Internal BP documents examined by 60 MINUTES confirm that top executives of the oil company were aware of safety issues that led to the worst workplace accident in this country in 16 years. Ed Bradley also interviews a federal official investigating the explosion at BP's Texas City refinery, which killed 15 and injured at least 170, who concludes the blast was "absolutely" preventable. The report will be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Oct. 29 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
60 MINUTES has examined internal BP documents confirming that John Manzoni, the company's executive in charge of refineries, was repeatedly warned by his own experts before the explosion about serious safety problems at the refinery. One report noted that the history of petroleum leaks at the facility near Galveston, Texas, created "the potential for a major site incident."
Manzoni has said under oath that he only became aware of serious safety concerns at the Texas City site on March 23, 2005, the day of the explosion. Asked in a videotaped deposition whether management was aware of the great risk to human life at the site, Manzoni replies, "I believe that ... nobody knew the level of risk at Texas City."
Carolyn Merritt, appointed by President Bush to be chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, says management at BP knew enough about Texas City's safety problems to have prevented the disaster. "Absolutely," says Merritt to Bradley's question on whether the Texas City blast was preventable. "The problems that existed at BP Texas City were neither momentary nor superficial," she tells Bradley. "They ran deep through that operation of a risk denial and a risk blindness that was not being addressed anywhere in the organization." Merrit adds that she believes budget cuts at the facility were directly related to the accident. "Twenty-five percent of their fixed costs were cut and when you cut that much out of a budget....Our investigation has shown that this was a drastic mistake," she says.
Merritt spoke to Bradley in the midst of her investigation into the accident. Her report, expected to be released in the spring of 2007, will outline other failures directly contributing to the deaths and injuries, including old equipment, corroded pipes, and non-working alarms. "There were three pieces of key instrumentation that were actually supposed to be repaired that were not repaired and the management knew this," reveals Merritt. She says BP management authorized the operation that ultimately resulted in the blast, knowing the three pieces of equipment were not working properly.
What's more, she says, the company violated its own policy when it allowed trailers for workers to be placed so near potentially dangerous operations -- perhaps the single biggest lapse that led to the deaths and injuries. "These things do not have to happen. They are preventable. They are predictable, and people do not have to die because they're earning a living," Merritt tells Bradley.
BP declined to be interviewed on camera, but gave Bradley a tour of the Texas City facility and referred 60 MINUTES to its own report, which concluded there "was no evidence of anyone consciously or intentionally taking actions or decisions that put others at risk."