GUEST COLUMN: Let the punishment for BP, its CEO fit the crime

Monday, June 21, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 7:13 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 3, 2011

BP CEO Tony Hayward has a knack for angering people with his verbal spills.

Hayward asked, "What the hell did we do to deserve this?" First, he presided over a corporate culture that ignored safety to save a few bucks so that "two refineries owned by oil giant BP account for 97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry," an analysis by The Center for Public Integrity shows. These were "egregious willful" violations, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The question that Hayward needed to ask was, "What the hell did we do to cause this?"

Next Hayward opined in The Guardian, "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume." If a chemical plant released toxic gases near Hayward's home, would he have said that the toxic gases released were tiny in relation to the total atmospheric volume?

Then on May 19, he's quoted on the environmental blog Climate Progress: "I think the environmental impact of this disaster is likely to be very, very modest. It is impossible to say and we will mount, as part of the aftermath, a very detailed environmental assessment as we go forward. We're going to do that with some of the science institutions in the U.S. But everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact of this will be very, very modest."

Then on June 4, Hayward complained, "There's no one who wants this over more than I do. You know, I'd like my life back." And what a life it was. According to ABC News, he obtained his Ph.D. in geology and joined BP at the age of 22. He rose through the ranks and eventually became CEO in 2007. He chose not to work on weekends or holidays. He made sure to make time to sail in the tropics and to ski in Vail, Colo.

Everything came easy to Hayward — until now. If CEO Hayward would have dedicated some of his weekends and holidays to improving safety, he might not be complaining about his lost lifestyle.

A review of BP's 2009 regional spill plan for the Gulf of Mexico and the site-specific plan for the Deepwater Horizon rig revealed serious defects, according to a report by The Associated Press. Sea lions, sea otters, seals and walruses are listed as "sensitive biological resources," but these marine mammals live several thousand miles away from the Gulf. A professor listed in the response plan as a national wildlife expert died in 2005. Telephone numbers for marine life specialists at Texas A&M University are wrong, as are the disconnected numbers for Louisiana and Florida marine mammal stranding network offices. BP failed to use the standard formula for calculating oil-spill volume, thus decreasing the spill-volume estimates by a factor of 100. BP did not mention the Gulf's loop current that could possibly send oil around Florida and "up the Atlantic Coast." Also, the link to a company's website that supplies equipment to clean up oil spills is incorrect.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle on June 15, 2007, about six weeks after Hayward became CEO, he claimed that he was committed to improving safety. He's quoted as saying: "You earn your reputation through performance, through being clear about what you're going to do and then doing it." 

What would be the appropriate punishment for Hayward who allowed safety to be ignored at such a monumental cost? Send him to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Give him a shovel and some plastic bags and let him scoop up the oil on the fouled beaches. If the job takes years or decades, so be it. Hayward would like his life back. Until this mess is cleaned up, he doesn’t deserve it.

Joseph Sparks is master’s candidate in journalism at MU. He is planning a career in public relations.


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