Opinion

Corporations must be held more accountable

Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Coast Guard: Ships fighting the blaze at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig

Waves in the Gulf of Mexico — filled with gallons of oil and chemicals — washed into the coast. Wetlands were destroyed. Hopeless animals and wildlife were killed after their homes were polluted and destroyed. Millions of coastal residents experienced exposure to crude oil and dispersants. Meanwhile, Anthony Badalamenti of Halliburton Corporation, formerly a contractor with British Petroleum, was deleting data analyses on what contributed to this disaster. On Jan. 21, 2014, he received his sentencing: one year of federal probation.

The BP oil spill in April 2010 led to a liability mess just as much as a physical one. Unfortunately, it seems that the degradation of the environment was followed by a degradation of justice. The sentencing of Badalamenti illustrates the lack of corporate integrity and accountability under the law. Hopefully, as sentencing of other individuals involved in the spill unfolds, the extent of the destruction will lead to further legal repercussions.

Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Coast Guard: Ships fighting the blaze at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig
Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Coast Guard: Ships fighting the blaze at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig

Looking back to the tragedy that began in 2010, BP and fellow contractors such as Halliburton were responsible for the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history. The Macondo Prospect Well, 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, triggered a drilling rig explosion. According to Troubled Water, a report published by the Institute for Southern Studies, 200 million gallons of crude oil and 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants were released over a contamination area of 1,098 miles. The federal government came in and both BP and Halliburton played the “blame game” with who was at fault. BP ended up settling with the Department of Justice and pled guilty to 14 criminal charges and paid $4.5 billion in fines; Halliburton ended up paying only $200,000. The criminal conviction of individuals involved is still ongoing.

Badalamenti was the technology director of Halliburton during the time of the BP oil spill. According

to the prosecutor in his trial, Badalamenti ordered subordinate employees to delete collected data within a review of the Macondo’s cement seal. Judging by the fact that Halliburton was trying to avoid blame, this may have interfered with how much the company was found liable. On Jan. 21, Badalamenti was convicted of a misdemeanor and was sentenced to one-year probation, a $1,000 fine and 100 hours of community service. In comparison, in Illinois a person can be charged with a misdemeanor for public indecency or disorderly conduct. I find it hard to conceptualize that a drunken individual shouting in the streets and a corporate representative who deceivingly deleted data in the midst of a national controversy should be given an equivalent charge.

This particular circumstance seems to be a part of a much larger issue that our country faces: Why aren’t corporations, especially when caught red-handed, held to a higher standard of integrity? As much as the federal justice system may talk as if it takes these offenses seriously, actions speak louder than words. Corporations should not be able to simply pay their way out of the problems they create.

Badalamenti should be held more accountable not only because of the situation in which he was involved, but also because of the example he set for others to follow. This particular case sets a precedent for the future of sentences in corporate scandals, including other individuals involved in the BP oil spill. Kurt Mix, former BP drilling engineer, was convicted with concealing information on Dec. 18, 2013. His sentencing is set for March 26 of this year, when he could face up to 20 years in prison. Former BP executive David Rainey concealed information from Congress and is up for trial on March 10, after the judge agreed to give his attorney more time to prepare for trial. Only time can tell how justice will be served, if at all.

Love it or hate it, we live in a corporate empire. What I find the most troublesome about this truth is that corporations seem to have all of the power and not enough of the responsibility under the law. Further, integrity and accountability should not be lost beneath power and profit. Our legal system should be the first one to recognize this, holding the individuals behind these corporations liable for the betterment of our nation.

Alexandra Schmidt is a contributing columnist. You can contact her at aschmidt7@luc.edu

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