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More Ugly Truth about Deepwater Horizon

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Too many of the news reports concerning the second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout are suspiciously similar to the BP commercials featuring testimonials about how the company’s wonderful clean-up job has brought life along the Gulf Coast “back to normal”.  Unfortunately, the ugly truth about life along the Gulf of Corexit has not been thrust before the American public with the same aggressiveness as BP’s public relations propaganda.

Since the catastrophe occurred back in April of 2010, one steady source of unvarnished reports on the matter has been Washington’s Blog.  On April 18 of this year, Washington’s Blog posted this great piece which links to a number of reports documenting the extent of ongoing damage to the Gulf ecosystem.

We are constantly bombarded with propaganda emphasizing how offshore oil rigs create jobs.  What we don’t hear are reports concerning the number of people from the fishing industry who lost their jobs (and their health) as a result of the Deepwater Horizon incident.  Consider this AFP report from last year:

Local chemist Wilma Subra has been helping test people’s blood for volatile solvents, and said levels of benzene among cleanup workers, divers, fishermen and crabbers are as high as 36 times that of the general population.

“As the event progresses we are seeing more and more people who are desperately ill,” she said.

“Clearly it is showing that this is ongoing exposure,” Subra said, noting that pathways include contact with the skin, eating contaminated seafood or breathing polluted air.

“We have been asking the federal agencies to please provide medical care from physicians who are trained in toxic exposure.”

She said she has received no response.

The most devastating exposé on the Deepwater Horizon disaster came from Greg Palast, who wrote a two-part report for EcoWatch.  A British investigative television program – Dispatches – sent Palast into Baku, Azerbaijan, with a cameraman to investigate a whistleblower’s report that in September of 2008, a BP off-shore rig in the Caspian Sea suffered a nearly identical blow-out to the Deepwater Horizon incident.  BP concealed the true cause and extent of the Caspian Sea event from the U.S. regulators and Congress.  From Part One:

The witness, whose story is backed up by rig workers who were evacuated from BP’s Caspian platform, said that had BP revealed the full story as required by industry practice, the eleven Gulf of Mexico workers “could have had a chance” of survival.  But BP’s insistence on using methods proven faulty sealed their fate.

One cause of the blow-outs was the same in both cases:  the use of a money-saving technique – plugging holes with “quick-dry” cement.

By hiding the disastrous failure of its penny-pinching cement process in 2008, BP was able to continue to use the dangerous methods in the Gulf of Mexico – causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  April 20 marks the second anniversary of the Gulf oil disaster.

There were several failures in common to the two incidents identified by the eyewitness.  He is an industry insider whose identity and expertise we have confirmed.  His name and that of other witnesses we contacted must be withheld for their safety.

The failures revolve around the use of “quick-dry” cement, the uselessness of blow-out preventers, “mayhem” in evacuation procedures and an atmosphere of fear which prevents workers from blowing the whistle on safety problems.

In Part Two of the report, Greg Palast revealed that one of the classified cables leaked by Private Bradley Manning through WikiLeaks.org to The Guardian was a briefing from the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan to the State Department in Washington.  The cable summarized information obtained from Bill Schrader, President of BP-Azerbaijan, about the cause and extent of the 2008 blowout.  The collusion of the State Department in this cover-up became an important aspect of Palast’s report:

From other sources, we discovered the cement which failed had been mixed with nitrogen as a way to speed up drying, a risky process that was repeated on the Deepwater Horizon.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance and senior attorney for Natural Resources Defense Council, calls the concealment of this information, “criminal.  We have laws that make it illegal to hide this.”

The cables also reveal that BP’s oil-company partners knew about the blow-out but they too concealed the information from Congress, regulators and the Securities Exchange Commission.  BP’s major U.S. partners in the Caspian Sea drilling operation were Chevron and Exxon.

*   *   *

Kennedy’s particular concern goes to the connivance of the State Department, then headed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the cover-up and deception.  Chevron, noted Kennedy, named an oil tanker after Rice who had served on the oil company’s board of directors.  “BP felt comfortable – and Chevron and Exxon – in informing the Bush State Department, which was run by Condoleezza Rice,” he said, “and they felt comfortable that that wasn’t going to come out.”

The U.S. Securities Exchange Commission requires companies to report “material” events.  BP filed a “20-F” report in 2009 stating, “a subsurface gas release occurred below the Central Azeri platform,” suggesting a naturally occurring crack in the seafloor, not a blow-out.  This contradicted the statements of three eyewitnesses and the secret statement of BP’s Azerbaijan President in then WikiLeaks cable.

“The three big actors, Chevron, Exxon and BP all concealed this from the American public,” concludes Kennedy.  “This is a criminal activity.”

At this point, anyone who believes that Condoleezza Rice could be chosen as Mitt Romney’s running mate is headed for a big disappointment.

With the passing of time, the Deepwater Horizon story isn’t getting any better.  It just keeps getting worse.


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Bad Report Card Haunts Democrats At Mid-Terms

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It doesn’t take much time or effort to find out how or why the Democrats have alienated so many independent voters (and so much of their own base) during the 2010 election cycle.  You don’t need to look to the Fox News or Andrew Breitbart for an explanation.   Reading through the opinion pages of The New York Times should provide you with a good understanding of what the Democrats have been doing wrong.

One common theme voiced by many critics of the Obama administration has been its lack of interest in prosecuting those responsible for causing the financial crisis.  Don’t hold your breath waiting for Attorney General Eric Hold-harmless to initiate any criminal proceedings against such noteworthy individuals as Countrywide’s Angelo Mozilo or Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers.  On October 23, Frank Rich of The New York Times mentioned both of those individuals while lamenting the administration’s failure to prosecute the “financial crimes that devastated the nation”:

The Obama administration seems not to have a prosecutorial gene.   It’s shy about calling a fraud a fraud when it occurs in high finance.
*   *   *
Since Obama has neither aggressively pursued the crash’s con men nor compellingly explained how they gamed the system, he sometimes looks as if he’s fronting for the industry even if he’s not.

The special treatment afforded to the perpetrators of the frauds that helped create the financial crisis wasn’t the only gift to Wall Street from the Democratically-controlled White House, Senate and Congress.  The financial “reform” bill was so badly compromised (by the Administration and Senate Democrats, themselves) as it worked its way through the legislative process, that it is now commonly regarded as nothing more than a hoax.  Frank Rich finds it ironic that the voters are about to return power to “those who greased the skids” to facilitate the financial catastrophe:

We can blame much of this turn of events on the deep pockets of oil billionaires like the Koch brothers and on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which freed corporations to try to buy any election they choose.  But the Obama White House is hardly innocent.  Its failure to hold the bust’s malefactors accountable has helped turn what should have been a clear-cut choice on Nov. 2 into a blurry contest between the party of big corporations and the party of business as usual.

David Weidner of MarketWatch recently discussed the idea of appointing a special prosecutor to bring the Wall Street culprits to justice.  After acknowledging the often-used pushback argument made by those opposed to such a prosecutorial effort — that those cases are impossibly difficult to advance through the legal system — Weidner made this observation:

These cases may be difficult, but they’re not impossible.  And given the creation of a lawless marketplace where one economy-destroying decision can be made on top of another for short-term personal gains, something has to be done.

But nothing’s happening.  Maybe it’s because of the money Wall Street lavishes on Congress.  Perhaps it’s the close ties between the industry and the administration.   It could be, as Nouriel Roubini said in the new documentary “Inside Job,” investigators are “afraid” of what they will find.

A special prosecutor, in a bid to make a name for himself or herself, might be immune to such pressure.   It’s our best hope for outing the scoundrels and creating an industry where greed finally takes a backseat to the law.

Back at The New York Times, Charles Blow brought our attention to the recent rant by Attorney General Eric Hold-harmless, who – despite his uselessness in the aftermath of the financial Ponzi-crisis – stands at the ready to prosecute marijuana smokers in the event that Proposition 19 becomes law in The Golden State.  One would think that the Obama administration might prefer that a large bloc of voters should remain stoned for as long as possible, so as to prevent those citizens from realizing what a lousy job their President is doing for them.  Worse yet, Charles Blow explained how the Democrats have been advancing the Clinton-era Byrne Formula Grant Program, as a vehicle for financing a war on pot smokers, over the objections of former President George W. Bush and conservative groups, who emphasized that the program “has proved to be an ineffective and inefficient use of resources.”  Nevertheless, the Democrats were able to direct two billion dollars from the financial stimulus program to the so-called Byrne Grants.  Remember: that’s two billion dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – which was supposed to put people back to work and save the economy – misappropriated to the effort of putting pot smokers in jail.  I guess that the Obama Justice Department has to look like it’s doing something.

Another issue that has not escaped the public’s radar – despite the efforts of the Obama administration – is the never-ending catastrophe in the Gulf of Corexit, caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout.  Washington’s Blog recently featured an important posting, with links to several articles about this environmental disaster, which the administration wants you to forget about (at least until after the election).  The BP-sponsored, mainstream media seem more than happy with the claim of  “mission accomplished” voiced by Coast Guard Rear Admiral Paul Zukunft (the man in charge of the federal response) and his top science adviser, Steve Lehmann.   A review of any one of the articles linked at the Washington’s Blog posting will scare the hell out of you — just in time for Halloween (and Election Day).  Nevertheless the people who will get the worst haunting of Halloween 2010 will be the Democrats.  Unfortunately for us, most of them deserve it.


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NOAA Uses Human Canaries To Test Gulf Fish

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July 5, 2010

I recently checked in on the website for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) for the latest update on the Deepwater Horizon oil plume.  The site features a map depicting the “fishery closure area” – a rather huge section of the Gulf of Mexico consisting of over 81,000 square miles — where fishing is prohibited.  I immediately began to wonder whether some of the toxic fish from the fishery closure area might swim outside of their boundary and find their way onto someone’s plate.  Apparently, the folks at NOAA thought of that themselves, so they developed a testing protocol to ascertain whether Gulf fish intended for human consumption might have been contaminated with petrochemicals and/or Corexit – the creepy dispersant that has been banned in Britain, although it has been used extensively in response to the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.  Corexit 9500, when ingested, has been known to rupture red blood cells and cause internal bleeding.  Here is the Material Safety Data Sheet for Corexit 9500, where you can find this useful tidbit:

HUMAN HAZARD CHARACTERIZATION :  Based on our hazard characterization, the potential human hazard is:  Moderate

What do you think NOAA’s Gulf fish testing protocol involves?  Gas chromatography?  Scanning electron microscopy?  Guess again.  They’re having people sniff the fish to determine whether it has been tainted.  No kidding.  Check it out:

NOAA’s expert seafood assessors are training state personnel to use their sense of smell and taste to detect any unusual odors and flavors in Gulf Coast fish — aromas that could indicate contamination by oil or dispersants from the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill.

*   *   *

Using your sense of smell is one of the best methods for determining the safety and acceptability of seafood  — sensory analysis is a commonly used tool in seafood safety and quality inspections.  An essential element of the job of a NOAA seafood inspector is to determine what qualifies as Grade A fish, which means that seafood must have good flavor and odor.

*   *   *

People are trained by exposing them to various kinds and concentrations of odors and flavors.  This process takes time.  Some people, unfortunately, are not trainable — some just don’t have an adequate sense of smell to do this work.  However, most people have a sense that can be trained to detect specific odors and refined for enhanced sensitivity.

*   *   *

The Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill is on a scale we’ve never seen before, and we can use all the extra hands — and nostrils — we can get.  We are expecting to process tens of thousands of samples in the coming months.

What are sensory testers “sniffing” for?

Sensory testers smell for the distinct scent of oil or chemicals that might differ from the normal odor of fish and shellfish ready for market.  When we get a whiff of oil in a seafood sample, we know that the product is unfit for both human consumption and for commercial sale.

In “harmonization” class, we spike fish samples with set concentrations  of oil specific to the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill, as well as dispersants, to determine how sensitive our testers and trainees are.

Learning to discern an odor or flavor and properly describing it is something that comes from experience.  Some odors or flavors are easily masked by a competing odor or flavor so the training and evaluations need to take place in a controlled setting such as a laboratory.  We train people to not only fine-tune their sense of smell to the oil and dispersants from this particular spill, but also to be able to repeat their sensory abilities and standardize how they describe what they are smelling.

*   *  *

For fish like snapper and grouper, we collect a minimum of six, one-pound samples.  First, the fish are filleted.  Then, a panel of 10 expert assessors will smell each of the raw samples and record the odor.  The samples are then cooked, and the process is repeated so that the experts may smell and taste the fish in its cooked state.

Cooking the product is important for two reasons:  First, it releases aromas that may be less detectable in a raw state.  Second, some of the testers may be more sensitive to the smell of cooked fish versus raw fish.  Either way, smelling both raw and cooked samples assures that our testers can detect the full aromatic possibilities of the fish.

This “sniff testing” struck me as a really stupid idea.  It doesn’t sound reliable at all.  It is based on the presumption that hazardous levels of numerous chemicals — often in combination —  can be detected by the human olfactory sense.  Has NOAA considered that these fish sniffers might be getting exposed to hazardous chemicals at levels in excess of the Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) for these substances?   How many parts per million of the various petrochemicals are the testers ingesting when they sniff this fish on a continuous basis?  Worse yet:  How much do they ingest when they eat the fish?   I would love to hear the opinion from an independent, objective panel of occupational hygienists about this testing protocol.

NOAA’s fish-sniffing project appears to be just another example of how a stupid mistake  (allowing the  Deepwater Horizon to operate in the first place) sets off a chain reaction of even more stupid mistakes.  Let’s hope the people involved with this testing don’t suffer any unhealthful consequences from this activity.  Aside from the risk of adverse physical effects, there is also a good chance that these people signed a release —  exculpating “the usual suspects” from any and all liability arising from injuries sustained while conducting these tests.  No good deed shall go unpunished.



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