It was reported today that British Petroleum, the folks who brought you the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, is asking that the Clean Water Act penalties that it must pay should be reduced because the cost of crude oil is low.
What? So will BP offer to pay the full penalty – or more – if oil returns to or exceeds the 2010 world price? I don’t think so.
For some rational context, BP was found liable in court for gross negligence and willful misconduct in connection with the tragedy in which eleven workers died and 4.2 million barrels of crude oil were spilled into the rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The statutory penalty in the Clean Water Act for its actions is a maximum of $4,300 per gallon, or over $18 billion. The finding of gross negligence and willful misconduct means that, outside of outright criminality, BP is the worst of the worst. The damage that BP did to the Gulf, its ecosystems and citizens has nothing – nothing – to do with the price of oil, then, now or ever.
In fact, the Clean Water Act penalties are not related in any way to market oil prices, so BP’s reasoning is specious. Morally the argument is absurd. Oil prices rise and fall but the damage from this disaster - to our workers, waters and wildlife - endures. The people of the Gulf are bearing those costs every day. For BP to try to weasel out of its share of those costs is a disgraceful as it is typical of this industry and its shameful record of destroy-and-duck out. What this makes clear is one thing: oil is not cheap - at any price. What we're charged for gas at the pump is just a down payment on the far larger tab we're running from the environmental damage and risk of this dangerous and destructive industry. Instead of making excuses for this industry it's time to do what eight presidents dating to Richard Nixon have called on us to do, and break our national addiction to this costly and destructive fuel and invest in the safe and sustainable energy solutions of the future.