Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Who's To Blame?

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Brilliant. From The Daily Show:

"Fox &Friends" deems it inappropriate for the Obama administration to mention Bush when talking about the wars, economy or oil spill.

...So everything bad that happened during the Bush administration, was Bill Clinton's fault and now, everything bad during the Obama administration, is Bill Clinton's fault.

h/t Crooks and Liars


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Conservative Misinformation

Media Matters helps fight conservative misinformation. Media Matters is a "progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media."

The following article is about the abundance of misinformation disseminating from Fox News.

Media Matters for America has compiled a list of myths and falsehoods about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, all of which have been pushed by Fox News.


Myths and falsehoods on the Gulf oil spill

Fox News' staunch defense of BP

Myth: Obama waited weeks before responding to the oil spill

Myth: Moratorium is not needed because oil companies are equipped to handle spill

Myth: BP was only drilling "out there" because environmentalists and the federal government "made them" do it

Myth: Obama, unlike Bush, "was off on vacation" during crisis

Myth: "Ridiculous" and "offensive" to blame Bush for spills

Myth: Obama is the "single largest recipient of BP's cash"

Myth: Obama admin turning away foreign aid by refusing to waive union-supported Jones Act

Myth: Obama admin defied Constitution when they "told" BP to create escrow account

Myth: Obama admin unreasonably delayed purchase of Maine company's oil boom

Myth: Obama unnecessarily delayed berm plan

Myth: Coast Guard docked oil-collecting barges for no good reason

Defense of BP

Fox News' staunch defense of BP

Media Matters has identified numerous instances of media conservatives defending BP on Fox News Channel, Fox Business, the Fox Nation, or the radio shows of Fox News hosts. For example:

  • BP was victim of a "shakedown." On at least 10 occasions, Fox figures criticized BP's escrow account as an Obama "shakedown" or "slush fund." For example, on the June 21 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, contributor Andrea Tantaros stated that BP had been the victim of a "political shakedown" and a "stickup" to force the company to fund the $20 billion "slush fund."
  • Investigations of BP are McCarthyist "witch trials." Fox figures criticized congressional and criminal investigations into BP on at least nine occasions. For example, Glenn Beck compared the congressional BP hearings to the McCarthy hearings, the Salem witch trials, and the Romans feeding Christians to lions.
  • Obama administration has "demonized" BP. On at least nine instances, Fox figures attacked Obama for "demonizing" BP. For example, appearing on Hannity, Fox Business host Stuart Varney stated: "The administration's response can be summed up as follows: Demonize BP, seize its assets, raise taxes on energy, and therefore raise prices, pile on regulation, appoint a commission, all to gloss over the failure to deal promptly with the oil spill. And then give us pipe dreams about a green future."
  • Conspiracy theories about the oil spill. Media Matters identified at least four instances in which conspiracy theories about the oil spill were raised on Fox's networks. For example, on the May 27 editionHappy Hour, host Eric Bolling asked guest Alan Colmes, "Are you sure they didn't let [the oil spill] leak so he could renege on his promise to allow some offshore drilling?" of Fox Business'
Myth, Claim, Fact, Reality

Myth: Obama waited weeks before responding to the oil spill

CLAIM: Obama "waited 50 days, 55 days to really begin" responding to Gulf oil spill. On the June 17 edition of Fox & Friends, Rudy Giuliani said of the federal government's response to the oil spill: "The government has played a big role in letting us down here as well. And who the heck is -- you know, criticizing President Obama, President Obama's response? I mean, the president waited 50 days, 55 days to really begin a resp- -- he told us in his speech that the federal government was in charge from the very beginning."

REALITY: Timeline of events indicates Obama administration responded almost immediately to the spill. The Coast Guard began responding to the spill hours after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded at 10 p.m. on April 20. Obama was briefed on the incident and dispatched officials to the region the next day.

Gov. Barbour: "The federal government's done more right than wrong" on BP cleanup. On the June 20 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, asked for his "assessment of how well coordinated the federal, state, and local officials are," former RNC chairman and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said that while "nothing's satisfactory until the well's shut" he thinks "the federal government's done more right than wrong," and "appointing Ken Feinberg, who's got a great reputation that's well deserved, is good for BP and good for the government."

Myth: Moratorium is not needed because oil companies are equipped to handle spills

CLAIM: No need for moratorium to "ensure ... safety," Obama should "undo the harm that he's already done" and lift it. On the June 12 edition of Fox & Friends Saturday, anchor Alisyn Camerota asked Palin: "[T]he administration has called for a moratorium on deep-sea drilling until that safety can be ensured. Given all of the problems that we now know, how BP overlooked safety measures, do you support a moratorium until we can ensure the safety?" Palin replied, "No, but we do need to ramp up the oversight" of offshore drilling." Likewise, on the June 15 edition of Fox News' Special Report, Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes urged Obama to "undo the harm that he's already done and lift the moratorium on the existing drilling that was going on in the Gulf."

REALITY: All five major oil companies reportedly share similar spill response plans written by same company, and admit aspects of their plans are an "embarrassment." According to The Washington Post, "the same tiny Texas subcontractor" authored the Gulf spill response plans for BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Shell Oil, and Exxon Mobil. Additionally, execs for both Exxon Mobil and Conoco Phillips called an error in both plans embarrassing.

FACT: All five companies reportedly rely on the same companies to draft their response plans and provide containment equipment. According to a June 16 Washington Post report, "the same tiny Texas subcontractor" authored the Gulf spill response plans for BP, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Shell Oil, and Exxon Mobil:

The spill response plans for all five companies were written by the same firm, the Response Group. Although it has operations in at least seven cities nationwide, the Houston-based firm's Web site says the company has about 35 employees. (One current assignment: calling 50,000 people who have visited BP offices and getting their e-mail addresses and emergency contact information.)

Additionally, the Post reported that Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) stated that oil companies all rely on one company, Marine Spill Response, to provide containment equipment.

FACT: Three spill plans reportedly listed the phone number of a deceased marine science expert. According the same Post report, three of the five major oil companies operating in the Gulf "listed the phone number for the same University of Miami marine science expert, Peter Lutz, who died in 2005" in their spill response plans.

FACT: Exxon Mobil CEO: "We are not well-equipped to handle" major oil spills. In testimony before the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee on June 15, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson stated repeatedly that his company is "not well-equipped to handle" major oil spills.

FACT: Responding to criticism of having a dead expert's info in his company's oil spill response, Tillerson admitted "we need expertise." When Markey questioned Tillerson on the Exxon Mobil plan's inclusion of contact information for a "technical support person" who had been dead for four years, Tillerson acknowledged that it was an "embarrassment" and stated that "we admit that we need expertise." He further stated that just because "Dr. Lutz died in 2005 does not mean his work and the importance of his work died with him."

FACT: ConocoPhillips CEO: "Obviously it is embarrassing" that Lutz's contact information is in the report. At the same hearing, ConocoPhillips CEO, James Mulva, said of the response plan's obvious flaws: "Obviously it is embarrassing." He further acknowledged that "the plans need to be updated more frequently."

Myth: BP was only drilling "out there" because environmentalists and the federal government "made them" do it

CLAIM: BP's deepwater drilling due to environmentalists, federal government "pushed us out there." Several Fox News figures, including Sarah Palin, Charles Krauthammer, Steve Doocy, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly, have claimed that, as Hannity put it, BP "should have been in ANWR and shallower waters, and environmentalists pushed us out there." Similarly, Fox News contributors Andrew Napolitano and Bill Kristol, and Fox guest and editor-in-chief Mike Flynn have blamed the federal government for, in Flynn's words, "ma[king] them drill in water that deep."

REALITY: Deep-water regions feature vast oil reserves that make such drilling potentially lucrative. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service, the "best source of new domestic energy resources lies in the deep water." The deepwater region of the Gulf has also been identified as "probably the most promising area in United States-controlled territory."

FACT: MMS said "remarkable increase" in deep-water drilling due in part to "finding of reservoirs with high production wells." According to the MMS: "The deepwater portion of Gulf of Mexico has shown a remarkable increase in oil and gas exploration, development and production. In part this is due to the development of new technologies reducing operational costs and risks, as well as the finding of reservoirs with high production wells."

FACT: Bush MMS reported that the "best source of new domestic energy resources lies in the deep water Gulf of Mexico." In a 2004 report -- titled Deep Water: Where the Energy Is -- the MMS stated that "our best source of new domestic energy resources lies in the deep water Gulf of Mexico and other frontier areas." MMS reported that due to "declining production" in "near-shore, shallow waters" in the Gulf of Mexico, "energy companies have focused their attention on oil and gas resources in water depths of 1,000 feet and beyond." MMS estimated that "the deep water regions of the Gulf of Mexico may contain 56 billion barrels of oil equivalent, or enough to meet U.S. demand for 7-1/2 years at current rates."

FACT: Bush MMS reported deepwater drilling is "America's Offshore Energy Future," "significant proved reserves" discovered in recent years. In a 2008 report titled "Deepwater Gulf of Mexico 2008: America's Offshore Energy Future, MMS reported:

The deepwater GOM has contributed major additions to the total reserves in the GOM. Figure 40 shows the proved reserves added each year by water-depth category. Additions from the shallow waters of the GOM declined in recent years but, beginning in 1975, the deepwater area started contributing significant new reserves. Between 1975 and 1983, the majority of these additions were from discoveries in slightly more than 1,000 ft (305 m) of water. It was not until 1985 that major additions came from water depths greater than 1,500 ft (457 m). From 1998 to 2001, significant proved reserves were added in the 5,000- to 7,499-ft (1,524- to 2,286-m) water depth range. The year 2002 saw the first substantial addition from water depths greater than 7,500 ft (2,286 m).

FACT: NY Times reported BP discovery of "giant oil field" in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico indicated area was "probably the most promising area in United States-controlled territory." A September 2, 2009, New York Times article reported that "BP announced on Wednesday the discovery of what it characterized as a giant oil field several miles under the Gulf of Mexico," which the Times stated "was another indication that the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico are probably the most promising area in United States-controlled territory to bolster domestic oil production." The Times further credited BP's deep-water rigs with having "stabilized domestic production after almost two decades of yearly decline."

Myth: Obama, unlike Bush, "was off on vacation" during crisis

CLAIM: Obama "was off on vacation twice" during oil spill, but Bush did not go on vacation "in the middle of a crisis." On the June 17 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, Giuliani asserted that he didn't think the spill was Obama's "job number one" because Obama was "off on vacation twice" during the cleanup. Giuliani contrasted Obama's vacations with President Bush's and Giuliani's own purported refusal to take vacations during times of crisis. Giuliani made similar arguments on the June 17 edition of Fox & Friends.

REALITY: Bush vacationed during the aftermath of Katrina; Giuliani reportedly spent more time at Yankees games than at WTC after 9-11. Despite Giuliani's suggestion, Bush reportedly made at least three trips to Camp David in the two months after Katrina, and Giuliani himself reportedly spent "roughly twice as long" at, or flying to, Yankees games than at ground zero between September 17, 2001, and December 16, 2001. The Obamas visited Asheville, North Carolina, the weekend of April 23. During that trip, Obama eulogized the 29 workers killed in the West Virginia mine explosion and "met with the workers' families privately before the ceremony," according to CNN. During Memorial Day weekend, Obama traveled to Chicago and was scheduled to deliver his Memorial Day address at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. Due to a thunderstorm, he spoke at Andrews Air Force Base instead.

FACT: Bush vacationed during aftermath of Katrina. In the two months after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, Bush reportedly made at least three separate weekend trips to the presidential retreat at Camp David. Bush visited the Camp David retreat in September 2005 and again during twoweekends in October 2005. Three months after the hurricane, news outlets reported that hundreds of thousands of people were "still at loose ends in provisional housing -- many in isolated trailer parks"; "thousands of people were "still unaccounted for"; and "[m]ore than 80 percent of New Orleans's population has not been able to return home."

FACT: Giuliani reportedly spent more time at Yankees games than at ground zero following 9-11. In an August 18, 2007, article, Alex Koppelman examined Giuliani's schedule in the 90 days following the attacks and found: "By our count, Giuliani spent about 58 hours at Yankees games or flying to them in the 40 days between Sept. 25 and Nov. 4, roughly twice as long as he spent at ground zero in the 90 days between Sept. 17 and Dec. 16."

Myth: "Ridiculous" and "offensive" to blame Bush for spill

CLAIM: "Outrageous" to blame Bush for MMS mismanagement leading to oil spill. Fox News figures, including Dana Perino, Dick Morris and Mike Huckabee, have claimed that it is "ridiculous" and "offensive," as Perino put it, to say that the Bush administration's regulatory failures led to the oil spill.

REALITY: Under Bush, MMS relaxed oversight of drilling, ignored safety warnings, downplayed oil spill concerns. The Department of Interior's Office of Inspector General (OIG) "found a culture where the acceptance of gifts from oil and gas companies were widespread" in Bush's MMS. In addition, under Bush, MMS loosened rules requiring a blowout plan, dismissed the risk of a massive oil spill in a BP assessment, and failed to report a warning about a vital piece of blowout preventer. Moreover, Bush promoted and sought to expand offshore drilling.

FACT: Bush MMS adopted regulations stating drillers are "in the best position to determine the environmental effects of its proposed activity."The Washington Post reported on May 25 that the actions taken by MMS "are shaped in part by a 2005 regulation it adopted that assumes oil and gas companies can best evaluate the environmental effects of their operations." The article stated that "[t]he rule governing which information the MMS should receive and review before signing off on drilling plans states: 'The lessee or operator is in the best position to determine the environmental effects of its proposed activity based on whether the operation is routine or non-routine.'" Rolling Stone magazine reported that these "new rules pre-qualified deep-sea drillers" to receive an "exemption from environmental review," even though such exemptions were "originally intended to prevent minor projects, like outhouses on hiking trails, from being tied up in red tape."

FACT: In April 2008, Bush MMS loosened rules requiring blowout plan. The Associated Press reported on May 5 that a "rule change two years ago by the federal agency that regulates offshore oil rigs allowed BP to avoid filing a plan specifically for handling a major spill from an uncontrolled blowout at its Deepwater Horizon project." AP further reported: "The MMS rule change, made in April 2008, says that Gulf rig operators are required to file a blowout scenario only if one of five conditions applies. For example, an operator must provide a blowout scenario when it proposes to install a 'surface facility' in water deeper than 1,312 feet. While Deepwater Horizon was operating almost 5,000 feet below the surface, [BP spokesman William] Salvin said the project did not meet the definition of a surface facility. The MMS official agreed."

FACT: Bush MMS 2007 environmental impact assessment for BP lease dismissed risk of massive oil spill. The Post reported on May 5: "While the MMS assessed the environmental impact of drilling in the central and western Gulf of Mexico on three occasions in 2007 -- including a specific evaluation of BP's Lease 206 at Deepwater Horizon -- in each case it played down the prospect of a major blowout." The Post stated that "In one assessment, the agency estimated that 'a large oil spill' from a platform would not exceed a total of 1,500 barrels and that a 'deepwater spill,' occurring 'offshore of the inner Continental shelf,' would not reach the coast. In another assessment, it defined the most likely large spill as totaling 4,600 barrels and forecast that it would largely dissipate within 10 days and would be unlikely to make landfall." According to the Times-Picayune, these assessments "paved the way for BP to assert that its plans for drilling in Lease Sale 206 posed no real dangers."

FACT: Bush MMS failed to respond to 2004 warning about vital piece of blowout preventer. The Wall Street Journal reported on May 3 that "[f]ederal regulators learned in a 2004 study that a vital piece of oil-drilling safety equipment may not function in deep-water seas but did nothing to bolster industry requirements. The equipment, called shear rams, is supposed to seal off out-of-control oil and gas wells by pinching the pipe closed and cutting it." The Journal further reported that "[e]xperts theorize the rams may have failed to work as expected in the Deepwater Horizon disaster."

FACT: Bush MMS ignored warnings about faulty cementing in wells. AP reported on May 24 that numerous MMS reports identified a "poor cement job" as the cause of many offshore accidents, including incidents that took place in 2005 and 2007, "[y]et federal regulators give drillers a free hand in this crucial safety step." AP noted that rig owner Transocean and "independent experts" have pointed to "faulty cement work" as a possible cause of the blowout, and that new rules "in the works long before the Deepwater Horizon" took effect June 3, which "take a conservative watch-and-wait approach and demand only routines already carried out around the industry: a management program with monitoring and diagnostic testing."

FACT: WSJ reported that in 2003, Bush MMS decided not to require last-resort shut-off device. ABC News reported on April 30 that in 2000, MMS "issued a safety alert that called added layers of backup 'an essential component of a deepwater drilling system'." However, according to the Journal, "The industry argued against" mandating a remote-control shut-off switch that serves as "last-resort protection against underwater spills," and "[b]y 2003, U.S. regulators decided remote-controlled safeguards needed more study. A report commissioned by the Minerals Management Service said 'acoustic systems are not recommended because they tend to be very costly'." The Journal noted that the Deepwater Horizon rig did not have a remote-control device, which is required "in two major oil-producing countries, Norway and Brazil," and that "[i]ndustry consultants and petroleum engineers said that an acoustic remote-control may have been able to stop the well, but too much is still unknown about the accident to say that with certainty."

NPR similarly reported that Michael Saucier, MMS regional director in New Orleans, said at a hearing, "I think it was around 2001, there were some draft rules concerning secondary control systems for BOP stacks, and those rules were then sent up to headquarters to continue through the process." The NPR report goes on to state, "But what came back from headquarters were not rules, he said, just notices that 'highly encouraged' companies to use the backup systems. 'There is no enforcement on it,' he said."

FACT: Bush MMS reportedly suppressed scientists' concerns about environmental impact of spills in Alaska. A June 6 Denver Post article reported that an MMS office in Alaska rejected a 2006 analysis conducted by a biologist, which stated that a large oil spill could significantly harm fish populations. The analysis, which would have "required MMS to conduct a more detailed environmental impact statement before auctioning leases in the Beaufort Sea," was rewritten after a supervisor told the biologist that his analysis would cause a "delay in sale 202. That would, as you can imagine, not go over well with HQ and others." The Denver Post further reported, "[c]oncerns raised by another MMS biologist, James Wilder, that the impact on polar bears was not adequately addressed in Shell's Alaska exploration plan, also were rebuffed, according to e-mails."

Myth: Obama is the "single largest recipient of BP cash"

CLAIM: "Largest single donation" "from BP" has gone to Obama. After Palin suggested a connection between "contributions made to President Obama and his administration and the support by the oil companies to the administration," Doocy said that "when it comes down to the single largest recipient of BP cash, [Palin is] absolutely right ... it was Barack Obama."

FACT: Obama presidential campaign took no money from BP's PAC. Obama received $71,051 in contributions from BP employees during his presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Obama's presidential campaign received no funds from BP's PAC or from the company itself. A CRP spokesman confirmed that "the $71,051 that Obama received during the 2008 election cycle was entirely from BP employees." The spokesman also stated that "Obama did not accept contributions from political action committees, so none of this money is from BP's PAC."

FACT: Donations from BP's PAC and its employees represent 0.01 percent of Obama's total presidential fundraising. Obama raised more than $744 million for his presidential campaign. The $71,051 he received from BP's employees accounts for less than .01 percent of Obama's total presidential campaign contributions.

Scherer: "People who run for President raise much more money, and received much more money from BP interests -- and just about every other interest." In a May 5 Swampland post, Time's Michael Scherer cited CRP's data and noted that "[i]t is true that ... Obama received slightly more money from BP's PAC and employees since 1990 than anyone else." Scherer went on to explain:

But there is a major a reason for that, which the story fails to mention: People who run for President raise much more money, and received much more money from BP interests -- and just about every other interest. The fourth highest recipient of BP money in the same time period is George W. Bush. The fifth highest recipient is John McCain. In the 2000 and 2004 cycles, Bush got the most money, albeit less than Obama received in 2008. But then one could adjust these numbers for campaign inflation: campaigns overall raised much less money in the 2000 and 2004 cycles than the record-smashing 2008 cycle.

FACT: Obama took only $1,000 of PAC money from BP during his 2004 Senate campaign. Obama received $1,000 from BP's PAC during his 2004 Senate campaign. Twenty-one Senate candidates received more from BP's PAC during that election cycle alone.

Myth: Obama admin turned down foreign assistance in dealing with oil cleanup

CLAIM: Obama's refusal to waive Jones Act has prevented international assistance. Fox News' Dick Morris, Bill O'Reilly and Oliver North have similarly asserted that Obama's purported refusal to waive the Jones Act has prevented the United States from accepting aid from foreign ships.

REALITY: International assistance is part of Gulf spill response. In an interview on the June 15 edition of Fox & Friends, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs stated that "foreign entities are operating within the Gulf that help us respond" to the oil spill. Further, in a June 15 press release, the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center stated, "Currently, 15 foreign-flagged vessels are involved in the largest response to an oil spill in U.S. history." The Center further explained, "No Jones Act waivers have been granted because none of these vessels have required such a waiver to conduct their operations in the Gulf of Mexico." The administration has further stated that they would waive the Jones Act if waivers were requested, but that "there are no pending requests for foreign vessels to come into the Gulf."

Myth: Obama admin defied Constitution because it "told" BP to create escrow account

CLAIM: Obama's actions on escrow fund were "not constitutional." On the June 18 edition of Fox & Friends, talking about Rep. Joe Barton's (R-TX) criticism of the $20 billion escrow account, co-host Brian Kilmeade said: "You know, [Barton's] upset that they set up this -- that they told BP, 'I need $20 billion into this fund.' ... He felt as though that was out of the administration's realm. They shouldn't be allowed to do that. That's not constitutional, and they shouldn't go ahead -- go forward with that."

REALITY: BP volunteered to establish account after "negotiation session" with White House in which "[b]oth sides got what they wanted." BP agreed on its own to establish the account as a "voluntary gesture" after negotiations with the White House in which both sides reportedly got what they wanted. Additionally, Dan Farber, director of Berkeley Law's environmental law program, wrote that "the answer isn't very clear" but that the Oil Pollution Act "does require BP to establish a process for 'the payment or settlement of claims for interim, short-term damages' that might encompass an escrow and independent decision-makers."

FACT: Wash. Post: "Both sides got what they wanted out of the encounter." Post reported that in the meeting between the White House and BP, "[b]oth sides got what they wanted out of the encounter," noting that "BP, though poorer on paper in the short run, got some much-needed clarity on its long-term liability, plus an explicit statement from Obama that the administration doesn't want to see BP driven into bankruptcy." The

FACT: BP announced $100 million to support unemployed oil industry workers as a "voluntary gesture." The Post also reported on June 17 that Obama asked BP "for a voluntary contribution to a foundation that will support unemployed oil industry employees" and that "BP agreed, offering $100 million." The Post quoted BP adviser Jamie Gorelick as saying, "We made clear that we do not think this is a liability for the company. The president said he's concerned about those workers. He asked if there was something we could do as a voluntary gesture."

FACT: Expert said law "does require BP to establish a process for 'the payment or settlement of claims for interim, short-term damages,' " which could include escrow account. In his June 15 post on the blog Legal Planet titled, "Can Obama Require BP to Form an Escrow Fund?" Farber wrote that "the answer isn't very clear" but that the Oil Pollution Act "does require BP to establish a process for 'the payment or settlement of claims for interim, short-term damages' that might encompass an escrow and independent decision-makers." Indeed, Section 1005 of the Oil Pollution Act states:


(a) GENERAL RULE. -- The responsible party or the responsible party's guarantor is liable to a claimant for interest on the amount paid in satisfaction of a claim under this Act for the period described in subsection (b). The responsible party shall establish a procedure for the payment or settlement of claims for interim, short-term damages. Payment or settlement of a claim for interim, short-term damages representing less than the full amount of damages to which the claimant ultimately may be entitled shall not preclude recovery by the claimant for damages not reflected in the paid or settled partial claim.

Myth: Obama admin unreasonably delayed purchase of Maine company's oil boom

CLAIM: "Red tape puts hold on company's boom making." On June 10, Fox & Friends ran a story criticizing the administration for possibly being "in the dark about" Packgen, a Maine company who's oil containment boom had yet to be approved by BP for use in the Gulf. During the segment, on-screen text read: "Red tape puts hold on company's boom making."

REALITY: Packgen had not previously manufactured boom, reportedly failed "initial quality control test." The Maine company had reportedly not produced boom before and their boom reportedly "differs from other designs being used." BP ordered a trial run of the product before committing to purchase it. The boom later reportedly failed "an initial quality control test."

FACT: Packgen reportedly began manufacturing boom after spill. The Lewiston, Maine, Sun Journal reported on May 19 that Packgen, a Maine company that "makes composite packaging used to contain environmental and hazardous waste," hoped to "capitalize on the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by churning out a much-sought-after oil containment tool known as a boom." The article quoted Packgen's president as saying they were "still pitching (to buyers)" and reported that BP had "sent up a company auditor to check out" the company.

FACT: WCSH6 reported that BP "ordered a trial run" of the product, which "differs from other designs being used." Maine news station WCSH6 reported on June 3 that BP "has ordered a trial run of the product but there is no word of when or if the design will be approved." The article also reported: "It differs from other designs being used because, according to company officials, it creates a tighter seal between pieces preventing oil from leaking past the barrier."

FACT: Boom reportedly failed "an initial quality test." On June 11, ABC News' Jake Tapper tweeted that according to the Coast Guard, the "boom manufactured by Packgen did not pass an initial quality control test." On June 16, Tapper reported that an engineering professor who was hired by Packgen to inspect the boom stated his belief that " 'it certainly will work' in coastal areas in coastal areas, though he 'wouldn't deploy it deepwater'."

Myth: Obama unnecessarily delayed berm plan

CLAIM: Obama did not "respond immediately" to spill because he did not approve the berm plan "right away" On the June 9 edition of Fox & Friends, Perino responded to the statement that "[Obama's] officials responded immediately" to the spill by claiming, "I think Governor [Bobby] Jindal would disagree with the berms that weren't built right away."

REALITY: Army Corps of Engineers studied plan as required by law and expressed concerns over proposal. AP reported on May 24 that "the Corps said it is working as quickly as possible on the emergency permit request -- but still has to follow various steps required by federal law."

FACT: Army Corps reportedly raised concerns that barriers "could instead funnel oil into more unprotected areas and into neighboring Mississippi."reported on May 26 that the Army Corps released documents that day that "signaled support for parts of the state plan, including berms that would be built onto existing barrier islands," but stated that parts of the plan "could inadvertently alter tides and end up driving oil east -- into Mississippi Sound, the Biloxi Marshes and Lake Borgne." AP

FACT: Army Corps approved portions of the plan "after careful consideration of the available information." On May 27, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they approved portions of the plan to create sand berms between barrier islands off the coast of Louisiana. The White House approved additional portions of Lousiana's berm plan on June 2.

FACT: Adm. Allen reportedly continued to express concerns about proposal but said "the prudent thing ... was to start a pilot project and keep asking questions." On May 28, AP reported that Adm. Thad Allen "approved portions of Louisiana's $350 million plan to ring its coastline with a wall of sand meant to keep out the Gulf of Mexico oil spill." The article noted that the Army Corps had objected to portions of the plan due to concerns about oil being diverted to Mississippi and that Allen also "said some sections of the berm system would not have kept out oil," as well as potentially "interfer[ing] with cleanup."

Myth: Coast Guard docked oil-collecting barges for no good reason

CLAIM: Shutting down oil-collecting barges was an "amazing screw-up." On the June 18 edition of his Fox News show, O'Reilly asserted that there had been an "insane," "amazing screw-up in the Gulf cleanup," because the Coast Guard sent several oil-collecting barges back to shore due to questions about safety measures (including life vests and fire extinguishers) on the ships.

REALITY: The ships reportedly did lack the required equipment, and there were also concerns about their stability. The Daily Caller's Jonathan Strong reported on June 18:

Sixteen crude-sucking barges are back in the Gulf of Mexico working to clean up oil, but the Coast Guard is defending its decision to ground the vessels because it couldn't verify whether there were fire extinguishers and life vests on board.

"The Coast Guard is not going to compromise safety ... that's our No. 1 priority," Coast Guard spokesman Robert Brassel told The Daily Caller.


Brassel said the barges are now "back in operating order."

On Thursday night, the Incident Commander in Houma, Roger Laferriere, decided with the captain of the port in New Orleans to inspect the barges when they realized the ships did not have a certificate of inspection to demonstrate safety equipment on board. Thursday morning, the ships were inspected and grounded because they did not have the proper fire-fighting and life-saving equipment. There were also concerns about the stability of the barges. During the day Thursday, the problems were fixed, and the barges are back out on the water today.

A June 17 statement from the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center stated that the "vacuum barges were temporarily removed from service after safety concerns occurred including stability and the lack of lifesaving and firefighting equipment." A June 19 statement said that "the owner/operator of the barges asked the Coast Guard to inspect the vessels, some under construction, to ensure they were safe" and that "The Coast Guard inspectors made recommendations to the owner/operator regarding lifesaving and firefighting equipment, vessel stability and egress issues, leaving the decision to continue construction and operations with the owner/operator."

It is time for facts and reality to trounce lies, misinformation and bad faith claims.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Visualizing the BP Oil Spill

About The Spill

An explosion on the BP operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed eleven crew members on April 20, 2010, sparking the greatest environmental disaster in United States history. In combination with the Texas City Refinery Explosion and the Prudohoe Bay Oil Spill, this marks the third serious incident involving BP in the United States in the last five years. Current estimates put the amount of oil being discharged from the broken well at above 1,470,000 US gallons per day! There are over 400 different species of animals living in the area affected by the spill. 403 sea turtles and 46 dolphins have been found dead within the spill area (NOAA). BP is operating oil skimmers and other cleanup tools to try to remove oil from the water and Louisiana is building oil containment berms to halt the spread of oil. Experts are uncertain what effect, if any, these efforts will have.

What Can You Do?

  • Talk. First, share this map with your friends so they can understand the impact as well. Next, write to your Representatives and Senators and share your feelings about this disaster.
  • Think. The EPA is soliciting ideas for possible technology solutions to aid in the oil spill response efforts. Submit your idea. You can also visit the clever inventors over at and help them build their crowdsourced technology for oil cleanup.
  • Volunteer. Lousiana and Florida are both looking for volunteers to help in cleanup and prevention. If you have a boat and live or work on the gulf coast, you can participate in the Vessels of Opportunity program where BP will pay you to take part in oil skimming operations.
  • Donate The National Wildlife Foundation and International Bird Rescue are accepting donations for coastal relief. Matter of Trust is also collecting hair to be bundled into booms. Hair absorbs oil even better than the synthetic materials being used. You can find a participating hair salon or barbershop at their site.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How do you know how big the spill is?

    The data used to create the spill image comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA releases a daily report detailing where the spill is going to be within the next 24 hours. They do this by collecting data from a number of sources, including satellite imagery and reports by trained observers who have made helicopter flights back and forth across the potentially affected areas. This data is entered into several leading computer models by NOAA oceanographers along with information about currents and winds in the gulf.

  2. Why does the spill seem to change size as I move it?

    If you move the spill south of the gulf, without crossing the equator, you'll see it appear to shrink in size. If you move it North, it will appear to increase in size. The spill actually covers the same area on the map no matter where you place it, what changes is the map itself! Google Maps, and many maps we're used to looking at, use something called "Mercator Projection" in order to draw the spherical surface of the earth onto a flat plane. This projection distorts space as you move away from the equator in order to make the nice flat map you see. This means that a 100 square mile object placed at the equator will appear much smaller on the map than the same object placed closer to the poles. If you think about it, this makes sense -- if you were to wrap a string around the globe, you would need much more string to do so at the equator than you would further North, yet Google Maps portrays the Earth as a rectangle. You can read more about Mercator Projection on Wikipedia.

  3. Shouldn't the name of your site be


  4. How often is this map updated?

    Usually at least once per day. You can find the date it was last updated at the bottom of the page.

  5. Is the oil really hurting anything?

    See for yourself.

Oil Spill Map Data Courtesy Of The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Data Last Updated: 6/24/2010

Destroying Water Sources

WCS has big plans for its radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas.

Mainstream media hasn't picked up on this story about the threat of radioactive waste from a nuclear power plant infiltrating our water supply at the 111 million-acre Ogallala Aquifer in Andrews County, Texas. "How Does Your Water Glow" asks what could go wrong when energy policy is viewed with an eye toward profit and regulation becomes politicized? One need look no further than West Texas—and the Gulf Coast.

In our nation’s quest to reshape its energy policy, nuclear power has re-emerged as an alternative to fossil fuels. In February, President Barack Obama announced $8.3 billion in loan guarantees to jumpstart construction of new nuclear reactors. But where do we put the newly generated nuclear waste? Serious questions remain about the safe disposal of refuse from present and past nuclear operations.

And no place more so than in a remote area of West Texas, where a politically connected company, Waste Control Specialists (WCS), operates a 1,338-acre radioactive waste dump on top of one of the largest aquifers in North America, the Ogallala Aquifer. Also known as the High Plains Aquifer, this 174,000 square-mile water table—approximately the size of California—underlies parts of eight states (Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming). The aquifer supplies drinking water to 1.9 million people who live within its boundary and provides 30 percent of the country’s groundwater used for irrigation.

For a cautionary example of what could go wrong when energy policy is viewed with an eye toward profit and regulation becomes politicized, one need look no further than West Texas—and the Gulf Coast.

In 2008 and 2009, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) granted WCS licenses to dispose of radioactive waste at its dump in Andrews County, Texas.

Founded in 1994, the politically connected WCS’ parent company, the multinational conglomerate Valhi, Inc., is chaired by billionaire Harold Simmons, who is famous for giving $3 million to the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth and $2.9 million to the American Issues Project (AIP). During the 2008 election, AIP sponsored ads linking Obama to Chicago educator Bill Ayers (a former leader of the Weather Underground and a current member of the In These Times Board of Editors). Simmons also contributed $620,000 to Rick Perry, the Texas governor responsible for appointing the three TCEQ commissioners who approved WCS’ radioactive waste disposal licenses.

WCS’ most recent license allows the company to dispose of Class A, B and C low-level radioactive waste, which includes fission products from nuclear reactors and weapons production and waste from research, industrial and medical facilities. On its website, WCS boasts, “Our site’s unique geology, arid and isolated location, and strong support of the Permian Basin community, make our Andrews County facility one of a kind.” Indeed it is.

Older maps place the WCS site on top of the Ogallala Aquifer. Newer maps, however, depict the boundary of the aquifer further north and off-site. Because WCS now controls the hydrogeological monitoring of the area, it is impossible for scientists to reach consensus on the boundaries of the Ogallala Aquifer and other water tables close to the site, and the possible hydraulic continuity from one water table to another.

In order to prevent radioactive material from contaminating the water supply, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) forbids any nuclear waste disposal facility to overlie an area where groundwater could penetrate the waste material. NRC guidelines put it this way: “The disposal site must provide sufficient depth to the water table that ground water intrusion, perennial or otherwise, into the waste will not occur.”

The precise distance between the disposal site and the aquifer has been the subject of intense debate. Prior to the licensing, a volley of data, tests and revisions ricocheted between WCS, the press and environmental groups, each claiming various water table boundaries and degrees of consequent risk to the public.

But Glenn Lewis, a former technical writer for TCEQ, has no doubts. During the four years Lewis worked on WCS’ application to establish a radioactive waste dump, he and the seven other members of his team became concerned about the site’s proximity to the Ogallala Aquifer and other water tables, and characterized the location as a “wet” site.

“The only safe site for radioactive waste is a dry one,” Lewis says. “It was the unanimous decision of the team that the WCS site is irredeemably unsuitable for the disposal of radioactive waste, and we said this much.” TCEQ commissioners ignored this information, and Lewis and two other review team members, an engineer and a geologist, resigned from TCEQ. All three cite upper management’s indifference to their professional recommendations as the reason for their departure.

At least one previous pre-licensing evaluation at the same location echoed the conclusions of Lewis’ team. In 1992 and 1993, independent oil and gas consulting firm Terra Dynamics recorded samples from 58 boreholes at the site; 46 samples were described as “moist,” five as “wet,” and one as “making water.”

In a June 2009 story in the Texas Observer, Forrest Wilder described “nine areas inside and near” the disposal site where groundwater was present. When questioned about this, company spokesman Chuck McDonald (tacitly acknowledging a connection between the groundwater and the company’s radioactive waste dump) explained that WCS had developed a solution to the problem: “It is a moisture disposal system that pumps moisture out.”

When laws and land shift

In 1999, the Texas legislature abolished the state authority on radioactive waste disposal, transferring jurisdiction to a new commission, currently known as the TCEQ. In 2003, the legislature amended the state’s Health and Safety Code, authorizing the TCEQ to issue a single license for compact waste, and allowing the designated license holder to also dispose of federal waste. And in 2007, the legislature amended the Health and Safety Code, transferring the licensing and regulation of radioactive material from the Department of State Health Services to the TCEQ.

The combination of these three legislative acts ensured that radioactive waste disposal would be the purview of the TCEQ. The TCEQ is structured so that three commissioners, appointed by the governor, make final determinations on contested permitting. In 2008, the commissioners approved WCS’ by-product materials disposal license and, in 2009, a low-level radioactive waste disposal license. Thus, WCS became licensed by the state of Texas to dispose of almost the full gamut of radioactive waste (barring the hottest, such as spent reactor fuel) from both state and federal sources.

According to WCS, the 2009 license was a landmark event: “WCS is now the only facility in the United States licensed in the last 30 years to dispose of Class A, B and C low-level radioactive waste.” There are two other facilities that are licensed to handle the same three classes, US Ecology in Washington and EnergySolutions in South Carolina. But unlike WCS, they are not licensed for uranium by-product materials.

In addition, the dumps in Washington and South Carolina only accept in-compact waste. Texas is currently on a precipice concerning compact waste. Decisions made in June by eight commissioners of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (six of whom are Gov. Perry appointees) may allow for the disposal of radioactive waste from 36 states at the WCS site. “This could open [Texas] up to not only become the nation’s but potentially the world’s dump site,” says Cyrus Reed, the conservation director of Sierra Club’s Lone Star Chapter.

WCS’ success can be traced to the flexibility of the TCEQ. As the lead environmental agency for the state, it is not only responsible for granting licenses for nuclear waste disposal, but it is also charged with monitoring the state’s water quality. Yet in the case of WCS, TCEQ spokesperson Terry Clawson says it is the licensee’s responsibility to implement ongoing water monitoring. In other words, the TCEQ gave WCS, the operator of the nuclear waste site, the responsibility to monitor itself. In other words, safety of the water in the Ogallala Aquifer—the same aquifer that 1.9 million people get their drinking water from — is in the hands of a company that operates a radioactive waste site.

Groundwater at the WCS site is only one concern. Earthquakes are another. The WCS dump is located in the Central Basin Platform, a geologic region prone to earthquakes. And according to the NRC, “Areas must be avoided where tectonic processes such as faulting, folding, seismic activity, or vulcanism may occur with such frequency and extent to significantly affect the ability of the disposal site to meet the performance objectives.”

In the past century, West Texas has had two near-magnitude 6 earthquakes, increasing the likelihood that a magnitude 7 will occur in the next few hundred years. The epicenter of a magnitude 4.6 earthquake that occurred on Jan. 2, 1994, was four miles southeast of the WCS site.

“Predicting earthquakes is not physics. The best evidence we have is based on history,” says Cliff Frohlich, a seismologist and co-author of Texas Earthquakes. “And based on history, it would be remarkable if West Texas doesn’t have an earthquake in the next 200 years.”

Profit, people and emergency response

WCS immediately proved to be a profitable enterprise. In 2009 the company netted $8 million from a single Department of Energy (DOE) contract for uranium by-product waste from Ohio. The DOE has also slated WCS as both candidate and “preferred alternative” for an estimated 13-15,000 metric tons of elemental mercury for long-term storage.The final decision will be announced in the fall. In addition to the DOE, WCS’ extensive clientele includes BP, Brookhaven National Laboratory, DuPont, Exxon, Los Alamos National Laboratory, McAlester Army Ammunition, Nevada Test Site, Studsvik, Titanium Metals Corporation and Yankee Atomic Electric Power.

Texas authorities do not appear to take either the enormity or the probability of potential disasters at WCS seriously. The federal government, in turn, appears to trust Texas’ judgment.

With nuclear energy emerging on the national agenda as a means to combat climate change and meet rising demand, Americans need greater reassurance that environmental protection will remain a top priority. Currently, WCS is operating on one-tenth of their total acreage. If the TCEQ were to increase current disposal capacity, the WCS facility could potentially encompass more than 20 square miles.

As with the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, when the drive for corporate and industrial growth outpaces controls for safeguarding human health and natural resources, oversight and responsibility become too important a domain for any one entity to regulate. In the case of WCS and the Ogallala Aquifer, the public health of residents across eight states is being put at risk by decisions made by a few for the profit of one politically connected waste disposal company. 

The Ogallala under threat

The 111 million-acre Ogallala Aquifer is threatened by both contamination -- from fertilizer and pesticide run-off, animal waste and possibly enormous amounts of radioactive waste buried underground -- and overuse.

About 90 percent of the water drawn from the Ogallala is used to sustain agricultural production in the eight states it underlies. According to Scientific American, "This is the breadbasket of America -- the region that supplies at least one fifth of the total annual U.S. agricultural harvest." It is one of the most fecund farming areas in the world because of irrigation, yet rainfall and snowmelt aren't able to recharge an amount equal to yearly withdrawals.

In addition to agriculture, local industries place additional strain on the underground source. The economies of Lea County, N.M., and Andrews County, Texas, are largely driven by oil and gas. The quest for alternative energy sources has tossed a third thirsty player into the mix, whose survival will depend heavily on the Ogallala. A mile-and-a-half stretch of border straddled by Lea and Andrews counties has come to be known as "Nuclear Alley" for the burgeoning nuclear industry taking hold there.

Between agriculture, oil, gas and the planned nuclear facilities, the demands on the southern extent of the Ogallala Aquifer will only increase. Given the typically low rate of rainfall and this increased level of consumption in Nuclear Alley, the possibility of meaningful recharge of the aquifer is bleak.

According to Agricultural Policy Specialist Manjula V. Guru,"[Ogallala] water is being used faster than it is being replenished, and the result is predicted by many to be serious eco-centric pressure on the area in the not so distant future. ... Pumping the Ogallala is still a one-time experiment, unrepeatable and irreversible."

Left alone, natural processes would replenish this massive water table. Scientific American estimates it would take 6,000 years -- a hiccup in geological time, but mighty long in human terms.