Socialist Worker

Drive for profit lies at heart of oil disaster

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2200

Fire boats struggle to contain the fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico

Fire boats struggle to contain the fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico

Dale Burkeen operated a crane to lower his workmates to safety from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico on 20 April.

It was probably the last thing he did before he died along with ten of his colleagues as the rig exploded. They died because of the ruthless pursuit of profit by multinational oil companies.

The resulting oil slick lapping the coast of Louisiana, fed by the uncapped well, threatens to create America’s worst environmental disaster since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

The first reactions from the oil companies and US government were self serving rationalisations, dubious information and spin.

Oil giant BP won’t even say how much oil it thinks is in the field it was exploring. It claims it is commercially sensitive information.

The initial complacency and arguments over who was responsible delayed a response to the disaster.

The most optimistic projections for fixing the well are for another four million litres of oil to discharge into the Gulf, on top of the roughly ten million litres already spilled.

Booms have been laid out in an attempt to prevent the oil spreading. Over 80 percent of them haven’t worked. The workers on the fishing boats were initially asked to sign a waiver guaranteeing they would not sue BP for compensation if there were any accidents.


The full effect on fish, birds and marine mammals will not be known for generations. The region’s fishing industry will be destroyed.

But it is not just the response that is hampered by profit. The pursuit of profit caused the accident.

A mile underwater, a blowout valve known as a “preventer” did not shut, allowing a torrent of high-pressure oil and gas to shoot up through the rig and cause the explosion.

BP has known of the problems with the safety mechanism in

exploratory rigs such as the Deepwater Horizon for ten years.

In June 2000, the oil giant issued a “notice of default” to Transocean, the operator of the rig that blew up last month.

The dispute was precisely over problems with a preventer valve, which Transocean acknowledged at the time did “not work exactly right”.

At the heart of this disaster stand some of the biggest multinationals in the world. BP was the 5th biggest company in the world by market value in 2009.

Transocean neglected to install an acoustically triggered shutoff valve costing $500,000 that could have stopped the flow of oil.

Norway and Brazil have made the backup safety valves compulsory, but US regulators have refused to do the same.

In 2009 BP spent nearly $16 million on lobbying the US government.


Safety failings in the industry are systematic. A US investigation into BP Refineries in 2007 noted, “cost-cutting, production pressures and failure to invest caused a progressive deterioration of safety”. and found “complacency towards serious safety risks” throughout BP

Oil drives the global capitalist economy. A handful of massive corporations and producer countries control the global oil and gas industry, backed to the hilt by powerful states, willing to organise coups and wars in the pursuit of profit and power.

Dale Burkeen, Donald Clark, Roy Wyatt Kemp, Jason Anderson, Stephen Curtis, Gordon Jones, Karl Kleppinger, Blair Manuel, Dewey Revette, Shane Roshto and Adam Weise are the latest to pay for with their lives for those profits.

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