OFFSHORE DRILLING:

History revised no more; Interior scrubs safety-award Web page

The Interior Department has scrubbed its safety-award Web page after questions about whether it was trying to revise history by deleting BP Exploration & Production Inc. from the list of finalists.

The scrubbed page indicates that it was "last updated" on July 8. That is one day after Greenwire highlighted the department's selective editing of the site (Greenwire, July 7).

BP's U.S. drilling subsidiary was named a finalist for the Minerals Management Service's SAFE Award before the April 20 blowout at BP's Macondo well. The blowout caused an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and spawned the country's largest-ever oil spill.

The company's finalist status was cause for derision in some quarters and sometime after June 6, MMS deleted BP's name from the list.

The agency left the names of the other finalists -- including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Eni U.S. Operating Co. -- posted on its site.

But now the names of all finalists have been removed and replaced with a statement saying that the website has been taken down until MMS -- renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement -- makes a final decision on how to handle the awards.

"As announced earlier, the 2010 Safety Award for Excellence (SAFE) has been postponed. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEM) has taken down the 2010 SAFE awards webpage until a final decision is reached," the statement says.

Agency officials did not respond this morning to a request for comment.

The winner was to be announced at an MMS-sponsored awards lunch during the 2010 Offshore Technology Conference in Houston on May 3. But the awards lunch was canceled and the winner has never been announced.

The conference, whose sponsors included BP and Halliburton Co., was not canceled.

BP did win the award once before, in 1992, when it tied with Conoco. BP was also a finalist in 2009, when Exxon Mobil won.

Transocean Ltd., which drilled the blown-out well from its Deepwater Horizon rig, won in 1999 and 2008. The company was nominated in 2007. Halliburton, the cement contractor for the blown-out well, has never won.

The department has been giving out the award for 25 years. The current awards lunch and program at the Houston offshore conference began in 1999.

BP's safety record, along with those of its competitors in the Gulf of Mexico, has taken on increased importance as the Obama administration seeks to determine whether there are sufficient controls to restart deep-water drilling in the Gulf.

When U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman lifted the Obama administration's moratorium on offshore drilling last month, he suggested Interior Secretary Ken Salazar should have looked at the safety records of the other companies that were hit by the moratorium (Greenwire, June 24).

But department records show there was little difference between BP and other Gulf well operators. BP ranked a close third in penalties for safety violations. And statistics compiled on injuries and fires show that BP's records were comparable to those of other deepwater drilling companies.

The plaque and citation that come with the SAFE prize are intended to recognize the company's performance in the prior year. Companies that have a fatality or a major spill, or other serious problems during the award year are not eligible for that year's award, indicating that BP and Transocean would likely not be eligible next year.

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