Most troubling of all, the government has allowed BP to continue deep-sea production at its Atlantis rig – one of the world's largest oil platforms. Capable of drawing 200,000 barrels a day from the seafloor, Atlantis is located only 150 miles off the coast of Louisiana, in waters nearly 2,000 feet deeper than BP drilled at Deepwater Horizon. According to congressional documents, the platform lacks required engineering certification for as much as 90 percent of its subsea components – a flaw that internal BP documents reveal could lead to "catastrophic" errors. In a May 19th letter to Salazar, 26 congressmen called for the rig to be shut down immediately. "We are very concerned," they wrote, "that the tragedy at Deepwater Horizon could foreshadow an accident at BP Atlantis."
The administration's response to the looming threat? According to an e-mail to a congressional aide from a staff member at MMS, the agency has had "zero contact" with Atlantis about its safety risks since the Deepwater rig went down.
Like the attacks by Al Qaeda, the disaster in the Gulf was preceded by ample warnings – yet the administration had ignored them. Instead of cracking down on MMS, as he had vowed to do even before taking office, Obama left in place many of the top officials who oversaw the agency's culture of corruption. He permitted it to rubber-stamp dangerous drilling operations by BP – a firm with the worst safety record of any oil company – with virtually no environmental safeguards, using industry-friendly regulations drafted during the Bush years. He calibrated his response to the Gulf spill based on flawed and misleading estimates from BP – and then deployed his top aides to lowball the flow rate at a laughable 5,000 barrels a day, long after the best science made clear this catastrophe would eclipse the Exxon Valdez.
From the start, the administration has seemed intent on allowing BP to operate in near-total secrecy. Much of what the public knows about the crisis it owes to Rep. Ed Markey, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment. Under pressure from Markey, BP was forced to release footage of the gusher, admit that its early estimates put the leak as high as 14,000 barrels a day and post a live feed of its undersea operations on the Internet – video that administration officials had possessed from the earliest days of the disaster. "We cannot trust BP," Markey said. "It's clear they have been hiding the actual consequences of this spill."
But rather than applying such skepticism to BP's math, the Obama administration has instead attacked scientists who released independent estimates of the spill. When one scientist funded by NOAA released a figure much higher than the government's estimate, he found himself being pressured to retract it by officials at the agency. "Are you sure you want to keep saying this?" they badgered him. Lubchenco, the head of NOAA, even denounced as "misleading" and "premature" reports that scientists aboard the research vessel Pelican had discovered a massive subsea oil plume. Speaking to PBS, she offered a bizarre denial of the obvious. "It's clear that there is something at depth," she said, "but we don't even know that it's oil yet."
Scientists were stunned that NOAA, an agency widely respected for its scientific integrity, appeared to have been co-opted by the White House spin machine. "NOAA has actively pushed back on every fact that has ever come out," says one ocean scientist who works with the agency. "They're denying until the facts are so overwhelming, they finally come out and issue an admittance." Others are furious at the agency for criticizing the work of scientists studying the oil plumes rather than leading them. "Why they didn't have vessels there right then and start to gather the scientific data on oil and what the impacts are to different organisms is inexcusable," says a former government marine biologist. "They should have been right on top of that." Only six weeks into the disaster did the agency finally deploy its own research vessel to investigate the plumes.
Hippybear: its as if you've already started. BP is responsible for almost one in every seven pounds of dividends paid to British pension pots. People are saying Obama's got his foot on the throat of British Pensioners.
as for letting bp run the show: the simple fact is that the government simply doesn't have the expertise. one of the reasons they don't have the expertise is because oil companies will pay more for that expertise than the government will.
You really think Royal Dutch Shell is going to buy BP, given they'd be on the hook for the $30-70B in cleanup costs, which is 30%-70% of BP's market cap? $70B is nearly half RDS's market cap right now.
I'm not going to be an Obama apologist here. But this says something about what he walked into. I can't, personally, put the whole fiasco on his doorstep.
As readers may know, I’ve been consistently disappointed by the Obama Administration: its faux progressive packaging versus its corporatist posture, its half-hearted, halting reforms which are noisily trumpeted as the real thing, its deep seated belief that public antipathy to its initiatives means it needs to work harder on selling its message, when it really needs a new strategy.
But the escalating disaster of the Gulf oil spill, and the unique constellation it presents, namely, a big, rich, isolated, foreign perp, which is largely if not solely responsible for the mess, in close proximity to contested mid-term elections, might actually rouse Obama to do something uncharacteristic, namely get tough.
This is by no means a likely outcome, but we are seeing some novel behaviors. First is that Obama finally may have succeeded in getting someone important afraid of him. This is a critically important lesson; Machiavelli told his prince it was much more important to be feared than loved. Mere anger is often negotiation posturing or a manifestation of CEO Derangement Syndrome; fear is much harder to fake. And BP is finally starting to get rattled. Per the Wall Street Journal:
Tensions escalated sharply on Wednesday when the U.S. Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, said he would demand that BP pay the lost wages of oil workers in the Gulf region idled because of the administration’s order to halt new deepwater drilling for six months. That demand could add hundreds of millions of dollars to BP’s obligations….
There is this attitude that somehow a disaster like this wasn't inevitable. I don't see how one can say this. Human activity, be it air travel, car driving or drilling for oil, inevitably leads to accidents.
From homunculus' link: Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson on the Inside Story of How Obama Let the World’s Most Dangerous Oil Company Get Away with Murder
the oil, as long as it doesn't hit the coast, is no big deal, and that spills far offshore are often just left to degrade naturally
The thinking here is that the ocean organisims that are most damaged by the spill, the small animals and plants that live in the upper ten metres of the ocean, also regenerate very quickly. This takes days. Oil that hits the shore can persist and have residual effects for months, if not years. It's better to damage a large area of the ocean than hit shorelines because the ocean is resilliant and the shallow water/shore ecosystems are very fragile.
“It’s really important to understand you have decades of nothing going wrong,” said one senior administration official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity as a matter of White House policy.
“The last time you saw a spill of this magnitude in the Gulf, it was off the coast of Mexico in 1979,” said a second senior administration official. “If something doesn’t happen since 1979, you begin to take your eye off of that thing.”
On the same day, the Wall Street Journal noted that there might be a leak in BP’s well casing 1,000 feet beneath the sea floor:
BP PLC has concluded that its “top-kill” attempt last week to seal its broken well in the Gulf of Mexico may have failed due to a malfunctioning disk inside the well about 1,000 feet below the ocean floor.
Indeed, loss of integrity in the well itself may explain why BP is drilling its relief wells more than ten thousand feet beneath the leaking pipes on the seafloor (and see this).
Yesterday, recently-retired Shell Oil President John Hofmeister said that the well casing below the sea floor may have been compromised:
[Question] What are the chances that the well casing below the sea floor has been compromised, and that gas and oil are coming up the outside of the well casing, eroding the surrounding soft rock. Could this lead to a catastrophic geological failure, unstoppable even by the relief wells?
John Hofmeister: This is what some people fear has occurred. It is also why the “top kill” process was halted. If the casing is compromised the well is that much more difficult to shut down, including the risk that the relief wells may not be enough. If the relief wells do not result in stopping the flow, the next and drastic step is to implode the well on top of itself, which carries other risks as well.
Oil industry expert Rob Cavner believes that the casing might be damaged beneath the sea floor, noting:
The real doomsday scenario here… is if that casing gives up, and it does come through the other strings of pipe. Remember, it is concentric pipe that holds this well together. If it comes into the formation, basically, you‘ve got uncontrolled [oil] flow to the sea floor. And that is the doomsday scenario.
Cavner also said BP must “keep the well flowing to minimize oil and gas going out into the formation on the side”:
And prominent oil industry insider Matt Simmons believes that the well casing may have been destroyed when the oil rig exploded. Simmons was an energy adviser to President George W. Bush, is an adviser to the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, and is a member of the National Petroleum Council and the Council on Foreign Relations.
“We take all your information and then we have nothing to give them, nothing to give them,” said Janice.
Janice said calls about the oil disaster are non-stop and that operators are just warm bodies on the other end of the phone.
“We’re a diversion to stop them from really getting to the corporate office, to the big people,” said Janice. … Because the operators believe the calls never get past them, some don’t even bother taking notes.
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