All 125 commercial vessels working to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico have been ordered back to shore temporarily after four workers on three separate vessels complained of headaches, chest pain, nausea and dizziness. A Coast Guard official said the smell of petroleum, heat or fatigue could be the cause. Workers were not given respiratory protection equipment because air sampling concluded that the level of chemical exposure was permissible.
Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are considering whether to bar BP from receiving government contracts, a move that would ultimately cost the company billions in revenue and could end its drilling in federally controlled oil fields. Over the past 10 years, BP has paid tens of millions of dollars in fines and been implicated in four separate instances of criminal misconduct that could have prompted this far more serious action. Until now, the company’s executives and their lawyers have fended off such a penalty by promising that BP would change its ways. That strategy may no longer work.
A whistleblower filed suit Monday to force the federal government to halt operations at another massive BP oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, alleging that BP never reviewed critical engineering designs for the operation and is therefore risking another catastrophic accident that could “dwarf” the company’s Deepwater Horizon spill. Former project control supervisor Kenneth Abbott alleged that BP never confirmed systems and equipment on the Atlantis platform were built as intended and didn’t properly file the documentation that functions as an instruction manual for rig workers in the case of a blowout or other emergency.
When regulators at the Minerals Management Service had concerns about the safety equipment for offshore oil rigs, the agency did not impose stronger regulations and instead allowed industry to police itself, according to two pieces in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal today. The agency has been scrutinized for its role in the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, particularly for failing to follow up on concerns it had — several years before the BP incident — about equipment that should have stopped the spill but did not.
The fines that oil companies have paid for offshore drilling safety violations are dwarfed by their profits. Fines against BP have been the equivalent of a rounding error. From 1998 through 2007, BP paid less than $580,000 in penalties for its 12 safety violations. Last quarter, the British oil giant turned a profit of $5.6 billion.
The chemicals BP is using to break up the steady flow of leaking oil fin the Gulf of Mexico could create a new set of environmental problems. BP has deployed an estimate 100,000 gallons to dissolve the crude oil, both on the surface and deep below. Dispersal is considered one of the best ways to protect birds and keep the slick from making landfall. But the chemicals contain harmful toxins of their own and can concentrate leftover oil toxins in the water, where they can kill fish and migrate great distances.