Wednesday, June 2, 2010


You've heard of trainwrecks in the mountains
Sometimes there's shipwrecks on the sea

Oh Mary, I'm in the deep water
And it's way over my head
Everyone thought I was smarter than to be misled.

John Phillips – Topanga Canyon


Role of Mineral Management Service (MMS), U.S. Department of Interior, in 2010 BP Oil Spill
The MMS is responsible for inspection and oversight of energy companies to ensure they are following the law and protecting the safety of their workers and the environment
Among MMS's regulatory decisions contributing to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill:
  • MMS's 2009 decision that acoustically-controlled shut-off would not be required as a last resort against underwater spills at the site.
  • MMS's failure to suggest other “fail-safe” mechanisms after a 2004 report raised questions about the reliability of the electrical remote-control devices.
  • On April 6, 2009, MMS granted a categorical exclusion waiver on April 6, 2009 to BP exempting it from National Environmental Policy Act’s  requirements including a detailed environmental analysis, concluding the spill risk in that part of the Gulf was “minimal or nonexistent.” Such NEPA waivers have become routine at MMS, and the Interior department approves 250 to 400 per year for Gulf of Mexico projects.
  • 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, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  that assesses threats to endangered species, despite strong warnings from NOAA about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf. Those approvals, federal records show, include one for the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the gulf each day.
  •  MMS routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of drilling proposals in the Gulf and in Alaska.
Since April 20, 2010, when an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers, 27 new offshore drilling projects have been approved by MMS. All but one project was granted similar exemptions from environmental review as BP.  Two were submitted by BP, and made the same claims about oil-rig safety and the implausibility of a spill damaging the environment.
On May 27, 2010, MMS director Elizabeth Birnbaum resigned.  Bureau of Land Management (another large agency within the Department of the Interior) director Robert Abbey was named acting director of MMS.
The news coverage of this catastrophe has been frighteningly incomplete, unbalanced and biased.  One "liberal" television outlet I sometimes watch frequently uses the word "optics" to describe the way news events are managed and perceived. "Selective Optics" has been continuously on display in the coverage of this tragic story.  As usual, it's up to the viewer and reader to decide whose nests are being feathered, who is being protected, etc.

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