The British oil behemoth BP was worried that safety shortcomings that contributed to the 2010 blowout on the Deepwater Horizon would lead federal regulators to strip the company of billions of dollars in federal contracts.
So in July 2012, two years after the disaster that killed 11 workers and spilled hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP put together a confidential 72-page report for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlighting all of the changes the company had made.
BP said it replaced its top executives, developed a new spill response plan, implemented new safety and training protocols, rewrote its internal code of conduct urging employees to "speak up," shared "best practices" with others in the industry, and held itself "accountable for its role in the accident," which the company said in its report to the EPA could not be traced to a "single cause." (Numerous other independent and federal investigations contradict BP's claim).
"BP does not take for granted its status as a business partner of the Government," the report says. "BP understands that the government protects its interests by dealing only with responsible contractors. Through all of the remedial actions and measures that BP has implemented, BP has corrected the factors contributing to the Deepwater Horizon accident that were within BP's control…. Additionally, BP respectfully submits that it is a presently responsible contractor and that the Government does not need to invoke the drastic protections of suspension or debarment."
In making its case to the EPA, BP reminded the agency that it is one of the largest fuel suppliers to the Pentagon and holds more than $1.3 billion in federal contracts. The company stretches the truth a bit by stating in its report that prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion BP "was a responsible company with established, effective programs and processes for managing compliance, safety and operational risks." In fact, BP routinely flouted federal safety rules and was fined hundreds of millions of dollars for violations.
In November 2012, BP pleaded guilty to criminal charges stemming from the Gulf disaster. That month the EPA temporarily debarred BP from bidding on new federal contracts, citing the criminal plea as one of the reasons.
VICE News obtained the report BP prepared for the EPA, titled "Present Responsibility," along with hundreds of pages of other documents including internal BP PowerPoint presentations. This was in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed with EPA nearly two years ago.
According to an EPA FOIA analyst, it took so long for the regulatory agency to turn over the records because the EPA gave BP the opportunity to review and approve our FOIA request. The reason, the analyst said, was because the records we sought contained "confidential business information."
Ronald Reagan issued an executive order during his presidency requiring government agencies to first consult with businesses prior to releasing documents sought under FOIA, and to offer the businesses in question an opportunity to object to the release of records.
The redacted documents contain new details about how BP managed the crisis and provide a rare look at BP's operations and its close relationship with the US government in the aftermath of the worst environmental disaster in US history. The EPA also turned over the "Action Referral Memorandum," which details the circumstances that led an EPA Suspension and Debarment Division attorney to suspend BP and all of its subsidiaries from bidding on government contracts.
Former BP employees have said there is a culture within the company of retaliating against whistleblowers. But BP claims in its report that it has changed that.
Under a section of the report titled "The Obligation to Speak Up and the Policy Against Retaliation," BP said its code of conduct makes clear that "employees are responsible for speaking up if they have concerns… and [to] report violations of the law." The company said it fired more than 1,000 employees between 2010 and 2011 for violating the code of conduct.
In August 2013, BP sued the government over its decision to temporarily debar the company from bidding on federal contracts. Earlier this year, the EPA lifted the suspension against BP and authorized the company to once again do business with the federal government.
Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold
_Photo via _Flickr