WASHINGTON — The BP oil rig explosion and spill wasn’t about anyone purposely trading money for safety, investigators on a special presidential commission said Monday. Instead it was more about seemingly acceptable risks adding up to disaster.
Investigators at the commission’s hearing outlined more than a dozen decisions that at the time seemed questionable but also explainable. It was how those cascaded and crashed together that fueled catastrophe.
Yet there was no evidence of a conscious decision on the BP rig to do things on the cheap at the expense of safety, investigators stressed several times. Likewise, representatives of the companies involved in the disaster denied that corners were cut because of cost.
Critics – including a top academic, a congressman and people on the Gulf Coast – are balking at what they see as something close a free pass for BP’s history of cost cutting. In the first nonpolitical and independent investigation of the disaster, commission officials say they aren’t excusing BP at all, but pointing out there was no clear single decision that came down solely to money.
“Anytime you are talking about a million and a half dollars a day, money enters in. All I am saying is human beings did not sit there and sell safety down the river for dollars on the rig that night,” said commission chief attorney Fred H. Bartlit Jr.
That doesn’t mean that a general culture of cost cutting wasn’t an issue, added commission co-chairman Bob Graham, the former Florida senator and governor. Graham wrapped up the day by saying he was worried that there was “a compulsion to get this rig completed in that April 19-April 20 timetable.”
And panel co-chairman William K. Reilly said in an interview after the hearing that BP does deserve a good share of blame: “A lot of the key decisions were in fact made by BP.” He said that while it might look as if the commission wasn’t concerned about the culture of cost cutting at BP, it will address that broader corporate problem in the future. Monday was more about what immediately led to the disaster.
Halliburton Co., which had the crucial job of cementing the well, was on the hotseat as much as BP on Monday, clashing more often with investigators than the oil company. And the commission still hasn’t dealt with the blowout preventer, a key instrument, because it is still being examined. No written report was issued on Monday.