Right about this time a year ago, Americans were learning about a massive explosion aboard an oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico called the Deepwater Horizon that had occurred the day before. Video footage of the flame-engulfed rig began splashing across television screens, and we were told that 11 workers on the rig were “missing.” (In fact, those workers had been killed.)
Also unclear or unrevealed was the extent of the environmental harm that was being done. In the day-after stories, BP and the federal government expressed the view that pollution was not much of a concern. Here’s what the New York Times article said,
Officials said the pollution was considered minimal so far because most of the oil and gas was being burned up in the fire. “But that does have the potential to change,” said David Rainey, the vice president in charge of the Gulf of Mexico exploration for BP, which is leasing the rig.
And change it did. The months-long ooze of crude oil from the well beneath Deepwater Horizon eventually came to be the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
We learned the facts about the BP oil spill slowly, as presumably did BP and the federal government. And according to an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun this morning by CPR President Rena Steinzor, we’re acting on the lessons of the disaster even more slowly. She notes that post-spill reforms at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (the renamed Minerals Management Service) haven’t undone the fundamental conflict of interest confronting the operation: that Interior both regulates drilling safety and collects money when it approves oil drilling leases. She goes on,
Another reason to expect the worst is the attitude of Big Oil, which has sought to persuade Congress that the spill was the sole responsibility of an outlaw rogue: BP. This self-serving narrative bears little resemblance to reality: BP isn't all that different from the other huge oil companies in the gulf.
Even if you buy the story that BP was a company blinded by its ambition to become the biggest oil producer in the world, its partners in the Deepwater Horizon project, Transocean and Halliburton, continue to serve the likes of Exxon, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. Consultants' contribution to the disaster was the major reason why the blue ribbon commission selected by President Obama to investigate the disaster concluded that its "root causes" were "systemic" and that without reform the disaster "might well recur." All the other companies have the same disaster plans as BP, use the same blowout preventers, hire the same consultants, and cash the same huge checks.
Where the BP Spill is concerned, we’ve both learned and acted slowly.