BP executive refuses to testify - Pleads the 5th!
By Jeremy Grant in Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006
Published: September 7 2006 19:16 | Last updated: September 8 2006 01:17
A BP executive formerly in charge of monitoring corrosion at the oil company’s Prudhoe Bay operations in Alaska on Thursday refused to testify under oath at a congressional hearing that examined the oil company’s litany of failures in the US.
The development came as US lawmakers got their first chance to grill BP since a massive March oil spill and the partial closure last month of the country’s largest oilfield.
Richard Woollam, a former head of corrosion monitoring, cited his constitutional right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify.
Steve Marshall, president of BP Exploration, told lawmakers that Mr Woollam had been removed last year from its Alaska operations after the company found evidence of an “atmosphere of intimidation” in his pipeline inspection operations team.
Lawmakers at the energy and commerce sub-committee hearing seized on the revelation as a sign that whistleblowers who may have tried to raise the alarm about the condition of BP’s pipelines were ignored.
BP last month shut down half its oilfield in Prudhoe Bay after government-ordered inspections found severe corrosion of the eastern oil transit line.
Bob Malone, president of BP North America, said Mr Woollam had been “put on leave” but remained on its payroll.
This week, BP moved to counter criticism that it failed to listen to its workers’ concerns by appointing a retired US judge as ombudsman.
Mr Malone called his company’s record “unacceptable” and said BP had “fallen short of the high standards we hold for ourselves, and the expectations that others have for us”.
Prudhoe Bay accounted for 8 per cent of US domestic supply. Its closure led to anger about BP’s safety and pipeline management policies and has prompted scrutiny in Washington at a time of public unease about petrol prices.
Mr Malone took issue with critics who “alleged that BP engineered the shutdown of Prudhoe Bay as a way to manipulate prices”.
He said: “I am here to assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. BP took the extraordinary step to shut down production because we saw unexpectedly severe corrosion that couldn’t be explained.”
Lawmakers expressed astonishment that BP could not have foreseen its pipeline problems by inspections known as “pigging”, in which a device is sent down a pipeline.
Joe Barton, a Texas Republican who chairs the House committee, said BP’s admissions in hindsight “just didn’t cut it” when it came to excusing “consistent failure”.