While the explosion of BP Transocean's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was a horrific event, it was neither surprising nor unexpected.
BP is one of the most powerful corporations operating in the United States. Its 2009 revenues of $327 bn are enough to rank BP as the third-largest corporation in the country. It spends aggressively to influence US policy and regulatory oversight.
In 2009, the company spent nearly $16m on lobbying the federal government, ranking it among the 20 highest spenders that year, and shattering its own previous record of $10.4m set in 2008. In 2008, it also spent more than $530,000 on federal elections, placing it among the oil industry's top 10 political spenders.
This money has bought BP great access and, many would argue, leniency. "I personally believe that BP, with its corporate culture of greed over profits, murdered my parents," Eva Rowe testified before Congress in 2007. The Congress was investigating the worst workplace accident in the US in more than 15 years, a massive explosion at BP's Texas City Refinery in March 2005 that killed 15 workers, including Rowe's parents, and injured 180.
The US Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency, investigated the blast and released a devastating indictment of BP. "The Texas City disaster was caused by organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP corporation," the 2007 report found. "The combination of cost-cutting, production pressures and failure to invest caused a progressive deterioration of safety at the refinery."
While experiencing its highest profits in its corporate history, BP implemented budget cuts of 25% in 1999 and 2005 at each of its five US refineries. The safety board found a pervasive "complacency towards serious safety risks" at all of them.