The Obama administration should not have been held in contempt for continuing a drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico over a judge’s injunction, the 5th Circuit ruled.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar placed the moratorium on new drilling in the Gulf one week after the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 people and set off the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
A month later, the department issued a “May Directive” imposing a six-month moratorium on drilling operations in the Gulf. The department represented that seven engineering experts had peer-reviewed this policy, but it was later found that five of the seven experts never recommended the moratorium.
Hornbeck Offshore, which owns a fleet of vessels that support deepwater exploration, sued the Salazar in federal court, claiming that the moratorium was neither adequately explained nor justified.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldmean agreed, and granted a preliminary injunction against the ban in June 2010.
Within weeks, the Interior Department issued a second moratorium that purportedly included a more thorough explanation its necessity. Offshore drilling companies criticized it, however, as being nearly identical to the first.
Feldman held the Department of the Interior in contempt for this move, finding that “each step the government took following the court’s imposition of a preliminary injunction showcases its defiance.”
He also awarded Hornbeck $530,000 in fees and costs.
On Tuesday, a divided three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit reversed the contempt finding and the fee award.
On August 27, after a scorching summer of record-breaking drought and heat across the U.S., scientists reported that summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean had shrunk to its lowest extent in recorded history—worrisome news to those concerned about polar bears or eroding Inupiat villages or other impacts of climate change.
(Related: “Arctic Sea Ice Hits Record Low-Extreme Weather to Come?”)
On the same day, however, a high-powered group of politicians, oil industry executives, shipping magnates, and investors gathered to discuss how best to exploit their good fortune.
“I will be one of those persons most cheering for an endless summer in Alaska,” Peter E. Slaiby, vice president of Shell* Alaska, told luminaries at the Arctic Imperative Summit at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, August 25-27. Slaiby’s company has thus far spent $4.5 billion over the past seven years in a much-delayed effort to explore for oil and gas in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in Arctic Alaska.
(Related: “Shell Scales Back 2012 Arctic Drilling Goals”)
The wait ended at 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Alaska standard time, when Shell’s rig, the Noble Discoverer, began drilling a 1,400-foot (427-meter) pilot hole on its first exploratory well in the Chukchi Sea, the company said in a written statement. It was the first time a drill bit had touched the sea floor in U.S. territory in the Chukchi Sea in more than two decades, Shell said. The company also was in the process of anchoring a rig in the Beaufort Sea to begin drilling there later this week. Shell was allowed to begin drilling after it received a waiver from U.S. air pollution regulations for generators on its drill ship on Friday. But the company still is barred from drilling into the oil-bearing zone before its repurposed oil spill recovery barge, the Arctic Challenger, passes U.S. Coast Guard inspection and is towed to its station near Barrow, Alaska between the two drilling sites. Sea trials of the barge were underway off the coast of Bellingham, Washington; the Coast Guard has raised concerns over a range of issues, from fire protection systems to the vessel’s ability to withstand Arctic seas, and the company was cited for small leaks of hydraulic fluid while in port.
Roughly seven out of 10 voters support changing U.S. policy to allow more oil and natural gas development along the nation’s coastline, according to a new Harris Interactive poll released today.
That matches the level of support for offshore drilling that was documented by other polls conducted before the Deepwater Horizon disaster two years ago briefly turned some Americans off to the idea.
In the wake of the 2010 oil spill, support for offshore drilling declined slightly, according to some surveys. For instance, Rasmussen Reports found that 56 percent of U.S. voters it surveyed in July 2010 backed offshore oil drilling.
The new survey of 1,016 registered voters, conducted Aug. 9-12, was commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute to broadly assess views about energy policy less than three months before the presidential election.
Not surprisingly, 92 percent of the voters surveyed in the poll said ‘energy security and producing more oil and natural gas here at home’ was somewhat or very important to them as they looked ahead to the election in November.
Jack Gerard, president of API, told reporters in a conference call Tuesday that the poll shows ‘the vast majority’ of Americans support boosting access to domestic oil and natural gas resources.
For instance, he noted that according to the survey, 9 out of 10 voters agree that ‘increased access to domestic oil and natural gas resources could lead to more American jobs.’
When gasoline prices spiked earlier this year, industry representatives — including API — and many congressional Republicans seized on the issue and argued that more domestic oil and gas development would help lower prices at the pump.
When oil prices dropped, much of that talk did too.
But Gerard insists that voters want to hear about energy policy from presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama and other candidates on the stump.
Gerard said Americans want a ‘robust and realistic debate about energy priorities.’
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill seems to divide people into two categories: those who can’t forget, and those who refuse to remember. In the first camp are Gulf Coast residents and environmentalists who say the region still hasn’t recovered from the worst oil spill in U.S. history, and who are still waiting to be made whole—as BP once promised. In the second is much of the oil industry and many Republicans, who like to complain that offshore drilling has slowed under President Obama, yet seem to forget the multi-billion dollar damage that the oil spill left, and the months it took to repair the Macondo blowout.
Nearly two years after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, it’s true that the spill hasn’t been the economic and environmental catastrophe that many were predicting. (Credit goes to writers like TIME’s own Michael Grunwald, who suspected early on that the region would bounce back from the disaster.) But the impact is still being felt—a study last month showed that oil spill had damaged sea floor coral as far as 7 miles away from the wellhead site. Tar balls—old, weathered oil from the spill—are still washing up along the beaches, while scientists are worried about the unusually high number of dolphins dying in the Gulf of Mexico, for reasons that still aren’t clear.
Meanwhile conservatives are still angry over the deepwater drilling moratorium that the Administration put into place for several months after the spill, as the Interior Department—and later, the reformed Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOERME)—overhauled safety oversight. Doc Hastings, the Republican chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee yesterday issued a subpoena for Interior Department documents over the moratorium, with some critics claiming that the Administration had twisted advice from technical experts to support a long moratorium. “The moratorium directly caused thousands of lost jobs, economic pain throughout the Gulf region and a decline in American energy production,” said Hastings. “It’s important to clearly understand what happened.”
Yet while critics on both sides war over the just how bad the spill was, BP—the company most responsible for the accident—is still picking up the pieces, with billions left to pay in penalties and damages. And as deepwater drilling gets back to normal, the question remains: did this accident have to happen to BP?
(MORE: The Gulf Disaster: Whose Asses Need Kicking?)
In an excellent new book called Run to Failure: BP and the Making of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster, Abrahm Lustgarten suggests that if the accident wasn’t exactly inevitable, it might have been only a matter of time. Lustgarten, a ProPublica reporter who closely followed the oil spill and BP, looks back at the recent history of the company, focusing on the years when former CEO John Browne took what had been a relatively sleepy oil company and transformed it—chiefly through aggressive mergers and cost-cutting—into one of the giants of the oil world. Even as Browne was trumpeting BP’s green image, and investing in alternative energy while his oil major peers still denied climate science, he was slashing safety budgets and pushing for higher profit margins. “The roots of the story… concern corporate responsibility, business ethics and leadership and go back at least two decades, to a point at which BP executives sought to redefine the company and reposition it as one of the great corporations of our time,” Lustgarten writes.
What had been a company with a history of safety—even dullness—was turned upside down. And while profits and market share increased, the accidents started piling up. In 2005 a major explosion occurred at BP’s Texas City refinery, killing 15 workers. Employees had complained for months of the dangerous conditions at the refinery, but nothing was done. The next year a major spill occurred in BP’s Prudhoe Bay, Alaska facilities, resulting in more fines for the companies. Even before Deepwater Horizon, BP was cited far more often by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration for safety violations than any other company. As Scott West, a former EPA official who had investigated the company in Alaska, told me after the spill, BP was a “serial environmental criminal.”
BP announced today that its 2011 profit totaled $26 billion, a 114 percent jump from the year before, when the company’s ‘failure of supervision and accountability’ caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history. As the company prepares for its upcoming criminal trial, let’s take a look at how BP has made out after the Deepwater Horizon disaster:
* BP earned $3 million every hour in 2011. Its fourth-quarter profits reached $7.69 billion, which is up 38 percent from 2010.
* The company is sitting on another $14 billion in cash.
* BP contributions to federal candidates totaled more than $98,000 in 2011, with more than half (65 percent) to Republican candidates.
* For every dollar the big five oil companies use in lobbying, they effectively receive $30 in subsidies. This could mean BP potentially gained up to $243 million in subsidies, although the exact amount for an individual company is undisclosed.
* In the third quarter, BP’s Bob Dudley announced the company had reached a ‘definite turning point’ of boosted profits. However, nearly two years following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP has still only paid $7.8 billion of the $20 billion fund they created to compensate individuals and businesses for losses incurred by the spill.
Despite being found ‘ultimately responsible’ for the most devastating oil spill this nation has ever seen, BP has spent millions lobbying on bills that would speed offshore drilling and leases.
At the time, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar accused House Republicans of having ‘amnesia’ about the oil spill. No doubt the total $137 billion profits in 2011 for the five big oil companies had something to do with it.
Amnesia? More like corruption, graft, and bribery to me. If you tried to pay $50 to a police officer to get out of paying a ticket, you’d be tossed in jail faster than a pot-plant possessor. But when oil companies stuff millions into the g-strings of GOP politicians in exchange for legislative favors, it’s perfectly legal.
This is why America can’t have nice things.
“The concept has moved down the conservative intellectual food chain from Limbaugh, to Krauthammer, to Palin
Last week I credited Charles Krauthammer with a genuine conceptual breakthrough of blaming the BP oil spill on environmentalists and thus spare conservatives from cognitive dissonance. Sadly, I was giving Krauthammer too much credit, as it turns out Rush Limbaugh came up with this deranged line ten days before Krauthammer.
Now the concept has moved down the conservative intellectual food chain from Limbaugh to Krauthammer to, of course, Sarah Palin, who tweets:
Extreme Greenies:see now why we push”drill,baby,drill”of known reserves&promising finds in safe onshore places like ANWR? Now do you get it?
Yes. You see, the whole Republican plan was not to increase the amount of drilling, but to replace deep offshore drilling with closer to shore drilling. As soon as they won the election and implemented their plan, they were going to close down the deep offshore rigs. I bet the environmentalists feel pretty stupid now for opposing them.
I took the liberty of bolding the implied brilliance of these folks.
Here’s a photo of the BP land spill in Alaska in 2006