Shedding light on the dark hole in the Gulf By Jerry Mazza

By Jerry Mazza
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
www.jerrymazza.com
June 14, 2010

Do you have this feeling that despite all the press, you don’t really have a clue what’s going on down there in the oil-hemorrhaging Gulf, that is, with either the spill or BP. Except that the whole situation is getting worse by the minute? But here’s some light for thought.

Despite huge amounts of advertising as a Green Company, BP was named by Mother Jones Magazine as one of the “ten worst corporations” in both 2001 and 2005 based on its environmental and human rights record. “In 1991 BP was cited as the most polluting company in the US based on EPA toxic release data.”

BP catastrophes include the 1993-1995 Hazardous substance dumping; in 2005, the Texas City Refinery explosion; in 2006-2007, the Prudhoe Bay oil spoil due to corrosion in BP’s Alaska pipelines; in 2006-2008, the Texas City refinery fatalities; in 2007, Propane price manipulation; in 2008, Oil price manipulation; in 2009, a North Sea helicopter accident; and of course in 2010, the infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill.”

With BP’s record, the latest disaster should come as a surprise to no one. But a scan of the 33-page wiki document should give you a really good idea, a third of the article being supporting footnotes for BP’s short memory. You can also view BP’s contributions to political campaigns, which go hand in hand with its record.

As to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the New York Times reported as early May 26 that BP Used Riskier Method to Seal Oil Well Before Blast. “Several days before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, BP officials chose, partly for financial reasons, to use a type of casing for the well that the company knew was the riskier of two options, according to a BP document.

“The concern with the method BP chose, the document said, was that if the cement around the casing pipe did not seal properly, gases could leak all the way to the wellhead, where only a single seal would serve as a barrier.

“Using a different type of casing would have provided two barriers, according to the document, which was provided to The New York Times by a congressional investigator.

“Workers from the rig and company officials have said that hours before the explosion, gases were leaking through the cement, which had been set in place by the oil services contractor, Halliburton. Investigators have said these leaks were the likely cause of the explosion.

“The approach taken by the company was described as the ‘best economic case’ in the BP document. However, it also carried risks beyond the potential gas leaks, including the possibility that more work would be needed or that there would be delays, the document said.”

Thus, in the pursuit of going on the cheap, BP and Halliburton created this priceless disaster. Read the full article for the gory details.

And, as recently as June 7, The New York Times reports Rate of Oil Leak, Still Not Clear, Puts Doubt on BP. Basically, the article said that BP claimed it was capturing 11,000 barrels of oil a day from the well, but the official government flow rate estimate was 12,000 to 19,000 barrels day, which indicates the new device should be capturing the bulk of the oil. Yet consensus among experts says, “It is difficult – if not impossible to assess the cap’s effectiveness.” Of course, BP’s “liability will ultimately be determined in part by how many barrels of oil are spilled.” So once again we smell BP obfuscation if not outright corruption.

Of course, as the Washington Post reports, Estimate of spilled oil goes up, and BP stock goes down. “The stock price of BP plunged more than 15 percent Wednesday to a 14-year low as it became increasingly clear that the amount of oil spewing out of the Deepwater Horizon well is substantially greater than the company or the federal government initially estimated.”

What’s more, “Since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, BP’s stock price has dropped by more than 50 percent [italics mine]. Wednesday’s decline was attributed to both the amount of oil flowing from the well and comments from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that the Obama administration will ask BP to repay the salaries of workers laid off because of the six-month moratorium on deepwater exploratory drilling.

“Phil Weiss, an oil analyst with Argus Research in New York, said momentum is working against BP as the news gets progressively worse despite the increased capture of oil. He said he thinks the company can survive, ‘but there’s more doubt in my mind than there was a week ago. Momentum is a powerful thing.’

“Concerns have also grown that BP will have to suspend its dividend payment under pressure from U.S. lawmakers who say the money should go toward paying legal claims and for environmental repair in the gulf. In the past two days, seven analysts have cut their expectations on the likely payout, giving more reason to sell the stock.” Interesting the investors eat the tab, not the global corporation.

What’s troubling about this entire situation is that given the hedge fund sharks out there sniffing blood-money in an oil company takeover, they could push a tumble of the stock harder, pushing BP into bankruptcy, and we would be left without funds for reparation as well as cleaning up the mess. This can easily become a race between the greediest to make a literal killing on BP at the expense of everyone else the disaster has touched.

As it is, the Washington Post wrote in an earlier article Lawyers lining up for class-action suits over oil spill. Thus, more sharks appear, albeit with a nobler appetite: “The law firms now assembling are members of the all-star team of plaintiffs’ attorneys. They have experience suing big companies over asbestos, tobacco, oil company waste, breast implants and Chinese drywall. They have represented Ecuadoran shrimp farmers and New York lobstermen, patients who have swallowed Vioxx and investors who lost money on shares of Enron. And their ranks include the likes of Erin Brockovich, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and former partners of Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.

“’When we put together the team for tobacco . . . it was the A-team of lawyers, and this is the same thing developing here,’ said Mike Papantonio, who cut his teeth on asbestos litigation and is a partner in Florida-based Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Echsner & Proctor. The firm says it has won $2.5 billion in jury verdicts, including a dozen of more than $10 million each.”

The only voice really missing here is President Obama’s, directing a coordinated effort to control personally the potential feeding frenzy from either direction. His only statement were words to the effect that others are working on this colossal problem, so that he knows “whose ass to kick” in blame. As if, like Ronald Reagan, all he needed was the script handed to him so he could pitch it with his own rhetorical magic without sullying his hands or sweating the small stuff. His absence in this process rivals his predecessor, George W. Bush’s absence from Katrina.

Since Obama has too often been wrongly compared to FDR, let me mention FDR would be out there, even on his 10 pounds of leg braces and canes, personally managing the process, insuring the world that this matter was in his hands and that some finality was in store. But that was Roosevelt, who rode from a depression through the Second World War like a knight in shining armor, giving his health and his life for the cause of victory for America and the world.

I see no such commitment here, neither in handling BP firmly, speaking to its CEO and board members personally and letting them know they’re going to go down before we do. In fact, if this spill is not tamped soon, it can move through the ocean currents of the world in between 18 to 24 months.

Does anyone really want to look into this dark hole in the Gulf for anywhere near that amount of time? Look while it spews out ecological and financial destruction for everyone. I don’t think so. So let me pass the buck to where it should really stop, on Obama’s desk, as Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, astutely noted, putting a placard on his desk, “The buck stops here.” Gad-flying days are over, Mr. President. The ship of state calls for your hand to be the one that caps this madness and corruption. It’s time to get your hands dirty, too.

Coincidentally, in an update last Thursday, New Estimates Double Rate of Oil that Flowed Into Gulf, the New York Times reported, “A government panel on Thursday essentially doubled its estimate of how much oil has been spewing from the out-of-control BP well, with the new calculation suggesting that an amount equivalent to the Exxon Valdez disaster could be flowing into the Gulf of Mexico every eight to 10 days.

“The new estimate is 25,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil a day. That range, still preliminary, is far above the previous estimate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.”

What is equally interesting is that finally, “These new calculations came as the public wrangling between BP and the White House was reaching new heights, with President Obama asking for a meeting with BP executives next week and his congressional allies intensifying their pressure on the oil giant to withhold dividend payments to shareholders until it makes clear it can and will pay all its obligations from the spill.” Perhaps Obama will finally “kick some ass.”

The Times added, “The higher estimates will affect not only assessments of how much environmental damage the spill has done but also how much BP might eventually pay to clean up the mess — and it will most likely increase suspicion among skeptics about how honest and forthcoming the oil company has been throughout the catastrophe.

“The new estimate is based on information that was gathered before BP cut a pipe called a riser on the ocean floor last week to install a new capture device, an operation that some scientists have said may have sharply increased the rate of flow. The government panel, called the Flow Rate Technical Group, is preparing yet another estimate that will cover the period after the riser was cut.

“The new estimate appears to be a far better match than earlier ones for the reality that Americans can see every day on their televisions. Even though the new capture device is funneling 15,000 barrels of oil a day to a ship at the surface, a robust flow of oil is still gushing from the well a mile beneath the waves.”

And so it goes, above and beneath the oil-smeared, scandal-stained surface of the truth.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer, life-long resident of New York City. His book “State Of Shock – Poems from 9/11 on” is available at www.jerrymazza.com, Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.

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