As a Texas oil and gas attorney, I have had occasion from time to time to observe the environmental, administrative and legal ramifications of an onshore oil spill, usually caused by vandalism or malfunctioning equipment. Along with everyone else in the world, I am horrified as the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico unfolds, and along with everyone along the Gulf, I am intensely frustrated that the spill has not been stopped yet.
Something else, besides the damage to persons, property and the environment, concerns me. Specifically, there is a lynch mob mentality about BP that has this country in its grip. They have been tried and found guilty in the court of public opinion, and the tar and feathers await.
I am not going to defend BP. They have a long history of regulatory problems. Moreover, from what we know so far, it appears that a couple of very stupid and very negligent decisions by BP may have caused this disaster. However, as John Adams famously said in the Novanglus Essay No. 7, we are “a government of laws, not of men.” We also live under state and federal constitutions that promise that we are innocent until proven guilty. Nothing about the cause of this spill or who is responsible has been proven yet. We would be better served by focussing our attention on stopping the spill at this point, rather than flogging BP.