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First (we hope) arrest in the BP investigation; accused appears in court in Houston. Reaction from the LA Bucket Brigade. Shrimp processors object to settlement terms. Dismal view for health of Gulf ecosystem. Oil industry safety progress? Probably not. Brown pelicans okay..for now. Healing the marsh with pillows.

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Update re: court appearance of Kurt Mix.

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, BP said it would have no comment on the charges against Mix, and that it “is cooperating with the Department of Justice and other official investigations into the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill.”
“BP had clear policies requiring preservation of evidence in this case and has undertaken substantial and ongoing efforts to preserve evidence,” the statement said.

Mix appeared Tuesday afternoon in Houston before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith, who freed Smith on $100,000 bail and ordered him to stay in Texas or Louisiana. Smith ordered Mix to appear May 3 in U.S. District Court in New Orleans.

Mix said nothing in court, and his lawyer, David Gerger, declined comment after the hearing.

On Wednesday, a federal judge in New Orleans is expected to consider a motion to approve a $7.8 billion civil settlement between BP and a committee of plaintiffs in a civil case.

As we all remember, there was much discussion about how much oil was flowing from the BP gusher immediately after the blowout, from an abysmally low 1,000 barrels per day, up to 80+ thousand barrels.

However, some apparently had more working knowledge - and one of those with the information was BP drilling and completions project engineer Kurt Mix. Now no longer employed by BP, Mix knew that a high rate of flow - above 15,000 barrels per day - would negate any efforts with the "top kill" procedure of pushing heavy drilling mud into the pipe and surrounding casing. It just wouldn't work.

According to the Justice Department, Mix was told by BP to save all of the information he had acquired relating to top kill, including more than 200 text messages. But...he didn't.

As per the DOJ document...

On or about Oct. 4, 2010, after Mix learned that his electronic files were to be collected by a vendor working for BP’s lawyers, Mix allegedly deleted on his iPhone a text string containing more than 200 text messages with a BP supervisor.  The deleted texts, some of which were recovered forensically, included sensitive internal BP information collected in real-time as the Top Kill operation was occurring, which indicated that Top Kill was failing.  Court documents allege that, among other things, Mix deleted a text he had sent on the evening of May 26, 2010, at the end of the first day of Top Kill.  In the text, Mix stated, among other things, “Too much flowrate – over 15,000.”  Before Top Kill commenced, Mix and other engineers had concluded internally that Top Kill was unlikely to succeed if the flow rate was greater than 15,000 barrels of oil per day (BOPD).  At the time, BP’s public estimate of the flow rate was 5,000 BOPD – three times lower than the minimum flow rate indicated in Mix’s text.

In addition, on or about Aug. 19, 2011, after learning that his iPhone was about to be imaged by a vendor working for BP’s outside counsel, Mix allegedly deleted a text string containing more than 100 text messages with a BP contractor with whom Mix had worked on various issues concerning how much oil was flowing from the Macondo well after the blowout.  By the time Mix deleted those texts, he had received numerous legal hold notices requiring him to preserve such data and had been communicating with a criminal defense lawyer in connection with the pending grand jury investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Is it live...or is it Memorex? Was it Mix himself, or was it on BP's orders? Inquiring minds want to know...

How high was the flow rate, actually? Top kill sure as hell didn't work. Neither did the "junk shot". By then BP was really grasping at least the ones they weren't trying to stuff down the blown-out hole.

Yeah, as someone stated earlier, this is low-hanging fruit. But there are indications that a bunch of those apples are not falling far from the tree.

And although he might not have the cojones he once had (well, better cojones than others...) our "man in Washington" at least is saying the right things...

"The courts will determine whether these actions were an obstruction of justice, but we already know that BP had a policy of obfuscation during the spill when it came to the amount of oil flowing out of the Macondo well," said U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee.

"Two years after the BP spill, the company is still challenging the size of the spill to reduce their own liability and fines," Markey said. "It is not surprising that there may be instances where BP employees tried to cover up their tracks, when billions of dollars in fines are at stake that should be paid to the American people."

Will Rep. Markey or anyone ever get to the bottom (or top) of this? Probably not in our lifetimes. But hey, it's a start...maybe...

Reaction from the grassroots of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade on the arrest (h/t I'm hungry for something from a cart on Royal Street...)

Statement in response to the first criminal indictment from the BP Spill reprinted in its entirety, because I don't think they will mind. Go to the link and check out the website, and help if you can. They do good work.

Today a former BP employee has been indicted.  We believe that there are more criminal indictments of oil companies possible, if only the Department of Justice would look.  The Department should look into ongoing actions by managers at the ExxonMobil, Citgo, Chalmette Refining, Calumet and Motiva refineries here in Louisiana.

Why do we think there is criminal behavior? Because the oil industry tells us so. Their own reports to the state and federal government about their accidents detail a harrowing story of explosions and spills. Refinery neighbors and industry employees tell us something is drastically wrong. But the managers ignore the concerns and keep the refineries and the rigs running full steam ahead.

BP engineer Kurt Mix has been indicted for destroying evidence. This was wrong. What was also wrong were BP’s consistent efforts to hide the facts about the flow rate from the public. We now know that BP told the public that 5,000 barrels of oil were flowing per day, even as their own engineers estimated the amount to be 15,000 barrels. In fact, 50,000 barrels of oil were gushing into the Gulf of Mexico every day. Where is the prosecution for misleading the public?

Oil companies – including BP - should be investigated for knowingly making false statements to the public. “There is no danger,” we are told after every refinery accident or oil spill. “There is no off site impact.” Such false statements happened during the BP Disaster and happen on a regular basis from oil industry spokesmen around the state.

There is a danger that Kurt Mix as an individual will be demonized. What he did was wrong, but the renegade culture of the Louisiana oil industry spawned his behavior. Kurt Mix’s moral measuring stick reflects the oil industry, coming up short long before he deleted those text messages.

The Inspector General of the Environmental Protection Agency wrote in December of 2011 that Louisiana has a culture of protecting the oil industry rather than regulating it. It is this culture that allowed the BP Disaster to happen, and this culture (and more disasters) that will continue unless criminal prosecutions of oil industry executives commence.

Shrimp processors object to BP settlement terms.

Some shrimp processors on the Gulf Coast asked a federal judge yesterday to delay an initial approval on a portion of a class-action settlement proposed by BP in payment of lost income after the gusher.

BP is slated to pay $2.3 billion for some seafood-related claims, but the American Shrimp Processors Association says the settlement unfairly excludes the processors from receiving a portion of the settlement, instead compensating mainly shrimp harvesters, boat captains and some others, and denying claims from other businesses that depend on the shrimp harvest, but do not direct qualify for the settlement program.

“The two groups are part of the same shrimp supply chain and share virtually identical future economic loss risk; however, their compensation for future economic loss risks is widely disparate for a number of reasons under the proposed Class Settlement,” the association’s attorneys wrote.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier scheduled a hearing Wednesday on last week’s request by BP and the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee for his preliminary approval.

The association, which represents about 42 shrimp docks, processors and related companies, is asking for more time to possibly modify the settlement’s terms to satisfy their objections. Florida Attorney General Pamela Jo Bondi also has urged Barbier to hold off on giving preliminary approval to the deal before “other interested stakeholders” can review and comment on its terms.

In an April 13 court filing, Bondi said the settlement seems to apply only to claims from Florida residents and businesses on the Panhandle or along the west coast of the state, possibly shutting out thousands of other claimants in other parts of the state. Bondi also expressed concern that Barbier’s preliminary approval would eliminate the interim claims process.

Judge Barbier has yet to decide whether to give a final approval to BP's settlement, but set a deadline of May 1st for others involved to weigh in on that issue.

Oil spill’s long-term effects on sea life have yet to surface.

It will take years, perhaps decades, to know the full extent of the damage done to the Gulf ecosystem by the BP blowout and the damaging effects of abortive attempts at "cleanup". The collapse of herring fisheries in Prince William Sound occurred nearly three years after the Exxon Valdez ran aground and spilled what amounted to a tiny amount of oil in comparison to the BP gusher.

The Ixtoc I blowout off Yucatan in 1979 spewed 3.5 million barrels into the Gulf, and fishing was damaged for fifteen years afterward.

We are just beginning to see evidence that the long-term damage could be horrific...

“Many of the kinds of impacts that would be a precursor of long-term damages, we have not seen,” said Donald Boesch, a University of Maryland professor of marine science who served on the president’s commission studying the oil spill. “That reduces our apprehension about the long-term effects.”

Nonetheless, Boesch and other scientists say there are troubling signs that the 4.9 million barrels of spilled oil have penetrated a wide array of sea life.

Scientists have found zooplankton with toxic compounds from contact with Deepwater Horizon oil; “black scum” on a deep-sea coral colony 7 miles from the ill-fated, BP well; deformed killifish, a forage species in Louisiana’s marshes; and an abnormally high number of dead or seriously ill bottlenose dolphins in the northern Gulf.

The scientific findings are isolated and not fully understood, but there is consensus that the long-term health of the Gulf will not be fully known for years.

(If you haven't already, please check out this in-depth diary by Siri and this piece from original Gulf Watcher khowell for additional information on what fishermen and shrimpers are experiencing.

Am I going to believe the PR and eat Gulf seafood? Don't think so.)

And then there's this...

Industry’s progress on offshore safety still draws skepticism.

Oil companies say they are working on making offshore safer, and we are told government regulations will help. But with all that money and power at stake, what are we to believe? What they tell us, or our lyin' eyes?

“If a similar disaster happened today, there’s no guarantee that we wouldn’t get the same result,” said David Pettit, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“When we were looking at the spill and watching it continue to gush into the ocean uncontrollably and shared that feeling of helplessness we had two years ago, I’m sure at the time everybody knew for a fact that when this was all over things were going to change, that we’d improve safety,” said Jacqueline Savitz, a senior scientist with the conservancy group Oceana. “Unfortunately, that hasn’t come to be.”

And, given the fact that we're often looking at lots of foxes guarding the henhouse...
The Houston-based Center for Offshore Safety, created by the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s top trade group, is focusing on helping companies develop federally mandated Safety and Environmental Management Systems to deal with risks in drilling and production.
Charlie Williams, a Shell scientist who heads the center, says the Center will push companies to focus on process safety.
“It’s all about maintaining this high level of awareness — consistently, every second and every minute and every hour of every day,” Williams said. “It’s easy to say ‘we’re going to put no-slip stairs everywhere.’ And it’s easy to fall into the trap of getting really focused on that — which is important — but lose your focus on getting good standards and good work processes that make sure we are following the standards and making decisions in a way that supports safety.”
Aaahh, our old friends, the American Petroleum Institute... Yeah, I trust them just about as far as I can throw the Nazgul, all nine of their horses, and the Koch brothers.
But safety experts warn that cultural change needed to put safety at the forefront of every decision can’t come solely from the boardroom or new operational standards.

“They will not be effective over time unless the underlying culture changes,” said Nancy Leveson, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and member of a government offshore advisory board.

After the spill, regulators forced companies seeking permits for new deep-water wells to prove they could contain sub-sea blowouts. That prompted two systems, developed by the Marine Well Containment Co. and Helix Well Containment Group.

But critics say that testing of the devices doesn’t offer a guarantee that they will work in an emergency.

“What they are doing in standing up these two response organizations is very positive,” said Bob Graham, the former Florida governor who co-chaired the presidential spill probe. “However, the reality is that none of that has been put to the test. We don’t know whether the response capability will function as well in a real situation as it does on paper.”

After all, Graham noted, “there was a great difference between the response plans that BP submitted” prior to drilling its Macondo well and the attempts to stop the subsea gusher that took 87 days to control.

Any of BP's initial response plans was rendered moot by the actuality of the resulting gusher. And the "innovations" touted by API and their corporate ilk are of no comfort.
Although off-the-shelf containment systems are now readily available in the Gulf of Mexico, the industry is still responding to potentially lethal shortcomings in blowout preventers used to guard against uncontrolled surges of oil and gas. After an examination of the BOP used at the Macondo well found its powerful blades could not sever drill pipe that had been pushed askew by flowing oil and gas, a National Academy of Engineering panel insisted there was an “urgent need” to redesign the devices.

Williams acknowledged that the industry hasn’t “added a lot of new technology back into the blowout preventers,” but emphasized that “there’s a lot of new technology in development, some of it really close.”

Mr. Williams, do you have a horse?

But there may be a bit of good news... that is, if the Corexit-laced mutated seafood doesn't kill them later...

Brown pelicans rebounding, 2 years after Gulf oil spill.

Last Thursday morning, the Cat Islands in Barataria Bay looked like a slice of brown pelican heaven. Every mangrove bush seemed crowned by a nest, and each nest was home to a group of youngsters, from the tiny, hairless newborns that resemble dinosaurs more than birds, to the gangly adolescents trying to test their emerging plumage. And each nest was guarded by at least one vigilant parent while other adults were wheeling across the blue sky hunting for finned meals in the sparkling green waters below.

Yet while researchers and staffers from environmental groups like the Audubon Society say they are happy so far -- it's the "so far" that concerns them.

Like the microbes of a deadly contagion, components of the oil that infiltrated this ecosystem can remain toxic for decades, posing a viable threat to its population of fish and wildlife that entire time.

"Just as we can't see germs to avoid them, birds don't have a way to recognize oil as a threat in their environment," said Melanie Driscoll, Audubon's director of bird conservation for the Gulf Coast and Mississippi Flyway.

"They are helpless to protect themselves in the face of this type of threat," Driscoll said. "They will go back to the places they always go, because they can't recognize the harm in doing so.

"So we won't know how much harm is done for years to come."

And because I need to know there are people (not unlike our own Crashing Vor) who are dreaming of new things and thinking outside the box, I end with this:

Healing the marshes with floating pillows.

Flotant marsh plants like maidencane (Panicum hemitomon) are not directly planted, so a new project unveiled in Barataria Preserve in Jean Lafitte Park hopes to recreate mats of flotant marsh, by a similar, but simpler method as planting underwater vegetation in Bayou St John.

Crab trap wire was folded into "pillows" with pool noodles, and filled with maidencane plants.  The noodles give the plants a lift, and the wire protects them from voracious nutria.  Linked together, the few plants in each pillow will grow and expand toward each other to knit a mat of flotant marsh in a couple of years.  This once-abundant type of marsh was found all throughout Barataria and Terrebonne Basins. If this method works, the Bayou Bienvenue area near New Orleans can also be restored to fresh marsh this way.

Please check out the pictures. So beautifully simple...

Previous Gulf Watcher diaries:

4-10-12 04:00 PM Gulf Watchers Tuesday - 95% of BP's Atlantis engineering docs not approved - BP Catastrophe AUV #585 peraspera
3-27-12 03:00 PM Gulf Watchers Tuesday - BP's Fingerprints Found At Dead Coral Crime Scene - BP Catastrophe AUV #584 Lorinda Pike
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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