Alex Massie

Obama vs BP Cont.

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My old friend Iain Martin wonders if or when David Cameron will pick up the phone to have a word with the American President:

Team Obama has chosen to set about a British company with increasing ferocity. Will there come a point when Cameron decides that the British national interest and pride makes a measured intervention desirable? Even if it is simply to point out that BP has given endless commitments to clean up the mess and that ratcheting up the rhetoric against it is far from helpful. Other British based companies and those keen to see what Cameron is made of in terms of foreign policy will be watching closely.

Well, maybe. As I suggested earlier, few parties are emerging from this mess with their dignity intact. Certainly, BP has pledged to do all it can - it's in its interests to do so after all and would be even without being hectored by the White House - but it's not obvious that there's much mileage in defending BP. After all:

[T]here is evidence BP has one of the worst safety track records of any major oil company operating in the United States.

In two separate disasters prior to the Gulf oil rig explosion, 30 BP workers have been killed, and more than 200 seriously injured.

In the last five years, investigators found, BP has admitted to breaking U.S. environmental and safety laws and committing outright fraud. BP paid $373 million in fines to avoid prosecution.

BP's safety violations far outstrip its fellow oil companies. According to the Center for Public Integrity, in the last three years, BP refineries in Ohio and Texas have accounted for 97 percent of the "egregious, willful" violations handed out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The violations are determined when an employer demonstrated either an "intentional disregard for the requirements of the [law], or showed plain indifference to employee safety and health."

OSHA statistics show BP ran up 760 "egregious, willful" safety violations, while Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips each had eight, Citgo had two and Exxon had one comparable citation. Now perhaps there are good reasons why, in these areas at least, BP should have racked up so many more violations than its competitors and perhaps there are mitigating circumstances too. Nevertheless, on the face of it, these are not good numbers for BP are they? I assume that BP's record in its operations in this country is not as bad as it seems to be in America. But if that is so then why is that the case?

If BP are in the wrong - and found to be so - then does it matter that they're a British company or not? Well, yes, but mainly in respect of UK pension funds and the like not because the sight of the American President beating up a British oil company is a blow to "British pride". Right?

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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