We begin tonight with an exclusive report. this is something we have been working on for some time. you will not see this anywhere else. all right. do you have an air bag in your car? depending on the age of your car, you probably do. you probably have lots of air bags in your car. you may have one built into your steering wheel, into the dashboard, on the passenger side. you might have side impact air bags if you sprung for them. if you drive every day, you probably don’t give the air bags in your car much everyday thought. but the overall concept about them is that the air bag isn’t there to prevent an accident from happening in the first place but if an accident does happen the air bag is there to essentially limit the damage. it is your last line of defense against catastrophe. if you crash into something head on, that air bag in your steering wheel, for example, stops your body from slamming into everything in your car that is in front of you when you drive. again, the air bag not there to prevent an accident from happening in the first place. it’s about preventing an accident from turning into a tragedy. the reason you probably have an air bag in your car is because the federal government has required carmakers to put them there. the government will not let a car company sell you a car that was built after 1998 unless it has an air bag, unless it has this device that’s been proven to reduce the chances of serious damage should disaster strike. the auto industry was not psyched about that regulation, but that’s why they are bound by regulations. this is one of the things the federal government does. it serves the interests of all of us by requiring industries to make their products as safe as possible. it’s why you can’t buy lawn darts anymore. fun. profitable, I’m sure. also perfectly designed to puncture your skull. it’s why you’re not supposed to be able to buy toys made of lead or coded in lead paint. for kids these are cool but also perfect lead-poisoning delivery devices. for the airline industry it’s a lot of stuff, including those nifty oxygen masks that drop down from above your seat. for the auto industry, again, it’s things like air bags. for the oil and gas drilling industry it’s something called a blowout preventer. if that sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you remember this image. this image that played out on TV screens across the country like a horror movie advertisement night after night, week after week, all last year. this image of crude oil flowing unabated into the gulf of Mexico causing the worst oil spill in u.s. history. that image we have now learned was the result of that oil well’s proverbial air bag, as it were, not working. it was the result of the blowout preventer on that well not doing its job. what we are able to report tonight exclusively is that that is not just an explanation of what happened in the BP oil spill. it is not even just a scandal about the BP oil spill or about the oil industry. it is a fundamental, baseline screw-up in this industry that is continuing to put the country at risk right now. the government knows about it. the government could be stopping it. and they appear to be trying to let it slide without explanation. let me explain. here’s what we found. the process of exploring for oil is of course a dangerous process. accidents happen. when you’re drilling into the earth’s crust, there’s all sorts of pressure that builds up below the surface of the earth. oil drilling is essentially about controlling that pressure while extracting the oil that you’re down there for in the first place. right? but sometimes accidents do happen. sometimes that pressure builds up and builds up and essentially surges up through the drilling pipe — the drilling pipe. it’s a well blowout. that’s where the blowout preventer is supposed to come in, right? you’ve had a serious malfunction in the drilling process. now it is about containing the damage. the car crash has happened. the air bag is deployed. the blowout preventer is basically a piece of equipment that’s attached to the top of an oil well, right? and when pressure surges up the drilling well — drilling pipe the blowout preventer is supposed to kick into action. it essentially seals up the well and holds all of that pressure in. if the blowout preventer does not work, you get this. you get disaster. disaster not just for the environment but for the crew that’s stationed on top of that malnunksing oil rig. 11 yew members were killed when the deep-water horizon oil rig blew in the gulf of Mexico. soon after that explosion and the historic oil spill that followed it was pretty obvious that the blowout preventer had failed to prevent that blowout. that was pretty clear. but what we know now, what we have learned this week in fact is that the blowout preventer in question was not built wrong, it wasn’t broken, and it was used as directed. the coast guard hired a Norwegian firm to do an expert forensic analysis of what went wrong with that blowout preventer in the BP disaster. the coast guard, i should say, oversaw this. the government hired this firm. the firm set up shop at a NASA facility in new Orleans in mid-November. yesterday they release what’d they found. what they found is that in our metaphor from earlier the air bags in this case and maybe in every case don’t work. more specifically, they found air bags work unless there’s a car crash, then they don’t work. the forensic analysis of what went wrong in the BP disaster found a big burst of pressure that causes a well blowout can also render the blowout preventer useless. if the shock that causes the initial accident misaligns the rig’s pumps and valves, the blowout preventer won’t be able to work, won’t be able to seal off the pipe, even when used as directed, even when you do everything right. "the findings of these studies should be considered and addressed in the design of future blowout preventers and the need for modifying current blowout preventers." the reason there are fears right now about possible nuclear meltdown in japan is because the backup plan there failed, right? an earthquake and tsunami knocked out the power at the reactor. you need that power at all times to cool the radioactive fuel rods. but don’t worry, there’s a backup power source. a backup power source that was also knocked out by the same quake and tsunami that knocked out the first- line power source. the same disaster that caused the need for the backup plan also caused the backup plan. so therefore, even though you’re calling it a backup, you don’t really have a backup plan. it’s the same deal with the blowout preventers. the same disaster that cause the need for the blowout preventer, a blowout, actually blows out the blowout preventer, too, renders it inoperable. so that means you really do not have a backup plan. you can call it redundancy. you do not have redundancy. and again it’s not because these things are broken. it’s because this is the way they are designed. that is the engineering part of this story. here’s the politics part of this story and the life and death part of this story, which is worse, frankly. the federal government is now in the process of issuing new permits to drill in the gulf of Mexico. issuing new permits all of a sudden at a breakneck speed. today the interior department approved its fifth deep-water drilling permit for the gulf of Mexico. not its fifth just since the deep-water horizon disaster last April. we’re talking about its fifth in the last 25 days. this permit was given to chevron. it’s to drill a well off the coast of Louisiana in nearly 7,000 feet of water. the BP disaster happened, you’ll recall, in 5,000 feet of water. this new permit for chevron follows the interior department’s decision over the last few weeks to grant drilling per noits Exxon, to shell, to atp oil and gas, and to noble energy. all of those oil companies have now been given the go-ahead by our federal government to drill, baby, drill. after the moratorium, after the big halt in drilling, after the big safety freak-out after BP, why are new offshore drilling permits now flying off the shelves? well, the government says it’s because the oil industry is now "complying with rigorous new safety standards implemented in the wake of the deep-water horizon explosion." according to the head of the permitting agency, the permits show, these new permits show "that the industry has demonstrated the capability to contain a deep-water loss of well control and blowout." this is the same office, the same office at the interior department that requested and released the investigation that proved that blowout preventers don’t work. now that agency is saying drill baby drill because the oil industry has proven it can handle a blowout. same agency. when the interior department granted its first new permit since the BP oil disaster last month, we took note on this show that the permit went to noble energy. seemed like an awkward choice to us at the time because the largest ownership stake in that noble energy project was held by BP so the first permit granted since the BP oil disaster goes to bp. bp working with noble energy. after that permit was announced, the show obtained noble’s oil spill response plan for that project. again, this is for the first new drilling permit after the bp disaster. we sought out that oil spill response plan because we figured if the federal government was granting new permits to drill we wanted to see the updated response plan. he wanted to see all the lessons learned from the big bp disaster if we were going to be drilling again. during the bp disaster we all got really familiar with that company’s ridiculously inadequate oil spill response plan. remember? the bp oil disaster took place on april 20th, 2010. this is noble energy’s official oil spill response plan for their drilling that they just had newly approved. check out the date on their oil spill response plan. september 2009. so the government is assuring us that they are only granting new permits for drilling because of all the lessons learned from the bp oil disaster. look at this. the oil spill response plan for the first permit they issued, this oil spill response plan was written the year before the bp oil disaster. so no lessons learned from the bp oil disaster. no new containment capabilities developed after the bp oil disaster. same blowout preventer technology that has been singled out as having failed during the bp oil disaster and that we now know would fail again even if used as directed. no new nothing as a result of the bp oil disaster. and this permit was approved last month. with an oil spill response plan dated seven months before the largest oil spill in u.s. history. with the administration’s assurance about all the rigorous new safety standards these companies are going to be following. we contacted the government. we contacted the department of the interior after we obtained this document because we thought somebody must have sent us the wrong thing. we thought we must have been sent by accident an old version of this oil response plan. they informed us that in fact we do have the most up-to-date version on hand. they also told us that in general rig operators are eligible to get new permits while they’re in the process of revising any old oil spill response plans. so what exactly is the permitting process reviewing, then? we also asked the department of the interior if their permitting requirements might change, given the new report released by their own office that says blowout preventers don’t really work, even when they’re used as directed? they told us they have no comment on the report, it’s part of an ongoing investigation, but they are handing out the permits to drill anyway. this is like convicting bernie madoff and then investing his victims’ compensation fund in a nice ponzi scheme. what on earth is the government thinking here? are you being politically pressured into this with all the talk of higher gas prices? seriously, what are you thinking here? and how psyched is the oil industry that they think they’re going to get away with this, even after the bp disaster? a 30-year veteran of the oil and gas industry joins us next to answer that question.