As if the Gulf Oil spill pouring from Beyond (British) Petroleum’s drilling rig weren’t bad enough, it’s beginning to appear that, as in the financial meltdown, the culprit was lax regulations. Democracy Now featured a segment on May 7 that referred to a May 6 Washington Post exposè revealing that the Minerals Management Service (part of the U.S. Interior Department) essentially gave BP a free pass on its drilling project. No environmental review was required. Here is what the Post said:
“Petrochemical giant BP didn't file a plan to specifically handle a major oil spill from an uncontrolled blowout at its Deepwater Horizon project because the federal agency that regulates offshore rigs changed its rules two years ago to exempt certain projects in the central Gulf region, according to an Associated Press review of official records.
The Minerals Management Service, an arm of the Interior Department known for its cozy relationship with major oil companies, says it issued the rule relief because some of the industrywide mandates weren’t practical for all of the exploratory and production projects operating in the Gulf region.”
According to Democracy Now, this “relief” for certain projects is called a “categorical exemption” and it is meant to circumvent cumbersome environmental reviews for SMALL projects like outhouses or hiking trails. In this case, BP was allowed to slip through this little loophole and engage in drilling without a review at all. Its own assessment was used by MMS, to wit, that spills are unlikely, and in the event one should occur, it wouldn’t exceed a few thousand gallons. This is the Big Lie of offshore drilling according to Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity, who was interviewed on Democracy Now:
‘Offshore drilling is safe, and anyway it’s not where spills come from.’
So much for that one. The other big problem, according to Mr. Suckling, is the now head of the Interior Department, Ken Salazar. While he was a senator, Salazar was the darling of the oil drilling industry, receiving huge campaign donations from BP itself. When he became Interior Secretary, he promised, according to Suckling, to reign in the permissiveness at Minerals Management, which had routinely been granting drilling permits without reviews. Instead, Salazar has become a major proponent of offshore drilling, and even pushed MMS to pass more permits. In fact, Shell Oil Co. has a permit to begin offshore drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, where frigid waters make spills far worse than in the Gulf (witness what happened with the Exxon Valdez in 1989).
One more rat in the attic. It turns out that a major player in BP’s exploded drilling rig was our old friend Halliburton. They were the ones who did the concrete work that preceded not only the Gulf Oil spill, but another recent one off Australia. Here is what a recent piece in the Huffington Post (reprinted in Truthout) says:
“Giant oil-services provider Halliburton may be a primary suspect in the investigation into the oil rig explosion that has devastated the Gulf Coast, The Wall Street Journal reports…drilling experts agree that blame probably lies with flaws in the ‘cementing’ process - that is, plugging holes in the pipeline seal by pumping cement into it from the rig. Halliburton was in charge of cementing for Deepwater Horizon.” (“Was the Gulf Oil Spill an Act of War? You Betcha,” May 6, 2010)
So there you have it. British Petroleum, which touts itself as a major environmental player (save, of course, for its little oil-sands project in Canada—referred to in my recent blog on “Moral Economics”) ducked under environmental protection rules with a little government help, and used as its cementer, the great Halliburton of Dick Cheney and Iraq fame. Other than a minor environmental catastrophe, what could be bad?