Greg Palast on BP (Part 1)

05/28/10 Kate Bradshaw
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With Deepwater Horizon hogging international headlines, you may have missed another BP-related oil spill that happened just this week.

On Tuesday, a BP pipeline in Alaska shot 100,000 gallons of crude onto the land. Journalist Greg Palast has been called the most important investigative reporter of our time. His bestselling titles include Armed Madhouse and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy. He also reports for the BBC Television. Twenty years ago, Palast investigated BP’s management of the Alaska Pipeline system for Alaska Natives whose shores were poisoned by oil from the Exxon Valdez.

Today he spoke with WMNF about BP’s role in the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989, and said this and Deepwater Horizon were not isolated incidents.

>I was the investigator on the Exxon Valdez grounding for the natives who own the shoreline — the Chugach Natives of Alaska. I was looking into allegations of fraud. And after three years I concluded that while Exxon should not be let off the hook — they did some really bad stuff — the main responsibility for destroying the Alaska coastline rests with British Petroleum. It's an unknown story. The problem is not that the tanker ran aground; it should not have. But tankers do ground; oil wells do blow out. The issue is oil spill response, as Obama has recently said and belatedly understands. If you can have a grounding — the Exxon Valdez should not have been a problem. We should never even have heard about this thing; we shouldn't even be talking about it twenty years later. It should have been a two-day story. Ship runs aground, and what you do is put rubber around it.

*There's no rocket science in controlling an oil spill or a well blowout. You put big rubber skirts around the area, and you take skimmer ships and suck the oil out of the enclosed area. In the case of the Exxon Valdez, British Petroleum, which was in charge of the shipping route, had promised, in writing, that they would have just miles of this rubber skirting, this rubber boom, as they call it, on Bligh Island. The ship ran aground on Bligh Reef — literally, the emergency equipment was supposed to be right there. But in fact, British Petroleum lied. They just made it up, because they figured, “Who's gonna check? Way out in the cold there, there's nothing there but seals, icebergs, and natives.”*

They also — you also need a spill response team, just like a fire department, when something goes wrong. They had one; it was manned by the natives of Alaska. And then they fired the natives of Alaska to save money. More BP penny pinching; you don't put out the safety equipment, you don't keep the 24-hour crews. The natives were literally watching the ship run aground. They no longer had the authority, or the equipment, nor the rubber skirting, to have surrounded the ship. They could have done it; you would have never read about or remembered the Exxon Valdez.

Same in, by the way, the Gulf. British Petroleum is supposed to have miles of rubber booms. The Navy, in fact, five days later found twelve miles of rubber boom. If you know anything about — if you remember your arithmetic from third grade, you would know that that would be enough rubber to put a mile-and-a-half-radius circle aground the Deepwater Horizon; none of that, almost none of that oil, would have hit the shores of the Gulf Coast. And it could have been skimmed out. But they didn't have the equipment. They did it in Alaska, and they did it in the Exxon case; and they made the same mistake, all based on trying to save money in the Gulf.

And in between, they let — to save money again, they let the pipeline, the 800-mile pipeline from the North Slope to Valdez, corrode. And they had — this week, they had a hundred-thousand-gallon spill. But you know, that used to be big news, a hundred-thousand-gallon oil spill. Now you've got another BP operation, but you know, when the whole coast, the Gulf Coast, is being slimed, who even notices a hundred thousand gallons?

Q. I wanted to ask you about that. Pre-Deepwater Horizon, if this would have happened, what would the coverage have been like?

Well, it would have been big coverage. I mean, you know, it might not have taken over all the screaming headlines, but I'm sure you would have had stories in every one of the national newspapers, at least a small story, and certainly big in Alaska. But the — and it would have, you know, gotten the attention of government. But at this moment, you know — and in fact, that's one of the dangers, that we now speak of a hundred-thousand-gallon spill as like, “Well, big deal.” That's a problem, because it's also indicating that BP, for all its promises, cannot say that Deepwater Horizon was a terrible but isolated incident. They are responsible for the Exxon Valdez disaster; they are responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster; they are responsible fort the Texas refinery explosion, one of the worst industrial accidents in American history. And they are responsible for endless leaks, corrosion, problems, breakdowns, on the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

And now they want to build another pipeline, to run gas, and they want to, you know, keep filling hat old, corroded pipeline with new oil which would be drilled offshore — originally by Shell Oil, but it would be running through BP pipeline. Not that I trust Shell much more than BP, but I can tell you right now that BP has just a terrible history. I fear for extending the life of that pipeline another two decades while we continue to suck oil through a straw that has leaks in it.

You can hear part two of this interview on the WMNF Evening News next week.

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