Is BP Better than Exxon? Maybe…March 14, 2014
Got a call yesterday from one of those telephone survey companies with scads of questions about the oil industry in general and BP in particular. According to news reports, BP has agreed to a $4.5 billion settlement with the Justice Department for its part in the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Now, BP apparently wants to know how that settlement, along with the fairly aggressive stance it’s been taking against what it deems “frivolous” claims from Gulf residents, is playing elsewhere in the United States.
While I usually avoid telephone surveys, the question of how big energy companies deal with the messes they make is of particular interest to me. The caller and I quickly got into comparisons between BP and Exxon, the company famously responsible for the Alaskan spill caused when the Exxon Valdez ran aground. I gave BP tentatively higher marks than Exxon, and here’s why:
According to ThinkProgress.org, Exxon still hadn’t paid for the environmental damage from the Exxon Valdez spill as of July 2013, and was still fighting the damage claims in court twenty-five years after the accident occurred. ThinkProgress.org reports that the damage to the Alaskan coastline was worse than anticipated, and pockets of oil still linger a foot or two below the surface of the beaches. The fact that Exxon spent decades seeking to avoid paying for a full cleanup is, in my opinion, appalling.
BP has an opportunity to do better. Although the settlement resolves only the criminal charges against the company – civil charges are still pending, and the damages reportedly could go as high as $21 billion – it also calls for BP to put better safety and corporate ethics controls in place. This is BP’s chance to become a leader in its industry by reforming its operations, taking responsibility for the massive damage it inflicted on the Gulf and its residents, and making real reparations. Will BP do it? Only time will tell.
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