The Upshot

Oil-spill commission: No evidence of corners being cut for profits

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Last month, the commission appointed by President Obama to investigate the causes of the BP oil disaster trickled out a few of its early findings. Its initial appraisal of the spill was decidedly unfavorable to the White House, government oil and gas regulators and the private enterprises involved in the disaster.

Today, however, the commission's lead investigator came forward with a rare bit of news that might be said to aid the private enterprise in the center of the fiasco, oil giant BP, together with Halliburton and Transocean, the other lead companies involved in the disaster. Fred Bartlit, the panel's chief investigator, announced he found no evidence that the three major companies had cut costs at the expense of safety precautions prior to the April 20 explosion.

Bartlit told the seven-member commission that the three firms hadn't forsaken sound safety practices, in a statement that contradicts many other reports  — including accounts provided by BP and Halliburton.

"To date we have not seen a single instance where a human being made a conscious decision to favor dollars over safety," Bartlit said.

Needless to say, some key players in the spill controversy are up in arms over Bartlit's announcement.

"They are pasting over because they know the government is going to be a defendant sooner or later in this litigation," Daniel Becnel, a lawyer suing BP on behalf of many Louisianans, told WWL, the CBS affiliate in New Orleans. He added that Bartlit's assertion that maximizing profits played no role in the tragedy are "absolutely absurd."

Indeed, Bartlit's announcement squares with few of the details uncovered about the spill — particularly those emerging via insider leaks. (Internal BP emails revealed a minor obsession among BP management over how much time and money certain procedures would require.) Nor does Bartlit's conclusion exactly match BP's established track record of placing profits over safety.

Bartlit also said that he agreed with roughly 90 percent of BP's own version of events presented in a recent internal investigation by the company, which chiefly sought to shift blame for the spill onto other parties.

However, as Bartlit also noted in today's remarks, his work on the commission was tightly circumscribed. Without the power to subpoena witnesses, he noted, the commission was only able to gather information on a limited basis. In June, the House of Representatives voted almost unanimously to grant subpoena power to the commission. However, Senate Republicans blocked the measure. In addition, many key witnesses refused to testify before the commission, citing Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.

(Photo of Bartlit before the commission: AP)

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