BP gets an ombudsman

Sign outside a BP gas station in Chicago

KAI RYSSDAL: Congress is back at work in Washington. The Senate reconvened today. The House is technically back tomorrow. Lots to do, of course, before the fall elections. On Thursday the House Energy and Commerce Committee will be talking about oil. BP, to be specific. And its pipeline woes up in Alaska. Just in the nick of time, the company has named a former federal judge to be its ombudsman. Stanley Sporkin will handle complaints from BP workers up in Alaska and elsewhere. From London, Marketplace's Stephen Beard has more.


STEPHEN BEARD: BP has hired the former judge to help rescue its battered reputation. His job will be to listen to workers concerns in the U.S. about safety and other issues.

He'll have a staff of two who will operate a 24-hour call center. They'll take complaints from BP workers across the U.S.

The company's been criticized for ignoring reports about pipe corrosion in Alaska long before the big oil spill there in the spring. His appointment by BP is largely a public relations exercise, says analyst David Buik — and a much-needed one.

DAVID BUIK: All the nasty press that BP has had in the last two years has emanated from the United States. So they clearly have to do something about it.

The former judge is no oil industry stooge. In one of his cases he said the behavior of a pipeline company was "reminiscent of Nazi Germany." Stockbroker Stuart Fraser says the judge's appointment as company obbudsman will help deflect some of the criticism levelled at BP:


STUART FRASER: It's not going to get them off the hook as to what's happened. But at least it's a recognition that perhaps the company hasn't listened as much as it should have done to the people on the ground.

The company is facing a host of allegations in the U.S. ranging from slack, safety and environmental controls to price rigging in the propane, oil and natural gas markets.

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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