Hakaimagazine.com: Reefs de Rigueur; Fish earstones may offer a verdict on the environmental value of oil rig reefs.

Hakai Magazine
 
by Nsikan Akpan
Published May 26, 2015

Life swarms to an oil rig the moment its massive steel legs plunge into the ocean. Algae, barnacles, anemones, sponges, and other less-mobile creatures latch onto the hard metal structures. Darting fish soon join the fray. But petroleum wells dry up after a couple of decades, and traditionally this has spelled the end of a rig: the steel legs, and the habitat they create, are decommissioned, dismantled, and hauled away.

In 1979, the United States introduced the concept of the “rig-to-reef,” wherein an oil platform’s legs are left in the water post-decommissioning to retain the constructed ecosystem. Soon after the first rig reefs were built along Florida’s coast, these artificial ecosystems began popping up everywhere. And soon after that, the protests started-the most famous being in 1995 when Greenpeace occupied Shell’s Brent Spar platform in the North Sea for nearly a month.

There are a number of points of tension over oil rig reefs. Some are ideological or political-“All offshore oil leases were granted on the reassurance that the seafloor would be returned to as near natural conditions as possible,” says The Ocean Foundation’s Richard Charter-while some challenge the ecological value of the reefs themselves.

The central scientific dispute over rigs-to-reefs is one that has dominated the debate for 40 years: do the structures actually encourage growth of reef-dwelling species or do they merely attract marine life that’s passing by?

Without a clear understanding of rig reefs’ effects, the international response has been mixed. Following Greenpeace’s 1995 protest, plans for rig reefs in the North Sea stalled. Elsewhere, oil rig reefs blossomed. In Texas, more than 140 rigs have added to the state’s artificial reefs since 1990. Over the next 10 years more than 6,500 oil rigs are due for decommissioning. How many will be turned into reefs is still up for debate.

For their part, oil companies like rig reefs because it saves them money-to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in saved decommissioning costs-as do US state governments, which often get a kickback for some of the money saved. Environmentalists are torn.
A novel scientific technique, however, may offer a way to resolve this long-running controversy by finally giving scientists a way to determine whether reef fish treat these rigs like a home or like a hotel.

In 2008, fish ecologist Ash Fowler and his team ventured onto the water off northwestern Australia. There, four separate oil rigs were being decommissioned. When the steel structures were hoisted onto the ship’s deck, dozens of red-belted anthias spilled forth. (This seafloor-dwelling species is often found hiding in the drilling wellhead.) The team collected the fish and returned to shore, where they chemically examined each fish’s earstones, or otoliths.

Much like a tree’s trunk, otoliths grow annual rings. As these rings grow, they absorb chemicals from the surrounding environment. By firing a laser at the otoliths, Fowler and his colleagues learned that each oil rig gave the fishes’ earstones a distinctive chemical composition. The overall shape of the earstone honed the geographical marker, allowing the otolith to serve as a home address.

“Otoliths are used to identify fish stocks over regional scales, but with our technique, we could identify home [oil rig] structures over distances as short as 10 kilometers,” says Fowler.

This geolocating technique can be used for almost any artificial structure, says Fowler, because the chemical distinctions between sites are based on common elements found in seawater (rather than, for instance, the pollution that might seep from a drilling site). As such, the technique can also distinguish oil rig reef fish from those living on natural reefs nearby. If combined with a genetic screen for lineage, Fowler’s otolith technique may reveal whether fish live around the same rigs for generations, or are just passing through.

Separating oil rig fish from natural reef fish has been a major challenge for the handful of scientists who have tried to compare the ecology of rigs-to-reefs with natural environments.

In a 2003 report, researchers from the US Minerals Management Service found that a single natural reef supported more than two million fish, which would be comparable to the number found in 1,000 oil rig reefs. More recently, a 2014 study argued that California’s oil rigs have become a fertile ground for juvenile fish, making the rigs one of the most productive fish habitats in the world. But without the ability to separate permanent resident fish from visitors, properly interpreting these studies becomes difficult.

Milton Love, an ecologist who worked on the 2014 study, doubts that answering the scientific question will actually end the debate over rigs-to-reefs. Even if the rigs are responsible for creating a bountiful ecosystem, he says, it’s an artificial creation that carries the risk of introducing invasive species, such as orange cup coral or Australian spotted jellyfish into new environments. In the Gulf of Mexico, commercial fishermen love the artificial reefs because they attract red snapper and other profitable catch, but the steel legs sticking up from the seafloor strip shrimpers of their ability to trawl the seafloor. Some conservationists want the rigs removed, but that would mean the animals that live stuck to the metal frame would die and wind up as waste dumped into the sea or on shore.
 
“In the end,” says Love, “the decision has nothing to do with anything except your moral compass.”
 
 
 

Geographic Region: Oceania, North America
Oceanographic Region: Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean
Species: Fish
Scientific Fields: Chemistry, Ecology, Engineering
Cite this Article: Nsikan Akpan, “Reefs De Rigueur,” Hakai Magazine, May 26, 2015, accessed May 26, 2015, http://bit.ly/1J077iB.

The Hill: Opinion | Op-Ed Offshore drilling — the Keystone pipeline of the sea by David Helvarg

http://thehill.com/opinion/op-ed/222144-offshore-drilling-the-keystone-pipeline-of-the-sea

While half a million people marched in New York and across the nation for climate action this fall and the U.S. launched a new air war in the oil-rich Middle East, President Obama moved forward on one of his least noted but potentially highest impact energy decisions.

Beginning this past summer the Department of Interior has been quietly accepting applications from oil companies to start seismic testing for oil and gas deposits off the eastern seaboard between Delaware and Florida as well as in new areas of the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean. This decision will open the way for five-year lease sales scheduled to begin in 2017. Like the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, new offshore oil drilling could threaten increased pollution, continued fossil fuel dependence and climate disaster. Environmentalists are also concerned about death and impairment to whales, dolphins and other marine wildlife from the high-volume sonic cannons used in the surveys. The government itself estimates the testing could impact 138,000 marine mammals.

I recently asked Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell why, given all these factors, they were proceeding with this. Her reply, “It’s important to know what we have … and I think anyone would suggest that reducing dependence on foreign oil is good.”But is there an alternative to the Obama administration’s “all of the above” energy strategy that, along with solar subsidies and fracking, could picket the East Coast with offshore oil platforms and risk a BP type disaster in the frontier waters of the Arctic Ocean? There is. It’s called California.

“Get Oil Out” was the battle cry against offshore drilling following the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill, a disaster that helped launch the modern environmental movement. Forty years later, when President Obama sent his first Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar to San Francisco to hold hearings on new leasing in 2009, the opposition remained unified and vociferous.

More than 500 people including Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the lieutenant governor and four House members testified and rallied for clean energy and against any new offshore oil drilling. Boxer noted that the coast was a treasure and a huge economic asset “just as is,” generating $24 billion a year and 390,000 California jobs.  This, along with a recent strongly worded anti-drilling letter sent to Secretary Jewel from the three West Coast governors, explains why the administration is willing to open up the Eastern Seaboard for the first time ever but ignore the Pacific Coast. “If the states don’t want it, it’s more likely you’ll concentrate where they do,” Secretary Jewell explained. In other words the administration’s energy decisions will be based not on science but on politics, with the biggest drilling conflicts now likely to emerge around Virginia, Alaska, Georgia and the Carolinas.

The best available science already indicates that in order to avoid catastrophic impacts from climate change — if global temperatures rise above 2 degrees Celsius as they are now expected to — we have to choose not to tap two-thirds of the world’s known petroleum reserves.

California as a society has chosen to leave its offshore oil under the seabed, increase its energy efficiency and conservation and, with carbon pricing through cap-and-trade, begin a needed transition to clean energy including wind, solar and hydro.  This has also sparked a wave of innovation, from the Tesla electric car, to Google smart cables for bringing offshore wind power onshore, to solar powered wave gliding sea drones for research and national defense.

While the President’s Climate Action Plan for coal-fired utility emissions would reduce greenhouse gases by some 2 billion tons, there could be 30 times those emissions from the burning of all the estimated offshore oil reserves set to be surveyed and leased in the next few years. And the incentive to keep drilling remains huge for companies like BP, Exxon, Shell and Chevron since the U.S. government (along with other oil and gas producing nations such as Iran, Iraq and Russia) has failed to follow California’s lead by putting a price on carbon.

While Barack Obama talks a good game on climate and innovation it looks increasingly likely that seeing the end of offshore drilling won’t happen until California’s old battle cry of ‘Get Oil Out’ is heard from sea to shining sea. People will also need to make it an issue in the 2016 elections since this president, while willing to battle terrorists on the blood soaked sands of the Middle East, lacks the will to stand up to Big Oil.

 

Helvarg is an author and executive director of Blue Frontier, a marine conservation group. His latest book is The Golden Shore — California’s Love Affair with the Sea.

DECOM WORLD: Deepwater decommissioning up to four times more costly, study finds

http://social.decomworld.com/structures-and-maintenance/deepwater-decommissioning-four-times-more-costly-study-finds#sthash.fijblcu8.dpuf

By Rod Sweet on Apr 30, 2014

A new report on the Gulf of Mexico decommissioning market finds that costs rise sharply in water depths greater than 200ft (61m).

Structure decommissioning ranges from $3-5 million in water depths less than 200ft, to $15-20 million in water depths greater than 200ft, according to DecomWorld’s latest Gulf of Mexico Offshore Decommissioning Report 2014.

In conventional decommissioning, dry tree shallow water plugging and abandonment operations typically cost between $300,000-$500,000 per wellbore, finds the report author, Mark J. Kaiser, research and development director at Louisiana State University’s Center for Energy Studies.

But he warns that estimating true decommissioning costs depends on many site-specific factors.

Meanwhile, the cost of decommissioning storm-destroyed structures often ranges between three to five times the cost of conventional operations, but may be greater by a factor of ten or more in extreme cases, the study found.

In the immediate aftermath of a storm, the resources necessary to initiate inspections, conduct repairs, and procure material and equipment are usually stretched thin.

The report concluded that small companies tend to be cost-minimizers in decommissioning while large companies focus on risk management, with specialized teams and business units dedicated to the task, potentially pushing costs higher.

Produced for DecomWorld the report estimates the GOM decommissioning market to be worth $26bn in and around January 2014.

In its fifth edition, the Gulf of Mexico Offshore Decommissioning Report contains detailed market analyses and forecasts for both shallow and deep water, plus updates on transactions and regulatory developments. Click here for more information.

Decomworld: BOP leak causes 25-day halt for Sevan Drilling in Gulf of Mexico

http://social.decomworld.com/projects-and-technologies/bop-leak-causes-25-day-halt-sevan-drilling-gulf-mexico?utm_source=http%3a%2f%2fus.decomworld.com%2ffc_nei_decomlz%2f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Decomworld+e-brief+2008&utm_term=DecomWorld+e-brief&utm_content=236075&gator_td=oVY2Um4dikhcF1X%2fN2G0dV5aOTy6vjkJlKMMaKMZdRZ74ohSjjcH4Dq0rSGiH8lDDsuL8OSl2e%2bfBOnmsevPLrIQr0F25i5an1p%2fKqwgSGzocE%2frvWRUQD9Zi8Q9nnYqIADt3gThoCCzaPrfoYWAH2Hwm1zXciJGNY6dtWSWiZIT2ZzOIclvqmB41k%2fs%2biMbKS%2fFu4RBJ4JRukWzR2sSRUjjUVyPQBHdF%2fU3kMO%2f1hUknGJQnvDYM620Gq5APavo#sthash.ehSISEnu.dpuf

 August 27, 2014
Ultra deepwater drilling specialist Sevan Drilling has announced a 25-day suspension of operations at a well in the Gulf of Mexico following a BOP control system leak.
In order to repair the leak it was necessary to temporarily suspend the well and recover the upper section of the BOP to the surface, the company said in a statement.
The incident occurred at the beginning of August and will result in downtime of more than 25 days in the third quarter, it added.
The firm’s rig, the Sevan Louisiana, began a three-year, $585.5m drilling contract in May this year for LLOG Bluewater Holdings LLC.
Headquartered in Norway, Sevan Drilling owns three ultra deepwater drilling units, Sevan Driller, Sevan Brasil, and Sevan Louisiana. Sevan Driller and Sevan Brasil each have a six-year charter contract with Petrobras in Brazil.
A fourth rig, the Sevan Developer, is under construction.

The Hill: House GOP urges Interior to open up new offshore drilling areas

http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/214045-house-gop-urges-interior-to-open-up-new-offshore-drilling-areas
By Laura Barron-Lopez – 08/01/14 09:57 AM EDT

More than 160 House Republicans are urging the Obama administration to open up more areas to offshore drilling in a new five-year lease plan for oil and gas development.
The Republicans claim that opening areas of the Outer Continental Shelf that have otherwise remained off-limits, such as the Atlantic, Arctic, and parts of the Pacific oceans, would generate roughly $160 billion between 2017 and 2035.

The Interior Department is currently gathering comments from oil and gas companies, conservation groups and others to determine which parts of the seabed will be included in its lease sales for 2017-2022.

“We believe the Department must move forward with a five-year program that continue to lease in the Gulf of Mexico but also includes new areas with the greatest resources potential as well as areas such as the Mid-and-South Atlantic, or the Arctic, where there is strong bipartisan support from members of Congress, governors, state legislators, local leaders and the general public for allowing oil and natural gas development,” the letter sent to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday states.

“A legacy of leasing in existing areas will not put our nation’s offshore energy production on sound footing,” it adds.

Environmental groups also sent a letter to Jewell, warning that expanding lease sales to the Atlantic, Arctic, and other new areas would undermine the president’s climate change agenda.

Environmentalists argue that expanding offshore drilling would lead to more air pollution, and harm fragile ecosystems.

The Interior Department said earlier this week that it plans to extend its request-for-information period 15 days, giving businesses, green groups and others more time to offer feedback on the lease sale.

Recently, the department also said it would open the Atlantic to seismic testing for oil and gas deposits. It’s the first time in nearly 30 years that companies will be able to explore the Atlantic using air guns and sonar tests. The move signaled that the administration may open up the Atlantic to future drilling.

“Opening our coasts to more oil and gas lease sales has the potential to create thousands of new jobs and billions in new capital,” Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said in a statement on Friday.

Cassidy signed Friday’s letter to Jewell, along with Reps. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), and Rob Bishop (R-Utah), and more than 160 other House Republicans.

Read more: http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/214045-house-gop-urges-interior-to-open-up-new-offshore-drilling-areas#ixzz39CDKe700
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Special thanks to Richard Charter

Various articles on Seismic Testing on Atlantic

Free Times
GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT
Sonic Cannons Could Endanger Marine Life in S.C. Waters
Seismic Tests Could Open Door to Offshore Drilling
By Rodney Welch
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 | 0 Comments

The seismic blastings can deafen dolphins.
The Obama Administration’s recent approval of seismic blasting on the Eastern Seaboard could have an immediate negative impact on marine life, and long-term consequences for the coast if it leads to offshore drilling, according to local conservationists.

The decision affects the coastal waters of a seven-state region from Delaware to Florida.

In a July 18 statement, Walter D. Cruikshank, acting director of the U.S Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said the decision came about after working with federal agencies and reviewing public input.

“The bureau’s decision reflects a carefully analyzed and balanced approach that will allow us to increase our understanding of potential offshore resources while protecting the human, marine and coastal environments,” he said.

Seismic blasting is a means of discovering oil resources by use of a seismic airgun, or sonic cannon, which is placed in the water and dragged along the water by a boat. The airgun is trailed by rows of sound sensors.

As the American Petroleum Institute explains it, the airgun releases compressed air into the water, creating sound waves. The sensors record how long it takes for the waves to bounce back, which also determines the location of petroleum reserves.

API officials say that seismic blastings are scheduled so as not to disrupt the mating season of marine animals, and that explorations always begin with a low-level warning signal to warn off any underwater animals.

But for conservationists, the risks are still enormous. The sonic blast sent across the ocean floor is said to be a hundred times louder than a jet engine and can deafen both dolphins and the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

“The main impact on marine mammals has to be hearing,” says Hamilton Davis, energy and climate director of the Coastal Conservation League in Charleston. “That’s how they hunt and how they communicate.  It’s disruptive across the board, and potentially leads to death in these individuals.”

When marine animals are no longer able to communicate, they abandon their habitat trying to get away from the noise, says Coastal Conservation League program director Katie Zimmerman.

Perhaps the biggest impact would be on the North Atlantic right whale, of which only some 400 remain in existence.

“That’s something we’re very concerned about,” says Alan Hancock, program director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina. “The North Atlantic right whale is endangered, and their calving grounds are off the coasts of North Florida, Georgia and southern South Carolina.”

The sound also interferes with the ability of fish to look for food and communicate.

Davis says that previous environmental assessments have shown as many as 138,000 marine animals could be affected by seismic testing, resulting in injury or death, and that doesn’t even include the impact on fisheries.

Seismic blasting is also the first step toward offshore drilling. For some, that means jobs. For others, it means a Deepwater Horizon oil spill waiting to happen.

Hancock says the East Coast has managed to stave off offshore oil exploration because past projections have indicated that there isn’t enough oil in the South Atlantic to warrant the risk.

“Any oil or gas that would be produced from the South Atlantic would be a drop in the bucket compared to global supplies of oil and gas,” he says.

While the prospect of offshore drilling has been welcomed by Gov. Nikki Haley and Senators Lindsay Graham and Tim Scott – the latter has drafted legislation allowing for oil exploration – Congressman Mark Sanford has opposed federal legislation that cuts states out of the process.


Sanford was one of five House Republicans who recently voted against the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act. Sanford said the bill allowed rigs to be built three miles off shore “in plain sight from the beaches of the Isle of Palms or Hilton Head, with no ability of anyone in the state to impact that decision.”

Hancock says mayors along the coast have also been concerned about the “potential impact of offshore drilling on the tourism economy as well as the fishing industry.”

Not only that, offshore oil rigs would not be impervious to hurricanes.

“The frequency of hurricanes means that any offshore drilling off the coast of South Carolina,” Hancock says, “would just be all the more risky and all the more potentially costly for South Carolina’s coast.” – See more at: http://www.free-times.com/news/sonic-cannons-could-endanger-marine-life-in-sc-waters-073014#sthash.Owjv3rB1.dpuf

 
_______________
 
Carolina Coast Online
Offshore exploration raises concerns
 
Tideland News
 
 
Posted: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 10:33 am | Updated: 11:13 am, Wed Jul 30, 2014.

The Obama Administration’s July 18 announcement that
that it would reopen the East Coast to offshore oil and gas exploration with sonic cannons is causing concern among local environmentalists and those involved in the protection and study of marine mammals, including whales and dolphins.
 
Environmentalists, such as Todd Miller, executive director of the Carteret County-based N.C. Coastal Federation, are worried about the pollution and potential onshore growth and infrastructure that would accompany oil and gas production, if it should occur.
“We were very disappointed in the announcement,” he said. “There’s not going to be any direct economic boom and the energy gain from North Carolina would be small.”
Marine mammal experts, such as Keith Rittmaster, natural science curator at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, are worried, though far from alarmist, about potential impacts exploration might have on the animals.
Rittmaster, whose wife, Dr. Vicky Thayer of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, heads the state’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network, has studied marine mammals extensively for more than two decades and has actually worked as a federally mandated “observer” on one of the sonic cannon vessels operating off Alaska.
“I can tell you it’s very loud,” he said. “I can tell you that while in my bunk on the ship, with ear plugs in and ear protectors over the ears, it was still loud.” And, he added, marine mammals depend on hearing, underwater, for almost all that they do, including navigation.
While there has been relatively little conclusive research on the effects the cannons have on marine mammals – more research has been done and more conclusions reached on the impacts of military sonar – the fact that the government requires observers on the boats in order for them to gets permits means there are, no doubt, potentially serious problems.
The approval by U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opened the outer continental shelf from Delaware to Florida to exploration by energy companies that are preparing to apply for drilling leases in 2018, when current congressional limits are set to expire. The bureau is moving ahead despite acknowledging that thousands of sea creatures will be harmed.
“The bureau’s decision reflects a carefully analyzed and balanced approach that will allow us to increase our understanding of potential offshore resources while protecting the human, marine and coastal environments,” acting BOEM Director Walter Cruickshank said in a statement.
The sonic cannons are already in use in the western Gulf of Mexico, off Alaska and other offshore oil operations around the world. They are towed behind boats, sending strong pulses of sound into the ocean every 10 seconds or so.
The pulses reverberate beneath the sea floor and bounce back to the surface, where they are measured. Computers translate the data into high resolution, three-dimensional images. The sonic cannons are often fired continually for weeks or months.
According to an Associated Press article that ran after the July 18 announcement, underwater microphones have picked up blasts from these sonic cannons over distances of thousands of miles, and marine scientists say the constant banging – amplified in water by orders of magnitude – poses unavoidable dangers for marine life.
According to the announcement, certain habitats will be closed during birthing or feeding seasons.
Still, according to the AP story, the bureau’s own environmental impact study estimates that more than 138,000 sea creatures could be harmed, including nine of the world’s remaining 500 north Atlantic right whales.
These whales give birth and breed off the coast of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas before migrating north each year. Many other species vital to East Coast fisheries also travel up and down the Gulf.
And some of these animals are so scarce that intense noise pollution could have long-term effects, Scott Kraus, a right whale expert at the John H. Prescott Marine Laboratory in Boston told AP.
“No one has been allowed to test anything like this on right whales,” he said. “(The Obama administration) has authorized a giant experiment on right whales that this country would never allow researchers to do.”
Rittmaster said he doesn’t know of any case in which the sonic cannons have been proven directly responsible for the death of a marine mammal. But he added that any positive causal link would require quick access to a deceased mammal, whether in the water or stranded on a beach, and that’s often problematic, at best. In North Carolina, that task would fall upon Thayer and her network. She declined to comment for this story, but suggested Rittmaster as a source for information on mammals.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican leaders of the state General Assembly have been strong proponents of offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling.
At any rate, Rittmaster added, there is clearly the potential for, at the very least, changes in the mammals’ behavior.
“I saw, or at least think I saw – and it’s pretty well documented – such things as changes in travel direction, changes in diving patterns and even in the sounds they make in response to anthropogenic sounds,” Rittmaster said.
He added that, similarly, there appears to have been little research done on how the sonic blasts affect the fish the marine mammals depend upon for fish.
According to the Associated Press article, fish ecologists say that fish and crabs navigate and communicate by sound.
Patricia Smith, spokesperson for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, couldn’t provide anyone to comment on the potential impacts that oil exploration might have on fish.
As for marine mammals, Rittmaster said there are known instances of at least some “co-existing” with sonic oil and gas exploration activities in the Gulf of Mexico.
He also said his experience with the offshore oil and gas exploration industry off Alaska convinced him that those involved take the monitoring program seriously.
His job, he said, was to watch for marine mammals and to get on the radio, advise the operators when he saw them and tell them to take action, such as to stop firing the cannon.
It was, Rittmaster said, a very complex system, with the action required dependent upon a variety of factors, including he species involved, the water depth and temperature and bottom topography, among other things.
The companies, he said, have “obviously spent millions of dollars” to learn about how the sounds travel through the water, depending upon those factors.
“If I saw, for example, a Beluga whale, I would get on the radio and say, “Stop,” and they would have, like 12 seconds to stop,” he said. “If they didn’t, that would count as a ‘take.'”
A “take” he said, doesn’t mean a harvest – as it does in fisheries – or even a likely injury. It means anything that would cause an alteration in the whale’s behavior.
Under their permits, the companies are allowed a specific number of “takes” per species over a given amount of time, and their response to a mammal sighting would be dependent upon on several factors, including when the activity was taking place and how many “takes” had already occurred.
Always, the goal would be to not meet or exceed the allowed number of takes for a particular species. Thus, if it was late in the operation and there had been either no takes or a few, the operators might not stop.
He said he understands the need for oil exploration, since the substance is still so crucial, and will remain so crucial, for some time, to “almost every aspect of our life.”
But, he said, it’s also very clear that the ability to hear is critical to the survival of the marine mammals.
According to the Associated Press article, before the U.S. Atlantic seabed was closed to oil exploration in the 1980s, some exploratory wells were drilled, but the region has never had significant offshore production.
“One thing we find is, the more you get out and drill and explore to confirm what you see in the seismic – you end up finding more oil and gas than what you think is out there when you started,” Radford said to the news service.
Opposition to oil development has been abundant along the coast, where people worry that oil will displace fisheries and tourism. More than 16 communities from Florida to New Jersey passed resolutions opposing or raising concerns about the seismic testing and offshore drilling, according to AP.
Miller of the coastal Federation outlined his objections in detail in a piece for his organization’s website.
Proponents, he wrote, say that offshore oil from the East Coast will help the U.S. become more energy independent, lower gas prices, provide jobs, increase tax revenues and be environmentally safe.
“But the track record for oil and gas development elsewhere in the country is dogged by failed claims of economic prosperity and environmental stewardship,” he wrote.
“Tainted coastal waters, disruptions of recreational and commercial fishing and inequitable distribution of economic benefits result in an ugly legacy for oil and gas development.”
He disputed the notion that oil and gas development will cause little harm to marine fisheries in the state, in part because of the state’s geography. It’s at the confluence of two currents – the cold Labrador and warm Gulf Stream – which make it highly productive for a wide variety of species. And the state’s coast, which sticks far out into the central Atlantic, is very prone to hurricanes and nor’easters that make oil infrastructure and oil wells very risky in terms of potential pollution.
Miller also disputed the value of oil drilling off North Carolina.
While proponents contend that development of those oil and gas reserves will make the nation more energy independent, he wrote, “In reality, the amount of oil and gas off our coast is just a tiny drop in the bucket of U.S. demand.
“The Carolina Trough south of Cape Hatteras has a potential of about 690 million barrels of oil and 16.25 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to supply our country’s demands for just 36 days of oil and 246 days of gas,” according to a report by a state advisory panel on offshore energy.
Similarly, he added, there’s little or no indication that development of those reserves will reduce oil and gas costs.
“According to the Annual Outlook on energy supply and prices written by the Energy Information Administration, analysts project that the existing oil and gas reserves in the U.S. coast would not lower, or even significantly affect, gas prices” he wrote.
And as for jobs, “Previous studies by independent committees formed by state government have found that the chances are very slim that N.C. could even compete for this investment with larger ports and much more industrialized areas in Virginia and South Carolina.
“Oil refineries have been proposed for Wilmington and Morehead City in the past and very intense public opposition forced state and local politicians to withdraw their early support for these industries and to eventually soundly reject them.”
Miller wrote that there’s serious doubt about proponents’ assertions that oil production in North Carolina would dramatically aid the state’s budget picture.
“The industry,” he wrote, “estimates that $66 to $400 million a year in direct income to state government over the lifetime of the reserves will come from royalties and leasing fees. However, it will take a Congressional change in federal law to divert these funds to the states,” and that’s not likely given “the severe budget issues facing the nation currently.”
Finally, Miller added, “This revenue estimate does not speak to the ‘costs’ associated with providing for the public infrastructure and services that are necessary to provide for an increased population.”
That, he added, is a key to the whole issue, should production ever gear up here.
“Barring a major catastrophic disaster offshore, the development of support facilities and refining capacity onshore poses the biggest risks to the N.C. coast,” Miller wrote. “We have one of the cleanest and most productive coastlines remaining in the U.S. This will no longer be true if oil and gas development results in major new investments in onshore refineries, storage facilities, pipelines and related petrochemical industries, as proponents claim it will. That’s because petrochemical industrial development has never taken place without degrading coastal environments. Existing environmental laws work to minimize harmful impacts, but do not prevent them from occurring.”
In addition, Miller wrote, it’s the federation’s position that, “Offshore drilling is a shortsighted solution that does nothing to minimize global climate change. While fossil fuels will remain in the energy mix into the foreseeable future, reducing greenhouse gas emissions should be the guiding principal behind any future energy policy.”
______________
Huffington Post
Offshore Oil Exploration in the Atlantic? Bad Idea
Posted: 07/30/2014 5:30 pm EDT Updated: 3 hours ago
By Jason Bittel, OnEarth

Suppose someone was detonating a stick of dynamite in your neighborhood.

BOOM.

Every 10 to 12 seconds.

BOOM.

For days and weeks and months on end.

BOOM.

Maybe you could just ignore the noise. BOOM. Or maybe you’d go a little crazy.

BOOM.

Maybe you lose your appetite. BOOM. And stop trying to ask your kids how their day went. BOOM.

Maybe you start walking in circles. BOOM. Or get lost.

And good luck getting your significant other BOOM to cuddle up and BOOM relax for a little BOOM romantic BOOM fun BOOM time.

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM-BOOM-BOOOOOMMMMM!

Annoying, isn’t it? But guess what — that’s what life will be like for marine mammals in the Atlantic Ocean now that the Obama administration has re-opened the East Coast, from Delaware to Florida, to offshore oil and gas exploration. With ban on offshore drilling in the Atlantic expiring in 2017, seismic testing could begin as early as next year.

What’s the connection between wells and whales? In a word, noise.

To find deposits buried deep below the seafloor, the oil and gas industry trawls the ocean with powerful airgun arrays. These cannons sound off every 10 to 12 seconds, recording the acoustic vibrations that bounce back as a way to map the sea bottom. An engineer for the American Petroleum Institute euphemistically likens the practice to “a sonogram of the Earth.”

Riiiiighhhht … We use sonograms to check in on fetuses because the sound waves do them no harm. We conduct them in quiet, dark rooms causing little discomfort other than a squirt of cold jelly on the mom’s tummy. So let me ask you, does this look like a sonogram?
Acoustic noise, whether it’s seismic testing for oil and gas or sonar exercises conducted by the Navy, creates what some biologists call an “acoustic smog.” This smog interferes with the way marine mammals perceive the world. In a way, it’s like they go blind.
Whales use sound to eat, hunt, find mates, navigate, and communicate with their young and the rest of their pod. Sonic booms jeopardize all of those activities.
National Geographic reports that the government’s own estimates have the noise pollution injuring (potentially killing) more than 138,000 marine mammals, and disrupting the migration, feeding, and reproductive behaviors for 13.6 million others.

Seismic testing produces a cacophony nearly on par with exploding dynamite. In fact, the industry actually used to employ dynamite in its search for undersea oil and gas deposits before airguns became a safer alternative. (Safer for workers, that is. Not whales.)

“Whales use sound for virtually everything they do to survive and reproduce in the wild,” says Michael Jasny, a marine mammal expert with NRDC (which publishes OnEarth), “and when we make sounds on the order of an industrial seismic survey, we are fundamentally compromising the foundation on which marine life depends.”

And it’s not just about the nearby booms. Sonic waves pervade through entire ocean basins. In one study, scientists found that a single seismic test can drown out the low-frequency calls of endangered baleen whales for 10,000 square nautical miles — that’s larger than the state of West Virginia. Worse still, airguns can make endangered fin and humpback whales fall silent over areas of the ocean 10 times larger than that.

OK, so a whale’s survival and sense of serenity doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, but you should know that opening up the East Coast to offshore drilling would hit you in your stomach, too. Seismic surveys, studies show, negatively affect the fishing industry, reducing catch rates for cod, haddock, and rockfish. And I don’t need to remind you that the fossil fuels we haul out of the ocean exacerbate climate change, right? Offshore drilling, lest we forget, also risks oil spills that devastate whale, fish, and human communities.

“The use of seismic airguns is [the] first step to expanding dirty and dangerous offshore drilling to the Atlantic Ocean, bringing us one step closer to another disaster like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” Claire Douglass of Oceana told the Balitimore Sun.

Now that the path to drilling in the Atlantic is open, the fight to save marine life would require stopping oil and gas companies from getting permits for seismic testing and eventually, drilling. And if that doesn’t work, environmentalists might have to appeal to the courts. Remember, the oil and gas industry isn’t the only one who knows how to bring the noise. BOOM go lawsuits, too.
_____________
http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/obama-approves-offshore-oil-exploration-along-east-coast-greenie-weenies-freak/
The Blaze
Obama Approves Offshore Oil Exploration Along East Coast, Greenie-Weenies Freak
Jul. 30, 2014 12:30pm
Humberto Fontova
Humberto Fontova is the author of four books including: The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro
               
After decades of paranoid hemming and hawing, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management finally approved oil exploration in federal waters along the Atlantic coast from Delaware to Florida.

The hemming and hawing ended on July 17.

“The announcement is the first real step toward what could be a transformation in coastal states,” said the Associated Press report, “creating thousands of jobs to support a new energy infrastructure. But it dismayed environmentalists and people who owe their livelihoods to fisheries and tourism.”
 
Alas, this “dismay” afflicts only the greenie-weenies from Delaware to Florida. From New Jersey up through New England the greenie hysteria against offshore oil exploration prevailed. This superstition among the local worshippers of Earth Goddess Gaia proved as intractable as the one that once mandated burning witches by New Englanders no less “enlightened.”

“With today’s decision,” whined Claire Douglass, campaign director at the environmental group Oceana, “President Obama is bowing to pressure from Big Oil rather than listening to the thousands of voices calling on him to protect our natural resources and coastal economies.”

Well, allow me to present the call of “thousands of voices” and specifically from “people who owe their livelihoods to fisheries and tourism.” Their call, based on over half a century of experience with offshore oil production (including the ultimate test: the BP oil spill) says: “Drill, baby, drill!”

With over 3,000 of the 3,700 offshore oil and gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, Louisiana is home to almost a third of North America’s commercial fisheries. As a trivial sideline, these oil production platforms also extract 80 percent of the oil and 72 percent of the natural gas produced in the continental U.S. This “sideline” (as us fanatical fishermen see it) by itself would offset the hardships (in any rational calculation of national priorities) of the relatively few “people who owe their livelihoods to fisheries and tourism.”

But a study by LSU’s sea grant college found that majority of Louisiana’s offshore fishing trips (among the state’s top tourist attraction) target these structures. Recreational fishing and diving trips to these structures generate an estimated 5,560 full time jobs and $324 million annually for Louisiana.


“Oil platforms as artificial reefs support fish densities 10 to 100 times that of adjacent sand and mud bottom, and almost always exceed fish densities found at both adjacent artificial reefs of other types and natural hard bottom,” says a study by Dr. Bob Shipp, professor at the Marine Sciences department of the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama, and currently, the vice-chair of the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Management Council.
In this April 21, 2010 file image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon.  (AP Photo/US Coast Guard, File)

In fact, the most prolific and diverse marine ecosystem ever recorded by marine scientists was created by offshore oil production. Acting as artificial reefs over the past half century, the teeming fish life, coral colonies, and “bio-diversity,” created by offshore oil platforms is amply documented in several studies commissioned by none other than the U.S. Department of the Interior.

One recent report by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Minerals (a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior) boasts that
fish densities are 20 to 50 times higher at oil and gas platforms than in nearby Gulf water, and each platform seasonally serves as critical habitat for 10 to 20,000 fishes.”

In fact, “villainous” big oil produces marine life at rates that puts to shame “wondrous” Earth Goddess Gaia.

“The fish Biomass around an offshore oil platform is 10 times greater per unit area than for natural coral reefs,” said Dr. Charles Wilson of LSU’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Science [emphasis added]. “Ten to 30,000 adult fish live around an oil production platform in area half the size of a football field.”

“Evidence indicates that massive areas of the northwestern Gulf of Mexico were essentially empty of snapper stocks for the first hundred years of the fishery,” found the study by Dr. Shipp. “Subsequently, areas in the western Gulf have become the major source of red snapper, concurrent with the appearance of thousands of petroleum platforms.” [emphasis added]
 
More recently, the red snapper catch from the northwestern Gulf (Louisiana, studded with oil platforms) is estimated six to seven times greater than the catch from the eastern Gulf (bereft of oil platforms.) That this proliferation of seafood came because rather than in spite – of the oil production rattled many environmental cages and provoked a legion of scoffers.

Amongst the scoffers were some of The Travel Channel producers, fashionably greenish in their views. They read these claims in a book titled “The Helldiver’s Rodeo” (and Ted Nugent’s blurb sure didn’t help against their scoffing). The book described an undersea panorama that (if true) could make an interesting show for the network, they concluded, while still scoffing.

They scoffed as we rode in from the airport. They scoffed over raw oysters, grilled redfish and seafood gumbo that night. More scoffing through the hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s. They scoffed even while suiting up in dive gear and checking the cameras as we tied up to an oil platform 20 miles in the Gulf.

But they came out of the water bug-eyed and indeed produced and broadcast a Travel Channel program showcasing a panorama that turned on its head every environmental superstition against offshore oil drilling. Schools of fish filled the water column from top to bottom – from 6-inch blennies to 12-foot sharks. Fish by the thousands. Fish by the ton.
The cameras were going crazy. Do I focus on the shoals of barracuda? Or that cloud of jacks? On the immense schools of snapper below, or on the fleet of tarpon above? How ’bout this – WHOOOAA – hammerhead!

We had some close-ups, too, of coral and sponges, the very things disappearing off Florida’s (that bans offshore oil drilling) pampered reefs. Off Louisiana, they sprout in colorful profusion from the huge steel beams – acres of them. You’d never guess this was part of that unsightly structure above. The panorama of marine life around an offshore oil platform staggers anyone who puts on goggles and takes a peek, even (especially!) the most worldly scuba divers.
 
“Fine!” comes the greenie-weenie rebuttal. “But howze about the BP oil spill?!”
 
Well, after the spill, the FDA’s Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Seafood Inspection Laboratory, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, along with similar agencies from neighboring Gulf coast states, have methodically and repeatedly tested Gulf seafood for cancer-causing “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.”

“Not a single sample [for oil
or dispersant] has come anywhere close to levels of concern,” reported Olivia Watkins, executive media advisor for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

“All of the samples have been 100-fold or even 1,000-fold below all of these levels,” reports Bob Dickey, director of the FDA’s Gulf Coast Seafood Laboratory. “Nothing ever came close to these levels.”

Fine!” snivel the greenie tinfoil-hatters. “But kindly define what constitutes this “level of concern.”

“The small amount of hydrocarbons in a seafood meal is much less than the exposure from pumping gas,” explained the Los Angeles Department of Health and Hospitals’ Dr. Jimmy Guidry.

“It’s all a conspiracy!” no doubt snivel the greenie tinfoil-hatters, “between big oil and Louisiana seafood processors and the FDA!”

But the facts suggest otherwise.
 
 
Humberto Fontova holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies from Tulane University and is the author of five books including his latest, The Longest Romance; The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro.
Special thanks to Richard Charter

Times-Picayune: Gulf of Mexico rigs-to-reefs program contested in letter to Interior Secretary and new e-book

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Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on July 30, 2014 at 2:49 PM, updated July 30, 2014 at 2:52 PM
As the federal government this summer considers revised rules on the decommissioning of Gulf of Mexico oil rigs, many environmental groups are pushing for a reexamination of the rigs-to-reefs program.
The program, extremely popular among most Louisiana anglers because the artificial reefs attract fish, allows some oil and gas companies to convert their decommissioned rigs to reefs instead of requiring the companies to remove them.
But on Wednesday, Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, joined calls for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) to require the removal of rigs instead of converting them into such reefs.
There is debate about whether the artificial reefs promote aquatic life or simply attract fish, concentrating them for easy fishing access. And some environmental groups contend that their artificial habitats create more harm than good.
There are about 450 platforms in the Gulf that have been converted to permanent artificial reefs through the program that started in 1985. By far the majority of those reefs – more than 300 – are in Louisiana waters.
While the federal Idle Iron policy requires oil and gas companies “to dismantle and responsibly dispose of infrastructure after they plug non-producing wells,” the rigs-to-reefs programs allows some the decommissioned rigs to remain on the site as artificial marine habitats.
Guidry joined the authors of the recently released free e-book Bring Back the Gulf, which also advocates for requiring the removal of oil rigs.
Shrimpers often are against the artificial reefs, largely because the reefs can tangle their nets.
Guidry on Wednesday argued that the oil industry should “return Gulf bottoms to trawlable bottoms” and that that would “help everyone, not just shrimp fishermen, as it will help all users who have to navigate the Gulf.”
Last Wednesday (July 23), about 25 individuals, mainly representing environmental groups, signed a letter sent to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell urging “strong and consistent implementation of the Department of Interior’s Idle Iron policy requiring full decommissioning of spent oil and gas structures at the end of their useful economic life.”
“Industry has expanded their requests for Interior Department waivers to Idle Iron protocols – instead seeking permanent seabed disposal of disused oil and gas infrastructure throughout Gulf of Mexico waters under the misnomer of Rigs-to-Reefs projects,” the 7-page letter later continued. “The permanent seabed placement of obsolete oil and gas extraction infrastructure invites more ecosystem damage rather than restoring it as originally envisioned.”
The letter in part stated that the rigs’ deteriorating metal can harm “sensitive Gulf habitats.” It also states that, by attracting fish, the artificial reefs can cause overfishing of certain species and can expand habitat for invasive species.
Richard Charter, a senior fellow at The Ocean Foundation who co-authored the book Bring Back the Gulf that was released last week, said during a teleconference on Wednesday that oil and gas companies have an “obligation to return a reef bed to its natural state.”
Charter said “thousands of rigs due for decommissioning in the coming years” as some of the oldest deep-water wells reach the end of their lives. His his co-author, DeeVon Quirolo, added that the Gulf has reached “critical threshold of such artificial structures.”
In May, Jewell’s Chief of Staff Tommy Beaudreau said the agency this summer would be reviewing the regulations governing the decommissioning and related liability issues of old offshore oil infrastructure, according to Charter and Quirolo.
The Interior Department did not immediately return NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune questions on Wednesday about the status of that review, although Charter and Quirolo said that Interior is expected to hold public hearings on the matters as it move forward.
To see Charter and Quirolo free e-book, click here. There are iPad and Kindle versions available on their website, http://bringbackthegulf.org.
Below, view and download the letter sent last week to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell:
Click here to download this file (PDF)
© 2014 NOLA.com. All rights reserved.

Bring Back the Gulf, the book by DeeVon Quirolo and Richard Charter

July 30, 2014

Bring Back the Gulf

New Book Slams Policies that Allow Oil Industry to Dump Old Rigs at Taxpayer Expense

Now available as an E-book & PDF

 

Bring Back the Gulf is a timely analysis of the scientific, environmental, legal, social and political aspects of the U.S. Interior Department’s “Rigs-to-Reefs” program and is now available as an e-Book and PDF at www.bringbackthegulf.org, the story of how Big Oil decided to fool the American taxpayer, and why their complicated scheme is not in the public interest.

Current policy allows the oil industry to send its trash to the ocean bottom and call it a reef. Taxpayers are footing the bill for this giveaway that is compromising our Gulf of Mexico’s public natural resources. Rigs-to-Reefs is a clever name for a waiver that sidesteps a requirement that each offshore oil lease includes full decommissioning of spent oil and gas structures to restore the seabed to its previous natural state. Authors DeeVon Quirolo and Richard Charter assert that each oil lease should be enforced to, put simply, force oil companies to properly clean up after themselves when they’re done with a rig.

“When an oil company signs an offshore oil lease contract, that includes an obligation to return the seabed to its natural state once the rig has reached the end of its economic life,” said co-author Richard Charter, senior fellow with The Ocean Foundation. “Americans have every right to expect that the company will keep its promise. With thousands of rigs due for decommissioning in the next few years, we can either decide to help restore the Gulf of Mexico to its former vitality, or allow it to become a junkyard of epic proportions.”

“Dumping spent drilling rigs into the Gulf of Mexico has unanticipated long term negative consequences on marine resources and fails to support fishery management goals,” added co-author DeeVon Quirolo. “If anything, discarded rigs simply cause fish to aggregate so that they are over-harvested, and help invasive species to spread.”

“Shrimp fishermen need trawlable bottom in the Gulf to run their nets,” said Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. “Further giveaways of ocean bottom are not in line with long-standing agreements we have made with the oil industry and State and Federal Government.”

From the beginning, agreements between oil companies and the public have been based on clear assurances that abandoned offshore drilling rigs would be removed and the seafloor restored. At the end of 2013, 2,608 Gulf rigs were due for decommissioning, and thousands more are due for decommissioning over the next few years.

In a letter to Secretary Sally Jewel, leading Gulf of Mexico stakeholders call on the Interior Department to halt issuing waivers that enable spent rigs to remain on the ocean bottom and instead require the seabed to be restored to its original condition as required under the Idle Iron policy. Additional recommendations include:

  • A broad representation of the full range of public interests needs to be more inclusively involved in the relevant federal and state decision-making processes regarding spent oil and gas structures
  • Monitoring of state “Rigs-to-Reefs” programs to ensure ecological integrity
  • Independent scientific research that is not unduly influenced by the oil and gas industry, especially for deep-sea processes that are vulnerable to impacts accompanying the growth of deepwater drilling
  • Enforcement of existing environmental laws that can help ensure a healthy Gulf of Mexico
  • Support effective management of all fisheries for long-term, ecosystem-based resilience and sustainability
  • Creation of deepwater preserves to protect biologic diversity and provide research opportunities through a Gulf-wide monitoring effort, especially in the northern Gulf, where oil production remains concentrated.

Today, some rigs are granted waivers to become permanent fixtures on the ocean floor, towed to state-established so-called “reefing sites.” Full responsibility for future maintenance and liability is then shifted to the state, in exchange for a one-time payoff from the rig owner equal to half of the savings over the cost of full decommissioning. This obviously saves the oil industry millions of dollars, but is counter to supporting larger Gulf of Mexico restoration or fisheries management goals.

Past seafloor discards have led to creation of the largest underwater artificial habitat in the world in Gulf waters at present. Ocean disposal in this manner is heavily promoted by the oil industry as an environmentally friendly option when in fact the reverse is actually true. Studies show that the rigs fail to equal or rival natural coral reefs in biologic diversity and instead attract fouling organisms, including bivalves, sponges, barnacles, hydroids and algae as well as non-native invasive species.

There is new urgency to prevent navigational hazards posed to vessel traffic when these massive structures become lost or damaged during major storms and hurricanes. The Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s Chief of Staff Tommy Beaudreau recently announced that the agency will review policies regarding decommissioning and related liability issues beginning this summer.

#  #   #

Platts: FEATURE: Fight over US offshore plan to focus on Gulf of Mexico, Atlantic, Alaska

Washington (Platts)–28Jul2014/403 pm EDT/2003 GMT

The Obama administration later this week is expected to fully delve into the three-year process to develop the next five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing, an effort expected to center on whether to allow drilling in US Atlantic waters and offshore Alaska.

The US Interior Department’s Bureau of Energy Management has already received hundreds of comments on which offshore areas should be auctioned off for oil and gas drilling from 2017 to 2022 and is expected to receive thousands more by Thursday, the deadline for its formal “request for information.”

The plan, which administration officials want to have finalized before Obama is scheduled to leave office in January 2017, is expected to spark broad disagreements between industry, which wants unfettered access to the outer continental shelf, and environmentalists, who want offshore drilling limited, if not shut down completely.

The plan has already drawn considerable concern from California’s Democratic congressional delegation, which has urged Interior officials to keep California’s offshore waters out of the five-year plan.
But the three OCS planning areas offshore California are largely seen as politically untenable and will likely draw little focus from industry lobbyists, according to Erik Milito, upstream director for the American Petroleum Institute.   Milito said that industry is expected to push for expanded drilling throughout the US Gulf of Mexico, as well as in the Atlantic and offshore Alaska.
The majority of the eastern Gulf and a portion of the central Gulf are subject to a congressional moratorium and are not expected to be open for leasing until 2022, but Milito said this should not prevent the administration from including it in its leasing plan. The moratorium, he said, could always be reversed and, like any other offshore areas where oil and gas could be produced, the administration should not stand in the way.

“If you keep areas out of the program, then you’re taking those opportunities off the table and you’re pushing things way further out,” Milito said. “From our long-term energy planning standpoint, both from the government and the industry, it’s important to keep options on the table and not take them off the table.”

The administration is expected early next year to approve applications for companies to conduct seismic testing in the mid- and south Atlantic, but BOEM and industry officials said the administration could include the Atlantic in its next five-year plan even if these tests to update decades-old data are not complete.

Just because a lease sale is scheduled for a particular planning area, there’s no guarantee a lease sale will take place, Milito said.

“It just means you’re including opportunities for a potential lease sales,” he said. “If you don’t include the Atlantic then you have no possibility of doing it.”

BOEM’s current 2012-2017 schedule includes 15 lease sales — 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and three offshore Alaska, with the latter including sales planned for the Chukchi Sea and Cook Inlet in 2016 and the Beaufort Sea in 2017. Only six of the 26 OCS planning areas are included in the current leasing program.

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, wants to see additional drilling offshore Alaska, but is not pushing for a specific plan outside of simply expanding leasing offshore the state, according to Robert Dillon, a spokesman.  In other words, Murkowksi is not specifying which of the 15 federal planning areas offshore Alaska she wants to see included in the next leasing plan. Dillon said the specifics would be up to industry.

–Brian Scheid, brian.scheid@platts.com –Edited by Lisa Miller, lisa.miller@platts.com
Special thanks to Richard Charter

Gainesville.com: Oil will spoil the best of Florida

 

By Nathan Crabbe
Editorial Page editor
Published: Sunday, July 27, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, July 25, 2014 at 2:03 p.m.
 
Growing up in Ohio, I liked visiting the beaches of Florida but didn’t realize that the state offered so much more as far as the water was concerned.

I thought that boating meant throwing out a line and catching fish. I didn’t know that you could jump in the water and actually catch things with your own hands.

I was lucky to meet Colleen shortly after moving here and eventually marry her, for a lot of reasons. One nice perk is that she introduced me to the possibilities that a mask, snorkel and flippers provide.

For Colleen and her family, all born and raised in Florida, the month of July is book-ended with the two best times of the year for living in the state. The start of the scallop season falls around the beginning of the month, while the two-day recreational lobster season falls near the end of it.

It was incredible enough to float around the Gulf of Mexico and catch bags full of scallops for the first time. It was absolutely mind-blowing to dive down in the waters around the Florida Keys and grab spiny lobsters with my (thankfully gloved) hands.

This is all a really long way of saying that I can’t believe that the Obama administration is going to allow more oil drilling off the Florida coast.

The administration announced this month that it is reopening the Eastern Seaboard to offshore oil and gas exploration. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management approved seismic surveys using sonic cannons to locate deposits beneath the ocean floor.
 
You think it’s loud when your neighbor turns on the leaf blower early in the morning? Seismic surveys require the use of sound waves far louder than a jet engine, reverberating through the water every 10 seconds for weeks on end.

This is especially harmful for whales and dolphins, which depend on being able to hear the echoes of their calls to feed and communicate. An expert on fish ecology told The Associated Press that aquatic creatures could suffer permanent hearing damage from just one encounter with a high-energy signal.

But that’s not even the most important reason that allowing more oil drilling off the coast is a terrible idea. Perhaps the Obama administration needs to be reminded of that reason, but I don’t think most Floridians do.
 
Just four years ago this month, the BP oil spill was finally being capped after polluting the Gulf for 87 days. It took months longer to fully seal the well. About 5 million gallons of oil spilled.

In addition to the devastating effect on marine life, the spill also hammered Florida’s economy. I visited some of the beaches near Pensacola around that time, and the only tourists were a handful of them who came to gawk at workers scooping shovels of oil from the sand.

Arrogance is the only possible explanation for reopening the Eastern Seaboard to offshore oil drilling. While it might bring jobs in the oil industry, it certainly won’t help anyone who owes their livelihoods to tourism and fishing.

So when I visit the Keys this week, I’ll try to soak in such pleasures as snorkeling around the coral reef of Looe Key. The reefs are already in decline due to pollution and climate change, and this oil announcement shows we won’t stop until we finish the job of destroying them.
 
It’s just a shame that we wait to learn from our mistakes until it’s too late.
Special thanks to Richard Charter.

Huffman, Lowenthal, Capps Lead California Delegation Against New Oil or Gas Leasing Off California Coast

For Immediate Release
July 24, 2014
Contact: Paul Arden
 
“The known risks of expanding offshore drilling in these areas far outweigh any potential benefits”
WASHINGTON°©-Reps. Jared Huffman (CA-02), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), and Lois Capps (CA-24) led a letter from members of the California Congressional delegation to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, urging her to prohibit any new offshore oil and gas lease sales in the California Outer Continental Shelf Planning Areas as her department develops the next schedule of potential offshore oil and gas lease sales.
The letter, sent last night, was signed by 35 members of the California Congressional delegation, including Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and calls for a continued focus on developing clean, renewable sources of offshore energy rather than expanding oil and gas development.
“Californians have repeatedly spoken out against new offshore drilling,” the Members of Congress wrote. “It is imperative that we promote the use of these clean technologies and protect the integrity of our state’s coastline from new offshore oil and gas development for both current and future Californians. The known risks of expanding offshore drilling in these areas far outweigh any potential benefits.”
The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management updates its Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program every five years. The development of the next five year program, slated for 2017-2022, is underway. The letter was submitted as part of the 45-day comment period, which closes on July 31, 2014.
The text of the letter is below:
Secretary Sally Jewell
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
Dear Secretary Jewell,
As Members of the California Congressional delegation, we write to urge the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to exclude any offshore oil and gas lease sales in the Northern California, Central California, and Southern California Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Planning Areas from the Draft Proposed 2017-2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program.
Californians have repeatedly spoken out against new offshore drilling. Since 1969, 24 city and county governments have passed anti-drilling measures and the State has enacted a permanent ban on new offshore leasing in state waters. Serious accidents and environmental damage can and do occur at offshore drilling rigs. These spills and leaks, air and water pollution, and the industrialization of the shoreline threatens public health, impairs marine resources, and wreak havoc on our economy, especially the state’s critically important tourism, fishing and recreation industries, which inject billions of dollars into the California economy every year.
Energy companies are not producing oil and gas on the vast majority of land they already hold in offshore leases. The Department should be pushing to ensure that these companies are diligently developing the land that they already have before offering new federal leases. Furthermore, the amount of oil and gas available from OCS leases currently off limits is small compared to what is already open to drilling and would not significantly impact energy prices. Opening additional offshore areas to drilling will only allow these companies to warehouse more public land and put more of our vibrant coastal tourism economies and fragile shoreline ecosystems at risk.
Rather than expanding oil and gas development, the Department should – with proper consultation and consideration given to all relevant stakeholders – continue its focus on developing clean, renewable sources of offshore energy. It is imperative that we promote the use of these clean technologies and protect the integrity of our state’s coastline from new offshore oil and gas development for both current and future Californians.
                              
The known risks of expanding offshore drilling in these areas far outweigh any potential benefits. We therefore urge you to continue these longstanding protections and not include the waters off California’s coast in the new draft five-year plan. Thank you for your consideration.
Sincerely,

Huffington Post: New Offshore Oil Plan Could Be ‘Game Over’ for Climate

Richard Steiner
Professor and conservation biologist (www.oasis-earth.com)
Posted: 07/17/2014 12:14 pm EDT Updated: 07/17/2014 12:59 pm EDT

In a move that could rival the climate impacts of the Alberta tar sands and Keystone XL pipeline, and would release far more atmospheric carbon than that saved by the new EPA power plant and vehicle rules, the Obama administration just initiated its 2017-2022 process to expand oil and gas drilling on the nation’s outer continental shelf (OCS) – including the Arctic, Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico. The initial public comment period on the plan closes July 31, 2014.

Despite the fact that many of the 2011 National Oil Spill Commission’s recommendations to improve offshore drilling safety have yet to be implemented, and the certainty of more oil spills, this new leasing program would commit the nation to another 40 years of carbon-intensive energy that world climate cannot afford.

In addition to the proven offshore reserves already in production (currently providing 18% of domestic oil and 5% of domestic gas production), the government estimates that the U.S. OCS contains an additional 90 billion barrels of oil and 400 trillion cubic feet of natural gas yet to be discovered. Industry thinks there is more. History shows that once oil is discovered, it will be produced.


Burning this much oil and gas would release over 60 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere – a ‘carbon bomb’ almost as large as the entire Alberta tars sands. Just as with the tar sands (with 168 billion barrels of proven reserves), producing this U.S. offshore oil could be ‘game over’ for efforts to contain climate change. And this offshore carbon would dwarf the one or two billion tons of CO2 saved by the new power plant and vehicle rules by 2030.

Without doubt, the combined carbon from offshore oil (in the U.S. and other nations), and tar sands oil, would be disastrous for climate. But industry sees billions of dollars lying in the seabed, and seems to care little about climate impacts.

If we want to stabilize climate and secure a sustainable future, the carbon now safely buried beneath the seabed, just as in the tar sands, should be left right where it is – buried. In fact, a landmark 2013 study by the Carbon Tracker Initiative in the U.K. concluded that, in order to avoid climate warming exceeding the critical target of 2 degrees Celsius, two-thirds of world’s remaining hydrocarbon reserves must be left in the ground. That study, co-authored with the London School of Economics, warns that in the coming decade, $6 trillion could be wasted in finding and developing ‘unburnable carbon.’

To commit to another four decades of carbon-intensive energy production as envisioned by the new OCS plan – Obama’s “all-of-the-above” (“business-as-usual”) energy policy – would dangerously delay our switch to sustainable, low-carbon energy, and virtually guarantee future climate chaos. Given the scientific consensus for the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions, this new OCS plan is irresponsible and reckless. More offshore drilling is not a solution to our energy-climate crisis, but would only deepen and prolong the crisis, likely until it is too late. It is time to say “no” to this self-destructive energy path, and get busy building the future sustainable energy economy.

Some lawmakers are already expressing opposition to the drilling plan. In a July 2, 2014 letter to the President, Senators Bob Menendez, Cory Booker, and Congressman Frank Pallone (Ds-NJ) wrote that they “strongly oppose any efforts to expand offshore oil and gas drilling, particularly any such efforts that would threaten New Jersey’s vibrant coastal communities…We owe it to future generations to ensure that our pristine natural resources are preserved and protected from the polluting fossil fuel industry.” The same is true for all of our nation’s waters.

In the Arctic, large-scale offshore drilling would forever change the seascape and ecosystem. The Arctic Ocean is a spectacular, unique, and fragile marine ecosystem, home to polar bears, walrus, whales, ice-seals, and ancient human cultures. Already suffering extreme effects of climate change, drilling in the Arctic Ocean would make matters worse by adding significant industrial disturbance, including platforms, pipelines, tankers, ports, ship and air traffic, underwater noise, suspended sediment, and of course oil spills with no hope of cleanup. The area’s remoteness, severe weather and icy seas make drilling here a high-risk, unacceptable gamble.

Just ask Shell Oil. In perhaps the most intensely scrutinized offshore drilling project in history, Shell’s calamitous 2012 Arctic drilling effort off Alaska displayed arrogance, incompetence, and a reckless disregard for the risks involved.

One of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs, the Kulluk, being towed across the stormy Gulf of Alaska in late December (to avoid paying first-of-the-year taxes), broke its tow and grounded off of Kodiak Island. It’s other drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, had to emergency-disconnect from drilling to avoid the approach of a large ice floe, had a stack fire, broke down and had to be towed into port, was detained by the Coast Guard, and was issued several notices of violation and serious deficiencies. Shell’s oil spill containment dome “crushed like a beer can” when it was first tested. Both of Shell’s Arctic drill rigs were seriously damaged, and the company had to cancel its 2013 and 2014 Arctic drilling plans. Industry observers opined that Shell may have “bitten off more than it could chew.”

If we genuinely care about our coastal and marine areas, we should not expose them to the risk of oil drilling. Spills will occur; they can’t be cleaned up; they can cause long-term, even permanent, damage; and restoration is impossible. Where we do produce and transport oil, it must be done with the highest possible safety standards. We need to use oil much more efficiently, and stop wasting it.

But beyond this, the global climate simply cannot afford the carbon that would be produced offshore. Instead, we need to kick our hydrocarbon habit, and get on with the hard work of building a sustainable energy economy.

If President Obama wants to make good on his campaign pledge to ‘slow the rise in the oceans,’ and to ‘heal the planet,’ he needs to abandon this plan for new offshore drilling (at very least, permanently withdraw the Arctic), and begin to phase-out existing offshore oil production. A tall order, perhaps, but essential in order to incentivize the transition to a sustainable energy future. And with such bold U.S. leadership, other nations would be encouraged to follow.

 
Sheikh Zaki Yamani, former Saudi Arabian oil minister, once said: “The stone age did not end for lack of stones, and the oil age will end long before the world runs out of oil.” Our ancestors invented a smarter way to live. Now it’s our turn.
Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: Next Gulf lease sale includes plots along Mexico border

 
Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, July 21, 2014

HOUSTON — The federal government has put the oil and gas industry on
notice to prepare for the next round of offshore lease bidding, to
cover waters off the coast of Texas.

And for the first time, the government is accepting bids on leases for
offshore oil and gas prospects along the maritime border with Mexico.

On Friday the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released details
of its planned sale of offshore leases in federal waters. The sale is
for acreages in the western Gulf of Mexico, in the federal government’s
Western Planning Area (WPA) for offshore energy development in the
Gulf.

“The decision to move forward with this lease sale follows extensive
environmental analysis, public input and consideration of the best
scientific information available,” acting Director Walter Cruickshank
said in a release.

Over 20 million acres is up for grabs in sale 238, scheduled to be held
Aug. 20 at the Superdome in New Orleans. The government’s last lease
round for the WPA was in August 2013 and netted the government a little
over $100 million.

What makes this lease different is that it stretches far south to just
north of the U.S.-Mexico maritime border. Activity was forbidden in a
buffer zone created around the international boundary pending the
completion of a treaty between the two nations clarifying how offshore
energy exploration and production would be pursued in the Gulf’s
borderland.

The U.S. and Mexico have since finalized a treaty on Gulf energy
exploration, so BOEM says it’s removing the prior restrictions in
place. The offshore energy treaty with Mexico has now entered into
force as of last Friday.

“As such, whole and partial blocks in the 1.4-nautical mile buffer area
will be offered for lease in WPA Sale 238,” the agency said in its
package of details covering the drilling rights sale.

The WPA is the least developed portion of the Gulf’s offshore drilling
industry, with most activity found off the coast of central and
southeastern Louisiana. Though it is home to substantial numbers of
shallow-water operations, new leasing in this area is focused on
deepwater and ultra-deepwater regions, in formations where companies
have found success.

The length of time that a lease can be held depends on the depth of the
water column it’s lying in. Leases for exploring deepwater prospects
that are more than 5,200 feet deep are good for 10 years. Standard
leases remain valid for five to seven years, but companies can earn
three-year extensions if they spud a well in the acreage they are
holding before that lease expires.

BOEM is almost halfway through its five-year lease sale schedule, which
is ending in 2017. After next month’s round the agency will hold six
more lease sales for Gulf of Mexico acreage: three for the Central
Planning Area, one for the Eastern Planning Area and two more for the
western Gulf off Texas.

Offshore drillers are more active in the Gulf now than they were at the
time of the 2010 Macondo well blowout and oil spill, when a drilling
moratorium was put in place. With new production coming online this
year and next, some analysts are predicting a sharp jump in Gulf oil

output starting in 2015 (EnergyWire, July 14).
Special thanks to Richard Charter

Nola.com: Oil, gas production declining in Gulf of Mexico federal waters, report says

Times-Picayune
 
By Jennifer Larino, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune 
on July 08, 2014 at 12:40 PM
 
Oil and gas found off the coast of Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states made up almost one quarter of all fossil fuel production on federal lands in 2013, reinforcing the region’s role as a driving force in the U.S. energy industry, according to updated government data. But a closer look at the numbers shows the region’s oil and gas production has been in steady decline for much of the past decade.

A new U.S. Energy Information Administration
report shows federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico in 2013 accounted for 23 percent of the 16.85 trillion British thermal units (Btu) of fossil fuels produced on land and water owned by the federal government. That was more than any other state or region aside from Wyoming, which has seen strong natural gas production in recent years.

The report did not include data on oil and gas production on private lands, which makes up most production in many onshore oil and gas fields, including the Haynesville Shale in northwest Louisiana.

But production in the offshore gulf has also fallen every year since 2003. According to the report, total fossil fuel production in the region is less than half of what it was a decade ago, down 49 percent from 7.57 trillion Btu in 2003 to 3.86 trillion in 2013.

The report notes that the region has seen a sharp decline in natural gas production as older offshore fields dry out and more companies invest in newer gas finds onshore, where hydraulic fracturing has led to a boom production. Natural gas production in the offshore gulf was down 74 percent from 2003 to 2013.

The region’s oil production has declined, though less drastically. The offshore gulf produced about 447 million barrels of oil in 2013, down from a high of 584 million barrels in 2010.

Still, the region accounted for 69 percent of all the crude oil produced on all federal lands and waters last year.

Crude oil production in the Gulf of Mexico could to start to recover in coming years, as companies restart major projects delayed after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. The disaster killed 11 men, unleashed the worst oil disaster in U.S. history and prompted a federal ban on deepwater drilling. The ban lasted several months.

The most recent federal lease sale held in New Orleans, in March, drew more than $872.1 million in high bids on more than 1.7 million offshore acres in the central and eastern Gulf of Mexico. Previous sales under President Barack Obama administration’s 2012-17 leasing program have opened 60 million acres offshore and drawn $1.4 billion in bid revenues.
 

Aiken Standard: Editorial: Offshore drilling bill isn’t energy solution

http://www.aikenstandard.com/article/20140701/AIK0201/140709996/1018/AIK02/editorial-offshore-drilling-bill-isn-t-energy-solution
Posted: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 12:01 a.m.
 
 
A U.S. House bill approved last week to open up drilling along South Carolina’s coast is thankfully a long-shot, but it’s still troubling that Congress is once again considering such a measure.
 
The bill was supported by nearly all of South Carolina’s delegation, including House Rep. Joe Wilson, who represents Aiken County.
 
However, it was wisely voted down by Republican Mark Sanford of Charleston and Democrat Jim Clyburn of Columbia. It has become a recurring theme that when gas prices go up, members of Congress want to pass bills that sound on the surface like they would lessen the pain at the pump, but ultimately do little.

The bill considered last week – H.R. 4899 – is certainly of the same ilk.

Proponents of the bill say that gas prices could be cheaper by expanding oil production and expediting the permitting process, which could be a boon to our economy and even strengthen our national security.

A smart energy bill could certainly accomplish those goals, but the latest by Congress clearly doesn’t. There are so many conflicting variables affecting oil prices that it’s incredibly short-sighted to cling to the idea of domestic drilling.

We shouldn’t have the mentality that if we can just drill off the coast of South Carolina, or the coasts of Virginia or California, that we could pay less at the pump.

In 2008, we often heard the expression “drill baby drill” in order to lower gas prices that were on average $3.50 to $4 a gallon. The argument was more production would lead to lower prices, but domestic oil production is booming, and prices haven’t gone down.

It’s hard for that argument to hold any validity. From 1991 to 2008, domestic production dropped every year, for a total decline of 33 percent.

Since then, however, daily production has risen 49 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Administration.

Even with greater production, we still pay a global price when it comes to oil. Additionally, oil production globally has not dropped. OPEC countries are putting more oil out, and Iraq is still at about 95 percent of its normal oil production even with recent spikes in violence.

With all those factors in our favor, prices are still up about 20 cents at the pump compared to 2013.

This idea of expanded production has been explored through essentially the same legislation since 2011.

Since that time, U.S. oil production has gone from 5.6 million barrels a day to 8.4 million barrels a day.

We hope that lawmakers will come up with a legitimate energy bill sooner rather than later. It’s clear that we need to be less dependent on foreign oil.

However, we particularly don’t need to risk one of our most precious commodities – South Carolina’s coastline.

In Congress, Sanford has said in the past that he believes any decision on exploration should be left up to the individual states, but explained to The Post and Courier in Charleston that “the specter of (operations) offshore doesn’t fit with the look or feel our tourists know,” he said. Tourism is our state’s biggest economic engine, and we shouldn’t jeopardize that resource. We don’t need the debilitating economic blow that can result from an oil spill.

The bill considered by the House last week doesn’t show leadership on energy policies.
 
The U.S. needs to unlock a smarter energy platform, but offshore shoreline clearly isn’t the answer.
 Special thanks to Richard Charter

The Maritime Executive: Interior releases 5-Year Plan for Offshore Oil & Gas Exploration and Development for 2017–2022



June 13, 2014
First Step in Proposed Offshore Leasing Program
BY MAREX
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Acting Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Walter Cruickshank announced the first step in a robust public engagement process to develop the next schedule of potential offshore oil and gas lease sales.

The publication in the Federal Register of a Request for Information (RFI) and Comments on the Preparation of the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program (RFI) is the initial step in the multi-year planning process and does not identify any specific course of action. Per statute and consistent with previous efforts, BOEM will evaluate all of the OCS planning areas during this first stage.

Today’s publication of a RFI begins a 45-day comment period. Substantial public involvement and extensive analysis will accompany all stages of the planning process, which will take up to three years to complete.

“The development of the next Five Year Program will be a thorough and open process that incorporates stakeholder input and uses the best available science to develop a proposed offshore oil and gas program that creates jobs and safely and responsibly meets the energy needs of the nation,” said Secretary Jewell. “Today marks the first step of engaging interested parties across the spectrum to balance the various uses and values inherent in managing the resources of federal offshore waters that belong to all Americans and future generations.”

The OCS Lands Act requires the Secretary of the Interior, through BOEM, to prepare and maintain a schedule of proposed oil and gas lease sales in federal waters, indicating the size, timing and location of auctions that would best meet national energy needs for the five-year period following its approval. In developing the Five Year Program, the Secretary is required to achieve an appropriate balance among the potential for environmental impacts, for discovery of oil and gas, and for adverse effects on the coastal zone.

“In issuing the RFI, BOEM does not propose to schedule sales in particular areas, or make any preliminary decisions on what areas will be included in the schedule,” said BOEM Acting Director Cruickshank. “Rather, the RFI provides an opportunity for interested parties to submit comments and suggestions about the potential for leasing and to identify environmental and other concerns and uses that may be affected by offshore leasing.”

BOEM seeks a wide array of input, including information on the economic, social and environmental values of all OCS resources, as well as the potential impact of oil and gas exploration and development on other resource values of the OCS and the marine, coastal and human environments.

Using the information received, BOEM will prepare a Draft Proposed Program, followed by a Proposed Program and a Proposed Final Program. Throughout the planning process, BOEM consults with all interested parties and seeks additional public comment. Concurrently, BOEM will prepare a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) required by the National Environmental Policy Act to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of various OCS oil and gas leasing alternatives under the Proposed Program and to help inform decisions on the Proposed Final Program.

The current Five Year Program for 2012-2017, which expires in August 2017, schedules 15 potential lease sales in six planning areas with the greatest resource potential, including more than 75 percent of the estimated undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in federal offshore waters. BOEM has held five sales thus far, including annual auctions in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico and a single sale in the portion of the Eastern Gulf not subject to the Congressional moratorium.

These five auctions offered more than 60 million offshore acres and leased 4.3 million of those, generating more than $2.3 billion in high bids. The sixth lease sale in August 2014 will offer 21 million OCS acres in the Western Gulf of Mexico. Off Alaska, the current Five Year Program includes one potential sale each for the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea and Cook Inlet planning areas.

BOEM currently manages about 6,200 active OCS leases, covering more than 33 million acres – the vast majority in the Gulf of Mexico. Of those, 1,064 are producing leases, covering 5.2 million producing acres – the highest acreage under production since 2008. In 2013, OCS oil and gas leases accounted for about 18 percent of domestic oil production and 5 percent of domestic natural gas production. This production generates billions of dollars in revenue for state and local governments and the U.S. taxpayer, while supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Under the RFI published today, BOEM will accept comments until July 30, 2014 in either of the following ways: On BOEM’s website. Click on the “Open Comment Documents” link and follow instructions to view relevant documents and submit comments. In written form, deliver to: Ms. Kelly Hammerle, Five Year Program Manager; Bureau of Ocean Energy Management; 381 Elden Street – HM-3120; Herndon, Virginia 20170. Additional information on the process of developing the next Five-Year Program as well as on the current Five Year Program can be found here.
Special thanks to Richard Charter

WWNT Radio: Senators Push Administration for Expanded Offshore Drilling in Next 5-Year OCS Leasing Plan

http://www.wwntradio.com/news/news.php/displayType/article/16448/2014/06/senators-push-administration-for-expanded-offshore-drilling-in-next-5year-ocs-leasing-plan
 
25 Jun 2014 3:07 PM
 
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, along with Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), and Tim Scott (R-S.C.) sent a letter to Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Department of Interior, regarding the Department’s oil and gas leasing plan for 2017 through 2022 on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).
 
“You now have a final opportunity during the Obama Administration to put forward a plan that will not only generate substantial government revenues, create jobs, and improve the economy of our nation, but also could yield long-term geopolitical benefits through ensuring a decreased reliance on foreign resources,” wrote the Senators. “Given the tremendously positive impacts that opening these waters to new drilling would have, we respectfully advise that now is not the time to play politics with such a decision.”
 
In the letter, the Senators request that Interior’s 5-year leasing plan includes the expansion of offshore access to include areas off the Atlantic Coast, the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, areas off the coast of Southern California, and multiple areas off the Alaska shoreline that the Obama Administration had previously placed off-limits. A recent study concluded that developing oil and gas resources in the Pacific OCS and Eastern Gulf alone would generate more than 200,000 jobs and add $218 billion to the U.S. economy.
 
Since President Obama was elected, Vitter has been urging the Administration to stop putting large portions of the OCS off limits for leasing. The President’s current 5-year leasing plan is only half of what the previous plan was and keeps 85 percent offshore areas closed. At the beginning of this Congress, Vitter
introduced legislation that would force the administration to go back to the previous 5-year leading plan that was scheduled before Obama was elected. Vitter also introduced the Energy Production and Project Delivery Act that increases domestic production, expedites important reviews for major energy projects, and could create millions of jobs.
 
Text of today’s letter is below.
Click here for the PDF version.
 
 
June 25, 2014
 
The Honorable Sally Jewell
Secretary
Department of Interior
1849 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20240
 
Dear Secretary Jewell:
 
Beginning the process of developing the Department of Interior’s (DOI) next 5-year leasing plan is an important step to furthering our nation’s goals of providing a secure, stable source of domestic energy, leading us towards energy independence and improving our hobbled economy.  This latest leasing plan, which will govern oil and gas leasing for 2017-2022 on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), should serve as an important step in rectifying the self-inflicted damage done by President Obama’s moratorium on energy development in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the unnecessary termination of the proposed 2010-2015 leasing program that would have rightfully expanded, rather than restricted, access to our federal offshore resources.
 
As we have pointed out in the past, Section 18 of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) requires that these 5-year leasing plans be designed to “best meet national energy needs for the 5-year period following its approval.”  The Administration clearly failed to follow the intent of the OCSLA in the previous lease plan by placing over 85% of America’s OCS off-limits to energy production and offering the lowest number of offshore lease sales ever offered in the history of the process.  You now have a final opportunity during the Obama Administration to put forward a plan that will not only generate substantial government revenues, create jobs, and improve the economy of our nation as well as states and localities, but could have long-term geopolitical benefits through ensuring a decreased reliance on foreign resources in light of a deteriorating situation in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
 
The current Obama DOI lease plan, under which you are currently operating, excludes areas of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) where expansion had significant bipartisan support.  In response, the House of Representatives has sent a clear signal by passing multiple bipartisan bills that call for opening new offshore areas that the Obama administration placed off-limits in their misguided 2012-2017 lease plan. Further, a bipartisan coalition of governors from Gulf Coast and Mid-Atlantic states have recognized the significant economic and job creation benefits of offshore energy production and have repeatedly encouraged the administration to expand offshore access to states that have been blocked from participating in the process. The administration’s lost opportunity included leasing off the Atlantic Coast, significant acreage in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, areas off the coast of Southern California, and multiple areas off the Alaska shoreline.  If this new lease plan is to have any credibility, it is imperative that these areas be opened and included in the new plan.
 
Study after study has shown the positive impacts of expanding offshore oil and gas development in regions that this Administration has blocked.  A study by Wood Mackenzie concluded that developing oil and gas resources in the Pacific OCS and Eastern Gulf alone would generate more than 200,000 jobs and add $218 billion to the U.S. economy.  A recent study by Quest Offshore Resources also found that oil and gas development in the Atlantic could generate nearly 280,000 jobs, expanding the U.S. economy by up to $23.5 billion.  To further underscore the incredible economic potential of offshore oil and gas development, previous reports have even found that simply speeding up permitting could create hundreds of thousands of jobs nationally and over 155,000 in our states alone. 
 
The opportunity for offshore oil and natural gas production provides a significantly positive contrast when compared to offshore wind energy production, which the Administration has spent significant resources pushing.  Wind leases net the government $1 to $2 per acre versus $100 per acre for oil and natural gas energy resources in the deepwater.  In addition, there is strong indication that the royalty rate for wind energy is a fraction of the tax credit it receives, meaning the government will end up with a net loss of revenue on each project. Moreover, we are unaware of any operating offshore wind facility at this stage despite significant commitment of resources and time by this Administration.  With the wind energy production tax subsidy slated to expire at the end of 2014, we cannot imagine any circumstances in which an offshore wind farm is competitive and question why the Administration has devoted many resources to promoting the offshore wind industry when the benefits of developing more domestic oil and gas are proven. 
 
A recent analysis by Mark P. Mills, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, found the following:
 
 * In the 10 states at the epicenter of oil & gas growth, overall statewide employment gains have greatly outpaced the national average.
 * A broad array of small and midsize oil & gas companies are propelling record economic and jobs gains-not just in the oil fields but across the economy.
 * America’s hydrocarbon revolution and its associated job creation are almost entirely the result of drilling & production by more than 20,000 small and midsize businesses, not a handful of “Big Oil” companies. In fact, the typical firm in the oil & gas industry employs fewer than 15 people.
 * The shale oil & gas revolution has been the nation’s biggest single creator of solid, middle-class jobs-throughout the economy, from construction to services to information technology.
 * In recent years, America’s oil & gas boom has added $300-$400 billion annually to the economy.  Without this contribution, GDP growth would have been negative and the nation would have continued to be in recession.
 
Given the tremendously positive impacts that opening these waters to new drilling would have on our struggling economy, the massive job creation an expanded plan would yield, and the foreign policy benefits from expanding domestic fossil fuel production as unrest increases in areas of the world such as the Middle East and Russia, we respectfully advise that now is not the time to play politics with such a decision.  This administration and the DOI should take this opportunity to strengthen both the American economy as well as our geopolitical standing by issuing a 5-year leasing plan that expands offshore access to new areas consistent with our nation’s energy and economic needs.
 
 
Sincerely,
 
David Vitter
U.S. Senator
Louisiana
 
Roger Wicker
U.S. Senator
Mississippi
 
Jeff Sessions
U.S. Senator
Alabama
 
Tim Scott
U.S. Senator
South Carolina
Special thanks to Richard Charter

ABC News: Greenpeace Boards 2 Drill Rigs in Arctic Protest

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/greenpeace-boards-drill-rigs-arctic-protest-23878100

Greenpeace activists boarded a drilling rig hundreds of miles offshore Norway and another in the Netherlands in a protest Tuesday against oil and gas exploration in Arctic waters.

Juha Aromaa, a spokesman for the environmental group, said 15 activists boarded a rig operated by Norwegian energy company Statoil about 109 miles (175 kilometers) off the Bear Island nature reserve early Tuesday without encountering any resistance from the onboard crew.

Statoil was given the green light to drill in the northern part of the Barents Sea late Monday by Norway’s government. The rig had been on a government-ordered hiatus after Greenpeace complained that a spill in the Arctic could have disastrous environmental consequences.

Norwegian police were not planning to intervene because the rig had not started drilling and was therefore under the jurisdiction of the flag state, the Marshall Islands, said Ole Saeverud, police chief in the northern city of Tromsoe.

Erlend Tellnes, a Norwegian protester on board the rig, said the activists had enough supplies for “a long time” and could get supplied again from shore if necessary.

“We have a lot of food and we are prepared to stay here as long as we can,” he said by telephone, adding that there was a “fairly good relationship” between the activists and the workers on the rig.

In a statement, Statoil said its safety measures in the “very unlikely” event of an oil spill were robust, and described the Greenpeace action as irresponsible and illegal.

Also Tuesday, Greenpeace said 30 activists in the Dutch port of Ijmuiden boarded a rig contracted by Russia’s Gazprom to drill in the Pechora Sea. Greenpeace said they were removed after five hours.

The Arctic is believed to hold an estimated 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its untapped gas. Those resources are expected to become easier to access as climate change melts the frozen region.

 

Special thanks to Richard Charter

 

Clean Ocean Action: Memorial Day Action at Rutgers University opposes Seismic Testing off New Jersey

**For Immediate Release**

May 21, 2014

Contact Clean Ocean Action at (732) 872-0111:
Jennifer Cubias, Press Inquiries

To Stop Rutgers Ocean Blasting Study
Citizens Launch Campaign over Memorial Day Weekend!
Fishing, Boating, and Environmental Groups unite to
Save Marine Life and Jersey Shore Economies;
Banner Planes to Fly

WHAT: The clock is ticking-Citizens will launch a public awareness campaign to stop the study lead by Rutgers University that will blast the ocean floor with devastatingly harmful sounds to track historical changes in sea level rise, set to begin June 3, 2014. An update and status of the issues will be discussed; banner planes will fly overhead which will be flown along the Shore over the holiday weekend; petition drive and letters to key decision makers will also be released.

WHO: Clean Ocean Action, commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, commercial boaters and concerned citizens. Elected officials have been invited.

WHEN: Friday, May 23, 2014, 11:00am
The Fisherman’s Dock Cooperative
57 Channel Drive
Point Pleasant Beach, NJ 08742

WHY: As the Memorial Weekend kicks off the summer tourist season, it is imperative citizens and tourists know the pending impacts this study could have on their time at the Shore. The Jersey Shore economies are at stake as the technologies used in this study will impact all marine life in the area, with effects ranging from harassment to death, including mammal strandings on beaches.

PHOTO OP: Commercial fishing docks with boats, Charter boats nearby, banner plane with campaign slogan/call-to-action, retail fish market.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Fuel Fix: Offshore regulators to keep eye on bad actors

Fuel Fix

http://fuelfix.com/blog/2014/05/08/offshore-regulators-to-keep-eye-on-bad-actors/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Posted on May 8, 2014 at 6:29 pm by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

HOUSTON – Maritime and drilling regulators vowed Thursday to keep a closer watch on oil companies and contractors they say are consistently cutting corners on safety offshore.

The Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for prevention policy, Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio, and Brian Salerno, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, delivered that message directly to oil industry representatives on the final day of the Offshore Technology Conference.

Servidio said the Coast Guard will consider launching unannounced inspections of oil and gas industry vessels after some logged more than five deficiencies during scheduled probes.

“There are significant areas of concern, and we have a ways to go with some vessels and some companies,” Servidio said.

While acknowledging some offshore supply vessels and mobile offshore drilling units have come through examinations without problems, and still others have worked to improve their performance, Servidio said some still are falling short. “There are other companies where we find the same problems over and over again,” he said.

The Coast Guard already conducts unannounced inspections of some cruise ships – and that same model could be applied to oil industry vessels with bad track records.

“We will be looking at expanding oversight on those vessels and those companies that have demonstrated significantly above average trends and deficiencies, and we will take appropriate control and enforcement actions where needed,” Servidio said. “We’re looking at the potential for instituting no-notice exams for the small population of vessels whose performance and commitment to safety may be in question.”

Salerno said the safety bureau he heads, which regulates offshore drilling, also sees evidence of spotty performance, with a few repeat offenders mingled among companies with deep commitments to the safety and environmental management systems now required to minimize process risks offshore.

“There are companies we have encountered that think they can cut corners or regard SEMS as just a plan on a shelf,” Salerno said. “In some tragic cases, lives have been lost – needlessly – for failure to follow established safety processes.”

A spate of recent accidents have highlighted the risks of offshore oil and gas development – even in shallow waters close to shore.

In its probe of a fatal Gulf of Mexico oil platform blast that killed three workers in November 2012, the safety bureau blamed Houston-based Black Elk Energy and its contractors for failing to make sure areas were cleared of explosive gas before welding.
The agency also is investigating what caused a welder to fall to his death while dismantling an Energy Resource Technology platform in the Gulf last October.

Salerno did not name names, but he said his view about bad actors offshore “was formed as a result of actual events.”

“Incidents occur and we investigate them,” he said. “We look at the reasons why they have occurred, and in many cases, you can point to a failure to follow pretty well-established safety principles. A lot of what we have seen in the incidents is very, very preventable, and when you read the reports, you say, ‘how can that have happened?'”

Salerno, who has spent nine months leading the safety bureau, said he wants the agency to focus its attention on the riskiest operations and the most problem-prone companies.

That risk-based approach wouldn’t mean companies with good track records would escape inspections altogether, Salerno said, but data could be used to justify spending less time on some operators with proven performance and more time on those “where there are clear problems.”

The safety bureau has asked a national laboratory to help it develop a robust risk methodology.

The agency is also looking to step up its technological know how – and keep updating its regulations – as the oil and gas industry sets its sight on reservoirs with bone-crushing pressures and 350-degree temperatures miles below the sea floor.
That’s a big challenge, Salerno admitted.

The industry “sets a very aggressive pace,” Salerno said.

“Regulations have always had a tough time keeping up with technological change; for that matter, industry standards are having a tough time keeping up as well,” Salerno said. “And that has become even more of a problem as the pace of technological innovation and change has accelerated.”

Charlie Williams, Brian Salerno and Coast Guard Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio discuss safety during an OTC panel Thursday.
Special thanks to Richard Charter.

Houston Chronicle: Efficient use of water called key to future energy projects

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/energy/conferences/article/New-rules-coming-for-retiring-offshore-oil-5458587.php

May 8,2014 by Matthew Tresaugue

Water may be everywhere in the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s becoming increasingly scarce in many other areas where oil and gas is produced. “Water is already a crucial issue and will shape the future,” said Emmanuel Garland, an environmental expert for Total Exploration, during an Offshore Technology Conference session Tuesday.

Energy companies consume water for drilling and cooling, among other uses, and it now accounts for up to 25 percent of project costs, Garland said.

At the same time, less water is available because of swelling population, worsening water quality and a changing climate. The National Climate Assessment released Tuesday by the Obama administration showed that the Gulf Coast is especially vulnerable to higher temperatures and decreased availability of water.

Moving forward, companies must limit consumption, increase reuse of wastewater and reduce the impact of discharges on the environment, Garland said, because future operating licenses probably will depend on a company’s demonstrated ability to conserve water.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Houston Chronicle: New rules coming for retiring offshore oil structures & Norwegian Company Plans Underwater ‘factories’

http://www.houstonchronicle.com/business/energy/conferences/article/New-rules-coming-for-retiring-offshore-oil-5458587.php

May 6, 2014 | Updated: May 6, 2014 11:06pm
by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

Tommy Beaudrieu

Tommy Beaudreau says new rules are coming on the decommissioning of old offshore oil infrastructure.

New regulations governing the decommissioning of old offshore oil infrastructure are on the horizon, a top Obama administration official said Tuesday. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will begin tackling the issue this summer, said Tommy Beaudreau, the former director of the agency. Although Beaudreau did not give specifics during a presentation at the Offshore Technology Conference, the coming regulations are expected to deal with concerns that existing bonding requirements for oil and gas companies are insufficient in an era of ultradeep exploration far from the coast.

“This will be an open, transparent process on how we meet these challenges around aging infrastructure and decommissioning,” said Beaudreau, who is now chief of staff to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The issue is a live one as some of the oldest deep-water wells in the Gulf of Mexico reach the end of their lives and companies look to dismantle the operations. Randall Luthi, the head of the National Ocean Industries Association and a former federal drilling regulator, said any changes should embrace rigs-to-reefs programs designed to allow old structures to have new lives as a habitat for marine life.

Norwegian company plans underwater ‘factories’ by Ryan Holeywell

Statoil wants to build huge underwater “factories” by 2020 that would sit on the seabed as they produce and process natural gas offshore.
The effort would be the culmination of work the Norwegian oil and gas company has pursued since 1986, when it drilled its first subsea wells, said Ola Anders Skauby, Statoil’s vice president of communication, technology, projects and drilling.

Statoil’s 500 undersea wells now account for half of its energy production, and its plan is to put almost every component needed for that work underwater in some locations, in part to insulate personnel and technology from difficult conditions. The company says subsea factories will be vital in parts of the world that are farthest from shore in deep, cold, harsh environments. One key to making them work is development of giant undersea gas compressors to boost production. Statoil is set to deploy a pair of those devices next year off the coast of Norway at a site called Åsgard.

“It’s as large as a soccer stadium – something you put on the seafloor,” Skauby told the Houston Chronicle. Compressors typically are placed on surface facilities. Building and installing the two compressors will cost $2.7 billion, but Statoil projects they will increase production in the Åsgard fields by at least 282 million barrels of oil equivalent. Subsea factories also will include an electrical power source and machinery to separate oil, gas and water. Statoil already operates a commercial separator off the coast of Norway. “We have that technology today,” Skauby said.

Still, subsea is costly and only will take hold where the economics make sense, he said.

__________
Black Elk rig

The Black Elk Energy platform is submerged at South Timbalier Block 185 in the Gulf of Mexico. OceanGate, a Seattle-based provider of deep-water submersible vessels, has released a new crop of underwater images from the federal Rigs to Reefs program, showing sea creatures swimming among the steel legs of an old Black Elk Energy platform. The manned submersibles typically are contracted for deep-water research and filming of shipwrecks and underwater life. But OceanGate made its first dive to observe an oil facility in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Miami Herald: CUBA EMBARGO Revise restrictions to ensure safe oil drilling

http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/05/03/4094534/revise-restrictions-to-ensure.html

Posted on Saturday, 05.03.14

BY WILLIAM K. REILLY AND BOB GRAHAM

After an unsuccessful round of drilling in 2012 and 2013, Cuba’s oil and gas industry is poised for further deepwater exploration in the Gulf as soon as 2015. As Cuba explores and eventually drills for oil, Florida and neighboring states have a paramount interest in ensuring that Cuba’s drilling operators employ the highest safety standards and the best available technology. From our experience with the BP tragedy, failure to meet these standards would seriously threaten Florida’s economy and environment.

A half-century of trade and travel restrictions separates the United States and Cuba. And yet the island’s northern boundary floats just 50 miles from southern Florida. For communities in southern Florida whose commerce, especially tourism, depends on a healthy marine system, an oil spill would be disastrous. Coral reefs and mangroves, such as those found in the Everglades, Biscayne National Park and the Florida Keys, serve as protective barriers from hurricanes. They also provide critical nurseries for species that support commercial and recreational fisheries on the east coast.

Earlier this year in Havana, we met with top energy and environmental officials in Cuba to assess the country’s preparation to mitigate an oil spill in Cuba’s Gulf waters. After successive meetings, we left with a new realization of Cuba’s imminent intention to explore for oil. Seismic studies indicate the potential for commercial-scale oil and gas deposits, and the instability of Venezuela, Cuba’s main oil provider, is further incentive.

We are confident that Cuba is adopting standards in line with the recommendations developed by President Obama’s National Commission on the BP Oil Spill and the Future of Offshore Drilling, which we co-chaired. The test will be the capacity to achieve these standards.

Given Cuba’s limited human and material resources and lack of substantial experience regulating deepwater oil and gas exploration, the United States should revise embargo-related restrictions to foster the highest standards of safe drilling. It is beyond our intentions to advocate for a total lifting of the embargo; rather, we urge for modifications to specific provisions to achieve maximum protection from a BP-type accident. One such restriction in need of modification is the U.S. sanction that prevents Cuba and its contractors from acquiring advanced technology with more than 10 percent U.S. content. Only one drilling rig in the world qualifies under this criterion.

U.S. travel and export restrictions further limit spill response in the Gulf of Mexico as they prohibit U.S. oil spill mitigation companies from traveling readily to Cuba. This potential danger became a reality during the BP explosion where the delay in capping the surging oil substantially increased the damage. In the aftermath of BP, the U.S. oil and gas industry established two response teams in the Gulf. But under current U.S. embargo restrictions, these response capabilities would not be available in the event of a similar accident in Cuban waters. We therefore urge the president to issue appropriate industry-wide “general” licenses for travel and export so that companies in the oil service and spill response industry can position proper equipment in advance.

The BP oil spill underscored that the Gulf of Mexico waters transcend national boundaries, making all countries sharing the Gulf vulnerable to consequences of a major spill. Within a year of the BP spill, commission representatives and affected U.S. agencies met with Mexican counterparts to coordinate Gulf drilling safety and response. Culminating at the Clean Gulf 2013 conference in Tampa, this dialogue now includes the Bahamas, Jamaica, and Cuba. The result was the establishment of the Multi-Lateral Technical Operating Procedure (MTOP) to institute safety protocols in the event of a cross-border spill. While this was a substantial start, more needs to be done. Appropriate agencies in the U.S. government should brief oil companies on safety procedures in the agreement. To strengthen their oversight of drilling in the Gulf, these agencies would likewise benefit from creating channels for the exchange of expertise and training between Cuban and U.S. personnel.

Given Cuba’s serious pursuit of offshore drilling and the potential risk of an oil spill, the slow pace of U.S. preparedness greatly concerns us. To avoid environmental and economic damages reminiscent of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the United States must relax equipment restrictions. It must take comprehensive actions to facilitate cross-border exchange of best practices, mitigation training and response strategies. Until such steps are in place, we cannot be satisfied that every possible measure has been taken to preserve the economic and ecological wellbeing of the Gulf of Mexico.

William K. Reilly, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Bob Graham, former governor and senator from Florida, co-chaired the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.
Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/05/03/4094534/revise-restrictions-to-ensure.html#storylink=cpy

Special thanks to Richard Charter

OilPrice.com: Problems At Petrobras Mount As Brazil’s Oil Production Stagnates

http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Problems-At-Petrobras-Mount-As-Brazils-Oil-Production-Stagnates.html

By Nick Cunningham | Tue, 06 May 2014 22:06 | 0
e
For the past 30 years or so, Brazil has increased its oil production every year. Brazil’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, has become a world class producer of offshore drilling technology, which puts it in a good position for the future, as oil comes from increasingly difficult places to reach.

In the 1980s, Brazil’s oil production was negligible, but by 2010, it was pumping 2.7 million barrels of liquid fuels per day (bpd). By the mid-2000s, the trend line seemed to be inexorably rising upwards, and with the huge oil discoveries in 2007 in Brazil’s pre-salt basins – oil reserves that are trapped beneath a thick layer of salt – many observers believed Brazil was destined to become an oil superpower.

But then something happened. Since 2010, oil production has flattened out entirely. In 2013, Brazil averaged only 2.7 million bpd of oil production, which is where it was three years ago.

Petrobras’ performance over the last few years deserves some of the blame, and a steady stream of reports point to mismanagement within the company as why. A former executive was arrested in March for money laundering in connection with a gang. The company is conducting an internal investigation because of allegations that top company officials accepted bribes from a Dutch company in exchange for awarding contracts.

Local content rules are also hampering production. With Brazilian oil service companies booked up, there is a shortage of labor, leaving Petrobras and its partners struggling to find enough qualified contractors. Not only has this raised costs, but it has also delayed projects. Most recently, Brazil’s oil regulator ANP recommended a delay of further auctions for offshore blocks until 2015, so that local service companies could absorb all the demand.

Petrobras’ problems were perfectly summed up in an April mishap. According to Reuters, Saipem SpA, an Italian contractor working at a Petrobras-run oil field in the Atlantic Ocean, managed to drop a 2.3 kilometer steel pipe deep into the ocean. Saipem was trying to attach the pipe to a drilling rig, but it sank 1,800 meters (5,900 feet) to the ocean floor. Damaged and lost to sea, the $2 million pipe is not recoverable. That’s only the beginning – the lost pipe could set the project back by more than a month, costing Petrobras tens of millions more.

The incident fits a pattern – several other rigs in nearby oil fields are also behind schedule, including Parque da Baleias off the coast of the state of Espirito Santo, and Papa Terra near Rio de Janeiro.

But the problem is deeper than just bad management. The state-owned oil company is used as a tool to achieve policy goals by the government, such as subsidizing fuel prices for drivers, which has cost the company $37 billion since 2011.

All of these problems have caused Petrobras to claim the mantle of the world’s most indebted and least profitable major oil company. It has amassed $114.3 billion in debt, and according to Moody’s, Petrobras owes $11.50 for every barrel of oil it has yet to produce. Its share price has cratered, losing half of its value since 2010.

The stagnating oil industry is becoming a hotter political issue in Brazil. Whether true or not, it fits the narrative of how corruption at the highest levels is causing the economy to stagnate. And the angry protests in several major cities last year demonstrated voter frustration as Brazil heads into this fall’s presidential election.

Brazil’s political opposition is using Petrobras’ woes in an effort to unseat President Dilma Rousseff. But she continues to back the firm, which is a symbol of nation pride. “No one and nothing will destroy Petrobras,” she told a crowd of oil workers and supporters in April in the state of Pernambuco. “Petrobras is bigger than all of us. Petrobras is as big as Brazil.” Her fate, as well the country’s, hinges on the performance of Brazil’s largest company.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com Special thanks to Richard Charter

Platts: BP has record 11 deepwater rigs running in Gulf of Mexico: BP America CEO

http://www.platts.com/latest-news/oil/houston/bp-has-record-11-deepwater-rigs-running-in-gulf-21576914

Houston (Platts)–5May2014/414 pm EDT/2014 GMT

Four years after the Macondo oil spill, BP has 11 operated rigs running in the US Gulf of Mexico, the most the company has ever had there at one time, BP America’s CEO said Monday.

BP will spend $10 billion over the next five years in the deepwater US Gulf, which amounts to about 10% of its worldwide exploration and production budget and makes the company the largest investor in that arena, said John Minge, who is also BP America’s chairman and CEO.

“Our business is back; it’s strong and it’s gaining momentum,” Minge said. “It wasn’t long ago when the common belief was that the region was played out, that deepwater wasn’t going to work and it was better to head off to other places. But we had [employees] who said there’s more there, and convinced the leadership to invest further.”

Minge was enthusiastic over energy reforms in Mexico that could lead to new opportunities for the company in that country, particularly in the upstream deepwater.

Mexico’s so-called “secondary legislation” on energy reform– the fine print and terms — was sent to the Mexican Congress last week for approval later this year. The first bid round is expected in mid-2015.

“We’re excited about developments in Mexico, particularly offshore,” he said at the opening of the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston. “We think the resource base will be similar to what we’re exploring on the US side of the border.”

Not only is BP the largest investor in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, it also is the largest leaseholder there, with about 620 blocks, Minge said. The company has explored in waters of 1,200 feet deep or greater since the mid-1980s.

On April 20, 2010, the BP-operated Macondo deepwater well offshore Louisiana blew out, causing the US’ largest offshore oil spill. As a result, deepwater exploration came to a virtual standstill for about nine months while the federal government formulated and implemented stricter offshore regulation.

Moreover, in late 2012, the US Environmental Protection Agency imposed a Macondo-related ban on the award of federal contracts to BP, including US Gulf leases. As a result, BP sat out three subsequent federal lease sales, although it reached a settlement with the EPA just days before the most recent sale in March. As a result, the company participated in that sale where it was apparent high bidder on 24 of 31 blocks.

BP ‘READY TO GO’ IN MEXICO

BP has four major production hubs in the US Gulf: Thunder Horse, Atlantis, Mad Dog and Na Kika. It has also made three ultra-deep Paleogene discoveries in recent years, sited largely in the Keathley Canyon area of the US Gulf: Kaskida, Tiber and last December, Gila. The Paleogene is sited in the remote southwest US Gulf in waters that can be more than a mile and a half deep and at total depths more than six miles below the seabed.

Among BP’s 11 deepwater rigs are three Thunder Horse alone, according to federal offshore records. The company is also drilling a wildcat at Keathley Canyon block 57 in 4,065 feet of water. Government records show BP procured the lease in 2003 for a nominal $500,000; it now has a 62% stake, while Brazil’s Petrobras has 20% and ConocoPhillips has 18%.

Owing to what Minge called pioneering technologies BP has developed to allow better deepwater reservoir imaging, data collection and recoveries, the company expects operating cash flow from the US Gulf “to grow to 2020 and beyond,” he said.

BP also has a minority stake in the Shell-operated Perdido Hub, which produces some of the deepest and most remote offshore discoveries in the world. The hub, offshore Texas, is just a handful of miles from Mexican waters, where the ultra-deep Perdido Fold Belt reservoir also spans that country’s offshore. Mexican state oil and gas company Pemex has drilled some wells there and global oil companies may be able to bid on blocks in the area as early as next year. They will also be able to joint-venture with Pemex on the company’s tracts there.

Minge said he believes Mexico “will absolutely compete for capital” within BP.

“We’re ready to go if [Mexico is] ready to have us,” he said.

–Starr Spencer, starr.spencer@platts.com –Edited by Richard Rubin, richard.rubin@platts.com

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Reuters: Bird reproduction collapsed after oil spill Study of shag colonies on Spanish coast shows lingering effect of 2002 Prestige disaster

by Matt Kaplan

30 April 2014

volunteer workers
Jose Manuel Ribeiro/REUTERS
Volunteer workers drag fuel oil spilled by the Prestige tanker at Muxia beach, in northwestern Spain, in December 2002.

Oil spills kill a lot of wildlife quickly, but their long-term effects are hard to establish because to compare the situation before and after a disaster, a study would need to have been already up and running before the disaster occurred. Fortunately, this was precisely the case for a Spanish team of researchers.

Back in 1994, marine biologist Álvaro Barros and his colleagues at Spain’s University of Vigo started looking at the reproductive activity of 18 colonies of a diving bird known as the European shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis). Then, on 13 November 2002, the hull of the Prestige oil tanker broke in half off the north-western coast of Spain, releasing 63,000 tonnes of oil. The oil heavily coated regions near seven of the colonies, and mostly missed the other 11, creating ‘oiled’ and ‘unoiled’ populations for the researchers to compare.

The team now reports in Biology Letters1 that reproductive success was 45% lower in oiled populations compared with unoiled colonies, whereas it had been much the same before the spill. The researchers measured reproductive success by counting how many fully grown young emerged from each nest. This number averaged 1.6 for both oiled and control colonies before the spill. Afterwards, while the control colonies maintained the 1.6 figure, the number for the birds in the oiled colonies dropped to 1.0.

“We just don’t have much information on long-term oil-spill effects. That this team was able to compare colonies like this over so many years makes the findings very valuable,” explains ecologist David Grémillet at the CNRS Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology in Montpellier, France.

Barros and his team did not investigate why reproductive success was so much lower in the oiled colonies, but speculate from their knowledge of other studies that it resulted from wider ecological damage. “It looks like many of the shags’ preferred prey were wiped out, and that a lot of oil pollutants got incorporated into the ecosystem. This would certainly harm their ability to reproduce,” Barros explains.

Nature
doi:10.1038/nature.2014.15130

References

Barros, A., Álvarez, D. & Velando, A. Biol. Lett. http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2013.1041 (2014).

E&E: NAS oil spill report emboldens drilling foes

Margaret Kriz Hobson, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, April 24, 2014

A new scientific study that concludes the United States lacks the resources and scientific data necessary to adequately respond to an Arctic oil spill is energizing the environmental community’s campaign to ban oil drilling in the ice-laden waters.

The comprehensive National Academy of Sciences report released yesterday found that the federal government needs additional response tools, personnel and infrastructure to address oil spills in America’s Arctic (Greenwire, April 23).

The panel called for expanded, on-the-ground research to improve oil cleanup technologies for use in the Arctic’s extreme weather and environmental conditions.
Researchers also suggested that oil spill responders need “improved port and air access, stronger supply chains, and increased capacity to handle equipment, supplies, and personnel.”

However, the study concludes that oil spill response improvements have been set back by a lack of federal funding to address those deficiencies.

Several environmental groups responded to the scientific report by demanding an end to oil development in the American Arctic, at least until the government finds more effective ways to handle oil spills in the frigid North.

Margaret Williams, managing director of Arctic programs for the World Wildlife Fund, said the Obama administration “should not approve further Arctic oil and gas leasing or specific activities unless and until spill prevention and response technologies are proven effective in this harsh environment.”

Lois Epstein, Arctic program director for the Wilderness Society, said the report “documents the reasons why we cannot clean up — and are unlikely to ever effectively recover — a significant percentage of oil from any major spill into the Arctic Ocean.”

“We need to decide as a country if it makes sense to risk the near-pristine Arctic Ocean environment now that we know there is little that can be done to clean up major oil spills,” Epstein said.

Sierra Club Alaska Program Director Dan Ritzman said the NAS report reinforces the environmental community’s concerns that “we shouldn’t be drilling in the Arctic Ocean.”

But Charles Ebinger, director of the Brookings Institution’s Energy Security Initiative, disagreed, arguing that the report is just the most recent evidence that the federal government should fund more Arctic research and resources.

“Certainly we need to spend a lot more on resources, beef up the Coast Guard’s capabilities, make sure that we have onshore supporting infrastructure in place in the event of an accident of any kind,” he said.

“All of that has to be done. But that’s a question of allocation of resources. That’s not saying the Arctic shouldn’t be drilled in.”

“You’ve got companies moving into Greenland,” Ebinger added. “The Arctic is being developed. It’s a question of whether we’re going to adopt so many restrictions that our Arctic either doesn’t get developed or lags behind.”

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich (D) echoed those concerns. “Arctic development will happen whether we are prepared or not — we’ve already seen significant increases in marine traffic and natural resource exploration by domestic and international interests,” he said.

More studies ahead
The report comes more than a year after Royal Dutch Shell PLC tried — but failed — to become the first company in decades to explore for oil in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas. The company’s 2012 season was marked by equipment problems, unpredictable ice floes and an oil rig grounding.

More recently, Shell’s Arctic drilling efforts have been delayed by a January appeals court decision invalidating the environmental assessment that the Interior Department used to support the federal government’s 2008 lease sale (EnergyWire, April 21).

But once those legal issues are sorted out, oil industry representatives assert, federal regulators should allow Arctic oil exploration to move forward as they improve available oil spill response technologies.

American Petroleum Institute senior policy adviser Richard Ranger said the National Academy study should not be a roadblock to future oil exploration in Alaska’s northern waters.

“Shell demonstrated to the satisfaction of the agency that they possess the capability to respond to a foreseeable spill incident at this exploration stage” in the Arctic, Ranger argued.

“If exploration succeeds in identifying resources for development, then there are a lot of tasks ahead before those resources could be brought online,” he noted. “There would be additional studies needed, additional preparedness and project design to go forward into the next phase of project development.”

Takepart.com: 6 Horrible Oil Spills Since Deepwater Horizon That You Probably Didn’t Hear About

By Kristine Wong | Takepart.com 17 hours ago Takepart.com

On April 20, 2010, the giant Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by Transocean Inc. and operated by BP, exploded some 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 crew members before sinking into the Gulf of Mexico two days later. The rig’s underwater well, called Macondo, was 5,000 feet below sea level. The extreme environment-and, critics contend, lax oversight and governmental regulation-made it hard to stanch the flow of oil into the sea. By the time Macondo was finally capped on July 15, more than 210 million gallons of oil had leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, making it one of the largest environmental disasters in United States history.

Though environmentalists pounced on the accident as an occasion to push for an end to our oil-dependent lifestyles, BP and its big oil brethren have continued to rake in outsize earnings. In 2013, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell took home $93 billion in profits-that’s $177,000 per minute. The accidents haven’t stopped either.

Here are six of the largest oil spills around the world that have occurred since that fateful day nearly four years ago.

Little Buffalo, Alberta
On April 29, 2011, more than 868,000 gallons of crude oil from Plains Midstream Canada’s Rainbow Pipeline spilled into a forest 20 miles from the Lubicon Cree First Nation community of Little Buffalo, Alberta. Three hectares of beaver ponds and swampland were contaminated. Many residents reported experiencing headaches and nausea from the fumes. Two years after the spill, Plains Midstream was fined for violating Canada’s Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act. The spill was considered to be Alberta’s worst in 35 years.

Kalamazoo River, Michigan
A pipeline transporting diluted bitumen-aka tar sands oil-from Ontario, Canada, to Indiana ruptured into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, on July 26, 2010. The size of the spill was initially reported to be 877,000 gallons. But in 2012, the EPA said that cleanup crews recovered 1.1 million gallons of oil and 200,000 cubic yards of oil-contaminated sediment and debris. Three years after the spill, an oil sheen remained on the river, according to The New York Times. Enbridge, the Alberta-based energy company that owned the ruptured pipeline, was fined $3.7 million by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for the incident. The cost of the oil spill has been estimated to exceed $1 billion. Enbridge now wants to build a pipeline transporting tar sands oil through a pristine boreal forest in Western Canada.

Bonga Oil Field, Nigeria
On Dec. 21, 2011, Royal Dutch Shell’s Bonga oil field in Nigeria leaked 1.24 million gallons of oil into the Niger Delta. The Guardian reported that satellite watchdog organization Skytruth posted photos indicating that the spill was 43.5 miles long and covered 356 square miles. Nigerian activist organization Environmental Rights Action told the newspaper that it did not believe Shell’s 1.24-million-gallon claim, saying that the “company consistently under reports the amounts.” Ever year Shell and other companies spill the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez tanker capacity into the Niger Delta.

Lac-Mégantic, Quebec
A 72-car freight train operated by the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway derailed July 6, 2013, in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people and spilling 1.5 million gallons of oil. Half the city’s downtown area was destroyed by a subsequent blast. The spill leaked into the Chaudière River, a waterway that flows to the St. Lawrence River. It took crews 36 hours to extinguish the fires. The cleanup has involved siphoning oil from the river and removing more than 25,000 cubic meters of toxic soil. The rebuilding effort will cost an estimated $200 million. A criminal investigation by the Quebec police is ongoing. 2013 was the worst year ever for oil spills from trains in North America.

Guarapiche River, Venezuela
On Feb. 4, 2012 a ruptured pipeline operated by Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA spilled crude oil into the Guarapiche River, near Maturin. While government officials said they could not determine how much was spilled, one lawmaker (from an opposition party to the government) told media that 1.86 million gallons were spilled. Environment Minister Alejandro Hitcher said that the country had deployed 1,500 workers to clean up the spill. A PDVSA executive later told the state-run news agency AVN that “a good percentage” had been cleaned up, Reuters reported.

Yellow Sea, China
After a pipeline heading to a port in Dalian, China, ruptured on July 16, 2010, the Chinese government said that 461,790 gallons had spilled into the Yellow Sea. But two weeks after the spill, Rick Steiner, a former academic conservationist with the University of Alaska, said that after touring the area, he estimated the volume spilled to be between 18.47 and 27.70 million gallons. That figure, he told The Associated Press, was “at least as large as the official estimate of the Exxon Valdez disaster.” Steiner toured the spill area as a consultant for Greenpeace China, The World Post reported. He calculated his estimates based on his understanding that a 27.7-million-gallon oil storage tanker that had been reportedly filled was destroyed during the incident.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams ‘This Is Not Over’: Gulf Life Still Reeling From Toxic BP Spill

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2014/04/09-6
Published on Wednesday, April 9, 2014
Report on four year anniversary of worst oil disaster in US history details fourteen ailing species
– Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

See powerpoint slide show at: http://www.slideshare.net/NationalWildlife/deepwater-horizonfouryearslater-nationalwildlifefederation?utm_source=slideshow02&utm_medium=ssemail&utm_campaign=share_slideshow

sea turtle
Photo: Jacqueline Orsulak / National Wildlife Federation

Nearly four years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe, plants, animals, and fish in the Gulf of Mexico are still reeling from the toxic spill, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Wildlife Federation.

The report, which arrives just ahead of the disaster’s anniversary, examined 14 species of wildlife in the Gulf and found ongoing impacts of the disaster that could last for decades.

“Four years later, wildlife in the Gulf are still feeling the impacts of the spill,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation. “Bottlenose dolphins in oiled areas are still sick and dying and the evidence is stronger than ever that these deaths are connected to the Deepwater Horizon. The science is telling us that this is not over.”

According to the findings, in 2013 dolphins were dying at three times normal rates, with many suffering from “unusual lung damage” and immune system problems.

In addition to the ongoing plight of dolphins in Gulf waters, the researchers found that every year for the past three years roughly five hundred dead sea turtles are found near the spill, “a dramatic increase over normal rates.” These sea turtles only recently recovered from near extinction—a recovery that has now been drastically threatened by the spill.

“The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle has long been the poster child for the possibilities of restoration in the Gulf,” said Pamela Plotkin, associate research professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University and director of Texas Sea Grant. “Once close to extinction, it has rebounded dramatically over the past thirty years. But four years ago, the numbers of Kemp’s ridley appear to have flat-lined. We need to monitor this species carefully, as the next few years will be critical.”

According to the report, sperm whales in the area are showing higher levels of “DNA-damaging metals” than others in other parts of the world—”metals that were present in oil from BP’s well.”

In addition, deep sea coral colonies, which “provide a foundation for a diverse assortment of marine life,” within seven miles from the site of the spill, were still “heavily impacted.”

Other findings, as stated by the group, include:

Oyster reproduction remained low over large areas of the northern Gulf at least through the fall of 2012.
A chemical in oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill has been shown to cause irregular heartbeats in bluefin and yellowfin tuna that can lead to heart attacks, or even death.
Loons that winter on the Louisiana coast have increasing concentrations of toxic oil compounds in their blood.

“Despite what BP would have you believe, the impacts of the disaster are ongoing,” said Sara Gonzalez-Rothi, the National Wildlife Federation’s senior policy specialist for Gulf and coastal restoration. “Last year, nearly five million pounds of oiled material from the disaster were removed from Louisiana’s coast. And that’s just what we’ve seen. An unknown amount of oil remains deep in the Gulf.”

The Gulf oil disaster—which is the worst in U.S. history—”will likely unfold for years or even decades,” NWF writes. “It is essential that careful monitoring of the Gulf ecosystem continue and that mitigation of damages and restoration of degraded and weakened ecosystems begin as soon as possible.”

Despite the ongoing travesty the Environmental Protection Agency announced last month that it removed its ban on BP contracts in the U.S. and new drilling leases, including in the Gulf of Mexico.

Shortly after, the oil giant won bids to start new drilling operations in two dozen separate locations, a total pricetag of $54 million.

Houston Chronicle: Grippando: Russian drilling in Cuban waters presents problems for U.S.

http://www.chron.com/opinion/outlook/article/Grippando-Russian-drilling-in-Cuban-waters-5359932.php

By James Grippando | March 29, 2014 | Updated: March 29, 2014 2:41pm

cuba
Photo By Javier Galeano/STF
An exploratory drilling rig sits in the waters off Cuba’s northern coast as fishermen work in Havana Bay, Cuba. An exploratory drilling rig sits in the waters off Cuba’s northern coast as fishermen work in Havana Bay, Cuba.

Recent events in Washington have sparked debate about the future environmental safety of thousands of miles of coastline, from Texas to the Florida Keys. Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lifted its ban against BP from offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, in the wake of Russia’s seizure of a natural gas plant in Crimea, the West deliberated sanctions against Russia that could accelerate Russia’s ongoing exploration for natural gas in Cuban waters south of Key West.

Critics argue that BP’s agreement with the EPA comes too soon after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers and caused catastrophic environmental damage. Concerns over the agreement may or may not be valid, but a compelling case can be made that the Russian exploration presents the more vexing problem. While BP will resume drilling under strict supervision and detailed conditions, Russian oil companies are drilling offshore in Cuban waters with no U.S. oversight.

Russia and the giant oil companies it controls are key players in offshore exploratory drilling in Cuban waters. An estimated 5.5 billion barrels of oil and another 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lies beneath a mile or more of ocean in the Cuban basin, midway between Havana and Florida. Last year, the Spanish oil company Repsol drilled just 56 miles from Key West. The project was unsuccessful, but exploration continues.

In January, Bob Graham, a former Florida senator and governor who co-chaired a presidential commission on the Deepwater Horizon spill, reported that Cuba and its state-owned oil company are “aggressively” pursuing plans to drill offshore. Cuba’s primary target is near the maritime border in waters that could be 10,000 to 12,000 feet deep. Experts agree that with the Gulf Stream moving at three to four knots, a Cuban oil spill would affect Florida in just six to 10 days.

What could the U.S. do to avert disaster in the event of a major spill in Cuban waters, particularly one that involves a Russian-controlled drilling operation? BP paid roughly $40 billion in fines and damages for the devastation it caused, and pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Who would hold the Russians and other companies drilling in Cuban waters accountable?

The lack of any diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, let alone a maritime treaty, means that the U.S. cannot be assured of the safety standards in Cuban drilling operations.

In June 2013, the Moscow Times reported that the Russians’ exploratory drilling was cut short due to safety concerns over the “blowout preventer,” the same crucial piece of equipment that was at the heart of the BP spill. The Russian’s self-restraint, however, had nothing to do with U.S. oversight, and there is no guarantee that the Russians will be as cautious going forward, particularly as relations with the U.S. worsen over the crisis in the Ukraine.

The longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba presents huge obstacles. Under the embargo, the massive semisubmersible rigs used in offshore drilling in Cuban waters can contain no more than 10 percent U.S. parts. The embargo makes it difficult if not impossible to obtain replacement parts from U.S. companies, which only heightens the risk of a mishap. The U.S. response to a spill would be equally hamstrung. According to the Council of Foreign Relations, which sent Graham on his recent trip to Cuba, the U.S. Coast Guard would be barred from deploying highly experienced manpower, specially designed booms, skimming equipment and vessels, and dispersants. U.S. offshore gas and oil companies would also be barred from using well-capping stacks, remotely operated submersibles and other vital technologies.

A catastrophe in Cuban waters would leave little time to work through these issues. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, the most, and possibly only, effective response to a spill in the fast-moving Cuban waters would be surface and subsurface dispersants. If dispersants are not applied close to the source within four days after a spill, uncontained oil cannot be dispersed, burned or skimmed, which would render standard response technologies like containment booms ineffective.

The former president of Amoco Oil Latin America, Jose Piñon, now a research fellow at the University of Texas at Austin and a leading authority on Cuban oil exploration, estimates that Cuba has approximately 5 percent of the resources it needs to respond to a spill on the order of Deepwater Horizon. Indeed, the Washington Post reported that the current disaster response plan is to retrofit and deploy aging crop dusters from Cuban farms to dump dispersants. Current U.S. laws and the current status of U.S./Cuba relations raise serious questions as to whether the U.S. could supply the needed resources in time to avert disaster.

It remains to be seen if BP will be a more responsible corporate citizen as it resumes drilling in the Gulf. That BP will improve its safety measures, however, seems much more likely than Russia, and the Russian oil companies that are behind the Cuban exploration, stepping up to save Florida from disaster.

Grippando, counsel to the law firm of Boies Schiller & Flexner, is a New York Times best-selling author. His 21st novel, “Black Horizon,” was published in March by HarperCollins.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

WECT: Energy Council rep. calls on N.C. to split future offshore oil money with coastal counties

http://www.wect.com/story/25019542/energy-council-rep-calls-on-nc-to-split-future-offshore-oil-money-with-coastal-counties

Posted: Mar 19, 2014 12:34 PM PDT
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 3:34 PM EST
Updated: Mar 19, 2014 12:44 PM PDTPM EST
By: Justin Smith – email

At the Energy Policy Council meeting Wednesday in Raleigh, Frank Gorham introduced a proposal that state lawmakers commit to share federal offshore oil revenues with the 20 coastal counties

RALEIGH, NC (WECT) – A New Hanover County member of the N.C. Energy Policy Council says he doesn’t think offshore drilling will ever happen in the Atlantic Ocean off the North Carolina coast unless coastal counties share in the profits.

At the Energy Policy Council meeting Wednesday in Raleigh, Frank Gorham introduced a proposal that state lawmakers commit to share federal offshore oil revenues with the 20 coastal counties. Those communities could use the money for beach renourishment, wetlands restoration, or other needs, he explained.

“I’ve traveled the whole coast, and the number one thing I’m hearing is the coastal communities are seeing only a negative to offshore drilling,” Gorham said, who is chair of the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission.

The Energy Council is a 13 member board of appointees that submits energy policy recommendations to the governor and General Assembly.

Gorham, who explained Texas and Louisiana set aside a large portion of their federal oil royalties for coastal communities, wants the N.C. legislature to agree to give half of any offshore revenue to the coastal counties, but drilling off North Carolina’s coast is not imminent. Gorham estimates seismic testing could be allowed within the next year and a half, with the federal leasing for drilling following several years later.

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, who serves as chair of the N.C. Energy Council, explained conversations have already started in the state regarding revenue sharing for onshore gas. He believes those talks will lead into discussions about offshore revenue.

Forest thinks the Council will be receptive to Gorham’s proposal but said, “the reality of the situation is offshore drilling is really in the hands of the federal government right now. They hold all the cards to that discussion.”

Gorham’s proposal was sent to the Energy Council’s exploration committee for consideration.

Obama Administration to Offer 40 Million Acres in the Gulf of Mexico for Oil and Gas Development–first lease in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico since 2008

“Lease Sale 231 in the Central Planning Area and Lease Sale 225 in the Eastern Planning Area will be held consecutively in New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 19, 2014.”

http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/obama-administration-to-offer-40-million-acres-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-for-oil-and-gas-development.cfm

Department of Interior

Final Notice of Sales for Central and Eastern Planning Areas
02/13/2014

WASHINGTON, DC — As part of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Tommy P. Beaudreau today announced that Interior will offer more than 40 million acres for oil and gas exploration and development in the Gulf of Mexico in March lease sales.

“These lease sales underscore the President’s commitment to create jobs through the safe and responsible exploration and development of the Nation’s domestic energy resources,” said Jewell. “The Five Year Program reflects this Administration’s determination to facilitate the orderly development while protecting the human, marine and coastal environments, and ensuring a fair return to American taxpayers.”

Lease Sale 231 in the Central Planning Area and Lease Sale 225 in the Eastern Planning Area will be held consecutively in New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 19, 2014. The sales will be the fourth and fifth offshore auctions under the Administration’s Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012-2017 (Five Year Program), which makes all areas with the highest-known resource potential available for oil and gas leasing in order to further reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. The lease sales build on the first three sales in the Five Year Program that offered more than 79 million acres for development and garnered $1.4 billion in high bids.

Domestic oil and gas production has grown each year President Obama has been in office, with domestic oil production currently higher than any time in two decades; natural gas production at its highest level ever; and renewable electricity generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources having doubled. Combined with recent declines in oil consumption, foreign oil imports now account for less than 40 percent of the oil consumed in America – the lowest level since 1988.

The Gulf of Mexico contributes about 20 percent of U.S. domestic oil and 6 percent of domestic gas production, providing the bulk of the $14.2 billion in mineral revenue disbursed to Federal, state and American Indian accounts from onshore and offshore energy revenue collections in Fiscal Year 2013.

That was a 17 percent increase over FY 2012 disbursements of $12.15 billion.
“As a critical component of the Nation’s energy portfolio, the Gulf holds vital energy resources that can continue to generate jobs and spur economic opportunities for Gulf producing states as well as further reduce the Nation’s dependence on foreign oil,” said BOEM Director Beaudreau.

Sale 231 encompasses about 7,507 unleased blocks, covering 39.6 million acres, located from three to 230 nautical miles offshore Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, in water depths ranging from 9 to more than 11,115 feet (3 to 3,400 meters). BOEM estimates the proposed sale could result in the production of approximately 1 billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Sale 225 is the first of only two lease sales proposed for the Eastern Planning Area under the Five Year Program, and is the first sale offering acreage in that area since Sale 224 in March of 2008. The sale encompasses 134 whole or partial unleased blocks covering about 465,200 acres in the Eastern Planning Area. The blocks are located at least 125 statute miles offshore in water depths ranging from 2,657 feet to 10,213 feet (810 to 3,113 meters).

The area is south of eastern Alabama and western Florida; the nearest point of land is 125 miles northwest in Louisiana. BOEM estimates the sale could result in the production of 71 million barrels of oil and 162 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The decision to hold these sales follows extensive environmental analysis, public comment and consideration of the best scientific information available. The terms of the sales include stipulations to protect biologically sensitive resources, mitigate potential adverse effects on protected species and avoid potential conflicts associated with oil and gas development in the region.

In addition to opening bids for these two sales, BOEM will open any pending bids submitted in Western Planning Area Sale 233 for blocks located or partially located within three statute miles of the maritime and continental shelf boundary with Mexico (the Boundary Area). Any leases awarded as a result of these bids will be subject to the terms of the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement, which was approved by Congress in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 and recently signed by the President.

All terms and conditions for Lease Sales 231 and 225 are detailed in the Final Notices of Sale that can be viewed today in the Federal Register. Terms and conditions for Sale 225 are fully explained in a new streamlined format, available at boem.gov/Sale-225 and for Sale 231 at boem.gov/Sale-231.

CD’s of the sale package as well as hard copies of the maps can be requested from the Gulf of Mexico Region’s Public Information Office at 1201 Elmwood Park Boulevard, New Orleans, LA 70123, or at 800-200-GULF (4853).

Special thanks to Richard Charter

New York Times ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT U.S. Agrees to Allow BP Back Into Gulf Waters to Seek Oil

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/14/business/energy-environment/epa-to-lift-suspension-of-oil-leases-for-bp.html?hpw&rref=business&_r=0

By CLIFFORD KRAUSSMARCH 13, 2014

HOUSTON – Four years after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, BP is being welcomed back to seek new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

An agreement on Thursday with the Environmental Protection Agency lifts a 2012 ban that was imposed after the agency concluded that BP had not fully corrected problems that led to the well blowout in 2010 that killed 11 rig workers, spilled millions of gallons of oil and contaminated hundreds of miles of beaches.

BP had sued to have the suspension lifted, and now the agreement will mean hundreds of millions of dollars of new business for the company. But even more important, oil analysts said, it signifies an important step in the company’s recovery from the accident, which has been costly to its finances and reputation.

“After a lengthy negotiation, BP is pleased to have reached this resolution, which we believe to be fair and reasonable,” said John Mingé, chairman and president of BP America. “Today’s agreement will allow America’s largest energy investor to compete again for federal contracts and leases.”

That prospect elicited sharp criticism from environmental groups. “It’s kind of outrageous to allow BP to expand their drilling presence here in the gulf,” said Raleigh Hoke, a spokesman for the Gulf Restoration Network, based in New Orleans.

Under the agreement, BP will be allowed to bid for new leases as early as next Wednesday, but only as long as the company passes muster on ethics, corporate governance and safety procedures outlined by the agency. There will be risk assessments, a code of conduct for officers, guidance for employees and “zero tolerance” for retaliation against employees or contractors who raise safety concerns.

An independent auditor approved by the E.P.A. will conduct an annual review and report on BP’s compliance with the new standards. The agency said in a statement that it would also have the authority to take corrective action “in the event the agreement is breached.”
“This is a fair agreement that requires BP to improve its practices in order to meet the terms we’ve outlined together,” said Craig E. Hooks, the E.P.A.’s assistant administrator of administration and resources.

Fadel Gheit, an oil company analyst at Oppenheimer & Company, said it was “a moral victory for BP.” He added: “It will be the best news BP has gotten since the accident. BP has to get back into the hunt in order for them to score.”

Critics of the agreement noted that nearly four years after the spill, the cleanup has not been completed. Oil still washes up in places, particularly during storms, as happened in October with Tropical Storm Karen.

“They still haven’t really made it right when it comes to the gulf,” Mr. Hoke said.
Public Citizen, a consumer activist group, also expressed outrage, saying in a statement that the settlement “lets a corporate felon and repeat offender off the hook for its crimes against people and the environment.”

The accident continues to mire the company in lawsuits and court hearings. BP settled criminal charges with the Justice Department two years ago for $4.5 billion in penalties, but the oil company faces billions of dollars more in costs from a federal civil trial in New Orleans to determine how much it will be required to pay in Clean Water Act fines.

The company is also arguing that a separate settlement it made with businesses and individuals who suffered losses because of the accident has been misinterpreted. But a federal appeals court ruled this month that the company would have to abide by its agreement and pay some businesses for economic damages without their having to prove the damages were caused directly by the spill.

BP initially estimated that the costs of the settlement would run to $7.8 billion, but it now says the cost could rise well above that.

BP, which employs 2,300 people in the Gulf of Mexico, continues to explore on leases in the gulf from before the 2010 accident. At the end of 2013, the company had 10 drilling rigs in the deep waters of the gulf, and it reported a significant new discovery 300 miles southwest of New Orleans. BP said last year that it intended to invest at least $4 billion on average in the gulf each year for the next decade.

Oil production in the gulf remains below records set in 2009, and the industry continues to recover from a yearlong drilling moratorium that the federal government set after the spill. But several large oil companies, including Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell, are flocking back to the gulf. There were only about a dozen rigs working in the gulf three months after the disaster, and that increased to more than 60 by the end of last year.

When the E.P.A. issued the original ban, it cited BP for “lack of business integrity” because of its role in the accident and said the suspension would remain until the company could provide sufficient evidence that it met federal business standards.

The ban prohibited BP from selling fuel to the Pentagon and prevented the company from expanding its oil and gas production to new leases in the gulf, a major center of its worldwide operations. The company’s older leases make BP one of the most important oil and gas producers in the United States.

BP’s suit, filed last year in federal court in Texas, said that the ban was unjustified and that the agency had neglected to consider safety improvements the company had made.

David M. Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section, said it was not unusual for corporate monitors to be appointed any time a corporation was convicted of criminal activity, especially in environmental cases. “What is unusual is BP was suspended from government contracting for such a long time,” he added.

Senator Mary L. Landrieu, the Louisiana Democrat in a tough race for re-election, hailed the settlement, although she added that E.P.A. should never have enacted the ban in the first place.

“The good news is that BP will now be able to participate in next week’s lease sale that will bring much-needed revenue to Louisiana and other oil-producing states along the Gulf Coast, as well as boost business for the region’s small and independent service and supply companies,” she said in a statement.

Campbell Robertson contributed reporting from New Orleans.

A version of this article appears in print on March 14, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Agrees to Allow BP Back Into Gulf Waters to Seek Oil . Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Savingseafood.org: NORTH CAROLINA: Carolina Beach Adopts Resolution Opposing Seismic Air Gun Testing

http://www.savingseafood.org/state-and-local/north-carolina-carolina-beach-adopts-resolution-opposing-seismic-air-gun-te-2.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+SavingSeafoodRss+%28Saving+Seafood%29

BASE Boston
Serving Seafood

March 5, 2014 — CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. — The Carolina Beach Town Council unanimously adopted a resolution at their February 28th, meeting opposing seismic air gun testing for off shore oil and natural gas exploration.

During the Council’s February 11th, meeting Ethan Crouch – chair for the Cape Fear Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation – asked the Council to consider opposing the use of seismic air guns in the Atlantic Ocean due to impacts on marine life. According to Oceana.org, “Seismic air guns are used to find oil and gas deep underneath the ocean floor. Air guns are so loud that they disturb, injure or kill marine life, harm commercial fisheries, and disrupt coastal economies. These dynamite-like blasts-which are repeated every ten seconds, 24 hours a day, for days and weeks at a time-are 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine. Seismic airgun testing currently being proposed in the Atlantic will injure 138,500 whales and dolphins and disturb millions more, according to government estimates.”

The sound waves that return to the vessel towing monitoring equipment are used to determine if oil or natural gas are located beneath the ocean floor.
A crowd of approximately 300 people rallied at Kure Beach Town Hall on January 27th, to voice their opposition to Mayor Dean Lambeth signing a letter in December 2013 supporting seismic airgun testing for off shore oil and natural gas exploration. The entire Carolina Beach Town Council attended that meeting sitting in the audience hearing from residents both in favor and opposition.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Oceana: Bradley Beach town council takes action concerning Seismic Airgun Blasts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 12, 2014

Contact: Nancy Pyne 202.467.1903 or npyne@oceana.org

Seismic Airgun Testing Threatens Marine Life and Coastal Economies

Bradley Beach, NJ – Last night, the Bradley Beach town council met to discuss the proposed use of seismic airguns, which are currently being considered to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor in an area twice the size of California, stretching all the way from the southern tip of New Jersey to Florida.

They unanimously adopted a resolution opposing the use of seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic Ocean.

Seismic airguns shoot extremely loud and repeated blasts of sound, each 100,000 times more intense than what one would experience if standing near a jet engine. The Department of the Interior estimates this testing to injure or kill 138,500 marine mammals like dolphins and whales. Estimates include injury to critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, of which there are less than 500 left worldwide.

Below is a statement from Oceana’s Grassroots Manager, Nancy Pyne:

“I commend Mayor Englestad and the Bradley Beach Borough Council for adopting this resolution. Seismic airgun testing is the first step toward offshore drilling, and could be disastrous for New Jersey and other East Coast states.

Seismic airguns emit one of the loudest man-made sounds in the oceans. To this day, we’re still learning about their true impact, including how far their sound travels and how they affect marine animals, especially when they occur every 10 seconds for days, to weeks on end. The Department of Interior itself estimates that seismic airgun testing could injure or possibly kill as many as 138,500 dolphins, whales and other marine mammals.

Seismic airguns are loud enough to harm fish eggs and larvae, and scare fish away from important fishing grounds. In fact, the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council called on President Obama to oppose the use of seismic airguns in the Atlantic last year. We have also seen their impact off the coasts of Namibia and Australia which has caused declines in tuna catch and decreasing productivity for the scallop fishery.

Millions of people flock to the beaches of New Jersey every year to walk the boardwalks and lie in the sand-my family included. We can’t put our marine resources and coastal communities at risk by allowing seismic testing off the East Coast. We encourage other coastal mayors to speak out against seismic blasting and enact similar proposals in their communities. ”

Last week, right on the heels of the Obama administration releasing the final version of its proposal to allow seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean, the town of Carolina Beach enacted a proposal opposing seismic testing off the coast of North Carolina. In addition, more than 100 scientists called on President Obama and his administration to wait on new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals, which are currently in development by the National Marine Fisheries Service. These guidelines are 15 years in the making and aim to provide a better understanding of how marine mammals are impacted by varying levels of manmade sound as well as demonstrate the measures that are needed to protect them.

In September, Oceana delivered more than 100,000 petitions opposing seismic airguns to Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Fifty members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have also called on President Obama to stop the use of seismic airguns.

For more information about Oceana’s efforts to stop seismic airguns, including an infographic and animation about how they work, please visit www.oceana.org/seismic.

Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 600,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.

Nancy Pyne
Grassroots Manager, Climate and Energy Campaign

OCEANA | Protecting the World’s Oceans
1350 Connecticut Ave. NW, 5th Floor | Washington, D.C., 20036 USA
D +1.202.467.1903 | C +1.202.486.6406
E npyne@oceana.org | W http://oceana.org
Facebook http://www.facebook.com/OceanaGreaterDC

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Press Telegram: Long Beach to be site of anti-fracking rally on Wednesday

http://www.presstelegram.com/business/20140310/long-beach-to-be-site-of-anti-fracking-rally-on-wednesday

By Andrew Edwards, Press-Telegram
POSTED: 03/10/14, 8:23 PM PDT |

LONG BEACH >> Environmentalists will demand the California Coastal Commission order a stop to the fracking of offshore oil wells on Wednesday during a demonstration at City Hall in which protesters plan to cover themselves in hazmat suits and tote boogie boards.

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group with offices in California and several other states, announced on Monday its plans for the protest at the Coastal Commission’s next meeting site in Long Beach.

Fracking, slang for hydraulic fracturing, refers to the controversial process of injecting a highly pressurized mixture of water, sand and other chemicals into oil wells to break up the Earth’s crust and facilitate the extraction of oil and natural gas. Although oil industry advocates such as the Western States Petroleum Association say fracking is safe, many environmentalists say it increases the risks of groundwater contamination and earthquakes.

Although the Coastal Commission’s two-day agenda does not appear to have much room for a discussion of California fracking rules outside of the possibility of the issue being brought up during a briefing on offshore oil and gas activities, Center for Biological Diversity spokesman Patrick Sullivan said speakers from the public will seek a response when the panel holds its public comment session. “The Coastal Commission has been talking about fracking at recent meetings,” he said. “We’re not sure whether the commission itself will address the topic this month.”

Fracking has taken place in the Long Beach area since 1994. Sullivan said records pulled from FraFocus, an online registry of fracking activities, show fracking took place four times in December in waters near Long Beach. California law requires the development of permanent regulations to govern fracking by the start of next year. At present, interim rules require the industry to evaluate well casings and cement linings for safety prior to fracking, among other regulations.

Coastal Commission officials want to ensure that whatever regulations are developed apply to offshore drilling, Coastal Commission legislative liaison Sarah Christie said. State Sens. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, last month introduced a bill that would temporarily halt fracking in the state, pending scientific study.

The rally is planned to begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday. The Coastal Commission is set to meet Wednesday and Thursday in Council Chambers.

Contact Andrew Edwards at 562-499-1305.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

NJ.com Star-Ledger: Renewed search for offshore oil along Atlantic coast raises concerns in NJ

http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2014/03/renewed_search_for_offshore_oil_along_atlantic_coast_raises_concerns_in_nj.html

sonic ship
An oil exploration surveying ship towing an air gun and acoustic receivers used to search for undersea oil and gas formations through seismic shock waves. The oil industry is looking to resume exploration in the Atlantic, south of New Jersey, for the first time in 30 years. (International Association of Geophysical Contractors)

By Ted Sherman/The Star-Ledger
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on March 10, 2014 at 6:45 AM, updated March 10, 2014 at 8:58 AM

Thirty years ago, after spending billions to drill a series of dry holes, the oil industry abandoned a costly search for new oil and gas reserves off the Atlantic coast.
Now, armed with new technology and computerized modeling data, it wants to take another look.

Last month, the Interior Department endorsed a plan that would allow sophisticated seismic testing from Delaware Bay to Florida’s Cape Canaveral – a controversial decision urged by the industry, but angering environmentalists who fear potential harm to marine life – which could lead to renewed drilling in the coastal waters south of New Jersey.

State environmental officials, neither opposing nor supporting the plan, noted New Jersey is not in the immediate survey area, and said they were reviewing the federal report. “It is preliminary exploration to look at the subsurface geological framework and could have some scientific value that could benefit the state in the future,” said a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection.

Gov. Chris Christie, who has repeatedly opposed any drilling off the New Jersey coastline, has not changed his position on the issue, said Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the governor.

The Atlantic Coast had long been off limits for oil exploration, under a federal moratorium continued in the wake of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf. But for the past four years, the Interior Department has been holding hearings to determine whether to reopen at least parts of the East Coast to exploratory testing. Officials said newer studies were needed to make informed decisions regarding future oil and gas leases, through the use of seismic testing.

Such testing involve ships that use blasts of compressed air to generate sonic waves aimed at the seabed. The reflected sound is picked up by a towed array of acoustic sensors, providing a 3D image of the underlying geology.

“They are sonograms of the earth,” explained Rutgers University deep-sea geologist Greg Mountain, a member of the university’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences, who uses similar technology in researching sea level changes. “We’re looking at the top half mile at most. The oil companies are looking 3 to 5 miles deep,” he said.

Mountain said such surveys must be done under strict federal guidelines, including the use of observers, to make sure there is no harm to marine animals.

“There is a lot of the economy that depends on a clean and healthy ocean.”

Oil industry officials say the survey technique lessens the environmental impact of exploration. But opponents say the high energy sound pulses used by the industry can deafen marine mammals and disrupt habitats. Cindy Zipf executive director of Clean Ocean Action, expressed disappointment with the Obama administration for green-lighting the testing. “There is a lot of the economy that depends on a clean and healthy ocean,” she said. “We’ve been working since 1984 to keep this at bay.”

The testing itself would adversely affect the marine environment, asserted Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, and could be especially harmful to marine mammals, such as dolphins and the North Atlantic Right Whale.
“It also can change migratory fish patterns,” he said.

David Pringle, New Jersey Campaign Director for Clean Water Action, said the only reason to be doing seismic testing would ultimately be to drill for oil. “The testing area begins at the Delaware-New Jersey border and the areas they want to explore are within 100 miles of New Jersey,” said Pringle, who warned that even without drilling directly off the coast, prevailing ocean currents would bring an oil spill from wells further south directly to the Jersey Shore.

“It is very much a New Jersey issue,” he said.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.), a long-time opponent of offshore drilling, said any oil spill would destroy the beaches in New Jersey. He said while the oil and gas industry is pushing to open the Atlantic to drilling, the proven sources discovered in the past were very limited and involved deep water drilling.

“I maintain that the technology doesn’t exist to prevent the real possibility of a spill,” he said.

The decision by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management does not actually authorize any survey activities. It only proposes rules governing seismic testing of the ocean floor.

“The Department and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management have been steadfast in our commitment to balancing the need for understanding offshore energy resources with the protection of the human and marine environment using the best available science as the basis of this environmental review,” said BOEM Director Tommy P. Beaudreau in a statement. “Our scientific knowledge of the Atlantic Ocean is constantly building, and new information and analyses will continue to be developed over time.”

The bureau said new data would be used to not only to locate oil and gas resources, but also site renewable energy facilities.

The area in question was the focus of a four-year exploration effort beginning in 1978, when a number of wells were drilled 100 miles east of Atlantic City in the Baltimore Canyon, and elsewhere off the Continental Shelf in the early 1980s. While some of the holes yielded natural gas, geologists concluded that whatever was there was not economically feasible to develop.

Kenneth Miller, a professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Rutgers, who also studies rising sea levels, said data from those drilling sites recorded significant amounts of gas in five of the wells.

“They know there’s gas. They don’t know how much, but they know it’s worth looking into,” he said.

Officials at the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association that represents the country’s oil and natural gas industry, said new technologies offer the ability to get a clearer picture of the seabed geology. At the same time, Andy Radford, API’s senior policy advisor for offshore issues, said there are new geologic theories based on discoveries in off the coasts of West Africa and Brazil, driving the effort to go back to the East Coast.

“It’s really just an effort to see what’s out there,” he said.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Senate Energy Committee Special Report: Obstacles and Opportunities

The Bobbsey Twins

(Richard A. Bloom)
By Amy Harder and Ben Geman
March 6, 2014

Mary Landrieu and Lisa Murkowski have a lot in common.

Both senators come from energy-rich states. Both come from political families. Both have endured major political challenges, only to emerge in leadership positions. It’s true that Landrieu is a Democrat and Murkowski a Republican, but both have come to head the Energy and Natural Resources Committee amid the greatest energy boom the United States has seen in a generation.

Both want to be optimistic.

“I know sometimes it’s hard for Washington to keep up with the times, because they like to stay in the bubble, but there’s a big world out there, and we need to keep up,” says Landrieu, who took the gavel in February.

Yet making great strides on energy issues won’t be easy right now. The truth is, Landrieu and Murkowski are policy-oriented lawmakers at a time when Washington’s appetite for legislation is near an all-time low. Congressional productivity was extremely weak last year. November’s election is expected to suppress it further still, as political calculations eclipse policy needs.

Add Washington’s minimal interest in big, comprehensive legislation in the post-Obamacare era-the last major energy bill Congress passed was in 2007-and a future filled with legislating on the margins looks likely, at least for the rest of this year.

“So much has happened in seemingly such a short, abbreviated time span, and yet the operating rules, if you will-the statutes that govern so much of this-are not only not current, they are antiquated,” Murkow°©ski says.

“If you look at the things that we should be tackling, the great meaty, weighty issues in the energy sector, and we are talking but we are not actually legislating,” she adds. “And so there is a frustration there.”

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MANAGING THE ENERGY BOOM
It is hard to overstate the seismic shifts in the energy sector in recent years. Today, the U.S. is pumping more crude oil than it has in two decades, and is on track to outpace Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest producer. Reliance on imported oil has dropped substantially. U.S. natural-gas production is at record levels, and is already the highest in the world.

The result is that the old narrative-that the United States was running out of oil and gas, and was becoming increasingly dependent on foreign resources-has been blown up. Now, the challenge is managing the boom while also addressing questions about the environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing, whether to ramp up gas exports and ease the almost total ban on crude-oil exports, and how to address the ever-present specter of climate change.

Fast-rising oil production in North Dakota, the gas frenzy in Pennsylvania, and the Texas shale energy boom have probably received the most attention in recent years. But Louisiana and Alaska, from which Landrieu and Murkowski respectively hail, are nonetheless huge energy-producing states where the oil-and-gas industry is a central pillar of the economy. So after several years of Democratic chairmen spotlighting renewable energy, the duo will likely shift the focus back to traditional fossil fuels.

Landrieu is solidly to the right of her caucus when it comes to energy issues. Murkowski is unabashedly pro-oil, but the ranking member is also more moderate on energy than some of her GOP colleagues. For instance, when many Republicans were bashing the Energy Department’s green-energy loan program after the collapse of the federally backed solar-panel company Solyndra a couple of years ago, Murkowski called for reforms but supported the program overall.

The two women have been friends since they were introduced by Murkowski’s father, Frank Murkowski, a former senator who once chaired the Energy Committee. “The Murkowski-Landrieu family [relationship] goes back literally decades,” Landrieu says. And Murkowski makes clear that she sees a kindred spirit in her Democratic counterpart.

“I have had a long working relationship with Mary Landrieu. We have extended that relationship beyond the working side. I have been to her state, she has been to mine; we have really worked to try and understand the similarities and the differences between our energy-producing states.”

Moreover, the only other time in recent memory that two women have led a Senate panel was when Landrieu chaired the Small Business Committee and Olympia Snowe of Maine was the ranking Republican, according to the Senate historian’s office. This is the first time a woman has chaired the Energy Committee.

“It’s really interesting that we have two women running the committee,” says former Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who served on the panel until he retired in 2010. “The Senate is changing, the makeup is changing, and we’ll begin to see this kind of thing, which I think is good for the country.”

The result could be that the committee is in for a period of bipartisan cooperation that is exceedingly rare in today’s Congress, where it is not unheard of for a chairman and a ranking member to go weeks without a meaningful conversation.

“I suspect both of them will work hard to make the Energy Committee relevant,” Dorgan says.

Lee Fuller, vice president for government relations at the Independent Petroleum Association of America and a former aide to the late Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, says the panel “has a history of being reasonably bipartisan in the action it has taken.”

But will that bipartisanship translate into legislation moving through the full Senate?
“That,” Fuller says, “is an open question.”

THE ART OF THE POSSIBLE
It’s not at all clear that there’s enough political space for the Energy Committee-which has been around in one form or another for more than 170 years-to return to prominence.
The panel has played a major role in shaping U.S. energy policy. It produced a 1975 energy law that, in response to the Arab oil embargo, restricted crude-oil exports and authorized the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. A mid-1990s law granted royalty waivers for oil companies exploring the deepwater frontiers of the Gulf of Mexico. Legislation in 2005 and 2007 included provisions that raised appliance-efficiency standards and authorized the Energy Department’s green-energy loan guarantee program.

So what might the current chairwoman and ranking member get done?

Landrieu and Murkowski have teamed up on legislation to give Gulf of Mexico states a bigger share of offshore oil-and-gas revenues and expand availability of revenue-sharing to Alaska and other coastal states. Landrieu wouldn’t offer a timeline for pushing that, however, and says she’ll ensure that the views of all committee members are heard.

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“I’m going to actually try my very best to meet with each of them over the course of the next few months to hear directly from them on what some of their views are, some of the challenges before us,” Landrieu says.

Environmentalists worry that neither Landrieu nor Murkowski will prioritize other issues under the committee’s jurisdiction, including renewable energy, national parks, forestry, and climate change. At 51 percent, Landrieu has the second-lowest lifetime score among Senate Democrats on the League of Conservation Voters’ scorecard. Only Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has a lower rating.

Landrieu says the criticism is misplaced.

“First of all, I believe climate change is real and that it’s a great challenge,” she says, adding that she has a long history of supporting expansion of national parks and coastal restoration. “I think a lot of those concerns, or some of them, are unfounded,” Landrieu asserts. “I would just ask people to look at my record.”

Nonetheless, she is unquestionably more pro-industry that nearly all of her Democratic colleagues, including Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who is the most vocal panel member when it comes to concerns about increasing natural-gas exports. Yet Stabenow has only good things to say about Landrieu.

“I think she’ll be terrific,” Stabenow says, adding that on natural-gas exports, “we’re having good conversations about the balance.”

Landrieu and Murkowski will certainly use the committee’s oversight powers to shine the spotlight on what they feel are badly needed updates to U.S. policy. For instance, Murkowski has been pushing the Obama administration to relax decades-old limits on crude-oil exports under its existing authority, and she’s eager to move that debate forward.

But if past is precedent, when it comes to actually moving legislation, what Landrieu and Murkowski choose to focus on may well not matter. Former Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who once chaired the committee, failed to get many significant bills through the Senate, including one that would have established a national renewable-electricity standard and another that was aimed at strengthening drilling regulations in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill.

Bipartisan leadership on a committee, after all, isn’t much help when the overall Senate is stuck. “If gridlock continues, it won’t change much what can be passed,” Dorgan says. He was quick to add, though, that Landrieu and Murkowski have the potential to make progress, given their records.

“The key thing about Mary and Lisa is that they’re not content to be observers,” Dorgan says. “They want to be active. Their legislative history shows that they want to be active on the things that matter.”

“AN UNMITIGATED DISASTER”
Of course, not everyone is thrilled by the Landrieu-Murkowski pairing, which will move the committee to the right. Both women support opening more federal lands to drilling and expanding offshore oil and gas development. And while Murkowski has been far more willing than most Republicans to discuss the dangers of global warming, neither she nor Landrieu is a fan of the administration’s climate-change regulations.

“It has the potential to be an unmitigated disaster,” says Bill Snape, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group. “Two blatantly pro-drilling senators leading both their parties in that committee. It doesn’t get much worse.”

But environmentalists have a firewall: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Snape is hopeful that Democrats’ efforts to help Landrieu, who faces a tough reelection fight this year, won’t tip over into moving legislation to the floor that much of the Democratic caucus opposes. Still, “that is a concern,” Snape says. “We will watch that very carefully.”

Indeed, Landrieu’s reelection race-she is a top target of Senate Republicans, who want to take control of the chamber-will also affect the committee’s productivity. Murkowski is acutely aware of the political crosscurrents running beneath the policy discussions as Landrieu battles for another term and the Senate navigates an election. How much can be accomplished, the Alaskan says, depends on “how much can be navigated in a very politically charged environment.”

“I don’t want us to be in a situation where we are just kind of in a holding pattern for a year,” she says, “that we waste a year as an Energy Committee because of the political process that goes on around here.”

This article appears in the March 8, 2014 edition of National Journal Magazine as Opportunities And Obstacles.

Senate Energy Committee Special Report
Chairwoman Profile: Mary Landrieu
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(MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
image005 1064.jpg 2

By Amy Harder
March 6, 2014

For Sen. Mary Landrieu, the next nine months could be the best of times-and possibly the worst, too.

The Democrat now holds the gavel at the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The value of that accomplishment is hard to overstate in Louisiana, where energy issues thoroughly dominate the economic and political landscape. The last time a Pelican State pol ran the committee was almost two decades ago, and the position will allow Landrieu to take care of business at home like never before.

But Landrieu is a top target in the Senate Republicans’ drive to take control of the chamber-and she’s vulnerable. In her past three elections, Landrieu has never won more than 52 percent of the vote, and her state is increasingly Republican. She will have to defend everything, especially her support for Obamacare.

Landrieu, however, has an asset that is often in evidence but rarely discussed: She is stubborn.

“My critics would say I’m hardheaded,” she says with muted laughter. “But I would say I’m tenacious and dogged and strong. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.”

No matter how you describe it, Landrieu’s resolve is a defining quality that has helped her amass an impressive legislative record. And she’ll need that strength more than ever as she enters what could be her toughest race yet.

Landrieu, 58, is facing Rep. Bill Cassidy, who has at times pulled ahead in the polls-and who has some very deep-pocketed interests on his side. Americans for Prosperity, the conservative organization funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has already spent at least $2.6 million to defeat her. And the election is still nine months away.

The GOP has a lot riding on this race, explains Rob Collins, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “Louisiana is critical to most pundits’ equations on how we take back the Senate,” he says.

Landrieu is a well-known name in Louisiana, thanks to her three terms in office and a family dynasty that stretches back decades. It’s an open question whether her Energy Committee post will bring her votes, but it certainly won’t hurt her when it comes to raising money. She has already amassed almost $9.5 million, compared with Cassidy’s $5.1 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And she’s beating Cassidy when it comes to donations from oil, natural-gas, and pipeline companies.

History is on Landrieu’s side too. An incumbent hasn’t lost a Senate race in Louisiana since 1932. “Frankly, every one of my races has been difficult,” Landrieu says. “I don’t think this one is going to be any more or any less so.”

Republicans will be taking aim at her support of President Obama’s health care law and her financial backing of Democrats who don’t support robust energy production. “Anytime you’re trying to take out an incumbent, it’s an uphill battle,” Collins says. “But she’s never had an 18-month race like she is in now.”

The truth is that Landrieu, who grew up in New Orleans as the oldest of nine children, has seen a great deal. Her father, Moon Landrieu, was mayor of the city from 1970 to 1978 and was Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Carter administration. Her brother, Mitch Landrieu, is the city’s newly reelected mayor. At age 23, she became the youngest woman ever elected to the Louisiana Legislature.

Landrieu still relies on her father for advice. She recalls a joke he makes sometimes: “I have nine kids, and at least five of them were smart enough not to go into politics.”
“I pushed myself harder than he pushes me,” Landrieu says, “but he’s very supportive.”

One of her most significant legislative accomplishments was a bill signed into law two years ago ensuring that 80 percent of the Clean Air Act penalties that BP incurred from its 2010 oil spill went to Gulf Coast restoration. But chairwoman or not, Landrieu, like all lawmakers, will continue to struggle against the meager appetite for legislation that marks the current Congress.

One example of this challenge is a bill she has championed to delay significant rate increases for flood insurance, vital in flood-prone Louisiana. Landrieu was “chewing people’s ankles off to pass the bill, because of the impact it would have on the state,” says Dan Borne, president of the Louisiana Chemical Association, who first met Landrieu when she was a junior in high school.

The Senate ultimately passed the measure, but it is now hung up in the House (where Cassidy is leading the push for the reprieve).

And for all her doggedness, Landrieu hasn’t yet succeeded on the issue most important to her: revenue-sharing for coastal states, which would give them a cut of the drilling royalties akin to what landlocked energy-producing states get today.

“Revenue-sharing is a means to an end,” says Tom Michels, who was a senior Landrieu aide for almost six years. “She’s not simply looking for money; she’s looking to save the coast.”

From her Energy Committee perch, Landrieu has the best chance she will probably ever get to pass such legislation. The panel’s ranking member, Lisa Murkowski, is a cosponsor of the bill, which simply speeds up what current law already requires in 2017 and removes a cap on how much money a coastal state can receive in royalty dollars. To succeed, however, Landrieu must have at least the support of her committee, whose Democratic members are mostly to the left of her on energy issues, so she remains cautious about her chances.

“I don’t have a time frame on that yet,” she says. “It’s been a concern of mine since the day I stepped into the Congress, and I will do everything I can, and use everything I can, to make it more fair.”

But some observers are more openly optimistic about the bill’s prospects-among them former Sen. Bennett Johnston, who was the last and only other Louisianan to chair the Energy panel (from 1987 to 1995).

“I think she can pass it through committee,” he says. “And she thinks she can pass it through committee.”

This article appears in the March 8, 2014 edition of National Journal Magazine as Mary Landrieu.

National Journal
Magazine / Senate Energy Committee Special Report
Ranking Member Profile: Lisa Murkowski

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

By Ben Geman
March 6, 2014

In another political age, this might be the start of a bright year for Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a strong advocate of the oil industry.

Fellow oil-state Sen. Mary Landrieu just became chairwoman of the committee, and the Louisiana Democrat-who sits to the right of her caucus on energy-sees eye-to-eye with Murkowski on plenty of things.

But Murkowski, 56, freely acknowledges that the Senate’s limited agenda presents few chances to act on anyone’s policy goals. And so the blessings are bittersweet.

“You have to have that level of patience,” Murkowski said. “But where I am not as patient is with the political messaging, pushing back on what I think are good, solid initiatives because they don’t necessarily benefit the majority [party] at the time.

“It seems that I am getting a little more impatient as these years are going on, and I am just not seeing the accomplishments coming out of the Congress.”

Gridlock, in short, annoys the daughter of Frank Murkowski, himself a senator for more than two decades and a former Alaska governor. While there’s little doubt that family ties helped steer her toward politics-after she served in the Legislature, her father appointed her to the Senate in 2002 when he vacated the seat to become governor-it was the policy side and the ability to shape major changes that truly caught and held her interest.

Andrew Halcro, who served with Murkowski in the Alaska Legislature in the 1990s, tells a story of Murkowski toting around marked-up folders as they walked through the state Capitol. “She turns to me and says, ‘Do you ever get the feeling that you and I are the only two people on these committees that really read these bill packets?’ ” Halcro said.
“She is genuinely curious,” said Halcro, now president of the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce. “She wants to learn. She actually does the heavy lifting herself.”

Abandoning her original ambition to be a teacher, Murkowski studied law and eventually found politics. “In retrospect I would not have been a good teacher, because I would have given those kids so much homework every night,” she said. Perhaps not so much as she gives herself. “It’s a serious job,” she said. “I need to be informed, and as fabulous as my staff is, I don’t expect them to be the senator.” But when it comes to energy policy, Murkowski is increasingly confronting a discouraging question: Informed to what end? Major legislation stands little chance in an election year-a frustrating state of affairs for a senator who doesn’t spend a lot of time seeking attention for herself.

“I think she is much more interested in doing the work, much more interested in her connection with people in Alaska,” said McKie Campbell, her former staff director on the committee and a longtime friend. “I think she is interested in having a large impact on national policy, but not as interested in being a national figure.

“For a senator, there is very little ego,” Campbell added. “That is sometimes to the frustration of her staff, who would like her to go out and be on Sunday shows more, have a higher profile.”

In 2010 Murkowski did become a national political figure as she sought a second full Senate term and faced one of the biggest political hurdles of her career.

Murkowski lost her 2010 primary to Joe Miller, a Sarah Palin-backed tea-party challenger. So she launched an improbable write-in campaign without the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s support-and won. It was the first successful write-in campaign for the Senate since the 1950s.

Murkowski has forged her own path in other ways, too. She’s a woman in the largely male Senate, and she’s among the GOP’s moderates on social issues. She supports gay marriage and abortion rights, although she gets some credit from antiabortion activists for her votes on certain funding and abortion-restriction measures.

“I think that Lisa’s voice is a really important one in articulating points of view that may not be held by some of our colleagues,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine and a close friend of Murkowski’s.
Murkowski calls 2010 a clarifying moment.

“It was one of those experiences that you go through that really causes you to search pretty deep in yourself to find out, why am I doing this? Once you have identified why you are doing it-it’s because you love a place [Alaska] so deeply-you kind of lose the fear of being the only one on your side that is voting ‘no’ or ‘aye,’ ” Murkowski said.
“I try to be a good team player with my conference, and I think I am respected as one, but I think I am also respected as one who has perhaps a little more independent trail to take, and I am happy with it.”

But how happy can she be in this Senate?

Washington is constraining for Murkow- ski, who enjoys skiing and biking in her home state. But she is poised to become a more powerful senator if Republicans gain control of the chamber in November. That would make her chairwoman of the Energy Committee, and of the Appropriations subpanel that oversees spending for the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency. And when it comes to energy, Murkowski sees chances to progress in other ways. Recently she has been pushing the Obama administration to relax the decades-old restrictions on crude-oil exports-an issue on which Republicans haven’t yet reached consensus.

“Maybe from the [2010 election] experience that I went through,” she adds, pausing to find the right words, “there is no fear of losing here, because what I am trying to do is not advance a bill. I am trying to advance the thought, the dialogue, the debate on this.”
And she’s willing to absorb some bruises along the way. Back in 2009 she ripped up ligaments in her left knee in a skiing accident south of Anchorage that sent her tumbling hundreds of feet. “She’s back,” says Campbell, “still skiing the steep stuff.”

This article appears in the March 8, 2014 edition of National Journal Magazine as Lisa Murkowski.

Senate Energy Committee Special Report
Committee Staffers: Top Republicans
image008 289.jpg 2
Karen Billups, Patrick McCormick and Robert Dillon.(Photos: Richard A. Bloom)
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By Clare Foran
March 6, 2014
Robert Dillon
Minority Communications Director
Dillon grew up in Indiana and Alaska and describes himself as an “ink-under-the-fingernails” journalist. He spent much of his career covering energy, climate change, and regulatory policy for a variety of media outlets, including the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

He sees his job on the committee as the other side of the same coin.
Dillon’s primary responsibility, as he puts it, is the same as when he worked in journalism-to get information to the public in a timely fashion. His work involves reacting to administration policy and the actions of Senate Democrats, as well as circulating press releases and policy papers to further the debate on energy issues and advance the position of Republican committee members.

What’s a typical day? For Dillon, 45, there’s no such thing. “The only thing typical,” he says, “is that whatever I come in with on my list of things to do, those aren’t the things I end up working on that day.”

Patrick McCormick
Minority Chief Counsel
Between private-sector and federal-agency experience, McCormick has worked on energy policy from many angles. But his work as minority chief counsel has given him a unique vantage point and a broad view of the landscape.

“It’s fascinating to look at the bigger picture,” he says. “Our work in the committee is to constantly ask: Does the United States have an energy system that can act in the public interest?”

McCormick has lived in Baltimore for more than 30 years and previously led the regulated-markets and energy-infrastructure practice at law firm Hunton & Williams in Washington. Before his almost 20 years in private practice, he was deputy assistant general counsel for electric rates and corporate regulation at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

The Philadelphia native weighs in on legislation that passes through the committee and makes sure bills are primed to do what their sponsors intend. He also advises Republican committee members on oversight activities. McCormick, 57, says he doesn’t mind getting into the weeds on energy and regulatory policy-in fact, he enjoys it.

Karen Billups
Minority Staff Director
For Billups, energy has been a fitting career focus. When she was growing up in Texas, she says, energy was everywhere. She was educated against a backdrop of oil wells and derricks-her high school’s parking lot even had an oil well in the middle-and she studied energy policy at the University of Texas Law School.

After rising through the ranks of the committee staff during two tours of duty, Billups, 51, was named staff director at the beginning of last year. Earlier, she was the panel’s counsel for energy issues, senior counsel, and chief counsel. Billups also worked as director of federal affairs and Washington counsel for Entergy.

The most challenging part of her job is that committee staffers come to her when they have a problem they can’t solve. “My days are full of questions that nobody else knows how to answer,” she says. “I can’t say I always know the answer either, but I think I best serve as a sounding board.”

She added, “I love the variety and the challenge and getting to interact with people all day.”

This article appears in the March 8, 2014 edition of National Journal Magazine as Top Republicans.

Special thank to Richard Charter

EPA notice on rules for confidentiality on GHG emissions from oil and gas operations:

EPA reporting

public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2014-04408.pdf

ACTION: Proposed rule.

SUMMARY: The EPA is proposing revisions and confidentiality determinations for the
petroleum and natural gas systems source category and the general provisions of the Greenhouse
Gas Reporting Rule. In particular, the EPA is proposing to revise certain calculation methods,
amend certain monitoring and data reporting requirements, clarify certain terms and definitions,
and correct certain technical and editorial errors that have been identified during the course of
implementation. This action also proposes confidentiality determinations for new or substantially
revised data elements contained in these proposed amendments, as well as proposes a revised
confidentiality determination for one existing data element.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

WLOX: Florida files suit against BP related to 2010 Gulf oil spill

http://www.wlox.com/

Posted: Mar 06, 2014 12:01 PM EST Updated: Mar 06, 2014 12:01 PM EST

PANAMA CITY, FL (AP) – Florida has joined a multi-state lawsuit stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, seeking to hold British oil company BP accountable for damage to the state’s natural resources.

The complaint was filed Wednesday in Panama City federal court by the state’s secretary of environmental protection and the head of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

It’s separate from a lawsuit Florida’s attorney general filed against BP last year over economic losses related to the worst offshore oil spill in US history.

Along with BP, the new complaint lists minority partner Anadarko and rig owner Transocean as defendants responsible for harm the spill caused to Florida’s ecosystems and wildlife.

BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said the company is reviewing Florida’s lawsuit and continues to evaluate potential spill-related environmental damage.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

The Advocate: Committee being formed to promote Gulf drilling

http://theadvocate.com/news/business/8549424-123/committee-being-formed-to-promote

Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Advocate staff report

A new offshore committee is being formed by the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association to promote energy production and responsible development of energy resources in the Gulf of Mexico.

The initiative will be coordinated by consultant Lori LeBlanc, of Lori LeBlanc LLC in Thibodaux, association Chairman Jim Hutchison said. LeBlanc served as deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources from 2008 to 2010.
She became executive director of the Gulf Economic Survival Team, which was formed in June 2010 to push for a full return to energy production in the Gulf after a drilling moratorium resulted from the BP disaster.

“The Gulf is America’s energy workhorse, and its economic impacts are astounding,” Hutchison said. “Thirty percent of our nation’s domestic oil is produced in the Gulf of Mexico and energy activity in the Gulf contributes $5 (billion) to $8 billion per year to the U.S. Treasury.” The economic impact in Louisiana is $44.3 billion, he said. “To continue this great success story, it’s imperative that we increase our outreach efforts with federal leaders and have a seat at the table when key policy decisions are being made,” Hutchison said.

“Lori LeBlanc has had great success working with federal leaders on regulatory issues and promoting energy production in the Gulf as part of the Gulf Economic Survival Team, and we are very pleased to have her on board to lead this exciting effort for our group,” association President Chris John said.

The offshore committee will focus on policy, partnership, public input and positive communication in support of oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico. Activities will include developing and maintaining relationships with federal policymakers and members of Congress. monitoring and commenting on federal rules that affect Gulf development, collaborating with members, other trade associations and other Gulf Coast states on energy policy initiatives and communicating the significance of Gulf energy production to the nation’s economy and energy supply.

Targeted policy issues may include the Rigs to Reef program, national ocean policy, effects of new mitigation requirements, outer-continental-shelf lease sales, revenue sharing, and industry safety and technology. The committee also will maintain LMOGA’s involvement in Louisiana’s coastal restoration and protection efforts.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

DECOM: Innovator platform in Gomez field successfully decommissioned

http://social.decomworld.com/projects-and-technologies/innovator-platform-gomez-field-successfully-decommissioned?utm_source=http%3a%2f%2fuk.decomworld.com%2ffc_nei_decomlz%2f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Decomworld+e-brief+0503&utm_term=%0D%0DTurn+offshore+platforms+into+fish+farms%2c+urges+Malaysian+academic+%0D%0D+&utm_content=234364

6th Annual Decommissioning & Abandonment Summit

10/03/2014 – 12/03/2014

Discover cutting-edge approaches for reducing offshore liability to deliver more timely, cost-effective and safer decommissioning projects

By Rod Sweet on Mar 5, 2014

Platform was the first permanent SEPLA mooring and the third permanent polyester mooring system in the Gulf of Mexico.

Acteon’s subsidiary InterMoor has successfully decommissioned the Innovator platform in Gomez field, Mississippi Canyon Block 711, Gulf of Mexico.

The scope of work, conducted in water depths of 910 m, involved disconnecting 10 risers/umbilicals; disconnecting 12 mooring lines and then towing the Innovator to Ingleside, Texas.

InterMoor developed special procedures for disconnection and towing, procured rigging and tow equipment for all vessels including the Anchor Handling Vessel (AHV), FPU and tug vessels, and provided personnel.

InterMoor’s involvement with the Innovator platform dates prior to 2006 when it was a mobile offshore drilling unit (MODU) known as the Rowan Midland.

At that time, the MODU was being converted by ATP to a production platform, and InterMoor provided the mooring design, project management, procurement, installation and hook-up of the mooring system.

The 12-leg mooring system consisted of suction embedded plate anchors (SEPLA), stud link chain, subsea connectors and polyester mooring ropes. At the time it was only the third permanent polyester mooring system in the Gulf of Mexico, and the first permanent SEPLA mooring.

In 2011 InterMoor provided mooring line inspection, change-out of all rig wires, and upgrading five of the mooring legs.

InterMoor says the success of the decommissioning programme resulted from its detailed understanding of the Innovator platform’s mooring system.

Tom Fulton, InterMoor president, said, “At a time when many operators are looking at life-of-field solutions, we are proud to have played a role at crucial times throughout the development and decommissioning of this offshore asset.”
– See more at: http://social.decomworld.com/projects-and-technologies/innovator-platform-gomez-field-successfully-decommissioned?utm_source=http%3a%2f%2fuk.decomworld.com%2ffc_nei_decomlz%2f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Decomworld+e-brief+0503&utm_term=%0d%0dTurn+offshore+platforms+into+fish+farms%2c+urges+Malaysian+academic+%0d%0d+&utm_content=234364#sthash.vSDlNDQ5.esmprTxk.dpuf

Turn offshore platforms into fish farms, urges Malaysian academic

http://social.decomworld.com/projects-and-technologies/turn-offshore-platforms-fish-farms-urges-malaysian-academic?utm_source=http%3a%2f%2fuk.decomworld.com%2ffc_nei_decomlz%2f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Decomworld+e-brief+0503&utm_term=%0D%0DTurn+offshore+platforms+into+fish+farms%2c+urges+Malaysian+academic+%0D%0D+&utm_content=234364

By Rod Sweet on Mar 5, 2014

Oil and gas platforms in Malaysia could be used for deep-sea fish farming, giving companies an alternative to decommissioning, says a Malaysian academic.

By Ayshe Ismail

Dr. Sharul Sham Dol, head of mechanical engineering at Curtin Sarawak’s School of Engineering and Science, said his team is working on a project to “breathe new life” into disused platforms by turning them into mariculture facilities for deep-sea fish farming.

Most offshore oil and gas platforms in Malaysia are built to last for approximately 25 to 30 years and decommissioning activity is expected to rise because 600 of the 900 now there are over 20 years old.

Writing in the Borneo Post, he said oil companies are keen to find alternative options for platforms as the cost for decommissioning a medium-sized structure is approximately $3m.

The idea is that the platform would be used as an operational hub for fish-farming facilities and crew. The structure itself would be used as an anchor for mooring cages and nets, and as a hatchery.

Dr. Dol said he hopes to collaborate with oil and gas companies, and aquaculture and mariculture businesses, to develop the idea.
– See more at: http://social.decomworld.com/projects-and-technologies/turn-offshore-platforms-fish-farms-urges-malaysian-academic?utm_source=http%3a%2f%2fuk.decomworld.com%2ffc_nei_decomlz%2f&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Decomworld+e-brief+0503&utm_term=%0d%0dTurn+offshore+platforms+into+fish+farms%2c+urges+Malaysian+academic+%0d%0d+&utm_content=234364#sthash.1a9p5p7V.Tcp2RRkW.dpuf

Southern Studies: The growing fight against oil and gas exploration off the NC coast

http://www.southernstudies.org/2014/03/the-growing-fight-against-oil-and-gas-exploration-.html

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) recently took time away from dealing with a water contamination disaster caused by dirty coal power to make the case for opening his state up to yet another player in the dirty energy industry.

Last Monday, while his administration continued to grapple with Duke Energy’s massive coal ash spill into the Dan River, McCrory joined fellow governors Terry McAuliffe (D) of Virginia, Phil Bryant (R) of Mississippi and Robert Bentley (R) of Alabama at a meeting in Washington with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to make the case for opening up their coasts to offshore drilling for oil and gas.

Those state leaders are members of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition (OCSGC), a group promoting expanded offshore drilling that’s chaired by McCrory. Its other members are Republican Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Rick Perry of Texas, and Sean Parnell of Alaska.

McCrory and his OCSGC colleagues asked Jewell to support seismic testing for oil and gas reserves off the Atlantic Coast, which is currently protected by a longstanding moratorium on offshore drilling. They got their answer three days later, when the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) published an environmental analysis that endorsed a plan for seismic exploration in Atlantic waters.

Jewell — the former CEO of outdoor goods company REI who started her career as an engineer for what was then the Mobil oil company — is expected to formally approve the testing plan next month, McClatchyDC reports. BOEM is accepting comments on the plan here until April 7.

McCrory cheered BOEM’s announcement. “This decision is the right step toward more jobs for North Carolina, particularly in our rural areas near the coast,” he said in a statement.

The first step toward offshore drilling, seismic testing involves using air guns to shoot compacted air to the ocean floor, creating sound waves used to map undersea oil and gas reserves. But there are serious environmental and economic concerns about the air gun blasts, which are thousands of times more intense than the roar of a jet engine and are expected to cause injuries to marine life. Fisherfolk in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago reported a dramatic drop in catches following seismic testing in their waters.

But while seismic testing in the Atlantic appears to be winning support from federal officials, who say the current plan would “minimize impacts to marine life,” McCrory is meeting opposition in North Carolina coastal communities — including from members of his own party.

The town of Carolina Beach, N.C. held a special meeting on Friday, Feb. 28 — the day after BOEM approved seismic testing — where council members unanimously passed a resolution opposing seismic testing off the state’s coast. Of the council’s five members, four are Republicans and one is a Democrat.

“The town of Carolina Beach does not support the current proposals,” council member Steve Shuttleworth, a Republican, told The Star-News newspaper. “Particularly the frequency, the volume and the areas for seismic testing, as well as the potential threat to marine life.”

The resolution addresses potential harm to recreational and commercial fishing as well as tourism. Located about 15 miles south of the historic port city of Wilmington, N.C., Carolina Beach is a tourist attraction, with one of the East Coast’s last remaining beachside boardwalks, numerous charter fishing boat businesses, and a state park for fishing, camping and hiking.

Just three miles down the coast from Carolina Beach is the town of Kure Beach, N.C., where Mayor Dean Lambeth’s (R) recent decision to sign onto a letter endorsing seismic testing triggered a backlash from his constituents. Hundreds of them packed a January council meeting to protest the mayor’s action, pounding on the walls and booing Lambeth. The controversial letter had been written by America’s Energy Forum, a project of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade association.
“…[W]e really weren’t represented by our mayor in this decision,” Kure Beach resident Joanne Durham said at the meeting. The council has not taken a formal position on seismic testing.

Carolina Beach and Kure Beach residents are not alone in their opposition to seismic testing: The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and about 50 members of the U.S. House and Senate have also taken stances against it, according to a tally by the environmental advocacy group Oceana, which also opposes the practice.

And last month, 102 marine scientists and conservation biologists wrote a letter to President Obama opposing finalizing the environmental impact statement on seismic testing until the National Marine Fisheries completes its new Marine Mammal Acoustic Guidelines lest the statement be “scientifically deficient and quickly outdated.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Miami Herald: Feds support air gun blasts to find Atlantic oil, gas

http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/02/27/3963572/feds-support-air-gun-blasts-to.html

Thursday, 2/27/14whale

A study of what the controversial seismic tests would do to whales, dolphins and fish is on track for release at the end of February, an Interior Department official told lawmakers on Friday. Pictured is a North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES / NOAA/MCT

BY SEAN COCKERHAM
MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON — The Interior Department is endorsing seismic exploration for oil and gas in Atlantic waters, a crucial move toward starting drilling off the Carolinas, Virginia and possibly down to Florida.

The department released its final review Thursday, favoring a plan to allow the intense underwater seismic air gun blasts that environmentalists and some members of Congress say threatens the survival of whales and dolphins.

The oil industry wants to use the air guns to find out how much oil and gas lies along the U.S. Atlantic seabed. Federal estimates of a relatively modest 3.3 billion barrels of oil date from the 1970s and 1980s and are considered too low.

“The currently available seismic information from this area is decades old and was developed using technologies that are obsolete,” said Tommy Beaudreau, the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The federal government wants to use the information to decide whether to open up the mid- and south Atlantic to oil and gas drilling for the first time in decades. President Barack Obama had planned to start allowing drilling at least off the coast of Virginia, but he postponed consideration of the idea after the massive 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Interior Department’s plan is to start allowing underwater seismic air gun tests in an area from Delaware to Florida’s Cape Canaveral, though most of the push for offshore drilling involves the waters off the Carolinas and Virginia.

The seismic tests involve vessels towing an array of air guns that blast compressed air underwater, sending intense sound waves to the bottom of the ocean. The booms are repeated every 10 seconds or so for days or weeks.

The echoes are used to map the locations of subsea oil and gas deposits.

The Interior Department received more than 55,000 public comments on the proposal. Environmental groups warn that the blasts make whales and dolphins deaf, preventing them from feeding, mating and communicating. More than 50 members of Congress, including a few Republicans, have sent letters to the president opposing the seismic air gun tests and saying that up to 138,500 marine mammals could be injured by them.

Interior Department officials said their plan protected the endangered North Atlantic right whale by closing areas along the whales’ main migratory route to the air gun testing. Beaudreau said the tests would be monitored closely.

“We’re really going to require and demand a high level of environmental performance,” he said.

The environmental group Oceana said the protected area was too small and the endangered whales would suffer from the “dynamite-like blasts.”

“They are like the American bison of the ocean. They deserve protection. There are only 500 of them left,” said Matthew Huelsenbeck, a marine scientist for Oceana.

Oceana last week spearheaded a letter from more than 100 marine scientists and conservation biologists that urges the Obama administration not to approve the seismic tests until the National Marine Fisheries Services releases upcoming new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is expected to give the final approval to the seismic testing plan in April. At that point the government would start reviewing the nine applications from companies that want to conduct the testing and decide whether their specific proposals should go forward.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash.,, said the seismic testing plan was a major milestone for efforts to open the Atlantic to oil and gas drilling.
“While it has taken far too long, this step today will help put America on a path to open new areas to more American energy production,” Hastings said.

The Obama administration is weighing whether to include mid- and south Atlantic oil and gas drilling in the next federal offshore leasing plan, which runs from 2017 through 2022.
The National Ocean Industries Association, a group that’s lobbying for offshore drilling,
said the Interior Department’s approval of seismic testing appeared to be a huge step. But the group said it needed to review the plan to make sure its restrictions didn’t make testing unworkable.

The industry group said seismic testing had been used for decades in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere in the world to make informed decisions about where to drill for oil.

There’s been controversy along the Gulf of Mexico, though, where the industry, environmental groups and government agencies settled a lawsuit last summer by putting some areas off limits to air gun testing for 30 months while environmental studies are conducted.

Email: scockerham@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @seancockerham

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2014/02/27/3963572/feds-support-air-gun-blasts-to.html#storylink=cpy

Special thanks to Richard Charter

UPI.com: Report: ‘Perfect storm’ of oil risks in U.S. arctic waters

http://www.upi.com/Business_News/Energy-Resources/2014/02/27/Report-Perfect-storm-of-oil-risks-in-US-arctic-waters/UPI-42481393502191/#ixzz2uXBx1UCL

Feb. 27, 2014 at 6:56 AM |

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) — With Shell uncertain about its future in U.S. arctic waters, a consortium of environmental advocacy groups said the region presents a “perfect storm of risks.”

Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden said in January a series of mishaps in its drilling campaign off the Alaskan coast meant his company lacked a “clear path forward” in the arctic. “I am not prepared to commit further resources for drilling in Alaska in 2014,” he said.

Oil Change International, Greenpeace, Oceana, Platform, Pacific Environment and ShareAction issued a 36-page report Wednesday saying the long-term capital investments needed and the “uniquely challenging” arctic environment suggested the region may be out of reach.

“The U.S. Arctic Ocean presents almost a perfect storm of risks,” their report stated. Shell’s arctic drill ship Kulluk ran aground off the Alaskan coast while being towed to Seattle in December 2012. The grounding followed a 2012 exploration season in the arctic waters of Alaska that was complicated by equipment failures.

A January decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has headquarters in San Francisco, against environmental aspects tied to Shell’s work in Alaska could delay the company’s plans “by several years,” the environmental groups say.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Times-Picayune: BP begins oil production at major Gulf of Mexico deepwater hub

http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2014/02/bp_begins_oil_production_at_ma.html

big rig
BP’s Na Kika offshore platform in the Gulf of Mexico in November 2013. The company said it started new oil production at the platform on Feb. 19, 2014. (BP p.l.c.)

By Jennifer Larino, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on February 25, 2014 at 4:31 PM, updated February 25, 2014 at 4:32 PM

BP has started production at a key offshore oil and gas hub, its third major deepwater drilling project to begin flowing oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico this year, the company said this week.

The project falls in line with the oil giant’s broader strategy to ramp up high-margin oil and gas production at four of its platforms in the region.

The recent activity centers on BP’s Na Kika field and production platform located about 140 miles southeast of New Orleans, in which BP owns a 50 percent interest. Royal Dutch Shell owns the remaining stake.

This is the third and latest phase of development at the Na Kika field, which started producing oil in 2003. The Na Kika platform sits in more than 6,000 feet of water.

BP has grown its operations there in recent months, drilling two new wells and building a system of subsea pipe and other equipment needed to tie the new wells back to the Na Kika platform.

BP brought the first oil well under the latest development phase into production on Feb. 19. A second well is expected to start up in the second quarter.

The company is also installing new equipment to boost production at an existing well at the site.

The investment could boost Na Kika’s daily production from up to 130,000 barrels of oil equivalent to up to 170,000 barrels.

The Na Kika project is among a number of projects expected to come online in the Gulf in coming years, potentially pushing the area to record high oil production by 2016.
BP has started up two other major deepwater projects so far this year, its Chirag oil project in the Caspian Sea and the Mars B project also in the Gulf of Mexico.

Shell, which operates Mars B, started production at the field’s Olympus platform, a move that is expected to boost production by 100,000 barrels per day, according to a report by FuelFix this month. BP owns a 28.5 percent working interest in the project.

BP plans to invest about $4 billion annually in the Gulf over the next decade, with much of the spending centering on four of the platforms it operates in the area – Thunder Horse, Na Kika, Atlantis and Mad Dog.

New leasing could also factor into the company’s spending plans.

BP America Inc. CEO John Minge, in a speech to the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association in New Orleans on Feb. 19, said that the company was nearing an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice that would again allow the company to bid on federal contracts, according to The Associated Press.

The suspension was put in place in November 2012 after BP pleaded guilty to criminal counts tied to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, which killed 11 men and unleashed the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

It’s still unclear whether the parties will reach an agreement prior to federal lease sales in the central and eastern Gulf planned for March 19 in New Orleans.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Washington Post: McAuliffe will join coalition pushing for off-shore drilling

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/02/24/mcauliffe-will-join-coalition-pushing-for-off-shore-drilling/

BY REID WILSON

February 24 at 10:56 am

www.washingtonpos/2662DBD5.jpg
Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.) (Mike Theiler/Reuters)
Governors from Mid-Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, including Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe (D), urged Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Monday to finalize rules that will eventually allow dramatically expanded offshore oil and gas drilling, bringing new industry – and millions in new tax revenue – to some states that have been shut out of the U.S. energy boom.

Jewell and senior Interior Department officials met with McAuliffe, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (D), Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) on Monday. The Interior Department is expected to release a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement within days that would allow oil and gas companies to begin surveying the outer continental shelf for natural resources.

Once the PEIS is issued, seismic surveys for oil and gas deposits could begin within a matter of months.

“We want to find out exactly what’s out there, but we also want to do it in an environmentally sound way,” McCrory said in an interview. He called the meeting “very positive.”

McCrory heads the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition, a group of mostly Republican governors pushing to expand offshore oil drilling. McAuliffe told The Washington Post he would join the coalition – the first Democrat to do so – as he sped out of the meeting Monday.

Expanding offshore oil and gas production could lead to “tens of millions” of dollars in royalties on both leasing agreements and production for states like North Carolina and Virginia, McCrory said. McAuliffe made a point to ask Jewell how much money Virginia could expect from the new drilling operations.

The exact amount of revenue that would fall to the states remains up in the air, subject to revenue-sharing agreements to be worked out between the states and the federal government.

Jewell told governors that the revenue-sharing part of any new production would be out of her hands. She urged the governors to “make the case legislatively,” according to one person in the meeting.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has proposed legislation that would codify a revenue-sharing agreement. McCrory said coastal states are looking to revenue-sharing agreements between the federal government and inland states as models.

The new drilling could also mean thousands of new jobs for rural coastal communities. “There’s a potential to bring new industry closer in to our coast that is desperately needed,” McCrory said.

But before drilling or exploration can commence, states will have to consider objections from environmentalists, who are concerned about the impact on wildlife. The states will also be required to work with the U.S. military, which conducts training operations and manages shipping lanes near areas that could be opened to drilling.

As new technology has led to an energy production boom in states like North Dakota and Texas, coastal states that need federal permission to expand offshore drilling have lagged. Virginia produced 146 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2012, according to the Department of Energy, and no oil. North Carolina, too, has yet to begin setting rules for hydraulic fracturing and other new techniques that could expand oil drilling.

The Obama administration has been criticized for being slow to open new territory to oil and gas exploration, but the amount of energy produced in the United States has risen to record levels in recent years. Jewell, a former executive at REI and an avid environmentalist, assured the governors that the administration wouldn’t block future development.

“We’re not here to get in the way of energy development,” Jewell said, according to the person present in the meeting.

The governors also urged Jewell to expand offshore wind power, and to set concrete rules for producers who want to expand drilling operations in the Arctic. Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R), who faces reelection this year, sent a representative from his office to the meeting.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Oceana: 100+ Scientists Urge Obama to Wait on New Science before Permitting the Use of Seismic Airguns in the Atlantic Ocean New Science is Essential to Protecting Marine Life from Seismic Testing for Oil and Gas

http://bit.ly/1mwFDIu

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 21, 2014
12:12 PM

CONTACT: Oceana

Dustin Cranor, 202.341.2267 or dcranor@oceana.org

WASHINGTON – February 21 – Today, more than 100 marine scientists and conservation biologists sent a letter to President Obama and his administration urging them to “use the best available science before permitting seismic surveys for offshore oil and gas in the mid- and south Atlantic.”

The letter, which comes days before the Department of the Interior is expected to release its final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) on seismic airgun testing off the East Coast, calls on the Obama administration to wait on new acoustic guidelines for marine mammals, which are currently in development by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Excerpt from the letter:

“It is essential to incorporate these guidelines into this PEIS in order to accurately estimate auditory injuries and disturbances to marine mammals from proposed seismic surveys, so that this important information can guide the most appropriate mitigation measures.

If the PEIS moves forward without the newly established acoustic guidelines it will be scientifically deficient and quickly outdated. It will fail to accurately assess the true scope of marine mammal impacts from proposed seismic surveys, which is a primary purpose of the PEIS. The mid- and south Atlantic is home to a diversity and abundance of marine mammals, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale which could be impacted by proposed seismic survey activity. We implore you to take this opportunity to integrate NMFS’ new Marine Mammal Acoustic Guidelines into the PEIS for proposed seismic survey activity in the mid- and south Atlantic.”

Background:

The use of seismic airguns is currently being considered to look for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean floor in an area twice the size of California, stretching all the way from Delaware to Florida.

Seismic airguns are towed behind ships and shoot extremely loud and repeated blasts of sound to search for buried oil and gas in the Earth’s crust. The dynamite-like blasts occur every ten seconds, for days to weeks at a time. The government itself expects this testing to possibly injure 138,500 marine mammals like dolphins and whales along the East Coast. Estimates include injury to nine critically endangered North Atlantic right whales, of which there are only approximately 500 left worldwide. New acoustic data from Cornell University’s Bioacoustics Research Program recently found that right whales off the Virginia coast are in the path of proposed seismic airgun use.

In September, Oceana delivered more than 100,000 petitions opposing seismic airguns to the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, as well as approximately 50 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, also called on President Obama to stop the use of seismic airguns last year.

For more information about Oceana’s efforts to stop seismic airguns, including an infographic and animation about how they work, please visit www.oceana.org/seismic.

###

E&E: Interior proposes near-doubling of spill liability cap

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014

The Interior Department today announced plans to nearly double the current $75 million oil spill liability cap for offshore oil and gas development to keep pace with inflation, marking the cap’s first increase since passage of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

The proposed rule, which environmentalists called long overdue, would also spell out how Interior implements future increases to the cap.

“This proposed change is the first administrative increase to the liability cap since the Oil Pollution Act came into effect 24 years ago and is necessary to keep pace with the 78 percent increase in inflation since 1990,” said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Tommy Beaudreau. “This adjustment helps to preserve the deterrent effect and the ‘polluter pays’ principle embodied in the law.”

Companies involved in a spill are legally responsible for the full cost of containing and cleaning up a spill. But Congress has capped companies’ liability for economic damages — people put out of work by the spill, fishermen who cannot fish, empty hotel rooms on the beach at high season — at $75 million. The BOEM proposal would raise the cap to $134 million, the largest increase allowed without legislation.

The proposal comes more than three years after a presidential BP PLC spill commission recommended that Congress “significantly” raise the liability cap, a proposal that has sputtered on Capitol Hill and has not seen serious consideration in years.

House Democrats in 2010 passed a bill to eliminate the cap, but oil state Democrats particularly in the Senate expressed concerns that such proposals could harm smaller operators. Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) worked hard on a compromise, but the issue seems to have dropped off Congress’ radar.

“Increasing the liability is long overdue,” said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s lands protection campaign. “The $75 million cap was too low, especially when you consider catastrophic spills such as the Deepwater Horizon spill.”

The American Petroleum Institute and National Ocean Industries Association didn’t comment on the proposal this morning.

The liability issue is complex and harks back to the legislation passed in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

The president’s seven-member BP spill panel did not specify how high the liability cap should be lifted, but it noted that the “relatively modest” cap “provide[s] little incentive for oil companies to improve safety practices.”

Although the panel has since disbanded, members issued a report last year finding there is still an “obvious need” for companies to face more responsibility for damage to coastal communities.

“The Gulf states and the country at large were fortunate that BP, the well’s owner, ignored the cap and had both the resources and the willingness to bear the full costs of responding to the spill,” the members said in the report. “The commission recommended that the liability cap be significantly increased, which requires congressional legislation. But Congress took no action to even consider such an amendment during the past year.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Politifact The Truth-O-Meter Says: On oil drilling off Florida’s coast: Charlie Crist mostly opposed oil drilling except in 2008 he called for a study of it

http://www.politifact.com/florida/statements/2014/feb/20/charlie-crist/charlie-crist-mostly-opposed-oil-drilling-except-2/

Tampa Bay Times, Miami Herald

Charlie Crist on Wednesday, February 12th, 2014 in newspaper articles

In April 2010, Deepwater Horizon exploded, resulting in a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The spill raised questions about policy positions on oil drilling for several politicians, including then Gov. Charlie Crist.

At the time of the spill, Crist was struggling in a Republican U.S. Senate primary against soon-to-be Sen. Marco Rubio; he ended up switching to “no party affiliation.” In 2013, Crist announced that he was running for governor again — this time as a Democrat.

We decided to look back at Crist’s statements on oil drilling through his tenure and place them on our Flip-O-Meter, which evaluates whether a politician actually changed position. We leave it to voters to decide the significance of our findings.

1998-2008
Overall, Crist expressed opposition to drilling throughout much of his career, from state senator to education commissioner to U.S. Senate candidate to attorney general. A sampling:
* June 20, 1998, in a Florida Times-Union interview during his first U.S. Senate campaign against Bob Graham: “Having grown up here, it’s hard not to feel strongly about the beauty that is Florida. I would and already have fought offshore drilling in Florida, and would continue that fight in Florida.”
* An Oct. 10, 2006, interview with the Tampa Bay Times editorial board: “Offshore oil drilling, I’m adamantly opposed to it. I think a lot of that has to do with growing up here. I’m a Gulf Coast guy. … I remember when I was in elementary school, we had an oil spill in Tampa Bay. You may recall that. I literally remember cleaning birds off when that happened.”
* Oct. 20, 2006, at a press conference, on the qualities Floridians want in a president: “Making sure that we don’t drill for oil off our beautiful shore, and, of course, the other traditional things that go along with it.”
In his inaugural address as governor in January 2007, Crist called for “clean rivers, beautiful beaches and coastlines free of oil drilling. This is a vision we can make a reality.”

Crist as vice presidential contender in 2008
In 2008, with gasoline prices hovering near $4 a gallon and Crist being mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate (on a ticket that would popularize the phrase “drill, baby, drill!”), Crist backed off his previous unflinching opposition.

After Republican presidential contender John McCain gave a June 17 speech in Houston calling for opening up more waters to drilling, Crist said:
“We have to be sympathetic to the pocketbooks of Floridians and what they’re paying at the pump for gas and balance that with any way that our state might be able to contribute in terms of resources to have a greater supply and therefore lower prices,” Crist said. “I think an open-minded person understands that we ought to at least study (offshore drilling).”

Crist offered some caveats at the time: “It would all depend on the parameters,” he said. “How far off the coast, how safe it would be, how much it would protect our beaches.”

To environmentalists and Democratic leaders, Crist’s statement was a major reversal.

“It seemed that he would be the last person to change course on this,” said Eric Draper, policy director for Audubon of Florida, at the time.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, called Crist’s position “a 180-degree flip-flop.”

“I don’t understand Gov. Crist’s Flip-Flop on this,” she said. “The risk to our environment and to our economy — I mean the governor, of all people, should know better.”

The next week Crist delivered a speech at a global climate change summit in Miami. “We must have an open discussion – without compromising Florida’s sensitive ecosystems and natural beauty,” Crist said of offshore drilling. “As I stated last week, only when we are able to do so far enough from Florida’s coast, safe enough for our people and clean enough for our beaches, should we consider increasing our oil supply by drilling off Florida’s shores. Let me repeat that – far enough, safe enough and clean enough.”

Crist witnesses 2010 spill
But in 2010, after flying over the gulf and seeing the Deepwater Horizon spill firsthand, Crist withdrew his support for any form of drilling off Florida’s coasts.

“It could be devastating to Florida if something like that were to occur,” Crist said. “It’s the last thing in the world I would want to see happen in our beautiful state.”

Crist also repeated the criteria laid out in his 2008 climate change address, saying the gulf spill proved drilling isn’t yet far enough away, clean enough, or safe enough.

“Clearly that one isn’t far enough, and that’s about 50 to 60 miles out, it’s clearly not clean enough after we saw what we saw today – that’s horrific – and it certainly isn’t safe enough. It’s the opposite of safe,” Crist said.

Crist summoned legislators to a special session in July with hopes that they would put an oil drilling ban on the November 2010 ballot. But the Republican-dominated Legislature delivered him a defeat within hours of convening.

Post 2010
Crist lost his U.S. Senate race in 2010 and Republican Rick Scott became the governor. In February 2011, Crist returned to Tallahassee to stand with Democrat Alex Sink and environmentalists to announce his support for a state constitutional amendment to ban oil drilling.

“This puts it in the hands of the people and that’s exactly where it should be,” Crist said.

At an October 2012 gathering with several former governors, Crist said Florida shouldn’t consider oil drilling.

He declared the BP oil spill to be “the greatest wake-up call of all time.”
“There are just too many other ways to produce energy – solar, wind, things that the Sunshine State of all places should be leading in,” he said, according to the Gainesville Sun.

Crist announced in November 2013 that he would run for governor again.
In an interview with Watermark, a central Florida publication that covers the gay community, a reporter asked Crist if elected if he would continue to support the ban on offshore drilling.

“Yes,” Crist replied in the interview published in December. “How could you be governor during the BP oil spill and not get that right. That was a wake-up call.”

We sent a summary of our findings to Crist’s campaign and received a response from former sen. Steve Geller, a Democrat advising Crist. Geller said the BP oil spill convinced Crist that nothing near Florida would be “safe enough, far enough, and clean enough.”

Did Crist flip?
For most of his career Crist has opposed offshore oil drilling in Florida. He spoke against drilling repeatedly between 1998 and 2006. But in 2008, he was a potential Republican vice presidential contender amid high gas prices. At that time, Crist said Florida should study drilling and have an “open discussion” about it — though in a speech he offered caveats that it would have to be “far enough, safe enough and clean enough.”

Even that suggestion was enough to anger environmentalists, but in the end that’s all it amounted to — a suggestion to study it.

The 2010 explosion put the lid on that discussion for Crist, and he again returned to his adamant stance against drilling — a position he has reiterated as recently as late 2013.

Crist did wobble in 2008, but ultimately he went back to his original position so we rate him No Flip.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Blog.Cleanenergy.org: Local Biz Owners Say Offshore Drilling is Bad for Business

http://blog.cleanenergy.org/2014/02/19/local-biz-owners-say-offshore-drilling-is-bad-for-business/

February 19th, 2014

by Chris Carnevale
Who knows what good and bad for business on the coast better than the coastal businesses? And the coastal businesses know that offshore drilling is bad for business. Pleasure Island Rentals in Carolina Beach, NC stands against seismic testing for offshore oil and gas.

NoSeismicTestingSign

Photo courtesy Randy Sturgill.

Who would you say is the most qualified entity to talk about what’s good and bad for business on the coast of the Southeastern U.S.? President Obama? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce? Maybe Governor McCrory in Raleigh, North Carolina or Governor Haley in Columbia, South Carolina, or Congressmen who live hundreds of miles from the coast? How about businesses and business owners that live, work, and raise families actually on the coast?

While Big Oil tries to persuade public officials that offshore oil and gas drilling would be a good thing for the coastal economy, too often the voices from the coast itself are pushed aside and not represented at the table when big money is at play. We think it makes sense to ask our coastal businesses what they think.

In North Carolina, coastal businesses recently made themselves heard in a letter to the Obama administration, spurred by Governor Pat McCrory’s push for opening the Atlantic coast to offshore oil and gas drilling and recent meeting with U.S. Energy Secretary Moniz to see it through. In response to these actions, 60 North Carolina businesses-30 from the coast and 30 inland-delivered a letter to President Obama and Secretary Moniz offering the locals’ perspective and not surprisingly, they unanimously and vigorously proclaim that offshore drilling will jeopardize the coastal economy.

An excerpt from the letter:
We are writing as businesses that depend upon a healthy coast as the foundation of our economy. Visitors come to North Carolina’s coast to experience our national and state parks and engage in recreational diving, boating, fishing and surfing, among many other activities. The North Carolina Department of Commerce estimates that coastal tourism and recreation in North Carolina support more than 25,000 jobs and contribute more than 2 billion dollars to the state economy annually. Commercial fishing is also a major industry that supports more than 5,000 jobs and has an estimated annual economic impact of 336 million dollars. These industries depend on a healthy coast and thriving natural resources. […] As coastal business owners, we believe that the Governor’s push for offshore exploration is misguided and presents significant risks to our economy.
About 300 citizens showed up to the Kure Beach town council meeting to oppose the mayor’s support for seismic testing of offshore oil and gas. Photo courtesy Alan Cradick, Wilmington Star News.

At about the same time this letter from the business community was being delivered to Washington, DC, coastal citizens made their sentiments about offshore drilling quite clear in the normally peaceful town of Kure Beach, NC. The Kure Beach mayor had signed on to a letter from the American Petroleum Institute (Big Oil’s lobbying arm) in support of offshore oil and gas exploration. Hundreds of citizens showed up (notable in a town of just 2,000 residents) to a subsequent town council meeting to let the council know that they do not support offshore drilling along North Carolina’s coast nor undertaking the risky exploration process. Interestingly, Kure Beach also passed a resolution in support of offshore wind energy, showing that offshore energy can be a sound economic development opportunity, as long as its done right-with wind, not drilling. The popularity of offshore wind with coastal residents is proven with scientific polling carried out by Clemson University.

The business community’s letter and the display of public outrage about offshore seismic testing show that coastal businesses and residents are not going to put up with the pro-drilling agenda pushed by Big Oil and repeated by politicians that could leave coastal citizens and our natural resources high and dry while padding faraway pockets. These events show that coastal businesses and residents are taking a stand for what we love about the coast, how we want to sustain our economy and way of life, and what we hope to pass down to future generations. We hope that the McCrory administration and Obama administration are listening with genuine intentions of serving the public interest.

– See more at: http://blog.cleanenergy.org/2014/02/19/local-biz-owners-say-offshore-drilling-is-bad-for-business/#sthash.WHAu0o0k.dpuf

Special thanks to Richard Charter

The Virginian-Pilot: Crucial study nears for offshore drilling in Virginia

http://hamptonroads.com/2014/02/crucial-study-nears-offshore-drilling-virginia

By Bill Bartel

© February 19, 2014

Drilling for gas and oil off Virginia’s coast is still forbidden, but proponents hope a federal study due within two weeks will let them at least start looking for places to set up drilling rigs.

Industry officials are seeking federal permits to conduct seismic testing – using airguns to bounce sound waves off the ocean floor and deeper formations – to explore anomalies that could indicate the presence of oil and gas deposits.

A long-awaited environmental impact statement needed in advance of the testing will be released this month, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The analysis will examine how seismic surveys in the mid- and south Atlantic would affect marine life and what must be done to mitigate possible harm.

Nine companies have requested permits to conduct seismic surveys.

The process involves ship-mounted devices firing compressed air into the water to generate sound waves that reflect off rock formations, with the echoes monitored by equipment on the surface. Geophysicists and geologists can use the data to “see” subsurface formations with geological structures that might hold oil and gas.

The impact study, which began three years ago, included eight public hearings along the Eastern Seaboard.

At a hearing in Norfolk in April 2012, opponents objected to seismic testing, saying it would be disruptive and harmful to whales, sea turtles and other marine life. Proponents said the tests could be done safely and are needed, noting that existing oil and gas information is outdated.

For environmentalists, what may be of greater concern than seismic testing itself is what it represents: a tangible step toward drilling more than 50 miles off the coast.

“It’s the camel’s nose under the tent,” said Glen Besa, state director of the Sierra Club. He and other opponents say the environmental risks of drilling operations can’t be ignored, and he worries that burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change and rising sea levels.

Meanwhile, oil and gas industry officials say they’re gaining ground in building political support for drilling.

“From our perspective, it is moving in the right direction,” said Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association.

Luthi said opposition to testing and drilling “goes with the territory. We face it all the time.”

Federal sales of Virginia leases for offshore drilling were expected to begin in 2011. They were put on hold by President Barack Obama’s administration until at least 2017 after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. That explosion killed 11 workers and caused the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history.

The moratorium also includes waters off North Carolina and other areas of the Atlantic, as well as large sections of the gulf near Florida’s west coast.

Some predict that any decision to sell leases in the Atlantic will depend on the willingness of the next president, who will take office in 2017.

Several of Virginia’s federal legislators and state leaders have unsuccessfully lobbied the Obama administration to end the moratorium. The U.S. House passed at least two bills in recent years that would have permitted lease sales, but the Senate didn’t consider them.

If the government gives a green light to seismic tests, companies likely wouldn’t get on the water for six months to a year – depending on how long it takes to obtain federal and state permits and move equipment to the region, said Gail Adams, spokeswoman for the International Association of Geophysical Contractors.

Surveying all of the mid- and south Atlantic could take a year, Adams said in an email. Then there’s the onshore work of estimating the size and location of potential oil and gas deposits, which might not be completed until spring 2016, she said.

Updated mapping could make the lease sales more lucrative for the government. Better information about specific locations and quantities of hydrocarbon deposits would spur more bids and higher prices for lease sales, an industry executive told a congressional subcommittee last month.

For example, the tests would reduce the odds of expensive “dry holes,” where companies drill but don’t find significant oil or gas, said Richie Miller, president of Houston-based Spectrum Geo.

U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell, who supports offshore drilling along with Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, says offshore exploration would diversify the region’s defense-centric economy.

Rigell said industry improvements, particularly since the Deepwater Horizon accident, convince him that drilling and production can be done safely and without harming the environment.

The Virginia Beach Republican, who contends that the energy industry could generate thousands of high-paying jobs in the state, is planning to bring a delegation of government and oil industry officials from Louisiana to Hampton Roads this year.

“All we’re asking for, in a reasonable way, is for the federal government to get out of the way,” Rigell said.

However, opposition remains strong.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott said environmental concerns are too great. He opposes offshore drilling.

“I still, to this day, don’t understand why people get so excited about what’s happened on the Gulf Coast,” said the Newport News Democrat. “When people say it will create jobs, I say, ‘You’re exactly right. See all those cleanup jobs?’ There’s billions spent on cleanup.”

Walter Cruickshank, deputy director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said during the House hearing last month that there are no guarantees.

“I believe we made a lot of reforms and changes over the last few years that have greatly improved safety of operations on the outer continental shelf,” he said, “but we have not and cannot eliminate all risk.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Irish Independent: UK’s Nebula gets licence to explore Irish Sea fracking

http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/uks-nebula-gets-licence-to-explore-irish-sea-fracking-30012998.html

EPA to investigate whether State should also permit practice

Nick Webb – 16 February 2014

While ‘fracking’ may not be permitted in Ireland, UK-based Nebula Resources is planning a venture to look for shale gas in the Irish Sea.

A company run by one of the founders of controversial British fracking company Cuadrilla has been granted three licences to explore the possibility of carrying out hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the Irish Sea, according to the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. The licences cover areas directly across the Irish Sea, less than 100 miles from Dundalk.

Nebula Resources boss Dr Chris Cornelius believes there are huge volumes of offshore shale gas that could be drilled. If successful, it would be the first such project in the world. The company hopes to begin exploration shortly.

“Certainly offshore shale gas is a new concept, and there’s no reason with the UK’s history of offshore development that we can’t develop these resources offshore,” he said last week.

Shale gas is extracted using the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves forcing water, sand and chemicals under extremely high pressure into rocks, to break them up and release the natural gas trapped inside. Fracking has completely transformed the US energy market by producing huge amounts of gas and oil, which has improved the country’s energy security and reduced its dependence on Gulf oil.

Some environmentalists believe that fracking may damage water supplies, and seek to block the extraction of new fossil fuel resources. However, drilling offshore removes the need to deal with local communities.

Natural Resources Minister Pat Rabbitte has charged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with investigating whether fracking should be permitted in Ireland.

The EPA has launched tenders for a two-year study into the impact of hydraulic fracturing.

The study is more comprehensive than first planned because of the level of opposition to fracking. Some 1,356 submissions were received following a public consultation period, the majority of which were against fracking. The EPA has now included a health expert on the committee drawing up the terms of reference for the study.

Most of the onshore fracking prospects focus on a small area bordering north Leitrim and south Fermanagh, which have been identified as potentially containing billions of cubic feet of natural gas. It is likely that this gas prospect may be extracted only by fracking.

The research programme is expected to start this summer. The Government has promised fracking will not go ahead while the research programme is under way. It is likely to be late 2016 or early 2017 before any fracking takes place in Ireland – assuming that the process gets a green light.

Cuadrilla Resources is the most high-profile gas fracking company operating in the UK. It is run by Irish exploration veteran Francis Egan and chaired by former BP boss Lord Browne.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Radio New Zealand: Anti-oil protesters take to the beaches and other similar articles

http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/236284/anti-oil-protesters-take-to-the-beaches

Radio New Zealand: Anti-oil protesters take to the beaches
Updated at 10:07 pm on 15 February 2014

Greenpeace says beach demonstrations around the South Island on Saturday are a clear message New Zealanders don’t want offshore drilling.

The Texan company Anadarko is about to begin drilling its first test well off the Otago-Southland coast in the search for a possible gasfield.

Greenpeace says more than 2000 people gathered on 21 South Island beaches in protest on Saturday afternoon.

Energy campaigner Steve Abel says protesters, including families, fishermen, tourism operators and iwi representatives, demonstrated they want a clean energy future for New Zealand.

He says the biggest turnouts were at beaches in Dunedin, with 600 people, Christchurch, with 500, and Kaikoura, 350.

Mr Abel says this shows people are very much saying they don’t want dozens of oil rigs dotted around the coastline.

He says they want jobs for New Zealand that don’t risk ruining fishing grounds or leave oil washing up on beaches.

____________________________

http://news.msn.co.nz/nationalnews/8800115/anti-oil-protests-at-south-island-beaches

MSN

Anti-oil protests at South Island beaches
18:29 Sat Feb 15 2014

Anti-oil protest have been held around South Island beaches as US oil company Anadarko continues its exploration of New Zealand waters.

Greenpeace says there were more than 2000 people at 20 beaches on the Mainland on Saturday, with the biggest crowds in Dunedin, Christchurch and Kaikoura.

The numbers showed New Zealanders did not want deep sea drilling off the coast, said Greenpeace energy campaigner Steve Abel.

“We don’t want to see dozens of oil rigs dotted off our coastlines – that is the awful vision of John Key and Anadarko. We want jobs for New Zealanders that don’t ruin our fishing grounds or risk oil washing on our beaches.”

Anadarko’s chartered ship the Noble Bob Douglas is now exploring the Canterbury Basin after failing to find oil off the west coast of the North Island.

It says it will most likely find natural gas in the Canterbury Basin, rather than oil.

The Petroleum Exploration and Production Association says finding commercial quantities of oil and natural gas is not easy, but drilling can be done safely in deep water.

In November last year, six boats protested against the Noble Bob Douglas off the Waikato coast. A subsequent Greenpeace legal challenge to the exploration permit failed.

Anti-oil protesters are again planning a sea-going protest off the Otago coast.

They say deep sea drilling for oil and gas is extremely risky for the environment and question the safety record of Anadarko, which was one of the companies behind the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

_______________________

video at:

http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/oil-exploration-protesters-take-beaches-5837422

TV New Zealand

Oil Exploration Protesters Take to the Beaches

Anti-oil protesters across the South Island have continued their fight against Texan oil giant Anadarko today.

The Noble Bob Douglas will arrive close to New Zealander’s southern shores in the coming weeks for oil and gas exploration.

Over 2,000 people on 20 beaches across the South Island took part in the ‘Banners on the Beach’ protest against the ship’s arrival.

Last week Oil Free Otago sent a flotilla of yachts out to the drill-ship in an attempt to stop the exploration vessel.

Protesters from Kaikoura say seismic testing creates noise pollution that they fear will distress Kaikoura’s whales, dolphins and marine life.

Greenpeace energy campaigner, Steve Abel, said today’s turnout has sent a strong message to the Government and oil industry.

“Over 2000 people and families that have joined in today show that Kiwis don’t want deep sea drilling off our coasts. That’s not the future we want for New Zealand.

“We don’t want to see dozens of oil rigs dotted off our coastlines – that is the awful vision of John Key and Anadarko. We want jobs for New Zealanders that don’t ruin our fishing grounds or risk oil washing on our beaches.

“It’s about defending the way people put food on the table in New Zealand now and not selling out our kids’ future to foreign oil companies. We belong as part of the solution – sticking true to our clean green values and innovating a way forward – not as another oily backwater run for the benefit of US drillers.”

Last November over 5,000 people turned up to protest Anadarko’s drilling off the coast of Raglan.

_______________________________

http://www.theeasterntribune.com/story/2906/anti-oil-protestors-gather-across-the-south-island/#sthash.eUGvbZrU.dpbs

The Eastern Tribune

Anti-oil protestors gather across the South Island
Mashaal Lakhani
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 15TH, 2014

KAIKOURA: The Anti-oil protesters across the South Island are still fighting against the Texan oil giant Anadarko. The Noble Bob Douglas will soon arrive near New Zealander’s southern shores in the next few weeks for oil and gas exploration.

Around 2,000 people on 20 beaches throughout the South Island took part in a protest, ‘Banners on the Beach’, against the arrival of the ship. Earlier it was reported that Oil Free Otago had sent a fleet of yachts out towards the drill-ship in an effort to stop the exploration vessel. Kaikoura protesters believe the seismic testing creates noise pollution that will distress Kaikoura’s marine life.

Steve Abel, Greenpeace energy campaigner, said the turnout on the beaches has sent a strong message to the Government and oil industry. He said around 2000 people and families have come together which shows that Kiwis do not want deep sea drilling to be done off their coasts. That was not the future they wanted for New Zealand.

The protestors demand that they did not want to see dozens of oil rigs dotted off on their coastlines. That is an awful vision of John Key and Anadarko. They want jobs for New Zealanders that do not ruin their fishing grounds or have the risk of oil washing on their beaches. Steve Abel said that this fight was about defending how people put food on the table in New Zealand and not selling out their kids’ future to foreign oil companies. He said they were sticking true to their clean green values and finding a way forward with innovation and not as another oily backwater run for the benefit of US drillers.

Over 5,000 people had turned up to protest Anadarko’s drilling off the coast of Raglan.

– See more at: http://www.theeasterntribune.com/story/2906/anti-oil-protestors-gather-across-the-south-island/#sthash.eUGvbZrU.dpuf

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Otago Daily Times New Zealand: Protesters exhorted to ‘say no’

http://www.odt.co.nz/regions/north-otago/291615/protesters-exhorted-say-no

By David Bruce on Fri, 14 Feb 2014
The Regions: North Otago

Greenpeace hopes thousands will flock to protests in the South Island tomorrow to oppose deep-sea oil drilling off the Otago coast.

Individual communities, under the umbrella of Greenpeace’s ”Banners on the Beach” campaign to ”say no to the deep sea oil gamble”, have organised 17 protests at venues stretching from Golden Bay to Bluff.

Greenpeace public engagement co-ordinator Genevieve Toop told the Otago Daily Times from Auckland about 5000 people were at similar protests in November at 45 beaches in the North Island, opposing exploratory drilling off Raglan by Anadarko, also off the Otago coast.

In North Otago, two beaches will be used for protests, Friendly Bay in Oamaru Harbour and one of the region’s most popular tourist spots, the Moeraki boulders. St Clair is the Dunedin venue.

One of the organisers of the Moeraki protest, Bronwyn Judge, said drilling offshore in very deep and rough water posed a higher risk of an oil spill than on land or in shallow water.

Development of clean energy sources and a significant reduction in the dependence on fossil fuels was also needed to combat catastrophic global climate change, not seeking more fossil fuel, she said.

Those wanting to protest have been urged to gather at the two sites at noon, meeting at Friendly Bay and the Moeraki Boulders reserve car park.

They are asked to prepare and bring their own banners, face paint or sand building tools, cameras or videos to record the protest, a picnic lunch and swimming clothes if the day is good.

At Moeraki, Waitaki Mayor Gary Kircher would explain the Waitaki District Council’s thinking and other councillors had been invited for the discussions, then walking along to the boulders for photographs.

Another speaker will be University of Otago associate professor Bob Lloyd. director of the energy studies programme in the physics department, whose work has included renewable energy.

Other protests at noon tomorrow are planned for Timaru’s Caroline Bay, the Waitati Festival at Bland Park and Bluff’s Marine Parade.

– david.bruce@odt.co.nz

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Department of Interior: Obama Administration to Offer 40 Million Acres in the Gulf of Mexico for Oil and Gas Development–Final Notice of Sales for Central and Eastern Planning Areas

http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/obama-administration-to-offer-40-million-acres-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-for-oil-and-gas-development.cfm

Press Release

02/13/2014

WASHINGTON, DC — As part of the Obama Administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Tommy P. Beaudreau today announced that Interior will offer more than 40 million acres for oil and gas exploration and development in the Gulf of Mexico in March lease sales.

“These lease sales underscore the President’s commitment to create jobs through the safe and responsible exploration and development of the Nation’s domestic energy resources,” said Jewell. “The Five Year Program reflects this Administration’s determination to facilitate the orderly development while protecting the human, marine and coastal environments, and ensuring a fair return to American taxpayers.”

Lease Sale 231 in the Central Planning Area and Lease Sale 225 in the Eastern Planning Area will be held consecutively in New Orleans, Louisiana, on March 19, 2014. The sales will be the fourth and fifth offshore auctions under the Administration’s Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2012-2017 (Five Year Program), which makes all areas with the highest-known resource potential available for oil and gas leasing in order to further reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. The lease sales build on the first three sales in the Five Year Program that offered more than 79 million acres for development and garnered $1.4 billion in high bids.

Domestic oil and gas production has grown each year President Obama has been in office, with domestic oil production currently higher than any time in two decades; natural gas production at its highest level ever; and renewable electricity generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources having doubled. Combined with recent declines in oil consumption, foreign oil imports now account for less than 40 percent of the oil consumed in America – the lowest level since 1988.

The Gulf of Mexico contributes about 20 percent of U.S. domestic oil and 6 percent of domestic gas production, providing the bulk of the $14.2 billion in mineral revenue disbursed to Federal, state and American Indian accounts from onshore and offshore energy revenue collections in Fiscal Year 2013. That was a 17 percent increase over FY 2012 disbursements of $12.15 billion.

“As a critical component of the Nation’s energy portfolio, the Gulf holds vital energy resources that can continue to generate jobs and spur economic opportunities for Gulf producing states as well as further reduce the Nation’s dependence on foreign oil,” said BOEM Director Beaudreau.

Sale 231 encompasses about 7,507 unleased blocks, covering 39.6 million acres, located from three to 230 nautical miles offshore Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, in water depths ranging from 9 to more than 11,115 feet (3 to 3,400 meters). BOEM estimates the proposed sale could result in the production of approximately 1 billion barrels of oil and 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Sale 225 is the first of only two lease sales proposed for the Eastern Planning Area under the Five Year Program, and is the first sale offering acreage in that area since Sale 224 in March of 2008. The sale encompasses 134 whole or partial unleased blocks covering about 465,200 acres in the Eastern Planning Area. The blocks are located at least 125 statute miles offshore in water depths ranging from 2,657 feet to 10,213 feet (810 to 3,113 meters). The area is south of eastern Alabama and western Florida; the nearest point of land is 125 miles northwest in Louisiana. BOEM estimates the sale could result in the production of 71 million barrels of oil and 162 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The decision to hold these sales follows extensive environmental analysis, public comment and consideration of the best scientific information available. The terms of the sales include stipulations to protect biologically sensitive resources, mitigate potential adverse effects on protected species and avoid potential conflicts associated with oil and gas development in the region.

In addition to opening bids for these two sales, BOEM will open any pending bids submitted in Western Planning Area Sale 233 for blocks located or partially located within three statute miles of the maritime and continental shelf boundary with Mexico (the Boundary Area). Any leases awarded as a result of these bids will be subject to the terms of the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbons Agreement, which was approved by Congress in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 and recently signed by the President.
All terms and conditions for Lease Sales 231 and 225 are detailed in the Final Notices of Sale that can be viewed today in the Federal Register. Terms and conditions for Sale 225 are fully explained in a new streamlined format, available at boem.gov/Sale-225 and for Sale 231 at boem.gov/Sale-231.

CD’s of the sale package as well as hard copies of the maps can be requested from the Gulf of Mexico Region’s Public Information Office at 1201 Elmwood Park Boulevard, New Orleans, LA 70123, or at 800-200-GULF (4853).

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Thinkprogress.com: ‘Out-Of-Control’ Rig In The Gulf Gushing Methane Freely Into The Atmosphere & ABC News: Gas Continues to Escape From Rig off La. Coast

‘Out-Of-Control’ Rig In The Gulf Gushing Methane Freely Into The Atmosphere

BY EMILY ATKIN ON JANUARY 31, 2014 AT 9:48 AM

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/01/31/3232181/methane-leak-gulf/

An “out-of-control” well that began blowing gas into the air on Thursday is still not under control as of Friday morning, according to a report from the Associated Press.

42-non essential workers from Rowan Companies PLC’s offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico, named “Louisiana,” were evacuated, while 37 stayed on the rig to try and stop the flow of gas. Rig operator EnVen Energy Ventures said that while workers attempt to kill the well, gas was being “vented” off of the rig. Although gas, water and sand are still flowing from the well, EnVen said no pollution has occurred in the Gulf.

“All personnel currently aboard the rig are safe and non-essential personnel have been evacuated, all well control equipment is functioning as designed (and) there has been no environmental impact,” Rowan Companies spokesperson Deanna Castillo told the AP.

Unlike a spill, an out-of-control well blowing gas does not pollute in a traditional, visible sense. Instead, it releases methane – the potent, second-most prevalent greenhouse gas – into the air, contributing to climate change. Pure natural gas is mostly methane, a fuel that burns cleaner than coal or oil. However, when methane is released directly into the air, ittraps heat in the atmosphere.

From an air quality perspective, it is better to burn flowing gas through a flare system, rather than venting it directly into the atmosphere, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

It was not clear early Friday whether the companies would attempt to flare off the gas.

Because of a fire risk, the Louisiana platform as well as an adjacent platform that was producing oil and gas was shut down as a precaution, according to the The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. To prevent a fire, all engines on the platform and rig were turned off, and workers are pumping seawater into and over the flow stream.

______________

http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/crews-lose-control-gas-rig-off-louisiana-coast-22305466

ABC News: Gas Continues to Escape From Rig off La. Coast
NEW ORLEANS January 31, 2014 (AP)
By BILL FULLER Associated Press

Crews worked Friday to stop natural gas from escaping an underwater well where a rig was drilling off the Louisiana coast. The Coast Guard said workers had cut the flow in half since losing control of the well a day earlier.

No injuries or pollution have been reported. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said most crew members had been evacuated from the rig, which was drilling in 262 feet of water about 108 miles southwest of Lafayette.

The rig operator is EnVen Energy Ventures of Metairie, La. Company spokesman David Blackmon said the flow from the well has “significantly diminished” and consists almost entirely of water and sand, with “just a trace” of natural gas. No sheen has been spotted in the area, Blackmon added.

Work is underway to secure the well, said Deanna Castillo, a spokeswoman for rig owner Rowan Companies.

“All personnel currently aboard the rig are safe and non-essential personnel have been evacuated, all well control equipment is functioning as designed (and) there has been no environmental impact,” she said Thursday.

Blackmon said workers planned to pump mud and water to kill the well.

“They’re just getting everything lined up,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a while to stage these kinds of operations.”

A spokeswoman for the environmental department, Eileen Angelico, said water temperatures in the Gulf were too cold Friday for the agency to send its own officials out to inspect the scene. The agency spokeswoman also said a platform that was producing oil and gas near the EnVen rig was shut down as a precaution.

Wild gas wells tend to be less of an environmental threat than blowouts from oil wells.

A natural gas blowout off Louisiana’s coast in July 2013 ended one day later. Authorities believed the well had been clogged by sand and sediment. The rig, operated by Hercules Offshore Inc., blew out and later caught fire. Part of the rig collapsed before the well apparently plugged itself.

The BP PLC blowout in April 2010 off the southeast Louisiana coast killed 11 workers and spewed a mixture of natural gas and oil from a busted well nearly a mile under the Gulf’s surface. The worst environmental damage appeared to be caused by the hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil that escaped and fouled marshes and seafood grounds.

The EnVen rig was operating in relatively shallow waters, where measures to control a leak or blowout are easier to manage than in the deep waters of the Gulf.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Thinkprogress.org: “After 8,400 Gallon Oil Spill, Safety Standards On Norwegian Offshore Rigs Questioned”

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/01/27/3207201/limited-statoil-/

After 8,400 Gallon Oil Spill, Safety Standards On Norwegian Offshore Rigs Questioned

By Emily Atkin on January 27, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Statfjord-C-Photo-Harald-Pettersen-Statoil-638x417

The Statfjord C rig.
CREDIT: Statoil

Approximately 32 cubic meters, or 8,400 gallons, of oil spilled into the sea early Sunday morning following a leak at a Statoil-owned rig off the coast of Norway, according to media reports and a company statement.

“It has been confirmed that a limited amount of oil has leaked into the sea,” the Norway-based company said, noting that the leak had been stopped. “We are currently working on mapping the extent of the leak. The platform has been shut down.”

Though weather was not indicated as the cause, Statoil confirmed that harsh conditions and high waves were preventing emergency response teams from adequately observing the area immediately following the spill, and that it would inspect the area from the air. The spill originated from an area in the rig’s drainage system that was supposed to trap liquids, the company said, but did not note how or why the drainage system failed. The rig’s crew of 270 people were ordered onto lifeboats, Statoil said.

Statoil said it would launch an in-house investigation of the spill’s cause. Norway’s police and Petroleum Safety Authority also said it would probe the incident.

“We view an oil leak into the sea as serious,” company spokesman Morten Eek told Bloomberg News. “Statfjord C is shut and won’t be started again before we’ve had the system verified.”
statfjord location

CREDIT: Statoil

The Statfjord C platform is part of the Statfjord fields, which produce about 80,000 barrels of oil a day through its A, B, and C platforms, according to Statoil’s website. Though Statoil does not give production value of the oil obtained via the Statfjord platforms, Statfjord holds the record for the highest daily production ever recorded for a European oil field outside Russia.

Statoil’s production has also likely helped Norway’s recent influx of riches. The country’s sovereign wealth fund ballooned in the last year because of high oil and gas prices, with the fund — which collects taxes from oil profits and invests the money, mostly in stocks — exceeding 5.11 trillion crowns ($905 billion) in value last week. Theoretically, that made everyone in Norway worth a million crowns per person, or about $177,000 per Norwegian.

Safety on Norway’s offshore rigs, however, has been an issue for some in the country. Just one day after Sunday’s spill, four unions that represented Norwegian offshore oil rig workers decided to withdraw from an industry-sponsored safety group, saying the offshore rig industry was ignoring critical safety standards.

The group, called the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association’s Network for Safety and Emergency Response Training (NSOB), was originally established in the wake of a 1980 platform disaster that killed 123 people. But now, the four unions — Fellesforbundet, Industri Energi, Lederne and SAFE — said NSOB had recently made “a number of changes that impair safety and emergency training on the Norwegian continental shelf.”

“For us, it appears that cost savings and superficiality have taken precedence at the expense of safety and emergency response,” Fellesforbundet Secretary Mohammed Afzal said in a statement to UPI news.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Oil and Gas Financial Journal: EPA issues NPDES permits for CA offshore oil and gas operations

http://www.ogfj.com/articles/2014/01/epa-issues-npdes-permit-that-includes-limited-chemical-disclosure-requirements-for-oil-and-gas-operations-offshore-california.html

January 22, 2014
Michael Weller and Jason Hutt
Bracewell & Giuliani LLP

Region 9 of the US Environmental Protection Agency recently made available the finalized National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit applicable to discharges from oil and gas exploration facilities offshore Southern California. NPDES General Permit No. CAG280000 (2014 NPDES General Permit), issued under provisions of the Clean Water Act, authorizes discharges from exploration, development and production facilities located offshore of Southern California in accordance with specified effluent limitations, monitoring and reporting requirements and various other conditions.

The final 2014 NPDES General Permit includes certain new requirements that EPA indicates were added to address offshore hydraulic fracturing operations, including increases in the monitoring requirements associated with produced water discharges and new inventory and reporting requirements.

While operating offshore, waste streams generated by oil and gas operations are generally either treated and discharged via a NPDES permit or shipped back to shore for disposal. The 2014 NPDES General Permit authorizes discharges from 23 platforms operating offshore Southern California, including discharges of Drilling Fluids and Cuttings, Produced Water, Well Treatment, Completion and Workover Fluids, Bilge Water, and Water Flooding Discharges.

This reissuance of the 2004 NPDES general permit was initially proposed in 2012. During the public comment period, the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), several California legislators and the California Coastal Commission (CCC) expressed interest in hydraulic fracturing operations offshore of California. To address the concerns raised over offshore hydraulic fracturing, EPA changed portions of the final general permit, adding new testing and reporting requirements.

Background
Section 301(a) of the Clean Water Act prohibits point source discharges of pollutants into navigable waters unless in compliance with a permit. To comply with the prohibition on point source discharges, businesses typically obtain CWA Section 402 permits from the state; however, because these operations are offshore, EPA issues the NPDES permits directly. Under the NPDES program, EPA may issue individual permits or general permits. The latter allows the Agency to authorize discharges from a large number of facilities engaged in the same activity. When EPA issues a general permit, a prospective permittee simply submits an application for coverage and then abides by the terms and conditions of the general permit.

Monitoring requirements
NDPES general permits typically contain monitoring requirements. In its response to public comments on the 2014 NDPES General Permit, EPA indicated that it has increased the mandatory Whole Effluent Toxicity or “WET” testing for produced water discharges from an annual to a quarterly requirement. EPA indicated that, because the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations are “commonly commingled and discharged with produced water,” the mandatory tests applicable to produced water will address any concerns over discharges associated with hydraulic fracturing operations.

Inventory/reporting requirements
NPDES permits may also contain inventory and reporting requirements. In the 2004 version of this particular NPDES permit, EPA required that permittees maintain inventories and report drilling fluid constituents added downhole for all discharges of “Drilling Fluids and Cuttings.” In the 2004 version, the mandatory inventory and reporting requirement only applied to mud systems and there was no such requirement for “Well Treatment, Completion and Workover Fluids.”

The 2014 NDPES General Permit includes that same requirement for discharges of “Drilling Fluids and Cuttings.” However, the permittee must also now submit detailed information for discharges of “Well Treatment, Completion and Workover Fluids,” which includes chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Specifically, EPA added Part II.C.3 to the 2014 NPDES General Permit, which requires the permittee to:
1. maintain an inventory of the quantities and application rates of chemicals used to formulate well treatment, completion and workover fluids; and
2. if those fluids are discharged, report to EPA Region 9 the chemical formulation of the discharges and the discharge volume with the operators quarterly discharge monitoring reports.

The disclosures under the 2014 NDPES General Permit are not to the “public” and EPA has indicated that the inventory would be available to EPA where the Agency “deems it necessary to meet the purposes of the CWA. For example, in case of well failure or other accident resulting in an unexpected discharge, EPA may access such inventory in order to immediately assess emergency response needs.” It is not yet clear how the chemical formulations must be reported or to what extent trade secret protections are available.
The public comment period for the 2014 NPDES General Permit closed nearly one year ago on February 4, 2013. The effective date of the permit is March 1, 2014.

Michael Weller is member of the firm’s environmental and natural resources practice in Washington DC.
Jason Hutt is a partner in the firm’s Washington, DC office. He counsels clients on current and upcoming regulatory developments at the nexus of environmental and energy policy, with focused attention on natural gas development, including hydraulic fracturing.
Special thanks to Richard Charter

Greenpeace: Court Decision: Victory for the Arctic, Blow for Shell, Opportunity for President Obama

http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/Court-Decision-Victory-for-the-Arctic-Blow-for-Shell-Opportunity-for-President-Obama/

Media release – January 22, 2014

Greenpeace is welcoming today’s 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the Department of the Interior violated the law when it opened almost 30 million acres of the outer continental shelf to oil and gas drilling.

The court today concluded the Department’s estimate of one billion barrels of recoverable oil under the frozen Arctic ocean was “chosen arbitrarily” and that the Interior Department “based its decision on inadequate information about the amount of oil to be produced pursuant to the lease sale.”

A coalition of more than fifteen Alaska Native and environmental groups took the case following the George W. Bush administration’s 2008 sale, only to have it struck down in federal court. In 2011, the Obama administration moved it forward again, but the coalition swiftly challenged it through the courts.

Today’s verdict will hamper Shell’s plans in the Arctic, and come just a week after the company issued a profit warning variously described as “disastrous” and “dreadful” in the financial press.

“Shell – one of the world’s largest companies – has so far spent $5 billion dollars on this perilous Arctic folly. As the whole world watched, their bold Arctic expedition in 2012 became a global laughing stock, as giant rigs broke free from their moorings and beached on Alaskan shores, dire storm warnings were ignored, and multiple health, safety and environmental regulations were breached,” says Greenpeace Arctic Campaign Leader Gustavo Ampugnani.

“Drilling for oil in the Chukchi Sea poses an enormous risk to the region’s people and wildlife. It locks us into a dangerous and dirty fossil fuel future, and it pushes us far closer to global climate catastrophe and the imminent hazards of extreme weather,” Mr Ampugnani said.

“We applaud the hard work and dedication of the many groups who have pushed this case through the courts, and congratulate them on today’s vindication,” Mr Ampugnani said. “This decision should give President Obama pause to reconsider the dangerous path he’s heading down opening up the precious Arctic to rapacious oil giants. If he wants to live up to his inspiring words on tackling climate change and protecting America’s stunning natural environment for future generations, he should put an end to this dangerous oil rush to the ends of the earth,” Mr Ampugnani says.

The coalition of groups included the Native Village of Point Hope, Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Oceana, Pacific Environment, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and World Wildlife Fund. Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization, represented the groups.

For further comment or information: Keiller MacDuff 202 679 2236
Special thanks to Richard Charter

South Florida Sun Sentinel: Cuba presses ahead on offshore oil drilling

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-bob-graham-cuba-drilling-20140120,0,5002666.story

By William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau
4:40 a.m. EST, January 21, 2014

WASHINGTON – Cuban officials are preparing to resume offshore oil drilling in deep waters as close as 50 miles from the Florida coast, posing a threat to the state’s beaches and marine life, former Gov. Bob Graham said Monday after a trip to Havana.

The Cubans, he said, are negotiating with energy companies from Angola and Brazil to drill exploratory wells along the maritime border where U.S. and Cuban waters meet, starting next year. Graham warned that if drilling in that area produces a major oil spill, the powerful ocean current known as the Gulf Stream would drag any slick north to the Florida Keys and along the coast to South Florida’s coral reefs and beachfront.

“If there were a spill of any significant size, without question it would impact Florida,” Graham said.

The former Florida governor and U.S. senator, who co-chaired a presidential commission on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, said Cuba is aiming for high safety standards but may lack the capacity to contain a major spill.

“This is an inherently risky operation when you are drilling two or more miles under the ocean,” he said.

Graham went to Cuba along with staff members of the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank, and met with Cuban energy and environmental leaders.

The Cubans, desperate for an economic lifeline, are convinced that crude oil worth billions of dollars is deposited near their shores, despite failed efforts to find it.

After spending nearly $700 million over a decade of exploration, energy companies from around the world all but abandoned the search last year. The initial results brought relief to environmentalists alarmed about the prospect of a spill and the complications of dealing with it amid the U.S. embargo of Cuba.

A floating rig built in China and operated by Repsol, a Spanish firm, found oil in waters north of Havana, but not enough to be worth the expense of extracting it. A Russian company, Zarubezhneft, also searched without success in shallow waters closer to shore.
But Cuba is determined to keep trying, Graham said, because of seismic testing that indicates sizable deposits north of the island.

“In fact, they have either made a commitment or are negotiating commitments for drilling in 10 additional blocks of the area north of the Cuban coast, and they hope to have some drilling started as early as 2015,” Graham said. “They are satisfied that these [seismic tests] show enough commercially promising oil deposits that they are proceeding forward aggressively.”

Their latest target, he said, is near the maritime border, midway between Cuba and Key West. That would push the exploration into deeper water closer to Florida – and increase the risk of a spill.

“What is contemplated is an area north of Cuba that could be 10,000 to 12,000 feet deep,” Graham said. “It could be considerably deeper. And the deeper it gets, the riskier it is.”
The Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico was in water more than 5,000 feet deep. It spewed 210 million gallons of crude oil, causing billions of dollars of damage to five coastal states, slathering beaches, ruining the area’s tourist season, devastating its fishing industry and causing lasting harm to marine life.

Gulf currents carried part of the oil slick toward the Florida Keys, but an eddy shut it off, sparing South Florida from damage.

Oceanographers who study the currents share Graham’s concern.

“If you do have an oil spill anywhere north of Havana, in all likelihood you would end up with oil reaching the U.S. coast,” Frank Muller-Karger, a marine scientist at the University of South Florida said Monday. “If the oil reaches the coast, it’s a disaster. We have the largest coral reef in the continental U.S. there. It’s a tremendous wildlife resource, a fishing resource, a tourism resource, huge cities that depend on those beaches. So it would have a very big impact.”

To guard against disaster, the U.S. Coast Guard plans to skim, burn or spray chemical dispersants on any slick that forms in the Caribbean to stop it from reaching the Florida coast. The Coast Guard’s contingency plan also calls for placing floating booms along the entrance to marine sanctuaries and inlets to protect mangroves and hatching waters for fish and other wildlife.

But the task is complicated by the embargo and frosty relations between the countries, which could block U.S. companies from going to the site of a potential spill without Cuban permission.

Coast Guard and other U.S. officials have been meeting with counterparts from Cuba, Mexico, the Bahamas and Jamaica to confront these barriers and form a regional response plan.

“In terms of safety issues, their standards are high – in some instances they even exceed U.S. standards,” Graham said. “The question is their capability to meet those standards.”

wgibson@tribune.com or 202-824-8256

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: Groups to Obama: Your Fossil Fuel-Driven Policies Equal ‘Catastrophic Climate Future’

Published on Friday, January 17, 2014
‘America’s energy policies must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, not simply reduce our dependence on foreign oil.’
– Jon Queally, staff writer

While President Obama made a big deal out of delaying the northern half of the Keystone pipeline’s construction, he compensated by signing an executive order to expedite similar infrastructure projects everywhere else. (Photo/Matt Wansley via Flickr)Citing the glaring gaps between his sometimes encouraging rhetoric and the realities of his fossil fuel-laden policies, eighteen environmental, environmental justice, and public health advocacy organizations have written a pointed letter (pdf) to President Obama slamming his “all of the above” energy strategy as a “compromised” approach that “future generations can’t afford.”

The coalition behind the letter—which includes the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, NRDC, the Energy Action Coalition and others—is upset that Obama voices concern about climate change in lofty speeches and with compelling promises even as he oversees the most dramatic push in oil and gas extraction in a generation, continuing an aggressive fossil fuel expansion despite what the climate science is saying about the urgent need to dramatically cut carbon emissions.

“You can’t have it both ways,” said Sierra Club’s executive director Michael Brune in an interview with the Washington Post, which received advanced notice of the letter that was sent to the White House on Thursday.

“In the coming months your administration will be making key decisions regarding fossil fuel development — including the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking on public lands, and drilling in the Arctic ocean — that will either set us on a path to achieve the clean energy future we all envision or will significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

From the letter:

We believe that continued reliance on an “all of the above” energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution and would undermine our nation’s capacity to respond to the threat of climate disruption. With record-high atmospheric carbon concentrations and the rising threat of extreme heat, drought, wildfires and super storms, America’s energy policies must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, not simply reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

As the Post reports:

The criticism came on the same day that the fossil-fuel industry and its congressional allies began separate efforts to challenge the administration’s environmental policies. That suggests that the White House will have to marshal additional resources to defend the work it is already doing to address climate change.

The American Petroleum Institute announced a new advertising and electoral campaign that will promote domestic oil and gas production. At the same time, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asked the Government Accountability Office to determine whether the Senate can use the Congressional Review Act to reverse a proposed rule to limit carbon emissions from new power plants.

Though President Obama has yet to make a final decision on approval of the contoversial Keystone XL pipeline, the green groups applauded his previous comments on the project when he said the climate impact of the tar sands pipeline would be a key aspect of the overall determination. The groups want to see that standard now applied to all fossil fuel related projects in the country.

“We believe that a climate impact lens should be applied to all decisions regarding new fossil fuel development,” the letter continues, urging Obama to replace his focus on coal, gas, oil, and nuclear development with a new paradigm that champions “carbon-reducing clean energy” strategies.

In the coming months your administration will be making key decisions regarding fossil fuel development — including the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking on public lands, and drilling in the Arctic ocean — that will either set us on a path to achieve the clean energy future we all envision or will significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. We urge you to make climate impacts and emission increases critical considerations in each of these decisions.

______________________________________________
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Huffington Post: Trinidad Oil Spills Leave State-Owned Energy Company Scrambling To Clean Up

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/14/trinidad-oil-spill-petrotrin-energy-company_n_4596696.html

The Huffington Post | By Nick Visser
Posted: 01/14/2014 3:38 pm EST | Updated: 01/14/2014 4:14 pm EST

At least 11 oil spills have crippled parts of Trinidad and Tobago, coating miles of beach with crude as the state-owned energy company scrambles to control what’s being called one of the country’s worst environmental disasters.

Petrotrin, Trinidad’s state-owned oil company, first responded to an oil spill near La Brea on Dec. 17, according to a report from the Trinidad Guardian. Over the past month, the company has confirmed at least 11 spills and was slapped with a $3.1 million fine from the country’s Environmental Management Authority last week, which the company’s president, Khalid Hassanali, called “harsh.”

o-TRINIDAD1-570

o-TRINIDAD2-570

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Here’s where it gets weird.

The pipeline responsible for the first of the leaks at Petrotrin’s Point-a-Pierre facility, which resulted in an initial spill of more than 7,000 barrels, may not have undergone any inspections for the past 17 years, according to a confidential report commissioned by the company and obtained by the Trinidad Guardian. Of the other 10 leaks, Petrotrin has accused saboteurs of causing at least 2 while releasing a series of media releases praising what they describe as “significant progress” during clean-up efforts, saying the beaches would be clean one to two weeks after the spill.

Petrotrin did not return requests for comment in time for publication.

However, local officials have accused the company of trying to downplay the extent and size of the spill, according to the Trinidad Express. Two former energy ministers also came forward earlier this month, saying Petrotrin did know about the state of its aging infrastructure after a government audit was ordered in 2010.

“There was no question of sabotage, it was all a question of bad operations on the part of Petrotrin,” MP Paula Gopee-Scoon said. “It was a cover-up from day one.”

Petrotrin has since used the controversial dispersant Corexit 9500 to control the spill, used in record quantities by BP during 2010’s Gulf oil spill. Many scientists have said the chemical becomes far more toxic than oil alone when the two are mixed, harming marine life, but Petrotrin’s president has defended the use of the dispersant, saying “all the chemicals we are using are approved chemicals and we are using them in the approved manner.”

Petrotrin’s chairman denied the occurrence of any more spills in the region this week and insisted claims that oil had spread to neighboring Venezuela were false. But government officials have demanded the Minister of Energy commission an independent investigation into the cause of the spill “by people who don’t have anything to protect and no rear end to cover.”

Trinidad’s energy department approved a new national oil spill contingency plan in January 2013.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Newstalk NZ: Anti oil drilling protesters gather in Dunedin & Drilling protestors accused of hypocrisy

http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/auckland/news/nbnat/1553899118-anti-oil-drilling-protesters-gather-in-dunedin

Newstalk NZ

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TUE, 14 JAN 2014, 05:21
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By: Adam Walker, and Sophia Duckor-Jones, | New Zealand News | Sunday January 12 2014 15:52

UPDATED 4:34pm: Diabolical weather conditions haven’t dampened the spirits of anti deep sea oil drilling protesters in Dunedin.
While summer has failed to come to the party, a protest flotilla has gathered at the back beach jetty at Port Chalmers, near the Port of Otago. Heavy rain and strong wind hasn’t stopped hundreds of people turning up to vent their frustrations at the offshore drilling by Shell and Anadarko. The protest flotilla will attempt to spread itself across from Goat Island to Quarantine Island, a channel used by commercial shipping vessels. Oil Free Otago says the strong turn out in the freezing conditions shows Dunedinites don’t want offshore drilling in their backyard.

Shell’s plans to drill offshore in the Great South Basin in December 2016. Oil Free Otago’s Rosemary Penwarden says it’s a dying industry. “There’s a really quite long timeline before we would even get to full production. If it’s gas, 35 years.
“We’re talking quite long term. And we have not got that amount of time.”

Ms Penwarden has a firm message to the oil giants. “I’ve just listened to a day of people telling me that we have a far better future ahead of us if we say no to the likes of Anadarko and Shell down here.”

Meanwhile, a Pro Oil and Gas Otago Facebook page has attracted more than 400 ‘likes,’ in two days.

Offshore-oil-rig-generic-SXC
Photo: Offshore oil rig (Stock.xchng)

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http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/auckland/news/nbnat/1905189514-drilling-protestors-accused-of-hypocrisy

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Drilling protestors accused of hypocrisy
By: Emily Murphy, | New Zealand News | Monday January 13 2014 5:04

Related Video
Anti oil drilling protesters gather in Dunedin

UPDATED 6:30am: A Dunedin City Councillor says the city needs to welcome deep sea oil drilling, not fight against it.

Hundreds of people joined in a protest at Port Chalmers yesterday, to vent their frustrations at the offshore drilling by Shell and Anadarko.

But councillor Hilary Calvert says that kind of opposition is hypocritical.

“Until they personally run their own lives without fossil fuels I’m not prepared to consider their position about not extracting fossil fuels.”

MS Calvert says the drilling could create jobs, while giving the city a more diverse economy.

“Our life is about managing risks. Everything that has an upside has a downside and it’s important to manage those risks but living life without risk is not possible.”

Shell plans to drill offshore in the Great South Basin in December 2016.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Naples News: Former U.S. Sen., Fla. Gov. Bob Graham part of Cuba oil drilling mission

http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2014/jan/11/former-us-sen-gov-bob-graham-part-of-oil-mission/?CID=happeningnow

Naples News: Former U.S. Sen., Fla. Gov. Bob Graham part of Cuba oil drilling mission
By RYAN MILLS
Posted January 11, 2014 at 10:59 p.m.

Former Sen. Bob Graham

Former U.S. Senator and Florida Gov. Bob Graham is part of an American contingent traveling to Cuba on Monday to explore the communist nation’s oil drilling plans.

Graham, the keynote speaker at the Everglades Coalition conference at the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club on Saturday evening, said he will be joining about a dozen others, including prominent offshore oil industry experts, for the trip, which is being coordinated by the Council on Foreign Relations.

At least four exploratory wells drilled off Cuba’s northern shore over the last two years have come up dry, but the island nation’s goal is to attain energy self-sufficiency by tapping into the 4.6 billion to 9.3 billion barrels of oil believed to be offshore.

“It’s very important for the nation, and particularly important for Florida that any drilling done in that area be done at a very high standard of safety and with the capability to respond if there is an accident,” Graham said Saturday afternoon, while relaxing at the hotel’s beachfront restaurant.

“The reason for the trip,” he said, “is to talk to the Cubans, try to better understand what their plans are, what their capabilities are, and, frankly, how the international community … can cooperate in a way to ensure that Cuba drills at the highest level of international safety standards.”

Graham was co-chair of the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling established by President Barack Obama after the April 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The commission’s other co-chair, William K. Reilly, a former EPA administrator, is also part of Monday’s trip, Graham said.

The trip is being coordinated by Julia E. Sweig, a senior fellow at the CFR, Graham said. They are expected to return to the U.S. on Friday.

The U.S. has a two-pronged policy on Cuba – an economic embargo and diplomatic isolation. Graham, a supporter of the embargo, said he knows there are those who feel any contact with Cuba is tacit support for the country’s communist regime. But ensuring Cuba’s oil drilling is done safely is in the best interest of the U.S., he said. “The consequences of failure are not going to be on Havana, but are going to be on South Florida. The nature of the currents are going to carry the oil to the northeast and then to the north,” he said.

Graham said he had not seen an itinerary for the trip, and didn’t know exactly who in the Cuban government they will be meeting with. “I’m confident that they’re not sending us down there to meet with people who don’t have some ability to affect the decisions” of the government or private sector, he said.

Conversations about Cuba’s human rights abuses would likely be “sidebar discussions,” said Graham, who said he hoped to experience the flavor of the island during his first trip there. “I went to the Soviet Union before the end of the Cold War, and I’ve been in China, a lot of sensitive places,” he said, “and I feel I’m sophisticated enough to know when I might be propagandized.”

During his speech at the Everglades conference, Graham said 2013 was the year that Floridians became aware of how serious the state’s water problems are.

“Now we’re transitioning from awareness to action; what should we be doing about it,” he said.

Included in his prescription: developing a state water plan; restricting activities that lead to pollution, including over-fertilizing lawns; and focusing on water consumption.

Special thanks to Richard Charter.

Washington Examiner: Lawmakers spar over seismic testing for Atlantic Ocean drilling

http://washingtonexaminer.com/article/2541969

BY ZACK COLMAN | JANUARY 10, 2014 AT 2:04 PM

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that, “Increasing evidence suggests…
A long-awaited final federal study on the environmental impact of using seismic guns to search for oil and gas deposits off the Atlantic coast is due at the end of February, signaling future battles between Republicans and Democrats regarding offshore drilling.

The final environmental impact study on using seismic guns to explore for oil and gas from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean energy Management has been five years in the making, and will be used to inform decisions on whether to open the Atlantic Ocean to offshore oil and gas drilling.

A seismic gun shoots compressed air into the water and reflects off the seabed to deliver information about whether oil and gas deposits lay beneath. Proponents say it reduces the costs and environmental damage of exploration, while opponents say the shots can deafen marine life, disrupt habitats and lead to eventual death.

While Democrats say the practice disturbs marine life, Republicans say it’s safe, noting that the federal government has never pinned a marine mammal death to seismic guns.
It’s a complicated matter, said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Deputy Director Walter Cruickshank, who noted the environmental study has taken longer than usual.

“There’s a lot of species out there, a lot of ocean to cover, and we’re continuing to learn new things as we conduct this research,” he said during a Friday hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

At its core, though, approval of seismic guns is a discussion of expanding offshore drilling, lawmakers noted at the hearing.

“There’s been a lot of talk about, ‘Let’s explore.’ But talk is cheap. Action is needed,” said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., who noted the state’s Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, along with Democratic Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe, support offshore drilling.

For now, the Obama administration’s current drilling plan that runs through 2017 blocks energy development in the Atlantic Ocean. Those Atlantic blocks were included in a draft of the president’s first five-year drilling plan, but he revised it following the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers and spewed 4.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Drilling supporters say wading into the Atlantic could be lucrative — an American Petroleum Institute report said it would provide 280,000 jobs and add $23.5 billion to the U.S. economy each year between 2017 and 2035.

If the federal government decides to offer oil leases in the Atlantic, it would likely come in the latter half of the next five-year drilling plan that would run through 2022, Cruickshank said.

Many Democrats hope that doesn’t happen.

They warned at the hearing that U.S. laws have not strengthened enough in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon incident — though Donald Boesch, a marine biologist who worked on a White House-convened independent commission evaluating the response to the spill, said federal regulations and industry have responded well.

Democrats maintained another spill would threaten tourism and fishing industries that support 200,000 jobs and bring in $11.8 billion annually, according to ocean conservation group Oceana.

Seismic testing would pose a risk to those industries too, said Boesch, who is president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

“There’s legitimate concerns,” Boesch said. “It’s a matter of legitimate scientific controversy.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that, “Increasing evidence suggests that exposure to intense underwater sound in some settings may cause certain marine mammals to strand and ultimately die.” Oceana, citing federal projections, says seismic testing would injure 138,500 dolphins and whales through 2020.

“We should not be risking our fishing and tourism industries … because the energy companies want to get their hands on a quick oil buck,” said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., the top Democrat on the subcommittee.

But Republicans and industry say seismic testing has greatly improved since its early use in the 1970s.

They also noted that none of the 60 “unusual mortality events” that killed marine life since 1991 and were documented by a federal working group were the result of seismic testing.

Suggestions of a link between seismic testing and marine mammal deaths “is likely a chimera,” said James Knapp, chairman of the department of earth and ocean sciences at the University of South Carolina.

Enhancements in seismic testing include the advent of 3D imaging, which witnesses credited with reducing environmental damage through curtailing exploration by drilling.

It also has helped shed light on the potentially vast resources available undersea. In the Gulf of Mexico, seismic testing revealed a resource basin five times larger than previously thought, Richie Miller, president of Spectrum Geo Inc., said during the hearing.
“We would expect the same thing just with this new technology off the East Coast,” he said.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

EPA Will Require Offshore Frackers to Report Chemicals Discharged Into Pacific

http://ecowatch.com/2014/01/09/offshore-frackers-report-chemicals-discharged-in-pacific/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=offshore-frackers-report-chemicals-discharged-in-pacific

by Center for Biological Diversity, January 9, 2014, ecowatch

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today established a new requirement for oil and gas operations off the Southern California coast to publicly report chemicals dumped directly into the ocean from offshore fracking operations. The notice, formally published today, announces the changes as part of a new permit for water pollution discharges from offshore oil and gas operations in federal waters off California. The reporting requirement will become effective March 1.

pacificFI
The EPA revised the offshore oil and gas wastewater discharge permit to require reporting of the chemicals of any fracking fluids discharged into the ocean.

“Requiring oil companies to report the toxic fracking chemicals they’re dumping into California’s fragile ocean ecosystem is a good step, but the federal government must go further and halt this incredibly dangerous practice,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Banning fracking in California’s coastal waters is the best way to protect the whales and other wildlife, as well as surfers and coastal communities. It’s outrageous that the EPA plans to continue allowing fracking pollution to endanger our ocean.”

In response to the controversy generated by recent reports of fracking of oil and gas wells along the California coast, the EPA revised the offshore oil and gas discharge permit to require reporting of the chemical formulations of any fracking fluids discharged by oil companies.

Approximately half the oil platforms in federal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel discharge all or a portion of their wastewater directly to the ocean, according to a California Coastal Commission document. This produced wastewater contains all of the chemicals injected originally into the fracked wells, with the addition of toxins gathered from the subsurface environment.

Oil companies have fracked offshore wells more than 200 times in recent years in the state and federal waters off California’s coast. A recent Center of Biological Diversity analysis of 12 frack jobs in state waters found that at least one-third of chemicals used in these fracking operations are suspected ecological hazards. Drawing on data disclosed by oil companies, the analysis also found that more than one-third of these chemicals are suspected of affecting human developmental and nervous systems.

“The EPA’s new reporting requirements underscore how little is known about offshore fracking,” Sakashita said. “This risky practice has gone essentially unregulated.”

“Until recently, no one even knew that our oceans were being fracked,” Sakashita continued. “To protect our coast, we need to stop this dangerous practice in its tracks”

Tell Gov. Brown and the California Department of Conservation to Ban Fracking in California.
http://ecowatch.com/2014/01/09/offshore-frackers-report-chemicals-discharged-in-pacific/

Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: Right whales migrate through Va. waters proposed for surveys — study

http://www.eenews.net/eenewspm/2013/12/19/stories/1059992149 (Online) Climate & Energy

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, December 19, 2013

New research from Cornell University suggests endangered right whales migrate farther from Virginia’s shores than previously thought, putting them in danger of proposed oil and gas exploration in the mid-Atlantic, according to environmental groups.

The research from Cornell’s Bioacoustics Research Program shows right whales migrate far beyond the seasonal protections the Interior Department is considering in its oil and gas seismic survey plan.

The whales were also detected year-round, surprising the researchers who set up recording units 16, 30, 38, 48 and 63 nautical miles from shore.

“These endangered right whales would be afforded little to no protection from ship strikes or the acoustic threats of high-energy seismic airgun surveys,” said a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell earlier this month from Oceana and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which funded the Cornell research.

The groups said the new research means Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management should scrap its current programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS), a sweeping plan set to be finalized early next year that would open federal waters from Delaware to Florida to oil and gas surveys.

The surveys, which involve loud blasts from air guns towed behind ships for day, weeks or months at a time, are considered harmful to whales and an array of other marine life.

They’re a crucial prerequisite for drilling, which is still currently banned in the Atlantic Ocean.

Right whales are estimated to number less than 500.

BOEM is contemplating a suite of mitigation measures for marine wildlife in its PEIS, including time and area closures, requiring wildlife observers and acoustic monitoring to reduce impacts to whales and establishing buffer zones between seismic tests (Greenwire, Aug. 9, 2012).

According to BOEM, time-area closures in certain coastal regions are expected to reduce incidental take of right whales by two-thirds. In a worst-case scenario, up to two of the animals could be injured by seismic surveys annually and as many as 476 instances could occur in which the whales could be disturbed from their normal behaviors.

A more restrictive alternative would place a roughly 20-mile buffer along the Atlantic Coast where surveys would be mostly banned from November to April.

But BOEM’s plan relied on flawed assumptions, according to the environmental groups.
While the government study assumed 83 percent of right whale sightings occurred within 20 miles of shore, Cornell found vastly more whales calling beyond the 20-mile buffer.

“By listening off the coast of Virginia, out to the edge of the continental shelf, we were able to hear right whales calling in this area throughout the year,” said Aaron Rice, who directs Cornell’s bioacoustics work. “This year-round pattern is definitely a surprise and raises many new questions about the home range of this species.”

The environmental groups called that information “significant,” arguing that federal law mandates BOEM to at least supplement its PEIS.

BOEM did not indicate whether that would occur.

“BOEM scientists are aware of the research commissioned by Oceana and have considered this type of information in our analysis,” it said in a statement.

Finalization of BOEM’s seismic plans has already been pushed back more than a year to early 2014. The agency first began taking public input for the PEIS in April 2010.

Oil and gas groups and most Republicans are calling on Interior to swiftly finalize its plan so decades-old resource assessments in the Atlantic can be updated. Those assessments will help inform whether President Obama allows future drilling in the Atlantic.

“The delays that we’ve seen so far continue to close the window” in which data would be available to officials writing BOEM’s next five-year leasing plan, Erik Milito, the American Petroleum Institute’s director of upstream and industry operations, told reporters in October (E&ENews PM, Oct. 15).

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Save the blue.org: Can We “Save the Blue” by Dumping Old Drilling Rigs into the Ocean? by Richard Charter

http://www.savetheblue.org/articles-dumping-old-drilling-rigs-into-the-ocean.html

How Oil Companies Plan to Maximize Their Profits at the Expense of Our Coastal Waters

By Richard Charter, for the H2oover Foundation

Exploration of natural gas and oil brings with it numerous and diverse environmental and human health problems. With so much attention focused on a long list of issues including oil spills, tar sands, fracking, carbon emissions, etc., little attention is being paid to the removal of thousands of offshore oil and gas structures.

Removing disused offshore drilling rigs from U.S. federal waters after the economic life of a seafloor oilfield has concluded is established public policy. In the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, beyond state waters that extend for three miles from shore off most coastal states and for ten miles off Texas and Florida’s Gulf Coast, longstanding federal regulations have required full decommissioning and removal of obsolete oil platforms.

Drilling platform support “jackets” that are no longer in use have long been required to be disposed of by being cleaned of oils, cut up, and either recycled for metals or transferred to landfills, while any remaining seafloor oil well casings have had to be sealed and severed 15 feet below the mud line. In each of the original Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) lease contracts executed between the Department of Interior and the petroleum industry, the companies willingly agreed to carry out eventual terrestrial decommissioning as part of the legally binding terms of their lease. In certain sensitive areas off of Southern California, this written contractual commitment by industry to eventually restore the seabed to “as-near-prelease conditions as possible” played an instrumental role in enabling drilling to proceed in the first place.

Old non-producing platforms have logically been slated for removal because they can create serious safety, environmental, and navigational risks, and often deteriorate in ways making them more susceptible to structural failure, leading to substantial liability issues for the rig owner or the government agency administering the lease. On November 10, 2012 a barge loaded with five million gallons of fuel oil hit a submerged oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, 30 miles south of Lake Charles, Louisiana. The platform had been damaged by Hurricane Rita and was marked with unlit buoys. The 150,000-barrel double-hull barge DBL 152 suffered a 35’×6′ gash in one of its cargo tanks after striking the West Cameron 229A platform, leaking an estimated 1.3 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. Efforts to remove remaining oil from the barge were still underway a month after the collision.

In the past, parts of the Gulf of Mexico have been littered with disused offshore drilling rigs. In some instances leftover damaged wellheads have continued to leak oil for years into the Gulf, and some are still leaking even now. In response to the problems created by these kinds of orphaned rigs in the Gulf, the Interior Department has had to initiate what it calls the “Idle Iron” policy, requiring removal and careful plugging and abandonment of old wells within a certain timeframe with penalties for noncompliance.

An Industry Dodging Fiscal Responsibility:

The immense potential cost savings to the petroleum industry to be gained by not removing old rigs that have made immense profits for companies over the decades has led oil interests to undertake a slick public relations campaign as they try to break their promises. Financially motivated to avoid about 50% of their obligated decommissioning costs, the drillers cleverly anointed their effort to circumvent federal decommissioning requirements with the name Rigs-to-Reefs. Thus altering the “life cycle costing” considerations for a company as it evaluates whether or not to bid on a particular future drillsite can change a bidding decision considerably when the drilling company knows it will not be required to remove and recycle the rig itself at the end of its useful lifetime. This means that sensitive waters like the Arctic Ocean, the California coastline, and Florida’s long-protected Gulf Coast and Panhandle, for example, will be placed at increased jeopardy as industry bids more aggressively on challenging or remote drilling targets with the foreknowledge that the company will ultimately be able to just cheaply discard a platform in the ocean near the drilling site.

The petroleum industry has spent a lot of money and focus group message-testing as part of their nationwide Rigs-to-Reefs greenwashing effort, aimed primarily at the recreational fishing industry and at policymakers, trying to gain federal approval for their proposal. Once the oil industry figured out how much money they could save by simply dumping their cut-off steel jackets – or even by cutting them off “in-situ” below the water line and leaving the wreckage in place on site – an elaborate promotional effort was put into motion. Sadly, some of the most vocal advocates for the Rigs-to-Reefs concept have apparently not turned out to be among the most responsible operators in the Gulf of Mexico.

In response to political pressure from the oil industry, the Interior Department has initiated its own version of a Rigs-to-Reefs program, designed to interact with state programs in states that have passed specific legislation to establish programs for dealing with old oil and gas platforms, including Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and most recently, California. Under certain limited conditions, the Interior Department can now waive existing federal law requiring full decommissioning and “donate” the spent rig to one of these states for offshore abandonment in a state-designated “reefing site”.

With the exception of Florida, the Gulf Coast states that are still reeling economically from the disastrous BP Gulf Oil Spill find the powerful combination of the long-entrenched political persuasion of the petroleum industry and the pressure from the similarly influential sportfishing lobby combine to force them to embrace Rigs-to-Reefs with little objective scientific scrutiny, since few studies are available that have not been designed and paid for by the oil companies. First dozens, then hundreds, and eventually thousands of offshore rigs and related subsea pipelines and other petroleum infrastructure facilities will eventually need to be decommissioned, with Rigs-to-Reefs representing a potential savings to the industry amounting to billions of dollars. Even for the 23 rigs nearing obsolescence and facing near-term abandonment in federal waters off of California, the lure of potential future state funding that might someday be derived from even a fraction of industry’s cost-savings motivated the state legislature and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration to gloss over what was admittedly only a cursory literature review and become the latest guinea pig for the Rigs-to-Reefs scheme. California’s petroleum interests, joined by well-compensated sportfishing lobbyists and at least one normally-cautious conservation group, managed to dominate the debate and to obscure legitimate public concerns about the plan. Going forward, at least California agencies will supposedly be required to perform a case-by-case evaluation for each of the discarded rigs off the state’s coast, some of which are immense structures located in 400 to 1000 feet of water.

Hidden Adverse Impacts:

There are several underlying problems inherent in enabling the industry to avoid their prior requirement for full decommissioning of spent platforms. At the site of many offshore drilling rigs in relatively shallow water, seafloor obstructions consisting of drill mud mounds containing toxic substances often remain behind. Studies conducted around offshore drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have revealed small amounts of mercury with the potential to bio-accumulate in the fisheries food chain leading to humans. This mercury pollution is thought to originate from mercury contained in spent barite drill muds used to cool and lubricate the drill bit, after which the used muds are discharged into the water column and dumped on the seafloor. Other toxic, carcinogenic, and mutagenic chemicals often remain in the seafloor wastes accumulated from years of drilling and oil production. Concentrations of these discharged oil-related pollutants do not need to be particularly high to be of serious biological concern. Research on oil pollution in Alaska’s Prince William Sound since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill has provided compelling evidence that very low levels of PAH compounds (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) associated with the spilled oil are causing life-cycle mutagenic damage to the eggs of Pink salmon at levels of two parts-per-billion. Dilution, it turns out, is not the solution for toxic pollution that bio-concentrates in the marine food chain.

Beyond the toxic chemical components found in the mud mounds, these seafloor snags also represent physical obstructions to the activities of commercial fishermen.

Can Oil Companies Really “Improve on Nature”?

There is also an ongoing dispute about the efficacy of the much-touted “artificial reef” functions supposedly provided by abandoning discarded drilling rigs in the marine environment. The oil industry’s Rigs-to-Reefs advertising claims that the dumped rigs reliably attract fish in various ecological settings. The state of current science, however, provides ample contrary evidence indicating that while their abandoned drilling structures might sometimes attract certain species of fish, in many locations these fish are not necessarily “new” fish biomass, but are instead coming from natural hard-rock seafloor substrate or other nearby natural habitat. Certain species are simply being aggregated around the dumped rig components in a manner that makes the fish easier prey for sportfishing interests normally precluded from fishing in close proximity to an active rig due to the usual closure zone surrounding an operating platform. There is no evidence that either operational or discarded platforms provide net ecological benefits to the marine ecosystem as a whole, relative to parts of the ocean left in a natural state.

Each proposed platform abandonment location in the Gulf of Mexico and off of Southern California is necessarily unique in terms of ecological setting and the specific types of marine species found in surrounding waters. No matter how carefully considered, not all artificial reefs are functional contributors to marine health. A 176-acre rocky-bottom fish habitat that Southern California Edison Company built a half-mile off San Clemente in 2008, supposedly “replacing” fish lost due to operations at the company’s nearby nuclear power plant, has recently been found to be failing to propagate enough fish to meet the agreed-to mitigation requirements.

The vision of a restored ocean returning to vibrant and healthy productivity after offshore rigs are removed is proving an elusive one in the face of a lopsided debate being dominated by petro-dollars, but for many states and for much of the American ocean, the fate of our marine environment is yet to be decided.

Promises Not Kept:

The word “ecosystem” finds its meaning in the Greek word oikos, defining a “house, dwelling place, or habitation.” The ocean is a key part of our collective home. In ecosystems, diversity is closely connected with network structure. A diverse ecosystem is resilient because it contains many species with overlapping ecological functions that can partially replace one another. We ourselves are living with, and literally living as part of, the Earth’s ocean ecosystem.

Left alone by human intervention and absent polluting activities, the ocean environment can prove to be a powerful and pervasive self-healing mechanism, and the case could be made that the ecosystem design that preceded the age of offshore oil development was likely the most successful biological niche that could have evolved in a particular location. Ultimately allowing the marine environment to restore itself was the stated rationale for the decommissioning contracts that the drillers originally accepted and signed when they began to explore and develop the offshore sites now in question, and there is no conclusive evidence that Rigs-to-Reefs is a beneficial use of spent drilling rigs for anyone but the accounting department of an oil company.

If our society allows the petroleum industry and their captive scientists to determine the fate of our sustaining hydrocommons in the oceans, decisions made by this special interest lobby will not be in the public interest, but made instead in the interest of maximizing industry profits by avoiding remediation of corporate messes and by circumventing willingly-accepted corporate responsibilities for rig removal.

In the event that we arbitrarily extend the duration of the impacts of the industrial detritus of the fleeting carbon age in our oceans, we are denying our grandchildren the possibility of experiencing the ocean we inherited from our ancestors. We are instead allowing the ocean itself to become a vast corporate chemical and biological experiment, with no coherent vision or sound science to tell us what the results might turn out to be over the long term.

Enabling the drilling industry to avoid keeping their solemn promise of full decommissioning of spent rigs, aside from the trail of pollution that would be left behind, particularly endangers ever more sensitive places in our coastal waters by making them more economically attractive for exploitation while arbitrarily incentivizing their unnecessary sacrifice. Our ocean, while appearing deceptively uniform when viewed from above the sea surface, actually embodies a wide diversity in seafloor habitats, species composition, and water column conditions, and an approach to dealing with obsolete drilling infrastructure that might at first appear to be effective in one location may not work at all elsewhere. The petroleum industry has an obligation to society to follow the precautionary principle that they themselves often espouse and to honor their original agreements to remove spent drilling rigs and restore the seafloor as much as possible to pre-drilling conditions when an oil field is depleted, lest Americans someday wake up to a polluted ocean haunted by thousands of dumped rigs comprising an offshore junkyard of epic proportions.

Richard Charter is a Senior Fellow with The Ocean Foundation and has worked for 35 years on offshore drilling safety, oil spill response, and ocean protection issues with local and state governments and the conservation community. Richard currently serves on the Methane Hydrates Advisory Committee to the U.S. Department of Energy and on NOAA’s Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Committee.

“The wise use of water is quite possibly the truest indicator of human intelligence, measurable by what we are smart enough to keep out of it. Including oil, soil, toxics, and old tires.”
-David Orr, Reflections on Water and Oil

PRWEB.com Digital Journal: Offshore Accident Lawyer William Gee III Comments on Report Faulting Black Elk Energy for Fatal Fire

http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1643484

>PRWEB.COM Newswire

Lafayette, LA (PRWEB) December 17, 2013

Responding to news that an oil rig operator and its contractors were at fault in an oil platform explosion that killed three welders, offshore accident lawyer William Gee III of The Law Office of William Gee III said today, “operators and contractors have a responsibility to take all steps necessary to avoid similar accidents in the future.”

Gee, who represents victims injured in offshore accidents, commented on an Associated Press report published in The Times-Picayune (“Federal agency blames Black Elk Energy, contractors in fatal oil platform fire,” November 4). According to AP, the federal offshore safety bureau issued a report stating that Black Elk Energy and its contractors did not take proper safety precautions, failed to identify hazards, and communicated poorly prior to the accident.

“Oil rig operators and contractors who show a disregard for the safety of their workers are a clear and present danger on oil platforms and other offshore drilling locations. Safety is a shared responsibility at these dangerous worksites. The safety of the workers cannot be overlooked,” Gee said.

According to The Times-Picayune, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued the report in early November, which ruled that Black Elk Energy – the oil rig’s operator – and its subcontractors did not follow federal regulations and failed to follow the operator’s own “hot-work” plan, which calls for a worksite’s thorough inspection before any type of work with a heat source, such as welding, was to begin.

The BSEE reported that the explosion happened because storage tanks near the workers weren’t purged of flammable liquid before the crew was cleared to perform welding with torches on nearby pipes. The pipes ignited due to gas vapors, according to The Times-Picayune.

“Safety violations should never be tolerated on an oil platform. If a company does break the law or violates regulations, the results can be catastrophic. A fatal accident can occur in a matter of seconds,” said Gee, a lawyer who handles offshore and maritime accident injury cases nationwide.

Gee said, “attorneys can help victims pursue compensation and closure for their losses. A lawyer also can hold the negligent company accountable and send a message that careless behavior will not be tolerated.”

About The Law Office of William Gee III
Louisiana maritime accident lawyer William Gee III has earned a reputation as an offshore accident lawyer who tirelessly fights to protect the rights of those injured at sea. William Gee has been serving injured workers for more than 20 years. He is highly dedicated to the maritime/offshore personal injury sector of his law practice. Gee is a member of the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum, an honor reserved for trial lawyers who have obtained settlements or verdicts for clients totaling over two million dollars.

If you’ve been injured in a maritime or offshore accident, contact the Law Office of William Gee at 1-800-CALL-GEE today for a free case consultation.
The Law Office of William Gee III is located at:
2014 W. Pinhook Road, Suite 501
Lafayette, Louisiana 70508
http://www.williamgee.com/
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/fatal-offshore-accident/lawyer-la/prweb11339516.htm
Read more: http://www.digitaljournal.com/pr/1643484#ixzz2nlI0DqTU

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Marine Link: BOEM Proposes Eastern Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale

http://www.marinelink.com/news/proposes-eastern-mexico361653.aspx

Posted by Eric Haun
Wednesday, December 04, 2013, 9:29 AM
As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) today announced that it will hold Gulf of Mexico Eastern Planning Area oil and gas lease sale 225 in New Orleans on March 19, 2014, immediately following the proposed Central Planning Area (CPA) Sale 231.

Proposed Sale 225 is the first lease sale proposed for the Eastern Planning Area under the 2012 – 2017 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Natural Gas Leasing Program, and the first sale offering acreage in that area since Sale 224, held in March of 2008.

“This proposed sale is another important step to promote responsible domestic energy production through the safe, environmentally sound exploration and development of the Nation’s offshore energy resources,” said BOEM Director Tommy Beaudreau.

The proposed sale encompasses 134 whole or partial unleased blocks covering approximately 465,200 acres in the Eastern Planning Area. The blocks are located at least 125 statute miles offshore in water depths ranging from 2,657 feet (810 meters) to 10,213 feet (3,113 meters). The area is bordered by the Central Planning Area boundary on the West and the Military Mission Line (86º 41’W) on the East. It is south of eastern Alabama and western Florida; the nearest point of land is 125 miles northwest in Louisiana.

Of the 134 blocks available in this sale, 93 are located in the same area offered in 2008’s Eastern Planning Area Sale 224 and are subject to revenue sharing under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 (GOMESA), which provides that the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas share in 37.5% of the bonus payments. These four Gulf producing states will also share in 37.5% of all future revenues generated from those leases. Additionally, 12.5% of revenues from those leases are allocated to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The remaining 41 blocks, located just south of that area, are not subject to revenue sharing under GOMESA.

BOEM estimates the proposed lease sale could result in the production of 71 million barrels of oil and 162 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

The decision to move forward with plans for this lease sale follows extensive environmental analysis, public comment, and consideration of the best scientific information available. In October, BOEM published a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for proposed Eastern Planning Area Sales 225 and 226. The Final EIS updated information gathered in three previous EIS’s. EPA Sale 226, scheduled for 2016, is the only other Eastern Gulf of Mexico lease sale proposed under the current Five Year Program.

The proposed terms of this sale include conditions to ensure both orderly resource development and protection of the human, marine and coastal environments. These include stipulations to protect biologically sensitive resources, mitigate potential adverse effects on protected species, and avoid potential conflicts associated with oil and gas development in the region.

All proposed terms and conditions for Lease Sale 225 will be finalized when the Final Notice of Sale is published at least 30 days prior to the Sale.

The Notice of Availability of the Proposed Notice of Sale can be viewed today in the Federal Register at: www.archives.gov/federal-register/public-inspection/index.html. Proposed terms and conditions for the sale are fully explained in a new streamlined format, available at: www.boem.gov/Sale-225/.
CD’s of the sale package as well as hard copies of the maps can be requested from the Gulf of Mexico Region’s Public Information Office at 1201 Elmwood Park Boulevard, New Orleans, LA 70123, or at 800-200-GULF (4853).

The Gulf of Mexico contributes about 25% of U.S. domestic oil and 11% of domestic gas production, providing the bulk of the $14.2 billion in mineral revenue disbursed to Federal, state and American Indian accounts from onshore and offshore energy revenue collections in Fiscal Year 2013. That was a 17% increase over FY 2012 disbursements of $12.15 billion, due primarily to $2.77 billion in bonus bids received for new oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico
The 2012-2017 Five Year Program offers nearly 219 million acres on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf for lease, making all areas of the OCS with the highest oil and gas resource potential available for exploration and development. The plan includes up to 15 lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. The first three sales under the Five Year Program offered more than 79 million acres for development and garnered $1.4 billion in high bids.

boem.gov

Namibian Tuna Catch Plunges On Oil Exploration

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-11-25/namibian-study-shows-that-tuna-catch-plunges-on-oil-exploration.html

Namibia, November 27, 2013

Namibia’s tuna catch has been slashed after oil and gas exploration took place in the nation’s southern waters. According to a study commissioned by the government, Namibia’s tuna harvest dropped to just 650 metric tons so far this year, from 1,800 tons in 2012 and 4,046 tons in 2011.

Anna Erastus, Policy Planning Director at the Fisheries and Marine Resources Ministry said: “With increasing amounts of seismic exploration in Namibian waters recently, tuna catches have dropped.” Around 90 percent of the country’s catch is albacore tuna, with the rest made up from bigeye, yellowfin and skipjack.

The fishing industry is one of Namibia’s biggest sources of foreign exchange for the country’s economy. Namibia earned USD 400 million from fish exports in 2012, according to Paarl, South Africa-based NKC Research.

A group that has been put together to investigate ecological effects of seismic exploration is recommending that the government should delay a proposed seismic survey for oil and gas in Tripp Seamount, a main tuna fishing ground. Erastus said that fishing should be put back until after March 2014 to avoid a time where as much as 70 percent of Namibia’s tuna catch is taken.

She added that another oil and gas company is intending to conduct a seismic survey just across the border in South African waters in February. “This is in direct path of tuna migrating from South Africa to Namibian waters,” she said. Erastus explained that sound blasts during seismic surveys “could send the tuna into avoidance mode, so that they are not able to be caught by fishing vessels during what would normally be the height of the pole and line tuna season.”

The Australian tuna industry has also announced that a seismic survey undertaken in 2011/12 in the Australian Bight returned the worst ever result for the nation’s bluefin tuna fishery. A further study proposed for October 2014 to June 2015 would be directly in the Southern bluefin migration path. Erastus continued by saying that Namibia has “alerted South Africa to the seriousness of the issue” and has requested the neighboring country to consider the same approach. “Tuna migrates up through South African waters to Namibia, and the South African industry is similarly affected”, she said.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Houston Business Journal: 2012 explosion cost Black Elk millions

http://www.bizjournals.com/houston/news/2013/11/21/black-elk-has-paid-millions-due-to.html

Nov 21, 2013, 2:41pm CST

Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC has spent millions so far this year on costs associated with the 2012 explosion at its West Delta 32 Gulf of Mexico platform.

Olivia Pulsinelli
Web producer-
Houston Business Journal

Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC has spent millions so far this year on costs associated with the 2012 explosion at its West Delta 32 Gulf of Mexico platform, and it’s still dealing with the repercussions of the incident.

According to regulatory filings, Black Elk spent $4.7 million in the third quarter – and a total of $12.4 million in the first nine months of the year – on costs associated with the Nov. 16, 2012, explosion, which killed three subcontractor workers. The Houston-based company operated the platform, located 17 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La.

In addition to reporting a net loss of $18.4 million for the third quarter, Black Elk noted the following in its filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission:
Total oil, natural gas and plant product production declined 18 percent for the third quarter and 23 percent for the first nine months of year, compared to the same periods a year earlier, “as a result of downtime in the fields requiring hot work, which was delayed due to the (Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement) requirements for approval after the West Delta 32 incident, pipeline repairs, and the asset field sales to Renaissance on March 26, 2013, and July 31, 2013. The year-to-date variance was also a result of a longer winter weather season.”

“As of Nov. 12, 2013, several civil lawsuits have been filed as a result of the West Delta 32 Incident. Š We believe we have strong defenses and cross-claims and intend to defend ourselves vigorously.”

“On Oct. 15, 2013, the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office issued a subpoena pertaining to all physical evidence collected and maintained by (Black Elk) and ABSG Consulting as part of the investigation of the West Delta Incident.”

In August, Black Elk released the results of the ABSG investigation, which said contractor Grand Isle Shipyard violated its contract by hiring a subcontractor to perform construction work.

Black Elk filed its third-quarter report on Nov. 14, the same day BSEE issued incident of noncompliance citations against the company and its contractors on the West Delta 32 platform. Black Elk said in a Nov. 15 statement it “does not agree with the basis for the INC (citations) and is evaluating its options for response.” The companies have 60 days to appeal the citations.

Earlier this month, BSEE released a report of its investigation into the incident, and Black Elk said in a statement that it is fully cooperating with BSEE in the investigation and will be carefully reviewing the report.

“Black Elk Energy always has in its thoughts and prayers the victims of this tragic accident last November,” John Hoffman, Black Elk’s president and CEO, said in the statement.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Huffington Post: Fracking Industry Campaign Contributions At Record Levels, Report Shows

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/20/fracking-campaign-contributions_n_4311016.html

The Huffington Post | By Jared Gilmour
Posted: 11/20/2013 4:21 pm EST | Updated: 11/20/2013 6:45 pm EST

Fracking industry contributions to congressional campaigns spiked 231 percent between 2004 and 2012 in districts and states with fracking activity, according to a report released Wednesday.

Compiled by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and based on MapLight’s collection of federal campaign contribution data, the report showed a smaller, 131-percent uptick in fracking industry contributions to candidates outside of fracking areas. The fracking industry’s level of contributions increased steadily from $4.3 million to just under $12 million between 2004 and 2012, according to the report, just as fracking’s importance to the U.S. energy industry grew.

“Like many industries under increasing scrutiny, the fracking industry has responded by ratcheting up campaign donations to help make new friends in Congress,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the controversial process of injecting water, sand and chemicals into oil and gas wells to unlock fossil fuels trapped in layers of rock. The process has revolutionized oil and gas production in the U.S., but faces strong criticism from environmentalists, who worry the chemicals used in fracking could harm the environment.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) received the most in contributions, the report found, raking in $509,447 between the 2004 and 2012 elections. Barton is a former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

During his tenure as chairman of the committee, Barton was a sponsor of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, according to the CREW report. The act exempted fracking from federal oversight under the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was another major recipient of fracking money, with $384,700 in contributions in the 2004-2012 period.

Republican congressional candidates benefited most from the fracking industry’s largesse, the CREW report showed, garnering almost 80 percent of total contributions.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: Sen. Sanders, Rep. Ellison Introduce Legislation to End Fossil Fuel Tax Breaks

http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2013/11/21-7
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 21, 2013
3:56 PM

CONTACT: Congressman Keith Ellison

Mike.Casca@mail.house.gov

WASHINGTON – November 21 – As House and Senate budget negotiators look for ways to lower deficits, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) today introduced legislation to eliminate tax loopholes and subsidies that support the oil, gas and coal industries.

The End Polluter Welfare Act of 2013 would remove tax breaks, close loopholes, end taxpayer-funded fossil fuel research and prevent companies from escaping liability for spills or deducting cleanup costs. Under current law, these subsidies are expected to cost taxpayers more than $100 billion in the coming decade.

The White House budget proposal for next year calls for eliminating several of the same provisions that the legislation by Sanders and Ellison would end.

“At a time when fossil fuel companies are racking up record profits, it is time to end the absurdity of American taxpayers providing massive subsidies to these hugely profitable fossil fuel corporations,” Sanders said.

“The five biggest oil companies made $23 billion in the third quarter of 2013 alone. They don’t need any more tax giveaways,” Ellison said. “We should invest in the American people by creating good jobs and ending cuts to food assistance instead of throwing tens of billions of taxpayer dollars at one of the biggest and most profitable industries in the world.”

The five most profitable oil companies (ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, BP and ConocoPhilips) together made more than $1 trillion in profits over the past decade.

Taxpayers for Common Sense, Friends of the Earth, 350.org, Sierra Club, Environment America, Greenpeace, Oil Change International, Public Citizen, Earthjustice support the bills.

RT.com: Russian court grants bail to 9 foreign Greenpeace activists

http://rt.com/news/russia-bail-foreign-greenpeace-951/

Russia
Published time: November 19, 2013 12:04
Edited time: November 19, 2013 16:28

greenpeace
A Russian police officer puts handcuffs on Greenpeace International activist, one of the “Arctic 30,” Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel from Brazil, in a defendant cage in a court in Russia’s second city of Saint Petersburg, on November 18, 2013.(AFP Photo / Olga Maltseva)

Nine foreign Greenpeace activists were granted bail by Russian court in the city of St. Petersburg. A total of 12 out of 30 crewmembers detained over the protest at an oil rig in the Barents Sea have had bail approved.

They all are to be released while awaiting trial as soon as Greenpeace makes bail for them.

The court in St. Petersburg on Tuesday set bail at 2 million rubles ($61,500) for each of them. Greenpeace said it would transfer the money as soon as possible.

Greenpeace activists granted bail:
1. Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel (BRA)
2. Miguel Hernan Perez Orsi (ARG)
3. David John Haussmann (NZ)
4. Tomasz Dziemianczuk (PL)
5. Camila Speziale (ARG)
6. Cristian D’Alessandro (ITA)
7. Paul Ruzycki (CAN)
8. Sini Saarela (FI)
9. Francesco Pisanu (FRA)
10. Yekaterina Zaspa (RUS)
11. Denis Sinyakov (RUS)
12. Andrey Allakhverdov (RUS)

“We still have no idea what conditions our friends will endure when they are released from jail, whether they will be held under house arrest or even allowed outside,” Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo, said reacting on news stressing that they were still “charged and could spend years behind bars if they are convicted.”

On Monday another St. Petersburg court granted bail to three Russians who were aboard the ship: a doctor, Ekaterina Zaspa, freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov and Greenpeace Russia press office chief Andrey Allakhverdov.

Greenpeace said Tuesday that it has prepared 6 million rubles (US$184,500) in bail for the three Russian crew members. A wire transfer of the money is required within two working days.

A separate court in St Petersburg also on Monday refused to free Australian activist Colin Russell.

“Colin was refused bail and sent back to prison for three months. The Arctic 30 will not be free until every last one of them is back home with their families,” Naidoo said.

Greenpeace International activist, one of the “Arctic 30,” Ana Paula Alminhana Maciel from Brazil, holds a poster as she stands in a defendant cage in a court in Russia’s second city of Saint Petersburg, on November 18, 2013.(AFP Photo / Olga Maltseva)

The 28 activists and two reporters from 18 different countries were arrested on September 19 following their protest at Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Barents Sea a day earlier. They were first charged with piracy, which carries a possible jail sentence of 15 years. However, Russia’s Investigative Committee reduced the charges to hooliganism. The hooliganism charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

New Zealand: Protesters’ flotilla awaits drillship

http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/9410561/Protesters-flotilla-awaits-drillship

ELTON SMALLMAN

BEN CURRAN/Fairfax NZ

protestors
SPEAKING UP: Raglan residents at the car park in Manu Bay on Saturday, protesting against oil company Anadarko’s offshore drilling programme.

Oil Free Seas Flotilla
A flotilla of protesters is promising to defend the ocean from deep-sea oil exploration as an Anadarko vessel sets a course for their location.

The flotilla of ocean-going yachts, which include the Greenpeace yacht Vega, raced the drillship the Noble Bob Douglas to the site at the Romney Prospect, 110 nautical miles off the Raglan coast, at the weekend.

Greenpeace executive director Bunny McDiarmid, who was on one of the six boats, said they planned a peaceful protest where Anadarko will drill in 1500 metre of water in what will be New Zealand’s deepest well.

“Our objective is to faithfully defend our oceans and our coastline, defend our climate, defend out future generations against very risky and unnecessary deep-sea oil drilling,” she said.

Changes to the Crown Minerals Act, known as the Anadarko Amendment, limits protest activity in New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone and requires all boats to remain 500m clear of drilling operations.

“Seeing as the ship is not here yet there is no restricted zone where we are. We’re just sailing off the coast of New Zealand in very beautiful water.”

The Oil Free Seas flotilla was a loose alliance who wanted to halt exploration and said coastal communities would suffer in a major spill. “The Raglan community and that coastline there would be in the direct path of any major oil spill if it should happen so they have a lot to lose.”

Former Green party leader Jeanette Fitzsimons was also on the flotilla and said Anadarko threatened her grandchildren’s right to a clean environment.

Anadarko’s drilling ship the Noble Bob Douglas was 50 nautical miles off New Plymouth last night and was due to depart overnight.

They will set up in the permitted area and corporate affairs manager Alan Seay expected everything to run smoothly.

“We respect their right to protest and I’d ask that they respect our right to go about our lawful business and respect the safety zone that will be around the Noble Bob Douglas,” he said. “I do understand that they are not allowed to interfere with that location that they must move off when the drillship arrives so we very much hope that that is what happens otherwise they will be interfering.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Business Week: Oil Drillers Rush Back to the Gulf of Mexico

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-11-14/2014-outlook-gulf-of-mexico-oil-patch-gushes-again

By Edward Klump November 14, 2013
The Gulf of Mexico has been left for dead more than once over the past half-century. It’s now roaring back to life with at least 10 recent mega-discoveries that have renewed oil explorers’ enthusiasm for the region. Billions of dollars are being poured into new wells in the ultra-deep waters off Texas and Louisiana, fueling a resurrection that could set a production record this decade and complete a recovery from the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

In 2014, output from the deepest parts of the Gulf, where the water is more than 1,300 feet deep, will be equivalent to about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, 15 percent more than this year, according to estimates by energy consultants Wood Mackenzie. By 2020, the firm says, the deepwater Gulf, which accounts for about half the Gulf’s 252,000 square miles of federal waters, is expected to produce an average of more than 1.9 million barrels a day, a new high. “Investors should not sleep on the Gulf of Mexico,” says Brian Youngberg, an analyst with Edward Jones in St. Louis. “Onshore shale is obviously the main driver in the growth in U.S. production, but going forward, the Gulf of Mexico should start contributing to that.”

U.S. crude production has surged in recent years, largely because companies used hydraulic fracturing and advanced drilling technology to open onshore shale formations. Now producers including Chevron (CVX), Royal Dutch Shell (RDS/A), and Anadarko Petroleum (APC) are preparing to surpass the Gulf’s 2009 peak; production collapsed after BP’s (BP) 2010 spill. That disaster, and the five-month drilling moratorium that followed, led to an exodus of rigs and drilling equipment as regulators bolstered safety requirements. As large oil companies have begun drilling again, so has BP, which remains a major operator in the deep Gulf. It was the biggest producer there in 2012 and has ownership stakes in more than 650 leases.

In the late 1970s energy companies began referring to the Gulf as “the Dead Sea.”

Shallow-water wells drilled decades earlier were tapering off, and the industry lacked the technology to find oil in the deeper waters. New seismic equipment has since let explorers see through once-opaque layers of rock. Engineering innovations enable companies to lower their drills through 10,000 feet of water to the seabed. There the drills penetrate 5 miles into the earth’s crust, where temperatures are hot enough to boil water and high pressures approach the weight of four cars resting on one square inch. That seismic and drilling technology has improved even since the 2010 oil spill, allowing ventures into deeper and deeper waters.

Chevron, with a company-record five rigs drilling, is among the most bullish. The company expects its $7.5 billion Jack/St. Malo platform to begin producing oil and gas in 2014, with a long-range target of 177,000 barrels per day. Other deep-water projects that may begin producing in the Gulf next year include Anadarko’s Lucius, Hess’s (HES) Tubular Bells, and Murphy Oil’s (MUR) Dalmatian. Gulf projects can cost $15 billion for infrastructure, wells, and facilities, and take more than a decade to bring into production.

The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates the Gulf has 48 billion barrels of oil yet to be discovered. “What catches our attention,” says Robert Ryan, vice president for global exploration at Chevron, “is the potential-billions of barrels right in our own backyard.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

WWLTV: Black Elk, contractors issued 41 violations following report & Forbes: Fail, Fine, Repeat: Business As Usual For Some Offshore Drillers

http://www.wwltv.com/news/eyewitness/davidhammer/Black-Elk-issued-41-violations-following-report-231808061.html

black elk

GULF OF MEXICO – Commercial vessels spray water to extinguish a platform fire on board West Delta 32 approximately 20 miles offshore Grand Isle, La., in the Gulf of Mexico. First responders medevaced nine of the platform’s 22 personnel to nearby rigs. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

wwltv.com
Posted on November 13, 2013 at 4:34 PM
Updated yesterday at 6:00 PM

David Hammer / Eyewitness News
Email: dhammer@wwltv.com | Twitter: @davidhammerWWL

PLAQUEMINES, La. — Following up on a damning investigation report last week, federal offshore regulators issued 41 formal violations against Black Elk Energy and its contractors for their role in causing an explosion last year that killed three welders on a platform off Plaquemines Parish.

Three Filipino nationals – Ellroy Corporal, Jerome Malagapo and Avelino Tajonera – were killed by the explosion on Black Elk’s West Delta 32 E Platform on Nov. 16, 2012. The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement issued its investigation report Nov. 4, finding that Black Elk and contractors Compass Engineering and Consultants, Grand Isle Shipyards/DNR and Wood Group PSN failed to follow their own basic safety plans.

The investigation concluded that Black Elk failed in its supervisory role and its contractors communicated poorly about whether flammable gas had been properly purged from tanks and pipes before the workers started cutting with blow torches.

The report states that Wood Group’s supervisor left a lower-level employee without proper training to sign and approve a welding permit to cover the entire platform, rather than each welding location as rules require. Then, that employee turned the job over to a Grand Isle Shipyards supervisor based on a faulty understanding from a Compass consultant that all areas had been purged and were ready for hot work.

In fact, nobody had cleared the areas for hot work. The report describes how gas detectors that were supposed to be used to check the hot-work areas were not functioning properly and were left in their charging stations, but when workers complained, their Grand Isle supervisor told workers not to forget about it.

“According to the DNR workers, the GIS/DNR supervisor instructed the construction workers to hang the non-functioning gas detector up like a ‘decoration’ so everyone could at least see that they had one,” the report says.

The most serious violations still were issued to Black Elk, which is the lease-holder and ultimately responsible. Black Elk got 12 violations, or Incidents of Non-Compliance. Wood Group received 11 INCs and Compass and Grand Isle Shipyards got nine each.

________________

http://www.forbes.com/sites/lorensteffy/2013/11/14/fail-fine-repeat-business-as-usual-for-some-offshore-drillers/

Forbes

ENERGY | 11/14/2013 @ 9:53AM |456 views
Fail, Fine, Repeat: Business As Usual For Some Offshore Drillers

300px-Deepwater_Horizon_offshore_drilling_unit_on_fire_20101
In the Gulf, an operator’s safety track record doesn’t seem to matter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every oil company operating in the Gulf of Mexico must be terrified today after the harsh crackdown on Black Elk Energy by federal regulators. The feds hit the Houston-based offshore oil producer and three of its contractors with 41 citations related to a rig explosion last year that killed three workers. The companies could face – that’s right could face – civil penalties. Don’t worry, though, Black Elk and its contractors have 60 days to appeal the citations for “incidents of noncompliance.” Such fines often are negotiated down.

Black Elk has plenty of experience dealing with these types of citations. While 41 may seem like a lot, at the time of last year’s fatal accident, Black Elk already had been cited 315 times in the previous two years for rules violations and risky procedures. As recently as one month before that accident, regulators found that Black Elk “showed a disregard for the safety of personnel” in another accident that sent six workers to the hospital.

In addition to Black Elk, the latest round of citations included its contractors, Grand Isle Shipyard of Galliano, La., which employed the workers who were killed, Compass Engineering & Consultants of Lafayette, La., and Wood Group PSN of Aberdeen, Scotland.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement found that the contractors didn’t clear pipes of flammable hydrocarbons before they began welding. As the operator, though, Black Elk is responsible for the overall safety on its rigs, and BSEE found that Black Elk’s safety procedures were lacking. One regulator described Black Elk as having “the antithesis of the type of safety culture that should guide decision-making” in offshore operations. The feds also told Black Elk to come up with a safety plan.

Shortly after the accident, Black Elk chief executive John Hoffman told me that BSEE’s investigation would vindicate his company and “shed light where it needs to be.” Clearly, he was wrong about the first part, but the BSEE investigation certainly sheds light on one of the dark realities of offshore safety – lax accountability. Federal regulators largely ignore the role of recidivism in safety violations. For all the talk of creating a “safety culture” the only consequences for not having one is being told to get one and, perhaps, some civil fines.

Even for small companies like Black Elk, the size of those fines is minimal. In 2011, for example, the average fine levied by BSEE for offshore safety violations was about $62,000. Black Elk, by comparison, had a fine last year that topped $307,000 after an inspection found a gas leak on one of its platforms that the company didn’t fix for more than 100 days. Black Elk has had three more civil penalties so far this year totaling more than $250,000.

The citations pile up like traffic tickets on the windshield of an abandoned car while lives continue to be lost.

Nuisance fines allow lax safety to persist in the Gulf because operators can engage in their usual tactics of denial – blaming contractors and complaining about burdensome regulations. What we have seen, though, both in shallow water operations like Black Elk’s, and deepwater disasters like BP’s Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010, is a steadfast refusal of regulators to consider an operator’s safety track record in allowing them continued access to the Gulf. That’s the one thing they care about most.

Until there’s stiffer consequences for major safety violations, business as usual will continue in the Gulf: fail, fine, repeat.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Houma Today: Coast Guard suspends search for missing oilfield worker

http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20131111/HURBLOG/131119990

John Harper
Staff Writer
Published: Monday, November 11, 2013 at 8:04 a.m.
The U.S. Coast Guard said Monday it has suspended the search for a crewman missing from an offshore oilfield supply boat in the Gulf of Mexico pending further developments. During its three-day effort, the Coast Guard conducted 12 separate search missions, covering 2,734 square nautical miles of sea without finding the missing man.

The Coast Guard said it had deployed numerous cutters, helicopters and a C-130 aircraft to search for the crewman who fell overboard from the Dustin Danos, which is operated by Raceland-based Gulf Offshore Logistics. The man went overboard Saturday in the Gulf, 60 miles southwest of Port Fourchon. The man, who has not been identified, was last seen wearing gray long johns and a white T-shirt. Gulf Offshore Logistics did not returned requests for comment Monday. This was the second case of an oilfield worker falling into the Gulf in the past two weeks.

On Oct. 28, divers recovered the body of Peter Voces, 38, a Filipino national who worked for Offshore Specialty Fabricators in Houma. He fell off a platform in Vermilion Lease Block 200, about 75 miles southeast of Lake Charles, the day before. An official of Houston-based Talos Energy told officials with the Philippine Embassy in Washington that Voces was a member of a derrick barge crew that was contracted by its subsidiary, Energy Resource Technology, to dismantle the platform. The wells serving the platform had all been plugged and abandoned since 2012, and no oil was spilled in the accident, the Coast Guard said.
Voces was knocked off the platform by an empty storage tank that fell with him into the water, about 100 feet deep, embassy officials said. They were informed by the Coast Guard that divers found Voces’ body pinned amid the wreckage beneath the platform.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Channel 3 News New Zealand: Anti-Anadarko flotilla sets sail

video at:
http://www.3news.co.nz/Anti-Anadarko-flotilla-sets-sail/tabid/423/articleID/320773/Default.aspx

Read more: http://www.3news.co.nz/Anti-Anadarko-flotilla-sets-sail/tabid/423/articleID/320773/Default.aspx#ixzz2kInOrRmD
Monday 11 Nov 2013 6:16a.m.

By 3 News online staff

A flotilla of protestors campaigning against Anadarko’s offshore oil drilling plans will set out today, and organisers aren’t promising they won’t breach legally protected zones around drilling vessels.

Boats will leave Auckland and Kaikoura at midday as part of the Oil Free Seas Flotilla to head to a proposed drilling site.

The Nobel Bob Douglas, a newly-commissioned drilling ship currently carrying out exploratory drilling, is positioned at the site 110 nautical miles west of Raglan. “Nuclear testing in the Pacific wasn’t right and deep-sea oil drilling in the Tasman is not right either. We will not be bullied into submission by big oil or dubious laws,” says spokesperson Anna Horne.

“We’ve got six fantastic boats, great skippers and crew, who are going to go out for as long as it takes to get the message across to Anadarko directly, and also to make it clear to the Government that it’s not a popular thing.”

Anadarko is due to begin drilling for oil at the site later this month. Vessels from the Bay of Islands and Wellington will depart for the site later this week.

The flotilla could be the first test of legislation passed earlier this year which bans aspects of protesting at sea. That law states it is illegal to interfere with any structure or ship that is in an offshore area that is to be used in mining activities, with an exclusion zone of 500 metres.

However members of the group say they do not anticipate violating the exclusion zone.”Safety is paramount in our minds – we wouldn’t do anything to risk a spill,” says Ms Horne. “We are just determined with our banners and a peaceful presence, to show that these things don’t go unnoticed.”

She says it’s too early to say whether the group will or won’t deliberately breach the 500m exclusion zone. “We are committed to peaceful non-violent protest, and we are absolutely mindful of the lawŠ we’re used to acting within those international laws of the sea.”

One of the ships involved in the flotilla, the Vega, was also involved in a flotilla protesting against French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

3 News

Read more: http://www.3news.co.nz/Anti-Anadarko-flotilla-sets-sail/tabid/423/articleID/320773/Default.aspx#ixzz2kInOrRmD

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Environmental News Network: Deep sea Drilling in New Zealand

http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/46647

From: Rachel Shaw, The Ecologist, More from this Affiliate
Published November 6, 2013 01:51 PM

newzed
Deep sea drilling will soon commence in the rough waters off the New Zealand coast. This could mark the beginning of an oil rush in which democratic process, public concern, environmental protection and safety considerations are all swept aside. The Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) around New Zealand is fifteen times larger than the country’s land area – it extends from the sub-tropical to the sub-Antarctic. Like the Arctic, New Zealand’s EEZ supports a multitude of species which travel from far-flung areas of the globe to reach these rich waters. Like the Arctic, New Zealand’s EEZ is fast becoming an oil exploration frontier.

In the Arctic, drilling rig operators must contend with the extreme polar conditions and sea ice. In New Zealand, notoriously rough seas and the deep ocean will test the limits of drilling technology. The deepest offshore oil production well in New Zealand is currently 125 m below the ocean’s surface. In a matter of weeks, Texan oil company Anadarko will drill its first deep-sea oil well 1500 m below the waves of the Tasman Sea. This is the first exploration well in what is shaping up to be an onslaught of deep-sea oil drilling in the coming years.

To expedite the deep-sea oil rush, a legislative process is underway to remove any consultation rights from the New Zealand public regarding proposals to drill new offshore exploratory oil wells. Meanwhile, in May of 2013 the government rushed through a law, infamously known as the ‘Anadarko amendment’, banning protest within 500 m of a rig or drill ship operating within the New Zealand EEZ. The penalties for entering this 500 m zone include hefty fines and up to a year in prison. Like the Russian response to the Arctic 30, the message from the New Zealand government is clear: opposition to oil drilling is not welcome here.

The dangers of deep-sea oil
Public concern in New Zealand over this deep-sea oil rush is understandable. In 2010, the environmental and economic devastation that a deep-sea oil spill may cause became a terrible reality in the Gulf of Mexico. Vast quantities of oil gushed into the Gulf unimpeded for 87 days before the spill was capped. As a quarter share investor in the well, Anadarko (the same company at the vanguard of the New Zealand oil rush) were found jointly liable for the worst oil spill in history.

Read more at ENN affiliate, The Ecologist.
West Coast New Zealand image via Shutterstock.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

New York Times: Activists Feel Powerful Wrath as Russia Guards Its Arctic Claims

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/31/world/europe/activists-feel-powerful-wrath-as-russia-guards-its-arctic-claims.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&

Dmitri Sharomov/Greenpeace, via Agence France-Presse – Getty Images
Alexandra Harris, one of 30 people from a Greenpeace ship who are being detained by Russia.
By STEVEN LEE MYERS
Published: October 30, 2013

MOSCOW – Gizem Akhan, 24, was about to begin her final year studying the culinary arts at Yeditepe University in Istanbul. Tomasz Dziemianczuk, 36, took a vacation from his job as a cultural adviser at the University of Gdansk in Poland that has now unexpectedly turned into an unpaid leave of absence.

Dmitri Litvinov, 51, is a veteran activist who as a child spent four years in Siberian exile after his father, Pavel, took part in the Red Square protest against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

“I didn’t expect my son to get in their clutch,” the elder Mr. Litvinov said in a telephone interview from Irvington, N.Y., where he settled to teach physics in nearby Tarrytown after being expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974.

Dmitri Litvinov and the others are just three of the 30 people aboard a Greenpeace International ship, the Arctic Sunrise, who are now confined in separate cells in the far northern city of Murmansk after staging a high-seas protest last month against oil exploration in the Arctic. All face criminal charges that could result in years in prison as a result of having grossly underestimated Russia’s readiness to assert – and even expand – its sovereignty in a region potentially rich with natural resources.

The vigorous legal response by the authorities, including the seizure of the ship itself, appears to have caught Greenpeace off guard and left the crew’s families and friends worried that the consequences of what the activists considered a peaceful protest could prove much graver than any expected when they set out.

“Naturally, every time Gizem sets out on a protest I feel anxious,” Ms. Akhan’s mother, Tulay, said in written responses delivered through Greenpeace. “I’m a mother, and most of the time she doesn’t even tell us she is participating. I’ve known the risks but couldn’t have foreseen that we would come face to face with such injustice.”

Critics of the government of President Vladimir V. Putin have added the crew of the Arctic Sunrise to a catalog of prisoners here who have faced politically motivated or disproportionate punishment for challenging the state. Among them are the former oil tycoon Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, the punk performers of Pussy Riot and the protesters awaiting trial more than a year after violence broke out on the day of Mr. Putin’s inauguration last year.

But there is one crucial difference: Most of those who were aboard the Arctic Sunrise are foreigners.

They hail from 18 nations. Two of them, Denis Sinyakov of Russia and Kieron Bryan of Britain, are freelance journalists who joined the crew to chronicle the ship’s voyage, which began in Amsterdam and ended on Sept. 19 when Russian border guards borne by helicopters descended on the ship in the Pechora Sea.

Alexandra Harris of Britain, 27, was on her first trip to the Arctic. Camila Speziale, 21, of Argentina, was on her first trip at sea. Others were veteran Greenpeace activists, including the American captain, Peter Willcox, who was skipper of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 when French secret service agents bombed it at dockside in Auckland, New Zealand, leading to the drowning of a photographer, Fernando Pereira.

The activists knew the protest was risky. Two of them, Sini Saarela of Finland and Marco Weber of Switzerland, tried to scale the offshore oil platform in the Pechora Sea owned by Russia’s state energy giant, Gazprom.

They plunged into the icy waters after guards sprayed water from fire hoses and fired warning shots, and they were plucked from the sea by a Russian coast guard ship and held as “guests.” The next day, Sept. 19, however, the Arctic Sunrise was seized by border guards in international waters.

Greenpeace staged a similar but more successful protest in the summer of 2012. In that instance, activists, including Greenpeace’s executive director, Kumi Naidoo, scaled the same platform and unfurled a banner. After several hours, they departed, and the Russian authorities did not pursue any charges.

The authorities have shown little sign of leniency since the ship’s seizure, despite an international campaign by Greenpeace to draw attention to the prosecutions and even an appeal from Italy’s oil giant Eni, a partner of Gazprom, to show clemency for the crew, which includes an Italian, Cristian D’Alessandro.

The prosecution of the Arctic Sunrise crew has punctuated Mr. Putin’s warnings that he would not tolerate any infringement on Russia’s development in the Arctic. The region has become a focus of political and economic strategy for the Kremlin as its natural resources have become more accessible because of the warming climate.

When the government of the Netherlands, where Greenpeace International is based, filed an appeal to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to have the ship and crew released, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it would not recognize the tribunal’s jurisdiction, citing the country’s sovereignty. The tribunal has scheduled a hearing on the Dutch claim anyway, but unless Russia seeks a compromise that would free the prisoners, the crew could be detained for months awaiting trial.

Greenpeace’s activists and their cause have not found much sympathy in Russia, their fate shaped in part by hostile coverage on state-owned or state-controlled television. The main state network, Channel One, recently broadcast an analysis that suggested that Greenpeace’s protest had been orchestrated by powerful backers with economic incentives to undermine Gazprom.

After their formal arrest on Sept. 24, the crew members appeared one by one in court and were charged with piracy and ordered held at least until Nov. 24. One by one their appeals for bail were denied. Last week, the regional investigative committee reduced the charges to hooliganism, a crime that nonetheless carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison.

The committee raised the possibility of new charges against some crew members that could result in longer sentences upon conviction.

According to Greenpeace and relatives, the prisoners have not been mistreated in the detention center where they are now held, next to Murmansk’s morgue. They have had access to lawyers and diplomats from their respective countries. They are allowed care packages delivered by Greenpeace, occasional phone calls and sporadic visits from those relatives who can make it to Murmansk. The captain and chief engineer were taken to visit and inspect the Arctic Sunrise, now moored in Murmansk’s port.
Conditions, though, are grim.

In letters or phone calls to their families, they have described small, unheated cells, unappetizing meals and Russian cellmates who smoke relentlessly. They spend 23 hours a day in their cells, with only an hour of exercise a day in an enclosed courtyard and the periodic visits with lawyers or trips to court for a hearing. “It’s very cold now,” Ms. Harris, the activist from Britain on her first Greenpeace operation in the Arctic, wrote in a letter to her parents and brother that was widely cited in the British press: “It snowed last night. The blizzard blew my very poorly insulated window open and I had to sleep wearing my hat.”

She went on to express a measure of resolve, saying she practiced yoga in her cell and tapped on the wall to the music piped in, but she also wrote of uncertainty in a confinement that she compared to slowly dying.

“I heard that from December Murmansk is dark for six weeks,” she wrote. “God, I hope I’m out by then.”

Reporting was contributed by Andrew Roth and Patrick Reevell from Moscow, Ceylan Yeginsu from Istanbul, and Joanna Berendt from Warsaw.
A version of this article appears in print on October 31, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: Activists Feel Powerful Wrath

Gnomes National News Service: Burn Victim Sues Houston-based Black Elk Energy over Injuries from Oil Platform Explosion

http://news.gnom.es/pr/burn-victim-sues-houston-based-black-elk-energy-over-injuries-from-oil-platform-explosion

HOUSTON, Oct. 30, 2013 /NEWS.GNOM.ES/ – A worker who suffered disfiguring burns in a deadly explosion last year on an oil production platform in the Gulf of Mexico is suing Houston-based Black Elk Energy LLC, the Wood Group USA Inc. and others based on claims that their negligence led to his horrific injuries.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Renato Dominguez by attorneys Jason Itkin, Cory Itkin and Noah Wexler of Houston-based Arnold & Itkin LLP and Reda Hicks at Diamond McCarthy LLP in Galveston County Court at Law. Mr. Dominguez claims the companies in charge of the platform failed to properly train and supervise workers; didn’t provide adequate safety equipment or medical treatment; didn’t inspect the platform; and violated federal labor laws and other regulations.

Mr. Dominguez, who was working as a pipefitter at the production site, is one of several Filipino workers injured in the Nov. 16, 2012, explosion that left three men dead. After treatment in a hospital in Baton Rouge, La., he has been recovering in Galliano, La.

Jason Itkin, co-founder of Arnold & Itkin, says his client is an unfortunate example of yet another worker who suffered unnecessary injuries because safety protocols weren’t followed properly.

“Renato is seeking justice from the companies whose negligence forever changed his life,” the attorney says. “The horror of this accident could have been prevented had the platform operators followed standard safety and workplace regulations.”

Mr. Dominguez, 53, suffered extensive burns on his face and most of his body during the explosion. Despite multiple surgical procedures to apply skin grafts, he remains permanently disfigured and continues to be in pain every day.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages. Other defendants include various units of Black Elk and Louisiana-based companies Compass Engineering & Consultants LLC, Shamrock Management LLC and Enviro-Tech Systems LLC.

The lawsuit is Renato Dominguez v. Black Elk Energy, LLC, et al., No. CV-70916.

For more information about the lawsuit, please contact Kit Frieden at 800-559-4534 or kit@androvett.com.
SOURCE Arnold & Itkin LLP

Waking Times: Setting the Record Straight About BP’s Failed Gulf of Mexico Cleanup

http://www.wakingtimes.com/2013/10/23/setting-record-straight-bps-failed-gulf-mexico-cleanup/

October 23, 2013 | By WakingTimes |

Julie Dermansky, DeSmogBlog
Waking Times

The second phase of hearings in the legal battle over the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico ended on October 17th. Following two weeks of testimony by the U.S. Department of Justice and BP, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier will determine what quantity of oil was spilled into the Gulf. He will also decide whether BP was simply negligent or grossly negligent.

The Justice Department claims 176 million gallons of oil were spilled; BP argues that it only spilled 103 million gallons. Under the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Control Act, Judge Barbier can fine BP and its partners $1,100 per barrel should he find they were negligent in their actions leading up to the spill and in the cleanup afterwards. The fine would rise to $4,300 per barrel if he finds the companies were grossly negligent or acted with willful misconduct, as the State Department alleges.Using the State Department’s numbers, the fine could be $18 billion; if BP’s numbers are accepted, the fine could be $10.5 billion.

The outcome of the case will play a role in all subsequent litigation around the BP disaster, including the case of Dean Blanchard, owner of Dean Blanchard Seafood, the largest shrimp buyer and wholesaler in the Gulf region. Blanchard’s company in Grand Isle, Louisiana is all but shut down now. Blanchard keeps a small fraction of his staff employed – more of them than he needs to keep his dwindling operation going. He doesn’t have the heart to make further cuts.

Blanchard estimates his company’s loss at over $100 million. He estimates that his business is now 15 percent of what it was before the spill. He keeps his doors open only because he can’t bring himself to close down. He recently moved part of his business to a different area where some shrimpers are still able to harvest product, but he faces an uphill battle against BP, and an uncertain future, along with many other Gulf fishermen.
Dean Blanchard talks about the use of the chemical dispersant Corexit during the BP oil spill:

This fall, BP launched a new PR campaign depicting itself as a victim of fraud. The BP ads accuse people of filing fraudulent claims, and asks upstanding citizens to turn them in. Blanchard doesn’t doubt there are fraudulent claims, but holds BP responsible for allowing that to happen.

He and others in the fishing industry offered to help BP figure out who the real fishermen were since they know their community well, but BP turned them down. Blanchard suggests that BP may have wanted to create chaos, initially giving a token payment to anyone who wore a pair of white boots into the claims offices so they could play victim later, just as they are doing now. On Facebook, activists encourage those affected by the spill to call the BP fraud hotline set up for this campaign and choke the company’s line with calls accusing BP of fraud.

BP’s other commercials claim that all fishing areas have reopened, although the waters near Grand Isle are not. Blanchard wonders why the government continues to allow the company to lie in its advertising.

BP’s “Make it Right” campaign, which asserts that things are back to normal, is a source of rage for many along the Gulf Coast. And Dean Blanchard doesn’t pull punches about it:

Some of the shrimpers who sell to Blanchard periodically monitor the areas they used to work in. They have caught deformed shrimp with no eyes and oil in their gills, and other fish with lesions.

Recently, a fisherman gave him a fish with a hole in the middle of its body that Blanchard has kept on ice to show people as an example of the abnormalities in the seafood he has seen since the spill.

fish with hole
Image Source
Fish with mysterious hole in its side caught by a fisherman and given to Blanchard.

Despite the government and company assurances that the seafood is safe, Blanchard’s insurance company dropped his product liability insurance. Blanchard wont be covered if the product he is selling turns out to be unsafe.

Besides the fiscal strain, Blanchard worries about the health of his family. He says everyone he knows on the island now has sinus and breathing problems.

Many have moved, including longtime resident Betty Doud, her daughter and grandchildren. She and Blanchard both tell me they can breathe better when they travel away from Grand Isle. Doud and her daughter are renting homes near New Orleans.

Over lunch, they rule out places to resettle that are sites for potential environmental disasters, crossing off all the states that have fracking activity, for instance. Doud recently sold off her Grand Isle home and won’t ever move back. Like Blanchard, she’d rather sue BP than accept the meager settlement it offered for her loss.

BP has been forced to take some responsibility for the health issues faced by residents and cleanup workers. In May 2012, as part of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement, $36 million in grant money was earmarked for behavioral and mental healthcare needs, making it possible for residents and cleanup workers to file claims in a class action suit against BP for their health issues.

Meanwhile, more tar mats containing BP oil were discovered by the Coast Guard after the recent tropical storm Karen.

The amount of oil recovered in the cleanup process in Louisiana has grown this year. Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, suggested in an interview with Reuters that the initial cleanup had clearly been insufficient since the amount of recovered oil increased this year.

Oil turning up on these beaches is no surprise to residents like Betty Doud, who witnessed activities in 2010 that suggested to her that cleanup workers were burying the oil rather than taking it away.

Dean Blanchard isn’t surprised either. He has no doubt that the reason there are no shrimp left in the area rests on the fact that Corexit was used to chemically disperse the oil, letting it sink to the sea floor where the shrimp reproduce.

The use of dispersant by BP irks Blanchard the most. He believes that if the government hadn’t allowed BP to disperse the oil, it could have been cleaned up.

“I never knew you could buy a branch of the government, but BP bought the Coast Guard,” he says. “They were complicit in letting BP do what they wanted.”

Blanchard is irked by the fact that BP was making tons of money and still cutting corners – putting the health of Gulf Coast residents and the economy at risk. And the fact that BP was allowed to do so by the government also riles him.

“Someone at the top needs to go to jail,” Blanchard says.

graveyard BP
Graveyard erected to those who died in the BP blowout.

message to BP on Main St
Message to BP on Main Street
Special thanks to Richard Charter

RigZone: API: 67% of US Voters Support Offshore Drilling

http://www.rigzone.com/news/oil_gas/a/129711/API_67_of_US_Voters_Support_Offshore_Drilling

Even though this poll was done by a reputable pollster, knowing the American Petroleum Institute commissioned it leads me to question these figures… DV

by American Petroleum Institute
Press Release
Monday, October 21, 2013

Sixty-seven percent of voters nationwide support offshore drilling for domestic oil and natural gas resources, according to a new poll conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Petroleum Institute’s ( API’s) “What America is Thinking on Energy Issues” series. This support bridged party lines, with clear majorities of Republicans (79 percent), Democrats (57 percent) and Independents (67 percent) all supporting offshore drilling.

“Americans get it: domestic oil and natural gas development is a key driver for new jobs, economic growth and energy security,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for API. “Our country is now firmly positioned as an energy superpower, and most Americans want our nation to seize opportunities to build upon that status.”

Four state-specific polls showed similar levels of support for offshore oil and natural gas development in Virginia (67 percent), North Carolina (65 percent), South Carolina (77 percent) and Florida (64 percent). Nationwide, 90 percent of voters say producing more oil and natural gas here at home is important. Increasing domestic oil and natural gas production is also important to 88 percent of Virginians, 89 percent of North Carolinians, 91 percent of South Carolinians, and 87 percent of Floridians.

“Americans are eager to put more of our offshore energy resources to work,” said Milito. “If exploration and development is allowed to safely expand to new areas, domestic oil and natural gas could provide more energy, jobs and government revenue than ever before.”

The Obama administration will soon begin work on its next five-year offshore leasing plan, in which areas of the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico could be included for oil and natural gas leasing. Early next year, the administration is also expected to decide whether to permit seismic surveys in the Atlantic from Delaware to northern Florida for the first time in 30 years.

Seismic surveys, which have been used safely around the world for decades, are the most accurate method available to prospect for oil and natural gas reserves offshore apart from drilling. More accurate survey data makes offshore energy production safer and more efficient by reducing its environmental footprint. Technological advances and data collection improvements since seismic surveys were last conducted in the U.S. Atlantic OCS have rendered old resource estimates obsolete.

– See more at: http://www.rigzone.com/news/oil_gas/a/129711/API_67_of_US_Voters_Support_Offshore_Drilling#sthash.i2s8X5Iy.dpuf

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Inside Climate News–Behind Russia vs. Greenpeace Furor, Unreported Oil Pollution of the Arctic

http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20131016/behind-russia-vs-greenpeace-furor-unreported-oil-pollution-arctic

A Russian Coast guard officer is seen pointing a knife at a Greenpeace International activist as five activists attempt to climb the 'Prirazlomnaya,' an oil platform operated by Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom platform in Russia s Pechora Sea.  This is one example of the disproportionate use of force by the Russian authorities during a peaceful protest. The activists are there to stop it from becoming the first to produce oil from the ice-filled waters of the Arctic.
About 4 million barrels of spilled oil, as much as BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill, is flowing into the Arctic Ocean every year, Greenpeace says.
By Zahra Hirji, InsideClimate News
Oct 16, 2013

A Russian Coast guard officer points a knife at a Greenpeace activist as protesters attempt to climb the Prirazlomnaya oil platform in the Arctic Ocean’s Pechora Sea. Credit: Greenpeace
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An environmental organization with a $350 million war chest, a giant protest vessel, 28 activists and a rubber raft have succeeded in drawing Russian President Vladimir V. Putin into a very public global dispute.

Attention is now focused on the Greenpeace activists-who were arrested last month by Coast Guard agents for trying to hang a protest banner on an Arctic Ocean oil platform-and whether they will languish in prison for up to 15 years each on dubious piracy charges.

“They are obviously not pirates,” Putin said in a speech to the International Arctic Forum last month. Yet Russian authorities so far seem to be throwing the book at the activists as international outrage grows to secure their freedom. Protests have been held at Russian consulates in about a half dozen cities worldwide to release the activists.

While the unfolding drama is now focused on issues of civil disobedience and human rights, underneath the uproar is a tangle of issues around Arctic drilling that Greenpeace has been campaigning to address for many years. And now it has secured the world’s attention and a chance to spark a discussion-and the stakes are high.

Earlier this year in a report called Point of No Return, the confrontational organization identified oil drilling in Arctic waters as one of the biggest climate threats being ignored by the world’s governments.

“Oil companies plan to take advantage of melting sea ice … to produce up to 8 million barrels a day of oil and gas,” Greenpeace said in the report. “The drilling would add 520 million tons of CO2 a year to global emissions by 2020.”

That Greenpeace would target Russia’s Prirazlomnoye oil platform-which this fall is expected be the world’s first offshore Arctic well-should not come as a surprise. And it is equally unsurprising that Russia, currently the world’s biggest oil producer, would react so sharply to protect its oil interests and the flagship project of its multibillion-dollar quest to drill, especially as the United States is overtaking Russia as the No. 1 energy producer.

“This is probably the strongest reaction we’ve gotten from a government since the French government blew up one of our ships [in 1985 in an anti-nuclear protest],” said Philip Radford, executive director of Greenpeace USA.

Hidden from view so far, however, has been the environmental damage the Arctic is already suffering at the hands of the Russian oil industry, a degradation that would likely get worse if the oil boom there continues without better regulation, according to Greenpeace and other Russian environmentalists and scientists.

Every year, according to Greenpeace, about 30 million barrels of oil products leak from wells and pipelines in Russia. An estimated four million barrels of that, roughly the size of BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill, flows straight into the Arctic Ocean through tributaries.

The precise impact of these spills on the fragile Arctic environment and its people is unknown but is likely substantial, Greenpeace says. For them the leaks-and the alleged lack of adequate means to deal with them-are an example of an inadequate safety culture in the country’s oil industry. And they’re causing deep concern about Russia’s aggressive push to start drilling for oil in open Arctic waters.

“Russia will not be ready for effective monitoring, supervising and working in the Arctic Ocean,” said Vladimir Chuprov, a Russian citizen and the head of energy for Greenpeace Russia in Moscow, the country’s main energy industry watchdog. Chuprov has been monitoring oil spills for the past decade.

Poor Record
While Russia produces 12 percent of the world’s oil, it is responsible for roughly half the world’s oil spills, according to Greenpeace Russia figures. Broken down, the numbers reveal that some 30 million barrels of petroleum leak from 20,000 inland spills each year.

Official government records paint a different picture. Russian environmental officials say there are only hundreds of inland spills a year. Among other omissions, however, those figures don’t include spills that dump less than 56 barrels, because companies aren’t required to report those incidents.

The two Russian oil companies that already received government approval to drill the Arctic have notorious records for oil accidents and spills.

The Prirazlomnoye platform in the Arctic’s Pechora Sea that Greenpeace targeted is owned and operated by Gazprom Neft Shelf LLC, a subsidiary of the state-run energy giant OAO Gazprom. Gazprom Neft was responsible for the country’s worst offshore oil disaster in December 2011, when a floating rig sank in the Sea of Okhotsk, killing 53 workers.
According to the company’s 2012 sustainability report, the company reported 2,626 pipeline ruptures that year and 3,257 ruptures in 2011.

Gazprom has landed several other licenses to build exploratory drilling wells and platforms in a half dozen other Russian Arctic seas.

Rosneft, another major state-run oil company and the country’s biggest oil producer, has also secured licenses and is expected to begin drilling its first well in early 2014.

Last year, Rosneft was named Russia’s worst environmental polluter by the regional paper Bellona after a government report found that the company had 2,727 reported spills in 2011 in a single northwestern province.

In an interview with InsideClimate News, Vladimir Antoshchenko, a Gazprom Neft Shelf spokesperson, said the Prirazlomnoye project was “based on strict demands on environmental and industrial safety.” He said the rig has Arctic-specific ice-crushing machines to blast floating icebergs and special boats to safely navigate the icy waters.

Alexey Knizhnikov, an environmental policy officer based in the Moscow office of the World Wildlife Fund, said he “has not seen any effective technology to combat an oil spill in ice conditions.”

Either way, environmentalists and other critics of Russia’s Arctic energy plans say there are deeper reasons why the country’s oil industry isn’t ready for Arctic drilling.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that substantial environmental regulations for energy companies were introduced in Russia. The end of Communism brought the establishment of environmental advocacy in the country, which, among other factors, led to the roll out of more and better rules, such as financial penalties for oil spills, but they’re not enough.

For decades the government has been harshly criticized for concealing petroleum spills from the public and the media, levying meager fines that hardly discourage violators, and for failing to require companies to have adequate emergency response plans and spill response tools, among other criticisms.

Valentina Semyashkina, former chair of the Save the Pechora Committee, an environmental organization that works in the Arctic Komi Republic told InsideClimate News that “concealment of accidental oil spills” by energy companies is a regular occurrence. So is the government’s “turning a blind eye,” she said.

The Komi Republic, a province the size of Germany with a largely indigenous population, has been on the frontlines of Russia’s oil rush for years. Accidents have been prevalent, including a vast spill of as much as 2 million barrels from a corroded pipeline in 1994. The incident was first made public by a U.S. Department of Energy official who revealed the spill to the New York Times, prompting accusations of a Russian government cover-up.

“The power is always on the side of big businesses and never on the side of the citizens,” Semyashkina said.

She pointed to a recent oil spill in the Komi Republic. In late May this year, a local Komi resident on his way to work spotted a big blob of black gooey oil in the area’s Kolva River from a pipeline that tore apart in the early winter months. The pipeline’s operator, the Russian- and Vietnamese-owned company Rusvietpetro, had detected the rupture in November but nothing happened.

More than a dozen community members ran the cleanup, shoveling oil into barrels and putting them on the shore before the government emergency response officials arrived and took over about a week later. By late June, Rusvietpetro had repaired the line, which it said broke due to a drop in pressure in the line. The government response ended on July 25, after 3,500 barrels of oil spilled out.

A resident helps clean up the Kolva River oil spill/Credit: Greenpeace
The oil is still threatening the fish and cows that the local indigenous Komi people depend on to earn their living, according to Semyashkina. And several residents are still cleaning up the mess without compensation.

Rusvietpetro didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Local authorities say some of the oil and oil products have reached the Pechora River, a tributary of the Arctic Ocean, as is typical following spills in the Russian tundra, the country’s biggest oil-producing area, Greenpeace’s Chuprov said.

Arctic Challenges
About 13 percent of the planet’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its natural gas lie under Arctic land and water, most of it offshore, according to projections.

One-third of that oil and more than half of the gas is buried on and off Russia’s coastline. And for the first time, the trove of energy is accessible to drilling, a result of both global warming-which has turned the northern ice cap into mush in the summer months-and advanced drilling technology.

Drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean poses new and difficult challenges for industry, and this is particularly worrying for conservation advocates who oppose Russia’s advance into the Arctic.

“We saw how hard it was to respond to the serious offshore drilling incident in the Gulf of Mexico with the Deepwater Horizon spill,” said Doug Norlen, director for Pacific Environment, an advocacy and research organization that supports a moratorium on Arctic drilling. Now imagine a spill in the Arctic, where “you are dealing with places that are far away from response capabilities. … It’s a recipe for a disaster.”

Although drilling conditions vary across the ocean’s 5.4 million square miles, the risk of a blowout and a catastrophic spill are threatening all over. Fast-developing storms can wield hurricane-force winds. Icebergs up to a mile in length drift across its choppy currents.
Water temperatures typically hover well below zero. If an accident were to occur in countries lacking emergency response infrastructure along their Arctic coastlines-as in Russia-it could take emergency response crews several hours to arrive at the site under the best conditions and perhaps days.

Marilyn Heiman, director of the U.S. Arctic program at the Pew Charitable Trusts, said that to respond to spills immediately all countries bordering icy Arctic waters would need emergency response centers that are located within a few hundred miles of a drilling site.
These centers would have to be manned by response workers 24 hours a day, because once oil enters the sea, the dark slime can be carried to distant shorelines via strong ocean currents or sink to the depths of the ocean floor.

No country with icy waters has a center this close. In Alaska, the nearest Coast Guard response unit is around 1,000 miles from planned Arctic drilling locations. (It is unclear whether U.S. Arctic drilling regulations, to be released later this year, will require closer emergency centers at planned U.S. drilling sites.)

Knizhnikov of the environmental organization WWF said he’s skeptical that adequate centers will be built in Russia. “It will be very difficult to become reality because [the centers are] very costly,” he said. “It will take many, many years before they will be created, if they will be created.”

Companies in Control
Still, on July 1, Russia passed stricter safety standards and pollution cleanup regulations for offshore drillers than it has in place for inland operations.

Russia now requires companies to have more and better equipment to collect spilled oil-such as booms and skims on hand at all times at drilling sites. The rules also require companies to react to spills faster. According to Russian law, drilling operators must respond to spills at sea within four hours of discovering them, whereas companies have six hours to respond to spills on land.

Most experts say the regulations are not sufficient to address serious concerns about a major spill in the Arctic, one of Earth’s last pristine wilderness areas. For instance, regulations dictating the type of safety equipment and spill response operators must use are too general to be effective, many say.

Even those experts who say Russia’s rules are adequate have their worries.
“The regulations are good,” said Alexei Bambulyak, a Russian environment expert at the Norwegian environment research institution Akvaplan-niva. However, “whether they are followed or not is up to the [drilling] operators.”

The five counries with major Arctic claims-Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Russia and the United States-are moving somewhat slower than Russia, either because of uncertain energy prospects or environmental security and safety concerns.

Norway is the exception, but it has the world’s most stringent standards for offshore drilling safety and is drilling in warmer waters than Russia with less sea ice. In 2007, Norway’s Statoil became the first driller in the world to produce natural gas in Arctic waters.

According to Eric Haalan, a spokesperson for Statoil, Arctic drillers everywhere have “absolutely everything to lose” by working in the Arctic Ocean unprepared.

“Meaning, if we don’t do it properly, we lose more than anyone else. And we have seen the consequences of accidents that have happened in the past, and what effect that has had on even large companies,” he said.

Extreme Consequences
Greenpeace has a long history of taking a strong stand against Arctic drilling and other issues and accepting the consequences, according to Radford, the Greenpeace USA executive director.

“But the consequences by Russia are unbelievably extreme and illegal and unjust,” he said.
Twenty-eight Greenpeace activists and two journalists from 18 countries are sitting in prison and facing charges of piracy, which carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Two of the activists tried to scale the tower on the Gazprom Neft platform before the Russian Coast Guard fired 11 warning shots into the water near their raft and ordered them to come down. They descended before they were able to hang a banner and were immediately arrested. The Coast Guard waited a day before raiding the Arctic Sunrise protest ship, where the other activists were located.

This week Russia denied bail to the U.S. captain of a Greenpeace ship and another activist.

The harsh reaction reflects Russia’s new urgency to tap its Arctic resource. Almost exactly one year ago, six Greenpeace protestors climbed the same Arctic platform and hung a banner, and the Coast Guard did nothing. In fact, oil company crew members reportedly gave them soup.

Radford said he hopes people see that the arrested Greenpeace activists were acting for the benefit of the world.

“They were doing this to alert the world of the first ever offshore deep Arctic well drilling that could cause radical climate change and could cause a huge oil spill that the [Russian] Coast Guard thinks is their nightmare scenario,” Radford said. “Now, that wasn’t for private gain, that was for the benefit of all of us.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty: Russia: Families Say Detained Greenpeace Crew ‘Ordinary, Peaceful People’ & Interview: Greenpeace Head Says Biggest Crime Is Arctic Drilling

http://www.rferl.org/content/greenpeace-russia-rights-gazprom-journalism/25134133.html

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Russia: Families Say Detained Greenpeace Crew ‘Ordinary, Peaceful People’

By Claire Bigg and Aleksandra Vagner
October 11, 2013

When her husband left for the Arctic last month to cover a Greenpeace protest against offshore oil drilling, Alina Zhiganova watched him go with a heavy heart.

She knew the reporting trip would keep him away from home for several weeks.

But neither of them suspected how dramatically the protest would end for all those involved, including for Zhiganova’s husband, distinguished Russian photojournalist Denis Sinyakov.

On September 19, Russian authorities detained all 30 people on board Greenpeace’s icebreaker, “Arctic Sunrise,” and charged them with piracy for attempting to stage a protest on an oil platform owned by Gazprom.

The defendants, many of whom are foreigners, have all been remanded in custody for two months pending trial.

They face up to 15 years in prison.

Zhiganova was able to pay a brief visit to her husband at his pretrial detention center in the northern Russian city of Murmansk.

What she saw deeply alarmed her.

“He’s holding his head high,” Zhiganova says, “but as someone who has known him for a long time, I can see that he’s not well at all. He has lost a lot of weight. He has huge black circles under his eyes. You can tell he’s having a hard time.”

‘The Death Of Freedom Of Speech’

A court in Murmansk denied bail to Sinyakov on October 8, saying he was a flight risk although he and Zhiganova have a 3-year-old son.

Speaking by videolink from his detention center, he told the court that he had only been covering the protest as a journalist and that his prosecution “spells the death of freedom of speech in Russia.”

At the same hearing, a Greenpeace spokesman and the doctor onboard the “Arctic Sunrise” were also denied bail.

Sinyakov had been documenting the protest for the Russian news website Lenta.ru and also took pictures for Greenpeace on a freelance basis.

Another freelance journalist, British national Kieron Bryan remains in detention after the court turned down his bail appeal on October 11.

The charges of piracy leveled against the environmental activists and the two reporters, widely denounced as disproportionate, have sparked a barrage of criticism worldwide.

Under Greenpeace’s plan, two activists who began to scale the Gazprom platform were to unfurl a banner reading “Don’t Kill the Arctic.”

Russian Coast Guard personnel eventually descended onto the ship from helicopters and threatened the crew with guns before towing the vessel to Murmansk.

The group says it had no plan to take control of the platform and that its ship was in international waters when it was seized.

Kumi Naidoo, the head of Greenpeace International, described all 30 detainees as prisoners of conscience and demanded a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

INTERVIEW: RFE/RL Speaks With Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo

In Russia, Sinyakov’s jailing has caused particular dismay.

Fellow journalists have rallied to his defense, staging pickets, launching petitions, and publishing black squares in place of photographs on their websites as a sign of solidarity.
More than 300 journalists sent a note to the court in Murmansk calling for his release.

They say his prosecution sets a dangerous precedent that could embolden authorities to punish reporters simply for covering protests critical of Kremlin policies.

Putin’s own human rights council condemned Sinyakov’s detention as “a crude violation of the law on mass media” and noted that journalists covering news events “cannot bear responsibility for the actions of those participating in this event.”

Zhiganova, however, says her husband is all but cut off from the outside world and was unaware of the campaign until his lawyer briefed him during a recent prison visit.

“Denis did not know about what was going on in Moscow — about the protests, about the fact that newspapers were publishing black squares instead of photos,” she says. “He didn’t know any of that. He is isolated from society. He’s in pretrial detention together with criminals and, apart from his lawyers, he has no contact with anyone.”

Agonizing Separation

For the families of foreign activists detained on the “Arctic Sunrise” the separation has been just as agonizing.
Anita Litvinov, the wife of Swedish national Dmitry Litvinov, says she is currently waiting for a Russian visa to visit him in detention.
Litvinov last spoke to her husband on September 19, when he called to congratulate their son on his 14th birthday. The couple lives in Stockholm and has two other children.

Since then, the family has received only sporadic news from him through the Swedish Embassy in Russia.

“Based on everything I hear, I’m very, very worried, and very anxious,” she told RFE/RL. “I’m very eager to have him back home.”

Anita Litivnov stresses that Greenpeace has a long history of nonviolent protests.

Last month’s stunt at the Gazprom oil platform, she says, was no exception:

“I know my husband and I know some of the other people who were on the ‘Arctic Sunrise,'” she said. “They are ordinary peaceful people. They wanted to draw attention to a problem that is connected to environmental pollution and global warming. Their intentions are, and have always been, peaceful.”
EXPLAINER: Five Things To Know About Russia’s Greenpeace Drama

Some observers believe that Russian authorities are seeking to deter Greenpeace from staging further protests in the Arctic — which Russia wants to turn into its top source of oil and gas over the next decade – and that the activists will soon be released.

Putin has defended their detention. But he has also said the activists were not pirates, fuelling hopes they would be spared jail sentences.
Sinyakov’s wife, at any rate, has no intention of giving up her battle to free him: “If I didn’t have hope, I would go mad.”

_______________________

http://www.rferl.org/content/greenpeace-russia-naidoo-rights-protest-gazprom/25134333.html

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Russia
Interview: Greenpeace Head Says Biggest Crime Is Arctic Drilling

October 11, 2013

Russian authorities are keeping 28 Greenpeace activists and two freelance journalists in detention after the environmental group attempted to stage a protest against offshore oil drilling in the Arctic at a platform owned by Russia’s Gazprom. All 30 detainees have been charged with piracy.

RFE/RL’s Mark Krutov spoke to Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace International.

RFE/RL: Greenpeace activists have been campaigning on environmental issues for decades now. What kind of legal issues have you run into over the years?

Naidoo: Probably the worst impact of any action taken against Greenpeace was the murder of one of our activists, Fernando Pereira, when French intelligence bombed the “Rainbow Warrior” 27 years ago in Auckland, New Zealand. We have had activists that have been in prison. In Copenhagen, for example, some of our activists were held for 21 days over Christmas and New Year’s.

We have activists who engage in peaceful protests around the world who often are arrested, but often the charge is trespassing and that usually carries a fine rather than prison time. The worst prison time, as far as I understand, that any of our colleagues have served is six months.

RFE/RL: Have piracy charges ever been leveled against Greenpeace activists?

Naidoo: We have never been charged with piracy. There have been cases where sometimes a government might start talking about piracy and then quite quickly realize that “these guys are peaceful, they are not armed, and they are not acting for personal gain, so therefore they don’t meet a lot of the basic definitions of piracy” and it’s struck.

RFE/RL: The Russian authorities accuse the activists of violating Russian and international law. You have expressed the desire to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. If Putin agrees to this meeting but makes it a precondition for the activists’ release that Greenpeace admits guilt, will you comply?

Naidoo: It depends [on] admitting the guilt for what, right? If it is to admit the guilt for piracy, definitely not.
Clearly, if we were to admit that we broke the law at the level of breaching the exclusion zone, for example, and to admit that — which is a violation — we would be happy to admit that. But to say that we tried to storm the rig, to say that we are pirates, and so on, and that we were risking property and people — all of which is not true — that we cannot honestly concede to, even if it means getting the people released.

The biggest crime being committed is the environmental crime of pursuing drilling in the Arctic for oil, when in fact the threats — of climate change on the one hand, but also to the environment of the Russian Arctic — [are] so potentially devastating that history will judge this is the biggest crime that went unpunished and unregulated.
RFE/RL: You have said that Greenpeace is not picking a fight with the Russian government and that your protest focused on Gazprom. Are you aware, though, of the close ties between Putin and Gazprom?

Naidoo: Yes, we are aware of that. But our focus is not on the presidency or the government per se. Our focus is on a company that, we believe, might be operating within the law, but is engaged in environmental destruction and will lead the planet to climate disaster.

Especially when just recently the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that we are running out of time, there has to be more urgency, and that known fossil fuel reserves — a significant chunk of it — [need] to stay underneath the ground where they are if we are to prevent runaway catastrophic climate change.

And runaway catastrophic climate change, just to be clear, means that life on this planet as we know it will be threatened and we will put at risk our [children’s] and grandchildren’s future. That’s what is at stake. And that is why the Artic is so important and that is why we have been taking these actions.

RFE/RL: Could you clarify the status of Russian national Denis Sinyakov, one of the two freelance journalists who were detained during Greenpeace’s protest last month. Can he be considered an activist, too?

Naidoo: The Greenpeace activists made a conscious decision — they knew that there are potential consequences whenever Greenpeace activists take action. But we don’t expect the journalists to get arrested. That’s why in my letter to President Putin I said that it’s not fair. As Denis said: “The crime I’m accused of is called journalism, and I will continue to do it.”

Fox News: Joint U.S.-Mexico Gulf Oil Drilling Deal Held Up Over Disagreements In Congress

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2013/10/03/joint-us-mexico-gulf-oil-drilling-deal-held-up-over-disagreements-in-congress/

Published October 03, 2013Fox News Latino

KERR-MCGEE

Along with the budget and immigration, one more thing that the Senate and House can’t mutually agree upon is the proposed joint U.S.-Mexico effort to develop offshore oil and gas fields along the two countries’ maritime border in the Gulf of Mexico.

Both the Mexican government and many in Washington want to nail down the agreement soon, but its ratification by the U.S. Congress has been delayed by a dispute between the House and Senate over whether oil and gas producers should be required to publicly disclose their payments to foreign governments.

Mexico almost immediately ratified the treaty but the agreement has stalled on Capitol Hill as the House-passed version exempts oil and gas companies from disclosing their payments.
SUMMARY
The U.S. and Mexico have tried for decades to figure out a plan for divvying up the oil and gas resources in the Gulf, but a 2000 moratorium was placed on drilling in the region to allow time for the development of a joint plan. From that point on, the U.S. began expanding its drilling operations closer and closer to the maritime border in the Gulf, as Mexico grew increasingly concerned that the U.S. could be siphoning from deposits located on their side of the border.

“It is the hope that, through this Agreement and the proposed energy reforms in Mexico, the energy revolution the U.S. is currently experiencing can extend throughout the Western Hemisphere,” Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon said in a statement Tuesday during a meeting of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “This would make our region more competitive and less reliant on politically tumultuous states for obtaining energy.”

The U.S. and Mexico have tried for decades to figure out a plan for divvying up the oil and gas resources in the Gulf, but a 2000 moratorium was placed on drilling in the region to allow time for the development of a joint plan. From that point on the U.S. began expanding its drilling operations closer and closer to the maritime border in the Gulf, as Mexico grew increasingly concerned that the U.S. could be siphoning from deposits located on their side of the border.

The joint agreement is meant to set explicit guidelines for where each country can drill and provide the United States “substantial geopolitical, energy security and environmental benefits, while potentially helping the U.S. oil and gas industry gain access to a huge market that may offer jobs and gains across a long value chain,” the Brookings Institution stated earlier this year.

For Mexico, a ratified agreement would provide Latin America’s second-largest economy with new technology and investment needed to develop hard-to-reach regions along with giving a major boost to President Enrique Peña Nieto’s push for energy reform that includes opening the country’s state-run oil company -Pemex – to foreign investment.

“The motive for the U.S. is ‘We’re ready to drill, but we don’t want to drill ourselves into a legal nightmare,'” said George Baker, publisher of Mexico Energy Intelligence, an industry newsletter based in Houston, according to the Christian Science Monitor. “For Mexico, it’s ‘We want to make certain our oil rights are protected so that if they start drilling on the U.S. side – and discover crossborder oil – we have architecture in place to protect our interests.”

Besides the exemptions for oil and gas companies, the specter of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill looms heavy over drilling in the Gulf. Environmental activists argue that the U.S. and oil companies have not learned their lessons from the BP spill that left 11 people dead and dumped around 4.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

“[O]ur continued emphasis on expanding offshore drilling is slowing the necessary investment in clean energy projects that will stimulate the economy without the attendant risks, and help to alleviate the worst impacts of climate change,” said Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for U.S. oceans at the conservation organization Oceana during Tuesday’s hearing.

If finally approved, the agreement will be the first major test to Peña Nieto’s energy reform plan. The Mexican leader has already taken heat for his proposal to open Pemex up to foreign investment – with opponents claiming the move is tantamount to Mexico losing its sovereignty.

If the agreement is not ratified by Congress by Jan. 17, 2014 then the moratorium in place will expire and it is unlikely that either country will drill in the region.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Reuters.com: UPDATE 1-Oil, gas firms begin to shut U.S. Gulf production on storm threat

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/03/storm-karen-energy-idUSL1N0HT14220131003

Thu Oct 3, 2013 12:36pm EDT

By Kristen Hays

Oct 3 (Reuters) – Energy companies in the Gulf of Mexico started shutting in production on Thursday and were evacuating some workers as Tropical Storm Karen headed toward a region producing nearly a fifth of daily U.S. oil output.

The National Hurricane Center expected the storm to move through one of the most productive areas of the Gulf to reach the Gulf Coast between Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle over the weekend. It said the storm could become a hurricane before hitting the coast.

In the Gulf Coast cash gasoline market, differentials surged about 3.00 cents per gallon on storm concerns, traders said. The Gulf of Mexico accounts for about 19 percent of U.S. daily oil production and about 6 percent of daily natural gas output, according to the U.S Energy Information Administration.

“All storm hype,” a Gulf refined products trader said on the rise in differentials, which came despite a 1.85-million-barrel inventory build last week in the well-supplied region.

Anadarko Petroleum Corp said it halted production at its Neptune platform, with capacity to produce up to 14,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil and 23 million cubic feet per day of natural gas.

Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell also were evacuating some workers, but said production was not affected.

Chevron did not say which installations were being partially evacuated, but all four of its platforms were in the projected path of the storm. Those include Tahiti, which can produce up to 125,000 bpd of oil and 70 million cubic feet a day of natural gas.

Shell also did not identify affected platforms, but five of the company’s six producing installations were in the storm’s projected path as well as its newest platform, Olympus, which was anchored in the Gulf in August. It is slated to start up next year.

Anadarko was also evacuating workers not essential to production from Neptune and other platforms, including the natural gas-only Independence Hub, with capacity to produce up to 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day.

The Independence Hub is at the easternmost part of the Gulf where oil and gas producers can operate, about 185 miles (297 km) southeast of New Orleans. It and much of Chevron, Shell and BP Plc’s operated platforms are in a Gulf area known as the Mississippi Canyon, which is home to much of the basin’s energy infrastructure.

BP said on Thursday it was continuing evacuations of some workers, but no production had been shut. ConocoPhillips, which operates a single platform far west of Mississippi Canyon, said on Thursday it did not expect any impact from Karen.

Onshore, a crude distillation unit at Chevron’s Pascagoula, Mississippi refinery with capacity of 210,000 bpd was shut early on Thursday, market intelligence service Genscape said, though the company did not confirm the stoppage or say if it was storm-related.

Phillips 66, Shell and Motiva Enterprises also said their refineries in Texas and Louisiana were monitoring the storm.

Destin Pipeline Co LLC on Thursday declared force majeure because it was unable to provide natural gas services from its offshore Gulf of Mexico receipt points due to Tropical Storm Karen. The pipeline receives output from some BP platforms, including Thunder Horse.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Voice of America News: Greenpeace Crackdown Part of Moscow’s Arctic Cold War?

http://www.voanews.com/content/crackdown-on-greenpeace-is-part-of-russias-new-cold-war-in-the-arctic/1759706.html

James Brooke
September 30, 2013

SALEKHARD, RUSSIA – Icy blasts of water greeted Greenpeace protesters climbing Russia’s lone offshore oil platform in the Arctic.

Then, Russian police fired warning shots.

And then arrested 30 activists.Today, 28 Greenpeace activists and 2 journalists from the ship are serving 2 months detention terms in Murmansk, where their ship, the Arctic Sunrise, also is impounded.

Greenpeace Russia lawyer Anton Beneslavski says last year there were no legal penalties after Greenpeace boarded the same platform and unfurled a protest banner.

He said that last year, border police never reacted. This year, police are accusing Greenpeace of piracy.

But Russia is increasingly flexing its muscles in its vast Arctic region.

In September, Russia’s only nuclear-powered guided missile cruiser led a flotilla to the Novosibirsk Islands, where Russian soldiers reopened a military base that had been closed 20 years ago.

As Arctic ice melts more, the base will check on ships passing in summer.

Last summer, China’s first icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, made the Arctic passage. This summer, the first Chinese freighter passed over the top of Russia.

Last May, at a meeting in Sweden, the Arctic Council admitted China as an observer.

That meeting also drew Greenpeace protesters. They called for a ban on drilling and mining in the fragile Arctic environment.

Recently, at Salekhard, a Russian city on the Arctic Circle, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke at an Arctic Forum. He rejected Greepeace’s protest tactics.

He said: “They are obviously not pirates, but formally, they did attempt to board the platform.”

After Putin spoke, Vera Orlova of the Russia Geographical Society told foreign reporters that their permits to visit the Russian Arctic had expired.

She said that it was an absolutely normal procedure for reporters to receive permits to visit Salekhard for only the two days of the conference.

No other nation restricts visits to its Arctic cities. But Putin’s Russia is taking the road of more and more government controls.

__________________
Special thanks to Richard Charter

HoumaToday.com: Research links health, oil spill & Mississipppi River Delta.org.: Conservation Organizations demand BP Accountability for Gulf Oil Disaster & wtok.com: Oil Spill Claims Investigation

By Xerxes Wilson
Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Oil spill cleanup workers could be at risk for developing liver and blood disorders, according to new research published in the American Journal of Medicine. The study, conducted by the University Cancer and Diagnostic Centers in Houston, found that participants exposed to oil had altered blood profiles and liver enzymes, and other symptoms compared to an unexposed group.

In the months following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf, BP hired a small army of locals and others to help deploy protective measures and gather oil that has spewed from the runaway well. Since some research has linked exposure to oil to health issues, more long-term research of the issue is underway. The study estimates that more than 170,000 workers contributed to cleanup efforts.

This latest research looked specifically at the link between oil exposure and blood and liver functions in people who had participated in the cleanup, said Mark D’Andrea, lead investigator for the University Cancer and Diagnostic Centers.
The center compared 117 people who had been exposed to the oil and dispersants used in the aftermath with a control group at least 100 miles away from Louisiana’s coast. Their various blood and liver functions, plus other benchmarks, were tested.
“Oil and secondary products are easily absorbed and can produce damage,” D’Andrea said, especially with people’s bone marrow, livers and kidneys.

The research found there were no significant changes in white blood cell counts. But platelet counts, blood urea nitrogen and creatinine levels were “substantially lower” in the exposed groups. The study also found other indicators of liver damage by comparing other biochemical benchmarks, D’Andrea said. “Phosphatases, amino transferases and dehydrogenases play critical roles in biological processes. These enzymes are involved in detoxification, metabolism and biosynthesis of energetic macromolecules that are important for different essential functions,” D’Andrea said. “Alterations in the levels of these enzymes result in biochemical impairment and lesions in the tissue and cellular function.”

In the months following the spill, much was made about the potential health problems the nearly 2 million gallons of dispersants such as Corexit spread in the aftermath to break down the oil. Corexit is banned in the United Kingdom because of potential risk to cleanup workers.

A series of interviews by the Government Accountability Project released earlier this year noted those involved in cleanup reported health problems such as kidney and liver damage, heart palpitations, bloody urine and memory loss. The report also took issue with the method and monitoring conducted by BP in its use of dispersants. At least some of the symptoms are shared with subjects of D’Andrea’s research. Those participants also reported headaches most frequently, followed by shortness of breath, skin rash, cough, dizzy spells, fatigue, painful joints, night sweats and chest pain.

D’Andrea said the research doesn’t specifically hinge on exposure to dispersants because some participants claimed they were heavily exposed to them and others noted they had little to no contact with the compounds. “The results of this study indicate that oil spill exposure appears to play a role in the development of hematologic and hepatic toxicity. However, additional long-term follow-up studies are required to understand the clinical significance of the oil spill exposure,” the study says.
The findings, like much of the research tied to the spill, are limited by a lack of pre-spill data for comparison, the report notes. Conclusions are also limited by the short-term snapshot nature of the project. “If they haven’t been screened they need to do some screening. Some we saw right after the screening and the others were perhaps years later. It will probably be a lifelong following. Who knows when that incident will cause an aberration in the DNA?” D’Andrea said.

A long-term study into the potential effects of oil and dispersant exposure is being conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. That organization has recruited more than 33,000 people who had some connection with the oil spill cleanup. “We actually know very little about very little exposures to oil, such as what someone who would have experience in cleanup would see,” said Dale Sandler, the study’s chief of epidemiology and principal investigator. “So it is important that we invest in this and do it right.”

Sandler said researchers are trying to create a systematic examination over about a decade to yield results that can accurately depict exposure risk and can be used to characterize risk in other oil exposure situations.
But coming up with such thorough and accurate results takes time. Participants in the study will be observed in different ways over different periods of time. Some will be part of phone interviews. Others have participated in in-home visits, and about 4,000 people will take part in a more rigorous clinical examination. Results will be released through the course of the research, Sandler said.

____________________________________________________
http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/
Conservation Organizations Demand BP Accountability for Gulf Oil Disaster
September 27, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in BP Oil Disaster, Media Resources
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Conservation Organizations Demand BP Accountability for Gulf Oil Disaster
Deepwater Horizon civil trial resumes, groups reinforce need to restore

(New Orleans, LA-Sept. 27, 2013) On Monday, Sept. 30, phase II of the Deepwater Horizon civil trial will begin to determine how much BP will be required to pay in fines for the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. Today, leading national and local conservation organizations Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation released the following statement:

“Nearly three and a half years since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion killed 11 men and caused the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, the Gulf still waits for restoration. BP’s misleading advertising campaigns omit truths and facts: Gulf Coast communities, wildlife and ecosystems are still harmed and need to be restored. Tar mats continue to surface, miles of Louisiana shoreline remain oiled and the full effects of the oil spill may not be known for years to come.

“It is time for BP to accept full responsibility for the Gulf oil disaster. The natural resources of the Gulf, which sustain and bolster regional and national economies, need restoration now. We cannot wait any longer for our ruined wetlands and barrier islands to be restored.

“Restoration cannot begin in earnest until BP is brought to justice. The company has not paid a penny in Clean Water Act civil fines, which it owes for the millions of barrels of oil it spilled into the Gulf. These fines will be the primary funding for Gulf restoration projects under the RESTORE Act.

“A portion of the RESTORE Act funding, overseen by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, will be spent on large-scale ecosystem restoration projects. The Mississippi River Delta region was among the hardest hit by the oil disaster and is essential to regional and national economies, including navigation, energy and seafood. The delta is invaluable to our communities and our environment; it provides vital habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife and birds along the Mississippi and Central Flyways, world-class fresh- and saltwater fishing opportunities and a home to millions of Americans. The Mississippi River Delta is truly a national treasure and one of the most important areas in North America.

“BP must be held responsible for its actions so that Gulf Coast ecosystems and economies can recover and rebuild. It’s been nearly three and a half years. We have waited long enough.”

– See more at: http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/blog/2013/09/27/conservation-organizations-demand-bp-accountability-for-gulf-oil-disaster/#sthash.fapeli5v.dpuf

Oil Spill Claims Investigation
By: Andrea Williams – Email
Updated: Fri 5:56 PM, Sep 27, 2013

Meridian, Miss. An investigation is continuing into some settlement claims for people who were affected by the 2010 BP Oil Spill. Within the last week Meridian police have received numerous calls about solicitors collecting personal information and money from citizens to file claims. One businessman from California says he is now in Meridian to set the record straight.
The Meridian Police Department is spearheading the local investigation. In all, 11 people including a man from Neshoba County were killed in that 2010 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Carlos Crump is a Regional Claims Manager for the company, ClaimsComp. Aside from the fatal victims, he says that many other people were affected by the spill in various ways. In turn, he says those individuals are eligible for compensation.

“They can qualify for something called a business economic loss claim, an individual economic loss claim, and a real estate property claim. Those are the only claims that we are even focusing on, but they must be gainfully employed; they must be in certain industries.”

Crump says his company is filing settlement claims. Although he contends that his agency is legitimate, he says others may not be. “If someone is asking you for money to submit a claim, run because they’re not supposed to do that. I flew from Los Angeles, California to Little Rock and drove from Little Rock to Meridian to show my face to show that there is integrity out here and we’re going to still keep pushing. We’re going to help people become aware that they can possibly qualify.”
Meanwhile, Meridian police are advising residents to use extreme caution when filing for claims.

“I would advise everyone in Meridian, to not give out personal information until you are absolutely sure that this is a legitimate claim,” says MPD Chief James Lee. “Protect your information: your name, your social security number and your date of birth. In today’s environment that’s worth money in the bank. Please Meridian, be careful!”

At this time the final day to file for settlement claims is April 22, 2014. For more information on the BP Oil Spill Settlement log onto deepwaterhorizonsettlement.com.

Find this article at: http://www.wtok.com/home/headlines/Oil-Spill-Claims-Investigation-225537022.html

Special thanks to Richard Charter

StarTribune/World: Russia to file piracy charges against Greenpeace activists for anti-drilling protest in Arctic

http://www.startribune.com/world/224993962.html

Article by: ALEXANDER ROSLYAKOV , Associated Press Updated: September 24, 2013 – 1:05 PM

MURMANSK, Russia – Russia’s top investigative agency said Tuesday it will prosecute Greenpeace activists on piracy charges for trying to climb onto an Arctic offshore drilling platform owned by the state-controlled gas company Gazprom.

The 30 activists from 18 countries were on a Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, which was seized last week by the Russian Coast Guard. The ship was towed Tuesday into a small bay near Russia’s Arctic port of Murmansk.

The Investigative Committee, Russia’s main federal investigative agency, said its agents will question all those who took part in the protest and detain the “most active” of them on piracy charges. Piracy carries a potential prison sentence of up to 15 years and a fine of 500,000 rubles (about $15,500).

Two activists tried to climb onto the Prirazlomnaya platform on Thursday and others assisted from small inflatable boats. The Greenpeace protest was aimed at calling attention to the environmental risks of drilling for oil in Arctic waters.

“When a foreign vessel full of electronic technical equipment of unknown purpose and a group of people calling themselves members of an environmental rights organization try nothing less than to take a drilling platform by storm, logical doubts arise about their intentions,” Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said in a statement.

He said the activists posed a danger to operations on the oil platform. “Such activities not only infringe on the sovereignty of a state, but might pose a threat to the environmental security of the whole region,” Markin said.

The oil platform, the first offshore rig in the Arctic, was deployed to the vast Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea in 2011 but its launch has been delayed by technological challenges. Gazprom has said it was to start pumping oil this year, but no precise date has been set.

Greenpeace insisted that under international law Russia had no right to board its ship and has no grounds to charge its activists with piracy.

“Peaceful activism is crucial when governments around the world have failed to respond to dire scientific warnings about the consequences of climate change in the Arctic and elsewhere,” Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement.

“We will not be intimidated or silenced by these absurd accusations and demand the immediate release of our activists,” he added.

One Greenpeace activist told The Associated Press that Coast Guard officers hit and kicked some activists when they stormed the Greenpeace vessel.

The Arctic Sunrise was anchored Tuesday in Kulonga Bay near Severomorsk, the home port of Russia’s Northern Fleet, 25 kilometers (15 miles) north of Murmansk.

Greenpeace spokeswoman Maria Favorskaya said activists were ordered Tuesday to prepare to leave the ship. The Interfax news agency reported they were bused later in the day to the Investigative Committee’s headquarters in Murmansk.

Greenpeace said the activists hailed from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States.

Blue Frontier Campaign: Marine conservation groups pledge not to accept money from the fossil fuel industry.

http://www.bluefront.org/wordpress/?p=4620

Recent gatherings themed around ocean conservation included among their sponsors the American Petroleum Institute, BP, Shell, the French oil giant Total and ExxonMobil. It’s as if a medical convention on how to reduce heart and lung disease were sponsored by coal and tobacco companies.

As leaders of groups dedicated to protecting our public seas and ocean planet we will not accept financial sponsorships from the fossil fuel industry. In addressing the critical challenges our blue planet faces from overfishing, pollution, loss of habitat and climate change we recognize the need to engage with all sectors of the marine community.

However we also understand that almost all ocean users including fishing, shipping, ports, recreation and tourism, science, national defense and clean energy have the potential to be part of a unified effort to sustain our coasts and ocean for future generations.

Forty or fifty years ago the same might have been thought of the fossil fuel industry when oil spills from drilling and shipping were seen as the main challenge for marine conservation and common efforts could be sought to balance the risk of pollution against the need for energy.

Today science and observation informs us that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to climate disruption including increased coastal storminess, sea level rise, warming seas, loss of arctic sea ice, coral bleaching and ocean acidification among other dangerous impacts. These changes are already putting millions of people and billions in property at risk along with the marine ecosystems we all depend on.

This is why we will not take any contributions from fossil fuel corporations that will allow them to greenwash (or bluewash) their role in climate change and undermine the marine conservation community’s credibility.

We need to make climate a blue issue by educating the public on why we have to make a rapid transition from fossil fuels to clean non-carbon renewable energy on and offshore as part of our greater effort to protect and restore the wonders and promise of our blue marble planet. Not taking money from big oil is a minimal step we all can commit to.

James N. Barnes
Executive Director
Antarctic & Southern Ocean Coalition

Anna Cummins
Executive Director
5 Gyres Institute

Jim Curland
Advocacy Program Director
Friends of the Sea Otter

Tim Dillingham
Executive Director
American Littoral Society

Vicki Nichols Goldstein
Founder
Colorado Ocean Coalition

Randy Hayes
Executive Director
Foundation Earth

David Helvarg
Executive Director
Blue Frontier

Alex Hobbs
Acting Executive Director
Heal the Bay

Linda Hunter
Executive Director
The Watershed Project

Phillip Johnson
Executive Director
Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition

Laura Kasa
Executive Director
Save Our Shores

Kurt Lieber
Executive Director
Ocean Defenders Alliance

Millard McCleary
Executive Program Director
Reef Relief

David McGuire
Director
Shark Stewards

Bill McKibben
Founder
350.Org

Wallace j. Nichols, PhD
Founder
Blue Mind

Jeff Pantukhoff
President & Founder
The Whaleman Foundation

Louis Psihoyos
Executive Director
Oceanic Preservation Society

Phil Radford
Executive Director
Greenpeace USA

Daniella Dimitrova Russo
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Plastic Pollution Coalition

Carl Safina, PhD
President
Blue Ocean Institute

Cynthia Sarthou
Executive Director
Gulf Restoration Network

Todd Steiner
Executive Director
Turtle Island Restoration Network

Mike Tidwell
Executive Director
Chesapeake Climate Action Network

Marc A. Yaggi
Executive Director
Waterkeeper Alliance

Cindy Zipf
Executive Director
Clean Ocean Action

Special thanks to Blue Frontier as it appeared in Blue Notes

Rigzone: Black Elk Incident Reminder of Dangers from Hazardous Vapors

Black Elk Energy is the lead proponent of the Rigs-to-Reefs program….. Richard Charter

http://www.rigzone.com/news/oil_gas/a/129120/Black_Elk_Incident_Reminder_of_Dangers_from_Hazardous_Vapors

by Karen Boman|
Rigzone Staff|
Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The November 2012 explosion at a Black Elk Energy-operated platform – which resulted from welders welding onto a pipe leading to a wet oil tank – serves as a reminder of the importance of educating workers on the dangers fire or explosions sparked by hazardous vapors, an offshore safety official told Rigzone.

A third party investigation found that the explosion and fire that occurred resulted from contractors failing to follow standard safety practices. Black Elk last month published the results of the investigation into the explosion and fire that killed three workers at the platform at West Delta Block 32 in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

The wet oil tank and pipework would have contained hydrocarbon gases that could have easily been ignited by an ignition temperature as the weld heat generated inside the pipe, said Tony Scott, general manager for the OCS Group, in an interview with Rigzone.
“If the workers knew more about the dangers around them the fatalities may well have been avoided,” said Scott.

To address part of this potentially fatal shortfall in training, the OCS Group now offers a Complex Mechanical course for mechanical workers. However, Scott believes that satisfactory Zone awareness training should be offered to all rig personnel throughout the industry.

A hazardous area is considered to be an area where an explosive atmosphere is or may be expected to be present. Thirty-five percent of rigs and drillships offshore will have this area broken down into zones or divisions. Zone Zero, potentially the most hazardous of the three risk areas mentioned, is where an explosive gas/vapor is present continuously for long periods. Zone Zero is not typically found on a rig, but in refineries and chemical plants; a Zone Zero can be found inside a tank where a gap exists at the top and vapor is trapped.

Zone 1 is where an explosive gas/vapor is likely during normal operation; with Zone 1, gas will be present but it is diluted by air. Zone 2, the least potentially hazardous of the three risk areas mentioned – is where an explosive gas/vapor is unlikely to occur in normal operation. If an explosive gas/vapor does occur in Zone 2, it is likely to do so infrequently and existing for short periods. Zone 2 accounts for approximately 28 percent of the total hazardous area of the rig.

Sources of accident ignition include welding, burning and static, which can occur even through nylon clothes. Welding activity could generate an ignition that could be considered an ignition temperature, or when material ignites without an external source of ignition such as a spark. This type of ignition could cause the gas/vapor inside a pipe to explode if someone was welding on the pipe.

“People erroneously assume that a spark is needed to cause ignition but this is not the case,” Scott noted. “When a spark causes ignition, this is called the Flash Point and is different to an ignition temperature. A Flash Point is where the minimum temperature at which a substance gives out sufficient vapor to form an explosive atmosphere is reached. A spark from an aluminum ladder on a rusty beam could generate a Flash Point and cause a gas or vapor to explode.”

The problem with hazardous areas is that offshore workers can be unaware that they are entering a potentially explosive area. Electricians and electronic technicians are likely to have received training to gain a full understanding of the hazardous area zones and their importance where electrical equipment is concerned. However, the rig safety preparatory courses offered to many other groups of rig workers, including welders, mechanics, scaffolders, and riggers, don’t give workers adequate in-depth knowledge of the rig zones and their potential for explosive gases and vapors.

The courses available for offshore workers are good but lightweight on hazardous vapors, an area that Scott feels has been almost neglected in training.
“You almost need separate, half day training session to talk on the dangers of vapors,” Scott commented.

While workers are trained to find muster stations in case of a fire, workers with backgrounds outside of electrical/instrumentation jobs are not given enough training in recognizing the dangers of hazardous vapors, Scott noted. The lack of understanding surrounding hazardous areas presents an issue for both offshore and onshore oil and gas facilities.

For example, a rigger going into a hazardous area on and offshore rig and breaking a junction box while trying to use the box as a foothold. These workers need to be warned on the dangers of a spark.

Scott said it wasn’t clear whether the pipe that blew up on the Black Elk platform was in a zoned area. If it was located in a zoned area, it would likely have had a hot work permit and controls to guard against sparks.

“All it takes is for a spark or hot surface to explode,” said Scott. “People don’t and should understand these hazards.”

Better training and better systems for conveying the dangers of hazardous vapors are definitely needed to fill the knowledge gap. While regulations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico have tightened since the Macondo incident, in Scott’s opinion, the oil and gas industry is not doing enough to alert workers to the dangers of hazardous vapors, beyond the training and electrical and mechanical inspections. The failure of the Deepwater Horizon rig’s blowout preventer was the root but not the cause of the Macondo incident. Instead, the rig blew because gas that was floating around the rig found a spark or a hot surface.

Besides training, another option could be for rigs to clearly inform workers when they are entering a hazardous area which has zones or divisions that could be explosive, such as the signs used in European Union rigs under the Potentially Explosive Atmospheres Directive (ATEX). The directive, which came out in 2003, established what equipment and work environment is allowed in an explosive atmosphere in order to protect employees from explosion risk.

“I would love to go onto a rig and know that I’m going into a hazardous area,” Scott commented, noting that the times he’s been on offshore rigs, he’s found out about a rig’s hazardous areas by accident.

OCS has done one course for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and will conduct another course for BSEE on ignition sources and hazardous areas.

The company has recommended to the Coast Guard a collection of information needed to demonstrate that certain specific requirements have been undertaken with U.S. Gulf and international requirements. The document proposed would contain electrical equipment in hazardous locations documents contain data on previous inspections and maintenance of electrical equipment. The document also would contain Hazardous Area Equipment Register (HAER), supplied by a third party, including Remedial Actions, an Emergency Shut Down register, also supplied by a third party.
The document in the form proposed by OCS also would include:
* A register of Hazardous Areas qualified staff certified by the American Petroleum Institute, International Association of Drilling Contractors, or CompEx
* Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit or Vessel Hazardous Area classification drawings
* Record of Special X conditions for any equipment marked accordingly with certificates of reference
* Notified incident records within the Hazardous Areas and any potential gas/vapor catastrophes outside of Hazardous Areas
* Details of Fire, First Aid and Rescue Services
* Emergency Shut Down register, supplied by a third party

The dossier would be held on the rig or vessel and be easily accessible by the Coast Guard when they visit. The company that operates the rig or vessel or a third party would maintain the data, which would be introduced into the companies’ quality system. The data could be compiled on certified table so the Coast Guard could check against any of the items on the Hazardous Area Equipment Register.

Under the current Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) 2 requirements, a third party audit of offshore rigs and vessels. The SEMS II final rule enhances the original SEMS rule, or Workplace Safety Rule, issued in October 2010.

SEMS II was passed to provide greater protection by supplementing operators’ SEMS programs with employee training, empowering field level personnel with safety management decisions and strengthening auditing procedures by requiring third parties to conduct auditing activities. The U.S. Coast Guard’s role with SEMS II is to act as police, following up with visits to rigs and vessels to ensure that third party audits have been conducted.

“As a company that performs Ex inspections, in our experience, we know that sometimes Remedial Action’s aren’t closed out,” OCS said in an Aug. 22 letter to the Coast Guard.

In June of this year, the Coast Guard proposed to amend the electrical engineering regulations for electrical installations in hazardous areas that would expand the list of acceptable national and international explosion protection standards. The IEC System for Certification to Standards relating the equipment for use in Explosive Atmospheres also would be added as an acceptable independent third-party certification system for testing and certifying electrical equipment.

The proposed regulations would apply to foreign and U.S. mobile offshore drilling units, floating facilities and vessels that engaged in activities on the Outer Continental Shelf for the first time after the regulations’ effective date. They would also allow owners and operators of U.S. tank vessels to choose the compliance regime in existing regulations on the proposed regulations.

When the ATEX Directive came out in Europe in 2003, complaints arose that equipment had to be classed as in service to be used. What started to happen was that equipment that would be used in non-risk areas could be certified by the company. The self-certification was good for mechanical people. But the ATEX self-certification process slipped out of Europe into the United States, Scott noted. This led to confusion on the Coast Guard’s behalf that companies would self-certify equipment for Zone 2 work, not only mechanical but electrical equipment as well.

Karen Boman has more than 10 years of experience covering the upstream oil and gas sector. Email Karen at kboman@rigzone.com.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Nature World News: BP Oil Spill Cleanup Workers at Risk of Developing Blood and Liver Disorders

http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/4016/20130917/bp-oil-spill-cleanup-workers-risk-developing-blood-liver-disorders.htm

By James A. Foley
Sep 17, 2013 12:54 PM EDT

bp-oil-spill satellite
The oil slick as seen from space by NASA’s Terra satellite on 24 May 2010 (Photo : NASA via Wikimedia Commons )

Oil spill cleanup crews who responded to the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill display “significantly altered” blood profiles, liver enzymes and somatic symptoms compared to an unexposed control group in new research published in the American Journal of Medicine, which suggests that oil spill cleanup workers are at risk of developing liver or blood related disorders.

When the British Petrolium (BP)-owned Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig exploded, the ensuing oil spill caused some 200 million gallons of crude oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico. An estimated 170,000 people working on oil cleanup crews used nearly 2 million gallons of dispersants like COREXIT to reign in the mess, according to a news release by Elsevier Health Services.

New research from the University Cancer and Diagnostic Centers in Houston, Texas focuses on the link between oil spill and dispersant exposure to the hematologic and hepatic functions in the subjects. Out of a group of 247 subjects tested between January 2010 and November 2012, 117 of them identified as exposed to the oil spill and dispersants by participating in cleanup efforts over a three month period. The remaining 130 people claimed to be unexposed to the oil spill or clean up effort all lived at least 100 miles away from the Louisiana Gulf Coast.

Comparing blood samples from the exposed and unexposed groups, the researchers found that their white blood cell counts were essentially the same, but the exposed group had a marked decrease in platelet count. Also, blood urea nitrogen and creatinine levels were substantially lower in the exposed group, while hemoglobin and hematocrit levels were increased compared to the unexposed subjects.
Furthermore, considered indicators of hepatic damage, the serum levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALP), aspartate amino transferase (AST), and alanine amino transferase (ALT) in the exposed subjects were also elevated, suggesting the exposed group may be at a higher risk for developing blood-related disorders, the researchers said in a statement.

“Phosphatases, amino transferases, and dehydrogenases play critical roles in biological processes. These enzymes are involved in detoxification, metabolism, and biosynthesis of energetic macromolecules that are important for different essential functions,” said lead investigator G. Kesava Reddy. “Alterations in the levels of these enzymes result in biochemical impairment and lesions in the tissue and cellular function.”

Other health complaints by the exposed subjects included somatic symptoms, with headache reported most frequently, followed by shortness of breath, skin rash, cough, dizzy spells, fatigue, painful joints, night sweats and chest pain, the researchers said.

“The health complaints reported by those involved in oil cleanup operations are consistent with the previously reported studies on major oil spills. However, the prevalence of symptoms appears to be higher in the present study compared with the earlier findings of other investigators,” added Reddy.

The greatest limiting factor in this study was the lack of pre-disaster health data on the subjects involved in the study, but the data collected points to significant health effects on oil spill cleanup workers.

“To our knowledge, no previous study has explored the effects of the oil spill specifically assessing the hematological and hepatic functions in oil spill cleanup workers,” Reddy said. “The results of this study indicate that oil spill exposure appears to play a role in the development of hematologic and hepatic toxicity. However, additional long-term follow-up studies are required to understand the clinical significance of the oil spill exposure.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Maritime Executive: NOAA Releases Millions of Chemical Analyses from Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/NOAA-Releases-Millions-of-Chemical-Analyses-from-Deepwater-Horizon-Oil-Spill-2013-09-12/

September 12, 2013

Includes data on underwater hydrocarbon plume, dispersants
BY MAREX

NOAA announced the release of a comprehensive, quality-controlled dataset that gives ready access to millions of chemical analyses and other data on the massive Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. The dataset, collected to support oil removal activities and assess the presence of dispersants, wraps up a three year process that began with the gathering of water samples and measurements by ships in the Gulf of Mexico during and after the oil release in 2010.

NOAA was one of the principal agencies responding to the Macondo well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, and is the official ocean data archivist for the federal government. While earlier versions of the data were made available during and shortly after the response, it took three years for NOAA employees and contractors to painstakingly catalog each piece of data into this final form.

This Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill dataset, including more than two million chemical analyses of sediment, tissue, water, and oil, as well as toxicity testing results and related documentation, is available to the public online at: http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/deepwaterhorizon/specialcollections.html.

A companion dataset, including ocean temperature and salinity data, currents, preliminary chemical results and other properties collected and made available during the response can be found at: http://www.nodc.noaa.gov/deepwaterhorizon/insitu.html.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill response involved the collection of an enormous dataset. The underwater plume of hydrocarbon — a chemical compound that consists only of the elements carbon and hydrogen — was a unique feature of the spill, resulting from a combination of high-pressure discharge from the well near the seafloor and the underwater application of chemical dispersant to break up the oil.

“The size and scope of this project — the sheer number of ships and platforms collecting data, and the broad range of data types — was a real challenge. In the end, it was a great example of what can be accomplished when you bring together the expertise across NOAA, making this quality-controlled information easily available to the general public for the first time,” said Margarita Gregg, Ph. D., director of the National Oceanographic Data Center, which is part of NOAA’s Satellite and Information Service.

The effort to detect and track the plume was given to the Deepwater Horizon Response Subsurface Monitoring Unit (SMU), led by NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, and included responders from many federal and state agencies and British Petroleum (BP). Between May and November 2010, the SMU coordinated data collection from 24 ships on 129 cruises.

The SMU data archived at NOAA’s National Oceanographic Data Center (NODC) is already being used by researchers at NOAA and in academia for a range of studies, including models of oil plume movement and investigations of subsurface oxygen anomalies. In addition to NODC, other parts of the NOAA archive system such as NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center and the NOAA Central Library contain important holdings. Recently, the library’s Deepwater Horizon Centralized Repository won recognition from the Department of Justice “as one of the best successes in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) world last year.”
By law, these data will remain available through NOAA’s archive systems for at least 75 years. Additional data from the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo spill can be found at the NOAA oil spill archive website: http://www.noaa.gov/deepwaterhorizon/ and data collected in the on-going Natural Resource Damages Assessment can be found at: http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/.

Special thanks to Richard Charter