BP Honchos Could Face Manslaughter Charges

Can we charge BP with manslaughter for all those workers who died in last year’s Deepwater Horizon explosion? When management is negligent, maybe.

BP Honchos Could Face Manslaughter Charges

If 11 people die on an oil rig that exploded in the middle of the ocean, does the government make a sound?

Apparently, yes. Fallout from last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster continues to plague BP, which is already on the hook for some $20 billion in settlements. Now it seems the Justice Department is considering manslaughter chargers for management; company bigwigs, former CEO Tony Hayward among them, could be put on trial for the deaths of employees working on the rig. The move highlights the human cost of the tragedy, a dimension that was overshadowed by the magnitude of environmental considerations at the time.

How on earth could Tony Hayward be responsible for what was, essentially, an accident? Well, when certain government regulations are ignored or circumvented—regulations meant to, you know, keep this kind of thing from happening—it gets a little easier to assign blame.

The Guardian reports that U.S. officials allege BP “had been aware of problems with lab tests of Halliburton cement used to seal the well for three years.” Halliburton! Three years! Why on earth would you use a faulty product to contain an extremely important, highly valuable, highly flammable commodity? This one is beyond me.

It gets better. The Justice Department also believes that the company “decided not to install a safety device known as a lockdown sleeve in order to save 51/2 (sic) days and $2m (£1.2m) in costs.”

Oh, right. That’s why the multi-billion dollar company opted to use shoddy equipment, or no equipment at all. Because the alternative would have cost money, not lives.

You know how every time someone makes an anti-regulatory argument, one of the reasons for keeping government out of business is that regulations impose unnecessary and burdensome costs? Bureaucracy isn’t anybody’s favorite word; but when stuff like this happens, it makes you wonder—not how many unnecessary regulations there are on business, but how much activity goes completely unregulated.

The cherry on top is that Attorney General Eric Holder says he’s reviewing statutes including the Clean Air Act, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, and the Endangered Species Act to see if BP can be held accountable under any of those laws. That’s kind of the point of a law: To dissuade destructive activities and force violators to pay restitution. It’s also kind of the point of the EPA, that nasty regulatory agency always butting into the saintly energy industry.

And which the GOP can’t wait to see extinct.