Greed? Not Why BP's Oil Well Blew in Gulf of Mexico

In its rush for "more," BP traded safety for getting job done

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Headlines around the world today blared out this conclusion by President Obama’s commission investigating the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico: it wasn’t caused by greed.

So, we are to believe that BP, Halliburton and others involved in drilling the well did not have "an overwhelming desire to have more of something, such as money, than is actually needed"? By that definition of greed (Encarta dictionary), these companies are better humans than most of us. Raise your hand if you don’t want more than you need.

Greed isn’t the cause of the spill, but let’s not pretend it isn’t why the well was being drilled. Sure it was. Just like Rocco said in "Key Largo" when asked what he wants: "I want more." And more is why BP was drilling in deep water, literally over its head and all too willing to lie about its ability to handle a spill..

But, "more" isn’t why the well failed. If there is a main culprit, it is a willingness of the involved companies to make pressure, profits and competition their values. From the moment that well was conceived to the moment it blew, safety and the common good became subordinate. Those values at the top trickled down into actions taken by supervisors and workmen at the well itself. That’s what the commission actually found.

Meanwhile, as we continue focusing on the Gulf oil spill, let’s not lose focus ofthe Arctic and its potential for an even more devastating spill. Worth reading on the subject is a chilling story published last Sunday in the Financial Post of Canada.

The Post article, headlined "Oil and ice: Worse than the Gulf spill?," tells of a 1990 oil spill into a Siberian river draining into waters of the Arctic. Nearly two million barrels—or roughly half the amount spilled by BP in the Gulf—flooded the drainage, wetlands and coastal areas. Clean up was nigh impossible because of snow and ice conditions.

Now, says the article, imagine oil rigs spread across the Arctic shelf off Russia, Alaska and the other coastal zones targeted for commercial oil exploration. That’s the scenario seen by countries bordering the Arctic Ocean—including the United States, Canada and Norway.

It’s no surprise to us that the article spent thousands of words describing how ill-prepared these countries are to handle any kind of oil spill in the usually icy and often totally dark Arctic environment. And, says the article, it’s impossible to be prepared for spills. Oil and ice are a bad mix.

Here’s hoping that the "new" federal agency (BOEMRE) permitting and regulating such drilling in the Arctic gets a copy of that article.


From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.