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Deepwater Horizon: Who Decided to Take that Risk?

May 6, 2010

Oil Slick in the Gulf of Mexico May 4th View [Detail]

Oil Slick in the Gulf of Mexico as of May 4th, courtesy of NASA Goddard

Deepwater Horizon is a beautiful name for something so ugly. It brings up the brilliant colors of sunset or sunrise on the open sea, where land is not to be seen. But the explosion on that oil rig (bright colors, indeed) has led to the spewing forth from of 25,000 barrels of crude oil per day, creating a slick larger than the state of Delaware.The full effects of this disaster on the environment and on regional economies will not be known for months, but the spill is threatening oyster beds and the breeding grounds of migratory birds. Coastal towns are facing potential economic ruin:

For the residents of Empire, a small fishing town about two-thirds of the way down the spit, this is a spill of personal significance. “I’ll show you what this means for us,” says Clark Fontaine, the owner of a wooden seafood shack on the side of the main road that has a dilapidated hoarding outside advertising “L VE CRAWF H”.

“Look at these guys!” He holds up a handful of plump shrimp, about four inches in length. The creatures are grey in colour, and several have an orange stripe along their backs. “That’s the eggs they will lay in the marshes that will produce our next crop in August. If we lose these shrimp, then we lose our living for the rest of the year.”

As long as we continue to rely on fossil fuels to run our cars and keep the lights on, there will we be a risk of spills, but that’s not the entire story here. BP set up an oil rig without sufficient redundancies and without a way to cut off the flow of oil quickly in case of a failure. According to an April 30th editorial in the Guardian,

It may take weeks to construct and lower a giant steel funnel to collect the escaping oil on the sea bed and pipe it to the surface, and this technology has never been tried at this depth. Drilling a relief well could take months.

BP wasn’t just trying to deliver a product: it chose, for reasons of profit, to use technology without first developing safety mechanisms. The company spent years trying to avoid following US safety regulationsAccepting responsibility for the clean-up does nothing to change this, and even the best efforts now will not prevent ecological devastation.

The question we need to be asking is why: why was BP allowed to decide that this was an acceptable risk to take? Why didn’t the people who live and work along the coastlines affected by the spill get a say in this? These questions are at the roots and heartwood of environmental justice. People, communities and not corporations, should have the right to decide what happens to their land, air, and water: they should decide what risks are acceptable.

Corporations do not have a right to determine what risks to our health and livelihoods may be taken. So long as they are allowed to make these decisions for communities and the ecosystems of which those communities are part, they impinge upon the basic rights of survival and self-determination which people of all genders deserve.

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  1. May 6, 2010 7:53 am

    BP really should be held criminally responsible for this. I mean sure, they’ll pay for the cleanup but how could they possibly pay for the affected wildlife, surrounding population, or other economic elements that are going to take a huge hit? BP is allowed to get away with it because they spend so much money on political campaigns or lobbying the government. If a normal citizen decided to dump all his or her garbage in the middle of the ocean, they’d get thrown in jail.

    • May 6, 2010 8:30 am

      That’s the problem with the legal fiction that corporations are people, isn’t it? How do you lock a corporation in jail?

  2. May 6, 2010 11:54 am

    British Petroleum was to receive an award for its pollution control methods at an Interior Department- sponsored event yesterday. The agency, however postponed the event, with no confirmed date for when it will be held again. Fishing communities along coastlines are waiting with dread for the Transocean explosion-related spill to reach their shores. Fishing activities have been prohibited in the areas affected by the oil spill. In a situation like this, it would have been absurd to go ahead with the event, where one of the winners of the evening would have been BP with its “exemplary” safety record.

    Meanwhile, a report on ABC today asks questions about why the Interior Department has touted the safety of the offshore industry so much. Last year, Transocean Ltd., was the proud recipient of the SAFE award. In handing over the award, representatives of the Minerals Management Services called Transocean’s drilling safety record “outstanding,” and fawned over the company’s safety performance. Part of Transocean’s safety program that helped it net the award, was a safety video that was filmed on the deck of the semisubmersible rig, Deepwater Horizon. Workers are seen singing and dancing on the deck, extolling the virtues of “keeping your hands clear,” as they perform various tasks on the rig.


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