Monday, May 10, 2010

Its always an "accident"

“Clearly, what happened on the Deepwater Horizon was a tragic accident,” said BP spokesman John Curry .

Once more a region of the world faces an environmental disaster due to an "accident". Yet , we read , BP, the global oil giant responsible for the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, is no stranger to major accidents.

In March 2005, a massive explosion ripped through a tower at BP's refinery in Texas City, Texas, killing 15 workers and injuring 170 others. Investigators later determined that the company had ignored its own protocols on operating the tower, which was filled with gasoline, and that a warning system had been disabled.The company pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and was fined more than $50 million.

In 2006 some 4,800 barrels of oil had leaked into the Alaskan snow through a tiny hole in the company's pipeline in Prudhoe Bay. BP had been warned to check the pipeline in 2002, but hadn't, according to a report in Fortune. When it did inspect it, four years later, it found that a six-mile length of pipeline was corroded.BP faced $12 million in fines for a violation of the federal Water Pollution Control Act. A congressional committee determined that BP had ignored opportunities to prevent the spill and that "draconian" cost-saving measures had led to shortcuts in its operation.

In this oil pollution incident in the Gulf of Mexico there are indications that BP and Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig that burned and sank, could have used backup safety gear-- a remote acoustic switch that would stanch the flow of oil from a leaking well 5,000 feet underwater -- to prevent the massive spill now floating like a slow-motion train wreck toward the Mississippi and Louisiana coastline. The switch isn't required under U.S. law, but is well-known in the industry and mandated in other parts of the world where BP operates.

As recently as last year in BP operations had been exempted by the government from an environmental review as required by the National Environmental Policy Act on the assurances by BP that there was no possible danger of any adverse environmental issues, that it is very unlikely a spill will occur and that it’s unlikely a spill will reach shore. The explosion left 11 men presumed dead aboard the rig and caused the massive underwater gusher that the company and the federal government have been trying to cap since late April. An estimated 210,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of crude is pouring out from the well every day.

Capitalism, with its emphasis on profit and short-term considerations, provides fertile ground for accidents and disasters of various kinds. It also means that any accidents which do happen are likely to be more serious and harmful than would otherwise be the case. Cutting corners and ignoring safety matters is part and parcel of a profit-oriented system.

1 comment:

Andy said...

Apparently the Russians call such things "technogenic catastrophes". Far more honest use of language.

This underwater Chernobyl is no more an accident than when a crack-crazed speed freak wipes out a bus queue with a stolen Ferrari.