Monday, July 19, 2010

Mordant Monday: July 19 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Oilcast.

Light southerly winds should shift later today to easterly winds, persisting at least through Wednesday, according to NOAA's oil spill forecast (above). You can see what that looks like by viewing the animated forecast of the Ocean Circulation Group at the University of South Florida.

NOAA forecasts locally that the surf should be calm with "a low risk of rip currents." It looks like several relatively good days at the beach. Quick! Book your marriage on the beach.

By the way, if you've been thinking of getting away from the long-lasting BP oil spill by moving to, say, Phoenix or Albuquerque -- think again. NOAA's latest prediction is, "drought conditions in the Southwest U.S. to worsen." What's more, with last month having been the hottest June on record and sales of fuel-efficient cars actually dropping in the U.S. over the last five months, we don't expect the rest of the century to get any cooler.

2. Anomalies at the Well.

Shortly before eight o'clock last night, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen of the Unified Command sent a sharp, biting letter to BP's managing director, Bob Dudley. He extended the test period for the new 3-stack cap "contingent upon the completion of seismic surveys, robust monitoring for indications of leakage, and acoustic testing by the NOAA vessel PISCES in the immediate vicinity of the well head."

The pressure test of the well now gets extended day by day. The reason is that a "seep" of oil has been detected some distance from the well. Plus, there are reported anomalies at the well head itself. This tends to confirm concerns which revived when pressure readings on the cap turned out lower than hoped for that there is a leak in the wellbore or the seafloor. If the cap isn't reopened, the environmental disaster could become even worse and harder to fix.

First word of this came late yesterday in an AP dispatch which attributed knowledge of a seafloor leak to an anonymous "administration official."
An administration official familiar with the spill oversight, however, told The Associated Press that a seep and possible methane were found near the busted oil well. The official spoke on condition of anonymity Sunday because an announcement about the next steps had not been made yet.
BP's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, would admit in a press conference yesterday morning only that "a few bubbles" had been found around the well. But a sketchy early morning report today by Reuters News alludes to BP engineers as the source of the information that oil is leaking from the seafloor. It also appears the company may be trying to claim the leak comes from some cause other than the Deepwater Horizon explosion that blew things to smithereens.

3. Unified No More?

Admiral Allen sternly laid down additional conditions for continuing the pressure testing. The manner and substance of his directive to BP manifest serious tensions between the Government and the mega-corporation over just how much information BP has been sharing with the Unified Command.

Wrote Allen:
[Y]ou are required to provide as a top priority access and coordination for the monitoring systems, which include seismic and sonar surface ships and subsea ROV and acoustic systems. When seeps are detected, you are directed to marshal resources, quickly investigate, and report findings to the government in no more than four hours. I direct you to provide me a written procedure for opening the choke valve as quickly as possible without damaging the well should hydrocarbon seepage near the well head be confirmed.
* * *
Now that source control has evolved into a period beyond the expected 48 hour interval of the Well Integrity Test, I am requiring that you provide me a written update within 24 hours of your intentions going forward. I remain concerned that all potential options to eliminate the discharge of oil be pursued with utmost speed until I can be assured that no additional oil will spill from the Macondo Well.
* * *
I direct you to provide a detailed plan for the final stages of the relief well that specifically addresses the interaction of this schedule and any other activity that may potentially delay relief well completion.

Three shockers inspired Allen's letter, as one can discern from Henry Fountain's front-page article in today's New York Times.

4. Out of Sight, Out of the News.

First, as mentioned above, Allen's letter reveals that the ambiguous pressure test results show that oil and methane gas is seeping from the seafloor. This means the cap hasn't necessarily stopped the leak, as so many news sources were erroneously reporting yesterday; the leak likely continues from the seafloor, out of sight of underwater cameras available to the public and, perhaps, the Government.

Second, yesterday BP launched a widespread public disinformation campaign with press releases, anonymous official statements, and web updates all emphasizing that 'currently the well remains shut-in with no oil flowing into the Gulf.' BP made no mention about leaks at the seafloor.

NPR's persistently miserable coverage by studio-bound Richard Harris is a prime example of the stenographic coverage offered by most news sources yesterday. Relying as he so often does on BP's sunny press releases, Harris reported yesterday:
And they said the well looks good still. The pressure is holding. They're surveying the seafloor with cameras and sonar and they're not seeing any oil come up. That's good. They're also using deep penetrating surveys to look deep underground and they're not seeing anything alarming there either. So that looks good.
Harris' credulity is boundless when it comes to swallowing BP's claims. He wasn't alone in that. The UK Guardian summarized BP's blitz of press statements yesterday this way:
Tests over the weekend on the new cap placed over the broken well suggested that it was working, there were no leaks, the flow had been stopped and – wonder of wonders – it might stay that way until the well is finally and conclusively plugged, probably next month.
Third, BP began making noises that it intends to abandon the plan worked out earlier with the Unified Command. As Henry Fountain puts it:
[A] senior BP official said Sunday that the company’s recently capped well in the Gulf of Mexico was holding up and that BP now hoped to keep the well closed until it could be permanently plugged.* * * That BP plan differs sharply from the one the company and the federal government had suggested only a day earlier, to eventually allow the flow of oil to resume temporarily, collecting it through pipes to surface ships.
At bottom, as Fountain writes, "the company very much wants to avoid a repeat of the live underwater video that showed millions of gallons of oil spewing from the blown well for weeks" and "the government wants to eliminate any chance of making matters worse." Clashing objectives, obviously. Will they lead to all-out disagreement?

The larger question all of this poses is whether BP considers itself subordinate to the commander of the Unified Command. Once again, it seems, as with BP's shadowy connection to the Lockerbie bomber's release we find our era rhyming with the fourteenth century when the economic and political organization of the western world was radically changing. Popes, like Boniface VIII, kept issuing their usual encyclicals but leaders of the newly-empowered nation-states, like Phillip IV, started defying them.

For the moment -- or, rather, for the next twenty-four hours -- a direct confrontation has been avoided. Early this morning, Admiral Allen released a statement saying that in overnight conversations, "the federal science team got the answers they were seeking and the commitment from BP to meet their monitoring and notification obligations." Accordingly, the cap will remain in place for another twenty-four hours while pressure testing of the well continues and additional seismic surveys are undertaken.

5. Sand Story.

Kimberly Blair has been doing a terrific job for the PNJ covering Pensacola Beach issues about the oil catastrophe. Today, she has an 1100-plus word investigative report on what's happening with the famously white sand on the beach.

We've all seen it: BP clean-up workers grabbing not only tarballs but also large hunks of sand. Bulldozers are even less discriminating as they scrape up enormous shovel-fulls of sand and tar and then pour them into the beds of waiting dump trucks, which disappear into the night.

"[F]or every tar ball and oil blob scooped up during the cleaning process, a chunk of the signature sand goes into a clear plastic bag," Blair writes. Where's it all going? she asks. To "Waste Management's Springhill Landfill north of Panama City," she answers.

The bags filled by individual cleanup workers contain "Between 10 to 20 percent... oil and 80 to 90 percent sand," Keith Wilkins tells Blair. Wilkens, who is Escambia County's deputy chief of Community Services, has emerged as the local answer man for most oil related questions. Doubtless, the percentages are much worse for the 'dozers and sand scrapers. But even he can't say how much oil the heavy equipment has round into the layers of sand beneath the feet of beach-goers.
Scoopers and scrapers took up too much sand. Heavy tractors and trailers destabilized the shoreline, making it vulnerable to natural erosion. The weight of the heavy machines forced oil deeper into the sand and created a public safety hazard for beachgoers.

As of Wednesday, 13,382 tons of crude-contaminated debris, including sand, from oil-impacted beaches of Northwest Florida, has gone to the landfill. Of that, an estimated 1,600 tons, or 2,400 cubic yards, of sand have been removed from Escambia County beaches, said Amy Graham with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
County and island officials are now reconsidering past approaches, Blair reports.
The environmentally friendly cleanup methods Escambia County is adopting are similar to what Gulf Islands National Seashore has been doing all along, Barbara Dougan, the Seashore's oil-response spokeswoman, said. Rakes and small shovels are being used to scoop up the sand and sift it through fish nets. Sieves and even french frying baskets are being tested with great success in the seashore's Mississippi parks, she said.

Heavy equipment is not allowed on the sensitive seashore, which is a critical habitat for nesting sea turtles and shore birds. The park will use the beach rakes only in areas where they won't damage the invertebrates that live along the shoreline.
Sand renourishment well may be required, similar to what Pensacola Beach residents have seen and paid for twice in the past eight years, Blair calculates. And she's not counting post-Hurricane Opal renourishment, which was the first for Pensacola Beach.

But what to do with the oiled sand already collected? Well, that's a work in progress. A Waste Management spokeswoman says, "It is still in the experimental stage, but we are committed to finding a green solution."

As for the buried oil still on the beach below the surface sand, "that's something we have to leave in place and address at the end of all of this with a major excavation," Wilkins told Blair. "We can't (remove it) with major oil hitting our beaches every week."

Or every month or, god forbid, every year if the well and seafloor leaks continue indefinitely. Once again, it seems, BP's environmental catastrophe has left us with an unprecedented problem that will be with us for generations.


msavage12 said...

Great, the oil has stopped for now, however, Crude oil continues to invade the Gulf; as BP, the US Government, and other official agencies monitoring the toxic crude, continues to FIDDLE. That is what I called the Dance of Deliberate Deception. No one will come forward with the intestinal fortitude, and declare the obvious - that crude oil is toxic to breathe. I have been told by OSHA that a medical study cannot be conducted until after 6 months of exposure. WHAT? There have been 21 years since the exposure of the crude oil in Prince William Sound, and no one is listening. So, after 6 months of workers in the gulf breathe in the crude oil, a study can be conducted? That leads me to believe that the government is holding up the rug, while BP sweeps known reports under the same rug, and the other agencies conduct the Dance of Deliberate Deception on top of the rug.

President Obama, how about admitting that the crude oil is toxic, and demand BP provide respirators for the oil cleanup workers, and compensation for the Gulf unemployment caused by the disaster.

In 1989 Exxon told the cleanup workers the same story, that the crude oil is not toxic. Some of us are living proof of the toxic exposure, and many others have died. Please view the YouTube video, and help get the message to Gulf residents, BP crude oil cleanup workers, and President Obama. Respirators need to be supplied to oil cleanup crews.
Thank you.

safe meds said...

I really like like the approach that the Admiral is having. I think that in a longer period will be the best solution.