British Petroleum has a long record of bold claims and clever slogans. Far too many have proven to be incredibly ironic. BP also has another history, one we are reminded of now more than ever, one they paid top-dollar to cover up. A history of accidents and incidents of epic proportions.
From environmental destruction to human contamination, outright fraud to unbridled lies, BP has us covered. With such an abominable track record it really makes you wonder how they remain in business. I suppose, with enough money, anything can be made to fade from public perceptions… at least for a little while.
Accidents and Incidents of BP
March 16, 1978: Landunvez Oil Spill
The very large crude carrier Amoco Cadiz ran ashore just north of Landunvez, Finistère, France, causing one of the largest oil spills in history. More than a decade later, Amoco was ordered to pay $120 million in damages and restitution to France.
October 21, 1980: New Castle Plant Explosion
An explosion at an Amoco plant in New Castle, Delaware, killed six people, caused $46 million in property damage, and eventually led to the loss of 300 jobs.
1980s-1990s: Naperville Researchers Cluster Cancer
Six former Amoco chemical engineers at the firm’s Naperville, Illinois research campus developed a deadly form of brain cancer. Researchers who conducted a three-year study of the cancer cluster determined that the cancer cases were workplace-related, but they could not identify the source of the workers’ ailments. In June 2010, BP demolished Building 503, where the workers had worked, because according to a company spokesperson, the building was “underused,” and “required upgrades the company deemed too expensive.” Heirs of one of the cancer victim workers won a $2.75 million suit against BP Amoco in 2000.
1993–1995: Hazardous substance dumping
In September 1999, one of BP’s US subsidiaries, BP Exploration Alaska (BPXA), agreed to resolve charges related to the illegal dumping of hazardous wastes on the Alaska North Slope, for $22 million. The settlement included the maximum $500,000 criminal fine, $6.5 million in civil penalties, and BP’s establishment of a $15 million environmental management system at all of BP facilities in the US and Gulf of Mexico that are engaged in oil exploration, drilling or production. The charges stemmed from the 1993 to 1995 dumping of hazardous wastes on Endicott Island, Alaska by BP’s contractor Doyon Drilling. The firm illegally discharged waste oil, paint thinner and other toxic and hazardous substances by injecting them down the outer rim, or annuli, of the oil wells. BPXA failed to report the illegal injections when it learned of the conduct, in violation of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.
2005: Texas City Refinery explosion
In March 2005, BP’s Texas City, Texas refinery, one of its largest refineries, exploded causing 15 deaths, injuring 180 people and forcing thousands of nearby residents to remain sheltered in their homes. A large column filled with hydrocarbon overflowed to form a vapour cloud, which ignited. The explosion caused all the casualties and substantial damage to the rest of the plant. The incident came as the culmination of a series of less serious accidents at the refinery, and the engineering problems were not addressed by the management. Maintenance and safety at the plant had been cut as a cost-saving measure, the responsibility ultimately resting with executives in London.
The fall-out from the accident continues to cloud BP’s corporate image because of the mismanagement at the plant. There have been several investigations of the disaster, the most recent being that from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board which “offered a scathing assessment of the company.” OSHA found “organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporation” and said management failures could be traced from Texas to London.
On October 30, 2009, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined BP an additional $87 million — the largest fine in OSHA history — for failing to correct safety hazards revealed in the 2005 explosion. Inspectors found 270 safety violations that had been previously cited but not fixed and 439 new violations. BP is appealing that fine.
2006–2007: Prudhoe Bay
In August 2006, BP shut down oil operations in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, due to corrosion in pipelines leading up to the Alaska Pipeline. The wells were leaking insulating agent called Arctic pack, consisting of crude oil and diesel fuel, between the wells and ice. BP had spilled over one million litres of oil in Alaska’s North Slope. This corrosion is caused by sediment collecting in the bottom of the pipe, protecting corrosive bacteria from chemicals sent through the pipeline to fight this bacteria. There are estimates that about 5,000 barrels (790 m3) of oil were released from the pipeline. To date 1,513 barrels (240.5 m3) of liquids, about 5,200 cubic yards (4,000 m3) of soiled snow and 328 cubic yards (251 m3) of soiled gravel have been recovered. After approval from the DOT, only the eastern portion of the field was shut down, resulting in a reduction of 200,000 barrels per day (32,000 m3/d) until work began to bring the eastern field to full production on 2 October 2006.
In May 2007, the company announced another partial field shutdown owing to leaks of water at a separation plant. Their action was interpreted as another example of fallout from a decision to cut maintenance of the pipeline and associated facilities.
On 16 October 2007 Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation officials reported a toxic spill of methanol (methyl alcohol) at the Prudhoe Bay oil field managed by BP PLC. Nearly 2,000 gallons of mostly methanol, mixed with some crude oil and water, spilled onto a frozen tundra pond as well as a gravel pad from a pipeline. Methanol, which is poisonous to plants and animals, is used to clear ice from the insides of the Arctic-based pipelines.
2006-2008: Texas City refinery fatalities
From January 2006 to January 2008, three workers were killed at the company’s Texas City, Texas refinery in three separate accidents. In July 2006 a worker was crushed between a pipe stack and mechanical lift, in June 2007, a worker was electrocuted, and in January 2008, a worker was killed by a 500-pound piece of metal that came loose under high pressure and hit him.
2007: Propane price manipulation
Four BP energy traders in Houston were charged with manipulating prices of propane in October 2007. As part of the settlement of the case, BP paid the US government a $303 million fine, the largest commodity market settlement ever in the US. The settlement included a $125 million civil fine to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, $100 million to the Justice Department, $53.3 million to a restitution fund for purchasers of the propane BP sold, and $25 million to a US Postal Service consumer fraud education fund.
2008: Oil price manipulation
In May 2010, the Supreme Court of Arbitration of the Russian Federation agreed in support of the country’s antimonopoly service’s decision to a 1.1 billion Ruble fine ($35.2 million) against TNK/BP, a 50/50 joint venture, for abusing antitrust legislation and setting artificially high oil products prices in 2008, TNK and BP declined comment.
2009: North Sea helicopter accident
On April 1 2009, a Bond Offshore Helicopters Eurocopter AS332 Super Puma ferrying workers from BP’s platform in the Miller oilfield in the North Sea off Scotland crashed in good weather killing all 16 on board.
2010: Deepwater Horizon oil spill
On April 20, 2010, a semi-submersible exploratory offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded after a blowout and sank two days later, killing eleven people and causing a massive oil spill threatening the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida. The rig is owned and operated by Transocean Ltdon behalf of BP, which is the majority owner of the oil field. The company originally estimated the size of the leak at about 1,000 barrels a day but later accepted government estimates of a leak of at least 5,000 barrels per day (790 m3/d). On April 30, BP stated that it would harness all of its resources to battle the oil spill, spending $7 million a day with its partners to try to contain the disaster. BP was running the well without a remote control shut-off switch used in two other major oil-producing nations, Brazil and Norway, as a last resort protection against underwater spills. The use of such devices is not mandated by U.S. regulators.
The U.S. Government gave the responsibility of the incident to BP and will hold it accountable for costs incurred in containing the situation. On May 11, 2010, Congress called the executives of BP, Transocean, and Halliburton to a hearing regarding the oil spill. When probed for answers regarding the events leading up to the explosion, each company blamed the other. BP blamed Transocean who owned the rig, who then blamed the operators of the rig, BP. They also blamed Halliburton, who built the well casing. Scientists have been requesting the right to monitor the amount of oil that is actually being released per day, but “‘The answer is no to that,’ a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said on Saturday, May 15. ‘We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort. Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the leak using particle image velocimetry and estimated oil flow rates at between 56,000 to 84,000 barrels per day (8,900 to 13,400 m3/d), or equivalent to one Exxon Valdez spill every 3.5 to 2.4 days. A second, smaller leak has been estimated to be releasing 25,000 barrels per day (4,000 m3/d) by itself, suggesting that the total size of the leak may well be in excess of 100,000 barrels per day and became the largest oil spill in US history.
The Controversy of BP
BP has been criticised for its involvement with Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, due to human rights, environmental and safety concerns.
In July 2006, a group of Colombian farmers won a multi million pound settlement from BP after the British oil and gas company was accused of benefiting from a regime of terror carried out by Colombian government paramilitaries to protect a 450-mile (720 km) pipeline.
Mist mountain project
There have been some callsfor BP to halt its “Mist Mountain” Coalbed Methane Project in the Southern Rocky Mountains of British Columbia. The proposed 500 km² project is directly adjacent to the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Canadian oil sands
BP is one of numerous firms who are extracting oil from Canadian oil sands, a process that produces four times as much CO2 as conventional drilling. The Cree aboriginal group describe BP as being complicit in ‘the biggest environmental crime on the planet’.
Refinery safety violations
Under scrutiny after the Texas City Refinery explosion, two BP-owned refineries in Texas City, Texas, and Toledo, Ohio, were responsible for 97 percent (829 of 851) of safety violations by oil refiners between June 2007 and February 2010, as determined by inspections by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Environmental and safety record
BP was named by Mother Jones Magazine as one of the “ten worst corporations” in both 2001 and 2005 based on its environmental and human rights records. In 1991 BP was cited as the most polluting company in the US based on EPA toxic release data. BP has been charged with burning polluted gases at its Ohio refinery (for which it was fined $1.7 million), and in July 2000 BP paid a $10 million fine to the EPA for its management of its US refineries. According to PIRG research, between January 1997 and March 1998, BP was responsible for 104 oil spills.
Why no further steps have been taken to stop the repetition of destruction and tragedy I don’t know. I can only hope we will learn to hit them where it hurts, right in the pocket. If the politicians they pay are not elected and we discontinue being customer, how long can they stand alone?
[Published for Chemically Green]