Sunday, August 10, 2008

Carlyle's Lord Browne Sugar Coats BP Blast

Three years after the BP refinery explosion in Texas City that killed 15 people, the CEO finally testified as to his knowledge of company operations. It turns out Lord John Browne doesn't know much, given his frequent responses of "I can't recall" and "I was not aware". Was Alberto Gonzales the inspiration for John's testimony?

One might expect a CEO who'd participated in two outside investigations to know a bit more. Consider all of John's learning opportunities and how he responded:

March 2005 An explosion at BP's Texas City refinery killed 15 people and injured 180.

September 2005 The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration found BP committed more than 300 willful violations of its rules and fined the company $21.3 million.

December 2005 BP's own report blamed failures by management at the refinery, saying it didn’t make safety a priority, tolerated risks and failed to communicate. But BP added it “found no evidence of anyone consciously or intentionally taking actions or decisions that put others at risk.”

January 2007 Lord Browne announces his resignation, effective in July

January 2007 James Baker of Baker Botts releases the results of a panel's investigation into the accident. It cited the company's emphasis on personal safety, while ignoring process safety. It gave a virtual free pass to senior management, citing only a corporate blind spot. (John Browne testified that he read this report)

March 2007 The U.S. Chemical Safety Board releases its report. The investigators concluded that cost cuts mandated by the company's London headquarters contributed to the tragedy - and that bosses ignored successive warnings that an accident was imminent (According to his legal testimony, John Browne did not read this report)

August 2007 The good Lord scampered to a cushy job with The Carlyle Group, via its Riverstone Energy joint venture.

April 2008 Lord John Browne gave legal deposition on the Texas City accident and his knowledge of contributory factors.

It turns out, Mr. Browne knew the right people instead of the right answers. James Baker helped him dance out of a situation, one the Lord promised to "make right." Besides going light on John in his investigation, Baker's buddies at Carlyle provided him gainful employment, enabling him to keep his butler and chauffeur.

James A. Baker is the only the top of the Lord Browne rabbit hole. Falling further into his deposition, on page 19 one passes Condi Rice, George Bush and Dick Cheney.

The ties to James Baker are deep within BP. The politically powerful Texan performed legal work for the oil company. Also, the executive in charge of British Petroleum's refining operations, John Manzoni, served on a 21st Century Energy Task Force at the Baker Institute. Mr. Manzoni left BP shortly before his protector, Lord John.

Mr. Manzoni's testimony revealed his role in deferred maintenance at more than just the Texas City refinery. John had operational responsibilities for BP at their Prudhoe Bay, Alaska facilities. Deferred maintenance on the Alaskan oil pipeline in 1994-1996 contributed to the BP oil leak.

The depositions sounds incredibly similar to Bush minions, after they've had something blow up in their face. Consider these statements by Mr. Manzoni in regard to the accident that killed 15 people:

Q: You understand there are a number of allegations of deferred maintenance contributing to the condition of the units at Texas City and it also contributed to the failures resulting in the explosion of March 23, 2005?

A: I am not aware of any specifics of those allegations.

Q: Do you think you should?

A: I am much more concerned to assure that we have proper maintenance programs and that we are working to create the appropriate maintenance programs going forward.

Does that sound like Attorney General Michael Mukasy in response to Justice Department political hiring? Or maybe like Treasury Chief Hank Paulson on the subprime debacle?

A little deeper in Mr. Manzoni's testimony comes the familiar Bush defense, it was an unprecedented disaster! He had eight months to learn from Frances Townsend's sorry report on the White House's Katrina response. Here's John's lesson learned:

A: If we had known it had existed, we would have done, of course. We would have done more then. We simply didn't see it coming.

Bull hockey, Mr. Browne and Manzoni! It's a country club, where those in power aren't held accountable. But they do look after one another. Thanks to the dirty duo for testifying to this fact. (It's a shame neither man had the cojones to come clean, like the executive for Imperial Sugar. Graham H. Graham called conditions in the sugar plant in Port Wentworth, Georgia "shocking" and "disgraceful.")