Kiran Stacey Bob Dudley: 2010 could have been BP’s best year (except for Macondo)

In the last two days, we have had two new and similar accounts of the way in which BP’s corporate culture was to blame for the Gulf oil spill.

Following hard on the heels  In Too Deep: BP and the drilling race that took it down, a book by two Bloomberg reporters, which was launched last night, comes an in-depth report by Fortune magazine.

The Fortune piece finds much the same as the book (review to follow) – the focus on risky new discoveries coupled with corporate cost-cutting that characterised the company under both John Browne and Tony Hayward helped foster an environment where such an accident could happen.

The Fortune piece focuses on one thing in particular: the way in which company bosses focused on personal safety rules for staff at the expense of process rules for avoid major industrial accidents.

The key paragraphs are these:

Under Browne, BP had established a dizzying array of rules that burnished this record, including prohibitions on driving while speaking on a cellphone, walking down a staircase without holding a handrail and carrying a cup of coffee around without a lid.


BP (unlike, say, ExxonMobil) had no established procedure for conducting [a negative-pressure] test – and none for interpreting the results.

A negative-pressure test was designed to detect if the drill pipe was leaking anywhere, and the Deepwater Horizon failed three on the day of the explosion. But the drillers went ahead and plugged the well anyway.

All of this, however, was known already. The presidential commission noted earlier this month: “[BP's] approach to managing safety has not been on individual worker occupation safety but on process safety.”

Possibly the most impressive piece of reporting came from its interviews with both Hayward and Dudley, however. And the piece gives rise to one of most staggering quotes of the year so far, from Dudley himself:

If you put aside this Macondo incident, 2009 was the best year we’d had, and 2010 was also heading in that direction.