BP's Expanding Evils: Restricting Research And Cutting Qualified HazMat Workers' Pay

WKRG.com News For now, the well is closed. Oil is not gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at unprecedented rates, but this is far from over. No one can


WKRG.com News

For now, the well is closed. Oil is not gushing into the Gulf of Mexico at unprecedented rates, but this is far from over. No one can hear Drew Landry's BP Blues without feeling a small twinge of the pain caused by BPs destruction.

Sometimes my innate optimism fails me, and today is one of those times. I know corporations are made of people and investors, and serve their bottom line above all others, but even so, there should be at least the appearance of a care for the people and inhabitants of a place so ravaged by human misdeeds.

Not so for BP, evidently. The first story I have for you comes via The Political Carnival, telling the first-person tale with email support for BPs intentional effort to short the pay of qualified HazMat workers trained to handle disasters like this. BP has told the government they are hiring qualified workers, but as this string of emails proves, once they were out of the spotlight BP cut workers' pay and contract terms. From the email:

I had been scheduled to start working for an oil spill cleanup contractor but then got delayed when they called all of us to say that BP had changed the terms of the contract with them and was ordering them (as well as ALL other hiring agencies) to pay workers less money and with no more per diems, or housing offers (some were offering housing).

The original terms:

We are offering pay rate of $13-$14 / hr and per diem for those who live 55 miles or more outside of the work area.

Subsequent to that offer, changes were made. Specifically, the pay rates were dropped to $11/hr and all per diem allowances dropped.

When this worker pushed back on the hiring agency about the change to the terms of the contract, she received the following reply:

It made us sick when we heard. The coast guard is under what the federal govt calls ESF (Emergency Support Function) the coast guard is just monitoring the spill. Unfortunately the Govt has no say in the matter. BP is evil.

A look at the ESF structure tells an interesting tale. This is basically a command structure for various national emergencies, ranging from hurricanes to terrorist attacks. Last modified in January 2008 during the waning of the Bush Administration, it doesn't appear to really address a situation of this magnitude, but clearly assigns all decision-making concerning contractual arrangements to BP, rather than the government.

Are you screaming about deregulation yet? If not, now is a good time to start.

As if that weren't enough, there's another smoking report from Climate Progress about BP's effort to limit or constrain scientific research of the disaster.

Scientists from Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University and Texas A&M have “signed contracts with BP to work on their behalf in the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) process” that determines how much ecological damage the Gulf of Mexico region is suffering from BP’s toxic black tide. The contract, the Mobile Press-Register has learned, “prohibits the scientists from publishing their research, sharing it with other scientists or speaking about the data that they collect for at least the next three years.

This is a huge problem on a number of levels. The only good to come out of a disaster like this is research that will either prevent another one, or help researchers learn better ways to deal with another one. That research takes place all over the country, from Santa Barbara, California, to New Hampshire, to the University of Texas, to Alaska. While I can understand limiting the research duties to area universities, suppressing their research results for three years limits other researchers from examining, challenging, or using that data for more science.

That's just wrong. Tony Hayward's statement may be the ultimate irony:

"It is vitally important that research start immediately into the oil and dispersant's impact, and that the findings are shared fully and openly," said BP chief executive Tony Hayward.

Would the terms "fully and openly" mean "fully and openly after three years concealed," or do they really mean "fully and openly"?

Also, let's hold academia to account, too. That $250 per hour fee they're promised shouldn't be free license to conceal their research from the public, should it? At least one institution says no.

Bob Shipp, head of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama — whose entire department BP wished to hire — refused to sign over their integrity to the corporate criminal:

We told them there was no way we would agree to any kind of restrictions on the data we collect.

It was pretty clear we wouldn’t be hearing from them again after that. We didn’t like the perception of the university representing BP in any fashion.

This really is the true test of academic integrity. When a research facility agrees to accept payment in return for NOT publishing results for 3 years, they are complicit. If the research community had held firm and refused like Bob Shipp's group did, BP would have had no option but to agree that results should be shared as soon as they were available.

There's a synergy here with both stories. In the HazMat workers' case, BP must have felt sure they could fill the gaps with workers willing to take an hourly pay cut and give up the per diem. In the researchers' case, BP clearly found research facilities willing to accept large payments in exchange for data concealment.

In both cases, BP emerges as a bad actor with no regard for the transparency and truth-seeking they claim. Yes, we already knew that, but this just adds more weight to the negative column than they already had, and makes a case for serious change to how responses to man/corporate-made disasters that harm irreplaceable natural resources should be handled.

Update: A new report of a possible leak near the well. That's bad in itself, but this just made my blood boil:

The official is familiar with the spill oversight but would not clarify what is seeping near the well. The official said BP is not complying with the government's demand for more monitoring. BP spokesman Mark Salt declined to comment on the allegation, but said "we continue to work very closely with all government scientists on this.

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