Monday, April 4, 2011

BP: Do-overs in the Gulf

This is my mistake
Let me make it good
— “World Leader Pretend,” R.E.M.

Just when the people of Louisiana and the wider Gulf Coast region thought it was safer to go back into the water, the news broke over the weekend that BP, the British superconglomerate responsible for last year’s environmental catastrophe — an event the fragile regional ecology will probably be paying for for years — has designs on returning to the Gulf. To pick up right where they left off last year.

According to The New York Times, ABC News and the British press, BP has filed a request with federal regulators to resume drilling in the Gulf, specifically to restart work at 10 existing deepwater wells that were up and running before the April 20 Macondo well explosion that killed 11 oil workers and resulted in just under 5 million barrels of oil leaching into the Gulf.

Published reports have the drilling possibly set to resume as soon as July.

BP has reportedly agreed (among other concessions) to permit 24-hour access to its wells by safety inspectors — something that, on the face of it, would seem to be less a condition in the negotiations and more a matter of commonsense S.O.P.

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The government denies, denies, denies, of course; a spokeswoman at the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement told ABC “there is no deal with BP.”

But the irony of even a possible deal hasn’t escaped environmentalists. Kent Davies of Greenpeace told ABC News on Sunday that “it’s not even a year since the worst environmental disaster this country’s ever seen, and the culprit is being led right back to the scene of the crime and given the keys.”

“Just last week,” The Times reported Sunday, “the Justice Department confirmed that it was considering a range of civil and criminal penalties against BP, including potential manslaughter charges for the deaths of the rig workers, as part of its ongoing investigation into the accident.”

Apparently, in the manner of a durable marriage, the relationship between these two suitors is such that they don’t stay mad at each other for very long. The relationship between BP and the thousands of displaced, financially damaged workers in the Gulf’s fishing industry may be another matter. With $40 billion in claims against BP, you can understand why.

“Do-overs” used to be the classic schoolyard maneuver for kids, a way  to correct a mistake and start over. Now one of the biggest and most ethically cavalier companies on the planet looks likely to get a do-over of its own. If it happens, we expect that new safety regs, a punitive share price, a multibillion-dollar compensation cost and a badly trashed public image will prevent a repeat of a disaster that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

Image credits: Macondo well explosion: U.S. Coast Guard. HuffPost front page: © 2010 The Huffington Post. BP logo: BP

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