Have BP Execs Committed Manslaughter?

I thought the comment that reader Elizabeth Fullerton sent in response to a little status thing I posted on my Facebook page (“Tony “Backwards Pedaller” Hayward: Your conscience called. It hates you.”) was worth posting here. In response to my Hayward gibe, Elizabeth wrote:

I can’t send links from my phone, but there is a great article at the Center for Public Integrity, dated May 16. [That article is here.]  The article reports that BP was cited for 97% of the OSHA violations from the entire industry. And these are not nuisance fines, either. For context, serious violations (which is the third level down, after “willfully egregious” and “egregious”) consist of conditions resulting in a PROBABILITY of death or serious injury.

Regardless of political viewpoint, this proves that BP committed manslaughter. They were aware of  the risks, and decided that American lives were worth less than their bottom line. In an American courtroom, that is called depraved indifference.

The oil spill was no simple accident. It points to a corrupt corporate culture, and a complete systemic failure. The only way to fix it is to start at the top. Guilty of direct responsibility or not, this time the baby should go out with the bath water.

The posturing of the BP CEO and COO is even more infuriating because it is so half-hearted. I’ve worked on Wall Street, as well as for UBS, Goldman Sachs, and Citibank, among others. I know they lie. For that kind of money, though, one really expects better acting. It’s as if Hayward thinks so little of the U.S. government and public that he can’t even be bothered to put on a decent performance.

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  • This is my blogpost about this tragedy:


  • venice1

    I disagree with her premise. I think it might be legally construed as involuntary manslaughter but even that would be stretching the law. I sincerely doubt that the BP CEO wants anyone to be harmed while working for his company and that "… Hayward thinks so little of the U.S. government and public that he can’t even be bothered to put on a decent performance." The simple fact is they were negligent, people tragically died, the gulf region physically suffers beyond the worst case scenario for years to come, the region and the nation's economy takes a trillion dollar hit and the Republicans seek to politically capitalize once again. Nothing has changed since the industrial age in this country. BP needs to be held accountable even if it takes multiple decades, all of their profits and assets and their eventual demise. We'll see if those Red States surrounding the Gulf region change their tune once they realize that the enemy is not us but the embracement of a laissez faire ideology perennially promoted by those that retain power and wealth along with a healthy appetite for selfishness and spite for others.

  • To be fair, though, Fullerton did say that it was as if Hayward thinks so little of the U.S. government … " Which is a long way from claiming he actually does feel that way. That "as if" is everything here.

    Also, she didn't say anything one way or another about Hayward's feelings, which are apropos of nothing. All she said, really, is what you affirmed: that BP was negligent. The real question is, were the executives of BP criminally negligent? Fullerton seems to think they are, citing as evidence that they clearly knew the risks at hand, and went ahead anyway. And you seem to agree that it's possible that they are, in fact, criminally liable. So … you don't actually seem to disagree with her at all?

    Anyway, the whole thing is so awful it's almost a wonder anyone can talk about it at all. I haven't seen people this upset about anything since Vietnam.

  • But … you saw where I pointed to the fact that she said "it's as if Hayward…"? I mean … ?

    Anyway. Righto.

  • Appalachiana

    I think Kurt Vonnegut hit the nail on the head in his book Galapagos. The planet would be better off if he had smaller brains and no thumbs. Is the Gulf evidence that we are bound to wind up living in a miserable cesspool brought on by greed, a lust for power, and self-indulgence? How sad to think that we seem to be witnessing the rapid approach of the death of this beautiful planet and that the Gulf disaster takes us one giant step closer to the brink of destruction. It is that bad.

  • venice1

    Agree. But I think that the implying in this case is a bit too clever and in fact deems one guilty of the accusation. Both sides, BP and the US government, need to raise their level of awareness, exposure and come up with a sane solution. This is a classic example of what happens when deregulation is advocated by corporate interests. What's so hard to understand about their mantra, "Profit Trumps All!"?

  • venice1

    I'm not a disciple of the gloom and doom projections and feel that armageddon is the most ignorant myth ever perpetrated. Earth can and will take the worst we can offer it. The human race may perish but our planet's future will be determined by the physical forces of the universe.

  • Hey, Venice. I don't know if you know, but you can reply to each individual comment by hitting the "Reply" you see beneath each one. That way, when you reply to a comment, your reply shows up right underneath that comment, so that people can readily see to whom you're writing.

    Anyway, you're right, of course. Sadly, "Profit Trumps All" seems to be the song too many are singing as they take us all with them over the cliff.

  • Appalachiana

    Are you suggesting, venice1, that the situation in the Gulf is not serious enough to alarm you about the future of life on Earth? Do you believe the serious concerns of the vast majority climatologists, biologists, conservationists, etc. about climate change, the accelerated extinction of species, and catastrophes such as the Gulf oil spill are "doom and gloom projection" mongerings? Is the planet – left barren and without its rich diversity of life – really the Earth we know? The future of a cold, lifeless asteroid is determined by the physical forces of the universe too, but oh my – there is so very much more to this small blue planet.

  • venice1

    This planet is stronger than all of our imaginations put together. It will certainly undergo changes but it will outlive us and evolve until its finality.

  • venice1

    Hitting 'reply' to the comment I'm responding to would certainly help clarify things. I didn't see anyone else in the room at the time. lol. Or maybe the pretty lady quietly standing by distracted me.

  • venice1

    I can't help you with your fears. Maybe that's what God is for.

  • They haven't got us cucarachas yet, so "life on earth" IS an overreaction. We cucarachas haven't even broken a sweat yet. You new mammalian forms may feel a little threatened. This is a great bonanza for petroleum eating microorganisms.

  • Appalachiana

    Keep fiddling, Nero. I'm in awe of your ability to ignore good sense while Rome burns.

  • Appalachiana

    My what nice antennae you have, Don. Are you looking forward to the uncrowded ride on a rock guided by the physical forces of the universe. Yes, you cucarachas will have plenty of elbow room. Nothing to fear there, huh?

  • Appalachiana

    Everyone is upset. You're right. The subject came up with the clerk when I call the cell phone service provider about a bill issue. She lived in Mobile. My Sunday school class was in the dumps over. The custodian who cleans my office mentioned it, sighed deelply, and shook his head as he went about gathering the trash. My friend stopped by for help in drafting a letter to US Citizenship Services and couldn't focus on the task until we'd talked a bit about the spill in the Gulf. Everyone is so sad.

  • venice1

    I concur with most of your response but I still don’t think that, “…Hayward thinks so little of the U.S. government and public…”

  • It is an interesting piece that Ms. Fullerton wrote. I do agree that BP is responsible for this mess, and the tragic loss of life that occurred when the oil well exploded. The attitude displayed by BP executives have been less then remorseful that is certain. However, this one company is not the only player in this tragic play. Other companies were directly involved in the construction, and day to day activities. All had a part in what happened. Members of agencies hired to oversee safety and regulatory maintenance, played a part as they looked the other way instead of making sure these companies stayed complaint. It seemed that these government workers cared more about the perks they got for not doing their jobs, then any ramifications that may occur.

    Finally we the consumer are partially responsible as well. For decades the call has been made to reduce our dependence on oil. For decades that call has been ignored. We haven't loudly enough to make needed, and yet initially expensive changes to our infrastructure so that we don't feel we have to keep drilling in deeper and more dangerous places.

    Although BP is the lead character in this play and likely holds the largest responsibility in fixing the mess made, we all played at least a walk on role. Now we need to stop pointing fingers, arguing about who's at fault, and just repair the damage quickly. Then we need to get serious about making some tough changes so that events like this will never again occur, because we no longer need oil or it's by-products to the extent we do now.

  • Appalachiana

    Outlive us? Hmmmm. Operative word seems to be “live.” A bed-ridden, Alzheimers victim on a ventilator in a burning space ship head for the sun could be said to be alive too I suppose.

  • Appalachiana

    You may “feel that armageddon is the most ignorant myth ever perpetrated,” but failing to consider the possibility that life on Earth may be in deep doodoo, save the cockroaches, is really sticking your head in the sand, Venice. Look out too, there may be a nasty BP tar ball or two down there.

  • Ace

    And yet we've still got congressmen trying to shame the Obama administration for getting BP to set aside money for the *victims* of this disaster. That's the kind of mindset you are working with: congressmen and senators who value business over human welfare, even that of the American citizens they claim to represent.

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks for your spirited feedback. I apologize for not inserting my response directly underneath each appropriate comment, but that feature is not supported by the mobile layout of my cellphone. Since blogging, ghost writing, and preparing his book clearly aren't enough to keep John busy, maybe he'll cut-and-paste them into proper place.

  • Whoa, folks. Be nice.

  • Elizabeth

    @ Venice: I was fully prepared to agree with you. I'm no lawyer and there's plenty of blame to go around. I've been called worse things than "a little too clever." Besides, what's a little hyperbole among friends?

    When I went back to the Center of Public Integrity data, though, I discovered the opposite. My premise is not stated strongly enough.

    In just two and a half years, BP got 862 OSHA citations. That's more than 26 a month, almost one a day. If you factor in weekends, holidays, and maintenance shut-downs, that average skews even higher. By comparison, the runner-up, Sunoco, received 127 citations during that same period.

    The original OSHA investigation was launched because of a BP explosion. In March 2005, 15 workers were killed at its Texas City plant. That means that BP knew its employees were in danger before it five years ago.

    The hierarchy of OSHA violations has 5 levels. The worst are ranked as "willfully egregious" (not egregiously willful as misquoted in my post) and defined as "willful and FLAGRANT." A whopping 760 of BP's violations are clustered in this top tier. Again, by comparison, other refineries' violations are almost entirely in less serious tiers.

    The second tier, "willful", 69 instances, is defined as "INTENTIONAL DISREGARD for employee safety and health." The third tier, "serious", 30 instances, is defined as a "SUBSTANTIAL PROBABILITY of death or serious injury."

    Flagrant. Egregious. Intentional disregard. Substantial. Those aren't my words — those are OSHA's.

    In addition, a separate federal oversight committee called the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, independent of OSHA, found BP's safety record rife with "warning signs of possible disaster for several years."

    If a murder charge requires a deliberate plan to kill, and manslaughter is an act that can be reasonably expected to result in death, then how can BP be guilty of anything less than manslaughter?

  • Elizabeth

    @ Sylvie Galloway: You make a valid point. There is enough guilt for us each to have a slice. I've seen a lot of anger pointed at ourselves and our government for letting this happen.

    The interesting thing to me is that at least two entities, OSHA and the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, DID sound an alarm. They investigated conditions industry-wide after the 2005 BP explosion and reported a litany of problems in unambiguous language.

    The problem is that OSHA and the USCSB do not have the authority to kick-start compliance. Nickle-and-diming a multi-billion dollar company is not a proportional response. We should put teeth in the protections we already have before we go back to square one.

    That said, I'm so over people accusing the government of complicity or worse. Were important opportunities missed? Yes. Should the appropriate agencies clean house? Sure. But the police aren't to blame for the actions of a murderer, and OSHA is not responsible for the crimes BP committed.

    The same goes for the often-heard sentiment that the American public shoulders the blame alongside BP. We are addicted to oil. Even if you live car-free and buy locally, as I do, we've learned that some luxuries we take for granted come at too high a price. But if we are addicts, BP is the pusher. Addicts go to rehab. Pushers go to jail.

    Americans have a case of Stockholm syndrome. We are so traumatized that we are identifying with our captors. Go ahead, take steps to improve your reliance on oil, but keep your eye on the ball. Don't let politics and guilt split your focus. We know who the criminals are.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    It will take a Revolution in the way we live our lives, but "don't you know, it's gonna be… all right."

    (Ms. Galloway, below, has got the right idea.)

    I trust that such a bleak scenario as you present is not man's fate. I can't know for certain, but it seems to me that whenever before some society of man has faced impending total annihilation, they inevitably came together eventually to do whatever they had to to survive–if survival were even possible, which it sometimes wasn't, especially if the threat to one's society is yet another human society. But here the threat is really just ourselves. And we'll have to overcome ourselves eventually. As John Shore has touched on before (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2009/10/19/blame-god-or-look-in-the-mirror-your-choice/), we human beings have the capacity ourselves to solve issues of global proportions—to change the planet not only for the worse but for the better. But it’s easy not to tap that potential when it’s always someone else's problem. Eventually, though, if unresolved, this will get to the point that it becomes everyone's problem. I'm sure it won't be too late to do anything about it then, because the human race is cleverer than that. Where there's a will, there's a way.

    As Christians say, "Faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains." And I believe it will. As Mandaeans say, "Life is victorious." And I believe it will be. So far, all of human history seems to be on our side: His Truth is marching on. All we have to do is get out there and join the parade, which you're already doing by spreading the word of the dire consequences of status quo.

    Oh, and LOL about the BP tar ball in the sand hole and the Alzheimers victim on the spaceship! Excellently imaginative creativity.

  • Elizabeth

    @ Appalachiana: This catastrophe DOES seem to profoundly affect all of us. Part of it is the interminable pace. Two months in and we're still mere inches closer to a solution. It's like watching a snuff film in slow-motion. Death creeps closer but you can't look away. You're helpless. You can't hear the screams, but you know they're there, and every minute you see more clearly how it ends.

    Our response as also a little gratifying. We are so numb to violence and death most of the time. I fight nausea when I see a creature plucked from the Gulf, so mired in oil it can't even sit up, but I give thanks for that feeling. I SHOULD feel sick. If I'm not nauseated by what's happening, then I'm not awake.

    I know other Christians like Venice whose faith keeps them positive about our planet's fate. In fact, a similar debate led to the first draft of my original blog post. (Kristen and Dan: See what you got me into this time?)

    I would never dare "correct" someone else's faith. It's one of my core beliefs: no one made me God's mind reader. But religious or not, I think we are meant to be stewards of this planet. We are supposed to help those too weak to do it for themselves. If you believe the earth is resilient, does that mean we have to test it? If you abandon a toddler at a busy intersection, does that show your faith? If not, how is your responsibility to that baby different from yours to other helpless creatures?

    Now that I've agreed that this is depressing, Appalachiana, let me share something — well, better. Dan and Kristen soon forwarded me another article. "Lessons Learned from the Largest Oil Spill in History" was posted on CNN.com June 4. It describes the phenomenal recovery of wildlife in Kuwait. Iraqis left massive destruction behind, opening pipelines to spew into the sea at maximum capacity for months. To everyone's surprise, the area has almost completely bounced back, years earlier than expected. Some plants and animals are at pre-war levels.

    It's only a spark of hope, but maybe that's all we get.

  • Elizabeth

    @ Matthew Tweedell: You elevate every discussion in which you take part. Thanks for supplying the big picture, religiously speaking.

  • Matthew Tweedell

    Thank you for your encouraging words, Elizabeth. I always enjoy your comments as well (and I'm not just saying that to be polite)!

  • Appalachiana

    I do enjoy hearing violins play. And where there's fire, there's opportunity for roasted marshmallows. I didn't mean to be un-nice really, just smart-assed.

  • Appalachiana

    Thanks for saying kind things and wanting to offer hope.

  • Appalachiana

    Thanks Elizabeth.

  • Elizabeth

    @ Venice (#6 at 5:44): One of the big surprises in the Center of Public Integrity article pertains to this. The complaint that deregulation necessarily ensures companies will think only of the bottom line just isn’t true.

    23 U.S. refineries that normally would have submitted to the OSHA inspection were given a free pass. Why? Because they had already voluntarily enrolled in a program with rules that exceeded those imposed by OSHA. It’s almost unbelievable: 23 companies conformed early to tougher standards.

    Maybe there’s a mundane explanation. Or, just maybe, there are still some companies that prefer to do the right thing the first time around.

  • Dan

    This is my first post here so here goes. I am Dan that Elizabeth was referring to! I was originally against people blaming BP for everything at the beginning. As more has come out now ,however I have changed my views.I still disagree with some of the almost childish facebook groups like plug the hole with BP execs or Sarah Palin. How can any intelligent person think creating yet another hate group is going to solve anything? My stance is now that BP has hidden things and broken policies and probably laws and needs to be held accountable. I think the 20 billion slush fund O is trumpeting is a bunch of CRAP! If they do not do something different with he relief wells, then they will just be putting another hole in the ocean floor. I do think this technology is beyond anyone’s current capacity as admitted to by all the execs in Congress this week. I feel bad for the Retirees in Britain but they are suffering the same way our auto retirees have . It is the state of the world economy! I am really questioning at this point if we can stop it in the near future. I feel the fact it will probably overwhelm all our resources needs to be addressed and how we get along with a polluted ocean and gulf. We need to pray I feel because as a Christian I do believe God holds all the answers.Hopefully the one who can solve this problem was not the victum of an abortion years ago?? My touch a nerve there! IN any case I will be watching the latest with great interest and praying!!

  • Venice…what if that ‘finality’ of which you speak is sitting on the horizon, staring us in the face!

  • Elizabeth

    Believe it or not, I've received a couple of concerned emails. Rest assured, I have never seen a snuff film in slow or any other motion. I think I read a Bret Easton Ellis novel that briefly described one once. I avert my eyes at the slightest suggestion of screen violence. I cannot even watch the puppies behind chain link fences in the ASPCA commercials.

    I used that analogy because it was the only thing that suggested the vile, perverse transgression I feel when I see the Gulf footage. I also do not advocate doing mean things to babies.

  • Elizabeth

    No, the John Shore crowd doesn't waste a lot of energy on pro forma politeness, does it.

  • Elizabeth

    It's the first time I've ever guest blogged, so believe it when I say, thank YOU for keeping the conversation going.