Some Things Never Change: BP's Unethical Business Practices

British Petroleum (BP) is no stranger to being in the news for unethical practices. With the most recent being the explosion of the Gulf Coast Rig, the Deepwater Horizon, that killed 11 people, injured many more and produced one of the largest oil spills in history that occurred in U.S. Waters (Adelson, 2010). If this incident was BP’s first than I would say this could have been an accident. However, this incident doesn’t come close to being the first and only shows us a devastating trend that places profits over the value of human life. In fact, BP’s unethical practices have claimed the lives of 38 employees ending just after March, 23, 2005 (CSB, 2007). One of the accidents happened five years ago, when the BP Texas Refinery exploded killing 15 and injuring 180 more. To better understand what is going on at BP we will take a look at the Texas Refinery Explosion and the ethical considerations that contributed to the problems that lead to the death of those 15 workers.

The BP Texas City Refinery Explosion

March 23, 2005, the BP Texas City Refinery (BPTCR) exploded causing 43,000 people in the surrounding area to remain indoors after being issued a shelter-in-place order. The explosion also killed 15 contractors and injured another 180 workers, which caused an additional estimated $1.5 billion in financial losses (CSB, 2007). The Final Investigation Report, issued by the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), cites: “The Texas City disaster was caused by organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporations (CSB, 2007).” The CSB, using investigation techniques that were similar to the techniques used by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board during their probe in the explosion of the space shuttle, found that warning signs of possible disaster were present for several years before the 2005 BPTCR explosion. The unethical decisions that were made to ignore the safety of BP’s employees and contractors, in order to shave costs and increase profits, lead OSHA to handout the largest penalty in the regulator’s history.

BP agreed to settle with OSHA, in what was then the highest penalty given, at $21 million (OSHA, 2009). The 2005 Settlement Agreement included:

Agree to pay $21 million in penalties.

A comprehensive evaluation of BPTCR’s Process Safety Management program by an independent auditor.

Implementation of all feasible recommendations of the auditor.

Required other abatement actions such as conducting audits and determining the adequacy of pressure relief for individual pieces of equipment.

April 24, 2006, BP’s Senior Group Vice President of Safety & Operations, John Mogford, gave a speech, about the Texas City incident, to express the lessons learned from the accident and to help others from enduring the same fate (Mogford, 2006). During the speech John stated that, “This was a preventable incident” and “It should be seen as a process failure, a cultural failure and a management failure.” John also addressed BP’s commitment to make sure that what happened at the Texas Refinery never happens again.

John Mogford’s speech says a lot about how BP is now newly energized and focused to ensure their past unethical convictions end and a new ethical chapter begins. However, will this new ethical commitment become a lasting one? Or, has the unethical behavior within BP been so deeply engrained into the company’s fabric that no amount of recommitment will ever change the foundation of BP?

Part of BP’s 2005 settlement was to resolve more than 300 separate alleged violations of OSHA regulations (Mogford, 2006). In 2006, John Magford’s speech reassures BP’s stakeholders that they are committed to resolving all safety issues. So, why in 2009, when all of the 300 separate alleged violations were to be complete, did OHSA find that BP failed to correct 270 previous citations and found 439 new violations (OSHA, 2009)? It seems John’s speech was nothing more than puffery and BP was still up to their old unethical habits. OHSA cited BP with another record breaking penalty totaling $87 million for their failure to abate.


With BP’s long history of unethical behavior, what will it take to ensure that this profit driven Oil Company follows not just the laws but the spirit of the law in order to prevent even more deaths from occurring? BP’s flagrant disregard to safety is unacceptable and those responsible should be held accountable for their actions. Criminal charges should be pressed for those who knew of any life threatening safety violations that resulted in the otherwise preventable death of an employee. In my opinion BP should be held accountable for murder and nothing short thereof. Those employed by BP, or any organization, has the right to go to work without fear that their working environment is unsafe and their lives are not put at risk because of greedy executives who thrive on profit mongering.


Adelson, B. (2010, April 29). Troubling Details Emerge About BP's Oil Rig Explosion and Spill. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from

CSB. (2007, March). Investigation Report - Refinery Explosion and Fire. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from

Mogford, J. (2006, April 24). The Texas City Refinery Explosion: The Lessons Learned. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from

OSHA. (2009). Fact Sheet on BP 2009 Monitoring Inspection. Retrieved June 1, 2010, from

By: Joseph Dustin
read more “Some Things Never Change: BP's Unethical Business Practices”