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April 19, 2013

On Third Anniversary of BP Disaster, the Story That Needs to Be Told

Statement of Allison Fisher, Outreach Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program


Note: A demonstration will be held at 1 p.m. CDT Saturday, April 20, at the Amphitheater at Washington Artillery Park in New Orleans. Demonstrators will spell out the messages of the memorial with their bodies: “11” for the workers we remember, “200” for the miles of coast still polluted by BP’s oil. The rally is designed to raise awareness about the urgent need for restoration and to hold BP accountable for the damages incurred. The event will be made into a short video and distributed online to raise awareness about the ongoing BP oil disaster.

On the third anniversary of the BP oil disaster, the oil giant wants people to believe that no company has done more to respond in the wake of an industrial accident than BP.

That is the story BP wants told.

On Monday, the corporation released a memo directed at reporters covering the anniversary. The document touts BP’s financial commitment to the Gulf region and encourages reporters to “note that tourism numbers from the Florida Panhandle to the Texas Gulf Coast are smashing records.”

In addition to hyping the region’s rebounding tourist industry, which BP, in part, attributes to its advertising campaign that promotes tourism across the entire Gulf Coast, the corporation highlights what it has expended in its clean-up and restoration efforts and in legitimate claims and settlement agreements. 

But on the third anniversary of the worst offshore drilling tragedy in U.S. history, this is the story that needs to be told:

First, BP should not be patting itself on the back for doing what is legally required of the corporation as the entity responsible for the oil spill disaster.

Second, the corporation is clearly cherry-picking to paint a rosy picture of the region’s recovery. Oil is still washing up on Gulf Coast beaches, the long-term effects to the region are still unknown and many residents of the area are experiencing severe health issues related to clean-up and containment efforts. These residents include those exposed to the toxic dispersant, Corexit; the corporation admitted to using at least 1.9 million gallons of the widely banned dispersant in its efforts to “dissolve” the oil.

Meanwhile, in the courtroom, BP still is not taking full responsibility for the disaster, which has consequences for restoration efforts. The first phase of the Gulf oil disaster trial, intended to identify the causes of the blowout of BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico and assign fault to the companies, concluded on April 17. During the trial, the corporation fiercely denied it was grossly negligent, as it was attempting to dodge full liability for its Clean Water Act violations. A judgment of negligence – as opposed to gross negligence – would mean the region would lose billions of dollars in restoration funding.

And earlier this month, a federal judge rejected, for a second time, BP’s attempt to block the Deepwater Horizon claims administrator from awarding what could be billions of dollars in payments for business economic losses. BP is challenging the ruling again in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last, in its recent press memo, BP fails to discuss whether the corporation has responded to the managerial and operational failures that contributed to the accident. Response in the wake of an industrial accident is not just about paying fines and cleaning up the mess you made; it’s about cleaning your house to ensure such a disaster doesn’t happen again.

BP’s abysmal record of environmental and worker safety violations demonstrates that the company has done little in the past to respond to its failed safety culture, what a Department of Justice official called “a culture of privileging profit over prudence.” In addition to the ongoing oil spill case, BP also is in a legal battle with the California Attorney General’s office, which has filed a lawsuit against BP claiming that since October 2006, BP has “tampered with or disabled leak detection devices, and failed to test secondary containment systems, conduct monthly inspections, train employees in proper protocol, and maintain operational alarm systems, among other violations.” And more recently, a lawsuit was filed by residents in Galveston County, Texas, claiming that BP knowingly released highly toxic chemicals for 15 consecutive days in November 2011 from its Texas City oil refinery, inflicting permanent environmental and health damages upon the local community.

BP keeps saying that it plans to make the region whole. In fact, the company is just trying to make its bottom line whole.
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