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Senators Robert Menendez, Frank Lautenberg, Kristen Gillibrand, and Charles Schumer have issued a report, "Justice Undone: The Release of the Lockerbie Bomber", which explores two questions: why the three month prognosis given to Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, who had prostate cancer, was based on the opinion of general practitioners rather than cancer experts, who testified the prognosis was, at best, flawed and at worst absurd; and, absent a false prognosis, what the actual motives were for the governments of the UK and Scotland to release al-Magrahi to Libyan authorities.
The UK’s actions violated a 1998 justice agreement with the U.S. that was meant to keep anyone convicted of the Lockerbie bombing inside of Scotland.
The deal was, according to the report, to protect a $900 million dollar oil exploration deal between Libya and BP.
"The threat of commercial warfare was a motivating factor. The U.K. knew that in order to maintain trade relations with Libya, it had to give into political demands. Faced with the threat of losing the lucrative BP oil deal and other commercial ties, the U.K. agreed to include al-Megrahi’s release in a Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) with Libya," the report said.
The document is the result of a five-month investigation into the prisoner release...
Menendez invited officials from BP, as well as the Scottish and U.K. governments to testify at a hearing in September on al-Megrahi’s release. All the officials declined the invitation.
A BP spokesman directed The Hill to the company's August 2010 response to the senators' questions about al-Megrahi's release. "To be clear, the decision to release Mr. [al-]Megrahi on compassionate grounds was made by the Scottish Executive alone, without any involvement by BP and without any communications from BP seeking the release of Mr. al-Megrahi," the company said.
The reportindicates that:
Senator Menendez invited Mr. Tony Hayward, former Group Chief Executive of BP; Sir Mark Allen, a consultant to BP and former MI6 agent; the Right Honorable Alex Salmond, Member of the Scottish Parliament and First Minister of Scotland; Mr. Kenny MacAskill, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice; Dr. Andrew Fraser, Scottish Prison Service Director of Health and Care; and the Right Honorable Jack Straw, former British Justice Secretary to testify before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. All of these individuals declined to participate or to send representatives to participate in the hearing.
BP's actions are presented in stark and chilling detail.
...In May 2007, the same month that BP signed its agreement with Libya, U.K. officials signed a memorandum of understanding with the Libyan
government, calling for an agreement on the PTA to be completed within twelve months. Economic considerations played a key role in the U.K.’s PTA negotiations with Libya. Ultimately, pressure from Libya and BP led the U.K. Government to include al-Megrahi in the agreement.
A statement by Colonel Muammar al-Qadhafi's son, Saif, is contained in the report:
["]For the past seven to eight years we have been trying very hard to transfer Mr. Megrahi to Libya to serve his sentence here and we have tried many times in the past to sign the prisoner transfer agreement without mentioning Mr. Megrahi, but it was obvious we were targeting him... The prisoner transfer agreement was on the table all the time. It was part of the bargaining deal with the U.K.... The fight to get the agreement lasted a long time and was very political, but I want to be very clear to your readers that we didn’t mention Mr. Megrahi... At all times we talked about the PTA. It was obvious that we were talking about him. We all knew that was what we were talking about.["]
When negotiations stalled, BP began to express alarm that its oil deal might be jeopardized by the "slow progress" in finalizing the PTA. BP officials informed the U.K. Government that the continued delay "might have negative consequences for U.K. commercial interests, including ratification of BP's exploration agreement." In fact, BP lobbied Secretary Straw on three separate occasions between October and November 2007, regarding the delay in PTA negotiations. Two of these contacts involved BP consultant Sir Mark Allen, a former British Secret Intelligence Service MI6 officer who was intimately involved in the negotiations over Libya's WMD disarmament in 2003. The U.K. was on notice that its foreign policy stance threatened potential lucrative deals for one of its largest companies.
For these reasons, in December 2007, the U.K. Government bowed to BP pressure and dropped the exclusion of al-Megrahi from the PTA. Just as it previously helped to save BP deals in Russia and in the U.S., the U.K. again took extraordinary steps to ensure BP's Libyan oil agreement. As Secretary Straw later described, Libyan trade concerns and the BP agreement factored heavily into the PTA decision. "I'm unapologetic about that..." he stated. "And yes, that included trade because trade is an essential part of it and subsequently there was the BP deal." ...
The report's conclusions are damning.
Evidence indicates that Al-Megrahi’s medical prognosis was manipulated by officials within the Scottish Government, including the Medical Director of the Scottish Prison Service Dr. Andrew Fraser and Dr. Peter Kay. Scottish officials ignored the advice of Scottish prostate cancer specialists regarding al-Megrahi’s prognosis, thereby violating Scottish legal guidelines that call for "a medical opinion that is as clear as possible as to the current level of incapacity and likely life expectancy." Instead, Dr. Fraser relied on his own judgment and that of Dr. Peter Kay for the prognosis. Both doctors are General Practitioners with no specialization, training, or experience in the treatment or prognosis of prostate cancer. Dr. Fraser and Dr. Kay were both aware of al-Megrahi’s desire to undergo chemotherapy, which they and medical science knew would extend his life an average of 17.5 to 19.2 months – more than a year beyond the three-month prognosis upon which compassionate release was based. One Scottish official even claimed that al-Megrahi had begun chemotherapy while in Scottish custody.
Dr. Fraser and Dr. Kay were aware of and possibly influenced by 1) medical reports by Libyan-hired doctors that gave a false prognosis of three months and 2) the political and economic consequences of al-Megrahi’s death in a Scottish prison. The Scottish Government should explain how it came to formulate such an incorrect prognosis through such a flawed process.
The Scottish Government took actions that demonstrated that it was at the very least sensitive to Libyan wishes with respect to al-Megrahi’s release – dating back to the time he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In a meeting shortly after al-Megrahi’s diagnosis, Scottish officials Robert Gordon and Valerie Macniven held discussions with senior officials from the Libyan and U.K. Governments regarding the convicted terrorist’s medical condition and avenues for release. Both Mr. Gordon and Ms. Macniven told the Libyans that the Scottish Government took a "humanitarian approach to prisoners in such circumstances" without any reference to, or concern for, the severity of the crime. Another example includes the Scottish Government’s response to al-Megrahi’s "unhappiness" with Dr. Kay because the physician wouldn’t provide a three-month prognosis in support of the interim liberation application. Instead of defending the doctor and insisting that medical science alone would determine Mr. al-Megrahi’s prognosis, Dr. Fraser and another Scottish Government official simply said that Dr. Kay would need to "restore" his relationship with the patient. The discrepancies in the official Scottish position on the PTA and compassionate release raise significant questions that officials were not willing to answer in the course of this investigation.
BP’s lobbying of the U.K. Government had a direct impact on the U.K.’s negotiation of the PTA, which in its original terms excluded al-Megrahi from consideration under the agreement. BP’s complete role in the matter remains hidden by both the U.K. Government
and BP itself.
Over U.S. objections, the U.K. Government violated and refused to defend the 1998 Lockerbie Justice Agreement that it signed with the United States. The Agreement calls for any suspects convicted of the Lockerbie bombing to serve out their sentences in the U.K. In doing so, the U.K. Government showed a disregard for the longstanding, cooperative relationship between the U.K. and the U.S.
The Libyan Government successfully freed al-Megrahi by using commercial warfare. Libyan officials made it abundantly clear to Scottish and U.K. Government officials that al-Megrahi’s death in a Scottish prison would be "a major problem" and "bad for relations," a message also delivered through BP officials. Libya’s practice of retaliating against unfavorable foreign policy decisions including harassing foreign nationals, foreclosing foreign investment opportunities, and nationalizing foreign assets were well-known by the Scottish and U.K. Governments.
The 58-page report calls on Libya to "allow for independent confirmation of al-Megrahi's health status and, based on the results of that review... return him to Scotland or place him in a Libyan prison in conditions comparable to those provided to other convicted murderers..." and on "U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to proceed with an independent inquiry into al-Megrahi’s release. The only way for the U.K. and Scottish Governments to remove the cloud of suspicion hanging over their respective governments is for the Prime Minister to launch an independent inquiry with full subpoena authority into al-Megrahi’s release. The inquiry should include a panel of international, independent prostate cancer specialists to examine the medical records of al-Megrahi."
The report also requests that the U.S. State Department, aided by the U.S. Intelligence Community "launch its own inquiry into al-Megrahi’s release
and... publicize its findings" in order to "fully understand why the Scottish and British Governments would have facilitated the release of a man convicted of killing 270 people including at least one intelligence officer."
The New York Times has published a long, detailed account of just what happened on the Deepwater Horizon before, during, and after the initial explosion that ultimately brought down the rig and tore it from its riser. The article is quite long, but well worth reading from start to finish.
...This was a disaster with two distinct parts — first a blowout, then the destruction of the Horizon. The second part, which killed 11 people and injured dozens, has escaped intense scrutiny, as if it were an inevitable casualty of the blowout.
It was not.
Nearly 400 feet long, the Horizon had formidable and redundant defenses against even the worst blowout. It was equipped to divert surging oil and gas safely away from the rig. It had devices to quickly seal off a well blowout or to break free from it. It had systems to prevent gas from exploding and sophisticated alarms that would quickly warn the crew at the slightest trace of gas. The crew itself routinely practiced responding to alarms, fires and blowouts, and it was blessed with experienced leaders who clearly cared about safety.
On paper, experts and investigators agree, the Deepwater Horizon should have weathered this blowout.
This is the story of how and why it didn’t.
What emerges is a stark and singular fact: crew members died and suffered terrible injuries because every one of the Horizon’s defenses failed on April 20. Some were deployed but did not work. Some were activated too late, after they had almost certainly been damaged by fire or explosions. Some were never deployed at all.
The paralysis had two main sources, the examination by The Times shows. The first was a failure to train for the worst. The Horizon was like a Gulf Coast town that regularly rehearsed for Category 1 hurricanes but never contemplated the hundred-year storm. The crew members, though expert in responding to the usual range of well problems, were unprepared for a major blowout followed by explosions, fires and a total loss of power.
They were also frozen by the sheer complexity of the Horizon’s defenses, and by the policies that explained when they were to be deployed. One emergency system alone was controlled by 30 buttons.
The [Deepwater Horizon's] alarm system relied on dozens of sensors strategically placed all over the Horizon. When a sensor detected fire or gas, a corresponding alarm lighted up on computer consoles — not just on the bridge, but also in the two other crucial parts of the rig, the drill shack and the engine control room. In theory, this meant anyone in the three critical locations could respond swiftly to the first sign of trouble.
As originally designed, this system would also automatically trigger the general master alarm — the shrill warning that signaled evacuation of the rig — if it detected high levels of gas. Transocean, though, had set the system so that the general master alarm had to be activated manually.
The change had the Coast Guard’s blessing, but Mike Williams, an electronics technician who maintained the system, testified that he had raised concerns about the setup’s safety.
"They did not want people woke up at 3 o’clock in the morning due to false alarms," he said.
The industry has long depicted blowout preventers as "the ultimate fail-safe." But Transocean says the Horizon’s blowout preventer was simply incapable of preventing this blowout. Evidence is mounting, however, that the blowout preventer may have been crippled by poor maintenance. Investigators have found a host of problems — dead batteries, bad solenoid valves, leaking hydraulic lines — that were overlooked or ignored. Transocean had also never performed an expensive 90-day maintenance inspection that the manufacturer said should be done every three to five years. Industry standards and federal regulations said the same thing. BP and a Transocean safety consultant had pointed out that the Horizon’s blowout preventer, a decade old, was past due for the inspection.
Transocean decided that its regular maintenance program was adequate for the time being.
[Chris] Pleasant was one of the supervisors responsible for the blowout preventer. With the main deck on fire, he ran for the bridge with one thought: they needed to disconnect the rig from the blowout preventer — and therefore from the well itself. That would cut off the fire’s main source of fuel and give the Horizon a fighting chance.
He just needed to activate the emergency disconnect system. Like a fighter pilot hitting eject, it would signal the blowout preventer to release the Horizon. It would also signal it to seal the well, perhaps stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
"I’m hitting E.D.S.," he told the captain.
Witnesses differ about what happened next. But they agree on a basic point: even with the Horizon burning, powerless and gutted by explosions, there was still resistance to the strongest possible measure that might save the rig.
According to Mr. Pleasant, the captain told him, "No, calm down, we’re not hitting E.D.S."
The article lays out, in extraordinary detail from first-hand accounts of the survivors exactly what went on with the crew in every location, failures of command, of lifeboats, of every emergency response available and practiced for just such a crisis. It's difficult to walk away from The Times piece without feeling even more certain that the Deepwater Horizon disaster was fully avoidable from the bottom up, and that every established safety protocol designed to save the rig and the workers was either never enacted or failed to work as designed. It is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand what happened the night of April 20, 2010.
Two weeks before the Deepwater Horizon blew, there was a massive release of toxic chemicals from BP's Texas City refinery.
The release from the BP facility here began April 6 and lasted 40 days. It stemmed from the company's decision to keep producing and selling gasoline while it attempted repairs on a key piece of equipment, according to BP officials and Texas regulators.
The unit was never completely shut down, and if it [had] been, the event probably would have received more attention. Any reduction in production for even as little as 24 hours is considered sufficiently important to be reported in the financial press to investors and others.
Environmental experts say the amount of chemicals released was one of the largest in recent Texas history.
The leak included 17,000 pounds of benzene (a known carcinogen), 37,000 pounds of nitrogen oxides (which contribute to respiratory problems), and 186,000 pounds of carbon monoxide.
Then, a mere six weeks later, another refinery accident:
BP Plc reported a release at its Whiting, Indiana, refinery early today, according to two county officials.
BP reported that a wet gas compressor tripped, according to filing at 7:34 a.m. local time with the Lake County Homeland Security Emergency Management Agency, Assistant Director Elijah Cole said in a telephone interview.
The refinery notified the Lake County sheriff’s department of a release at the same time, Mike Higgins, a spokesman for the department, said in an interview. The county hazardous materials coordinator is investigating the release, he said.
And last week:
BP plc has released an unknown quantity of sulfur dioxide at its Cherry Point refinery in Washington, according to two filings to the National Response Center.
The report said that the release of sulfur dioxide to the low pressure flare was caused due to maintenance activity. U.S. refineries must notify the center if they release hazardous substances in excess of reportable quantities, according to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, known as Superfund.
You'd think, by now, these guys would have some idea how to run a safe operation. But, as we know, that's just not on their list of Things to Do Today. Or, for that matter, any day. Any day at all.
Say what you will about Billy Nungesser, the man can never be accused of putting the safety of his Parish ahead of its economy.
Many local governments are shying away from natural-gas exploration within their borders -- indeed, the city of Pittsburgh recently became the largest metropolitan area to enact a ban on natural-gas drilling -- and an increasing number of news reports continue to disclose deadly environmental hazards associated with the practice.
It seems an odd time, then, for the president of Plaquemines Parish -- the coastal area of southeast Louisiana that was ground zero for the BP oil disaster -- to step forward with a new economic development plan for the region based principally on natural-gas drilling.
"Right now there's billions of dollars worth of gas -- proven reserves, 30 years of production -- under Plaquemines Parish alone and all of coastal Louisiana," Billy Nungesser, who became a ubiquitous face of citizen outrage on cable news during the height of the BP spill, told WWL-TV in New Orleans in an interview this morning.
Nungesser went on to suggest that the state government should "put an incentive out there," mentioning a steep tax cut to oil and gas companies specifically. The idea, he explained, is to "show the companies that are looking at major delays in federal permits offshore" that maybe it's in their interest to "redirect some of their energy to start drilling in state waters and we'll get a mini oil-boom here that we could definitely use across the coast." He added that laying out more red carpet for the energy industry would "put oilfield people back to work."
When asked about the safety issues that many environmental groups have raised over natural gas drilling, Nungesser insisted that "we don't need all the bells and whistles...all these reviews, and we sure don't need these bureaucrats in Washington to decide the permitting process. We need less government involvement."
In the wake of the BP oil disaster, some in Louisiana took to calling the state's marriage to the oil industry nothing less than a "deal with the devil." So to many observers, Nungesser's plan for Plaquemines Parish -- a community that will likely be dealing with the environmental fallout of oil drilling and exploration for years to come -- might seem like a deal with, well, the devil's little brother, the natural gas industry.
BP has come up with a unique plan for dealing with the thousands upon thousands of boom anchors they left when they bugged out of their clean-up operation. Rather than removing the ones they left, which routinely foul fishermen's nets and snag their propellers, BP will study the situation by... wait for it... placing even more anchors in an effort to learn how to locate them.
Wait -- it gets even better. They say the anchors aren't a hazard, as they're Danforth anchors, "which either embed in the sediment or lie flat on the sediment and do not protrude above the sediment," according to a BP spokesperson. Wikipediadescribes them this way:
The most common commercial brand is the Danforth, which is sometimes used as a generic name for the class. The fluke style uses a stock at the crown to which two large flat surfaces are attached. The stock is hinged so the flukes can orient toward the bottom (and on some designs may be adjusted for an optimal angle depending on the bottom type). The design is a burying variety, and once well set can develop an amazing amount of resistance. Its light weight and compact flat design make it easy to retrieve and relatively easy to store; some anchor rollers and hawse pipes can accommodate a fluke-style anchor.
The fluke anchor has difficulty penetrating kelp and weed-covered bottoms, as well as rocky and particularly hard sand or clay bottoms. If there is much current or the vessel is moving while dropping the anchor it may "kite" or "skate" over the bottom due to the large fluke area acting as a sail or wing. Once set, the anchor tends to break out and reset when the direction of force changes dramatically, such as with the changing tide, and on some occasions it might not reset but instead drag.
So BP might not even remove the orphaned anchors after their costly experiment. "BP-hired 'experts and contractors' will first determine whether the anchors pose a hazard and whether removal will cause more harm than good."
Local fishers complain that BP contractors simply cut the boom from the anchors, leaving the hazards in their waterways. The fishers say their nets have snagged and been torn by the anchors, and boat propellers have become tangled in the ropes that come up from the anchors and float to the surface.
BP has maintained that its contractors removed all the anchors that weren't embedded deep in sediment or had not long ago drifted away.
While BP has now agreed to pay for a pilot program, company officials maintain that most of the anchors do not pose a threat.
BP first is expected to hire contractors and experts "to look at the feasibility of finding these anchors," according to Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Lionel Bryant, who attended a joint meeting last week on the program.
First, though, BP is scheduled to place more anchors in local waters, Bryant said. Likely beginning in January, BP will begin a "test program" whereby contractors will place anchors in a controlled area in St. Bernard Parish to experiment with the best imaging techniques to locate them.
Once a proper location technique is identified, BP is expected to examine the anchors left behind to determine whether it is necessary to remove them.
St. Bernard President Craig Taffaro argued that BP's wavering on the removal issue "is outrageous" and "negligent."
"BP is going to take these anchors out one way or another, it's just a question of how long it will take them to resolve the problem they created," he said.
He estimates there are about 3,500 anchors in St. Bernard waters alone. Thousands more are estimated in Jefferson and Plaquemines' waterways.
Raymond Melerine's 25-foot boat nearly capsized when an anchor left behind by BP contractors snagged his fishing net and rocked him side to side.
When BP-contracted crews removed oil containment boom, they often just cut the it free, leaving behind the approximately 3-foot-tall, 75-pound Danforth-style aluminum anchors that had locked the boom to the seafloor.
After a few months of wrangling, members of the Unified Command, the multiagency organization responsible for oil spill response, met last week and the Coast Guard agreed to support a pilot program that would "only remove a small number of anchors in a controlled process to evaluate the program's effectiveness," according to St. Bernard President Craig Taffaro.
Pending potential Corps of Engineers permitting, the program, informally named the Orphan Anchor Program, could begin in a few weeks, authorities said.
[...T]he National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has agreed to conduct sonar tests to find the anchors on the seafloor. While BP has coordinates for where boom was laid out, officials say an exact list of which boom anchors were removed has not been produced.
Like Melerine, Jefferson Parish President John Young noted that the ropes coming off the anchors also pose a threat. He said he has received several photos from area fishermen showing their boats' propellers tangled in the ropes that come up from the anchors and float to the surface.
And while most say BP should be fiscally responsible for the removal, BP has not yet agreed to such payments, according to state and local officials. Currently it appears the National Pollution Fund Center's Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund will foot the bill.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits required to install boom state, "Booms and appurtenant structures shall be removed and disposed of in an environmentally acceptable manner, immediately following the completion of the mission."
The permits also require that within 30 days of receiving a permit, the permittee provide the corps with a restoration plan to remove the boom.
Clearly, BP's commitment to "make the Gulf whole again" has some serious challenges to overcome.
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:
|12-23-10 18:31:03||GW Special Christmas Block Party -- FaLaLa, La, La, La||Phil S 33|
|12-22-10 06:00:36||Gulf Watchers Wed. - Commission Slams Jindall's $360 Million Boondoggle - BP Catastrophe AUV #445||peraspera|
|12-19-10 08:05:22||Gulf Watchers Sunday - Near-Identical Accident by BP in Azerbaijan, 2008 - BP Catastrophe AUV #444||Yasuragi|
|12-17-10 18:13:40||Gulf Watchers Block Party - I Hear Voices||ursoklevar|
|12-17-10 07:59:26||Gulf Watchers Friday - The DOJ Kabuki Begins - BP Catastrophe AUV #443||Lorinda Pike|
|12-15-10 06:00:37||Gulf Watchers Wednesday - Louisiana Refineries Average 10 Accidents a Week - BP Catastrophe AUV #442||peraspera|
|12-13-10 15:13:15||Gulf Watchers Monday - Feinberg Bribing Spill Victims? - BP Catastrophe AUV #441||shanesnana|
|12-12-10 09:58:41||Gulf Watchers Sunday - BP's Destruction of Gulf Coast Continues - BP Catastrophe AUV #440||Yasuragi|
Previous motherships and ROV's from this extensive live blog effort may be found here.
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