BP’s black eye

Yesterday, the head of British Petroleum (BP) charged that the media and politicians overplayed the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It might have been a pre-emptive attack.

“I watched graphic projections of oil swirling around the gulf, around Florida, across and around Bermuda to England – these appeared authoritative and inevitable. The public fear was everywhere,” Bob Dudley said.

The pushback may have something to do with a documentary airing on PBS tonight. Frontline and ProPublica have been looking at the environmental record of BP. Here’s an excerpt from The Spill.

Pro Publica has just posted its investigative story, documenting the failures of BP and comparing it to other oil companies who do business in the U.S.

The investigation found that as BP transformed itself into the world’s third largest private oil company it methodically emphasized a culture of austerity in pursuit of corporate efficiency, lean budgets and shareholder profits. It acquired large companies that it could not integrate smoothly. Current and former workers and executives said the company repeatedly cut corners, let alarm and safety systems languish and skipped essential maintenance that could have prevented a number of explosions and spills. Internal BP documents support these claims.

The Pro Publica investigation also turned up an EPA lawyer, who weighed whether BP should be barred from doing business with the federal government. Though the U.S. gets 19 percent of its military fuel supply from BP, she pressed for “disbarment.”

“I have to conclude that BP has a corrupt culture, and had I arrived at that conclusion while I was handling the case I would have immediately debarred them,” she said last week. “I would have just let the chips fall where they may.”

The EPA lawyer, however, fell in an elevator and has since retired. No action has been taken on the BP case since.

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