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A Gusher of Light Sweet Terror

by BobHiggins Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 04:18:04 PM EST

Originally posted at my site Bob Higgins

"We need to be realistic about operating in a mile of water"

Tony Hayward, the cherubic little weasel who serves as the front man for British Petroleum, BP, Beyond Pathetic or whatever they are calling their 'brand' this week, made the statement above, on camera to reporters while standing on an oil fouled Louisiana beach a couple of weeks ago.

Earlier that day I had a fairly heated argument with an elderly acquaintance who recently became enraptured by the 'Teabaggers.' This giddy political infatuation has had the gruesome effect of making him more of a pain in the ass than he was previously.  At one point in the 'discussion' he asked me why BP was drilling at 5000 feet below the surface and I told him that most of the 'easy oil' has been used up and drilling is increasingly taking place in ever riskier and more technologically challenging sites.

His angry retort was 'Bullshit, the tree huggers won't let them drill in shallow water.'

I tried to point out that there are nearly 4000 active oil platforms in the Gulf at depths ranging from a few feet to more than two miles but it was like talking to a wall... or a Teabagger; I gave up and drank my beer.

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are:

'I'm from the government and I'm here to help."

Ronald Reagan used the line above at campaign stops from coast to coast during the 1980 election and all the yokels got a big kick out of it.  By yokels I mean the thirty percent of the electorate that believes in free markets, creationism, drill baby drill and the Tooth Fairy.

Yokels, the people who appeared as 'hard hats,' the 'silent majority' who supported the war in Vietnam and Nixon's 'peace with honor,' then morphed into anti government Reaganites, who stood and saluted when they heard the quote above. It was the same crowd, following the same 'message' of 'get big gubament off our backs' that became backers of the Cheney/Bush administration and today get all gooey eyed in the presence of knuckleheads like Sarah Palin, Glen Beck, Michelle Bachman and other purveyors of far right quackery.

You know them ... yokels.

For more than thirty years I've watched the antics of this crowd of semi literate, anti social yahoos as they resisted every social program, every attempt by government to regulate the excesses of business, fought against civil rights and equal rights for women against every scientific step forward, and created a dangerously toxic atmosphere of nativist intolerance, jingoistic American exceptionalism and anti intellectualism that today clouds every corner of our public discourse from the halls of congress to the corner tavern.

After the OPEC blockade of 73-74 many people awoke to the realities and dangers of our near total dependence on oil and fossil fuels and turned their thoughts and efforts toward renewable energy solutions like solar, wind and geothermal. Visionaries of the time even spoke of tidal and wave energy as future sources; this was thirty five years ago.

Upon taking up residence in the White House Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the roof, spoke out on behalf of a national energy policy, expanded the strategic petroleum reserve and began to lead the dialogue on America's renewable energy future.  I began to hope that we were finally boarding the right train.

And then the yokels, led by their noses by the oil driven and money hungry business community and an out of control defense establishment elected Ronald Reagan.

"Trees cause more pollution than automobiles," declared Reagan; then, in a classic example of leading from the front, he had the solar panels removed from his roof. It was a clear statement that would set the tone for future energy policy and place control of the game in the hands of the energy moguls.

Control of the nation's energy 'policy' by corporations solidified with the election of the Cheney/Bush administration, a time when the oiligarchs of 'Cheney's 'Energy Task Force' were practically installed in offices down the hall from the Co-President from Halliburton.

And then along came al Qaeda.

A glance through the headlines of the last month or any equal period in the last decade should reveal an enemy far more sinister and dangerous than anyone fitting some stereotypical profile of the swarthy Middle Eastern zealot with bombs in his shoes, anthrax laced baby powder or incendiary skivvies.

No terrorist or terrorist organization has ever dreamed and certainly never succeeded in wreaking the financial havoc on this country, and the world at large, as have the bankers and brokers of our 'business' community. (For those old and unlucky enough to remember 1929; this was their second shot at our destruction) The harm caused by their carefully crafted schemes to enrich themselves at the expense of citizens, taxpayers,and their own shareholders and customers exceed by orders of magnitude anything conjured up by the most fanciful "terror movie of the week" screenwriter.

No terrorist in memory has managed to pull off the environmental damage and potential suffering of BP's epic fouling of one of the world's most productive, beautiful and important bodies of water in a toxic spill caused by a sordid combination of institutional negligence, criminal penny pinching, regulatory corruption, and felonious irresponsibility.

"But the terrorists killed almost 3000 of our citizens on 9/11," you may say.

How many people died and are still dying due to Union Carbide's crimes in Bhopal. How many died and are still dying in Nigeria, in Ecuador and dozens of other locations on nearly every continent due to the criminal behavior of large corporations.

The unholy collusion between insurance companies, their lobbyists, the US Chamber of Commerce and the resulting lack of health insurance for forty million of our people kills an estimated 45,000 people every year and I have seen no "War on Insurance Companies."

Faisal Shahzad, the "wanna bomber" whose almost comically bungled attempt to plant a car bomb in Times Square fizzled in every way, occupied the bubble heads of cable news for weeks. In terms of actual destruction his caper was a big zilch but it completely upstaged the gushing toxic plume that even then was spreading inexorably through the Gulf of Mexico and now threatens the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions and the ecosystem of most of our southern coast.

I would like someone to spend a day on a research project for which there will be no reward but my profound gratitude:

  1. Take out a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle creating two columns. Label one column 'Terrorists' and the other 'Corporations.'

  2. Now, using Google and the Internet and beginning with the year 1950 or 1984 (Bhopal) or any date of your choosing,list all the acts, events, 'accidents' and crimes historically attributed to corporations or terrorists and enter them on your paper in the appropriate column.

I've done this as a thought experiment (I'm too lazy and disorganized to write the list) and when I have, the same pattern always emerges. Large corporations are more dangerous, by far, than al Qaeda or any other non state terrorist groups that you can name... in the aggregate.

This brings to mind the often misquoted line from the bandit in the Huston/ Bogart classic 'Treasure of the Sierra Madre: ''We don't need no badges.'

Real life villains don't always fit the visual bill as if sent over from the casting department. The real villains aren't necessarily swarthy, shifty eyed guys wearing turbans or sombreros, swinging from monkey bars with AK's in their teeth, draped with bandoleers of bullets. Most of the really, really bad guys look like Tony Hayward, like shitweasels with silk neckties, Gucci shoes and MBAs.

Terrorists, who needs them? Corporations are doing a better, far more efficient job of destroying the world, its economy, its ecology and its people than a bunch of 'stinking' terrorists.

Bob Higgins

Politico: Obama: Gulf spill 'echoes 9/11' (6/13/10)
"In the same way that our view of our vulnerabilities and our foreign policy was shaped profoundly by 9/11," the president said in an Oval Office interview on Friday, "I think this disaster is going to shape how we think about the environment and energy for many years to come."

Previewing his message for the midterm congressional elections in November, the president said: "[T]he Democrats in Congress have taken tougher votes, have worked harder under more stressful circumstances, than just about any Congress in our memory. And they've done a great job and deserve reelection."

"So I'm going to be fighting on their behalf and doing everything I can and using my bully pulpit to communicate that fact to the American people," he said. "I know there's an anti-incumbent mood out there right now because ... people are frustrated about the hit that the economy has taken. ... But what I'm going to remind people of is we didn't create this mess. And this Congress responded forcefully at a time when this economy really could have fallen off a cliff."

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 04:42:58 PM EST
He ain't gonna do shit.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 06:09:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He's been doing jack shit for over a month!
by US Blues on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 07:15:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure he will.  He'll bullshit America in an attempt to save his bullshit administration.  His only solid supporters are now the blacks.  Hell, he could easily get a primary challenge from a real Progressive and we could end up with ... PALIN in 2012!!  Oh fun!!

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 05:29:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
well what can he do now except suck it up?


it's funny, but events may make obama work closer to his campaign agenda than any political action.

if this keeps gushing, his go-ahead to more deep drills even after the 'accident' seems almost an impeachable level of treason.

but being america, the fact that there's no blue dress will prolly make it ok, even as the whole south coast is skirted in black.

nice writing, bob, you thoroughly nailed it.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 05:35:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Civil fine in Gulf spill could be $4,300 barrel   Reuters  May 26, 2010

A clause buried deep in the U.S. Clean Water Act may expose BP and others to civil fines that aren't limited to any finite cap -- unlike a $75 million limit on compensation for economic damages. The Act allows the government to seek civil penalties in court for every drop of oil that spills into U.S. navigable waters, including the area of BP's leaking well.

As a result, the U.S. government could seek to fine BP or others up to $4,300 for every barrel leaked into the U.S. Gulf, according to legal experts and official documents.


Under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency can seek in federal court to fine any party whose negligence results in an oil spill in U.S. federal waters.

Other companies involved at the Horizon platform and the oilfield could share liability with BP, experts said. They include rig-owner Transocean Ltd, cementing contractor Halliburton Co., blowout preventer manufacturer Cameron, and Anadarko and Mitsui, which also hold stakes in the oilfield.


The basic fine, according to the act, is $1,100 per barrel spilled. But the penalty can rise to $4,300 a barrel if a federal court rules the spill resulted from gross negligence. The fines were originally set at $1,000 to $3,000 but that was raised in 2004 to keep up with inflation, according to Tracy Hester, head of the Environmental Law and Policy program at the University of Houston.

(To see an EPA memo on 2004 revisions to penalties outlined in the Clean Water Act, click: here)(PDF)

It is unclear, however, that the EPA would try to apply the fines, or seek maximum penalty levels. EPA officials did not respond to several calls and e-mails requesting comment.

At $4300/bbl, 40,000bbl/day and 30 days/month this comes to $5.16 billion per month. In another 6 days that will be $10.32 billion, just in fines. Today, (Monday), congress released a letter to BP CEO Hayward. I think the potential for negligence is massively clear:

Congress blames BP cost-cutting for Gulf oil leak disaster   McClatchey

 WASHINGTON -- BP knew its Macondo well was troublesome in the days leading up to a fatal April 20 blowout, congressional investigators found, but the company "appears to have made multiple decisions for economic reasons that increased the danger of a catastrophic well failure."

From the company's uncommon well design to its fatal decision not to circulate drilling mud, which could have cleared out pockets of gas, and the lack of critical testing, which could have pinpointed problems with its cementing, the company had many points at which it could have prevented an explosion, investigators with the House Energy and Commerce Committee have found.

Instead, the company violated industry guidelines and proceeded "despite warnings from BP's own personnel and its contractors," said the chairman of the committee, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and the chairman of the investigative subcommittee that handled the probe, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich.

Those decisions led to 11 deaths and the worst oil spill in U.S. history and will continue to have an effect on the environment and the future of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the two wrote in a letter to BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward that was released Monday.

"Time after time, it appears that BP made decisions that increased the risk of a blowout to save the company time or expense," they wrote. "If this is what happened, BP's carelessness and complacency have inflicted a heavy toll on the Gulf, its inhabitants and the workers on the rig."

Tony Hayward has lamented that he wants his life back. It looks like he soon might get the opportunity to swim for it as he and his life are flushed down the toilet in Washington straight to the well head in the Gulf.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 10:54:55 PM EST
I saw a report of an engineer in the control room of Deepwater Horizon after the explosion. He was on the phone to Houston and was screaming into the phone:"The rig is on fire! I told you this could happen! Are you fucking happy now?! Are you fucking happy now!?" He was ordered off the bridge. Can't wait till he testifies before Congress.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jun 14th, 2010 at 11:00:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not convinced that it's a good idea to go after BP for this. They are a handy scapegoat, but the energy spent demonizing them should be spent on trying to change our wasteful habits.

  • What if it had been one of the many small operators out there, instead of one of the biggest? Then we would be watching the Coast Guard trying to do something about the leak with their 40 year old launches and 30 year old helicopters.

  • If BP goes broke, its assets will be up for sale. Pretty good chance that China would get them.

You might ask what company has enough cash, and enough desire for BP's global oil assets, to take on the risks of all those future claims.

Well, how about PetroChina -- a company with a market cap more than twice that of BP at current prices? It is the publicly traded unit of the state-owned China National Petroleum Corp. Not only does it have $6 billion in cash on their balance sheet, it also has access to the nearly $1 trillion in U.S. dollars now held by the central bank of China (mostly in the form of U.S. Treasury bills and other government securities, currently yielding less than 0.25 percent).

If you were PetroChina and saw a tempting half-price sale on BP's $236 billion in assets, wouldn't you be asking your parent company, the Central Bank of China, to ante up some cash? And wouldn't it be a better deal for China to buy proven reserves and refineries at a discount, than to hold on to U.S. IOUs while the Fed prints more money and promises to keep rates low?


by asdf on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 12:15:43 AM EST
No chance China gets them in a bipolar world.

Qatar or (less likely) Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds, maybe.

Petrobras is the only industry candidate, I think. They are planning a very interesting deal with their government whereby Petrobras issues new equity to their government in exchange for rights granted by the government over 5bn barrels of oil in the new offshore field.

That would beef up their balance sheet nicely. No price per barrel set yet. It's not a million miles away from the 'unitisation' of production I advocate.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 10:08:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In a better world the US Government would intervene in any sale of BP assets to preserve the ability of BP to pay for the harm it has caused. If BP is to be unitized it should be with a clean-up trust fund as the beneficiary of the revenue from BP assets world wide to the extent feasible.

We have already heard hue and cry about the pensioners who depend on BP dividends. Bullshit! That noise surely is emanating mostly from large, wealthy shareholders. The response should be to compensate shareholders, but with a cap on individual holdings of $25,000-$50,000 with nothing going to individuals with total retirement accounts over $250,000 or who are more than 10 years away from retirement. It is insanity for someone in retirement or close to it to have a large portion of their funds in a high return/high risk investment like BP. I guess no one learned anything from Enron.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 11:12:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
shareholders already should have known that petro-carbons are poison, and thus the risk is theirs and theirs alone. Gramma, pension fund, and hedge raider alike.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 01:37:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's no pension problem that can't be solved with higher general pensions.

This costs money of course, so to bankroll higher pensions some British luxury spending will have to be cut. Like the war in Afghanistan.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 06:40:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Its very doubtful that a 'small' operator would have the resources to drill a mile beneath the surface. The Transocean rig was leased by BP at a half million bucks a day.

Some insight into the massive fuckups that led to the explosion, fire and sinking of the Horizon may be found in the fact that at the time of the incident the operation was 43 days behind schedule.

Thanks to all for taking time to comment.

Bob Higgins


by BobHiggins (rlh974@yahoo.com) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 04:37:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's not what it says here.

the implication of changes to liability levels and also liquidity tests being considered could reduce the number of qualified operators in the Gulf of Mexico from over 100 down to three - BP, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell.

http://blogs.ft.com/energy-source/2010/06/15/small-gulf-operators-could-be-barred-by-higher-barriers /

by asdf on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 10:52:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, BP is too big to get broken as well?

The way it looks now is that the Gulf is BP's backyard, and the US government and citizen are BP's tenants. I would expect at least some assertion of legal authority or sovereignty. In private, BP could be assured of government's best will, but there should be some public looks of responsibility pressure. Yet the public looks are the opposite: BP is in charge while the federal government plays a fool.

Very likely, this leek is beyond available technology to shut down because of immense well pressure. That would explain some of Obama's dispassion. But then, wouldn't it be time to discuss: How much risk should we allow to oil companies? What are common riches and "outsider" interests, and what are means of protecting them? Are we such woosies that no politician would raise a voice?

by das monde on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 12:03:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1.  BP, facing fines, lawsuits, and criminal charges, moves its assets off-book and files for bankruptcy.  When the books are opened in court BP is shown to have no assets to speak of, and its creditors are hung out to dry.  There is no clean-up, and victims of the spill get nothing.  

  2.  (More likely)  BP turns out to be too big to fail.  The US Government gives BP 1 - 2 trillion dollars (fresh borrowed and fresh printed from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) to pay for the clean-up.  Tony Heyward pays himself and his top managers multi-million dollar bonuses for all their hard work (of lying daily to the public for the duration of the spill).  The rest of the money goes for the clean-up, which does not, however, result in any oil actually being cleaned up.  

The Fates are kind.
by Gaianne on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 01:21:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BP Seriously Just Purchased 32 Oil Cleanup Machines From Kevin Costner

How desperate is BP? CEO Doug Suttles finally agreed to purchase 32 of the miracle oil-cleanup machines touted weeks ago by Kevin Costner, according to ABC News.

"We were confident the technology would work but we needed to test it at the extremes. We've done that and are excited by the results," said Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer. "We are very pleased with the results and today we have placed a significant order with OTS [Costner's Ocean Therapy Solutions] and will be working with them to rapidly manufacture and deploy 32 of their machines."

The Waterworld actor was so appalled by Exxon-Valdez that he spent $20 million of his own money to develop a centrifuge that separates oil from water. His company, Costner's Ocean Therapy Solutions, is not a joke.

Says Costner: "If 20 of my V20s [machines] would have been at the Exxon Valdez, 90 percent of that oil would have been cleaned up within the week."

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 04:08:07 PM EST
Buying spill cleanup equipment is not a sign of desperation by BP, it's a wise investment. When Congress expands the required list of pre-positioned resources, BP will sell Costner's patented machines to Exxon for a profit, as part of their "moving elsewhere" sell-off...
by asdf on Tue Jun 15th, 2010 at 10:54:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How desperate is BP?
....is WSJ snark, in part. But, in fact, just now they desperately need anything that will work, even if it was developed by someone they would normally view as a Hollywood left wing flake.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jun 16th, 2010 at 10:10:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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