November 9, 2010 / 4:26 PM / 9 years ago

Company errors, complacency preceded oil spill: panel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Complacency at BP, as well as at Transocean Ltd and Halliburton, led to serious missteps prior to the rig explosion that unleashed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the summer, the heads of the White House oil spill commission said.

A large area of oil is seen visible on the water near the source of Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast July 13, 2010. REUTERS/Lee Celano

The comments were more critical than Monday’s Commission statements that rig workers did not place cost cutting over safety.

“BP, Halliburton and Transocean are major respected companies operating throughout the Gulf and the evidence is they are in need of top-to-bottom reform,” said Commission co-chair Bill Reilly, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, at the start of the second session of commission’s two-day meeting on the root causes of the spill this week.

Reilly said the BP accident demonstrated the need for sweeping and systemic safety changes to the oil industry, and reiterated his call for the creation of a self-regulating entity that would set and enforce standards.

Both Reilly and his commission co-chair Bob Graham sought to clarify comments made Monday by the commission’s chief counsel that workers for the companies did not cut corners on safety to save money.

They said the panel’s investigators were not concluding that the companies involved placed enough emphasis on safety.

“The problem here is that there was a culture that did not promote safety...leaders did not take risks seriously enough,” said Graham, a former U.S. Senator from Florida.

Critics have pushed back against the idea that profits did not overrule profits before the BP drilling accident.

Fred Bartlit, the panel’s chief counsel, said his team was not saying BP never acted out of its financial interests.

“All I was saying was that the men on the rig that night did not sit there and say ‘we may blow up the rig but we’ll make the guys in London some money,’” Bartlit said.

Commission investigators are considering whether any of the decisions made regarding the BP well focused on saving money to the detriment of safety.

“That issue is still open,” Bartlit said.

The commission’s final findings and its recommendations are scheduled to be released by January.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the panel also focused on regulatory lapses that may have contributed to the BP spill. Investigators said some key aspects of drilling operations did not have specific government guidelines or had rules that were difficult to enforce.

Drilling experts at Tuesday’s meeting were critical of various decisions BP made as it was drilling its Macondo well.

There was a push to finish the project quickly, which is common in the oil industry, said Steve Lewis, an engineer with Seldovia Marine Services.

“The pressure to make progress is actually inherent in the business,” he told the panel. “It takes the stated conscious management presence to counter that.”

President Barack Obama created the seven-member commission in the aftermath of the BP drilling accident. Its ultimate charge is to develop proposals to prevent and respond to major spills in the future.

Editing by Alden Bentley and Sofina Mirza-Reid

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