Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Who's fault is this really?

A couple of good investigative stories hitting the bit-o-sphere that don't reflect well on BP or the Minerals Management Service. First, Abrahm Lustgarten and Ryan Knutson of Pro-Publica report that:

A series of internal investigations over the past decade warned senior BP managers that the company repeatedly disregarded safety and environmental rules and risked a serious accident if it did not change its ways.

The confidential inquiries, which have not previously been made public, focused on a rash of problems at BP's Alaska oil-drilling unit that undermined the company’s publicly proclaimed commitment to safe operations. They described instances in which management flouted safety by neglecting aging equipment, pressured or harassed employees not to report problems, and cut short or delayed inspections in order to reduce production costs. Executives were not held accountable for the failures, and some were promoted despite them.

Similar themes about BP operations elsewhere were sounded in interviews with former employees, in lawsuits and little-noticed state inquiries, and in e-mails obtained by ProPublica. Taken together, these documents portray a company that systemically ignored its own safety policies across its North American operations - from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico to California and Texas.

But as Ian Urbina tells us:

[W]hen BP officials first set their sights on extracting the oily riches under what is known as Mississippi Canyon Block 252 in the Gulf of Mexico, they asked for and received permission from federal regulators to exempt the drilling project from federal law that requires a rigorous type of environmental review, internal documents and federal records indicate. . . .

On the Deepwater Horizon, for example, the minerals agency approved a drilling plan for BP that cited the “worst case” for a blowout as one that might produce 250,000 barrels of oil per day, federal records show. But the agency did not require the rig to create a response plan for such a situation.

If a blowout were to occur, BP said in its plan, the first choice would be to use a containment dome to capture the leaking oil. But regulators did not require that a containment dome be kept on the rig to speed the response to a spill. After the rig explosion, BP took two weeks to build one on shore and three days to ship it out to sea before it was lowered over the gushing pipe on May 7. It did not work.

(The rig’s “spill response plan,” provided to The Times, includes a Web link for a contractor that goes to an Asian shopping Web site and also mentions the importance of protecting walruses, seals and sea lions, none of which inhabit the area of drilling. The agency approved the plan.)

But this is not Tony Hayward's fault, or Dick Cheney's fault. It's the fault of all of us, because we refuse to open the window and look outside our fool's paradise. Petroleum makes our world possible, and to admit that it just isn't possible any longer is to surrender all of our illusions. This catastrophe -- and it's worse than they have yet admitted -- was caused by the reckless desperation of a dying civilization. We'd rather try to wring out a last decade or two of bread and circuses by gambling the planet on a doomed quest to wring our black tar heroin from the most fragile and most perilous places, in deep denial of the risks and known consequences. And when even that final chance is gone, then what? We just refuse to look.

For a U.S. politician to propose a carbon tax, or a ban on oil drilling, or the national commitment that would really be required to transition to a sustainable energy economy before it is too damn late would be political suicide, because nobody in this narcissistic, arrogant, blockheaded country has the courage to live in reality.


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