Deepwater Horizon: One Year Later – 4 views

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Deepwater Horizon: One Year Later, covered in an interview in The Atlantic, April 20, 2011, with author of new book on the topic. One excerpt:

You write that “as Bush blew 9/11’s possibilities, Obama is blowing this blowout.” In light of the President’s recent “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” what lessons has he learned from the disaster, one year on, and how has he exploited them?

I’m a little bit less certain about my answer to that question. What Obama has learned is of course subject to being thwarted by the Congress. He seems always to be cautious about appearing too strident and trying to throw lots of bones to the opposition, to quietly peddle a wiser, longer-term vision. I personally wish he wouldn’t do that. The people who voted him in voted him in because we—I’ll say we—were really sickened by what had preceded him and what the Republicans were doing in Congress and in the White House, and we really wanted big, bold change, the kind of change that candidate Obama was talking about. I think we still want that, and his kind of soft-peddling the boldness and the change only makes the people who hate him hate him more, and the people who support him support him less.

I’m still looking for a fight out in the open. I wish he would continue to articulate a very clear vision about moving forward—about building the energy infrastructure, the smart grid that we would need, the new energy technologies that we would need, and creating an environment for new investors that would be much more conducive—so that American companies are not going to Germany and China to do this work.

So I’m a little less sure of what my answer is to what he has learned. I would rather that he would come out and tell us. I suspect that he knows and thinks all the right things, but his approach to the politics makes him look more hesitant, and then the actual politics make him a lot less able to implement his vision. But he’s not articulating a clear vision that at least half the country, who would be inclined to rally around him, can rally around.

Three more  articles, who of which feature graphics,  are listed below.

  1. One Year After the BP Spill: What’s Changed and What Hasn’t, by Amy Harder, National Journal. April 19, 2011

Deepwater Oil Drilling Regulations – one year after the BP spill, limited progress

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar swears i...

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It is not easy to get new federal regulations in place, even after a catastrophic event. Example one is the regulation of high-powered financial activities on Wall St. and example two is deepwater oil drilling.   Regarding the second one, both the NYTimes and the WashPost had one year retrospective articles in the past two days. Some details from the NYTimes, April 17, are as follows: Regulation of Offshore Rigs Is a Work in Progress

A year after BP’s Macondo well blew out, killing 11 men and spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the much-maligned federal agency responsible for policing offshore drilling has been remade, with a tough new director, an awkward new name and a sheaf of stricter safety rules. It is also trying to put some distance between itself and the industry it regulates. But is it fixed? The simple answer is no. Even those who run the agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service concede that it will be years before they can establish a robust regulatory regime able to minimize the risks to workers and the environment while still allowing exploration offshore.

“We are much safer today than we were a year ago,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversees the agency, “but we know we have more to do.”

Oil industry executives and their allies in Congress said that the Obama administration, in its zeal to overhaul the agency, has lost sight of what they believe the agency’s fundamental mission should be — promoting the development of the nation’s offshore oil and gas resources. Environmentalists said the agency, now known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, has made only cosmetic changes and remains too close to the people it is supposed to regulate.

Even the officials who run it, Mr. Salazar and the new director, Michael R. Bromwich, admit that they have a long way to go before government can provide the kind of rigorous oversight demanded by the complex, highly technical and deeply risky business of drilling for oil beneath the sea.

The seven-member commission named by President Obama to investigate the BP accident looked at the regulatory failures that contributed to it, and its conclusions were blunt.

“M.M.S. became an agency systematically lacking the resources, technical training or experience in petroleum engineering that is absolutely critical to ensuring that offshore drilling is being conducted in a safe and responsible manner,” the panel said in its final report, issued in January. “For a regulatory agency to fall so short of its essential safety mission is inexcusable.”

Many of those flaws remain, according to William K. Reilly, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator who was one of two chairmen of the commission. He said last week that Mr. Bromwich was doing a creditable job, but that the agency still lacked the technical expertise needed to oversee such a specialized industry. “They changed the name, but all the people are the same,” Mr. Reilly said. “It’s embarrassing.”

Presidential Commission on BP Spill – Final Report is Completed

See NY Times editorial titled The Verdict on the Spill; Jan. 12, 2011.

Final Oil Spill Report: Industry Needs ‘Dramatic’ Change; Jan 11, 2011, AOL News.

The Presidential Oil Spill Commission has recommended stricter government regulation of the energy industry and the creation of a new independent safety agency within the Interior Department to help protect against another oil disaster, the panel said in its final report.

Without those sweeping changes, the nation is at risk for another catastrophic oil spill, the panel said.

“If dramatic steps are not taken, at some point another failure will occur, and we will wonder why did the Congress, why did the administration, why did industry, why did the American people allow this to occur?” said Bob Graham, the panel’s co-chair and a former Florida senator and governor.

The panel also called for 80 percent of whatever fines are ultimately assessed against BP and its partners to go toward restoration of the Gulf of Mexico, which has suffered from environmental damage and coastal erosion long before BP’s well blew out last spring.

To read the full report, go to the Commission’s website. Note that this is a huge report — 398 pages.

Presidential Oil Spill Commission- previews of final report

January 7, From the NYTimes, Failure in the Gulf.

January 5, 2011. Article reBP, Transocean, Halliburton blamed by presidential Gulf oil spill commission.

The presidential oil spill commission on Wednesday blamed the Gulf of Mexico oil spill last year on “missteps and oversights” by oil giant BP, rig owner Transocean and contractor Halliburton, saying those errors were “rooted in systemic failures” and could happen again.

The commission said that the April 20 blowout at BP’s Macondo well was not inevitable, but rather a failure of management in which officials from all three firms ignored critical warning signs and failed to take precautions that might have delayed the completion of the well but also might have averted the environmental disaster.

The Commission’s press release, 4 pages of key content, was issued on Jan. 6, 2011.  The full report is due out on January 11, 2011.

Science vs. Politics — update

Governor Jindal Tours Sand Berms Protecting Lo...

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Several weeks ago, we highlighted the issue of politicians wanting a “solution” implemented, when the scientists did not support that solution.  Now that the use of sand berms off the coast of LA has been reviewed by experts on the presidential commission,  the scientists were vidicated. Not a surprise. Tragically, $220 million  were spent/wasted owing to the persistent pressure from Gov. Jindal. The money came from BP, but that amount used elsewhere no doubt could have been applied more productively.  See Sand islands off Louisiana stopped little oil in gulf spill, commission finds; Wash. Post, Dec. 16, 2010.

One of the most controversial tactics used against this summer’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill – the construction of large sand islands off the Louisiana coast – managed to stop only a “minuscule” amount of oil, according to a draft report from a presidential commission.

Justice Dept. actions re Gulf Oil Spill

Summary and Status of Gulf Oil Disaster Litigation; Insurance, Dec. 16, 2010.

The U.S. Department of Justice has joined the hundreds of lawsuits that have been filed as a result of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the largest in U.S. history.

Details about the law suits can be found in this article. Thanks to Bill Cumming for pointing out this source.

Major Work Still Needed to Avoid Future Oil Spills


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Overhaul of Oil Industry Urged; Spill Panel’s Co-Chairman Calls for New Approach to Safety to Prevent Disasters, Wall St. Journal, Dec. 8.  The federal agency charged with deep water drilling regulation needs to do more to prevent future big spills. The article noted some forthcoming comments from the co-chair of the presidential commission, as follows:

William K. Reilly, co-chairman of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, also plans to say that BP and two other companies involved with the doomed Macondo well—Halliburton Co. and Transocean Ltd.—made “breathtakingly inept and largely preventable” missteps, according to a copy of his prepared remarks viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Presidential Commission on BP Oil Spill Issues 2 Reports

Oil Spill, Gulf of Mexico (NASA, International...

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Oil Spill Commission, 2 reports issued. [URLs for full text reports are included in the article.]

While oil companies and government agencies learned valuable lessons and developed useful technology from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the country is still not fully ready to cope with a similar accident, the staff members found in papers submitted to the seven-member presidential panel. (The reports, on preparedness for the spill response and on the containment effort, can be read here and here.)

One major finding was that the oil companies, despite multibillion-dollar profits over the past several years, have devoted only minuscule amounts of money to planning to control or clean up after a significant spill.

Analysis of BP Oil Spill by NAS expert panel

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‘Lack of operating discipline’ contributed to BP spill, engineers’ report says; Wash. Post, Nov. 18

A panel of scientific experts studying the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has concluded that “an insufficient consideration of risk and a lack of operating discipline” contributed to the disaster, adding that key “decisions also raise questions about the adequacy of operating knowledge on the part of key personnel” on the ill-fated drilling rig.

The full report, titled Interim Report on Causes of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Blowout and Ways to Prevent Such Events , is available from the National Academy of Sciences, both online and in hardcopy.

More on environmental impacts of BP oil spill

Oil Leak from Damaged Well in Gulf of Mexico A...

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Coral, Marine-Life Devastation Near BP Oil Spill Indicates Much Worse Long-Term Damage Than Feds Had Admitted; HuffPost, Nov. 5.

For the first time, federal scientists have found damage to deep sea coral and other marine life on the ocean floor several miles from the blown-out BP well – a strong indication that damage from the spill could be significantly greater than officials had previously acknowledged.

Tests are needed to verify that the coral died from oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, but the chief scientist who led the government-funded expedition said Friday he was convinced it was related.

See also the special edition of the National Geographic magazine, available online at this location, that is devoted to the environmental and ecological dimensions and ramifications of the oil spill. The hard copy edition, published in October, is also worth saving.  Thanks to Bill Cumming for pointing out this online resource.