Contra Costa Times: Accountability for oil rig disaster

November 23, 2012 

Excerpted from Monday's Contra Costa Times:

We are thrilled to hear reports that oil giant BP is preparing to accept criminal responsibility for the 2010 deaths of 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that was responsible for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

According to those reports, BP has agreed to pay $4.5 billion in restitution and fines for the release of nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It was the largest criminal penalty ever levied by the U.S. Justice Department, and there should be more penalties to come.

BP has said it will plead guilty to one felony count of obstruction of Congress, stemming from false information it gave about the rate that oil was leaking from the well, and 11 felony counts of "seaman's manslaughter" relating to the deaths aboard Deepwater Horizon. As part of the plea agreement, the company admits that its workers were negligent when they misinterpreted a key well safety test. That misinterpretation, along with other missteps, caused the rig to spew oil into the gulf.

Perhaps equally important is that three former BP employees were charged last week by a federal grand jury with felonies in the incident, two of them for allegedly failing to carry out a critical safety test properly.

That seems wholly appropriate considering the loss of life and the resulting devastation to the seafood and tourism industries, suffered billions of dollars of damage along the entire Gulf Coast. Neither industry has yet fully recovered. It seems right to us that someone face criminal charges.

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