The Crime of the Century: What BP and US Government Don’t Want You to Know


The Crime of the Century: What BP and US Government Don’t Want You to Know

Environmental activist Jerry Cope has spent the last few weeks traveling along the Gulf Coast and experiencing firsthand the contamination in the air and water. In an article published on Huffington Post, Cope argues that instead of celebrating the allegedly vanishing oil, we should be concerned about the disappearance of marine life in the Gulf. He describes the Gulf as a “kill zone” and looks into where the marine animals have gone, given that BP has reported a relatively low number of dead animals from the spill.

The unprecedented disaster caused by the BP oil spill at the Deepwater Horizon Mississippi Canyon 252 site continues to expand even as National Incident Commander Thad Allen and BP assert that the situation is improving, the blown-out source capped and holding steady, the situation well in hand and cleanup operations are being scaled back. The New York Times declared on the front page this past week that the oil was disolving more rapidly than anticipated. Time magazine reported that environmental anti-advocate Rush Limbaugh had a point when he said the spill was a “leak”. Thad Allen pointed out in a press conference that boats are still skimming on the surface, a futile gesture when the dispersant Corexit is being used to break down oil on the surface. As the oil is broken down, it mixes with the dispersant and flows under or over any booming operations.

To judge from most media coverage, the beaches are open, the fishing restrictions being lifted and the Gulf resorts open for business in a healthy, safe environment. We, along with Pierre LeBlanc, spent the last few weeks along the Gulf coast from Louisiana to Florida, and the reality is distinctly different. The coastal communities of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida have been inundated by the oil and toxic dispersant Corexit 9500, and the entire region is contaminated. The once pristine white beaches that have been subject to intense cleaning operations now contain the oil/dispersant contamination to an unknown depth. The economic impacts potentially exceed even the devastation of a major hurricane like Katrina, the adverse impacts on health and welfare of human populations are increasing every minute of every day and the long-term effects are potentially life threatening.

Over the Gulf from the Source (official term for the Deepwater Horizon spill site) in to shore there is virtually no sign of life anywhere in the vast areas covered by the dispersed oil and Corexit. This in a region previously abundant with life above and below the ocean’s surface in all its diversity. For months now, scientists and environmental organizations have been asking where all the animals are. The reported numbers of marine animals lost from BP fall far short of the observed loss. The water has a heavy appearance and the slightly iridescent greenish yellow color that extends as far as the eye can see.


Wake of vessel near the Source through the toxic dispersant Corexit


Corexit and a thin line of orangish crude dispersing on the surface


The ocean covered in Corexit is green, and a line of crude being dispersed

On two, unrestricted day-long flights, on July 22nd and 23rd, we were fortunate enough to be on with official clearance. We saw a total of four distressed dolphins and three schools of rays on the surface. As the bottom of the ocean is covered with crude and only the oil on the surface broken up by dispersant, the rays are forced up to the surface in a futile attempt to find food and oxygen. Birds are scarce where one would usually find thousands upon thousands. The Gulf of Mexico from the Source into the shore is a giant kill zone.


Rays near the Source

In May, Mother Nature Network blogger Karl Burkart received a tip from an anonymous fisherman-turned-BP contractor in the form of a distressed text message, describing a near-apocalyptic sight near the location of the sunken Deepwater Horizon — fish, dolphins, rays, squid, whales, and thousands of birds — “as far as the eye can see,” dead and dying. According to his statement, which was later confirmed by another report from an individual working in the Gulf, whale carcasses were being shipped to a highly guarded location where they were processed for disposal.

CitizenGlobal Gulf News Desk received photos that matched the report and are being published on Karl’s blog today. Local fisherman in Alabama report sighting tremendous numbers of dolphins, sharks, and fish moving in towards shore as the initial waves of oil and dispersant approached in June. Many third- and fourth-generation fisherman declared emphatically that they had never seen or heard of any similar event in the past. Scores of animals were fleeing the leading edge of toxic dispersant mixed with oil. Those not either caught in the toxic mixture and killed out at sea, or fortunate enough to be out in safe water beyond the Source, died as the water closed in, and they were left no safe harbor. The numbers of birds, fish, turtles, and mammals killed by the use of Corexit will never be known as the evidence strongly suggests that BP worked with the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, the FAA, private security contractors, and local law enforcement, all of which cooperated to conceal the operations disposing of the animals from the media and the public.

The majority of the disposal operations were carried out under cover of darkness. The areas along the beaches and coastal Islands where the dead animals were collected were closed off by the U.S. Coast Guard. On shore, private contractors and local law enforcement officials kept off limits the areas where the remains of the dead animals were dumped, mainly at the Magnolia Springs landfill by Waste Management where armed guards controlled access. The nearby weigh station where the Waste Management trucks passed through with their cargoes was also restricted by at least one Sheriff’s deputies in a patrol car, 24/7.

Magnolia landfill during initial cleanup, courtesy of Press-Register, Connie Baggett

Robyn Hill, who was Beach Ambassador for the City of Gulf Shores until she became so ill she collapsed on the job one morning, was at a residential condominium property adjacent to the Gulf Shores beach when she smelled an overwhelming stench. She went to see where the odor was coming from and witnessed two contract workers dumping plastic bags full of dead birds and fish in a residential Waste Management dumpster, which was then protected by a security guard. Within five minutes, a Waste Management collection truck emptied the contents and the guard departed.

Photo by Robyn Hill

The oceans are empty, the skies tinged yellow by evaporating oil and toxic dispersant devoid of birds, dogs mysteriously have no fleas, and in an area usually besieged by mosquitoes, there is little need for repellent, and the usual trucks spraying are nowhere to be seen.

Dauphin Island was one of the sites where carcasses of sperm whales were destroyed. The operational end of the island was closed to unauthorized personnel and the airspace closed. The U.S. Coast Guard closed off all access from the Gulf. This picture shows the area as it was prepped to receive the whale carcasses for disposal.


Riki Ott, PhD, has been in the region for the past three months. A veteran of the Exxon Valdez spill and renowned marine toxicologist, Ott has documented numerous accounts of the devastating results from BP and the government’s use of Corexit in the gulf. We spoke at length last week:

JC: There has been a great deal of discussion about the disappearance of the animals and the life in the ocean which seem to have vanished since this incident has occurred. What do you know about this?

RO: Well I have been down in the Gulf since May 3rd. It’s pretty consistent what I have heard. First I heard from the offshore workers and the boat captains that were coming in and they would see windrows of dead things piled up on the barrier islands; turtles and birds and dolphins… whales…

JC: Whales?

RO: And whales. There would be stories from boat captains of offshore, we started calling death gyres, where the rips all the different currents sweep the oceans surface, that would be the collection points for hundreds of dolphins and sea turtles and birds and even whales floating. So we got four different times latitudes/longitude coordinates where (this was happening) but by the time we got to these lat/longs which is always a couple of days later there was nothing there. There was boom put around these areas to collect the animals and we know this happened at Exxon Valdez too. The rips are where the dead things collect. We also know from Exxon Valdez that only 1% in our case of the carcasses that floated off to sea actually made landfall in the Gulf of Alaska. I don’t believe there have been any carcass drift studies down here that would give us some indication that when something does wash up on the beach what percentage it is of the whole. But we know that offshore there was an attempt by BP and the government to keep the animals from coming onshore in great numbers. The excuse was this was a health problem — we don’t want to create a health hazard. That would only be a good excuse if they kept tallies of all the numbers because all the numbers – all the animals – are evidence for federal court. We the people own these animals and they become evidence for damages to charge for BP. In Exxon Valdez the carcasses were kept under triple lock and key security until the natural resource damage assessment study was completed and that was 2 1/2 years after the spill. Then all the animals were burned but not until then.So people offshore were reporting this first and then carcasses started making it onshore. Then I started hearing from people in Alabama a lot and the western half of Florida – a little bit in Mississippi – but mostly what was going on then there was an attempt to keep people off the beaches, cameras off the beaches. I was literally flying in a plane and the FAA boundary changed. It was offshore first with the barrier islands and all of a sudden it just hopped right to shore to Alabama that’s where we were flying over and the pilot was just like – he couldn’t believe it – he was like look at that and I didn’t know what he was looking but then he points at the little red line which had all of sudden grown and he just looked at me and said the only reason that they have done this is so people can’t see what is going on. And what that little red line meant was no cameras on shore and three days later the oil came onshore and the carcasses came onshore into Alabama.

WATCH Jerry’s interview with Ott:
JC: That immediately preceded the first wave coming onshore?

RO: Pretty much. That preceded the first wave. It was June 2nd when the line changed and the FAA boundaries increased. Then people would — I mean you walk beaches here at night it’s hot so people walk beaches — and they would see carcasses like sea turtles, a bird, a little baby dolphin, and immediately they would go over to it and immediately people would approach them, don’t touch that if you touch it you will be arrested and within fifteen minutes there would be a white unmarked van that would just come out of nowhere and in would go the carcass and off it would go.They were white unmarked vans at first. We’ve since heard many other stories from truckers who are trucking carcasses in refrigerated vans to Mexico. Carcasses are just not showing up where they need to which is as body counts for essentially this war on the gulf.

JC: It sounds like the federal government and agencies that have been involved in this one way or another are working on behalf of BP and not the American people.

RO: What’s going on on the beaches where people can at least get glimpses of what’s happening — I mean I’ve talked to people who have seen boats coming in towing dolphin carcasses and the boats have jockeyed to try to prevent the person with the camera from getting a picture. I’ve had people tell me they were walking the beach actually trying to deploy boom but along comes a BP rep and the Coast Guard in a boat, and the Coast Guard guy yells at the people to stop deploying — particularly if it was alternative boom — and then he goes away and comes back a few minutes later without the BP person and apologizes for behaving that way but he had to because there was a BP person on board.

JC: A Coast Guard official?

RO: A Coast Guard official apologized for his behavior because he had to a since BP person was on board. So it’s pretty clear to the American, the people in the Gulf, that somehow it’s turned not into our country anymore. That’s the question. People are just stunned. We thought this was America. We didn’t think we had to know exactly what our rights were, we just though we all lived them. Suddenly they’re finding that unless they can site chapter and verse they are getting intimidated and backing down from these encounters with BP and/or the Coast Guard.

Drew Wheelan, with the American Birding Association, was on Grand Isle on the first of June. Drew said:

There were definitely dead birds washing up on the beach at that point. General contractors, not Fish and Wildlife officials, I contacted them and they said they were not conducting operations at that time. These contractors were cruising the high tide. On at least three occasions I saw these gators, 4-seat ATVs, going along the beach with hand-held spotlights looking for dead animals in the middle of the night. When I spoke with Felix Lopez at the US Fish and Wildlife Service, he told me they knew they were disappearing birds.

Dead Northern Gannet, reported but uncollected. Photo by Drew Wheelan

Karen Harvey is a local who regularly walks the beaches along the Alabama Gulf shore.

JC: In the course of walking the beaches since this incident happened, how many dead animals, birds did you find?

KH: Before they got the hazmat crews trained and before official people showed up with their vans I was finding — within a seven-mile stretch — and that’s not a very long beach area, I was finding at least two turtles a day, mostly Ridleys. There was one logger head that was very large. My daughter’s friends would call me and say, Miss Karen there’s a turtle on the beach, you should come down and take a picture. People were aware they were dying, but we were being told that they were possibly hit by a fishing boat or pulled up with fish from the fishing boats but after the fishing boats were completely stopped the turtles were still on the beach. Now the beach is immaculate, no crabs, no birds — nothing.

JC: Why do you think that is?

KH: Dispersant. It’s the dispersant. And also when you clean a beach the way they clean our beach with — I mean our beach never looked this pristine as far as junk and so forth — when you clean a beach like that, you take away all the things that birds eat, and we did have some big fish kill areas where bunches of little tiny fish and so forth would wash up. And it makes you wonder.

JC: When was that?

KH: The last one as probably about a month ago.

JC: When you say a lot, quantify that.

KH: Thousands of little tiny fish, but they were cleaning the beach so they just cleaned the beach up, the hazmat workers.

WATCH Jerry’s interview with Harvey:

The reason BP has gone to such great lengths to hide the devastation caused by the irresponsible drilling operations and blow out at Mississippi Canyon 252 is financial. Every death that results from the oil spill has a cash value, whether animal or human. Images of dead animals are difficult to spin in the media, and they resonate across all demographics. BP also has a strong interest in maintaining a business-as-usual model for the beach resort communities along the Gulf Coast that have been economically devastated and lost the majority of their annual revenue during the summer season of 2010. The only sharks circling the Gulf waters now are based on land.

Coming Soon; Part II. Corexit and Human Health.

Jerry Cope was on Democracy Now!

Transcripts of the show.

AMY GOODMAN: BP has announced its latest attempt to seal the largest oil spill in US history once and for all appears to be working. Dubbed “static kill,” the operation forces a heavy, synthetic fluid called drilling mud down into the well. BP said today pressure in the well appears to be stabilizing.

A seventy-five-ton cap placed on the well last month has contained the oil, but it’s considered a temporary measure. According to government estimates, nearly five million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s oil well before it was capped July 15th. Scientists estimate as many as 62,000 barrels of oil were leaking from the well each day at its peak. That’s more than twelve times as much oil as the government originally projected.

Retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who’s coordinating the Obama administration’s response to the oil spill disaster, said static kill alone is not enough to plug the well.


    The relief wells are the answer. There’s a limit to how much we know and can find out from the static kill, if you will. First of all, if annulus cannot be accessed from the top—in other words, we didn’t compromise the seals—then we’ll only be able to fill the drill pipe itself, the casing, with mud, and then we’d have to actually go to the bottom anyway. We need to go into the bottom to make sure we fill the annulus, the casing and any drill pipe there, then follow that with cement. This thing won’t truly be sealed until those relief wells are done.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, ever since BP placed a temporary cap on the well last month, the media has been abuzz with reports of how the oil has largely disappeared from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. And the New York Times is reporting today the government is expected to announce today that three-quarters of the oil has already evaporated, dispersed, been captured or otherwise eliminated, and that much of the rest is so diluted it doesn’t seem to pose much additional risk of harm. It’s not clear what effect the more than 1.8 million gallons of the dispersant Corexit that was dumped in the Gulf will have.

But independent journalists, scientists, activists and fisherfolk who have been to the Gulf recently tell a different story. I’m joined now by two guests. From Washington, DC, Antonia Juhasz is with us, director of the Chevron Program at Global Exchange and author of The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry—and What We Must Do to Stop It. She’s just back from Louisiana, where she found some of BP’s “missing oil”—on the wetlands and beaches along the waterways near St. Mary’s Parish, where no one is booming, cleaning, skimming or watching.

And joining us from New Orleans is environmentalist Jerry Cope. He has spent the last few weeks traveling along the Gulf Coast and experiencing firsthand the contamination in the air and water. He just published a piece in the Huffington Post where Cope argues that instead of celebrating the allegedly vanishing oil, we should be concerned about the disappearance of marine life in the Gulf. He describes the Gulf as a “kill zone” and looks into where the marine animals have gone, given that BP has reported a relatively low number of dead animals from the spill.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jerry Cope, let’s begin with you in New Orleans. Talk about what you found.

JERRY COPE: Well, a friend of mine, Charles Hambleton, and I came down about three weeks ago. We’ve been hearing a lot of stories. People were calling both of us regarding the loss of marine life and that there was a tremendous cover-up operation in place to conceal this from the public and the media. And this was at the same time where a lot of, you know, mainstream media were complaining about restricted access, that they couldn’t get onto the beaches, they weren’t allowed to fly. So these calls kept coming in.

We finally decided three weeks ago to come down and see for ourselves what the situation was, and we went from Louisiana all the way to Florida, spent a great deal of time around Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Alabama, which tends—is kind of like ground zero in this whole mess, in terms of especially the effects of the dispersant. There’s a great many people there that are sick and ill. The doctors aren’t really sure how to treat them. Dr. Riki Ott’s been down, spending a lot of time with those folks. Myself, I have a pneumonia induced by chemical exposure. I’ve been talking to doctors in Boston.

But the—we talked to numerous fishermen and local people, and there was, in fact, a very large-scale operation with BP, assisted by several federal agencies, to cover up the loss of marine life. They gathered up the fish, birds, whales, dolphins, all the sea life, and the carcasses were destroyed, in very large numbers.

AMY GOODMAN: Jerry Cope, you mentioned Riki Ott. You interviewed the marine toxicologist—she’s an Exxon Valdez survivor—last week about the disappearance of marine life in the Gulf. This is a clip from that interview.


    We also know from Exxon Valdez that only one percent, in our case, of the carcasses that floated off to sea actually made landfall in the Gulf of Alaska. I don’t believe there’s been any carcass drift studies down here that would give us some indication of when something does wash up on the beach, what percentage is it of the whole. But anyway, we know that offshore there was an attempt by BP and the government to keep the animals from coming onshore in great numbers. And the excuse was, this is a health problem, we don’t want to create a health hazard. And that will only be a good excuse if they kept tallies of all the numbers that died, because all the numbers, all the animals, are evidence for federal court. We, the people, own these animals, and they become evidence for damages to charge for BP. In Exxon Valdez, the carcasses were kept under triple lock-and-key security until the Natural Resource Damage Assessment study was completed. And that was in about a year and a half—two-and-a-half years after the spill. And then, all the animals were burned, but not until then.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Riki Ott. She’s an Exxon Valdez survivor. She’s a marine biologist. Jerry Cope, take it from there. What happened, do you believe, to the animals in the Gulf, to the marine life?

JERRY COPE: Well, there were two dramatic sequences that were described by workers that were out at the source, which is what they called the Canyon 252 site where this incident occurred. And they reported seeing, just as far as the eye could see, dead carcasses of all kinds of marine life out near the source. And then there was also—we heard numerous accounts of a large wave of marine life being pushed into shore as the dispersant and the oil, the first wave, came in and approached towards the end of June. And then, all of a sudden, it was simply gone. All of these animals disappeared. They didn’t show up in the lagoons in any large numbers. And everyone—all the scientists were questioning, where did they go?

I spoke to Hal Whitehead, who studied extensively sperm whales, specifically, the ones down in the Gulf of Mexico, and there was an unusual pod that was resident in the area of the Mississippi Canyon site, and they’ve also disappeared, the entire pod. And that was an unusual social structure there in that those particular sperm whales were not terribly nomadic. They seemed to stay there, as well as the usual whales that moved in and out with the population.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the Corexit, Jerry Cope, the chemical dispersant? What the government is saying—there is just tremendous elation in the media now with the government announcing that 75 percent of the oil is gone. What about the Corexit?

JERRY COPE: Well, last week, we spent two days flying over the Gulf. We went south from Louisiana and then all the way out, then back, all the way back up to Florida. And for as far as the eye can see, the entire Gulf of Mexico is a very strange green color. It’s not blue at all; it’s green. And it’s iridescent. You can—the dispersant, obviously, covers the entire ocean out there, well beyond the site of the spill. And there’s nothing moving. We saw, in two days of flying, four dolphins, that didn’t appear to be very happy, and then three schools of rays, as I put in the article. There’s nothing moving out in the water there.

And as far as the effects of the Corexit, the EPA came out with these wonderful reports yesterday how it’s no more toxic than the oil. But I didn’t read in any of those reports just how toxic the oil was. BP, in their training classes for hazmat, all of the crews that worked on the spill, part of that training, which was a four-hour program, is they told them, in no uncertain terms, if you had any cuts to your skin, abrasion, open wounds, and it was exposed to the crude oil in the water, on the beaches, any form whatsoever, you could pretty much guarantee yourself that you would get cancer in your lifetime. That was part of the training class. So, the oil is most definitely toxic. The Corexit is very toxic. In my opinion, it’s terrible. It evaporates and puts all of this up into the atmosphere. There’s a lot of sick people along the coast. And I called it the Jaws syndrome. It’s life imitating art on a scale that’s hard to wrap your head around, because they are pretending the situation is entirely normal.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz is also with us in Washington, DC, author of The Tyranny of Oil. You have just come back from the Gulf of Mexico. You’re writing a book on what’s happened there, Antonia. Can you talk about what you found in the Gulf, in St. Mary’s Parish, and where that is?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah. St. Mary’s Parish is one bayou over from Venice Beach area, which is the focus of a lot of the coverage of where the oil has been coming ashore and where a lot of the oil impact has been. So it’s one bayou over. And I went down there to attend a BP community forum that was held Thursday night. And at this forum, the parish president announced that St. Mary’s Parish doesn’t have oil, has never had oil, and won’t have oil hitting its shores. As soon as he said that, he was immediately surrounded by fishermen. And one of the fishermen said, “Well, if that’s true, then why does Kermit have oil in his bag right now?” And one of the fishermen, everyone turned to him, and he said, “You know, I was just out on the water, like I’ve been every day, looking for oil, and I saw oil, and I’ve seen oil. And we’ve been telling you that there’s oil.” At that point, the microphone was turned off, and, you know, essentially all hell broke loose. And the Coast Guard, which was there, went over to this fisherman and said, you know, “If you saw oil, show us where you saw the oil.” And they went over and they looked at maps, and he showed them where the oil was. And they were very concerned.

And then I, the next day, went out with him, and we spent five hours going along the coast of Oyster Bayou to Taylor Bayou in his boat, and what I saw was oil, waves of oil that had washed in. They had clearly washed in, because it was—you could see the wave effect. It was over the wetlands, grass, grassy areas, just coated in waves of oil that had hit. We went to beaches that were covered with tar balls. And, you know, this is not an unusual sight. Anyone who’s been watching TV has seen these sights. What was completely unusual, in my experience over three months of time going down to the Gulf, is that there was no one around. There were no cleanup workers. There was no boom. There was no evidence that anyone had any concern about this oil. And, in fact, that’s what we found out, that the Coast Guard then reported, after it went and looked at these locations, that it wasn’t enough to worry about. And that didn’t make any sense to the fishermen who I spoke to and the fisherman I was with, who said, “One, this is oil that is in and around where we live, where we fish, at the heart of our livelihood, which is this Oyster Bayou. And also, this is oil coating”—and I saw it—”the marshlands, the wetlands,” which is, you know, when the oil gets into the grass, if it stays there, it can kill the root system. If it kills the root system, it kills the wetlands. If it kills the wetlands, there’s no barrier to, one, the oil getting further in and, two, more importantly in this area, hurricane provision and hurricane protection.

And this is also completely out of whack with what BP had been doing previously, in my experience, which is, wherever you saw oil, there wasn’t far behind a BP cleanup crew that would clean it up. Of course, the oil would just wash back on, and then they’d come back and they’d clean it up again. What is astounding, from my experience, is that it is evidence of what we’re hearing and seeing all across the Gulf, which is the cleanup apparatus being pulled away and removed. And the reason to do that is just as these—the press reports are saying, if the oil is out of sight, it’s out of mind. We know it’s out of sight, primarily, one, because the well is capped—thank goodness—but two, that it’s been dispersed. It’s been dispersed, and we can’t see it. And if BP can pull up its cleanup crews and show that everything is OK, the idea is that it would significantly limit the potential liability that BP faces. If it can say about the oil-soaked areas that I saw, “Oh, that’s insignificant,” then they’re not liable for cleanup, not liable for the consequences to that community—at least, I imagine that’s what they would argue—in St. Mary’s Parish. Of course, they should be, and are, but that seems to be the logic, and it’s devastating to see it taking shape on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz, you’re in Washington, DC, up from the Gulf of Mexico, because the Senate is expected to take up energy spill legislation today. Quickly explain what that is.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Well, they’re not, so—what was supposed to happen was two waves of legislation. One was the climate legislation that was supposed to happen addressing the ravages of climate change. That got pushed aside. What was initially supposed to happen was that the climate legislation that was on the table was going to now include spill response legislation, capping—or eliminating the cap on liability for oil companies involved in disasters like this, maintaining the moratorium put in place by the Obama administration, oversight and regulatory measures to the Interior Department, a lot of very good provisions that are needed to address making sure a disaster like this doesn’t happen and making sure—in the future, and making that BP actually is held liable for what it’s done. First, the climate package was pulled. It was felt there wouldn’t be votes for that. Then, just last night, where there was supposed to be a Senate spill bill that was supposed to come through today, that got pulled yesterday, because there weren’t going to be enough votes—just for that, this very small, very simple, very limited measure that would have been the only congressional response at this point, legislatively at this point.

AMY GOODMAN: And very quickly—we have fifteen seconds—BP planning to sell $30 billion in assets?

ANTONIA JUHASZ: Yeah, BP is starting a fire sale to get rid of $30 billion worth of itself to try and consolidate its operations. My concern about that is, who’s going to buy those pieces? Exxon and Chevron have said they’re in the market. They’ve actually said they’re interested in potentially buying BP. And that would be disastrous, in my mind, in terms of further concentration and wealth and political influence being put into an ever-smaller number of corporate hands. Most disconcerting, we heard that—there’s a rumor that the Obama administration may be—

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: —signaling a green light to such a potential change—something we want to make sure doesn’t happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonia Juhasz and Jerry Cope, thanks so much for joining us.

Kurl Burkhart on The ‘Death Gyre’ in the Gulf

Kurl Burkhart reports on the death gyre in the gulf.

Firsthand accounts and leaked photos of a secret BP processing facility — possibly for dead animals — point to a massive cover-up in the Gulf. An exclusive report.

June 10th was a strange day. In a surprising move, the Coast Guard instituted a dramatic expansion of the “no-fly” zone over the Gulf, preventing major media outlets like the New York Times and even scientists with top government clearance from accessing the area. This caused a wave of journalistic uproar and bewilderment on the part of researchers like Edward E. Clark of the Wildlife Center (above) who had been invited to study the impacts just prior to the media blackout.

More distressing than the media blackout itself was a lingering question in my mind … what on earth could be so BAD that the U.S. government would risk losing credibility in the minds of journalists, the scientific community and the general public to ensure concealment? Was the sea floor cracking? Was a giant cloud of benzene going to wipe out the Eastern Seaboard? Had Godzilla emerged from the sea to wreak havoc upon us all? One thing was clear … we weren’t getting the story.

All manner of apocalyptic scenarios were running through my head that morning when by chance I received a very strange message that pointed to a less fantastic but equally horrific explanation. It was a text message that had been sent on a borrowed phone to a man’s wife (according to the person who forwarded it to me) a man who had just returned from what many are now calling the “Death Gyre.” The message was e-mailed to a family friend who posted it on Facebook and it has since been recirculated. Here’s the text (you will notice a few colloquialisms that are specific to Bayou talk) so read through the lines, and forgive the misspellings:

I have to write this mail on a new cellphone because they have taken our phones off us. people dont know how bad this oil is.. im working in the cleanup operation and we’ve all has to sign a legal paper that stops us from talking to anyone. im onshore now and cant tell you where but ive just finished a very long shift in the gulf and textin this….fast as i can. the military are watching us dolphins whales, seabirds fish are all floating dead on the surface of the water.. see more.. see more…boats helicopters are scooping them away dead and dying… Whales are being exploded by the military cause they cant be carried. dead bodys as far as the eye can see air smeling of benzene ..weve seen birds fall from the sky. workers falling sick we think some workers have died. my friends are hard oilmen it was ok to at the start but now we cry. dead sea life is as big as genocide you wont imagine

Since no one has yet been able to get this individual to go on record (and the Facebook post was eventually taken down) this can’t be taken as hard evidence, but it does beg the question … just how many animalshave died because of the worst oil spill in U.S. history?2According to the latest count of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Daily Collection Report (PDF), only about 4,100 birds, 670 turtles, 70 sea mammals, and 1 snake have died in the Gulf since April 20 (assuming 50 percent mortality of live animals).

It’s an astonishingly low number, considering that one of the largest pods of sperm whales in the U.S. resided just miles from the site of the BP Macondo well (aka Deepwater Horizon), a region home to one of the most abundant and biodiverse marine ecosystems in the world.

Compare those small numbers with the Exxon Valdez spill … Best estimates put the toll of the far smaller oil spill in Alaska at more than 200,000 birds (including hundreds of eagles), more than 3,000 sea mammals, more than 20 whales, and billions of fish eggs. The accident permanently wiped out the herring population of this Alaskan Gulf region. And that was an accident 1/10th the size of the Deepwater Horizon.

The final tally of the BP oil spill is almost 5 million barrels of crude, compared to only about 500,000 barrels for Exxon Valdez — a 1:10 ratio. Yes the Alaska spill happened closer inland, but the oil was not fully integrated with the water column as in the BP gusher (a far more pervasive and deadly scenario) and neither were thousands of tons of highly toxic dispersants like Corexit, a chemical that has, ironically, been banned in Britain because of its impacts on wildlife and human health.

2One would be forgiven then for assuming there should be a far greater body count than what is currently being reported by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the same government office that famously blocked Anderson Cooper from peering past the 10′ high barricades that had been put up to enclose a “bird receiving” area. According to the math, the count should be in the hundreds of thousands of dead birds, tens of thousands of sea mammals, and millions upon millions of fish and shellfish. So where were all the dead bodies? We should be seeing something like the mass dolphin kill off the coast of Zanzibar (left) that resulted from a much smaller offshore oil leak.

Is it possible that a massive cleanup operation in early June was focused on collecting dead animals out at sea in naturally forming “death gyres?” According to marine toxicologist Riki Ott, such gyres of dead and dying animals were common for weeks after the Exxon Valdez spill. And we know that BP was doing everything in its power to keep dead animal photographs out of the press. Kate Sheppard and Mac Mclelland of Mother Jones documented several instances of BP actually barring photography of dead animals on public beaches.

I received two firsthand accounts indicating that some sort of processing operation was taking place —one from Alabama (a rig operator contracted to work in an abandoned Navy yard) and one on Grand Isle — both reporting the construction of highly secured, nearly militarized ports that had been converted into “waste processing” areas.

EPA head Lisa P. Jackson mentioned on her Twitter feed June 11 feed that she was visiting a shipyard “…where the waste is managed.” What exactly was the waste being processed? If it was just oil-soaked boom and contaminated sand bags, where were all the photo opps demonstrating BP’s awesome progress in cleaning up the oil? It wasn’t adding up. Then I got an e-mail with some interesting photos that were uploaded to Citizen Global, a crowdsourcing news platform, on their Gulf News Desk.

It was a firsthand account by an individual working in the Gulf, who reported…

… receiving unconfirmed confidential reports that BP is withholding information about fish kills including that of sperm whales, whale sharks, Blue-fin Tuna and other marine mammals. (…) Following up on these leads, recently I flew over the staging areas where the reports allege that BP has been engaged in these secretive operations. What I saw from the air over Shell Beach and Hopedale, Louisiana was what seemed to be military protected staging areas where whales could potentially be brought in from offshore, processed under huge white tents, then carted off in trash trucks owned by a collaborative of oil companies, including BP. I’m deeply concerned that BP has the power to put in place restrictions on… access to certain areas of the ever-growing BP drilling disaster location and will continue advocating for a change in this policy.

The following three photographs (taken in the first week of June and published here for the first time) document the processing area just prior to commencing operations. A large-scale construction project, which included creating a visual barricade on a 200′ long pier, several large cranes adjacent to lined pools at least 50′ in length, and a series of large tents alongside a fleet of trucks, gives further credence to the theory that BP, with the help of the U.S. government, was processing some form of waste that they did not want the public to know about:


A team of journalists, including Jerry Cope of the Huffington Post and Charles Hambleton, co-producer of the Academy award-winning documentary “The Cove”, went down to the region to investigate. They had some interesting findings to report and got some great interviews with locals on the mystery of the disappearing dead animals. Most notable was their finding that some municipal dumps had been secured by law enforcement officials in the area, and several individuals reported the dumping of bags full of rotting carcasses.

You might be wondering about motive. Sure BP probably wanted to keep the full, gruesome reality of their toxic nightmare out of the press as much as possible. But was that enough of a motive to warrant such a massive and expensive operation? Probably not. A greater incentive may have been the fines the company would have incurred if the correct number of dead carcasses had been verifiable. At $50,000 a pop, hundreds of thousands of dead animals could spell B-A-N-K-R-U-P-T-C-Y for BP, and that’s something that no one, including the U.S. government, would have wanted to happen.

The post written by Jerry Cope, Charles Hambleton, Karl Burkart and Democracy NOW under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


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