How BP got 'In Too Deep'

Alison Fitzgerald, co-author of the book, "In Too Deep."


KAI RYSSDAL: Eleven people were killed when the Deepwater Horizon blew up and sank last April. That accident was just the latest in a string of problems BP's had with safety and following the rules. Bloomberg reporter Alison Fitzgerald has just finished a new book on BP and its troubled history called "In Too Deep." Alison, welcome to the program.

ALISON FITZGERALD: Thanks for having me, Kai.

RYSSDAL: Until the Deepwater Horizon blew up, BP had been doing pretty well in the Gulf. I mean, that's the scenario you lay out for us in this book.

FITZGERALD: Oh sure. BP had great success in the Gulf. They were, by far, the most successful company at finding new oil in the deepest water. They, in the last eight years or so, replaced at a rate of 130 percent all the oil that they produce.

RYSSDAL: 130 percent? So they were finding more than they were selling?

FITZGERALD: Right. Exactly.

RYSSDAL: You go back to the days of John Brown, the former CEO of BP, who was replaced by Tony Hayward. And I want to spend some time with him because he is the guy, really, who took BP, consolidated, grew it, and in a way drove it to the point to where BP was the night the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

FITZGERALD: Exactly. John Brown really was a quite a character himself. He was a very, very ambitious CEO. But he, for most of his life, was a closeted gay man who had a very sort of high-brow taste preferring opera. Compared to his Texas colleagues, he was quite different, but incredibly successful in this industry. He took BP from being sort of a middling oil company to -- depending on the year -- the third or fourth biggest oil company in the world and the biggest producer in the United States.

RYSSDAL: John Brown aside, though, how was BP different than Chevron or Exxon Mobil?

FITZGERALD: It was a company of adventurers in many ways. Its history started that way and it continued where their biggest and most prestigious division was the oil exploration division, the geologists, the guys who went out and found the oil. They weren't as strong, nor as interested, in getting that oil to the market -- doing the pipelining, refining. And that's where some of their problems came from. Making sure that all the plumbing was functioning properly wasn't the thing that was valued at BP. And therefore the safety of those parts of the company was often overlooked to a degree.

RYSSDAL: How much of what happened in the Gulf of Mexico last spring and summer was the result of this culture at BP that you've been talking about and how much was the lack of interested oversight on the part of the government?

FITZGERALD: It's a combination. One of the things that you saw was BP made a whole series of blunders, decisions, and they were identified today by the oil spill commission. However, the government had never set strong standards on how to shut-in the well, nor how to read the tests that determine whether the well is safe, nor what to do if you have a blowout like this.

RYSSDAL: My guess would be that oil industry defenders will say -- and they've said this in almost as many words -- this is basically rocket science going the other way, right? I mean it's like the moonshot. We are doing things that we just can't quite figure out. And if we want oil in this economy, it's dirty, messy and dangerous.

FITZGERALD: Yes. And you know what? They were right. But what went wrong here wasn't a massive engineering disaster. It was little decisions, day-to-day decisions that were made at a lower level without doing a thorough risk assessment and thinking things through. Or knowing this is against the rules, so I better not do it or I might get fired.

FITZGERALD: Alison Fitzgerald is an investigative reporter at Bloomberg News. She is the co-author with Stanley Reed of a new book about BP called, "In Too Deep: BP And The Drilling Race That Took It Down." Alison, thanks a lot.

RYSSDAL: Thanks so much, Kai.

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