Thursday, June 10, 2010

BP Tries to Disperse Concern amid Calls for Prosecutions and Reform

Talk Nation Radio for June 10, 2010
BP Tries to Disperse Concern amid Calls for Prosecutions and Reform, Dr. Ira Leifer, Flow Rate Tech Group, Scott West, Retired EPA Special Agent

UPDATE: From the Deep Water Horizon Pooling Experts here. There was an error when we tried to log on to the Flow Rate Technical Group here:

Scott West, former Special Agent in Charge, EPA. See BP, Beyond Prosecution here.

Breaking News Update: The White House has announced that they have received a new flow rate assessment about the BP spill. The company is now promising an ability to contain as much as 60,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil per day from their leaking pipe in the Gulf of Mexico. Here is a paragraph from the statement that arrived via the White House list serve to Talk Nation Radio: "The Lower Marine Riser Package (LMRP) cap that is currently in place can capture up to 18,000 barrels of oil per day. At the direction of the federal government, BP is deploying today a second containment option, called the Q4000, which could expand total leak containment capacity to 20,000-28,000 barrels per day. Overall, the leak containment strategy that BP was required to develop projects containment capacity expanding to 40,000-53,000 barrels per day by the end of June and 60,000-80,000 barrels per day by mid-July".

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said: “This estimate brings together several scientific methodologies and the latest information from the sea floor, and represents a significant step forward in our effort to put a number on the oil that is escaping from BP’s well.”

They are now claiming that they have planned for contingencies to deal with a worst case scenario, which is exactly what our guest last week, Dr. Ira Leifer of the Government's Flow Rate Technical Group, indicated was the best approach. We transcribed our interviews for last week's show and you can read them below.

Dori Smith,

Produced by Dori Smith
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Dr. Ira Leifer, an associate researcher at the Marine Science Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Flow Rate Technical Group.

BP gives out low numbers on flow from broken pipe. We hear better analysis. If the DOJ and Bush administration had backed EPA official's call for criminal prosecution, safety might have improved. Plus Nalco as manufacturer of dispersant chemical. See: BP Tries to Disperse Concern amid Calls for Prosecutions and Reform.

BP Task Force Commander, Admiral Thad Allen, told press at a June 9, 2010 Q and A that the oil plume spewing from BP's broken pipe in the Gulf of Mexico, had a flow rate of 19,000 to 25,000 barrels per day. It's becoming a pattern though. Again the government appears to be helping BP to downplay the continued damage.

Dr. Ira Leifer is on the Government's Flow Rate Tech Group. He confirms what he told the press, (McClatchy) that when you use BP's own assessment of a worst case scenario, you get more like 100,000 barrels per day as a flow rate. Then, former EPA investigator Scott West joins us to go over BP's history of criminal negligence and catastrophe. He says the spill wouldn't have happened if the Bush administration and Justice Department had backed his effort to prosecute BP officials.

In May, NPR's Richard Harris asked Dr. Steven Wereley, of Purdue University, to study the videotape and use his technique for calculating low rate from speed of particle movement. BP had said 5,000 barrels of oil were flowing from the pipe per day. Wereley told NPR that the flow rate was more like 70,000 barrels per day. Other researchers confirmed the higher numbers.

At a press conference June 9th, the National Incident Commander on the spill, Admiral Thad Allen, said between 19 and 25,000 gallons were coming out of the pipe per day, that after the pipe was sheared to accommodate a containment cap. The company had trapped 15,000 barrels during the previous twenty four hour period and hoped to double that in the coming weeks. So the report seemed positive. But the NPR reporter tried to pin the admiral down on where the numbers came from. He said he would have to check, but thought they had come from the government's technical team working on flow rate.

When we spoke with one of the technical team members, Dr. Ira Leifer, he confirmed his assessment based on BP's own data, that the flow could be more like 100,000 barrels per day. The team has been reviewing satellite and underwater camera data. Admiral Allen did say that a higher resolution video tape is being provided to the researchers. Dr. Ira Leifer is a well known scholar at the Marine Science Institute of the University of California. We asked him to confirm his estimate that 100,000 gallon per day might be flowing out now, a figure he gave to McClatchy News Service that was picked up by Reuters and other media.

Transcript: Talk Nation Radio, June 9, 2010
Producer/host: Dori Smith

“…Once I found out it was BP’s rig, I felt that nothing had changed within the criminal corporate culture that we had found and indeed that this was no accident, it was the result of criminal decisions”.
Scott West

‘I’m quite confidence that in the long term, that basically the truth will out’. Dr. Ira Leifer

Dr. Ira Leifer joins us to talk about his assessment as part of the government's flow rate technical group analyzing the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP/Transocean spill.

‘And BP, which is able to afford a great number of attorneys can just simply overwhelm the federal government with its legal representation’. Scott West, BP, Beyond Prosecution

Then, former EPA investigator Scott West joins us to go over BP's history of criminal negligence and catastrophe. We look at the problem of getting good information from BP or the government, as a pattern has been forming. BP tries to disperse public concern by offering low numbers and the Obama administration reinforces them.

In May, NPR's Richard Harris asked Dr. Steven Wereley, at Purdue University, to study the videotape of the oil flowing out of the pipe and use his technique for calculating low rate from speed of particle movement. ‘We’re talking more than a factor of 10 difference between what I calculate and the number that’s being thrown around’.

BP had said 5,000 barrels of oil were flowing from the pipe per day. Wereley told NPR that the flow rate was more like 70,000 barrels a day. Other researchers also got the much higher numbers.

At a press conference June 9th, the National Incident Commander on the spill, Admiral Thad Allen, said between 19 and 25,000 gallons were coming out of the pipe per day at this point:

Admiral Thad Allen: ‘We have a bunch of technical experts got together and they came up with two ranges; of 12,000 to 19,000 and 12,000 to 25,000. Until we get better data that becomes the rebuttable uh assumption on flow and everything else’.

That after the pipe was sheared to accommodate a containment cap. The company had trapped 15,000 barrels during the previous twenty-four hour period and hoped to double that in the coming weeks. But again, NPR wanted more clear information. Where the numbers came from, BP or the government? ‘My knowledge was it was the task group but I will check back and if I misunderstood it I will make a clarification on it. They are going to be looking at that again they have high-resolution video that was taken after the riser pipe was cut, that’s been brought back on hard disk and that’s exactly what the group is analyzing right now’.

When we spoke with one of those technical experts working for the government’s team, Dr. Ira Leifer, he confirmed his assessment based on BP's own data, that the flow could be more like their worst-case scenario of 100,000 barrels per day. We asked him to confirm the reports in McClatchy and then Reuters, citing the 100,000 figure:

Dr. Ira Leifer: Let me just say what I had intended to say which is that in the absence of good quality data which was our situation until very recently, the flow clearly had increased significantly. The question is how much. And there are two ways two ways to do go about that. One is you get data and you analyze it, that’s called science. The other way was to just take BP’s own estimate of a worst case scenario of freely flowing pipes and just put that out there: This is what BP thinks would happen when a pipe freely flows from that reservoir, now by pipe I mean the pipe that is the problem with this well, into the ocean. And BP’s number was 100,000 barrels per day. It does not mean that I think 100,000 barrels per day is flowing out, it could be less it could be more. The whole point of science and being a scientist and agencies working on this and the people is to actually come up with a number. And again, previously BP was very reticent about providing data, not letting us do our work. Now they have become much more helpful and forward looking at providing the data. I assumed they kind of realized that they don’t like their own number very much and they would actually finally like for us to be able to come up with a good number.

Dori Smith: Well Dr. Leifer we heard this morning from Admiral Thad Allen that BP captured 15,000 barrels overnight in 24 hours. That still leaves 85,000 according to your estimation.

Dr. Ira Leifer: I would just point out again its BP’s worst case scenario. The question is, is the flow from that well worst case? Is it even worse than that? Or is it not as bad. So what I would argue from looking at the videos is however much oil is coming out its large enough relative to 15,000 that it did not make an appreciable dent in it. That means it’s certainly more than double that and the amount is something that we should be able to figure out within a day with the results of the new data.

So the amount of oil that still remains to be captured could be conceivably within another mere expansion to 30,000 total but it also could be larger. And this is where we need to know by analyzing data and I think what has come out of including BP’s own worst case scenario is that they are much more cooperative and forward looking now and helpful so that we can actually do out job so that the efforts that go on are done safely.

Dori Smith: And of course NOAA is testing deeper samples of water to try to discover oil there, but why is it so difficult to assess this and does it have to do with the Corexit, the Nalco product that was used to disperse the oil. And if so would that affect the tests that are now being sent to laboratories like ALPHA here in New England.

Dr. Ira Leifer: the challenge is, it’s hard enough to figure out where the oil is going to go at the sea surface where you actually can look at it from an airplane or boat and track it. In the three dimensions of the ocean it is far more difficult challenge to find where hit has gone. Because the other thing is that the ocean is vast. If the oil is dispersed throughout the water column, that’s the idea behind dispersants, then the concentrates go down to very small amounts. That should not have anything to say with whether or not those very small amounts are problematic to the ecosystem. Very small amounts of petroleum hydrocarbon in the water column are known to cause all sorts of problems with fish and so on. But because the amounts are so small, they are hard to find. It’s not easy to find when something gets so diluted. And there was a lot of word done on this particular aspect after the Exxon Valdez because scientists were in fact able to take a look at the effects on fish and other life forms in the ocean from the petroleum hydrocarbon dose, even years later from he sediment into the water column.

Dori Smith: Well we were concerned when one of NOAA’s tests turned out to establish that there was a similarity between oil they found at more than 3,000 ft down and the oil spewing from the spill but then on later follow tests they couldn’t establish that. Then we read that there may be a conflict of interest with the labs or that even BP is doing some of these tests themselves.
Friday, May 21, 2010
FROM WIRE REPORTS Ian Urbina, The New York Times
In coastal communities along the Gulf of Mexico, environmental officials are feverishly collecting water, sediment and marine animal tissue samples that will be used in coming months to help track pollution levels resulting from the oil spill.
GERALD HERBERT/The Associated Press, Boat captain Preston Morris shows oil that got on his hands while collecting samples in marshes at Pass a Loutre, La.--Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, since those readings will be used by the federal government and courts to establish liability claims against BP.

Dr. Ira Leifer: In that regard I’m quite confident that in the long term, that basically the truth will out. It is not possible for anyone to have a complete control of all of these oil samples from the ocean and I think the laboratories know that if they did not do a very high quality analysis that other entities with own boats collecting water samples would very rapidly be releasing information that would be in contradiction to their laboratory. The one thing that these laboratories value above everything else is their reputation and I would imagine that in order to protect their reputation they would, realizing that other people would also be collecting and analyzing water samples, would be very honest in that regard. I certainly can’t promise that but I imagine that they would want to do that because this is such a large spill, there are so many people who are going to be trying to understand what happened, and so on, that you can’t hide things for very long when so many people are looking.

Dori Smith: Dr. Ira Leifer is a well-known scholar at the Marine Science Institute of the University of California. We turn now to Scott West, an EPA agent in the criminal division, he took calls from workers complaining that BP’s pipeline in Prudhoe Bay Alaska, was vulnerable.

Scott West: What I did with the EPA, I was a criminal investigator with the criminal investigation division and in Seattle I was special agent in charge up until I retired in October of 2008. The State of Alaska fell under my area of responsibility. And in 2005 I received information from some employees working on the North Slope up at Prudhoe Bay that a particular transit line was full of sludge and they had grave concerns about erosion causing the pipeline to rupture. They had brought these concerns to their officials, supervisors and other officials at BP and they were ignored and even chastised. So they came to me and there wasn’t much we could do until March of 2006 when that pipeline did indeed rupture and cause the second largest oil spill in Alaska.

We started a criminal investigation immediately and carried it forward for the next year and a half. It was a robust investigation enjoying a great deal of support by the EPA and the Department of Justice. Then unexpectedly in August of 2007 I was informed that the Justice Department had decided to grant BP’s wishes to settle this case along with the cases involving an explosion at a BP refinery in Texas City, and a propane trading violation in Chicago.

They wanted to wrap these all up together and so the Justice Department shut down my investigation, worked out the misdemeanor plea with the company for the Alaska case and that was that. And so when the rig exploded in the Gulf, and once I found out it was BP’s rig, I felt that nothing had changed within the criminal corporate culture that we had found and indeed that this was no accident, it was the result of criminal decisions.

Dori Smith: And of course, the U.S. Justice Department, once again investigating British Petroleum, we’re reading about a lot of money…

Scott West: …They’re not investigating British Petroleum.

Dori Smith: OK, correct me.

Scott West: Yeah, the Attorney General Last Tuesday came out publicly and under I believe pressure that’s been coming on from the public about why isn’t there a criminal investigation? And he made the statement that indeed there is an investigation and he cited the statutes that one would expect: The Clean Water Act, the Rivers and Harbors of the Refuse Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Now short of calling the Attorney General a liar I’m going to say he practiced the art of deception. There is an investigation underway by the Department of the Interior, Office of Inspector General, having to do with some improprieties at Mines and Minerals Service. By all logic the EPA Criminal Investigation Division has indeed gone into the computer system and officially opened a file for an investigation into BP. But in terms of their being an actual investigation under way, there is none.

Dori Smith: Let’s talk about first the Prudhoe Bay spill and then Texas because I know by the time the Texas spill [refinery explosion] happened you were already aware of safety violations. Walk us through the series of events.

Scott West: Well that’s correct and because the corporation was charged the only things you can do to a corporation is take money away from it and put it under scrutiny. Corporations though do not make the decisions that led to these events. Individuals within them do.

What had been my aim using the criminal tool had been to carry the investigation to the point where we could determine if we could charge individuals for those decisions. And that’s what we wanted to do was to hold individuals accountable and hopefully that that would change the corporate culture. A $20 million dollar fine, which is ultimately what BP had to pay, it was $12 million in fines and then $8 million in restitution, but essentially it was a $20 million dollar deal, is a rounding error when you look at the amount of money that they pulled off the slopes and certainly worldwide. It wasn’t enough to get their attention and they were at that time had already been convicted of felony hazardous waste violations up on the North Slope. Then with the Texas City, also the Clean Air Act, they became serial environmental criminals.

Dori Smith: What were some of the aspects of the Prudhoe Bay Alaska spill that BP did wrong, that contributed to the disaster happening in the first place.

Scott West: It was the cost cutting, and ignoring the concerns raised by its own engineers that was the problem.

Dori Smith: And how could this leak have gone on for a number of days undetected by this company?

Scott West: (chuckles) Well they operate a quite elaborate system of leak detection equipment and they are quite known for having false reports all the time so the alarm goes off and its summarily ignored. That’s what happened here. The alarms were going off, and because they had gone off so often they weren’t paying much attention. It wasn’t until one of the workers was driving down one of the roads along the pipeline and he actually smelled crude, and so he got out and looked around and that’s how the leak was discovered.

Dori Smith: Can you explain where the criminal negligence was in that case.

Scott West: The criminal negligence was in the fact that the company was not following industry standard practices in terms of maintaining that pipeline. They had internal knowledge from their own employees and experts that they had a serious problem. They chose to ignore that problem saying that they didn’t have the money to address it and it was low on their priority list. They had other concerns. This sort of thing: That’s how you get from an unfortunate series of events turns into criminality when people who have the responsibility to keep up with these things fail to do so.

Dori Smith: And then let’s go to Texas where BP again their plant blue up, I believe it was 15 workers killed and 170 injured. That of course also linked to safety violations at their facility Again, they got placed on probation, pretty much walked away and went on to Deep Ocean drilling.

Scott West: That’s correct. I wasn’t involved in the investigation into Texas City but I was talking to my counterparts who were and we found an awful lot of similarities between BP operating in Alaska and then BP operating at that refinery in Texas, City. It was a whole host of cutting corners, saving money, trying to stretch every penny which is very difficult to understand when you look at the size of the profits that this company was making worldwide and continues to make worldwide as to why they would risk these catastrophic events for nickels and dime. But yet they do, and they did, and now we are seeing that the same sort of behavior most likely led to what happened out in the Gulf.

Dori Smith: The Deep Water Horizon explosion in April, there was someone killed on board that rig and he had been very concerned, his name is Jason Anderson. He was a rig manager and prior to dying had spoken t about his concerns, was shut down by the industry, they were in a hurry, why don’t you take it from there.

Scott West: Well I certainly wasn’t on the rig and I did not speak to Mr. Anderson at any time prior to his death, but what you just told me is certainly consistent with what I had learned about BP when I was investigating them criminally up in Alaska and what my counterparts found in Texas City is that time is money, they are always in a hurry, and workers concerns are often ignored and more so than ignored many workers fear retaliation for speaking out.

They certainly watched a number of their friends get fired or blacklisted from the industry for raising concerns. Then it was also something that we saw that BP would often blame the dead guy. I don’t mean to be crude here but that was what some employees shared with us and that’s how he put it is that when something went terribly wrong and there were deaths it was often the company’s way to say that those individuals that were killed had done something at fault.

Dori Smith: What about BP’s response to accusations of criminal negligence? I assume given the way they lobby in Congress that they came up with a very bold plan to counter such charges.

Scott Well they did but the fact remains that they pled guilty in Alaska to negligence, which led to the rupture of that pipe and the discharge of oil onto the tundra. They pled guilty to felony Clean Air Act in Texas City which led to the explosion and then the deaths of those workers. They pled guilty in Alaska earlier to illegally handling hazardous waste. There’s only so much they can claim when indeed they come into a courtroom and please guilty to these crimes.

The other thing to look at here, and I don’t totally blame BP: They are from my experience the worst of the oil companies operating in the United States, but I blame the Department of Justice for being so lenient with BP in the past that they’ve allowed them to believe that they can continue to operate this way without sanctions.

Dori Smith: Scott West, you are making these charges as a retired Special Agent in Charge at the EPA Environmental Protection Agency. You work in the Department of Intelligence and Investigations, what is that?

Scott West: That’s for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, it’s a non-government entity but we enforce international law on the high seas, Marine Conservation Law, where other nations fail to do so. So bringing in a criminal investigative element was a move on the part of Captain Paul Watson to strengthen what we do in terms of dealing with crimes on the seas.

Dori Smith: Financial concerns were really on the minds of many of the politicians who for years argued in favor of drilling in the ANWR, drilling in the ocean, and also on the North Slope. People up there needing jobs, needing money, were divided over whether or not this was a good idea. But talk about the environmental risks first of all from these big oil pipeline systems and then from deep water drilling and what that means to us as citizens of this planet.

Scott West: We’ve certainly seen the risk from deep water drilling, there’s no question about that. Then, also these major pipelines that carry the oil and of course with the Exxon Valdez, the ships that carry the soil: They are inherently dangerous, inherently pose significant environmental risks. However, there is a great deal of technology out there that if employed properly can reduce those risks considerably. This is what’s causing me the most concern with this particular company is that by my experience investigating them, and then certainly what we are seeing in the Gulf, is that they are not taking advantage of that technology.

Dori Smith: We heard from Attorney Patti Goldman last week, of Earth Justice, that their complaint now in litigation is that BP did not provide the government, MMS, (Minerals Management Service) with an adequate plan to deal with a blow out scenario like the one that happened.

Scott West: Yeah well what your suggesting is that the regulators failed in doing their job and insuring that the operators followed the law. And I think that that’s probably an accurate assessment. I was never involved in the regulatory side of these rigs, and certainly not the Deep Water Horizon spill. We’ll have to see what comes out of that but I would not be at all surprised if we find that there was inadequate oversight, that people either chose to look the other way or simply were not qualified to even understand what was being presented to them in these documents.

Dori Smith: Just summarize the EPA, how it works and what does or does not work about it.

Scott West: That’s the big question. I worked for the EPA for just under 19 years, the entire time as a criminal investigator. It’s a large bureaucracy, it certainly has issues related to that, but I do have to admit I did find it to be quite effective, at least from my perspective in what I was doing, I was proud to work there, and I felt it was a good use of my time and talent towards protecting the environment. I did run into some concerns with the Alaska case when my own management failed to back me up and fell into lock step with the Department of Justice. I did have some concerns back shortly after 9/11 when within the criminal program it seemed to forget all about protecting the environment and wanted to jump on the bandwagon of homeland security. But a lot of those issues I understand have been resolved, or at least are being addressed significantly, so in terms of how the greater part of the agency functions, that was kind of on the other side of the door from where I was as a criminal investigator.

Dori Smith: As it turns out BP was fined [by OSHA] for their Texas operation, 87.45 million, it was the largest find in agency history, for failure to repair potential safety hazards. They also issued notifications, 270 of them, plus another 449 willful violations; there you are talking about worker safety.

Scott West: Correct.

Dori Smith: So what’s the difference essentially in terms of the enforcement capacity of either EPA or OSHA today?

Scott West: A different type of regulations, but we can look at how the EPA, the civil side of the House of Representatives have been able to address the conditions and the actual results of the oil spill in Alaska. They certainly have been trying to bring about fines and BP, which is able to afford a great number of attorneys can just simply overwhelm the federal government with its legal representation and essentially just tie it up in court for years. The EPA is still trying to get some kind of civil resolution to the oil spill of 2006 up on the slope and the BP attorneys just seem to keep overwhelming them and bullying them in meeting after meeting and its not going anywhere. So that’s of concern to me.

Dori Smith: How can an agency that’s had two instances of being put on probation..

Scott West: Three!

Dori Smith: Oh OK three. Well how can they move on to do this deep ocean drilling at this incredible depth, I think its 5,000 feet, and the Bush administration and the MMS, Minerals Management Service, they gave them permission.

Scott West: Well we’d have to ask those officials, those are the ones that grant permission for the drilling and they need to be quizzed as to with this abysmal criminal record, environmental criminal record, and worker safety record, why was not more care taken to make sure that things were being done right before they granted those permits? That’s where you will have to go for that answer.

Media Web sites of interest as we follow this story have included: Democracy Now, way ahead of the curve, FSRN, Free Speech Radio News and Free Speech TV in general, as well as: MSNBC, the Rachel Maddow Show, "Field Notes" such as these, McClatchy, their ongoing print coverage, NPR/PBS, especially the radio journalism of Michael Harris and for television, the new program, 'Need to Know'. The Associated Press has caught up to the story begun at the top of this web site regarding BP's lack of a comprehensive plan for addressing a spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

PRESS ADVISORY FOR COMMUNITY RADIO, TV, AND PRINT: Press Advisory:" This correspondence serves as a written reminder to all parties involved, in any matter whatsoever, and at any level of the response organization, that media shall, at all times, be afforded access to the response operations and shall only be asked to leave an area when their presence is in violation of an existing law or regulation, clearly violates the written site safety plan for the area or interferes with effective operations". National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen.