British eco-journalist George Monbiot is warning that the enormous profits Big Oil distributes to its shareholders as dividends may actually be, "externalised costs the company has failed to pay, and which the rest of society must carry."
"...Pollution has been defined as a resource in the wrong place. That’s also a pretty good description of the company’s profits. The great plumes of money that have been bursting out of the company’s accounts every year are not BP’s to give away. They consist, in part or in whole, of the externalised costs the company has failed to pay, and which the rest of society must carry.
Does this sound familiar? In the ten years preceding the crash, the banks posted and disposed of stupendous profits. When their risky ventures failed, they discovered that they hadn’t made sufficient provision against future costs, and had to go begging from the state. They had classified their annual surplus as profit and given it to their investors and staff long before it was safe to do so.
...The full costs imposed by the oil companies ...cannot be accounted. But even if they could, you shouldn’t expect the companies to carry them. They might be incapable of capping their leaks; they are adept at capping their liabilities. The Deepwater Horizon rig, which is owned by Transocean, is registered in the Marshall Islands. Most oil companies pull the same trick: they register their rigs and ships in small countries with weak governments and no international reach. These nations are, in other words, incapable of regulating them
Flags of convenience signify more than the place of registration: they’re an unmistakable sign that responsibilities are being offloaded. If powerful governments were serious about tackling pollution, the first thing they would do would be to force oil companies to register their property in the places where their major interests lie.