A trio of news stories have come out during Week 46 of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill, each of the three proving that the more things change in the regionwhether natural disaster (hurricanes), manmade screw up (oil rig explosions) or government intervention (drilling bans)the more they stay the same.
Within weeks after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank nearly one year ago, the Obama Administration banned all new deepwater drilling. The ban lasted until October 12. During Week 46, the Department of Interior approved its first new permit to drill deep in the Gulf of Mexico.
The new Bureau of Ocean Energy, Regulation and Enforcementthe reorganized Minerals Management Service, the federal office that had cozied up to the oil industry for yearssays it thoroughly vetted the prizewinner, Houston-based Noble Energy. Back a year ago, Noble had been drilling toward 13,858 feet when the operation was halted by the spill.
Oil industry shares on Wall Street jumped at the announcement. "We expect further deepwater permits to be approved in coming weeks and months based on the same process that led to the approval of this permit," said the regulation and enforcement agencys director, Michael Bromwich.
For Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal the permit was a good first step. The first-term governorwho faces election this Novemberwants more permits granted faster. We must quickly get to a level of issuing permits that represents a critical mass so thousands of oil and gas industry workers can get back to work fueling America again.
Jindals enthusiasm is no surprise. As the Times pointed out, Jindals long cozy relationship with the oil industry is complicatedor greased, depending on your point of viewby a foundation his wife set up the month after he was elected in 2007, the Supriva Jindal Foundation for Louisianas Children.
Among Mrs. Jindal's biggest donorsall legal under Louisiana law are Marathon Oil ($250,000), Israeli oil company Alon USA ($250,000), Dow Chemical ($100,000), Northrop Grumman, AT&T and other oil companies, insurers and construction companies.
Campaign donations are limited. Donations to Mrs. Jindals foundation are not.
Above and beyond supporting the foundations goal of delivering much-needed hi-tech equipment to schools in the poorest neighborhoods of Louisiana, AT&T hopes the governor will sign a law allowing it to sell cable TV rights without negotiating directly with individual parishes; Marathon was granted approval a year ago to expand the amount of oil it can refine at its Louisiana plant; Alon is seeking a permit to dump more pollutants at its Krotz Spring refinery. And on and on.
Politicians using do-good foundations to (vaguely) mask corporate bribery is hardly a new tactic. PACs and political interest groups on both sides of the fence have been doing it for decades.
But in Louisiana, where corruption is a long-practiced fine art, the Jindals mutual interests arent masked at all. A picture of the governor with his wife graces the foundations website. His chief campaign fundraiser is the charitys treasurer. An employee of the governors office, working as an aide to Mrs. Jindal, is the contact for the foundations books.
While corporations continue to have their way in Louisiana, basic residents whose lives were impacted by last Aprils oil spill will have to wait a bit longer for compensation.
Citing lack of adequate documentation, Ken Feinbergappointed by Obama to dole out up to $20 billion of BPs money to those whose livelihoods were affected by the spilladmitted that more than 100,000 claims currently on file might never be paid.
Roughly 80 percent of the claims that we now have in the queue lack proof, Feinberg said last week in Washington, admitting it was a huge number.
To date, his office has paid out nearly $3.6 billion, to 168,000 individuals and businesses across the Gulf, mostly emergency payments of a few thousand dollars.
Feinbergs denials angered state governments in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, the White House and a boatload of individuals in the region whove either lost businesses or need money to jump start them. The states are appealing to the courts for redress, which means the lack of payments will go on for months. Individuals are largely left holding the bag.
From its perspective, BP feels Feinberg has been overly generous. Any of the $20 billion not paid out goes back to BP. Meanwhile, the oil company is paying Feinbergs law firm $850,000 a month to administer the fund, a price that is currently being renegotiatedupward. The lawyers are richer by the month as the payment process drags on and on.
A six-time grantee of the National Geographic Expeditions Council, Jon Bowermaster has spent the past two decades circling the worlds ocean, studying both its health and the lives of the people who depend on it. He is the author of 11 books (his most recent, OCEANS, Threats to Our Seas and What You Can Do to Turn the Tide, was published by Participant Media) and producer of a dozen documentary films. His blogNotes From Sea Levelreports daily on issues impacting the ocean and us. Follow Jon on Facebook.