BP’s secret blowout

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Following the explosion on April 20th that killed 11 workers, an estimated 200 million gallons of oil were released into the ocean, making this the biggest environmental disaster in US history; so could it have been prevented?

Investigative reporter Greg Palast says that 17 months before the Gulf of Mexico disaster, another BP deepwater oil platform in the Caspian Sea had already suffered a blowout.

In an article published on Tuesday 19th April for Truthout, Palast draws comparisons between these events:

“The earlier blowout occurred in September 2008 on BP’s Central Azeri platform in the Caspian Sea. As one memo marked “secret” puts it, “Given the explosive potential, BP was quite fortunate to have been able to evacuate everyone safely and to prevent any gas ignition.” The Caspian oil platform was a spark away from exploding, but luck was with the 211 rig workers. It was eerily similar to the Gulf catastrophe as it involved BP’s controversial “quick set” drilling cement.”

Yet BP had completely failed to inform Congress or the US safety regulators about this earlier incident, leading Palast to ask why there isn’t a clear law that requires disclosure:

“If you bump into another car on the Los Angeles freeway, you have to report it. But there seems no clear requirement on corporations to report a disaster in which knowledge of it could save lives.

Five months prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, BP’s Chief of Exploration in the Gulf, David Rainey, testified before Congress against increased safety regulation of its deepwater drilling operation. Despite the company’s knowledge of the Caspian blowout a year earlier, the oil company’s man told the Senate Energy Committee that BP’s methods are, “both safe and protective of the environment.”

Really? BP’s quick-dry cement saves money, but other drillers find it too risky in deepwater. It was a key factor in the Caspian blowout. Would US regulators or Congress have permitted BP to continue to use this cement had they known? Would they have investigated before issuing permits to drill?”

As Palast explains, putting profits before environmental protection and human life means that “regulation” has become a dirty word in politics:

“In its 2009 report to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), BP inched closer to the full truth. Though not mentioning “blowout” or “cement,” the company placed the leak “under” the platform [as opposed to “in the area of” the drilling platform, as BP had originally told reporters].

This points to a cruel irony: the SEC requires full disclosure of events that might cause harm to the performance of BP’s financial securities. But reporting on events that might harm humans? That’s not so clear.”

“’Regulation’ has become a dirty word in US politics. Corporations have convinced the public to fear little bureaucrats with thick rulebooks. But let us remember why government began to regulate these creatures. As Andrew Jackson said, ‘Corporations have neither bodies to kick nor souls to damn.’”

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