Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Gulf Spill

It was a disaster.  Hundreds of millions of barrels of oil.  Miles of coast line.  Uncountable number of animals affected.

Was it morally bad?

Seems like an easy answer right?  But why is it morally bad?  It was after all, unintentional.  It was an accident.  It wasn't a malicious act, or an act that was done out of pure recklessness (I'll address this in a second).

Typically speaking, we don't call accidents something that is morally blameworthy.  BP didn't do anything morally wrong, if it was an accident (lets set aside the moral questionability of drilling for oil in general).

But we could call the spill a reckless act, if it people weren't taking proper precautions and being generally reckless with their actions.  Reckless behavior is something we can hold someone, or in this case some entity, morally accountable for.  But there's good reason to think that this was not a reckless action.  They were following the law.  Sure companies can always go beyond the law in terms of safety, and lets imagine that they did, and the spill still happened.  People would still blame BP for being not safe enough. Hindsight is 20/20 right?  Its no wonder that none of the other major oil companies would admit a mea culpa on drilling without blowout preventers or a working plan to solve oil spills.  So in that regard they are all equally morally culpable, since no one had such a working plan.

I'm not seriously suggesting that BP didn't have any moral wrong on their hands, but the more I think about it, the more it seems difficult to pin some kind of serious moral wrong onto BP.


  1. Surely simply following the law is not enough to make one blameless.

    Though I'm not an expert on the oil spill, and this second-hand at best, didn't BP have quite a few of their contractors in that area telling them that the spill was an ever-increasing possibility since they were taking as many shortcuts as possible within the confines of the law?

    If the spill had happened and BP could say that they had absolutely no idea or warning that this would happen, I think the public would have been more sympathetic. But even if not, I hope you're not saying that the morality of an action lies solely in public opinion. Even if the public had seen BP in exactly the same way, it seems to be the case that had they done all they truly could to avoid the spill, their actions would have been less morally blameworthy as it would then truly have been an accident.

    There's a kid with a stove story here, but you can e-mail me if you want to talk about this more.

  2. No I'm not suggesting at all that public opinion = immoral or moral.

    It moves beyond a kid with a stove story here. 1st, there will always be someone yelling about how dangerous it is to drill anywhere. I can't think of ANY disaster where people haven't been found predicting it afterward. And they're not exactly naive about how to drill in the ocean. If anyone knows how to do it, oil companies do.

    If it was an accident, then what would make it morally blameworthy?

  3. If someone is telling you "this can lead to a spill, and you need to do A, B, and C to avoid it", then by not following every precaution, you are taking on some moral responsibility.

    Of course, C will always be "don't do it at all", which companies that rely on some sort of dangerous process will ignore. But that's why they're the ones to blame.

    By doing it in the first place, anything that happens is their fault.