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Fed Panel on BP Decision-Making: "More Complicated" Than Sacrificing Safety for Cost

Workers drilling BP's well in the Gulf never made a "conscious decision" to prioritize profits over safety, according to the presidential panel investigating the spill.

In preliminary conclusions released today, the presidential panel investigating BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill focused on the technical causes of the Gulf blowout, and said it had found no evidence that BP took shortcuts by prioritizing cost over safety when drilling the well.

“To date we have not seen a single instance where a human being made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety,” Fred Bartlit Jr., an investigator for the panel, said in hearings today.

We’ve reported extensively how BP has a record of repeated safety violations, often resulting from a failure to slow or stop production to allow for proper maintenance. We detailed these types of risks taken repeatedly, both at BP’s refinery in Texas City and at facilities in Alaska.

Lawmakers earlier this summer also flagged the desire to save time and money as a factor in the Gulf disaster. “BP repeatedly chose risky procedures in order to reduce costs and save time and made minimal efforts to contain the added risk,” the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote in a letter to then-CEO Tony Hayward this June.

The committee also released internal company emails that showed BP employees discussing well design options and noting that the design of the Macondo well “saves lots of time … at least 3 days.” The other option being considered, according to the House committee, would have cost $7 to $10 million more.

According to the Houston Chronicle’s FuelFix blog, Bartlit did acknowledge that the costs of the Macondo project may have been at the back of some workers’ minds, but that the decision-making by workers was more complicated than simply cost concerns overriding safety: Workers “want to be efficient, and they don’t want to waste money, but they don’t want their buddies to get killed,” Bartlit said.

The final round of spill hearings will continue into tomorrow. For more of ProPublica's coverage of BP's Gulf disaster—and the company's track record elsewhere—check our Gulf Oil Spill page.

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