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The BP Oil Disaster — Corporate Irresponsibility


The Gulf Oil disaster should not be a place for political bents or muckraking – should it?

I just read two articles from the Financial Post; one I take with a bit of skepticism over whether it portrays the whole story fairly and the other is, well simply unbelievable.

In the first article, author Lawrence Solomon begins with the title “Avertible Catastrophe” and it is, before reading it, about the BP Oil Disaster. He begins the article by applauding the preparedness and capability of the Dutch to anticipate “looming catastrophe and know how to head it off”. It seems pretty clear that in the Netherlands, they take oil drilling and the attendant risks it presents very seriously. They are prepared for disaster. The Dutch know how to handle disastrous oil spills.

Mr. Solomon then goes on to explain the substantial offers to help made by the Dutch and the repeated refusals to those offers of help made by our government. Mr. Solomon is critical of Americans, the US government, US environmental rules, US labor unions, and, possibly, US workers.

Mr Solomon criticizes the US for refusing the offered assistance from the Dutch with clean up in the Gulf. If that happened, I agree with him that I would like to hear some worthy explanation of just why this assistance was refused. The idea, though, that the US government or its system had the best, first chance to avert this catastrophe is a little in genuine.

The second article was also in the Financial Post and was written by Peter Foster and titled, “Oil statism, Obama style”. Mr Foster’s article appears to be about the substituting of BP exec, Bob Dudley, to take over the “political ducking stool” from poor, picked upon BP CEO Tony Hayward.

Mr Foster labors with a comparison between the way in which the US (Mr Foster prefers “the Obama administration”) has treated the BP CEO and the horrible things done to oil magnates by the likes of the Russians and by “the government of Hugo Chavez” from Venezuela. He seems to take some umbrage that Mr Hayward has been questioned by congress and that the “threat of anti-business political sentiment is obvious in the massive losses to BP’s share price…”

Mr. Foster goes on to set forth:

A number of other moves by the administration raise doubts about its wisdom, competence and good faith. The commission of inquiry into the disaster is chock-a-block with politicians and environmental activists, not oil experts. Some believe–without excessive cynicism–that the inquiry is being set up to pin the disaster on Republican deregulation, or lax regulation, ahead of the November elections. Mr. Obama has already used the spill to try to promote his alternative energy predilections.

First, let me point out that a “commission” seldom is made up of the people that any of us think should make it up and is often staffed by less than the most qualified or with those with an agenda that is unproductive – see Kenneth Starr and the Whitewater escapade.

Second, we have had more than ample evidence already that the Republican administration displayed lax regulation and that the Democrats failed to move fast enough in a year to fix that lax regulation. I mean let’s be honest, the last administration loved the oil companies – see the secret meetings held by Vice President Dick Chaney; his refusal to advise the public what went on in those meetings; and the amorous relationship between oil interests and Republicans.

Finally, the President is using the BP oil disaster as a poster child to illustrate the need to sprint after alternative energy sources? Wow, I mean, really, you are critical of this effort? Really?

Finally, Mr Foster concludes with the heart wrenching appeal for “fairness”:

BP is not a demonic figure in a morality play, it is the sort of organization on which the wealth of the West is built. Unfortunately, politicians — and leftist/authoritarian politicians in particular–like to portray corporations as dangerous exploiters that must constantly be brought to heel. Perhaps the real reason is that they realize that it is only through such entities that jobs and wealth are created. Politicians resent that fact, which makes them all the more eager to press boots to corporate necks, kick ass, or manipulate the mechanism of ducking stools.

I agree, Mr Foster, that BP is not demonic. Greedy, irresponsible, careless, reckless, profit over safety privateers; certainly BP is all that.

Capitalism is not one sided. Capitalism is not about benevolent Corporate America creating jobs and wealth without regard for responsibility. If a corporation wants to participate in capitalism it goes with a certain level of corporate responsibility.

In this case, BP was cutting corners to maximize profits by:

  1. the decision to use a well design with few barriers to gas flow;
  2. the failure to use a sufficient number of “centralizers” to prevent channeling during the cement process;
  3. the failure to run a cement bond log to evaluate the effectiveness of the cement job;
  4. the failure to circulate potentially gas-bearing drilling muds out of the well; and
  5. the failure to secure the wellhead with a lockdown sleeve before allowing pressure on the seal from below.

The common thread in these decisions is that they represent a decision to cut costs in the greater drive for increased profits; the result was a sacrifice of safety.

In this instance, BP acted just like a dangerous exploiter and given the economic and environmental destruction BP has caused, I hardly see them as “the capitalist Golden Goose”. The self interest and lack of planning on the part of BP does require they compensate those who suffer real, documentable losses; but BP’s conduct also demands an incentive to other corporate citizens to avoid this type of selfish, thoughtless conduct in the future. Clearly significant fines and other damages are in order.

BP may have single-handedly done as much damage to America as anything in this or the last century – I guess only time will tell.

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