Too Big to Exist (TBE): Big Oil

There is no viable solution in sight for the out-of-control oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico.  The stunning failure of British Petroleum (BP) raises the question — are these oil giants too big to exist?  Are they too dangerous to function in our presence?  BP has four permanent deep water  structures and 28 boreholes operating at a water depth of greater than 5000 feet in the Gulf of Mexico.  What’s next?

British Petroleum (BP) had the resources to drill the well but lacked the planning and ability to deal with its failure.  The oil giant’s performance inspired ridicule by Jon Stewart in a recent Daily Show comment (“There will be blame“).  The White House was not amused, however.  Nobel Prize winning physicist and Secretary of the Energy Steven Chu is now in Houston with a team of cutting edge scientists tasked with mentoring BP and devising a viable solution as the oil giant continues to falter.

There is a well known history of oil company accidents including blazing oil rigs, the Exxon Valdez tanker leak, and the Prudhoe Bay pipeline collapse (another BP special).  But nothing matches the collapse of BP’s Deepwater Horizon structure at the Macondo prospect, Gulf of Mexico.

The failed site is gushing between 200,000 and one million gallons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.  The Center for Biological Diversity reported that the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the federal agency that approved drilling, routinely ignored Federal biologists by issuing waivers that failed to take in to account the impact of drilling on endangered species.

Adding humans as an endangered species might be a timely move.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produced a document on April 28 indicating the leak could reach over two million gallons of oil a day.  In addition to ravaging the Gulf of Mexico, the damage caused by oil may extend to the Florida straits and the Atlantic coast of the United States.

While BP estimates that it can contain the gusher within a week, Admiral Thad Allen of the U.S. Coast Guard is planning for the event to become a full scale catastrophe.  His candid admission that half a million gallons of the toxic oil dispersant have been released above and below the gulf indicates the current  level of desperation to contain the accumulating mess.

Too Big to Exist

BP is a $250 billion company, one of the six largest oil and natural gas exploration and marketing companies in the world.  It’s the largest corporation in the United Kingdom.

A look at its public safety record over the past five years raises questions about the ability of the company to function safely.  In 2005, BP’s Texas refinery had a series of explosions that killed 15 and injured 170 more people.  Residents near the refinery were confined to their homes to limit toxic exposure.  The U.S. Chemical Safety Board issued a thorough report laying responsibility at BP’s doorstep.  The company’s poor maintenance of the Alaska pipeline at Prudhoe Bay due to “draconian cuts” in maintenance resulted in a major oil spill in 2006.

CNN conducted a major review of BP’s challenges in light of these two disasters in 2006.  Presented with evidence showing  neglect of pipeline corrosion at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, the BP executive in charge claimed, “We were blindsided by the recent leaks.”  At congressional hearings, one BP officials invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid “self incrimination.”  BP senior management promised to take the steps necessary to moderate the company’s obsession with the bottom line at the expense of safety.

Despite promising to remedy the problems it created in both disasters, BP had a poor track record of keeping its promises prior to the current catastrophe.

After being chastised by President Barack Obama for creating a “ridiculous spectacle” in the midst of the crisis, BP’s CEO Tony Howard tried to diminish the scope of the problem.  The CEO insisted that deep sea oil drilling will continue.  He’s right.  BP has 32 Gulf of Mexico oil operations at greater than 5000 feet.

BP is not the only oil company with a poor safety record.  It’s the first big oil company to cause a catastrophe of this magnitude.  It must be the last.  We simply can’t tolerate these lumbering giants that place cost cutting for bigger executive bonuses above the safety and survival of those who use their energy products.  If you put your customers out of business and injure or kill them, they can’t buy anything.

We are the endangered species.

Michael Collins writes for Scoop Independent News and a variety of other web publications on election fraud and other corruptions of the new millennium. He is one of few to report on the ongoing struggles of Susan Lindauer, an activist accused of being a foreign agent, who was the subject of a government request for forced psychiatric medication. This article may be reproduced in whole or in part with attribution of authorship, a link to this article, and acknowledgment of images. Read other articles by Michael, or visit Michael's website.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Michael Collins said on May 17th, 2010 at 1:51pm #

    Here are the deep water leases let just before and after the April 22 BP disaster. They all involve drilling at 5000 feet or greater water depth in the Gulf Coast. These have all been been put on hold but who knows for how long? Why were they let in the first place if there is no way of containing a disaster condition?
    Dept. of Energy Gulf of Mexico Leases
    Kerr-McGee 04/20/10
    Royal Exploration Co 04/21/10
    Royal Exploration Co 04/21/10
    MCX Gulf of Mexico LLC 04/21/10
    —-Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe
    —-Gulf of Mexico
    Appache Corp 04/23/10
    Appache Corp 04/23/10
    Tana Exploration Co. LLC 04/26/10
    Walter Oil and Gas Corp 04/26/10
    Tarpon Operating and Dev. LLC 04/27/10
    Century Explor. New Orleans Ltd 04/28/10
    Rooster Petroleum LLC 04/29/10
    Phoenix Exploration Co LP 05/04/10
    Hall-Houston Exploration III, L.P. 05/06/10
    BP Exploration & Production Inc 05/06/10
    Andarko E&P Co LP 05/06/10
    Shell Offshore Inc 05/03-07/10
    Minerals Management Service, Dept of the Interior

  2. Max Shields said on May 17th, 2010 at 7:17pm #

    This mirrors our food system. It is not simply the corporate demand for profit and biggness, but the American economy that has used endless growth as a means to navigate its future from every policy maker over the last 70 years. We’ve had our foot on the pedal for decades and BP is simply the manifestation of our insatiable desire for energy.

    Given this proclivity even renewable wind and sun would become unsustainable. We’d have windmills on top of windmills. The oceans would be stacked from one continent to another and everything in between. And what wasn’t covered by wind turbines would be covered by solar panels. This is driven by a world that has used fossil for so long that it cannot imagine a world with less. It’s all about more and more and more.

    The same can be said of our food system. Fragile but with an insatiable desire for more and more and more, cheaper and cheaper.

    Nature is about to say NO MORE!!

  3. Deadbeat said on May 17th, 2010 at 10:08pm #

    but the American economy that has used endless growth as a means to navigate its future from every policy maker over the last 70 years

    It’s been much longer than 70 years. Endless [PROFIT] growth is the basis of Capitalism.

  4. diane said on May 18th, 2010 at 12:10am #

    As a mere woman just wondering why anyone would drill down 5000 feet under the ocean without first having the technical knowhow and equipment to quickly and efficiently deal with any release of oil into the environment.
    Just wondering

  5. Michael Collins said on May 18th, 2010 at 12:28am #

    Max, you’re right. We’re getting the message from an over stressed planet. The inability to “imagine a world with less” is the problem with those in charge — they lack the imagination to see people living differently. That’s the driving force, along with profits … just do the same thing, over and over, bigger and bigger, faster and faster. It’s hard to see where this all ends up, but our future is not at five to seven thousand feet below the waterline. That’s ridiculous. Even if you had perfect pollution control, the costs of extraction to lief (in all forms) is too great.

    Deadbeat, I agree. The beat of expansion of markets, territory, capital has been going on for a couple of centuries now. It runs head on into conservation, which would provide some huge benefits. But conservation is the “enemy” of growth, as they see it.

    Diane, you and I share the same question. I’m sure any engineer you talked to would have the same observation – you don’t build a structure or system that is unrecoverable and uncontrollable given reasonably considered anticipated events. I was struck by the failure to consider humans in the threats to endangered species. What’s with these folks?

  6. systxv said on May 18th, 2010 at 2:06am #

    Diane, why would anyone drill 5000 feet below without first having the technical deal with any oil leak? Because
    1) That’s where the new supply of oil is coming as the old sources of oil are being used up. Brazil has made huge finds of oil off it’s coast that lie at even greater depths.
    2) It is very ‘leading edge’ technologically speaking and very difficult physical work that very few countries can do. Transocean is like the Google of oil drilling – way out in front and they THOUGHT they had all the problems under control. Then a combination of probably faulty work (Haliburton did the cementing work that was supposed to have sealed off the tube) and unanticipated violent uprush of methane gas from the depths that caused fires and explosions messed up everything.

    I agree 100% with Max – the source of the problem is the insatiable desire for more and more from the people. Even in places like India and China people who walked or rode bicycles and previously just worried about getting enough food to avoid starvation are now rushing to buy cars!

    As a computer programmer which is a ‘soft’ job and with an engineering degree, I somewhat disagree with the ‘too big to fail’ idea. Most people who are in other fields don’t realize how TERRIBLY DIFFICULT oil extraction/refining, steel making, building nuclear power reactors, manufacturing commecial aircraft etc. really are.

    You need a pyramid of thousands of people organized in a disciplined almost fascist way to be able to pull it off. First you need the leading edge technical ability which very few people have and mostly they are all in the West – US/UK/Germany/France. Russia has the technical geniuses also but is short of people. Japan is somewhat in between. Then you the need the tens of thousands of technically trained hardworking technicians who can build quality products time after time and also do physically demanding work – working on offshore oil rigs is so demanding that it’s a 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off situation.

    Technological superiority has been a major source of money for the ‘first world’ nations. Third world countries have the minerals and other natural resources but not the ability to extract and refine so they had to depend on first world companies to do the job and in return pay them huge amounts maybe an 80-20 split. For example Nigeria has oil but the Nigerians don’t know how to extract and refine it. Recently this is being challenged by China, Russia and to a lesser degree by India – who can do the basic job and give the host country a bigger share of the profits and in addition won’t overthrow the country’s leaders.

    Now in the middle of this relentless competition and consumption, if EVERYONE just relaxed and said, Hey let’s just get our minimum requirements of food shelter and clothing – in my mind that would be OK.
    Like in Cuba

    But if just some countries did it, it wouldn’t work. Because the ‘advanced’ countries would get the upper hand with respect to military power and would conquer and colonize the relaxed countries. Which is what has happened, historically.

  7. Don Hawkins said on May 18th, 2010 at 5:33am #

    Dilithium crystal converter assembly, on Earth where can we find one of
    these under a mountain top, no at the bottom of the sea a mile down, no tar
    sands, no in Iraq, no where we find one of those Dilithium crystal converter
    assemblies is going from point A to point B at the speed of light called
    imagination and probably a very good idea to focus on just that. So far the
    chances of that are at zero and why? Granted we need a few other minor changes and so far do we see any change no again why.

  8. mary said on May 18th, 2010 at 5:59am #

    How about this outrage? Mustn’t upset B I G O I L on any account.

    FT refuses to run Amnesty ad condemning Shell
    18 May 2010
    By Dominic Ponsford
    Press Gazette

    The Financial Times last night refused to run an advert criticising oil company Shell’s activities in Nigeria that was paid for by human rights group Amnesty.

    The full-page ad features a glass of champagne which has apparently had oil poured into it.

    The FT said today that it had no problem editorially with the ad but pulled it for legal reasons.

    The copy on the ad states: “While Shell toasts $9.8bn profits, the people of the Niger Delta are having to drink polluted water.”

    It goes on to make various statements about alleged pollution in the region and states: “If you’ve got shares in Shell, ask the board to explain themselves when they raise their glasses at today’s AGM.”

    According to Amnesty, the Financial Times decided to pull the ad at 4.58pm last night in a move which they said was “extremely disappointing”.

    Tim Hancock, Amnesty International UK’s campaigns director, said: “We gave them written reassurances that we would take full responsibility for the comments and opinions stated in the advertisement.

    “Both The Metro and The Evening Standard had no problems with running the ad.

    “The money to pay for the advertisements came entirely from more than 2,000 individuals online, who we’d asked to fund an ad campaign targeting Shell’s AGM – and it really caught their imagination. And I am sure these supporters who have paid for the ad will be outraged.”

    A spokesman for the FT said: “Editorially the FT was more than willing to run the advertisement for Amnesty. Unfortunately, whilst Amnesty gave us written assurances that they would take full responsibility for the comments and opinions stated in the advertisement, it became apparent that Amnesty’s lawyers had not had a proper opportunity to advise Amnesty on those opinions. As a result, from a legal perspective we were unable to rely on Amnesty’s assurances.”

  9. Don Hawkins said on May 18th, 2010 at 6:50am #

    If we are going to try we just might want to get started.

  10. Don Hawkins said on May 18th, 2010 at 6:57am #

    Go shopping and the vote today here in the States seems very important.