Prof. Bob Bea, of UC Berkeley, a civil engineer with years of expertise in marine oil drilling, says he is concerned that during the current crisis of BP’s blown-out well deep under the Gulf of Mexico, government scientists may not be getting all the information they need from the secretive oil company in order to make intelligent decisions about shutting down the gusher.
“Certainly we independent investigators are not getting information about the condition of the well or about the leaks in the surrounding sea floor,” says Prof. Bea, who is a member of the Deepwater Horizon Study Group at UC Berkeley’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, where he is co-director, “And I don’t think the expert investigators at the Department of Energy are getting it either.”
“Information about oil reservoir formations is highly secretive among the oil companies. BP would be loath to share information about what’s going on in a reservoir with competitors,” he says.
What has Prof. Bea and other outside experts concerned is that the casing of the BP well–the long string of pipe that runs from the sea floor down to the high-pressure oil reservoir 2.5 miles below the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico–has “clearly been breached.”
Updated July 19, 3:45 PM EST
It is time to ask why on earth the Obama administration and the Coast Guard are allowing BP to continue keeping a tight lid on the top of the run-away, damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico. Leaks from the sea floor are appearing and growing in number, making it clear that the BP Deepwater Horizon well is gravely damaged. That being the case, it is obvious that any effort to restrict the flow of oil from the top of the well, by increasing the pressure inside the 2.5-mile long casing that runs down to the oil reservoir will only make any breaches in the casing worse, allowing oil and gas under high pressure to move into the surrounding concrete liner and the geological formations, where they will force their way up to the surface in an uncontrollable way.
Why would anyone want this to happen?
Well, clearly BP doesn’t care. The company is financially on the ropes anyway, and so its executives may well be figuring they have nothing to lose by making a long-shot bet (the company doesn’t even mention the leaks of gas from the seafloor in its Monday afternoon press release on its public information site).
What the hell are they thinking in Washington, and down at the “Unified Command” in New Orleans, letting BP try to close off the oil volcano spewing out the top of the damaged Blowout Preventer (BOP) stack?
And what the hell is the mainstream press doing not asking about the clear evidence of oil or gas spewing out under pressure from cracks in the seafloor around the base of the BOP? (See the image of oil spewing from the sea floor here.)
Sure the initial partial closing of the valves is working, but they haven’t built up much pressure yet–just to 6000 lbs/square inch, which isn’t much above the 5000 lbs/square inch at that depth of the ocean–and a lot could go wrong. seriously wrong, and good reason to think it will.
I made a call to the media office of the Unified Command, the office set up to respond to public and media inquiries about the disaster, which is supposedly composed of people from the US Coast Guard, other federal agencies, and BP. When I mentioned the videos taken by BP’s own remote operating vehicles (ROVs) of the oil and/or gas spewing from cracks in the sea floor, I was told I had to call the press office in Houston, “because you’re asking us a question about the sub-surface well.”
If you want to avoid facing a tough prosecution for malfeasance, be a banker, not a biker.
That appears to be the lesson of Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, where the lead story was about how Bank of America repeatedly hid its massive bad debt holdings from regulators and investors through a creative accounting device called “repurchase agreements.” A second story just above the fold told how US Food and Drug Administration prosecutors are “Casting a Wider Net” investigating the use of steroids by competitive cyclists.
According to the BofA story, the bank, during a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into the real financial condition of the nation’s biggest financial institutions, admitted that at the ends of all the quarterly reporting periods from 2007 through 2009, it had used repurchase agreements, or “repos,” to temporarily shed bad debt before drawing up and releasing its required public filings. That is to say, the bank lied about and hid from view its weakened liquidity position all through the financial crisis.
Which is the bigger crime: bikers who dope themselves, or bankers who dupe us?
UPDATE 7/13: ProPublica reports that the Coast Guard, under pressure from news organizations (hey, and maybe the threat of journalistic civil disobedience?) has changed its access rules. The 65-foor rule barring all journalists from any scene of environmental mayhem is gone, and now journalists who first obtain “press credentials” from the Unified Command (that’s the Coast Guard, other “involved agencies” like the Dept. of Interior, and, troublingly, BP), will be allowed unfettered access to such sites, though the general public will still be barred. We need to know how the so-called Unified Command is going to determine who qualifies for those press credentials. Will it just be corporate organization journalists, or will freelancers and journalists from the smaller publications like this one who are issued such documents? If the latter, we may still have to challenge the law, which still makes crossing that 65′ barrier a Class D Felony with a $40,000 fine and significant jail time.
The Obama administration and BP have clearly been conspiring to hide the magnitude of the Gulf oil catastrophe from the public. One way they’re doing this is by threatening jail terms and $40,000 fines against those who go to document the fiasco.
That is ridiculous. There is not a conceivable justification for banning the media from fully covering this environmental disaster.
Looking at the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, where the results of the greed of corporate executives at BP, TransOcean and Halliburton, not to mention the greed of paid-off regulators in the Minerals Management Service and the members of the House and Senate who took dirty money to water down drilling regulations are on ready display, I was reminded of a prominent business leader in New York, recently deceased.
Told by his sister of a young woman she knew who had posted a sign on her wall saying, “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have,” this executive, who had held a top position in the multinational media industry, sniffed, “Ugh! That’s terrible. If people thought like that, no one would strive to do anything.”
Finally, a politician has stood up and boldly denounced the creeping fascism that is gradually crushing democracy and political activism.
Not mincing her words, or trying to justify the jackboot, Secretary of State and 2008 presidential aspirant Hillary Clinton roundly condemned government actions that she said are “closing in the walls” on unions, rights advocates and organizations that press for social change or that shine a light on government shortcomings.
“Democracies don’t fear their own people,” she declared in ringing tones. “They recognize that citizens must be free to come together to advocate and agitate.”
Clinton even got the normally taciturn President Obama to join her, releasing a statement in which he said he was concerned about “the spread of restrictions on civil society, the growing use of law to curb rather than enhance freedom, and wide-spread corruption that is undermining the faith of citizens in their government.”
Does this mean that the US government is finally going to reverse course?
Just days before we celebrate the 224th anniversary of America’s declaration of independence from a colonial overlord on the other side of the world, Congress approved the allocation of yet another $33 billion in funds to support America’s attempt to occupy and run, on the other side of the world, the incredibly poor nation of Afghanistan.
That’s $33 billion for a ninth year of war in a country that is being described apocalyptically by our leaders as America’s greatest existential threat, though in truth it is a landlocked nation of mostly illiterate and impoverished tribal peoples who for centuries have been occupied with battling each other, and most of whom have no idea where America is, or perhaps even if the world is round or flat. Afghanistan, in short, makes Saddam Hussein’s WMD-less Iraq look like a superpower.
The $33 billion, coincidentally, is almost exactly the amount that is needed to extend for another six months the unemployment benefits for 5 million or so unfortunate Americans who have been surviving until recently on extended unemployment benefits.
“I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”
On the evening of February 25, participants at the Fourth World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Geneva, Switzerland had assembled from all over the globe for a dramatic Voices of Victims evening. It got more dramatic than they had anticipated though, when suddenly a cell phone rang and Robert R. Bryan, lead defense attorney for Mumia Abu-Jamal, jumped up on the stage to announce that his client had called him from death row in Pennsylvania.
The audience sat in rapt silence as the emcee held the phone up to the microphone. Abu-Jamal, on death row for 28 years after a widely disputed conviction for the murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, greeted the delegates and then, as he has done on many occasions before, described to them the horrors of life in prison for the 20,000 people around the world who are awaiting execution.
A small group of American death penalty abolitionist leaders, led by Renny Cushing, executive director of Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights, stalked out of the hall. Two members of MVFHR, however, remained in the hall: Bill Babbitt, whose brother Manny, a Vietnam vet suffering acute post-traumatic stress disorder, was executed in California; and Bill Pelke, whose grandmother was murdered by a girl whom he later befriended and helped to spare from execution. Babbitt even joined Bryan onstage during Abu-Jamal’s brief address.
What neither Babbitt nor Pelke, nor Abu-Jamal and his attorney, Bryan, knew at the time was that way back in December, leaders and individual board members of several of the organizations in the US abolitionist movement had signed–without their full boards’ or their memberships’ knowledge–a “confidential” memorandum, which they then sent to the French organizers of the World Congress, stating bluntly that, “As international representatives of the US abolition movement, we cannot agree to the involvement of Abu-Jamal or his lawyers in the World Congress beyond attendance.”
As the BP well in the Gulf of Mexico continues to spew out ever more toxic oil and methane into the sea, and as floating toxic sludge, by the millions of gallons, starts destroying the wetlands across the American Southeast, the dead hand of President Ronald Reagan is at work, making sure nothing is done to prevent yet another such disaster from occurring.
The name of that dead hand is Martin Leach-Cross Feldman, a federal judge in Louisiana, a part of the notoriously right-wing Fifth Circuit.