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Posts Tagged ‘Gulf Oil Spill’

“We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before…Everything out there is dead.” : Gulf Of Mexico Ecosystem In Crisis 3 Years After BP Oil Spill

In Uncategorized on October 21, 2013 at 3:13 pm
Over three million pounds of oiled material have been found in Louisiana this year. (Photo: Erika Blumenfeld / Al Jazeera)

Over three million pounds of oiled material have been found in Louisiana this year [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]

Oldspeak: “Three and a half years later, BP is spending more money – I want you to hear this – they are spending more money on television commercials than they have on actually restoring the natural resources they impacted.” -Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.  Three years after well blowout, declining seafood catches and deformities point to an environment in distress.” -Dahr Jamail

“Governor Jindal was being kind. BP willfully & irreparably destroyed an entire ocean ecosystem to conceal the magnitude of their toxic waste spill & minimize their legal liability. And they are spending ass tons more money trying to convince people that everything is just fine, when the reality is everything is just bad to WORSE, than they are trying to restore or clean the ecosystem they destroyed. Ignore the BP produced propaganda films crowing about how the gulf’s beaches are open, and its seafood is safe, and how stringent their safety protocols and new drilling technologies are. It’s all bullshit. Tar and oil is still washing up on beaches, fish and wildlife stocks have plummeted, some are just gone & fishing commerce has ground to near halt. There is no safe way to drill for the toxic waste that is crude oil in ocean ecosystems. Corporate media has turned a blind eye to this ongoing disaster while a major ocean ecosystems depended on financially by mulitiple U.S. gulf states is slowly and surely dying. No signs of recovery in sight. We power our civilization on toxic wastes. Where ever these toxins are extracted, spilled, released or disposed of, death and destruction follows. Without exception. We are losing 200 species of biodiversity per day. This is not sustainable. That there are powerful energy and financial corporations exploring ever more extreme and damaging means of extracting and exploiting ever more toxic wastes known to be the prime cause of the coming global ecological collapse, while governments give them massive subsidies to do so is sheer MADNESS. Our systems of governance and economy are no longer able to respond effectively to clear and present dangers threatening all living things , they are in fact accelerating the progression toward the dangers. This can only go on for so much longer.” -OSJ

By Dahr Jamail @ Al Jazeera:

New Orleans, US – Hundreds of kilograms of oily debris on beaches, declining seafood catches, and other troubling signs point towards an ecosystem in crisis in the wake of BP’s 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s disturbing what we’re seeing,” Louisiana Oyster Task Force member Brad Robin told Al Jazeera. “We don’t have any more baby crabs, which is a bad sign. We’re seeing things we’ve never seen before.”

Robin, a commercial oyster fisherman who is also a member of the Louisiana Government Advisory Board, said that of the sea ground where he has harvested oysters in the past, only 30 percent of it is productive now.

“We’re seeing crabs with holes in their shells, other seafood deformities. The state of Louisiana oyster season opened on October 15, and we can’t find any production out there yet. There is no life out there.”

According to Robin, entire sectors of the Louisiana oyster harvest areas are “dead or mostly dead”. “I got 10 boats in my fleet and only two of them are operating, because I don’t have the production to run the rest. We’re nowhere near back to whole, and I can’t tell you when or if it’ll come back.”

State of Louisiana statistics confirm that overall seafood catch numbers since the spill have declined.

‘Everything is down’

Robin is not the only member of the Gulf’s seafood industry to report bleak news. Kathy Birren and her husband own Hernando Beach Seafood, a wholesale seafood business, in Florida.

Shrimp with tumours continue to be found along the impact zone, from Louisiana to Florida [Dean Blanchard]

“I’ve seen a lot of change since the spill,” Birren told Al Jazeera. “Our stone crab harvest has dropped off and not come back; the numbers are way lower. Typically you’ll see some good crabbing somewhere along the west coast of Florida, but this last year we’ve had problems everywhere.”

Birren said the problems are not just with the crabs. “We’ve also had our grouper fishing down since the spill,” she added. “We’ve seen fish with tar balls in their stomachs from as far down as the Florida Keys. We had a grouper with tar balls in its stomach last month. Overall, everything is down.”

According to Birren, many fishermen in her area are giving up. “People are dropping out of the fishing business, and selling out cheap because they have to. I’m in west-central Florida, but fishermen all the way down to Key West are struggling to make it. I look at my son’s future, as he’s just getting into the business, and we’re worried.”

Dean Blanchard, owner of a seafood business in Grand Isle, Louisiana, is also deeply troubled by what he is seeing. “We have big tar mats coming up on Elmers Island, Fouchon, Grand Isle, and Grand Terre,” Blanchard told Al Jazeera. “Every time we have bad weather we get fresh tar balls and mats.”

Blanchard said his business generates only about 15 percent of what it did before the spill. “It looks like it’s getting worse,” he said. “I told my wife when she goes to the mall she can only spend 15 percent what she used to spend.”

Blanchard has also seen shrimp brought in with deformities, and has taken photographs of shrimp with tumours (see above). Others lack eyes. He attributes the deformities to BP’s use of toxic dispersants to sink the spilled oil.

Eyeless shrimp, along with other seafood abnormalities, have become common in many areas along the Gulf Coast [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]

“Everybody living down here watched them spray their dispersants day in and day out. They sprayed our bays and our beaches,” he said. “We got a problem, because BP says they didn’t spray down here, but we had a priest that even saw them spraying. So either we got a lying priest, or BP is lying.”

BP and the Coast Guard have told the media they have never sprayed dispersants within 10 miles of the coast, and that dispersants have never been used in bays.

A decades-long recovery

On a more sombre note, Dr Ed Cake, a biological oceanographer and a marine biologist, believes it will likely take the Gulf decades to recover from the BP disaster.

“The impacts of the Ixtoc 1 blowout in the Bay of Campeche in 1979 are still being felt,” said Cake, referring to a large oil spill near the Mexican coast, “and there are bays there where the oysters have still not returned. My prediction is we will be dealing with the impacts of this spill for several decades to come and it will outlive me.”

According to Cake, blue crab and shrimp catches have fallen in Mississippi and Alabama since the spill, and he also expressed worries about ongoing dolphin die-offs. But his primary concern is the slow recovery of the region’s oyster population.

“Mississippi recently opened their season, and their oyster fisherman are restricted to 12 sacks of oysters a day. But they can’t even reach six,” Cake said. “Thirty sacks would be a normal day for oysters – that was the previous limit – but that is restricted now because the stocks just aren’t there.”

Cake’s conclusion is grim. “Here in the estuarine areas, where we have the oysters, I think it’ll be a decade or two before we see any recovery.”

BP previously provided Al Jazeera with a statement on this topic, a portion of which read: “Seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is among the most tested in the world, and, according to the FDA and NOAA, it is as safe now as it was before the accident.”

BP claims that fish lesions are naturally common, and that before the spill there was documented evidence of lesions in the Gulf of Mexico caused by parasites and other agents.

More oil found

The second phase of the ongoing federal trial against BP investigates whether the company’s actions to halt the flow of oil during the blowout were adequate, and aims to determine how much oil was released.

“BP is mounting an aggressive legal and public relations campaign to shield itself from liability and minimise the amount of oil spilled in the Gulf, as well as the ongoing impacts from the disaster,” said Jonathan Henderson, an organiser for the Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group.

Even Louisiana’s Republican Governor Bobby Jindal agrees. Jindal recently said, “Three and a half years later, BP is spending more money – I want you to hear this – they are spending more money on television commercials than they have on actually restoring the natural resources they impacted.”

As far away from the blowout site as Florida, researchers continue to find oil in both Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay.

In Louisiana, according to the LA Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), more than 200 miles of shoreline have “some degree of oiling”, including 14 miles that are moderately or heavily oiled. From March through August of this year, over three million pounds of oiled material have been collected in Louisiana, more than double the amount over the same time period last year.

In addition, the CPRA reports that “investigations into the chemical composition of MC252 [BP's Macondo well] oil samples demonstrate that submerged oil is NOT substantially weathered or depleted of most PAH’s [polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons],” and “disputes…findings relied on by the USCG [US Coast Guard] that Deepwater Horizon oil is non-toxic”.

The agency also expresses concerns that “submerged oil may continue to pose long term risk to nearshore ecosystems”.

“New impacts to the Gulf’s ecosystem and creatures also continue to emerge,” Henderson told Al Jazeera. “This year alone, the National Marine Fisheries Service has recorded 212 dolphins and other marine mammal standings in the northern Gulf. A new scientific study conducted by NOAA, BP and university researchers also shows significant negative impacts on tiny organisms that live on the sea floor in a 57 square mile area around the Deepwater Horizon well site.”

Numerous other impacts have been documented since the disaster began, including genetic disruptions for Gulf killifish, harm to deepwater corals,, and the die-off of tiny foraminifera that are an important part of the Gulf’s food chain.

Ongoing studies continue to reveal toxins from BP’s spill in water, soil, and seafood samples.

Meanwhile, fishermen in BP’s impact zone wonder if things will ever return to normal. “Our future is very, very dim, and there are no sponge crabs out there, which is the future,” Robin concluded. “I’ve never seen this in my lifespan. I’m not seeing a future, because everything out there is dead.”

Nearly 3 Years Later The Oil Is Still There. New 7 Mile Oil Slick Observed At Site Of BP’s Massive 2010 Oil Spill Goes Unreported By Major Media Outlets

In Uncategorized on January 29, 2013 at 2:06 pm

http://www.wggb.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/BP-Oil-Spill.jpgOldspeak: “While oil company BP and Gulf Coast states paint a picture of sparkling beaches, booming businesses, smiling fishermen and waters bursting with fresh seafood with their disingenuous propaganda films -errr, commercials, touting the progress and safety of the Gulf of Mexico, Significant amounts of oil is still present in the area of the disaster. This calamity is ongoing. This vital ecosystem is continuously being polluted, at multiple sites, and it’s largely being ignored.  Safety, transparency, and reality are not considered. Profit once again is paramount.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6lW8qPK6_A&feature=player_embedded

By Washington’s Blog:

Wings of Care provided new photos of an oil slick in the area of the Gulf oil spill, noting:

Here is the large surface slick that has been sitting over the Macondo area since last autumn, with as yet no explanation from BP or the US Coast Guard as to its origin. Its persistence, even after the weeks of rough weather we have had in recent weeks and months, suggests that its flow is substantial. Scientists who have sampled it have found evidence of manmade products such as drilling mud.

Wings of Care provided an update yesterday:

The most troubling vision today was the Macondo area itself. The slick that we had first noticed last fall, which was spreading over the area within a half-mile or so of the scene of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, was huge today. It stretched over 7 nautical miles in the south-north direction and was almost a mile wide in some spots. There were some patches of rainbow sheen and even some weathered oil (brownish “mousse”), although overall it remained a light surface sheen.

***

There are patches of rainbow and weathered “mousse” in it as well, which we have not seen out there for many months.

Stuart Smith provides context:

In Louisiana, we are blessed to have a one-woman environmental protection agency by the name of Bonny Schumaker. A retired NASA physicist and pilot, Schumaker has found a way to merge her love of all creatures and her passion for flying to create an amazing operation called On Wings Of Care. She flies animal rescue missions but since 2010 has also devoted a lot of her energy toward helping her fellow citizens learn the truth about the aftermath of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

When the authorities wanted to restrict the public’s access to the site of the massive spill, Schumaker and her flights have documented both the scope of the spill and the extent of damage to marine life — and she hasn’t let up. In August 2011 and again in October 2012, her photographic evidence has forced BP, the U.S. Coast Guard, and other agencies to acknowledge and to investigate new sightings of fresh oil sheens near where BP’s rig blew up and sank. We’re still not satisfied with BP’s response to the problem, and we’re concerned that the oil may actually be coming from fissures under the sea.

One thing is undeniably clear from the photographic evidence: The oil is still there, 33 months after the explosion.

***

Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey (who may win election to the U.S. Senate later this year) said of the ongoing problems at the site: “Back in 2010, I said BP was either lying or incompetent. Well, it turns out they were both. This is the same crime scene, and the American public today is entitled to the same information that BP was lying about in 2010 so that we can understand the full dimension of the additional environmental .”

Background: the ongoing leak; BP’s criminal liability.

Houston Company Accepts Responsibility For Oil Spill Off Louisiana

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Fresh oil hits the Louisiana coast, March 21, 2011

Oldspeak: ” The destruction of the Gulf of Mexico continues. A massive slick is currently washing ashore in Louisiana, courtesy of Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners. No one is even talking about the BP oil that is still there.  It’s all along the floor of the gulf, coated with ultra toxic deodorized kerosene a.k.a. “corexit” dispersant, it’s floating in columns miles wide on and below the surface… An entire ecosystem irrevocably damaged, contaminated indefinitely. And folk are more concerned about what Charlie Sheen is doing. :-|”

By David Hammer @ NOLA:

A Houston-based oil company has accepted responsibility for a mysterious spill near Grand Isle, although it says it remains “surprised” that what it thought was a minor discharge from a long dormant well could have produced miles-long slicks.

map-oil-032311.jpgSevveral hours after The Times-Picayune broke the story that state agents had traced the oil back to a well operated by Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners, the Houston-based company put out a statement late Tuesday night.

It acknowledged that it was informed by the Coast Guard that it may be responsible for the spill, which has sent emulsified oil onto Louisiana shores yet again.

Anglo-Suisse also accepted responsibility for cleanup, even though the statement also said company officials were surprised by the Coast Guard’s “suggestion” because the well is “non-producing and has been monitored closely for the last six months.”

The well is one the company was plugging for permanent abandonment, in the West Delta Block 117 west-southwest of Southwest Pass.

In three reports to the Coast Guard since Friday, the company had reported that less than 5 gallons of crude had escaped. But state Wildlife and Fisheries agents traced the oil to the Anglo-Suisse well at its Platform E facility on Monday afternoon and found a crew on a boat trying to close in the well with a remotely operated submarine.

The company said it had reconnected the wellhead structure Tuesday morning and fully shut it in by 8:30 p.m.

The company said it was the 12th well it owned in the area to undergo plugging and abandonment operations. All of those wells were shut in after Hurricane Katrina caused damage to platforms and haven’t produced any oil since, the company said. Crews have been monitoring the site since September and didn’t report any oil discharge until the end of last week, the statement said.


Mariner Energy Gulf Oil Platform Explodes, Burns, Oil Sheen Spreads, All Workers Saved

In Uncategorized on September 2, 2010 at 3:24 pm
The explosion happened on rig located about 170 kilometres south of Vermilion Bay, LA.

Oldspeak: “And the hits just keep ONNNNNN commin.”

From Alan Sayre @ The Associated Press:

A mile-long oil sheen spread Thursday from an offshore petroleum platform burning in the Gulf of Mexico off Lousiana, west of the site of BP’s massive spill.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Coklough said the sheen, about 100 feet wide, was spotted near the platform owned by Houston-based Mariner Energy Inc.

He said Mariner had deployed three firefighting vessels to the site and one already was in place fighting the blaze.

The Coast Guard says no one was killed in the explosion and fire, which was reported by a commercial helicopter flying over the site around 9 a.m. CDT. All 13 people aboard the rig were rescued as they floated in the nearby water in survival outfits called gumby suits.

The platform is in about 340 feet of water and about 100 miles south of Vermilion Bay on the central Louisiana coast. It’s location is considered shallow water, much less than the approximately 5,000 feet where BP’s well spewed oil and gas for three months after an April rig explosion.

All 13 people aboard the rig were found floating in the water, sticking close together, Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer John Edwards said.

“These guys had the presence of mind, used their training to get into those gumby suits before they entered the water. It speaks volumes to safety training and the importance of it because beyond getting off the rig there’s all the hazards of the water such as hypothermia and things of that nature,” Edwards said.

All were being flown to a hospital in Houma to be checked over. Coast Guard Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesau said one person was injured, but the platform’s owner, Houston-based Mariner Energy, Inc., said there were no injuries.

“Mariner has notified and is working with regulatory authorities in response to this incident. The cause is not known, and an investigation will be undertaken,” the company said in a statement. It said the platform was located on Vermilion Block 380, approximately 100 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Georgia Scientists Dispute Obama Claim That Most Gulf Oil Is Gone

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2010 at 8:58 am

Faint streaks of weathered oil could be seen in the Gulf on Monday. AP

Oldspeak:” When something sounds too good to be true; it ususally is. ‘ ‘There are still vast volumes (70-79 % of  the 4 Million Barrels spilled) of crude oil in the water column, widely dispersed and breaking down into multiple compounds whose impact on the environment won’t be understood for years.’ -Samantha Joye,  UGA marine scientist”

From Curtis Morgan @ McClatchy Newspapers:

A team of University of Georgia scientists on Tuesday disputed the Obama administration’s claim, made two weeks ago, that most of the oil spewed from BP’s Deepwater Horizon well is either gone or widely dispersed.

Far from gone or dispersed, the scientists said, 70 to 79 percent of the more than 4 million barrels of oil that escaped into the Gulf of Mexico remains in the water, posing real but still undetermined risks.

“The idea that 75 percent of the oil is gone and of no concern for the environment

is just absolutely incorrect,” said Charles Hopkinson, a director of Georgia Sea Grant

and marine science professor at the University of Georgia, who co-authored the report.

The Georgia report blamed the media for “inaccurate and misleading” interpretation of a federal analysis released Aug. 2, but its authors, in a teleconference, declined to address questions about whether an upbeat spin by the Obama administration had shaped coverage.

The federal report, produced by government and independent scientists, estimated that the “vast majority” of the 4.9 million barrels of crude released into the Gulf had evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered by BP from the wellhead, dispersed naturally or by chemicals into drops likely to be rapidly consumed by microbes. Only 26 percent of “residual” oil remained largely in the form of sheen or tarballs, the federal report found — still a volume four times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez.

In announcing the data, Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, cautioned that the vast amount of oil would cause impacts for years but still struck a glass-half-full tone echoed by other Obama aides.

“At least 50 percent of the oil that was released is now completely gone from the system, and most of the remainder is degrading rapidly or is being removed from the beaches,” she said at a White House conference.

Two calculations explain the bulk of the difference in the Georgia report, produced by Hopkinson with four colleagues at the University of Georgia and the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography.

In the first, the Georgia scientists said the government had erred by including in its totals 800,000-plus barrels of oil that BP captured from the well after it had fitted a sealing cap on the gusher — 17 percent of the well’s estimated flow. The Georgia scientists argued that that oil had never actually “spilled” into the Gulf, so including it to determine the percentage of oil no longer in the Gulf gave an incorrect impression.

More significantly, the report also dramatically reduced the amount of oil estimated to have evaporated, to 7 to 12 percent from the federal study’s 25 percent.

The federal government’s evaporation estimate was based on a standard accepted by industry experts and researchers for light sweet crude in the warm Gulf. But Hopkinson argued that the percentage is invalid because much of the oil remains deep beneath the surface, trapped under dense temperature and salinity layers that would dramatically limit evaporation.

“My suspicion is that a large fraction of this oil is still in the system,” said Samantha Joye, a UGA marine scientist who in May was the first researcher to detect massive deep sea “plumes” of oil droplets spreading from the well. “Whether it’s floating around or down in the bottom, we still don’t know.”

Another report released Tuesday by University of South Florida researchers found evidence of droplets spreading eastward up the continental shelf and settling into the DeSoto Canyon, a much shallower area considered a prime spawning spot for fish. The team reported finding oil at potentially toxic concentrations for some organisms in sediment taken from 900 feet to as shallow as 215 feet. BP’s well is 5,000 feet deep.

Most analysis and research to date, Georgia’s Joye said, also has ignored methane, which accounted for as much as a third of the overall flow. Methane levels were 10,000 to 100,000 times greater than normal in some deep sea pockets, she said. At such levels, it could take a year for the dissolved methane to dissipate, she said.

In an email statement Tuesday, NOAA spokesman Justin Kenney defended the official analysis as ”validated by federal and independent scientific experts.” By omitting oil recovered directly from the well, he said, the Georgia researchers had fundamentally changed the baseline calculation, making it impossible to compare the two estimates.

He also dismissed critics who have contended the White House was eager to put the environmental disaster in its rearview mirror. NOAA and its contributing independent scientists, he said, “have been clear that oil and its remnants left in the water represent a potential threat.”

The agency intended to continue to “rigorously monitor, test and assess short- and long-term ramifications,” he added.

Joye stressed that the Georgia team wasn’t implying that there were toxic “rivers of oil” submerged in the Gulf. Oil is degrading every day, she said.

There are, however, still vast volumes of crude oil in the water column, widely dispersed and breaking down into multiple compounds whose impact on the environment won’t be understood for years, she said.

ON THE WEB

Read the report.

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Mississippi attorney general disputes BP’s rosy claims report

Gulf oil spill still a threat to seafood, JAMA study indicates

Changes to BP oil spill clean-up plan leave Texas boom makers soaked

BP’s Scheme to Swindle the “Small People”

In Uncategorized on July 21, 2010 at 11:41 am

Clint Guidry, the Louisiana shrimp harvester representative on the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force created by executive order of Gov. Bobby Jindal, has called BP "liars" and "killers.

Oldspeak:“Gulf Coast fishermen who have no livelihoods because of BP’s criminal negligence, and are now cleaning up BPs mess, are having the meager wages they’re being paid to do so deducted from compensation BP owes them for destroying their lives. Unbelievable the balls on these people.”

From Dahr Jamail @ Truthout:

Gulf Coast fishermen and others with lost income claims against BP are outraged by a recent announcement that the $20 billion government-administered claim fund will subtract money they earn by working on the cleanup effort from any future damage claims against BP. This move, according to lawyers in Louisiana working on behalf of Louisiana fishermen and others affected by the BP oil disaster, contradicts an earlier BP statement in which the company promised it would do no such thing.

Kenneth Feinberg, who was appointed by President Obama as the independent administrator of the Gulf Claims Facility for the $20 billion BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster compensation fund, said yesterday that the wages earned by people working on BP’s cleanup will be deducted from their claims against the company.

He said the fund is designed to compensate fishermen and others for their lost income, and if BP is already paying someone to help skim oil and perform other cleanup work, those wages will be subtracted from the amount they’re eligible to claim from the fund.

Attorney Stephen Herman, one of two interim liaison counsel for cases pending in the eastern district of Louisiana before Judge Carl J. Barbier, told Truthout he has spoken with Feinberg and that this recent announcement contradicts an earlier statement made by BP, in which the company clearly said it would not do this.

A letter dated May 2, 2010, from Herman’s firm, Herman, Herman, Katz & Cotlar LLP, in New Orleans, sent to Murray Greene in BP’s Legal Department, asked Greene to confirm in writing that BP agreed to destroy voluntary waiver and release forms issued to response workers at a meeting in Venice, Louisiana, and stated:

“Lastly, we inquired as to BP’s position with respect to any future claim of credit or set-off due to payments made to individuals who are assisting BP in mitigating its exposure to individuals and others for the unprecedented environmental and human losses as a result of this incident. It is our position that since my clients are effectively helping BP minimize its own future exposure as well as attempting to preserve the wetlands and the environment that BP ought not to seek any offset or reduction of claims as a result of any payments made to these individuals who courageously take on the dirty work of cleaning up BP’s mess.”

The next day, May 3, A.T. Chenault, a lawyer representing BP, responded in writing via letter stating, “We have no personal knowledge of the presentation of a Voluntary Waiver and Release to numerous people from Plaquemines Parish in Venice, Louisiana. However, it is the position of BP that any such documents will be rescinded and not binding on anyone signing same.”

Chenault’s letter concluded with a statement that directly contradicts Feinberg’s recent announcement.

“Lastly, we confirm that BP will not offset payments to vessel owners or other volunteers against claims they might have,” wrote Cheault, who is with the firm Fowler, Rodriguez, Valdes-Fauli.

Today, during a speech at the Economics Club in Washington, Feinberg appeared to be attempting to dissuade claimants from filing lawsuits against BP.

“You’re crazy to do so, though,” Feiberg said. “Because under this program, you will receive, if you’re eligible, compensation without having to go to court for years, without the uncertainty of going to court, since I’ll be much more generous than any court will be. And at the same time, you won’t need to pay lawyers and costs.”

Do you like this? Please click here now to support Truthout’s work.

The move is being seen by many as an attempt by Feinberg to sell the compensation fund to victims, so as to prevent more lawsuits against BP.

Herman told Truthout that he believes Feinberg has said things that “are not consistent,” and that Feinberg “may not have been familiar” with the aforementioned agreement by BP to “not offset payments to vessel owners or other volunteers against claims they might have.”

Herman, who has already met with Feinberg on several occasions, said he expects to meet up with Feinberg’s law partner, Michael Rozen, “very soon.”

Attorney Robert Wiygul in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, represents many fishermen involved in BP’s oil response program, and told Truthout he “finds it very troubling” that BP and Feingold appear to be trying to position themselves to avoid future compensation claims from fishermen, as opposed to handling it on a year-to-year basis.

Clint Guidry is a Louisiana fisherman, and is on the board of directors of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. He is also the shrimp harvester representative on the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force created by executive order of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Guidry told Truthout that he believes Feinberg is “trying to limit BP’s liability,” adding that “every time Feinberg announces something he changes what he said before.”

According to Guidry, Feinberg first proposed a partial claim settlement that would provide settlement checks for up to three years. This would have allowed fishermen to determine if there were “holes in the ecosystem.”

If the oil disaster kills off enough shrimp, for example, there would be no shrimping season next year, and no way for shrimpers to earn a living.

“But now his new plan is to do away with that by having folks take a settlement,” Guidry added. “There’s not much of his program I like. It appears he is protecting BP.”

On May 24, in Galliano, Louisiana, Guidry testified to a delegation of US senators, congressmen and various Obama administration departments and agencies. He said:

“BP committed fraud in furnishing oil-spill-response data required to obtain a permit to enable them to drill the MC 252 location. The reality is they were not prepared to handle or control a blowout and resulting oil spill of this magnitude. Simply put, they lied.

“BP, in their haste to cut corners and save money in the completion process on the well location at MC 252, exhibited willful neglect in their duties to complete the well safely, which led to the blowout and explosion that killed 11 people. Eleven souls that will never come back. Eleven families with mothers and fathers and wives and children. Children who will never see their fathers again.

“This neglect and loss of life constitutes negligent homicide and all involved should be arrested and charged as such.”

Guidry told Truthout he believes, “There has been a BP cover-up from day one,” and “the US government, OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration], the Coast Guard, NIOSH [National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health], all of them are in on it.”

Guidry is very concerned about the health of the fishermen he represents, of which there are approximately 600, who are working on the oil response for BP.

“These people are putting their health at risk by working for them, and now look at how they are being treated,” Gui

This morning, Herman sent this letter to Rozen and Feinberg:

“Dear Mr. Rozen and Mr. Feinberg,

“It was reported in the local media last night that BP (presumably thru the Claims Facility) was going to take a credit or offset for payments to fishermen and others engaged in the Vessels of Opportunity and/or other clean-up/remediation efforts against what is owed to them for lost profits and/or diminished earning capacity.

“Please note that BP very early on agreed not to do this. (See Letter from BP Counsel A.T. Chenault to my partner Jim Klick dated May 3, 2010.)”

Herman also provided Truthout with an email he sent to persons concerned with BP’s and Feinberg’s recent moves, in which he expressed concern with the procedures of the Claims Facility. While Herman stated that Feinberg and Rozen “have attempted to answer some of these questions, (with perhaps some inconsistency), no one — it seems — has ever seen a document signed off on by BP.”

Herman asked, “What, specifically, has BP committed to do? What, specifically, has BP given Mr. Feinberg (as an “independent” agent or administrator) the authority to agree to on behalf of BP? The attached letter was sent to BP’s local counsel here in New Orleans on July 3rd. We have still not received a formal response, and, to my knowledge, no one (including Mr. Feinberg) has seen a formal written document (other than a White House Press Release) that purports to be authored by, signed by, agreed to or otherwise binding on BP. So, it would seem to be time to start asking BP (and/or the administration) : Where is BP? Or, perhaps stated another way: Where’s the beef?”

On June 1, BP Board Chairman Henric Svanberg stated, “[President Obama] is frustrated because he cares about the small people, and we care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies or don’t care, but that is not the case in BP. We care about the small people.”

We Are All BP Now: Militarizing the Gulf Oil Crisis

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2010 at 11:11 am

Oldspeak: “Brilliant explication. ‘Why are people calling the calamity a war and why does it matter that they do?  Calling the spill an ‘invasion’ helps us not to see that our global culture of militarization is what got us into the mess in the first place. Calling the spill a ‘war’ only fuels the pervasive militarization that produced the crisis in the first place. Calling the oil the ‘enemy’ helps us not to question who was culpable in the first place. Calling the response ‘a battle front’ helps us not ask who, other than the military, should be in charge. And calling the oil the enemy helps us not admit how much we, the consumers, having awakened the oil from its ancient slumber to fuel our gas-greedy lives, are the most complicit of all.’ “

From Anne McClintock @ CounterPunch:

In the Gulf, the forever spill has become the forever war. A calamity of untold magnitude is unfolding and, alongside it, a strange militarization has emerged, as the language for managing the crisis becomes the language of war.

War-talk is firing from the mouths of local officials, TV pundits, the Coast Guard and journalists. Campaigning frantically to protect Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal urges the TV cameras: “We need to see that this is a war….a war to save Louisiana…a war to protect our way of life.”

Billy Nungesser, indefatigable President of the Plaquemines Parish, implores anyone who will listen: “We will fight this war….We will persevere to win this war.”

For Ragin Cajun, Democratic strategist, James Carville: “This is literally a war… this is an invasion…We need to hear someone say ‘We’ll fight them on the beaches….”

Retired Gen. Russell Honore, who oversaw the Katrina debacle, insists: “We need to act like this is World War 3. Treat this like it’s an invasion…equal to what we decided about terrorists. We’ve got to find the oil and kill it.”

Find the oil and kill it? This is truly strange talk, this talk of war and killing oil. Even President Obama tried to fire up the nation by invoking 9/11, couching the spill as an invasion, a siege, an attack by terrorists. The militarization of the disaster has become the invisible norm, so much so that it is hard to see how misplaced and dangerous the analogy to war actually is.

Visit the BP site (one of the more surreal Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass internet experiences) and you will see the word “kill”–BP’s favored, faux-techno buzzword–appearing with ritualistic incantation. Kill the well, killthe leak, kill the oil, which morphs into “kill mud” (the mud that will kill the leak) and “kill lines” (the lines that follow the pipes to kill the leak). All this kill-talk has a jaunty, we-know-what-we-are-doing tone, but accumulatively it borders on the bizarre, culminating in the “junk shot”–the weird slurry of car tires and golf-balls that BP fired at the leak to ‘kill’ it–as if, by throwing enough sacrificial detritus of our oil-soaked leisure activities into the maw of the oil-god, we could stop it spewing death.

There is a lot of verbal killing going on here, and indeed the Gulf does seem to be bleeding: a vast, streaky, orange-red smear stretching to the horizon. Sixty three days and counting, and the oil eruption gushes unstoppably past 100,000 barrels (BP’s secret, original estimation), past 400,000 barrels and up…We really haven’t a clue how much. In this, our summer of magical counting.

On CNN, Wolf Blitzer gazes at the grey Louisiana horizon and declares: “It looks like a military campaign…heavy lift helicoptors taking sand to the frontlines of the battle against the oil.” I do look, but it doesn’t look like a military campaign to me. Certainly, a few Blackhawk and Chinook helicoptors drop sandbags into a filthy, yellow-brown sea overflown by a few hapless gulls, but a war front it really isn’t.  This is, in fact, as unlike a war front as one can imagine. The Louisiana marshes lap quietly with brown ooze; solitary birds heave and flail in the middle of nowhere under the oil’s slow embrace; dolphins gape open-mouthed on beaches; a dead whale washes ashore. No, this is not a war. Only a tremendous failure of the imagination can see this as a war.

So why are people calling the calamity a war and why does it matter that they do?

Calling the oil the ‘enemy’ helps us not to question who was culpable in the first place. Calling the response ‘a battle front’ helps us not ask who, other than the military, should be in charge. Calling the spill an ‘invasion’ helps us not to see that our global culture of militarization is what got us into the mess in the first place. Calling the spill a ‘war’ only fuels the pervasive militarization that produced the crisis in the first place. And calling the oil the enemy helps us not admit how much we, the consumers, having awakened the oil from its ancient slumber to fuel our gas-greedy lives, are the most complicit of all.

A fateful circularity takes shape as the spill is managed in the same terms that produced the spill: that of war. Most critically, militarizing the catastrophe asa war becomes a cover-up for seeing the environmental catastrophe of war.

An unsettling verbal alchemy is at work in all this military talk. “Jindal has declared war!” cries the Florida Pundit. But on whom has Governor Jindal declared war? The murderously irresponsible BP? The Obama government for failing, really, to do anything? The increasingly invisible, but culpable Halliburton? (Wherever there is Halliburton, there is pain). The Sunday Herald, for one, pleaded with Congress not to blame BP: “The oil is the enemy,” it urged, “not each other.” Admiral Allen described the oil as “an insidious enemy that keeps attacking in different places.” Viewed through the prism of war, oil and nature are seen as the enemy, for they have erupted beyond our control. Adopting a warlike stance toward nature is not new. A long-established discourse on conquering the wilderness is ready to hand to justify our rapacious assault on the life-forms around us. Dill, baby, drill. Then, when it all goes horrendously wrong, kill, baby, kill.

And if all this seems merely metaphoric, there is Rush Limbaugh to rely on, for whom the doomed rig explosion was not just a metaphor, but an actual act of war. Limbaugh says the rig was probably attacked by “a foreign government,” with culprits ranging from “Muslim terrorists to the Red Chinese, Venezuela and beyond.” Michael Savage began simultaneously peddling the same story, but with North Korea behind the ‘attack.’ Cherry-pick your terrorist of choice–whatever–it is war.

The war talk of Limbaugh, Savage & Co would be laughable if it didn’t converge with the broader militarization of the spill. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Florida) is calling for the actual military to take charge. But what part of the military’s mission and expertise, I wonder, leads Nelson to believe that the army could stop the oil billowing from the ocean bed, let alone take charge of the massive response? Do we actually have the military hardware to stave off this thing in the first place? Sure we do. We can send in a Predator Drone, point the Oil Vaporizing Missile at the leak, hit the “If-we-dream-hard-enough” button and…hotdamn. Thing works like a charm.

A painful irony is obvious: we can’t send in the army because it is already overstretched by fighting two ruinous wars abroad, both wars fought precisely to secure the dwindling oil we need to lubricate our profligate lifestyles and keep our global military mobile. But the military can barely manage these wars abroad, let alone cope with environmental catastrophes back home, stretched so thin as it is that soldiers return home with post-traumatic stress so severe they commit suicide at the harrowing rate of eighteen a day.

Couching the catastrophe in the language of war conceals the political void at the heart of the clean-up. The administration’s systematic failure to regulate BP, Halliburton et al before the explosion is matched only by its stunning impotence after the explosion. We’re into the second month and Nungesser is still begging to know who is in charge. Even Admiral Thad Allen told reporters: “To push BP out of the way would raise the question of: Replace them with what?” The robust, accountable civilian agencies that should be responsible have been gutted by decades of deregulation. This is what the far right wants. In the last decade, Republican calls for limiting government have given way to calls for dismantling government, in favor of a system run and policed by the very rapacious energy and fiscal barons who caused the crises in the first place.

In a world of promiscuous deregulation, oil giants like BP take obscene risks and rake in undreamed-of bonanzas. BP, the third largest oil company in the world, has an annual profit of $14 billion; it made $17 billion last year, and $9 billion in the first quarter of this year alone. BP’s top CEO before Tony Hayward, Lord John Browne (at $11 million a year the highest paid CEO in the UK) was so addicted to profit that he cut safety costs at all costs. BP has long been known as the top-ranking safety violator globally. Last year alone, according to OSHA, BP racked up over 700 violations, that is, over 10 violations per day. BP’s Regional Oil Spill Response Plan for the Gulf was so makeshift it included references to walruses and sea-otters, neither of which inhabit the Gulf.

The oil bonanzas are so vast that when the companies are fined for spills, the fines often amount to just a few days annual profits. Exxon Valdes’s fines were reduced by Justice Roberts’ Supreme Court from $5 billion to $500 million and not one company official saw the inside of a jail. So why bother following safety regulations? And when safety regulations are systematically violated, well, stuff happens. Like a dead ocean.

And when stuff happens, what do we do? Who is in charge? Gov. Jindal cries out again: “This is a war. We’ve got to be adaptable.” The trouble is, there is precious little to be adaptable with. Skimmers, sandbags, shovels. Antiquated barges with makeshift vacuums trying to suck up an ocean that is turning black. On TV, I watch men in white overalls hold a puny vacuum-cleaner nozzle to the gargantuan oil slick. Cajun engineering, some wryly call it. Absurd, if it weren’t so awful.

The wildly unregulated oil industry is profit-driven to such a degree that no R and D has gone into developing any clean-up technology for the last forty years. Not since the Santa Barbara disaster in 1969, that is. Not since everyone was still using typewriters. The oil industry has the technology to drill to fabulous, sci-fi, Jules Verne depths, but is still using hopelessly outmoded methods like booms, wetmats, and spades to clean-up after them. Skimmers lumber ineffectually back to shore carrying only 10% oil to 90% water. Kevin Costner’s save-the-day machines are not yet in action. The booms get tangled up in every squall and are laid out with little or no knowledge of the shoreline. I watch as men swirl mops in the ooze.

Where is the R and D for clean-up technology? As I write this, I wonder: I can touch my ipad and in a few seconds beckon from the ethers an invisible book that speeds unseen through the starry skies to materalize magically into print between my fingers. We can pull off this breathtakingly wondrous stunt, but are stumped by the task of scooping up the oil we ceaselessly spill? Why?

It’s not as if there aren’t enough bad spills to warrant spending some serious R and D cash. The sheer untruth of Obama’s claim in April that “oil rigs generally don’t cause spills” could hardly be rivaled. In fact, as much oil is spilled in the world every seven months as was spilled from the Exxon Valdes. In Nigeria’s oil-devastated delta alone, where oil companies operate outside the law, where writer-activist, Ken Saro Wiwa was executed for opposing them, more oil is spilled every year than so far in the current Gulf spill.

But who cares? These spills occur slowly, every day and far away, out of range of the U.S. media’s sensation-driven gaze, evading the disaster-packaging of prime time news. So that Doug Suttels, BP chief, could lie to NBC’s Tom Costello, saying that BP hadn’t developed any remedial spill technology because “there have been so few big spills.” And when warned by a BP engineer that the Deep Horizon was a “nightmare rig,” another BP official responded in an email: “Who cares? It’s done… We will probably be fine.”

We aren’t fine, but perhaps by calling this a war we stave off feelings of helplessness by giving familiar symbolic shape to an unforeseen chaos. Perhaps fear is militarized and given a reassuringly violent form. Certainly, Americans are particularly prone to deploying the language of war to deal with social crises. We pretend to wage war on a lot of things that we can’t wage war on: the war on drugs, on crime, on poverty, on AIDS, the forever War on Terror, and now on oil. The militarization of our culture has become so pervasive that every crisis of neo-liberal capitalism rolling in is seen as the next war.

Very early into the spill, the militarization of the Gulf extended even to journalists being prevented from covering the disaster by a motley alliance of BP contractors and Coast Guards, on the grounds that the Gulf was a war zone. After protests, Admiral Allen assured the media that they would have “uninhibited access,” but the blockades only increased, flyover permits were revoked, photography on public beaches was banned, and cleanup workers were silenced. National guardsman blockaded even CNN from filming oil-damaged birds. The question remains why President Obama, who campaigned on the promise of government transparency, would collude with BP in the media blackout, refusing to let even the New York Times fly over “Ground Zero”–a blatantly militarized reference to an industrial disaster? One Coast Guard official referred to journalists as “media embeds,” but embeds in what, precisely?

All this war talk would be understandable, defensible even, were it not for a fatally circular, feedback loop. BP would not be in the Gulf drilling deeper than it knows how to drill were it not for its uniquely profitable relation with the US military war machine. The United States Department of Defense buys more oil than any other entity on the planet. The protection of overseas oil is now so unquestioned that even Defense Secretary Gates warned against the “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy. And to fuel this militarization, the Pentagon uses 75% of the oil bought by the DOD for its jets, bombers, drones, tanks, and Humvees. And in order to keep buying this oil, the military has to keep protecting our regional oil interests, two thirds of which are now in conflict prone zones. US military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan use a staggering ninety million gallons a month. And to garrison this vast, global gas-station, the DOD keeps expanding, which means buying more oil.

From whom? In 2009, BP was the Pentagon’s largest contractor at $2.2 billion. The DOD has a longstanding, multimillion dollar business relation with BP, which it says it has no intention of relinquishing, even now, in the aftermath of the Gulf disaster. Despite knowledge that BP has racked up 97% of all flagrant safety violations.  In 2005, the DOD paid BP $1.5 billion. Indeed, last year 16% of BP’s profits came from sales to the Pentagon alone.

Keeping this in mind, we would do well to remember that militarization is the number one cause of environmental destruction in the world, and that military production facilities, which are exempt from environmental restrictions, are the most ecologically devastated places on earth. We drill, we spill; nature pays the bill.

Blaming BP means we don’t have to admit our complicity as consumers in the slow-mo, chemical slaughter we have unleashed on the planet. Blaming BP means we don’t have to look too hard in the rear-view mirrors of the cars we drive, or too deep into the plastic water bottles we drink. Last year Americans drank enough plastic water bottles to stretch around the world one hundred and ninety times. Blaming BP means we don’t have to admit how our oil-addiction keeps U.S. foreign policy in thrall to petro-despots and oligarchs.

BP would not be drilling in the Gulf in the first place were it not reaping ungodly, monster profits from our luxurious oil-bingeing. A gas-pedal-to-the-metal nation, we American consumers are especially complicit, our profligate lifestyles devouring 30% of all raw materials used by people globally every year. We Americans siphon 25% of all the earth’s black oil into our cars, trucks, airplanes, helicopters, mega-malls and military bases. Every one of us who drives one, two, three cars is complicit. Every one of us who shops with plastic bags is complicit. Every one of us who strolls through malls heated to a permanent tropical summer in winter, is complicit. We are all complicit in this calamity. We are all BP now.

FEMA’s Toxic Katrina Trailers, Deemed Unsafe For Housing, Resold To Gulf Cleanup Workers

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Oldspeak:“As if breathing carcinogenic vapors and cleaning up toxic oil with inadequate protection isn’t enough, some people are sleeping in cancer trailers. Disaster Capitalism at it finest :-|”

From Marian Wang @ Pro Publica:

Large-scale disaster — this time in the form of BP’s crude oil — has again hit the Gulf Coast, and with it have returned the familiar white trailers that the government provided to survivors of Hurricane Katrina years ago.

According to The New York Times, these trailers — known to have high levels of formaldehyde, a carcinogen – are popping up again in connection with the BP oil disaster, potentially putting more people at risk of the health problems associated with the industrial chemical: nasal cancer, upper respiratory problems, and leukemia.

In March, The Washington Post reported that the federal government was offloading thousands of these old FEMA trailers. Some of them, purchased in bulk by middlemen, are now being resold to cleanup workersand their employers, who are scrambling for housing, the Times reported, even though the government has “banned them from ever being used for long-term housing again.”

As ProPublica has reported extensively, for years after Hurricane Katrina, the federal government downplayed concerns about the trailers’ formaldehyde levels, despite early warnings from whistleblowers. It only later acknowledged it was applying the wrong exposure standard to judge their safety.

According to FEMA, these trailers are not intended for use as housing — buyers must be informed of this and warning labels must be posted. According to the Times, however, these rules aren’t always being followed by the middlemen who are selling them:

Officials with the inspector general’s office of theGeneral Services Administration said Wednesday that they had opened at least seven cases concerning buyers who might not have posted the certification and formaldehyde warnings on trailers they sold.

Federal records indicate that of the hundreds of companies and individuals who have bought the trailers, dozens are in Louisiana. They include Henderson Auctions, which bought 23,636 units for $18 million, and Kite Brothers RV, which bought 6,511 mobile homes and travel trailers for $16 million.

On Henderson Auctions’ Web site, a spokeswoman is quoted in a news video saying that people who live on the street or in their cars would much rather live in the trailers and that the formaldehyde has dissipated after four or five years.

Clearly, folks are still living in some of these trailers. Here’s one of the buyers, to the Times:

John Sercovich, the owner of Bud’s Boat Rentals in Belle Chasse, La., said that he thought the trailer he bought for some of his workers to stay in was more than adequate.

“We couldn’t have afforded it any other way,” he said.

Most of the workers in the Gulf, the Times piece pointed out, are not living in the trailers. (And good thing — they have other health concerns to worry about.)

Finally, while we’re on the subject of formaldehyde, it’s also worth noting that the EPA declared it a known carcinogen in a draft risk assessment released last month. As we’ve reported, this assessment is one that David Vitter, a Louisiana senator with ties to the formaldehyde industry, managed to get the EPA to delay for quite some time.

Bill Clinton: We May Have to Blow Up The BP Oil Well

In Uncategorized on June 29, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Oldspeak : “Well wouldja look at that… Ol’ Billy Clint, stating the obvious. Should have been the  1st option, not the 5th, and it’s rarely been mentioned as a solution. But, as we’ve come to see, if there’s no profit in it, it’s not happening. BP’s primary objective here is saving their revenue stream, NOT the Gulf of Mexico.”

From Brian Montopoli @ CBS News:

Former President Bill Clinton said during a panel discussion in South Africa that it may become necessary to blow up the Deepwater Horizon well that continues to spew oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Unless we send the Navy down deep to blow up the well and cover the leak with piles and piles and piles of rock and debris, which may become necessary – you don’t have to use a nuclear weapon by the way, I’ve seen all that stuff, just blow it up – unless we’re going to do that, we are dependent on the technical expertise of these people from BP,” Clinton said.

There has been some pressure for BP to simply blow up the well, with critics suggesting the company is forgoing that option out of a desire to get as much oil as possible from the rig.

“If we demolish the well using explosives, the investment’s gone,” former nuclear submarine officer and a visiting scholar on nuclear policy at Columbia University Christopher Brownfield said in a Fox News interview in May. “They lose hundreds of millions of dollars from the drilling of the well, plus no lawmaker in his right mind would allow BP to drill again in that same spot. So basically, it’s an all-or-nothing thing with BP: They either keep the well alive, or they lose their whole investment and all the oil that they could potentially get from that well.” (He penned an opinion piece in the New York Times making the argument.)

Some lawmakers have also pushed for blowing up the well.

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why BP couldn’t go into the ocean floor, maybe 10 feet lateral to the — around the periphery — drill a few holes and put a little ammonium nitrate, some dynamite, in those holes and detonate that dynamite and seal that leak. And seal it permanently,” Rep. Phil Gingrey (Ga.) said earlier this month.

Gulf Oil Spill: A Hole In The World

In Uncategorized on June 24, 2010 at 2:25 pm

BP cannot plug the hole in the Earth that it made. Obama cannot order fish species to survive, or brown pelicans not to go extinct (no matter whose ass he kicks). No amount of money – not BP's recently pledged $20bn (£13.5bn), not $100bn – can replace a culture that has lost its roots. And while our politicians and corporate leaders have yet to come to terms with these humbling truths, the people whose air, water and livelihoods have been contaminated are losing their illusions fast.

Oldspeak: “This Gulf coast crisis is about many things – corruption, deregulation, the addiction to fossil fuels. But underneath it all, it’s about this: our culture’s excruciatingly dangerous claim to have such complete understanding and command over nature that we can radically manipulate and re-engineer it with minimal risk to the natural systems that sustain us.”

From Naomi Klein @ The Guardian UK:

Everyone gathered for the town hall meeting had been repeatedly instructed to show civility to the gentlemen from BP and the federal government. These fine folks had made time in their busy schedules to come to a high school gymnasium on a Tuesday night in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, one of many coastal communities where brown poison was slithering through the marshes, part of what has come to be described as the largest environmental disaster in US history.

“Speak to others the way you would want to be spoken to,” the chair of the meeting pleaded one last time before opening the floor for questions.

And for a while the crowd, mostly made up of fishing families, showed remarkable restraint. They listened patiently to Larry Thomas, a genial BP public relations flack, as he told them that he was committed to “doing better” to process their claims for lost revenue – then passed all the details off to a markedly less friendly subcontractor. They heard out the suit from the Environmental Protection Agency as he informed them that, contrary to what they have read about the lack of testing and the product being banned in Britain, the chemical dispersant being sprayed on the oil in massive quantities was really perfectly safe.

But patience started running out by the third time Ed Stanton, a coast guard captain, took to the podium to reassure them that “the coast guard intends to make sure that BP cleans it up”.

“Put it in writing!” someone shouted out. By now the air conditioning had shut itself off and the coolers of Budweiser were running low. A shrimper named Matt O’Brien approached the mic. “We don’t need to hear this anymore,” he declared, hands on hips. It didn’t matter what assurances they were offered because, he explained, “we just don’t trust you guys!” And with that, such a loud cheer rose up from the floor you’d have thought the Oilers (the unfortunately named school football team) had scored a touchdown.

The showdown was cathartic, if nothing else. For weeks residents had been subjected to a barrage of pep talks and extravagant promises coming from Washington, Houston and London. Every time they turned on their TVs, there was the BP boss, Tony Hayward, offering his solemn word that he would “make it right”. Or else it was President Barack Obama expressing his absolute confidence that his administration would “leave the Gulf coast in better shape than it was before”, that he was “making sure” it “comes back even stronger than it was before this crisis”.

It all sounded great. But for people whose livelihoods put them in intimate contact with the delicate chemistry of the wetlands, it also sounded completely ridiculous, painfully so. Once the oil coats the base of the marsh grass, as it had already done just a few miles from here, no miracle machine or chemical concoction could safely get it out. You can skim oil off the surface of open water, and you can rake it off a sandy beach, but an oiled marsh just sits there, slowly dying. The larvae of countless species for which the marsh is a spawning ground – shrimp, crab, oysters and fin fish – will be poisoned.

It was already happening. Earlier that day, I travelled through nearby marshes in a shallow water boat. Fish were jumping in waters encircled by white boom, the strips of thick cotton and mesh BP is using to soak up the oil. The circle of fouled material seemed to be tightening around the fish like a noose. Nearby, a red-winged blackbird perched atop a 2 metre (7ft) blade of oil-contaminated marsh grass. Death was creeping up the cane; the small bird may as well have been standing on a lit stick of dynamite.

And then there is the grass itself, or the Roseau cane, as the tall sharp blades are called. If oil seeps deeply enough into the marsh, it will not only kill the grass above ground but also the roots. Those roots are what hold the marsh together, keeping bright green land from collapsing into the Mississippi River delta and the Gulf of Mexico. So not only do places like Plaquemines Parish stand to lose their fisheries, but also much of the physical barrier that lessens the intensity of fierce storms like hurricane Katrina. Which could mean losing everything.

How long will it take for an ecosystem this ravaged to be “restored and made whole” as Obama’s interior secretary has pledged to do? It’s not at all clear that such a thing is remotely possible, at least not in a time frame we can easily wrap our heads around. The Alaskan fisheries have yet to fully recover from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and some species of fish never returned. Government scientists now estimate that as much as a Valdez-worth of oil may be entering the Gulf coastal waters every four days. An even worse prognosis emerges from the 1991 Gulf war spill, when an estimated 11m barrels of oil were dumped into the Persian Gulf – the largest spill ever. That oil entered the marshland and stayed there, burrowing deeper and deeper thanks to holes dug by crabs. It’s not a perfect comparison, since so little clean-up was done, but according to a study conducted 12 years after the disaster, nearly 90% of the impacted muddy salt marshes and mangroves were still profoundly damaged.

We do know this. Far from being “made whole,” the Gulf coast, more than likely, will be diminished. Its rich waters and crowded skies will be less alive than they are today. The physical space many communities occupy on the map will also shrink, thanks to erosion. And the coast’s legendary culture will contract and wither. The fishing families up and down the coast do not just gather food, after all. They hold up an intricate network that includes family tradition, cuisine, music, art and endangered languages – much like the roots of grass holding up the land in the marsh. Without fishing, these unique cultures lose their root system, the very ground on which they stand. (BP, for its part, is well aware of the limits of recovery. The company’s Gulf of Mexico regional oil spill response plan specifically instructs officials not to make “promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal”. Which is no doubt why its officials consistently favour folksy terms like “make it right”.)

If Katrina pulled back the curtain on the reality of racism in America, the BP disaster pulls back the curtain on something far more hidden: how little control even the most ingenious among us have over the awesome, intricately interconnected natural forces with which we so casually meddle. BP cannot plug the hole in the Earth that it made. Obama cannot order fish species to survive, or brown pelicans not to go extinct (no matter whose ass he kicks). No amount of money – not BP’s recently pledged $20bn (£13.5bn), not $100bn – can replace a culture that has lost its roots. And while our politicians and corporate leaders have yet to come to terms with these humbling truths, the people whose air, water and livelihoods have been contaminated are losing their illusions fast.

“Everything is dying,” a woman said as the town hall meeting was finally coming to a close. “How can you honestly tell us that our Gulf is resilient and will bounce back? Because not one of you up here has a hint as to what is going to happen to our Gulf. You sit up here with a straight face and act like you know when you don’t know.”

This Gulf coast crisis is about many things – corruption, deregulation, the addiction to fossil fuels. But underneath it all, it’s about this: our culture’s excruciatingly dangerous claim to have such complete understanding and command over nature that we can radically manipulate and re-engineer it with minimal risk to the natural systems that sustain us. But as the BP disaster has revealed, nature is always more unpredictable than the most sophisticated mathematical and geological models imagine. During Thursday’s congressional testimony, Hayward said: “The best minds and the deepest expertise are being brought to bear” on the crisis, and that, “with the possible exception of the space programme in the 1960s, it is difficult to imagine the gathering of a larger, more technically proficient team in one place in peacetime.” And yet, in the face of what the geologist Jill Schneiderman has described as “Pandora’s well”, they are like the men at the front of that gymnasium: they act like they know, but they don’t know.

BP’s mission statement

In the arc of human history, the notion that nature is a machine for us to re-engineer at will is a relatively recent conceit. In her ground-breaking 1980 book The Death of Nature, the environmental historian Carolyn Merchant reminded readers that up until the 1600s, the Earth was alive, usually taking the form of a mother. Europeans – like indigenous people the world over – believed the planet to be a living organism, full of life-giving powers but also wrathful tempers. There were, for this reason, strong taboos against actions that would deform and desecrate “the mother”, including mining.

The metaphor changed with the unlocking of some (but by no means all) of nature’s mysteries during the scientific revolution of the 1600s. With nature now cast as a machine, devoid of mystery or divinity, its component parts could be dammed, extracted and remade with impunity. Nature still sometimes appeared as a woman, but one easily dominated and subdued. Sir Francis Bacon best encapsulated the new ethos when he wrote in the 1623 De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum that nature is to be “put in constraint, moulded, and made as it were new by art and the hand of man”.

Those words may as well have been BP’s corporate mission statement. Boldly inhabiting what the company called “the energy frontier”, it dabbled in synthesising methane-producing microbes and announced that “a new area of investigation” would be geoengineering. And of course it bragged that, at its Tiber prospect in the Gulf of Mexico, it now had “the deepest well ever drilled by the oil and gas industry” – as deep under the ocean floor as jets fly overhead.

Imagining and preparing for what would happen if these experiments in altering the building blocks of life and geology went wrong occupied precious little space in the corporate imagination. As we have all discovered, after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on 20 April, the company had no systems in place to effectively respond to this scenario. Explaining why it did not have even the ultimately unsuccessful containment dome waiting to be activated on shore, a BP spokesman, Steve Rinehart, said: “I don’t think anybody foresaw the circumstance that we’re faced with now.” Apparently, it “seemed inconceivable” that the blowout preventer would ever fail – so why prepare?

This refusal to contemplate failure clearly came straight from the top. A year ago, Hayward told a group of graduate students at Stanford University that he has a plaque on his desk that reads: “If you knew you could not fail, what would you try?” Far from being a benign inspirational slogan, this was actually an accurate description of how BP and its competitors behaved in the real world. In recent hearings on Capitol Hill, congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts grilled representatives from the top oil and gas companies on the revealing ways in which they had allocated resources. Over three years, they had spent “$39bn to explore for new oil and gas. Yet, the average investment in research and development for safety, accident prevention and spill response was a paltry $20m a year.”

These priorities go a long way towards explaining why the initial exploration plan that BP submitted to the federal government for the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon well reads like a Greek tragedy about human hubris. The phrase “little risk” appears five times. Even if there is a spill, BP confidently predicts that, thanks to “proven equipment and technology”, adverse affects will be minimal. Presenting nature as a predictable and agreeable junior partner (or perhaps subcontractor), the report cheerfully explains that should a spill occur, “Currents and microbial degradation would remove the oil from the water column or dilute the constituents to background levels”. The effects on fish, meanwhile, “would likely be sublethal” because of “the capability of adult fish and shellfish to avoid a spill [and] to metabolise hydrocarbons”. (In BP’s telling, rather than a dire threat, a spill emerges as an all-you-can-eat buffet for aquatic life.)

Best of all, should a major spill occur, there is, apparently, “little risk of contact or impact to the coastline” because of the company’s projected speedy response (!) and “due to the distance [of the rig] to shore” – about 48 miles (77km). This is the most astonishing claim of all. In a gulf that often sees winds of more than 70km an hour, not to mention hurricanes, BP had so little respect for the ocean’s capacity to ebb and flow, surge and heave, that it did not think oil could make a paltry 77km trip. (Last week, a shard of the exploded Deepwater Horizon showed up on a beach in Florida, 306km away.)

None of this sloppiness would have been possible, however, had BP not been making its predictions to a political class eager to believe that nature had indeed been mastered. Some, like Republican Lisa Murkowski, were more eager than others. The Alaskan senator was so awe-struck by the industry’s four-dimensional seismic imaging that she proclaimed deep-sea drilling to have reached the very height of controlled artificiality. “It’s better than Disneyland in terms of how you can take technologies and go after a resource that is thousands of years old and do so in an environmentally sound way,” she told the Senate energy committee just seven months ago.

Drilling without thinking has of course been Republican party policy since May 2008. With gas prices soaring to unprecedented heights, that’s when the conservative leader Newt Gingrich unveiled the slogan “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” – with an emphasis on the now. The wildly popular campaign was a cry against caution, against study, against measured action. In Gingrich’s telling, drilling at home wherever the oil and gas might be – locked in Rocky Mountain shale, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and deep offshore – was a surefire way to lower the price at the pump, create jobs, and kick Arab ass all at once. In the face of this triple win, caring about the environment was for sissies: as senator Mitch McConnell put it, “in Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana and Texas, they think oil rigs are pretty”. By the time the infamous “Drill Baby Drill” Republican national convention rolled around, the party base was in such a frenzy for US-made fossil fuels, they would have bored under the convention floor if someone had brought a big enough drill.

Obama, eventually, gave in, as he invariably does. With cosmic bad timing, just three weeks before the Deepwater Horizon blew up, the president announced he would open up previously protected parts of the country to offshore drilling. The practice was not as risky as he had thought, he explained. “Oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced.” That wasn’t enough for Sarah Palin, however, who sneered at the Obama administration’s plans to conduct more studies before drilling in some areas. “My goodness, folks, these areas have been studied to death,” she told the Southern Republican leadership conference in New Orleans, now just 11 days before the blowout. “Let’s drill, baby, drill, not stall, baby, stall!” And there was much rejoicing.

In his congressional testimony, Hayward said: “We and the entire industry will learn from this terrible event.” And one might well imagine that a catastrophe of this magnitude would indeed instil BP executives and the “Drill Now” crowd with a new sense of humility. There are, however, no signs that this is the case. The response to the disaster – at the corporate and governmental levels – has been rife with the precise brand of arrogance and overly sunny predictions that created the disaster in the first place.

The ocean is big, she can take it, we heard from Hayward in the early days. While spokesman John Curry insisted that hungry microbes would consume whatever oil was in the water system, because “nature has a way of helping the situation”. But nature has not been playing along. The deep-sea gusher has bust out of all BP’s top hats, containment domes, and junk shots. The ocean’s winds and currents have made a mockery of the lightweight booms BP has laid out to absorb the oil. “We told them,” said Byron Encalade, the president of the Louisiana Oysters Association. “The oil’s gonna go over the booms or underneath the bottom.” Indeed it did. The marine biologist Rick Steiner, who has been following the clean up closely, estimates that “70% or 80% of the booms are doing absolutely nothing at all”.

And then there are the controversial chemical dispersants: more than 1.3m gallons dumped with the company’s trademark “what could go wrong?” attitude. As the angry residents at the Plaquemines Parish town hall rightly point out, few tests had been conducted, and there is scant research about what this unprecedented amount of dispersed oil will do to marine life. Nor is there a way to clean up the toxic mixture of oil and chemicals below the surface. Yes, fast multiplying microbes do devour underwater oil – but in the process they also absorb the water’s oxygen, creating a whole new threat to marine life.

BP had even dared to imagine that it could prevent unflattering images of oil-covered beaches and birds from escaping the disaster zone. When I was on the water with a TV crew, for instance, we were approached by another boat whose captain asked, “”Y’all work for BP?” When we said no, the response – in the open ocean – was “You can’t be here then”. But of course these heavy-handed tactics, like all the others, have failed. There is simply too much oil in too many places. “You cannot tell God’s air where to flow and go, and you can’t tell water where to flow and go,” I was told by Debra Ramirez. It was a lesson she had learned from living in Mossville, Louisiana, surrounded by 14 emission-spewing petrochemical plants, and watching illness spread from neighbour to neighbour.

Human limitation has been the one constant of this catastrophe. After two months, we still have no idea how much oil is flowing, nor when it will stop. The company’s claim that it will complete relief wells by the end of August – repeated by Obama in his Oval Office address – is seen by many scientists as a bluff. The procedure is risky and could fail, and there is a real possibility that the oil could continue to leak for years.

The flow of denial shows no sign of abating either. Louisiana politicians indignantly oppose Obama’s temporary freeze on deepwater drilling, accusing him of killing the one big industry left standing now that fishing and tourism are in crisis. Palin mused on Facebook that “no human endeavour is ever without risk”, while Texas Republican congressman John Culberson described the disaster as a “statistical anomaly”. By far the most sociopathic reaction, however, comes from veteran Washington commentator Llewellyn King: rather than turning away from big engineering risks, we should pause in “wonder that we can build machines so remarkable that they can lift the lid off the underworld”.

Make the bleeding stop

Thankfully, many are taking a very different lesson from the disaster, standing not in wonder at humanity’s power to reshape nature, but at our powerlessness to cope with the fierce natural forces we unleash. There is something else too. It is the feeling that the hole at the bottom of the ocean is more than an engineering accident or a broken machine. It is a violent wound in a living organism; that it is part of us. And thanks to BP’s live camera feed, we can all watch the Earth’s guts gush forth, in real time, 24 hours a day.

John Wathen, a conservationist with the Waterkeeper Alliance, was one of the few independent observers to fly over the spill in the early days of the disaster. After filming the thick red streaks of oil that the coast guard politely refers to as “rainbow sheen”, he observed what many had felt: “The Gulf seems to be bleeding.” This imagery comes up again and again in conversations and interviews. Monique Harden, an environmental rights lawyer in New Orleans, refuses to call the disaster an “oil spill” and instead says, “we are haemorrhaging”. Others speak of the need to “make the bleeding stop”. And I was personally struck, flying over the stretch of ocean where the Deepwater Horizon sank with the US Coast Guard, that the swirling shapes the oil made in the ocean waves looked remarkably like cave drawings: a feathery lung gasping for air, eyes staring upwards, a prehistoric bird. Messages from the deep.

And this is surely the strangest twist in the Gulf coast saga: it seems to be waking us up to the reality that the Earth never was a machine. After 400 years of being declared dead, and in the middle of so much death, the Earth is coming alive.

The experience of following the oil’s progress through the ecosystem is a kind of crash course in deep ecology. Every day we learn more about how what seems to be a terrible problem in one isolated part of the world actually radiates out in ways most of us could never have imagined. One day we learn that the oil could reach Cuba – then Europe. Next we hear that fishermen all the way up the Atlantic in Prince Edward Island, Canada, are worried because the Bluefin tuna they catch off their shores are born thousands of miles away in those oil-stained Gulf waters. And we learn, too, that for birds, the Gulf coast wetlands are the equivalent of a busy airport hub – everyone seems to have a stopover: 110 species of migratory songbirds and 75% of all migratory US waterfowl.

It’s one thing to be told by an incomprehensible chaos theorist that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas. It’s another to watch chaos theory unfold before your eyes. Carolyn Merchant puts the lesson like this: “The problem as BP has tragically and belatedly discovered is that nature as an active force cannot be so confined.” Predictable outcomes are unusual within ecological systems, while “unpredictable, chaotic events [are] usual”. And just in case we still didn’t get it, a few days ago, a bolt of lightning struck a BP ship like an exclamation mark, forcing it to suspend its containment efforts. And don’t even mention what a hurricane would do to BP’s toxic soup.

There is, it must be stressed, something uniquely twisted about this particular path to enlightenment. They say that Americans learn where foreign countries are by bombing them. Now it seems we are all learning about nature’s circulatory systems by poisoning them.

In the late 90s, an isolated indigenous group in Colombia captured world headlines with an almost Avatar-esque conflict. From their remote home in the Andean cloud forests, the U’wa let it be known that if Occidental Petroleum carried out plans to drill for oil on their territory, they would commit mass ritual suicide by jumping off a cliff. Their elders explained that oil is part of ruiria, “the blood of Mother Earth”. They believe that all life, including their own, flows from ruiria, so pulling out the oil would bring on their destruction. (Oxy eventually withdrew from the region, saying there wasn’t as much oil as it had previously thought.)

Virtually all indigenous cultures have myths about gods and spirits living in the natural world – in rocks, mountains, glaciers, forests – as did European culture before the scientific revolution. Katja Neves, an anthropologist at Concordia University, points out that the practice serves a practical purpose. Calling the Earth “sacred” is another way of expressing humility in the face of forces we do not fully comprehend. When something is sacred, it demands that we proceed with caution. Even awe.

If we are absorbing this lesson at long last, the implications could be profound. Public support for increased offshore drilling is dropping precipitously, down 22% from the peak of the “Drill Now” frenzy. The issue is not dead, however. It is only a matter of time before the Obama administration announces that, thanks to ingenious new technology and tough new regulations, it is now perfectly safe to drill in the deep sea, even in the Arctic, where an under-ice clean up would be infinitely more complex than the one underway in the Gulf. But perhaps this time we won’t be so easily reassured, so quick to gamble with the few remaining protected havens.

Same goes for geoengineering. As climate change negotiations wear on, we should be ready to hear more from Dr Steven Koonin, Obama’s undersecretary of energy for science. He is one of the leading proponents of the idea that climate change can be combated with techno tricks like releasing sulphate and aluminium particles into the atmosphere – and of course it’s all perfectly safe, just like Disneyland! He also happens to be BP’s former chief scientist, the man who just 15 months ago was still overseeing the technology behind BP’s supposedly safe charge into deepwater drilling. Maybe this time we will opt not to let the good doctor experiment with the physics and chemistry of the Earth, and choose instead to reduce our consumption and shift to renewable energies that have the virtue that, when they fail, they fail small. As US comedian Bill Maher put it, “You know what happens when windmills collapse into the sea? A splash.”

The most positive possible outcome of this disaster would be not only an acceleration of renewable energy sources like wind, but a full embrace of the precautionary principle in science. The mirror opposite of Hayward’s “If you knew you could not fail” credo, the precautionary principle holds that “when an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health” we tread carefully, as if failure were possible, even likely. Perhaps we can even get Hayward a new desk plaque to contemplate as he signs compensation cheques. “You act like you know, but you don’t know.”


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