The BP oil blowout: the dividends of decades of deregulation and neo-liberalism

by Eric Gordon, August 5, 2010

For months, people the world over watched in horror as the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster unfolded. They watched in distress for the workers killed during the explosion, for the livelihood of the Gulf coast region, for the beaches and delicate estuaries, for the Gulf sea life. People have been rapt as one after another attempt to collect the oil and stem the gusher failed. And they've been enraged as more information has come out about BP's (formerly British Petroleum) dismal record of compliance with safety and environmental rules, as well as their arrogance, lies and coverups regarding this disaster. The disaster has also exposed the inadequacy of government safety and environmental protection rules, and the extent to which government is in the back pocket of industry.

BP drilling on the cheap

In the weeks and months before the disaster, BP made numerous critical decisions on the basis that the well was behind schedule and costing BP $750,000 a day including rent for the Deepwater Horizon rig at $500,000 a day:

Each of these (and more) decisions was based on the effort to get the well producing quickly in the drive for profits, repeatedly ignoring worker safety and environmental consequences.

BP's response

Lies about the size of the gusher

Ever since April 20th, BP has done its utmost to obscure how much oil has poured into the Gulf of Mexico with the collusion of the Obama Administration. For example, both BP and the government stuck to a low-ball estimate of 42,000 gallons (1000 barrels) a day, and then upped it to 210,000 gallons (5000 barrels), holding to these preposterous estimates long after it was obvious that the gusher was many times worse than that. Reflecting broad anger with the lies of BP and the government, one scientist wryly offered: "If it's beyond their technical capability [to estimate the size], the whole world is ready to help them."(2)

BP made its estimates using the size of the surface slick, despite the fact that it was dispersing much of the oil below the surface, keeping the oil from rising to the surface. And in fact, internal BP documents show that BP's actual estimates were that 2.5 million gallons of oil a day were pouring into the Gulf from the start.(3) (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's early worst case estimates were in that same range, even while the Obama Administration was using BP's 5000 barrel figure.(4))

Initially, BP wouldn't release any video of the spewing well. When pressed, they released a very brief clip of low-definition video, making an accurate scientific estimate very difficult. However, finally they were pressed into releasing the high-definition video they had been recording all along, allowing scientists to estimate that somewhere between 1.5 and 4.2 million gallons were being released from the top of the well each day. This figure doesn't include the oil apparently leaking up through the seabed floor.

Accepting BP's own internal estimates, 217 million gallons were released between the blowout and the closure of the well cap. Taking high-end independent estimates, it's 365 million gallons. That amount rivals the biggest release of oil ever, when retreating Iraqis deliberately opened their wells during the First Iraq War, which is estimated to have released 250 to 330 million gallons of oil. The official government estimate for the total is just over 200 million gallons, which is likely a lowball estimate. This is the figure that would be used to set fines, but of course it remains to be seen whether BP will be charged the $21 billion this equates to.

Failed attempts to stanch the flow

BP tried several methods to stanch the flow a "top hat" containment dome, a siphon, and "top kill" by injecting cement into the well head. Each of these methods failed in turn. Then they placed a small dome on the well head from which they siphoned a small portion of the gusher. Of the hundred plus million gallons, BP claims that it collected or burned about 50 million gallons a drop in the bucket, even if the figure can be trusted.

BP has now capped the well and closed the valves on that cap. Prior to starting the test, they stated that the indication that they had successfully closed the well would be that the pressure rose over the next 48 hours would rise to 89000 pounds per square inch. Readings of 6000 psi or lower would indicate that the well casing was blown, and oil was escaping into the surrounding rock. After 48 hours, the pressure had only risen to 6700 psi, but BP execs declared that this was a success. The bourgeois news media have emphasized that the "spill-cam" showing oil coming out of the top of the blowout preventer shows no more oil entering the Gulf. However, BP's remotely operated vehicles surveying the seabed floor around the well show significant plumes of oil spewing around the well. This would indicate that the well casing is indeed blown.(5)

Now, almost four months after the disaster began, BP is sealing the well via "static kill".(6) This may permanently end the nightmare of oil flowing into the Gulf, though it remains to be sen whether it also stops the oil coming up through the ocean floor. There is some disagreement whether the static kill operation alone is sufficient, or whether static kill plus finishing the relief wells is needed. The relief wells will allow BP to inject cement into the well deep below the ocean floor (this operation is called "bottom kill"). Even before the cap was put in place, oil was leaking up through the ocean floor in many places around the well. If the well integrity has indeed failed, there is some question whether the relief wells are the certain bet they've been made out to be.

Disregard for workers' safety

BP has a history of disregard for workers' safety. The 11 men who were killed when the explosion occurred are only the latest victims of BP's drive for profits. In two separate disasters at BP refineries, 30 workers were killed and more than 200 were seriously injured. Since 2007, BP received 760 "willful, egregious safety violations" from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, vastly more than any other oil company.(7) Yet the neo-liberal doctrine meant that BP was allowed to continue to operate, in the face of this appalling record.

Since the April 20th explosion, BP has also showed willful disregard for the well-being of the workers cleaning up the mess. They have hired contractors for the cleanup, companies which treat their workers little better than prisoners. They are housed in tent cities or in "floatels" stacked shipping containers on a barge to save expenses. They're prohibited from speaking to the press, pay is withheld for days, or even never paid. In other cases, they've hired actual prison labor, despite the crying need of the coastal residents for work as a result of this disaster.(8)

In an effort to control the television images of this disaster, BP has refused to supply its workers with safety equipment, including gas masks, and workers have reported that they were threatened with firing if they did wear one. When workers became sickened by the oil and dispersant fumes, BP denied it was related to the oil cleanup. Hospitalized workers were stripped and hosed down before they were allowed to enter the hospital for treatment, to prevent the hospital from testing their clothing or skin for contaminants.(9) In early July, Dr. O'Shea, the official doctor for BP's medical response to the spill, admitted that there have been 1500 workers who have reported sickened or injured (the majority probably due to toxic fumes) and treated by the BP clinics.(10), but the real number who have or will experience ill effects is no doubt much higher. And some unknown number of sickened workers are hospitalized in a BP-controlled facility, where reporters are not allowed access. (11)

Disregard for the environment

The shortcuts BP took to get the well into production have already led to the despoliation of huge parts of the Gulf, and oil has already entered the Loop Current, which flows out of the Gulf and north along the east coast of the U.S. This alone will have a lasting devastating effect on the environment of the Gulf and beyond. Oil slicks and tarballs have soiled extensive beaches and sensitive wetlands from Florida to Texas. Many of the oil-damaged wetlands were already severely compromised by years of destructive flood control on the Mississippi and the cutting of over 10,000 miles of shipping channels, much of it by oil companies operating in the Gulf.

The EPA had also been measuring levels of benzene and other volatile organic compounds in the air in an around New Orleans, and reports that benzene levels are one to three hundred times higher than normal background levels.(12) Benzene is extremely toxic and even short term exposure can cause agonizing death from cancerous lesions years later. Scientists have also been measuring methane levels in the water, finding as much as 100,000 times over normal levels.(13)

BP also sprayed an unprecedented 1.2 million gallons of the dispersant Corexit both on the surface from planes, and underwater at the wellhead. Sprayed from the air, it has been drifting onshore sickening coastal residents and killing crops and wild animals. Sprayed beneath the ocean it has resulted in vast, state-sized plumes of oil and dispersant underwater. These plumes have resulted in vast dead zones following blooms of oil-eating bacteria. It is unknown how these plumes will behave, though some scientists speculate they may remain suspended in the water for 300 years.(14) Corexit is a bio-accumulative neuro-toxin significantly more toxic than oil, and the mixture of oil and Corexit is more toxic than either substance alone.(15) There are also indications that Corexit is far more toxic when exposed to sunlight than in the laboratory conditions under which it is tested.

And no independent analysis of the real side effects of the dispersant is possible, because the formula is a trade secret. It is known that Corexit itself is severely destructive of coastal ecosystems. The EPA initially gave the go-ahead to use it this way, with no understanding of what such use might mean for the environment. As information has come out about the severe toxicity of Corexit, the EPA told BP to stop using Corexit and choose another dispersant and BP simply refused.(16)

And while much of the bourgeois media has tended to claim that the number of birds and fish killed is minimal, there are reports that actually, huge quantities of sea life have died.(17) Vast swaths of the Gulf are now devoid of life. Local residents report seeing huge lines of carcases dolphins, whales, fish, birds dead or dying in the Gulf or washed up on beaches. They also report that these are often quickly spirited away by cleanup crews in unmarked vans, dumped in dumpsters, burned, or even trucked across the border into Mexico. In addition to lessening the public relations impact, covering up the true scale of the devastation to wildlife has another purpose: every animal killed by the disaster could lead to added fines against BP if they were counted.

The blowout and gusher have been so disastrous in part because BP had no actual plan in place for dealing with a spill of any magnitude but the smallest. This has meant that while millions upon millions of gallons of oil are pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, BP was left with a slow process of trial and error, making up each next step up as the previous one failed. BP exec Doug Suttles admitted as much when he said "The problem is I've had to take these steps to learn the things I've learned": the real problem is that the Gulf of Mexico is being destroyed while he "learns".

And while BP may have the worst record for safety violations, the whole oil industry has a lax approach to oil cleanup planning. As an example, in their oil cleanup plan for this well, BP listed cold-water species such as walruses as one of the species they plan to protect from oil damages. This plan was submitted to the infamously corrupt Minerals Management Service, which rubber stamped it to give BP the go-ahead for the well. And it has come out that many other oil companies' plans included this same goof.

In addition to shipping in cleanup workers just for Obama's photo ops a charade which the Administration clearly colluded in and in addition to prohibiting cleanup workers from using protective gear so news images don't remind viewers of the toxicity of the mess there are reports that BP has been trucking in sand to cover up oil on beaches, rather than actually cleaning it up.(18) Even if sand isn't being trucked in, BP is instructing cleanup workers to clean up only the surface oil, and not dig down to buried layers that blanket many beaches.(19) With the Coast Guard's assistance, BP has been blocking reporters from filming the worst oil slicks and beaches. As well, BP has been buying up Gulf scientists, not for their possible expertise in Gulf cleanup, but to prevent them from publicizing any research into the effects of the disaster and to defend BP from lawsuits.(20)

Within a few weeks after BP closed the valves on the well cap, BP started to close up its cleanup operations. The press declared that the oil was dissolving faster than anyone expected, and worked to give the impression that the whole incident had been overblown, that people had been hysterical about the significance. Obama declared that the "battle is finally close to coming to an end". Yet, more oil was released into the environment in this disaster than any other accidental release in the history of the world, and it hasn't just "disappeared" now. Some has evaporated, resulting in the yellow haze hanging over the Gulf. Some has washed onto beaches, where it remains cleanup workers have only cleaned the most surface layers of oil. And much of it is dissolved into the ocean, where it continues to kill. Some has sunk to the bottom of the Gulf.(21) The unprecedented quantities of dispersant are also continuing to wreak havoc, killing sea life and lending a sickly green hue to the now-dead waters. These effects show that it is nowhere near time to shut down the cleanup operations and go home.

These facts give the lie to BP's green pretense. Their concern for the environment goes no farther than their hollow marketing phrase: "Beyond Petroleum".

The Obama administration's stance

This disaster is Obama's Katrina. Like Bush, Obama failed to respond anywhere near adequately to protect the interests of the people harmed by the disaster, or the environment, or to mount an effective response. Instead, he has been focused on protecting BP's profits, and striking the right "presidential" pose.

All along, a shill for Big Oil

At the start of his Administration, Obama nominated Ken Salazar, a longtime advocate of offshore drilling, to head the Interior Department, claiming that he would reform the notoriously corrupt Minerals Management Service. But, a year and a half into his term, Salazar had moved to prosecute some of the rank criminality that was rampant at MMS, but did nothing to modify its orientation as obedient servant of industry. It was MMS under the Obama Administration which rubber stamped this BP well and its bogus "spill" cleanup plan, and waived the required environmental impact statement, on BP's word that a spill of any size was extremely unlikely. The MMS has routinely allowed oil industry officials to fill out their own inspection reports. Since the start of the disaster, several cosmetic changes have been made in the MMS, however MMS is still approving the sale of hundreds of new drilling tracts including thirteen to BP while requiring the same contingency planning that it required prior to this disaster: none at all.(22)

Three weeks before the blowout, Obama announced plans to open much of the east coast, and protected areas in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico to new offshore drilling.(23) It took a full month of the unfolding disaster for him to put those plans on hold. In justifying that decision, Obama lied: "Oil rigs today generally don't cause spills. . . . Even during Katrina, the spills didn't come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore". (24) Actually, the Minerals Management Service (MMS) reports that 124 spills occurred during Katrina and Rita, resulting in 740,000 gallons of oil spilled from platforms, rigs and pipelines.(25)

In a move calculated to appear decisive, after the disaster Obama announced a six-month moratorium on exploratory drilling at 21 wells.(26) But this had no effect on the thousands of active platforms in the Gulf of Mexico,(27) many of which were licensed under the same lax procedures used for the Deepwater Horizon well. The oil industry sued and won an end to the moratorium, saying that the ban was destroying an "ecosystem of businesses". The judge in the case had significant holdings in a number of deep water drilling enterprises.(28) An appeals court also sided with the oil industry. And the Obama-appointed commission to "investigate" the disaster also demanded that the ban be lifted. But all this represents nothing more than haggling over a tiny portion of the thousands of unregulated wells operating in the Gulf of Mexico.

As well, Obama's Immigration and Customs Enforcement has raided cleanup work sites checking for undocumented immigrants working to clean the beaches.(29) These raids assist BP in exploiting the cleanup workers and keeping them in terrible conditions.

In response to the disaster, populist pretense . . .

Obama announced the creation of a National Commission to investigate the causes of the disaster. Oh great, the Gulf is being destroyed, quick, set up a commission! As if BP's blatant disregard for health, safety and the environment was some kind of mystery. As if the bipartisan neo-liberal religion of deregulation was a mystery. But then, this commission isn't going to look into the real causes.

As popular anger mounted toward both BP and Obama, Obama shifted his talking points, repeating that he is "angry" and talking about "whose ass" he's going to kick. And when his Administration was criticized for leaving BP in charge, Obama started emphasizing that the Federal government is "in charge", and that BP is taking orders from the government. However, on the ground the joke is that the Coast Guard should be renamed "BP Guard".

Obama, top cash recipient from BP during the 2008 campaign, repeated as fact their claims about how soon they will stop the gusher despite BP's repeated lies. He also claimed that BP's failures in stemming the leak were because "there has never been a leak this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology", when the real problem is that BP took reckless shortcuts and never had a plan in place to deal with a spill of any size, and his Administration never required one.

Then, forty days into the disaster, as world outrage grew, and long after everyone else knew that BP had willfully ignored numerous laws, Attorney General Holder announced that they would be "investigating" whether any laws were violated but later "clarified" when it was pointed out that his announcement of a criminal investigation caused BP's stock to fall: "For people to conclude that BP is the focus of this investigation might not be correct".(30) In other words, he's trying to minimize the impact of any criminal charges he's forced to bring on BP's profits.

. . . while protecting BP at all costs

Legally there is no limit to BP's liability to fishers, shrimpers and others in the area if they are found to have acted with criminal negligence, which would be likely if their criminality were prosecuted. So Obama negotiated with BP a $20 billion escrow fund to pay its liabilities. Obama portrayed this as a move to protect those harmed by BP. But his own appointed administrator of the account, Kenneth Feinberg, revealed its true purpose when he said, "Investors in BP should know that there's now an alternative to the litigation system in place. I think that's a really helpful sign if you're an investor".(31)

Estimates are that a full cleanup and restitution would require all of BP's assets and more, and the families of the workers who were murdered by BP's criminal behavior; the people whose livelihoods have been ruined; the ordinary people who care about the Gulf environment many of whom have called for BP's assets to be seized might well disagree that the escrow fund is "a helpful sign". These are the people who will run into limitations on their claims, red tape and delays in Feinberg's effort to keep BP viable.

Not only in the financial realm, but also in the realm of public relations, the Obama Administration has taken an aggressive stand in support of BP. All along, the Coast Guard and other government entities have taken a big role in preventing reporters from filming oil slicks, oiled beaches, and dead and dying wildlife, and they passed rules barring anyone from coming within 65 feet of any oil boom or cleanup ship without prior permission. Violation of the rule is a felony subject to a fine of $40,000.(32) This blackout made it harder for people to film oil-soaked wildlife and shoreline, or oil-soaked oil booms left in the water and not replaced.

Establishment environmental groups' response

Given the devastating effect of this gusher on the environment of the Gulf of Mexico and beyond, one might expect all environmental groups to be on the front lines of criticism of BP's negligence and lax attitude about drilling, and vigorously monitoring the cleanup of the oil. But the disaster has brought out differences within the environmental movement. While some groups have been adamant in their opposition to BP and the government response, the establishment groups have been restrained in their response.

Establishment environmental groups such as the Nature Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Audubon, and others, are in large part bankrolled by large polluters who want to greenwash themselves. For example, BP has donated $10 million in cash and land contributions to The Nature Conservancy over the years, and $2 million to Conservation International.(33) Shell and Exxon Mobil are also big donors to these groups. Many big environmental groups also maintain "business partnerships" with BP. Several of these groups have executives of the worst-polluting companies sitting on their boards. In the wake of this disaster it has become clear that these dealings were kept from the rank and file membership.

The Nature Conservancy uses the euphemism "working with the energy industry" to describe this compromised position, and argues that anyone who drives a car is a "supporter of the oil industry", and anyone who objects to environmental groups being in bed with the polluters must also insist that everyone stop driving!(34)

In direct response to the disaster, these groups suggest limited, individualist activity, such as volunteering, donating money, passing on their articles, supporting their lobbying of bourgeois politicians, writing letters to Obama, and other tame, "respectable" (and ineffective) activities. Beyond that, they suggest individual lifestyle changes such as taking "staycations", carpooling and combining shopping with commute drives. These groups aren't oriented toward more effective actions, such as building up a truly mass independent environmental movement to fight for broad policy changes in the funding of mass transit, in real regulatory oversight of oil drilling, and in the building of real green energy sources (not nuclear or "clean" coal).

As one would expect from a group that is in bed with the oil companies, The Nature Conservancy also has a position on reducing carbon emissions that would benefit the oil companies and be ineffective in reducing greenhouse gasses.(35) Cap and Trade is a complex scheme which would likely give the worst polluters the biggest licenses to pollute, allow polluters to "offset" their emissions with cheap projects which may do little or nothing to alleviate global warming, and allow polluters to offset real pollution with fictional reductions in pollution from future projects. The main thing going for Cap and Trade is that it preserves profits for dirty energy companies like BP.(36)

Other establishment groups, such as The Sierra Club, argue that the "cap and giveaway" approach in which permits are given away for free to the worst polluters is a problem, but that the plan would be fine if it was a "cap and auction" system.(37) They note that the European Union had serious problems implementing an effective cap and trade system, and say the EU is shifting toward "no longer relying so much on market mechanisms to bring about crucial, rapid emissions reductions", but immediately after saying this, they assert that "A U.S. national cap-and-auction system could be an effective way of reducing our global warming pollution" as long as it is structured in certain ways. Yet, their list of tweaks and pious hopes has nothing to do with addressing the failures of the EU market-based system that they have just admitted to. While cap and auction looks less prostrate before Big Oil on the surface, the main problems with the trade scheme would remain, and the main thrust is still to create a new market in which the polluters would make money.

Fight the catastrophe -- build a working-class environmental movement!

So, as the Gulf of Mexico has been polluted by hundreds of millions of gallons of oil, BP worked hard to cover their ass, lied repeatedly about the size and effects of this disaster, and spent precious time"learning" how to control a gusher at this depth. Obama spent his time trying to strike the right pose of "anger", while seeking to mute public outrage, shilling for BP and trying to limit their liability. And of course the Republicans stumble over themselves to prostrate themselves before Big Oil. And finally, the establishment environmental groups are all in bed with BP and the other polluters.

This is in stark contrast to the masses of people whose livelihoods have been indefinitely disrupted by the oil, and those across the country and the world, who want to see the oil cleaned up, and are angered by the unpreparedness of BP and the government to deal with the disaster. They want to see full compensation to those harmed by BP's willful neglect, and full restoration of the Gulf. How, then, should the masses press their demands? What approach will most benefit the workers and poor in this case?

We need to lay out clear demands:

Already the mass outrage at BP has led to protests, many of them called by independent environmental groups, demanding the seizure of BP assets, criminal prosecution, full compensation of everyone affected, and a full cleanup of all of the oil. These are a good start.

We must also demand that the government take over the well and the oil cleanup. The costs should be paid by BP, but organized by the government. The Obama Administration's insulting claim that BP is the only one with the expertise to handle it has been shown to be utterly false by BP's willful disregard and repeated blunders and lies. They clearly lack the expertise, and they are scofflaws and criminals. In response to the anger after the Exxon-Valdez wreck, Exxon made a show of cleaning the beaches, paying people to wipe oil off individual stones. But when the news cameras stopped rolling, the cleanup crews were sent home. Now 20 years later there is still toxic residue of that oil soiling the beaches in Prince William Sound. A real cleanup of the BP oil won't happen unless there is sustained demand from the masses for the cleanup to be complete.

Secondly, there are many in the community with far greater expertise than BP in the environmental effects and the cleanup of oil. The masses should demand that the government assemble an army of independent environmental activists and organizations (those uncompromised by ties to the polluters) concerned with and expert in the field of wetlands and ocean environment, to manage the cleanup. Independent organizations should also be brought into the effort to aid the workers and families harmed by the spill they'd have an interest in making sure those harmed get fully compensated, unlike Feinberg, the man in charge of administering the $20 billion escrow fund, whose only interest is in saving BP money and reassuring BP investors.

We need to demand an end to offshore drilling. As the BP disaster makes clear that it cannot be done safely. It was just a matter of tiime before such a disaster occurred. Given the fact of global warming, we need to be focused on ending the use of oil, not on extracting it from more and more difficult places. While Big Oil has the weight it does, the bourgeois politicians won't challenge its "right" to profit at the expense of everyone, which to them trumps broader environmental concerns. Therefore it is up to the masses to demand such critical changes.

We must also demand an end to the laissez-faire policies of recent decades. We need to demand the reconstruction of the regulatory agencies, with a mission to truly regulate. Inspections are a critical part of regulation. If there had been inspectors whose job it was to root out problems on the wells in the Gulf of Mexico, they would have seen plenty of warning signs that BP was shortcutting safety measures. If these had been caught, the disaster could be been prevented. But to be effective such regulation must be overseen by the masses, who aren't going to jump in bed with industry.

Another important aspect of regulating deep water drilling worth mentioning is the need to open channels for workers to speak freely to inspectors, since it is the workers who are most intimately familiar with the drilling operations. For example, the worker who brought the damaged blowout preventer gasket to the attention of his supervisor and was brushed off, might have been willing to speak to the press if he was certain that he wouldn't be treated as the criminal. In fact, a survey of workers on the Deepwater Horizon before the explosion showed that many were concerned about safety problems, but felt they couldn't report issues without facing reprisals .(38) However, the Obama Administration has been more aggressive in prosecuting whistleblowers than the Bush Administration was.(39) Whistleblowers need general protection from retaliation. It's the execs who endanger the environment, and cover up their malfeasance who should be prosecuted.

We need proletarian-oriented environmental organization:

Regulations and policy changes alone, absent an organized fighting working class, would have no chance of being enacted, and even if enacted, would be ignored or overridden on the ground, just as numerous regulations were ignored in this disaster. To be meaningful such regulations would require oversight by the working class, because it is the working class which is in a position to oversee the carrying out of new policy. And for this demand to mean anything, we must organize the working class to carry out such oversight.

Therefore, environmental organizations which are not tied with a thousand strings to the big polluters need to be strengthened, and we need to fight to build up their continued independence from capitalist control and pro-capitalist policies. And within them, we need to build up expressly working-class trends. Such trends could lead the fight to continually denounce the capitalist exploitation that results in the trashing of the environment. They could draw links between capitalist exploitation and trashing of the environment to the exploitation and abuse of the workers. Such an orientation also applies to organizations which can fight for restitution to the workers harmed and other effects, long and short term, of this disaster.

Even the definition of what constitutes an environmental question needs to be reoriented toward the interests of the workers. Very closely tied to questions of what comes out of various industrial operations into the external environment is the question of the internal workplace environment and the use of toxic substances there.

If it is forced to enact regulations to protect the environment, the ruling class will try to make the workers pay for their impact, in job losses, lower pay, and other ways. Therefore, we also need to build the kind of organizations capable of demanding that the costs for such regulation be placed on the polluting industries, not the masses.

Certain necessary changes cannot be brought about without economic planning:

Many environmental regulations of the past were put in place during a period of upsurge in the mass movements of the sixties and seventies. Ever since the wane of those movements, the bourgeoisie has been steadily eroding these regulations, to the point where many of the agencies are empty shells or have been captured by the corporations they were set up to regulate. It will take the resurgence of the mass movements again to effectively demand the creation of new regulatory forces. But these cannot simply be the recreation of the agencies of old. The environmental problems we face today are different from those of the past. And thus, the regulatory mechanisms must be different.

An example: Air and water pollution in the 1970's were brought under some degree of control when the masses demanded and got regulations to control emissions at a few tens of thousands of source points. Today, to address global warming, we need to consider literally hundreds of millions of source points, large and small. Therefore, we need an overall shift to clean energy production, which requires a change in social policy.

The only solutions touted by the ruling class market measures, such as Cap and Trade or carbon taxes have shown themselves to be inadequate, and are mainly oriented toward preserving the profits of the polluters, not reducing pollution. They are the brainchild of those who take on faith that the market is the best mechanism for regulating economic activity: the same market that resulted in the Gulf oil disaster. Where they've been implemented, carbon offset schemes have resulted in projects which may meet the letter of the rules for offset, but which may even have a negative effect on global warming. And among other problems, Cap and Trade schemes cannot account for the changes in greenhouse gas production due to economic boom and bust cycles, which are inherently unpredictable. Carbon taxes may or may not deter people from carbon-producing activities, depending on whether there are real alternatives, otherwise people are just forced to pay the higher prices.

Really tackling the question of global warming for example, (as opposed to Obama's market-tested sound bites to "target audiences") would require economic planning projecting energy needs into the future, and developing energy sources not based on what can make a profit, but on what society needs. It requires the building of mega-projects, such as solar arrays and geothermal plants. It requires the creation of efficient mass transit to induce people to ride. And global warming is sufficiently pressing that we cannot afford to wait until some mega-capitalist decides that it's profitable. But obviously implementing planning on the kind of scale that is required, and doing it in a way that doesn't cost the workers and poor, would meet with the adamant resistance of the corporate polluters, who are much more sophisticated and organized to fight environmental regulations with any teeth than they were in the 1970's.

And we need changes beyond reducing the reliance on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas reduction: changes in areas such as the use and disposal of toxic chemicals in industrial production, and the use of pesticides, petrochemical fertilizers, and antibiotics in food production. None of these changes can be brought about by tweaking the market through taxes or tradable permits. Only the combination of the regulation of industry plus economic planning will be effective in addressing such issues.

The masses of people, the workers and poor, truly have different interests from those of the corporate decision makers, the bourgeois-party politicians, and the leadership of the establishment environmental groups. An effective movement to address this disaster and other, related pressing environmental questions must be based in a growing consciousness of that fact. At root, it is the profit system that is responsible for the despoliation of the world, global warming and its attendant extreme weather patterns, and the threatened collapse of ecosystems. At each step in the fight against these ills, we'll come head to head against the profit system. And to fight these ills ultimately means to fight the profit-making system itself. Deciding what to produce and how to produce it must ultimately be based on the needs of the people using only the profit system for a compass, inevitably leads to these and other ills.

The alternative is to end the system of production for exchange and profit. Socialized production production owned by society as a whole, with the product also owned by society as a whole based on a democratically-decided production plan, is the only thing that will free humankind from the tyranny of the profit system and the evils it brings with it. The fate of the world lies in balance.


(1),, and


(3) This webpage is no longer available, but a similar report can be found at


(5) This blog shows a series of videos from BP-owned remotely operated vehicles, apparently showing oil spewing through the seabed floor. Some of the videos are clearer than others. In particular, the following videos, identified by their titles, are interesting: Oil and Gas Leaking Around Capped BOP Stack (also available at: BP Well Integrity Survey ROV Overcome with Sea Floor Leaks (also available at: More possible sea floor ruptures during well integrity test (also at Finally, after 5 days, the oil pouring out of the seabed floor hit the bourgeois press, and was acknowledged by Thad Allen:, though some presentations of the story were very confused, asserting that "that "no new oil" is entering the Gulf, even while reporting that oil is "seeping" from the seabed: The evidence of oil pouring through the seabed floor raises an alarming new possibility: that the integrity of seabed floor is compromised and may collapse, rendering efforts to stop the oil vastly more difficult, as there would no longer be a single point where the oil could be blocked.

(6)Having the containment cap in place is the difference between "top kill" and "static kill". Static kill indicates that the flow is stopped before pumping cement into place, while top kill is an operation involving pumping mud or cement into place against the flow of oil.




(10)See This 10- minute CNN story is on the long-term effects on the Exxon Valdez cleanup workers. The information on the 1500 workers occurs at 6:40. The remainder of the story is an interview of Dr. O'Shea in which the interviewer feeds him the line that "there are gray areas" in medicine to cover for the doctor's line that, well, it's just a mystery why these people are getting sick, we just don't understand it.




(14),, and, for example.

(15) and



(18)For example, However with the media blackout imposed by the Coast Guard, it is hard to confirm this story. This video shows what appears to be a thick layer of newly deposited sand covering a layer of oil on the beach: The layer of oil documented in some homemade videos (for example: could be buried by the tidal cycle, however this doesn't explain the differences in texture and color of the sand shown in some videos, for example:



(21)See the video embedded at the bottom of this page:




(25), page 29. It is a large PDF file. They write: "As a result of both storms [Rita and Katrina], 124 spills were reported with a total volume of roughly 17,700 barrels of total petroleum products, of which about 13,200 barrels were crude oil and condensate from platforms, rigs and pipelines, and 4,500 barrels were refined products from platforms and rigs. Pipelines were accountable for 72 spills totaling about 7,300 barrels of crude oil and condensate spilled into the GOM [Gulf of Mexico]."

(26)Some reports have put this number at 33, but the commission appointed by Obama accepted the number 21 as the correct number.

(27)To get an idea of the scope of drilling in the Gulf, see This page has links to maps which show the active wells in the Gulf coast off Texas and Louisiana.



(30) on page 10.


(32) Thad Allen, placed in charge of the Coast Guard response to the disaster by Obama, claimed that the rule was in response to "local officials" complaining about reporters interfering, but so far the only local officials who have come forward are complaining about the slow pace of the cleanup, not the media interfering.


(34)"Why We Engage With the Energy Industry: It's For Nature" [!],



(37) on pages 6 and 7.



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Last changed on December 26, 2010.