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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

Can BP’s Money Buy It Justice?

Lindsay Bigda, September 29, 2010

Some say money can’t buy everything. But for BP, money sure seems to be able to buy enough litigation and lobbying power to stay in business, even with its persistent, egregious safety violations that have led to more than one deadly disaster.

While BP’s older crimes may have been overshadowed lately by the more current and devastating Gulf oil spew, it should not be forgotten that the company is still litigating charges related to a 2005 blast at a Texas refinery that killed 15 workers. With the Gulf oil spill and the 40-day release of toxic chemicals from its Texas refinery, BP has its hands full with not one, but three environmental catastrophes. All three remain unresolved.

2005 BP Texas City incident diagram

Regarding the refinery case, the Justice Department recently decided not to revoke the three-year probation it had imposed on BP due to the numerous safety violations (both criminal and civil) found during the federal investigation into the 2005 accident. Although the probation period allowed BP time to respond to violations, it has to date failed to properly respond to all safety issues or fully pay its fines. Although the government warned that it might revoke or renew the probation, it then backed off of its threat – presumably to avoid subjecting the company to further criminal prosecution. Of course, family members of those killed in the accident have been advocating for more, not less, prosecution. 

Furthermore, a probe into safety issues at the refinery found that the initial violations noted by federal regulators only scratched the surface of a trove of (shock!) even more violations. This mirrors what we’ve seen in the Gulf – both in the spill itself as well as in the cleanup – where the information that has come forward continues to prompt yet more questions.


Photo by flickr user IBRRC

We now know that dangerous dispersants were being used in the cleanup and that BP was barring media access to oil-soaked sites. But why has the cleanup effort been shrouded in a veil of secrecy in the first place? What about the devastating ailments plaguing Gulf Coast residents, the reports of massive kill zones and dead marine life, and the widely disparate scientific studies on what’s happened to all that oil and dispersant? In light of a 1978 oil spill cleanup in Brooklyn, in which oil dating back to 1948 was found, somehow assurances that “75 percent of the oil is gone” don’t quite make sense. Let’s not forget that the initial (BP-backed) flow rate estimates of 1,000 barrels per day skyrocketed to over 60,000.

It seems that the more we continue to investigate BP, the more dark secrets we shall find. This is not a surprise. Yet, the question remains -- how far will it go before meaningful changes are enacted to protect those who have suffered from the carelessness of BP, and those courageous few insiders who have blown the whistle?

Lindsay Bigda is Communications Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.