BP Back in Gulf Waters Thanks to the EPA

Once upon a time (about four years ago) it seemed like British Petroleum's oil spilling sins in the Gulf of Mexico would never be forgiven. First the Deepwater Horizon became a fireball in the Gulf of Mexico. Then countless barrels of oil gushed from the ocean floor for weeks before the well was finally capped. There were injured animals, lost tourism dollars and it seemed like BP would never get past the biggest oil spill in U.S. history and one of the biggest public relations disasters ever.

In the wake of this mess, the Environmental Protection Agency booted BP out of offshore drilling. The company, still one of the biggest players in the world of Big Oil, was out in the cold and would not be permitted to bid on potentially lucrative offshore drilling contracts until EPA officials decided BP had reformed enough to be debarred.

Last week, the EPA officially took the BP off the naughty list and allowed the company back into federal offshore bidding. Tracy Hester, professor of environmental law at University of Houston, said this move is another indicator that BP has put the spill pretty far in the industry rear-view mirror. "The whole point of debarment is proving you have changed your behavior and that you can assure the EPA that you've changed so that this will not happen again," Hester said. "The EPA doing this now shows BP dealt with the problems pretty aggressively."

BP is a company that has invested a lot of time in cultivating a good public image, and that image and reputation was in tatters after the spill."In the grand scheme debarment is only a small part of a much bigger mission, to move forward and restore the reputation they did so much damage to," Hester says.

The families of the men who died on the rig probably won't be forgetting BP anytime soon and neither will the many people who saw their way of life altered irrevocably by the spill, but the oil industry has moved on and the EPA is allowing BP to move on with it, Hester said. "Everyone in the energy industry is racing to try and stay relevant in this new world, and now BP is in there wrapping all this up and trying to catch up too," Hester says.

With the criminal trial settled and the civil suit coming to a close, BP is eager to get past the spill, Hester said. The government also has an interest in letting one of the biggest players in the U.S. energy industry get back to business without any constraints. "Frankly, both sides had an interest in reaching an understanding here," Hester said. "BP has contracts providing fuel for the government and the company is a huge and important one."

The EPA allowed the BP back into bidding for federal offshore drilling rights just in time for BP to be involved in the bidding that started on Wednesday, where BP was focused on vying for the right to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the deal with the EPA, the company will retain an auditor selected by the federal agency to oversee safety, ethics and corporate governance standards, according to the Times-Picayune. BP put in 31 bids, including 24 totalling $41.6 million. With that BP is back in the offshore drilling game and the company is going to be one of the big players in the gulf, with one whole auditor to make sure everything is up to par. Don't see how this can turn out any way but well.

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