BP hasn’t learned from mistakes, plans risky Arctic venture


Will BP ever learn? I’m beginning to think the answer is ‘no.’ The company is back in federal court in New Orleans this week, for the next phase of determining how much oil actually spilled in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, and BP’s level of negligence. The U.S. government is trying to show that the British oil giant should pay as much as $17.5 billion in pollution damages for the spill.

The company’s reckless behavior seems pretty clear. The Deepwater Horizon rig was not your typical offshore drilling operation; in more than a mile of water, it was another example of the extreme efforts that oil companies are carrying out these days to slake our bottomless thirst for energy. Because of the seeming risk of the venture, BP assured the public and regulators that extraordinary safety measures were in place.

That was a fib, plain and simple:

“BP’s plan was nothing more than a plan to plan,” plaintiffs’ attorney Brian Barr said Monday in an opening statement for the “aligned parties,” the private plaintiffs and the BP contractors.

Barr said the company’s 600-page disaster response plan included only one page on controlling the source of a blown-out well, and its employees lacked training on that scenario. “BP knew of the gaps in its ability to control the source of a deep-water blowout,” Barr said.

The company began drilling relief wells early in the three-month oil spill crisis, but Barr said that lengthy process “should be considered a measure of last resort. For BP, relief wells were a matter of only resort.”

Barr said the plaintiffs’ case will show that BP long knew the solution that ultimately worked — capping the ruined blowout preventer stack that was billowing oil with a new one — was the best option and could have ended the gusher sooner.

Even though it’s not nearly enough to compensate for the enormous destruction that it unleashed upon the Gulf, BP has paid billions of dollars already to settle claims from coastal residents and from small businesses, to fund efforts to restore the Gulf, and in fines for blatantly criminal behavior. The purpose of such huge penalties is two-fold: To undo as much of the environmental and economic carnage as possible, and to ensure that BP won’t act badly again. Yet the company continues to engage in some of the riskiest offshore drilling activities around…including in the Arctic:

 Imperial Oil Canada, Exxon Mobil and BP have jointly filed an application to drill at least one well in the Beaufort Sea 125 kilometres northwest of Tuktoyaktuk [in Canada’s Northwest Territory].

The task is a daunting one.

Those wells were drilled in water depths of less than 70 metres. The area now being eyed runs to depths of 1,500 metres and has never been drilled before.

“Part of our challenge in moving this project forward is assessing, evaluating and mitigating, dealing with the challenges of drilling a well in this part of the Canadian Beaufort,” said Pius Rolheiser with Imperial Oil Canada.

Chief among those challenges is ice. Imperial estimates ice conditions are manageable for only four months of the year, but that can vary dramatically from year to year.

You may recall that last summer Shell launched a major push for offshore drilling in the frigid Arctic waters off Alaska, and the effort was an unmitigated disaster, epitomized finally by its rig running aground in rough fall currents. This summer Shell suspended its effort — thankfully before major new damage (remember 1989’s Exxon Valdez) was done to the ecologically sensitive region. But here comes BP and ExxonMobil — the culprits in the two worst oil spills in American history — to drill in deep water where such a venture has never been done. The same thing that BP tried — and failed — with the Deepwater Horizon.

If America is addicted to oil — and we are — then companies like BP and ExxonMobil are the crystal meth dealers taking extreme risks to keep us hooked. We need tougher regulators and braver politicians who can steer us toward alternative energy and safer means of fuel production, before the whole thing starts breaking bad like it did off Louisiana three years ago.

Read about the second phase of the BP trial from NOLA.com at: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2013/09/second_phase_of_bp_trial_over.html

To learn more about the proposed BP-ExxonMobil drilling venture in the Canadian Arctic, please read: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/oil-companies-seek-to-drill-in-deep-beaufort-sea-1.1871343

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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