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nternal documents show that budget cuts and a lack of leadership contributed to significant safety problems at BP PLC's Texas City plant, the site of last year's deadly explosion, federal investigators said Monday.
In preliminary findings, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board said BP management knew about maintenance, spending and infrastructure problems well before the March 2005 blast that killed 15 people and injured more than 170.
CSB Chairwoman Carolyn Merritt said BP did respond before the explosion with a variety of measures aimed at improving safety.
"However, the focus of many of these initiatives was on improving procedural compliance and reducing occupational injury rates, while catastrophic safety risks remained," she said. "Unsafe and antiquated equipment designs were left in place and unacceptable deficiencies in preventative maintenance were tolerated."
BP officials said they were surprised by the CSB's latest findings in its ongoing investigation.
"We don't understand the basis for some of the comments made by the CSB," BP spokesman Neil Chapman said. "We will await the final written report and hope it will include documentation explaining the basis of their statement."
"We accept responsibility for the explosion and we regret the suffering it has caused," he said. "Those problems were many years in the making. We were working to address those problems prior to the incident."
"We engaged in many efforts to improve the safety culture," he said, adding that those efforts are continuing.
EXCLUSIVE: This internal BP document shows how the company took deadly risks to save money by opting to build cheaper facilities for workers. The company estimated the value of a worker's life at $10 million.
Tony Buzbee, a lawyer representing 15 rig workers and dozens of shrimpers, seafood restaurants, and dock workers, says he has obtained a three-page signed statement from a crew member on the boat that rescued the burning rig’s workers. The sailor, who Buzbee refuses to name for fear of costing him his job, was on the ship’s bridge when Deepwater Horizon installation manager Jimmy Harrell, a top employee of rig owner Transocean, was speaking with someone in Houston via satellite phone. Buzbee told Mother Jones that, according to this witness account, Harrell was screaming, “Are you f#### happy? Are you f### happy? The rig’s on fire! I told you this was gonna happen.”
Whoever was on the other end of the line was apparently trying to calm Harrell down. “I am f#### calm,” he went on, according to Buzbee. “You realize the rig is burning?”
At that point, the boat’s captain asked Harrell to leave the bridge. It wasn’t clear whether Harrell had been talking to Transocean, BP, or someone else.
It wasn't clear what Mr. Harrell objected to specifically about BP's instructions, but the rig's primary driller, Dewey Revette, and tool pusher, Miles Randall Ezell, both of Transocean, also disagreed with BP, Mr. Brown said. However, BP was in charge of the operation and the BP representative prevailed, Mr. Brown said.
"The company man was basically saying, 'This is how it's gonna be,' " said Mr. Brown, who didn't recall the name of the BP representative in question.
Mr. Vidrine was supposed to testify Thursday but dropped out, citing an undisclosed medical issue, according to a Coast Guard spokeswoman. Another top BP official who was scheduled to testify Thursday, Robert Kaluza, declined to do so, asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the Coast Guard spokeswoman said.