A Realpolitik - The Jefferson Tree

BP oil spill – An Australian perspective

June 8, 2010 started out like any normal day for me.

I woke up, organised the family for the day ahead, and went to work.  It was not long after I arrived at work that my view of the world, and my trust in the ‘powers that be’ took a major blow.  Sitting at my desk during a break, I read The Courier-Mail. June 8 was World Oceans Day and the newspaper included a one-page lift-out with the headline “BP oil spill Gulf Of Mexico”.  It showed 14 colour images and a short article at the bottom of the page (about 150 words).  It was the first three words that left me shell-shocked, “On April 20…”

My mind was racing: “What the…?”,   “April 20?  Are you kidding me?”.  Searching my memory bank I could only remember hearing about this disaster since the middle of May.  I held up the lift-out and asked my colleagues if they were aware that the oil spill had started on April 20.  Their faces reflected my own shock at the news.  Soon there was hot debate throughout the entire office.  A few colleagues told me, not so politely, that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that it had only started about three weeks ago.  The general consensus in the end was that it can’t be too bad because there was hardly any media reports about it.

Coincidentally, that night I came across The Jefferson Tree.  Reading the articles about the oil spill left me scratching my head in wonderment at first.  The images soon slammed home the enormity of what was happening.  However, it left a nagging voice inside asking, “Why are we not hearing any of this?”.

As the days have passed this nagging voice has become louder, stronger, and more urgent.  As a result I have decided to dig a bit deeper and investigate what, and how much, our local media have been telling us.  This investigation focuses on print media (newspaper) sources.  This is partly because of the ease of access to information, but also because online, television, and radio news sources in Australia generally rely heavily on print media for their news stories.

Print Media Overview

To set the context of this investigation, here is a brief overview of Australia’s print media.  According to Press Reference, Australia has:

  • 48 daily newspapers with a total circulation of 3, 030, 000.  These newspapers are located throughout Australia in both metropolitan and regional areas;
  • 233 non-daily newspapers with a total circulation of 374, 000.  Again these are located throughout Australia.

The Papua New Guinea newspaper, Post-Courier (Port Moresby), will also be referenced in this article.

The Timeline

News of the BP oil spill was first published in Australia on April 24, 2010.  Four days after it began.  The story was run in three papers.  Two of these were metropolitan majors, The Courier-Mail (Brisbane) (page 44) and The Advertiser (Adelaide) (page 71).  The other was a Queensland regional daily, the Gold Coast Bulletin (Gold Coast) (page 16).  The Courier-Mail ran the largest report, as below:

Pollution fear after blazing oil rig sinks

Courier Mail, The (Brisbane, Australia) – Saturday, April 24, 2010

Author: AFP

NEW ORLEANS: A blazing oil rig has sunk into the Gulf of Mexico, sparking fears of an environmental disaster almost two days after a huge blast that left 11 workers missing.
Oil fires had been raging on the Deepwater Horizon rig for more than 36 hours since a spectacular explosion late on Wednesday that sent huge balls of flame leaping into the night.
The US Coast Guard frantically searched for those still missing yesterday after the other 115 workers on board the platform were brought back to the US mainland and reunited with their families.
Yesterday’s sensational development brought fears of mammoth pollution from the stricken rig as it sank beneath the surface about 80km off the Louisiana coast, still apparently pumping oil.
Before the explosion there were 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board the semi-submersible platform and it had been drilling 8000 barrels, or 360,000 gallons, of oil a day.
“Worst-case scenario, there is a potential environmental threat,” Coast Guard spokeswoman Katherine McNamara told AFP news agency.
Firefighting vessels had spewed out thick streams of water at the rig in a vain bid to control the blaze and keep the sharply tilting platform afloat as large columns of black smoke shot up into the sky.
Any pollution would be far smaller than the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill , considered one of the worst man-made environmental disasters.
The Exxon Valdez poured nearly 11 million gallons of crude into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, devastating about 1300km of its once-pristine shores.
Rescue crews for the current disaster toiled throughout the night on Thursday, scouring about 5025sq km of sea. A helicopter and a plane resumed the aerial search at first light.
Seventeen workers were airlifted to hospital on Thursday after suffering broken bones, burns and smoke inhalation in the explosion on the semi-submersible, mobile rig. Four remained in critical condition.
It remained unclear whether the missing workers had made it safely into one of the rig’s lifeboats.
“We’re going to continue to search as long as there is a reasonable probability of finding them alive,” coast guard spokeswoman Ashley Butler said, adding that weather conditions were favourable for the search.
After the blast, workers jumped up to 30m into the water and scurried for safety, most of them making it to lifeboats to be picked up by rescuers and taken to Port Fourchon on the Louisiana mainland.
The 121m-by-78m platform, owned by Transocean Ltd and under contract to BP , was still ablaze but officials said environmental damage appeared to be minimal because the fire was burning much of the spilled fuel.
Transocean vice-president Adrian Rose said the rig likely suffered a blowout while drilling through rock at BP ‘s Macondo prospect, although investigations are ongoing.

Edition: 1 – First with the news
Section: World
Page: 044
Record Number: CML_T-20100424-1-044-465411
Copyright, 2010, Nationwide News Pty Limited

The next reports were not published until April 27, 2010.  The reports ran in Adelaide and on the Gold Coast, and the story was also picked up by The Australian (Australia), The Herald Sun (Melbourne)and The Townsville Bulletin (Townsville).  The reports were located between pages 7 and 25 in the various publications.  Most of the publications ran the same report as The Australian:

Mexican Gulf oil rig spewing 1000 barrels a day

Australian, The (Australia) – Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Author: AFP

NEW ORLEANS: Crude oil is spewing from a sunken oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a massive slick in what environmentalists warned could be the biggest spill since the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.
Satellite images showed the slick had spread by 50 per cent in a day, to cover an area of 1500sq km, although officials said 97 per cent was just a thin veneer on the sea’s surface.
BP has dispatched skimming vessels to mop up the oil leaking from the debris of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which sank on Friday, two days after a massive explosion left 11 workers missing and presumed dead.
The company said at least four underwater robots, similar to scaled-down submarines, were trying to stop the leak by plugging up the leaking well.
Chief operating officer of BP Exploration & Production, Doug Suttles, said workers would use a “blowout preventer” — a piece of back-up equipment installed near the wellhead, which has failed to function properly since the rig sank — to try to plug the leaks.
“It has not been done before, but we have the world’s best experts working to make it happen,” said the BP executive, who warned that if the attempt failed, it might take two to three months to staunch the leaking well.
BP said it was trying to activate the giant 450-tonne machine by using remotely operated submersible vehicles. At the same time, it was also preparing to drill relief wells that would permanently shut off the oil flow.
BP estimated that the leaks, 2km down on the seabed, emanated from two holes in the riser that connected the wellhead to the sunken rig and were releasing 1000 barrels a day.
The coast guard, which conducted two overflights on Sunday and yesterday to assess the extent of the pollution, described it as a “very serious spill ”.
Five aircraft and 32 spill -response vessels were hoping to resume efforts to mop up the slick after weather delays on Sunday.
So far, the slick is not threatening the coast of Louisiana, 60km away, where it could endanger ecologically fragile wetlands.
BP said chemical products had also been poured into the slick to help the dispersal process.

Edition: 2 – All-round First
Section: World
Page: 008
Record Number: AUS_T-20100427-2-008-967297
Copyright, 2010, Nationwide News Pty Limited

The Port Moresby (Papua New Guinea) newspaper Post-Courier published the following report the same day:

LOUISIANA: There are fears of an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, as efforts to clear up an oil spill have been suspended because of bad weather.

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier (Port Moresby) – Tuesday, April 27, 2010

LOUISIANA: There are fears of an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, as efforts to clear up an oil spill have been suspended because of bad weather.
A drilling rig leased by the oil company BP exploded and sank off the Louisiana coast last week.
Some 1000 barrels of oil a day are leaking into the sea from the damaged well, officials say.
They say the oil leak has the potential to damage beaches, barrier islands and wetlands across the coastline. Eleven workers are still missing and presumed to have been killed in the accident. The search for them has been called off.
More than 100 other workers were rescued. The Deepwater Horizon had been burning for 36 hours when it sank on Thursday in 5,000 ft (1,500m) of water, despite efforts to control the flames. It was carrying out exploratory drilling 84km (52 miles) south-east of Venice, Louisiana when the blast occurred. Bad weather caused cleanup efforts to be suspended over the weekend, allowing the slick to grow to about 580 sq miles (1,500 sq km), officials say.
Oil leaks from a sunken drill pipe 5,000 ft beneath the ocean surface
BP has been using a robot submarine to try to activate a blowout preventer – a series of pipes and valves that could stop the leak.
However, this was a “highly complex task” and “it may not be successful”, chief operating officer of BP ‘s exploration and production unit Doug Suttles was quoted as saying by Reuters. The company has also brought in more than 30 cleanup vessels and several aircraft to spray dispersant on the floating oil .
At the moment, the weather conditions are keeping the oil away from the coastline and it is hoped the waves will break up the heavy crude oil , allowing it to harden and sink back to the ocean floor.

Edition: 1
Page: 029
Record Number: PTC_T-20100427-2-029-006077
Copyright, 2010, Nationwide News Pty Limited

The Post-Courier was the only paper to publish a report regarding the BP oil spill on April 28, 2010:

BP has smashed City forecasts with a 135 per cent jump in profits, thanks to rising oil prices.

Papua New Guinea Post-Courier (Port Moresby) – Wednesday, April 28, 2010

BP has smashed City forecasts with a 135 per cent jump in profits, thanks to rising oil prices.
The energy giant reported profits of $US5.6 billion (3.6 billion) in the first three months of 2010, up from $US2.4 billion a year ago. Analysts had expected a figure of around $US4.8 billion on a replacement cost profit basis, which strips out fluctuations in the value of oil inventories.
The unexpectedly large jump in earnings was mainly thanks to BP ‘s exploration and production arm, which benefitted from oil prices of up to $US84 a barrel during the quarter. In early 2009 the oil price fell below $US33 a barrel. The rally over the last year has helped oil producers, but hurt motorists who are now facing record petrol prices at the pumps.
BP ‘s strong performance was overshadowed by the explosion last week at a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven people are missing and presumed dead after Deepwater Horizon, hired by BP and owned by US firm Transocean, caught fire and sank. Around 1,000 barrels of oil are still gushing from the site into the sea each day.
BP said it was committed to doing everything in its power to contain the environmental consequences of America’s worst offshore rig disaster in 40 years.
There are now 1,000 people involved in efforts to stop two separate leaks, and deal with the growing oil spill , including BP workers and the US Coast Guard.
“The safety of the people working offshore is our top priority and the improved weather has created better conditions for our response,” said BP chief executive Tony Hayward in a statement this morning. “This, combined with the light, thin oil we are dealing with has further increased our confidence that we can tackle this spill offshore.” BP is moving two rigs to the site to drill relief wells, which should help to shut the leak down. Four underwater robots have also been deployed to try to activate a cut-off valve which failed to engage before the rig exploded last Tuesday.

Edition: 1
Page: 032
Record Number: PTC_T-20100428-2-032-006374
Copyright, 2010, Nationwide News Pty Limited

Sydney first heard about the BP oil spill in print media on April 29, 2010 in The Daily Telegraph. The Gold Coast, Townsville, Melbourne and Adelaide were the only other reports that day.

May 2, 2010 saw all of Australia’s major newspapers pick up the story.  Although reports on the BP oil spill were generally buried deep.  The nation-wide coverage continued through until May 6, 2010, when reports started to indicate the worst might be over.  The Advertiser in Adelaide published the following:

Hope in oil spill battle

Advertiser, The (Adelaide, Australia) – Thursday, May 6, 2010

MOBILE, Alabama: Winds and waves eased in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday – encouraging crews trying to clean up a massive oil spill .
People on beaches and bayous waited anxiously to find out just how badly the slick might damage the delicate coast.
A Coast Guard official said forecasts showed the oil was not expected to go ashore for at least three more days. The calm weather was allowing clean-up crews to put out more containment equipment and repair some protective booms damaged in rough weekend weather.
They also hope to again try to burn some of the oil on the water’s surface.
“We do have the gift of time. It’s a gift of a little bit of time. I’m not resting,” Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said.
BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said boats were sent to Chandeleur Island to look for the oil going ashore, but had not been able to find it.
Only sheens had reached some coastal waters after two weeks of oil flow from an uncapped sea-floor gusher. The slow movement had given crews and volunteers time to lay boom in front of shorelines.
Rig operator BP PLC continued to try to cap one of the smaller of three leaks.
This could make it easier to install a containment system over the well.

Edition: 1 – State
Section: Foreign
Page: 037
Record Number: ADV_T-20100506-1-037-459529
Copyright, 2010, Nationwide News Pty Limited

Since May 8, 2010 there have been on average 5 reports run nationally each day.  These reports average 1 to 2 inches of column space.  And the news is not new.  No news outlet has consistently reported on the BP oil spill in Australia, although The Australian and The Advertiser have been the most regular.

Probably more remarkable than the indifferent reporting, there has been no public outcry from Australian citizens regarding the BP oil spill.  There have been no calls for our government to become involved and offer assistance.  The green movement has been surprisingly quiet.  And where is Greenpeace when you need them?  Out of sight, out of mind?

Find out more about Kelly Quinn at Clear Blue Window

A Realpolitik - The Jefferson Tree

Author: A Realpolitik - The Jefferson Tree

The Jefferson Tree – Is a bi-partisan centrist blog seeking to combine extreme views into much needed workable solutions. It is our intention to provide opposing political views from across the spectrum allowing visitors to form conclusions by reading both sides of the discussion.

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