Wednesday, July 28, 2010

BP Anniversary: Wednesday July 28 BP Oil Spill

1. Oilcast

The interactive GeoPlatform, a superior tool developed by the University of New Hampshire and NOAA, today is showing mostly "light oiling" along Santa Rosa Island over the next seventy-two hours. You can reconfigure the display yourself if you're interested in other areas of the Gulf Coast or other indices.

2. 100 Days.

All the news organizations are noting that today marks the one hundredth day anniversary of the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling platform. As George Altman of the Mobile Register describes it:
Exactly 100 days ago, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 people and spawning what has been called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Federal officials say they could permanently plug the broken oil well in a matter of weeks, but even if they are successful, an enormous recovery project still lies ahead.
The Economist magazine, which loves to chart all kinds of stuff, last week added the BP oil catastrophe to the long list of other 'worst' peacetime oil spills in history. (See below). Even if one accepts the London-based magazine's British-friendly low-ball estimate of the total barrels of BP oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico -- and discounts the magazine's inexplicable obliviousness to the ongoing Nigerian oil disaster -- BP wins the dubious distinction of the world's worst oil polluter, tarball-blackened hands down.


3. Size and Amount Matter.

Skytruth yesterday posted a different sort of chart, one showing that "cumulatively, the surface oil slicks and sheen observed on ... satellite images directly impacted 68,000 square miles of ocean - as big as the state of Oklahoma."

What we find more interesting, however, are charts showing how much in wealth all these momentous oil spills have cost the human species. A year and a half ago, Jeff Siegel was marking the anniversary of what was then, in some circles, considered the world's worst oil spill -- the Exxon Valdez disaster. ["You've Come a Long Way, Baby"]

Siegel's calculations show the cumulative cost of twenty notable oil spills, adjusted for inflation, totalled $41,142,623,500. Yesterday, British Petroleum nearly doubled that amount when it announced it had a second quarter loss of $17.2 billion and is setting aside another $15 billion to cover projected charges against future earnings. The $32 billion total quite likely could rise, BP's chairman of the board told Barron's yesterday. And, he's strangely optimistic no fines for gross negligence will add to the total.

As Seigel's article begs to be asked, how much better off would we and the warming earth be if that money had been poured into alternatives to carbon-based fossil fuels?

4. Long Term Recovery.

It's clear that we won't know the full cost of BP's criminal negligence for decades to come. As McClatchy News reports Minnesota attorney Bill O'Neill, who handled Exxon Valdez lawsuits for fishermen and businesses, told a Senate committee yesterday, "The inability to know the impacts of the spill are inherent in oil spills. In three or four years, you're still not going to know what the impact of the spill is."

BP's newly designated CEO, Robert Dudley, said in a conference call with reporters yesterday that "he hopes 'five years from now' people will look back and conclude his company acted with "incredible corporate responsibility to a very tragic accident." But attorney O'Neill points out that it took many more years than that in Alaska to verify that some local fisheries there could never recover. And another witness, a native of Cordova, Alaska, says it took fifteen years for his town to recover economically.

As Oceana.org points out in a fact sheet, BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe released "an oil spill the size of Exxon Valdez" every 4 to 7 days over the course of the last three months. Some 21 years later in Alaska --
there are still two species that continue to be listed as “not recovered,” these are the Pacific herring and pigeon guillemot. There are ten species that are still “recovering”, including sea otters, killer whales, clams, and mussels. Commercial fishing, recreation and tourism are among the “human services” still listed as “recovering.” The ten species listed as “recovered” include bald eagles, pink and sockeye salmon and harbor seals. There are five resources listed as “unknown,” including the cutthroat trout, rockfish and subtidal communities.
5. Gulf Spill Legislation.

Even without knowing how long or deep will be the effects of BP's oil spill, both the U.S. House and the Senate are considering legislation that would "toughen regulations on offshore drilling," the Times Picayune reports. Late is better than never, we suppose.

The New York Times reprints an article from Greenwire by Katie Howell and Robin Bravender that identifies a number of near-identical provisions in the two bills:
  • "Both measures require drillers to beef up their oil spill response plans that are filed before drilling begins."
  • Both would write into statutory law the regulatory restructuring of MMS announced over a month ago by the Interior Department;
  • "The two bills would raise the liability limits for oil companies responsible for spills." The Senate does this cleanly by eliminating the current $75 million liability limitation for oil; the House bill merely would authorize a president to raise the cap.
  • "Both measures would grant the presidential commission tasked with investigating the oil spill subpoena power to conduct its investigations and would increase funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund."
  • The Senate bill "would set up a multiagency oil spill research and development program is similar to a measure passed on the House floor last week (H.R. 2693 (pdf)). The House has also passed a version H.R. 5019 of the "Home Star" energy-efficiency retrofit program that is included in the Senate bill.
The House bill, which is scheduled for floor debate tomorrow, also includes an additional provision that would "that would ban companies that have suffered 10 or more deaths at offshore and onshore drilling facilities over the past seven years from getting new permits." Guess the name of the only corporation on planet earth which would be barred from the Gulf of Mexico under that bill.

Has anything been left out? Well for starters, as The Atlantic's Nicole Allan reports, almost everything good that once was in the proposed Senate energy bill.
[I]t includes none of the grand, carbon-slashing measures that phrase called to mind just weeks ago. Instead, the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act is a modest, contained package that gives a curt nod to climate advocates but focuses on responding to the BP oil spill.
Reid apparently couldn't get more than one measly Republican vote to assure that the original energy bill could be debated on the floor of the Senate. Together with the defection of a couple of ultra-conservative Democrats, that means he couldn't find the 60 votes out of 100 needed to defeat a threatened Republican filibuster.

6. BP vs. U.S. Senate.

No less than five friends and relatives sent me messages today pointing to Thomas Friedman's column which went on the web yesterday and which appears in today's print edition of the Times. In sum, he says, the Senate is a bigger threat to the Gulf of Mexico coastal ecosystem than BP Corp.
There are three things it should be doing for the gulf and our other vital ecosystems. First, taking out some minimal insurance against climate change by reducing our carbon emissions; this region is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and the more intense storms that climate change will bring. Second, set us on a path to diminish our addiction to oil so we don’t have to drill in ever-deeper waters. And, finally, provide the federal funding to restore America’s critical ecosystems. The Senate abandoned the first two but is still working on the third.
To be clear, what Friedman means when he refers to the "Senate" is the minority of all Republican senators and two or three Democrats who are paid by the oil and coal industry to keep us addicted to carbon-based fuels until we choke on the carbon monoxide-fouled air or burn the planet to a cinder.

Senator Reid isn't responsible for that minority of nay-sayers being in the Senate. We are. All of us.

The voters in states like Louisiana, for example, who for years have sent mere tools of the oil industry to Washington to work assiduously for more offshore rigs and money -- and less barrier islands and beaches -- for that state. But the rest of us also share in the blame. We know too well how corrupt our election politics have become, yet we neglect to do anything about it.

A coalition of environmental organizations released a joint statement that puts the problem starkly:
As we witness the worst industry‐caused environmental catastrophe in our history,
the deadliest coal mining disaster in 40 years, and sweat through the hottest first 6
months of any year on record, there’s never been a more urgent time to move
forward with a clean energy and climate policy.

There’s no doubt that big oil, big coal, their army of lobbyists and their partners in
Congress are cheering the obstruction that blocked Senate action on clean energy
and climate legislation. Their cheers are cheers for China taking the lead in clean
energy jobs, the Middle East getting more of our money, and America getting more
pollution and fewer jobs.

At every opportunity, a minority of Senators who are in the pocket of America’s
largest polluters in the coal and oil industries chose obstruction over working
together to solve America’s energy and national security challenges. As a result of
their actions, the big polluters will continue to reap record profits at the expense of Americans.
Every decade for the last three decades has been a record-setter for global warmth. Photo plankton that feed the fish in the world's oceans are disappearing, mostly probably because of warming oceans. The fish won't be far behind.

If all of that and the BP catastrophe, too, can't wake us up what will it take?

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