Criminal charges filed against Kurt Mix, a former BP engineer, for destroying records detailing the amount of oil spewing during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 are encouraging. But it’s not enough.
It’s the same thing as arresting petty drug dealer on the streets. Those guys are easy to replace. Visit a local middle school to groom the next replacement. Same thing for replacing an engineer – recruit at any university across the country or world, and there will be thousands of replacements standing in line for the interview.
It’s not so easy to replace the kingpins – those money-dripping lords at the top of the feeding chain, whether it’s drugs or a fossil fuel that’s being pedaled.
BP was quick to distance itself from its former employee; however, the culture created by a corporation such as BP also creates employees who will do anything to save their job. Joel Achenbach in A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea points out that BP regularly gave bonuses to employees who managed to cut costs. Safety be damned.
The Macondo well that blew after the Deepwater oil rig exploded and killing eleven men, had been a problem from its inception. It never should have continued. According to Achenbach, Shane Roshto, one of the workers killed on April 20, told his wife just before leaving for the rig in the Gulf of Mexico, “Mother Nature just doesn’t want to be drilled here.” Roshto was 22 years old.
It’s easy to forget dates as time moves forward, but Deepwater Horizon’s explosion and fire occurred just fifteen days after another fossil fuel disaster. An explosion on April 5, 2010, at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, killed twenty-nine men. Massey was notorious for its violations of mining regulations, but always seemed to get by without paying the price for mining coal no matter the cost to safety. The former superintendent of the mine, Gary May, pleaded guilty in March 2012, to federal conspiracy charges for manipulating the mine ventilation system during inspections. He’s the highest ranking official from Massey charged in connection with the blast. Yet a report released May 2011, blames Massey Energy for the explosion by creating “a culture in which wrongdoing became acceptable.”
The culture that permeates a corporation does not start at the local level. My question: When will the real culprits be criminally charged for the forty lives lost because of corporate disregard for human life in the pursuit of power and profit?
What do you think? Am I being naive? Is it unrealistic to think that if we start punishing the real culprits, the kingpins of industry, we might stop paying such a high price?