Friday, May 21, 2010

Spewing Nonsense

Oil spill on BP logo
How much oil is spewing from the underwater volcano a mile under the Gulf of Mexico? More than a month after the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded on April 20, then burned and sank two days later, there is still no actual measurement. That there is none is troubling. How the estimates have changed is both instructive and even more disturbing. What might once have been considered spin is now revealed as outright lying. With this latest debacle BP has reached a new nadir in their long history of accidents, lying and greenwashing.

At first, BP insisted that any leak was minor, at most 1,000 barrels per day (BPD). BP stuck stubbornly to this figure for a week until the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced on April 28 that the rate was more like 5,000 BPD.

BP has tried very hard to control information about the disaster. It was only a week and half ago, under intense pressure, that they released video of the erupting wellhead:

5,000 BPD remains BP's official figure, but virtually no one believes it. By May 1, using just satellite imagery, estimates were ranging up to 25,000 BPD. Within two weeks, after examining video, another expert estimated the flow as high as 70,000 BPD. Wednesday, after viewing newer video, he raised his estimate to at least 95,000 BPD.

BP stubbornly sticks to the rate of 5,000 BPD, even though most credible third party experts believe the actual number is 20 times higher or more. Yet their own actions and statements show they don't even believe it themselves.

A week ago BP managed to insert a smaller tube as a siphon into the larger tube on the sea floor. Using this siphon, they have managed to suck some of the spewing oil to a boat. Initially BP claimed that they were siphoning 1,000 BPD. Then the figure rose to 2,000 BPD. Then 3,000 BPD. A few days ago they announced that they had reached 5,000 BPD.

The only problem was live video of the oil eruption continued to show enormous amounts, perhaps most of the oil, going uncontained and unsiphoned into the Gulf. So, obviously 5,000 BPD could not have been correct for both the amount coming out and the amount being siphoned. So what did BP do? Today they announced that well, actually, they were only siphoning 2,200 BPD, less than half their earlier "estimate."

Their estimate?

What are they doing with the oil they are siphoning? Can't they measure it? If the other end of the siphon were hooked up to a tanker, or refinery you know they would be measuring it exactly. To the barrel. It beggars belief that they don't know or can't figure out what they are doing.

So rather than admit what almost everyone else already knows, that much more than 5,000 BPD is spewing daily, BP must pretend that they are being even less effective in their meager mitigation efforts. They are lying to us.

BP is fully invested in pretending that the "spill" is minor and under control. Thus the obstinacy about the size. So too the generous "estimates" of the amount they are siphoning. It also explains the unprecedented heavy use of toxic dispersants and the almost total silence about the vast plumes of sub-surface oil. BP is working desperately to deny how much is spilling, to exaggerate how much they are recovering, and to try to keep as much as possible from coming to the surface where it can be seen and measured more easily. That all this may be making the ecological disaster much worse is just not as important as trying to protect the last frayed bits of their tattered public image.

Criminal is the only word we should apply to a company more interested in performing damage control to their reputation than to the world's oceans.

Update: It seems there's also a purely economic reason for BP to fib about the amount of oil gushing forth--they have to pay royalties of 18.75% on the value of any amounts "wasted."

Update 2: Documents released in Congressional testimony this week show BP knew it was lying:
When BP was citing the 1,000 barrel per day figure to the American people on April 28, their own internal documents from the day before show that their best guess was a leak of 5,768 [sic] barrels per day and their high estimate was more than 14,000 barrels that were spilling into the Gulf every day.

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