The off-shore oil rigs along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico are no place for the weak. Hundreds of men, a certain type of men, live and breath the oil they drill from under the ocean’s floor. Sometimes 40 or 50 miles from land, the hardened and muscular workers, with hands so dark from grease that they have long ago given up trying to scrub it off, toil in these mini-cities to bring precious energy to the world’s markets. The massive floating contraptions are their homes. These are company men.
More than two years after the BP oil company’s Deepwater Horizon rig blew up, killing 11 men and resulting in the largest oil spill in US history, the Justice Department announced last Thursday that BP would pay $4.5 billion in fines and plead guilty to 14 felony charges. There will be other liabilities under the Clean Water Act, but BP’s admission of guilt begins the last chapter of a political and environmental drama that unfolded during the spring and summer of 2010. (For the record, I worked on the response to the oil spill when I served in the Obama Administration, but had no ties to the subsequent legal proceedings.)