In just more than 24 hours this week, huge developments rocked the oil-drilling world: (1.) On Thursday, BP agreed to plead guilty to several spill-related charges and pay a record $4.5 billion in damages; and (2.) on Friday, another oil platform in the Gulf caught fire and exploded, sending several workers to the hospital. As of Friday afternoon, two oil workers were still missing.
Outside of the BP spill and the Exxon Valdez catastrophe in 1989, few weeks have better illustrated the volatility and inherent dangers of the deep-water oil business.
For now, Friday’s explosion on a rig about 25 miles off the coast of Louisiana doesn’t seem to be similar to the 2010 accident. Officials said the rig that exploded was a production well, not an exploratory rig like the Deepwater Horizon platform that caused billions of dollars of damage and killed 11 workers two years ago. Additionally, officials said the well was not producing oil when it exploded.
Count that as a significant blessing.
Likewise, rejoice over the fact that the federal government and the judicial system continue to hold BP financially and legally responsible for the unholy damage created when its blown well dumped an estimated 172 million gallons of crude in the Gulf. Most notable is that included in the monetary damages is a record $1.26 billion criminal fine.
Everything about the 2010 spill — the environmental damage, the overwhelming negligence of BP officials, the destruction of businesses and livelihoods up and down the Coast — was an unmitigated disaster. It equally killed small businesses and Gulf Coast marine life. It damaged beaches and marshland and invaluable wildlife sanctuaries.
Worse still, it damaged our belief that Big Oil will ever own up, wholly, to its faults, however small or large they may be.
BP will never be able to pay for everything it damaged.
Deep-sea drilling is a controversial issue because of the inherent dangers — to man, to wildlife, and to the environment — and the obscene profits made by companies such as BP. It’s also a necessary evil as long as this nation continues to feed most of its energy needs with fossil fuels.