Rollingstone article – “The Spill, The Scandal and the President”

( – promoted by buhdydharma )…

Tim Dickinson at Rollingstone has done some fine and much needed investigative journalism.  He reveals that BP and the government anticpated a much higher volume of flow from the first:

   From the start of its operation in the Gulf, BP had found itself struggling against powerful “kicks” from gas buildup, just as MMS had warned. Now, on April 20th, the pent-up methane exploded in a fireball that incinerated 11 workers. Like a scene out of a real-life Jerry Bruckheimer film, the half-billion-dollar rig – 32,000 tons and 30 stories tall – listed over and sank to the bottom two days later, taking a mile of pipe down with it.

   Within hours, the government assembled a response team at the “war room” of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle. The scene, captured by a NOAA cameraman and briefly posted on the agency’s website, provides remarkable insight into the government’s engagement during the earliest hours of the catastrophe, and, more troubling, the role of top administration figures in downplaying its horrific scope.

   At a conference table, nearly a dozen scientists gather around a map of the Gulf. Joshua Slater, a commissioned NOAA officer dressed in his uniform, runs the show. “So far we’ve created a trajectory [of the slick] that was passed up the chain of command to the Coast Guard and eventually to the president showing where the oil might go,” he tells the assembled team. BP’s remote operated sub, he adds, “was unsuccessful in activating the blowout preventers, so we’re gearing up right now.”

   An NOAA expert on oil disasters jumps in: “I think we need to be prepared for it to be the spill of the decade.”

   Written on a whiteboard at the front of the room is the government’s initial, worst-case estimate of the size of the spill. While the figure is dramatically higher than any official estimate issued by BP or the government, it is in line with the high-end calculations by scientists who have monitored the spill.

   “Estm: 64k – 110k bbls/Day.” The equivalent of up to three Exxon Valdez spills gushing into the Gulf of Mexico every week.

   Damningly, the whiteboard also documents the disconnect between what the government suspected to be the magnitude of the disaster and the far lower estimates it was feeding to the public. Written below the federal estimate are the words, “300,000 gal/day reported on CNN.” Appearing on the network that same day on a video feed from the Gulf, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry insisted that the government had no figure. “We do not have an estimate of the amount of crude emanating from the wellhead,” she said.

   Later in the video, a voice on speakerphone with a heavy Southern accent reveals that government scientists were concerned from the very beginning about underwater plumes of oil – a reality that NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco and BP executives are still seeking to downplay. “They weren’t sure how that oil was going to react once it was spilled,” the voice says. “Whether it was going to rise, or form layers and start twisting around.” The government, in short, knew from the start that surface measurements of the oil slick – on which it would premise its absurdly low estimate of 5,000 barrels a day – were likely to be unreliable.

There’s more, much more, and all of it damning – unless you take some small comfort in that they reacted immediately in April.  I’d quote more from the article, but I suggest you read the whole thing.  It is packed with truths that BP and the government didn’t want us to know.  One thing they did know though was:

   MMS has fully understood the worst-case scenarios for deep-sea oil blowouts for more than a decade. In May 2000, an environmental assessment for deepwater drilling in the Gulf presciently warned that “spill responses may be complicated by the potential for very large magnitude spills (because of the high production rates associated with deepwater wells).” The report noted that the oil industry “has estimated worst-case spill volumes ranging from 5,000 to 116,000 barrels a day for 120 days,” and it even anticipated the underwater plumes of oil that are currently haunting the Gulf: “Oil released subsea (e.g., subsea blowout or pipeline leak) in these deepwater environments could remain submerged for some period of time and travel away from the spill site.” The report ominously concluded, “There are few practical spill-response options for dealing with submerged oil.”

   That same month, an MMS research document developed with deepwater drillers – including the company then known as BP Amoco – warned that such a spill could spell the end for offshore operations. The industry could “ill afford a deepwater blowout,” the document cautions, adding that “no single company has the solution” to such a catastrophe. “The real test will come if a deepwater blowout occurs.”

Reading this article on the heels of the election results last night, I can only think we are so fucked.


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    • sharon on June 9, 2010 at 22:50

    been traveling a bit after the end of the semester and doing the liveblog thing in orange.  this rs article is a damning must read.

  1. The government has been protecting BP from the start, as the RS article says.

  2. quite a number on the Gulf. I’m sure the oil companies

    have had world class geologists study the underlying geology througout the Gulf just like our scientists carefully studied the effects of aboveground and underground testing of nuclear weapons. The last 65 years have been a real blast.  

    • sharon on June 10, 2010 at 02:43

    i hope everyone takes time to read this one.  dickinson is right on.

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