For weeks after the Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, cable news channels kept a small window open in the corner of viewers’ TV screens, carrying a live feed of oil billowing from the damaged drilling site. For nearly three months, viewers watched as 53,000 barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf each day. But eventually, the well was capped; much of the coastline in the Gulf States was cleaned (although the region is still far from a full recovery); and the country moved on to other issues.
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In November, British oil giant BP pleaded guilty to 11 felony counts of “seaman’s manslaughter” related to the deaths of 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and agreed to a $4.5 billion settlement — the largest corporate criminal punishment in U.S. history. Despite the historic sum, one could argue it’s a light sentence for a company that reported $5.8 billion in profits in the third quarter of 2012 alone. And in at least one way, BP got off lucky: their case received scant litigation in the national media, as attention was focused on the recent election, the fallout from Gen. David Petraeus’s admission of an affair and an escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.