Posts tagged ‘gulf of mexico’

Oil spill waste raises concerns in the gulf

Even though BP‘s busted well has stopped spewing oil, the disaster is still generating tons of soiled boom and other oily waste that federal and state laws allow to be buried at specially designated dumps, some near residential neighborhoods.

Officials in one Mississippi area, however, raised concerns about the magnitude and safety of the oil spill waste being buried nearby. On Thursday, Harrison County officials blocked it from being dumped in their community — potentially opening the door for others in the region to do the same.

County supervisors voted in June to stop BP from dumping waste at subcontractor Waste Management Inc.‘s Pecan Grove landfill in Pass Christian, Miss. When Waste Management balked, the county board commissioned independent testing of the waste and subpoenaed the company’s test results that reportedly showed it was not hazardous.

But rather than prolong the dispute, BP and Waste Management decided to stop dumping at Pecan Grove. The county, however, has continued with its waste testing and results are pending, said Tim Holleman, the county board’s attorney.

“Ultimately, I think people will raise the same issue elsewhere,” Holleman said.

A BP spokesman confirmed the agreement but defended the company’s waste management plan.

“This is industrial waste, and it’s suitable for industrial landfills,” said BP spokesman Mark Proegler. “If the localities have concerns about that, we’re certainly willing to talk with them.”

Spill waste is hauled from beaches and the ocean to more than 50 regional storage sites in all four gulf states, where it is packaged for shipment to recyclers, liquid waste processors and landfills. So far the spill has generated about 35,600 tons of solid waste.

In Louisiana, the formerly abandoned Grand Isle Shipyard has been transformed into a waste storage site, where about 150 workers pump oil from skimmer boats into storage tanks. More than 7.7 million gallons of oily liquid waste have been collected. At the docks, workers dump plastic bags of oily debris into dozens of dumpsters.

The sprawling operation is indicative of the cleanup industry that has grown out of the nation’s worst oil spill disaster. The now-capped well was spewing as many as 60,000 barrels of oil a day since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

“Typically with a spill you’d have a bell-shaped curve where you deploy the boom, recover it and go home,” said Joe Kramer, project manager with BP subcontractor Miller Environmental Services Inc. “It’s more of an ongoing operation here.”

Waste samples are tested at storage sites by BP subcontractors to ensure they are, by law, nonhazardous. Much oil industry waste is not considered hazardous under a 1980 exemption carved out of the federal law.

Oil waste can be dumped in industrial-graded landfills, which are more strictly monitored than municipal dumps but not as isolated or restricted as hazardous waste sites.

“These are the type of facilities you want this waste to go to,” said Sam Phillips, solid waste permits administrator for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. “If something goes wrong, there are things we can do to prevent it from getting into a drinking-water aquifer.”

Members of the Gulf Coast congressional delegation said they intended to hold BP accountable for the health and safety of communities where spill waste was dumped.

“Gulf Coast residents have a right to be concerned about the waste placed in their landfills, and BP and its agents should do everything they can to work with local officials to address these concerns,” said Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) after a trip to spill-affected areas this month.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said tests by BP and her agency had shown that oil spill waste was not hazardous.

“The constituents of most of it are industrial waste, not hazardous, man-made chemicals, and it’s testing that way,” said Jackson, a chemical engineer by training. To reassure residents, Jackson ordered more EPA testing last month and required BP to release more information about waste testing, tracking and disposal.

But many gulf residents still worry.

“Anything that’s man-made can fail,” Harrison County Supervisor Marlin Ladner, a Mississippi lawmaker, said of the landfills. “The rig shows us that.”

Source: LA Times


July 30, 2010 at 10:02 AM Leave a comment

Gulf spill lacks societal punch of Santa Barbara

WASHINGTON — In 1969, Sen. Gaylord Nelson was so moved after seeing the devastation of an oil spill off the California coast near Santa Barbara that he called for a national teach-in on the environment. The following year the resulting “Earth Day” kick-started the modern environmental movement and shaped the way Americans thought about their air, water and soil.

Forty years later, the magnitude of the Gulf oil spill far exceeds Santa Barbara’s spill of up to 100,000 barrels, but there hasn’t been a comparable societal transformation.

Last week, legislation imploded in the Senate to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, derailing environmentalists’ top goal, and no national consensus has emerged to move America off oil and other fossil fuels into clean energy. Even a new more modest Senate bill, aimed at boosting energy efficiency and preventing oil spills, faces an uncertain future.

Nelson, a Wisconsin Democrat who had long championed the environment, laid out the idea of a teach-in during a speech in Seattle. He wrote the speech on napkins while flying there, recalls his daughter, Tia Nelson.

The senator’s call inspired the first Earth Day, with millions participating across the country, including 2,000 college campuses and 10,000 elementary and high schools. Congress adjourned so lawmakers could give speeches. In 1970, President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act into law.

Worries about air pollution, the dangers of DDT and polluted rivers from industrial wastes played a part. But the Santa Barbara spill was the catalyst. It “triggered a social movement and helped to create a new politics, the politics of ecology,” mystery novelist Ross Macdonald once wrote.

In contrast, President Barack Obama last month used an Oval Office speech to push for clean energy, but Republicans accused him of trying exploit the Gulf tragedy for political gain. The president took it from both sides, as some liberal commentators faulted him for failing to specifically back a cap on carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming.

The Gulf spill is estimated between 94 million and 184 million gallons, far worse than Santa Barbara’s total. But the 10-day spill from a well blowout six miles offshore covered miles of California’s sandy beaches with a thick, oily sludge. Pictures of dead seals, dolphins and thousands of birds captured the nation’s attention.

“Santa Barbara’s psychological effect was huge, and it really got into the American mind in ways that clean air and clean water and other things had a hard time doing because they weren’t personified,” says Oliver A. Houck, who teaches environmental law at Tulane University in New Orleans. “So why hasn’t BP yet had the same transformative effect? When Santa Barbara came along it was a big deal. When BP comes along, there are so many big deals that it has a hard time competing for attention. That said, I think it’s got an enormous national play.”

The Santa Barbara spill featured its own version of Tony Hayward, the former chief executive of BP who angered people early on with comments such as “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean,” playing down the potential environmental impact.

In February 1969, Fred Hartley, the Canadian-born head of Union Oil Co., which owned the Santa Barbara well, told a Senate hearing in Washington:

“I am always tremendously impressed at the publicity that the death of birds receives vs. the loss of people in our country in this day and age.”

Noting there had been no loss of human lives from the Santa Barbara well blowout, Hartley added, “Relative to the number of deaths that have occurred in this fair city due to crime … it does seem that we should give this thing a little perspective.”

Hartley rejected calls to halt offshore drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel, citing arguments similar to those employed by opponents of the Obama administration’s moratorium. Hartley said he told Ronald Reagan, California’s governor then, that it would be like “making a decision to shut down the whole university educational system because there is a riot in San Francisco.”

Lois Capps, now a Democratic congresswoman representing Santa Barbara, was a young stay-at-home mother in 1969 who would often take her two children to the beaches there.

“It shaped my views along with everyone in the region,” she says. “It was such a devastating event. The spill was much closer to the shore, so we felt its impact sooner and more directly than this long, drawn-out affair we’re having in the Gulf.”

Capps says there has been a strong reaction in Congress to the BP Gulf spill, with dozens of hearings and several pieces of legislation making their way through the House and Senate. But it’s too early to draw conclusions about a societal shift, she says.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Capps says. “I think these things build like a tidal wave.”

Gaylord Nelson’s speech calling for a teach-in came eight months after the January 1969 spill, and the resulting Earth Day didn’t take place until more than a year later — April 1970. And it was not until 1981 that Congress imposed a ban on offshore drilling along most of the nation’s coastal waters, an action widely attributed to the memories of the Santa Barbara spill a dozen years earlier. The moratorium endured for a quarter century, until Congress lifted it in 2008.

“I think we’re going to see a really significant response to what happened in the Gulf played out over time,” says Sarah Chasis, ocean initiative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “I think it’s going to affect people’s consciousness, thinking, the way they approach issues for a long time.”

There are signs this is starting to happen. An Associated Press poll last month found that 72 percent of Americans rated the environment as extremely important or very important — up from 64 percent in May and 59 percent in April.

Actor Ted Danson, a board member for the international ocean conservation group Oceana, says the focus has until now been stopping the leak.

“I am hopeful. I think the time will come,” Danson says. “Oil is a very, very powerful lobby. And the basic feeling out in the world, and I think mostly created by people whose interests are in oil, is that alternative energy is a very sweet, kind, loving thought, but certainly its day has not come. We need oil.”

James “Bud” Bottoms, a Santa Barbara resident who co-founded “Get Oil Out” in 1969, says the Gulf spill reminded him of those days.

“The same thing happened here,” says Bottoms, now 82. “We stood there on our banks and saw our harbors and beaches black, about two or three inches of thick goo. We stood here and cried along our beach. We thought our lives were over here in Santa Barbara.”

Bottoms penned a children’s book in 1969 called “Davey and the GOM,” which wasn’t published until 2008. “GOM” stands for “Giant Oil Monster.”

It’s also the acronym the offshore drilling industry and government regulators use for something else: The Gulf of Mexico.

Source: MSNBC

July 30, 2010 at 9:55 AM Leave a comment

Good News for Gulf Fishermen

In response to the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the federal government closed off vast areas of the ocean to fishing operations. Much of the area was closed off as a precaution, even if it was minimally touched by the spreading oil, to avoid a public health disaster from contaminated seafood. The good news is that about one-third of that closed off area has just been reopened by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In the 26,388 square miles to be reopened, no oil has been observed for the past thirty days.

According to agreed-upon protocol, this decision was made after consulting with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Gulf states to determine public health concerns. The conclusion was that the water is sufficiently clean and the fish are safe to eat.

The US Coast Guard has been doing fly-overs for the past thirty days and have seen no traces of oil in the reopened area. Scientific models also show the trajectory of the existing oil contamination moving away from the area. Plus, NOAA has caught fish from the area and tested them. The results showed no sign of contamination.

“Today’s decision is good news for Gulf fishermen and American consumers,” Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “Following the best science for this re-opening provides important assurance to the American people that the seafood they buy is safe and protects the Gulf seafood brand and the many people who depend on it for their livelihoods.”

The reopened area is located southeast of the former Deepwater Horizon rig. It stretches north to south along the west Florida shelf in the Gulf. The closest it comes to the former rig location is 190 miles.

NOAA had originally banned fishing in as much as 37 percent of the entire Gulf of Mexico. With the recent reopening, there still remains 57,539 square miles of the Gulf still closed off. NOAA will continue to test the fish and have set up dockside tests for commercial catches from the reopened area to ensure quality. They will also continue to monitor the closed-off areas, and open them back up to fishermen as soon as they are deemed safe.

According to the EPA, the Gulf’s commercial fish and shellfish harvest is roughly 1.3 billion pounds and was worth approximately $661 million in 2008. The shrimp harvest alone is 188.8 million pounds, worth about $367 million per year. These totals have been significantly reduced due to the BP Deepwater Horizon rig disaster. The announcement is sure to be most welcome to the Gulf fishing industry as it struggles to get back onto its feet.

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July 30, 2010 at 9:47 AM Leave a comment

Oil-eating Whale or ‘white elephant’?

The fancifully named A Whale, a seagoing behemoth converted into what its owners are calling the world’s biggest oil skimmer, is being billed as a cleanup hitter in the effort to prevent millions of gallons of oil spewing from BP’s ruptured well from ever reaching shore.

TMT, the Taiwanese company that owns the massive ship, estimates that it can suck as much as 500,000 barrels of oily water a day through its “jaws” — six ports cut into each side near its bow — and remove much of the crude through a “decanting” process using internal separation tanks.

“In the final stage, the filtered water can be returned to the ocean while the heavy oil residue is transferred to tankers for storage and final disposition,” TMT says in promotional materials outlining what it calls “the best solution to the Gulf of Mexico spill crisis.”

It will float across the Gulf “like a lawnmower cutting the grass,” effectively doubling the skimming capability of the oil response effort, CEO Nobu Su told reporters last week in Norfolk, Va., during a stopover at which company officials revealed what they hope will be the A Whale’s new mission.

But before the 1,115-foot-long ship with the big blue whale on funnel has even undergone testing, some experts are questioning whether it can fulfill those lofty expectations.

“I don’t think the concept is that bad, but I don’t see how in this situation it’s going to be a significant player,” said Dennis Bryant, a former Coast Guard officer who worked on implementing regulations required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 before retiring and starting a maritime consulting business in Gainesville, Fla.

“In a case like the Exxon Valdez spill, where you had a lot of oil on the surface in a confined area, a vessel like this could have gone in and sucked up a whole lot,” he said. “But in the Gulf, where the oil is pretty well dispersed over a vast area, I don’t see how it’s going to make a large dent.”

For More click HERE

July 2, 2010 at 1:38 PM Leave a comment

California alternative energy legislation gets broad backing

Reporting from Sacramento —

The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is spurring California legislators and conflicting interest groups to settle past differences and adopt the nation’s toughest renewable energy law to reduce the state’s dependence on oil and serve as a model for other states.

The effort is supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is eager to burnish his environmental legacy before leaving office in January even though he vetoed a similar bill last fall.

Both the governor and the Democrats who control the Legislature want to require privately and publicly owned electric utilities to generate one-third of their power from wind, solar and other clean sources by 2020.

After last fall’s veto, Schwarzenegger issued an executive order unilaterally imposing the 33% renewable standard. But Democrats denounced the action as mainly symbolic because it does not bind future governors.

This year, Democrats came back with a compromise bill, which has its first legislative hearing Thursday in the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee.

“One needs only to look to the Gulf of Mexico and the tragedy and what happens when you just rely on oil,” Schwarzenegger said at an alternative fuel summit last week. “It is shameful how desperate and how dependent we have become on fossil fuels.”

With images of gushing crude and oil-covered birds dominating TV screens, Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, Susan P. Kennedy, said environmentalists, utilities generators, labor unions and other industry groups that waged war over last year’s bill now are meeting at least weekly and are closing in on a deal.

“I’m very optimistic,” she said. “There’s always been a consensus around the goal. It’s simply a matter of identifying what the obstacles are in the implementation.”

For Full Article Click HERE

June 25, 2010 at 11:42 AM Leave a comment

Gulf oil spill: BP cuts pipe, clearing way for cap

Robots using giant hydraulic shears finished cutting away the pipe atop a BP well gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, clearing the way for a cap to be placed over the well on Thursday in an effort to contain the 45-day-old spill.

Cutting away the riser pipe is “a significant step forward,” Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander, said at a briefing Thursday morning. “The challenge now is to seal that containment cap over it.”

Robot subs start to cut

Allen said the shears used in the cutting did not give the clean edges that officials had hoped for, which could make it more difficult to fit the cap tightly over the pipe. The shears were used after a diamond-edged saw got stuck Wednesday while cutting through the pipe.

“This is an irregular cut. It will be a bit more challenging” to tightly seal the cap over the ragged-edged opening through which oil is gushing, Allen said.

The cap was already suspended over the area and would be lowered into place within hours, he said.

The cap is intended to contain, not stop the flow of oil, but the tighter the cap, the more oil will be contained.

The spill is not expected to be fully controlled until August at the earliest, after two relief wells are completed.

In the meantime, the oil continues to spread, with the upper edge of the spill approaching Florida and 37% of gulf waters closed to fishing.

Hurricane season, which began June 1, poses a major problem to workers trying to finish the relief wells, something Allen acknowledged was a concern. He said officials had to face the possibility that a major storm would force a halt to work on the relief wells.

For article click HERE

June 3, 2010 at 10:11 AM Leave a comment

New Ways to Drill, Old Methods for Cleanup

As hopes dim for containing the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico anytime soon, more people are asking why the industry was not better prepared to react.

Members of Congress are holding hearings this week and demanding to know why the federal Minerals Management Service did not force oil companies to take more precautions. Environmentalists are saying they tried to raise the alarm to Congressional committees that the industry had no way to respond to a catastrophic blowout a mile below the sea.

Local officials in the gulf are beginning to ask, “What was Plan B?” The answer, oil industry engineers are acknowledging, was to deploy technology that has not changed much in 20 years — booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants — even as the drilling technology itself has improved.

“They have horribly underestimated the likelihood of a spill and therefore horribly underestimated the consequences of something going wrong,” said Robert G. Bea, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies offshore drilling. “So what we have now is some equivalent of a fire drill with paper towels and buckets for cleanup.”

For years, major oil companies, as well as the Minerals Management Service, played down the possibility of an uncontrolled blowout on the sea floor, arguing that safeguards like blowout preventers were practically foolproof.

In November, Walter D. Cruickshank, deputy director of the Minerals Management Service, told a Senate committee that an undersea blowout and massive spill that had occurred in East Timor last year was highly unlikely in the Gulf of Mexico because of tighter United States regulations. All wells had safety devices to shut off the flow in emergencies, he said.

At the same hearing, a BP vice president, David Rainey, promoted the oil companies’ “blowout preventer technology, which includes redundant systems and controls” and told senators that “contrary to popular perception, ours is a high-tech industry.”

What government regulators and industry officials did not foresee in the Deepwater Horizon disaster last month is that the rig would sink and that robots would not be able to stanch the flow of oil at such depths, even though a consultant hired by government regulators in 2003 had warned that they were unreliable.

“This is the first time the industry has had to confront this issue in this water depth, and there is a lot of real-time learning going on,” BP’s chief executive officer, Tony Hayward, acknowledged at a news conference Monday. “The investigation of this whole incident will undoubtedly show up things that we should be doing differently.”

Once oil was flowing into the water, the methods of dealing with it have changed little in decades, environmentalists say. Tenting spills with giant upside-down funnels has been done in shallower waters, but until last weekend, it had not been tried in deep water. The first attempt failed.

“The oil industry went off the deep end with a new kind of risk, and they didn’t bother to build a response capability before they had a big disaster,” said Richard Charter, an advocate with Defenders of Wildlife who studies offshore drilling.

The heart of the industry’s plan to contain the oil falls to the Marine Spill Response Corporation, a nonprofit organization formed in 1990 after the Exxon Valdez disaster. It is maintained largely by fees from the biggest oil companies.

Judith Roos, a vice president of Marine Spill Response, said the majority of its equipment, including booms and skimmers, was bought in 1990. “The technology hasn’t changed that much since then,” she said.

Steve Benz, president of the corporation, said his group had no budget for research.

In the last three years, however, the company has added C-130 planes to spray dispersants. On this, the company says, it is ahead of the regulatory curve.

Allison Nyholm, a policy adviser with the American Petroleum Institute, said the industry had done extensive experiments with improving skimmers, booms and dispersants. Some booms are fire retardant and allow burning on the water, for example, while others actually absorb oil.

She noted that blowout scenarios were rare and needed to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

“One of the best tools is how you bring the best professionals together to respond to the spill,” Ms. Nyholm said. “It is not the dispersant or the boom or the burn, it is how quickly can you get the right people together.”

Yet Rick Steiner, a marine biologist and frequent consultant on big oil spills, said the oil companies could have had some version of the containment dome ready before the spill, rather than building one after it happened.

“It is like building the fire truck when your house is on fire,” Dr. Steiner said.

Engineers who work on rig structures said such prefabricated containment domes would not be practical. They said that each dome would have to be tailored to the spill, so there was little sense in making one beforehand.

Jeffrey Short, a former scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who now works for the environmental group Oceana, said it was clear that the industry was not willing to pay for enough boats and booms to enclose such a fast-growing spill.

“It’s just really hard to corral something that’s expanding at that rate,” Dr. Short said. “Ultimately it’s an investment challenge. How much money are you willing to spend on an event that happens infrequently?”

Several environmentalists also said the industry should have predicted that a blowout of this magnitude would eventually happen. John F. Amos, a former geologist for oil companies who now runs an organization that tracks oil spills using satellite images, told Congress last fall that the undersea blowout in East Timor was a warning. It leaked for 10 weeks before crews managed to drill relief wells. “Blowouts are surprisingly regular occurrences,” he said. “But ones that lead to catastrophic spills like this are quite rare.”

Jerome J. Schubert, an engineer at Texas A&M who has written extensively about undersea drilling, found in a 2005 study that “blowouts will always happen no matter how far technology and training advance” and that there were no foolproof safeguards to stop them. The study, co-written by Samuel F. Noynaert and financed by BP, found that blowouts in undersea wells had occurred at a steady rate since the 1960s despite improvements in technology.

“The best safeguards don’t always work,” he said.

Click HERE for article

May 17, 2010 at 3:06 PM Leave a comment

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