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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

BP All Around Slacker; first on safety, now on Cleanup

Compounding the problem: Why aren’t we using the safest and most effective dispersants in the Gulf?

Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

Imagine learning you have a serious disease. You doctor decides to treat you with a drug, noting it could have some bad side effects. He also plans to inject you with the drug, even though it’s only been used orally before now. That makes you nervous enough to ask for the name of the drug. “Sorry, I can’t tell you,” he says. “It’s proprietary.” Even if you trust your doctor, you’re now left with no way to investigate the risks and tradeoffs you’re facing. Imagine how mad you’d be if you learned your doctor hadn’t told you there were other drugs that not only had fewer side effects, but were more effective in treating your condition. And then you learn he’s on the Board of Directors of the company that makes the drug he prescribed.

Now consider that the patient is the Gulf of Mexico, the doctor is BP, and the drug is the oil dispersants, sold by Nalco under the trade name Corexit®, more than 500,000 gallons of which have been applied to date, with no end in sight. The known side effects include short-term aquatic toxicity, but the potential for long-term effects has never been studied. Nor have the effects of injecting it into deep water, an “unprecedented” method just been approved by NOAA and EPA after hastily arranged tests conducted over the last few days. (Elizabeth Grossman has posted an excellent piece exploring the potential for adverse health effects among spill responders from both the oil and the dispersants.)

The information being withheld (in this case from the public) is the identity of the main active ingredient in the dispersants – listed only as an “organic sulfonic acid salt” on Nalco’s material safety data sheets – which comprises 10-30% of the dispersant formula. (One observer maintains the unidentified ingredient is actually described in this 2001 patent, though its composition is quite variable.)

As part of the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, EPA has tested 18 different dispersants for short-term toxicity to fish and shrimp. EPA has also tested the effectiveness of surface spraying in dispersing South Louisiana crude oil. How do the two Corexit® dispersants stack up against the competition? Not very well, it turns out. They rank 13th and 16th in effectiveness, 15th and 18th in fish toxicity, and 7th and 10th in shrimp toxicity. At least six dispersants are both more effective and less toxic than the Corexit® dispersants.

There’s no question the ongoing spill at Deepwater Horizon is a life-threatening condition, and emergency measures are in order. And BP has said it chose Corexit® because of the large stockpile, though its cozy relationship with Nalco has been invoked as a factor as well.

Considering the massive public costs of this unfolding environmental disaster in the Gulf, we should seriously question why, despite the clear opportunity for foresight via the contingency plan, BP is being allowed to use dispersants that are neither the most effective nor the safest.

And we should also question why EPA hasn’t used its emergency powers to force disclosure of all of the components of the Corexit® dispersants. There couldn’t be a clearer case of the need for EPA to exercise its mandate to disclose proprietary information when necessary to protect public health and the environment.

Given not only the scale but the experimental nature of the use of dispersants at Deepwater Horizon, responders and the public have a right to know to what chemicals they and the environment are being exposed. And those who will have to monitor and assess the health and ecological damages also need to know.

Both of these problems – a failure to drive the use of safer chemicals, and excessive allowances for trade secret protections – can be traced to underlying flaws in the main U.S. law governing chemical safety, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Among TSCA’s many flaws, documented by the Government Accountability Office and many others, it denies EPA the authority to develop even basic safety information for chemicals entering or already on the market, or to require the replacement of those shown to be dangerous. And it bars EPA from sharing most data it does obtain, not only with the public but even with state and local governments.

Happily, change is on the horizon. Environmental Defense Fund and more than 200 other health and environmental organizations are part of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition, which is supporting and seeking to further strengthen the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010, S. 3209, introduced on April 15 by Senator Lautenberg.

Monday, May 17, 2010


– Underwater robots positioned a giant 100-ton concrete-and-steel box over a blown-out well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on Friday as workers prepared to drop the device to the seafloor in a first-of-its-kind attempt to stop oil gushing into the sea.
A spokesman for oil giant BP PLC, which is in charge of the cleanup, said the box was suspended over the main leak, Several undersea cameras attached to the robots were making sure it was properly aligned before it plunged all the way to the bottom.
"We are essentially taking a four-story building and lowering it 5,000 feet and setting it on the head of a pin," Bill Salvin, the BP spokesman, told The Associated Press.
If the device works, it could be collecting as much as 85 percent of the oil spewing into the Gulf and funneling it up to a tanker by Sunday. It's never been tried so far below the surface, where the water pressure is enough to crush a submarine. Once the device in place later Friday, the robots will secure it over the main leak at the bottom, a process that will take hours.
The seafloor is pitch black, but lights on the robots illuminate the area where they are working and they have found no problems so far. The cameras are off to the side, not in the path of the oil, Salvin said. About 1,300 feet away is the wreckage of the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, which BP was leasing when it exploded 50 miles offshore April 20 and blew open the well. It sank two days later. Eleven workers on board were killed. An estimated 200,000 gallons a day have been spewing ever since in the nation's biggest oil spill since the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989. The containment device will not solve the problem altogether. Crews are still drilling a relief well and working on other methods to stop the well from leaking.
The quest took on added urgency as oil reached several barrier islands off the Louisiana coast, many of them fragile animal habitats. Several birds were spotted diving into the oily, pinkish-brown water, and dead jellyfish washed up on the uninhabited islands.

"It's all over the place. We hope to get it cleaned up before it moves up the west side of the river," said Dustin Chauvin, a 20-year-old shrimp boat captain from Terrebonne Parish, La. "That's our whole fishing ground. That's our livelihood."

Out at sea, the crew of the semi-submersible drilling vessel Helix Q4000 waited hours longer than expected to hoist the containment device from the deck of the Joe Griffin supply boat because dangerous fumes rose from the oily water. Joe Griffin Capt. Demi Shaffer told an Associated Press reporter aboard his boat the fear was that a spark caused by the scrape of metal on metal could cause a fire. Crew members wore respirators while they worked.
Conditions were safe enough to allow the crane to lift the device into the Gulf after 10 p.m. CDT, dark oil clinging to its white sides as it entered the water and disappeared below the surface.
The box — which looks a lot like a peaked, four-story outhouse, especially on the inside, with its rough timber framing — must be accurately positioned over the well, or it could damage the leaking pipe and make the problem worse.

BP spokesman Doug Suttles said he is not concerned about that happening. Underwater robots have been clearing pieces of pipe and other debris near where the box will be placed to avoid complications."We do not believe it could make things worse," he said.
Other risks include ice clogs in the pipes — a problem that crews will try to prevent by continuously pumping in warm water and methanol — and the danger of explosion when separating the mix of oil, gas and water that is brought to the surface. "I'm worried about every part, as you can imagine," said David Clarkson, BP vice president of engineering projects. If the box works, a second one now being built may be used to deal with another, smaller leak from the sea floor.

Meanwhile, a huge oil slick is floating in the Gulf, and residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida are anxiously waiting to learn when it might come ashore. The Coast Guard hoped to continue skimming oil from the ocean surface, burning it at sea and dropping chemicals from the air to break it up. Oil from the spill is extending west around the Mississippi Delta, according to a radar image taken Wednesday night by a Canadian satellite. That extension looks like a finger reaching out from the main patch, imaging expert Hans Graber of the University of Miami said Friday. The main oil slick has been shifting to the northwest, encroaching on Chandeleur Sound, which lies between the delicate Chandeleur Islands and Mississippi Delta wetlands, he said.

A federal judicial panel in Washington has been asked to consolidate at least 65 potential class-action lawsuits claiming economic damage from the spill. Commercial fishermen, business and resort owners, charter boat captains, even would-be vacationers have sued from Texas to Florida, seeking damages that could reach into the billions.

"It's just going to kill us. It's going to destroy us," said Dodie Vegas, who owns a motel and cabins in Grand Isle, La., and has seen 10 guests cancel.

Science group: Climate science 'witch hunt' underway in Virginia

May 03, 2010
The VA voters sure elected some old time Christian dialogs. If I lived in VA I would be embarrassed by these guys. Next moved these guys plan is to indite Galileo, Brahi, and Kepler in an attempt to prove that the earth is the center of the solar system, or at least that the theory of a sun centered solar system is in doubt.

BP Oil Spill: 7 Secrets BP Doesn't Want You To Know

Huffington Post Gazelle Emami First Posted: 05- 5-10 07:53 AM Updated: 05- 5-10 10:20 AM

BP made its name synonymous with "Beyond Petroleum" in 2000, rebranding itself as a company that sees a future past dependence on fossil fuels. But ten years later, the oil company is as committed to furthering their oil expansion as ever. And as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill emphasizes only too well, there are serious environmental and human concerns when it comes to drilling for oil. The Gulf spill, which left 11 workers dead and 17 injured, is about the size of Rhode Island, running across the northern Gulf of Mexico between the mouth of the Mississippi River and Florida. It runs wide, threatening the coastlines, and deep, traveling beneath about 5,000 feet of water and 13,000 feet under the seabed. The Deepwater Horizon well is leaking 5,000 barrels per day, shutting down fishing across the affected areas, damaging fragile habitats and putting animals in peril.

This may be BP's largest disaster, with many claiming it will be larger than Exxon Valdez's spill, but it is certainly not the first. We're taking a look at BP's most questionable actions both past and present-- which do you think is most inexcusable?

1. In 2006, BP made a multimillion pound payout to Colombian farmers after being accused of benefiting from a regime of terror carried out by the Colombian government paramilitaries to protect their 450-mile pipeline. 1,000 farmers and their family members, working on 52 farms, were affected by the development and said they were pushed into surrounding towns, forced into lives of destitution due to the development.

BP's recent involvement in the Canadian tar sand development has also stirred controversy for both its human rights and environmental violations. Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, from Fort Chipewyan, which is a center of the tar sand development, told the Guardian: "It is destroying the ancient boreal forest, spreading open-pit mining across our territories, contaminating our food and water with toxins, disrupting local wildlife and threatening our way of life." Many fear the development is risking the lives of locals, increasing the likelihood of cancer. Furthermore, the project would release enough carbon in total to tip the world into unstoppable climate change.

A Guardian analysis the day after the Gulf oil spill details how BP shareholders turned a blind eye to the myriad problems with BP's Canadian tar sand development in a shareholders meeting on April 15, which was a prime opportunity for them to demand transparency. Instead, they chose ignorance, allowing BP to carry on with its actions without any accountability.

2. This one reminds me of the raid on the Mexican droug lords house that was literally full of $100 bills. Both entities have enough maney to do anything they want.

BP has proven time and time again that they'd rather pay off their mistakes rather than take steps to prevent them. They have paid $485 million in fines in the U.S. alone in the past five years. BP paid $87.43 million to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in October 2009 -- the largest fine in OSHA's history -- for the Texas refinery explosion. They paid an additional $50 million to the Department of Justice for the same explosion. Last month, BP paid $3 million to OSHA for 42 safety violations at an Ohio refinery. The company was also fined $20 million by the Department of Justice for the Alaska Prudhoe Bay spill (pictured), which violated the Clean Water Act.

Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard notes that all this is pocket change compared to the company's $5.65 billion in profits in just the first quarter of this year, up 135 percent from last year. According to CNBC, while this increase in profit does have to do with an increase in oil prices, it is also due to the company's extensive cost-cutting.
3. Just last fall, BP fought off safety regulations, continuing with business as usual. In a September 14, 2009 letter to MMS, Richard Morrison, BP vice president for Gulf of Mexico production, fought against an MMS proposal that would require operators to have their safety program audited at least once every three years, instead of the voluntary system that is currently in place. Morrison wrote: "We are not supportive of the extensive, prescriptive regulations as proposed in this rule. ... [the voluntary programs] have been and continue to be very successful." MMS has estimated that the proposed rules would cost operators about $4.59 million in startup costs and $8 million in annual recurring costs.

A Wall Street Journal report also found that BP's oil well in the Gulf of Mexico did not have a remote-control shut-off switch that is used by two other oil-producing nations as a last-resort safeguard against underwater spills. The device is voluntary in the U.S., and while it is not clear whether it could have prevented the spill, it is another indicator of BP's lax safety measures and proclivity for convenience over caution.
4. BP filed a 52-page plan with the Minerals Management Service for the Deepwater Horizon well, outlining its explorations and environmental impact. The company concluded that it was unlikely, or virtually impossible, for an accident to occur from its activities that would lead to serious damage to beaches, fish, mammals and fisheries. According to an AP report, BP repeatedly stresses that it was "unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities." Though they concede that a spill would impact all the aforementioned areas, it argues that "due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected."
5. A ProPublica report last week chronicles BP's involvement in some of the biggest oil and gas disasters of the past five years due to their negligence. In 2005, an explosion at BP's Texas oil refinery left 15 workers dead and injured 170 others. The cause? BP had ignored its own safety regulations and left a warning system disabled. In 2006, 267,000 gallons of crude oil spread into Alaska' Prudhoe Bay due to a tiny hole in the company's pipeline. The company had been told to check the pipeline in 2002, but ignored the warning. The spill was not even discovered until five days after it occurred, and was the largest in the region's history.
6. BP's green logo and multimillion-dollar green rebranding are meant to fit in with the company's motto of going "beyond petroleum." But this has just distracted from years of a horrible environmental record. In 2007, a customer survey found that BP had the most environmentally-friendly image of any major oil company. But even back in 2006, their greenwashing game was apparent-- Guardian analysis found that their green campaign overemphasizes their investments in alternative forms of energy, when those investments are just a blip on their history of huge investments in and profits from fossil fuel energy. In the first quarter of 2010, they made $73 billion in revenue, $72.3 billion of that came from the exploration, production, refining and marketing of oil and natural gas. Only $700 million came from solar and wind energy.
Photovoltaic (PV) (solar pannel) manufacturing companies around the world have sold out thier production for the next several years, and are adding capacity as quickly as possible. BP solar by contrast shut down their the thin film PV plant they bought form Solarex in Williamsburg, VA, and is cutting back its planned production facility for high efficiency solar cells in Frederick, MD. BP is actually tearing down the new facility that was partially completed in Maryland. "Beyond petrolium" my ass.
7. BP's announcement that they're taking responsibility for the response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, not for the accident, sounds more like they're patting themselves on the back. BP CEO Tony Hayward said Monday they are dealing with the cleanup and compensation to those affected, and while they have been dealing with it, their initial efforts also highlight that they're ultimately looking out for themselves. The company offered settlements to coastal residents of no more than $5,000 if they give up their right to sue. This extends to out-of-work fisherman they've hired to help with the clean up. BP has since removed the language from the contract, once they were criticized for the move. They also initially attempted to downplay the seriousness of the the spill, saying the rig was leaking 1,000 barrels a day when in fact it was leaking five times as much.
Could the Federal government have acted quicker in response to the leak, probably, but BP was saying the leak was only 20% of what it was. How does BP compensate all those dead and dying creatures in the Gulf and the future generations that live with the long term environmental effects. They can't, but they made $5.65 billion in the first quarter of 2010.

BP cheapos create extravagant disaster

Methane hydrates basically form with water under high pressures like those found 1 mile down on the ocean floor. Given that crude oil is a mix of oil, produced water, methane gas and solids and that this new well is a first in getting its oil at least 1 mile down, the properties of black fire ice become critically important.

Systematic investigations of the properties of black ice only started in 2002 at DOE with token funding at $200,000 per year. According to an insider, BP was doing no research on the properties of these hydrates. BP has systematically reduced its R&D since the early 1990s starting with Hatchet John Brown and continuing with his predecessors.

We now know that that these hydrates blocked the dome but they may have caused the explosion on the rig itself. Certainly we know that methane was involved. Was it a gas leaking somehow and explosing or was it initiated by unstable black ice. On the surface on the platform at atmospheric pressure and temperature, fire ice would become unstable and be easily combustible.

Since this platform and well was a first in getting oil from under 1 mile high pressures, handling black fire ice safely may be critical. We better understand these methane hydrates before we allow more deep water drilling. As the lawyers say, "I didn't know" and lack of knowledge is no excuse.

For the DoE fire ice work see

Hydrate Formation and Dissociation via Depressurization

Last Reviewed 01/25/2010

The goal of this research is to characterize natural and simulated sediment samples, and to use these sediments as hosts to form methane hydrate and to investigate the kinetics of hydrate formation and dissociation. ....

Thursday, May 13, 2010

In Job Market Shift, Some Workers Are Left Behind


This abridged version shines the light on the America's economic policy holes.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Many of the jobs lost during the recession are not coming back. For the last two years, the weak economy has provided an opportunity for employers to do what they would have done anyway: dismiss millions of people — like file clerks, ticket agents and autoworkers — who were displaced by technological advances and international trade.
The phasing out of these positions might have been accomplished through less painful means like attrition, buyouts or more incremental layoffs. But because of the recession, winter came early.
The tough environment has been especially disorienting for older and more experienced workers like Cynthia Norton, 52, an unemployed administrative assistant in Jacksonville. “I know I’m good at this,” says Ms. Norton. “So how the hell did I end up here?” But since she was laid off from an insurance company two years ago, no one seems to need her well-honed office know-how.
Ms. Norton is one of 1.7 million Americans who were employed in clerical and administrative positions when the recession began, but were no longer working in that occupation by the end of last year. There have also been outsize job losses in other occupation categories that seem unlikely to be revived during the economic recovery. The number of printing machine operators, for example, was nearly halved from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009. The number of people employed as travel agents fell by 40 percent.
This “creative destruction” in the job market can benefit the economy. Pruning relatively less-efficient employees ….makes American businesses more efficient. Year over year, productivity growth was at its highest level in over 50 years last quarter, pushing corporate profits to record highs and helping the economy grow. But a huge group of people are being left out of the party.
Millions of workers who have already been unemployed for months, if not years, will most likely remain that way even as the overall job market continues to improve, economists say. The occupations they worked in, and the skills they currently possess, are never coming back in style. And the demand for new types of skills moves a lot more quickly than workers — especially older and less mobile workers — are able to retrain and gain those skills.
There is no easy policy solution for helping the people left behind. The usual unemployment measures — like jobless benefits and food stamps — can serve as temporary palliatives, but they cannot make workers’ skills relevant again.
Employers, Ms. Norton thinks, fear she will be disloyal and jump ship for a higher-paying job as soon as one comes along. Sometimes she blames the bad economy in Jacksonville. Sometimes she sees age discrimination. The problem cannot be that the occupation she has devoted her life to has been largely computerized, “You can’t replace the human thought process,” she says. “I can anticipate people’s needs. There will never be a machine that can do that.”
Offices, not just in Jacksonville but all over the country, have found that life without a secretary or filing clerk is actually pretty manageable. The office environment is more automated and digitized than ever. Bosses can handle their own calendars, travel arrangements and files through their own computers and ubiquitous BlackBerrys, so even when orders pick up, many of the newly de-clerked and un-secretaried may not recall their laid-off assistants. At the very least, any assistants they do hire will probably be younger people with different skills.
Economists have seen this type of structural change, which happens over the long term but is accelerated by a downturn, many times before. In recessions, employers clean house and then get ready for the next big move in the labor market. Economists argue that bigger structural job losses help explain why the last two economic recoveries were jobless — that is, why job expansion lagged far behind overall growth.
But there is reason to think restructuring may take a bigger toll this time around. The percentage of unemployed workers who were permanently let go has hovered at a record high of over 50 percent for several months. The unemployment numbers show a notable split in the labor pool, with most unemployed workers finding jobs after a relatively short period of time, but a sizable chunk of the labor force unable to find new work even after months or years of searching. This group — comprising generally older workers — has pulled up the average length of time that a current worker has been unemployed to a record high of 33 weeks as of April. The percentage of unemployed people who have been looking for jobs for more than six months is at 45.9 percent, the highest in at least six decades.
And so the question is what kinds of policy responses can help workers like Ms. Norton who are falling further and further behind in the economic recovery, and are at risk of falling out of the middle class.
Ms. Norton has spent most of the last two years working part time at Wal-Mart as a cashier, bringing home about a third of what she had earned as an administrative assistant. Ms. Norton says she cannot find any government programs to help her strengthen the “thin bootstraps”. Because of the Wal-Mart job, she has been ineligible for unemployment benefits, and she says she made too much money to qualify for food stamps or Medicaid last year. “If you’re not a minority, or not handicapped, or not a young parent, or not a veteran, or not in some other certain category, your hope of finding help and any hope of finding work out there is basically nil,” Ms. Norton says."
Some industries, others enjoy structural growth (the “creative” part of “creative destruction”). The key is to prepare the group of workers left behind for the growing industry. Jobs return for some of these people, but they won’t be in the same place. The White House has publicly challenged the idea that structural unemployment is a big problem, emphasizing that stronger economic growth is what’s needed. Still, the administration has allocated dollars for retraining in both the 2009 stimulus package and other legislation, largely for clean technology jobs.
Ms. Norton, fhas tried to retrain to a new career in the expanding health care industry via a $17,000 student loan, to obtain certification as a medical assistant to do front-office work, like billing, as well as back-office work, like giving injections and drawing blood. The school that trained her, though, neglected to inform her that local employers require at least a year’s worth of experience — generally done through volunteering at a clinic — before hiring someone for a paid job in the field. She says she cannot afford to spend a year volunteering, especially with her student loan coming due soon. She has one prospect for part-time administrative work in Los Angeles but she does not have the money to relocate. “Sometimes I think I’d be better off in jail,” she says, only half joking. “I’d have three meals a day and structure in my life. I’d be able to go to school. I’d have more opportunities if I were an inmate than I do here trying to be a contributing member of society.”

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill: The three causes of BP's oil disaster

Just as with Goldman Sachs and the Titanic, hubris, recklessness and arrogance made the Gulf spill happen By Joseph Romm This piece originally appeared at Climate Progress 5/10/10.

We now know with pretty high confidence the three main, interrelated, underlying causes of the BP’s oil disaster: Hubris, recklessness, and arrogance. So the metaphor is as much Goldman Sachs as that other great maritime disaster — the Titanic. And if BP turns out to be guilty of malfeasance, too — violating its federal permit — as the NYT suggested — then you’d have the Four Horseman of Oilpocalypse. Reporting over the weekend has also given us a pretty good idea of the proximate cause, which, as we’ll see, appears intimately tied to the underlying causes.
[NOTE: If you think I've missed anything really important post a comment.]
First, the arrogance is the entire industry’s relentlessly successful effort to achieve voluntary, ‘trust us’, self-regulation. That effort blocked mandates for better technology and better oversight that might well have prevented this disaster. I discuss that here, Dr. Beamish elaborates on it here, and the St. Petersburg Times provides yet more detail here: "It's becoming increasingly evident that self-regulation has not worked." Finally, on Friday, the WSJ, had a very good piece, “Oil Regulator Ceded Oversight to Drillers.”

That lack of oversight is a key reason, “the safety record of U.S. offshore drilling compares unfavorably, in terms of deaths and serious accidents, to other major oil-producing countries. Over the past five years, an offshore oil worker in the U.S. was more than four times as likely to be killed than a worker in European waters.” And blowouts are much more common in the Gulf than anywhere else.

Second, we have BP’s general recklessness. I detailed its spotty safety record here. What wasn’t clear until now, at least to me, was that BP was worse than the rest of Big Oil. But the NYT has an excellent piece, “BP Has a History of Blasts and Oil Spills,” which notes “BP continues to lag other oil companies when it comes to safety, according to federal officials and industry analysts.”
Indeed, OSHA says BP has “systemic safety” problems. BP tries to wave this off as all due to their previous CEO, but that is BS from BP: The current CEO, Hayward, became "Chief Executive of exploration and production in January 2003." He created whatever safety culture the explorers and producers have today.

Third, we have BP’s hubris (see Goldman Sachs of Big Oil? CEO Hayward says to fellow executives: "What the hell did we do to deserve this?"). It simply couldn’t imagine or envision this disaster (see “BP calls blowout disaster 'inconceivable,' 'unprecedented,' and unforeseeable“). Of course hubris leads to recklessness and arrogance — and poor planning. If BP or any other major had thought this type of disaster was conceivable, it would have pre-built and pre-positioned one of those 100-ton domes in the Gulf years ago, rather than waiting until after the disaster to build it. And it would also have put far more into prevention technology.
Here’s the clearest evidence of BP’s hubris. It has now come out that, when the rig blew, “BP executives were in the next room, celebrating the rig's safety record.”
But if BP actually knew the first thing about rig accidents, then it never would have had this celebration right after the cementing! A 2007 Minerals Management Service service report found “cementing problems were associated with 18 of 39 blowouts between 1992 and 2006″ as the Houston Chronicle reported two weeks ago:
At the time of the accident, crews were “cementing” or installing casing to secure the walls of the well….
Nearly all the blowouts examined occurred in the Gulf of Mexico.
“During the current period (1992 to 2006), the percentage of blowouts associated with cementing operations increased significantly from the previous period,” said the study
So who in their right mind would have a safety party for a rig right when you’re finishing the cementing process? This is Titanic-like hubris and recklessness combined.
The emerging details of the proximate cause underscore the importance of the underlying causes. CNN offered this damning but cryptic report

Thursday: Companies involved in the sinking of the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon made “some very major mistakes,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday after meeting with executives from the oil company BP. Salazar would not elaborate, telling reporters in Houston, Texas, that the cause remains under investigation. But he said the failure of the rig’s blowout preventer — a critical piece of equipment designed to shut off the flow of oil in an emergency — was “a huge malfunction” that has left oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
What were these “major mistakes”? Since Salazar won’t say, the best we have to go on is two amazing stories over the weekend. The first was a Saturday AP story, “Bubble of methane triggered rig blast“:

The deadly blowout of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding, according to interviews with rig workers conducted during BP’s internal investigation….

Portions of the interviews, two written and one taped, were described in detail to an Associated Press reporter by Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor who serves on a National Academy of Engineering panel on oil pipeline safety and worked for BP PLC as a risk assessment consultant during the 1990s. He received them from industry friends seeking his expert opinion.

A group of BP executives were on board the Deepwater Horizon rig celebrating the project’s safety record, according to the transcripts. Meanwhile, far below, the rig was being converted from an exploration well to a production well.Based on the interviews, Bea believes that the workers set and then tested a cement seal at the bottom of the well. Then they reduced the pressure in the drill column and attempted to set a second seal below the sea floor. A chemical reaction caused by the setting cement created heat and a gas bubble which destroyed the seal.
Prof. Bea went further in a Bloomberg Businessweek piece Saturday evening, “Methane Breached Faulty Seal, Caused Rig Blast, Professor Says.” Bea essentially accuses the companies involved of outright recklessness and negligence, driven by greed:
Bubbles of methane gas burst through a cement seal that was probably faulty, leading to the fatal explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, said a California professor who reviewed transcripts of interviews with blast witnesses.
Workers, who did basic pressure testing on the seal, didn't perform a second and more expensive test to ensure that BP Plc's Macondo well was properly plugged, said Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor.
Bea, who held engineering jobs at Royal Dutch Shell Plc in the 1960s and 1970s and later consulted for BP, said the seal was one of several breakdowns that contributed to the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The April 20 blast killed 11 workers and set off a leak that continues to spew an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf. The Deepwater Horizon, which London- based BP rented from Transocean Ltd., sank two days later.
The additional seal test would have taken more time, Bea said. He said Shell typically did that test during his years at The Hague-based company.
If this account is accurate, then it will be interesting to see which companies actually get blamed. Halliburton was doing the cementing, after all. But it would clearly be the overall hubris, recklessness, and arrogance of the industry that were the underlying reasons.
BP clearly had become a ruthless cost- and corner-cutter. Indeed, the UK’s Times Online ran a November 2009 story, with this amazing headline:
Tony Hayward makes his mark on BP. Ruthless cuts by the new boss have produced results in higher than expected profits More than 6,500 jobs have been eliminated and overheads have fallen by a third….Having already cut $3 billion from costs, he predicted that another $1 billion will be eliminated by the year end. Yes, BP has apparently slashed $4 billion in costs, ruthlessly. But that could never impact safety, could it? The story ends with yet another uber-ironic quote from Hayward: "My whole focus has been to recognise that at its heart we're an operating enterprise. The question is how do we create a BP that 10 years from now doesn't end up back in the ditch."
My suggestion: Fire Hayward.
Finally, we have one more strong allegation from a front-page NYT story last week that deserves mentioning again:
At least one worker who was on the oil rig at the time of the explosion on April 20, and who handled company records for BP, said the rig had been drilling deeper than 22,000 feet, even though the company's federal permit allowed it to go only 18,000 to 20,000 feet deep, the lawyers said.
Truthout goes further in a piece last week that quoted “Louisiana lawyer Daniel Becnel Jr.” who “represents oil workers on those platforms”:
Becnel tells me that one of the platform workers has informed him that the BP well was apparently deeper than the 18,000 feet depth reported. BP failed to communicate that additional depth to Halliburton crews, who, therefore, poured in too small a cement cap for the additional pressure caused by the extra depth. So, it blew.Why didn’t Halliburton check? “Gross negligence on everyone’s part,” said Becnel. Negligence driven by penny-pinching, bottom-line squeezing. BP says its worker is lying. Someone’s lying here, man on the platform or the company that has practiced prevarication from Alaska to Louisiana.
I think the full truth of the proximate causes probably will come out in this case — especially if we get an independent commission to investigate the BP disaster. But think we need an independent commission to tell us what the underlying causes are or who is to blame.

BP Oil Spill Disaster

1. Pre 1990 BP did have the in house engineering talent to design and plan for disasters like this. Starting about then, when a colleague was working with the head of BPX environmental on a high level Environmental Review of BPX operations, He can recall complaints by BP Exploration and Production engineers that everthing was being outsourced to firms like Halliburton etal to the point where performance specifications on such contracts had to be left to the contracting companies because in-house BPX talent was no longer there.... This is what happens when you let the finance types call the shots. 2. After Exxon Valdez, Congress passed legislation that limited oil company liability to chicken feed.. $75 million. Will be interested in how Obama will make BP pay for the cleanup.

Palin And The Religious Right: A Trojan Horse In The GOP

Posted By Liam Fox On May 9, 2010 @ 10:01 am

[1]Sarah Palin, the darling of the Tea Party and the face of Christian Conservative America, almost a heart-beat away from the Presidency of the United states in 2008 and a presidential hopeful for 2012, has once again shown us just how dangerous and destructive Fundamentalist Conservative Christian Evangelicals can be. Palin appeared on “The O’Rielly Factor [2]” to discuss the Federal Court ruling that the National Day of Prayer is unconstitutional. In addition to endorsing the governments involvement in religion and promotion of a religious ritual, Palin expounded on her earlier claims that America is a Christian Nation [3] by claiming that the Founders intended for our laws to be based on the bible and the ten commandments.
SARAH PALIN: “I have said all along that America is based on Judeo-Christian beliefs and, you know, nobody has to believe me though. You can just go to our Founding Fathers’ early documents and see how they crafted a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution that allows that Judeo-Christian belief to be the foundation of our lives. And our Constitution, of course, essentially acknowledging that our unalienable rights don’t come from man; they come from God. So this document is set up to protect us from a government that would ever infringe upon our rights to have freedom of religion and to be able to express our faith freely.”
The reality is that there are no references to Christianity or Jesus in the Declaration of independence or the Constitution. There are a few references to a ‘Nature’s God,’ but certainly not to any religious figures or deities of either the Christian or the Jewish persuasion. The principle misunderstanding of Mrs. Palin’s, is that her interpretation of “our rights to have freedom of religion” translates in her mind to ‘ the right of Christians to impose their beliefs and practices on American law, politics, society and education.’
[5]There is at least as much well documented doubt and even disdain for Christianity among some of the framers as there is acceptance by others. This was not a strictly homogeneous group of men. They were as individual and different from each other as any such group of men would be today. They recognized their individuality and desired to preserve their freedom of expression. It was for this reason that they were so careful when ensuring the protection of those rights by establishing the separation of church and state.
The only reference to anything that may be misconstrued as a profession of Christianity might be the date. The “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of ‘our Lord’ one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven” is the sentence in the last section of the fourth and final page of the Constitution and was the common way of marking the date according to the Gregorian calendar. ‘In the year of our Lord’ translated to Latin is ‘Anno Domini’ which is abbreviated as the familiar ‘A.D.’ and is still used by countries who have not adopted the BCE (Before Common Era)-CE (Common Era) method of recording the year. It is merely a tradition and holds no religious significance.
Another factor worth considering is that in order to justify their defiance of the King’s authority, the founding fathers, out of political expediency, had to invoke a higher authority that even the King could not dismiss, and make the case that they were endowed with that higher power’s blessing. This mention of a higher power was clearly not intended to imply a Christian power.
[6]The laws of the United States are based on English common law, not the Bible. The principles of American law are traced through this provenance back to Roman law, not Hebrew. It was the non-Christian Romans who introduced civil law, trials by jury, and the concept of innocent until proven guilty. These principles are found nowhere in the Bible. The purpose of a written law was to protect people from the potentially abusive power of the state or a majority, not to define a god’s rules and religious prescriptions for his subjects. Where these principles are clearly evident in the Constitution and the development of American law, they are clearly absent and often contradicted in the Christian Bible and Decalogue.
[7]Simply because some of the principles of American law seem similar to some of the principles one might find in the Christian bible, does not mean that those laws were based on the Christian bible. Such an assertion could be made with equal credibility by many other world religions. Similar incidental commonalities may be discovered in the Islamic Qur’an, the Jewish Talmud, and many other religious texts. Many of these principles in American law predate Hebrew text, going back as far as The Code of Hammurabi [8]. To contend that the American Constitution, Declaration of Independence, and legal code, are all based on Judeo-Christian theology is simply, and blatantly, erroneous.
The first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” Clearly the founders did not intended for our laws to be based on the bible. Additionally, in 1797, in Article 11 of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, signed at Tripoli [9], President John Adams proclaimed that “the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,”
[10]It was not until the 1950’s, almost 200 years after the founding of the country, and during the frenetic ‘Red Scare’ days of McCarthyism, that Christian Fundamentalists were able to infuse their doctrine into the politics of a frightened and bewildered nation. It was during this time of fear-mongering about communist insurgents (like the fear-mongering about terrorists, socialists, communists etc. today), and of ideological purity tests (like the litmus tests we see among the Tea Party and conservatives today), that the people of the country were coerced into proving their anti-communist and pro-American fidelity by accepting these seemingly benign and ostensibly unifying proclamations.
[11]Ronald Reagan’s 1988 Proclamation #5767 [12], institutionalizing the 1952 McCarthy Era act of congress, was specific in its religious bias, including a quote from the book of Leviticus in the Christian Bible. This deliberately narrow focus within a pluralistic society reflects the exclusivity of the governments endorsement of a religious ritual to the exclusion of all other religions, belief systems and world views. Therefore, under the First Amendment, as ruled by Wisconsin Senior U.S. District Judge Crabb, the National Day of Prayer contravenes the Constitution.
[13]On Thursday, April 15, 2010, Judge Barbara B. Crabb ruled that the National Day of Prayer Proclamation is unconstitutional. Judge Crabb explained her decision [14] by stating that “…[the National Day of Prayer's] goes beyond mere ‘acknowledgement’ of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context.” She continued, “In fact, it is because the nature of prayer is so personal and can have such a powerful effect on a community that the government may not use its authority to try to influence an individual’s decision whether and when to pray.”
The irrational knee-jerk reaction from Christian fundamentalist evangelicals reflects a gross misinterpretation of the Constitution in general and the First Amendment in specific, and further demonstrates the continued efforts of Christian fundamentalist evangelicals to reject and subvert principles of equality. This ruling does absolutely nothing to limit any persons religious freedoms. The ruling clearly echoes the First Amendment when it states that there is to be no government sponsorship or endorsement of this particular religious ritual. The Judges ruling does not ban prayer. The judges ruling does not say that Christians are not allowed to pray on that day, or any other. The Judges ruling does not say that every Christians in America cannot agree to pray in concert on that day. The ruling simply removes the unconstitutionally preferred status of one religion over others by official government proclamation in order to protect the equal freedoms and liberties of all.
[15]There have been a total of 59 National Days of Prayer Proclaimed by a President since Truman instituted the practice in 1952, which Reagan institutionalized in 1988 by designating the first Thursday of every May. However, if you listen to the revisionist history from the Religious Right, and rhetoric from personalities such as Palin, Beck, Hannity, and O’Reilly among others, people would be led to believe that we’ve had 234 of them dating all the way back to 1776.
[16]What we are dealing with is propaganda originating from the previously large and coveted voting block of Christian Fundamentalists, endorsed and exploited out of political necessity by the Republican Party and the Tea Party. That America was founded as, and remains, a Christian nation based on Biblical principles is an assertion that is in no way supported by the facts.
With failing numbers, damaged credibility, waning political influence and the lack of any platform, conservatives have left a vacuum in their own party to be exploited. The voice of conservative Independents, Republicans and Libertarians has been stolen. Political ideology has been infused with fundamentalist religious theology with the hope of garnering additional votes. The result has been internal division, further loss of credibility, and the abdication of responsible political discourse. The productive and necessary views and desires of non-religious libertarians and conservatives have been silenced in favour of the media friendly, accidentally-comic hyperbole of the entertainingly ridiculous rhetoric of Palin, Beck, et al.
Political Parties pandering for votes is a reality of the political process, but to allow a platform to be usurped by delusional religious fundamentalists with a counter-constitutional agenda is a threat to freedom, the Constitution and the rights of all Americans.
The crusade of the religious right is a problem for all Americans but is currently a bigger problem for, and perhaps more readily dealt with by, American conservatives. Rather than allow this element to purge the Republican Party, causing [17]further damage, the nonsectarian members of the G.O.P. need to re-establish a coherent and articulated platform, re-engage in a meaningful and productive political dialog representing all its constituents, and endeavor to earn votes based on merit rather than enter into dysfunctional marriages of convenience. Rather than trying to distance itself from the increasing number of embarrassing statements while simultaneously trying to capitalizing on ever-shrinking, pop-culture, fund-raising appeal and voter turn-out, perhaps the G.O.P. needs to conduct a purge of its own.(Remember, the republican party chose her as vice-president. The republican decision makers must be dumb as a moose too.)--

Monday, May 03, 2010

Can we for once try not sending in the clowns?

There's more to concern about excessive immigration than dumping on energetic people trying to make a better life for themselves, or on the ones who were induced to come here and change their lives by lax enforcement of the law so Republican donors could have the cheapest possible sources of labor. The longer liberals fail to recognize that wage levels matter and that not every would-be Democratic Party supporter is a racist – remember, Cesar Chavez was no fan of uncontrolled immigration threatening the well-being of the migrant workers he fought so hard for -- the longer Republicans will be able to get away with exploiting the issue while actually making it worse.

The answer is not silly war games in Texas, Arizona and California and rounding up millions and shipping them back – actually, threatening to do so into perpetuity with winks at the money people who love the cheap labor – but (1) reasonable law enforcement at the border (without the Fortress America waste), (2) strong enforcement against the real culprits, the employers who hire illegal immigrants, and (3) some way to deal responsibly and decently with the millions who were tricked into coming here over the last 20 years and have changed their lives. Once again, it's time for the adults to step up. Neither those who have no concern with depressed wages or the xenophobic yahoos are acting like adults.