners of the rig?

A confidential survey of workers on the Deepwater Horizon in the weeks before the explosion showed that many were concerned about safety practices, but feared reprisals if they reported mistakes or other problems. In the survey, commissioned by the rig’s owner, Transocean, workers said that company plans were not carried out properly and that they “often saw unsafe behaviors on the rig.”

Some workers also voiced concerns about poor equipment reliability, “which they believed was as a result of drilling priorities taking precedence over planned maintenance,” according to the survey, one of two Transocean reports obtained by The New York Times.

“At nine years old, Deepwater Horizon has never been in dry dock,” one worker told investigators. “We can only work around so much.”

“Run it, break it, fix it,” another worker said. “That’s how they work.”

According to a separate 112-page equipment assessment also commissioned by Transocean, many key components — including the blowout preventer rams and failsafe valves — had not been fully inspected since 2000, even though guidelines require inspection of the preventer every three to five years. The report cited at least 26 components and systems on the rig that were in “bad” or “poor” condition.

A spokesman for Transocean, who confirmed the existence of the reports, wrote in an e-mail message that most of the 26 components on the rig found to be in poor condition were minor and that all elements of the blowout preventer had been inspected within the required time frame by its original manufacturer, Cameron. The spokesman, Lou Colasuonno, commenting on the 33-page report about workers’ safety concerns, noted that the Deepwater Horizon had seven consecutive years without a single lost-time incident or major environmental event.

Transocean has sought in federal court to limit its liability to $27 million under the limitation of liability act of 1851. Under the law, the limitation of liability is removed if the vessel owner acted negligently. The US Justice Department has said its criminal investigation of the disaster will look at the role of the many companies involved. BP was leasing the rig from Transocean, and 79 of the 126 people on the rig the day it exploded were Transocean employees.

The first report focused on the its “safety culture” and was conducted by a division of Lloyd’s Register Group, a maritime and risk-management organization that dispatched two investigators to inspect the rig from March 12 to 16. They conducted focus groups and one-on-one interviews with at least 40 Transocean workers. The second report, on the status of the rig’s equipment, was produced by four investigators from a separate division of Lloyd’s Register Group, also on behalf of Transocean.

These investigators were scheduled to inspect the rig in April. While the report described workers’ concerns about safety and fears of reprisals, it did say that the rig was “relatively strong in many of the core aspects of safety management.” Workers believed teamwork on the rig was effective, and they were mostly worried about the reaction of managers off the rig, back at Transocean's headquarters in Houston.

“Almost everyone felt they could raise safety concerns and these issues would be acted upon if this was within the immediate control of the rig,” said the report, which also found that more than 97 percent of workers felt encouraged to raise ideas for safety improvements and more than 90 percent felt encouraged to participate in safety-improvement initiatives.

But investigators also said, “It must be stated at this point, however, that the workforce felt that this level of influence was restricted to issues that could be resolved directly on the rig, and that they had little influence at Divisional or Corporate levels.”

Only about half of the workers interviewed said they felt they could report actions leading to a potentially “risky” situation without reprisal. “This fear was seen to be driven by decisions made in Houston, rather than those made by rig based leaders,” the report said. “The company is always using fear tactics,” another worker said. “All these games and your mind gets tired.”

The rig's blow-out prevention equipment had not been inspected since 2000. A worker says the blow-out preventer was leaking days before the explosion. Some 26 parts and systems on the rig were found to be in "bad or poor" condition just a month before the incident. A safety audit by BP last year found 390 maintenance jobs yet to be done.

Transocean claims its surveys showed there was a strong "safety culture" on board. But the survey shows it was management on shore that workers were worried about. BP, it seems, was concerned about the amount of maintenance work being postponed. But not enough to halt production.

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At 8:37 AM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

This was not actually posted till Friday AM.

At 9:20 PM, Blogger joe90 kane said...

Here is an excellent left-wing Basque blog on the matter -
Could the Louisiana catastrophe had been prevented by a unionized workforce?
24 Jul 2010


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