On November 15, 2012 the United States Department of Justice revealed that they have reached a settlement with BP regarding criminal fines and penalties associated with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Of the $4 billion settlement, $2.4 billion will go to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) for “ecological restoration projects, while $350 million will go to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences for research associated with oil spill prevention and monitoring.
Although this is exceedingly positive news for these research foundations, one must consider whether this is sufficient deterrence to prevent future wrongdoing by oil giants. Should we accept a monetary settlement in exchange for laying aside criminal charges? The criminal charges involved include 22 counts of negligent manslaughter against Donald Vidrine and Kaluza, former BP drilling managers, and a charge of felony obstruction of justice against David Rainey, a former BP vice president. The charge against David Rainey involves the allegation that he lied to Congress about the amount of oil being spilled into the gulf.
The amount of oil spilled into the Gulf, as well as the impact of the oil dispersant clean-up mechanism used by BP, is a highly controversial topic. Many environmental scientists suggest that substantially more oil was spilled than is officially reported. Furthermore, they suggest that the oil dispersant may have hazardous consequences to both environmental and human health.
Like most controversial topics of this magnitude, it is unlikely that all of the facts will surface unless a full discovery process occurs. Thus one must consider whether the acceptance of this settlement is truly in the best interest of the Gulf Coast. Perhaps it would be better to have all of the dirt come to the surface and be exposed to the public. Perhaps it would be better to let a jury determine the appropriate penalty for BP’s actions and inactions.