BP to Victims: Stop Hitting Yourself

Now that the Very Serious People have decided the dispersant fairy waved her wand and magically made all the oil disappear, it appears the media is ready to move on, and put the ugliness of the BP disaster behind them.

Things look a little different on the ground, though. BP just conducted the largest science experiment in the history of the Gulf by pouring two million gallons of toxic chemical dispersants into the ocean, and no one -- not Thad Allen, Joe Scarborough, or BP -- know how that will alter the ecosystem ten years from now.

The dispersants were successful in the sense that they coagulated the oil and sunk it, allowing BP to circumvent the PR disaster of blackened beaches. However, the oil did not disappear or evaporate, but clean-up efforts only focused on surface oil. Actually, there's no good way to collect the oil deep in the ocean.

Marine scientists said an underwater plume of drifting oil from the BP Plc disaster stretched at least 35 kilometres in the Gulf of Mexico in June and proved the need for rethinking clean-up operations after deepwater drilling accidents.

The study by scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and other groups would likely become a "major part of the case" that the US government is developing against parties responsible for the spill, said Steve Murawski of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The plume may have been even longer, but the measuring work was interrupted by the approach of Hurricane Alex in June. It was 200 metres high and up to 2 kilometres wide.


The study "established that oil can exist down there ... but there's no technology for clean up at this depth," lead scientist on the study Richard Camilli of Woods Hole told the German Press Agency, dpa.

And as for the "magical disappearing oil" narrative

the Woods Hole researchers found that deep-sea microbes were degrading the plume relatively slowly, meaning the plume had persisted for some time and could still be drifting in the Gulf. The low temperatures at 1.1 km underwater make microbes about 10 times slower than those at the surface, said researcher Benjamin Van Mooy.

Those findings could challenge federal government estimates that most of the 5 million barrels of oil estimated to have leaked has already been cleaned up or been broken down by bacteria. They also show that hydrocarbons can move into deep marine ecosystems.

The point is, it's way, way too early to slap a bow on this thing and sing, "The End." Environmental disaster stories inherently take years -- maybe even decades -- to play out. Meanwhile, BP is desperately trying to hurry things along, and get victims to settle quickly, before anyone can understand the full scope of this catastrophe.

People and businesses seeking a lump-sum settlement from BP's $20 billion oil spill compensation fund will most likely have to waive their right to sue not only BP, but also all the other major defendants involved with the spill, according to internal documents from the lawyers handling the fund.


The eligibility requirements for compensation from the fund are similar to those of the 9/11 victims compensation fund, which Mr. Feinberg also handled. People affected by the spill seeking final settlements face a choice similar to that faced by the 9/11 victims: If they decide to sue instead of accepting a settlement, they could face years of litigation; and if they decide to accept the settlement, it could come before the full damage from the spill is known.

This is essentially the impossible choice Exxon victims had to make. After the Valdez tanker spewed 11 million gallons of oil into Alaskan waters, the victims got together and sued Exxon, and they fought the corporation in court... and fought.... and fought... and fought... Litigation dragged on for two decades, and Exxon is still winning.

[As of 2009, t]here are 22,000 plaintiffs suing ExxonMobil. A jury awarded the plaintiffs $5 billion in damages, equal to what was, at the time, a year's worth of Exxon profits. This was cut by half by a U.S. appeals court, then finally lowered to just over $500 million by the Supreme Court. During the 20 years of court battles, 6,000 of the original plaintiffs have died. ExxonMobil, with its billions in annual profits and armies of lawyers, can tie up the Valdez case in the courts for decades, while the injured commercial fishers slowly die off.

These long trials always favor corporations simply because they have limitless funds to fight, and draw things out, until the victims are broke or dead.

In BP's dream world, the victims will fold, take whatever meager compensation they can get right away, the media will barely notice (because, let's remember, the dispersant fairy took care of everything,) and BP can make a swift getaway before anyone really understand how the spill is going to affect the environment.