Tuesday, May 18, 2010

More on BP's "responsive" and "responsible" ways...

A few weeks ago I quoted Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry of the Coast Guard, saying, “BP, from Day 1, has attempted to be a very responsive and very responsible spiller.”
I wrote that it was a matter of time before We, the People discover that we are on the hook for the clean up of this massive Deepwater Horizon "spill" (isn't it more like a deluge?) As the story of this catastrophe unfolds I notice that, along with the lies and finger-pointing associated with this catastrophe there are all sorts of similarities to past spills.

Last year, on the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez, Greg Palast reminded us that on the fateful night "Captain Joe Hazelwood...was below decks, sleeping off his bender. At the helm, the third mate would never have collided with Bligh Reef had he looked at his Raycas radar. But the radar was not turned on. In fact, the tanker's radar was left broken and disasbled for more than a year before the disaster, and Exxon management knew it. It was just too expensive to fix and operate."
Palast continues, "The Fable of the Drunken Captain serves the oil industry well. It falsely presents America's greatest environmental disaster as a tale of human frailty, a one-time accident. But broken radar, missing equipment, phantom spill teams, faked tests -- the profit-driven disregard of the law -- made the spill an inevitability, not an accident.

Now we hear another tale of "human frailty", this one the usual sort of corporate power struggle and saving time - that means, saving money.
A critical piece of equipment, an annualer, was damaged several weeks ago and pieces of it started coming out of the well. The annualer is used to seal the well for pressure tests which determine if dangerous gas is seeping. A damaged annualer means the pressure tests do not show accurate data. According to a recent 60 Minutes show, the morning of the explosion there was a very public argument on the rig between the Transocean manager and the BP manager about having subcontractor Halliburton place three concrete plugs in the drilled column. Transocean wanted to do it with 'mud' in the column to keep the pressure contained. The BP manager wanted to do it before the concrete was set as it expedites the subsequent steps.
In other words, it is faster to do it this way.
BP wanted to do it faster...therefore cheaper.... and won the argument. They used the blow-out protector that had the damaged annualer. A couple of hours later the explosion killed 11 people and today, the public doesn't really know how much oil is actually spewing into the Gulf below the surface: BP was reluctant to allow independent researchers to measure amounts of oil under the surface.
By the way, there's talk that BP may be, by law, liable for only $75 million of the harm done by the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

Toxic testing grounds
Then there are the experiments that are unique - so far -- to this spill. The British Telegraph reports that Louisiana officials accused BP of turning the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic testing-ground after winning permission for experimental chemical methods of fighting the oil slick...then cutting Governor Bobby Jindal's administration out of deliberations over the use of chemical dispersants.
Alan Levine, the head of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals, said "We don't have any data or evidence behind the use of these chemicals in the water [and we are] basically using one of the richest ecosysystems in the world as a laboratory," complained
Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive officer, told WAFB Channel 9 news station that the chemical has undergone "lots of testing" and is biodegradable. "We believe it's a very effective way of containing this spill until such time as we can eliminate the leak," he added.
But Robert Barham, the state's Secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, stated that it has not been used at such depths before - BP's leak stems from a pipe one mile below the surface - and that its potential impact and consequences are unknown. This includes how it travels through the water over time.
"We're very disappointed in their approach," he said of BP and the EPA. "The federal procedures call for a consensus between federal authorities, the responsible party and the states involved. When we met and expressed our concerns, apparently they decided to go without us."

Meanwhile, federal Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of United States District Court in Manhattan recently granted a petition by Chevron to issue a subpoena for hundreds of hours of footage from a documentary about the pollution of the Amazon rainforests of Ecuador and the oil company’s involvement.
Film director Joe Berlinger must turn over more than 600 hours of footage from his documentary “Crude,” released last year, chronicles the Ecuadorians who sued Texaco (now owned by Chevron) saying the operations of the companies’ oil field at Lago Agrio contaminated their water.
Chevron claims Mr. Berlinger’s footage could show improper collaboration in Ecuador’s legal system that could show Chevron as a victim of political influence in that country.
Chevron's lawyer, Randy M. Mastro, said:
We are very gratified by the judge’s decision...[t]hrough this kind of discovery, we have been exposing corruption, fraud and a travesty of justice going on in Ecuador. This evidence will be critical to determining Ecuador’s violation of international law and its denial of due process and fair treatment to Chevron. [This footage] represented “an extraordinary film record of exactly the kinds of abuses that have tainted the judicial process in Ecuador.”

Undaunted, Shell Oil will drill the first-ever large wells in the Chukchi and Beaufort in the Arctic Sea this summer, defying calls for a moratorium on offshore exploration in the pristine wilderness following the Gulf of Mexico disaster. They hope to get at an estimated 27bn barrels of oil and gas.
But, don't worry as Shell chief executive Peter Voser told shareholders that it would only drill there if it thought it could be done "safely and responsibly".
"The characteristics of the offshore fields are different to those in the Gulf of Mexico – we go less deep so there is less pressure," he said. "The world needs these fossil resources in the longer term." Voser said Shell had spent $2bn (£1.38bn) to secure the permits.

Some good news...
A new poll by Pew casts doubt on that idea that the US holds center-right political positions. It shows widespread skepticism about capitalism and hints that support for socialist alternatives is emerging as a majoritarian force in America’s new generation.
Carried out in late April and published May 4, 2010, the Pew poll, arguably by the most respected polling company in the country, asked over 1500 randomly selected Americans to describe their reactions to terms such as “capitalism,” “socialism,” “progressive,” “libertarian” and “militia.” The most striking findings concern “capitalism” and “socialism.” We cannot be sure what people mean by these terms, so the results have to be interpreted cautiously and in the context of more specific attitudes on concrete issues, as discussed later.
Pew summarizes the results in its poll title: “Socialism not so negative; capitalism not so positive.” This turns out to be an understatement of the drama in some of the underlying data.
Yes, “capitalism” is still viewed positively by a majority of Americans. But it is just by a bare majority. Only 52% of all Americans react positively. Thirty-seven percent say they have a negative reaction and the rest aren’t sure
A year ago, a Rasmussen poll found similar reactions. Then, only 53% of Americans described capitalism as “superior” to socialism.
Meanwhile, 29% in the Pew poll describe “socialism” as positive. This positive percent soars much higher when you look at key sub-groups, as discussed shortly. A 2010 Gallup poll found 37% of all Americans preferring socialism as “superior” to capitalism.
Charles Derber, professor of sociology at Boston College and author of Corporation Nation and Greed to Green writes in a recent article "Capitalism: Big Surprises in Recent Polls."
He writes, "If socialism means a search for a genuine systemic alternative, then America, particularly its youth, is emerging as a majoritarian social democracy, or in a majoritarian search for a more cooperativist, green, and more peaceful and socially just order.
Either interpretation is hopeful. It should give progressives assurance that even in the “Age of the Tea Party,” despite great dangers and growing concentrated corporate power and wealth, there is a strong base for progressive politics. We have to mobilize the majority population to recognize its own possibilities and turn up the heat on the Obama Administration and a demoralized Democratic Party. If we fail, the Right will take up the slack and impose its monopoly capitalist will on a reluctant populace.

Hooray! Now let's mobilize!

And listen to this week's radio show, "Oil spills, then and now...."

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