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Monday, May 31, 2010
by Stephen Lendman
May 31, 2010
It shouldn't surprise because no one gets the top job or any government position of power unless they're safe, yet, naively, most people thought Obama was different. Many still do.
As a candidate, he promised change, a new course, sweeping government reforms, addressing people needs, and "ensur(ing) that the hopes and concerns of average Americans speak louder in Washington than the hallway whispers of high-priced lobbyists" - the same ones who bought and now own him.
He promised peace and delivered war; real health and financial reform, not same old, same old; help for millions losing jobs, homes, hope and futures, not handouts to Wall Street and other industry favorites; regulatory oversight, not the usual incestuous government-industry ties, making disasters like in the Gulf possible, and when they happen conspiring with offenders in coverup, distortion, lies, and a total disregard for the environment, wildlife, and way of life for thousands - let alone permanent damage to a vital ecosystem.
At the same time, Big Oil gets billions in subsidies, special tax breaks and other financial benefits, besides operating in a regulatory-free environment.
The 1995 Outer Continental Shelf Deep Water Royalty Relief Act (DWRRA - courtesy of Bill Clinton) exempted royalties on defined amounts of deep water production. After its 2000 expiration, the law was redefined and extended to promote further deep water drilling.
The Minerals Management Service (MMS) defines it as having a water depth of 200 meters (656 feet). To be eligible, leases must be in the Gulf of Mexico, west of 87 degrees and 30 minutes west longitude (the Florida-Alabama boundary), and MMS must determine that the site isn't economically viable without relief.
Given longstanding MMS-industry coziness, it's practically rubber-stamp. DWRRA also reduced royalties on pre-November 28, 1995 leases, decided by the Interior Department Secretary on a case-by-case basis - again, practically assured by officials with close industry ties.
The 2005 Energy Policy Act was one of the friendliest ever with over $10 billion in handouts. It lets oil giants pay federal royalties in barrels of oil and grants exemptions on some wells, subsidizes a new R & D program for ultra deep water drilling and unconventional oil and gas development, creates hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax breaks, increases what oil and gas companies can deduct on pipeline expenses, provides more liability protection besides the $75 million cap (established by the 1990 Oil Pollution Act after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, an amount too small to matter).
As an Illinois senator, six months into his term, Obama supported it, an early clue to where he stood, and how he hoped to gain - the usual "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" payoff.
It worked hugely with BP, the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) reporting that its employees and political action committees gave more to him than to any other federal candidate in the past 20 years.
During his 2008 campaign, CRP reported that the oil and gas industry overall gave him $884,000, more than any to other lawmaker except John McCain, and no wonder. His Senate voting record showed what they bought:
-- the right of mining companies to strip mine everywhere, including on government lands;
-- vast new powers and handouts to the nuclear industry;
-- harmful biofuels production;
-- lax regulation; and
-- other pro-business, anti-populist measures - besides supporting the 2005 Energy Policy Act.
Obama promised change, and delivered betrayal - evident now in the Gulf, America's greatest ever environmental disaster, fast becoming the most catastrophic in history, a shameless addition to his resume, already revealing a world class rogue and failed president less than a year and half into office. No wonder calls for his impeachment have begun, including by James Petras on May 27, on the Progressive Radio News Hour, hosted by this writer who wholeheartedly agrees.
Disaster in the Gulf - Maybe Worse than Now Known
According to prominent oil industry insider, Matt Simmons, former head of Simmons & Company International, a private investment bank specializing in energy research, trading and capital structuring, the Gulf disaster is much worse than reported, and a far greater problem to fix.
Appearing on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan Show on May 27, he described the riser on BP's video as 21.5 inches in diameter with a six or seven inch rip at the top. But that's the small rupture, in his judgment. There's a giant oil plume about five or six miles away, getting little attention.
"I believe the eruption blew off the wellhead," he said. If so, that's the real story, and "we have an enormous problem," suppressed and unreported. BP's video shows a small leak, not the bigger one. It looks like its "top kill" is "chasing a mouse and behind it is a tiger," the real problem creating two giant plumes of thick oil (discussed below), neither BP or the Obama administration wants to acknowledge or explain.
Nor that perhaps the "top kill" is a PR stunt, not a serious attempt to cap the well. Worse still, according to the Washington Blog on May 27, it "FAILED In the Attempt to Plug the Oil Leak Using Mud."
"Now BP Will Try to Add Some 'Junk' to the Mix to Try to Seal the Holes," or at least one of them. It cites a same day New York Times report saying BP "stopped pumping (mud) the night before when engineers saw that too much of the drilling fluid was escaping along with the oil." In other words, it failed, so pumping stopped for over 16 hours. So far, "top kill" 2.0 hasn't worked better after two attempts (so-called "junk shots" with chunky debris) - why some experts believe only a relief well will relieve pressure and allow capping.
But completing one is at least a few months away, and even then the big rupture Simmons cites may be too severe to handle. Time alone will tell, but in the meantime, vast environmental contamination grows, wildlife is dying, the lives and livelihoods of thousands more residents are being devastated, and late Saturday BP abandoned its "top kill" approach, admitting what they likely knew all along. It failed because there was no chance it could work.
More Evidence of Industry-Government Ties
A May 26 Josh Harkinson Mother Jones article headlined, "Steven Chu's Ties to BP."
On December 11, 2008, Obama chose Chu as his Energy Secretary, the same day he picked Carol Browner to oversee energy, environmental and climate policies and Lisa Jackson as EPA head.
Chu had been professor of physics and molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley and director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), originally called the UC Radiation Lab.
Today the Energy Department runs LBNL, continuing its radiation research, what it's done since the 1940s with little regard for public or environmental concerns, true as well under Chu. He was picked for his commitment to nuclear power, while downplaying the risks.
When asked in 2005 if fission-based plants should be a larger part of the energy-producing portfolio, he responded: "Absolutely," displaying a cavalier attitude about its dangers in advocating for "recycling" of waste, when experts say doing it spreads poisons causing cancer, genetic damage, and premature deaths.
Harkinson asked: "Is Steven Chu too cozy with BP," given his longstanding ties to the oil industry that "funded the Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley that (he) founded a year before he joined the DOE."
BP's chief scientist, Steven Koonin, gave him a $500 million grant. In return, Chu appointed him DOE undersecretary for science. But instead of them both getting involved in the Gulf disaster, they stood aside, telling reporters earlier that "things are looking up" when, in fact, they're worsening.
It's unclear "to what extent Chu has given BP favorable treatment, either in terms of crafting DOE's research agenda or its response to the oil spill. But what is clear is that the close ties are casting a shadow over the agency, sowing doubt among the public that the government is truly an independent watchdog."
Also clear is that $500 million buys a lot of influence, expecting payback in far greater amounts and nearly always getting it and then some. When Chu arranged it, UC Berkeley Professor Ignacio Chapela called it "the coup de grace to the very idea of a university that can represent the best interest of the public," benefitting a man who looks deeply compromised - the same "qualification" as other Obama officials for their close industry ties, serving their interests, not the public's.
BP's Specialty: Spill Baby, Spill - Its Other One in Alaska
On May 28, investigative journalist Greg Palast headlined his Buzzflash.com article, "BP's Other Spill this Week," saying:
During the week of May 25, BP's "Pump Station 9, at Delta Junction on the 800-mile (Alaska) pipeline, busted" - spewing over 100,000 gallons because "procedures weren't properly implemented," according to state inspectors. In 2006, irresponsible maintenance caused another one, polluting Prudhoe Bay.
BP "owns the controlling stake in the trans-Alaska pipeline," but tries to hide it, given its poor management practices. The pipeline is understaffed, corroded, and "basic maintenance" is poor - standard procedures for BP, notorious for having the worst safety and environmental record in the industry.
In his earlier investigatory work, Palast learned that BP was most to blame for the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. As the controlling Alyeska pipeline owner, it was responsible for the spill response, but handled it the same way as now - by "l(ying, prevaricat(ing) and obfuscatin(ing)," making a serious spill disastrous.
BP is a notorious liar, scofllaw, environmental and employee safety criminal. But it's never been held accountable, nor will it for its Gulf disaster.
A Second Underwater Oil Plume Discovered
Licensed to the University of South Florida, WUSF broadcasts from its campus. On May 27, it reported that USF scientists discovered "what appears to be a massive second underwater plume (six miles deep, measuring 3,300 feet from top to bottom) in previously untested waters northeast of the leaking BP wellhead..." Its estimated to be six miles wide, stretching 22 miles, heading toward Mobile Bay, Alabama, affecting the DeSoto Canyon area, an important habitat for numerous species, including:
-- bluefin tuna, swordfish, king mackerel, grouper, giant tube worms, sea turtles, sharks, whales and dolphins.
It also threatens the continental shelf, including west Florida's wetlands and beaches. USF oceanographer Robert Weisberg called it "a very serious concern." Rowan Gould, US Fish and Wildlife Service acting director, said the spill "will affect fish and wildlife resources....for years to come, if not decades," literally destroying formerly pristine areas of the Gulf.
Calling it "insidious," chemical oceanographer, David Hollander, believes it contains chemically dispersed hydrocarbons, calling it "an invisible component we really don't know the short or the long term impact" about. He expressed serious concerns that the oil/dispersant toxicity may cause great harm to fish larvae, "and we also may see a long term response as it cascades up the food web," endangering human health.
The other plume stretched from the wellhead southwest toward the open sea, heading for the Florida Keys and beyond.
Some Final Comments
On May 27, the Center for Biological Diversity's Senior Counsel, Brendan Cummings, responded to Obama's same day Gulf disaster press conference, saying:
No technology exists to deal with disasters like in the Gulf...."even in areas with existing infrastructure and significant spill response assets, containment and response capability to a large oil spill is wholly inadequate. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Obama administration should not pretend that a six-month review of drilling procedures will change anything. Expanding offshore drilling to new areas needs to be permanently taken off the table."
Obama's comments follow "a month of half-steps and broken promises by the Interior Department....in which a pledged 'moratorium' on oil drilling turned out to be largely a fiction, with multiple drillings plans approved after no environmental review, and drilling permits similar to those given to BP continuing to be used."
What else to expect from a corporate shill president, spearheading the Gulf disaster coverup from day one, while claiming he's been "in charge" since it happened, and it's his "job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down."
Gulf residents say he "hasn't done a damn thing but run his mouth," according to an angry and frustrated Louisianan, after waiting weeks for help, and hearing nothing but excuses, saying BP is in charge. That's the problem. Corporate interests always run things, presidents and their officials salute and obey, sacrificing people, wildlife and the environment. It's the "American way," partnering with business for plunder and profits, the public interest be damned.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.