April 27, 2013
The Deepwater Horizon Trial: A Headache for Obama?
By Bruce Thompson
Just over three years after the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon, Halliburton has finally decided to face the music and increase its reserves for payment of civil damages by $1 billion.
Things did not go well for them in the seven weeks of testimony just concluded in federal court in New Orleans. They were caught hiding samples of the exact cement mixture that failed, which they had been ordered by the court to preserve. They had to admit that the cement formulation used "had a low probability of success."
With Halliburton now more amenable to seeking a settlement and willing to provide cold hard cash, the prospects go way up for a settlement before the decision of the court is announced in a few months. BP’s expert witnesses also scored some major points against the federal government and Transocean. So the inclination by most of the parties to sweep this unfortunate episode down the memory hole has presumably gotten much stronger.
Here is a summary of the strategic situation for those who might have been inclined to fight on. There are only three defendants left: BP, Transocean, and Halliburton.
After withstanding three years of accusations, BP has now put forth some impressive expert witnesses for the defense. The defense always goes last, and BP saved their best for last. BP had been forthright early on that it bore much of the responsibility and very prominently created a $20-billion compensation fund way back in 2010. BP’s people also put forth the Bly Report detailing their understanding of the causes of the blowout. Before the trial began, BP pled guilty to 14 criminal charges and the payment of a $4-billion fine, the "largest criminal payment in U.S. history." It seems that BP got the message early: oil spills are unacceptable.
Transocean was more reluctant to accept any of the blame, especially in light of the indemnity clause in their contract with BP to serve as the latter’s drilling contractor. But Transocean also eventually fessed up with a detailed report of their perspective on the causes of the blowout. They pled guilty to a single count of violating the Clean Water Act and agreed to pay the second-largest fine ever, $400 million, and accept 5 years on probation. "The company also said it had paid more than $140 million in salaries and benefits, medical benefits and legal settlements since the accident." While it is not apparent to those not in the know, those sympathetic widows and orphans you saw on TV got multi-million-dollar settlements, paid for by Transocean.
Until this week, Halliburton has been the last holdout among the defendants. Now that Halliburton’s people are actively looking for a settlement, the question becomes whether the plaintiffs are ready to make a final deal.
The primary plaintiff is the Department of Justice (DoJ). And judging by their bluster, one might be inclined to think they would battle for every dime in fines. But their position for the second phase of the trial is weak. Until now, the DoJ has been on offense. The second phase of the trial will deal with the subsea intervention and spill containment effort. That was run by the National Incident Command under Admiral Thad Allen, with input from the Scientific Advisory team under Steven Chu and the Flow Rate Technical Group under Marcia McNutt (with clear links all the way to the White House). Remember President Obama holding forth at a press conference about how he had, based on the advice of his daughter Malia, ordered everyone to plug the damn hole while he thought about the issue night and day?
If there is one overriding imperative at the Obama White House, it is to never get caught bearing direct responsibility for anything unpopular. And an oil spill that the administration itself has estimated at 5 million barrels is indeed very, very unpopular. The president’s reputation for "leading from behind" has become firmly established as the conventional wisdom. Forcing the defendants to go to trial in the intervention and containment stage would put the onus squarely on the White House. As such, it is exactly the kind of news that you will not find in the media. How many stories have you seen about Phase One of this trial? It is not as if there was nothing newsworthy.
Here are a few bullet points about the news that’s not fit to print in the New York Times.
The blowout preventer was capable of successfully shutting in the well — and would have done so, if not for the maintenance failures of Transocean in allowing an old, out-of-date battery to go dead in one control pod and having two relays mis-wired in the other. The relays were wired in opposite polarity rather than working together. A simple analogy would be to consider the effect on a flashlight if you installed one battery right-side-up and the other upside-down, rather than both being right-side-up. It won’t work. When the explosions cut off the electrical and hydraulic connections to the blowout preventer, its automatic "deadman" function should have closed the blind shear ram without human intervention and sealed in the well. If not for these two maintenance deficiencies, there would have been no spill at all from the wellhead.
A BP expert witness, Andrew Mitchell, made the point that master of the Deepwater Horizon saw drilling mud raining down on the deck of his ship several minutes before the explosions. On his bridge was a control panel for the Emergency Disconnect System with a prominent "big red button." Had he recognized that his ship was in deadly peril and pushed the button before the explosion, the signal would have traveled down those electrical connections to the blowout preventer to separate the riser (and consequently the ship) from the wellhead, and the automatic Autoshear function would have activated the blind shear ram and shut in the well. How should he have known that the situation was already out of control? Because the operation they were just finishing was intended to "displace the riser" with seawater. According to the plan, the top of the drilling mud in the well should have been at a depth of 8,367 feet, and the oil and gas should have been below the bottom of the shoe track at over 18,000 feet. In actuality, there was mud spewing out the top of the well, and the oil and gas were already above the blowout preventer at a depth of 5,000 feet. The mud was more than 8,000 feet higher than where it was supposed to be, and the oil and gas was over 13,000 feet above where they were supposed to be. Transocean was in charge of well control, and their men in the drill shack were unreactive until it was much too late. They paid for their inattention with their lives.
The blind shear ram (BSR) was capable of cutting the drill pipe centered within it until the traveling block failed about 25 minutes after the first explosion due to the extreme heat of the fire. When this support holding up the drill pipe failed, the pipe had been firmly clamped in place by the pipe ram below the blind shear ram. The pipe ram took the weight of the drill string above it acting downward under the force of gravity. Less than a second later, the traveling block impacted the top end of the drill pipe with a massive hammer blow. Any carpenter who has ever bent a nail understands what happened then: the drill pipe bent against the inside of the cavity within the blowout preventer. The pipe was way off-center, and the blind shear ram could no longer make a clean cut. When this function was finally activated by an intervention with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), mere hours before the rig sank on April 22, 2010, the BSR made a ragged cut and stopped short of the fully closed position. That caused it to leak until July 15, 2010. (See the full details here.)
There is plenty of blame to go around. Will the DoJ risk putting the government’s reputation on the line by persisting, or will they settle? If they do not choose to push this down the memory hole very soon, they will be facing the first criminal trials against BP employees Kurt Mix and David Rainey over the dispute about the size of the spill. BP has consistently argued that the government overestimated to flow. The DoJ tried to discredit these BP employees by bringing charges against them. Now Kurt Mix’s trial is due to start June 10, 2013. So the DoJ has only about seven weeks to make this go away before the tables get turned around. The spectacle of a BP employee being tried under criminal charges would be a media circus perfect for the 24/7 news cycle — except Mix’s attorney is loaded for bear!
The AP reports:
Mix’s lawyers also want copies of transcripts for the grand jury proceedings that produced a new indictment against their client on March 20. The new indictment added allegations that Mix deleted about 40 voicemails from a supervisor and roughly 15 voicemails from a BP contractor.
Stroz Friedberg LLC inspected Mix’s phone for the Justice Department but could recover only a handful of 346 voicemails that callers left between April 20, 2010 — the date of BP’s deadly Deepwater Horizon rig explosion — and Aug. 20, 2011.
Stroz Friedberg’s report demonstrates the farcical nature of the newly-minted allegation that Kurt Mix ‘corruptly’ deleted voicemails from his iPhone," Mix’s lawyers wrote. "Stroz Friedberg’s findings not only reveal a complete absence of evidence for the new voicemail-related allegations, but also illuminate the distinct possibility that the original and superseding indictments against Mix were the products of a structurally defective grand jury proceeding."
Mix’s attorneys accuse prosecutors of drafting the new indictment to imply "something nefarious" about the alleged voicemail deletions.
"The superseding indictment not only fails to mention that AT&T — and not Kurt Mix — might have been responsible for as many as 253 of the 346 voicemail deletions, but it also misleadingly suggests through use of the passive voice ("were deleted") that Kurt Mix was the culprit behind those deletions," they wrote.
So Obama faces a major dilemma: keep trying to collect big fines to fund the ravenous government maw, or announce a settlement late on a Friday afternoon and hope no one notices. The date of that Obama press conference, May 27, 2010, is not coincidentally exactly the same date on which Kurt Mix was busy trying to "plug the damn hole." It is the same day that the offshore drilling moratorium was written during the wee hours of the morning, while BP tried to stop the flow of oil until ordered to stop by Steven Chu. Does Obama really want the drilling moratorium back on the prime-time network news? He’ll get it, if he persists in trying to prosecute Kurt Mix.
There seems to be a lot of news that does not fit the administration/media template! But you can keep reading all about it here on The American Thinker.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sat Apr 27, 2013 2:18 pm
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Drugs giant Roche accused of sitting on trial data for flu treatment
Doubts remain about efficacy and safety of Tamiflu, stockpiled for use in pandemics
JEREMY LAURANCE WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2012
The pharmaceutical giant Roche is being accused of irresponsibly withholding key trial data about a vital flu drug on which governments around the world have spent billions of pounds.
The anti-flu drug Tamiflu has been stockpiled by countries against the outbreak of a flu pandemic since 2004. The UK alone has spent £500m.
Yesterday, the British Medical Journal launched a campaign to persuade Roche to give doctors and patients the full data on Tamiflu, three years after doubts about its safety and efficacy emerged.
In 2009, researchers from the Cochrane Collaboration found that results of eight out of 10 key trials of Tamiflu were never fully published and concluded there was "insufficient data" to show it reduced complications – a vital factor in a pandemic which could save lives.
Roche promised to release the full data, but then reneged on its promise, according to the BMJ. The journal’s editor, Fiona Godlee, published an open letter to Sir John Bell, the Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University and a board member of Roche, in which she appeals to him to use his influence to persuade the company to release the data "for independent scrutiny".
The two trials that have been published, she says, "were funded by Roche and authored by Roche employees and Roche-paid external experts" and "could not be relied on".
There have now been 123 trials of Tamiflu but 60 per cent of the patient data "remains unpublished", she says. "I am appealing to you as an internationally respected scientist and clinician and a leader of clinical research in the UK to bring your influence to bear," she writes.
"In refusing to release these data of enormous public interest, you [the company's directors] put Roche outside the circle of responsible pharmaceutical companies. Billions of pounds of public money have been spent on [Tamiflu] and yet the evidence on its effectiveness and safety remains hidden from appropriate and necessary independent scrutiny."
The European Medicines Agency announced last week that it was investigating Roche’s alleged failure to report side-effects of some of its drugs in as many as 80,000 patients, following a review by the UK Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency. If found guilty, the company could be fined up to 5 per cent of its sales in the EU – which amounted to 8.2bn Swiss francs (£5.4bn) in 2011.
In the Commons, the Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston, a GP, called last week for drug companies to publish all clinical trial results, saying it was "vitally important for patient safety" and would give a "completely different evidence base for medicine."
The UK was among the first countries to place bulk orders for Tamiflu (and smaller amounts of Relenza, a rival drug made by GlaxoSmithKline) for stockpiling when fears about a possible avian flu pandemic emerged in 2003 and 2004.
The stockpile was used during the swine flu outbreak of 2009, but because the illness was mild in most people demand remained low.
Dr Godlee said yesterday: "Tamiflu was licensed over 10 years ago and has been in widespread use since. Once a drug is licensed it becomes a drug on which public money is spent and lives may be put at risk. Inevitably if there is information we are not allowed to see we wonder what is in there. There is a legitimate scientific question [about its safety and efficacy] which can only be answered by looking at the data. It is just shocking."
A spokesman for Roche said: "Roche provided the Cochrane group with access to 3,200 pages of very detailed information, enabling their questions to be answered. Roche stands behind the robustness and integrity of our data supporting the efficacy and safety of Tamiflu."
Sir John Bell was not available for comment yesterday.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Wed Oct 31, 2012 12:14 am
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What Went Wrong: The Truth Behind the Clinical Trial of the Enzyme Treatment of Cancer
Statistics: Posted by DIGGER DAN — Mon Aug 13, 2012 2:56 am
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Former Icelandic Prime Minister Geir Haarde is to go on trial at a special court on charges of negligence in his handling of the 2008 financial crisis.
The country’s three main banks collapsed during economic turmoil.
The failure of Icesave, which hit thousands of savers in the UK and Netherlands, led to a dispute over compensation, which remains unresolved.
Mr Haarde rejects the charges as "political persecution", saying he would be vindicated during the trial.
The proceedings will be held at the Landsdomur court, a special body to try cabinet ministers, which has never before heard a case.
Some Icelanders see the trial of Mr Haarde as scapegoating, while others argue that public accountability is essential following the country’s financial collapse.
Iceland was plunged into a deep recession following the collapse of its three banks, including Icesave’s parent company Landsbanki, in autumn 2008.
Mr Haarde, 60, led the Independence Party government at the time.
He is accused of being negligent because he had not ensured financial safeguards were in place.
The former premier says he was only doing what he thought was best for the country at the time.
When Icesave collapsed, the then UK Prime Minster Gordon Brown accused his Icelandic counterpart of "unacceptable" and "illegal" behaviour after Iceland said it could not give a guarantee to reimburse UK customers of the online bank.
In response, Mr Haarde accused the UK government of "bullying" and bringing down one of its other banks after the Treasury froze the assets of Icelandic institutions in the UK.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sun Mar 04, 2012 8:59 pm
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AFGHANS: QURAN-BURNING SOLDIERS TO FACE TRIAL
Says NATO agreed to bring to justice ‘those responsible for incident’
By Jack Minor
In a development that could chill the dedication of every soldier in the field, the U.S. government has refused to deny reports by the government of Afghanistan that NATO has agreed to have the soldiers who burned copies of the Quran face trial.
Last week, Afghan president Hamid Karzai demanded NATO turn over the U.S. troops to be tried in Afghanistan. President Obama subsequently sent a letter to Karzai reassuring him that the troops involved would be punished for their actions.
Part of the three-page letter to Karzai said, “I extend to you and the Afghan people my sincere apologies. We will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.”
It is unclear exactly what Obama meant by that statement as the White House has not released the full text of the letter. However, the Afghan government may have provided insight into its contents.
Over the weekend, the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan government media and information center website posted a joint statement by the delegations assigned to probe the Quran burning incident.
The statement says that two delegations were created to “investigate the circumstances and causes that have led to the inhumane incident.”
The statement listed several items, including a demand that the U.S. turn over the authority of the prison in Bagram to the Afghan government to ensure similar incidents do not recur and “calls on the U.S. government to fully and comprehensively cooperate to this end.”
However, the statement used vastly different language when discussing the fate of the U.S. soldiers involved in the incident.
“NATO officials promised to meet Afghan nation’s demand of bringing to justice, through an open trial, those responsible for the incident and it was agreed that the perpetrators of the crime be brought to justice as soon as possible,” the statement said.
The wording suggests members of the military could be handed over to an Afghan system that imposes Shariah-related penalties.
U.S officials were unwilling to state emphatically that the soldiers would not be turned over to the Afghan legal system for burning the Qurans.
Cmdr. William Speakes, a spokesman for the Pentagon said, “It would be premature to speculate at any potential outcomes. Any disciplinary action if deemed warranted will be taken by U.S. authorities after a thorough review of the facts pursuant to all U.S. military law and regulations and in accordance with due process. We have made no commitments beyond that.”
When asked if that meant the only commitment officials were willing to make was the soldiers would not be tried in an Afghan court, Speakes said, “No. The only commitment we have made is that we will take any appropriate disciplinary action deemed necessary by the investigation. Any suggestions that we have made more detailed commitments beyond what I just told you is inaccurate.”
Although the statements apparently were made by the Afghan government Feb. 25, they have received no mention in the mainstream media.
Clare Lopez, a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, said if the statement by the Afghan government turns out to be true, it would be an unprecedented betrayal of our men and women in uniform.
“I can’t imagine we would ever do this, what would we charge them with? Are we going to try Americans for crimes committed under Shariah law? I cannot believe our government would go that far,” she said.
Robert Spencer, founder of Jihad Watch, said it was fascinating that the U.S. government has not gotten out in front of this issue and denied the statement.
“The administration needs to clarify their stance on this. The longer they wait to deny this the more it has the opportunity to further inflame the Muslim in Afghanistan.”
Spencer said that whether the soldiers end up being turned over to the Afghan government or face court-martial, either decision would set a dangerous precedent.
“It would be unconscionable either way,” he said. “If they turn them over to the Afghan government for trial then we are endorsing the applicability of Shariah law to non-Muslims in the U.S. military. If they court-martial them then they are adopting those norms as part of the UCMJ. Either way it’s frightening.”
Lopez said that while U.S. officials have made large concessions to appease Muslims, turning the soldiers over to face trial would be over the line.
“If they were to allow our soldiers to be tried under a legal system that calls for the death penalty for destroying a Quran, that would be unthinkable,” she said.
She said that the silence on the part of U.S. officials has the potential to cause real damage to the morale of troops.
“When the government will not come out with a strong denial of this statement by the Afghan government it has the potential to cause our troops to wonder if the U.S. will truly stand behind and protect them when they are simply trying to do their job,” she said.
It appears that the soldiers may not have violated Islamic law at all by their burning of the Qurans.
In a PBS interview, Imam Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California, said it was acceptable to burn the Quran if it was in a state of “disrepair.”
“When Muslims want to respectfully dispose of a text of the Quran that is no longer usable, we will burn it. So if someone, for example, in their own private collection or library had a text of the Quran that was damaged or that was in disrepair, so the binding was ruined, etc., or it got torn, they might bring it by to the Islamic Center and ask that someone here dispose of it properly if they were unsure how to do that,” Turk said. “And what I’ll do is I’ll take it to my fireplace at home and burn it there in the fireplace. So I sort of take the pages out and then burn it to make sure that it gets thoroughly charred and is no longer recognizable as script.”
Spencer added, “You are supposed to burn a Quran that is worn out and you are not to write in it. Do they have a problem with the burning of the Quran? No, they do it all the time.”
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Thu Mar 01, 2012 1:17 pm
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