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  Washington-Industry Complicity Behind the Gulf Disaster

COMMENTARY:

Washington-Industry Complicity Behind the Gulf Disaster

by Stephen Lendman
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Despite industry and administration denials, these type events are foreseeable and often preventable, but the Interior Department's Mineral Management Service (MMS) long ago left industry giants free to pollute and spill, at most assessing occasional pocket change fines.

It's common practice in America. A government-Wall Street cabal caused the financial crisis and subsequent fallout. Now debated financial reform is a stealth scheme to let bankers self-regulate. Rogue Democrats rammed through health reform to ration care and enrich corporate providers. Defense, technology, and related firms profit hugely from permanent wars, and a regulatory-free Washington - energy industry alliance lies at the root of the Gulf disaster, by far America's greatest ever environmental calamity, worsening daily with no fail-safe, or perhaps any, way to stop it.

It's too big even for the major media to ignore - to wit, on May 15, New York Times writer Justin Gillis headlined, "Giant Plumes of Oil Found Forming Under the Gulf of Mexico," saying:

Alarming reports show "Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots. The discovery" shows that BP and the Obama administration lied about the incident's severity, and they're still lying.

According to University of Georgia researcher Samantha Joye, "There's a shocking amount of oil in the deep water, relative to" what's visible on the surface, the tip of a big and growing iceberg, this one containing oil. "There's a tremendous amount of oil in multiple layers, three or four or five layers deep in the water column."

Worse still, it's depleting Gulf oxygen, prompting fears about killing sea life in the effected areas and permanently destroying the livelihood of area fisherman who supply 20% of the nation's supply.

Already since April 20, oxygen levels are down 30%, a pace that if maintained "could draw (it) down to very low levels that are dangerous to animals in a couple of months. This is alarming."

Even The Times admits the daily flow may be as high as 80,000 barrels (3.4 million gallons or the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill around every three days). Yet the Obama administration and BP still claim only 5,000 barrels a day, and company officials won't let scientists use sophisticated instruments to measure the output more accurately on the ocean floor. Clearly they have something to hide, but there's no way to suppress the growing ecological devastation once clear evidence substantiates it.

The National Institute for Undersea Science head, Ray Highsmith, worries that rapid oxygen depletion may create huge dead zones, especially on the seafloor. He called this:

"a new type event, and it's critically important that we really understand it, because of the incredible number of oil platforms not only in the Gulf of Mexico but all over the world now. We need to know what these events are like, what their outcomes can be, and what can be done to deal with the (inevitable) next one."

Despite industry and administration denials, these type events are foreseeable, often preventable, or at least their severity under proper regulatory scrutiny, what's not in place nor in prospect with enough teeth to matter. The Interior Department's Mineral Management Service (MMS) long ago left industry giants free to pollute and spill, at most assessing occasional pocket change fines.

In the weeks preceding the Gulf incident, numerous red flags were apparent but ignored. On May 10, Science Insider writer Richard Kerr headlined, "Gulf Spill: Did Pesky Hydrates Trigger the Blowout?" saying:

"Methane-trapping ice of the kind that has frustrated the first attempt to contain (the spill) may have been the root cause of the blowout....according to University of California Berkeley Professor Robert Bea (head of the school's Center for Catastrophic Risk Management), who has extensive access to BP plc documents on the incident. (If so), the US oil and gas industry would have to tread even more lightly" in its offshore search for energy.

With 55 years experience assessing risks, Bea said "there was concern at this location for gas hydrates. We're out to the (water depth) where it ought to be there." The deeper the water, the greater the pressure, and according to Bea, gas hydrates likely contaminated the cement encasing the well.

Halliburton knew the risk that let natural gas shoot up a riser pipe and explode, but claimed a new chemical cement would be resistant to methane hydrate-caused damage. Bea, however, believes it was tainted with the same slushy gas hydrate that scuttled BP's plan to contain the spill with a giant dome and may frustrate other attempted solutions, no matter what company officials claim.

He explained the chemicals used likely emitted enough heat to thaw gases from their methane hydrate form that shot them up the bore and riser. Concrete well plugs should have blocked them, but the final one wasn't installed.

The explosion followed a seawater geyser shooting 240 feet in the air, then a second eruption of mud, gas and water. Its gas component ignited, and afterwards a firestorm, uncontainable because the blowout preventer failed.

On May 14, John Byrne's Raw Story article titled, "Oil spill could go on for years, experts say" cites a worst case scenario from two of them. According to Matthew Simmons, retired investment bank Simmons & Company chairman, specializing in "the entire spectrum of the energy industry," BP and US military engineers have no idea how to stop the flow, calling efforts to plug it a "joke."

Incoming American Association of Petroleum Geologists head David Resink addressed the enormity of the spill, saying:

"You're talking about a reservoir that could have tens of millions of barrels in it." At the current spill rate, it "would take years to deplete," and already appears ten times or more greater than earlier reports, now compounded by the administration leaving BP in charge of cleanup efforts with no oversight of its work.

Earlier the company was exempted from an environmental impact study and spill contingency plan, both of which contributed to the growing disaster. Now with a real emergency, untested blowout preventers are still used, and no new regulations are expected or enforcement of existing ones, despite hundreds of operating Gulf rigs (some in deeper waters than Deepwater Horizon), any of which might leak, perhaps explode, and release more contamination.

In addition, none have remote-control shut-off switches, an acoustic device that operates automatically to prevent small problems from becoming greater, and the administration keeps granting "categorical exclusions" (27 in total), exempting Big Oil from environmental impact studies.

The Center for Biological Diversity's Kieran Suckling called it "inconceivable that MMS (regulators, aware of the worst environmental disaster in US history, could) then rubber stamp new BP drilling permits based on (its) patently false statements that an oil spill cannot occur and would not be dangerous if it did."

On May 15, Skytruth.org reported that the "COSMO-SkyMed radar image taken yesterday is somewhat ominous," showing a 4,922 square mile slick, much larger than two days earlier, and that's only what's visible on the surface. "And we think we've discovered an unrelated leak from a nearby platform that was installed back in 1984. A small, dark slick appears next to this platform on radar satellite images from April 26, May 8, and May 13" plus the latest one. It's not major but shows a chronic unaddressed problem. In this case, one that needs to be checked to assure it doesn't worsen.

On May 11, Public Citizen's Tyson Slocum, Director of its Energy Program, called on Congress to enact reforms, specifically HR 5214: Big Oil Prevention Act of 2010 "To require oil polluters to pay the full cost of oil spills, and for other purposes." It would increase their liability from a meaningless $75 million to $10 billion, but, in fact, should legislate no limit - in other words, "Your Spill, Your Bill," the entire cost with no government bailouts.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R. Alaska), introduced S. 3309, making consumers liable for a like amount through an 8-cent per barrel tax on domestic oil and 9 cents for imported.

New regulations are vitally needed to require tested blowout preventers, shut-off switches, MMS enforcement instead of rubber-stamping industry demands, or perhaps shifting its responsibility to the EPA, OCHA, or a new body, independent of industry officials and their dominance - a tall order, but anything less assures new disasters compounding old ones.

More still in the way of huge fines, denials of new leases, making misconduct this grave a criminal offense, banning new drilling until all new measures are in place and enforced, and prohibiting all new offshore drilling, leasing, and permitting, especially in deep water because of the unacceptable risks, now apparent.

Slocum adds that "we should be aggressively developing forms of renewable energy," the obvious solution not taken, but it's "the only way to reduce the chances of a repeat of this nightmarish disaster that gets worse by the day," with no end of it in sight no matter what BP claims or does. It's an inveterate liar and can't be believed.

As for its claiming a successful tube insertion drawing oil to a surface ship, some healthy skepticism is in order. Most likely, it's a PR stunt, not a solution to halt most oil from spilling, spreading, and contaminating because no one's sure how to stop it.

Slocum also urges vehicle owners to boycott BP for at least three months. This link lets them pledge and comment:

It says "Send a clear message to BP by boycotting its gas and retail store products. Don't spend a cent of your hard-earned money to feed the bottom line of a corporation that has a sordid history of negligence, willfully violates environment regulations, and is spewing thousands and thousands of barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico," that may cause permanent widespread contamination and an end to the way of life for thousands area residents.

Chemical Dispersants - Solving or Compounding the Disaster?

Environment scientists fear using them poses more risks than solutions, and according to the EPA:

"Dispersants have not been used extensively in the United States because of possible long term environment effects, difficulties with timely and effective application, disagreement among scientists and research data about their environmental effects, effectiveness, and toxicity concerns."

It's why Defenders of Wildlife Richard Charter (a marine biology expert) says using them is "a giant experiment (because their) chemical toxicity (in) many ways is worse than oil."

BP is using two Corexit dispersants, not rated effective or safe for marine life, yet EPA approved them, risking far greater ecological damage.

For competitive reasons, Corexit won't disclose what's in them, but a worker safety sheet for one says it includes 2-butoxyethanol, associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses.

Mixtures of solvents, surfactants and other additives, they work by breaking up an oil slick's surface tension to make it more water soluble, according to the National Academy of Sciences. But once dispersed, they generally sink or stay suspended in deep water, while treated oil can collect on the seafloor where shellfish and other organisms feed, in turn become food for other sea life, then humans.

What fish and animals eat, we do, including all toxins they ingest. It's why the National Academy of Sciences warns about "insufficient understanding of the fate (and effects) of dispersed oil in aquatic ecosystems," whatever the benefits like preventing less of it contaminating coastlines.

Because of the spill's size over a vast area, BP has available around one-third of the world's dispersant supply, so imagine the amount toxicity to be unleashed, with its clear risks to sea life and humans. Former University of Alaska marine conservation professor Richard Steiner and other experts wonder how much the public is being deceived by coverup and denial. The combination of oil and dispersant toxins will kill millions of organisms they contaminate, what Richard Charter explains saying:

"You are trying to mitigate the volume of the spill with dispersant, but the price you pay is increased toxicity," or, in fact, making a horrific disaster worse.

Dispersants also endanger coral reefs, several within reach of the spill, including Flower Bank Gardens 75 - 115 miles off Louisiana and Texas, and Florida Middle Grounds off the Florida panhandle with their rich diversity of marine life.

As for BP and the Obama administration, dispersant use is all gain and little pain, the idea being to break up as much oil as possible, let it sink, be out of sight and declare success, when, in fact, we may end up with a far greater catastrophe that's our problem, not theirs. That's how a business-government cabal works, stealing our wealth, civil liberties, and health for profit and dominance while claiming they're on our side.

A Final Comment

On April 30, Defenders of Wildlife Richard Charter issued the following statement, along with DW's executive VP Jamie Rappaport Clark, hoping the Gulf disaster is a wake up call to halt dangerous drilling and protect the environment.

"In a catastrophe that imperils the entire Gulf Coast (and perhaps beyond), offshore oil drilling has again proven to be unreliable and unsafe. As officials gamble with untested means to stop the flow, oil continues to gush into the Gulf and move towards our beaches, coastal communities, wildlife habitat and fisheries. Wildlife refuges and estuaries in Louisiana, Mississippi, (Alabama), and possibly the coast of Florida, along with thousands of migrating birds, sea turtles, whales and dolphins, river otters and many other species lie potentially in the path of the spill. The extent of the environmental and economic impacts of the spill have yet to be seen, but clearly raise grave concerns for any expansion of drilling off of our coasts in the future."

DW also said since 2006, Gulf rigs have experienced 509 fires, including nine major ones that killed at least two people and seriously injured another dozen, according to the Minerals Management Services. With this type record and the current disaster, tolerating operations this hazardous endanger the environment, humanity, and all planetary life. If that's not reason enough to stop them, what is?


Stephen Lendman

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. His blog is sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Listen to Lendman's cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.

Mr. Lendman's stories are republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.



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This story was published on May 18, 2010.
 

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