The federal government will pursue charges of gross negligence or willful misconduct against BP for its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, according to recently filed court documents. The move isn’t a surprise, but a scathing memo filed last week outlines the Justice Department’s strategy in more detail.
In the memo, filed as part of the civil case pending in New Orleans, the government accuses BP of a “culture of corporate recklessness,” and cites internal emails exchanged among BP managers before the April 2010 explosion that killed 11 men. The memo uses BP’s own internal investigation, known as the Bly report, to support its claims. While acknowledging the technical causes of the blowout, which included a failed cement job and a poorly executed pressure test on the well by BP and rig owner Transocean, the government contends:
. . . What is most striking about the so-called “Bly Report” is the utter lack of any semblance of investigation of the systemic management causes deeply implicating the corporate managers and leadership who caused and allowed the rig-based mechanical causes to fester and ultimately explode in a fireball of death, personal injury, economic catastrophe, and environmental devastation.
How could BP’s report, which consisted of 190 pages and another 569 pages of appendices, not mention, even in a single footnote, the [management] e-mails that sounded such a clarion cry of impending disaster?
These decisions by BP’s highest corporate levels to ignore fundamental organizational safety-based systemic causes ran afoul of BP’s Group Practices for investigations, but more importantly, ran wholly counter to the recommendations of the “Baker Report” (headed by James Baker, the former Secretary of State) and other investigations following the fifteen deaths sustained in another BP industrial debacle, the 2005 explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery. BP management’s internally expressed, but publicly hidden contempt for the “lessons” of Texas City, it is shown in the BP executive’s e-mail that derisively dismissed as “clutter” the sincere efforts by lower level employees to implement and understand the safety program to which the global oil field giant professed to be committed.Ignoring the remarkable . . . e-mails would be bad enough. But it is only when we understand the sheer magnitude of the evidence that BP sought to hide by its rigidly circumscribed investigation that we understand BP’s motivation for purposely ignoring the lessons of the Texas City tragedy, the Baker Report, and the civil and criminal cases and probation stemming from that disaster – and others. Very simply, the [email] exchanges were only the merest tip of the culture of corporate recklessness that pervaded management and operation of the Macondo well.