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Financial Times: BP blast probe finds tensions at top

By Sheila McNulty in Houston
Published: March 26 2007 22:04 | Last updated: March 27 2007 02:05

An internal BP investigation into the Texas City refinery explosion found that John Manzoni, the chief executive of refining, should have done a “much deeper dive” into the state of the facility after “clear warning signals” from previous accidents.

The confidential report concludes that Mr Manzoni – who until late last year was regarded as being near the top of the short list to succeed Lord Browne as BP’s chief executive – lacked refining experience and failed to obtain information needed to understand better his most complex and important refining asset and the risk of a big accident.

The report also reveals tensions between him and Mike Hoffman, then group vice-president for refining and marketing, upon whom he chose to rely for information.

These tensions temper the criticism of Mr Manzoni. The report states that the “standoff” between the two contributed to Mr Manzoni’s lack of understanding of the risks at Texas City.

The report, dated February 2007, summed up the findings of the team led by BP’s Wilhelm Bonse-Geuking. It was appointed to investigate whom to hold accountable for the Texas City blast, which killed 15 people and injured 500 others.

Although the report clears Mr Manzoni of “serious neglect or intentional misconduct”, it says he should have taken more steps to consider and mitigate the risks long before the disaster.

The report divided individuals into four tiers in descending order of accountability. Mr Hoffman, along with three other senior US executives, were placed in Tier 1 and recommended for dismissal. Tier 1 includes “direct accountability for substantial management activities; aggravating factors generally outweigh mitigating factors”. Mr Hoffman retired this year.

The report places Mr Manzoni as the sole executive in a Tier 2 of responsibility for the accident, which means “direct accountability for substantial management activities; balance of aggravating and mitigating factors”.

It notes that Mr Manzoni visited Texas City several times. The visits “ought to have given him some of the missing information (or at least critical clues) that Texas City refinery was in worryingly poor condition.’’

The appropriate response should have been “a much deeper dive into the process safety environment of refining, especially at Texas City, compared with what he did do in response to this incident”.

The US Chemical Safety Board, the federal agency charged with investigating the blast, last week issued its final report on the accident. It found that reports revealing deterioration at the site were given to BP executives in London and at least one member of the executive board – Mr Manzoni.

Mr Manzoni’s secretary said: “We have no comment.” BP said: “The team found no evidence that anyone acted in bad faith or violated BP’s code of conduct. As a matter of policy, BP does not comment on personnel matters.’’

Attempts to contact Mr Hoffman proved unsuccessful.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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