The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 was the single worst man-made ecological disaster at sea. Due to the epic scope of the accident, one would believe it would have a lasting impact on the company responsible, or at the very least increased environmental regulations. One would be mistaken.
Approximately $100 Million worth of advertising, spent by British Petroleum following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, essentially made the disaster a political and societal non-issue. The anger of gas consumers towards BP was short-lived, demonstrated by the company’s impressive third quarter gains of $5.4 billion.
As cars continued to line the company’s gas pumps, the focus of mainstream media shifted from the 9/11 of ecological devastation to something more sensationally substantial, like what those crazy Kardashians were up to. Without the continual news coverage, the public’s glaring disapproval was detoured in other directions. The unforgivable mistake British Petroleum had made was largely forgiven (or at least forgotten), even as tons of unrefined sludge were pumped into the Gulf of Mexico.
The ongoing impact of the accident has left the discussion table. Had it not been for the recently established settlement that BP and the US federal government agreed upon, mention of this event would have continued to slip out of sight. With this agreement, the oil conglomerate was put temporarily back in the spot light.
The court date marked another instance that stressed the different systems of justice employed against the elite and those without power. In response to the irreversible effects done to the oceanic habitat, the 11 work-related fatalities and the crippling damage done to local industries, the proverbial slap of the wrist BP received from the federal government seems too slight.Of this total, 4 billion are to account for criminal charges. Considering the $386 billion in revenue BP brought in last year much of the time through using the same risky operating procedures at Deepwater—it’ll hardly be putting a dent in their rainy day funds. Yet it still is cemented as “the single largest criminal resolution” in US history, according to attorney General Eric Holder.
BP is expected to pay $4.5 billion in restitution over the course of five years, far less than even the most conservative estimates of the damage caused.
Is this settlement a statement about how we’re finally cracking down on big business for using their inalienable capitalist rights we’ve all come to accept and ignore? Or is this record- breaking figure simply stating our government’s history of unduly letting big businesses off too easily? I believe it’s the latter. These punishments inflicted on this company by the government seem about as sincere as the apologetic BP commercials of 2010 that contained executives strolling along the coast line in relatable blue-collar shirts.
To make the concept of “someone to blame” a tangible thing and to account for the 11 deaths, the two present head supervisors of the drilling stations were held up as scapegoats. Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine now face 23 criminal charges, including manslaughter. In offering up these individuals, BP has attempted to seal themselves off from the spill and to keep the damage to their corporation compartmentalized.
The real cause of the incident has been perpetuated beyond the capping of the spillage. A lack of a regulatory system engineered specifically for the oil industry allows for such accidents to take place. The foreseeable decay of the station’s inappropriately thin concrete structures was a well-documented and avoidable issue. BP acknowledged that the tests to examine the integrity of the concrete were either misinterpreted or never even carried out. The guilt could have just as easily been placed on any other managerial person, had they been unfortunate enough to be there that day.
On the corporate end of federal hearing, BP’s collective dishonesty was passed generously along to executive David Rainey. Once again, the need to materialize a single entity to denote blame to is employed. Just as companies use slogans, familiar characters and images to establish brand recognition and make sure their consumers remember them, they also make such illusions so that their customers know it was a single bad egg in their midst that was obstructing justice, not the whole lot of them. Whether Rainey will face jail time for lying to Congress and law enforcers or simply pay a fine has yet to be disclosed.
The silver lining in this masquerading of justice is that the U.S. managed to scrap together whatever will wasn’t in the back pockets of privatized industry to ban BP from future government contracts for a few years, due to its “lack of business integrity.” This is arguably a more severe punishment than the settlement payments levied against them. Opportunities to gain lucrative jobs, like Halliburton’s Iraq oil contract that made it $17.2 billion in 2006 alone, are now far-off fantasies.
Even with the lost business, criminal fines, and cleanup efforts, the gulf will have the permanent stain of oil. In total, 4.9 million barrels, or 205.8 million gallons of fossilized combustion fluids, have been poured into the salt water. On the mainland, the spill helped to accelerate the erosion of the Louisiana marshes, killing vegetation whose roots held sediment together. These marshes serve as nurseries for various aquatic species of oyster, fish and shrimp. Also, an unusually high number of dead dolphins and sea turtles have washed ashore in the years following, a fact many institutes attribute to the accident. A particularly bad year for the dolphin’s food supply, coupled with the spill, helped increase the observed perinatal (near birth) deaths to six times above that of the observed figure in the same region in 2003. Despite initial estimates, the surface isn’t the only place affected. Due to the depth of the spill and cold temperatures, coral reefs on the ocean floor were poisoned by the toxic chemicals.
It isn’t only the large-scale environments or the top-of-the-food-chain predatory animals that are hurt by the incident; some of the smallest contributors to the gulf of Mexico were hit hard. Dispersants, used to break oil into smaller droplets, killed microscopic plankton, the basis of the food chain. In addition, other dangerous chemicals that were much more prevalent in the Gulf after the spill, such as PAH, enter the food chain through these tiny organisms. Scientists say it may be years before we truly comprehend the implications behind tampering with the ecosystem with these artificially introduced compounds.
Yet with all that is understood and not yet fully understood, it would be foolish to allow the lessons of 2010 to go unremembered in the years following. It seems, however, that this event has been inconsequential to our sensitivity towards nature. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management began selling drilling rights in the central region of the Gulf of Mexico in July of this year.
39 million acres of deep sea real estate went up for grabs.