Tuesday, May 25, 2010


You be the judge, somebody should do it

by Larry Geller

Obama is facing increasing disapproval over his handling of the BP oil spill. One thing that doesn’t work to stop an oil leak is to pile rhetoric on the problem. That may be all the feds are doing.

Far from keeping the government's "boot on the neck" of BP, we read that BP is defying orders to stop using a toxic dispersant. Their neck can’t be hurting very much.

We learn that besides granting BP the exemptions they needed to make this oil spill possible, the Minerals Management Service has been complicit with the industry and that the feds declined to take action against them:

Federal regulators responsible for oversight of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico allowed industry officials several years ago to fill in their own inspection reports in pencil — and then turned them over to the regulators, who traced over them in pen before submitting the reports to the agency, according to an inspector general’s report to be released this week.

The report, which describes inappropriate behavior by the staff at the Minerals Management Service from 2005 to 2007, also found that inspectors had accepted meals, tickets to sporting events and gifts from at least one oil company while they were overseeing the industry.   [New York Times, Inspector General’s Inquiry Faults Regulators, 5/24/2010]

The report found that employees from the Lake Charles office had repeatedly accepted gifts, including hunting and fishing trips from the Island Operating Company, an oil and gas company working on oil platforms regulated by the Interior Department.

Taking such gifts “appears to have been a generally accepted practice,” said the report, written by department’s acting inspector general, Mary L. Kendall.

The report said the findings of the investigation had been presented to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Louisiana, which declined prosecution.

When exactly do BP executives, and then federal regulators, get to stand before a judge to answer for their actions?

Nor has the administration acted to prevent further spills. Quite the contrary, it’s practically inviting the next one to happen:

… And, the New York Times reveals that, despite a moratorium on new drilling permits, "since the April 20 explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico."

Meanwhile, Shell Oil continues to ready its oil exploration fleet for a go at offshore drilling in America's Arctic Ocean this summer. Armed with a permit from the same MMS that let BP drill in extreme conditions in the Gulf without adequate planning, Shell is likewise heading into a risky situation with little assurance that it can handle a blowout scenario.   [Earthjustice, Who's In Charge of Gulf Oil Spill Cleanup—Obama or BP?, 5/24/2010]

As the months and years went by and Katrina returnees remained in toxic mobile homes, we learned that FEMA couldn’t really handle a disaster, even given extra time and resources. It looks very much the same for this BP disaster. No one expects that the federal government will have every necessary expert on their payroll, but since the experts are out there, they could be contracting with some of them to make the cleanup effective and get that oil gusher stopped.

If (when?) another damaging oil spill occurs, it could mark the end of Obama’s political future even as the botched Katrina response was the beginning of Bush’s downfall. But Bush already had his two terms.

Update: Just after I posted this, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) emailed a media advisory, “Drilling Disasters Can't Happen Here: In run-up to BP spill, media touted offshore safety,” that gave many examples of media cheerleading for offshore oil drilling and nuclear energy. Here is their intro and are just a couple of examples from several they included in their email:

As the United States examines the origins of the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, one factor that should not be overlooked is media coverage that served to cover up dangers rather than expose them. When President Barack Obama declared a new push for offshore drilling (3/31/10), asserting that "oil rigs today generally don't cause spills" (4/2/10), corporate news outlets echoed such pollyanna sentiments:

You know, there are a lot of serious people looking at, "Are there ways that we can do drilling and we can do nuclear that are--that are nowhere near as risky as what they were 10 or 15 or 20 years ago?" Offshore drilling today is a lot more safer, in many ways, environmentally, today than it was 20 years ago.
--David Gergen, CNN's Situation Room (3/31/10)

The technology of oil drilling has made huge advances.... The time has come for my fellow environmentalists to reassess their stand on offshore oil. It is not clear that the risks of offshore oil drilling still outweigh the benefits. The risk of oil spills in the United States is quite low.
--Eric Smith, Washington Post op-ed (4/2/10)

Had the media done their homework, they would have discovered that all was not well with offshore drilling. More from the FAIR email:

A previous Time.com story (4/24/10) had noted that the Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling, reported 39 fires or explosions in the first five months of 2009 alone; though the magazine said the "good news" is that "most of these" did not result in death. The website Oil Rig Disasters tallies 184 incidents, dozens of which involved fatalities--and 73 of which occurred after 1988.



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