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Ethical Report on the BP Oil Spill

by Andrew Schen

The BP Oil Spill was an environmental disaster. The BP Oil Spill, or Deepwater Horizon oil spill, affected residents, colleagues and communities surrounding the Gulf of Mexico. It was brought about by a gas leak and an explosion in the oil rig, after which hydrocarbons leaked into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days before it was sealed. A total of 11 people died, and hundreds of families and wildlife were affected (BP, 2012). There are several ethical issues surrounding this, and these shall be discussed in this paper.

The BP oil company has refused independent scientists access to the oil spill in order to accurately measure the rate at which the oil spill is still leaking. BP spokesman Tom Mueller said that it would hinder response efforts if such scientists were allowed access. The question here is, how exactly does accurately measuring the rate at which the oil spill still leaks prove detrimental to response efforts? If we do not know the extent of the damage, then how do we know how best to respond?

Even more baffling is how the Obama administration has failed to act on the requests of the press to gain access to the site. The government could, of course, have its reasons for failing to do so, but in its bid for transparency, the public ought to know these reasons. This raises another ethical question of how much information should the government and a public company disclose to the public. Another question is raised as to whether it is ethically correct for BP to restrict access to the spill site in order to preserve its image (Malik, 2010). Another question is at what point is it alright for the government to intervene in order to ensure that the public gains enough information about the oil spill.

Additionally, legal protection for the wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico is not comprehensive. It does not cover all of the wildlife and, consequently, poses no fines for harming the wildlife not covered there. As of late, only wildlife in the interest of humans are protected. Another ethical question is raised here about providing laws that protect the animals themselves and not in conjunction with human property.

Furthermore, BP seems to be pointing fingers when it comes to liability for the oil spill. They said that Transocean, the rig owner and Halliburton, which is the company that constructed the concreate casing that sealed the well, are the true culprits behind the oil spill. Instead of blaming others, BP could have expressed sorrow and regret for what happened. They could also have worked in team with Transocean and Halliburton to assuage the disaster. Legally speaking, they should have focused more on the liability for the disaster instead of washing their hands off (Yanke, 2010).

It is not the first time that the BP company has had to handle ethical and legal violations. According to Mauer and Tinsley (2010), “over the past two decades, BP subsidiaries have been convicted three times of environmental crimes in Alaska and Texas, including two felonies. It remains on probation for two of them.” It is also in legal court disputes over safety violations and has received the largest ever fine for willful work safety violations in US history. Clearly, BP is not new to this, but the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is its biggest threat yet. The company has also pleaded guilty of violating the Clean Air Act and was fined $50M and sentenced to 3 years probation.

Lastly, an ethical issue has been raised as to how such a large company supplying fossil fuel is indirectly affecting the environment due to the emissions that are produced when its fossil fuels are burned. BP has to do more to resolve the ethical issues at hand although it claims that they cannot do this single-handed (Mallenbaker.net, 2007).

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is not minor. It is the largest one in US history. Questions as to accountability, transparency and public governance.

BP. (2012). Deepwater horizon accident. Web. Retrieved from http://www.bp.com/sectiongenericarticle800.do?categoryId=9036575&contentId=7067541
Malik, S. (2010). Ethical questions surrounding the BP oil spill. Web. Retrieved from http://blog.practicalethics.ox.ac.uk/2010/06/ethical-questions-surrounding-the-bp-oil-spill/
Mallenbaker.net. (2007). Corporate social responsibility- companies in the news BP. Web. Retrieved from http://www.mallenbaker.net/csr/CSRfiles/bp.html
Mauer, R. and Tinsley, AM. (2010). Gulf oil spill: BP has a long record of legal, ethical violations. Web. Retrieved from http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/05/08/93779/bp-has-a-long-record-of-legal.html
Yanke, G. (2010). BP’s Gulf oil spill: where ethics and legal advice collide. Web. Retrieved from http://www.oilspillnews.net/oil-spill-claims/bps-gulf-oil-spill-where-ethics-and-legal-advice-collide-the/

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