Step one: damage the environment. Step two: throw down a large sum of money. Problem solved. In the case of the recent court ruling on British Petroleum (BP)’s involvement in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, this seems to be an accurate statement.
For those who are unaware or need a recap of the proceedings of the incident, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by BP, exploded due to a well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. Millions of barrels of oil covered thousands of square miles along the gulf.
After over five years in court, a decision was finally made. The judge ruled that 3.19 million barrels of oil were discharged into the Gulf of Mexico, which cost BP $5.5 billion under the Clean Water Act alone. BP has agreed to pay a total settlement of $18.7 billion, which includes this fine as well as local government claims, economic claims to affected states, and damages to natural resources. While it may seem like a rightfully huge sum of money, is it necessarily the best way to penalize the company according to the impact the spill had on the environment?
While BP has recognized and acknowledged their loss in the case, the court decision did not have a significant impact on the environmental concerns of the company. In regards to the incident, BP states on their website that that they “acted to take responsibility for the clean-up.” Yet this was contradicted in January 2015 when they attempted to fight against the court decision. If they acknowledged the environmental impact of their spill, they would simply agree with the initial decision rather than say they were not negligent whatsoever.
It is all about following the money. BP loses a portion of their profits, but if this fiscal year is similar to the one outlined in their 2014 annual report, BP will have about $32.8 billion in operating cash flow. The dollar amount of the fine is nothing in comparison to what they are making. By paying an $18.7 billion fine, the company simply clears the legal case against them, while attaching a monetary value onto the environment.
The fine simply does not do justice to the environmental damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It suggests that you can use money to solve any problem. When BP pays, there is nothing more they have to do. The deaths of marine life including dolphins, sea turtles, and birds; the impact on fisheries, coastal wetlands, and shore lines; and the square miles that the oil spill covered — these become nothing more than a slight economic figure.
What about a review of the company’s protocols, or perhaps enforcing a new plan to prevent oil spills? For example, a partnership between BP and the government to educate other companies might be a good idea. In any case, the court decision should have gone beyond money. You can’t really place a monetary value on this kind of damage.