It is clear that British Petroleum has failed to stop the massive oil spill in the Gulf Coast that resulted from the explosion of one of its offshore rigs. For weeks now, the company has attempted several maneuvers to cap the ruptured oil pipe but nothing has worked. The latest attempt that the company had held out hope would stop the flow of crude oil was not successful. As a result, the spill now stands as the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history.
The Obama administration has followed protocol and the law in its oversight of BP, with the President correctly stating that the company is responsible for the physical cleanup as well as the associated costs. In addition, he spoke truthfully, to our knowledge, that the government does not possess the technology to stop the flow of oil that is escaping into the Gulf Coast and connected waterways. Still, the extent of the disaster requires some extraordinary measures that will require the Obama administration to take emergency action to end this nightmare. The deployment of Attorney General Eric Holder to the Gulf Coast signals the administration is pursuing criminal charges against BP. While we believe that there is legitimate reason to do so, our larger concern is the immediate problem – stopping the leak of crude oil and fending off a disaster. No fine, in any amount, will be adequate to compensate for the depths of what is unfolding in the Gulf.
While the government considers its options, consumers should consider theirs. The first is an obvious one, stop buying gasoline at BP stations or using any BP products. The company has stations throughout the country and one of the strongest signals consumers can send to express their outrage over the oil spill is to stop spending money with BP. Stockholders can also use the power of their shares and send the company’s management a strong message, by dumping BP stock, that their response to this crisis is unacceptable. We hope large institutional shareholders, such as public pension funds, will flex their muscles and put the management of the company on notice. The company’s Group Chief Executive, Tony Hayward, has been particularly condescending in his reaction to the environmental damage caused by the leak. His attitude contradicts the Corporate Social Responsibility statement that appears in BP’s annual report: Safety, people and performance are BP’s top priorities. We constantly seek to improve our safety performance through the procedures, processes and training programmes that we implement in pursuit of our goal of ‘no accidents, no harm to people and no damage to the environment’.
This is an incident of historic proportion and a “teaching moment” for Americans. For too long we have scoffed at the idea that our nation needs an alternative energy policy. We have treated oil as some magic elixir and an infinite resource, when nothing could be farther from the truth. For all our uses of oil, it has come with a heavy price. Still, we have refused to change our consumption habits and have behaved as if there was no downside to our petroleum dependency. Like an addict, our nation has been in denial. Perhaps this incident will force us to come to terms with our energy consumption.