BP Five Years Later: Five Reasons Why It Could Happen Again Tomorrow

On April 20, five years will have passed since the BP disaster that killed 11 workers and grew into the worst U.S. environmental disaster in history. Another disaster of the magnitude of the BP crisis could happen again tomorrow. Here’s why:

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1. BP’s CEO Got Just a Slap on the Wrist


TV footage of executives being perp walked into the police station always gets people’s attention. The point is to deter other potential wrongdoers. That didn’t happen with the BP disaster. Yes, BP’s CEO at the time, Tony Hayward, was shipped to Siberia (literally) and later fired. But he wasn’t handcuffed and thrown in jail for killing 11 people. In fact, no BP executives were. (Two well site BP managers are still dealing with manslaughter charges, but the boardroom execs who created the profits-over-safety culture got off scot-free.)

2. Profit-Driven Culture Remains


One of the prime causes for the disaster, a government task force found, was that BP cut corners on safety to save money. Recent incidents indicate the company's mindset hasn't changed much. In February, BP was called out by union workers at its Whiting, Indiana, refinery for unsafe understaffing, excessive overtime and relying on outside contractors who are not as familiar with the plant as they should be. And last year, the same refinery spilled up to 1,638 gallons of crude oil into Lake Michigan.

3. Government Safeguards Not in Place


Another key cause of the BP disaster was a lack of government safety regulation and oversight. Yet since the disaster, the government has enacted just two new drilling regulations (in 2010 on well casings and in 2012 on the cementing of wells). A third, regarding blowout preventers, was proposed this week –five years after the disaster.

Accidents are still happening. The Black Elk Energy rig ignited in 2012, killing four. A natural gas well blowout in 2013 leaked gas into the Gulf of Mexico for two days.

5. BP Riding High


Although BP’s reputation may have taken a hit, the company is riding high. BP is the largest leaseholder in the Gulf. It has more leases for drilling in the Gulf now than five years ago. And it is a major supplier of oil for the Pentagon.

Last March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lifted its suspension of BP and its subsidiaries from federal contracts. Five days later, the Department of Interior opened a new round of bids for oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. BP won 24 of the 31 oil drilling leases in that auction.

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