4/29/10 Boston Globe

States along the Gulf of Mexico have bet their fishing and tourism industries on the safety of oil drilling offshore, and that bet, which New England has refused to make, has turned into a losing one. The nation as a whole should take the growing oil spill in the Gulf as a warning — that there are consequences to relying so heavily on fossil fuels, and that domestic oil production is no panacea for US energy needs.

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8/26/10

Back in June, with oil still spewing from BP’s blown-out well, President Obama charged Navy Secretary Ray Mabus with crafting a Gulf Coast restoration plan that would address  the short-term impacts of the spill as well as the long-term environmental challenges facing the region. This week, Mr. Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, pledged that the first iteration of that plan would be unveiled soon.

“My task is to develop a road map for recovery once the oil spill is contained and cleaned up once and for all,” he wrote in an editorial for The Times-Picayune of New Orleans on Tuesday. “On behalf of gulf residents, I will deliver that framework for our path forward to the president within the coming few weeks.”

The report is already the focus of intense interest, with Gulf Coast politicians and local and national nonprofit groups calling for billions of dollars in funds not just to repair the damage caused by the oil spill, but also to restore coastal wetlands degraded by decades of oil and gas development and the wide-scale engineering of the Mississippi River for flood control and navigation.

 

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8/2/10

NEW ORLEANS — The BP spill is by far the world’s largest accidental release of oil into marine waters, according to the most precise estimates yet of the well’s flow rate, announced by federal scientists on Monday.

Nearly five million barrels of oil have gushed from BP’s well since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, according to the latest data. That amount outstrips the estimated 3.3 million barrels spilled into the Bay of Campeche by the Mexican rig Ixtoc I in 1979, previously believed to be the world’s largest accidental release.

The BP spill was already thought to be the largest spill in American waters, but it was unclear whether it had eclipsed Ixtoc.

“We’ve never had a spill of this magnitude in the deep ocean,” said Ian R. MacDonald, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University.

“These things reverberate through the ecosystem,” he said. “It is an ecological echo chamber, and I think we’ll be hearing the echoes of this, ecologically, for the rest of my life.”

Federal science and engineering teams, citing data that are “the most accurate to date,” estimated that 53,000 barrels of oil a day were pouring from the well just before BP was able to cap it on July 15. They also estimated that the daily flow rate had diminished over time, starting at about 62,000 barrels a day and decreasing as the reservoir of hydrocarbons feeding the gusher was gradually depleted. Before Monday’s announcement, federal scientific teams had estimated the spill in a range from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day.

The teams believe that the current estimates are accurate to within 10 percent. They also reported that of the roughly 4.9 million barrels that had been released from the well, about 800,000 had been captured by BP’s containment efforts. That leaves over four million barrels that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico from April 20 to July 15.

As the estimates of the number of barrels spilled increases, so, too, do the penalties under the Clean Water Act, which calls for fines of $1,100 per barrel, or $4,300 per barrel if the government finds that gross negligence led to the spill.

At 4.9 million barrels, that means that the total fine could be $5.4 billion — and, if gross negligence led to the spill, $21 billion. If BP successfully argues that the 800,000 barrels it has recovered should mitigate the penalty, then the figure drops to $4.5 billion and $17.6 billion, respectively.

The amount of oil estimated to be pouring from the well has been a matter of dispute from the earliest days of the spill. Federal and BP officials initially announced that no oil appeared to be leaking, then 1,000 barrels a day, then 5,000 a day, frequently repeating that spill estimates are rough at best and that the main goal was to stop the well. But criticism mounted that no effort was being made to measure the leak with more certainty. 

 

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7/31/10

The U.S. Coast Guard has routinely approved BP requests to use thousands of gallons of toxic chemical a day to break up oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico despite a federal directive that the chemicals be used only rarely on surface waters, congressional investigators said Saturday after examining BP and government documents.

The documents show the Coast Guard approved 74 waivers over a 48-day period after the restrictions were imposed, resulting in hundreds of thousands of gallons of the chemicals to be spread on Gulf waters. Only in a small number of cases did the government scale back BP's request.

The extensive use of dispersants to break up oil gushing from BP's Deepwater Horizon raised concerns early on as to what long-term damage the toxic chemicals might be doing to the Gulf's aquatic life. That prompted the Environmental Protection Agency on May 26 to direct BP to stop using the chemicals on the water surface except in "rare cases."

But Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., said Saturday that the chemicals continued to be used extensively with Coast Guard approval, often at a rate of 6,000 to 10,000 gallons a day. A request was made and approved on June 13 to spread as much as 36,000 gallons of dispersant, according to data obtained by Markey's Energy and Environment subcommittee.

The EPA directive "has become more of a meaningless paperwork exercise than an attempt ... to eliminate surface application of chemical dispersants," Markey wrote in a letter sent Friday to retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the spill.

Markey's office released the letter Saturday as well as the documents his panel had analyzed. Markey said that instead of complying with the EPA directive, "BP often carpet bombed the ocean with these chemicals and the Coast Guard allowed them to do it."

The House investigators found that the Coast Guard routinely approved the chemical use, in some cases a week in advance. On five occasions the Coast Guard approved a BP request to use 6,000 gallons a day over a weeklong period and "in many of these days BP still used more than double" the limit that was approved, Markey said in his letter.

 

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7/29/10

Scientists have found signs of an oil-and-dispersant mix under the shells of tiny blue crab larvae in the Gulf of Mexico, the first clear indication that the unprecedented use of dispersants in the BP oil spill has broken up the oil into toxic droplets so tiny that they can easily enter the foodchain.

Marine biologists started finding orange blobs under the translucent shells of crab larvae in May, and have continued to find them "in almost all" of the larvae they collect, all the way from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to Pensacola, Fla. -- more than 300 miles of coastline -- said Harriet Perry, a biologist with the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

And now, a team of researchers from Tulane University using infrared spectrometry to determine the chemical makeup of the blobs has detected the signature for Corexit, the dispersant BP used so widely in the Deepwater Horizon

"It does appear that there is a Corexit sort of fingerprint in the blob samples that we ran," Erin Gray, a Tulane biologist, told the Huffington Post Thursday. Two independent tests are being run to confirm those findings, "so don't say that we're 100 percent sure yet," Gray said.

 

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