Taking Responsibility for the Spill

For the past month, at least 5,000 barrels of oil have spewed unstoppably into the Gulf of Mexico after an explosion on an  offshore oil-drilling platform caused three leaks in underground pipes.

As workers desperately scramble to stop or even slow the flow of oil, Americans are looking for where to point the finger of blame.  Although British Petroleum (BP), which  was leasing the platform from the operator, Transocean Ltd., has offered to cover the clean-up costs resulting from the spill, it is not accepting the blame for the incident. BP, a company that has tried, highly ironically, to brand itself as a green oil company, blames Transocean Ltd., because Transocean  personnel was in charge of operating the platform. Blame has bounced from one party to another, from BP to Transocean to Halliburton to Congress and the President to porn-watching regulators.

Everyone involved has been more concerned with covering its own ass than trying to find a solution to the disaster, which is the where the real problem lies. No one is willing to accept an ounce of responsibility for what is becoming the worst ecological disaster this country has ever seen.

It’s obvious why no one has been willing to step up and take the blame; these companies are trying to avoid a worse PR disaster than the one they are already faced with. But at this point, BP is already facing so much public scrutiny that it seems the only way it can improve its image right now would be for it to accept at least part of the blame for what happened, as opposed to passing the buck to the next company involved. Then they could at least redeem themselves somewhat in the public eye by being honest about their malfunction.

Instead, BP continues to try to gloss over the magnitude of the spill, releasing misleading information and blocking access to crucial video footage of the leak. Polls show that Americans have a “very poor” rating of BP (although most say this won’t affect their choices when it comes to filling up at the pump, so that’s one less thing BP has to worry about).  The more BP tries to protect its “good reputation,” the more they stand in the way of accurate information that could help finally stop this oil gusher that’s destroying the environment and doing untold damage to the Gulf Coast economy.

But part of the blame also belongs to the U.S. government. The oil and natural gas industry is the least regulated industry and it is an industry in which disasters have huge effects.  Government agencies like the Mineral Management Service have taken a large part of the criticism.  The government is too cozy with the ever-powerful oil industry, which decreases the capacity for any strict oversight over companies like BP. The relationship between politicians of both parties and the oil industry goes back to issues of campaign finance; the power of campaign donations, in addition to the threat of losing jobs, sways these politicians to be lenient when it comes to regulating the industry.

Clearly, BP and its partner companies won’t be stepping up to claim responsibility for their actions any time soon. Their bottom line has always been to protect their assets. It’s deplorable not only because it highlights their reckless, rampant greed but because it also shows how companies like these don’t feel they need to be the least bit accountable for their actions, no matter how many are impacted as a result. This nonchalant shrugging-off of responsibility sets a horrible example for other companies, and in a much broader sense, for people in general.

Representatives for companies like BP and supporters of offshore drilling have always lived by the mantra that the probability of a spill happening are small; but even one spill is enough to devastate an entire economic and ecological area of the country for many years. The promises that were made about the safety of offshore drilling have proven to be empty; the silver lining here is that at least now Americans will have their eyes opened to these dangers, and will hopefully be less eager to “drill, baby, drill.”

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