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BP has hired bankruptcy attorneys in New Orleans?

Class Derides BP’s ‘Culture of Safety’


NEW ORLEANS (CN) – While BP’s top U.S. official said he stands by BP’s “culture of safety” and said BP’s practices are the same as those “deployed by the other companies out there,” a federal class action claims that BP refineries in Texas and Ohio have accounted for 97 percent of the “egregious, willful” citations from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the past 3 years.

BP was cited for 760 such violations, while Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips had 8 apiece, Citgo had 2 and Exxon had 1 comparable citation, according to the complaint.

Plaintiff Armand’s Bistro cites sworn testimony from BP employees and engineers and documents released through investigation to buttress claims that BP has a long history of sacrificing safety for profit. In its 72-page filing, Armand’s Bistro also cites a shareholder derivative complaint filed against BP in May.

Employee accounts of the weeks leading up to the explosion indicate that numerous safety issues aboard the Deepwater Horizon were ignored by BP. Survivors of the explosion said they had recurring problems with pockets of flammable natural gas bubbling up the drilling pipes. So much gas rose to the surface in the weeks before the spill that all “hot work” had to be stopped, including welding, cooking and any other use of fire or igniters, according to the complaint.

Meanwhile on Thursday, a local attorney who represents several plaintiffs in claims against BP estimated the company’s actual damages from the spill at $39 billion to $50 billion – and said that BP has hired bankruptcy attorneys in New Orleans.

Daniel Becnel Jr. did not say BP is preparing to file for bankruptcy, but said that for the past month BP has paid attorneys $1,100 an hour to work for 10 to 12 hours a day. Becnel, who represents Armand’s Bistro, declined to name the firm.

Also on Thursday, BP America’s Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles says he stands by BP’s “culture of safety” and that BP’s practices in the Gulf of Mexico are the same as those “deployed by the other companies out there.”

Suttles told the Times-Picayune he’d like to see the U.S. moratorium on deepwater drilling lifted as soon as possible.

“I understand why people might wasn’t to put a moratorium in place, but my personal view on this is we need to look very rapidly at what needs to be done that gives you confidence to restart [drilling in deepwater] because the consequences of stopping are also significant,” Suttles said.

Louisiana officials have said more than 10,000 jobs may be at stake if the moratorium remains in place for 6 months. Royal Dutch Shell, which was not involved in the spill, has said it will await the appeals process before resuming operations.

“Whether it’s the safety equipment that’s used, how it’s tested, how well designs are examined and approved or how decisions are taken through that process, I would hope that those things could be examined very quickly with the right experts and at minimum you could come up with interim conditions to restart while you study it even further,” Suttles said.

Suttles appears to be the first BP official to publicly question the moratorium. Last week in congressional testimony, BP CEO Tony Hayward said the moratorium was “probably the right thing to do until such time as we have greater clarity.”

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman blocked the moratorium on Tuesday and rejected the Interior Secretary’s request for a stay on Thursday. Feldman ruled that the moratorium was it overly broad and arbitrary.

The Minerals Management Service has been criticized repeatedly for its cozy, de-facto deregulation of oil companies. Norway, Brazil and other nations require drilling rigs to be outfitted with a remote device that works as a last ditch effort to prevent a spill in the case the blowout preventer fails. The device costs about $500,000. BP says it has spent more than $100 million already compensating Gulf Coast residents for the oil spill.

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