NOAA Director Lubchenco Plays Dumb on Plumes

I”m not aware of any studies before this spill, to follow up on those plumes.

That’s what NOAA Director Jane Lubchenco claimed a week ago in response to a question from Louisiana Congressman Bill Cassidy.

Elizabeth Birnbaum, who was fired last week because she wasn’t engaged enough with this issue (or maybe because they wanted a scapegoat), apparently did know of the studies MMS has been doing going back a decade on the topic.

Well, now Lubchenco is trying to play even dumber than she did last week. As Dan Froomkin reports, she refuses to acknowledge what scientists have shown evidence of for weeks: that much of the oil released from the BP gusher has formed gigantic plumes far below the surface of the Gulf.

Despite more than three weeks of accumulating scientific evidence that gargantuan plumes of oil lurk beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico — presenting an imminent threat to sea life and a possibly decades-long threat to the nation’s coastlines — NOAA Director Jane Lubchenco on Wednesday refused to contradict BP CEO Tony Hayward’s statement over the weekend that “the oil is on the surface” and “there aren’t any plumes.”


“I can tell you that there have been a number of anomalies identified by a number of different cruises,” she told reporters in a conference call. “Those anomalies are features at various different depths in the water column that may be oil, they may be other features.”

“It is quite possible that there is oil beneath the surface,” Lubchenco finally acknowledged under repeated questioning. “I think there is reason to believe that may be the case.” But that’s as far as she would go.

More troubling, those ongoing studies Lubchenco boasted of to Congressman Cassidy? NOAA is sitting on the data.

HuffPost has learned that a NOAA-commissioned research cruise the week of May 10 took extensive samples up and down the water column near the Deepwater Horizon spill site — and that those samples have in fact been processed, and logged in with the incident command.

Deborah French McCay is the director of Applied Science Associates, an environmental consulting company based in Rhode Island that is working as part of NOAA’s Natural Resources Damage Assessment. She told HuffPost she organized a mission on the private research vessel Jack Fitz more than three weeks ago.

“They went out and sampled all the way up and down the water column,” she said. That included tests for chemistry, oil concentration, temperature, salinity, oil droplet size and so on. Preliminary descriptions clearly indicated the presence of oil beneath the surface — and the final lab results, she said, came in Monday night.

But NOAA hasn’t publicly released those results and a video showing the oil.

Remember how BP stalled before it agreed to release live videos of the oil gushing from its well? Presumably, BP didn’t want Americans to know just how bad this disaster is.

This NOAA stonewalling may be worse. The video may not so much evoke the emotional responses that the gusher and the robots do. But it shows that the disaster is far far worse than BP currently admits (and that estimates of the total flow may not have accounted for a significant portion of the oil). Worse, it suggests that the dispersants, which may be making the plumes worse, serve only to hide the damage.

BP has real incentives to hide the abundant evidence that the spill is far worse than we know–and may be doing grave danger underwater where we can’t see it.

But you and I pay Director Lubchenco to protect our seas and oceans. And instead, she seems increasingly complicit in BP’s efforts to cover-up the extent of their disaster.

Dick Cheney’s Wyoming’s Face at MMS

Since we’ve been discussing the way that BP has adopted Dick Cheney’s face for its Deepwater Horizon disaster, I thought I’d link to this article, noting how close the Mineral Management Service and Cheney’s state of Wyoming are. (h/t POGO)

The federal agency cited for an overly “cozy relationship” with the energy industry, which may have contributed to the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster, has enjoyed extensive Wyoming political and economic connections since its creation in 1982 by then-Secretary of Interior James G. Watt, a native of Lusk in eastern Wyoming.


The Wyoming connection was especially evident from 2000 to 2008, during the two administrations of President George W. Bush and his vice president, Wyoming native Dick Cheney. A former chief executive of Halliburton, Cheney took an early and very active interest in energy policy and placed several Wyoming political friends in key positions in the Department of Interior.

Before he took office, for example, Cheney selected David J. Gribbin III, a high school and college friend from Wyoming, to be his transitional liaison with Congress. Gribbin previously worked for Cheney as Halliburton’s chief lobbyist in the capital.

Cheney then chose Thomas Sansonetti, a prominent Cheyenne lawyer and GOP activist, to head the team choosing top personnel for the Department of Interior, which oversees Minerals Management Service.

Sansonetti, a member of the conservative Federalist Society, picked Gayle Norton to head Interior. Although not from Wyoming, native Coloradan Norton was a longtime protégée of James Watt in the Mountain States Legal Foundation, of which Watt was the founding director. Like Sansonetti, Norton was a member of the Federalist Society.

Norton, in turn, named former Sheridan, Wyoming, lawyer Rebecca W. Watson as assistant Interior Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. Watson was responsible for the Bureau of Land Management, the Office of Surface Mining and the Minerals Management Service.


Most importantly, from 2002 to 2008, the Minerals Management Service was directed  by two former Wyoming GOP legislators, Rejane “Johnnie” Burton of Casper  and Randall Luthi, of  Freedom.

Burton, who had managed the Wyoming Department of Revenue under former Gov. Jim Geringer, in 2007 resigned under fire from her $168,000-a-year Minerals Management director’s job after the Department of Interior Inspector General found widespread corruption in the agency’s Colorado-based royalty collection office, and questions were raised in Congress about Burton’s handling of offshore leases.


Burton now works as a $49,000-a-year aide for longtime friend and former legislative colleague Wyoming U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis.

There’s lots, lots more at the link.

Lummis, Wyoming’s only Congressperson, is one of the many BP apologists on the Natural Resources Committee. But I guess it must be easy to be such an apologist, given that you’ve got former top Administration staffers working for you for less than a third of what they used to get in DC.

All of which suggests that one of the reasons the regulatory agency overseeing drilling on public lands is so lax is that it is captive to a bunch of Wyoming hacks who use the revenue from drilling in lieu of income taxes. You see, we’ve just sacrificed the Gulf’s ecosystem because a bunch of folks from Wyoming want to pretend that drilling creates free money.

Cheney photo Copyright World Economic Forum ( by Jean-Bernard Sieber

Holder Emphasizes 11 Dead When Discussing DOJ Investigation of BP Disaster

While it is not news that DOJ is conducting an investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Eric Holder’s speech in New Orleans about the spill reiterated that DOJ is doing so. I’m most interested in the particular emphasis Holder placed on the 11 men who died in the explosion.

There is one thing I will not let be forgotten in this incident: In addition to the extensive costs being borne by our environment and by communities along the Gulf Coast, the initial explosion and fire also took the lives of 11 rig workers. Eleven innocent lives lost. As we examine the causes of the explosion and subsequent spill, I want to assure the American people that we will not forget the price those workers paid.

True, Holder focused primarily on civil liability and named statutes that focus on fines. But he also said that Department attorneys were reviewing “other traditional criminal statutes” with regard to the accident, which might include things like negligent homicide (bmaz described negligent and reckless homicide, as well as other relevant statutes, in this post). (This would be particularly useful, IMO, as an HJC hearing last week made it clear that there were some limits to the support BP can be made to pay the families of those who died.)

Mind you, as always with this Administration, I’m not holding my breath. But given the mounting evidence that BP was using a negligent well design and proceeded with attempts to close the well in spite of signs of looming disaster, I do hope DOJ gives due consideration to the deaths that such corporate negligence may have caused. Treating those 11 deaths with the seriousness it deserves may well be the only thing that might teach BP a lesson here.

BP’s LMRP: Claws, Craws, Saws and Jaws

As you undoubtedly know by now, BP has failed miserably at every “fix” they have attempted so far. There is growing evidence of what a total sham exists in the craven use by BP of any number of subsidiaries to insulate itself from criminal and civil liability.

But right now the focus is on the ongoing LMRP attempt that BP now is warning could drag on from four days to a week. Many of you have been keeping up the monitoring of this back on the previous Top Hat and Tails: BP Has Yet Another “Solution” thread from Sunday. Please continue that discussion and reporting here.

One other thing I would like to point out; despite making a big dog and pony show of its commitment to speak with a single voice, Thad Allen, and quit making a media show of parading a series of Cabinet Officers down to the Gulf in a vain attempt to look like they are on top of things, the Obama Administration is …. wait for it …. making a media show of sending Attorney General Eric Holder down to the Gulf to make it look like they are on top of things. From Reuters:

Attorney General Eric Holder will survey the damage from the Gulf Coast oil spill on Tuesday and meet with federal prosecutors and state attorneys general, the Justice Department said on Monday.
After a tour and briefing by the U.S. Coast Guard, Holder will meet with the state attorneys general from Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi as well as U.S. attorneys from those states. Holder is also scheduled to speak to reporters in New Orleans.

The Justice Department has already demanded that the companies involved in the spill, including BP Plc, Transocean Ltd and Halliburton Co to preserve paperwork related to the accident that could become part of an investigation.

Experts have said the Justice Department was likely eyeing potential violations of the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Refuse Act.

Notice what is missing from that last paragraph? There is no mention of prosecution under the negligent and/or reckless provisions of the Federal manslaughter law for the eleven deaths occurring on Deepwater Horizon as a result of BP’s willful and wanton conduct. The article mentions the deaths, but the Obama Administration and Holder DOJ never does. When it comes to talk of potential accountability, it is like the eleven deaths never happened to the Obama Administration. But hey, there are business interests and military fuel contracts they must protect and, clearly, that takes precedence for this Administration.

[Graphic – BP: Broken Promises. Logo design by Foye 2010 submitted as part of the Art For Change BP Logo Redesign Contest and used with permission]

BP Adopts the Public Face of Dick Cheney

I mean that headline more metaphorically than literally. But I do find it really really telling–and really really bad taste–that BP just hired Cheney’s former campaign press flack, Anne Womack-Kolton, to head its American media relations.

BP has hired a former top aide for Vice President Dick Cheney to be their new spokeswoman. Anne Womack-Kolton has been hired to be “head of U.S. media relations.” A rising star in the Bush-Cheney White House since the 2000 campaign, Womack-Kolton served as Cheney’s press secretary during the 2004 election before running public affairs in the Bush Department of Energy.

Now Reuters, which first reported this, paints the move as an effort to better respond to the overwhelming influx of inquiries. But I wonder if there isn’t something more to this.

First, as this DKos diary notes, Womack-Kolton had the honor of defending Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force, particularly its secrecy.

Administration spokeswoman Anne Womack responded to the GAO lawsuit by sounding the same righteous tone: “We are ready to defend our principles in court. This goes to the heart of the presidency and to the ability of the president and vice president to receive candid, discreet advice.”

Then there’s the legal nuance of this. Womack-Kolton was working for Brunswick Group, which BP retained as early as May 4. So she’s basically just moving in-house from the crisis communication firm that BP had already hired. Perhaps this is a testament to BP’s need to get better coordination in-house. But I can’t help but wonder whether there’s some other reason. Does being a BP employee as opposed to a consultant’s employee change Womack-Kolton’s legal protection, for example, during upcoming lawsuits?

Whatever the reason for bringing Dick Cheney’s own flack in-house, perhaps this will bring a new level of honesty to BP’s response. What could be more honest, after all, then putting Dick Cheney’s face on this disaster?

Cheney photo Copyright World Economic Forum ( by Jean-Bernard Sieber

BP Criminal Liability Working Thread

Jason Leopold and I have both been going head on at the DOJ and Obama Administration over the issue of criminal treatment for BP and its actions in causing the Gulf disaster; see: here, here, here and here. One of the thoughts has regarded the DOJ’s ability to leverage one or both of the Federal criminal probation matters BP is currently operating under for past crimes.

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.

The key to unlocking where we stand on this is understanding the exact relationship, and how clearly defined it is, between the parent company “BP Plc.”, the Texas City criminal defendant entity “BP Products North America Inc.” and the Alaska criminal defendant entity “BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. Also, what exact names are on the permits and leases for the Macondo well project? How do all these fit together and can we pierce these alter egos and reasonably argue that the parent entity BP Plc. is legally, including criminally, liable for all?

So this is a crowdsourcing game for one and all that are interested in helping. If we can dissect this bull manure for the cute liability dodge sham it is, maybe we can gain some traction. Put any thoughts, links, cites and results of your work in the comments. Many of you are a lot better at drilling into corporate entities than I am, so thanks for the help!

Top Hat and Tails; BP Has Yet Another “Solution”

Now that this is an all oil all the time blog, the restless residents are clamoring for a new thread for the LMRP, the latest greatest bullshit moonshot BP is ginning up for the gullible media and public. You ask, we comply; this is a full service blog!

Here is a quick recap. Top Kill failed. Junk Shot failed. Top Kill and Junk Shot combined failed. The only thing BP has been successful at is failure, but they are very good at failure. There is a very good chance the key to all this failure is contained in this quote buried in the lower half of an article by oil and gas industry publication Upstream Online:

Flow from the Macondo well is not travelling up the main well bore, BP operations boss Doug Suttles said Tuesday, a revelation that supports theories that a cement failure played a part in the blowout.

“We actually believe the flow path is between two strings of the casing and not up the main wellbore,” Suttles said.

Suttles said BP could not be certain of the flow path but diagnostic tests on the well seem to indicate the flow is not coming up main bore.

A veteran industry source told UpstreamOnline that the news about the flow path “almost certainly confirms” what many suspected, that problems with the annular cement around the production casing played a part in the blowout.

The well itself has no structural integrity; it has not from the outset. The well was doomed to blow out and all these hair brained fixes BP has hucked to the clueless media and public were doomed to fail as well. This has been an insane ostrich head in the sand process, apparently all to salve a pissed public and angry mother nature because BP and the government have got nothing else and they know it.

The latest greatest pie in the sky dream fix is LMRP, which technically stands for Lower Marine Riser Package. It is the new and improved Top Hat! Here is a diagram of the LMRP plan.

Here is my question: How the heck is this going to work if the well itself – the casing, seals, cement and well walls – is not intact, which we know it is not as to all of said factors? LMRP may further choke or restrict the flow, but it strikes me it cannot, and will not, stop it; and the resulting back pressure could exacerbate other inherent problems. We have been led to believe all the oil being lost is through the BOP, and such is the only video evidence we have been provided by the unified disaster response command. However, there is no evidentiary proof such is the case, and we have been intentionally prohibited from seeing the full scope of what is going on down there at the Macondo well bore.

Secondly, the existence of decent flow through the wounded BOP has kept well pressure from building up and really blowing out the well bore. When you cap such a compromised well bore with either the LMRP or the “new BOP”, even assuming they can really pull either of those off as BP claims (and the fuckers have not been right about any of their half assed ideas yet), then you will block the pressure vent that has kept the well bore itself from further eroding and being further seriously compromised.

As even Obama Administration flak Carol Browner now admits, the only real hope for stopping the oil flow of the biggest environmental disaster in history comes from the relief wells being drilled. But they can not be completed until sometime in August at best (hey, did you know hurricane season is on its way?), and BP has ceased work on one of the two relief wells because they may want to pirate the BOP from that effort to further jerry rig the Macondo well head by putting it on top of the current broken BOP. The sheer willful and wanton incompetence from both BP and the government continues unabated. Also, from the same link:

Congressman Ed Markey, who forced BP to make available a live video feed of the oil leak, said Sunday he had “no confidence whatsoever in BP.”

“BP has been making it up as they go along the whole way,” he said on “Face the Nation.” I don’t think that people should really believe what BP are saying.”

No shit Sherlock. LMRP, the latest version of “Top Hat”, is just another song and dance. And people laughed at Dr. Sludgelove’s bomb.

UPDATE: Henry Waxman, Bart Stupak and the Energy and Commerce Committee have made a notable document dump:

Committee Releases Memo & Documents Concerning Issues Raised in Recent News Media Accounts Related to the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Sunday, 30 May 2010 15:06

Today, the Committee on Energy & Commerce released a memo and documents concerning issues raised in recent news media accounts related to the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.

Yesterday, The New York Times published an article entitled “Documents Show Earlier Fears About Safety of Offshore Well.” The article described documents from BP that, according to The New York Times, “show serious problems and safety concerns with the Deepwater Horizon rig.”

Some members have asked whether we were the source of the documents cited by The New York Times and whether they can review the documents. We were not the source of the documents, but we have been able to identify most of the documents mentioned in the article. We are providing them to the members as attachments to this memorandum.

Some of these are technical documents about well design. Others are documents that raise questions, but their connection to the blowout, if any, require additional investigation. The Committee staff is continuing its investigation of these issues.


Memo from Chairmen Henry A. Waxman and Bart Stupak

Evaluation of Casing Design Basis for Macondo Prospect, May 14, 2009

GoM Exploration Wells, Appendix F, Jan 2010

BP Email, March 12, 2010

BP Emails, March 10, 2010

BP Emails, February 8, 2010

BP Emails, November 17, 2009

BP Criminals In The Gulf

The major media and rest of the country are catching on to what should have been patently obvious from the start, i.e. the discharge from the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Mississippi Canyon offshore oilfield in the Gulf of Mexico is many factors larger than was being disclosed by either the relentlessly dishonest BP or the US government partnering with them in the disaster response. But while the public attention has been focused on the Top Kill well closure attempt and the mind numbing spill cam BP was finally forced to “allow” the public to see, hearings have been proceeding in not only Congress as covered by Emptywheel (see here and here), but also in Kenner Louisiana in front of a joint Coast Guard/MMS Federal inquiry board.

There have been startling revelations, especially out of the Kenner joint inquiry. The New Orleans Times Picayune is once again on a path to a Pulitzer for their disaster coverage and has given comprehensive coverage from Kenner and The Hill in Washington. Here are some items from the evidence set being adduced in Kenner and Congress:

The failed blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig had a hydraulic leak and a dead battery in one of its control pods, and testing in the hours before an April 20 explosion revealed that pressure in the well was dangerously out of whack.

While some data were being transmitted to shore for safekeeping right up until the April 20 blast, officials from Transocean, the rig owner, told Congress that the last seven hours of its data are missing and that all written logs were lost in the explosion.

Heavy drilling fluid was unconscionably replaced with lighter seawater against industry standards just prior to the blowout. Over heated objections by experts on the scene, BP management supervisors overruled drillers, and insisted on displacing the mud with seawater

The broken blow out preventer had not been inspected in over five years.

BP was in a severe economic and time crunch to finish the job quickly and were over six weeks behind schedule.

Immediately leading up to the explosion, BP used procedures that violated their own drill plan; and in spite of indications of a “very large abnormality,” kept testing until they got something they could disingenuously claim fulfilled the test.

BP management supervisors refused to run the comprehensive cement bond log test, a definitive test of the integrity of a well’s cement mandated by Federal Regulations if there are concerns with the results of negative and positive pressure Read more

The Official Flow Rate: 12,000-19,000 BBL/Day

The head of the USGS just did a press conference to announce the government’s official estimate of how much oil is flowing into the Gulf. The official estimate is that the flow rate is 12,000-19,000 BBL/day.

To get the estimate, the team used two different methodologies, then adopted the rate of overlap between the two methodologies: One team calculated how much oil is on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, using data collected from NASA on May 17. It estimated that between 130,000 – 270,000 BBL of oil were on the surface on May 17. In addition to what is on the surface, the team calculated that a similar volume has been burned, skimmed, or evaporated. It’s initial estimate based on the estimate of how much oil was on the surface gave a rate of release of 12,000-19,000 BBL/day.

The second team developed an estimate by observing the flow video and estimating the fluid velocity and volume. This methodology was limited because it had a limited window of data to choose from (and it sounds like they didn’t get good quality video until the last week and a half). This team then estimated how much was oil, gas, hydrates and water. It’s lowerbound estimate was 12,000-25,000 BBL/day.

The team as a whole then checked these results by estimating what was coming out of each leak, which came up with the 12,000-19,000 range.

McNutt made two caveats before announcing the amount.

  • Administration response has been based on worst case scenario (she seemed to want to suggest that the response wasn’t hindered by bad estimates from BP).
  • The numbers are still preliminary–the scientists are getting new data.

Interestingly, one thing McNutt noted is that about 75% of the volume coming out of the pipe was gas.

BP’s Own Internal Documents Prove It Knew Its Oil Leak Estimates Were Bogus

In today’s Natural Resources Hearing on the BP Disaster, Ed Markey brought out proof that BP knew it was lying about the flow of oil from its disaster. He brought two BP documents showing that even when their Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles was giving low-ball estimates of 1,000 BBL/day, BP’s own internal documents showed that their best guess was 5,758 BBL/day.

The fact is BP has not been entirely candid and open with the American people about this disaster. Mr. Secretary, initially, BP estimated that 1,000 barrels of oil per day were leaking into the Gulf. On April 28, 2010, a new leak was discovered and Coast Guard officials pushed BP to increase the estimate to at least 5,000 barrels per day. However, BP’s Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles was initially quoted that day–April 28–saying that he believed that the flow rate of 1,000 barrels per day was accurate and that “Due to its location, we do not believe that this new leak changes the amount currently believed to be released.”

Yesterday, BP provided me with an internal document dated April 27, 2010, and cited as BP Confidential that shows a low estimate, a best guess, and a high estimate of the amount of oil that was leaking. According to this BP document, the company’s low estimate of the leak on April 27 was 1,063 barrels per day. It’s best guess was 5,758 barrels per day. It’s high estimate was 14,266 barrels per day. BP has also turned over another document dated April 26 which includes a 5,000 barrel per day figure as well. So when BP was citing the 1,000 barrel per day figure to the American people on April 28, their own internal documents from the day before show that their best guess was a leak of 5,768 [sic] barrels per day and their high estimate was more than 14,000 barrels that were spilling into the Gulf every day. [my emphasis]

As Markey goes on to point out, BP’s intentional low-balling might have been designed to help them argue for a $5-15 million penalty per day as opposed to a $14-42 million penalty.

Secretary Salazar promised several times during the hearing that the government would release its own estimate of the flow sometime today.