Experts Warn: US ‘on Course to Repeat’ BP Gulf Disaster

“The risk of another blowout is real,” write former MMS head Elizabether Birnbaum, Oceana’s Jacqueline Savitz

– Andrea Germanos, staff writer

BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig ablaze on April 21, 2010. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. is “on a course to repeat our mistakes” and face another oil disaster like BP’s Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, two experts warn.

The chilling cautionary words are given by former offshore drilling regulator Elizabeth Birnbaum and Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for U.S. Oceans at conservation organizationOceana, in op-ed published in the New York Times days ahead of the fourth anniversary of the epic oil catastrophe.

Birnbaum was head of Minerals Management Service at the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but in a move seen by some as “scapegoat firing” was ousted from the position weeks after the well began to spew oil into the Gulf. She is now a consultant at SEB Strategies.

Birnbaum and Savitz write that the Obama administration has yet to act on recommendations which could make offshore drilling safer.

“We would never have imagined so little action would be taken to prevent something like this from happening again. But, four years later, the Obama administration still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety. As a result, we are on a course to repeat our mistakes,” they write.

One the remaining threats Birnbaum and Savitz highlight has to do with blowout preventers, a point outlined in a “detailed and damning” December 2011 report of the National Academy of Engineering. The report found fault with the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer, and indicated that that same equipment “may be present” at other drilling operations. Yet new standards for blowout preventers have yet to be enforced, deepwater drilling continues, and new drilling leases in the Gulf are issued each year.

“The risk of another blowout is real,” they write.

Rather than scale back drilling, oceans face another assault with the administration’s proposal to allow the use of seismic air guns for oil exploration along the Atlantic coast, which Oceana has warned could amount to “death sentence” for marine mammals.

“We have seen this pattern before. The expansion of drilling into deeper water and farther from shore was not coupled with advances in spill prevention and response,” Birnbaum and Savitz write in their op-ed.

This captures the ‘risk addiction’ award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein described in her TED talk delivered months after the Macondo well blowout. Klein said that “even more striking than the ferocious power emanating from that well was the recklessness with which that power was unleashed — the carelessness, the lack of planning that characterized the operation from drilling to clean-up.”

“If there is one thing BP’s watery improv act made clear, it is that, as a culture, we have become far too willing to gamble with things that are precious and irreplaceable, and to do so without a back-up plan, without an exit strategy,” Klein continued.

That reckless gamble is all too real for the wildlife in the Gulf still suffering and community members still awaiting compensation for the catastrophe that is far from over.

“The request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010,” stated Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. “Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And, ensure that this never happens again.”

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Arrest of BP Scapegoat: Real Killers Walk

by Greg Palast – Special for Buzzflash at Truthout

The Justice Department went big game hunting and bagged a teeny-weeny scapegoat.  More like a scape-kid, really.

Today, Justice arrested former BP engineer Kurt Mix for destroying evidence in the Deepwater Horizon blow-out.

I once ran a Justice Department racketeering case and damned if I would have ‘cuffed some poor schmuck like Mix––especially when there’s hot, smoking guns showing greater crimes by BP higher ups.

Last week, I released evidence we uncovered that BP top executives concealed evidence of a prior blow-out.  Had they not covered up the 2008 blow-out in then Caspian Sea, then the Deepwater Horizon probably would not have blown out two years later in 2010. [Watch the film and read the stories.]

I urge you to read the affidavit of FBI agent Barbara O’Donnell which the government filed in arresting Mix.  His crime is deleting texts from his phone indicating that the blown-out Macondo well was gushing over 15,000 barrels of oil a day, not 5,000 as BP told the public and government.  If true, it’s a crime, destruction of evidence.  But Mix is a minnow.  What about the sharks?  The texts were obviously sent tosomeone (named only “SUPERVISOR” by the FBI).  If “Supervisor” knew, then undoubtedly so did BP managers higher up.  Presumably, even CEO Tony Hayward would have gotten the message on his racing yacht.

Destruction of evidence is not nice, but concealment of evidence and fraud by corporate bigs, is the bigger crime.  I hope, I assume, I demand that we find out what Supervisor’s supervisors knew and when they knew it––and didn’t tell us.

And far, far, far more important:  when is the Justice Department going to go after the greater wrongdoing? Let’s begin with the cover-up before the spill that the drilling methods used on the Deepwater Horizon had led to a blow-out nearly two years earlier.

Let’s face it:  to go after the bigger crime means going after the entire industry.  The earlier blow-out was concealed by BP as well as its partners Exxon and Chevron and, by the US State Department under Condoleezza Rice.  [If you want to get that story, please check out Part II:  BP Covered Up Prior Oil Spill at Ecowatch.org.]

One point in Mr. Mix’s defense.  During my investigation of the Deepwater Horizon, I found that employees who provide evidence against BP find their careers floating face down in the Gulf.

BP and other oil companies punish troublemakers by writing “NRB” on their record.  That means “Not Required Back”––and the worker is banned from the offshore rigs.  No doubt, Mr. Mix thought long and hard about what would happen to his career if his texts came to light.  Not an excuse for crime, but it’s a fact.  It’s the guys on top putting on this kind of pressure that should be doing the perp walk:  the Big Bad BP Wolves, not their mixxed-up scapegoat.

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Re-prints permitted with credit to Greg Palast

Greg Palast is the author of Vultures’ Picnic, which centers on his investigation of BP, bribery and corruption in the oil industry. Palast, reports can be seen on BBC-TV and Britain’s Channel 4.

You can read Vultures’ Picnic, “Chapter 1: Goldfinger,” or download it, at no charge: click here.