Every generation there exists an event so catastrophic and so completely horrible that is defines that time and shows us the true threads of our society and our culture.

The Air Hugger spends days and nights with neighbors of the oil industry. The residents that live in the shadow of refinery operations and emissions know how these companies operate oh, too well. We have become familiar with oil company corporate culture.  GCM’s Bucket Brigade-Community Monitoring program was born back in 1995 when an oil company limped along a leaking tower spewing chemicals for 16 days over the neighbors.  Now we’re working with Gulf of Mexico groups to launch comprehensive air monitoring to expose the toxic threats from the disaster that are under the radar.

Now, with the largest oil spill in US history, everyone else is getting an opportunity to see how these titans of industry truly operate, and to see that BP’s environmental track record shows a troubled history.

Preliminary investigations of the Gulf Oil Spill show BP chose to ignore several red flags. BP called for bumping up production in the wake of possible disaster. With thousands of miles of coastline desecrated, marine life pillaged and the seafood industry devastated, BP, Transocean and Halliburton execs are playing the blame game. Congress may have more success getting directions from the Scarecrow.

This is nothing new.  BP’s track record shows a troubled recent history of environmental, legal and ethical violations. BP’s rap sheet shows two recent felonies and the largest fine ever in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s history. Should we expect anything less from this company? In case you are not familiar with BP’s darkest moments, here is a short list:

  • FELONY: Texas City, TX: 2005, 15 workers dead $87 million in fines paid
  • FELONY: Prudhoe Bay, Alaska: March 2006 spill of 200,000 gallons of oil in Alaska’s North Slope

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed more than $3 million in fines for violations at BP Plc and Husky Energy Inc.’s Toledo, Ohio, refinery. “OSHA has found that BP often ignored or severely delayed fixing known hazards in its refineries,” Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, said in the PR Newswire statement. “There is no excuse for taking chances with people’s lives. BP must fix the hazards now.” OSHA said there were 42 “alleged willful violations,” including 20 “alleged serious violations, for exposing workers to a variety of hazards including failure to provide adequate pressure relief for process units.”

The 12 process safety management problems included failure to routinely inspect or maintain safety control devices, such as pressure safety valves; inaccurate or outdated instrument diagrams; and failure to record whether identified safety hazards were corrected. One violation noted that there were 38 instances of safety recommendations for which there was no record they were ever implemented.

Michael Silverstein, assistant director for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said in a press release. “Petroleum refineries are inherently risky work environments, and following the safety regulations is the key to preventing explosions and other life-threatening events.”

Did we really believe BP was going “Beyond Petroleum?” Maybe, maybe not. Or is it just the case of a company putting more money into public relations rather than really changing its corporate culture? Maybe BP would benefit from re-hiring the same Spin Doctor that brought us the “Beyond Petroleum” campaign, because the current sound bites and lack of honesty and transparency are making this Air Hugger sick to the stomach.

Soundbite from Toledo violations: “We are in the process of evaluating the citations,” said Scott Dean, a spokesman for BP. “We take our responsibility for safety seriously at the Toledo refinery. We have made steady measurable improvements in our safety over the past several years.”

What’s really sad, is that it’s not just BP. BP is becoming the poster child of an industry that is accountable to no one. The Air Hugger is confident that a short rap sheet on Exxon-Mobil, Valero, Sunoco, or Conoco Philips,  or Citgo,  would reveal similar atrocities. BP is just the latest round in a lot of bad actors behaving badly.

Where are the regulators? Less inspections?
US Minerals Management Service-where are they? Are they still reeling from the explosions in the West Virginia mines?
OSHA-fined BP the largest fine in its history, yet allowed for the company to continue operations at its other refineries resulting in continued violations. The fines did not change the behavior of the company nor its operations.

EPA: isn’t BP on probation for three years?
President and Congress: Lifting drilling ban, Coincidence?

One must ask themselves, will oil company corporate culture change? At what cost?
Have enough workers been killed?
Have enough shorelines been polluted?
Have enough neighbors been poisoned?

We are at a time when we need bold moves from our elected leaders and agency heads. We need oil company management and executives to really change their behavior and operations if they are going to continue to operate. We need a change from business as usual.

Will the devastation in the Gulf of Mexico be the wake up call the oil industry has desperately needed for the last 30 years? When do we take away their permit to operate as a company? The Air Hugger hopes so.