The Cost of Catastrophe

This guest blog is by legal intern Steven Rothermel, a third year law student at Tulane who has been part of GRN’s legal observer team for the BP trial The first week of the trial to determine civil liability for BP, Transocean, and Halliburton in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster came to a close on Thursday. The question of the day: how did BP assess risk in their exploration and production of oil in the Gulf of Mexico?BP’s answer: Cost.Not the cost of the environmental damage that the well blowout caused. Not the cost to the livelihoods and businesses of those who live and work along on the Gulf Coast. Not even the cost to the families and friends of the eleven men who lost their lives or the numerous others injured as a result of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig in April 2010.Plaintiffs’ attorneys examined BP’s Vice President of Safety and Operations, Mark Bly, extensively on Thursday about how the company established safety procedures, how those procedures were implemented and how they were evaluated. Evidence showed that BP identified the possibility of a loss of well control for the Macondo well. When analyzing the risks associated with loss of well control however, BP only considered one thing: cost. During the cross-examination of Bly, one particular exchange went like this:Attorneys for the Plaintiffs asked: “Do you find it acceptable that the Excel spreadsheet risk register for Macondo that, as far as I know, was never updated, never changed, that governs the Macondo, where it deals with well control, it says, ” Impact type: costs;’ do you find that acceptable that there is no mention of potential personal injury, death or environmental damage?” Bly’s response: “If this represented the actual understanding of the team drilling the well in its totality, I would certainly not find that acceptable.” Plaintiffs: “Did your team find or are you aware of any other documents pertaining to Macondo wherein there is an analysis of risk and a listing of potential consequences in case the risk was encountered?Head of Safety and Operations for BP: “I don’t know that, no.” Surely for a trial of this magnitude, BP’s Head of Safety would know of any documents pertaining to risk analysis for the Macondo well in particular. Later, when asked why BP didn’t conduct an internal Major Accident Risk assessment of the Macondo well, BP’s Bly answered that BP didn’t need a risk register to identify the risks involved with this project: it already knew them. Leadership failure and a culture of cost-cutting and looking only at what was best for the company led to the opposite result. BP is now publicly vilified and faces billions of dollars of fines for its involvement in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.Despite their initial admission of liability for the disaster, BP is now playing the blame game to avoid further fines and public embarrassment. In the internal investigation of the company after the disaster, BP determined eight major causes for the explosion that included failure to establish well integrity, hydrocarbons entering the well undetected, and hydrocarbons igniting on the Deepwater Horizon. Out of the eight significant issues that led to the blowout, BP takes responsibility for one. They blame Halliburton, who was contracted to pour the cement into the well casing, and Transocean, who operated the oil rig.This trial has served as a cautionary tale to energy corporations that they must take responsibilities for their actions. No longer should lost lives or environmental damage be acceptable in any stage of energy production and must be treated seriously. Companies must now consider all of the impacts of their decisions. Clearly, if BP is the guide, money they spend today to protect human lives and the environment could save them a fortune in the future.To read transcripts of the trial, you can go to this website. GRN will have legal monitors watching the ongoing civil trial. For updates, follow us on twitter here.

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