Book Talk: Tom Bergin exposes spin behind BP spill

Thu Aug 18, 2011 5:51am EDT
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By Sarah Young

LONDON (Reuters) - A year after oil major BP capped its doomed Macondo well, Tom Bergin's account of the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history suggests that this was an accident which was more likely to happen to BP than any other oil company.

The Gulf of Mexico spill had its roots in a BP culture of cost cutting and short term incentives which also helped cause an earlier fatal accident at Texas City Refinery, Bergin argues in his recent book "Spills and Spin: The Inside Story of BP."

Bergin, head of Reuters oil industry coverage in Europe, the Middle East and Africa since 2004, talked to former senior executives to uncover the whys and hows of a spill that devastated Gulf coastlines.

Bergin spoke about his book, a story which fundamentally challenges the narratives BP offered to explain the disaster.

Q: Why did you think this book needed to be written?

A: "If a disaster happens, I think that the victims of that, and their families, are very much entitled to a proper explanation as to what happened. I think that they are not well-served by some legal settlement in which everything remains, all the documents remain, shut and they end up getting a check through the post. I also don't think that it's very useful in preventing such accidents happening again because if we don't really investigate the root causes of disasters then how are we going to stop them from happening again?"

Q: When did you start thinking that the way BP had operated over a long time might have been partly to blame for the spill?

A: "Because I knew that BP had been cutting costs very harshly I did suspect that that would be a factor, but the problem with that as an overarching explanation is that every company cuts costs. There has to be a reason why, if it's true that BP cut costs to an unsafe level, and it had a culture of doing that over a long period of time, there has to be an explanation for that. I guess what I was looking for was the why on all these things.   Continued...

<p>An absorbent boom surrounds oiled marshland, one year after the BP Oil Spill, in Bay Jimmy near Myrtle Grove, Louisiana April 20, 2011. REUTERS/Lee Celano</p>