Monday, 14 June 2010

Of Multinationals, Mining and Madness

About 26 years ago, a leak of toxic chemicals at Bhopal in India, resulted in the deaths of between 2000 and 3000 people.
The precise cause of the accident is disputed, but there is general agreement that poor maintenance after the plant ceased production in the early 1980s was contributory. Allegations of sabotage were never proved.
Three were failures of several safety systems (due to poor maintenance and regulations) and evidence that these same safety systems were switched off to save money, including a tank refrigeration system which alone would have prevented the disaster.
More recently, in April this year, the Deepwater Horizon spill has surpassed in volume the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident. It has become clear that this spill has resulted in an environmental disaster, with extensive impact already on marine and wildlife.

Fishing and tourism industries in the Gulf of Mexico have been devastated. Hundreds of miles of beaches, along the northern Gulf coast are slowly being ruined by the escaping oil.
Both of these tragedies were the result of mismanagement on the part of multinational corporations. In the case of Union Carbide, none of the offshore managers have been convicted of anything. Imagine the outrage if 3000 Americans had been killed by mismanagement which could be sheeted back to a foreign multinational.

I’d be very surprised if any of the apparatchiks running the show for BP will ever suffer a personal penalty.

 Last week I had a cuppa with a mining engineer working for one of the companies exploiting the Surat basin field. He was having a major whinge, to the point where he was seriously considering his future with the company. Basically, his requests to fund and maintain the recommended maintenance practices were being ignored by his head office.They told him (unofficially) that they were prepared to wear the result of an accident, because it would likely cost lest to clean up the mess, than the cost of lost production whilst the wells were offline due to thorough maintenance.Now this bloke is an engineer, one of the best. 

He is passionate about his profession, and gets a lot of satisfaction out of doing the job properly based on sound engineering principles.
We have something in common as we both worked in Mt Isa in the nineties. Back then, the almighty dollar didn’t seem to bear the clout it does now - or maybe, mining like education, is employing more accountants. These accountants don’t give a stuff about teaching and learning, but they do keep a gimlet eye on the bottom line. In mining, they care more about production than safety.

All of this provides an interesting background to the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the white-collar miners about the profits tax. It becomes easier to understand when you consider the mindset of these characters.

Never stand between a mining boss and a quick quid. For these masters of the universe, the safety of the blue collar workers, the environment, and if you consider Bhopal, human life (especially if the people concerned are from another country) simply don't compute.

Hugh White - Without America

Hugh White is always provocative, and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to criticising current defence policy. In 1995, he was appo...