The Mail on Sunday
IN THE international oil business, everything has a price – even human life. Lord Browne told his lover that BP had coldly calculated the value at £10 million: that was how much the company was prepared to spend on safety measures to avert the death of one of its workers.
His alleged admission – which implies that workers would be sacrificed if it cost more than that to protect them – was made just months before an explosion caused by faulty safety equipment ripped through a BP refinery in Texas, killing 15 and injuring 180 in March 2005.
American investigators, who blamed a 25 per cent cut in costs by BP’s management, said the situation had been compounded by the fact that four staff operating the plant were suffering fatigue after working for more than a month without a day off. Two years later, Lord Browne is fighting efforts by the victims’ lawyers to force him to testify in person at the compensation hearings in the US. Mr Chevalier said Lord Browne had told him that a calculation of £10 million ($20m) a life had been made ‘for accounting purposes’ as a fair balance between protecting profits and protecting life.
Mr Chevalier said: ‘I had asked John how BP calculated human life and John told me a value of $20million. According to John this was what BP was prepared to spend ensuring people were not dying while not displeasing their shareholders.
‘He mentioned this was the highest accounting value that any company placed on a human life and that this was much higher than governments and other companies would place on life. No other companies were men- tioned by name but he did state that it was the highest in the industry.’
Mr Chevalier’s claims are backed by internal emails written last year by Robert Mancini, a former BP chemical engineer, who put the cost of a single death to a company worker at £ 10.5million, rising to £20million each in an incident with four fatalities and up to £100million for each member of staff if there were more than 100 fatalities.
Last night, Brent Coon, the American lawyer representing the blast victims told The Mail on Sunday he would be stepping up efforts to force Lord Browne to testify at the hearings in Texas, after the revelation that he had lied to the British courts.
BP has already set aside £1.6 billion to pay legal bills and compensation for the victims’ families. It has settled over 1,300 claims, but more than 2,000 still remain outstanding. ‘BP’s case did not have any credibility in the first place, so this extra scandal has just put another hole in the sinking ship,’ Mr Coon said. ‘It was Browne’s budget cuts which led to the explosion, and he took a personal interest in the case, so he should give evidence.’
Mr Coon said the Texan courts had received an affidavit from BP which argued that Lord Browne should not give evidence because he didn’t have personal knowledge of the events which led up to the explosion, and because his responsibilities as chief executive did not leave him sufficient time to appear. ‘We are arguing that this should be struck out because he did know what was going on, his resignation means he is available, and – most importantly – his credibility has been destroyed by the revelation that he is a perjurer. We are calling for him to come to give evidence on Wednesday.’