BP Shoots and Kills Polar Bear

Polar BearA guard at a BP facility in Alaska is said to have shot an endangered Polar Bear with an explosive shotgun charge. The bear died from internal injuries a few days later.

Late in the evening of Aug. 3, a security guard, employed by Purcell Security, saw what turned out to be a female polar bear walking down the Endicott causeway and headed for an employee housing area. The guard flashed his vehicle lights at the bear, honked his horn and sounded his siren but the bear would not leave the area and instead approached the vehicle and began to act aggressively.

The guard pulled out his 12-guage shotgun and fired what he thought was a bean bag round at the bear. The less-lethal ammunition is designed to hit the bear in the hind quarters and drive it away.

The bear did run off at that point and BP reported the incident to the Fish and Wildlife Service, as required.

But a few days later, the bear returned, swimming off to the west and ending up on a shallow island area near the four-mile long causeway and 30-acre gravel drilling pad.

BP workers could see the bear through binoculars and continued to monitor it. But sometime between the night of Sunday, Aug. 14 and Monday morning, Aug. 15, they realized the bear was dead.

Such a lethal and high-profile mistake has led BP to say it will now consider ways to avoid making another one.

[BP Alaska spokesman Steve] Rinehart said all ammunition will now be clearly marked by its type, with specific packaging colors and labels.

A “back-up bear hazer” also will be required to be on hand and verify that the correct ammunition for the level of hazing is about to be used, he said.

“We want to make completely sure that whatever guard is involved in a hazing incident knows exactly what type of hazing round is being used if it comes to that,” Rinehart said.

The solutions indicate confusion over ammunition type (lethal/nonlethal) and doubt from a single-source. In other words, they did not anticipate any harm from grabbing a lethal charge by accident; and they did not have any method setup for independent verification after a lethal accident. Both seem highly irresponsible management of risk when handling lethal force.

Here’s a good question for the investigators. At what point after shooting an endangered animal should a shooter inventory their ammunition and confirm that they did not harm the animal? Should they wait until it is dead? Was the facility manager looking through the binoculars and saying “Yup, she’s dead. I guess that means it was one of the lethal rounds…”?

It’s unfortunate that BP management demonstrates they will allow a lethal accident to happen before they take even simple measures to reduce the risk of that accident, let alone maintain controls (e.g. responsibility) for high-risk decisions.

You might think BP, a company full of environmental and mechanical engineers, could design and build a camp-site that is passively resistant to bears and therefore not threatened by them so easily. Perhaps instead they did a quick calculation and found it far less expensive to kill endangered animals in their way and just claim a lack of awareness?

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