Texan tragedy – first BP then HS2?

Texan tragedy – first BP then HS2?

This is a guest post by Madeleine Wahlberg.

Easter Sunday marked the fourth anniversary of the deep water blowout of the BP oil refinery in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven workers died and of course there was and is still massive environmental damage as oil flowed out for the ensuing 87 days. And why does that interest us? Well because 2 of the senior managers that were in charge of that oil rig at the time are now in positions that will govern the approach to the development and safety of HS2.

Here is a longer blog about this https://stophs2.org/news/10350-camerons-explosive-approach-hs2 but in brief, Cameron appointed Lord Browne of Madingley as the Lead Non-Executive for the Cabinet Office, including for the Major Projects Authority (MPA, which will ‘drive’ HS2). He was a senior manager of BP at the time of the Texas refinery explosion but, according to the New York Times, he actually left BP because the High Court in Britain found that he had lied to it (references here and below in the longer blog).

Cameron has also appointed John Manzoni as Chief Executive to the MPA that will oversee the HS2 project. He was also a senior manager at BP at the time of the Texas refinery explosion (this time held to have had more direct managerial responsibility for the accident). According to the Globe and Mail, he was ‘not-encouraged-to-stay’ at either that job or the next job with Talisman Energy Inc.

The MPA you will recall is the body that the Government has set up to have an oversight of major projects such as HS2. And that is also the body that will not release the report on its review of HS2 presumably because it contains some less than good news on HS2.

With some cynicism we can note that Lord Browne has published a report that seeks to identify the problems of achieving major projects in the UK, and which gives recommendations to improve the MPA. Included in his list of problems is the comment that civil servants are not up to the job (yes really! He obviously thinks his BP managers were up to it!); and included in his recommendations is that you will have to pay higher (yes even HIGHER) salaries to the private sector guys to get the job done. You’d think nothing went wrong that night in Texas 4 years ago when Browne and Manzoni were in post as senior BP managers.

MPs will soon be asked to vote on HS2. Many of them will know almost nothing about key aspects of it but they will have ‘faith’ that surely Cameron is ensuring the good management of such an important project. Perhaps they should pay more attention to the content of the amendments being proposed to the Hybrid Bill? Perhaps their faith in the oversight and management of HS2 might be a little tested if they ask themselves, on the anniversary of the Texan disaster, how wise Cameron has been to put in place on the Major Projects Authority not one, but two of the BP managers at the time of that tragedy?

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