Top Federal Contractors Paid Billions for Environmental Damage

Skimming oil in the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Photo by NOAA Office of Response and Restoration

Tomorrow is Earth Day. In keeping with the day’s purpose as a national teach-in about the environment, we direct you to our Federal Contractor Misconduct Database to explore the environmental track records of the federal government’s largest contractors.

Environmental violations comprise only 17 percent of the 2,300-plus instances in the database, but account for more than 40 percent of the penalty total. The lion’s share of violations have been racked up by five energy companies—ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Valero, and Royal Dutch Shell—and Honeywell.

The five largest environmental misconduct penalties in the database involve the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP, which leased and operated the rig, paid over $32 billion to settle governmental and private-citizen legal actions stemming from the disaster. Citing BP’s “lack of business integrity as demonstrated by the company’s conduct with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill, and response,” the federal government temporarily suspended BP from contracting. Halliburton, which performed cementing work on the oil well, paid $2.1 billion to settle private claims.

Tomorrow’s Earth Day celebration marks the launch of an “environmental and climate literacy” campaign, which focuses on climate change and its threat to our planet. Recently, Exxon has been hit with accusations that it engaged in a decades-long campaign to conceal and discredit scientific evidence linking global climate change to fossil fuels. Our database includes two civil lawsuits—one filed by Exxon shareholders and one filed by a nonprofit environmental group—seeking damages for Exxon’s alleged cover-up. A third instance, a complaint filed with the Internal Revenue Service, claims Exxon violated federal tax laws in pushing its climate denial policies and legislative agenda.

We invite you to peruse our database to see how the government’s largest contractors have violated local, state, federal, and international laws protecting the air, ground, and water. And remember to check back frequently—we’re always adding or updating instances.