BP's recent history of legal problems

June 2, 2010 4:51:11 PM PDT
This is not the first time BP has faced legal problems. The criminal investigation announced Tuesday is at least the fourth time in five years BP has been investigated for violating U.S. law. Every other time, the company has pleaded guilty and promised to obey the rules. So why does it keep happening? The rig that exploded didn't belong to BP. The men who died didn't work for BP. The blow out preventer that failed wasn't made by BP. The twisted pipes at the bottom of the Gulf weren't put there by BP.

But in Congressional and Coast Guard testimony, the accusation of prioritizing speed over safety has been leveled at BP.

"You had 11 people that were burned to death on that rig because BP made a decision that overrode the recommendations of other people," said lawyer Brent Coon.

Coon represents one of the men who was on the rig when it exploded. He also represented many of the victims' families after BP's deadly 2005 Texas City refinery explosion.

BP was criminally investigated after that explosion, and after a huge Alaskan pipeline leak in 2005 and 2006, and investigated after a propane price fixing scandal in 2003.

BP ended all those investigations by pleading guilty in late 2007. The company agreed to pay a $170 million fine and serve three years probation.

That sounds like a lot of money, but BP made that much every six hours in 2007.

"You can't fine these guys enough. They make $500 billion a year in revenue," Coon said. "I don't know if there's an amount of money you can fine them that will get their attention."

A report following the 2005 Texas City blast by former Secretary of State Jim Baker found BP's safety culture didn't reward safety.

Now there are signs BP ignored safety concerns before this recent explosion.

"Keeping people safe is the absolute of anyone who wears a management hat," said John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil U.S.

Hofmeister has written a new book called, 'Why We Hate the Oil Companies.' He says there are already signs BP may've been moving too fast to be safe.

"That's not good. That's playing risk with people's lives and that's what we have to investigate," said Hofmeister.

It's unclear if this newest criminal investigation will get the changes three past criminal inquiries haven't.

"Every time before they've been able to buy their way out," said Coon. "They need to pay money, but they need to go to jail."

Coon says BP executives or employees need to be charged and face jail time. He says it's the only thing that may get the company's attention.

BP did not return a call for comment Wednesday afternoon.


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