On March 13 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to let BP plc contract with the federal government again. The agency lifted a ban that was enacted when the oil giant pled guilty to felony misconduct and paid a $4.5 billion fine, all related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2012, some 16 months ago. The agreement contains ethics and safety provisions and requires BP to retain an EPA-approved auditor to examine the company’s performance. The EPA enacted the ban in late November 2012 after concluding that the oil giant’s response to the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill raised serious concerns about the company’s responsibility.
BP and the federal government have spent several months negotiating an end to the ban. The result was a five-year agreement, which the EPA officials apparently believe will protect the integrity of the federal contracting process. The settlement terms include BP bringing in an ethics monitor who will submit yearly audits to the government on the company’s risk assessment and internal controls, among other topics.
With the new provisions in place, BP will be able to obtain new leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Hopefully, the EPA recalls that it called the tragic incident in the Gulf the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. In the event some have forgotten, BP pled guilty to criminal charges. That involved 11 counts of misconduct or neglect of ship officers, one count of obstruction of Congress, one misdemeanor count of a violation of the Clean Water Act and one misdemeanor count of a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In addition to its drilling contracts with the U.S. Department of the Interior, BP was also a major fuel supplier to the military before the ban.
I have mixed emotions about the lifting of the ban, having seen very little so far to convince me that BP has learned a badly needed safety lesson. In fact, the best thing BP has done since the criminal plea is to dole out big bucks for public relations’ purposes. The oil giant is very, very good at that!
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