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How Halliburton is profiting from the Gulf oil spill

• Christian Science Monitor
Eleven days prior to the April 20 Deepwater Horizon blowout, Halliburton Co., the contractor in charge of cementing the rig's well, agreed to purchase a little-known company.

The firm, Boots and Coots, focuses on oil spill prevention and blowout response. Now, it is assisting with the relief well work – under contract to BP – to help stop the Gulf oil spill.

What appears to conspiracy theorists as more than a coincidence is nothing out of the ordinary, say oil-industry experts. Increasingly, oil-industry titans are buying up smaller companies that provide all manner of services.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

But this trend is worrying in itself, the experts say. As companies grow and work both to drill wells and potentially clean up their own mistakes, the result can be unintentional, but riskier decisionmaking over time due to a lack of focus – particularly in an industry that is poorly regulated.

Moreover, there is concern that – as the Gulf oil spill shows – big bureaucracies are not nimble enough in an emergency.

“Working on both sides of the fence,” is not uncommon in the oil industry, says Robert Gramling, author of “Oil on the Edge: Offshore Development, Conflict, Gridlock.

But “it makes for a very complex decisionmaking environment that can become problematic,” he adds.

Creeping complacency

The concern is not so much about intentional negligence but creeping complacency.

“Nobody’s going to say, ‘Oh, don’t worry, we have a cleanup service, we’ll be all right if there’s a spill,’ ” says Hugh Gorman, author of “Redefining Efficiency: Pollution Control, Regulatory Mechanisms, and Technological Change in the US Petroleum Industry.”

But reassurance about how diversified the business’ services are can lead to relaxed decisionmaking over time.

This can be exacerbated by the fact that the oil industry is “very politically powerful” and oil companies do not face the same strict regulatory and safety standards that, for example, airline companies do, says Mr. Gramling, a professor at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette. This can allow for big businesses within the industry and the industry as a whole to “become too cozy,” he adds.

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