More on the Gulf Oil Debacle…

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

oil spill Pictures, Images and Photos

Last night Mike Malloy interviewed Mike Papantonio, who co-hosts the weekly radio program, Ring of Fire, along with Bobby Kennedy, Jr.  Both are prominent trial attorneys, oftentimes representing plaintiffs in environmental damage suits.  As one might imagine, they are probably not included on the holiday greeting card list for any of the companies in the Fortune 500.  

The opening topic was the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  What follows are some bits and pieces that I can recall from that interview as well as my commentary.

Mike Papantonio is apparently the first U. S. based attorney, along with Bobby Kennedy, Jr., to have already filed a lawsuit against British Petroleum for the ongoing oil spill, which was apparently filed on Wednesday, April 28, 2010.

In the process of discovery, British Petroleum will be forced to disclose a significant amounts of information that they would most surely prefer to keep hidden from the public view.

Although this may seem to be a devastating blow to Big Oil, the corporate media no doubt is dutifully providing cover and will refuse to air the story, instead plying us with 24/7 coverage of the immigrant “crisis” in Arizona and the tabloid story du jour. One of the headlines on the minute-long hourly news flash last night was Tiger Woods shooting 7 under par, a rare occasion when he didn’t make the final cut for a golf tournament.  Yes, there is evidently little else of importance to report.

Big Oil’s playbook for situations like this is to underplay the story of an oil spill in the initial stages, delaying the release of factual information until the evidence is so overwhelming that it can’t be denied. Remember the rather benign pronouncements about this spill during the first few days?

Rather than being a leak, this is an absolute gusher of oil, shooting geyser-like from the ocean floor, and from underwater has the appearance of a volcanic eruption.  The damage that is visible on the surface of the water is only a small indicator of the total amounts released into the water.  Think of an an iceberg, where only about 10% of the mass is visible above the water, only in this case, the differential is undoubtedly much greater.

In almost every other country in the world, except for a few third world countries that apparently don’t care (or are powerless) to enact environmental protections, oil companies are required to install emergency shut-off valves on those rigs (I’m not sure if I’m remembering the terminology correctly), which cost something like $500,000 per unit. Not to be outdone by those third world countries, the Bush-Cheney cabal choose to assure Big Oil that such protections were not necessary off our coastal areas. Of course, the cost of installing these “safety switches” would have a negative impact on Big Oil’s profits, a mortal sin to be sure.

If the oil gusher could have been halted completely as of last night, the damage would last for at least a decade, however, it appears that no appreciable relief will occur for at least several weeks.

My commentary…

If this writer recalls the figure correctly, this submarine gusher is apparently spewing something like 3/4 million gallons of crude oil per day.  Although the properties of crude oil are no doubt somewhat different than those of used motor oil, please consider the following information regarding used motor oil disposal, found on the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension website

Used Oil Disposal:

Small amounts of used oil, grease, antifreeze or any other such compounds can cause large problems when they enter water bodies. For example, some general facts about the pollution potential of oil are:

  1-Used oil contains toxic substances such as zinc, benzene and lead,

  2-Oil from one oil change (1 gallon) can ruin the taste of a million gallons of water

    (1 part per million), enough to supply 50 people with water for one year,

  3-One pint of oil when put in water can spread over a surface of one acre,

  4-Oil dumped on land will reduce productivity of that land, and

  5-Sewage treatment processes can be severely hindered if concentrations of

     used oil are as low as 50 to 100 parts per million (50 gallons in 1 million


Usually oil-changing facilities will accept used oil for recycling. If there is no place to take used oil, then mix the oil with an adsorbent such as kitty litter. Make sure there is enough litter available so there is no free liquid after the oil and litter is completely mixed. Once mixed, dispose of the oil and kitty litter in a proper garbage receptacle.

If the same formula applies to crude oil released into waters, then the amount of oil being released is enough to create a sheen covering an area of 9,375 square miles per day.  To conceptualize how large an area this is, think in terms of the total area of New Hampshire plus 25 square miles each and every day!

Back to the Papantonio interview…

While the Exxon-Valdez oil spill oocurred close to sandy beaches, where a significant amount of the oil washed up onshore, much of the Gulf area is comprised of swampy areas which in many cases extend as much as thirty miles inland.  These areas are ultimately the primary source for much of the fresh water used in the Deep South.  The impacts of this horrible, preventable debacle are most likely beyond our imagining.

Back to my commentary…

Estuaries are arguably one of the rarest ecosystems in the world. These are oftentimes swampy areas where salt water from the ocean and fresh water from the land mass mix with each other. These areas support a rich diversity of flora and fauna that does not exist elsewhere. These plants and animals must be able to tolerate periods of submersion in water, as well as dryness for several hours at a time.  They must be adaptable to significant changes in salinity, depending upon the ratio of salt to fresh water at any given moment in time.  

Although this writer has not been able to locate the data, it seems that estuaries cover something like only 0.1% of the earth’s land mass. Given the richness of these areas, it is likely no accident that 22 of the 32 largest cities in the world are situated in estuarian environments. Those areas, in addition to being some of the most valuable environmental areas on earth, are also among the most fragile. Barring a miracle, the estuaries along the Gulf Coast will undoubtedly suffer devastating losses that will continue throughout our lifetimes, and quite likely for several generations yet to come.

The following photo represents a small portion of our national treasure that is now threatened with utter devastation…

Louisiana Swamps II Pictures, Images and Photos

Papantonio’s description of what we are facing was very clear, cogent and convincing.  One cannot doubt that Big Oil does not want to see him in front of a jury.  The lawsuit against British Petroleum is slated to be one of the topics of discussion today on the weekly radio program, Ring of Fire, scheduled to air in most locations around the country later today and tomorrow. If you are interested in learning more, the following should be of assistance:

Here is a list of radio stations around the country and the air times this weekend.

And if you don’t reside within range of any of those stations, you can stream the program over the internet on these stations. If you reside in another time zone, you will want to take the time zone difference into account.

This writer is not sure if there is a way to access Malloy’s interview with Papantonio last night short of becoming a member on his website.  If you wish to check him out, however, you can listen to his broadcasts streaming live on weekday evenings at these locations. If you haven’t heard him before, he is one of the most passionate progressive talk show hosts on the air today.  Those who prefer the soothing, monotone quality oftentimes found on public radio stations may find his delivery to be a bit jarring.  But if you enjoy listening to someone who absolutely does not pull any punches, you may wish to give him a try.

Please accept this writer’s apologies for the disorganized nature of this essay.  Given time constraints and the importance of this matter to our entire nation, and perhaps the world as well, I feel compelled to get the word out as soon as possible so those who are interested can tune into Ring of Fire today and/or tomorrow.

As always, your questions, comments, criticisms or gripes are welcomed.

“You can fool some of the people all of the time and those are the ones you want to concentrate on.” — George W. Bush


Skip to comment form

  1. is sitting on Trent Lott’s front porch along the Mississippi Coast, enjoying the view?

    In fact, here is the quote from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 by Cheney’s sock puppet, as reported on CNN…

    “We got a lot of rebuilding to do…. the good  news is and it’s hard for some to see it now but out of this chaos is going to come a fantastic gulf coast… out of the rubbles of Trent Lott’s house — the guy lost his entire house — there’s going to be fantastic house. I look forward to sitting on the porch. Out of New Orleans is going to come that great city again.”

    Maybe the two could play in the sand, along with Laura and Patricia.  Fun and frivolity on the beach?

    Interesting bit of trivia:  Some of us may recall that George W. Bush was a cheerleader during his school days.  

    Well, not to be outdone, the following from the wikipedia article about Trent Lott…

    …Lott was also an Ole Miss cheerleader, coincidentally on the same team with U.S. Senator Thad Cochran…

    And I keep telling myself that there are no surprises left in this world. Foiled again!

  2. If we have corporate personhood then we should have the corporate death sentence.

    They shouldn’t be sued, they should be liquidated (heh), their owners and boards of directors imprisoned, their responsible managers imprisoned, their property seized, their holdings seized, and their assets sold off or shut down, and the assets paid into a fund used to compensate their victims, their American corporate charter revoked.

    Then let Scalia and Roberts and Alito argue about cruel and unusual punishment .. for a non-living entity that is a person.

  3. I offered a rather extensive comment to you last weekend, but I think it was too late for anyone to see it.  If you are interested in checking it out, you can find it here.

    Good luck!

  4. yikes.

    just in my yahoo news, 10 minutes ago…. this

    VENICE, La. – The surface area of a catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill quickly tripled in size amid growing fears among experts that the slick could become vastly more devastating than it seemed just two days ago.

    • Edger on May 2, 2010 at 17:22

    in most of the media, is that BP has started dropping chemical dispersants on the slick, so that it will break up and sink below the surface where it will invisibly poison the most productive fishery in the world with the oil based toxins that result from oil reacting with the dispersants, and kill off and mutate the bottom dwelling sea life.

    Hi tech sweeping under the rug, courtesy of the “greenest” oil company in the world.

    Even if the materials, called dispersants, are effective, BP has already bought up more than a third of the world’s supply. If the leak from 5,000 feet beneath the surface continues for weeks, or months, that stockpile could run out.

    The exact makeup of the dispersants is kept secret under competitive trade laws, but a worker safety sheet for one product, called Corexit, says it includes 2-butoxyethanol, a compound associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses.

    “There is a chemical toxicity to the dispersant compound that in many ways is worse than oil,” said Richard Charter, a foremost expert on marine biology and oil spills who is a senior policy advisor for Marine Programs for Defenders of Wildlife and is chairman of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. “It’s a trade off – you’re damned if you do damned if you don’t — of trying to minimize the damage coming to shore, but in so doing you may be more seriously damaging the ecosystem offshore.”

    BP did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

    Once they are dispersed, the tiny droplets of oil are more likely to sink or remain suspended in deep water rather than floating to the surface and collecting in a continuous slick. Dispersed oil can spread quickly in three directions instead of two and is more easily dissipated by waves and turbulence that break it up further and help many of its most toxic hydrocarbons evaporate.

    But the dispersed oil can also collect on the seabed, where it becomes food for microscopic organisms at the bottom of the food chain and eventually winds up in shellfish and other organisms. The evaporation process can also concentrate the toxic compounds left behind, particularly oil-derived compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.

    A version of Corexit was widely used after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and, according to a literature review performed by the group the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, was later linked with health impacts in people including respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders.

    But in other news:

    • Edger on May 2, 2010 at 18:36

    BP, the global oil giant responsible for the fast-spreading spill in the Gulf of Mexico that will soon make landfall, is no stranger to major accidents.

    In fact, the company has found itself at the center of several of the nation’s worst oil and gas-related disasters in the last five years.

    In March 2005, a massive explosion ripped through a tower at BP’s refinery in Texas City, Texas, killing 15 workers and injuring 170 others. Investigators later determined that the company had ignored its own protocols on operating the tower, which was filled with gasoline, and that a warning system had been disabled.

    The company pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and was fined more than $50 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


  5. on Friday evening has clearly been followed to the letter.  The news of this disaster was seriously downplayed at the outset, with the unwavering cooperation of our corporate media.  Expect the bad news already known to those in the know to slowly trickle out over the days, weeks and months ahead.

    Much has been written about this debacle already.  True to form, many of the more revealing stories, not suprisingly, originate from across the pond.  

    An April 30, 2010 article by Nick Clark, appearing in the Al Jazeera — The Americas Blog, entitled “They Saw It Coming” includes the following, which appears at the conclusion of the story…

    To make matters worse, the Mississippi river no longer deposits millions of tons of sediment in this area as it has done for thousands of years. Its levees and walls prevent that.

    Now a new slow black death may soon advance through those very channels and waterways opened up by the relentless quest for oil.

    We filmed a group of Native Americans of Atakapa origin. They’ve lived off the waters of the bayous for more than a thousand years, hunting, fishing and trapping.

    Over time, they’ve endured many a challenge on this explosive hurricane coast.  But in the past they were helped by a natural defence.

    When the wetlands were still intact, they formed a barrier to anything but the worst weather. Not any more.

    And now there’s nothing but open water to protect this coast from the enveloping slick.

    For centuries the Atakapa people have lived with the ebb and flow of nature.

    Last October they told me they were fighting for their very existence because of fellow man’s bid to dominate the environment. God knows what they’re thinking now.

    A May 1, 2010 article on the Common Dreams website, written by Bill Quigley, entitled “on the Bayou: Non-Stop River of Oil Heads to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida includes the following…

    Plans to set parts of the Gulf on fire have been pushed back by bad weather. The unprecedented idea was to burn up the oil spill before it reached land. “This is a great tool,” promised a BP representative.

    In response, one long-time Louisiana resident said, “You know you’re in very serious trouble when the solution is for BP and the feds to set the Gulf on fire.”

    On Friday afternoon, federal and state officials held a joint press conference in Louisiana. Curiously, they held their conference with BP representatives. Officials characterized the situation as dangerous and unprecedented. Government representatives said they were pushing BP to increase its efforts to stop the oil because current efforts have not been effective. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano flatly acknowledged that the U.S. is working closely with BP.

    BP has caused a lot of trouble lately. The Pulitzer Prize winning news site Pro Publica reported BP “has found itself at the center of several of the nation’s worst oil and gas-related disasters in recent years.” BP recently plead guilty to federal felony charges related to a massive explosion in Texas where investigators found ignored safety rules and a disabled warning system. BP is also accused of responsibility for several recent spills in Alaska.

    Why then would federal and state officials hold a joint press conference with BP, given the multinational corporation’s role in the unfolding disaster? Perhaps the reason was hinted at by a comment from the Secretary of the Interior in which he cautioned that the U.S. depends heavily on oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. Even though the White House protested that the oil spill is not President Obama’s Katrina, a public partnership between the perpetrator BP and the government certainly has the potential to become a “Katrina moment.”

    A May 1, 2010 article by Alok Jha apearing in The Guardian (UK) entitled “Deepwater Horizon: Conservationists Warn of ‘True Catastrophe’ for Wildlife” includes the following…

    “It seems to me yet another man-made environmental tragedy on our hands,” said Martin Spray, chief executive of the UK Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. “The coast of Louisiana has about 40% of the US coastal wetlands so it’s a seriously important area. These are incredibly important for their fisheries as well, so there are human livelihoods involved as well.”

    Mann said that the effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989 can still be found along the beaches in Prince William Sound more than 20 years after the accident. “And research has shown that polyaromatic hydrocarbons – components of crude oil that are highly resistant to weathering – are also highly toxic to marine life.”

    The accident could also been seen as a warning for those wanting to drill for oil in the Arctic circle, around Alaska. “With decades of experience in drilling in the gulf, and response equipment nearby, the gulf is one of the ‘safest’ places to drill,” said Mann. “If Deepwater Horizon can happen there, it can certainly happen in the Arctic Ocean, where bitter cold, ice, and extreme wind and wave conditions are everyday facts of life and response equipment would be days or even weeks away.”

    A May 1, 2010 by Randall Amster, appearing on the Common Dreams website, entitled “Was the Gulf Oil Spill an Act of War? You Betcha” explores some of the conspiracy theories launched in the aftermath of this unfolding distaster.  Rush Limbaugh proves that his conspiracy theories are no less bizarre than those of the most radical purveyor of alternative explanations for events that befall us.  To be sure, Halliburton does not escape notice as a likely suspect.  Here is a sampling, only the first of several paragraphs devoted to Dick Cheney’s brainchild…

    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.

    A May 2, 2010 article by Philip Sherwell, appearing in The Telegraph (UK), entitled “Louisiana oil spill may be five times bigger than previously thought” includes the following…

    President Barack Obama will visit the region on Sunday morning, aides have announced. The trip comes amid mounting criticism that the White House has been slow to react to the crisis.

    Even BP has acknowledged that the 5,000-barrels-a-day figure for the leak – already a five-fold increase on the 1,000 barrels that it initially gave – is only a “guesstimate”. The Coastguard has also said that that leak rate could turn out to be much greater than 5,000 barrels.

    “That is a conservative estimate and it would mean that oil is leaking at a rate of 20,000 barrels a day,” he said. “That’s a real eye-opener. And I believe the true figure is significantly higher.”

    Ian MacDonald, a Florida professor of oceanography who tracks maritime oil seepage, estimated that more than nine million gallons may already have escaped into the sea on the basis of higher industry estimates of the rate of leakage. BP engineers have been desperately and unsuccessfully trying to use unmanned submarines to initiate a failed switch-off device on the well about a mile beneath the surface of the water.

    It has also dispatched a drill ship to the area to begin digging a relief well that would intercept the oil from the existing pipes at about 18,000 feet below the surface. This will allow the company to close off the leaking well, but the process will take at least three months and possibly much longer.

    According to a 2007 US government report, cementing was a factor in 18 of 39 well blow-outs in the Gulf of Mexico over a 14-year period. And investigators have also been told that cementing was a likely cause of a major 10-week blow-out in the Timor Sea off Australia last year.

    Haliburton has declined to comment while the cause of the accident is being investigated and lawsuits are pending.

    The second disastrous failure occurred when the rig’s “blowout preventer” – equipment that should have automatically blocked the well when the explosion occurred – failed to work. It has since emerged that the device did not have a remote-control shut-off mechanism – these are commonly required in most offshore oil producing nations, but not the US.

    Many thoughts come to mind after perusing these articles, however several immediately come to mind…

    1-If for no other reason than for appearance sake, why didn’t Obama travel to the area immediately after this occurred?  It seems that he has created a public relations nightmare for himself.  Unlike George W. Bush, he cannot count on the MSM to tamp down the negative stories that are sure to mount as the magnitude of this distaster becomes increasingly apparent to all.

    2-Why doesn’t the United States require remote-control shut-off mechanisms, similar to almost every other First World nation? (This is a rhetorical question).

    3-If a disaster of these proportions can take place in what would presumably be one of the safest regions in the world for such an event to occur, given the considerable resources and equipment nearby, then what are the risks for similar projects in far more remote, isolated areas of the world?

    While I’m primarily grieving for the huge losses yet to be incurred by the innocents (flora and fauna), on a smaller, more personal scale, perhaps selfishly, I’m grieving for myself as well.  

    I have a frequent flier award that needs to be used within the next several months and had seriously considered a trip earlier this spring to see what was left of the Gulf Coast area. Although the lingering impacts of Hurricane Katrina is painfully visible in many areas to this day, I was/am convinced that the Obama Administration is not inclined to implement safeguards to ensure an improved response should another hurricane of similar magnitude strike.

    This may be yet another missed opportunity that is lost forever, similar to my erroneous assumption three decades ago that Mount St. Helens would always be there.

    The inevitable question we may prefer to avoid is “What Will Life Be Like on Planet Earth?” by the time that our unavoidable exit from this phase of our existence arrives at our doorstep.

    Those of us who have entered that variously defined period known as middle age may recall the time of our high school graduation, when our commencement address extolled the limitless opportunity and promise that awaited us in the larger world, a hopeful message that was believed by most. Such was the legacy that was passed on to us. Can similar pronouncements during the graduations that lie just ahead be as credibly believed by its intended recipients?  

    Similar to the course that Barack Obama has seemingly taken so far during his administration, have we also squandered an unprecedented opportunity, to the grave detriment of those destined to follow in our path?

    I continue to search in vain for a silver lining.

Comments have been disabled.