Friday, July 16, 2010

Collateral Damage: A BP employee opens up

Over at The Oil Drum blog, which is an energy site populated by all sorts of oil geeks, engineers and scientific types, a BP employee opens up and gives a bit of an inside view.
I can contribute nothing to TOD regarding the efforts to contain and kill this well from a technical standpoint. I am a BP employee at the Houston office and I am not a spokesman for BP in any sense. My responsibilities are entirely in support of BP's domestic onshore operations and I can offer no special insights from the Houston crisis rooms. In fact, those floors in the Houston office are restricted to the BP employees responsible for this operation and the representatives from partner companies, and of course, the Coast Guard and other government employees. Occasionally, the press is permitted some access, but it is a 24/7 operation and there is little time to conduct tours for the merely curious.

Most BP employees are like me. We have no inside information. We receive emails from upper management, but those are promptly leaked to the media, and BP knows it. Our best information comes from Thad Allen's briefings and TOD.

What I can report is that this disaster has had a profound impact on BP internally. What is not really publicly understood is how BP responded to it. From the start it was both enormous and completely inept.

A crisis center in the Houston offices already existed. It's routinely used as tropical systems develop, exists (at least in theory) for disasters such as this. BP spudded a relief well as fast as could possibly be done. All the permits were secured and a rig brought into place even as BP was still assessing the BOP and the fallen riser. That was one of the few things that BP did which couldn't have been done better.

Everything else was some sort of a "throw everything including the kitchen sink" type of response. Money was not the issue. Almost from the start BP recognized the need to keep the spill as small as possible. It also recognized the need for a coastal presence and response. The problem is that BP had no idea how to do any of this. BP managers and executives were deployed to be liaisons to the county and parish governments and to their Coast Guard counterparts. Temporary offices, computers, equipment were all purchased immediately and cost was no object.

The problem is that BP has no navy. It has no mobile cafeterias to feed beach patrols. It had no claims adjusters. Everything offshore is equipment provided by subcontractors. BP simply had no way to be the private equivalent of FEMA, only better. And, it had NO idea how to handle the public relations aspect of this. It assigned that duty to Doug Suttles, who tried to do the best he could, but really couldn't satisfy the public demand for information.

BP continues to shovel money out by the bucketload in Louisiana. Fraud is a huge problem, as is the fact that many making claims have not paid any income tax or even filed a tax return. If BP pays the tax cheaters under the table, it will be engaging in illegal behavior and in further trouble than it is now.

The situation obviously became a public relations disaster early on. BP quickly became the villain as it became political. President Obama could hardly have said "British Petroleum" with more sneer in his voice. Tony Hayward had no clue that he was going to be the scapegoat no matter what. Everything he said and did was used against him in the media. He never had a chance.

Kent Wells has done a spectacular job in his technical updates. He may be the one bright spot in a sea of public relations gaffes.

So what does this mean to the BP employees like me? We have been advised in official communications to keep a low profile for our own safety. It's not really necessary. Except for one Code Pink nonsense, it's been pretty quiet at the BP campus. Whenever one of Obama administration, like Janet Incompetano, wants to visit and make a photo op, a lot of security and media show up and get it in the way, but mostly it is not a big deal except for increased security.

But what does this mean to me and the thousands of other BP employees not directly involved with the well or its cleanup? Nobody cares, including BP.

Most of our managers are deployed to the cleanup. The beach patrols are a pathetic joke. Because of rules that require that the workers only work 20 minutes per hour, and the supposed health risks of feeding them at the beach, most of their team is spent on going to a from the assembly point for lunch or at the start and end of the day. Some of the workers are hookers who are making deals to do something entirely different during the lunch break. The company is spending a fortune on protective gear as if they are looking for plutonium, not some sandy tarballs.

BP employees know all of this. They know their company will be on the hook for years and the prime suspect in any tarball found anywhere in the world. Trial lawyers see a feast and litigation will be endless.

Some of the younger employees were drawn to BP because of its glossy PR rebranding to be "Beyond Petroleum." How disillusioned are those guys now? What kind of a future do they face at BP? A company flush with money, or one that is continuing to settle claims for a decade? How many new hires would chose BP over Chevron if the job offers were the same?

BP is easily the most hated company in America today. Does anyone think Obama will allow a new drilling permit for a BP deepwater well during the rest of his term?

BP is obviously going to sell some of its US properties to Apache very soon. How will that affect current employees? Layoffs?

BP had a huge budget for drilling in the Gulf this year and next. What happens to that, and where do the employees involved in that effort go?

Nobody really has the answer to these questions, but the BP employees are talking about them. Our President is determined to kill the offshore oil and gas industry and he will probably succeed. It's clear he's going to use BP as his personal ATM to spend dollars selectively in the Gulf states he is destroying with his moratorium.

BP may be destroyed as an operator in America. Many people will be happy about that, although it's going to have negative economic ramifications.

There are some extremely qualified and intelligent employees in BP. They have some legitimate concerns about the future of the company. They worry about how secure their retirement is. I suspect the headhunters know this and I think BP is incapable of understanding it. This spill has sucked all the energy out of the Houston office and it might not come back for years.

Most of the people I know in the Houston office are either looking for new jobs or strongly considering it for the first time. A brain drain is inevitable.

I'm not seeking any sympathy for BP's employees. Despite the national economy and the upcoming offshore catastrophe engineered by the Obama moratorium, the job market is strong locally. It's just my opinion that BP is likely to lose 30% or more of its experienced employees within the next few months. It's an aspect of this disaster that hasn't been discussed much, and it's not an insignificant consequence of this oil disaster.

Gimme some feedback in the comments.


Lisa G in NZ said...

Ask the BP insider if they are all excited about their company's new overseas expansion: billion dollar business deals coming up with Petrobas, Libya and Soros?

What, they hadn't heard? uh huh...

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