Ken Abbott, a former project control supervisor on BP's Atlantis deepwater oil rig, was fired in 2009 after expressing concerns about the safety of the operation.
"I got a lot of pressure from the lead engineers and from the managers saying, 'Don't do that; don't push so much; we don't want to mess with that,'" Abbott told HuffPost in an interview Wednesday. "I feel like the real reason I was fired was because I was trying to raise a safety issue, and you know BP has a long history of getting rid of people who try to raise safety issues. I was one of those victims."
"Management sets the tone," Abbott added. "If they think that production is more important than safety, then that's the tone of the company, and that was the tone at Atlantis."
In his testimony on the Hill on Thursday, BP CEO Tony Hayward repeatedly said that he didn't make any design choices. "I wasn't involved in any of the decision-making," he told Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), adding that there were clearly discussions about rig safety among the well's engineering team.
"You're not taking responsibility," Waxman said. "You're kicking the can down the road and acting like you have nothing to do with... this company. I find that irresponsible."
Congressional investigators recently obtained internal BP documents showing that BP chose a well design for Deepwater Horizon that was riskier but $3 million cheaper.
The story sounds familiar to Abbott who had his safety recommendations for Atlantis vetoed by BP management for fiscal reasons -- the estimated cost was $2 million.
In September of 2008, Abbott was warned by his predecessor, Barry Duff, that "hundreds if not thousands" of Atlantis's documents had not been approved or finalized, and that it could "lead to catastrophic Operator errors."
Duff had reported these concerns to management, but nothing had happened. "They didn't want to spend the money to fix it," Abbott said. "I think [Duff] was unhappy."
For months, Abbott worked to obtain BP engineer-approved drawings with little, if any, progress. "The more I insisted that we had to develop or obtain them, the more unpopular I became," he said. Hostilities mounted until he was fired on February 5, 2009.
"I was told that it was a reduction in force due to a slowdown on the Atlantis project, but I was the only person laid off," Abbott said. "Three weeks before, the BP managers of Atlantis had told the whole rig nobody was going to be laid off, that there was plenty of work to do."
Hayward said under oath Thursday that he feels "a great deal of responsibility" for the Deepwater Horizon explosion this April that triggered the Gulf Coast catastrophe. "The fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon never should have happened and I'm deeply sorry that it did," Hayward said.
Rep. Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, was underwhelmed by Hayward's claim that the CEO didn't know anything about the well in question, including safety issues that had been raised repeatedly.
"With due respect," said Hayward, "We drill hundreds of wells around the world."
"That's what scares me right now," said Burgess.
Abbott said he thinks BP's lax attitude toward safety regulations extends beyond Atlantis.
"From my experience working in the industry for over 30 years, I have never seen these kinds of problems with other companies," said Abbott. "Of course, everyone and every company will make mistakes occasionally. I have never seen another company with the kind of widespread disregard for proper engineering and safety procedures that I saw at BP... BP has a culture which simply does not follow safety regulations. From what I saw [at Atlantis], that culture has not changed."
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