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Valdez the Sequel?

image from davegranlund.com

On April 20, 2010, an explosion on a BP drilling rig , 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, killed 11 crew members. Two days later, the rig sank and crude oil began to leak at a fast rate. BP’s initial estimate of 42,000 gallons of oil leaking each day was dispelled by a government-announced estimate of a rate 5-times that. BP’s reaction to the catastrophe has been shaky and ineffective. The company, responsible for the 1989 Exxon Valdez catastrophic environmental disaster where a BP oil tanker crashed and spilled more than 10.8 millions gallons of crude oil, should be better-equipped to deal with such an event.

Although the company acknowledges it will be judged by “the quality, intensity, speed and efficacy” of its response, there have been several slip ups so far… BP has:

* severely underestimated the scale of the leak

* been accused by the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee of “the apparent lack of an adequate plan to contain the spreading environmental damage”

* taken the “early misstep” of offering Alabama fishermen jobs to help fight the oil spill through contracts with clauses agreeing not to sue BP (clauses have been since removed)

BP, originally known as British Petroleum, but more recently redubbed “Beyond Petroleum”,lost its focus on maintenace and safety early this decade. Events like a 2005 explosion at a refinery in Texas and a 2006 leaky BP oil pipeline in Alaska resulted in several deaths, hundreds of injuries and record fines (for neglecting to correct safety violations from OSHA, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration).  Since these events, BP’s new chief, Tony Hayward, has been seen as transforming the company culture to emphasize safety. Unfortunately, his efforts may have been in vain, as the current catastrophe will likely overshadow any of BP’s more recent successes.  There is still no explanation for what set off the explosion on the night of April 20. As fishermen lose their livelihoods and animals lose their lives and habitats, effective action, not PR, is needed.

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