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More Drilling Ahead in the Arctic, We Still Don’t Know the Current Spill Rate

7:17 am in Uncategorized by Seymour Friendly

The US government as a total body may be completely foolhardy and tone deaf. In the wake of the Horizon disaster, sadly, a Federal court has allowed Shell to move forward on drilling in the Arctic without a murmur from the Congress or White House. Even as a semi-submersible (a la the Horizon) Venezuelan gas rig has sunk to the bottom of the sea the US government is moving forward with legislation that will allow new offshore oil drilling to proceed. Two rigs sinking in one month is not warning enough for the Federal government on the dangers of oil drilling, even as one of the disasters continues to pour an unknown amount of oil into the water. It is clear that, between the courts, the executive branch, and the Congress, that there will be no move to halt offshore oil drilling. The US as a body will move forward on more drilling even as poll after poll shows that the public opposes this environmental menace and wants development of clean, green energy sources. The prospect of the failure of BP’s containment dome – the best hope for a near-term response to greatly mitigate the worst well leak – simply does not hold sufficient weight with the heavily lobbied US government.

Marine life has begun to confuse oil refuse with its natural habitat in another sign of continuing impact of the oil leak on the Gulf environment.

With the release of a single video clip depicting the larger of the two Horizon well leaks for a brief period of time, larger, difficult-to-verify estimates of greatly enhanced leak rates have emerged on top of the previous large measurement reported by a Florida a researcher. Certain facts remain:

  1. None of the estimates produced to date has closely agreed with any of the others.
  2. None of the differing estimates produced to date has explained why the other measurements are wrong.
  3. None of the measurements produced countering the figures currently released by BP, the Coast Guard, and NOAA have been produced by people specifically in the oil industry.

In fact, some researchers have embarassed themselves:

… Eugene Chaing, a professor of astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, got a similar answer just using pencil and paper.

Without even having a sense of scale from the BP video, he correctly deduced that the diameter of the pipe was about 20 inches. And though his calculation is less precise than Wereley’s, it is in the same ballpark.

"I would peg it at around 20,000 to 100,000 barrels per day," he says. …

— Professor Chaing has apparently confused astrophysics, where results as vague as "20,000 to 100,000" can be characterized as "pegging" anything, with Earthly disasters, where we need precision. The error bars on his measurement are larger than the various estimates emerging from various parties.

BP reminds Professor Chaing that not everything is at it appears in a brief video clip:

… Instead, BP prefers to rely on measurements of oil on the sea surface made by the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Those are also contentious. Salvin also says these analyses should not assume that the oil is spewing from the 21-inch pipe, called a riser, shown in the video.

"The drill pipe, from which the oil is rising, is actually a 9-inch pipe that rests within the riser," Slavin said …

Professor Chaing will need to readjust his calculations.

Some point to the hypothetical as if it is a fact:

… With a spill this deep, the oil starts off extremely dense and under pressure. Some of it breaks up or dissolves into the water on the way up, and some of it makes it all the way to the surface. But some will "stabilize in the water column" maybe as low as 200 to 300 meters off the seabed, Steiner said. "Then it starts drifting with the current."

"I’m virtually certain that a lot of this oil hasn’t even surfaced yet," he said. "What we don’t know is the trajectory and direction of this subsurface toxic plume."

That’s critically important information, both in order to assess what sorts of habitats the oil may be wiping out, and because "this stuff can pop up in surprising places, weeks if not months from now," he said. …

— a hypothetical underwater oil plume that has not been seen nor have any consequences of it been seen is what we should fear – Dark Oil, like Dark Matter, got it. We are all astrophyicists now.

Lost in the hysteria surrounding numerical estimates of the spill volume to date is a singular and overriding question: why was an oil company willing to invest a half-billion dollars in an oil rig allowed to start drilling without proving they had a technique for measuring leak rates under deep water?

The fact that this question can be asked – along with the fact that Minerals and Management Service representatives did not directly oversee safety test certifications on BP blowout preventers – is clear evidence that the Federal government and industry together failed completely to plan for easily predictable disasters – such as a ruptured or severed riser pipe at depth spewing oil. The first things a good response plan would need in terms of information would include a concrete measurement of spill rate and it is clear BP was not forced to produce a technique to do this in the creation of an otherwise very costly oil rig. The result is a spill of large, broken extent, and difficult-to-know volume, and a search for Dark Oil plumes deep underwater.

BP spends hundreds of millions of dollars per year on technical R&D. Why was there not a requirement for BP to be able to prove that it could measure a leaky pipe under deep water conditions?

In the current Senate hearings underway, the focus has been on industry figures. Perhaps it is time for the Minerals and Management Service figures of the previous and current Presidential administrations who allowed BP to move forward without sufficient disaster planning to testify as well, perhaps even before Shell begins drilling in the Arctic.

Whistleblower: BP Falsified Tests on Its Blowout Preventers

4:05 pm in BP oil disaster, Energy by Seymour Friendly


It now appears likely that BP was deliberately cheating on blowout preventer testing:

… an oil industry whistleblower told Huffington Post that BP had been aware for years that tests of blowout prevention devices were being falsified in Alaska. The devices are different from the ones involved in the Deepwater Horizon explosion but are also intended to prevent dangerous blowouts at drilling operations.

Mike Mason, who worked on oil rigs in Alaska for 18 years, says that he observed cheating on blowout preventer tests at least 100 times, including on many wells owned by BP.

As he describes it, the test involves a chart that shows whether the device will hold a certain amount of pressure for five minutes on each valve. (The test involves increasing the pressure from 250 pounds per square-inch (psi) to 5,000 psi.) "Sometimes, they would put their finger on the chart and slide it ahead — so that it only recorded the pressure for 30 seconds instead of 5 minutes," he tells HuffPost …

Many people already chasing after an industrial witch will shift focus on to BP, as opposed to the previous witch du jour, Halliburton. Given the potential, likewise, that a hydraulic line leak in the blowout preventer may be the root cause, this is valuable. However, I think this is the key information today, that will probably go less observed:

… [The whistleblower] Mason claims that a BP representative was usually present while subcontractors performed the tests …

The question is: "Why wasn’t a representative of the US Minerals Management Service present to verify the validity of testing?"

In other words, it is shortsighted to simply start and stop with BP on the blame for test result falsification on critical safety equipment such as blowout preventers. The real fault lies with the Federal government – it is news to noone that industry will lie about virtually anything to cut costs and put more money into corporate pockets. It’s the role of the Federal government to insure that industry doesn’t get away with this when companies like BP inevitably try to falsify tests, and the hearings in the Senate should involve questioning the current and past heads and officials in MMS in order to determine how it is that tests could be falsified ever let alone in number. The witch to burned is the witch of corrupt public officials.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster was utterly predictable. Preventable? Perhaps not – that is the lesson of attempting to exploit resources at or beyond the ability of an industry to guarantee safety and reliability. But the predictable this disaster was, and beyond the fact that MMS didn’t demand sufficient disaster response plans from BP as a condition to authorizing drilling, it now seems quite plausible that MMS looked the other way while BP officials falsified test results on blowout preventers much like the one sitting under a mile of Gulf water spewing oil.

The Federal government should force BP to pay for the recovery and analysis of the totaled blowout preventer once the leaking well is stopped from flowing by intervention wells. The Deepwater Horizon itself, a massive structure in the tens of millions of kilograms, can never be raised and without a doubt will rust on the bottom of the Gulf with hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic diesel fuel on board for a very long time. But the preventer may be recoverable and if it is it could provide valuable forensic evidence.

Still, the first thing the Senate hearings underway should do is grill the MMS officials who signed off on BP’s drilling plans. The first questions these officials are asked should demand a detailed explanation of what sort of tested were done on the Horizon blowout preventer, who certified these tests were real and valid, and what due diligence MMS did to insure that an organization like BP, with its famous wanton disregard for environmental health and safety issues, did not get away with falsifying any test results.

If these questions are not asked now, there is no hope whatsoever for sound Federal enforcement of regulations on extraction. While BP and the industrial players must be held accountable for every last cent, and while they should not have any sort of profit being made during the extent of this spill, the real goal must be to drive a stake through the heart of corruption in government enforcers of industrial regulations. Corporate businesses will always try to break laws and rules to put money in their pockets. The government must be the bulwark against this behavior. The entire Bush-era MMS leadership should be brought in front of the Senate as soon as possible and the hearings not concluded until all of the failure and corruption is revealed.


Obama to Divide Minerals Management Service. Landrieu Continues Serving Oil Industry

11:00 am in BP oil disaster, Energy by Seymour Friendly

Updated at bottom.

President Obama may make a major proposal: breaking up the Minerals Management Service into two agencies. One of the agencies will continue to oversee the granting of leases or chartering of resources for exploration and extraction. The second agency, separate entirely from the first, will serve as a the government policeman overseeing industrial activities.

This is potentially a very positive move by the Obama administration; if well-executed, this breakup of the MMS could be the first positive major Federal agency change in a very long time insofar as environmental issues are concerned, and could be the first real, major, positive thing that Obama has done on "the environment" as a political issue. This breakup probably should happen regardless of any disaster or lack thereof, but if the MMS changes do occur, then we will all be able to say that the Horizon disaster was the major driving force. The MMS is famously corrupt and broken – taking away enforcement power from the part of the agency that is most prone to being (literally, at times) in bed with the oil and extraction industry is a part of a much-needed change.

Furthermore, any such serious execution of the creation of a separate safety agency is an example of the US following a superior, already existing European model:

… Mr. Danenberger: In 2004, Norway separated its safety and resource management functions. The U.K. had done this after Piper Alpha, and Australia recently established a separate offshore safety regulator. Can you comment on the pros and cons of being an independent offshore safety regulator?

Mr. Ognedal: This is a good example of the influence of the political system of a country on safety regulatory matters. Not that I disagree, but the change made to separate safety and petroleum administrative matters was probably also aimed at reducing political risk. We have had no problems relating to that fact. Our role and mandate has now become much clearer and we have been given all the necessary authority to fulfill our mission. However, it has placed a big responsibility on the PSA. We must ensure we make the right decisions and be able to defend them. For myself, I think our oversight of safety in the petroleum industry has become both better and stronger because of this change. But others shall have to judge that …

Read the rest of this entry →

Threatened Wildlife Resents Industry Sponsorship of Louisiana Senators, Pelosi Already Capitulating?

9:21 am in Uncategorized by Seymour Friendly

Updated at bottom.

British Petroleum claims that it has placed a valve over one of the Horizon well leaks, halting or containing the flow of oil from that leak. This is good news in that there are only now two (known) leaks remaining, however, even BP is having to admit that closing this particular leak has not substantially impacted the overall spill rate. As BP continues work on containment chambers for the remaining two leaks, NOAA and BP have attempted the untested approach of undersea deployment of different types of chemical dispersants. These dispersants were directly injected into the leak flows undersea at a rate of 9 gallons per minute. Over 200,000 gallons of these dispersants are available if the approach is deemed "successful", "success" in this case meaning that addressing a toxic oil spill relies on injecting 200,000+ gallons of chemicals into the Gulf waters in a technique that still leaves hundreds of thousands of gallons of dispersed oil waste in the water. It doesn’t have to be a slick to be toxic, and it is a disheartening thing that the best potential short term approach to the leaks is injecting more unnatural chemicals into the water in great quantities.

The threat to wildlife is fairly large. The Fish and Wildlife Service can count up to 34,000 birds alone that are in principle threatened by this disaster. This enumeration leaves out of consideration all marine life affected from the microbial size to the size of a sperm whale.

As the shorelines and coastal waters of Louisiana are threatened by the Horizon oil spill, Louisiana’s two Senators – David Vitter and Mary Landrieu speak out in favor of continuing offshore oil drilling.

Here’s Mary Landrieu:

… “We must continue to drill,” she said.

She has compared the disaster in the Gulf to two previous disasters – the nuclear meltdown at three mile island and also the Challenger space shuttle explosion.

In the case of three mile island, she said, the US essentially shut down its nuclear program and now is worse off for it – behind the French and others in nuclear energy, dependent on foreign oil.

She also brought up the Challenger explosion. But as a counterpoint to three mile island.

“What we did not do is end the space program. We did not stop launching. We did not stop exploring,” she said.

“We have to find a way to make sure it never happens again, strengthen our resolve and… continue to be the world leader,” she said of offshore drilling.

“I am not saying that to minimize this disaster… There may be those who need to be held accountable,” said Landrieu, but she argued that offshore drilling leads to less pollution than other actives.

“We don’t think that burying our head in the sand and pretending that our country doesn’t need this energy is the way to go,” she said …

And here is David Vitter talking to "Fox News":

… Vitter said that the administration shouldn’t back off its plans to allow increased energy exploration despite the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has spilled onto his home state of Louisiana.

"I don’t think that there’s any argument that we should just start shutting down activity now, or even start shutting down new activity that’s planned," Vitter said Sunday during an appearance on Fox News. "Clearly there have got to be changes made because of this incident. But we certainly shouldn’t start shutting things down."

The administration has sent signals, most prominently by White House senior advisor David Axelrod during an appearance Friday on "Good Morning America," that it would halt starts on new exploration projects until an investigation into the causes of the current spill could be completed.

"I think that was the wrong approach," Vitter said, adding that it was his belief that the president itself had walked back that pause on new drilling to some extent. …

They call it "the best government money can buy". Since being elected in 1996, Mary Landrieu has accepted at least 2/3 of a million dollars in oil industry campaign donations. In the current Congress, she has been the #15 largest recipient of such donations – Blanche Lincoln being the #1 largest recipient this year, and holding a career total over half a million dollars in donations. In his short time in the Senate, David Vitter has accepted at least 1/4 of a million dollars in these donations.

And my, how those donations make party lines seem irrelevant. Below is a table showing how Vitter and Landrieu have voted lock step together on legislation of interest to the oil industry, ranging from voting against profit tax increases on the industry through legislation expanding offshore oil and gas exploitation.

Oil Industry Donations to Senators 1998-2010 (source:
Mary Landrieu (D-LA, 1996-)
David Vitter (R-LA, 2004-)
Key Energy Votes of Senators
Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
David Vitter (R-LA)
S Amdt 4825
S Amdt 4207
S Amdt 1704
S Amdt 1566

  • S-3711: Expand Gulf offshore oil drilling
  • S-3044: Increase taxes on oil company profits
  • S Amdt 4825: Carbon Cap and Trade
  • S Amdt 4207 to S Con Res 70: Offshore natural gas development
  • S Amdt 1704: Alternative energy subsidies
  • S Amdt 1566: Offshore drilling in Virginia

Let the people of Louisiana listen to their elected Senators selling them out to the oil industry even as the slick continues to grow and their environment and livelihoods are threatened. And those of us who want to know how Louisiana became so defenseless to the oil industry can start by looking at Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, sponsored by British Petroleum and numerous other oil interests.

Finally, let’s not forget that Barack Obama and John McCain were the 2008 top recipients of oil industry donations. While McCain had in excess of $2,000,000, Obama still managed to haul in over $800,000 in one year, about the same as the career sum totals of Landrieu and Vitter combined.

With that bit of information in place, is there any doubt as to why it is that Barack Obama led the charge on embracing offshore oil drilling as the first and foremost part of his national energy and climate change policy?

And with officials this easily bought off, even the highest officials in the country, is there any doubt as to what sort of regulatory framework the oil industry can buy for itself, and how as a result we can have no response capacity between the Federal government and the entirety of the oil industry sufficient to respond to an easily predictable disaster?

Update 1:
Joseph Lieberman has declared that expansion of offshore drilling will still be part of the energy bill in the Senate:

… Sen. Joe Lieberman, I/D-Conn., said today offshore oil and gas drilling provisions will remain in a draft Senate climate and energy bill he has coauthored, despite a massive Gulf Coast spill that has given fresh ammunition to drilling critics.

"There were good reasons for us to put in offshore drilling, and this terrible accident is very rare in drilling," Lieberman said. "I mean, accidents happen. You learn from them and you try not to make sure they don’t happen again."

When asked whether the spill would change any of the drilling language he and Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have developed, Lieberman said, "I don’t think so; certainly not to lead us to remove it." He said the draft would allow drilling as close as 75 miles from the U.S. coastline.

Lieberman said the goal of their plan is less dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels in general, adding that the bill ensures greater environmental protection regarding drilling than current law. "I think the arguments are there," he said …

The famously reprehensible Lieberman is back and in action. The man is like a cross between Dr. Evil and the Energizer Bunny.

Nancy Pelosi is already signalling progressive House capitulation to the oil industry:

… Meanwhile, in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., remained optimistic — even determined — that Congress can pass an energy bill this year. "Certainly the risk presented by offshore drilling is something that has to be taken into consideration," said Pelosi, speaking to reporters. "But we must pass this bill. And we will find our area of agreement… between the House and the Senate — to pass it.

"I don’t think this [oil spill] is something that will stop it," Pelosi added. …

Pelosi, since assuming the House Speaker role, has become a broken record of capitulation, compromise, and failed progressive leadership. I really wish she would step down from her position.

Finally, Steny Hoyer is unsurprisingly unwilling to get in the way of Obama’s oil drilling plans:

… Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., later echoed those sentiments. "We cannot be hostage to those who sell us oil, who may or may not care a whole lot about our security," said Hoyer. "So, it’s very, very critical that we continue to move ahead on energy independence." …


Four-Story, Rusty Steel Box Built As Consolation to Northern Gannet, Horizon Spill Out of Control

1:48 pm in Uncategorized by Seymour Friendly

The latest spill extent graphic from NOAA shows an increasingly staggering area impacted by the Horizon well leak by mid-week. Winds have reversed now, spreading the slick Westward, and temporarily relieving fears that the slick could migrate to the East Coast though Atlantic fisheries could still be impacted.

The slick is now so large that space-based resources such as those held by NASA are needed to monitor it. The Coast Guard conceded days ago that there is no exact way to know how much oil has spilled. Simply multiplying the current best-guess flow rate from the three well leaks by the number of days since April 22 would place the total spill volume in excess of 2 million gallons of oil. Confusion reigns as to what magnitude of disaster we are really seeing as some note that the spill is not the worst in history in terms of volume of oil spilled, whereas others rely on potential economic and environmental ramifications.

A chorus of buffoons has begun playing politics and making ludicrous, embarrassing statements worthy of note:

… "We don’t know what the event that has allowed for this massive oil to be released," Perry said. "And until we know that, I hope we don’t see a knee-jerk reaction across this country that says we’re going to shut down drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, because the cost to this country will be staggering." — Texas Governor Rick Perry, calling the spill "just an act of God" — Note to Rick: If God created an environmentally disastrous offshore oil spill, couldn’t that be God telling us to stop offshore drilling? etc

… “This bill was strongly criticized by hard-core environmentalist wackos because it supposedly allowed more offshore drilling and nuclear plants,” said Limbaugh of the yet to be unveiled Kerry-Graham-Lieberman climate and energy bill.

“What better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig?” Limbaugh asked. “I’m just, I’m just noting the timing here.” — Rush Limbaugh, Department of Unfoundable and Unforgivable Insinuations.

… What I want people to know is this isn’t Katrina. This is not Armageddon. I did this for the Coast Guard many years ago. Yeah, it’s bad. And it’s terrible that there’s a spill out there. But I would remind people that the oil is twenty miles from any marsh. … That chocolate milk looking spill starts breaking up in smaller pieces … It is tending to break up naturally …" — Representative Gene Taylor, confusing the milk his mommy put in his lunchbox with the oil spill he was flying over.

… "This is exactly what they want, because now he can pander to the environmentalists and say, ‘I’m gonna shut it down because it’s too dangerous,’" Brown said. "This president has never supported big oil, he’s never supported offshore drilling, and now he has an excuse to shut it back down." — Michael "Brownie" Brown, taking a break from managing the Arabian horse club long enough to help confuse and muddle the response to another Gulf disaster.

Bill Kristol apparently thinks that the disaster wouldn’t have been an issue if the drilling was only closer to shore. Note to Bill: the drilling was far offshore because that is where an accessible, desirable location in the Tiber oil field was located. "Fox News" probably shouldn’t ask Bill about oil drilling anymore if he makes statements so stupid that one doesn’t even need to point out his ideologically bent worldview to expose him as a fool. Bill doesn’t seem to grasp that it was BP that told us everything was fine drilling in deep water location offshore, that BP sought permission to explore and drill in these waters, and that it is the oil industry that wants deep water drilling, not a conspiracy of liberal environmentalists who think deep water is OK just not right off the beach.

Finally, we have a truly ominous statement from Robert Gibbs, the Obama administration mouthpiece:

"The president was specific in ordering [Department of Interior] Secretary [Ken] Salazar to look at all the possible aspects of what could go wrong in this instance [and] to report back to him in that thirty day period," Gibbs said in response to a question from the Huffington Post. "This is an administration that is going to take any information we can get from that and have that dictate our decision making going forward. I think it would be premature to get too far ahead of where Secretary Salazar’s investigation is."

The fact that the Obama administration is doing anything besides going full speed ahead in rolling back their previous support for more offshore oil drilling, even as this terrible spill is in its early stages, is very disheartening. Furthermore, Gibbs seems to be indicating that Obama views Ken Salazar, a drilling proponent, as the "lead" figure in the investigation. That too is frightening. It’s not clear what is premature about a spill that now requires NASA and NOAA satellite resources to monitor, its so huge.

The coming weeks are going to show us a lot about President Obama. I think many of us will agree that, if we emerge from the spill of the Deepwater Horizon with anything less than a permanent moratorium on expanded offshore oil drilling, and climate change energe policies moving forward without this drilling built in, that Obama will have permanently discredited himself with the environment, and, further, as a guardian of the public interest.

Greenpeace has moved online and on-the-ground resources into place in the Gulf area. On its web site Greenpeace has taken a step I find quite laudable in the charge to raise awareness about the implications of this spill. View their oil spill site. Note that partway down the page Greenpeace has assembled a high-quality graphic displaying "maps" of Horizon-like spill extents if they were to happen in other proposed drilling sites. I encourage everyone to spread this graphic around, go viral with it. This is exactly the kind of easy, visual, and immediate representation of what can happen around any of these proposed drilling sites we need right now, supportable by what has factually happened in the last two weeks.

The Sierra Club has on its web page a replay of the burning rig photo from the first two days of the Horizon fire, that has a "donate money to help" statement printed over it. The Sierra Club has had high-ranking figures present in online media but it appears that the Club is going to use the disaster as a fundraising bonanza. I’d give the Sierra Club an "F" if it wasn’t for a few written pieces I’ve seen from them in recent days on the widely-read Huffington Post. Instead, I’ll give them an "E", for "Exploitation", that is, their apparent intention of prioritizing their fundraising in the disaster. They might as well sell sea turtle meat by the seashore. They interleave the picture of a Northern Gannet being scrubbed of oil with the burning rig picture. With all their resources, do they not have a single photographer on the ground in the Gulf getting their own pictures for them?

Oceana has built up a presence in the issue that deserves its own web log entry. I encourage people to watch what Oceana does wit this disaster. Likewise, the NRDC appears to be going full throttle on raising awareness, they are showing up over and over in mass media coverage.

As 3/4 of the boom available to contain the spill fails in rough weather – and it was an insufficient amount by far – BP has prepared the first of three "containment chambers" they hope to mitigate the spill’s extent in the months remaining before their intervention well can be drilled. Looking at the image of the rusty, improvised, clunky four-story steel box that is to be lowered into a mile of water even after we know that most of the spilled oil can never be cleaned up I ask myself: how did it come to this?

Couldn’t the 350 million dollars that went into the building of the Deepwater Horizon have resulted in a response to a predictable disaster that didn’t boil down to the panicked attempt to construct a crude steel box to lower over a spewing well leak? This is the real story here – how did two hundred-billion-dollar-plus corporations (BP and Transoceanic), with massive engineering resources available, working within a supposed Federal regulatory environment, produce a spectacular high-tech failure and ecological disaster and the only response that the Federal government and BP have together is an insufficient amount of boom breaking down under moderate wave action at the coastline, and a rusty four-story steel box intended to sit under a mile of water over a high-tech well with a 450,000 kilogram blowout preventer that never activated? I believe that the answer to that question will be sufficient, once made clear, to permanently block or end deepwater offshore drilling.


Horizon Spill Continues, Rome Burns, Nero Gets Out His Stradivarius

12:10 pm in BP oil disaster, Energy by Seymour Friendly

Continuing in a series of diaries here.

The Horizon spill disaster has now entered the "media madness" phase. Regular mass media has done what it does best, which is to take a disaster, and sensationalize aspects of it, creating hysteria and alarm almost as if they are an entertainment product. The first victim in this process is fact itself – simple detailed, factual information about the spill status and its impact are increasingly hard to find in the wall of noise.

The Coast Guard and NOAA have a graphic depicting high-quality predictions of spill extents by Tuesday here. Comparison with a previous graphic showing the projection for Saturday seems to show the spill driven by winds to expand towards more and more of the Gulf coastline. Winds may reverse afterwards driving the slick growth directly into the Delta wetlands in and around the mouth of the Mississipi river. There is not a concise, detailed picture of what shore and marine impact has actually taken place so far. I have not found a good simple estimate of current surface area. All eyes are on the potential and likely impact. The New York Times has assembled an "interactive" (meaning it has a slider control) graphic that simply displays a prettied-up time sequence of the technical spill extent graphics from the Coast Guard and NOAA, on a regional map that indicates the presence of marshlands (!) in the Gulf Coast region.

Detailed information on current environmental and species impact appears limited to the single story of the first bird treated for oil coverage. Media has played and replayed the images of this Northern Gannet being scrubbed with dishwashing detergent by rescuers. We need more information on what has actually happened now that the spill has contact coastal wetlands and shores. Mass media appears to be dropping the ball on this critical issue.

Much noise has been made about the calculations of a single Florida-based academician that he claims show the spill is already "worse" than the Exxon Valdez spill. It is probably quite fair to disagree with estimates of total spill volume to date – even the clowns at BP, who have a dedicated stake in downplaying estimates of spill volume – have had to admit their deeply limited capacity to gauge and respond to the spewing well. However, I encourage all of us, if we are to take the Valdez disaster as a benchmark in the environmental and economic damage that an offshore oil spill can cause, to quit thinking in terms of gallons of oil released, or even simple spill extent in surface area. The history of large oil spills worldwide is quite extensive. Neither the Valdez spill nor the Horizon spill will be the "biggest", by far, in the contest of what disaster poured more oil into the water. The Horizon spill is not the first nor, currently, the worst Gulf oil spill ever.

The damage these spills cause is measurable in terms of species and ecosystem impact, communities wrecked economically, and livelihoods ruined.

There is a much deeper story here. Article after article after article after article has highlighted and exposed just how ill-prepared both industry and government were for a predictable disaster in an offshore drilling operation that both industry and government together allowed to proceed. The deeper story, in the context of the history of oil spills, wherein the Deepwater Horizon appears as the most recent, massive, and technologically advanced drilling platform, which exploded, capsized and sunk, leaving behind a disastrously spewing well, is that industry and government have never been prepared for these spills when they happen. The deeper story in this wreck that is being missed is the story of an industrial energy production system – offshore oil drilling – that is in general emphasized by a big industry and normally co-opted or co-erced government officials and agencies – and that continues to produce major disasters despite decades of technological focus and advance. As worry emerges that even the Eastern US coastline could be threatened by this spill industry and government officials begin to search for a solution to an "unprecedented" problem that should have been planned for completely and soundly prior to any drilling permit or license being issued.

Here is an excellent graphic showing what is going to be done, over the next three months, while the well spews oil. Another oil rig operated by BP is going to start drilling another well that will go three miles into the seafloor to "intervene" in the spewing well. The fact that this response is the only available is a total indictment of the industry and government in the failure to plan for an easily predictable disaster. The fact that this response is the only available, after a long history of oil spills, is evidence or proof that offshore oil drilling is simply too dangerous – neither industry nor government nor the two together will ever take sufficient (and costly!) steps to make it environmentally safe.

I’d really like to see this compelling narrative presented clearly to the public.

Reports have emerged of an internal government document declaring the possibility that further degradation of the ruined Horizon riser pipe or complete failure of the well seal could produce an undersea "gusher" escalating the spill levels to a new catastrophic extent. This report indicates no probability or likelihood of such an event. We can all hope that this situation does not come to pass.

Political gamesmanship has begun in Washington, DC. The Obama administration has "placed on hold" – apparently holds aren’t just popular in the Senate – offshore projects. None were planned in the nearest-term anyway. Agency officials have tried to place blame on the oil industry neglecting the fact that the government had an oversight and regulatory role in producing this disaster without a shred of a doubt. Opposition to further drilling is beginning to emerge from a few sane voices in the Congress. The House Progressive Chorus remains silent. Industry is beginning its own internal witch hunt in which Halliburton may be a designated scapegoat for a much broader failure. Activist organizations are beginning to make tepid appearances in mass media. To date, there has not been a single protest or demonstration visible in mass media, not a single Zodiac filled with activists in the spill zone, nothing except softcore editorial appearances.

Shockingly, there is apparently a bailout mechanism of some sort available by which costs beyond a certain level to industry in the mess may be subsidized or supported by a Federal fund. The cleanup costs are partially sent to the public via an oil or gas tax ultimately paid by consumers. This tax and the bailout it underpins must be put to death completely, soon. Bankrupting BP is not punishment enough for this disaster.

It is worth the time and space needed to note that, in media response to this spill, the New York Times leads the charge in transforming the disaster into a news/entertainment product. The Times’ last two fact-reporting pieces were from Friday and Saturday. Neither piece reported anything so banal as, say, the current extent of the oil slick, or specific locations of impact. The Saturday piece seemed to rely on recapping of official appearances on television talk shows – including the notoriously bent "Fox News" channel. The Times produced one of its typically empty editorials written in the obligatory quasi-authoritative, patronizing tone. They might as well have entitled the piece "Conventional Wisdom Digest". An equally useless guest editorial communicates an un-risky recital of the risks of oil. The Times kicks off Sunday with the spill by giving room to people who want to babble about setting off nuclear bombs on the sea floor of the Gulf of Mexico. The Times expended Helene Cooper on an in-depth report on the kabuki in Washington DC surrounding Obama’s decision to attend the White House Correspondent’s dinner rather than fly to the Gulf, which he did the next day.

I single out the Times for this criticism because in my view, the Times has the greatest possible resources for serious reporting on the Horizon disaster, and produces 4/5 pablum and filler in its output.

I will try to follow on to this diary again. There is more and more non-information to filter through in the sensationalizing coverage of the disaster. As the environmental, political, and economic dimensions of this disaster begin to evolve, we’ll all have to work to try to present a clear, and compelling narrative that the only real issue here is the fact that offshore oil drilling is allowed and will continue to be allowed. This drilling is the mountaintop removal of ocean resource exploitation and it must be stopped.


Horizon Oil Slick Makes Shorefall; Disaster Writ Large Across Gulf Coast

12:37 pm in BP oil disaster, Energy by Seymour Friendly

This is the latest edition of an on-going diary update.

Since the revelation that the well beneath the destroyed riser pipe left behind the Deepwater Horizon explosion and sinking is pouring in excess of 200,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf Coast waters regular mass media has begun to mobilize its resources.

An official graphic showing the projected extent of the spill tomorrow is now available from the Coast Guard and NOAA. The Flickr photostream available at that link has a substantial number of graphics showing time growth of spill extents and other information. The graphic I link to above dispalys at least two large impact zones on the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Comparison of this Saturday projection of spill extent with the reported spill extent from Wednesday shows a fairly awesome expected spill growth. The Gulf Coast is going to see a slick covering thousands of square miles, beyond the capacity of combined Federal and industry response to contain. This spill is expected to involve a volume of oil on par or beyond the volume spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster; the largest extent of the Exxon Valdez spill was in excess of 11,000 square miles, coating over 1300 miles of coastline. The Gulf of Mexico itself is less than 1,000 miles wide. Depending on wind, currents, and other conditions, a very large extent of coastline could be impacted by the spill. The State of Florida has declared a state of emergency for its entire West coast.

The satellite-imagery based size measurement from places the spill extent yesterday at in excess of 2,200 square miles.

The New York Times has a graphic showing yesterday’s extent and also identifying at least 8 species likely to be impacted by this huge oil spill. Clearly, if the New York Times can display picture or graphics of 8 species likely to be impacted, then the reality on the shore and in the water in the Gulf will be a much, much larger environmental and species impact. Beyond species impact, many billions of dollars in seafood harvesting and other commercial activities are likely to take a hit.

The political games have begun. President Obama has declared a temporary suspension on the issuance of new offshore leases until an unspecified future point in time. This is not particularly meaningful, however, as in the near-term, there was no new activity planned. Obama continues, sadly, to maintain a supportive position towards offshore oil drilling:

… “I continue to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security,” Mr. Obama said on Friday, addressing concerns about whether the administration would continue with its plan to increase drilling in the Gulf.

Even so, he said, “the local economies and livelihoods of the people of the Gulf Coast as well as the ecology of the region are at stake.” …

Notice that the environment is the last concern mentioned by Obama in his statement.

Obama has ordered an investigation which appears to be owned by three of his agency heads, including drilling proponent and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Obama has ordered Salazar to make a report in 30 days on what steps must be taken to prevent future spills like this one. Given that the spill response will still be an emergency disaster response underway in 30 days, this is a strong indication that Obama intends to make a perfunctory response to the disaster before declaring that more drilling can take place so long as a hastily-determined set of "new safeguards" are observed.

The next several weeks will show us all very, very clearly, where Obama’s allegiances are: he is either going to remain allied with the oil industry, which will continue with future drilling offshore if allowed, or he will adhere to his previous campaign promises to environmentalists and oppose offshore oil drilling.

To his credit, Senator Bill Nelson of Florida has come out guns blazing against any climate change legislation that would, perversely, contain Obama’s offshore oil drilling expansion:

… On Friday, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) said that a bill that includes provisions to increase offshore drilling off the coast of the United States (as envisioned by, among others, the White House) would be a non-starter in the Senate.

"As the White House looks down the line, it wants a climate change bill later this year," Nelson told MSNBC. "[Sen.] Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was insisting that there’s going to be offshore drilling. I think that’s dead on arrival." …

Nelson’s motivations are not 100% clear, but he has responded more rapidly and forcefully than, for example, Greenpeace. A US Senator beating Greenpeace to opposition against offshore oil drilling, publicly, after a disaster like this, is both a black mark for Greenpeace (which should have had activists in Zodiacs in the spill zone from Day One) as well as a feather in the Senator’s hat.

Politician proponents of drilling have been understandably muted. Those of us in awe and horror at the spectacle of this disaster glumly await the first of these figures to return to vocally supporting offshore drilling and attacking environmental opponents as "alarmists". It’s inevitable.

It will take time – and possibly irretrievable forensic evidence – to determine the root cause of the explosion that led to this disaster. It is highly likely that the combined weight of the oil industry will be thrown into the attempt to sideline serious investigation into what happened, and to sweep the issue under the rug with a sizable payment from BP taken as sufficient accountability. Allied politicians – and right now, that includes not only Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, but the Obama team itself – will probably cooperate. Current whispers implicate Transoceanic and BP for not placing an acoustic remote control onto the well blowout preventer valve, along with shoddy work by Halliburton in sealing the well with cement. It is important not to jump to conclusions that just because the name "Halliburton" has been invoked that the famous contractor is to blame. Doing so will provide a convenient scapegoat to those who might want to prevent a truly broad inquiry into what happened, an inquiry that might show just how hopelessly dangerous and risky offshore oil drilling is.

Our first oil-covered bird has been recovered and treated. The Northern Gannet is a six pound bird with an adult wingspan of in excess of 5 feet, primarily a snow white in color. Like many birds, they perform elaborate mating rituals in the breeding season. They eat small fish found near the surface – likely to be far less available after an oil spill – and have recovered from previous habitat destruction that endangered them to a much more stable population level.

Their Gulf Coast habitat is assuredly threatened again, and this species of bird will be hit hard by this disastrous oil spill.

The disaster is beginning to blossom, and many dyamic aspects are emerging. Activist organization response is becoming more visible and I will try to follow on with a summary of what I can find nearer the end of today. It is vitally important that we all hold these environmental organizations accountable for going huge on this issue, now, while it is still possible to derail further attempts at expanding offshore oil drilling. As the oil just begins to hit shore, the picture of near term likely environmental damage is becoming clearer. Politician response is also growing. I will attempt to follow on to this diary with further diaries today, tomorrow, and Sunday, with updates and insight as time and information allows.

And, still, under 5,000 feet of water, is the 32.5 million rusting kilograms of the Deepwater Horizon itself. It is not clear if the 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel contained in the wreck is drainable, or if the wreck itself can be re-floated and raised. Given the magnitude of the leaking well and spill disaster, the Horizon is likely to be disregarded for a long time, abandoned, a toxic deep-sea artificial reef sitting at the bottom of the ocean.


Initial Responses of Environmental Organizations to the Horizon Disaster

5:00 pm in BP oil disaster, Energy by Seymour Friendly

This a preliminary step in starting to monitor the responses and activities of various environmental organizations to the Horizon disaster. Many mainstream activist and pressure group organizations that claim to be populist/leftist/liberal/progressive at this point are regularly accused of doing little but exploiting crises and disaster to advance their own fundraising totals. For a textbook example see: "Abortion Rights Advocacy Groups and Health Care Reform".

Environmental organizations are no different.

As of yesterday, NRDC had a single, tepid, isolated web-log entry (along with a bulk-published fund-raising "diary" on the FDL web site from its "action fund"), Greenpeace had a weak click-to-email campaign on a rough page deeply buried in its web site, and organizations like Oceana and Sierra Club had made a couple of boilerplate statements to the press.

It appears that, finally, given a now-apparent mounting disaster which is without a doubt mediagenic, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Oceana, and the NRDC have begun to mount publicity campaigns.

NRDC has barely upped its ante with another web log entry, from a higher-level figure, calling for a moratorium or time-out on offshore drilling:

… We believe that, in light of this recent tragedy, there should be a time-out on any action to proceed with new offshore drilling until there has been a full and independent investigation of the causes of this blowout, an assessment of whether and how such accidents can be avoided in the future, and a full understanding of the environmental risks of drilling to sensitive and ecologically important areas in these regions as well as the economic impacts to ocean and coastal communities. …

Oceana has issued a press release, to its credit, directly opposing Obama’s drilling plans:

Read the rest of this entry →

Third Horizon Leak Discovered: Spill Rate Grows To 210,000 Gallons A Day

10:53 am in Uncategorized by Seymour Friendly

Updated five times now at bottom.

This diary updates my previous entries which can be found starting here.

The Coast Guard and NOAA have not yet released an updated graphic showing spill extent. I will update this diary when such a graphic is available some time today, along with other updates as they become available. This map from the New York Times shows possible spill impact as well as wildlife areas at risk.

NOAA and BP have discovered or just now announced a third leak from the well left behind the Deepwater Horizon rig. BP is asking for help from the US military:

… A massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has become far worse than initially thought crept toward the coast Thursday as government officials offered help from the military to prevent a disaster that could destroy fragile marshlands along the shore.

An executive for BP PLC, which operated the oil rig that exploded and sank last week, said on NBC’s "Today" that the company would welcome help from the U.S. military.

"We’ll take help from anyone," said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for BP Exploration and Production.

The Coast Guard has urged the company to formally request more resources from the Defense Department …

It is not clear that the military will respond:

… Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was briefed Thursday morning on the issue, said his spokesman, Capt. John Kirby. But Kirby said the Defense Department has received no request for help, nor is it doing any detailed planning for any mission on the oil spill …

(Poster Lbrty helpfully points out that the Tiber oilfield that Deepwater Horizon was drilling contains a bottomless several billion gallons of oil, only several millions of which have leaked. In other words, this leaking could potentially spew 1,000,000 gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico until the leak is contained and stopped, which might be months from now.)

The well contains 4.2 million gallons of oil:

… If the well cannot be closed, almost 100,000 barrels of oil, or 4.2 million gallons, could spill into the Gulf before crews can drill a relief well to alleviate the pressure. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez, the worst oil spill in U.S. history, leaked 11 million gallons into Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989 …

Previous reports have shown that it will take weeks to even localize the spill for easier removal, and months to plug the leak with so-called "intervenion wells", as the attempt to activate the massive cut-off valve on the well via robotic sumbarine has failed, and attempts at experimenting with burning the slick in local regions are just beginning. At a rate of 200,000 gallons per day, the well leaks will expel 1,000,000 gallons oil. In twenty days, the well will have effectively emptied into the Gulf of Mexico in a spill just under half of the total volume of the Exxon Valdez disaster.

Evidence has emerged that the new total leak rate is in excess of BP’s reported worse-case scenario response capacity. We’ve already seen that the leak rate dwarfs any ability of the Federal government to respond completely. BP may have been exempted by the Minerals Management Service from filing an emergency response plan to address "sudden blowout" conditions at the well.

The oil slick is now 16 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi river. If the slick makes shorefall there, the environmental and economic damage could be severe:

… Wind patterns may push the spill into the coast of Louisiana as soon as Friday night, officials said, prompting consideration of more urgent measures to protect coastal wildlife. Among them were using cannons to scare off birds and employing local shrimpers’ boats as makeshift oil skimmers in the shallows … Part of the oil slick was only 16 miles offshore and closing in on the Mississippi River Delta, the marshlands at the southeastern tip of Louisiana where the river empties into the ocean. Already 100,000 feet of protective booms have been laid down to protect the shoreline, with 500,000 feet more standing by, said Charlie Henry, an oil spill expert for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, at an earlier news conference on Wednesday.

More from HuffPost:

… As dawn broke Thursday in the oil industry hub of Venice, about 75 miles from New Orleans and not far from the mouth of the Mississippi River, crews loaded an orange oil boom aboard a supply boat at Bud’s Boat Launch. There, local officials expressed frustration with the pace of the government’s response and the communication they were getting from the Coast Guard and BP officials …

… "We’re not doing everything we can do," said Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, which straddles the Mississippi River at the tip of Louisiana.

"Give us the worst-case scenario. How far inland is this supposed to go?" Nungesser said. He has suggested enlisting the local fishing fleet to spread booms to halt the oil, which threatens some of the nation’s most fertile seafood grounds.

Louisiana has opened a special shrimp season along parts of the coast so shrimpers can harvest the profitable white shrimp before the spill has an effect.

Michael Nguyen, 58, was aboard his 82-foot shrimp boat, the Night Star III, waiting for news Thursday morning on what has happening with the slick. He wasn’t panicking, but was clearly worried.

"The oil come in everywhere, the shrimp die, the crabs die, the fish die. What do I do? Stay home a long time?"

The spill has moved steadily toward the mouth of the Mississippi River and the wetland areas east of it, home to hundreds of species of wildlife and near some rich oyster grounds.

Plaquemines Parish oysterman Mitch Jurasich said by telephone from his boat that he and other crews are working around the clock to harvest as many oysters as possible …

… "But we’re fighting a losing effort. We’ve got an extreme amont of product in the water," he said.

A federal class-action lawsuit was filed late Wednesday over the oil spill on behalf of two commercial shrimpers from Louisiana, Acy J. Cooper Jr. and Ronnie Louis Anderson.

The suit seeks at least $5 million in compensatory damages plus an unspecified amount of punitive damages against Transocean, BP, Halliburton Energy Services Inc. and Cameron International Corp.

Jim Klick, a lawyer for Cooper and Anderson, said the oil spill already is disrupting the commercial shrimping industry.

"They should be preparing themselves for the upcoming shrimp season," he said. "Now they’re very much concerned that the whole shrimp season is out."

Mike Brewer, 40, who lost his oil spill response company in the devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago, said the area was accustomed to the occassional minor spill. But he feared the scale of the escaping oil was beyond the capacity of existing resources.

"You’re pumping out a massive amount of oil. There is no way to stop it," he said.

And, as of yet, there is still no plan announced to handle the sunken, capsized wreck of the Deepwater Horizon itself, with its 700,000 gallons of toxic diesel fuel.

This spill is now demanding further involvement from the Federal government, and is now threatening the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, home to Mary Landrieu, who has been a lobbied proponent of offshore oil drilling. The impact to the Gulf could be enormous if, as now appears possible, the entire well drains into the Gulf of Mexico over a period of a few weeks in a slow-motion replay of the Exxon Valdez disaster. As it stands now, the drilling-friendly Obama administration has orchestrated an "investigation" into the disaster driven by oil-drilling proponent Ken Salazar and administration officials Janet Napolitano and Lisa Jackson. It does not appear that there is any party to this investigation who is not a direct report to President Obama, who has made expanded offshore oil drilling the only tangible part of, perversely, his leadership on climate change legislation to date.

I’ll try to update this diary later with more information as to the response from environmentalists – which appears minimal so far – as well as the investigation, and, of course, spill status updates as they appear. This disaster has raised many questions about the prudence of the Obama administration’s emphasis on offshore oil drilling as part of climate change legislation.

Update 1:

Janet Napolitano has declared the spill to be of "national significance" indicating probably that the Federal government will mobilize national security resources, potentially even military resources, to try to respond to the spill. The spill’s outermost extent is now 12 miles from the mouth of the Mississippi river and is expected to make shorefall tomorrow.

If the Department of Defense responds, then, once again, American military personnel will be deployed to America’s Louisiana Gulf Coast.

Update 2:

The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming is now announcing that oil industry executives will be called to Congress for some sort of testimony:

… The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has called the chief executives of America’s top five oil companies to testify on the growing Gulf Coast spill and the companies’ rising profits coupled with rising prices for consumers.

Committee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) blasted out a press release Thursday, reproduced below:

Markey Calls Oil CEOs to Congress

Oil Spill in Gulf, Energy Policy, Effects of Gas Prices on Economy Prompt Request for Oil Heads

WASHINGTON (April 29, 2010) – A large, growing oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico has been set on fire to contain the damage and is threatening the coastline. Oil profits are up. And the nation’s largest oil companies are finally coming to the table to discuss America’s energy policy.

With these multiple issues at play, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent formal notice to the heads of America’s top five oil companies to soon appear before the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which Rep. Markey chairs.

"From the health of our economy to the health of our environment, it’s time for the American public to hear from the oil companies," said Rep. Markey. "Their opinions and answers on the issues of energy policy are vital given the push in Congress to construct a comprehensive energy independence strategy for our nation."

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which is now leaking at a rate of 5,000 barrels of oil per day, could by next week exceed the size of the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969. This accident follows the release of thousands of miles of coastline by the Obama administration for potential new offshore drilling …

This spill is now likely to be of historic character.

Update 3:

The awful Mary Landrieu is already trying to push back against the obvious conclusion about offshore oil drilling (we don’t want it!) in this disaster:

… Sen. Mary Landrieu, a longtime supporter of offshore oil drilling, has called for a full investigation into the incident.

But in recent days, as federal agencies launch their own investigation and other members of Congress demand answers from oil producer BP and drilling operator TransOcean, she has preached caution. Landrieu says that the incident should "not be used inappropriately" to halt President Obama’s recent push for expansion of offshore drilling.

"Both advocates and critics of offshore drilling have recognized the significance of this tragedy… we cannot stop energy production in our country because of this incident," Ms. Landrieu said.

In two previous congressional hearings, Landrieu minimized the chance of such a massive accident occurring on an offshore oil rig and also minimized the impact of any oil spill, saying it would hardly fill one-third of the reflecting pool outside of the Capitol …

That Huffington Post article has some must-read information on the way Landrieu – who is by all appearances, a paid shill for the oil industry – has been scuttling around trying to pretend to embrace an environmental ethos while really just driving to have low-regulation offshore drilling handed to her extraction industry sponsors by the Obama administration and the Congress.

If only there were lemon laws on politicians, Mary Landrieu could be "taken back" for a full refund.

Update 4:

The extraction industry is already trying to do online PR. Do a Google search on "Deepwater Horizon" and the link above is the first and only sponsored link that seems to emerge. Clearly, the oil industry is panicking.

Update 5:

The New York Daily News has led the charge in regular mass media, basing the claim on back-calculation from the updated leak rate today, that the Horizon disaster will dwarf the Exxon Valdez in impact:

… About 210,000 gallons of oil per day has been leaking since the BP rig caught fire and sank …

It was heading for Louisiana’s fragile coastal wetlands – and $3 billion seafood industry – just as the shrimping season is set to begin.

BP is drilling a "relief well" to divert the oil, but it would take three months to complete, Suttles said.

By then, the undersea gusher of crude will have topped the 1989 Exxon Valdez calamity, which destroyed Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

BP officials have claimed that the leak is "new", which would indicate that the huge flow rate reported today is recent and the spill volume total is smaller than would be the case if BP had concealed the third leak from day 1 of the disaster. Unfortunately, any "investigation" driven by the oil-friendly Obama administration will probably not determine whether or not BP has been hugely dishonest about the leak rate coming from its collapsed riser pipe in the Gulf.


Horizon Oil Slick Continues to Expand, Disingenuous Politicians Demand “Investigation”

12:33 pm in BP oil disaster, Energy by Seymour Friendly

My previous diary entries on this matter, which contain a lot of general information about the Deepwater Horizon disaster, are accessible here.

The still-growing oil slick coming from oil flowing from the ruptured Horizon riser pipe is now 21 miles from the closest shore point. A graphic produced by the Coast Guard and other bodies shows the spill extents clearly. At its widest extents, the spill is 45 miles by 100 miles in extent. However, the spill does not have even boundaries at all, owing to currents and winds, and the approximate surface area of the spill is less than 2500 square miles in extent. The extent of the spill has, further, been impacted by the Federal response:

… A coordinated response continues by federal, state and local partners while BP and other contractors work to stop the flow of oil and minimize its environmental impact. Approximately 1,100 total personnel are currently deployed and have used approximately 56,000 gallons of oil dispersant so far. Approximately 260,000 gallons of oily water have been collected. Nearly 50 vessels—including 16 skimming boats, four storage barges, 11 support vessels—and multiple aircraft are conducting containment and cleanup operations in the area …

As noted previously, the plan BP is pursuing to stop the leak at its source will take months, with a sustained removal operation underway continuously as BP drills and then fills intervention wells. BP has already brought another deepwater drilling rig to the disaster site to begin this operation shortly, after a period of weeks during which BP will attempt to place an underwater dome over the leaking well that might allow channeling the leak flow to a contained area for steady removal by the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard will begin to experiment with localized burns on contained section of the oil slick:

… UPDATE 11- Controlled burn scheduled to begin
NEW ORLEANS – The response to BP/Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon incident continues as responders have scheduled a controlled, on-location burn to begin at approximately 11 a.m. CDT today—a strategy designed to minimize environmental risks by removing large quantities of oil in the Gulf of Mexico following the April 20 explosion.

Part of a coordinated response combining tactics deployed above water, below water, dozens of miles offshore, as well as closer to coastal areas, today’s controlled burn will remove oil from the open water in an effort to protect shoreline and marine and other wildlife.

Workboats will consolidate oil into a fire resistant boom approximately 500 feet long. This oil will then be towed to a more remote area, where it will be ignited and burned in a controlled manner. The plan calls for small, controlled burns of several thousand gallons of oil lasting approximately one hour each.

No populated areas are expected to be affected by the controlled burn operations and there are no anticipated impacts to marine mammals and sea turtles. In order to ensure safety, the Environmental Protection Agency will continuously monitor air quality and burning will be halted if safety standards cannot be maintained …

and will attempt to use chemical dispersants on the majority of the slick:

… The vast majority of this slick will be addressed through natural means and through use of chemical dispersants. Today’s burn will not affect other ongoing response activities, such as on-water skimming, dispersant application, and subsurface wellhead intervention operations. Preparations are also underway in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama to set up a protective boom to minimize shoreline impact …

Notice how, in the quote above, now that there are Federal agencies involved, there is a continuous concern in operations for damage to the environment and/or the emergence of public health threats. Unfortunately, this concern was probably never present when BP was operating the Horizon with a lack of stringent Federal regulation.

As was the case yesterday, there is no announced plan to drain or raise and remove the massive wreck of the Horizon itself, which contains up to 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel, weighs in at 32.5 million kilograms, and is currently capsized on the ocean floor under 5,000 feet of water.

Stopping and cleaning this spill is going to take some time. The environmental impact is worrisome:

… Officials said on Tuesday that wind projections indicated that the oil would not reach land in the next three days, and it was unclear exactly where along the Gulf Coast it might arrive first.

“If some of the weather conditions continue, the Delta area is at risk,” said Charlie Henry, scientific support coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry noted that the coastal area near the spill contains some 40 percent of the nation’s wetlands and is the spawning ground for countless fish and birds. …

The Obama administration has declared that there will be an investigation into what happened with the Horizon.

… As they emphasized the importance of continued vigilance and interagency coordination in the joint response to the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today laid out the next steps for the investigation that is underway into the causes of the April 20** explosion that left 11 workers missing, three critically injured, and an ongoing oil spill that the responsible party and federal agencies are working to contain and clean up.

"As we continue to work with our federal, state, local and private sector partners to respond to this ongoing incident, we must also effectively determine and address its causes," said Secretary Napolitano. "Secretary Salazar and I share President Obama’s commitment to devoting every available resource to a comprehensive and thorough investigation."

"We will remain focused on providing every resource we can to support the massive response effort underway at the Deepwater Horizon, but we are also aggressively and quickly investigating what happened and what can be done to prevent this type of incident in the future," said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar …

It is not clear what accessible forensic evidence remains discoverable in the sunken, burned wreck, nor is it clear how seriously we should take an investigation headed up by a drilling-friendly Interior Secretary (Ken Salazar) and mandated by the Obama administration, which has so far seemed to focus on expanded offshore oil drilling as a perverse linchpin in climate change legislation:

… Washington D.C. — As part of the Administration’s comprehensive energy strategy President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced more details of the Obama Administration’s efforts to strengthen our energy security. President Obama and Secretary Salazar announced that the Administration will expand oil and gas development and exploration on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to enhance our nation’s energy independence while protecting fisheries, tourism, and places off U.S. coasts that are not appropriate for development. Also included in the announcement are landmark car and truck fuel standards, key efforts being carried out by the Department of Defense to enhance energy security, and an effort to green the federal vehicle fleet. Details are below.

“I want to emphasize that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies on homegrown fuels and clean energy. And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and the long term. To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake,” said President Obama …

President Obama has already announced that there will be no change to his oil drilling plans after the accident, and it is not clear that the administration is going to even demand a growth in Federal emergency response capacity in cases of disasters like the Horizon disaster as a pre-condition for expanded emphasis on drilling.

Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana has attempted to position herself as backing the investigation:

… Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., released a statement Thursday in which she called for a full investigation into Tuesday’s explosion and fire on an oil drilling platform off the Louisiana coast.

"Even as the rescue efforts continue, it is clear that the U.S. Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service should conduct a swift and thorough investigation into this incident," Landrieu said.

She added, "It is critical that these agencies examine what went wrong and the environmental impact this incident has created. These findings should be reported to Congress as soon as possible."

Landrieu said she expects that "Transocean and BP will fully cooperate with any investigation and commit every available resource to learn from this tragic event." …

However, Senator Landrieu has been a proponent of offshore oil drilling:

… Proud of expanding oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico

Landrieu said one of her proudest wins in Congress was getting approval for the expansion of offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, with a large portion of the royalties going to help Louisiana coastal protection efforts.
Kennedy responded that much of the billions of dollars in royalties wouldn’t start flowing until 2017, after thousands more acres of wetlands had washed away. But Landrieu noted millions of dollars already had come to Louisiana because of the drilling bill. …

It’s particularly disingenuous, the way Landrieu has attempted to spin her efforts to open up drilling – she has been a big recipient of oil industry donations – as some sort of attempt to protect Louisiana’s wetlands. Landrieu should be forced to discuss her motives for supporting oil drilling in light of the current oil slick threatening wetlands and the marine environment. Landrieu is without a doubt in effect a paid shill of the oil industry. However, given that her interests align with President Obama’s, it is highly unlikely that she will face any ostracizing after this disaster.

We can assume until proven wrong that Landrieu, Salazar, and Obama are attempting to create a facade of an "investigation" intended to placate the public and, perhaps, identify a witch for burning in the Horizon disaster. The one thing that we can know for sure is that environmental groups have largely remained silent – there is no organized demand for action from any major environmental player, including, even, Greenpeace as a result of the disaster, nor has any liberal- or progressive- aligned faction with the Democratic Party, such as the House Progressive Caucus, or the small block of liberal Senators, attempted to draw a line in the sand.

The story of the Horizon is going to continue on for months, likely with slow developments. We’ll need to see what happens when the slick makes shorefall somewhere in order to know if there is going to be a mediagenic, highly visual consequence to the leak that mass media outlets can seize upon in order to sensationalize. It is likely right now that the Horizon disaster, which is in fact an ill omen regarding the expansion of oil drilling offshore, will simply be disregarded by the presidential administration and the Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress. Without an immediate shift by the Congress and the White House to either eliminate expanded offshore drilling, or at least, to mandate a large Federal capacity and responsibility for it at the agency level, it is likely that the only responsible Federal involvement with offshore oil drilling in the future will continue to be the use of insufficient Federal resources to respond to disasters reactively, with a belated and far-too-late concern for the marine biosphere, fisheries, coastlines, and the well-beings of people dependent on the marine environment.

I’ll try to update as time allows with more on the available background with Landrieu, who has been lobbied by the oil industry to head off Federal safety regulations on these offshore rigs and their operations.

Update 1:

I am currently watching a live press conference online where reps from NOAA, BP, and the Coast Guard are taking questions primarily on the intention to burn oil. It appears that the first burn tries are not going yet, as weather and other conditions are impacting the operation.

It is very clear from watching this press conference that BP and NOAA are in a disarray. As they get questions at the podium, the COO of BP and a figure from NOAA are being actively coached out loud by the Coast Guard Admiral (Mary Landry) in charge of the response as to what information is available to respond to the questions, and how this information could be communicated usefully. "Use the metrics, tell them about the metrics, focus on the metrics …" she tells the BP COO.

It is clear that this emergency response is completely ad hoc, and the three entities now owning response (CG, BP, NOAA) are at a loss as how to answer questions and with what information. The COO of BP looks wholly unready to face questions on this disaster. The one useful bit of information from him so far is the fact that the flow rate from the leaking riser pipe has not changed from initial observations.

Incidentally, 7 sperm whales have been repeatedly sighted in the spill zone, fortunately, there is no sign of distress from them yet, according to NOAA.