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Blame game on the Hill

Mark Mardell | 17:47 UK time, Tuesday, 11 May 2010

lamar_crop2.jpgThe oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico sits ominously off the American coast, growing steadily day by day. BP's latest plan is to ram rubbish, golf balls, shredded tyres and human hair in the leak to block the hole. It hardly sounds reassuringly high tech. But there's been plenty of technical detail in Washington as three companies try to explain what went wrong. Two Senate committees are hearing the evidence. In simple language, it's a blame game.
While all sides say there can be no definite conclusion about the cause of the tragedy, BP's American chairman Lamar McKay seems to blame a process carried out by Halliburton:

We are looking at why the blowout preventer did not work because that was to be the fail-safe in case of an accident. The blowout preventer is a 450-ton piece of equipment that sits on top of the wellhead during drilling operations. All of us urgently want to understand how this vital piece of equipment and its built-in redundancy systems failed.

Transocean's chief executive Steven Newman countered:
Over the past several days, some have suggested that the blowout preventers (or BOPs) used on this project were the cause of the accident. That simply makes no sense. The attention now being given to the BOPs in this case is somewhat ironic because at the time of the explosion, the drilling process was complete.

Both he and Halliburton's representative suggested the real problem might have been the failure to push a cement plug into the hole.

In other words, over to you BP. Even if you don't quite get the relationship between blowout preventers and cement plugs it is pretty clear no-one wants to say it is their fault. There's a lot of money at stake and President Obama is pressing for new laws that would raise the limit on what companies must pay out.

He's also decided to split into two the government organisation with responsibility for the oil industry. At the moment the Minerals Management Service oversees safety and collects billions of dollars for leasing the operations. For years, many have accused it of being too cosy with industry. The president seems determined that even if the oil continues to spread, the political consequences will be kept within firm boundaries.

The Senate session has now halted for a break. I'll be back with more if it's worth it.

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  • 1. At 6:48pm on 11 May 2010, Interestedforeigner wrote:

    "Over the past several days, some have suggested that the blowout preventers (or BOPs) used on this project were the cause of the accident. That simply makes no sense. The attention now being given to the BOPs in this case is somewhat ironic because at the time of the explosion, the drilling process was complete."

    ____________

    Ok, so now I'm confused.

    Was the well completed or not?
    Was the drill strong still suspended in the well, or had it been removed?
    If it was in the well, then why shouldn't the BOP have been expected to work?

    If it had been removed from the well, then what was controlling production fluid from the well?

    Was the well properly capped or not?

    Clearly more questions are required.

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  • 2. At 7:25pm on 11 May 2010, Gavrielle_LaPoste wrote:

    Someone on Huffington Post suggested a game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" might now be in order. Given that none of these companies will ever admit to being responsible (heaven forbid!) it's as good a solution as any I suppose.

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  • 3. At 7:54pm on 11 May 2010, Moresthepity wrote:

    I'm sure the blame is being tossed every way possible but feel that BP has to shoulder the responsibility. I would like to know the death toll and number of "accidents" that have been under the BP purview for the last decade. My not too reliable memory tells me BP has to have one of the worst records.

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  • 4. At 8:06pm on 11 May 2010, baircash wrote:

    Of course, its going to be pass the hot potato. Insurers & lawyers are advising the parties to keep their mouths shut as to their own negligence in view of the inevitable court cases that are sure to come.
    Certain legal firms will make a career out of this. Wonder what the trickle down effect of the legal fees will be on the US economy.

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  • 5. At 8:17pm on 11 May 2010, Philly-Mom wrote:

    This whole event has been an absolute nightmare.
    The marshes of Louisiana were threatened even before this spill.
    I can't imagine how devastating this will be for the area.

    They've GOT to get something down there to plug this leak. Clean up will become more dangerous and costly with every hour that thing is pouring out oil.

    Now ain't the time for a slick song and dance.

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  • 6. At 8:26pm on 11 May 2010, U13817236 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 7. At 8:45pm on 11 May 2010, Philly-Mom wrote:

    Baircash #4
    "Certain legal firms will make a career out of this. Wonder what the trickle down effect of the legal fees will be on the US economy."

    Of course, we may never be able to determine what happened, since the evidence exploded and sunk. Meanwhile, the blob is expanding.

    Unfortunately, it seems the trickle up will happen faster than the trickle down.

    On one hand this might inspire tighter control for future wells.
    On the other hand, they thought that THIS system was fool-proof...

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  • 8. At 8:49pm on 11 May 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    As they all create distractions by pointing fingers at each other, what is very clear is that the company(ies)nor the state government, nor the federal government had any kind of plan for how to deal with the issue. The US has allowed big business to "self-regulate" even though they complain all the time about government regulations. The corruption of state governments have allowed the oil industry to do as they please in the Gulf and this is the result. You get what you pay for.

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  • 9. At 8:50pm on 11 May 2010, AndreaNY wrote:

    4. baircash:

    "Certain legal firms will make a career out of this."

    ***************
    Yup.

    And some elected officials, too.

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  • 10. At 8:52pm on 11 May 2010, AndreaNY wrote:

    5. Philly-Mom:

    "This whole event has been an absolute nightmare."

    **************
    In slow motion, too.

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  • 11. At 10:16pm on 11 May 2010, Brian Hill wrote:

    Looks just like a building contract - one shall blame another and he shame blame someone else.

    "Not my fault Guv'".

    And now for the repair!

    "I've got some old golf balls in the back of me van, and the Missus left a pair of tights back there too. I could try stuffing them all in the 'ole, and then we can just cement over it and job's a good 'un."

    Er?

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  • 12. At 10:29pm on 11 May 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    Each day brings news about federal regulators under both the Bush and Obama who aided and abetted BP and the oil industry as they disregarded safety and environmental regulations/precautions.
    Here’s my little collection (thus far):
    In 2000 the Minerals Management Service (MMS) asked the oil industry for advice on problems related to the cementing used around deep sea well caps to stop blowouts. The oil industry never produced recommendations.
    In 2002 a study conducted by the MMS revealed that equipment on oil rigs to prevent blowouts did not function. One manufacturer’s shear rams (devices used to sever pipes after a blowout) 50% failed.
    In 2002, Pers Holland, a Norwegian researcher commissioned by the MMS, found that two sets of shear rams should be used in blowout preventers (industry standard is one). The MMS disregarded Holland’s proposal.
    Deepwater Horizon lacked an “acoustic switch,” a backup mechanism for triggering the blowout preventer in the case of an explosion. The US oil industry found these units’ $500,000 price too expensive. They are mandated by Norway and Brazil.
    The number of drill site inspections carried out by the MMS fell 41% between 2005 and 2009, even as the number of drill rigs operating in US waters increased. The number of penalties issued by MMS for regulatory violations fell from 66 in 2000 to 20 last year.
    In June of 2009, the MMS exempted BP from producing a legally-mandated environmental impact study for the site where Deepwater Horizon would drill. Obama was earlier warned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that MMS studies approving offshore drilling were not reliable. Obama ignored NOAA.
    The ties between the MMS and the oil industry are incestuous. Obama was the top recipient of BP “employee donations” in the 2008 election cycle, and the company has mobilized tens of millions in lobbying that has brought insiders such as John Podesta and former Democratic House majority leader Thomas Daschle. Current CIA director Leon Panetta has also served on BP’s “external advisory council.”
    Only weeks before the Gulf disaster, Obama declared his intention to make large regions of the US coastline available for oil drilling.The Deepwater Horizon explosion is the result of decades of “deregulation” and criminal carelessness.
    Corporations control vast social resources and make decisions affecting millions of people on the basis of profit. The corporate elite targets for elimination any outlay that will diminish profit e.g. environmental protection, safety…
    What needs to be done?
    The assets of BP, Transocean, Halliburton and their executives — billions of dollars — must be appropriated and used to make the people of the Gulf whole, also to put in place a massive environmental cleanup operation.
    The executives and regulators whose policies caused the disaster should be criminally prosecuted.
    Problem:
    Who’s going to do it: Obama? MMS? Haliburton?
    Blame game on the Hill; tragedy in the Gulf and on the coast.

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  • 13. At 10:52pm on 11 May 2010, majones6 wrote:

    It's not a blame game. Shame on you, Mark. Do some proper homework, help us understand the true root cause (even if it is technical), and understand that the 11 exceptional men working in an environment as unnatural as Mars deserve more than a cheap shot at their employers as the BBC's coverage.

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  • 14. At 11:10pm on 11 May 2010, SaintDominick wrote:

    Ref 12, BluesBerry

    The influence of big business on our government has been pervasive for decades. It is not limited to one company, to one business sector, to one party or one or two administrations.

    I would ban all political donations and lobbying, would put in place effective and enforceable regulation to prevent disaster like this, the Wall Street debacle, the insurance industry ripoff and many other abuses. Incredibly, we not only accept the status quo, we protect it and because of our ambivalence we encourage it!

    Don't be surprised if consumers end up footing the bill, if not directly through price increases at the pump.

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  • 15. At 11:13pm on 11 May 2010, MagicKirin wrote:

    ref #12

    What does Haliburton have do with this?

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  • 16. At 11:24pm on 11 May 2010, Worldcitizen1 wrote:

    It seems to me that the problem is the result of faulty equipment.

    "We are looking at why the blowout preventer did not work because that was to be the fail-safe in case of an accident. The blowout preventer is a 450-ton piece of equipment that sits on top of the wellhead during drilling operations. All of us urgently want to understand how this vital piece of equipment and its built-in redundancy systems failed."

    That being the case, would it be fair to put all of the blame on B.P.?

    I think that B.P. and the manufacturer of the equipment should make reasonable efforts to clean up the oil spill.

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  • 17. At 11:31pm on 11 May 2010, GH1618 wrote:

    It is necessary to determine what actually happened before assigning blame, however it is interesting that offshore oil drilling appears to be one area where promotion is combined with regulation in one agency. This model does not work, and in other areas it has been replaced with independent regulatory agencies. Unfortunately, this usually happens only in response to a crisis.

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  • 18. At 11:50pm on 11 May 2010, Andy Post wrote:

    Ref. 13, majones6:

    "Do some proper homework, help us understand the true root cause (even if it is technical)..."

    First read the first couple pages of this article: http://science.howstuffworks.com/offshore-drilling4.htm.

    Evidently, BP contracted with Halliburton to drill a new well in the ocean floor using a drilling platform leased from Trans Ocean. The pocket of oil and gas they drilled into was under high pressure (which from what I can understand is fairly common). The drilling mud which circulates from the platform to the drill bit and back is dense enough to hold back that pressure. Since the well was to be tapped and then plugged up for future use by BP, the crew of the platform set about removing the drilling equipment and sealing the hole. Typically this is done by injecting wet cement into the riser and letting it sink to the bottom of the well through the drilling mud, waiting for six hours for the cement to set, and then replacing the mud with seawater.

    Evidently, it's faster to replace the mud with seawater first and then inject the cement. This is more hazardous because seawater has half the density of the drilling mud. BP decided to use the faster method. From what I can gather that's unusual though not unheard of. Usually, the end result is the same. However in this case, the seawater couldn't hold back the high pressure gas and oil and the whole mess shot up through the riser and out the top of the platform. This solution also contained methane. It exploded when it sparked on something killing everyone near the well.

    The blowout preventer should have shut this off. However, those units' primary job is to prevent blowouts during drilling, the hazard is that the drill bit will punch into an unexpected high pressure pocket. Once the well is drilled, everything's a known quantity, so a blowout preventer shouldn't be necessary.

    I hope that's accurate. I really don't know anything about this business.

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  • 19. At 11:52pm on 11 May 2010, Andy Post wrote:

    Ref. 17, GH1618:

    "...it is interesting that offshore oil drilling appears to be one area where promotion is combined with regulation in one agency."

    There's another one: the FAA.

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  • 20. At 00:03am on 12 May 2010, Julian wrote:

    The fundamental question is why do commercial organisations have the freedom to drill for geological quantities of oil at depths where we do not have the technical ability to cope if anything goes wrong? The answer is that the free market system is simply too uncontrolled, and decisions are made for the profits of very rich shareholders without concern for either the environment or the safety of humanity.
    The accidents of history have led to the current domination of a market system driven by greed above all other considerations, and able to manipulate governments to allow this 'freedom' at the cost of everyone elses' rights to a clean environment. It cannot be beyond human ingenuity to start creating international regulation on all commercial activities that have the potential to ruin lives, the environment or the economic security of millions of ordinary people. The international banking crisis clearly demonstrates this, as does the Gopal disaster where similar commercial recklessness brought death and misery to thousands of poor Indian citizens, and the responsible firm still resists giving decent compensation to those affected. The most morally abhorent people in this world are often those who wear the most expensive suits. They need to be brought under control for the good of us all, and their activities only permitted under internationally agreed standards and licences. We need to create a kinder, better world for all, not one run for the benefit of the greediest.

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  • 21. At 00:38am on 12 May 2010, Worldcitizen1 wrote:

    Like I have written before:

    EVERY home in this country should be heated using Nuclear power as its energy source. 70% of France's energy needs are met with nuclear power. There is NO excuse why we can not do the same here.

    The ecological disaster taking place in the Gulf, at this very moment, will be the largest one in the history of man-kind.

    For those who do not like nuclear power, we have the Connecticut River, the Hudson river, the Mississippi River, and the Colorado river to provide hydro-powered electric plants for all of the United States.

    Oil is being drilled for monetary GREED only.

    It MUST come to an end.

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  • 22. At 01:01am on 12 May 2010, dmac wrote:

    BP, Trasocean, Haliburton and Co. will all take their share of the profits but not their share of responsibility ... appalling behaviour, who'd teach their children to behave in such a way?

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  • 23. At 01:06am on 12 May 2010, SaintDominick wrote:

    Ref 15, Magic

    "What does Haliburton have do with this?"

    Oil companies usually subcontract much of the work to companies like Halliburton and subsidiaries such as Brown & Root. In fact, that is commonplace in most sectors of our economy, not just the oil industry, and the government does the same.

    In this case, BP will most likely be held responsible for what happened. They will then seek compensation from subcontractors if any of them were at fault because of operator error, equipment failure, or violation of established procedures, standards or applicable regulations.

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  • 24. At 05:24am on 12 May 2010, GH1618 wrote:

    I don't see anything wrong with not admitting fault. It's a complicated and expensive incident. The first thing (after stopping the leak) is to figure out what happened. The responsibilities will be settled in court, and that is the only reasonable way. As SaintDominick write, BP is first in line, but they will lay off what responsibility they can on others. Anyone would do likewise.

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  • 25. At 09:05am on 12 May 2010, Worldcitizen1 wrote:

    24. At 05:24am on 12 May 2010, GH1618 wrote:

    "The first thing (after stopping the leak) is to figure out what happened."

    They know what happened. They have to figure out why it happened and how to fix it. The valve that was supposed to shut off automatically didn't function properly and so it shut down only half way, thus allowing the oil to escape. I'm willing to bet that it was frozen and that is why it did not shut down all of the way.





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  • 26. At 09:18am on 12 May 2010, majones6 wrote:

    Noone can dispute that everything possible is being done, and no expense is being spared to get things sorted. All this is to the account of BP, using the best equipment and brains (such as Transocean and Hailburton) in the world. There is no behavioural evidence of a blame-game mindset between BP and its contractors. My gripe is that Mark's article sensationalises the situation. Ill-considered journalism, I'm afraid.

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  • 27. At 3:03pm on 12 May 2010, Keechakuna wrote:

    http://www.wimp.com/solutionoil/
    Its a shame that governments dont see this easy fix to the oil spill

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  • 28. At 3:08pm on 12 May 2010, shiveringofforgottenenemies wrote:

    The Congressional investigation is theatre. The call will go out for MORE inspections, more inspectors, more regulations, more red tape. That won't keep giant bubbles of superheated gas from rushing up pipes or last ditch fail-safe devices from failing.

    Things like the Congressional investigation are a useful part of the "magic act"..they are the distractors. While media attention is focused on the spill and the investigation, the real action is cutting dirty deals on the truly dreadful carbon tax legislation...and the fact that gosh, it looks like maybe "affordable health care reform" will not be so affordable after all...or the fact that the job picture is lousy, or the fact that Freddie Mac wants more money.

    So, step right up folks, enjoy the show!

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  • 29. At 3:31pm on 12 May 2010, powermeerkat wrote:

    It's not BOP, Mark; its BP that failed.

    The same British Petroleum whose refinaries in U.S. burn due to its negligence, but which can still get notorious terrorists released from jails in UK ("on humanitarian grounds") to get their interests in Libya secured.


    [Money talks...]

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  • 30. At 3:45pm on 12 May 2010, Philly-Mom wrote:

    25. At 09:05am on 12 May 2010, Worldcitizen1 wrote:
    "They know what happened. They have to figure out why it happened and how to fix it. The valve that was supposed to shut off automatically didn't function properly and so it shut down only half way, thus allowing the oil to escape. I'm willing to bet that it was frozen and that is why it did not shut down all of the way."


    Interesting.
    Understanding how the thing happened is useful for determining how to fix the problem. Perfectly logical.


    But ya' know, ya'll gotta remember the SNAFU of Katrina. The people of New Orleans got screwed over because no one wanted to bankroll the repairs. The blame game of ownership hot-potato cost people their homes, their jobs, and their heritage.

    IOW, folks remember Katrina and are experiencing deja voo-doo.

    Folks (myself included) are worried that the greasy flood waters will continue to rise and will cost people their homes and their jobs again... this time with long-term ramifications for the environment.

    So - get the dang thing capped, clean up the mess, and bicker about the pennies later.

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  • 31. At 4:00pm on 12 May 2010, Philly-Mom wrote:

    RE: Julian (20)

    I'll second that. Preach it, Honey.

    Greed is not good.
    It is only good for those in power and for those who get lucky. But eventually, it will catch up to people when rules (that are already soft) get bent even further. That's when things fall apart and when innocent people die.

    We - as humans - need to incorporate fairness, responsibility and *gasp* altruism into our business operations. We need to invest not in ourselves and our families, but in our community and our world.

    I'm not out to hang anyone in effigy. That's, like, SO passe...

    But that mess needs to be cleaned up ASAP.
    Now get back there and get'er done.

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  • 32. At 4:42pm on 12 May 2010, Scott0962 wrote:

    It's an election year and Congress is anxious for any bit of political theater that can distract voters from their own decidedly lackluster performance in office. They'll huff and they'll puff and and they'll bluster and pontificate until in the end they'll work themselves into a frenzy of righteous indignation and pass some token bit of punitive legislation against the oil industry that will further accentuate our dependence on imported oil and then wonder why so few people applaud.

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  • 33. At 4:50pm on 12 May 2010, bart wrote:

    Question Why would BP drill a well and cap it and go away? In these times would it mot make more sense to use the oil to reduce the cost of fuel in the US?

    O silly me enough oil leaking out into the ocean to fill tanker ship's with oil lets just leave it for latter. This is US oil we are letting these people get at by the way.

    On the blow out preventer. If the oil leak is not completly out of control maybe the BOP is not sensing a out of control condition.

    Also the movement of oil pressure I assume is being used to power the cut off. If the flow of oil is not a complete runnaway thing not enough force would be applied to the device to restrict the flow.

    So if someone blew the pipe close to the well head eliminating that mile of pipe the increased flow of oil could trigger the BOP.

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  • 34. At 5:41pm on 12 May 2010, bart wrote:

    In so far as to who was responsible.

    If it is BP's well and BP's oil and BP's profit long term and they were not going to share with their Drillers and Hallaburton. Then who pays.

    Once this is all over I cant see BP sharing in production profits from this well. If the profit is all theirs so the responsibility.

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  • 35. At 6:34pm on 12 May 2010, GH1618 wrote:

    bart (#33) "Question Why would BP drill a well and cap it and go away?"

    If you would read a good newspaper you would know. Offshore wells are drilled by specialized drilling platforms. When the drilling is completed, the drilling platform is replaced by a production platform. Between the two, the well must be sealed off. The production platform will reopen it.

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  • 36. At 9:56pm on 12 May 2010, majones6 wrote:

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain

  • 37. At 00:02am on 13 May 2010, HectorLuis wrote:

    OIL SPILL....There is no time for blaming, it is time to research for a rapid solution. In the Scientific field major discoveries and improvement to invention have been made thru mistakes. This is not a different case, we were experimenting on drilling near our shores and sadly something has gone wrong, leaving us with the opportunity to make changes to the drilling infrastructure in order to make it safe and reliable. Also, adding tires and human hair is not the solution, I think it will worsen the situation due to Oceanic currents. I think that the best solution to the problem is to create a vessel capable to clean the Ocean water by means of SUCTION AND FILTRATION.

    For example this Vessel will have a suction device which will lower a large pipe to the Ocean floor near the gap where the oil is flowing in order to canalized it to holding tanks where oil and water will be separate by means of filtration transfering the oil to an oil main at the shore... a second vessel will use the same technology to suction the stream of oil at the surface by repeating the same processes as the first vessel but by enclosing the oil in a radio of volume by oil stopping mats and transfering the colected oil to empty barch. 5/12/2010 1902hrs.

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  • 38. At 00:30am on 13 May 2010, BienvenueEnLouisiana wrote:

    This spill has the potential to devistate the coastal economy and ecology of my state, and I find that unacceptable. I don't happen to care where TransOcean, Halliburton, & BP point their fingers; in my opinion they're all lyable and should finish cleaning up their mess. We'll give them the bill later.

    Even after this disaster I still support drilling of the coast of my state, but it MUST be done more safely and with more thought to the ecology of my state.

    Kudos to the men and women working to clean up the spill and cap the leak.

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  • 39. At 01:48am on 13 May 2010, GH1618 wrote:

    HectorLuis (#37) "I think that the best solution to the problem is to create a vessel capable to clean the Ocean water by means of SUCTION AND FILTRATION."

    There are oil skimmer ships. However, if look at the amount of oil coming out of the well, and the area over which it has spread, and do the maths, you will find it a daunting problem.

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  • 40. At 02:30am on 13 May 2010, Keechakuna wrote:

    Please trust me this link is safe to look at and everyone needs to see it and send it to everyone they know who has any way of publicly making everyone aware of such a simple solution to saving the ocean life. Yes do whatever they have planned but do this as well. I dont have twitter but it needs to get out where the government will see it.
    http://www.wimp.com/solutionoil/

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  • 41. At 12:14pm on 13 May 2010, powermeerkat wrote:

    "A Venezuelan gas platform has sunk in the Caribbean Sea, President Chavez announces" [BBC]


    As somebody pointed out above: "Capitalist greed is no good". ;)

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  • 42. At 9:56pm on 13 May 2010, Worldcitizen1 wrote:

    30. At 3:45pm on 12 May 2010, Philly-Mom wrote:

    "But ya' know, ya'll gotta remember the SNAFU of Katrina. The people of New Orleans got screwed over because no one wanted to bankroll the repairs. The blame game of ownership hot-potato cost people their homes, their jobs, and their heritage."

    I don't think that there is a person in this country who isn't outraged at how our Government handled Katrina. It was a national disgrace.

    You wrote also:

    "Folks (myself included) are worried that the greasy flood waters will continue to rise and will cost people their homes and their jobs again... this time with long-term ramifications for the environment.

    So - get the dang thing capped, clean up the mess, and bicker about the pennies later."

    I understand and sympathize with you completely. Losing the fishing and seafood industry will not only affect your region but will affect every seafood restaurant in the United States. Of course, the damage done to the environment is without a price tag. I agree: the quicker we get the "dang" thing capped, and cleaned up, the better we will all be. :)


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  • 43. At 5:34pm on 15 May 2010, ndtb wrote:

    This tragedy is a wake up call. We need to move away from fossil fuel energy!

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  • 44. At 7:02pm on 06 Jun 2010, leisurecreek wrote:

    There was a question if this well was finished or not...I am from Texas and through hours of countless research in the first 38 days I came to believe that Halliburton was once again trying to deceive people...There is only one company that cements a well when they go to close it down..This well was in that process at the time of the explosion...Halliburton waited 42 days before saying that they were already done and gone from the area...If they had nothing to hide or had done nothing wrong why did they wait so long to come forward....Around the middle of May, I read a report that the main cause of the explosion was a methane pop around 14,000 feet below the seabed..At that time it was stated that this methane pop came about from a reaction caused mainly by a reaction of drilling mud and cement and methane...That statement right there implicates Halliburton in part to the cause...

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