Following BP’s Lead on the Oil Spill

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* By Bob Herbert New York Times *

I asked the sheriff of St. Bernard Parish, Jack Stephens, if he was at all optimistic about BP stopping the gusher of oil that is fouling the Gulf of Mexico in time to prevent a long-term environmental catastrophe in the southern Louisiana wetlands.

The sun was high in the sky, and the day was hot. The sheriff was in a small boat, patrolling the waterways that wend their way through the delicate marshes. He thought for a long moment. Oil was already seeping into the marshes, getting into the soil and plant life and coating some of the wildlife.

“I’ll tell you the truth,” said Mr. Stephens. “It may already be too late.”

Traveling along the Gulf Coast, past idled boats with names like Big Shrimp and Blessed Assurance, past dead trees and hurricane fortifications and other signs of the area’s perpetual vulnerability, you can’t help but wonder how a company like BP, with its awful record of incompetence and irresponsibility, was ever allowed to drill for oil a mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s not as if we didn’t know that BP was a menace. On March 23, 2005, a series of explosions and fires at the BP Texas City refinery killed 15 people and injured 180 others in what was described by investigators as “one of the worst industrial disasters in recent U.S. history.” John Bresland, the chairman of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, reminded us in March, on the fifth anniversary of the tragedy, that an intensive investigation by the board had “found organizational and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporation.”

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