Is every day earth day?


We were just wondering – if today is Earth day, what are the other 364 days?

We don’t make a huge deal of the day for that reason – even though we put the planet’s name in our company identity.

Today, we actually just want to bring up the 3-year-old Macondo Well, a.k.a. Gulf oil spill, a.k.a. BP oil spill, a.k.a. Deepwater Horizon.  And we bring it up in terms of long-term effects.  Not the long-term effects of the oil itself (although that’s critically important) but the long-term effects on the company, the employer, the entity known as BP.

Today we saw the results of a poll which shows that three years out, after spending over US$100M on advertising (and of course US$42B on the cleanup and spills), BP’s image is still tarnished.  Click here to read about that poll and see its details.

For those of you who followed our comments at the time or have seen our talks, or who have read our book, you know that we focus on the PROJECT aspects of the well and its turn up.  Key in our mind is that the risk register for Macondo (BP’s well, within the Deepwater Horizon platform owned by Transocean) included precisely zero safety or environmental risks.  All of the threats identified had to do with operations and efficiency. This is public information because of the Federal US investigation into the disaster.  Don’t believe us?  Just check out the actual risk register right here.  And the company had just introduced an incentive plan for managers which rewarded them significantly for efficiency and moneymaking but not at all for any safety or sustainability measures.

And so, here on Earth, where we see projects often managed and measured in that way, we have continued to plug (excuse the pun) for sustainability and long-term thinking in project planning, perhaps even redefining what is meant by success.

After 3 years, scores of billions of dollars spent, damaged ecosystems, poor morale, and a tarnished reputation, is that success?  Not here.  Not on Earth.  Maybe on one of those other 364 planets…

Happy Earth Day, everyone!


Lessons Learned to Lessons Burned

It’s now just two years since the Deepwater Horizon incident.  Many people seem to forget it.  After all, we see the smiling faces of the folks from the tourist industry in Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana on those TV commercials, so it really wasn’t a problem, after all, right?

Not really, as you can read in this recent news story from, where you will find this extract:

A NOAA-commissioned study of 32 dolphins living in Barataria Bay, an area of the Gulf known to be heavily oiled, found that many of them were underweight, anemic and showing signs of lung and liver disease. Nearly half were also found to have adrenal insufficiency, a condition that interferes with basic life functions such as metabolism and the immune system.

While most of the dolphins were still alive at the end of the study, researchers have indicated that survival prospects for the sick dolphins are grim. Their prognosis is troubling because the Gulf dolphin population has been facing what scientists call an unusual mortality event over the last two years. Since February 2010, more than 675 dolphins have stranded in the northern Gulf of Mexico – compared to the usual average of 74 dolphins per year – and the majority of those stranded have been found dead.

But dolphins aren’t the only Gulf animals in trouble. Researchers looking at deep ocean corals seven miles from the spill source found dead and dying corals coated in a brown substance that was later chemically linked to oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.

Well, aside from the environmental damage, the damage for the involved project teams continues, now for the first time on the criminal front.  And the lesson learned for project teams is that lessons learned should be – must legally be – preserved.  When they’re not, you put yourself and your company at criminal risk.  And indeed as reported widely today, this has led to the arrest of a BP Engineer.

Quoting now from a Christian Science Monitor report, “The U.S. Justice Department made it clear that the investigation is still going on and suggested that more people could be arrested. In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said prosecutors “will hold accountable those who violated the law in connection with the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.”

“Federal investigators have been looking into the causes of the blowout and the actions of managers, engineers and rig workers at BP and its subcontractors Halliburton and Transocean in the days and hours before the April 20, 2010, explosion.

But the case against Mix focuses only on the aftermath of the blast, when BP scrambled for weeks to plug the leak. Even then, the charges are not really about the disaster itself, but about an alleged attempt to thwart the investigation into it.”

We’ve blogged repeatedly about the Macondo Well – aka Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  We have implored project managers to learn from the event – and the steps leading up to it, including NOT including environmental and safety risks in the project’s risk register.  And now, even the lessons learned themselves are at risk.

Learn from this project and its errors, which have led to 11 deaths, still-being-tallied environmental damage, $40-50B in costs to BP and the other principals, and intangible damage to BP, a company which had to its credit taken some impressive steps into alternative energy and was trying to re-brand itself as “Beyond Petroleum”.


Don’t burn.



BP Oil Spill – One Year Later

There are lots of things we could talk about one year later, but for this post we’d like to focus on the suit filed today by BP against Transocean, the rig’s owners, and Cameron International, the supplier of the  blow-out preventer, for $40 billion.  From AP (article),,  “The Deepwater Horizon BOP was unreasonably dangerous, and has caused and continues to cause harm, loss, injuries, and damages to BP (and others) stemming from the blowout of Macondo well, the resulting explosion and fire onboard the Deepwater Horizon, the efforts to regain control of the Macondo well, and the oil spill that ensued before control of the Macondo well could be regained,” BP said in the lawsuit against Cameron.  BP is also suing Halliburton, the company responsible for pouring the cement.

The reason we are focusing on this aspect is because, when we look at the benefits of Green Project Management, we see that green thinking should be a part of all the project’s processes, including the procurement process (just one of the processes outlined in our book).  In this case, if the questions were not asked, we would have asked about the greenality of BP’s “vendors”.  There would have been questions like:  What did Transocean consider for their environmental impact?  What safe guards were in place in case of an issue like a spill or blowout preventer failure?  Were those scenarios even considered?  Driving back into their processes, we could have asked to see the invitation to bid, to examine whether Transocean considered the greenality of their vendors.  This is just a sampling of questions to ask.  On a project this large like this, with the potential for devastation it has, the questioning would have been extensive and rigorous.

We advocate a “greenality clauses”.  We believe that if we choose a company, considering their green efforts as part of the decision making process, that they should be held accountable for those green efforts, as well as capturing that criteria in the contract.   Again, we like to give the obligatory caveat that we were not in the room when the decision was made by BP to go ahead and lease the rig from Transocean, so we don’t know exactly what went on.  But from our point of view, the project did not consider all of the green aspects it should have and that green project management would have helped in that process.

Coverage of today’s National Oil Spill Commission

cspanWe’ve blogged about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill which seems to have found its way OUT of the news recently.

There is some interesting coverage of the Commission which is investigating what happened to cause the spill and which could be particularly interesting to Project Managers from a risk identification, management, response, and monitoring perspective.  I know,  I know…we used the words C-SPAN and interesting in the same sentence... but you may find the use of various speakers, animated slides and video does indeed make this a bit more interesting.  One speaker even uses a very insightful analogy involving margaritas in a blender.

There is a blow-by-blow description of what happened when, as well as some good background on the science of the drilling business.

Enjoy…  click here to watch.

Note: you should go to this site to get all of the coverage.  The link above is for this morning’s testimony.

Red project management

Note the size of the bulldozers (tiny toy-like yellow things at the bottom) to get a scope of the accident.

We’ve of course focused here at EarthPM on “green” or sustainable project management.

Well, if you have been following the international news, there has recently been an ecological disaster in the Hungarian town of Ajka, in which a large, large quantity of toxic red sludge was released from an aluminum facility in that town.  The reservoir flooded,  according to the UK’s Telegraph, ” an estimated 38.8 million cubic feet (the equivalent of 440 Olympic-size swimming pools) of red, poisonous sludge that affected some 15 square miles.

Along with being poisonous if ingested, the chemical waste, which contains heavy metals such as lead, can burn on contact. Doctors have also warned that some burns could take days to reveal themselves and damage deeper tissue.”

So from a project management standpoint, what’s the takeaway?  Let’s assume that this project was the turnover of the aluminum processing plant.  Is the steady-state operation of the facility the job of the project manager? No.  Of course not. Projects, after all, have a definitive start and finish.  So this means the project manager doesn’t have to even consider operations.  Right?

Well, we assert that if one did not consider operations – did not link the handoff of the facility to other enterprise goals – the project manager is practicing red project management.  Here, quite literally.

We’re attending the PMI North America Congress in Washington DC, safely far away from this spill, but the implications echo large in the gigantic atrium of the Gaylord Resort Hotel.  At one session today, our speaker referred to the top leadership skills of project managers. The second item on his list was that project managers “must understand that they are the change agents”, and later in the list, must “continually communicate a vision of success”.  Also, he stated that project managers must “ensure that the strategic vision of the enterprise is implemented”.  Taking these all into consideration, the project manager has to take the sustainability goals of the enterprise and drive them into the project, which in this case means assuring that the operation has the ability to operate safely in an ecologically sound fashion.  Assuming that the company involved here does indeed have an Environmental Management Plan (EMP) and corporate statements of their commitment to sustainability (perhaps a leap here), then yes, it is indeed the project manager’s responsibility to make sure that the enterprise’s vision is carried through to the product of their project – in this case, an operable aluminum mine.

If the enterprise does NOT have an EMP, then yes, we insist that it is the change agent behavior of the PM which would drive them to bring this back to the leadership of the enterprise and at least do that diligence of promoting an EMP.  The realized threat here will not only involve the deaths of local citizens, the damage to the environment (including the Danube and its estuaries), but also the possible end of this enterprise as lawsuits and regulatory punishment are inevitable.  So this what we would call a “cost of greenality” issue.

What do you think?