Monday, May 03, 2010

Monday BP Oil Gusher Update: No Go Fish

1. No Go-Fish.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) late yesterday banned commercial and recreational fishing "for a minimum of ten days in federal waters most affected by the BP oil spill, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida’s Pensacola Bay." Locally, that grounds fishing boats that put out to sea for fish warehouses and commercial sellers as well as charter fishing boats. According to NOAA:
[T]here are 3.2 million recreational fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico region who took 24 million fishing trips in 2008. Commercial fishermen in the Gulf harvested more than 1 billion pounds of finfish and shellfish in 2008.
All "finfish, crabs, oysters and shrimp" are included in the ban. NOAA scientists will continue evaluating the "evolving nature" of the spreading river of oil and will "re-evaluate closure areas" as "appropriate."

2. All of Florida May Be Affected.

Concerns are growing, as we mentioned yesterday, that the oil spill could spread from the Northwest corner of Florida all the way south to the Keys. Now, Duke University coastal biology expert Larry Crowder has weighed in:

"There's a real potential there, a big problem," he told Sarah Larimer of Associated Press. "The biggest concern I would say from a Florida perspective is that once the oil gets entrained on the Loop Current it will be on the East Coast of Florida in almost no time," Graber said. "I don't think we can prevent that. It's more of a question of when rather than if."

As Larimer explains:
The Gulf's waters come through the Yucatan Strait between Mexico and Cuba, then circulate in what's called the Loop Current, before sweeping south along Florida's west coast. There they head into the Florida Straits and pass along the string of islands that make up the Florida Keys eventually to form the Gulf Stream, the world's most powerful sustained ocean current. The force sweeps up the East Coast of the United States before ending in the North Atlantic.
3. Obama in Louisiana.

Sunday, President Obama flew to the Gulf Coast to state the obvious:
"The oil that is still leaking from the well could seriously damage the economy and the environment of our gulf states and it could extend for a long time,” Mr. Obama said. "It could jeopardize the livelihoods of thousands of Americans who call this place home."
One can't help wondering why he didn't foresee that obvious risk on April 1, when he shocked environmentalists and much of his political base by promising to open the Gulf to more drilling in future years.

To be sure, Obama was (sigh, once again) trying to triangulate a political compromise with Republican right-wing senators, including Lindsay Graham of South Carolina. But how much longer can he get away with treating Republican recusants more kindly than the Democratic faithful like Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL)?

4. How Deep Is the Ocean?

That's the title of an old torch song by Irving Berling. It's also the lyric to new questions being raised right here in Pensacola.

Yesterday, Rick Outzen of Pensacola's Independent News reported that prominent Pensacola torts attorney Mike Papantonio claims BP's Deepwater Horizon well is deeper than the MMS permit allows:
Papantonio also said that the Deep Horizon well was only permitted to be 18,000-ft. deep, but BP was drilling the well to 25,000-ft. "This screwed up all the permutations on how to deal with this problem," says Papantonio. "The engineers were thinking the well was only at 18,000 ft."

It's not clear from Rick's report where Papantonio gets this information. The BP drilling application which we referenced Saturday explicitly mentions a "depth limit" for the exploratory well of "5,328 feet bml," or below the mud line. Perhaps the actual permit was more restrictive. Or, perhaps, something was lost in translation.

In any event, public scrutiny of every promise BP Corp. made to, and permission it received, from the governing Mineral Management Services agency is warranted. This is the same agency, after all, which during the Bush Administration years was having sex and drug parties with employees of the very energy companies they are supposed to regulate. When it comes to MMS, everything it has done bears thorough investigation.

5. Sans Safety Valve.

In the same interview, Outzen reports Papantonio and Bobby Kennedy, Jr. also complained that:
[T]he BP well not only didn’t have the acoustical, emergency valve that could have shut it off, but was also lacking a deep-hole valve that would have also been able to stop the leaking of 5,000 barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

“The acoustical valve is a device required all over the world,” says Papantonio. “In Norway, you can’t drill in the ocean without one.”
This has been more widely reported in the national press as, for example, last week by the Wall Street Journal ["Leaking Oil Well Lacked Safety Device"].

6. BP Bares Its Dark Soul.

In a companion article, Outzen also reports Papantonio saying, "BP... 'parachuted' a corporate team into the Gulf Coast area that is offering local fisherman $5,000 to use their boats." The contracts contain fine print that purports to "prevent the fisherman from suing BP."

That ugly display of BP's corporate ethics has been well established in the past twenty-four hours. Last night, the Mobile Register reported
BP had distributed a contract to fishermen it was hiring that waived their right to sue BP and required confidentiality and other items, sparking protests in Louisiana and elsewhere.
So, BP is running a "fine print" scam. Alabama Attorney General Troy King "has told representatives of BP that they should stop circulating settlement agreements among coastal Alabamians." A mere spokesman for BP by email told the Mobile Register the company "will not enforce any waivers that have been signed in connection with this activity."

Yeah, right. The fishermen now have word of a PR flack-catcher. That'll stand up in court about as long as the Marx Brothers' "Sanity Clause."

7. Unrepentant Scoundrels.

Über right-wing crazies Bill Kristol, Neil Cavuto, and the entire Fox News team in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster think oil companies now should be allowed to drill closer to the Gulf coast. Really, they do.

"I'm a drill, baby, drill person," Kristol says.

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