The Spill

Outstanding PBS Frontline reports details BP's shoddy history of shortchanging safety

1 min read

Anybody even casually interested in the corporate environment that produced the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe will want to watch The Spill, a PBS Frontline investigative report that aired Tuesday evening in many markets and can be viewed any time online, along with supplementary interviews and supporting material. A joint production of PBS and ProPublica, it is mainly the work of PBS's excellent Martin Smith and ProPublica's Abrahm Lustgarten, who has done the best reporting to date on the environmental downsides to natural gas fracking.

To be sure, the show has much less to say about the details of the Gulf tragedy than the best initial post-mortems, flagged in an earlier post here. I am not the first reviewer to observe that the program could have been twice as long without straining patience or losing impact. Every major precursor--the Texas oil refinery fire, the Alaskan oil pipeline spills, the flamboyant PR-oriented culture that Lord John Browne introduced with his "beyond petroleum" campaign--could have been a program in itself.

One obvious issue left unexplored and barely alluded to in The Spill is whether BP escaped critical scrutiny from the environmental community precisely because of John Browne's campaign, the company's supposedly pioneering internal introduction of carbon trading, and arrangements it entered into with organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund to advance cap-and-trade. Carol Browner, Obama's so-called climate czar, acquits herself poorly in the show. (A recent New Yorker article also lays the White House decision to promote deep offshore drilling at Browner's doorstep.) But that's as far as it goes.

Perhaps it would be unfair to expect a young, relatively inexperienced president to be an expert on offshore drilling, among so many important things. But environmental specialists and activists should have known better.

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