Ah yes, the legalities of our lawyerly society…one of the truly frustrating experiences is watching a case built on common sense disintegrate into the bullshit of corporate attorneys…or, in other words:
You can find an expert to give expert testimony on anything.
Take for example, global warming…despite common sense dictating something is seriously going wrong on our planet, despite the near unanimous consensus that we are in big, freaking trouble unless we do something fast and even then, it might not be enough…well, our corporate brethren and their Republicans (primarily) can still trot out an expert or two…versus thousands, to say that what we all bear witness to is merely a fluctuation in normal temperature and it surely isn’t man-made.
Well, in the Gulf…a big game of what can you prove is beginning, all centered around the short and long term health effects resulting from all that toxic crude and corexit dispersant dumped into the waters.
British Petroleum and Nalco, you can be sure, will have attorneys all over this…trying to demonstrate that in fact, there are no health effects, everything is fine…it’s all just a case of some wicked flu going down in these four states, or once its acknowledged by the government that something’s going wrong (if ever), well then these two companies will hire their own experts to say that yes, people are getting sick, yes, it would appear we got us a four state cancer cluster, yes, it is odd, perhaps even an alarming statistical anomaly, but it is impossible to clearly demonstrate or prove the oil spill caused this…
The stories of sickness in the Gulf continue to come:
As an example of the attitudes to be expected out of any upcoming court fights, I give you Ken Feinberg, BP paid administrator of the BP claims fund, from an article by Mac McClelland:
“Feinberg, interrupting a person complaining about not being compensated for paralyzing headaches: “You gotta demonstrate that the physical injury is due to the spill. We are paying physical injury claims.”
Yep, just try proving your headache came from exposure to oil and dispersants, despite the fact you never had headaches of any frequency or strength before the spill, try to prove it came as a result…especially when BP will have ten expert witnesses for their defense being questioned by ten well paid attorneys to prove otherwise.
If/when this happens, you may be able to call it law, but you sure won’t call it justice…
In a disappointing but effective article by Aljazeera, Gulf Coast residents and scientists discuss their trials with the EPA and the NOAA in which they continually try to get the attention of the two agencies to address their ongoing health questions about the toxicity of the oil and the dispersants many believe continue to be used in the Gulf. Time after time the EPA and NOAA don’t return phone calls or won’t address the issue, even when independent lab tests prove residents are being poisoned.
“Michelle Nix, from Pensacola, Florida, founded the group Gulf Coast Oil Spill Volunteers. Nix helped organise blood tests for several Gulf coasts residents who were experiencing sicknesses attributed to toxic chemicals released from BP’s well blow-out and the dispersants the company has used to sink the oil. In October, Dr. Wilma Subra, a chemist and Macarthur Fellow, conducted the blood tests for volatile solvents – chemicals present in BP’s crude oil as well as their toxic dispersants – on eight people Nix provided who live and work along the coast. Most of the people tested had these toxic chemicals present in their blood at levels several times higher than the national average. On November 8, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson headed a meeting of the Gulf Oil Spill Task Force in Pensacola, which activist Michelle Nix attended. “I hand delivered these blood test results to Lisa Jackson,” Nix said, “She told me she would get back in touch with me, as well as that she would get in touch with Dr. Subra.” It is nearly a month later, and Nix has not heard from Lisa Jackson or the EPA. Dr. Subra, who is actively working with the EPA on issues beyond the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, is still waiting to hear from them about the blood test results. “I have not heard back from the EPA about the blood tests,” Subra told Al Jazeera, “I’m working with the EPA on a host of other issues, including superfund issues and hydraulic fracking. So let me be clear that they are not ignoring me on other issues. But with the blood tests, I have not heard from them.”
“In response to their oil disaster last summer that released at least 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP admitted to using at least 1.9 million gallons of widely banned toxic Corexit dispersants (which have been banned in 19 countries) to sink the oil. The dispersants contain chemicals that many scientists and toxicologists have warned are dangerous to humans, marine life, and wildlife. Residents in Mississippi and Louisiana told Al Jazeera that they believe BP continues to use the toxic dispersants, but the EPA will not respond to their appeals for information and help. Jesse Fineran works within the Hancock County Mississippi Emergency Management Agency as an oil spill response worker within the Emergency Operations Center. “They keep spraying [dispersants],” Fineran told Al Jazeera, “We keep seeing this foam coming in just about everyday. His attempts to alert EPA of the ongoing use of dispersants, as well as many other concerns he has about BP’s response to the disaster, have been largely ignored. Fineran, who continues to work within the Emergency Response Center for Mississippi added, “Nothing the EPA has told us has turned out to be true.”
Shirley and Don Tillman from Pass Christian, Mississippi, have been outspoken in their belief that BP’s dispersants have been making people sick. They were in BP’s oil response Vessels of Opportunity program, and several of their family members and friends are sick from what they believe are chemicals in BP’s dispersants. On October 19th they were visited by Special Agent James Kejonen from NOAA, and Special Agent Ben Bryant with US Fish and Wildlife. The agents told the Tillman’s they were collecting information for a government investigation into dispersants and possible problems associated with them. “I gave them a sample we’d taken from Long Beach that I thought had Corexit,” Shirley Tillman told Al Jazeera. “They were very friendly and seemed sincere, but we haven’t heard back from either of them, and they won’t return our phone calls.”
Government agencies, the American citizens’ tax-dollars pay for, ignoring American citizens, the same citizens who are in the Gulf, experiencing the effects of the BP oil spill firsthand. It would seem, in a rational world, these citizens would simply have to take their concerns and questions to the governmental agencies responsible to assist them, to help put their mind at ease or at least give answers to their questions, initiate an investigation…respond in any sort of way, but that’s not the way things work in the Gulf.
One might begin to question why this is?
Is it politics? Is it a cover-up? Is the problem so large nobody can figure out how to address it? Is it legal maneuvering? Is it a government working at the behest of a large corporation due to some alternative, unspoken arrangement? Is it simple disregard? Is it waiting for more conclusive test results? Is it trying to get a handle on the best way to spin an unforseen health crisis? Is it an attempt to make the problem go away by ignoring it, by attrition, by wearing everyone down until they just shut-up?
Maybe some of these, maybe none of these or all of these.
Hard to know for sure…but there is one thing for sure, one thing most certain…on the part of the EPA, the NOAA and British Petroleum:
In a recent article about the $20 billion dollar escrow account and claims process, Ken Feinberg estimated that after all is said and done, he will have paid out 6 billion of the BP Oil Spill trust fund, and he will then return the remaining $14 billion dollars to British Petroleum. These are surprising numbers, especially when you consider the amount of displeasure and suffering in the Gulf today. Second Harvest and Catholic Charities of Louisiana are reporting a 25% increase in demand, much of it attributable to the effects of BP’s spill, especially because most people in the country believe BP is taking care of this increase monetarily (the company is not) and it has resulted in fewer private donations.
The situation in the Gulf is getting worse, with Iray Nabatoff, director of the Community Center of St. Bernard, a Second Harvest partner reporting requests for food, clothing, assistance information and computer laboratory sessions continue to rise. “We’re seeing the ripple effects of the oil spill and the cessation of fishing activities right through the economy,” Nabatoff said. “I think we’re still on the ascending end of this. I wish I could report things are abating. On so many levels, it’s actually more of a struggle now.”
Again, these charities are not covered by the trust fund. These charities are on their own.
In light of this and several other developments, $14 billion dollars being returned to British Petroleum seems almost obscene.
Over the past few months British Petroleum has been scaling back the amount of cleanup workers despite continuing reports of heavy oil washing up onshore, and the company also began cutting the pay rates to companies that contract with cleanup workers.
The ever increasing amount of bankruptcies occurring in the Gulf as a result of lost wages, lost businesses and lost lives as a result of this spill.
The amount of people in the Gulf Coast region who are getting sick and the number of people who have been exposed to chemicals and will become sick in the future. If British petroleum doesn’t pay for their health care, after the individual is forced into bankruptcy by medical bills, the state and federal government will be the ones to do so, and what of the pain and suffering caused in the meantime?
As I wrote yesterday, there are numerous accusations being levied at Ken Feinberg that people are being underpaid in an attempt to steer them towards final payments. Feinberg denies this, but it doesn’t change the feeling of many residents on the Gulf Coast. They see 60,000 denials of payment, 147,000 under review, a lack of transparency in the claims process, no details given to explain how the amounts they received were calculated, all the claimants who feel they have little recourse, the changing rules, the pressure of forced decisions.
These feelings don’t come about when people consider a process fair.
And lest we forget, this spill has produced untold environmental impacts to the entire region which are years in the measuring, costwise.
August of 2013 is when the whole claims process is set to expire, when Feinberg states the last check will be sent from the fund. That may seem like a long time but it really isn’t, not in the big picture. This is only two and a half years and it would be my guess that in such a short time frame, some problems will only be really starting to show evidence: physical health, mental health, continued deterioration of fish stock and the environment.
In two and a half years, British petroleum gets the money back.
Two decades after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, huge quantities of oil still coat Alaska‘s shores with a toxic glaze, experts say. More than 21,000 gallons of crude oil remain of the 11 million gallons of crude oil that bled from the stranded tanker Exxon Valdez on the night of March 23, 1989.
The oil—which has been detected as far as 450 miles (724 kilometers) away from the spill site in Prince William Sound—continues to harm wildlife and the livelihoods of local people, according to conservation groups.
Dennis Takahashi-Kelso, who was on the ground at the Exxon Valdez disaster as Alaska’s commissioner of environmental conservation, remembers wading through knee-deep pools of bubbling, thick oil. The smell of the pure oil was intense and pungent, he said.
When he returned to the same beaches years later, he found “surprisingly fresh” oil just below the sand.
That’s twenty years later; two and a half years ain’t shit…but for BP, their escrow account disbursements will be over. As for the Gulf of Mexico and its residents, the trouble may still be in its infancy and at that time, as Feinberg estimates, British Petroleum will walk away from the Gulf with $14 billion dollars.
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.
I thought emergency relief payments were to be issued within 48 hours, the blow out preventer was coming to the surface, British Petroleum’s internal investigation had found itself innocent, Corexit was biodegrading, the oil plumes had disappeared, the Gulf’s waters were being reopened because all was clear, nobody was really getting sick, fishermen were happily returning to work, Bob Dudley had just been appointed British Petroleum Pope of all things efficient and green, while Barack Obama was born in a manger under a shiny star, and presented gifts of crab, shrimp and oysters by horse-riding representatives of the FDA, NOAA and the EPA on the new Christmas of August 29th.
Apparently, something went wrong.
Man, you leave the news cycle for five days and the official narrative officially goes to shit.
Oil is being found in the Mississippi Sound, a place that has recently been reopened for fishing by Mississippi’s DMR in coordination with the NOAA and the FDA. Oil is also being found in Pensacola Bay, Grand Isle and any number of other areas. In Pensacola Bay last week, BP officials were denying the reports of found oil until the Pensacola News Journal was supplied with two of the company’s own reports to the county about their cleanup efforts. One of the local fisherman, working for BP was quoted in the article saying, “BP says it’s all gone, but it’s not. I’ve known it was out there for a month. We were recovering it in a boat … scooping it up out of sand and dumping it into bags. They’re just trying to keep it quiet. Out of sight, out of mind.”
And, it isn’t only the oil that refuses to go away quietly, the dispersant Corexit also staged a triumphant return and not only in the Gulf of Mexico, now its being found in swimming pools. As reported on Florida Oil Spill Law:“Our heads are still swimming,” stated Barbara Schebler of Homosassa, Florida, who received word last Friday that test results on the water from her family’s swimming pool showed 50.3 ppm of 2-butoxyethanol, a marker for the dispersant Corexit 9527A used to break up and sink BP’s oil in the Gulf of Mexico. The Scheblers report a history of rashes, diarrhea, sick pets and children, and their neighbors are complaining of similar symptoms, some of whom don’t want to go on record. Nalco, the company that produces Corexit states their product largely biodegrades in 28 days, and since British Petroleum says they have not used Corexit since July 19th and yet the water in the pool was tested on August 18th it would certainly appear that someone is being less than truthful about not only the oil in Pensacola Bay, but the use of the dispersant, let alone near the coast and/or its properties.
Speaking of illness, the Alabama Press Register is reporting that so far 197 people have been treated for oil related health issues, a number that continues to rise despite Obama’s friendly swim a few weeks back. The President, of course would seem to have outstanding health care, being president and all, while the 197 families thus far affected? Many of them, not so much. Oh yeah, and the state of Alabama recently filed suit against British Petroleum and Transocean for attempting to cover up the oil’s effects and their use of Corexit, done without fully understanding the environmental impact of two million gallons of poison being dumped into the water and not near the coast.
The wildlife apparently ain’t doing so well either; miles of dead fish were discovered in lower Plaquemines Parish at the mouth of the Mississippi River. This accompanies several other reports of similar kills throughout the Gulf. Dr. Cake, a biological oceanographer feels they are directly related to the BP catastraphuk, and the combination of oil and dispersants throughout the water column. Meanwhile, despite the Louisiana DHH releasing a seafood safety report that found no evidence of oil in the seafood, tests performed by independent scientists are coming to very different conclusions, discovering unhealthy contamination in Louisiana oyster and crab sampled in Louisiana’s Atchafayala Bay, Pass-a-Loutre and Redfish Bay. It is results like these why many fishermen are refusing to trawl for shrimp and why two of Coastal Alabama’s foremost marine experts, Dauphin Island Sea Lab Director George Crozier and Robert Shipp, chairman of the University of South Alabama’s Marine Sciences Department are saying the submerged oil is threatening organisms that form the basic building blocks of the food chain.
Oh yeah, and remember when BP reported that BP’s internal investigation of BP had found BP innocent of the Deepwater Horizon explosion? Well, not so fast according to Reuters. The news agency now reports that BP’s internal probe has placed some of the blame on mistakes made by its engineers, claiming they misread pressure data that indicated a blowout was imminent. British Petroleum has also apparently discovered the value of hiring contractors. By use of contractors, British Petroleum can maintain that when cleanup workers aren’t paid, or people charge they are still using Corexit, BP can say well, we would never do such a thing, but our contractors might.
Oh, and it isn’t only cleanup workers notbeing paid. Ken Feinberg’s much ballyhooed claim that all would receive their emergency payments within 48 hours, yeah…that didn’t happen either. Amy Weiss, Feinberg’s spokesperson acknowledged there have been some delays, “In the first few weeks…we may be short of our 48-hour goal,” Weiss said in an e-mail.
This is not the way I left things five days ago; this is a sad state of affairs.
We got sick people, dead fish, oil in the water and dispersants in swimming pools. BP’s denying, then admitting and when they can’t figure anything else out, they blame it on contractors. Oil’s everywhere, the seafood, the marshes, the beaches, the seafloor and floating through the water in the water column. The blowout preventer hasn’t been raised. Seafood safety is still in doubt. Cleanup workers aren’t getting paid. Corexit is apparently still being used. And to top it all off, Feinberg’s much heralded 48 hour payments are behind, giving Gulf Coast residents precisely what they didn’t need right now, yet another public figure in this Catastraphuk who didn’t live up to his words.
Is it time yet to declare the official version, that all is well and/or rapidly improving in the Gulf of Mexico officially dead?
Sure would seem so.
So, in light of all these recent events, I feel it only fair to issue a warning:
To all those in charge, or not in charge depending on the investigation, my next vacation is in two months. These last five days I’ve been away have really gone badly for you so by October 30th, you all probably want to get your story straight.
I don’t want to come back again to more bad news. I don’t want to have to start taking this personal.
Who knows, when I get back next time on November 2nd, I could be reading how Bob Dudley secretly collects Hitler propaganda while beating his wife and Barack Obama was actually born in Kenya after all, secretly brought to Hawaii under cover of night by the EPA in a Coast Guard plane that is spraying dispersant even where they don’t find oil, you know…just for fun.
So guys, if you can’t get the Gulf right, can you at least start telling the truth? About anything?