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Drill, Baby, Drill....Oops!

Article posted on May 13, 2010

Last Update: August 14, 2010

(Updates at bottom of this page and on a separate posting)

Oil Slick Photo

The Drill, Baby, Drill folks are beginning to quieten down since the April 20th explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The rig was owned by Transocean (a Swiss company). Transocean was drilling the well for BP (formerly British Petroleum, a British company and the worlds largest oil exploration company). Halliburton (formerly run by Dick Cheney), was the contractor hired to cement the wellhead after the drilling had been completed. At Senate hearings this week, BP tried to blame Transocean, Transocean tried to blame Halliburton and Halliburton tried to blame BP, claiming their work was in accordance with BP's instructions. Eleven workers died on that platform when it exploded. According to the Associated Press, Employees of Transocean were kept at sea 10 hours after the explosion then taken to a hotel on shore in Louisiana to sign forms stating that they were not hurt, nor had they witnessed the blast that killed 11 of their co-workers. One person stated that he'd had no sleep in over 40 hours and would have signed anything in order to be released from the hotel to join his family.

Now, we have a growing environmental disaster of monumental proportions in the Gulf of Mexico. It is currently estimated that 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of crude oil in now gushing into the Gulf of Mexico (as of today, over 5,000,000 gallons already spilled). If this flow of crude oil is not stopped by June 11th, it will become the largest oil spill in U.S. history. (The Exxon Valdez spilled just over 11,000,000 gallons in Alaska's Prince William Sound.) Click Here for a PDF worksheet of Deepwater Horiaon daily spill quantities. Although this spill has the potential for being the largest in U.S. history, it may not even rank among the top 15 oil spills in other parts of the world. Click Here for a list of the five largest spills worldwide.

This disaster is one that was waiting to happen. During the Bush administration, the Minerals Management Service was stacked with folks from the petroleum industry (all friends of Bush and Cheney who also evolved from the petroleum industry). The common reasoning for this was that only members of the industry were knowledgeable enough to head this agency. This same agency was responsible for regulating the Upper Big Branch coal mine where 29 miners were killed in the country’s worst mine disaster in four decades.

According to an article by Paul Krugman in the New York Times: "For years, the Minerals Management Service, the arm of the Interior Department that oversees drilling in the gulf, minimized the environmental risks of drilling. It failed to require a backup shutdown system that is standard in much of the rest of the world, even though its own staff declared such a system necessary. It exempted many offshore drillers from the requirement that they file plans to deal with major oil spills. And it specifically allowed BP to drill Deepwater Horizon without a detailed environmental analysis."

According to Juliet Eilperin's article in the Washington Post on May 5th, "The Interior Department exempted BP's calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely. The decision by the department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP's lease at Deepwater Horizon a "categorical exclusion" from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 -- and BP's lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions -- show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf. BP's exploration plan for Lease 206, which calls the prospect of an oil spill "unlikely," stated that "no mitigation measures other than those required by regulation and BP policy will be employed to avoid, diminish or eliminate potential impacts on environmental resources."

BP has a long history of spills, accidents and safety lapses. In 2005, BP's Texas City, Texas refinery bleu up killing 15 workers. At that time, the company promised to address the safety factors, which caused such an accident. The following year, the badly maintained Alaska oil pipeline ruptured and spilled 200,000 gallons of crude oil on Alaska's North Slope. Again, BP promised to address safety factors. According to federal officials and industry analysts, despite all promises to provide better safety, many problems still afflict the Texas and Alaska operations. BP, the nation's biggest oil company has a worse health, environment and safety record than many of the other major oil companies. Interestingly, the industry standards for safety is set by Exxon Mobil which monitors the smallest spill and has established procedures on managers to maintain their safety record. To read more on BP's history of spills, read Jad Mouawad's article in the New York Times.

In 2006 the EPA and the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into two massive BP oil leaks in Alaska caused by corroded pipelines. Scott West was the EPA special agent in charge of the probe, worked with Bob Wojnicz, another since-retired EPA agent on the case. According to a Newsweek article by Michael Isikoff and Michael Hirsh, "BP's high-powered legal team (headed by Houston lawyer Carol Dinkins, a former deputy attorney general under George H.W. Bush who had previously served as chief of the Justice Department's environment division) had gone over the agents' heads. Dinkins negotiated a "global" settlement of all Justice Department inquiries into the company's conduct—including the Alaska-pipeline case and Texas City—that was to be announced the same day. 'There was no reason to shut it down at that point,' says Wojnicz." Somewhat later, Jeanne Pascal, then a lawyer in the EPA's Seattle office who specialized in debarment cases, decided to attempt to invoke that provision against BP—unless the company agreed to tighter controls over safety and maintenance. She quickly ran into the oil-company equivalent of "too big to fail." Seems that BP is one of the biggest suppliers of fuel to the Pentagon. (It sold $2,200,000.00 in oil to the Pentagon last year, making it the largest in sales to the military, according to the latest figures from the Defense Energy Support Center.)

In a fact sheet posted to the company's website, BP said it took responsibility for the response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and says, "we will clean it up." The company says it will pay compensation for "legitimate and objectively verifiable" claims for property damage, personal injury, and commercial losses. During the 10 years of litigation over the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, many of those filing claims for losses died before receiving compensation, and the Supreme Court cut back the penalty amounts the lower courts ruled Exxon had to pay. One has to wonder what the lawyers will determine the phrase "legitimate and objectively verifiable claims" will really mean.

Louisiana's coastal wetlands, over 4 million acres, represents 40 percent of the nation's total coastal wetlands. The loss of Louisiana's wetlands is one of the most serious environmental problems facing the country today. After years of neglect, inept and possibly corrupt management by the Corps of Engineers, as well as other natural factors, the wetlands of Louisiana are disappearing at the rate of 25 to 35 square miles (25,000 acres) per year. This is equivalent to one football field every 15 minutes. The loss for the future of the fishing industry from this degradation of our wetlands is projected to cost over 37 billion dollars in the next 40 years. Now, with this oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, how long before we have to stop singing, Shrimp Boats Is A'Coming'.

NOTE: An additional article will be posted in the coming days on the environmental aspects of this spill.

Update May 27, 2010 - Bloomberg reports, "A BP Plc document shows the company's well in the Gulf of Mexico may be leaking about 14,000 barrels of oil a day, more than publicly estimated, U.S. Representative Edward Markey said today. The internal BP document from April 27 put a high estimate for the leak at 14,266 barrels a day, Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said today at a House Natural Resources Committee hearing. At the time, BP was saying publicly that its well was leaking 1,000 barrels a day, Markey said."

Update June 17, 2010 - According to Bloomberg news: "BP Plc was struggling to seal cracks in its Macondo well as far back as February, more than two months before an explosion killed 11 and spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It took 10 days to plug the first cracks, according to reports BP filed with the Minerals Management Service that were later delivered to congressional investigators. Cracks in the surrounding rock continued to complicate the drilling operation during the ensuing weeks. Left unsealed, they can allow explosive natural gas to rush up the shaft." Click here to read entire article.

Update August 14, 2010 - Wikipedia has updated their posting for the oil spill and has estimated a total spill amount to be approximately 205,800,000 Gallons Click Here for a complete timeline of the disaster.

Article by Leo Touchet, October 13, 2010
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