Four years after 200-million gallon BP oil spill, TRNN speaks with investigative journalist Greg Palast about BP’s collusion with government officials to dodge safety regulations
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
It’s been four years since a BP drilling platform, Deepwater Horizon, exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. The scenes were quite dramatic has 200 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf, make it the worst man-made environmental disaster of our time. Eleven BP workers died on the rig, and the resulting cleanup has already cost British Petroleum more than $26 billion.
But the story doesn’t end there. Just recently, the Environmental Protection Agency gave BP the green light to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Now joining us to get into his latest investigation of BP is our guest, Greg Palast. Greg is an investigative reporter and author of Billionaires and Ballot Bandits and the highly acclaimed Vultures Picnic’. His latest investigation, which aired on Free Speech TV, is called “BP: In Deep Water”.
Thank you for joining us, Greg.
GREG PALAST, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, BBC AND THE GUARDIAN: Glad to be with you, Jessica.
DESVARIEUX: So, Greg, you’ve done several investigative pieces about the oil rig Deepwater Horizon. But in this latest investigation you head to Azerbaijan to find out how BP acted there. Let’s just take a quick look at the trailer.
VOICEOVER: This Sunday, Palast reveals the hidden story of the Deepwater Horizon.
PALAST: Do you feel that you were paying bribes for BP and the British government?
VOICEOVER: Palast, the best-selling author of Billionaires and Ballot Bandits, takes us on a three-continent romp, uncovering a tale of bribery, CIA gunrunning, WikiLeaks, and lap dancers. Palace goes undercover and into handcuffs to bring you the story the other media won’t let you see.
Greg Palast, this Sunday.
DESVARIEUX: So that was part of the trailer of “BP: In Deep Water”.
So, Greg, earlier, BPs Caspian Sea Transocean rig had suffered exactly the same fate as the Deepwater Horizon. So explain to us what were you looking for when you headed to Azerbaijan and what did you discover.
PALAST: Well, I was looking for the evidence, because no one knew, when the Deepwater Horizon went down, that there was an identical blowout halfway around the world on a BP Transocean platform in the Caspian Sea.
And, by the way, both rigs, both rigs blew out for the same exact reason. BP uses something called quick-dry cement, because–you know the old phrase–watching cement dry is the slowest process out. But you can make cement dry quicker by actually shooting it with nitrogen gas, like, literally laughing gas. It turns the cement into, like, a milkshake consistency and it speeds up the drying. Well, that’s fine, except in high-pressure areas, when you use milkshake cement, quick-dry cement, which is just to save money, you’re going to blow out. That’s what happened in the Caspian Sea. And they covered it up. BP had never ever admitted that there was a blowout in the Caspian Sea.
I got a coded message. I took off, for British television, to the other side of the planet and to get the witnesses who were on that rig who survived, get them on camera. And, by the way–.
DESVARIEUX: What do they tell you?
DESVARIEUX: What did they tell you, Greg?
PALAST: Well, the witnesses said, yeah, we–I have tape recordings of them saying it was mayhem, that there was a blowout, it was caused by the cement, by using the nitrogen-laced milkshake cement in the Caspian, the same thing that brought down the Deepwater Horizon, according to the government’s investigation. And they covered up.
But they were scared to death for the jobs. We couldn’t use their names. They were afraid to even be filmed on camera.
And then on top of it, I was arrested in the nation of Azerbaijan, which is what I call the Republic of BP. I was arrested. They took our film. But I got the film out anyway, because a lot of the film was on a camera inside my pen, you know, a little Austin Powers job that I keep with me.
And, plus, we got confirmation of the blowout from an extraordinary source–of the prior blowout, an extraordinary source, which is the U.S. State Department, that is, the secret cables that I obtained through WikiLeaks. Remember, I’m also working for The Guardian, which has the WikiLeaks cables. And right in there, the Bush State Department under Condi Rice was given the secret information by British Petroleum that they had a blowout, because BP’s partners Chevron and Exxon were saying, hey, where’s our money from the Caspian Sea? We were making millions a day. You know. And BP told the U.S. ambassador on the QT, look, we had a blowout, so there ain’t going to be no more oil for, you know, another year. So they covered it up. And the State Department covered it up, BP covered it up, Chevron and Exxon covered it up.
And those executives from Chevron, Exxon, and BP went to the United States Congress, testified in front of Congress and said, in 50 years we’ve never had a problem with this kind of drilling offshore. So they actually swore to the fact that they never had a problem, when all three companies knew that they had a disaster just one year earlier. By the way, after they testified, six months later the Deepwater Horizon went down because of the use of this cheap crap cement.
DESVARIEUX: What I found interesting in your investigation, Greg: you actually got a former BP executive to speak to you on camera. What did he have to say?
PALAST: Well, I got to a former BP executive named Les Abrahams, who told me that one way BP keeps these stories silent is by bribes. Now, he admitted on camera that he personally paid bribes, $3-$4 million in cash. He would also borrow BP’s private jet to take government officials for lap dancing weekends in London, and that in addition he held a check, handed over to president of Azerbaijan, for $30 million. When I say he held it, it was in his safekeeping until he could hand the check to Lord Brown, chairman of BP, who then handed that $30 million to the president of Azerbaijan. That’s how they do it, bribery.
And it’s not only over there in those countries; it was also the United States, because in the U.S., BP was caught giving gifts and literally–and getting in bed with the regulators in the U.S. And when I say getting in bed, I’m not talking metaphorically. They were doing the thing. So we had BP in bed with the regulators, literally, the Minerals and Mining Service that was supposed to be controlling their operations in the Gulf.
DESVARIEUX: Can you speak to specifics? Just some of our viewers might not know. Which specific agencies are you talking about or specific government officials?
PALAST: Yes. Under the Bush administration, regulation of offshore drilling was switched to something called the Minerals and Mining Services. And that operation was rife with people who were taking Super Bowl tickets, cash, and all kinds of favors from British Petroleum. It’s one of the reasons BP not only get away with literal murder–that is, those eleven guys that were incinerated on the Deepwater Horizon. It’s also one of the reasons why BP got some sweetheart deals with low payments for those leases. Imagine the value of all that oil–now spilled, but it’s a lot of oil worth a lot.
That agency, Minerals and Mining Services, after Deepwater Horizon, was shut down by President Obama. Of course, shutting down an agency is mostly just changing the name of it on letterhead. So it has a new name, has a couple of new people at the top.
But, you know, it–so that type of bribery goes on here as well as overseas. The difference in overseas is that the little dictatorships across Central Asia demand a lot more money than our officials here.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Let’s talk about what’s happening here in the United States. As I mentioned in the introduction, BP has a new lease. They’re now allowed to drill in the Gulf. Have there been any changes to safety regulations? Essentially, can the American people have confidence that this won’t happen again?
PALAST: I don’t have any confidence that this won’t happen again. I’ll tell you why: ’cause now BP has promised, oh, this time we’ll be good; we’ll have all kinds of safety equipment on the rigs; we will have–. Remember, one of the reasons why the rig–not only did it blow up, but it obviously smeared–and killed 11 guys, but it smeared 600 miles of Gulf coastline. And that’s because BP did not have the emergency spill response equipment that it had promised. It’s not rocket science to stop a spill from hitting the beaches. Use surround the rig with miles of rubber skirts, and you suck it out with skimmer ships. So you just–it’s rubber and suck. It’s no–you know, you don’t have to be a genius. But you do have to have the equipment.
Now, BP had promised that that equipment would be there in case something went wrong. They could surround the rig with the rubber skirt, and they would have ships that could skim out the oil. But that was a lie. It was completely phony.
And by the way, it’s not the first time BP has done this. Twenty-five years ago they did the same thing in Alaska. BP–you should have never even heard of the Exxon Valdez. Yeah, I know we blame Exxon, and I’m not letting them off the hook, but I was on that investigation. The main culprit was BP, British Petroleum, because BP had promised, he again, if there is a tanker gone aground in Alaska, they–not the other oil companies, but British Petroleum–would be responsible for that tanker route and have rubber skirting that should have gone around the Exxon Valdez and sucker ships to suck the stuff out. It was all a lie.
So BP lied in Alaska 25 years ago. They lied in the Gulf before the Deepwater Horizon. You know, they fooled us twice. They’ve told lies twice that they’re prepared for spills. And twice we’ve had two gigantic disasters, in Alaska and in the Gulf. Now we’re supposed to believe them a third time.
How about the punishment is the same punishment I would receive if I spilled 10 W 40 oil all over my apartment? My landlord would kick me out. My landlord would not say, oh, gee, I’ll tell you what, that apartment’s all messed up; why don’t you have the apartment next door? That’s what we’re doing with BP. We’re saying, twice, once Alaska with the Exxon Valdez, where BP, not Exxon, was responsible for that oil spill, and once in the Gulf. And now we’re saying, okay, lie to us a third time. No, I’m sorry. They should be out of that business completely. They should not be allowed near our Gulf waters, near the waters of the United States.
DESVARIEUX: Alright. Great Palast. The investigation is called “Vultures and Vote Rustlers”.
Very fascinating report. Thank you so much for joining us.
PALAST: You’re very welcome.
DESVARIEUX: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.