BP has got to be the most un-self-aware company in the history of global capitalism. The recent criminal trial in federal court here in New Orleans exposed the very worst of the British oil giant’s corporate culture: A firm that is desperate to delay, obfuscate, and cover up the true facts of its bad behavior from the people of the Gulf Coast.
It was back in the first few days after the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe that I joined with other activists in warning that BP had to be lying about the rate of oil that was spewing from its Macondo site, that clearly a massive event was underway even as BP claimed ridiculously at various times that only 1,000 barrels or 8,000 barrels — or even that no oil — was leaking from the exploded rig.
But federal investigators, with their subpoena power, went back and investigated this cover-up, and now a BP engineer may be headed off to prison:
A former engineer for BP was convicted of obstructing an investigation of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico after the first criminal trial to come from the environmental disaster.
Just what exactly was Kurt Mix accused of?
According to the Justice Department, Mix worked on internal BP efforts to estimate the amount of oil leaking from the well and was involved in various efforts to stop the leak. Those efforts included Top Kill, the failed BP effort to pump heavy mud into the blown-out wellhead to try to stop the oil flow.
On May 26, 2010, the day that Top Kill began, Mix estimated in a text to his supervisor Jonathan Sprague that more than 630,000 gallons of oil per day were spilling — three times BP’s public estimate of 210,000 gallons and a rate far greater than what Top Kill could handle. In October, Mix deleted on his iPhone a text string containing more than 300 text messages with Sprague.
Prosecutors argued that Mix was trying to destroy evidence when he deleted the messages, but defense lawyers said Mix didn’t try to hide anything from the grand jury that investigated.
That defense simply doesn’t hold water. This crime that Mix was convicted of earlier today was hardly an outlier, but rather a classic example of BP’s behavior down here in the Gulf — characterized by dishonesty, followed by an audacious inability to admit its own mistakes.
As outrageous as the Deepwater Horizon cover-up was, it arguably pales in comparison to BP’s current efforts to welch on the settlement for Gulf claims that it agreed to — and pushed for — little than a year ago. The convicted oil polluter is now seeking to use a small handful of contested victim claims as an excuse not to pay thousands of valid ones.
At issue are the claims filed by one Texas attorney — just one of scores of lawyers in this massive case — who’s currently under federal investigation for his activities regarding the BP lawsuit. Even though that lawyer has not yet been charged with a crime, BP is asking for permission to not pay an entire class of seafood workers whose lives were turned upside down because of BP’s reckless offshore drilling.
Lawyers for plaintiffs in the case argued that BP is using the Watts controversy as an excuse to stop payments on the much larger program that affects deserving claimants. In a statement, the lawyers, Stephen J. Herman and James P. Roy, said “the notion that the number of deckhands was the driving factor during negotiations in determining the overall amount is absurd,” and that just $130 million was allocated to deckhands.
“BP’s overreaching attempt to hold the entire seafood program hostage is part of its continuing effort to rewrite history and the settlement agreement,” the lawyers said, “and is unfair to the hardworking men and women of the seafood industry whose livelihoods were destroyed by BP’s reckless conduct.”
It is unfair, but it’s the way that BP does business, with a complete lack of accountability…or shame. And so now even a criminal conviction won’t stop BP from behaving badly. And here’s the scariest part of all — while all this is happening, BP is actually expanding its operations in the Gulf. Just this week, the British firm boasted of making a new major discovery in the same kind of deep water as where the 2010 spill occurred. That’s why it’s imperative that a) the settlement that BP agreed to with Gulf residents and small business owners be fully enforced and b) BP be penalized for its gross negligence in the Gulf to the full extent of the law. Otherwise, we will be condemned to repeat the tragedies of the past.
You can read my April 30, 2010, expressing deep concern that BP was underestimating the impacts of the spill here: http://www.bizjournals.com/prnewswire/press_releases/2010/04/30/CL97184
Read more about the obstruction of justice conviction of BP engineer Kurt Mix: http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-former-bp-engineer-convicted-20131218,0,2507581.story#ixzz2nsQ0FAjB
Check out coverage of BP balking at paying claims under the settlement that it aggressively pushed for, at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/18/us/bp-accuses-texas-lawyer-of-brazen-fraud-in-workers-claims-over-gulf-oil-spill.html
Read about BP’s claims of a major new discovery in the Gulf here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/epic/bpdot/10524662/BP-makes-significant-oil-discovery-in-Gulf-of-Mexico.html
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