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 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.

BP Oil Spill–New Spill Estimates: almost 5 million barrels

New spill estimates released August 2 suggest that 4.9 million barrels of oil (give or take 10%), or 205,000,000 gallons have been released from the Deepwater Horizon oil well.  Of that, they estimate that about 16%, or 800,000 barrels (33.6 million gallons) has been captured. For comparisons sake, the Exxon Valdez spilled 750,000 barrels (31.5 million gallons), and this spill now exceeds the former-largest spill, the 1979  Ixtoc I, which released 140,000,000 gallons.  How they achieved this new estimate is described on the  Deepwater Horizon Unified Command page:

The installation of a new containment cap and the subsequent well integrity testing procedure provided the opportunity to calculate the flow by measuring the pressure at the top of the well as the choke and kill valves were manipulated after the main containment valve was closed to trap hydrocarbons.

Also of interest on the Deepwater Unified Command page was the EPA’s release of the results from toxicity testing on “mixtures of eight oil dispersants with Louisiana Sweet Crude Oil.” The result: “dispersant-oil mixtures are generally no more toxic to the aquatic test species than oil alone.” A link is provided on their page to the tests results.

On other note, the spill is having an impact as far north as Canada. According to the Ontario Star newspaper, as fall approaches the issue of migratory birds that winter in the Gulf Coast region has come into focus. Of major concern are white pelicans, which just came off the endangered species list, but many other birds could be “flying to their demise”. This is impacting many segments of Canadian society:

Scientists aren’t the only ones concerned about the impact the spill may have on Canada’s migratory birds. Aboriginal groups who have for centuries hunted ducks, geese and other waterfowl to feed their families are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama to get involved.

The article mentions a program established by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service which has set up the “Migratory Bird Habitat Initiate” in an effort to mitigate this problem. They are paying farmers in portions of eight states to flood their fields in order to “enhance habitat for migratory birds”.

The Diva will be back from vacation tomorrow. Claire, thanks for letting me stand in for you!

Guest Blogger, Kim Stephens

Oil Spill Disaster – July 30 – commercial fishing to resume

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.

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Oil Spill Disaster – July 27 – more second thoughts

Could Oil Spill Debacle be Fatal to NIMS/ICS? Opinion piece in Emergency Management, July 20. Experienced responders comment on whether or not NIMS and ICS were used as intended for the oil spill disaster response  (Thanks for Bill Cumming for point out this article.)

Risky Decisions led to Oil Spill. July 25, Wash. Post.

The calamity, the evidence now suggests, was not an accident in the sense of a single unlucky or freak event, but rather an engineered catastrophe — one that followed naturally from decisions of BP managers and other oil company workers on the now-sunken rig.

A deeper look at the human toll provides some serious indicators of trouble ahead.  In Gulf oil disaster, cameras can’t capture the human toll
CNN July 26. Some highlights of that story:

* Forget about oil, wildlife, the economy and environment; think about people, communities
* Early signs show rise in depression, domestic violence, substance abuse and more
* “Corrosive communities,” marked by distrust, emerge from manmade disasters, expert says
* Stops along Gulf show how residents cope, or fail to, and what insiders say people need

Oil Spill Disaster – July 23

For Oil Spill Victims, Fair Compensation Requires a Crystal Ball; Gulf Residents Will Need to Predict Future Damages, in The Washington Independent. July 22.

According to a colleague who is doing field work in coastal LA, the incidents of stress and mental health problems are at a very high level. The needs of the local people are huge. I hope Mr. Feinberg can work out something equitable for those hardest hit.

Oil Spill – June 12 – anxiety about effects of spilled oil

BP told to step up containment, WSJ, June 12.

The U.S. has given BP PLC two days to devise a more aggressive plan for containing oil leaking from its damaged deepwater well into the Gulf of Mexico, as tension surrounding the spill grows.

It appears that the Administration and the On Scene Coordinator are applying some pressure to BP to do more and do it faster to deal with effects of the oil spill.