The Gulf Oil Spill & the Oil Industry's Social Irresponsibility
The Gulf Coast Oil Spill: Another Industry-Level, Greed-Inspired Disaster
As Gulf Coast communities brace themselves for what’s touted as the worst ecological catastrophe since the Exxon Valdez disaster 21 years ago, government officials in Washington and oil industry leaders scurry around in search of a way to contain the fast spreading oil spill even as they are interestingly caught in what is shaping up to be a crisis management nightmare.
For Obama administration officials, with Obama himself personally leading the charge, it was understandably crucial that they exorcise the demons of Katrina by demonstrating prompt, reasoned action. And, to all intents and purposes, they seem to have succeeded in communicating a clear, convincing resolve to marshal the ferocious might of the US government in doing whatever was humanly possible to summarily bring the situation under control.
In an unmistakable move to further underscore this resolve, President Obama announced that he was suspending his administration’s proposal last March to open large swaths of U.S. coastal waters in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico to oil and natural gas drilling until a demonstrable handle is established over the spillage and new safety measures are firmly in place to prevent recurrences.
British Petroleum did not fare as well. Rather than adopt the only time-tested success strategy of taking measures to rapidly jump in front of the unfolding crisis, the management of this oil industry leader perplexedly chose the path of denial, obfuscation and minimization. After initially sticking its head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich and pretending that the brewing storm wasn’t really happening, it sought to dampen public fears by under-representing the magnitude of the spill.
When the BP chief executive, Tony Hayward, finally stepped forward to engage the public, he was far from being forthright in assuming full responsibility for the spillage. Denying any culpability for the material conditions that caused the explosion, the absence of any thought-out disaster contingency/recovery planning or the shabby, largely episodic attempt to arrest the situation, he proffered the oil giant’s commitment to funding the cleanup effort in its entirety.
What Hayward neglected to mention as well was that before embarking on his feeble damage control campaign, BP company officials and lawyers had been surreptitiously dispatched to communities up and down the Gulf Coast suspected to be in the path of the dark pool of death and destruction to offer unsuspecting residents desperate, meager settlement offers in exchange for signed statements giving up their right to seek redress in court in the indeterminate future.
It all began nearly two weeks ago when an explosive rupture atop the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 off the coast of Louisiana, killed nearly a dozen oil-rig workers and caused an untapped wellhead to dislodge its contents.
Contrary to BP’s initial estimates of just a few thousand barrels a day, industry experts and biologists now estimate that figure to be in the tens of thousands, perhaps up to 100,000 barrels daily. The Coast Guard indicated that a little under 2 million barrels have spilled since the explosion..
While the barrel-count of the Gulf Coast spillage may seem to be significantly less than the nearly 11 million barrels dumped off Alaskan coasts during the Exxon Valdez accident, it is important to remember that hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil are still, uninterruptedly, spewing from the seabed.
Experts have also cautioned that given the topographical differences between the coastlines in Alaska and the Gulf, the cleanup would be more challenging and elongated this time. While the Exxon Valdez recovery effort was hastened by the rocky constitution of the Alaskan coast, the BP spill will be more difficult to clean because the Gulf coastline is marshy and the water is much calmer. Consequently, some are suggesting that it could take upwards of 20 years restore the ecosystem around the Gulf.
It is feared that this spill will gravely impact fishing in the Gulf (a region known to be responsible for over 40 percent of US’ seafood supply) for years to come. Additionally, the spill threatens shrinking oyster reefs hitherto ravaged by over-harvesting and dredging.
As with Exxon Valdez, the world community must hold BP accountable for its wanton corporate irresponsibility and the general abdication of its social obligations. However, this goes way beyond BP as a corporate entity---it is an industry-wide failure.
How does one even begin to reconcile the fact that an industry with such a consistent windfall, runaway profits in the hundreds of billions of dollars every year, basically did nothing to invest in new disaster preventative technologies or establish adequate disaster recovery contingency protocols? Why did it have to take the Gulf oil spill for the oil industry to scamper around to hastily put together an untested 100-ton, 40-foot-tall contraption that it now hopes could be lowered to cap off the leak? What do they think this is, a junior high school science expo?
Just like the finance industry, the oil industry is yet another behemoth that for a long time has been allowed to operate in its own greed-laden orbit. And much like Wall Street barons of global finance, the oil industry has demonstrated a general inability to police itself or self-correct. Exxon Valdez did little to organically inspire industry-wide safeguards neither could the Gulf oil spill, if left to its own devices,
Therefore, we must capitalize on the opportunity that the Gulf oil spill presents to not only impose stiff financial penalties against the industry for its reckless dereliction of duty but equally and perhaps more importantly, institute some public oversight and much needed safety and environmental controls.