Why Isn't BP Under Criminal Investigation?
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Why hasn't the government launched a criminal investigation into BP?
That's the question several former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials have been asking in the aftermath of the catastrophic explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig last month that killed 11 employees and ruptured a newly drilled well 5,000 feet below the surface and has spewed tens of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf if Mexico, which now stands as the largest spill in US history.
Like previous BP-related disasters in Alaska and Texas, evidence has emerged that appears to show BP knowingly cut corners on maintenance and safety on Deepwater Horizon's operations, which, according to blogger bmaz, who writes about legal issues at Emptywheel, could amount to criminal violations of the Clean Water Act. Additionally, because people were killed, BP and company officials could also face prosecution for negligent and reckless homicide.
Scott West, the former special agent-in-charge at the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, who spent more than a year probing allegations that BP committed crimes in connection with a massive oil spill on Alaska's North Slope in 2006, said the company's prior felony and misdemeanor convictions should have immediately "raised red flags" and resulted in a federal criminal investigation.
"If the company behind this disaster was Texaco or Chevron I would have likely waited a couple of days before I started to talking to people," West said. "And the reason for that is those corporations do not enjoy the current criminal history that BP does."
West, who Truthout profiled in an investigative report last week about the Bush administration's apparent scuttling of West's criminal probe into BP in 2007, was harshly critical of the way the disaster has been handled by the government. He said in an interview that BP and the oil conglomerate's executives are "known as liars" and the fact that the government has treated "and continues" to treat the company with kid gloves is "outrageous."
"BP is a convicted serial environmental criminal," West said. "So, where are the criminal investigators? The well head is a crime scene and yet the potential criminals are in charge of that crime scene. Have we learned nothing from this company's past behavior?"
Bob Wojnicz, a former EPA special agent who conducted criminal investigations into the Olympic Pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Washington, in 1999 and worked with West probing the oil spill in Alaska that resulted from a severely corroded pipeline, agreed.
In the case of the Olympic pipeline explosion, which killed three children, Wojnicz said the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), one of the agencies involved in the investigation, treated it "like an accident." But EPA "got involved right away and we looked at the incident and found apparent crimes and were able to make recommendations for charges. You can't really get to that point unless you have preliminary criminal investigation into what happened."
"So how Is BP somehow above being treated like any other criminal suspect?" asked Wojnicz, who is also an attorney. "Recall that they are not just criminal suspects - they are convicted criminals still on federal probation. This whole affair needs to be aired out thoroughly. There is more than enough information available to justify initiating a criminal investigation. The fact that this has not yet happened is evidence of either gross incompetence by government officials or complicity by those officials in covering-up the true nature of BP's conduct. Either of those possibilities is completely unacceptable and should be dealt with immediately and harshly."
West said the EPA, along with, perhaps, the FBI, would be one of the agencies to lead a criminal probe because of possible criminal violations of the Clean Water Act.