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Wed, 2013-10-23 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Gulf Shrimper Dean Blanchard of Grand Isle Sets the Record Straight About BP's Failed Cleanup

The second phase of hearings in the legal battle over the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico ended on October 17th. Following two weeks of testimony by the U.S. Department of Justice and BP, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier will determine what quantity of oil was spilled into the Gulf. He will also decide whether BP was simply negligent or grossly negligent.

The Justice Department claims 176 million gallons of oil were spilled; BP argues that it only spilled 103 million gallons. Under the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Control Act, Judge Barbier can fine BP and its partners $1,100 per barrel should he find they were negligent in their actions leading up to the spill and in the cleanup afterwards. The fine would rise to $4,300 per barrel if he finds the companies were grossly negligent or acted with willful misconduct, as the State Department alleges.

Using the State Department’s numbers, the fine could be $18 billion; if BP’s numbers are accepted, the fine could be $10.5 billion. 

The outcome of the case will play a role in all subsequent litigation around the BP disaster, including the case of Dean Blanchard, owner of Dean Blanchard Seafood, the largest shrimp buyer and wholesaler in the Gulf region. Blanchard's company in Grand Isle, Louisiana is all but shut down now. Blanchard keeps a small fraction of his staff employed – more of them than he needs to keep his dwindling operation going. He doesn't have the heart to make further cuts.

Blanchard estimates his company’s loss at over $100 million. He estimates that his business is now 15 percent of what it was before the spill. He keeps his doors open only because he can't bring himself to close down. He recently moved part of his business to a different area where some shrimpers are still able to harvest product, but he faces an uphill battle against BP, and an uncertain future, along with many other Gulf fishermen.

Dean Blanchard talks about the use of the chemical dispersant Corexit during the BP oil spill:

Tue, 2013-10-15 11:00Farron Cousins
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Justice Delayed For Mayflower Oil Spill Victims

As the government shutdown enters its third week, new and disturbing side effects are beginning to surface.  These adverse affects are arising from the U.S. court system, where federal prosecutors are unable to perform their day-to-day activities in many cases due to a lack of federal funding.

While this is bad news for American citizens, it is great news to oil giant ExxonMobil.  The federal prosecutors handling the case against Exxon for their Pegasus pipeline tar sands spill have been forced to request that the judge overseeing the lawsuits against Exxon delay the suit until government operations resume.

The U.S. attorneys and environmental investigators from the Justice Department and EPA are unable to work on the case due to the lack of funding.  According to the Associated Press, these workers are not even able to work on the case on their own time without pay, since it is a federal, not civil, suit.

In addition to the federal lawsuit, Exxon is currently facing at least $1.7 million in federal fines for the tar sands spill.  But again, as long as the government remains partially shut down, there is not enough staff to go around, and those fines will remain unpaid.  It is estimated that at least 94% of the entire EPA staff is currently furloughed as a result of the government shutdown.

This news is particularly disturbing for the residents of Mayflower, Arkansas, as they had worked very hard to get the lawsuit fast-tracked in the wake of the spill earlier this year.  The longer the shutdown lasts, the longer it will take for justice to be served against Exxon.  It also means that residents will go even longer without relief from the dangers affects of the diluted bitumen.

Mon, 2013-09-30 11:25Julie Dermansky
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Oil Blights Louisiana's Coast as Second Phase of BP Oil Spill Trial Begins

The toxic mess left in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster continues to negatively impact Gulf Coast ecosystems as the second phase of the BP trial begins in New Orleans. 

Billions of dollars
are on the line in the trial following the explosion of the Macondo well that took 11 lives and damaged the Gulf Coast’s economic and environmental health.  

On September 27th, Plaquemines Parish Coastal Zone Director P.J. Hahn took a trip to survey some of the areas most devastated by the oil spill, including Bay Jimmy and Cat Bay. Oil remains in the marsh, and coastal erosion continues at an accelerated rate.  

Coastal erosion, a major environmental challenge even before the spill, became a bigger problem when oil washed onto the barrier islands, killing the roots of marsh grass and mangrove trees that helped to hold the land together.

Since the spill, Hahn has been documenting two barrier islands in Cat Bay that had active bird rookeries. The rookeries had been host to spoon bills, egrets and brown pelicans, the Louisiana state bird that only recently was taken off the endangered species list.

Wed, 2013-09-18 13:57Farron Cousins
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Whether Approved Or Not, Keystone XL Has Been A Victory For Lobbyists

For the past six years, lobbyists in Washington have made a killing shilling either for or against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  And with no clear end in sight, the folks on K Street will continue to see a flurry of cash headed in their direction.

During last year’s heated presidential race, groups spent close to $16 million directly related to the Keystone XL pipeline, with most of that money coming from industry and other proponents of the pipeline.  While opponents of the pipeline spent a few million last year – with at least one million pledged this year to fight against KXL – the lion’s share of the money spent on lobbying comes from the dirty energy industry.

Bloomberg reported the following on how intense the lobbying showdown has been in recent years:

Sat, 2013-09-14 10:29Farron Cousins
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Republican Congressman Says Syrian Conflict A Boon For Keystone XL

Will the turmoil in the Middle East surrounding Syria expedite approval of the Keystone XL pipeline?  North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven believes it will.

Mon, 2013-09-09 12:28Farron Cousins
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Louisiana Governor Jindal Not Buying BP Spin on Gulf Coast Impacts

Have environmental priorities finally trumped extreme right wing politics in the deep south? 

Louisiana's Republican governor Bobby Jindal has heard enough from oil giant BP, taking them to task recently for destroying sensitive coastal areas during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

For those of us who live along the Gulf Coast, it's good to see that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is fed up with BP’s ongoing ad campaign. Designed to greenwash their performance as compassionate and caring, BP's ads instead suggest that the families impacted by the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill are greedy and corrupt - it's the mirror opposite of reality. 

At a recent gathering of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Jindal said, “Three and a half years later, BP is spending more money – I want you to hear this – they are spending more money on television commercials than they have on actually restoring the natural resources they impacted.”

Mother Jones quotes Jindal to the Council:  “BP needs to stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their public relations campaign telling us how great they are and start proving it by addressing their Clean Water Act and Natural Resources Damage liabilities now.”

Tue, 2013-09-03 14:37Steve Horn
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"Frackademia" By Law: Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Exposed

With the school year starting for many this week, it's another year of academia for professors across the United States - and another year of “frackademia” for an increasingly large swath of “frackademics” under federal law. 

“Frackademia” is best defined as flawed but seemingly legitimate science and economic studies on the controversial oil and gas horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but done with industry funding and/or industry-tied academics (“frackademics”). 

While the “frackademia” phenomenon has received much media coverage, a critical piece missing from the discussion is the role played by Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Although merely ten pages out of the massive 551-page bill, Section 999 created the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), a “non-profit corporation formed by a consortium of premier U.S. energy research universities, industry and independent research organizations.” 

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, RPSEA receives $1 billion of funding - $100 million per year - between 2007 and 2016. On top of that, Section 999 creates an “Oil and Gas Lease Income” fund “from any Federal royalties, rents, and bonuses derived from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.” The federal government put $50 million in the latter pot to get the ball rolling. 

The Energy Policy Act of 2005's ”Halliburton Loophole” - which created an enforcement exemption from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking, and made the chemicals found within fracking fluid a “trade secret” - is by far the bill's most notorious legacy for close followers of fracking.

These provisions were helped along by then-Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Policy Task Force, which entailed countless meetings between Big Oil lobbyists and executives and members of President George W. Bush's cabinet. Together, these lobbyists and appointees hammered out the details behind closed doors of what became the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill receiving a “yes” vote by then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Mon, 2013-08-26 05:00Farron Cousins
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BP Launches Massive PR Campaign To Demonize Oil Spill Victims

BP, the oil giant that, along with Halliburton and Transocean, was responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, is crying foul in the claims process of settlements for the victims of the spill.  The company has launched a massive public relations offensive to paint themselves as the victims in this situation.

According to The Hill, BP CEO Bob Dudley said recently that the entire claims process has been “absurd,” and that his company has been more than generous with their payments.  BP spokesperson Geoff Morrell said:  “While we remain committed to paying legitimate claims, we did not agree to pay for fictitious losses, or for claims that are based on fraud or tainted by corruption.”

While the overall PR war may appear to be aimed at the victims along the Gulf Coast, the real targets of BP’s campaign are trial lawyers.  They have even enlisted the help of the largest business lobby and strongest advocates for “tort reform”, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Hill reports that a recent ad placed by BP in The Washington Post quoted National Association of Manufacturers CEO Jay Timmons, saying, “Too often these days, the tort system is nothing more than a trial-lawyer bonanza, and that’s not fair to individuals seeking redress and no way to encourage investment in manufacturing to create tomorrow’s high-paying jobs.”

The reason that the company is trying to paint the claims process as plagued with fraud is that they had underestimated the amount of claims that they would have to pay out, and their settlement fund is quickly running dry.  This means that subsequent payments will have to come directly out of the company’s profits, a move that is not sitting well with shareholders who were promised that the price tag would not exceed $8 billion

Sun, 2013-08-25 15:00Farron Cousins
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The Deadly Truth About Oil And Gas Industry Safety Standards

A new report delivers a dire warning to employees in the oil and gas industries: Your job could be the death of you.  According to recently released statistics from 2012, on the job deaths in the oil and gas industries spiked by a staggering 23% last year, a larger increase than any other employment sector in the United States.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said that the amount of deaths within the industry was “unacceptable.”  In 2012, according to labor statistics, there were 138 on the job deaths in the oil and gas industry, which is an increase from the 112 deaths that occurred in the prior year.  This is a stark contrast to all industries, as the total number of worker deaths across the board decreased last year.

The trend in oil and gas industry deaths is nothing new.  Between 2003 and 2010, the industry had the highest death toll in the United States, beating out all other industries for worker deaths.  The majority of these deaths are due to workers being struck by equipment, struck by vehicles, and occasionally a major catastrophic accident, like the BP refinery explosion in Texas in 2005, and the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in 2010.

Thu, 2013-08-08 14:31Farron Cousins
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BP Attacks Oil Spill Victims, Tries To Hide Criminal Past

In recent corporate public relations attempts, BP has tried to shift the public’s focus from its corporate wrongdoing and outright criminal behavior to criticizing BP's victims and their legal representatives. According to a privileged, plaintiff’s attorney work document, BP has dumped over $500 million into PR, attacking “judges, special masters, and claimants’ lawyers - trying to change the focus from its tragic track record of ignoring safety and deepwater despair.”

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