Sunday, May 02, 2010
Obama pushes responsibility for oil spill onto BP only, ignoring federal role in the disaster
“That woman is an idiot”—Keith Olberman on “drill baby drill” Sarah Palin.
Mr. Obama, who was in Michigan on Saturday morning to give a commencement address, is scheduled to return to Washington for the White House Correspondents Dinner that evening.—From a New York Times story that failed to draw a comparison between Obama’s slow reaction and Bush’s indifference after Katrina.
As the oil slick moves closer to shore, we will begin to see pictures of what the Deepwater Horizon explosion has done to our world. Sludge covered birds will die before our eyes as they gasp for breath under layers of black goo. The corpses of fish, dolphins, whales and other wildlife will line our shores and beaches. [examiner.com]
by Larry Geller
The federal government has failed to regulate and has reacted too slowly as waves billow raw petroleum towards the Gulf shoreline. While this disaster is most immediately the responsibility of British Petroleum, the operator of the oil rig, they were able to get away with alleged cost-cutting because the feds looked the other way.
Obama also repeated his assertion that BP, the giant oil conglomerate that leased the doomed rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded April 20 and later sank into the Gulf, would be held accountable for the cleanup and paying for the economic impact to the region's fishing industry.
This will be of great comfort to the brown pelicans just now hatching their eggs. Where do they apply for compensation? Besides, if the pelicans should have to take their case to the US Supreme Court, they may find the justices solidly behind BP, just as the court sided with Exxon in reducing the $2.5 billion judgment against them to almost nothing for the Exxon Valdez spill. The Supremes limited punitive damages to the compensatory damages, which were calculated as only $507.5 million.
Worse, although Obama stated he will hold BP responsible, the company may not have sufficient resources, leaving the cleanup and recovery to taxpayer expense. The estimation of the amount of oil discharging from the well seems to only grow:
"The difference between 1,000 and 5,000 barrels a day, when you look at the potential discharge of 100,000, leads me to believe that there are a lot of inaccuracies associated with trying to estimate flow from a broken pipe at 5,000 feet," [Coast Guard Cmdr. Adm. Thad] Allen said. "That's the reason it's so very, very important we focus on stopping this leak right away."
It’s estimated that drilling a relief well could take 90 days. That would put the cleanup operation right in the hurricane season, something neither the government nor the media seem to want to mention. BP could be responsible for on-shore pollution as well if a storm hit.
Other possible measures to be taken by BP are described in this story.
As to Obama’s persistence in supporting future drilling along the Atlantic Coast, he cannot assure the states potentially in line for an oil bath that the feds will protect them by regulating the industry’s practices. The federal government has an abysmal record and bears a great deal of the responsibility for the current spill and its aftermath. Either regulate or expect more spills. The US Interior Department has let the oil companies off without the safeguards other countries are requiring. One such device is described in this article from Norway:
When oil wells rupture and surge out of control, the primary shut-off systems almost always work. In the case of The Deepwater Horizon, the primary shut-off system failed to work. Indeed, remote control systems such as the acoustic switch, which have been tested in simulations, are intended as a last resort.
Nonetheless, Norway and Brazil, two major oil producing countries, require them. Production records indicate that Norway has had acoustic triggers on almost every offshore rig since 1993.
The U.S. did consider requiring a remote-controlled shut-off mechanism several years ago, however, drilling company executives questioned the apparatus' cost and effectiveness; according to the agency overseeing U.S. offshore drilling. The agency, the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, stated that it decided the remote device wasn't needed because in their opinion, oil rigs had other back-up plans to cut off surging crude from a ruptured well. [allvoices.com, BP oil rig not equipped with shut off switch required in Norway and Brazil, 5/2/2010]
President Obama is not doing much better than Palin. He said, on Sunday:
"We are dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster," Obama said. "The oil that is still leaking from the well can seriously damage the economy and the environment of our Gulf states, and it could extend for a long time. It could jeopardize the livelihoods of thousands of Americans who call this place home.
"That is why the federal government has launched an all-hands-on-deck, relentless response to this crisis from day one."
First, this spill is not unprecedented. For example, forty miles of California’s coastline were ruined by another oil rig in 1969.
The Santa Barbara disaster of 1969 resulted from a blowout at an offshore platform that spilled 100,000 barrels of crude oil — 4.2 million gallons in all. It marked a turning point in the oil industry’s expansion, shelving any chance for drilling along most of the nation’s coastlines and leading to the creation of dozens of state and federal environmental laws. [New York Times, The Spill vs. a Need to Drill, 4/30/2010]
Second, impressive speech aside, the federal government has not been swift enough in its response, according to this article:
The Obama administration has publicly chastised BP America for its handling of the spreading oil gusher, yet a review of the response suggests it may be too simplistic to place all the blame for the unfolding environmental catastrophe on the oil company. The federal government also had opportunities to move more quickly, but did not do so while it waited for a resolution to the spreading spill from BP.
The Department of Homeland Security waited until Thursday to declare that the incident was “a spill of national significance,” and then set up a second command center in Mobile, Ala. The actions came only after the estimate of the size of the spill was increased fivefold to 5,000 barrels a day.
The delay meant that the Homeland Security Department waited until late this week to formally request a more robust response from the Department of Defense, with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano acknowledging even as late as Thursday afternoon that she did not know if the Defense Department even had equipment that might be helpful. [New York Times, U.S. Missed Chances to Act on Oil Spill, 5/1/2010]
What federal regulation there is has been ineffective. See: BP well deeper than permit allowed, lacked safety valve (5/3/2010).
…the Deep Horizon well was only permitted to be 18,000-ft. deep, but BP was drilling the well to 25,000-ft.
Finally, Obama has not yet backed away from his lifting of the moratorium on offshore drilling. Last month, he ignored environmental concerns and opened the Atlantic Coast to drilling. Nor is he immune from criticism over his handling of the disaster (New York Times, Shadow of Hurricane Katrina Hangs Over Obama After Spill, 4/30/2010).
Obama cannot cling to claims that offshore drilling is safe. McClatchy Newspapers reported last week on studies that show failures of underwater blowout prevention equipment have been common:
A 1999 report commissioned by the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling suggests failures of underwater blowout preventers designed to stop oil spills like the massive one threatening the Gulf Coast were far from unknown, the chairwoman of a key Senate panel said Friday.
Citing a Minerals Management Service report, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said there were 117 failures of blowout preventers during a two-year period in the late 1990s on the outer continental shelf of the United States.
"To find out the ultimate fail-safe weapon doesn't work is surprising," said Cantwell, who as chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee's oceans, atmosphere, fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee will play a role in any congressional investigation of the Gulf oil spill and the drilling rig explosion that caused it.
The unclassified version of the 1990 report said the failures involved 83 wells drilled by 26 rigs in depths from 1,300 feet to 6,560 feet.
A similar report released by the agency in 1997 found that between 1992 and 1996 there were 138 failures of blowout preventers on underwater wells being drilled off Brazil, Norway, Italy and Albania. [U.S. report found failure of offshore rigs' blowout preventers common, 4/30/2010]
These failures were not infrequent, the studies found, and the report, coupled with the seriousness of the current environmental threat, should move Obama, if not Palin, to back off on supporting future offshore drilling under today’s conditions.
May 3, 2010 @ 2145 hrs
Dear Larry Geller,
You make several very important points in your essay above. Particularly important is your reminder of the
Supreme Court Ruling which gutted the original punitive damages against Exxon in the 1989 disaster at Prince William Sound.
I strongly agree and reassert that we must keep vigil, watching against certain monied interests who gain obscene profit from the rape of mother earth. They will never stop. They must be exposed at every opportunity.
I also agree that President Obama, along with the rest of our Government, is subject to extreme pressure from these monied interests.
Perhaps you did omit part of President Obama's statement and intent yesterday May 2, 2010, when, from the Southern tip of Louisiana he said that,
to paraphrase, we will not wait for BP, even though we shall hold them responsible financially for expenses incurred
by the government's mitigation efforts.
I may be wrong, but in part, I believe the Fed was slowed to act because initial statements from BP were designed to call off the watchdogs. BP said preliminarily that no oil was leaking. This is something which I hope can be well documented when punitive action against BP is designed.
Thank-you again for all of your hard work.
banjoboye, thanks very much for you comment. I think you are correct, and I wasn't aware that BP initially said no oil was leaking.
I think New Orleans is in for lots of trouble with this oil spill. If I should leave something out in the future, or if I miss something, please do let me know.
Wed, May 5, 2010 @ 0038 hrs.
shows an interesting diagram of the basic anatomy of the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, as of Tues, May 4th, from the website of New Orleans' major daily newspaper:
The Times Picayune.
After the floating super-rig Deepwater Horizon burned and sank, killing eleven men, the U.S. Coast Guard could not initially find evidence of a [serious?] leak. It is unknown whether that is because any or all of:
1. Literally unfathomable to the imagination, the three leaks are at the bottom of a five-thousand foot column of sea water, thus a significant duration might have lapsed before a measurable amount of oil would surface 'en mass.
2. BP lied for as long as possible to keep what they thought would be a much smaller spill off of the corporate media radar (not that hard to do in the case of most of the ~hundreds~ of smaller spills, fires and explosions in the Gulf of Mexico which occur in any 3 month period,) thereby disarming the Coast Guard from a more extensive initial assessment. Don't forget, the initial Coast Guard response to the explosion was primarily based on the hope of rescuing the missing eleven men.
3. The flow rates of the 3 leaks are difficult to measure being under such a deep column of H2O. No one that i can find is sure whether it worsened in flow rate or BP underestimated the flow rate for as long as possible...
4. Many tens of thousands of gallons of diesel fuel were on the sunken rig as a part of normal drilling operations, a portion of which contaminated surrounding waters during rescue efforts and probably disguised leaking oil which surfaced early on...
Subsequently, numbers of BP decisions based on fear and greed may have continued to disarm the Govt. response in the short term.
The media and BP continue to use the word dispersant, which is a tech-term-disguise for highly concentrated detergent which is now being mixed with some of the leaking oil very near the source at a rate in the tens of thousands of gallons per day. This is billed as a high tech solution, never before implemented.
An unknown quantity of genetically modified oil eating bacteria have been released into the environment with little regard for and with a deliberate cover up of the unintended consequences of genetic polution. (This is now proving to be a very expensive and massively expanding problem of herbicide resistance in the case of Monsanto Corporation's roundup-ready soy, corn etc, but I digress.)
This evening on FOX news, former FEMA Director Michael DeWayne Brown came up with some real hum-dingers about the Federal response to Deepwater Horizon, and then blatantly lied to CNN's Anderson Cooper about the nature of his earlier comments.
As a part of recruiting already financially decimated volunteer fishermen who have lined up in near unanimity to deploy containment boom, BP initially (until they were sued and lost) required these men to sign a blanket release which was intended to be used in the eventual settlements to
free BP of any duty to compensate these men for damages to their lively-hood. In other words: we'll set your house on fire, then you can't try to save it unless you absolve us in writing.
The circus will continue for some time to come.
Spill baby spill...
On April __, 2010, National Geographic posted this:
"Oil-Spill Fears Subside at Rig-Explosion Site"