Sunday, October 17, 2010

Another leftover from before the trip

In the face of those who argue that "the media controls what you think," I have always insisted that that is not true - but it is true that the media has a great deal of influence over what you think about. Case in point:
About 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) from the Gulf of Mexico, Dave Edmonds is struggling to remind people about the BP oil spill.

There aren't many magazine covers with photos of oil-drenched birds now that BP has capped its massive gusher at the bottom of the sea. ...

So Edmonds, who lives on the Delaware coast, has started a nonprofit organization [called Taking Back the Gulf] to keep the disaster on people's minds with a website and social networking campaign. ...

For Gulf residents fighting for economic survival, a nation's short attention span is deeply unsettling, especially with oil still washing ashore. Yet it's unclear whether Americans are turning their attention elsewhere, or whether it's just the media that have.

Either way, people like chef Chris Sherrill feel abandoned.

"It's amazing how quickly the American public forgot that this was one of the worst manmade disasters in U.S. history," he said.

His wedding catering and event business in Gulf Shores, Alabama, is teetering because few brides are still coming to the beach for weddings.
Yeah, but be fair: What are the interests of a bunch of just ordinary people like you compared to the protection of the oil industry?

After all, the Obama crowd's own investigating panel says that the White House
blocked efforts by government scientists to tell the public just how bad the Gulf oil spill could become and committed other missteps that raised questions about its competence and candor during the crisis....

Among other things, the report says, the administration made erroneous early estimates of the spill's size, and President Barack Obama's senior energy adviser went on national TV and mischaracterized a government analysis by saying it showed most of the oil was "gone." The analysis actually said it could still be there. ...

The report shows "the political process was in charge and science really does not have the role that was touted," said Christopher D'Elia, dean of environmental studies at Louisiana State University.
In fact, those early estimates were not only "erroneous," they were downright silly.
At first, BP claimed the well was leaking 1,000 barrels a day. By early May, the administration had revised its estimate upwards to 5,000 barrels a day, but based its assessment on the work of a single NOAA scientist using "overly casual" analysis of satellite images of oil on the surface of the ocean.

The administration clung to that estimate – which turned out to be 12 times lower than the actual spill size – despite known inaccuracies in the scientists' work, the report said.
Despite those facts - or more likely due to their cause - the O-gang
announced [this past] Tuesday that it is ending the temporary, six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling operations. The announcement means that new drilling could take place in the Gulf "very soon," said Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, though rigs will need to undergo new inspection and permitting procedures before companies can start drilling.

The moratorium was supposed to remain in place until Nov. 30....
Despite there still being questions of exactly how the disaster happened, exactly how big it is, and what the long-term impacts will be, "we are open for business," Salazar said.

Why? Well, because, we're told by Salazar and Michael Bromwich of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement,
enough work had been done in the months since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon to prevent another disaster. "The risks of deepwater drilling have been reduced sufficiently to allow deepwater drilling to resume," said Bromwich in a call with reporters.
These smiling assurances are based in part on the existence of those "new procedures" - even though the agency lacks the resources to do adequate inspections. Bromwich would only promise to "do the best we can with the resources at our disposal." In other words, to do crap.

(Interestingly enough, this announcement came the same day the European Commission announced plans for tougher controls on offshore oil and gas drilling, ones that would force national governments to abide by Commission rules and increase liability for oil companies in the event of a disaster.)

All this while the spill is actually still going on. The well may have been plugged - finally - but oil continues to wash ashore, albeit not in the amounts seen over the summer. Meanwhile, Florida State University professor Ian MacDonald and Georgia Tech scientist Joseph Montoya
said NOAA is at it again with statements saying there is no oil in ocean floor sediments. A University of Georgia science cruise, which Montoya was on, found ample evidence of oil on the Gulf floor.
So while no, it has not been the "environmental Armageddon" the direst of the predictions foresaw, it has been an environmental disaster that has yet to play out and whose worst effects will not be found in the immediate, media-drawing drama but in the slow grind of time in altered landscapes, environments, and food chains and through them human economies. It's not over - either environmentally or economically - and it won't be for some time.

Footnote: And an entirely fitting one it is. BP has announced that it
is disbanding the external safety ombudsman it set up after the fatal explosion in 2005 at its Texas City refinery, despite the growing number of concerns raised by the oil company's employees. ...

BP said that it would not extend the office's tenure beyond June next year. ...

Scott Schloegel, chief of staff for congressman Bart Stupak, who is chairman of the House subcommittee on oversight and investigations, said: "Every time there is a disaster, BP sets up a new programme and says they are going to change the culture within BP." ...

Independent of BP, the ombudsman's office is run by Stanley Sporkin, a retired federal judge, with a full-time staff of five and with a budget to hire external contractors to investigate BP's operations. ...

A BP spokesman stressed that the ombudsman's role was never meant to be permanent, adding: "It has always been our intent to internalise the employee concerns process [into the corporation's OpenTalk programme], but only at the point in time when we felt the internal processes were sufficiently robust."
In other words, BP just put up with this until they could find a way to weasel out of it with platitudes about employees "trusting" management.
According to the internal figures, the number of concerns received by the ombudsman's office increased almost fourfold between its inception and last year. Last year alone, the figure was up by two-thirds on 2008. Of the 252 known concerns received in total since 2006, 148 relate to BP's Alaska operations. These include 50 specific safety-related concerns at the North Slope operations.
Apparently, there were a lot of people who felt they couldn't trust management. With a signficant amount of employee concern being raised about another, ongoing, BP operation, one truly wonders why they should feel differently now.

"Come into my parlor," said BP to its crews.

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