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The Gulf oil spill and the lessons not learned from Exxon Valdez

Our Readers Who Comment are lining up to express despair and anger about a terrific story that underlines the fact we rarely learn from lessons of the past. The subject is the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that fouled the Alaska coast for years and showed how unprepared we were to respond to such an event.

Readers recall several disasters, from Bhopal to Challenger. They blame corporate greed, a lack of government oversight, protective politicians, inadequate management, etc.

As Joe Stephens writes, "A commission that investigated the Alaska spill found that oil companies cut corners to maximize profits. Systems intended to prevent disaster failed, and no backups were in place. Regulators were too close to the oil industry and approved woefully inadequate accident response and cleanup plans... the lessons of two decades ago remain unheeded."

We'll start with Jindokae, who wrote, "This has interesting parallels to the findngs of the Challenger Commission and the Columbia Accident Review Board. While the Challenger was destroyed by a frozen o-ring and the Columbia by a chunk of frozen foam, as with these two oil disasters, both failures were caused by poor management practices that put safety last and expediency first... Perhaps the lesson should really be: 'Our executives are idiots' "

To which ChrisFord1 responded, "No, the lesson is accidents happen... And most times the vindictive that wish to criminalize all accidents find their quest for revenge isn't shared by others, isn't even legal in most cases - and does nothing to fix underlying causes. And lawsuits focus everybody's mind away from safety fixes to prevent future accidents to "bunkering down" in a decade of legal battle over damages..."

jerrybrown11743 wrote, "People often forget that wealthy companies like BP can have exceptionally talented people working for them who have nothing to do with the mistakes of upper management. These people may even have a lot of freedom within their spheres of influence. But, of course, they don't make P&L decisions on drilling rigs. I see a lot of parallels with the Challenger disaster..."

OldProgessivefromWisconsin suggested that "Multi-National Corporations do have an institututional memory if Government does not. They learned from Exon-Valdez how to neutralize regulation and dangerously cut costs knowing that they can avoid really having to pay the cost if there is a mega-disaster. Nations, even as large as the U.S. are helpless as they influence our Supreme Court and bribe our Congress into giving them cart blanche."

Vinnie2 said, "It is so naive to think that companies would not look to cut costs. Isn't that the reason for outsourcing, for hiring consultants instead of employees, creating new technologies and streamlined manufacturing, and so forth? Aren't companies there to make profit? Are not owners of stock and pension funds counting on this? All such organizations do this all the time..."

ppsikogios wrote, "No one should be surprised that history constantly repeats itself. Since the beginning of mankind, only 2 things have ever changed... names and faces. Everything else remains constant."

ahumbleopinion said, "One lesson seems to have been learned - lean on the oil company to get compensation for victims early."

atc333 wrote, "The solution is to impose substantial fines and penalties, making it too risky to engage in reckless behavior, such as that demonstrated by BP. This spill will result in the destruction of the marine and nursery habitat in the gulf. Businesses will fail, prices will skyrocket for the consumer, all because of corporate greed. Any corporation drilling in the gulf should have to fund a US controlled deep well emergency response team, complete with deep sea submersibles, all necessary equipment, skimmers, effective booms, and available staff..."

tess9 asked, "Which president wants to say to Americans, "We tightened environmental protection measures, instituted checks and balances and backup systems and cleanup plans and procedures, and now, as a consequence, you will pay $2/gallon more at the pump." Americans like to pay lip service to the environment but what they really want is cheap gas to fuel their car addiction..."

thmas said, "...assuming that this last "cap" is effective, the industry has given us proof that it only needed a few months to come up with something that could have saved us from most of this tragedy. If it had bothered to put that time in sometime in the decades since the Exxon Valdez, or even since the last disastrous well leak in the Gulf (something like 20 years ago). I'm sorry, somebody claims capitalism would have saved us?"

builder7 wrote, "Big oil and other business does not follow the law in the U.S. because they are bigger now, thanks to Reagan and his ilk. These people have good intentions to make a profit, but they are too greedy, which is why we have regulation. Business is constantly trying to stop regulation, but they are the last to recognize that they need it... BP should not be allowed to sell any assets until this is over so that the American people can get their proper payback."

graycycle wrote, "I served as a national park service manager in Alaska during the Exxon Valdez spill. The so-called "clean up" was almost completely ineffectual. It was simply a PR operation meant to assuage public frustration and anger. Nothing has changed."

DanielRCobb said, "This disaster is the result of a gross and systematic sellout of government oversight authority to Big Oil. The authority to regulate has been systematically weakened and the politicians who carry out this perversion are basically owned by big oil PACs, by the revolving door between government and business (i.e. Dick Cheney/Haliburton) and the fact that our elections are funded primarily by these PACs. This disaster was predictable and it will happen again..."

We'll close with this apocalyptic warning from larrypoke: "...Do you mean the quest for profits took precedence over concerns for safety or the environment? Take heed folks, it's the way of the modern world where corruption, deceit, and greed are just the way it's done. The end of the world as we know it will not be the result of any natural disaster, but of our own inability, or unwillingness, to cope with the very worst elements of our own species."

All comments on this article are here.

By Doug Feaver  |  July 14, 2010; 9:04 AM ET
Categories:  Environment , Oil spill  | Tags: Exxon Valdez; BP, Gulf of Mexico, Oil, Oil Spill, Regulation  
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Teams of lawyers from across the country have descended on the Gulf Coast to file potential class action lawsuits to recover damages suffered by the lead plaintiff(s) and absent class members as a result of the BP oil spill.

However, class action lawsuits may not be in the best interests of some victims of the BP oil spill when the damages suffered by each individual plaintiff are potentially so great. For a better understanding of this issue, visit:

Posted by: brianjdonovan | July 15, 2010 9:11 AM | Report abuse

In the days since the BP oil spill began, the failure to stop the leak has caused incredible anger and frustration -- especially for the people of the Gulf Coast struggling to survive one of the worst environmental disasters in our nation's history.

How quickley we forget the oil spill in Buzzards Bay , Massachusetts !

The residents of the gulf need to find out how they will get paid for residential property damage! The residential property damage is lost rental value, lost property value and further lost property value. President Obama has said "We will stand with you " and "I know whose ass to kick."We have to ask if this is all rhetoric to calm the anger and frustration over the failure to stop the leak. The command structure itself faces a crisis of confidence.

Lets look at a smaller oil spill in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts in 2003 . The Coast Guard and/or Unified Command had no boat skimmers, booms deployed were to small to handle the number six oil, only a few air guns were available to keep birds off the islands, there was no public involvement by private citizens, and after 90 days the Unified Command simply signed off and left the oiled beaches to the state! Sound familiar?

The US Coast Guard after the 2003 oil spill fought the state of Massachusetts over the "2004 Oil Spill Prevention Act ." The Coast Guard through legal action stopped the act which would provide tug boat escorts through the bay. Whose interest does the Coast Guard have at heart? The Coast Guard actually prevented new laws to protect the bay.

Since the 2003 Bouchard B 120 oil spill the federal government has denied a federal class action lawsuit against the oil company and the one Massachusetts property damage lawsuit has dragged on for eight years. How has the government stood with the people of Massachusetts?

Posted by: fnhaggerty | July 14, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

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