Deepwater Horizon Drilling Rig
It was almost 9.45pm on the 20th April 2010, in The Macondo Prospect, the Gulf of Mexico. All seemed normal as could be aboard 9-year-old Deepwater Horizon, a semi-submersible, floating drilling rig, owned by Transocean and contracted by Halliburton for British Petroleum. They were drilling an exploratory well, when high pressure methane gas expanded into the drilling riser which then made its way into the drilling rig. Here it ignited and exploded, killing 11 employees. The blowout preventer failed; a device that should have automatically sealed the well. The explosion led to the rig sinking and the biggest oil spill in US maritime history. There had been warnings before the explosion that all was not well. Concerns had been expressed to be cautious as there was indications of shallow gas. Certain actions had been taken by BP to avoid extra costs, which was against the advice of Halliburton, possibly putting the safety of the drilling at risk. Rumours circulated between employees, with claims of issues with the way the project was managed and of corners being cut. On the afternoon of 22nd April a large oil slick was discovered at the former rig site. A sea-floor oil gusher had oil flowing from it. Numerous unsuccessful attempts to stop the alarming flow of an estimated 62,000 barrels of oil per day were made, until eventually, 87 days after the oil spill began, the well was sealed on 19th September 2010. Things were, however, far from fixed.
Lies and Excuses
When the spill began, BP released an estimation that between 1,000 and 5,000 of barrels of oil per day were leaking into the Gulf. In actual fact, The Flow Rate Technical Group estimated that it was more like 62,000 of barrels per day that were being spilt. Altogether, an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil leaked. When it came down to who was actually to blame, BP did all they could to pass the blame on to Transocean and Halliburton. BP blamed Halliburton for a bad cement job, despite the fact that on the morning of the explosion it was BP who cancelled a cement bond test that had been specifically recommended – the test would have taken time and money and it would appear that BP felt they could spare neither. Transocean were blamed by BP for inadequate maintenance of the failed blowout preventer. Transocean shot back at BP’s accusations, calling their report “a self-serving attempt to conceal the critical factor that set the stage for the Macondo incident: BP’s fatally flawed well design.” Halliburton had made numerous recommendations to BP prior to the explosion that went ignored because it would have cost more money, with one Halliburton employee, Marvin Volek, complaining that BP’s use of cement “was against our best practices.” Although BP seem to be the leading party to blame in this epic disaster and their cost cutting appears to be one of the main contributing factors behind the explosion, none of the parties involved were innocent, and they were all ‘punished’ for their part in the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster.
Billions of dollars in fines
Halliburton recommended the use of 21 centralisers in the well, which are used to hold parts securely into place. BP opted to use 6 instead in order to cut costs. This was a firm argument towards confirming that Halliburton attempted to do things the ‘right’ way, it would appear; until it emerged that they had destroyed evidence gathered in the form of a simulation which showed that 21 centralisers would have had the same effect as 6. One may question whether this fact would have made a difference to BP’s decision to use 6 regardless of the risks it allegedly posed, but the point is that Halliburton had ordered its employees to destroy the evidence twice. For this misdemeanour Halliburton were ordered to pay $200,000 and made a voluntary contribution of $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. They also agreed to be on probation for three years. Transocean paid $1.4 billion to settle US charges. The company had set aside $1.95 billion for potential losses. BP were hit with $4.525 billion in fines and other charges. As of February 2013, BP had shelled out much more, $42.2 billion in total towards criminal and civil settlements and payments to a trust fund. BP wanted settlement payments to the victims of the disaster to be lowered in a federal court, complaining that it was cutting into their profit margin. An admittedly large sum of money was paid by all involved parties, however, in the grand scale of things and in comparison to their yearly profits it could easily be seen as an unjust amount. One may wonder if it will really teach them anything about the mistakes they made that cost and ruined lives and severely damaged the environment.
Loss of life and loss of habitat, yet no loss of profit.
Although loss of profit was avoided, The Deepwater Horizon disaster caused great damage to BP’s stock prices; before the explosion they were worth 650p, before the leak was capped they were down to 298p. A lot of the people involved in the Deepwater Horizon rig held shares in BP, which would mean that they would have took a great loss in money as the share prices plummeted. However, it seemed that luck was on their side. In the first quarter of 2010, just before the explosion, the big cats involved all got the sudden urge to start dumping their BP stock. Tony Hayward, Chief executive of British Petroleum, sold a third of his holding in BP just a month before Deepwater Horizon sank. With his returns he swiftly paid off the £1.2million mortgage on his estate in Kent, London. Goldman Sachs, of Transocean, sold 4,680,822 of his shares in BP. Vanguard, asset holders of many, including none other than Barack Obama, sold $85 million worth of BP stock just weeks before the explosion. This saved a lot of their customers a lot of money. This sudden inspiration to sell off stock was certainly a case of excellent foresight, which if ignored would have resulted in large losses for those concerned. Having the providence to dump stock saved each seller millions. One may even wonder if they were all blessed with a sixth sense that allowed them to predict the sinking of Deepwater Horizon. If Sachs and Hayward had of sold all of their shares, one would surely be absolutely positive that they held mystical powers of prophecy, however they only sold enough to nicely line their pockets. Good call.
“This is BP’s rules… Not ours.”
Under the Oil Pollution act of 1990 BP was held as the Lead Responsible Party for the Deepwater Horizon Drilling Rig disaster. This sounds just; they were, after all, mainly responsible for it. However, this title meant that they were now officially in charge of coordinating the response to the oil spill. Surely you would not expect the company who had caused the oil spill to be left in charge of fixing it? Their cost cutting had caused the largest US maritime environmental disaster ever, how could they be trusted to find a solution? The Federal Aviation Administration applied a temporary flight restriction zone over the operations area at a distance of 900 square miles on BP’s orders. The press were denied from documenting the spill – they were not allowed to fly above the site, as flight restrictions meant no flights were allowed below 1,000 metres above the area. They were also banned from approaching any effected areas by foot or boat. Authorities followed BP’s ruling, stopping and searching boats for journalists. In one case a CBS news crew attempted to access beaches close to the spill area that were covered in oil, only to be greeted by authorities who promptly denied them access, supposedly informing them, “This is BP’s rules… Not ours.” Later, BP, the Coastguard and the FAA all denied that journalists had ever been restricted, claiming that they allowed the media to cover the response from the beginning. However, the media was only granted access when accompanied by BP officials, on BP’s own boats and aircraft. Even the first official images that were released by congress were provided by BP. After the initial ‘excitement’ for mainstream media surrounding the oil spill, related issues stopped receiving news time. Health effects and wildlife effects are no longer shown by main news channels. New findings, independent studies and eye witness testimonies appear to go mainly unreported.
As part of the ‘clean up’ of the oil spill, Corexit was the dispersant used by BP during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Dispersants are used to make oil mix with water by breaking up the oil into small droplets. Dispersants are expected to make oil biologically degrade faster. As a result of their use, animals on the water surface are supposedly less exposed to oil and it is also claimed that less oil floats ashore. Dispersants give the impression that the oil has disappeared. Subsurface marine life, though, is more at risk when dispersants are used – the droplets are small enough for them to swallow. Recent scientific studies have also provided evidence that there is not actually a faster bio degeneration rate when dispersants are used, and some studies have even shown a hindrance in the bio degeneration rate. During the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, when 41,000 gallons of oil was spilt after an oil tanker crashed into a reef, the use of Corexit was dabbled with. However the small amount of research that had been concluded about Corexit meant that usage ceased. Conservationists and fishing groups were unprepared to accept responders targeting the Alaskan waters with a chemical that had not been tested. Perhaps it is a sign of our times that in the 2010 spill, where 210 million gallons of crude oil was spilt and nearly 2 million gallons of Corexit was used, BP just attempted to disguise the effects of this still little-researched chemical, and those who protested against its use were ignored.
“As safe as Dawn dishwashing liquid”
Corexit was regularly described as being as safe as ‘Dawn dishwashing liquid’ by officials when the safety of this chemical was questioned, even though there is an overwhelming amount of witness claims of severe health issues which are all similar to other claims. Symptoms include abdominal pains, skin irritations, confusion and memory loss, general deterioration of health and ageing and upper respiratory problems. There are many claims that illnesses and health issues improved when families that were suffering would leave the affected area for a period of time, only to begin again when they returned. Families wanted to leave for good but they could not afford to, especially once their medical bills had soared after repeat visits to health care professionals were needed. Local health care practitioners declined to talk about a possible link between cases of ill health and the chemicals used during the oil spill clean-up. Doctors refused to take blood from patients who requested blood tests, wanting to enquire about possible chemical levels in the blood. If patients mentioned a possible link, it is claimed by many that doctors would become particularly closed off, defensive and dismissive. Independent blood tests funded by non-profit group LEAN (Louisiana Environmental Action Network) consistently showed high chemical levels in blood. When investigating official reports it appears that Corexit lived up to its namesake and officially ‘corrected it’, with BP claiming that usage of the chemical made for a safer environment for response workers, as well as breaking down the mass of oil. However, a report undertaken by the organisation Government Accountability Project found that the BP resource manual about Corexit, which was required to be available to all response workers, stated exposure to the chemical caused risk to haemolysis, kidney or liver injury, irritation of the upper respiratory tract, central nervous system effects, nausea, vomiting, anaesthetic or narcotic effects, dried skin and chemical pneumonia. When response workers suffered these symptoms, they were directed to a temporary government medical unit. Whistle blowing response workers told GAP that it was heavily guarded by BP staff, with medical professionals refusing to admit any link between said symptoms and chemicals, the repeated diagnoses being ‘fatigue’ or ‘the effects of working in Gulf heat’. Also, many response workers claim that they received no training in working with chemicals and were not given Personal Protection Equipment. Workers claim that when they asked BP officials to supply PPE, hints towards loss of jobs to those insisting on wearing it would be made, as it gave a bad public impression.
“The long term effects of aquatic life are largely unknown” – Administrator Jackson
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA Fisheries), from February – April 2010, 114 dolphins and whales were found stranded. From April – November 2010, 121 were found stranded. Between November 2010 and June 2014, 1002 have been found stranded. Of them statistics, 5% were stranded alive and 95% dead. By August 2010 more than twice the average number of sea turtles were found stranded. 17 of the dead amphibians were oiled, 510 were not. 5 dead dolphins discovered were oiled, 67 were not – more being found dead than usual. Scientists acknowledged that due to dolphins rising to the surface to breathe, they may have inhaled toxic chemicals as a result of the oil spill. 1,886 dead birds were oiled, 2,333 were not. Nearly 80% of fishermen that GAP interviewed reported that their catch had significantly decreased. 60% of GAP witnesses reported seeing deformities in seafood, including lesions on fish and eyeless shrimp. Coral, sensitive to any type of environmental change, have experienced wide spread damage and mortality.
Out of sight, out of mind
As for official reports suggesting that less wildlife has been harmed by oil due to the use of Corexit, if the previous evidence isn’t contradictory to that claim enough, increase in oil based chemicals has been seen on the Gulf seafloor. Large amounts of plankton and microscopic life have died off. These are at the base of the food chain, and so although it may appear that less wildlife has been directly harmed due to the use of Corexit in order to break down oil, in the long run wildlife will be even worse off. Although less oil floated to the shore at the time Corexit was used, USF conducted independent studies on sediment on the sea floor which showed that oil based particles were 300 times higher than normal levels. When the chemical was originally sprayed it was reported by locals that one day they would alert officials of an oil slick, the next it would be gone, as if by magic. This is no magic solution, though. It would appear that Corexit was a quick fix scheme that didn’t really fix anything at all, it just hid the evidence whilst masking a deadly truth. Independent studies claim that when mixed with oil, this mixture became 50 times more toxic than oil alone.
According to Environmental Protection Agency reports, the use of Corexit resulted in the coast being protected from worse pollution that oil alone would have caused. Less oil was seen, making the public believe it had worked. Short term results, on paper, had the desired effects. However, the official research partaken on Corexit is very inadequate, with little being known about its long term effects, so little, in fact, that reports are unable to comment on the effects of Corexit until years of research have been done. In fact, it will be a very long time before we know the true extent of damage to health and the environment caused by the use of this chemical, but with the effects shown in just 4 years it can be assumed that the outlook is not promising.
We are the power
Regardless of how far you chose to look into the many mysteries, conveniences, links and auspicious coincidences surrounding the Deepwater Horizon explosion, what is absolutely undeniable is the effects of the oil spill and it’s clean up on the surrounding environment. Will more research be done so questions about the effects of Corexit can be answered? When the next inevitable large oil spill occurs, will the responders be ordered to, again, pump millions of gallons of these unknown chemicals into the oceans? After the short term use of it in the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989 and the lack of research thereafter, it would appear that research into the effects of Corexit is not important to officials. In 1999 – Eleven years before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and ten after Exxon Valdez – the EPA wrote “few long term environmental effect tests have been conducted after a dispersant application”, and still, today, this fact remains. So it is unlikely that official research will commence, and if it does, it would seem that findings may be unlikely to be released… and why would they be when evidence suggests that the truth behind Corexit and its mixture with oil is so sinister? BP have informed that until the government bans the use of Corexit they will continue using it. It is inevitable that there will be another oil spill before long; there are 36 BP offshore rigs, 27 of which are currently drilling. Although the use of dispersants isn’t allowed in all countries, including Great Britain, BP’s own, it is still allowed in many. And it isn’t just BP… there are many other oil companies that drain the earth of crude oil, risking wildlife and human life to make their billions. The mainstream media may have stopped reporting on these issues until the next spill, but activists, witnesses and others who refuse to be fooled continue to protest and inform online, sharing news and telling others about the effects the oil spill has had. Of course, it should be being aired on mainstream media, reporters should be exposing every little lie told, sharing every effect experienced, but where the media fails, the public pushes on; revealing, exposing and spreading the truth. By use of social media, attention is drawn to videos, blogs and evidence surrounding the Gulf oil spill – but not enough. There is a chance that we can continue spreading the truth, drawing mass attention to the failings of those involved, to the corruptness surrounding the way responders were openly exposed to toxic chemicals, to the mysteries surrounding the dumping of stock just weeks before the explosion, to the damage done to the Gulf’s wildlife, to the local residents and response workers whose health has been severely damaged, who are now left fearing for their future, unsure of what the long term effects of exposure to chemicals will be. There is simply too much evidence of wrong doing for this to go continually ignored and unreported, and if mainstream media won’t, or can’t, report on it, then we, the power, must. If enough of us demand further studies into the effects of Corexit and its reaction with oil, perhaps one day the victims of its use may have their questions answered. Maybe the next time there is a major spill officials will be too scared to use Corexit again, because we are onto them, we have seen through their cover ups, and we will stand together and no longer allow their lies to go unchallenged. We must demand truth for those who have been made to suffer, for their children and grandchildren who are likely to be affected by long term health issues and environmental issues, we must remember the 11 who died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, their lives sacrificed because safety on the rig was not as important as making more money, we must demand justice for the wildlife that has forfeited it’s life and habitat for the profit of a select few, and for the environment that has been destroyed. The damage that has been done to the Gulf is irreversible, the long term health effects are unknown and irreparable, but there is time to demand change before the next multi-billion dollar company poisons another biodiversity and population. We must not let the truth go unheard.