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Gulf Watchers Diary Schedule
Monday - evening drive time
Wednesday - morning
Friday - morning
Friday Block Party - evening
Sunday - morning

Part one of the digest of diaries is here and part two is here.

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As we're all too aware, the devastation is far from over along the Gulf Coast.  And Christmas is shaping up to be one big lump of coal... or, specifically, an eighth-of-a-mile long tar mat.  More on that a bit later.  

Reports coming out of the Gulf are even more bleak than ever.  From health effects of Corexit and its attendant illnesses to a cruel game apparently being played by the Gulf Claims jokers, the news is heartbreaking.  Gird your loins and prepare to be very, very depressed.  What these folks are going through would make Job weep.

Under gray overcast skies  eight months after the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, waves of crude oil roll into estuaries, bayous, and onto the deserted beaches as winter sets in along the Gulf Coast. In Orange Beach, Alabama, large slabs of crude continue to come in on a regular basis. In Louisiana and Mississippi, oil mixed with dispersant comes ashore with thousand upon thousands of dead fish. The stench can be overwhelming. The small contingent of cleanup workers still employed by BP attack the most visible surface oil while ignoring the huge pancake layers of crude buried underneath.   Many consider the cleanup operations to be nothing more than a continuing public performance while leaving the vast majority of crude behind. Dump trucks haul away the worst contaminated sand for cleaning to undisclosed locations. Mysteriously, it it returns a different color from the natural white crystal sand the beaches are famous for. The much heralded huge "Sandsharks" designed to clean the beaches sift the largest tarballs, leaving behind unknown quantities of toxic sand laden with oil, which as a result of the use of Corexit dispersant, can adhere to individual grains of sand.
...
Hospital emergency rooms refuse to perform the necessary tests to determine the validity or extent of chemical poisoning.
...
Many of the officials we met with were clearly surprised at hearing firsthand accounts that contradicted statements by both BP and numerous federal agencies regarding the safety of seafood, the continued use of toxic dispersants, serious and widespread health impacts, and the inane claims process. When informed of the continued use of Corexit dispersant long past the supposed date of termination in mid-July, a senior member of CEQ [Council on Environmental Quality] looked at me and said "that's a crime," assuring me that it would be brought to the president's attention. Indeed, but it is only one of many crimes committed against a civilian population which has been hammered by repeated disasters in the past decade.

To add insult to mortal injury, in the past week numerous BP workers and residents who had claims in the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF) were repeatedly assured that their claim was being reviewed. This at a critical time as last week was the cut-off date under the rules established by Administrator Feinberg for emergency compensation. As the deadline approached the GCCF told many people desperate for assistance their check was in the mail on a daily basis even after the Wednesday cut-off date had passed...  Here is the procedure that I witnessed; Feinberg will personally promise you fairness coupled with a speedy resolution, looking victims in the eye and telling them exactly what they want to hear. He will refer claimants to the 24 members of his staff he has brought along for the day just to expedite the process at great expense, then disappear. There will in fact be no follow through after the appearance, and once they are gone staff will prove exceedingly difficult to reach and impossible to locate. Rest assured however, that each time before he makes a return appearance to meet with angry coastal claimants again, a flurry of payments will be sent out and arrive the day before he does. This pattern has been repeated time and time again. The process by which claims are evaluated is cloaked in mystery, the team put in place by his firm to process the claims ghosts in the machine; unreachable, unaccountable, and what little information they do provide is all too frequently false at worst, unreliable at best. Your chances of coming out ahead are better in the casinos along the Coast than filing a legitimate fully documented claim with GCCF.
...
It is unrealistic given the degree of corporate influence over the US Government and relevant agencies, to expect our lawmakers and regulators to ban the use of toxic dispersants to clean up oil spills. It is entirely reasonable however, for the Obama administration to enact policies whereby in the future the US follow its NATO allies' example and require strict formal procedures for approving the use of toxic dispersants like Nalco Corexit and then only as a last resort in cleaning up oil spills.

Then comes another report, discouraging in how identical it is to the above description of the claims outcomes.

Nearly 100,000 claims denials were issuedin just 10 days recently, nearly a quarter of the total number of emergency oil spill claims that were submitted.  ...Count  Buras, LA, fisherman JJ Creppel as one of them... JJ suffered a heart attack soon after he watched the oil gush out, then he sold his boat to survive and couldn’t work because the fishing grounds were closed. He and his fiance live without heat in a small, dilapidated, leaky-roofed trailer with near freezing temperatures at night.  

JJ has fought for his BP claim based on his past three years working as a commercial fisherman. For months he’s been told the check was coming in the mail or being processed. He believed it was his best hope to get back on the water and make a living again to help support his six grandchildren. It's coming, people in the claims office would always say.

Earlier this week JJ finally got his claims response in the mail: denied.

At Michael's Seafood, a wholesale/retail seafood company in Jefferson Parrish, owner Michael Gangi made a desperate move driven by frustration with the claims process.

Gangi said the BP spill cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Last year he said he bought over 1.3 million pounds of Louisiana shrimp, but the spill forced him to do without a lot of product this year because of the spill’s effect on the industry.

"I bought... 127,513 pounds which is a difference of 1,262,000 pounds, that's all I bought, that what I lost, I mean it's totally ridiculous and you give them these figures and they don't know how to figure them," said Gangi.

So he has taken some extraordinary steps to call attention to what he believes is a dysfunctional claims process under Feinberg.

"I did contact the FBI that Feinberg is not doing his job, I want to know where the money's going because nobody in the seafood industry's getting it."

One couple in Grand Isle, LA, have taken it upon themselves to investigate the impact of Corexit on Gulf residents' health.

"When people started to get sick in the aftermath of the so-called 'clean-up'," Karen [Hopkins] told me, "we used our own money to contract an independent lab to take samples of the air here. The samples were taken on Sept 9, 2010, and the lab results revealed high levels of the carcinogens Acrylonitrile and Toluene."

From what Karen tells us, now people here are living in fear of what may lie ahead not just for their livelihoods, but for their lives. "We believe the dispersant Corexit is the culprit of this sickness because the water and the air were so heavily polluted with it during the clean-up effort."

The answers Dean [Blanchard] seeks from BP may help the people of Grand Isle figure out how to deal with their illnesses. "We're all adults here," he tells us. "We can handle the truth. Not knowing is what we can't handle, because we're wasting time. BP owes us an answer and they are hiding from this demand."
...
Glaringly evident was the absence of BP. The sunny green and yellow logo was nowhere to be seen in this Gulf Coast community. I'd looked over at the ocean as we drove along the coast and wondered where nearly two hundred million gallons of leaked oil had gone.

Did it sink to the bottom? We were told that during and after the massive spraying of Corexit, when our government demanded to know how the dispersant was eliminating oil and where it was going, BP's contractors took water samples to prove the chemical was not simply causing the oil to sink. They gathered samples for the test using a common shrimping rig that was designed for use directly on the seafloor.

According to locals, though, the samples BP collected were taken from three feet above the ocean floor. "You ain't gonna catch no shrimp or oil that way," say the fishermen.
...
[Blanchard] tells us that BP and an organization called the Association of Food and Drug Officials required local shrimp sellers to take a quick course in "shrimp sniffing"--to ensure a catch was safe for human consumption. They charged $25 a head for those who enrolled in the course. Dean... shows... what he refers to as his "$25 BP Sniffing Certificate."
...
By not providing any real scientific data on the contamination of these shrimp, and by placing responsibility for approving their sale on the seller, BP further limited its losses. The feeling here on the Coast is that this approach has become the norm, as the conglomerate takes steps to insure that long-term responsibility for the outcome of this disaster lies with its victims.

The hits keep on coming for beleaguered Gulf Coast residents, as does the mess just won't stop rolling onto the shores.  In Orange Beach, AL, it's of horrifying proportions.

A giant tar mat...nearly an eighth of a mile long...is washing up west of Cotton Bayou in Orange Beach. Clean up crews rushed to the scene when they were notified and brought in heavy equipment to remove the oil. A clean up crew supervisor tells News 5 the tar mat was "submerged"...and wasn't visible until the incoming tide pushed it on shore.

When we arrived, we could smell the petroleum product hundreds of feet away. Workers covered their mouths and noses and coughed because of the overwhelming smell.

(h/t Pakalolo.  Much thanks!)

That affront to Christian compassion, Jim Demint, shot down legislation that would have freed the families of the Eleven from a law that limits the legal recourse of those who lose someone at sea.

A South Carolina Republican blocked legislation in the U.S. Senate Thursday that would have allowed survivors of the men killed on the BP oil rig explosion – including a Baton Rouge man – to obtain additional legal damages.

Because the deaths occurred on a sea rig, it is considered a maritime accident and families can sue for the lost income from the deaths, but not for damages such as pain and suffering.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont attempted to bring legislation to the floor that would have exempted the families of the 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig from the 90-year-old law.

Leahy noted that if the accident occurred on land, the families would have the full rights to sue. The law change would have only applied to the rig workers, Leahy said.

"Because it happened at sea ... these peoples’ lives are almost valueless," Leahy said.

Republican U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina objected to the legislation being taken up.

"This is a nation of laws, not of men," DeMint said. "It destroys the whole foundation of our legal system when we make retroactive law."
...
Keith Jones, a Baton Rouge attorney and father of Gordon, was watching the debate on C-SPAN...  Republicans were blocking all pieces of Democratic bills Thursday because they wanted legislation to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to come to the floor. Jones is hoping that once the stalemate is resolved, the Leahy bill will be brought up and passed.

"What just makes me nuts is they’re blocking everything," Jones said.

Leahy made a dramatic pitch for the legislation, calling the obstruction a Christmas present for BP and other companies involved with the rig.
...
Jones is hoping that the roadblock will be cleared after the tax cut vote. If it isn’t resolved by the end of the month, the families will have to seek new legislation because a new Congress will be convened in January.

That means walking the halls and trying to get more hearings, Jones said.

"It would mean we would have to come back in January and start all over again," he said.

Al-Jazeera has an excellent video of Gulf fishermen proving that the oil is still ever-present there.
*****

Much as I'd like to present this as absolute fact, I have to say that the report that seems to indicate that BP's probation has been revoked in Alaska is so incoherently written, I can only quote directly, and surmise that that is, in fact, what has happened.

A federal probation office moved to revoke BP’s criminal probation revoked [sic] and subject BP Exploration Alaska unit to additional penalties, citing a continued pattern of negligence, ignoring warning signs and its own policies on preventive measures in 2009.

You can see why I hesitate.  That sentence... isn't a sentence.  Whether this means Court will move directly into penalty or not is unclear.

In 2006 two spills at North America’s largest oil producing field resulted in 212,000 gallons of crude leaking onto snow covered tundra from a corrosion eaten hole in a major transit line. A subsequent spill 5 months later, also corrosion related, resulted in a partial shutdown of the Prudhoe field. BP’s Alaska unit received criminal probation and civil complaints from the state and federal governments.

BP replaced the entire Prudhoe Bay transit line system at a cost of $500 million.

However in 2009, a spill occurred from a ruptured pipeline at the BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. Lisburne filed. In this instance, according to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal probation officer, the company continued a pattern of negligent behavior.
...
The probation officer further alleges that BP should have been aware of what measures to take since it had a similar rupture due to an ice plug in 2001.

The 2009 Lisburne spill violated the Federal Clean Water Act as [w]ell as state statutes according to the federal probation officer. These violations breach the terms of the plea agreement in which the company promised a series of reforms, paid $20 million in fines, restitution and community service and was placed on 1 to 3 years probation.

*****

And here's a nifty little mystery (ignore the headline at the link; it's wrong) about what happened the day after the rig blew.

A Norwegian maritime company that surveys and approves safety programs for vessels recertified papers for the Deepwater Horizon on April 21, a day after the rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico.

Uh... what?  And wherefore?

Transocean's safety manager Jerry Canducci... says Det Norske Veritas spent two days in the company's offices and recertified the papers on April 21, while the rig was still burning in the Gulf.

It is unclear why the Norwegian company recertified the rig's paperwork after the explosion.

You bet it's unclear.  Why would BP, Transocean, Halliburton, or any combination of the three, want recertification of a fully destroyed, imminently sinking oil rig that had been engulfed in an epic conflagration for at least twelve hours, probably more?  

Det Norske Veritas is a risk-management firm: "An independent foundation with the objective of safeguarding life, property and the environment, DNV comprises 300 offices in 100 countries, with about 9,000 employees."

Not what you'd call a modest little company.  And they've no small role to play in the forensic investigation.  From their website:

The final forensic testing protocol will be developed by DNV, in consultation with various commercial, academic, and governmental organizations, and will be approved by the JIT prior to the start of testing.

Back in early November, the Washington Post discussed DNV's role at length.

The Interior Department is planning to pay Det Norske Veritas (DNV) $1.3 million to conduct the autopsy of the 60-foot high, 380-ton blowout preventer...

But some government and industry officials say that the firm's earlier work for Transocean, the owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon, poses a conflict of interest.

In 2007, DNV inspected and recertified the Deepwater Horizon's safety procedures.

That means this was the third time they certified the rig.

In 2009, Transocean hired DNV to do a study of the reliability of subsea blowout preventers. That same year, DNV named a Transocean vice president, N. Pharr Smith, to be chairman of DNV's rig owners' committee, which provides "input" to DNV's rule-making process.

The American Bureau of Shipping, a nonprofit organization that classifies marine vessels and offshore rigs, did not submit the firm's name to do the blowout preventer autopsy because of its earlier work on the Deepwater Horizon. The organization said in a statement that "it assumed its earlier work on the rig comprised a conflict of interest. And so ABS is surprised that DNV has received the contract to do this work."
...
"It's of particular concern that DNV has done a specific analysis of the rig back in 2007, has opined separately on the reliability of BOPs and specifically taken the position that a second blind shear ram would only marginally make a difference," said Rafael Moure-Eraso, chairman of the Chemical Safety Board. "We think those positions are a conflict that should have been reviewed early."

DNV says that there is no conflict. Blaine Collins, spokesman for Det Norske Veritas Classification (Americas), said that "we haven't had any involvement in the inspection or certification of the blowout preventer."

He said DNV examined the Deepwater Horizon for compliance with the International Safety Management code, designed to provide "for the safe management and operation of ships and for pollution prevention."

Eileen Angelico, a spokeswoman for the joint Interior and Coast Guard team, said, "The process for which the contract was awarded for the forensic testing and scientific evaluation of the BOP was a competitive bidding process consistent with applicable regulations and policies."

I feel so much better now.  Don't you?

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), which had to fight for a seat at the autopsy, is none too pleased about DNV's involvement, either.  In a November 4 letter to DNV's corporate counsel, they made their position abundantly clear.

The CSB also has specific concerns related to DNV’s role in the testing of the BOP and its prior work related to the Deepwater Horizon. The CSB understands that DNV provided risk management services for the Deepwater Horizon prior to the incident. In order to fully understand DNV’s role in the testing, the CSB has made multiple requests to the Joint Investigation Team for a copy of the contract between DOI and DNV, but to date, the CSB has not received a copy. Additionally, the CSB has not been able to locate a copy of the solicitation for services for the contract awarded to DNV, which should be archived on a government web site, FedBizOpps. In order to resolve these concerns, I have issued subpoenas today to DNV for a variety of information related to its contract with DOI and its prior work on the Deepwater Horizon.

DNV has issued a report (pdf) on "Key Aspects of an Effective U.S. Offshore Safety Regime," which seems, at first blush and not surprisingly, to be promoting risk management as the most important safety protocol, and saying nothing else of substance.  But to be fair, I only skimmed it.  I'm more than willing to be wrong.
*****

Meanwhile, in more amusing news...

Transocean Ltd. said Thursday that a Swiss administrative court ruled that the company cannot pay out about $1 billion to shareholders because of the numerous Deepwater Horizon-related lawsuits pending against the rig owner in the U.S.

Bummer, eh?  Yes, I realize many stockholders are innocent bystanders (if foolish to hold onto this stock), and I wish them no ill, but it pleases me no end that Transocean is bound up like this.

And while I won't quote from the story here, if you want to get a peek at what the latest conspiracy theory to assault your ears may be, have a gander over here.  It's about Jesse Ventura's show called, fittingly enough, "Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura."  And does it ever live up to its title.  Wait 'til you hear about the planned depopulation of... Oops... almost gave it all away.  Enter that site at your own risk.

And, so we're not all sliding into deep holiday season melancholia, there's a not completely unexpected bit of promising news to come out of this unparalleled disaster.

It is noteworthy that a supposedly minor oil spill from an FPSO [Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessel] by OMV, the Austrian operator, at its Maari oilfield in the Taranaki basin, offshore New Zealand has been reported. It is laudable that the spill was reported to the regulatory authorities, despite the size, coming barely three months after the containment of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A small leak could become a major one if not attended to immediately. Is this a positive result of the media circus witnessed at the BP GoM Oil Disaster? Considering the adverse impacts associated with oil spills, offshore regulators must be strict and take measures to protect the marine environment. Punitive measures must be brought to bear against operators who fail to report oil spills fully and timeously [sic]. The principle of polluter pays must always be applied.  It is hoped that other marine operators of all manner of vessels would take a cue from this, and let the world know of any spills. We have one Planet Earth and we need to protect it.

*****
*****

There are a couple of chapters of Loren Steffy's book "Drowning in Oil" available online here, here, and here.
*****

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:


12-10-10 19:25:42Gulf Watchers Block Party: Johnny Clegg: The White ZuluYasuragi
12-10-10 08:25:58Gulf Watchers Friday - Double Inspections, For Now - BP Catastrophe AUV #439Lorinda Pike
12-06-10 16:52:00Gulf Watchers Wednesday - BP Contractor Thumbs Nose at Commission - BP Catastrophe AUV #438peraspera
12-06-10 16:52:00Gulf Watchers Monday - Government Estimate of Oil Flow Way Off, says BP - BP Catastrophe AUV #437shanesnana
12-05-10 08:36:57Gulf Watchers Sunday - WikiLeaks to Target BP - BP Catastrophe AUV #436Yasuragi
12-03-10 18:29:02Gulf Watchers Block Party---Duende; Say what????Phil S 33
12-03-10 08:04:57Gulf Watchers Friday - Drop Back and Punt - BP Catastrophe AUV #435Lorinda Pike
12-01-10 09:13:29Gulf Watchers Wednesday - 1990 Act of Congress Should Have Prevented Spill - BP Catastrophe AUV #434Yasuragi
11-29-10 16:56:01Gulf Watchers Monday - Fire Feinberg says one Gulf newspaper - BP Catastrophe AUV #43shanesnana

The last Mothership has links to reference material.

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

Again, to keep bandwidth down, please do not post images or videos.

Originally posted to Yasuragi on Sun Dec 12, 2010 at 06:58 AM PST.

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