Leading article: It's not just BP we need answers from

Share
Related Topics

As America grapples with what may be the worst oil spillage in history, eclipsing the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, two questions demand answers: first, why was no remote control shut-off device installed at Deepwater Horizon? And second, is this disaster in the Gulf of Mexico connected to lobbying on the part of BP against the imposition of tighter safety controls for off-shore drilling? BP needs to provide convincing answers to both questions if it is not to find itself on the end of lawsuits that could wreak havoc with both its reputation and its finances.

The company is not popular in Washington as it is, partly because of a series of accidents in recent years, most notably in Texas in 1995 when a refinery exploded, killing 15 people, and in 2006, when a pipeline leaked in Alaska. The big oil companies in general, meanwhile, have a less sympathetic president in Barack Obama than they did in his predecessor, George W Bush. Mr Obama has said that he intends to hold BP responsible for most of the clean-up bill. The President may adopt a harsher tone once the oil reaches the shore, potentially affecting the jobs of thousands of people living in coastal communities as well as killing countless millions of sea birds, turtles and fish.

The word "spillage" barely conveys the apocalyptic nature and scale of what is going on. Most worryingly, in the absence of a remote control shut-off device, no one has satisfactorily explained how the volcanic flow of hot oil into the Gulf of Mexico from some 5,000ft beneath the waves can be stopped. BP seems literally out of its depth. The booms it has placed in the Gulf to contain the slick and stop the oil from reaching the coast have not worked, possibly because they were placed too far out to sea, where high waves have rolled over them. It could be weeks or even months before a cap is installed or the flow diverted, by which time the spillage will have far exceeded the eleven million gallons that Exxon Valdez released off Alaska. It will be miraculous if the waters of the Gulf, from which the United States extracts 40 per cent of its seafood, do not suffer long-term devastation.

While BP faces immediate questions, alongside huge bills, the buck must not be allowed to stop with the company. President Obama has announced that he is halting new off-shore drilling projects unless rigs have safeguards to prevent similar disasters from occurring. But Americans will surely want to know why those safeguards were not there to start with, given Deepwater Horizon's highly sensitive location, only a few dozen miles from as environmentally a precious area as the Mississippi River Delta. Oil companies will always lobby aggressively for the right to explore as widely as possible and under as few conditions as they can get away with. It is for politicians to reconcile those ambitions with public and environmental safety. The inquiry into who nodded this rig through and why must go all the way from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi to Washington itself.

With oil still surging into the Gulf, in ever increasing quantities, it may sound premature to talk of lessons that need to be learned in future. But we must assume that the flow will be stopped somehow and at some point, after which the public in America and elsewhere hopefully will start drawing some conclusions about where the relentless hunt for cheap oil is leading. It should be transparent to everyone by now that the addiction of all our economies to oil is what is ultimately driving the demand for exploration into ever deeper and riskier environments.

Of course, improved safety standards for rigs are crucial, and must be insisted on and adhered to – but if their introduction is not accompanied by a more consistent drive to reduce our dependence on oil, they alone will not be enough to save us from similar disasters.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?