On Thursday BP and the Coast Guard took a stealthy cruise in the Gulf of Mexico to look for oil leaking from the site of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe. Thatâ€™s right, two and a half years after the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, oil is still leaking near the infamous Macondo well. A miles-long oil sheen was spotted 50 miles off the Louisiana coast in September.
And, reminiscent of the early days of the disaster, BP is again not making the scope of the problem clear, according to Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA.) who, along with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), has repeatedly asked BP for underwater video and information regarding the size of the slicks. BP has denied those requests citing ongoing litigation.
"Back in 2010, I said BP was either lying or incompetent. Well, it turns out they were both,â€ť said Markey. â€śThis is the same crime scene, and the American public today is entitled to the same information that BP was lying about in 2010 so that we can understand the full dimension of the additional environmental damage."
Last month, BP settled its criminal penalties with the federal government for $4.5 billion. This settlement was a fraction of what it could have been, and Oceana has determined that BP still rightfully owes the American taxpayer as much as $50 billion for additional violations of the law and for the devastation wrought by the 2010 spill.
Now BP faces civil charges and potentially tens of billions of dollars in natural resource damages. If the Justice Department is truly serious about holding BP accountable for its actions in the Gulf, it should pursue those charges in full.
In the meantime, BP needs to make sure crude oil stops leaking into this sensitive ecosystem and most of all it needs to level with the public about what is happening in the Gulf.
This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post.
There has been a lot of news lately about whether BP will settle all of the legal claims against it stemming from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe two years ago, or whether the company will end up in court. As is typical of most things surrounding the oil spill issue, much of the information that has come out in recent weeks has done little more than muddy the waters.
First of all, despite a settlement announced late last Friday, most of the legal claims against BP have not been settled. The recent $7.8 billion settlement only represents the private injury claims brought by local residents, fishermen, tourism companies, and the like whose businesses and livelihoods were devastated by the oil spill. That's important, but it's not even close to half of the story. The remaining claims -- what BP owes the American people -- could amount to many times that amount.
BP has yet to settle with the Federal Government, which represents "we the people," and it hasn't settled with the affected states. The Feds have already brought one suit seeking civil penalties and natural resource damages from BP, and could bring more in the future. Estimates of the total amount that BP owes us just for those federal claims have varied from $20 to $60 billion.
These numbers might seem large, but the truth is they don't come close to the total amount that BP could -- and should -- be required to pay. Our nation's environmental laws allow the Justice Department to seek damages and penalties against BP that could be as high as $90 billion. But recent discussions in the press of a possible future settlement between BP and the Federal Government have focused on much lower amounts in the $20-25 billion range. Compared to what BP could be asked to pay -- and what we have the right to demand -- that's not a deal the American people should be happy about.
To help add some clarity to these numbers, here are a few of the key components that will be decided either through a trial, or by an agreement between BP and the Justice Department:
A new federal report into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico has found that BP took multiple serious shortcuts in exploratory drilling and that the operation was behind schedule and over budget. This conclusion echoes the results of previous investigations, including the January report by national commission on the oil spill.
The report also reiterated concerns about the use of blowout preventers, which are meant to be a final defense against oil rig disasters. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon spill, the blowout preventer mechanism was weakened by a failure in the drill pipe, which connects the surface rig to the well. This pipe, which spanned 5,000 feet, possibly buckled because it was simply too heavy to support itself.
Oceana has released a response calling for an end to new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the new report.
"This report confirms that bad decisions and improper, risky actions were at the root of the accident," said senior campaign director Jackie Savitz. "All deepwater drilling activities would, by their nature, also have thousands of feet of drill pipe, and could be vulnerable to the same danger."
Other fatal shortcuts cited in the report include cement failure at the base of the well, last-minute changes in drilling plans, insufficient emergency planning, and numerous violations of federal regulations governing oil well management.
After the Gulf oil spill happened, people demanded numbers. They wanted to know animal mortality numbers and dollar signs to understand the worst environmental disaster in our nationâ€™s history.
The problem is that the extent of this spill was so huge and so many animals and people were affected that itâ€™s hard to quantify. But some recent numbers help show how widespread the impacts have been.
So far BP has set aside $20 billion for spill impacts, and it has just been released that they paid out $5 billion of that amount in damages to over 200,000 people in the last year, with an additional $1.5 billion going to cleanup and restoration.
Many more people are claiming damages, with a total of close to 1 million claims being processed from people in all 50 states and 36 different nations, with thousands more claims coming in each week.
How could a spill in the Gulf possibly affect over a million people in such far reaching places? The answer is that the Gulf of Mexico isnâ€™t just an oil and gas depot, it is used for many activities besides drilling that employ thousands of people in fishing and tourism related jobs. As a result, the economic impacts of the spill have been felt around the world.
With the anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill still fresh in our minds, the first quarter of 2011 could turn out to be one of the oil industryâ€™s most profitable ever. BP said yesterday it expects to resume drilling in the gulf in the second half of this year.
And thatâ€™s not all. As a result of soaring oil prices, the company also said that its net profits rose 17 percent in the first quarter to $7.1 billion. (In a slight consolation, BPâ€™s profit fell 2 percent when compared with the first quarter of 2010, not counting a surge in the value of the companyâ€™s inventory.)
As Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in response to this news:
â€śWhen BP makes billions in profits, even after the year they just had, you know itâ€™s time to cap the gusher of tax breaks that have been subsidizing the biggest oil companies for decades.â€ť
We couldnâ€™t agree more. Tell Congress to support clean energy legislation, not more dirty drilling.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana. You can follow him on Twitter @Oceana_Andy.
Nearly a year has passed since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and began a three-month-long oil spill. In the later months of last year, after the gushing oil well had finally been capped, some people â€“ politicians and TV talking heads, really â€“ tried to convince Americans that the Gulf had recovered.
Itâ€™s true that we still donâ€™t know the extent of the damage wrought by last summerâ€™s oil disaster. The subsurface gusher created a whole new scientific challenge when it came to understanding exactly what was going on. And weâ€™ve said that it would be years before we understand the true cost of the disaster.
Just recently we got a sign that not is all well in the Gulf. Since January, more than 80 bottlenose dolphins have turned up dead â€“ and half of those are newborn or stillborn calves. The government is calling it â€śan unusual mortality event.â€ť
Jackie Savitz is Oceana's Senior Campaign Director for Pollution Programs. This post originally appeared at the Huffington Post.
In the 7,000-word State of the Union, President Obama seemed to leave out two letters that loomed large in 2010. "B" and "P" -- the initials of the company that destroyed the lives and livelihoods of Gulf of Mexico residents and did immeasurable destruction to Gulf ecosystems.
But BP was there in spirit. Its campaign contributions helped get many members of Congress and Senators elected, it was implicated in the oil industry effort to paper Washington, D.C. metro stations with ads, and just the day before, the halls of Congress were filled with lobbyists and others clamoring for seats at the Oil Spill Commission hearings.
And while the President didn't say those two letters, BP was implicated in his statement that we need to get 80% of our energy from clean sources by 2035. Because who would be better than BP, a company tarred and feathered and now in need of a clean break, to help us build our clean energy portfolio so it can provide 80% of our electricity by 2035?
Almost nine months after the oil gusher began in the Gulf of Mexico, this morning the presidential commission investigating the Deepwater Horizon disaster released its final report.
The commission concludes that the oil industry was plagued by systemic problems that could lead to another accident unless major reforms are enacted by the government and the drilling companies. The panel placed blame on all three companies responsible for the well â€“ BP, Transocean and Halliburton â€“ and the government regulators responsible for overseeing them.
The panel also outlined its recommendations for regulations and practices to prevent another spill, including an increase in the budget and manpower at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, lifting the current $75 million cap on corporate liability for damages from an oil spill, and significantly strengthening the oil-spill-response capabilities in the Arctic before any new major drilling is allowed there.
Oceana CEO Andrew Sharpless had this to say about the report, (you can read his full statement here):
â€śThe Commissionâ€¦correctly concluded that the Deepwater Horizon disaster was not an isolated incident; but was indicative of a systemic failure of the oil industry and the federal regulatory agencies responsible for overseeing it.
From todayâ€™s Washington Post:
"People's outrage is focused on BP," [Anthony] Leiserowitz said. The spill "hasn't been automatically connected to some sense that there's something more fundamental wrong with our relationship with the natural world," he said.
[Leiserowitz tracks public opinion on environmental issues at Yale University.]
From yesterday's Examiner:
â€śThe spill was tragically timed for sea turtles that are nesting in the Gulf right now,â€ť said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director for the Center [for Biological Diversity]. â€śNewly hatched sea turtles are swimming out to sea and finding themselves in a mucky, oily mess. News that BP has blocked efforts to rescue trapped sea turtles before theyâ€™re burned alive in controlled burns is unacceptable.â€ť