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Gulf of Mexico disaster. Who’s responsible?

While talking about British Petrolium, this week in during my CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) classes at Bordeaux Management School, we raised the following issues that I want to share with you.

We have seen in the last year that more and more accidents are taking place in the oil industry. Some catastrophes, such as Total’s oil spill in 1999, the sink of Prestige in 2002 and nowadays the Gulf of Mexico disaster caused by the sank of BP’s exploratory offshore.

The Oil Companies are usually relatively old state owned companies belonging to the past Empires such as United Kingdom, France, and Netherlands… And even tough, nowadays oil companies are in the private sector, many of them are still at least partially stat owned. And where there are exploring and search for petroleum these companies? Well in the former colonies of the Empires. We only have to see were British Petroleum, Total and Shell are present today. Many times this companies (countries governments) are paying local governments to have access at their petroleum resources. The question is: Are the local people of those countries receiving something for the exploitation of their petroleum resources? And all the oil company earnings must be only for the company?

We have seen in the case of Total, whose oil spill stretched 400 km. from La Rochelle to the western tip of the Brittany. Who was to blame in that case, Total or the owner of the ship? By law, in many countries, we can say that the owner of the ship, as it was his responsibility to transport the oil in safety condition to the destination. And what about Total? Is the company responsible of the safety conditions of the ship? Total was declared and declared itself responsible but not guilty. So it received a €375 000 fine and case closed. It would have been possible for the company, as a state owned one to declare itself as guilty? I really think that a government of a country will avoid that, as it will bring problems in the next elections.

And regarding the present issue of Gulf of Mexico catastrophe, the question is Who is responsible?:

  • The company, as BP didn’t employ the sufficient resources and ignored the safety issues of the exploitation.
  • The US government as it gave the permission to BP to exploit the water in search for petroleum, didn’t controlled BP to see if there is any problem and if there was any control the government ignored the problem. US needs oil, and at the lower price as possible.
  • We, and by we I refer at consumers. We created a consumer society, a throw away society. We need petroleum for transport, to produce plastic. It is more and more difficult to find petroleum on earth so companies go to find it in the sea. We all now that someday it will be no more oil on our planet. Do you imagine a world without planes, without cars, without plastic? Every country in this world depends on oil. Do you know one that it doesn’t? So we need petroleum, but we want it at a low price. Hence consumers pressure governments and oil companies to receive oil at a low price. Is it compatible low price with a secure extraction of petroleum? And when we talk about petroleum in the sea and oceans the issue becomes bigger.

So I repeat the question that I raised in the title of this post Who’s responsible for the disaster? And another question will be: Is there any solution? If there is one Which?

Regards,

Vasilica Maria Margalina

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  1. 25/05/2010 en 19:16

    Interesting article. BP, Shell and the big American companies are 100% private and there are big oil companies owned by the governments of Saudi, Russia, China, Brazil, Mexico etc…but I’m not sure this resolves the responsibility issue. Although BP is behaving disgracefully in the Gulf by not sharing the information (the leak may be way bigger than they say) some of these govt companies are worse. Apparently there are continual oil spills in Nigeria and nothing is done. In African countries oil can be a real curse as it just ruins the land and enriches the elite and does nothing for the people. When there is a rich country like Norway or UK they can harness the wealth and ensure some is transferred to the state budget

  2. 25/05/2010 en 19:36

    Thank you Rupert for your comment and the examples. I don’t know much about American comapnies. My CSR professor gave us information about the French company, Total which is still partially state owned. I agree that if oil company owned by the governement does not resolve the responsability issue. In fact in France there were big issues. And Total is exploiting oil in some African countries, its former colonies and there were somo corruption issues. And even it is said that Total was not declared guilty for the oil spill that took place in1999 because it is still owned by the government. And Shell exploits oil in the former colonies of Netherland. And BP, a part from what happened in the Gulf of Mexico, in Canada, in the Rocky Mountains, there is an important issue of deforestation, as BP is searching for oil there.
    But as you say in rich country at least some money is transferred to the state budget, But the issue is that in many cases this money comes from the exploitation of oil in poor countries.
    And I think while we’ll still depending on oil this will not change.

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