U.S. Spill Accident Rings Alarm for Oil Companies
    2010-06-01 08:53:49     Xinhua      Web Editor: Jiang Aitao

NASA MODIS satellite image, taken May 23, 2010, of the Gulf of Mexico shows the extent of the oil released from the Deepwater Horizon spill. The oil can be seen as a sheen on the water surface. [Photo: Xinhua/Reuters]

The gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico has so far spewed 18 to 40 million barrels of oil into the ocean since it exploded a month ago. The hope of plugging the damaged oil rig soon seemed very slim.

The accident has dealt a heavy blow to fishery, tourism and environment along the U.S. Gulf Coast. It may well become the biggest environmental disaster for the country, said White House energy adviser Carol Browner at NBC's "Meet the Press" program on Sunday.

What caused the disaster and what is the respective share of responsibility for the oil companies, local authorities and the U.S. government? People have to wait for the investigation results before they can find answers to these questions.

Nevertheless, preliminary investigation indicated that what the British Petroleum (BP) did before and after the explosion may have compounded the disaster.

After the explosion, BP, Swiss-based Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and BP's contractor, Halliburton Inc. blamed each other to evade its own responsibilities. Their finger-pointing games prompted sharp criticism by U.S. lawmakers, experts and the general public.

BP became the prime focus of U.S. media censure for the company allegedly used substandard key equipment in an attempt to make quick gains and cut cost. When the rig exploded, the company tried to cover up the real extent of the spill and its aftermath.

The company was in fact aware of the risks of the well casing and the blowout preventer last June, but it still gave the project a go-ahead signal, New York Times reported Sunday, citing BP internal documents.

Furthermore, BP intentionally lowered pressure standards when testing the blowout preventer. Experts said that the risks of the well casing and the blowout preventer finally led to the explosion of the rig.

Edward Markey, chairman of the House subcommittee on energy and environment said Sunday that in the first week after the explosion BP lowballed the size of the oil leak, saying publicly that it was 1,000 barrels per day when in fact they believed it could be upwards of 14,000 barrels per day.

If the well spews more than 10,000 barrels of oil per day, it could end up as billions of U.S. dollars in fines that the BP executives have to pay to the U.S. government, Markey said.

Another cause for the worsening environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is the failure of oil companies, local authorities and the U.S. federal government to make an emergency plan in case of such large scale spill.

The New York Times reported that neither the U.S. government nor BP had any emergency plans for offshore drilling accidents. When the disaster took place, BP was confused on what to do, as if it is never aware of the fact that there is the possibility of explosion even at a depth of 1,500 meters under sea.

Oil companies should conduct offshore drilling with a strong sense of responsibility because their operation may damage the marine ecosystem.

The excessive pursuit of economic gains to the neglect of one's responsibilities to the society at large and ecosystem will lead to nothing but disasters and then make their aftermath even worse.



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