Offshore rig mishaps – Bush/Cheney style

In the five years before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, federal investigators documented nearly 200 safety and environmental violations in accidents on platforms and rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, describing a stunning array of hazards that resulted in few penalties.

Workers plunged dozens of feet through open unmarked holes. Welding sparked flash fires. Overloaded cranes dropped heavy loads that smashed equipment and pinned workers. Oil and drilling mud fouled Gulf waters. Compressors exploded. Wells blew out.

And yet, in their investigations of nearly 400 offshore incidents, Minerals Management Service officials failed to travel to one-third of the accident scenes, collected only 16 fines and did not investigate every blowout as their own rules require.

BP, the region’s leading offshore oil producer, reported more accidents and blowouts than any other oil company operating in Gulf waters, followed by Chevron, the region’s third largest off-shore oil producer.

BP has had at least 47 since 2005; Chevron 46, based on a Houston Chronicle review of accidents investigated by MMS in the last five years and a decade of government reports on blowouts of oil wells.

Each major oil company paid only a single fine related to violations linked to those incidents. Both Chevron and BP spokesmen defended their companies’ safety records and said their employee injury rates are low…

The Gulf’s second-ranked producer, Shell, had 22 reported accidents and has paid no related fines.

One of the biggest delays in fine collections involved BP. The company took five years to pay a fine associated with a 2002 debacle where two oil well blowouts struck the same drilling rig in three months…

In fact, agency records also show no evidence that MMS investigators visited the scene in about one-third of offshore accidents reported since 2005. In other cases, long delays in site visits were caused by unsafe conditions aboard damaged rigs, bad weather or hurricanes. But most delays and failures to go to accident sites are unexplained in reports.

RTFA. Disgusting history of corruption, inaction, complacency. Lazy, country club-bureaucrats who invent their investigations in the quiet of their offices.

Russian soldiers suspected of looting plane crash

Russia and Poland’s newfound solidarity is now under severe strain following claims that Russian soldiers stole the credit cards of one of the victims of April’s plane crash that wiped out much of Poland’s leadership.

Polish authorities said that Russia had detained four soldiers on suspicion of looting credit cards from the body of Andrzej Przewoznik, a historian and top Polish official. Przewoznik perished with 95 other people, including Poland’s president Lech Kaczynski, when their plane went down in thick fog near Smolensk airport in western Russia.

According to Warsaw, Przewoznik’s card was used to withdraw money from a cashpoint within hours of the catastrophe. Further withdrawals were made from four Smolensk cash machines over the next two days. Przewoznik’s widow raised the alarm when she discovered around 6,000 zloty (€1,400) had vanished from her dead husband’s bank account.

Today Polish television reported that credit cards belonging to another plane crash victim, Aleksandra Natalli-Swiat, the deputy head of the Law and Justice party, had also disappeared. No transactions were recorded, however…

The row threatens to undermine the genuine closeness that has blossomed between Russia and Poland in the crash’s aftermath. The Kremlin gave unprecedented assistance and access to Polish investigators, while Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, flew to Smolensk with his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk. President Dmitry Medvedev attended Kaczynski’s funeral in Krakow.

Distrust wasn’t helped when Poles accused Russian police of stealing the cards – after reports of arrests. In fact, it apparently was Russian police who turned up the soldiers sent to the crash scene who stole the credit cards.

Old anxieties, conflicts rarely laid to rest in that part of Europe leap out at you at the simplest provocation. I hope they get it sorted.

World’s biggest burger rocks out in Oz!

A Sydney cafe is flipping out after cooking a hamburger believed to be the world’s biggest.

The Ambrosia on the Spot cafe in Randwick began creating the giant patty at 9.45pm Saturday. Four men were needed to flip the bulging burger, which at 90 kilograms, weighed in at more than the average human.

Cafe owners Joe and Iman El-Ajouz said the burger was finally placed in a bun around 11.45 Sunday morning, eclipsing the previous record of 84 kg, set in Michigan in the United States.

Just flipping the patty was the main challenge for us, but it all went well,” Iman El-Ajouz said…

The giant burger contained the giant beef patty, 120 eggs, 150 slices of cheese, 1.5 kg of beetroot, 2.5 kg of tomatoes and almost 2 kg of lettuce all topped off with a special sauce on a giant sesame seed bun. It was eaten by employees at the cafe, along with supporters such as a bread supplier and a butcher.

More than $2500 was raised for the Sydney Children’s Hospital in the world record attempt. The cafe owners are now awaiting official confirmation from Guinness World Records.

Rock on!

Kids of lesbians have fewer behavioral problems

A nearly 25-year study concluded that children raised in lesbian households were psychologically well-adjusted and had fewer behavioral problems than their peers.

The study, published…in the journal Pediatrics, followed 78 lesbian couples who conceived through sperm donations and assessed their children’s well-being through a series of questionnaires and interviews…

The answers were coded into a computer and then analyzed. This data was compared with data from children of nonlesbian families. The results surprised Dr. Nanette Gartrell.

“I would have anticipated the kids would be doing as well as the normative sample,” she said. “I didn’t expect better.”

Children from lesbian families rated higher in social, academic and total competence. They also showed lower rates in social, rule-breaking, aggressive problem behavior.

The involvement of mothers may be a contributing factor, in addition to the fact that the pregnancies were planned, Gartrell said.

The children “didn’t arrive by accident,” she said. “The mothers were older… they were waiting for an opportunity to have children and age brings maturity and better parenting.”

This also could have occurred because “growing up in households with less power assertion and more parental involvement has been shown to be associated with healthier psychological adjustment,” Gartrell wrote in the study…

“This study shows that the 17-year-old adolescents who have been reared by lesbian families are psychologically happy and high functioning,” said Gartrell, a Williams distinguished scholar at the UCLA School of Law. Restrictions of child custody and reproductive technologies based on sexual orientation are not justified, she said.

CNN’s article covers its buns by dragging in bible-based moralists and a few others who have an axe to grind whenever science and reason provide positive information and analysis. That – to me – is part of the silliness that rules American politics.

One of the main antagonists says the results of this study…”just defies common sense and reality.”

The fact is that so-called common sense has nothing to do with verifiable, reproducible, scientific peer-reviewed evaluation. “Common sense” to the superstitious – means superstition rules — and science and reality is ignored. Ideological hogwash.

Now that spadework has turned up surprising results – bona fide scientists will lead the way to discovering why and how the differences exist.

Soldier injured in Afghanistan denied holiday refund

A soldier badly injured while fighting in Afghanistan has been left £700 out of pocket after travel agents refused to refund his cancelled holiday.

Lance Sergeant David Hesketh was due to fly out to Majorca with his wife Heather on June 20. He had been due back to the UK for a two-week break from the frontline in time for the holiday and Mrs Hesketh, 30, had planned the four-day getaway as a surprise.

But the 36-year-old. from Penwortham, Preston, suffered severe burns in a blast in Helmand Province last month and spent two weeks in a military hospital. His injuries are so severe he cannot expose them to UV light for at least 12 months.

But when his wife tried to cancel the holiday, London-based Fleetway Travel refused to give a refund…

Mr Hesketh, who has a three-year-old daughter Charlotte and two stepchildren, Jack and Sophie, added: “We just wanted to have a break to relax. It had been a hard tour and Heather was going to surprise me with it when I came home on leave. Then Fleetway told us that as a goodwill gesture they would give us part of the money back if we sent them an email. They wouldn’t let us change the names, so we couldn’t sell it on.

“But when we sent the message they sent us an email back saying the offer had expired and they’re not going to give us anything. It’s just not fair.”

A spokesman for Fleetway Travel said: “Whilst we genuinely sympathise with Mr Hesketh’s situation, we do encourage clients to take out travel insurance to cover any eventualities that may occur which prevents them from travelling.

“Finally, we wish Mr Hesketh a speedy and full recovery.”

Fleetway Travel can stick their best wishes for David Hesketh – and their business – where the sun don’t shine!

Guatemalan disaster is NOT a sinkhole

The giant sinkhole that opened beneath downtown Guatemala City over the weekend is all the rage right now. There’s just one problem: it isn’t a sinkhole.

Sure, it looks a lot like a sinkhole,” geologist Sam Bonis told Discovery News from his home in Guatemala. “And a whale looks a lot like a fish, but calling it one would be very misleading.”

Instead, Bonis prefers the term “piping feature” — a decidedly less sexy label for the 100-foot deep, 66-foot wide circular chasm. But it’s an important distinction, he maintains, because “sinkholes” refer to areas where bedrock is solid but has been eaten away by groundwater, forming a geological Swiss cheese whose contours are nearly impossible to predict. The situation beneath the country’s capital is far different, and more dangerous.

The lion’s share of the city is built on pumice fill — ash flows made up of loose, gravel-like particles deposited during ancient volcanic eruptions. In places, the debris is piled over 600 feet thick, filling up what would otherwise be a v-shaped valley of faulted bedrock. For those peering into the deep dark depths wondering what might be at the bottom, it’s either more pumice fill or bedrock. Mixed with a healthy dose of wreckage from the swallowed-up clothing factory.

In 2007, a similar hole opened after a sewage pipe broke pipe just a few blocks from this weekend’s disaster. Bonis was part of a team of geologists and engineers brought in to investigate and advise officials on what went wrong.

“Our recommendation was that this could happen again,” he recalled. “When you have water flowing from storm water runoff, a sewage pipe, or any kind of strong flow, it eats away at the loose material. We don’t know how long it has to go on before it collapses. But once it starts collapsing, God help us.”

The Guatemala City metro area is home to nearly 3 million people. Not all of them live on the fill — Bonis estimates around 1-1.5 million, with the rest perched on the valley walls — but by mislabeling the feature a sinkhole, it distracts from a dangerous situation that could be mitigated, if not neutralized, by better handling of the city’s runoff and waste water.

Bonis estimates the disaster could be repeated – any number of times, anywhere in the city – anytime.

Actually, I live in a similar valley. Except we haven’t the running water of Guatemala, of course, in New Mexico.

Easyjet funds volcanic ash detector

Easyjet has unveiled a system that it says will allow airlines to safely fly around ash clouds. It involves infra-red technology that allows pilots to see the damaging particles up to 62 miles ahead.

The theory is that a pilot can then change course and continue to fly safely…

Earlier this year, many air passengers had their travel plans wrecked when airlines had to scrap thousands of flights due to the Icelandic volcanic ash problem…

Easyjet’s proposed Avoid system will work in theory by spotting ash at sufficient distances to allow air traffic controllers enough time to re-plan flight paths. It will also act as a “spy in the sky” – giving traffic control extra detail on any ash clouds that are out there. The device, which works using infra-red technology but essentially looks like another radar in the cockpit, is light, small and easy to install…

Easyjet, which is spending $1.47 million on the system, says it is happy for rivals to share its knowledge.

Mr Harrison, said: “What we don’t want to do is to gain a commercial advantage over other airlines so we can fly and they can’t. We are not going to exclude people from this technology.”

He said the hardest part would be to get approval from European authorities.

That certainly doesn’t surprise anyone, does it? The premise of safety designs in the EU seems to be preventing law suits more than anything else. That and not losing elections.

Upon reflection, that doesn’t seem very different from Congress – does it?