BP – Beyond Perfidy


               One does not have to be a militant environmentalist. Neither does one have to be a duck, a penguin or a halibut to feel encrusted, choked and oxygen-less. One needs to be just an engineer and scientist here, in far away Montreal, Quebec with a minimal sense of social responsibility, to feel incensed by the outrageous and cynical behaviour of those corporate hoodlums who failed to take the prescribed preventative measures. Measures that would have easily pre-empted the blow-out that is ravaging the Gulf coast and now beyond.  By now, it has also pretty much been forgotten that eleven workers were blown to bits and of course their families were also destroyed.   

Sketch of a Cameron Blow out preventer from Wiki commons

                A bit of technical detail is in order, for a start. Preliminary evidence suggests that the explosion that destroyed the rig was caused by methane gas coming up from the explosion well. Drilling and well-capping are well established procedures in the oil industry, since methane is a highly explosive gas. Specific capping devices, blow-out preventers, have been in use for these specific situations for decades. When a well is drilled, it is also filled with “mud” or drilling fluid in order to prevent the gas from running up the pipes. Once drilling is completed, a process known as “cementation” follows. It is generally done in two stages, first around the drill casing, and then a “plug” is placed to seal the well. Evidence suggests that the explosion that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig, and perhaps damaged the blow-out preventer on the seafloor, was caused by methane gas coming up from the well. There are suggestions that unusual procedures were used to place the final cement plug.  It is being suggested that instead of the “mud” that is normally used, sea-water was pumped in.   

                This is where the 3 finger-pointing companies step in and start their obscene “not me” routine. Halliburton (of Dick Cheney pedigree) says it was told to do so by Transocean. Transocean says it was told to do so by BP! And no one is willing to take responsibility. Tim Probert, Halliburton’s president of global business, says, with some degree of arrogance, that the company was “contractually bound to comply with the well owner’s instructions on all matters relating to the performance of all work‐related activities.” In other words, whether the instructions given by the well-owner were safe or not for its workers and the environment, Halliburton was going to comply with the contract.   

                Then there is the BP President for America, Lamar McKay, who is more concerned why the blow–out preventer did not work, more than why recommended Best Practice was not followed. In other words, an accident was spec’d in! The question for him is not why there was accident built in, but why the accident fallout preventer did not work after the accident!   

                Finally, there is the U.S. Federal agency charged with regulating drilling — the Minerals Management Service (MMS). It turns out that these folks who are charged with the responsibility of regulating drilling operations and the accompanying safety, while promoting explorations (that by itself being a conflict of interest), abrogated their responsibility by agreeing that “offshore operations have become so complicated that regulators ultimately must rely on the oil companies and drilling contractors to proceed safely.” Hello? Wasn’t there such a hullaballoo a couple of years ago about corporate governance —some device called the Sarbanes–Oxley Act that was going to set things right after the Enron-Wescom mega collapses?     

                Conservative estimates suggest that 2,500,000 gallons of crude a day is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.  Here is a link to a real time leak meter.    There is no point in repeating here the damage that has already happened to human-marine-biological life.  Never mind the food chain, which is now shot for the next few years at least. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry is raking in windfall profits. According to the advocacy group Avaaz, “BP, which operated the sunken rig, more than doubled its first quarter profits in 2010 to $5.65 billion.” Oh! We must of course let the oil companies make obscene profits. That is a sacred right. After all, in 2005 BP’s Texas city refinery managed to kill 15 of its workers and it was determined that the company had a poor safety and quality record. A year later 4,800 barrels seeped out of a BP pipeline in the Alaskan North. In 2007 BP paid a fine of 300 million dollars for fixing propane gas prices. This company has become somewhat of an all-rounder it seems.  And they refer to themselves as BP-Beyond Petroleum! However, Beyond Perfidy would be a more appropriate moniker for them.       

The coffer dam that did not work   

                BP Engineers and their friends in Transoceanic and Halliburton will someday get to the bottom of why the Blow-out preventer did not work, why so much pressure built up and why after the catastrophe the blow out preventer was not actuated. There will be a tendency to blame individuals and not of course the invalid systems that these companies have deployed, based on mindless penny-pinching. All the spectacular attempts at lowering a coffer dam etc. are really band aid measures for public consumption. Unless a parallel horizontal bore is made into the main well to relieve the pressure and siphon out the oil to the surface, nothing will have been achieved and we know that it is going to take months to drill 18,000 feet below.     

                It will be sometime before we find out if this new buzz tech that BP is touting is going to pan out on the ocean floor.  As far as the extent of the damage goes, there are indications that even by conservative estimates, this spill will have exceeded the Exxon Valdez spill by a factor of four.    

                OK, we can all go home raving and ranting. And ask for reparations and BP will oblige with a couple of billion dollars out of their quarterly pirating. Here’s what I think should be happening now (never mind the long term issue of getting rid of cars).   

                What on earth is Barack Obama doing leaving BP in charge of the plugging of the well, even now? What are the mighty US defence forces doing? They mine the sea bottom in Korea, they scour the Pacific and Atlantic laying cables, they develop space planes that can launch attacks within two hours anywhere in the world. Why is the US government not plugging the well themselves and then sending the bill to BP? It would at least shave a couple of billion of the trillion dollar deficit. Why does the US government have such a knee-jerk reliance on Big Oil?  Why is BP still playing Big Dada, dishing out clean up jobs to the families whom they have devastated?  Why is it that sea foods, vegetables and other foods are already disappearing from North American grocery stores and meat and poultry prices are already jacked up? Will BP pay for that?

Rana Bose is a Montreal writer, engineer and editor of Montreal Serai.