In the past five months, Gulf Coast residents have been treated to a number of decisions with direct impact on their lives. They weren’t asked to give input at the time these decisions were made. They weren’t asked how they thought it might affect their future. The decisions occurred above their heads and most times, without their knowledge, but they are the ones now paying the price. This post is the first of three parts having to do with these decisions. Part one will address British Petroleum’s use of the dispersant, Corexit while two and three will be concerned with Bobby Jindal’s sand berms and the federal government’s response, including the amount of control ceded to British Petroleum. All three will address the issue of the courage necessary to change course in the Gulf, the importance of doing so and who will be affected. All three decisions to be looked at had to do with money and politics, and changing course now will affect the back accounts and political standing of the people in charge, but change must happen.
What is going on in the Gulf of Mexico is not working.
In late April, when British Petroleum realized the mess they were dealing with, they quickly had to make a choice in the way they were going to fight the oil. Their primary method could be through skimmers and boom, or the use of dispersants. Ultimately, they chose both but soon began to rely more and more on the dispersant Corexit, a product manufactured in Illinois by Nalco Corp. While the now CEO of BP, Bob Dudley, referred to Corexit as being no more toxic than dish soap, several other countries and the EPA disagreed, with its use being banned through most of Europe and the EPA initially informing BP they had to find a different dispersant to use because Corexit was too toxic. British Petroleum refused the EPA, saying they had no other option. This wasn’t necessarily true as the maker of a chemical, “Dispersit,” stated he could be making upwards of 60,000 gallons a day while his product was both more effective against Louisiana Crude and the EPA had found it far less toxic. So, why would BP use the dispersants at all and why insist on Corexit?
A number of reasons exist, including keeping the oil from the sensitive marshland and off the beaches, which is the reason most commonly given by those in charge of the cleanup. But also worth looking at again, for a moment are the money and politics involved.
Oil effectively sunk and not collected cannot be counted, and BP cannot be fined. Sunken oil also doesn’t necessarily require a cleanup crew, boats and boom and the disposal of tainted equipment, all quite expensive. As evidenced by the quick cutback of boats hired by BP to combat the oil, British Petroleum was saving money by announcing the ships were no longer necessary as there were no slicks to skim. From a PR/political point of view sunken oil also cannot be photographed, which means the media cannot splash pictures of the damage across televisions, computers and newspapers worldwide.
It’s also worthwhile to take another look at Nalco Corp, the producers of Corexit. Rodney Chase sits on the board of Nalco and previously he had been a BP board member for 35 years. Two of the primary owners of Nalco, purchased in 2003, are Goldman Sachs and Blackstone, and when Corexit’s use in the Gulf became public, Nalco’s stock prices understandably jumped. Meanwhile, as the catastraphuk unfolded, British Petroleum’s stock was falling and there were concerns among its corporate structure that BP might become subject of a hostile takeover. The company reached out to two banks for help in fending off such actions. These two banks were Goldman Sachs and Blackstone, the same two companies profiting off BP’s use of Corexit. It would stand to reason that BP’s continued use of the dispersant, as opposed to a less toxic and more effective brand may have had something to do with its ties to Nalco, Goldman Sachs and Blackstone. It should also be noted that at one time, Blackstone partnered with the financial company, Blackrock who is currently estimated to be British Petroleum’s largest stockholder.
As of this writing, over two million gallons of Corexit have been dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. No long-range studies have ever been completed to detail the effects of Corexit on the environment, and no corporation has ever dumped as much of the dispersant as BP has poured into the Gulf. British Petroleum continues to play down and/or deny the harmful effects of Corexit. They have also maintained that as of July 19th, not only has it no longer been used, but it was only used far out in the Gulf near the site of the former Deepwater Horizon…but now the science is coming in, as are eye-witnesses…and they are telling a rather different story. Despite Nalco and BP’s claims that Corexit biodegrades largely in 28 days, it continues to be found in the Gulf of Mexico. More alarmingly, it is being found in inshore waters, near the beaches and in a Floridian’s swimming pool north of Tampa. The Gulf’s ecosystem is becoming more susceptible to massive fish kills and people across the Gulf Coast, not just cleanup workers, but residents are getting sick. They have found evidence that Corexit is bio-accumulating in the food chain and some scientists claim its use will have stretched out the damage to the ecosystem for decades to come.
So, what needs to happen now?
First, British Petroleum needs to completely stop using Corexit.
They claim they already have but when asked about eyewitness accounts of its continued use by contractors, the company has hedged on this claim. BP mobile incident commander Keith Salhan said on August 23rd, “We are not using dispersants and haven’t been for some time,” but when asked about their contractor’s activities, went on to say, “We have lots of contractors, but no one should be using them. If they are, we need to know about it and stop it.” So why does it appear that BP is not attempting to find out? I find it difficult to believe that BP is completely unaware as numerous photos have appeared of Corexit containers on the docks of their contractors. If photographers can find evidence, it stands to reason the company that actually hires the contractors should be able to as well.
Second, we need openness and honesty.
British Petroleum and the Government’s silencing of scientists behind confidentiality clauses needs to end. Doctors in the Gulf Coast need all the information they can get to treat people. There are numerous reports that medical professionals are being pressured to remain quiet about illnesses attributable to exposure from Corexit and crude oil, but they are now finding these chemicals in people’s bloodstream. The chemicals in Corexit and crude oil are known carcinogens and people aren’t being given the facts about health effects. Both the government and British Petroleum appear to be lining up for what is sure to be an epic legal battle, but these legalities are keeping the information suppressed, are building up seeds of doubt in everyone’s minds about what is true and not true, about what is harmful and what isn’t. This all needs to end. While they argue about money, an entire ecosystem and the people who live in and near it are at risk.
Third, the no sue clause needs to be lifted in Ken Feinberg’s final payout scheme.
Potential health effects are not currently, completely known. By denying people the right to sue later if they accept payments from the $20 billion dollar escrow, they could be denying people the right for proper medical care later down the road, when the true effects of all these poisons currently in the Gulf are known.
Yesterday it was announced that British Petroleum had funded a study of these health effects, pledging 10 million dollars to the National Institute of health and where that is a good start, they make no promises on making right what is found by the studies funded by their grant money. Also, the question is being rightfully asked, what strings are attached to these funds, will the scientists who participate be denied the right to testify to their findings should they so choose?
These simple thoughts and suggestions, if enacted could possibly cost BP, Goldman Sachs, Nalco, Blackstone and many other organizations and people a great deal of money and prestige.
But I offer that more important are the people of the Gulf Coast.
We don’t know the full effects of this catastraphuk and won’t completely understand this for some time, but we might know faster and quite possibly have a better idea on how to better mitigate the damage done if information and data were widely shared, openly, without concern for legal ramifications. And please, BP, how about making sure your contractors stop using Corexit? I know that these suggestions seem quite impossible, but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be said nor does it mean they shouldn’t be called for.
British Petroleum is a corporation, one made of people and it is time for those people to do the right thing, the moral thing. It is time to focus more on the cost to families and not the cost to the shareholders. It is time for BP to not just say they are taking full responsibility, but to show the courage necessary to mean it.
Have a nice day.