Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, August 12, 2010 7:49 pm

An observation regarding BP

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 7:49 pm
Tags: , ,

I think at this point we should assume that BP is not going to do anything it ought to do except at gunpoint … and we should proceed accordingly.

It is lowballing estimates of the amount of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, which is significant because the amount of fines and damages it ultimately will have to pay depends on the amount spilled.

And — funny thing! — its agreement to pay up to $20 billion in damages may depend on whether or not it gets to keep its Gulf oil leases … even though forfeiture of those leases (or other assets) may be found by a court to be an appropriate criminal or civil penalty. (Remember, it may face criminal charges not only for the spill but also for the deaths of 11 workers and related acts.)

It is running an expensive PR campaign intended to get people to think it intends to make whole everyone harmed by its criminal negligence. Only a fool would believe it … and guess what we’re governed by.

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Friday, June 25, 2010 7:58 pm

Are we having fun yet?

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 7:58 pm
Tags: , ,

Entertaining new info about the Deepwater Horizon oil eruption:

  • BP has publicly stated that the size of the reservoir under the blown-out well is 50 million barrels. In fact, says Tadeusz Patzek, the chairman of the department of petroleum and geosystems engineering at the University of Texas, “I would assume that 500 million barrels would be a more likely estimate. I don’t think you would be going after a 50-million-barrel reservoir so quickly. This is just simply not enough oil to go after.” So — surprise! — BP lied again.
  • In fact, the reservoir actually could be anywhere between 2.5 billion and 10 billion barrels. Indeed, according to Wayne Madsen, one of the reasons the Obama fast-tracked this project was that its holdings were projected at between 3 billion and 4 billion barrels, enough to supply U.S. oil needs for up to eight months should political unrest of military action shut off oil traffic through the Straits of Hormuz.
  • Fact: The bigger the reservoir, the longer oil will continue to erupt unless the well is capped.
  • Fact: The reservoir contains about 40% methane, compared with 5% in most such reservoirs. Because gas can be compressed while liquid cannot, that means the reservoir may be under higher natural pressure. This could mean 1) the possibility of accelerating oil/gas flow from the leak; 2) continuing erosion of the well casing by sand and other material under high pressure.
  • Then there’s this: “Finally, the more oil and gas in the reservoir, the higher a priority the government may consider it to produce the well at all costs. See this and this.” So, yet more reason not to trust either BP or the government.
  • More shenanigans:

WMR’s sources on the Gulf coast report that BP Security personnel are being augmented by off-duty Alabama state troopers and G4S Wackenhut private security guards. The BP Security personnel ensure that no observers are present on Gulf coast beaches during night time hours when BP contractors scour the beaches and pick up and covertly dispose of dead dolphins, turtles, birds, and other sea animals that wash ashore covered with oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

BP is secretly disposing of the dead animals in order to avoid paying fines and compensation for killing endangered and protected species like turtles, dolphins, and brown pelicans. The sharp drop off in oxygen levels in the Gulf is forcing many sea animals into shallower waters in order to breathe, however, sharks are also following the easier prey into coastal rivers and inlets.

(I’m sorry, but from where I sit it’s a conflict of interest for Alabama law enforcement to be providing off-duty security for some of the same people they may later have to arrest.)

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the US Army Corps of Engineers emergency planners are dealing with a prospective “dead zone” within a 200 mile radius from the Deepwater Horizon disaster datum in the Gulf.

A looming environmental and population displacement disaster is brewing in the Gulf. The oil dispersant used by BP, Corexit 9500, is seen by FEMA sources as mixing with evaporated water from the Gulf and absorbed by rain clouds producing toxic precipitation that threatens to continue killling marine and land animals, plant life, and humans within a 200-mile radius of the Deepwater Horizon disaster site in the Gulf.
Adding to the worries of FEMA and the Corps of Engineers is the large amounts of methane that are escaping from the cavernous grotto of oil underneath the Macondo drilling area of Gulf of Mexico.

On a recent visit to the Gulf coast, President Obama vowed that the Gulf coast will “return to normal.” However, federal officials dealing with the short- and long-term impact of the oil disaster report that the “dead zone” created by a combination of methane gas and Corexit toxic rain will force the evacuation and long-term abandonment of cities and towns within the 200-mile radius of the oil volcano.
Plans are being put in place for the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Mandeville, Hammond, Houma, Belle Chase, Chalmette, Slidell, Biloxi, Gulfport, Pensacola, Hattiesburg, Mobile, Bay Minette, Fort Walton Beach, Panama City, Crestview, and Pascagoula.

The toxic rain from the Gulf is expected to poison fresh water reservoirs and lakes, streams, and rivers, which will also have a disastrous impact on agriculture and livestock, as well as drinking water, in the affected region.

  • Meanwhile, the commission looking at the causes of this disaster is being housed in the land of the blind: “From my review of their published bios, I cannot discern that any named member possesses any direct training or experience with the technology and practices of offshore drilling, a field that in its own way is every bit as complex as aviation, terrorism, or other past subjects of similar commissions.” By comparison, the commission that examined the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger “was packed to the rafters with figures of national prominence and deep expertise in aviation and space technology and operations.” That wasn’t the commission staff; that was the commission itself.

And, naturally, this will have bankster economic ramifications: Moody’s says that of all the collateralized synthetic obligations it has rated, BP stock figures in 117, or 18%. BP bankruptcy, should it happen, would create systemic financial problems. I’m reasonably sure this wouldn’t affect Blog on the Run readers directly — how many of you have a position in any CSO? — but I could be wrong.

Saturday, June 19, 2010 9:27 pm

You should totally apologize to BP

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 9:27 pm
Tags: , , , ,

So go do it. Right now.

Thursday, June 17, 2010 8:59 pm

Time to fire BP?

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:59 pm
Tags: , ,

The conventional wisdom is that because BP has expertise the government lacks, BP has to stay in charge of repairing the damage at Deepwater Horizon. However, Washington’s Blog (new to me) makes a good case that the government could pull BP off the project and bring in outside expertise … on BP’s dime.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010 6:25 am

Quote of the day, BP edition

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 6:25 am
Tags: , ,

Athenae at First Draft: “The only problem with class warfare is that we’ve been losing it for so long.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 10:45 pm

Memo to Tom Shales

Tom, I’ve always enjoyed your TV writing. That said, not everything needs to be assessed on its merits as a TV show.

Because here’s the thing: The grownups are not talking about TV. They are talking about torture and warrantless wiretapping and an environmental catastrophe in the Gulf that was the perfectly predictable and accurately predicted consequence of 30 years’ worth of bought-and-paid for bad public-policy decisions.

There are reasons why no one asks your opinion about stuff that matters, and this column is one of them.

Monday, June 14, 2010 8:33 pm

Cats and dogs living together

Moody’s sees the offshore-drilling industry headed for a disaster of biblical proportions: Old Testament, real wrath-of-God-type stuff, fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice … mass hysteria.*

And that’s just what they see. Given Moody’s performance in rating mortgage-backed securities, I’m even more worried about what they might be overlooking.

*Possibly not a direct quote. At least, not from Moody’s.

Shorter Mitch McConnell

We Republicans screwed up the government so badly it both allowed Deepwater Horizon to happen and was unable to respond effectively to it. So no one should trust government.

Thursday, June 3, 2010 11:05 pm

No words

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 11:05 pm
Tags: , , , ,

UPDATE: Commenter Woli: “This is how King Midas must have felt.”

How much oil has spilled in the Gulf?

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 10:55 pm
Tags: , ,

The answer is complicated. But given that the amount of the fine BP will pay — $1,100 per barrel, rising to a maximum of $4,300 per barrel in cases of gross negligence — is riding on the answer, we need to know. (Keep in mind that as I type this, a barrel of crude is trading for around $75.)

It turns out that the most recently quoted range — 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day — is only the lower bound of reliable estimates. No one knows what the upper bound might be. So we’re talking a fine of, let’s say, $13.2 million to $20.9 million per day. And, again, that’s just the lower bound. If the actual eruption rate is 50,000 barrels per day, we’re talking $55 million per day.

And if you quadruple that for gross negligence, that gets you up over $2 billion per day. For perspective, BP’s 2009 profits were $4.4 billion.

Today is something like Day 45. If the latest capping stunt attempt doesn’t work, the eruption won’t be stopped until relief wells are finished sometime in August. So, for the sake of round numbers, let’s say $2.2 billion multiplied by 100 days, or a total fine of $220 billion before the first lawsuit is filed.

So, yeah, I’d say BP has some incentive to downplay the figures.

UPDATE: Indeed, BP has even more incentive than I remembered. The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Nick Rahall, has written Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him to charge BP the usual 18.75% drilling royalty on the spilled oil, which, of course, BP will never be able to sell.

Quote of the day; or, CSI: BP

Filed under: Evil,Journalism — Lex @ 10:24 pm
Tags: , ,

Allison Kilkenny, FTW:

In a sane world, a company guilty of gross negligence that resulted in the deaths of 11 workers would be under criminal investigation, and not be parading around the coast, telling the media where they can go and who they can talk to, while forbidding their clean-up crews from wearing protective gear.

Law enforcement doesn’t handle other crimes like this. Cops don’t let serial killers tidy up their crime scenes after they’re done a’stabbin’.

Indeed, in a sane world, such a company would be in government receivership. And in a health journalism ecosystem, news organizations would be sending reporters anywhere on public property they wanted to go and taking out TROs against BP and any co-opted local law enforcement if it tried to object.

Because at this point, I don’t think it’s just the journalists who are pissed anymore.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 11:14 pm

Memo

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 11:14 pm
Tags: , , ,

TO: Jane Lubchenco, director, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
FROM: Lex
DATE: 6/2/2010
RE: Your employer

Hi. Remember us? We’re the American people. You know, your boss? Your employer?

Not BP. Us. You vile, corrupt piece of whale feces.

Apparently it has escaped your attention that everybody’s watching you on this one. Redundant layers of supervision and independent investigation have been following your every move, a fact that should have been obvious to anyone with the intelligence of navel lint. So we’re going to do you the perhaps-unmerited courtesy of presuming that you are more intelligent than navel lint and simply have gone over to the dark side.

Which is fine — it’s still a semi-free country — but in exchange, I want your butt off my payroll by 9:01 Eastern tomorrow morning.

(I also want world peace, and I ain’t getting that either, but a grump can dream.)

If you think the Mississippi Delta is in a world of hurt, check out the Niger Delta.

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 10:23 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

The Guardian:

The farther we travelled, the more nauseous it became. Soon we were swimming in pools of light Nigerian crude, the best-quality oil in the world. One of the many hundreds of 40-year-old pipelines that crisscross the Niger delta had corroded and spewed oil for several months.

Forest and farmland were now covered in a sheen of greasy oil. Drinking wells were polluted and people were distraught. No one knew how much oil had leaked. “We lost our nets, huts and fishing pots,” said Chief Promise, village leader of Otuegwe and our guide. “This is where we fished and farmed. We have lost our forest. We told Shell of the spill within days, but they did nothing for six months.”

That was the Niger delta a few years ago, where, according to Nigerian academics, writers and environment groups, oil companies have acted with such impunity and recklessness that much of the region has been devastated by leaks.

In fact, more oil is spilled from the delta’s network of terminals, pipes, pumping stations and oil platforms every year than has been lost in the Gulf of Mexico, the site of a major ecological catastrophe caused by oil that has poured from a leak triggered by the explosion that wrecked BP‘s Deepwater Horizon rig last month.

That disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 rig workers, has made headlines round the world. By contrast, little information has emerged about the damage inflicted on the Niger delta. Yet the destruction there provides us with a far more accurate picture of the price we have to pay for drilling oil today.

So how’s that magic of the marketplace workin’ out for ya, eh? If you’re Shell or ExxonMobil, pretty well. If you’re a Nigerian, not so much.

“A roiling, alligator-filled wall of flame.”

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 8:28 pm
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What’s the worst-case scenario for Deepwater Horizon?

Previously.

Risk assessment

John Hussman, via Zero Hedge:

While there are about 3,800 oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, only about 130 deep water projects have been completed, compared with just 17 a decade ago. So in 10 years, applying a new technology, we’ve had one major oil spill thus far. Unless there is some a priori reason to assume that the technology is pristine, despite the fact that it has failed spectacularly, the first back-of-the-envelope estimate a statistician would make would be to model deep water oil spills as a “Poisson process.” Poisson processes are often used to model things that arrive randomly, like customers in a checkout line, or insurance claims across unrelated policy holders. Given one major oil spill in 10 years, you probably wouldn’t be way off the mark using an average “arrival frequency” of 0.10 annually.

From that perspective, a simple Poisson estimate would suggest a 90.5% probability that we will see no additional major oil spills from deep water rigs over the coming year, dropping to a 36.8% chance that we’ll see no additional major oil spills from deep water rigs over the coming decade. Moreover, you’d put a 36.8% chance on having exactly one more major spill in the coming decade, an 18.4% chance on having two major spills, a 6.1% chance of having three major spills, and a 1.9% chance of having four or more major spills in the coming decade. This is quite a bit of inference from a small amount of data, but catastrophes contain a great deal of information when the “prior” is that catastrophes are simply not possible.

It’s not clear even from the context what significant growth in the number of deep-water projects would do to those odds, but common sense suggests that risk increases with the number of projects.

Last week, Steve Pearlstein at The Washington Post talked about risk and government’s role in its management:

The big flaw in the business critique of regulation is not so much that it overstates the costs, but that it understates its benefits — in particular, the benefits of avoiding low-probability events with disastrous consequences. Think of oil spills, mine explosions, financial meltdowns or even global warming. There is a natural tendency of human beings to underestimate the odds of such seemingly unlikely events — of forgetting that the 100-year flood is as likely to happen in Year 5 as it is in Year 95. And if there are insufficient data to calculate the probability of a very bad outcome, as is often the case, that doesn’t mean we should assume the probability is zero.

Another challenge in thinking about regulation is that any meaningful analysis has to go beyond merely toting up the costs and benefits to a consideration of how those costs and benefits are distributed. Regulations limiting derivatives trading, for example, may add costs or reduce profit for a bank or its corporate customers every year, but the benefits of that regulation would mostly accrue to taxpayers and the economy as a whole if it saves them from the occasional financial crisis that requires a bailout or triggers a recession. From the banks’ standpoint, such a regulation may well seem like a bad idea, but for society as a whole it would be a winner.

UPDATE: David Leonhardt at the NYT also has a good piece on this issue:

For all the criticism BP executives may deserve, they are far from the only people to struggle with such low-probability, high-cost events. Nearly everyone does. “These are precisely the kinds of events that are hard for us as humans to get our hands around and react to rationally,” Robert N. Stavins, an environmental economist at Harvard, says. We make two basic — and opposite — types of mistakes. When an event is difficult to imagine, we tend to underestimate its likelihood. This is the proverbial black swan. Most of the people running Deepwater Horizon probably never had a rig explode on them. So they assumed it would not happen, at least not to them.

Similarly, Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan liked to argue, not so long ago, that the national real estate market was not in a bubble because it had never been in one before. Wall Street traders took the same view and built mathematical models that did not allow for the possibility that house prices would decline. And many home buyers signed up for unaffordable mortgages, believing they could refinance or sell the house once its price rose. That’s what house prices did, it seemed.

On the other hand, when an unlikely event is all too easy to imagine, we often go in the opposite direction and overestimate the odds. After the 9/11 attacks, Americans canceled plane trips and took to the road. There were no terrorist attacks in this country in 2002, yet the additional driving apparently led to an increase in traffic fatalities.

When the stakes are high enough, it falls to government to help its citizens avoid these entirely human errors. The market, left to its own devices, often cannot do so. Yet in the case of Deepwater Horizon, government policy actually went the other way. It encouraged BP to underestimate the odds of a catastrophe.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010 9:53 pm

Well, I won’t say the horse is out of the barn …

… but 11 people are dead and one hell of a lot of oil is out of the ground. Still, the fact that Justice has finally gotten off its rear end and opened a criminal investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is welcome, if grossly tardy, news.

I hope they’ll throw the book at BP and Transocean, at least — for once, Halliburton might actually be blameless, although a decent investigation will tell us. At the least, someone at BP needs to be looking at 11 counts of manslaughter, and I would pile on the charges, everything from destruction of federal property to mopery. Decades from now, I want the testicles of descendants yet unborn of oil-company executives everywhere to shrivel up into their bellies when the tale of what finally happened to those responsible for this tragedy is recounted.

Yet another example of how U.S. journalism sucks

Oh, to see ourselves as others see us:

Sarah Palin thinks Barack Obama has taken too “doggone long to get in there”. James Carville wants Mr Obama to “put somebody in charge of this thing and get this moving.” Maureen Dowd doinked Mr Obama Saturday with her silly-straw-like wit, faulting his “inability to encapsulate Americans’ feelings.” Yeah, you know who would’ve killed as the president facing a deep-sea oil blowout? Philip Seymour Hoffman. Or maybe Meryl Streep. Did you see them in “Doubt“?

Ms Dowd’s involvement is fitting, as this may be the sorriest spectacle of content-free public hyperventilation since Al Gore’s earth tones. The difference is that in this case the issue is deadly serious; it’s the public discourse that is puerile. There is plenty of room for substantive critique of the flaws in governance and policy uncovered by the Deepwater Horizon blowout. You could talk about regulatory failure. You could talk about corporate impunity. You could talk about blithely ignoring the tail-end risk of going ahead with deepwater drilling without any capacity to cope with catastrophic blowouts. Precisely none of these subjects are evident in the arguments our pundit class is having. Instead we have empty-headed squawking over what the catastrophe is doing to Barack Obama’s image.

Who’s raising concrete critiques of administration policy? Chiefly Mr Obama.

All American journalists can worry about is the political ramifications, which is easy for them because you can claim any damn thing you want about the political ramifications and be proven right or wrong only in hindsight — and since Americans suck at hindsight, you can have a worse track record than a three-legged thoroughbred and still enjoy near-lifetime job security in the Washington media universe. (UPDATE: Excellent comment on this phenomenon from Jason Linkins at HuffPo: “I think that when the McLaughlin Group makes predictions, it should culminate in a monthly Russian roulette competition where each correct prediction removes a round from the chamber.”)

An even more annoying subset of journalistic worrying about the political ramifications of Deepwater Horizon is the amount of journalistic energy expended on the pointless question of whether Obama has responded with an appropriate show of emotion.

After spending 25 years in journalism, I’m reminded of the anecdote attributed to the late Sen. S.I. Hayakawa of California. “When I first got elected to the Senate, I thought, ‘Wow, what am I doing here with all these really smart people?'” Hayakawa supposedly said, “and then after I’d been there awhile, I thought, ‘Geez, what am I doing here with these 99 idiots?'” That’s kind of how I feel about American journalism: Most days, I feel glad to be out of it, and the American media’s (lack of) coverage of the roots of Deepwater Horizon is just one example of why. Memo to young people: Being associated, day after day, year after year, with this kind of bone-dense thinking, like “fat, drunk and stupid,” is no way to go through life.

Maybe photo of the year

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 6:43 am
Tags: , ,

Protesters in Jackson Square, New Orleans, Sunday, May 30, 2010. Photo by Matthew Hinton, The Times-Picayune.

Onion-worthy

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 6:28 am
Tags: , ,

… and I don’t give out praise like that lightly. Thers at Firedoglake:

BATON ROUGE — British Petroleum, whose Deepwater Horizon crude oil extraction facility has historically done so much to liberate America from a debilitating reliance upon petroleum products provided by swarthy, untrustworthy foreigners, today announced its decision to sue Louisiana-based brown pelicans in federal court for the theft of valuable company assets.

“Many people have seen the pictures of these so-called ‘victims’ in the main-stream media,” said Mr. Waldorf T. Flywheel, a spokesman for BP’s Legal Affairs Division, “and leap to entirely false conclusions. These felonious waterfowl are anything but the blameless sufferers of alleged corporate malfeasance Americans have been led to believe. Instead they are little more than common criminals — pelican pirates, if you will — deliberately immersing themselves in private property in an attempt to abscond with it.”

Asked where the pelicans might be plotting to purvey the purloined petroleum, Mr. Flywheel speculated, “probably Venezuela. That would just totally figure.”

Friday, May 28, 2010 8:59 pm

Lock ’em up

What laws have been broken in the Deepwater Horizon disaster? Bloomberg’s Ann Woolner has what may be only a partial list.

Toxic mud, toxic politicians

Two Republicans, Louisana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser are trying to fast-track a two-decade-old proposal to dig up mud from Louisiana’s coastal areas to create artificial reefs offshore, ostensibly to protect the shore from hurricanes. This scheme is so eye-poppingly bad from both an environmental standpoint and a practical standpoint that it will make your eyes bleed just to read about it:

The shallows of the Gulf Coast are the anterooms of the Coast’s aquatic nurseries. Just under the surface, the shallows are lined with decades of toxic goo. Digging them up to protect against BP’s oil volcano makes as much sense as pulverizing neonatal ICU entrances to protect against asbestos in the hospital walls.

You see, the sediment that Nungesser and Jindal want to dig up has one other small problem. That sediment that washes down the Lower Mississippi? It’s thoroughly mixed with long-lasting and deadly persistent organic pollutants.

Not “organic” as in your local farmers’ market. “Organic” as in your local college’s chemistry lab. Sadly for southern Louisiana, the Mississippi carries the toxic pesticide runoff from the entire Corn Belt. Much of that waste travels right down to the Gulf. Worse still, for decades, the oil, gas and chemical industries clustered around the lower Mississippi’s “cancer alley” dumped many of the most deadly toxic wastes we’ve has ever created right into the water. The poor river, in turn, carries them downstream, and the uncounted tons of deadly goo irretrievably mix in with the sediments that make up the “shallows” off of Louisiana’s coast.

Those are the very same “shallows” Nungesser and Jindal want to heap up in piles off Louisiana’s already poisoned coast. It’s the perfect mechanism to ensure winds, tides and hurricanes carry the once-buried toxins inland to the marshes and wetlands. Yes, the ones these crackpots purport to be saving.

The piece claims the Coast Guard and the EPA are on board, although it doesn’t elaborate on exactly what the EPA’s role is. Although any role short of standing up and shouting, “Not just ‘no,’ but, ‘Hell, no!'” is probably inadequate.

My favorite part is that the “unidentified experts from the Netherlands” who are consulting on the plan turn out to be officials of the world’s third-largest dredging company.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 8:35 pm

Junk shot; or, What a really free market might look like

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:35 pm
Tags: , , , ,

How ’bout we plug the Deepwater Horizon with U.S. Sen. James Inhofe? He seems fond enough of oil that I think he’d actually enjoy the experience:

Republican Senator James Inhofe has stepped up to the plate yet again for big oil, pledging a Republican filibuster against legislation offered by New Jersey’s Robert Menendez that would completely lift the $75 million liability cap currently protecting big oil companies from claims of economic damage from oil spills.

That’s right, ladies and germs: A Republican Senator is calling for a taxpayer bailout of BP. Because that, in effect, is what blocking Menendez’s measure would do.

You know, Republicans are all for “free markets” when the markets in question are actually crony capitalism and they get to be cronies. But when they might actually have to face economic consequences for their actions, they’re all, like, “Oh, help, Uncle Sugar, SAVE us!”

Why is there a liability cap at all? Why shouldn’t BP have to pay every last dime it takes to clean up the mess and restore, or compensate for, the lives and livelihoods ruined by this disaster?

It might cost BP’s stock- and bondholders their investment? Well, yeah, that’s what’s supposed to happen when a corporation makes a mistake of world-historical proportions.

It might make other companies reluctant to invest in deepwater drilling? So? Maybe that might lead companies to take a second look at fields that, while more expensive, would also be safer.

So the price of oil would go up? So? Maybe people would use less of it, which would benefit the economy and the environment. Maybe competing, cleaner energy sources that aren’t cost-efficient now would become more so.

I don’t want to have to pay more for oil. But it’s pretty clear that we’re going to pay for it one way or the other, and everything else being equal I’m inclined toward anything that does not involve my paying for a private corporation’s mistakes.

Sunday, May 23, 2010 7:41 pm

Rayne brings the pain to Obama Inc.

Rayne at Firedoglake calls out the president on his lollygagging on the Deepwater Horizon crisis. This flaying is absolutely on point and merits wide attention:

It’s been more than 30 days since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and the well nearly a mile below on the sea floor began to erupt oil and methane, killing 11 of our fellow citizens and injuring even more both immediately and in the continuing damage which followed.

And nothing has happened of any consequence since then.

Oh, we’ve had a Category 5 hurricane of hot air, some decent questions from Congressional hearings, but zippo-zilch-nada in the way of an effective solution. (I pity the people of the Gulf who had to deal with another hurricane they couldn’t escape.)

We had a big metal box set over the leak, not to stop it but to try to capture the oil. Anybody with the wherewithal to Google could predict this was going to fail because of the hydrates. They crystallize on contact with a solid surface in deepwaters below the average depth of the Continental Shelf.

And then we’ve had a tiny little pipsqueak of a hose nosed into the well pipe, which might as well have been a toothpick stuck in our mouths.

Now the White House is having a hissy behind closed doors with the media because dammitall, they can’t stop asking questions about the spill. Oh that’ll work, that’ll make a difference; the biggest environmental disaster our country has experienced will go away if only the media shuts up about it.

Screw that. This has been nothing but a corporate-induced environmental and socio-biological experiment perpetuated on our commons without our consent, and the American public doesn’t take well to experimentation without debate in advance. Witness our slow-moving policy on stem cell research, for example. We don’t frigging like it.

And screw the White House for its insistence that the Fourth Estate stop pestering them and begone. The people have been demanding accountability through our elected representatives in the legislature, but it’s like maneuvering a massive battleship, one that is intended for the making of laws and not their execution.

But it’s the Executive Branch which is charged with the faithful execution of our laws, and it’s failing to do so. It has not done a competent job of communicating with the public or the media would not be hammering on them as they are for more information — and for once, the media is actually doing what we need of them, not what their corporate lords and masters expect.

Instead of scolding the press, the White House should be asking itself why it’s being pestered. Why has “oil spill” remained a trending topic among internet searches across various outlets for more than a month?

It’s because we want ACTION, not more words. We want the damned well capped and we want it capped yesterday, and no, we don’t want to leave this to a negligent corporation which has consistently failed to act in good faith. We want the Executives we elected to office to execute. Do something, for god’s sake.

I’ve had a list of action items for a while now, in fact, if the White House cannot find actionable items of their own. You know that popular site, Getting Things Done? Yeah, well you can call this Get Sh*t Done Now. Here’s my GSDN list as it is right now which I gladly submit for the White House’s immediate consideration and implementation:

1) Obama needs to use that … unitary executive power he’s been clinging to and declare a state of emergency in federal waters along the Gulf of Mexico, using an Executive Order. This is now an international situation, not just an American one, because the oil will eventually end up in the North Atlantic.

2) Declare British Petroleum in violation of its lease and kick them off the site. Threaten to seize all American assets of BP-America immediately if they do not assist in setting up a claims system which will be administered and overseen by the U.S. and paid by BP. (Hire all those poor Sallie Mae folks who were going to lose their jobs because of student loan reform for this purpose. /snark)

3) Ask the Department of Energy’s Steve Chu to create a skunkworks rapid solutions team from NASA and DARPA along with schools which specialize in oceanography, mechanical technology, geology, and computer modeling. Stop waiting for the nice old farts they pulled from JASON because this is an emergency, [expletive], we don’t have time for them to come up with a vetted, peer-reviewed whitepaper on this. Don’t listen to anybody’s crap about so-called experts on deepwater drilling and how they’ll solve the problem. As my 16-year-old said, “If there’s experts, where are they? Show me one.” Yeah. What she said.

4) Threaten to kick Ken Salazar to the curb if he doesn’t immediately have every one of the 15+ deepwater offshore drilling sites reevaluated; every evaluation must be on POTUS desk inside 15 days from the date the Executive Order. And we want the evaluations made public — no more of this [ridiculous] opacity the White House calls transparency. No excuses; all this stuff should have been submitted when BP and the other oil industry firms applied for the leases to begin with.

5) Approach corporations to develop an X-Prize type program to develop a private solution in tandem with the skunkworks solution. Ask Congress to create a special R&D tax credit for firms which donate money to the X-Prize for development.

6) Approach Florida State University (which now owns the former Scripps’ Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and its submersibles) along with Mississippi State (which has an oceanography program) and ask them to work with NIUST to develop models of the plume’s distribution, along with identifying the impact short and long-term on the ocean bottom and the ecosystem above it.

7) Suck up the arrogance and pride and ask the elder statesman of the environment to be the face of this effort. Ask Al Gore to do the leg work with the corporations and educational facilities whose cooperation is needed. Tell him this is to be used as an example of what people can do for the larger environment if they focus on this problem first. If they can solve this, they can solve the big problems.

8) Tell the Catfood Commission (read: Presidential Deficit Commission) to find a way to shoehorn in funding for an alternative energy Apollo Program or Marshall Plan. If you have to find a front man, go to Al Gore because this was his idea back in 1992. Jeebus, catch a clue and use the resources you have already; Gore wrote it all out for you in 1992.

9) Call that lazy-assed sad-sack Joe Lieberman and tell him whatever super-secret-y deal you guys have going in the way of a quid pro quo is off if Lieberman cannot find some reason to investigate the relationships between Department of Interior and any corporation with which it deals. Make the call private, and tell him if he doesn’t have hearings within 15 days you are going to publicly call him on the carpet for the benefit of CT voters every chance you get until 2012.

10) You know damned well if they cut corners in the Gulf of Mexico, they did it elsewhere. Threaten to go for the jugular on them if they don’t continue to play ball with clean-up in the Gulf. Take a bunch of bloggers up to BP’s operations in Alaska and let them roam around for a couple weeks. Make BP pay for it — figure it out, you have the EO in one hand and the power to print money in the other. Keep the pressure on BP until they beg for mercy.

11) And right now I’m tempted to tell one Barack Obama to get really, genuinely excitedly-upset, be more than that Spock character for once, add the passion of Captain Kirk and the anger of Dr. McCoy in the mix. That fakery last week only made us heave with nausea. And Rahm? Just bite me; whatever counsel you’ve offered Mr. Spock-the-President has been both incompetent and impotent.

If I could sit and stew a while longer on this and not elevate my blood pressure, I could come up with a lot more. But I’m sure you have more ideas of your own. What do you want to tell this White House to do about the spill? Be specific, stick to workable suggestions — this is not an invitation to a flame war. Give the Executive Branch plenty of reasons to do something instead of nothing but flogging the media.

I don’t agree with every last bit of this, but I agree with two fundamentals: 1) This is a national, soon to become international, emergency; and 2) it’s not being treated like one.

There’s a larger, disturbing trend here that bears remarking upon as well.

The similarity between Deepwater Horizon and unemployment is that both are untenable situations, crises, that are being treated as something less, as chronic problems — worse, as chronic problems that can barely be managed, let alone cured.

In point of fact, both crises can be cured, but the steps required to do so will alienate some very wealthy, very powerful people who are not, personally, suffering from the crisis and may even be profiting from it.

So, rather than using the powers of his office to try to cure the crises, Obama counsels calm and reprimands the media. And that’s all he’s gonna do because he cynically calculates that we know that any Republican would only be worse.

Heck of a job, jackass.

Friday, May 14, 2010 9:27 pm

Oil enough to cover everything — blame, too

Under both Bush 43 and Obama administrations, the federal Minerals Management Service granted permission for all manner of offshore oil drilling and exploration without first getting required permits from another federal agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA has called MMS on this at least once since Obama succeeded Bush and frequently beforehand. And MMS has been called out from within, too:

Managers at the agency have routinely overruled staff scientists whose findings highlight the environmental risks of drilling, according to a half-dozen current or former agency scientists.

The scientists, none of whom wanted to be quoted by name for fear of reprisals by the agency or by those in the industry, said they had repeatedly had their scientific findings changed to indicate no environmental impact or had their calculations of spill risks downgraded.

“You simply are not allowed to conclude that the drilling will have an impact,” said one scientist who has worked for the minerals agency for more than a decade. “If you find the risks of a spill are high or you conclude that a certain species will be affected, your report gets disappeared in a desk drawer and they find another scientist to redo it or they rewrite it for you.”

Another biologist who left the agency in 2005 after more than five years said that agency officials went out of their way to accommodate the oil and gas industry.

He said, for example, that seismic activity from drilling can have a devastating effect on mammals and fish, but that agency officials rarely enforced the regulations meant to limit those effects.

He also said the agency routinely ceded to the drilling companies the responsibility for monitoring species that live or spawn near the drilling projects.

“What I observed was M.M.S. was trying to undermine the monitoring and mitigation requirements that would be imposed on the industry,” he said.

That’s the problem with regulatory capture — it goes on and it goes on and it keeps getting worse or worse. Threats won’t stop it. Fines won’t stop it. The only thing that will stop it is prison, and I don’t mean low-level functionaries, I mean political appointees and corporate CEOs.

Thursday, May 13, 2010 10:47 pm

An Exxon Valdez every few days

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 10:47 pm
Tags: , ,

Surprise! They’ve been lying to us about how bad the Deepwater Horizon oil eruption in the Gulf of Mexico is:

The volume of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig may be at least 10 times higher than previously estimated, NPR has learned.

The U.S. Coast Guard has estimated that oil was gushing from a broken pipe on the Gulf floor at the rate of 5,000 barrels a day.

But sophisticated scientific analysis of seafloor video made available Wednesday by the oil company BP shows that the true figure is closer to 70,000 barrels a day, NPR’s Richard Harris reports.

That means the oil spilling into the Gulf has already far exceeded the equivalent of the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil.

The analysis was conducted by Steve Wereley, an associate professor at Purdue University, using a technique called particle image velocimetry. Harris tells Michele Norris that the method is accurate to a degree of plus or minus 20 percent. That means the flow could range between 56,000 barrels a day and 84,000 barrels a day.

Another analysis by Eugene Chiang, a professor of astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, calculated the rate of flow to be between 20,000 barrels a day and 100,000 barrels a day.

Even the most conservative of those estimates is much higher than what the Coast Guard has so far said.

And unless we get incredibly lucky, we’re gonna be getting two Exxon Valdezes a week, give or take, for at least the next two months.

Someone needs to go to prison for this, and I don’t mean some drunken oil-tanker skipper, either.

UPDATE: The video that Steve Wereley analyzed was the same video that officials in the White House Situation Room had been looking at every day, but withholding from the public for no good reason, for three solid weeks. Maybe you can think of a reason besides covering BP’s ass for why this video was withheld. If so, you’re smarter than I am.

Friday, May 7, 2010 9:45 pm

No one could have predicted that things would go wrong

Why, yes, Alan Greenspan, if you let industry regulate itself, it won’t regulate itself. I could’ve told you that without even winning a Nobel Prize, you unspeakably stupid tool:

Federal regulators warned offshore rig operators more than a decade ago that they needed to install backup systems to control the giant undersea valves known as blowout preventers, used to cut off the flow of oil from a well in an emergency.

The warnings were repeated in 2004 and 2009. Yet the Minerals Management Service, the Interior Department agency charged both with regulating the oil industry and collecting royalties from it, never took steps to address the issue comprehensively, relying instead on industry assurances that it was on top of the problem, a review of documents shows.

In the intervening years, numerous blowout preventers and their control systems have failed, though none as catastrophically as those on the well the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was preparing when it blew up on April 20, leaving tens of thousands of gallons of oil a day spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Agency records show that from 2001 to 2007, there were 1,443 serious drilling accidents in offshore operations, leading to 41 deaths, 302 injuries and 356 oil spills. Yet the federal agency continues to allow the industry largely to police itself, saying that the best technical experts work for industry, not for the government.

Critics say that, then and now, the minerals service has been crippled by this dependence on industry and by a climate of regulatory indulgence.

“Everything that’s done by the oil industry is done for profit,” said Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, who demanded this week that the Interior Department investigate these backup safety systems. “Throw in the fact that regulators have taken a lax attitude toward overseeing their operations, and you have a recipe for catastrophe.”

Oh, and what is it we have going on in the Gulf of Mexico right now? Wait, wait, don’t tell me: a catastrophe!

Obama and his senior White House staff, as well as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, are working with BP’s chief executive officer Tony Hayward on legislation that would raise the cap on liability for damage claims from those affected by the oil disaster from $75 million to $10 billion. However, WMR’s federal and Gulf state sources are reporting the disaster has the real potential cost of at least $1 trillion. Critics of the deal being worked out between Obama and Hayward point out that $10 billion is a mere drop in the bucket for a trillion dollar disaster but also note that BP, if its assets were nationalized, could fetch almost a trillion dollars for compensation purposes. There is talk in some government circles, including FEMA, of the need to nationalize BP in order to compensate those who will ultimately be affected by the worst oil disaster in the history of the world.

Plans by BP to sink a 4-story containment dome over the oil gushing from a gaping chasm one kilometer below the surface of the Gulf, where the oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and killed 11 workers on April 20, and reports that one of the leaks has been contained is pure public relations disinformation designed to avoid panic and demands for greater action by the Obama administration, according to FEMA and Corps of Engineers sources. Sources within these agencies say the White House has been resisting releasing any “damaging information” about the oil disaster. They add that if the ocean oil geyser is not stopped within 90 days, there will be irreversible damage to the marine eco-systems of the Gulf of Mexico, north Atlantic Ocean, and beyond. At best, some Corps of Engineers experts say it could take two years to cement the chasm on the floor of the Gulf.

Only after the magnitude of the disaster became evident did Obama order Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to declare the oil disaster a “national security issue.” Although the Coast Guard and FEMA are part of her department, Napolitano’s actual reasoning for invoking national security was to block media coverage of the immensity of the disaster that is unfolding for the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean and their coastlines.

From the Corps of Engineers, FEMA, the Environmental Protection Agency, Coast Guard, and Gulf state environmental protection agencies, the message is the same: “we’ve never dealt with anything like this before.”

The Obama administration also conspired with BP to fudge the extent of the oil leak, according to our federal and state sources. After the oil rig exploded and sank, the government stated that 42,000 gallons per day was gushing from the seabed chasm.  Five days later, the federal government upped the leakage to 210,000 gallons a day.

However, WMR has been informed that submersibles that are  monitoring the escaping oil from the Gulf seabed are viewing television pictures of what is a “volcanic-like” eruption of oil. Moreover, when the Army Corps of Engineers first attempted to obtain NASA imagery of the Gulf oil slick — which is larger than that being reported by the media — it was turned down. However, National Geographic managed to obtain the satellite imagery shots of the extent of the disaster and posted them on their web site.

(I can’t independently confirm this — I just checked NatGeo’s site, and if such photos are there, I didn’t find them — Lex)

WMR has also learned that inspections of off-shore rigs’ shut-off valves by the Minerals Management Service during the Bush administration were merely rubber-stamp operations, resulting from criminal collusion between Halliburton and the Interior Department’s service, and that the potential for similar disasters exists with the other 30,000 off-shore rigs that use the same shut-off valves.

Whew. I thought for a moment there we were dealing with some kind of bizarre one-off, fluke occurrence. I’m glad to see fate doesn’t have it in for us after all.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010 11:30 pm

Can somebody lock this guy company up already?; or, Must-see TV we (unfortunately) probably won’t see

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 11:30 pm
Tags: ,

BP, progenitor of what’s looking like history’s largest petroleum eruption in the Gulf of Mexico, currently is already on criminal probation in two other cases, in at least one of which it has serially and repeatedly violated the terms of its probation.

If the Supreme Court wants corporations to be people, then, fine (no pun intended), let’s treat BP like a person — a poor, minority person without political influence and with a felony record. Someone like that gets three strikes, he goes away for life (if he isn’t “shot while trying to escape,” if you know what I mean and I think you do).

I say we taxpayers should just nationalize the damn company, fire all the board members and senior executives and execute civil forfeitures on every damn thing they own as being the fruits of a continuing criminal enterprise, and then start prosecuting executives and board members live on C-SPAN.

But this is Barack Obama and Eric Holder we’re talking about here. They think it’s much more important to look forward.

Sunday, May 2, 2010 11:40 pm

If corporations can make campaign contributions, let them also suffer the death penalty

This eruption — somehow, “leak” or “spill” no longer seems to suffice — of oil in the Gulf just keeps getting worse:

Federal officials speaking about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill Sunday morning appeared to be steeling the Louisiana coast – and the nation – for consequences that could be “catastrophic.”

The officials, who run the agencies charged with mitigating the impact of the spill on America’s Gulf coast, used unusually stark words to describe the situation and the difficulties of the remedy.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said it was the federal government’s job to “keep the boot on the neck of BP,” which is running the cleanup effort.

Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen called the bid to shut down a wellhead spewing at least 210,000 gallons of oil a day from nearly a mile beneath the ocean surface “one of the most complex things we’ve every done.”

He went on to say that, in a worst-case scenario, the well could vent 4.2 million gallons of oil into the Gulf daily. Currently, a crumpled “riser” pipe is preventing the full flow of oil – like a kinked garden hose – though reports suggest it is gradually deteriorating. …

Rule 5 of investigative reporting: Do the math. 4.2 million gallons of oil per day x 90 days = about 378 million gallons of oil, or more than 34 Exxon Valdezes.

Oops.

Unlike the Exxon Valdez disaster, where a tanker with a known amount of oil ran aground off Alaska, an oil pocket was opened when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig sank after exploding April 20. All that is preventing the free flow of oil – which could amount to tens of millions of gallons – is the kinked riser pipe, which is springing leaks.

The Exxon Valdez released 11 million gallons of oil in 1989. The Deepwater Horizon accident has so far leaked about 1.6 million gallons of oil, the Coast Guard estimates.

The “ultimate relief,” said Secretary Salazar, was to drill a relief well. But that was still “90 days out,” he added, also speaking on “State of the Union.”

The result is that, as the oil increases, pushing closer to Gulf coast shores, no one appears to have an idea of how to shut off the tap.

And it’s not as if this were completely unpreventable. In fact, once again we’ve run into a situation in which corporate plutocracy overruled common-sense regulation in penny-wise, pound-foolish fashion.

BP, the company that owned the Louisiana oil rig that exploded last week, spent years battling federal regulators over how many layers of safeguards would be needed to prevent a deepwater well from this type of accident.

One area of immediate concern, industry experts said, was the lack of a remote system that would have allowed workers to clamp shut Deepwater Horizon’s wellhead so it would not continue to gush oil. The rig is now spilling 210,000 gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

In a letter sent last year to the Department of the Interior, BP objected to what it called “extensive, prescriptive regulations” proposed in new rules to toughen safety standards. “We believe industry’s current safety and environmental statistics demonstrate that the voluntary programs…continue to be very successful.”

That was one in a series of clashes between the industry and federal regulators that began during the Clinton administration. In 2000, the federal agency that oversaw oil rig safety issued a safety alert that called added layers of backup “an essential component of a deepwater drilling system.” The agency said operators were expected to have multiple layers of protection to prevent a spill.

But according to aides to Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has followed offshore drilling issues for years, the industry aggressively lobbied against an additional layer of protection known as an “acoustic system,” saying it was too costly. In a March 2003 report, the agency reversed course, and said that layer of protection was no longer needed.

“There was a big debate under the Bush administration whether or not to require additional oil drilling safeguards but [federal regulators] decided not to require any additional mandatory safeguards, believing the industry would be motivated to do it themselves,” Carl Pope, Chairman of the Sierra Club told ABC News.

Let’s be very clear here: This. Did. Not. Have. To. Happen. BP and its stockholders and bondholders need to be the ones to clean up this mess, not U.S. taxpayers. And if that means the end of BP as a going concern, well, I’ll send flowers.

And to those who favor exploratory drilling off the N.C. coast because “it’s only exploratory,” keep in mind that the Deepwater Horizon was engaged in exploratory drilling.

I’m still not sure a complete moratorium on offshore drilling is the answer — maybe I’m a reasonable guy who sees complexities and shades of gray, and maybe I’m just a slow learner — but I damn sure think our rigs ought to be at least as safe as those of other countries.

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