If the US government is right, just imagine how BP behaves in Angolan waters

The US Justice Department has just filed new court papers citing examples of what it calls "gross negligence and wilful misconduct" by BP over the disastrous oil spill at its Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Richard Lee's picture

Author

Strategic communications for WWF

September 5th, 2012

The US Justice Department has just filed new court papers citing examples of what it calls "gross negligence and wilful misconduct" by BP over the disastrous oil spill at its Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. Savaging BP's actions, US government lawyers state that the "behaviour, words, and actions of these BP executives would not be tolerated in a middling size company manufacturing dry goods for sale in a suburban mall." BP disputes the allegations, asserting that it is happy to fight the matter in court, arguing that there was neither gross negligence nor wilful ignorance involved in its rig gushing 4.9 million barrels of oil into the sea over 87 days - although it has agreed an estimated US$7.8bn settlement with 125,000 individuals and businesses.

But whether or not BP is found guilty of gross neglicence and wilful misconduct - or indeed whether the case even comes to court - there is a very scary question lurking behind this disaster. If this sort of spill can happen in the waters off America - an open, democracy with powerful regulators, a functioning media and civil society, and a constitution that promotes and protects human rights - what are the chances of a similar or worse spill happening on BP's rigs off Angola - a closed society run by a kleptocratic elite with no media freedom, no viable opposition and an almost non-existent civil society? Or indeed on any of the multinational rigs off Angola, whose operations are barely monitored?

And if there is a similar spill, how much more catastrophic will it be - given the lack of any effective emergency plan or sufficient equipment? And the lack of anyone to sound the alarm except the oil companies themselves?

Contacts

  • 1 Hood Avenue/148 Jan Smuts; Rosebank, GP 2196; South Africa
  • T. +27 (0)11 587 5000
  • F. +27 (0)11 587 5099