Several people have commented to me over the past few months that if BP learns from the Macondo blowout the way ExxonMobil learned from the Valdez incident, it will emerge a better and MUCH safer company in the end.

Now that same sentiment is being echoed in the general media. A recent USA Today article used a recent tour of ExxonMobil’s Hoover-Diana platform to hit home the safety culture point. Two visitors board the platform, and company policy dictates that each visitor have an escort. Only one escort is available.

“The day is routine. The weather is good. In six years, no one on the Hoover-Diana has sustained an injury that’s caused them to miss even one day of work,” the article notes. Yet the host, Ricky Martin, doesn’t waiver – he finds another escort.

This type of safety culture is a challenge to instill. Safety should come as naturally as breathing. But when it competes with things like deadlines or potentially costly delays, it can unfortunately take a backseat. And that’s when accidents occur.

While the Valdez incident was blamed on an intoxicated captain, the article explains, other factors such as a broken sonar system, crew fatigue, and improper maneuvering of the vessel by the third mate also contributed to the incident. After that, the company had to take a hard look at its safety practices, or the lack thereof.

CEO Rex Tillerson testified before Congress in June that the grounding of the Valdez led to a “top-to-bottom review” of operations. “That resulted in a safety system that now touches practically everything Exxon does, including well design, equipment standards, and safety escort rules,” the article states.

Perhaps the most telling exercise of this safety mentality came when the company halted drilling on its Blackbeard well, a high-pressure, high-temperature well that reached 30,000 ft before drillers made the decision to stop progress because they felt it would be too dangerous to complete the well. A blog on ExxonMobil’s site said, “At the time, we were criticized that we ‘didn’t have the guts’ to finish the well.”

An article in the New York Times described the drill-no drill conundrum the company faced. “Seismic reports suggested that 2,000 ft further down was a giant prize: an ‘elephant’ field of around a billion barrels of oil and gas [sic],” the article states. “But six miles below the sea floor, the conditions were hellish, with high temperatures and pressures reaching 29,000 psi, more than twice the force needed to crush a truck.”

The article states that a discussion began between the geoscientists, who were close to their goal, and the drillers, who weren’t comfortable with the conditions. The drillers won out, and the well was written off as a US $187 million dry hole.

Paul Sankey, a Deutsche Bank analyst, is quoted as writing, “Exxon’s ‘lack of guts’ looks a lot more like justified conservatism and prudence, and a prescient awareness that safety, caution, and catastrophic risk avoidance would be key themes as oil companies were forced to push the envelope in the search for oil. The fact is that Valdez pushed Exxon to the highest safety standards in the industry.”