BP Oil Slick The Result Of Republican DOJ And Regulatory Policy

The economic and environmental damage resulting from the exploding fireball compromise of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform may be unprecedented, with the potential to emit the equivalent of up to four Exxon Valdez breakups per week with no good plan to stop it. There will be plenty of finger pointing among BP, Transocean and Halliburton, while it appears the bought and paid for corporatist Congress put the screws to the individual citizens and small businesses by drastically limiting their potential for economic recovery; all in the course of insuring big oil producers like BP have effectively no damage liability for such losses.

How did this happen? There are, of course, a lot of pertinent factors but, by far, the one constant theme underlying all is the mendacious corporate servitude of the Republican party, their leaders and policies. The arrogance and recklessness of BP and its oily partners gestated wildly under the Bush/Cheney administration.

Until the turn of the decade, BP had a relatively decent safety and environmental record compared to others similarly situated. Then BP merged with American oil giant Amoco and started plying the soft regulated underbelly of Republican rule in the US under oil men George Bush and Dick Cheney. Here from the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is an excellent list of BP misconduct, almost all occurring and/or whitewashed under the Bush/Cheney Administration. If you open the door, foxes eat the chickens.

But it is not just regulatory policy behind the open and notorious recklessness of BP and its ilk, it is intentional policy at the Department of Justice as well. Here is how the former Special Agent In Charge for the EPA Criminal Investigative Division, Scott West, described the DOJ coddling of BP under the Bush/Cheney Administration:

In March 2006, a major pipeline leak went undetected for days, spilling a quarter-million gallons of oil on the Alaskan tundra. The spill occurred because the pipeline operator, British Petroleum (BP), ignored its own workers warnings by neglecting critical maintenance to cut costs. The spill sparked congressional hearings and a large federal-state investigation. Despite the outcry, in a settlement announced in late October 2007, BP agreed to one misdemeanor charge carrying three-year probation and a total of only $20 million in penalties (a $12 million fine with $8 million in restitution and compensatory payments).

The settlement resulted from a sudden U.S. Justice Department August 2007 decision to wrap up the case, according to West. That precipitous shutdown meant

Felony charges would not be pursued and the agreement foreclosed any future prosecutions. No BP executive faced any criminal liability for a spill second in size only to the Exxon Valdez;

The fines proposed by Justice (to which BP immediately agreed) were only a fraction of what was legally required under the Alternative Fines Act. EPA had calculated the appropriate fine levels as several times what Justice offered BP – ranging from $58 million to $672 million, depending upon the economic assumptions; and

The BP Alaska settlement is part of a pattern of “lowball” corporate public safety and pollution settlements engineered by the Bush Justice Department. In that October 2007 settlement package, Justice asked for only $50 million in fines for the BP Texas refinery explosion in which 15 people died – penalties not carrying strong deterrent value for a big multi-national corporation

The above is verbatim from a formal complaint filed with the Inspector General of the DOJ, Glen Fine, by West and a group known as Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The complaint went on to quote West as follows:

Never …have I had a significant environmental criminal case shut down by the political arm of the Department of Justice, nor have I had a case declined by the Department of Justice before I had been fully able to investigate the case. This is unprecedented in my experience.

When a chief agency criminal investigator cannot get traction for the prosecution of crimes, and considers the internal DOJ policy to be complicit, you might have a problem. It appears, however, the complaint went nowhere, which is not IG Glen Fine’s fault as, once again, DOJ accountability has been prevented by the fact that, unique to executive agencies, the DOJ IG has no jurisdiction over the conduct of the attorneys in the DOJ and goodness knows neither OPR nor David Margolis would countenance such an investigation.

By the way, since I have not seen anybody else mention it, much less the Obama/Holder DOJ appear to care, it should be pointed out that BP, despite the bend over sweetheart comprehensive deal the Bush DOJ worked out for them, is still on at least two different criminal probations for their malevolent reckless and intentional conduct. One case was for the Alaska spill and BP was placed on criminal probation for three years starting in December 2007. The other case was a felony plea resulting from the Texas City Refinery explosion. Here is the plea agreement from the Texas City Refinery case and here is the concurrent statement of facts in support thereof.

As special Agent Scott West complained, they were indeed sweetheart deals cut in a comprehensive settlement swath by the Bush DOJ; nevertheless there are still multiple criminal probations BP is still operating under. Where is the DOJ on this now? Contemplating a third strike, repeat offender takedown of BP? No, there has been nary a peep in this regard from the Obama/Holder DOJ. In fact, the only lawyers DOJ has indicated they are assigning the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe are Civil Division and Natural Resource Division talking heads Tony West and Ignacia Moreno. Nope, par for the course, the DOJ is sending managers to smooth the waters, not prosecutors and investigators to bring accountability.

The DOJ under the politicized Republican rule of Bush and Cheney instituted a preference for coddling corporate malfeasants like BP and Exxon with lax civil measures instead of punitive criminal prosecutions and, in the process, created a get rich windfall program for their friends to serve as “monitors” for the civil settlements. The policy was begun when Bush first took office and was formally instituted as DOJ policy by Bush/Cheney water carrier Paul McNulty in 2006. From an April 2008 New York Times article by Eric Lichtblau:

In a major shift of policy, the Justice Department, once known for taking down giant corporations, including the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, has put off prosecuting more than 50 companies suspected of wrongdoing over the last three years.

Instead, many companies, from boutique outfits to immense corporations like American Express, have avoided the cost and stigma of defending themselves against criminal charges with a so-called deferred prosecution agreement, which allows the government to collect fines and appoint an outside monitor to impose internal reforms without going through a trial. In many cases, the name of the monitor and the details of the agreement are kept secret.
But critics of the agreements question that assertion. Charles Intriago, a former federal prosecutor in Miami who specializes in money-laundering issues, said that huge penalties, like the $65 million fine for American Express Bank International in 2007, were “peanuts” compared with the damage posed by a criminal conviction.

Neutering the criminal deterrent of the DOJ criminal process for big business and corporate interests, and gutting of regulatory agencies, is the Republican ethos. It is what they live for, and what gets us where we are with catastrophes like the Gulf oil slick. A guest poster at Digby, Debcoop, hit the nail on the head:

The fault lies with the ideology and mores of the Republican party and its theory of government. Their solution to this country’s energy’s future is to drill anywhere and everywhere. In their theory of government, government has no right to control who, what, where and how the natural resources of this country or this planet are exploited or not exploited, resources that are needed by us all and are needed to protect us all. Like my friend Jim Gilliam said in a private email, government is supposed regulate corporate behavior not just be their willing partner/follower. This is a lesson that we all need to keep in mind and that includes the president.

In the Republican theory of government, government regulation is inherently evil or at least counterproductive. So under George Bush et al, the only regulation in the Gulf has been self regulation. This oil spill is the fault of Republican ideology.

It is who the Republicans are, and what they do. And when they cannot accomplish their goals by legislating in service to corporate masters, they pack the Supreme Court with corporatist ideologues like Roberts, Alito and Thomas. The result is directly displayed by the 2008 decision in Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker:

…a nakedly activist decision that pulls its standard for limiting damages out of thin air, demonstrates hostility to the role of Congress, and continues a pattern of ignoring the Framers’ views on the importance of civil juries. Progressives would do well to treat this decision with resounding scorn, and highlight it as a textbook example of why the Supreme Court matters.

The case arose from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, wherein Exxon allowed Joseph Hazelwood, a relapsed alcoholic, drunk at the time, to the helm of a massive oil tanker navigating the treacherous waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound at night. The ship ran into a reef, ruptured and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil, devastating the Sound’s fragile and pristine ecosystem. Grant Baker is one of 32,000 commercial fishermen and Alaska Natives that sued Exxon for their economic losses and for punitive damages against Exxon.

More than 6,000 of these victims have died during the course of this litigation, which Exxon has tenaciously prolonged for 16 years with appeal after appeal. In 2006, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals cut what was originally a $5 billion jury verdict down to $2.5 billion. Today, the Court cut this again for Exxon to a maximum of $500 million.

It is not just the Republicans however, Democrats have become the same kind of servile lackeys for big corporate interests as the Republicans. The Obama DOJ has continued the Bush/Cheney/McNulty policy of coddling corporate criminals with civil treatment as opposed to hard criminal prosecution and conviction of both corporations and their leaders. And if Barack Obama follows through with his impostrous determination to appoint a “moderate consensus builder” like Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens, you can expect even more corporatist decisions from the Supreme Court.

Business/government symbiotic corporatism is becoming the defining characteristic of our government; the United States is on the road to neo-feudalism in a land run by the New Robber Barons. The oil slick in the Gulf can either be a wake up call, or grease for a further slide down the current slope.

UPDATE: Jason Leopold has a new article up at Truthout that meshes perfectly with this post. As I noted above, BP was on criminal probation for the Texas City Refinery fire; Jason follows up with the literally dirty details of just how repetitively and badly BP has wantonly violated said probation:

“It was the most comprehensive and detailed investigation the CSB has ever done,” Bresland said March 24, marking the fifth anniversary of the refinery explosion. “Our investigation team turned up extensive evidence showing a catastrophe waiting to happen. That cost-cutting had affected safety programs and critical maintenance; production pressures resulted in costly mistakes made by workers likely fatigued by working long hours; internal audits and safety studies brought problems to the attention of BP’s board in London, but they were not sufficiently acted upon. Yet the company was proud of its record on personnel safety.” According to OSHA, BP has not only failed to comply with the terms of its settlement agreement, it has knowingly committed hundreds of new violations that continue to endanger the lives of its refinery workers. ….. Still, as highlighted in a January 2007 report issued by a panel chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker III, systemic issues related to process safety were not limited to the firm’s Texas City refinery. In fact, they were widespread.

Leopold’s article is a good read and gives a good bead on the reckless operating philosophy of BP which gestated under the lax regulatory and prosecutorial Republican regime of Bush/Cheney as discussed in the body of this post above.

86 replies
  1. fatster says:

    Whew! That’s one rather masterful piece of work you just laid on us, bmaz. Many, many thanks. It’s definitely a keeper.

          • JasonLeopold says:

            you’re too kind. Thanks for that.

            It would appear that BP violated terms of its plea agreement in the Texas refinery case. Last October, OSHA said BP did not comply with terms of the settlement it entered into in 2005.

            The agency leveled another record setting fine against BP ($87 million, four times higher than the previous record, also imposed against BP in the refinery case) for 270 “notifications of failure to abate” and 439 new “willful” violations

            I tried to get the DOJ to respond to questions about whether this would violate terms of the plea agreement and expose the company to criminal charges given that DOJ agreed not to pursue additional criminal charges as long as BP agreed to implement OSHA’s proposed safety measures. But didn’t get an answer and don’t expect to.

            And on top of that, two months ago OSHA fined BP yet again due to serious safety violations at another refinery in Ohio

            The inspection revealed that workers were exposed to serious injury and death in the event of a release of flammable and explosive materials in the refinery because of numerous conditions constituting violations of OSHA’s process safety management standard. OSHA has issued willful citations for numerous failures to provide adequate pressure relief for process units, failures to provide safeguards to prevent the hazardous accumulation of fuel in process heaters, and exposing workers to injury and death from collapse of or damage, in the event of a fire, to nine buildings in the refinery


            So basically it’s just fine the crap out them, which goes to your point about coddling corporate malfeasance.

          • klynn says:

            bmaz, great post. Nice build up of facts to make your point about corporate malfeasnace:

            Business/government symbiotic corporatism is becoming the defining characteristic of our government; the United States is on the road to neo-feudalism in a land run by the New Robber Barons. The oil slick in the Gulf can either be a wake up call, or grease for a further slide down the current slope.


            Super post as well. Great timeline of facts and a great progression on the malfeasance as well.

            So basically it’s just fine the crap out them, which goes to your point about coddling corporate malfeasance.

            I think somewhere down the line here, a petroleum industry/poor regulation timeline will need to be developed. Both of you have made important punch list contributions through your posts

            Let me add that more posts like this are so important. Corporate risk communications works “overtime” for a company like BP to make every infraction and spill sound nearly harmless. We know better. Many environmental groups and green energy groups have worked hard to document all that has happened. Honestly, I knew Valdez had an impact on the communities the spill spoiled, but I did not know the “depth” of the impact until recently when I started reading risk analysis studies about the spill done by Universities. There are very few “public” record bits (ie MSM) that have even run with these studies and the remarkably damning data. Unfortunately, the lower 48 states have been clueless about the the depth of human and habitat tragedy. It has been the petroleum industry and our government who have been effective in such media accountability being limited. Otherwise, the public discourse on our petroleum dependence would be much further along creating policy to move our country to more green alternatives. By the way, we need to hold the media equally responsible for failing to weigh the magnitude of this large picture and playing a role in the corporate malfeasance.

            The industry has poured a serious effort into discrediting the whole of environmental groups as “unbeleivable crazies who do not care about US national security.” This has been the end goal, to kill the voice of environmental concerns. The media and our government has complied.

            More voices from many directions need to keep a record and accounting of the industry and their push to influence US policy and regulatory development. $500,000 dollars could have saved a habitat, a large portion of our nation’s travel and tourism $$$ and the jobs and livelihoods of millions.

            Should a hurricane hit before the spill can be dealt with adequately (and I am confident to believe it will happen), the human and habitat health devastation will be four times greater due to the toxicity of contact with sweet crude.

            Anyone who utters a word on deregulation being better for the country NOW, is simply living in an alternate universe. And this point needs to be amplified every time the concepts of deregulation are uttered.

            Accountability carried out by many, can shift a whole nation’s mindset.

  2. qweryous says:

    Citizen bp has been read its rights under the soon to be reversed activist Miranda decision.

    Citizen bp has exercised its rights to buy the best government it can afford.

    Citizen bp with the help of the willfully feckless regulators will be left to drill and spill another day.

    Oh and citizen bp has been immunized as a cooperating co conspirator/witness; as such sees little further downside other than some bad press.

    In the unlikely circumstance of being held responsible in a financially significant way, citizen bp is prepared to plead too big to fail, and approach the fed’s discount window for a no interest advance on future tax credits to be assigned by the palin/arpiao 2012 bipartisan administration.

  3. Hmmm says:

    The United States is on the road to neo-feudalism in a land run by the New Robber Barons.

    Echoed for emphasis. With gravitas.

  4. orionATL says:

    give’em hell bmaz!!

    give’m holy hell!!

    they deserve it

    and you can do it.

    and don’t spare our “liberal” prez whose “say anything to get elected; say anything to get re-elected” approach to governing is having a very unlucky, “shot my f-kin’ foot” moment.

    by the way, npr.org had a graph/video on their site that showed the extent of the spill from day to day. the graph also shows a red tide of little dots offshore of tx, la, ms, and al.

    what could that pimply face of gulf america be about? why, oik rigs.

    every one of them itty-bitty dots on that map is an oil rig.

    i didn’t know there were so damned many rigs operating in the gulf – and prez, in an unlucky moment of perfidy, recently authorized more.

    i infer from npr’s set of maps, that something really bad happened below sea level just before or on april 29.

    or, at least, the spill suddenly multiplied its area by five or ten fold in a 24-hr period.

    Q: is the oil spill proportional over its entire area?

    is it, for example, the same “thickness of oil” over the whole area?

  5. qweryous says:

    Excellent work in pointing out how these ‘surprises’ occur.

    “The oil slick in the Gulf can either be a wake up call, or grease for a further slide down the current slope.”

    I found some information here:

    “I have concerns about the public being misled,” the governor said.”

    Misled by BP? Let me clarify:

    “Bucking the wave of elected officials around the country, Gov. Rick Perry and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson both maintained Monday that offshore drilling is safe and should be expanded.

    They also cautioned against laying blame for the explosion at British Petroleum’s deepwater rig off the Lousiana coast.

    Speaking at a jobs summit in Washington, D.C., Perry repeatedly suggested that the spill was “an act of God.” He said he hoped the massive spill would not lead to a “knee jerk” reaction to stop new or existing offshore drilling.

    “I have concerns about the public being misled,” the governor said.

    “I have full confidence that BP is doing everything they can,” to get the well under control, he said.” Bold added.

    And some evidence that Perry has some company in his approach is found in
    this story from Saturday:

    ” GULFPORT — U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor on Saturday said people shouldn’t be so scared about the massive oil spill in the Gulf; he said after flying over it, “it’s not as bad as I thought.”

    Taylor said the oil could break up before reaching Mississippi shores.”

    From that story:

    “Taylor flew over the site of the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig Saturday along with Department of Marine Resources Director Bill Walker and Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama.”


    “He said the closest he saw oil was 20 miles from the Louisiana marsh and that it was further than that away from the Chandeleur Islands and even further from the barrier islands.

    It’s breaking up naturally; that’s a good thing. The fact that it’s a long way from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that’s a great thing, because it gives it time to break up naturally,” he said.

    Walker said the sheen could collect on beaches and in estuaries, but it will evaporate within a week.

    Walker’s plan is to let any sheen that makes its way into the marshes evaporate naturally.

    That’s what we will probably do, is leave it alone and let nature take its course,” he said.

    Any residue on public beaches would be scraped away with a front-end loader, he said.” Bold added.

    • bmaz says:

      I have litigated the issue of what is, and what is not, an “act of god” within the commonly understood legal meaning. This ain’t even close.

      • BoxTurtle says:

        As one who has never understood the legal concept of Act of God, I wonder if you might give a quick rundown? I got a feeling we’re going to be hearing a lot about it in the coming days.

        Boxturtle (If not an Act of God, it sure seems like a message from Him)

        • bmaz says:

          This from West’s Legal Dictionary is a decent general definition:

          An event that directly and exclusively results from the occurrence of natural causes that could not have been prevented by the exercise of foresight or caution; an inevitable accident.

          Courts have recognized various events as acts of God—tornadoes, earthquakes, death, extraordinarily high tides, violent winds, and floods. Many insurance policies for property damage exclude from their protection damage caused by acts of God.

    • PJEvans says:

      I wouldn’t consider Governor Goodhair as an expert in this field. Or any other field that requires actual knowledge of anything more than holding a hand out for money. (My (long deceased) relative who was in the oil business believed in blowout preventers and maintenance and all that other good stuff that the beancounters won’t approve until the lack of it bites them in the rear. He sure wouldn’t approve of how BP runs their operations.)

    • jerryy says:

      Speaking at a jobs summit in Washington, D.C., Perry repeatedly suggested that the spill was “an act of God.” He said he hoped the massive spill would not lead to a “knee jerk” reaction to stop new or existing offshore drilling.

      If this was an “act of God”, it should seem to follow that God is saying ‘Don’t do that!’ Drill that is…

      • JamesJoyce says:

        God has nothing to do with acts of human stupidity! Like drilling a mile under ocean with inadequate safeguards to plug a compromised gushing well of crude oil! Yes, the Titanic did sink. No act of god. Just unnecessary and avoidable risk of Captain Smith, costing lives?

      • Gitcheegumee says:

        “Act of God”…well,if your God is Greed, I suppose it could be a statement of fact.

        • DWBartoo says:

          Great Greed, Almighty.

          The Divine Right of Money.

          That is what the god of MONEY says.

          Remember, Gitchee, corporation$ are people, too.

          And the spending of money equals “free speech”.

          That is what the LAW says.

          Who could have imagined that the purposes of the human species and the fortuitously pleasant paradise we call, “Earth”, was simply to ensure that ONE PERCENT of the so-called human beings could BEHAVE as if there were no tomorrow, no “consequence” and that they might do so in such obscenely pathological a “fashion” as to make Midas jealous?

          Mission accomplished?


          • Gitcheegumee says:

            Monuments to Mammon.

            (I started to say, “Greedily sucking dry the mammaries of Mammon”,but better angels prevailed…or were supposed to.) *G*

  6. qweryous says:

    I was not particularly convinced by this ‘line of reasoning’ either.

    Might it ‘sell’ better in that area?

    Did he leave unsaid the part about the efforts to prevent the occurrence PRIOR TO THE OCCURRENCE?

    Is it kind of like IOKIYAR?


    (It’s Ok If You’re an Oil Company (And Especially If It’s An Act Of God)

  7. qweryous says:

    EDIT: In reply to PJEvans @10

    It is not that I consider his opinion to be expert, but the media presents it as such.

    This will be the debate in the media presented to the citizens for their consideration.

    Specifically: The responsible party(ies) will be found, pay to clean it up as best as possible, and compensate those damaged; and if negligent be punished appropriately. VS Gotta break some eggs to make scrambled eggs, and since sh*t happens, it just did. Its them goobermint lawyers and revenooersrigulateers bin gettin in the way of drill baby drill so’s I can have more cheap gas.

    This ‘act of god’ is an argument being made to impede proper fact finding and regulatory reform and enforcement actions.

  8. qweryous says:

    From your post:

    “Never …have I had a significant environmental criminal case shut down by the political arm of the Department of Justice


  9. perris says:

    BP Oil Slick The Result Of Republican DOJ And Regulatory Policy

    which should be the lead sentence in every single democrat whenever they discuss this event and “deregulation”

    here’s what democrats need to point out;

    “industrial regulations were in almost every case, written because that industry caused issues they refused to address, refusing to pay their own bills and regulations are the method for forcing irresponsible industries and corporations into paying the bills they themselves created”

    bing, but there’s more;

    “in just about every case, regulations SAVE the populace money, in the form of cars that don’t blow up when your wife turns the ignition, and in the form of truck bumpers matched to your daughters bumper so if there’s an accident your daughter doesn’t get decapitated…in the form of preventing industry from pouring their cancer into your wifes water and their bronchitis into your kids air”

    you need to attack the anti regulatory idiots by challenging them

    when they point out one of the very few counter productive regulations the response needs to be;

    “regulations need to be revisited when the purpose they were written for is no longer served but you do NOT throw out the productive regulations because there are a few counter productive, you revisit those that need to be revisited, you find out if the purpose of the regulation is still needed, if not you re-write the regulation or eliminate it, whichever IS BETTER FOR THE PEOPLE”

    but politicians don’t think it through, they take a position without disecting their own position and they don’t know how to respond when their position is challenged

  10. Leen says:

    Rachel Maddow had a great timeline on her program last night.(unable to link)

    Also Mike Papatino was on the Ed show the other night and he brought up how in many other countries an “acoustic” shut off valve is required and that in the U.S. this type of shut off valve is not required.

    Also wondering why when the rig caught on fire and then sank two days later. Why the existing shut off valves were not shut off immediately?

    Keep thinking about plumbing in our home in the country. One shut off valve at the source, several shut off valves along the water pipeline, several more in the house. One would think there would be so many choices to shut these lines down. I understand under the sea pipelines are far more complicated. But what the hell. One would think there would be so many preventive ways to shut these lines down. Clearly not.

  11. Leen says:

    Bmaz “It is not just the Republicans however, Democrats have become the same kind of servile lackeys for big corporate interests as the Republicans. The Obama DOJ has continued the Bush/Cheney/McNulty policy of coddling corporate criminals with civil treatment as opposed to hard criminal prosecution and conviction of both corporations and their leaders. And if Barack Obama follows through with his impostrous determination to appoint a “moderate consensus builder” like Elena Kagan to replace John Paul Stevens, you can expect even more corporatist decisions from the Supreme Court.”

    One more example of how the system is set up for fat cats to privatize their profits and socialize their losses. The system is rigged for them.

  12. Phoenix Woman says:

    Thanks for the corrective, Bmaz. Too many right-wing media ding-dongs are trying to pin this on Obama (using the Katrina meme), much as they tried to blame Clinton for Waco. I see it as their attempt to get revenge for Bush and the Republicans rightly being blamed for the Katrina mess — from refusing to replace the Delta wetlands that once served as speed bumps to slow down and weaken oncoming hurricanes, to rejecting millions of dollars’ worth of post-Katrina aid from foreign countries, to Bush’s FEMA providing toxic trailers for Katrina refugees.

  13. alank says:

    People knew all this at the time. Obama campaigned against it. Nothing changed. Not even the delay in response. And what response? It doesn’t bear close examination.

    • Phoenix Woman says:

      The problem is that BP was putting out bullshit for the first few days. It wasn’t until the satellite photos forced their hand that they finally admitted it wasn’t something they could cope with by themselves.

      • Leen says:

        According to reports that rig was on fire two days before it sank. Why not shut it down then? Cccching you think?

        Sure not hearing much about the 11 people who died.

        • Leen says:

          US weighs remote shut-off for rigs
          US lawmakers are focusing on whether lax government regulation that did not require BP to use a remote control “trigger” to shut an underwater pipe exacerbated the spreading oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

          News wires 04 May 2010 02:14 GMT

          A $500,000 acoustic trigger may have allowed workers escaping from the burning rig by boat to send a remote signal 5000 feet below the water’s surface to close the valve and stop the oil.

          Instead, BP is using submersible robots, whose tiny metal arms so far have been unable to move the lever that would cut off the flow of crude, according to a Reuters report.

          BP’s ruptured well is still spewing about 5000 barrels a day, nearly two weeks after its rig exploded. The massive spill is bearing down on the rich fishing grounds and tourist beaches of the Gulf Coast.

          The Interior Department, which oversees offshore energy exploration, does not require acoustic triggers in deepwater drilling.

          Oil producing countries such as Norway and Brazil require the triggers and some oil companies find the device so vital that they voluntarily include it on equipment when exploring for oil in the U.S. Gulf.

          Some lawmakers say it’s time for the United States to make the remote shut-off valves mandatory.

          Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida yesterday asked the Interior Department’s inspector general to investigate whether regulations covering back-up systems to cap underwater wells were adequate. He also wants to know if energy companies have lobbied to soften rules.

          “I ask that you determine in your investigation the extent to which the oil and natural gas industry exercised influence in the agency’s rule making process,” Nelson said.

          Meanwhile, the House Oversight and Investigations Reform Committee is also investigating and wants to know why the Interior Department has not mandated the shut-off switches.

          Interior does not require the acoustic valves because they have not been “fully proven or they haven’t been deemed reliable,” a department spokesman said.
          [MORE AT LINK]

          President Barack Obama has ordered U.S. Interior Secretary Salazar to report in 30 days on the possible cause of the rig explosion and what new regulations may be required.

          Congress, however, will get an opportunity on 11 May to press the administration on what went wrong as Salazar is scheduled to testify before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where the need for emergency shut-off systems is expected to be discussed.

          BP officials are also scheduled to brief House lawmakers today about the oil spill.

          Published: 04 May 2010 02:14 GMT | Last updated: 04 May 2010 07:04 GMT

          [MODNOTE –please respect the copyright of other publications, do not post entire articles that belong to someone else, thank you.]

        • BoxTurtle says:

          Likely because it was physically impossible.

          Let’s ASSUME the cause was a blow out. Available data certainly supports this.

          NOw, consider the physical setup. On the seafloor, you got an emergency shutoff valve and a regular shutoff. The pipe goes up to the drilling platform where there’s another set of valves and some pretty complicated plumbing.

          The blowout may or may not have damaged the seafloor valves, but it certainly destroyed the valve and plumbing setup at the top of the rig and the control cables going down to the lower valves.

          The control shack follows proper procedure (we assume), hits the emergencies and starts disaster procedures.

          By the time the ROV are on scene, the rig has sunk and damaged the lower plumbing and likely the wellhead.

          Assuming the blowout did not damage the wellhead, the acoustic valve would have prevented the leak, though not the blowout.

          Boxturtle (Notice the large number of assumings above)

          • Leen says:

            Most of the information I have has been off of MSNBC. What you have written makes sense.

            All I could compare any of this to anything in my life was dealing with plumbing issues in a few rentals that I own (learned about plumbing the hard way). Know that oil lines under water are a very different cirucumstance. But having worked with many plumbers redoing the plumbing in those rentals. Know how important it is to have many ways to shut down the flow of water. Several ways to shut it down in the houses and several along the line and then able to shut down at the main valve.

            Sounds like the acoustic shut off valve trumps everything else if all other efforts fails.

            The coverage of the oil hitting land looks bad really really bad. And this is the beginning.

        • PJEvans says:

          According to reports that rig was on fire two days before it sank. Why not shut it down then?

          They can’t go through the flaming remains of the rig, either. Have you seen the photos? That’s a large fire, a lot of wreckage (one report I’ve seen is that they had a hugh bubble of gas come up the drillpipe, blowing the seawater right out of it, and then enveloping the rig in a cloud of flammable gas).

          • fatster says:

            Where did you see the report, PJEvans? I got an email about a right-wing “personality” interviewing an anonymous worker who was supposedly on the rig and that’s what he described. The first part of the interview was about that, and was very interesting, though I’ve no basis on which to judge its accuracy. The second part kind of deteriorated into right-wing weirdness about SWAT teams, etc.

            • PJEvans says:

              Saw it at the Great Orange – the wingnut stuff after was left out. The worker’s account sounds reasonable to me; it’s not too different from a lot of the more informed speculation, and seems to fit what we know.

        • john in sacramento says:

          According to reports that rig was on fire two days before it sank. …

          Not saying I know anything specific about this, because I don’t, but the fire might have been a flare

          My Dad used to work in a refinery, and one day I asked him what the fire on top of a stack was, and he told me they burn off gas occasionally for safety reasons

          So maybe they had gas in the line and were burning it off

      • alank says:

        I believe it will be determined that there was a blowout that caught fire on the drilling rig. The cause of the blowout will be investigated and regulators will be blamed, for the most part. Selected driller workers will also be in the dock.

        When a deep-water drilling rig bursts into flames, that something to stand up and take notice, stat.

        Regarding another comment by another commenter, the likely blowout event could only occur if the Blowout Preventer had already failed. The only way to stop the flow is drill horizontally and fill with mud.

        • bmaz says:

          See, exactly, that “preventable” thing is precisely why this is not an “act of god”. Just because it was not prevented does not mean it could not have been. You cannot stop a hurricane, earthquake, violent wind etc. But you can an oil well blowout. Starting, of course, with actually not drilling the well. So, this act of god stuff is BS.

          • klynn says:

            They have been mentioning the build up of a gas bubble in the under water crude deposit…I wonder if that is what they are setting the stage for as “an act of God.”

            But like you said,

            Starting, of course, with actually not drilling the well. So, this act of god stuff is BS.

  14. fatster says:

    Thanks so much for this, Leen. I’ve been trying to figure out what federal agency is involved in this kind of stuff. Seems Interior and OSHA are involved, though I’d think at least EPA, too. Perhaps the congressional investigation will yield a neat chart showing federal agencies’ relationships to oil rigs. Very encouraged that the Congresscritters want to know why no shut-off switch was mandated. Indeed!

    • BoxTurtle says:

      I see no reason to believe that a government screwup would be any less of a disaster than a corporate screwup.

      This rig was one of the best in US waters and it met government standards as well as any of them. If this could happen here, it could happen anywhere.

      ObamaLLP is correct about one thing, we need not to issue anymore permits until we understand what happened here and have plans in place to prevent such things. However, a 30 day reporting deadline for Salazar tells me this will likely be fixed with a large dose of Koolaid.

      Boxturtle (Perhaps this will accelerate the move away from carbon)

  15. cregan says:

    Since Democrats have run Congress for over 3 years and done nothing, and the DOJ has been in Obama’s hands and done nothing, I don’t see how all the blame goes in one direction.

    I mean I do see it, since that is the way things are here, but I don’t really see it.

    Aside from that, Obama and Dem’s have no standing since they endorsed new off shore drilling a few weeks ago. AND, were about to give BP a safety award. Bush was not giving the safety award (as far as I know).

    • bmaz says:

      If you read the post, you would see I hit the Democrats for their complicity as well. Your reference to Congress is a red herring; it has squat to do with this. It is about enforcement and the great majority of this behavior did, in fact, gestate wildly under Republicans.

      • sage says:

        “It is not just the Republicans however, Democrats have become the same kind of servile lackeys for big corporate interests as the Republicans.”

        Thats way too broad a brush. Some (a minority) Democrats are “servile lackeys” but Republicans are to a man!

      • cregan says:

        If this “enforcement” was so bad under Bush, why didn’t Obama officials do something about it? Such as, “We think enforcement has been lax and we are going to review all work done recently.”

        Instead, they were planning on giving BP a safety award–until the blow up.

        So, let’s just say there is lots of lax enforcement all the way around.

          • cregan says:

            See above.

            I only bring it up because the point was being run in a nearly total one way street. Yes, a few bones here and there, but mostly a one way street.

            • bmaz says:

              On deregulation and prosecutorial coddling, by far the more travelled street is by the Republicans, and it is duplicitous and flat out dishonest for you to constantly try to equate their malevolent conduct with that of the Democrats. So, no, I will not admit to that complete and utter bullshit.

  16. kgb999 says:

    Considering these regulatory practices are still in place 15 months after Obama has taken office, can’t we equally say they are Obama policies? If he moves in and decides not to change the drapes, IMO at some point they become his curtains.

    We know there is a mess in government. That is theoretically why we elected Obama. Doesn’t he have *some* level of responsibility for carrying out fixing these things?

  17. BoxTurtle says:

    OT: Election report.

    Observations of the Xenia Ohio polls and questioning Poll Workers at lunch show the following:

    1) Turnout is light, especially since there’s a big tax issue locally.
    2) Democrat turnout is especially light. Probably benefits Brunner, as her supporters seem more committed.
    3) Two card tables set up outside the 100ft line, one tea party, one Ohio citizens action. Both well behaved.
    4) Poll workers said lots of equiptment problems. We use diebold machines with “smart” card.
    5) Is just me, or are poll workers getting older?
    6) Voters getting older, too. Poll worker said very few under 35.
    7) Total of 7 recorded calls received for this election, one for issue 1, the rest for local tax issue. I hate robocalls.

    Boxturtle (And that’s the news)

  18. JamesJoyce says:

    bmaz, great post!

    Corporatist desire the usurpation of constitutional protections and checks and balances in the lust for endless profit. As long as the current law protects corporates interest, life and liberty are subject to and subordinate to the undue influence of money. Corporate money like tobacco or oil or insurance of banks, then manipulate and purchase law under the color of law! The origins of real good government and policies like substance abuse? As long as the policy is not a state sponsored religion…….

    It is time to place limitations envisioned by Jefferson and Madison to restrict the deleterious actions of monopolistic corporations and corporate money to the Republic! Jefferson’s warnings are reality today!

    After all America’s revolution was with a monopolistic imperialistic mercantiling King and his Corporate cohorts in colonial “CRIME!” Deja Vu America, now bend over for the price of energy is again going to go up extracting more life and liberty than one can ever comprehend?

    Call it……. “Corporate Treason and Executive Oil”

  19. cbl2 says:

    thank you bmaz – a good read indeed. will read the Leopold article this afternoon.

    I was dismissing the potential signifiance of something last night, but now maybe not so much. and it’s probably old news here, but the Extractionists have a FOIA Exemption – 1 of only 9


  20. davidz says:

    “gestated”? That’s too nice a word. I’d say “metastasized” is a better word.

  21. Gitcheegumee says:

    FWIW, IMHO, think this is probably the best thread bmaz has done since I’ve been reading here.

    Thank you,bmaz.

    Over at the Seminal,a thread by fflambeau entitle,”Out damned oil spot…” refers extensively,to this thread in the commentary section.

    Here’s a cross post,if I may:

    Surprise! Obama Was Top Recipient of BP Donations in 2008
    Published on 05-03-2010

    No wonder it took him nearly two weeks before getting on the ball with the Gulf oil spill. He’s the top recipient of British Petroleum donations in the last election cycle.

    During the 2008 election cycle, individuals and political action committees associated with BP — a Center for Responsive Politics’ “heavy hitter” — contributed half a million dollars to federal candidates. The top recipient of BP-related donations during the 2008 cycle was President Barack Obama himself, who collected $71,000.

    BP regularly lobbies on Capitol Hill, as well. In 2009, the company spent a massive $16 million to influence legislation. During the first quarter of 2010, it spent $3.53 million on federal lobbying efforts, ranking it second (behind ConocoPhillips) among all oil and gas industry interests.

    Its registered lobbyists include a number of former federal government and high-ranking political campaign officials, including longtime political operative Tony Podesta, former congressional chief of staff Bob Brooks, former congressional legislative director David Pore and vice presidential aide Michael S. Berman, the Center’s research shows.

    Source: Blacklisted News

    BlackListed NewsSurprise! Obama Was Top Recipient of BP Donations in 2008. The top recipient of BP-related donations during the 2008 cycle was President Barack Obama …
    http://www.blacklistednews.com/ – Cached – Similar

    The BP Money Trail – Oil Spill NewsSurprise! Obama Was Top Recipient of BP Donations in 2008. No wonder it took him nearly two weeks before getting on the ball with the Gulf Oil Spill. …
    politifi.com/news/The-BP-Money-Trail-836026.html – 13 hours ago

    • PJEvans says:

      Can the ‘two weeks’ line – the thing is barely two weeks old now, and Obama didn’t wait two weeks.
      I heard the Coast Guard was moving stuff in as soon as they heard about it – might be two days after, but BP seems to be like the idjits who try to put out fires before calling 911.

  22. BoxTurtle says:

    Ah, so!

    So, to apply it here, while the blowout itself would possibly qualify as AoG, the lack of a prepared response to something they knew could happen certainly is not.

    Boxturtle (One could argue the accident was inevitable, given the corporate policies :-) )

  23. Mary says:

    Great piece bmaz

    Cregan @34 – I think you are missing the fact(s) that bmaz spelled out about how the Republican-riddled DOJ handled matters for 8 years under Bush/Cheney and Ashcroft, Gonzales and Mukasey. [bmaz – wasn’t it a deferred prosecution boondoggle deal that gave Gonzales some of his only work since leaving office?] But even beyond that, it is Republican platform to support offshore drilling and it has been publically acknowledged Republican dogma, time and time again, to block Obama appointees so that we are stuck with carryover incompetents. But I would agree with you that Obama is at his most charlatan and presents his dumbest face to the world when he tries to “join up” with Republican ideology. He could have been Condi Rice (if only he had been wearing thigh boots) naively blinking “who could have ever expected” when he was condescendingly *informing* the crowd that oil rigs don’t leak these days.

    So – we’re here ready to call Obama and DOJ and Dem members of Congress etc on both failings that got us to this point and what they need to do now. What are you doing to get your Republicans to quit blocking a appointments and weed out their own incompetents and take responsiblity for addressing the problems and generating solutions? What’s that you say? Oh, you’re coming here and posting that it must all be Obama’s fault – – yeah, right, that’s what you’d do if you were trying to actually address the situation.

    @15 – that involves violating the Obama Inviolate. Someone would have to actually look “back” instead of just forward.

    • cregan says:

      Nice attempt to shift the blame.


      Clearly, there is lots of blame to go around. As you can see, Obama officials exempted BP from an environmental impact study last year.

      How about a more adult viewpoint of we generally f’d up and all ought to come to agreement on what to do in the future? I think you’d get a lot of agreement on that and actually get something good done.

      As opposed to creating–yes, creating–a political football out of it to gain some advantage and then get nothing done because now everyone is fighting.

  24. DeadLast says:

    So if they are still on “probation”, shouldn’t the Alaska case be reopened?

    • bmaz says:

      Texas would be the more likely if they bother to try this at all, which they have shown no inclination to do.

  25. librty says:

    Nationalize BP for crimes against

    sell off the assets to pay for clean up and to make those affected whole.

    Any monies left over, we have a party on the 4th of July

    (ok, so it’s partially snark, just partially)

  26. orionATL says:


    you can’t stop here.

    you’ve just given us chapter 1 of this mystery.

    this has the feel off a major story.

    you can’t leave us not knowing the political origins of the doj sweetheart settlements.

    who ordered them?

    who got paid?

    in what currency and how much?

    this could be a major story, one that might force holder to get off his ass and act like an attorney general.

    i’m gonna be waitin’ for chapter 2!

  27. orionATL says:

    gitcheegumee @51

    “surprise! obama was #1 recipient of bp

    por favor,

    could you lay some blue on this story’s cite so i can find and read it?

  28. qweryous says:

    Additional clarification of republican views of safety regulation, and possible causes for the recent BP spill.


    “Perry said BP has “historically had a very good safety record from my perspective.” After a reporter pointed out that an explosion at BP’s Texas City refinery killed 15 workers in 2005, Perry acknowledged the company has been under scrutiny for its safety record.

    “If you go from that point forward, they realize there is a bull’s eye on their back,” Perry said. “If there is a company that knows the world, the United States and Texas is watching what they are doing, it would be British Petroleum.” “

    Point of clarification: can you list a company with a bad record Gov? Just to see how the grading curve is shaped… is anything below a “very good safety record” even possible?

    And as to the possible cause (same source):

    “The governor’s staff says Perry was not insisting that an “act of God” caused the spill. (He later said that he suspects a “mechanical failure” is the cause.)”

    Corporate failure, regulatory failure, management failure… not this time.


    ” “I don’t think that a big wave came along at a very inopportune time and caused … but I don’t know that,” he said.”

    If the criteria is that what you don’t think caused the disaster, and you don’t know that…..Tomorrow the culprit could be nearly anything.

  29. thefutureisnow says:

    “Officials at NOAA told the Obama Administration that it was underestimating the rate and risk of spills before the President announced his controversial decision to open up coastal areas to drilling in March. Analysts also noted that there were serious problems in responding to spills.

    For environmentalists, the dismissal of such concern reminds them of the Bush Administration, which tended to ignore advice that didn’t fit its political agenda. While the Bush Administration ignored data on weapons of mass destruction, the Obama Administration appears to have dismissed data on environmental mass destruction.”


    “It turns out that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced…”
    Pres. Barack Obama

  30. Leen says:

    Don’t know how often you folks visit Seminal. Mary has been posting quite a thorough over view of what is going on with the oil catastrophe
    “May 4, 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Information and Links”

  31. Leen says:

    over at Seminal “May 4, 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Information and Links” Mary links to a website “drilling head”. A fella who had been on the exploded rig calls into talk about what happenned.

    Worth the listen

    Mary McCurnin May 4th, 2010 at 6:43 pm 25In response to Mason @ 24 (show text)
    Here is an interview with a survivor from the rig explosion.

  32. timbo says:

    The first thing that comes to mind when one looks at the size of the possible fines vs the actual fines in these cases is what happened to the difference between the two. That is, a lot of money may have been used to bribe officials, their friends, and families, possibly judges and lawyers as well. Yet another reason why the special prosecutor law has to be put back on the books–we need someone who is not beholden to the money-buys-us-anything legal system investigating this system and prosecuting the felonies, obstruction, and related conspiracies to subvert American laws and cheat the tax payers out of the fines that should have been levied.

  33. timbo says:

    Oh, and if BP is declared a criminal corporation in the process then at least we might be approaching the truth…

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