With a naiveté reminiscent of the Bush administration, BP officials are claiming that the apocalyptic failure of its deepwater exploratory rig was unforeseeable, unprecedented and inconceivable. On Sunday, BP press flack Steve Rinehart — hired from the Anchorage Daily News after a mega-spill from a damaged Prudhoe Bay BP pipeline in March 2006 — even evoked the “I don’t think anybody” excuse that was the hallmark of the Bush administration’s attempts to deflect blame for their catastrophes:
“I don’t think anybody foresaw the circumstance that we’re faced with now.” — BP spokesman Steve Rinehart [AP 5/2/10]
“I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.” — Condoleezza Rice [CNN, 5/16/02]
“The sort of occurrence that we’ve seen on the Deepwater Horizon is clearly unprecedented.” — BP spokesman David Nicholas [AP 4/30/10]
“I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached. And as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we are having to deal with it and will.” — President George W. Bush [GMA, 9/1/05]
BP did not build containment devices before disaster because it “seemed inconceivable” the blowout preventer would fail. — BP spokesman Steve Rinehart [AP 5/2/10]
“I don’t think anybody anticipated the level of violence that we’ve encountered. I guess the other area that I look at, in terms of an area where I think we were faced with difficulties we didn’t anticipate was the devastation that 30 years of Saddam’s rule had wrought, if you will, on the psychology of the Iraqi people.” — Vice President Dick Cheney, 6/19/06
Just as there were warnings about terrorists using planes as bombs, the threat of hurricanes to New Orleans, and post-invasion violence in Iraq, the BP failure was entirely conceivable and foreseeable:
Failures of blowout preventers and actual blowouts are common. Between 1992 and 1998 there were 319 failures of blowout preventers found in US offshore drilling, an average of 45 a year. [MMS, 1999] Between 1992 and 2006 there were at least 39 blowouts off the US coastline, 38 of them in the Gulf of Mexico. [MMS, 7/07] From 2007 to 2009 there were 19 blowouts, all in the Gulf of Mexico. [MMS]
The largest accidental oil spill in history was a Gulf of Mexico exploratory rig blowout. On June 3, 1979, the exploratory well IXTOC I blew out and ignited, burning down the platform. Divers later activated the blowout preventer to no avail.The well continued to spill oil at a rate of 10,000 to 30,000 barrels per day until it was finally capped on March 23, 1980. [NOAA]
A major offshore blowout followed by a two-month spill occurred in 2009. In “one of Australia’s worst oil disasters,” a PTTEP oil rig blew out in the Montara oil field on August 21, 2009. Efforts to control the leaking rig set it on fire on November 1st, two days before the leak was finally plugged. Official estimates of the leak rate were five times higher than those of the oil company. [Wikipedia]
A ‘spill of national significance’ exercise in 2002 concerned a major rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Adm. Thad Allen led a “spill of national significance” exercise in 2002 that dealt with the scenario of an oil rig exploding off the coast of Louisiana, with an “uncontrollable discharge” of oil that lasted for a month. These training exercises take place every three years as mandated by the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, the most recent of which occurred in March, 2010.
Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry, who led the crisis response until Adm. Thad Allen took over on Friday, called BP “a very responsible spiller” the day before.