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Mon, 2014-07-28 11:22Guest
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Subsidy Spotlight: Paid to Pollute and Poison

This is a guest post by Paul Thacker, on assignment with Oil Change International. Cross-posted with permission.

A wife and mother of two from Venice, Louisiana, Kindra Arnesen says her life can be divided into two chapters: before April 20, 2010, and after. On that evening, an oil well located several miles off the coast of Louisiana discharged large bubbles of gas which traveled a mile to the surface before igniting, destroying the oil rig and killing eleven men. Thus began the worst marine oil spill in history and America’s largest environmental disaster, with hundreds of millions of gallons of oil eventually spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

Four years later, residents from surrounding communities claim they still struggle with the health problems caused by the BP oil spill. “You just learn to live sick,” says Arnesen, who complains of headaches and unexplained rashes that won’t go away.

Kindra Arnesen
Kindra Arnesen on the water (photo courtesy Cherri Foytlin)

Her husband, who was hired by BP to help clean up the spill, has it much worse.

Wed, 2014-04-30 21:55Steve Horn
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Explosive Virginia Train Carried Fracked Bakken Oil, Headed to Potential Export Facility

Platts confirmed CSX Corporation's train that exploded in Lynchburg, Virginia was carrying sweet crude obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin. CSX CEO Michael Ward has also confirmed this to Bloomberg.

“Trade sources said the train was carrying Bakken crude from North Dakota and was headed to Plains All American's terminal in Yorktown,” Platts explained. “The Yorktown facility can unload 130,000 b/d of crude and is located on the site of Plains oil product terminal.”

In January, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a Safety Alert concluding Bakken crude is more flammable than heavier oils. Hence the term “bomb trains.”

At least 50,000 gallons of the oil headed to Yorktown is now missing, according to ABC 13 in Lynchburg. Some of it has spilled into the James River, as previously reported on DeSmogBlog.

A map available on CSX's website displaying the routes for its crude-by-rail trains offers a clear indication of where the train was headed.


Map Credit: CSX Corporation

Formerly a refinery owned by Standard Oil and then BP/Amoco, Plains All American has turned the Yorktown refinery into a mega holding facility. 

Yorktown may become a key future site for crude oil exports if the ban on exports of oil produced domestically in the U.S. is lifted. 

Thu, 2014-04-24 11:16Farron Cousins
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Report: Arctic Oil Spill Readiness Virtually Nonexistent

Sea ice in the Arctic Circle is currently melting at a pace far greater than scientists had originally projected.  While this is bad news for the planet — sea ice helps reflect the sun’s rays and keeps the arctic cooler — it has created new paths for the oil industry to exploit the resources hidden deep under the icy water.

Drilling activities in the Arctic have currently stalled, but this stall isn’t going to last forever.  The Arctic is estimated to hold about 13% of the world’s oil reserves, and at least one-third of the total oil within U.S. territory.  This means that the oil companies don’t need to worry with drilling on foreign lands or about the prospect of not hitting a massive payday.  They will return.

That’s the problem – they will return.  According to a new report by the National Research Council, that is a very scary scenario for both the climate and the environment.  The report says that increased drilling and the placement of oil pipelines make oil spills a question of “when,” not “if.”

The report lays out two very specific themes with regards to Arctic drilling. The first is that there is no discernable oil spill response plan, and the second is that the history of oil companies tells us with great certainty that there will be a massive spill as a result of the increased activity in the region.

Tue, 2014-04-22 12:30Sharon Kelly
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Very Little Cheap Natural Gas in New York Marcellus Shale, New Report Concludes

For years, the shale industry has touted the economic benefits it can provide. An overflowing supply of domestic natural gas will help keep heating and electric bills low for American consumers, they argue, while drilling jobs and astounding royalty windfalls for landowners will reinvigorate local economies. These tantalizing promises have caught the attention of politicians in Washington, D.C. who argue that the rewards of relying on shale gas outweigh the risks, especially because harm can be minimized by the industry or by regulators.

But across the U.S., communities where drilling has taken place have found that the process brings along higher costs than advertised. Even when properly done, drilling carries with it major impacts — including air pollution, truck traffic, and plunging property values — and when drillers make mistakes, water contamination has left residents without drinking water or cleaning up from disastrous well blow-outs.

And as the shale drilling boom moves into its 12th year, the most crucial benefit claimed by drillers — cheap and abundant domestic fuel supplies — has come increasingly into question. The gas is there, no doubt, but most of it costs more to get it out than the gas is worth.

A new report from New York state, where a de facto shale drilling moratorium has persisted since 2008, concludes that unless natural gas prices double, much of the shale gas in the state cannot be profitably accessed by oil and gas companies.

Sun, 2014-04-20 13:01Farron Cousins
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Deepwater Horizon: BP’s Toxic Legacy

It has now been four years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 men and leaking an estimated 210 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.  The media attention has disappeared, but the oil that continues to wash up along the Gulf Coast is a constant reminder to those who call this area home of BP’s toxic legacy.

In spite of the massive evidence of fraud and malfeasance on behalf of BP, Transocean, and Halliburton, only one set of criminal charges was filed in the four years since the disaster.  Those charges were filed against BP engineer Kurt Mix, who has since been found guilty of obstruction of justice for deleting text messages about the true size of the oil leak.  However, Mix has yet to be sentenced, and the judge is currently weighing a defense motion to dismiss the charges altogether. 

The three companies involved — BP, Transocean, and Halliburton — have paid criminal fines for their actions, money that is supposed to go to states and individuals for the damage they suffered as a result of the spill.  But thanks to the dirty tricks employed by BP, those payments have slowed to a trickle.

Late last year, as their fines and legal payments began to exceed their original expectations, BP launched a massive PR blitz to demonize “greedy” oil spill victims who were seeking compensation.  The oil giant took out full-page ads in major newspapers like the Washington Post claiming that the spill claims process was riddled with fraud, and that the company was being raked over the coals by fraudulent payments.  The company successfully managed to stall payments for a while, with a judge recently ordering the company to continue making payments.

But for all of their crying over allegedly unfair payments, BP has made out like a bandit in the years since the company destroyed the Gulf of Mexico.  For starters, they avoided charges of manslaughter for criminal negligence that led to the death of the 11 rig workers.  Since the spill, the company has pulled in a net income of $38 billion over the last three years, and was recently granted the ability to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  For BP, everything has returned to normal.

Fri, 2014-03-28 09:48Steve Horn
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BP Lake Michigan Oil Spill: Did Tar Sands Spill into the Great Lake?

Is it conventional crude or tar sands? That is the question. And it's one with high stakes, to boot. 

The BP Whiting refinery in Indiana spilled between 470 and 1228 gallons of oil (or is it tar sands?) into Lake Michigan on March 24 and four days later no one really knows for sure what type of crude it was. Most signs, however, point to tar sands. 

The low-hanging fruit: the refinery was recently retooled as part of its “modernization project,” which will “provide Whiting with the capability of processing up to about 85% heavy crude, versus about 20% today.”

As Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Midwest Program Director Henry Henderson explained in a 2010 article, “heavy crude [is] code for tar sands.”

Albeit, “heavy crude” is produced in places other than Alberta's tar sands, with Venezuela serving as the world's other tar sands-producing epicenter. So, in theory, if it's heavy crude that spilled into Lake Michigan, it could be from Venezuela.

But in practice, the facts on the ground tell a different story. As a January 2014 article in Bloomberg outlined, the combination of the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom and the Canadian tar sands boom has brought U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil to 28-year lows.

Which brings us to the next question: how does the Canadian “heavy crude” get to BP's Whiting refinery to begin with? Enter: Enbridge's Line 6A pipeline.

Thu, 2014-03-27 16:03Steve Horn
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BP Doubles Initial Size Estimate of Lake Michigan Oil Spill

Three days after spilling crude oil into Lake Michigan, BP has doubled its spill estimate to between 470 and 1228 gallons. The leak happened at its refinery in Whiting, Ind.

Although some of the oil has been cleaned up, it's unclear how much is left in the lake, a drinking water source for about seven million Chicagoans.

Located just across the Illinois-Indiana state border, Whiting is home to the sixth largest refinery in the U.S. The refinery just went through a $4 billionmodernization project,” giving it “the capability of processing up to about 85 percent heavy crude.” That's up from its original 20 percent, says BP's website.

“Frigid temperatures caused some of the oil to harden into a waxy consistency that made it easier to collect,” BP spokesman Scott Dean told The Chicago Tribune. “Crews used vacuum trucks to suck up any liquid oil that washed ashore.”

The day after the spill, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), as well as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) issued press releases in which they pledged to hold BP accountable for the spill. Durbin and Kirk also wrote a follow-up letter to BP, requesting a meeting with BP.

“Any unanticipated spill is cause for concern, but given the Whiting refinery’s recent expansion of its operations to double the amount of heavy oil sands being processed, this spill raises questions about the long-term safety and reliability of BP's new, expanded production at Whiting,” they wrote

Sun, 2014-03-02 19:45Farron Cousins
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Mardi Gras: Beads, Bands…And BP Oil

More than one million tourists have flocked to the South for Mardi Gras, and hundreds of thousands of those revelers have settled in for a few days along the Gulf Coast.  Those who decided to enjoy the festivities along the Gulf of Mexico might be in for something they didn’t expect: oil tar mats.

On Thursday of last week, workers on Pensacola Beach, Florida spotted and brought to shore a 1,200 pound oil tar mat, which officials say accounted for about 90% of the total size of the mat.  While the bulk of the mat was a mixture of sand and other debris, scientists ran tests and were quickly able to determine that the oil in the mat was a perfect match for the oil released into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, as the Pensacola News Journal explains:

The weathered oil from the tar mat was confirmed to be MC-252 oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Although the waters of the Gulf of Mexico were once scoured regularly for residual oil from the spill, physical searches were phased out as the number of sightings began to dwindle.

In the summer of 2013, BP pulled their cleanup crews from the Gulf Coast, assuring residents and tourists alike that the oil spill was all cleaned up.  A few months later, the U.S. Coast Guard made similar claims to the public.

Furthermore, the public was assured as early as May 2010 — just one month after the oil leak began — that the majority of the oil would simply “dissolve” into the Gulf of Mexico.  This latest tar mat is undeniable evidence that oil from BP’s disaster still remains in the Gulf.

Tue, 2014-02-25 05:00Farron Cousins
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Gulf Of Mexico: Open For Dirty Energy Exploitation Again

It has been nearly four years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and neither the dirty energy industry nor politicians in Washington, D.C. have learned anything from that tragedy.  Even with new evidence showing that the entire ecosystem in the Gulf has been disrupted as a result of the oil spill, companies are about to receive a massive gift in the form of new oil drilling leases.

Both the Interior Department and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) have agreed to lease 40 million acres of water space in the Gulf of Mexico next month to support President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which is quickly beginning to look more like a “drill, baby, drill” policy.  The leases will be good for five years’ worth of exploration in the Gulf.

Fri, 2014-02-14 11:00Farron Cousins
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Oil Industry Profited Off Polluting Oil Spills, Fraud Investigation Underway

When an oil company’s negligence leads to an oil spill, the financial costs incurred by the company can be crippling.  They have to pay clean up costs, federal fines, and, in many cases, settlements to victims who have been affected by the spill.  Since these costs can be such a burden to the multi-billion dollar industry, they’ve figured out a way to recoup some of their losses by deceiving all the players involved.

Of course, these aren’t the massive oil spills that we’ve seen from Exxon and BP; these are the smaller ones that most people don’t hear about that typically occur when storage containers leak.  That’s where the industry has learned that oil spills can actually be good for their bottom line.

The scheme is known as “double dipping,” and it involves oil companies receiving both insurance funds for spill cleanup along with state funds to clean up oil leaks from underground tankers.  This allows the company to use funds for cleanup, and usually have a little left over to put in their pockets.

A new report by Reuters succinctly captures the essence of what’s happening in a single quote:  “When I first saw these cases, I thought this is kind of incredible,” said New Mexico assistant attorney general Seth Cohen, who handled the lawsuit for the state. “The oil companies have, in effect, profited off polluting.”

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