Date of Award

8-2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Sociology

First Advisor

Dr. Ronald C. Kramer

Second Advisor

Dr. Gregory J. Howard

Third Advisor

Dr. Susan M. Carlson

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Raymond J. Michalowski

Abstract

The 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was one of the worst environmental disasters of all time. Using the concept of state-corporate environmental crime, this project applies a case study analysis of secondary data sources including publicly available government reports, corporate documents, academic sources and journalistic accounts to examine the causes of the blowout and the response to the spill. Building on Michalowski and Kramer’s Integrated Theoretical Model of State-Corporate Crime, this study introduces an additional level of analysis- that of the industry- between the organizational and institutional levels.

The causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion are rooted both in the history of federal development of the offshore oil industry, and the organizational actions of the corporations most directly involved: BP, Transocean and Halliburton. Undertaken in close coordination between the federal government and BP, alongside privately contracted oil spill response organizations, the response to the spill can be classified as a state-facilitated corporate cover up of the environmental crimes in the Gulf. This was accomplished through scientific propaganda and censorship of images and information. Working together, BP and the Obama administration sought to downplay the size of the spill and its effects. An unprecedented amount of toxic chemical dispersants were applied at the surface and directly at the wellhead in an effort to conceal the amount of oil. Federal restrictions blocked access to cleanup operations, beaches and airspace, thereby limiting public visibility of the spill. Policing the media blackout was an intricate matrix of federal and local law enforcement, and private security companies hired by BP. Suppression of images and information helped to contain public outrage while allowing BP and the federal government to carry out dangerous response measures with little oversight. As this study demonstrates, the most recent spill is not an isolated instance of state-corporate environmental crime, but rather is the result of the criminogenic structure of the deepwater oil industry.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

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