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[04.06.2010] The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

On April 20 about 100 km SE before the Mississippi delta a deep-water oil rig drilling for BP in a sea depth of 2.4 km exploded, caught fire and sank days later. 11 workers were killed.

Physical aftermath and measures

Since the accident:

The oil spill is starting to eclipse the financial crisis as the US number one national problem. Obama is showing himself increasingly furious.

Financial aspects

Political criticism (and consequences?)

1. Criticism of BP

The safety records of BP and the government agency charged with overseeing offshore drilling was sharply criticised at a White House hearing on May 19:
'Many of the elements of this tragedy are familiar to the committee', said Rep. Oberstar, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. With BP America President Lamar McKay in front of the panel, Oberstar assailed BP's 'sorry record' on safety, adding that the well blowout off the Louisiana coast was the latest in a spate of BP safety lapses.
Those include a deadly refinery blast in Texas and 'the worst spill in the history of oil development on Alaska's north slope', incidents that have 'cast doubt on whether the company has the commitment to the practice and the culture of safety necessary to protect the public', Oberstar said.
'BP has harnessed impressive scientific and technological experience to drill at great depths in the sea, and you have to wonder why they hadn't harnessed similar science and technology to anticipate failure, to install redundancy to prevent failure, and practices to clean up after an oil spill'.

2. Criticism of the regulating authority

Oberstar also took to task the Minerals Management Service, the Interior ministry agency responsible for overseeing oil drilling on federal land and waters, citing a 'disturbing lack of dedication to safety, excessive reliance on the industry to police itself'.
'Minerals Management Service has fallen way short of the commitment needed for effective oversight of offshore drilling', he said.
Interior Secretary Salazar acknowledged what he called 'ethical lapses' on the part of the Minerals Management Service. 'We need to clean up that house', he said, adding that there were 'a few bad apples' among the agency's 1,700 employees.

3.Concrete political measures


Comment 1

The conflict of interest in the relationship of the MMS* with the oil companies is similar to the conflict of interest in the relationship of the financial rating agencies with the issuers of rated securities.
*) US Department of the Interior Minerals Management Service

Comment 2

[7] BPs categoric and arrogant "no" to requests from government authorities, and the suppression of any governmental and scientific efforts to gain a detailed knowledge of what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico and what the short and long term repercussions are*, is yet another demonstration that companies of the size of BP have the ultimate say in democracies, even of the size of the USA.
*) The EPA has undertaken no air-born monitoring, no studies are under way to determine the ecological damage, the oceanography institute NOAA is inactive, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, responsible for issues of workers' health claims not to be responsible, because the place of work is outside the coastal area.

Comment 3

Citation of oceanographer and environmentalist Riki Ott [7]: "The US government has no means whatever to react to such a disaster. We depend completely on BP, and that is totally unacceptable. It's as if the rescue action and investigation of a traffic accident were given into the hands of the drunk driver".


[1] BBC "Oil rig blaze off Louisiana leaves at least 11 missing", 21.04.2010

[2] NY Times "Giant Plumes of Oil Forming Under the Gulf", 16.05.2010

[3] LA Times "Republican senator blocks higher liability cap on oil spills", 19.05.2010

[4] LA Times "Gulf oil spill: BP safety record blasted by House panel", 19.05.2010

[5] NY Times "Conflict of Interest Worries Raised in Spill Tests", 20.05.2010

[6] NY Times "Agency Orders Use of a Less Toxic Chemical in Gulf", 20.05.2010

[7] Zeit "BP has more power than the US government", 26.05.2010 [german]

[8] NY Times "Obama Says He’ll Push for Clean Energy Bill", 02.06.2010

[9] grist "Everything you always wanted to know about the Waxman-Markey energy/climate bill—in bullet points", 03.06.2010

[10] NY Times "Logs Show Coast Guard Saw Potential Threat Early", 03.06.2010

[11] BBC "BP reaches key 'milestone' in halting Gulf oil leak", 03.06.2010

[12] BBC "BP lowers a cap onto leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well", 04.06.2010

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