Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 14, 2010

SIZE MATTERS.... BP has said it doesn't really know how much oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, but the exact number isn't especially relevant. A company spokesperson said "the estimated rate of flow would not affect either the direction or scale of our response."

But there's more to it than that.

BP initially said the disaster was producing about 1,000 barrels a day. Soon after, a government agency put the number closer to 5,000 barrels a day. As more information has become available, estimates have soared. Techniques and experts are available to assist with the measurement, but BP doesn't want to use them.

Getting reliable information seems like a good idea.

Scientists said that the size of the spill was directly related to the amount of damage it would do in the ocean and onshore, and that calculating it accurately was important for that reason. [...]

Environmental groups contend ... that the flow rate is a vital question. Since this accident has shattered the illusion that deep-sea oil drilling is immune to spills, they said, this one is likely to become the touchstone in planning a future response.

"If we are systematically underestimating the rate that's being spilled, and we design a response capability based on that underestimate, then the next time we have an event of this magnitude, we are doomed to fail again," said John Amos, the president of SkyTruth. "So it's really important to get this number right."

Meanwhile, there are some fears that it will simply be impossible to shut down the gusher of oil, and that the spill will get worse until it's tapped dry. BP's chief executive has estimated "that the reservoir tapped by the out-of-control well holds at least 50 million barrels of oil." That's about 2 billion gallons -- making this disaster easily the worst ever.

Adding insult to injury, the Minerals Management Service, the agency within the Interior Department responsible for offshore drilling, continues to be an embarrassment. In the Bush/Cheney era, MMS became one of the most corrupt government agencies in American history, embracing an anything-goes atmosphere that led to literally Caligula-like corruption and debauchery -- including federal officials trading cocaine and sex for lucrative oil contracts.

Today we learn that MMS "gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency that assesses threats to endangered species -- and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf."

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Today we learn that MMS "gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits ..."

This is where the Obama failure to clean house and get rid of the anti-government, anti-regulation moles hired by Bush hurts Obama's credibility.

Posted by: bakho on May 14, 2010 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

not just ignoring 'strong warnings' -- but actually rewriting scientists' reports.

yeah, obama should have cleaned house -- but imagine the howls of purging that would have occurred had he done so at the time. now would be a good time to make those moves across all agencies. root out those embedded bushies before they do any more damage to this country.

Posted by: bkny on May 14, 2010 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, bakho. This is definitely Obama's fault and no one else's. He should have fired everyone in the MMS and checked that well himself. Afterall, he's done nothing but vacation since he took office.

Actually, this is what happens when you let the babies drill. That a majority of Americans still approve of off-shore drilling is a sign that, unfortunately, this disaster is nowhere near catastorphic enough to concern most people. I hate to think what sort of calamity it's going to take to change the average mind.

Posted by: chrenson on May 14, 2010 at 8:20 AM | PERMALINK

I read about the MMS a couple years ago, so incoming Obama officials must have known what a bordello the place was. Did they review the contracts issues by MMS under the W administration? Did they check for shoddy compliance with safety regulations and tighten enforcement?
Doesn't look like it, because by contract BP was supposed to have miles of foating barriers nearby at all times. Instead, the US navy has been towing them into place belatedly, because BP wasn't prepared.
Unfortunately, even if the original sins here transpired between BP and the Bushies, after 17 months in office Obama owns this mess.
I think we are going to end up with a huge cordoned-off area of the Gulf from which the oil will be pumped off the surface until the well peters out.

Posted by: slader on May 14, 2010 at 8:21 AM | PERMALINK

Obama "can't" clean house, because the Bush/Cheney Petrocrime syndicate stacked the MMS---and all the other regulatory agencies---with middle-management career civil service lackeys. Lackeys whose jobs are protected by law, and will be defended to the hilt by the oligarchic majority on the Supreme Court. You want a clean house? You'll need something more than a mop; you'll need a wholesale uprising by an angry populace; a populace that must first be broken free from the chains of a mind-numbing M$M....

Posted by: S. Waybright on May 14, 2010 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

The FBI needs to arrest every employee of the MMS who worked there between 2000 and 2009 as well as every oil company CEO and lobbyist who dealt with the MMS agency and interrogate them at Gitmo until the end of time. These bastards are causing more damage and destruction than Al Quada ever could.

Posted by: PaulW on May 14, 2010 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

Makes you wonder if only that "Mom and Pop" driller, "Hank and Gertrude's Drilling and Auto Repair" out of Mobile, had been awarded the bid, instead. Thanks, Lisa, for thinking of them.

Posted by: berttheclock on May 14, 2010 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

All this, while the complete complement of the executive branch of the W administration continues to ride further off into the sunset, escaping all accountability. WTF?

Posted by: Bill on May 14, 2010 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

This is just the latest example of "Chickens coming home to roost".

Chickens that were hatched from eggs that were laid in the early years of the 20th C, and incubated under Republican behinds, starting with Reagan.

Posted by: DAY on May 14, 2010 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

How ironic - The platform was "flagged" in the Marshall Islands, meaning only a representative from those islands could sign off on inspections and not, our USCG. As those islands were listed as the most contaminated region in the world, following our nuclear testing in the fifties on those islands, now, the Gulf has become our most contaminated area.

Posted by: berttheclock on May 14, 2010 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

It's not just the audacity of it all but how prevalent this cavalier attitude towards big energy companies is.

Remember Cheney's secret meetings?

Now we know why there was so much secrecy; to willfully hide
the fact that many drilling/mining projects were given go-aheads without requisite permits.

It's not just size, but also toxicity that matters.

To shrug this spill off as a micro-spill in a vast ocean is to woefully underestimate the bio-toxicity of this event.

We thrash around looking for a cure for cancer, when all around us we expose ourselves to aromatic petrochemicals.

I don't want BP to reap green rewards after this mess, all of their
green energy schemes need to be forever stigmatized with the
aromatic hydrocarbon nightmare gurgling into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Bush years were all about oil/gas/coal and warfare coupled with financial shenanigans.

We are reaping what was sown....

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on May 14, 2010 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

In the swirling chocolatey rainbows, if you look at just the right angle, you see Dick Cheney's beatific visage -- God damn his shit-filled soul to hell.

Posted by: neill on May 14, 2010 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

And Landrieu supportd the oil companies and licentious practices so she can have more $ in her coffers

Posted by: mljohnston on May 14, 2010 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, something I've requested of other bloggers, and may move on to the MSM: Please quit referring to the number of barrels of oil. People don't know how much that is or think in those terms. Do the calculation to barrels for us every time. You got pretty close this time (if my source is correct, a barrel is 31 gallons so the spill would be 1.55billion gallons).

This is like Dean Baker keeps pointing out about budget numbers, nobody thinks in those sizes, so it is up to reporters to translate.

Posted by: martin on May 14, 2010 at 9:06 AM | PERMALINK

I expect in the coming months, massive tea party rallies demanding a lift on the cap of damages paid by BP and the oil industry. No way will a tea party patriot allow the American taxpayer to be on the hook for this.........surely no way.

Posted by: oh my on May 14, 2010 at 9:21 AM | PERMALINK

Something strange with this. ARCO has been dropping their prices at the pump. Is this simply a PR move?

Posted by: berttheclock on May 14, 2010 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

The stop gap measure!: Sarah Palin's mouth on one leak, Liz Cheney's on another. Let's send them to the bottom of the gulf immediately! Also, can't we throw the tea-baggers, David Vitter and his "family value" depends, all FOX "reporters" and any other obstructionist liar into the water and see if the soak up the oil spill?

I guess I was dreaming during a nightmare again...

Posted by: Trollop on May 14, 2010 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

All part of the Bush/Cheney legacy. I'm so pissed, I could spit.

Posted by: sparrow on May 14, 2010 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

BP, Halliburton, and Transoceanic don't seem to know much of anything about their business. Don't know how much oil is gushing, didn't know methane ice crystals form a mile down in the ocean, don't know how to operate blow out devices, don't know how to cement a rig, apparently didn't know that methane gas is flammable.

So all that PR about advanced, environmentally sensitive resouce extraction was really just bull shit. Getting oil out of the ground is the same dirty, dangerous, planet killing process it's always been.

Posted by: bcinaz on May 14, 2010 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

"change the average mind " ? I was not aware that the American voting populace were in possession of any kind of mind, based on what I've read and seen.

Posted by: rbe1 on May 14, 2010 at 10:09 AM | PERMALINK

Re bakho at top: from what I gather, there a legal barriers to just "cleaning house" and Obama can't get rid of everyone he'd like to or should. That was part of why Bushit moles were put in: they'd be hard or impossible to root out. We must be careful that criticism of Obama is vetted for accuracy and practical force, not just venting off top of our heads and hearts.

Posted by: neil b on May 14, 2010 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Have there been any whistle-blowers concerning the corruption at MMS? If so, what's their status? Transfered? Fired?

If there have not been any whistle-blowers, the agency should be gutted top to bottom and their jobs given to displaced, bankrupted, layed-off miners, fishermen, etc. Even without advanced degrees and ties to industry, they could do no worse.

Posted by: Winkandanod on May 14, 2010 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

martin - An oil barrel holds 42 gallons. A beer barrel holds only about 31 gallons.

Posted by: joann c. on May 14, 2010 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

The devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on therange.Three weeks later, a cow walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn't believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of tow's mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, It's a miracle!Not really, said the cow. Your name is written inside the cover.

Posted by: Gravor on September 30, 2010 at 1:47 PM | PERMALINK
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