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December 16 2011


A BP Christmas: Is That an Oil Slick in my Stocking?

Musings of a Malcontent: Environmental Irony in an Imperfect (but humorous?) World“Musings of a Malcontent” is a weekly op-ed by GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Carlyle Coash

I think I’m going to vomit.

Just saw the new BP Gulf States ad.

The theme? The Best Tourist Season EVER for a long time in the Gulf States!

Brought to you by BP.

Yeah, vomit is definitely on the way.

I realize that I have become jaded over the years – so much so that I just cannot trust when the company that caused the damage is telling me everything is just great. I know, they spent all this money and they feel awful bad for what they done. Shucks – awful bad. They done wrecked things up good and proper, so much so it seemed like all was lost. Hung their heads deep and low they did – so bad they felt. Yet look how happy everyone is! It’s not us – not our employees at all – the people in this commercial live here and they are happy as punch. They got this spill by the horns and they are not letting go!

Sorry – I do not buy it.

For one – all the main spokespeople are business owners or representatives of business organizations. No offense, but I think they will say almost anything to get people to come to their states and spend money. I would. For second – brought to you by BP? Really? BP you are responsible for the best year of tourism in these states? I think not. Do you think we all just got lobotomies? I know they are sale at Walmart this week – but seriously.

BP – you have nothing to be proud of. All you have done is brought us down.

To me anyway that is what it implies when they take credit like that – patting themselves on the back. They want us all to be impressed with what they are doing to make things right. Yet they may want to hold off on that. At least until they actually STOP the damage they are doing in the Gulf. Might be a good idea before taking credit for things.

At this point perhaps you are intrigued. There is damage still being done? What is this he speaks of? Everything is good down there in the Gulf. The commercials tell me so. I can sleep at night again knowing that no more oil is spilling into the Gulf. I can sleep knowing that BP is hard at work to make this a viable area again – one that is rich in heritage and activity.

You are smarter than that of course.

As you might know, BP still has wells that are leaking in the Gulfone of them since 2004 – and there seems little being done to relate to them. Now you might be saying to yourself that I have no idea what I am talking about. After all a commercial with spokespeople from 4 Gulf States – 4 I tell ya – are saying that everything is shiny bright where they are. Heck – they are actually inviting us to go romping in the nice warm water during this winter season. Common y’all! The water is great!

Is that oil between your toes or are you just happy to see me?

They are right. It is shiny bright down there – shiny bright from the oil slicks that are appearing in several spots in the Gulf Coast area. Thanks to Jonathan Henderson, a journalist exploring the Gulf Coast region last week, we have some great photographs of at least 3 lovely slicks doing their thing. Two do not seem to have an origin point – a little scary – although could very likely be coming from a pipe underwater. The third is from a platform that was taken out in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan.

I’m sorry – did you say 2004?

Yes – I have said it three times now. 2004. Ivan came in and knocked the platform down. Solution? Leave it there and let it leak.

Brought to you by BP alright.

We felt, after all, that this was the most humane thing to do really. Leave it where it lay – so to speak. Respect for the dead. Also we wanted to give proper mourning time for the other platforms in the area who would be upset if we rushed in and cleaned things up too quickly. They take these losses very hard in our experience. So we felt it best to let the oil from the platform continue to leak in the Gulf as an expression of grief for all. A black shroud of mourning floating around as a reminder of the vast hole we carry in our hearts for our fallen comrade. Platform – be free of your burden now. Go now into the light.

Let me hear an Amen.

If you need me, I’ll be by the toilet.

Please check out the links in this article and the related article below –  Any feedback would be appreciated!

December 14 2011


BP Returns to Deepwater Offshore Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico

BP, the oil major responsible for the biggest offshore oil disaster in U.S. history, is officially returning to deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The Obama Interior Department "awarded" BP $27 million worth of leases for oil-and-gas exploration in the Gulf waters into which the company and its accomplices dumped roughly 5 million barrels of oil in April 2010.


The Interior Department conducted its first Gulf lease sale since the BP disaster and announced today the winning bids from 20 different companies totaling $712 million. Adding a strange insult to injury, the lease sale was conducted in New Orleans, home to many fishermen and small business owners whose livelihoods were imperiled by BP's reckless drilling disaster.

In its coverage, BP Awarded $27 Million in Leases for Gulf Oil, Gas Exploration, the National Journal reports that:

BP bid a total of $109.9 million on 15 leases and won 11 for $27.4 million, Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management reported in a list of sales posted on its website.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said:

This marks a milestone with respect to the greatest overhaul in the America’s history,” Salazar said of the offshore-drilling safety reforms and changes implemented by Interior since the April 2010 explosion of a BP well in the Gulf led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. “We believe we can move forward with oil and gas development.”

The only milestone this really marks is the renewed guarantee that the oil industry will continue to destroy the Gulf of Mexico one disaster at a time in its pursuit of dangerous, extreme energy. 

Forbes' coverage includes this astonishing set of quotes from the head of BOEMRE:

Michael Bromwich, director the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was quoted today defending BP. “They don’t have a deeply flawed record offshore,” he reportedly said. “We’ve done analyses over time on the relative safety records of offshore operators and they wre in close to the top crew.”
Bromwich added: “The question is, do you administer the administrative death penalty based on one incident?,” Bromwich told reporters. “And we’ve concluded, I’ve concluded, that’s not appropriate in these circumstances.”

In case there was any doubt in your mind, Bromwich's logic here confirms that the Obama administration has returned to the status of Big Oil lapdog in hideous fashion today.

Any bets on which oil major will offer Mr. Bromwich a job when he's finished aiding and abetting industry in the destruction of the Gulf? 

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On Our Radar: A Serial Bird's-Egg Thief

A Briton acknowledges possessing 652 "ordinary" wild bird eggs, as well as those from birds like red kites, peregrine falcons, redwings and merlins. He also confesses to taking 12 avocet, 8 osprey and 7 golden eagle eggs.

December 09 2011


Fracking Ohio's Utica Shale to "Boost Local Economy"? A "Total" Sham

It is a well-known fact that the unconventional gas industry is involved in an inherently toxic business, particularly through hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), which the EPA just confirmed has contaminated groundwater in Wyoming. The documentary film "Gasland," DeSmogBlog's report "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate," and numerous other investigations, reports, and scientific studies have echoed the myriad problems with unconventional oil and gas around the globe.

What is less well-known, but arguably equally as important, is who exactly stands to benefit economically from the destruction of our land, air, and water in the gas industry's rush to profit from the fracking bonanza. The U.S oil and gas industry would have us believe that they are principally focused on ushering in American energy independence. But their claims are increasingly suspect as the real motivation of this industry becomes clearer by the day.

A hint: it's not the small "mom and pop," independent gas companies, but multinational oil and gas corporations. Another hint: it's often not even American multinational oil and gas corporations, but rather, foreign-based multinational oil and gas corporations who stand to gain the most.

France's Total S.A. Enters Ohio's Utica Shale, as well as Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya

On December 7, Bloomberg's Businessweek reported that Total S.A. is positioning itself to acquire 25 percent of Chesapeake Energy’s stake in Ohio's Utica Shale, valued at $2.14 Billion

Total S.A., the largest oil and gas producer in France, is a multinational corporation perhaps most notorious for its involvement in Iraq's "Oil-For-Food" scandal. In 2010, Total S.A. was accused of bribing former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's officials to secure oil supplies. 

Total SA also brokered another big deal on December 7, this one in Uganda, a place I recently wrote about on AlterNet in a piece titled, "Did Obama Just Kick Off Another Oil War — This Time in Africa?" It appears the question raised and answered in my article is being confirmed more and more with each passing day.

Explaining the terms of the deal, Reuters wrote, "French oil major Total said it could build a pipeline from South Sudan to Uganda that would continue to Kenya’s coast, potentially solving the fledgling state’s headache about how to export its oil."

These announcements comes on the heels of a December 1 announcement by another foreign corporation, Norway's Statoil, stating that it "would like to add to its acreage position in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas as it looks to grow its unconventional oil and gas position in North America."

Speaking of corruption, by the way, Ohio is a natural landing spot for Total S.A.

Ohio: Home to Big Gas Money

Common Cause of Ohio, in a recent report titled "Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets," revealed that from 2001 through June 2011, Republican Governor John Kasich received $213,519 in campaign contributions from the gas industry. The Republican Senatorial and House Campaign Committees took another $210,250 from the gas industry during that same time period.

Not to be outdone, on the other side of the aisle, former Democratic Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, received $87,450 during that time frame. 

Top donors included the following:

  • Ohio Oil & Gas Producers Fund - $820,285
  • British Petroleum PAC & Employees - $215,438
  • Marathon Oil PAC & Employees - $207,054

Summing things up, Common Cause wrote,

Companies engaged in fracking contributed $2.8 million to state candidates, political committees, and parties in Ohio from 2001 through June 2011, helping the natural gas industry preserve what are some of the nation’s most lenient fracking regulations. Ohio does not require full disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process, has stripped from local governments the power to regulate fracking, and allows fracking as close as 100 feet to a residence.

All in all, this is a bad deal for the people of Ohio, but a great deal for global multinational oil corporations, a pattern all too familiar in the American political fray.

Any way one slices it, the claim that the gas industry first and foremost is a "good neighbor" who will "benefit the local economies," is a total sham. 


November 18 2011


Brazilian Officials Investigating Chevron Oil Spill Off Coast

Law enforcement agencies in Brazil announced today that they would begin investigating the cause of an oil spill that occurred off the coast. Chevron's Frade Well off the coast of Brazil has been leaking for more than a week. From the start, Chevron tried to downplay the significance of the spill, suggesting it had natural causes, but Brazilian officials are now saying that Chevron did, in fact, cause an oil spill.

Mike G at The Understory lays out the story:

Brazil’s Federal Police agency has announced that it is investigating the spill, and said in a statement that those responsible could be facing up to 5 years in prison…After Chevron tried to blame it on natural seepage for a week, officials have confirmed that the oil spill off the Brazilian coast is in fact the result of Chevron’s operations at its Frade well.

Echoing last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and BP’s defensive and often misleading public communications during that disaster, Chevron has continuously downplayed and underestimated the amount of oil that has leaked out of their well (which, according to the company, was sealed today). The oil giant claims that the amount of oil leaked out of the Frade well was somewhere between 400 and 650 barrels of oil, with only about 65 barrels worth of oil remaining on the surface of the water after a week of natural dissipation and the application of chemical dispersants.

However, independent analyses performed by organizations tell a different story.

From The Washington Post:

SkyTruth, a nonprofit group that uses satellite imagery to detect environmental problems, said on its website the oil spill extended 918 square miles (2,379 square kilometers) and that the spill rate as of Tuesday was up to at least 3,738 barrels per day.

Chevron said in its statement that it “continues to fully inform and work with Brazilian government agencies and industry partners on all aspects of this matter.”

“If Chevron is not doing what it should (to contain the spill) it will be severely punished,” Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobao said Thursday.

In another eerie similarity to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, the contractor of Chevron’s Frade well was Transocean, the company that actually owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Unlike the “justice” being served in America to BP and the other companies involved in last year’s oil disaster, Chevron executives in Brazil could actually face prison time for their disaster, as Mike G mentions in his piece.

This would be a tremendous precedent to set for other oil companies who have run roughshod over communities and the environment across the globe without any remorse or true accountability.

October 26 2011


BP to Drill Again in the Gulf of Mexico

Federal regulators gave BP a permit to drill a new well in the Gulf of Mexico, the first time the oil company will be allowed to drill there since the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010.
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October 17 2011


September 16 2011


Musings of a Malcontent: Irony, Irony, Wherefore art thou Irony?

Musings of a Malcontent: Environmental Irony in an Imperfect (but humorous?) World“Musings of a Malcontent” is a weekly op-ed by GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Carlyle Coash

Recently I have become aware of the fact the a few readers actually take everything I say here literally. Yes, I know. It seems far-fetched.

“This post being taken to be exact truth? Are you sure?”

Oh I am sure. Last week when I said it would take penguins roosting on Alcatraz for us to realize that we have let global warming go to far, someone actually sent in a comment wanting to tell me that would be impossible. They only live in the Southern Hemisphere after all.

Yeah, I know. In fact I only picked species from there because it would mean things are very bad if they are hanging out up here.

I was being clever.

I am very sorry.

After a few months of writing this post I figured most readers realized that the purpose of these weekly musings is to poke fun at things. Maybe, if all goes well, you might laugh a little – shake your head with a smile on your face. You see – in case it was unclear – irony, sarcasm and a few puns have been bankrolling the whole affair – and for that I am thankful. I know sarcasm is the fool’s wit, but boy is it needed most of the time.

People taking what I say literally gives me the impression that all is not well in the state of Denmark.

(Sorry – I am on a Shakespearean roll here – or whoever wrote his plays.)

There is so much ridiculousness in the world pushed on us on a daily basis that laughter is imperative. Frankly anything to dispel how out of balance it is helps us to fight against the darkness smothering us with our own pillow. If the seriousness sets in too deeply, then the other side will truly win. We will have been broken by despair. No thanks.

Let me help by offering an example of what I mean.

A moment ago I watched a commercial for tourism in the Gulf of Mexico. Yes the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida want me to come and visit because the Gulf is just an amazing place. Oh yeah – the commercial was brought to me by BP.

Irony does not run any deeper than that my friends.

I watched the commercial in disbelief. Everyone is jovial and happy. Come on and eat our shrimp! Mmmmmm. No mention of what has happened. It is in bad taste, really. If those states had done it on their own – then it would have been great. Good for them – stepping up to say they are still worth visiting. I would be packing my bags.

To have the BP logo on the end of it – specifically saying they sponsored it – made me want to take a shower. Or at least smoke a cigarette.

However, after toweling off the next thing I want to do is make fun of it. Compulsion really. It’s been there since birth. This helps me not despair at the fact that you can bet the majority of the people who watch that commercial will actually think BP is doing a good thing. They are oh so sorry for neglecting to pay attention to the massive straw they plunged into a huge pressurized vat of toxic oil under the ocean.

Hey BP – it’s under the water for a reason ya’ know.

The only commercials we should be seeing from them for a long time is what complete idiots they are. We should be seeing the CEO personally cleaning every last bird, fish and beach front while barely being able to look the camera in the eye. Actually him just sitting in a chair sobbing would be perfect.

So instead of punching my computer screen, this came into my brain instead:

I hear BP is coming out with some amazing hair care products using the recycled oil they have been collecting from the Gulf spill. They’re calling it Sheen. It comes in its very own oil slick pouch so it feels authentic.

Sadly instead of feeling a little better for my silly notion I am now thinking – “Please, please, Lord, let them realize I was kidding.”

I was. I promise.

So to be clear – irony, sarcasm, puns and whatever I can think of – are the masters here. I may present a fact now and again, but only to make fun of it or something else. After all I do have a job to do.

Anyway, time to be going. I want to take another shower so I can try my new bottle of Sheen. If it would only stop slipping out of my hands – thanks BP!

BTW – Check out this excellent spoof of the new BP commercials.

Image source: The Alopecian Muse

September 14 2011


Deepwater Horizon Still A Massive Headache For BP

The problems facing BP along the Gulf Coast continue to pile up. After more than a year of investigations, the U.S. Coast Guard has finally released their long-awaited assessment of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. Their conclusion was that the ultimate blame for the disaster rests squarely on BP’s shoulders.

The new report, put together by The Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), was among the most exhaustive investigations to date, according to Reuters. The report claims that the decisions made by BP in the days before the rig explosion are what led to the catastrophe. Among those were BP’s decision to ignore the safeguarding of the cement plug, and the oil company’s decision to only use one type of cement to seal the well. The report also said that the location that BP chose for the casing was very poor, making it difficult to access in an emergency.

The new report does lay some blame at the feet of other companies involved, including Transocean and Halliburton, but they said that at the end of the day, BP was in charge of the decision-making process, and therefore they are the responsible party. This is a far cry from a recent report by Marshall Islands investigators, who recently pinned the blame for the disaster on the rig workers themselves, rather than the companies involved in the rig’s management. The new report is on par with other reports that also put most of the blame on BP.

But the report wasn’t just another episode of the blame game, it actually offered solutions to prevent further disasters. The Associated Press notes the recommendations of the panel as follows:

The panel recommended further changes to offshore drilling practices, including requiring at least two barriers to be placed in a well — one mechanical, and one cement. The Macondo well had a single barrier, the cement seal at the bottom, so when the blowout happened the only thing to stop it was the blowout preventer. That didn't work, the panel says, because the kink in the pipe caused by the force of the blowout kept it out of reach of the safety device's shearing rams. The rams are supposed to pinch a well shut in an emergency by slicing through the well's drill pipe.

But the Coast Guard report isn’t the only problem that BP is having to deal with in regards to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Reports over the last few weeks have been surfacing about oil sheens appearing in the Gulf of Mexico around the “sealed off” Macondo well where the Deepwater Horizon rig was located. Today, a new report by Al Jazeera highlighted the seriousness of the new oil being found in the Gulf:

Al Jazeera flew to the area on Sunday, September 11, and spotted a swath of silvery oil sheen, approximately 7 km long and 10 to 50 meters wide, at a location roughly 19 km northeast of the now-capped Macondo 252 well.

Edward Overton, a professor emeritus at Louisiana State University's environmental sciences department, examined data from recent samples taken of the new oil. Overton, who is also a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contractor, told Al Jazeera, "After examining the data, I think it's a dead ringer for the MC252 [Macondo Well] oil, as good a match as I've seen".

While not ruling out the possibility that oil could be seeping out of the giant reservoir, which would be the worst-case scenario, Overton believes the oil currently reaching the surface is likely from oil that was trapped in the damaged rigging on the seafloor. He said the oil could either be leaking from the broken riser pipe that connected the Deepwater Horizon to the well, or that oil is leaking from the Deepwater Horizon itself.

Other scientists along the Gulf Coast are worried that the oil could actually be coming from the actual oil reserve itself – speculating fissures developing along the floor of the Gulf of Mexico are leaking oil from the 50 million gallon reservoir beneath the sand. While events like that are actually quite common, none have been known to create sheens as massive as the current one being tracked in the Gulf.

While it will be difficult to prove where the new oil is coming from without extensive underwater surveillance, one thing is for sure: The damage from the Deepwater Horizon disaster will not be subsiding any time soon, and BP’s troubles will linger even longer.


August 24 2011


Justice Department Launches Investigation Into BP's Oil Gusher Cover Up

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an official investigation to determine whether or not BP lied to the public and to the government about the amount of oil that was leaking from a broken pipe during last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. The leak was the result of the explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by Transocean but operated by BP.

During the initial days of the oil leak, BP was constantly updating their estimates of how much oil was flowing out of the broken pipeline. In spite of their advanced camera, computer, and other data technologies, they were somehow never able to give an accurate, or even close to accurate, account of what was happening beneath the water’s surface. The Justice Department is hoping to find out whether the company was acting dishonestly, or if they actually couldn’t determine the flow rate despite all the data available to them.

From a lengthy Huffington Post report on the investigation:

According to federal officials, BP was solely responsible for producing the very first spill estimate of 1,000 barrels per day, a figure which led to a sense of complacency about the seriousness of the event among some federal and state responders at the outset of the disaster, the presidential commission on the oil spill concluded in January 2011. BP has never publicly acknowledged generating this figure and even the commission’s investigators could not determine the methodology used to produce it.

Documents and interviews also indicate that BP, using reservoir data, computer modeling and imagery of the leaking pipe, may have had the ability to calculate a far more accurate estimate of the well's flow rate early on in the spill than it provided to the government. The company either never fully ran those calculations or their results were not disclosed to federal responders.

Obviously, it would have been in the company’s own best interest to convince the public that the disaster was smaller than it actually was, as the company was facing environmental fines of up to $4,300 per barrel of oil leaked into the Gulf. But it is hard to believe that BP couldn’t get an accurate count of what was coming out of that broken pipe, or even a reasonable rough estimate. After all, the company boasted in 2008 that they had developed technology that was capable of determining the flow rate of oil through a broken pipe – the very situation that was happening in the Gulf. They invented the technology, bragged about it, but when it would have actually been useful to deploy, BP claimed they couldn’t accurately measure the flow rate, and thus the scope of the disaster.

There’s no question that this investigation is a fantastic start. Especially when you consider that our current DOJ has spent more time investigating John Edwards' extramarital affair than they have investigating the Wall Street bankers whose actions helped bring down our economy. On top of that, we have an Attorney General who spent most of his career defending oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, and Wall Street banks – the same suspects we’re supposed to trust him to investigate. So this investigation is certainly a step in the right direction, but it needs to go much, much deeper than BP’s flow number irregularities.

To begin with, the DOJ needs to look into what was happening at the oil company before the Gulf disaster even occurred. Reports show that the company calculated the cost of safety measures for oil rigs versus the cost (value) they put on a worker’s life. Internal documents obtained by The Daily Beast show that BP called this analysis the “Three Little Pigs” scenario. After they realized that it was more cost-effective to pay losses to the families of injured workers, they opted to forgo certain safety measures. This is clearly an area where the Justice Department should focus significant attention.

The Justice Department should also look hard into the aggressive misinformation campaign that BP launched during the oil leak. After the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, BP sent its PR machine into overdrive trying to misdirect the public about what was happening in the Gulf of Mexico.

Leaked BP emails show that the company actively attempted to “buy” scientists near the Gulf Coast, in order to produce favorable reports on the impact the oil would have on the environment. This tactic would have also prevented these scientific experts from later testifying for plaintiff’s attorneys representing oil disaster victims, as their payments from BP would have provided a significant conflict of interest.

BP's campaigns stretched far beyond buying scientists. The oil giant launched an aggressive online ad campaign, spending a staggering $3.7 million in just one month on Google AdWords relating to the oil spill - BP bought relevant search terms such as "oil spill," "leak," and "top kill." Buying these search terms gave BP an online advantage, as it put their sponsored links (most of which are still active today) ahead of relevant news stories and other information relating to the oil disaster in a web search.

After the online ad campaign took off, the company then began their “grassroots” efforts. Two industry-funded organizations went into heavy action: The Gulf of Mexico Foundation and the America’s Wetland Foundation. The Gulf of Mexico Foundation pulled its board of directors from the oil industry, and most members of the board were either actively working for oil companies, or for offshore oil drilling interests. America’s Wetland Foundation was even less discrete than hiring an oil industry board of directors – they took funding directly from the oil industry, including: Shell, Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute, Citgo, Entergy, and Exxon Mobil.

BP also donated $5 million to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in July 2011, 3 months after the oil leak began. After this cash infusion, the Sea Lab released a report claiming that the massive dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico were being caused by the cold water, not the oil and Corexit that BP poured into the waters. Scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration pointed out that dolphins actually swim away to avoid cold water.

Companies across the globe have been fined for misleading the public on a variety of issues. As the above clearly shows, BP actively set out to mislead the public in numerous ways regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. These are active misinformation campaigns that continue to this day. Until the Justice Department looks into all of these matters, it is unlikely that the misinformation from BP is going to stop any time soon.

August 22 2011


Is Deepwater Horizon Rig Owner Trying To Blame Victims For Gulf Oil Disaster?

A new report released by authorities in the Marshall Islands says that the failure of oil rig workers to properly address safety issues led to last year's catastrophic blowout and explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The Deepwater Horizon was registered in the Marshall Islands by rig owner Transocean. Much like large ships, oil rigs are often registered in overseas territories for tax purposes.

The Marshall Islands report is one of the first to explicitly put the blame for the disaster on workers rather than the companies involved – BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and Cameron International. While the new report is not the first to claim that communications broke down in the moments leading up to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, it is the first to place the blame mostly on the backs of the people who did everything in their power to avert the disaster, while only casually mentioning the fact that BP’s actions and those of the other companies with a stake in the rig might have also helped cause the disaster.

From The Star Tribune:

In somewhat of a pass for Transocean, the report concluded that confusion regarding decision-making authority during the incident was not a cause of the disaster.

The report also recommended rig operators ensure that new crew members, contractors and visitors be told when they board about the roles and responsibilities of people in charge of the vessel, and how the chain of command works in emergencies.

The report also makes the claim that the oil rig was completely fit for service during the time of the explosion. This claim is contrary to previous reports that Halliburton’s cement mixture was substandard, that BP cut corners on rig safety to save money and forged inspection documents, and that the design of the blowout preventer made the device utterly worthless.

An investigation this past April also revealed that the Marshall Islands had failed in their duties to inspect the vessel, which could have potentially implicated the nation in the spate of lawsuits surrounding the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

This report is similar to a report released earlier this year by investigators at Transocean. The Transocean internal report placed the blame squarely on the backs of both BP and Halliburon for a mix of failures, but also claimed that their rig was fit for duty.

What the report ultimately does is vindicate rig owner Transocean from any wrongdoing in the matter. It also protects the Marshall Islands’ stake in offshore drilling vessel registrations.

As mentioned above, oil rigs are usually registered overseas to help cut down on tax liabilities. Transocean, a company based in Sweden, owns roughly 50% of all deepwater rigs in existence, with countless rigs registered in the Marshall Islands. So the Marshall Islands has a deep interest in making sure that Transocean remains free of blame in the matter – they have a lot to gain financially from the company.

However, a report by the U.S. Coast Guard shows that the two entities might be the ones responsible for the command breakdown that they are now blaming for the disaster. From the Coast Guard’s report:

Because of a ‘clerical error,’ by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, DEEPWATER HORIZON, was classified in a manner that permitted it to have a dual-command organizational structure under which the OIM was in charge when the vessel was latched on to the well, but the master was in charge when the MODU was underway between locations or in an emergency situation. When the explosions began, however, there was no immediate transfer of authority from the OIM to the master, and the master asked permission from the OIM to the master, and the master asked permission from the OIM to activate the vessel’s EDS. This command confusion at a critical point in the emergency may have impacted the decision to activate the EDS.”

The Republic of the Marshall Islands’ (RMI’) “clerical error” in listing DEEPWATER HORIZON as a self-propelled MODU instead of a dynamic positioned vessel enabled Transocean to implement a dual-command organizational structure on board the vessel. This arrangement may have impacted the decision to activate the vessel’s emergency disconnect system (EDS). Even though the master, who was responsible for the safety of his vessel, was in the CCR at the time of the well blowout, it cannot be conclusively determined whether his questionable reaction was due to his indecisiveness, a lack of training on how to activate the EDS or the failure to properly execute an emergency transfer of authority as required by the vessel’s operations manual. U.S. regulations do not address whether the master or OIM has the ultimate authority onboard foreign registered dynamic positioned MODUs operating on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.”

In essence, by blaming the crew and the breakdown in the chain of command in the run up to the explosion, both Transocean and the Marshall Islands are actually blaming themselves.

So far, every corporate entity involved in the Gulf oil disaster has attempted to put the blame onto someone else. And as long as oil continues to roll up onto our shores, it is unlikely that the blame game will end.

July 15 2011


BP to Adopt Voluntary Safety Standards in the Gulf of Mexico

A federal official welcomes BP's decision to go beyond minimum requirements but says that it will not affect the granting of drilling permits to the oil giant.

July 12 2011


BP Urges Government To Halt Gulf Oil Disaster Relief Payments For Future Losses

Oil giant BP is urging the federal government to stop making payments to Gulf Coast residents affected by last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil geyser. BP claims that the improving economic conditions among areas hit the hardest by the oil provide enough evidence to show that they no longer need to be compensated for future losses from the environmental disaster.

To date, roughly $4.5 billion worth of claims have been paid out of the $20 billion fund established by the government and funded by BP to pay victims of the oil catastrophe. Claims continue to be filed with the government seeking compensation for their losses.

BP is not attempting to halt payments to current claimants with recognizable losses – only those who are claiming that their future income will be impacted. The company released a letter to the government and to the press claiming the following:

BP remains committed to paying all legitimate claims under OPA. Based on the current state of the Gulf economy, however, a reevaluation of the future factor is required. Multiple lines of evidence demonstrate that, to the extent that portions of the Gulf economy were impacted by the spill, recovery had occurred by the end of 2010, and that positive economic performance continues into 2011, with 2011 economic metrics exceeding pre-spill performance. That the Gulf economy is strong, and that there is no basis to assume that claimants, with very limited exceptions, will incur a future loss related to the oil spill, is evidenced by the following facts, among others:

During the first quarter of 2011, hotels in coastal areas of the Gulf states performed well above first quarter (pre-spill) 2010 levels.

Tourist businesses in the Gulf region reported strong, and in some cases, record, springs, Memorial Day weekends, and Fourth of July holidays.

According to the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, tourist dollars spent in the city in 2010 were at a record high and exceeded 2009 by more than $1.1 billion dollars.

To determine if BP’s claims of economic recovery are true, all you have to do is look to the past. The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred more than 20 years ago, yet oil still coats areas of Alaska today. And the difference between the two oil leaks is that with Exxon, we knew exactly how much oil was spilled into Prince William Sound. In that case, it was roughly 11 million gallons of oil.

However, there is no precise measurement of how much oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico, but the best estimates say that it was as much as 184 million gallons of oil. It is highly unlikely that all of this oil disappeared or washed up on beaches. When this oil eventually turns up, claims will continue to be filed by those affected.

But it isn’t just the economy that BP is saying has recovered; they also make the claim that the fishing industry is back to pre-spill health:

All federal fishing grounds are open.

Upon the reopening of fishing grounds in the summer and fall of 2010, landings of shrimp and menhaden were very strong.

Landings of shrimp and menhaden have remained strong in 2011

As a Gulf Coast resident, I've seen modest crowds return to the beaches, and witnessed local businesses enjoying more tourist traffic over the last few weekends. It is summer beach season, after all, but those claims by BP are accurate, for the time being.  This does not mean that residents and local businesses are completely out of the woods.  Many will no doubt continue to incur future losses as a result of the BP offshore oil disaster.

But more importantly, for BP to claim that the seafood industry has not only rebounded, but that the seafood is safe to consume, is disengenous. Even more troublesome is the fact that this claim has been echoed by the federal government as well.

Reports show that commercial fishing and the recreational fishing industry are still suffering in the wake of the oil gusher. Additionally, studies on the safety of Gulf seafood have been dangerously inadequate. Most of the federal studies conducted have only tested for remnants of burnt oil and have not monitored other chemicals found in oil that pose a threat to human health. This is why, just a few days ago, universities across the South were given millions of dollars in federal grants to study the long term effects of the oil spill on marine life and on the safety of the seafood.

Until the long term studies are concluded, it is impossible for anyone to make a finite claim that seafood from the Gulf is safe.  Given the well-documented trail of misinformation and confusion created by both BP and the government in the wake of the Gulf oil disaster, there is no reason to believe they're telling the honest truth now.  We must let science settle the safety of Gulf seafood, and only time will reveal the lasting impacts from this horrible oil disaster on Gulf residents and our economies. 

To suggest that everything is completely back to normal is a dangerous and unfounded position. BP can - and certainly will - say what it wants to limit its financial obligations to clean up this disaster and make residents whole again.  But the federal government - especially under the leadership of President Obama, who campaigned on the importance of relying on science instead of rhetoric - has no right to follow BP's lead in confusing the public.

June 27 2011


Enviro News Wrap: The Road Not Built (in the Serengeti); Congress Attacks Clean Water Act; Cheaper Solar Cells, and more…

The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

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June 24 2011


Transocean Report Blames BP For Gulf Oil Disaster

Offshore oil drilling giant Transocean released the results of an internal investigation this week on the causes of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. The investigation concluded that well owner BP was to blame for the explosion and the resulting 3-month oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico.

Transocean claims that BP’s actions led to the blowout, as they were in charge of most of the decision-making on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Transocean says that BP’s poor decisions caused a succession of problems ranging from the well design itself to the construction process of the Macondo rig. Transocean officials also fault BP for causing a breakdown in communication during construction, which they claim led to many of the failures aboard the oil rig. Here are a few highlights from their report:

BP did not properly communicate to the drill crew the lack of testing on the cement or the uncertainty surrounding critical tests and procedures used to confirm the integrity of the barriers intended to inhibit the flow of hydrocarbons from the well. A hydrocarbon is a compound consisting of hydrogen and carbon that is found in oil and gas.

BP adopted a technically complex nitrogen foam cement program for sealing the well. The resulting cementing job was of minimal quantity, left little margin for error, and was not tested adequately before or after the cementing operation. Further, the integrity of the cement may have been compromised by contamination, instability, and an inadequate number of devices used to center the casing in the wellbore.

Cement contractor Halliburton and BP did not adequately test the cement slurry used to seal the well.

BP also failed to assess the risk of the temporary abandonment procedure used at Macondo. At the time of the explosion, BP was making sure the well was sealed so it could temporarily abandon the site and perhaps come back at some point in the future to produce oil from the exploratory well. Transocean said BP generated at least five different temporary abandonment plans for the Macondo well between April 12, 2010, and April 20, 2010. After this series of last-minute alterations, BP proceeded with a temporary abandonment plan that created risk and did not have the required government approval.

Transocean’s report also claims that their blowout preventer (BOP) was fully operational and played no part in the explosion and oil leak. Transocean was the owner of the blowout preventer, a device that had the potential to prevent the massive oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico. Their claim that the BOP was working properly goes against the findings of previous reports.

As we’ve reported in the past, numerous failures led to last year’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, including a lack of regular inspections and a cozy relationship between rig owners and federal regulators.

Transocean is facing numerous lawsuits for their role in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and their report is likely an attempt to shift the blame onto BP and Halliburton. The likelihood of their internal investigation playing a significant role in litigation remains small, as the government’s report has clearly stated that all parties share in the responsibility for the catastrophe.

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May 31 2011


House Republicans Distort Reality To Blame Obama For High Gas Prices

Never ones to let facts get in the way of a good political smear, House Republicans released a report blaming President Obama and the Democrats for high gas prices in America. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, led by Republican Representative Darrell Issa, claims that the president has launched a concerted effort within the government to keep energy prices high in order to force “green technology” on the public.

The new report says that onerous environmental policies put in place by the administration and enforced by the EPA are causing domestic energy prices to rise dramatically, effectively killing jobs and hurting every American who drives a car. They also say that Obama is limiting oil companies’ ability to drill for "American" oil in places like the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and that the President is not allowing them to exploit the natural resources of our country by imposing limits on hydraulic fracturing. <!--break-->
The committee went as far as to call for a full blown hearing last week, where they grilled EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and David Hayes, Deputy Secretary at the Department of the Interior, on the necessity of environmental policies that hinder domestic energy production. Here are a few highlights of the Committee’s report:

Many of the “green” energy sources promoted by the administration “create unintended environmental, security and economic consequences,” for example, by increasing the demand for Chinese “rare earth” materials, which subsequently boosts harmful coal production because that’s where more than two-thirds of China’s energy comes from.

Current administration policies have limited the domestic production of oil by restricting access to resources located along the outer continental shelf. Many of these restrictions were put in place before the disastrous Gulf oil spill.

Despite the fact that the United States relies on carbon-based fuels for more than 80 percent of its energy needs, the Obama administration has been “aggressively suppressing” the utilization of these fuels.

While their points might look good on paper or in 10-second sound bites, they are not even close to reality. For example, the GOP says that Obama has prevented industry from drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and that he is not allowing them to drill on public lands, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But as we’ve reported in the past, Obama has actually opened up more areas of the Gulf for drilling, and is currently actively working to open up areas of Alaska for oil drilling. Even in the wake of the BP oil disaster, he is still allowing more drilling permits for deepwater drilling.

They also ignore the fact that before the recession, and before President Obama was in office to enact any of these “price-raising policies,” American consumers were paying more than $4 per gallon of gasoline at the pump. Not surprisingly, this little nugget of information didn’t make it onto their list.

Also notoriously absent from their laundry list of factors driving up gasoline prices was the role of oil speculators. Writing for The Nation, author Chris Hayes describes how oil speculators are driving up the cost of gasoline:

In the wake of the price explosion in the summer of 2008, a bubble that extended to all kinds of commodities, including copper and wheat, a number of observers from George Soros to Hedge Fund manager Michael Masters to former Commodities Future Trading Commission staffer and derivatives expert Michael Greenberg concluded that the underlying supply-and-demand fundamentals couldn’t account for the sharp rise in prices. In the first six months of 2008, US economic output was declining while global supply was increasing. And even if supply and demand were, over the long run, pushing the price of oil up, that alone couldn’t explain the massive volatility in the market. Oil cost $65 per barrel in June 2007, $147 a year later, down to $30 in December 2008 and back up to $72 in June 2009.

The culprits, they concluded, were Wall Street speculators.

Commodities markets involve essentially two kinds of participants: there are so-called “end users” like farmers and airlines that use commodities markets as a form of insurance against future price fluctuations, and then there are speculators—hedge funds, investors, big banks that try to make money by correctly betting on those same price fluctuations.

But again, this information was absent from their new report.

There is no reason to believe that Congressional Republicans want to help lower gas prices for American consumers – their only goal is to help the oil companies that put them in office make more money. Issa, who led the hearings, has taken in more than $140,000 over his career from the oil industry, and close to $200,000 from electric utilities. The newly created House Energy Action Team is stacked with Republicans who are awash in dirty energy industry cash.

There is no quick fix for U.S. energy policy. Today, domestic oil production is higher than any time in almost a decade, yet American consumers are still getting robbed at the gas pump. Until the Obama administration gets serious about alternatives, this robbery, and the lies from the Republicans, will continue to happen on a regular basis.

April 22 2011


An Earth Day Look at the BP Oil Spill, One Year On

What has changed since the Deepwater Horizon tragedy?The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium
By Megan Hagist, Media Consortium blogger (reposted with permission)

One year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history began, key questions about its environmental impact remain unanswered. The 4.9 million barrels of BP oil that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico continue to threaten marine wildlife and other vile surprises have surfaced along the way.

Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard lists 10 reasons why we should not let the BP spill fade into the background. Perhaps the most important is the spill’s effect on locals’ health, about which Sheppard reports:

“Of the 954 residents in seven coastal communities, almost half said they had experienced health problems like coughing, skin and eye irritation, or headaches that are consistent with common symptoms of chemical exposure. While the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is conducting health monitoring for spill cleanup workers, residents in the areas closest to the spill are concerned that their own health problems have gone unattended.”

Unfortunately, protests from these communities are unheard. Low-income and minority communities are typically targeted for oil production due to inadequate political power, but indigenous women in the United States and Canada are ready to change that.

Acting Against Big Oil

Organizations like Resisting Environmental Destruction On Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Indigenous Environmental Network, and Women’s Earth Alliance are working together to apply continuous pressure on oil companies in order to stop some of their more environmentally disastrous projects. Ms. Magazine’s Catherine Traywick shares insight from activist Faith Gemmill:

“We are trying to build the capacity of community leaders who are on the frontlines of these issues so that they can address these issues themselves,” Gemmill says. Her organization trains community members who are confronted with massive industrial projects and provides them with legal assistance and political support. Women’s Earth Alliance similarly links indigenous women leaders with legal and policy advocates who can, pro-bono, help them fight extractive industry, waste dumping and fossil-fuel production on sacred sites.

Meanwhile, Congress continues to neglect the National Oil Spill Commission’s advice to endorse safety regulations, while demands for domestic offshore drilling become more vocal under presumptions of lower gas prices and increased employment. But are these reasons worth the economic and environmental risks associated with drilling offshore?
According to Care2’s Jill Conners and Matthew McDermott, the answer is no. They break down the facts, noting:

“Political posturing notwithstanding, offshore drilling will not eliminate US demand for foreign oil or really even make significant strides into reducing that dependency. At current consumption, the US uses about 8 billion barrels of oil per year; conventionally recoverable oil from offshore drilling is thought to be 18 billion barrels total, not per year. What’s more, offshore oil drilling will not guarantee lower fuel prices — oil is a global commodity, and US production is not big enough to influence global prices.”

What about Wind Power?

On Wednesday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved the Cape Wind Project, a plan to build an offshore wind farm five miles off the southern coast of Cape Cod. First proposed 10 years ago, the farm will consist of 130 wind turbines, each 440 feet tall and capable of producing 3.6-megawatts of energy.

The controversial project has been opposed by some environmentalists, who expressed fears that the installation of the turbines could have destructive impacts related to aviation traffic, fishing use, migratory birds, and oil within the turbine generators, among other issues.

Moral issues are raised too, as local tribes have fought against the Cape Wind project. Earth Island Institute’s Sacred Film Land Project has reported on the Wampanoag Indian tribes’ petitions, which ask for protection of sacred rituals and a tribal burial grounds located directly in Cape Wind’s path of installation.


A somewhat worrisome study published Monday by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication sheds light on Americans’ climate change knowledge. Results show teenagers understand climate change better than adults, regardless of having less education overall, with a larger percentage believing climate change is caused by humans.

Some of the study’s questions were summarized by Grist’s Christopher Mims, who recounts that only “54 percent of teens and 63 percent of adults say that global warming is happening,” while only “46 percent of teens and 49 percent of adults understand that emissions from cars and trucks substantially contribute to global warming.”


This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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Lawsuits Fly And Fizzle To Mark Anniversary Of Deepwater Horizon Explosion

BP is attempting to shift the blame for last year’s oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico onto Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig. BP has also announced plans to sue Cameron International, the manufacturer of the blowout preventer on the rig, claiming that the poor design of the blowout preventer led to the device’s failure. In all, BP is seeking $40 billion in damages from the two companies.

In court papers filed by BP, the company claims that every single backup device and safety measure on the Deepwater Horizon rig completely failed in last year’s explosion. BP said the following in its filing:

"BP Parties bring this action to hold Transocean accountable for having caused the blowout, explosion, fire, deaths and personal injuries, and subsequent oil spill …But for Transocean’s improper conduct, errors, omissions, and violations of maritime law, there would not have been any blowout of the exploratory well."

In the suit filed against Cameron International, the manufacturer of the blowout preventer (BOP), BP claimed the following:

“The Deepwater Horizon BOP was unreasonably dangerous, and has caused and continues to cause harm, loss, injuries, and damages to BP (and others) stemming from the blowout of Macondo well, the resulting explosion and fire onboard the Deepwater Horizon, the efforts to regain control of the Macondo well, and the oil spill that ensued before control of the Macondo well could be regained.”

Wednesday was the deadline for companies to file suit against one another. BP has already filed a suit against Halliburton, which supplied the flawed cement that was supposed to hold the rig in place.

While BP is clearly trying to shift blame onto the other companies, it might have every reason to do so. Reports show that both Transocean and Cameron International routinely cut corners on safety. Earlier this month, Mike Fry, an equipment manager for Transocean, testified before a government committee that while Transocean did regularly inspect, repair, and replace any damaged safety equipment on the rig, including the blowout preventer, they never fully overhauled the device after five years as mandated by safety standards. The rig was in operation for nine years before it exploded last year, meaning that the blowout preventer should have been completely overhauled four years prior to the accident.

When asked whether the safety standards on the rig could have allowed faulty equipment to remain in operation, Fry said that they would keep a device in use as long as it appeared to be operating. This means that even if flaws were detected, if the device would still technically operate, it was left alone.

Transocean has also filed for judgments against BP, Cameron, and Halliburton totaling more than $30 million. Transocean claims it is owed this money as part of its contracts with BP and Halliburton, which can no longer be carried out due to the rig’s blowout.

With all of the lawsuits flying around the Gulf Coast and the available evidence, you’d think that the states themselves would be jumping into the fray to recoup the billions of dollars in lost tourism revenue and other economic impacts. States like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama have all joined a class action against BP and others, but the state of Florida has decided that they don’t need the money.

Florida’s Republican governor Rick Scott announced this week that his state would not be joining the class action because he says “litigation is expensive.” Instead, Scott says that he’ll try to negotiate out of court settlements for Florida, a tactic that has little chance of success. It is worth keeping in mind that Scott made this announcement on Pensacola Beach, where they had to remove 850 pounds of oil in order for him to have a "clean" area to give a speech. 

As a resident of an area that was hit hard by the oil disaster, I see the fight continuing every day. Everyone is fighting – citizens are fighting the government; citizens are fighting the corporations; corporations are fighting each other; the government is fighting corporations.

The media might have paid lip service to the situation down here during this week’s anniversary, but it isn’t enough. When the cameras leave, the fighting resumes, and still no one has been held truly accountable for the disaster.  Will we have a solution by the next anniversary? Or will it be more business as usual bickering and finger-pointing?

April 18 2011


Frustration and Hope as Oil Drilling Regulator Remakes Itself

As the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill approaches, both the oil industry and its top regulator say that reinventing the agency that oversees offshore drilling will require more time, money and people.
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