Facts and Unanswered Questions About the BP Oil Spill...

... "Thousands of people are attacked by sea creatures every year. We at BP are dedicated to bringing that number down. You're welcome." Obviously, this quote isn't actually coming from a BP official, at least as far as we can tell, but from an impersonator who has the account BPGlobalPR on Twitter. BP, formerly known as British Petroleum and currently known as "British Polluters", "Beyond Pollution", "Bad People" or "Broken Promises", have made a real boo boo this time.

In case you haven't been cryogenized for the past month or so, you're probably well aware of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It first started as a tragic explosion and fire on April 20, 2010, killing eleven oil platform workers and injuring another 17.

To realize the potential harm this incident can do to both the environment and BP themselves, let's just take a look at the facts known so far. First of all, two whole days had to pass after the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling platform exploded and succumbed into the ocean until BP announced it was deploying a remotely operated underwater vehicle to "assess whether oil was flowing from the well" or not.

So... let me get this straight. There's an offshore oil platform which explodes while it was drilling an exploratory well, after which it sinks a few kilometers into the ocean, on top of the oil well it was drilling, right? Right. So, amidst the explosion, fire, and sinking of a half a billion US dollars worth of oil rig BP had to wait 48 hours just to start an assessment about a possible oil spill into the ocean?

To make matters worse, BP doesn't exactly have the most exemplary safety record among other oil companies, so their late response to this potentially catastrophic event is dumbfounding. Let's just take a look at a few other examples from BP's safety record in the last few years.

In 2005, BP's Texas City, Texas refinery - one of its largest refineries – exploded, causing 15 deaths, injuring 180 people and forcing thousand of local inhabitants to remain in their homes for shelter from the pollution. Apparently, the explosion happened as a culmination of a series of less serious accidents at the refinery, and the engineering problems had not been addressed by the upper management. Later it was found that maintenance and safety at the refinery had been cut as a cost-saving measure, which just goes to show how much concern BP has for this important aspect of their business.

Just a year later from this incident, one of BP's Alaskan oil pipelines became corroded and spilled no less than 212,252 US gallons of crude oil onto Alaska's North Slope. The funny bit, if you can call it that way, is that the whole oil spill came from a single hole in the pipeline, measuring only a quarter of an inch (0.64 centimeters) in diameter. As usual, it took BP quite a hefty amount of time to realize what was happening. As in the other incident, questions were asked about why the US $200 million a year allegedly spent by BP on maintenance weren't enough to keep the oil pipeline running without suffering any corrosion problems.

In 2007, the same Alaskan oil field which was supplying the aforementioned pipeline was again partially shut down because of some water leaks. The very same year, about 2,000 gallons of methanol and crude oil were spilled onto a frozen tundra pond from a pipeline belonging to the same oil field. These two incidents obviously happened because of poor management concerning the safety part of oil-drilling, but it doesn't stop there.

BP's safety record nightmare and probably first real nail in their coffin happened this year, with the help of the Deepwater Horizon ocean incident. Apparently, the actual oil spill flow rate hasn't even been reliably established yet.

The initial estimates from BP have been multiplied from five to no less than twenty times by individual experts so far, but even they might be a bit too optimistic. Personally, I think that says a lot about BP's more than ineffective PR department, which has only managed so far to deepen the crisis. Not to mention the moronic statement from the company's own CEO, Tony Hayward, whose first public statement about the incident was that the volume of the oil spill and the dispersants that are pumped into the water are "tiny" compared to the size of the ocean.

Sure it is Mr. Hayward, but as an autoevolution commenter said, a 50 caliber bullet hole is tiny compared to the overall volume of a human's body as well, but I'm pretty sure it's also deadly as hell (hey, it even rhymes!). Not to mention the fact that the "tiny" oil leak has been flowing for more than a month now, and the most optimistic opinions give it another three months or so. During this period, the oil spill could reach as far as the Florida shores and even beyond, thus becoming the largest man-made disaster in history.

In conclusion, I have a few unanswered questions about this incident, and I'm pretty sure that the answers to each and everyone of them aren't showing up because it would probably result in a Mortal Kombat-like "fatality" blow to the company.

The total costs for containing the spillage are currently around a billion US dollars. If we add the cost of the now-destroyed oil drilling platform - which was $560 million - the hundreds of millions lost because of never getting back all that oil, the upcoming lawsuits from people and industries affected by the spillage and the liabilities imposed by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the total sum should well exceed 10 billion US dollars. That figure will most likely double if the liability limit is increased from the current $75 million to no less than $10 billion, following a legislation change which is currently being pushed by US lawmakers.

OK, since we got through most of the facts, my questions are as follows:

- could this incident have been avoided altogether? Some say that it could have, and I'm inclined to agree.

- did the BP officials tried to cover up the whole thing, only to later on downplay the consequences? Actually, this one is a no-brainer considering the first official statements and the fact that to this day BP has denied access to any independent expert or media at the incident scene.

- will BP collapse because of this or will it be taken over at a dumping price by one of its competitors?
Some sources point to Royal Dutch Shell or even Exxon (of Exxon Valdez fame, remember), as potential buyers .

 - how big is the actual environment impact of the oil spill, and how long will it last? Since the spillage is far from over, while the official statements on the matter are as contradictory as black and white, no one can tell. Remember that the Gulf War oil spill (largest in history, so far) is still having an effect on the Saudi Arabian shorelines.

- is this the last similar incident on behalf of BP?
Taking into account their safety records, chances are it's not, but let's hope they'll prove me wrong.

Probably the biggest irony in all this predicament is the fact that when the Deepwater Horizon explosion happened, there were four BP officials on board the oil rig. What were they doing there, you ask? Well, apparently they were celebrating the platform's safety record... and this is no joke.
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About the author: Alex Oagana
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Alex handled his first real steering wheel at the age of five (on a field) and started practicing "Scandinavian Flicks" at 14 (on non-public gravel roads). Following his time at the University of Journalism, he landed his first real job at the local franchise of Top Gear magazine a few years before Mircea (Panait). Not long after, Alex entered the New Media realm with the project.
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