Oil spill panel: BP didn't sacrifice safety for costs

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WASHINGTON - The presidential commission investigating the BP Gulf oil spill challenged claims in Congress that the oil company and others sacrificed safety to cut costs.

In preliminary findings issued yesterday, the first from an independent panel, investigators supported many of BP's own conclusions about what led to the disaster.

The panel's chief investigator, Fred H. Bartlit Jr., announced 13 principal findings, many of which seemed to track with investigations of the blowout, including BP's. Bartlit said he agreed with "about 90 percent" of the company's own conclusions.

Under commission procedures, Bartlit presented the findings to the seven-member panel. A report is due with President Barack Obama in mid-January.

One determination in particular challenges the narrative that has dominated the headlines and Democratic probes in Congress since the April 20 incident killed 11 and unleashed more than 200 million gallons of crude oil from the blown-out well: that BP made perilous choices to save money.

"We see no instance where a decision-making person or group of people sat there aware of safety risks, aware of costs and opted to give up safety for costs," Bartlit said. "We do not say everything done was perfectly safe. We're saying that people have said people traded safety for dollars. We studied the hell out of this. We welcome anybody who gives us something we missed."

Bartlit said that despite the pressure of operating a $1.5-million-a-day rig, workers ultimately don't want to risk their lives or the lives of others. "Anytime you are talking about a million-and-a-half dollars a day, money enters in," he said. "All I am saying is human beings did not sit there and sell safety down the river for dollars on the rig that night."

Representatives from the three main companies working on the rig - Transocean, BP and Halliburton - agreed.

Critics complained. Daniel Becnel, a Louisiana lawyer suing BP and others, called the commission's finding "absolutely absurd." He also took issue with Bartlit's endorsement of BP's view of events.

"They are pasting over because they know the government is going to be a defendant sooner or later in this litigation," Becnel said.

According to testimony before the government's joint investigative panel, the Macondo well project was nearly $60 million over budget days before the explosion. That panel has been paying particular attention to the question whether money was put ahead of safety.

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