More out on the climate of fear and intimidation that prevented BP employees from reporting environmental safety concerns in the North Slope oil fields of Alaska.
As reported last week, a subcommittee of the House Energy & Commerce Committee has been interrogating BP executives on their failure to maintain pipelines, leading to several oil leaks in the past year.
At least one worker was summoned for firing because his bosses suspected he had filed a formal complaint that his inspection crew had been cut by 25 percent despite maintaining the same workload. The worker kept his job after denying any role in the complaint, but clearly this sort of threat sends a message to other employees.
Last week’s testimony and a newly-released report show that BP executives were warned three times between 2003 and 2004 that worker intimidation had made them afraid to report problems along the pipeline.
In addition to being, well, you know, not a very nice thing to do, this sort of intimidation puts BP in direct violation of the terms of probation laid out by the EPA following felony charge for illegal haz-mat disposal back in the ’90s:
While much of the EPA agreement focused on proper disposal of hazardous material, it also demanded that BP use best environmental practices throughout its operations. An entire section required BP to ensure that no employee of BP or any of its contractors would suffer reprisal or retaliation for reporting “any actual or potential environmental violation.”
The EPA warned that retaliation against a BP or contract employee would constitute a “material breach” of the agreement and reopen the question of debarment.
BP dispatched Houston law firm Vinson & Elkins to Alaska to investigate, and though they found no evidence of corrosion-data falsification, they did find a work climate paralyzed by former head of BP’s Alaskan pipeline corrosion monitoring unit Robert C. Woollam’s “dictatorial” style, in which workers referred to his department as his “kingdom” and Woollam as “King Richard.”
According to the Vinson & Elkins report, when a manager told Woollam that his men were upset about a reduction in staff, Woollam’s response was, “Fire the whole bunch.”
The Vinson & Elkins report recommended that Woollam, who pled the 5th last week rather than testifying at the House hearings, be stripped of supervisory duties. But when they did, they apparently didn’t fill the vacancy for more than a year.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meets today to discuss the effects of BP’s problems on the U.S. oil supply.