Petro giant BP didn’t file a plan to specifically handle a major oil spill from an uncontrolled blowout at its Deepwater Horizon project. We know that from my last blog. The whole investigation is centering on “the blowout rules,” and a blowout preventer. It’s really the “blowout scenario rules” where a company files a plan for clean- up if and when a blowout occurs. BP didn’t file a plan for that because they evidently “didn’t fit at least one of five conditions” set by MMS for those rules to apply. Mineral Management Services changed its mandate two years ago in April 2008 “to exempt certain projects in the central Gulf region from having to file a specific plan for cleaning up an oil spill”, according to an Associated Press review of official records. Unfortunately, the article didn’t offer a pdf of those records. I’ve looked through tons of mandates on MMS website and can’t find those 5 conditions. I’d really like to see how a deepwater drilling project like this didn’t meet conditions to have a spill cleanup plan if the blowout preventer (BOP) didn’t work. BOP’s are known to be faulty. I think one condition for exemption was the rigs proximity to land. The reasoning by BP was that they were almost 50 miles out from shore in the Gulf. Evidently no one expected an oil slick to make it to shore easily from that distance. We know better now.
Meanwhile, a backup plan to activate the BOP’s shear ram (acoustic) in case the BOP fails to engage is not required in the U.S. either. It’s a requirement elsewhere, but not here. Evidently the 6 valves and pipe rams along the blowout preventer pipe should stop the leak, but they failed to do the job too. So this giant shear ram is supposed to engage through a control panel button acting like a cigar cutter or sideways guillotine that cuts through the drill pipe at the head with extreme force shearing through and then remains in place as a cap on the pipe. End of leak. The shear ram didn’t engage and since the U.S. isn’t required to have a back up plan to activate that shear ram, the oil keeps coming. Even if it did activate, it may or may not have the force at that depth to actually cut through.
According to an Associated Press (AP) review:
Reliability questions have long shadowed blowout preventers:
Accident reports from the U.S. Minerals Management Service, a branch of the Interior Department, show that the devices have failed or otherwise played a role in at least 14 accidents, mostly since 2005.
Government and industry reports have raised questions about the reliability of blowout preventers for more than a decade. A 2003 report by Transocean, the owner of the destroyed rig, said: ‘Floating drilling rig downtime due to poor BOP reliability is a common and very costly issue confronting all offshore drilling contractors.’
Lawsuits have fingered these valves as a factor in previous blowouts
The BOP on the Deep Horizon rig was tested, however, the test is obviously only for function or pipe would be damaged. A survivor of the explosion stated: “We had set the bottom cement plug, [and] at that point the BOP stack, the blowout preventer, was tested.” But the shear ram didn’t engage through the normal controls. Robots on the ocean floor tried for days to engage it.
So far, we know BP had a blowout preventer that was tested beforehand but failed, and a shear ram that fails to engage so far. BP didn’t go out of its way to fulfill any more regulatory obligations than it had to. And BP may have been negligent by removing the mud before the final cement plug was in place, that mud being the first, but probably too small to matter, defense against the gas explosion according to the very detailed and informational article on NOLA.com, a New Orleans news website.
Still, what caused the whole shebang was a giant methane gas bubble that made it way up. We’re back to Halliburton. They haven’t come under full scrutiny yet. BP appears to be first as the overall responsible party. So we have to leave Halliburton on the list of blame too. A bad cement job more than likely caused the bubble to come up in the first place.
We’re also back to Mineral Management Service (MMS), an agency that according to NOLA.com, and other websites “is known for its cozy relationship with major oil companies.” Let me just say this. Ever since I started researching and blogging during the Bush Administration until now, a lot of the bureaus/agencies under the Interior Department are industry friendly and at ethical odds with what they purport to protect. USFWS appears to love the sport/hunting industry more than the wildlife it seeks to conserve. The BLM has done a heinously cruel job of rounding up our wild mustang horses and slaughtering them on behalf of the cattle industry. The Office of Surface Mining relative to mountaintop removal favors the coal industry’s practices more than protective measures for the surrounding environment it invades. We’ve heard about mountain top removal destruction, especially in Appalachia. And the MMS favoritism and lack of oversight for the oil industry is being highlighted now.
As the current head of the Department of Interior, Ken Salazar is almost indistinguishable from the Bush Administration’s Gale Norton or Dirk Kempthorne, still killing off wildlife (called management), and absconding public land for big industry.
During this oil spill fiasco, there was confusion as to whether the Deepwater Horizon rig was covered by the regulation to have a backup plan in case of a blowout. According to the Pensacola New (PNJ) article: “Following a tour of a boom operation in Gulf Shores, Ala., Salazar said that he understood BP was required to file plans for coping with a blowout at the well that failed. “My understanding is that everything was in its proper place,” said Salazar. He didn’t know that he didn’t know. What’s Ken been doing? His Chief of Staff, Tom Strickland, sure couldn’t help him on this gas explosion/oil leak mess.
Right after the explosion, Tom, also the “Department of Interior’s Ass’t. Sec’y for fish, wildlife and parks, traveled to the Grand Canyon on official business on April 27, three days after the oil leak was initially discovered.
Strickland’s Grand Canyon trip focused on management issues, including water flows, beach erosion and endangered species, but Strickland remained in ‘constant contact by satellite phone with Interior HQ as well as Fish and Wildlife Service and NPS operations in the Gulf,’ Interior Department spokeswoman Julie Rodriguez said.
So the oil spill couldn’t divert Strickland from his more pressing duty, there’s that word again, “management” as it relates to “endangered species” perhaps? If you’ve been reading my blogs you know management means “kill” for industry sake. As for endangered species this group in the Interior seems no different than the last and would probably like to see the list disappear altogether.
Jake Tapper of ABC News first reported the trip, but here’s the article about it.
Most environmentalists or citizens that care about wildlife, parks, and public land see much of a change since Salazar took over, I say now is a good time to clean house at the Interior Department. The Obama Administration promised to be science based. There is no science behind the treatment of wildlife and our public lands at the hands of Salazar. He and his department are industry friendly period. The Department of Interior’s involvement with industry must end if it is to fulfill its mission statement. As it stands, that department has been detrimental to our lives, the lives of animals, and wildlife habitat, as well as, the public lands we pay to sustain.
The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Mission Statement says it “protects and manages the Nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage; provides scientific and other information about those resources; and honors its trust responsibilities or special commitments to American Indians, Alaska Natives, and affiliated Island Communities.”
Suuuure. I don’t see them protecting the American heritage that is wild mustang horses. And Alaska’s native population is currently in a heated battle to keep Shell Oil out of the Arctic. How about the science behind taking the wolves off the endangered list way before recovery population numbers were reached, leaving the wolves susceptible to individual state’s thirst for money from sport/trophy hunters? Wolves are supposedly hunted because they pose a threat to deer, moose, and elk populations. Well, the BLM “proposes to offer parcels for lease at its May, 2010 auction. These parcels were protested by Colorado’s Wildlife Federation because 2 impact greater sage grouse leks, and two are within a bighorn sheep migratory corridor. Others impact moose production areas, pronghorn and deer severe winter range, and elk winter concentration areas. The cumulative impact upon wildlife from these parcels and the cumulative effect of earlier leases in addition to these proposed leases is of great concern to the Wildlife Federation in Colorado.” It should be. Down the road when deer and elk populations decline because of these leases, wolves or some other wildlife predator will be blamed by the Interior.
This Interior Department’s brand of protection and management leaves much to be desired in an intelligent, science based administration. According to the PNJ article, “U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.V., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has asked the Interior Department to turn over documents that explain why MMS decided to exempt some Gulf operators from being required to provide blowout scenarios. Rahall expressed concern Thursday that MMS ‘has become an enabler of bad practices by the industry.’” Really. While Rahall is at it, he should check out all the agencies under Department of the Interior.