I’ve been an environmental attorney for a while now, and at this stage of my career it takes a lot to shock me. But in the last four years, the arrogance of BP and its actions after devastating the Gulf of Mexico with its 5-million gallon oil spill fiasco has continually stunned me, time and time again. Sometimes, the British oil giant is so out there with its arrogance on full display that you almost want to laugh.
This week, the nation’s largest organization of environmental journalists came to New Orleans for its annual convention, and they asked BP’s spokesman, Geoff Morrell, if he’d be willing to address the group and answer questions. He stunned his audience by asserting that BP’s public-relations problems were their fault — and not the fault of those 5-million, dolphin-killing, seafood-poisoning, wetlands-destroying, beach-pollution, worker-sickening barrels of oil that BP unleashed on the world:
As oil was gushing into the Gulf four years ago, Morrell said, news reports predicted “severe and long-lasting consequences,” with warnings that crude could reach the Atlantic Coast and Louisiana’s seafood industry would be decimated.
Those “apocalyptic forecasts . . . did not come to pass,” Morrell told the journalists.
A former reporter turned spokesman for the Pentagon, Morrell did not mince words, as he suggested that journalists have not done enough to cover the Gulf’s rebound and don’t sufficiently scrutinize activists who “cherry-pick facts and promote studies that paint an incomplete and inaccurate picture.”
It was less than 12 hours later, of course, that a federal judge ruled that BP’s oil spill had indeed caused severe, long-lasting and ongoing environmental damage to the Gulf — and that the spill was the result of “reckless” behavior by the oil company as it ignored multiple, clear-cut problems at the Deepwater Horizon rig, all in the name of making bigger profits for a firm that earns billions every year.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier could mean an additional $18 billion in penalties against BP, all depending on further rulings by the court in the months ahead. The news certainly came as a relief to Gulf environmentalists who’ve been pressing for those kind of dollars to rebuild wetlands in Louisiana and its neighboring Gulf Coast states by BP’s oil and by other oil-industry projects, and to undertake other efforts to bring back wildlife and marine life back to pre-2010 levels. But there’s a downside buried in a day of positive developments, which is that there’s little to stop BP from appealing the matter, and tying up the money for years.
The ruling that BP acted recklessly puts the damages per barrel of oil that poured into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 at the highest amount, said State Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula. The maximum fine is $4,300 per barrel of oil.
“I think BP should accept the ruling and settle on the damages and let us move forward on restoring the Gulf Coast,” he said.
“BP’s oil is still washing up on the beaches of the Gulf and is still impacting the Gulf’s communities and wildlife,” Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director of Gulf Restoration Network, said at a press conference in New Orleans after Thursday’s ruling. “If BP will just own up to the damage they’ve done, then we can get to the business of restoring the Gulf. They should be making it right in the Gulf, not spending millions on PR and legal fees appealing this decision.”
It could be awhile until the money arrives as the decision is appealed. New MDEQ Executive Director Gary Rikard said the ruling “is a tremendous step in our continued efforts to hold BP accountable,” but the legal process continues.
Look, the bottom line is this. BP’s public-relations problems are nobody’s but their own — and that have the power to begin solving their problem with the stroke of a pen. If BP wants to save its image and rebuild its corporate integrity from the current level of zero, it should drop any notion of appealing, and pay the $18 billion, give or take, before the calendar flips to 2015. That way, those of us who live on the Gulf Coast, who breathe the salty air and drink the water, can begin — in earnest — the long and difficult promise of rebuilding. Or BP can endure more beatings in the media like it did yesterday, when the value of the company’s stock dropped an astounding 6 percent. That’s no way to save their brand — or save the Gulf.
Check out the astounding blast at the media from BP flack Geoff Morrell: http://fuelfix.com/blog/2014/09/04/bp-exec-critiques-oil-spill-reporting/
Read more about Mississippi officials urging BP not to appeal this week’s ruling: http://www.sunherald.com/2014/09/04/5781208_mississippi-officials-arent-surprised.html
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