Why is the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill an Information Dead Zone?

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It isn’t hard to see that the lack of decent information about how serious the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is is almost certainly due to obfuscation on the part of BP. The puzzling part is how BP can fantasize that it ultimately gains from this conduct, and why the Obama Administration tolerates it.

The frustration with continued BP stonewallling has finally produced serious pushback. The scientific community has ramped up its criticism not simply of BP’s role but of the failure of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other federal bodies to make their own assessment of the severity of the leak and resulting damage. From the New York Times:

Tensions between the Obama administration and the scientific community over the gulf oil spill are escalating, with prominent oceanographers accusing the government of failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the spill’s true scope….

The scientists point out that in the month since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, the government has failed to make public a single test result on water from the deep ocean. And the scientists say the administration has been too reluctant to demand an accurate analysis of how many gallons of oil are flowing into the sea from the gushing oil well.

Yves here. For a more vivid sense of the stakes, watch the testimony of Sylvia Earle, former chief scientist of the NOAA (starting at 4:20, click here to view or read the transcript, hat tip Glenn Stehle):

Picture 50

Now the cynically minded might wonder, what good does trying to hide the truth do? Ultimately, ex post facto, it should be feasible for scientists to come up with an total for how much oil has spewed from the well, between the surface spread and the extent of the recently-discovered underwater plumes. So this obfuscation isn’t about ultimate reputation damage or cleanup costs.

It seems utterly implausible that BP does not have a well informed idea as to how much oil is coming out of its well. And the evidence is compelling that the 5.000 barrel per day figure BP keeps presenting is an utter canard, considerably lower than the real outflow. But BP refuses to put measurement equipment near the leak, arguing it might interfere with remediation efforts. Huh? How can you possibly ascertain whether what you plan to do to plug the hole (which is what these first round efforts have all consisted of) has a snowball’s chance of hell in working if you don’t have a good idea of the volumes coming out of the leak?

In other words, the only reason for BP NOT to want to have this information is that:

1. Its remediation efforts to date have some reasonable odds of success only if the outflow is not that much above its 5000 barrel a day estimate

2. Higher outflows and pretty much zilch odds of success of current public-placating dorking around would lead to much greater pressure to Do Something Now.

3. The effective Do Something Now options (like the radical one of using a nuclear weapon to collapse the ocean floor into the leak) would likely also result in making it difficult for BP to ever get oil from that site

4. The BP strategy is thus very likely all about trying to maximize oil extraction by minimizing the appearance of damage and buying time while it drills a relief well

Now let us get to part 2: why is Team Obama enabling this nonsense? I come up with two possibilities:

1. Team Obama believes the BP BS

2. Obama does not want to look impotent. Revealing that the leak is really bad and not having a quick solution is an Obama PR disaster. Obama has to work through BP unless he can implement an action plan using only government resources or by working with another oil company with deep ocean expertise. Given the lead times for government contracting, this would take quite a while.

If the leak is as serious as I fear, this is environmental equivalent of the Iran hostage crisis. Team Obama recognizes this, and therefore wants to create the impression as long as possible that everything that could possibly be done is being done. Note that the Administration is behaving with BP exactly as it did vis as vis the banksters in early 2009: believing that the problem is too complex and scary for them to assert control, casting its lot in with the people who caused the problem in the first place (while calling them bad names often enough to create plausible deniability). And enabling BP’s coverup of how bad the leak means, as Obama did with the financial services industry, of having to support, or at least not undermine too much, its PR efforts.

Now of course, as information keeps surfacing (no pun intended) that the leak is probably much worse than the BP party line. Reports of underwater oil plumes are the most dramatic example. Note that NOAA pooh poohed them two days ago. Per the New York Times today, the government was “surprised” even though this sort of damage had been anticipated in the scientific literature back in 2003, and it now appears to be scrambling to get a better understanding of the plumes.

As official information continues to be slow to be released and maddeningly incomplete, partially founded or unfounded speculation runs rampant on the Internet. For instance, one reader provided a guest post with an detailed and thoughtful analysis of how much oil might be coming from the leak, but it was based on an inaccurate yet widely reported factoid, that the pipe was five feet wide (as our resident expert Glenn Stehle said, “There is no pipe ‘5 feet in diamater’ used in well design—-that is nonsensical.”). Today, we have a report of a “blob” (shades of horror movies!). The problem is that the story contains so much sensationalism and exaggeration that it undermines its credibility, particularly when real experts like Earle stress how little is known about the real state of affairs at the wellmouth. We can only hope that the powers that be come to recognize that footdragging and obfuscation serve no one other besides BP.

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  1. renting_is_fun

    How about this radical idea – no one in a position of elevated authority cares at all, nor needs to?

    And to keep with the numbering scheme –

    1. They don’t currently live (or will not live in the future) in any area affected by this disaster. This certainly applies to the extreme top management of BP, and the highest levels of the administration.

    2. We all live in a Hollywood world – as this line reveals – ‘Revealing that the leak is really bad and not having a quick solution is an Obama PR disaster.’ Why? The leak is really bad, and the likelihood of a quick solution is already over – after all, this is the real world. It is the shared narrative of quick solutions to any problem at all which has resulted in so many problems in America simply being pushed off into the future. Well, the future is now.

    3. There is nothing to be done until the relief well drilling/plugging effort is successful – with luck, just a couple of more months; without luck, likely before 2011 is very far along. Welcome to the reality of what is likely to be the largest accidental release of oil and gas in human history. Which at least happens to have one element of narrative artistry to it – it is occurring, if not exactly in full view (thanks to those vigilant sailors from a subdivision of the Department Of Homeland Security keeping American citizens off public lands), at least plainly in the backyard of the world’s largest user of oil.

    4. Nobody in America cares until something goes so wrong, it is impossible to keep pretending that life is all about ‘have a nice day.’ We are still at the wanting to have a nice day stage (or we will be fired, after all), even as thousands of barrels of oil spew out into the Gulf. Then, we will wait for Hollywood to come up with a new diversion. Maybe something like 2012, The Sequel. A movie with nary an oil slick in sight, as a bright new day dawns for those lucky enough to have the wealth and power to enjoy a refreshing ocean cruise.

    1. wunsacon

      Hollywood creates disaster movies — occasionally even an eco-disaster movie — too. When they do, it draws a scoff-fest from half the country.

    2. anonymous

      Absolutely right. Americans across the country woke this morning went out to their cars, maybe thought about what’s going in at work and drove off without giving the spill a second thought.

      Yves is normally razor-sharp but she has two clear blind spots. She believes Palin to be basically stupid and evil and Obama to be bright and good. Bad judgment on Yves’ part. It doesn’t matter much what Palin says, what Obama says and does matters a lot.

      It’s clearly difficult for Dem supporters like Yves to recognize that there’s zero incentive for Obama to get close to owning responsibility for this disaster. Yves and other Obama supporters dismissed all talk of Obama’s shifty record regarding his grades, his citizenship, and his connections to the worst of Chicago politics.

      Now, we’re seeing the same sleaze on the national stage, but the lies, the evasions, the irresponsibility and the cynicism don’t fit the narrative Yves and other Obama boosters have constructed for themselves. Palin may be an idiot. But that doesn’t make Obama honest or clever.

      He smiles a lot and lets you believe pretty much anything you like about what he’s saying. I’m an immense fan of Yves, but her blind spot lets her down here.

      It’s simple, Obama can’t afford to have people suggesting his administration played or can play any role in this disaster. The lax inspection regimen and the regulatory waivers his administration continues to grant oil companies are the reasons why. Obama doesn’t make enemies of the rich. You’d figure a smart, smart operator like Yves would have figured that out by now.

      The November scenario looks extremely bleak this morning with unemployment numbers up and stocks down. All this WH knows how to do is demonize critics. We’ve seen it before and we’re seeing it again.

      1. anonymous

        I don’t btw care a bit about the infamous birth certificate scandal. I expect that in a century or so when Obama’s university records are no longer deemed national secrets we’ll discover he’s as bright in some area as many believe him to be, and that he was a generally mediocre student.

        My own grades and those of my wife won us academic honors and scholarships that seem to have eluded President Occidental College and Columbia.

        I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that one or more applications identifying the applicant as a naturalized American who grew-up outside the country. His record of academic mediocrity should have kept out of Columbia, not to mention Harvard Law. Bush lacked the skills to run a major corporation, much less lead the US government. Lack of talent and ability eventually makes itself clear.

        The current president was not properly vetted. He’s not up to the job.

        1. Justicia

          You’re spouting Faux News Nonsense. Mediocre students don’t get to be Editor of the Harvard Law Review. Selection is based on a writing competition and grades.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        You obviously don’t read this blog. I don’t recall ever saying anything positive about Obama (I was lukewarm about him pre-election and it was clear he was the Manchurian Candidate when he put Geithner and Summers in key bank policy positions). I’ve even deemed his oratory to be overrated.

        However, Palin is unquestionably stupid, but she may also be cunning. Those are two different axes. She is also completely dishonest. There is ample evidence of both.

      3. Fred Pitley

        Thanks to the “faith based” (not fact based) people like yourself, we have President Obama who inherited the worst economy since the great depression, and an EPA that was reduced to a “watch and see how corporations do it” outfit complete with “de-reg” sensibilities. What we have seen is the collapse of, the auto industry because of “de-reg” the banking industry because of “de reg”, and now an environmental catastrophe in the Gulf because of “de-reg”. Remember moron that in 1999 in your republican play book, “invarnmentl” was a really bad word. Your amnesia of your part in this will fool your fellow “born again” morons but not people who understand cause and effect, and these are the folks who have a “prayer” of “saving” us all, not “faith based” morons.

    3. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: Nobody in America cares until something goes so wrong,

      Americans don’t know what to do. To have a functional democracy the citizens are at-least required to expect that the system will function FOR THEM. The key thing in America is that the citizens have no concept – at all – of “for them” (for who, they’ll ask first). The US is just a collection of people – pissed off at each other – expecting that they (individually) won’t be screwed (meaning, the assumption that there’s enough others to be screwed first).

      One must only follow (somewhat closely) any local politics. The government – at all levels – is organized and run for the benefit of the government’s owners. The “citizens” know this and – actually – want the system to function this way. Which is why “corporations as people” isn’t a revolting idea to most Americans. It’s exactly how they want their society to be organized: the nobility knows best; daddy will take care of “everything bad that happens”.

    4. ep3

      thanks for saving my typing fingers, renting. I would add that they keep up the “everything is fine” mantra so that we won’t stop spending or we won’t rise up and demand change. “just keep spending and doing your normal duties, the wizard is taking care of everything”.
      Obama is a complete failure. The only change we got is in PR. He tries to look good in a disaster; W blatantly sided with the bad guys.

    5. janitor

      The United States,the greatest country in the world with all its technology cannot or will not take action against the greatest threat to its native soil since the Cuban missle crises.Ill tell you what,you pay me 1 million dollars and ill get the job done.We as a people have the responsibility to unsure that disasters like this never happen.Since the American people insist in pointing fingers and not i repeat not dealing with the real problem at hand(getting the well caped off)the problem will exist until all the oceans are poluted to the point that life will not exist there.Get it done reguardless of the price tag and worry about the cost later!Every day will cost the enviornment 100 years of damage.This situation is exactly why the country is in the position that it is in.Get the job done!

  2. Abhishek

    President Obama paid a visit after more than a week the BP oil well exploded and is gushing oil in the waters .The only reason I can see for his going is that he trying to damage control after his administration was criticized for doing too little to control damage from this horrific environmental disaster.
    Just like earlier oil spills like Exxon Valdez and other , don’t expect this oil spill to change anything in regulation or policy making.The current administration has offered to allow states to drill oil off their coasts, I don’t think this spill will change anything . The super rich oil industry with its army of lobbyists will ensure that nothing changes the status quo.

    1. alex black

      Thanks for those NASA photos. Those pretty much “undead” the information dead zone.

      As the caption says, “Holy Crap”….

  3. MB

    BP doesn’t need to monitor the flow from the leak
    because they already know how big it is: Just
    slightly smaller than the pipes they installed.

    As far as delaying the release of accurate reporting
    of the damage, why would they hurry. This is a
    slow motion disaster – slow enough that people
    will get bored and move on – and so far hasn’t
    produced any dramatic images. And it may never
    do so. How exciting is a picture of people not

    So they count on us forgetting, and they’re
    probably right. If we had better memories they
    would never have been allowed to drill this well
    in the first place.

    1. reprobate

      Help me, you really mean that? So you can tell how much water comes out your faucet….by the size of the faucet. To quote Steve Eisman, I’ll short whatever you are doing sight unseen.

      Plus that pipe goes in a hole, remember? The cement plug in the pipe was faulty, and that means the cement that was to make the seal between the pipe and the hole may also be faulty due to the amount of gas that was coming up. So that means the leak could also be outside the pipe, which further means it may be ENLARGING the hole.

      1. MB

        Ha Ha, yes, I really mean that. This isn’t a
        finger in the dike sort or situation, so the plug
        analogy isn’t really apt – at least for some of the
        solutions I’ve seen posted by engineers familiar
        with this sort of situation.

        And yes you can tell how much water comes out of
        a faucet by the size of the faucet (knowing the
        pressure involved, orifice size, etc.)

        At least you can if you studied physical science.

        1. reprobate

          Sorry, I still want to short everything you do sight unseen. And I do have more than a passing acquaintance with physical science.

          Your statement: “BP doesn’t need to monitor the flow from the leak because they already know how big it is: Just slightly smaller than the pipes they installed.”

          You claim BP does not need to know the flow rate, just the pipe diameter. That’s patently ridiculous.

          Read this, and in particular look at the third picture. Then perhaps we can have a sensible discussion.


          1. MB

            Hmm, I think you missed the snark in my original
            comment, the ‘ Just slightly smaller …’. This
            is just an utter disaster, the leak is evidently
            close to what they expected the well to produce.

            And reading the posts at places like drillingahead.com
            I don’t see anyone worrying about the exact flow rate.
            That is, no one is saying ‘well, this method will work
            only if we’re at 40k bbls per day or less’.

            The rate does matter, of course, to the environment …

        2. wunsacon

          MB, inadvertently or not, your statements sound like “measure once, cut twice” to me!

  4. purple

    Obama has been very consistent in emphasizing the primacy of the private sector. No surprise that his philosophy should extend to this catastrophe.

  5. ggm

    I agree, the lack of real information on the spill is frustrating. I’m not sure why BP or the government think it will be possible to keep a lid on information for long in this day and age. Isn’t it worse to let the bad news trickle out for months on end and have wild speculation and rumors spreading over the internet than to get the truth out now?

    I did some rough calculations yesterday based on the satellite images of the oil slick and determined that there must be at least 50K barrels spewing out of Deep Horizon per day. I was conservative in my estimate of the surface area of ocean covered by oil and also tried to take into account that the dispersants BP is using might cause the slick to be thinner than expected. I wouldn’t be shocked if we eventually learn that this well has been leaking over 100K barrels/day.

  6. jbmoore


    Science can be slow. Scientists are conservative by nature. They are having to try to determine the sizes of the underwater plumes by some form of measurement like sonar or water sampling. Likely they are taking samples. If the plumes are enormous, it’s going to take time to map them especially if they are transparent to sonar and can only take samples throughout water columns of 5,000 feet.
    But I’m sure every scientist at BP and NOAA and several universities are checking this monster out. They’ve never seen or examined anything like this.
    This is virgin territory. No one has had a blowout in such a deep well in such a high pressure reservoir. The only solution may be to drill relief wells at this point if the top kill can not be done which means we will have a huge, huge spill and likely severe environmental damage. Given the way Team Obama’s PR machine works, they are likely still trying to figure out a way to spin this disaster that may make Prince William Sound look like an oil spill in a pond by comparison. A sizeable chunk of the Gulf could be trashed. We’ll find out where Obama’s heart lies. If he just uses harsh language and doesn’t introduce any thoughtful legislation or any agency reforms, other than firing the agency head, then you’ll have your answer.

    1. Yves Smith Post author


      You can’t do science if you aren’t gathering data. BP is refusing to gather the most critical data, which is measurement at the site of the leak itself.

      I also suggest you read the NYT story in full. It makes it clear the NOAA has also been dilatory in data gathering. One ship, the Pelican, reported seeing the plumes on May 6. NOAA was still in denial mode on May 17, and is finally seems to be backpedaling and taking it seriously.

      In other words, there is not much in the way of action from the two parties in the best position to get it, BP and NOAA, consistent with getting a grip on what is really happening. Hence the increasingly loud noises from the scientific community.

      1. jbmoore


        NOAA’s budget is tight and has been tight for several years. All of the Federal agencies that fund science except for DARPA have had flat budgets and/or cutbacks. The research ships have to be booked in advance ahead of time and likely most of the best ships are elsewhere conducting important research that has been planned for years. If your grant depends on data, and your project has nothing to do with oil spills, and you’ve waited two years for a berth on a research ship to conduct science that’s important to you, wouldn’t you be a bit miffed to lose that slot you’ve waited for if the ship’s itinerary was changed. Not only your research could be jeopardized, but your career could be as well. Multiply that by 100 people per ship, all of them with grants paying for each slot on the big NOAA ships. Here’s NOAA’s fleet allocation plan for 2010:
        http://www.omao.noaa.gov/shipallocation.html . They only have one ship already scheduled to be in the Gulf of Mexico at the moment. According to the NYT, they now have 5 ships out there, but they don’t state their sizes or capabilities. I guess what I am trying to say is that NOAA is damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

        Now the government could have a navy research vessel come in with scientists and I don’t know why they haven’t done that. Universities could have their own ships come in. This is the official line from Obama’s science adviser on why they aren’t taking data at the wellhead:


        If people want more scientists and ships out there observing, they will have to pay for them somehow, but public universities and colleges have had cutbacks due to the state budget deficits. Oceanography research will have suffered to a greater extent because such research is very expensive. The oil companies have the ships and equipment, but we haven’t heard a peep about any of them loaning them to the government or helping out.

        I can sympathize with your point of view, and I understand it as well, but science budgets have been on a shoestring for over 20 years now. Bush certainly cutback many environmental related studies, so we are paying for that insult. The GFC has probably not helped the situation and that could be part of the problem as to why the response has been sluggish. An oceanographer could clue you in better on the deal. I’m just guessing that it’s a logistical nightmare for a cash strapped NOAA.


  7. Richard Kline

    At this point, the Federal Guvmint has become an enabler of BPs dome of silence/cover-up. There is a real incentive for BP to hide the volume of flow: I suspect that they hope for sufficient dispersion that they can _continue_ to argue for the smallest fake figure that floats the media cycle, and hence play down any environmental damage in years to come. Scientists’ estimates can be gamed as just that, not facts, if ‘no one knows’ how much crude has gushed. You can bet that BPs management chain is committing as little as possible to paper or pixels on the flow volume. What started as corner cutting and standard corporate boilerplate misfeasance is liquifying into a blatant denial of impact strategy, to me; a transition from the liable to the criminally liable—while the Feds do nothing but watch and row their dinghies in a circle testing the wind for who gets the blame.

    It’s a disgrace that the Fed hasn’t effectively nationalized the response, even if that was simply a matter of putting government officials at the elbow of BPs team and issuing daily reports. But as we see, the White House has the same strategy: Be Elsewhere, and insist that Experts Are Doing Everything Possible. If Bo Prez intervenes in any way, he owns the problem, and the oil sticks to his teflon suit. So it is very much in his interest to have no defined figures come out either. Guvmint supinity _is_ the disaster management policy at work. In due course, if things get really bad the Government can blame BP for botching a heck of a job, and thereby divert blame. Barack Obama’s crisis strategy motto: “Let George do it.” . . . Man’s never gotten his hands dirty in his life, and isn’t about to start now.

  8. Liberoïdal

    What do you consider as anything else than an information dead-zone ?

    Spin-doctoring ?

    Why should anyone make any effort to have anyone else understand what he believes –for those humble enough to doubt from what they were told they knew.

  9. rob adams

    Much of this speculation seems accurate and logical, however, i haven’t noticed many “experts” chiming in and virtually none of that category exist in the federal government. Not setting myself up here, but i’m from an oilfield family, worked offshore Louisiana to get through college, and been in the business more than 30 years.
    Consider. there are reportedly 30,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico drilled and completed since mid-50’s – no major spills, but plenty of small ones. The Coast Guard requires reporting and they usually come out to inspect and gather reports pretty quick. In this case, the BOP appears to be the main culprit and nobody is arguing it wouldn’t have prevented the blowout.
    BP is ultimately the negligent party because they’re signing the checks and, apparently, countermanding SOP in safety meetings. People in the industry know about BP. Texaco used to be that way. When you get a BOP in place on the ocean floor, and final testing shows it’s faulty, your alternative is to pull out, seal the hole, and move over. Or, of course, ignore it and hope for the best. Just imagine what would have happened if BP had complelted the well, drilled more of them in the same spot and THEN the BOP failed!
    The rest of the industry is already feeling the effects of this in widespread reinspections. BP is not Exxon, or Conoco or Callon Petroleum or Shell or Chevron. Not to say there aren’t plenty of idiots working offshore – i can testify to that in spades! But procedures are generally followed which is why 30,000 wells have been drilled without a Deepwater Horizon problem, nor is this the deepest deep water well, nor the deepest subsurface.
    From personal experience, regulation is key, but it is just as capable of preventing anything from happening as it is being culpable for rubber stamping whatever. Ultimately, the oil business is responsible, the equipment works pretty well because it is almost always “over-engineered”, and we in the oil patch bear full responsibility. For that reason, the catastrophe in the Gulf should result in BP being immediately banned from all US operations. Since most operations are joint ventures, finding a safer operator is entirely practical. For solely ownned operations, BP should be forced to divest “and don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!”
    That could hardly fail to get evverybody’s attention.

    1. Richard Kline

      Ixtoc 1 was a _very_ major spill. I’m not going to to the research necessary to dispute your 30,000 safe bores line because a) it isn’t credible on the face, and b) one bad blow like this more than cancels out a couple of decades of slow seepage swept under the foam of remark.

    2. Skippy

      In the military there is an old saying,

      “one aww shit, wipes out a thousand at’a boys”

      Loosely translated, it means a bullet only needs too_do its job once_to negate all your training or where all the others failed.

      Skippy…Downsouth, that one phase negates all randian philosophy…too me, theirs is a diseconomy of self, that only ends one way…boom.

      1. DownSouth


        We already know what the Libertarian-Austrian-Neoliberal party line is, as articulated at the hearing yesterday by John Duncan (R-Tennessee), who can be seen here beginning at minute 01:48:40.


        Duncan asserts that congress shouldn’t “over react” and “end up hurting millions of poorer and lower-income working people in this country” by “driving gas prices to six or eight dollars per gallon.”

        Noting that BP has 23,000 employees in this country, he says “I don’t want them to be harmed by this or the thousands of shareholders that these companies have.”

        “The last major oil spill was in Santa Barbara 41 years ago,” he reminds us, and citing all the thousands of offshore wells that have been drilled in the interim, claims “this is almost always a very safe and environmentally safe way to produce oil by the percentages.”

        He concludes by saying he is “very impressed” by BP’s response to the spill thus far.

      2. DownSouth

        The bean-counters do their risk analysis which is laid before that ominpotent being in the Libertarian-Austrian-Neoliberal pantheon—-the cost benefit analysis.

    3. NOTaREALmerican

      You are right. And this same logic applies to all human endevors based primarily on male optimism. When the nukes are fired-up again, the optimists will correctly point out that “Dude, the French been running nukes for 50 years, dude. Nobody been killed yet. Dude, like totally, dude. I say go for it. Dude, like totally.”

      In 1000 years the Chinese will have shown that humans can live in toxic filth and still reproduce; which is all that really matters. “Dude, like, what can happen dude. nobody been killed yet. Like totally dude”.

    4. Fred Pitley

      Very good letter. Thanks for sharing your insight and ability to reason. What I especially appreciate is your mention that it is an oil industry problem. It seems many other respondents want to lay all blame for this nightmare squarely on the shoulders of President Obama, and from the same guys who say “keep yer guverment hands off industry”, it’s quite inappropriate. The fact is that industry has been writing it’s own rules in the USA without review for 10 years. As with responsible adults, we really must respect them enough to take responsibility for their mistake here.

  10. attempter

    As for why Obama does what he does, the evidence of his entire record is that he’s a corporatist by ideology and a status quo elitist by personality, so he always has a strong bias in favor of believing that whatever corporate CEOs say is right must be right. (It’s not a matter of “truth”. The point is, Obama trusts them to know what the truth is and to decide when and if the truth is indicated, and otherwise what’s the right lie to tell. His default is to follow their lead. I’m sure he personally has no idea whatsoever what to do here, just as he has no idea what to do about the Depression or the war. He’s completely reliant upon corporate guidance.)

    As for why BP itself and those in the administration who actually know the truth (I assume some exist) are lying, spinning, obstructing, and stalling, it’s because there really is no other option. Just as with the big global debt ponzi scheme, so this oil eruption is probably a SNAFU beyond redemption. The only course open to the criminals is to stall and befog and lie while they loot everything they can while the getting’s good. There’s no point in being honest and saying truthfully what the “fix” must be because there is no fix which can still maintain the kleptocratic power structure. Obama as well knows at least that much.

    BP’s not going to admit the truth: that deepwater drilling can’t be done at all on a corporatist basis with any acceptable level of safety.

    By coincidence, this morning’s blog post I just put up was on this same subject:


  11. Andrew Foland

    There have already been plenty of stories about past-due or non-done inspections, certifications, and paperwork on this and many other rigs.

    Someone at Interior has the power to say to BP, “You have 48 hours to give us measurements of X and Y; and 72 hours to give us every internal piece of paper you’ve ever produced on subject Z. Or if you prefer, we could go over all BP filings for the past five years with a microscope. Any rig whose paperwork is not in perfect compliance will stand down until it is. Your call.”

    Call it the Lenny Briscoe solution. Someone at Interior has this power, and what’s more, I feel quite sure that that someone has been asking to use it.

    And someone higher up in this administration is telling them not to.

    1. Braden

      Bingo! We could have had a fairly accurate flow rate within a day, but the screws aren’t turning on BP. And why should they? If the government pushes too hard, BP will announce that they are unable to solve the problem and then the government will have to take full responsibility.

      And then it does become the Obama oil spill. It takes on that Hostage Crisis sheen. More than likely no solution will work until relief wells are drilled, but by then we may well be near the mid-terms. No one is here to save you. Look away!

  12. Vinny

    I have a small request, if I may:

    When you post your comments here, especially if you plan to discuss Obama’s sellout of the American people to the corporate world, please do not use the acronym “BP”. Rather, please spell out the full name of that evil corporation. Like so: “British Petroleum”. This way every American reader will know that Mr. Obama has not only sold us out to a greedy private corporation, but he has sold us out to a FOREIGN greedy private corporation.

    Thank you for your consideration.


    1. Skippy

      Hay Vinny, you mean these fk’n guys…

      In May 1901, William Knox D’Arcy was granted a concession by the Shah of Iran to search for oil which he discovered in May 1908.[6] This was the first commercially significant find in the Middle East. On 14 April 1909, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC) was incorporated to exploit this.[6] In 1923, the company secretly gave £5,000 to future Prime Minister Winston Churchill to lobby the British government to allow them to monopolise Persian oil resources.[7] In 1935, it became the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC).[6]

      After World War II, AIOC and the Iranian government initially resisted nationalist pressure to revise AIOC’s concession terms still further in Iran’s favour. But in March 1951, the pro-western Prime Minister Ali Razmara was assassinated.[8] The Majlis of Iran (parliament) elected a nationalist, Mohammed Mossadeq, as prime minister. In April, the Majlis nationalised the oil industry by unanimous vote.[9] The National Iranian Oil Company was formed as a result, displacing the AIOC.[10] The AIOC withdrew its management from Iran, and organised an effective boycott of Iranian oil. The British government – which owned the AIOC – contested the nationalisation at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, but its complaint was dismissed.[11]

      By spring of 1953, incoming U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorised the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to organise a coup against the Mossadeq government with support from the British government.[12] On 19 August 1953, Mossadeq was forced from office by the CIA conspiracy, involving the Shah and the Iranian military, and known by its codename, Operation Ajax.[12]

      Classic shield logo, designed by Raymond Loewy, used from 1979 to 2000 and still in use in a small number of petrol stations.Mossadeq was replaced by pro-Western general Fazlollah Zahedi,[13] and the Shah, who returned to Iran after having left the country briefly to await the outcome of the coup. He[who?] abolished the democratic Constitution and assumed autocratic powers.

      After the coup, Mossadeq’s National Iranian Oil Company became an international consortium, and AIOC resumed operations in Iran as a member of it.[10] The consortium agreed to share profits on a 50–50 basis with Iran, “but not to open its books to Iranian auditors or to allow Iranians onto its board of directors.”[14] AIOC, as a part of the Anglo-American coup d’état deal, was not allowed to monopolise Iranian oil as before. It was limited to a 40% share in a new international consortium. For the rest, 40% went to the five major American companies and 20% went to Royal Dutch Shell and Compagnie Française des Pétroles, now Total S.A..[15]

      The AIOC became the British Petroleum Company in 1954. In 1959 the company expanded beyond the Middle East to Alaska[16] and in 1965 it was the first company to strike oil in the North Sea.[17] In 1978 BP acquired a controlling interest in Standard Oil of Ohio or Sohio, a breakoff of the former Standard Oil that had been broken up after anti-trust litigation.[18]

      BP continued to operate in Iran until the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The new regime of Ayatollah Khomeini confiscated all of BP’s assets in Iran without compensation, finally closing BP’s 70-year presence in Iran.


      Skippy…the biggest piece of gold started all of this…eh D’Arcy. BTW going to be spending some time in his old stopping grounds soon…

      1. jdmckay

        I’ve been continuously amazed, for years, at US citizenry’s utter ignorance of the Iran/Mossadeq affair.

        And just to add emphasis, (from memory) around the time Mossadeq began his political activity to wrest control of Persian oil from “The Crown” (late 30’s >> early 40’s): for BP’s oil biz in Iran, they paid more in taxes to British gov than Iran received in royalties.

        This whole affair should be in every history book used in every school in America. The consequences of this affair are profound… led directly to Khomeni, incubated birth of Islamic radicalism, is firmly embedded in national consciousness of every Persian… yet we pretend it never happened.

        Meanwhile, in Texas, they’re updating state legislature mandated history book content w/Rush Limbaugh, neo-confederate revisionism,…

        Oh well.

    2. Cynthia

      Vinny, keep in mind, American corporations have become so integrated into the global economy, that there’s no longer any distinction between an American and a foreign corporation. This means that a so-called American corporation like Exxon is just as disloyal to the American economy as a so-called foreign corporation like BP is.

  13. Mespilus

    Lets hope that the oil company executives got paid out with sufficiently large bonuses, earned by cutting corners, so as not to be unduly inconvenienced for this science fiction scale catastrophe. Perhaps this will get rid of those pesky fisherman, nature lovers, and tourists, who just get in the way. Seriously, if they did care about anyone else they would have had a plan in place. The fact is, executives are already paid out, and have no stake in what happens next to their large corporations or banks. An act of unspeakable violence has been done. The people have to take back their own country, and lest this become our French revolution moment, what we really need to pray for is PEACEFUL change, because any non peaceful change will sow the seeds of its own illegitimacy, and only replace one problem with another .

    1. Vinny

      My friend, the “peaceful change” was Obama. Look where it got us.

      Besides greed, these people only understand fear. I suggest we speak to them in the language they can understand.


    2. DownSouth


      You broach an extremely interesting, and important, subject there.

      I was just reading Jonathan Schell’s The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People last night. He is of the same mind that you are, that nonviolence is the only way forward.

      There is little doubt that democracy in America is broken, dysfunctional and non-operative. The question is: What to do about it?

      Schell observes that conventional wisdom in Western political theory was that violence was the only way to bring about reform. “Most thinkers, whether left, right, or center agreed that revolution was in its nature violent,” Schell writes.

      Schell then goes on to cite a number of quotes by leading political theorists from the 18th to 20th centuries, hailing from all points on the political spectrum, who signed onto the violence-is-the-only-road-to-reform hypothesis:

      • Max Weber: ”[P]olitics operates with very special means, namely power backed up by violence.”

      • John Locke: When the government uses “force without right upon a man’s person,” and “the remedy is denied by a manifest perverting of justice and barefaced wrestling of the laws to protect or indemnify the violence of injuries of some men,” then people “are left to the only remedy in such cases—-the appeal to heaven”—-that is, to arms. For “in all states and conditions, the true remedy of force without authority is to oppose force to it.”

      • The French revolutionaries: “Aux armes, citoyens!

      • Napoleon: “General rule: No social revolution without terror. Every revolution is, by its nature, a revolt which success and the passage of time legitimize but n which terror is one of the inevitable phases.”

      • Karl Marx: “Violence is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.”

      • Vladimir Ilyich Lenin: “Not a single question pertaining to the class struggle has ever been settled except by violence.” “Great problems in the life of nations are decided only by force.”

      The Russian writer and pacifist Leo Tolstoy disagreed with this consensus but was immediately met with a barrage of ridicule and derision from both the right and the left:

      • Lenin sneered at Tolstoy’s “imbecile preaching about not resisting evil with force.”

      • Max Weber, having declared that “the decisive means for politics is violence,” added that “anyone who fails to see this is a political infant.”

      • And the right-wing enthusiast of violence Joseph de Maistre proclaimed, “All greatness, all power, all subordination rest on the executioner. He is the terror and the bond of human association.”

      “And when the right, turning revolutionary, produced fascism, it not only justified violence by reveled in it,” Schell goes on to point out. This is a phenomenon that the right-wing Libertarian-Austrian-Neoliberal constellation is in complete denial about.

      “This consensus survived all but unshaken until recently and undoubtedly played a role in the nearly universal failure to predict the downfall of the Soviet Union,” Schell continues.

      But the pioneer of nonviolence, and the first one to put it to the historical test, was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

      But even Gandhi eventually came to realize that absolute nonviolence—-mere voting and petitioning the government—-were by themselves ineffective. Mass demonstrations, strikes, boycotts, etc. are also necessary to bring about change:

      In my humble opinion, the ordinary methods of agitation by way of petitions, deputations, and the like is no longer a remedy for moving to repentance a government as hopelessly indifferent to the welfare of its charge as the Government of India has proved to be.
      –quote from C.F. Andrews, Mahatma Gandhi’s Ideas

      1. Vinny


        Indeed, there is a powerful seed of violence inside of every human being. Freud discussed this in his Civilization and its Discontents, along with the Death Instinct that drives toward death and the destruction of others.

        The difference between most of us and people like the executives at British Petroleum, bansters across the world, and your average run-of-the-mill serial killer is that while most of us at least try to suppress our own primitive instincts (such as the Death Instinct), these scumbags don’t even try. They are simply soulless, automatons driven by primitive instincts, lacking even the most basic functioning of a conscience, and only resembling a human being physically. These are the captains of our society…


      2. Tom Scott

        One way to get the crap rolling down their legs is simply to stop giving them money. I’ve noticed that people are willing to protest, be gassed, shot with rubber bullets, arrested, jailed, and fined, but they’re not willing to cook a hamburger for themselves and put McDonalds out of business.

        We could pass measures in all states that have the initiative process to ban payroll deductions for tax purposes. The Constitution allows for the government to levy taxes, it says nothing about businesses collecting it for them.

        But of course the fellow complains about jobs being sent out of country, and then shops at WalMart. Go figure…

    3. jdmckay

      There was an article early on in this debacle (didn’t save link) stating that Transocean’s board moved to with hold management bonuses. The board asserted this action in response to their contention that management had curtailed safety measures to increase bonuses.

  14. Guest

    Why is the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill an Information Dead Zone?

    Simple, BP and the administration, each for their own reasons made a strategic decision to downplay the leak and have brought to bear their extensive resources in support of that strategy.

    Central to that strategy are advocates from the environmental and academic community whose livelihoods and research depend on receiving their (significant) share of the billions in royalties from offshore leases. *

    So the next time you hear an expert waxing eloquent on how microbes will gobble up the oil, make a note of their name and then follow the money.

    When you hear the director of some agency explain how the oil will simply evaporate or downplays the quantity, check out the agencies funding sources.

    These experts remind me of the retired generals and experts the Pentagon trotted out prior to the Gulf War.


    The Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) was established by Section 384 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Act) to assist producing states and their coastal political subdivisions (CPSs) in mitigating the impacts from Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas production. The CIAP legislation appropriated $250 million per year for fiscal years 2007 through 2010 to be distributed among eligible producing states and their CPSs (counties). Mississippi is one of six states eligible to receive CIAP

    excerpt from the above PDF

    Coastal Impact Assistance Program: The measure provides $1 billion – $250 million per year for fiscal years 2007 through 2010 to six coastal energy-producing states: Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Alaska and California. Each state would be allocated a share based on the oil and gas production off its coast, with Louisiana standing to receive 54 percent, or $135 million per year. This is direct spending not subject to appropriations. The coastal states receive one third of the royalties from federal production in the first three miles beyond the state’s seaward boundary. The states with offshore production have argued that the environmental pressures and associated infrastructure needs warrant a greater share of the federal royalties.

    Royalties from onshore federal production are shared 50-50, prior to deducting administrative
    costs, with the state where the production occurs. (Sec. 384)


  15. i

    Both the executive and legislative branches of our government are mostly populated by lawyers and comedians (In Al Franken’s case, it was intentional).

    What is barely represented at the highest levels are scientists. Doctors. Engineers. Physicists. People whose daily job is to butt heads with the real world are notably absent.

    When disaster happens, the first collective instinct of congress is to legislate against it, at least until K street comes up with some money to do otherwise.

    This has happened. Expect nothing from congress. If BP didn’t think it could sell the remaining oil, they would be doing nothing, either.

    1. aet

      What is needed is competent Administrators: not lawyers arguing A clients’ interests ( and NOT the interests of the polity taken as a whole): nor scientists, puzzling out the inhuman.
      What is needed is wisdom, not knowledge.

      1. NOTaREALmerican

        Re: What is needed is wisdom, not knowledge.

        When has that ever mattered? What is needed for success (meaning: wealth accumulated long enough to reproduce your DNA in vast quantities) is confidence, optimism, and the ability to BS. Is there any point in the history of humanity where it wasn’t just the males with the most testosterone acting like frat-boys? Did human nature change recently?

    1. Guest

      IXTOC was light sweet, typical of much of the Gulf of Mexico. Much of it burned off and actually evaporated. It took two months for it to reach the Texas barrier islands and they were prepared.

      BP TransOcean leak is not light crude. (that’s why you have heard so little of the grade that is leaking)

      Analysis: Gulf leak may be harsher type of oil
      The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico was believed to be Louisiana sweet crude, but one sample finds it may be a heavier type that would be harder to clean up.


  16. Simon Sez

    The Deepwater Horizon spill is our Chernobyl. It’s interesting to look at the parallels of the collapse of the Soviet Union vs. the fiascos we are facing. Don’t you just love Obama’s change?

    1. Patriot

      There is something deeply Soviet about our failure here. Contrast Obama’s response with that of Bush during Katrina. Not much difference.

      The system is broken.

  17. jdmckay

    CBS news says Coast Guard is confiscating cameras (etc.) in affected areas, and telling reporters to leave.

    I agree w/Yves, most head-scratching stuff from FED’s is NOAA’s explicit contrariness to credible scientific statements on volume of leak and such. And why was request (from various local sources) for Army Engineers to built a barrier fully ignored?

    On larger FED scale, among most disappointing (to say the least) non-actions by team BO is the carryover of personnel in multiple agencies… DOJ, EPA/NOAA (etc.), US attn’s, etc. etc. etc.

    Given BO’s “hope & change” thinie, at minimum I had expected he would clean sweep at least most grotesque of W’s political hacks in so many of these positions. But… practically none of this.

    Oh well.

  18. Mickey Marzick in Akron, Ohio

    How ‘bout considering the consequences of the laisser-faire laissez-passer, antigovernment, antiregulatory policy effects on the federal bureaucracy in general and those agencies responsible [Interior, EPA] in particular over the course of the past 30 years? Populating these agencies with the politically correct ideological personnel rather than professional competence has a cumulative effect. MMS personnel seem only interested in getting laid and partying with their oil industry pals… and seem unapologetic for their behavior. Not all, of course, but many senior and midlevel federal bureaucrats are “looters” on a mission to “starve the beast”. Their incompetence leads to bankruptcy…

    Remember, part of the “starving the beast” in dismantling the federal government was loyalty first… Could this idiocy now be so widespread that the “responsible parties” simply lack the expertise to know what to do? Their project management teamheads are so far up the oil industry’s ass that they are dependent on industry for expertise and information. They have no choice but to obfuscate, him haw, and play along. [Thomas Frank’s characterization of this broader process in The Wrecking Crew comes to mind.] The Obama Administration’s hands are tied much like they were once TARP was passed. And the government’s seeming ineptitude only reinforces the ideological predisposition that government is evil, corrupt, incompetent. But there’s a reason why this is the case rooted in the very antiregulatory antigovernment ideology that was supposed to prevent such incompetence.

    The only real solution is to create a national oil company charged with the mission to develop the requisite skill, technical knowledge, and expertise so as to be able to challenge the ‘oil patch” in the real costs of exploration/production and environmental mitigation, etc. The idea that the “private sector” is somehow always more efficient and better able to do something than the government is fanciful theoretical thinking that needs to be tested. It is a recipe/prescription for LOOTING! We [the American public?] have trusted them to do the right thing and the results are… Indeed, even more fanciful is the idea that natural resources [oil and coal] are subject to private ownership and the superprofits derived from them when the environmental costs – EXTERNALITIES – are the taxpayer’s responsibility.

    The fact that there is no discussion of such a proposal testifies to just how “captured” both the leaders and the led in this country are to MARKET TOTALTITARIANISM. The collapse of the Deep Horizon Oil Rig is merely the prelude to how this will end. America is collapsing from within. There’s no reforming this – the rot is simply too pervasive. If anyone can name me one institution in this country capable of reforming itself from within I will gladly eat crow. But the weight of the evidence suggests otherwise.

    Quit looking to Washington for a solution, we’re on our own and will have to create parallel structures/institutions to replace them. It will take time… But we can do it. In the meantime we’ll have to pay for such colossal stupidity.

  19. lambert strether

    Yves writes:

    “We can only hope that the powers that be come to recognize that footdragging and obfuscation serve no one other besides BP.”

    That’s the feature part. Where’s the bug?

  20. Jon Claerbout

    Nobody wants to be grilled over questions they hardly know the answers to, especially while they are struggling to fix the problems.

    I’m not an expert though I’ve been teaching petroleum exploration for 43 years. We’ve reached the end of easy oil. A mile down in the ocean is a new world to us. This is not the last problem we are going to see no matter what route we go on energy. I can’t vouch for as many details as does Rob Adams (above) but I can recommend reading what he has to say.

  21. city on a hill

    Helpless organizations control what they can. The state can control its populace, so that’s what it does. Suspend Article 19 and the First Amendment, that’s the first step. It won’t be the last.

    When damage becomes apparent in the North Atlantic, that’s when it gets interesting. The world then has a rogue state on its hands, outside the Convention on the Law of the Sea and poisoning the Common Heritage of Mankind.

  22. Ronald

    The administration is using basic media controls developed by our government since the outbreak of actual onsite reporting during the Vietnam War which for those to young to remember created huge PR problems for the military and two administration . Controlling media just like the military/CIA does with wartime activities has now become SOP for any party in power and reflects as many posters above have commented on a corporate ideology that has taken over all aspects of government. The internet has created greater problems controlling information but the government with the MSM participation is able to control the scope of the information and thereby limit damage in their view.

    1. DownSouth

      It’s amazing they believed they could cover this up.

      Here’s the latest from CNN as the “oil as thick as chocolate syrup” hits shore:


      I think you’re right on about this being something that came right out of the Vietnam era. Hannah Arendt writes extensively on this in her chapter “Lying in Politics” in Crises of the Republic:

      …the extravagant lengths to which the commitment to nontruthfulness in politics went on at the highest level of government, and because of the concomitant extent to which lying was permitted to proliferate throughout the ranks of all government services…

      1. DownSouth

        But on the other hand, the cover-up as regards the Great Financial Crisis has been successful, at least so far, and things like “extend and pretend” and “mark to fantasy” have concealed the true shape of the banks from the American people.

      2. NOTaREALmerican

        re: that came right out of the Vietnam era.

        Having grown-up during the Vietnam era (I’m mid-50’s) I also remember how absolutely pissed out-of-my-mind I was that those hippies would dare question the righteousness of the greatest country in the entire world trying to bring freedom and democracy and freedom and McDonalds to the South Vietnamese who were just trying to defend themselves from the Godless commies.

        People want to be lied too, the peasants especially. Personally, I was ready for die for my country to keep those dominoes from falling. Dude, like, dude… those dominoes dude. (Luckily, I’m lazy and the war happened to end before I could do anything stupid enough to get killed).

    2. Valissa

      Hence the importance of projects like WikiLeaks, to try and get some real information out to people. I have been wondering how they were going to try and block WikiLeaks and now we can see that the WikiLeaks founder has his passport confiscated (see NC links today for article by Greenwald).

      Sadly we are left stuck pondering who was right… Huxley or Orwell?

      ORWELL & HUXLEY REVISITED http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_allen_l__071009_orwell__26_huxley_revi.htm

      Amusing Ourselves to Death: Aldous Huxley vs George Orwell http://www.recombinantrecords.net/docs/2009-05-Amusing-Ourselves-to-Death.html

  23. Doug Terpstra

    Rep Edward Markey (D-Mass) is expected to have BP’s live video feed on his site today


    “This is BP’s spill, but it is the American people’s ocean.” – Rep Markey

    Hmmm, this is my dog’s view of the world. It’s quite simple: anything he can see and piss on is his, period.

  24. YY

    The administration is not capable of doing much about the disaster and is probably getting bad advice about not getting directly involved in failing to fix the leak. There is an assumption that at some point in the future there will be legal exposure and inability to seek restitution from BP. They are looking at it, the same way as they dealt with the GFC. While banks may be too big to fail, BP is not. It is just an oil company, letting it fail does not cause huge dislocations as the assets will continue to function more or less (except for those that have literally blown up). BP’s present priorities appear to be protection of executive jobs and the appearance of its balance sheet. Thus they will do a half-assed job in dealing with the crisis and will create fiction to protect the balance sheet. These priorities do not coincide with that of the country nor does it with the administration (though they have yet to realize this). A bit more forceful action would be nice. The BP exec’s should be more concerned about playing rock hockey wearing orange jump suits.

  25. Doc Holiday

    BP experts can’t be replaced, just as with too the too big to fail bankster model — which is designed as a process, where the experts remain in place in order to continue collecting bribes and being part of fraud and conspiracy. Obama is either too stupid or too corrupt and it’s looking more and more like he’s both!

    Re: “Note that the Administration is behaving with BP exactly as it did vis as vis the banksters in early 2009: believing that the problem is too complex and scary for them to assert control”

  26. S Brennan

    “Now let us get to part 2: why is Team Obama enabling this nonsense? I come up with two possibilities”

    Here’s a 3rd: Obama is BP biggest recipient of BP payola and like all good bought and paid for hacks…he’s doing what he’s paid to do

  27. Sharonsj

    Prepare to never eat fish again for the rest of your life…unless you are willing to accept bacteria-laden, bad-tasting farm-raised fish (often from China and South America). Goodbye shrimp, clams, mussels. Goodbye Italian and Southern and New England restaurants.

    Good thing I’m old enough to have eaten everything that the next generation will never know.

    1. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: Goodbye Italian and Southern and New England restaurants

      Nonsense! There’s plenty of Chinese and Indians eating toxic waste contaminated food right now. Human optimism will cure any problem. In 10,000 years – when humans are smashed shoulder to shoulder and living on Soylent Green – the CNBC’s will still be spreading the word of human optimism. “Dude, has there EVER been a better time to be investing? Buy Soylent Green, I heard their sales increased 2% last month. Dude, like I all in dude. Totally”.

  28. Ed

    These are good comments. Since I am responding to over fifty comments, unfortunately this comment will be somewhat scattered:

    1. Everything I know about this oil spill has to be told to me by British Petroleum and the federal government. This is occuring deep in the ocean, off of a private oil rig. Its not possible for some independent person to go to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and check out what is going on, and besides the information is highly technical.

    2. People working in large organizations lie to people outside those organizations (and sometimes inside those organizations!) all the time, because that is how their incentives are aligned. Modern public relations is really a collection of techniques for lying. For that reason, I fully expect BP and the government to lie to me even if its not in their interest to do so.

    3. Its also possible that neither the BP or the government is lying, or that they genuinely do not know the extent of the spill, or the likelihood of success of efforts to contain this.

    4. Because of the above points, I will know if the spill is really serious if I can’t go to the beach this year (I live on the East Coast) because the water is too polluted, or possibly can’t afford to drive out there due to high gas prices. If I can go the beach this summer, its probably been contained somewhat. I don’t think there is a reasonable chance of getting any information by some other method. So I’m not paying much attention to the news reports.

    5. Lets say there is a 1 in 30,000 chance of something like this happening when you drill a deep offshore rig, even following all the safety procedures. There are about 30,000 offshore rigs. If you engage in an activity with a very low probability of risk often enough, you get a high probability of risk (this was actually Taleb’s point with the Black Swan example). British Petroleum may actually have done nothing wrong, at some point the roulette wheel was going to hit their number (though I agree with the idea of banning them from US drilling, for political reasons).

    6. One of the ideas behind peak oil is that oil extraction in the future will be more costly, as we have already depleted the less costly fields. This event is what is meant by “most costly”. Killing all the shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico may just be an additional cost of oil extraction in the future (so, come to think of it, was invading Iraq). Does anyone have any better ideas?

    I’m going to wait and see how this plays out. I’m a bit non-plussed by how what would have been considered amazing, catastropic events in my youth now seem to happen almost annually.

    1. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: Everything I know about this oil spill has to be told to me by British Petroleum and the federal government.

      Actually not. Everything the average “citizen in the US” knows came from BP and the US government. But, if you happen to be skeptical (or authority), you might question the source (which apparently you ARE doing – so you aren’t normal). The progressives (the left, socialists, democrats, liberals, whatever they are calling themselves these days) NEVER question their mommy; just as the tea-baggers (the right, the fascists, conservatives, republicans) never question their daddy.

      Americans are only skeptical of the other side, but never fully question the concept that the “those in power” (the authorities) are somehow special. Of course, successful societies have to be organized this way.

      The few skeptics get their information from sources of than CNBC. The rest are just marks.

  29. Guest

    BP has just announced that they understated the quantity of oil that is leaking.

    (their problem is that they are now siphoning the equivalent of 5000 bbl per day with the pipe insert apparatus.

    HOUSTON, May 20 (Reuters) – BP Plc (BP.L) said it is now siphoning 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) per day of crude oil at the leak site in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

    BP had estimated the leak was flowing at a rate of 5,000 barrels per day, but scientists and the government have questioned that figure.

    “It’s now capturing 5,000 barrels per day of oil,” BP spokesman Mark Salt, said.


  30. Cynthia

    Just about everything that Obama says turns out not to be true. So when Obama said that BP will pay for all the cleanup cost from its oil spill, what he is really saying is that BP is totally off the hook and the American people will be paying for BP’s mess either in the form of higher taxes or higher gas prices. Nothing has changed about Obama. He’s still deep in the pockets of Corporate America, so he’ll continue to make certain that BP’s profits remain privatized and its losses remain socialized. He’s still a crony capitalist’s best friend.

    And since all of the privately-owned oil companies, from Exxon to Shell to Chevron, don’t have any incentive, much less any desire, to help BP to put a stop to the gusher in the Gulf, that leaves the publicly-owned companies, mostly ones from the BRIC countries, to step in and fill their shoes. And because Brazil’s Petrobras is one of the world’s leaders when it comes to drilling for oil in ultra-deep water, this giant oil company from Brazil most likely knows the most about how to stop oil from gushing out of a wellhead that’s 5,000 ft underwater. But now that Obama has snubbed Brazil’s trilateral agreement with Turkey and Iran that would allow Iran to hand over a large part of its low-enriched uranium stockpile in exchange for a much smaller quantity of slightly higher enriched uranium so that Iran can produce medical isotopes, don’t be too surprised if Brazilian President, Lula da Silva, snubs Obama back by refusing to help us out in the Gulf.


    It’s high time for the American people to wake up the ugly truth that Obama is not only a neocon warmonger who chooses war over peace, but he’s also a neolib corporatist who chooses corporate profits over protecting our workers as well as our environment!

  31. Vinny

    My friends from Tarpon Springs, a nice Greek community town at the Gulf of Mexico, just north of Tampa, just told me they are expecting tarballs to show up on the beach this weekend. Within a 100 mile span from Tarpon Springs you find 5 of the top 10 best beaches in the world.

    So how about we boycott this crooked old British Petrolium organized crime FOREIGN corporation all the way back to decrepit old mama Great Britain. They can drill for oil in the back of Buckingham Palace if their decrepit old queen lets them. Or maybe they can do offshore drilling by Southampton or Brighton or some other decrepit old British sea town, where most residents are either too drunk, too drugged up, or just too scouser-stupid to notice any oil spills.

    We must get these criminals out of the Gulf of Mexico asap.

    Obama, or somebody with principles in the White House, are you reading this? We want the Gulf of Mexico for our children the way it was when you were sworn in. You goofed up on the health care “reform”, you goofed up on finance reform, you goofed up on Iraq and Afghanistan, you goofed up on Gitmo. Are now goofing up on the environment too?


  32. Jim

    Building on Mickey Marzick’s comment: “Quit looking to Washington for a solution, we are on our own…”

    Let that sink in “we are on our own.”

    Vinny raises another important issue lined to how we behave once the realization that we are on our own sinks in: “While most of the rest of us try to suppress our own primitive instincts…these scumbags don’t even try. They are simply soulless automatons…lacking the most basic functioning of a conscience.”

    One of Down South’s favorites, Niebuhr, argued in response to Vinny’s position that the powerful would never surrender their power without a struggle but argued for a strategy of nonviolent coercion.

    He endorsed this perspective because Niebuhr also believed that nonviolent coercion with its spiritual discipline against resenment discriminated between the evils of a social system(in this case a particular configuration of the market and the state) and the individuals who are involved in it.

    Self-righteousness and resentment seem to go hand in hand.

    We are now on our own but all the more reason to renounce resentment, lest it confer on us the sense of moral superiority that allegedly excuses us in retailiating against injustice with injustice of our own.

    We have the same human fralities as our foe (in this case the banksters, BP managers and the Obamacrats).

    Niebuhr’s hope rested on the assumption that not all of us had the same interests but that in recognizing that the evil in the foe is also in us–we might be able to mitigate the cruelty of the inevitable conflict.

    If we are now to re-assert are citizenship we must draw on such traditions.

  33. Eric L. Prentis

    President Obama must love stinky environs: please, please, please, someone extricate Obama’s head from British Petroleum’s ass so that he can see the physical devastation in the Gulf of Mexico; while your at it, take Obama’s head out of Wall Street’s ass so that he can see our severely depressed economy that is now getting even worse, and the military-industrial complexes’ ass so that Obama can see the futility of his terrible war in Afghanistan. Maybe the problem with Obama is his head’s up his own ass, and he doesn’t want to know the truth about his double-crossing, lying presidency.

  34. Hugh

    Obama has been going slow on this disaster because he supports deepwater offshore drilling. Clarity is the last thing he wants let in on this. Then too Obama is a dyed in the wool corporatist. So he is perfectly willing to defer to BP and even run interference for them. The Deepwater Horizon rig blew up a month ago today. To date we still don’t even know what diameter pipe the oil is spilling from 6″, 9″, 21″, 23″. I have seen all of these mentioned. In that month, no one (not even BP but NOAA, the Navy, or Coast Guard)had the time to stick a sensor down to measure a flow rate? We still have no data on the Gas-to-Oil ratio. We have only some selected clips of video of the leak. (GOR) With info about pipe diameter, flow velocity, and GOR which ought to be obtainable from BP we could get a reasonable estimate. It would at least be ballpark.

    Even so we know other wells in this area are capable of producing 50-60 thousand bbls/day. That would give us a tentative upward bound. Figure in crimps and obstructions in the pipe and this could cut the outflow in half. So we could with almost no direct info infer a leak rate of 25-30 thousand bbls/day. This is still much higher than the 5,000 BP has been using. It would mean about 3 Exxon Valdez’s have so far spilled into the Gulf.

    But what it also indicates is that BP has been deliberating lowballing the size of the spill, and that Obama has been abetting them in doing so. In this regard the plumes were also perfectly predictable. The excess oil over and above the BP figure had to be going somewhere.

    BP’s and Obama’s response are an example of what I like to call the Cheney lesson. Cheney asserted repeatedly a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11. Each time he did so, his assertion was debunked. But he continued to do it because the media emphasized the assertion more than the refutation. As a result, there is still a significant fraction of the American public that believes that Saddam was involved in 9/11. This is what is happening here. 5,000 bbls/day is being implanted in the American consciousness. Is that bad? Yes, but nowhere near so as 25-30 thousand.

    A final note: The level of tiny bits of sand and rock in this highly pressurized flow cause abrasion and a widening of the bore of the hole so that the flow is likely increasing over time.

  35. Will

    Yves, obviously Obama won’t do anything because he and everyone else in DC is indebted to BP. It won’t come up during the next election, because the other guy will be in with big oil as well.

    In any case, the gulf spill will be off the front page soon and nobody will be jailed, there will be no PR disaster for Obama, and Americans will continue to demand low gas prices resulting in more off shore drilling in about 5 years when we all forget. That is, except for the poor souls in NO.

  36. Alan von Altendorf

    Too much attention on the oil leak, not enough on what caused the well blowout. I agree that BP’s US assets should be forfeit after they are convicted of manslaughter, lying to MMS and Congress, reckless conduct, and willful endangerment of public and private property.

  37. city on a hill

    Iraq War I: 240 million gal.
    Ixtoc I: 140 million gal.
    Deepwater Horizon: ≃lies and bullshit
    But records are made to be broken!

    Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, 3/09:
    ≃$1.2 billion of authorized 2.7 billion

    1. Guest

      IXTOC and GULF WAR

      light sweet crude

      significant burn off and evaporation

      Gulf war significant recovery

      environmental destruction potential limited

      BP Leak

      Could be 5 times the outflow of IXTOC

      Heavier grade of crude

      No burn off, minimal evaporation and recovery

      Proximity to almost half the wetlands in the US

      Proximity to currents that may transport to other eco sensitive regions

      Extensive use of toxic dispersant

      Phenomena of vast “oil clouds/plumes” far below the surface

      Suspected cover-up of severity of spill

      Incompetent management of the fire and the subsequent leak

      Latest News

      EPA scolds BP in Gulf oil spill: dispersant is too toxic, change it


  38. djt

    I had no idea how much oil was coming out of the broken pipe but I used the video and the pipe diameter to estimate between 37,000 and 74,000 barrels per day. Not sure why anyone is sticking to 5000 barrels per day since it is clearly wrong and just makes the person who says that number look dumb.

  39. Bondinvestor

    If you look closely at the body language of BP, RIG and the Obama administration, it’s pretty clear that this leak is far worse than has been disclosed and will cost far more to clean up than worst case estimates ($20b).

    1. In his testimony to congress, hayward basically said “we’ll pay for the clean up, but this was clearly “their” fault” as he pointed to the oilfield svc execs seated next to him. This was a tactic designed to shift blame to the service companies working on the rig.

    2. Transocean clearly cooperated with the 60min report on the disaster, in an attempt to pin the blame on BP.

    3. Hayward put out a memo to BP employees this week saying “don’t worry, we have the financial capacity to absorb the clean up costs”. The memo went out in the face of internal rumors that the liabilit could threaten the solvency of the company. Given BP’s balance sheet, it would take FAR more tha $20B in remediation costs for solvency to be an issue.

    4. This administration loves to demonize big business. They’ve already put in a moratorium on gulf drilling, so ther financial hit in terms of royalties, taxes etc, is already in the pipeline. So i don’t think the silence is tied to complicity with the industry. Instead, i think its a fearwhat telling the public what the true price tag will be. This is important because under current law there is a $10B limit on the damages of damages that can be collected from an operator. So the govt could be on the hook for much, much more (think $50B). ESP if the accident bankrupts BP.

    5. There are rumblings that the big oil companies in the gulf are considering declaring a force majeure and canceling all outstanding drilling contracts in ther gulf. This will create a huge shit storm and is another sign that the moratorium is going to last a long longer than the optimistic spin being fed to the media.

    If you ask me, the signs suggest that this is far, far worse than let on. That explains both the silience and the fingerpointing from companies that are on the surface well capitalized enough to absorb a $20B hit.

    1. Guest

      There have been rumors of cover up from shortly after the rig went down. They were given very little press and the media has been complicit in downplaying the severity. The gulf coast environmental / oceanography communities literally receive hundreds of millions of dollars every year from drilling lease royalties.

      You suggest this could be far worse then they are letting on. BP has its very existence at stake and the Obama administration likewise. Moreover there are extreme political agendas at work.

      Perhaps in 50 or 75 years the truth will be revealed but for now this is just a major spill, not quite as serious as Exxon Valdez, that will be contained with minimal impact on the environment other than a few tar balls here and there.

      The MSM will continue to feed fluff stories such as how human hair can absorb oil. A stable of experts will exclaim how this is serious but not that serious… and on and on and on

  40. spigzone

    Here’s the REAL reason, and it’s quite simple.

    It’s all about minimizing damage to the deep gulf (and soon arctic) drilling programs, because …


    “US military warns oil output may dip causing massive shortages by 2015” … (as in 10 MILLION barrels/day short) …

    which = massive shortages/economic chaos/WAR … SOON. The ‘government’ considers it absolutely cannot afford to hinder in any substantial way current exploration and drilling plans in the gulf (and arctic) basins.

    So they are trying to ‘manage’ public perceptions hoping BP pulled a flow plugging miracle out of their arses. BP being the 800lb gorilla in the deep basin exploration/drilling field, they also want to minimize damage to that entity as well.

    1. spigzone

      Which is now rapidly turning into a PR and political disaster because BP DIDN’T pull that miracle out of their arses.

      But that’s why they TRIED to make it an information black hole.

  41. Evelyn Sinclair

    “Scientists studying video of the gushing oil well have tentatively calculated that it could be flowing at a rate of 25,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil a day. The latter figure would be 3.4 million gallons a day. But the government, working from satellite images of the ocean surface, has calculated a flow rate of only 5,000 barrels a day.”

    So somewhere between 3.4 million and 5,000? Should they split it?

    But hey —

    “BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.”

    Giant Plumes of Oil Forming Under the Gulf
    Published: May 15, 2010

  42. scotth

    If I see nothing less than a Manhattan Project like effort mobilized to stop the problem I’m disappointed. Obama has the backing of the people to assume control and to utilize all resources necessary to fix the real issue, the leak. He can even send BP a bill courtesy of a B-2 bomber pilot. Who cares who is to blame right now? Fix the problem and then we can all fight over who’s at fault later.

      1. scotth

        I always second guess myself, but since “Obama forms bipartisan commission to investigate oil spill” then that will definitely stop the oil still flowing as I waste my time writing about it and that means I’m just overreacting. We’re also probably at the point of diminishing returns, so much has leaked, what’s another hundred thousand barrels?


        Let’s hope Tuesday’s plan works.

        1. scotth

          I visualize a junk shot like a powerball machine. The air is shooting up and the balls are all flying around and then one ball goes up the tube and stops and then all the other balls get stuck behind it. It almost makes sense, but are they really using Titleists? I have an idea, super sized golf balls.

          I’m done Yves. I’ll never clutter your blog again with errant posts, but I just have to work through this and for the record I have no idea what I am taking about.

  43. Jack ass

    Why nobady realizes the fact.The first step has to be done is stop the leak befor it’s too late.
    Then the government would have time to find out whose responsible,how big is the demage and so.
    It’s been a month,If some disester happens in any other country The US is there in a week.
    Something wrong with this country

  44. ghhillbilly

    seems to me this oil leak is pathectic the pipe is only 20 inches in inside dia.
    i was thinking it was a whole lot bigger.with deepwater robots they could possibly stop this oil gusher i think fairly easy compared to what they are trying.a twenty inch pipe may have a whole lot of pressure but thier experts already know how much.i think all they would have to do is take a steel plate and wedge it in the pipe to cut the flow of the oil coming out if need be cut a hole in the pipe with a saw or underwater machine and slip a metal plate in the cut much like mining for gold. this it not rocket science just plain old common sense.people better speak up soon or we may not have any gulf to fish in or eat from plus the wildlife they are killing each day. please comment i want to hear from you citizens please speak up this is our south they are killing.

    best regards gary

  45. kourosh

    Just check how BP (British Petrolium) was formed and how they generated money from the get go. Then you will realize the nature of this company.

  46. Laurie

    I totally agree with this article. I am equally disturbed and frustrated by the lack of information. And I also agree that Obama has not disclosed more for fear of a PR mess. But here’s the thing:

    If Obama came forth and gave us the whole truth, or appointed a person to keep us posted, if we were told that there were certain unknowns and gnarly problems, and that they had limited options, etc. Would you support him? Or whoever spoke from Washington? If he appointed a woman would articles come out the next day about her hair and makeup?

    THAT has got me REALLY concerned. Don’t ask for the truth if you can’t handle it, and I don’t mean that toward anyone, just as a principle for all of us. We really should be ready to deal with the truth at all times and to support the best efforts possible. The reason why avoiding a PR mess is so important is that ultimately Obama needs to communicate with us, without us throwing eggs before he opens his mouth. I find America’s general intolerance for listening and supporting, and utterly disintegrating into partisan petty bickering appalling.

    And I know some of you out there do too.

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