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article imageReport: Bush DoJ sheltered BP executives from criminal probe

By Bill Lindner     May 21, 2010 in Politics
EPA criminal investigator Scott West spent thousands of hours investigating alleged crimes committed by BP -- bound to have resulted in felony charges -- but President Bush's Department of Justice abruptly shut his investigation down, TruthOut reports.
Tensions between the Obama administration and the scientific community over the Gulf oil spill are reportedly escalating, according to the New York Times. Oceanographers are accusing the government of failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the true scope of the spill, as IntelDaily reports. It's not the first time the government has protected BP and its executives.
According to a report by Jason Leopold for TruthOut, Scott West was the special agent-in-charge at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Criminal Investigation Division who was probing alleged crimes committed by British Petroleum (BP) and the company's senior officials in connection with a March 2006 pipeline rupture at the company's Prudhoe Bay Operations in Alaska that spilled more than a quarter million gallons of crude -- the second largest spill in Alaska's history that went undetected for nearly a week.
As Leopold writes, West reportedly spent thousands of hours investigating the alleged crimes committed by BP and thought his investigation would result in felony charges against BP and the company's senior executives. Why? Supposedly BP execs ignored employees who worked at the Alaska facility. West, who spent nearly two decades at the EPA's criminal division, was also told the pipeline was going to rupture - about six months before it happened, Leopold writes.
Suddenly, President Bush's Department of Justice (DoJ) abruptly killed his investigation in August 2007 and gave BP a "slap on the wrist" for serious environmental crimes that should have sent some BP executives to prison, the TruthOut article states.
West transferred from San Francisco to Seattle in the summer of 2005. In Seattle, West met Chuck Hamel, an oil industry watchdog known to uncover sub-standard pollution laws at the Valdez tanker port in the 1980s prior to the Exxon Valdez spill.
Hamel ran the now-defunct, Leopold writes, which was the hub for the whistle-blower's complaints and an archive showcasing numerous documents related to BP's shady operations and reckless pursuit of profits.
BP failed to inspect corroded pipeline for eight years
In March 2006 the corroded pipeline burst. The leak went undetected for nearly a week because detection equipment, as BP employees had warned, malfunctioned. For about five days, oil spewed from a hole in the pipeline about the size of a pencil eraser. The leak was discovered when an oilfield worker was surveying the area.
The leak was determined to be caused by "severe corrosion." BP had to shut down five oil processing centers in the region for almost two weeks, leading to a spike in gas prices.
West and his team worked with the FBI, the DoJ and Alaska state environmental and regulatory officials, launching a probe into the circumstances behind the spill, Leopold writes. As the investigation progressed, it became clear that "very senior people in BP's London headquarters were aware of what was going on with regard to the corrosion in the pipeline and did nothing."
Plenty of evidence would have led to felony charges
TruthOut outlines several of the challenges West faced: he couldn't use the information he and his investigators got from the employees that claimed BP officials knew about the pipeline corrosion prior to the spill. Sources would not allow their names to be used because they feared retaliation from BP and losing their jobs. West had to get a grand jury to subpoena them to testify.
As noted in a previous article, BP has a criminal history of creating environmental crises. In October 2007, in what West calls a "package deal," BP settled all of its major criminal cases. BP also plead guilty to a felony for the Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 people and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DoJ, where the company admitted that it manipulated the propane market. More details of their settlements and the fines can be found in this article from TruthOut.
Despite its plea agreement, it appears that BP is still scrimping on safety and maintenance. Last November, a pipeline at BP's Prudhoe Bay oil field ruptured. Alaska officials said the rupture was due to an ice buildup inside the pipeline "that caused it to burst under pressure," Leopold writes in TruthOut.
Lo and behold, criminal and civil investigations were announced immediately, led by West's former colleagues at the EPA's criminal division and the FBI. BP's political connections remain strong, the New York Tiems reports.. More information on how Bush's DoJ sheltered BP executives from criminal probes can be found here.
More about Department justice, Gulf oil spill, Prudhoe bay, Epa, FBI
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