Quote " What reason is there to expect this current BP mess will be handled any differently? As far as this goes, why should BP execs not expect the same easy treatment that their brethern in Exxon received?"
Answer; Exxon is American, Alaska is America soil. BP is British. You will see that BP will have to pay over and above what they would have gotten away with paying any less powerful country than USA. Understandably there is a lot of emotion against BP, but the truth is were it Exxon's rig that expolded the situation would be exactly the same.
The oil industry, would have pooled their knowledge to resolve this problem by now if they collectively had any answers. Any company, including BP, at a time like this would hire whoever had the technical competence to quickly resolve this leak, but there really seems to be a lack of technical know how industry wide. It is obvious that the oil industry has neglected the development of appropiate damage control to accompany deeper, and deeper exploration.