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Does the BP Guilty Plea End the Matter of the Gulf Disaster?

BP Guilty of Manslaughter in Death of 11 Rig Workers; Agrees to Pay $4.5 Billion

On November 15, two BP employees pled guilty to manslaughter charges relating to the deaths of 11 people on the doomed Deepwater Horizon oil rig that spawned the worst oil disaster in U.S. history in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast.

A federal indictment unsealed in New Orleans last week claims BP well site leaders Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine acted negligently in their supervision of key safety tests performed on the rig before the explosion.

The indictment says Kaluza and Vidrine failed to phone engineers onshore to notify them of problems in the drilling operation.

The men who lost their lives on the rig were Jason C. Anderson, 35; Aaron Dale Burkeen, 37; Donald Clark, 49; Stephen Ray Curtis, 39; Roy Wyatt Kemp, 27; Karl D. Kleppinger Jr., 38; Gordon L. Jones, 28; Keith Blair Manuel, 56; Dewey A. Revette, 48; Shane M. Roshto, 22, and Adam Weise, 24.

Another indictment charges David Rainey, who was BP's vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico, on charges of obstruction of Congress and false statements.

The indictment claims the former executive lied to federal investigators when they asked him how he calculated a flow rate estimate for BP's blown-out well in the days after the April 2010 disaster.

The U.K.-based oil giant also agreed to pay the largest fine in U.S. history - a total of $4.5billion settlement with authorities for claims relating to the spill.

BP will pay the fine over six years after reaching a deal with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Does this end the matter of BP’s outrageous behavior in the Deep Horizon oil spill? Not from an ethical point of view. Let’s reexamine some of the facts.

Oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from the Macondo well for 87 days before it was finally capped.

Some 68,000 square miles of the gulf were at one time covered in oil slick, about the area of Oklahoma.

More than 6,000 seabirds, 600 turtles and 500 dolphins were found dead as a result of the spill.

Many dolphins are still being found sick from apparent oil contamination and zooplankton have recently found to show traces of oil, as well.

I’ve seen the television commercials funded by BP; how they claim to have acted responsibly and that the Gulf states have recovered from the disaster  and tourism is up.  

From an ethical perspective, BP’s statements show a glaring lack of remorse for the company’s actions. Here is a sample:

“We believe this resolution is in the best interest of BP and its shareholders,” said Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP chairman. “It removes two significant legal risks and allows us to vigorously defend the company against the remaining civil claims.”

BP’s response is what we call ethical legalism. This is where an individual or company equates their action with whether it follows the law. The problem is ethical behavior occurs at a higher level. The law sets a minimum standard for ethical behavior – violate it and you will be punished. Ethical people go beyond and ask: How might I act in the best interests of those affected by my actions.

BP’s response to the disaster was slow and wanting. Only after all the negative publicity did they own up to their mistake. Now, they are trying to play the role of a socially responsible company because they agreed to settle legal matters and justify it from a “legal risk” perspective, not ethical behavior.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on November 21, 2012