Posts Tagged ‘BP’

Two years after BP oil spill, nothing changed

April 21, 2012

Two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, nothing has been done by Congress or the President to prevent another disaster.  In the video above, Robin Millican, an oil industry shill interviewed by Al Jazeera above, said the reason Congress has not acted on any of the 150 bills to improve oil safety is that the legislation is motivated by a desire to shut down domestic U.S. energy production.  The others interviewed were Michael Craig, an environmentalist, and Greg Palast, an outstanding but little-known investigative reporter.

I am worried about the conflict between the need for oil, gas and coal to fuel our vehicles and heat our homes, offices and factories and the risks to human health and the environment involved in the new technologies necessary to obtain these fossil fuels — deep ocean drilling, hydraulic fracturing and mountaintop removal.

Greg Palast said that, in the case of deep ocean drilling, there is no dilemma.  He said deep ocean drilling could be done with perfect safety if oil companies didn’t cut corners on safety—for example, by using a better cement than the quick-dry cement used in the Deepwater Horizon well, and by using a better blowout protector.  Other countries, such as Brazil, use better methods, he said.  Maybe he’s right.  I would like to believe he is right.

Palast just got finished writing an article about the coverup by BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil of an equivalent oil spill in the Caspian Sea two years before the Deepwater Horizon spill.  He found out about it by interviewing oil rig workers off the record, and confirmed it by consulting secret U.S. diplomatic cables posted by Wikileaks.  Palast said oil rig workers are afraid of being blacklisted by having their personnel files marked NRB (not required back).   The Wikileaks cables are among those for which Bradley Manning is being court-martialed for allegedly revealing.

Other reports tell of an epidemic of deformities among marine life in the Gulf.   Al Jazeera English tells of “horribly mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws and eyeless crabs and shrimp,” which interviewees link to the mutagenic toxic chemicals used by BP to disperse the spilled oil.

Click on Gulf seafood deformities alarm scientists for the report by Al Jazeera English.  I know I link to Al Jazeera a lot, but they do excellent work, and they don’t suffer from the inhibitions that many reporters for the U.S. networks do.

Click on Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Aftershocks on Louisiana Seafood for a report by a reporter for Outside magazine on his quest for some good gumbo in post-spill south Louisiana.

Click on Living With the Gulf Oil Disaster, Two Years Later for an interview with Bethany Kraft, deputy director of the Gulf restoration program of the Ocean Conservatory.  [Added 4/23/12]

Click on BP Covered Up Blow-Out Two Years Prior to Deadly Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and BP cover-up: Bush, Big Oil and Wikileaks for Greg Palast’s investigation of the Caspian Sea oil spill.

Click on Greg Palast | Investigative Reporter for his home page.  The reason he is so little known in the United States is that he does most of his reporting for British newspapers and broadcasters.

Is greed good?

July 14, 2010

Our free market system is supposed to be a way to reconcile self-interest with the public interest.  As Adam Smith wrote in The Wealth of Nations –

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

Smith patronized the butcher, the brewer and the baker that gave him the best meat, beer and bread for the best price.  So it was in their interest to give him the best product for the best price that was compatible with making a profit.  You didn’t need some mastermind, according to his theory, trying to figure out what was a just price.

Most human beings act in their own self-interest.  Certainly I do.  As a newspaper reporter, I was fortunate in being able to do work that I liked, and that I thought at the time served a public purpose, but I expected to be paid, and I would not have worked if I had not been paid. Nor did I ever turn down a pay raise because of the possibility I was being overpaid compared to some more-deserving fellow reporter.

At the same time, there are things I would not have done for money.  As a newspaper reporter, I would not have written something I thought untrue to keep in the good graces of an editor or publisher.  I felt a certain loyalty to my employer and to professional standards that was over and above my paycheck.

People who create value deserve to be rewarded.  People who create things of great value deserve to be richly rewarded.  At the same time our capitalistic free-enterprise system doesn’t have a good way to distinguish between people who create value and people who milk the system.


Whose BP should be kicked?

June 14, 2010

President Obama last week said he is consulting experts to decide “whose [body part] to kick” over the BP oil spill catastrophe. He might start with his own Department of the Interior.  It was officials of the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service which in 2009 approved the startup of the BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig without checking to see of BP’s safety plans were adequate.

BP told the federal government it had full capability to deal with any oil spill, but apparently nobody bothered to check its claims. Among the more ridiculous, BP listed a certain professor as its consultant on wildlife; this professor had died in 2005.

It is true that the Obama administration was new in 2009 and couldn’t have been expected to immediately clean up the dysfunctional MMS administration inherited from the Bush years. But what is it doing now to fix the MMS? Has anybody been fired for negligence? What is the Obama administration doing about BP’s Atlantis oil rig, whose safety documentation is just as inadequate as Deepwater Horizon’s?

President Obama has said he will demand BP set up an escrow account to compensate Gulf residents for damages. I’m not sure what legal authority he has to do this; it seems like something a judge would order as compensation in a civil suit. I don’t see why the Obama administration should be granted new authority unless it shows it adequately carries out the responsibilities it already has.


BP: too big to fail?

June 12, 2010

Last night I watched a segment on the PBS Newshour about the consequences of BP failed as a result of its liabilities for the Gulf oil spill.

The conclusion was that a lot of innocent people would suffer. Many British pension funds are heavily invested in BP stock, and retirees would suffer severe loss of income if BP’s stock price collapsed or BP stopped paying dividends over an extended period of time. Some U.S. pension funds also hold BP stock. Then there are BP’s 80,000 employees. I have no reason to doubt that the vast majority of them are doing their jobs well, and have no responsibility for the decisions that led to the Gulf spill.

The people that are responsible, on the other hand, are likely to get off scot-free. BP CEO Tony Hayward received $6.2 billion in cash and shares last year. Even if he loses his job tomorrow, he is not going to have to give it back. The worst-case situation will leave him vastly better off than the people along the Gulf whose properties and businesses have been ruined.

There is no such thing as punishing a corporation. A corporation is an organizational structure and cannot suffer. Only human beings can be punished. Human beings at the head of a corporate respond to economic incentives, which in BP’s case was to protect profits by cutting corners on safety and environmental protection. To offset this, you have to have strict governmental oversight, which the Bush and Obama administrations have failed to provide.


Why is BP still in charge?

May 26, 2010

The first thing BP did after the oil spill was to have its lawyers fan out along the Gulf Coast and try to get people to accept $5,000 payments for signing away their right to sue for damages. At the same time survivors of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion say they were held incommunicado until they signed away their right to sue for damages.

BP is using toxic industrial chemicals to try to disperse the oil. It refused to comply with an Environmental Protection Agency order to use a less-toxic chemical because it said the alternative wasn’t available.

When BP filed for its permit for the Deepwater Horizon well, it said it could easily handle an oil spill 60 times larger than Deepwater Horizon.  This was a falsehood, just like BP’s initial estimate of the amount of the spill.

BP executives meanwhile are acting like little tin dictators, barring the press from lands it doesn’t actually own.

With all this, why is BP still in charge of the cleanup?  Maybe it is because the Obama administration doesn’t have any better idea of how to deal with the situation than BP officials do.  This may be partly because the responsible government agencies were pretty much ruined under the Bush administration, and there hasn’t been time to rebuild.

Or maybe President Obama is, as usual, giving the benefit of the doubt to people and institutions who don’t deserve it.