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June 10, 2010

Why it's Bee Pee not British Petroleum?

The Canadian Charger

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For the last 50 days why profit-driven Western media has been referring to the oil company responsible for committing serious crimes as Bee Pee, but never as British Petroleum?

On April 20, British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. The resultant oil spill, now the size of the state of Connecticut, is spreading along the coast of Louisiana and on to coastal Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.

Efforts to stop the flow of oil have so far been unsuccessful, and the next effort can only be made after a couple months’ preparation.

In the meantime, wetlands, fish, turtles, birds and other fauna are endangered, and fumes from the spill and the dispersant sprayed on it are also causing respiratory and skin problems.

The immediate cause of the explosion may have been a methane gas bubble, but beyond the methane there are other factors.

At one level we have the American thirst for energy, which to a large extent has been quenched by oil.

The U.S. uses 21 million barrels a day but produces only six. The cry from the political right is “Drill, Baby, Drill!” That cry is somewhat muted now.

Another factor is the lack of oversight.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service gave BP a “categorical exclusion” from the provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act.

This exemption was given in spite of BP’s history of violations in its Gulf of Mexico drilling, and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) finding that BP has “a systematic safety problem.”

A staffer from one congressman’s office said that the number of violations by BP on the outer continental shelf was not unusual for major oil companies, yet The New York Times reported that BP has a poorer safety record than other oil companies.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, BP was fined $555,000 from 2001 to 2007.

This leads to the question of whether we can expect more of the same from other companies, but let’s get more specific.

University of California engineering professor Robert Bea charges that important testing to ensure that the well was properly plugged was not done.

This bit of nonfeasance was apparently a cost-cutting measure. One surviving worker from the rig explosion reports that drilling exceeded 22,000 feet, whereas the federal permit did not allow drilling below 20,000 feet.

Daniel Becnel, a lawyer representing surviving rig workers, charges that BP failed to notify Halliburton, which was pouring the cement cap, that they were down below 18,000 feet.

As a result, Halliburton did not pour enough cement on to allow for the additional water pressure.

BP also ordered Halliburton and Transocean, the other company involved, to remove drilling mud, which also lessened the holding pressure. A lawyer for fishermen charges that BP also skimped by not installing a deep-water valve.

It is tempting to use this disaster to argue for reducing our dependence on oil for energy, but that require a basic change of lifestyle, something that is very difficult to imagine.

Nuclear energy has a host of problems, and renewable energies are expensive, and require a good deal more research and development to make them a viable alternative.

Thus, we are likely to have oil in our future for some time, so what can we do to prevent further disasters?

A key element is regulation. Mary Kendall, acting inspector general of the Department of the Interior, found a culture of closeness between personnel of the Minerals Management Service and the industry, including movement from the service to positions with oil companies.

Receiving gifts from the corporations regulated by the Service is common. With such loose oversight and self-regulation, the United States has a system in which the foxes guard the hen house.

Don’t think that this kind of scenario can’t be repeated here.

What could happen in the Beaufort Sea and off Newfoundland and Nova Scotia?

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M. Elmasry

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