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April 20, 2012 

The Unlearned Lessons of the BP Disaster

Statement of Robert Weissman, President, Public Citizen

The BP disaster taught us many things: namely, that giant corporations cannot be trusted to behave responsibly absent strong public oversight, and that if 11 workers die on your watch, or unprecedented ecological damage from your negligence occurs from your operations – that none of it matters: You can continue to operate, business as usual, securing more government contracts and enjoying record profits the same as before.

It reminded the American people about some essential truths relating to corporate behavior, the need for regulatory controls over corporations and the need for effective sanctions.

Congress and the Obama administration have refused to learn the lessons from the BP disaster. Exhaustive investigations showed that existing regulations are inadequate to prevent another offshore catastrophe. Yet deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has resumed, leaving workers and an already fragile ecosystem vulnerable. (See our tally of how many recommendations from the oil spill task force have been implemented.) In fact, the bipartisan commission investigating the disaster just gave this Congress a “D” grade for failing to respond.

Regulations to enhance well design requirements and upgrade the emergency safety device that failed to contain the Macondo well blowout are still pending. But even before the ink dries on new regulations to address the safety failures that initiated the worst environmental and industrial disaster in U.S. history, some policymakers are working to weaken regulatory oversight of the drilling industry. In fact, several bills passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this year have contained provisions to weaken the lease review process.

New leases for more than 20 million acres of federal waters belie the fact that the industry has yet to prove that it can effectively contain the next well blowout.  In fact, new containment systems developed by the industry may not be able to be deployed under the intensive pressure of deepwater wells.  

To protect our citizens and our environment, we need strong regulatory controls to curb corporate wrongdoing. Not only are we lacking strong drilling regulations, but we are handing out new leases to BP. We need tough penalties to punish corporate wrongdoers. The corporation that dumped 5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico had net profits of $24 billion one year later. 

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