After the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, oil spewed into the Gulf at a (conservatively) estimated rate of 5,000 barrels a day for more than a month. And nearly as much ink has been spilled condemning BP, the oil company that leased the deep-water rig and is now spearheading the cleanup.
All that vitriol directed toward BP from the blogosphere, the mainstream media, and the U.S. government has had a discernible effect on public opinion: A recent CNN/Opinion Research poll found that 76 percent of respondents disapprove of the way BP has handled the spill.
And no wonder. BP appears to have consistently underestimated the scope of the spill and overestimated the chances of various proposed fixes. Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, admitted frankly that he underestimated the extent of environmental damage the spill could inflict on the Gulf Coast ecosystem. And the current spill is only the latest in a series of unfortunate accidents — a March 2005 explosion at a BP refinery in Texas killed 15 people — that have brought deserved scrutiny to BP’s safety practices and procedures.
But before we ride BP out on the rails, consider this: Finding and extracting oil from the earth ranks among the most dangerous of occupations. And thanks to regulations and pressure from environmental groups, oil companies are largely prevented from seeking new oil reserves near U.S. coasts, forcing them out into deep water where the dangers and complexities of an already dangerous and complex business increase one hundred-fold.