Ground work for Gulf disaster was established with a permissive tone with oil industry set in secret meetings in 2001. An acoustic switch to automatically shut down oil wells was reversed by Federal agency in 2003 may be a major factor in blowup.
(WASHINGTON, DC) – In secret meetings with the oil company officials in 2001, incoming Vice President Cheney set the foundation for a permissive, welcome mat with the oil industry. After stocking the Federal government’s Material Management Service with his cronies, this agency reversed an earlier 2000 decision requiring a mandatory accusatorial regulator, allowing BP and others not to install a $500,000 acoustic switch to automatically shut down oil gushers. For BP, this had to be a dumb business decision. BP’s $650 million dollar well may have been saved by a half million investment in an acoustic switch. For the country and those living and working in the Gulf region, the final tab may very well be in the billions.
Cheney’s Halliburton is connected to the April 20th explosion. The investigation of the cause of the blowup is not completed. As it turned out, Halliburton completed an operation to reinforce the drilling hole casing with concrete before the explosion. Halliburton is currently under investigation for a blowout in the Timor Sea caused by a faulty concrete casing.
The Material Management Service reported that 18 of 39 blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico were due to poor workmanship in injecting the cement around the well casing. Was Cheney’s Halliburton responsible for the April 20th blowout? Stay tuned. In the end, responsibility for the explosion and the extensive damages from it may well be decided by a jury.
On April 20th, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig went up in flames some 50 miles southeast of Louisiana, killing 11 men. It’s May 14th and BP hasn’t capped the gusher, vehemently denies concern over measuring the spill; its only interest is in capping the gusher. The company appears content with the ‘low ball’ 5,000 barrel/day number prepared by our government. I guess it wouldn’t be good PR to admit to a 70,000 barrel/day gusher, even one at 5,000 feet deep in the Gulf. If this engineering estimate prepared by Purdue University is on target, that’s a lot of oil dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. At 42 gallons per barrel, the Purdue estimate equates to about 3 million gallons per day.
For a company that claims its focus is on plugging the leak, none of their efforts have been even marginally successful. The 100 ton doom didn’t work nor did the smaller ‘top hat.’ Other efforts are underway. No back, ugly oil stains on the beaches, but with the gusher at such great depths and the high volume of dispersants, there much to be concerned about. Will we ever be able to eat Louisiana shrimp again? Even if BP doesn’t want to measure the gusher, don’t we need to estimate the “total oil spill” to begin to understand the environmental impact? Congressman Edward Markey thinks so.
Congressman Edward Markey (D, MA), who chairs a Congressional subcommittee on energy and the environment, a miscalculation of the oil spill’s volume may hamper efforts to stop it. Markey said, “I am concerned that an underestimation of the oil spill’s flow may be impeding the ability to solve the leak and handle the management of the disaster,” he said in a statement Thursday. “If you don’t understand the scope of the problem, the capacity to find the answer is severely compromised.”
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., analysis in the Huffington Post on May 5th, “Sex, Lies and Oil Spills, provides valuable insight into the shenanigans between Material Management Service officials and big oil. The sad part is that this is not fiction, even though some of this makes “Peyton Place” look like a kindergarten at play in comparison. Kennedy’s story is reproduced below.
President, Waterkeeper Alliance; Professor, Pace University
Posted: May 5, 2010 10:19 AM
A common spin in the right wing coverage of BP’s oil spill is a gleeful suggestion that the gulf blowout is Obama’s Katrina.
In truth, culpability for the disaster can more accurately be laid at the Bush Administration’s doorstep. For eight years, George Bush’s presidency infected the oil industry’s oversight agency, the Minerals Management Service, with a septic culture of corruption from which it has yet to recover. Oil patch alumnae in the White House encouraged agency personnel to engineer weakened safeguards that directly contributed to the gulf catastrophe.
The absence of an acoustical regulator — a remotely triggered dead man’s switch that might have closed off BP’s gushing pipe at its sea floor wellhead when the manual switch failed (the fire and explosion on the drilling platform may have prevented the dying workers from pushing the button) — was directly attributable to industry pandering by the Bush team. Acoustic switches are required by law for all offshore rigs off Brazil and in Norway’s North Sea operations. BP uses the device voluntarily in Britain’s North Sea and elsewhere in the world as do other big players like Holland’s Shell and France’s Total. In 2000, the Minerals Management Service while weighing a comprehensive rulemaking for drilling safety, deemed the acoustic mechanism “essential” and proposed to mandate the mechanism on all gulf rigs.
Then, between January and March of 2001, incoming Vice President Dick Cheney conducted secret meetings with over 100 oil industry officials allowing them to draft a wish list of industry demands to be implemented by the oil friendly administration. Cheney also used that time to re-staff the Minerals Management Service with oil industry toadies including a cabal of his Wyoming carbon cronies. In 2003, newly reconstituted Minerals Management Service genuflected to the oil cartel by recommending the removal of the proposed requirement for acoustic switches. The Minerals Management Service’s 2003 study concluded that “acoustic systems are not recommended because they tend to be very costly.”
The acoustic trigger costs about $500,000. Estimated costs of the oil spill to Gulf Coast residents are now upward of $14 billion to gulf state communities. Bush’s 2005 energy bill officially dropped the requirement for the acoustic switch off devices explaining that the industry’s existing practices are “failsafe.”
Bending over for Big Oil became the ideological posture of the Bush White House, and, under Cheney’s cruel whip, the practice trickled down through the regulatory bureaucracy. The Minerals Management Service — the poster child for “agency capture phenomena” — hopped into bed with the regulated industry — literally. A 2009 investigation of the Minerals Management Service found that agency officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.” Three reports by the Inspector General describe an open bazaar of payoffs, bribes and kickbacks spiced with scenes of female employees providing sexual favors to industry big wigs who in turn rewarded government workers with illegal contracts. In one incident reported by the Inspector General, agency employees got so drunk at a Shell sponsored golf event that they could not drive home and had to sleep in hotel rooms paid for by Shell.
Pervasive intercourse also characterized their financial relations. Industry lobbyists underwrote lavish parties and showered agency employees with illegal gifts, and lucrative personal contracts and treated them to regular golf, ski, and paintball outings, trips to rock concerts and professional sports events. The Inspector General characterized this orgy of wheeling and dealing as “a culture of ethical failure” that cost taxpayers millions in royalty fees and produced reams of bad science to justify unregulated deep water drilling in the gulf.
It is charitable to characterize the ethics of these government officials as “elastic.” They seemed not to have existed at all. The Inspector General reported with some astonishment that Bush’s crew at the MMS, when confronted with the laundry list of bribery, public theft and sexual and financial favors to and from industry “showed no remorse.”
BP’s confidence in lax government oversight by a badly compromised agency still staffed with Bush era holdovers may have prompted the company to take two other dangerous shortcuts. First, BP failed to install a deep hole shut off valve — another fail-safe that might have averted the spill. And second, BP’s reported willingness to violate the law by drilling to depths of 22,000-25,000 feet instead of the 18,000 feet maximum depth allowed by its permit may have contributed to this catastrophe.
And wherever there’s a national tragedy involving oil, Cheney’s offshore company Halliburton is never far afield. In fact, stay tuned; Halliburton may emerge as the primary villain in this caper. The blow out occurred shortly after Halliburton completed an operation to reinforce drilling hole casing with concrete slurry. This is a sensitive process that, according to government experts, can trigger catastrophic blowouts if not performed attentively. According to the Minerals Management Service, 18 of 39 blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico since 1996 were attributed to poor workmanship injecting cement around the metal pipe. Halliburton is currently under investigation by the Australian government for a massive blowout in the Timor Sea in 2005 caused by its faulty application of concrete casing.
The Obama administration has assigned nearly 2,000 federal personnel from the Coast Guard, the Corps of Engineers, the Department of Defense, the Department of Commerce, EPA, NOAA and Department of Interior to deal with the spill — an impressive response. Still, the current White House is not without fault — the government should, for example, be requiring a far greater deployment of absorbent booms. But the real culprit in this villainy is a negligent industry, the festering ethics of the Bush Administration and poor oversight by an agency corrupted by eight years of grotesque subservience to Big Oil.