Science

Was Tony Hayward Right After All?

A hundred agonizing days and 4.9 million barrels of crude oil later, BP begins to find some respite at last.

If the fact that the title for this article has come straight out of the mouths of Washington journalists wasn’t enough of an indication, a US Government report has now revealed that an estimated 74% of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been effectively dealt with. By all means this is just an estimation, as the result of dumping 4.9 million barrels of oil into the ocean is still not entirely clear. However, through it all one man’s comments are finally ringing (somewhat) true, leaving the Americans to tuck into a large slice of humble pie.

Cast your minds back to the BP Chief Executive’s first few media run-ins. Quoted referring to the spill as a “tiny amount [in a] very big ocean”, he insisted on caution as to whether to dub the leak a ‘crisis’. Cue President Obama, who went on to describe it as the “worst environmental disaster America has ever faced”, ultimately falling foul of media pressure. Of course, it was the media that managed to shove its nose so far into the matter that it eventually began to dictate how the world perceived these ongoing events. So, when Tony Hayward sloppily stated “I’d like my life back”, he must surely have anticipated the onslaught that was to follow.

For all the flak that both BP and its top honcho have received throughout the disaster, in retrospect only a fraction seems justifiable. The company immediately committed great swathes of resources to the clean-up and made efforts to set aside over £20 billion to cover costs (although this excludes the possibility that their actions will be found to be grossly negligent, which would cause the bill to rocket even higher). Not only this, but from its inception the whole debacle seemed incredibly over-exaggerated and Tony Hayward was, in his own words, “vilified and demonised”.

BP and the Obama administration are already able to contemplate the withdrawal of clean-up crews from the area as the rate at which the oil has vanished is almost unprecedented. Scientists have reiterated that there was never any evidence to justify media portrayal of the spill in the first place. The only question that remains is where the majority of the oil is ending up. Despite strong beliefs in the capabilities of bio-degradation, microbial action comes at a cost. They are organisms. They use oxygen. The Gulf is already combating separate threats in the form of coastal erosion and an annual summer “dead zone”, where agricultural run-off from the Mississippi river stimulates algae growth and as a result, depletes oxygen levels. In spite of these statistics, scientists affirm that it is difficult to link these worsening conditions with the Deepwater Horizon incident.

With such a huge operation undertaken, mistakes were undoubtedly made. Figureheads of companies and the government have proven that individuals (and their shortcomings) do make a difference. For the time being, man and nature work hand in hand to help reduce the short term impact of the spill. Nonetheless, we’re hearing that the initial damage is nowhere near as serious as first thought. The same thing was said after the Exxon Valdez disaster, but it took the best part of two or three years to reveal the true extent of the damage there.

So while he appeared somewhat of a bungling idiot and often said the wrong things at the wrong time, if anyone’s a winner here it iss Tony Hayward. The Americans get an American CEO in Bob Dudley, while Tony walks away with a staggering £600,000 a year pension which, to BP, is merely a drop in the ocean.

James Watson

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