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Professional Ethics Case: Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig

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British Petroleum is a world-leading oil and gas firm located in England which has been operating since 1909 in over 70 countries and producing approximately 3.6 million barrels a day. A statement obtained from the British Petroleum website under the category “what we stand for” states: “We care deeply about how we deliver energy to the world. Above everything, that starts with safety and excellence in our operations”; however, the firm has been heavily criticized for their safety standard operating procedures due to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. The down spiral started on the 20th of April 2010 since it represents the occurrence of the worst oil disaster in the United States history due to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

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The tragic accident was reenacted in the well know movie “Deepwater Horizon” which was produced on September 2016 by the director Peter Berg and starred by actors such as Mark Wahlberg who played Mike Williams, Kurt Russell the chief and John Malkovich acting as Donald Vidrine one of the BP managers… The movie plays out the faux pas that resulted in the explosion of the rig in the Gulf of Mexico, that caused the death of 11 crew members, and the spill of 100 million gallons of oil. This heartbreaking movie displays the ethical dilemmas such as the safety concerns which may have led the viewers to speculate on how the concerned parties failed to live up to their responsibilities by neglecting their employees, the citizens, and the fisherman and the environment.

Deepwater Horizon is a movie that was produced to initiate a conversation about certain decisions made by firms on how they performed their businesses legally and ethically; however, a better understanding of ethics is required. According to Bruce Weinstein, “Ethics focuses on the decision-making process for determining right and wrong, which sometimes is a matter of weighing the pros and cons or the competing values and interest.”

The starting scenes of the movie are what show the viewers who the “bad” people are and who are the “good” one since, from the get-go, the viewer feels the tension that is present during the conversation between the BP managers and the Transocean employees. Scene by scene, the director shows the irresponsible behavior of the British Petroleum and their unethical moves and how they are mostly to be blamed for the accident for rushing the employees to start digging without being 100% sure of the stability of the ground.

British Petroleum is a company that has a market value of $180 billion, yet they still sent back the men cement checking team (Halliburton) who were supposed to conduct a “cement bond log test” and which would have cost them $125,000. But then again, they were over budget by $25 million so they thought it would be better to save the money. The execution of the test would have saved the firm from the hell and the bad reputation that was awaiting them. An additional issue, the BP men were informed by Mike the chief electrical engineer, that 390 of the machines being used, which was approximately 10% of the machines on the rig are defective and the response for that is as long as the rig is still up and running then “it’s fine”. A supplementary confrontation occurred on the rig between Jimmy Harrell where he insisted on doing the negative pressure test on the pipeline to determine whether the cement would withstand the pressure or not which resulted in showing a very high pressure (1395 Psi). While there were no leaks visible, BP manager Donald Vidrine used that to his advantage and offered to do a different “less important” negative test on the kill line that ended up showing zero pressure. Seeing these results, Vidrine jumped on the opportunity using his power to order the employees to start the digging while ignoring the warnings of the technicians about the safety level of the rig. If BP weighted the pros and cons related to the safety of the crew, they would have known that pursuing the drilling is extremely risky.

Moral character is the existence of virtues in an individual such as integrity, courage, fortitude, honesty, and loyalty. In other words, it means that you are a good person and a good citizen. The explosion at Deepwater Horizon can be drawn back to numerous key missteps that were done by BP, Transocean and Halliburton. These series of small mistakes and misjudgments, when not caught in time, can turn into a catastrophe. The reality is that each BP and Transocean had grown dangerously overconfident and were pushing too close to the edge, even the way of communication among the heads of the two companies: Chef Jimmy Harrell (Transocean) and Mr. Donald Vidrine (British petroleum) while they were deciding on the tests, it seems like a competition between both about whose right and whose in the wrong. Ignore the bad test and finding excuses while knowing the truth was a moral misstep by Mr. Vidrine while Chef Harrell was urging caution, plus avoiding the “cement bond log test” and sending the employees back without checking anything was an unmoral decision by BP just to save money. In addition, the behavior of the Deepwater Horizon team showed that none of them was particularly alarmed that work was proceeding even when they knew that there were uncertainties about the worrying test results; But then we know that small subtly faulty decisions like this one can turn to a massive disaster that is unworthy to lose the lives of others for; However, this attitude is inappropriate because they have always to think that all the employees lives are in their hands as well as the environment that will be affected by any mistake committed from anyone of them.

On the other hand, Chef Jimmy Harrell was more responsible by checking every move happening around him and making sure everything was going like it should be by asking the firms about the results and so on. The standard response to engineering disasters like the Deepwater Horizon case is to assign full moral responsibility to individuals. According to the sociologist Diane Vaughan “ We like to think that accidents happen because bad people knowingly and carelessly let them happen, but we know that even organizations staffed by smart, seemingly moral people can slowly slide into dangerous and unethical behavior”. BP had to admit liability under both moral and civil law since all that happened was because of their irresponsibility and disregard for risk, so the company deserves to pay every cent of more than 60$ billion dollars as a total of all fines andsettlements.

According to the Tim Stout, characters whether in a movie or a book have a purpose to fulfill which is to transmit a certain message and/or to portray a certain image where each character will have to serve a certain role. Those roles can fall under 8 categories: the protagonist, the antagonist, the mentor, the temper, the sidekick, the skeptic, the emotional and the logical; however, some characters can fall under multiple categories which have been observed in the movie “Deepwater Horizon”. The main characters in the movie are Mike Williams who plays the chief electrical engineer, Jimmy Harrell the general operational supervisor, British Petroleum managers Donald Vidrine and Robert Kaluza and Andrea Fleytas the rig’s dynamic position operator.

Starting it off, the producer has chosen to portray Mike Williams as the emotional, protagonist characters, who not only is devoted to his family but also to his job. Mike seems to have earned the respects of his colleagues for having moral and ethical standards since they look up to him to know his thoughts about work matters and decisions. In addition, Mr. Williams appears as the hero of the movie since even in hard times such as when the rig exploded, he returned down the rig to rescue his colleagues. Jimmy Harrell on the other hand, seems to be someone very influenceable but taken as the mentor on the rig due to his position. Regardless of his kindness, his ethical compass is not as strong as it should have been especially when it comes to the safety of his employees since he caved in when the BP managers were putting pressure on him. The character of Jimmy evolves throughout the movie since by the end he was trying to do everything he can to save the people on board even though his sight was temporarily gone.

BP managers specifically Donald Vidrine is shown as the antagonist and arrogant man, whom the safety of his employees is the last thing on his list. In the movie, Donald Vidrine says a sentence that shows how little he cares about anything except money “we all work very hard to ensure that those moving parts are functioning as a mean to a very profitable end for all of us”. Robert Kaluza even though being one of the main characters, doesn’t seem to have much of an opinion about anything except agreeing with whatever is being said by Mr. Vidrine making him the right hand of his BP colleague with no moral or ethical compass because even though he knew that they shouldn’t start drilling due to the pressure, he still agreed because Donald Vidrine commanded it. The British Petroleum managers are portrayed by the director as the money chasers, who are willing to go to any extreme to not spend money. That behavior is displayed when they were pressuring the employees to start the digging by threatening them.

Lastly, on the list of characters, Andrea Fleytas is represented as the woman who follows the rules so much that sometimes she forgets her role as a human being. After the explosion occurred, and a couple of minutes went by Andrea finally decided to break the rules and go ahead with shutting down the rig which is doing the right thing, her supervisor went ahead and told her that she doesn’t have the authority to do so. In such cases as this catastrophic event, there shouldn’t be any hierarchy of command. Deepwater Horizon is a movie that was produced to honor the individuals that have died on that tragic day and to acknowledge their heroism and not to throw blame at anyone because it focuses on the trauma that the individuals lived and not the aftermath of the case. Throughout the movie, the producer Peter Berg has tried to keep a neutral position toward the situation; however, he has tried to put signs in the movie as to what was going to happen such as when Mike Williams’ daughter was explaining his job by using a coca cola can and it ended up exploding. A supplementary sign was the magenta colored tie of Robert Kaluza which signifies a “disaster color”. A supplementary sign is, during the explosion the viewer can see a pelican landing on the rig filled with oil which is a representation of the damage that has been caused to the environment.

Lastly and most importantly, the viewer can see the BP manager Donald Vidrine saving himself from the multiple explosions that occurred and being one of the first people to get on board the safety boats. This last sign can be interpreted by viewers that the “bad” people don’t always get what they deserve and that is based on the real trial that took place in 2015, where both British petroleum managers were indicted for manslaughter, but the charges were dismissed. An ironical scene was done by the producer where he shows the spectators that the Deepwater Horizon received a safety reward for 7 years in a row when a couple of minutes after the rig was exploding.

British Petroleum has dishonored its duties toward its employees, the citizens, and the environment by acting in an unethical way which has caused them to suffer some great consequences due to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon since they had to pay over 60 billion dollars for the damages that they have caused; however, no amount could ever comfort the 11 families that lost their loved ones on that heart-rending event nor the employees who were left traumatized. Firms as big as the British Petroleum should invest more for a better safety program and a more reliable risk management regulation since they didn’t know how to contain the oil spill for days. Thus, hiring an environmentalist would help them in the future to work more efficiently to be less harmful to the environment and assuring the safety of its personnel. The Maslow hierarchy of needs states that one of the basic needs of a human being is the safety of which British Petroleum and Transocean deprived their employees of. Safety comes with a price which should have been paid by the British petroleum and of which they chose to disregard because of their greed.

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