Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Hard Truths Tuesday: June 8 BP Oil Spill Update

"Independent experts say the pervasiveness of BP's problems... is striking. 'They are a recurring environmental criminal and they do not follow U.S. health safety and environmental policy," said Jeanne Pascal, a former EPA debarment attorney who led the investigations into BP.'"

-- Abrahm Lustgarten and Ryan Knutson, ProPublica, June 7, 2010
1. Pensacola Oil Weather.

NOAA's oil spill projection (see map, above) warns northwest winds "are expected to become SE overnight," likely pushing more older tarballs toward Pensacola Beach. For the next three days winds and currents will come from an East/Southeast direction, "inhibiting further eastward movement" and pushing the leading edge of the slick back west, also toward Pensacola Beach. BP's oil spill now has us out-flanked. We can get it from either direction.

2. Manageable Amounts.

Along with a general update which looks like it was cobbled together from wire service as well as local reports, the Miami Herald is showing a unique slide show taken yesterday around Pensacola Beach, Ft. Pickens, and nearby environs. The accompanying article adds:
In Pensacola Beach, fewer tar balls appeared to have washed ashore than in previous days since the sticky globs began dotting the sand Friday.

That may be a fortuitous break, as forecasted stormy weather threatened to get in the way of cleanup and monitoring efforts, Escambia County officials said.
* * *
In Destin, dime-sized tar balls washed ashore on Okaloosa Island for the second day in a row, but only about a dozen of the reddish-gray pieces were found in the powdery white sand.

"It's all been a very manageable amount,'' said Dino Villani, public safety director for Okaloosa County. "We're very fortunate at this point.''

3. Hard Truth.

There has been a lot of caterwauling about a supposed lack of transparency on the part of the Obama administration. Insofar as it appears to have relied on BP in the first couple of weeks for specific details about the magnitude of the oil spill and the company's ability to stop it, we think that critics are probably being unfair. After all, the damn thing was a mile below sea level and then some below that, far from where the nation usually assigns its most sophisticated naval forces.

To be sure, if the Obama administration had dug a bit earlier into the musty old files of the George W. Bush administration, it would have discovered, as ProPublico.com reports today, "Years of Internal BP Probes Warned That Neglect Could Lead to Accidents."
A series of internal investigations over the past decade warned senior BP managers that the company repeatedly disregarded safety and environmental rules and risked a serious accident if it did not change its ways.

The confidential inquiries, which have not previously been made public, focused on a rash of problems at BP's Alaska oil-drilling unit that undermined the company’s publicly proclaimed commitment to safe operations. They described instances in which management flouted safety by neglecting aging equipment, pressured or harassed employees not to report problems, and cut short or delayed inspections in order to reduce production costs. Executives were not held accountable for the failures, and some were promoted despite them.

Similar themes about BP operations elsewhere were sounded in interviews with former employees, in lawsuits and little-noticed state inquiries, and in e-mails obtained by ProPublica. Taken together, these documents portray a company that systemically ignored its own safety policies across its North American operations - from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico to California and Texas.

But was fifteen months enough time for the Obama administration to unearth the evidence, too, while handling all the other economic, military, diplomatic, and environmental time bombs the Bush administration left behind? We report, those of you who voted for Bush can decide by counting the months on your fingers and toes.

It is true that within about a week after the rig fire and well blowout, the Obama administration as a whole was making it painfully evident to anyone this side of a BP shareholders' meeting that BP was lying and the Government would be stepping in to provide oversight and increased transparency. That's about the same time the Obama administration put Coast Guard Admiral Chad Allen in charge of the Government's response and began openly challenging BP's deceptive PR campaign to minimize the spill.

In any event, Obama's public remarks yesterday were straight from the shoulder. We're not talking about his made-for-TV threat to "kick ass" that has the press all in a tizzy, clutching its hankie and making a moue with its mouth. We're talking about his direct public statement immediately following yesterday's cabinet meeting:
[H]ere's what we know: Even if we are successful in containing some or much of this oil, we are not going to get this problem completely solved until we actually have the relief well completed, and that is going to take a couple more months. We also know that there's already a lot of oil that's been released, and that there is going to be more oil released no matter how successful this containment effort is.
* * *
This will be contained. It may take some time, and it's going to take a whole lot of effort. There is going to be damage done to the Gulf Coast and there is going to be economic damages that we've got to make sure BP is responsible for and compensates people for.

But the one thing I'm absolutely confident about is that as we have before, we will get through this crisis. * * * [N]ot only are we going to control the damages to the Gulf Coast, but we want to actually use this as an opportunity to reexamine and work with states and local communities to restore the coast in ways that actually enhance the livelihoods and the quality of life for people in that area.

It's going to take some time. It's not going to be easy. But this is a resilient ecosystem. These are resilient people down on the Gulf Coast. I had a chance to talk to them, and they've gone through all kinds of stuff over the last 50, 100 years. And they bounce back, and they're going to bounce back this time. And they're going to need help from the entire country. They're going to need constant vigilant attention from this administration. That's what they're going to get.
There surely will be plenty of others who will be conducting autopsies of what went wrong and why. Plaintiff's lawyers, BP corporate defense counsel, book authors, scientists, and voters are among the more important ones. A president's job is to focus on the future and how we can make the most if it.

Yesterday, Mr. Obama gave us an unabashed, candid assessment of where we are and where we will be going. By no means is it pretty. But it does look like the most optimistic, best case scenario we can hope for.

As for the worst case scenarios, see below.

4. Worser Truth.

Things are never so bad that they can't get worse. Ben Raines reports in today's edition of the Mobile Register that a volunteer pilots' environmental group has just returned from a fly-over that confirms BP's "Deepwater Horizon is not the only well leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico for the last month."
A nearby drilling rig, the Ocean Saratoga, has been leaking since at least April 30, according to a federal document.

While the leak is manifestly smaller than the Deepwater Horizon spill, a 10-mile-long slick emanating from the Ocean Saratoga is visible from space in multiple images gathered by Skytruth.org, which monitors environmental problems using satellites.

Federal officials did not immediately respond when asked about the size of the leak, how long it had been flowing, or whether it was possible to plug it.

Skytruth first reported the leak on its website on May 15. Federal officials mentioned it in the May 1 trajectory map for the Deepwater Horizon spill, stating that oil from the Ocean Saratoga spill might also be washing ashore in Louisiana.

Officials with Diamond Offshore, which owns the drilling rig, said that they could not comment on the ongoing spill and referred the Press-Register to well owner Taylor Energy Co., which hired Diamond. Taylor Energy officials did not return calls seeking comment.
You can be sure BP and the U.S. Coast Guard know about this. Reporter Raines adds: "Officials at the National Response Center said that the spill had been reported, but would not say when it began." (emphasis added)

More evidence of a lack of transparency? Certainly. It's an oil company, for pete's sake. What do you expect?

You can be sure this second oil well leak is being watched with interest, if not glee, in the corporate lawyer offices and boardroom of BP. Every leaking barrel of oil BP can blame on some other oil company is another barrel of money in the pockets of BP shareholders.

If the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder didn't know about this before, they do now. Sometimes it's smart lawyering to hold your tongue and wait for the other guy to have his say, even though it may frustrate the client (or in this case 330 million anxious Americans). But we can't imagine why the Government isn't publicly addressing this second oil company disaster.

Aerial photos taken by J. Henry Fair are expected to be posted soon on the web site of Industrialscars.com.

5. Worst Truth.

When things are getting worse they can always get 'worser.' Florida's senior senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), made news yesterday when he told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell that BP's Deepwater Horizon oil may be leaking from the seabed surrounding the wellhead. The assertion is, as of this writing, unverified.

Bmaz, the nom de blog of a Phoenix attorney who writes for Firedog Lake and Marcy Wheeler's Emptywheel, adds this alongside a video of Nelson's remarks:
This is potentially huge and devastating news. If Nelson is correct in that assertion, and he is smart enough to not make such assertions lightly, so I think they must be taken at face value, it means the well casing and well bore are compromised and the gig is up on containment pending a completely effective attempt to seal the well from the bottom via successful “relief wells”.

In fact, I have confirmed with Senator Nelson’s office that they are fully aware of the breaking news and significance of what the Senator said to Andrea Mitchell.
If and when Senator Nelson's information is verified, it means the hoped-for August "relief well" won't necessarily stop the leak, either.

6. Yet Another Hard Truth.

If all that -- bad weather forecast, a second leaking rig in the Gulf, and rising suspicion (as yet unconfirmed) that BP's Deepwater Horizon well is leaking at the seafloor -- isn't enough to depress you, then contemplate BP's other ongoing oil leak in Alaska:
While the focus has been on the BP oil rig explosion and crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP’s other spill of more than 100,000 gallons of oil in Alaska has been completely overshadowed.The Alaska Pipeline is owned by BP and is dangerously corroded and unmaintained. This neglect caused the pipe to burst and spill gallons of oil off the coast of Alaska.

No one is watching,” said investigative journalist Greg Palast.

No one watching? Maybe that's because everybody around the world is too busy trying to keep decades of BP neglect from ruining their own shores.

7. Petrol Pols.

Locally, Independent News publisher Rick Outzen answers his mail. Here's a shortened version, as we would have edited his reply:
Florida attorney general Bill McCollum spends too much time writing letters and making self-serving campaign stops. Tell him to go back to the office and not to come out until he files suit against BP.
8. Special Session.

Speaking of pols, Florida Governor Charlie Crist almost certainly will call for special legislative session in July.
The governor said it was "pretty definite'' he would call for a legislative special session as early as July to consider a constitutional amendment that would ban offshore drilling off Florida, coupled with the possibility of looking at renewable energy options, in an effort to move toward "more green'' technologies.
Why rush to ban drilling off the Florida coast? Because just three months ago the Florida Republican Party was all about "drill, baby, drill." And, of course, Charlie is no longer a Republican, as he would like to remind voters over the next five months before the November election, silly.

No comments: