Okay, so Top Kill failed, and we’re on pause for the next few days while BP preps for Plan, um, is it E? For the sake of the Gulf Coast, we hope this next fix-it option, a new kind of cap, works. But it’s getting harder to pull for BP. Here’s why:
We don’t need no stinkin’ backup plan: What astounds us and so many oil spill experts is the uselessness of BP’s 583-page “emergency-response strategy report.” It’s larded with details on peripherals like which forms to fill out after using oil dispersants, but skimpy on ideas about how to actually stop a deepwater spill. Newsweek quotes one such expert:
What they’re doing now is kind of like building a fire truck after your house is on fire-clearly that’s the wrong sequence,” says Rick Steiner, a marine biologist and an independent consultant on oil-spill prevention and response, who’s worked on a multitude of spills including the Exxon Valdez. “That’s the huge calamity here-that they were allowed to drill in the deep ocean without a realistic plan for stopping an uncontrolled blowout. It’s the responsibility of the industry to have it, and it’s the responsibility of the government to ensure that they have it.
And Grist quotes another:
We are all involved in an elaborate charade to pretend that the risks are controllable,” says Rutgers University sociology professor Lee Clarke, author of Mission Impossible: Using Fantasy Documents to Tame Disaster. “There are success stories with fairly small spills on enclosed waterways. The oil stays still and you can get a lot of it out of the water. But on the open ocean, there are no success stories.
BP = Bullet Proof: Ever wonder how huge companies like BP manage to survive recurring environmental disasters? Scott West knows. A former EPA special agent, West spent almost a year and a half investigating the 2006 rupture of a corroded BP pipeline at the company’s Prudhoe Bay operation in Alaska. West was confident the feds would file felony charges against BP and its top execs; instead the Justice Department shut down his investigation and gave BP a slap on the wrist. Jason Leopold, writing for Truthout.org, tells West’s story. Here’s Scott West’s reaction when he heard about the Gulf spill:
I don’t think BP learned any lessons. They were just doing what corporations do. It’s the government that failed us. Now there’s the disaster in the Gulf. When I first heard about it, I said to my wife that it’s probably a BP rig and I was right. I will bet that when the investigations into the explosion and leak are complete we’re going to find out it had something to do with BP cutting corners.
Did you say cutting corners? As details leak out about what happened on the Deepwater Horizon in the days and weeks before it exploded, the stain continues to spread across BP’s sunny logo. A recent Wall Street Journal investigation reveals more examples of questionable BP decisions:
BP, for instance, cut short a procedure involving drilling fluid that is designed to detect gas in the well and remove it before it becomes a problem, according to documents belonging to BP and to the drilling rig’s owner and operator, Transocean Ltd. BP also skipped a quality test of the cement around the pipe-another buffer against gas-despite what BP now says were signs of problems with the cement job and despite a warning from cement contractor Halliburton Co.
Thar she blows: Writing in The New York Times, Ian Urbina says that BP’s own documents suggest it had been concerned about the rig’s well casing and blowout preventer long before the April explosion:
On at least three occasions, BP records indicate, the blowout preventer was leaking fluid, which the manufacturer of the device has said limits its ability to operate properly.
Greasing the skids: No matter how the spill plays out in the Gulf, BP is on high spin cycle trying to soften the backlash in Washington, D.C. The company’s already spending almost $16 million a year on lobbying and a report from the Wall Street Journal’s Elizabeth Williamson says the oil giant has been busy recruting well-connected crisis managers and schmoozing not-so-usual dance partners:
Despite this history of safety problems, BP has made allies of some Democrats and environmentalists with its support for climate change legislation, which company lobbyists helped write. It is a key member of the United States Climate Action Partnership, which aims to convince businesses that renewable energy and putting a price on industry emissions of heat-trapping gases can be profitable.
You gotta have friends: With the likelihood of many, many law suits in its future, BP is also working the court angle. A story by Scott Hiaasen and Curtis Morgan in The Miami Herald says BP is asking that every pre-trial issue be placed in the hands of a single federal judge in Houston. The judge, Lynn Hughes, is known to be familiar with oil industry issues and, writes Hiaasen and Curtis, Hughes “. . . has traveled the world giving lectures on ethics for the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, a professional association and research group that works with BP and other oil companies. The organization pays his travel expenses.”