As per my standard operating procedure, I should be studying for my final final exam on Russia/Eurasia tomorrow morning but will procrastinate a little more (productive procrastination, that’s my motto). Instead, I have a number of thoughts to offer on the ‘British Petroleum’ spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And it’s worse than we can imagine.
The Oil Drum has had some of the best recent coverage of the disaster from a technical and policy perspective. It also has some of the better commenters I’ve seen anywhere on the internet. Via BLDGBLOG comes a particularly chilling one:
The well bore structure is compromised “Down hole”.
That is something which is a “Worst nightmare” conclusion to reach.
All the actions and few tid bits of information all lead to one inescapable conclusion. The well pipes below the sea floor are broken and leaking.
What does this mean?
It means they will never cap the gusher after the wellhead. They cannot…the more they try and restrict the oil gushing out the bop?…the more it will transfer to the leaks below.
It also means that the entire reservoir area is growing weaker and weaker underwater, and that (here comes the absolutely terrifying part) “fracturing and a complete bleed-out are already underway. Rumors also suggest a massive collapse of the Gulf floor itself is in the making” [emphasis mine].
That means 2 billion barrels of oil just dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. It means an ecological disaster of biblical proportions as the oil is carried around Florida and up the eastern seaboard. It will end entire industries, ways of life, and…it’s pretty much unfathomable how bad this will probably be. We don’t even have the technology to stop the leak at this point; the best we can do is siphon off as much as possible and pray it doesn’t get worse.
BP CEO Tony Hayward says he’s sorry. Which is adorable. And the announcement that BP will set up a $20 billion escrow account to pay damages and restitution to citizens of the Gulf is a nice step (pleasing no one with a heart or an actual stake in the region, BP shares have gone up nearly 7% since). But it’s not going to be enough. Not nearly enough. Zygmunt Plater of BC Law School:
As more facts come out, the bases for BP’s liability will probably mushroom; I predict that total liability will readily exceed $25 billion. The affected coastal population of Alaska is somewhat less than 40,000; Exxon paid out a total of about $4.5 billion to individuals and governments. An oft-quoted statement in Alaska is that the payout missed 90 percent of the real but hard-to-monetize injuries to the human and ecological communities hit by oil. The population of potentially impacted communities along the Gulf of Mexico is between 4 and 6 million people. You do the math.
I did the math. Using the low-end figure of 4 million people, that’s $4.5 trillion dollars. And let’s say both Plater and the people of Alaska are wrong, that the payout didn’t miss 90% or any percent at all. That reduces it to $450 billion. Which is still a huge chunk of money. The total assets of BP are $236 billion (PDF). Even if BP is drained for every penny, it will barely be halfway to restitution. And that’s just in financial terms.
Speaking of money, at today’s Congressional hearing, Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) said he was “ashamed” to see BP forced to set up their escrow fund, which he called “a $20 billion shakedown.” You know what’s funny, Joe? Of the 59 representatives on the House Energy Committee, you’ve taken the second-most contributions from gas and oil companies: over $100,000 since the beginning of 2009. So Joe, let me ask you this: why don’t you go fuck yourself?
But almost no one is exempt from the insidious clutches of Big Oil. On the 59-member committee, eleven have accepted no contributions from oil and gas companies. Only one of twenty-three Republicans took nothing. Ten of thirty-six Democrats are clean. Those Republicans who accepted contributions took in an average of $34,446. For Democrats, the figure is $18,044. Of all the Representatives on the House Energy Committee with oil and gas contributions, the average take was $25,562. Even if you factor in the few who didn’t accept anything, the average member of the House Energy Committee received $20,796 in campaign contributions from oil and gas companies. And we trust these people to resolve this crisis? Maybe you should all go fuck yourselves.
And this is all without getting into the extraordinary corruption going on at the Minerals Management Service (perhaps not that extraordinary), which has been well-documented elsewhere. This is a failure of the twentieth century: of big business to police itself, of the government to protect, of everyone who’s been expected to bear some responsibility. Hopefully something can emerge from the ashes of credibility.
Of course, it’s not like anyone from BP is going to serve any jail time, despite criminal charges in the works. Corporations are people, and so BP itself will have to go to jail. I’m not sure where they’ll fit it, but I’m sure we’ll think of something while Tony Hayward attempts to escape to Antarctica or Siberia or Montana or some other lightly populated hellhole. Besides, prison is too traditional. We really need to think outside the box here.
Daily swims in the Gulf, gibbets by night? Quaker-style solitary confinement? We’re a creative country; we can come up with something suitable. But in the meantime, we’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do, it’s going to cost a hell of a lot of money, and things look unbelievably bleak. If the seabed under the Gulf of Mexico collapses…brush up on your Revelation.
Update [8:06 PM]: House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) has repudiated Joe Barton’s remarks, and reiterated that “BP agreed to fund the cost of this cleanup from the beginning, and I’m glad they’re being held accountable.” There’s a modicum of decency left out there.
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