Thursday, 10 June 2010

The media resorts to absurdity to draw our attention from reality

A lot has been made in the news lately of Barack Obama's "attacks" on BP. Some, such as the ever-deplorable Daily Mail, have gone so far as to refer to them as "anti-British." Not only is this clearly nonsense, it shows just how much media coverage of the Gulf Sea Oil Spill is trying to reduce an environmental quagmire to a political slanging match.

Boris Johnson has said that Obama's words have become "a matter of national concern." Norman Tebbit has called Obama's conduct "despicable," and called it "a crude, bigoted, xenophobic display of partisan political presidential petulance against a multinational company." Meanwhile, the BBC reports that "BP shares have continued to trade lower as attention turns to the possible impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on the UK's image in the US."

The clear message is that the reputation of a multinational corporation is what matters most in this whole saga.

The environmental disaster is just a side-show. The deaths of the workers on the oil rig are an embarrassing inconvenience. More important is the little-known fact that one can be "bigotted" and "xenophobic" against a corporation, and the fact that the market is suffering as a result.

In an attempt to claw back some perspective, I once again quote the excellent Trial by Fire blog;
It should come as no surprise that the company bankrolling this disaster, BP spent $3,650,000 in lobbying expenses in 2006 alone, no doubt to influence regulations. The company is one of the largest oil corporations in the world.

According to Beyond Petroleum (formerly British Petroleum, or BP), the rig was drilling 18,000 feet down to get to pockets of gas and oil under pressure when it caught fire.

The rig reportedly lacked a last-ditch safety valve, an “acoustic switch,” that could have potentially averted the massive oil spill. Such safety mechanisms are common in many oil rich countries around the world, but are not mandated in the U.S. because of their high cost.

A History of Neglect:

In 2006, BP pleaded guilty to felony charges after an explosion at their facility in Texas City, Texas, killed 15 workers and injured 170 others.

Carolyn Merritt, chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, told reporters while investigating the Texas explosion that:
“[These] things do not have to happen. They are preventable. They are predictable, and people do not have to die because they’re earning a living,”
She was right. Investigators at the sight found problems everywhere:
“There were three key pieces of instrumentation that were actually supposed to be repaired that were not repaired. And the management knew this… They authorized the startup [of the machinery which exploded] knowing that these three pieces of equipment were not properly working.”
Despite Bp’s own rules to the contrary, they had parked trailers full of workers in an open area right next to the broken machinery. At the mandatory safety meeting that morning, management didn’t once mention the dangerous procedure that would soon be taking place.

One worker, scared for his safety, wrote his supervisor: “the equipment is in dangerous condition and this is not taken seriously.” Another wrote “this place is set up for a catastrophic failure.”

But management in London didn’t listen, and the company flourished as a result. BP made a profit of $19 billion that year.

Nearly a year afterwards, the company again faced controversy when it was discovered that one of their pipelines had leaked nearly 4,800 barrels of oil into the Alaskan wilderness. The leak was caused by the company’s refusal to check its expansive pipelines in Prudhoe Bay.

In a leaked memo, inspection and quality-assurance specialist Bill Herasymiuk warned BP’s corrosion, inspection, and chemical team warned of an impending “catastrophe” if practices in the company were not changed.

Sure enough, four years after it was instructed to inspect it, BP found that a six-mile length of pipeline was corroded.
This is the real issue here. Not to mention the incomparable human misery wrought by oil companies such as BP and other multinationals worldwide in the pursuit of profit.

No matter how much the media tries to make us, we should never forget that.