BP = Beyond Prosecution

Mention the name of the corporation BP to Scott West and two words immediately come to mind: Beyond Prosecution.

West was the special agent in charge with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) criminal division who had been probing alleged crimes committed by BP and the company’s senior officials in connection with a March 2006 pipeline rupture at the company’s Prudhoe Bay operations in Alaska’s North Slope that spilled 267,000 gallons of crude oil across two acres of frozen tundra – the second largest spill in Alaska’s history – which went undetected for nearly a week.

West was confident that the thousands of hours he invested into the criminal probe would result in felony charges against the company and the senior executives who received advanced warnings from dozens of employees at the Prudhoe Bay facility that unless immediate steps were taken to repair the severely corroded pipeline, a disaster on par with that of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill was only a matter of time.

In fact, West, who spent more than two decades at the EPA’s criminal division, was also told the pipeline was going to rupture – about six months before it happened.

In a wide-ranging interview with Truthout, West described how the Justice Department (DOJ) abruptly shut down his investigation into BP in August 2007 and gave the company a “slap on the wrist” for what he says were serious environmental crimes that should have sent some BP executives to jail.

He first aired his frustrations after he retired from the agency in 2008. But he said his story is ripe for retelling because the same questions about BP’s record are now being raised again after a catastrophic explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and ruptured an oil well 5,000 feet below the surface that has been spewing upwards of 200,000 barrels of oil per day into the Gulf waters for a month.

The Watchdog

In the summer of 2005, West was transferred from San Francisco to the EPA’s Seattle office and was introduced to Chuck Hamel, an oil industry watchdog, who is credited with exposing weak pollution laws at the Valdez tanker port in the 1980s prior to the Exxon Valdez spill and the electrical and maintenance problems associated with the trans-Alaska oil pipeline operated by BP.

Hamel had become the defacto spokesperson and protector of dozens of BP Exploration Alaska (BPXA) whistleblowers, who would routinely leak to him documents, pictures and inside information about the company’s poor safety and maintenance record at its Prudhoe Bay operations. Hamel also operated a now defunct web site, Anwrnews.com (the acronym for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge), which became a clearing house for the whistleblowers’ complaints and an archive showcasing, among other things, the letters Hamel had written to Congress, the White House and BP’s top executives exposing the company’s shoddy operations in the North Slope and demanding immediate action. The tagline on the archived version of Anwrnews.com says it was “established by and for the many concerned Prudhoe Bay BP operators who fear for their lives and the environment due to violations of Government regulations and requirements by BP.”

One of the letters still posted on the web site is dated January 10, 2001. It was sent to him by unnamed BP employees, who asked him to assist them in getting BP management to address their concerns about safety and maintenance issues that their repeated attempts had failed to do. They said they even reached out  to then-BP President Lord John Browne about “inadequate staffing levels” two years earlier, but never received a response.

“We were concerned about our recommendations being ignored and disregarded…We were concerned about BP’s cost cutting efforts undermining our ability to respond to emergencies and reducing the reliability of critical safety systems. We were concerned about the lack of preventative maintenance on our equipment,” the BP employees’ letter said. “We had suffered a major fire, which burned a well pad module to the ground and nearly cost one of our operators his life.

“We had suffered two job fatalities and a third serious injury to personnel in the months before the letter was sent. In response to our concerns, Sir John’s Management Team further reduced our staffing levels from six to four in the GC Plants and from seven to six on the Well Pads. Our four Plant Operators do the work that seven did in 1990.

“It is clear that BP Management has one priority and that is cost reduction … Perhaps you may know some way of getting our concerns heard and addressed. If these concerns are not addressed, we feel that a major catastrophe is imminent. We have only our lives and our futures at risk here.”

[snip]

Hamel also sent a copy of the letter to President Bush. It is unclear if either Browne or the Bush White House ever responded. BP would not comment for this story. But a majority of these allegations were repeated to West when he met with Hamel years later, and one explosive tidbit of information would form the basis of his criminal investigation into the company.

[snip]

During the time that West met with Hamel, Congress was debating opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration and BP, which operated the Prudhoe Bay oil field, the largest in North America and jointly owned by ExxonMobil, BP and ConocoPhillips, would have led the drilling efforts.

One of the concerns that employees expressed back then was that the frequent oil spills at Prudhoe Bay would also become a routine occurrence in ANWR because of BP’s ongoing cost-cutting measures that left its operations vulnerable. And for that reason, some employees opposed calls to pass legislation to drill in ANWR.

[snip]

West said after he spoke with a handful of the BP whistleblowers he “started having nightmares.”

“They told me there was going to be a massive spill on the North Slope and I need to be ready,” West said.

[snip]

Prediction Becomes Reality

West said when he met Hamel he was told in no uncertain terms by Hamel that an elevated section of pipeline at a caribou crossing – a “perfect habitat for corrosion” – was going to rupture and when it did it would be catastrophic.

“He said ‘eventually, the pipeline will fail,'” West said.

Hamel explained that the pipeline was so fragile that new employees were warned not to lean against it or allow their keys to bang against the structure because of the damage it could cause.

It’s a long article. Read it all here:

How Bush’s DOJ Killed a Criminal Probe Into BP That Threatened to Net Top Officials

Jason Leopold, truthout.org, May 19, 2010

21 comments

Skip to comment form

    • Edger on May 20, 2010 at 1:38 am
      Author

    comes around. Karma never sleeps.

  1. Something any Fifth Grader could research in 30 minutes and say, “false”.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/n

    In a section titled “Sensitive Biological & Human-Use Resources,” the plan lists “seals, sea otters and walruses” as animals that could be impacted by a Gulf of Mexico spill – even though no such animals live in the Gulf.

    BP should be sued for every penny they have.

  2. “It is clear that BP Management has one priority and that is cost reduction.  Perhaps you may know some way of getting our concerns heard and addressed.If these concerns are not addressed, we feel that a major catastrophe is imminent. We have only our lives and our futures at risk here.”

    And BP contrinued it’s murderous, greedy ways for at least another decade…

    And, voila — The Black Plague in the Gulf!

    What the fuck do we do to see they are held accountable and punished for their crimes?  

    Should we send a petition to Holder and the DOJ?  Ha!  We’ve learned what good that does.

    I’m afraid we might see some of these folks whose lives have been destroyed take justice (or the lack of it) into their own hands and resurrect an old southern tradition–lynching.

    The BP (Black Plague) execs better watch their backs.

  3. And just as nothing has changed going forward with regard to the economy since the 2008 meltdown, nothing has changed with regard to offshore drilling.

    For example, since the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig exploded on April 20th, the Obama administration has granted oil and gas companies at least 27 exemptions from doing in-depth environmental studies of oil exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico. And a whistleblower who survived the Gulf oil explosion claims in a lawsuit filed today that BP’s operations at another oil platform risk another catastrophic accident that could “dwarf” the Gulf oil spill, partly because BP never even reviewed critical engineering designs for the operation

    http://www.washingtonsblog.com

    As someone on Salon recently posted:

    “Get BP the fuck outta there!!

    This is no longer THEIR well. Obama should declare a national emergency like yesterday. Stop fooling around waiting for BP assholes to do something. Bring in independent experts and engineers to find a way to stop the catastrophic gushing of oil into the public domain.

    Deal with BP later, preferably by confiscation of all BP assets under US jurisdiction and auctioning them off to cover the cost of cleaning up this mess.”

  4. Yeah, right.

  5. here

    Edger, I think this deserves a separate diary.  I didn’t post it because this is your terrain.  So let me know if you want to, or have time to post it.  If not, I’m willing to do so.  

    I’d like to get the vid to come up directly rather than having to click to go to it, but I’ve had a little trouble with Dem Now htmls…

    Scott explains more about BP criminal negligence, says the employees are afraid of vindictive retaliation from BP.

    Argghh and more Argghh!

  6. It is clear that BP Management has one priority and that is cost reduction … Perhaps you may know some way of getting our concerns heard and addressed. If these concerns are not addressed, we feel that a major catastrophe is imminent. We have only our lives and our futures at risk here.”

    Oil and coal  . . our American lifestyle dependent on them.  . .

    The only real answer is to change that.

  7. Just a quick OT question: Are you coming tomorrow night ?

                Hugs,

                Heather

Comments have been disabled.