Exclusive: BP screwed up Exxon Valdez cleanup, too

I have been trying to get a handle on what we can truly expect from British Petroleum with this Gulf oil spill. Earlier in the week, I interviewed attorney Brent Coon, who battled BP over a refinery explosion in Texas that killed 15 people and injured 170 workers and residents.

Yesterday, I spoke with Greg Palast, investigative reporter for BBC television and the Guardian newspapers who investigated the Exxon Valdez for the Alaskan natives. That 1989 environmental disaster spilled nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound.

Palast told him that the Valdez and Deepwater Horizon oil spills have one common denominator: British Petroleum.

“The most important thing, that people do not recognize, is that my investigations over the past 20 years have lead me to see that the party most responsible for the destruction in Alaska was not Exxon,” said Palast. “It was British Petroleum and that’s vital in understanding what’s going on in the Gulf.”

Palast stated that Pensacola and the Gulf Coast are not only seeing a repeat what Exxon did in 1989 in Prince William Sound. We are seeing a repeat of what British Petroleum did when the tanker hit Bligh Reef and nearly destroyed the area’s ecosystem.

“In the case of Deepwater Horizon, British Petroleum had its name on the well, even though it’s just a majority partner,” Palast explained. “They have Mitsubishi and other stakeholders in the consortium.

“In Alaska, it’s the same thing. The Alaska pipeline and shipping system is called Alyeska. It is also, like the Deepwater well, owned by consortium majority owned by BP. It was BP’s responsibility, not Exxon’s, to contain and cleanup the Valdez spill. The same is true of this current oil spiil.”

Palast said that BP had its name on the Deepwater well because the global oil company was boosting its stock by calling themselves the “deepwater leaders.”

“They wanted to put their name on that well and so they are getting the full shtick for this blow out, not Mitsubishi.”

I asked Palast to explain BP’s role in the Valdez disaster:

“The whole game with any oil spill is containment. You never would have heard of the Valdez spill if BP had put out the containment boom right away and gotten the skimmers and containment barge there.

“BP, through its Alyeska operation, was responsible for having that stuff out there. But the story gets worse. The Exxon Valdez hit at Bligh Reef. British Petroleum/Alyeska had certified in writing that it had boom and safety equipment on nearby Bligh Island. They also certified that they had emergency crews ready to go.

“Bligh Island is next to the Chugach native village. The Chugach natives had been hired by BP to man fulltime safety crews, which you have to have…similar to a fire department. But they had fired all the natives to save money.

“It’s all about penny-pinching with BP. They never put out all the boom that they say they put out. Of course, they were thinking who’s going to check in the goddam Prince William Sound.

“When that tanker hit that reef, the native should have been on contract and on call–they had helicopters and everything to set that boom right out there, surround the ship. They were also supposed to have a containment barge that was to be onsite within five hours. No tanker is to leave port without an emergency barge at the ready.

“The BP/Alyeska barge was actually in dry dock and in Alaska, it was of course under ice. The natives actually saw the tanker hit the reef. It may be the middle of nowhere, but it’s not the middle of nowhere to natives. It was a clear night and they actually watched the ship turn into the reef.

“They all thought, ‘This is some kind of test, right?’ They thought it was some weird test by the company. Had they still been on emergency response and had their equipment, they could have shot right out there and surrounded the damn thing pronto. Then you would have had the barge come in within couple hours and it would have sucked the oil out of the boom area. This would have been a story for a day or two and that would have been the end of the game.”

Palast said that the BP wasn’t just negligent.

“They certified that they had the containment barge. They certified that they had the emergency crew. They certified that they had the containment boom and safety equipment on Bligh. It was all completely fraudulent baloney.”

According to Palast didn’t learn anything from the Valdez accident, except to cutting safety improves profits and stock values.

“BP got away with this because they settled right off for basically the amount of the insurance fund, which I think was for about $125 million. Between their own insurance, the spill insurance fund and their partners on which they could offload half, BP got away virtually free.

“I think the fact that they got basically free in Alaska has stuck with them. They decided it was dirt cheap. The fact is the cost of preparing for containment is really expensive. You have enough boom, have it ready and have a crew ready to deploy it rapidly.

Palast pointed out that BP CEO Tony Hayward has made a big deal that they were changing their culture to safety.

“His idea of doing changing the culture to safety is to have big meetings with management consultants and say we want a green image–we’re even painting all our gas stations green.”

However, Hayward is deeply cutting the budgets for operations.

“Last year he announced that beyond the big cuts that Lord Browne (Hayward’s predecessor) had planned, he cut an extra billion dollars. And the stocks shot up.”

This puzzles Palast.

“You tell me where did they cut. BP’s output has been growing substantially every year. The growth is based on more expensive, cutting-edge drilling like the Deepwater Horizon well.

“How do you cut your budget a billion dollars when your expanding your exploration in the most difficult, dangerous areas?”

There is a obvious answer —-Safety.