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BP under attack for rig’s ‘culture of complacency’

By David Usborne

New attacks were launched yesterday against BP and the other leading companies implicated in the April oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. A co-chairman of the Presidential commission investigating the accident said they all suffered from a “culture of complacency” about safety.

“There was not a culture of safety on that rig,” Bill Reilly said at the second day of hearings in Washington. The commission is investigating the chain of events leading up to the April 20 blast that killed 11 workers and set off a calamitous oil spill that lasted three months before the well was finally sealed. “BP, Halliburton and Transocean are in need of top-to-bottom reform, “ Mr Reilly added.

Remarks from the panel's chief investigator, Fred Bartlit, on Monday suggesting that greed had not been a factor in the tragedy and that BP, contrary to the assertions of some Democratic members of Congress, had not cut corners to save money, sparked wonderment in some quarters yesterday, if not plain anger. “Why cut corners if it is not for money?” said Billy Nungesser, the president of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana that suffered the brunt of the blow-out.

“I really feel for the families of these 11 victims. Here they are hoping and praying that their loved ones lost would set some fundamental changes in place. If we are gonna not be honest with everybody about what happened and why — then these people died in vain.”

At the microphone on Monday Mr Bartlit, a lawyer, said he agreed with about 90% of BP's own investigation into the accident that sought to spread blame to Halliburton, the other principle engineering contractor, and Transocean, the owner of the rig.

Most controversial, however, were Mr Bartlit's comments repudiating the allegations of cost-cutting.

“To date, we have not seen a single instance where a human being made a conscious decision to favour dollars over safety,” he told the hearing.

“They want to be efficient, and they don't want to waste money, but they don't want their buddies to get killed.'“

The Presidential commission will present its final report to the White House in January.

It is seeking subpoena powers to oblige some key figures to testify, but some Republicans are objecting.

The main focus of its probe is the apparently faulty cementing process that was the responsibility primarily of Halliburton and the failure of engineers properly to heed warning signs from a key pressure test that was conducted just prior to the explosion.

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