Leading article: The polluter is rightly being forced to pay

Share
Related Topics

Some of the corporate costs of the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico are now bubbling up from the depths. Yesterday BP announced a $17bn loss – the largest in British history – and the departure of its chief executive, Tony Hayward.

Does this signal closure for the Deepwater Horizon disaster? The answer has to be no. The Macondo well, which has pumped thousands of tonnes of oil into the Gulf in the past three months, has stopped gushing, but it is still not yet fully fixed. The extent of the environmental damage is still extremely uncertain. And US investigations into the negligence of BP and its commercial partners in the original construction of the well are ongoing.

Meanwhile, it is hard to be confident that BP has drawn the appropriate lessons from this disaster. The signs are that the company's board is removing Mr Hayward not because it recognises that his performance was grossly inadequate, but because of the intense political pressure for him to go in the US. It is widely suspected that Bob Dudley has been chosen as the successor to Mr Hayward primarily for his American accent. And Mr Hayward is apparently being lined up to take over BP's Russian operations. This suggests a reshuffling of management, rather than a new start.

Will BP take issues of safety more seriously in future? We must certainly hope so because the company is about to start drilling in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast at depths even greater than those in which it was operating in the Gulf of Mexico. And have American legislators, who have been so hostile towards BP, joined the dots and understood the urgent need for the US to kick its addiction to oil? The recent suspension of efforts to push a cap-and-trade bill through Congress suggests not.

Yet, despite these reservations, there is still a positive story that can be told about the response to this spill. BP registered yesterday's loss because it is being compelled to pay for the costs of the disaster that it has created. The final compensation and clean-up bill might turn out to be more or less than the $32bn that BP has set aside. But this is a serious sum, even for a vast multinational oil company. The principle that the polluter pays has been upheld. BP has also ceased paying dividends and is selling $30bn of assets over the next 18 months to cover the expected bill. These are not measures any firm takes willingly. And the financial pain should be some incentive (if not an overwhelming one) for the company's management to place a bigger emphasis on safety in future operations. Also, with Mr Hayward's departure, the principle of personal responsibility has been upheld. BP has removed its chief executive grudgingly and perhaps cynically. But it amounts to the acceptance of some sort of personal responsibility nonetheless. The contrast with the official treatment of the insolvent banks two years ago, when virtually no senior heads rolled, is stark.

It is important to recognise that all this has happened, in part, because the White House took a hard line on BP. At times President Barack Obama's rhetoric might have come across as excessive, but it succeeded in forcing BP to face up to its responsibilities.

As for the wider picture, a crucial legacy of this oil spill is the moratorium that the US has imposed on off-shore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. And a spotlight has been shone on the deficiencies of the US regulatory framework in which oil companies operate.

It is premature to judge the overall impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but amid the ecological despoliation and threatened livelihoods, it is possible to discern some encouraging signs of greater corporate and environmental responsibility.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones