BP's spill plan: they knew where it would go, that ecology would never recover, "No toxicity studies" on dispersants


Karen Dalton Beninato at neworleans.com writes,

I have obtained a copy of the almost-600-page BP Regional Oil Spill Response Plan for the Gulf of Mexico as of June, 2009, thanks to an insider. Some material has been redacted, but these are the three main takeaways from an initial read. The name of the well has been redacted, but if it's not Deepwater Horizon, then there's another rig still out there pumping oil and aimed at Plaquemines Parish.
The three big takeaways, excerpted from Beninato's blog post:
1) In the worst case discharge scenario (on chart below), an oil leak was expected to come ashore with highest probability in Plaquemines Parish within 30 days

2) Spokespersons were advised never to assure the public that an ecosystem would be back to normal after the worst case scenario, which we are now living through.

3) Corexit oil dispersant toxicity has not been tested on ecosystems, according to the Oil Spill Response Plan. "Ecotoxilogical effects: No toxicity studies have been conducted on this product."

Link to 583-page, 17 megabyte PDF (publicintelligence.net)


  1. Incredible work – thank you Karen and Xeni!

    I’m now wondering what would happen if BP declared bankruptcy to avoid charges and restitution.

    It looks like we just can’t afford this kind of drilling – in every way.

  2. Wow. Further evidence that they need to oust Tony Hayward asap. I really hope this makes it into the mainstream media.

  3. So it sounds like BP actually didn’t know where the oil was going to go, since they listed Plaquemines Parish at a 16% probability of effect after 30 days.

    1. mmm, but the report showed that they knew there were extremely high odds that Plaquemines would be hit.

  4. I haven’t been able to get both points on a map at the same time, but they are both MC sites (Mississippi Canyon) so relatively close.

  5. Maybe I shouldn’t be stopping at a BP convenience store to get Gatorade when I’m riding to work anymore.

  6. There is this growing meme being repeated in the right-wing echo-chamber that “it’s the environmentalist’s fault” (first Palin, and now Krauthammer are spreading the idea, and I’ve already seen it repeated in the comments on various blogs.) The reasoning seems to be that we drill so far out in the gulf because the environmentalists won’t let the oil companies drill along most of the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, nor in pristine wilderness lands like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That’s hogwash, of course: a catastrophic accident could happen in those places too, and even if we drilled in those places our thirst for oil knows no boundaries– we’d be in the deep Gulf of Mexico eventually anyway. Besides, it isn’t only environmentalists that don’t want oil rigs off our Pacific and Atlantic shores, it’s beach-goers boaters and fishermen and tourist boards too.

    When a pedestrian gets hit by a drunk driver you don’t blame the folks that put up the stop sign, you blame the drunk driver, and in this case it was British Petroleum; BP was negligent, and all the evidence points to it.

    1. “our thirst for oil knows no boundaries”

      The key word being “our”. And let’s not kid ourselves: this oil leak would be much easier to fix if it happened in 50 feet of water vs. 5000 feet.

      I love this snippet from this month’s Reason magazine: “But the problem today is the same as 100 years ago: the low energy density of batteries. Gasoline has, by weight, 80 times as much energy as the best lithium ion battery… electric cars are the Next Big Thing, and always will be.”

      1. There are many problems: the inefficiency of the internal-combustion engine kinda jumps out at ya.
        As does the fact that North America, with 3% of the world’s pop, emits 25% of the world’s greenhouse gases (IIRC).

  7. You know I’ll play devils advocate a tad.

    Accidents are going to happen. No matter how well you try and plan to avoid it, they will happen. The next best thing is to create a plan (which BP didn’t), make sure it’ll work, and have it ready or on hand to use.

    In most professions where you are dealing with things like:

    -other peoples property
    -other peoples data
    -company data
    -things that could cause make accidents (ie, dangerous chemicals, radioactive things, ect..)

    You take precautions to avoid a worse case scenario. Your servers run raid so you don’t loose data. You pay for insured upgraded shipping on valuables. You treat other people’s property like it was your own.

    Or perhaps I’m being to realistic. Given the size of most of the oil companies the management team is going to be a bit out of touch with reality. Getting paid 6 or 7 figures a year has a tendency to do that to people….

  8. @12 That’s true, but saying accidents happen doesn’t mean it makes any sense to throw out all the safety precautions so save a buck, like they did.

  9. We cannot trust corporations to manage this level of risk. BP and the Minerals Management Service were a cocktail away from disaster because of our misguided faith in the market. Only the direct representative of the stakeholders (the state) should be allowed to manage such a risk.

  10. What is the function of dispersants? To make the oil disappear? Out of sight, out of mind?

  11. If you wish to voice your opinions most directly, hopefully the list of emails, home, office, and cell phones should do some good.

    Page 111 of said document.

  12. I live in the red area. I won’t be able to sell my home. I won’t have a job. What exactly am I supposed to do?

  13. Comparing Zucker to Nixon because he was sweating was so over the top that I had to stop. FCS, he’s a geek deer in the spotlight. People are getting absurd about this stuff.

    The comments about what the social graph is are weird. Either the FB gang is getting high and fantasizing, or … there is no or.

  14. Point #1, when read in full in the blog post, makes sense. If accurate, BP went to quite a bit of work to predict where oil would go, and then didn’t really base their response on their own predictions. Point #3 also makes sense, and seems obvious.

    Point #2, however, doesn’t make sense. Things aren’t going to go back to normal after a worst-case scenario oil spill. It’s a worst-case scenario oil spill. You can try to make things better, but all the money in the world isn’t going to make everyone agree that the ecosystem is “back to normal.” Beninanto seems to be criticising BP for saying that it shouldn’t make promises it can’t keep, or that they shouldn’t do anything that in some cases might not result in things going back to normal. Would she prefer that they lie? Or make promises that would let unscrupulous lawyers take advantage of them? Or that no one ever take any risks?

    If an airplane crashes, the airline involved shouldn’t make promises about things being restored to normal for those involved, because things can’t be. That doesn’t mean that airlines shouldn’t operate. It does mean that they should take appropriate precautions, and respond to incidents appropriately and effectively: and that’s what matters here.

  15. So BP is doomed…it will be bankrupted and broken up and everyone will feel SO much better…but the execs will float away scot-free on their golden parachutes, none of them having been directly recorded telling underlings to ignore warnings, and having bought off the govt anyway.

    The workers, (who despite the assumptions of many do not dress in SS uniforms and hats made of pelican feathers) will be fired, adding to the unemployment in Louisiana.

    The lawyers overseeing the “execution” of BP will be lighting Cuban cigars with $1000 bills on their new yachts.

    But we’ll feel SO good that the Evil BP is no more.

  16. Blind faith in the free market reaches a fevered pitch and the oceans of earth are irreversibly damaged for the foreseeable of our species.

  17. Canadian drilling regulations require relief wells to be drilled simultaneously with production wells. That sounds like a good baseline from which to build a new regulatory structure.

    1. Well, Canadian drilling regulations did require relief wells to be drilled simultaneously with production wells, at least until December.

      Three days ago the Canwest News Service reported that

      The Harper government has watered down regulations governing oil drilling off Canada’s East Coast so that oil companies don’t need a backup plan to drill a relief well in the event of a blowout.

      More here: http://www.canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3781

  18. I’ve been reading the document. Uh, it’s not what you all seem to think it is.

    1st off, this is actually a pretty darn good document for what it is intended for: regular spills. Somebody opens the wrong valve, a tank gets punctured, that sort of stuff. A single incident involving 10’s to 1000’s of gallons. Not a catastrophic incident. This document is intended to cover 99.9% of spills the industry sees.

    It gives the guys in the field instructions on what to do, who to call, and so on. It’s the normal day-to-day manual on how to handle the normal screw ups. Doesn’t even imply the screw up are common, just the most likely to happen.

    What it is not: a guide on how to handle an uncapped well that has a failed blowout preventer spewing 10 times more oil per day than instructions in this document could rightfully manage. If you read the language, it’s clear that all the instructions, except for the one saying “stop the spill”, are written to be implemented after the cause of the spill is stopped.

    As an engineer, I’m actually rather impressed with this document. Clear, detailed, expansive, but still readable.

    Now you’d hope there is another document laying out what to do in a disaster situation. It might even be shorter. Since disasters can vary widely, you need some flexibility. So the plan might just say “Move your ass and call the experts. Do what they say!”

  19. You know I don’t blame BP at all. If you put out a cookie jar and don’t make any effort to watch it, train people how to use the cookie jar responsibly, provide a plan to clean up if the cookie jar breaks and cookies come spilling out then naturally something bad is going to happen.

    BP is just acting like any child that has access to goodies but no parents providing any guidance. As long as politicians are OK with taking money for looking the other way while making regulations, of course companies are going to do exactly this.

    I blame the government(s) – all the way back to Nixon for allowing the drilling in the first place without any oversight. It’s not like they didn’t know EXACTLY what would happen – since this EXACT same accident happening in the 70’s.

    It’s not surprising that no Federal agency is willing to step in as it would be obvious that they have no idea what to do. As Jeffrey S pointed out, it’s not like there is no precedent for safer drilling practices.

    If I were Obama, right after I released a copy of my birth certificate to shut up the idiot Repubs, I would be making a gigantic list of all of the previous administrations screw up (Repub and Democratic) and then saying the buck stops here and making some major new regulations.

    1. You know, when a policeman doesn’t stop a man from killing someone, that doesn’t make that man any less of a muderer. Our government is definitely at fault; that doesn’t somehow excuse the bastards at BP for being immoral enough to take advantage of it.

  20. There are a lot of interesting “lessons” to this story.

    1) The truth about greenwashing

    2)The effects of corrupting regulatory agencies

    3)The free market’s influence on the quality of decisions regarding preparation for negative externalities: here, and and here.

    All three of these factors are an anecdote reminding us that the invisible hand of free unregulated markets will not protect us from the negative externalities attending the risk avoidance that many corporate organizations perform in pursuit of profit. For BP to go out of business would not be a sufficient correction in cases like these and yet that is the most that free unregulated markets can offer us as an ultimate recompense.

  21. This is further documentation that BP knew how bad a total failure of this (or any) wellhead could become.

    However, the protection from personal liability that a corporation provides allowed them to take risks that were improper. (The type of risks that have killed people in the past and have not cost the company the ability to continue in this manner.)

    This is not a case of 20/20 hindsight.

    Deep water work is an environment that requires redundant backup systems to prevent a catastrophic outcome. (this is true of any extreme environment) These systems need to be maintained and tested to assure reliable function, not because of some regulatory agency requirement. To act in any other manner is simply ignoring reality.

    The corporate culture that treats the regulatory process as adversarial unless the cheapest process is also the permitted one discounts this concept.

    In a moment of frustration, the CEO of BP expressed a desire to “get his life back”. He has since apologized for that remark, but the truth of the matter is a lot of people lost much more than he ever will as a result of this event. Unless, of course, he was to lose his home, job, savings,food source, health (and the same for future generations of his family).

    Even if we were to divert all of the resources and assets of the corporations that brought us this nightmare, used them to work on this disaster until it was abated to the level of our technological ability, it would still be a disaster that required remediation.

    Unless of course you like having these products in your food chain…

    (expletive deleted)

  22. Hey …I found this story interesting, and under-reported IMHO: not the headline story, of the Judge selling his bond, but the story within the article: the sheer number of Federal Judges who have to step down, or recuse themselves, from hearing any of the cases being brought against BP, or the other corps involved in this tragedy: for reasons of being , well, part-owners or creditors of these companies: that is, they are share or bond-holders in the interested parties…which lest we forget include IIRC Trans Ocean – and Halliburton.
    Anyhow, here’s the link:


  23. About short list for tar and fethering.
    Why not start with the people in US local an federal athourities whose duty it is top protect the people and enviroment? They definitely have failed. Again and again.
    The purpose of taxes is among other to help insure against the future ills.
    The Money is usually not best used in peoples pockets. Neither the tax-payers or potiticians.

    1. So…you want to see the EPA dismantled, and no enforcement of environmental regulations at all?
      Start the purges with your Government, leave BP & Haliburton for last, eh?
      I’m sure GW Bush would have hammered those oil cos….or maybe with an Oil-co-friendly Prez, Haliburton would not have sabotaged this well in the first place…to create what Repubs call “Obama’s Katrina”…only this time unlike Katrina its man-made. It seems from this document BP and others had some idea of what would happen in a blow-out of this well…and this is one heck of a distraction from that 200-billion$$ giveaway to Wall Street of the $$ that ought to have been used by Gov for the Boomers’ old-age and from the continuing wars… Oh damn now my paranoia is showing.

  24. “electric cars are the Next Big Thing, and always will be.”

    Only until such time as enough people say “enough!!”. Then the law ends the time of the morons, and it’s make do with what’s safe. Else they’ll be killing us until there’s only sea and sand left.

    There is no other world for today or for a thousand tomorrows. Do they care what lives or dies? Only profit, even to grinding all the world’s bones, only profit. Who will stand for this?

  25. I understand that it’s become a hot topic amongst the Fundies. Saw it in Newsweek…


    And apparently it’s fueling the fever dreams of other denizens of Paranoia City:


    As to the “Free Market” memes, and this being a sign from the Book of Revelations that God will be coming soon to save all the faithful, I think Tom Waits had the right of it a few years ago when he spoke of Killers, Thieves and Lawyers:

    The worst thing is, people on the edge will believe this whackadoodle nonsense and waste months or years on it, instead of clearing it away to find a solution for themselves and family that would be more realistic. This is horrible, it has destroyed lives and livelihoods and left these families poorer, possibly for generations. When faced with that, you will grab for what comfort you can find, or what explanations you may hear. Right now, they are hearing these and other conspiracy theories from what they consider friendly sources, like Limbaugh (who suggested that it might be sabotage by eco-terrorists) and the FoxNews crowd (Sarah Palin has now posted that this is all the enviromentalists fault), which seem to mostly distract you or move the blame away from the Corporate and toward the White House.

    The only antidote to nonsense from charletons is reality-based solutions provided with good spirit by folks like you and me. It would be nice if we had a social safety net, but we got rid of that years ago, when Government was the Problem, not the solution.

  26. Heh heh heh…of course there is no evidence at all supporting my irresponsible and ridiculous assertions, above, which I clearly hope are taken as satirical & humorous: I just note that the MSM has maintained an almost-complete silence upon the role that Haliburton-supplied cement may have played in the blow-out.
    Meanwhile, there is a non-stop, apparently increasing, ‘drum-beat’ of “It is all Obama and the Environmentalist’s fault”,in the US Media.
    Funny: were it not so damned tragic.
    But it is not as tragic as the invasion of Iraq is proving to be. At least in terms of human, rather than the “just environmental”(although that IS very bad) death damage and suffering occurring in the Gulf of Mexico.
    And the invasion and occupation of Iraq, IIRC was a “god-send” to Haliburton’s bottom line. Upon whose Board of Directors Mrs.Cheney IIRC still sits – as she did throughout the time of her husbands’ Vice-Presidency.

  27. A link for some interesting further discussion of BP’s political dance to avoid paying more for this than it absolutely needs to:


    Although the Gulf oil blowout is a big problem, it really ought not to serve as a distraction from equally pressing issues.
    But I fear that there are opportunists: and that it IS proving an effective distraction, from other action – or non-action – which ought to also be occupying Americans’ attention.
    How the mal- or mis-feasance of BP and its partners can be said to be “Obama’s fault” is beyond me. I’ve heard the arguments for such an assertion: and all seem false.

  28. Finally, as a partial expiation for the unfounded and baseless assertions which I have made above (American politics remain, after all is said and done, foreign to me): a link to some serious science (and some IMO neato photos) being done on the water into the effects of this unfolding disaster:


    As to Americans getting paid for the damage done: on the bright side, BP is “as rich as can be” (to use a phrase I once heard Bill Clinton utter). They sure as hell are NOT “judgment-proof”.

  29. From the linked page above, another hopeful fact:

    “[Q.] Are the conditions good for the microbes that can degrade these types of hydrocarbons?

    [A.] Right now, conditions seem to be ideal for microbial degradation.”

    Hooray for the microbes!

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