JACQUELINE MARCUS FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
On September 19th, 2013 Halliburton, an oil and construction company that rose to a multibillion dollar industry under Dick Cheney’s supervision, pled guilty to federal charges of destroying critical evidence concerning British Petroleum’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. Halliburton shredded the evidence because it proved that the company had committed gross negligence pertaining to cuts in safety maintenance decisions in order to increase profits. Shredding evidence: that’s probably a felony crime, right? Only if you did it or if I did it, but oil tycoons need not have to worry; the laws are conveniently shredded along with the evidence.
As Ring of Fire radio reported:
Oil giant Halliburton pled guilty on Thursday to destroying evidence related to the 2010 BP oil spill. However, unlike the other companies involved in the oil spill, Halliburton, the company responsible for cementing the well, was not charged with a crime related to the causes of the disaster.
Halliburton agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor count of unauthorized destruction of evidence. US District Judge Jane Triche-Milazzo in New Orleans accepted Halliburton’s plea agreement, and charged the company with the maximum-allowable fine of $200,000 and a 3-year probation term.
The company also agreed to make a $55 million contribution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.
Halliburton provided the plugs called “centralizers,” which keep the drill pipe centered in the well as cement is poured. Instead of using 12 “centralizers” they used six. The upshot: When it comes to necessary security maintenance, Halliburton, like BP, chose the cheapest and riskiest way to build the foundation of the well in their reckless pursuit of profits. Given the lack of government oversight, otherwise known as the “cozy relationship between the US government and the oil industry,” the culpable, dripping-in-oil Mineral Management Services (MMS) turned a blind eye to BP’s and Halliburton’s sins, which was and is common practice.
On April 20, 2010, British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, resulting in 11 deaths, followed by 5 million gushing barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, followed by the worst sea mammal and mass bird and fish killings in history. Thousands of dead dolphins, whales, pelicans, turtles washed up on the oily shores and were quickly bagged and buried at secret garbage dumps. To put Halliburton’s crimes reduced to a petty misdemeanor in context: Under the Obama administration, federal laws were passed forbidding photo journalists from taking pictures of the mass fish kill, the secret dump, and workers who became seriously ill from the toxic oil and dispersant Corexit. If caught taking photos, they would be arrested for committing a federal crime, sentenced to several years in prison and charged a hefty fine. Those unjust laws were harshly enforced.
The BP oil spill was and is the most deadly ongoing environmental catastrophe in American history, and the toxic effects are still being felt along the Gulf Coast. For the last three years, BP has been more concerned about protecting profits and presenting a public smiley face image than making the residents of the coastal shores whole.
As a result of deregulation and the cozy relationship between the US government and the oil industry, crimes against nature and humanity can be committed by the oil executives with relative impunity. In short, the oil industry is above the law. The trivial price that Halliburton had to pay for 11 deaths that resulted in the worst criminal offshore oil disaster in history, that left the entire Gulf of Mexico a dead zone, which in turn fundamentally altered the Gulf’s economy of fishing and tourist businesses that were once worth billions of dollars and are now struggling—the maximum penalty of paying $200,000 dollars is not only offensive, it sets a sickening precedent for the oil industry: kill people, pollute oceans, contaminate fresh water, rivers, and agricultural land—no problem—Big Oil will merely get a loving governmental slap on the wrist and charged a minor fine, probably with a note attached: We’re so sorry we have to charge you anything!
Judge Jane Milazzo agreed to the misdemeanor plea in Halliburton’s case because, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, “Halliburton self-reported it, the company tried to recover the data, and it lacks a history of similar actions.”
Really? Lacks a history? On the contrary, Halliburton’s history, particularly over the past 20 years, is steeped in corruption. As far back as 1991, then-defense secretary Dick Cheney spent $8.5 million on a Halliburton subsidiary to explore the use of military contracting. When Cheney became CEO in 1995, he presided over an orgy of profiteering, providing through Halliburton subsidiaries everything from laundry to kitchen services for the US military – and even cozied up to Iran through a foreign subsidiary. When Cheney re-entered the executive branch under the George W. Bush administration, Halliburton and its then-subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, made tens of billions of dollars off of the destruction of Iraq.
In 2010, the same year as the oil spill, charges against Halliburton and KBR emerged from Nigeria, which alleged that they had spent nearly $200 million in bribes in order to secure $6 billion in contracts. Halliburton eventually agreed to pay a paltry $32.5 million fine. (“Halliburton pleads guilty to charges stemming from BP oil spill.”)
I think about the poor individuals trapped in never ending cycles of poverty and drug addiction and how millions of non-violent drug abusers are serving life sentences in prison for selling small amounts of illegal drugs. BuzzFlash at Truthout just ran a commentary on how a man in Louisiana (where the oil spill had its most devastating impact) was sentenced to twenty years in prison for possessing a half an ounce of marijuana.
Most of these people never killed anyone. And they certainly didn’t turn an entire ocean into a toxic pit of oil or kill whales, dolphins, sea birds—or ruined thousands of people’s livelihoods in the fishing and tourist industries. No, their big crime is that they’re not oil executives.
Jacqueline Marcus is the editor of ForPoetry.com and EnvironmentalPress.com. Author of Close to the Shore by Michigan State University Press. Her E-book Man Cannot Live on Oil, Alone / Time to end our dependency on oil before it ends usis available at Amazon.com Kindle Books.