British petroleum (BP) was founded may 1908 and has sincethen become a leader in today’s oil and gas markets.
As of 2012 it ranked 6thamongst all other competitors and has kept that ranking through until today(PFC Energy, 2012). As well as oil and gas the company also helps to provideand distribute other renewable sources of energy across a total of 72countries. However, this report aims to look at one of the company’s largestdisasters which happened in the Gulf of Mexico when a disaster on a mining rigran by Transocean led to one of the largest marine oil spills of our time.
Ihope to cover not only the crimes committed by such a large company in the wakeof this disaster but the litigation that followed. The following is a timelineof the events that eventually lead to the sinking of Deepwater Horizon: It allbegan on April the 1st, when an employee named Marvin Volek showedconcerns about the use of cement in the oil well and believed that what theywere doing was not up to the high standard it should have been (Urbina, 2010).Next on April the 6th BP were given the go ahead and grantedpermission to begin mining. However, with this permission came a warning of gasin the well as well as the possibility of flowing water. This was ignored andBP’s plans for the boring of the well went ahead as originally planned (Wald,2010). By April the 9th BP’s well borer had reached the final stagesof drilling into the oceans floor however it is decided that at this depth thewell should have a much stronger casing. Casing helps stabilise the structureof the well and helps prevent collapse or obstruction of the drill.
This beingsaid BP went ahead and decided to use a more basic casing liner as it would notonly save them time but money. April 14th, employee Brian Morel saidin an email that he felt this mining operation so far had been a mess leavingother employees seemingly in a state of disarray. April 15th, “Centralizers.
When the final string ofcasing was installed, one key challenge was making sure the casing ran down thecentre of the well bore. As the American Petroleum Institute’s recommendedpractices explain, if the casing is not centred, “it is difficult, if notimpossible, to displace mud effectively from the narrow side of theannulus,” resulting in a faiku cement job. Halliburton, thecontractor hired by BP to cement the well, warned BP that the well could have a”SEVERE gas flow problem” if BP lowered the final string of casingwith only six centralizers instead of the 21 recommended by Halliburton. BPrejected Halliburton’s advice to use additional centralizers. In an e-mailon April 16, a BP official involved in the decision explained: “it willtake 10 hours to install them. …
I do not like this.” Later that day,another official recognized the risks of proceeding with insufficientcentralizers but commented: “who cares, it’s done, end of story, willprobably be fine.”” (The Hill, 2010).
Edging ever closer tothe day of disaster on the 18th of April reports were filed thatthere was an issue within the well and that a team should be brought in to testthe cement had bound correctly, this is required by law. April the 20thfinally came around and although it was strongly recommended that BP conduct athorough check on the cementing of the well, again they chose to cut cornersand instead cancelled the scheduled test in an effort to cut corners and saveyet more money on an already expensive venture. At this point the drilling rigwas already a massive 43 days behind and had already cost BP an extra $21million (Urbina, 2010). “At 9:49 pm that same day AndreaFleytas had been monitoring the dynamic positioning system on the bridge of theHorizon when she felt a jolt. Before she could make sense of it – a rig shakingshock that came out of nowhere – magenta warnings began flashing on her screen.Magenta meant the most dangerous level of combustible gas intrusion.
” (Konradand Shroder, 2011). By 9:56pm the oil rig being used by the companyBritish Petroleum became engulfed in flames following an explosion created bynatural gas as the rig drilled into the sea bed for crude oil (Radio, 2018). Asthe explosion took place and flames began to burn though the drilling rig therewere a total of 126 members on board, most were rescued by the local coastguards but unfortunately 11 bodies were never recovered. Over the next two daysthe rig continued to burn and eventually sank on the 22nd of April(The Independent, 2010). It was only after the Deepwater horizon had sunk thatthe true extent of the issue could be seen as oil began to gather around thearea which was once home to the drilling rig. Following the incidentthousands of gallons of crude oil began continued to spill from within the wellthat had been bored into the ocean floor. Over the course of the next few daysit was estimated that more than 200 million gallons of oil left the well afterit had been opened which led to this disaster being declared as the largest oilspill in unites states history (Dosomething.
org, N.D.), it was eventuallystopped 87 days after the initial spill in July 2010. The clean up began almostimmediately following the spillage with up to 47,000 people and 7,000 ships spendingthousands of hours skimming the ocean to collect oil from its surface as wellas inducing controlled burning of the spilled pollutant and clearing up whathad washed up on the coastline (Anon, 2010). Although everything was done totry and stop the oil from spreading it is estimated that the oil impacted anarea between 2,500 and 68,000 square miles (Web.archive.
org, 2010). As well asthe most obvious impact on the water it also had a detrimental impact on thewildlife. Wherever the oil spread wildlife began to die, birds became coveredin crude oil making them unable to fly and eventually causing them to die. Inan interview with Thomas Shirley, a marine biologist from the university ofTexas he said that “Despite decades of intensive oildrilling, the inventory showed that the Gulf of Mexico still harboured 15,700species of sea life. In the area immediately surrounding the spill, Shirley andhis fellow scientists tallied 8,332 species of plants and animals, includingmore than 1,200 fish (such as the Atlantic bluefin tuna), more than 1,500 crustaceans(including the blue crab), and 29 marine mammals (including bottlenosedolphins)” (Web.archive.org, 2010). He goes on to say that although the immediateeffects can no longer be seen on the surface the consequences of this spillagewill be felt for many years to come as the ecosystem struggles to recover andre-stabalise itself.
As can be imagined the backlash thatfollowed this great spill was immense with people all over the world in uproarover how this could have possibly happened in the first place. But the onething people seemed to want more than reason as to why it happened was someoneto blame and for that person to pay for the damage they had caused. From themoment the spill began prosecutors were already trying to decide who was atfault and how that could be proved in a court of law.
Many sources pointedtowards negligence being the source of the disaster however, “Some may question whethercriminal prosecution is appropriate based on the Gulf tragedy. Soon after thespill began, Texas Governor Rick Perry called the explosion “an act of God.”Tea Party activist and U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul argued that we shouldavoid the blame game in the Gulf because “accidents happen.”” (Repository.law.
umich.edu, 2010). As can be imagined the main focus ofprosecutors were crimes committed under environmental law such as the migratorybird act 1918 and the clean water act 1972. The migratory bird act was brought into protect birds that migrate between the United States and Great Britain andcovered not only the bird itself but its feathers, eggs and even their nests. “The U.
S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permitsfor otherwise prohibited activities under the act. These include permits fortaxidermy, falconry, propagation, scientific and educational use, anddepredation, an example of the latter being the killing of geese near anairport, where they pose a danger to aircraft.” (En.wikipedia.org, 2017).
Unfortunately, the real extent of the damage on the birdsfollowing the spill is unknown as most of the research that does exist on thematter is not available to the public and has been retained by the USgovernment to be released at a later date following the completion on any legalaction being taken against BP. In a study conducted by J. Christopher Haney,Harold Geiger and Jeffery Short they estimated that anywhere up to 800,000birds died as a direct result from the spill (Audubon, 2014). As it stands thecurrent fine for breaching the migratory bird act is $15,000 and up to sixmonths in jail and to put that in perspective if the maximum fine were to bepaid per bird it would total 12 billion dollars alone and would come with ajail sentence so ridiculous it isn’t even worth contemplating. With that inmind after BP pleaded guilty to damages to wildlife under this act they onlypaid $4 billion in damages which was then dedicated to helping restore theheavily damaged ecosystem in an attempt to return it to its former glory (USEPA, 2013).
– add moreMovingon from the migratory bird act we have the clean water act of 1972. The cleanwater act was originally created to help protect the waters of the UnitedStates. It aimed to put restrictions on companies stopping them from dumpingwaste into rivers whether intentionally or unintentionally.
It also made itpossible to set a standard that all water should adhere to before it is deemedpolluted and gave birth to a new set of grants to help in providing sewagetreatment plants (US EPA, 2017). For first time offenders the sentence carriesa minimum fine of 2,500 dollars and a maximum of 25,000 dollars per day thatthe pollutant continues to affect the water source. As well as this theoffender can receive up to a year in jail as well as a much larger 50,000 dollarsper day fine if they have been convicted previously. However, if the watersource is intentionally being polluted regardless of knowing the risk of theiractions the accused can receive a fine up to $1,000,000 dollars and up tofifteen years imprisonment (En.wikipedia.org, 2018).
The case that breached theclean water act was brought before a united states district judge by the name ofCarl Barbier and it was his belief that the disaster was a direct result ofBP’s gross negligence. This withheld in court and therefore now threatened BPwith a fine that could see them paying out a further 18 billion dollars fortheir part in the oil spill. In the business of oil, it is normal that theproducts volume is measured in barrels and therefore when it comes to settingthe fine the amount is calculated per barrel. Now the judge can force theaccused to pay up to 4,300 dollars per barrel but they are able to lower thisamount at their own discretion if they so wish (New Orleans Sun, 2014). Afterreading the evidence the judge also ruled that spill total amounted to 4.2million barrels which of course BP disputed in court suggesting the amount wasin fact much smaller and only totalled a mere 2.
5 million barrels, almost halfof that suggested originally. With this in mind BP did seek to clear up themess they had created but just like before with their estimates of oil spiltthey weren’t exactly truthful. BP had hired its own team of scientists to begincollecting data that would show the world their clean-up efforts were being successful.Due to the fact that BP now ‘owned’ this important data it was free to onlyrelease what it believed worked in their favour and could simply bury anythingthat suggested otherwise (Bradshaw, 2012). Finally,we have the 11 counts of manslaughter. In the wake of the disaster almost everycrew member had been accounted for, all but 11 crewmembers made it off the rigwithout being significantly hurt. Manslaughter usually carries a sentence ofanywhere between Unfortunately, the other 11 were never found and as this was adirect result of the explosion BP now began facing a suit for involuntarymanslaughter.
It was decided that two men who had been working on the rig incharge of overseeing the drilling operation should be held accountable for the11 deaths caused in 2010. Both Robert Kaluza and Donald Virdrine were bothaccused of negligence for choosing to cut important corners when it came totesting the safety and integrity of the well, as well as that they also failedto pass on the relevant information to their superiors regarding the resultsthey actually did receive (CBsnews.com, 2012). Of all the incidents that occurredeither during or following the incident this was the only one that came with athreat of jail time. That being said fortunately for the defendants thepunishment for involuntary manslaughter is considerably lighter than otherforms of murder with a minimum sentence of only 12 months (Findlaw, n,d). Atthis time the case for these two members is still being fought in court with nofinal decision having been made so far.
As well as the two workers BP as acompany were also brought forward on the 11 counts of involuntary manslaughterwhich they pleaded guilty to. “As part of BP’s guilty plea, it will retain a monitorfor four years, tasked with overseeing safety, risk management and equipmentmaintenance in relation to deepwater drilling in the Gulf, as well as anindependent auditor, who will conduct annual reviews to ensure compliance. Thecompany will also hire an ethics monitor to improve its code of conduct.” (SHP – Health and Safety News,Legislation, PPE, CPD and Resources, 2012).