More disaster updates

(1) Behind Scenes of Gulf Oil Spill, Acrimony and Stress. NY Times , Aug. 27. Interesting account of the behind the scenes struggles between BP and the federal government and among the many engineers involved.

(2) Regarding Pakistan, the dimensions of the damage and losses are hard to comprehend.  Two key points about recovery stand out in stark relief: the need to do more than replace infrastructure but in fact to rebuild in a better way.  The need to create and maintain a vision for betterment of society and the nation will be very hard to attain there;  the temptation for a “snap back” to past ways is always strong.  US foreign policy and foreign aid objectives also are in play here.

Pakistan Flood Sets Back Years of Gains on Infrastructure. NY Times.

You have to highlight that the infrastructure all the way from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to Sindh is ruined … referring to Pakistan’s northernmost and southernmost provinces. “It will take years to rebuild.”

Nearly 20 million people have been significantly affected, about the population of New York State… The number in urgent need is now about eight million and expected to rise. More than half of them are without shelter. The government’s estimates of the damage are equally grim. More than 5,000 miles of roads and railways have been washed away, along with some 7,000 schools and more than 400 health facilities. Just to build about 500 miles of road in war-ravaged Afghanistan, the United States spent $500 million and several years, according to USAID.

And the agency has spent $200 million to rebuild just 56 schools, 19 health facilities and other services since the momentous earthquake in the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir in 2005. One estimate …put the total cost of the flood damage at $7.1 billion. That is nearly a fifth of Pakistan’s budget, and it exceeds the total cost of last year’s five-year aid package to Pakistan passed by Congress.

Water and energy were a prime focus of the five-year $7.5 billion American aid package for Pakistan passed by Congress last year. The Obama administration had hoped to use the legislation as the centerpiece of a lasting strategic partnership with Pakistan and to help buttress the economy and Pakistan’s weak government institutions. Now, American officials fear that money will end up being spent just to get Pakistan back to where it was before the “super flood.” The US has already redirected $50 million of the aid package to help with the flood recovery, and the disaster will force a review of all projects that had been planned, Dr. Shah said.

“Priorities will necessarily have to shift and shift so that there is more of a recovery and reconstruction approach than people were thinking just a few months ago….He and other American officials are insisting that the disaster be treated as an opportunity for Pakistan to “leapfrog” ahead and help it build water and energy systems better than what was destroyed. They point to successes that grew out of the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, namely the creation of the National Disaster Management Administration, which is now spearheading the government response to the floods. But diplomats said government accountability and reforms in the rule of law would have to accompany the effort and the aid money.“This is going to be very, very difficult, this is a huge scale disaster,” Dr. Shah said. “But we have to continue to be optimistic and look for those opportunities to help Pakistan to use this to build back better.”

Minerals Management Service – what went wrong

Feature story in today’s Wash. Post about the MMS. How the Minerals Management Service’s partnership with industry led to failure; Wash. Post, August 24.

The story of how a little-known federal agency became an extension of the industry it oversaw spans three decades and four presidents. It began in 1982 with a major change in the way the nation managed its natural resources, picked up pace with initiatives to streamline bureaucracy in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, and ended after the April 20 BP blowout with the Obama administration’s abrupt decision to undo the partnership.

Few in positions of power in Washington paid close attention to MMS and the hard-to-understand world it was charged with regulating. When they did, it was often to pressure the agency to increase the money it earned from leases it sold and the production
that followed. Over its 28-year history, MMS grew to become one the government’s largest revenue collectors, after the Internal Revenue Service.

Senior Interior officials who have spent the past four months trying to manage the ecological and public relations disaster in the gulf said they have run out patience with the [BP] partnership. “That path didn’t work, and the public got let down in an enormous way,” Strickland says. “There is now agreement – whether everyone in the industry agrees or not, because it’s coming, it’s happening – we need more oversight, more regulation.”

Huge underwater plume from BP Oil Spill

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.

The long-view on the Gulf Oil Spill

Scientists Dispute Government Stance on the Lingering Effects of Gulf Oil. ProPublica,  August 17, 2010.

…scientists seemed, on the whole, rather skeptical when a government report said most of the oil from BP’s well was gone from the Gulf of Mexico. [1] Now the pushback against the government’s stance has grown, with several scientific reports released this week.

Restoring the Gulf. editorial in NY Times, August 18.  Note: this author commented more than a  month ago on this blog that the job Mr. Mabus was assigned is not a part-time position.

New Report on Health Effects of Oil Spill — National Academy of Medicine

For those interested in the health effects of the BP Oil spill, the full text of report can be downloaded free download from the National Academy of Sciences; August 2010.  This is a large report (207 pp.).  Assessing the Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Human Health: A Summary of the June 2010 Workshop.

Hurricane Katrina and the Oil Spill — comments in the news

Here are two more takes on New Orleans five years after H. Katrina. Lessons in Resilience from New Orleans, Andrew Revkin’s blog of August 13, citing geographer Bob Kates and NOLA on Hurricane Katrina.

Turning to the aftermath of the oil spill disaster, see The Coast Is Not Clear; Business Week, August 12. The author notes:

Though the BP oil spill’s impact is much less severe than feared, long-term threats remain: wetlands destruction, dead zones, and climate change. They make the spill look almost minor .

Oil Spill Disaster — “lessons learned” discussed

Critical Lessons from the Federal Response to the Gulf Oil Spill (HSPI Commentary) from the Geo. Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute, August 10, 2010.  While I agree with only some of the authors’ opinions, I think this piece is worth considering.  Readers are invited to comment, of course.

On the topic of what did BP learn,  Al.com ( an Alabama media site) posted Gulf oil spill a learning experience, say BP executives. While it is not entirely clear if BP thinks it has learned, or will learn, from the spill event, it is interesting to note that the firm is required to report out on the topic.

ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and ConocoPhillips said last week that they would create a $1 billion system to handle blowouts and deepwater spills. And … BP had agreed to submit two documents on “lessons learned” after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded — one covering spill containment and response and another on drilling safety.


Oil Spill – focus shifts to long-term effects

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….”


Oil Spill Disaster – regulating oil and gas drilling is hard to do

One has to wonder if the “public interest” is being served, given that the regulation of oil and gas drilling at both federal and state levels is under attack by industry forces.

See Drilling Industry and Gubernatorial Candidates Move to Weaken Some State Regulations, ProPublica, August 5.

As the federal government focuses on strengthening regulations for deepwater drilling, the gas and oil industry is quietly trying to weaken state regulations for drilling on land.

Oil Spill Update – -Not all clear just yet

NOAA issued a major report on August 4, titled Federal Science Report Details Fate of Oil from BP Spill.  The full text of that report ( 5 pages) is available here. Nevertheless, other scientists are questioning the methodology and results of the NOAA study.  See Scientists question government team’s report of shrinking gulf oil spill, Wash Post, Aug. 5.  Some quotes from that article:

* * *  in interviews, scientists who worked on the report said the figures were based in large part on assumptions and estimates with a significant margin of error.

Some outside scientists went further: In a situation in which many facts remain murky, they said, the government seemed to have used interpretations that made the gulf — and the federal efforts to save it — look as good as possible.

Regarding some of the human impacts of the spill, see  Oil Spill Has Far-Reaching Effects on Children and Families, a new report by Dr. Irwin Redlener, Columbia University. His study found significant impacts on  health, economic stability, and daily routines. August, 2010. From the report:

More than one-quarter (26.6%) of coastal residents said they thought they might have to move away from the Gulf Coast. Among those earning less then $25,000, the figure was 36.3%. Children whose parents think they may move are almost three times more likely to have mental health distress than are children whose parents do not expect to move.