Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cap Test Tuesday: July 13 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Oilcast

Hot, largely dry, occasional brief summer storms here and there, and "more oil coming," according to Kris Wernowsky.

2. Containment Cap.

BP announced yesterday that "the three ram capping stack was installed on the Deep Water Horizon LMRP at 7 p.m. CDT. The stack completes the installation of the new sealing cap."

Jaquetta White, reporting for the Times-Picayune, has a lucid and detailed description of yesterday's swap-out of containment caps:
Oil was still leaking into the Gulf of Mexico Monday night, however. At least two openings in a "perforated pipe" attached to the new cap could be seen on BP's live video feed shooting oil. But that oil flow is expected until the cap is completely hooked up and the pipe is "closed in," BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said.

With the cap in place, BP will begin conducting "well integrity tests" on the blown-out Macondo well this morning, Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said. [This morning, BP announced at the daily morning briefing that testing will begin around noon.] The pressure readings will tell the company whether the cap will be enough to hold the oil inside the well until a relief well is drilled or whether crews should continue sucking oil from the well to ships on the surface.
That's the bottom line. As for how BP got to this point, click here for the rest of White's article. It makes for a slick read.

At an early morning briefing today, BP vice-president Kent Wells --
said tests will begin at mid-day of the 150,000 pound tight-fitting cap, placed Monday on the well in the Gulf of Mexico that began leaking April 20. He said the tests will take between six and 48 hours and scientists will monitor well pressure at "minute" intervals. During that time, oil will continue leaking.
3. Lasting Damage Done.

Another AP dispatch cautions that even assuming everything goes as hoped -- the new cap contains all the oil and the relief wells work to shutter the well permanently -- it will be years before Gulf Coast beaches return to normal:

Even if the flow of oil is choked off while BP works on a permanent fix, the spill has already damaged everything from beach tourism to the fishing industry.

Tony Wood, director of the National Spill Control School at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi said the sloppiest of the oil — mousse-like brown stuff that has not yet broken down — will keep washing ashore for several months, with the volume slowly decreasing over time.

He added that hardened tar balls could keep hitting beaches and marshes each time a major storm rolls through for a year or more. Those tar balls are likely trapped for now in the surf zone, gathering behind sand bars just like sea shells.

“It will still be getting on people’s feet on the beaches probably a year or two from now,” Wood said.

The difference is that the world will have moved on soon and the oil spill will be largely forgotten, except perhaps at family vacation time or by all of those thrown out of work as the local economy inexorably declines.

Americans will have resumed driving Hummers and similar gas-guzzling vehicles. BP Corp. will have changed its company name to something even more obscure (maybe just "B"), followed by a world-wide advertising campaign bragging that it's the world leader in developing new ways to 'protect Earth's delicate environment.'

Meanwhile, the company will be turning its attention to drilling deeper and riskier wells. Suddenly, one day, claims filed by coastal businesses and residents will start bouncing back "Address Unknown." The water will remain oily, the air foul, the summer days ever hotter and wetter with the worsening climate.

Who knows? In just a couple of years even deeply damaged residents of the Gulf Coast when they troop to the polls might wind up sending one or another "drill, baby, drill" politician to the White House.

We'd like to think the human animal is capable of learning from experience. But history offers little evidence of it; we can't even celebrate "International Year of Biodiversity" without killing off "billions of sea organisms."

4. Surrendering to Gambling Organizations.

Pensacola News Journal columnist Reggie Dogan today hoists the flag of surrender and goes all-in for turning to the casino gambling industry as Pensacola's only hope for economic survival. That's just about as senseless as turning to Laetrile when you're diagnosed with cancer. Worse, actually. Laetrile doesn't cure you, but it doesn't kill you, either.

We could put Dogan's terrible idea down to an unfortunate bout of temporary insanity brought on by the oil spill blues, except for the fact that the editorial board of the newspaper he works for similarly admitted defeat two weeks ago when it flip-flopped on gaming at Perdido Key.

The PNJ was once so strongly opposed to the idea of introducing gambling on this county's beaches that its unrelenting negative coverage scared off a hotel developer who was angling for the necessary permits. The newspaper now appears to have become so disheartened about Pensacola's future economic prospects that it might next endorse pole dancing classes at U.W.F. and cocaine parlors in the churches so long as it means a couple of dozen new jobs.

A couple of weeks after the BP leak started, we received a quick message from a cousin of ours who lives in the Far West. He's a smart and highly educated guy. His message was short but succinct. Here it is in its entirety:

"Re: oil spill.... How's the new casino construction going?"

Our cousin was thinking four steps ahead of most other people. He understood early on that the BP oil leak would soon become an unprecedented disaster. He foresaw that tourist-dependent communities like ours would be devastated economically. And, being a former elected official himself, he knew that local pols and civic leaders would reach, first, for the cheapest-seeming, easiest appearing, most common solution available.

In short, his message revealed an immediate understanding that there would be a direct line of descent from the devastating oil leak to equally ruinous gambling casinos. He also knows that this would be exactly the worst move we could make.

Not so much for moral reasons, as Dogan supposes many will think, but because when gambling casinos come to town it's like a second oil well blow-up. Casinos don't improve the local economy, they destroy it. As we said over a year ago when gambling for Perdido Key was first proposed --
Our objections are rooted mostly in concerns about maintaining the environmental sustainability of our fragile island paradise, the heightened risk of public official corruption that inevitably follows legalized gambling, the certainty that desperate poor people will become even more vulnerable to exploitation, and the increased vulgarization of American culture.

Widespread gambling inevitably cheapens an entire community. If you doubt it, visit Atlantic City.
Pensacola has more than its share of low income residents. Good-paying jobs already are scarce. According to our own back-of-the-envelope calculations, the area could lose as much as a third of its economy over the next decade or so, unless there is a bold and innovative commitment to making it much more like a great place to live as well as visit.

Throwing open the gates to gambling casinos will not improve the quality of life in Pensacola. It will disappear it altogether. The PNJ editorial and Dogan's proposals are precisely the kind of unthinking, ineffectual boosterism we have warned against.

5. "Best Places to Live in America."

CNN is touting a new ranking of the "10 Best Places to Live in America." Interestingly, not one is known as a gambling mecca. (Although Eden Prairie, "which doesn't have much of a downtown," comes close with at least one Indian casino about as far from what passes for the center of town as the Poarch casino in Atmore, Alabama, is from Pensacola.)

The attributes which these 10 towns share that make them attractive to employers are "excellent schools" (although Ft. Collins' schools are now endangered by state legislative budget cuts ); a "diverse" ethnic population; "pedestrian-friendly" parks, playgrounds, and shopping districts; "an embarrassment of arts and entertainment riches;" ample forested areas, ponds, and parks; and plenty of athletic facilities for soccer, golf, tennis, and the usual assortment of other sports enjoyed by people of every age.

There was a time when each of these 10 locales was down in the dumps. We know. We've been in most of them at one time or another. Several expressly rejected gambling proposals as a path for the future.

Do you suppose Pensacola could learn something from them? Is it within our capabilities to greatly improve our schools? Expand and beautify our parks and playgrounds? Create more "pedestrian-friendly" shopping experiences, more accommodating athletic and sports facilities? If not an "embarrassment of riches" in the arts, can we strive for "ample?"

Casinos prosper by playing only games where the house always wins in the end. We propose, instead, that Gannett Publishing Corp. organize Reggie Dogan, the entire PNJ editorial board, and select civic leaders for a fact-finding mission to see if the odds of reviving Pensacola's economy through improving its livability are any better than those the casinos will offer. They can't be any worse.

6. Son of Drilling Ban.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar yesterday issued revised rules declaring a six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The rule replaces one which was disapproved last week by a three-judge panel of the ultra-conservative Fifth U.S. Court of Appeals.

The New York Times has the basics:
The revised moratorium would allow some drilling rigs to resume operating under certain conditions. To qualify, the rig’s owners must prove that they have adequate plans in place to quickly shut down an out-of-control well, that the blowout preventers atop the wells it drills have passed rigorous new tests, and that sufficient cleanup resources are on hand in case of a spill. Industry officials said it would be difficult to meet those conditions quickly, which could threaten thousands of jobs.
Will oil industry interests again sue to stop this regulation? Does oil on the beach stink?

7. BP Illness Records.

ProPublica has been compiling all of BP's illness reports since the day after the Deepwater Horizon platform explosion. There really isn't enough detailed information publicly available, yet, to draw definitive conclusions other than this: contact with oil, tarballs, and wet mousse can make you very sick.

8. The Dispersant Mystery.

David Hammer is covering the second day of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission hearings in New Orleans. He reports today on what can only be considered the completely incoherent and unconvincing case made by EPA assistant administrator Mathy Stanislaus over BP's authorized use of massive amounts of dispersants to submerge the oil leak.
Stanislaus painted a picture of an EPA that's putting a lot of effort into easing public fears about the chemical dispersants and other toxic impacts of the spill response, but commission members echoed concerns from some of Monday's public comments about the feeling of mystery surrounding the effects of chemicals being used.
It didn't help when Stanislaus said dispersants "are not as toxic" as oil, then moments later claimed "oil collected as waste showed it wasn't hazardous."

At the core of this issue lies the suspicion that "methane-heavy" dispersant pools actually worsen the toxicity of Gulf waters far more than would the massive oil leak itself. A review of the scientific literature suggests "most researchers (about 75 %) found that chemically-dispersed oil was more toxic than physically-dispersed oil."
About half of these found that the cause for this was the increased PAHs (typically about 5 to 10 times) in the water column. Others noted the increased amount of total oil in the water column. Two researchers noted the damage to fish gills caused by the increased amount of droplets.
Stanislaus, Hammer says, admitted that the EPA agrees "the process needs to be changed." It appears BP wasn't the only organization which didn't have a clue of the risks that attend deepwater drillng.

9. Corporations of Interest.

Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones Magazine, in an on-line article posted yesterday, brings us up to speed on the Justice Department's criminal investigation into the BP catastrophe. Turns out, there are multiple "corporations of interest," to paraphrase John Ashcroft, who are as shadowy and scary as any terrorist organization -- and much more capable of wreaking havoc on the U.S.

minor edit 7-13 pm


BLehman said...

How can casinos help you? They will be the death of Pensacola and towns within easy driving distance. Seen how Indians live even with a casino in their back yard?

Anonymous said...

Dogan is desperate. Everyone is.

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Anil Rajanala said...

Nice article but the update is the spill has finally stopped leaking and all we gotta do now is to clean the mess and about the casino thing, guys who got money to burn can go to casino, absolutely no problem there I read the guy talking about eternal image, I did a bit of research on them, they are a cool company, not too high but they had a high of 0.4 and trading at 0.0065 atm. nice opportunity for a newbie dealer

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