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March 30 2012


Deadly Bacteria Found In Gulf Coast Tar Balls

Since the very first tar balls began rolling onshore along the Gulf of Mexico following 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion and subsequent underwater oil geyser, the oil industry told us to relax because those tar balls were completely harmless. But as we approach the two year anniversary of the disaster, new studies have confirmed that the tar balls we’re seeing along our beaches contain bacteria that are capable of killing human beings.

The new study, conducted by scientists at Auburn University, confirmed the presence of a bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus. According to researchers, this is the same bacteria that is responsible for causing illness and death from eating bad oysters. The tar balls contained concentrations of this bacteria more than 100 times greater than the surrounding water. The Centers for Disease Control says the following regarding Vibrio vulnificus:

Wound infections may start as redness and swelling at the site of the wound that then can progress to affect the whole body. V. vulnificus typically causes a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blood-tinged blistering skin lesions (hemorrhagic bullae). Overall, V. vulnificus infections are fatal about 40% of the time. Wound infections with V. vulnificus are fatal about 20% of the time, and aggressive surgical treatment can prevent death.

Persons who have immunocompromising conditions and especially persons with chronic liver disease are particularly at risk for V. vulnificus infection when they eat raw or undercooked seafood, particularly shellfish harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, or if they bathe a cut or scrape in marine waters. About three-quarters of patients with V. vulnificus infections have known underlying hepatic disease or other immunocompromising illness. Otherwise healthy persons are at much lower risk of V. vulnificus infection.

It is important to remember that this isn’t a fleeting threat to those of us who live, work, and play along the Gulf Coast. National Geographic recently pointed out that tarballs are continuously washing up along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, meaning that the threat of bacterial infection is not only real, but it is persistent. And with Spring Break season in high gear, beaches along the Gulf Coast are currently inundated with out of state families playing and relaxing on top of these toxic bacteria balls.

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January 09 2012


BP Launches PR Blitz To Repair Image

College football fans aren’t the only ones who’ll be paying close attention to what’s happening in Louisiana this evening – BP is hoping that tonight’s BCS championship game will be the ultimate payoff for their aggressive public relations campaign which is aimed at convincing the American public that the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster has disappeared, and that they can come back to the Gulf Coast without fear of finding oily beaches.

For the last few weeks, those of us on the Gulf Coast have been inundated with ads from BP, telling us that they’ve made good on their promise to clean up the mess from the April 2010 oil rig explosion that released millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This multi-million dollar ad campaign is their last-ditch effort to bring tourism back to the economically-depressed Gulf Coast.

The Associated Press lays out the key elements of BP’s new campaign:

The PR blitz is part of the company’s multibillion dollar response to the Gulf oil spill that started after the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and leading to the release of more than 200 million gallons of oil. As engineers struggled to cap the out-of-control well, it turned into the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Now, BP is touting evidence that the Gulf’s ecology has not been severely damaged by the spill and highlighting improving economic signs.

“I’m glad to report that all beaches and waters are open for everyone to enjoy!” BP representative Iris Cross says in one TV spot to an upbeat soundtrack. “And the economy is showing progress, with many areas on the Gulf Coast having their best tourism season in years.”

The campaign, launched just before Christmas, has ramped up for the two-week period around the Sugar Bowl and Bowl Championship Series title game to be played on Monday between LSU and Alabama.

The company is paying chefs Emeril Lagasse and John Besh to promote Gulf seafood, it’s hired two seafood trucks to hand out fish tacos and seafood-filled jambalaya to the hundreds of thousands of tourists and fans pouring into the city for the football games and it’s spreading its messages at galas, pre-game parties and vacation giveaways.

Unfortunately for BP, their advertisements are falling upon deaf ears along the coast. In fact, according to the Associated Press, the head of the Louisiana Shrimp Association said that their new ads are little more than “BP propaganda.” Additionally, the tourism industry is reporting little to no growth in the 20 months following the oil “spill.”

The NRDC has fired back against the BP ads:

BP's newest PR salvo touting its Gulf cleanup hit a nerve with many residents still struggling to get their lives back (one ad captured this BP beach protest in the background). The oil behemoth's slickly produced pleas for Americans to “come on down” to the Gulf where the weather is warm, the food is sublime and the beaches are sparkling clean—at least in the commercials—has long stuck in the craw of people whose shrimp boxes are bare and whose beaches and bayous are sometimes littered with sticky tar balls and bloated dolphins.

But what if BP took a different tact this coming year? What if the oil giant —which scooped up profits worth nearly $5 billion last quarter and is planning to drill anew in the deepwater Gulf—decided to give a voice to those enduring the worst fishing season in memory? What if BP decided to tell the stories of families suffering from debilitating health problems they blame on the crude and chemical dispersants, oil that still mysteriously bubbles up near BP’s Macondo well 40 miles offshore?

These ads are hardly the first PR offensive that the oil giant has taken. The Justice Department announced last year that they would launch an investigation into BP's deception regarding the rate of oil that was flowing into the Gulf. But there are a few other misinformation campaigns that they should investigate, as well. As we pointed out last year:

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.

As I’ve pointed out before, I live on the Gulf Coast, and that’s why this particular issue is so important to me. I have seen what has been done, and what hasn’t, and I can promise you this: BP is not being honest about their cleanup efforts, and there is a growing sense of desperation that has enveloped this entire area.

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January 04 2012


What We Didn’t Learn From The Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Almost 20 months have passed since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. And to this day, the lessons we should have learned from that disaster remain completely ignored.

In spite of an intense battle involving a moratorium on deep water oil drilling after the explosion, the Obama administration was out-maneuvered on the issue by the powerful oil industry, losing court battles as well as facing three separate bills in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to overturn the drilling moratorium. (An interesting side-note about the court battle is that the judge who overturned the ban, Martin Feldman, actually owned stock in Transocean at the time of his decision.)

With oil still washing ashore at the time of the first proposed moratorium, right wing bloggers helped muddy the waters by claiming that the moratorium was devastating Gulf economies. The conservative website Free Republic even posted a video and story about the “Victims of the Obama Drilling Moratorium,” that turned oil companies into the victims as local fishermen and tourist-centered businesses were struggling to make ends meet. Their analysis of the real “victims” was based on “investigations” by oil-funded groups like The Heritage Foundation and the Institute for Energy Research. A commenter on that video had the audacity to claim, “Obama just killed Louisiana more than Katrina.”

But the right wing attacks on the moratorium paid off, and today the deepwater offshore oil industry is once again thriving in the Gulf of Mexico.

From The Associated Press, via Huffington Post:

Across the Gulf, energy companies are probing dozens of new deepwater fields thanks to high oil prices and technological advances that finally make it possible to tap them.

The newfound oil will not do much to lower global oil prices. But together with increased production from onshore U.S. fields and slowing domestic demand for gasoline, it could help reduce U.S. oil imports by more than half over the next decade.

Eighteen months ago, such a flurry of activity in the Gulf seemed unlikely. The Obama administration halted drilling and stopped issuing new permits after the explosion of a BP well killed 11 workers and caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

But the drilling moratorium was eventually lifted and the Obama administration issued the first new drilling permit in March. Now the Gulf is humming again and oil executives describe it as the world's best place to drill.

And the number of oil rigs is only expected to climb in the next few months, even though the oil that is recovered is doing next to nothing to lower energy prices:

By early 2012, there will be 40 deepwater rigs in the Gulf, up from 37 before the BP spill, according to Cinnamon Odell of ODS-Petrodata. BP received its first permit to drill in late October.

The Gulf produces an average of 1.5 million barrels of oil per day, according to Wood Mackenzie. That's 27 percent of U.S. output and 8 percent of U.S. demand.

As the BP disaster made clear, drilling in deep water presents difficulties and dangers. Last month a Chevron well in the deep waters off of Brazil ruptured and spilled 2,400 barrels of oil into the Atlantic after Chevron underestimated the pressure of the oil field it was tapping.

So we’ve established that deepwater offshore drilling is dirty, dangerous, and does little to help meet oil demand. But the dirty energy industry has money – lots of it – and they don’t mind throwing their weight around in American politics to achieve their goals.

But there is a small glimmer of hope to kick off the new year: The federal government is finally gearing up to file criminal charges against BP for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Agence France-Presse by way of RawStory laid it out as follows:

US prosecutors are readying criminal charges against British oil giant BP employees over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident that led to the catastrophic Gulf oil spill, The Wall Street Journal reported online.

The charges if brought and prosecuted by the US Justice Department would be the first criminal charges over the disaster.

Citing sources close to the matter, the Journal said the prosecutors are focusing on US-based BP engineers and at least one supervisor who they say may have provided false information to regulators on the risks of deep water drilling in the Gulf.

Felony charges for providing false information in federal documents may be made public early next year, said the Journal.

We have documented in the past the ways in which federal regulators allowed the oil companies to run roughshod over laws, and these potential federal charges are a bit of fresh air for those of us who live on the coast.

While the criminal charges are needed, it is unlikely that they will hinder the expansion of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. As long as the oil industry’s tentacles reach through the corridors of Washington, they will be able to make their own rules when it comes to drilling.

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December 23 2011


Musing of a Malcontent: Russia to the World: Your Oil Spills Are Like Baby Crying for its Mother.

Musings of a Malcontent: Environmental Irony in an Imperfect (but humorous?) WorldIn a recent interview for Field & Crude, Mother Russia decided to show us all how it’s done when it comes to destroying the environment.

“If you’re going to do it – do it big,” bragged Mother Russia from its exclusive estate in the Upper Volta.

“You are all embarrassment to the world. You make me sick. The Gulf. The Yellowstone River. Boo Hoo! We have spill the size of Deepwater Horizon every two months! That is commitment!”

An article from the Associated Press states that about 5 million tons of oil is spilled every year in Russia. That works out to a Deepwater Horizon spill every two months. Almost half a million tons of that gets into rivers that flow into the Artic Ocean. Since most of the leaks are small many of them go unreported or unnoticed. In fact, leaks less than 8 tons are only considered “incidents” and do not have any penalties associated with them.

“Why bother. If it is not destroying the wildlife and consuming trees, then it is not worthy. This is the land that defeated Napoleon. Defeated Hitler. This is the land that created the beautiful dead zone that is Chernobyl – which by the way is lovely this time of year.”

Ok. Time out.

Little by little, drop by drop. Five million tons of oil leak into the environmental from Russia's oil operationsThis of course could never happen.

Mother Russia would never agree to an interview. That’s the whole problem really. Russia doesn’t talk at all. They stay silent.

Vast and silent.

How else could it have gotten so bad? 5 million tons a year? The number is ridiculous. All slowly seeping into the countryside, killing off vegetation and tainting waterways. Even the 5 million figure is likely an understatement, given how little oversight there is throughout the country. The Russian Economic Development Ministry estimated in a report last year that it was likely more like 20 million tons a year.

And I thought BP was bad.

Russia makes BP look like Greenpeace.

Look at this way. The US, the third largest oil producer, reported 341 pipeline ruptures in 2010 with about 17,600 tons of oil spilled. Canada’s Transport Safety Board reported 11 ruptures in the same year with about 7,700 tons spilled. Nigeria logged 110,000 tons spilled in 2009, much of that due to attacks by rebels in the country – so you gotta cut them a little slack.

Russia reported 18,000 pipeline ruptures.


And with the 18,000 figure, no real answers or reasons as to why it is such a high number. Irate Cossacks roaming the Gulag Archipelago sabotaging oil lines? Mmm – not likely. Confusion as to the effects of crude oil on the environment? If they can build a nuclear plant I am fairly sure they know all about that wacky oil substance and its effects on nature. The lure of money and all that that entails? Now we’re getting somewhere.

A main issue seems to be technology and infrastructure. Pipes are broken. Bolts are leaking crude. Platforms are collapsing. In all areas of the system there is a general lack of integrity. There have even been leaks in newly built parts of the system. The whole thing has despair written all over it. This is fine if you are a Chekhov play – not so good if you are a herd of wild animals being killed off.

Dr. Zhivago seems like a comedy in comparison.

What makes all of this more unsettling is that there is a big push by several Russian oil companies to start drilling in the Arctic Circle, in places like the Pechora Sea. Seems like there should be a rule that if you can’t take care of the toys you already have you should definitely not get brand shiny new ones – especially not ones that might cause irreversible damage to the environment.

You don’t get the GI Joe with kung-fu grip without showing you are worthy. Or a Malibu Barbie with adjoining Beach House.

This should just be the way of things.

So what’s in store for Mother Russia in 2012? Doubling the pollution poring into Siberia’s Lake Baikal! You know – the one that holds 1/5th of the world’s supply of fresh water? That’s right! Plans are already underway so the goal is totally attainable. Mother Russia really knows now to take on the environment! Go Russia!!


December 17 2011


Report Partially Blames Federal Government For Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Explosion

Perhaps one of the most honest assessments of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion reveals the numerous failures of both industry and the federal government in the worst marine oil disaster in U.S. history.

The U.S. Department of the Interior sanctioned the report, compiled by more than a dozen experts operating with the temporary group called the Committee for Analysis of Causes of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion, Fire, and Oil Spill to Identify Measures to Prevent Similar Accidents in the Future (The Committee). And while the experts on The Committee identified failures we’ve documented in the past - particularly the shoddy design of the well’s blowout preventer - the committee highlighted plenty of new information as well.

Noting again that it was sanctioned by the federal government, it's interesting that this was one of the first reports to explicitly implicate the federal government’s irresponsible actions as a cause of the massive oil disaster that followed the explosion:

The regulatory regime was ineffective in addressing the risks of the Macondo well. The actions of the regulators did not display an awareness of the risks or the very narrow margins of safety.

As DeSmog has reported in the past, the federal government’s role in the disaster can be traced all the way back to 2001, when then-Vice President Dick Cheney was holding his secret Energy Task Force meetings with oil industry executives. During those meetings, the industry insiders in attendance helped the Vice President draft legislation that would eviscerate basic health and safety standards that protected workers and the public from the oil industry's reckless practices.

Among the regulations that were revoked was the requirement for offshore rigs to maintain an acoustic switch – a device that would explode and seal off an oil well permanently in the event of a blowout. There was no acoustic switch installed on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Triggering the switch makes the well no longer usable.

Another failure of the government involved the actual rig inspections. Again, our previous reports revealed that the regulators charged with insuring the rig’s safety allowed the oil companies to fill out their own inspection reports in pencil, with the regulators going back over them in pen after they were sent back.

While these aspects were not specifically mentioned in the new report, it does at least put some blame on the government.

The new report also lays plenty of blame at the feet of the companies involved with the Deepwater Horizon rig, which were BP, Transocean, and Halliburton:

The actions, policies, and procedures of the corporations involved did not provide an effective systems safety approach commensurate with the risks of the Macondo well. The lack of a strong safety culture resulting from a deficient overall systems approach to safety is evident in the multiple flawed decisions that led to the blowout…

The (blow-out-prevention) system was neither designed nor tested for the dynamic conditions that most likely existed at the time that attempts were made to recapture well control. Furthermore, the design, test, operation, and maintenance of the (blow out prevention) system were not consistent with a high-reliability, fail-safe device.

Earlier this year, rig-owner Transocean attempted to claim in their own report that the blame for the explosion and oil leak should be levied at BP and Halliburton, and that the Transocean-owned blowout preventer was fully operational. An additional Transocean report tried to lay the blame for the explosion on the rig workers.

The new report also comes on the heels of a recent lawsuit filed by BP claiming that Halliburton was attempting to destroy evidence of their shoddy cement work prior to trial.

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!

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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April 21 2011


April 18 2011


Emails Reveal BP Attempted To Manipulate Oil Spill Studies

Emails obtained by Greenpeace last Friday have revealed that BP was actively trying to manipulate studies designed to assess the damage from last year’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. In the wake of the disaster, BP created a $500 million fund to study the effects of the oil on the environment, and the emails obtained by Greenpeace show that the company was trying to control which scientists worked on the project, attempting to cherry-pick those who would downplay the effects of the oil.

The Guardian reports:

Russell Putt, a BP environmental expert, wrote in an email to colleagues on 24 June 2010: "Can we 'direct' GRI [Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative] funding to a specific study (as we now see the governor's offices trying to do)? What influence do we have over the vessels/equipment driving the studies vs the questions?".

The Guardian has the full emails available here.  But the new emails are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to BP’s efforts to manipulate science. Last summer, a report by the Mobile Press-Register revealed that BP was offering large sums of cash to any scientist willing to join their camp. The oil giant had been meeting with scientists from universities in the South since the early days of the oil leak, offering to pay $250 an hour to scientists in exchange for their silence on the oil disaster.
The University of South Alabama declined an offer from BP to “purchase” their entire marine sciences department after BP wanted them to sign a confidentiality agreement that would have prevented them from making their research findings public, even if asked by a court.

There were two reasons why purchasing these scientists and manipulating the studies would have been useful for BP: First, it allows them to control the flow of information relating to the oil leak. Second, it would have prevented any scientist or university who accepted money from the company from testifying in court, taking away a valuable resource for plaintiff’s attorneys filing lawsuits against the energy company.

So what was BP so afraid of? The environmental damages of the gusher are still being calculated, many of which have happened far beneath the surface of the Gulf waters, but the impacts on human health are already making themselves known onshore. New reports show that contract cleanup workers for BP are now beginning to show symptoms from their exposure to both the oil and the dispersants used to help congeal the oil. Doctors along the Gulf Coast are reporting numerous instances of patients suffering from a variety of symptoms including racing heartbeats, vomiting, dizziness, ear infections, swollen throats, respiratory infections, and memory loss.

As many as 52,000 workers helped clean up oil in the Gulf of Mexico and along the shore, and scientists say that the studies on their health were woefully inadequate. Their main problem is that the chemical Benzene, a known carcinogen that is present in crude oil, disappears from the body within four months of exposure, leaving only the damage to a person’s body behind. However, health safety studies weren’t conducted until six months after exposure, meaning that workers tested negative for benzene in their bodies.

The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to cost BP billions of dollars, and every new piece of information that comes out makes their case harder to defend in a court, making them even more likely to pay large sums before the saga ends. Their efforts to purchase scientists and manipulate data have so far been unsuccessful, but that could change in the years of battles still ahead for the company.

April 04 2011


Bonuses After Blowouts: Transocean Rewards Executives for Shoddy Safety

Nearly a year has passed since the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed eleven workers and caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history. A presidential commission blamed Transocean, the owner of the rig, and both BP and Halliburton for cost-cutting that caused the blowout. The BP blowout's ravages continue, and it may be many years before we understand the full impacts of the oil disaster including the health implications of Corexit, the dispersant that was used to break apart the oil to minimize the (visible) damage. 

Transocean leased the Deepwater Horizon rig to BP, and 9 of the workers killed in the blowout were employees of the offshore drilling giant.  Given that, it seems curious that the company awarded its executives $400,000 in "safety" bonuses for 2010. According to the company, 2010 was "the best year in safety performance in our company’s history". Yes, we're talking about the same company that helped cause the industry’s highest-profile accident since the 1989 ExxonMobil Valdez spill in Alaska.

According to the company, executive bonuses are calcuated based on two satefy critera: the rate of incidents per 200,000 hours that employees work, and the potential severity of those incidents. By their estimations, in 2010, the rate of incidents dropped by 4% from 2009.

The company argued that they had an "exemplary safety record". Perhaps they have a different understanding of "severity", and of "safety" for that matter. 


The Transocean filing goes on to claim that, "We recorded the best year in safety performance in our company’s history, which is a reflection on our commitment to achieving an incident free environment, all the time, everywhere."

The hearings of the U.S. Coast Guard-BOEMRE panel estimate that the blowout was caused by a faulty blowout preventer. A report released last week specifically blames the failure on a faulty design and a bent piece of pipe. This placed the blame squarely in the hands of the company that built the blowout preventer, and Transocean, who was responsible for maintaining it.

As blame for the incident sits more firmly in the hands of Transocean, it is hard to digest nearly half a million in bonuses for "safety". 

As we reported last week, there are some major challenges in the Gulf of Mexico that extend beyond the Deepwater Horizon rig. A 2010 report identified 27,000 abandoned oil wells littered across the Gulf of Mexico. For these wells, there are no mandatory inspections, many have remained untouched for years and no one knows if they are properly sealed off and secure.

What's worse is that in addition to the nearly 30,000 abandoned wells, there are an additional 3,500 “temporarily abandoned” wells in the Gulf.  “Temporarily abandoned” wells are exempted from the requirements that are supposed to ensure the safety of “permanently abandoned” wells, making these 3,500 well literally ticking time bombs in the Gulf.  

Transocean has 14 rigs operating right now in the Gulf of Mexico, and 139 worldwide. According to The New York Times, Transocean had widespread safety concerns about several of its other rigs in the Gulf, and knew this based on a report it commissioned only a month before the explosion.

The report was commissioned by Lloyds, and together with internal reports concerning the Deepwater Horizon’s equipment, dozens of deficiencies are identified, including some relating to the rig's blowout preventer, and some that are categorized as "critical equipment items that may lead to loss of life, serious injury or environmental damage as a result of inadequate use and/or failure of equipment."

The head of the U.S. agency that regulates offshore drilling is questioning Transocean's willingness to cooperate in a federal investigation into the explosion and aftermath. According to Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement, the company has failed to be transparent about whether it would produce three employees who have been subpoenaed to testify at hearings next week near New Orleans.

It seems that Transocean's safety record is more rhetoric and PR than real action.


On Our Radar: Salazar Slams Transocean Over Bonuses

"In my own view, 2010 was probably the greatest year of pain in terms of oil and gas development in the deep water all across the world, especially in the Gulf of Mexico," the interior secretary says.

March 31 2011


The Ticking Time Bombs In The Gulf of Mexico

49 weeks have passed since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in millions of barrels of oil leaking into the Gulf, and yet the same fatal flaws that doomed that rig are still present in most offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

The reason that BP’s Macondo well managed to leak oil into the Gulf was because the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon rig malfunctioned, meaning that the preventer could not blow up and seal off the well. But the Deepwater Horizon is not the only rig that contained a malfunctioning blowout preventer. According to new reports, blowout preventers on rigs throughout the Gulf have not been properly inspected or maintained, meaning that another rig explosion could result in more oil in the Gulf. <!--break-->
Steve LeVine writing for Foreign Policy outlines the problem:

“The oil industry has known for many years that the blowout preventers work in only a fraction of accidents, and that they have been prone to failure, especially as drilling has moved into deeper water, requiring thicker, tougher pipe. In 2004, a study commissioned by federal regulators found that only three of 14 newly built rigs had blowout preventers that could squeeze off and cut the pipe at the water pressure likely to be experienced at the equipment’s maximum water depth.”

But the flawed designs in the blowout preventers go even deeper than that. As Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) noted in a hearing last year as Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations of the BP blowout case:

“We uncovered an astonishing document that Transocean prepared in 2001, when it bought the blowout preventer from Cameron. I would like to display the executive summary from this document. It says there are 260 separate “failure modes” that “could require pulling of the BOP.””

So how could oil rigs get away with having faulty emergency equipment installed? Weren’t there any federal regulators inspecting these rigs? The answer is both “yes” and “no.” MMS regulators were required to inspect all aspects of oil rigs operating in American waters, but when it came time to do the reports, they decided that it would be best to just let the rigs – the oil companies who own the rigs, that is – fill out the inspection reports themselves in pencil, and then MMS officials would simply trace over their pencil marks in ink. MMS inspectors took the oil companies’ words as truth, and submitted these reports for filing.

No real inspections, and no accountability.

But if you think that the story ends with oil rigs operating in the Gulf of Mexico with faulty equipment, then think again. Believe it or not, there are actually bigger problems in the water than malfunctioning safety equipment. Reports from last summer identified 27,000 abandoned oil wells littered across the Gulf of Mexico. And these wells don’t even have the benefit of a cursory oil company-sponsored inspection – these wells have remained untouched for years, and no one knows if they are properly sealed off and secure.

To make things worse, there are an additional 3,500 “temporarily abandoned” wells in the Gulf. By declaring a well “temporarily abandoned,” companies can avoid all of the requirements that are supposed to ensure the safety of “permanently abandoned” wells, making these 3,500 the biggest time bombs in the Gulf.

With soaring gas prices hitting every American in the wallet pretty hard, the renewed calls for “drill baby, drill” are becoming louder and louder. The shock from the BP blowout has worn off for most of the public, but rest assured, those of us like myself living on the Gulf Coast are reminded of the dangers every day – with every tar ball that rolls ashore, with every new oil sheen spotted in the water – we remember.

March 24 2011


Remember That Oil in the Gulf of Mexico? It's Still There

As we approach the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the subsequent oil disaster that followed, residents on the Gulf Coast are still finding their beaches covered in oil.

Residents of Perdido Key, Florida were recently treated to a few thousand pounds of “tar mats” washing ashore, which prompted BP to quickly send out clean up crews during a busy spring break season for local resorts. Residents and beachgoers did their best to overlook the dark spots on their vacations, and were laying out and playing in the water just a few feet away from the oncoming oil. The Perdido removal has so far been the only instance where BP has removed a large tar mat.

Elsewhere in Florida, four other tar mats have popped up between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach, with cleanup efforts in those areas remaining slow. County officials are growing increasingly impatient with BP, forcing County Administrator Charles Oliver to send a letter to BP requesting immediate assistance. BP had announced, and the beaches accepted, that they would be scaling back their cleanup operations in Florida in February, since the only oil coming on shore was in the form of small tar balls.
Louisiana and Alabama have not been unscathed either, as both areas are still experiencing tar balls washing up on a daily basis. Louisiana could be in for an even harder hit, as Coast Guard officials have reported a large oil sheen stretching about 100 miles hovering dangerously close to Louisiana. Over the weekend, officials in Grand Isle confirmed that tar balls and actual oil had begun washing up on their beaches. From Lauren Kelly on Alternet on the true scope of the disaster:

Louisiana Bayoukeepers' Mike Roberts reiterated to [Rocky] Kistner of NRDC that the group saw what "looked like a huge amount of oil" in the waters off Louisiana. "They could smell it from the airplane and I could smell it from the boat. This wasn't just Mississippi River mud," he said.

However, government officials and business interests were quick to point out that this oil sheen might not be from BP’s oil, which would absolve them from responsibility in the cleanup, but also poses the more serious question of whether or not there is another oil well leaking in the Gulf of Mexico.

For residents along the Gulf Coast, the continuing presence of oil and tar balls is a constant reminder of how dangerous offshore drilling can be. But for most Americans, with the story no longer dominating the headline news, or even getting a mention, the consequences are now out of sight and out of mind. And if you listen close enough, you can probably still hear Sarah Palin shouting “Drill baby, drill!”

January 19 2011


South Headed South On Environmental Issues

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) recently released their list of the top 10 most endangered environmental areas in the nation, and the results do not bode well for the South. Nine out of the top ten areas in the nation facing severe environmental disaster are located in the Southern United States (assuming you count Tennessee and Virginia as “south.”)

Many of the areas are coastal or other forms of wetlands, and leading the list is Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Still plagued with tar balls washing up from the Deepwater Horizon / BP oil disaster last year, the SELC warns that things along the Alabama coast could become much worse in the future. In addition to the current oil coming ashore, the waters in the Gulf of Mexico are littered with oil rigs, many of which are in dire condition and could cause another catastrophic blowout dwarfing the Deepwater Horizon. <!--break-->

Georgia managed to make it on the SELC’s list twice, with both their cypress forests and the Oconee River being threatened by deforestation and the overusage of water by coal-burning power plants, respectively. North Carolina was featured three times on the list, as both mountain ranges and wetland habitats being threatened by new highway construction projects.

Statistics show that the South is steadily growing at a faster pace than most of the country. In addition, the South (if viewed as an independent entity) is the 7th biggest carbon emitter in the world. But the threats being posed by new development and energy generation are just the tip of the iceberg. Decisions like this are handed down from the top, and without change at the top, we can’t hope to save these areas.
A great example is my home state of Florida. While not mentioned on this year’s list, if things go as planned by new Republican Governor Rick Scott, you can bet that Florida will dominate the 2012 SELC list.

Within hours of being sworn into office, Governor Scott got to work dismantling the Department of Environmental Protection in Florida and decided to merge the department with the Department of Growth Management and the Department of Transportation into a single unit called the Department of Growth Leadership. What this means is that government agencies will no longer have to bicker with one another over projects that could harm the environment. If the former Department of Transportation wants to build a highway through the Everglades, they now only have to persuade members of their own department – not a separate agency focused solely on environmental protection.

To make matters worse, Scott has appointed an “environmental lawyer” to head up the agency. Herschel Vinyard will now have the final say in Florida’s environmental issues, a depressing thought considering that this acclaimed “environmental lawyer” was actually a corporate lawyer who fought the state on environmental issues on behalf of his business clients.

All in all, things do not look that great for the South. As the area continues to grow and the environment is constantly put on the back burner to make room for new power plants and roads, we’re left with little recourse. In this Mecca of red states being led by corporate-appointed politicians, there is little place to turn for hope.

January 14 2011


What Was Missing From the Oil Spill Commission's Report

Earlier this week, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released their final report on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. For those of us who had been following the story, there was nothing new in the report – BP, Halliburton, and Transocean cut corners on safety measures; They received warnings from crew that there were numerous problems, and that the whole disaster should make us take a good hard look at offshore drilling. I’m a little sensitive about this subject because I am a lifelong Gulf Coast resident. While most people only read about the disaster or saw clips on the news, I was living through it, watching tar balls roll up on the beaches I’ve played on since I was an infant.

The report does point some fingers, but the pointing ends with companies like BP, Halliburton, and Transocean. That is the equivalent of blaming Ford if a drunk driver gets into a wreck. In that situation, you have a driver at fault, a bartender who didn’t take away someone’s keys – a collective group making poor decisions. In the Gulf oil disaster, the driver was Dick Cheney, and the bartender was Chris Oynes. Yet strangely enough, neither one of those people were mentioned once in the Oil Spill Commission's 382-page report. <!--break-->

To understand the full story, you have to understand the involvement of both Oynes and Cheney. Chris Oynes oversaw all oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico for the Minerals Management Service (MMS) for twelve years, meaning he personally oversaw the lease given to the Deepwater Horizon rig. It was during this time that Oynes made a name for himself in Republican politics by allowing oil companies to buy cheap leases to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without paying any taxes on their revenues. According to the resulting Congressional hearings on the matter, the oil companies claim that they repeatedly told Oynes that he needed to be charging taxes, but he refused. When asked by the Congressional committee about this, Oynes told them that he simply forgot to charge taxes. But his gifts to the oil industry didn’t end with the estimated $10 billion tax break. He also allowed the oil companies to fill out their own inspection reports in pencil. Oynes would then have his staff trace over in ink, giving the impression that they were actually doing their jobs.

In a normal scenario, this should have gotten Oynes booted out of the agency. But in 2007, Dick Cheney personally saw to it that Oynes receive a promotion to become the associate director for Offshore Energy and Minerals Management at MMS. Oynes was the perfect fit for Cheney, as Cheney himself had been working for years to dismantle regulations on the oil industry and allow them to write their own rules.

And this is where the plot thickens. During Dick Cheney’s secret energy task force meetings in 2001, he allowed oil industry executives to help draft legislation that would allow them to operate with almost no oversight (and the oversight that did occur came from cronies like Chris Oynes.) One of the most important rules that they wrote for themselves was that they didn’t have to include an acoustic switch on offshore oil rigs – a device that blows up and seals off a well permanently in the event of a blowout. According to attorney Mike Papantonio:

“An 'acoustic switch' would have prevented this catastrophe - it's a failsafe that shuts the flow of oil off at the source - they cost only about half a million dollars each, and are required in off-shore drilling platforms in most of the world...except for the United States. This was one of the new deregulations devised by Dick Cheney ..”

So here we have two of the biggest culprits in the BP oil spill saga, and yet neither one of them was mentioned in the commission’s final report. This isn’t to say that the report won’t have a positive impact – it makes a very strong and compelling argument about the need for greater regulation and inspections of oil rigs in order to prevent future catastrophes. But it also claims that the oil industry is too important to the Gulf region (which really only means Louisiana and Texas) to shut down completely.

Overall, I’m unhappy with the report for omitting the underlying cause of the disaster, which would be 8 years of government deregulation and industry self-regulation permitted by an Executive Branch that was so deeply embedded in the oil industry that the two were indistinguishable.

December 31 2010


December 22 2010


November 17 2010


Experts Blame BP For Ignoring Warning Signs That Led To Gulf Disaster

An independent panel of technical experts released its interim report today, finding that BP and its contractors ignored clear warning signs foretelling the disaster at BP's Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico.  The report, compiled by a scientific committee of the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council, criticized BP for an "insufficient consideration of risk" in light of "several indications of potential hazard."

Convened at the behest of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the committee was instructed to carry out an independent and science-based investigation into the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform explosion which killed 11 workers on April 20, 2010.

The experts note that BP and the other companies failed to learn from "near misses" in the past, and none of the companies or regulators flagged the flawed decisions that contributed to the well blowout.

While the U.S. government continues to allow offshore oil and gas operations following a brief deepwater drilling moratorium, the facts uncovered in independent analyses of the BP blowout point to a systemic industry problem with carelessness and a disregard for safety.  It seems cost-shaving and profit potential are the industry's key concerns, not the safety of America's ecologically sensitive coastal environments, and certainly not the safety of workers and affected communities.
AP reports on the study's findings:

"Among the hazards highlighted in the panel's report were several tests that indicated the cement at the bottom of the hole would not be an effective barrier to an influx of oil and gas. More than one month before the disaster, BP also lost drilling materials deep in the hole — a situation that hinted to the challenges of the well but was not used to address risks."

And ENS notes that BP cut corners to save money, according to the new report:

"Citing testimony given at the Marine Board of Inquiry hearing into the disaster on July 22 by BP Wells Team Leader John Guide, the committee states, "many of the pivotal choices made for the drilling operation and temporary abandonment of the well were likely to result in less cost and less time relative to other options..."

Reuters has a summary of the report's findings, including:

"Failures indicate the lack of a suitable approach for anticipating and managing the inherent risks, uncertainties, and dangers associated with deepwater drilling operations."

The committee will release its final report in June 2011.


November 05 2010


Dead Coral Found Near Gulf Oil Well

Scientists took samples and will test for the presence of hydrocarbons, although it is unclear whether such residue would remain.

November 03 2010


Long After Spill, BP Gets 'F' Ratings for Alaska Pipelines

BP employees gave an 'F-rank' to 148 pipelines in the oil giant's Alaska network because of corrosion and other maintenance problems, according to a report by ProPublica.
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