Poor BP. They just can’t seem to catch a break. Not only has the American public and President Obama turned against them, even their peers seem bent on kicking them when they are down. Speaking before a congressional panel June 15, 2010, oil industry executives claimed ignored design – not safety – standards were to blame for the worst oil spill in U. S. history. In fact, in an MSNBC article, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson insisted “we would not have drilled the well they [BP] did.”
With the White House and Congress considering ways to increase oversight and strengthen safety regulations big oil executives are speaking out: Diamond Offshore Drilling CEO Larry Dickerson told CNBC “This blanket punishment doesn’t seem right”.
BP is Not Alone
The truth is BP’s business practices are a lot more in synch with industry norms than their competitors would have us think. Lawmakers on the House Energy Committee took Chevron, Exxon, Shell and Conoco to task for having the exact same (ineffectual) disaster plans in place as BP: Bloomberg Businessweek quoted Representative Bart T. Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, “It could be said that BP is the one bad apple in the bunch, but unfortunately, they appear to have plenty of company.”
Data compiled by the beleaguered Minerals Management Service (MMS) show a four-fold increase in oil spills in the last decade:
• The average annual total jumped from 4 of at least 50 barrels in the 1990’s to 17 between 2000 and 2009.
• The agency cited Shell as running a close second behind BP for having the most spills in the US during the same time period.
Oil Spills a Global Problem
No one country has cornered the market on oil spill disasters though. Problems persist worldwide for the industry:
• On July 27, 2005 a multi-purpose support vessel collided with the MHN processing platform of the Mumbai (Bombay) High North Platform Rig in the Indian Ocean. It took just two hours for the platform to collapse. The burning structure was blamed for a ten nautical mile oil spill.
• There are 606 oil fields in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. Hundreds of rusty, corroded pipelines (some 40 years old!) zigzag the area. According to a recent Reuters article oil from 2,400 spills has soaked the region since 2006.
• For ten weeks in 2009 oil spewed into the Timor Sea off the northern coast of Australia. A damaged rig in the Montara oil field leaked toxic fuel at a rate of 17,000 to 85,000 gallons a day. The first four attempts to cap the well failed.
Oily Toxins Create Environmental Dead Zones
The human impact of an oil spill is often calculated in the dollars and cents of lost revenue. However, Man is not the only victim. Damage to the environment – while a little harder to tally – can carry the ultimate price tag.
• Time recently reported that sea creatures are rapidly fleeing the polluted ‘dead zones’ of the Gulf oil spill and crowding into the shallow waters of the coasts and marshes. Unfortunately this life-saving maneuver could result in mass die-offs as the increased numbers of fish deplete oxygen and attract predators.
Land spills are just as costly. In January, 2002 the Environmental News Service ran a piece documenting a pool of oil that was discovered covering a salt lick in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The spill had come from an abandoned exploratory oil well. For months toxins from the improperly closed well had been pouring into the area, killing wildlife and contaminating nearby streams.
• The skeletal remains and dead bodies of tapirs (already endangered) and peccaries were found scattered throughout the site. The animals had ingested oil while licking for salt.
Simply sopping up the oil will not get rid of all the problems, though. As the deleterious substances (present even in some of the dispersants used to clean up spilt oil!) saturate the environment wildlife and biodiversity are destroyed. Infertile soil, noxious air and drinking water not fit to drink are just part of the devastation. Disrupted spawning patterns and altered reproductive processes guarantee the harm done to flora and fauna will be felt for generations to come.
Oil Industry Morally Beholden to Lots of ‘Small People’ but Answer to No One
They may owe their fortunes to – in the words of BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg “the small people” but oil companies aren’t always bound by the same rules and laws that govern the rest of us.
In 2005, when Chevron refused to participate in a routine, state conducted oil-spill drill, Washington State officials had no legal means to force the matter. Under current laws companies could decline taking part in the exercises meant to gauge a facility’s preparedness in the event of an oil spill.
And in 2010, even the President of the United States of America can’t seem to stop the oil industry in their quest to capitalize on a thirsty public’s addiction to fossil fuels. Tuesday, June 22, U.S District Judge Martin L.C. Feldman blocked the six-month moratorium President Obama had imposed on deep-water drilling. He said, in part, that the Administration had failed to show there was imminent danger on drilling rigs in the Gulf.
Sources: Oil Rig Disasters; American University on-line; news service reports