Posts tagged ‘Regulations’

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

New EPA Regulations Target Mercury and Other Toxic Emissions from Boilers and Solid Waste Incinerators

From: David A Gabel, ENN
Published May 4, 2010

The US environmental Protection Agengy (EPA) is currently issuing a new proposal to cut mercury emissions by more than half as well as other pollutants from boilers, process heaters, and solid waste incinerators. Toxic air emissions have been shown to cause cancer and other serious health problems for affected people. The main purpose of this proposal would be to reduce health and environmental risk in a cost-effective way. The EPA estimates that the new rules would yield more than $5 in health savings for every dollar spent in implementing the rules.

“Strong cuts to mercury and other harmful emissions will have real benefits for our health and our environment, spur clean technology innovations and save American communities billions of dollars in avoided health costs,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “This is a cost-effective, commonsense way to protect our health and the health of our children, and get America moving into the clean economy of the future.”

Mercury has been shown to be extremely harmful to human health. It can damage the brains and nervous systems for children developing both before and after birth. Mercury in the air eventually is absorbed into the surface water where it can build up in freshwater and ocean marine life. This is highly toxic for people who eat the contaminated fish. The mercury contamination can lead to fish consumption advisories to protect public health.

Efforts at reducing mercury emissions are nothing new. Pollution controls on Mercury were started in the early 1990’s and have gotten progressively tighter. The most recent proposal is another step in tightening the regulations.

The EPA estimates that mercury emissions will be reduced from about 200,000 industrial boilers, process heaters, and incinerators. Health benefits are estimated to be between $18 and $44 billion per year. The new rules would prevent from 2,000 to 5,200 premature deaths and roughly 36,000 asthma attacks per year. Meanwhile, installing and operating the new pollution control devices would require only $3.6 billion under the new rules.

This is what is known as internalizing the cost for operators of boilers, heaters, and incinerators. Air emissions are an externality. Once the air emissions are released, they are no longer the responsibility of the plant operator. However, members of the public have to pay for the emissions through higher health care costs. Therefore, the true cost of the operators’ actions is externalized to the public. The new rules help to internalize this externality.

Boilers and incinerators at large industrial facilities would have to meet the new emissions limits and also be required to conduct energy audits to find ways to reduce fuel use. Smaller facilities such as schools, commercial buildings, or hotels would not be included in these rules, but would be required to perform tune-ups every two years.

After the rules are published in the Federal Register, the EPA will take comments for 45 days and hearings will be held to assess public opinion. To find more information on the new EPA proposals and details on the public hearings, go to: http://www.epa.gov/airquality/combustion/

May 4, 2010 at 9:38 AM Leave a comment

Senators Want to Bar E.P.A. Greenhouse Gas Limits

In a direct challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, introduced a resolution on Thursday to prevent the agency from taking any action to regulate carbon dioxide and other climate-altering gases.

Senator Lisa Murkowski is challenging the authority of the EPA

Ms. Murkowski, joined by 35 Republicans and three conservative Democrats, proposed to use the Congressional Review Act to strip the agency of the power to limit emissions of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court gave the agency legal authority to regulate such emissions in a landmark 2007 ruling.

The agency has declared carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to be a threat to human health and the environment and is moving to write regulations to restrict emissions from vehicles, power plants and other major sources. The action could impose significant costs on the economy but would also rein in production of the heat-trapping gases that most scientists link to worrisome changes in the global climate.

“Make no mistake,” Ms. Murkowski said in a floor statement, “if Congress allows this to happen there will be severe consequences.” She said businesses would be forced to close or move overseas, domestic energy production would be curtailed, housing would become more expensive and agricultural costs would rise.

Her resolution requires a majority vote in the Senate, a remote possibility because of the strong opposition of the Democratic leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, and most other Democrats. It faces even longer odds in the House. And then it would require the signature of President Obama, who is all but certain to veto it because it would rob him of a critical regulatory tool.

Ms. Murkowski said that the Obama administration was using the threat of E.P.A. regulation to force Congress to move quickly on broad energy and climate-change legislation, including a complex cap-and-trade program to limit carbon-dioxide pollution.

Ms. Murkowski, the senior Republican on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, has nearly unanimous Republican support in addition to the backing of the three Democrats: Senators Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Her effort was applauded by a broad swath of industry, agriculture and energy lobbies, which fear the prospect of what they consider capricious and heavy-handed regulation by the E.P.A.

For full story click HERE

January 29, 2010 at 1:09 PM Leave a comment

California approves new standards on energy-hungry TVs

The California Energy Commission voted 5-0 in favor of the nation’s first efficiency regulations for televisions of up to 58 inches sold in the state. These regulations will take effect starting January 1, 2011.

New California standards for TVs, which take effect Jan. 1, 2011, are similar to those imposed on refrigerators, air conditioners and dozens of other household appliances since the 1970s. The tightened standards do not apply to any of the approximately 35 million television sets currently in use. Above, TVs for sale at a Costco in San Francisco.

November 19, 2009 at 10:10 AM Leave a comment


University of San Francisco: unplugged

USFUNPLUGGED is brought to you by the Environmental Safety Community Outreach Liaison’s of USF. Here to educate, assist and encourage, we want you to get involved with the GREEN movement taking place on campus!

Unplugged Rewind