BP, the firm leasing the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last week, is facing a U.S. investigation over possible safety violations on another offshore platform. According to a report in the UK Guardian, a whistleblower has accused BP of breaking the law by not keeping key documents relating to the Atlantis oil rig.
BP denies the allegations, and says it is cooperating with the investigation.
According to The Guardian, Atlantis, which is situated 190 miles south of New Orleans, is the world’s largest platform of its kind. It began operating in 2007 in the Gulf of Mexico at one of the deepest depths in the world. The whistleblower who sparked the Atlantis investigation was employed by a contractor working for BP.
The whistleblower leaked internal BP memos from August 2008 that seem to imply that the company may not have been keeping a complete accurate record of drawings of the components used to build Atlantis. Under U.S. law, rig operators are required to keep complete, up-to-date “as-built” drawings.
One email authored by a BP executive involved in the project warned that if BP assumed the drawings were accurate and up-to-date, “this could lead to catastrophic operator errors.”
An official reply dated April 2010 to the whistleblower from BP’s office of the ombudsman seemed to acknowledge a problem. “Your concerns about the project not following the terms of its own Project Execution Plan were substantiated, and addressed by a BP Management of Change document,” it said.
The Guardian was given the ombudsman’s response by the US environmental consumer campaign group Food and Water Watch. When asked by The Guardian to authenticate the reply, BP would not comment. However, the company maintained that it has “found no evidence to substantiate the organization’s (Food and Water Watch) claims with respect to Atlantis project documentation.”
The U.S. Minerals Management Service has said it will investigate Atlantis documentation issue, after being prodded to do so by the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources. A report is expected by the end of next month.
The Deepwater Horizon explosion, which has spawned a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the questions surrounding the Atlantis platform are just the latest events to put a spotlight on BP’s safety record. Last year, the company was fined $87 million by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failing to correct safety violations at the Texas City refinery. In March 2005, an explosion and fire at Texas City killed 15 workers.
The Minerals Management Service is expected to launch an investigation into the Deepwater Horizon disaster this week. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has also opened a probe into the explosion and spill.