More than two years ago, a massive blowout from BP’s Deepwater Horizon fouled the Gulf of Mexico in one of the largest environmental disasters in U.S. history. Yet, no federal charges have been brought against the oil giant.
Instead, federal prosecutors and industry lawyers continue to negotiate behind closed doors. Many are starting to suspect that BP is running out the clock in hopes that a Romney victory will strengthen its hand.
That suspicion is supported by a sweetheart deal BP cut late in the Bush administration. In March 2006, a major BP pipeline leak went undetected for days, spilling a quarter-million gallons of oil on the Alaskan tundra, making it the largest oil spill in the history of the North Slope. The spill occurred because BP ignored its own workers’ warnings by neglecting critical maintenance to cut costs (sound familiar?)
Rather than throw the book at this corporate rogue, federal prosecutors short-circuited ongoing investigations by announcing a settlement that was stupefying in its generosity:
- BP agreed to one misdemeanor charge carrying three-year probation and a total of only $20 million in penalties. This meant no felony charges would be pursued and there would be no future prosecutions. No BP executive faced any criminal liability, let alone jail time;
- The fines were only a fraction of what was legally required; and
- This settlement was part of a package in which the Bush Justice Department secured only $50 million in fines for the BP Texas refinery explosion in which 15 people died – a slap on the wrist for a big multi-national corporation and an insult to the memories of the workers who died.
PEER asked the Justice Department Inspector General to investigate this travesty but the IG refused. Had Justice taken strong action against BP then, it might have deterred BP’s Deepwater catastrophe just months later.
Will history repeat itself? Based on the scant and incomplete testing for the key system for preventing a repeat of the massive Gulf of Mexico blowout in the sensitive waters of the Arctic, our government has already forgotten the lessons we were supposed to have learned from Deepwater Horizon, even as its oil sheens keep surfacing.
Help PEER combat these recurrences of official amnesia.
P.S. A central issue in fixing liability for BP and its contractors is the size of the Gulf spill. Yet top Obama officials deliberately underestimated the spill rate. Just as BP stalls, Obama officials are stalling scientific review of the PEER complaint of outrageous deception – lowballing that prolonged the spill by hampering appropriate spill response.