Things remain much the same for the moment on Pensacola Beach. Air quality and ozone levels are "moderate." As friend William at North Escambia.com reports, "No direct surface oil impacts are expected on Escambia County shores within the next 72 hours."
2. Emergency Plans.
So far as is known at this writing, the Escambia County Emergency Oil Spill Plan, has not yet been approved by the Unified Command. Nor is there yet any agreement on a plan for Perdido Pass, which sits on the border between Florida and Alabama.
In nearby Ft. Walton Beach, however, Rick's blog reports that Okaloosa County's emergency oil disaster plan has won approval.
That plan, according to the Daily News, was developed by a "harrowing process" that involved "public meetings, creating a task force, soliciting citizen input... working long days to create the action plan, and ... then [a] fight [with] the state EOC to keep the document intact."
Public meetings? What are those? Never seen 'em in Pensacola. The Oklaoosa Plan calls for:
- Barges, skimming boats, and workboats "to contain and remove the approaching oil," working "within 1 to 5 miles offshore."
- Booms will be deployed in "nearshore operations... in depths less than 30 feet" and to safeguard East Pass by deflecting oil to collection sites. Booms with hanging plastic curtains below the surface will be used at near-shore collection sites to protect the beach and shoreline.
- For bays, bayous, coves, marinas, and similar boating areas "an open chevron boom" system will be used to allow continued boat traffic while deflecting any invasive oil to collection areas.
- "A harbor skimmer, equivalent to a Heavy Duty SeaVac Delta Skimmer System will be used to recover" any oil entering East Pass.
- Mini-barges and workboats will try to deflect, or skim and recover, oil "approaching an identified environmentally sensitive area" as needed.
- A Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team (SCAT) will make daily inspections of "oiled" areas and those in danger of being invaded by oil, to determine "the best cleanup strategy" for each location.
- "Snares and pom poms" (see illustration, above left) "will be attached to ropes, anchored just seaward of the dry beach or just seaward of the surf zone."
- Tarballs "will be manually removed using rakes and shovels."
- "All recovered oil, oil in water emulsions, and oil contaminated materials will be handled, treated or disposed of according to state and federal regulations. Disposal of recovered waste and oily waste will only occur after all options for treatment and recycling have been exhausted."
Florida Keys newspapers are reporting today ["Oil Tarballs Found in the Keys"] that twenty tarballs "ranging in size from approximately three to eight inches in diameter" have been found on at least two beachs at Key West. The find was reported by Florida state park officials at Fort Zachery Taylor State Park.
Park rangers conducted a shoreline survey of Fort Zachary Taylor State Park and the adjacent Navy beach at Truman Annex and recovered the tar balls at a rate of nearly three tar balls an hour throughout the day, with the heaviest concentration found at high tide, around 12:30 p.m.The tarballs have been taken by the Coast Guard for laboratory confirmation. The St. Petersburg Times quotes several marine scientists as saying "they would be shocked" if the tarballs came from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
If BP's oil spill is affirmed as the source, the discovery would confirm that the river of oil has reached the "Florida Loop Current" and is on its way to the Gulf Stream, just like that notable "Message in a Bottle" from Pensacola Beach. As our blogger buddy, Bryan, acidly puts it: "This spill is large enough that it can destroy the state’s barrier reef, with plenty available to destroy Louisiana’s wet lands." And, he says, it's time for South Carolina "to cancel those ads talking about Myrtle Beach being 'oil free'... ."
4. Briefings Briefers Wished They'd Never Briefed.
About the same time tarballs were being picked off Key West beaches by park officials, U. S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary E. Landry was briefing the Senate Committee on Homeland Security. She told them, as reported by the New York Times, "We know that the oil has not entered the loop current at this time." Landry was appearing with Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano.
Other Coast Guard officials announced that along with NOAA scientists they "will conduct shoreline surveys" in the Keys beginning Tuesday morning, including aerial surveys.
The Weather Channel has a dramatic satellite photo showing the "oil streak" that's visibly heading south. (Click the photo for a closeup. For other views of the loop current, click here.)
5. Unsafe at Any Deepwater Depth.
The Wall Street Journal's news side, as yet unaffected by Rupert Murdoch's rock-stupid editorial board, explores the scary record of failures for deepwater drilling platforms. Reporters Ben Casselman and Guy Chazan write:
The brief, roughly two-decade history of deepwater drilling has seen serious problems: fires, equipment failures, wells that collapsed, platforms that nearly sank. Since last July, one brand-new deepwater rig—among the 40 or so operating in at least 1,000 feet of water in the Gulf—was swept by fire. Another lost power and started to drift, threatening to detach from the wellhead. Poor maintenance at a third deepwater well led to a serious gas leak, according to regulatory records.Although oil industry spokesmen and executives repeatedly claim deepwater drilling is "like outer space in terms of the complexity of the operating environment," what's not like space travel is that the oil companies continue to short-cut safety and go where they have no proven, redundant safeguards against accidents. They use antiquated technologies to prevent well blowouts and employ 'guesstimate' engineering technologies which have never been tested in a deep-water environment:
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[D]rilling for oil at depths no human could survive presents special risks when something does go wrong. The water pressure is crushing, the seabed temperature is almost freezing, the underground conditions explosive.
"While drilling as a whole may be advancing to keep up with these environments, some parts lag behind," Texas A&M professors Samuel Noynaert and Jerome Schubert wrote in a 2005 paper published in an industry journal. "An area that has seen this stagnation and resulting call for change has been blowout control in deep and ultra-deep waters."6. Sister Rig Sued.
With that kind of background, it's no wonder that a BP whistle-blower and the environmental organization Food and Water Watch have filed suit to shut down "Atlantis," the 'sister' oil drilling platform to BP's now-destroyed Deepwater Horizon:
The allegations about BP's Atlantis platform were first made last year, but they were laid out in fresh detail in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Houston against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Minerals and Management Service, the agency responsible for regulating offshore drilling in the Gulf.According to plaintiffs, if BP's Atlantis platform were to fail or the wellhead blow, the consequent oil spill "could be many times larger than the current oil spill from the BP Deepwater Horizon."
The whistleblower is Kenneth Abbott, a former project control supervisor contracted by BP who also gave an interview to "60 Minutes" on Sunday night.
In a conversation last week with ProPublica, Abbott alleged that BP failed to review thousands of final design documents for systems and equipment on the Atlantis platform -- meaning BP management never confirmed the systems were built as they were intended – and didn't properly file the documentation that functions as an instruction manual for rig workers to shut down operations in the case of a blowout or other emergency.
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The Atlantis rig is even larger than the Deepwater Horizon rig that sank in April. It began producing oil in 2007 and can produce 8.4 million gallons of oil a day.
7. False Analogies.
That "outer space" stuff mentioned above is a favorite with BP executives. A little over a week ago, BP's chief executive officer, Tony Hayward, invoked the same analogy in an NPR interview. "The space program was not cancelled because of the issues around Apollo 13," he whined.
What Hayward and his BP colleagues don't say, of course, is that the two have no important parallels other than they both were nail-biters.
- No one died on Apollo 13. Eleven died in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon platform.
- No one on earth was put in danger by the electrical failure on Apollo 13. Hundreds of thousands of residents along the Gulf coast from Texas to the Florida Keys are threatened with serious respiratory disease, chemical contamination, and other serious health hazards.
- The human environment on Earth was not put at risk by Apollo 13's failure. From the moment BP's oil platform blew up, it began poisoning the waters of the Gulf, threatening nearby coastal wetlands and estuaries, and destroying what could amount to at least forty percent of the nation's seafood supply.
- Most importantly, as the subsequent Final Report of the independent investigative board for the Apollo 13 disaster shows, NASA had in place effective, redundant, safety measures to protect the lives of the public at large as well as the astronauts on board. BP, it is now becoming clear, had none.