PENSACOLA, Fla. — Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen late Thursday ordered BP to begin evacuating the Deepwater Horizon oil spill site after the National Hurricane Center predicted that sustained winds of more than 55 miles per hour would reach the area perhaps as early as Saturday.
"Due to the risk that Tropical Storm Bonnie poses to the safety of the nearly 2,000 people responding to the BP oil spill at the well site, many of the vessels and rigs will be preparing to move out of harm's way beginning tonight," Allen said. "This includes the rig drilling the relief well that will ultimately kill the well, as well as other vessels needed for containment. Some of the vessels may be able to remain on site, but we will err on the side of safety."
Allen said he had directed BP to leave the well sealed during the evacuation and said that monitoring of the well, which has not leaked oil into the Gulf of Mexico for more than a week, would continue until the last possible moment. He said BP has been told to move ships guiding remotely operated vehicles providing a video feed from the capped well last and to return them to the area first.
"While these actions may delay the effort to kill the well for several days, the safety of the individuals at the well site is our highest concern," he said.
Federal and state oil cleanup workers had begun the process of battening down across the Gulf of Mexico for a weekend tropical storm, pulling out booms and calling vessels back to port from anti-contamination efforts in the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
So one of the most profitable companies in the world was cutting safety corners to make a few more bucks. Why am I not surprised?
WASHINGTON (AP) -- BP took measures to cut costs in the weeks before the catastrophic blowout in the Gulf of Mexico as it dealt with one problem after another, prompting a BP engineer to describe the doomed rig as a "nightmare well," according to internal documents released Monday.
The comment by BP engineer Brian Morel came in an e-mail April 14, six days before the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion that killed 11 people and has sent tens of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf in the nation's worst environmental disaster.
The e-mail was among dozens of internal documents released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating the explosion and its aftermath.
In a letter to BP CEO Tony Hayward, Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., noted at least five questionable decisions BP made in the days leading up to the explosion.
"The common feature of these five decisions is that they posed a trade-off between cost and well safety," said Waxman and Stupak. Waxman chairs the energy panel while Stupak heads a subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
"Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense," the lawmakers wrote in the 14-page letter to Hayward. "If this is what happened, BP's carelessness and complacency have inflicted a heavy toll on the Gulf, its inhabitants, and the workers on the rig."
Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson has written a stunner of an article called "The Spill, The Scandal and The President." It's damned heartbreaking to learn that yes, at least in Interior, this really is the third Bush term:
Even worse, the "moratorium" on drilling announced by the president does little to prevent future disasters. The ban halts exploratory drilling at only 33 deepwater operations, shutting down less than one percent of the total wells in the Gulf. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the Cabinet-level official appointed by Obama to rein in the oil industry, boasts that "the moratorium is not a moratorium that will affect production" – which continues at 5,106 wells in the Gulf, including 591 in deep water.
Most troubling of all, the government has allowed BP to continue deep-sea production at its Atlantis rig – one of the world's largest oil platforms. Capable of drawing 200,000 barrels a day from the seafloor, Atlantis is located only 150 miles off the coast of Louisiana, in waters nearly 2,000 feet deeper than BP drilled at Deepwater Horizon. According to congressional documents, the platform lacks required engineering certification for as much as 90 percent of its subsea components – a flaw that internal BP documents reveal could lead to "catastrophic" errors. In a May 19th letter to Salazar, 26 congressmen called for the rig to be shut down immediately. "We are very concerned," they wrote, "that the tragedy at Deepwater Horizon could foreshadow an accident at BP Atlantis."
The administration's response to the looming threat? According to an e-mail to a congressional aide from a staff member at MMS, the agency has had "zero contact" with Atlantis about its safety risks since the Deepwater rig went down.
Excuse me, I think I have to go scream now...
[...] Salazar did little to tamp down on the lawlessness at MMS, beyond referring a few employees for criminal prosecution and ending a Bush-era program that allowed oil companies to make their "royalty" payments – the amount they owe taxpayers for extracting a scarce public resource – not in cash but in crude. And instead of putting the brakes on new offshore drilling, Salazar immediately throttled it up to record levels. Even though he had scrapped the Bush plan, Salazar put 53 million offshore acres up for lease in the Gulf in his first year alone – an all-time high. The aggressive leasing came as no surprise, given Salazar's track record. "This guy has a long, long history of promoting offshore oil drilling – that's his thing," says Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. "He's got a highly specific soft spot for offshore oil drilling." As a senator, Salazar not only steered passage of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which opened 8 million acres in the Gulf to drilling, he even criticized President Bush for not forcing oil companies to develop existing leases faster.
Salazar was far less aggressive, however, when it came to making good on his promise to fix MMS. Though he criticized the actions of "a few rotten apples" at the agency, he left long-serving lackeys of the oil industry in charge. "The people that are ethically challenged are the career managers, the people who come up through the ranks," says a marine biologist who left the agency over the way science was tampered with by top officials. "In order to get promoted at MMS, you better get invested in this pro-development oil culture." One of the Bush-era managers whom Salazar left in place was John Goll, the agency's director for Alaska. Shortly after the Interior secretary announced a reorganization of MMS in the wake of the Gulf disaster, Goll called a staff meeting and served cake decorated with the words "Drill, baby, drill."
Salazar also failed to remove Chris Oynes, a top MMS official who had been a central figure in a multibillion-dollar scandal that Interior's inspector general called "a jaw-dropping example of bureaucratic bungling." In the 1990s, industry lobbyists secured a sweetheart subsidy from Congress: Drillers would pay no royalties on oil extracted in deep water until prices rose above $28 a barrel. But this tripwire was conveniently omitted in Gulf leases overseen by Oynes – a mistake that will let the oil giants pocket as much as $53 billion. Instead of being fired for this f*ckup, however, Oynes was promoted by Bush to become associate director for offshore drilling – a position he kept under Salazar until the Gulf disaster hit.
"Employees describe being in Interior – not just MMS, but the other agencies – as the third Bush term," says Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which represents federal whistle-blowers. "They're working for the same managers who are implementing the same policies. Why would you expect a different result?"
[...]"People are being really circumspect, not pointing the finger at Salazar and Obama," says Rep. Raul Grijalva, who oversees the Interior Department as chair of the House subcommittee on public lands. "But the troublesome point is, the administration knew that it had this rot in the middle of the process on offshore drilling – yet it empowered an already discredited, disgraced agency to essentially be in charge."
I simply do not see how this story ends without criminal charges -- and for more than the guys at the bottom, who were reacting to the pressure from above. I'd like to point out the superb work done by Mother Jones on this story, and urge you to go throw them a few bucks for their investigative fund if you can spare it:
A prominent Houston attorney with a long record of winning settlements from oil companies says he has new evidence suggesting that the Deepwater Horizon's top managers knew of problems with the rig before it exploded last month, causing the worst oil spill in US history. Tony Buzbee, a lawyer representing 15 rig workers and dozens of shrimpers, seafood restaurants, and dock workers, says he has obtained a three-page signed statement from a crew member on the boat that rescued the burning rig's workers. The sailor, who Buzbee refuses to name for fear of costing him his job, was on the ship's bridge when Deepwater Horizon installation manager Jimmy Harrell, a top employee of rig owner Transocean, was speaking with someone in Houston via satellite phone. Buzbee told Mother Jones that, according to this witness account, Harrell was screaming, "Are you f*cking happy? Are you f*cking happy? The rig's on fire! I told you this was gonna happen."
Whoever was on the other end of the line was apparently trying to calm Harrell down. "I am f*cking calm," he went on, according to Buzbee. "You realize the rig is burning?"
At that point, the boat's captain asked Harrell to leave the bridge. It wasn't clear whether Harrell had been talking to Transocean, BP, or someone else.
On Friday a spokesman for Transocean said he couldn't confirm or deny whether the conversation took place. He was unable to make Harrell available for an interview.
During hearings held late last month by the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service, Harrell denied any conflicts with his BP or Transocean bosses. He said that he did not feel pressured to rush the completion of the well, even though the rig had fallen behind schedule.
Yet Buzbee's claims add weight to other statements that contradict Harrell's version of events. Testifying before the Coast Guard and MMS panel last month, Douglas Brown, the chief mechanic on the Deepwater Horizon, said that on the morning of the day that the rig exploded Harrell had a "skirmish" over drilling procedures during a meeting with BP's "company man," well site leader Robert Kaluza. "I remember the company man saying this is how it's going to be," Brown told the panel. As Harrell was leaving the meeting, according to Brown, "He pretty much grumbled, 'I guess that's what we have those pincers for,'" referring to the blowout preventer on the sea floor that is supposed to be the last resort to prevent a leak in the event of an emergency. The blowout preventer failed following the explosion on the rig, causing the massive spill. (Transocean's chief electronics technician, Mike Williams, also recalled the argument but named a different BP "company man," BP's top official on the rig, Donald Vidrine).
In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, Transocean appeared to back the claims that Harrell had feuded with BP: "The testimony certainly seems to suggest that [Harrell] disagreed with the operator's instructions, but what those were and why he disagreed are matters that will ultimately be determined during the course of investigations."
I hope all the people who keep telling me how safe nuclear power is read this assessment. The fact is, humans make errors. Machines make errors, too. The question is, how big a risk can we afford to take?
Investigators have focused on the minute-to-minute decisions and breakdowns to understand what led to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, killing 11 people and setting off the largest oil spill in United States history and an environmental disaster. But the lack of coordination was not limited to the day of the explosion.
New government and BP documents, interviews with experts and testimony by witnesses provide the clearest indication to date that a hodgepodge of oversight agencies granted exceptions to rules, allowed risks to accumulate and made a disaster more likely on the rig, particularly with a mix of different companies operating on the Deepwater whose interests were not always in sync.
And in the aftermath, arguments about who is in charge of the cleanup — often a signal that no one is in charge — have led to delays, distractions and disagreements over how to cap the well and defend the coastline. As a result, with oil continuing to gush a mile below the surface in the Gulf of Mexico, the laws of physics are largely in control, creating the daunting challenge of trying to plug a hole at depths where equipment is straining under more than a ton of pressure per square inch.
Tad W. Patzek, chairman of the Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering Department at the University of Texas, Austin, has analyzed reports of what led to the explosion. “It’s a very complex operation in which the human element has not been aligned with the complexity of the system,” he said in an interview last week.
I've never liked the death penalty. When I was a reporter, I saw several cases where the wrong person was prosecuted, and unless you have enough money for a good defense attorney, there's not a lot you can do if you're caught up in that kind of nightmare.
So I've always opposed the death penalty, with one exception: Polluters. From the dumpers who unload toxic chemicals in a small stream where children play, to politicians and organized crime figures who bring tons out-of-state toxic waste into unsuspecting communities, there's nothing that makes me more angry.
Because you've poisoned a place where children play. You've polluted a watershed, and people will eat the fish they catch there. Toxins will seep into the soil, and the air. And while it may be impossible to prove anytime soon, you've almost certainly killed people.
And what else have we seen? A "Three Little Pigs" memo where BP makes it clear it's cheaper to pay long-shot damages than to make the rig safe. Memos where engineers warned of danger. Interviews with BP employees who talked about how the safety tests were rigged.
If you gave your friend a ride to the 7-Eleven, and while you were sitting in the car waiting, he pulled a gun and killed someone during a robbery, you could be tried for murder. Just for sitting there, just on the off chance that you knew something and were knowingly involved.
I think the fine people who are poisoning the world deserve the same treatment. Don't you think we should start applying that same legal standard to corporate malfeasance? No, we can't create a law specifically to punish BP - but we can make a real impression on all the other multinational corporations.
And I'll bet some smart D.A. or U.S. Attorney can find a way to make it happen.
After the Citizens United ruling from the Supreme Court, we were all pretty depressed. After all, the tidal wave of money that washes through the political system is downright devastating to democracy. And what are the odds that our spineless Congress will fix it in any meaningful way?
Ah, but we do love our law and order. If we can institute the death penalty for reckless endangerment of our national resources and the human beings affected, we will have finally created a constitutional way to counteract the effects of money in our political system.
Think how much it would do to clean up corporate corruption if employees could say to their managers, "I could get the death penalty for covering that up -- and so could you." Imagine if they were required BY LAW to report their bosses for telling them to cut corners on high-risk products because it was cheaper - or risk being tried if something goes wrong.
Talk about (finally) being held accountable. Wouldn't you love to see it happen?
In China, when executives are found to have manufactured items that are killing people -- well, at least they have the good grace to kill themselves. We can't count on that; we don't have enough healthy shame left in this country.
News broke like a lightning bolt
Across a red hot sky
In the blue TV light
Joanne O'Donnell cried
Seemed like the kiss of death
Hung in the air
When a whole town found out
They'd been poisoned for years
"Who could have known?" I am so sick of that all-purpose excuse, aren't you? Maybe if we passed a law requiring the electric chair for anyone found guilty of major pollution, we could trust these companies to make safety their priority instead of profits:
WASHINGTON — Internal documents from BP show that there were serious problems and safety concerns with the Deepwater Horizon rig far earlier than those the company described to Congress last week.
The problems involved the well casing and the blowout preventer, which are considered critical pieces in the chain of events that led to the disaster on the rig.
The documents show that in March, after several weeks of problems on the rig, BP was struggling with a loss of “well control.” And as far back as 11 months ago, it was concerned about the well casing and the blowout preventer.
On June 22, for example, BP engineers expressed concerns that the metal casing the company wanted to use might collapse under high pressure.
“This would certainly be a worst-case scenario,” Mark E. Hafle, a senior drilling engineer at BP, warned in an internal report. “However, I have seen it happen so know it can occur.”
The company went ahead with the casing, but only after getting special permission from BP colleagues because it violated the company’s safety policies and design standards. The internal reports do not explain why the company allowed for an exception. BP documents released last week to The Times revealed that company officials knew the casing was the riskier of two options.
Though his report indicates that the company was aware of certain risks and that it made the exception, Mr. Hafle, testifying before a panel on Friday in Louisiana about the cause of the rig disaster, rejected the notion that the company had taken risks.
“Nobody believed there was going to be a safety issue,” Mr. Hafle told a six-member panel of Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service officials.
“All the risks had been addressed, all the concerns had been addressed, and we had a model that suggested if executed properly we would have a successful job,” he said.
Transocean Ltd. [..], the owner of the rig leased by BP [..] which is currently leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico, made a $270 million profit from insurance payouts after the disaster, the Sunday Times reports.
The amount, revealed during a conference call to analysts, was made because its insurance policy for Deepwater Horizon rig was greater than the value of the rig itself, the paper reports. The Times says Transocean has already received cash payment of $401 million and the rest is due in the coming weeks.
Unbelievable. Of course, that money has been turned around as part of a nice, fat $1B dividend to stockholders.
That was a damn fast turnaround on the insurance too. Have any of the families of those killed during the explosion seen insurance payouts yet? I don't believe so.
The story behind the oil spill is one of such gross negligence and choosing shortcuts to safety in the name of profits that it's absolutely disgusting to see Transocean profit this way, when we all will be paying the costs of their negligence for years and years to come.
Meanwhile Senate Republicans have stalled legislation that would require oil companies to pay fully for their accidents. Listen to Senator Inhofe (R-Oil Companies) push for Big Oil's ability to make obscene profits over safety:
You gotta love how these "Oh noes! Obama wants us to be socialists!" Republicans have no problem with a multi-national oil company privatizing their profits and socializing their costs. Why aren't the protesters who scream about bailouts not screaming about this?
Obama made a statement expressing his frustration:
"I am disappointed that an effort to ensure that oil companies pay fully for disasters they cause has stalled in the United States Senate on a partisan basis. This maneuver threatens to leave taxpayers, rather than the oil companies, on the hook for future disasters like the BP oil spill. I urge the Senate Republicans to stop playing special interest politics and join in a bipartisan effort to protect taxpayers and demand accountability from the oil companies.”
One of the ideas that made our country great is the idea that the law is applied equally. I knew there were plenty of exceptions and special deals, of course, but somehow I still believed that ultimately, justice would prevail.
The federal agency responsible for ensuring that the Deepwater Horizon was operating safely before it exploded last month fell well short of its own policy that the rig be inspected at least once per month, an Associated Press investigation shows.
In fact, the agency's inspection frequency on the Deepwater Horizon fell dramatically over the past five years, according to federal Minerals Management Service records. The rig blew up April 20, killing 11 people before sinking and triggering a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Since January 2005, inspectors issued just one minor infraction for the rig. That strong track record led the agency last year to herald the Deepwater Horizon as an industry model for safety.
[...] The AP sought to find out how many times government safety inspectors visited the Deepwater Horizon, and what they found. In response, MMS officials offered a changing series of numbers. The MMS has had long-standing issues with its data management.
At first, officials said 83 inspections had been performed since the rig arrived in the Gulf 104 months ago, in September 2001. While being questioned about the once-per-month claim, the officials subsequently revised the total up to 88 inspections. The number of more recent inspections also changed — from 26 to 48 in the 64 months since January 2005.