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May. 3 2010 - 9:12 am | 2,823 views | 2 recommendations | 31 comments

BP tries to buy off oil spill victims

Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico April 29th View [d...

Oil spill in Gulf of Mexico. Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr

The only thing surprising about this is the speed of the bribes catapulting from corporate headquarters. (h/t Atrios)

Alabama Attorney General Troy King said tonight that he has told representatives of BP Plc. that they should stop circulating settlement agreements among coastal Alabamians.

The agreements, King said, essentially require that people give up the right to sue in exchange for payment of up to $5,000.

I can see why the AG thinks offering Alabaman residents $5,000 bribes might be, at best, in bad taste, and at the worst, preying on vulnerable corporate negligence victims.

But now is a critical time for BP. The corporation has to move fast and hard to limit the damage inflicted upon their bottom line, which as any self-respecting Free Marketer knows, is the only thing that really matters.

They now have two options: A) Buy off the victims, or B) Tie up the justice process for years, and hope the bad press and citizens’ fiery anger dissipates, leaving only a quiet indignation that can be easily managed, and ultimately smothered.


BP should look to Exxon for a model of this second option. Just over twenty years ago, the Exxon Valdez tanker spewed at least 11 million gallons of oil into Alaskan waters. Litigation has dragged on for over two decades, and Exxon is winning.

[As of 2009, t]here are 22,000 plaintiffs suing ExxonMobil. A jury awarded the plaintiffs $5 billion in damages, equal to what was, at the time, a year’s worth of Exxon profits. This was cut by half by a U.S. appeals court, then finally lowered to just over $500 million by the Supreme Court. During the 20 years of court battles, 6,000 of the original plaintiffs have died. ExxonMobil, with its billions in annual profits and armies of lawyers, can tie up the Valdez case in the courts for decades, while the injured commercial fishers slowly die off.

There’s really no need for BP to sweat this one. Obviously, the current administration is on their side, since President Obama just gave the finger to his base, and publicly declared his love for offshore drilling. Plus, BP has the money, which means they can manipulate the justice system like a Machiavellian marionette show. Litigation takes a tremendous amount of time, and injection of cash, two things poor oil spill victims don’t have.

BP also enjoys the protection of personhood, a right granted to them by the Supreme Court. Now, a corporation, which is not a person, enjoys the same legal rights granted to people. One of those rights is free speech, and as Citizens United demonstrated to the world, corporations now have the right to bribe exercise their free speech unto politicians, manipulating them into doing the corporation’s bidding, which of course includes perpetuating “Drill, Baby, Drill,” and cutting regulation at the expensive of oil rig workers, miners, whoever.

The deck is rigged in favor of BP, which need only wait, and delay the justice process. Then, it’s just a matter of time before the victims start dying, the people forget about exploding oil rigs, and the poisoned environment, and corporate executives can go back to enjoying their lavish bonuses.


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  1. collapse expand

    OK, so BP is trying to follow Exxon’s lead. I’ll concede that it could be viewed as foolish, unproductive, and possibly even immoral.

    But my question is this: If you ran BP, what course of action would you take?

    • collapse expand

      I see ragnar already answered for me, which is truly a kind gesture considering we’ve never met.

      Jake – I certainly agree with you that BP is acting immorally. First, they have no right to bullrush victims into settling while they’re still in shock. This is their screw up, so they’ll have to pay in court. Of course, they’ll probably drag out the hearings for ages.

      Asking what I would do if I ran a multinational oil company is a strange hypothetical for obvious reasons. I suppose someone like me, who believes in social justice and putting people above profits, would not ascend to the ranks of CEO of an oil company. :)

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      If I ran BP, I’d insist on blow-out valves for all of my off-shore oil drilling rigs. They cost, what, $500,000 a pop? If they have 150 rigs in the Gulf, that’s 75 mil- not chump change for anybody, even BP. BUT- how much is this little mess going to cost them? I bet, a lot more than their corner-cutting saved. The corporate mind has demonstrated, time and time again, that it simply cannot consider long-term consequences. The persistence of this belief in the unerring wisdom of the market, that the profit motive always leads to the best and most efficient outcomes, is so discredited by this time that continuing to hold it constitutes a kind of insanity.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Given what happened at Texas City refinery in 2005, I’m not one to hand kudos to BP. The Raffinate Splitter process there was an accident waiting to happen. The rebuke that BP got from the Chemical Safety Board went straight for the jugular of the corporation’s management. BP has suffered from top stupid behavior for a long time.

        However, all the reports I’ve seen indicate that BP did have BOP systems for this eventuality. There were supposed to have been many levels of redundancy. This failure has many engineers scratching their heads.

        If laying this mess at the feet of BP will make you feel better, join the mob. However, before we string them up in effigy, we might want to take a closer, more nuanced look at what actually happened here. As much as we’d like to blame BP, this may have been something completely different. I don’t expect most of the public will follow what comes of this investigation. However, a subtle design flaw or maintenance problem can cascade in to a significant problem very suddenly. If we are to keep this kind of thing from happening again, we need to learn what happened here.

        I would wait for the formal reports before rushing to judgment on this one.

        Meanwhile, I’ll agree with Ms. Kilkenny that BP’s behavior doesn’t put it in a good light. As I said before, their management has been almost criminally indifferent about public safety for a long time. It’s about time they paid a price for it. I feel sorry for the employees of the company, though. Most of the evidence thus far indicates they do care, but nobody was listening.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    “BP also enjoys the protection of personhood, a right granted to them by the Supreme Court. Now, a corporation, which is not a person, enjoys the same legal rights granted to people. One of those rights is free speech, and as Citizens United demonstrated to the world, corporations now have the right to bribe exercise their free speech unto politicians, manipulating them into doing the corporation’s bidding, which of course includes perpetuating “Drill, Baby, Drill,” and cutting regulation at the expensive of oil rig workers, miners, whoever.”

    Oh joy, another anti-corporation diatribe from Allison that she apparently did no research on.

    Allison, I suggest you read the entire Citizens United case and its decision. You’ll find – if you have any intellectual integrity – that your diatribe is as wrong as it is misplaced.

    Also, you should probably read up on why corporations have limited rights as “persons”. You’ll find that you have benefitted from it, even though you don’t understand it.

    • collapse expand

      You’ll have to actually offer an argument, ragnar, if you expect me to respond to it. Posting the equivalent of “nuh-uh!” doesn’t advance the debate.

      Citizens United removed existing restraints on what and when profit-making and non-profit corporations may say during federal election campaign. (http://www.scotusblog.com/2010/01/analysis-a-few-open-or-not-so-open-questions/)

      If you’ve found a hidden footnote to the ruling, you should definitely share it with the world because a whole lot of foolish SCOTUS experts have thus far missed it.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      ragnar, got a couple questions for you-

      1) why does the Confederate, excuse me, Conservative base take such firey joy in defending multi-national corporations? BP might not love America.

      2) what’s with this Conservative fixation with Viking names? Images of broadswords and longships? Have you seen the Swedes lately? They live in a Democratic-Socialist wonderland where everyone has healthcare, drives the uber-safe Volvo, and drinks Gevalia coffee out of little cups. And the Norwegians are just as bad- they insist on blow-out valves on every off-shore drilling rig in their territorial waters.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  3. collapse expand

    But look at all the jobs Obama is creating here: lawyer jobs, cleanup jobs for illegal aliens, talking jobs for the media

  4. collapse expand

    How about knocking off all of the sensationalist bullshit. It is a very bad leak, will cause a lot of monetary loss, and short term environmental damage.
    I think BP is acting in a mostly responsible manner by trying to help those who need it immediately. Signing an agreement to not sue in the future is an accepted part of how these things work. Blame the laws if you choose. BP is also vowing, along with their partners, to shoulder all of the costs related to cleaning this mess up. Major oil companies know that there is a new sheriff in town, and they know that the current administration will hold them to much higher standards than the previous gang of thugs.
    I am not an apologist for major oil companies having worked for one for 10 years (whew) in the past and now trying to compete with the big monsters. Oil has been leaking into the oceans for hundreds of millions of years (6000 years if you are a fundamentalist Christian), and while its damage can be locally devastating, no major long term environmental damage is to be expected.

    • collapse expand

      You really need to stay up on the story before you comment on it. That moderate environmental damage line is a few days old, and it turns out that BP- how shall I put this delicately?- was lying through their teeth. This thing is gonna make the Exxon Valdez look like a beerfart. And if you believe that BP’s “vows” mean anything more than a drunk’s promise to quit, you need to get out more. In this case “local” means THE GULF OF FREAKING MEXICO, and for those shrimpers who’ve now lost their livelihoods, $5000 is kind of insulting, even for a lowball offer.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Hey ncfrommke,
        You are making FoxNews type hysterical claims, and my post was to suggest that that the knee-jerk accusations be toned down a little. I consider myself a very liberal, but pragmatic and an informed environmentalist as do most who know me. Unfortunately for you, science and empirical evidence can also disprove left wing idiots who speak loudly of what they know little.
        Oil seeps are naturally occurring land and sea occurrences. They cause no long term damage and have been recorded historically though the millennia. Localized devastation is horrible; fish kills, algae and coral suffocation, reduction of bird life, the list goes on. The ability of the earth and the sea to recover from these blips of the equilibrium is probably unimaginable to the person who does not comprehend the magnitude of the vastness of our gulf.
        I invite you down to sail, surf, or fish the Gulf of Mexico any time of your choosing. I have been doing both near South Padre Island since the 60’s, and I’m probably staying on the story more than the casual alarmist. My mother was a bookkeeper for a shrimping company when I was a kid, and I have close relatives who have shrimped, so I am aware of some of the problems this will cause the fishing industry. I have been in the oil business for over 30 years and am acutely aware of the damages caused by untamed oil and gas. Any number of oil rigs, platforms, and assorted oil field stuff are clearly visible from the beaches and waters that I have frequented and observed, and have been for over 50 years, they have not caused much harm that I know of.
        Accidents happen in any endeavor, have you driven your car lately? This is a bad one, and its effects will be felt for some time. I am just asking that you pick your battles more carefully. Please don’t accuse me of needing to become more informed or being biased towards big oil. I assure you I am neither. I am an independent geologist and avid salt water fisherman who loves my business and my gulf. This subject is dear to my heart, and this poor earth needs everyone’s civil discussion and cooperation if we are going to tackle the problems of man induced global warming, overfishing, and pollution. Let’s not cry Wolf here, that is just giving the conservative deniers ammunition to use against us in the ongoing debate about the future of our great planet.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Another point of your misguided attack is “a drunk’s promise to quit”. I am a recovering alcoholic who took his last drink on May 12,1995. I will be celebrating 15 years of continuous sobriety in a couple of weeks, and I am extremely proud of this. Get you facts straight, quit whining and find another metaphor..

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Apologies for my poorly considered metaphor, to you or anybody else who was hurt by it.

            Also, I see that you’ve been over to Ungar’s post, and it seems that we might have jumped the gun re the alleged lowball offer from BP. But it does look like BP was understating the size of the leak for a few days after it happened, which is definitely not acceptable.

            As for the size of the spill- the Exxon Valdez was 250,000 bbls. We don’t know how big this leak is- Wikinews has it between 5 to 25 thousand bbls per day, which means that it might be bigger than Prince Willian Sound already, and if it takes them much longer to plug this, well, the best case scenario is still ugly. According to the good people at Mudflats, and some other Alaskan blogs I follow, the fisheries in PW Sound are still being impacted. But, again, we’ll see.

            I’ll defer to you as a geologist re the natural oil seeps- at least until I do some homework on it. It does seem unlikely to me that a slow, constant oil seep is equivalent to an overnight 10 million gallon dump, but I won’t continue the argument when I meant to apologise. I’m not taking back everything I said, but I take back all of the snark.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I agree with you 100%. $5K won’t begin to pay for the losses people are already beginning to suffer as a result of this!

        In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      By the way, Creationism is boolsheet.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    Also worth mentioning is that corporations are immortal: twenty years in court means nothing to them.

  6. collapse expand

    So, how does this play out? Will it be handled in the state courts? Seems like it could be pretty easy for them to install a friendly justice.

  7. collapse expand

    So Allison, are we to expect a retraction on the matter of the $5000 offers. I believe that the real story has been explaned on other posts to this site, and as a regular reader of your column I naturally expect that you will clear this up.

  8. collapse expand

    Short-term damages??? Every five days, that oil volcano spews more oil than the entire Exxon Valdez disaster! The crap they are pouring into the water to disperse the oil is killing life all around it, including the coral. The coral provides medicines of all sorts, and it’s destruction isn’t a short term loss, either.
    What does it take for people to realize the disaster that is happening in the Gulf of Mexico? It is destroying sea life and all the businesses with it, say goodbye to tourism, crusing, thousands of related businesses that will no longer be needed to serve all the destroyed ones on the Gulf. And, if anyone thinks the oil will not move, and spread around this country destroying beaches everywhere, they are living in a fantasy! Hurricane season starts June 1st. This is the worst environmental disaster to happen in this country’s history.
    When I read a statement like the one I just responded to, it amazes me! Are there really people who believe this will just go away? WAKE UP!!

  9. collapse expand

    i have a solution take the families, children, and grandchildren, of tony hayward, doug suttles and john browne throw them all into into the oil and video them gasping for air mr. haywward mr. suttles mr. browne may you all rot and burn in the firey depth of —-well you know where

  10. collapse expand

    We live in a society that most of the time cannot win against big companies, they have far more money then the average american does. We are just one of many in Pensacola, Fl that have finally been pushed to taking the $25,000 for the loss of our livelyhood on the gulf. They delay longer and longer asking for more information of loses, some of the requests are for the same information that we have already provided. We had filed an intrium February 14th and they just keep delaying our claim asking for more info until we are 6 months behind on our rent and 2 months behind on all utilities, we can’t even put food on the table because of BP. We were told by the lawyers which state that they do not represent BP, which I think is a lie, that we would be better off to take the $25,000 than trying to fight them. We are going to have to take the $25,000 because we cannot hold on any longer. My husband had been making around $52,000 per year since 2006. Now we must pay our rent up which is a total of $4,410 and get all utilities caught up which is about $1,500 and find another place to live which is cheaper. They have ruined us along with a lot of other victims we know personally. Businesses have closed, companies have reduced the number of workers, no jobs to be had. BP should pay what they owe the american people and not try to put them on the street, expecially when they dhow record profits each month and force people to take their measley $25,000. BP SUCKS!! I will never purchase from another BP company again and will certainly tell others not to purchase from them. We need to boycot them.

  11. collapse expand

    In addition to to my previous comments,they should have had an emergency plan in effect for such as this. Just makes me mad that they are so greedy and no one can do anything about it

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