Preventing Future Oil Spills

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

Punishments like those imposed upon the British oil company BP for the fatal explosion and massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago need to serve two purposes. First, the fines must be sufficient to pay for repair and mitigation of the damage caused by the disaster. And second, the cost must be high enough to discourage the culprit and others from allowing such negligence in the future. The federal government is aggressively pursuing penalties that would achieve both goals.

On Thursday the U.S. Justice Department announced that BP had agreed to plead guilty to 14 criminal charges of misconduct and negligence stemming from the explosion and its aftermath, and to pay $4.5 billion in fines and penalties over a five-year period. It is the largest settlement of its kind on record.

In addition, the Justice Department announced the indictment of three BP employees - two of them for manslaughter, and a third for misleading Congress about the volume of oil released by the spill. It's unusual for individuals to face criminal charges after industrial accidents; more typically, their company is accused of criminal wrongdoing. In this case, the government is pursuing both types of prosecution. …