Radio Ecoshock Show May 7th, 2010 � A Special on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
Black oil, millions of years old, gushes out of a gash in the Gulf of Mexico.� One of the world's largest companies, BP, formerly British Petroleum says it's 1,000 barrels a day, then 5,000.� Satellite photos suggest 25,000 a day.� In a closed session of Congress, BP admits they don't know - it could be 40 to 60,000.� The Governor of Louisiana prepares for 100,000 barrels.� The "spill" is really a man-made underwater volcano of oil.
I'm Alex Smith.� This accident taps a primeval fear in the human mind.� Something dark and uncontrollable rushes out of the Earth, poisoning the global oceans.� Could that really happen?
Madness ensures.� Right-wing radio's Rush Limbaugh suggests the giant rig Deepwater Horizon was bombed by environmentalists.� Others say a North Korean submarine did it.
During two administrations, BP lulled regulators to sleep, with assurances and campaign contributions.� All that dirt will leak out too.
Meanwhile, 20,000 feet below the Gulf Waters, the giant Macondo field spurts out a relentless wave of fossil carbon, suspected to equal a new Exxon Valdez spill, every three days.
So many victims, so many tales to tell.�
In this Radio Ecoshock report you'll hear from the activists who knew this was coming.�
* Riki Ott, marine biologist, fisherwoman, and the conscience of Valdez, Alaska, checks in from New Orleans.
* Antonia Juhasz, oil researcher from Global Exchange, introduces us to BP - and it's lobby in Washington.� Antonia wrote "The Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful Industry � and What We Must Do To Stop It."
* And former Shell Oil executive Anita Burke finds the inside track, and the real culprits.�
We'll end with a new song, "Corporate Catastrophe", written about the spill by Dana Pearson, and heard first on your Radio Ecoshock.
From New Orleans, we are joined by Dr. Riki Ott, marine biologist and former commercial fisherperson in Alaska.� She was among the first to see the Exxon Valdez tanker slick, became a leading activist, and wrote two books: "Not One Drop � Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill" and "Sound Truth & Corporate Myth$: The Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill"
A speech by Riki Ott three years ago was one of my first recordings for Radio Ecoshock.� Find our Radio Ecoshock interview with Riki last Fall, 2009� "HOW COMMUNITIES SURVIVE DISASTER Storms, floods, earthquake, attack, or employers closing - what are the tools to cope and recover? Author/activist Riki Ott on lessons learned from Valdez spill." (Ecoshock 091002 here.)
Riki is simply amazing.� She has the science smarts to interpret the studies.� She's researched all the chemicals - and listen closely as she describes the risks of dispersants now being pumped into the Gulf of Mexico at record rates.� Even the New York Times admits this may be one of the largest chemical experiments on the Earth in history.� BP is not only blowing tons of dispersants into the flow coming from the "leak" - but also using bombers from the air to spread these hazardous chemicals over the surface Gulf waters.� We don't know the result, but we know it can't be good for the fish, marine mammals, and crabs at the bottom.
Riki Ott had already been on CNN several times, as an expert in oil disasters, when I reached her in New Orleans.� She was heading out to the coast.� As a former fisherwoman herself, she could relate to the worried Gulf fishers.� And one of Riki's main points, in her second book "Not One Drop" is that communities have to self-organize - because big government, and certainly big oil companies, never do come through with the help that is really needed.� It all gets tied up in bureaucracy and lawsuits for years.� Meanwhile, local communities and people suffer grievous hits.� Just the psychological damage is traumatizing.� Marriages break up, people go broke, people get depressed.� Suicide rates go up.� Only self-organizing and listening groups can help heal the lasting damage from one of these mega-spills.
Antonia Juhasz, is the author of The Tyranny of Oil: The World's Most Powerful Industry � and What We Must Do To Stop It (HarperCollins, 2008).� She is director of the Chevron Program at Global Exchange, a San Francisco-based human rights organization.�
In the Guardian newspaper's Sunday Observer, May 2nd 2010, Antonia Juhasz writes "BP spends millions lobbying as it drills ever deeper and the environment pays" subtitle "The oil major BP spends aggressively to influence US regulatory insight, and many would argue this has bought it leniency."
"BP is one of the most powerful corporations operating in the United States. Its 2009 revenues of $327bn are enough to rank BP as the third-largest corporation in the country. It spends aggressively to influence US policy and regulatory oversight.
In 2009, the company spent nearly $16m on lobbying the federal government, ranking it among the 20 highest spenders that year, and shattering its own previous record of $10.4m set in 2008. In 2008, it also spent more than $530,000 on federal elections, placing it among the oil industry's top 10 political spenders."
This is a company larger than many governments, and it's a big player in the American government.
What can I say about Richard Heinberg?� He's almost the spirit behind the Peak Oil movement, and a trenchant energy analyst.� Richard publishes regularly at energybulletin.com, and has a monthly newsletter called "Museletter" with tons of subscribers, including me.
We last interviewed Richard for Radio Ecoshock on his new book "Blackout: Coal, Climate Change, and the Last Energy Crisis." in the September 11th, 2009 program.� Find that in our archive.
Heinberg's been a leader calling for a planned transition away from fossil fuels.� In his latest book, "Searching for a Miracle: �Net Energy� Limits and the Fate of Industrial Society," Richard Heinberg examines 18 energy sources by their �net energy� and nine other criteria. It is published jointly by Post Carbon Institute and International Forum on Globalization.� Find out more at richardheinberg.com and postcarbon.org.
In this interview we look at this Gulf gusher as a historic event in fossil fuel history.� How far could the slick spread?� (The "Loop Current" will likely take parts of the slick around the coast of Florida, past the Keys, to the East coast beaches and estuaries, possibly as far North as Virginia, carried by the Gulf Stream.)� Will this accident dampen the rush to deepwater drilling?� What will the big picture impacts be?� Richard Heinberg has been right so often, for so long, he's the man to ask.
If only we could hear from an industry insider, willing to speak out.� We can.� In the 1990's, Anita Burke was Executive Vice President, head of Climate Change and Sustainability Strategies, world-wide, for Shell International.� She left to found the Catalyst Institute.� Anita has become a strong spokeswoman on Peak Oil and climate change.� I last heard her speak the first De-Growth Conference in North America, on April 30th in Vancouver.
We featured a speech by Anita Burke, from the Resilient Cities Conference, in our Radio Ecoshock Show for October 23, 2010.
Here is the way this new interview went, with a very abbreviated summary of her responses.
Before I began, Anita was already moved by this developing disaster:
"I just finally have had a chance to really look at some of the media about the spill events.� And wow! I didn't realize I was going to be so triggered, from my experiences with the Exxon Valdez.� I have to say, I just watched the video of the meeting with the fishermen, with the BP reps, and I had the most bizarre experience, Alex.�
It was like I was seeing the same exact meeting we have with the Exxon Valdez, laid on top of this meeting.� They are identical."
I added that I had just seen President Obama make the same promises, almost in the same words, that the federal government would be there, with whatever it takes, for as long as it takes.� As fate would have it, I had just seen an episode of "Treme", the new TV show about Katrina, where Bush was seen on TV making those promises, which were not kept.
Burke says it is very, very difficult to set up such a huge relief and cleanup operation, in just a few days.� It's like setting up a new multinational company, in days.� There are a lot of things like contracts, payments, and so on, that do take time.
I then took up these questions:
1. As a person with deep insider experience in the oil industry, do you think the costs, and public anger, could endanger BP as company?
Doubtful.� Burke points out that the big oil companies are also their own insurers.� So they keep some reserves for liabilities and accidents.� Besides, with their huge profits, and their own oil, the company can likely handle a big payout.
I note that there is a U.S. law which limits the liability of any one platform accident to $75 million.� This may be used by BP, once the furor dies down.� Also, the carefully worded company statements point toward Transoceanic, the operator of the rig, as partially liable.� Others have suggested equipment supplier Halliburton may be drawn into law suits and payments as well.
Burke says BP has a whole floor of high-priced lawyers to take protect the company.
Texas oil analyst Matt Simmons has also questioned whether BP can survive this blowout, saying they will have to pay to restore the entire Gulf of Mexico.
My personal opinion is the U.S. taxpayer, ranging from the federal government through state and local governments, will end up paying for a lot of compensation, unemployment, and cleanup costs.� We'll see.
Canadian news sources find about $14 billion in projected costs, so far, not counting any legal fees and damages from the inevitable wave of civil lawsuits.
2. Put yourself in those BP executive offices.� What might they do to spin this, as damage control?
Anita responded there is no way to spin this.� From her previous experience sitting at the table with BP, and given their recent efforts to appear "green" and responsible (renaming themselves "Beyond Petroleum") - the company, she thinks, will probably do the right thing, struggling to cap the leak, and pay at least some of the clean-up costs.
Of course, we know that was not the experience with Exxon, after the Valdez spill.� Exxon fought off the damages to fishermen and others, going all the way to the Supreme Court to cut down the awards (and not paying for years).� Already BP executives are pointing the finger at Transocean, the company hired to run the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform.� Others are blaming Halliburton, Cheney�s old company, who had just set the cement on the well head, hours before the blowout.
3. If the public demands an end to deep water drilling, or at least stiff regulations, how will that impact our future oil supplies?� Could it hasten the end of the oil age?
Anita notes that deepwater drilling might only extend our oil supply by a year, or even just six months.� It's an extreme measure.� Too bad the same money and energy doesn't go into developing clean alternative energy.
4. Both BP and the government have publicly worried, that sand coming up with the oil could cut through the pipes and the well head.� What are they talking about, and what could that do?
[For example, I found this quote in the press somewhere...""BP Plc executive Doug Suttles said Thursday the company was worried about "erosion" of the pipe at the wellhead.
Sand is an integral part of the formations that hold oil under the Gulf. That sand, carried in the oil as it shoots through the piping, is blamed for the ongoing erosion described by BP.
"The pipe could disintegrate. You've got sand getting into the pipe, it's eroding the pipe all the time, like a sandblaster," said Ron Gouget, a former oil spill response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration."]
5. Anita, suppose BP's efforts to cover the leak with a big dome don't work.� And it takes 3 months or more to get a relief well in place - which also may not work.� Is it possible the whole reservoir could empty out into the Gulf?� Do we know how much is down there?
Burke is more optimistic than I am.� She things BP may plug the main leak within two weeks, and will drill a relief well within three months or less.� She thinks the industry will find a solution, so the gusher will be capped off.� Burke thinks it may be necessary to place an explosive charge in the well, to seal it off.
6. Richard Heinberg suggests this gusher may be a turning point for the oil industry.� And yet everyone listening to news from the Gulf, still plans to drive their car.� We're all still wearing and buying oil-based products.� How can we get off this fossil merry-go-round, before we lose civilization?
Start off by getting rid of your car, Burke says.� We need to start replacing everything made with petroleum with other materials.
7. What have I missed, - is there a message you would like to leave with our listeners?
As someone formerly from the industry, Anita pleads with us not to take a hostile position toward BP and the workers trying to solve this problem.� We need them to perform their best, to save the Gulf.� We should also have more feeling for the eleven people who lost their lives - thinking of their sacrifice as we "drive to the corner store for a bottle of coke."� We should all take responsibility for this spill, as we all demand the oil as part of our daily lives.� An interesting take.
Anita Burke, I was inspired by your speech at the Vancouver De-Growth Conference last Friday, and we'll get that out to Radio Ecoshock listeners as well.� Thank you so much for speaking with us today.
Here are is just a spoonful from the Net.� Jason Leopold at truthout.org reports on a whistleblower, a former oil contractor, claiming BP broke the law and it's own procedures, as did in the deadly 2005 Texas City oil refinery explosion.� Another corporate accident waiting to happen, perhaps on BP's other giant deepwater platform, Atlantis.� Excellent investigative journalism - check it out.
Last week's Ecoshock guest Nikolas Kozloff has blistering blog entries on the spill at his blog at nikolaskozloff.com.� The black history of BP, and it's cozy relationship with U.S. regulators.
The Mississippi Sierra Club labels the Deepwater Horizon oil spill "America's Chernobyl".� Others "the oil volcano", or even Oilapocalpyse.
Find active discussion threads in the "Drum Beat" postings at theoildrum.com, and the dailykos.com.� More continuing Gulf spill coverage at GulfLive.com, and maps at skytruth.org.� The Alabama viewpoint from al.com, where for example, Ben Raines tells us a leaked Coast Guard memo fears the Deepwater site could release even millions of gallons a day, into the Gulf.� There are tens of millions of barrels of oil and gas in this deposit, under high pressure, miles deep under the crust, now coming up.
In the UK, the Times newspaper reveals BP knew of problems with the blowout preventer ten years ago, when it was installed.� Operator Transocean admitted the preventer did "not work" properly on another rig, the Discoverer Enterprise.
Other experts question faults in the cement work around the well head, performed by Dick Cheney's former company Halliburton.
Earlier in April, a team of scientists led by Daniel Esler, from Simon Fraser University, published a paper showing wildlife is still exposed to Exxon oil, 20 years after that great tanker disaster.� As Riki Ott has documented in her books, oil on the beaches and tidewaters can never be cleaned up.
If you want academic research into this problem, the Texas A&M study on handling deepwater blowouts is here.
It�s title: "Development of a Blowout Intervention Method and Dynamic Kill Simulator for Blowouts Occurring in Ultra-Deepwater."
The dispersants loaded into the deep ocean, and air-dropped on to the surface, may make the Gulf of Mexico history's largest chemical experiment.� No one knows the harm coming.
Everyone, even the harshest oil critics, hope, or pray, the BP jerry-rigged containment dome can seal off the very worst.� Then we can go on as usual, wrecking the climate and the seas.
Except, the very worst has already happened.� Perhaps ocean oil drilling around the world is an endangered species.
A self-described aging hippy/songwriter/futurist from Oakland, California - Dana Pearson, like many of us, was struck down by the magnitude of the Gulf gusher, and our foolishness.� While working for the Government Accounting Office, Pearson found green solutions a generation ago.� Now he's welded oil anguish into a song for the spill, with it's world premiere on Radio Ecoshock.� Here is Dana Pearson, with Corporate Catastrophe.
Dana is an Ecoshock listener, who sent this song along.� He slaved through a couple of nights, recording his passionate reaction to this ocean tragedy.� I appreciate his talent, and his sharing with our listeners.� Thanks Dana!