From the belly of the beast:The ongoing disaster that Obama and BP pretend not to see

By Barry Sheppard, in San Francisco

April 20 was the first anniversary of the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico of a deep ocean oil rig owned by British Petroleum. Eleven workers were killed, and the ensuing massive oil leak over the next months became the greatest ecological disaster in US history.

From the beginning, BP and the Obama administration downplayed and lied about the catastrophe. Bit by bit information became available, mostly from independent news sources and scientists conducting their own studies. BP and the government did everything they could to keep reporters and scientists away from the vast extent of ocean affected.

When the well was finally capped, the administration pretended the 200 million gallons of leaked oil had magically disappeared. Obama declared seafood from the Gulf safe to eat, and he ingested some to reassure the public, which to this day doesn’t believe him. Sales of fish, shrimp and other seafood from the Gulf are way down.

The Gulf coast, especially Louisiana, has historically been one of the main fisheries in the US. Hundreds of thousand of fisher people were immediately thrown out of work. BP hired some, together with their boats, to work on containing the spill. Many who did such work now have severe health problems as a result. BP and the government deny that the spill caused any illnesses, calling such reports “anecdotal” and “unproven”. They want to limit what they are forced to pay to the victims.

Dangerous levels of toxins
Attorney Stuart Smith is trying to get some compensation for those who have suffered most from the disaster. He writes on his blog concerning seafood safety: “... some of the smartest, most diligent scientists I’ve ever met have found dangerous levels of toxins in seafood samples. They have taken the samples, they have had them tested by accredited labs and they have analyzed the result - and time and time again, they come up with dangerous toxicity levels in everything from fish to oysters to crabs to shrimp …

“Government officials continue to claim that they simply can’t find any worrisome contaminant levels. But as many of the fishing boat captains I work with remind me, you can control the test results by knowing where to get your samples. Translation: if you don’t want to find toxins in the seafood, take your samples in areas that were least impacted by the spill.

“And if that doesn’t bother you, remember that government protocol includes the infamous ‘sniff test,’ where inspectors simply smell the seafood to make sure it’s safe … Many of the toxins we’re talking about aren’t even detectable by smell. Not even a bloodhound on his best day could sniff them out.

“Another way the government controls the tests is by basing ‘acceptable’ toxicity thresholds on laughably low consumption levels. According to the government testing structure, the ‘safe’ consumption level for a grown man is four shrimp per week. Who the hell living on the Gulf of Mexico eats only four shrimp a week? ...”

‘Perception problem’
Smith added: “The well-oiled (sorry) BP spin machine has dropped hundreds of millions of dollars into convincing us that seafood safety concerns are merely a ‘perception problem.’ And many media types living far from the water no doubt agree. But if you take a closer look, you can’t ignore the accounts that are piling up like this one from the St Petersburg [Florida] Times:

“‘…over the winter, anglers who had been working the Gulf for decades began hauling in red snapper that didn’t look like anything they had seen before. The fish has dark lesions on their skin, some the size of a 50-cent piece. On some of them, the lesions had eaten a hole straight through to the muscle tissue. Many had fins that were rotting away and discolored or even stripped skin. Inside, they had enlarged livers, gallbladders, and bile ducts.’ …

“‘The fish have a bacterial infection and a parasite infection that’s consistent with a compromised immune system,’ said Jim Cowan, an oceanographer at Louisiana State University ... ‘There’s no doubt it’s associated with chronic exposure to a toxin.’”

Dead dolphins and sea turtles are washing up on the beaches in record numbers. Even the government reports that between February 2010 and April 2011, 406 dead dolphins, many of them babies, have washed up on the beaches, 10 times the norm.

Smith reports: “The numbers are even more startling when you factor in the dolphins that died out to sea, but were not recovered.” Estimates are that over 20,000 dolphins died at sea in this period. “That number - coupled with rising sea turtle deaths - has researchers extremely concerned that there is something very wrong beneath the surface of the Gulf …

“[National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] officials finally came clean earlier this month [April], admitting that at least some of the dead dolphins washing ashore are coated in oil from BP’s … well.”

Human health
Health problems in humans have spiked, too These include central nervous system depression, upper respiratory infections, hypertension, debilitating chest pain, incapacitating headaches, cardiovascular damage, recurring sore throat, severe sinus inflammation, high fever, vomiting and diarrhoea. The government dismisses these cases, too, since it can’t find absolute proof that these illnesses are related to the oil leak.

There are two sources of the toxins. One is the tens of millions of gallons of oil remaining in the water or on the bottom. The other is the more than one million gallons of chemical dispersants sprayed on the oil slick to break it into tiny droplets so it was no longer visible: out of sight, out of mind. The dispersants have mostly not been tested for toxicity. Those that have been tested have been banned in Britain, BP’s home, but are allowed in the US.

We don’t know the long-term effects of the disaster. Mishio Kaku, a theoretical physicist and a popular science writer, recently said that a gigantic science experiment is occurring in the Gulf, “and we are the guinea pigs”.

Much oil remains in the grasslands along the shore, breeding grounds for all types of sea creatures. The government claims that some of these grass islands have been cleaned up, but even there they are no longer green but brown.

The livelihoods of hundreds of thousands whose income depended on the Gulf have been turned upside down. BP promised a US$20 billion compensation fund, but a year later only $4 billion has been paid. The Obama-appointed official who is doling out the payments has concentrated on weeding out “fraudulent” claims. Some of these “criminals” have been sent to jail, while not a single BP official has been charged let alone convicted for their colossal crimes, including the deaths of the 11 oil rig workers.

Coming disasters
Big oil has no technology to deal with similar leaks. These giants are still pouring big bucks into research on how to drill far under water, but next to nothing on how to deal with the next disaster.

A recent dispatch by the Associated Press reads: “More than 3,200 oil and gas wells classified as active lie abandoned beneath the Gulf of Mexico, with no cement plugging to help prevent leaks ... the Associated Press has learned. These wells likely pose an even greater environmental threat than the 27,000 wells in the Gulf that have been plugged and classified as ‘permanently abandoned’ or ‘temporarily abandoned.’ Those sealed wells were first tallied and reported as a major leaking threat in an investigative report by the AP in July [2010].”

As in all big industries regulated by the government, the regulators come from management of the regulated industries. The regulators overseeing deep water oil and gas drilling refer to the big oil companies as their “clients”.

In a speech on “clean energy” in April, Obama reasserted his support for deep water drilling and expanded nuclear power (yes, after the nuclear catastrophe in Japan) - “safely” of course. BP has just been granted another drilling permit, with the supposedly mandatory environmental impact study waived. No need to do such a study, the administration says, because the chances of an accident are “very small”. H