by Greg Palast
19 April 2011
Greg Palast investigating BP's blowout in the Caspian
Only 17 months before BP's Deepwater
Horizon rig suffered a deadly blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, another
BP deepwater oil platform also blew out.
You've heard and seen much about
the Gulf disaster that killed 11 BP
workers. If you have not heard about the earlier blowout, it's
because BP has kept the full story under wraps. Nor did BP inform
Congress or U.S. safety regulators, and BP, along with its oil
industry partners, have preferred to keep it that way.
The earlier blowout occurred in September 2008 on
BP's Central Azeri
platform in the Caspian Sea.
As one memo marked "secret" puts it,
"Given the explosive potential, BP
was quite fortunate to have been able to evacuate everyone
safely and to prevent any gas ignition."
The Caspian oil platform was a spark
away from exploding, but luck was with the 211 rig workers. It was
eerily similar to the Gulf catastrophe as it involved BP's
controversial "quick set" drilling cement.
The question we have to ask:
If BP had laid out the true and full
facts to Congress and regulators about the earlier blowout,
would those 11 Gulf workers be alive today - and the Gulf Coast
spared oil-spill poisons?
The bigger question is, why is there no
clear law to require disclosure?
If you bump into another car on the Los
Angeles freeway, you have to report it. But there seems no clear
requirement on corporations to report a disaster in which knowledge
of it could save lives.
Five months prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, BP's Chief of
Exploration in the Gulf, David Rainey, testified before
Congress against increased safety regulation of its deepwater
Despite the company's knowledge of the
Caspian blowout a year earlier, the oil company's man told the
Senate Energy Committee that BP's methods are,
"both safe and protective of the
Really? BP's quick-dry cement saves
money, but other drillers find it too risky in deepwater.
It was a key factor in the Caspian
This is not about BP the industry Bad
This is about a system that condones
silence, the withholding of life-and-death information.
Even BP's oil company partners, including Chevron and Exxon, were
kept in the dark. It is only through
WikiLeaks that my own
investigations team was able to confirm insider tips I had received
about the Caspian blowout.
In that same
confidential memo mentioned
earlier, the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan complained,
"At least some of BP's [Caspian]
partners are similarly upset with BP's performance in this
episode, as they claim BP has sought to limit information flow
about this event even to its [Caspian] partners."
In defense of its behavior, BP told me
it did in fact report the "gas release" to the regulators of
Azerbaijan. That's small comfort. This former Soviet republic is a
police state dictatorship propped up by the BP group's oil
royalties. A public investigation was out of the question.
In December, I traveled to Baku, Azerbaijan's capital, to
investigate BP and the blowout for British television. I was
arrested, though, as a foreign reporter, quickly released. But my
eye witnesses got the message and all were too afraid tell their
stories on camera.
BP has, in fact, never admitted a blowout occurred, though when
confronted by my network, did not deny it. At the time, BP told
curious press that the workers had merely been evacuated as a
"precaution" due to gas bubbles "in the area of" the drilling
platform, implying a benign natural gas leak from a crack in the sea
floor, not a life-threatening system failure.
In its 2009 report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
(SEC), BP inched closer to the full truth. Though not mentioning
"blowout" or "cement," the company placed the leak "under" the
This points to a cruel irony:
the SEC requires full disclosure of
events that might cause harm to the performance of BP's
But reporting on events that might harm
humans? That's not so clear.
However, the solution is clear as could be. International
corporations should be required to disclose events that threaten
people and the environment, not just the price of their stock.
As radiation wafts across the Pacific from Japan, it is clear that
threats to health and safety do not respect national borders.
happens in Fukushima or Baku affects lives and property in the USA.
"Regulation" has become a dirty word in U.S. politics. Corporations
have convinced the public to fear little bureaucrats with thick
rulebooks. But let us remember why government began to regulate
As Andrew Jackson said,
"Corporations have neither bodies to
kick nor souls to damn."
Kicking and damning have no effect, but
rules do. And after all, when international regulation protects
profits, as in the case of patents and copyrights, corporate America
is all for it.
Our regulators of resource industries must impose an affirmative
requirement to tell all, especially when people, not just song
lyrics or stock offerings, are in mortal danger.