David Boyle’s new film is based on the true story of Aron Ralston. In 127 Hours, a mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder during a canyoneering adventure in Utah. He is pinned under the rock and he knows that he will die there unless he can break the bone of his arm and amputate it with a penknife. This – astonishingly – is exactly what he does.
After the 1984 Bhopal disaster in which several thousand people died in the worst industrial accident in the world, Union Carbide performed a similar feat when they surgically sold off their shares in their Indian subsidiary which was responsible for the accident, and left India.
Concerning the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, it remains to be seen whether British Petroleum and its partners – including Halliburton – will successfully put this latest disaster to bed by pulling off an Aron Ralston Manoeuvre. BP has already sheared off $11 billion in assets to fund the clean-up bills. It will not be enough.
Findings by the US National Commission investigating the spill suggest that Halliburton’s pre-spill test results on the cement used to seal the well indicated a looming environmental disaster. But Halliburton’s press release denies responsibility and blames BP for a series of operational errors. Well, it’s lawyer-time. Whoever is stuck with the final blame, and bill, the main question that should concern all of us is, where next? Residents of Nigeria’s Delta region, who have long suffered spills and flares will be grateful that nothing on the Macondo scale has yet happened. In one incident. But they (like Bhopal’s $470 million settlement ‘beneficiaries’) will be envious of the attention that the Gulf of Mexico spill has gained in the months since the spill. And the $30 billion earmarked for compensation and redress.
But Bhopal is no Macondo, and the Bight of Benin is not the Gulf of Mexico. Yet, the world of the multinational is a rapidly shrinking one – staff and resources circulate incestuously in one mobile industry. When lax standards are accepted in one part of the world they will eventually come to roost in other parts where disasters are neither as easy to ignore, nor as cheap to sort.