We’re approaching the third anniversary of two major disasters in U.S. history – both claiming undistinguished titles.
First, on April 5, 2010, at a coal mine in West Virginia, twenty-nine miners lost their lives when an explosion ripped through the Upper Big Branch mine. The tragedy was the worst coal mine disaster in four decades in the United States. Fifteen days later, another explosion occurred on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven men died in the explosion, which began the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s effect on the environment may take decades to assess.
Forty lives lost and record-making disasters in the same month in 2010 have something else in common.
Both could have been prevented.
It didn’t take long for investigators to determine that policies at both BP – the company running the oil rig – and Massey – the company that owned Upper Big Branch – played at role in the unsafe conditions that caused both disasters.
The Wall Street Journal reported on February 26, 2013, that the Justice Department found “a last-minute conversation between BP engineer on the rig and onshore . . . showed that the oil giant [BP] acted with gross negligence.”
BP runs television commercials that encourage tourists to the states impacted by their oil spill. They’ve also agreed to pay $30 billion in fines, settlements, and clean up costs. They’ve paid out $4 billion in criminal suits for charges as high as manslaughter, which gives the oil spill another distinction for paying out the largest settlement in U.S. history.
Deepening the burnish on the behemoth company, the U.S. government has suspended BP from any new federal contracts because of its “lack of business integrity.”
Yet former CEO Tony Hayward walked away with no charges filed against him, and BP’s shareholders barely felt a blimp on investments in a company intent on increasing profits at the cost of human lives. Something tells me BP is hardly unique or record-setting in that department. They were simply the ones who were caught – and the money and advertising are simply the price to pay.
CEO Don Blankenship headed up Massey Energy at the time of the coal mine explosion. His arrogance during the aftermath angered many. He eventually stepped down eight months and many disastrous press conferences later.
Now a former employee of a Massy subsidy has implicated Blankenship. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported recently that many of the families of the victims wanted justice in the form of prosecution of the former CEO who at one time even went so far as to suggest the miners were responsible for their own deaths.
Three years ago, forty men lived their lives and worked grueling jobs miles offshore on a rig or underground and in a mine shaft. By the end of April 2010, forty men paid the price for bringing fossil fuels out of the earth. They did their jobs based on the rules and regulations followed by the company.
They didn’t know they were risking their lives by following orders.
The prosecution of the men sitting at the top of the heap making the big decisions and reeling in the big paychecks and bonuses will never bring justice. Justice means the dead men would be home for Easter dinner.