BOEM approves plans for BP to drill new, deeper wells. Offshore drilling still too risky. Protesting BP in Houston. Feinberg gives a bit on claims, but may be audited.

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Well, that was rather quick. Are you sure we want to trust these guys? I didn't think so. But there it is... BOEM approved and everything. (You know, the new and improved BOEMRE.)

BP's first post-blowout exploration plan is approved.

The Bureau of Energy Management on Friday approved a supplemental exploration plan for BP to drill four wells in about 6,000 feet of water... 192 miles off the Louisiana coast after revisions were made to a previously approved drilling plan for its Kaskida prospect.

(We'll get to this water thing in a minute...)

The move expands BP’s government-approved 2008 plan to drill up to five wells at the site by allowing the company to drill two more wells and change the location of two others.

But before the company could launch work on the wells, federal regulators would also have to approve BP’s plan for responding to any oil spills in the area. And under the just-approved revised exploration plan, BP would still have to secure separate permits to drill specific wells at the Kaskida field.

Safety? In water a thousand feet deeper than the Macondo wellhead? Tommy Beaudreau, the director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, says oil people are going to do it right this time. No, no...really, they are. They promise...

Offshore drilling regulators are “dedicated to ensuring that the development of the nation’s energy resources is conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” said Beaudreau. “Our review of BP’s plan included verification of BP’s compliance with the heightened standards that all deepwater activities must meet.”

In approving BP’s revised exploration plan, the ocean energy bureau assessed the environmental consequences of the proposed drilling and concluded there would likely be “no significant impact” from the work. Those environmental assessments — generally required under federal law — were routinely waived before the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

According to a news release announcing the move, the ocean energy bureau confirmed BP’s compliance with new drilling safety and environmental standards imposed since last year’s spill.

Okay. Sure.

BP said that it is indeed true. They intend to be saintly when it comes to safety. Cut corners to save a nickel more in profit? Ain't gonna happen. They have learned their lesson like good little rat bastards...

“Drilling at Kaskida would be subject to BOEMRE requirements and BP’s voluntary standards we developed from lessons learned after the Deepwater Horizon accident,” the company said in a statement. “These voluntary standards exceed current government requirements.”

Voluntary? Exceeding government requirements? Have we missed something? You guys at BP are now moonlighting as comedy writers, right?

We. Don't. Believe. Anything. You. Say.

“BP said that with the approval of its revised exploration plan for Kaskida, the oil company now would be “working through the regulatory process for an application for permit to drill” — the essential next step in launching work on wells at the field.

Administration officials have rejected the idea that BP should be disqualified from drilling, based on its performance last year.

“We’re holding BP not just to our current standards but to higher standards,” said Walter Cruickshank, the Ocean Energy bureau’s deputy director. “From what we’ve seen over the past 20 months, there is certainly a strong commitment on their part to work better in the future than in the past.”

Really, Walter? You trust them? Why, for FSM's sake? Do you actually think they have changed? Or maybe just gotten a little better at being criminals, hmm...

At least one of our few good guys in Congress says the permitting process is going too fast, but he is probably only flying the flag, and can't really do anything. He's correct, though.

“Comprehensive safety legislation hasn’t passed Congress, and BP hasn’t paid the fines they owe for their spill, yet BP is being given back the keys to drill in the Gulf,” said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Federal regulators have approved 43 wells since the moratorium on drilling after the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Although this is the first approval for BP under its own name, several BP partners have continued with business as usual. And, man, do they ever want to get back out there in the Gulf...

While BP has not drilled a new well since the 2010 oil spill, several of its Gulf projects have quietly moved forward. For instance, the Mad Dog South field, which BP operates with a 60.5 percent stake, recently was drilled by minority partner BHP Billiton Petroleum and proved to have a giant stash of oil. Last year, BP essentially transferred the operatorship of its Tubular Bells field to Hess Corp. in a $40 million deal that cut its stake in the field from 50 percent to 30 percent.

BP owns 100 percent of Kaskida after buying out Devon’s 30 percent stake in a $7 billion deal that included other assets in March 2010 — the month before the Macondo well blowout.

BP announced the discovery of its Kaskida field in August 2006 after drilling a six-mile-deep well in an outer area of the U.S. Gulf known as Keathley Canyon and finding an 800-foot section of oily rock.

While the discovery was viewed as significant, it wasn’t until an appraisal well was drilled five miles to the west in 2009 that BP confirmed it was among its biggest finds ever in the U.S. offshore basin, holding as much as 3 billion barrels of oil.

Okay. Now for the really crappy part, which was referenced in the opening paragraphs. These new exploratory wells are deep - really deep.

BP’s newly proposed wells would be drilled in roughly 6,019 and 6,034 feet of water — about 1,030 feet deeper than Macondo. The company has estimated that in case of an emergency, it would take 184 days to drill a relief well at the site. Other interventions — including a system for containing runaway underwater wells — also would be available, BP said.

BP has not changed. They are not afraid of fines - it's factored into the cost of doing "bidness". The corporate culture has not varied one whit from the attitude that existed up to the second the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

There will be another blowout. More people will die. And 184 more days of oil will flood the Gulf.

Nothing has changed. Nothing.

At least we aren't just howling at the moon by ourselves...

Environmentalists: Offshore drilling still too risky, despite new rules.

The environmental advocacy group Oceana said Friday that all the lip-service being paid to new "safety" requirements for offshore/deepwater drilling is just that - all talk - and the "new" regulations are too lax to have prevented the Macondo blowout.

“When you compare the new rules to the things that went wrong on the BP rig, it’s obvious that those same problems could go terribly wrong again, in spite of the so-called safety rules,” said Oceana senior campaign director and senior scientist Jacqueline Savitz. “The chance of a devastating spill is just as high as a year and a half ago.”

Savitz called on the Obama administration’s Interior Department to stop issuing new offshore drilling permits since they “can’t assure safety” and “that’s the only way to prevent new oil spills.”

Speaking at the same conference, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar stressed the government’s “oil and gas reforms” since the 2010 spill.

“We must not forget the lessons of Deepwater Horizon,” he said. “We must press forward with our oil and gas reforms. We must keep our commitment to Gulf Coast restoration and reinvest the penalties where they belong.”

Mr. Salazar, the only way you could say less is to talk longer...

In the report, Oceana repeated the position that nothing has actually changed in the way oil producers will go about drilling in extreme environments. The report specifically targets blowout preventers as often ineffective and prone to failure, but producing a false sense of security that deep/extreme drilling can be rendered "safe".

Specifically, Oceana flagged possible problems with the blowout preventers that are used as last-ditch emergency blockades against uncontrolled surges of oil and gas from wells. A government-led probe of the blowout preventer used to secure the Macondo well concluded in March that powerful blind shear rams on the device were unable to completely slash through slightly off-center drill pipe, seal the well hole and trap oil and gas underground.

Oceana said the finding raises troubling questions about the standard design of blowout preventers that still haven’t been addressed by the federal government.

Officials at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement have said they soon will propose new offshore drilling requirements — likely including new mandates for blowout preventers. But it could take a year or two for the new requirements to go from proposal to being an enforceable regulation.

Oceana also concluded that current offshore inspection programs are “woefully inadequate.” The government is conducting more inspections now, but the cash-strapped drilling agencies still are unable to conduct “strong oversight of the tens of thousands of wells in the water,” Oceana said. “The Deepwater Horizon incident highlights an urgent need for oversight of critical operations in real time — as they are occurring — even when rigs have previously been inspected for safety.”

Although the environmental group focused on federal regulators, it also faulted the oil and gas industry for not doing more to improve its safety culture in the wake of the spill. As evidence, Oceana points to industry leaders’ oft-repeated push for speedier permitting of offshore drilling projects. That, Oceana says, underscores the industry’s “business as usual approach.”

The report was presented at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference held in Miami last week.

The Oceana report is here: False Sense of Safety: Safety Measures Will Not Make Offshore Drilling Safe. (Warning: PDF)

BP offices in Houston target of protests.

Pointing out that BP has failed to settle with thousands of victims of the Macondo gusher, protesters targeted BP’s Houston headquarters Thursday.  

Operation People for Peace made Houston its fourth stop on a protest that included BP facilities in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana. But they failed in their goal to meet with the chairman of BP America, Lamar McKay.

Security officials at BP headquarters told the 25 or so protestors to either take their claims up with Kenneth Feinberg,or to attend the BP stockholder's meeting next spring.

The protesters, including human rights activists Dick Gregory, Art Rocker, chairman of Operation People for Peace, and E. Faye Williams, chairwoman of the National Congress of Black Women, were joined by activists from Occupy Houston.

Gregory called BP "rats and roaches". Thank you, Mr. Gregory; I most heartily agree...

“We are in it to win it,” Gregory said. “We will treat them, now that we know how dirty they play, like rats and roaches and mice in a dark room. You don’t shoot ‘em, you don’t cuss ‘em, you turn the light on.”

BP spokesman Tom Mueller said the company “appreciates their right to protest,” but added that BP does not manage the claims process. “So the appropriate place for these comments and these concerns to be aired is with Ken Feinberg.”

Many of the victims of the costly Deepwater Horizon disaster have yet to be compensated for their losses, Rocker said in a prepared statement.

“Many individuals were severely damaged and have not been compensated for their losses, despite our best efforts to date,” the statement read. “Most of these people are minority and poor people who BP has chosen to ignore while settling with other people who are well connected politically.”

So, take it up with Feinberg, huh?

Next story...

Additional commitments secured from Feinberg for Jefferson Parish oil spill victims.

After fielding complaints from fishermen suffering the worst shrimp season ever (wonder why...) Jefferson Parish president John Young said Friday he was able to get Kenneth Feinber to promise more help from the $20 billion BP compensation fund.

Okay. He promised. He's promised a lot of things. BFD.

According to Young, Feinberg has agreed to three major commitments. His team will now identify and expedite claims from Louisiana fishers, oyster farmers and shrimpers directly affected by the oil spill that followed the April 2010 explosion of a drilling platform above BP's Macondo well. Feinberg will also begin holding "claims days," which Young described as in-person meetings between claimants and those with decision-making power over the compensation fund.

And lastly, Feinberg agreed to meet with independent claims adjusters working for other facets of affected industries to devise a better method for doling out the cash, Young said.

I'll believe it when I can gnaw on it with my very own teeth.

And then there's this, Kenny...

Senate amendment would require audit of oil spill claims facility.

The U.S. attorney general would be legally required to appoint an independent auditor for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility under an amendment added to a Senate spending bill early Friday morning.

Ken Feinberg, leader of the claims facility commonly called GCCF, agreed to such an audit in July, at the request of Attorney General Eric Holder.

If the Senate amendment passes Congress and is signed by the president, such an audit would be mandated by law. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile, added similar language to a House spending bill in July.

In an emailed statement, Feinberg expressed no opposition to the audit requests.

“I have said all along we welcome an independent audit and have been working with the Department of Justice,” the statement said.

Have at it. Audit away. Like it will make a damn bit of difference. Those foxes already have total control of the henhouse...

PLEASE visit Pam LaPier's diary to find out how you can help the Gulf now and in the future. We don't have to be idle! And thanks to Crashing Vor and Pam LaPier for working on this!

Previous Gulf Watcher diaries:

10-21-11 06:42 PM Gulf Watchers Block Party - What Was Your First (or Most Unusual) Job? Lorinda Pike
10-19-11 03:44 PM Gulf Watchers Wednesday - BP not banned from new leases - BP Catastrophe AUV #564

10-14-11 06:30 PM GW Block Party: Nostalgia Edition; RIP Steve Jobs Phil S 33
10-12-11 06:19 PM Gulf Watchers Wednesday - BP Could Create an Even Bigger Disaster - BP Catastrophe AUV #563 shanesnana
10-09-11 02:07 PM Gulf Watchers Sunday - The Tainted Pieces Are Coming Together - BP Catastrophe AUV #562 Lorinda Pike
10-07-11 06:20 PM Gulf Watchers Block Party: Trek to NASA Edition BlackSheep1
The last Mothership has links to reference material.

Previous motherships and ROV's from this extensive live blog effort may be found here.

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