BP Goes There: “No One Could Have Predicted…”

Yeah, I know. Of course BP is saying, “no one could have predicted.”

Of course, BP had a big incentive not to predict these things: one of the reasons it was able to get an exemption from an individualized Environmental Impact Study is that it estimated the largest possible spill from this well to be 162,000 BBLs, making it less than the 250,000 BBLs estimated in its regional drilling plan. You see, BP had an incentive not to predict this catastrophe.

Update: See ThinkProgress’ compendium of “No one could have predicted” claims from early in this disaster.

John Hall Questions BP’s Greenwashing Campaign

In yesterday’s Transportation Committee hearing, John Hall hammered BP American President Lamar McKay about something a number of others have, as well: the amount of money BP has spent on greenwashing of late.

The answer? $10-12 million last year and $20 million this year.

So it’s roughly probably about the same or maybe a little more than the cost of a blowout preventer.

Sounds like Hall would like to prevent businesses from deducting such expenses in the future.

Congress Gets Results on Corexit

At yesterday’s hearing on the BP Disaster, Peter DeFazio and Jerrold Nadler hammered BP America President Lamar McKay on the relative toxicity and efficacy of the dispersant Corexit as compared to some other dispersants. They pointed out that Corexit is one of the most toxic of the approved dispersants and is not as effective as others. Here’s a chart of the relative toxicity and efficacy from the EPA (click to enlarge).

In addition, on Monday, Edward Markey wrote EPA Administration Lisa Jackson asking why BP was using Corexit rather than a less toxic dispersant. Among other questions Markey asked were:

It is my understanding that the main dispersants applied so far are from a product line called Corexit, some of which had their approval rescinded in Britain more than a decade ago, because laboratory tests found them harmful to sea life that inhabits rocky shores.

a. How did EPA ensure that this dispersant’s toxicity to aquatic life was evaluated?

b. Was its toxicity to mollusks and other sea life that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico evaluated, and if so, what were the results? If not, why not?

c. If EPA relied on toxicity studies for coastal morphologies different from that of the Gulf Coast, what was done to evaluate the applicability of those studies for the use of the dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico environment?

d. Was the toxicity to other subsurface aquatic life evaluated? If so, please provide details, and if not, why not?

Late yesterday, the EPA informed BP it’s going to have to switch to another, less toxic, dispersant within three days.

The Environmental Protection Agency informed BP officials late Wednesday that the company has 24 hours to choose a less toxic form of chemical dispersants to break up its oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, according to government sources familiar with the decision, and must apply the new form of dispersants within 72 hours of submitting the list of alternatives.

The move is significant, because it suggests federal officials are now concerned that the unprecedented use of chemical dispersants could pose a significant threat to the Gulf of Mexico’s marine life. BP has been using two forms of dispersants, Corexit 9500A and Corexit 9527A, and so far has applied 600,000 gallons on the surface and 55,000 underwater.

I guess all these hearings aren’t entirely a waste of time.

(Updated with efficacy table.)

Update: Here’s EPA’s order to BP to use a less toxic dispersant. And here’s some data from the dispersant monitoring.

Update: According to Nadler’s office, the maker of Dispersit got an order from BP for 60,000 gallons today.

Sheldon Whitehouse Lists the NEPA Exclusions

At yesterday’s Environment and Public Works hearing on the BP disaster, Sheldon Whitehouse asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Council on Environmental Quality Chair Helen Sutley why BP had been exempted from doing an Environmental Impact Study on the Macondo drilling site. He listed a number of things that should categorically exclude a project from receiving such an exemption. Two of those almost certainly applied to this well.

  • Areas of high seismic risk or seismicity, relatively untested deep water, or remote areas
  • Utilizing new or unusual technology

In response, Salazar spoke about how much we know about that area.

Senator, there has been significant environmental review, including Environmental Impact Statements that has been conducted with respect to this activity in the Gulf of Mexico. It is an area where we know a lot about the environment, we know a lot about the infrastructure that is there. The question of the categorical exclusion in part relates to the Congressional 30-day requirement that MMS has to approve or disapprove an exploration plan.

You think Salazar knows he’s going to be held responsible for all the exemptions approved since this disaster?

In any case, here’s how much BP knows about the area:

An emergency response plan prepared by BP shows the British energy giant never anticipated an oil spill as large as the one seeping through the Gulf of Mexico.The 582-page document, titled “Regional Oil Spill Response Plan — Gulf of Mexico,” was approved in July by the federal Minerals Management Service (MMS). It offers technical details on how to use chemical dispersants and provides instructions on what to say to the news media, but it does not mention how to react if a deep-water well spews oil uncontrollably.

[snip]

In a section titled “Sensitive Biological & Human-Use Resources,” the plan lists “seals, sea otters and walruses” as animals that could be impacted by a Gulf of Mexico spill — even though no such animals live in the Gulf. [emphasis]

Sure, we know a lot about the environment. We just have some crazy belief that the walruses have decided to vacation on the Gulf of Mexico.

Obama’s Commission

As we go through another round of hearings on the BP disaster today (at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee this morning, Bernie Sanders asked Ken Salazar whether the risk of a disaster like this was worth the $.03/gallon decrease on the price of gas in 2030; Salazar didn’t really answer), Obama has leaked his intent to appoint a Presidential Committee to investigate the spill.

President Obama plans to create a presidential commission to investigate the BP oil spill, administration officials said Monday.

The commission will be established by an executive order, they said. One official likened the new panel to one ordered by President Jimmy Carter to examine the partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant in 1979.

Thus far, though, the Administration has only leaked its intent, with no details on the mandate of the Commission.

It will be interesting to see whether this Commission falls into that great tradition of whitewash commissions, or whether it will be a real commission. Ken Salazar said that the work of existing investigations (an IG one, and a Coast Guard one, and a science one, I think) would feed into the Presidential Commission. But there are several other efforts to push an investigation. Barbara Boxer has asked DOJ to investigate whether BP lied on its drilling permit application (in its claim that it had a plan to respond to a disaster). And Lois Capps and Ed Markey have sponsored a bill that would mandate a commissions, with subpoena powers and restrictions on conflicts of interest.

As Atrios says:

Because Bob Kerrey, Tom Keane, and Tom Daschle Need Something To Do?

Yes I’m a bit negative about ‘presidential commissions.’ I’ll be more positive if experts, rather than ex-politicians, get to do the job.

Betty Sutton on the Coerced Transocean Statements


As you may have read, Transocean (the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon rig) made everyone rescued from the rig sign statements laying out whether they were involved in the incident, and whether they had gotten hurt.

Lawyers for the oil rig’s owner, Transocean, requested that workers who had survived the blast sign the form in the wake of the April 20 blowout on the Deepwater Horizon. This was hours before the workers had been allowed to see their families.

Now some of those survivors say they were coerced and that the forms are being used against them as they file lawsuits seeking compensation for psychiatric problems and other injuries from the blast.

A couple of members of Congress asked Transocean’s CEO about it yesterday, most pointedly Betty Sutton in this exchange.

Now, frankly, I think there may be some truth to Transocean’s claim that they were trying to collect information with the form. This is a documentation-driven industry, and for a rig owner like Transocean, getting a sense of who was on the rig, what contractor they worked for, and what they were doing would be a concern. That said, given the lock-down they kept workers in until they signed these documents, I’d guess they were more interested in surveying precisely what information was out there so they could keep that information locked down as anything else. And the lockdown was certainly heartless and heavy-handed.

Besides, Transocean CEO Steve Newman had to have known yesterday that his company would move, today, to limit its liability in the disaster (albeit on different grounds).

Transocean Ltd., the owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that burned and sank last month unleashing a massive oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico, will file in federal court Thursday a petition to limit its liability to just under $27 million, according to a person familiar with the company’s plans and a copy of the filing reviewed by Dow Jones Newswires.

Read more

Lois Capps: Booms Will Only Collect 15% of Spilled Oil

The eye-popping part of this exchange is the news that all the efforts to protect the Gulf Coast are only going to collect a fraction of it from reaching the shore.

But the whole comment is worthwhile, because Capps expresses so well the outrage we should all be expressing about the inefficacy of oil spill recovery.

CEO Mud Wrestling

One of the key moments of yesterday’s Environment and Public Works hearing on the BP Disaster came when Tom Udall tried to pin the CEOs down on whether, as reported by WSJ, at BP’s direction, Halliburton swapped out the drilling mud for seawater prematurely–something we’ve looked at as well.

BP, the well owner, blames the failure of a big set of valves on the sea floor, known as the blowout preventer, to halt the blowout once it started.

A different account comes from Halliburton, a contractor in the drilling. This account is corroborated to some extent by Transocean, as well as by two workers on the drilling rig, The Wall Street Journal has determined.

This account describes a failure to place a cement plug within the well. The plug is designed to prevent gas from escaping up the pipe to the surface.

Before such a plug is placed, the job of keeping underground gas from coming up the pipe is done by heavy drilling fluid inside the well, commonly known as “mud.”

The plug is normally put in before the mud is removed, but according to the account of Halliburton, Transocean and the two workers, in this case, that wasn’t done—drilling mud was removed before a final cement plug was placed in the well.

It is not clear why such a decision would have been made. Rig owner Transocean says that BP, as owner of the well that was just being completed, made key decisions on how to proceed. BP declined to comment on this account of the drilling procedures.

Predictably, no one really wanted to go on the record whether that was one of what appear to be numerous problems that contributed to the spill. Equally predictably, no one seems to have the well plan that would make this all clear.

A More Revealing BP Hearing?

The House Commerce Committee is holding the third hearing into what went wrong on the BP Deepwater Horizon rig (CSPAN is showing it on CSPAN3). As is typical for a Waxman/Stupak hearing, the Committee has done its homework, advancing the understanding of what went wrong.

Henry Waxman’s opening statement reveals that the well failed a number of tests, but BP kept testing until getting a passing test, and then proceeded to close the well.

Rigs like the Deepwater Horizon keep a daily drilling report. Transocean has given us the report for April 20, the day of the explosion. It is an incomplete log because it ends at 3:00 p.m., about seven hours before the explosion. But it confirms that three positive pressure tests were conducted in the morning to early afternoon.

The next bullet says: “After 16.5 hours waiting on cement, a test was performed on the wellbore below the Blowout Preventer.” BP explained to us what this means. Halliburton completed cementing the well at 12:35 a.m. on April 20 and after giving the cement time to set, a negative pressure test was conducted around 5:00 p.m. This is an important test. During a negative pressure test, the fluid pressure inside the well is reduced and the well is observed to see whether any gas leaks into the well through the cement or casing.

According to James Dupree, the BP Senior Vice President for the Gulf of Mexico, the well did not pass this test. Mr. Dupree told Committee staff on Monday that the test result was “not satisfactory” and “inconclusive.” Significant pressure discrepancies were recorded.

As a result, another negative pressure test was conducted. This is described in the fourth bullet: “During this test, 1,400 psi was observed on the drill pipe while 0 psi was observed on the kill and the choke lines.”

According to Mr. Dupree, this is also an unsatisfactory test result. The kill and choke lines run from the drill rig 5,000 feet to the blowout preventer at the sea floor. The drill pipe runs from the drill rig through the blowout preventer deep into the well. In the test, the pressures measured at any point from the drill rig to the blowout preventer should be the same in all three lines. But what the test showed was that pressures in the drill pipe were significantly higher. Mr. Dupree explained that the results could signal that an influx of gas was causing pressure to mount inside the wellbore.

Another document provided by BP to the Committee is labeled “What Could Have Happened.” It was prepared by BP on April 26, ten days before the first document. According to BP, their understanding of the cause of the spill has evolved considerably since April 26, so this document should not be considered definitive. But it also describes the two negative pressure tests and the pressure discrepancies that were recorded.

What happened next is murky. Mr. Dupree told the Committee staff that he believed the well blew moments after the second pressure test. But lawyers for BP contacted the Committee yesterday and provided a different account. According to BP’s counsel, further investigation has revealed that additional pressure tests were taken, and at 8:00 p.m., company officials determined that the additional results justified ending the test and proceeding with well operations.

This confusion among BP officials appears to echo confusion on the rig. Information reviewed by the Committee describes an internal debate between Transocean and BP personnel about how to proceed. [my emphasis]

Read more

Maria Cantwell Tries to Get BP to Define “Legitimate Claims”

One of the highlights of the first of several Deepwater Horizon hearings in Congress this week came when Maria Cantwell tried to get BP American President Lamar McKay to commit to what BP would pay as “legitimate claims.” She asked about:

  • Long term and short term harms to the fishing industry
  • Business loss to tourism
  • State and local governments for lost tax revenue
  • Long term damages to LA fishing industry and it’s brand
  • Additional troubles with fisheries
  • Shipping impacts
  • Impacts on further drilling operations
  • Impacts to the pristine beaches in this area

He balked about the tax revenues, the brand of LA’s fishing industry, and further drilling operations.

In any case, he certainly didn’t commit to what he meant by “legitimate claims.”

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