Lax government regulation allowed BP to lower safety and maintenance standards in an inane cost cutting measure. The Bush and Obama administration cultivated a “deep water oil rush” by stressing “self-regulation” and not encouraging the Mineral Management Service (MMS) to adequately inspect rigs created a permissive attitude towards safety (Dickenson, 2010). Permissive regulatory laws helped create a disaster that disproportionally affected already vulnerable poor and minority communities.
The Bush administration used appointees who had little interest in enforcing environmental regulation to capture the MMS, and the Obama administration did little to restore the MMS. Both administrations subsidized Gulf deepwater drilling and provided a low liability cap to secure oil for strategic reasons (Gaviria, 2010). During the Bush administration, the interior department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) officials shared cocaine, prostitutes, and vacations with BP officials, according to reports by Interior’s Inspector general (Dickenson, 2010). Oil companies bribed MMS managers to permit risky offshore drilling, MMS managers prevented auditors from investigate risky deals, and oil company officials pre-pencil traced inspector reports (Dickenson, 2010).
Despite the Obama administration’s promise for reforms, little structural reform happened. Salazar fired few corrupt MMS, while increasing offshore drilling (Dickenson, 2010). MMS scientists claimed they lacked the tools to quantify a project’s risk to wildlife, because Bush officials exempted projects from environmental analysis reports and allowed fast-tracked permits (Dickenson, 2010). Self-regulation allowed BP officials to make gross errors on Deepwater Horizon’s permit form (Dickenson, 2010). They deemed a spill unlikely, and claimed a spill would not impact wildlife (Dickenson, 2010). They oddly claimed that walruses and other tundra animals lived in the Gulf, probably due to copy and paste errors (Dickenson, 2010). If MMS enforced the law, they never would have issued Deepwater Horizon a categorical exemption from environmental laws. While enjoying a warm relationship with the executive branch, BP had an abysmal environmental track record, even among oil companies (Gaviria, 2010). EPA and Department of Labor sued BP for the litany of worker safety abuses (Gaviria, 2010).
Captured agencies’ permissive regulation combined with BP’s cost cutting efforts condemned the project as the “nightmare well from hell”(Gaviria, 2010). Deepwater Horizon was over budget by 10 million dollars, so they cut corners and operated below industrial standards (Gaviria, 2010). They bypassed cement bond log test, which saved them 100,000 dollars, cut centralizers that secured the well which saved over 1,000,000 dollars, and they used sea water instead of heavy drilling mud to secure underground gas which saved several million dollars (Gaviria, 2010).
Residual oil disproportionally affects already vulnerable poor and minority communities dependent on their community’s ecological health. National salience focused on the immediate tragedy, but not the long-term effects of oil under sediments so poor local communities have seen a largely slow and anemic government response (Baker, 2013). The interactive effects of racism, erosion, hurricanes, falling seafood prices, and the oil spill have created a heavy burden upon ethnic minority fisherman/women (Baker,2013). For example, black and Asian Americans find themselves receiving fewer but more dangerous oil-cleaning contracts (Wallace, 2011). BP sends most of the clean up effort’s waste to landfills located in predominately black areas (Wallace, 2011). ESL Vietnamese immigrants compose 1/3 of gulf fishermen/women. Language barriers, discrimination, and government distrust prevent them from receiving compensation (Wallace, 2011). BP’s arbitrary money dispersal method created new social cleavages. Shady local power brokers (“spillionares”) overcharged BP for basic services, and gave lucrative contracts to friends, while poor people lacking connections received few contracts (Barker, 2011).
Methodological issues and scientific uncertainty mire a state’s ability to quantify the oil spill’s direct damage and distribute reimbursement to poorer fishermen. Since 2010, crab, shrimp and fish mutations have exponentially increased, especially among seafood with quick reproductive cycles, but extraneous variables make it hard to directly link mutations to the oil spill, especially for poor communities unable to hire researchers (Jamail, 2012). Our presidents helped oil companies more concerned with supply and demand than justice and mercy; this punished our country’s most poor and vulnerable by creating one of the worst environmental disaster in US history.
- Barker, K. ‘Spillionaires’: Profiteering and Mismanagement in the Wake of the BP Oil Spill – ProPublica. ProPublica (2011). Available at: https://www.propublica.org/article/spillionaires-profiteering-mismanagement-in-the-wake-of-the-bp-oil-spill. (Accessed: 28th March 2016)
- Barker, K. Gulf’s Delacroix Islanders Watch As Their World Disappears – ProPublica. ProPublica (2013). Available at: https://www.propublica.org/article/gulfs-delacroix-islanders-watch-as-their-world-disappears. (Accessed: 31st March 2016)
- Dickenson, T. The Spill, The Scandal and the President. Rolling Stone (2010). Available at: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-spill-the-scandal-and-the-president-20100608. (Accessed: 27th March 2016)
- Gaviria, M. PBS Frontline: The Spill. The Spill (2010).
- Jamail, D. Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists – Al Jazeera English. (2012). Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/04/201241682318260912.html. (Accessed: 26th March 2016)
- Wallace, P. E. Environmental justice and the BP oil spill: does anyone care about the small people of color. Mod. Am. 6, 65 (2010).