Posts Tagged ‘Gulf oil spill’

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.

Oil drilling back to normal in the Gulf

March 12, 2012

Nearly two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the U.S. Gulf Coast, there is more oil drilling than before.  Back then, there were 25 oil rigs off the Gulf Coast; now there are 40 rigs.  BP has five oil rigs in operation, as many as before, and is scheduled to have eight rigs in operation by next year.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was blamed on negligence by BP and by the Minerals Management Service, the responsible U.S. regulatory agency.  The Obama administration has replaced it with a new agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement.

The manager of the new agency said it lacks the resources, personnel, training, technology, enforcement tools, regulations and training needed to assure there will be no repetition of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  The New York Times reported that the budget of the bureau and its predecessor have been basically flat since 1982, despite the huge growth of drilling activity in the past 30 years.

Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican nomination for President, said existing regulations are too burdensome and should be relaxed.  Meanwhile the oil companies are expanding their drilling to the coasts of Mexico and Cuba, which are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. regulation.

A few weeks before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, President Obama said increased offshore oil drilling on the U.S. Continental Shelf was part of his long-range energy plan.   It would seem that plan is back on track.

We Americans should not be in such a hurry to use up our domestic energy resources.  The faster we pump out the oil now, the less will be available for future generations.  The oil will not go away if the U.S. government calls a halt until better methods of drilling can be adopted.

But I admit this kind of thinking is not politically feasible.  We are not going to tolerate the temporary shutdown of a major industry while unemployment is above 8 percent, nor a halt to oil drilling when gasoline prices are approaching $4 a gallon (although increased oil drilling would have only a minor and delayed effect on prices at the pump).

Click on Deepwater Drilling Returns to Gulf and Grows As Blast Fades for a report by the New York Times.

Click on Is the US Gulf oil spill issue truly settled? for an Al Jazeera panel discussion of BP’s legal liability and proposed settlement.

Click on National Geographic Educator Resources Oil Spills Map for a National Geographic map of oil drilling across the Gulf of Mexico.

Click on Offshore Drilling and Exploration News for continuing coverage and updates from the New York Times.

Click on The Gumbo Chronicles for the effect of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on oysters, shrimp and crabs on the Gulf Coast.  [Added 3/16/12]

Why I don’t hate BP

June 23, 2010

I don’t hate BP or any other oil company. Neither do I defend BP.  An oil company is not a person. It is an organizational structure through which people operate.

I drive a car, and I need gasoline to make my car run.  The hard-working men and women of BP, ExxonMobil and the other oil companies extract oil in remote parts of the world and distribute and refine it in an incredibly complicated process. Thanks to them, I can drive up to the pump whenever I want, and fill my tank with gasoline. I am grateful to them.

There are people in BP’s chain of command whose decisions resulted in the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, which resulted in 11 deaths and the destruction of the property and livelihoods of untold thousands along the Gulf coast.  I loathe and despise these individuals, even though I will never know who most of them are, and I know they will escape any serious consequence of their decision.

Some of these same BP executives ordered the survivors of the Deepwater Horizon rig held incommunicado until they signed waivers of liability, and their henchmen are acting like little tin dictators in the Gulf. I loathe and despise these individuals as well.

But the fact is that we the people, for all the talk about “ending our addiction” to oil, are going to need oil for the foreseeable future, and we will have to rely on the knowledge, experience and effort of oil company workers. What’s wanted is not to destroy the corporate structure, but to put responsible people in charge of the structure, and subject them to reasonable regulation.


Obama’s Katrina?

June 22, 2010

Hurricane Katrina was a predictable natural disaster which the federal government failed to avert and to prepare for.

Deepwater Horizon was a preventable human-caused disaster which the federal government failed to avert and to prepare for.

The Bush administration failed to provide funds to repair and maintain the dams and levees surrounding New Orleans, despite warnings they were inadequate. The Bush administration then appointed political hacks to manage the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other federal agencies, which then predictably failed to do their jobs.

The Obama administration has so far failed to change things back.  The Minerals Management Service continued to fail to enforce regulations requiring oil drillers in the Gulf to maintain best practices. Without absolving BP management of responsibility, it is predictable that when regulations are not enforced, somebody is going to ignore them.  And when there is a competitive economic advantage to be gained by cutting corners, eventually everybody is going to do it.

The federal government has responded massively to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but reports from the Gulf say that federal, state and local efforts are poorly-coordinated – in other words, the FEMA is still not doing its job.

Even after President Obama announced a moratorium on new drilling in the Gulf, the MMS continued to approve new drilling applications, and without doing any more checking than it did with BP.  Maybe some of these other oil companies are more responsible than BP, but there is no way to know if they are.

Ken Salazar, Obama’s Secretary of the Interior, was quickly confirmed by the Senate because he was acceptable to the oil and gas industry.  If President Obama had nominated somebody who really would have cracked down on the oil industry, he would have faced a big floor fight and maybe a Republican filibuster.  In retrospect, he would have done better, even from the standpoint of political expediency, to have made that fight.

I blame George W. Bush and Barack Obama for the government’s failures in the Gulf because the alternative is to admit that it is impossible for the government to do its job. If this is so, then U.S. decline is inevitable and irreversible.


Douglas Adams on the Gulf oil spill

June 18, 2010

The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong, it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.

Douglas Adams, who died in 2001, wrote this in one of his Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy stories.


Obama’s speech on the Gulf oil spill

June 15, 2010

President Obama always gives a good speech. So did President Clinton. Eventually I stopped listening to Clinton’s speeches because I came to realize they didn’t mean anything. I am approaching this point with President Obama.

I listened to his Oval Office speech tonight. He is going to make BP pay for everything. He is going to develop a Gulf Coast restoration plan. He is going to appoint a national commission to study the causes of the disaster. He is going to clean house in the Minerals Management Service.  And he is going to develop a plan for renewable energy – no details given, but he spoke highly of wind turbines.

What I’d like to hear is what he has done.  I’d like him to be able to say that the government can guarantee that no oil company today could get away with flouting safety and environmental laws as BP did.  I’d like him to be able to say that MMS officials who failed to do their jobs have been fired.  I’d like him to be able to say that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is functioning well.  I’d like him to be able to say what the federal government is doing in its own operations to use renewable energy and provide a market for it.  For myself, I’d like to be able to listen to a Presidential address and not have to wonder if it meant anything.


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.


A failure of prevention, not response

June 4, 2010

Some situations are irretrievable.  If you fall out of an airplane without a parachute, there’s not much you can do before you hit the ground.  This is the case with the BP oil spill off the Louisiana coast.  The Obama administration’s failure is not a failure of response, because there is no obvious action that the administration is overlooking. It is a failure of foresight and prevention.

Business corporations respond to financial incentives. Corporation executives respond to short-term financial incentives rather than long-term risks because, after all, it’s not their money.

BP executives had no financial incentive to say, “Well, actually, we aren’t sure we know how to drill for oil a mile beneath the ocean’s surface, and maybe we had better hold off until we figure it out.”  It had no financial incentive to prepare for the worst case situation.  Its financial incentive was to extract the maximum of oil at the minimum of cost.

Now it is too late.  We are looking at what is shaping up as the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, with both BP and the government unable to stop it from running its course.


Oil reaches Louisiana shores

May 29, 2010

Click on this for another amazing photographic report from the Boston Globe.

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.


Obama, the Gulf oil spill and the lunatic fringe

May 24, 2010

President Obama’s response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the least you could expect under the circumstances. And he is under attack from the right wing even for that.

When the seriousness of the disaster became apparent, President Obama formed a task force of top administration officials, while the Secretaries of the Interior and of Homeland Security and then Obama himself flew to the scene. But they left the actual work of trying to cap the spill was left to BP.  President Obama scolded BP, the oil rig owner Transocean and the oil services company Halliburton, but he reaffirmed his policy of continuing offshore oil drilling.

He announced a temporary moratorium on new oil drilling, and since then there have been seven new drilling permits and five environmental waivers (no permits for new wells, however).  He announced he will appoint a special commission to investigate the causes of the disaster and make recommendations, and one of the first two appointees to the commission is the head of the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

From the standpoint of the shrimp fishermen and property-owners along the Gulf Coast, this must seem like thin soup. But it is too strong for Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican Senatorial candidate. He said it is “un-American” for Obama administration officials to speak so harshly of BP, a foreign-owned company formerly known as British Petroleum.

Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican objected to a proposal to increase the cap on oil company liability for such disasters from $75 million to $10 billion (that’s million and billion) because it would be too burdensome. BP’s profit was $26.5 billion in 2008 and $14 billion last year, so such liability would not put it out of business.

But all these folks seem positively reasonable compared to Rush Limbaugh, who speculated, on the basis of nothing at all, that supporters of President Obama may have sabotaged the oil well in order to advance some kind of environmentalist agenda.

We don’t yet know how bad the Gulf disaster will be.  Some scientists expect a long-term degradation of the Gulf fishery and environment, rather than spectacular pollution as in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster.

And we don’t whether better regulation could have averted the disaster. Maybe if we follow the best practices of the oil industry elsewhere, such as in the North Sea, we can guarantee it won’t happen again.  Maybe it is inherently impossible to drill for oil 5,000 feet beneath the ocean floor and do it safely. When you stop and think about it, it is amazing that it is possible at all.

The country wouldn’t suffer if we suspend drilling for now.  The Gulf provides a tiny fraction of our oil supply and provides a tiny fraction of our reserves.  If we ever really need it, it will be there. It won’t go away – except of the millions of gallons each day gushing out into the ocean from the failed Deepwater Horizon well.


Risks and rewards of offshore oil drilling

May 5, 2010

The risk of offshore oil drilling is environmental catastrophe that jeopardizes the livelihoods and well-being of people who live and work along the coast.

It makes possible the depletion of the U.S. 3 percent share of the world’s known oil reserves, which we might need in the future.

The only reward is more profit to the oil industry.


Photos from the Gulf

May 1, 2010

The Boston Globe’s web site has amazing pictures of the big oil spill off the Louisiana Coast.

Click on this to view them.