Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cheney's Chernobyl

Thank you, Skippy.

And spread the word, people. It's not Obama's Katrina, it's Cheney's Chernobyl.

How so? Check out William Galston at TNR (read it all -- it's important):

First, an oil-drilling procedure called cementing -- which is supposed to prevent oil and natural gas from escaping by filling gaps between the outside of the well pipe and the inside of the hole bored into the ocean floor -- has been identified as a leading cause of well blowouts. Indeed, a 2007 study by the Minerals Management Service (or MMS, the division of the Interior Department responsible for offshore drilling) found that this procedure was implicated in 18 out of 39 blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico over the 14 years it studied -- more than any other factor. Cementing, which was handled by Halliburton, had just been completed prior to the recent explosion. The Journal notes that Halliburton was also the cementer on a well that suffered a big blowout last August in the Timor Sea off Australia. While BP's management has been responsive to press inquiries and relatively forthcoming as to its responsibility, Halliburton has refused to answer any questions -- an all-too-familiar stance on its part.

And that's not all:

Second, the oil well now spewing large quantities of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico lacked a remote-control acoustic shutoff switch used by rigs in Norway and Brazil as the last line of defense against underwater spills. There's a story behind that. As the Journal reports, after a spill in 2000, the MMS issued a safety notice saying that such a back-up device is "an essential component of a deepwater drilling system." The industry pushed back in 2001, citing alleged doubts about the capacity of this type of system to provide a reliable emergency backup. By 2003, government regulators decided that the matter needed more study after commissioning a report that offered another, more honest reason: "acoustic systems are not recommended because they tend to be very costly." I guess that depends on what they're compared to. The system costs about $500,000 per rig. BP is spending at least $5 million per day battling the spill, the well destroyed by the explosion is valued at $560 million, and estimated damages to fishing, tourism, and the environment already run into the billions.

There's something else we know, something that suggests an explanation for this sequence of events. After the Bush administration took office, the MMS became a cesspool of corruption and conflicts of interest...

So here's my question: what is responsible for MMS's change of heart between 2000 and 2003 on the crucial issue of requiring a remote control switch for offshore rigs? What we do know is that unfettered oil drilling was to Dick Cheney's domestic concerns what the invasion of Iraq was to his foreign policy -- a core objective, implacably pursued regardless of the risks. Is there a connection between his infamous secret energy task force and the corrupt mindset that came to dominate a key program within MMS? Would $500,000 per rig have been regarded as an unacceptably expensive insurance policy if a drill-baby-drill administration hadn't placed its thumb so heavily on the scale?

Very good questions indeed.

It's one thing (and bad enough) to do offshore drilling, quite another (and worse) to do it according to Bush and Cheney, that is, without the appropriate safeguards.

We are witnessing the catastrophic consequences of that gross negligence and irresponsibility, stemming directly from Cheney's pro-corporate (pro-Halliburton) laissez-faire ideology, in the Gulf of Mexico and, increasingly, along the oil-coated shores of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.

It's an environmental nightmare, and Dick Cheney, along with those on his side (the drill-baby-drillers and the enablers of corporate recklessness), have some explaining to do.

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