Monday, July 19, 2010

BP's oil catastrophe: the (poisonous) gift that keeps on giving

Nothing quite like the smell of benzine first thing in the morning!

"Gift" is one of those rare German words that is both spelled and pronounced just like it is in English. Only in German, it means "poison". In that sense, BP's disaster really is the Gift that keeps on giving.

Bill Sasser points to the air pollution risk from BP oil-disaster response inGulf oil spill: Fouling air as well as water? 07/18/2010:

Last week, the EPA said that residents of two hard hit coastal communities in Louisiana – Grand Isle and Venice – face a “moderate health risk” due to hydrocarbon fumes. In Terrebonne Parish, residents of the town of Cocodrie and the surrounding area are also reporting strong odors of petroleum.

For months since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well blew, residents along the Gulf Coast, including many in New Orleans and other metro regions miles away from the shore, have said they smell fumes from the oil spill. Some have reported symptoms ranging from red eyes and runny noses to sinus infections and flu-like symptoms.
Sometimes stating the bare facts can be grimmer than scare talk:

Anna Hrybyk of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade said the environmental group is analyzing data on benzene levels in Louisiana 20 times above normal. In another finding, air samples taken in mid-May outside the organization’s office near downtown New Orleans showed elevated levels of hexane and heptane, neurotoxins found in petroleum. [Editor's note: The original paragraph has been changed to accurately describe the work of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.]

"The levels were similar to what you would be exposed to pumping gas at a gas station – not high enough for a public health agency to issue a warning, but it does effect quality of life," said Ms. Hrybyk.
In other words, the smell at your house might not make you sick, it just makes your home smell like a gas station. Heckuva job, BP!


I'm not familiar with the work of Lewis Seiler and Dan Hamburg, both of the Voice of the Environment organization. But at least some of the questions they pose in Pandora's Box in the Gulf: Does Hope Remain? CommonDreams.org 07/18/2010 look to me well worth exploring. For instance:

3. Why aren't the perpetrators of this disaster being charged for negligence, manslaughter, or worse? Whistleblowers pointed out before the explosion that the last several hundred feet of the well borehole lacked protective cement casing, a dangerous situation that increased the chances for an explosive event to occur. Just five hours before the rig went up in flames, an expert who'd worked with the US Army extinguishing oil fires in Iraq was flown to the rig for consultation. He informed BP that if they continued to pump saltwater into the hole it would blow. He then demanded immediate evacuation for himself and his men. The Transocean Corporation, whose blowout preventer failed to operate on April 20, advised BP to stop drilling after receiving negative pressure test results. Despite these warnings BP did nothing, allowing eleven men to die, and inflicting incalculable damage on the lives of Gulf coast residents, the environment and economy that will take decades, if not centuries to recover. ...

6. Why did Halliburton Corporation buy the world's largest oil disaster service company, Boots & Coots, just two weeks before the Deepwater Horizon exploded?
Halliburton doesn't want to lose out on either its oil services business or oil disaster business. By Ernest Scheyder and Braden Reddall report for Reuters in Halliburton profit beats forecasts 07/19/2010 that the company is worried about the prospect of new restrictions of deepwater drilling:

Strong U.S. onshore drilling helped oilfield services company Halliburton Co (HAL.N) report a better-than-expected 83 percent jump in quarterly profit, and its shares jumped 3.6 percent.

Halliburton expects land-drilling growth to offset the impact of a U.S. deepwater drilling ban that followed a disastrous blow-out at a BP Plc (BP.L) well in the Gulf of Mexico on which Halliburton did the cement work.

The world's second-largest oilfield services company plans to maintain its overall infrastructure in the Gulf in expectation of activity picking up again, though it is moving some equipment and staff out of the region for now.
That could mean their shareholders might have to settle for less than 83% profit increases for a quarter or two. That would be a real tragedy:

Halliburton expects the six-month deepwater moratorium to trim 2010 earnings per share by 5 to 8 cents per quarter. Analysts had been expecting a profit of $1.44 per share this year, up from $1.27 in 2009, though many now expect estimates to rise due to the unexpectedly strong North American performance.
Luckily for them, they hope to minimize their financial liability for their role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster:

Halliburton, based in Houston and Dubai, said the Gulf of Mexico disaster and the subsequent deepwater suspension would usher in a new regulatory climate and have a profound impact on how deepwater drilling is performed.

But it repeated that it is indemnified under its contract with BP, so long as BP is able to shoulder the cost. [my emphasis]
Some press reports today are no longer putting the conflict between BP and the Coast Guard over whether to keep the well simply capped off for now "between the lines." E.g, Mark Seibel, BP told it can keep well sealed after scare over possible leaks McClatchy Newspapers 07/19/2010:

[Coast Guard head] Allen's statement was his third in 24 hours that indicated tension between government officials and BP over the containment cap test. On Sunday, just a few hours after Dudley had told reporters BP would like to keep the containment cap sealed indefinitely, Allen issued a pointed statement saying that there was no agreement to do that. He followed that with the letter to Dudley in which Allen demanded that BP inform him within four hours if any new leak is discovered and provide a written explanation of its intentions for the containment cap. [my emphasis]
Part of what BP may be doing in their negotiating and PR strategy is to put the Coast Guard in the position of ordering the cap reopened in hopes of deferring onto the Coast Guard some of the blame for the resumption of the oil geyser's flow into the Gulf.

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