Environmental

BP used Three Little Pigs story to explain employee housing options

The Daily Beast has located some internal BP documents that throws much light on the disaster that took place aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and a mile below it. The documents, which surfaced after a March 2005 explosion at a Texas oil refinery killed 15 workers and injured 170 plant employees and residents of nearby neighborhoods, concern a cost-savings analysis of employee housing. What’s particularly telling about these memos and the corporate culture of BP, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, is that they illustrate the value of employee lives with the story of the Three Little Pigs.

Thanks to The Daily Beast website, which published the BP documents, we get a glimpse of a corporation so blinded by profit that the safety of its workers and the health of the environment took a back seat to financial gain. But instead of using past mistakes to avoid future disasters, BP apparently went in the other direction, pushing safety limits to see how much it could get away with. BP’s massive oil leak was hardly an accident. The company has been designing a disaster of Deepwater Horizon proportions for years.

In representing the families of the workers killed in the 2005 blast, attorney Brent Coon asserted during trial that BP chose to house workers in trailers during the day, rather than in blast-resistant structures. The motive, he claimed, was to save money.

During trial, Coon likened BP’s employee housing to the houses built by pigs in the fairy tale.  BP objected to the illustration. When Coon drew another parallel between the two, underscoring the need for homes strong enough to withstand the wolf’s huffing and puffing, BP objected again.

Shortly afterward and very serendipitously, Coons received BP’s Three Little Pigs documents from an employee who was familiar with them. Suddenly the oil giant’s courtroom objections made sense.

As Coon told The Daily Beast:

“Right there we found a presentation on the decision to buy the trailers that showed BP using ‘The Three Little Pigs’ to describe the costs associated with the four [refinery housing] options. I thought you’ve got to be f—— kidding me. They even had drawings of three pigs on the report.”

The memo showed that BP chose to put “the piggies” in non blast-resistant houses in order to save money. The blast-proof houses could have saved many lives. In that Texas City refinery blast, all of the fatalities and most of the serious injuries occurred in or near the nine contractor trailers by a unit of the plant containing enormous quantities of flammable hydrocarbons. That particular unit also had a history of gas releases, fires, and a multitude of other adverse incidents that jeopardized the health and well being of the workers. Many of the trailers two football fields away from the blast site were even heavily damaged.

A BP spokesperson told The Daily Beast that the controversial documents “are several years old,” and that since they were prepared, BP has “invested $1 billion into upgrading that refinery and continues to improve [its] safety worldwide.”

Empty words, considering BP managers aboard the Deepwater Horizon dismissed critical safety concerns of rig employees who felt apprehensive about the drilling procedures they witnessed. Eleven people lost their lives on April 20 when natural gas shot up through an improperly lined well with a critically broken blowout preventer and created a series of massive explosions on the rig.

The BP spokesperson also reassured The Daily Beast that the company has “fundamentally changed the culture of BP” since the Texas City disaster. But as far as we can tell, the company is still reaping what it sows.