Friday, September 10, 2010

Silly kids, CEs are for BP

- Why are BP's deep-sea oil drillings in the Gulf of Mexico Categorically Exempted (CE) from Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)?

A few days ago BP began their finger pointing to mount a defense to their oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It was entertaining to hear BP’s coy and tenacious claims, yet I feel responsible to at least dig around a bit to understand the situation a little better. Aside from all of the BP bashings from Hulk Hogan:

I found this Washington Post article from May of this year: U.S. exempted BP’s Gulf of Mexico drilling from environmental impact study

To save you time from reading the Washington Post article, just know that the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS)
made the decision to give BP’s lease at Deepwater Horizon a “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 -- and BP’s lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions – show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.

From what I understand, the NEPA Act requires government agencies to evaluate the environmental impacts of any “major federal actions” and file an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for the public. In a previous blog post (Silly rabbit, NEPA's EISs are for kids), I briefly noted that EIS does nothing if we, as environmentally aware citizens, do not pick up the reading material and ask tough questions. But if there are no reading material, then we can't really ask questions. Can we?

The EIS is strictly a procedural tool in the sense that NEPA does not mandate any government agencies to implement environmentally friendly process and procedures. Rather, the EIS is in place to provide transparency to these projects that could potentially impact our environment and allow citizen actions by providing accurate data and scientific research on the potential impacts of any given project. See Robertson v. Methow Valley.

I was recently shown an EIS statement for a stretch of highway no more than a few hours of driving. It was consisted of two volumes of analysis and supplemental material, each totaling more than thousands of pages, including angry letters from the people who lived in the area. From what I can tell, the detailed information helps us make informed decision to either pressure the agency responsible for the project or brush it aside and let the project proceed.

Back to BP, if a stretch of highway requires such large volume of material for the public, then why has BP’s deep-sea oil drilling operations received a Categorical Exclusion for EIS from the MMS?

Could it be that BP offered MMS cocaine and sex? Yes, you would be shocked too if you had read this article: Report Says Oil Agency Ran Amok Interior Dept. Inquiry Finds Sex, Corruption

investigators said they "discovered a culture of substance abuse and promiscuity" in which [MMS] employees accepted gratuities "with prodigious frequency."

The social outings detailed in the report included alcohol-, cocaine- and marijuana-filled parties where certain employees of the Minerals Management Service were nicknamed the "MMS Chicks" by the energy employees. The companies paid for federal workers to attend football and baseball games, PGA Tour events, Colorado ski trips, paintball outings and "treasure hunts,"

I’ll admit, it’s a kind of fun speculation imagining MMS chick in a bubble bath with cocaine, kind of kinky...

Silliness aside, I had to ask myself why isn’t BP required to do a worst-case analysis and anticipate the kind of accident that had occurred? Then I remembered that the NEPA EIS regulations had a “worse case” requirement in the 1970s, but in 1986 the requirement was removed by the Regan administration.

During the Bush administration, BP was getting a FONSI (Findings Of No Significant Impact) after FONSI for their drilling operations. Because of the consistent administration’s blind eye, and a brief 13 page (remember the thousand pages volume earlier for just a highway) environmental impact analysis declaring minimum prospect of any serious damages that would associate with a spill and only

“sub-lethal” effects on fish and marine mammals . . . it is unlikely that an accidental oil spill would occur from the proposed activities.

BP’s senior federal affairs director (their lobbying b!tch) wrote the Obama administration and requested a Categorical Exclusion because

Such exemptions should be used in situations where environmental damage is likely to be “minimal or non-existent.” [And] expansion in these waivers would help “avoid unnecessary paperwork and time delays.”

Needless to say, BP got its Categorical Exclusion for its deep-sea drilling and now we have a disaster... But does it make sense to give BP CEs? I don’t think so. CEs are used for eliminating cost associated with environmental impact studies for mundane things government agencies must do such as installing energy saver light bulbs in its offices. I certainly don’t think deep-sea oil drilling is mundane. From my diving days, I know that the deep ocean’s immense pressure makes every predicable and mundane situation into unpredictable and dangerous times. So if I had to check my equipments and keep records of my safety evaluations on each dive, why is BP exempted from doing the same for its oilrigs?

Then I remember the elimination of “worst-case analysis” in the 1980s, and I had to ask: why can we bring that back again Mr. Obama?

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