BP: Oil spill? What oil spill?


Next week we are very likely to witness one of the most audacious shell games in the history of corporate double-speak. BP and its supporters, which unfortunately will likely include important officials of the federal government, will proclaim that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is “over.”

They won’t say “over,” of course, but they are starting to say “contained.” They will be selling the idea that there will soon be zero “net gallons” of oil going into the Gulf, even without plugging the well – this is already being widely reported by the Associated Press and other media.

The sells pitch goes like this: New containment vessels will be able to suck up more than a million gallons of oil a day. And the (quoting the AP here) “… government estimates 1.5 million to 2.5 million gallons of oil a day are spewing from the well, and the existing cap is collecting about 1 million gallons of that. With the new cap and the new containment vessel, the system will be capable of capturing 2.5 million to 3.4 million gallons – essentially all the leaking oil, officials said.”

Really? Where to begin refuting that claim … how about the spill estimates? BP has known from the low-balled beginning of this disaster that keeping “official” estimates beneath the actual flow is vital to its financial interests.  The Huffington Post’s Dan Froomkin is among the skeptics mocking BP efforts, and he recently reported on efforts of Ira Leifer, a researcher at the Marine Science Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara and a member of the federal flow rate group, to gain access to basic information. (Story here http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/06/gulf-oil-spill-scientists_n_636981.html)

Now it’s time for the company to go for paydirt. But flow rate is only the most obvious flaw in the “containment”campaign.

When the Exxon Valdex spill happened, it is usually said that “11 million gallons” of oil spilled, but that figure is very much disputed. We pretty much knew how much the ship carried and had good numbers on how many gallons were sucked up. Easy, right? Nope – because there was never really an accounting of how much of the “cleaned up” fluid was seawater mixed into the oil. Some think the Valdez spill was closer to 30 million gallons.

So we start with a spill-flow number that we don’t know, but is likely being low-balled and BP won’t let actual independent experts near the source information; we subtract a suspiciously convenient number that we also don’t really know, but is almost certainly being over-estimated; yet we somehow come up with a decisive “zero?” If that works, look for BP and its allies to soon contend we should begin subtracting any oil skimmed up or salvaged from soaked boom.

Hey, under this creative BP accounting, this oil will be gone from their books in no time. Never mind that it will linger in the Gulf for generations. This nonsense is being taken seriously, and the real shame is that our government, with its BP-friendly estimates and partnerships over the last 80-plus days, has helped enable such a shell game.

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

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