Friday, April 22, 2011

BP = Big Putz

As I'm sure you know, Wednesday, April 20, was the first anniversary of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A year later, it appears that all we have gained are tarballs and lies.

There is a lot of happy talk about how the Gulf Coast is "recovering" or even, in some extreme formulations, "has recovered." It "wasn't the catastrophe some predicted," we're told, as if the idea that it wasn't as bad as it might have been makes everything okay.

But even if it ultimately develops that it wasn't as bad as it might have been, it was more than bad enough: Eleven workers were killed in what Lawrence O'Donnell accurately labeled "corporate homicide." Seventeen more were injured. The well gushed oil for nearly three months, spewing out nearly 5 million barrels - over 200 million gallons - of crude oil in the largest marine oil spill in history. And the glib dismissals of environmental damage we hear now draw on a well of ignorance, wishful thinking, and deceit, with only the proportions varying speaker to speaker.
[T]he Gulf of Mexico and its coastal wetlands are vastly complicated ecosystems. Scientists had incomplete information on them before the BP oil spill ... and it will be years before they can start to draw conclusions about the impact of the millions of barrels of oil that spewed into the Gulf.
Indeed, it has been known by researchers for months that the real damage, damage much more significant than that visible so far, will only become apparent over time as the oil and other pollutants from the leak work their way through the biosphere. Simply put, anyone who claims that the damage was limited or gone or is over or whatever is either lying or they don't know what the hell they are talking about.

And there is good reason to think that even the more obvious aspects of the story are far from over. For one thing, BP - apparently with the collusion or at least quiet approval of local and federal officials - is still restricting access to public beaches in the area a year later. Mac McClelland of Mother Jones magazine reported this the end of March:
Like some lame iteration of Groundhog Day, the hundredth time I try to pull onto the Elmer's Island access road from Highway 1 in southern Louisiana—some 200 days after the last time I tried it—I am, once again, stopped. Last year, it was cops blocking the road. Now it's private security hired by BP.

"You have to get permission from central command to come on here, and then you'll probably have to be escorted by an official," the security guard tells me.

"How hard is it to get permission?"

"Usually pretty hard." She says a local reporter couldn't get through recently.
The company's excuse for this is a steaming pile of transparently bogus claims about "safety" because "there are workers present" even when there aren't and without explaining how the threat to safety arises or if it's the workers or the reporters who are at risk. In other words, they are making the claims without even bothering to pretend that they are not lying through their fucking teeth, without even bothering to pretend that what they are really trying to do is block public knowledge of "the occasional tarballs, big as a kid's head, that [still] wash onto the shore."

Meanwhile, the money that BP promised to do research in the Gulf to check for and monitor environmental damage has still not materialized nearly a year later, with the result that important research aims - such as establishing baseline data - have already been lost.

Oh, and remember that $20 billion claims fund BP set up supposedly under pressure from the White House? Last December, Kenneth Feinberg, who is administering the fund on behalf of BP, expressed his hope that "half the money would be more than enough to pay all the claims.” Feinberg, who last month was ordered by US District Court Judge Carl Barbier to stop calling himself “neutral” or “completely independent” of BP in light of the fact that his law firm is being paid $850,000 a month to oversee the fund, has certainly been doing the job his paymasters would desire: So far, the fund has paid out $3.8 billion - less than 20% of the total available - amid charges of slow responses, repeated instances of "lost" paperwork, backlogs, underestimation of costs, and small payouts, charges serious enough that lawsuits have been filed in Florida and Louisiana alleging fraud and negligence in the handling of claims.

Feinberg says that the processing delays are all the claimants' fault, insisting that most of the 130,000 outstanding claims don't have the necessary documentation, insisting it even in the face of repeated cases of people describing submitting the same documents multiple times only to be repeatedly told by fund officials that their materials could not be found. In a statement that caused multiple Gulf Coast jaws to hit the floor, he defended his small payouts - they averaged about $20,000-25,000 - by saying they were based on the assumption that the Gulf Coast would be fully recovered by the end of next year. Which, even if it were by some miracle to prove true, would be irrelevant to the families and businesses damaged by the criminal negligence shown in the spill by BP and its partners, families and businesses that may well not make it until that time.

There may be a method to this madness, however: A little-noticed provision in the agreement to establish the fund said that any funds not distributed by the end of 2012 revert to BP. Stalls, sluggishness, and small payouts all work to BP's advantage.

Even at that, BP wants more. It actually says, if you can believe it, that Feinberg has been overly generous and on Wednesday,
[t]he oil giant filed lawsuits in New Orleans against Halliburton, which provided the cement for the well; Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig; and Cameron International, the company that made the blowout preventer.
Add in the fact that despite all the supposed deals and "accepting responsibility" bullcrap, US taxpayers will likely be on the hook for something like $10 billion in cleanup costs, it comes out that ultimately, if BP has its way, it may be the only agent involved in this environmental disaster that does not bear a cost for what was done to the Gulf of Mexico and to the people and the environment of the Gulf Coast.


JayV said...

Yes, I heard Feinberg on a radio program giving his excuses and was astounded. I caught the middle of the program and didn't know until I read your post that he represents British Petroleum, so it's even more disgusting. Especially that little known provision of the unused funds reverting to British Petroleum. Magnanimity is not part of their vocabulary!

JayV said...

Shocker! Magnanimity is not part of British Petroleum's vocabulary. I was astounded at Feinberg's responses to callers from Louisiana on an NPR call in program; I had tuned in at the middle and didn't know his connection to BP. Now that you tell me he is in their employ, I am more disgusted! Happy Earth Day!

Lotus said...

Jay -

To be exact, Feinberg is not in the employ of BP; he works for (and I think is a partner in) a law firm which BP is paying to oversee the claims fund.

That said, it remains absurd for him to have been claiming he is "independent" of BP: I suspect that $850,000 a month buys a lot of let's call it brand loyalty.

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