The play-by-play reads like the script of a bad sci-fi thriller: “Top kill” fails, now bring on the robot submarines. Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s latest trajectory predictions show the spill moving north, toward Alabama and Mississippi but not yet toward the Florida Panhandle, by the middle of the week.
Here’s a look at some of the weekend’s other developments:
WSJ: “Nobody in Charge”
The Wall Street Journal continues its investigation into the circumstances surrounding the spill:
An examination by The Wall Street Journal of what happened aboard the Deepwater Horizon just before and after the explosions suggests the rig was unprepared for the kind of disaster that struck and was overwhelmed when it occurred. The events on the bridge raise questions about whether the rig’s leaders were prepared for handling such a fast-moving emergency and for evacuating the rig—and, more broadly, whether the U.S. has sufficient safety rules for such complex drilling operations in very deep water.
The chain of command broke down at times during the crisis, according to many crew members. They report that there was disarray on the bridge and pandemonium in the lifeboat area, where some people jumped overboard and others called for boats to be launched only partially filled.
The Journal goes on to report that BP made multiple revisions to its permit requests in the days leading up to the spill.
The unusual rapid-fire requests to modify permits reveal that BP was tweaking a crucial aspect of the well’s design up until its final days.
One of the design decisions outlined in the revised permits, drilling experts say, may have left the well more vulnerable to the blowout that occurred April 20, killing 11 workers and leaving crude oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Minerals Management Service approved all the changes quickly, in one instance within five minutes of submission.
“Systemic failure” in protecting clean-up workers
McClatchy builds on earlier reports of dangers faced by workers dispatched to help contain the spill. In addition to the hazards posed by toxic fumes from efforts to burn off the oil, McClatchy reports Labor Department officials have cited other safety problems, including:
— Lack of sufficient control over work sites. As recently as May 20 , he said, the agency found more than 800 workers at one of the Biloxi, Miss., sites without the required training.
— Difficulty in obtaining adequate and timely data from BP on injuries and illness, chemical sampling, monitoring data and training materials.
— Concerns that BP’s manager of workplace safety “does not appear to operate with the full support of the company, nor does he seem to have the authority necessary for the job which he has been tasked.”
— BP not addressing concerns about heat stroke. “There continue to be multiple heat-related incidents each day, some of which have been serious.”
FSU professor calls for science, not spin
In Sunday’s Observer, Florida State University professor Ian R. MacDonald castigates BP’s efforts to minimize estimates of oil gushing from the ocean floor, and warned that the spill could be a harbinger of future catastrophes brought on by a dependence on fossil fuels:
What baffles me is not that BP should seek to minimise the magnitude of the spill. After all, some of our laws would make it liable to penalties of $1,000 per barrel released. Any company would seek to avoid such exposure. What’s puzzling is why the company’s spokespeople cleave to statements that are so readily refuted.
Casting BP executives as cardboard cut-out villains does not get us very far though. Whatever the courts may find about BP’s culpability the real cause is our demand for oil and our refusal to pay its true price. Right now, everyone in America wants to do something to fight the spill. However, if you suggest that perhaps we should double the price of fuel and use the revenue to rebuild our transportation network, the general response is suspicious silence.
Facile comparisons do not do justice to this still unfolding drama. If the climate scientists are even partly right, this could be a dress rehearsal for greater crises: humans instigating vast change we then struggle to control.
Amid such struggles, minimising the spill rate for PR purposes does not stop the leak; engineering stops the leak. Expunging oil from your publicity photos does not clean the beach or tell you how badly damaged was the ecosystem; science does that. In the struggle between spin and science, we must demand that science wins.
Speaking of which, an editorial in the latest edition of the scientific journal Nature suggests that methane — which dissolves in water, comprises roughly 40 percent of oil’s volume and can be measured with relative ease — could allow scientists to calculate the true volume of the spill.
Help for Florida’s fisherman?
The St. Petersburg Times reports that BP has paid some $3 million in claims to compensate Florida fishermen whose business has suffered as a result of the spill.
BP spokesman Ray Dempsey said the company hasn’t turned anyone down so far.
Still, some Floridians say BP has done about as good a job at helping them cope with their financial losses as it has in stopping the oil from flowing.
Coming Up Today: President Barack Obama holds his first meeting with the co-chairs of the oil spill review commission, one of whom is former Florida Sen. Bob Graham.