Sunday, June 20, 2010

Greed Is Dangerous

BP had 4 years to prepare and prevent this disaster — and they blew it:

Do you remember the Prudhoe Bay leak and the Texas City explosion? They were big news at the time, though they quickly faded from the headlines. BP was fined $21 million for the numerous violations that contributed to the Texas City explosion, and it was forced to endure a phased shutdown of its Alaska operations while it repaired the corroded pipeline, which cost it additional revenue.

In retrospect, though, the two accidents represented something else as well: they were a huge gift to the company. The fact that these two accidents — thousands of miles apart, and involving very different parts of BP — took place within a year showed that something was systemically wrong with BP’s culture. Mr. Browne had built BP by taking over other oil companies, like Amoco in 1998, and then ruthlessly cutting costs, often firing the acquired company’s most experienced engineers. Taking shortcuts was ingrained in the company’s culture, and everyone in the oil business knew it.

The accidents should have been the wake-up call BP needed to change that culture. But the mistakes and negligence that took place on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico — which are so profound that everyone I spoke to in the oil business found them truly inexplicable — suggest that the two men never did much more than mouth nice-sounding platitudes.

Which also makes the disaster even more unforgivable than it already is. BP executives had four years to fix the company’s problems before an accident took place that was truly catastrophic. And they blew it.

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