Monday, May 3, 2010

Oil Exploitation

British Petroleum's Chief Executive, Tony Hayward, was all over the airwaves saying his company accepts responsibility for the disastrous oil leak off the Gulf Coast. At the same time there is a growing chorus of irresponsible and absurd comments from the far right linking the oil leak to possible sabotage.

First, President Barack Obama basher and radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh pointed the finger at "environmentalist wackos." He opined, "What better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig? I'm just noting the timing here." Then Dana Perino, the former White House Press Secretary under President George Bush, said on Fox News, "You have to wonder whether there was sabotage involved." No Ms. Perino, Americans wonder why you and Limbaugh are so reckless with your comments.

Maybe Americans should wonder if Halliburton had a hand in this "sabotage." You know, the very same company where Vice President Cheney served as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer from 1995 to 2000. The Wall Street Journal reported, "Scrutiny on cementing will focus attention on Halliburton Co., the oilfield-services firm that was handling the cementing process on the rig, which burned and sank last week." The company says, "It is premature and irresponsible to speculate on any specific causal issues." Apparently Perino and Limbaugh didn't get the memo.

Or maybe Vice President Dick Cheney himself played a role when his energy task force decided against requiring remote-control shut-off switches, at $500,000 apiece, because they are too costly, ineffective and the rigs had other backup plans. Brazil and Norway require the switches. But the United Kingdom, where BP is based, doesn't require the devices.

Were it not for the oilrig disaster, BP would have had a fabulous first quarter. They reported their profits had risen 135% from the same period a year earlier, to about $6 billion. With 11 oilmen dead and almost unimaginable destruction to wildlife, coastal areas and the devastation to fragile businesses that rely on the Gulf, BP may need every penny.

In a statement BP said it is "Committed to pay legitimate and objectively verifiable claims for other loss and damage caused by the spill - this may include claims for assessment, mitigation and clean up of spilled oil, real and property damage caused by the oil, personal injury caused by the spill, commercial losses including loss of earnings/profit and other losses as contemplated by applicable laws and regulations."

But one has to wonder just how much BP will actually pay in the end to the families of the dead, to small businesses, to the citizens who live on the Gulf Coast and to the American taxpayers. Especially considering that, while they have publicly accepted responsibility, they have said the accident is not their fault because they contracted with other companies to do the work.

Countless Congressional hearings, investigations and lawsuits will likely drag on for years. But corporate greed, lax regulations, transparency, oversight, and powerful political connections are likely to be at the bottom of this calamity. Sound familiar?

This massive disaster is far from over. The gravity of the destruction has yet to be fully realized. The people of the Gulf Coast are desperate for answers and an end to this nightmare. They must not be exploited for political and personal gain.

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