Sunday, May 23, 2010

Spill 3

The Atlantis Rig

British Petroleum blames Transocean, stating that of the 126 people on the Deepwater Horizon rig at the time of the April 20th blowout and explosion, only 7 were BP employees. Transocean, in turn, says "Offshore oil and gas production projects begin and end with the operator, in this case BP." Halliburton claims it had capped the well with a cement plug according to BP's instructions and within industry standards. This is what was presented to two Senate panels investigating the spill earlier in the month. It would seem no one wants to be at fault for possibly the greatest ecological disaster this country has ever known.
The news program "60 Minutes," reports witnesses claiming a BP foreman hurried Transocean workers through the capping process in order to save time and money, against Transocean's objections, thereby creating the circumstances responsible for the blowout, which claimed the lives of 11 people.
It is apparent that all of the safety measures: cement blockage, a blowout preventer and a Deadman that were in place to prevent such an accident, failed.
It is also apparent that the Mineral Management Service, tasked with the duel responsibility of inspecting rigs such as the Deepwater, and collecting royalties and fees from the oil companies that own rigs like the Deepwater, has been somewhat lax in it's duties, allowing drilling to proceed without authenticating all safety precautions were in place and normal procedures were practiced and equipment maintained. As a matter of fact the MMS, a division of the Department of the Interior, has been rocked in scandals involving its own employees accepting drugs and sex from oil company representatives.
The explosion of the Deepwater rig and resulting spill may have prompted the resignation of one of MMS's top offshore drilling officials, a Chris Oynes, and of course calls for more oversight and regulation of the oil industry, especially it's offshore drilling activities. A shake up of the MMS, splitting the bureau into separate, non-conflicting agencies, has been called for by President Obama.
Besides the MMS, British Petroleum and the oil industry in general have other friends in high places, notably Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who have blocked new legislation that would increase the cap on damage liability oil companies would have to pay resulting from spills like the Deepwater, from the current 75 million to 10 billion dollars. Their stated reasons for doing so quite frankly, make no sense whatsoever, which clearly indicates that they are in the pocket, bought and paid for by big oil, as campaign contribution records would indicate. Not all Republicans feel that way at the present time. In a stunning display of self interest, Gulf State Republicans such as David Vitter (La.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Roger Wicker (Miss.) and George LeMieux (Fla.) wish to raise the cap even further, to 17 billion.
For my part, I don't see why there is any cap at all on liability caused by the incompetence of huge multinational corporations for the damage they cause the environment, other industries, the health of the general populace and wildlife. Despite assurances from BP that they will settle all "legitimate claims," the history of such events point in another direction, i.e., protracted, decade long court battles with the guilty party shelling out a fraction of the actual costs of clean up and restitution.
And who gets to decide what is "legitimate?" British Petroleum apparently. Up until now, with the mile deep leak spewing out an uncertain and undisclosed amount of oil and methane gas (the sudden release of large amounts of natural gas deposits has been hypothesized as a cause of past climate change events) for over a month, BP has attempted to low ball, or obscure the volume being dispersed into the open Gulf, stating that it is primarily concerned with getting control and stopping the leak, rather than measuring how much is actually leaking.
This strategy, if you can call it that, is in direct opposition to BP's own June 2009, internal Spill Response memo, which states in part: "In the event of a significant release of oil," the 583-page plan says on Page 2, "an accurate estimation of the spill's total volume . . . is essential in providing preliminary data to plan and initiate cleanup operations."
British Petroleum has remembered that juries tend to award punitive damages based on the amount of oil spilled.
Which brings us to the use of dispersants. Since the spill BP has released hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic oil dispersants, chemicals that act to break up oil slicks at the surface. Dispersants do nothing to remove the oil from the water. They break it up in the hope that the slick can be dealt with more effectively, they tend to allow the oil to sink below the surface, and they allow the oil to mix more widely with the environment. Their use would further obscure the total amount of spilled oil, and the deleterious effects the oil will still have beneath the ocean's surface (indeed, independent observers have detected 10 mile long and 3 mile wide plumes of subsurface oil. Imagine you're a fish swimming along minding your own business, and you swim into that crap).
"Out of sight, out of mind," seems to be the philosophy of British Petroleum (I do not wish for this post to be solely dedicated to villainizing BP. Approximately 3 million gallons of oil are spilled in American waters and lands each year. That's 1 Exxon Valdez every 3 1/2 years, so there are plenty of polluters to go around).
Did I mention the dispersants are toxic, especially the stuff BP has been using. As of this writing, BP has refused to follow the EPA's mandate to use a less toxic dispersant (Corexit contains an ingrediant, butoxyethanol, a nurotoxin that has been banned in Europe for decades) stating Corexit 9500 is the best chemical to keep the oil off the surface (it must be noted the Corexit 9500 is manufactured by Nalco Co., a company that was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and whose current leadership includes executives at both BP and Exxon.).
BP is also attempting to control the spill sites that have already reached the shores of the Louisiana wetlands. Patrolling the affected areas BP employees and members of the Coast Guard are telling qualified authorities attempting to help rescue wild life and clean up efforts to back off under threat of arrest... only BP workers are allowed to work the spill.
Since when does our Coast Guard take orders from British Petroleum? A foreign company at that!
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that crude oil, “...may contain various portions of straight and branched chain paraffins, cycloparaffins, and naphthenic, aromatic, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. In addition, crude oil contains trace amounts of sulfur containing chemicals such as sulfides, mercaptans, thiophenes, and other more complex sulfur compounds. Although the chemical composition of crude oil varies by source, crude oils and petroleum products share certain toxic characteristics.” And let's not forget the dispersents.
How will the Deepwater Horizon spill affect tourism, fishing, restaurants, etc., in the Gulf States, Cuba, the Eastern Seaboard, and beyond? How will it indirectly and directly affect the rest of the nation, and the world?
Not well, you can be sure of that.
Right wing pundit morons like Britt Hume and Rush Limbaugh keep insisting that nothing needs to be done... that the ocean will absorb the oil given enough time. Well sorry to break it to you fellows, but just like a sponge, it may absorb it, but it doesn't go away.
Even after the spill, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 6 in 10 Americans support more offshore drilling.
Those polled must live in Kansas or Wyoming, some state far away from water.
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill may prove to be the costliest, and most damaging in this country's history... and yet...
Despite President Obama's moratorium on allowing new drilling projects to begin and halting environmental waivers, federal regulators have granted at least 19 of those waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits since the Deepwater explosion. And...
A huge, 2 billion dollar oil and natural gas production rig, located 190 miles south of New Orleans, southwest of the Deepwater site, called Atlantis, operated by BP which also owns a 56% share in it, is producing 8 million gallons of oil a day.
In March of 2009, a whistle blower told the Department of the Interior that the Atlantis was operating without engineer approved, current drawings of its sub-sea components. A review of the BP database shows that more than 90 percent of the documents and drawings were never approved by a professional engineer. That's in violation of Mineral Management Service's regulations and required industry minimum standards.
Atlantis is currently producing approximately 40 times what is estimated to be leaking into the Gulf from the Deepwater spill. If a similar event occurred on the Atlantis rig, well...
Congressional Democrats have called upon the Secretary of the Interior to cease production on the Atlantis, until the cause of the Deepwater explosion is thoroughly investigated, and it meets the necessary safety and operating requirements.
We shall see.

Addendum: 4-20-15: 5 years later

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