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Senior Contributor

Newsweek on oil well leak

There is a great article in Newsweek titled Black Water Rising.  Here are some of the more interesting things I found in the article.


There was an $18 million blow out preventer on the well which failed to work.  It appears the battery in the command module had gone out.


The MMS is loaded with oil industry people and is way to cozy with the oil companies.  Newsweek reports on free meals, hunting trips and an expenses paid trip to the Peach Bowl given to one MMS official who is a big LSU fan. One MMS inspector was negotiating for a job with the oil company whose rigs he was inspecting.  There were reports of inspection forms being filled out by by oil company workers in pencil and then later traced over in ink by MMS inspectors.  Many big name politicians have signed on with the oil companies and like Wall Street banks many oil industry people have gone to work for the government to help regulate the industry.  After Leon Panetta, Tom Daschle, and Christine Todd Whitman left government they all wound up on a well paid BP advisory board.   It looks like the practice of putting the foxes in charge of the hen house did not end with the Bush administration.  A top official at BP was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management just last June.


In 2000 a draft of an environmental analysis by the MMS warned “the oil industry’s experience base in deep-water well control is limited” and warned about the consequences of a major spill in the ocean.  The statement was however dropped in a later draft.


The Deepwater well had been beset with problems and delays and workers report having been under pressure to finish up with the drilling and move on.  The New York Times is reporting that BP choose a cheaper, riskier method to plug the well during the capping process.  Halliburton was hired to cap the well.


Historian Douglas Brinkley told Newsweek that Obama needed a “bullhorn moment,” after the disaster started.  A time when he could have shown defiant leadership instead “there was a lot of lawyering up.”  Brinkley says that the White House was to slow to react and that a week after the accident BP's CEO visited the White House and  "He seemed very reassuring."  Brinkley believes the White House "believed BP's BS for to long."


Obama did not go to the gulf until May 2 twelve days after the oil leak started.  White House officials were wary of making Obama look like Bush viewing Katrina's devastation from 30,000 feet but they were unable to get him close to the slick which was still offshore at that time.


There is a law on the books that limits oil companies liability for lost economic activity to a mere $75 million although BP claims it will pay up and costs will go far beyond the $75 million.  There is also another obscure law involved.  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar vowed to keep the government’s “boot on the neck” of BP. But administration officials told NEWSWEEK they were limited in their ability to declare a major disaster by an obscure law, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which says that the feds shouldn’t step in and take complete responsibility when it’s certain that private parties will pay to clean up the disaster.


The federal government had approved BP's emergency plan titled "BP Reginal Oil Spill Response Plan - Gulf of Mexico."  However a marine biologist / professor who has worked on numerous oil spills including the Exxon Valdez reviewed the plan and said it looked like a cut a paste job and doubts MMS officials ever read it closely.  The plan discusses the need to protect walruses, seals and sea lions, animals that do not even exist in the gulf.   A Web address given for a response contractor's equipment list goes instead to a Japanese shopping site.