While the explosion of BP/Transocean's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was a horrific event, it was neither surprising nor unexpected.
is one of the most powerful corporations operating in the United
States. Its 2009 revenues of $239bn are enough to rank BP as the
third-largest corporation in the country. It spends aggressively to
influence US policy and regulatory oversight.
In 2009, the
company spent nearly $16m on lobbying the federal government, ranking
it among the 20 highest spenders that year, and shattering its own
previous record of $10.4m set in 2008. In 2008, it also spent more than
$530,000 on federal elections, placing it among the oil industry's top 10 political spenders.
money has bought BP great access and, many would argue, leniency. "I
personally believe that BP, with its corporate culture of greed over
profits, murdered my parents," Eva Rowe testified before Congress in
2007. The Congress was investigating the worst workplace accident in
the US in more than 15 years, a massive explosion at BP's Texas City
Refinery in March 2005 that killed 15 workers, including Rowe's
parents, and injured 180.
The US Chemical Safety Board, an
independent federal agency, investigated the blast and released a
devastating indictment of BP. "The Texas City disaster was caused by
organisational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP
corporation," the 2007 report found. "The combination of cost-cutting,
production pressures and failure to invest caused a progressive
deterioration of safety at the refinery."
While experiencing its
highest profits in its corporate history, BP implemented budget cuts of
25% in 1999 and 2005 at each of its five US refineries. The safety
board found a pervasive "complacency towards serious safety risks" at
all of them.
When the next great explosion at a US oil workplace
occurred, it was of little surprise to learn that it was, again, BP at
fault. It also came as little surprise that the location was the deep
offshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
BP and the entire oil
industry have lobbied aggressively to open new US waters to offshore
drilling and expand the access they already had. For decades, the vast
majority of drilling from the US Gulf took place on simple scaffolds in
30ft to 200ft of water. In the past 10 years, the number of rigs
drilling in depths of greater than 1,000ft (deep wells) has risen
dramatically, as have ultra-deep wells, those greater than 5,000ft. The
trend is problematic for many reasons, including that drilling of water
depths greater than 500ft releases methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times
more potent than carbon dioxide in the contribution to global warming.
of the shallower fields have dried up, and the industry has become ever
more flush with cash (in 2009, for the first time in history, seven of
the 10 largest corporations in the world were oil companies) and more
desperate for oil. As a result, the companies – led by BP, the largest
producer of oil in the US Gulf – are breaking all records, pushing ever
deeper – and well past the point of technological know-how and safety.
September 2009, BP drilled the deepest well ever at its Tiber field in
the US Gulf at a depth of more than 35,000ft (farther down than Mount
Everest is up). When it exploded, BP's Deepwater Horizon Drilling rig
was drilling at just over 18,000ft deep. Anyone in the business will
tell you that drilling at such depths is incredibly risky, even with
the most conscientious oversight. As the Chevron Corporation writes on
its website, "Navigating uncertain weather conditions, freezing water
and crushing pressure, deepwater drilling is one of the most
technologically challenging ways of finding and extracting oil." In the
words of Micky Driver, a Chevron spokesman: "It's lots of money, it's
lots of equipment, and it's a total crapshoot."
The entire oil
industry, will continue to use its vast wealth – unequalled by any
global industry – to escape regulation, restriction, oversight and
enforcement. BP, now the source of the last two great deadly US oil
industry explosions, has shown us that this simply cannot be permitted.
Juhasz, author of The Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful
Industry – and What We Must Do To Stop It (HarperCollins, 2008), is
director of the Chevron Program at Global Exchange, a San
Francisco-based human rights organisation