by Chris Williams
For the past ten weeks, a grandiose ecological problem exists in the waters located in the Gulf of Mexico. On April 20, 2010 the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill took place in the Gulf of Mexico. British Petroleum (BP) has claimed responsibility for this environmental disaster, but has blamed Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton for their hand in building the rig and the well casing exploding and causing the oil to leak out into the Gulf at an unfathomable estimate of 5,000 barrels to 100,000 barrels a day.
This isn’t the first instance of incompetence from BP; in 1999 one of their US subsidiaries, BP Exploration Alaska, finally agreed to resolve charges stemming from their involvement from 1993 to 1995 in the dumping of hazardous wastes on Endicott Island, Alaska. In 2005, there was the Texas City Refinery explosion where one of its largest refineries exploded causing 15 deaths and injuring 180. The incident was a culmination of other accidents at the refinery, and the engineering problems were never properly addressed by the management. As a cost-saving measure, the maintenance and safety departments at the plant had been drastically downsized. The responsibility ultimately fell at the feet of the company’s executives in London, England. In the summer of 2006, BP had to dismantle its oil operations in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska due to corrosion in pipelines leading up to the Alaska Pipeline. BP had spilled over one million liters of oil in Alaska's North Slope. There were estimates that about 5,000 barrels of oil were released from the pipeline. In comparison to the Gulf of Mexico debacle, this Alaska incident seems miniscule.
BP has a long history of committing transgressions against nature sanctuaries and paying dubious fines for their disregard of policies and regulations protecting these valuable commodities. Mother Jones Magazine named BP as one of the "ten worst corporations" in 2001 and 2005 based on its environmental and human rights records. According to Sharon Beder, 'bp: Beyond Petroleum?' in Battling Big Business: Countering greenwash, infiltration and other forms of corporate bullying “In 1991, BP was cited as the most polluting company in the US based on EPA toxic release data. In July 2000, BP paid a $10 million fine to the EPA for its management of its US refineries.” According to PIRG research, “between January 1997 and March 1998, BP was responsible for 104 oil spills in the Arctic alone.” As recently as October 2007, four BP energy traders in Houston were charged with manipulating prices of propane and as a result they settled with the US government for a record breaking $303 million.
How are they still in business?
Over the past nine weeks, numerous citizens have been asking the same question. This incident speaks to a larger issue with big corporations lying in bed with our government. It’s been acknowledged as fact that Minerals Management Service (MMS), a branch of the Department of the Interior has turned a blind eye to the activities of these corporations (BP, Halliburton, Transocean, Ltd., Enron) since the start of the Bush administration. MMS is the department of our government that directly handles offshore drilling. The Bush administration allowed for big corporations to play more of an expanded role in making regulations and laws that suited their endeavors. It has become more evident to engaged citizens that this type of behavior has been going on previous to the Bush administration, but in a more pronounced fashion since his arrival into the oval office in 2000. The onus also falls on President Obama for keeping these same people in place and continuing these measures after his election in 2008 when their performances warranted otherwise.
Despite all of the fines incurred by BP from our government they’re still allowed access in our most precious waters to drill for oil. One of the reasons for their ability to maintain a working relationship within the US government hierarchy is due to the campaign contributions they’ve made to prominent political figures. They were the biggest monetary contributor to President Obama’s campaign among others. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, “BP is the United States' hundredth largest donor to political campaigns, having contributed more than $5 million since 1990, 72% and 28% of which went to Republican and Democratic recipients, respectively. BP has lobbied to gain exemptions from U.S. corporate law reforms. In 2009, BP used nearly US$16 million to lobby US Congress, breaking the company's previous record (from 2008) of $10.4 million.”
Another disturbing statistic is since 2000, BP's repurchased approximately 60% of its own stock. This essentially means when you want to change from a publicly traded company to a privately held company, buying back your own stock is what a company will do. Once you become a privately held company nothing stands in your wake as you can operate freely within the marketplace. In 2006, BP bought back $1.3 billion of its own outstanding stock that is the most in history. Instead of investing in exploring other energy sources, BP, Exxon and other oil companies have all been investing in themselves. By 2024, Exxon will own all of its stock. Each year they’ve been spending about $30 billion a year on repurchasing their own stock. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) “the world will need about $20 trillion to meet energy demand in the near future.” The profits in the energy market will be the biggest in modern history.
There is a difference in holding a corporation accountable and stripping them of their privilege of working on American soil to increase their profit margins. During President Obama’s most recent State of the Union speech, he called for more offshore drilling to begin later this year with many of his Republican colleagues in Congress applauding this decision. The expression of “Drill Baby Drill” by those on the right wing of the Republican Party is now slowly being drowned by the oil swimming onto the respective shores of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas and Florida.
On May 11, 2010, Congress called the executives of Halliburton, Transocean Ltd., and BP to a hearing on Capitol Hill and they each resembled the maturity level of a 3rd grader by pointing fingers at each other while refusing to accept their share of the blame in this calamity. At first, there was a “miscalculation” of how much oil was secreting to top of the Gulf’s waves in order to protect those responsible for infesting our American waters. Watching the live internet feed of the oil leaking from the busted pipeline 5,000 miles below sea level on www.bp.com and the news every evening is enough to make a person cry. CNN political contributors James Carville and Donna Brazile gave impassioned pleas to the President early on to go down to the Gulf to speak with the people who are having their livelihoods and lives forever altered by this inconsequential situation. He eventually relented and traveled down to the Gulf to encourage and uplift the spirits of the people. He personally vowed to hold BP responsible and as a result BP mutually agreed to pay out $20 billion for all damages they incur from this tragedy.
Many analysts have questioned the preparation of precautionary measures by BP if an accident of this magnitude would occur. It has been revealed that they were inadequately prepared, thus leading to their grave mishandling of this paroxysm. The seafood industry and wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico has become endangered from this epic failure and the devastating outcome could affect generations and beyond. There are forecasts from some of the top environmentalists in the country that if this oil spill isn’t halted soon the Gulf’s oil infested waters could submerge into the Atlantic Ocean and then this problem could become even more significant and long-lasting.
Enough damage has been done and the top executives of BP, Halliburton, and Transocean Ltd. should be brought up on charges for what they’ve done to one of most valuable water regions in the US. Carol Browner, the director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, said that this is the worst oil spill in the history of the United States surpassing the Exxon Valdez atrocity in 1989. So the vexation and pugnacity of the people from the Gulf towards BP is rightly justified when their figureheads such as CEO Tony Hayward keep referring to the oil spill as “relatively tiny” and saying “I want my life back.” The corruption and lies must be ended immediately. In recent days, the government has taken BP to task and Tony Hayward has been removed from his duties and giving an $18 million golden parachute for his troubles. Nothing says punishment more than rewarding egregious behavior. The frustration and anger is palpable nationwide and it grows by the day.
BP now stands for Big Payout.