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Texas Refinery Explosion Kills 15, Investigation Blames Management

By Heather Timmons


An investigation led by former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker has concluded that weak leadership at BP and a lack of attention to effective safety helped create a dangerous setting that led to 15 deaths at the oil giant’s Texas refinery, according to the report released Tuesday.

Based on hundreds of interviews with employees, the 374-page report painted a layered picture of recurring neglect, avoidance and wrong-headed corporate directives that culminated in the fatal explosion at the refinery in March 2005.

The panel made 10 recommendations, including the creation of an independent monitor to report to the company’s board over a five-year period. BP responded that it would carry out the 11-member panel’s findings.

The company’s departing chief executive, John Browne, denied that there were fundamental problems with BP’s structure or that a succession of problems were related. But he said he “has a responsibility to implement these findings” and a “moral responsibility” to make sure the company is improved.

Browne said last week that he would retire from BP in July, 18 months sooner than expected. He will be succeeded by Tony Hayward, the head of exploration and production, who will face the challenge of trying to repair the company’s reputation with investors and the public.

The Baker report said that the company had fundamental problems in its “decentralized management system and entrepreneurial culture,” which left safety processes to the discretion of managers and did not define what was expected of them. Executive management was not held accountable for safety processes of the U.S. refineries, the report said.

Though the panel did not explicitly blame Browne, he was a key proponent of the entrepreneurial culture.