BP safety official gets a grilling in the Senate

Eleven workers were killed and dozens more injured in April when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, creating an oil geyser on the sea floor that gushed for months before BP engineers were able to apply a fragile cap last week.

Democrats on Thursday said that the incident is just another in a long list of fatal disasters at BP facilities — a trend that "raises serious questions about BP's commitment to create a safe workplace," Murray said.

Several Democrats referenced the results of a survey among Deepwater Horizon workers, which found that many feared repercussions if they reported safety hazards on the rig. That confidential survey, conducted by Transocean, the rig operator, was first reported by the New York Times on Wednesday.

"We've got managers saying one thing," Murray said, "and we've got workers experiencing a different reality."

Flynn said he was troubled by the report, but insisted that BP has no policy of punishing whistleblowers.

"We expect workers to raise concerns and we expect people to respond to them," he said. Encouraging workers to report hazards, he added, "is both my personal commitment and that is company policy."

Thursday's hearing marked the second time Murray has called the subcommittee to examine worker safety on oil rigs. BP declined an invitation to attend the first — an incident that agitated Democrats and contributed to the harsh tone of Thursday's questioning.

Not that Flynn did himself many favors in responding. When Franken, for instance, asked if Flynn would reach out with condolences for each of the victim's families, Flynn said, "I've already expressed my condolences and sorrow here." (He later added that, "If that would help, then I'll do it.")

And when Merkley asked why BP accounted for 97 percent of the most egregious violations cited by federal inspectors over the last three years, Flynn took issue with the regulators' methodology.

"We're not comparing apples with apples," he said, arguing that the criticism surrounding the report was unwarranted. "It's a large number, so naturally it attracts attention."

Merkley was hardly impressed. "You're blaming it on a process," said the Oregon Democrat, "rather than a culture of ignoring safety." 

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) broached another thorny issue: the charges, appearing in local reports, that BP officials are telling cleanup workers they can't seek care for work-related illnesses anywhere but an emergency BP facility.

"Is that true?" Mikulski asked.

"We have provided medical support," Flynn responded, but workers are "perfectly welcome" to seek care anywhere, he insisted. 

In a final testy exchange, Franken asked if Flynn, as vice president for safety, feels any responsibility for the workers at BP facilities.

"I have a part to play," Flynn answered.

"I just don't get it," Franken responded, "I don't get BP. I don't get its lack of remorse."