George Graham

Big Oil Buys Special Privileges Around the World

What’s going on with the Gulf oil leak, anyway? Why is the U.S. Government so passive? Why are reporters so tactful in their questioning of BP officials? Why isn’t anyone in prison?

After all, 11 workers died in last month’s explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. And the evidence is mounting that their deaths resulted from willful disregard of normal safety precautions in the pursuit of unchecked greed.

Day after day, thousands of gallons of crude gush from a crack in the floor of the Gulf, bringing a disaster of cataclysmic proportions ever closer to the Louisiana bayous, the Florida coastline and the East Coast of the United States.

And day after day we get talk, talk, talk… excuses, excuses,excuses…

Attempts to plug the leak so far range from the absurd to the bizarre. They include concrete boxes and mile-long pipelines designed like drinking straws. If anyone knows what they’re doing, they haven’t been heard from. Yet, officials are letting BP continue to run the futile cleanup operation.

You would think that not just President Obama and the U.S. Congress but leaders of the entire world world would be mobilized to clean up the mess before it spreads from the Gulf into the Atlantic Ocean. And you would think the United Nations would be debating sanctions against BP in retaliation for the company’s criminally careless behavior.

You would also think that this would be the end of offshore drilling permits.

Of course, you would be wrong.

Big Oil has long been above the law – not only in America but throughout the world. Oil company executives have spent billions to buy this special exemption.

The money they have poured into world corruption is estimated at $700 billion (US).

And the way oil leases are granted in America has been a shameful scandal for generations. During the Bush-Cheney Administration, corruption in the agency charged with regulating the industry deteriorated to the point where government regulators were not only accepting bribes but also sharing drugs and participating in sex orgies with oil company executives.

Things were supposed to improve with Obama’s election, and no doubt they have. But the Gulf explosion has brought charges that federal regulators allowed extensive offshore drilling without first demanding the required environmental permits. The BP well that blew in the gulf  in April was granted an exemption from the assessment process because company officials assured regulators that it would be safe.

The government regulatory agency also routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of certain drilling proposals in the Gulf and in Alaska, according to reports. Scientists said they were also regularly pressured by agency officials to change the findings of their internal studies if they predicted that an accident was likely to occur or if wildlife might be harmed.

One reason for Big Oil’s privileged position is the revenue the U.S. derives from oil and gas exploration. This is one of the federal government’s largest sources of non-tax income. In 2007, the most recent year for which a complete annual report is available, the government collected $9.4 billion in oil and gas royalties.

Of course, even in this deal, the public purse is apparently being short-changed.

The industry pays about 40 percent of  its royalties by giving the government some of the oil it finds, and the government uses this oil to stock its (controversial) Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
But the government has no effective way of monitoring the industry, so taxpayers are inevitably losing billions of dollars in the deal.

Meanwhile, the beat goes on. Oil gushes into the Gulf, and nobody know how long it will take to plug the massive leak. Eleven men are dead. Wildlife is being suffocated. The fishing industry is crippled and thousands of people are out of work because of  it.

But don’t look for some dramatic change as a result. The Interior Department still operates under rules like the 1872 mining law, which allows companies to stake claims in environmentally sensitive areas with little public comment.

Big Oil reigns supreme.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for