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David Bernstein
David Bernstein
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Are Some Oil Companies Putting Profits Before Safety?

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Devastating Gulf Oil Spill
Oil serves a critical function in our society. If extracted properly, oil can be very beneficial. The problem occurs however, when oil companies place profits ahead of safety. When oil companies arrange their priorities in that order, the health of the environment and countless people is placed in jeopardy. The recent devastating Gulf Oil spill is a prime example. Corporations and companies like BP, Transocean and Halliburton made decisions that were intended to save time and money, but doing so created an unreasonable amount of risk. Those risks ultimately resulted in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

These entities have substantial financial arsenals at their disposal which allows them to pay substantial fines and continue to survive. But things recently became more complicated for them. As a result of their actions and the findings of a presidential commission who investigated the spill, they could be hit with criminal charges that would add significant fines in addition to those they already face. Moreover, these corporations may also be subjected to punitive damages for the people they injured. So how serious is the potential liability and could this disaster happen again?

Commission and Panels Findings
The presidential commission and other panels concluded in their investigation that decisions intended to save time and money created an unreasonable amount of risk that triggered the April 20 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and led to the oil spill. The panel said another similar disaster could happen again without significant reforms by industry and government.

Potential Culpability
"The evidence of negligence is too compelling and the harm is too great," said David Uhlmann, former chief of environmental crimes at the Justice Department. "The Justice Department is likely to believe that BP, Transocean and Halliburton were negligent and should be criminally charged. There’s no question about that."

Another attorney noted however, that that the commission blamed government regulators in its report, which could mitigate culpability of the companies. The panel also determined that the mistakes were the result of systemic problems, not necessarily the fault of any one individual. That means that ultimately, after all is said and done, no one may go to prison for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Investigation Ongoing
The Justice Department investigation is still ongoing and the extent of criminal liability is yet to be determined. One thing is clear however, the consequences of the spill are not going unnoticed. "We continue to aggressively investigate the causes of the spill, and will examine all evidence and facts that may be relevant to that investigation and all parties potentially responsible for the spill," Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said.

Those responsible for the disastrous oil spill should have to face the consequences. Whether those consequences involve criminal charges or punitive damages remains to be determined. Yet, while a serious financial hit could potentially cripple some of these entities, there is an even bigger issue at hand. These entities could very well survive a financial hit, but another oil spill of this magnitude could create unimaginable hardship for people and the environment. That is why it is so critical, that those involved in this disaster learn from what happened and implement wholesale reforms. If they don’t we could be facing this same situation, or worse, in the future.