It's time big oil took environment seriously

November 04, 2007|By Andrew Leckey | Andrew Leckey,TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

Environmental crime" has never had a positive ring to it.

The vast oil spill from the tanker Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound that polluted the water and killed thousands of animals in 1989 resulted in millions in criminal fines.

London-based BP PLC, one of the largest international oil companies, recently agreed to admit to criminal wrongdoing and to accept probation in a settlement of environmental allegations. It also is paying $70 million in fines.

The death toll this time involved people. Fifteen people were killed and more than 170 others injured in its Texas City refinery explosion in 2005.

The reality check: These fines don't devastate international oil companies because their wealth is otherworldly.

BP had revenue of $266 billion last year. Exxon Mobil had revenue of $365 billion, the most ever for a publicly traded firm. They are among the strongest, most creditworthy companies.

Americans have taken a serious stance toward the environment in 2007 and also are irritated with pump prices and oil company profits. This has prodded the government to take action.

In the long run there's no reason why oil companies can't have greatly improved environmental records and still make plenty of money to serve shareholders, employees and consumers well.

yourmoney@tribune.com

Andrew Leckey writes for Tribune Media Services.

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