On the Curious and Misguided Defenses of BP

The ongoing disaster in the Gulf has elicited heated responses as the media continues to provide images of dead wildlife, fouled marshes and beaches, losses to owners of employees and small businesses, and continuing reports that BP is putting the health of cleanup workers at risk by continuing to refuse to allow respirators to be used and providing inadequate safety training in the face of evidence of health risks.

In addition, the amount of liabilities that BP will face is not yet known. The public at large is likely not getting an accurate tally of the daily volume of the output. While BP will drill relief wells in August, there is no assurance its initial efforts will be successful (as we pointed out, the last major Gulf oil disaster, the Ixtoc well in 1979, it took ten months to halt the flow of oil from a well at a depth of only 100 feet. Moreover, in addition BP compounding its liability through its inattention to the health of cleanup workers, new information is emerging that suggests the environmental damage could be worse than heretofore thought. The oil leak contains unusually large amounts of methane. As the Associated Press reported:

The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits, said John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer who is studying the impact of methane from the spill.

That means huge quantities of methane have entered the Gulf, scientists say, potentially suffocating marine life and creating “dead zones” where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.

“This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history,” Kessler said.

And this is before we consider the issue of culpability: BPs’ simply awful record of safety risks, its failure to do even remotely adequate containment of the oil on the surface even though the safety plans it submitted to regulators said it would (and experts have said it was quite feasible).

With this as backdrop, it has been stunning to see some of the defenses of BP in the wake of the announcement that BP will establish a $20 billion fund as a step in compensating leak victims and Thursday’s House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s grilling of BP CEO Tony Hayward.

The fund has been bizarrely treated as some sort of abuse of power, even though the stock traded up on news. Huh? This came out of a negotiation, and the US has every reason to want to get BP to conserve cash, and BP has never denied that it owes a lot of people a lot of money, and the ultimate amount of damages is unknown. As law professor Bill Black noted, it’s about competence as a creditor. Civil fines alone could be $4300 a barrel. Uncle Sam will presumably be sending a bill for all the Coast Guard resources deployed on behalf of BP. Criminal sanctions could result in the loss of BP’s US drilling licenses and Federal contracts. It isn’t hard to come up with scenarios where the tab from the federal government alone exceeds $20 billion, and if the US does strip BP of some of its US sources of income, its ability to meet those claims would be impaired. As ProPublica noted:

The EPA said in a statement that, according to its regulations, it can consider banning BP from future contracts after weighing “the frequency and pattern of the incidents, corporate attitude both before and after the incidents, changes in policies, procedures, and practices.”

Several former senior EPA debarment attorneys and people close to the BP investigation told ProPublica that means the agency will re-evaluate BP and examine whether the latest incident in the Gulf is evidence of an institutional problem inside BP….

The most serious, sweeping kind of suspension is called “discretionary debarment” and it is applied to an entire company. If this were imposed on BP, it would cancel not only the company’s contracts to sell fuel to the military but prohibit BP from leasing or renewing drilling leases on federal land. In the worst cast, it could also lead to the cancellation of BP’s existing federal leases, worth billions of dollars.

Present and former officials said the crucial question in deciding whether to impose such a sanction is assessing the offending company’s culture and approach: Do its executives display an attitude of non-compliance?….In its negotiations with EPA officials before the Gulf spill, BP had been insisting that it had made far-reaching changes in its approach to safety and maintenance, and that environmental officials could trust its promises that it would commit no further violations of the law.

Yves here. So while some commentators would like to characterize BP’s star turn before Congress and the President as theater (and it is true that Obama in particular desperately needs to re-establish his bona fides here), there is a serious purpose afoot. BP has been a serial miscreant. It has not only amassed a horrid safety record, it has misrepresented its commitment to turning a new leaf (one BP shill in comments here had the gall to blame BP’s poor safety record on its failure to turn around the cultures of its US acquisitions, Amoco and Arco. Those took place more than ten years ago. Any veteran of corporate transactions will tell you how seldom the culture of purchased businesses survives even when the buyer desperately wants to retain it. These sort of arguments illustrate how difficult it is to defend BP’s conduct).

So part of the “theater” is actually deadly serious. Does BP get it, or does understand it at least needs to credibly fake getting it? If the spectacle of eleven figure losses isn’t a “come to Jesus” moment, nothing will be.

Similarly, the House hearings were no ambush; the House sent a detailed letter to BP alerting the company to the topics it intended to cover with a good bit of detail on the decisions and procedures it found troubling.

Was it reasonable to expect much new information from Hayward? No. But there is a tremendous amount already in the public domain. A display of contrition, admitting to things it can’t possibly deny (faux candor) and acting respectful would have at least said that BP understands the gravity of its situation.

But that isn’t what we got. An assessment of Hayward’s performance in the Telegraph (hat tip reader Doc Holliday):

Accused of stonewalling, he stonewalled. He couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer most of the questions. In fact, he looked like a tired undertaker who was rather bored with having to look mournful. Given that a woman held up proceedings earlier on by shouting protests him, it would have been advisable to show some regret rather than say he felt “a great deal” of responsibility for the oil spill and that it was “a tragedy” with all the emphasis and enthusiasm of an autistic sloth.

Yves here. Of course, this ghastly show could simply be Hayward’s failing, not BP’s but that seems awfully generous. Companies chose CEOs deliberately, precisely because they tend to print the values and habits on the organization. Thus Hayward’s arrogance and tone deafness is unlikely to be an unfortunate deficiency in an otherwise stellar executive; it’s likely BP’s board saw those qualities as attractive. The high handed remarks of BP’s chairman suggest that Hayward’s attitude is widely shared within the oil company.

Consider this exchange during the hearings. From Glenn Stehle in comments:

There were several house members who brought up BP’s safety record at the hearing. It is Hayward’s contention that BP has changed since 2005-6, since he’s been at the helm.

Perhaps it is Bruce Braley who did the best job of countering Hayward’s claim. You can see his questioning of Hayward beginning at minute 00:18:30 on Part 3 in the C-Span coverage.

Braley: Explain to us why between June of 2007 and February of 2010 the Occupational Health and Safety Administration checked 55 oil refineries operating in the US, two of those 55 are owned by BP, and BP’s refineries racked up 760 citations for egregiously, willful safety violations accounting for 97% of the worst and most serious violations that OSHA monitors in the workplace. That doesn’t sound like a culture of safety.

Hayward: We acknowledge we had very serious issues in 2005 and 2006.

Braley: Well I’m not talking about 2005 and 2006. I’m citing from an OSHA study between June of 2007, on your watch, and February of 2010 where OSHA said “BP has a systemic safety problem,” and of those 760 that were classified as “egregious and willful,” it’s important to note that that is the worst violation that OSHA can identify, and their definition is “a violation committed with plain indifference or to intentional disregard for employee safety and health.” Ninety-seven percent of those egregious violations at US refineries, on your watch, were against your company. That doesn’t sound like a company, that to use your words, “is committed to safe reliable operations as your number one priority.” There’s a complete disconnect between your testimony and the reality of these OSHA findings. Do you understand that?

Yves here. Given how far the state of the art in lying in public spin doctoring has evolved, Hayward’s appearance looks as if he couldn’t even be bothered to offer defenses that were remotely plausible (the OSHA violations have been widely reported in the US media, they were certain to be discussed in the hearings). And the degree of preparation indicated by the extensively footnoted letter sent prior to the hearings signaled that he was appearing before a well briefed panel that was unlikely to cut him any slack.

Of course, this half-hearted performance may reflect the fact that BP regards Obama as a paper tiger, and that may prove to be 100% accurate. Or it could demonstrate that BP’s culture of corners-cutting is so deeply embedded as to be pathological.

Despite this sorry show, there have been some hysterical, strikingly divorced from reality defenses of BP, a particularly notable one in this week’s Economist. Ryan Chittum took it apart at the Columbia Journalism Review:

The Economist has a pathetic leader this week criticizing Obama for hammering BP and raising the ridiculous idea that his corporate-friendly administration is anti-business.

It actually (really!) calls the president “Vladimir Obama” and writes:

The collapse in BP’s share price suggests that he has convinced the markets that he is an American version of Vladimir Putin, willing to harry firms into doing his bidding.

The normally sober Economist has gone off the wagon here.

First, it knows better than to “suggest” what “the markets” think. Second, that blew up in its face rather quickly. Instaputz points out that BP shares soared 10 percent on news of the $20 billion fund… the Economist’s spin here is obnoxious. If anything ends up ruining BP, it will have been its own actions. Go read this The Wall Street Journal piece for a look at the company’s negligence.

And BP should have to pay for all the associated costs of its actions, not just the actual bill for cleaning up the oil….they will be very, very costly.

Moreover, a company’s market capitalization is based on expectations for future earnings. This disaster will surely make it harder for BP to get drilling rights that investors expected it to have just two months ago. The political climate for offshore drilling has just undergone a seismic change.

Another big factor in BP’s share decline is pure uncertainty. Investors don’t like it. Right now, the only thing certain is that BP’s hole is going to be spewing toxic oil into the Gulf of Mexico for at least another two months…

And this paragraph is a doozy:

The vitriol has a xenophobic edge: witness the venomous references to “British Petroleum”, a name BP dropped in 1998 (just as well that it dispensed with the name Anglo-Iranian Oil Company even longer ago). Vilifying BP also gets in the way of identifying other culprits, one of which is the government. BP operates in one of the most regulated industries on earth with some of the most perverse rules, subsidies and incentives. Shoddy oversight clearly contributed to the spill, and an energy policy which reduced the demand for oil would do more to avert future environmental horrors than fierce retribution.

BP was still being called “British Petroleum” here before the oil spill. The “newspaper” says that the administration is “vilifying BP,” as if it’s not a villain here. Hey, be nice to those guys that just spilled a hundred-million gallons of oil (and counting) on your shores and in your waters because they cut corners on their oil well! It’s unsporting to “vilify” them.

The Economist is part of the problem I talked about yesterday: Corporations get personhood under the law, but we’re warned you can’t retaliate against them for their bad actions. It would be bad for business!

But the biggest laugher is this, which it writes in arguing that the government should get its share of the blame (which it most definitely is, including from Obama himself in case The Economist hasn’t noticed):

BP operates in one of the most regulated industries on earth with some of the most perverse rules, subsidies and incentives.

So, it’s in one of the most regulated industries, but at the same time, regulators are responsible for its actions because they didn’t regulate? Huh?

Yes, regulators get plenty of blame for not forcing BP to act right, but BP is ultimately at fault here—especially since it helped get the regulators called off in the first place. That laissez-faire stuff didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Yves here. As Rex reader described the “blame the regulators” canard:

You have a few drinks and are driving home at about 100 mph, when it starts to rain. You lose control, crash, taking out a bunch of other drivers and starting a fire which burns down a lot of the surrounding neighborhood. Your defense — there were laws in place that should have prevented the accident. The fault lies with the cops who failed to stop you before the unfortunate accident which was triggered by an act of God (the rain).

Yves here. One of the reasons for negative reactions from the UK and some readers here no doubt isn’t that they have a vested interest (as in own BP stock) or simply haven’t been following closely the details of BP’s conduct (not just the decisions that led to the blow-out, but its actions in the containment/cleanup process). Remarkably, BP got very good marks from a corporate social responsibility standpoint, which suggests there are deep seated flaws in that methodology. The fact that they don’t consider safety records or regulatory violations for companies in production or environmentally sensitive businesses is stunning. A colleague, who runs a website that aggregates the ratings by corporate social responsibility experts wrote this defense of BP last month:

Our rating system is broad and balanced. It is backward-looking—but incorporates enough data points to be a good estimate of recent reality. Much of our evaluation is comparative—a company is judged against the performance of others in its industry. We measure twelve subcategories of performance—plus more than a dozen special issues. So, a company that performs poorly in one area can redeem itself in the others.

If you look at BP, it has remarkably good scores for a major oil company. I’ve attached a screen shot of the data you’d see if you were a subscriber. You’ll see several subcategory ratings above 70. It is pretty hard to get this good a score. We are tough enough that we don’t hand out any “As” and very few “Bs!” The average score is in the mid 40s.

For instance, BP has excellent governance scores. Take a look at the attached report from Governance Metrics (the best source IMHO of governance info). BP has excellent scores for its handling of board and transparency issues—especially when you compare it to other oil industry companies. Regardless of how BP did with the oil spill disaster, it probably is a pretty well governed company, with a balanced and responsible board.

Similarly, if you look at our custom report from Asset4, you’ll see that BP garnered 20 awards for its community service (one of the top numbers in our system). The organizations that granted their favor to BP were not all stupid, fooled, or swayed only by PR. They did real work to investigate and check on BP’s performance. Of course, many may regret the honors they bestowed on BP and renounce them after the fact. We are certain to see a drop in BP’s community scores, as we move forward.

Look at the other sources on our list. The Accountability list contains only 100 companies. It is hard to get on it. Universum says BP is great to black people. This is not what you’d expect from a bunch of red neck oil people! The Human Rights Council only has 100 companies on their list—and they check each carefully. BP joined BSR, UN Global Compact, and Carbon Disclosure Project. Joining these groups does not prove BP is good. But, it does say they care about transparency and communication—one valid component of social responsibility.

Someone using our system could knock BP for their involvement in military contracting or for their pollution problems. Some people will want to be anti any company that pumps oil or that does any kind of resource extraction. That is OK, because we are not saying there is a “right” overall number for BP or that they should always be a top company. However, looking at them broadly and fairly, they are not that bad—and they are certainly as good or better than most of the rest of the oil industry.

And based on that, he concluded: I don’t think the mistakes they’ve made changed their intentions or erased the reality of the hundreds of positive programs and initiatives they put in place over the last twenty years.

Yves here. This, of course, is halo effect, the tendency to see people, or in this case businesses, as all good or all bad. BP does well on CSR metrics, ergo it can’t be all bad. But this misses the point. The multi-billions of damage, and real possibility of lasting environmental damage, particularly if it is the result of gross negligence, does indeed more than cancel out whatever positive BP may have done in the past. That is something its defenders appear unable to recognize.

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  1. dbk

    Another fine post apropos of BP CEO Tony Hayward’s “removal” from onsite appearances, PR involvement, etc. I think you are correct that he probably represents the company’s prevailing “corporate culture,” so in a sense it was very enlightening that the company let him loose on the American public for 60-odd days. It probably would have been more to BP’s interests had they employed an American, preferably with ties to the Gulf coast itself, which is apparently what they will do now. When conducting (PR) damage containment for an environmental/ecological disaster of these proportions, it’s best not to insert significant cultural differences into the mix as BP did in this case, very much to their detriment. American executives, more culturally sensitive to what Americans want/need to hear in such cases, can at least feign down-home populism (aka “democratic individualism”) in a more persuasive way.

    I’ve been following your site since the Greek financial crisis in the spring, and find it really excellent.

    1. anonymous

      I’m one of the people Yves is complaining about. I believe BP should be held to account for it’s shabby safety record and for the cost of the clean-up and damage done to the economy of the Gulf.

      BP’s failure pales in comparison when compared with the failure of US regulatory agencies, not just of the oil drilling industry, but of the banking and financial industry, as well.

      Throwing BP out of the whorehouse for unruly behavior might provide some momentary sense of satisfaction to the madam and those humping in the same room.

      At the end of the day, however, virtually none of the hundreds of drill rigs currently operating off US shores have relief wells and adequate containment plans. The government that refuses to regulate the oil industry also refuses to provide Americans with safe, clean energy choices, by which I mean nuclear.

      The need for change has never been more urgent. If John McCain had extended US operations in Iraq, ordered the assassination of US citizens, expanded drone strikes over Pakistan, sent US troops around the globe to kill ‘suspected terrorists’, forked a trillion over the financial sector while allowing 10 per cent of the workforce to remain idle, he’d be facing impeachment.

      Instead, policies that would win a Republican impeachment are forgiven and excused by those who refuse to accept their responsibility for helping create this mess.

      Any individual who seeks out a corrupt slumlord to help him buy a home he can’t afford clearly wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice to manage the US economy, at least in a rational world.

      BP deserves to be punished, but this administration and this failure of a president should be right there in the dock with the BP executives. Instead, he’s playing golf and enjoying near fifty percent approval ratings from a constituency who believe accountability only matters for political opponents.

      The mess is much larger than BP. I hope Yves and others take note of that fact when they’re done playing soccer with Hayward’s head.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I do disagree with you, vehemently. BP clearly bears PRIMARY responsibility for this failure.

        I cited reader Rex in the post:

        You have a few drinks and are driving home at about 100 mph, when it starts to rain. You lose control, crash, taking out a bunch of other drivers and starting a fire which burns down a lot of the surrounding neighborhood. Your defense — there were laws in place that should have prevented the accident. The fault lies with the cops who failed to stop you before the unfortunate accident which was triggered by an act of God (the rain).

        It’s actually worse than Rex suggests. Big corporations, including Big Oil, have engaged in an active campaign to weaken regulations and assure complacency at the regulatory bodies. And their argument to legislators and the public was that they were capable of operating responsibly, and (supposedly) their incentives were aligned that way.

        So the crappy regulatory regime you now criticize didn’t spring out of thin air, industry worked hard for over thirty years to have that come about.

        Let’s use another example. In big cities, you regularly read of cases where social services agencies miss signs of child abuse when kids are put in foster care, and a child dies as a result.

        No one is saying the regulators do not bear responsibility. But your argument is tantamount to saying that the parents who killed the child are not guilty of murder.

        1. anonymous

          Thanks Yves for the prompt reply. Nowhere in this post do I absolve BP of any responsibility. Rather, I contend that corporate America voted for Obama for good reason. His record in Chicago is a disgrace. His administration is staffed with corporate lawyers like Holder who made a fortune working for Big Pharma friendly law firms.

          If Americans want real change then, Americans are going to have to do things differently, not just write homilies to Al Gore, not that you’re guilty of that. Your generally uninformed position on environmental issues is another blind spot. A real US leader would be building today 50 to 100 job-creating nuclear energy facilities in every state that wants any more federal money.

          I contend that Obama and the ‘government is going to fix it’ mentality of this administration’s defenders is the root cause of the economic malaise. The government can fix things. Just not this particular executive, who has an unbroken track-record of failure dressed up as success by his defenders.

          Build nuclear power-plants and containment facilities. Repair America’s schools, libraries, and bridges. Tell the unemployed: yes, you may have to work at a new lower-paying job rather than get more borrowed money. There is absolutely no defense for this administration’s abysmal record on so-called hcr, financial reform, job-creation, and environmental-energy development.

          We disagree on who bears the greater responsibility and whose crimes are the greater. My position is that BP and the gulf disaster was an inevitable consequence of a system Democrats and Republicans refuse to recognize, much less police.

          Thanks, as always, for providing clear criticism of administration inadequacies. I hope to see you advocating for nuclear energy plants and other job-creating programs in future posts.

          1. RalphR

            You talk about Yves being uninformed and then you tout nuclear? And you talk about “containment” as if it refers to the disposal of waste. “Containment” typically used to refers to the structure around the nuclear facility that protects against radiation leakage in the event of a nuclear accident.

            The transport and disposal of nuclear waste is a non-trivial problem you ignore. And how does nuclear energy address the use of oil in internal combustion engines? Answer: not.

            Glen further on has a better handle on this:

            “Ultimately we will have to tap solar energy which is the source (other than nuclear – and you can argue that uranium comes from stars just not OUR sun) of all our energy since we are daily bathed in a massive amount of solar energy from our sun. You and I both realize that solar energy research has been more or less controlled by the oil companies because solar energy “sizing” works well for individual homes/communities and not so well for giant energy companies. Other sources (wind, nuclear, fusion, clean coal) also need to be developed, and we need to aggressively go after the easiest solution – conservation, just use less energy.”

            Anyone who advocates simple, single solutions to complex problems usually has a vested interest in said solution.

          2. Wow

            Wow. That’s rather mind twisting logic you’ve got going there.

            Please keep posting, but honestly, I think BP would be willing to kick some cleanup bucks your way if you submit a claim. So you might want to get that all lined up before further posting.

      2. Glenn Stehle


        You assert that “BP’s failure pales in comparison when compared with the failure of US regulatory agencies.”

        Phew! How does one respond to “logic” like that?

        So now the government is more guilty than BP. Not merely guilty. Not equally as guilty. But more guilty.

        Goodness. With “logic” like that, next thing you know the anti-government fanatics will be demanding the government pay BP damages.

      3. Glenn Stehle

        And what’s this consecration of nuclear?

        Of all the alternatives to hydrocarbons, nuclear is perhaps the most problematic, and with one of the lowest EROIs.

        1. anonymous

          Germany, Japan, France, Taiwan, China, Brazil, Britain, South Africa, Canada, Pakistan, Russia, the US and a number of other countries rely on nuclear power.

          France gets more than 50 percent of its energy from nuclear power and Japan over 30 percent. Russia had a moratorium on building new plants until fairly recently and now has plans for something like 19 more.

          Thirty countries operate commercial nuclear power plants, including the US and Iran.

          Switzerland, Sweden, Finland, Ukraine, Slovenia and Slovakia, South Korea, Germany, Hungary, France, Japan, the UK, Italy, Russia are all using nuclear power right now, so it’s not exactly a new or novel approach.

          There nuclear reactor accidents every….year. Chernobyl taught a lot of nations to be much more careful. Nuclear isn’t the only horse in the barn. But it’s the only horse in the barn that’s ready to pull the plow. In time other technologies will emerge.

          In the meantime it’s either do without jobs, invest in oil dictatorships or suck on clean coal. Wind and solar are going to put America’s unemployed back to work. Each new nuclear power plant puts 3,500 folks to work. You want light rail and off the oil-cow tit? This is the route.

          1. anonymous

            Should read, wind and solar power aren’t going to put America’s unemployed back to work.


  2. dsawy

    The reason why BP is being defended with such vigor by those like the _Economist_ are multiple:

    1. There is the obvious pension issue in the UK and the attending dividend impact.

    2. BP had created a whole mythology of “Beyond Petroleum” and a large number of people believed it.

    3. More than either of those two, BP was one of the instigators of carbon credit trading and cap&trade schemes. BP was seen as a leader on the issue, and those invested in the AGW hysteria see one of their own getting gored.

    As to the _Economist’s_ unhinged ranting about President Obama’s use of “British Petroleum” instead of just “BP” – the Brits get their panties in a wad about this far too much. Many of us here in the US still call Altria “Phillip Morris” – and we really don’t give a rat’s ass what MO is calling themselves this week to try to distance themselves from their prior corporate name. Apple just changed their name from “Apple Computer” to just “Apple” – but most of us will forever think of Apple as a computer company.

    As for blaming the regulators: They have a job to do. They didn’t do it. This requires we either a) admit that the regulation(s) are useless and scrap them (and the regulators), or b) fire the regulators for incompetence and hire some people who will do the job. Keeping the same do-nothing idiots in place leads to such things as we see in the SEC. Either really regulate, or get rid of the regulations and quit pretending that we have regulations.

    1. Glenn Stehle

      Is “Beyond Petroleum” the mythology, or is “Petroleum Forever” the mythology?

      You can mark me up in the “Beyond Petroleum” column, right along with BP.

      BP without a doubt incurred the wrath of its fellow multinational oil and gas cohorts by its refusal to go along with promoting AGW skepticism:

      BP Amoco was a member of the Global Climate Coalition an industry organization established to promote global warming scepticism but withdrew in 1997, saying “the time to consider the policy dimensions of climate change is not when the link between greenhouse gases and climate change is conclusively proven, but when the possibility cannot be discounted and is taken seriously by the society of which we are part. We in BP have reached that point.”

      In March 2002 Lord Browne of Madingley declared in a speech that global warming was real and that urgent action was needed, saying that “Companies composed of highly skilled and trained people can’t live in denial of mounting evidence gathered by hundreds of the most reputable scientists in the world.”

      BP is a sponsor of the Scripps Institution CO2 program to measure carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

      I would just add that the Scripps Institution also measures carbon dioxide levels in the oceans, which I consider to be a problem with as devastating of consequences as AGW.

      As to whether “carbon credit trading and cap & trade” offer effective solutions to the carbon dioxide problem, that’s a separate issue from whether the carbon dioxide problem even exists.

  3. Crocodile Chuck

    1) “The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits”.

    Great-methane is many, many times worse a greenhouse gas than CO2:


    2) re: CR (Corporate Responsibility) score. these corporates engage consultants to advise them on scoring ‘highly’ on these indexes; a lot of it is ‘tick the box’ stuff, as opposed to actual operational data on historical performance that yves mentions

    3) I stopped reading The Economist in 2007 (after twenty three years). I will not be a recidivist.

    1. rjs

      while methane is considered 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, in the short run it has 60 times the impact, and any additional warming would now accelerate the feedback effect from melting permafrost;

      4 days ago this site posted a half dozen studies on the condition of the permafrost, in conjuction with the international polar year:

    2. bijom

      So if the oil spill is 40% methane, doesn’t that mean the volume of oil is actually less than is being estimated?

  4. Debra

    First off let me say that…
    I have no BP stock at all, I am not working at PR for BP, I have NO REASON to defend BP on this issue…and ultimately.. I am NOT defending BP either..
    But I vigorously maintain that finger pointing at BP, while it will make us feel better, is not going to take care of the problem of how we’re doing business these days. (And even when we think that we are totally outside the system of our society, well, we are fooling ourselves. There is NO outside the social system for human beings.)
    And I also maintain that there is something surrealistic in going after BP, and getting all.. REASSURED that we know who done it… when all that oil is still pumping into the Gulf. And getting all upset because nobody can predict what the consequences will be ? That’s surrealistic too.
    We seem to be pretty confident that we know who the bad guys are…
    And that pointing our fingers at them and getting them to PAY is going to take care of our problems (along with regulation, of course)
    I am not so confident.
    I also don’t believe in paradigms with good guys and bad guys.
    They remind me of old American westerns, with the cowboys and Indians (hey look, now the bad guys aren’t even who we used to think they were any more).
    I don’t believe that we can separate out human actors into the following camps made up of 1) the ones who are lying and 2) the ones who are not lying (but not many people seem to believe that they exist any more… 3) the ones being lied to and 4) the ones who don’t believe or trust anybody any more.
    On the evaluation question.. Can we dump on our corporate actors for believing in evaluation ? Don’t.. WE believe in it ? And if we don’t, well, maybe we need to be CHANGING OUR ATTITUDES towards the evaluation inflation setup.
    On your last point… maybe we should be REALLY afraid. Maybe BP is not any kind of an exception for its non respect of safety regulations. Maybe BP has simply been engaging in business as usual, and other companies ALL ACROSS the board are engaging in business practices like this with environmental risks as great, if not greater than what has just happened ? (Think safety proceedings on nuclear reactors, for example…)
    And if this is the case, well then, isn’t it just a matter of time before things REALLY blow up ? (Na, not the end of the world, I’m not an apocalypse person.) In lots of different places, and with different accidents ? A little case of.. reaping what has already been sown, right ? (Like in Doctor Seuss’s “The Lorax”. Great book. Prophetic.)
    And.. does this accident cancel out anything positive that BP as a company has done in the past or.. DOES IT CANCEL OUT THE POSITIVE EFFECTS OF OUR OIL CIVILIZATION, while we’re at it ?
    Since.. all the money and reparations in the world will not bring back the Gulf of Mexico for us ? And let’s not forget.. THE SUFFERING of all that marine life. A dead animal, well, that’s sad, but.. how to evaluate… the SUFFERING ??
    Just WHAT will cancel out the positive effects of our oil civilization and throw a loop in business as usual ?
    How far will we have to go ??
    I didn’t see that question appear in your piece. Maybe I wasn’t reading you closely enough…
    I AM questioning at this point the LIMITS on the way we blithely content ourselves with assuming that pinning a monetary PRICE on anything, any service, whatever, exhausts its value.
    I am questioning that EQUATION. Because I think it is a very misguided assumption. And I think that I am not alone in questioning that assumption.
    I think that.. OUR CIVILIZATION is questioning that assumption at this point.
    In its own way. By… engineering circumstances that are showing to what extent that assumption is very very misguided.
    I have already said here that it is a mistake to imagine that human beings are rational, and that reason is the only kind of thinking that… makes sense…
    We follow another kind of “logic” too, and ignoring that logic has some dire consequences for us. Dixit Freud. Who I agree with on this one.
    We are an intelligent species. We have developed the “gift” of consciousness to the point where we have produced.. the Sixtine Chapel. The Goldberg Variations. The Golden Gate Bridge. The Taj Mahal, among many other wonders.
    But.. we are taking OURSELVES down. BP alone is not taking us down.
    I take the viewpoint that there are tons of people who will point their fingers at BP. But I feel we are not asking OURSELVES about OUR responsibility in all of this. Not enough.

    1. Yves Smith Post author


      With all due respect, I don’t see how you can say people who have no connection to BP are responsible for its massive, persistent operational failures. Plenty of people who read this blog were believers in tougher environmental and safety regulation and higher gas taxes and/or carbon taxes to encourage a shift away from fossil fuels. This “we are all responsible” is a perfect shield for criminal negligence.

      1. psychohistorian


        Thanks for the posting and being so nice to Debra. I have a hard time with that but will try and learn from your good example.

        1. Debra

          I am talking about responsibility for our civilization, and where it’s at. And the choices that we make in our individual actions on the basis of that responsibility.
          Ultimately contenting ourselves with finger pointing reduces our.. FREEDOM. (No responsibility means no freedom.) Because it reduces us to victims. In my opinion. Victims are not free.
          I don’t want to be reduced to a victim. It is no longer a position I feel comfortable in. I USED to feel very comfortable in it, but no more.
          You didn’t answer my points about the civilization of oil.
          They are more important to me.
          And I keep saying… we build democracy from the bottom up by living it in our daily lives. And less from waiting for our leaders to hand it over to us, or respect it. Or demanding it from somebody else. I try to do this. I don’t always succeed.
          I also said that.. BP would not be behaving this way if its actions were not already an aspect of business as usual. What we expect from it, somewhere..
          And at our miniscule INDIVIDUAL level we have SOME (limited of course…) responsibility.
          After all… the product of all the miniscule individuals comprises.. THE PEOPLE, doesn’t it ?
          It would be a tremendous mistake, in my opinion, to imagine that our leaders don’t give a damn about what “the people” think or do. If “they” didn’t, they (we ?) wouldn’t be building a police state to control “the people” (or the masses ? I’m not sure…).
          Assuming even limited responsibility for what’s happening… (sharing) creates cohesion, and I feel that we need more social cohesion these days, not squaring off into opposite end corners so much.
          If the Titanic goes down, we will ALL go down with it. Together.
          And the guys and gals working at BP, no matter how odious they appear to us, probably go home and kiss their wives/husbands and play with their children at night. LIKE US.
          Odd how we keep wanting to blot out this knowledge…
          You know, back in the 60’s… (not really my generation, but not too far off) there was STILL talk of peace and LOVE.
          The 60’s revolution got caught up in its paradoxes.
          But love… the Moody Blues… “For those who love, time is eternity”.
          I wish we could… manage to love our enemies a little bit.
          It would be good for our souls and for the world.
          Bring back.. the ideal of forgiveness a little bit, instead of so much reparation.
          It would… make us feel better too. More generous. More noble. More grateful.
          Not such a bad thing, huh ?
          I think we would be happier.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            What you write is utterly disconnected from reality. The only way for people to escape “responsibility” for events wildly removed from them is to go live in a survivalist fashion completely apart from modern life.

            And your bizarre “we are all responsible for everything” by extension means we can all take credit for the good stuff too. Sorry, I don’t take credit for revolutionary scientific breakthroughs that save lives, or stunning artistic creations. By your logic, I can take credit for Apple’s successes too. How plausible does that sound?

            How, pray tell, am I responsible for BP, given that I have been long supported stronger environmental, workplace safety and product safety regs, and have advocated carbon and higher gas taxes (and I walk my talk, I’ve never owned a car, even when I lived outside Manhattan, and intend never to own one, and use public transportation for the overwhelming majority of my trips in the five boroughs)?

            Your line of thinking is ultimately grandiose. Most individuals have very little power over the course of human affairs. The social order is very large and very inertial. The most that the vast majority of humans can aspire to is to try not to make things worse and within whatever means they have available, to try to make things better. But even knowing what good conduct is in complex systems is not easy. For instance, some friends of my parents founded and funded a hospital in Africa to combat infant mortality. They found to their horror that by increasing survival rates, they increased starvation.

          2. i on the ball patriot

            “What you write is utterly disconnected from reality. The only way for people to escape “responsibility” for events wildly removed from them is to go live in a survivalist fashion completely apart from modern life.”

            And hopefully the BP disaster has taught all of those prudent survivalist escapists, living apart from modern life on the gulf coast and now knee deep in tar balls, the error of their ways. They must get involved politically!

            “And your bizarre “we are all responsible for everything” by extension means we can all take credit for the good stuff too. Sorry, I don’t take credit for revolutionary scientific breakthroughs that save lives, or stunning artistic creations. By your logic, I can take credit for Apple’s successes too. How plausible does that sound?”

            The artist creates with pigments on a canvas made possible by the combined efforts of the cotton grower, the cotton picker, the mechanic, the trash collector, the cop on the corner, etc., and would have no canvas at all without their efforts. We ARE all one. In that Debra is correct. The prudent survivalist mentioned above would not be able to go back to the land without tools created by others. The great artists credit all.

            “How, pray tell, am I responsible for BP, given that I have been long supported stronger environmental, workplace safety and product safety regs, and have advocated carbon and higher gas taxes (and I walk my talk, I’ve never owned a car, even when I lived outside Manhattan, and intend never to own one, and use public transportation for the overwhelming majority of my trips in the five boroughs)?”

            Perhaps in ‘supporting’ the things that you do, you inadvertently empower the things you are trying to eliminate? Working within or working without, how best do we apply our efforts? Just as the prudent is affected by the non prudent in the example above, the prudent non voter, is affected by the not so prudent voter who continues to empower the slime. How do we balance our efforts?

            “Your line of thinking is ultimately grandiose. Most individuals have very little power over the course of human affairs. The social order is very large and very inertial. The most that the vast majority of humans can aspire to is to try not to make things worse and within whatever means they have available, to try to make things better. But even knowing what good conduct is in complex systems is not easy. For instance, some friends of my parents founded and funded a hospital in Africa to combat infant mortality. They found to their horror that by increasing survival rates, they increased starvation.”

            I think you both possess wonderful lines of thinking in that they are both directed towards a more fair and caring social order. Somewhere in between yourself and Debra there is a balance to be found. I am a firm believer that regaining power over the course of human affairs will require that we all work a little harder to understand the corporate owned and controlled cultural shaping forces in our lives that make us what we are, more so today than in the past. We presently have many lions that have been conned into thinking that they are lambs. They need to be awakened to kick ass, like you have done here with BP (great post!). So, it seems we need to all keep the grandiose viewpoint of oneness in mind, and all kick ass, while at the same time seeing the existing system for the non responsive, energy dissipating, farce that it is.
            Like BP it is TSTS – Too Sleazy Too Save!

            Election boycotts are in order as a vote of ‘No Confidence’ in this corrupt government.

            Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

          3. Doug Terpstra

            Debra, I cringe when I read (in effect) “now is not the time to point fingers”. It’s too often followed by “mistakes were made”, “who could’ve known”, “let’s look forward, not back” etc.—the maddening weasel words of serial corporate felons and corrupt politicians. We’ve had quite enough of that.

            If you read Glenn Stehle’s summary here yesterday or watched much of the BP hearing the day before, you could see clearly that BP is an incorrigible, serial violator with consistent, long-standing disregard for human life, wildlife, or the Earth. It’s record of serious violations is completely out of bounds, 8 times more than the next worst felon. It is past time to put BP out of our misery, at least under any semblance of its current leadership. We “small people” can no longer tolerate its egregious recklessness.

            BTW, BP also goes way back, over fifty years, to the root of our crurrent enmity with Iran for complicity in the overthrow of it’s democratically-elected president Moussadegh and subsequent decades of tyranny under the Shah. The terrorism we reap today we ourselves have sown, but this ecological disaster may prove apocalyptic, and Hayward’s performance was infuriating, and more than serious finger-pointing is way overdue. It’s time for snotty heads to roll.

          4. greg b

            The “its all our responsibility” attitude is quite strange.

            Its true to an extent but its strange to only bring this up when things go wrong.The same was true when BP was building their empire. Would they have listened to the laid off workers along the way who were treated as no longer necessary, impediments to shareholder value? Were those folks not equally responsible for their success, in fact were’nt WE ALL equally responsible fo rtheir success?

            Recognizing the interconnectedness of things can not simply be encouraged when the shit hits the fan, it needs to be a daily philosophy. A better society can certainly be built around these ideas but something tells me we wont get the current winners to try to adopt that thinking. Only when they start losing do they try and appeal to our sense of community.

          5. Debra

            Thanks, on the ball patriot.
            Although… I take exception with your “Deception is the strongest political force on the planet”. I think that is only true when we despair, and are incapable of hope. I think that.. love and joy are STILL the most important forces for any kind of change on the planet.
            You know… I think that with a little bit of luck, there is room for everybody on the planet and that it is our diversity that is important to our species in the long run.
            That means… allowing Yves to think the way she ? he ? (sorry…) thinks, and me to think the way I do, without our thinking that we all need to think THE SAME WAY, OR THE SAME THING.
            This is hard work. (And the “truth” keeps getting in the way. The passion of being right has killed millions already.)
            That means… not letting our ideas getting in the way of the fact that we are flesh and blood people with faces and emotions, and THAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING (in my book… lol).
            So… WHY do we all think WE have to be perfect all the time ? Or right ??
            That our ideas HAVE to be the best ones (me too..) ?
            Me… I like to argue. It’s fun. It stimulates me intellectually.
            It’s a way of playing. Why not ?
            And I like to understand the way we work.
            I am basically.. a scientist. LOL.
            And I don’t want to see another WW on our soil either.
            Totalitarian THOUGHT is our biggest enemy these days. (I think. And we are not seeing THIS.)
            I’m talking about LIMITED personal responsibility, and people say I’m talking about being TOTALLY responsible. No, please don’t put words into my mouth.
            And Yves.. I am very surprised that you seem to say that the individual has very little power, given the traffic that this blog gets…
            Ideas are power. Words are power.
            Ask… Jesus. Ask… Adolf too, while we’re at it…(Sorry, those extremes, well the times are conducive to extremes.)
            The individual is much more powerful than you seem to believe.
            Now… there are those of us who are aware of this, and believe it, and act in accordance with our beliefs, and those of us who don’t. Take your pick.
            But then… you have ALREADY taken your pick, now, haven’t you ? ;-)
            i have too.
            And I maintain because I have reasoned through this and studied it, that our society all hangs together. Because it is constructed on the SYSTEM of our language, and language is constructed in an extremely… systematic way. This is MY reality, if you like.
            The fact that our society is an elaborate system based on the system (constantly changing…) of our language means that WITH THIS RESPECT, we have very little freedom.
            But freedom is about… exerting LIMITED freedom anyway. Not about… total freedom. Total freedom, well… that is a fantasy.

          6. Glenn Stehle

            Debra said: “And I maintain because I have reasoned through this and studied it, that our society all hangs together. Because it is constructed on the SYSTEM of our language, and language is constructed in an extremely… systematic way. This is MY reality, if you like.”

            This is the manifesto of the Modern Language Association (MLA), which is a mishmash of Freudian theory, post-Marxism and French post-structuralism (with Michel Foucault perhaps having the greatest influence on the MLA).

            While it offers a hard-hitting and much needed critique of Western Civ, it nevertheless becomes destructive when pursued to its extreme. It also fails to make the distinction between scientific rationalism and what all too often passes for scientific rationalism in the West.

            For much more on this subject I recommend Richard Bernstein’s Dictatoriship of Virtue.

          7. Ronald

            “What you write is utterly disconnected from reality. The only way for people to escape “responsibility” for events wildly removed from them is to go live in a survivalist fashion completely apart from modern life.”

            Debra may be a bit over the top but Glenn yesterday mentioned in response to a question regarding the status of the liability cap that the public uproar trumped the liability cap. I found that interesting so we all understand the issue is public opinion and its level of outrage that drives the response. The response in this case is directed at BP and its clear they have earned considerable shares but little or nothing is brought up regarding our (U.S.) over reliance on oil to support our lifestyle,nor has the discussion generated any
            discussion on the national level regarding the limited oil available on a world wide basis (per Glenn) further limiting the life span of modern life. Yes BP is a bad actor but clearly public anger does drive pubic policy, the people so to speak can be a powerful force but in this case its being directed towards a single corporate company which Doc has pointed out leads directly to Homeland Security propaganda and Glenn points to other major oil firms as leading the charge to cover their needs and wants.

            Yves, modern life in particular the U.S. is great but for a minute consider how many days of food is available to yourself that can you can access in the local warehouses, store shelves. The entire food delivery system is based on JIT delivery and for whatever reason if that delivery system was cut off how long could you last? Modern life is in reality day to day but we prefer to to believe otherwise that we have choices but in real time those darn survivalist are not as convinced as you.

          8. Glenn Stehle


            You also make the claim: “Me… I like to argue. It’s fun. It stimulates me intellectually.
            It’s a way of playing. Why not ?
            And I like to understand the way we work.
            I am basically.. a scientist. LOL.”

            But you’re not like a scientist, far from it. You’re more like a child, firing non-stop questions about why and how the world works.

            While there’s nothing wrong with this and it is the engine that drives discovery, at some point one nevertheless has to fit all that into a coherent world view, which you clearly haven’t done. You’re all over the map. In one breath you’re calling yourself a scientist, and then in the next breath you’re touting the manifesto of the Modern Language Association, which is about as antithetical to scientific rationalism as anything one can possibly find.

            You also seem to be adverse to choices, to exercising judgment. As Daniel Yankelovich writes in Coming to Public Judgment, public judgment is “the state of highly developed public opinion that exists once people have engaged an issue, considered it from all sides, understood the choices it leads to, and accepted the full consequences of the choices they make.” The opposite of public judgment is what Yankelovich calls “mass opinion,” which is where the “opinion holder is poorly informed and is caught waffling between two competing sets of values.” I’d classify your commentary as falling into the latter category.

            “Cognitive resolution requires that people clarify fuzzy thinking, reconcile inconsistencies, break down the walls of the artificial compartmentalizing that keeps them from recognizing related aspects of the same issue, take relevant facts and new realities into account, and grasp the consequences of various choices with which they are presented,” Yankelovich goes on to explain. “Of all the obstacles to resolution, none is more difficult to overcome than the need to reconcile deeply felt conflicting values.”

            You unleash an absolute flood of wonderful-sounding stuff, but you don’t seem to recognize that some of the wonderful-sounding stuff you throw out conflicts with other wonderful-sounding stuff you throw out.

            To cite Yankelovich again,

            “It takes a high level of cognitive ability to see incompatibilities in one’s own system of opinions, attitudes, and values, and to overcome the lazy person’s liking for compartmentalized thinking, whereby people store incompatible beliefs in separate mental cubby holes without apprehending—-or even caring about—-the contradictions among them. It takes a mental openness and judicious turn of mind to entertain a variety of options for resolving inner conflicts. It takes mental energy to absorb the choices and intelligence to see all their ramifications. It takes moral strength to see what is right and commit to it.”

          9. Glenn Stehle


            I am by no means a survivalist, because I believe that some humans can and do achieve some relative happiness in their lives, and I don’t find it necessary to blow everything up like the Armageddon wing of the Peak Oil community does.

            The scientific basis for this optimism is expressed by David Sloan Wilson in my comment to Debra below: “Confront a human group with a novel problem, even one that never existed in the so-called ancestral environment, and its members may well come up with a workable solution.”

            In fact, as was discussed at great length here on NC the other day, the EROI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) of wind is actually at least a couple of times greater than that of deepwater drilling, it solves the carbon dioxide and other pollution problems, and yet we’re stuck in the petroleum paradigm.

            There are clearly things we could do to at least ameliorate the problems confronting us, maybe though not outright fix them, and yet we don’t. That is a human failure, not a failure due to lack of viable options.

          10. Ronald

            Glenn, I didn’t say you were a “survivalist”, rather my comment was directed toward the view that modern life and our attachment to JIT food delivery is a risk that the vast majority of Americans do not bother to ponder but it does exist and just like the BP blowout the unimaginable suddenly appears. Most including myself prefer modern life to the daily searching for food and water but that does not mean we should look upon the” survivalist” as fools rather skepticism is the order of the day and I will repeat what I said to Yves, how long could you exist without JIT food delivery system, do you have any backup? Every gave it any thought? Belief in modern life has a religious favor but the BT experience, Katrina and other debacles should make us more wary rather then comfortable.

            Again, thanks for taking time to interact with us and to Yves for the opportunity.

          11. Glenn Stehle


            Well I can’t put it any better than what i on the ball patriot did above, so I will just repeat his comment:

            “And hopefully the BP disaster has taught all of those prudent survivalist escapists, living apart from modern life on the gulf coast and now knee deep in tar balls, the error of their ways. They must get involved politically!”

          12. monday1929

            Are you saying that our leaders love for us is demonstrated by their building of a police state to protect us?

      2. Glen

        I cannot agree more.

        As an engineer, I am appalled when people use the “if you use oil, it’s your fault” argument. People tend to take for granted that they are surrounded by “deadly technology” which has been carefully made so safe that they take if for granted. Why did houses in Haiti collapse and kill people whereas similar size earthquakes in Japan or California kill far, far less? International Building Code. Why aren’t people killed while using Ac power, natural gas, buses, trains, airplanes, power tools? Standards, codes and regulations developed by scientists and engineers for the last hundred years, codified into laws and regulated and enforced by governments.

        Think you can go to the backwoods of Alaska and escape it? Think about the metallurgy in your axe head, gun barrel, the reliability of your outboard motor, and your bush pilot’s airplane. Do you think this know how just sprang out of thin air?

        There have been hundreds of thousands of oil wells drilled, probably hundreds in very similar deep water situations. BP’s record indicates that they have a corporate culture which is willing to ignore known safety standards and cut corners on the right way to get things done. In fact, given that following the regulations makes a Deepwater Horizon type accident very unlikely, the odds are very high that laws were broken.

        1. Rex


          I’m an engineer too.

          You paint a great picture about all the marvels that make up the civilized, comfortable world as we know it and the magic behind the screen that made it possible.

          All true. I love this life. But it was all made possible by cheap energy. Pull out the oil and it all falls apart.

          Most intelligent people see that oil is on the verge of decline. They also see burning stuff has issues (AWG). Since there is no solution to sustain the current population without these nice old solutions, we talk about alternative energy. Basically we expect deus ex machina from our scientists and engineers.

          In the mean time let’s continue without changing our current lifestyles. Magic will save us soon. We’re creative.

          Personally, barring a clean nuclear fusion breakthrough, I see a big social upheaval and population decline sometime relatively soon.

          No politician can run on this level of stark reality unless the worst is already happening and they can blame the guy before them.

          I hate to be a party pooper, but as an engineer where is the flaw in this expectation?

          1. Glen

            Here again, I agree. We have ONE earth and when we pollute it up, we are also screwed (the earth itself will be fine and can do quite well without us). Oil is a finite resource, we do have peak oil, and we do need to transition to alternative sources of energy. All pretty much basic facts that others will argue about endlessly.

            But there are alternative sources of energy which can successfully replace oil. Ultimately we will have to tap solar energy which is the source (other than nuclear – and you can argue that uranium comes from stars just not OUR sun) of all our energy since we are daily bathed in a massive amount of solar energy from our sun. You and I both realize that solar energy research has been more or less controlled by the oil companies because solar energy “sizing” works well for individual homes/communities and not so well for giant energy companies. Other sources (wind, nuclear, fusion, clean coal) also need to be developed, and we need to aggressively go after the easiest solution – conservation, just use less energy.

            What we are experiencing is not a failure of technology, but rather a failure of our government to adequately plan and enact a long term energy policy. And Bush/Cheney were not going to produce a long term plan because they represent the existing energy industry which is not interested in a long term plan. But Obama hasn’t shown much leadership in this area either.

            You and I both realize that this is because pursuing the technology required IS RISKY and EXPENSIVE, but it is also REQUIRED if we really want to solve these problems. What we’re doing now as a nation is the least risky and fattest profit approach which is fine if we all decide that the future potential of the human race is best reached by creating a couple of fat, rich, lazy bastards that haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of building a space station, bases on the Moon, or terraforming Mars (but they can throw a heck of a party with Elton John doing a set).

            It took a President to say we were going to the Moon, and a the world’s richest nation to make it happen. We are capable of great things, and maybe someday in the future, we can realize them, but it will not be easy. Personally, I wanted my kids to be able to vacation on the Moon, and their kids to be able to vacation on Mars. Why? Because the Earth is one small place in a large universe, and we remain to this day, one large meteorite strike from extinction.

            So, why do I get mad at people that view large technology failures as inevitable? Because to a large degree they are ignorant of the danger all around them that is only mitigated and made safe because of the proper and safe application of that same technology. One hundred and fifty years ago, people thought travelling at sixty miles an hour on a train would kill you. One hundred years ago, we flew an airplaan atomic bomb. Fourty years ago, we put people on the moon. Now, most large cities have natural gas storage facilities with the stored energy of a small nuclear weapon. Most people take this advancement for granted without being aware of how much research, work, and REGULATION are keeping them safe. And when this system fails, we need to make the corrections required to make it safe and move forward. The BP oil spill was not a failure of technology, it was a failure which is typical of the systemic problems in our society: failure due to the greed and corruption of a few elites with all of rest of society suffering as a result.

          2. Glen

            Edited to use English:

            So, why do I get mad at people that view large technology failures as inevitable? Because to a large degree they are ignorant of the danger all around them that is only mitigated and made safe because of the proper and safe application of that same technology. One hundred and fifty years ago, people thought travelling at sixty miles an hour on a train would kill you. One hundred years ago, we flew an airplane for the first time. Sixty years ago, we exploded an atomic bomb. Forty years ago, we put people on the moon. Now, most large cities have natural gas storage facilities with the stored energy of a small nuclear weapon. Most people take this advancement for granted without being aware of how much research, work, and REGULATION are keeping them safe. And when this system fails, we need to make the corrections required to make it safe and move forward. The BP oil spill was not a failure of technology, it was a failure which is typical of the systemic problems in our society: failure due to the greed and corruption of a few elites with all of rest of society suffering as a result.

            Ah, the joys of trying to type and rant at the same time…

        2. Debra

          Re, your above comment, Glenn, “pinning me down”…
          Any kind of thinking becomes destructive when pursued to the extreme. Any kind. And I said that above, if you read closely. It’s there.
          I don’t like the word “mishmash”. It sounds like an attempt to disqualify my arguments.
          Engaging in argument and disqualifying the person you are engaging with is not the same thing at all.
          Name calling and labeling are not argument. In my opinion, at least.
          It’s true that a lot of Americans seem to dislike Freudian thought, but.. well, a lot of people have read Freud very superficially, or cliff notes instead of Freud. Not a good plan, predigested culture.
          There’re so many prejudices floating around our culture.

      3. michael

        replying to the other reply:

        “By your logic, I can take credit for Apple’s successes too. How plausible does that sound?”

        Actually, you should probably take more credit than you think.

        The politically stable environment provided by countries such as the USA allows for the research and development environment to produce the technology that underlines apple’s products. Not to mention a ready market of receptive customers (sorry, consumers) to suck up anything that comes it’s way.

        They didn’t do anything new – took a few bits of technologies developed elsewhere (and even in other countries – the iphone cpu design is from the uk) and slapped them together in a pretty box with a flash marketing campaign.

    2. Jose L Campos

      Debra I follow you. It is original sin. It explains everything and therefore explains nothing.
      Someone in the sixth century said that MYTH is something that never was but that continues being. So is with the woman that was seduced into biting on the fruit because she would be like God. She therefore would be omniscient, omnipotent and eternal. Every day our lives are the pursuit of those divine attributes and the result is nakedness and death. The myth survives everyday. Life is a tragedy but we attempt to transform it into comedy by searching for magical results that will dampen our anxiety.

    3. Rex

      What’s Oprah’s phrase? “It’s a teaching moment.” Something close, if not the exact quote.

      I think that is where Debra is coming from, and I hope the BP spill really is. We have many huge issues that could take down civilization as we know it, and energy is one of the biggest.

      None of the big issues are being acknowledged or addressed by most people. Our politicians are well acquainted with all of these issues and have been dancing around them for years without any substantive action.

      So if this tragedy somehow starts some real attention and action to seriously address any of the multitude of crises we are looking at, it will be some good out of a bad situation.

      But, Debra’s words about the Gulf disaster seem to paint it as some kind of dreamy metaphysical miasmia. For those removed by some distance it could be felt that way , but IT IS VERY REAL. The oil spewing into the Gulf is huge and very real. It is destroying very real life forms that lived in the Gulf and thereby destroying human lives that depended on their relationship to those other destroyed lives. Think of any natural area near you that gives you pleasure or sustenance. Now imagine it a few days later covered in sludge.

      I hope this makes us think about changes we can make before other very real problems we are ignoring consume us. But I also hope we don’t ignore that this particular problem was the result of bad choices by people who knew better and had a responsibility to do better. They need to own the deliberate bad choices that caused this.

    4. Glenn Stehle

      Oh Debra. I love you. You challenge our assumptions and make us think. And I don’t think you’ve got a mean or self-interested bone in your body.

      So would the true culprit please stand up? Is this a BP problem? Is this an oil industry problem? Or is this a human problem (or as you put it, a problem of “society” or of “civilization”)?

      I vote for all three.

      Where I think your analysis falls down is that it lacks an understanding of how society functions, how it holds itself together. And punishment of those who offend societal norms is one of the indispensable mechanisms that society uses to elicit conformance with social norms. Call it non-voluntary cooperation, but cooperation is absolutely necessary. It is the glue that holds society together, and it is absolutely necessary to affect a functional level of cooperation, whether it be from a wayward individual party (like BP) or a wayward group (like the oil and gas industry).

      It would be great to live in a touchy-feely, coercion-free world. But that is a pipe dream of libertarians and, as the Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr put it, the “sentimentalities and superficial analyses current in modern religion.”

      Your taking a crowbar to the regnant social norms, including scientific rationalism and its ugly stepchild, neoclassical economic theory (you refer to this when you say “pinning a monetary PRICE on anything, any service, whatever”), is both appropriate and germane. But your critique is overbroad and overreaching—-you throw the baby out with the bathwater. A group is united by a system of beliefs and practices that is essentially moral in tone. There is right conduct and wrong conduct and the latter invites punishment, not only on religious grounds but on practical grounds as well. I think you lack a basic understanding of how cultural evolution takes place, and the key role punishment plays in both societal functioning and in cultural evolution.

      There is also a denial about the novelty of some of the problems we now face. There are new problems confronting society (humanity or civilization as you put it), which require novel solutions. Yesterday’s solutions (for instance the oil economy) worked for yesterday’s problems, but they will not work for tomorrow’s problems. As David Sloan Wilson writes: “Cultural evolution can be seen in part as a Darwin machine in action, highly managed but nevertheless genuinely open-ended in its outcome. Confront a human group with a novel problem, even one that never existed in the so-called ancestral environment, and its members may well come up with a workable solution.” (David Sloan Wilson, Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and the Nature of Society)

      1. D. Warbucks

        The problem with the Gulf Oil spill is that it’s visible to Americans.

        Every day oil spills not within the territory of the U.S., dumping of motor oil in the U.S. into U.S. waterways, and coal tar sands development in Canada are much bigger pollution problems, which can be conveniently ignored since they aren’t as dramatic.

        But sure, “punish” BP. In the words of the Arnold “they’ll be back”

      2. Dan Duncan

        I have no idea WTF y’all are trying to get at here…Nothing like watching people write past each other as one discusses jurisprudence, while another does metaphysics, and another does physics, evolution and the concept of civilization.

        That stated: Watching Leftists fulminate against moral relativism has definitely been worth the price.

        1. Glenn Stehle

          Dan Duncan,

          I’m sorry if you “have no idea WTF” we’re trying to get at here, but I don’t know how to make it any simpler than what I have.

          And you’re right, constructivism and/or structuralism, of which moral relativism is but a small part, is something that came out of the left. But while it originated there, that certainly hasn’t kept the right from taking the football and running with it. One has to look no farther than the right’s AGW arguments to see how effectively the right has deployed constructivism.

          And perhaps the reason constructivism has been such an effective tool for the right is because so much of the left is so thoroughly enmeshed in the ideology that it has no immunities to it, nor can it mount a cogent argument against it.

          But some of us on the left are trying to correct that.

          So I wouldn’t get too comfortable in my schadenfreude—-“watching Leftists fulminate against moral relativism”—-if I were you. Because if the left can get its own house in order, its advance across the political terrain will be no less dramatic than Sherman’s march across Georgia.

        2. Anonymous Jones

          Your comment inadvertently exposes the lie in your very childish left/right false dichotomy.

    5. John L


      Demand for oil isn’t what drove the BP men on that rig to take shortcuts in drilling and sealing that well. Demand for oil isn’t what caused them to use a BOP that wasn’t tested for reliability, and had been flagged as being unreliable. Demand for oil isn’t why they used a quarter of the spacers, or hung one pipe liner down the well, or didn’t bother to seal each joint with cement.

      Greed is what caused them to do these things; the well was behind schedule and had already cost them a lot of money to drill, but the lure of the oil revenue caused them to push for the fastest, quickest method they knew of to get to it. That cost 11 men their lives, a $500 million drill rig, the loss of the well for production, millions of gallons of oil, and tens of billions of dollars in fines and expenses.

      Plenty of companies are drilling for oil in the Gulf; none are doing it in such a hazardous manner as BP is.

      1. Vespasian

        The pressure coming down from BP management might have been profit-based (“greed”), but that exec on the rig likely didn’t make his decisions based off greed for the oil, but for personal vanity. I reckon he was wanting an “attaboy!” for finishing up a tough well, or at least minimizing the “damage” to his managerial reputation from all of those delays and overruns. Or maybe he had a kid’s graduation upcoming and just wanted off the drilling mission… who knows, underlying motives of human misbehavior being so varied as they are.

        1. Glenn Stehle

          Statements like “that exec on the rig likely didn’t make his decisions” or “maybe he had a kid’s graduation upcoming and just wanted off the drilling mission” come right straight out of the BP playbook.

          It echoes Tony Hayward’s testimony before the congressional committee:

          1) I don’t know what the “people on the rig were thinking” on April 20 when they made the fateful decisions they did. The “team on the rig,” which was made up of BP’s well supervisor, TransOcean and Halliburton personnel, made the decision not to run a cement bond log. I would be “very surprised” if BP COO Doug Suttles or managing director of BP Group Andy Inglis knew of the problems that they were experiencing on the Macondo well.

          2) Every worker on the rig has “stop order authority” to shut down operations anytime they observe something unsafe going on.

          Of course anyone who has spent more than a couple of days working on a drilling rig knows that Hayward is lying.

          No, those decisions were made by someone in the BP hierarchy several command levels above the company man, by someone who had obtained an executive-level position but without the benefit of any hands-on experience, and someone who refused to listen to those under his command. We all know the type.

          As far as those eleven men who died, I think Tennyson put it best:

          Not tho’ the soldier knew
          Some one had blunder’d:
          Theirs not to make reply,
          Theirs not to reason why,
          Theirs but to do & die.

          Hayward would blame the ships cook for the blowout if he thought he could get away with it.

      2. Vespasian

        BTW, my comment is in no way meant to excuse BP of responsibility. Having managers / execs that irresponsible in failure to employ standard engineering safety protocols and thoughtless of risk management is an epic fail.

        I just react poorly to simple words (“greed”) passed as a full explanation.

    6. Debra

      Glenn, thanks for that compliment on being a child.
      You couldn’t have paid me a greater compliment you know.
      As for cognitive dissonance…
      Well, I really don’t like experts. And I don’t like ME when I am an expert either.
      I’m obnoxious. I try to avoid it…lol
      But… I have read Freud. Carefully.
      I’m living in Europe, and I was trained as a shrink BEFORE the DSM came onto the scene.
      So some of the words that you are using, well, I don’t use them, and I won’t use them either.
      Because I do not recognize their “scientific” validity.
      Other shrinks I know here do not recognize their scientific validity either.
      There is not ONE definition of what is scientific out there.
      As your comment shows… we are collectively engaged in a historically ongoing battle about what science is and means. That battle has been going on for quite some time now.
      Am I contradictory ?
      Whew, you scared me there for a minute.
      Because… if I weren’t contradictory then I wouldn’t be human.
      I don’t know what I would be…
      A dead and embalmed person ? A.. computer, maybe ??
      If you don’t see YOUR contradictions, well, that’s logical.
      OTHER PEOPLE see OUR contradictions, WE don’t. (Most of the time…)
      That’s also part of being human. (And it’s definitely better to have contradictions… dixit the expert.)
      I don’t know how you say that with the DSM.
      Is it important ?

  5. attempter

    The fund has been bizarrely treated as some sort of abuse of power…

    Corporatist ideologues think the very purpose of civilization and the environment is to be the hunting ground, resource mine, and waste dump for big corporations. Government is supposed to be the bagman and thug.

    So to such psychopaths, if government (in this case, only under political duress, since Obama is such an ideologue) instead acts even remotely in the public interest, demands any kind of accountability, even something so meager as this penny jar, it’s like religious apostasy, betrayal. It’s practically a metaphysical assault on the laws of the universe.

    And then there’s the hired flacks and thugs (and the unpaid wannabes) who are simply paid to spout such criminal propaganda.

    1. Doug Terpstra

      Rep Joe Barton (R-TX) called the ‘sludge’-fund a “shakedown”, thus ensuring his infamous place in history for all time. Breathtaking!

    2. D. Warbucks

      Corporatist ideologues think the very purpose of civilization and the environment is to be the hunting ground, resource mine, and waste dump for big corporations.

      To be fair, we only think that about your environment. We ourselves like to keep our own environment pristine.

  6. Expat

    Corporations can’t be punished because punishing them hurts shareholders, employees, nations, our future, etc. We are all to blame for all disasters because of our collective failure to monitor, police, regulate, and control. Corporations will act in our best interests because it maximizes their profits in the medium and long term.

    Ok, so much for the bullshit. Now, reality.

    Corporations are not punished for many reasons, not the least of which is political influence from their wealth. Legal systems are convuluted and byzantine, making successful prosecution of corporations difficult and prosecution of executives nearly impossible. Corporations can effectively blackmail cities, states, and countries, threatening to cease doing business with them.

    We are all to blame for our world in a very general sense that humans make these decisions with the support of many other humans. But most Americans, as an example, support gun controls yet we see thousands of deaths every year from gunshots. In reality, nations are ruled by their political and wealth elite. You and I have no control over anything of significance.

    Government controls and laws are only as effective as the government charged with enforcing them. Nigeria probably has beautiful anti-pollution legislation but no enforcement. Of course, occasionally our rulers willfully remove protections such as Glass-Steagal.

    Corporations may, in some metaphysical sense, long for perennity, but CEO’s, traders, shareholders, and speculators wish only to see sharp, continual rising shareprices and profits. Drilling today at the cheapest cost makes us all very rich very quickly. Tomorrow it will be someone else on the job and he will get rich from our work if we don’t seize the day.

    Perhaps our greatest collective failure, and it may be genetic, is the way we readily accept the Adam Smith capitalist model. Were our brains attuned to ecology and communism, we might not find ourselves here. Unfortunately, we are a rapine, short-sighted species who has developped the unfortunate ability to permanently damage our environment.

    I say Drill, Baby, Drill. Build more nuke plants. Bring back CFC’s. Hummers for all of us. McDonalds on every corner. The sooner we burn out, the better off and the safe our universe will be.

    1. Glenn Stehle


      While your comment has a great deal to commend it, it nevertheless is marred by a note of defeatism.

      You assert that: “In reality, nations are ruled by their political and wealth elite. You and I have no control over anything of significance.”

      I believe the successful people’s wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan, and the series of peaceful overthrows of tyrannical dictatorships and oligarchies, beginning with the 1974 toppling of the military dictatorship in Greece and including Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, South Africa and others, belies your pessimistic assessment.

      1. Expat

        I am not sure what you mean by “people’s wars in vietnam and Afghanistan”. Are we the people? Or are the Viets and Afghanis the people?

        And while I accept that there are revolutions from time to time, the cold, hard truth is that the people don’t end up running much of anything anyway. There is merely a transition with occasional transfers of wealth and power to a new ruling elite.

        I think my post made it clear that people as a whole are incompetent morons. On an evolutionary scale, we are still tribal creatures capable of intellectually managing small probability events of a extremely local scales. Modern technology has allowed individuals, tribes, and nations to have a global effect, and we are generally incapable of understanding what we are doing.

        I am pleased that Greece, Spain, and South Korea have transitioned from right-wing dictatorships, but I don’t think their present state is anything to wax lyrical about.

        Let the good times roll.

        1. Glenn Stehle

          People in modern liberal democracies like the United States live very differently than hunter-gatherers did 15,000 years ago, Egyptians did 4,000 years ago, or Europeans did 800 years ago.

          Are you ready to scuttle the science that has so diminished superstition, obscurantism, and religious intolerance, or the technology that has spread food, home ownership, comfort, education, and leisure beyond any precedent?

          History is so indifferently rich that a case for almost any conclusion from it can be made by selection of instances. Choosing your evidence with a brighter bias, you might evolve some more comforting reflections. But perhaps we should first define what progress means to us. If it means increase in happiness its case is lost almost at first sight. Our capacity for fretting is endless, and no matter how many difficulties we surmount, how many ideals we realize, we shall always find an excuse for being magnificently miserable.

      2. Paul Repstock

        Glenn, much as I respect your article of yesterday and general articulation, I think you are goin off the rails today. Vietnam is a possible sucess story for ‘people’s revolutions’ none of the others are! In general a revolution is an endorsement of the structure but just a change of heads at the top.
        As for you comments at Debra…hello! The only critism I could level at her was trying to cover too much ground and loosing consistency.
        Humans are best defined as ‘conservative nimbis’. Our attitude is “Do whatever you need to maintain my Oh So Comfortable Lifestyle, but don’t spoil my vacation by spilling oil on the beach.” And if you are going to spill oil, do it in the Gulf of Aquaba, not The Gulf of Mexico. The problem here ofcourse is that there is yet another agenda running which insists that the United States should not be dependant on ‘imported oil’???

        1. Glenn Stehle

          And the Revolution of 1689?

          The American Revolution?

          To paint things with so much black that one believes that mankind hasn’t advanced since the Middle Ages, or can make no further advancement, is a world view that I must admit I have great difficulty in understanding.

          1. Paul Repstock

            The basis of everything I believe is that Mankind is capable of much greater things than we have sofar accomplished. However, sometimes you need new tools in order to move forward. Electronics are not build with hammers and chisels. Similarly, The future of mankind with a 7 billion population cannot be founded on 18th century politics and business.

            We need to break out of our ultra conservative mindset. It is not possible for the species to survive and at the sametime go back to some Utopian Past. I shudder when I hear the terms One world Order, or New World Order and even worse Global Government. All of these smack of a continuation of the status quo by means of an ever increasingly represive and centralized power structure.

            As I’ve said here before: ‘governments by their nature are evil and have only one goal. That being to perpetuate themselves. The much same is true of corporations.

            Governments never create anything. They only consume.

          2. D. Warbucks

            I would hate to think that the future New World Order would be a perpetuation of the status quo with its entitlements and social democracies.

            No, it must be a return to a better time when slavery flourished, when people went hungry, when diseases went untreated, when people knew to sacrifice their lives for their kings whenever requested in a series of endless pointless wars.

          3. Glenn Stehle

            Paul Repstock,

            You assert that “The future of mankind with a 7 billion population cannot be founded on 18th century politics and business.”

            But it cannot be founded on 5th century religious dogma either, such as that which you profess when you proclaim that “‘governments by their nature are evil and have only one goal. That being to perpetuate themselves. The much same is true of corporations.”

            What you offer up here is little more than a regurgitation of the theology of St. Augustine which he articulated in De civitate Dei. Society is regarded as too involved in the sins of the earth to be capable of salvation in any moral sense. Society is consigned to the devil; that is, the social problem is declared unsolvable on any ethical basis. Thus Augustine concludes that the city of this world is a “compact of injustice,” that its ruler is the devil, that it was built by Cain and that its peace is secured by strife.

            The only possible end products of such moral cynicism are indifferentism and defeatism.

          4. Paul Repstock

            LOL Daddy W. Look at what you wrote from my point of view:

            We have Kings and Prices still. The only difference being that their succesion runs on money rather than bloodlines. And I ask you seriously (“Pointless Wars”) Iraq Afganistan Vietnam Falklands…..Who next? Venusela? Korea (again)? Wait no! It must be Iran. It is far away (so the war will cost a lot) they refuse to accept American superiority, and they have gobs and gobs of lovely cheap oil which they might otherwise sell to China.

        2. Paul Repstock

          Thanks a lot for the St. Augustine information Glenn. I had never read or heard it.

          However, don’t put words in my mouth or skew what I say. I did not include organized religions in my condemnation, but I might well have.

          At their roots all organized religions have a core philosophy similar to the Ten Commandments. These are incredibly simple and logical. They are essentially natural laws which allow any society human or animal to function. Have you ever wondered how even children instinctively know what is right or wrong? Those few people who do not have these controls hardwired in their brains appear strange to us. We lable them psycopaths. The problem with the organized religions is that they too, very quickly developed a beuracratic mindset. The religious tolerance was the first inconvenient rule to get tossed.

          You and many here seem to have little reguard for the value and abilities of the “common man”. I on the other hand am often amazed by the integrity and courage of people as individuals. Increasing levels of education and sophistication seem to do little for morality and “common sense”

          1. Expat

            Wow, I am both happy and sorry to have set this debate off. Fascinating points of view. I am unabashedly pessimistic and Hobbesian, but I don’t exclude “miracles”. Mankind will survive its own folly barring a massive nuclear war. Will the survivors of the coming ecological catastrophe learn from the past? I doubt it.

            Human behaviour is both learned and deeply rooted in our genetic heritage. A few thousand years of “civilization” have not eliminated our reptilian brain. Was slavery and limited, local warfare really worse than world wars, global pollution, and terrorist states which have dominated nations and entire continents? Essentially, are the victims of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, or US-occupied Afghanistan happier knowing they were slaughtered using the best of modern technology and invention?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You miss a very basic issue in your comparison. BP has very valuable asset in the US AND its US corporations also hold title to valuable assets and leases outside the US. The government has assets it can look to to recoup some, hopefully all, the damage caused by BP. So the government has a lot of leverage.

      What leverage did the Indian government have over Union Carbide? I doubt if it had other operations in India, certainly not enough to pay for the damage the plant caused.

      I’m no fan of big corporations and am well aware they normally get away with paying only a small fraction of the damage they cause. And poor people always get treated badly. Look at the horrid record of Massey Company here in the US. What is different about BP is that the damage is so great as to rouse government, which is normally complacent, to act, plus the fact that the size of BP’s assets in the US gives the government leverage.

      Your example is simplistic and misses the key reason why the outcome in the BP case may be different than the norm.

      1. Paul Repstock

        Sorry Yves; it may be you who is “missing the point”. The central issue here is still ‘Accountability’!
        Have you given any thought to the parallels to ‘Your’ country demanding an exemption from War Crimes Prosecution for their personel and executives?????
        I love your blog and the light it shines into dark corners. But, you are still American, and as such you have a bias if not to say blinders. “My country right or wrong” is not a viable position in this interconected world.

        1. Yves Smith Post author


          I’m sorry, it is YOU who have blinders. No reader of this blog save you would ever think of me as taking an “America right or wrong” position. Have you managed to miss this blog’s criticism of the US’s stance on financial reform (and we take the position, which is hardly controversial, here and longer form in ECONNED, that the US was responsible for the global financial crisis), our invasion of Iraq and continued operation in Afghanistan, the US’s refusal to get serious about global warming, our knee-jerk support for Israel (that’s really outside our ambit, but we were linking to critical commentary on Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians well before the attack on the flotilla made it acceptable to take that view in public). We’ve also REGULARLY linked to stories on US human rights violations here and abroad (again, this is a finance blog, so we don’t post on it, I don’t feel I have the mastery of the legal issues to do the topic justice, but even providing links on that is something you do not see on ANY of the other major finance and economics blogs). And that is far from a complete list.

          Seriously, what planet are you from?

          And I don’t see how your read my comment on comparison to Bhopal as a defense of the US. Carbide killed a lot of people. The Indian government had no leverage. Yes, the US government did not help, but pray tell, how much support is the UK government lending to the US on BP? Its prime minister has been trying to get Obama to back off. And I pointed out that coal miners get killed all the time by Massey, a company that seems to have a similar attitude to BP (it regards safety violations and the related fines as a mere cost of doing business) and the US has still not bothered to rein them in. Tell me exactly how the foregoing is a defense of the US.

          1. Paul Repstock

            Sorry Yves; Perhaps I do have blinders. Sometimes I may read things in a manner which fits “my prejudices” or out of context and use that as a basis for continuing to promote whatever idea I’m trying to explain. On rereading your post, I can see that you were only talking about the mechanics of the different cases, not the morality or social values.

            As I have little time for keeping up with the blog and obviously less knowlege than many of the posters display, I should probably stick to reading the blog, but my ego gets in the way….:( People with opinions are relatively common, sadly I sometimes feel this burning need to share my opinions on all possible subjects. One which comes to mind is my assertion that the amount of oil coming from the Gulf well could not possibly be what was being rumoured. As it turns out even the rumours were conservative.

            Anyway, do not take any critisism from me personally. I have great respect for you and your knowlege and effort. My lack is that I don’t have the humility to match my own efforts and ability.

      2. Acorn

        Thanks for reply Yves. This story has far to go; so, I will just mention this one in passing. And; you are still ahead on points. Piper Alpha (Occidental),167 dead; Deepwater Horizon (BP),11 dead.

        “The Cullen Inquiry was set up in November 1988 to establish the cause of the disaster [PIPER ALPHA]. In November 1990, it concluded that the initial condensate leak was the result of maintenance work being carried out simultaneously on a pump and related safety valve. The enquiry was critical of Piper Alpha’s operator, Occidental, which was found guilty of having inadequate maintenance and safety procedures. But no criminal charges were ever brought against it.” [I wonder why].

        At least the Exxon case got out of the courts after 20 years. No $20 billion Escrow account for this one. [I wonder why]. “On Friday [Dec 7 2008], Webber and more than 200 other residents of this rain-soaked fishing town began getting the first round of punitive-damage payments from Exxon Mobil, closing the book on one of the nation’s most epic battles over environmental destruction and corporate responsibility. Over the course of the next year, more than 32,000 plaintiffs from around the globe who once made their living fishing in and around Prince William Sound will collect their shares of the $507.5 million Exxon Mobil was ordered to pay.”

  7. Thomas E

    I think the feeling in Britain is that what is happening is deeply unfair to BP. The reason for this is that when they drilled the well, they did so under US law at the time which provided for limits to liability, and specific penalties – both civil and criminal.

    I don’t have much of a problem with Americans punishing BP within the laws available at the time of the spill. When the law is retrospectively changed after an event, so a person was running risks they could not have understood at the time, well then I have a problem with it.

    It’s like someone being guilty of murder in a state without the death penalty, the state changing the law and killing them anyway.

    I also have a problem with the US government imposing unrelated regulatory decisions and trying to charge BP for them. The decision to halt offshore drilling was a US government decision. They are within their rights to do so, but their decision to charge BP for the costs of unemployment relating to this is unfair and extralegal.

    I don’t have a problem with the US government refusing contracts with BP, shutting down operations & etc, as these punishments were available when the spill happened. And, providing they are imposed legally and impartially, they are fair.

    1. Dan Duncan

      The narrative that “BP has limited liability” is misguided.

      Civil Liability:

      Yes, BP can invoke the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which is the oft cited act that limits BP’s liability to $75 million. But this cap on damages does NOT apply to claims made in state court or under maritime law (which was the route of most Exxon victims).

      Additionally, there is the specter of securities class action suits–on the basis that BP misled investors (and creditors) about the risks of deep water drilling.

      Criminal Liability:

      There are many laws at the government’s disposal. The Clean Water Act, Refuse Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act all impose strict liability. As a result, the government does not even need to prove any intent on BP’s part to violate the law. [The cap on fines for violating these criminal acts runs from 25k to 50k a day, a pittance for BP.]

      If, however, it is shown that BP made false statements to the government in obtaining permits or approvals in operating the rigs, or in compliance reports about environmental (or safety) regulations….then the above referenced caps will not apply. In the case of false statements, then federal sentencing guidelines allow damages to be based on the amount of loss caused to the victims of the crime.

      Again, the British media narrative that there are straight caps on liability and that these caps were unfairly modified… is to journalism accuracy, what BP’s actions in the Gulf are to Corporate Responsibility and Environmental Concern.

      1. John L

        Under the Clean Water Act, each barrel of oil spilled into “waters of the US” can be fined up to $4300/barrel. If the EPA chose to use the highest amount for the fine (and I see absolutely no reason why they wouldn’t), BP already owes tens of billions of dollars from this law alone.

        Additionally, the limit mentioned in the Oil Pollution Act is waived if the responsible party is found to have operated in a negligent or willful manner in not following safety and other regulations. The $75 million limit is for punitive damages alone; the OPA also makes it very clear that the responsible party will be required to pay for all cleanup costs resulting from that spill.

        BP is the responsible party; they’re the prime contractor on the rig and therefore responsible for everything done there.

  8. Neil D

    So BP is preventing people from using respirators? Have you ever worn a respirator? Have you ever worn one in 90+ degree heat? Good luck with that! These folks need an organic vapor respirator. It has cartridges that need to be replaced with some frequency. Who will determine that frequency? All users must be fit tested so that there is no leaking – otherwise what is the point? Oh, and no facial hair allowed either. It interferes with the fit.


    Are house painters at more risk for organic vapor exposure than these folks working outdoors?

    Let’s bash BP for their errors in judgement, but please be careful about using these trivial issues as hammers.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Go read the links I provided before spouting off with incomplete information. This IS riskier than housepainting. Cleanup workers are coming down with serious ailments. The benzene levels alone associated with cleanup work are high. Yeah, respirators are a bitch, but getting seriously ill isn’t too great either. And if you had bothered reading, BP is forbidding their use.

      Local fishermen hired to work on BP’s uncontrolled oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico are scared and confused. Fishermen here and in other small communities dotting the southern marshes and swamplands of Barataria Bay are getting sick from the working on the cleanup, yet BP is assuring them they don’t need respirators or other special protection from the crude oil, strong hydrocarbon vapors, or chemical dispersants being sprayed in massive quantities on the oil slick.

      Fishermen have never seen the results from the air-quality monitoring patches some of them wear on their rain gear when they are out booming and skimming the giant oil slick. However, more and more fishermen are suffering from bad headaches, burning eyes, persistent coughs, sore throats, stuffy sinuses, nausea, and dizziness. They are starting to suspect that BP is not telling them the truth.

      And based on air monitoring conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a Louisiana coastal community, those workers seem to be correct. The EPA findings show that airborne levels of toxic chemicals like hydrogen sulfide, and volatile organic compounds like benzene, for instance, now far exceed safety standards for human exposure.


      That report is a month old. The stories linked to in the post are from mid last week. This is now clearly negligence by BP, yet you defend it.

      And working outdoors in the South in the summer is tough regardless, you seem to have forgotten that part.

      1. Neil D

        WASHINGTON—The head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Thursday said workers hired by BP PLC to clean up spilled oil don’t need respirators, despite complaints from some employees and lawmakers about toxic fumes.


        I know we aren’t supposed to believe anything BP or the government says because they are evil, but sometimes public hysteria gets in the way of facts.

        1. Skippy

          You have no idea of what you opine about SEE:



          Lastly from WE MOVE world wide education and awareness for movement disorders see:

          I had poisoned myself with neurotoxins, and was continuing to do so, causing the onset of so many MSA-like symptoms. I decided to believe that diagnosis and took GREAT pains to avoid any further neurotoxins. I wear a VOC respirator, long sleeves and gloves when working with wood and finishes, and immediately remove my clothing and shower when I’m done for the day.

          Three years later, my tremors are reduced, I am getting feeling into my fingers, my soles are back to their normal sensitivity, my blood pressure is normal and steady at all positions, constipation is a thing of the past, and my impotence is all but gone


          Skippy..firstly the doctors accused him of drug use…lol.

      2. Neil D

        Dueling links. :)

        Crude Oil
        According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) crude oil is a mixture of hydrocarbons and consists of light, medium and heavy chemicals. The hydrocarbons in crude oil are mostly alkanes, cycloalkanes and various aromatic hydrocarbons while the other organic compounds contain nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur, and trace amounts of metals such as iron, nickel, copper and vanadium. The exact molecular composition varies widely.

        The light parts, such as benzene, xylene, toluene and ethyl benzene generally evaporate into the air in the first 24 hours of a spill(usually before reaching the shore).

        The medium and heavy parts (consistency much like motor oil) is what cleanup operations on the land and near shore areas focus on. Weathered crude or “mousse” is crude petroleum that has lost an appreciable quantity of its more volatile components and has mixed with sea water and organic matter. This is caused by evaporation and other natural causes during the spill landing on the shore and during oily waste handling, storage and treatment or disposal.


        1. Skippy

          The light or aromatic parts evaporate at rates conducive to atmospheric conditions in a base line sample per say, 24C at 45% humidity in shady light. Hence when out of the lab they act according to the enviromental conditions.

          Skippy…911 lung disease ring a bell?

  9. Davd

    As I understand the statistics, American airlines deliver 8 million safe landings per landing resulting in human fatality, so I like Yves’ point, about oversight and regulation, while also wondering if “black swan” in oil is different to a plane crash e

    1. alex

      Airliner accidents and the Gulf spill are very different animals. There are thousands of routine flights every day, which means they have an excellent data base for statistics. When they say there is only an X chance of dying on an airline flight, it’s based on actual experience.

      By contrast there have been very few deep water wells. They’re completely different from land or even shallow water wells. Nobody really knows how unusual the problems they encountered are, because there have been few wells of this type.

      This lack of experience makes BP’s negligence all the more inexcusable. The only sensible approach you can take in such an unknown situation is to be extra careful, and BP did exactly the opposite.

  10. Rex

    First, Yves, great piece and thanks for quoting my drunk driver analogy.

    To make another analogy:

    If they were a demolition company, they would be viewed in a positive light if they employed a bunch of people, had equal opportunity hiring, nice health benefits, they cleaned up after themselves in areas where they did demolition. They supported and contributed to the communities in which they worked. Their leaders were good people. Ah, yes, good company.

    But what do they do as their job? They blow things up with dynamite. What should be their prime goal? To safely use these dangerous substances in the most safe way to achieve the required demolition. Think, be careful, that dynamite could blow up.

    BP’s dynamite blew up on the way to the job. They knew they were playing with dynamite but lost sight of all the precautions that reasonable demolition companies have learned and their sh** blew up.

    They were stupid. It wasn’t a simple accident. It was a series of bad decisions. It is not unreasonable to expect them to be repentant and to pay for the damages.

  11. RueTheDay

    Conservatives and Libertarians are already mounting defenses of their failed ideology all over the place.

    “Government regulation forced BP to drill in deepwater where it’s more dangerous, rather than onshore and in shallow water. The spill is the government’s fault.”

    “These fishermen have no right to earn a living fishing, BP owes them nothing.”

    “Nobody owns the ocean or the fish. BP’s liability here is just to clean up any privately owned land that gets oil on it.”

    “Compared to the amount of water in the Gulf, the oil spill represents a drop in a swimming pool. The ecosystem will fix itself in no time.”

    I guess when you’re committed to a kooky ideology, you end up getting forced into making all sorts of absurd arguments to justify it.

    1. Glenn Stehle

      “Compared to the amount of water in the Gulf, the oil spill represents a drop in a swimming pool. The ecosystem will fix itself in no time.”

      A similar argument can be heard articulated by Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas) beginning here at minute 00:21:15


  12. MarcoPolo

    Well, you’ve made it pretty clear how you see BP’s responsibility. And I’m sure we both agree BP is responsible for its actions, that we want the well capped, the spill cleaned up and we want BP to pay for it.  And I’m sure we also want this to never happen again.

    But for all the ink that’s been spilled I’m still not sure how you feel about government’s responsibility.   It seems clear in retrospect, that is when it all became public, that BP should have never have been allowed to operate that well (and probably not their refineries). This had to have been known within those agencies before the well blew out.  And they _chose_ to do nothing. How are we to prevent this happening again if we choose not to do anything about even the most egregious safety violations?  And MMS approved the sub-standard well design, did they not?  

    They are hooked up, govt. & industry.  They are in cahoots. Government is complicent.  One rule for the little people and another for them.  And government knows which is which!  I’ve been confident that the truth would come out about BP’s behavior.  I’m not confident the roll of government will be examined with equal fevor.  The $20B fund makes that more difficult. It lets both of them off the hook.  Government will be seen as doing the clean up. And BP has insured its survival.  (Well, I guess, the check is in the mail.)  

    1. Rex

      A bit hyperbolic, perhaps?

      “They are hooked up, govt. & industry. They are in cahoots. Government is complicent.”

      The other oil companies may be getting some level of favors from the govt but they have the decency to run their businesses peacefully, unlike the BP problem child.

      1. i on the ball patriot

        Peacefully???? Errrr … let us not go overboard with admiration for slash and kill big oil …


        “The cost of licenses for offshore drilling have been mysteriously slashed by the Department of the Interior, a way of transferring your money to the oil companies and of actually promoting offshore drilling, with all its potential to harm you environmentally and economically. Do you remember lobbying the Mines and Minerals Service for that one?

        Even the wars you are paying for in the Perso-Arabian Gulf and in Central Asia, as well as the aid given Israel and Egypt, amounting altogether to over $100 billion a year, must be seen as a subsidy to big oil.

        And then, the cost of water, soil and air pollution is not figured into the price of a gallon of gasoline. It is charged to the taxpayer in various ways. And, global warming is also not figured into the cost of gasoline.

        In fact, the various deep subsidies that you are involuntarily giving Big Oil are being used in part to buy a propaganda campaign to convince you that climate change has been exaggerated and is nothing to worry about. Ironic, ain’t it?

        But that is not your fault, either.

        People keep saying that wind power is ‘just about’ competitive with oil and gas. But in fact if the true cost of oil and gas were properly calculated, and all the hidden subsidies were removed, wind would be revealed to be much cheaper than these other power sources are. Even solar might make a good showing in that case. (Don’t bother complaining to me about the limits of wind turbines and solar cells; they have those limits because not enough research and development money has been thrown at them by the government and by government-engineered incentives to private business. A reader complained that the investment had not worked with regard to fusion but that is silly. Wind and solar are proven but infant technologies and Germany has already shown that government support makes a big difference here.)

        The subsidies for petroleum are unlikely to be lifted. This outcome is not because you will lobby congress and the senate to keep supporting big oil with your tax dollars. It is because of legislative capture. Too many elected representatives secretly run on the Big Oil Party ticket. (And no, it is not true that President Obama is more guilty of that than were his opponents).”

        More here …


        Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        1. Paul Repstock

          Excellent points Patriot!
          Perhaps we should all decide that ‘Lying’ should be the one crime with a capital punishment. After all, if these people, government or corporate dare not lie to us, then we would have a lot less problems….
          This is not as OT as it might appear. At the root of every problem and disaster discussed here is a fabric of lies ment to missdirect, obscure, and avoid.

  13. GeorgeNYC

    I have always been suspicious of metrics however they are used. I have seen them used quite often in my business dealings. They are presented as “objective” and thus somehow above reproach. In general, I usually quite cynically find that the individuals who carefully follow the metrics are by far the worst offenders in the “real” world. They know precisely how to “game” the system so that their performance appears above reproach whereas in reality they are usually slacking off, or more likely, actually completely failing at their jobs.

    Quite obviously BP with its “Beyond Petroleum” moniker made a conscious effort to portray itself as “socially responsible.” I am sure that somewhere it carefully monitored all of the things that went into its “scores” so that t could present itself as a “good” corporation by those metrics. Most of the “scores” are probably based largely upon giving the appearance of things rather than actually doing things.

    Unfortunately, the core of the problem is corporate power. BP being a “good” citizen is no better than your average Suburbanite using his gas guzzling SUV to take used plastic milk cartons to the recycling center. You can pat yourself on the head for being an “environmentally conscious” without actually doing the math that on a net carbon basis it would have probably been netter to stay home.

  14. Guest

    The $20 Billion escrow ($5 billion per year over 4 years) was a great deal for BP. With an annual dividend (now canceled) exceeding $10 billion, the president extracted a fraction of what he should have from BP. If there was a shakedown it was BP and not the administration doing the shaking. (remember the banksters and how they were treated)

    This is a must watch report from CNN (Weds Jn 16) just after the White House meeting that has received little attention. Watch the first two or three minutes and you will see what I mean. Reminds me of how a couple of sales people would react to a very successful deal that they just negotiated. For $5 billion per year BP bought themselves cover. Their position coming out of the White House meeting was much stronger then when they went in.

    CNN (Weds June 16 10 pm et)

    Moreover towards the end of the congressional hearing (on Thurs Jn 17) one congressperson tried to pin down Hayward on health care costs, his response; “that’s why we’ve appointed an independent adjudicator” who will be managing the distribution of the $20 billion.

    clip here


    1. John L

      The $20 billion isn’t the maximum BP will pay out; they agreed the amount could go as high as needed.

      1. Guest

        So, was their position going into the meeting better or worse than their position coming out of the meeting?

        Legally no different other than a framework for dispute resolution and a $5 billion per year upfront payment as opposed to double or even triple that or worse (for them) putting them into a type of conservatorship. The expression on Hayward’s face and his body language after the White House meeting tell it all.

  15. Siggy

    What is the pressure of sea water at a depth of 5,000 feet?

    That has to be a very big number. The video showing on the TV suggests a very aggressive flow upward. It has been reported that the effluent may be as much as 40% methane. The mud logs have not been made public. One has to wonder.

    BP’s position in this event is without any defense whatsoever. Mr. Hayward did approximately what he was supposed to do given the developing liabilities that BP will have to bear. There is the very real probability that the total liabilities will be sufficient to bankrupt BP.

    To me it is clear that the potential for bankruptcy is what motivates BP’s stonewalling performances. The just announced removal of Mr. Hayward from the remediation effort is a missdirection. Given the nature of the well and the methods used, one has to wonder as to the quality of the applied engineering. It has every appearance as being absolutely reckless, if not criminally negligent.

    What do the mud logs say, what did the exploratory geologic studies say? These are critical questions. Why is Anadarko creating a distance between itself and BP? Will the liability reach to Anadarko?

    Should the Congressional hearings have been open to the public in that there is the very high probability that there will soon be a case for a criminal negligence prosecution?

    There are a great many critical questions to answered. A Congressional hearing is not the best forum for the presenation of available information. At least not until there has been a determination as to criminal and civil liability. My thought was that many of the very cogent questions were more properly posed in a courtroom. The Congressional hearing has the potential of contaiminating a criminal prosecution.

    Sadly, the hearings I saw led to no new information other than the fact Mr. Hayward was in no position by way of knowledge or consideration of legal liability to answer the bulk of the direct questions relevant to the incident.

    To paraphrase, Deep Horizon drilled a well too deep.

    My question is when will the next straw man be offerred up by BP?

    1. John L

      Go to The Oil Drum website; all of these questions and many, many more have been discussed and answers provided.


      Water pressure at the bottom of the Gulf there is around 3200 psi. The oil/gas mixture is estimated to have an outlet pressure of something like 4300 psi. It’s my opinion that Andarko is pointing fingers at BP because their contract says they are responsible for 25% of any damages caused by the well, unless BP is shown to have acted in a negligent manner. The number of warning and cautionary documents Andarko is coming up with prior to this blowout disaster is reported to be very, very large.

      1. Guest

        The Oil Drum is a great website, but among the solid answers provided are ones that are pure speculation, alarmist or BP/government shill. They do not filter their content nor do they restrict access to industry professionals. It is one of a number of sources for information and like any blog/forum the commentary needs to be properly vetted.

    1. John L

      That article is misleading; the oil isn’t going to escape through a ruptured well casing unless the pressure at the rupture is less than at the open pipe. As long as BP doesn’t try and restrict the flow of oil at the open pipe, even if the casing is damaged there is little fear of a further rupture.

      Plus, pressure gauges below and in the BOP (blowout preventer) do indicate that erosion of the pipe restrictions is taking place. Sand and other debris mixed with the oil at high pressure is chewing through the BOP shears and increasing the opening between them, increasing the flow rate from what it was a few weeks ago.

      If BP tries to ‘cap’ or seal the well at the top, the entire system would immediately pressurize to the same level throughout, and if the damaged area in the well is weak enough, an underground blowout is very possible. The oil could go anywhere at that point; through the rock along cracks or fissures, up into the seabed, or right along the outside of the well pipe. BP would not be able to collect any of that oil, and the only way to stop it would be with the relief wells.

      In the absolute worst case, though, too much oil escaping through a ruptured pipe could collapse the entire apparatus, resulting in a gusher of oil that wouldn’t stop until the pressure in the oil reservoir and the sea was equalized. That might take months if not years depending on the size of the oil reservoir.


  16. Guest

    and then we have junk articles like this from the NYT that pedal hope while neglecting to ask the obvious questions.

    Signs of Hope as BP Captures Record Oil Amounts


    Much of the media has been complicit in covering up the extent of this crisis from the very beginning and I fear that when/if the leak is eventually stopped that same media will bury stories of the ongoing damage and devastation.

    The politics and corporatism of this crisis reveal just what a sad state of affairs our system is in.

    here is that same “Journalist” (Liz Robbins) day 11 of the spill


  17. Vinny

    Thank you, Yves, for another great report.

    I was very annoyed by Tony Hayward’s repeatedly stonewalling with that lame excuse of a supposed “investigation in progress”. I don’t even believe there is a serious investigation going on.

    Clearly, Tony Hayward was chosen as CEO because he best represents and matches the already established culture of British Petroleum. A culture of crime, ruthlessness, arrogance, disregard for anybody and anything except greed and profit. As I stated here before, this is a murderous corporation, and Tony Hayward is little more than the Godfather of this criminal organization. They need to be drained of every dollar they ever made to pay for this spill, and then they need to be shut down. And this Hayward guy needs to head for prison.

    That’s all I have to say for today. I am now going to watch a comedy, because this British Petroleum stuff is too depressing for a weekend.

    Have a nice weekend, everybody!


  18. John L

    The OilDrum website has been discussing “what does BP know and when did they know it” referring to the rig explosion. One post there indicated that BP rented an entire hotel near their US HQ for a week right after the explosion, with experts from their company and the industry in attendance. Within a week they had a preliminary finding, and within 3 weeks a report was finished, with the final report sent to BP executives right before Heyward spoke to Congress. If his attorneys were smart, they made sure he didn’t get a copy of it prior to him speaking, or he could be found in contempt of Congress with his “I have not seen the final report” comments that he made repeatedly.

  19. Doc Holiday

    BP’s Endocrine Disrupter Plumes; the other story. Some random tidbits:

    Undersea robot to shoot BP oil plume in 3-D

    Reddy is among some 30 scientists and crew who plan to set off from the Florida Gulf coast on Thursday for the area near the spill, focusing on the so-called southwest plume that has been seen about 20 miles south of the wellhead.

    22-mile oil plume under Gulf nears rich waters

    A thick, 22-mile plume of oil discovered by researchers off the BP spill site was nearing an underwater canyon, where it could poison the foodchain for sealife in the waters off Florida.

    A Louisiana State University researcher who has studied their effects on marine life said that by breaking oil into small particles, surfactants make it easier for fish and other animals to soak up the oil’s toxic chemicals. That can impair the animals’ immune systems and cause reproductive problems.
    “The oil’s not at the surface, so it doesn’t look so bad, but you have a situation where it’s more available to fish,” said Kevin Kleinow, a professor in LSU’s school of veterinary medicine.

    1. RE: EPA: Have dispersants ever been used this much before?
    While dispersants have been used in previous oil spills, this is the largest application of dispersants at an oil spill response in the United States.

    2. Science On Dispersants Used In Oil Spills Is Murky

    MONTAGNE: The EPA is concerned that the dispersant will have long-term effects on the environment. What about that?

    HAMILTON: Well, I’ve asked some scientists about that and they say, you know, that’s a reasonable concern. The toxicity tests have, you know, extend over a few days. But when you put chemicals into the environment, often things are there for years. And one of the things that BP said was that one of the alternatives to Corexit is a product that breaks down – or part of it does -into a chemical known as an endocrine disrupter, a potential endocrine disrupter.

    And we’ve heard a lot about these recently because if concern about plastic bottles. Things called BPA and phthalates and rubber. These are endocrine disrupters and the EPA is extremely concerned about endocrine disrupters. So, for BP to invoke this, is actually making a pretty good point.

    MONTAGNE: Because they do what exactly? I mean, give us some examples of what possible harm might…

    HAMILTON: Endocrine disrupters act…they’re not like poisons, they’re not like toxics. They don’t make things die usually. What – they act like hormones. And so you can see generational changes, you can see sexual development of creatures changed, you know, things like that. Much more subtle signs.

    MONTAGNE: And any other sorts of things we should, you know, be thinking about in terms of harm?

    HAMILTON: The thing to remember is that dispersants take oil places it’s not otherwise going. So, what that means is you bring oil, which is itself very, very toxic, to other places. So, when you put oil to the surface, you might bring oil to, say, eggs that are just beneath the surface. And so by not spraying on the surface you might protect them.

  20. Doc Holiday

    Ooops, forgot to add this to the EPA BULLSHIT … I forgot they work for BP:

    “The dispersant is widely considered more dangerous to human health than the oil itself,” Plummer said, “and several clean-up workers exposed to the dispersant have been reported as coming down with health problems.” — “Corexit is is four times more toxic than oil (oil is toxic at 11 ppm (parts per million), Corexit 9500 at only 2.61ppm)


    Also see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2-Butoxyethanol

    Butoxyethanol is listed in the U.S. state of California as a hazardous substance, though it was removed from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‎’s list of hazardous air pollutants in 1994.

    Also see: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts118.html

    No carcinogenicity studies on 2-butoxyethanol and 2-butoxyethanol acetate are available in people or animals.

    > I doubt if this matters, but, I have about 10 mintues to kill…

    ==> Finally, Eastman Kodak noted that the following factors should be considered by EPA in assessing the CMA/GEP-sponsored inhalation teratology study of 2-butoxyethanol in rats: “the severe maternal toxicity produced, the lack of a dose-related response and the low incidence of. effects seen in the [CMA/GEP] study, as well as
    the negative results from the NIOSH study, the known toxicity of
    2-butoxyethanol in adult male and non-pregnant female rats, and
    [the chemical’s] vapor pressure.”

    Submission Evaluation
    Although the submitted findings indicate that 2-butoxyethanol did
    produce some degree of maternal toxicity in the CMA/GEP-sponsored
    teratology study, EPA does not believe that 2-butoxyethanol pro-
    duced “severe” maternal toxicity in the study. One of the most
    common major manifestations of severe maternal toxicity in this
    type of study is a significant weight change (usually seen as a
    decrease) in exposed versus controL dams.

    > That crap is from here:

    PA 560/2-85-001
    March 1985

    JANUARY 1, 1983 TO DECEMBER 31, 1984
    Office of Toxic Substances
    Office of pesticides and Toxic Substances
    Washington, D.C. 20460
    WASHINGTON, D.C. 20460

    > So inclosing, it looks to me that EPA has about one very old, very shitty study on inhalation of this crap that they are allowing BP to pump into our eco system …. I could be wrong … but please provide me with details!

  21. Hoagey

    There has been a lot of focus on $$$ compensation, and not on stopping the oil flow. Of course BP is to blame, and should pay compensation, but it’s not just the federal government and any over-sight regulatory bodies, but local government. There are inherent risks in offshore oil drilling, and the dangers are all too well known. If you allow it to happen off your coast, be prepared for an environmental catastrophe, and accept some of the responsibility for it. The US is known the world over for its highly litigious climate, and BP will be bracing for that battle. Go after BP, but don’t allow drilling off your coast unless you accept some of the responsibility.

    1. Doc Holiday


      Re: “There are inherent risks in offshore oil drilling, and the dangers are all too well known. If you allow it to happen off your coast, be prepared for an environmental catastrophe, and accept some of the responsibility for it.”

      > Exactly, I agree totally and the big driver in this equation is short-term cash that gets connected to short-term employment. How many oil workers cashed in with exxon near Valdez, and what did they contribute the stability of that area?

      The GOM looks like a big party with everyone either stripping the ocean of food, minerals or oil –and their mentality is generational, as father and son go about the business of mindless destruction — while their daughters …. oh never mind.

      People do need to take pride in the environments they live in and not be so short-sighted and fall into the trap of short-term gains. I guess this whole catch-22 gets back to the current recession, the double-dip and the reality that America has sold out and that the future looks bleak for most of us. The climate of deregulation and Bush’ism decay has left most of us in shock — and the good people of the gulf that want the oil party to start back up, better think ahead to next year, when there may not be much in the way of seafood or oil jobs.

      What are they gonna do with their economy … produce massive quantities of methamphetamine and hope that no one cares? Party on dudes!

      This rant has not been peer reviewed …

      BP Oil Spill: Regulators Watched Porn, Used Meth

  22. Hugh

    “Regardless of how BP did with the oil spill disaster, it probably is a pretty well governed company, with a balanced and responsible board.”

    That is as inadvertently funny as it is revealing of the BS nature of the ratings process that produced it. It ignores BP’s prior disasters and its long history of regulatory violations. It reminds me of those inevitable interviews we see in the media with the neighbors of the most recently discovered serial killer: “He was a very nice man when he wasn’t out chopping up people, very quiet.”

  23. Doc Holiday

    U.S. EPA’s integrated risk information system (IRIS) assessment of 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) indicates that the human carcinogenic potential of EGBE cannot be determined at this time, but that “suggestive evidence” for cancer exists from laboratory animal studies…

    From: U.S. EPA’s IRIS assessment of 2-butoxyethanol: the relationship of noncancer to cancer effects

    Available online 7 December 2004.



    Bottom-line, EPA is full of crap and BP is getting away with murder! Sorry to beat a dead horse …. but I have less and less faith in the FDA, EPA, NOAA, NASA and America!

  24. Mary

    The issue of corporate culture and practice ought to be examined thoroughly, not only for BP but for other huge corporations that interact intimately with government.

    Donating interesting amounts to political campaigns can pay off many times over in subsidies, in government purchases, and in government regulations that favor one player over others and that favor elites over small people.

    BP’s issues go beyond its CEO and should go into an examination of director behaviors.

    Did the BP directors not know about previous criminal convictions for safety violations? Did they not know because management did not tell them and they did not do independent research on the issue?

    Did they not know about Alaska pipeline breaks because of lack of maintenance? Did they not know about the 15 deaths and 170 injured in Texas City?

    Who are the directors and what do their other connections plug in to?

    While BP had transparency about investing in solar, was this a cover for insufficient maintenance in other areas?

    Chevron had to adjourn its annual meeting because it could not stop shareholders representing substantial investment from bringing up issues and votes that addressed issues of environmental and human damage.

    Caterpillar’s profits from Israeli destruction has triggered protests from groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace, whose participants AIPAC diss in the press. Youthful Jewish and Islamic groups together are part of a campaign for divestment and for boycotts against war profiteering.

    BP at one point provided 80% of the fuel for the U.S. military, which is why a debarment counsel did not debar them. She feared debarment would trigger an emergency claim by the military, which could have resulted in less oversight than what was going on at the time. Jean Pascal, former debarment counsel at the EPA’s Seattle office called BP, “the most retaliatory company I have ever dealt with.” Source: truthout. So much for substantive transparency at BP.

    If you eject or harm whistleblowers, your bragging rights concerning transparency lack credibility.

    The EPA has ejected whistleblowers while coddling burrowed-in, revolving-door characters. This could be another bubble that could get beyond the cronies’ ability to contain.

    Just take a look at who is supposed to be protecting food safety, for more cases on point.

  25. Guest

    the yacht race is sponsored by JP Morgan

    and here is a Yacht race video from AP

    here is a video of dispersants being dispersed


    here is the June 4 “endorsement” for the use of dispersants by scientists:


    (summary, they’re safe and effective)

    and here is what the lead scientist of that meeting (Dr. Nancy Kinner) said at the beginning of May about dispersants in the New York Times.


    (summary – we have no clue about their impact)

    and here is a check for $500 million from BP to various Oceanographic and Marine Studies institutions – note those and other institutions receive hundreds of million in funding through off shore oil and gas lease royalties


    and here is an example of the politics of this disaster even in its early days


  26. Doc Holiday

    Toxicology & Carcinogenesis Studies of 2-Butoxyethanol

    See: Concise International Chemical Assessment Document 67

    World Health Organization

    Geneva, 2005


    The majority of toxicological investigations with 2-butoxyethanol have been conducted in rats, in which the most sensitive target tissue is the blood.

    In view of the extensive database that indicates that 2-butoxyethanol is haematotoxic in multiple laboratory species and the limited evidence of changes in haematological parameters in occupationally and incidentally exposed humans, 2-butoxyethanol is considered likely to be haematotoxic in humans.

    See: A substance, especially one produced by a bacterium, that destroys red blood cells. Also called hematotoxin.

  27. Doc Holiday

    50 retards say dispersant safe as a BP payoff:

    The meeting, titled “Deepwater Horizon Dispersant Use Meeting”, was attended by over 50 scientists, engineers and spill response practitioners from numerous organizations,
    including: U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), Mineral Management Service (MMS), National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), industry, state government, and academia.

    > Prove your research kids — don’t bullshit people about dispersants. There are no studies on this and people like that are hyping safety are a hazard to our health!

    > See haematotoxic conclusion above and do some more DD!

  28. sad day

    More than 300 turtles have been found dead over the past month between Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Further testing will be done to determine what happened to the turtle.

    I’m sure they were just involved in boating accidents ….

  29. Ronald

    Despite the continued struggle to stop the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the plurality (48%) of Likely Voters in California still favor offshore oil drilling, according to a Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the state.
    Thirty-eight percent (38%) are opposed to offshore oil drilling, while 14% more are undecided. Although a solution in the Gulf is yet to be discovered, support for offshore drilling among California voters is up slightly from early April, when 44% favored such drilling.
    Still, the number of voters who favor offshore oil drilling in California is 10 points lower than the level measured nationally.
    Seventy-three percent (73%) of Republicans support offshore oil drilling, a view shared by just 29% of Democrats. Among voters not affiliated with either major political party, 48% support drilling, while 39% are opposed.
    (Want a free daily e-mail update? If it’s in the news, it’s in our polls). Rasmussen Reports updates are also available on Twitter or Facebook.

  30. Statistical_guru

    Seventy-three percent (73%) of Republicans support offshore oil drilling, and as for the other 27% of Republicans that have obtained high school diplomas, they are undecided.

  31. Phoenix Woman

    The FT, when it comes down to it, is going to side with corporations over people. So are the other Tories and their media pals, both in the UK and the US (ours being known as “Republicans”).

    They will keep banging both the “Lay off BP or the Grannies Get It” and the “Poor BP needs a taxpayer bailout” drums until they are no longer politically useful.

  32. TimboR

    Well, you should be happy about the very strong criticism the BP executives have received and the setting up of the fund.

    Tony Hayward and Carl-Henric Svanberg have been metaphorically divested of their Savile Row Pinstripes, robbed of their designer ties and stripped of their thousand dollar Italian shoes and paraded barefoot and humbled in sack-cloth before the world. It will be a long time before they step once again into those shoes and suits.

    There isn’t much left of their arrogance.

  33. Ronald

    Nor is the tide itself really much to count on. Repetition is rarely the exact science we imagine. The mathematics of the tide are imprecise, its rise and fall influenced by the angle of the sea bed, the depth of a channel or width of the bay at its mouth. It’s good to be reminded of this–that every time we think we can measure the world, know its shape or how it moves, some new dimension is presented to us to throw our calculations off.” The Ecology of Uncertainty, Akiko Busch

  34. Siggy

    There is much philosophy put forth in this stream. Most of it is pointless. A small number of people made some very poor decisions. The decisions are so poor as quite probably being criminaly negligent.

    Rather than a Congressional hearing we would be better served by a maritime board of inquiry and by a criminal prosecution.

    Cultural and politcal predispositions are not a consideration here. The probability of criminal negligence by specific individuals is the issue at hand. To worry about philosophical positions is waste energy on that which will not provide remediation nor preventive regulation.

  35. Kathee Rebernak

    I’m curious, Yves, as to why you did not name or source the quote from your colleague who aggregates corporate responsibility rankings.

    By not digging deep and asking the right questions, and by helping to throw the focus on one aspect of sustainability — say, environment — over other equally important and intricately connected aspects such as safety and human rights, many of these rankings organizations perpetuate the myth that companies such as BP are responsible enterprises.

    Indeed, companies are trying to figure out how to get on these rankings lists. We tell them that they must integrate transparency and accountability into business strategy, which requires organizational and cultural change. And while the rankings have limited value (let’s save the discussion of their opaque and ever-changing methodologies for another day), it’s only systemic accountability within the the company that will bring lasting value.

    Some listen and begin the hard work of change. Others prefer to sit and spin.

    See our research on the topic: http://frameworkcr.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Where-sustainability-lives.pdf

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The big reason is his site is a aggregator. He is not responsible for, nor did he prepare the scores of the various companies. His site is in alpha and it aggregates the rankings of I believe 8 CSR ratings firms, all well regarded players (and I am under the impression they represent a high % of CSR raters).

      So if I were to publish his name, he’d be the object of vilification, when the fault lies with the underlying ratings firms. Sorta like yelling at a pollster for poll results.

      I did tell him that BP’s high ratings said there were serious problems with the methodologies. He replied (basically) that this was all ex post facto stuff, he was sure this was merely an “accident,” BP was a well run company. I pointed him to the OSHA info with BP’s awful record on safety and suggested he might need to rethink his views, that none of the metrics looked at the safety of operations as far as workers and the broader community was concerned, and this represented an opportunity for him.

      I haven’t heard back. Now that more has come out about BP’s corner-cutting, he may have changed his views.

      1. Namazu

        Doesn’t this challenge the whole notion of CSR ratings, and even the more “sophisticated” versions?


        Anything deemed a high priority is at risk of becoming a CEO priority. The lure of a KBE and invitations to Davos can be pretty attractive compared to the remedial organizational and operational work BP apparently needed. People like your CSR colleague are more malleable than the laws of physics. I’d suggest that anyone involved in the CSR rating game should visit the Gulf and read the original Milton Friedman essay on the trip each way. A sunflower logo isn’t worth crap if you can’t get the oil into the tanker.

  36. James

    This is actually an extremely informative post, I’d say the comments section is as usual full of trolling, but for what it’s worth I’d say that BP and our government, from Obama to old man Bush have had way too close a tie. Most of this really sounds like chin music these days, and we’ll see where the finger pointing gets us once it actually comes time for BP to pony up the dough.


  37. Rev. Daniel W. Blair

    As we enter one of the most aggressive hurricane seasons on record, I cannot even imagine what a hurricane would do with oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Dealing with oil on the beach is one thing, but what if we had to deal with it in our streets, in our businesses, in our homes? What if we had to rescue humans covered in oil? What if this is no longer isolated to just the Gulf Coast but found its way up the great rivers to our inner cities? Now imagine if you will, the dispersants mixed with oil which could possibly cause untold diseases and catastrophic health hazards of a biblical proportion. It staggers the imagination, or is it prophetic? What if we are dealing with the wrath of God? See my blog at http://www.danielsblog.org

  38. FreeTexasNow

    I have saved a copy of this thread. Never in the history of the blogsphere have I seen so much hot air blown by a few self-righteous idiots who can see their own position clearly but refuse to open their minds to others who may have good points. Hang in there, Debra. Of course we are all responsible.

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