Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Sea otters and a dead man

Here's what happens when an oil company is free to run rampant

I'll end the week where I began, with the BP oil spill.

I wrote on Monday that, according to the government's best estimate, roughly 800,000 gallons of goo have been pouring into the Gulf each day. But this morning we have an updated government estimate. It's roughly 1.3 million gallons a day.

But to truly get a flavor for the disaster, to really appreciate what can happen when private industry is free to profiteer in public waters without any meaningful federal oversight, let's check out a few telling details in the BP emergency spill plans. Naturally, the plans (one for the Gulf region, one for the Deepwater rig) were approved last year by the lapdog practitioners of laissez faire.

The Associated Press dug into the cursory plans on Wednesday - laudably so, demonstrating yet again the public service value of mainstream journalism - and it came up with some goodies that would be hilarious if not for the fact that they are scandalous:

1. BP boasts in its plans that, under the worst-case spill scenario, it could skim, vacuum, or otherwise remove as many as 20 million gallons of oil a day. (BP is currently capturing roughly 630,000 gallons a day.)

2. BP says there was a 21 percent chance of any oil reaching the Louisiana coast within a month of a spill. Nor did BP foresee any harm to coastal marine life; in its words, "Due to the distance to shore, 48 miles, and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected." (The oil reached the coast - 100 percent chance - within nine days of the spill. BP tells the AP: "We are greatly disappointed that oil has made landfall." The crisis itself "will offer us much to learn from.")

3. There are no details in the plans about how birds should be cleansed of oil, because BP didn't envision any such need.

4. There is no mention whatsoever of the Gulf's loop current, which is expected at some point to transport the oil around Florida's southern tip and up the eastern seaboard.

5. To demonstrate its preparedness for an emergency, BP mentions an equipment firm called Marine Spill Response Corp., and lists the firm's website address. But the address itself links to a defunct Japanese language home page.

6. BP lists otters, sea lions, seals, and walruses as "sensitive biological species" that deserve protection in the Gulf of Mexico. There are no otters, sea lions, seals, or walruses in the Gulf of Mexico.

7. BP lists emergency phone numbers for mammal specialist offices in Florida and Louisiana. Turns out, those numbers are no longer in service. BP also listed a few marine life specialists, but got their names and phone numbers wrong.

8. And finally, the piece de resistance: BP lists Professor Peter Lutz as a go-to wildlife specialist based at the University of Miami. Turns out, Peter Lutz left the University of Miami 20 years ago. Remember, this BP emergency plan was written in 2009. Peter Lutz died in 2005.

Does anyone out there care to argue that what America needs now is more deregulation? Does anyone care to argue in favor of keeping the federal law that caps an oil company's liability for spill-related damages at a mere $75 million (roughly what an oil company earns in a day)? And how at this point can any sentient American continue to gas up his car at a BP station?


The sole proprietor of this blog is on the road for the month of June. Virtually all June posts will be briefer than the norm, except on the rare weekdays when posts won't show up at all. Apologies in advance for this disturbance in the force. The standard verbosity will return on Monday, June 28.