The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Fox News and NPR are all reporting U.S. prosecutors are preparing a criminal case against BP employees following the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig and the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.
The prosecutors, according to WSJ, are aiming for Houston-based engineers and at least one BP supervisor. Prosecutors are leaning on evidence that those BP employees may have given drilling regulators false information about the deepwater drilling risks.
Last year, the Guardian speculated "what if" the business end of Big Oil faced felony charges for its accidents. The question was prompted after Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the administration's end of a temporary drilling moratorium, before any Oil Spill Commission reports or internal investigations revealed any of their findings — a free pass to Big Oil on their word that they'd addressed the problem. So, "what if?"
NPR's Carrie Johnson reported that the U.S. Department of Justice task force investigating the disaster, led by Brooklyn prosecutor John Buretta, is deciding whether to prosecute, and engineers already are lawyering up. (In September, DOJ officials announced the department was looking into whether BP properly reported pressure measurements during drilling.) In February, BP will enter trial anyway, to determine liability for the explosion that killed 11 men. Meanwhile, the company faces stacks of lawsuits for compensation not addressed by its claims process.
In this week's cover story, I talked to the Steve Duin and Shannon Wheeler, author and illustrator of Oil and Water, a mostly nonfiction graphic novel about a group visiting the Gulf of Mexico last year — days after the Deepwater Horizon well had been capped.
The group, part of the real-life PDX 2 Gulf Coast project, was condensed from its 22 participants to 10 characters, and they quickly realize the oil disaster is a much larger and more complex problem than they believed. Duin and Wheeler were part of the real-life group, and Wheeler sketched and painted more than 300 pages over his 10 day tour across the coast.
After the jump: Wheeler, a New Yorker cartoonist and creator of the award-winning Too Much Coffee Man, shares his thoughts and some of his collection of sketches and paintings, from the Lower 9th Ward and French Quarter to people and places in coastal communities.
... followed with Galatoire's owner Bill Kearney approaching the camera, saying "all because so many people wanted to visit us — in Louisiana."
BP America announced on its Facebook page yesterday that it's "expanding its Gulf Coast tourism advertising campaign with new ads highlighting 2011's successful tourism season. ... Part of BP's ongoing commitment to support economic restoration on the Gulf Coast, the ad highlights 2011 as the best Gulf Coast tourism season in years and will be part of an integrated television, online and social media campaign."
The ad, another in a series of ads like "Great Vacation" and "Best Place," is peppered with lines promoting Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. "This was the Gulf's best tourism season in years," says one anonymous ad man. "Sun's out, and the water's beautiful!" "Anyone who knows the Gulf knows winter is primetime fun time."
The Big Fix has its U.S. premiere tonight at the Prytania Theater, but filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell were joined by the film's subjects at the Contemporary Arts Center this afternoon to introduce the film. It's a necessary intro, as the film drops a bomb on BP and authorities, dropped by a seemingly quiet couple who previously worked on a documentary about clean energy solutions. "We didn't make the movie to pass judgement on an industry, we didn't make the movie to say 'Oil industry should get out of Louisiana' or people shouldn't keep their jobs. We made the movie because what had been done had been covered up and continues to be covered up," said Josh Tickell, a Louisiana native. "Now it's up to you to take this story and tell it in a courageous way that doesn't step over the evidence that shows this man-made disaster isn't over. In may ways it's just begun."
Tickell was joined by attorney Stuart Smith, as well as Hugh Kaufman, an EPA policy analyst who blew the whistle on the effects of Corexit as an oil dispersant in the Gulf as well as 9/11 cleanup workers being exposed to toxins. Dean Blanchard, owner of Blanchard Seafood and is profiled in the film, lamented the past worst shrimp season ever. "Our beach on Grand Isle was one of the most fertile fishing grounds," he said. "Now it's producing less than 1 percent of the shrimp it produced before BP." Blanchard also is concerned about the health of the shrimp and fish in his catch — they got the government's OK, but Blanchard lost his liability insurance, "so every night, when I ship out a load of seafood ... I got a big fear I might harm somebody."
The Big Fix's cold open starts years before the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion on April 20, 2010. Archive footage illustrates how the company then-named British Petroleum, aided by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the CIA and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, wrangled control of Iran's government and retained rights to its plentiful oil fields. The Islamic revolution, in part a response to the Western seizure of Iran, ended BP's occupation — leaving the documentary to consider where else BP would need to go to support its oil habits: The Gulf of Mexico.
What follows is nothing new, synthesizing the last year of oil disaster coverage — from its victims living on the coast, impacts to their health and wellbeing, impacts to wildlife, bumbling media coverage, lack of media coverage, denied media access, seafood safety, the countdown "soap opera" drama, Tony Hayward and the inevitable transfer of power, the oil's return... a dizzying display of corporate defiance, government ineptitude and flat-out lies and deceptions, all stacked into a two-hour block for national and international viewers. It has the makings of a conspiracy thriller, but clearly this is for a disaster we know is real, ongoing, and has nothing working against it.
Louisiana native Josh Tickell and with his wife Rebecca direct the film, a sort of follow up to their 2008 doc Fuel, which had its New Orleans release in June 2010. Tickell takes the same celebrity players along for the ride to south Louisiana: Peter Fonda and Amy Smart visit shrimpers, residents, captains and beaches. Tickell narrates, but frequently the film gets personal — hidden cameras, sneaking onto beaches, and Rebecca experiencing symptoms doctor-diagnosed as chemical exposure following several boat trips in dispersant-sprayed waterways.
The film takes a step back and evaluates just how much influence oil and gas companies have on national politics. From post-Kingfish Louisiana to the "revolving door" policy (a la the John Breaux-Trent Lott lobby group) to campaign contributions — a network of clear-cut influence from Big Oil into Washington D.C. and elsewhere, while oil companies stomp out legislation for environmental and regulatory oversight, leaving companies like BP to get away with as much as possible with as little interference as possible. We know the consequences. The Gulf Waterkeeper Alliance just released its 2011 State of the Gulf report, counting millions of gallons of oil and gas discharged into Gulf waters from September 2010 to September 2011. BP plugged its leaking well in August 2010.
For all its messy imagery and oftentimes hamfisted civil rights rallying cries, The Big Fix is a massively important film, if only because, as American Zombie writes, it "may be the best opportunity we have to get the truth out about the reality of this oil spill." Rolling Stone contributor Jeff Goddell says we need so badly a wakeup call — and if this disaster isn't big enough, what the hell is?
The film screens tonight at 8:45 p.m. at the Prytania Theater, and again 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19 at Chalmette Movies. Tickets are available online for the Wednesday screening.
When Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, was denied last month from meeting with officials from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), he said the agency was acting "like the CIA and the Gestapo." He later defended his choice of words, and today, Landry, along with U.S. Sen. David Vitter, got that meeting — an almost two-hour long discussion at the agency's office in Elmwood.
Following the morning meeting with BOEMRE officials (including director Michael Bromwich), Landry and Vitter set up a press announcement outside the building, with a podium and placards dramatically illustrating the economic impact of denied oil drilling permits. Landry and Vitter both agree that getting those permits (and the hundreds of jobs they'll create) is pivotal for creating more jobs and alleviating a federal deficit.
"The purpose of this meeting is to make sure the information given to us in Washington is the same going on here as well," Landry said. "And how we as legislators can help to address the lack of permitting going on in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon incident. We hope it’s a step in the right direction to getting the Gulf back up and running and people back to work."
Vitter, a regular Landry supporter and political partner, said the meeting was an attempt to "bridge a huge gap in terms of the reality we live in and feel every day along the Gulf coast in terms of our energy industry, and what our administration led by first the president of course and Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, and Michael Bromwich, who was in the meeting today, keep talking about." Vitter pointed to a chart that referenced the election of President Barack Obama and hiring of Salazar — a red arrow dropped from nearly $20 billion in federal revenue in 2008 to zero by 2011. Another chart showed oil lease sale revenue collapse from nearly $10 billion in 2008 to zero by 2011. A map showed oil leases fleeing the Gulf to a dozen other countries. "These are great American jobs we need to preserve and build here," Vitter said. "As these two charts illustrate, it’s major revenue for the federal government to help with lessening deficit and debt. (It's the) second biggest source of revenue (for) the federal government after only federal income tax."
But the meeting wasn't that productive. Vitter said Bromwich wasn't ready to respond to a list of questions about permitting, and the pair did not address securing environmental protection and fishing jobs in the Gulf. (Landry later told Gambit, when asked how to ensure both a speedy permitting process and environmental health, "The first thing I want to ensure is everybody has a job.")
In July, a bipartisan group of Gulf Coast senators introduced the RESTORE Act, which, they promised, would ensure 80 percent of the fines BP incurs from Clean Water Act violations for the Gulf oil disaster would be divvied among states on the Gulf Coast — rather than the feds.
The act passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and now makes its way to the Senate floor.
"This is the most important step Congress can take to ensure that the Gulf Coast recovers from the economic and ecological destruction caused by the oil spill,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu in a statement. “By directing BP penalty money back to the states that are dealing with the clean-up and restoration from this devastating spill, we help ensure that the Gulf Coast continues to thrive for decades to come." Landrieu also thanked Sen. David Vitter, who co-sponsored the bill.
Meanwhile, Rep. Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, defended his statement that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) is "like the CIA and the Gestapo" when he wasn't able to meet with BOEMRE staff to discuss stalled drilling permits. He defended his choice of words to Politico:
I mean at the end of the day it's a term referencing how the actions are being out there. ... I mean I'm not going to get into this political niceness. You know, it's a fact. The man is not allowing U.S. congressmen to visit their offices. There's something wrong with that. ... The people in my district are suffering down there. I've got no apologies, if anything (BOEMRE director Michael Bromwich) owes me and the people in my district an apology. ...It is what's wrong with Washington in the federal bureaucracy. We — the people of my district along with every other United States citizen — pays their check. It isn't the other way around. No apologies."
In a letter to Landry, Bromwich was none too pleased with being compared to a Nazi: "Your comparison of the minor inconvenience you experienced to the tactics and methods of the Nazi secret police is simply unacceptable from anyone, but especially from a public official.”
Godwin's law states that any discussion or argument ultimately will reduce itself to "Well, you're a Nazi," or, "Well, that makes you Hitler." Apparently we've reached that point in the drilling debate.
When reports surfaced last week of a possible oil sheen in the Gulf of Mexico, there was speculation concerning the return of oil from the Macondo well, the source that leaked millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf last year.
Louisiana State University chemists Ed Overton and Scott Miles tested samples of the oil, collected by Alabama's Press-Register. What'd they find? Overton sounds pretty certain — BP is back:
After examining the data, I think it’s a dead ringer for the MC252 oil, as good a match as I’ve seen. ... My guess is that it is probably coming from the broken riser pipe or sunken platform. ... However, it should be confirmed, just to make sure there is no leak from the plugged well.
Last week, BP spokesman Daren Beaudo told CBS News that the company sent submersibles to investigate the source of the oil but said "it couldn't have been from anything of ours."
While sheens regularly appear throughout the Gulf from "seepage" and its more than 20,000 rigs and pipelines, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jonathon Burton told the Press-Register that by matching the collected oil to the Macondo oil, that it rules out the "possibility of other sources, such as the pipelines that crisscross the Gulf floor. ... The good news is it looks as if we’ve ruled out any significant source. ... We certainly need to see if we can pinpoint the cause.”
In a statement to the Press-Register, BP said there's no evidence the oil came from the Macondo well.
Well, there's another topic of discussion for tomorrow's Rising Tide conference. I'll be moderating a panel recapping the events of the disaster, and what we can expect to see in the months and years to come. Joining the panel is the Times-Picayune's David Hammer and Bob Marshall, blogger Drake Toulouse, Louisiana Bucket Brigade director Anne Rolfes, and LA Coast Post writer Dr. Len Bahr.
A bipartisan group in the Senate today called for Clean Water Act fines for last year's oil disaster be distributed among Gulf Coast states. The RESTORE Act, they proposed, would set up a Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, backed by 80 percent of the penalties paid by BP and other responsible parties in the oil disaster.
According to Sen. Mary Landrieu and Sen. David Vitter, both co-sponsors, 35 percent of the funds would be shared across the states (and specific to "restore our ecosystem and support our travel, tourism and seafood industries that were devastated by the spill"), while 60 percent goes to a "Federal-State Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council." The remaining 5 percent would set up a Science and Technology program through Centers of Excellence focusing on coastal restoration, fisheries, offshore energy research and development, commercial development, and "port, harbor, and waterway construction and maintenance."
The current provision would distribute — ahem — 100 percent of fines to the feds, for future oil spill mitigation.
Not only is the RESTORE Act a massive bipartisan, multi-state effort, it also was a "duh" recommendation from the National Oil Spill Commission, which determined yes, in addition to the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, the Gulf obviously, and deservedly, benefits from the fines. (The several billions of dollars BP would likely have to pay wouldn't make much of a dent in the gazillion-dollar national deficit, anyway.) Their conclusion:
Congress—recognizing that dedicated, sustained funding is necessary to accomplish long-term Gulf of Mexico ecosystem restoration—should direct 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties imposed for the spill to support implementation of a region-wide restoration strategy. Directing such payments to the Gulf could, for the next 10 years, provide significant funding.
In a statement, Emily Woglom, director of government relations with the Ocean Conservancy, applauded the bill's endowment for a long-term Gulf research program, saying, "This is simply about fairness for the Gulf."
Citing low number of claimant visits, Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) offices in Grand Isle, Lafitte and Morgan City will close June 1 and be "consolidated" to other offices in Louisiana.
The Grand Isle office will be consolidated to the office in Cut Off (16263 E. Main St. in the Tarpon Heights Shopping Center); the Lafitte office will move to the Gretna office (2701 Manhattan Blvd., Suite 12A); and the Morgan City office will move to the New Iberia office (956 S. Lewis St.).
Employees working at the closing offices will be reassigned to another GCCF office.
In an email to Gambit, Amy Weiss with Point Blank Public Affairs, which represents claims processor Kenneth Feinberg, writes, "The consolidation of these offices continues the effort of the GCCF to optimize and provide the most efficient way to assist claimants by consolidating and reassigning our most knowledgeable staff with experience in GCCF processes and procedures to the busiest GCCF Claims Office facilities experiencing the highest volume and frequency of visiting claimants."
One office in Alabama and four offices in Florida also will be consolidated to other GCCF offices in those states.
"After a comprehensive review of the 35 GCCF site offices throughout the Gulf, the GCCF has decided to close 8 of the claims offices throughout the Gulf region," says Camille Biros with Feinberg-Rozen law firm, in an email to Gambit.
Check the GCCF site for a full list of closures.
A full list of Louisiana claims facilities is below the jump.
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