Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Leak Lies: Tuesday May 11 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Pensacola Beach Oil Weather.

Continued winds from Southeast to Northwest hold out the hope that the ever-expanding river of BP oil will stay offshore and out of sight for those living in the Pensacola area. The 72-hour forecast for coastal Louisiana and eastern Texas beaches is not so good, however. According to NOAA:
The Mississippi Delta, Breton Sound, the Chandeleur Islands and areas directly north have a potential for shoreline contacts throughout the forecast period. West of the Mississippi Delta, the shoreline west of Barataria Bay to Isles Dernieres is threatened on Monday. With continued winds from the SE, oil observed west of the Delta could threaten shorelines as far west as Oyster Bayou on Tuesday, and Atchafalaya Bay on Wednesday.
2. Leak Lies.

From the beginning, accounts about the dimensions of the BP oil spill have been, shall we say, highly mercurial in both senses of the word. For an appreciable time they also were dependent on whatever BP Corporation chose to tell the U.S. Coast Guard, the press, and the public.

There are at least four reasons the estimated size of the oil leak has changed so frequently. For the first several weeks (1) the well site was so far south in Gulf waters that almost no independent observer with press credentials and the essential knowledge to recognize what was going on had access; (2) the facts about the oil spill were filtered through BP Corp., which, it is now apparent, is heavily invested in keeping them from public view; (3) initial oversight by the U.S. Coast Guard was sluggish, completely dependent on information from BP, and overly optimistic; and (4) BP Corporation repeatedly falsified the size of the oil leak, either intentionally or through its own gross negligence.

All manner of partisans for and against the Obama administration have been jiggering up their favored time lines of the event. Most of them are worthless. The ultra-right wing Washington Examiner lauds a pictorial time-line that proves nothing much at all, except Obama is a busy president of a large nation. The White House timeline is here, and it's not much better. Both leave out critical misstatements, misdirections, and missteps by BP Corp. or the U.S. Coast Guard, or both.

News organizations and respected scientific groups are just now beginning to put together the chronology of leak lies. See, for example, Reuters News, the Associated Press, and SkyTruth (this last a consortium of biologists and environmental specialists with technical expertise in analyzing aerial and satellite imagery of complex ecological areas.)

What these less partisan chronologies show is that no mention was made about any oil leak in the first two and a half days after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon platform fire was ignited. As a BP spokesman told the AP at the time, "The rig was drilling but was not in production... ."

Two days later, on the evening of April 22, Earth Day, the first news report began circulating that the Coast Guard was speculating "the submerged well could be creating a major environmental problem, potentially spewing up to 8,000 barrels of crude oil per day...."

'No, no
,' corrected U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry the next morning. She claimed in a stiffly-read statement (and later an interview now on Youtube)that "no oil appeared to be leaking from a well head at the ocean floor, nor was any leaking at the water's surface."

Undoubtedly, Landry chose to take issue with her own unit's analysis by accepting the oil company's word, instead. As the AP reports, by Friday, April 23, when the Deepwater Horizon platform collapsed, BP Corp. was still insisting "that based on remote monitoring, there was no leak from the well pipe."

Only on the following day, however, did BP admit that "a breach in the wells riser and drill pipe is spewing nearly 1,000 barrels of crude oil per day." The oil corporation apparently told the Coast Guard the leak was "up to" 1,000 barrels.

Certainly, one of Landry's fatal mistakes was to rely on the word of BP Corporation in estimating the size of the leak. The White House quickly and quietly replaced her within the week.

Shortly afterward, in that same week the Coast Guard took aerial photos itself of the spill site. Dr. Ian McDonald of Florida State University evaluated them and concluded as early as April 26 that the oil leak already was "roughly half the total Exxon Valdez spill."

By April 28, a week and a day after the Deepwater Horizon platform fire, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced, as we reported the next morning,
"that BP's Deepwater Horizon well is leaking five times as much oil as the oil corporation previously admitted." No mention was made of Prof. McDonald's estimate.

The mass media and press quickly seized on NOAA's estimates and, like proverbial lemmings, leaped into the public sea with them. By dint of media endorsement, that remains the "official" estimate to this hour. Yesterday, even the estimable BBC News was still reporting that "
some 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of oil a day are flowing into the sea." At midday today, the Associated Press was marching in sync:
The blast killed 11 workers. Since then, oil has been pouring into the Gulf from a blown-out undersea well at about 210,000 gallons per day.
3. Size Matters.

There are signs, however, that the accepted estimates may be losing credibility.

At Saturday's Pensacola Beach forum, which we mentioned yesterday, Travis Griggs fairly reported for the Pensacola News Journal Dr. McDonald's conclusion that "
BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is five times more than what the oil company and the U.S. Coast Guard is currently estimating." He didn't give more details, however, other than to note that another panel member disagreed.

In a business-related article about BP's strong balance sheet and glittering future stock price prospects, today's WaPo neatly side-steps the question. Rather than resort to the usual "one- side- says- this, the- other- that" style of reporting, WaPo reports, "The amount of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico has been estimated at 5,000 to 25,000 barrels a day."

Rather a broad range, there. But it does appear BP's fallback PR plan -- the only "Plan B" it seems to have been armed with -- is beginning to fall apart.

BP's CEO, however, for now continues pushing the PR story that the river of oil gushing into the Gulf is not that bad. As other reporters for WaPo write today --
"The visible size of the spill is less significant than it was a week or 10 days ago," Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, said Monday after a weekend flight over the slick.
Now, that is a patently ridiculous statement. The well remains uncapped, the flow of oil unchecked. WaPo's reporters explain the company's claim by adding that "chemicals, controlled fires and skimming have helped them beat back the oil slick and keep it from land."

If there is one thing we know for sure about the BP oil spill, despite not being directly at the site of the well, it is that nothing BP officials say at this point should be relied upon. The company has a history of misleading everyone, including the very agency that oversees it.

Just last year, as the Wall Street Journal reports, "BP assured regulators... that oil would come ashore only in a small area of Louisiana, even in the event of a spill much larger than the current one." As the New York Times reported two days ago, the company also has "a history of spills and safety lapses."

4. Carcinogenic Chemical Soup.

What no one from BP is talking about -- and too few in the media are focusing on -- are the very serious hazards to human health posed by the chemical soup that BP Corp. is pouring into the Gulf of Mexico. Photos of oily birds, dead sea turtles, and dying estuaries are compelling. But wildlife isn't the only thing the BP oil slick -- and its remediation efforts -- are endangering.

National Geographic reports that
once the oil slick sinks into marshes and estuaries, it will cause "a toxic nightmare" for decades to come. The Center for Disease Control warns that humans exposed to the residual oil slick risk getting cancer from at least one known carcinogen: benzene. There are other "total petroleum hydrocarbons" [TPH] which the CDC says "are probably and possibly carcinogenic to humans."

Medical science simply doesn't know enough about the effects of every hydrocarbon on human cell behavior. But it knows enough that the CDC also warns the hydrocarbons in oil spills "can affect the central nervous system." In addition --
One compound can cause headaches and dizziness at high levels in the air. Another compound can cause a nerve disorder called "peripheral neuropathy," consisting of numbness in the feet and legs. Other TPH compounds can cause effects on the blood, immune system, lungs, skin, and eyes.

Animal studies have shown effects on the lungs, central nervous system, liver, and kidney from exposure to TPH compounds. Some TPH compounds have also been shown to affect reproduction and the developing fetus in animals.

One juried medical paper concludes that close and prolonged exposure to oil spill residue, such as that which clean-up crews encounter after it washes up on beaches, "may result in prolonged respiratory symptoms lasting 1 to 2 years after exposure." Another, more recent, medical study of current literature suggests that air pollution from both the source contaminant, like oil, and chemical cleaning agents used to disperse it may cause chronic lung disorders, asthma, and worse.

As the justly revered oceanographer Sylvia Earle, retired head of NOAA, said recently on PBS' News Hour, the chemical dispersants BP is injecting into the Gulf in a desperate attempt to do something, anything, only compounds the health risks to humans as well as sealife:
They may help apparently get rid of the oil, but it really breaks it up into smaller pieces and adds additional toxins to the system. When you look at the water column, it isn't just water. It's filled with life, especially this time of the year, when a lot of the creatures are spawning, such as the little shrimp and other organisms that make the Gulf a living system.
* * *
[S]tudies have been done on these dispersants. They're like detergents, if you will, that break down the oils and make them seem to go away.

And what actually happens, of course, is that they take a different form, and they're still in the ocean. And those studies that have been done in connection, for example, with the Exxon Valdez spill and elsewhere in the world, this doesn't really the problem. It just makes the appearance of a place look better. And it keeps the oil from going into the beaches.

If the beaches are the focus of your concern, that's a good thing. But if you're looking at the state of the ocean and the health of the ocean, it's not a good thing. And we all should be concerned about the health of the ocean, because our health, our lives depend on keeping the ocean in good shape.

5. Advice for Coastal Residents.

The St. Petersburg Times warned just a few days ago that the BP oil spill has rendered affected Gulf waters "toxic." We could all benefit from following the best advice given to those volunteers who are offering to help clean up the mess:
Don't touch the oil... . Don't let it get on your skin. Don't take off your protective suit, even if it gets to be 100 degrees outside.
And, it is added during volunteer training, evacuate immediately if you're told to do so. That's good advice for all coastal residents, too.

Youtube link added 5-11 pm


Anonymous said...

This link claims the spill covers 2500 square miles, and counting.

The link is interactive. Check it out.


Anonymous said...

I would only hope for the sake of our children and their children and so on, that we start to learn from our mistakes and begin to live on this planet the way all other creatures do. Can we stop consuming? I can, and I have. Will you? Nothing matters, cars, money, ect. This is the most beautiful place in an infinante universe and we are destroying it! Not forever, but long enough to render ourselves extinct.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 6:22PM you may find value in http://www.storyofstuff.com/

Inspector Clouseau said...

On the issue of what the BP execs knew about the blow out preventers, a little different perspective.

A corporation is a legal fiction entity. In doing business, the goal of that entity is to generate profits and try to stay afloat. Every decision is made in an effort to maximize profits, and is theoretically an educated guess. However, the reality is that some of the guesses are going to be wrong.

An entity does not have a mind or a conscience similar to that of a human. Even though humans run corporations, corporations are separate and apart from humans, somewhere between a human and an inanimate object.

Whereas a human will occasionally make a judgment call against his or her personal interest in pursuit of other goals, rarely will an entity do so because it is not really its money. It is the money or interests of others, the shareholders at risk, not the decision makers. It makes for a different dynamic.

As a result, fines, penalties, and lawsuits have to be figured into the economic mix as necessary evils. An entity will try to minimize them, or delay them if possible, but they know that they are always just around the corner. It's the nature of dealing with an entity when you're engaged, and then walking away from it and trying to live a human life. A human being does not generally approach life in this fashion.

Corporations are not human. They can't be. It's an inherent conflict of interest.