Saturday, 17 January 2009

The price of oil

Loath as I am to say anything nice about the BBC at the moment, given its revoltingly poor and misleading coverage of Gaza, I do want to record the harrowingly powerful Radio4 Saturday Play I just switched on by chance.
Stephen Phelps' 'Piper Alpha' tells, over 20 years since the disaster, the story of the hours in which 167 men died from the fire, smoke and explosions of a series of conflagrations on this production platform in the North Sea, 110 miles North of Aberdeen. The play's use of enquiry testimonies and reconstructed control centre and poice conversations, as well as events on the platform itself, not only evokes the horror of the incident itself but also the confusion and chaos of malfunctioning communications, and most importantly the utter corporate negligence of management who allowed gas and oil pipelines which ran through the platform to continue running, feeding the flames and explosions. Occidental Petroleum, which had failed to consider the possibility of the destruction of the control room in its plans for a disaster situation and had cut costs on its emergency equipment, as well as keeping the feeder pipes running, was found guilt in the Cullen Enquiry of having inadequate maintenance and safety procedures, but no charges were ever brought against it.
Piper Alpha was the world's biggest single oil platform disaster in terms of both loss of life and insured loss - £1.7 billion.
Occidental has also been responsible for other deaths around the world, including that of 17 civilians, including 7 children, bombed by the Colombian Airforce after Occidental officials identified them as a FARC guerilla group. Occidental was also the oil company involved in a long-running dispute with the U'wa indigenous people, also in Colombia. In 2001, Occidental finally withdrew from efforts to drill for oil on U'wa land after a nine-year struggle in which the tribe threatened to commit mass suicide if the expropriation of their land went ahead.

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