GAP has been conducting an investigation into the cover up of medical problems associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill since last fall. We are working with over 25 whistleblowers involving public health and safety threats that sharply contrast with BP and government denials and reassurances.
On March 2, GAP and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), our partner in the Gulf, sent a joint letter to the BP America Ombudsman Program, seeking an explanation for a resource manual (provided to GAP by an anonymous source) that details health risks for Deepwater Horizon spill cleanup workers from both the five million gallons of oil, and the two million gallons of toxic dispersant.
The letter asked the BP Ombudsman to help resolve an apparent, complete contradiction between BP’s safety reassurances to and restrictions on its employees, compared to the conclusions, warnings and mandatory precautions required by its own internal manual. A confidential whistleblower informed GAP that the safety manuals were pulled from worksites early in the cleanup, as workers began to develop listed health symptoms.
Anonymous Whistleblower Provides Document; Groups Send Letter as Settlement Looms
(Washington, DC) – Today, GAP and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) sent a joint letter to British Petroleum (BP) America's Ombudsman Program, seeking an explanation for a resource manual provided by an anonymous source that details health risks for Deepwater Horizon spill cleanup workers from both the five million gallons of oil, and the two million gallons of toxic dispersant.
The manual, "Deepwater Horizon MC252, Vessels of Opportunity Near Shore Oil Recovery Groups, Vessel Captains Hazard Communication" (available here) demonstrates apparent contradictions between BP's official written warnings about the oil dispersant, on the one hand, and its statements to the public on the other. The discrepancies pertain to verbal claims that exposure to COREXIT, the dispersant selected by BP and approved by the EPA to treat the oil, was safe, and the health problems actually associated with COREXIT listed in a BP manual.
To illustrate our concerns, BP has aerially sprayed or otherwise released over two million gallons of COREXIT as the primary dispersant in the spill's cleanup. BP and contractors have reassured cleanup crews that COREXIT is as safe as Dawn dishwasher soap. However, the manufacturer's Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) included in the manual indicate that the dispersants utilized contain hazardous ingredients such as 2 butoxyethanol, petroleum distillates, and sulfonic acids. The specific petroleum distillates and sulfonic acids within COREXIT EC9257A and EC9500A have never been disclosed to the public.
A report released by the Department of Interior last week confirmed suspicions that a Blowout Preventer (BOP) – a supposed fail-safe device on oil rigs – buckled moments before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon last April, leaving 11 workers dead and millions of barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf.
The report, conducted by Norwegian firm, Det Norske Veritas, as part of the Interior Department’s investigation into the spill, concluded that there was a mechanical failure in the BOP’s so-called “rams”, which are supposed to cut the pipe coming up from the well in the event of the emergency. This action would shut the well and prevent the flow of oil and gas.
However, the 554-page analysis stops short of holding any player accountable for this fatal shortcoming. BP, which oversaw the operation; Transocean, which owned and was responsible for maintenance of the BOP and the rig; and Cameron International, which manufactured the failed device, were left nearly unscathed by the report’s findings. In fact, the New York Times reported that the day of its release, BP shares rose one percent, while Cameron’s fell by a nominal two percent, and Transocean shares remained roughly the same.
While these companies litigate over whose to blame, because of clever accounting tricks and the corporate tax structure, American taxpayers will foot an anticipated $10 billion of the cleanup -- which does not factor in the irrevocable environmental damage and human cost. Giving credit where credit’s due, the Obama administration did work with BP to establish a $20 billion dollar claims fund.In the fine print, however, that agreement included a deal that BP could keep whatever remaining funds were not used by 2013. Last December, during a TV interview, BP’s compensation czar attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who is administering the fund, said “it remains to be seen, but I hope that half the money would be more than enough to pay all the claims.”
Some say money can’t buy everything. But for BP, money sure seems to be able to buy enough litigation and lobbying power to stay in business, even with its persistent, egregious safety violations that have led to more than one deadly disaster.
While BP’s older crimes may have been overshadowed lately by the more current and devastating Gulf oil spew, it should not be forgotten that the company is still litigating charges related to a 2005 blast at a Texas refinery that killed 15 workers. With the Gulf oil spill and the 40-day release of toxic chemicals from its Texas refinery, BP has its hands full with not one, but three environmental catastrophes. All three remain unresolved.
2005 BP Texas City incident diagram
Regarding the refinery case, the Justice Department recently decided not to revoke the three-year probation it had imposed on BP due to the numerous safety violations (both criminal and civil) found during the federal investigation into the 2005 accident. Although the probation period allowed BP time to respond to violations, it has to date failed to properly respond to all safety issues or fully pay its fines. Although the government warned that it might revoke or renew the probation, it then backed off of its threat – presumably to avoid subjecting the company to further criminal prosecution. Of course, family members of those killed in the accident have been advocating for more, not less, prosecution.
Furthermore, a probe into safety issues at the refinery found that the initial violations noted by federal regulators only scratched the surface of a trove of (shock!) even more violations. This mirrors what we’ve seen in the Gulf – both in the spill itself as well as in the cleanup – where the information that has come forward continues to prompt yet more questions.
Photo by flickr user IBRRC
We now know that dangerous dispersants were being used in the cleanup and that BP was barring media access to oil-soaked sites. But why has the cleanup effort been shrouded in a veil of secrecy in the first place? What about the devastating ailments plaguing Gulf Coast residents, the reports of massive kill zones and dead marine life, and the widely disparate scientific studies on what’s happened to all that oil and dispersant? In light of a 1978 oil spill cleanup in Brooklyn, in which oil dating back to 1948 was found, somehow assurances that “75 percent of the oil is gone” don’t quite make sense. Let’s not forget that the initial (BP-backed) flow rate estimates of 1,000 barrels per day skyrocketed to over 60,000.
It seems that the more we continue to investigate BP, the more dark secrets we shall find. This is not a surprise. Yet, the question remains -- how far will it go before meaningful changes are enacted to protect those who have suffered from the carelessness of BP, and those courageous few insiders who have blown the whistle?
Lindsay Bigda is Communications Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.
by Dylan Blaylockon August 27, 2010
( News /
By Michael J. Wilson
Everyone in America seems to have an opinion about who is responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Liberals blame Tony Hayward and the rest of BP's greedy and irresponsible management. Conservatives like to blame President Obama (in general) and the Mineral Management Services incompetent regulation (in particular). Then Sarah "Drill, Baby, Drill" Palin just knows that it isn't her responsibility.
The real answer is, "none of the above." Yes, BP's management and Mineral Management Services share some responsibility, but blaming them entirely ignores the fundamental problem of the 21st century workplace.
Sherlock Holmes once solved a baffling case by noticing that the dog didn't bark. It's the same clue here as well. Every one of the 126 workers on the Deepwater Horizon knew there were serious safety problems. Every one of them knew they were risking their lives every day they went to work. Why didn't they complain? Why didn't they call the OSHA, the EPA, the AFL-CIO, their Member of Congress, or the New York Times? The workers might not have known exactly who to call, but they could have found someone to pay attention. Why didn't they try?
The answer is simple; they didn't want to lose their jobs. Given the horrible choice of risking their lives at work or being unable to put a roof over their family's head, they chose danger. It's why miners work in non-union mines and why workers labor in meatpacking plants where there are more USDA inspectors than OSHA inspectors.
The BP oil rig disaster is quickly becoming one of the worst environmental catastrophes of our time. The parties involved are pointing fingers...but did someone have foresight into this type of event happening? On the latest episode of the Government Accountability Project’s Whistle Where You Work series, we look at how a whistleblower from a different BP oil rig has been trying to expose critical safety lapses for years – but his efforts seem to have fallen on deaf ears. The group representing the whistleblower filed a lawsuit in May against the federal government, attempting to force it to shut down this other rig. They say this rig could turn into an even worse disaster than the first.
What are the similarities between the problems of this rig, and the problems with the one that exploded? Why wasn't more oversight performed? Could this event have been avoided? What is the track record of the agencies in charge?
For our second segment, we revisit the first day of the National Whistleblower Assembly on May 24, 2010, where legendary NYPD whistleblower Frank Serpico, whose story is memorialized by the classic film that shares his name, gave the opening remarks.
Dylan Blaylock is Communications Director at the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.
"I've been coughing up stuff," Gary Burris said. "Your lungs fill up." … Burris said that when he went to a doctor after feeling ill on Sunday, the doctor told him his lungs looked like those of a three-pack-a-day smoker, and Burris said he has never smoked."
We also recently blogged about BP's attempts to shut down the flow of information about the oil spill -- since that time a Mother Jones reporter has been doing a great job Tweeting and writing about her experiences in the region. Some of her most interesting encounters include: cops telling tourists that beaches are still open, but telling all media the beaches are closed and to report to a "BP Information Center;" an interaction with a BP spokeswoman who unknowingly told her that BP has "a lot" of sway over the sheriff's office; and an attempt to get in touch with the police only to get redirected to voicemail for a BP rep.