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BP spills green
Oil giant BP will pay record fine in wake of Gulf's Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Date published: 11/20/2012

THE GULF OF MEXICO coast is still a beautiful place. The watermen are busy hauling in the Gulf's bounty of shrimp and fish, and it doesn't even smell like oil anymore, for the most part. The offshore rigs are again busily bringing up black gold from beneath the Earth's surface.

And now, there's even a multi-billion-dollar settlement between London-based energy behemoth BP (formerly British Petroleum) and the U.S. government--along with criminal charges, no less--as justice falls on the company and on individuals thought responsible for the largest oil spill in America's history. About 5 million barrels of crude--that's around 210 million U.S. gallons--gushed into the Gulf between the April 20, 2010, explosion of Deepwater Horizon and the eventual capping of the well almost three months later.

So, gone but not forgotten? Well, yes--except for the "gone" part. Cleaning up the oil that sloshed along the shoreline in the midst of the disaster might be viewed in retrospect as the easy part. Hurricane Isaac, which churned through the Gulf last August and wiped out the first day of the Republican National Convention, brought ashore viscous proof of the spill's lingering effects.

The gunk that rests on the Gulf bottom remains an ecological, human, and commercial threat. Gulf Coast residents and officials report finding evidence of the stuff on their tourist-friendly beaches, and certainly nasty remnants will rekindle the nightmare as storm after storm makes its way though the Gulf for decades, perhaps centuries, to come.

It is welcome news that the settlement will require BP to pay $4.5 billion to the U.S. government as a penalty for its negligence. BP also will plead guilty to charges related to the deaths of 11 crewmen and for low-balling the spill volume in estimates to Congress.

Yet the settlement cost to BP is dwarfed by other costs it has faced in the disaster's aftermath. It had to sell $35 billion in assets to cover a reported $14 billion in cleanup costs and $17 billion in civil claims and settlements to businesses and individuals, reports The Wall Street Journal, with perhaps more litigation on the way.

But don't weep for BP, which reportedly realized a record $25.8 billion in profits last year. In the United States alone, the multinational energy company employs 23,000 people, or 30 percent of its workforce.

What these colossal dollar figures should do is remind the offshore-drilling industry of the importance of doing it right, not cutting corners, double-checking, and having backup systems and plans that actually work.

As offshore drilling increases in the nation's pursuit of energy independence--including, perhaps, in the waters of Virginia's coast--both the industry and the U.S. government in its oversight role are on notice that these calamities simply cannot happen. And if they do, there will be hell to pay.