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5 September 2012

BP to pay for “gross negligence“

The US is holding BP accountable.

By Margarida Madaleno

According to Reuters, the US Justice department has recently confirmed that it will hold BP accountable for gross negligence. This recent sharpening of the DoJ’s attitude towards BP’s responsibility in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill (the largest in history) foreshadows steeper than predicted reparations; if BP is found to have been guilty of misconduct, under the Clean Water Act, it faces charges of up to $21 billion (four times what was previously predicted) – on top of punitive and compensatory damages. As Reuters notes, both BP and Transocean ltd. (owner of the platform) were found guilty of cutting corners by the government-filed report:

Specifically, errors made by BP and Swiss-based Transocean Ltd, owner of the Deepwater Horizon platform, in deciphering a key pressure test of the Macondo well are a clear indication of gross negligence, the Justice Department said.

“That such a simple, yet fundamental and safety-critical test could have been so stunningly, blindingly botched in so many ways, by so many people, demonstrates gross negligence,” the government said in its 39-page filing.

As noted by an Economist blog in 2010, the Horizon debacle stands as “one way to price in externalities”; the oil spill highlights the more obvious negative side-effects of our reliance on fossil fuels, and is – for now – the only way that oil companies’ income will reflect (an infinitesimal part) of their harm to society. Cynics at the time commented that the US government is far too shortsighted to hold BP accountable, and that the incident would soon blow over (in sharp contrast to the oil that still lingers in the Gulf). Two years down the line, Obama can only be praised for ensuring that big business is not above the Clean Water Act. The DoJ’s perseverance will serve as a glaring reminder that the oil industry is shirking some serious debits and is not as profitable as it appears.

It’s a shame there is no Clean Skies Act to hasten the market’s demand for renewable energy.

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(On that note, BrainPickings reminds us that 35 years ago today, the Voyager 1 was launched to explore the solar system. Follow the link to watch an animated version of Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. It kind of puts things into perspective.)