See more photos of the Gulf oil disaster at the Houston Chronicle.
Good Morning Sky Dancers!!
BP went on trial over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster on Monday, after the failure of efforts to reach a last-minute settlement.
US district judge Carl Barbier opened proceedings in New Orleans with a warning that it would be a “lengthy trial”….
The trial is designed to identify the causes of BP’s well blowout and assign percentages of fault to the companies. That will help determine how much more each has to pay for their roles in the environmental catastrophe.
Months of negotiations have failed to produce a settlement that could have averted the trial.
BP has said it already has racked up more than $24bn in spill-related expenses and has estimated it will pay a total of $42bn to fully resolve its liability for the disaster that killed 11 workers and spewed millions of gallons of oil.
But the trial attorneys for the federal government and Gulf states and private plaintiffs hope to convince the judge that the company is liable for much more.
The Guardian quotes Columbia law professor John Coffee as saying that there could still be a settlement, because BP obviously does not want to deal with the adverse publicity that would go along with a month’s long trial with damaging information about the company in the headlines day after day.
Read live tweets from the trial by Dominic Rush of the Guardian here.
Bloomberg Businessweek reports: BP, Transocean Accused of ‘Reckless’ Actions in Spill.
The mishandling of an oil-rig safety test by BP Plc (BP/) and Transocean Ltd. (RIG) officials was a major cause of an explosion that led to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, lawyers for the U.S. and spill victims said at a trial.
BP and Transocean supervisors’ failure to properly interpret results of a pressure test on the Macondo well off the coast of Louisiana cost 11 rig workers their lives and sent millions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf, Michael Underhill, a U.S. Justice Department lawyer, and Jim Roy, an attorney for plaintiffs suing the companies, told a judge yesterday.
“BP put profits before people, profits before safety and profits before the environment,” Underhill said in opening statements that began this morning [Monday] in New Orleans in a trial before U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing litigation over the spill….
BP executives’ “missteps and reckless decisions” about the safety test were prompted by pressure to generate billions in profits regardless of the costs, Underhill said in his statement.
Read the entire Bloomberg article for an excellent summary of the issues in the case.
Through their attorneys, BP, Transocean, and Halliburton pointed fingers at each other. NOLA.com:
Opening day at the long-awaited civil trial against BP and its partners in the ill-fated Macondo oil well at times sounded like a group of youngsters blaming everyone but themselves for a bad deed. That’s not an unexpected beginning in the first phase of a federal trial aimed at determining each of the companies’ financial liability for the accident.
The trial at the federal courthouse in New Orleans began Monday morning with opening arguments by Plaintiff Steering Committee attorneys, representing private parties who sued BP and its partners for damages; the U.S. Justice Department; and the states of Louisiana and Alabama, whose attorneys outlined their views of how the accident occurred and whether BP or any of its partners were guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct, which could result in an eventual four-fold increase in fines under the Clean Water Act and the awarding of punitive damages for the private plaintiffs….
The federal, state and private party attorneys took aim at BP, which owned the drilling lease for the Macondo well; Transocean, which owned and staffed the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon drilling rig; and Halliburton, which provided an unusual, lightweight cement that was used to block the flow of oil in the well.
Among the recurring story lines and accusations:
That BP made the ultimate decisions for drilling operations on the Deepwater Horizon rig, was more concerned with profits than safety as it ran behind schedule and over-budget on the well, and that BP rig supervisors botched a crucial safety test before the April 2010 drilling-platform explosion;
That Transocean had not properly trained its crew, which missed clear signals that a blowout was about to occur;
That Halliburton’s use of a cement made lightweight with nitrogen bubbles was known to be risky, and the mixture did not succeed in sealing the well.
Other takes on the opening of the trial:
Wall Street Journal: Accusations Fly as Trial Over Gulf Oil Spill Begins
Transocean, which owned the drilling rig, failed to train its crews properly and didn’t maintain key safety equipment, said Jim Roy, a lawyer for hundreds of businesses suing the energy companies that were drilling the ill-fated well.
Brad Brian, a lawyer for Transocean, said that wasn’t true, noting that the Coast Guard, federal safety regulators and BP’s own management considered the Deepwater Horizon rig “what ‘good’ looked like.”
Michael Underhill, the Justice Department’s lead civil attorney, focused on a last-minute conversation between BP engineers on the rig and onshore that he said showed that the oil giant acted with gross negligence. The rig was not reviewed by hydraulic engineer to ensure that everything is safe.
But BP attorney Mike Brock argued the accident was caused by many mistakes made by all the parties aboard the rig, which exploded in April 2010, killing 11 workers and unleashing the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. “There were a number of mistakes and errors in judgment that were made by BP, Transocean and Halliburton,” Mr. Brock said.
Energy giant BP, behind schedule and $50 million over budget drilling a deep-water well, emphasized cost-cutting over safety, causing the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, lawyers said Monday as the company’s high-stakes civil trial began.
Lawyers used PowerPoint presentations to provide a dramatic recounting of the April 20, 2010, explosion and fire in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 crew members. Workers were preparing to temporarily cap the Macondo well 4,100 feet underwater when it blew up. The 30-story drilling vessel about 50 miles offshore burned for two days before crumpling into the gulf.
The resulting spill of more than 4 million barrels of oil damaged the waters and economies of five states. And the responsible party was BP, according to the lawyers representing the federal government, Gulf Coast states and private parties.
One of the biggest questions facing U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is hearing the case without a jury, is whether BP acted with gross negligence.
Under the Clean Water Act, a polluter can be forced to pay a minimum of $1,100 per barrel of spilled oil; the fines nearly quadruple to about $4,300 a barrel for companies found grossly negligent, meaning BP could be on the hook for nearly $18 billion.
The judge plans to hold the trial in at least two phases. The first phase, which could last three months, is designed to determine what caused the blowout and assign percentages of blame to the companies involved. The second phase will determine how much crude spilled into the Gulf.
The issues in the case are “massive” and “complex.”
Hundreds of attorneys have worked on the case, generating roughly 90 million pages of documents, logging nearly 9,000 docket entries and taking more than 300 depositions from witnesses who could testify at trial.
“In terms of sheer dollar amounts and public attention, this is one of the most complex and massive disputes ever faced by the courts,” said Fordham University law professor Howard Erichson, an expert in complex litigation.
The trial continues today.
AP via the Houston Chronicle: 1st witness to testify in Gulf oil spill trial
A University of California-Berkeley engineer who played a prominent role in investigating levee breeches in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina is scheduled to be the first witness Tuesday at a trial involving another Gulf Coast catastrophe: the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Robert Bea, an expert witness for the plaintiffs who sued BP PLC and other companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, will share his theories about what caused BP’s Macondo well to blow out on April 20, 2010, provoking an explosion on the Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and spewed an estimated 172 millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf.
Bea’s testimony was scheduled for the second day of a civil trial that could result in the oil company and its partners being forced to pay billions of dollars more in damages. The case went to trial Monday after attempts to reach an 11th-hour settlement failed.
The second witness scheduled is BP America president Lamar McKay.
The high-ranking executive is likely to discuss corporate decisions that were made during the disaster. It was not clear if there would be time for his testimony Tuesday. Other BP officials were expected to give videotaped testimony.
In pretrial depositions and in a report, Bea argued along with another consultant that BP showed a disregard for safety throughout the company and was reckless — the same arguments made in opening statements Monday by attorneys for the U.S. government and individuals and businesses hurt by the spill.
Attorneys for BP tried to block Bea’s testimony, accusing him of analyzing documents and evidence “spoon-fed” to him by plaintiffs lawyers. BP accused Bea and another expert, William Gale, a California-based fire and explosion investigator and consultant, of ignoring the “safety culture of the other parties” involved in the spill, in particular Transocean Ltd., the drilling company running operations aboard the Deepwater Horizon.
It should be fascinating to follow this case, and I’m really hoping there won’t be a settlement. A trial could bring out valuable information that we haven’t heard about so far.
I thought the BP trial deserved its own post, but please consider this an open thread and post freely about any topic in the comments.
There are lots of interesting books coming out this month, so thought I’d preview a few of them. I pre-ordered the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Passage of Power, which comes out today. I have the first two volumes, and I admit they’ve just been sitting on my bookshelf for years unread. I thought I might read vol. 4 first, since it covers the Kennedy assassination and Johnson’s first few years as President. Then maybe I’ll be inspired to read the earlier volumes. Caro is 77 this year. I hope he has time to finish this series, which is considered one of the greatest biographies of all time.
Another interesting book that is being released today is Steve Coll’s Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. The book is an investigation of the giant corporation beginning with the Exxon Valdez oil spill and ending with the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Salon published an excerpt from the book on Sunday.
Also coming out today is It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, by Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein. The authors had an op-ed in the Washington Post a few days ago to preview the book: Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem.
We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.
The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.
When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.
“Both sides do it” or “There is plenty of blame to go around” are the traditional refuges for an American news media intent on proving its lack of bias, while political scientists prefer generality and neutrality when discussing partisan polarization. Many self-styled bipartisan groups, in their search for common ground, propose solutions that move both sides to the center, a strategy that is simply untenable when one side is so far out of reach.
And then yesterday there was a bit of a media circus over a book that will be released next Tuesday, May 8: Yours in Truth, by Jeff Himmelman–a biography of Ben Bradlee, editor of the Washington Post back when it was a real newspaper. New York Magazine published an excerpt from the book that led to a fascinating back and forth over what I think are some pretty minor issues about the Washington Post’s Watergate coverage. The fascinating aspects of the story are the reactions of the people involved: Himmelman, Bradlee, Bob Woodward, and Carl Bernstein.
Jeff Himmelman worked for years as a research assistant to Bob Woodward, helping him with articles for the WaPo, as well as Woodward’s book Bush at War. Woodward was Himmelman’s mentor.
My office was on the third floor of Bob’s house, down the hall from the framed apology from Nixon’s press secretary that sits at the top of the staircase. I was back working as Bob’s research assistant for a few months, after having more or less lived in his house from 1999 to 2002. Bob had been my first real boss, hiring me when I was 23. I’d been with him on September 11, as he charged toward the Capitol while the plane presumably targeting it was still in the air, and had helped him begin Bush at War, the first of his blockbuster portraits of the Bush presidency that were a late turning point in his legendary career. As a reporter, I was in awe of him. I had also gotten to know Carl Bernstein, who called often and sometimes stayed in the guest bedroom on the other end of the third floor. I still remember the charge I got out of relaying Carl’s phone messages—Bernstein for Woodward.
Carl was important to Bob, but Ben Bradlee was something entirely different. Bob revered him, and so I did, too. I had only met Ben once, for a few seconds in Bob’s kitchen, but I had seen All the President’s Men. When Bob said, “I told them they should hire you,” I leaped at the chance.
Woodward’s mentor had been Ben Bradlee, long-time editor of the WaPo. So naturally when Woodward suggested Himmelman as a co-author of a memoir by Bradlee, Himmelman was thrilled. Eventually, Bradlee decided he didn’t want to write the book, but he was fine with Himmelman writing a biography. Bradlee generously opened up his archives to the young writer. All of which led up to a mini-Shakespearean tragedy.
Himmelman discovered that Bradlee had on a few occasions questioned whether Woodward’s portrayal of his relationship with Deep Throat had been embellished–perhaps the story about the signals he used to schedule meetings (using a flowerpot on Woodward’s apartment balcony, which has one of the best stainless steel juliet balconies by the way) with the mysterious source wasn’t quite true or perhaps there were more or fewer meetings in the parking garage than Woodward had described. Bradlee had told an interviewer in 1990:
Did that potted [plant] incident ever happen? … and meeting in some garage. One meeting in the garage? Fifty meetings in the garage? I don’t know how many meetings in the garage … There’s a residual fear in my soul that that isn’t quite straight.
To me, that’s a big *so what?* Those details aren’t integral to the Watergate story.
The second big revelation in yesterday’s New York Magazine article was that one of Carl Bernstein’s anonymous sources had actually been had actually been a grand juror in Judge Sirica’s investigation. If that had ever come out, Woodward and Bernstein would have been jailed. The two young reporters and Bradlee had made the decision to approach some of the grand jurors, although it would have been a crime for the jurors to reveal any of the evidence. It was risky, but frankly, I have no problem with it. Journalists should take risks. Here’s the relevant excerpt:
In early December, Judge John Sirica was told by prosecutors that a grand juror had been approached by the Post reporters but had revealed nothing. Incensed, Sirica called Woodward and Bernstein into court two weeks later and warned against any further meddling. “Had they actually obtained information from that grand juror,” he wrote later, “they would have gone to jail.” According to the Post’s lawyers, who negotiated on their behalf, Sirica almost locked them up anyway.
Before the scolding from Sirica, Bernstein visited the apartment of a woman he identified, in the book, as “Z.” She wouldn’t talk to him in person, but she slipped her number under the door. “Your articles have been excellent,” she told him, advising him to read their own reporting carefully. “There is more truth in there than you must have realized,” she said. “Your perseverance has been admirable.” She sounded, Carl thought, “like some kind of mystic.”
Through an old memo from Bernstein, Himmelman learned that this woman was actually a grand juror, although Bernstein didn’t know that when he first approached her. They used her as a source in All the President’s Men without revealing her identity. Again, I have no problem with that. No one is going to jail for this now.
But Bob Woodward especially is very upset. Bernstein is concerned, but less than Woodward, who IMHO is self-involved, pompous ass. Anyway New York Mag published a response from Woodward and Bernstein along with Himmelman’s article.
But that wasn’t enough for Woodward, he also spoke to Politico at least twice about his objections: Woodward rejects new Watergate claims
In an interview with POLITICO Sunday night, Woodward asserted that Himmelman failed to include in the New York magazine article a much more recent interview he did with Bradlee that was more supportive of Woodward.
“There’s a transcript of an interview that Himmelman did with Bradlee 18 months ago in which Ben undercuts the [New York magazine] piece. It’s amazing that it’s not in Jeff’s piece,” Woodward said. “It’s almost like the way Nixon’s tapings did him in, Jeff’s own interview with Bradlee does him in.”
According to Woodward’s reading of the transcript, Bradlee told Himmelman: “If you would ask me, do I think that [Woodward] embellished, I would say no.”
Bradlee and wife Sally Quinn also defended Woodward to Politico. Poor Woodward–stabbed in the back by his beloved protege: “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is/To have a thankless child! (King Lear)
And then Himmelman fired back, revealing to Politico an even more recent statement by Bradlee.
That interview between Bradlee and Himmelman took place on March 9, 2011, just two days after Woodward met with Bradlee and Himmelman at Bradlee’s house to encourage them not to publish the potentially damaging quotes from his 1990 interview.
In the 2011 interview, which Himmelman provided to POLITICO and are included in his forthcoming biography of Bradlee, Bradlee reiterates his initial doubts about Woodward’s reporting.
“I wanted to be crystal clear about it, so I just went ahead and asked him,” Himmelman writes. “‘You said what you said in 1990, and there’s a record of it…’”
Himmelman: “And you don’t retract it?”
Bradlee: “I don’t.”
If, like me you’re still fascinated by the Watergate story and by political journalism generally do go read the Himmelman article in NY Magazine. The part I found most interesting was how upset Woodward was by these minor revelations–he even begged Himmelman not to include them in the book and convinced Bradlee to also ask that Himmelman leave them out of the book. Woodward tried to convince Himmelman himself and then showed up at Bradlee’s house to enlist his mentor’s help. From the NY Mag. article:
When Bob arrived, he didn’t look like he’d slept a lot. We shook hands, but only in the most perfunctory way. Ben sat at the head of the dining-room table, and I sat to Ben’s left, facing Bob. There was no small talk. Bob had brought a thick manila folder with him, which he set down heavily on the table in a way that he meant for us to notice. When Ben asked what it was, Bob said, “Data.” Then he asked Ben what he thought of the whole situation.
“I’ve known this young man for some years now,” Ben said, meaning me, “and I trust his skills and his intent.” Then he looked down at the transcript and said, “Nothing in here really bothers me, but I know there’s something in here that bothers you. What’s in here that bothers you?”
Bob went into his pitch, which he proceeded to repeat over the course of the meeting. He would read the “residual fear” line out loud, and then say he couldn’t ﬁgure out how Ben could still have had doubts about his reporting so many years after Nixon resigned. This was the unresolvable crux of the problem, and one they circled for the duration of the meeting: How could Ben have doubted the ﬂowerpots and the garage meetings, when the rest of the reporting had turned out to be true? Bob thought this was inconsistent and hurtful. Ben didn’t. Bob tried everything he could to get Ben to disavow what he had said, or at least tell me I couldn’t use it. Ben wouldn’t do either of those things. “Bob, you’ve made your point,” Ben said after Bob had made his pitch four or five times. “Quit while you’re ahead.”
Clearly Bradlee agrees with me that this is no big deal. But Woodward is worried about his legacy. Sorry, Bob. You already sold out your legacy by becoming the Bush administration’s court stenographer.
Bob turned to me. I had worked for him; he had given an impromptu toast at my wedding. You know me and the world we live in, he said. People who didn’t like him and didn’t like the Post—the “fuckers out there,” as Ben had called them—were going to seize on these comments. “Don’t give fodder to the fuckers,” Bob said, and once he lit on this phrase he repeated it a couple of times. The quotes from the interview with Barbara were nothing more than outtakes from Ben’s book, he said. Ben hadn’t used them, and so I shouldn’t use them, either.
The article ends with the further revelation that the original tape of the 1990 interview has disappeared from the archive.
“What does that mean?” Ben asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think Woodward’s got it?”
“Maybe,” I said. He laughed, and then I laughed. The Watergate parallels were a little much, though we were surely imagining things. “His reaction to this thing was off the charts.”
“Off the charts!” Ben said. “It suggests that he’s really worried. That it might be true.”
Who cares about these little revelations about a long ago scandal? I don’t. Sadly, if Watergate happened today, it would be just a minor blip on the political radar. Huge scandals and abuses of power are now routinely ignored or defended by the supine and power-worshiping corporate media. But the insight this story provides into the psychology of Bob Woodward is fascinating.
Sorry this ended up being so long. I hope you’re not all bored stiff. So what’s on your reading list today?
It’s been a year since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon killed 11 people outright and destroyed an entire ecosystem. It’s the worst environmental catastrophe to ever hit the US. The US celebrates Earth Day on Friday, yet, I never hear one politician make hay over the “lessons of 4/20”. This is because policy makers refuse to learn the lessons. They’d rather sell oil and tainted seafood than deal with the real issues of the disaster.
Most of the coastline of Louisiana is still coated with oil either right in the marshes or just below the surface. The Oyster populations are way down. Dead Dolphins and Sea Turtles are washing up onto the beaches in record numbers. Where is the outrage? Where is the move to seek justice? Where are the calls about what we’re going to leave to our children?
No one who could make this right is carrying the banner to do so. Thousands of small businesses that rely on the Gulf are still hurting and going under. Those that are hurting include people who fish, oyster, shrimp, and run services businesses that support other businesses or tourist trade. It’s an ongoing tragedy and one that’s been ignored for the most part. The Times Picayune editorial staff and even Republican Politicians in the area who are obsessed with drilling for oil and the oil industry here aren’t shying away from pointing fingers and blame. BP is doing the same half-assed job of cleaning up that they did of drilling on the Deepwater Horizon. There is no justice and no peace down here on the Gulf. Real people are dying and local economies are going under. There has been more guffaw in Washington DC over defunding Planned Parenthood than making things right for people impacted by the BP Oil Gusher. Just ask Congressman Markey who has tried endlessly to pass bills to make it right and hasn’t got one through yet.
The oil lurking just under the soil in the marshes of Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area is a testament to that. The area was thick with roseau cane a year ago, Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham told reporters this week. “It was a thick, luscious, green tropical marsh,” he said. Now it is “weathered, stressed, unhealthy.”
The shoreline has visibly retreated in the past year, shrinking several yards from where the water line had been marked in the days after the spill. That is discouraging to Louisianians and ought to worry all Americans, given the importance of our coastal wetlands to the creation of fish and other marine life.
The state created the Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area nearly 100 years ago, and it has been an important refuge for migratory birds. Now, the state is using air cannons to keep the birds away from the oily marshes.
This is just one spot on the Gulf Coast that is still suffering from the massive amount of oil that spilled from BP’s well last spring and summer.
In some locations, we are losing 5 feet of marshes and shore line a day. Deep Horizon oil is everywhere and making things much worse. All you have to do is talk to the people that live in the affected areas like Grand Isle or Plaquemines Parish or Barataria Bay to see and hear about oil oozing along the coastline.
The noise of the cannons, combined with the swish and flash of metallic strips flapping from poles above the cane, are designed to keep birds from settling into the oily area.
“This is the very terminal end of the Mississippi Flyway,” said Todd Baker, biology program manager for Wildlife & Fisheries. “You get a wide variety of birds, waterfowl, neotropical migrants, raptors, all of them. When they come through, this is the first piece of land they see. When they leave, this is the last place they rest up before they jump across the Gulf of Mexico.
“The hazing cannons are not foolproof,” Baker said, as a Louisiana red-winged blackbird chirped from atop a cane stalk a few yards away.
About 15 miles away as the birds fly — or 30 by boat — Graves used a shovel and his hands to dig about a foot beneath the surface of a spit of sandy beach at the end of South Pass, turning over black-stained sand that smelled like diesel.
Here’s some testimony from people whose health has been impacted by working on the clean-up. There will probably be lots more of them in the coming months in years.
What does it say about a government that will not make right injustices done to so many people for the benefit of a profit-seeking company? What does it say that our media only shows up to report this story on anniversary days? How do we explain to our children that we no longer have an entire lifestyle or set of animals and birds or group of human beings because oil is more important than anything?
The silence of Congress is deafening and deadly. They’ve been more concerned with gutting the EPA than learning the lessons from this deadly oilspill and its omnipresent aftermath. Shame on them and every one else who has forgotten their fellow Americans and the country they profess to love. This is killing people and it’s killing our land. We should be talking about the lessons of 4/20 daily. Instead, we’re just learning how much more Congress loves their donors than the people they are supposed to represent. It’s a damn shame.