Michael Whitney at Firedoglake:
Early on the Fourth of July, the US government announced it was taking over the main website of the BP oil disaster response, deepwaterhorizonresponse.com. From early on in the disaster, that site has served as a joint venture of BP and various government agencies to post press releases, media advisories, photos, video, and other PR materials about the oil, including a mailing list for media and other interested parties.
Now, the Department of Homeland Security wants to make a “one-stop shop” for the disaster response under a .gov URL. That means shutting down the current site, and taking another look at who has access to post on the site, with government deciding control of the content and message.
So why did DHS allow BP to walk off with the mailing list of everyone who signed up for information about the disaster?
I’ve received emails from the site every day since it went live 10 days after the disaster. Every email has come from some variation of “Joint Information,” or “Deepwater Horizon Response.” Yet today, less than 24 hours after DHS announced it planned to take over the response website, I get my very first email from “BP America Press Relations,” titled “BP update on Gulf of Mexico spill.” The email from BP was sent to the same address with which I signed up on the original response website.
Juliet Eilperin at WaPo:
In recent weeks, the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from BP in handling the Gulf of Mexico oil spill — with one notable exception: When it comes to assessing how badly the spill has harmed the gulf, the two sides are working hand in hand.
Their shared goal? To calculate the incalculable: how much it will cost to restore the gulf to its pre-spill state.
But this close collaboration between federal and state authorities and BP — which is routine procedure under a legal process known as the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) — has begun to spark concerns among lawmakers and some environmentalists.
“I want this to be independent, for the credibility of the information,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who as chair of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife will hold hearings this month on the issue.
The collaborative approach, established under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, marks a sharp departure from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, where the federal government kept the oil company at arm’s length. Exxon hired its own boats and experts, who followed state and federal officials at a distance, replicating the tests they believed were being done so they could provide a rival analysis
Ed Crooks and Lina Saigol at Financial Times:
Although BP generates a huge amount of cash with oil prices at their present levels, the market is still concerned about its financial strength in the face of rising liabilities.
So it is only natural that BP is looking at a range of options for improving its liquidity.
Its problem is that very few sources of finance are open to it at the moment. Since the failure of its attempt to use a “top kill” – pumping drilling fluid down the well so it can be cemented over – at the end of May, the markets have become alarmed about BP’s financial position.
The shares have hit 14-year lows, its bonds have also fallen sharply, and the price of its credit default swaps – the cost of insuring the company’s debt against default – have soared. Its debt has been downgraded by all the major rating agencies, pushing up the cost of its borrowing.
The UK oil producer is not in a position to make a significant difference to its financial position until its second-quarter results on July 27 at the earliest, when it will give some idea of the total bill it is facing. More crucial to investor confidence is the success of BP’s latest plan to stop the leak – a relief well, which is scheduled for completion in August.
In the near-term, the company is not facing a liquidity crisis. The agreement it reached with the White House in mid-June, which gave it three-and-a-half years to pay into a $20bn (£13.2bn) fund to compensate victims of the spill, has bought BP precious time.
By suspending the dividend for the rest of the year and cutting capital spending, it is freeing about $10bn of cash, and plans another $10bn of disposals during the next 12 months.
However, a rapid escalation of liabilities, or a squeeze on cash flows caused by a fall in the oil price, could still force it to raise new funds.
Jeff Neumann at Gawker:
According to a report in today’s Washington Post, in the current fiscal year, BP has fuel contracts with the US military worth at least $980 million. And the Environmental Protection Agency, before the oil spill, had looked into barring BP from all federal contracts due to its 2006 Alaskan oil spill and the deadly 2005 explosion at one of its refineries in Texas. If successful, the EPA would have cut BP off from signing contracts with the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), which handles military fuel purchases. From The Washington Post:
Jeanne Pascal, a former EPA lawyer who until recently oversaw the review of BP’s possible debarment, has said she initially supported taking such action but held off after an official at the Defense Department warned her that the Pentagon depended heavily on BP fuel for its operations in the Middle East. “My contact at DESC, another attorney, told me that BP was supplying approximately 80 percent of the fuel being used to move U.S. forces” in the region, Pascal said. She added that “BP was very fortunate in that there is an exception when the U.S. is involved in a military action or a war.”
A Defense Department spokeswoman, Wendy L. Snyder, disputed Pacal’s claims, saying the DESC “informed the EPA that there are adequate procedures and processes to protect the U.S. military missions should EPA determine that BP should be debarred.” The Post talked to BP spokesman Robert Wine, who said he knew of at least one “big contract” agreed to between BP and the Pentagon after the Gulf oil spill, and:
He did not challenge Pascal’s claim that BP’s health, safety and environmental unit had been moved lower on the corporate structure before the gulf spill, reporting to the head of a business unit instead of directly to the top executive. But, Wine said, “what difference does that make?”
“Safety comes through the organization through every root,” he said, and remains “paramount in every part of the business.”
Yeah, why should safety and people’s lives be put in the hands of the person who actually runs the company, when you can pawn that stuff off to some desk jockey? But at least we know the government is living up to all of the big talk, right? We’ll see. On June 2, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “If we find evidence of illegal behavior [by BP], we will be forceful in our response.”
Last week, I interviewed Mother Jones‘ Mac McClelland, who has been covering the BP oil spill in the Gulf since the first day it happened. She detailed how local police and federal officials work with BP to harass, impede, interrogate and even detain journalists who are covering the impact of the spill and the clean-up efforts. She documented one incident which was particularly chilling of an activist who — after being told by a local police officer to stop filming a BP facility because “BP didn’t want him filming” — was then pulled over after he left by that officer so he could be interrogated by a BP security official. McClelland also described how BP has virtually bought entire Police Departments which now do its bidding: “One parish has 57 extra shifts per week that they are devoting entirely to, basically, BP security detail, and BP is paying the sheriff’s office.”
Today, an article that is a joint collaboration between PBS’ Frontline and ProPublica reported that a BP refinery in Texas “spewed tens of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into the skies” two weeks before the company’s rig in the Gulf collapsed. Accompanying that article was this sidebar report:
A photographer taking pictures for these articles, was detained Friday while shooting pictures in Texas City, Texas.
The photographer, Lance Rosenfield, said that shortly after arriving in town, he was confronted by a BP security officer, local police and a man who identified himself as an agent of the Department of Homeland Security. He was released after the police reviewed the pictures he had taken on Friday and recorded his date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information.
The police officer then turned that information over to the BP security guard under what he said was standard procedure, according to Rosenfield.
No charges were filed.
Rosenfield, an experienced freelance photographer, said he was detained shortly after shooting a photograph of a Texas City sign on a public roadway. Rosenfield said he was followed by a BP employee in a truck after taking the picture and blocked by two police cars when he pulled into a gas station.
According to Rosenfield, the officers said they had a right to look at photos taken near secured areas of the refinery, even if they were shot from public property. Rosenfield said he was told he would be “taken in” if he declined to comply.
ProPublica’s Paul Steiger said that the reporting team told law enforcement agents that they were working on a deadline for this story about that facility, and that even if DHS agents believed they had a legitimate reason to scrutinize the actions and photographs of this photographer, there was no reason that “should have included sharing them with a representative of a private company.”
These are true police state tactics, and it’s now clear that it is part of a pattern. It’s been documented for months now that BP and government officials have been acting in unison to block media coverage of the area