Sunday, April 3, 2011

Transocean to Louisiana: Drop Dead

1975 seems like such a distant past.  New York City was in dire economic straits and was trying to get assistance from the Federal Government.  The President at the time was Gerald Ford, and he was staunchly opposed to providing economic assistance.  The result was a headline in the October 30 issue of the Daily News that is now a classic in the history of journalism:

Ford to New York:  Drop Dead

Today we have one of those cases when history is repeating, but the second time around is far from farce.  The story has been tersely summarized by Al Jazeera English and is so compact that it speaks for itself:

Transocean Ltd., the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded off the Gulf of Mexico last year, has given its top executives bonuses for achieving the "best year in safety performance in our company's history'', despite the blast that killed 11 people and spilled 200 million gallons of oil into the ocean.

Transocean noted "the tragic loss of life'' in the Gulf when the rig operated by BP PLC exploded last April. But it said the company still had an "exemplary'' safety record because it met or exceeded certain internal safety targets concerning the frequency and severity of its accidents, according to the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.

Safety accounts for a quarter of the executives' total cash bonuses. The total bonus for CEO Steve Newman last year was $374,062.

The company said in a regulatory filing that its most senior managers were given two thirds of their total possible safety bonus.

The company said its bonuses were appropriate as a way to recognise its executives' efforts in "significantly improving the company's safety record'' and implementing a new internal planning system.

Those efforts have "enabled the company to maintain its financial flexibility during a challenging period, while, at the same time, positioning the company for sustained growth in the future.''

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera has learned that a recent survey carried out in southern Louisiana, one of the worst affected areas, found a high number of people who say they are getting ill more often and their sickness is consistent with chemical exposure.

The massive oil spill sent dangerous compounds into the ocean; one of them was benzene which can cause cancer, as well as a chemical dispersant that was added to the oil to break it up.

Transocean's Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion on April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and set off the largest offshore oil spill in US history.

A commission appointed by Barack Obama, the US president, earlier this year said the explosion was caused by a series of time and money-saving decisions by Transocean, BP and oil services company Halliburton Inc. that created an unacceptable amount of risk.

The reason this is clearly tragedy rather than farce is most apparent in that study cited by Al Jazeera.  This time the phrase “drop dead” has a more literal meaning than it had in that Daily News headline.

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