I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

September 7, 2010

Aftermath of the Gulf oil spill

More from Yale Environment 360, but these have to do with the Gulf oil spill.

The Legacy of the Gulf Spill: What to Expect for the Future?

by John McQuaid

The Gulf of Mexico’s capacity to recover from previous environmental assaults — especially the 1979 Ixtoc explosion — provides encouragement about the prospects for its post-Deepwater future. But scientists remain worried about the BP spill’s long-term effects on the health of the Gulf and its sea life.

The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: An Accident Waiting to Happen (May 10, 2010)

by John McQuaid

The oil slick spreading across the Gulf of Mexico has shattered the notion that offshore drilling had become safe. A close look at the accident shows that lax federal oversight, complacency by BP and the other companies involved, and the complexities of drilling a mile deep all combined to create the perfect environmental storm.

McQuaid notes:

“The Deepwater Horizon disaster is a classic “low probability, high impact event” — the kind we’ve seen more than our share of recently, including space shuttle disasters, 9/11, and Hurricane Katrina. And if there’s a single lesson from those disparate catastrophes, it’s that pre-disaster assumptions tend to be dramatically off-base, and the worst-case scenarios downplayed or ignored. The Gulf spill is no exception.

McQuaid addresses the issue of risk in

Andrew Hopkins, a sociology professor at the Australian National University and an expert on industrial accidents, wrote a book called Failure to Learn about a massive explosion at a BP refinery in Texas City in 2005 that killed 15 people. He says that disaster has several possible insights for the oil spill: one was that BP and other corporations sometimes marginalize their health, safety, and environmental departments. “The crucial voice for safety in Texas City was shielded from the site manager, and the very senior agency people in the BP corporate head office in London had no role in ensuring safety at the site level,” he said. “The organizational structures disempowered the voices for safety and I think you’ve got the same thing here” in the Gulf spill.

But the more profound problem is a failure to put risks in perspective. BP and other companies tend to measure safety and environmental compliance on a day-to-day, checklist basis, to the point of basing executive bonuses on those metrics. But even if worker accident rates fall to zero, that may reveal nothing about the risk of a major disaster. “These things we are talking about are risks that won’t show up this year, next year — it may be 10 years down the road before you see one of these big blowouts or refinery accidents,” Hopkins said. “This same thing happened in the global financial crisis. Bankers were paid big bonuses for risks taken this year or next year, but the real risks came home to roost years later.”

That assumption — that catastrophic risks were so unlikely they were unworthy of serious attention — appears to have driven a lot of the government decision-making on drilling as well. The Minerals Management Service, a division of the Interior Department, oversees drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf. Since the 1980s, the MMS has routinely granted  a blanket exemption from doing a comprehensive environmental impact statement to individual drilling operations, according to Holly Doremus, a professor of environmental law at Berkeley. The Washington Post and the Associated Press reported last week that BP’s Deepwater Horizon lease received that exemption (called a “categorical exclusion”) last year. It was based on several analyses that downplayed the risks of a major oil spill. One, published in 2007, estimated the “most likely size” of an offshore spill at 4,600 barrels. NOAA’s current, conservative estimate of the Gulf spill put its total at more than 80,000 barrels, increasing at a rate of 5,000 per day.

Of course, “Energy companies have aggressively lobbied to avoid formally analyzing worst-case scenarios since the Carter administration first required them in instances where there was uncertainty about the risk of disaster….”

So, will we have learned?

Interviews

A Louisiana Bird Expert Assesses Damage from the Spill

The images of pelicans and other Gulf of Mexico seabirds drenched in oil have stirred sadness and outrage around the world. But, says conservationist Melanie Driscoll, the unseen effects are probably far greater, with some birds perishing out of sight, far from shore, and others facing spill-related declines in the fish on which they depend.

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July 29, 2010

Oil, oil everywhere

Gulf oil spill

100 days of oil: Gulf life will never be the same (AP, July 28, 2010)

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/us_gulf_oil_spill100_days

BP’s oil spill caused by fed’s “dangerous culture of permissiveness” (McClatchy, July 20, 2010)

http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/3572169

House Energy and Commerce committee questions current and former Department of the Interior secretaries about the Minerals Management Service.

Gulf focus shifts, but where is all the oil? (AFP, July 27, 2010) – http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100727/sc_afp/usoilpollutionenvironmentsurface

Some 1.8 million gallons of the controversial chemical Corexit were poured into the Gulf from a short time after the spill began until early July.  (For more on dispersants, see below.)

“Less oil on the surface does not mean that there isn’t oil beneath the surface however or that our beaches and marshes aren’t still at risk. We are extremely concerned about the ongoing short-term and long-term impacts to the Gulf eco-system,” said [NOAA Administrator Jane] Lubchenco.

Mother Jones magazine’s Blue Marble Environment site comments on the AFP story above:

Mainstream Media Helps BP Pretend There’s No Oil

http://motherjones.com/rights-stuff/2010/07/mainstream-media-helps-bp-pretend-theres-no-oil

Media Runs Defense for BP, Again

“Disasters are Just a Normal Part of Doing Business for These Oil Companies”

Cites a new National Wildlife Federation report on oil disasters, “Assault on America: A Decade of Petroleum Company Disaster, Pollution, and Profit”

Report: Oil Disasters Common in Last Decade (National Wildlife Federation press release)

Also at http://motherjones.com/files/NWF_OilSpillsExplosions_pages.pdf (though it wouldn’t load for me)

Dispersants

Is the EPA Playing Dumb on Dispersants? | Mother Jones (July 20, 2010)

An Environmental Protection Agency staff member is accusing his employer of being coy when it comes to dispersant use in the Gulf. Career whistleblower Hugh Kaufman says EPA officials know that the chemicals present a threat to public health and the Gulf ecosystem and should be banned; they just don’t want to say so.

EPA Whistleblower Accuses Agency of Covering Up Effects of Dispersant in BP Oil Spill Cleanup

“Rush transcript” of interview on DemocracyNow.org

With BP having poured nearly two million gallons of the dispersant known as Corexit into the Gulf of Mexico, many lawmakers and advocacy groups say the Obama administration is not being candid about the lethal effects of dispersants. We speak with Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy analyst at the EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response and a leading critic of the decision to use Corexit. [includes rush transcript]

BP Gulf Disaster Act Two: The Corexit Calamity (Triple Pundit)

http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/07/bp-gulf-disaster-act-two-the-corexit-calamity

Stone Hearth Newsletters Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill blog

Chinese Oil spill

First details on China oil spill’s cause emerge (AP, July 23, 2010) – http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/as_china_pipeline_explosion

Michigan oil spill

Oil pipeline leak pollutes major Michigan river (AP, July 27, 2010) – http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100727/ap_on_bi_ge/us_michigan_river_oil_spill

Yet Another Oil Disaster … in Michigan (Mother Jones)

Crews work to keep oil spill from Lake Michigan (July 29, 2010) – http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100729/ap_on_bi_ge/us_michigan_river_oil_spill_24

New Gulf oil accident

Barge hits well near Gulf, sends oil, gas spewing (AP, July 27, 2010) – http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100727/ap_on_re_us/us_oil_well_accident

Apparently it hit an abandoned wellhead.  (See my earlier blog post, “Anticipating health effects from the BP oil spill,” for information about abandoned wells.  Or look at a list of GAO reports on abandoned wells and other oil and gas management issues for the same.)

July 21, 2010

Three months of oil in the Gulf (and counting)

The latest news is, of course, that they’ve capped the blowout.

And that other leak a few miles away?  Don’t worry.  It’s from a different well. (!!!) (And how many other wells are there? Click there or see below.)

Oilpacolypse (from the Toxic Soup Movie Blog)

Gulf of Mexico Oil Rigs: 1942-2005 from tsinn on Vimeo.

Shows spread of Gulf oil rigs from 1942 to 2005 (at ever increasing depths!).

Toxic Soup Movie Blog – http://toxicsoupmovie.com/blog/

Oil is not just an American problem

Official: ‘Severe threat’ as China oil spill grows

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/as_china_pipeline_explosion

The Society of Environmental Journalists’ Daily Glob blog

CNN oil spill coverage

http://www.cnn.com/SPECIALS/2010/gulf.coast.oil.spill/?hpt=T2

News Orleans Gulf Oil Disaster Blog

http://blogofneworleans.com/blog/category/news-politics/gulf-oil-disaster/

The Unseen Spill: The Human and Reproductive Health Catastrophe of Toxic “Hot Spots” in the Gulf Region (Truthout)

Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill Blog (Stone Hearth Newsletter)

Marine Expert: Clean-Up Efforts, Public Missing Full Impact of Gulf Oil Spill

Katy’s Exposure Blog

Where I found a link to the Skytruth Oil Spill Tracker (and lots of other good stuff).

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