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.
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.