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BP Vision Statement Points to Limited Perspective on Safety

August 22, 2010

BP operates at the frontiers of the energy industry. We use world-class assets, technology, capability and know-how to meet energy needs and deliver long-term value.

The ingenuity and determination of our people have brought new resilience to BP. From deep beneath the ocean to complex refining environments, from remote tropical islands to next-generation biofuels– a revitalized BP is driving greater efficiency, sustained momentum and business growth.-BP 2009 Annual Report to Stockholders

This may not be their official vision statement but it seems to be what they are communicating to their stakeholders about BP’s management’s vision of the future.  Remember that the vision statement is how a firm engages and motivates its constituency.

I may be putting too fine a point on it, but their vision focuses almost exclusively on internal interests: growth of the business, employee engagement and shareholder value.  I wonder how this vision might change with the events of the Gulf oil spill.  Will safety and the environment take a more prominent role in their vision?

Further evidence of reduced concern for environmental safety can be found later in their 2009 annual report under the strategy section.

The priorities that drove our success in 2009 – safety, people and performance– remain the foundation of our agenda as we build on our momentum and work to further enhance our competitive position.

  •  Safe, reliable and compliant operations remain first priority.
  •  Strong emphasis on continuous improvement.
  • Exploration and Production remains core vehicle for growth.

 Our strategy is to invest competitively to grow oil and gas production while working to drive performance across the group through enhanced operating efficiency, capital efficiency and cost efficiency.

 To meet growing world demand, BP is committed to exploring, developing and producing more fossil fuel resources; manufacturing, processing and delivering better and more advanced products; and enabling the transition to a lower-carbon future. We aim to do this while operating safely, reliably and in compliance with the law. We strive to run our business within the discipline of a clear financial framework.

 I find it interesting that the first bullet point stresses the safety but the first paragraph further explaining their strategy focuses on financial performance and cost cutting.  Safety is quickly erased by the first full paragraph focusing on growth and financial performance. Is safety mentioned in the headlines only as red herring to appease those that might question their commitment to safety concerns?

And it seems that when safety is mentioned, it is always in the context of compliance with the local laws.  As I mentioned previously, BP has differing inspection practices depending on local regulations, even when it is shown that the more strident procedures produce higher safety standards.  I am convinced that safety is not a overriding concern for BP, not just through their actions but also by their stated strategy.  In BP’s view, safety is  just another cost component needing management.  It seems their view is “Safer operations have lower operating costs and higher efficiency only up to a point.”  And BP seems to have been on the look out for the point of diminishing returns.  As they say themselves “BP operates at the frontiers”.  It is unfortunate that one of those frontiers is safety.

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