Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Obama's credibility weakens as Gulf oil spill worsens

When you have a situation as serious as the oil rig fire in the Gulf of Mexico creating an environmental disaster that threatens widespread contamination of beaches and wildlife and you find both liberal and conservative commentators agreeing with each other, you know they must be right. While all eyes are on the White House hoping for some signs of leadership, the press corps is saying this is turning into a public relations nightmare so bad that it has affected the credibility of Barack Hussein Obama, himself. Now the Obama administration has swung into damage control mode to back-peddle on some of his misspoken statements. Why? Because it has been discovered that as far back as 1995, in the middle of the Clinton administration, the federal government had devised a plan to deal with just such a situation but then did nothing about it. And the current administration had completely forgotten about the plan.

The plan to deal with oil rig platform disasters was called In Situ Burning Of Oil On Fire Boom. It comes from a position paper written in 1994 and called for the use of 1000 foot long Fire Booms to be towed by two ships gathering up and burning huge areas of crude oil far from shore. The report can be viewed here on this web site: http://www.iosc.org/papers/00630.pdf
The plan was first reported on AL.com (Mobile, Alabama Press Register) http://blog.al.com/live/2010/05/fire_boom_oil_spill_raines.html
The story was quoted extensively by the liberal web site Democratic Underground "Despite plan, not a single fire boom on hand on Gulf Coast at time of oil spill" and by the conservative web site Free Republic "Despite plan, not a single fire boom on hand on Gulf Coast at time of oil spill", and the web site MSNBC.com  "Fire booms neglected in oil cleanup? 1994 plan called for them, but scramble is on to find some" which all referenced to same sources. 
SPIN METER on MyWay wrote the best coverage of all in an article titled:
There since Day One? Maybe not.
May 4, 6:26 AM (ET)

WASHINGTON (AP) - To hear Obama administration officials tell it, they've been fully engaged on the Gulf Coast oil spill since Day One, bringing every resource to bear and able to ensure without question that taxpayers will be protected.

Not quite.

Take President Barack Obama's repeated claims that BP will be responsible for all the costs associated with the devastating spill that began after an oil rig operated by the company exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and later sinking.

"Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak; BP will be paying the bill," Obama said while touring the area Sunday.

While it's true that the federal Oil Pollution Act, enacted in 1990 in response to the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, makes BP responsible for cleanup costs, the law caps the company's liability for economic damages - such as lost wages, shortened fishing seasons or lagging tourism - at $75 million, a pittance compared to potential losses.

Administration officials insist BP will be held responsible anyway, noting that if the company is found negligent or criminally liable, the cap disappears. Claims also can potentially be made under other state or federal laws, officials said.

Yet the liability cap is problematic enough that a trio of Democratic senators introduced legislation Monday raising it to $10 billion, and the administration quickly announced its support. Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Bill Nelson of Florida voiced concerns that unless the cap is raised, BP would avoid paying for the mess and leave small businesses, local government and fishermen with the bill.

"They're not going to want to pay any more than what the law says they have to," Nelson said.
That's not quite the seemingly ironclad guarantee heard from the president.

Then there's the administration's rhetoric about anticipating the magnitude of the crisis and bringing all resources to bear on Day One.

"We had (Defense Department) resources there from Day One. This was a situation that was treated as a possible catastrophic failure from, from Day One," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

That sense of urgency was not so apparent when White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was questioned about the incident April 23, three days after it occurred. At the time he seemed to dismiss its severity and indicated it wouldn't affect Obama's plans to open up new areas of the coast to offshore drilling.

"I don't honestly think it opens up a whole new series of questions, because, you know, in all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last," Gibbs said.

A week later, Obama was announcing plans for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to review whether new technologies were needed to safeguard against oil spills from deep-water drilling rigs. The president said no new offshore oil drilling leases would be issued without any such safeguards.

And Napolitano's comments over the weekend about the Pentagon's Day One role seemed a change from last Thursday, when she seemed to indicate the Defense Department was not yet involved in responding to the spill: "If and when they have something to add, we'll certainly make that known," she said.

A Homeland Security spokesman, Sean Smith, said Napolitano's more recent comments referred to the Navy's help with the Coast Guard's search and rescue mission early on, and that when she was discussing the Defense Department last Thursday she was alluding to any additional help they could bring to bear.

The administration's evolving rhetoric reflects not only the increasing seriousness of the spill itself, but its determination to be seen as responsive from the get-go and to squelch comparisons to the Bush administration's slow-footed response to Hurricane Katrina.

It's only natural that administration officials would adjust their response as the spill worsened and its seriousness became evident. But they invite judgment when claiming they responded at 100 percent starting Day One to an incident whose magnitude was not yet apparent, or when black-and-white assertions about taxpayer protections turn out to be tinged with gray.
Here is the story uncovered by the Mobile, Alabama Press Register:
Despite plan, not a single fire boom on hand on Gulf Coast at time of oil spill 
By Ben Raines  May 03, 2010, 12:09PM
If U.S. officials had followed up on a 1994 response plan for a major Gulf oil spill, it is possible that the spill could have been kept under control and far from land.
The problem: The federal government did not have a single fire boom on hand.
The "In-Situ Burn" plan produced by federal agencies in 1994 calls for responding to a major oil spill in the Gulf with the immediate use of fire booms.
But in order to conduct a successful test burn eight days after the Deepwater Horizon well began releasing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf, officials had to purchase one from a company in Illinois.
When federal officials called, Elastec/American Marine, shipped the only boom it had in stock, Jeff Bohleber, chief financial officer for Elastec, said today.
At federal officials' behest, the company began calling customers in other countries and asking if the U.S. government could borrow their fire booms for a few days, he said.
A single fire boom being towed by two boats can burn up to 1,800 barrels of oil an hour, Bohleber said. That translates to 75,000 gallons an hour, raising the possibility that the spill could have been contained at the accident scene 100 miles from shore.  
"They said this was the tool of last resort. No, this is absolutely the asset of first use. Get in there and start burning oil before the spill gets out of hand," Bohleber said. "If they had six or seven of these systems in place when this happened and got out there and started burning, it would have significantly lessened the amount of oil that got loose."
In the days after the rig sank, U.S Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said the government had all the assets it needed. She did not discuss why officials waited more than a week to conduct a test burn. (Watch video footage of the test burn.)
At the time, former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oil spill response coordinator Ron Gouguet -- who helped craft the 1994 plan -- told the Press-Register that officials had pre-approval for burning. "The whole reason the plan was created was so we could pull the trigger right away."
Gouguet speculated that burning could have captured 95 percent of the oil as it spilled from the well.
Bohleber said that his company was bringing several fire booms from South America, and he believed the National Response Center discovered that it had one in storage.
Each boom costs a few hundred thousand dollars, Bohleber said, declining to give a specific price. Made of flame-retardant fabric, each boom has two pumps that push water through its 500-foot length. Two boats tow the U-shaped boom through an oil slick, gathering up about 75,000 gallons of oil at a time. That oil is dragged away from the larger spill, ignited and burns within an hour, he said.
The boom can be used as long as waves are below 3 feet, Bohleber said.
"Because of the complexity of the system and the obvious longer production time to build them, the emphasis is on obtaining and gathering the systems," he said.
Bohleber said his company has conducted numerous tests with the Coast Guard since 1993, and it is now training crews on the use of the boom so workers will be ready when they arrive.
"We're arranging for six to be shipped in. We keep running into delays. Hopefully, they will be here by Wednesday to be available for use on Thursday. Bear in mind, two days ago, we thought they would be here today."

No comments:

Post a Comment

No foreign language comments allowed. English only. If you cannot access the comments window send me an email at Oldironsides@fuse.net.