Sunday, May 30, 2010
Obama toured the area Friday, his second trip to the Gulf Coast since the disaster began on April 20th. On Saturday, in response to hearing that the Top Kill effort had failed, he said: It is "...enraging as it is heartbreaking."
That about sums it up for me. Except, I'm as enraged at my government and Obama as I am at the world's obsessive-compulsive dedication to a build-and-spend based economy. We use oil to build stuff that we only intend to use for a short while, then we throw that stuff away and use more oil to build more stuff. It's a never ending cycle of waste. And we call this process, "growth." But it's not growth. What it is, in truth, is a recipe for our own destruction.
Everybody talks about getting the global economic crisis over with. How? By building more shit and selling it. What do we need to build all this new shit? Oil. Zillions of tons of it.
Forget about green technology. Wind farms. And tide generators. Electric cars. It's a drop in the bucket compared to the business of building and making shit and getting this shit from plant to consumer.
Our survival isn't a function of economic growth. It's a function of zeitgeist. And the one we have now isn't working.
Friday, May 28, 2010
By comparison, the Mexican-owned (Pemex Corp.) Ixtoc I platform that caught fire and sank off the Gulf Coast of Mexico (after a similar type of blowout in 1979) spilled over 126 million gallons. It took 10 months to cap the Ixtoc I well. The famed "Hellfighter" Red Adair helped cap the Ixtoc I.
But if you look at the photo above and compare it to photos taken at the Deepwater Horizon accident site - photos of the actual firefight and those taken immediately after the sinking and subsequent to it - you can tell that the resources BP has brought to the scene far outnumber the resources the Mexican Government had on hand to battle the Ixtoc I accident.
A lot of government resources were mobilized in the aftermath of the Ixtoc I disaster to help save wildlife and wetlands. They even airlifted threatened species from areas polluted by oil.
It will be awhile before scientists and analysts know for sure how much the Deepwater Horizon spilled . . . and continues to spill. It has the potential to be worse than the Ixtoc I spill.
I'm not into media hysterics and/or the blatant exploitation of public fear by which the media perpetuates itself, but I thought it was important to include this report in the blog.
Is there a second leak? I have no inside information to support or negate this claim. There is no evidence one way or the other, just hearsay.
One thing we know for certain, the Coast Guard and spokesman at the Interior Department were speaking too soon when they announced some success of the top kill. (Exact words were: It's going the way it's supposed to be going.) But the results of the top kill effort are still many hours, even days away. BP kept telling the public to wait, but the government wanted to give us some good news to make them and things look better.
Your government is lying to you.
You could see from the video an enormous amount of mud coming out of the broken BOP. If all that mud is coming out, what is going down into the well?
Thursday, May 27, 2010
Independent studies by two government entities have concluded that, to date, the spill is between 17 and 39 million gallons, making this the worst spill in US history. The calculations were made by using two different methods. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons. The Ixtoc I platform, which burned and sank in 1979 off the coast of Mexico, spilled approximately 126 million gallons.
Meanwhile, Karl Rove wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal in which he echoed what I've been saying from day-one, that this Administration's response to the spill is a worse case of government impotence than the Bush Administration suffered after Katrina. Rove also pointed out the fact that by law federal decision-making in response to Katrina had to take a back seat to State and Local decision-making. The disaster area with Katrina was on state property. In the case of the spill, in which the disaster occurred on federally leased land, the federal government had the sole responsibility to take charge. The federal government overseas the lands and waters that belong to every American, and these lands and waters include those offshore to the edge of the continental shelf.
Let's just hope and pray this works, and hope and pray that when the thing is finally capped the administration and BP will embark on an aggressive campaign to re-mediate the damage, something they have yet to do -- after nearly 37 days!
Birnbaum had been working at the service for less than 9 months.
I think you'll see Ken Salazar, Interior Secretary leave in the next few months.
Obama insists that the people who are criticizing his administration for its lackadaisical response to the crisis "... do not know the facts."
I think the facts speak for themselves. (See my government response time-line in a previous post.)
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
What will happen when the first hurricane barrels through the Gulf and into the panhandle? I'm not the only one who has been thinking about it. There are many others speculating on the mix of hurricane and oil spill.
Some scientists say the oil might make a hurricane worse by creating a warmer environment for it to breed and strengthen. I don't buy this theory. If anything, I think the sheen/slick on the surface will tend to lessen the strength of a hurricane by diminishing wave action and keeping Gulf waters from feeding energy back into the cyclone.
Other scientists say the intense wind and storm activity might help break up the oil faster. I don't buy this theory, either.
Most scientists who have commented on this agree that it will drive oil farther inland, further exacerbating an already bad situation for coastal wetlands.
[Here's an NPR story on it.]
Meanwhile, I see an additional problem. I think a hurricane in the Gulf right now will turn the surrounding air into an aerosol. Like emptying a few cans of WD-40 into your garage.
When I was in college, I was part of a group of physics students researching the amount of iodine in milk. Cows get their iodine from several sources, supplements to their feed and eating grass. I can't remember the date but it was in the late seventies. The Chinese tested an A-Bomb and the explosion sent up a radioactive cloud of debris that circled the globe for 4 days before raining out over the Northeast. We went out after the rain event and tested milk samples at farms. All the cows that had been feeding in the field, the vast majority of them, were producing milk with high concentrations of radioactive Iodine. These isotopes of Iodine had rained out and accumulated in the grass, and the cows processed it in their milk. The amounts were scarcely below the toxic levels. In other words, they were just below recall levels.
So, my feeling is that probably the real harm is in the rain-out (rain is not as refreshing as it used to be), and, depending on the hurricane track, it could effect crops. I would stay indoors during a rain event resulting from a hurricane's landfall this year. And I would avoid eating corn and soy beans and avoid eating foods or drinks utilizing corn and soy products. Yes, this means all sodas using corn syrup and all milk or creme substitutes.
BP officials say the company is poised to begin the top kill procedure. However, to say they are cautiously optimistic is an understatement. In fact, it's unclear if the mud being pumped into the well can outrun the flow of oil and gas escaping through the hole. If the data returning topside doesn't satisfy the experts, the effort will be aborted. The concern is that the procedure could crack the remains of the blow out preventer and make the leak worse.
A surface supply ship, the HOS Centerline, one of the largest of it's kind in the world, is on site and ready to start pumping mud down the pipe and into the well. This ship has a 30,000 hp engine driving a pump that can deliver 40 to 50 barrels of mud a minute. The problem is: this mud has to overcome the force of the expanding gas and oil coming out of the well at 5,000 feet below sea level. If we assume the initial leak estimate of 5,000 bpd, we're talking about overcoming a flow rate of only 3.5 bpm. But, if, as most people now conclude, the estimate of the leak is much greater, perhaps 20 times greater, then the mud being pumped down will have to overcome as much 69 bpm of gas and oil headed in the opposite direction.
It's not just the well pressure of this gas and oil at depth that they're fighting. It's also the fact that the gas and oil and other material at 5,000 feet below sea level is losing density and gaining momentum as it rises from depth. At 5,000 ft below sea level, the pressure is 148 atmospheres or 2182 psi. As the gas rises, it expands and picks up speed. In order to slow it down, you need to increase its density or increase the hydrostatic pressure against it. To do this during a drilling operation, oil companies use drilling mud, which has a density greater than seawater and greater than the mud in your back yard. Seawater weighs about 8.5 lbs/gal. Drilling mud can weigh as much as 20 lbs/gal.
So, will 40 to 50 bpm of drilling mud being pumped down the 4" repair pipe increase the density of the gas and oil being forced up the pipe? At the same time, will the top kill fluid equal or exceed the hydrostatic pressure of the expanding oil and gas coming up the pipe? But this is just in the pipe. This 4" dia. repair pipe is stuffed in a 21" diameter larger pipe, which itself is stuffed into a broken or compromised blowout preventer. Once the mud flows into the blowout preventer and the top of the well, engineers are hoping the density of the drilling mud will increase the density of the gas and oil enough for them to start to pump cement into the well.
The big risk, of course, is that all this additional pressure will further compromise the remaining structure on the bottom and make everything 100 times worse.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, said today, "We will keep our boot on [BP's] neck until the job gets done."
That's our government for ya, a super size-me collection of useless bureaucrats good for only two things: Taking your money and telling you what to do and when to do it. God forbid anybody in government should ever do something other than run a hearing or call for an investigation.
Does anybody know how much of the oil slick at sea has been recovered by OSRVs? No. Has anybody asked? No.
What is the point of a federal government that can only deal with a national environmental catastrophe by saying: "We'll keep our boot on their neck until the job gets done."
These tough words from Washington and the White House are pure, unadulterated, useless tripe. What I want from my government is for them to tell me they've arranged for resources that BP can't get, that they've brought in OSRVs from other countries, that they've started cleaning oil out of the gulf to the tune of 10,000 bpd, that they've sent 5,000 bulldozers, 2,000 excavators, 3,000 bucket loaders, and few hundred tractor trailers full of clean-up supplies and equipment. I want to know they've taken money previously earmarked for stupid fisheries research vessels and shifted it to construct new oceangoing OSRVs.
You know something? We'd be better served if the federal government took that Ken Salazar boot and shoved it up its own ass.
Friday, May 21, 2010
And one more thing, it seems everybody but the media has known for weeks that this thing is bigger than BP and government experts have been saying. Right from the start I signaled a major alarm. It was obvious. Who needs the exact details of the spill or a definitive quantifier to conclude the enormity of the catastrophe? Look at the slick. Look at how fast the slick grew after the sinking of Deepwater Horizon. The slick and sheen now cover nearly 16,000 square miles!!!!
Thursday, May 20, 2010
BP and the Department of the Interior report we have on scene and on the job some 17,000 workers, over a million feet of boom, hundreds of boats and ships and the very best and brightest of industry professionals. Unfortunately, it's all a big show for the public. BP doesn't believe this spill is going to have a significant environmental impact and the White House and the rest of the government is buying the hype.
If BP and the White House really wanted to mitigate this mess they would have taken greater and more immediate steps to that end. The technology and the resources are out there to clean up the oil that has spilled. Tankers with their own on board pumping and siphoning equipment can suck in a water/oil mix and bring it to shore side storage facilities where it can be separated in centrifuges and other types of oil/water separators. Large OSRVs (Offshore Oil Spill Recovery Vessels) are sitting idle in countries like Saudi Arabia, Norway, and Turkey. More importantly, there are new technologies on hand ready to be implemented. We can tow giant underwater collection nets through mid-water or even at the bottom. The nets can be hauled back and squeezed out through giant presses, the oil/water mix recovered and pumped into a cargo vessel for delivery to oil/water separators on shore. We can use advanced boom systems that sink below the surface. We can use ships that have separators and storage tanks on board, ships that function like a dredge. There are microbial solutions.
Even Kevin Costner has a solution, a patented centrifuge that he says can reclaim up to 97% of the oil or diesel in an oil/water mix. (The machine has been tested by the Army Corp of Engineers in Louisiana and is reportedly being field tested by BP this week.)
The thing here is this: The White House and the industry don't care. What they're doing is a show put on for the benefit of the public. Like the guys they sent into the Gulf of Alaska to clean oil off rocks with toothbrushes after the Exxon Valdez ran aground. And how did that turn out? (The picture above was taken 20 years after the Exxon Valdez spill.)
When I think of how U.S. industry mobilized during World War II to beat Nazi Germany, and I think about Obama blaming BP and the industry as a whole for not taking the necessary precautions and not being prepared for this accident, and I think about the catastrophic potential of this spill for the entire planet, I have to wonder why the person in charge hasn't taken the bull by the horns and wrestled it to the ground.
It's not enough for our politicians to point their fingers at private enterprise and announce investigations and hearings. What are we paying these guys for? A bunch of theatrics?
Of course, it's all about money. As a former commercial fisherman, and a former technical writer for a national commercial fishing magazine, I can tell you that we have devised the most technologically advanced systems for pulling every single living creature out of the ocean. We can tow giant trawls between two ships. We can set thousands of miles of long lines. We have multifunction radars and sonars and all types of electronic navigation and sounding aids for finding schools of fish. If a gallon of spilled oil was as valuable as a red snapper, the oil in the Gulf would have been sopped-up already.
Obama claimed he wanted new business. He wanted fresh entrepreneurship. He wanted a source of new technology and new economic growth. Well, here's his big chance. The opportunity for building up a new and viable business sector and placing it positive territory is staring him in the face. It's called oil spill mitigation and there's more than enough private money to set it on its course. What the hell is he waiting for? The need is here. The resources are here. The technological know how is here. The will is here.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
The Turanor is the first solar power yacht designed and built for ocean passages.
31 meters long
600 square meters of photovoltaic panels
electric propulsion motors
7.5 knot cruising speed
Full WSJ story here.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Full Esquire story here.
This would be the death stroke for The Keys, which have struggled through decades of unrestrained coastal development, commercial fishing and recreation boating.
Authorities say the slick could reach The Keys in as little as ten days.
Meanwhile, it's claimed that over one million feet of boom have been deployed. A million feet. That sounds like a lot. That's why they use it. Think of it in miles. A million feet is only 200 miles. The reef system in The Keys is 221 miles long. If we cover the keys, who's covering the rich marshlands of the Panhandle? What about the Mississippi Delta?
The total area of the Gulf covered by the sheen measures 10, 170 square miles.
It's hard not to think of this as a global, life-changing event.
The weather service used to say, "The hurricane will pass safely offshore," until they came to realize that hurricanes threatened and in some cases killed professional and recreational seafarers.
Now we hear and read similar statements from broadcasters, journalists, government officials, oil executives and others, who seem to think that as long as we don't see the oil on our coasts everything is better. Well, it isn't. And while I'm not yet ready to join the fatalists and end-of-world theorists and make the claim the spill is a global life altering event I will say that things are not better because the oil has so far been confined to offshore waters. In many ways, not the least of which is because out of sight means out of mind, it's worse. Probably the best thing it could do is land on some nice, pretty, desolate beach somewhere, maybe in front of a bunch of $20 million estates. I'm not looking for payback. I'm just saying, it's better for it to land on a relatively lifeless stretch of sand than for it to stack up on our coral reefs or float endlessly in the nutrient rich currents offshore.
Meanwhile, if the slick is threatening to get into the famous loop current, why can't we engage large oil recovery vessels (OSRVs) to intercept it? It would seem to me that once the slick gets into a substantial and predictable offshore current, it's almost as if it is being pumped naturally. We should take advantage of this natural pumping action and deploy OSRVs to intercept the oil in the current, not write it off as a too-late-now scenario.
Obama's spin doctors are already on the Web trying to manage and control the fallout from this catastrophe. They've been quick to update Wikipedia bios and data. For example, when you look up the MMS on Wikipedia, and you check under the subheading, "Role of MMS in BP Oil Spill," you'll find a note distancing Director Liz Birnbaum from the environmental exemption waiver granted to BP in April, 2009. I mean, it's fair to say it. It's apparently the truth. But is it a necessary piece of information?
Environmentalists expected Liz Birnbaum and the guy who appointed her, Ken Salazar, former Democratic Senator from Colorado now serving as Secretary of the Interior, to clean up the MMS, which got busted in September 2008 by the U.S. Interior Department’s inspector general (Earl E. Devaney) for rigging oil contracts, accepting gifts, and consulting to the industry they were charged with regulating. They were also accused of having sex and doing drugs with industry reps.
Obviously, while the MMS has apparently given up the sex, drugs and rock and roll, it's still very cozy with the oil, gas and mining industries.
Obama has pledged to "get to the bottom" of this catastrophe and has ordered a full investigation. I hope he includes his own house and himself in that call. I don't accuse Obama of being cozy with the industry or conspiring to advance the exploitation of natural resources. I accuse him of complacency and inaction in the face of a pending national environmental emergency. And I vote for putting Earl Devaney on the case. He seems like a guy with integrity. Put Devaney in charge and add a few scientists and emergency response experts and let's see what develops.
You couldn't find a better recruitment program if you tried.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Facing public criticism in the wake of the spill and the failed Times Square bombing (also the Christmas Day plane bombing attempt), Napolitano takes center stage today in front of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs. Will they ask the hard questions or let her off easy?
Here's what I think will happen: She'll rattle off all the things DHS and the White House has done to provide aid and support but nobody will question the timing of these response efforts. I think she'll also shift blame to BP for not understanding the scope of the problem until almost a week after the sinking of Deepwater Horizon.
I hope at least one senator at the hearing can see through the subterfuge and the juvenile displays of White House anger and misdirection.
Over the weekend BP engineers were able to shove a smaller diameter pipe into the larger pipe that's leaking on the bottom of the Gulf. This smaller diameter pipe is only an interim solution, although it will allow workers topside to funnel oil into the cargo hold of a ship. How much is it helping? Well, the insertion pipe is 4"in diameter and the riser pipe is 21" in diameter.
Meanwhile, some scientists are alarmed about what they claim are plumes of oil beneath the surface. They report one plume is 30 miles long.
I've reported here that scientists at SkyTruth have been claiming much higher numbers since April 27th.
On Thursday night, National Public Radio reported claims by scientists aboard the R/V Pelican that the Deepwater Horizon spill was 14 times worse than officially reported, releasing 70,000 barrels per day and putting it in the running for the worst oil spill in history.
Dr. Vernon Aster, a professor of marine sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi told NPR:
"We can't tell you what they look like because we haven't yet gotten a camera down there. That's one of our next immediate objectives, to see how big the particles are, what color they are and all of that. What I can tell you is what we know about their size and their extent. It looks like they are, at the most, four or five miles wide, and they are roughly 10 or 15 miles long."
Aster added, "The difference between these plumes at depth and the oil at the surface is the oil at the surface is pretty much two-dimensional. It has a length and a width, no depth, because it's floating right on the surface. These plumes at depth have a thickness, and many of them are more than 100 meters thick
Another quote, this one reported by WSWS.ORG . . . a Marxist Webzine so take it with a grain of salt, comes from Richard Steiner, a former professor of marine conservation at the University of Alaska:
“I don’t know if the government is willfully misleading the people, or they just don’t know what they’re doing. But I suspect the former; they’re trying to cover up for the inadequate response of the federal government, just like BP has been trying to cover up its own negligence.”
The R/V Pelican is currently on a mission for the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology (NIUST). The vessel was built in 1985 and is 116' long.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Huh? I thought we were already using dispersants, on the surface AND at the leak site. This CNN report makes very little sense to me based on what was reported earlier. First we heard we were waiting for approval to use the chemicals, then we heard they were using them on the surface, then a BP executive said they were having good luck injecting dispersants underwater at the leak site. Isn't the above a video of a C-130 deploying tons of chemicals out of its cargo hold and into the Gulf? I also remember other reports in which environmentalists and other scientists expressed concern over the potentially harmful effects of the dispersants and of using a chemical that sinks the oil and binds it in clumps on the seabed. Yet this CNN report claims the dispersant is better than the oil because it breaks down faster over time.
So, which is it? Have we been deploying or haven't we? Of course we have.
Perhaps the EPA is just getting around to approving the use of dispersants even though BP has been using it for weeks. If it wasn't so sad, it might be funny.
Here's the official EPA comment dated May 12th:
Statement on Dispersant Use in BP Oil Spill
When this crisis occurred, Coast Guard and EPA granted BP authorization to use an approved dispersant on oil present on the surface of the water in an effort mitigate the impact of the spill. This authorization included specific conditions to ensure the protection of the environment and the health of residents in affected areas. At this time, BP is authorized to continue use of this dispersant on the surface of the water. To ensure nearby residents are informed and protected, the EPA is constantly monitoring air quality in the Gulf area through air monitoring air craft, and fixed and mobile air stations. The air monitoring data is posted as it becomes available on www.epa.gov/bpspill.
The Coast Guard and EPA also authorized BP to conduct tests of a new approach to use this dispersant underwater, at the source of the leak. The tests were done to determine if the dispersant would be effective in breaking up the oil and helping to control the leaks. No further use of dispersants underwater is planned until BP provides the results of these tests for our review. The effects of underwater dispersant use on the environment are still widely unknown, which is why we are testing to determine its effectiveness first and foremost. If it is determined that the use of this dispersant underwater is effective and that BP may continue its use, the Federal government will require regular analysis of its impact on the environment, water and air quality, and human health. We reserve the right to discontinue the use of this dispersant method if any negative impacts on the environment outweigh the benefits.
EPA lists all dispersants that have been authorized for use on National Contingency Plan (NCP) Product Schedule
EPA has not given authorization for the full scale use of dispersants underwater beyond initial tests to determine its effectiveness. If EPA does approve the application of subsurface dispersants based on the results of testing, BP will be required to implement the monitoring and assessment plan below. The purpose of this plan is to monitor the movement and properties of a dispersed oil plume and to determine any ecological effects associated with the plume. We reserve the right to discontinue the use of this dispersant method if any negative impacts on the environment outweigh the benefits.And here's a New York Times Story dated May 13th saying that BP has already used 400,000 gallons of a 'toxic' dispersant called, Corexit. The story says BP has another 800,000 gallons on order.
From the Times:
So far, BP has told federal agencies that it has applied more than 400,000 gallons of a dispersant sold under the trade name Corexit and manufactured by Nalco Co., a company that was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and whose current leadership includes executives at both BP and Exxon. And another 805,000 gallons of Corexit are on order, the company said, with the possibility that hundreds of thousands of more gallons may be needed if the well continues spewing oil for weeks or months.
I don't know about you, but 400,000 gallons sound like "Full Use" to me.
By the way, the Times claims Corexit is less effective and more toxic than other chemical dispersants, but, in fact, Corexit is on the list of the EPA's approved dispersants.
The really sad part about this is that it has taken the EPA this long to to give its approval for something that has already been going on for weeks. And why wouldn't we have these protocols in place already. I guess we can chalk it up to more government ineptitude.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Headed for the Chopping Block?
Moreover, since January 2009, "... the MMS approved at least three huge lease sales, 103 seismic blasting projects and 346 drilling plans. Agency records also show that permission for those projects and plans was granted without getting the permits required under federal law," according to the New York Times.
Full story here.
This is not a new "Obama Administration" development. The conflicts between scientists and bureaucrats and the apparent violations of the permit process date back at least five years. But, clearly, this is not "Change We Can Live With."
I suspect the Director of MMS is about to have a seriously bad day, and no amount of blame heaped on the previous administration is going to make it any better. Yesterday, MMS spokesman, Kendra Barkoff, tried to shift attention to the Bush era by saying, “Under the previous administration, there was a pattern of suppressing science in decisions, and we are working very hard to change the culture and empower scientists in the Department of the Interior.”
Nice try, honey. Now stand tall and take your medicine. The public is sick and tired of government ineptitude. We don't want any more "change we can live with." I think at this point we'll be happy with a little change that won't kill us.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
The Maine Responder, a 208' OSRV (Oil Spill Recovery Vessel), left last week for the Gulf. It should have arrived on-scene this past Tuesday. It was part of a fleet of nine other OSRVs of similar design and function, all from East Coast ports, sent to assist in the Gulf clean-up. Near as I can tell, the Maine Responder departed on May 5th. Why did it take this vessel, and perhaps the others, twelve or thirteen days to get mobilized and underway? We, the supposedly "uninformed" public, had a pretty good idea how bad this this spill was going to be almost immediately, at least by the 23rd of April. By Saturday, April 28th, NOAA and the USCG had raised their estimates from 1,000 bpd to 5,000 bpd. (See the SkyTruth Timetable of Estimates Below.) If we consider the April 28th date as the official trigger point, then it's still six or seven days to get the ship mobilized and underway. That, in my opinion, is not very responsive, given the seriousness of the spill and the steaming time from here to there. Seven days at 5,000 bpd (and SkyTruth's estimates are 26,500 bpd) mean that, at the very least, another million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf.
This is the reason I'm so critical of the Obama administration. The White House's delay in acknowledging the extent of the spill and the potential for disaster made it more difficult for State's and/or municipalities to approve the mobilization of critical resources. And there are still resources at our disposal that aren't being utilized.
OSRVs are on site and standing by in Scandinavia and Turkey. All they need is the right word from the U.S. Government.
Obama should have given this incident national emergency status within days of the sinking of Deepwater Horizon. Instead, he waited eleven days. He didn't tour the site until Sunday, May 2nd, when he finally acknowledged the severity of the disaster and announced a 100% government commitment. On May 4th, local newspapers reported the Maine Responder and nine other similar vessels from the East Coast would leave for the Gulf. Is it a coincidence? I think not.
Now we have word the Administration put forth a request for $118 million in humanitarian assistance for the people in the Gulf. ON May 12th. That's two weeks after NOAA and the USCG claimed this would be the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Don't forget that Bush got knee-capped for failing to respond to the Katrina disaster even though he signed a $140 million dollar emergency aid bill four days after the hurricane's landfall. I'm not making excuses or defending Bush. I'm just trying trying to put this Administration's lack of action in perspective.
But here's the big problem. This is a 'humanitarian' assistance package, NOT emergency response money. It's a proposal to be tacked on to a pending legislation package (and oh how this administration loves it legislation packages). This money will not help the environment. It will not help save ecologically sensitive areas. It will not bring in more OSRVs. It will not save turtles or dolphins or critical natural habitat. It will do what this Administration wants it to do, extend unemployment and worker's compensation.
We need OSRVs. As many as we can get. Out there, in the Gulf, sucking up oil before it gets to the coasts. And we need to start building OSRVs in this country. Big ones. This incident, and our nation's response to it, is absolutely sickening.
If we're going to continue exploiting deep water offshore wells we need to get our sh*t together.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Congress and the White House want desperately to find someone at fault. They want a fall guy, a person like the Captain of the Titanic, or a single company like Morton-Thiokol, which made the O-rings that failed in the solid rocket boosters of the Challenger, and/or a government entity full of hired hands, like NASA, blamed for relying on a less-than-perfect acquisitions process.
But what if it turns out the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon couldn't be helped? I mean, how does one protect oneself from a gas bubble rising one mile from the ocean bottom? That's a lot of expansion.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Basically, there's a step in the drilling process that was bypassed temporarily. A cement plug in the well was not put in place at its usual time. Did this have anything to do with the blowout? Who can really say? It's all speculation. One company blames the construction of the blowout preventer and its redundant safeguards, another blames the well casing, another blames it on the decision not to put in the cement plug before removing the mud. In fact, if enough gas and pressure are available, no amount of man-made structure is going to prevent a disaster. At this point, how can one quantitatively determine the explosive force of the expanding gas and mud that caused the initial incident?
Odyssey Marine Exploration filed an appeal today for ownership of the treasure laden frigate, Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes y las Animas. The ship sank in 1804 with seventeen tons of silver and other valuables estimated at $500 million.
Good luck. With Spain on the brink of bankruptcy, chances are slim this judge's ruling will change much. Sounds like a great year for lawyers.
What I'd like to know is:
1. Does this ferry have engine controls at the bridge or are engine commands sent through an old style telegraph? I'm thinking a modern ferry in NYC will have the former. If so, it should be obvious if the crew attempted to slow the vessel as it approached.
2. When the allision was imminent, did the captain sound the general alarm or announce to his passengers over the PA to hold tight and prepare for a crash? Or did the captain and crew just stand up there saying to themselves, "Are we slowing down or not?"
3. Why does the ferry have a captain, assistant captain and a mate? What exactly is an assistant captain?
4. Why does the Staten Island Ferry approach the terminal at such a rate of speed. If this had been the only time this accident had occurred I wouldn't ask this question, but this is the second time this ferry has hit the terminal; the first time, in 2003, it was because the captain had passed out on drugs.
5. An AP Story reports Mayor Bloomberg saying that the captain and assistant captain (whatever that is) were taking turns at the helm in order to "make sure each gained experience in the position." [AP quote, not Bloomberg quote.]
What exactly does this mean? Were the captain and assistant captain so inexperienced they needed additional wheel time? Was the assistant captain really a mariner with a mate's license in a training program to be captain? Were both needing wheel time for a given route or tonnage? This doesn't make much sense. What reason would there be for two men to trade places at the helm other than a coffee or cigarette break or when one needs the other to take over for a difficult piloting or navigational maneuver?
Monday, May 10, 2010
I read an article recently describing the offshore oil industry as the destroyers of the offshore fishing industry. Hell, the offshore fishing industry has been destroying the offshore fishing industry for years. And everybody who east fish is part of the destruction.
If you live in a tepee on the plains and hunt and catch your own food with a bow and arrow or a trap line, and/or weave your own clothes from animal skins and walk from place to place like a nomad seeking favorable weather and good hunting . . . if you ascribe to this type of lifestyle, then I will excuse you from the long list of people who have helped make this spill possible.
Meanwhile, the four remedies being considered and/or implemented for the spill are the junk shot, the top hat, the relief wells and the installation of a new preventer. Some experts are concerned about the risks each of these remedies poses in terms of making a bad situation worse, in other words, doubling, tripling or increasing the leak ten-fold. In addition, as bad as this spill is, who's assessing the environmental damage caused by the remediation effort? For example, how much dispersant is being used, how much oil is being sunk to the bottom, how much debris and refuse will be needed in the junk shot?
[SkyTruth suggests that underestimating the spill will preclude the future development of adequate remediation resources. ]
- 4/22 - Deepwater Horizon rig sinks; Coast Guard estimates "up to" 8,000 barrels per day (bpd) is leaking - source
- 4/23 - Coast Guard reports no leaking at all from the damaged well - source
- 4/24 - Coast Guard reports well is leaking, estimates 1,000 bpd - source
- 4/25 - BP repeats 1,000 bpd estimate - source
- 4/27 - 1,000 bpd still the official Coast Guard and BP estimate - source
- 4/27 - SkyTruth and Dr. Ian MacDonald publish first estimate that spill rate is 20,000 bpd - source
- 4/28 - NOAA weighs in and raises the official estimate to 5,000 bpd based on aerial surveys "and other factors"; BP disputes this higher estimate - source
- 4/29 - Coast Guard and NOAA repeat their estimate of 5,000 bpd - source
- 4/29 - BP's Chief Operating Officer admits new estimate of 5,000 bpd may be correct; "He said there was no way to measure the flow at the seabed and estimates have to come from how much oil makes it to the surface" - source
- 5/1 - SkyTruth and Dr. Ian MacDonald publish revised estimate of at least 26,500 bpd - source
- 5/1 - Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen "acknowledged there was no way really to know the extent of the leak" - source - and stated that "Any exact estimate is probably impossible at this time" - source
- 5/1 - Coast Guard and NOAA cease estimating the rate of the spill.
SkyTruth uses satellite imagery to estimate the spill at 26, 500 barrels per day. Here's the link.
I'm not sure how they can determine this from the imagery and I have no way of verifying the report.
Other possibilities being discussed include 'junk shooting' the leak site with debris that might plug the hole or installing another preventer onto the one that failed. Both these could create an even worse situation if what's left of the BOP becomes even more damaged in the process.
Meanwhile, the AP ran a total spin-story on the Administration's "aggressive" response o the spill. You can find it on the Huffington Post or by doing a search for "AP Administration Aggressive." I wont to qualify the story by linking it here. My opinion on the matter is that Obama waited too long to act.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
The problem now is that gas hydrates are forming in the cold, high pressure environment at the seabed, 5,000 feet below sea level. These hydrates are forming a sludge that's clogging the outlet in the dome and building up pressure. BP had to lift the dome and move it out of the way.
On another note, the Administration has been in talks with the United Nations and other countries in an effort to enlist additional aid and support. A couple of oil skimming vessels from Sweden are en route. These are very large skimmers that should have been mobilized a week ago. Once the oil reaches the shoal waters of the panhandle, these large vessels will be useless.
Also, as a taxpayer in a country that drills and transports and uses more oil than any other country and/or people in the world, I'd like to know why we here in the U.S. don't have the largest oil skimmers in existence? Tax money is suppose to be used to educate, protect and defend. Why doesn't the U.S.C.G. have large oil skimmers? We have HAZMAT response vehicles in our fire departments. We're equipped to handle oil spills on the road. So why not on the water?
I'll tell you why. Because when the time came for the Coast Guard to procure new vessels, they didn't think large oil skimmers or multi-purpose vessels were sexy enough. A skimmer doesn't have the appeal of a sleek, high speed cutter armed to the teeth. Who wants to be on a 10 knot tub wearing a hard hat and getting covered in oil when you can be wearing Kevlar combat armor, carrying an assault rifle and cruising the high seas at 38 knots. When the Coast Guard became part of the Department of Homeland Security, and its mission focused more on coastal defense, patrol and drug interdiction, the emergency response for rescue and environmental protection suffered.
It's inexcusable for the U.S. not to have a fleet of large oil skimmers. And it's equally inexcusable for the administration to wait so long to procure the largest of these vessels. It's tantamount to having a huge fire in the middle of your town and not sending any fire trucks.
Click on the photos for the full story at the New York Times.
Friday, May 07, 2010
Monday, May 03, 2010
New York Times Update here.
Mr. Obama had initially not planned to visit the region until later this week at the earliest, White House officials said Friday afternoon. But by late Friday night, with criticism mounting that the government’s response was too slow, White House officials decided that the president needed to make the trip to the gulf on Sunday.
White House officials sent two Cabinet officials to appear on the Sunday television talk shows with the message that the administration was doing everything it could to take control of the spill and that it had been involved from the beginning. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Fox News Sunday that the government had an “all hands on deck” approach to the disaster.
If you're wondering why we haven't heard anything of late from Rear Admiral Mary Landry of the U.S.C.G., Commander of the Eighth District, here's why: Washington quietly replaced her two days ago. The new Commander in charge of the spill is Admiral Thad Allen. Whether Admiral Landry found herself in a situation beyond her capacity to respond is a matter of speculation. I think she took a "we're doing all we can at this time" approach, which left her hanging on a limb when it became clear how serious a spill this was. Right from the start, this thing should have been addressed as a major battlefront. She acted as if it was an "incident." In my opinion, she failed to hit the General Alarm.
Napolitano and Obama also failed to hit the General Alarm, so maybe Landry is the first of many scapegoats.
What does this spill mean for the future of deep water oil exploration? It's hard to say. It's quite possible that the well in question will never be fully sealed. If this happens, it will leak oil forever and ever, and the effects of such a leak will be felt all over the world for many years to come. How will the ecological impact compare to that of the volcano in Iceland? Who can say? One thing's for certain, we seem to have a relentless talent for poisoning the planet.
The good news, if there is any good news, is two fold: Warm water breaks down oil faster than cold water, and, for the most part, migratory species of birds have already moved on. If BP can install new BOPs, and if they can install the containment/recovery dome, and if they can drill some relief wells (that's a lot of ifs), a massive cleanup effort will begin to make a difference. Otherwise, it's like trying to cleanup downwind of an erupting volcano.
Sunday, May 02, 2010
Obama toured the disaster zone today and pledged an unrelenting government effort to contain the spill. Meanwhile, today there was a report that one million feet of boom had been deployed. Finally, after eleven days, Obama acknowledged the severity of the spill and promised a 100% commitment.
This is new territory. What we do here will change what happens around the world. There are more deep water wells off the coast of West Africa than there are here, and many more planned.
Saturday, May 01, 2010
The Obama Administration is famous for placing blame elsewhere, which is not to suggest BP is free of culpability. But as I've said before, and as I've been saying all along, the government is ultimately responsible for oversight and authorization. BP can't make a move without the prior approval of the U.S. Coast Guard, the E.P.A. and possibly DHS, the parent department of the U.S.C.G. And it's the U.S.C.G. and the EPA that are tasked with protecting the public through regulation and enforcement of anti-pollution laws. We pay taxes for this. So does BP.
Napolitano acknowledged she didn't even know the military had oil-recovery and remediation resources.
Not to pat myself on the back, or that it made a difference, but I"m glad I sent the Times a letter to the editor yesterday asking them why they hadn't been wondering about the Administration's slow response.
Mark my words. You're going to see more fingers pointed at the U.S.C.G., DHS, the U.S.C.G. and the White House in the coming months.