Friday, August 11, 2006

Oil giant poses as innovator, operates like rogue

Pat Murphy

None in the petroleum racket can touch the oil giant BP for slick marketing. This petroleum colossus is a hydra-headed hypocrite.

Once known as British Petroleum, BP is peddling itself as "BP: Beyond Petroleum," claiming cutting-edge innovations that provide consumers better energy products through advanced engineering while being environmentally conscious.

This balderdash is tantamount to consumer fraud.

BP's oily marketing scheme conceals squalid corporate conduct. It was fined $500,000 in 1999 for discharging illegal waste in Alaskan oil operations. It was accused of rigging propane gas prices in 2004 and fined $21.4 million in 2005 for "willful" violations leading to deaths of 15 workers at a Texas refinery. It was sued in 2005 by the Alaskan Gasoline Port Authority for price rigging. In March, it's pipeline spilled 200,000 gallons of crude in the Prudhoe Bay area, and it was subpoenaed in June by a grand jury investigating criminal negligence.

Now BP is shutting down 12 of its Alaskan wells to repair 16 miles of corroded, leaking pipeline that BP officials had ignored for years despite documented warnings from workers.

This is no small matter. Losing BP's daily production of 400,000 barrels—8 percent of the nation's supply—on the North Slope will spike consumers' fuel prices and rock the U.S. economy for months and months.

BP's cavalier indifference to maintenance and the nation's well-being (it reportedly wanted to save money on its 2005 profit of $22 billion) can be traced to the utterly ho-hum attitude of Congress in policing Big Oil's behavior.

Consider the pathetic reaction of Thomas Barrett, chief of the Department of Transportation's Office of Pipeline Safety, who said he's "disappointed" in BP's lackadaisical maintenance that allowed crippling corrosion to develop.

Disappointed? He should be furious. He should be dragging BP's senior officials in for questioning pronto. He should be waving the U.S. criminal code in their faces.

But how can the public expect rigorous federal punishment of BP and other petroleum leviathans that callously disregard the public's well-being?

Remember, President Bush and Vice President Cheney owe their civilian fortunes as well as their political support to cronies in oil.

The one hope is that consumer and environmentalist outrage will embarrass the Justice Department into dealing with BP executives the way it pursued Enron's corporate hooligans who played fast and loose with the public interests.

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