Monday, May 31, 2010
Schools CEO Ron Huberman says he's cut 50 administrators from the central office. But records show he's added almost as many—at higher salaries.rest at http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/ron-huberman-cps-chicago-public-schools-office-salaries/Content?oid=1888273
By Tom Eley
29 May 2010
On Friday President Barack Obama made his second visit to the Gulf Coast since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 workers and has created the greatest ecological catastrophe in US history. The four-hour stopover was intended to demonstrate that the White House is "in control" of the response to the oil spill and that it cares about the people of the Gulf.
The visit failed on both counts. Obama's efforts to claim that the federal government is in command of the spill had been exposed only a half a day earlier by revelations that BP had kept it, as well as the public, in the dark over its latest attempt to cap the ruptured well on the ocean's floor, a process known as a "top kill."
US Coast Guard officials had on Thursday issued repeated statements that BP was continuing to pump heavy mud into the rig's blowout preventer, with commander Thad Allen even claiming that the effort had been a success. Late in the afternoon, Allen told a press conference that the effort was still underway. At a White House press conference held about the same time, Obama indicated that he also believed the process was still taking place.
In fact, BP had suspended the process at about midnight on Wednesday, at least in part because it had run out of mud. The top kill was resumed on Thursday afternoon and was set to continue Friday. After initially claiming that it would be known whether or not the top kill would work to stem the flow within 48 hours, BP CEO Tony Hayward on Friday announced that it might not be until Sunday that such an announcement can be made.
Obama's trip followed by a day a press conference devoted to the BP oil spill, in which Obama attempted to present an "angry and frustrated" face, but only succeeded in underscoring the indifference of the government in the face of the ecological catastrophe. Obama announced a handful of paltry reforms, while giving BP and its executives a pass.
On Friday, speaking at a brief media event in Grand Isle, Louisiana, Obama asserted several times that the administration has made the spill its "top priority" since the explosion and that the federal government was in control. This is revisionist history in the extreme. One could cite dozens of comments from the White House and the various federal agencies over the past five weeks insisting just the opposite—that BP is in charge. It is only in response to mounting popular anger that Obama has adopted an entirely cynical "strategic shift in tone," as it has been called in the media.
Obama Friday labored to portray an administration that reacted immediately and forcefully to the events. "On the day this disaster began, even as we launched a search and rescue effort for workers on the drilling rig, we were already staging equipment in the event of a larger-scale spill," he said.
This is simply untrue. Two days after the explosion on the rig—when a mobilization to stop the looming spill should already have been underway and with the fate of the 11 dead workers still unknown—the White House could not hide its indifference. When a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs if Obama had yet "reached out to anyone in Louisiana over the oil rig explosion." Gibbs responded, "Let me check on that. I don't believe so."
The second response, worked out over the next week, was to seize on the event to reiterate Obama's call for a vast expansion of deep sea oil drilling. Several days after the blast, Gibbs declared, "I don't honestly think [the disaster] opens up a whole new series of questions, because, you know, in all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last." At this time both the Obama administration and BP were insisting that the spill was relatively small.
In fact from "day one" it was BP, the corporation most responsible for the disaster, that retained full control over both the cleanup and the ruptured piping on the ocean's floor. Its every decision has been guided by one concern—defense of profit and revenue. This is why the oil giant has defied an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) order—issued one week ago—to refrain from using a chemical dispersant produced by an allied corporation.
To the extent that the White House has been involved in the cleanup, it has been to run interference for BP. It was the Obama administration that authored the claim that the spill rate was 5,000 barrels per day, now completely discredited, and it continues to stand by while BP refuses to allow scientists to conduct an independent analysis of the oil gushing out on the ocean floor.
The US Coast Guard has functioned, for all intents and purposes, as a security force for BP. It has been used to block journalists and photographers from visiting the areas hardest hit by the spill, according to Newsweek's Matthew Philips, who interviewed numerous journalists operating in the region. CNN reports that an unmanned submarine it attempted to send to the spill site was also stopped by the Coast Guard.
The administration continued the cover-up in Obama's media trip to the Gulf, making sure that he visited some of the least affected beaches. Photos of the president stooping down to inspect the largely untouched sand, brow furrowed, were dutifully released.
As for Obama's efforts to appear concerned—the White House is frightened of a Katrina-style public relations disaster—this was belied by the trip itself. Obama "interrupted his vacation," the media constantly reminded Americans, in order to make a stop that lasted about as long as a baseball game.
The following was the president's itinerary, as posted on the White House web site: "10:10AM THE PRESIDENT arrives New Orleans...12:10PM THE PRESIDENT attends a briefing by Admiral Thad Allen... 12:30PM THE PRESIDENT delivers a statement to the press...1:25PM THE PRESIDENT departs New Orleans, Louisiana."
Beyond the photo opportunities, Obama made a handful of vague promises to Gulf residents. He said that residents seeking assistance can get help with "bureaucratic problems" by visiting the White House web site, and that the Small Business Administration would work to make loans available. How loans can help fishermen when the Gulf's fish have been poisoned, the president did not explain.
Obama also boasted that the cleanup effort is the largest in history, engaging a force of 20,000. Meanwhile, back in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that she would take under advisement offers made over the previous weeks from some 17 different countries to provide assistance. So far no international help has been accepted.
Residents of Grand Isle quoted by national and local media appeared unimpressed with Obama's visit.
"It's a dog and pony show. What can he really do?" Billy Ward, who has a beach house on Grand Isle, told the Associated Press. "If he wants to do something, let him get out there and pump some mud and cement into that hole. Just fix it. Help us."
Chris Santity, a local worker, told the Los Angeles Times that busloads of beach cleaners were brought in for the president's visit, but were gone by noon. "They brought them in just to work the beach while the president was here," he said. "That's a joke. The president's a joke."
Vacationers Margaret and Louis Guillot reported seeing hundreds of people brought in for the event. When she looked out her window at about noon, she announced to Louis, "the tents are gone." "If there's more work to be done why aren't they continuously out there?" she asked.
Meanwhile, the catastrophe in the Gulf has grown dramatically worse in recent days.
Yesterday teams of government scientists announced that the size of the spill is far greater than what the Obama administration and BP have claimed, and the biggest spill in US history, falling within a range of 16 million to 40 million gallons. Independent scientists have put the figure as high as 150 million gallons.
A massive plume of oil under the water—measuring 22 miles in length, 6 miles in width, and 3,300 feet from top to bottom—continued to move toward Alabama's Mobile Bay and one of the most important natural ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico, the underwater De Soto Canyon. The Canyon is a major breeding and feeding ground for Florida's marine life.
The damage to the shoreline now runs about 150 miles, from Grand Isle to Dauphin Island in Alabama, the worst taking place in Louisiana's Mississippi Delta, a critical zone for fisheries and wildlife.
By Joe Kishore
31 May 2010
Forty days after the explosion at the BP-leased offshore drilling rig, oil continues to flow unabated from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. After weeks of downplaying and covering up the extent of the disaster, government officials are now acknowledging that it is already the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the United States … with no end in sight.
Over the weekend, BP reported its latest attempt to stop the flow—the so-called "top kill" method—had failed. It announced plans for a new tactic, involving cutting off the leaking pipe and attempting to cap the oil. The proposal is unlikely to succeed, and could result in a significant increase in the rate of the flow after the pipe is cut. Even if it works, it will only contain a portion of the oil gusher.
"The failure of the top kill magnifies the disaster by an order of magnitude," Rick Steiner, an oil spill expert and marine conservationist, told the World Socialist Web Site. "The blowout will continue unquestionably over the next two months."
BP is currently drilling separate wells designed to intersect with the existing well and plug the leak. These wells will not be ready until at least August, BP officials said on Sunday.
The US Geological Survey (USGS) has estimated that the flow is between 500,000 and 1 million gallons per day. At the higher range—which is still far smaller than the rate estimated by independent scientists—an additional 90 million gallons of oil will have been released by the end of August. In comparison, the Exxon Valdez released 11 million gallons.
If these reserve wells fail, the spill will continue until the entire reservoir is depleted. A BP spokesman said on Sunday that the company has no idea how much oil is in the reservoir.
With the collaboration of the Obama administration and the US Coast Guard, BP has sought to restrict media access to the worst affected regions, as oil has begun to wash ashore on the coast. A CBS news team reported it was threatened with arrest by the Coast Guard as it attempted to reach an oiled beach. The team was told the restrictions were according to "BP's rules." Other media have confirmed that access is being increasingly chocked off.
Nevertheless, the immense scale of the disaster is gradually coming out, with scientists discovering giant undersea plumes, in addition to the massive slick spreading across the surface of the Gulf.
Two plumes have already been discovered, but this is "just the tip of the iceberg," said Steiner. "Some of the oil is probably down around the coast of Florida. There may soon be tar balls on the south east coast of the state."
Making matters worse, the Atlantic hurricane season begins on Tuesday, and scientists anticipate that it will be a very active year. A hurricane in the Gulf will surge oil deep into the wetlands and inland. "The first good hurricane will transfer this in the storm surge right into the bayous," Steiner said. Hurricanes could also severely disrupt the drilling of the two additional wells being drilled by BP.
The Obama administration continues to cover for BP, even as new evidence has emerged documenting the criminal recklessness of the company in the run-up to the disaster. Obama has gone from saying that he is "angry and frustrated" to declaring that the spill is "enraging and heartbreaking." However, the administration continues to avoid any talk of accountability, while suggesting that neither BP nor the government could have possibly foreseen the catastrophe.
Carol Browner, the White House energy advisor, was asked Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press why BP had no contingency plan for the disaster. "[I]t's important to understand that these wells have been drilled for several decades now," she replied. "There have not been these kinds of accidents."
Browner refused to rule out future deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf, saying, "I want to see what the investigations tell us …."
BP and the administration's claims that an accident of this magnitude could not have been predicted is belied by an increasing mountain of evidence that BP deliberately ignored warning signs, with the help of the federal Minerals Management Service.
Citing internal BP documents, the New York Times reported on Sunday that engineers expressed concern as early as June 2009 about the well casing used in the Deepwater Horizon operation. A report by a BP engineer that month warned that the casing could collapse under the high pressure at the depths BP was drilling.
"This would certainly be a worst-case scenario," Mark E. Hafle, a senior drilling engineer at BP, wrote in the report. "However, I have seen it happen so know it can occur."
According to the Times, "The company went ahead with the casing, but only after getting special permission from BP colleagues because it violated the company's safety policies and design standards. The internal reports do not explain why the company allowed for an exception."
The Times goes on to report, "In April of this year, BP engineers concluded that the casing was 'unlikely to be a successful cement job,' according to a document, referring to how the casing would be sealed to prevent gases from escaping up the well." The document also concluded that the casing was unlikely to fulfill regulatory requirements from the MMS.
"A second version of the same document says 'It is possible to obtain a successful cement job' and 'It is possible to fulfill M.M.S. regulations.'" According to BP, the 180-degree shift in the evaluation was made after further testing.
In the weeks preceding the explosion on April 20, there were many signs of problems, including sudden and repeated releases of gas from the well.
"On at least three occasions, BP records indicate, the blowout preventer was leaking fluid, which the manufacturer of the device has said limits its ability to operate properly," the Times reported. Loss of well control led to a halt of operations, but no assessment was made as to whether or not the drilling should continue.
"After informing regulators of their struggles, company officials asked for permission to delay their federally mandated test of the blowout preventer, which is supposed to occur every two weeks, until the problems were resolved, BP documents say." After first denying this request, the MMS reversed itself.
According to the Times, "When the blowout preventer was eventually tested again, it was tested at a lower pressure—6,500 pounds per square inch—than the 10,000-pounds-per-square-inch tests used on the device before the delay. It tested at this lower pressure until the explosion."
In other words, both BP and government officials were aware the well was causing major problems that could lead to a blowout, and that the blowout preventer itself was experiencing problems. Yet BP, with the agreement of the government agency, decided to rig the tests and ignore the warnings of a potential disaster so it could continue drilling.
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
News Alert: BP officials announce "top kill" fails
06:39 PM EDT Saturday, May 29, 2010
The process begun Wednesday of pumping heavy drilling "mud" into the damaged well shaft has not stopped the flow of oil. At least 17 million gallons have already flowed into the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20.
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Friday, May 28, 2010
24 May 2010
As oil from the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico began to wash ashore in large quantities, the Obama administration reiterated its confidence in the giant oil company. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the lead official in the oil pollution crisis, said BP had the necessary technical knowledge. Referring to the company's CEO, Allen said, "I trust Tony Hayward. When I talk to him, I get an answer."
Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union" program on Sunday, Allen was asked why the federal government did not take over the effort to cap the well and block the flow of oil, which BP has failed to do for the past month. He replied, "What makes this an unprecedented anomalous event is access to the discharge site is controlled by the technology that was used for the drilling, which is owned by the private sector. They have the eyes and ears that are down there. They are necessarily the modality by which this is going to get solved."
In other words, the fate of the Gulf Coast, and the millions of people who depend on the Gulf for their livelihood in fishing, boating, tourism and other occupations, are all to be subordinated to the profit interests of the giant multinational oil company. The private sector controls the technology, and that control cannot be challenged.
There are many practical grounds to question the US government claim that "BP knows best." BP did not drill the well. It hired contractors, like Transocean and Halliburton, to do the job for it. Nor, judging by the experience of the past month, does BP possess either the technical knowledge or the engineering skill to cap the colossal oil leak.
It is certainly clear that there were no serious preparations made for a disaster on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, even though both environmentalists and industry technical personnel had made serious warnings about the dangers of drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf, more than a mile below the surface.
According to a lengthy analysis posted Sunday on the web site of the Wall Street Journal, "executives, government officials, and scientists are learning as they go, even though the industry has been drilling in the Gulf for decades and has 77 rigs operating there…"
This lack of preparation extended to many agencies of the federal government, which are under the effective control of the industries they supposedly regulate. The Environmental Protection Agency was "still assessing" the ecological effect of the chemical dispersants being sprayed on the Gulf, because it never funded the necessary research. The scientific instruments being used to measure the spill and its impact are inadequate to the purpose. Even the maps used to identify the most vulnerable coastal areas are more than a decade out of date because of budget cuts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In the post-disaster response, it is clear that the company's financial interests, not the ever-expanding environmental destruction, have been the driving force. Critics have pointed out that the procedure being employed this week to cap the well could have been attempted much earlier. It appears that the company did not do so because it hoped that a less drastic approach would make it possible to restore production from what is manifestly a huge pool of oil.
Financial concerns also dictated the company's approach to containing the damage from the spill. BP initially released lowball estimates of the quantity of oil escaping from the Deepwater Horizon site, delaying the efforts to protect sensitive wetlands like the Mississippi delta region of Louisiana.
The company also stalled proposals to build artificial berms to protect Louisiana's barrier islands, because of the enormous cost of moving so many tons of sand. Now it is too late. And on Grand Isle, Louisiana, 40 boom-laying boats hired by BP were sitting idle at the dock as oil began coming ashore on beaches Saturday night. A local government official had to commandeer them for emergency use.
When the EPA belatedly reversed its approval for the massive spraying of chemical dispersants, and told BP to switch to chemicals less toxic than the Corexit 9500 it had been using, the company simply refused. BP's main concern in the use of dispersants is cosmetic: it wanted to keep the vast quantities of oil emerging from the Deepwater Horizon site from reaching the surface, where the damage would be immediately visible, and used the chemicals to keep the bulk of the oil under water, with incalculable consequences for the undersea environment.
In response to the mounting popular outrage over the Gulf oil disaster, the Obama administration has begun to posture as critics of BP. Obama appeared before the press at the White House Friday for another phony expression of "anger" at the delay in capping the leak, and he devoted his Saturday radio and Internet speech to the question as well, announcing the appointment of the inevitable blue-ribbon commission to investigate the disaster, headed by retired Democratic senator Robert Graham and Republican former EPA administrator William Reilly.
A battalion of top officials has returned to the Gulf Coast to pose for the television cameras in a display of "action" against the oil spill. One of these, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, visited the BP emergency headquarters in Houston and declared afterwards, "I have no question that BP is throwing everything at the problem to try to resolve it because this is an existential crisis for one of the world's largest companies."
Asked whether he had confidence that the company knew what it was doing, Salazar replied, "No, not completely." He then added, "If we find that they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way." It is hard to top that statement for its combination of cluelessness and complacency.
The Obama administration has absolutely no intention of "pushing BP out of the way," not because of the company's supposedly unique technical resources and expertise, but because the Democratic Party, like the Republican Party, is a political instrument of big business. It defends the profit interests of corporate America and the "right" of the giant corporations to monopoly control over the means of production created by generations of human labor—even when it means the destruction of human life and the environment.
In his statement announcing the blue-ribbon commission, Obama blamed the oil disaster on the corporations involved, calling it "a breakdown of responsibility on the part of BP and perhaps others, including Transocean and Halliburton." He declared, "we will continue to hold the relevant companies accountable."
Genuine accountability, however, is impossible when the criminal controls the scene of the crime. The top officials of BP and its corporate accomplices should be subject to arrest and prosecution, and the assets of these companies should be seized to pay for the damages. Their huge resources must be placed under public control. This alone can ensure that the response to this disaster is directed not at defending the profit interests of the oil bosses, but at preserving the livelihood of millions of working people and the very existence of a large portion of the natural environment of the Gulf Coast.
3 May 2010
With each passing day, the scale of the disaster unleashed by the oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico increases. Somewhere between 5,000 (the official estimate) and 25,000 (the estimate of some scientists) barrels of oil is surging into the Gulf every day. Before it is over, millions, if not tens of millions of gallons of oil will be washed up on America's wetlands and shorelines.
Eleven workers are already dead in the latest industrial disaster in the American energy industry. Now, the fishing and seafood industry along the Gulf coast may be shut down for years, perhaps even a generation. The destruction of the fragile ecosystems of the region will likely be irreparable.
The disaster implicates one of the world's largest corporations, British Petroleum, together with partners and subcontractors like Transocean Ltd., operator of the drill rig, and Halliburton, which carried out major operations on the wellhead only a week before the explosion.
None of the giant corporations that created this disaster has any solution. When it first began the deep-water drilling project 15 months ago, BP gave assurances that "it is unlikely that an accidental oil spill release would occur from the proposed activities." Even in the event of a spill, the company claimed that "due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected."
The assurances given since the explosion have been no more believable. BP and its partners claimed at first that the rig was stable and the well capped without leakage. After the rig sank and the pipeline ruptured, BP said there was only incidental spillage of oil. Even after admitting the existence of the leak, the company has sought to downplay the spill, and estimates have risen repeatedly. In one worst-case scenario, the outpouring of oil could surge as high as 100,000 barrels per day.
Between Thursday morning and Friday evening, the oil slick created by the spill tripled in size, to nearly 4,000 square miles. In addition to impacting on Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, the spill could spread down the Gulf Coast of Florida all the way to the Florida Keys, where the Gulf Stream current would pull the floating crude right around the end of the peninsula and up the Atlantic seaboard.
The disaster is already the worst spill on record in the continental United States. If efforts fail to cap what one observer described as "an undersea oil volcano," the flow could continue until the entire pool of oil hit by the drill rig is exhausted, making the spill by far the largest in history.
While references are now being made to "Obama's Katrina," another comparison is perhaps more telling: Chernobyl. The meltdown of the nuclear reactor in 1986 poisoned a large swath of Ukraine and Belarus and caused an estimated 50,000 deaths. The event showed that, beneath claims of economic prosperity and military strength, the Stalinist regime in the USSR had become petrified and hollow.
The initial response of the Stalinist bureaucracy was to conceal and minimize the extent of the disaster. Only with time did its scale reach a broader consciousness. In the process, it exposed the bureaucracy's incompetence and indifference to the fate of the population.
For American capitalism, the past three decades have been a period of putrefaction—socially, economically, culturally, and politically. The United States has clung to its position as the world's dominant military power, but its internal rot has only deepened.
In the name of "getting government off your back" and unleashing the power of the free market, corporate America was given license to plunder, while the social infrastructure of the country deteriorated drastically—a fact that was revealed most dramatically in the failure of the levees in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The Obama administration is matching the Bush administration in its subservience to the corporate elite and indifference to the welfare of the American people. The April 20 disaster came barely a month after Obama announced authorization for the expansion of offshore drilling in the Gulf and Atlantic Coast, insisting that drilling was absolutely safe, and demonstrating his subservience to the oil companies.
Since the explosion, the main concern of the administration has been to divert a popular backlash against the oil monopolies. BP has been left in control of the wellhead operations, in effect leaving the perpetrator in control of the crime scene.
The top government official on the scene, Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen, defended BP Friday against criticism for not planning for the kind of equipment failure that appeared to cause the disaster. "It's hard to write a plan for a catastrophic event that has no precedent, which is what this was," he said, "what could never be in a plan, what you couldn't anticipate."
That such a statement can be made is only testament to the recklessness of the American ruling class, obsessively focused on the next day's stock market fluctuations. In fact, an eventual explosion such as that which occurred was entirely foreseeable. Similar accidents have occurred elsewhere—including off the coast of Australia last year. As with Hurricane Katrina, scientists have worried about the "big one"—an unrestrained leak from a deep-sea well near the US coast—for years.
After largely ignoring the disaster during the first week, the White House is hoping that a photo op can somehow patch things up. Obama's visit to the Gulf Coast, however, cannot conceal the fact that neither he nor the government has anything to offer to prevent the looming catastrophe. By the administration's own admission, any solution to the oil spill could be months off.
Once again, the population of the world is presented with a sober reminder of the enormous destructive potential of the giant corporations that control the world economy. From global financial meltdown, to environmental devastation and climate change, to mass impoverishment and disease—the subordination of mass society to the profit interests of these companies produces one disaster after the next.
Those responsible for this latest disaster, including corporate executives and government officials, must be brought to account and criminally prosecuted. Above all, the transformation of these corporations into publicly-owned and democratically-controlled entities—by which their relationship to nature and society can be consciously regulated to meet social need—is a pressing necessity.
Political Committee of the Socialist Equality Party (US)
When President Obama's Interior Secretary Ken Salazar promised to root out the "bad apples" yesterday at a House hearing, the head of Minerals Management Service was at the same hearing -- about to be plucked from the tree.
Elizabeth Birnbaum's departure was first reported as a "firing." Later, a "resignation." When asked for clarity, President Obama told the press corps today he had no idea.
"Did she resign," asked CBS White House Correspondent Chip Reid. "Was she fired? Was she forced out? And if so, why?"
"I found out about her resignation today," the president answered, "so I don't know the circumstances in which this occurred."
An incredulous press corps followed up.
"How is it that you didn't know about Ms. Birnbaum's resignation/firing before?" asked another reporter.
Mr. Obama: "Well, you're assuming it was a firing. If it was a resignation, then she would have submitted a letter to Mr. Salazar this morning at a time when I had a whole bunch of other stuff going on... Come on, I don't know. I'm telling you I found out about it this morning. So I don't yet know the circumstances, and Ken Salazar has been in testimony on the Hill."
Massive spill nation's worst, study confirms
By Tom Eley
28 May 2010
On Thursday afternoon, BP admitted that the success of its latest attempt to stem the flow of oil from the ocean floor, the so-called "top kill," was in doubt. The effort to blast thousands of gallons of heavy mud directly into the Deepwater Horizon rig's failed blowout preventer one mile beneath the water's surface was suspended early Thursday morning so that BP could analyze data, company spokesmen said.
BP said a second attempt would be launched Thursday evening, and indicated that it might include golf balls, pieces of rubber and other objects—a so-called "junk shot." It may take until the weekend to learn whether or not the top kill has stopped or even restricted the oil gush, the company said.
BP had not revealed to the media, or even the US government, that it had suspended the operation early Thursday, shortly after midnight. On Thursday morning an oblivious Thad Allen, commander of the US Coast Guard, claimed that the top kill had been a success and that no more oil was being emitted. That afternoon he said he thought BP was still pumping mud into the blowout preventer.
Allen's early comments led to jubilant headlines in the US media, but within hours BP was urging caution before admitting in an evening press conference that the result of the effort was, at best, unclear. "What we do know is that we have not yet stopped the flow," said BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles. "I probably should apologize to folks that we haven't been giving more data on that," he said when he was asked why BP did not explain earlier that it had suspended the top kill. "It was nothing more than we are so focused on the operation itself."
Earlier efforts to stop the spill using unmanned submarines, a four-story containment dome, and a tube to siphon off oil have also failed.
Meanwhile, the enormous scale of the disaster has come into sharper focus. New studies authored by the US Geological Survey (USGS) reveal that the spill in the Gulf of Mexico is many times worse than the estimate originally advanced by the Obama administration and BP. It is now certain to be the worst spill in US history and one of the worst ecological catastrophes in world history.
The USGS estimates the leakage rate falls in a range of between 500,000 and 1 million gallons per day. This would mean that somewhere between 17 million and 36 million gallons have been spilled, far more than the 11 million gallons of heavy crude lost by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
Yet the actual magnitude of the spill may be far higher. For weeks after the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, which took the lives of 11 workers, the Obama administration joined hands with BP and the Coast Guard in pushing a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimate of 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, per day. Steady criticism from scientists and mounting physical evidence finally forced the survey from the USGS, which operates within the Department of the Interior.
Steven Wereley, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, has come out with a far higher estimate. Analyzing only two of three leaks using computer particle analysis, Wereley told the House Energy Committee on May 19 that his best estimate was that the rate of the spill was 4.2 million gallons per day. If so, the spill has emitted upwards of 150 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.
BP has refused to allow scientists to measure the quantity of oil emitted below the water's surface, repeatedly claiming that it was impossible to know how much oil was spilling and that "it's not relevant to the response effort."
Scientists reject both claims. "If we don't know the total amount we are never really going to know where it all went," points out earth science professor David Valentine of the University of California. According to Valentine, surface observations cannot be accurate for underwater spills, "especially when you have oil traveling such great distances from the sea floor to the sea surfaces and when you have dispersants and other things that are acting on the oil."
BP's position that the size of the spill is irrelevant to cleanup stands in contradiction to its own emergency planning statement. On the second page of the 583-page document is the following passage: "an accurate estimation of the spill's total volume…is essential in providing preliminary data to plan and initiate cleanup operations."
BP's transparent aim in obscuring the size of the spill is to limit its liability. "If they put off measuring, then it's going to be a battle of dueling experts after the fact trying to extrapolate how much spilled after it has all sunk or has been carried away," Lloyd Benton Miller, a lawyer who represented victims of the Exxon Valdez spill, told McClatchy Newspapers. "The ability to measure how much oil was released will be impossible."
Evidence continues to mount that the damage done beneath the water's surface is massive. A team of scientists from the University of South Florida on Thursday discovered an enormous plume of oil stretching 22 miles from the ruptured wellhead toward Mobile Bay in Alabama. The cloud of hydrocarbons is also about six miles wide and reaches from near the water's surface to 3,300 feet down.
David Hollander, associate professor of chemical oceanography at the University of South Florida, said the thickest concentration was found about 1,300 feet down. Hollander and other researchers believe that the plumes may have been created by the unprecedented use of chemical dispersants to break up the oil at its point of emission. The impact on marine life will be severe.
"There are two elements to it," Hollander told the Associated Press. "The plume reaching waters on the continental shelf could have a toxic effect on fish larvae, and we also may see a long-term response as it cascades up the food web."
Fears of what may be taking place underwater have been substantiated by diver Philippe Cousteau, Jr., grandson of the legendary French diver Jacques Cousteau. Diving with an ABC news crew off the Louisiana coast, Cousteau reported tiny oil droplets up and down the water column that coated his diving suit. He called what he saw a "nightmare" and "one of the most horrible things I've ever seen underwater."
The impact on Gulf Coast shores, which had been mitigated for weeks by favorable winds and currents, is now catastrophic. Louisiana officials report that over 100 miles of coastline have been fouled by heavy crude oil stretching much of the length of the Mississippi Delta, potentially suffocating estuaries and marshlands critical for the state's multibillion-dollar fishing industry.
The Mississippi Delta is one of the most important biological areas in North America. It is home to about 40 percent of all US wetlands, and provides habitat and breeding grounds to thousands of species of fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds. Additionally, it provides a major bulwark for heavily populated southern Louisiana against the hurricanes that regularly strike the region.
Tens of thousands will lose their livelihoods along the Gulf Coast. Fishing has been shut down in 20 percent of US waters in the Gulf with no end in sight, and tourism, critical along the coast as far as south Florida, has been severely damaged.
The spill's impact on human health is also a major concern. On Wednesday, seven fishermen engaged in spill cleanup in the Breton Sound area were hospitalized after complaining of nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains. West Jefferson Medical Center spokeswoman Taslin Alfonso said the men believed they became ill due to exposure to the chemical dispersant used by BP to break up the spill, Corexit.
In another ominous development for the Gulf Coast, NOAA on Thursday predicted one of the most severe hurricane seasons on record, including between 8 and 14 hurricanes, seven of which could be "major"—with winds of over 111 miles per hour. Major storms pose the threat of lifting oil off the seafloor and driving it further onto sensitive coastlines.
28 May 2010
The White House press conference Thursday, the first held by President Barack Obama in nearly ten months, was devoted to presenting his administration as an active crisis manager in the Gulf oil catastrophe, rather than a handmaiden for BP, the giant oil company whose profit drive is responsible for the worst ecological disaster in US history.
Despite the now ritualistic reference to being "angry and frustrated," however, Obama exuded indifference. Shortly before he spoke, reports emerged of new estimates confirming that the amount of oil already released into the Gulf far surpasses the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill—a fact that Obama failed to mention in his opening remarks.
With the government's passive and virtually nonexistent response now so obvious that it has become the subject of criticism from within the president's own party, Obama focused his remarks on the claim that the federal government, not BP, was in charge of the operation to plug the Deepwater Horizon well and of the efforts to defend hundreds of miles of vulnerable coast line, now being hit by a surge of toxic crude oil.
"Our teams are authorized to direct BP, in the same way that they'd be authorized to direct these same teams if they were technically being paid by the federal government," he claimed.
If this account is true, so much the worse for Obama, since he has declared his administration responsible for the actions taken by BP over the past month: covering up the dimensions of the spill, failing to cap the well, and hampering the clean-up operation.
The truth is that the US government is prostrate before the power of the giant multinational oil companies, just as it was before the demands of Wall Street for a trillion-dollar bailout. The two parties that rotate control of the government are both political instruments of big business, and their top priority, particularly in a crisis situation, is to safeguard the interests of the financial aristocracy.
Obama admitted in his remarks to the press conference that there had been a "cozy and corrupt relationship…a scandalously close relationship between oil companies and the agency that regulates them." But he suggested that this connection was established under the Bush administration and no longer existed. That is only one of the many lies delivered during the hour-long media event.
The record shows that Obama and his Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar—who has a record of criticizing the Bush administration from the right for being too restrictive on the oil industry—took numerous actions over the past 16 months to accelerate drilling in the Gulf.
As the World Socialist Web Site noted on May 10 ("Obama administration blocked efforts to stop BP oil drilling before explosion"), the administration intervened in a federal court case in support of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and Salazar specifically cited BP's Deepwater Horizon operation as one that should be allowed to go forward.
An initial court decision—handed out only days after Obama gave BP an environmental waiver for its Deepwater Horizon rig—ruled that oil drilling in the Gulf was being carried out without sufficient study of its impact. Salazar praised a subsequent court decision, handed down in July 2009, which allowed the BP project to go forward and thus condemned much of the US Gulf coast to environmental catastrophe.
Obama's proposals in response to the disaster are a further demonstration of the administration's subservience to the oil monopolies. While he announced that he would extend a moratorium on new deepwater wells for six months and delay or cancel new projects off the coast of Alaska, Virginia and the western Gulf, this was the least the White House could do under the present circumstances of widespread public outrage. The administration also announced that 33 "exploratory" drills will be temporarily suspended—without noting that the vast majority of rigs in the region will continue unhindered.
The president announced no punitive measures against BP or the oil industry as a whole. While admitting the oil industry had engaged in "corrupt" relations with federal officials, Obama did not suggest that any corporate executive should face prosecution for such activity.
Obama appeared both unwilling and incapable of expressing the outrage and hatred felt by millions towards the giant oil multinational. Instead, he declared, in words that seem almost provocatively indifferent to public feeling, "BP's interests are aligned with the public interest to the extent that they want the well capped. It's bad for their business; it's bad for their bottom line. They're going to be paying a lot of damages…."
There have been no calls from leading Democratic politicians for BP executives to be arrested, prosecuted or jailed, or for the seizure of the assets of the giant multinational to pay for the untold damage it has caused. This under conditions in which a decision to use BP executives themselves to plug the hole would receive mass support—as an option that, in any case, could only have beneficial consequences.
The corporate-controlled media is likewise deaf to popular anger. Not a single question from the media representatives at Obama's press conference suggested any punitive action against BP. This silence is all the more notable because in the last few days, there have been extensive exposures in the major daily papers—the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, even the Wall Street Journal—of actions by BP officials in the days and hours leading up to the Deepwater Horizon explosion that amount to criminal negligence.
One question from Fox News was critical of some Obama administration rhetoric as excessively anti-corporate—Salazar's "keeping the boot on their throat" claim. Obama quickly disavowed Salazar's remark, saying, "We don't need to use language like that."
Far from such language being excessive, it is only a pale reflection of the hatred felt by millions for the giant corporations and banks that first caused the greatest financial crisis and deepest economic slump since the Great Depression, and now have caused the greatest environmental disaster in the history of the United States, and perhaps the world.
The author also recommends:
The profit system and the BP oil catastrophe
[24 May 2010]
The Gulf oil spill: An American Chernobyl
[3 May 2010]
You can help support our work: donate to Media Matters for America.
Flashback to 2008 MMS sex-for-oil scandalMay 4, 2010
[To get daily email updates of the latest news and analysis on the BP oil disaster, click here.]
You're going to be hearing about the Minerals Management Service in the coming days, since their "mission is to manage the mineral resources of the Outer Continental Shelf in an environmentally sound and safe manner."
After eight years of Bush-Cheney, they became absurdly cozy with the industry, signed off on Big Oil's desire for voluntary, "trust me," self-regulation — and caved in to industry demands not to mandate the backup shut off switch for offshore rigs that Brazil and Norway require.
In fact, "cozy," turned out to be an extreme understatement for how close the MMS and Big Oil were as I discussed two years ago in a post on their sex-for-oil scandal subtitled, "Please no jokes about Drill, Baby, Drill or Bush Energy Policy!" and excerpted below.
Just when you think the two oil-men in the White House can't top themselves for corruption metaphors:
Estimates Suggest Spill Is Biggest in U.S. History
Federal officials said Thursday that far more oil than they originally estimated was probably pouring into the Gulf of Mexico on a daily basis since the collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
The new estimate — 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day — is two to five times higher than the 5,000 barrels a day figure given by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on April 28, and establishes the oil spill as the largest in American history.
The range of 12,000 to 19,000 was described as the "overall best initial estimate" settled upon by the technical flow rate group, based on a variety of estimates coming from three smaller teams within the group measuring the flow-rate in different ways. Those estimates ranged from 11,000 barrels per day on the low end to as much as 25,000 barrels a day on the high end. In a much longer report provided to The New York Times on Friday, the researchers describe the difficulties they faced -- sometimes in wresting information from BP -- and suggest
that the flow rate may be even higher than any of their current estimates.
The government has been harshly criticized by scientists for underestimating the rate of the flow and for what appears to be its reluctance to force BP, the oil giant that owned the lease on the well, to more precisely measure the rate at which oil was gushing from the pipe into the gulf. The company's liability is in part determined by the extent of the spill.
President Obama, speaking at a White House news conference on Thursday, admitted that his administration, in dealing with BP officials, "should have pushed them sooner," to release images that would have helped in estimating the flow rate.
"There was a lag of several weeks that I think — that I think shouldn't have happened," Mr. Obama said.
MMS Offshore Drilling Chief to Retire
Chief of MMS offshore drilling programs to abruptly retire amid fallout from Gulf oil spill.
The fallout from the Gulf oil spill has claimed its first casualty at the Interior Department.
Chris Oynes, who oversees offshore drilling programs at the Minerals Management Service, will retire at the end of the month, according to an e-mail sent by an agency official to staff and obtained by The Associated Press. Oynes was regional director in charge of Gulf of Mexico offshore oil programs for 13 years before he was promoted in 2007 to associate director in charge of all offshore activities.
Obama Administration Official Resigns in Wake of BP Spill
May 27, 2010 1:01 PM
ABC News' Yunji de Nies Reports: S. Elizabeth Birnbaum is the latest Obama administration official to resign in the wake of the BP oil spill disaster. In a short letter addressed to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the now former Director of the Mineral Management Service takes an apparent dig at Bush administration, writing, "I'm hopeful that the reforms that the Secretary and the Administration are undertaking will resolve the flaws in the current system that I inherited."
Birnbaum took the job in July of last year. Since the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, her agency has been under fire for what critics call lax oversight over the energy leases they approve and managed.
In a statement, Secretary Salazar praised Birnbaum's tenure, calling her "a strong and effective person and leader." He said she "resigned today on her own terms and on her own volition."
At a news conference this afternoon, President Obama told reporters he was informed of Birnbaum's resignation earlier this morning and did not know the circumstances by which it came about.
"I can tell you what I've said to Ken Salazar, is that we have to make sure if we are going forward with domestic oil production that the federal agency charged with overseeing its safety and security is operating at the highest level," he said.
The President said more work still needs to be done to achieve that at MMS."Salazar came in and started cleaning house and culture had not fully changed at MMS, and absolutely I take responsibility for that," President Obama said.
rest at http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2010/05/obama-administration-official-resigns-in-wake-of-bp-spill.html
BP's OTHER Spill this Week
by Greg Palast for Buzzflash.com
Friday, May 28 2010
Oil spill residue, Chenega, Alaska©1997James Macalpine-PIF
On Tuesday, Pump Station 9, at Delta Junction on the 800-mile pipeline, busted. Thousands of barrels began spewing an explosive cocktail of hydrocarbons after "procedures weren't properly implemented" by BP operators, say state inspectors "Procedures weren't properly implemented" is, it seems, BP's company motto.
Few Americans know that BP owns the controlling stake in the trans-Alaska pipeline; but, unlike with the Deepwater Horizon, BP keeps its Limey name off the Big Pipe.
There's another reason to keep their name off the Pipe: their management of the pipe stinks. It's corroded, it's undermanned and "basic maintenance" is a term BP never heard of.
How does BP get away with it? The same way the Godfather got away with it: bad things happen to folks who blow the whistle. BP has a habit of hunting down and destroying the careers of those who warn of pipeline problems.
In one case, BP's CEO of Alaskan operations hired a former CIA expert to break into the home of a whistleblower, Chuck Hamel, who had complained of conditions at the pipe's tanker facility. BP tapped his phone calls with a US congressman and ran a surveillance and smear campaign against him. When caught, a US federal judge said BP's acts were "reminiscent of Nazi Germany."
This was not an isolated case. Captain James Woodle, once in charge of the pipe's Valdez terminus, was blackmailed into resigning the post when he complained of disastrous conditions there. The weapon used on Woodle was a file of faked evidence of marital infidelity. Nice guys, eh?
Dan Lawn, Alaska state pipeline inspector who challenged BP.
photo: J. Macalpine 1997 (Palast Fund)
Even then, a courageous, steel-eyed government inspector, Dan Lawn, was hollering about corrosion all through the BP pipeline. I say "courageous" because Lawn kept his job only because his union's lawyers have kept BP from having his head.
It wasn't until 2006, 17 years later, that BP claimed to have suddenly discovered corrosion necessitating an emergency shut-down of the line.
It was pretty darn hard for BP to claim surprise in August 2006 that corrosion required shutting the pipeline. Five months earlier, Inspector Lawn had written his umpteenth warning when he identified corrosion as the cause of a big leak .
BP should have known about the problem years before that ... if only because they had taped Dan Lawn's home phone calls.
BP: Red, White and Bush
I don't want readers to think BP is a foreign marauder unconcerned about America.
The company is deeply involved in our democracy. Bob Malone, until last year the Chairman of BP America, was also Alaska State Co-Chairman of the Bush re-election campaign. Mr. Bush, in turn, was so impressed with BP's care of Alaska's environment that he pushed again to open the state's arctic wildlife refuge (ANWR) to drilling by the BP consortium.
You can go to Alaska today and see for yourself the evidence of BP's care of the wilderness. You can smell it: the crude oil is still on the beaches from the Exxon Valdez spill.
Exxon took all the blame for the spill because they were dumb enough to have the company's name on the ship. But it was BP's pipeline managers who filed reports that oil spill containment equipment was sitting right at the site of the grounding near Bligh Island. However, the reports were bogus, the equipment wasn't there and so the beaches were poisoned. At the time, our investigators uncovered four-volumes worth of faked safety reports and concluded that BP was at least as culpable as Exxon for the 1,200 miles of oil-destroyed coastline.
Nevertheless, we know BP cares about nature because they have lots of photos of solar panels in their annual reports - and they've painted every one of their gas stations green.
The green paint-job is supposed to represent the oil giant's love of Mother Nature. But CEO Tony Hayward knows it stands for the color of the Yankee dollar.
In 2006, BP finally discovered the dangerous corrosion in the pipeline after running a "smart pig" through it. The "pig" is an electronic drone that BP should have been using continuously, though they had not done so for 14 years. Another "procedure not properly implemented."
By not properly inspecting the pipeline for over a decade, BP failed to prevent that March 2006 spill which polluted Prudhoe Bay. And cheaping out on remote controls for their oil well blow-out preventers appears to have cost the lives of 11 men on the Deepwater Horizon.
But then, failure to implement proper safety procedures has saved BP, not millions but billions of dollars, suggests that the company's pig is indeed, very, very smart.
* * * * * * * *
Greg Palast investigated charges of fraud by BP and Exxon in the grounding of the Exxon Valdez for Alaska's Chugach Natives.
Palast's investigation of Chevron's oil drilling operations in the Amazon for BBC Television Newsnight is included in the DVD compendium Palast Investigates.
Palast's investigations are supported in part by the Puffin and Cloud Mountain Foundations and the Palast Investigative Fund, a 501c3 charitable trust.
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Thursday, May 27, 2010
About that relationship between drilling and the price of oil...
Click to Expand
In case you can't read the reduced-size text above, it shows that when President Obama announced that he was opening more areas to offshore drilling at the end of March, oil prices shot up. Then when the moratorium on offshore drilling was put in place after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, oil prices took a nosedive. As the freeze was expanded and extended, prices kept moving down.
Clearly oil prices go up when drilling is expanded, and down when a drilling freeze is announced! Quick, freeze it all and gas will be $1 a gallon!
Or it could be that oil prices have almost nothing to do with drilling activity whose production won't be reflected on the market for years. It could be that prices are instead driven far more by global events, like a financial meltdown in Greece that caused anticipated changes in world demand. Hard as it is to believe, it could be that Mitch McConnell and others throwing around wild numbers reveal that they are know-nothing blowhards attempting to capitalize on tragedy to expand the activity that brought on the problem in the first place. Could be.
This series of images reveals a space-based view of the burning oil rig and the ensuing oil spill, through May 24.