Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Drowning in Oil

Finally we have a touch of winter.

I read a gripping book about the BP oil spill in the gulf called Drowning in Oil - BP and the Reckless Pursuit of Profit by Loren Steffy. As the title suggests, the author feels that the disaster in the gulf was largely caused by BP's pursuit of profit. The book is clearly written with an anti-BP slant (although well documented so likely truthful in much of it)

Lots of facts like:

"in 2005, government inspectors found only one safety violation at Exxon's refineries - at BP, they found more than 700 (largely due to repeated safety violations)"

"BP was consistently fined for breaching health and safety regulations, resulting in millions of dollars"

"BP's refusal to modernize pipe systems which lead to corrosion and leaks along with delaying maintenance of known defective alarms."


Although this is a non-fiction account of what happens, it reads like an exciting spy thriller. The minutes leading up to the explosion through to hours afterwards are exciting (and horrific).

The book talks about the previous BP accident at Prudhoe Bay that cut off so much oil supply that the price of oil surged by over $2 per gallon. "Soon, the entire country was paying the price for BP's neglect". As if cheap oil is our right.

I was surprised the author did not comment about North America's insistence on using huge amounts of oil as being a right. It seems to me we would be much better off with a bit of conservation. The cost of externalities like environment, terrorism, safety and health are huge in the oil business.

Drowning in Oil reviews the CEO track records at BP. Great careers left in ruins. Reputation is fragile.

The book talks about "superficial" safety. EG - no talking on cell phones even with hands free in the parking lot while allowing probabilities of fatal accidents on the drilling rigs left untouched.

Another book "Safe by Accident - Take the Luck out of Safety - Leadership Practices that buil a Sustainable Safety Culture" elaborates on some of the foibles of BP safety practice. EG - the dangers of reprisal for reporting unsafe conditions and the culture of cover ups.

Safe by Accident is more of a hands on manual with practical ideas on how to really make safety work. Debunking the myth that safety posters, incentive programs and punishment work.

The book emphasizes the appropriate use of technology, how to use positive reinforcement, and talks about why incentives should not be based on incident rates but shoud be based on behavior.

Good book for any company looking to improve their company safety.


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