the race to tap into the Caspian Sea's vast oil and gas resources has outweighed any desire to protect its delicate environment.
All five littoral states -- Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan -- have plans to further exploit the sea's
estimated 44 billion barrels of oil reserves. Such projects mean drilling new
wells, highlighting risks for an incident that could cause a catastrophic oil spill in the landlocked sea -- the largest inland
body of water on earth.
Mais Gulaliyev, co-chairman of Azerbaijan's Green Party, tells RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service
he has called for measures to prevent such a threat from becoming reality. "The
accident in the Gulf of Mexico shows us that such a disaster could happen anywhere. The United States, with its super-modern
technologies, is barely capable of stopping this disaster," Gulaliyev says. "You can imagine the scale of the damages to the
environment from such incidents in countries like Azerbaijan."
At least 5,000 barrels of oil a day have been gushing
into the Gulf of Mexico since an April 20 explosion destroyed a drilling rig leased and operated by BP, threatening unique
wildlife refuges, beaches, and fishing grounds along the southern U.S. coast. [The 5,000 barrels is a company release, best latest estimate is 62,000 barrels/day—See Wikipedia bottom of page].
Of Environmental Damage
The dangers of the Caspian Sea's oil fields
gained international attention during the last days of the Soviet Union, when a well at Kazakhstan's huge Tengiz oil field blew out in 1985. The well burned for more than a year before
it was eventually put out. Makhamet Khakimov tells RFE/RL's Kazakh Service that
little has been done since the incident in which 3 million tons of oil and tens of billions of cubic
meters of different kinds of gases were burned, harming the population and wildlife in the Atyrau region.
of platforms are currently operating across the Caspian Sea, mainly in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, which have been the focus
of Western investment. Oil exploration and production work have also developed
in the remaining three littoral states. LUKoil last month kicked off commercial oil production in the Russian sector of the
sea, launching the Yury Korchagin platform. Iran earlier this year started drilling its first exploratory well in the southern
Caspian Sea -- the deepest part of the sea -- to search for oil. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan is continuing exploration of Caspian
shelf deposits along with foreign partners. Environmentalists say investments
in energy projects have often been made to the detriment of local communities.
On May 13, Kazakh Deputy Minister for
Environmental Protection Eldana Sadvakasova acknowledged that with the oil price decreasing, oil-extracting companies had
"stopped performance of some measures or postponed them for the later periods." In
February, a Kazakh court fined the onshore Karachaganak natural-gas venture, which includes BG, Eni, Chevron, and LUKoil,
for environmental violations including excessive waste dumping. The village of Berezovka, which is situated less than 5 kilometers
from the field and is exposed to the field's toxic emissions, has been fighting for justice for years. Environmentalists say energy development is also threatening already endangered species of fish such as
the Beluga, Stellate, and Russian sturgeon, the kilka (Caspian sprat), as well as the Caspian seal. In Turkmenistan, energy
development is causing particular risk to the Krasovodsk Nature Reserve, home to hundreds of thousands of birds and more than
40 mammal species.
Energy firms operating in the region, however, argue
that they are doing their utmost to ensure the safety of their infrastructure. "I
assure you that we have done and will continue to do everything possible to ensure the full technical security of all our
operations in the Caspian," says Tamam Bayatli, public relations manager for BP Azerbaijan, which is involved in a number
of exploration and production projects in the country. "It has been and will
remain our No. 1 priority to ensure technical safety and security of the people as well as to protect the environment."
Watters, executive director of Crude Accountability, a Virginia-based nongovernmental organization that focuses on environmental
justice, says the public should be informed about the investments being made and about the environmental and social protection
needed to be put in place to safeguard the environment and the health of the local inhabitants. "The oil companies need to be held to the highest standards, and those standards maybe need to be reexamined,"
Watters says. "We have a case [in the Gulf of Mexico] where governments are relying on the expertise of private corporations
and putting at risk entire populations and ecosystems based on promises that need to be demonstrably fulfilled before a project
Improving Regulation, Or Just Talk?
At a conference in Astrakhan on April 28, Russian Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin said all work related to the development of fields in the Russian sector of the Caspian is being conducted
"in strict compliance with international environmental standards," applying zero discharge technology. This means that waste
resultant of production activities is not discharged into the sea, but is collected before being rendered harmless and reprocessed.
Putin also voiced hope that companies from other countries operating in the region will join in this initiative.
the regional level, the five countries around the Caspian Sea have ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of
the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, or Tehran Convention, and thus established a framework to jointly address and solve
environmental problems in and around the sea. But Watters is skeptical, saying
the absence of public participation in the convention's preparation resulted in a relatively meaningless document.
BP and the U.S. authorities battle to contain the spill in the Gulf of Mexico and issues of responsibility are being investigated,
the U.S. administration has said it will review environmental procedures for offshore drilling. And in Russia, the State Duma, or lower house of parliament, is considering the need for drafting a law
on "environmental control and protection of seas from oil spills." The head of
the Duma's Committee for Natural Resources, Nature Management, and Environment, Yevgeny Tugolukov, announced the move on May
5 in comments on what conclusions Russia should make in the wake of the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. And at a cabinet meeting on May 4, Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov instructed the
ministries for oil and gas and for environmental protection to inspect the country's oil-drilling platforms.
Accountability's Watters doubts the Kazakh measure will be effective. She notes that while BP "has this reputation all over
the world for having the best technology, for being green, for being sustainable," the company is responsible for the spill
in the Gulf of Mexico "and had absolutely no plan in place if something like this were to happen. So we have no guarantees
that any Western company working in the Caspian would act any differently."
So while Watters believes the Kazakh government
is acting correctly, "my question would be: 'Do they have the capacity to take care of an accident, should one happen?' And
I think the answer is likely 'no.'"
RFE/RL's Azerbaijani and Kazakh services contributed to this report
Estimates Suggest Spill Is Biggest in U.S. History
According to the Flow Rate Technical Group, the leak amounted to about 4.9 million barrels (210,000,000 US gal; 780,000 m3)
of oil, exceeding the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill as the largest ever to originate in U.S.-controlled waters and the 1979 Ixtoc I oil spill as the largest spill in the Gulf of Mexico.… In its permit to drill the well, BP estimated the worst case flow at 162,000 barrels per
day (25,800 m3/d). Internal BP documents, released by Congress,
estimated the flow could be as much as 100,000 barrels per day (16,000 m3/d), if the blowout preventer and wellhead were removed and if restrictions were incorrectly modeled. In
a telephone interview after the hearing, Mr. Markey noted that under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, companies face
fines of up to $1,000 per barrel, or up to $3,000 per barrel in the case of gross negligence. For BP, he said, the potential
fine for 1,000 barrels per day over 37 days of spillage would be on the order of $37 million at $1,000 a barrel, compared
with $1.5 billion in fines for the upper estimate of 14,000 barrels per day at $3,000 a barrel.
The final estimate reported that 53,000 barrels
per day (8,400 m3/d) were escaping from the well just before it was capped on 15 July. It is believed that
the daily flow rate diminished over time, starting at about 62,000 barrels per day (9,900 m3/d) and decreasing
as the reservoir of hydrocarbons feeding the gusher was gradually depleted. [This is a government (political) estimate that like those before underestimated the flow rate—see
Wikipedia for their chart showing a gradual increase in the official estimate from 1-5,000/day on April 24th
to 62,000/day in the August 8th estimate.] The oil spill covered 3,850
Sea gas leak and blowout
On 17 September 2008, a gas leak was discovered and one gas-injection well blown out
in the area of the Central Azeri platform at the Azeri oilfield, a part of the Azeri–Chirag–Guneshli project, in the Azerbaijan sector of Caspian Sea. The platform was shut down and the staff was evacuated. As the Western Azeri Platform was being powered by a cable from the Central Azeri Platform, it was also shut down. According to US Embassy cables, BP had been "exceptionally circumspect in disseminating information" and revealed that
BP thought the cause for the blowout was a bad cement job. Production at the Western Azeri Platform resumed on 9 October 2008 and at the Central Azeri Platform in December 2008.
City Refinery explosion
Main article: Texas City Refinery explosion
In March 2005, BP's Texas City, Texas refinery, one of its largest refineries, exploded causing 15 deaths, injuring 180
people and forcing thousands of nearby residents to remain sheltered in their homes. A 20-foot column filled with hydrocarbon overflowed to form a vapour cloud, which ignited. The explosion caused all
the casualties and substantial damage to the rest of the plant. The incident came as the culmination of a series of less serious accidents at the refinery, and the engineering problems
were not addressed by the management. Maintenance and safety at the plant had been cut as a cost-saving measure, the responsibility
ultimately resting with executives in London.
The fallout from the accident continues to cloud BP's corporate image because of the
mismanagement at the plant. There have been several investigations of the disaster, the most recent being that from the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board which "offered a scathing assessment of the company." OSHA found "organizational
and safety deficiencies at all levels of the BP Corporation" and said management failures could be traced from Texas to London.
The company pleaded guilty to a felony violation of the Clean Air Act, was fined $50 million, the largest ever assessed under the Clean Air Act,
and sentenced to three years probation.
On 30 October 2009, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined BP an additional $87 million, the largest fine in OSHA history, for
failing to correct safety hazards revealed in the 2005 explosion. Inspectors found 270 safety violations that had been previously
cited but not fixed and 439 new violations. BP appealed the fine. (see #Environmental record).
In 2010, BP agreed to pay a settlement of $50.6 million for the safety violations
that were not fixed after the explosion. In July 2012, the company agreed to pay $13 million to settle the new violations.
At that time OSHA found "no imminent dangers" at the Texas plant, which is up for sale. Thirty violations remain under discussion.
In 2009 BP spent nearly $16 million lobbying the US Congress. In 2011, BP spent a total of $8,430,000 on lobbying and hired 47 lobbyists.
Ixtoc I was an exploratory oil well being drilled by the semi-submersible drilling rig Sedco 135-F in the Bay of Campeche of the Gulf of Mexico, about 100 km (62 mi) northwest of Ciudad del Carmen, Campeche in waters 50 m (160 ft) deep. On 3 June 1979, the well suffered a blowout resulting in one of largest oil spills in history.
During the removal of the pipe on Sedco 135F, the drilling mud suddenly began
to flow up towards the surface; by removing the drill-string the well was swabbed[clarification needed] leading to a kick. Normally, this flow can be stopped by activating shear rams contained in the blowout preventer (BOP). These rams are designed to sever and seal off the well on the ocean floor; however
in this case the drill collars had been brought in line with the BOP and the BOP rams were not able to sever the thick steel
walls of the drill collars leading to a catastrophic blowout.
The drilling mud was followed by a large quantity of oil and gas at an increasing flow
rate. The oil and gas fumes exploded on contact with the operating pump motors, starting a fire which led to the collapse
of the Sedco 135F drilling tower. The collapse caused damage to underlying well structures. The damage to the well
structures led to the release of significant quantities of oil into the Gulf.
Volume and extent of spill
In the initial stages of the spill, an estimated 30,000 barrels (5,000 m3)
of oil per day were flowing from the well. In July 1979, the pumping of mud into the well reduced the flow to 20,000 barrels
(3,000 m3) per day, and early in August the pumping of nearly 100,000 steel, iron, and lead balls into the
well reduced the flow to 10,000 barrels (2,000 m3) per day. Pemex claimed that half of the released oil burned
when it reached the surface, a third of it evaporated, and the rest was contained or dispersed. Mexican authorities also drilled two relief wells into the main well to lower the pressure of the blowout, however
the oil continued to flow for three months following the completion of the first relief well.
Pemex contracted Conair Aviation to spray the chemical dispersant Corexit 9527 on the oil. A total of 493 aerial missions were flown, treating 1,100 square miles
(2,800 km2) of oil slick. Dispersants were not used in the U.S. area of the spill because of the dispersant's
inability to treat weathered oil. Eventually the on-scene coordinator (OSC) requested that Mexico stop using dispersants north of 25░N.
In Texas, an emphasis was placed on coastal countermeasures protecting the bays and
lagoons formed by the barrier islands. Impacts of oil to the barrier island beaches were ranked as second in importance
to protecting inlets to the bays and lagoons. This was done with the placement of skimmers and booms. Efforts were concentrated
on the Brazos-Santiago Pass, Port Mansfield Channel, Aransas Pass, and Cedar Bayou which during the course of the spill was
sealed with sand. Economically and environmentally sensitive barrier island beaches were cleaned daily. Laborers used rakes
and shovels to clean beaches rather than heavier equipment which removed too much sand. Ultimately, 71,500 barrels (11,000 m3)
of oil impacted 162 miles (260 km) of U.S. beaches, and over 10,000 cubic yards (8,000 m3) of oiled material
In the next nine months, experts and divers including Red Adair were brought in to contain and cap the oil well. An average of approximately 10,000 to 30,000 barrels (2,000 to 5,000 m3) per day were discharged into the
Gulf until it was finally capped on 23 March 1980, nearly 10 months later. In similarity to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill 31 years later, the list of methods attempted to remediate the leak included lowering
a cap over the well, plugging the leak with mud and "junk", use of dispersants, and spending months attempting to drill relief
The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska,
on March 24, 1989, when Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California struck Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef and spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels (41,000 to 119,000 m3) of crude oil. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters. The Valdez spill was the largest ever in US waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in terms of volume released. … The oil, originally extracted at the Prudhoe Bay oil field, eventually covered 1,300 miles (2,100 km) of coastline, and 11,000 square miles (28,000 km2) of ocean. …. Alternative calculations, based on the assumption that the official
reports underestimated how much seawater had been forced into the damaged tanks, placed the total at 25 to 32 million US gallons
(95,000 to 120,000 m3).
The captain was confirmed to be asleep when the ship crashed in Prince William Sound's reef. In light of the
other findings, investigative reporter Greg Palast stated in 2008 "Forget the drunken skipper fable. As to Captain Joe Hazelwood, he was below decks, sleeping off his bender. At the helm, the third mate never would have collided with Bligh
Reef had he looked at his RAYCAS radar. But the radar was not turned on. In fact, the tanker's radar was left broken and disabled
for more than a year before the disaster, and Exxon management knew it. It was [in Exxon's view] just too expensive to fix
and operate." Exxon blamed Captain Hazelwood for the grounding of the tanker.
Other factors, according to an MIT course entitled "Software System Safety" by Professor Nancy G. Leveson, included:
- Tanker crews were not told that the previous
practice of the Coast Guard tracking ships out to Bligh reef had ceased.
- The oil industry promised, but never installed,
state-of-the-art iceberg monitoring equipment.
- Exxon Valdez was sailing outside the
normal sea lane to avoid small icebergs thought to be in the area.
- The 1989 tanker crew was half the size of
the 1977 crew, worked 12–14 hour shifts, plus overtime. The crew was rushing to leave Valdez with a load of oil.
- Coast Guard tanker inspections in Valdez were
not done, and the number of staff was reduced.
- Lack of available equipment and personnel
hampered the spill cleanup.
Slick Operator: The BP I've Known Too Well
Wednesday 05 May 2010 by Greg Palast, BBC
& Guardian investigative reporter
I've seen this movie before. In 1989, I was
a fraud investigator hired to dig into the cause of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Despite Exxon's name on that boat, I found
the party most to blame for the destruction was ... British Petroleum (BP). That's
important to know, because the way BP caused devastation in Alaska is exactly the way BP is now sliming the entire Gulf Coast.
Tankers run aground, wells blow out, pipes burst.
It shouldn't happen, but it does. And when it does, the name of the game is containment. Both in Alaska, when the Exxon Valdez
grounded, and in the Gulf last week, when the Deepwater Horizon platform blew, it was British Petroleum that was charged with
carrying out the Oil Spill Response Plans (OSRP), which the company itself drafted and filed with the government.
What's so insane, when I look over that sickening
slick moving toward the Delta, is that containing spilled oil is really quite simple and easy. And from my investigation,
BP has figured out a very low-cost way to prepare for this task: BP lies. BP prevaricates, BP fabricates and BP obfuscates.
That's because responding to a spill may be
easy and simple, but not at all cheap. And BP is cheap. Deadly cheap.
To contain a spill, the main thing you need
is a lot of rubber, long skirts of it called a "boom." Quickly surround a spill, leak or burst, then pump it out into skimmers,
or disperse it, sink it or burn it. Simple.
But there's one thing about the rubber skirts:
you've got to have lots of them at the ready, with crews on standby in helicopters and on containment barges ready to roll.
They have to be in place round the clock, all the time, just like a fire department, even when all is operating A-O.K. Because
rapid response is the key. In Alaska, that was BP's job, as principal owner of the pipeline consortium Alyeska. It is, as
well, BP's job in the Gulf, as principal lessee of the deepwater oil concession.
Before the Exxon Valdez grounding, BP's Alyeska
group claimed it had these full-time, oil spill response crews. Alyeska had hired Alaskan natives, trained them to drop from
helicopters into the freezing water and set booms in case of emergency. Alyeska also certified in writing that a containment
barge with equipment was within five hours sailing of any point in the Prince William Sound. Alyeska also told the state and
federal government it had plenty of boom and equipment cached on Bligh Island.
But it was all a lie. On that March night in
1989 when the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef in the Prince William Sound, the BP group had, in fact, not a lick of boom there.
And Alyeska had fired the natives who had manned the full-time response teams, replacing them with phantom crews, lists of
untrained employees with no idea how to control a spill. And that containment barge at the ready was, in fact, laid up in
a drydock in Cordova, locked under ice, 12 hours away.
As a result, the oil from the Exxon Valdez,
which could have and should have been contained around the ship, spread out in a sludge tide that wrecked 1,200 miles of shoreline.
And here we go again. Valdez goes Cajun.
BP's CEO Tony Hayward reportedly asked, "What
the hell did we do to deserve this?"
It's what you didn't do, Mr. Hayward. Where
was BP's containment barge and response crew? Why was the containment boom laid so damn late, too late and too little? Why
is it that the US Navy is hauling in 12 miles of rubber boom and fielding seven skimmers, instead of BP?
Last year, CEO Hayward boasted that, despite
increased oil production in exotic deep waters, he had cut BP's costs by an extra one billion dollars a year. Now we know
how he did it.
As chance would have it, I was meeting last
week with Louisiana lawyer Daniel Becnel Jr. when word came in of the platform explosion. Daniel represents oil workers on
those platforms; now, he'll represent their bereaved families. The Coast Guard called him. They had found the emergency evacuation
capsule floating in the sea and were afraid to open it and disturb the cooked bodies.
I wonder if BP painted the capsule green, like
they paint their gas stations.
Becnel, yesterday by phone from his office from
the town of Reserve, Louisiana, said the spill response crews were told they weren't needed because the company had already
sealed the well. Like everything else from BP mouthpieces, it was a lie.
In the end, this is bigger than BP and its policy
of cheaping out and skiving the rules. This is about the anti-regulatory mania, which has infected the American body politic.
While the tea baggers are simply its extreme expression, US politicians of all stripes love to attack "the little bureaucrat
with the fat rule book." It began with Ronald Reagan and was promoted, most vociferously, by Bill Clinton and the head of
Clinton's deregulation committee, one Al Gore.
Americans want government off our backs ...
that is, until a folding crib crushes the skull of our baby, Toyota accelerators speed us to our death, banks blow our savings
on gambling sprees and crude oil smothers the Mississippi.
Then, suddenly, it's, "Where was hell was the
government? Why didn't the government do something to stop it?"
The answer is because government took you at
your word they should get out of the way of business, that business could be trusted to police itself. It was only last month
that BP, lobbying for new deepwater drilling, testified to Congress that additional equipment and inspection wasn't needed.
You should meet some of these little bureaucrats
with the fat rule books. Like Dan Lawn, the inspector from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, who warned
and warned and warned, before the Exxon Valdez grounding, that BP and Alyeska were courting disaster in their arrogant disregard
of the rule book. In 2006, I printed his latest warnings about BP's culture of negligence. When the choice is between Lawn's
rule book and a bag of tea, Lawn's my man.
This just in: Becnel tells me that one of the
platform workers has informed him that the BP well was apparently deeper than the 18,000 feet depth reported. BP failed to
communicate that additional depth to Halliburton crews, who, therefore, poured in too small a cement cap for the additional
pressure caused by the extra depth. So, it blew.
Why didn't Halliburton check? "Gross negligence
on everyone's part," said Becnel. Negligence driven by penny-pinching, bottom-line squeezing. BP says its worker is lying.
Someone's lying here, man on the platform or the company that has practiced prevarication from Alaska to Louisiana.