British Petroleum has been deemed by the federal and state governments as the lead and responsible party for stopping and cleaning up the huge environmental disaster caused by explosion and eventual sinking of Deep Horizon well off the shores of Louisiana.
I interviewed Mike Papantonio and Bobby Kennedy, Jr. about this disaster. Papantonio is a Pensacola attorney and environmentalist who founded Emerald Coastkeepers, which is affiliated with Kennedy’s Riverkeepers. The friends have co-hosted the syndicated, radio program “Ring of Fire” for seven years and both successfully tried in 2007 a class-action suit against Dupont for creating a 112-acre waste site tainted with arsenic, cadmium and lead that endangered the residents of the small West Virginia town of Spelter.
Kennedy said that their team discovered last night that the BP well not only didn’t have the acoustical, emergency valve that could have shut it off, but was also lacking a deep-hole valve that would have also been able to stop the leaking of 5,000 barrels a day into the Gulf of Mexico.
“The acoustical valve is a device required all over the world,” says Papantonio. “In Norway, you can’t drill in the ocean without one.”
The acoustical valve allows operators to remotely shut off the flow of oil from the well. Senator Bill Nelson told locals at press conference in Pensacola on Friday, April 30 that he was calling for a U.S. Senate probe to find out why regulations were relaxed to allow BP to not install the acoustical valve.
Papantonio also said that the Deep Horizon well was only permitted to be 18,000-ft. deep, but BP was drilling the well to 25,000-ft.
“This screwed up all the permutations on how to deal with this problem,” says Papantonio. “The engineers were thinking the well was only at 18,000 ft.”
Papantonio explained that a deep-hole valve is one valve that is installed 200 feet under the sandy bottom.
When asked why BP wouldn’t install a deep-hole valve, Papantonio says, “Because the deep-hole valve when deployed could cause BP to lose the well site and redrill. They were cutting cost to save money.”
BP is definitely in charge of this environmental clean-up. On Saturday, May 1, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist flew to Pensacola to meet with Coast Guard, Florida Department of Environmental, BP and local county officials and get a briefing on the problem.
When I was identified by Joe Oliveri of BP as a reporter, I was asked by Nancy Blum, DEP communications director, to leave the room. They were talking about operational matters and I was to wait until Gov. Crist arrived for his briefing to re-enter the room.
As I was led out of the room, I overheard Florida DEP Secretary Michael Sole telling a BP representative, “I’m going to take care of you.”
When Gov. Crist arrived, we shook hands in the hallway and he invited me to walk in with him and his small entourage. No one stopped me from coming back into the room.
BP dominated much of the discussion about the clean-up. Gary Stewart, general manager of Governmental Affairs for BP, told the governor, “We have the full BP group-from around the world-focused on this problem. We are working aggressively as we can at the source, in the water and on the shores. We are here for the long-term.”
Joe Oliveri gave a very brief presentation on the booming: 54,000 feet of boom has been deployed, 10,000 feet is in reserve and another 35,000 is in route to NAS Pensacola.
What seems to be ignored by federal and state official is the criminal history of British Petroleum. In 2007, BP entered into agreement with the Justice Department and agreed to pay $373 million in fines and restitution to settle criminal charges stemming from a deadly explosion in Texas, an oil spill in Alaska and allegations of price-fixing in the nation’s propane markets.
In March 2005, an explosion at BP’s refinery in Texas City, Texas, killed 15 contract employees and injured 170. BP pleaded guilty to a one-count felony violation of the Clean Air Act in the case and agreed to pay $50 million in criminal fines.
A year later, oil from BP’s Alaskan exploration subsidiary leaked from pipelines into the tundra and a frozen lake. BP pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act and will pay $20 million in criminal fines and restitution to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Alaska.
“This company is known for cutting corners,” says Papantonio.
Papantonio believes that loosening of the federal regulations for offshore oil rigs by the Minerals Management Service began in 2003 when Vice President Dick Cheney and his Energy Task Force had closed doors meeting with oil industry officials.
“This directly leads back to Cheney’s energy policy,” says Papantonio.