Newly released internal documents show the oil giant BP estimates its Gulf of Mexico oil spill could top 100,000 barrels or over four million gallons of oil per day. The number far exceeds the government’s worst-case estimate of 2.5 million gallons, or 60,000 barrels a day. It’s also 100 times the spill rate BP initially claimed and twenty-times what it later told Congress. Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, Democratic Congress member Ed Markey criticized BP for concealing its estimate.
Rep. Ed Markey: “So, again, right from the beginning, BP was either lying or grossly incompetent. First they said it was only 1,000 barrels, then they said it was 5,000 barrels, now we’re up to 100,000 barrels. It was their technology. It was their spill cam. They’re the ones that should have known, right from the beginning, and either to limit their liability or because they were grossly incompetent, they delayed a full response to the magnitude of this disaster.”
More details continue to emerge on the safety flaws and lax oversight that preceded the spill. The Wall Street Journal reports BP used a well design that congressional investigators have deemed “risky” at the site of the explosion. Overall, BP has used the less costly design, known as “long string,” on 35 percent of its deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico. The more expensive design has additional safeguards for containing breaches. A Deepwater Horizon rig worker meanwhile has told the BBC he reported finding a leak in the oil rig’s safety equipment in the weeks before the explosion. The worker, Tyrone Benton, says BP didn’t fix the blowout preventer, instead shutting it down and using a second piece of equipment. Repairing the blowout preventer would have entailed temporarily suspending the oil drilling while the equipment was fixed. And the New York Times reports the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency responsible for regulating offshore drilling, repeatedly failed to implement advice from its own experts to minimize the risk of failure in the well’s last-ditch safeguard, the blind shear ram. Had the ram been effective, it could have sliced through the drill pipe to seal the well after the explosion.
The Obama administration, meanwhile, continues to grant new environmental waivers for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. According to McClatchy Newspapers, the Department of Interior has issued at least five waivers exempting companies from environmental reviews for Gulf drilling this month. The administration says three of the waivers were for existing projects that were previously approved.
BP meanwhile has announced CEO Tony Hayward will no longer play as prominent a role in the day-to-day operations in the Gulf. One day after the announcement, Hayward drew widespread criticism for attending a yacht race off the coast of England.
In Afghanistan, at least ten civilians were killed Saturday in a NATO air strike in Khost province. The victims included at least five women and children. A new UN report meanwhile says violence in Afghanistan has nearly doubled since last year. Roadside bombings increased 94 percent in the first four months of this year compared to the same period in 2009. Killings of civilians by militant groups have increased 45 percent to around seven a week.
The Obama administration has awarded a new contract to the private military firm Blackwater in Afghanistan. The Blackwater offshoot US Training Center will receive over $120 million to guard US consulates in two Afghan towns. The Obama administration has continued to employ Blackwater despite numerous controversies, including the indictments of five former company executives on weapons charges and the massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards in September 2007.
In Iraq, at least twenty-six people were killed and over fifty wounded Sunday in a double-car bombing in Baghdad. The bombs exploded near the Trade Bank of Iraq in the second attack on a government bank in one week. Over 100 Iraqis have been killed in a spate of attacks in the past week.
In other Iraq news, thousands of people marched through the city of Basra on Saturday to protest ongoing electricity shortages as the summer arrives. One demonstrator was killed after Iraqi police opened fire on a crowd throwing rocks at a government building. Many of Basra’s poorer neighborhoods are receiving electricity just one hour a day as summer temperatures climb to over 120 degrees.
The Obama administration is refusing to join international calls for a complete end to the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, Israel formally unveiled its plan to alter the blockade following global outcry over its deadly assault on a flotilla trying to bring aid to Gaza last month. In a reversal, Israel will now maintain a list of items barred from Gaza, instead of a list of the around 114 items that it’s allowed in. But Israel will still control the flow of goods entering Gaza and maintain both the sea blockade and the ban on vital building materials. Middle East envoy Tony Blair said the changes will improve civilian life on the ground.
Tony Blair: “This new policy allows the government of Israel and the Prime Minister to maintain their absolute determination to protect Israel’s security whilst improving significantly the lives of people in Gaza.”
The United Nations and multiple human rights groups have called for a complete end to the Gaza blockade. In a sign of support for the Israeli move, the White House applauded the new changes and announced President Obama will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington early next month. In Gaza, Hamas spokesperson Ismail Radwan said Israel should lift the siege completely.
Ismail Radwan: “This is an attempt to circumvent the international decision to completely lift the siege on Gaza. This is an attempt to deflect the pressure and popular anger on the Islamic and Arab level, as well as by the free people of the world who call for lifting the siege on Gaza.”
Meanwhile, in California, hundreds of Bay Area peace activists have pulled off what organizers are calling a historic first in temporarily preventing an Israeli ship from unloading its goods. The activists began their action Sunday morning by forming a picket line at the Port of Oakland, where the ship was scheduled to dock.
Protester: “We want to send a clear message that if you commit acts of piracy on the high sea; if you go and attack civilians and kill them in cold blood, execution-style; if you put Gaza under siege; if you build an apartheid wall; we will not honor your Israeli commerce right here in this town.”
The activists were able to prevent the ship from unloading after the local longshoremen’s union refused to cross the picket line. They’re aiming to hold up the ship for twenty-four hours. The protest follows similar actions in countries including Sweden, Norway and South Africa.
In Colombia, former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos has won a run-off vote in the country’s presidential election, overwhelmingly beating out rival candidate Antanas Mockus of the Green Party. Santos has vowed to continue the policies of outgoing Colombian President Álvaro Uribe.
The Huffington Post is reporting the Obama administration is opposing measures that could lead to curbs on executive pay in congressional talks on financial reform. Last week, the Senate stripped measures in conference committee that would have affirmed regulatory authority to give shareholders proxy access to corporate decision making. The proxies would ostensibly allow investors to vote for limiting executive salaries. Sources close to ongoing conference committee talks between House and Senate negotiators say the White House pushed for the provision’s removal after lobbying from the Business Roundtable, a lobby of corporate CEOs.
A new study says people of color have been disproportionately affected by the nation’s foreclosure crisis. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, recent African American and Latino home-loan borrowers were much more likely to be foreclosed on than recent white borrowers. Overall, a black family is 76 percent more likely, and a Latino family is 71 percent more likely, to lose their home to foreclosure than a white family. The likelihood of foreclosure compared to white homeowners even grows the higher the income bracket, with the highest-paid blacks and Latinos 81 percent and 94 percent more likely to face foreclosure than whites with similar incomes.
The Pentagon’s spy unit has begun rebuilding a controversial database that was shut down three years ago after it was found to have been used to monitor US peace activists. The database, named TALON, included scores of reports on nonviolent demonstrations and antiwar rallies. Targets included Quaker and church groups, organizers of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” protests, and student activists mobilizing against the Iraq war. The Defense Intelligence Agency has filed notice it wants to effectively revive TALON and rename it Foreign Intelligence and Counterintelligence Operation Records, with the purpose of tracking terror threats. The Washington Post reports the new database will likely inherit TALON’s records.
And the former professional basketball player and African activist Manute Bol has died at the age of forty-seven. One of the National Basketball Association’s tallest players at seven foot six, Bol spent much of his time off the court campaigning for peace and reconciliation in his native Sudan. He is said to have spent most of his $6 million in career earnings on various Sudanese causes.