When did oil misfortunes become so popular? Not that this topic hasn’t always been timeless and dramatic. (Like, it’s not every 1927 Upton Sinclair novel - the one called Oil! - so easily lends itself to being turned into an Oscar-winning film 80 years later. And it’s not every environmental catastrophe - the one created by oil - that’s devastating enough to lure Mos Def, Lenny Kravitz, the Preservation Hall Band, Trombone Shorty, and Tim Robbins simultaneously into the studio! See below.)
But a quick perusal of the news this week makes clear that misfortunes (to put it mildly) created by “oil” are all the rage, these days. Here’s our highlight reel:
On Thursday, the U.S. Justice Department “reached a $1.4 billion settlement ... with Transocean Ltd., the owner of the drilling rig that sank after an explosion killed 11 workers and spawned the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.” Notes the Associated Press, “BP PLC, which leased the rig from Transocean, already has agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties and plead guilty to manslaughter and other criminal charges related to the spill. The deal with BP doesn't resolve the federal government's civil claims against the London-based oil company.” And, “Last month, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans gave final approval to a class-action settlement agreement between BP and a team of private plaintiffs' attorneys. BP estimates it will pay about $7.8 billion to resolve these claims, but the settlement isn't capped. Barbier also is set to preside over a trial designed to identify the causes of BP's deadly well blowout and assign percentages of fault to the companies involved. The first phase of the trial is scheduled to start Feb. 25.”
Also yesterday, “The House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition called on the Interior Department and the Coast Guard to jointly investigate the New Year's Eve grounding of the Shell drilling vessel Kulluk on a remote Gulf of Alaska island, and a previous incident connected to Arctic offshore drilling operations in 2012.” Writes AP,
"The recent grounding of Shell's Kulluk oil rig amplifies the risks of drilling in the Arctic," they said in a joint statement. "This is the latest in a series of alarming blunders, including the near-grounding of another of Shell's Arctic drilling rigs, the 47-year-old Noble Discoverer, in Dutch Harbor and the failure of its blowout containment dome, the Arctic Challenger, in lake-like conditions."
And speaking of the Associated Press, the newswire just got hold of a Department of Transportation report to Congress (set to be released next week), which finds that 16 pipeline spills “caused by flooding and riverbed erosion dumped 2.4 million gallons of crude oil and other hazardous liquids into U.S. waterways over the past two decades. … Of the 2.4 million gallons of oil, gasoline, propane and other hazardous liquids released, less than 300,000 gallons was recovered,” threatening drinking water supplies.
The massive August 6 Chevron refinery fire in Richmond California (San Francisco’s East Bay) may have been made worse by company firefighters who may have punctured a pipe – a “40-year-old pipe had already been weakened by the heavy sulfur content of the crude oil being pumped through it.” Meanwhile, reports the New York Times, many area residents are furious about,
Chevron’s choice of metal to replace a 5-foot-long, 8-inch carbon-steel pipe that became corroded and sprang a leak in August. The resulting fire sent plumes of black smoke into the air, spewing emissions of sulfur dioxide, as the authorities warned Richmond residents to stay indoors. Thousands went to emergency rooms with various health complaints. Chevron says it will compensate residents with valid claims for medical and property expenses, although it has not said how many of the 23,700 claims it has received will qualify.
And there are more problems in the Gulf of Mexico. Check out this incredible story:
An oil company admitted Thursday that coffee filters were used to doctor water samples and cover up the fact that it was dumping oil and grease into the Gulf of Mexico on its platform 175 miles south of New Orleans.
W&T Offshore pleaded guilty to a felony and a misdemeanor and agreed to pay $700,000 in fines and $300,000 for community service. W&T, which is based in Texas, announced last month that it would plead guilty to tampering with water samples from its Ewing Banks Block 910 platform and illegally discharging into the Gulf. The guilty plea also included additional details about the company’s crimes.
Those details included the fact that W&T’s contractors used coffee filters to clean the water samples before submitting them to regulators. Also, the company admitted that when they spilled some oil in November 2009, they not only failed to report it to the Coast Guard, but sprayed the oil into the Gulf and then hired a company that worked for three days to clean the platform to make it look like there never was a spill.
Inspectors from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement still found oil staining on the platform deck and visible sheen in the water, all of which W&T failed to report as required.
Take it away, guys: