Cross-posted from Treehugger.
Is there no end to BP's hypocrisies and ludicrous actions? Evidently not. Here's the latest, in a long line of curious blunders and aggravating insensitivities: after being publicly chastised time and again for denying access to journalists, BP has evidently loosed its own "journalists" on the scene to really get to the meat of the story . . .
The Wall Street Journal got access to Planet BP, the company's in-house magazine, and discovered that it had evidently sent out a PR agent thinly disguised as a "BP journalist" to cover the spill and its consequences in Louisiana.
Here's the WSJ on the sort of stories its fake journalist are reporting back to BP employees:
in Planet BP ... a "BP reporter" dispatched to Louisiana managed to paint an even rosier picture of the disaster. "There is no reason to hate BP," one local seafood entrepreneur is quoted as saying, as the region relies on the oil industry for work.Indeed, the April 20 spill on the Deepwater Horizon is being reinvented in Planet BP as a strike of luck.
"Much of the region's [nonfishing boat] businesses -- particularly the hotels -- have been prospering because so many people have come here from BP and other oil emergency response teams," another report says. Indeed, one tourist official in a local town makes it clear that "BP has always been a very great partner of ours here...We have always valued the business that BP sent us."
The "report" is full of highly dubious nuggets like this.
This is really more hilarious than anything -- the fact that BP sent out a "reporter" (one that calls himself a "BP journalist" no less) to report on how great BP is, and why everybody still loves it, despite the spill, is simply ludicrous. Obviously, little harm is being done by a hack reporter that's only sending his scoops back to an audience composed almost exclusively of other BP employees. But it still seems like an idiotic thing to do -- the WSJ author aptly likens the "BP journalist's" not-so-noble endeavor to the scene at the end of Monty Python's "Life of Brian": where the crucified sing about looking on the bright side of life.
Read the full article at the WSJ.
Cross-posted from Treehugger.
It looks like the bumbling, uncooperative congressional testimony was the last straw -- BP CEO Tony Hayward has just been sacked from the cleanup operations in the Gulf. After countless gaffes and insensitive comments, many commenters wondered how long Hayward would continue to be the public face of the beleaguered oil giant. Now, BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg has announced that Hayward has been removed. In other words, he finally "gets his life back."
That's the Huffington Post's mocking top headline, referencing Hayward's clumsy complaint that the spill was stressing him out, and it's well deserved. Hayward has been a public relations nightmare for the company, which has lost over half its market share in stock value since the spill began. The Post reports:
BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg has unceremoniously announced that CEO Tony Hayward will no longer be managing the day-to-day operations of the Gulf cleanup effort.During an interview with Britain's Sky News, Svanberg said responsibility will be handed over to Bob Dudley, managing director of the company. It's a dramatic change of strategy for the oil giant, which has allowed its chief executive to be the public face of the company in interviews, apology ads and press conferences.
Indeed. Of course, Hayward's dismissal from US public operations, means little to the elements of the spill that truly matter -- like stopping it, for starters. Whether or not Hayward is around to make an ass of himself and his company probably has little bearing on how the cleanup effort is orchestrated (though if his public remarks have been any indicator, his common sense may be, well, lacking ...).
Regardless, the well keeps on gushing oil, crude continues to make landfall, and life around the Gulf continues to be threatened. So let's all bid our pal Tony adieu -- I mean, the poor guy is finally getting his life back.
Cross-posted from Treehugger.
The latest estimate from the federal government for the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf every day has just been doubled -- up from 12,000 - 19,000 barrels to 25,000 - 30,000. These new numbers, which many scientists still feel low ball the true amount, mean that a spill the size of the entire Exxon Valdez tragedy has occurred every 8-10 days since the leak first began. And yes, seeing as how we're nearly two months into this spill, that means the BP Gulf Spill is currently roughly 7 times the size of the Valdez -- or more.
The New York Times reports:
The higher estimates will affect not only assessments of how much environmental damage the spill has done but also how much BP might eventually pay to clean up the mess -- and it will most likely increase suspicion among skeptics about how honest and forthcoming the oil company has been throughout the catastrophe.The new estimate is based on information that was gathered before BP cut a pipe called a riser on the ocean floor last week to install a new capture device, an operation that some scientists have said may have sharply increased the rate of flow ... The new estimate appears to be a far better match than earlier ones for the reality that Americans can see every day on their televisions. Even though the new capture device is funneling 15,000 barrels of oil a day to a ship at the surface, a robust flow of oil is still gushing from the well a mile beneath the waves
But remember, some scientists believe that as much as 50,000 barrels could be spewing forth from the leakage site every day.
Either way, it seems pretty clear that BP has been low-balling the numbers from the start -- they initially reported that 1,000 barrels was the extent of the leakage, if you recall. Now they say they're collecting 15 times that.
Finally, the oil may be spilling out at a faster rate than from the period analyzed to reach the current estimate, as the flow is believed to have increased after BP cut the riser to install a capture tube. So even though BP is capturing 15,000 barrels a day, it's still unknown how much oil is escaping into the Gulf.
Cross-posted from Treehugger.
Say what? As millions of gallons of oil spew out of the Gulf, and much of it threatening to make landfall on his state, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has called for ... more offshore drilling. Citing "concerns for the economic impact" of discontinuing drilling, he wrote a letter to Obama asking the president to lift the newly imposed moratorium. Yes, you read that correctly: the man in charge of Louisiana, the state likely to be most devastated by a massive oil spill caused by offshore drilling, wants to go ahead an expand offshore drilling.
The Huffington Post reports:
Arguing that his state had already suffered crippling economic consequences, the Louisiana Republican urged Obama to rethink his decision to suspend activity at 33 previously permitted deepwater drilling rigs -- including 22 "currently in operation off the Louisiana coast." Joining Jindal in his call to lift the moratorium is Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) who accused the Obama administration of pursuing a policy that "could kill thousands of Louisiana jobs.
This is pretty brazen, both politically and practically -- when I was reporting from the Gulf a couple weeks ago, there was plenty of outrage and fear at BP and offshore drilling (though there was plenty of staunch support for it too). This letter is essentially sending the message to his constituents that he doesn't grasp the full extent of the disaster's impact -- or else he wouldn't be callously expanding the risk of it happening again.
His motivation is certainly to keep Louisiana's economy humming, but this seems to me to be a supremely ill-advised way to do so. Sam Stein reports further on the peculiarity of this move, and how authorizing drilling would let BP begin 4 more operations!
For starters, an investigation into what went wrong with the current spill has yet to conclude -- meaning that the same technical problems could still pop up at other sites. Moreover, Jindal has been quite public and aggressive with his insistence that BP has been less than capable in managing the fallout of the spill it has caused. He made explicit calls for the "federal government to force BP to act responsible" and for the oil company to "either begin the work or get out of the way."But the oil company that Jindal (and others) are now demonizing would be overseeing a good chunk of the deepwater drilling that he wants put back online. Of the 33 permitted deepwater drilling rigs that Jindal wants to continue operating, two are under BP leases and two are operating under leases controlled jointly by BP and Devon
It's hard to say what exactly is going on here, but letting BP open new drilling operations on your authority would seem to be politically detrimental (understatement city). It's pretty stunning that instead of protecting his state by holding the company who caused the crisis accountable, and seeking to understand the extent of the risks of offshore drilling, Jindal is brazenly calling for more.
Cross-posted from Treehugger.
In making one of the centrist compromises designed to lure Republicans towards compromising on energy policy, Obama may have inadvertently nearly killed the climate bill that's been languishing in the Senate for months. The offer to open offshore drilling was intended to meet GOPers halfway in crafting a more comprehensive energy policy that included pricing carbon and more nuclear power -- and now that the offer is off the table, negotiations are sticky to say the least. But an insider report from Politico says it's far from dead . . .
From Politico: BIG SUMMER AHEAD FOR ENERGY LEGISLATION: Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid has scheduled a meeting of climate/energy chairs (Kerry/Boxer/Bingaman/Baucus/Rockefeller/Lincoln) for June 10, and asked them to give him feedback on the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act by June 8. "Shows new urgency - feeling very good," a Senate leadership source e-mails. Sen. Kerry met Wednesday with Phil Schiliro, President Obama's congressional liaison, to discuss the floor schedule for the bill.
Politico also notes that industry leaders from Fortune 500 companies like Google, PepsiCo, and more, have all signed a letter urging action, and that Obama's language is now reflective of the need to push the bill. He recently said of the BP Gulf spill, "If nothing else, this disaster should serve as a wake-up call that it's time to move forward on this legislation. It's time to accelerate the competition with countries like China, who have already realized the future lies in renewable energy."
It certainly makes sense -- what better time to push a bill whose underlying goal is to increase development and deployment of cleaner, safer energy sources? It doesn't take a political strategist to see that pointing to the Gulf right now and saying, "See, this can happen," is a pretty solid way to illustrate an important point to American voters.
And if Democrats are truly worried about their political fortunes this fall, what better outlet to vent some righteous, populist anger at than BP (and its ilk) which is now distinctly responsible for devastating both economies and ecosystems around the Gulf states. There's a real political opportunity here to send the message that relying on oil and fossil fuels has real-world dangers, and that we can grow our economy and prevent such disasters by turning to clean energy.
Let's hope they take it.
Cross-posted from Treehugger.
One of the biggest hurdles to covering the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was actually getting a good look at the oil. For somewhat murky reasons (health, safety of fragile habitats), press has been repeatedly forbidden to enter impacted areas by the Coast Guard, BP, or the Fish & Wildlife Service. I was on the ground in the Gulf, and trying to get the story from one of the fishermen contracted to work with BP was like asking them if they'd like a root canal on the spot. Word is that cleanup workers are told if they talk to press, they're fired. And then there are the toxic chemical dispersants, which plays the biggest role in masking the extent of the disaster's damage by breaking the oil up and spreading it out -- at who knows what cost. So, the question is, will anyone ever see the worst of the catastrophic BP Gulf oil spill? Here are the five main reasons that you might not.
Photo by Brian Merchant
1. It's Not a Photogenic Disaster ... Yet
I spent the last 10 days traversing the Gulf coast, and I hardly saw few traces of actual oil. I know that there are videos out there that show how devastating the spill is -- the one that shows the 'Gulf bleeding' is especially powerful. But I'm afraid it's not powerful in the conventional sense -- most people probably don't see the copper colored water and the oily sheen over the waves as tragic, necessarily, but bizarre.
There is no doubt that the millions of gallons of oil currently floating around in the Gulf of Mexico will be supremely hazardous to wildlife and the local economy. But it sometimes seems the whole event is registering closer to a curiosity than a tragedy to those not immediately connected to it.
Photo via Oil Spill Solutions
2. Chemical Dispersant Cover-Up
Which brings us to what may be BP's greatest aide in furthering this aim: the chemical dispersants. BP's plan to spray the dispersants on the leak from the source -- as well as dump them from planes flying above -- will effectively prevent oil from reaching the shore in the same form that the notorious slicks did in famous spills like the Exxon Valdez.
Despite the fact that nobody is sure exactly how toxic the stuff is, or how being deployed on such a large scale will effect ecosystems, it will have at least one effect: it will delay public outrage by masking the apparent extent of the spill's damage. After all, BP must know how damaging the Valdez spill was for Exxon's image -- some people still conjure up pictures of oil-coated birds at the mention of the brand. But make no mistake -- chemical dispersants will disrupt ecosystems in a massive way, even if you never see the true effect with your own eyes.
Watch CBS News Videos Online
3. BP, Feds Cutting Off Press?
But there are other concerns as well. Most recently, video surfaced of the Coast Guard turning press away, claiming it was BP's orders. An NPR team was turned away when trying to access the oil-hit Chandeleur barrier island chain. The workers hired to cleanup the spill seem to be under pressure not to talk to press -- whenever I would approach a hired fisherman or contractor, they'd most often wave me away, or refuse to talk on record.
When I contacted a BP community liaison, he essentially dared me to call his bluff: he didn't deny the contractual clause, but he did say "I've got fishermen in my office all the time -- you want to talk to one right now?" But that was hardly reassuring, and obviously not an acceptable circumstance for an unbiased interview.
I attribute some of the press exclusion from the feds to a messy bureaucratic command structure -- officials flown in from all over the nation were giving, deflecting, and misinterpreting orders, and sending them on down the line to crews. But there does seem be a pointed effort, especially from BP, to drastically restrict press access.
4. Relative Public Apathy
Satellite images, oddly colored water, a collapsed hi-tech rig -- it all might seem more like a strange spectacle than a catastrophe. Fox News' anchor Brit Hume summed up the apathy the other day when he retorted "Show me the oil."
Of course, the thousands of people who are losing their livelihoods and the conservationists who understand the impact oil will have on undersea food chains are confidant that this is nothing short of a disaster. But without pictures of devastated wildlife -- which thus far have been few and far between -- or blackened coastlines, I fear that most will continue to underestimate how damaging this spill will be. That would, of course, play directly in BP's favor -- and undercut further investigative efforts.
Photo via Greenpeace
5. It's More Convenient to Conceal the Devastation
One oft-voiced worry among conservation groups and other press that I heard as I trekked from marina to marina, city to city around the Gulf, was that there would only be interest in ensuring that justice was brought to those impacted by the spill as long as the cameras were rolling. And without any distinctly shocking material to film, those cameras would be rolling away sooner rather than later.
Which is why it's important that the Coast Guard explain a concrete policy for press access and that BP encourage the fishermen who've been out in the field to speak up about their encounters with the oil. If they have nothing to hide, then why clamp down, right? It's a spooky thought, but if there are images of gruesomely oil-slicked beaches and blackened birds, the public has a right to see it. Even if this does sound distressingly like a call for sensationalism -- it's in part because that very sensationalism will help bolster conservation efforts and strengthen sound policy initiatives.
And of course, I believe that the use of chemical dispersants is far too dangerous a gamble, and not only because it helps prevent people from grasping the severity of the spill, but because of the unknown long-term threats they pose to marine habitats. This stuff could yet emerge as the dominant narrative of the Gulf spill in hindsight, damaging food chains for generations, or worse.
The point of all of this is: don't believe just your eyes -- listen to reports coming in from legitimate conservation scientists and investigative journalists. Much of the press down there are out on the boats every day, desperately trying to get the best sense of what's going on -- and being thwarted by weather, BP, the dispersants, and sometimes evidently the Coast Guard. For 10 days, I was trying my best, too -- and I can tell you, it's looking like we may never see the worst of this spill with our own eyes.
Cross-posted from Treehugger.com
Up until a couple weeks ago, the Nature Conservancy was in the midst of an important conservation project -- building up vanishing oyster reefs, as well as restoring eroding coastlines in the Gulf of Mexico. The innovative project, which makes use of three different methods to create revitalize disappearing oyster reefs, has been delayed as a result of the oil spill. And unfortunately, it illustrates that livelihoods and existing wildlife aren't all that stand to be lost from the disaster -- much-needed conservation efforts stand to suffer as well. Here's what could happen.
Oyster reefs are the world's most impacted marine habitat, and among the most endangered -- 85% of oyster reefs have been wiped out worldwide. So there's an acute need to protect and rejuvenate those that still exist. The Gulf of Mexico is home to the most pristine oyster reefs left in the world.
Here's project manager Jeff DeQuattro explaining how their project would do that:
They hope to accomplish this by setting up three different kinds of artificial reef off the coast of islands and bays -- round cement blocks called reef balls, bags of oyster shells piled on top of one another (bagged oysters), and rebar containers filled with oyster shells placed in a sawtooth formation. Each would attract oysters, which would grow on the structures, and provide much-needed fish habitats. The project is a federally funded stimulus project, and it created a number of jobs for locals. It's barely a year old, and had recently been in the deployment stage when the gulf spill occurred.
If the oil does indeed come ashore in the area -- which is unfortunately likely, it could prove a major setback to the attempt to restore the oyster reefs. Here's Jeff again:
The Nature Conservancy took us out to see the project in progress, where some of the structures have already been deployed. Here's what they look like in action (you can see the red boom, which is intended to act as a oil barrier, in the background):
The oil thankfully hasn't been spotted approaching the endangered oyster reefs yet, but tar balls did wash up on a nearby island. But if this conservation effort -- and others like it being carried out around the Gulf -- has to be delayed or restarted, the oyster reefs will be even more threatened than before.
Cross-posted from Treehugger.com
Last night, over a hundred fishermen and other members of the coastal communities near Houma, Louisiana gathered for a meeting with representatives from the Coast Guard, the EPA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and BP. The meeting was intended to provide information to residents, whose livelihoods have been threatened or wiped out by the oil spill -- but it also gave the angered locals an opportunity to confront BP. Watch:
The meeting was hosted by the Bayou Interfaith Shared Community Organizing group (BISCO), and was designed to be a community forum. Many people spoke -- fishermen, family members of fishermen, and small business owners. It definitely grew tense, especially on two topics: the chemical dispersants used by BP to mitigate the spread of the oil slick, and the reimbursements BP promised to those impacted economically, but has yet to adequately deliver.
This is a pretty good example of how the fishermen demanded BP step up and provide answers:
But it wasn't always cordial -- this woman, a mother of two fishermen, took BP to task for everything from being irresponsible in drilling in the first place, to not providing adequate protection for fishermen working around the oil, to having no long term plan to deal with such an event. She was right on, and was clearly backed by the crowd:
After the BP rep's unsatisfactory response, the woman then notes how people aren't receiving the payments they've been promised. Watch the BP rep deflect the question entirely:
And this man pointed out that certain studies have found that chemical dispersants used to fight the oil spill can cause cancer, and wanted to know what their long term effects on the environment would be:
About halfway through the meeting, frustrated fishermen could be seen exiting. Nonetheless, BISCO should be applauded for attempting to provide their community with a forum to voice their concerns, see how the government is responding to the spill, and get some answers from BP -- even if they weren't necessarily honest ones.
There's definitely a very justified sense of frustration, and some nervous anger, still swirling around fishermen and the coastal community. BP has promised to repay anyone who has lost their livelihood from their mess -- but two months down the line, who's to say they'll follow through?
I'm traveling around the Gulf of Mexico reporting on the continuing oil crisis. Stay tuned for the latest developments and breaking reports from the scene.
Cross-posted from Treehugger.
So this is why so many politicians have responded to the crisis caused by offshore drilling in the gulf by paradoxically rushing to the bullhorn to call for, yes, more offshore drilling -- they hoped to blast their message as early and as loudly as possible, before the public lost confidence in the practice in general. Well, too late. A recent Rasmussen poll shows that support for drilling is tanking (pun, ahoy!) among Democrats, Republicans, and in fact, all likely voters. This chart from EnviroKnow breaks it down:
As you can see, the spill has -- surprise, surprise -- caused just about everyone to rethink their support for offshore drilling. And remember, this poll is from Rasmussen, a traditionally conservative-skewed polling outfit, so it might be reasonable to assume that in reality, the drop off is even steeper.
Of course, such a plunge in popular opinion is to be expected -- how many people had a high opinion of the financial sector when Goldman Sachs was indicted for fraud? But the fact remains that this is indeed a significant decline. Enviroknow points out that "Support is currently at its lowest levels since Rasmussen began polling on the issue in 2008."
And as the underground volcano of oil continues to spew upwards of 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico per day, and as some of the more dire effects of the spill become readily apparent, it's my feeling that the trend in opinion of offshore drilling will only continue to plummet. Which again, is to be expected. The real news would be our politicians taking the opportunity to rally for cleaner, safer forms of energy, say, the kind that comprehensive clean energy legislation would serve to produce.
Cross-posted from Treehugger.
It's been in the works for some time now, but the much-discussed "energy only" climate bill has been unveiled by senators Dick Lugar (R-IN) and George Voinovich (R-OH). Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has been working on more substantive legislation, calls this kind of approach "half-assed", as it would only provide subsidies to incentivize nuclear and energy development. It would do little do address emissions and global climate change, however -- here's what it would do.
From the Wonk Room:
Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) and Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH), both of whom have admitted the threat of global warming, today announced "a narrower competing bill" that resembles the weak legislation passed out of the Senate energy committee last year ... an energy-only bill that would mandate new renewable and nuclear power production without imposing cuts on carbon emissions
The reasoning is that this bill is obviously easier to pass (though given the GOP's current attitude cooperating with Dems to accomplish anything, it still might be a struggle . . .). It eschews all that ugly business of holding big polluters accountable for their greenhouse gas pollution, and instead would encourage the development of renewable energy and nuclear power. This would be wholly inadequate in addressing climate change -- the fossil fuel industry would be able to go right on polluting unabated.
The problem with this thing isn't that it's a bad idea in and of itself -- it's just that it is in no way a real solution. And if this bill gets taken up, it probably means the serious bill, Kerry-Graham-Lieberman, doesn't. To complicate things even further, there's a third bill in the mix: a climate-only bill with weak reduction targets designed by senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME). Brad Johnson explains why this is trouble:
These senators are participating in a complex dance -- if President Obama and the public throw their weight behind real action, then these senators can take credit when elements of their bills appear in the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman legislation. However, if momentum stalls under the weight of polluter lobbying and Beltway indifference to the climate crisis, they can instead say they offered a "pragmatic" alternative.Unfortunately, such political insurance only covers elected politicians, not people living in the real world.
If only people in the real world cared enough about averting the climate crisis to put enough pressure on those dallying politicians to actually get something done . . .