Obama’s Katrina?

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The real similarity between Katrina and the current disaster is that the two-party system — not individual presidents — bears the brunt of responsibility

by Louis Proyect

(from The Unrepentant Marxist, with permission)

Barack Obama statement on April 2, 2010:

I don’t agree with the notion that we shouldn’t do anything. It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.

John McCain statement on June 17 2008:

As for offshore drilling, it’s safe enough these days that not even Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from the battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston.

But according to the official report prepared for the US Government by a Norwegian firm:

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused 124 Offshore Spills For A Total Of 743,700 Gallons. 554,400 gallons were crude oil and condensate from platforms, rigs and pipelines, and 189,000 gallons were refined products from platforms and rigs. [MMS, 1/22/07]

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita Caused Six Offshore Spills Of 42,000 Gallons Or Greater. The largest of these was 152,250 gallons, well over the 100,000 gallon threshhold considered a “major spill.” [MMS, 5/1/06]

If 100,000 gallons is considered a “major spill”, what are we to make of the discovery that the BP platform has been dumping 210,000 gallons per day since April 20? Furthermore, unlike the Exxon-Valdez this spill is impossible to quantify since the oil is coming from the ocean bottom rather than the innards of a ship.

Even at this late date, Obama has not backed off from the idea of offshore drilling as the McClatchy news service reported yesterday:

President Barack Obama on Friday appeared unwilling to scrap plans to expand oil and gas exploration, but promised that the administration will carefully study what mistakes led to the explosion of an oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

As is the case with just about every other Obama policy, his commitment to offshore drilling is portrayed as transcending traditional divides:

Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.l

Not surprisingly, this very same speech proposed a renewed commitment to nuclear power. Despite his insistence on avoiding “tired debates”, Obama manages to repeat the same talking points as John McCain about Hurricane Katrina and oil spills. Looking back at the 2008 election, frightened liberals urged a vote for Obama since a McCain victory would amount to a 3rd Bush term. If they had the capability to think honestly, they’d have to admit that this is what we got anyhow.

Like the slasher villain who refuses to die in a Halloween or Friday the Thirteenth movie, Halliburton turns up in this oil spill catastrophe. Not content to have ruined Iraq, this energy tools and technology company that Dick Cheney ran from 1995 to 2000 now appears ready to commit homicide on the U.S. itself as yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reports (the news section of the paper has not been completely tainted by Rupert Murdoch, the new owner, at least not yet.)

An oil-drilling procedure called cementing is coming under scrutiny as a possible cause of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico that has led to one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history, drilling experts said Thursday.

The process is supposed to prevent oil and natural gas from escaping by filling gaps between the outside of the well pipe and the inside of the hole bored into the ocean floor. Cement, pumped down the well from the drilling rig, is also used to plug wells after they have been abandoned or when drilling has finished but production hasn’t begun.

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, workers had finished pumping cement to fill the space between the pipe and the sides of the hole and had begun temporarily plugging the well with cement; it isn’t known whether they had completed the plugging process before the blast.

Regulators have previously identified problems in the cementing process as a leading cause of well blowouts, in which oil and natural gas surge out of a well with explosive force. When cement develops cracks or doesn’t set properly, oil and gas can escape, ultimately flowing out of control. The gas is highly combustible and prone to ignite, as it appears to have done aboard the Deepwater Horizon, which was leased by BP PLC, the British oil giant.

Concerns about the cementing process—and about whether rigs have enough safeguards to prevent blowouts—raise questions about whether the industry can safely drill in deep water and whether regulators are up to the task of monitoring them.

The scrutiny on cementing will focus attention on Halliburton Co., the oilfield-services firm that was handling the cementing process on the rig, which burned and sank last week. The disaster, which killed 11, has left a gusher of oil streaming into the Gulf from a mile under the surface.

Federal officials declined to comment on their investigation, and Halliburton didn’t respond to questions from The Wall Street Journal.

British Petroleum, a European conglomerate that took advantage of American deregulation, owned the oilrig. They wanted to make bigger profits at the public’s expense just like that other scumbag corporation Goldman Sachs. In one case, you get a ruined environment and in the other ruined homeowners all for the sake of the almighty dollar.

Last night Mike Papantonio was a guest on the Ed Schultz show on MSNBC. He is an environmental attorney, lawyer whose firm has filed a class-action lawsuit in three states on behalf of the shrimpers, fisheries, oystermen and business owners. Here’s the exchange between host and guest that demonstrates the clash between social needs and private property:

SCHULTZ: Where`s the liability? Where`s the culpability here? What`s the call for the lawsuit?

PAPANTONIO: You nailed the story perfectly at the beginning of this program. Deepwater Horizon [a Halliburton subcontractor] had two trip devices to use in blowout catastrophes. Both of them failed because of either human error or defect.

Now, here`s what people don`t know. BP didn`t want to spend the money for a system. It`s a fail-safe system, absolutely fail-safe. It`s a device system that`s used all over the world except in the United States, because we give them a free pass in the United States.

SCHULTZ: What system is that, Mike?

PAPANTONIO: The system`s called the acoustic switch system. It`s a relay system that blows out the bottom of the catastrophe. In other words, it stops the oil where it — exactly from the source.

Now, here`s what`s interesting. If BP has to do business in Norway, they have to use the switch. When they do it in the U.S., they don`t have to use it.

It happened because of this — during the Bush deregulation years, you had the Minerals Management Service that told companies like BP that, gee whiz, we have a new policy. It`s the closed-door Dick Cheney policy.

That Dick Cheney program allowed the industry to bypass safe systems like the acoustics switch, and there was no need to spend $500,000 with a company that was making $40 billion. It was a complete bypass of safety.

So is this Obama’s Katrina? Apparently the liberal apologists for this 3rd Bush term president reject this notion, especially since the chief outlet for such a charge is Fox News, WABC talk radio, Matt Drudge and all the other rightwing shitheads who care little for the environment or the New Orleans poor.

Media Matters, a Democratic Party website funded by George Soros, takes pain to distinguish Obama from Bush by citing the federal response the day after the oilrig explosion:

April 21: Deputy Secretary of Interior, Coast Guard dispatched to region. An April 22 White House statement noted that following a briefing with President Obama, Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano, Admiral Thad Allen, United States Coast Guard Commandant, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, “Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes was dispatched to the region yesterday to assist with coordination and response.” The Coast Guard announced that four units were responding to the fire, with addition units en route.

While all this might be true, the real similarity between Katrina and the current disaster is that the two-party system—not individual presidents—bears the brunt of responsibility. In Katrina, you had faulty levees brought on by government neglect. With priorities set on destruction in Iraq, the government allowed levees, roads and bridges to become risks to humanity. It was understood by both parties that the fight to control oil in the Middle East meant much more to the future of capitalism than flooded homes in an African-American neighborhood.

That devotion to the needs of oil companies continues unabated. President Obama, just like the president who preceded him, sees the world in the same way as the men who run Exxon, BP, Chevron and all the rest. For most of the 20th century and continuing into the 21st century, wars between nations have often involved power grabs over oil resources. Some scholars explain the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor as a response to an embargo on oil by the U.S.

Meanwhile confrontations with Iran threaten once more to let loose the dogs of war at the very same time that oil itself makes war on nature. Either the human race gets rid of capitalism, including its wasteful and destructive dependence on greenhouse emission fossil fuels, the system will get rid of us.