Thursday, June 10, 2010

Oil Hell Breaks Loose: Thursday June 10 BO Oil Update


1. Pensacola Beach Oilcast.

The Mobile regional NOAA weather station is forecasting isolated thunderstorms with one to two inches of rain along the broader central Gulf coastal area today, moving from southwest to northeast "around 10 to 15 mph." The heat index is expected to exceed 100 degrees.

When will the Mobile weather station begin including an oil forecast for this area?

FWIW, the Windmapper animation for the next twenty-four hours shows coastal winds near Pensacola Beach coming more directly from the south, where the forward edge of the oil slick lies, toward the north where we are.

2. The Wages of Sloth.

We take one crumby day off from this volunteer, nonprofit blog to voluntarily shepherd our nonprofit grandchild around to various end-of-school events and see what happens? Oil hell breaks loose.3. Perdido Petroleum.

Travis Griggs of the PNJ has the details on Perdido Key:
A mile-long stretch of Perdido Key beach near the Florida-Alabama line was coated with greasy tar balls, about the size of peas, scattered in sheets like pepper below the high-tide line.

No fewer than 20 ships, ranging from charter fishing boats to barges fitted with cranes, loomed offshore, circling in the Gulf near the mouth of Perdido Pass on Wednesday.

Helicopters passed overhead and circled near the flotilla as a line of shrimp trawlers, four abreast, cruised down the beach, dragging oil skimmers about 300 yards offshore.
An earlier report from Perdido Key by a TV reporter from Tampa more or less predicted it (starting at :30 seconds):

4. Boom Town.

Jamie Page wins the Snappiest Lede of the Day award with this: "The battle to protect Escambia County waterways has begun."
As oil sheen and glops of crude infiltrated Perdido Pass on Wednesday afternoon, Escambia County put booms in place to impede oil from damaging waterways and environmentally sensitive areas.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the U.S. Coast Guard authorized the closure of Perdido Pass so a V-shaped boom could be deployed.
* * *
Officials also approved deployment of booms within 72 hours at Bayou Grande; Bayou Chico, West Arm; Bayou Chico, North Arm; Davenport Bayou; Star Lake; Palafox Pier; LaFitte Cove; and Little Sabine Bay.
When the paper went to bed officials had not yet decided whether to close Pensacola Pass at the western end of Santa Rosa Island, although the state DEP reported seeing "tar balls and sheen... outside of Pensacola Pass."

5. Outzen Ousted.

A flaming war also started late Tuesday night when Rick Outzen, publisher of the Independent News weekly, blogged that he'd been "banned" from BP's scheduled press interviews with Pete Benson, "BP's head of operations at the Bayou Chico facility," and "Lucia Bustamante, BP’s Community Liaison in Pensacola."

Invitations were restricted to only four media outlets whom BP apparently expected "to share the video, photos and audio in a fair manner with any media outlet who asks." BP picked only one of the four local TV network affiliates serving the Pensacola area, one of two local commercial AM radio stations providing daily oil spill coverage, the one daily Pensacola newspaper, and a reporter from the Miami Herald.

Obviously, BP's PR flack-catchers haven't read Charles Kuralt's autobiography, A Life on the Road. Kuralt, as a cub reporter, learned "the old UPI trick" the hard way when he shipped an exclusive story back to CBS headquarters via a generous reporter for UPI, who then claimed the breaking story as his own. Next time, his boss wired him, "Throw your film in the water before giving it to UPI for shipping."

Not invited to the BP interview were wire service reporters, weekly newspapers, non-commercial public radio stations, out-of-town TV media reporters, bloggers, or any of the half dozen or more documentary film makers on site. And no local environmental or public health organizations providing regular news updates, either.

As Outzen says, "There is no valid reason" for the restrictions. It was, Rick figures, "BP’s way of punishing me and avoiding direct questions [from] one of their loudest critics." He might have added BP's motive might have been to avoid letting anyone who's been writing for The Daily Beast, a popular national news blog, in the door.

Rick Outzen is a bulldog. He fixed his teeth to BP's pants leg all day yesterday and didn't let up for the rest of the 24/7 blog cycle until BP admitted its mistake:
"Why Am I Banned?" went up on his blog soon after.
"Facts Continue to Belie BP Statements" was posted at mid-afternoon.
"BP Says Ban Was Symantics Error," came next.
"BP Apologizes for Pool Media,"
And, for good measure, he tweaked BP over its oafish effort to shut down the Twitter parody "BPGlobal PR." ["BPGlobal PR Asked to Identify Spoof"]
We're guessing the next time BP feels compelled to meet the press, they'll send a well-dressed butler to Rick with an engraved invitation, served up on a silver plate.

6. Word War.

After Jamie Page's snappy lede he writes that the war he's talking about is less against oil than the Unified Command and BP Corp. itself:
County officials Wednesday were upset at the last-minute way they learned about the initial oil sighting in Alabama waters, just across the state line, that launched the sudden boom deployment.

"It was a surprise to us, and we were angered by the fact that the oil was already coming through the pass, and I consider that a complete communication failure of the Unified Command," said John Temperilli, one the county's four oil spill experts.
For those who are wondering 'Where did this 'Unified Command' stuff come from? you can consult Jim Stemp's "Incident Command System: History and Need." It explains how the Exxon Valdez oil spill -- which BP's Deepwater Horizon oil disaster now dwarfs -- was one of the prime progenitors mandating "that when a spill occurs, the management of the incident will use a Unified Command that includes the responsible federal official, State or local official and the responsible party."

As for BP, the Paul Fleming writes in today's PNJ that Escambia County commissioners are mad at one of their "Unified Command" partners:
Escambia County wants to run the cleanup and wants more equipment from BP.

"If they were really serious, they'd be providing the resources," Escambia Commission Chairman Grover Robinson IV said Tuesday. "What we've got is a lot of placating to feel good. People want action."
Among other things, the county wants BP to pay for mechanical sand rakes.

"We've asked for eight of them," Robinson said. "I don't even know why we're arguing about these."

Interestingly, the hostility toward BP apparently is not shared by neighboring Santa Rosa County, although the evidence Fleming cites for this is thin. One commissioner, Gordon Goodin, "said he's pleased with cleanup-crew response: 340 people were shoveling up and disposing of oil in the two counties Wednesday. The first oil came ashore Friday."

Oddly, Gordon Goodin seemed to be on the other side of the fence just a month ago. Then, he claimed to be worrying "that dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency will seem like a breeze compared to working with BP PLC on reimbursements related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill."

There was a time when Commissioner Goodin enjoyed widespread public support, at least in south county. But over the past couple of years quite a number of voters have become disgusted with his inconstancy and concerned over suspected conflicts of interest between his developer business and his public office. For many, his foot-dragging on the Northwest Florida Zoo closure was the final straw.

Consequently, there is more than a little irony in Goodin's charge that "Escambia is being greedy." In case the insult wasn't obvious enough, he added, "I think they're being a little hoggish." Now, there's a classic pot calling kettles black.

7. Size Matters - Yet Again.

How many times have we said it? The size of the oil leak matters. But as often as we've said it, no one seems to have a reliable -- or truthful -- answer.

What we said almost a month ago, on May 11, remains true: "The facts about the oil spill were filtered through BP Corp., which, it is now apparent, is heavily invested in keeping them from public view" and "BP Corporation repeatedly falsified the size of the oil leak, either intentionally or through its own gross negligence."

Nothing in all of that has changed. The only improvement over the last month has been that a few universities sent research vessels into the Gulf. Not surprisingly, what they're bringing back confirms that BP has been deliberately misleading the Government.

Some journalists are beginning to catch on. "Forget those minimum estimates of BP's Gulf oil leak," reads the headline of Mark Seibel's recent blog report for McClatchy News.
Thad Allen's press briefing at the White House Monday makes one thing clear -- we can forget about that 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day range that Obama administration officials have consistently cited, inaccurately, as the amount of oil likely to be gushing from BP's blown-out Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico well.
* * *
The government's Flow Rate Technical Group never saw the 12,000 to 19,000 or the 12,000 to 25,000 as the full range of the leak's size. Rather those were the low-end estimates... .

The team didn't feel comfortable giving high end estimates... . Why not? They didn't have confidence in the information they'd been given.
* * *
[R]ead the report itself. Here's a quote: "Based upon the incomplete and often poor quality data available to the experts, only a range of values that represent an estimated minimum can be given [emphasis added]." And that's just 10 sentences into the 43-page report.
Earlier this week, Renee Schoof and Erika Bolstad reported for McClatchy News that "BP's runaway Deepwater Horizon well may be spewing what the company once-called its worst case scenario — 100,000 barrels a day... ." The information originally was attributed to "a member of the government panel tasked with determining the size of the spill."
"In the data I've seen, there's nothing inconsistent with BP's worst case scenario," Ira Leifer, an associate researcher at the Marine Science Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a member of the government's Flow Rate Technical Group, told McClatchy.

Leifer said that based on satellite data he's examined, the rate of flow from the well has been increasing over time, especially since BP's "top kill" effort failed last month to stanch the flow. The decision last week to sever the well's damaged riser pipe from the its blowout preventer in order to install a "top hat" containment device has increased the flow still more _ far more, Leifer said, than the 20 percent that BP and the Obama administration predicted.

More than one of the Flow Rate panel members agrees. Another was quoted on Rachel Maddow's show the other night. Today, the Associated Press quotes Purdue professor Steve Wereley as saying, "the daily flow rate is, in fact, somewhere between 798,000 gallons and 1.8 million gallons."

8. Lubchenco walks back.

For over a month NOAA's director Jane Lubchenco was adamantly denying numerous scientific reports that any undersea pool of oil had been detected in the Gulf. It was as if she thought the scientific world was out of step with her -- not to mention her predecessor -- and how dare they?

Now, she's changing her tune.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco said her agency had finished testing water samples collected by the USF team that confirmed the presence of the oil.

"The bottom line is, yes there is oil in the water columns," she told reporters. "That's confirmed for the sites we've done the analyses."

Lubchenco also has acknowledged that some of the the low-density oil plumes hundreds of feet below the surface of the Gulf have "fingerprints" that tie it to BP's exploded Deepwater Horizon well.

But Coast Guard admiral Thad Allen -- who had not mentioned the emerging scientific consensus until now -- wants to quibble over semantics. He "questioned the use of the term "plume" to describe that underwater oil.
"The term 'plume' has been used for quite awhile, [but] I think what we are talking about are concentrations," he said. "'Cloud' is a better term."
Holy oil spill! 'A cloud of oil is not a plume of oil.' That's deserving of a limerick or Haiku. BP Global PR ought to get working on it right away.

9. Dark Ages Revisited.

What's interesting about the response of these federal officials is a cloudy undercurrent of a different sort. Too often, Lubchenco and Allen seem to be acting in consort with BP to hide the truth from the public. What they really ought to appreciate is that BP's corporate interests are aligned against both the public and the federal government. The federal government should see the people who empower it not as the enemy, but as an ally against BP.

What leads us to say that is that we've begun ruminating over a book we read in college and re-read a couple of years ago. We mentioned it before in a related context: Barbara Tuchman's prize winning opus, "A Distant Mirror."

It is, as the reviewers say, a very detailed history of the "calamitous fourteenth century." The fourteenth century was a period when the nation-state in the nascent form of newly emergent, larger, and more powerful kingdoms first began to rival the thousand-year hegemony of the "Christian Church" in Rome. Hard as it is to imagine today, all of the Western world before then was largely ruled by the Pope (and from time to time Anti-Popes in places like Avignon). Even kings had to be sanctified as the Pope's local delegate.

In time, thanks in part to Henry VIII's marital infidelities, the nation-state separated itself from Rome, took a lot of property with it, and assumed the freedom to appoint government officials like the Chancellor wholly without Rome's assent. Protestantism was the first result before it, too, divided into fiercely quarreling sects. The "Christian Church" largely retreated from the secular world to fight its own internecine wars. The nation-state grew more powerful and evolved to become the world's leading organizer of economic life.

A respectable theory advanced by some serious scholars in the past few decades posits that we are on the brink of an analogous epoc, one in which the nation-state finds itself under siege to rival transnational corporations. Some see the two as symbiotic, each helping the other. Others are concerned that the explosive growth and exponentially increasing wealth of transnational corporations, who owe allegiance to no nation, ultimately poses a threat to the very sovereignty of the nation-state.

No one can be sure how it all will turn out, of course. We're still feeling the reverberations of the fourteenth century. But it's not hard to see the increasingly acrimonious struggle between BP Corp. and the federal government over who should "control" the BP oil disaster, and what the public should be told about it, as an early skirmish in the coming global war between Nation-State and Multinational Corporations.

Whom do you trust to 'organize the economic life' of repairing the entire Gulf of Mexico and all the human beings and sealife devastated by BP's oil spill? Our nation or BP's multinational corporate board of directors?

Who would have thunk it? The director of the U.S. Geological Survey told reporters late this afternoon that the National Incident Command’s Flow Rate Technical Group has recalculated the oil spill flow rate as being in a range of "20,000 to more than 40,000 barrels per day." This compares with BP's public claims over most of the last month that only 5,000 barrels of oil was leaking each day.

The newly calculated rate does not take into account changes, if any, since June 3 when BP installed a small cap and began recovering some portion of still-leaking oil.
minor edit 6-10 pm
Update 5:15 pm CDT 6-10

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