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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/14/10

Why is BP Still in Charge?

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Message Janet Loughrey

It's been nearly two months since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. New evidence suggests that the gusher 5,000 feet beneath the Gulf of Mexico is spewing much more oil than official government and British Petroleum (BP) estimates. Various procedures tried by BP in an attempt contain the spill, including "top kill " and "cut and cap," have most likely worsened the situation, according to independent experts. Based on calculations from the latest videos, some suggest the current rate of flow is as high as 50,000 to 100,000 barrels a day, or two million to four million gallons. This is ten to twenty times more than BP's claim of 5,000 barrels a day, which the government has long accepted as truth.

Since day one, BP has demonstrated that their objective is not to stop and contain the gusher, but to hide the evidence of their crime and limit their own liability. The US government is eerily complicit in allowing the cover-up and lies to continue. BP has publicly downplayed the rate of flow and severity of the spill from the onset. They wasted no time in broadcasting toxic dispersants across a wide area of the Gulf, some one million gallons to date. The use of these chemicals prevents oil from rising to the surface, thus making the spill appear less severe. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allowed these dispersants to be used, despite the fact that they are banned in other countries and little is known about their long-term effects. Many experts say the dispersants have actually made things worse, as the treated oil cannot be contained and is contaminating the Gulf at all depths in the form of miles-long underwater plumes, presumably harming any sea life in its wake.

BP has continually backpedaled on the graveness of the situation and has blocked access by outside agencies, refusing to allow government or independent scientists see the damage during the first two weeks of the spill. Access to BP's own HD undersea camera, only granted to outsiders in recent days, could have helped scientists determine the actual rate of flow, affecting early response. Media is allowed only limited access to the Gulf region, with some areas entirely off-limits. Fishermen, who have lost their livelihoods, have been hired to help with the cleanup. Yet they are discouraged or banned from using the appropriate protective gear because BP does not want the spill to appear dangerous to the public.

Local residents not even involved with the cleanup report health symptoms, including burning eyes and nostrils and general feelings of illness. The stench of oil and chemicals is overwhelming in some places. It is unclear how much, if any, the EPA is monitoring air quality or ground water in these areas.

Since the dispersants have made the oil less visible, it's safe to assume that Gulf waters not obviously polluted to the human eye are washing up undetected on gulf beaches, inundating fragile marshes and polluting the air. The combination of chemical dispersants and oil will have even more far-reaching effects when hurricanes and severe storms begin to hit the region. Tainted water will filter its way into the Atlantic Ocean and up the east coast of the US. Rainwater could spread pollution across any area within the path of a storm, affecting air and ground water quality further inland. There are hideous reports of wildlife dying a slow and agonizing death by being "cooked" from the combination of exposure to oil, sun and warm water temperatures. It raises the question whether oil on the water surface will increase the ocean temperature, further increasing the frequency and severity of storms. It is unknown what effect the displacement of millions of gallons of oil far beneath the sea will have on earth movement. It may cause further fractures in the ocean floor, including earthquakes. There is very little coverage of these far-reaching implications, even in the progressive media.

Despite these grim realities, the US government has left BP, the perpetrator of this criminally negligent catastrophe, in control. The oil company continues to lie and has not only failed to contain the gusher, it has managed to make things worse. Laws were obviously broken, as mandated safety inspections were missed and equipment that could have averted the disaster was not installed. BP has demonstrated that their first concern is for their shareholders, not the wellbeing of Gulf residents or a wild ecosystem. CEO Tony Hayward has publicly admitted that the company was not prepared to deal with this disaster. BP's inadequate response for nearly two months is further proof of their inability to solve the problem. So why are they still in charge?

If this were a natural disaster or a bio-terrorist attack by an outside nation or terrorist organization, the US government would not stand by and leave the response to a privately-held foreign corporation, let alone the same entity that caused it in the first place. Instead, the US government would have been expected to immediately intervene with all available resources. A bio-terrorist would have been arrested and incarcerated. Why should the response to a corporate-caused disaster be any different?

BP is a foreign-owned company conducting business in US waters. It should have been stripped of any responsibility for stopping the leak from the onset. The containment of the leak is a matter of national security and should be treated as such. Since 9/11, billions of dollars have been spent on national security, yet the government has failed miserably in reacting to this emergency. BP's poor safety record and propensity to take short cuts that allowed the spill to happen in the first place should have been reason enough for the US government to seize control of the well, along with BP's assets. The government should have immediately amassed all available resources, including oil industry experts from around the world. The EPA should have blocked the use of dispersants that were widely known to be toxic. If oil had been allowed to flow to the surface, it could have been contained by supertankers, as was successfully done by Saudi Arabia in response to a massive Arabian Gulf spill in 1993.

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Janet Loughrey is a freelance photographer and writer based in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of "Gardens Adirondack Style" and has written on topics including horticulture, photography, global warming, the environment and politics. Her new (more...)
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