The Lens Opinion, Times-Picayune: Royalty-screwed: Big Oil likes to confuse severance taxes with cleanup costs

The Lens

OPINION By Mark Moseley, Opinion writer September 10, 2013 5:00pm

In August, Sen. Mary Landrieu argued that Louisiana deserves a greater share of oil royalty payments, maybe even rates equal to those received by mineral-rich states in the interior, such as Wyoming. With the additional proceeds from offshore production, Landrieu argues, the state can fund its urgent coastal restoration needs:

“Failure is no option. I don’t know if anybody knows where any other money is, but I don’t. If we do not get this [royalty] money, we cannot secure this coast and build the levees we need.”
In fact, Landrieu was well aware of another possible source of money. BP is about to be on the hook for a massive fines related to the 2010 oil spill, and Louisiana will use its share of those billions to jumpstart restoration projects.

Also, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Authority-East’s coastal erosion lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies had been announced in July and – importantly- Landrieu signalled tentative support when she said, “I think we should seek justice everywhere we can find it.”

In 2006, Landrieu successfully shepherded legislation that, beginning in 2017, will increase Louisiana’s royalties from our vast offshore assets. Unfortunately, a $500 million cap prevented the act from being the coast’s saving grace. Landrieu wants to rectify that by removing the cap.

State coastal czar Garret Graves identified increased royalties as a prong in the state’s strategically sequenced tripartite coastal strategy. (It’s a complicated affair.) The other two prongs include BP oil spill money (natch), and “battling with the Army Corps of Engineers over its management of the Mississippi River.” It’s apparently a delicately balanced little stratagem, and Graves is hopping mad at the flood authority lawsuit because it has disturbed the Jindal administration’s priority sequence of coastal restoration funding mechanisms.

One thing is clear, though: The Jindal administration, the oil and gas lobby, and presumably the majority of the state Legislature are not thrilled by the flood authority’s lawsuit. They would prefer that the state’s $50 billion Master Plan to restore the coast be funded through an increased share of oil and gas royalties.

The royalty issue takes on increased importance in light of BP’s recent transformation from “contrite to combative.” Perhaps alarmed by increased potential expenses related to the oil spill, the once-apologetic oil giant has gone from vowing to “make things right” to basically mounting a PR campaign to say it is being victimized by fraudulent Louisianans. Thus it seems that BP will not be paying additional fines or judgements, without first exhausting all of its legal options. And that will likely mean years of delay.

So the royalty option assumes more importance. And this suits the oil and gas companies fine. Restoring the coast with oil and gas royalties gives the illusion that oil giants are paying to fix the coast that they helped to disappear (by slicing it apart with pipelines and navigation channels).
However, they’re not paying anything more than than they used to. Increasing royalties for Louisiana come out of the federal government’s share, not Big Oil’s coffers. It’s additional money for the state, and less for the federal budget.

Flood authority vice chairman John Barry explained in his masterful Lens op-ed:
The industry wants it [the coast] fixed, but they want taxpayers to pay for the damage they did, either in taxes or flood insurance rates. If we succeed in getting a bigger share of offshore revenue, we’re getting it from the federal treasury. From taxpayers in Rhode Island and Oregon – and in Louisiana. The industry won’t be paying a penny more.

This gets to the heart of the royalty dilemma. The rhetoric surrounding the argument Landrieu makes for increased royalties for Louisiana – “we deserve our fair share” and “we need this money to fix our coast” – subtly conflates two different issues.

Royalties, or more accurately, severance taxes, are compensation for the right to extract non-renewable mineral wealth. It’s for removing mineral assets, like oil, that can only be exploited once. Royalties are not a repair cost for extraction, or compensation for environmental impact.

Everyone who touts increased royalties as the smart play toward funding the coastal reconstruction Master Plan is misleading you. They are trying to link royalties and coastal restoration in the public’s mind, as a solution to the problem.

Don’t be misled. Louisiana’s fair share of the mineral wealth is one issue. If we should get a larger percentage of revenues – the same share interior states receive – that would be wonderful.

However, oil and gas companies’ responsibility for our coastal mega-problem is a separate issue. We would deserve increased royalties even if the coast was healthy and flourishing like it was a hundred years ago. As Barry says, Big Oil should pay more to fix the coast that they helped break. If the state acquires more royalty funds and directs them to restore the coast, instead of other urgent needs, that’s still a tremendous sacrifice.

Granted, the odds are long against the lawsuit being successful. Even if it were, oil and gas companies, like BP, will probably use every legal and political device at their disposal to avoid paying judgments promptly. So, increased royalties might become one of Louisiana’s last best politically feasible solutions to fund coastal restoration.

But don’t be fooled, if that’s how it plays out. Taxpayer’s will be paying for the destruction of our coast by the world’s richest corporate sector. Big Oil had a chance to step up, and instead they let the “little people” -as a BP exec once called us- take the hit.

I call that getting royalty-screwed.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

AP: Contracting issues delay legacy well cleanup in Arctic reserve

Published: September 10, 2013 Updated 1 hour ago

By BECKY BOHRER — Associated Press

JUNEAU, ALASKA — Contracting issues have delayed the start of planned cleanup work around abandoned well sites in the Alaska Arctic, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said Tuesday.

In May, BLM-Alaska released a draft plan identifying 50 abandoned wells in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that it believes require cleanup by the agency. The plan prioritized the remediation of the first 16 of those sites in the reserve. One of those sites — described as lying near a well-traveled winter road, with a building well known for providing shelter to travelers in poor weather — has a gas leak that the agency said could pose a threat to public health and safety.

The plan called for surface work at several sites southeast of Barrow to begin as early as this year, with cleanup of drums submerged in oil seeps and other debris. But Erin Curtis, a spokeswoman for BLM-Alaska, said that kind of work needs to be done in the summer. She said the contracting process can be lengthy and it will probably be next summer before that work begins.

She said there is no greater risk associated with the delay. The debris has been out there for a long time and will get frozen over during the winter, she said.

BLM manages the reserve, where more than 130 wells were drilled under the federal government’s direction as part of an exploratory oil and gas program from the 1940s to the 1980s. State leaders have pushed for progress on the cleanup and insisted it is a federal responsibility.

Curtis said the money for the initial surface work has been identified. But it’s not clear what the total cost to address the priority sites might be, and Curtis said additional work will be dependent upon funding.

Curtis said she expected the final version of the draft plan to be released soon. The initial hope was to have the plan finalized within weeks after the draft was released. But Curtis said it took a little longer than expected to get comments from interested parties. She characterized the comments BLM received as generally supportive of the top priorities the agency identified.

Cathy Foerster, a commissioner with the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission who has been critical of BLM’s handling of the legacy well issue, said she was encouraged that BLM was working with her group and others and taking their comments into account.

Foerster said she agrees with BLM on the highest-priority wells but worries that the agency doesn’t seem concerned about other sites. She remains concerned about the availability of funding and is taking a wait-and-see approach on any work that’s done.

“I won’t feel good until the work is done and I’ve seen how it’s done,” she said.

Curtis said the draft plan is meant to cover short-term issues. She said the intent is to look at additional sites once the highest-priority sites are addressed.

Read more here:

Lois N. Epstein, P.E.

Engineer & Arctic Program Director

The Wilderness Society

work: 907.272.9453, x107| cell: 907.748.0448



We protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Energy & Environment: Regulator hopes Gulf mapping tool can defuse tension between drillers, fishermen

Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, September 5, 2013

HOUSTON — The federal government is racing to roll out a new mapping
tool that it hopes will lead to a truce between offshore drillers and
fishing interests over the spike in rig decommissioning and tear-downs.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement hopes by the end of
this month to have the basic framework for a geographic information
system mapping tool that would be used to track the life span of the
thousands of offshore structures and platforms standing in the Gulf of
Mexico, hundreds of which are slated for removal. But finalizing it
will take many more months or even years and will require the input of
charter fishermen, recreational diving companies, shrimp boat captains
and anyone else who has a stake in the Gulf’s natural resources.

The aim is to defuse the tension between charter fishermen and divers,
who depend on the artificial reef environments created by the rigs for
their livelihood, and the very owners of those offshore structures, who
are legally required to remove them when they are no longer in use. Rig
owners also fear the legal liability they are exposed to should a
defunct rig cause an accident or suffer storm damage.

In an interview, David Smith, a public affairs specialist at BSEE, said
the map that he and his team hope to complete this month will just be a
bare-bones version of the final product. The ultimate aim, he said, is
to develop a tool that enables all interested parties to know ahead of
time when a rig might be coming down and whether that structure would
be a good candidate for the federal Rigs to Reefs program.

BSEE sees Rigs to Reefs as the key to bridging the divide between the
fishermen and offshore oil and gas companies. Charter fishing interests
have been lobbying hard in Congress for a temporary moratorium on rig
decommissioning and removal, something that oil and gas companies and
the decommissioning industry are eager to avoid.

“You have the older platforms that have created this temporary
artificial habitat for fish and other marine life, but they’re also the
ones that are probably going to come out the soonest,” Smith explained.
“What we found is that there needs to be a lot more collaboration in
the planning process for decommissioning.”

Although the platforms, caissons and other offshore structures are the
private property of oil and gas companies, commercial and charter
fishermen insist that their voices should be added to the discussion on
what to do with an aging offshore structure. At the same time they and
some state agencies complain that the Rigs to Reefs program is too slow
and laden with bureaucracy. Six federal agencies have some say in what
happens to a structure resting above an abandoned offshore well.

Capt. Gary Jarvis, former president of the Corpus Christi, Texas-based
Charter Fishermen’s Association (CFA), expressed some skepticism that
BSEE’s planned reforms of Rigs to Reefs will work, but he is satisfied
that at least BSEE is hearing his industry’s concerns.

Still, he and others feel that nearly all offshore structures should be
reefed in place after they are no longer of use to the industry. That
currently happens with only a small fraction of them.

“Ideally for us, we would say reef them right where they’re at,” Jarvis
said. “That would be a good compromise.”

Delicate balancing act

Once the GIS map is in place, Smith said he hopes to organize a cross-
industry commission to help manage it and keep it updated.
Representatives of charter fishing and dive trip operators could
identify which structures are of most value to them, and oil and gas
interests across the table could provide updates on the status of these
structures, notifying whether they plan to tear them down and how

Representatives of Gulf state agencies that assume responsibility for
artificial reefs created in Rigs to Reefs would also be at the table to
give guidance on whether these structures can be folded into the
program. Not all are eligible to become artificial reefs.

“We’re trying to develop a GIS map as a planning tool, and then we want
to develop a collaborative planning body that will sort of be an
information repository and facilitate a dialogue,” Smith said.

It’s a delicate balancing act that will attempt, for the first time, to
bring all Gulf of Mexico commercial interests — fishing, recreation,
and oil and gas — together to hash out compromises over their
competing needs.

Though charter fishermen may want to keep all structures in place,
shrimp boat captains by and large would like to see all those defunct
platforms removed to avoid damaging their equipment. Oil and gas firms
are keen to rid themselves of liability for these defunct platforms as
soon as possible. Meanwhile, thousands of workers are employed in the
Gulf Coast region by companies that tear down platforms and salvage the
“idle iron” for scrap metal.

The committee or planning commission that he hopes to form would “take
all of the input from the shrimping community, from the trawlers, from
the fishing and recreational charters, commercial diving community, all
of those different organizations and bring it all together, and then
have regular update meetings and have a place where people can come and
talk about what’s working and what’s not,” Smith said.

Complicating matters further, the science surrounding artificial
reefing is still in its infancy. The ecological benefits of artificial
versus natural reefs is still hotly debated and will be the principal
topic of discussion at the forthcoming Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries
Institute conference in Corpus Christi, Texas, slated for November.

Wes Tunnell, associate director of the Harte Research Institute at
Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, explained that the current debate
swirls around whether artificial reefs generate new populations of fish
species or simply concentrate existing ones. He said there is evidence
for both.

Gulf of Mexico researchers are also still trying to develop a sound,
standardized technique for studying and monitoring artificial reefs,
counting the populations of fish that call them home and comparing this
data with what researchers collect at natural reef sites. “There’s
never been a really good way to count the fish around these artificial
reefs and have kind of an objective method for doing that,” Tunnell

But there is some general understanding of artificial reefs among the
scientific community. Tunnell indicated that there’s evidence to
suggest that, though natural reefs are more biodiverse, artificial
reefs may actually harbor larger numbers of fish and therefore might be
more productive for fisheries.

Harte and other research centers are willing to aid BSEE’s efforts to
reach a general compromise, but Tunnell said his institute’s position
on the decommissioning and Rigs to Reefs controversy will be strictly

“We like to be what we call the honest broker,” he said. “We want to
keep providing the best information until we get to the right

Hurricane’s wake

The hurricane seasons of 2005 to 2008 brought this issue to the fore.

Hundreds of platforms were damaged or destroyed by Hurricanes Katrina,
Rita, Gustav and Ike. In investigating the problem, BSEE discovered
that more than half of the damaged structures were in disuse, sitting
abandoned for years. Fixing the damage cost hundreds of millions of

The 2010 Macondo well blowout and oil spill delayed action somewhat,
but after the dust settled from that incident, BSEE issued a notice to
oil and gas companies reminding them that they need to demonstrate a
plan for what they intend to do with abandoned platforms within five
years. The options include selling them to other companies, reusing
them for developing new wells, reefing or removal.

Smith is adamant that the Notice to Lessees issued in October 2010 was
not a directive that companies must remove abandoned structures.
Rather, the notice was meant to remind industry of the existing
regulations in place.

Smith estimated that the Gulf is home to nearly 2,900 production
platforms, but he stressed that, of these, 700 to 800 may have to be
dealt with as they near the end of their life spans. And even then the
law doesn’t require that they be removed, only that the owners come up
with a plan for what to do with them next.

Still, many in the industry acted as if the NTL was ordering immediate

BSEE estimates that 285 structures were removed from the Gulf in 2011,
up from 153 in 2008. Permit requests for rig decommissionings rose from
254 submitted in 2010 to 319 in 2011. Fishermen and divers grew alarmed
as hundreds of platforms were pulled, mostly from the western Gulf off
the coast of Texas. Structures that they’ve depended on for years
seemingly vanished overnight.

“Especially off South Texas where we are, we’ve just had so few rigs so
when they pulled out 30 or however many there were in our region, the
fishermen and the diving industry, they felt that tremendously,” said
Jennifer Wetz, a researcher at the Harte Institute. “That was huge to

The Charter Fishermen’s Association and other groups and individual
fishermen responded by getting politically active, pressing their local
members of Congress to get involved. Last year lawmakers proposed the
decommissioning moratorium. Although that effort failed, the speed and
strength with which fishing and diving interests acted got the
attention of offshore oil and gas firms. The dispute was a top item for
discussion among industry representatives at the Decommissioning and
Abandonment Summit held in Houston earlier this year.

J. Dale Shively, artificial reef program leader at the Texas Parks and
Wildlife Department, expressed sympathy for the fishing interests but
suggested they should have seen this problem coming. Offshore platforms
are meant to be temporary installations with their owners free to do
with them as they wish, as long as it complies with the law.

“One of the sticking points really is that the public doesn’t accept
that these platforms are private property,” Shively said. “They don’t
belong to the public. They don’t belong to the federal government or
the state. They belong to the oil company.”

CFA member Jarvis, however, argues that these structures become far
more than just a matter for the private owner because they create
valuable fish habitat, an asset that is tightly controlled throughout
the Gulf. Simply removing them when the companies want to would destroy
that habitat and the fish that reside there, an action that would
result in severe consequences for fishing interests but almost none for
oil and gas firms, he said.

“There are all kinds of federal laws and regulations about live coral,
and there’s nothing on those oil rig legs but live coral. They get a
free pass on that,” Jarvis said. “The fishing reefs, also known as oil
rigs, are a valuable asset to the fishery, not only from the
fisherman’s perspective but from the fish perspective too.”


Shively agrees with BSEE that the Rigs to Reefs program will be a
central factor to satisfying all sides of the issue, but he complained
that for a while now the program allowed too little flexibility for
state agencies like his to grab structures before they are removed and
recommend them for reefing.

He also echoed Tunnell’s point that the science of artificial reefing
is still being worked out. Texas Parks and Wildlife is relying on
researchers at the Harte Institute; University of Texas, Brownsville;
and Texas A&M University, Galveston, for help in studying Texas’ three
primary artificial reef areas. Getting a fix on the value and proper
management of the Rigs to Reefs program is a never-ending challenge, he

“We don’t ever predict that we’re done,” Shively said. “We put
materials down that are serving as a reef, but the scientific questions
are if you put more material, do you get more fish, or do you at some
point get all this competition and the population decreases because now
you’re bringing in more predators?”

Another challenge is the expense. Shively estimates that a typical
reefing job costs more than $500,000. A near-shore artificial reef he’s
working to put together this month near Corpus Christi using more than
400 concrete pillars will run about $700,000. Another near Matagorda,
spread across 160 acres, will probably cost $1.2 million to complete,
he said.

“Every reefing job is expensive,” Shively said. “We’re hoping to get
some of this Deepwater Horizon money to help with it. It’s in the
plans, but we haven’t gotten official approval yet.”

Though reefing can save an operator potentially millions of dollars,
the time-consuming and cumbersome process — and restrictions on where
and how rigs can be reefed — means that far more concrete and steel
will still be removed than left in the Gulf of Mexico. Last year BSEE
reported that the oil and gas industry requested approval to scrap
about 330 offshore structures. Twenty-seven were recommended for the
Rigs to Reefs program, or about 8 percent of the total. So far this
year the agency has received permit applications to scrap 121 rigs and
to reef 15.

The GIS mapping system that BSEE will try to roll out later this month
will be the beginning of attempts to bring more structure and order to
the Rigs to Reefs program and to provide fishermen and divers with
enough information so that they can know precisely what’s happening
with their favorite reefs. If such a structure is scheduled for
decommissioning, fishing and diving interests would be able to flag it
to state officials or BSEE for possible inclusion in Rigs to Reefs. If
popular structures are deemed unsuitable for reefing, then the divers
and fishers can at least learn of this ahead of time, giving them an
opportunity to seek out replacements to visit to keep their businesses

Smith said he needs the cooperation of all sides to make the experiment

“In order to get the map to work, we have to get all the BSEE data on
it, we need to get all the shrimping data on it, we need to get all the
fishing data on it,” he said. “It would help if the fishing and diving
community could point out those platforms that are really important to
them and make the states aware of those so that the states know where
to look for them.”

Though he thinks it’s been taking BSEE too long to put this mapping
tool together, Smith believes this step will prove to be the easy part
of this entire effort.

“The hard part is coming up with some sort of cooperative agreement or
something for a body to put all this stuff together,” he said. “I’m not
sure exactly how that’s going to happen yet. We’re still working on
that part.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Houston Business Journal: Black Elk plans to resume drilling at Gulf of Mexico explosion site soon

Aug 28, 2013, 11:46am CDT

Deon Daugherty, Reporter-

Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC hopes to bring its West Delta 32 oil platform back into production as early as next week, company executives said Wednesday during a conference call with investors.

The platform was the site of an explosion in November that resulted in the death of three contract workers in the Gulf of Mexico, 17 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

Art Garza, chief technical officer at Houston-based Black Elk, said he expects a final walk-through with federal regulators this week and that the Bureau of Safety Environmental Enforcement officials will permit the platform to return to service. Garza said that by next week, production could be up to 300 barrels of oil per day. In the following weeks, the company anticipates getting production closer to the 650 barrel per day mark.

Last week, a report commissioned by Black Elk said it was actions taken by poorly trained subcontract workers hired by a contractor, in violation of a construction contract, that led to the deadly explosion.

The platform’s return to work comes at a crucial time for the company. Black Elk reported first quarter revenue was down $22 million compared to the first quarter of 2012, and revenue for the first six months of 2013 was down $55 million compared to the same period a year earlier.

Bruce Koch, Black Elk’s CFO, said production was down from last year’s 15,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day to about 10,000 barrels in the second quarter 2013. The company is moving toward producing closer to 13,000 per day or more by the end of the third quarter.

Garza said bringing West Delta back online will help to mitigate the declines. The company also expects to benefit from a $50 million capital program signed in March with Platinum Partners Value Arbitrage Fund LP, as well as its $50 million sale of four noncore Gulf of Mexico properties to Renaissance Offshore LLC in Houston.

What’s more, the company is reducing its general and administrative staff by 25 jobs in August – a savings of about $4.5 million, Koch said. That leaves about 120 people left at the company.

Deon Daugherty covers energy and law for the Houston Business Journal..

Special thanks to Richard Charter

New York Times: Gulf Spill Sampling Questioned

I’m with Rikki Ott….the seafood and water quality in the Gulf was worse than reported by official agencies and that is no surprise to anyone paying attention. DV

U.S. Coast Guard, via Reuters

BP spill
Fireboat crews battling a blaze at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, off Louisiana, on April 21, 2010, a day after the rig exploded, killing 11 workers and resulting in the blowout of an exploratory well owned by BP. Ultimately, roughly 200 million gallons of crude oil gushed into the gulf.

Published: August 19, 2013

An analysis of water, sediment and seafood samples taken in 2010 during and after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has found higher contamination levels in some cases than previous studies by federal agencies did, casting doubt on some of the earlier sampling methods.

The lead author, Paul W. Sammarco of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, said that dispersants used to break up the oil might have affected some of the samples. He said that the greater contamination called into question the timing of decisions by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to reopen gulf fisheries after the spill and that “it might be time to review the techniques that are used to determine” such reopenings.

Eleven workers died and roughly 200 million gallons of crude oil gushed into the gulf after a blowout at an exploratory well owned by BP caused the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to explode on April 20, 2010. Nearly two million gallons of Corexit, a dispersant, were sprayed on the surface or injected into the oil plume near the wellhead.

In all, more than 88,000 square miles of federal waters were closed to commercial and recreational fishing. Some areas were reopened before the well was capped three months after the blowout; the last areas were reopened a year after the disaster.

Like other studies after the spill, the new analysis, published last week in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, found that components of oil were distributed along the Gulf Coast as far west as Galveston, Tex. — about 300 miles from the well site — and southeast to the Florida Keys.

But the study found higher levels of many oil-related compounds than earlier studies by NOAA scientists and others, particularly in seawater and sediment. The compounds studied included polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, some of which are classified as probably carcinogenic, and volatile organic compounds, which can affect the immune and nervous systems.

“When the numbers first started coming in, I thought these looked awfully high,” Dr. Sammarco said, referring to the data he analyzed, which came from samples that he and other researchers had collected. Then he looked at the NOAA data. “Their numbers were very low,” he said, “I thought what is going on here? It didn’t make sense.”

Dr. Sammarco said that a particular sampling method used in some earlier studies might have led to lower readings. That method uses a device called a Niskin bottle, which takes a sample from a specific point in the water. Because of the widespread use of dispersants during the spill — which raised separate concerns about toxicity — the oil, broken into droplets, may have remained in patches in the water rather than dispersing uniformly.

“Sampling a patchy environment, you may not necessarily hit the patches,” he said.

The plastic that the bottles are made from also attracts oily compounds, potentially removing them from any water sample and leading to lower readings of contaminants, Dr. Sammarco said.

Riki Ott, an independent marine toxicologist who has studied effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska as well as the BP spill, said she was “totally shocked” when she read the high numbers in Dr. Sammarco’s study.

“To see NOAA doing this, that’s inexcusable,” Dr. Ott said, referring to the use of Niskin bottles. “It has been known since Exxon Valdez that this spotty sampling does not work.”

A spokesman for NOAA said the agency would not comment because it was involved in a legal review known as a Natural Resource Damage Assessment to determine how much BP must pay for restoration work. But BP, in a statement, noted that tests on seafood by NOAA and other agencies consistently found levels of contaminants 100 to 1,000 times lower than safety thresholds set by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Sammarco suggested that more continuous monitoring of oil spills should be undertaken before fisheries are reopened. “It’s a good idea to follow these things long term, to make sure the runway is clear so people are safe and the food is safe,” he said.

Julia M. Gohlke, a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who conducted an independent review of seafood safety after the spill, said that while decisions to reopen fisheries are currently based on fish samples only, “it seems like it would definitely be important to keep looking at water samples as well.”

Upstream Online: Black Elk blast: ‘Safety practices shunned’

And, from the company leader in lobbying against stronger safety measures in the Gulf of Mexico, lobbying in favor of Rigs to Reefs, and implicated in human trafficking charges.….Richard Charter

Eoin O’Cinneide 21 August 2013 15:16 GMT

black elk fire
Fire: workers reported dead, missing as explosion on Black Elk Energy platform in Gulf of Mexico sends at least four to hospital

Eoin O’Cinneide 21 August 2013 15:16 GMT

Three workers who died and others who were injured in an explosion on a Black Elk Energy platform in the Gulf of Mexico late last year were not following due safety practices at the time, the operator has said.

Subcontracted workers who were welding on the shallow-water production platform in West Delta Block 32 which led to the 16 November blast were not given proper safety training or appropriate supervision, the platform owner said, citing an independent report into the incident.

The explosion occurred as Louisiana-based contractor Grand Isle Shipyard was carrying out maintenance work on the platform about 32 kilometres offshore in about 21 metres of water. The platform had been shut in since about mid August.

There were 22 people aboard the platform when the fire broke out, one of whom was pronounced dead shortly after the blast with one more missing, later pronounced dead. Nine of them were injured and airlifted to hospitals in Louisiana with one later dying.

Another 11 were safely evacuated from the rig. Fourteen of those on board and all of the injured were employees or subcontractors of Grand Isle Shipyard.

However, following an independent report from ABSG Consulting, which was carried out in coordination with the US Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement, Black Elk criticised Grand Isle for allegedly going against an agreement not to subcontract out any of the maintenance work.

“Although Grand Isle committed in its contract to not use subcontractors on Black Elk Energy projects, all of the workers performing the welding involved in the incident were employed by DNR Offshore and Crewing Services, a subcontractor of Grand Isle,” Black Elk said.

“ABSG determined that use of the DNR Offshore subcontractor without notifying Black Elk Energy was one of several causes of the incident.

“ABSG also determined other causes were that Grand Isle and DNR Offshore employees failed to adequately follow safe work practices for performing welding and failed to stop work when unsafe conditions existed.”

Black Elk also pointed out that the subcontractors were all Filipinos and that, while Filipino offshore workers “have a deserved reputation for competence and professionalism”, Grand Isle had shown an “apparent failure to provide proper safety training and appropriate supervision”.

ABSG’s report said Black Elk had “established procedures for safe work practices for equipment isolation, job safety analyses, and stop work authority” and confirmed that a contract was signed between Black Elk and Grand Isle agreeing to follow the former’s safety standards and provide adequate training.

“On the day of the incident, the safe isolation of equipment, hazardous waste programme, job safety analyses, and stop work authority procedures were not followed,” the report found.

“Workers cut, grinded, and welded on the open sump discharge pipe. Flammable vapors from the open sump discharge pipe ignited and subsequently reached the vapors and oil in the three tanks,” it continued.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Tampa Oil from BP spill pushed onto shelf off Tampa Bay by underwater currents, study finds

06:55 PM, Thursday, August 22, 2013

Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 20, 2013 2:36pm

The thick globs of BP oil that washed ashore on beaches along Florida’s Panhandle in 2010 never reached Tampa Bay, to the relief of hotel owners, restaurateurs, anglers, beachgoers and local officials.

But oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, floating beneath the surface after being sprayed with dispersant, settled on a shelf 80 miles from the Tampa Bay region within a year of the spill’s end, according to a scientific study published this week.

There is some evidence it may have caused lesions in fish caught in that area, according to John Paul, the University of South Florida oceanography professor who is lead author on the study, published in Environmental Science & Technology. However, research is continuing on that question.

Tests of the samples from those areas on bacteria and other microscopic creatures normally found in that part of the gulf found that “organisms in contact with these waters might experience DNA damage that could lead to mutation,” the study reported.

The oil that landed on the shelf, which extends miles into the gulf, is likely to stay there a long time, Paul said.

“Once it’s in the sediment, it’s kind of immobile,” he said.

BP spokesman Jason Ryan said scientists working for the company, as well as various government agencies, had “conducted extensive sampling to identify, track and map oil in the water column over time,” and found no signs of BP oil on the shelf near the Tampa Bay area.

But Paul said the researchers looked for signs of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the shelf based on observations by a colleague, USF oceanographer Bob Weisberg.

Weisberg found a major upwelling – a swirling current of cool water from deep in the gulf – had begun in May 2010 and continued through the rest of that year. The upwelling could have caught hold of the underwater plumes of dispersed oil off the Panhandle and then pushed them southward onto the shelf that lies off the state’s west coast, he said.

“It made its way southeast across the bottom and eventually it gets to the beach,” Weisberg said. “A little bit probably got into Tampa Bay, and a little bit probably got into Sarasota Bay, and it exited the Florida shelf down around the Dry Tortugas.”

When he put forward his theory in 2010, Weisberg called for sampling to be done along the shelf to test whether he was right, but that proposal did not get any funding, he said.
Eventually, though, as part of a series of 12 trips into the gulf for their own research, Paul and his colleagues collected samples along the shelf, as well as closer to the site of the Deepwater Horizon disaster off Louisiana.

They found nothing in 2010, but when they went back in 2011 and 2012, they found what Weisberg had predicted. The oil did not reach the southern end of the shelf until last year. Water samples collected off the shelf were toxic to bacteria, phytoplankton and other small creatures, the report said.

The USF discovery shows that scientists continue to grapple with measuring the full impact of the disaster, which began with a fiery explosion aboard an offshore drilling rig on April 20, 2010.

The disaster held the nation spellbound for months as BP struggled to stop the oil. To try to break up the oil before vast sheets of it washed ashore on the beaches and marshes along the Gulf Coast, the company sprayed the dispersant Corexit directly at the wellhead spewing oil from the bottom of the gulf – even though no one had ever tried spraying it below the water’s surface before. BP also used more of the dispersant than had been used in an oil spill, 1.8 million gallons.

The Corexit broke the oil down into small drops, creating underwater plumes of oil, something no one had ever seen before in an oil spill. The discovery of the plumes raised questions about how they would affect sea life in the gulf.

Yet even before BP managed to shut off the undersea flow July 15, 2010, observers ranging from Time magazine to Rush Limbaugh said damage from the 4.9 million-barrel spill seemed far less severe than predicted. In the three years since, though, scientists have uncovered ongoing damage – deformed crabs, dying dolphins and other woes.

Getting this study published in a peer-reviewed journal was a long process, Paul said.
“Publishing anything about the oil spill is inherently more difficult than anything else because it’s so contentious,” he said.

BP agreed last year to pay $4 billion to settle criminal charges, including manslaughter, in connection the disaster, and rig owner Transocean settled civil and criminal charges for $1.4 billion.

BP is now locked in a civil court battle with the U.S. Justice Department and hundreds of businesses affected by the spill. If it loses, BP could face damages of $17.5 billion, although company officials have predicted the fines will be less than $5 billion.
Craig Pittman can be reached at

Lingering damage from BP oil spill
In the three years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, scientists are still learning about how it affected the Gulf of Mexico. Some of their findings include:
* Fish with lesions and immune problems.
* Deformed crustaceans.
* Dolphins dying from bacterial infection after immune system compromised.
* Massive die-off of microscopic foraminifera.
* Bacteria producing increased mutations after exposure to oil.
* Weathered particles of oil found buried in the sediment in the gulf floor.
Oil from BP spill pushed onto shelf off Tampa Bay by underwater currents, study finds 08/20/13

Special thanks to Rchard Charter

The Lens: Suing oil and gas interests to save the coast: author John Barry weighs in

OPINION By John Barry, Contributor August 22, 2013 11:36am 5 Comments

Dr. Terry McTigue / NOAA
Oil service canals in the Barataria Basin show the ravages of an industry that has given much and taken even more from Louisiana.
The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East has filed a controversial lawsuit seeking to extract a settlement from oil, gas and pipeline interests in compensation for the industry’s long-term damage to Louisiana’s fragile and rapidly collapsing coast. The administration of Gov. Bobby Jindal claims that the Flood Protection Authority lacked the authority to file the suit and wants it withdrawn on grounds that it is hostile to oil and gas interests and possibly inimical to other state efforts to secure funding for coastal restoration.

In recent days, author and Flood Protection Authority vice chairman John Barry has spoken in defense of the suit before a joint legislative committee and the Baton Rouge Press Club. His remarks have been edited and updated to include developments at a Wednesday meeting of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, of which Barry is a member:
What we’re doing is simple: We want to save Louisiana, at least part of it.

First, the background:
We are an independent board, created by a constitutional amendment, which passed after Katrina with 81 percent of the vote. The amendment envisioned a board of experts who would try to prevent another such catastrophe – a board of experts independent of political influence.

A special nominating committee was created, including deans of engineering schools in the state, representatives of engineering and scientific societies and good-government groups.
This committee sends nominees to the governor, who must appoint someone from the nominees, and the senate confirms.

To guarantee we see the big picture, that we are not parochial, the law requires us to have four members from outside our jurisdiction.

Our board has expertise in engineering, meteorology, coastal science, oceans and the history of the levees. From North Carolina we have the co-author of the most advanced storm-surge model in the world, from California the head of that state’s flood plain management, and another board member has written textbooks used in college courses. I have the least technical training of anyone on the board, but I routinely participate in working groups at the National Academies of Science. I am the only non-scientist ever to win an honor given by the National Academies for contributions to water-related knowledge. I also serve on advisory boards at MIT’s Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals and Johns Hopkins’ School of Public Health Center for Refugees and Disaster Relief.

We all take our task very seriously and very personally. Two board members lost everything they owned in Katrina. Several of us know people killed in that storm.

Jindal can be a great governor for the coast – a great governor period – if he steps in, brings everyone together and solves this problem. It might make him the greatest governor in Louisiana’s history.

Flood protection has nothing to do with partisanship, I might add. We are a majority Republican board, including one vocal Tea Party member and at least one other member who leans that way.

With unanimous support, we filed the lawsuit seeking compensation from oil, gas and pipeline interests because we don’t want other people to die in a hurricane or have their homes and livelihoods destroyed.

Those who created the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East wanted to insulate us from political pressure – exactly the kind of pressure exerted on us by the governor and others in the past month.

We have gotten criticism from public figures but a lot of support from the public. We believe the public understands. The more people hear what we’re doing and why, the more support we have.
The first point I want to make is that no one has criticized the substance of our lawsuit. Let me repeat: No one has criticized the substance of our lawsuit.


Louisiana isn’t like any other state. Twelve thousand square miles of Louisiana – all the way north to the Arkansas border and our entire coast – was formed by sediment coming from the Mississippi River. We are not like Texas or Mississippi, and certainly not like Maine and Oregon. We have no rocky cliffs on the coast. We have mud held together by roots. And that mud is melting into the ocean.

Our board has never said oil, gas and pipeline companies are solely responsible for the loss of nearly 2,000 square miles of our state in the past 80 years or so. There are multiple causes.

It’s the industry which likes to blame one cause – the levees – as the source of all problems, but it isn’t just levees. If it was, the western part of the state wouldn’t have lost any land at all. The western part of the state is outside the river’s flood plain. Even if there were no levees, floodwater from the river would never reach that area. If levees were the only problem, out west they would have no land loss. Instead, they have plenty of it.

In fact, the multiple causes for land loss include levees, six dams in Montana and the Dakotas which retain almost a third of the sediment that used to flow down the river, benefits for the shipping industry, such as the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and the lethal Mississippi River Gulf Outlet – and the oil and gas industry.

The fact that there are multiple causes does not mean, however, that an entity responsible for part of the destruction should not be accountable for what it has done.

Let me quote something: “Dredging canals for oil and gas pipelines Š took a toll on the landscape Š Canals and pipelines Š criss-crossed south Louisiana marshes Š The coastal marshes were lost when spoil banks were left randomly throughout the area, drastically altering the natural hydrology Š Saltwater intrusion increased and more land was lost Š Canal dredging has had one of the most dramatic effects on wetland growth and regeneration Š The marsh is unable to regenerate itself. [All of this amounts to] “industrial negligence.”

What I just quoted isn’t from our lawsuit. It’s from the state’s Master Plan for a sustainable coast.
The truth is the truth. Every scientist agrees that the oil and gas industry has done extraordinary damage to our coast. Even the industry concedes it. One U.S. Geological Survey study, a study that included input from industry scientists, concluded that 36 percent of the damage statewide comes from industry. Other estimates put it much higher.

It is also a truth that the industry operated under permits which required them to minimize damage and repair it when they finished. The industry has failed to obey these requirements.

Those are the two fundamental facts which drove us to consider taking legal action. There is a third truth. Everyone on the board has wondered how we can meet our responsibilities. Our job is not simply to operate and maintain a levee system handed to us by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Our job is protecting people’s lives and property.

We just conducted a study of the land bridge extending into Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans East. If that narrow spit of land disappears, the ocean will roar unchecked into the lake and threaten the lives and property of people who have never been threatened before. Reinforcing that alone would cost $1.2 billion.

We don’t have that money. As we look at the tremendous expenses necessary to maintain minimally adequate protection, we see nothing coming in.

One of our critics is quoted as saying: “We have a Master Plan. Let’s give it a chance.” I absolutely agree with that statement. Let’s give it a chance. Nothing we do is at variance with the state’s Master Plan. We want to carry out the Master Plan.

Let me repeat: Nothing we’re doing is inconsistent with the Master Plan. What we’re doing will let us carry out the Master Plan in our area.

Here’s the problem: The Master Plan has no funding.


The Flood Authority board believes that for our jurisdiction we have an absolute duty to pursue this case. If we don’t do it, we see no way to get the money needed to protect the public.

Our case is based on the fact that we are forced to maintain and possibly build more elaborate flood protection defenses because of land loss. The industry’s failure to comply with permits – its failure to do what they voluntarily agreed to do and to obey the law in exchange for taking hundreds of billions of dollars out of the state – has destroyed land.

That land loss means there’s no buffer to block storm surge, and that sends more water pounding against our levees. As the saying goes, the levees protect the people, and the land protects the levees.
The land is disappearing so fast that by 2100, if nothing is done New Orleans will be basically an island. The levees will be beach-front property. Much of the rest of the Louisiana coast will simply cease to exist.

Louisiana law also embodies a concept going back to the Romans called “servitude of drain.” This prohibits one party from increasing the natural flow of water from its property onto another’s. The destruction of land is sending more storm surge pounding against our levees.

We believe the oil and gas industry violated the law, and these violations have endangered the people we are responsible to protect.

Our suit does not ask that the industry restore the entire coast. But they must restore the part of the coast they destroyed. They must fix the part of the problem which they created. That’s all we want: Fix the part they broke.

If some areas are impossible to fix, industry should compensate us so we can upgrade flood protection to take care of the increased risk they caused.

We decided unanimously to file the lawsuit, and we unanimously reaffirmed our decision last week.

We have been called a rogue board, but we first informed Garret Graves of our plans Dec. 4, 2012. Garret is head of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. He attended the Flood Authority’s executive session Jan. 17. We informed him several more times of our intent to proceed with a lawsuit. We’re an independent, non-political board. We want to work with everyone, but ultimately each of us is responsible to his own conscience, and we did not operate in stealth.


We have been told we don’t have the authority to sue. We welcome a court challenge to that. You notice for all the talk – and there has been a lot of it – no one has filed for a declaratory judgment against us. They know the court will uphold our authority.

We have been criticized for trying to collect from an industry which was complying with the law at the time it conducted its operations. We believe that they were never in compliance with the law.
We have been criticized on grounds that we are interfering with efforts to get a larger share of federal revenues from offshore drilling. We absolutely support that effort but don’t believe our lawsuit interferes with it. [Louisiana’s U.S.] Sen. Mary Landrieu, the sponsor of that legislation, has said Louisiana should pursue coastal restoration everywhere, including in the courts.

We have been told our suit may interfere with the BP trial. Our attorney checked with the attorney representing the state and was told our suit would not interfere. How could it? The BP trial will be over long before our trial starts. And at Garret’s request we waited until the first phase of the trial was over before filing suit.

We have been told the state has litigation plans of its own, which our lawsuit interferes with. Those plans have been described to us, and in our board’s unanimous opinion our suit does not interfere; in fact it could complement the state’s strategy.

We have been told that we’ll cost the state jobs, but the reality is the oil and gas industry will stay as long as there’s oil and gas here. Look at BP. The state is suing BP. Every parish is suing BP. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against BP. And BP just sued the federal government to be allowed to bid on offshore tracts.

And as far as jobs go, no one talks about the jobs a major coastal restoration effort would create. These are not just construction jobs or transitory jobs. We have the potential to be the world leader in the science and engineering of this kind of work. We are the point of the spear, but every coastal area in the world will be dealing with problems like ours soon. We have the potential to produce great jobs, important jobs. We can create a silicon valley of water-related expertise.

Every one of the criticisms comes down to one thing: politics. But we are currently an independent board, specifically designed to do what politicians will not or cannot do.

They used to say, “The flag of Texaco flies over the Louisiana capitol.” People have to ask themselves, is that still true?

Legally speaking, the Flood Authority’s action involves our jurisdiction only. We are not acting for the state or for any other parish or levee board. Ironically, our jurisdiction has lost much less land than others. Much less.


What’s at stake is the future of Louisiana, the very existence of Louisiana as we know it. Everything is threatened. Our ports are threatened. Our way of life is threatened.

If you hunt anywhere near the coast, where will you hunt? What will you hunt? What happens to all the migratory birds that use our marsh? If you fish, where will you fish? Nearly every species in the gulf depends on the Louisiana marsh for some part of its life cycle. And if you live on the coast, where are you going to live? What will happen to your community? Because you won’t be able to live where you live now.

The U.S. Geological Survey is remapping the coast. They’ve finished only one parish, Plaquemines. They took 31 names off the map. These places no longer exist – 31 names in one parish, gone from the map. Many more names will come off the map as more parishes are mapped.

This lawsuit presents a choice:
Protect the industry from having to live up to its word and obey the law, or protect people’s lives and property from the crawling death of a vanishing shoreline and the violence of a hurricane storm surge. Protect the industry, or protect Louisiana’s way of life.

It’s really that simple.

Nearly everyone in Baton Rouge seems afraid of the oil and gas industry. They never talk about the elephant in the room, about the damage the industry has done to the coast. Our current status as an independent board allowed us to take the action we did. Because of it, the elephant isn’t in the room anymore. Right now it’s stampeding down the street. The issue cannot be ignored any longer.
Too many people in Louisiana, too many things, are threatened.

The industry itself is threatened. Chris John, head of Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, says the industry recognizes the need to “protect critical oil and gas infrastructure from storm surge,” adding that “our viability depends on” the coastal buffer.

The industry wants it fixed, but they want taxpayers to pay for the damage they did, either in taxes or flood insurance rates. If we succeed in getting a bigger share of offshore revenue, we’re getting it from the federal treasury. From taxpayers in Rhode Island and Oregon – and in Louisiana. The industry won’t be paying a penny more. If the money comes from state or parish funds, it comes only from Louisiana taxpayers.

The wealthiest industry in the world wants taxpayers to pay to fix what the industry broke. We say to the industry: Fix what you broke.

I am not against the industry. I recognize it’s enormously important to the state and in the country. I’m proud of our ability to produce gas and oil, to let Americans heat their homes and drive their cars with what we produce. Years ago, I worked for an oil company – one of our defendants. I also applied for and got a job at the American Petroleum Institute, though in the end I didn’t take it because I would have had to give up my writing. But I appreciate the industry for treating me well when I did work for it.

We’re not charging that the industry has done nothing to help. They have done things to help. But they haven’t done enough. The industry isn’t responsible for all the land loss, but it is responsible for some of the land loss. It has to fix the part of the problem it created.

Compared to the size of the industry, the wealthiest in the world, the burden will be small. To Louisiana, the benefit will be enormous.

The Master Plan has no funding.

BP money won’t be enough. Even if we win, our lawsuit won’t be enough either, not even for our area. But if you start putting different funding together, we may get enough – enough to save what can be saved. If we don’t, most of the coast, most of the people who live there, will be gone.
Our board is not the problem. Land loss is the problem, and getting the industry to fix the part of the problem it created will go a long way toward the solution.


The governor wants us to withdraw the lawsuit. Last Thursday our board unanimously passed two resolutions. The first affirmed the suit. The second said we’d consider a 45-day pause in the substantive part of the suit in return for a good faith effort to create a task force to address the problem.

A pause was Garret Graves’s idea. We had hoped the CPRA would look upon our proposal as what it was, an olive branch.

We proposed a process that would result in oil being at the table to discuss a resolution to save lives and property – including industry’s own property. Our lawyers had already agreed, in the event of a resolution in this working-group process, to have their fee determined in arbitration with industry – and paid by industry, not taxpayers – in accord with long-established principles of Louisiana law.
No lawyers hijacked this board. The idea came from us. With a task force in place, our lawyers would stand down in accordance with our resolution.

The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) met Wednesday. But apart from my own comments offering this pause – again, a pause which Garret Graves had suggested – there was not a single mention of it in a three-hour meeting, not one. The meeting ended with CPRA voting to oppose the law suit. But they still did not authorize taking legal action against the law suit.
I still have hope for a resolution.

In return for a major contribution from the industry, there are many things the industry wants from the Legislature which I would personally support. This, of course, is not up to me. It’s up to the governor. He’s got tremendous abilities. Whether you agree with all his policies or not, there’s no question that when it comes to the coast he’s been a good governor.

He can be a great governor for the coast – a great governor period – if he steps in, brings everyone together and solves this problem. It might make him the greatest governor in Louisiana’s history.
That’s what I want. I want the governor to be great.

John Barry’s books include “Rising Tide” and, more recently, “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul.” A member of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, he also serves on the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Special thanks to Richard Charter Consultant’s report says unsafe welding led to fatal accident in Black Elk Energy platform

Black Elk platform fire
Three workers died after a November 2012 explosion in this oil platform owned by Houston-based Black Elk Energy. A report commissioned by the firm said unsafe welding led to the accident. (Photo by Michael DeMocker, | The Times-Picayune)

Manuel Torres, | The Times-Picayune.By Manuel Torres, | The Times-Picayune.
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on August 21, 2013 at 1:33 PM, updated August 21, 2013 at 7:30 PM

A consultant’s report for a Texas-based company says a deadly 2012 explosionon its Gulf of Mexico oil platform off the Louisiana coast happened when workers for a subcontractor used unsafe welding practices.

The report was released Wednesday, the same day two injured workers and their spouses filed a $180 million federal lawsuit in connection with the accident.

ABSG Consulting did the study and report for Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, which released the report and also made it available on its website. Three Filipino workers died in the Nov. 16 accident, which occurred at a time when production was shut down and a construction project was underway on the platform, according to the report.

ABSG says Grand Isle Shipyard Inc. was under contract for construction work when the blast happened. ABSG says Grand Isle had committed not to use subcontractors on Black Elk projects. However, the report says, workers doing the welding were employees of a subcontractor: DNR Offshore and Crewing Services.

A series of explosions occurred when workers were welding a pipe leading to a tank, known as a “wet oil tank,” according to the report.

“The WOT contained hydrocarbons, and the piping leading to it had not been isolated and made safe for welding,” the ABSG report said.

The report said Grand Isle and another contractor overseeing work on the platform, identified as Wood Group PSN, did not properly carry out welding processes, sometimes referred to as “hot work.” It said Grand Isle and DNR failed to stop work when “unexpected conditions” — including the smell of gas — arose.

Grand Isle’s use of a subcontractor was a factor in the accident because it prevented Black Elk from “effectively auditing the employers of all personnel on their facilities,” the report said.

The consultant also recommended that Black Elk provide additional oversight for construction activities on platforms and discourage the use of “hot work” on platforms.

Black Elk, Wood Group and others are named as defendants in a lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans by two workers injured in the accident, Antonio Tamayo and Wilberto Ilagan, and their spouses.

Alleging physical and mental injuries, numerous medical expenses and loss of future wages, among other things, the four ask for $20 million each in actual damages, plus a total of $100 million in punitive damages “if any of the defendants are found to have been grossly or intentionally negligent.”

Black Elk did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment on the lawsuit. Grand Isle officials did not immediately return a call for comment. A Louisiana attorney who has done work for DNR did not return a call for comment.

Wood Group responded to a telephoned request for comment with an emailed statement. “We are committed to preventing injuries to our people and everyone we work with. We will continue to review our procedures regularly and to provide our people with the training, knowledge and tools they need to work safely and prevent future accidents,” the statement said.

The federal agency that oversees offshore oil and gas safety, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, is still investigating the accident, a spokeswoman, Eileen Angelico, said in response to an email query. The bureau received the consultant’s report and was reviewing it, Angelico said.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: Russia Shuts Greenpeace Out of Arctic Sea Route, Stifles Criticism of Oil Industry

August 21, 2013 5:39 PM

CONTACT: Greenpeace
Sune Scheller, Greenpeace communications, or +45 27144257
Greenpeace International press desk, or +31 20 718 24 70

WASHINGTON – August 21 – Barents Sea, August 21, 2013 – The Russian government has denied permission for the Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise to enter the increasingly busy Northern Sea Route (NSR), despite the ship having fulfilled all the requirements for such an entry.

Greenpeace International claims the decision is an attempt to prevent it from exposing the activities of Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft. Multiple vessels contracted by Rosneft and US partner ExxonMobil are conducting seismic testing and geological work in the Kara Sea in preparation for offshore Arctic drilling.

“This is a thinly veiled attempt to stifle peaceful protest and keep international attention away from Arctic oil exploration in Russia. The Arctic Sunrise is a fully equipped icebreaker with significant experience of operating in these conditions, while the oil companies operating here are taking unprecedented risks in an area teeming with polar bears, whales, and other Arctic wildlife,” says Christy Ferguson, Greenpeace Arctic Campaigner aboard the Arctic Sunrise.

“The decision to deny us entry to the Kara Sea is completely unjustified and raises serious questions about the level of collusion between the Russian authorities and the oil companies themselves. Over three million people are behind our campaign, and they want to know what Russia and its Western oil partners are trying to hide here in the Arctic.”

Greenpeace International entered three detailed applications for entry to the Northern Sea Route Administration, clearly stating its intentions to engage in peaceful and lawful protest. All applications were rejected. (1) The latest application was refused on the grounds that the information provided on the ice strengthening was apparently insufficient. From the pattern of refusals it is clear that the NSR administration has never been interested in granting Greenpeace access. The refusal is in violation of international law including the right to freedom of navigation (2).

None of the six oil exploration vessels operating for Rosneft and ExxonMobil in the area has an ice classification as high as the Arctic Sunrise. More than 400 vessels have been granted access to the Northern Sea Route this year, many of them with an inferior classification to that of the Arctic Sunrise, which is classed as an icebreaker (3).

Greenpeace International has written to the head of the Northern Sea Route Administration with an urgent request to reverse the unjustified decision. As the Arctic Sunrise is a Dutch flagged-vessel, a copy of the letter has also been sent to the Dutch Infrastructure and Foreign Ministries.

The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise is on a month-long expedition in the Arctic to expose and protest oil exploration.

Further information:
-Statement from the independent Det Norske Veritas (DNV) on the classification of the Arctic Sunrise:

San Francisco Chronicle: AP Analysis: Is this flood board going rogue?

By KEVIN McGILL, Associated Press
Updated 2:05 pm, Sunday, August 4, 2013

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – In a month full of reminders of the perils and costs of offshore drilling – among them one leaky well, one full-scale blowout and spectacular fire and one corporation’s acknowledgment that some evidence pertaining to the 2010 Gulf oil spill was destroyed – July’s biggest splash was made in Civil District Court in New Orleans, where a local flood control authority, some would argue, went rogue.

Foreseeing huge flood-control costs associated with the continued disappearance of Louisiana wetlands, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s board of commissioners filed a lawsuit against scores of oil, gas and pipeline companies. It seeks damages and mitigation for damage allegedly done by decades of dredging and canal-cutting.

Gov. Bobby Jindal issued a scathing criticism of the suit, saying the board was effectively trying to usurp state responsibilities and that the suit would provide a “windfall for trial lawyers.”

It’s worth noting that Jindal issued that statement the day after The Associated Press reported that the law firm of his political ally and former executive counsel has received $1.1 million in no-bid state work. That irony aside, Jindal’s statement raised serious issues. They were spelled out at more length in a letter from his coastal protection chief, Garret Graves, to Timothy Doody, president of the SLFPAE, formed amid post-Katrina reforms to oversee three New Orleans area levee districts.

Without denying the role of oil and gas activities in degradation of the coast, Graves said there are others involved as well. He blames, for example, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “ongoing, unsustainable river management practices,” and “halfhearted” efforts by BP to continue cleaning lingering oil from the 2010 disaster.

Graves argues that the lawsuit undermines a comprehensive state effort to prevent and mitigate wetlands loss. He argues that state law regulates the local flood control agency’s power to file such a lawsuit and that the governor’s approval was needed before the board reached an agreement with the lawyers filing it.

“Louisiana law and our constitution organize government and place certain responsibilities within accountable entities,” Graves wrote. “However, SLFPAE’s recent decision violates those principles.”

John M. Barry, vice president of the board, responded with a letter praising the work of the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which is headed by Graves. But he rejected Graves’ arguments.

“We are an independent board, expressly designed to be insulated from political pressure – exactly the kind of pressure now being exerted upon us. Our purpose is protecting people’s lives and property,” Barry wrote. “We are supposed to exercise our judgment in how best to do so. We are a board with expertise in flood protection, not politics. Based on our responsibility, expertise and best judgment, we filed this lawsuit.”

He elaborated in an interview, saying the administration based its statements about legality of the contract on a misreading of law. “Our in-house counsel said we had the authority. Before we approached the litigator, the attorney general’s office said we had the authority,” Barry said.

Gladstone Jones, the litigator hired to prepare and file the lawsuit, anticipated the argument, Barry added. “He satisfied himself that we had the authority before he started putting in any of his enormous effort,” he said.

The contingency lawsuit will cost the board nothing if it loses, Barry said. He also answered critics, including Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, who said the board or the state will have to pay if the board drops the suit.

“If the board is reconstituted by the political process and it voluntarily withdrew the suit, then the attorneys would have to be compensated,” Barry said.

“Will the attorneys get rich if they win? Yes,” Barry added later. But a loss could bankrupt them, he argues. “More importantly, if they win, we should have the money necessary to protect the area from hurricanes.”
Kevin McGill is an Associated Press reporter based in New Orleans.
Special thanks to Richard Charter

Mint Press News: Revelation: Feds OK’d Offshore Drilling Without Full Environmental Review

By Trisha Marczak | July 31, 2013

surfers oil rig
Surfers enjoy the waves near a conventional offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. These rigs could soon be joined by offshore fracking operations. In fact, in California, it turns out they already exist. (Photo/berardo62 via Flickr)

Environmental advocates are crying foul after the discovery that oil companies are using the controversial process known as fracking to extract oil off the coast of California, warning that the West Coast operations could become the norm from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico.

According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the news organization Truthout, two fracking operations have been ongoing in the Santa Barbara Channel since 2009 without the environmental review normally required under federal regulations.

The same discovery was made by the Environmental Defense Center, which indicated that its research confirmed that Venoco Inc. conducted an offshore fracking operation in 2009. According to the center, no public disclosure was made before the fracking began.

“It’s completely illegal for the agency to approve fracking in the outer continental shelf without conducting a complete environmental impact statement,” Center for Biological Diversity Senior Counsel Kassie Siegel told Truthout.

The offshore fracking operations were approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement as a regular oil drilling operation.

According to documents obtained by Truthout, oil companies Venoco and Dcor LLC modified drilling permits already in place to pave the way for the fracking operations.
An email obtained by Truthout indicates the federal government knew the companies were fracking. In an email sent on behalf of the bureau’s chief of staff, Thomas Lillie, to a fellow employee, he posed the question: “Has there been an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) to assess the environmental consequences of fracking on the OCS? How can we begin to review permit requests without that?”

That’s the question environmental organizations are asking, too.

“Venoco’s fracking operation was allowed under existing authorizations, and no further environmental analysis or public disclosure was made prior to the operation, despite the fact that offshore oil development raises its own host of environmental issues,” the Environmental Defense Center states on its website.

Those environmental issues, including groundwater contamination and propensity for spills, are still being debated as onshore fracking spreads in California and around the nation. There are also issues relating to the wells’ location near seismic faults.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management justified its endorsement of fracking operations using the argument that updated permits were approved after all new threats were assessed. But according to the Center for Biological Diversity, that doesn’t do the trick, either scientifically or technically.

Venoco, however, claims it does. Its website illustrates the company as one “concerned about the environment.”

“We operate in areas with extensive environmental regulations such as in and around the Santa Barbara Channel as well as in prime agricultural areas such as the Sacramento Basin,” the company’s site states.

California landlocked fracking questioned
California sits atop the Monterey shale formation, estimated to hold a potential 15 billion barrels of crude oil, representing the largest reserve in the nation.

In April, the federal Bureau of Land Management lost a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club over the issuing of leases to oil companies to drill in the Monterey shale. The Sierra Club successfully argued that leases were improperly given to the oil companies without the proper environmental reviews.

In all, roughly 17,000 acres of land in the Monterey shale formation was leased by the federal government to oil companies.

This is, essentially, the beef environmental organizations have with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

According to a bureau fact sheet obtained by Truthout, the agency has allowed fracking to occur 11 times in the last 25 years. However, a spokesperson for the bureau told Truthout the exact number of fracking operations is not known, as it would require combing through years of files.

The offshore fracking is similar to the process used on land to drum up oil locked in shale – a combination of water, chemicals and silica sand is shot into the earth to break up and extract hidden oil.

In the sea, it’s no different, although the process doesn’t require as much water or silica sand, otherwise known as frac sand. According to Truthout, offshore fracking uses 7 percent of the frac sand and 2 percent of the combined water and chemicals used in onshore fracking wells.

On land and sea
The offshore fracking discovery comes at a time when the safety of onshore fracking is being debated in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency has yet to release its study on the impact of fracking – recently announcing it would be delayed until 2016.
In the meantime, the effect on groundwater supplies is being monitored by people on both sides of the debate.

A study released by the University of Texas this month indicates water supplies surrounding fracking wells had elevated and toxic levels of arsenic, strontium and selenium, all associated with the fracking process.

The study assessed water samples taken from 100 private wells, 91 of which were within 3 miles of drilling sites.

The University of Texas study echoed one released this year by Duke University that found fracking operations were linked to groundwater contamination.

The study looked at roughly 140 water samples from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale formation and discovered methane levels were 23 times more prevalent in homes less than a mile from a fracking well.

The University of Texas study comes after the National Energy Technology Laboratory, or NETL, released a report indicating groundwater supplies near a Pennsylvania fracking site did not show any signs of contamination. However, the report was only preliminary, and the laboratory intends to release its full report in 2014.

“NETL has been conducting a study to monitor for any signs of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing operations at a site on the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania,” NETL said in a statement following the preliminary report release. “We are still in the early stages of collecting, analyzing, and validating data from this site. While nothing of concern has been found thus far, the results are far too preliminary to make any firm claims. We expect a final report on the results by the end of the calendar year.”

On top of issues associated with groundwater contamination, fracking has raised questions associated with wastewater disposal and spills.

This month, Exxon Mobil was fined $100,000 for a fracking wastewater spill that contaminated the Susquehanna River in 2010. The EPA discovered water tested near the spill included elevated levels of chlorides, strontium and barium, chemicals also found in the company’s wastewater storage tanks.

Within three months, two major fracking fluid spills occurred at fracking well sites operated by Carrizo Oil and Gas. In May, a fracking well sent 9,000 gallons of fracking fluid onto nearby property in Pennsylvania. In March, a fracking well sent 227,000 gallons of fracking fluid into another Pennsylvania community.

These are the types of incidents environmental advocates are worried about, especially when there’s now a possibility such spills could occur in the ocean. While the offshore fracking process requires less fracking fluid, the possibility for detection and cleanup is in question, particularly when most people aren’t aware that offshore fracking is taking place.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Huffington Post: Natural Gas Rig Blowout Highlights Dangers Of Drilling In The Gulf

I’m concerned about the 27,000 old wells that have not been decommissioned and are prone to leak. They should be removed and the wellheads sealed. DV

Posted: 07/26/2013 4:36 pm EDT

From Mother Nature Network’s Russell McLendon:

Flames erupted from an offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday night, torching a natural gas plume that had been leaking since a blowout earlier in the day. All 44 rig workers were evacuated before the fire began, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, but the rig continued spewing gas until Thursday morning, when its scorched frame finally collapsed enough to cut off the leak.

In addition to the cloud of natural gas rising from the rig, the BSEE had observed a light sheen on the water’s surface measuring half a mile by 50 feet. The well’s owner, Walter Oil & Gas, was reportedly making preparations to drill a relief well before the rig “bridged over,” clogging the well with sand and sediment. The Associated Press reported Thursday afternoon that the fire is out, the rig appears stable and no sheen is visible.

Located 55 miles off the Louisiana coast, the well’s unmanned platform wasn’t producing gas when the blowout occurred. The 44 workers were on an adjacent, portable rig that was drilling a “sidetrack well” into the original well bore. It’s unclear what ignited the gas, the BSEE says, and a diagnosis will likely be delayed by response and cleanup efforts.

“BSEE’s efforts today are focused on bringing this loss of well control event to a safe resolution,” says Lars Herbst, BSEE Gulf of Mexico regional director, in a statement issued Tuesday. “Offshore oil and gas operators need to re-affirm their aggressive approach to the safety of well operations in light of this event and other recent well control events.”

The most salient such event in recent memory is the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 people and released 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. Officials say there’s little chance this week’s blowout will come anywhere close to matching that level of devastation, but it does cast a new spotlight on a long-running risk looming off the U.S. Gulf Coast. Earlier this month, for example, another inactive gas well ruptured off the Louisiana coast, leaking a small amount of gas and liquid before it was plugged.

The Gulf of Mexico is dotted with nearly 4,000 active oil and gas platforms (pictured above), plus a sprawling array of drilling rigs, supply ships and pipelines. This seafaring infrastructure is key to a bustling energy sector across the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana and Texas, but it also poses a grave danger to nearby people and wildlife.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. oil and gas extraction industry had a death rate of 27.1 per 100,000 workers between 2003 and 2010. That’s seven times higher than the 3.8 deaths per 100,000 workers across all U.S. industries. “The 11 lives lost in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion provide a reminder of the hazards involved in offshore drilling,” the CDC report stated.

Beyond the threat from active wells and drilling, the Gulf is also haunted by more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells, most of which undergo no monitoring for leaks. Some of the region’s oldest wells were abandoned in the 1940s, and many others are only considered “temporarily abandoned,” thus facing less strict sealing requirements.

These wells could be seeping oil, methane or other toxic substances for years, potentially sickening already-threatened wildlife like sea turtles or cetaceans. And as researchers have learned since 2010, large amounts of oil and gas can wreak havoc with microbial life and coral colonies, both of which are key to the Gulf’s food web – including its lucrative seafood industry. Although the Gulf is home to microbes that evolved to feed on natural oil and gas seeps, too much unnatural leaking and spilling can smother them.

“It’s important to keep in mind that if you keep pumping hydrocarbons into the system, you’ll eventually overwhelm it,” University of Georgia marine scientist Samantha Joye told MNN earlier this year, referring to the 2010 spill on its three-year anniversary.

Closer to shore, oil and gas development has already transformed many Gulf Coast wetlands, as manmade canals and other extraction-related projects have disrupted the flow of water and sediments that gradually build coastal bayous. The region has lost about 1,900 square miles of land in the past 80 years, and Louisiana alone is projected to lose another 1,750 square miles by 2060. Not only do these marshes house important wildlife, but they also serve as a protective buffer against hurricanes.

Recognizing this risk, Louisiana officials filed a lawsuit Wednesday against dozens of energy companies, seeking damages for decades of harm to coastal wetlands. Filed coincidentally as a leaking gas rig burned offshore, the suit cites “a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,” according to the New York Times, and hints at evolving attitudes in a region that has prospered from drilling but also suffered from lost tourism and seafood income after the Deepwater Horizon spill.

“Coastal economies, which depend on healthy oceans, simply cannot afford more offshore drilling disasters,” says Jacqueline Savitz, deputy vice president for the environmental group Oceana, in a statement released Wednesday about the latest gas blowout. “This is yet another reminder that offshore drilling remains dirty and dangerous.”

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated since it was first published on July 24, 2013.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Fuel Fix: Perry to lawmakers: Do more to advance offshore drilling

Posted on July 19, 2013 at 3:08 pm by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

ric petty
Texas Gov. Rick Perry prepares for a presidential debate in October 2011. AP Photo/Scott Eells, Pool)

Congress can do more to advance offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean while boosting the economies of coastal states, eight governors said Friday.

Options rage from giving states a greater share of federal drilling royalties to passing legislation that would force the Interior Department to make more coastal tracts available for oil and gas development, the group of coastal governors said.

The governors, including Texas’ Rick Perry, made their pleas in a letter to their congressional delegations in the nation’s capital.

“During this congress, legislators will consider several matters that directly and indirectly affect the future of offshore energy development,” said the governors, who all represent coastal states. “As our federal representatives, we strongly urge you to act in concert to champion outer continental shelf energy and, by effect, the vitality of our coastal and state economies.”

The group – banded together as the OCS Governors Coalition – offered five recommendations.

At the top of their list: expanding an existing program for sharing offshore drilling revenue with states near the activity.

“Currently, the Atlantic coast states and Alaska are generally not eligible to share in revenues generated by oil, gas and renewable energy development in the outer continental shelf,” the group said. “These states should be treated equitably with all states.”

The governors may be preaching to the choir, since several of the recipients already have sponsored legislation that would open up the revenue-sharing program – which is set to begin for the Gulf Coast in 2017 – to all coastal states.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is set next week to hold a hearing on one of those proposals, a measure by Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Mary Landrieu, D-La., that would also move up the timeline for the Gulf revenue sharing program so it starts sooner. Their measure also would do away with a $500 million annual cap on what Gulf states can collect.

Under their bill, every state with ocean views would be able to participate and collect up to 37.5 percent of the royalties from any offshore energy production, whether it comes from oil and gas or wind and solar.

But the proposal is controversial – particular among offshore drilling foes, who believe the lure of revenue could encourage cash-strapped states to support oil and gas development in nearby waters.

In a March letter to Wyden and Murkowski, eight senators insisted they would “vigorously oppose any effort that expands or provides further incentive for offshore oil and gas drilling in areas where drilling is currently prohibited.”

The coastal governors also endorse plans to expand access to new outer continental shelf areas. The Obama administration’s five-year plan for selling offshore oil and gas leases through June 2017 contains a dozen auctions of territory in the Gulf of Mexico and three of tracts near Alaska.

But regulators at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opted not to plan an auction of leases near Virginia, where a sale had previously been scheduled (and canceled after the 2010 Gulf spill). Some Alaskan areas and southern California acreage, near existing development, also were left out of the plan.

The coastal governors say the administration should have opened access to new frontiers and should finish its ongoing review of the environmental effects of seismic research along the Atlantic that could help pinpoint possible oil and gas reserves.

OCS governors letter – this is the version sent to Sen. Mary Landrieu (see attached file)
OCS-governors-letter-this-is-the-version-sent-to-Sen-Mary-Landrieu.pdf OCS-governors-letter-this-is-the-version-sent-to-Sen-Mary-Landrieu.pdf
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Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: Center for Biologic Diversity Counter-attack Launched Against Oil Industry Attempt to Halt Bearded Seals’ Protection Global Warming, Oil Development Remain Key Threats to Arctic Seals

July 19, 2013 5:54 PM

CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity
Rebecca Noblin, (907) 274-1110

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – July 19 – The Center for Biological Diversity intervened in a lawsuit today to defend Arctic bearded seals from an attempt by the oil and gas industry to strip their Endangered Species Act protection.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association and American Petroleum Institute are challenging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2012 decision to list bearded seals as threatened under the Endangered Species Act due to the loss of their sea-ice habitat, which is being melted by global warming.

“There’s no scientific dispute that the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, and bearded seals are the poster child for the destructive effects of the global warming onslaught,” said Center Alaska director Rebecca Noblin. “This industry attack on bearded seal protections is about profits, not science.”

Bearded seals, distinctive for their comical, mustachioed appearance and elaborate courtship songs, give birth and nurse their pups on pack ice. The rapid loss of pack ice jeopardizes their ability to rear young and is lowering the abundance of important food sources on their shallow foraging grounds off Alaska.

The seals’ winter sea-ice habitat in the Bering and Okhotsk seas off Alaska and Russia is projected to decline by at least 40 percent by 2050, while summer sea ice across the Arctic is projected to largely disappear in the next 20 years. These seals also face threats from proposed offshore oil and gas development off Alaska, where an oil spill in icy waters would be impossible to clean up.

“Bearded seals do have a chance to survive, but only if they have the full protection of the Endangered Species Act — and if we move fast to make major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions,” said Noblin. “If we don’t aggressively tackle that greenhouse gas pollution, we’re looking at a lonely future on our planet — a future without amazing creatures like these whiskery seals.”

Endangered Species Act listing of bearded seals offers them increased protection against the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change, as well as oil and gas development. Listing of the seals does not affect subsistence harvest of the species by Alaska natives, which is exempted from the law’s prohibitions.

The state of Alaska and the North Slope Borough have also filed challenges to the bearded seal listing rule.

Read more about the Center’s campaign to protect bearded seals.
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature – to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

Bloomberg: U.S. Gulf Oil Profits Lure $16 Billion More Rigs by 2015

By David Wethe – Jul 17, 2013 8:51 AM PT

oil rig
The Royal Dutch Shell Plc Olympus tension leg platform (TLP) is seen at dawn as it sets sail from Kiewit Offshore Services in Ingleside, Texas, U.S., on Saturday, July 13, 2013. Olympus, Shell’s biggest constructed tension leg platform, started the ten day, 425-mile voyage to Mars B Field in the Gulf of Mexico on July 13.

The deep-water Gulf of Mexico, shut down after BP Plc (BP/)’s record oil spill in 2010, has rebounded to become the fastest growing offshore market in the world.

The number of rigs operating in waters deeper than 1,000 feet (300 meters) in the U.S. Gulf will grow to 60 by the end of 2015, said Brian Uhlmer, an analyst at Global Hunter Securities LLC in Houston. As of last week, there were 36 rigs working in those waters, according to industry researcher IHS Petrodata.

Producers will need $16 billion worth of additional rigs to handle the expanded drilling, analysts including Uhlmer estimate. Demand is driven in part by exploration successes in the lower tertiary, a geologic layer about 20,000 feet below the sea floor containing giant crude deposits that producers are only now figuring out how to tap. Companies such as Chevron Corp (CVX). and Anadarko Petroleum Corp (APC). must do more drilling to turn large discoveries into producing wells — as many as 20 wells for each find.

“The Gulf had more than its fair share of discoveries,” Chris Beckett, chief executive officer at Pacific Drilling SA (PDSA), said in an interview. “Right now, the Gulf is the fastest growing deep-water region in the world.”

The revival will add to surging crude oil supplies from the U.S. shale boom, with Gulf production climbing 23 percent to 1.55 million barrels a day by December 2014 from 1.26 million in March, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Under-appreciated Growth
While deep-water exploration in the Gulf of Mexico has been increasing since 2011, the magnitude of the growth and the potential for revenue and profit for the service companies is under appreciated, Jud Bailey, an analyst at International Strategy & Investment Group in Houston, said in an interview. Offshore contractors from Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB) to Pacific Drilling are benefiting from the region’s growth spurt.

Hornbeck Offshore Services Inc (HOS). and other contractors that provide supply vessels to the giant drill ships than can work in water depths of more than two miles are among companies that may reap the biggest benefit from a rebounding Gulf, James West, an analyst at Barclays Plc in New York, said in an e-mail.

Hornbeck is expected to more than double adjusted earnings to $5.56 a share, from an estimated $2.43 this year, according to the average of five analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Drilling rig contractors Rowan Co. Plc and Noble Corp (NE)., which are building some of the world’s most expensive oil rigs to operate in some of the deepest areas offshore, are also expected to at least double earnings per share in the same period.

Drilling Moratorium
The blowout at BP’s Macondo well in April 2010 killed 11 workers, injured 17 and triggered an 87-day oil spill that fouled thousands of square miles and shut much of the Gulf to fishing for months. The U.S. suspended drilling in the Gulf for five months, and even after activity restarted, obtaining permits for drilling was slow as federal regulators stiffened safety rules.

As a result, some deep-water drilling rigs migrated to other exploration frontiers such as offshore West Africa and Brazil where work continued. Now some of those rigs are returning, though most of the Gulf’s rig growth will come from newly ordered, more sophisticated deep-water vessels, Bailey said. Better financing terms from the shipyards, put in place in late 2010, are helping fuel a record number of orders for new deep-water rigs around the world, David Smith, an analyst at Johnson Rice & Co. in Houston, said in a phone interview.

Support Structure
The Gulf’s prosperity today is helped by the large offshore industry already in place along the U.S. Gulf Coast. With infrastructure such as pipelines, ports and supply vessels readily available, producers are able to move quickly from drilling discovery wells to developing the fields. Meanwhile, government permitting has picked up since mid-2011, giving contractors and their customers more confidence that their work can continue, Smith said.

Even though the rules are stricter post-Macondo, the U.S. Gulf still provides a more stable operating environment than other frontier drilling regions around the world, where foreign governments can change the rules on producers, Smith said.

The lower operating costs in the Gulf of Mexico make the region more profitable for service contractors than places such as Brazil and Africa, Global Hunter’s Uhlmer said.

A booming offshore U.S. industry comes at a welcome time for diversified oilfield servicers that have struggled with an oversupplied hydraulic fracturing market onshore in the U.S. and Canada that has increased competition and lowered prices. Servicers including Schlumberger and Baker Hughes Inc (BHI). may exceed analysts’ estimates for second-quarter revenue from the Gulf driven by “a solid bump in deep-water activity,” Bailey wrote in a June 28 note to investors.

Better Vision
Schlumberger and Baker Hughes, among the world’s three largest service providers, will report earnings July 19.

“Drilling activity looks like it’s going to start really ramping up here in the Gulf,” Brian Youngberg, an analyst at Edward Jones in St. Louis, who rates Schlumberger shares a buy and owns none. “That’s a very strong positive for the oil services including Schlumberger.”

Improved technology such as seismic imaging, which bounces sound waves off the ocean floor to map pockets of underground oil, has enabled companies to more accurately hunt for crude under layers of salt in the earth’s crust, Beckett said. That’s helped fix one of the biggest challenges in the region from 10 years ago.

“The limitation on the ultra-deepwater in the Gulf of Mexico at the time was the ability to see under the salt,” said Beckett, who spent a decade running Schlumberger’s onshore seismic business. “Now we’re in an environment where you can drill those very expensive subsalt wells with a degree of confidence.”

Rig Orders
Most of the Gulf rig expansion is fueled by newly built rigs rolling out of the shipyards, more so than existing rigs relocating from other parts of the world, Smith said. Lower prices from the shipyards and easier financing terms have induced more construction, he said.

The global industry is in the midst of the fattest pipeline of orders for new deep-water rigs since the advent of deep-water drilling in the 1970s, according to IHS Petrodata. Vessels expected to be delivered between this year and 2019 will be more than double the 39 delivered between 2003 and 2009.

Last year’s 52 ultra-deepwater discoveries around the world, in about 7,500 feet of water or greater, made for a record year in the offshore industry, David Williams, chief executive officer at Noble, told analysts and investors in a presentation earlier this year.

In the Gulf of Mexico, the story is evolving into development over exploration, Uhlmer said.
“It’s more: ‘OK, we know what we have out here, we spent a lot of money buying the right blocks, and now we need to develop them,'” he said. “That’s going to provide you more growth than anything.”

To contact the reporter on this story: David Wethe in Houston at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan Warren at

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Huffington Post: Gulf Of Mexico Oil Sheens Likely Came From Deepwater Horizon Wreckage, Study Shows


NEW ORLEANS – A team of researchers has concluded that pockets of oil trapped in the wreckage of the sunken Deepwater Horizon are the likely source of oil sheens that have been spotted in the Gulf of Mexico near the site of the deadly 2010 explosion on the BP-leased drilling rig.

A newly published study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of California at Santa Barbara rules out BP’s sealed-off Macondo well and natural oil seeps as possible sources of the sheens.

The researchers said their conclusions are based on an analysis of 14 sheen samples collected from the surface of the water during two trips to the Gulf.

Last year, BP PLC said it capped an abandoned piece of equipment that was believed to be the source of a sheen.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Live Science: Oil Sheens Near Deepwater Horizon Spill from Sunken Rig

Douglas Main, Staff Writer | July 16, 2013 10:29am ET

Oil sheens overlying the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon, first spotted in September 2012. The oil is coming from the wreckage of the rig, new research shows.
Credit: David Valentine, UCSB

Recurrent sheens of oil in the Gulf of Mexico near the site of 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill have baffled researchers and led to fears that oil may once again be spewing from the seafloor well.
But a study published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology shows that there is no new leak: The oil is coming from isolated tanks and pockets within the wreckage of the sunken rig, according to a statement from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the research.

The mysterious sheens of oil were first reported in September 2012. To find out their provenance, researchers took samples of the sheens and compared them against others taken from various sources, including floating pieces of wreckage recovered shortly after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sunk on April 20, 2010.

“This appears to be a slow leak from the wreckage of the rig, not another catastrophic discharge from a deep oil reservoir,” David Valentine, a geochemist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said in the statement. “Continued oil discharge to the Gulf of Mexico from the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon rig is not a good thing, but there is some comfort that the amount of leakage is limited to the pockets of oil trapped within the wreckage of the rig.”

Using a technique developed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researcher Chris Reddy, the scientists found that the oil from the sheens reported last fall matched those taken from the floating wreckage. The samples both contain uniform amounts of olefins, a chemical used in drilling fluids, according to the statement. Olefins are not found in crude oil, meaning the sheens aren’t likely to originate from the Macondo well or any other natural oil seep in the Gulf, the NSF reported.

When the rig sunk, it held tanks containing hundreds of barrels filled with a mixture of drilling mud and oil. Researchers speculate that these tanks are leaking after being gradually corroded by seawater, according to the statement.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the biggest in American history, releasing about 205 million gallons (776 million liters) of oil. The area of the Gulf near the spill has been negatively affected ever since; tar balls containing dangerous bacteria have washed up on beaches in the area and there has been an unusually high death rate for dolphins.

Email Douglas Main or follow him on Twitter or Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook or Google+. Article originally on
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Special thanks to Richard Charter 2013: The Year of the Deadly Oil Spill?

by Beth Buczynski
July 14, 2013 5:00 am

As the age of coal and oil draws to a close, the “drill baby drill” crowd has become louder and more rambunctious than ever. No longer content to poison our oceans with offshore drilling platforms, tar sands oil has become all the rage.

For years those who see the futility of barreling head first down Hydrocarbon Lane have warned that unleashing Canada’s tar sands would be a climate death sentence. But who cares about the dumb old climate, right? Humans don’t act until it’s personal. Well, now it is.

In the past six months we’ve seen a rash of deadly oil spills, the most recent of which have resulted in multiple human fatalities. These disasters show that no matter how we attempt to extract, transport or consume it, oil is killing us. And it won’t stop until we realize the folly of our addiction.

Below are details of just a few of the major oil spills that have happened in the first half of 2013:
In early March a 26,000-gallon tank car (just one car in a mile-long train) transporting crude oil from Canada ruptured in Western Minnesota. The disaster leaked 30,000 gallons of crude something (the rail company refused to say whether it was tar sands oil or not, but you put the pieces together) onto the frozen ground.
Thanks to the cold conditions, the oil was as thick as molasses, making it nearly impossible to get up off the ground.

Just days ago, a train moving crude oil to Irving Oil Corp.’s Saint John refinery in New Brunswick suddenly derailed right in the middle of the town of Lac-Megantic. The immediate explosion engulfed the center of the small town in a literal lake of fire that killed at least 13 people and left dozens more missing.
“This is another data point that shows how much costlier and riskier rail is compared to pipelines,” John Stephenson, a Toronto-based fund manager, told
But before you believe himŠ

In April of this year, a 65-year-old ExxonMobil pipeline burst without warning, dumping Canadian tar sands oil all over the small town of Mayflower, Arkansas.
Within minutes, “the slick of noxious black crude” spewing from the pipeline “was eight feet wide, six inches deep and growing fast.”
Ultimately, 5,000-barrels were spilled from the 22 foot-long gash in the pipe, covering suburban lawns and roads in a toxic goo. Residents reported putrid smells and burning sensations in their eyes, noses and throats.
Exxon immediately went to work blocking any information about how or why the disaster occurred, public relations maneuvering that has since caused the State of Arkansas and the federal government to file a suit against the oil company.

And just last month, heavy rain (that’s right, nothing more than rain) allegedly ruptured a pipeline owned by Enbridge Inc., Canada’s largest pipeline company. According to most reports, 750-barrels of synthetic crude oozed out of the pipeline before the company managed to shut it down.
The rupture occurred in Line 37, which serves CNOOC Ltd’s Long Lake oil sands project in northern Alberta and carries huge amounts of oil into America. Enbridge gloated in the fact that there were no human habitations or roads nearby, as if that simply wipes away the harm that hundreds of barrels of oil has on the eco-system.

These are only a few of the major oil spill disasters that have occurred this year, and we’re only seven months in. The truth is, there is no safe way to transport poison. Floods happen. Human error happens. And when these statistical certainties happen to a train or pipeline carrying thousands of barrels of toxic oil, death always happens next.
If the Keystone XL pipeline expansion is approved, however, the next time might be in your backyard.

Special thanks to Richard Charter Louisiana Seafood: In wake of BP spill and river diversions, oysters show strain

By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, | The Times-Picayune
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on July 13, 2013 at 5:00 PM, updated July 14, 2013 at 1:03 AM

oysters in the  gulf

It’s difficult to talk about Louisiana seafood these days without the BP oil spill working its way into the conversation. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that television screens were filled with high-def images of fouled coastal marsh and angry fishermen forlornly staring at their idled fleet.

But some scientists and fishers say it remains impossible to gauge the 2010 spill’s precise environmental and biological toll. Asked about a 15-percent drop in the statewide oyster harvest in the two years following the spill, experts say the spill definitely continues to be a potential factor, but is only one of several.

Perhaps as damaging as the oil and the temporary closures of thousands of acres of Gulf waters in the wake of the disaster three years ago, they say, was the millions of gallons of fresh Mississippi River water that flowed into the Lake Pontchartrain Basin east of the river in 2010 and 2011. Oysters, essentially immobile and unable to withstand the torrents of fresh water, bore the brunt.

A closer look at the preliminary data from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reveal wide variation from area to area. But in terms of oyster production, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin east of the Mississippi River saw the worst of it.

Before the oil spill, Louisiana regularly led the nation in oyster production, with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin traditionally the state’s most productive harvest grounds.

From 2002-2009, the Pontchartrain Basin averaged 7.2 million pounds of oyster meat annually. But beginning in 2010, that production took a nose dive – falling to 2.6 million pounds that year, then to 2.4 million pounds in 2011 and, finally, to 1.8 million pounds in 2012.

Overall, just in 2011 and 2012, oysters in Pontchartrain Basin saw a 71-percent drop compared to the 2002-09 average.

While oyster production showed an increase in the Terrebonne Basin, east of the Mississippi River, the decline in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin was so pronounced that it pulled the overall statewide numbers down in all three years.

“It’s been really down. ŠNormally we always put 400 sacks on the trucks but the last three years or so, we have only been able to put on 150, 130, 140 sacks,” said Shawn Assavedo, an oyster harvester in Pontchartrain Basin out of eastern St. Bernard Parish. “That’s exactly what it’s been since they opened that siphon.

“That freshwater, it goes into Lake Borgne and it has killed a lot of oysters there, really a massive amount of oysters.”

Now the measly haul of oysters in Pontchartrain Basin often is dwarfed by the expanse of the 18-wheeler trucks’ beds.

Brad Robin Sr. talks about how one of the most production areas in the country for harvesting oysters is still struggling to recover.

Brad Robin Sr., a fellow St. Bernard oysterman who typically harvested out of Lake Borgne, said that his old stopping grounds have had “zero percent come back.”
“There is no life left there,” Robin said. “The east side of the river is way down and still trying to recover, trying to get some sort of normalcy out of it all.”

But the fears is that the decline east of the river could continue for an extended period: The Pontchartrain public harvesting grounds in the Breton and Chandeleur sounds provided the majority of the oyster seed that harvesters transplanted to grow oysters in private leases across the state.

“Our public reefs on the east side of the river, that was our mother seed ground,” said John Tesvich, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force. “That is basically wiped out right now.”

The freshening of the water
While the oil spill is an easy fall guy – and many scientists continue to study its impact, often in secrecy for future oil-spill litigation – scientists and some fishers also point to the Mississippi River diversions in 2010 and 2011 as major culprits for the plummeting oyster haul.

“Freshwater is the biggest killer of oysters in the world,” said Greg Voisin, an eighth-generation oysterman who helps run his family business, Motivatit Seafoods, in Terrebonne Parish.

Ken Brown, a Louisiana State University biologist, said he and his colleagues haven’t seen any major effects from the oil on adult oyster mortality rates, but when fresh water dilutes salinity levels “below 10 parts per thousand, and especially if you get below 5 parts per thousand, then oysters have problems.”

Hoping to keep the oil that was spewing from BP’s Macondo well away from Louisiana’s fragile inshore marshes and estuaries, the state in 2010 ran the Davis Pond and Caernarvon river diversions at full speed for several months to push the oily Gulf waters away. The diversions did appear to help drive out some of the oil but they also dropped salinity levels in much of that Pontchartrain Basin to levels unsustainable to oysters.

Then in 2011, when Mississippi River levels in New Orleans approached the 17-foot flood stage because of heavy rainfall in the Midwest, the Bonnet Carré Spillway west of the city was opened from early May through mid-June, further freshening the basin.
That fresh water that poured from Bonnet Carré into Lake Pontchartrain eventually pushed into the surrounding waters of Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound.

The state had anticipated the impact from the Bonnet Carré opening. The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission chose to open oyster reefs within portions of the Pontchartrain Basin area before opening the spillway, allowing oyster fishers to take oysters from those grounds and move them to private leases in higher salinity areas.

Oysters thrive when the salinity is 15 parts per thousand, about half the salinity of seawater. They struggle when it falls below 10 parts per thousand and die off when it dips below 5 parts per thousand.

Parts of Pontchartrain Basin fell to less than 3 parts per thousand during periods of 2010 and 2011, according to state and federal data.

Oyster growth problems
Because fresh water diversions carry so much sediment – they often are envisioned as land builders – the diversions in 2010 and 2011 also buried or at least partially covered much of the cultch in Pontchartrain Basin, according to a Wildlife and Fisheries assessment.

Oysterman Brad Robin Jr. explains how small pieces of chopped concrete made from the slabs of flooded Hurricane Katrina homes helps oysters grow.

Cultch is the broken stones and oyster shells that form the reefs upon which oyster larvae attach and grow into adult oysters. Lose the cultch, and the oysters have nothing to latch onto.

Also, in some areas east of the river, much of the oyster shell was covered with an unidentified algae that seems to have prevented oyster seed from taking hold on the reefs.

Some oyster fishers pointed to that algae as an indicator that the oil spill had ruined their crop, but scientists say it also might have been created by the excess nutrients in the river water that poured into the basin.

While nutrients carried by freshwater play an important role in the high productivity of the Gulf systems, they also bring algae blooms, which consume oxygen and create “dead zones” with fish- and oyster-killing low oxygen levels.

Tesvich said he and others also worry about the quality of that river water and whether problems with oyster reproduction on the existing cultch could be tied to the oil.

“Was there some sort of industrial waste or agricultural runoff in that river water?” he asked. “Or is it something from BP in addition to the river water that is causing something? There are a lot of things we just don’t know about these oysters coming back.”

But it wasn’t all bleak where the oyster harvest is concerned.

State Wildlife and Fisheries Department data show that in 2011 the Barataria Basin, to the west of the river, harvested 23 percent more oysters than its pre-spill average and then, in 2012, harvested 44 percent more.

And because the price of oysters continued to rise, the Wildlife and Fisheries numbers show that Barataria oyster fishers earned about $18 million in 2012 – about 116-percent more than they had earned on average between 2002 and 2009.

In 2012, the average price statewide was about $3.70 per pound at the dock, or about 30 percent above the pre-spill average of about $2.80 per pound.

Nonetheless, Al Sunseri, who owns P & J Oyster Co. with his brother Sal, thinks the Wildlife and Fisheries numbers are wrong when it comes to the amount of oysters that have been harvested in Barataria the past few years.

“I’m not a scientist, but I just have some common sense,” Sunseri said. “There is something going on, because we are not seeing the oysters come back like they always did.”

Still, Mitch Jurisich, who harvests a large chunk of the oysters in Barataria, recently said that the last few years have been “the best crop in our family’s history.”

“Jurisich and others in the area did extremely well,” Tesvich acknowledged, but he added that other parts of the Barataria “have been having trouble because of so much fresh water.”

And then there is Terrebonne Basin, which was hopping the past few years, according to the state landings data and discussions with oystermen.

A basin that on average harvested 2.3 million pounds of oysters between 2002 and 2009, Terrebonne produced 4.4 million pounds in 2011 and 4.3 million pounds in 2012. That’s about an 85-percent increase.

Most of that increase in Terrebonne Basin actually could be tied to decreases elsewhere, as oystermen relied on that area to cover declines. For instance, the number of trips oyster fishers took in the basin grew from an average of 7,814 between 2002-2009 to 16,928 trips in 2012 – a 116-percent increase.

“Our oysters being available, it allows the areas east of the river to rest and go through whatever cycle they are going through,” Voisin said. “You have to utilize the resource here when it’s not there, and there when it’s not here, and that’s just the way that we’ve be doing things throughout history.”

Looking forward
Despite the 15-percent drop in statewide oyster production the past couple years, the state’s oyster fishing industry as a whole doesn’t appear to have fared too bad financially.

Because the price per pound has risen since the spill, the overall amount earned by oyster harvesters across the state in 2011 and 2012 actually rose by about 10 percent compared to the pre-spill average, according to the Wildlife and Fisheries’ at-the-dock price and landings data.

Also, the state’s 2012 basin-by-basin data and the statewide 2012 data from the federal Fisheries Service remain very preliminary. Often, the federal data rise by several million pounds when finalized.

The Fisheries Services is expected to release more official 2012 statewide catch numbers this fall.

The conventional wisdom is that two or three years after a major fresh water event, oysters will grow back strong. Often in history, it creates a boom crop. With less salinity, for example, there often are fewer predators that eat the oysters.

So some oyster fishers are waiting, fingers crossed, hoping that in the next few years there will be a bumper season.

Count Assavedo among them. Assavedo is among those oystermen plowing ahead in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, spending money to put down new cultch in the hope that better days are ahead.

It’s a risk he feels he has no choice but to take.

“If it is not fresh cultch material, you are not getting anything. But my new stuff out there, that I laid down, it seems to be doing good,” Assavedo said. “The oysters stuck to it and are growing. I haven’t lost any of them yet. ŠI just hope that continues.”


Wayne Gordon, an employee with P&J Oyster Co., loads up a delivery truck on Oct. 28, 2010, with the first load of oyster that Pete Vujnovich harvested near Port Sulphur since the closure of area 13 back on May 20, 2010. | The Times-Picayune archive

Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: Company caps leaking offshore well

Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, July 12, 2013

HOUSTON — A mixture of gas, condensate and water has stopped leaking into the Gulf of Mexico at a broken offshore well, according to government regulators and the company that owns it.

Work is now shifting to permanently cap the well, which rests in about 140 feet of water about 70 miles south of Port Fourchon, La. Rough waters are making that work more difficult, but officials at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement say they will continue to monitor the crew’s work to plug the well with cement, which the agency foresees happening over the weekend.

Energy Resource Technology GOM Inc., the operator of the well and now a subsidiary of Talos Energy LLC, halted the leak last night by pumping drilling mud into the well after BSEE approved the plan.

ERT said the volume of hydrocarbons released into the environment is low enough that it would naturally dissipate and evaporate, much as naturally occurring oil sheens in the Gulf of Mexico do. No cleanup operations are planned at this time.

“The discharge volumes were very low, and the sheen that had formed earlier in the week appears to have evaporated almost completely,” a Talos spokesman said in an email.

“Permanent plugging and cementing is what will come next,” the spokesman added, confirming that choppy seas were slowing the pace of the intervention.

ERT workers were performing maintenance on the well earlier this week when they noticed a loss of control and escaping natural gas. The platform was promptly evacuated, and no injuries were sustained.

The platform, located in the offshore area known as Ship Shoal, is connected to another nearby platform by a bridge, and intervention work and situation monitoring have been occurring largely from that installation. The Coast Guard also responded to the incident.

The installation was built in the 1970s and has been a marginal producer since at least the late 1990s. According to BSEE, the
response team is now considering how to permanently close it.

“BSEE engineers are reviewing plans and procedures from ERT for moving forward to isolate the well’s hydrocarbon zone,” the agency said in a release. “A BSEE supervisory inspector is on board the platform monitoring the ongoing site assessment and well analysis.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: Gas still seeping from busted Gulf well

Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, July 12, 2013

HOUSTON — A crew continued to try to regain control of a busted offshore natural gas well in the Gulf of Mexico last night after the federal government approved an intervention plan.

Late yesterday afternoon, officials at Energy Resources Technology LLC (ERT) began pumping drilling mud into the stricken shallow-water well in an attempt to stop the out-of-control flow of natural gas. The company lost control of the well, one of three on the offshore platform, during work aimed at temporarily plugging it.

Aside from the gas leak, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard reported a 4-mile-wide sheen on the surface of the waters surrounding the well when the accident occurred Tuesday. BSEE spokeswoman Eileen Angelico said the sheen was caused by a small volume of associated condensates released with the gas when the crew lost control of the well.

The agencies said that about 3.6 barrels of light condensate was leaking from the site every 24 hours. “The well is flowing gas, so it’s gas, water and condensate,” Angelico said.

As of late last night, there was no word on whether the ERT crew had been able to stop the gas leak with the drilling mud operation. The government says the company’s plan was formally approved after a review, and BSEE and the Coast Guard are monitoring the entire operation from a neighboring platform.

“Procedures for the source control operations were prepared by ERT and reviewed and approved by BSEE,” the agency said in its most recent notice on the situation. “Once confirmation of the successful well kill operation is received, BSEE will review ERT’s plan for plugging the well.”

The platform where the accident occurred rests atop the Ship Shoal Block, and offshore concession about 70 miles south of Port Fourchon, La. The small, mostly gas production operation sits in about 146 feet of water.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Grist: Look what the gas and oil industry did to the Gulf of Mexico – again

Why wasn’t the rig properly decommissioned and the well plugged when they ended operations as their lease requires? DV

By John Upton


Sheens of oil atop the Gulf of Mexico have become a depressingly familiar sight – the result of reckless drilling by the oil and gas industry. Here is a photograph shot Wednesday of the latest such debacle. An old natural gas well off Louisiana’s coastline was being sealed shut Monday when it began leaking, 144 feet beneath the water’s surface. This photo is one of a series taken during a flight over the site by On Wings of Care, an environmental nonprofit.

On Wings of Care
From On Wings of Care’s blog post:
A badly leaking natural gas well in the Ship Shoal Lease Block #225 of the Gulf of Mexico has spread an ugly, toxic mass of oily rainbow sheen over several square miles not far from the top of Ewing Bank – an area once rich with marine life, especially large plankton feeders and many other species of marine life. We have flown that area in eight different five-to-six-hour wildlife survey flights just within the past three weeks, helping scientists find and study whale sharks.

Today, despite mirror-calm seas, excellent water and air visibility, and clear blue water, we saw barely a trace of marine life in this area.

Fuel Fix reports that the well continues to leak a “briny mix” of natural gas, light condensate, and seawater: Late Wednesday, workers were preparing to begin pumping drilling mud into the well, the first stage in an operation to kill it permanently, 15 years after it last produced gas commercially and four decades after it was drilled.

For much of the day, they were waiting for proof that gas at the platform the well serves had dropped to safe levels so that workers could board the facility. In the meantime, federal regulators and well control specialists waited at a neighboring platform.

The Coast Guard and the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said they plan to conduct an investigation.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Penn State University: Biologist investigates lasting ecological impacts of Deepwater Horizon oil spill. At the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, in the vicinity of the Macondo well, Charles Fisher discovered previously unseen impacts on coral communities.

By Sara LaJeunesse
July 10, 2013

Billions of dollars.

That’s what’s at stake for BP as a result of the damage caused to ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

News of that spill — which began on April 20, 2010, with an explosion onboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 people and injured 17 — dominated the media for weeks. Millions watched with a feeling of helplessness as the rig sank and over the next 86 days over 200 million gallons of oil spewed out of the Macondo well and into the ocean.

Five months after the spill was capped, the federal government estimated the marine animal death toll at 6,104 birds, 609 sea turtles, and 100 mammals, including dolphins. But what of the deep-water corals that provide habitat and reproductive grounds for numerous species of fish, shrimp, and crabs?
According to Charles Fisher, professor of biology at Penn State, these corals and the organisms they support are important components of a healthy deep sea and open-ocean ecosystem. That’s why both BP and the government are closely collaborating with him on his investigation of the disaster’s impact.

“It’s a new experience for me to conduct research that could have such a dramatic financial impact and also to have so many people involved in everything we do,” says Fisher. “You have to be very careful to document all the details and be very sure that you’re right with your interpretations. We’re always careful, but every little comment we make could be misinterpreted, so we’re being extra conservative with this data set.”

Calling on a World Expert
It was the middle of May, about a month after the oil spill began. With classes over, Fisher was looking forward to spending a little extra time on his farm, located 25 miles east of State College. But that was before the calls started to come in from federal agencies.

Over a period of about a week, Fisher was contacted independently by program officers from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). All had financially supported Fisher’s research in the Gulf in the past, and all were now calling on him to help assess the impact and damage of the oil spill to the deep-sea ecosystems he knows so well.

Fisher “was selected as an expert based on his extensive and unique experience working on the ecology of the cold seep and deep-sea coral communities in deep-sea, hard-bottom habitats in the Gulf of Mexico,” says Robert Ricker, southwest region branch chief of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. “He is a recognized leader in his field, and we pick leaders.”

Fisher agreed to help. After all, he already was leading another big research program that had overlapping goals — to locate, describe, and study deep-water coral communities throughout the Gulf of Mexico that could potentially be impacted by energy company activities.

Coral impacted by the Deepwater Horizon spill

For nearly three decades, Fisher has been studying the physiology and the ecology of the communities of animals that inhabit cold seeps — areas of the ocean floor where methane and other hydrocarbon-rich fluid seeps out — and hydrothermal vents — underwater fissures in the Earth’s surface that emit geothermally heated water rich in reduced chemicals — in the deep sea. Marine invertebrates such as clams and tubeworms live in these dark places, surviving the lack of sunlight by forming symbiotic associations with bacteria. The bacteria use the reduced chemical compounds contained in the water as an energy source and, in turn, supply nutrition to their animal hosts.

Fisher has visited these deep places in submarines some 120 times. “When you’re down there, you feel like you’re on another planet because the landscape is like nothing you’ll see on the surface of the Earth,” he says. “You’re oftentimes in a place where nobody has been before, so you have in the back of your mind that you may see something that nobody has ever seen. Every once in a while you do.”
Among his accomplishments are the discovery of ice worms living on methane-rich ice at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and the unraveling of the complex physiological ecology of giant hydrocarbon-seep tubeworms, among the longest-lived animals on Earth. The bizarre two-meter-long tubeworms use their buried roots to suck up toxic hydrogen sulfide that lies deep in the sediments of the seafloor. They then pass the hydrogen sulfide to symbiotic bacteria living inside their bodies.

These bacteria, in turn, oxidize the sulfide and provide nutrition back to the worms. The end product is sulfuric acid, which the tubeworms pump back into the sediments, where yet other bacteria use methane to remake the sulfide and supply it back to the worms.

Whenever possible, he works with Jim Brooks, president and CEO of TDI Brooks International, a company that specializes in conducting offshore surface geochemical exploration for petroleum producers.

“Jim’s group discovered seep communities in the Gulf of Mexico in the 1980s when he was on the faculty at Texas A&M University,” says Fisher. “I’ve been involved in multiple projects with him over the years. In addition to his expertise in oil geochemistry and prospecting, his company can handle all the administration, travel, budgets, and reporting, and I get to just concentrate on the science.”

So in October 2010, with TDI Brooks International managing the expedition, Fisher and his colleagues set out for the Gulf of Mexico on board the NOAA ship, the Ronald H. Brown.

Discovering Damaged Corals
For nearly a month, the team revisited deep-sea coral sites all over the northern Gulf of Mexico that they had discovered the year before during a previous project. Each time they stopped, they used Jason II — a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) or submersible designed for scientific investigation of the deep ocean and seafloor — to sample and study corals and associated animals.

“We revisited all of the sites for which we had good baseline data,” says Fisher. “We were all quite pleased to find that there was no obvious damage to the deep-water coral communities at any of these sites.”
Although they had covered a four hundred-mile span east to west and a depth range from 1,300 feet to almost 6,500 feet, Fisher and his colleagues had observed only a couple of coral sites close by the Macondo well. So, on the last dive of the expedition they decided to check out a very promising area they had identified about seven miles southwest of the well and 45 miles from shore.

The research vessel coasted to a stop with nothing but the occasional seabird in flight to break the monotony of the view. Six hours into the ROV’s dive, Fisher was working in the ship’s laboratory, glancing up every now and then at the 36-inch screen through which video was streaming from the vehicle’s camera, now positioned 4,500 feet below the ocean’s surface. As the ROV moved across the seabed, the camera recorded scenes of mud, mud, and more mud, he remembers. Then, all of a sudden, a coral popped into view, and another and another. But something was wrong. The animals were not brightly colored as they are supposed to be.

Fisher recalls jumping up and sprinting across the deck of the ship to the control van. “Stop!” he warned. “Don’t touch anything!”

The ROV pilots were about to take a sample, but he asked them instead to zoom in with the camera. What he saw were corals covered in dark gunk and dripping snot. “When a coral is physically insulted, it reacts by exuding mucus,” he explains. “It’s a normal stress reaction. It helps to clear the surface if there’s something irritating or sticking on it.” To avoid stressing the animals further, the team decided to minimize sampling.

“Normally we would take little pieces of lots of different corals for genetic identification and population genetic studies,” Fisher says, “but we decided to back off on that and try to do our sampling around the edges, taking only samples of corals that we didn’t recognize. We also collected one of the impacted corals so we could take a closer look at the gunk and what was underneath and determine whether the coral branch was dead or alive.”

By the end of the cruise, the team had visited 14 sites, all but one of which were at distances greater than nine miles from the Macondo well. Only corals at that last site, just under seven miles southwest of the well, had clearly been impacted.

As the researchers headed home with their samples, they began to discuss future expeditions. They knew that impact to at least some corals could be readily identified visually and, since the organisms are attached to rocks and don’t swim or float away when impacted, they provide a record of past events. Their next steps would be to discover the full extent of the oil spill’s reach with regard to corals, and to determine the animals’ ultimate fate. Would they live or would they die?

Learn how Fisher’s colleague Iliana Baums is investigating the use of molecular tools to detect signs of stress in corals before they become ill.

The Impact
On five subsequent cruises over the next two years, Fisher and his team have explored for additional sites and revisited the established ones to check the corals’ statuses. They have carefully monitored about 50 of the corals that they first discovered in November 2011. Those that were not too heavily impacted seem to be recovering.

“When I say recover,” notes Fisher, “I don’t mean that tissue died and the coral got better. I mean they were covered with slime, but they never died. These corals still do not look as healthy as corals at other sites, and we may have to monitor them for several years before we will know their ultimate fate.”

The corals that were heavily impacted, on the other hand, are largely not recovering. “We are seeing absolute proof of total death of parts of them,” says Fisher. Since corals are colonial, branching animals, parts of them can die while other parts remain alive.

Specifically, at the first damaged site they witnessed — the last site of the October cruise — the researchers have discovered that 86 percent of the coral colonies show signs of damage, with 46 percent exhibiting impact to more than half the colony, and 23 percent displaying more than 90 percent damage.

At each site visited, the researchers deployed markers and set up permanent monitoring stations with a goal of returning to them again and again to monitor both natural processes and, potentially, long-term effects.

“At that depth and at those temperatures in the deep sea, life passes at a slow pace,” notes Fisher. “These are animals that often live 500 years. They live slow; they die slow. We’ll have to monitor the sites for a decade before we’ll have very much confidence we know the full extent of the impact.”

What’s Next?
The team’s second cruise, which took place in December 2010 and made use of the Alvin deep-diving submarine, included Helen White, a geochemist from Haverford College. White used state-of-the art oil fingerprinting technology and determined that the brown muck on the corals did, indeed, include oil from the Macondo well.

Fisher’s research to date has demonstrated that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill killed some corals. As a result, BP is going to have to pay. But how much and to whom?

“People have asked me how much a dolphin is worth, and there is no clear-cut answer,” says Timothy Zink, spokesperson for NOAA, the organization that oversees natural resource damage assessments performed by researchers like Fisher, tabulates the check for the parties responsible, and formulates and carries out a plan for restoring the ecosystem.

“The public needs to be compensated for its losses, and not just for the resource itself, but for the human use of the resource — such as recreational fishing, bird watching, and going to the beach — as well,” said Zink. “The final price that BP will pay will be based on the full cost of restoring the environment back to what it was on the day the oil spill happened.”

Unfortunately for deep-water corals, the full effects of the spill may not be felt for many years, too late for any near-term settlement to fully cover them.

“I believe everyone involved would like to settle as soon as we can,” says Fisher. “However, the full extent of damage to deep-sea ecosystems may not manifest itself until after a settlement is reached. If corals all over the deep gulf start dying, and we thought only those very close to the Macondo well would die, then we have to reassess the situation.” In that case, Zink says, the investigation could be reopened.

BP has already paid over $20 billion to cover some of the damages from the spill, and in a November 2012 settlement with the Justice Department, agreed to pay $4 billioon in criminal fines. The company has also committed hundreds of millions to research into understanding the effects of oil spills on ecosystems and preventing future disasters.

Despite the trouble the oil spill caused for deep-sea ecosystems, Fisher says he’s not against deep-water drilling for oil. “As much as I love the ocean, there are a lot of resources in the ocean, and as long as I drive a car, it would be pretty hypocritical of me to say that we shouldn’t obtain those resources for human use,” he notes. “I’m conflicted in the way I feel about it, but I don’t think this means we should stop accessing oil in the marine environment.

“I think, in general, oil companies try pretty damn hard to be responsible.” Fisher adds. “It’s in their best interest to be responsible. This has cost BP billions of dollars; they don’t want it to happen again. In a way, this oil spill has been a beneficial wake-up call in that it tells us that the unthinkable can happen. I think a result of it will be better oversight by oil companies and the federal government.”

Charles R. Fisher is professor of biology,

deep corals
This photo, taken as part of a major research project led by Penn State Professor of Biology Charles Fisher, shows a reef formed by the coral species Lophelia pertusa at 450m below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico with an orange brisingid starfish in the foreground and a school of fish overhead.
Image: Image courtesy of Lophelia II 2010 Expedition, NOAA OER BOEM

Special thanks to Richard Charter

CNN: Coast Guard responds to natural gas leak in Gulf of Mexico

This rig is ripe for decommissioning and removal from the seabed before it does any more damage.

By Melissa Gray, CNN
updated 9:33 PM EDT, Tue July 9, 2013

NEW: The well owner says the leak should be stopped sometime Wednesday
NEW: About six barrels of oil leaked along with the natural gas, the company says
NEW: Environmentalist says the gas and oil could be toxic to marine life
The leak is at an oil and gas platform 74 miles southeast of Louisiana

(CNN) — A natural gas leak in the Gulf of Mexico has left a four-mile-wide “rainbow sheen” on the water’s surface south of Louisiana, the Coast Guard said Tuesday, but the owner of the well said it expects the leak to be plugged within a day.

Houston, Texas-based Talos Energy said the gas is flowing from a well that it was in the process of abandoning. The leak happened while it was trying to permanently plug the well, located about 74 miles southeast of Port Fourchon, Louisiana.

Talos said it evacuated all five staff members from the platform and shut down the two other working wells there. It notified the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Coast Guard and began a spill response.

“We expect that the well will be shut in within the next 24 hours,” Talos said in a statement Tuesday.

Massive tar mat dug up off Louisiana coast, 3 years after spill

Along with the gas, the well leaked about six barrels of oil, or about 252 gallons, the company said, adding it expects the oil to evaporate quickly.

The Coast Guard and BSEE officials flew over the leak Tuesday and found natural gas still flowing from the well, with a rainbow sheen visible on the surface measuring more than four miles wide by three-quarters of a mile long, the Coast Guard said.

The well is on the sea floor, about 130 feet deep, according to a U.S. congressional source briefed on the incident.

Gulf oil heartbreaker for bellwether fish

There is a concern that the gas leak could have a toxic effect on marine life, even if it is stopped by Wednesday.

“Toxic gases will damage the bodies of fish that come into contact by damaging their gills and causing internal damage,” said Jonathan Henderson of the Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental advocacy group in New Orleans. “Marine species in the Gulf are more vulnerable when water temperatures are high and when oxygen concentrations are low like they are now.”

Coast Guard, BP end Gulf cleanup in 3 states

Talos said the well is older and in a field developed in the 1970s. By 1998, the well was producing mostly water at a low-flowing pressure, so the company was plugging and abandoning it.

The company said it believes the age of the tubing may have contributed to the leak, though the Coast Guard said the cause is still under investigation.

The Coast Guard said the well is owned by Energy Resource Technology Gulf of Mexico. Talos acquired the company earlier this year.

CNN’s Lesa Jansen and Todd Sperry contributed to this report.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: White House outlines path for power plant rules, other environmental actions including drilling in the Arctic, methane flaring, & blow out preventors

Jean Chemnick and Jason Plautz, E&E reporters
Published: Monday, July 8, 2013
Arctic drilling among new Interior regs

I’ve edited down this article to the portion relevant to oil.

The White House agenda also notes several significant rule making efforts at the Interior Department, including new regulations for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and for the flaring and venting of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells on public lands.

Making its first appearance on the regulatory agenda is a proposed rule from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management that would codify regulations for drilling in the oil-rich Arctic Ocean, where at least three major energy firms are pursuing exploration.

Former Interior Deputy Secretary David Hayes in May said those regulations will mirror the voluntary steps Royal Dutch Shell PLC
agreed to take during its 2012 Arctic exploration season, which included an oil spill containment plan and the ability to drill a
relief well, among other steps.

Hayes at the time said he believed the agency would issue draft rules by the end of the year.

“There will be clarity going forward,” Hayes said, noting that industry would be given flexibility for how it complies with
performance-based standards. It appears Interior has pushed to 2014 the release of a separate set of rules aiming to strengthen the integrity of blowout preventers, the hulking devices used to stanch the flow of oil or gas from an out-of- control well. BP PLC’s blowout preventer failed to prevent the escape of oil and gas from the Macondo well in April 2010, leading to the worst oil spill in the nation’s history. The blowout preventer rule was listed on the White House’s long-term agenda, and the proposed rule is tentatively scheduled for October 2014. The administration deemed it “economically significant,” which means it could be costly to implement.

“The industry has developed new standards for BOP design and testing that contain significant improvements to existing documents,” the White House said in its description of the rule. “By incorporating these new requirements into regulations and other supplemental requirements, the regulatory oversight over this critical equipment will be increased.” The Bureau of Land Management is continuing to evaluate a proposed rule to establish standards to “limit the waste of vented and flared gas and to define the appropriate use of oil and gas for beneficial use.”

The rule appears to address a significant concern environmentalists have about the emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells on public lands. Environmentalists claim current affordable technologies could keep more methane in pipelines to be burned for heat and power, but BLM has been hesitant to require that those technologies be used. BLM’s proposed “onshore order 9” is scheduled for release in May 2014, according to a description of the rule.

Environmental groups continue to pressure the agency for tougher regulations in federal court (Greenwire, June 17).

BLM also continues to pursue rules that would provide for the competitive leasing of wind and solar energy on public lands, for the regulation of hydraulic fracturing and to address the royalty rate for oil shale.

BOEM is also pursuing a rule that would set a preliminary term of one year for offshore wind companies that lease federal waters to submit a site assessment or general activities plan to encourage diligent development of renewable energy.

Reporters Phil Taylor and Annie Snider contributed.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Guardian UK: North Sea leaks ‘reality check’ for British oil industry, says Greenpeace. Environmentalists say industry’s arctic safety case undermined by figures showing 55 pollution incidents in last month

Terry Macalister
The Guardian, Sunday 7 July 2013 13.44 EDT

north sea leaks oil industry
Facilities operated by Shell, BP and BG were all offenders, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Photograph: Royal Dutch Shell Ho/EPA

Britain’s offshore rigs and platforms have leaked oil or other chemicals into the North Sea on 55 occasions over the past month alone, challenging claims by the industry that it has a strong safety and environmental record.

Among the fields to have reported pollution discharges is Piper Alpha, the scene of the world’s worst offshore accident in terms of fatalities when it blew up, killing 167 workers, 25 years ago.

Facilities operated by Shell, BP and BG were all offenders, according to the latest petroleum operations notices (PON1s) reported to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

Greenpeace said the alarming statistics should act as a reality check for an industry that was trying to persuade the world it should be allowed to drill in the pristine waters of the Arctic.

“They’re trying to convince the world that they can operate safely in one of the world’s harshest environments, yet they can’t prevent this steady trickle of oil and other polluting chemicals leaking into the relatively safe waters of the North Sea,” said Greenpeace senior climate adviser Charlie Kronick. “This will do little to increase public trust in their ability to drill in the Arctic without damaging this incredibly beautiful and fragile corner of our planet.”
But the industry itself says the leaks often contain tiny amounts of relatively harmless substances and the reporting system is an example of a good regulation.

One of the worst offenders in the latest set of DECC figures is Shell, which on 3 June reported lubricant and other chemical discharges from its Brent Bravo and Brent Charlie platforms.

A Shell spokesman said: “Asset integrity and process safety is Shell’s foremost priority at all times. No spill is acceptable and we work hard both offshore and onshore to minimise risks to maintain a safe working environment for our workforce and reduce any environmental impact on the North Sea.

“Shell is actively participating in the Step Change in Industry safety initiative, which includes a focus on hydrocarbon spill reduction. The industry has achieved an almost 50% reduction in hydrocarbons leaks during 2012, based on a baseline set in 2009.”

In 2006, Shell was fined £900,000 after pleading guilty to safety lapses on the Brent B platform following an accident in 2003, when the facility was hit by a gas leak in which two oil workers died.

BP, which is still fighting criminal charges following the Deepwater Horizon accident of 2010 in the US Gulf, is reported to have had crude leaks off the Paul B Loyd Jnr rig, which was working on the Clair field on 6 June this year. There was also a release of “another” substance from the same drilling unit two days earlier. On 25 May there was discharge on the Marnock field.

BG had a leak on the Everest North platform on 31 May while Talisman Energy discharged chemicals the day before on the Piper Bravo platform that was built in place of the Piper Alpha structure destroyed by fire in 1988.

Petroleum operations notices are all reviewed and investigated by an offshore environmental inspector as they are reports of potential breaches of DECC-enforced regulations.

Some of the discharges are allowable under North Sea rules but most on the latest PON1s monthly data whose status is marked “completed” rather than still “under review” ascribed the source to various mechanical failures.Those incidents that do show how much product was released indicate small amounts but any unintended action is unwelcome at a time when safety and the environment are major concerns of the public.

Although the PONS1 data seen by the Guardian for the month from 6 May to 6 June show 55 different numbered notices, employers dispute the figures and downplay their significance.

Mick Borwell, Oil & Gas UK’s environmental issues director, said: “The vast majority of the 103 spills this year [in PON1 reports] are very small operational chemical spills. They have no potential to cause a major accident, so do not compromise the increase in safety standards reported recently including a year on year reduction in combined fatal and major injury rates and in all types of dangerous occurrence and a 48% reduction in hydrocarbon releases over three years.”

BP and Shell declined to comment. On Monday, BP will appear in court in New Orleans to argue that the huge compensation package agreed last year following the Deepwater Horizon disaster is being abused. Lawyers for BP will claim that large numbers of “fraudulent, excessive or improper claims” are being filed to the victims’ fund, to which BP set aside around $8bn.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

FuelFix: Commentary: Regulations for the oil & gas industry are a good thing

Posted on July 3, 2013 at 3:59 pm by David Vaucher

A friend of mine recently shared an article from the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Regulated States of America”. The article is very relevant: a lot of the political discourse today in the United States concerns the role (or non-role) of government, and its reach as it pertains to regulations. The oil & gas industry comes up frequently in this context, and stirs up strong opinions from all sides of the issue. I have my own thoughts to share with you in the hope that it stimulates some discussion, and I suspect what you read will surprise you coming from someone very “pro” oil & gas!

Full disclaimer here: I’m not an American citizen, and as a Green Card holder, I have no voting rights so in the strictest sense, my opinion literally doesn’t count. This means that I’m speaking entirely for myself with the only goal of sharing my views, and nothing I say today is meant as an endorsement of any political belief or party. As much as I’d like the country to recognize the continued supply of energy as a common problem to solve rather than a political line in the sand, the fact is that oil & gas HAS been politicized, so I think it’s important to state my political neutrality up front.


If you ask anyone what they think the oil & gas industry’s stance on regulation is, I’m sure the answer would be: “they don’t want it”. It just makes sense to give that answer: more rules means more complexity which means possibly more costs and less efficiency. To be fair, I’ll point out that NO industry is asking for more regulations, but the oil & gas business has a very particular public image and impact on society, so in that sense we should consider it separately from other sectors of the economy.

I do get the impression that regarding regulations, the message from the industry goes something like this: “the government doesn’t know the industry as well as we do, so there’s no way it can monitor us effectively or fairly. The bottom line is that regulations just get in the way of us operating efficiently.”

It’s a fair point, but I’ve said many times that the oil & gas industry has a clear public relations problem, and that this is entirely our own doing. When our “knee jerk” reaction to any new regulation is “no” (even if its goals seem good!), we come across as having something to hide. Clearly, this is incompatible with what should be one of the industry’s top priorities: building trust with the public.

I can already anticipate two related objections to my argument. The first is that many operators do in fact strive not only to meet but also exceed local standards of operation. Actually, it’s even been documented that safety records can improve when large operators move into a play, or acquire smaller players. The second objection could be that people will say that overall the bigger companies operate well, and it’s the very small independents operating at a very local level (who may not hold themselves to equally high standards) that are giving the industry as a whole a bad name.

Even if you believe those objections to be true, the problem is that given much of the public’s view of the oil & gas business, ANY incident caused by ANY company will tarnish the whole industry. Furthermore, if I, as someone deeply involved in, passionate about, and fairly knowledgeable about the industry get the impression that we automatically resist any proposed rule changes, how is someone removed from oil & gas supposed to think any differently? Again, how is resisting every proposed change justifiable, even when that change seeks to achieve something objectively positive (more transparency, stricter environmental standards, etcŠ)?

Look, I believe strongly in Capitalism (I wouldn’t be a very good MBA if I didn’t!), and I understand that accepting this system means trusting that resources are allocated most effectively by a free market, and this market should have more freedom than not. However, I think that there is a “spectrum” of Capitalism: you don’t have to have “the Market” deciding everything for this system to be in place, and to the extent that it would be a terrible idea to let companies just do as they please, some intervention is necessary to keep things working smoothly. In oil & gas, we rely way more than other businesses on a “social contract” with the public, and if it takes rules to keep EVERYONE honest, then so be it. This is why I emphatically think that fair, reasonable regulation of the oil & gas industry is a very good thing.

Sports provide a great analogy with which to make that point. In sports, there are rules and referees. The rules are established by a governing body, usually in tandem with players’ representatives. The idea is not to dictate anything outright, but to come to some compromise on a rule (regulation) that brings about hopefully positive change to the game.
Take football (the American kind, for international readers).

I love football, but the game has gotten so violent that I worry every weekend that I’m going to see a player die. There is currently a dialogue going on between the National Football League, players, and to some extent the fans to determine what the best course of action is to make the game safer: stiffer penalties for illegal hits? Mandating new equipment specifications? Altering kickoff procedures?

If changes are implemented, they likely won’t satisfy everyone, but they’ll probably be made taking into account multiple points of view, and if player safety increases, how can anyone label these changes “bad”? Ultimately, the goal of keeping players safe must be given priority over other considerations such as fans’ enjoyment of how the game “should be”.

Now let’s consider the referees.

If you accept that everyone is self-interested, and doesn’t always have incentives to take the honest course of action, there needs to be some enforcement mechanism. Referees are supposed to be neutral third parties whose role is to enforce the rules, NOT deliberately determine the outcomes. Granted, referees’ decisions will always disappoint someone, but the idea is that spectators should be able to trust that referees will use all means available (instant replay, conferences with other referees) and their best judgment to make the best, “in good faith” call.

How is this any different from the fields in which we operate and the role of regulators?
Though I believe in regulation, it’s important to notice that I’m staying away from the questions of “how much regulation should there be?”, “what kinds of regulations should be implemented?”, and “how much involvement should come from the federal vs. state levels?” If I knew the answers to these questions I’d be much better paid than I am now!

In all seriousness, I’m not interested in getting “down in the weeds” of policy debates. Rather, I’m advocating for a fundamental shift in attitude of the oil & gas industry with regards to regulations and the governing bodies that propose them. While we shouldn’t be prepared to accept anything and everything that comes our way, our initial reaction should be “ok, let’s talk about this” rather than “no, this will be bad for business”. Might there be some cost to this shift in attitudes? Maybe, but what if the return on that investment is greater public trust, and more leeway to undertake the projects to which there is currently resistance?

One industry I’ve always been impressed with due to its “healthy” relationship with government is air transportation. It seems that there is a good spirit of collaboration between the public and private groups, and a culture among pilots of reporting any incident no matter how small so that more severe accidents can be avoided later.

Think back to Boeing and the Dreamliner: I’m sure Boeing wanted to avoid grounding its new plane and incurring the associated costs and loss of reputation, but safety took top priority, the government grounded the airplanes, Boeing went along with it, and after a thorough investigation the planes are now flying again. Certainly, air travel is one area I’m grateful for regulation. Can you imagine how things would be if we allowed airlines to operate completely independently and just let “the Market” decide which one to use based on the resulting safety (or lack thereof) records? That would be nuts!

Ultimately, in oil & gas we should aim to have the same relationship the airlines have with the government: collaborative rather than combative, and presenting transparency to the public rather than secrecy. The hard truth is that oil & gas operators don’t have sovereignty over the areas they work in. These companies work in these areas because they are granted permission to do so, both by government and residents. If we attempt to run roughshod over a region in ways that benefit us solely and say “well, we know better, please keep away and let us do our work”, then eventually that social license to operate WILL be revoked and WE will be the ones told to keep away.

Specialthanks to Richard Charter

The LDWF fisheries closures around Grand Terre Islands prompt BP outcry
also at:

National Fisherman


Seafood Is Tested For Signs Of Oil Contamination

Snapper are filleted at Inland Seafood in NOLA in August of 2010. Chemical and “sniff testing” of fish began after the spill. Three years later, there are mixed views on whether Gulf seafood is safe to eat.

On the 28th, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham announced that additional areas of Grand Terre Islands were closed. In a press release, the LDWF said that, tar mats located during ongoing surveys were removed this week in the intertidal and subtidal areas of Grand Terre Islands. Some of those mats were in areas that are already closed, however some additional closures were required.

The area closed is the portion of state outside waters “seaward a distance of one-half mile from the shoreline from the southwestern shore of east Grand Terre at -89 degrees 54 minutes 04 seconds west longitude; thence eastward along the shoreline to the southeastern shore of Grand Terre at -89 degrees 51 minutes 39 seconds west longitude; thence eastward along 29 degrees 18 minutes 46 seconds north latitude to -89 degrees 51 minutes 19 seconds west longitude.

The LDWF did this following the announcement that “state health leaders” called for the ban after flesh-eating bacteria were suspected in these coastal waters, reports WBRZ. However, this was not mentioned in LDWF’s official press release on its web site.

The LDWF’s actions drew a response from BP today, who issued their own press release claiming that actions such as these hurt the image of the state, and once again reassured the public that they believe Gulf seafood is safe to eat.

Nevertheless, LDWF says:
[that] no person shall take/possess or attempt to take any species of fish for commercial purposes from waters within the closed area. The possession, sale, barter, trade or exchange of any fish or other aquatic life from the closed area during the closure is prohibited.

All commercial fishing is prohibited in the closed areas. Recreational fishing is limited to recreational rod and reel fishing which includes licensed charter boat guides.

Commercial fishing activities prohibited are: shrimping, trawling, skimming, butterflying, crabbing, flounder and garfish gigging, cast netting, oyster harvesting, gill netting, hoop netting, minnow trapping, rod and reeling, jug lining, using a bow and arrow, purse seining, set lining and spear gunning.

Prohibited recreational fishing means no crabbing, shrimping, flounder gigging, cast netting, bait seining, bow fishing, spearing, snagging and dip netting. Charter boat and recreational angling are still allowed.

According to BP, not one test [of Gulf seafood] has exceeded thresholds for human health established by the Food and Drug Administration. Gulf seafood is the most rigorously tested seafood in the country, and every test conducted – by multiple state and federal agencies – has shown the same thing: Gulf seafood is safe.

BP says that by extending fishery closures, the state may help perpetuate the myth that consumers should avoid Gulf seafood and tourists should avoid Louisiana’s waters. When no scientific basis is provided for the decision, Louisiana does a disservice to the thousands of people who work in the commercial fishing, recreational fishing, and tourism industries and who depend on those industries for their livelihoods.

The state’s decision to extend the fishery closure appears to be groundless, and that hurts the people of Louisiana and the reputation of the state.

However, readers should note that these closures of recreational and commercial fishing have been implemented based on the Secretary of the Department’s information received from biologists and other scientists.

BP is still in the midst of a contentious civil trial in New Orleans, where not only billions, but the company’s gravely tarnished image, are at stake .

Here is a map detailing this closure. Here is another area map that highlights the fishing closures in red. For a complete list of press releases that detail the history of closures and openings in the area following the spill, please click here.

Note: An earlier version of this article today did not include the link to flesh-eating bacteria. Also, the original photo caption said Gulf seafood isn’t safe to eat and it has been corrected to express there are mixed views. Also, the original caption referred to sniff test “fishing” and that has also been corrected to sniff “testing” of fish.- lw

Special thanks to Richard Charter.

PR Newswire: Health Problems Still Plaguing Many BP Oil Spill Cleanup Workers

Find this article at:

The Life Care Solutions Group discusses the unmet needs of many BP oil spill workers who’ve faced challenges in getting help for their injuries.
< NEW ORLEANS, July 1, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Following the 2010 BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a number of response workers reported being stricken with ailments purportedly linked to cleanup efforts. For many workers with limited resources to find medical help, there remains a need to have concerns about resulting medical conditions addressed, even three years after the spill. The Life Care Solutions Group has developed a resource for response workers and volunteers who have questions about how to receive medical and legal help if they have been plagued with health problems linked to participation in the oil spill cleanup. Help for BP Oil Spill Cleanup Workers Many individuals involved in the BP oil spill cleanup were migrant workers, service industry workers, and Gulf Coast residents who volunteered in the effort, and lacked health care coverage or other means to pay for proper medical care. Thousands of workers spent months working to clean up oil, applying chemical dispersants, and completing other tasks in an attempt to restore the Gulf Coast to a safe environment for residents, businesses, tourists, and ecosystems, not knowing of the extent of exposure to toxic chemicals they were subjected to. The BP Gulf Oil Spill Help Desk is available for those who have been plagued with health problems including conditions of the stomach, skin, respiratory system and more. For those who still have questions about whether they are eligible to receive compensation for their injuries from funds set aside by BP for the damage caused, the help desk can also address their inquiries. A free medical review is being offered to those who visit the help desk and contact the Life Care Solutions Group today. About the BP Gulf Oil Spill Help Desk The BP Gulf Oil Spill Help Desk is a resource, developed by the Life Care Solutions Group, made available to support workers who have been left with health problems attributable to Gulf Coast cleanup efforts. The Life Care Solutions Group is comprised of a network of medical and legal experts who assist individuals in need of information regarding their legal rights in a BP oil spill settlement or medical options after sustaining a serious injury. Individuals can visit the BP Gulf Oil Spill Help Desk online today to request a free medical assessment or assistance with a BP gulf oil spill claim. For more information about the BP Gulf Oil Spill Help Desk, please visit CONTACT: Lyn Giguere,, +1-972-437-8952 SOURCE Life Care Solutions Group RELATED LINKS Special thanks to Richard Charter

NRDC: New oil spill money released for Gulf Coast restoration

July 1, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Congress, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Restoration Projects
By Mordechai Treiger, Environmental Defense Fund

Last month, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident announced Phase III of their Early Restoration efforts. The NRDA Trustees include representatives from the five Gulf Coast states and four federal agencies who are charged with assessing damage to natural resources, such as marshes, sea grasses, birds and marine mammals, stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Oiled Kemps Ridley turtle (credit: NOAA).

Phase III represents the largest collection of NRDA proposals to date, encompassing 28 proposals intended to restore ecosystem health and lost recreational opportunities across five states. At $320 million, the biggest of these new projects will be to rehabilitate Mississippi River Delta ecosystems devastated by the oil spill and subsequent cleanup efforts. Called the Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration project, it will restore damaged barrier islands in Plaquemines and Terrebonne Parishes by rebuilding beaches, dunes and back-barrier marsh habitat.

Restoration workers will deposit sediment in an effort to create new land, install sand fencing to encourage dune growth and plant native species across the island in an effort to combat erosion. The strengthened barrier islands will protect wetlands along the delta’s coastline as well as provide critical habitat for a variety of wildlife that suffered in the aftermath of the spill, including fish, shellfish and birds. The cost of the Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration project is expected to cost $320 million.

Previously, the NRDA Trustees finalized the first phase of early NRDA projects, which included eight restoration projects spread across five gulf states in April 2012, and the second phase of early NRDA projects, which introduced an additional two restoration projects in November 2012. In addition to the $71 million committed to Early Restoration in Phases I and II, the new projects will bring restoration spending totals under NRDA to well over $600 million.

Oiled marsh
Oiled marsh in Barataria Bay, La. (credit: NOAA).

All NRDA projects, from Phase I through Phase III, are being negotiated and funded in accordance with the $1 billion Early Framework Agreement signed by the NRDA Trustees and BP in April of 2011. The Framework Agreement was largely seen as a positive step toward restoring the Gulf when it was signed, but since then, money has been slow to flow under the agreement. The NRDA Trustees recently announced their intention to delay further implementation of early restoration, including the recently announced Phase III projects, until the completion of a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for all Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery efforts. Nevertheless, the Trustees remain committed to swiftly advancing these important ecosystem restoration projects with all deliberate speed.

At a June 6 U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing, Rachel Jacobson, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of Interior, underlined the urgency of Gulf restoration, stating, “Interior fully recognizes, without hesitation, that the time to begin restoration is now.” She went on to promise that early restoration efforts would not come at the expense of, or otherwise undermine, the ultimate goal of complete restoration. “We will not stop until the entire billion is obligated,” Jacobson continued. “It is important to note that our early restoration efforts in no way affect our ongoing assessment work or our ability to recover from BP the full measure of damages needed for complete restoration.”

Houston Business Journal: Former accountant sues Black Elk Energy, alleging fraud

May 1, 2013, 2:53pm CDT UPDATED: May 1, 2013, 4:44pm CDT

john hoffman

Pictured: John Hoffman, CEO of Black Elk Energy.

Deon Daugherty
Houston Business Journal
Update: Black Elk denies fraud alleged by former accountant

An accountant who worked at Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC in Houston is suing the company, alleging he was fired after saying he would alert auditors to more than $360,000 in fraudulent charges on the company’s credit cards, including more than $25,000 at “gentlemen’s clubs.”

Micah Bowen said in the lawsuit, filed April 29 in Harris County, that during the course of 20 months, House Burton, the driver and security administrator for CEO John Hoffman, racked up various charges, including $50,000 in accessories for his vehicle and thousands of dollars at retail stores, bars and restaurants, Las Vegas hotels and personal dental bills.

“Mr. Hoffman personally approved Mr. Burton’s expenses each month,” the lawsuit says.
Bowen said that when he reported the findings to Hoffman, he didn’t respond to the purported fraud.

“Further, Mr. Hoffman told Mr. Bowen that Mr. Burton’s nonbusiness-related spending was none of his business, not part of his job responsibilities, and to ignore the issue. Mr. Bowen understood this to mean that Mr. Hoffman was asking Mr. Bowen to not report these charges to the auditors,” according to the lawsuit.

After Bowen took the matter to Art Garza, the company’s chief technical officer, he said he was chastised for “gossiping.” During an email exchange, Bowen said he explained his concerns about the nonbusiness related spending to Hoffman, who said Burton would pay “restitution” for his nonwork expenses.

Bowen said he felt he was being put in a difficult position and that he was “not going to lie” to auditors. After expressing this to the company leaders, Bowen alleges he was fired.

“Mr. Bowen was terminated for refusing to lie to UHY auditors about illegal activity that was occurring at Black Elk, including but not limited to, Mr. Burton stealing from the company with Mr. Hoffman’s approval,” the lawsuit alleges.

Black Elk was in the news recently for safety concerns. In November, three contract workers were killed when a Black Elk offshore drilling platform exploded.

According to Courthouse News, Black Elk has been sued three times since the accident.

Energy Inc. gives you the latest oil, gas, wind and solar energy news from across Texas as well as in-depth reporting and analysis from energy reporters at the Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio business journals and other experts from around the nation. Sign up to receive the Energy Inc. Texas Edition newsletter arriving every Monday beginning May 6.

Columbia County Observer: Gulf Cleanup: “Shrimp With No Eyes. Crabs With No Claws. No Surprise and Predictable” plus A Call for a Change in Oil Spill Response

Columbia County Observer, Columbia County, Florida

A Call For A Twenty-First-Century Solution In Oil Spill Response
Posted July 1, 2013 05:25 am

“What if that dark area were crude oil and your job was to clean it up without damaging the environment; could you do it?”

By Barbara Wiseman
International President, Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization

I appreciate that you are keeping this issue alive in the news: A Deadly Paradox: Scientists Discover the Agent Used in Gulf Spill Cleanup Is Destroying Marine Life. The devastation that is continuing to occur in the Gulf as a result of the on-going application of Corexit is jaw-dropping and heartbreaking. The article mentioned that Corexit 9527 is more toxic than Corexit 9500.

Toward the beginning of the spill, when the public began to get an idea of how toxic Corexit 9527 was and began demanding that something else be used, the EPA sent a letter to BP giving them 24 hours to find another chemical dispersant on their approved list of products on the National Contingency Plan (NCP) for Oil and Hazardous Chemical Spills.

The EPA did not say a safer product on the NCP list. They demanded another chemical dispersant.

The EPA did this knowing that because of the monopoly it has created for Exxon’s Corexit over the past 25 years, (they have never allowed any other product to be used on U.S. navigable waters when an actual spill happens, despite the fact that there are numerous other products on the NCP list that are less toxic, less expensive and demonstrably more effective), that BP would have to come back saying that the only product that was stockpiled in enough quantities for deployment on a spill of this size was Corexit.

The “solution” was to acquiesce by switching to Corexit 9500.

The public was appeased, but duped, because they didn’t know that per the science and chemical information regarding 9500, 9500 is only slightly less toxic than 9527 by itself, but once it is applied to oil, the combination becomes more toxic than the combination of 9527 and oil. The idea that scientists are just now finding how destructive Corexit is, is totally inaccurate.

Every chemical manufacturer has to fill out a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on their product and submit it to the EPA and make it generally available. Both Corexits, 9527 and 9500, specifically say on the MSDS, “Don’t contaminate surface waters [with this product].” Yet, as of July 2010, close to 2 million gallons were sprayed on and injected into the Gulf waters. Because the spraying has continued, this figure is far higher now. The EPA applies a graduated numbering system to chemicals regarding their toxicity level. The higher the number, the less toxic it is.

One product on the NCP list that effectively and thoroughly cleans up oil is so non-toxic you can take a swig of it and it won’t hurt you has a toxicity number of 1400.

Corexit’s toxicity number ranges between 2 and 15, depending on the test. You almost can’t get more toxic than that. The MSDS sheet says that the product is low risk.

However, if you read the fine print, you will find that it is only low risk as long as you rigorously follow the safety guidelines of wearing a full respirator and full hazardous materials suit. In other words, don’t breathe any in and don’t get any on you. If you do, all bets are off. The MSDS list is easily accessible.

The fact that Corexit keeps being touted as “safe as dish detergent” is patently false. This statement is made because Corexit contains 2BTE (2 Butoxy Ethanol) in it. 2BTE can be found in Dawn dish detergent. However, what they don’t say is that 2BTE is a tiny fraction of Dawn dish detergent, while it makes up at least 70% of the volume Corexit.

2BTE is mutagenic (causes mutations), teratagenic (causes birth defects and problems with procreation), and carcinogenic (cancer causing).

All of the devastation that has occurred to the marine life in the Gulf: the shrimp with no eyes, crabs with no eyes and claws, fish with open lesions, fish with tumors, huge increase in dolphin miscarriages, and massive depopulation of the marine life is no surprise and was utterly predictable.

The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization has written a position paper on this subject, A Call for a Twenty-First-Century Solution in Oil Spill Response. It covers all of this in depth.

Learn more: Change Oil Spill Response Now?

In 2003, Barbara was the Executive Director of a management consulting firm in Los Angeles, CA, when Dr. Lawrence Anthony asked her to help him create the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization. Until Dr. Anthony’s passing in 2012, they worked together to build and expand LAEO’s reach around the world. Mrs. Wiseman holds the functions of Executive Director for LAEO US, LAEO US Board member, as well as LAEO’s International President. Beginning with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Barbara began researching to find effective methods that could be immediately implemented to swiftly and thoroughly clean up the toxic oil and chemical dispersants that so negatively impacted the wildlife, marine life, and public’s health. Once solutions were found, she has then lead LAEO’s campaign to break down arbitrary barriers put in place by government regulators, and now expanded LAEO’s focus to all oil spills around the world.

Here is an excerpt from the paper:

A Call for Change in Oil Spill Response:

* Ban the use of toxic chemical dispersants or any other scientifically identified toxic agent used for oil spill “cleanup,” in US navigable waters and all environments.

* Revise and correct the National Contingency Plan and all related guidance documents referenced by regional and area response teams to reflect current science and information, specifically including

» the immediate withdrawal of the EPA’s preapproval (blanket authorization) for the use of dispersants in US navigable waters as part of the National Contingency Plan;

» correction of all material guiding the use of Bioremediation Agents, to remove the misinformation and to list EA type as a first-response non-toxic option;

» add the article BIOREMEDIATION TECHNIQUES, CATEGORY DEFINITIONS, AND MODES OF ACTION IN MARINE AND FRESHWATER ENVIRONMENTS to the NRT, RRT, NOAA, and Coast Guard published bioremediation materials to reeducate all team members on the corrected science concerning bioremediation.

* Exert pressure on the US EPA to issue the necessary authorization for nontoxic bioremediation methods already screened by EPA scientists and approved (Bioremediation Agent Type EA, OSE II) to be deployed immediately to bring the Gulf waters and associated
environments back to good health.

* Raise pollution removal standards up to the original intent of the Clean Water Act by requiring all companies that have the potential through their working processes of creating oil spills to include NCP-listed products that are nontoxic in their cleanup protocols, ensuring their plans employ methods that swiftly and completely remove oil from a spill area.

If you find this to be a worthwhile message and purpose, please help us by passing it on to others. Your help and support is welcome and appreciated.
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Press Round-up: House Moves to Expand Offshore Oil Drilling,0,3123571.story

Los Angeles Times

Oil drilling off Santa Barbara coast? House Republicans say yes

By Richard Simon
June 28, 2013, 10:23 a.m.
WASHINGTON — In spite of a White House veto threat, the Republican-controlled House on Friday launched a new effort to open up the California and Atlantic coasts to oil drilling.

The measure is a long shot in the face of fierce opposition in the Democratic-led Senate and from the White House. Still, Republicans are eager to stoke the debate over offshore drilling and highlight differences between the parties over energy policy heading into next year’s election battles for control of the House and Senate.

The bill, which passed 235-186, would require lease sales by the end of next year for energy production off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

It also would direct the Interior Department to develop a new five-year plan for drilling in areas containing the “greatest known oil and natural gas reserves,” including areas off Southern California, Alaska and the Eastern Seaboard.

Virginia and South Carolina, whose governors have expressed support for offshore oil production, would likely be the first Atlantic states where new coastal drilling would be permitted under the proposed Offshore Energy and Jobs Act.

Offshore drilling has long been a hot issue in California, where a 1969 spill off Santa Barbara devastated the coast. A long-standing ban on new drilling off much of the nation’s coast expired in late 2008, but the Obama administration has kept the Pacific Coast off-limits to new coastal drilling.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and spewed an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the water, led the administration to back off plans to open the eastern gulf and portions of the Atlantic to oil and natural gas exploration.

Republicans argued that the new bill would help lower fuel prices, create jobs, generate $1.5 billion over 10 years for the U.S. Treasury and enhance the nation’s energy security.
“I think, by most standards, that would be considered a fairly good bill,” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

But Rep. Lois Capps (D-Santa Barbara) assailed the House GOP majority for giving “lip service to respecting states’ rights” while seeking to “override the will of voters in my district and my state” opposed to new offshore drilling.

“I get it; this is a message bill,” Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) added. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) ridiculed the debate as a “Groundhog Day moment for Congress,” noting that similar House-passed bills “never went anywhere in the Senate, and it will meet the same fate again.”

Underscoring the divisions in the California delegation over energy policy, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Granite Bay) assailed the “ideological extremism” that has put the California coast off-limits to new energy exploration.

Drilling opponents, he said, “have had their way in California for a full generation. I’ve watched their folly take what once could boast of being America’s golden state and turn it into an economic basket case and a national laughingstock.”

The California delegation broke along party lines with Republicans supporting the measure and Democrats opposing it, except for Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno, who voted yes. Reps. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), John Campbell (R-Irvine) and Devin Nunes (R-Tulare) did not vote.

The bill directs that new energy production in federal waters off Santa Barbara and Ventura counties occur only from existing offshore platforms or “onshore-based, extended-reach drilling.”

The measure also would offer states 37.5% of the revenues from energy production off their coasts. That provision drew opposition from taxpayer watchdogs that said it would siphon off money the federal government needs.


Wall Street Journal

June 28, 2013, 12:12 p.m. ET
U.S. House Votes to Expand Offshore Oil Drilling

By Tennille Tracy and Keith Johnson

WASHINGTON–The U.S. House voted Friday to open up the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to oil and natural gas drilling, passing a bill that has little chance of becoming law but marks the latest effort by Republicans to portray President Barack Obama as an enemy of fossil fuels.

The bill forces the Obama administration to offer drilling leases off the coasts of Virginia, South Carolina and California. The administration has not offered leases in these areas although Congress lifted a formal ban on drilling there in 2008.

The bill also directs the Obama administration to revise its five-year leasing plan, which determines which areas will be offered for new drilling in the next five years. Separately, it allows coastal states to collect a portion of federal energy royalties.

The Republican-led House passed a similar piece of legislation last year.

The White House threatened to veto the measure, saying “the bill would undermine the targeted, science-based, and regionally-tailored offshore development strategy” that is currently in effect.

The bill’s passage, by a 235-186 vote, followed the release earlier this week of Mr. Obama’s new climate change plan. The initiative included new rules to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.

Republicans said Mr. Obama’s plan represented a “war on coal” since coal-fired power plants are among the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the U.S. The power industries have warned that tough new limits on carbon dioxide could force power plants to install expensive upgrades or shut down facilities altogether.

Mr. Obama often boasts of a big uptick in energy production that has happened on his watch. Industry groups, and quite a few lawmakers, just as often decry regulatory roadblocks and bemoan lost opportunities.

The Obama administration’s energy plan will “impose new energy taxes and federal red-tape that will increase energy prices and cost American jobs,” said Rep. Doc Hastings (R., Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and a main backer of the bill passed Friday.

In broad terms, total crude oil production on lands and waters owned by the U.S. government is higher than it was in the last year of the Bush administration, but it was lower in 2012 than in 2009, 2010 or 2011.

But the decline is confined to offshore oil production, especially in the Gulf of Mexico, where production was lower last year than in any of the first three years of the Obama administration. Onshore, the picture is quite different: oil production on federal lands has risen to levels not seen in a decade, and production on Indian lands has tripled, from a pretty small base, during the Obama years.

Gas production is a different story altogether. Even as the U.S. has become the world’s biggest producer, that has happened mostly on private lands. The reason has less to do with regulatory roadblocks, though, than with the fact that the lucrative shale gas plays don’t lie under federal lands. Gas production on federal lands has fallen during the fracking boom every year during the Obama administration.

The Interior Department says it is not wholly opposed to oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean. It is currently reviewing plans to allow seismic companies to try to determine how much oil and natural gas exists in the U.S. waters there–a move that could pave the way for drilling in a few years.

Unlike energy production in the Gulf of Mexico, which tends to have broad political support in surrounding coastal states like Louisiana and Texas, proposals to drill off the East and West Coasts often generate mixed reactions–if not outright opposition.

Write to Tennille Tracy at and Keith Johnson at



U.S. House Backs Bill to Expand Coastal Oil, Gas Drilling
By Lynn Garner – Jun 28, 2013 8:24 AM PT

Oil and gas exploration off U.S. coasts would be expanded under legislation the U.S. House of Representatives passed over the threat of a presidential veto.
The vote on the bill, H.R. 2231, was 235-186.

The measure would require the Obama administration to conduct additional sales of oil and gas leases off the coasts of Virginia, South Carolina, southern California and Alaska over the next five years, reports Bloomberg BNA.

In addition, it would order the administration to create a plan that would open up almost all of the nation’s coastline for exploration; a draft would be due July 15, 2014, and a final plan approved by July 15, 2015.

“This bill doesn’t harm the environment,” said Washington state Republican Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. “We want to drill safely and responsibly.”

The Senate isn’t expected to take up the legislation.

The White House Office of Management and Budget issued a June 25 statement of administration policy warning of a potential veto. The measure “would undermine the targeted, science-based and regionally tailored development strategy that the American people and the states have helped development,” according to that statement.

The requirement that the Interior Department open new areas for exploration “would be directed without secretarial discretion to determine whether those areas are appropriate for leasing,” the agency said.

Expanded offshore leasing would benefit the large oil companies, which have the resources to finance the high startup costs, according to Bloomberg Government analyst Jason Arvelo. ConocoPhillips (COP), Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), BHP Billiton Ltd.

(BHP) and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC) were among the most active in the federal offshore leasing circuit in 2012 and 2013.

The large companies would be the most likely to take advantage of the expanded territory available for offshore drilling activities, according to Arvelo.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lynn Garner in Washington at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at



House moves to expand offshore drilling
Posted on June 28, 2013 at 10:10 am by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

BP’s Thunder Horse semi-submersible facility in the Gulf of Mexico, about 150 miles southeast of New Orleans. (Photo courtesy BP)

The House on Friday passed legislation that would expand offshore drilling by forcing the federal government to sell new oil and gas leases along the coasts of California, South Carolina, Virginia and any other states where governors say they want the work.

But the measure, which passed on a mostly party-line vote of 235-186, is not expected to advance in the Democrat-controlled Senate, much less clear the chamber with enough support to overturn a threatened veto by President Barack Obama.

Beyond targeting California, South Carolina and Virginia for offshore oil drilling, the bill would limit environmental reviews of the mandated lease sales, forcing federal regulators to study the implications of oil exploration in all three areas simultaneously, rather than with separate, area-specific studies.

At the same time, it would force the Interior Department to focus all future oil and gas leasing plans to areas with the most potential. Regulators would have to sell leases in areas estimated to contain more than 2.5 billion barrels of oil or more than 7.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – or if the adjacent state governor asks for the auction.

The measure also would slowly phase in a program for coastal states to collect a share of federal revenues tied to offshore oil and gas development. Although far less aggressive than the leading Senate revenue-sharing proposal, the House measure is opposed by offshore drilling foes who say it could lure even skeptical state leaders to support coastal oil exploration as a way to raise money.

By a vote of 238-185, the House adopted an amendment by Rep. Bill Cassidy, D-La., that would give Gulf Coast states a chance to score even more money from nearby drilling, by boosting a $500 million cap on the amount they can collect under a revenue-sharing program set to begin in 2017. Cassidy’s amendment set the annual threshold at $999 million.

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who sponsored the underlying bill, said it would put the U.S. “back on the right path,” by creating 1.2 million American jobs, lowering energy prices and generating an estimated $1.5 billion in new revenue to the federal government.

But critics said the legislation would radically and irresponsibly expand offshore drilling, while short-circuiting environmental reviews of the work and before Congress makes some major changes called for in the wake of the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

“The bill . . . would allow Big Oil to put drilling rigs off the Atlantic, Pacific and Alaskan coasts without enacting key drilling safety reforms that we know should be there following the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster,” said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J.

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., said the “bill would completely rewrite the administration’s plan for offshore leasing in a reckless and irresponsible manner.”

The Interior Department took steps administratively to boost offshore drilling safety after the Gulf spill, including a sweeping reorganization of the agency that oversaw coastal oil and gas development. Regulators also began requiring companies to prove they can rein in a subsea blowout before getting approval to drill deep-water wells, imposed new well design standards and set new testing requirements for essential emergency equipment.

Hastings’ bill would largely codify the reorganization of agencies that oversee offshore drilling, but it does not include a plan to hike oil spill liability for companies working on the outer continental shelf.

One of the last acts before lawmakers head home for a week-long July 4 recess, passage of the bill gives political ammunition to Republicans as motorists hit the highway – and fuel up at filling stations – for summer vacations.

More domestic oil and gas development means lower fuel prices, Republicans said on the House floor.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., stressed wider economic benefits of expanded drilling, well beyond the Gulf Coast.

“The first domino is the jobs that are created on the offshore rigs,” he said. “But if you ride on Highway 90 from Lafayette, La., down toward New Iberia and Houma, La., you’re going to see on both sides of the road, business after business after business that is supporting the offshore industries.”

“This is a true job creator,” he added.

Democrats cast the bill as nothing more than a political messaging measure that faces certain death in the Senate.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., called the legislation “a messy conglomeration of retread ideas that wastes this chamber’s time,” since portions of the bill “have been rejected by the Senate, by many of the affected states, and have a zero chance of being signed by the president.”

Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, acknowledged the bill was meant to send a message _ but said that’s exactly why he was backing the legislation, despite some concerns.

“While I do not agree with some of the environmental provisions in this bill, I support it because it is a message bill about the importance of accessing our offshore resources,” Green said. “With the president reneging on certain areas originally contained in his 2012-2017 five-year offshore leasing plan, our future access over the next decade is extremely limited. We need to open new offshore areas up for production instead of producing on the same lands we have for decades.”

The Interior Department’s current five-year plan, which lays out the schedule for offshore lease sales through June 30, 2017, includes a dozen auctions of territory in the Gulf of Mexico and three of tracts near Alaska. But regulators at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management opted not to plan an auction of leases near Virginia, where a sale had previously been scheduled (and canceled after the 2010 Gulf spill). Some Alaskan areas and southern California acreage, near existing development, also were left out of the plan.

Republicans turned back a bid by Democratic Rep. Lois Capps to strip out the bill provisions requiring a sale of offshore oil and gas leases near her home state of California. By a vote of 235-183, the House also rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., that would have blocked future oil and gas development in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.


Open Secrets

Offshore Drilling Bills’ Sponsors, Cosponsors Received Big Bucks From Oil Industry
By Monica Vendituoli on June 28, 2013 12:30 PM

Sponsors and cosponsors of two bills to expand offshore drilling taken up by the House this week received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry in the last election cycle.

The first bill passed the House on Thursday by a vote of 256-171. The Outer Continental Shelf Transboundary Hyrdocarbon Agreements Authorizations Act would implement a February 2012 agreement between the U.S. and Mexico to expand drilling along the maritime boundary between the countries in the Gulf of Mexico. Many Democrats opposed the measure in part because it contains language that removes a requirement for companies to disclose payments they make to foreign governments.

The oil and gas industry gave $41,500 to the bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), for his 2012 campaign, making it his top industry donor, according to data.

Oil and gas was also the top industry donor to four of the 17 cosponsors of the bill: Reps. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), and Ted Poe (R-Texas), received a combined $442,000 in 2011-2012: almost $167,000 for Cramer, almost $135,000 for Hastings, more than $64,000 for Lamborn and nearly $76,000 for Poe.

The industry came in second for Reps. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who received more than $68,000; Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), who took in nearly $79,000; and Steve Stockman (R-Texas), who was given $20,500 by oil and gas interests.

The remaining co-sponsors — Reps. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.), Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Trey Radel (R-Fla.), Mark Amodei (R-N.V.), Tom Graves (R-Ga.), Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Ann Wagner (R-Mo.), Lynn Westmoreland (R-Mo.), Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.) and Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) — received almost $226,000 combined from the industry.

The second bill, the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act, which passed in the House with a vote of 235-188 today, would amend the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to boost energy exploration and development on the outer continental shelf.

Many of the same players are involved. It’s sponsored by industry favorite Hastings, and Cramer, Lamborn and Duncan are all among the bill’s 11 cosponsors, as is Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas). Oil and gas was the top industry donor for all five of them, contributing more than $608,000 in all to their 2012 campaigns.

It was the second-ranking industry for three cosponsors, Reps. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) ($42,000) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) (more than $108,000) as well as Mullin (almost $79,000).

And it came in third in 2012 for Reps. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), who received more than $92,000 and more than $35,000, respectively.

The other cosponsors were Reps. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), who took in $21,000 from oil and gas in 2012 and Robert Wittman (R-Va.), who has received more than $47,000 from oil and gas throughout his career.
However successfully the industry has invested in the House, the Senate hasn’t acted on similar bills, and the White House strongly opposes both.


video at:


June 20, 2013 (note earlier date)

Senator: Coastal states getting raw deal with federal drilling dollars (video)
Posted on June 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm by Jennifer A. Dlouhy

Sen. Mary Landrieu isn’t picking a fight with Wyoming, and she says she has nothing against the Great Plains state.

But the Democratic senator from Louisiana insists Wyoming is exhibit A for her argument that coastal states are getting a raw deal when it comes to collecting federal dollars tied to energy development.

After all, she notes in a new web video that highlights the disparity, in 2011, Wyoming was able to keep nearly $1 billion of the $2.1 billion that energy companies paid the federal government for oil and gas production in the state. At the same time, Louisiana held on to just $26.7 million, out of $5.7 billion that was paid to the federal government for oil and gas harvested in Gulf of Mexico waters near its shores.

The video, released Wednesday, insists this is “an unfair situation,” and touts Landrieu’s preferred solution: legislation she sponsored with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that would put coastal and inland states on more even footing.

The measure would expand an existing offshore energy revenue sharing program that is set to begin in 2017 and is limited to four Gulf Coast states (including Texas) so that every state with ocean views can participate and collect up to 37.5 percent of the money. Known as the FAIR Act, the bill also would allow the program to start right away, gradually phase out a $500 million cap on the amount of offshore energy revenues that can be shared with coastal states.

According to one catchy line in Landrieu’s new video, the bill also would treat all forms of energy equally, allowing dollars to be divided up among states whether they come from “oil or gas, wind or wave, onshore or offshore.”

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is expected to hold a hearing on the Landrieu-Murkowski bill in early July. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the panel chairman, has signaled his support – no doubt partly because the latest version of the legislation would allow states to capitalize on renewable energy developments near their shores.

But the proposal is controversial, particularly among offshore drilling foes, who believe the lure of revenue could encourage cash-strapped states to support oil and gas development in nearby waters.

In a March letter to Wyden and Murkowski, eight senators insisted they would “vigorously oppose any effort that expands or provides further incentive for offshore oil and gas drilling in areas where drilling is currently prohibited.”

The critics stress that offshore oil spills don’t linger in one space; instead, they threaten beaches, tourism and coastal economies far from the original site. “Revenue sharing is inherently inequitable because it compensates a single state while other nearby states bear the risk, without receiving any resources to mitigate that risk,” the group said.

Landrieu actually uses a similar argument to push for her bill. She says the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster underscored the potential danger for coastal communities that sustain oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico – and illustrates the need for them to cash in on more of the development: “The Gulf contributes to the U.S.’ energy security and economic vitality. One-third of domestic seafood is produced in the Gulf. It drains 40 percent of the North American continent. And the oil and gas produced off its shores fuels cars, heats homes, keeps the lights on and creates hundreds of thousands of jobs. To keep doing all of these critical things, coastal communities deserve a fairer partnership with the federal government to make their communities more resilient,” the narrator in her web video says. “The revenues kept in Louisiana under the FAIR Act will allow it to rebuild its eroding coast, protect its coastal communities from storms, create jobs and preserve a unique and treasured culture.”

Broader offshore energy legislation pending in the House of Representatives contains a similar revenue sharing proposal. But that bill is controversial because it would also force the Obama administration to sell oil and gas leases off the coasts of California, South Carolina and Virginia.

The issue could end up being a thorny one for Senate Democratic leaders. Despite the strong opposition from some Democrats – including Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. – revenue sharing could be important to the political futures of some in the party.

Landrieu and Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, (who has his own revenue-sharing proposal) both face tough reelection contests next year. For those senators, passing an offshore revenue-sharing plan could be a hit with some key voters back home. The same may also be true for some inland senators representing oil patch states, such as Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark.

Special thanks to Richard Charter


> From: “Florida Department of Environmental Protection”
> Date: June 28, 2013 11:11:02 AM EDT
> Reply-To:
> content.govdelive/6F58FB55.jpg

> CONTACT: 850.717.9282

> ~The agreement marks significant progress in maximizing funds coming to Florida~

> TALLAHASSEE -Governor Rick Scott today announced that he has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Gulf Consortium to create a process to develop Florida’s State Expenditure Plan for RESTORE funding.

> Governor Scott said, “We need to do everything in our power to make Florida communities impacted by the BP oil spill whole again – and I’m pleased to work with the Gulf Consortium to develop projects for the State Expenditure Plan. Development of a comprehensive and thoughtful plan will ensure that Florida moves towards environmental and economic recovery of the Gulf.”
> “This agreement with the Governor provides us with the opportunity to fully coordinate the collective efforts of all levels of government to restore and protect Florida’s gulf waters,” said Grover Robinson, Escambia County Commissioner and Gulf Consortium Chairman. “The Gulf Consortium is ready to get to work on a transparent plan that will best enhance the economic and environmental recovery of our coastal communities and the state of Florida.”
> The agreement lays the groundwork for the Gulf Consortium to work with Governor Scott to ensure that funding sources related to the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act) are maximized when developing a long term restoration plan for Florida. Key provisions of the Agreement established a streamlined process for review, certification by the Governor, and ultimate submission of projects and programs included in the State Expenditure Plan to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.
> The RESTORE Act, which was passed by Congress on June 29, 2012, creates the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, and establishes various funding categories. The RESTORE Act will be funded by Clean Water Act civil and administrative penalties paid by responsible parties from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Council is comprised of the five Gulf State Governors and six federal agencies. In Florida the 23 Gulf Coast Counties (Gulf Consortium) are tasked with creating the State Expenditure Plan, which can include both economic and environmental restoration projects.

Greenville Online: House passes Duncan’s Gulf drilling bill

I especially object to waiving the Frank-Dodd disclosure regulations.

The U.S. House voted Thursday to open about 1.5 million acres in the western Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling as part of an agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and promoted by Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan. / GNS
Written by
Mary Orndorff Troyan
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House voted Thursday to open about 1.5 million acres in the western Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling as part of an agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and promoted by Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan.

If approved by the Senate, the bill would implement a 2012 deal between the U.S. and Mexico to allow offshore drilling along their maritime border, an area believed to hold up to 172 million barrels of oil and 304 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

“We’re willing to say the administration got this one right,” Duncan, of Laurens, said Wednesday during a meeting with House GOP leaders. “This is another step toward lessening our dependence on foreign oil.”

The House vote was 256-171, mostly along party lines. Voting yes were 228 Republicans and 28 Democrats.

Despite its bipartisan origins, Duncan’s bill was controversial. Democrats objected because Republicans added a provision to exempt American companies from having to disclose payments made to foreign governments.

Exempting American energy companies from having to publicly report payments to Mexico “directly and negatively impacts U.S. efforts to increase transparency and accountability, particularly in the oil, gas and minerals sectors,” according to a White House statement.

The disclosure requirements are part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

“This (exemption) would allow big oil companies to make secret deals with the government of Mexico,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. “Rather than expediting things here, we’re messing them up.”

The White House did not threaten a veto of Duncan’s bill, but House Democrats predicted it would not pass the Senate with the disclosure waiver included.

Duncan, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, defended the Dodd-Frank waiver as a way to prevent foreign companies from gaining a competitive advantage.

“These changes will ensure that American energy development will go forward,” Duncan said.

Democrats support a Senate version of the bill that would implement the drilling agreement without waiving financial disclosure requirements.

The agreement, signed in February 2012 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then-Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, would end the drilling moratorium in the Western Gap portion of the Gulf. It would allow U.S. companies to collaborate with the Mexican national oil company, PEMEX, to explore and develop the area. And it includes provisions for sharing royalties and a joint commitment to safety and environmental protection, including more rig inspections.

The agreement could be followed by others involving maritime boundaries with Canada, Russia, the Bahamas and Bermuda.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

WWLTV-New Orleans: Gulf Oil Spill–Massive tar mat found along La. coast
Posted on June 25, 2013 at 8:35 PM
Updated yesterday at 9:26 PM

NEW ORLEANS — Three years after the Deepwater Horizon spill, workers have dug up a massive tar mat found along the Louisiana coast.

The huge chunk of oil residue mixed with wet sand is about 165 feet long by 65 feet wide, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

It was found under the surf off of Isle Grand Terre, about 90 miles south of New Orleans.
It weighs more than 40,000 pounds, though the Coast Guard says more than 85 percent of that is sand, shells and water.

Louisiana is the last state where BP is still cleaning up after the spill.

Earlier this month, BP and the Coast Guard said the clean-up was over in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.

BP has reportedly recovered more than 2.7 million pounds of waste from Louisiana shores so far this year, with residual oil making up between 5 to 15 percent of the total weight.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: Critics: Obama’s Plan Fails Urgency Climate Crisis Demands
Published on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 by Common Dreams

President should renounce “all of the above” energy strategy and nation’s reliance on dirty fossil fuels, say environmentalists
– Sarah Lazare, staff writer

At a Tuesday George Washington University speech on climate change, President Obama is feeling the heat (Photo: Charles Dharapak/The Associated Press)Environmentalists warn that President Obama’s ‘climate plan’—announced Tuesday in a speech at Georgetown University—does not contain the urgency required by the fast-spiraling crisis of global warming and climate change and that though some aspects were welcome, the overall approach falls well short of what’s needed.

The plan hinges on Obama’s claim that he plans to use his presidential powers to override a Congress under ‘partisan deadlock’ and order the Environmental Protection Agency to impose carbon emissions limits on current and new power plants.

Though many of the large green groups in the US praised the push for tighter regulation on coal plants by the EPA, critics say Obama’s plan is unclear about exactly how strict these regulations will be. As an example, the president’s plan says that the EPA must be “flexible” to states’ needs, a vague directive that critics charge provides rhetorical cover for further inaction.

Furthermore, critics charge that “new” power plant regulations are hardly groundbreaking or far-reaching enough to meet the demands of the crisis. The 2007 Clean Air Act already empowered the EPA to regulate emissions for new facilities, and yet this has done little to reign in power plant emissions, which account for approximately 40 percent of U.S. carbon emissions.

The president’s only new step on this front is to propose regulations for existing plants, but critics worry that an administration that has dragged its feet so far will not make the necessary headway.

“He promised today to do something, but there is zero guarantee that he will follow through,” declared Bill Snape, senior counsel to the Center for Biological Diversity. “In reality there are so many industrial sources that need to be regulated, and the administration has been moving very slowly on all of them. It is wise to not fall prey to the flowery rhetoric. You have to really specifically look at concrete action.”

Friends of the Earth welcomed aspects of the Obama approach but said it was not the “broad, ambitious plan that is needed to combat climate change and extreme weather,” but rather a more tepid “series of actions” joined by flowery rhetoric.

“A sensible climate plan,” said Damon Moglen, climate and energy program director of Friends of the Earth, “would include a renunciation of the president’s “all of the above” energy strategy, which promotes biofuels, so-called clean coal, natural gas and dirty and dangerous nuclear power.”

“In order to address climate change,” he continued, “the president needs to focus on the ambitious development of renewable energy, energy storage and efficiency technologies while setting us on a path which clearly leaves behind the fossil fuel-based energy economy of the 20th century.”

And Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen agreed, saying that though Obama’s speech contained laudable elements there was too much that in the plan that would be “counterproductive.”

The important critique, Weissman said, was this:

Catastrophic climate change poses a near-existential threat to humanity. We need a national mobilization – and indeed a worldwide mobilization – to transform rapidly from our fossil fuel-reliant past and present to a clean energy future. We need a sense of urgency – indeed, emergency – massive investments, tough and specific standards and binding rules. Those elements, sadly, are missing from the president’s plan.

A sensible climate plan would include a renunciation of the president’s “all of the above” energy strategy, which promotes biofuels, so-called clean coal, natural gas and dirty and dangerous nuclear power. In order to address climate change, the president needs to focus on the ambitious development of renewable energy, energy storage and efficiency technologies while setting us on a path which clearly leaves behind the fossil fuel-based energy economy of the 20th century. – See more at:
he broad, ambitious plan that is needed to combat climate change and extreme weather. – See more at:
he broad, ambitious plan that is needed to combat climate change and extreme weather. – See more at:
he broad, ambitious plan that is needed to combat climate change and extreme weather. – See more at:
he broad, ambitious plan that is needed to combat climate change and extreme weather. – See more at:

On the issue of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, Obame remained nearly silent. He declared that the Administration would only move forward if it determines the pipeline is ‘in our national interest’ but did not respond to widespread demands that the project immediately halt.

The president plans to vigorously pursue nuclear energy, he states in his official climate plan. Greenpeace activists have previously slammed an approach that they say embraces unsafe energy while escalating global nuclear buildup. Greenpeace USA’s Executive Director Phil Radford declared at a previous presidential speech:

President Obama’s energy policy has already been riddled with disasters, so it’s astounding that he would encourage even greater dependence on dangerous energy sources like oil drilling and nuclear power at a time when the risks have been made all too clear. For the millions of Americans put at risk by the inherent dangers of nuclear power, or those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the Gulf oil disaster, more of the same is hardly the path toward ‘Energy Security.’ True leadership in the face of these disasters would mean setting out an energy plan that would move us away from our dependence on fossil fuels and dangerous nuclear power and instead harnessing abundant, safe and clean renewable energy.

President Obama declared that the United States must be a ‘global leader’ and work with the private industry to curb the carbon emissions of ‘developing’ nations. This is despite the fact that the Global North, with only 15 percent of the world’s population, accounts for 70 percent of greenhouse gases, and the U.S. is the second largest contributor to greenhouse gases in the world.

The president announced that he will stop providing federal dollars to build foreign coal-powered plants, unless they are ‘clean’ coal plants, or unless that country has no other viable energy option. Yet, critics charge that the concept of ‘clean’ coal is a myth.

Furthermore, he stated his intentions to expand natural gas use, including the controversial and highly polluting drilling practice known as fracking. Public Citizen’s Energy Program Director Tyson Slocum slammed this move:

His focus on fossil fuel exports – including the explicit promotion of LNG (liquefied natural gas) and his failure to curtail coal exports – threatens to undo the positive elements of the plan. By promoting LNG, the administration is moving full-speed-ahead on fracking, with no mention of how to control fugitive emissions, water contamination and other environmental problems posed by the controversial process.

The president appeared to embrace the role of private industry in curbing environmental disaster, praising large multinationals including WalMart and General Motors for ‘voluntarily’ decreasing their carbon emissions.

While many environmental groups expressed skepticism that the president’s plan will bring about real change, they praised broad, global social movements for pushing the debate even this far.

“We’re happy to see the president finally addressing climate change but the plain truth is that what he’s proposing isn’t big enough, and doesn’t move fast enough, to match the terrifying magnitude of the climate crisis,” said Snape.


Common Dreams, Center for Biologic Diversity: Obama Climate Plan Not Enough to Meet Magnitude of Global Crisis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 25, 2013 12:26 PM

CONTACT: Center for Biological Diversity
Tel: (520) 623.5252

Proposal is a Modest Step But Pollution Cuts Insufficient to Prevent Dangers Predicted by Federal Scientists

WASHINGTON – June 25 – President Obama’s new climate plan takes modest steps toward reducing carbon pollution, but the strategy announced today will not cut emissions enough to prevent catastrophic warming and extreme weather dangers predicted by federal scientists. A key point in the president’s plan is a vague directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to establish carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants — standards already required by law. The plan fails to address the Keystone XML pipeline, fracking on public lands and other dirty extreme-energy projects that could fatally undermine the climate change fight.

The Center for Biological Diversity today reiterated its call to halt Keystone XL immediately and establish a national pollution cap for carbon dioxide.

“We’re happy to see the president finally addressing climate change but the plain truth is that what he’s proposing isn’t big enough, and doesn’t move fast enough, to match the terrifying magnitude of the climate crisis,” said Bill Snape, the Center’s senior counsel.

Since Obama’s election in 2008, thousands of heat temperatures have been broken and headlines have been full of deadly floods and hurricanes, epic droughts and dire predictions from the president’s own scientists of more climate chaos to come if the crisis isn’t met with ambitious steps to reduce carbon pollution.

The pollution control measures announced by the president today are aimed at fulfilling his administration’s pledge to put the United States on the path to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 4 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. But such a reduction falls far short of what the U.S. pledged in the Kyoto Protocol and would not be enough to avert catastrophic temperature rises, according to climate scientists.

“The president, like all of us, needs to be able to look across the dinner table at his children and know he’s doing all he can to ensure they inherit a planet that’s healthy and livable,” Snape said. “This plan is a small step in the right direction but certainly begs for something bigger and bolder.”

By 2050, when today’s teenagers are in their 50s and 60s, climate change will be imposing harsh new problems on America unless deep pollution cuts are achieved, according to the draft National Climate Assessment, a federal scientific report released earlier this year:

Rising sea levels and increased risk of storm surges will threaten more than $1 trillion worth of buildings and infrastructure on the coasts.
An additional 4,300 people could be killed each year by health problems caused by increased ground-level ozone.
Yields of major U.S. crops will likely decline because of rising temperatures and increased drought and flooding.
The number of days with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit could double, posing major health risks to children and the elderly.

To achieve the necessary emission reductions, the Center is urging the Obama administration to declare carbon dioxide a “criteria pollutant” under the Clean Air Act and set a national pollution cap for CO2at no greater than 350 parts per million (ppm). Many independent scientists have concluded that atmospheric CO2levels above 350 ppm will cause catastrophic global warming.

This “carbon cap” would not require new legislation. The Center is also urging pollution caps for six other greenhouse gases, including methane and nitrous oxide.

“Strong rhetoric and politically comfortable half-measures won’t achieve what scientists tell us must be done to address the climate problem,” said Snape. “The White House can’t punt on hard climate questions, from the carbon cap to Keystone XL, Arctic drilling and fracking on public lands. It’s time for strong action and strong leadership.”
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature – to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.


June 25, 2013
(House Rules)
STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY: H.R. 2231 – Offshore Energy and Jobs Act
(Rep. Hastings, R-WA, and 11 cosponsors)

The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 2231. The bill would undermine the targeted, science-based, and regionally-tailored offshore development strategy that the American people and the States have helped develop.

The Administration is committed to promoting safe and responsible domestic oil and gas development as part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy to increase domestic production and reduce dependence on foreign oil. Since the President took office, America’s dependence on foreign oil has decreased every year, and domestic oil and natural gas production has risen every year. In 2012, American oil production reached the highest level in two decades and natural gas production reached an all-time high.

The Administration’s current five-year strategy for offshore oil and gas leasing makes all of the highest resource areas on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), including frontier areas in the Alaskan Arctic, available for exploration and development. Together, these areas contain more than 75 percent of the estimated, technically recoverable oil and gas resources in our oceans. This plan was developed following extensive input from the public, industry, States, Tribes, and others, and incorporates lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

H.R. 2231 would require the Department of the Interior to open a number of new areas on the OCS. This action would be directed without Secretarial discretion to determine whether those areas are appropriate for leasing through balanced consideration of factors such as resource potential, State and local views and concerns, and the maturity of infrastructure needed to support oil and gas development, including response capabilities in the event of an oil spill. The bill would mandate OCS lease sales along the east and west coast and elsewhere with inadequate consideration of military use conflicts and without regard for significant issues, such as State and local concerns and impacts on important commercial and recreational fisheries.

The bill also would establish unworkable deadlines and substantive and procedural limitations on important environmental review, alternatives and mitigation considerations, and other analysis that is critical to complying with laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Clean Water Act. Full compliance with these laws is important for the protection of citizens, communities, and the environment, and is necessary in order to avoid costly and time-consuming litigation.

The Administration is committed to ensuring that American taxpayers receive a fair return from the sale of public resources. As drafted, the revenue sharing provisions of H.R. 2231 would ultimately reduce the net return to taxpayers from development of the Federal resources directed to be leased under the bill. Consistent with the President’s Budget, the Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to improve the return to taxpayers from Federal energy development through royalty reforms, incentives to diligent development of oil and gas leases, and improvements to revenue collection processes not found in H.R. 2231.

Finally, while the Administration supports the statutory codification of the Administration’s reorganization of the former Minerals Management Service, the Administration does not support the structure, requirements or naming conventions proposed in H.R. 2231, which are duplicative, ineffective and result in undue expense.

If the President were presented with H.R. 2231, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.

* * * * * * * Special thanks to Richard Charter Weighing the risks of offshore drills

I am disappointed in the local NAACP for endorsing drilling in Virginia. DV

The Virginian-Pilot
© June 22, 2013

First of two parts

Under current rules, drilling for oil and gas off Virginia’s coast is a terrible idea:
– Much of the federal territory on the outer continental shelf directly off our shore actually belongs to Maryland and North Carolina for royalty purposes.
– There’s no system in place to provide revenue to any Atlantic state to help compensate for the significant risk the industry brings.
– The oil and gas business has done far too little to improve its safety record, despite major spills that caused massive damage to industries dependent on clean water.

That leaves only a few justifications – primarily jobs and energy – for the continued pursuit of platforms. Thanks to fracking, America is already awash with cheap natural gas, which previous surveys have indicated may lie off Virginia’s coast. And while offshore drilling might well create jobs in Hampton Roads, they’ll come by risking current jobs, including in the military and in tourism.
evertheless, political leaders, from Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms to Gov. Bob McDonnell, have embraced offshore drilling as a potential economic boon for our region, even without changes to the federal framework. But that would mean the oil and gas industry is willing to improve life in Hampton Roads out of the goodness of its heart and in defiance of its past performance in places like Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. Just a few petroleum-stained legislators would even dare to make such an argument, which is why legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell and U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine – and supported by McDonnell and Sessoms – seeks to fix two of the three major shortcomings of the current federal regime: The map and the royalties.

The last one – the inherent danger in drilling – still presents a real and unacceptable threat to Virginia’s military installations, its tourism industry and environment. It’s also the one over which the lawmakers have the least control.
Drilling off Virginia’s Atlantic coast remains barred by the White House in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The legislation now in the works would force the White House to lift that ban and release territory covered in “Lease Sale 220.”

Past exploration has suggested that there may be natural gas in Virginia’s outer continental shelf territory, though nobody admits to knowing for sure. That’s part of the reason a new survey is under way. Despite that uncertainty, both before Deepwater Horizon and after, Virginia’s delegation to Washington and lawmakers in Richmond have pushed to lift the barriers to drilling.

The oil and gas industry has made a huge political bet on Virginia. Even if there’s nothing there, energy companies see freedom to drill off the commonwealth as a first step toward creating momentum for platforms from Maine to Florida.
Support for drilling isn’t limited to politicians and fossil fuel interests. Last week, Virginia Beach’s chapter of the NAACP endorsed Rigell’s bill, citing the potential for jobs. “Given the unemployment rate, especially that of African Americans here in Virginia Beach and the region, we are encouraged that you are taking proactive steps toward increasing employment opportunities in this part of the commonwealth,” local President Carl Wright wrote to the congressman.

Rigell has said offshore energy production would diversify the region’s defense-dependent economy and create 18,000 jobs. What’s far less clear is how many jobs it would imperil. For the military, to which 47 percent of the region’s economy is tied, oil and gas development in Lease Sale 220 has long presented an unacceptable risk to training and operations. For that reason, the Pentagon has opposed opening most of Virginia’s coast to drilling. More on that Sunday.

To fix the problem with the map of offshore territory – Virginia’s share resembles a slim slice of pie – both the House and Senate bills would draw state boundaries differently, essentially extending Virginia’s border lines straight out to sea.
While the resulting map would greatly expand the federal territory assigned to Virginia (and presumably the amount of royalties that could flow to the commonwealth), Maryland and North Carolina would lose that territory and resulting revenue. In addition, the bill would require the rest of the nation to surrender money. Right now, there is no royalty structure for oil found off the Atlantic Coast.

The proposal would expand the royalty scheme in the Gulf of Mexico – where states get 37.5 percent of revenue from new drilling – to the Atlantic coast. Those royalties and revenues, which amount to billions of dollars, now go to the Treasury and from there to other states. Perhaps Rigell, Warner and Kaine can persuade enough other congressional delegations to forgo such a big revenue stream. Perhaps they can persuade Maryland and North Carolina (where some lawmakers also want to drill) to cede valuable offshore territory in exchange for nothing. They still can’t make an inherently risky enterprise safer, for the environment or for tourism, the second-largest economic sector in Hampton Roads.

The oil and gas industry has made some recent progress toward improving safety. But those meager efforts, combined with the industry’s poor environmental record and the still-incomplete accounting of how much oil and gas is off our shore, provide good reason to avoid betting Hampton Roads’ future. If Virginia is going to seriously consider drilling, the benefits must substantially outweigh the significant risks.
So far, it’s clear they don’t.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Times-Picayune: BP, Coast Guard criticized for trying to downgrade oil spill clean-up efforts

tar mats 2

Tar mats photographed on the beach at Elmer’s Island in September 2012, a few days after Hurricane Isaac. State officials say they are concerned more oil from the BP spill could surface after tropical storms this year. (Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority)

By Mark Schleifstein, | The Times-Picayune
Follow on Twitter
on June 19, 2013 at 11:25 PM, updated June 19, 2013 at 11:26 PM

The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority used its monthly meeting in Baton Rouge on Wednesday as a bully pulpit to criticize BP and the U.S. Coast Guard for their attempts to downgrade the continued clean-up of oiled wetlands and shoreline areas in Louisiana, in the wake of the 2010 Gulf oil spill triggered by the fatal explosion on the Macondo well.

The authority also criticized the Army Corps of Engineers for the agency’s attempts to turn over to state control completed segments of the post-Katrina New Orleans area levee system before the entire east and west bank system is determined to be complete.

The complaints about BP and the Coast Guard come a week after the company and federal agency announced that they’ve ended official “response” actions involving oil sightings in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

The public complaints are in part an effort to forestall a similar move in Louisiana, which authority Chairman Garret Graves said BP has been demanding and the Coast Guard has been threatening to do.

Coast Guard officials have repeatedly denied that they will end official clean-up efforts in Louisiana until it’s clear that contaminated shorelines are clean or that further cleanup would be more detrimental than leaving the remaining oil in place.

Drue Banta Winters, a lawyer who handles BP environmental response issues for Gov. Bobby Jindal, told the authority Wednesday that oil contamination continues to be found in patches along 200 miles of the state’s shoreline.

In April and May, 2.2 million pounds of oily material in Louisiana were collected, compared with 4,112 pounds in the other three states, she said.
A spokesman for BP said the company’s contractors continue to remove oily material from the state’s coastal area.

“We continue to make significant progress in Louisiana where most of our active cleanup activities in 2013 have focused on the barrier islands,” said BP spokesman Jason Ryan. “Over the past 6 months we have drilled over 14,000 auger holes and found that about 3 percent of the locations required any clean-up. Recovery of the material is nearly complete.

“In the marshes, the highest concentrations of oil were found primarily in Upper Barataria Bay and Middle Ground Shoal,” he said. “In Upper Barataria Bay, we have completed active cleanup and are now progressing the segments through the final inspection process.

“At Middle Ground Shoal, the area with the most remaining oiling is about a half-acre in size and includes both MC252 and non-MC252 oil,” Ryan said. BP’s Macondo well also is known as Mississippi Canyon 252, or MC252 for short.

“The Coast Guard has determined that intensive manual and mechanical treatment could do more harm than good. The (federal on-scene coordinator) is considering treatment options, including allowing this small, remote area to recover naturally,” he said. “Our operations in Louisiana will continue until the Coast Guard determines that active cleanup is complete.”

Graves said the state also is upset that the Coast Guard and BP have refused to commit to establishing a plan to inspect Louisiana beaches and wetlands for oil in the aftermath of a tropical storm or hurricane.

When Hurricane Isaac hit Louisiana last August, its storm surges and waves unearthed large quantities of oily material that had been buried beneath the sand along Grand Terre, Grand Isle, Fourchon Beach and Elmer’s Island, and oozing oil was discovered in other wetlands. Within days of the storm, BP contractors were collecting the material, a task that has continued into this year.

In public statements, BP and Coast Guard officials have said they will respond to any apparent resurfacing of oil, and have urged the public to report sightings to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center.

The criticism of the corps surfaced during a briefing by authority executive director Jerome Zeringue on the status of levees for the 2013 hurricane season, which extends through Nov. 30.

The corps has agreed to not turn over several major structures to the state, which would mean the state would be responsible for operating and maintaining them. While the state is the official local sponsor for the projects, the actual operation and maintenance would be done by local levee districts, acting under the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East and -West.

The structures include the storm surge barrier wall along Lake Borgne, which includes a navigation gate for ships and barges at the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in eastern New Orleans and a smaller navigation gate for fishing vessels on Bayou Bienvenue; a storm surge gate at the Seabrook entrance of the Industrial Canal from Lake Pontchartrain; and the West Closure Complex on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway on the West Bank, south of the confluence of the Harvey and Algiers canals.

The state and flood protection authority want the corps to operate the navigation gates at Seabrook and on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway at the Lake Borgne barrier. Legislation pending before Congress would give the corps the responsibility of running only the Lake Borgne GIWW navigation gate.

Operation of the various gates – and operation and maintenance, including grass cutting and levee lifts, along the levees – will cost millions of dollars a year.

Graves said the state has repeatedly demanded that the entire levee system should undergo a comprehensive review before the state accepts authority for it. He said the corps’ attempts to send letters to the state and local levee districts indicating individual segments of the system are being turned over conflict with that plan.

Graves said the state is concerned about a variety of issues that state officials have raised about the design of some parts of the system, including the corps decision to allow contractors to use thicker sheet piling instead of coating the pilings with a material that would resist rust.

An independent peer review that the corps promised concerning the use of the thicker sheet pilings instead of the coatings has never been completed, Graves said.

Also awaiting test results is a decision by the corps on how to “armor” earthen levee segments to assure that storm surge doesn’t cause erosion. Tests on an East Bank levee in St. Charles Parish and a West Bank levee in Jefferson Parish of a fabric material through which grass grows is not yet complete.


Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: OFFSHORE DRILLING: Landmark settlement aims to protect Gulf whales and dolphins

Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporters
Published: Friday, June 21, 2013

Conservation groups, the Interior Department and oil and gas representatives yesterday reached a landmark settlement that will place restrictions on the use of seismic surveys to protect vulnerable populations of whales and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.

The settlement focuses on the use of high-intensity air guns, which fire air into the water every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks and months at a time. The technology is critical to prospecting in the Gulf of Mexico for new places to drill.

Advocates including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Gulf Restoration Network allege that the blasts — which are sometimes as intense as dynamite — threaten bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales, both of which have experienced die-offs since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.

“Today’s agreement is a landmark for marine mammal protection in the Gulf,” said Michael Jasny of NRDC. “For years this problem has languished, even as the threat posed by the industry’s widespread, disruptive activity has become clearer and clearer.”

The environmental groups filed their lawsuit in 2010 in a Louisiana federal court. They claimed that the blasts disrupted the whales, dolphins and other ocean species that rely on sound to feed, mate and navigate, though industry groups strongly dispute that characterization.

The environmentalists claimed that Interior violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act when it permitted the use of air guns without preparing an environmental impact statement.

Several industry groups, however, pushed back on the lawsuit and NRDC’s claims. Moreover, Chip Gill, president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, classified the settlement as a “huge victory” because his members were already implementing many of its terms.

The lawsuit, he said, contained “numerous outlandish and unsubstantiated allegations. The environmental groups can’t prove them, so they are settling.”

Gill said a worst-case scenario would have been for the court to throw out Interior’s 2004 National Environmental Policy Act review. If that happened, permits could have been revoked or a hold could have been placed on future permits. None of that is part of yesterday’s settlement, he said.

Sperm whales and bottlenose dolphins have experienced significant and unexplained die-offs in the Gulf of Mexico since the 2010 spill. Environmentalists have sought to point the finger at the spill, but government scientists are continuing to study the cause, and the air guns are seen as a confounding variable in solving the problem.

The settlement prohibits the use of air guns in biologically important areas, such as the DeSoto Canyon, which is particularly important to endangered sperm whales. The canyon is also critical to Bryde’s whales.

Under the agreement, industry also may not use air guns along coastal areas during the main calving season of bottlenose dolphins between March 1 and April 30, and the settlement requires a minimum separation distance between surveys.

Additionally, the settlement, which still must be approved by the court, requires the use of listening devices to make sure the air guns aren’t disrupting marine mammals.

“The settlement not only secures new protections for whales and dolphins harmed by deafening air guns but also establishes a process for investigating alternatives to air gun surveys,” said Ellen Medlin of the Sierra Club, referring to a mandated Bureau of Ocean Energy Management report on new standards and multiyear research project to be developed on an less harmful alternative.

“As a result,” Medlin said, “the settlement not only delivers immediate benefits for Gulf marine mammals, but also takes the first step towards a long-term solution.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Louisiana Weekly: Terrebonne tribe struggles to preserve its way of life

I hope the Corps of Engineers uses their resources to help these native tribes remain on traditional lands but it may be inevitable that they move further inland as others have had to do. Coastal erosion in this area has been rampant for wayyyyyyyy tooooo long due to the loss of marshlands from offshore oil activities. DV

17th June 2013

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

Theresa Dardar, a member of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe in Terrebonne Parish, is down to the last bag of shrimp she froze in late April 2010 after the BP spill. The state opened the shrimp season early that spring before oil began lapping at the coast. Her husband Donald, a commercial fishermen, hauled in all he could that April and May. The Dardars have worked through their frozen supplies and aren’t sure they trust fresh shrimp-something that’s always been a staple of their diet.

Pointe au Chien, 20 miles southeast of Houma on Lake Chien, is a close-knit Native American community that was hurt by the spill and a string of hurricanes. Last week, Dardar said the area’s shrimp catch is declining, some of the local fish look diseased and oiled marshes are rapidly eroding.

Residents include 68 families from the Pointe-au-Chien tribe, along with some Cajuns. “People here work mainly as commercial fishermen and a few are tugboat captains,” Dardar said. She’s a board member of GO FISH, a south Louisiana advocacy group formed after the spill. Her husband Donald is second chairman of the Pointe-au-Chien tribe.

The Dardars are distressed by what they’ve seen trawling “Last year, my brother-in-law caught a fish that didn’t have scales and threw it back,” she said. “Then my husband pulled in what we call a triple tail, and it didn’t have scales. Last summer, my husband’s uncle started to prepare a drum fish he caught but saw it had hardly any meat.”

Shrimp season opened May 13 and the catch is down for the second year in a row. “This May, my brother caught a fish that had a tumor on it when he was shrimping,” Dardar said. Her brother-in-law reeled in a puppy drum with lesions. She discussed her concerns with Louisiana State University AgCenter. “I have the puppy drum in my freezer, and LSU has agreed to pick it up for lab inspection,” she said last week. “I’m worried the lesions could be some form of cancer.”

Dardar suspects BP oil and dispersants have taken a toll on seafood. “Tests were done on our seafood in 2010 and the results weren’t good,” she said last week. “Dillard University found heavy metals in our shrimp, and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade detected cadmium in our oysters.” She wants to know whether the local catch is safe. “We want seafood in this area tested further,” she said. “And I hope the authorities will tell us the results.”

In mid-October 2010, Dillard chemistry professor Edwin Agwaramgbo, in conjunction with the Treme-based People’s Environmental Center, sampled soil, water and seafood at Pointe au Chien. They found high levels of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons in water-bed sediments. Shrimp were full of arsenic and oysters were loaded with zinc. They found high levels of copper in the Pointe’s shrimp, oysters and snails.

Oysters collected at Pointe au Chien in August 2010, and tested by Pace Analytical Service in Wisconsin in December 2010 for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, contained amounts of cadmium that greatly exceeded federal standards. Last week, Anne Rolfes, president of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade said LABB paid for that sampling at the request of the Pointe-au-Chien community. In large doses, cadmium is a human carcinogen.

Three years after the spill, all federal waters and most state waters have reopened for fishing. Federal and state officials continue to collect and test Gulf seafood. Tests show seafood in reopened areas is as safe to eat as it was before the spill, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Last week, Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries spokeswoman Laura Wooderson said “we’re doing extensive testing along the coast.” But she provided no details about findings.

Dardar and her husband, along with her brother-in-law and sister-in-law next door, are shying away from fish and shrimp now. “Other people in this community are eating seafood since the feds and state say it’s safe,” Dardar said. “And that worries me. I’m more concerned about how children might be affected by bad seafood than I am about my husband and me since we’re getting on in years.”

Bigger fish are eating smaller fish, and “the problems are just going up the food chain,” she said.

Dardar said oil remains in the Gulf and the bayous. “After shrimp season started this year, my brother-in-law and his cousin caught some tarballs,” she said. “Last year, my husband’s cousin caught a big block of oil that may have broken away from an underwater mat.”

Land at Pointe au Chien has eroded more quickly since the spill. “Oil in the bayou is killing the marsh grass,” Dardar said. “Once the grass is gone, there’s nothing to hold the dirt together.”

Dardar wants to see more attention to land loss. “A year ago, we asked Terrebonne Parish to install rif-raf to stop land erosion near a tree in our community,” she said. Rif-raf or broken cement is sometimes used to shore up land. “The parish told us they’d do it, but never did, and now the tree is dead in the water and thirty feet from land.”

Dardar said the area is known for its trees. Traditionally, it was called Pointe aux Chennes, meaning “point of the oaks.” Today, it’s name is sometimes translated as “point of the dog.”

Barrier islands near Pointe au Chien are rapidly disappearing. “We want to see our barrier islands rebuilt,” Dardar said. “In the past, they slowed incoming water and protected us. We’ve just about lost Timbalier, Whiskey and Last Islands, leaving us much more vulnerable to storms. Lower Pointe au Chien, where I live, gets water. And in recent storms that water has spread to Upper Pointe au Chien, which didn’t used to flood.”

The Dardars live ten feet above ground in a house they built with insurance money after Hurricane Juan damaged their mobile home in 1985. Lower Pointe au Chien residents need to be up high. “We had three feet of water in our yard two years ago from Tropical Storm Lee and then another three feet from Hurricane Isaac last August,” Dardar said. “That’s more than we used to flood.”

Dardar likes some of what she’s seen in the state’s 50-year Coastal Master Plan, approved by the legislature last year. “In the last community meeting I attended on the plan, Whiskey Island was going to be saved,” she said. “And I’ve been assured that the Morganza to the Gulf project will include Pointe au Chien. Depending on when it’s built, that project could protect us.”

Morganza to the Gulf is a planned, $10.3 billion system of levees and floodgates that will be funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state and local levee districts to protect Terrebonne and Lafourche Parishes from storms. The state and the parishes are building parts of the levee system now but the fed’s contribution still has to be approved. When those levees are finished, thousands of residents outside of them might be encouraged to relocate, according to planners.

Dardar said her neighboring community, Isle of Jean Charles, has been left out of the Morganza to the Gulf plan.

“We have a few, old levees here now,” she said. “But they’re not really hurricane protection. The one behind our house is eight feet high and was built after Hurricane Juan.”

Dardar said her tribe’s burial grounds lie below Pointe au Chien and aren’t included in the Morganza to the Gulf project. “We have four or five different cemeteries named after tribal leaders, and we visit them by boat,” she said. “One of our ancestral mounds is already starting to wash away.”

She explained why her tribe and other Native Americans live deep in the bayous by the Gulf. “Our ancestors were chased down here centuries ago,” she said. “Andrew Jackson said he wanted every Indian killed and our people made their way down into the boondocks.” Jackson oversaw anti-Indian campaigns before and during his two terms in the White House from 1829 to 1837.

In addition to the Pointe-au-Chien, tribes in south Louisiana include the Bayou Lafourche, Grand Caillou/Dulac and Isle de Jean Charles bands of the Biloxi-Chitimacha Confederation of Muskogees, or the BCCM.

The Pointe-au-Chien tribe adapted to its watery circumstances long ago. “Everyone comes back after a big storm here,” Dardar said. “No one has left except for some young people who got married. Our elders don’t want to move. No one I talk with wants to leave.”

But Isle of Jean Charles has considered moving somewhere else, Dardar said. “Communities in Alaska are trying to do that,” she noted. A number of Eskimo villages, threatened by melting ice as the climate warms, are considering new sites. Waves of climate refugees, moving to safer locales, are expected in the United States this decade.

This article originally published in the June 17, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Globe and Mail: Canada raises liability for offshore oil spills to $1-billion

OTTAWA – The Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Jun. 18 2013, 3:29 PM EDT
Last updated Tuesday, Jun. 18 2013, 4:11 PM EDT

The federal government will raise the bar for oil companies operating off the East Coast and in the Arctic, increasing the limit on their liability for environmental and other damage from a blowout or oil spill to $1-billion.

Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the $1-billion cap – up from $30-million in the Atlantic and $40-million in the Arctic – is part of the government’s “polluter pays” approach to resource development. But environmental groups complain it could still leave taxpayers on the hook for massive costs, noting the cleanup from BP PLC’s Gulf of Mexico spill has cost more than $40-billion.

To implement the proposed changes, Ottawa will have to amend different acts that govern offshore oil and gas development off Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and off Canada’s northern coast. It will also strengthen the ability of governments to get compensation in the event of spills, and for regulators to impose fines.

“Canada is taking steps today to improve its robust offshore regime and make it even stronger,” the minister told a news conference in Halifax, where he was joined by Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter. “As I’ve said many times, our government will ensure that development will not proceed unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment.

Last week, Mr. Oliver announced a similar plan to increase liability limits for nuclear operators, though again critics said the caps are far short of the expected cost of a major accident.

The government’s announcement comes as Enbridge Inc. is pushing back against the national energy regulator’s demand to have nearly $1-billion in liability coverage set aside for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project. Enbridge instead is calling for an industry-financed fund that would cover cleanup costs resulting from a “catastrophic oil release” from a pipeline.

The government’s proposed $1-billion cap for offshore drilling would apply to “no fault” liability, while operators would continue to face unlimited liability should they be found to be at fault or negligent. Companies will also be required for the first time to demonstrate to the regulators their financial capacity to cover $1-billion in cleanup costs should it become necessary.

“In the event of an oil spill off the coast of Canada, it’s going to be very costly to the taxpayers of Canada,” said Pierre Sadik, manager of legislative affairs for EcoJustice, an environmental advocacy group.

Mr. Sadik added that it can be difficult for governments to collect compensation when they have to prove fault or negligence in an oil spill, as is the case with unlimited liability.

At the same time, a blowout in Canadian waters could be extremely damaging and expensive to contain, given the harsh conditions, the remoteness of operations and the lack of the kind of equipment that was readily available to BP as it sought to battle the Macondo blowout in 2009.

Oceans North Canada researcher Chris Debicki said the proposal is “a step in the right direction,” and will highlight the risks of drilling in the Arctic. “But it’s impossible to put an economic figure on ecosystem destruction,” said Mr. Debicki, whose group is part of the Pew Charitable Trust.

The offshore oil industry has long been expecting the increased liability, and can work within it though it may affect smaller companies that want to explore in shallow waters, said Paul Barnes, manager for Atlantic Canada for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

“It’s something that we had been anticipating and we are seeing governments around the world undertake similar initiatives to modernize and make improvements to their regulatory regime, especially in light of disasters that have occurred in recent times,” Mr. Barnes said. “There is nothing in it that really concerns us.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Sun Herald: 5-year-old among many groups to weigh in on funding for Gulf Restoration


BILOXI — One of the most effective people at Tuesday night’s meeting on the RESTORE Act didn’t have a great speaking voice, a polished presentation or a bunch of political connections.

Annika Smith of Biloxi did have the exuberance of a 5-year-old and one very connected pal — Justin Ehrenwerth, who eight days ago became chairman of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

“Before I say anything else, I have to tell you about the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in my eight days and it happened just a few minutes ago,” said Ehrenwerth, the Commerce Department’s representative on the council. “There is a young girl and I don’t know if she’s still here, she may have had to leave Š there she in the back, she’s waving. I hope you can see Annika in the back.”

And just like that, most of the several hundred people Coast Convention Center met Annika, the little girl bouncing up and down and waving wildly.

“I’ve been talking about Annika a long time. She was here when we were here in February and she was handing out these buttons that say
‘Restoring our Ecosystem Restores Our Economy.”

Ehrenwerth said at that meeting he couldn’t wait to get his button, but before he got the chance Annika’s bedtime arrived and she had to leave. But she’d heard the request.
“She wrote me the nicest letter in my favorite color of crayon — thank you for that — and included a few stickers. I’ve been really looking forward to this and hoping you’d be here tonight. So thank you for being here.”

Later she said she was handing out the stickers (“They’re not buttons, they’re stickers”) for a friend, Mark LaSalle, the director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point. She said after she sent Ehrenwerth his sticker, he sent her a thank-you note.
“That was nice,” she said.

A parade of ideas

Then came a parade of people — someone from just about every activist organization on the Coast, it seemed — to give their thoughts on the council’s draft plan to spend money the government has received and will receive in the wake of the BP oil disaster. There was the Audubon Society, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Steps Coalition, Boat People SOS, Oxfam, the Sierra Club, Gulf Restoration Network, Women of the Storm, Ocean Conservancy, Asian Americans for Change, Nature Conservancy and others.

One theme that emerged was similar to Annika’s stickers — restoration and economic development go hand in hand.

Avery Bates of the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama commended Mississippi for rebuilding the oyster reefs.

“It’s a major, major improvement to the environment, the ecosystem, because of the work that that little oyster does,” he said. “And he’s wonderful eating. And we like to feed the people in Alabama and Mississippi, where many of our people have to come to make a living. We literally have thousands and thousands of people who depend on us for their seafood. And we want to commend you for starting off right by building back not only the ecosystem but also the economy.”

Distrust remains

But another theme was equally evident. There was skepticism, in some cases outright distrust, that the people would ever know how the money was spent or that it would be spent on projects that have nothing to do with restoration.

“The state of Mississippi is going to be completely oriented toward figuring out ways to pour concrete, build buildings and help the contractor buddies who helped get them into office,’ said Steve Shepard, Gulf Coast Group chair of the Sierra Club. “That’s the way the state of Mississippi works.”

Mike Murphy of The Nature Conservancy said one way to help ensure the money was allocated fairly would be to develop a ranking system “that is transparent.”
Many of the Vietnamese were worried they were being left out because the draft plan wasn’t translated and the meeting was being held the day shrimp season started, when many were out on their shrimp boats.

Grace Scire of Boat People SOS said her organization had finished a translation just the night before. She, too, urged the council to send out its meeting notices in more than just English.

About the plan

The plan, which provides a broad outline of the process to apply for RESTORE Act money and describes the process for the approval of each state’s plan to spend BP money, could be finished as early as July, officials at the meeting said. It also sets broad goals for restoration of the Gulf.

The council was established by the act and comprises the governors of the five Gulf states and officials from six federal agencies: Agriculture, Army, Commerce, EPA, Homeland Security and Interior.

The council’s website says it will soon:
– Refine its objectives and criteria for evaluating projects

– Establish advisory committees

– Develop regulations for allocating oil-spill money

– Release a schedule for submitting proposals

– Publish a list of programs and projects that will be funded over the next three years

– Adopt a 10-year funding strategy for money expected to be provided by the companies responsible for the disaster

Special thanks to Richard Charter

BBC: Brazil ‘on alert’ over an oil spill from Ecuador

9 June 2013 Last updated at 22:38 ET

Aerial view of the oil spill in Ecuador’s Amazonian region Petroecuador says it will clean up the spill

Brazil is “on alert” over an oil spill that originated in Ecuador and is travelling downstream towards the Brazilian Amazon.

In a statement, the Brazilian foreign ministry said the navy and other agencies had been informed, and help was offered to Ecuador and Peru. Last month, an estimated 11,480 barrels of oil leaked from a damaged pipeline into the River Coca in Ecuador.

The spill has already reached the Peruvian Amazon region of Loreto. “Ibama (Brazilian Institute of Environment), Brazil’s navy and ANP (National Petroleum Agency) are on alert in the event that the oil slick reaches the country,” Brazil’s foreign ministry said. “Brazil has offered aid to Ecuador and Peru to support the work of containment and dispersion of the oil slick in the two countries.”

Peru also affected

On 31 May, a landslide damaged the trans-Ecuador pipeline, causing a spill of some 420,000 gallons (1.6m litres) of crude oil. Some entered the Coca river, a tributary of the Amazon that also flows through Peru and Brazil. As it travelled downstream, the slick polluted drinking water in Coca, an urban area of about 80,000 people at the confluence of the Coca and Napo rivers in Ecuador.

Aerial picture showing oil flowing in the Napo river The spill polluted drinking water supplies

Days later, on 4 June, the authorities in Peru said the spill had reached the Loreto region. The Peruvian Environment Minister, Manuel Pulgar Vidal, called it a “very serious problem” and said Peru could seek compensation. “If there is a serious level of affected areas, international law always gives you the possibility to establish a compensation issue. “But… first we have to look at the extent of the problem,” he told Peru’s Canal N television.

On Saturday, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador offered an apology to Peru “for the problems we have caused”. He added that the Peruvian navy were helping Ecuador to clean up the spill. Ecuador’s state oil company, Petroecuador, has said it has hired a specialist US firm, Clean Caribbean & Americas, to begin clean-up operations.

Special thanks to

Times-Picayune: Gulf restoration draft plan lacks required priority list, spending allocation plan

Mark Schleifstein, | The Times-Picayune By Mark Schleifstein, | The Times-Picayune
on May 23, 2013 at 7:46 PM, updated May 23, 2013 at 8:10 PM

The federal-state body that will oversee the spending of billions of dollars in Clean Water Act fines resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Thursday released a “draft initial comprehensive plan” for spending the money on projects that will restore the coast’s natural resources and also benefit the Gulf Coast’s economy.

The 20-page document released by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, accompanied by a 112-page environmental assessment and a list of several hundred potential federal and state projects and programs that have been authorized but not yet begun, is required under the federal RESTORE Act, which dedicates 80 percent of the oil spill fine money to restoration projects along the Gulf Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. The other 20 percent goes into a trust fund to cover the cost of future oil spills.

But the plan doesn’t include a 10-year plan for allocating the money or a three-year priority list of projects and programs to be funded, both of which were required to be completed by now by the RESTORE Act.

The plan says the missed deadlines are the result of “uncertainty related to the overall amount and availability of funds deposited” in the RESTORE Act trust fund, the failure of the U.S. Treasury to issue procedures for spending trust fund money, and the council’s intent to request public input on the plan.

The five Gulf Coast states also haven’t completed development of their own plans to spend their share of the money, the report said.

Still, the plan contains a list of goals for spending the money: restore and conserve habitat, restore water quality, replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources, enhance community resilience, and restore and revitalize the Gulf economy.
As a result of a settlement of Clean Water Act civil claims with Transocean, the owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded and sank during the BP Macondo well blowout in 2010, the trust fund will receive $800 million during the next two years. It has already received $320 million of that.

Under the RESTORE Act, the council has oversight over 60 percent of that money. The council will select projects for funding using 30 percent of the money, and Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will select projects using another 30 percent. Another 35 percent of the money is paid directly to the states, and the final 5 percent is divided between two sets of science and education programs.

A federal trial that will determine the remaining Clean Water Act fines to be paid by BP or its drilling partners is in recess until September.

The companies could be liable for $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled if their behavior causing the three-month-long spill is found to be negligent, or as much as $4,300 per barrel if its found to be grossly negligent.

Based on court rulings in the case so far, and early estimates of the amount of oil spilled, the fines could total between $4 billion and $17.5 billion, although the federal judge in the case could lower either of those sums for actions taken by the parties to limit the spill’s effects.

The council also will coordinate its projects with those funded in other ways with money emanating from the oil spill. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, a Natural Resource Damage Assessment process is expected to identify several billion dollars of projects designed to restore the coast and to compensate the public for lost natural resources.

Under Transocean and BP criminal plea agreements with the federal government, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation will receive more than $2.5 billion in the next five years, with half going to projects to rebuild barrier islands and begin construction of sediment and freshwater diversions in Louisiana.

The National Academy of Sciences also received $500 million under those settlements for human health and environmental protection, including Gulf oil spill protection and response. And the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund was given $100 million from the BP criminal plea agreement for wetlands restoration and conservation, and projects benefiting migratory birds.
While the vast majority of projects governed by the comprehensive plan will be aimed at natural resources, council-selected projects may also include spending land on long-term land use planning, acquisition or preservation of undeveloped lands in coastal high-hazard areas, such as for use as buffers against storm surge and sea level rise; and for non-structural storm and surge protection. While the council has not defined “non-structural,” it generally refers to raising buildings above flood levels or buying structures in flood zones.

The states also are allowed to direct as much as 25 percent of their money to infrastructure projects, according to the draft plan, with those projects benefiting the economy or ecosystem resources, including port infrastructure.
State money also can be used for coastal flood protection and related infrastructure, including levees, promotion of Gulf seafood and tourism, including recreational fishing, and improvements to state parks located in coastal areas affected by the spill.

Garret Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s representative on the council, said he expects Louisiana to request that some of the RESTORE Act money be used to pay the costs of building the Morganza to the Gulf hurricane levee in the Houma area. Some of the money may also be used for hurricane risk-reduction projects that had been part of the Donaldsonville to the Gulf project recently rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The state’s use of money for ports could be in the form of dredging, with the dredged material used to build wetlands, Graves said. The state has unsuccessfully requested congressional funding to deepen the Mississippi River channel to 50 feet at its mouth to accommodate larger ships using the expanded and deepened Panama Canal.

But Graves said the CPRA will focus its expenditures on projects recommended by the Coastal Master Plan, which was approved by the state Legislature in 2012. Beyond some money for levees and wetland-related dredging, the state is not interested in using RESTORE Act money for infrastructure projects, he said.

“We are talking about the impacts of the nation’s worst oil spill, the future of millions of Louisianans, our economy, our fishermen and our coast — politics has no place here,” Graves said in an email messsage. “To deviate at this point would be irresponsible,” he said. “These other types of projects may be aesthetically pleasing, but they don’t function well under 15 feet of hurricane storm surge.”

The list of authorized but not built projects includes 73 in Louisiana, with 41 listed as Army Corps of Engineers projects and six as state projects. Most are projects awaiting funding under existing federal-state financed coastal restoration programs.
The council will hold public engagement sessions in each of the five Gulf states in June. with the exact locations still to be determined:

June 3, Pensacola, Fla.
June 5, Spanish Fort, Ala.
June 10, Galveston, Texas
June 11, Biloxi, Miss.
June 12, Belle Chasse
June 17, St. Petersburg, Fla.

A 30-day public comment period on the draft plan ends on June 24. Comments can be submitted on the web at a National Park Service web site. More information about the plan, and the location of the meetings, as it becomes available, will be found at .

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council releases Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy

05/23/2013 04:06 PM EDT

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council marked significant progress today with the public release of the Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy (PDF 621kb) and accompanying Draft Environmental Assessment (PDF 1.1 MB) for formal public comment. The Draft Plan provides a framework to implement a coordinated region-wide restoration effort in a way that restores, protects, and revitalizes the Gulf Coast region following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The Draft Plan establishes overarching restoration goals for the Gulf Coast region; provides details about how the Council will solicit, evaluate, and fund projects and programs for ecosystem restoration in the Gulf Coast region; outlines the process for the development, review, and approval of State Expenditure Plans; and highlights the Council’s next steps. The Council expects to release a Final Plan this summer.

Along with the release of the Draft Plan, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank and Council Chair announced today that Justin Ehrenwerth will serve as the Executive Director of the Council. These steps signify the Council’s efforts to ensure that it is ready to move efficiently and effectively to implement a restoration plan once funds are received.

“As Chair of the Council, I am proud to announce that my Chief of Staff, Justin Ehrenwerth, will move into the role of Executive Director of the Council. I can think of no better person to help the Council continue to move forward with implementing a plan that ensures the long-term health, prosperity, and resilience of the Gulf Coast,” said Council Chair Blank.

In order to ensure robust public input throughout the entire process, the Council is hosting a series of public engagement sessions in each of the five impacted Gulf States in June to give the public the opportunity to provide input on the Draft Plan and the Council’s restoration planning efforts. The 30-day formal public comment period for the Draft Plan and associated documents begins today, May 23, and ends June 24. Public meetings to discuss the Draft Plan are scheduled for the following dates and locations:

June 3, 2013: Pensacola, Florida
June 5, 2013: Spanish Fort, Alabama
June 10, 2013: Galveston, Texas
June 11, 2013: Biloxi, Mississippi
June 12, 2013: Belle Chasse, Louisiana
June 17, 2013: St. Petersburg, Florida

To view or provide comments on the Plan and associated documents and to get additional details on the upcoming public meetings as they become available, please visit

Comments can be submitted here:

Background on the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council
The Council, which was established by the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourism, Opportunities Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act), will help restore the ecosystem and economy of the Gulf Coast region by developing and overseeing implementation of a Comprehensive Plan and carrying out other responsibilities. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused extensive damage to the Gulf Coast’s natural resources, devastating the economies and communities that rely on it. In an effort to help the region rebuild in the wake of the spill, Congress passed the bipartisan RESTORE Act. The Act dedicates 80 percent of any civil and administrative penalties paid under the Clean Water Act by responsible parties in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund (the Trust Fund) for ecosystem restoration, economic recovery, and tourism promotion in the Gulf Coast region.

Draft Initial Plan (PDF 621kb)
Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PDF 1.1MB)
Appendix A – Background Information – Preliminary List of Authorized but Not Commenced Projects and Programs (PDF 258kb)

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Center for Biologic Diversity, Surfrider, Pacific Environment: Settlement Protects Sea Turtles, Whales, Other Rare Wildlife From Oil-spill Dispersants


For Immediate Release, May 30, 2013
Deirdre McDonnell, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6404
Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation, (949) 492-8170
Kevin Harun, Pacific Environment, (907) 440-2443

SAN FRANCISCO- A court settlement filed today requires the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure that toxic oil-dispersing chemicals used in federal waters off California will not harm sea turtles, whales and other endangered species or their habitats. Conservation groups sued to force the government to determine the dispersants’ safety for endangered species prior to their use – not afterward, as occurred during 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“We shouldn’t add insult to injury after an oil spill by using dispersants that put wildlife and people at risk. During the BP oil spill, no one knew what the long-term effects of chemical dispersants would be, and we’re still learning about their harm to fish and corals,” said Deirdre McDonnell of the Center for Biological Diversity, which brought suit with Surfrider Foundation and Pacific Environment. “People can avoid the ocean after an oil spill, but marine animals can’t. They’re forced to eat, breathe, and swim in the chemicals we put in the water, whether it’s oil or dispersants.”

Dispersants are chemicals used to break oil spills into tiny droplets. In theory, this allows the oil to be eaten by microorganisms and become diluted faster than if left untreated. However, dispersants and dispersed oil can also allow toxins to accumulate in the marine food web. People exposed to the oil and dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico disaster have also reported suffering lasting and damaging effects.

Today’s settlement, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, requires the federal government to analyze the effects of approving the California Dispersants Plan – which authorizes the use of dispersants in the event of a spill – to determine whether these toxins would harm endangered wildlife and make sure any harm is minimized. The Endangered Species Act requires the EPA and Coast Guard to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding any activities that might affect endangered wildlife.

“The Pacific Ocean encompasses some of the most unique marine ecosystems in the world, providing habitat for many endangered and threatened species,” said Kevin Harun, Arctic Program Director for Pacific Environment. “The government needs to take the precautionary approach in order to prevent future harm to the health of the environment and people.”

“These chemical dispersants are dangerous to human health in addition to wildlife, and shouldn’t be allowed to threaten a family’s enjoyment of the beach. Surfrider Foundation members in Florida are so concerned about the aftereffects of the BP spill, they have taken it upon themselves to test the Gulf sand and coastal waters, and have found likely traces of Corexit attached to undissolved tar product in the coastal zone,” said Surfrider Foundation’s Legal Director Angela Howe.

Studies have found that oil broken apart by the dispersant Corexit 9527 damages the insulating properties of seabird feathers more than untreated oil, making the birds more susceptible to hypothermia and death. Studies have also found that dispersed oil is toxic to fish eggs, larvae and adults, as well as to corals, and can harm sea turtles’ ability to breathe and digest food.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 250,000 supporters, activists and members worldwide. For more information on the Surfrider Foundation, visit

Pacific Environment is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco that protects the living environment of the Pacific Rim by promoting grassroots activism, strengthening communities and reforming international policies. For nearly two decades, we have partnered with local communities around the Pacific Rim to protect and preserve the ecological treasures of this vital region. Visit to learn more about our work.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Hudson Valley Press Online: Environment still feeling impact of BP oil spill

May 29th, 2013

Dear EarthTalk: The three-year anniversary of the 2010 BP oil spill just passed. What do green groups think of the progress since in restoring the region?
– Mary Johannson, NY

When an undersea oil well blew out 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20, 2010 and caused an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig above it (killing 11 workers), no one knew that an even bigger disaster was yet to come. Over the next three months, 4.9 million gallons of crude poured into the water before BP could get the wellhead capped to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

According to BP, which has already spent $14 billion on clean-up and restoration, the Gulf is returning to baseline conditions prior to the disaster. “No company has done more, faster to respond to an industrial accident than BP did in response to the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010,” reports the company.

But not everybody sees the situation that way. Many environmentalists are concerned that, while BP has done a thorough job removing visible oil from the water column and surface, little has been done to repair damage to marine life and ecosystems.

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” says Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). A recent report by the group found that the three-year-old spill is still having a serious negative effect on wildlife populations in the Gulf.

For one, dolphin deaths in the region have remained above average every single month since the disaster. In the first two months of 2013, infant dolphins were found dead at six times pre-spill average rates. Says Inkley: “These ongoing deaths-particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin-are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”

Gulf dolphins aren’t the only ones suffering. NWF found that more than 1,700 sea turtles were stranded in coastal areas of the Gulf between May 2010 and November 2012-almost three times the pre-spill rate for the animals. Researchers have also detected changes in the cellular function of Gulf killifish, a common bait fish at the base of the food chain. And a coral colony seven miles from the offending wellhead struggles due to oil and dispersants compromising its ability to rebuild itself.

“The oil disaster highlighted the gaps in our understanding of the Gulf of Mexico,” says Florida State University oceanographer Ian MacDonald. “What frustrates me is how little has changed over the past three years. In many cases, funding for critical research has even been even been cut, limiting our understanding of the disaster’s impacts.”

MacDonald and others are optimistic that a federal court will find BP accountable for further damages in a civil trial now underway. NWF says that substantially more money is needed to carry out restoration efforts vital to the biological and economic stability of the Gulf region. “Despite the public relations blitz by BP, this spill is not over,” says NWF’s David Muth. “Justice will only be served when BP and its co-defendants pay to restore the wildlife and habitats of the Mississippi River Delta and the Gulf of Mexico.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Penn Energy: New Zealand Green Party fighting offshore oil drilling

May 20, 2013
By PennEnergy Editorial Staff

The Green Party in New Zealand is placing a bid on the government’s oil and gas exploration tender in an effort to stop offshore drilling expansions. According to Radio New Zealand, the government announced it opened three offshore areas of more than 72,900 square miles for oil and gas exploration permits.

The Green Party plans to submit a competing bid for the acreage in order to protect the area from deep sea drilling and offshore exploration. Radio New Zealand said the group is calling it the Kiwi Bid, and is encouraging individuals to join the cause to prevent the government from exploiting New Zealand’s environment.

Party co-leader Metiria Turei said the government will be given a choice from the Kiwi Bid – they can move forward with offshore oil drilling or accept the bid from New Zealanders who want to protect the beaches and ocean.

According to TVNZ, the government is accusing the Green Party of scaremongering because of their opposition to the drilling.

“The fact of the matter is we want to sensibly explore and develop our resources so that there are higher paying jobs for Kiwis,” said Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges.

Learn more about New Zealand’s gas markets in PennEnergy’s research area.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Hermosa Beach Patch: Citizens Link Hands to Ban Oil Drilling

Posted by Liz Spear (Editor), May 20, 2013 at 04:45 am

A group of citizens who do not want offshore oil drilling based in Hermosa Beach joined hands Saturday around noon on the sand at 6th St. as part of a international Hands Across the Land/Hands Across the Sand event.

Should Hermosa Beach voters approve it, the city’s public works yard at 555 6th St. will become site of an oil production operation.

Locations of other Hands Across the Sands events included the Huntington Beach Pier, Cherry Beach in Long Beach, Leadbetter Beach in Santa Barbara, Santa Monica beach, Ocean Beach in San Francisco, Cowell’s Beach in Santa Cruz, the Oceanside Pier, Moonstone Beach in Cambria, Avila Beach in Avila, the Esalen Beach in Big Sur at the Esalen Institute, Rio Del Mar Beach in Aptos, Albany Beach in Albany, Shell Beach in the Sonoma Coast State Beach near Bodega Bay, Glass Beach and Noyo Beach in Fort Bragg, Stinson Beach in Stinson and the Anabolic Monument in Los Angeles.

The gatherings are aimed at eliminating and not allowing “dirty fuels and to promote clean energy,” according to a press release, as thousands of citizens unite against offshore drilling, offshore seismic testing, hydraulic fracturing, XL Pipeline, tar sands mining, coal fired power plants, and mountain top removal mining in favor of clean energy.

The Hands Across the Sand/Land events, launched in Oct. 2009 by Floridian Dave Rauschkolb, are aimed at steering America’s energy policy away from its dependence on fossil fuels and to convince leaders such as President Obama to adopt policies that encourage clean energy instead.
The events are endorsed by national environmental organizations including Surfrider Foundation, All things Healing, Gulf Restoration Network, Oceana, Sierra Club,, Conservation Law Foundation, Friends of the Earth, Defenders of Wildlife, Alaska Wilderness League, Florida Wildlife Federation and Urban Paradise Guild.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: Al Jazeera: Inside Story: The US Disconnect Over Climate Change (Video)
Published on Monday, May 20, 2013 by Al Jazeera
Inside Story: The US Disconnect Over Climate Change
Amid growing scientific proof that global warming is man-made, we look at why the public gives credence to the skeptics.

“The disinformation campaign can only survive for so long. We saw, as in the case of tobacco, there was a similar disinformation campaign decades ago to obscure the science and the scientific link between the use of tobacco products and lung cancer. But eventually the truth of what the science had to say became accepted. There are some positive signs that we are moving in that direction; the rest of the world is moving increasingly towards renewable energy …. We are lagging behind but we are slowly making progress ourselves.”

– Michael Mann, director of Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center
© 2013 Al Jazeera Scary News: Carbon Dioxide Level Highest In 3 Million Years

by Judy Molland
May 14, 2013
6:00 am

Read more:

It’s official, and it’s scary: on May 9, the daily average concentration of climate-warming carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere passed the milestone level 400 parts per million for the first time in human history.

Hooray for us humanoids. We are destroying our planet even faster than we realized, and we are moving into uncharted territory.

By analyzing fossil air trapped in ancient ice, along with other data, researchers have determined that the last time levels were this high was at least three million years ago, during the Pliocene epoch, long before the evolution of modern humans (that happened in East Africa, about 200,000 years ago). At the Pliocene time the Arctic was ice-free, the Sahara was covered in savannah, and the sea level was over 100 feet higher than it is today.

They believe that the Pliocene era conditions will return, with devastating consequences for human life, if emissions of CO2 from the burning of coal, gas and oil are not rapidly cut back.

We Have Failed Miserably On Climate Change

From The Guardian:

“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading.

Ralph Keeling, who runs another monitoring program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said a continuing rise could be catastrophic. “It means we are quickly losing the possibility of keeping the climate below what people thought were possibly tolerable thresholds,” he said.

It’s not as if we haven’t been warned. A definitive scientific report in 2011 warned that extreme weather events linked to climate change will continue around the world in coming decades; President Obama spoke at his party’s convention in 2012 about his plan to continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet; the tab for last year’s extreme weather events in the U.S. will rise to well over $100 billion; the ice is melting in the Arctic.

We’ve been hearing these warnings for years, although of course if you live in Kansas or Oklahoma, your lawmakers will be encouraging you to deny the evidence.

But what we do know is that virtually every automobile ride, every plane trip and, in most places, every flip of a light switch adds carbon dioxide to the air, and relatively little money is being spent to find and deploy alternative technologies. And despite all the warnings, global emissions of CO2 continue to soar.

China Now The Largest Emitter Of CO2

According to The New York Times, China is now the largest emitter, but Americans have been consuming fossil fuels for far longer, so that means the United States is more responsible than any other nation for the high level.

What do the experts say?

From The Guardian:

“It is symbolic, a point to pause and think about where we have been and where we are going,” said Professor Ralph Keeling, who oversees the measurements on a Hawaian volcano, which were begun by his father in 1958. “It’s like turning 50: it’s a wake up to what has been building up in front of us all along.”

I wonder how long it will take for things to get shockingly bad before they get better.

Need To Fight Big Oil And Big Coal

A Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe has called climate change a hoax. He isn’t the only one representing the interests of Big Oil. There are many barons of industry, including the Koch brothers, who seem to not care at all about the future of our planet, or of humanity. As long as they can make a profit from fossil fuels, they are happy.

Perhaps our first step should be to work at limiting their power, and getting rid of the politicians who take money from them.

The extreme speed at which CO2 in now rising, perhaps 75 times faster than in pre-industrial times, has never been seen in geological records, and only by striving to reduce global emissions can we avoid the consequences of turning the climate clock back 3 million years.

This is a grim milestone. All our efforts at conservation, recycling, growing sustainable crops, are admirable, but only governments can make the big changes that are necessary to significantly reduce global emissions of CO2.

It’s time for change.

What do you think?

E&E: House Dems decry continuing violations in Gulf of Mexico

Laura Petersen, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, May 10, 2013

Oil companies continue to rack up safety violations in the Gulf of Mexico three years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, House Natural Resources Committee Democrats said in a report released today.

Companies with the most “major environmental and safety” violations before the 2010 spill continue to have some of the worst records, the report says.

Ranking member Ed Markey (D-Mass.) urged Congress to toughen monitoring and impose heavier penalties to deter risky practices.

“We need to make sure these companies change their ways and pay a price for their risky practices,” Markey said in a statement.

The report, “Dangerous Drillers: Offshore Safety Lapses Continue Three Years After BP Spill,” is based on Interior Department data comparing accidents, inspections, safety violations and civil penalties before and after the 2010 disaster.

Markey also released letters he sent to BP PLC and U.S. EPA, faulting the oil company for failing to provide information requested by Congress after the 2010 Gulf spill.

Markey advised EPA to not lift BP’s debarment from federal contracts until the company provides the requested information.

“First, BP lied to Congress when I asked for information about the amount of oil being spilled into the Gulf,” Markey wrote. “Now, BP won’t provide me information about why company officials lied. Until it comes clean and cleans up its act, the government should not be in business with BP.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

BLM Postpones Oil & Gas Leases; cites sequester as cause

United States Department of the Interior
California State Office
2800 Cottage Way, Suite W 1623
Sacramento, CA 95825

May 3, 2013

NOTICE: BLM Postpones Oil and Gas Lease Sales Due to budget constraints resulting from the sequester and an emphasis on the higher priorities for conducting Inspection & Enforcement on existing leases and processing new Applications for Permit to Drill.

The Bureau of Land Management has postponed all oil & gas lease sales for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2013 (September 30, 2013).
For questions regarding the postponement of the lease sales, contact Laurie Moore at the BLM California State Office, (916) 978-

James G. Kenna,
State Director

The Lens–LSU study: Damaged minnow shows BP oil seeping into coastal food chain & Huffington Post: Corexit, Oil Dispersant Used By BP, Is Destroying Gulf Marine Life, Scientists Say

The Lens–LSU study: Damaged minnow shows BP oil seeping into coastal food chain
By Bob Marshall, Staff writer April 30, 2013 11:45am

A minnow considered the canary in Louisiana’s coastal ecosystem can’t shake the hydrocarbon cough it picked up when BPs oil started washing ashore three years ago.

Recent studies on new generations of the Gulf killifish, a marsh minnow diagnosed with signs of oil poisoning in 2010, shortly after the Macondo blowout began, confirm that hydrocarbon toxins remain in marsh sediments and continue to cause biological impairments that were precursors for species-wide collapses in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez spill.

The results have no implication for seafood safety because the levels of toxins detected are well below those considered hazardous for seafood consumption, the researchers said.

While the killifish is best known locally as the “cocahoe minnow,” a bait fish favored by anglers, researchers consider it the equivalent of the proverbial canary in a coal mine, a keystone species in the food chain that can give early warnings of problems for the entire system.

Andrew Whitehead, who in 2010 led an LSU team studying adult killifish from heavily oiled areas of Barataria Bay, said at the time, “We were detecting cellular responses to toxins that are predictive of impairment of reproduction and embryo development.”

Now, follow-up lab research on killifish embryo have confirmed those fears.

“They had the same hallmark signature impacts of cardiovascular toxicity as the adults. There was an accumulation of fluid around the heart, depressed heart rates and decreased hatching success.” – Andrew Whitehead
The research team exposed one group of embryo to sediments collected from heavily oiled areas of the bay and another group to sediments from areas that were not impacted.

“We know that early life stages, especially in fish, are very sensitive to the effects of oil, and we know that many animals (in the Gulf ) use these estuaries for the early stages of life and will be exposed to these sediments,” Whitehead said. “So we wanted to bring the research into the lab with a control group to see what the results would be, especially more than a year later.”

The embryos exposed to uncontaminated sediments showed no abnormalities, but those exposed to the oil-impacted sediments displayed many of the same developmental impairments detected in the adult fish during the first project, researchers found.

“They had the same hallmark signature impacts of cardiovascular toxicity as the adults,” Whitehead said. “There was an accumulation of fluid around the heart, depressed heart rates and decreased hatching success.”

The researchers were looking for signs that the embryos were impacted by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), components of oil that are known carcinogens and that can persist for more than 50 years in ecosystems hit by oil spills. As in the first study, the levels recorded in this project were either trace or “undetectable” – the term used when a toxin does not register in water samples but animals exhibit biological responses that are symptomatic of exposure.

The responses shown by killifish embryos to such low levels of PAHs reinforced concern that trouble could be waiting down the line for economically more valuable species.

Whitehead, now at the University of California at Davis, said the concern wasn’t about the toxins accumulating in predators such as speckled trout and redfish that consume killifish, but that long-lasting PAHs could have biological impacts that may show up in future generations of a whole range of creatures that live close to and on the marsh bottom, such as shrimp, crabs and oysters.

“A lot of the (PAHs) have sunk into sediments in the marshes in Barataria Bay and get redistributed into the water column every time it gets windy,” he said. “So all animals that use shallow water in these estuaries will be exposed.”

A cause for hope, he said, is that only a handful of places across the vast Louisiana coast were heavily hit by the oil. That could mean large populations of killifish and other species were unaffected.

“So the hope would be animals that inhabit areas that were not heavily hit will be able to provide unaffected populations that can buffer the harm done in the affected area,” Whitehead said.
“Of course, we don’t know that, and that’s why we need to continue to monitor this.”

Whitehead repeated a concern voiced in 2010 that enough research should be done on the biology of the species being examined rather than just their safety for human consumption.

“As these studies show, you can have levels of these toxins that are no threat to humans, but can cause serious problems for a whole range of animals living in the ecosystem with just a very small level of contamination,” Whitehead said. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of research published on the biology of animals post-spill. That concerns me.”

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More from this author
Bob Marshall covers environmental issues for The Lens, with a special focus on coastal restoration and wetlands. While at The Times-Picayune, his work chronicling the people, stories and issues of Louisiana’s wetlands was recognized with two Pulitzer Prizes and other awards. In 2012 Marshall was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Loyola University School of Communications Den of Distinction. He can be reached at (504) 232-5013.


Huffington Post: Corexit, Oil Dispersant Used By BP, Is Destroying Gulf Marine Life, Scientists Say
Posted: 04/25/2013 5:02 pm EDT | Updated: 04/25/2013 5:20 pm EDT

From TakePart’s David Kirby:
Three years ago, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon began leaking some 210 million gallons of Louisiana Crude into the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. government allowed the company to apply chemical “dispersants” to the blossoming oil slick to prevent toxic gunk from reaching the fragile bays, beaches, and mangroves of the coast, where so much marine life originates. But a number of recent studies show that BP and the feds may have made a huge mistake, for which everything from microscopic organisms to bottlenose dolphins are now paying the highest price.

After the spill, BP secured about a third of the world’s supply of dispersants, namely Corexit 9500 and 9527, according to The New York Times. Of the two, 9527 is more toxic. Corexit dispersants emulsify oil into tiny beads, causing them to sink toward the bottom. Wave action and wind turbulence degrade the oil further, and evaporation concentrates the toxins in the oil-Corexit mixture, including dangerous compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), known to cause cancer and developmental disorders.

When BP began spraying the Gulf, critics cried foul. They said Corexit is not only toxic to marine life on its own, but when combined with crude oil, the mixture becomes several times more toxic than oil or dispersant alone.

Not surprisingly, BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley defended use of the dispersant. “The toxicity of Corexit is about the same as dish soap, which is effectively what it is and how it works,” he told stockholders. “In hindsight no one believes that that was the wrong thing and it would have been much worse without the use of it. I do not believe anybody-anybody with almost common sense-would say waves of black oil washing into the marshes and beaches would have been a better thing, under any circumstances.”

BP says that Corexit is harmless to marine life, while the Environmental Protection Agency has waffled, saying both that “long term effects [of dispersants] on aquatic life are unknown” and that data “do not indicate any significant effects on aquatic life. Moreover, decreased size of the oil droplets is a good indication that, so far, the dispersant is effective.”

But many scientists, such as Dr. William Sawyer, a Louisiana toxicologist, argue that Corexit can be deadly to people and sea creatures alike. “Corexit components are also known as deodorized kerosene,” Sawyer said in a written statement for the Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery Group, a legal consortium representing environmental groups and individuals affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill. “With respect to marine toxicity and potential human health risks, studies of kerosene exposures strongly indicate potential health risks to volunteers, workers, sea turtles, dolphins, breathing reptiles and all species which need to surface for air exchanges, as well as birds and all other mammals.” When Corexit mixes with and breaks down crude, it makes the oil far more “bioavailable” to plants and animals, critics allege, because it is more easily absorbed in its emulsified state.

Sawyer tested edible fish and shellfish from the Gulf for absorption of petroleum hydrocarbon (PHC), believed to have been facilitated by Corexit. Tissue samples taken prior to the accident had no measurable PHC. But after the oil spill, Sawyer found tissue concentrations up to 10,000 parts per million, or 1 percent of the total. The study, he said, “shows that the absorption [of the oil] was enhanced by the Corexit.”

In April 2012, Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences was finding lesions and grotesque deformities in sea life-including millions of shrimp with no eyes and crabs without eyes or claws-possibly linked to oil and dispersants.

The shocking story was ignored by major U.S. media, but covered in depth by Al Jazeera. BP said such deformities were “common” in aquatic life in the Gulf and caused by bacteria or parasites. But further studies point back to the spill.

A just-released study from the University of South Florida found that underwater plumes of BP oil, dispersed by Corexit, had produced a “massive die-off” of foraminifera, microscopic organisms at the base of the food chain. Other studies show that, as a result of oil and dispersants, plankton have either been killed or have absorbed PAHs before being consumed by other sea creatures.

Hydrocarbon-laden, mutated seafood is not the only legacy left behind by Corexit, many scientists, physicians, environmentalists, fishermen, and Gulf Coast residents contend. Earlier this week, TakePart wrote about Steve Kolian, a researcher and founder of the nonprofit group EcoRigs, whose volunteer scientists and divers seek to preserve offshore oil and gas platforms after production stops, for use as artificial reefs and for alternative energy production.

EcoRigs divers took water and marine life samples at several locations in the months following the blowout. Now, they and countless other Gulf residents are sick, with symptoms resembling something from a sci-fi horror film, including bleeding from the nose, ears, breasts, and even anus. Others complain of cognitive damage, including what one man calls getting “stuck stupid,” when he temporarily cannot move or speak, but can still hear.

“If we are getting sick, then you know the marine life out in the Gulf is too,” Kolian said. The diver and researcher completed an affidavit on human and marine health used in GAP’s report.

Kolian’s team has done studies of their own to alarming results. “We recently submitted a paper showing levels of hydrocarbons in seafood were up to 3,000 times higher than safety thresholds for human consumption,” he said. “Concentrations in biota [i.e. all marine life] samples were even greater.”

Kolian’s friend and colleague, Scott Porter, described in his affidavit to GAP how Corexit had caused dispersed crude to coat the bottom of the sea in a sickening, deadly film. In July 2011, he and other divers traveled to a part of the Florida Panhandle, known as the Emerald Coast for its pristine seawater, to collect samples for the Surfrider Foundation.

“When we went diving, however, the water had a brownish white haze that resembled what we saw in offshore Louisiana at 30 feet below sea level,” Porter’s affidavit stated. “I have never witnessed anything like that since I began diving in the Emerald Coast 20 years ago. We witnessedŠa reddish brown substance on the seafloor that resembled tar and spanned a much larger area than is typical of natural runoff.”

In areas covered with the substance, “we noticed much less sea life,” Porter continued. “There were hardly any sand dollars or crabs and only some fish, whereas we would normally see an abundance of organisms. It was desolate.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

WWLTV Eyewitness News: Practice of workers covering-up Gulf oil spills widespread, whistleblower says
Posted on April 29, 2013 at 10:34 PM
Updated today at 9:56 AM

David Hammer / Eyewitness News
Email: | Twitter: @davidhammerWWL

NEW ORLEANS – It was something of an eye-opener when an oil company pleaded guilty to two environmental crimes in January.

Not because the pollution reported was anything on the scale of the BP spill, but because of the brazen cover-up involved.

The company, Houston-based W&T Offshore, admitted its workers had used coffee filters in October 2009 to clean oil and other minerals out of the water byproduct discharged overboard from their platform in the Ewing Banks 910 lease block, about 65 miles south of Port Fourchon.

They were filtering the oil out of the water samples that were sent into a lab and recorded with the federal government.

Meanwhile, the water they were dumping back into the Gulf on a constant basis stayed contaminated.

W&T also pleaded guilty to spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico in November 2009 and not reporting it to authorities, as required by law. The company agreed to pay $1 million in fines and community service for their crimes.

The case was closed. But that may have been only part of the story. Eyewitness News found the original complaint that alerted the federal authorities, and the allegations in it go beyond what’s contained in W&T’s plea agreement. In fact, according to the man who blew the whistle and others, the problem of cover-ups and out-and-out dumping is widespread and will continue to go essentially unchecked because too few offshore workers are willing to report violations.

“When you’re in the offshore industry if you want to get along, you better go along,” said Randy Comeaux of Lafayette, who was a contract employee assigned to W&T platforms in 2009. “And what happens offshore stays offshore. You break any one of those two rules, in one fashion or another, you will not be working offshore.”

Comeaux says he’s one of the few who doesn’t simply “go along,” and he’s paid the price. He said he’s been fired multiple times for reporting violations and can’t get a job offshore because of it.

That’s why environmentalists and members of Congress say federal whistleblower protections have to be strengthened to protect the people who are trying to protect the public from more pollution.

“Why not just sweep it overboard? Nobody’s ever gonna see it. I mean, most people are never out here,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, one of several environmental groups that began flying offshore to monitor rigs and platforms after the 2010 BP spill. “Until the monitoring consortium really started looking, we had no clue how much oil and how many oil slicks we were going to find — how much oil we actually find every month.”

Comeaux said he first learned how to doctor water samples to trick the feds back in 1980. He admitted he filtered some of the samples himself before realizing how his actions were helping to pollute the Gulf of Mexico.

We also tracked down one of the workers Comeaux caught doctoring the water samples on W&T’s Ewing Banks 910 platform – Jason Bourgeois of Centreville, Miss. Bourgeois blamed his supervisors for teaching him the practice and encouraging it over the last nine years. He also said this kind of thing has been going on at W&T platforms for decades – and sometimes, the doctoring is even more blatant than a coffee filter.

“You get about a couple inches in the jug of your overboard water and the rest is basically Kentwood,” Bourgeois said. “You fill the rest of the jug with Kentwood water. Then it’s sent into a laboratory.”

When we asked why someone would use bottled water when they were already filtering the actual water that came out of the production equipment, Bourgeois said it would take hours to filter an entire water sample. He said a W&T foreman once told him that he sent the laboratory a sample that was all Kentwood, and it passed.

Long-standing practice
Bourgeois’ grandfather, M.J. Smith, said his late son, Mike Smith, worked for W&T more than 10 years ago and also doctored processed water samples. Smith said his son, who was Bourgeois’ uncle, would take water from his well during his time off and gather it to use during his next hitch offshore, to create cleaner samples.

W&T said in a statement that the “doctoring of water samples in 2009 is an isolated incident, something the contract workers on EW910 did on their own, violating W&T Offshore procedures and without the knowledge of their supervisors.”
But Bourgeois said he and others at W&T were pressured to clean the samples by their supervisors.

“We knew it wasn’t right,” he said. “But it was the fact of, do it this way or we’ll get somebody else that will.”

Specifically, Bourgeois blames his field foreman, Mike Lofton – who, incidentally, was also Bourgeois’ uncle’s boss at W&T. Lofton was stationed on a W&T headquarters platform about halfway back to shore from the Ewing Banks platform Bourgeois worked on. Bourgeois and Comeaux said Lofton knew about and condoned the water filtering.

Comeaux also said he reported at least three spills to Lofton in 2009 that went unreported to the authorities. Bourgeois said a huge amount of oil – as much as 500 barrels from an overfilled storage tank – shot out a flare boom in one of the incidents, and because of high winds and the grating on the platform decks, most of it ended up in the Gulf.

But W&T says the amount of oil spilled was nothing like what Bourgeois describes. In an email Bourgois sent to Lofton about two months after the spill, he reports that no sheen was visible in the dark right after the incident, which happened at 2 a.m. The email also said no spill was visible four hours later, when the sun came up and the water became visible.

But Bourgeois says he was forced by the company to write that statement to contradict an earlier one he had given.

Lofton declined to respond when we called him at his home in Picayune, Miss., and asked to interview him about the incidents.

But W&T disputes Comeaux and Bourgeois’ portrayal of events and stands by Lofton.
“Mike Lofton is a valued W&T Offshore employee,” W&T said in a statement. “The company acknowledges that Lofton should have reported the spill from the flare boom in November 2009, but W&T Offshore disputes that it was anything as large as Bourgeois claims. And Lofton was never told that there was a sheen visible on the water.”

Other spills alleged
Comeaux wasn’t on Ewing Banks 910 during the November spill. He said he watched from the headquarters platform while Lofton sent workers in helicopters to clean the spill.

Comeaux was present for the two other spills he reported to Lofton – one in March 2009 on W&T’s connected Ship Shoal 300A and Ship Shoal 315 platforms, and one in October 2009 on Ewing Banks 910. Bourgeois saw the October incident and says W&T supervisors pressured the workers to use a screw to plug the high-pressure leak, something Bourgeois says was too dangerous for him to participate in. It also didn’t work, and the platform had to be shut in.

Comeaux said that before they shut down operations, the hole got bigger and oil started spewing into the Gulf. He said he told the lead operator on Ewing Banks 910, David Cahanin, to report an oil spill, but, Comeaux said, Cahanin refused. Cahanin did not respond to our request for comment.

W&T says none of the oil from those two incidents made it into the water and would not have required Lofton or anyone else to report them to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Blowing the whistle
The reason we know about any of these issues is that Comeaux filed a federal lawsuit against W&T on behalf of the United States. The Department of Justice made sure his complaint was filed under seal.

In 2012, the case was unsealed when the Justice Department declined to join Comeaux’s lawsuit. But then the prosecutors turned around and used the information they gathered and convicted W&T of crimes. The Justice Department, through the local U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Comeaux is free to continue to pursue his civil claims.

Comeaux says he lost his job because he exposed the violations, and the federal prosecutors did nothing to protect him.

He also said he deserves a share of the fines against W&T under a provision in federal law, but the Justice Department decided not to use that law to prosecute W&T. Comeaux said it’s a travesty that the U.S. government would leave him vulnerable like that. And others agree.

“They laid him out to dry just like they did me and the other two guys,” said Bourgeois, who says that he, Cahanin and Bryan Barfoot were promised protection by federal investigators if they told the truth, but are no longer working on W&T platforms because, he claims, they cooperated.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., tried to get Congress to update the offshore whistleblower protection law after the 2010 BP oil spill. The bill died in the Senate, and Republicans in the House tried to water down the original bill, Miller said.

“Now why shouldn’t they have the same protection as railroad workers have, as transport workers have, as nuclear workers have, as pipeline workers have?” Miller said in an impassioned speech from the House floor in 2010. “Because they all have a modern whistleblower statute. But those men and women who go out on those rigs today do not have any protection, more less a modern protection.”

And Sarthou said she isn’t surprised the feds didn’t go to bat for Comeaux.

“I don’t think the Justice Department sees itself as in the business of supporting whistleblowers,” she said. “I think they see themselves as in the business of hitting somebody who’s done something wrong but not spending the money to go to trial unless they absolutely have to.”

History of complaints
Comeaux is undoubtedly disgruntled. He writes a blog railing against W&T, oil companies in general and the federal government.

He says companies come up with excuses to fire employees who blow the whistle, usually stating that they don’t work well with their colleagues. And Bourgeois confirms that Comeaux was generally distrusted by his co-workers and perceived as a snitch.

He certainly has a history of filing complaints and may fancy himself as a compliance officer even though he was listed as an instrument and electrical technician. His whistleblowing crusade apparently continued as soon as he returned offshore in 2012 to work on the ATP Titan platform in Mississippi Canyon 941. Just a few months into the job, he reported to the Coast Guard that 1,200 barrels of methanol were “dumped” overboard in December.

He says he couldn’t talk more about the incident at this time, but claims he was immediately fired because he reported it.

His allegations against ATP are not unique. ATP filed for bankruptcy last year, shortly after being charged with federal crimes for using an unauthorized chemical to break down the oil in the water they were dumping overboard from the ATP Innovator, a huge floating platform in Mississippi Canyon 711. According to the federal criminal complaint, the canister of the cleanser was hidden from view and workers called it “soap” and “sheen buster.”

ATP did not respond to our requests for comment.

Righting wrongs
W&T, on the other hand, addressed all of our questions. It says it has taken steps since 2009 to improve their environmental compliance. Even Bourgeois says he saw real improvement in the reporting before he stopped working for W&T last year.

Some of those corrective actions were required as a part of the guilty plea, some were already under way. The company says it now requires its managers to report spills to the Coast Guard if there’s a chance that some spilled into the Gulf, rather than waiting for visual confirmation. It also said it’s been conducting surprise water sampling on its platforms and has found all in compliance except for one, where there had been an upset in the system just before the test.

But, Bourgeois points to photographs he took of a 2011 oil spill on the Ewing Banks 910 platform as evidence that the company hasn’t totally learned its lesson.

That spill was reported to the Coast Guard as a “capful” of oil discharged into the water, which Bourgeois says is ridiculous given the photographs. But the pictures of the oil-soaked equipment don’t necessarily prove that more than a capful of oil made it into the Gulf.

It’s hard to tell how widespread these issues are. Sarthou said that even if it’s just a handful of bad actors doctoring water samples and keeping spills quiet, if they’ve been doing it consistently for 30 years, the volume of pollution could be devastating. She said we can’t rely on the massive Gulf to dilute the effects of the oil if the discharges have been that numerous and constant.

Comeaux agrees. A child of Acadiana who spent his whole life on the water and eating Gulf seafood, he is now afraid to touch it.

Whether he is a malcontent or not and whether he’s justified in seeking whistleblower reward money or not, there is little doubt he is passionate about protecting the Gulf waters.
He begins to cry when describing how pervasive he believes the unreported pollution is.
“This type of activity occurs under the cover of the night through a process of corrupting the morals of the people who work out there,” he said. “It’s not acceptable behavior for our industry. It’s not acceptable behavior for our world.

“Eventually people are gonna suffer from this. You can’t keep polluting something and expect everything to be OK. Sooner or later somebody is gonna get sick from this. Sooner or later somebody’s gonna die from this. Sooner or later, the Gulf is gonna die from this.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter.

CNN: Empty nets in Louisiana three years after the spill By Matt Smith

By Matt Smith, CNN
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Mon April 29, 2013

April 20 marked three years since the Gulf oil disaster erupted
Since the 2010 spill, Louisiana’s statewide oyster catch has dropped by more than 25%
Other seafood catch numbers have rebounded and studies show the catch is safe
But in certain areas, there’s still a pronounced downturn in blue crab, shrimp, oysters

Yscloskey, Louisiana (CNN) — On his dock along the banks of Bayou Yscloskey, Darren Stander makes the pelicans dance.

More than a dozen of the birds have landed or hopped onto the dock, where Stander takes in crabs and oysters from the fishermen who work the bayou and Lake Borgne at its mouth. The pelicans rock back and forth, beaks rising and falling, as he waves a bait fish over their heads.

At least he’s got some company. There’s not much else going on at his dock these days. There used to be two or three people working with him; now he’s alone. The catch that’s coming in is light, particularly for crabs.

“Guys running five or six hundred traps are coming in with two to three boxes, if that,” said Stander, 26.

Out on the water, the chains clatter along the railing of George Barisich’s boat as he and his deckhand haul dredges full of oysters onto the deck. As they sort them, they’re looking for signs of “spat”: the young oysters that latch onto reefs and grow into marketable shellfish.

There’s the occasional spat here; there are also a few dead oysters, which make a hollow sound when tapped with the blunt end of a hatchet.

About two-thirds of U.S. oysters come from the Gulf Coast, the source of about 40% of America’s seafood catch. But in the three years since the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon blew up and sank about 80 miles south of here, fishermen say many of the oyster reefs are still barren, and some other commercial species are harder to find.

“My fellow fishermen who fish crab and who fish fish, they’re feeling the same thing,” Barisich said. “You get a spike in production every now and then, but overall, it’s off. Everybody’s down. Everywhere there was dispersed oil and heavily oiled, the production is down.”

The April 20, 2010, explosion sent 11 men to a watery grave off Louisiana and uncorked an undersea gusher nearly a mile beneath the surface that took three months to cap.

Most of the estimated 200 million gallons of oil that poured into the Gulf of Mexico is believed to have evaporated or been broken down by hydrocarbon-munching microbes, according to government estimates.

The rest washed ashore across 1,100 miles of coastline, from the Louisiana barrier islands west of the Mississippi River to the white sands of the Florida Panhandle. A still-unknown portion settled on the floor of the Gulf and the inlets along its coast.

Tar balls are still turning up on the beaches, and a 2012 hurricane blew seemingly fresh oil ashore in Louisiana.

Well owner BP, which is responsible for the cleanup, says it’s still monitoring 165 miles of shore. The company points to record tourism revenues across the region and strong post-spill seafood catches as evidence the Gulf is rebounding from the spill.

But in the fishing communities of southeastern Louisiana, people say that greasy tide is still eating away at their livelihoods.

“Things’s changing, and we don’t know what’s happening yet,” said oysterman Byron Encalade.

Life before the spill
Before the spill, Encalade and his neighbors in the overwhelmingly African-American community of Pointe a la Hache — about 25 miles south of Yscloskey — earned their living from the state-managed oyster grounds off the East Bank of the Mississippi.

Back then, a boat could head out at dawn and be back at the docks by noon with dozens of 105-pound sacks of oysters.

Now? “Nothing,” says Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oystermen Association.
Louisiana conservation officials have dumped fresh limestone, ground-up shell and crushed concrete on many of the reefs in a bid to foster new growth.

It takes three to five years for a viable reef to develop, so that means Pointe a la Hache could be looking at 2018 — eight years after the spill — before its lifeblood starts pumping again.

“This economy is totally gone in my community,” said Encalade, 59. “There is no economy. The two construction jobs that are going on — the prison and the school — if it weren’t for those, the grocery store would be closing.”

When the catch comes in, everyone wants you to know that it’s safe to eat. Repeated testing has shown that the traces of hydrocarbons that do come up in the shrimp, crab and oysters are far below safety limits for human consumption.

“The monitoring of the seafood supply has been exemplary,” said Steve Murawski, a fisheries biologist at the University of South Florida. “There’s no incidence of people getting sick and no report of any tainted fish reaching the market.”

While much of the Gulf’s seafood industry has rebounded, the hardest-hit communities like Pointe a la Hache, Yscloskey and the inlets in Barataria Bay, west of the Mississippi, have not recovered.

Scientists are still trying to understand what the oil has done to the marshlands of southeastern Louisiana.

Sure, the catch is safe — but that doesn’t mean much when seafood prices are down and fuel costs are up.

“Since the spill, my shrimp production is off between 40 and 60% for the two years that I did work full time,” said Barisich, who has both a shrimp boat and an oyster boat tied up at Yscloskey. “But my price is off another 50%, and my fuel is high: 60 cents a gallon higher than it’s ever been.”

Figures from Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries tell a similar story.

The statewide oyster catch since 2010 is down 27% from the average haul between 2002 and 2009, according to catch statistics from the agency. In the Pontchartrain Basin, where Encalade and Barisich both work, the post-spill average fell to about a third of the pre-spill catch.

Barisich says oysters are barely worth the effort anymore.
Guys running five or six hundred traps are coming in with two to three boxes, if that.
Darren Stander

“On the state ground — on a perfect weather day, keep that in mind — it’s 20 sacks a day,” he said. “Twenty sacks a day at $30 a sack is $600. $300 worth of fuel. $100 worth of other expenses and I pay the deckhand, I got $150 a day on a perfect day. It don’t pay to go out.”
And no boats going out means no fuel being sold at Frank Campo Jr.’s marina, down the bayou from Barisich’s dock.

“If you don’t burn it, I can’t sell it to you,” Campo says. “They’re not doing very well with the crabs, and there’s not a lot of oyster boats going out.”

Demand for the oysters is off, too.

“You used to never ask the dealer if he wanted oysters,” said Campo, whose grandfather started the marina. “You just showed up with them. Now, he’ll call you and tell you if he needs ’em.”

‘Like somebody had poured motor oil all over’
Across the Mississippi from Pointe a la Hache, beyond the West Bank levees, lie some of the waterways that saw the heaviest oiling: Barataria Bay and its smaller inlets, Bay Jimmy and Bay Batiste.

Interactive map of Gulf oil disaster

Louisiana State University entomologist Linda Hooper-Bui tracks the numbers of ants, wasps, spiders and other bugs at 40 sites in the surrounding marshes, 18 of which had seen some degree of oiling.

She is part of a small army of researchers who have been trying to figure out what effect the spill will have on the environment of the Gulf Coast. Since 2010, she’s recorded a sharp decline in several species of insects — particularly spiders, ants, wasps and grasshoppers, which sit roughly in the middle of the food web.

They’re top predators among insects but food for birds and fish.

Hooper-Bui said she expected their numbers to bounce back the following year: “Instead, what we saw was worse.”

Tar balls found washed up on Elmer’s Island, Louisiana, in early March.

The reason, she suspects, is that the oil that sank into the bottom of the marsh after the spill hasn’t broken down at the same rate as the crude that floated to the surface.
Instead, it’s in the sediments, still giving off fumes that are killing the insects.

Some napthalenes — crude oil components most commonly known for their use in mothballs — appear to have increased since the spill, she said.

“They’re volatile, and they’re toxic,” Hooper-Bui said. “And they’re not just toxic to insects. They’re toxic to fish. They’re toxic to birds. They cause eggshell thinning in birds. We think this is evidence of an emerging problem.”

Hooper-Bui said crickets exposed to the contaminated muck in laboratories die, and when temperatures were increased to those comparable to a summer day, “the crickets die faster.”

By August 2011, the number of grasshoppers had fallen by 70% to 80% in areas that got oiled.

“By 2012, we were unable to find any colonies of ants in the oiled areas,” she said.
Then on August 29, 2012, Hurricane Isaac hit southeastern Louisiana. The slow-moving storm sat over Barataria Bay for more than 60 hours as it crawled onto land.

When Hooper-Bui went back to the marshes after the storm, she had a surprise waiting for her.

“We discovered in Bay Batiste large amounts of what looked like somebody had poured motor oil all over the marsh there,” she said. “About three-quarters of the perimeter of northern Bay Batiste was covered in this oil.”

The chemical fingerprint of the oil matched the oil from the ruptured BP well, Hooper-Bui said. Other scientists confirmed that Isaac kicked up tar balls from the spill as far east as the Alabama-Florida state line, more than 100 miles from where the storm made its initial landfall.

Far from the shoreline, patches of oil fell to the bottom of the Gulf in a mix of sediment, dead plankton and hydrocarbons dubbed “marine snow.” It fouled corals near the wellhead, and it’s still sitting there.

There’s something about this stuff, the carbon in these layers, that’s not degrading.
Samantha Joye, oceanographer

“If you took a picture of a core (sample) that was collected today and took a picture of a core that was taken in September 2010, they look the same,” University of Georgia oceanographer Samantha Joye said.

“What’s really strange to me is, the material is not degrading,” Joye added. “There’s something about this stuff, the carbon in these layers, that’s not degrading.”

Normally, microbes go to work on free-floating hydrocarbons almost immediately, digesting the compounds. The controversial large-scale use of chemical dispersants was supposed to accelerate that process by breaking up the oil into smaller droplets that could be more easily consumed.

But that’s not happening to this layer, Joye said, and the reason is unclear.
“The first thing everyone asks is, ‘Do you think it’s dispersants?’ And I can honestly tell you, we don’t know,” she said.

During the spill, scientists warned that fish eggs and larvae, shrimp, coral and oysters were potentially most at risk from the use of dispersants. The Environmental Protection Agency later reported that testing found the combination of oil and dispersants to be no more toxic than the oil alone.

But that’s no comfort to Encalade, who could watch planes spray dispersant on the slick from the marina where he keeps his two boats.

“We know from history, whenever you put soap in the water around camps and stuff like that, oysters don’t reproduce,” he said. “And we’ve heard BP say over and over again, ‘Oh, it’s like detergent.’ That’s the worst thing in the world you can do to an oyster.”

The impact of these dispersants on marine life is still an open question, and it’s something that’s under review by scientists involved in the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, the federally run, BP-funded effort to figure out what the spill did to the Gulf Coast.
That assessment could take several years.

As scientists sort out the data, the Gulf fishing communities from Louisiana to Florida are still dealing with the impact of the spill. When you look at the entire expanse of the ocean, there isn’t a huge amount of oil, explained Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University.

“You have to look hard to find any oil at all,” he said.

But where the oil has been found, MacDonald said, the damage is “intense and widespread.”

There is some good news: Some studies indicate that commercial fish species in different parts of the Gulf escaped the worst. Recent research at Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab found that young shrimp and blue crabs off Bayou La Batre, the state’s major seafood port, showed no sign of decline since the spill.

But that’s no consolation for Donny Waters, a Pensacola, Florida, fisherman who has been involved with efforts to rebuild the red snapper populations off the Florida panhandle.
“I’m still catching fish. I’m not saying everything’s dead,” Waters said. “But it’s taking me longer to catch my fish. I’m not seeing the snappers farther around reefs, whether they’re natural or artificial. I’m not seeing the reefs repopulate nearly as fast since the oil spill.”

‘BP has retired me’
Like many in the trade, Encalade and the other guys on his dock in Pointe a la Hache can spin epic tales. But these days, they’re not about the catch. More often, they’re about the red tape and low-ball offers they’ve had to deal with in the compensation process set up after the spill — a process they say is stacked in favor of big operators.

“I got guys been fishing out here all their life. They’ve got trip tickets, more than you can imagine,” Encalade said, referring to the slips that document a boat’s daily catch. “You know what they come back and tell a man his whole life is worth? $40,000.”

The oil, the catch and the money: All converge at the big federal courthouse on Poydras Street in New Orleans, where squadrons of lawyers have massed for what promises to be a protracted brawl to figure out how much BP will end up paying for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

BP says it has shelled out $32 billion for the disaster, including $14 billion for cleanup. It’s also spent $300 million on everything from testing seafood to its ad campaign that encourages people to come back to the Gulf, and it pledged $500 million for research into the environmental effects of the disaster.

The company has paid to help replace oyster reefs in Mississippi and Louisiana and rebuild sand dunes and sea turtle habitats in Alabama and northwest Florida. In addition to monitoring part of the Gulf coastline, BP spokesman Scott Dean said, the company has planted new grass in the Louisiana marshes, where the losses sped up erosion already blamed for the loss of an area the size of Manhattan every year.

But of about 13,000 holes drilled into the beaches and marshes in search of settled oil, Dean said, only 3% have found enough to require cleanup, he said.

“The vast majority of the work has been done,” Dean said. But when previously undiscovered oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout does turn up, “We take responsibility for the cleanup,” he said.

Last year, the company agreed to pay $7.8 billion to individuals and businesses who filed economic, property and health claims. But in March, the company asked a judge to halt those payments, arguing that it was facing hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in payouts for “fictitious losses.”

It’s also pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges and fined $4 billion in the deaths of the 11 men killed aboard the rig and been temporarily barred from getting new federal contracts.

Now BP is back in court, battling to avoid a finding of gross negligence that would sock it with penalties up to $4,300 per barrel under the Clean Water Act — another $17 billion-plus by the federal government’s estimate of the spill. BP says that figure is at least 20% too high.

The plaintiffs include the federal government, the states affected by the disaster and people like Encalade and Barisich, who have rejected previous settlement offers from BP.
Freddie Duplessis, whose boat is tied up next to Encalade’s, settled with the company. He said he received about $250,000 from BP after the spill, including money the company paid to hire his boat for the cleanup effort. That’s about what he says he would have made in six months of fishing before the spill, before expenses.

I got guys been fishing out here all their life. You know what they come back and tell a man his whole life is worth? $40,000.
Pointe a la Hache oysterman Byron Encalade

“I’ve been all right. I’ve been paying my bills, but what I’m gonna do now?” asked Duplessis, 54. “You’re still gonna have bills. Everything I’ve got is mine, but I’ve got to maintain it.”

But proving just how much damage can be blamed on the oil spill will be a difficult task in the courtroom. That’s where the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, launched after the disaster and partly paid for by BP, comes in. And right now, the studies that make up that assessment are closely held, ready to be played like a hole card in poker.

“There’s a substantial amount of fisheries work that’s not actually going to see the light of day until after the court case is resolved,” USF’s Murawski said.

The region’s seafood landings largely returned to normal in 2011, after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration closed most of the Gulf to fishing during the blowout, NOAA data show. And BP notes that across the four states that saw the most impact — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida — shrimp and finfish catches were up in 2012 compared with the average haul between 2007 and 2009.

Blue crab was off about 1%. And while oysters regionwide remained 17% below 2007-09 figures, the company says that the flooding that hit the region in 2011 has been blamed for some of that downturn, again by dumping more fresh water into the coastal estuaries.

But Gulf-wide, shrimp landings in 2011 and 2012 were about 15% below the 2000-09 average, according to figures compiled by Mississippi State University’s Coastal Research and Extension Center.

And in Louisiana, there’s still a pronounced downturn.

State data show that blue crab landings are off an average of 18%, and brown shrimp — the season for which the industry is now gearing up — is down 39% compared with the 2002-09 catch.

In Yscloskey, Barisich said three bayou fishermen took settlements from BP, sold their leases and walked away from the docks. As for him, at 56, he’s trying to adapt.

He’s studying for a license that will allow him to take passengers out on shrimp trawls — a kind of working vacation for tourists with a taste for the job he learned from his father.
“I can’t do what I have for the last two years,” he said.

And in Pointe a la Hache, Encalade got heartbreaking news in early April.

The public reefs in nearby Black Bay, one of the post-spill reconstruction projects, had been closed after spat turned up to protect the larvae. But the spat died, and the reefs were being reopened to allow the few remaining mature oysters to be harvested.

“All the little oysters have died, and the big oysters, you can’t make a dollar with them,” Encalade said. “BP has retired me out of the oyster business.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: ‘People’s History’ of Gulf Oil Disaster Reveals Deadly Truth Behind Dispersant Corexit; Sign petition to end use of Corexit

I encourage everyone to sign this petition now! Read the full report and sign the petition at:

Published on Friday, April 19, 2013 by Common Dreams

Report released on eve of Deepwater Horizon anniversary tells of BP lies and government collusion in oil ‘clean-up’
– Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

A dispersant plane passed over an oil skimmer in the Gulf of Mexico ten days after Deepwater Horizon explosion (Patrick Semansky / AP)

Not only is the chemical dispersant that was used to “clean up” the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster of 2010 extremely dangerous, it was knowingly used to make the gushing oil merely “appear invisible” all the while exacerbating levels of toxicity in the Gulf waters, according to a report released Friday, the eve of the third anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, by the Government Accountability Project.

According to the report, Deadly Dispersants in the Gulf: Are Public Health and Environmental Tragedies the New Norm for Oil Spill Cleanups?, Corexit-the dispersant chemical dumped into the Gulf of Mexico by oil giant BP and the U.S. government in the spill’s aftermath-was widely applied “because it caused the false impression that the oil disappeared.”

“This report is a people’s history to rebut a false advertising blitz by BP, enabled by government collusion.”
-Tom Devine
Government Accountability Project

As GAP states: “In reality, the oil/Corexit mixture became less visible, yet much more toxic than the oil alone. Nonetheless, indications are that both BP and the government were pleased with what Corexit accomplished.”

The Corexit/oil combination is highly toxic and will continue to cause “devastating long-term effects on human health and the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem” for a long time into the future, the report warns.

GAP spent 20 months collecting evidence from “over two dozen employee and citizen whistleblowers who experienced the cleanup’s effects firsthand,” and from extensive Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

“This report is a people’s history to rebut a false advertising blitz by BP, enabled by government collusion,” stated GAP Legal Director Tom Devine, co-author of the report. “Gulf workers and residents who are still suffering deserve justice, and the public deserves the truth.”

“The price for making the spill appear invisible has been deadly,” he said. “It is time to stop covering up the truth about the deadly effects of the chemical cover-up Corexit.”
“Taken together, the documents and the witnesses’ testimony belie repeated corporate and government rhetoric that Corexit is not dangerous. Worse than this, evidence suggests that the cleanup effort has been more destructive to human health and the environment than the spill itself,” the group stated Friday.

The report includes first hand accounts from cleanup workers, divers, local doctors, and residents.

The findings also include “higher than normal frequency of seafood mutations,” and “pockets of ‘dead’ ocean areas where life was previously abundant.”
“Through their testimony and emerging science, the truth about the spill response’s toxic legacy is beginning to surface as the third anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion approaches,” GAP stated.

Below is a small selection of some of the voices included in the report:
As an environmental scientist, I look at the way the government and BP are handling, describing and discussing the spill Š [T]he government did not account for the increased toxicity of the combined oil and Corexit.
– Scott Porter, Diver, Marine Biologist
[W]hen a BP representative came up on the speedboat and asked if we need anything, I again explained my concerns about breathing in the Corexit and asked him for a respirator Š He explained ‘If you wear a respirator, it is bringing attention to yourself because no one else is wearing respirators, and you can get fired for that.’
– Jorey Danos, Cleanup Worker
What brought all of these individuals into the same pool was the fact that their symptoms were almost identical, and were different from anything that I had ever observed in my 40 plus years as a physician Š However, until people are educated about the symptoms associated with exposure to toxic waste from the spill, we cannot assume they will make the connection. I continue to witness this disconnect and these symptoms on a daily basis.
– Dr. Michael Robichaux, Physician
They hired people from all over who didn’t know about the conditions and real safety hazards, but you did what you had to do; you had to take the job and deal with it because you didn’t have money to go home Š There was a safety culture of, ‘hush hush, it didn’t happen.’
– Anonymous Cleanup Worker
EPA and BP knew of the health impacts associated with [Corexit and oil] Š The issue was responding to an oil spill of this magnitude, with unprecedented quantities of Corexit, including novel subsurface application. Gulf coastal communities, and individuals who consume gulf seafood or recreate in the gulf, are the guinea pigs left to deal with the consequences and will be feeling the full effect in years to come.
– Dr. Wilma Subra, Chemist, MacArthur Genius Award Recipient

Special thanks to Richard Charter 10 Oil Spills in a Single Month That Have Been Covered Up

by Kevin Mathews
April 15, 2013
6:00 am

As politicians take steps to advance the Keystone Pipeline project, oil spills and accidents continue to occur throughout North America. In the past month alone, there have been well over a dozen harmful oil incidents.

While a recent devastating pipeline burst in Arkansas has attracted a moderate amount of attention, most such accidents are swept under the rug. Claims that pipelines are highly safe and rarely malfunction are false, and there is a lack of evidence to prove them. Just because most pipeline incidents receive minimal media attention doesn’t make them any less true.

Here are 10 oil leaks from the past month that have been mostly covered up by the corporate media:

1. For the fourth time in just two years, a leak was found in Canada’s Norman Wells pipeline on March 19. In total, the pipeline has leaked 1 million liters of oil. Although the pipeline has been patched up each time, the fact that it keeps breaking has locals calling the repairs “a quick fix.”

2. Almost 1,000 barrels of crude oil leaked from Shell’s West Columbia pipeline near Houston, Texas. The massive spill was found on March 29, but not before over 50 barrels worth ran into nearby Vince Bayou.

3. A leak in a gas treatment plant’s pipeline in Parachute, Colorado continues to contaminate the local water supply over a month after it was discovered. As a result, harmful toxins have been found in Parachute Creek, which flows directly into the Colorado River. An estimated 30 million people live downstream of the leak and rely on the water supply. State law limits the maximum fine for “environmental mishaps” to just $10,000 total.

4. On March 31, the Lansing Board of Water and Light found that 3,000 gallons of oil leaked into the Grand River. Cleanup of the spill took nearly two weeks.

5. A March 18 pipeline crack leaked 21,000 gallons of fuel into the wetlands of Utah’s Willard Bay State Park. Some of the missing oil is still not accounted for, and the park will remained closed through Memorial Day.

6. A Canadian Pacific Railway train carrying fuel to Chicago derailed, spilling 15,000 gallons of oil in Minnesota on March 27. According to officials, the cold weather made cleanup efforts particularly difficult.

7. Repsol, a Spanish oil company, had its second oil spill in about a year in North Slope, Alaska. Though nearly 7,000 gallons sprayed on to the nearby terrain on April 9, an oil commissioner seemed unimpressed. “It wasn’t a big event. They had a hose rupture. How many times have you watered your garden and had a leak in your hose?”

8. On April 4, an S&S Energy oil and gas well in Damascus, Ohio exploded. A representative for the firefighters who came to put out the blaze said that this type of accident “is not unusual.”

9. A natural gas explosion occurred at a plant in Langston, Oklahoma on April 4. While no one was hurt, the gas line had to entirely burn off before firefighters could put out the resulting inferno.

10. After already demonstrating a spotty safety record, Suncor Energy acknowledged that 225 barrels of oil leaked in Port Moody, British Columbia on April 7, with a small portion of the fuel making its way to the water in the Burrard Inlet. Though Suncor managed to keep the accident a secret for four days, the incident was eventually exposed.

Unfortunately, oil spills are not isolated incidents as the corporations and mainstream media would like you to believe. If these 10 leaks aren’t enough to convince you of the Keystone Pipeline’s potential dangers, just wait until next month.

Read more:

Sun Sentinel: Companies abandon search for oil in Cuba’s deep waters,0,5594782.story

Threat to Florida’s environment reduced as drillers look elsewhere

By William E. Gibson, Washington Bureau
9:20 p.m. EDT, April 14, 2013
WASHINGTON – After spending nearly $700 million during a decade, energy companies from around the world have all but abandoned their search for oil in deep waters off the north coast of Cuba near Florida, a blow to the Castro regime but a relief to environmentalists worried about a major oil spill.

Decisions by Spain-based Repsol and other companies to drill elsewhere greatly reduce the chances that a giant slick along the Cuban coast would ride ocean currents to South Florida, threatening its beaches, inlets, mangroves, reefs and multibillion-dollar tourism industry.

The Coast Guard remains prepared to contain, skim, burn or disperse a potential slick. And Cuban officials still yearn for a lucrative strike that would prop up its economy. A Russian company, Zarubezhneft, is drilling an exploratory well in shallower waters hugging the Cuban shoreline south of the Bahamas.

But though some oil has been found offshore, exploratory drilling in deep waters near currents that rush toward Florida has failed to reveal big deposits that would be commercially viable to extract, discouraging companies from pouring more money into the search.

“Those companies are saying, ‘We cannot spend any more capital on this high-risk exploration. We’d rather go to Brazil; we’d rather go to Angola; we’d rather go to other places in the world where the technological and geological challenges are less,'” said Jorge Piñon, an oil-industry analyst at the University of Texas who consults with U.S. and Cuban officials as well as energy companies.

“I don’t foresee any time in the future exploration in Cuba’s deep-water north coast. It is, for all practical purposes, over.”

Despite these frustrations, Cuba’s need for oil wealth and energy independence has only intensified.

Venezuela – which holds a presidential election Sunday – may quit sending $3.5 billion worth of oil to Cuba each year under a barter arrangement initiated by the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, an ally of Fidel and Raúl Castro.

Venezuela has been sending oil to Cuba at favorable prices, with part of the cost paid through low-interest loans and the rest offset by services from Cuban doctors, teachers and advisers – a sweet deal for the Castro regime that meets the island’s energy needs and fuels its struggling economy.

But Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles, a presidential candidate, has told voters that if he is elected “not another drop of oil will go toward financing the government of the Castros.” And even if Capriles loses to acting President Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela may be unable to sustain its generosity.

“How much longer can Venezuela provide billions of dollars in aid and petroleum?” said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, who met with energy officials in Havana earlier this month. “They [Cuban officials] know that is staring them in the face.

“They were upfront that they have not been successful to date,” she said. “But they do have other foreign investors – the Russians, the Brazilians, Angola – and they intend to proceed.”

Castor and other Floridians fear the consequences of a potential offshore oil spill, especially if a giant slick gets caught in ocean currents that feed into the powerful Gulf Stream, which could drag it north along the Florida coast and to the Carolinas.

Florida leaders for years have fended off oil drilling within 125 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast for fear a spill would damage the environment and the state’s $65 billion tourism industry.

Those fears were heightened when the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 spewed 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, ruining that summer’s tourist and fishing season along the Florida Panhandle and polluting coastal waters in ways that are still being measured.

In the aftermath, drilling north of Cuba just 70 miles from Florida set off new alarms and prompted the Coast Guard to devise contingency plans to fend off a potential slick.
The Coast Guard today is breathing a little easier but remains on guard.

“The ocean currents [near the Russian drilling site] are much more favorable in terms of a U.S. landing of a potential oil spill, but clearly there’s still risk,” said Coast Guard Capt. John Slaughter, who oversees oil-spill response plans in South Florida. “Even if the currents don’t bring it here, you still may have strong winds from the east pushing the oil closer to our shores.

“Economically for the state of Florida, if [a spill] were to happen, even if nothing reaches the shore, people are going to get agitated. ‘Should I still come to Florida on vacation if there’s an oil spill in the Florida Straits?’ We would be very aggressive to ensure that nothing happens.”

Repsol, a Spanish company, had been looking for oil off the shores of Cuba for more than a decade, hoping for a big strike that could generate billions of dollars of profit. The company brought a gigantic self-propelled floating rig – the Scarabeo 9 – all the way from Singapore to drill an exploratory well in ultradeep waters of more than 5,000 feet north of Havana in January 2012.

The well produced signs of oil. But by May 2012, the company concluded it wasn’t enough to justify the cost and difficulty of extraction through a complex and porous underwater rock structure. Now Repsol is closing its Cuban offices and moving elsewhere.

“We have taken a decision not to carry out any further exploration in Cuba after the last well we did in 2012,” said Repsol spokesman Kristian Rix. He would not elaborate.

Petronas, a Malaysian company, and PDVSA of Venezuela have dug exploratory wells at other deep-water sites off the Cuban coast during the past year and came to the same conclusion.

The Russian drilling still underway is in shallower waters – about 1,200 feet – along the Cuban coast near Cayo Coco, farther from Florida than the deep-water sites and farther from the Gulf Stream.

“Arguably it’s in a more environmentally sensitive area along the Cuban coastline,” said Daniel Whittle, Cuba program director for the Environmental Defense Fund. “But from the U.S. point of view, it poses less danger.”

Piñon, who estimates that energy companies have spent a total of nearly $700 million during a decade exploring deep-water sites, predicted that other companies with less capital will be discouraged from making further attempts.

“This is a high-risk business. Folks in the street rarely hear about all the dry holes. It’s nothing out of the ordinary,” he said. “Everyone had high expectations because there was supposed to be oil off the north coast of Cuba, and look what happened: nothing.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter.