Deepwater horizon oil spill

Abstract

This paper discusses the conflict surrounding the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.  It details the conflict’s context.  It then presents an analysis of the conflict’s problem, the people involved in the problem and the processes people use to solve the problems.

Conflict Mapping of BP’s Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

The oil spill caused by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig owned by British global energy company, BP plc, in the Gulf of Mexico is said to be one of the largest oil spills in world history.

The adverse impacts of this oil spill have been observed in terms damages to human lives, birds, sea creatures, fishermen, farmers, tourism companies, tourists, government officials and health conditions of people, living creatures in the Gulf, and even BP and its stakeholders.  Because of the enormous effects of the oil spill, hostile reactions have been made by many parties whose interests have been harmed by the April 20, 2010 accident.

Conflicts arose, with some parties delivering outright outrage, others hurling accusations, and still others relieving their selves off some responsibility.  Below is a detailed mapping of the conflict related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Context Definition

Conditions of the Conflict

Ecological

The Gulf of Mexico is a habitat for many animals like birds, and sea creatures.  Respected marine biologists Thomas Shirley of the Texas A&M University said that the damages of the oil spill today is appalling and will be unimaginable in the years to come (Biello, 2010). In his inventory of the living creatures in the Gulf in 2009, Shirley and his fellow scientists tallied 15,700 species.

The area of the oil spill however is rich in marine life.  It included 8,332 species, of which 1,200 are fishes, 200 are birds, 1,400 are mollusks, 1,500 are crustaceans, 4 are sea turtles, and are 29 marine mammals (Biello, 2010). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that 3,613 animals had been counted in the Gulf, including 3,054 birds, 494 sea turtles, 64 dolphins and other mammals, and 1 reptile (2010).

Economic

The wide-scale oil spill has resulted in financial losses for people whose interests were affected by the accident.

In terms of tourism, Oxford Economics – in a paper prepared for the U.S. Travel Association – estimated the potential impact of the oil spill to the U.S. coastal economies at $22.7 billion over a three-year period (Oxford Economics, 2010, p. 2).  It also said that the negative impact on tourism should increase in the next few years.  A comprehensive review of disasters affecting tourism destinations show that impact lingers far beyond the resolution of crises due to misconceptions on the part of travelers and due to tarnished branding of the tourist destinations (Oxford Economics, 2010, p. 2).

In terms of BP’s financial health, Willis Group Holdings said that the company’s total losses could skyrocket to $30 billion, covering well, re-drilling, third-party liabilities, and pollution costs (n.d., 2010)

Social

The oil spill has exposed crude oil or petroleum compounds that have been proven to cause the development of tumors in animals and headache, nausea, vomiting, and rapid heartbeat in humans.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (2010) has confirmed that such symptoms have been observed among workers involved in the oil spill clean-up as well as the general public.  The number of cases of oil spill exposure may increase as the affected areas of oil spill widens.

Political

The gravity and extent of the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico has attracted the attention of not only the local officials of Louisiana but also local officials in adjacent states, congressmen, senators, the president of the U.S. and officials of other countries like Canada and United Kingdom.

Government officials are not only trying to monitor the clean-up process, they are also attempting to identify the causes and effects of the oil spill in order to prevent a similar accident from happening again.  In particular, the government is now abiding by Executive Order 13543 that establishes an independent National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (Whitehouse.gov, 2010).

Location of the Conflict

The location of the conflict is in the Gulf of Mexico that is near the Mississippi River Delta.  The area of the source of conflict is expanding by the day, as rough estimates show that up to 100,000 barrels per day of crude are being spewed into the sea (AFP, 2010).  The discharge of crude into the sea is expected to continue in the coming weeks and months as BP, the government and the concerned general public all work towards permanently closing the well. The affected area is said to be abundant in natural resources and living creatures.

Sources of the Conflict

The conflict is driven mostly by the fact that the oil spill is a huge environmental disaster that harms fishermen, tourism companies, wildlife and many individuals living near the Gulf.  The effects of the oil spill are likely to continue in the next months.  Affected parties have filed lawsuits and claims, including over 200 lawsuits and over 20,000 claims against BP alone (Pagnamenta, 2010).  Most of the plaintiffs are individuals and organizations that have lost income due to the oil spill.

Parties in the Conflict

Parties with substantial interests and which are involved in the conflict include BP and its people; the state and federal U.S. government; fishermen; tourism companies; residents; environmentalists and the general public. Each of the parties, naturally, has its own benefit in mind in the conflict.  BP, for its part, would want to contain damages and compensate affected parties at reasonable amounts.

Fishermen, tourism companies, individuals and the general public want a swift containment of the oil spill as well as an effective and efficient clean-up.  The environmentalists bat for the safety of the living creatures in the Gulf of Mexico.  Finally, the government wants a thorough investigation of the causes and effects of the oil spill, accountability to those who are responsible for the accident, immediate and eventual compensation to those whose lives were disrupted by the oil spill, and establishment of safeguards that would prevent similar events from happening in the future.

The ABC Triangle

Attitude

In general, all the parties affected by and who have interests in the oil spill are distressed.   BP for one has been confronted by countless lawsuits and claims that, if paid out, can deplete the company’s resources.  The people from the seafood and tourism industries are distraught due to the loss of livelihood that they have endured since the beginning of the crisis in April 2010 and will probably endure well into the future.  Groups genuinely concerned about wildlife habitats are indignant.

They want a quick yet lasting resolution to the crisis in order to save the wildlife and prevent animals from dying.  The general public is alarmed about the health toll that exposure to crude and other petroleum compounds can bring.  The government wants an across-the board resolution to the complex crisis and wants to deliver justice to all individuals affected by the oil spill.

Behavior

Precisely because the concerned parties hold varying attitudes towards the oil spill, they also manifest different behavior.  These behaviors may go against the behaviors exhibited by other parties.  The conflict of behaviors arises from the fact that everyone wants to uphold their interests for the sake of surviving the unprecedented oil spill crisis.

For BP, it has tried to settle claims out of court in order to minimize huge legal costs.  The company has also tried to choose the jurisdictions of courts that it believes are friendly to energy companies like BP.  For the various industries unfavorably affected by the oil spill, they are seeking the maximum compensation that they can possibly get.  This is because the effects of the crisis on them have been huge and may last for an indefinite span of time.  Even if the crisis is contained, there is also no guarantee that their businesses will be back to normal.

Context

            The conflict is happening in a context wherein people espouse sustainable development, accountability, and environmental protection.  The general public and the government support these concepts and companies are expected to abide by them.

The Three P’s

People

            The people involved in the crisis include BP and its people; the state and federal U.S. government; fishermen; seafood companies; tourism companies; individuals; environmentalists and the general public.  They have and support their own interests.

Problems

The root problem for all the parties involved is the oil spill.  However, this problem transforms into sub-problems for each of the party involved in the crisis.  For instance, for the people relying on the seawater for their source of revenue the problem is how to regain their earnings and have a reliable stream of income in the days to come.  For BP, the problem is how to contain the oil spill, clean up the environment, pay down damages and still survive as a for-profit company.   For the government, the problem is resolving the crisis at all its fronts.

Process

The process by which people interact to solve the problems may be cooperative but sometimes hostile, especially between BP and the government, BP and the public, and within BP itself.  The process of communications can be filled with tension as one party hurls complaints in an emotional manner and then the other party attempts to address complaints according to what it believes is a reasonable process.

References

AFP. (2010, July 26). “BP 'still to decide' on Hayward in wake of oil spill”. Retrieved August 2, 2010, from http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/usoilpollutionenvironment Biello, D. (2010, June 9). "The BP Spill's Growing Toll On the Sea Life of the Gulf". Yale Environment 360. Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. Retrieved August 2, 2010, from http://www.e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2284

Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals. (2010, June 14). "Louisiana DHH Releases Oil Spill-Related Exposure Information". Retrieved August 2, 2010 from http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov/offices/news.asp?ID=378&Detail=1644

n.d. "Macondo slugs insurance rates". (2010, June 4). In Upstream Online. Retrieved August 2, 2010, from http://www.upstreamonline.com/live/article216745.ece

Oxford Economics.  (2010, July 21). “Potential Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill on Tourism”. Retrieved August 2, 2010, from http://www.ustravel.org/sites/default/files/page/2009/11/Gulf_Oil_Spill_Analysis_Oxford_Economics_710.pdf

Pagnamenta, R.  (2010, May 26). "Lloyd's syndicates launch legal action over BP insurance claim". In The Times (UK). Retrieved August 2, 2010, from http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/banking_and_finance/article7136623.ece

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2010, July 29). “Deepwater Horizon Response Consolidated Fish and Wildlife Collection Report”. Retrieved August 2, 2010, from http://www.fws.gov/home/dhoilspill/pdfs/collection_07292010.pdf

Whitehouse.gov. (2010, May 22). "Executive Order- National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling".  Retrieved August 2, 2010, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/executive-order-national-commission-bp-deepwater-horizon-oil-spill-and-offshore-dri