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Deepwater Horizon Accident Foreshadows a Potential Disaster Waiting to Happen in the Gulf
Food & Water Watch and Safety Engineer Warn of Consequences of a Lack of Critical Safety Documents, Fear Disaster Possible for BP Atlantis
WASHINGTON - April 22 - Following Tuesday's explosion on the Deepwater Horizon Platform, leased and operated by British Petroleum (BP) in the Gulf of Mexico, the national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch is warning of the possibility of a similarly tragic disaster involving the company's Atlantis Project- one of the world's deepest semi-submersible oil and natural gas platforms, located 150 miles south of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico.
Last year, a whistleblower and former company contractor alleged that the Atlantis platform has been operating without a large percentage of the engineer-approved documents needed for it to operate safely. An independent engineer later substantiated these concerns, concluding that a BP database showed that over 85 percent of the Atlantis Project's Piping and Instrument drawings lacked final engineer-approval, and that the project should be immediately shut down until those documents could be accounted for and are independently verified.
"The tragic explosion on the Deepwater Horizon platform is an urgent reminder of the calamity that could occur if BP's Atlantis platform is operating without the approved documents necessary for ensuring its safety," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "This accident and the recent Massey mine disaster in West Virginia underscore a complete lack of regulatory oversight over the operations of the fossil fuel industry."
BP has denied the whistleblower's assertions regarding Atlantis, going so far as to write a letter to Congressional staff saying that they are "unsubstantiated," even though internal documents show that in August 2008, BP management was aware of the problems and believed that the document deficiencies "could lead to catastrophic Operator error." An investigation conducted by the company's Ombudsman in April 2009 seems to substantiate the charges, although the investigation's results did not become known until this month. BP has never acknowledged that the Ombudsman conducted an investigation of the project's document deficiencies.
"BP's recklessness in regards to the Atlantis project is a clear example of how the company has a pattern of failing to comply with minimum industry standards for worker and environmental safety," said Mike Sawyer, an Engineer at Apex Safety Consultants, who verified the contractor-turned-whistleblower's concerns about the company's lack of proper documents.
In March 2010, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the agency charged with overseeing the nation's offshore oil and gas platforms, announced that it would investigate these allegations in response to a letter from Representative Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and 18 of his colleagues calling for an investigation and a report on the findings issued to Congress. Food & Water Watch brought the situation to Representative Grijalva's attention in October of 2009.
Last week, Food & Water Watch submitted a letter to MMS detailing the key issues that need to be addressed with MMS's investigation, highlighting the recently-surfaced information about BP's own Ombudsman investigation. The organization called on MMS to conduct a thorough investigation of the situation, including interviewing the contractor-turned whistleblower who unearthed these potential safety hazards, and to penalize BP to the fullest extent of the law.
"The accident on the Horizon platform further highlights the importance of MMS's investigation of the Atlantis Project, as well as its regulation of offshore drilling activities in that area. As energy companies push to open more of the Outer Continental Shelf, MMS needs to make sure that companies like BP are operating safely and adhering to the law. If the agency does not adequately do so with its investigation of the BP Atlantis Project, the House Natural Resources Committee needs to hold oversight hearings and ensure that the explosion and mishap of the Horizon platform is not replicated," said Zach Corrigan, Food & Water Watch's senior staff attorney.
Read Food & Water Watch's full timeline of the problems associated with the BP Atlantis Project here.