Oil majors send safety chiefsto summit as criticisms mount

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The Independent Online

Senior directors from the world's largest oil companies have agreed to attend a summit meeting next month in order to discuss working together to tackle health and safety issues.

Heads of safety from oil majors including BP, Shell and Total will meet together for the first time in order to agree a joint approach to improving the industry's safety record.

The summit meeting follows increasing concern among oil executives that a series of disasters and safety failures is jeopardising their reputation and damaging business prospects. While the industry has collaborated in the past on safety issues, next month's meeting will be the first time the majors have dispatched their most senior safety directors to talks.

A spokesman for BP said: "We have been holding quarterly safety meetings for four years, but next month's meeting will be attended by oil bosses – there are similar issues facing all of us, and we have an opportunity to explore common themes."

A spokesman for Shell added: "This is an important issue for the industry and this is one area where we support the idea of working together."

BP said its global head of safety, John Mogford, would attend next month's meeting, while Shell intends to send Kieron McFadyen, its head of safety, to the summit. Rival oil companies will send similarly senior executives.

In addition to sharing experiences over working practices, the oil majors are keen to establish a standardised method of reporting health and safety incidents, with practices currently varying widely around the world.

The fact that oil companies have asked senior directors to focus on a joint approach to safety reflects the intense and continuing criticism the industry has faced over its record on health and safety.

Shell has suffered a series of problems at its North Sea operations while the ramifications continue over a disastrous fire two years ago at the Buncefield oil depot owned by Total and Chevron in the UK.

BP, in particular, is currently in the spotlight over safety, as victims of the 2005 Texas refinery blast, which killed 15 people, seek compensation from the company. It is currently defending a series of lawsuits being heard in a Texas court, and this week faced a series of damaging headlines over allegations made in court that budget cuts were to blame for the explosion.

BP is also facing an investigation by regulators in Alaska, who want to know why there have been four separate fires at its facilities in the US state in the past four months alone. On Tuesday, Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, said the fires were "above and beyond anything that is acceptable". However, BP said the fires had all been small, with little impact on production and no injuries incurred. "The production impact from these events has been minimal and falls within ordinary operational swings," the company said.

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