The safety records of oil giant BP and the government agency charged with overseeing offshore drilling drew sharp criticism at a Wednesday morning House hearing on the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
“Many of the elements of this tragedy are familiar to the committee,” said Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. With BP America President Lamar McKay sitting in front of the panel, Oberstar assailed BP’s “sorry record” on safety, adding that the well blowout 48 miles off the Louisiana coast was the latest in a spate of BP safety lapses.
Those include a deadly refinery blast in Texas and “the worst spill in the history of oil development on Alaska’s north slope,” incidents that have “cast doubt on whether the company has the commitment to the practice and the culture of safety necessary to protect the public,” Oberstar said.
Almost a month has passed since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 people, Oberstar noted. “BP has harnessed impressive scientific and technological experience to drill at great depths in the sea, and you have to wonder why they hadn’t harnessed similar science and technology to anticipate failure, to install redundancy to prevent failure, and practices to clean up after an oil spill.”
A ruptured riser pipe once connecting the well to the drill rig is gushing an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil per day, although some scientists believe the amount to be orders of magnitude higher. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at a hearing Tuesday that a siphon pipe BP has inserted into the riser is drawing off as much as 40% of the oil.
While I sincerely doubt those numbers are accurate, because EVERYTHING they seem to have said about this whole incident to date has proven to be a load of bullshit, I really hope they are correct in their assessment.
But interestingly, somehow in the last few days, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has become Obama’s Katrina. Um…look, I’m as pro-pelican as the next guy, and obviously I don’t mean to gainsay the scope of this environmental catastrophe, which will end up being staggering.
But Katrina killed about 1,500 humans. And no, it’s not George Bush’s personal fault that they died, either. But I still rate Katrina a far bigger tragedy for that reason.
And now it turns out, according to an environmental lawyer whose interview on Ed Schultz last week is getting a lot of circulation, that this leak may well be traceable in part to…Dick Cheney.
How? It’s hardly as far-fetched as it sounds. From the Wall Street Journal:
The oil well spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico didn’t have a remote-control shut-off switch used in two other major oil-producing nations as last-resort protection against underwater spills.
The lack of the device, called an acoustic switch, could amplify concerns over the environmental impact of offshore drilling after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig last week…
… regulators in two major oil-producing countries, Norway and Brazil, in effect require them. Norway has had acoustic triggers on almost every offshore rig since 1993.
The U.S. considered requiring a remote-controlled shut-off mechanism several years ago, but drilling companies questioned its cost and effectiveness, according to the agency overseeing offshore drilling. The agency, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, says it decided the remote device wasn’t needed because rigs had other back-up plans to cut off a well.
The U.K., where BP is headquartered, doesn’t require the use of acoustic triggers.
The Journal’s report doesn’t come out and say this, but the environmental lawyer, Mike Papantonio, said on the Schultz show in an interview you can watch here that it was Cheney’s energy task force – the secretive one that he wouldn’t say much about publicly – that decided that the switches, which cost $500,000, were too much a burden on the industry. The Papantonio segment starts at around 5:00 in and lasts three minutes or so.
Let me get this straight, $500,000 is “too much of a burden” on the oil companies? Are you fucking kidding me? What’s that, their profit line in the time it took me type this last sentence?
In the interests of disclosure I will note that I haven’t heard the phrase “acoustic switch” until this weekend, so I don’t really know. And obviously the fact that the US isn’t alone in not requiring this switch indicates that there are legitimate questions about cost v. efficacy. So maybe it’s just one of those things. But then again, maybe it’s not.
Regulatory decisions have consequences all the time, and the people who made them should be asked to justify their decisions in a democracy. It’ll be very interesting to watch this week and see if other news outlets pursue this.
Bill Galston makes a very convincing case that the Bush Administration’s pro-oil disdain for environmental regulation, starring Dick Cheney, prevented the government from requiring these devices played a major role in the spill.
Ah, and there it is again. That nasty little word in Bush/Cheney-land. Regulation.
So in the last two years we have had to endure a financial meltdown the likes of which we last saw just before the Great Depression, due in large parts to unregulated Wall Street yahoos taking astronomical risks with our friggin’ money.
Now we have bore witness to what, in all likelihood, will be the single worst environmental disaster the nation has ever see because of massive amounts of de-regulation that took place on Bush & Cheney’s watch.
Now I’m not the smartest guy around, but when something occurs once we can write it off as happenstance. When it happens again only a fool would write it off as coincidence.
I know we are living in this era when groups like the Tea Party are clamoring loudly for “smaller government” (unless it’s about a racial profiling immigration law- in that case it must be “A-okay” as evidenced by their silence on the matter), but in certain aspects of society “big government” isn’t just acceptable…it’s needed.
Don’t play the part of the fool and “trust” big oil, big banks and big business in general to look out for our best interests. They don’t have a good track record for doing so.