This month marks two years since the environmental catastrophe known to the world as the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster. A British Petroleum (BP) oil rig off the coast of Louisiana exploded, killing 11 oil rig workers and expelling 25 000 barrels of oil, and over the following three months 4.9 million barrels of oil, into the Gulf of Mexico. The scale of the disaster has become known through the work of independent teams of scientists, environmental activists, Native American and immigrant groups that have monitored the scope and impact of the catastrophe on the environment and the economy of the Gulf of Mexico states.
What is scandalous is the way in which BP executives, oil industry corporate managers, US politicians and government regulatory agencies minimised the extent of the disaster, and failed to provide adequate protection for the affected communities. Until today, not a single BP executive has been held responsible for the oil spill, and all the while the BP corporation continues to rake in billions of dollars in profits.
The Socialist Worker newspaper published a book review of Black Tide: The devastating impact of the Gulf Oil spill by Antonia Juhasz. Not only should we remember the terrible impact of this disaster on the lives and economic wellbeing of the afflicted communities, but we should bear in mind that BP continues to push for further offshore oil drilling projects, all with the active permission of the Obama administration. Rather than advocate for compensation for the victims of the spill, and demand a review of the dangerous practices that led to this disaster, the Obama administration has consistently sided with the oil multinational in reducing the ability of plaintiffs to sue for compensation, and allow further offshore oil drilling. The ecologically lethal practices of the BP corporation have not been changed.
The book review by the Socialist Worker contains a number of insights into the way that safety and environmental standards were compromised in the lead-up to the oil spill. One fascinating episode concerns the actions of the rig’s captain towards Andrea Fleytas. The latter, was on the crew when the explosion occurred. Realising that something drastic had happened, the article continues with Juhasz’s words:
It was Fleytas, one of three women on the crew, who manually set off the ship’s general alarm at 9:47 p.m. when the automatic alarms failed to signal that combustible gas had entered parts of the rig where crews were working…
It was Fleytas who…four minutes after the explosions–with power out, communication out, engines down, fires throughout the rig, and men throwing themselves overboard–noticed that no one had sent a distress signal to the outside world.
For her courage in the face of danger, Fleytas was officially reprimanded by the rig’s captain.
The incestuous relationship between corporate power and the media monopolies was in full evidence in the days after the disaster. The mainstream corporate media dutifully accepted all the assurances and conservative diagnoses of the BP multinational giant. As the full scale of the disaster and its aftermath became obvious, the Obama administration moved to insulate BP and its executives from further damage and litigation. Over the objections of scientists, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) used a toxic chemical dispersant to control the oil spill, only aggravating the environmental damage.
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and the subsequent behaviour of the US political system, demonstrates that the capitalist system, driven by profit maximisation and the accumulation of untold wealth by a tiny financial elite, is incompatible with ecological sustainability and community needs. The financial power of the large multinational corporations and banks must be confronted to resolve the ecological and humanitarian needs of the wider society.