May 27, 2010 -- As the nation comes to grips with the worst oil disaster in its history, there is evidence BP has one of the worst safety track records of any major oil company operating in the United States.
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.
After a 2005 BP refinery explosion in Texas City, Texas that killed 15 people and injured 180, a Justice Department investigation found that the explosion was caused by "improperly released vapor and liquid." Several procedures required by the Clean Air Act to reduce the possibility of just such an explosion either were not followed, or had not been established in the first place.
BP admitted that its written procedures to ensure its equipment's safety were inadequate, and that it had failed to inform employees of known fire and explosion risks. The company paid $50 million in criminal fines in connection with that disaster, and acknowledged violating the Clean Air Act.
Jordan Barab, the deputy assistant secretary of Labor for OSHA, said BP refineries have a "systemic safety problem," and that the tragedy in BP-Texas City "revealed serious process safety and workplace culture problems at the facility."