Dark tales emerge of oil cesspool  

Posted by Big Gav in , , , ,

The SMH has an article on the lack of regulation (and corruption of the regulator - "US government workers accepted gifts and gratuities at least 135 times from oil and gas corporations") of the oil industry in the US - Dark tales emerge of oil cesspool.

Though indemnified against the clean-up cost by BP, the US government faces billions of dollars of flow-on expenses at a time when the budget deficit is running above $US1 trillion ($1.1 trillion) a year.

Rising political opposition to renewed exploration drilling off the east coast looks likely to throw a spanner in the Obama administration's wider energy program, finely balanced to capture Republican support for measures to fight climate change. ''No additional drilling has been authorised and none will until we find out what happened,'' the White House adviser David Axelrod assured an anxious public. With 800,000 litres of oil pouring into the Gulf daily, a common refrain was to forget offshore drilling altogether, at least ''until we get some answers'', argued William Galston, a fellow of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

And a sinister theory was emerging, with the Wall Street Journal casting doubt on a procedure known as cementing, aimed at sealing gaps between the well pipe and the drill hole to prevent oil and gas escaping.

The technique has been implicated in a study by the US Minerals Management Service (MMS), an arm of the Interior Department responsible for offshore drilling, in almost half of the 39 blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico in 14 years before 2007.

Recognising its limitations, the MMS issued a safety notice in 2000 recommending use of a back-up device, an acoustic shut-off switch common to oil rigs in Norway and Brazil. But in the face of industry opposition, and an industry-sympathetic Bush administration, the regulators stalled the requirement, citing the $US500,000 cost per rig as cause for a rethink.

Suspicions deepened when it emerged that Halliburton, the Texas oilfields company once headed by the former US vice-president Dick Cheney, handled the cementing for BP's Deepwater Horizon well. [Halliburton was also the cementer on a rig in the Montara oilfield off Western Australia that caught fire last August and spewed oil into the Timor Sea.] ''So here's my question,'' asked Galston, citing evidence the MMS had become ''a cesspool of corruption and conflicts of interest'', with employees on at least 135 occasions accepting gifts and gratuities from oil and gas corporations.

''What is responsible for MMS's change of heart between 2000 and 2003 on the crucial issue of requiring a remote control switch for offshore rigs?

''What we do know is that unfettered oil drilling was to Dick Cheney's domestic concerns what the invasion of Iraq was to his foreign policy - a core objective, implacably pursued regardless of the risks.''

Certainly, the disaster was putting paid to the ''drill-baby-drill'' energy policy mantra of conservatives, popularised by the former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin and other Republicans during the 2008 presidential election campaign.

A week into the spill she tempered her message: ''I repeat the slogan 'drill here, drill now' not out of naivete or disregard for the tragic consequences of oil spills - my family and my state and I know firsthand those consequences.''

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