The central thrust of the Obama administration response to the Gulf oil disaster—protecting BP and the oil industry as a whole—has succeeded.
BP’s fourth-quarter profits for 2010 were up 30 percent over 2009. Flush with cash drawn from spiraling oil prices, over the past several months BP has gone on a global shopping spree, buying up billions of dollars worth of energy deals in Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, China, India and Australia. It remains the largest lease holder in the Gulf of Mexico, and has recently signaled that it intends to resume deep-sea exploration and production.
Nothing could more clearly express BP’s confidence that its financial liability for the Gulf oil disaster will be minimal. Under the Clean Water Act, it could face tens of billions in fines for the spill—but only if criminal negligence is established. There is virtually no chance the Obama administration will pursue such an outcome. From the beginning, the White House treated the disaster not as a crime, but an accident.