gulfcoastobserver

Settlement Claims Cover-Up

In Developments In The Gulf on August 22, 2010 at 12:49 pm

***UPDATE 2:  Short-term (one and six month) settlements won’t require waiving right to sue but lump-sum settlements will*** (http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/08/23/gulf.oil.disaster/?hpt=T2)

*** UPDATE:  Fineburg may now allow claimants to retain right to sue *** (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-08-22/bp-spill-fund-manager-feinberg-says-victims-may-retain-ability-to-sue.html)

original post follows:

BP and federal agencies are working in concert to cover-up the Oil Disaster’s long term effects while new rules force victims receiving settlement checks to sign away their rights to future damages

New protocols were announced last week requiring recipients of settlement checks from the Gulf Oil Disaster to waive their rights to future lawsuits against BP and other contractors.  After the Valdez spill, similar settlements were made forcing people who received checks to agree to sign documents that would prevent them from collecting any future damages.   When the effects persisted over years, with detrimental effects on fisheries, people who signed the agreements had no further recourse.  The details of this new settlement process for the Gulf came days after the Department of Fisheries partially lifted a fishing ban in the Gulf and the publication of a NOAA report declaring that an astounding 75% of the spilled oil had been removed from the gulf by clean-up efforts and natural processes.  This report was later retracted by NOAA after two major scientific studies documented two different vast under-sea oil plumes but not before receiving widespread coverage by the mainstream press.

One report, published by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts documents a vast plume of dispersed oil over 20 miles long  to the southwest of the disaster site.  The other, published by the University of South Florida, shows a plume to the northeast, in and around the DeSoto Canyon, a deep underwater feature known for its abundance of diverse marine life.  The USF report found that some of the oil from that plume is settling on the bottom while other parts of it may be flowing up towards the coast of Northwest Florida.  While much of this oil is suspended below the normal habitat of most of the larger sport fishing species, it may be impacting smaller fish that live deeper and serve as a major food source for the larger fish, transporting nutrients that settle to the depths back up towards the surface.  The true impacts to Gulf fisheries will likely not be fully apparent for years to come.

One of the researchers involved in the USF study has since reported being harassed by officials at NOAA who he says intimidated him in an attempt to suppress the oil plume findings.  Additionally, there is evidence of clandestine disposal of dead wildlife along the Coast.  Combined with the documented cozy relationship between BP and the Federal agencies who are supposed to be keeping them honest, it paints a dismal picture.  The well still isn’t permanently killed, the schedule for that keeps changing, and Transocean, the owners of the sunken rig, claim that BP is still withholding critical data about the accident.  Still, victims of the Gulf Oil Disaster are expected to relinquish their rights to compensation for future damages in order to get a settlement check.

Trouble in the Air

In Developments In The Gulf on July 12, 2010 at 4:26 pm

Who’s monitoring the monitors?

On June 25th, two members of the US Congress, Peter Welch (D – VT)  and Lois Capps (D – CA), sent a letter (http://welch.house.gov/images/stories/06_25_CAPPS_WELCH_letter_to_BP–CTEH_concerns.pdf) to BP chief Tony Hayward demanding that BP remove the Arkansas-based contractor, the Center for Toxicological and Environmental Health (CTEH) (http://www.cteh.com/ ), from its role as “primary monitor of health issues” in the Gulf Coast region and that all of the monitoring data collected be made available both to the government and the public.  The letter cites a June 18 Greenwire article,  posted on the New York Times website, (http://www.nytimes.com/gwire/2010/06/18/18greenwire-record-of-bps-gulf-worker-testing-firm-raises-84788.html) that chronicles a history of questionable monitoring practices by CTEH.

In 2006, CTEH conducted tests on Chinese drywall that was thought to be leeching out toxic gasses and concluded that the drywall was safe.  Later, tests of the same drywall by another company revealed potentially dangerous levels of toxic gasses (http://www.rumberger.com/?t=40&an=785&format=xml ).  In another incident, the EPA cited CTEH for sub-standard air quality monitoring after a coal-ash spill in Tennessee (http://www.epakingstontva.com/EPA%20Air%20Audits%20and%20Reviews/01January%2025,%202010%20Multimedia%20Audit/Evaluation%20of%20Perimeter%20Air%20Monitoring%20Strategy%20and%20Corrective%20Actions%20%28January%2025,%202010%29.pdf ).

CTEH has posted a response to the Representatives’ letter on their website’s home page (http://www.cteh.com/).  It claims that the allegations against it are baseless and denies that CTEH is in fact the “primary monitor of health issues” for the response.  However, public documents (http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/incident_response/STAGING/local_assets/downloads_pdfs/Air_Water_Inter_Tidal_Sediment_Sampling_Analysis_Plans.pdf ) show that CTEH is the author of the “Oil Spill Community Air Sampling and Analysis Plan”, “Surface Water Sampling and Analysis Plan” and “Inter-tidal Sediment Baseline Sampling and Analysis Plan” for the spill response.  While it’s admittedly difficult to ascertain just who’s in charge of anything in the response to this disaster, writing all the plans for how the monitoring is going to happen certainly seems like a ‘primary’ role in the monitoring activities.

A grassroots example

One Louisiana non-profit sets a bold example for community-based air monitoring.  The Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LBB) (http://www.labucketbrigade.org/ ) was founded in 2000 as an extension of the ‘Bucket Brigade’ movement started by attorney Edward Masry (depicted in the 2000 film Erin Brockovich) in California in 1995.  The concept is simple, the organization provides low cost ‘buckets’ that contain special bags for taking high quality air samples that are then sent to labs for analysis.  This way, communities can take control of air sampling processes and not be forced to rely on test results companies like CTEH.

CTEH is no stranger to the LBB either.  After hurricane Katrina, over a million gallons of crude oil was spilled at a Murphy Oil refinery in St. Bernard’s Parish.  Murphy Oil hired CTEH to handle the spill response and the LBB documented numerous examples of oversights and negligence by the company (http://www.labucketbrigade.org/downloads/Science%20for%20Sale.pdf ).  Today, the LBB is working with communities around the Gulf to create an ‘Oil Spill Crisis Map’ documenting incidents related to the spill (http://oilspill.labucketbrigade.org/ ).

Don’t Cover This Oil Spill

In Developments In The Gulf on July 10, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Don’t talk about it.

Don’t look at it.

You can’t be here.

As the unabated oil leak from the Macondo Well site pushes on into its third month, little about the historic disaster seems clear.  Questions, ambiguity and uncertainty about just what happened and what is being done about it litter the news.  With ‘industry experts’ wildly disagreeing on pretty much everything, its hard to get a handle on any of it.   In the seeming absence of real disclosure or any concise, consistent information, new rules have recently been enacted that will effectively make real news coverage of the spill and clean-up efforts impossible.

From the first days of news coverage, starting with the now infamous flow rate estimates, it’s been obvious that we’re not hearing the whole story.  And as it turns out, that is the case.  We know a little about the shoddy techniques used in the well’s construction like the lack of acoustic shutoffs on the blow-out preventer and missing annulus or “o-rings” in the well casing.  We also know about the numerous failed attempts to block or cap the flow and the limited success of suction and skimming operations.  And we know that despite being told not to, BP continues extensive use of the controversial dispersant Corexit.  All of that has been well-reported.

Still, despite claims that officials welcome outside collaboration to bolster their as-of-yet failed efforts to stop the oil, it seems that all of the most important, relevant and accurate information is being kept from the public.  Right now, key documents pertaining to the Macondo well site remain on file at BP and hidden from the general public and even the government.  These ‘proprietary’ documents, which could shed crucial light on the nature of the disaster include: Structure contour maps, Geological Structure Cross-Sections, Shallow Hazards Assessment, High Resolution Seismic Lines along with expert interpretations of this data.  If we’re really trying to use all of the available resources to stop this disaster from causing even more irreversible damage, shouldn’t these documents be made public?

Take flow rate for instance, a June Mother Jones article (http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2010/06/bp-still-playing-dumb-about-size-gulf-disaster) shows how BP has had technologies that could monitor the flow at the well head since at least 2008 when they wrote an article about it in their own industry publication, the Prospector.  Why aren’t they using it?  There are a lot of theories out there as to why BP wouldn’t want you to know just how much oil is gushing out of that pipe, they aren’t hard to find or to guess at…

The reluctance of clean up workers to talk about what they’re doing is also well reported. There are numerous videos on the web of confrontations between reporters and workers or even police at the clean-up sites.  It’s not anything new for off duty cops to do security work on the side to make a little extra cash and even to do so in their regular police uniforms.  In this case though, where such a large and powerful foreign interest has done so much damage that continues to affect so many people, most agree it’s pretty creepy.  If that’s not enough for you, check out this Wired magazine article about the private security contractors BP has also hired to lock down their clean up sites (http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2010/06/bp-hires-mercs-to-block-oily-beaches/)

So, that cop telling you not to take pictures might not be a cop ‘right now’or, they might not be a cop at all, they might be a private contractor hired by BP.

To make matters even worse for anyone who wants to know what’s going on, this Huffington Post article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/06/bp-media-clampdown-journa_n_636317.html) reports that last week, as most of the nation was preparing for the holiday weekend, the coast guard issued an order making it illegal and even a possible felony to get within 65 feet of workers and boom on the waters and beaches, effectively making close-up coverage of the damage caused by the oil almost impossible.  Its difficult to know what the future holds for the people and the environment of the Gulf region but one thing seems for certain;  its getting harder and harder to find out about it.

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