Grossly Negligent and Reckless

A judge put the hammer to BP:

A federal judge ruled on Thursday that BP was grossly negligent in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout that killed 11 workers, spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and soiled hundreds of miles of beaches.

“BP’s conduct was reckless,” United States District Court Judge Carl J. Barbier wrote in his sternly worded decision. Judge Barbier also ruled that Transocean, the owner of the rig, and Halliburton, the service company that cemented the well, were negligent in the accident.

But the judge put most of the blame on BP, opening the way to fines of up to $18 billion under the Clean Water Act.

In a 153-page, densely technical decision, Judge Barbier described how BP repeatedly ignored mounting warning signs that the well was unstable, making decisions that he says were “primarily driven by a desire to save time and money, rather than ensuring that the well was secure.”

Judge Barbier painstakingly re-created the hurried effort to temporarily shut in a problematic well, deemed by some to be “the well from hell,” and shows how a series of problems, many of which were suspected by the rig’s crew, led to the blowout. Even after noting these anomalies, BP crew members ignored test results that should have reinforced caution, and, if heeded, could have prevented the disaster even in its final minutes, he wrote.

BP has long acknowledged responsibility for the accident, but has said that it should be fully shared with the companies that operated the Deepwater Horizon rig and improperly sealed the well with cement.

While acknowledging that there was blame to share, Judge Barbier in most cases says the fault finally lies with BP, either because it was responsible for the most fundamental problems or because contractual relationships made clear that BP was fundamentally responsible.

Ultimately, according to the judge, the company that owned the lease to the well and was responsible for overseeing all of the drilling work displayed gross negligence, which in legal terms means that it was responsible for willful misconduct. Judge Barbier apportioned 67 percent of the blame for the spill on BP, 30 percent on Transocean and 3 percent on Halliburton.

Is $18 billion enough of a punishment?



They’ve blurred the line so far it’s gone

Governor Kasich’s administration met with the Ohio regulatory agency that is paid to regulate oil and gas to outline how to promote an industry plan to drill in state parks and also target critics of their plan to drill in state parks.

Then they all lied about it:

On Friday, Gov. John Kasich’s spokesman said the governor’s office knew nothing about an August 2012 state marketing plan for fracking in state parks and forests.
But after an email about the plan involving most of Kasich’s top officials was disclosed yesterday, spokesman Rob Nichols said: “Of course, the administration is going to coordinate and plan ahead on an important issue like gas production on state land.”
The turnaround came after an email became public. It was from Kasich senior adviser Wayne Struble, who sought a meeting about the public-relations campaign with top Kasich officials. Those invited included Beth Hansen, the governor’s chief of staff; Scott Milburn, top communications manager; Matt Carle, his legislative liaison (who is now his re-election campaign manager); Jai Chabria, a senior adviser; Tracy Intihar, who was cabinet secretary at the time; Craig Butler, a policy adviser who is now head of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency; and leaders of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Nichols told The Dispatch on Friday night that the governor’s office had no knowledge of the marketing plan because it had never left the Natural Resources department.
“Clearly, that’s not the case,” Brian Rothenberg, head of the liberal nonprofit organization ProgressOhio, said in a news conference yesterday in which the email was divulged. “The fact that people at the highest level of the governor’s office were involved in this is pretty unsavory.”
Brian Kunkemoeller, conservation-program coordinator with the Sierra Club’s Ohio chapter — which obtained the material through a public-records request — said, “This is not only a sad day for our parks and forests, it’s also a sad day for our democracy.”
Rothenberg and Kunkemoeller expressed outrage that a state agency given the statutory duty to regulate the oil and gas industry actually was partnering with the industry to promote it.

We’re paying every single person who was sitting at that meeting. Industry interests don’t even bother hiring lobbyists anymore. It’s much cheaper to just buy the governor and the regulators outright, and have the public pick up the tab for their continued employment.

The memo itself recognized that the public-relations initiative “could blur public perception of ODNR’s regulatory role in oil and gas.”

“Blur”? The regulator is completely captured by the industry they’re supposed to be regulating. That’s what the memo shows, and that’s why they all lied about who was at the meeting.

Watching how West Virginia water was poisoned the last couple of weeks, it occurred to me that our elected leaders are so captured, so completely corrupt and compromised, that they cannot even protect basic public health. They can’t fulfill even that bedrock governmental duty. The best they can do is advise pregnant women not to drink the water. Let the buyer beware on drinking water. That’s their role, I guess. They’re advisors to us, the consumers.

I’m disappointed that just two state lawmakers were targeted by the oil and gas industry representatives currently working for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. That’s two that aren’t captured, I guess.

Rep. Robert Hagan
Rep. Nickie Antonio



Pick Your Poison

One of our readers, R, keeps me up to date on happenings in the nuclear industry, and it sounds like shale gas is putting another nail in the coffin:

“Markets have to address these issues or you will see a fallout of perfectly well-run units such as Vermont Yankee, and potentially others,” says Bill Mohl, who heads Entergy’s merchant nuclear operations in Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Vermont. “You can’t stack the market with state regulations and environmental policies and expect competitive fuel sources to effectively compete.”

Mohl’s contentions: The abundance of shale gas has resulted in sustained low natural gas and wholesale energy prices while market designs especially in the Northeast have resulted in artificially low energy prices. That’s a vague reference, in part, to wind energy that is subsidized and that does not provide electricity around the clock.

R on occasion sends me links to NRC write ups of events that occur in nuclear plants, and though we can certainly disagree on the amount of oversight necessary for nuclear operations, Federal law grants the NRC incredible power over a nuclear plant. One example is that operators who have an off-duty DUI have to be reported to the NRC. Contrast that with the free-for-all in the fracking world, where the chemicals used in fracking water are treated as trade secrets even though they may be full of cancer-causing chemicals:

At the federal level, natural gas developers have long been allowed to keep the mixture of chemicals they use in fracking fluid a secret from the general public, protecting it as “proprietary information.” The industry is exempt from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory—the program that ensures that communities are given information about what companies are releasing. In 2005 the industry successfully lobbied for an exemption from EPA regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act as well, in what is often referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole.” The Obama EPA has pressed drillers to voluntarily provide more information about fracking fluids, but the industry has largely rebuffed those appeals.

In a few years when the cancer clusters from the polluted fracking groundwater start to show up, these drilling operators will be long gone, and Uncle Sugar will be footing the bill. To paraphrase a famous sage, given the choice between nuclear energy and gas from fracking, I’d rather have a known known than an unknown unknown.



This is Kind of a Big Fucking Deal

It really is:

China’s Communist state is hardly known for its transparency. So when environmental groups appealed to the government last year to disclose official data on air pollution, they were not expecting much.

“Way beyond our expectations, the government actually said yes,” said Ma Jun, head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing. “I am quite amazed.”

Since Jan. 1, the central government has required 15,000 factories — including influential state-run enterprises — to publicly report details on their air emissions and water discharges in real time, an unprecedented degree of disclosure that is shedding light on the who, what, when and where of China’s devastating environmental problems.

The reporting requirement is part of a striking turnaround by China’s government, which is also publishing data on the sootiest cities and trying to limit the use of coal. The country’s appalling air is blamed for more than a million premature deaths a year, for producing acid rain that damages the nation’s agriculture, for driving away tourists and even for encouraging the brightest students to study abroad. Perhaps just as important, Beijing’s bad air has been making its Communist leaders lose face.

I have a number of thoughts about this, first and foremost of which is that is if China decides to start limiting imported American and other coal, you can fully expect the current hysterical equation of mild EPA efforts to regulate the air to turn into even more heated plaintive wails about communism and Obama and the war on coal and socialism and WHY THE FUCK DO STUPID PEOPLE HAVE SO MUCH INFLUENCE? On the upside, I am tired of the imagined fever dream Muslim Obama, so maybe Mao Obama will at least be new for a while. Or Che Obama. It’s all good.

The second thought is that if China does decide to kill the market for coal, and while no economist, if they transition off it or make mention of transitioning off of it, I would bet they could totally disrupt the market, create a glut and a total fucking mess in the commodities markets, and kill off coal mines all over America with a vengeance that would give every Greenpeace member in the world a sizable erection. Additional, they are perfectly positioned to be the new green energy leaders of the globe, since they are already kicking our ass in solar and if you mention clean energy in Ameriduh you get my Senator Joe Manchin shooting a rifle at something while fellating a brick of coal and a thousand wingnut websites all scream SOLYNDRA in unison so that it is the first fucking thing talked about on Morning Joe or, well, every other cable news broadcast.

Hi, my name is John Cole and I am cranky for some reason.



I may have to go and help her with GOTV

This is a plea from Michigan – from valued commenter HillaryRettig:

Dear Juicers,

Greetings from southwest Michigan, where the landscape is flat, the people are darned nice, and the football teams and the beer kick ass. (Plus, we just got an Alamo Drafthouse – yeah, us!)
Plus, we progressives have a GREAT candidate, Paul Clements, who’s got a real shot at winning our 6th district House seat next year, unseating the noxious Republican incumbent Fred Upton.
Like many other Repubs, Upton is a former moderate who’s recently swung hard right due to Tea Party Terror Syndrome(tm). You can judge him by his friends/donors, who include all the wrong people: Koch Industries, Halliburton, the Petroleum Marketers Association, and Altria Group (formerly Philip Morris).They love him because of his apparent willingness to do whatever foul thing they ask, be it deny climate change, severely restrict pretty much every non-rich person’s access to health care and preventative medicine, or undermine the Clean Air Act.

You can also judge Upton by his enemies, who include a vast array of unions, women’s groups, human rights groups, and environmental groups. He got “0” ratings from: CWE, AFSME, AAUW, NARAL, Middleclass.org, Alliance for Retired Americans, and Human Rights Campaign; and near-zero or failing ratings from the NEA, National Nurses United, NAACP, and the League of Environmental Voters, among many others. Upton is so, so very bad on environmental issues that the LA Times actually crowned him, “the #1 Enemy of the Planet Earth” in Congress.

Upton’s enemies also include lots of ordinary Michiganders, who are pissed because, despite his assiduous selling out, his record on bringing jobs home is dismal.
One more thing you should know is that Upton’s vulnerable. Paul’s team has run the numbers, and in a conservative-leaning district that nevertheless went decisively for Obama in 2008, this race is definitely winnable. And the Wingnuts are kindly helping us out by giving Upton a battle on his right flank.
The very worst thing about Upton is that he’s chair of the House’s powerful Energy and Commerce Committee—Henry Waxman’s old committee! As such, he’s had the opportunity to do real harm–and will continue to do harm until we get rid of him.

*Here he is, looking pretty smug and safe in that chair! Also: what’s wrong with his eye? Is that a wink?

fred upton winker

As a child of privilege—Upton is an heir to the Whirlpool appliance fortune—who went almost directly into politics after college, and who now spends nearly all his time promoting the interests of corrupt corporations, Fred Upton embodies everything that’s wrong with the system.
Fortunately, Michigan’s got a GREAT alternative in Paul Clements. Think of him as the Luke Skywalker to Upton’s Emperor Palpatine.

* no winking at wealthy donors going on here:

Paul Clements

Now, as an economist and professor of political science at Western Michigan University, Paul’s research specialty is—get this!—evaluating the effectiveness of social programs. In other words, he’s an expert on effectiveness and accountability—two elements sorely lacking in our current Congress.
Of course, Paul is also a super nice guy and a great progressive, who will advocate for all the right things. He recently brought environmental activist Bill McKibben to speak at WMU.
So, c’mon, Juicers: jedi up and donate to Paul’s campaign! Think how good it’s going to feel, next November, when we send “Emperor” Upton packing, and replace him with someone who cares both about people and good governance.
CONTRIBUTE TO PAUL’S CAMPAIGN HERE
Shout Out to Howie Klein at DownWithTyranny, who has also done a terrific job documenting Upton’s many malevolences.

I admire what she’s doing here because it is difficult to remove an incumbent (but so much fun to win!) so help her (and all of us) out if you can.



More Nukes Now

A group of climate scientists, including former NASA scientist James Hansen, are calling for more nuclear power to address climate change:

Renewables like wind and solar and biomass will certainly play roles in a future energy economy, but those energy sources cannot scale up fast enough to deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires. While it may be theoretically possible to stabilize the climate without nuclear power, in the real world there is no credible path to climate stabilization that does not include a substantial role for nuclear power

We understand that today’s nuclear plants are far from perfect. Fortunately, passive safety systems and other advances can make new plants much safer. And modern nuclear technology can reduce proliferation risks and solve the waste disposal problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently. Innovation and economies of scale can make new power plants even cheaper than existing plants. Regardless of these advantages, nuclear needs to be encouraged based on its societal benefits.

All the nuclear technology near my house is 40+ years old, of the same vintage (not the same design) as the Fukushima reactors. In general, utility operators aren’t building new nuclear plants, so I don’t see how adding more nuclear capacity could happen without a major government initiative, and that would be socialism.








(Not) liberal enclaves on the coasts

We talked about a small local project involving wind turbines here:

When the Archbold and Pettisville school districts brainstormed ways to reduce their electricity bills during the mid-2000s, they arrived at a common solution: wind power.
Students, teachers, and school officials celebrated Wednesday the completion and operation of identical 750-kilowatt wind turbines at each community’s main school complex with back-to-back dedication ceremonies that, in part, recognized the two districts’ cooperative effort
Both turbines were heavily funded by federal “stimulus” grants — funding that didn’t exist when Pettisville and Archbold began exploring their wind-turbine possibilities in 2005 and 2006, respectively. So far, the turbine has cut the district’s power bill by about $9,000 monthly, he said.

Now solar. 2011:

Bryan Municipal Utilities broke ground this week for a $7.42 million, 2-megawatt solar array.
“We have been investigating solar power for more than a year,” said Steve Casebere, director of utilities. “As the prices for solar panels came down and the incentives for solar energy increased, the solar option became not only viable but also attractive.”
The project will use primarily Ohio materials, contractors and labor. Rudolph/Libbe Inc., of Walbridge, will develop, design and build the array. First Solar, of Perrysburg, will supply the 24,000 solar modules. Nextronex, of Toledo, will manufacture the inverters, and API, Inc. of Ridgeville Corners, will provide the racks for the modules.
The project will create about 60 construction jobs and will sustain another 300 manufacturing jobs in Ohio. The solar array will be complete in February 2012.

2012:

Just 10 weeks after breaking ground, construction of Bryan Municipal Utilities’ solar generation project has been completed, and power is being supplied to Bryan’s electrical grid.
BMU broke ground for the $7.42 million solar array in early December 2011. By mid-January 2012, all 23,530 solar modules were in place, and by the first week of February, the solar plant was fully operational.
“The solar arrays are producing just as expected, and we have seen them perform up to the maximum capacity of 1.8 megawatts on sunny days,” said Steve Casebere, director of utilities.
As of February 13, the solar field has produced 100 MWh, which means it has also produced 100 solar renewable energy credits. BMU sold 2,500 solar RECs produced in 2012 to American Electric Power and Duke Energy for $606,500.
In addition to the power and energy credits, what the solar plant does not produce is valuable. With the energy produced to date, the solar field has saved 76 tons of carbon dioxide and 3.6 tons of methane gas emissions.

Interesting, because these two examples are in very politically conservative areas. Are we looking at the beginnings of a national/local disconnect on energy, where the national lobby shops, paid pundit corps and conservatives in political leadership at the state and national level reflexively OPPOSE anything that could be construed as remotely “green” or “alternative” but people on the ground start to see this stuff in action so become comfortable with it? May be difficult to continue to portray an energy approach as “job killing” when the jobs are right down the road.

Does this sort of destructive initiative by DC conservative lobbyists and libertarian billionaires become less politically viable as “facts on the ground” are quietly established?

The ALEC bill, HB298, dubbed the “Affordable and Reliable Energy Act” was introduced by ALEC member Rep. Mike Hager and repeals the renewable energy standard that barely made it out of committee when two sane Republicans voted against it. One Republican from Charlotte, Ruth Samuelson, said the RES had helped develop a renewable alternative energy industry that benefitted rural communities and created 1,100 clean energy companies that contributed $3.7 billion in annual revenue, created over 21,000 jobs, and lowered residential energy bills by $173 million. In fact, North Carolina’s RES lifted the state to fifth place in the nation forsolar power development and was closing in on fourth place this year leading the CEO of FLS energy to claim “It’s an extraordinary success story that there’s an industry that hardly existed several years ago,” but the Koch brothers mean to destroy the industry with a “filled-in” template courtesy of ALEC.