Last week Geoff Morrell, a senior executive at BP, wrote an opinion piece for Politico, which perpetuated the continuous tone deafness exhibited by the global oil giant since their Macondo well blew out on April 20, 2010, instantly killing 11 men, injuring many other crew members and, lest we forget, flowing an estimated 5 million barrels of oil and untold natural gas over a period of 87 days. During that 87-day period, BP managed to avoid capturing (and measuring) the total flow from the well, even though they had vessels and equipment on site to do so. Who knows why; we do know this, though -- environmental fines are based on volume of oil spilled. BP has argued that, since total flow rate was never measured we have no way of calculating the volume. To this day the company disputes the US government's estimate of 4.2 million barrels spilled into the Gulf, arguing that it was half that. Obfuscating the volume is especially critical to BP today since federal judge Carl Barbier ruled in September that the company was guilty of gross negligence, which will cause the environmental fines to multiply to as much as an estimated $18 billion should the government's spill estimate stick.
Morrell also made a surprising "our-crude-ain't-all-that-bad" assertion, claiming that Louisiana light sweet oil "biodegrades and evaporates faster" than other crude oils. It is indeed true that when crude is subject to air, heat, sea water and sunlight, some of the lighter hydrocarbon elements do indeed evaporate and biodegrade; however, Morrell omitted the fact that what is left behind is a toxic peanut butter-like emulsion that is almost impossible to skim off the water or clean off the beaches. He also ignores the fact that studies have shown that much of the oil spilled in deep water never comes to the surface. Opinions vary widely about what happens to that oil over the long term, but some scientists fear ongoing damage to sea life by oil entrained in the deep water column. Morrell's argument eerily echoes former BP CEO Tony Hayard's statement at the height of the crisis in 2010 that the spill was "tiny" compared to the Gulf of Mexico which is "a big ocean." Have they learned nothing?
Finally, Morrell claimed that the decline in the Gulf oyster population was likely due to fresh water from the Mississippi and flooding in 2011, not the millions of barrels of oil in the water and oil emulsion that was spread in the Gulf. He also claims that there are many other negative impacts on the Gulf coast. To be fair, that is certainly true, but much of it is man-made, caused by oil and gas drilling activities, dredging and redirecting natural water flows which have caused erosion of the protective Mississippi River delta, making the damage from hurricanes even greater. However, that doesn't acquit BP of anything. It just highlights the desperate need for us as a society to move to a more responsible and more sustainable use of our natural resources. We need to ask ourselves: Why we are out in the deep water drilling in depths of over 5,000 feet on the edge of technology to quench our thirst for oil? Is there a better way? Certainly there is.
Perhaps, rather than placing blame on others and rationalizing it's own culpability, BP would be better served by taking the lead in innovation to develop a safer, more sustainable and certainly cleaner energy future for all of us. Our need for that is fact; not fiction.