by Rady Ananda
Global Research, October 25, 2011
Posted by Admin on October 28, 2011
by Rady Ananda
Global Research, October 25, 2011
Posted in Global Research, Pollution | Tagged: associated press, bp, deepwater horizon, Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Ed Markey, Government Accountability Office, gulf of mexico, John Amos, New Orleans | Comments Off
Posted by Admin on December 16, 2010
The government, in an opening salvo in its effort to get billions of dollars for untold economic and environmental damage, accuses the companies of disregarding federal safety regulations in drilling the well that blew out April 20 and triggered a deadly explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Wednesday’s lawsuit is separate from a Justice Department criminal probe that has not resulted in any charges.
“The department’s focus on investigating this disaster and preventing future (spills) is not over,” Attorney General Eric Holder said during a news conference in Washington. “Both our civil and criminal investigations are ongoing.”
The federal lawsuit filed in New Orleans names BP, rig owner Transocean and some other companies involved in the ill-fated drilling project, but not Halliburton — the project’s cement contractor — or the maker of a key cutoff valve that failed. Both could be added later.
BP said it would respond to the claims later but noted that it stands “alone among the parties” in having already stepped up to pay for the cleanup. It said in a statement that it will continue to fulfill its commitments to the Gulf and to cooperate with investigations.
“The filing is solely a statement of the government’s allegations and does not in any manner constitute any finding of liability or any judicial finding that the allegations have merit,” BP said.
The lawsuit makes it possible for the federal government to seek billions of dollars in penalties for polluting the Gulf of Mexico, beaches and wetlands, and reimbursement for its cleanup costs. More than 300 lawsuits filed previously by individuals and businesses, and now consolidated in the New Orleans federal court, include claims for financial losses and compensation for the families of 11 workers killed in the blast.
The judge overseeing those lawsuits had set Wednesday as the deadline to file certain types of complaints, though it was unclear whether the government was bound by that time frame.
“The Justice Department has left its options open to argue that there was gross negligence and therefore should be higher penalties,” said David Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan who headed up the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section for seven years. “The government has not limited itself in any way with the filing of its civil lawsuit.”
The suit asks that the companies be held liable without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for all removal costs and damages caused by the spill, including damages to natural resources. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.
The government did not set a dollar figure in the lawsuit, saying the amount of damages and the extent of injuries sustained by the United States are not yet fully known.
Under the Clean Water Act alone, BP faces fines of up to $1,100 for each barrel of oil spilled. If BP were found to have committed gross negligence or willful misconduct, the fine could be up to $4,300 per barrel.
That means that based on the government’s estimate of 206 million gallons released by the well, BP could face civil fines of between $5.4 billion and $21.1 billion. BP disputes the government’s spill estimate.
The government did not specify in its lawsuit whether it believes there was gross negligence, but it left open the possibility for such a finding later.
Besides BP Exploration & Production Inc., the other defendants in the case are Anadarko Exploration & Production LP; Anadarko Petroleum Corp.; MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC; Triton Asset Leasing GMBH; Transocean Holdings LLC; Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling Inc.; Transocean Deepwater Inc.; and Transocean’s insurer, QBE Underwriting Ltd./Lloyd’s Syndicate 1036. Anadarko and MOEX are minority owners of the well that blew out.
Transocean disputed the allegations and insisted it should not be held liable.
“No drilling contractor has ever been held liable for discharges from a well under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990,” Transocean said in a statement. “The responsibility for hydrocarbons discharged from a well lies solely with its owner and operator.”
Anadarko said ultimate responsibility may rest solely with the operator of the well — BP.
“As a non-operating minority interest holder in the well, we were not involved in the operations or decisions that occurred on the drilling rig,” Anadarko said in a statement. “We recognize that we may have obligations under federal law, and we will continue to look to the operator to pay all legitimate claims as it has committed to do.”
The staff of a presidentially appointed commission looking into the spill has said the disaster resulted from questionable decisions and management failures by BP, Transocean and Halliburton Energy Services Inc. The panel found 11 decisions made by these companies increased risk. Most saved time, and all but one had a safer alternative.
Halliburton and Cameron International, which made the rig’s failed blowout preventer, weren’t named as defendants in the suit. Halliburton did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Eric Schaeffer, who led the Environmental Protection Agency’s civil enforcement office from 1997 to 2002, cited three possible explanations for omitting Halliburton. The company could be close to a settlement, Justice needs more time to develop its case against Halliburton, or the government thinks it doesn’t have a strong enough case against Halliburton.
Schaeffer said he doubts the government will let Halliburton completely off the hook.
“I would be inclined more toward the first explanation,” Schaeffer said. “If they think Halliburton is maybe less culpable, they may be able to reach a settlement quicker. That could help them build their case against the rest of the companies.”
Bruce Parris, manager of The Dock restaurant and bar just a few feet off the sand in Pensacola Beach, Fla., said “it’s about time” President Obama started to hold BP accountable. He was standing on the restaurant’s deck, watching large tractors sift through the sand as part of BP’s beach cleanup operations.
“I’m all for anything. I don’t care how they get money out of BP. Just get it,” Parris said.
Separately, an administrator is doling out money to spill victims from a $20 billion fund of BP money.
The government’s lawsuit alleges that safety and operating regulations were violated in the period leading up to the explosion.
It says the defendants failed to keep the well under control and failed to use the best available and safest drilling technology to monitor the well’s conditions. They also failed to maintain continuous surveillance, and to maintain the equipment and material necessary to protect workers, natural resources and the environment, the suit charges.
The Justice Department isn’t the first government entity to sue BP. Alabama Attorney General Troy King filed federal lawsuits in August on behalf of the state against BP, Transocean, Halliburton and other companies that worked on the project.
Posted in Pollution | Tagged: Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, bp, Clean Water Act, deepwater horizon, Deepwater Horizon oil spill, gulf of mexico, Mitsui Oil Exploration Co., Oil Pollution Act of 1990, Transocean, United States, United States Department of Justice | Comments Off
Posted by Admin on July 22, 2010
Posted by Alexander Higgins
July 16, 2010
If the people of the Gulf have had one advocate throughout the BP Gulf Oil Spill it has been the scientific community.
They have not been afraid to step and challenge BP and The Federal Government over the existence of underwater plumes, the dangers of the dispersants BP is using, or the safety of Gulf waters.
The scientific community has sounded the alarm on skyrocketing arsenic levels in the Gulf while the Government has kept quiet and has exposed the improper BP cleanup practices that are contaminating Gulf beaches.
Scientist have come forward to reveal the real location of the oil spill, exposed the lies about oil and methane plumes, and have alerted the public to severely low-balled flow rates.
The list goes on and on.
However those days may soon becoming to an end.
A startling new report from the Alabama Register reveals BP is trying to buy up Gulf scientists and Universities in mass to prevent them from releasing research data to the public.
For the last few weeks, BP has been offering signing bonuses and lucrative pay to prominent scientists from public universities around the Gulf Coast to aid its defense against spill litigation.
BP PLC attempted to hire the entire marine sciences department at one Alabama university, according to scientists involved in discussions with the company’s lawyers. The university declined because of confidentiality restrictions that the company sought on any research.
The Press-Register obtained a copy of a contract offered to scientists by BP. It prohibits the scientists from publishing their research, sharing it with other scientists or speaking about the data that they collect for at least the next three years.
“We told them there was no way we would agree to any kind of restrictions on the data we collect. It was pretty clear we wouldn’t be hearing from them again after that,” said Bob Shipp, head of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama. “We didn’t like the perception of the university representing BP in any fashion.”
BP officials declined to answer the newspaper’s questions about the matter. Among the questions: how many scientists and universities have been approached, how many are under contract, how much will they be paid, and why the company imposed confidentiality restrictions on scientific data gathered on its behalf.
More than one scientist interviewed by the Press-Register described being offered $250 an hour through BP lawyers. At eight hours a week, that amounts to $104,000 a year.
Scientists from Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University and Texas A&M have reportedly accepted, according to academic officials. Scientists who study marine invertebrates, plankton, marsh environments, oceanography, sharks and other topics have been solicited.
The contract makes it clear that BP is seeking to add scientists to the legal team that will fight the Natural Resources Damage Assessment lawsuit that the federal government will bring as a result of the Gulf oil spill.
The government also filed a NRDA suit after the Exxon Valdez spill.
In developing its case, the government will draw on the large amount of scientific research conducted by academic institutions along the Gulf. Many scientists being pursued by BP serve at those institutions.
With its payments, BP buys more than the scientists’ services, according to Wiygul. It also buys silence, he said, thanks to confidentiality clauses in the contracts.
Richard Shaw, associate dean of LSU’s School of the Coast and Environment, said that the BP contracts are already hindering the scientific community’s ability to monitor the affects of the Gulf spill.
“The first order of business at the research meetings is to get all the disclosures out. Who has a personal connection to BP? We have to know how to deal with that person,” Shaw said. “People are signing on with BP because the government funding to the universities has been so limited. It’s a sad state of affairs.”
“This is not an agreement to do research for BP,” Wiygul said. “This is an agreement to join BP’s legal team. You agree to communicate with BP through their attorneys and to take orders from their attorneys.
“The purpose is to maintain any information or data that goes back and forth as privileged.”
The contract requires scientists to agree to withhold data even in the face of a court order if BP decides to fight such an order. It stipulates that scientists will be paid only for research approved in writing by BP.
The contracts have the added impact of limiting the number of scientists who’re able to with federal agencies. “Let’s say BP hired you because of your work with fish. The contract says you can’t do any work for the government or anyone else that involves your work with BP. Now you are a fish scientist who can’t study fish,” Wiygul said.
Perhaps even more startling is the scientists that BP isn’t paying off to keep quiet the Federal Government is.
A scientist who spoke to the Press-Register on condition of anonymity because he feared harming relationships with colleagues and government officials said he rejected a BP contract offer and was subsequently approached by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with a research grant offer.
He said the first question the federal agency asked was, “‘is there a conflict of interest,’ meaning, ‘are you under contract with BP?’”
Other scientists told the newspaper that colleagues who signed on with BP have since been informed by federal officials that they will lose government funding for ongoing research efforts unrelated to the spill.
NOAA officials did not answer requests for comment. The agency also did not respond to a request for the contracts that it offers scientists receiving federal grants. Several scientists said the NOAA contract was nearly as restrictive as the BP version.
The state of Alaska published a 293-page report on the NRDA process after the Exxon Valdez disaster. A section of the report titled “NRDA Secrecy” discusses anger among scientists who received federal grants over “the non-disclosure form each researcher had signed as a prerequisite to funding.”
“It’s a very strange situation. The science is already suffering,” Shaw said. “The government needs to come through with funding for the universities. They are letting go of the most important group of scientists, the ones who study the Gulf.”
Posted by Admin on July 13, 2010
NEW ORLEANS – With a tight new cap freshly installed on its leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico, BP planned gradual tests starting Tuesday to see if the device can stop oil from pouring into the sea for the first time in nearly three months.
Engineers will slowly shut down three valves that let oil flow through the 75-ton capping device to see if it can withstand the pressure of the erupting crude and to watch if leaks spring up elsewhere in the well. National Incident Commander Thad Allen said the process of closing the valves, one by one, would start later Tuesday.
If pressure inside the cap stays in a target range for roughly six hours after the valves are closed, there will be more confidence the cap can contain the oil, Allen told a news briefing at BP’s U.S. headquarters in Houston. That target range is 8,000 to 9,000 pounds per square inch, he said. Anything lower could indicate another leak in the well.
Allen and BP officials repeatedly cautioned there are no guarantees about the delicate work a mile below the sea. Allen urged Gulf Coast residents watching the possible fix evolve to be patient.
“They ought to be interested and concerned but if they hold their breath, they’ll run out of oxygen. I won’t be,” Allen told The Associated Press after the briefing.
The tests could last anywhere from six to 48 hours, Allen and BP said.
Kent Wells, a senior vice president at the oil giant, declined to talk about BP’s next steps until the test results are in hand.
“It’s not simple stuff. What we don’t want to do is speculate around it,” Wells said in a BP news briefing.
The cap’s installation after three days of undersea preparations was good news to weary residents of the coast from Texas to Florida, who have waited for BP to make good on its promise to clean up the mess. Still, even if the oil is stopped, the consequences are far from over.
“I ain’t excited about it until it’s closed off completely,” said James Pelas, 41, a shrimper working on his boat at a marina in Venice, La. “Oil’s scattered all over the place.”
The cap will be tested by closing off three separate valves that fit together snugly, choking off the oil from entering the Gulf. BP expects no oil will be released into the ocean during the tests, but remained cautious about the success of the system.
Pipes can be hooked to the cap to funnel oil to collection ships if BP decides the cap can’t take the pressure of the gusher, or if low pressure readings indicate oil is leaking from elsewhere in the well.
Even if the cap works, the blown-out well must still be plugged. A permanent fix will have to wait until one of two relief wells being drilled reaches the broken well, which will then be plugged up with drilling mud and cement. That may not happen until mid-August.
Even if the flow of oil is choked off while BP works on a permanent fix, the spill has already damaged everything from beach tourism to the fishing industry.
Tony Wood, director of the National Spill Control School at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi said the sloppiest of the oil — mousse-like brown stuff that has not yet broken down — will keep washing ashore for several months, with the volume slowly decreasing over time.
He added that could keep hitting beaches and marshes each time a major storm rolls through for a year or more. Those tar balls are likely trapped for now in the surf zone, gathering behind sand bars just like sea shells.
“It will still be getting on people’s feet on the beaches probably a year or two from now,” Wood said.
But on Monday, the region absorbed a rare piece of good news in the placement of the 150,000-pound cap on top of the gushing leak responsible for so much misery.
Around 6:30 p.m. CDT, live video streams trained on the wellhead showed the cap being slowly lowered into place. BP officials said the device was attached around 7 p.m.
Residents skeptical if BP can deliver on its promise to control the spill greeted the news cautiously.
“There’s no telling what those crazy suckers are going to do now,” Ronnie Kenniar said when he heard the cap was placed on the well. The 49-year-old fishermen is now working in the Vessel of Opportunity program, a BP-run operation employing boat owners to lay boom, ferry coast guard officers and deliver supplies.
As of Tuesday, the 84th day of the disaster, between 90.4 and 178.6 million gallons of oil have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico
BP underwater video: http://bit.ly/bwCXmR
Weber reported from Houston. Associated Press writers Frederic J. Frommer in Washington, Matt Brown and Tom Breen in New Orleans and Holbrook Mohr in Belle Chasse, La., contributed to this report.
Posted by Admin on June 1, 2010
By MATTHEW BROWN | Posted: Monday, May 31, 2010 4:11 pm
Independent scientists and government officials say there’s a disaster we can’t see in the Gulf of Mexico’s mysterious depths, the ruin of a world inhabited by enormous sperm whales and tiny, invisible plankton.
Researchers have said they have found at least two massive underwater plumes of what appears to be oil, each hundreds of feet deep and stretching for miles. Yet the chief executive of BP PLC _ which has for weeks downplayed everything from the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf to the environmental impact _ said there is “no evidence” that huge amounts of oil are suspended undersea.
BP CEO Tony Hayward said the oil naturally gravitates to the surface _ and any oil below was just making its way up. However, researchers say the disaster in waters where light doesn’t shine through could ripple across the food chain.
“Every fish and invertebrate contacting the oil is probably dying. I have no doubt about that,” said Prosanta Chakrabarty, a Louisiana State University fish biologist.
On the surface, a 24-hour camera fixed on the spewing, blown-out well and the images of dead, oil-soaked birds have been evidence of the calamity. At least 20 million gallons of oil and possibly 43 million gallons have spilled since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank in April.
That has far eclipsed the 11 million gallons released during the Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska’s coast in 1989. But there is no camera to capture what happens in the rest of the vast Gulf, which sprawls across 600,000 square miles and reaches more than 14,000 feet at its deepest point.
Every night, the denizens of the deep make forays to shallower depths to eat _ and be eaten by _ other fish, according to marine scientists who describe it as the largest migration on earth.
In turn, several species closest to the surface _ including red snapper, shrimp and menhaden _ help drive the Gulf Coast fishing industry. Others such as marlin, cobia and yellowfin tuna sit atop the food chain and are chased by the Gulf’s charter fishing fleet.
Many of those species are now in their annual spawning seasons. Eggs exposed to oil would quickly perish. Those that survived to hatch could starve if the plankton at the base of the food chain suffer. Larger fish are more resilient, but not immune to the toxic effects of oil.
The Gulf’s largest spill was in 1979, when the Ixtoc I platform off Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula blew up and released 140 million gallons of oil. But that was in relatively shallow waters _ about 160 feet deep _ and much of the oil stayed on the surface where it broke down and became less toxic by the time it reached the Texas coast.
But last week, a team from the University of South Florida reported a plume was headed toward the continental shelf off the Alabama coastline, waters thick with fish and other marine life.
The researchers said oil in the plumes had dissolved into the water, possibly a result of chemical dispersants used to break up the spill. That makes it more dangerous to fish larvae and creatures that are filter feeders.
Responding to Hayward’s assertion, one researcher noted that scientists from several different universities have come to similar conclusions about the plumes after doing separate testing.
No major fish kills have been reported, but federal officials said the impacts could take years to unfold.
“This is just a giant experiment going on and we’re trying to understand scientifically what this means,” said Roger Helm, a senior official with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In 2009, LSU’s Chakrabarty discovered two new species of bottom-dwelling pancake batfish about 30 miles off the Louisiana coastline _ right in line with the pathway of the spill caused when the Deepwater Horizon burned and sank April 24.
By the time an article in the Journal of Fish Biology detailing the discovery appears in the August edition, Chakrabarty said, the two species _ which pull themselves along the seafloor with feet-like fins _ could be gone or in serious decline.
“There are species out there that haven’t been described, and they’re going to disappear,” he said.
Recent discoveries of endangered sea turtles soaked in oil and 22 dolphins found dead in the spill zone only hint at the scope of a potential calamity that could last years and unravel the Gulf’s food web.
Concerns about damage to the fishery already is turning away potential customers for charter boat captains such as Troy Wetzel of Venice. To get to waters unaffected by the spill, Wetzel said he would have to take his boat 100 miles or more into the Gulf _ jacking up his fuel costs to where only the wealthiest clients could afford to go fishing.
Significant amounts of crude oil seep naturally from thousands of small rifts in the Gulf’s floor _ as much as two Exxon Valdez spills every year, according to a 2000 report from government and academic researchers. Microbes that live in the water break down the oil.
The number of microbes that grow in response to the more concentrated BP spill could tip that system out of balance, LSU oceanographer Mark Benfield said.
Too many microbes in the sea could suck oxygen from the water, creating an uninhabitable hypoxic area, or “dead zone.”
Preliminary evidence of increased hypoxia in the Gulf was seen during an early May cruise aboard the R/V Pelican, carrying researchers from the University of Georgia, the University of Mississippi and the University of Southern Mississippi.
An estimated 910,000 gallons of dispersants _ enough to fill more than 100 tanker trucks _ are contributing a new toxin to the mix. Containing petroleum distillates and propylene glycol, the dispersants’ effects on marine life are still unknown.
What is known is that by breaking down oil into smaller droplets, dispersants reduce the oil’s buoyancy, slowing or stalling the crude’s rise to the surface and making it harder to track the spill.
Dispersing the oil lower into the water column protects beaches, but also keeps it in cooler waters where oil does not break down as fast. That could prolong the oil’s potential to poison fish, said Larry McKinney, director of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.
“There’s a school of thought that says we’ve made it worse because of the dispersants,” he said.
Associated Press writer Jason Dearen contributed to this report from San Francisco.
Posted by Admin on May 29, 2010
In the minutes after a cascade of gas explosions crippled the Deepwater Horizon on April 20, confusion reigned on the drilling platform. Flames were spreading rapidly, power was out, and terrified workers were leaping into the dark, oil-coated sea. Capt. Curt Kuchta, the vessel’s commander, huddled on the bridge with about 10 other managers and crew members.
Andrea Fleytas, a 23-year-old worker who helped operate the rig’s sophisticated navigation machinery, suddenly noticed a glaring oversight: No one had issued a distress signal to the outside world, she recalls in an interview. Ms. Fleytas grabbed the radio and began calling over a signal monitored by the Coast Guard and other vessels.
“Mayday, Mayday. This is Deepwater Horizon. We have an uncontrollable fire.”
When Capt. Kuchta realized what she had done, he reprimanded her, she says.
“I didn’t give you authority to do that,” he said, according to Ms. Fleytas, who says she responded: “I’m sorry.”
An examination by The Wall Street Journal of what happened aboard the Deepwater Horizon just before and after the explosions suggests the rig was unprepared for the kind of disaster that struck and was overwhelmed when it occurred. The events on the bridge raise questions about whether the rig’s leaders were prepared for handling such a fast-moving emergency and for evacuating the rig—and, more broadly, whether the U.S. has sufficient safety rules for such complex drilling operations in very deep water.
The chain of command broke down at times during the crisis, according to many crew members. They report that there was disarray on the bridge and pandemonium in the lifeboat area, where some people jumped overboard and others called for boats to be launched only partially filled.
The vessel’s written safety procedures appear to have made it difficult to respond swiftly to a disaster that escalated at the speed of the events on April 20. For example, the guidelines require that a rig worker attempting to contain a gas emergency had to call two senior rig officials before deciding what to do. One of them was in the shower during the critical minutes, according to several crew members.
The written procedures required multiple people to jointly make decisions about how to respond to “dangerous” levels of gas—a term that wasn’t precisely defined—and some members of the crew were unclear about who had authority to initiate an emergency shutdown of the well.
This account of what happened aboard the rig at the time of the explosions, which killed 11, is based on interviews with survivors, their written accounts, testimony to the Coast Guard and internal documents of rig operator Transocean Ltd. and well owner BP PLC.
In written responses to the Journal, Transocean said that the time between the first sign of trouble and the catastrophic explosion was too short for the crew to have done anything to effectively prevent or minimize the disaster. The company also said the rig’s chain of command was in place and “did not hinder response time or activity.”
At a Coast Guard hearing on Thursday, Jimmy Wayne Harrell, the top Transocean executive on the rig, acknowledged under questioning that a split chain of command on the platform could lead to “confusion” but it didn’t hinder emergency response. At the same hearing, Capt. Kuchta said that communications had not been a problem.
BP declined to comment on anything that happened April 20.
In the minutes before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, almost no one on board realized that serious trouble was brewing, other than a few men on the drilling floor—the uppermost of three levels on the massive structure. The sea was as still as glass. A cool wind blew faintly from the north. Capt. Kuchta was hosting two BP executives on board for a ceremony honoring the rig for seven years without a serious accident.
Nearly 20 men, many of them close friends, were operating the drilling apparatus, which already had bored through more than 13,000 feet of rock about 5,000 feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico. No alarms had sounded that day signaling gas on the platform.
At about 9:47 p.m., workers all over the rig heard a sudden hiss of methane gas. Methane is often present in the ground in and near reservoirs of crude oil, and managing the threat is a regular part of drilling.
Within two minutes, pressure caused by gas in the well pipe had spiked dramatically, drilling records indicate. A torrent of methane gas struck the rig. Power failed throughout the vessel. “Everything started jumping up and down and rocking us,” said Kevin Senegal, 45, a tank cleaner, in an interview.
Out on the water, 40 feet away, a 260-foot supply ship called the Damon B. Bankston was tethered to the rig by a hose. That ship’s captain said in an interview that he saw drilling “mud,” which is used as a counterweight to gas in the well, flying out of the drilling derrick like a “volcano.” He radioed the bridge of the Deepwater Horizon. He was told there was “trouble with the well” and the Bankston should move 150 meters back. Then the channel went silent.
Micah Sandell, a 40-year-old with a wife and three children, watched with alarm from the rig’s gantry crane, a massive device that moved across the main deck on a track. He radioed his crew to move away from the derrick.
Down on the deck, Heber Morales, 33, a former Marine from Texas, turned to the worker beside him. “Oh, man. That’s not good,” he said. The two moved away from the derrick.
Up in the crane, Mr. Sandell saw another worker on the deck, assistant driller Donald Clark, a 48-year-old former soybean farmer from Newellton, La., bolt for a set of stairs leading for the area where workers were fighting to control the well.
Ms. Fleytas, one of only three female workers in the 126-member crew, was on the bridge monitoring the rig’s exact location and stability. Briefly, all the equipment went black, then a backup battery kicked on. She and her coworkers checked their monitors, which indicated no engines or thrusters were operational. Multiple gas alarms were sounding. One of the six huge engines that kept the floating platform stable was revving wildly.
No methane had been detected on the Deepwater Horizon before the massive gas jolt. So no “Level 1″ gas emergency—according to Transocean safety regulations, when “dangerous” levels of gas are detected in the well—had been declared, according to crew members. That meant the crew had gotten no general alert to prepare for trouble and no order to shut down anything that might ignite the gas.
The rig’s regulations state that in the event of such an emergency, the two top managers—on April 20 they were BP’s senior person on the rig, Donald Vidrine, and Transocean’s installation manager, Mr. Harrell—were to go to the drilling floor and evaluate the situation jointly. But once the gas hit, neither was able to get to the area.
Transocean says the rig’s chain of command and safety standards were followed and worked effectively under the circumstances. Mr. Harrell didn’t return phone calls. BP said Mr. Vidine was unavailable to comment.
When the pressure in the well spiked suddenly, the drilling crew had limited options and little time to act. Jason Anderson, a 35-year-old “toolpusher” who was supervising the crew on the oil platform’s drilling floor, tried to divert gas away from the rig by closing the “bag,” a thick membrane that surrounds a key part of the drill mechanism. That didn’t work.
Four emergency calls were made from the rig floor to senior crew members in the moments before the blast, according to a BP document reviewed by the Journal. One went to Mr. Vidrine, according to notes about a statement he gave the Coast Guard that were reviewed by the Journal. The rig worker, who isn’t identified in the notes, told him the drilling crew was “getting mud back,” a sign that gas was flooding into the well. At that point, Mr. Vidrine rushed for the drilling floor, but already “mud was everywhere,” he told the Coast Guard.
At about 9:50 p.m., Stephen Curtis, the 40-year-old assistant driller working with Mr. Anderson, called the rig’s senior toolpusher, Randy Ezell, who was in his sleeping quarters, according to a statement given by Mr. Ezell to the Coast Guard. Mr. Curtis said that methane was surging into the well and workers were on the verge of losing control.
Two rig workers who later discussed the matter with Mr. Ezell said he was told that Mr. Anderson was going to trigger the blowout preventer, a 450-ton device designed to slice the drill pipe at the ocean floor and seal the well in less than a minute. If triggered in time, it might have been enough to prevent the explosions, or at least limit the scale of the disaster, say some drilling experts. Mr. Ezell prepared to go to the drilling floor, according to his statement.
Seconds later, the methane ignited, possibly triggered by the revving engine. That set off an explosion that blew away critical sections of the Deepwater Horizon, sheared off at least one engine, set large parts of the rig on fire and allowed oil to begin spewing into the sea.
Mr. Curtis, an ex-military man who enjoyed turkey hunting, and Mr. Anderson, a father of two who was planning to leave the Deepwater Horizon for good at the end of his 21-day rotation, almost certainly were killed instantly, according to other workers. So was veteran driller Dewey Revette, 48, from State Line, Miss. Six men working nearby also died. They included 22-year-old Shane Roshto and Karl Kleppinger, Jr., 38, from Natchez, Miss., and Mr. Clark, the assistant driller who had rushed to the stairs to help out.
Dale Burkeen, a 37-year-old Mississippian who operated the rig’s tall starboard crane, had been trying to get out of harm’s way when the blast hit. It blew him off a catwalk, other workers say, and he fell more than 50 feet to the deck, where he died.
A series of detonations followed. The motor room was wrecked. Steel doors were blown off their hinges. The wheel on one door flew off and struck a worker. Crew members were hurled across rooms, leaving many with broken bones, gashes and serious burns.
When he heard the first explosion, toolpusher Wyman Wheeler, who was scheduled to go home the next day, was in his bunk. He got up to investigate. The second blast blew the door off his quarters, breaking his shoulder and right leg in five places, according to family members. Other workers scooped him up and carried him toward the lifeboat deck on a stretcher.
The explosions knocked gantry-crane operator Mr. Sandell out of his seat and across the cab. As he fled down a spiral staircase to the deck, another explosion sent him into the air. He fell more than 10 feet, then got up to run. “Around me all over the deck, I couldn’t see nothing but fire,” he said in an interview. “There was no smoke, only flames.” He ran for the lifeboat deck.
From the bridge, Chief Mate David Young ran outside to investigate and to suit up for firefighting. After he encountered only one other crew member in gear, he returned to the bridge. Crew members say no significant firefighting efforts were undertaken. “We had no fire pumps. There was nothing to do but abandon ship,” said Capt. Kuchta, in testimony at a Coast Guard inquiry on Thursday.
As workers poured out of their quarters, many found their routes to open decks blocked. Ceiling tiles and insulation were blown everywhere. In some areas, fire-suppression systems were discharging carbon dioxide. Stairways were gone.
According to many workers, most crew members didn’t get clear direction from the bridge about what to do for several minutes. Finally, the public-address system began to blare: “Fire. Fire. Fire. Fire on the rig floor. This is not a drill.”
Many crew members couldn’t reach their designated assembly areas. Scores scrambled instead toward the only two accessible lifeboats, which hung by cables 75 feet above the water on one side of the rig. Each enclosed and motorized boat could hold about 75 passengers.
“The scene was very chaotic,” said worker Carlos Ramos in an interview. “People were in a state of panic.” Flames were shooting out of the well hole to a height of 250 feet or more. Debris was falling. One crane boom on the rig melted from the heat and folded over.
Injured workers were scattered around the deck. Others were yelling that the rig was going to blow up. “There was no chain of command. Nobody in charge,” Mr. Ramos said.
“People were just coming out of nowhere and just trying to get on the lifeboats,” said Darin Rupinski, one of the operators of the rig’s positioning system, in an interview. “One guy was actually hanging off the railing…. People were saying that we needed to get out of there.”
At one point, a Transocean executive was standing partly in the lifeboat, helping injured workers off the rig and telling Mr. Rupinski not to lower the boat yet. Rig workers piling in were shouting for him to get the boat down. “There had to be at least 50 people in the boat, yelling, screaming at you to lower the boat,” Mr. Rupinski recalled. “And you have a person outside saying, ‘We have to wait.’”
Terrified workers began jumping directly into the sea—a 75-foot leap into the darkness. Mr. Rupinski radioed the bridge that workers were going overboard.
A Transocean spokesman said the company hasn’t yet been able to determine exactly what happened in the lifeboat loading area.
Capt. Kuchta and about 10 other executives and crew members, including Ms. Fleytas, were gathered on the bridge, which was not yet threatened by fire. When word reached the bridge that workers were jumping, Ms. Fleytas’s supervisor issued a “man overboard” call.
The Bankston, now positioned hundreds of feet from the burning rig, picked up the call. Officers on that vessel had seen what appeared to be shiny objects—the reflective life vests on rig workers—tumbling from the platform into the water. The Bankston put a small boat into the water and began a rescue operation.
Messrs. Vidrine and Harrell, the two highest ranking executives, appeared on the bridge. Mr. Vidrine later told the Coast Guard that a panel on the bridge showed that the drilling crew, all of whom were dead by then, had already closed the “bag,” the thick rubber membrane around a section of the well.
But the emergency disconnect, which would sever the drilling pipe and shut down the well, had not been successfully triggered. Some crew members on the bridge said the disconnect needed to be hit, and a higher-ranking manager said to do so, according to an account given to the Coast Guard. Then another crew member said the cutoff couldn’t be hit without permission from Mr. Harrell, who then gave the OK. At 9:56 p.m., the button finally was pushed, with no apparent effect, according to an internal BP document.
Mr. Young, the chief mate who had left the bridge to survey the fire, told Capt. Kuchta that the fire was “uncontrollable,” and that everyone needed to abandon the rig immediately, according to two workers on the bridge. Under Transocean safety regulations, the decision to evacuate was to be made by Capt. Kuchta and Mr. Harrell.
Capt. Kuchta didn’t immediately issue the order, even though at least one lifeboat had already pushed away, according to several people on the bridge. At the Coast Guard hearing Thursday, several crew members said they weren’t certain who issued the abandon ship order or whether one was ever given. Capt. Kuchta didn’t return calls seeking comment, but in his testimony said it was obvious to all by that time that the crew should evacuate.
Alarmed at the situation, Ms. Fleytas recalled in the interview, she turned on the public-address system and said: “We are abandoning the rig.”
Capt. Kuchta told everyone who remained on the bridge to head for the lifeboats, according one person who was there.
One boat was long gone. When they reached the boarding area, the second was motoring away, according to several witnesses. Ten people were left on the rig, including Mr. Wheeler, the injured toolpusher, who was lying on a gurney.
The deck pulsed with heat. The air was thick with smoke, and the surface of the water beneath the rig—covered with oil and gas—was burning. Crew members attached a 25-foot life raft to a winch, swung it over a railing and inflated it. Mr. Wheeler was lifted in and several others climbed in with him. As the raft began descending, Ms. Fleytas jumped in. The remaining people on the rig, including Capt. Kuchta, leapt into the Gulf.
Once the life raft reached the ocean, it didn’t move, even as fire spread across the water. Some hanging on to its sides thought the heat of the rig was creating a draft sucking the craft back in. Terrified, Ms. Fleytas rolled out of the raft into the oil-drenched water.
“All I saw was smoke and fire,” she recalled. “I swam away from the rig for my life.”
Minutes later, the rescue boat from the Bankston plucked Ms. Fleytas and several others from the water. The crew of the small boat saw that a line attached to the life raft was still connected to the burning rig.
“Cut the line,” yelled one Bankston crew member. Another passed over a knife, the raft was cut free, and the last survivors were towed away from the fire. All told, the Bankston rescued 115, including 16 who were seriously injured. A Transocean spokesman says that the fact that so many survived “is a testament to the leadership, training, and heroic actions” of crew members.
The crew of the Deepwater Horizon watched from the deck of the Bankston as the drilling platform burned through the night. More than 24 hours later, it sank in 5,000 feet of water.
—Jason Womack, Ben Casselman, Russell Gold, Jennifer Levitz, Miguel Bustillo and Jeffrey Ball contributed to this article.
Posted by Admin on May 8, 2010
Friday 07 May 2010
Speculation has been running rampant among certain sectors of the web world lately about the true origins of the massive oil spill that has engulfed the Gulf and threatens marine, plant, animal and human health in a region already beset by natural disasters and toxic industries. Unwilling to accept the mainstream media version of the story (namely that it was the result of offshore drilling activities) and suspicious of the timing of the calamity (namely that it occurred right on the cusp of Earth Day and during a period of political contentiousness over drilling), this faction has surmised that the “trigger event” in this instance may have been (choose your favorite): an attack by the North Koreans; an act of homegrown eco-terrorism by left-wing environmentalists; or something to do with Venezuela, China, and/or other Communist (machi)nations. With little more than a hint from an online Russian source, the theory of a North Korean attack in particular has been gaining virulence among certain fox trotters.
Here’s a great overview of the argument from the self-avowedly conservative Dakota Voice:
“Rush Limbaugh pointed out that the explosion occurred on April 21st, the day before ‘Earth Day.’ He also reminded us that Al Gore had previously encouraged environmental nut jobs to engage in civil disobedience against the construction of coal plants that don’t have carbon capture technology. ‘Eco-terrorists’ exist and have done millions of dollars worth of criminal damage. Fire is one of the main tools of their evil trade. I’m not claiming the Deep Horizon was bombed by eco-terrorists, although I don’t believe it’s out of the realm of possibility. But, it would take some serious money and ability to pull off an attack like that, so I would tend to think much bigger than college hippie eco-wackos with some money-backing – a foreign government, perhaps. Of course, before I could finish writing my thoughts here, I just heard Michael Savage posing the same questions. He also said there is a theory on a Russian website that claims North Korea is behind this. The article claims that North Korea torpedoed the Deepwater Horizon, which was apparently built and financed by South Korea. Torpedoes would make sense for the results we see…. There are a number of international ‘suspects’ who might want to do something like this. They range from Muslim terrorists to the Red Chinese, Venezuela and beyond. Remember that China and Russia are drilling out there, as well and they would benefit from America cutting back on our own drilling.”
The article at the root of this savagery appears on the site WhatDoesItMean.com and is titled “US Orders Media Blackout Over North Korean Torpedoing of Gulf of Mexico Oil Rig” – which pretty much eliminates any suspense about the gist of it. The piece is attributed to one “Sorcha Faal,” who either exists or does not depending upon whether you believe the link arguing a bit too strenuously that she in fact does. The article cites as its source, without further attribution, “a grim report circulating in the Kremlin today written by Russia’s Northern Fleet,” and argues, “the reason for North Korea attacking the Deepwater Horizon, these reports say, was to present US President Obama with an ‘impossible dilemma‘ prior to the opening of the United Nations Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons set to begin May 3rd in New York. This ‘impossible dilemma’ facing Obama is indeed real as the decision he is faced with is either to allow the continuation of this massive oil leak catastrophe to continue for months, or immediately stop it by the only known and proven means possible, the detonation of a
In other words, all of this was designed to force Obama to use a nuclear device to seal the leak ahead of an upcoming conference on nonproliferation. Ingenious! James Bond is alive and well, apparently. Missing from the calculus (along with good sense, credibility and verifiability) is any explanation of why the logic of this scenario will automatically result in Obama deploying a nuke and what exactly would be gained by him doing so except (by implication) making the US look like hypocrites at the negotiating table. Those dastardly cowards! Everyone knows that we don’t need any help from foreign entities to hypocritically attempt to force others to hold to international standards that we will ourselves proceed to flagrantly ignore. I mean, duh.
Hey, I’m all for a good conspiracy theory as much as the next guy/gal. We certainly ought to question the “consensus reality” version of any major event communicated back to us by the corporate media. And we can logically surmise that the government keeps us on a “need to know” basis under the rubric of a closely-held “national security” ethos. So, there’s always reason to dig deeper, ask hard questions, check with non-US sources and formulate one’s opinion independent of the herd. But in this case, the impetus for the tale is so vague and thinly rendered that it strains the limits of credulity, yet, it still seems to be gaining traction each day. In fact, there are even more solid reasons to suspect that this miserable episode – which will inflict more suffering on an already battered region – was contributed to by the activities of a certain homegrown corporation and not any eco-nuts or commies. While the premise is thus wholly wrong, the conclusion that this was a putative act of war might actually hold water. To wit:
Oil and War: Are there any two concepts in the realm of geopolitics more closely associated than resources and warfare? Oil in particular, as the primary lubricant of the global economy, earns special status as a sine qua non of our profligate lifestyles and simultaneously as an overt security interest that triggers our military mobilizations. We know about Iraq of course and Afghanistan to a lesser extent for its strategic pipelining location, but don’t overlook places such as Venezuela, Central Africa and the Caribbean shelf around countries like Haiti as potential sites of future conflict over Black Gold. Indeed, it might be said that wherever there’s oil, there’s war – or at least the seeds of conflict over a dwindling commodity that draws the interest of governments and corporations alike. The past decade has shown and our national security documents reflect, that the US will essentially do anything in its power to control as much of the world’s remaining oil supplies as it possibly can, either through direct intervention or by proxy. There’s nothing light or sweet about any of this; it is almost wholly crude.
Drilling and the “War on Terra”: Without overly editorializing the point, since at least the advent of industrialization, it appears that humanity has made a Faustian bargain that renders us the enemies of the earth in order to survive. Notions of complementarity and sustainability have been supplanted by consumption and separation instead. The cruel joke is that our willingness to continually flout nature’s laws leaves us in a perpetual state of scarcity and requires a regular doubling-down on the very same logic that made things scarce in the first place. Thus, in order to extend the life of the petroleum economy and provide the massive energy inputs that we rely upon, we have to drill deeper and deeper to procure the substance at ever-increasing energy costs in the process. This literal sense of “diminishing returns” is compounded by the attendant toll exacted on our collective health via fossil fuels, as well as the concomitant stratification of wealth and power that subverts any pretense we still hold of democracy. Massive spills and other calamities are part and parcel of this normalization of a warlike attitude toward nature (and, thus, ourselves) and are blithely considered little more than business as usual by the ruling elites, as intimated in anarticle on care2.com: “All this is the result of dangerous and unnecessary offshore drilling, yet, in a statement Friday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the explosion was no reason to give up plans to expand offshore drilling. ‘In all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last,’ Gibbs told reporters.”
Halliburton IS the War Machine: Finally, we come to the most likely culprit in all of this, and a sure sign that indeed this is an act of war. Wherever Halliburton goes, so goes the war machine and vice versa. From no-bid and no-account contracts in Iraq (and post-Katrina New Orleans, by the way) to a massive corporate presence in the Gulf region, these folks seem to have an acute capacity for making a buck on cataclysms of all sorts. Perhaps more to the point, they appear to be at the nexus of most disaster zones, including the erstwhile Bush presidency and now the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. As a recent article in The Huffington Post noted:
“Giant oil-services provider Halliburton may be a primary suspect in the investigation into the oil rig explosion that has devastated the Gulf Coast, The Wall Street Journal reports. Though the investigation into the explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon site is still in its early stages, drilling experts agree that blame probably lies with flaws in the ‘cementing’ process – that is, plugging holes in the pipeline seal by pumping cement into it from the rig. Halliburton was in charge of cementing for Deepwater Horizon.”
The Los Angeles Times subsequently reported that members of Congress have called on Halliburton “to provide all documents relating to ‘the possibility or risk of an explosion or blowout at the Deepwater Horizon rig and the status, adequacy, quality, monitoring and inspection of the cementing work’ by May 7.” A YouTube video (which is actually mostly audio) more bluntly asserts that “Halliburton Caused Oil Spill,” and noted the fact – confirmed by Halliburton’s own press release – that its employees had worked on the final cementing “approximately 20 hours prior to the incident.” Interestingly, one commenter on the YouTube video noted how “that would conveniently explain the North Korean story; [Halliburton] may have leaked this story to the press to divert attention away from alleged negligence.” Wouldn’t that just be the ultimate? Halliburton spawns the calamity, but pins it on North Korea and then the nation goes to war whereby Halliburton “cleans up” through billions in war-servicing contracts. It’s almost too perfect and might be funny if it didn’t seem so plausible. (The only thing funnier is picturing Dick Cheney in the role of Exxon Valdez fall guy Joseph Hazelwood.)
But, hey, there’s no need to get conspiratorial about all of this. And what’s happening in the Gulf – now spreading into the Atlantic – isn’t funny at all. Indeed, war hardly ever is and that’s what we’ve got on our collective hands here, in one form or another. As Isaac Asimov once said, “It is not only the living who are killed in war.” Cherished ideals, future generations, hopefulness, the earth itself – all are among war’s many casualties. The sooner we recognize the sense of pervasive warfare in our midst, embedded in the flow of our everyday lives, the sooner we can intentionally turn that essential corner toward peace, as Martin Luther King Jr. alluded to in his Nobel speech:
“I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.”
Waking up to war may in fact be the first genuine step toward peace, both among ourselves and with the environment.
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