Tags: Exclusive Interviews | MidPoint | Ian MacDonald | BP | Gulf of Mexico | spill

Oceanographer: BP Handling Its Spill Better Than Exxon Did

By    |   Monday, 20 April 2015 04:59 PM

Five years after a deep-sea oil well explosion that killed 11 workers off the Louisiana coast and badly polluted the Gulf of Mexico, BP is still aggressively defending itself in one of the largest liability cases in history — but the energy giant has also made some amends, says a professor and oceanographer.

"BP has taken the high road to some extent," Ian MacDonald, professor of biological oceanography at Florida State University, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV on Monday, contrasting BP's actions with Exxon's after a disastrous spill in Alaska in 1989 from the tanker Valdez.

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"BP has been forthcoming in spending money," said MacDonald, meaning not just on lawyers but on cleanup and recovery.

BP has paid out $5 billion in settlements already and has pleaded guilty to criminal charges, and an ongoing federal case brought under the Clean Water Act could yield billions more in fines.

"They are going to say what they need to say to minimize the damage," said MacDonald. But on balance, BP has pursued "a different strategy, for example, than was taken by Exxon … where they fought in court for 20 years to reduce their expenditures," he said.

As was the case in Alaska, a full reckoning of the environmental damage wrought by the BP disaster is still under way for coastal communities and marine habitats hit by the spill.

"There are certainly very serious conditions in the Gulf of Mexico," said MacDonald. "There were serious conditions, however, before the spill: the Gulf and all of the U.S. waters are troubled by problems with the marine environment.

"There are many stressors on the marine environment that come from our runoff, the runoff from agricultural use, untreated sewage, over-fishing," he said. "The BP spill added a huge insult on top of that in a region that had a lot of problems to begin with."

"What we know from oil spills is that it takes a long time to understand the damage and it takes an even longer time for the ecosystems to recover from that kind of insult," said MacDonald. "That was the case with Exxon Valdez: over 20 years later, there are permanently changed ecosystems, and components of that ecosystem, and we expect to see the same thing in the Gulf."

MacDonald said to expect "many years of recovery and many years of monitoring and much effort of restoration, which has to be initiated and organized by the state and the federal governments.

"We can't leave that to BP, " he said. "We have to take charge, we the people, and we have to take responsibility for making sure that recovery happens and that the money is wisely spent."

To minimize future risks in "an inherently risky business," he said, "we need an engaged, well-funded process of inspection. You cannot leave the industry to monitor and regulate itself. It must be done by independent sources and a set of government policies that have real teeth or it's not going to happen."

That's where affected communities and political activism come in, said MacDonald.

"It's not going to happen unless there's considerable pressure from the voters, and that's what has to happen,"he said.

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Five years after a deep sea oil well explosion that killed 11 workers off the Louisiana coast and badly polluted the Gulf of Mexico, BP is still aggressively defending itself in one of the largest liability cases in history.
Ian MacDonald, BP, Gulf of Mexico, spill
Monday, 20 April 2015 04:59 PM
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