tip off
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BP now slicker than ever

by Lloyd Bradford Syke

BP is now an inviolable sovereign state. Not even the mighty US can transgress its borders. The latter must rest on assurances the former is doing everything in its power to arrest its massive oil spill in the Gulf Of Mexico, in the same way it relies heavily on the pretence of the word of states formerly occupying the status of shareholders in the axis of evil, like Iran and North Korea. But how long can a war of words suffice, while BP’s invasion continues? Surely diplomacy must yield to military action, sooner or later. Why would the US permit a stinking oil company poison its waters, in effect perpetrating a corporate 9/11, when any such attempt by a foreign political power would be met with abrupt force?

While mainstream media outlets talk up ‘heightened pressure’, BP calmly asserts its “the largest ever mobilised” hyperbole. Janet Napolitano’s all urge, while BP’s slow to purge. The warning flags have been raised, with united states of emergency. Florida & Louisiana governors, Charlie Crist & Bobby Jindal, have declared it so, the EPA is preparing for “the worst“. The worst is reproductive failure and likely death of countless birds, wholesale (and retail) destruction of oyster beds, shrimp and fish nurseries, and long-term health and economic implications for the human species. There’s even talk BP might environmentally outdo the Exxon-Valdez disaster of a couple of decades back. There’s one for Guinness! More than eleven million gallons of crude in the Mexican gulf? Now that’s what I call slick. And crude.

Economically, we’re talking bigger than Hurricane Katrina. It’s offensive and utterly unacceptable that the world’s fourth biggest company, in a category that makes the most money of any, can’t muster the resources to bring a result of its negligence to quicker resolution. It has the resources to muster practically any and every technology and almost unlimited manpower; whatever it takes. It’s a question of will and sincerity. In the first six months of last year, even amidst a global economic downturn, BP made $17 billion in clear profit. The year before, the world’s biggest companies caused $2.2 trillion worth of environmental damage. Meanwhile, BP has been instrumental in pioneering the notion of corporate social responsibility, one of the first into the fray in bolstering feelgood marketing equity by that very means.

Seems to me it’s high time we sharply curbed reliance on big oil, not only to mitigate against carbon emissions, but also to help ensure the destruction of dastardly, disingenuous corporations who choose not to honour their responsibilities and obligations. While we’re at it, let’s ensure we don’t vote in weak-willed, hypocritical government representatives, who fail to see red when companies so deep in the black commit blue murder.

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  • 1
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

    This is about the best post I have read on this subject all day (and I have read many!) … you are spot on. It is a question of will and sincerity … and regulation. Both colors of politics in Austrlaia and the US have utterly failed in the responsibilities to regulate. BP has meanwhile moved itself beyond state control with the power of its economy.

    You may have heard the ‘song’ from the Lamar McKay (BP America Chairman) saying that stopping the leak is like performing “open heart surgery at 5,000 feet in the dark with robot-controlled submarines”. So much of the media is now woven around their lyrics of ‘technical difficulty’ that BP become the saints, absolved on the wrong in the first place.

    I would have thought the Montara (Timor Sea) spill from late last year would have caused at least some change of practice (same type of blow out), such that maybe … just maybe … they might have invested in more/better containment equipment closer to hand … instead of it all being weeks away. Nothing changes, becasue Governments believe they are a safe risk, not worth upsetting

    Meanwhile, our own Montara Commission of Inquiry is only looking into who is to blame … not the impact caused – is therefore a slightly pointless exercise really!

  • 2
    Eponymous
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    I actually totally disagree with the tone of the article and think it shows a complete misunderstanding of both the economics and the technicalities of the well being open.

    Firstly, let me not that I am an avid conservationist and bird watcher. Oil in the Gulf is without a doubt disaster on a scale that is difficult to conceive. If it gets in among the reedy edges and mudflats bird populations are going to struggle there for many, many years.

    However, this tone of ‘they could fix this faster and should be forced too’ is a badly informed tantrum and nothing more.

    Firstly, there are already plenty of incentives for BP to get it fixed quick. If Barrack is true to his words, they are going to feel a very big financial pinch over this. That will probably play out in the courts for years, but it’s up to the US to prosecute the case in the future. BP will be WELL aware of at least the legal costs of fighting the charges.

    More prosaicly, there is a lot of oil coming out of the ground they’re not going to be paid for, on top of the loss of production from a buggered well. This is going to cost them shed loads of cash and it is well within their best interests to get it fixed fast.

    To stop oil coming out of a hole is technically very difficult and time consuming. Particularly if the weather turns bad. I’ve read a few reports on what they’re trying to shut the oil off and am surpsised they can get it done as quick as they propose.

    Do you have any better ideas? Why on Earth would they go slow intentionally?

    Whether or not the current situation is okay is another argument all together. With some luck this will lead to technical changes to well-heads that make spills harder and mandates on the oil companies to have the equipment and knowledge on hand at all times. One way to achieve this is a resource levy to fund such clean ups or MASSIVE penalties for spills.

    But, my point stands. Saying that ‘they’re not working fast enough’ is petulant and sounds whiney.

  • 3
    Eponymous
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Oh, and I also totally agree about the need to wean ourselves off oil. I’ve read some things recently that give me some heart that this might not be as far off as you might think.

  • 4
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    the economics and the technicalities of the well being open are exactly the point … I dont disagree with you that they are now working as fast as they can.
    But, were they prepared as they should have been?
    BP’s oil platform exploding wasn’t planned sure, but it was a risk that they knew about – (recall that not more than 6 months ago Australia was facing a similar accident in the Timor Sea)
    I don’t think they deserve commendation for going slow nor pitty for loss of production. Fact is they made an economic decision about what risk contingencies they would have on site before the accident … as they all do. And – few, if any, Governments require the oil and gas industry to take increased measures, despite decades of regular spills and decades of damage.
    Governments continue to hand out woefully inadequate permits to operate, so they are negligent too.
    Worth noting this is the 7th significant oil spill in the last 18 months (1x Ireland, 1x Norway, 2x USA, 3x Australia). Its not as if the warning have not been there. No-one should be surprised by these accidents.
    OK, perhaps calling them “dastardly, disingenuous corporations’ is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but they do reap massive profits from their activities and invest comparatively small amounts back in terms of spill risk contingencies. Sue, they will tell you the long list of things they do as good corporate citizens, but the plain facts are they chose not to have the equipment needed to contain this blow out on or near the rig.

  • 5
    Eponymous
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    Agreed generally Margi. Preparedness is a genuine area for improvement and we should definitely hound anyone who will listen to improve the situation in future.

    I think in the end lax regulations are to blame, for the severity and continuation, not the actual leak, and only Governments can do anything about it.

    I wish they would

  • 6
    Socrates
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I am no fan of big oil and do not defend BP but technically this is actually a VERY difficult problem to fix. So much so that it underlies the reality of peak oil, and the exaggeratedly optmistic view of finding more oil in deep ocean deposits.

    This well was being drilled by the Deepwater Horizon, one of the largest and most expensive floating oil drilling rigs in the world. It was worth $350+ million on its own, and probably cost $1 million per day to run. A day after the fire the rigg sank and is a total write off. Plus the oil lost is worth millions per day. This is therefore a financial disaster for BP and they would be despreate to fix it even if there was no environmental damage.

    However fixing it is no easy task. The critical damaged part of the well that is needed to turn off the oil flow is 6000 feet below the water surface, making it very hard to get at. So oil is gushing (under great pressure) out of a hole that was drilled into the oil reservoir through the ocean floor above it. This could take months to fix.

    To me this actually highlights the reality and danger of peak oil. World oil supply has not increased since 2007. (See IEA figures). Rather demand has dropped faster than supply as the GFC hit. As the world economy recovers the supply will get tight again. No doubt there was speculation and profiteering in the oil price spike of 2007, which preceede any shortage. But there is still a dwindling supply. Now countries are counting on deposits like this, in deep sea locations that are difficult, expensive and dangerous to extract, to meet their needs. Peak oil hasn’t gone away, it was just delayed by the recession. See
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_drilling_rig_explosion

  • 7
    Socrates
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    One more thing – the company doing the contracting work on this rig? Dick Cheney’s old firm, good old Haliburton.

  • 8
    EngineeringReality
    Posted May 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Very good article – getting right to the issue.

    The issue isn’t whether or not BP are doing all they can now – the issue is twofold.

    1. Why haven’t they spent the extra money to ensure that they can turn off the well on the seafloor in the event anything happens up top to their rig (which in a hurricane area would seem to be prudent)

    2. Why haven’t the authorities swung into action and dealt with this crisis like the emergency it is rather than sit impotently by and defer to the benevolence of the mega-corporation?

    The answer of course to both is money and influence or really just money.

    I’m increasingly struck by how prophetic science fiction that I grew up watching is becoming.

    Science fiction is often dismissed as the domain of kooks and geeks – but how many of them foretell of a future where we live under domes because the mega-corporations that now wield sole power over our societies have destroyed our climate and made the outside world an inhospitable wasteland.

    Perhaps science fictions writers are just those who dare to look past the next electoral cycle or next financial year and see the possible extrapolation of current trends over a long period without any intervention…

  • 9
    Josh
    Posted May 5, 2010 at 2:15 am | Permalink

    Interesting article at Salon. Whether it would have stopped this I don’t know.
    http://www.salon.com/news/louisiana_oil_spill/index.html?story=/opinion/conason/2010/05/03/norway

    “The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Statoil rigs in the North Sea are required by law to maintain special “acoustic switches” that shut down operations completely (and remotely) in case of a blowout or explosion. The US Mines and Minerals Service, under the industry-friendly Bush administration, decided that rigs operating in American waters need not install those switches because they are “very costly.” At $500,000 per switch, they now look like an enormous bargain, of course.”

    Wall Street journal article:
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704423504575212031417936798.html

  • 10
    lloydsyke
    Posted May 5, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    thankyou for the thoughtful and informed responses. eponymous birdman: I take petulant as a compliment; but whiney? obviously, it was a short piece designed, more-or-less, to provoke thought, reflection and response. it has. it and I don’t pretend to have the oil industrial cred that would enable sensible suggestions as to what else Bastard Petrol could do. I’m not, of course, suggesting it’s a deliberate go-slow, as such. I am suggesting, as margi has reflected and you’ve, conman, acknowledged, they could’ve and should’ve been better prepared and that our governments should insist on such. I’m also skeptical that they’ve done as much as they corporately could; reason being they’re simply not motivated by conservation. I don’t think they’re afraid of litigation either. Especially against an adversary with a big black hole in its budget. Actually, better make that a red hole (I’m very much insopired by colour, this week). It’s not like they can’t afford it (or aren’t insured for it).

    again, thankyou all for applying your knowledge and intelligence to an intractable problem. these ‘accidents’ shouldn’t occur. it’s the 21st-century and if we don’t already have the preventive technology (doubtful), we should bloody well invent it. as margi says, it’s a question of will.

  • 11
    Liamj
    Posted May 5, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    The well will not be easy to fix at all, it is uninformed arrogance to say its ‘just a matter of will’. Humans are masters at creating problems we cannot fix; this one, fortunately, will probably be eventually fixed, at extraordinary cash & environmental cost.

    All of which could have been avoided if BP or Bush II regulators had acted on the 2004 report that tried to draw attention to the probability of this sort of BOP disaster. Another triumph courtesy of the ‘free market’ zealots, who will of course dodge any responsibility. Maybe the US and Australia will learn from those stupid socialists in Brazil & Norway, both of which demand testing of shear rams capable of shutting of their deepwater wells.

    Finally, why no discussion of why BP need to drill so deep to find new oil? Oh thats right, peak oil and net energy are conspiracy theories, humans are gods who can do anything, and regular programming must be maintained.

  • 12
    David
    Posted May 6, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Yes no question but that an addiction to crude oil is killing the evironment and draining the budget. The disater in the gulf could portend much worse if matters aren’tb acted on retroactively and consistently.
    Alternative energy might be the way to go but it appears to be taking too long to avoid some of the environmental nightmares we have become used to through films like “The Day after Tomorrow” and “2012″. The reality may well be worse than the fantasty at this rate unless unified government and NGO organisations get their act together and go for Carbon Emissions Trading and alternative energy supplies and infrastructure. There will be sacrifices but the pain and loss is already there in the Gulf states of the US and beyond. Lessons should be learnt but as with past catastrophes it is all too soon forgotten by those who should know better including the Big Oil companies..

  • 13
    Eponymous
    Posted May 7, 2010 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the considered response Lloyd. Apols if my snark was too evident earlier. Have re-read a few things I’ve written this week and seems I need to change jobs.

  • 14
    Bellistner
    Posted May 10, 2010 at 6:47 am | Permalink

    Seems to me it’s high time we sharply curbed reliance on big oil,

    We will, but not by choice. While the EIA and IEA continue to predict ‘above-ground factors’ causing ‘Peak Oil Lite’ in the 2020-2030 range, even the US DoD is looking much closer in: 2012. “US DOD Joint Operating Environment 2008

  • 15
    LacqueredStudio
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    ... help ensure the destruction of dastardly, disingenuous corporations ...

    (My emphasis.)

    That’s one truly dumb call to arms there, Lloyd. It’s not as if the cause of green politics is being assisted in any way whatsoever by the perception (or reality for some, it appears) that environmentalists want to shutdown entire blocks of the global economy.

    I’m as pissed as anyone about BP and the fossil fuel industry – and from well before the current spill. But in the interests of affecting actual policy and practice, how many yards do you think you’re going to make in The Real World by advocating the “destruction” of the “world’s fourth biggest company” – with the respective jobs (and votes) that such a stupidly heroic suicide mission would accomplish?

    What’s wrong, may I ask, with trying to protect those jobs by legislating price mechanisms to help the fossil fuel industry ween itself off fossil fuel and invest its near-limitless resources in the development of alternative energies? Sure, that would probably take several electoral cycles and an Herculean lobbying effort. But it would at least give you a fighting chance, compared with this Utopian bullshit of just shutting the whole industry down.

    I agree with Eponymous – this article reeks of ill-informed corporate-overlord hyperbole. And it’s the integrity of green politics that suffers for it.

    And what Socrates said.

    And David – what events, exactly, from either The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 are we in imminent danger of experiencing?? Because the science in those films is complete horseshit. So next time you go to the movies or the DVD shop, you might want to remember: it’s just a movie.

  • 16
    blinkybill
    Posted May 19, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    globs of oil are showing up everywhere. 200,000 gallons spilling into the gulf every day, supposedly the rig sits on its roof 5000 feet down on top of what’s left of the tube.

    Its the biggest ecological disaster ever, CBS were supposedly stopped from filming by the US military (is the US military now owned by BP?).

    They have no idea how to stop this thing and Kevin Costner’s brother has been called in – just to complete the farce.

  • 17
    blinkybill
    Posted May 24, 2010 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    http://www.bp.com – the scale of the destruction, horriffic.

  • 18
    blinkybill
    Posted May 24, 2010 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    sorry, here is the link

    http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/incident_response/STAGING/local_assets/downloads_pdfs/20100522_0600_Situation_Status_Map.pdf

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