The Coast is (Not) Clear


Similar to Lexi’s endeavors last week, I took some time to search the BP website. In an entire subsection devoted to sustainability, I hoped to find some groundbreaking information about their mission as a company going forward or some general updates regarding where they are today in relation to the 2010 oil spill catastrophe. Interestingly enough, I stumbled upon a section devoted to oil spill response exercises and seemingly positive data regarding cleanup and restoration measures. BP reports in 2014 that “the volume of oil spilled decreased to approximately 400 thousand litres” compared to the previous year’s 724 thousand litres. However, Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf restoration Network, the NPR Podcast regarding BP oil spill updates in 2015 suggests that the uphill battle is far from over. As she documents in her trip to the island off the coast of the Louisiana coast called Grand Terre 5 years later, there seem to be more questions than answers regarding the lingering impact of the spill despite BP’s deceivingly positive 2014 data.

After already spending upwards of $14 billion on cleanup and restoration, the company reported that “no company has done more, or responded to an industrial accident faster than BP did in response to the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010”. Does the $14 billion spent truly categorize as good ol’ Old Testament justice — “an eye for an eye”? Environmentalists groups would beg to differ. Current findings suggest tar balls keep emerging and dolphin deaths are still on the rise, indicating that the BP oil spill may plague the Gulf for decades. It is clear that this problem extends beyond the scope of something a few billion dollars can fix.

It is easy to point blame at the senior executives of BP, but the most important take away of the spill is what the company should have done, what they could have done to prevent this. To prevent the 11 lives lost, the wild and marine life killed as a result, and the $18.7 billion coughed up to settle federal and state claims. So what should the senior executive team have done and where did they go wrong? An argument could be made that BP merely fell subject to bad luck and that the resulting spill could have easily happened to any oil company. But we all know that a spill of that magnitude isn’t the product solely of bad luck. A company who places such a strong focus on deepwater drilling should have had a much better contingency plan for dealing with an underwater oil leak— or at least you would think they would. The carelessness associated with the rig crew’s misreading of the pressure test and poor decisions by management were the true catalysts to the rig explosion; two causes that could have easily been avoided.

While it is easy to point out flaws in BP’s executive management, doing so is arguably futile. We can’t go back in time and erase what happened in 2010. However, we can look at this as a turning point in history and apply it to corporations going forward. The oil spill in the Gulf was undoubtedly a learning lesson for BP. Has the company taken the initiative to dilute the effect of the spill in these affected areas? Yes. Has BP been thoroughly punished for its malpractices? Some would argue yes. I mean, how much more can you really punish a corporation for something like this? Should it take a large scale catastrophe like this to make a company change their ways? Most certainly not. Cases such as BP, Nike, and Apple are all cases that exemplify how imperative it is for companies to be a proactive versus a reactive firm when it comes to corporate social responsibility.   

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8 thoughts on “The Coast is (Not) Clear

  1. I feel your pain when you are asking for measures before a huge accident happens. I wonder whether further incentives applied to corporations would improve this situation. I think that rather than giving them incentives to do well, we should be punishing companies for not following established standards. In order to do this, we need some standards first of all. It is not ok for corporations to be pushing governments around. It should be the other way around.

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  2. I completely agree with the idea that this is something money cannot make go away. The gulf could be affected for the next century because of this one incident and there are very definitive people and groups that can be blamed which makes it harder to cope with when we know who exactly is at fault. But I wonder what more can be done from BP? I would love to see more effort but paying the amount of money they did in the end is quite the help for a clean up effort. Like you said we can’t go back and erase the past, I don’t know what else they could beside quietly bow out of business and use the money left over to add to the clean up projects.

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  3. I really liked your last sentence about how companies need to become more proactive rather than reactive. I think corporations – and individuals as well – tend to think of themselves as invincible. We see things happening to others and acknowledge that what happened was bad and should not have happened, but how often do we really take what we see and change the way we live or the way a company runs to make sure that nothing like that happens to us instead of simply acknowledging what had happened and continuing in our set ways?

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  4. Morgan, I thoroughly enjoyed your follow-up article on BP. You did a wonderful job of pointing out the faults of BP while acknowledging their clean up efforts. In the last paragraph, you admit that the spill was a “lesson learned” by BP, and I would agree with that statement. With such a catastrophic event as this, tons of emotions and factors (environment, jobs, etc.) are involved, making it harder for executives to plan their course of action. I believe they have proved an adequate method to balancing business operations and clean up efforts during the years after the spill. However, I side with @schumacher33 in questioning whether BP can do more with this issue.

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    1. My initial intention in starting with BP’s information was to serve as a basis of comparison from what BP claimed, to sources with actual legitimacy. It is interesting to see the difference between the data reported on BP’s webpage (because obviously they are going to skew numbers in their favor), vs what environmentalists groups perceive the damage to actually be.

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