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Rumors are flying around the Internet that British Petroleum is considering removing Tony Hayward from the company’s top post. Apparently investors like the idea, as BP’s stock price has steadily risen since the rumors began.
People may feel like it’s a good start, as Hayward seems to have become a greater liability than an asset to the oil giant. However, one grand, symbolic gesture — one more sacrificial lamb — doesn’t get to the root of the problem. We have much further to go. Hayward is at the top of the company but the failures that led to the oil catastrophe have not nearly been all his or his company’s doing.
BP’s failure was part of a systemic failure: there is plenty of blame to go around. Rather than blame everybody (which helps no one), we have to correct the system in which this fiasco occurred or devise a new system.
Where to start? We might take care of the problem this way:
- Compile lessons learned and share them with the industry.
- Rewrite industry (and other) standards to put a greater emphasis on safety.
- Enforce existing regulations before writing new ones.
- When writing a new bill (and this goes to any bill, not just those dealing with oil and gas), the legislature cannot be allowed to hide laws by combining them, related or not. One bill for one issue.
- Spend money on enforcement (i.e., hire qualified people, train them well, and pay them what they’re worth).
- Break up the MMS and organizations like it. The Materials Management Service has been responsible for gathering rights fees, etc., and they’ve been responsible for enforcing oil-and-gas-related statutes and requirements. Often, these two work at cross-purposes: as we saw, the MMS didn’t want to enforce laws that might put the brakes on revenue. Those functions have to be kept separate so there’s no confusion about what’s important.
- Restore “reinvestment in the company” as a business tenet. Paying out profits to shareholders and executives while infrastructure and technology lag isn’t sustainable.
- Fine anyone or any organization that misled anybody at any point (misinformation, late or no information, deflecting blame, covering up problems, etc.). This alone could raise enough money to put the issue behind us.
- Get the world on the same standards. It’s too easy for a company to say, “We don’t like the tax laws here, so we’re moving offshore” or “It’s cheaper to operate “over there”, so we’re going over there.” Artificially low wages and taxes, as well as lax standards and enforcement, relocates the problems and potentially intensifies them. Relocating a problem doesn’t solve it and it can create more.
- Accept responsibility. Management can certainly do its share but so can the rest of us. We need to find our collective moral compass and use it all the time.
Do you have any suggestions or ideas for preventing a recurrence of this unfortunate situation? What would your corrective or preventive actions be? Should compliance with ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 be required of all oil and gas companies (and their subcontractors)? Should policies and procedures be transparent?
Thanks for your time.