Gulf oil spill exposes a legal double standard

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Gulf oil spill Pelicans
Heavily oiled Brown Pelicans captured at Grand Isle, Louisiana, on June 3, 2010 wait to be cleaned the Fort Jackson Wildlife Care Center in Buras, LA., as a result of the Gulf of Mexico crude oil spill.  Photo: IBRRC/Flickr

The images of the Gulf Oil Spill caused by the negligence of BP are still fresh in people’s minds. President Obama’s early days in office saw the oil spill take place, and continuous efforts were ongoing to plug the undersea blowout.

At the time, public pressure was on to make an example of BP and to use all the necessary tools to punish the company. It was thought that if a hefty fine was charged, it would usher in a new era of more stringent checks and balances by the oil industry and enhanced self-regulation would help to avoid a re-occurrence.

Fast-forward a few years and it seems that those ideals have been thrown right out the window. Halliburton has been charged with a comparatively small fine of $200,000 by the U.S. Justice Department over its negligence in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Halliburton was the contractor hired by BP in order to carry out harm-reduction and cleanup operations.

The fine was part of a guilty plea deal between the government and Halliburton to keep its house straight in the future and to cooperate with the investigation henceforth. A mandatory contribution of $55 million by the company to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is part of the deal. These agreements guarantee the Justice Department will cease all further investigations into this issue and that no further prosecution will be carried out.

The punishment placed on Halliburton was based purely on the investigation by the Department of Justice, as a difference of opinion between BP and Halliburton had occurred over certain recommendations where different simulations had been run by Halliburton and BP — and as there was not a huge amount of difference between the two recommendations, they were deleted from the record. The process of running the simulation and deleting the records was carried out twice and had not been requested by investigators.

The shocking part of the indictment is not that the disaster had some involvement by an energy conglomerate, but is on account of the destruction of evidence carried out by Haliburton.

There seems to be a cavalier attitude towards the effects it has had on the people who were impacted as a result of the massive spill and the widespread oil slick it spawned, where in the end, 11 people lost their lives and many were injured.

Charges of manslaughter should at least be filed by prosecutors in order to lead to much harsher and some might say fairer,  punishments by judges, so that at the end, some form of accountability may prevail.

There was much hoopla over the Gulf oil spill when it first happened, which now seems to have waned. Let us hope this will not be the case in the law courts.

© Zain Naeem

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