June 20, 2013
From Bhopal to BP
Posted on Jun 21, 2010
By T.L. Caswell
Kenneth Abbott, the engineer who spoke with ProPublica about the Alaska operation, was also interviewed by “60 Minutes” for its May 16 broadcast, “Blowout: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster.” Another person featured in that broadcast was Deepwater Horizon crew member Mike Williams.
Williams told “60 Minutes” that a BP manager had ordered a speedup: “And he requested to the driller, ‘Hey, let’s bump it up. Let’s bump it up.’ And what he was talking about there is he’s bumping up the rate of penetration. How fast the drill bit is going down.”
Williams also said that after an accident damaged the Deepwater Horizon’s crucial blowout preventer, “[A crewman] discovered chunks of rubber in the drilling fluid. He thought it was important enough to gather this double handful of chunks of rubber and bring them into the driller shack. I recall asking the supervisor if this was out of the ordinary. And he says, ‘Oh, it’s no big deal.’ And I thought, ‘How can it be not a big deal? There’s chunks of our seal is now missing.’ ”
Mother Jones reported June 7 that a Houston lawyer representing 15 rig workers, among others, has a signed statement from a rescue boat crew member who claims he overheard the Deepwater Horizon installation manager, an employee of rig owner Transocean, screaming to someone over a satellite phone shortly after the rig exploded: “Are you fucking happy? Are you fucking happy? The rig’s on fire! I told you this was gonna happen.”
The Wall Street debacle of recent years has yet to offer a solid model for such investigation and prosecution. U.S. prisons have not exactly suffered an overcrowding problem as a result of convictions of the brokers, bankers, public officials and others who helped knock the American economy into a latrine. A cynic might say that officialdom is loath to bite the hands of the financiers and Wall Streeters who have counted out greenbacks so generously to the treasuries of those who ran for office and will run yet again. The same cynic might also note that the oil industry, too, hasn’t been stingy when it comes to forking over cash to ever-so-grateful politicians. Our nation, so quick to rightly put away a guy caught robbing a liquor store, is shamed by its traditional reluctance to investigate and try men and women who have ruined the lives of thousands or even millions. Crime involving illegal profit-seeking in the chambers of high finance or on floating platforms in the Gulf of Mexico should not be immune to vigorous investigation and prosecution.
American authorities, I believe, may find some civic guidance by looking across the ocean to the city of Bhopal. Let me quickly admit (1) that the Bhopal convictions were far, far too late in coming; (2) that the penalties were ridiculously, inappropriately light; (3) that the prison sentences may never be served and the fines may never be paid; (4) that India failed in its attempt to extradite the executive at the top of the Union Carbide food chain. To call the Indian action in this case feeble would be to rate it too highly. But please note, gentle reader, that the Indians did something. They hauled Union Carbide officials into court and obtained guilty verdicts. Controversy aside, the principle at work was an important one.
The Indians did not merely designate some underling as a fall guy and then congratulate themselves for ensuring that he would be dining on prison cuisine for the next 30 years. At day’s end, seven former executives were hauled before the bar of justice in a spectacular crime; the seven found guilty were among those who actually held responsibility for the Bhopal enormity. What was accomplished by the justice system is worthy of recognition, and now authorities are promising to probe further into the poisoning of still unknown numbers of innocent people.
Let’s hope something is done in the United States of America, quickly, over the poisoning of miles of its coastal water.
T.L. Caswell was on the Los Angeles Times editing staff for more than 25 years and now edits and writes for Truthdig.
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