From the Washington Post, this extraordinary story: A 14-year-long oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico verges on becoming one of the worst in U.S. history.
An oil spill that has been quietly leaking millions of barrels into the Gulf of Mexico has gone unplugged for so long that it now verges on becoming one of the worst offshore disasters in U.S. history.
Between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing from a site 12 miles off the Louisiana coast since 2004, when an oil-production platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan. Many of the wells have not been capped, and federal officials estimate that the spill could continue through this century. With no fix in sight, the Taylor offshore spill is threatening to overtake BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever.
This seems to be a week with all kinds of deficiencies in emergency management getting media coverage. Too bad none of the news is good.
Today, the Huffpost writes Oil Spill Commission Action Group Gives Congress Low Grades For Regulatory Reform On Drilling. Some quotes follow:
Two years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig foundered and sank in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 crew members and unleashing an 87-day torrent of oil that soiled surrounding beaches and poisoned delicate coral reefs, a pair of assessments paint a somewhat bleak picture of the subsequent regulatory reform.
Following the BP spill, which was set in motion on April 20, 2010, President Barack Obama established an investigatory body — the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling — that was charged with determining the cause of the accident and recommending steps to make offshore energy development more safe.
In January 2011, that commission issued a final report outlining a variety of “critical” safety recommendations. The panel disbanded two months later. On Tuesday, a group of former members of that commission, now calling itself Oil Spill Commission Action, issued an assessment of the government’s implementation of those suggestions.
The group — which includes former Democratic Senator from Florida Bob Graham, Natural Resources Defense council president Frances G. Beinecke and Cherry A. Murray, the dean of Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, among others — said that while some progress has been made, Congress in particular has failed to pass much-needed legislation.
See also this editorial in the NYTimes on April 17th, which provides a recap of outcomes in the two years since the spill. It too excoriates Congress for lack of action. [Thanks to Bill Cumming for calling this article to my attention.]
- Spill panel slams Congress over inaction on safety (AP)
- Nearly Two Years On, Did the BP Oil Spill Have to Happen to BP? (ecocentric.blogs.time.com)
Once again the company is in the news, but this time it has to do with risks in the oil operations in Alaska. With All Eyes on the Gulf, BP Alaska Facilities Are Still at Risk. Pro Publica, Nov.3, 2010.
The extensive pipeline system that moves oil, gas and waste throughout BP’s operations in Alaska is plagued by severe corrosion, according to an internal maintenance report generated four weeks ago.
The document, obtained by ProPublica, shows that as of Oct. 1, 2010 at least 148 BP pipelines on Alaska’s North Slope received an “F-rank” from the company. According to BP oilworkers, that means inspections have determined that more than 80 percent of the pipe wall is corroded and could rupture. Most of those lines carry toxic or flammable substances. Many of the metal walls of the F-ranked pipes are worn to within a few thousandths of an inch of bursting, according to the document, risking an explosion or spills.
- Long After Spill, BP Gets ‘F’ Ratings for Alaska Pipelines (green.blogs.nytimes.com)
- With All Eyes on the Gulf, BP Alaska Facilities Are Still at Risk (propublica.org)
- You: Extensive corrosion threatens BP pipelines in Alaska, risking explosions, spills (washingtonpost.com)
Six months later, what did we learn from the oil disaster in the Gulf? CNN, Oct. 19. The reporter notes some improvements in emergency response and some other advances:
Much of the focus has been on preventing another oil spill.
The Obama administration has issued a number of rules that aim to prevent offshore drillers from chasing petrol profits at the expense of safety.
The Department of the Interior, for example, now requires oil companies to get independent audits of their blowout prevention systems, those hulking metal contraptions that are supposed to snap oil risers in the case of an underwater explosion, and which failed on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Oil rigs also will be subjected to surprise inspections by federal regulators, according to Reuters.
The administration also restructured the Minerals Management Service, the federal regulatory agency charged with making offshore drilling safe.
A true tragedy is going on in Hungary with the release of toxic red mud. From what I read this specific problem is limited to countries that fail to dry out and process such effluent properly. Fortunately, the U.S. is not likely to experience this particular type of release. Major liability issues also are in the forefront. The owner of the industrial facility already is in jail. From Boston.com, October 12, see A Flood of Toxic Sludge — Red Mud in Hungary
Thanks to Magda Kornis for bringing this article to my attention.
- Hungary mud slick is a ‘catastrophe’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Danube Hit By Hungary Sludge: Red Toxic Mud Reaches Famous River (huffingtonpost.com)
For those of you with an abiding interest in the oil spill and its ramifications, the Oct. issue of National Geographic has an excellent series of articles and a fascinating map insert as part of its Special Report on “The Spill.” The map offers a unique graphic of The Gulf of Mexico: A Geography of Offshore Oil.
This special report provides great retrospective documentation of the largest oil spill in history.
- Gulf Oil Spill: Photos You Haven’t Seen; Stories You Haven’t Heard (prnewswire.com)
Alarming news about the size and characteristics of the underwater oil, according to front page story in the Wall St. Journal. Study Says Gulf Oil Spill Caused Manhattan-Size Plume
At the height of the Deepwater Horizon spill, oil escaping from the damaged well was trapped underwater in a drifting plume of hydrocarbons the size of Manhattan and helped turn the Gulf of Mexico into a test-tube of experimental petroleum chemistry, scientists who probed the submerged spill region said Thursday.
Their new findings add to evidence from several other independent research groups this week that the offshore spill—the largest in history—is confounding expectations about the behavior of oil and water.
According to the AP, Major study proves oil plume that’s not going away. August 19.
A 22-mile-long invisible mist of oil is meandering far below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, where it will probably loiter for months or more…. The most worrisome part is the slow pace at which the oil is breaking down in the cold, 40-degree water, making it a long-lasting but unseen threat to vulnerable marine life, experts said.
See the full text of the study at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s website.
Worries about recovery come to the foreground, now that the well has been capped. See As oil spill cleanup shifts gears, gulf residents fear they’ll be forgotten.
The [LA] state government said this week that erosion eats away 29 square miles — more than Arlington County — every year.
What about the gulf’s “dead zone”? This year, it covered 7,722 square miles of the gulf, an area nearly the size of Massachusetts that lacked the oxygen that some fish, crabs and oysters need to breathe. But fixing it would require making changes all the way up the Mississippi River, which brings down the pollutants that feed the algae blooms that suck out the oxygen — making changes at feedlots in Iowa and sewage plants in Illinois. “I can’t see how they could just restore everything that needs restoration. There’s just too many problems,” said Nancy Rabalais, who heads the LA Universities Marine Consortium….
She worries, in essence, that the gulf will simply be returned to its regularly scheduled disaster. “It doesn’t have the political attention” that the spill commanded, she said.
In an interview over the past weekend, Adm. Allen was asked to assess the job that BP did. His partial reply is as follows: Allen gives BP a mixed grade.
“The technology that was needed to be brought in for other parts of the world, was [brought in]. It took a long time to engineer it. It took a long time to install it. But, ultimately, it helped us put the cap on and control the well. So I give them fairly good marks there.” But Allen added that where the energy giant’s performance has been lacking is in having a human touch. *** “… they’re a large global oil production company. They don’t do retail sales or deal with individuals on a transactional basis. Anything that’s involved, that has been a real struggle for them….”
Two news articles about the resumption of fishing off the LA coast: Commercial fishing east of Mississippi River could reopen this week; and another account in Bloomberg News. The decision to resume fishing was supported by the U.S. Food and Drug Admin. [Thanks to Laura Olson for pointing out these articles.]
On the dark side, today’s NY Times has an article titled Gulf of Mexico Has Long Been a Sink of Pollution, NYT, July 30. Here are some excerpts:
The gulf is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the hemisphere, a stopping point for migratory birds from South America to the Arctic, home to abundant wildlife and natural resources. But like no other American body of water, the gulf bears the environmental consequences of the country’s economic pursuits and appetites, including oil and corn. There are around 4,000 offshore oil and gas platforms and tens of thousands of miles of pipeline in the central and western Gulf of Mexico, where 90 percent of the country’s offshore drilling takes place. At least half a million barrels of oil and drilling fluids had been spilled offshore before the gusher that began after the April 20 explosion, according to government records.
The article then goes on to discuss the latest addition of oil to the waters, saying the Gulf region has been a “sacrifice zone” for the past 50 years. Some additional quotes:
All along the coast, people speak of a lack of regulatory commitment and investment in scientific research on the gulf by state and federal lawmakers.
Some of the strongest resistance to tough regulation, as well as the most permissive attitude toward industry and property development, has come from the Gulf States themselves.
The last line in this article is as follows: “You can fool people, but you cannot fool the fish.”
Another commentary, this one from the environmental community: Deception by dispersal; the great Gulf oil tragedy.
Trust. That’s a feeling severely lacking in the fishing community here. No one trusts anyone after three months of anxiety and depression, watching wave and wave of oil pour into their fishing grounds. They don’t trust BP, the Louisiana fish and wildlife agencies, the EPA or virtually every politician who parades through these communities with false promises and grandstanding accusations. They’ve seen it before during Katrina. Now they’re seeing it again. Some people who are connected are making good money off the misfortune of others. Most are just trying to get by.