Socialist Worker

BP’s Gulf oil cleanup harms workers

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2208

BP took Allen “Rookie” Kruse’s livelihood. In response he took his own life. His suicide last week is just one tragic example of the devastation that BP continues to cause.

Allen was captain of a charter fishing boat that used to take out groups of 30 on fishing expeditions. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded on 20 April, killing 11 workers and beginning an environmental catastrophe, destroyed his livelihood.

The disaster has wrecked the fishing industry and covered the coast in oil.

The only way to make any money was to join up with BP’s “Vessels of Opportunity” programme where ships search for oil.

After hours of searching for oil, Rookie would return in a daze.

“The first day he came back, I said, ‘Hey Rookie, what’d you think?’” said Courtney Williams, his friend.

“He said his mind was so messed up he couldn’t even think.”

Over the next two weeks, Kruse became more reserved. He lost 30 pounds in weight.

After he shot himself, BP sent grief counsellors to the area to distribute a handbook called “Coping with Technological Disasters”.

Hurricane

Over 168 workers who have taken part in the oil cleanup for BP are seriously ill so far. And the cleanup isn’t working.

At the site of the disaster, more than 60 ships are trying to capture the oil, burn it, disperse it with dangerous chemicals or even throw it back in the sea.

Two giant rigs are drilling relief wells before a hurricane forces everyone to scatter to calmer waters. The relief rigs and ships can’t ride out a major storm.

Meanwhile the oil keeps on gushing at a rate 70 times higher than BP initially claimed.

Last week a robot submarine knocked a cap off the well, halting attempts to siphon off about half the oil flow.

The relief rigs, so far, have drilled 11,000 feet below the sea floor. The idea is to pump mud and cement into the well to clog the hole.

But no one knows the condition of the well. Charles West, a geophysicist who worked on relief wells, says that it’s likely that the bottom of the well has eroded around the steel casing.

If that’s true, he said, drilling into the casing would be “like trying to chase a strand of spaghetti around with a spoon.”

The cleanup operation on shore is no better. Along the northern Gulf coast, where miles of beaches have remained coated with oil for weeks, disposal is haphazard at best.

The “cleanup” has produced 1,300 tons of solid waste.

Mounds of oily sand and rubbish are scattered across three states. The debris isn’t classified as hazardous waste, so it can be placed in landfills that accept ordinary household rubbish.

And it isn’t only in the US that protection of people’s health and the environment is so flagrantly disregarded.

Lib Dem energy and climate secretary Chris Huhne announced plans to increase environmental inspections of North Sea oil rigs in the wake of the BP disaster. But the government is cutting the number of inspectors!

Currently six inspectors are responsible for investigating and enforcing environmental standards on the 24 drilling rigs and 280 oil and gas production installations in Britain’s part of the North Sea.

Last year they carried out 69 inspections, of which eight were of drilling rigs. Now, as part of the government’s drive against “onerous” health and safety laws, it will cut health and safety inspectors nationally.

The government is giving millions of pounds in tax breaks to oil companies seeking to develop the deep waters off the west coast of the Shetland Isles. Two deep sea rigs will start in the Autumn—one of them owned by BP.


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News
Tue 29 Jun 2010, 18:49 BST
Issue No. 2208
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