Monday, July 12, 2010

Gulf Oil Disaster--Who's Responsible? [last edit 7/23/10]

In This Edition:

- Gulf Oil Disaster Commentary
- Ralph Nader On BP, Regulation, and the Obma Administration
- Pictures Of The BP Disaster
- John Hiatt: "Have a little Faith In Me" Music Video

It is a given that when a major disaster or crime occurs, that folks will be looking for a culprit, an entity, in most cases either an individual, a corporation, or an institution, to take full blame and the wrath of those who feel harmed or threatened.

In the case of British Petroleum's (aka, Beyond Petroleum or BP) catastrophic error while drilling for one of our addictive substances, oil, to serve our and the world's consumption, the current focus of culprit-seeking attention is the company ultimately in charge of the drilling operation--British Petroleum. It seems to me though, that the responsibility for creating the craving and the frantic risk-taking quest for finding the precious oil to fuel a society based on extravagant waste, goes well beyond BP.

BP was, and still is, working in a world environment of not just rampant corporate profiteering and corrupt government oversight, but one that recklessly demands oil to feed its addiction--an environment that was apparently willing to demand that oil at any cost. This addiction is most conspicuous right here at home in America.

While some of us were heeding the warnings of the first Earth Day (what supreme irony that the Gulf BP blowout occurred on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day), just over 40 years ago, along with the Club of Rome report's charts of increasing population and pollution in the face of declining resources such as oil (not to mention several decades of World Watch reports), corporations (including automobile manufacturers and the corporate mainstream media), most politicians (except, notably, President Carter), and many Americans, ignored them in favor of their own self-centered desires. Many were sucked into the illusion of limitless oil reserves to nourish ideas of inconsequential extravagance. Conservation of energy and increased fuel efficiency, even though already achievable in the '70's and 80's of the last century, were laughed at, and many folks decided, as promoted by automobile manufacturers, to purchase inefficient, status giving, and allegedly safety providing SUV's and tank-like trucks for basic transportation. For the price of two or three Honda Civic hatchbacks or, three or more Geo Metros, they opted for the oversized gas guzzlers to get them to the store and back. My, they do look impressive behind the wheel of the glittering monstrosities and symbols of conspicuous consumption.

I guess the point is that as we abdicated our responsibility to understand readily knowable resource constraints and our responsibility to restrain corporate greed while we pursued the "good life" without resource limits. We also aided, abetted, and enabled politicians and corporations to do what we see happening to our planet today.

Returning to the most recent glaring example, the BP/Gulf of Mexico oil leak disaster, it is worth remembering a popular animosity towards the dreaded "environmental impact statement" (EIS). People who have backed themselves into a corner when it comes to the consumption of declining resources, whether it be oil, timber, water, steelhead habitat, or what ever, have an economically motivated need to eliminate obstacles to their demand for the dwindling (often publicly held) resource they seek. The Environmental Impact Statement is such an obstacle.

One of our greatest environmental Presidents (please sit yourself down)--yes, forgive me once again, can't give conservatives any credit now, can we?-- Richard Nixon, (known for some other serious lapses in ethical judgement) passed what may be the most sweeping set of laws to protect our environment of any of our Presidents. The laws he signed have presented many of the obstacles to the demand for our dwindling resource base and which also protected us to some extent from pollution and from the decimation of our biotic heritage. In his term in office, he signed off on the National Environmental Pollicy Act (NEPA) and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Ocean Dumping Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Federal Insecticide, Fungide, Rodenticide Act; the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

One of the acts in question, the National Environmental Pollicy Act (NEPA), required government agencies to address potential environmental impacts to any agency or governmentally proposed action (often submitted by users or extractors of resources on public or publicly controlled lands), such as drilling into the ocean floor a mile or so below the ocean surface.

The government is supposed to determine whether the potential impacts fall into one of four categories, each involving increasing risk to the environment. These include (see Wiki):

- CE (Categorical Exclusion): "The agency . . . found no significant impact on the environment based on the analyses"

- EA (Environmental Assessment): "An EA is a screening document used to determine if an agency will need to prepare either an EIS or construct a FONSI."

- FONSI (Finding Of No Significant Impact): "A FONSI presents the reasons why an action will not have a significant effect on the human environment. It must include the EA or summary of the EA that supports the FONSI determination."

- EIS (Environmental Impact Statement): An EIS is required when it is determined that a federal action may have a significant effect on the environment.
"An EIS is required to describe:
• The environmental impacts of the proposed action
• Any adverse environmental impacts that cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented
• The reasonable alternatives to the proposed action
• The relationship between local short-term uses of man’s environment and the maintenance and enhancement of long-term productivity
• Any irreversible and irretrievable commitments of resources that would be involved in the proposed action should it be implemented."

These provisions are for the purpose of protecting our environment from the consequences of inadequately thought-out proposals (Like: Hey! What the hell are we going to do if this happens?!) and depend on government agency personnel or the courts (in the event of legal challenges) to make appropriate decisions in that regard.

Richard Nixon, at least a partially true conservative in the environmental sense of the word, chose to sign into law all of the bills previously mentioned, including NEPA. Those economically dependent on the extraction of dwindling resources, for several decades now, have fought environmentalists tooth and nail at every opportunity to evade the requirements of NEPA, whether it be approved grazing or predator control, industrial and residential development, timber extraction, control over road building and use, or whatever.

As they did in this case, the environmentalists have quite often sought redress in the courts to protect the environment through NEPA requirements. The point is that the battle between environmentalists and those seeking to trash what is left of the planet, and its biotic heritage, for personal gain, has often centered on the question of the environmental impacts associated with the approval of proposed agency actions, such as drilling for oil in dangerous deep water circumstances.

So, given the risks inherent in drilling a mile or so below the surface of the ocean, which category did the Obama administration choose in their evaluation of impacts? Well, much like the previous Bush administration (who allowed the leases in the first place) would have done, they chose the alternative that asked no questions--the Categorical Exclusion.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity:

"Within days of the 2009 approval, the Center and our allies won a court order vacating the Bush Five-Year Offshore Drilling Plan. Rather than use the court order as a timeout on new offshore oil drilling to develop a new plan, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar filed a special motion with the court to exempt approved oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. He specifically identified BP’s operation as one that should be released from the vacature.

In July 2009, the court agreed to Salazar’s request, releasing all approved offshore oil drilling — including the BP operation — from the vacature."

Here is the original press release about the situation by the Center for Biological Diversity:

For Immediate Release, May 5, 2010

Contact: Kierán Suckling, (520) 275-5960

Interior Department Exempted BP Drilling From Environmental Review:

In Rush to Expand Offshore Oil Drilling, Interior Secretary Salazar Abandoned Pledge to Reform
Industry-dominated Mineral Management Service

TUCSON, Ariz.— Ken Salazar’s first pledge as secretary of the interior was to reform the scandal plagued Mineral Management Service (MMS), which had been found by the U.S. inspector general to have traded sex, drugs, and financial favors with oil-company executives. In a January 29, 2009 press release on the scandal, Salazar stated:

“President Obama's and my goal is to restore the public's trust, to enact meaningful reform…to uphold the law, and to ensure that all of us -- career public servants and political appointees -- do our jobs with the highest level of integrity."

Yet just three months later, Secretary Salazar allowed the MMS to approve — with no environmental review — the BP drilling operation that exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and pouring millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster will soon be, if it is not already, the worst oil spill in American history.

BP submitted its drilling plan to the MMS on March 10, 2009. Rather than subject the plan to a detailed environmental review before approving it as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, the agency declared the plan to be “categorically excluded” from environmental analysis because it posed virtually no chance of harming the environment. As BP itself pointed out in its April 9, 2010, letter to the Council on Environmental Quality, categorical exclusions are only to be used when a project will have “minimal or nonexistent” environmental impacts.

MMS issued its one-page approval letter to BP on April 6, 2009.

“Secretary Salazar has utterly failed to reform the Mineral Management Service,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of protecting the public interest by conducting environmental reviews, his agency rubber stamped BP’s drilling plan, just as it does hundreds of others every year in the Gulf of Mexico. The Minerals Management Service has gotten worse, not better, under Salazar’s watch.”

As a senator, Salazar sponsored the “Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006,” which opened up large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil drilling and criticized the MMS for not issuing enough offshore oil leases. As interior secretary, he has pushed the agency to speed offshore oil drilling and was the architect of the White House’s March, 2010, proposal to expand offshore oil drilling in Alaska, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Coast from Maryland to Florida.

After meeting with Gulf oil executives early this week, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) told the Washington Post: “I’m of the opinion that boosterism breeds complacency and complacency breeds disaster. That, in my opinion, is what happened.” The boosterism started at the top, with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Excerpts from the BP drilling plan that was categorically excluded from environmental review by the Department of the Interior:

“2.7 Blowout Scenario - A scenario for a potential blowout of the well from which BP would expect to have the highest volume of liquid hydrocarbons is not required for the operations proposed in this EP.”

“14.5 Alternatives - No alternatives to the proposed activities were considered to reduce environmental impacts.”

“14.6 Mitigation Measures - No mitigation measures other than those required by regulation and BP policy will be employed to avoid, diminish or eliminate potential impacts on environmental resources.”

“14.7 Consultation - No agencies or persons were consulted regarding potential impacts associated with the proposed activities.”

“14.3 Impacts on Proposed Activities - The site-specific environmental conditions have been taken into account for the proposed activities and no impacts are expected as a result of these conditions.”

“ Wetlands - An accidental oil spill from the proposed activities could cause impacts to wetlands. However, due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected.” (p. 45)

“ Essential Fish Habitat - …In the event of an unanticipated blowout resulting in an oil spill, it is unlikely to have an impact based on the industry wide standards for using proven equipment and technology for such responses, implementation of BP's Regional Oil Spill Response Plan which address available equipment and removal of the oil spill.”

Visit the Center’s new Gulf Disaster website for more details:

Many people in the environmental community opposed Obama's appointment of Salazar due to his past record, and raised questions about Obama's faithfulness to environmental values. Their view has been substantiated by several actions emanating from political appointees to federal agencies, including, most notably, Ken Salazar.

If the Gulf Oil Disaster requires anything from us, it requires that we see and appreciate the wisdom of the requirements set forth in the National Environmental Policy Act and other acts, which were signed by perhaps the last true conservative to grace the "Oval Office." We also need to address our infatuation with ever increasing population growth and our addiction to consumption, most importantly, our addiction to abundant energy supplies in an era of "peak oil."

Of course, we need to consider renewable energy. Renewables alone will not save us, but they may be able to produce 50% of our future energy needs.

From "Renewable Energy: Current and Potential Issues:"
“This assessment of renewable energy technologies confirms that these techniques have the potential to provide the nation with alternatives to meet approximately half of future US energy needs. To develop this potential, the United States would have to commit to the development and implementation of non–fossil fuel technologies and energy conservation. The implementation of renewable energy technologies would reduce many of the current environmental problems associated with fossil fuel production and use.” [the article was written in 2002, so some figures cited have increased. For example, the US now has 308 million plus people and it is climbing without restraint, primarily due to immigration. Chris]

[See: Renewable Energy: Current and Potential Issues ]

We also need to heed the words of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote:

"Who will govern the governors?" There is only one force in the nation that can be depended upon to keep the government pure and the governors honest, and that is the people themselves. They alone, if well informed, are capable of preventing the corruption of power, and of restoring the nation to its rightful course if it should go astray. They alone are the safest depository of the ultimate powers of government. "

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." (as cited in Padover, 1939, p. 89)

". . . whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right." (as cited in Padover, 1939, p. 88)


Ralph Nader On BP, Regulation, and the Obma Administration

See Also:

Public Citizen

Planning for Disaster
When the Executive Branch does not have worst case scenario planning for each kind of energy source—oil, gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar and efficiency—the people are not protected.

Enter the 24/7 oil gusher-leak by BP and Transocean – the rig operator – and the impotence of the federal government to do anything but wait and see if BP can find ways to close off the biggest and growing oil leak in American history. Where is the emergency planning or industry knowhow?

Of course, we all saw Barack Obama’s first full press conference in ten months where he said, “In case you were wondering who’s responsible? I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure everything is done to shut this down…The federal government is fully engaged, and I’m fully engaged. Personally, I’m briefed every day. And I probably had more meetings on this issue than just about any issue since we did our Afghan review.”

Sure, so he’s being kept informed. Those are not the words of leadership five weeks after the preventable blowout on the Deepwater Horizon 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. His problem is how long it took for the White House to see this as a national disaster not just a corporate disaster for BP to contain.

That default was not just failing to determine the size of the spill (over ten times greater than BP originally estimated) or the farcical non-regulation, under Republicans and Democrats, by the Minerals Management Service of the Interior Department. It was a failure to realize that our government has no capability, no technology to take control of such disasters or even to find out whether solutions exist elsewhere in the oil and geologic industries. It’s like a spreading fire where the perpetrator of the fire has the primary responsibility to put the fire out because there Is no properly equipped public fire department.

James Carville, an Obama loyalist and defender, called out his champion from new Orleans, where he now lives, and told him: “Man, you got to get down here and take control of this!” With what? Obama has a 16 month long record of turning his back on advice from the Cajuns of Louisiana to environmental groups in Washington, DC. He shook off warnings about the pathetic federal regulators, so called, cushy with the oil industry. During his campaigns, he allowed McCain’s “drill, baby, drill” to turn him more overtly toward favoring offshore drilling, instead of turning onto offshore windpower.

As the multi-directional and multi-depth oil swarm keeps encircling the Gulf of Mexico, strangling the livelihood of its people, the life of its flora and fauna, with its implacably deadly effect, Obama and his supposedly street smart advisors, led by Rahm Emanuel, started out with a political blunder.

Presidential specialist, Professor Paul Light at New York University put his finger on it when he said: “The White House made a deliberate political calculation to stand off…to sort of distance themselves from BP, and they’ve been hammered on that.”

Early on, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told him that the federal government does not possess superior technology to BP. And BP CEO Tony Hayward admitted that BP was not prepared for such a blowout. He said “What is undoubtedly true is that we did not have the tools you would want in your tool kit.” Gates really meant that Uncle Sam had nothing superior to nothing or, in less charitable words, was completely out to lunch with the chronic deregulators who still infect our national government.

Obama’s cool is turning cold. He is not reacting fast enough to the public rage that is building up and over-riding his vacuous statements about taking responsibility and being briefed daily. Much of this public rage, incidentally, is coming from the southern Gulf rim, whose elected politicians consistently opposed any regulation of their campaign contributing oil companies in order to avert just these kinds of disasters. Only Florida’s Congressional delegation said—stay out of Florida’s waters.

Politico reported that “Obama skipped the memorial service for the 11 workers killed on the rig earlier this week, instead flying to California, where he collected $1.7 million for Democrats and toured a solar panel plant. On the day that the significant clots of oil started appearing on the Louisiana coast, Obama was sitting down for an interview to talk hoops with TNT’s Marv Albert.”

He must move to properly sequester all the assets of BP and Transocean to fully pay for their damage, thus assuring Americans that BP will not be able to concoct another Exxon/Valdez escape strategy. He must scour the world of knowledge and experience regarding capping underseas oil blowouts, and not just wait week after week for BP to come up with something.

Nobody says that being president is an easy job, even in the best of times. But a President, who can go all out spending hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan in ways that bleed the taxpayers and breed more anti-American fighters, in part to protect Big Oil in the Middle East, better come back home and stop Big Oil’s war here in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s how he’d better start defining “homeland security.” (See for more on BP.)

See Also: Pictures Of The Devastating Consequences Of The BP Disaster


Should it be a Felony to Cover the Oil Spill?

Unrelated Music Video

John Hiatt--"Have a Little Faith in Me"

Watch on YouTube: "Have a Little Faith in Me"

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