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.” Embassy in US mum on findings that unsafe welding caused Nov. 2012 oil platform fire

By August 24, 2013 8:40am

The Philippine Embassy on Saturday (Philippine time) refused to comment the reported findings of a consultant that blamed contractors for an explosion at an oil platform off Louisiana that killed three Filipino workers last November.

In a statement, the embassy said it will not comment on the supposed findings of ABSG Consulting, the so-called independent consultant hired by Black Elk Energy.

“The Embassy of the Republic of the Philippines does not intend to comment on the thorough investigation that was supposed to have been conducted by (ABSG) Consulting, the so-called independent consultant hired by Black Elk Energy that also cleared the Houston-based company of responsibility over the accident,” it said.

According to the embassy, it will wait for the expected release in September of the results of an official investigation by the US interior department.

“The Embassy would like to wait for the release next month of the results of the official investigation conducted by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) of the Department of the Interior in which the Filipino workers involved in the accident were given the opportunity to participate,” it said.

However, the embassy noted Black Elk President John Hoffman reiterated “his recognition of the reputation of Filipino offshore oil workers for competence and professionalism.”

Last Aug. 21 (US time), Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC, released the report of its commissioned investigation into the November 2012 explosion and fire.

In the explosion at Black Elk’s West Delta 32 Platform, three Filipino offshore workers died while three other Filipino workers sustained serious burns in the incident.

For now, the embassy said it continues to “assist the affected workers and is prepared to take all actions to ensure that their rights are fully protected and their claims properly addressed.”


A report on The Times-Picayne Greater New Orleans said the ABSG report was released on the same day two injured workers and their spouses filed a $180-million federal lawsuit over the accident.

The report quoted ABSG as saying Grand Isle Shipyard Inc., which was under contract for construction work when the blast happened, used a subcontractor despite having committed not to use subcontractors on Black Elk projects.

It said Grand Isle’s use of a subcontractor prevented Black Elk from “effectively auditing the employers of all personnel on their facilities.”

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

Federal suit

The Times-Picayne also reported two workers injured in the accident, Antonio Tamayo and Wilberto Ilagan, together with their spouses filed a lawsuit before the US District Court in New Orleans.

Named defendants were Black Elk, Wood Group, and others.
The four claimed physical and mental injuries, numerous medical expenses and loss of future wages in seeking $20 million each in actual damages, and $100 million in punitive damages “if any of the defendants are found to have been grossly or intentionally negligent.” – VVP, GMA News

Special thanks to Richard Charter

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

E&E: Restoration panel adds scientific oversight to plan for spending spill fines

Annie Snider, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, August 22, 2013

The federal-state panel tasked with overseeing the billions of dollars
expected to flow to the Gulf Coast from civil fines related to the 2010
Deepwater Horizon oil spill yesterday released a final plan for how it
will spend the money on restoring the region’s ecosystems and

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council received more than 41,000
comments on the draft plan it released in May and incorporated a
handful of changes into the final “Initial Comprehensive Plan” released
yesterday. The council is scheduled to vote on that plan next week in
New Orleans.

Under the RESTORE Act passed by Congress last year, 80 percent of Clean
Water Act civil penalties from the oil spill will be sent back to the
Gulf through the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund. The
council — comprising officials from six federal agencies and the five
Gulf states — oversees 60 percent of those funds. Thirty percent will
go to projects selected by the council, and another 30 percent will go
to initiatives selected by the states and approved by the panel.

The “Initial Comprehensive Plan” sets overarching restoration goals for
the region, lays out how the council will evaluate and fund projects
and describes how it will consider states’ plans for spending their
share of the money.

Among the changes made in the final plan is an increased focus on
incorporating science into the council’s work. The plan states that the
council is considering “the most effective means of ensuring that the
Council’s decisions are based on the best available science.” This
could include forming a scientific advisory committee or another
vehicle that would work across Gulf restoration efforts, it says. In
the council’s response to public comments, it also raises the
possibility of hiring a chief scientist.

The plan also includes a greater emphasis on public engagement. It
states that the council “will take steps to create a public engagement
structure” and that additional announcements on this are forthcoming.

Like the draft plan released in May, the final document does not
include a 10-year plan for allocating the money or a list of priority
projects and programs, both of which were already due under the RESTORE
Act. The council said it did not include these elements because of
uncertainties related to the amount of money that will ultimately flow
to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund, the fact that the
Treasury Department has not yet issued procedures for spending the
funds, the desire to receive public comment on key elements of the plan
first and the states’ ongoing efforts to develop their own spending

The Treasury Department sent its proposed rule to the Office of
Management and Budget earlier this month, and it could be finalized

The leading coalition of environmental groups working in the Gulf Coast
released a statement on the plan last night.

“We thank the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council for its efforts
toward a comprehensive plan to restore the invaluable Gulf ecosystem,”
said the group, which includes the Environmental Defense Fund, National
Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore
Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. “As the
Council takes its next crucial step of prioritizing ecosystem
restoration projects, we urge them to embrace the Louisiana Coastal
Master Plan as its guiding document for restoring the Mississippi River
Delta, which was ground zero for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.”

Currently, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund is scheduled
to receive $800 million within the next two years from Transocean
Ltd.’s Clean Water Act civil settlement. BP PLC could be facing a civil
penalty of as much as $17.6 billion under the Clean Water Act,
depending on how negligent the driller is found to have been leading up
to the spill. The second phase in the federal trial against the oil
giant is scheduled to begin next month.

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

Fuel Fix: Black Elk Energy: Fatal fire hit finances, production

Posted on August 16, 2013 at 7:30 am by Jennifer A. Dlouhy in Gulf of Mexico, Offshore

Houston-based Black Elk Energy says it is still dealing with financial fallout from last year’s fatal explosion at one of its Gulf of Mexico production platforms, even as federal investigators continue to probe the company’s overall safety.

The company said the accident hurt its financial results, that oil production slowed when the accident led to delays in obtaining permits for ordinary maintenance work and that it spent more than expected for “non-recurring regulatory, legal and platform restoration costs” tied to the incident. Black Elk provided the updates in investor guidance for the second half of 2013.

The company forecast that for July through December of this year, its daily production will average 13,500 to 14,500 barrels of oil equivalent, capital expenditures will be $45 million to $55 million and earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization will be $75 million to $85 million.

Legal fallout: Oil platform owner sued over blast in Gulf

Three people died and several others were injured in the explosion and fire last Nov. 16 at Black Elk’s West Delta 32 production platform 18 miles off the Louisiana coast. The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement still is probing the incident, but the company has said a cutting torch may have ignited flammable vapors on the platform standing in 56 feet of water. Black Elk Energy has promised to release the report from a third-party investigation the company commissioned.

At the safety bureau’s request, Black Elk Energy gave the federal regulators a “performance improvement plan” last December and submitted an analysis of its previous violations in January. Facilities that were not producing at the time of the explosion were forced to stay offline temporarily .

The firm had racked up more than 300 documented mistakes and violations offshore before the fatal fire, and a safety bureau official said Thursday that the rates of those incidents – called incidents of non-compliance – have not declined since.

“We still have a lot of concerns,” the official said, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

“Black Elk has met most of the requirements that were stipulated,” the official said, but the company “has not done enough to demonstrate to us that their overall performance is improving to the point we think it should be.”

Related story: Black Elk CEO vows vindication

Regulators have not given Black Elk Energy approval to resume production at its damaged platform, but they allowed repairs to begin in May. Those repairs are complete, the company said in a statement, adding:
“Over the past eight months, Black Elk officials, staff and advisers have worked cooperatively with government officials at the local, state and federal level to provide support for the victims and their families, analyze the underlying causes of the incident and implement policy and procedural improvements to minimize the risk of similar incidents in the future.”

The company otherwise had no response to the comments from the regulatory official.
The Black Elk explosion was the first in a recent spate of accidents in shallow Gulf of Mexico waters that have revived concerns about the risks of oil and gas production close to shore.

Last month, a gas well in the Gulf of Mexico blew out, forcing the evacuation of 44 workers and igniting a fire that raged for nearly two days.

Just weeks before, a briny mix of gas, light condensate and salt water began leaking out of a 40-year-old Energy Resource Technology well while workers were trying to permanently plug it.

Founded in 2007 by a former BP and Amoco executive, Black Elk now holds interests in more than 1,000 wells connected to 176 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. It has been operating facilities in the Gulf of Mexico since 2010.

Its aggressive acquisition strategy has focused on buying old facilities and reworking offshore wells to eke out more hydrocarbons.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

CBS News: Fishermen concerned about industry if fracking approved
Posted: Aug 15, 2013 2:40 PM NT Last Updated: Aug 15, 2013 6:02 PM NT

West coast fishermen wary of possible problems

Port au Port Peninsula fishermen voiced concerns at a meeting Wednesday night about the future of their industry if fracking were to be approved near the waters where they fish. About 100 people showed up to the meeting in Lourdes to discuss the possible implications of the process.

Fracking involves injecting chemicals and water into rock at a high pressure in order to extract oil. Terry Tucker, a fisherman in the area, said he doesn’t think fracking is a fool-proof process.

Fishermen on the Port au Port Peninsula are concerned about fracking plans in the area. Fracking is a technique which injects oil, water and chemicals into wells to draw out oil.Fishermen on the Port au Port Peninsula are concerned about fracking plans in the area. “They’re pumping a bunch of chemicals down into the ground, they’re pumping it down into a mile down – no one really knows what goes on down there,” Tucker said.

“This is all just a guess and this is a big chance to take. If things go wrong and there’s no fix, and NASA engineers can’t fix it, and it’s just unfixable. So then this place here just goes – everything goes.”

Tucker said he actually used to work in the fracking industry, but he didn’t like what he saw.

“It’s actually scary when you think of what they were doing because after the job was done, I went over cause I was just there watching, and I grabbed a handful of the Š sand that we put down into the ground, and just dumped on the ground,” he said.

“And when I had Š the sand in my hand, one of the chief engineers ran over to me and said, ‘Get that out of your hand, wash your hands, do you know what’s in that?’ They just dumped it in a field, just in a cattle field, so it seems to me that they weren’t really too concerned about just dumping that stuff into a cattle field and I don’t think they’d be really concerned about dumping that stuff into Bay St. George or Port au Port Bay where I fish.”

Tucker said he would be happy to have more development in the area, but doesn’t think it would be worth the risk to the natural environment.

“I’d love to see development here. I’d love to see companies coming in and bring jobs and bring money and bring everything to the place, but I don’t think it’s worth the chance of destroying something, even if there’s a small, small chance that it could just go to crap,” he said.

“I hope that the government really, really looks into this. I hope they’re not blinded by what some of the oil companies are probably going to offer.”

Black Spruce Exploration is planning to establish fracking wells on the Port au Port Peninsula, pending approvals from government and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.

Fishermen concerned about industry if fracking approved, West coast fishermen wary of possible problems

Special thanks to Richard Charter

NewYork Times: Amid Pipeline Debate, Two Costly Cleanups Forever Change Towns

August 10, 2013

MARSHALL, Mich. – As the Obama administration inches closer to a decision on whether to approve construction of the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline, costly cleanup efforts in two communities stricken by oil spills portend the potential hazards of transporting heavy Canadian crude.

Sean Proctor for The New York Times

The Environmental Protection Agency estimated in May that 180,000 gallons of oil sands crude remained in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, three years after a pipeline ruptured.

It has been three years since an Enbridge Energy pipeline ruptured beneath this small western Michigan town, spewing more than 840,000 gallons of thick oil sands crude into the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek, the largest oil pipeline failure in the country’s history. Last March, an Exxon Mobil pipeline burst in Mayflower, Ark., releasing thousands of gallons of oil and forcing the evacuation of 22 homes.

Both pipeline companies have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to recover the heavy crude, similar to the product Keystone XL would carry. River and floodplain ecosystems have had to be restored, and neighborhoods are still being refurbished. Legal battles are being waged, and residents’ lives have been forever changed.

“All oil spills are pretty ugly and not easy to clean up,” said Stephen K. Hamilton, a professor of aquatic ecology at Michigan State University who is advising the Environmental Protection Agency and the state on the cleanup in Marshall. “But this kind of an oil is even harder to clean up because of its tendency to stick to surfaces and its tendency to become submerged.” Before July 26, 2010, hardly anyone in Marshall had heard of Enbridge Energy Partners, a Houston firm whose parent company is based in Calgary, Alberta.

On a recent midsummer morning, the Kalamazoo looked almost the way it once did. Towering oak trees draped over the water in the heat. Hawks patrolled the deep green riverbanks. An elderly couple lugged fishing tackle toward a shady area. If not for two motorboats whirring downstream and three men probing the water with poles, there would have been no sign that anything had gone wrong.

Much of Kalamazoo’s plant and animal life has returned. But ridding the water of all the oil – some of which sank to the river floor and continues to generate a kaleidoscopic sheen – has proved elusive. Though a 40-mile stretch of the river has reopened after being closed for two years and most of the oil has been recovered or has evaporated, vestiges of the spill are everywhere. “For Sale” signs dot the rolling cornfields and soy farms. Once-coveted riverfront homes sit vacant.

Matt Davis, a real estate agent here, said he had struggled to sell homes since the spill. “Enbridge hopes people forget,” Mr. Davis said. “But this is my town. This is where I grew up. Enbridge isn’t from around here. “We didn’t ask for them to have their pipeline burst in our backyard. Make it right. Take care of the mess you made.”

In May, the E.P.A. found that Enbridge had drastically underestimated the amount of oil still in the river. The agency estimated that 180,000 gallons had most likely drifted to the bottom, more than 100 times Enbridge’s projection. It has ordered Enbridge to dredge sections of the river where stubborn beads of oil remain submerged. The dredging started on July 30, and stretches of the river are being closed again. Construction crews have rumbled onto the riverfront in nearby Comstock Township, angering residents and business owners who remain fearful of another accident.

Jason Manshum, an Enbridge spokesman, said the company was working to address the township’s concerns as it followed the orders of the E.P.A. “This is the single-largest incident in the history of our organization,” he said. “From the beginning, in July 2010, we said that we would be committed to this community and the natural environment, for as long as it would take to right the rupture that happened. About three years later to the day, we’re still here.”

Larry Bell, who owns Bell’s Brewery, one of the country’s largest craft beer makers, was shocked earlier this summer to see workers clear a staging area next to his brewery near Marshall. “We’re going to be downwind of this thing,” said Mr. Bell, who filed a lawsuit last month asserting that Enbridge did not get permission from the local condominium association to build its dredge pad.

“If those airborne contaminants come in, it’s going to get into our ingredients,” Mr. Bell said. “We see that as irreparable. They can’t compensate me for taking away my business.”

Since the spill, Enbridge has become one of the largest landowners in the area – buying out 154 residential properties within a 200-foot swath that the company determined was most affected. By many accounts, Enbridge paid a fair price and has begun to put some properties up for sale. The company has also donated millions of dollars to build roads and parks along the river. Still, the emotional scars of losing property run deep.

For nearly 30 years, Deb Miller and her husband owned a carpet store along the Kalamazoo. After the spill, Enbridge offered to buy the property but not the store, Ms. Miller said. Nearing retirement and worried that the land’s value would plummet, the Millers liquidated their business and sold the land. “We could have worked that store for another 10 years,” said Ms. Miller, 59, who now has two part-time jobs. “For us to physically move our business at our age was more than we could fathom. It was an agonizing decision.”

The same sentiment echoes in Mayflower, Ark., a quiet, working-class town of about 2,200 tucked among the wetlands and dogwood thickets near Little Rock. On March 29, an Exxon Mobil pipeline burst near the Northwoods subdivision, spilling an estimated 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude, coating a residential street with oil. Twenty-two homes were evacuated.
Now, four months later, the neighborhood of low-slung brick homes is largely deserted, a ghostly column of empty driveways and darkened windows, the silence broken only by the groan of heavy machinery pawing at the ground as remediation continues.
After E.P.A. monitoring found air quality to be safe, residents of 17 of the homes were allowed back. But only a few have returned.

“People here are still unsure about whether it’s safe for their families,” said April Lane of the Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group, a community organization working with residents. Exxon has offered to buy the 22 evacuated homes, or to compensate owners for diminished property value. The company also said it would buy 40 additional properties if the owners could not sell them within four months. So far, Exxon has spent $2 million on temporary housing for residents and more than $44 million on the cleanup, said Aaron Stryk, an Exxon spokesman.

“We can’t say it enough: We are so, so sorry this incident took place and for the disruption and for the inconvenience that has taken place,” Mr. Stryk said. “We are staying in Mayflower until the job is done.” For some, the money cannot replace the lives they once led. Jimmy Arguello and his wife, Tiffany, lived in Northwoods for six years, in the first home they owned, built by Mr. Arguello, a plumber, and his friends.

The day the pipeline broke, the Arguellos were told by the police to pack for a few days. But for three months, the couple and their two young sons stayed at hotels – six in all – before settling into an apartment in nearby Conway. Exxon has paid their living expenses, but the impact on the family has been “heartbreaking,” Mr. Arguello said. Worried about raising his children near an oil spill, he has decided to sell his home to Exxon. “It’s hard not to know where your family is going to go and where we’re going to end up,” he said. “I built that house six years ago. And now I’m not going back.” Ryan Senia, a 29-year-old engineer, is also selling to Exxon. Mr. Senia, who has stayed at a friend’s house since being evacuated, said he worried he would never be able to put his home on the market otherwise. “Everyone you know is gone,” he said.

During the last few months, several lawsuits have been filed on behalf of dozens of residents who live both in and near the subdivision. The State of Arkansas and the Justice Department have also filed a claim, saying that the spill polluted waterways and that Exxon did not immediately repair the pipeline.

Exxon would not comment on pending litigation, Mr. Stryk said, adding that it had been transparent in its clean up efforts.
There is no sense of how long those efforts will continue. A protective boom has been strung across Lake Conway; so far, no oil has reached it. Workers were still searching for residual oil in a nearby marsh. And crews in Northwoods continue to monitor for oil that seeped into the foundations of several homes. “We’re tired of it,” Mr. Arguello said. “We’re ready for it to be over.”
Here in Marshall, Enbridge projects that its total cleanup cost will run to nearly $1 billion.

An E.P.A. spokeswoman, Anne Rowan, said that even after the company dredges the Kalamazoo, about 162,000 gallons of oil will remain. It cannot be recovered immediately without causing a significant adverse impact to the river, Ms. Rowan said.
Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality, meanwhile, has undertaken a huge study to examine soil and sediment. Since the spills, the pipeline industry has emphasized that oil lines remain safe and reliable, and that major spills are rare. “Are we satisfied? No,” said Peter T. Lidiak, the American Petroleum Institute’s pipeline director. “We are trying to not have any releases and not have properties damaged and people impacted. Because that’s not the business we’re in.”
For Deb Miller, the spill will forever haunt Marshall. “They can try and beautify along the river, but they can never give us back all of our neighbors who have moved out,” Ms. Miller said. “There are not enough zeros to pay us for what we’ve been through.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter Making industry pay its share

Published: Friday, August 9, 2013 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 9, 2013 at 10:31 p.m.

The lawsuit against major oil companies by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East is long overdue.

For years we have seen how offshore oil exploration and production have damaged our wetlands.

Yet no statewide politician except Gov. Dave Treen has tried to hold the industry accountable.

Our elected officials want to blame the federal government.

Certainly its construction of levees to control the Mississippi River robbed the delta of land-building sediment.

But the people of Kansas, Vermont and the other states did not cut oilfield canals through our marsh, drill oil wells in our wetlands and pump oil out of the ground until it sinks into the Gulf.

Why do Louisiana politicians ignore the oil companies and put the burden of coastal restoration on American taxpayers?

Could it be that they depend on oil-industry contributions?

I served in the Louisiana Senate for 27 years and on the Public Service Commission since 2003.

In that time, Treen has been virtually the only Louisiana politician to ask the oil companies to pay for the damage they caused.

When Treen introduced his Coastal Wetlands Environmental Levy, the oil companies that helped elect him became his enemies in a matter of days.

Bobby Jindal argued against suing the tobacco companies in the 1990s when he was secretary of health and hospitals.

Fortunately the state didn’t listen, and we got $4 billion from Big Tobacco to help treat people in state hospitals with illnesses from smoking.

Jindal represents the special interests. First it was the tobacco companies, now it’s the major oil companies.

As for the claim that this lawsuit will “shut down” the oil industry, consider that Louisiana and Texas have 40 percent of U.S. refining capacity, and these plants are running wide open.

Louisiana has the Mississippi River to transport products, 50,000 miles of pipeline and some of the world’s most-productive oil and gas fields off our coast.

Can anyone seriously say the industry is leaving?

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East has drawn a line in the dirt.
Its suit against major oil companies for their role in coastal erosion challenges the politicians of Louisiana to defend our state like they would defend their own property.

If Bobby Jindal, Mary Landrieu, David Vitter or any other politician were to suffer damage to their own property like we have seen in the wetlands, would they look the other way?

Foster Campbell
Public service commissioner
Bossier City

Special thanks to Richard Charter Big Gas Is Fracking Offshore California Where Even Oil Drilling Is Banned

hmmmmmmmmmmmm Who knew? DV

By Sarah Rae Fruchtnicht, Tue, August 06, 2013

Hydraulic fracturing has been occurring off the coast of California for about 15 years, in the same sensitive waters where all new oil leases were banned since the 1969 Union Oil Santa Barbara spill, the third worst spill in American history.

The California Coastal Commission wasn’t even aware the offshore fracking was taking place, according to Grist, because it happens three miles off the coast, in federal jurisdiction. California, however, has the right to reject federal permits if water quality is in danger.

Regulators have allowed fracking in the Pacific Ocean to occur at least 12 times since the late 1990s, according to federal documents released by the government to The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act. A new fracking project was recently approved.

Gas companies want to frack the Santa Barbara Channel, the same place where the 3 million gallons of crude oil from Union Oil’s Platform A were spilled in 1969. The spill was the worst of its time. Today it is the third worst spill behind BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 and the Exxon Valdez Spill in Alaska in 1989. The Santa Barbara spill killed thousands of sea birds, dolphins, elephant seals and sea lions.

DeSmogBlog reported Tuesday that a censored Environmental Protection Agency PowerPoint presentation found a clear link between shale gas fracking and groundwater contamination in Dimock, Pa.

Currently federal regulators allow offshore fracking chemicals to be released into the sea without companies having to file a separate environmental impact report or statement on the possible repercussions.

Fracking an area that includes oil wells adds even more risk. Tulane University petroleum engineering professor Eric Smith said that high pressure fracturing could break the rock seal on old well bore and leak oil into the ocean.

The Coastal Commission plans to grill new offshore drilling projects on details pertaining to fracking now that they know it is occurring in the Pacific. They could require new, separate permits and stricter review processes for new fracking projects.

Sources: Grist, AP

Special thanksto Richard Charter

Politico: Enviros target Keystone in new pipeline spill video
By: Matt Daily
August 1, 2013 02:10 PM EDT

An environmental group is rolling out a new tactic today to fight the Keystone XL pipeline: ananimated video showing every significant oil, gas and chemical pipeline spill in the U.S. since 1986.

The group, the Center for Biological Diversity, hopes the video will go viral and says it’s aimed at stirring up enough public awareness of the pipeline industry’s troubles to put pressure on three key Democratic senators – Bill Nelson of Florida, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota – to oppose any pro-Keystone legislation. It’s also hoping to influence President Barack Obama’s final call on the pipeline’s future.

The video is part of a campaign aimed at spreading a simple message: Don’t trust the pipeline industry.

(WATCH: Obama says he’ll approve Keystone only if greenhouse gases won’t worsen)

Contrary to claims by the oil and gas industry, pipelines are not a safe way to ship energy, said Noah Greenwald, director of the Arizona-based group’s endangered species program. “For so many different reasons, we need to be moving away from fossil fuels,” Greenwald said. “There’s really no safe and clean way to deal with them.”

But the oil industry has said pipelines are far safer than other transportation systems, such as rail cars or trucks.

“Safety is the number one priority for the oil and natural gas industry. Pipelines are one of the safest ways to transport crude oil, gasoline, and other petroleum products, and spills are extremely rare,” said Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute. “Even one spill is too many, and our industry, working with regulators, continues to apply the highest standards and the latest technologies to ensure the safe delivery of the energy needed to fuel our economy.”

(PHOTOS: Climate skeptics in Congress)

The Center for Biological Diversity is perhaps best known for its aggressive tactics to enforce the Endangered Species Act, including the many lawsuits it has filed accusing agencies like the Interior Department and EPA of refusing to impose legally required protection for creatures like the polar bear, California condor and Mexican gray wolf.

Its animated spill map is based on data culled from nearly 8,000 incidents catalogued as “significant” by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, including incidents that killed people, sent victims to the hospital, caused more than $50,000 in damages, released more than five barrels of volatile substances or triggered an explosion or fire. The spills featured in the video involved natural gas, oil and other hazardous liquids, such as diesel fuel, gasoline, fuel oil and anhydrous ammonia.

The group says the incidents have caused almost $7 billion in damage and killed more than 500 people since 1986.

“The numbers add up to 76,000 barrels per year, nearly 300 incidents per year,” Greenwald said.

The United States has more than 180,000 miles of oil and liquids pipelines and more than 305,000 miles of natural gas pipelines, according to industry data.

(WATCH: Obama’s full speech on climate change)

But the data also show that, at least in terms of the volume of the spills, the three lowest annual totals have occurred in the past five years, with the smallest volume in 2012. Greenwald acknowledged the downtrend in recent years, as well as the fact that a large percentage of the spills are very minor.

“A lot of the spills are small, but if it’s your land or the creek that you fish in Š it’s very damaging,” he said.

Environmentalists have pointed to the oil-sands crude that Keystone would carry as a particularly noxious type of oil that can be extremely difficult to clean up after a spill, particularly in water. That crude, which is mixed with light fluids to enable it to flow through pipelines, appears to sink in water, making it far more difficult to recover than crude oils that float on the surface.

That’s what happened when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in July 2010, pouring more than 20,000 barrels of diluted oil-sands crude into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The clean-up there is still ongoing, with the costs to Enbridge likely to approach $1 billion.

Another rupture on a pipeline owned by ExxonMobil this March sent thousands of barrels of oil streaming through a neighborhood in Mayflower, Ark.

According to PHMSA data, nearly a quarter of the pipeline accidents were caused by excavation damage, while more than 18 percent were from corrosion. Another 17 percent of the incidents happen because of faulty materials or welding problems.

The Keystone fight has been raging for five years, but with an Obama administration decision on a needed permit expected before the end of the year, supporters and opponents are ramping up their rhetoric.

The Senate may also be nearing a crucial vote in September on a pro-Keystone amendment that Republicans would try to attach to widely popular energy efficiency legislation. That outcome may depend on the votes of a handful of Democrats, including Nelson, Klobuchar and Bennet.

Obama hasn’t yet tipped his hand on whether the Keystone pipeline, which would connect the oil sands fields in Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, will win the permit. But his comments this week downplaying the number of jobs that the project will create gave opponents hope that he may turn it down.

In June, he warned that the pipeline shouldn’t be built if it would increase greenhouse gases, a statement that indicated the administration could be leaning on a State Department draft report that said the pipeline was a cleaner option than railroad cars or trucks to transport the oil.


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

Common Dreams: Lac-Mégantic Victims Challenge Corporations Behind Deadly Explosion Death toll climbs to 42 as environmental costs continue to mount

Published on Friday, July 19, 2013 by Common Dreams
– Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Victims of the train crashed which devastated the small town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec have filed suit against the corporations behind the devastation. (Photo: Reuters)

Two residents of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec have filed a class action lawsuit against the corporations behind the July 6 train derailment and explosion which killed nearly fifty people and devastated the small Canadian town.

Yannick Gagne and Guy Ouellet, who together own the Musi-Cafe—a bar that was crowded with people the night it was destroyed by the blast—are seeking damages from the Maine-based Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MM&A), Irving Oil, World Fuel Services and its subsidiary Dakota Plains Holdings, which extracted the crude oil the train was carrying.

According to the Portland Press Herald, the plaintiffs filed a motion Monday in Quebec Superior Court seeking to authorize a class-action suit against the railway company. On Wednesday, they amended the motion to include the oil and extraction companies.

The unattended train was carrying 72 cars of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields to an Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick when it derailed initiating an explosion and fireball which engulfed the small downtown.

Meanwhile, the death toll for the disaster has risen to 42 after four more bodies were discovered Thursday. Eight more people remain unaccounted for though are presumed to be dead.

The impact on the town of 6,000 has been severe. Beyond the crippling effect of the casualties, the untold environmental costs continue to unfold.

An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 liters of oil spilled into Lac-Mégantic, according to Quebec’s Environment Minister. And, as the Globe and Mail report, traces of oil were visible in the Chaudière River “and the air was pungent with the scent of oil.”

“Multi-coloured sheens could be seen on the surface of the water in areas where the current slowed, and the grass along some stretches of the shoreline was brown and straw-like,” they continue.

Following the accident, finger pointing prevailed among the major corporations involved.

Edward Burkhardt, CEO of MM&A as well as its much larger parent company, Rail World Inc., had initially attempted to blame local firefighters before claiming the fault lay with a train employee for not properly setting the brakes—despite the fact that he has continuously opposed arguments by railway employees who have long-insisted that one-man crews were too dangerous.

Similarly, a spokesman for Irving Oil—whose crude fueled the small town’s incineration—told the Associated Press, “We did not own or control the crude oil or its transportation at any time.”

Of the pending suit, the Press Herald continues:

The motion claims that the companies failed to ensure the oil was properly secured and safely transported. The lawsuit would seek compensation for any person or business affected directly or indirectly by the disaster.

It was not known Thursday when the court will rule on the motion.

If a Quebec Superior Court judge approves the motion, the lawsuit could be among the largest in Canadian history, though according to Jeff Orenstein, a lawyer from one of the firms working on the suit, no dollar amount on the damages sought will be available for some time.

“It will require interviews with the people of the city and expert evaluators as well,” Orenstein said. “There is no number I can pin down without much further research and expertise.”


Posted by Pear Energy: Who Pays the Cost of Fracking? a new report by Environment America Research and Policy Center
Posted by Pear Energy
Raising new concerns about a little-examined dimension of the fracking debate, Environment America Research & Policy Center today released a report analyzing state and federal financial assurance requirements for oil and gas drilling operations. As fracking expands at a frenzied pace in several states and federal officials consider allowing fracking near national parks and forests and key drinking water sources, Who Pays the Costs of Fracking? reveals current bonding requirements are inadequate to cover the costs of damage from gas drilling.

Read the full report by clicking below:
Who Pays the Cost of Fracking_vUS screen

Just reclaiming a fracking site can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the damage done by fracking—from contaminated groundwater to ruined roads—can cost millions of dollars. But today’s report shows that:

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) generally requires drillers to post bonds of only $10,000 per lease or a blanket bond of only $25,000 for all wells in any one state;
All but eight states require bonds of less than $50,000; and
In most cases, these bonds only cover the cost of site reclamation and well plugging, providing little or no up-front financial assurance for the broader damage done by fracking.

“This appalling lack of financial assurance dramatically increases the risks that our communities, our drinking water and our natural heritage face from fracking,” observed John Rumpler, senior attorney with Environment America Research & Policy Center and a co-author of the report.
Today’s report comes as the oil and gas industry is seeking to frack in several national forests and other sources of drinking water for millions of Americans—including George Washington National Forest in Virginia, White River National Forest in Colorado, Otero Mesa in New Mexico, Wayne National Forest in Ohio and the Delaware River Basin.

“It’s bad enough to think that fracking could pollute major sources of drinking water,” said Rumpler. “The fact that we could wind up paying the clean-up bill as well just adds insult to injury.”
Environment America is urging the BLM to implement a key recommendation of the administration’s advisory panel on fracking, which is the “preservation of unique and/or sensitive areas as off limits to drilling …”

The report shows that financial assurance requirements at the state-level are also quite weak in areas at the center of the current fracking boom—including in Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Of particular concern for financial accountability are the long-term costs of fracking. According to the report, across the nation by 2006 there were already 59,000 abandoned oil and gas wells and at least another 90,000 whose status is unknown. The potential cost for just plugging these wells exceeds $780 billion.

“From coal to oil to mining, we’ve seen every boom of extraction leave a legacy of pollution that future generations are left to grapple with,” observed Rumpler. “Weak financial assurance requirements virtually guarantee the same fate wherever fracking is allowed.”

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

Huffington Post: Fracking Protesters Follow Hickenlooper To Aspen At Democratic Governors Association Meeting (PHOTOS)

The Colorado Independent | By Andrea Tudhope
Posted: 07/15/2013 4:25 pm EDT | Updated: 07/15/2013 5:08 pm EDT

ASPEN- This tiny resort town, set high above the heavily plied natural-gas fields of the Colorado Front Range, was the unlikely scene on Saturday of the latest clash in the running battle in the state over the controversial natural-gas-extraction method known as fracking. More than 100 anti-fracking protesters gathered outside the Democratic Governors Association meeting held here, waving signs, shouting slogans and staging street-theater scenes in an attempt to draw the attention of Governor John Hickenlooper and the other “important state leaders and presidential hopefuls” in attendance.


“Ideally people will stop and listen, take notice, ask questions, get educated,” said protester Megan Brody. “That would be my hope.”

Passersby stopped to watch the action as it unfolded in front of the St Regis Resort, the city’s iconic ski mountains making a green and jagged backdrop in the summer sun. Some of the spectators shook their heads. But many walked up or stopped their cars to pose a question to the nearest protester: ‘What’s fracking?’

fracking 2

For Charles Bucknam, who joined the protest from Parker, the question was telling. “The government has the responsibility to let the people know what’s going on,” he said. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process that blasts millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals deep into the earth to loosen up trapped gas. The protesters are concerned that the public health effects of fracking have been downplayed and that the way the heavy industrial activity has been allowed to spread into residential areas of the state will result in illness and depressed property values. They say putting the interests of the drilling industry over environmental health and safety runs against hard-won Colorado values. They add that people come here for the outdoor lifestyle, for the clean air and the stunning Rocky Mountain landscape.

fracking 3
“I would never have guessed that this would have happened in Colorado. I moved here on purpose,” said Longmont resident Mike Taylor. “We pulled up 51 years of roots and came [to Colorado]. Now here I am standing here with a sign in my hand because I feel like my health and my future is being compromised for dollars and nothing more than dollars.”

The protest comes on the heels of news that the state’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, with Hickenlooper’s approval, joined a lawsuit filed by drilling companies to override a ban on fracking passed by voters in Longmont last year. The ballot initiative banned fracking within the city limits and was supported by roughly 60 percent of city voters. Longmont, about a four-hour drive from Aspen, sits on the eastern plains atop the Wattenberg Field, one of the largest natural gas fields in the country.

Hickenlooper, a former oil-and-gas-industry geologist, has worked to defend fracking. He sees it as an innovative process that will boost the use of natural gas over coal, arguing that gas is a cleaner “bridge” fuel spanning the time from now to an era when renewable energy will mostly fuel the nation. He opposed the Longmont ban because he believes it’s the state’s responsibility to make a comprehensive set of regulations for the industry to follow.

fracking 4
“Democracy is being undermined by the Governor and the [Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission],” Taylor said. “I mean, they’re all in it together. They might as well just step into the same trousers every morning.”

Bucknam agreed. “[Hickenlooper] represents the industry instead of the people,” he said. For many in attendance, the protest was about raising awareness. Thirteen-year-old activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, youth leader of the nonprofit Earth Guardians, has been recognized around the world as one of the biggest little voices in the environmental movement. Most recently, he and the youth team at Earth Guardians put together a presentation called “Fracking 101.”

“We’re taking it into communities that are getting fracked that don’t really know what’s happening to them, don’t know why they’re getting sick, why they’re getting skin rashes, why they’re getting nose bleeds and headaches and cancer,” he said.

“There’s no point in learning about an issue if you’re not going to do anything about it.”

Among the protesters, or “fracktivists,” were representatives and volunteers from groups that included 350 Colorado, Frack Free Colorado, Food and Water Watch, Garfield Transparency Initiative. The protest was organized by Protect Our Colorado, a coalition fighting to protect Colorado from drilling and fracking.

Health concerns are the top priority for the activists. In reference to the U.S. Senate committee meeting in 2012 where Hickenlooper claimed fracking fluid was safe enough to sip, the protesters brought in Hickenlooper look-alike Mike McLoughlin, Denver-based actor and electrician, for a dramatic interpretation of fracking-fluid taste-testing.

fracking 5
Former cell biology professor at NYU, Virginia Black, now a Longmont resident, is mystified by the government’s loose approach to regulating the process. “I don’t understand why chemicals that I could not pour down the sink for fear of contaminating water and air would not be regulatedŠ in fracking. Those are massive amounts of chemicals,” Black said.

A woman named Phyllis from Paonia said she felt an urgency to join the protest.

“It’s either speak up now or never, because it’s going to be too late. The environment isn’t going to continue to support us.”

Go to link to see slide show below:

State Lawmakers And Environmental Activists Express Opposition To Hydro Fracking
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 11: Opponents of hydraulic fracturing in New York state attend a news conference and rally against hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, on January 11, 2012 in New York City. The event, which was held on the steps of City Hall, called for an end to the controversial gas drilling method as environmental groups increasingly warn about contamination of the state’s aquifers that could poison its drinking water. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
State Lawmakers And Environmental Activists Express Opposition To Hydro Fracking
NEW YORK, NY – JANUARY 11: Eric Weltman of Food & Water Watch attends a news conference and rally against hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, in New York State on January 11, 2012 in New York City. The event, which was held on the steps of City Hall, called for an end to the controversial gas drilling method as environmental groups increasingly warn about contamination of the state’s aquifers that could poison its drinking water. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Department Of Environmental Conservation Holds Hydro Fracking Hearing
NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 30: Opponents and supporters of gas-drilling, or fracking, walk into the last of four public hearings on proposed fracking regulations in upstate New York on November 30, 2011 in New York City. Fracking, a process that injects millions of gallons of chemical mixed water into a well in order to release gas, has become a contentious issue in New York as critics of the process belive it contaminates drinking water among other hazards. NewYork City gets much of its drinking water from upstate reservoirs. If the regulations are approved, drilling in the upstate New York Marcellus Shale could begin next year. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Cuadrilla Shale Fracking Plant
PRESTON, LANCASHIRE – OCTOBER 07: Engineers on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. The controversial method of extracting gas by pumping high pressure water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground has been blamed for two minor earthquakes in the surrounding region. Environmental campaigners are calling for a halt to the drilling of what Cuadrilla believe could be significant reserves of natural gas. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Cuadrilla Shale Fracking Plant
PRESTON, LANCASHIRE – OCTOBER 07: Engineers at work on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. The controversial method of extracting gas by pumping high pressure water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground has been blamed for two minor earthquakes in the surrounding region. Environmental campaigners are calling for a halt to the drilling of what Cuadrilla believe could be significant reserves of natural gas. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Cuadrilla Shale Fracking Plant
PRESTON, LANCASHIRE – OCTOBER 07: General views of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. The controversial method of extracting gas by pumping high pressure water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground has been blamed for two minor earthquakes in the surrounding region. Environmental campaigners are calling for a halt to the drilling of what Cuadrilla believe could be significant reserves of natural gas. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Cuadrilla Shale Fracking Plant
PRESTON, LANCASHIRE – OCTOBER 07: Engineers look at the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. The controversial method of extracting gas by pumping high pressure water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground has been blamed for two minor earthquakes in the surrounding region. Environmental campaigners are calling for a halt to the drilling of what Cuadrilla believe could be significant reserves of natural gas. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Cuadrilla Shale Fracking Plant
PRESTON, LANCASHIRE – OCTOBER 07: A lump of shale rock on display at the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. The controversial method of extracting gas by pumping high pressure water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground has been blamed for two minor earthquakes in the surrounding region. Environmental campaigners are calling for a halt to the drilling of what Cuadrilla believe could be significant reserves of natural gas. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Cuadrilla Shale Fracking Plant
PRESTON, LANCASHIRE – OCTOBER 07: Engineers on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. The controversial method of extracting gas by pumping high pressure water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground has been blamed for two minor earthquakes in the surrounding region. Environmental campaigners are calling for a halt to the drilling of what Cuadrilla believe could be significant reserves of natural gas. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Cuadrilla Shale Fracking Plant
PRESTON, LANCASHIRE – OCTOBER 07: Engineers at work on the drilling platform of the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. The controversial method of extracting gas by pumping high pressure water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground has been blamed for two minor earthquakes in the surrounding region. Environmental campaigners are calling for a halt to the drilling of what Cuadrilla believe could be significant reserves of natural gas. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Cuadrilla Shale Fracking Plant
PRESTON, LANCASHIRE – OCTOBER 07: Drill heads on display at the entrance to the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. The controversial method of extracting gas by pumping high pressure water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground has been blamed for two minor earthquakes in the surrounding region. Environmental campaigners are calling for a halt to the drilling of what Cuadrilla believe could be significant reserves of natural gas. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Cuadrilla Shale Fracking Plant
PRESTON, LANCASHIRE – OCTOBER 07: An engineer displays a lump of shale rock at the Cuadrilla shale fracking facility on October 7, 2012 in Preston, Lancashire. The controversial method of extracting gas by pumping high pressure water and chemicals into shale formations deep underground has been blamed for two minor earthquakes in the surrounding region. Environmental campaigners are calling for a halt to the drilling of what Cuadrilla believe could be significant reserves of natural gas. (Photo by Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images)
Hydraulic Fracturing Prevention Press Conference
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 25: Actor/director Mark Ruffalo (C) speaks at the Hydraulic Fracturing prevention press conference urging the protection of the drinking water source of 15 million Americans at Foley Square on April 25, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Hydraulic Fracturing Prevention Press Conference
NEW YORK, NY – APRIL 25: (L-R) Actor/director Mark Ruffalo, Denise Katzman, Wenonah Hauter, and Water Defense co-founder/campaign director Claire Sandberg attend the Hydraulic Fracturing prevention press conference urging the protection of the drinking water source of 15 million Americans at Foley Square on April 25, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by D Dipasupil/Getty Images)
Josh Fox on Obama, the EPA, and House Republicans Who Had Him Arrested
HuffPost Green Editor Joanna Zelman talks to Josh Fox, director of the documentary ‘Gasland,’ about hydro-fracking, the EPA, and the House Republicans who had him arrested during a Congressional hearing.
Game Changer in Green: Mark Ruffalo
The expertise and the grassroots zeal Mark Ruffalo has brought to the issue of fracking is changing the game in green.

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 Exxon cites manufacturing defect for Arkansas oil spill, (raising more concerns…..)

Chris Tackett
Energy / Energy Disasters
July 11, 2013
Screen capture KATV

Exxon Mobil announced today that it believes a manufacturing defect is the cause of the pipeline rupture that spilled nearly 300,000 gallons of tar sands oil in Mayflower, Arkansas.

From the Exxon press statement:
Based on the metallurgical analysis, the independent laboratory concluded that the root cause of the failure can be attributed to original manufacturing defects – namely hook cracks near the seam.

Additional contributing factors include atypical pipe properties, such as extremely low impact toughness and elongation properties across the ERW [electric resistance welded] seam.

There are no findings that indicate internal or external corrosion contributed to the failure.

Their claim about there being no corrosion is important because there has been concern that the abrasive tar sands oil being transported in this pipeline may have contributed to the spill. The pipe was not originally designed to carry that type of fuel.

John Upton at Grist notes that this raises more concerns about the entire Pegasus pipeline, which was installed in the 1940s.
The findings bring into question the integrity of the entire Pegasus pipeline system – and other oil pipelines that crisscross the nation. The Pegasus system, which runs from Illinois to Texas, was laid in 1947 and 1948. The pipeline manufacturer, Ohio-based Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co., is no longer in business but was reportedly one of the leading suppliers of pipelines in the 1940s.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: The Guardian/UK: Quebec’s Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Not Just Tragedy, But Corporate Crime
Published on Friday, July 12, 2013 by

At the root of the explosion is deregulation and an energy rush driving companies to take ever greater risks
by Martin Lukacs

The town burns following a train derailment and explosion in Lac Megantic, Quebec, early July 6, 2013. The train was hauling about 50,000 barrels of crude from North Dakota’s Bakken shale development to Irving Oil’s 300,000 barrel per day (bpd) plant in Saint John, New Brunswick. (REUTERS/Jean Gauthie)

Five days after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, the rural town resembles a scene of desolation. Its downtown is a charred sacrifice zone. 50 people are likely dead, making the train’s toll one of the worst disasters in recent Canadian history.

In the explosion’s aftermath, politicians and media pundits have wagged their finger about the indecency of “politicizing” the event, of grappling with deeper explanations. We can mourn, but not scrutinize. In April, prime minister Stephen Harper even coined an awkward expression – “committing sociology” – to deride the search for root causes about horrifying events, in the wake of an unrelated, alleged bombing attempt.

The recklessness of these corporations is no accident. Under the reign of neoliberalism over the last 30 years, governments in Canada and elsewhere have freed them from environmental, labor and safety standards and oversight, while opening up increasingly more of the public sphere for private profit-seeking.

But to simply call the Lac-Mégantic explosion a “tragedy” and to stop there, is to make it seem like an accident that occurred solely because of human error or technical oversight. It risks missing how we might assign broader culpability. And we owe it to the people who died to understand the reasons why such a disaster occurred, and how it might be prevented in the future.

So here’s my bit of unwelcome sociology: the explosion in Lac-Mégantic is not merely a tragedy. It is a corporate crime scene.

The deeper evidence about this event won’t be found in the train’s black box, or by questioning the one engineer who left the train before it loosened and careened unmanned into the heart of this tiny town. For that you’ll have to look at how Lac-Mégantic was hit by a perfect storm of greed, deregulation and an extreme energy rush driving companies to ever greater gambles with the environment and human life.

The crude carried on the rail-line of US-based company Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway – “fracked” shale oil from North Dakota – would not have passed through Lac-Mégantic five years ago. That’s because it’s part of a boom in dirty, unconventional energy, as fossil fuel companies seek to supplant the depletion of easy oil and gas with new sources – sources that are harder to find, nastier to extract, and more complicated to ship.

Like the Alberta tar sands, or the shale deposits of the United States, these energy sources are so destructive and carbon-intensive that leading scientists have made a straightforward judgment: to avert runaway climate change, they need to be kept in the ground. It’s a sad irony that Quebec is one of the few places to currently ban the “fracking” used to extract the Dakotan oil that devastated Lac-Mégantic.

But fossil fuel companies, spurred by record profits, have deployed a full-spectrum strategy to exploit and carry this oil to market. That’s one of the reasons for a massive, reckless increase in the amount of oil shipped by rail. In 2009, companies shipped a mere 500 carloads of crude oil by rail in Canada; this year, it will be 140,000.

Oil-by-rail has also proved a form of insurance against companies’ worst nightmare: a burgeoning, continent-wide movement to block pipelines from the Alberta tar sands. A group of Canadian businessmen is pursuing the construction of a 2,400-kilometre rail line that could ship 5m barrels of tar sands oil from Alberta to Alaska. Companies are also trucking it and entertaining the idea of barging it down waterways. This is the creed of the new energy era: by any means necessary.

The recklessness of these corporations is no accident. Under the reign of neoliberalism over the last 30 years, governments in Canada and elsewhere have freed them from environmental, labor and safety standards and oversight, while opening up increasingly more of the public sphere for private profit-seeking.

The railway in Canada has hardly been exempt. Up until the mid 1980s, the industry, publicly-run, was under serious regulation. By the time the Thatcherite Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney was finished with his reforms, it was deregulated, and companies had rewritten the safety rules. That launched an era of cost-cutting, massive lay-offs, and speed-ups on the job, and eventually, the full privatization of companies and rail-lines.

The Liberal government completed the job by turning over what regulation remained to rail companies themselves. A report issued in 2007 by a safety group spelled out the result: Canada’s rail system was a disaster in the waiting.

It’s little wonder, then, that today’s oil and rail barons have cut corners with ease. They’ve been using old rail cars to ship oil, despite the fact that regulators warned the federal government they were unsafe, as far back as 20 years ago. A more recent report by a federal agency reminded the government that the cars could be “subject to damage and catastrophic loss of hazardous materials.” All were ignored. To top it off, the federal government gave the go-ahead last year to Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway to operate with just one engineer aboard their trains.

All of which means it will not suffice to find out if a brake malfunctioned the night of the disaster, or limit ourselves to pointing at the failings of lax regulation. The debate should be about the need for another kind of brake, over the mad pursuit of infinite resources, and the unshackling of reckless corporations, on a finite and fragile planet.

Canada’s political class will not be pleased by the lessons to be drawn. The government needs to get back into the business of heavily regulating corporations – through incentives, through taxes, and through sanctions. And this will involve not just grappling with the dangers of the transport of oil – which will remain unsafe, whether by rail or by pipeline – but starting a rapid transition away from an extreme energy economy entirely. That will not happen as the result of any government inquiry, but a noisy social movement that puts it on the public agenda.

That’s why the most fitting response to Lac-Mégantic actually happened two weeks ago, by US residents 100 miles across the border in Fairfield, Maine. They were arrested blockading a train carrying the same fracked oil from the same oilfields of Northern Dakota, to the same refinery in New Brunswick, Canada. Their message was about ending our reliance on oil, not soon but now. For those who never knew the victims of Lac-Mégantic, there could be no better way to honor them.

Common Dreams: In ‘Chilling’ Ruling, Chevron Granted Access to Activists’ Private Internet Data

Published on Thursday, July 11, 2013

“Sweeping” subpoena violates rights of those who spoke out against oil giant’s devastating actions in Ecuador

This is reprehensible that these environmental heroes are being treated this way.

– Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Following their guilty sentence for the dumping of 18.5bn gallons of toxic waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Chevron is amassing the personal information of the environmentalists and attorneys who fought against them in an effort to prove ‘conspiracy.’ (Photo: Rainforest Action Network/ cc/ Flickr)The US government is not the only entity who, with judicial approval, is amassing massive amounts of personal information against their so-called enemies.

A federal judge has ruled to allow Chevron, through a subpoena to Microsoft, to collect the IP usage records and identity information for email accounts owned by over 100 environmental activists, journalists and attorneys.

The oil giant is demanding the records in an attempt to cull together a lawsuit which alleges that the company was the victim of a conspiracy in the $18.2 billion judgment against it for dumping 18.5 billion gallons of oil waste in the Ecuadorean Amazon, causing untold damage to the rainforest.

The “sweeping” subpoena was one of three issued to Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

“Environmental advocates have the right to speak anonymously and travel without their every move and association being exposed to Chevron,” said Marcia Hofmann, Senior Staff Attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, who—along with environmental rights group EarthRights International (ERI)—had filed a motion last fall to “quash” the subpoenas.

“These sweeping subpoenas create a chilling effect among those who have spoken out against the oil giant’s activities in Ecuador,” she added at the time.

According to ERI, the subpoena demands the personal information about each account holder as well as the IP addresses associated with every login to each account over a nine-year period. “This could allow Chevron to determine the countries, states, cities or even buildings where the account-holders were checking their email,” they write, “so as to ‘infer the movements of the users over the relevant period and might permit Chevron to makes inferences about some of the user’s professional and personal relationships.'”

In their statement about the ruling, ERI notes that the argument given by presiding US District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan—who was previously accused of prejudice against the Ecuadorians and their lawyers—was as “breathtaking as the subpoena itself.” They continue:

According to Judge Kaplan, none of the account holders could benefit from First Amendment protections since the account holders had “not shown that they were U.S. citizens.”

Now, let’s break this down. The account-holders in this case were proceeding anonymously, which the First Amendment permits. Because of this, Judge Kaplan was provided with no information about the account holders’ residency or places of birth. It is somewhat amazing then, that Judge Kaplan assumed that the account holders were not US citizens. As far as I know, a judge has never before made this assumption when presented with a First Amendment claim. We have to ask then: on what basis did Judge Kaplan reach out and make this assumption?

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

Reuters Analysis: Quebec rail disaster shines critical light on oil-by-rail boom

Is anyone concerned that this train was being piloted automatically, as in, without human pilots aboard? DV

By Scott Haggett, Dave Sherwood and Cezary Podkul
Sun Jul 7, 2013 6:59pm EDT

(Reuters) – The deadly train derailment in Quebec this weekend is set to bring intense scrutiny to the dramatic growth in North America of shipping crude oil by rail, a century-old practice unexpectedly revived by the surge in shale oil production.

At least five people were killed, and another 40 are missing, after a train carrying 73 tank cars of North Dakota crude rolled driverless down a hill into the heart of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where it derailed and exploded, leveling the town center.

It was the latest and most deadly in a series of high-profile accidents involving crude oil shipments on North America’s rail network. Oil by rail – at least until now – has widely been expected to continue growing as shale oil output races ahead far faster than new pipelines can be built.

Hauling some 50,000 barrels of crude, the train was one of around 10 such shipments a month now crossing Maine, a route that allows oil producers in North Dakota to get cheaper domestic crude to coastal refiners. Across North America, oil by rail traffic has more than doubled since 2011; in Maine, such shipments were unheard of two years ago.

“The frequency of the number of incidents that have occurred raises legitimate questions that the industry and government need to look at,” said Jim Hall, managing partner of consultants Hall & Associates LLC, and a former chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

“The issue here is: are they expanding too rapidly?” he said. “Are they in a rush to accommodate and to make the economic advantage of carrying these?”

There are many unanswered questions about the Quebec disaster that will likely shape the public and regulatory response, including why a parked freight train suddenly began rolling again, and why carloads of crude oil – a highly flammable but not typically explosive substance – caused such widespread disaster.

“There may have been some vapors, maybe? I don’t know. We don’t know exactly what happened,” Edward A Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said in an interview on Saturday when asked about why the tankers may have exploded.

Apart from the human toll, the disaster will draw more attention to environmental risks of transporting oil.

Much is at stake: Oil by rail represents a small but important new source of revenue for big operators like Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd and Warren Buffett’s BNSF, which have suffered a drop in coal cargo. It is also a flexible and cheaper option to more expensive European or African crude for refiners like Irving Oil, which confirmed on Sunday that the train was destined for its 300,000 bpd plant in Saint John, New Brunswick.

And for producers like Continental Resources Inc which have pioneered the development of the Bakken fields in North Dakota, railways now carry three-quarters of their production; new pipelines that can accommodate more oil are years away.

Saturday’s train wreck may also play into the rancorous debate over the $5.3 billion Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Midwest, which is hinging on President Barack Obama’s decision later this year.

Obama said last month that approval for the line would ultimately depend on its impact on carbon-dioxide emissions. An earlier draft report from the State Department suggested that rejecting the project would not affect emissions because crude would still be shipped by rail.

As a result, the incident may strengthen the resolve of those opposed to the Keystone pipeline rather than soften resistance. The oil industry at large is already broadly supportive of both rail and pipeline transport.

“Committed critics … could conceivably seize upon the Lac-Megantic incident – in tandem with recent pipeline spills – to argue against oil production, irrespective of its mode of transport,” said Kevin Book, managing director of Research at ClearView Energy Partners.

The railway industry has this year mounted a more robust effort to counter the suggestion that rail is a riskier way to transport crude than pipelines.

The American Association of Railroads has declined to comment on Lac-Megantic, but previously said its spill rate – based on the number of gallons of crude oil spilled versus every million miles of transport per barrel – is less than half that for pipelines.

The AAR also said the number of train accidents involving the release of hazardous material has dropped by 26 percent since 2000, and by 78 percent since 1980.

Since the beginning of the year, U.S. railroads moved nearly 360,000 carloads of crude and refined product, 40 percent more than in 2012, according to the AAR. In Canada, year-to-date traffic is up 24 percent.

With that growth has come a number of high-profile spills and accidents, many on Canadian Pacific Railway’s network, which runs through Alberta, the largest oil exporter to the United States, and the Bakken field.

Canadian Pacific suffered the industry’s first serious spill in late March, when 14 tanker cars derailed near Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, and leaked 15,000 gallons of crude. Regulators have not released the results of their investigation into the incident, and Canadian Pacific declined to comment.

Even before Saturday’s disaster, the practice of shipping oil by rail was stirring opposition in Maine.

“It’s a wake-up call of the worst kind,” said Meaghan LaSala, an organizer with 350 Maine, a group that opposes the hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – technology that makes shale production possible. “They say rail is the safest method, but there simply is no guaranteed way to transport such highly toxic and explosive materials.”

Many observers say it is too soon to say if the Lac-Megantic disaster will quell the crude-by-rail boom. Refiners not connected to the Midwest pipeline network will still use rail to access the cheapest crudes.

“On the face of it this should be a boost for pipeline solutions, especially given the improvements in pipeline technology over the past five decades,” said Ed Morse, managing director of commodity research at Citi Group.

But he and other analysts noted that not every devastating tragedy leads to new policy.
“We need all forms of transportation for oil, whether they’re rail, whether they’re pipeline, and no system is failsafe,” Charles Drevna, president of American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said in a phone interview.

For Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, crude oil shipments are a relatively new phenomenon. With just 510 miles of line, the small railway primarily carried paper and forest products until the financial crisis, and had suffered in the years after until the shale boom came along.

In the first four months of the year, it carried about 16,500 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, 10 times more than a year before and up from zero in early 2011, according to data from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

“In the 10 years or so we’ve been in business, this is the only serious derailment we’ve ever had,” Burkhardt told Reuters in the interview.

Henry Posner III, a former business partner who invested with Burkhardt in a railroad in Estonia, said he could not recall any incidents similar to what happened in Quebec during the 5-1/2 years they were in business together.

“Safety is the most important component of railway culture in North America and that’s one of the things we’re most proud of having exported to Estonia,” said Posner, who chairs Railroad Development Corporation, a Pittsburgh-based company that invests in railroads.

(Reporting by Scott Haggett in Calgary, Alberta, Dave Sherwood in Portland, Maine, and Cezary Podkul in New York; additional reporting by P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago, Jonathan Leff in New York and David Ljunggen in Ottawa; editing by Tiffany Wu and Matthew Lewis)

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Common Dreams: Lac-Megantic: Ecological Tragedy Unfolds Amid Human Loss. Dozens still missing as questions emerge about scale of environmental damage

Published on Monday, July 8, 2013 by Common Dreams

– Jon Queally, staff writer

The downtown core lays in ruins as fire fighters continue to water smoldering rubble Sunday, July 7, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic,, Quebec after a train derailed ignited tanker cars carrying crude oil. (Photo: Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

In addition to the human deathtoll from the disaster in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec—which local officials say is almost sure to rise—fears over the ecological destruction caused by Saturday’s oil train derailment and explosion are also beginning to emerge.

While Quebec’s emergency management agency has confirmed that both Lac-Megantic itself and the Chaudière River have both been contaminated by the spill, Canadian environmental groups are warning that the impact on the region’s water and air quality could be impacted for years to come.

The spilled oil and other toxins contained within it, says Greenpeace Canada’s Keith Stewart, will create lasting pain for the region. “It gets into the ecosystem, it gets into the water, it gets into the soil,” he told the Montreal Gazette. “Depending on the amount of oil spilled, the effects can be big, and they can mitigate the damage but not get rid of them entirely.”

In this case, because of the fires and amount of fuel that was burned, a large concern is the air pollutants that were created.
In fact, it is the fires that have delayed the cleanup so far, making the long-term impacts possibly much worse. “The longer term impacts are effects on water and on soil, which are hard to clean up, and normally you want to clean them up as soon as possible to reduce damage,” Stewart explained.

One of the lingering unknowns, says Stewart, is exactly what kind of oil the train cars were carrying. “If it’s (heavy oil) bitumen, it sinks so you actually have to go down to the riverbed, but if it’s light crude, it will float and you can [try to] skim it off the top,” Stewart said.

“We suspect that the oil is coming from North Dakota, and that would means it’s shale oil,” said Steven Guilbeault, co-founder and deputy director of the Quebec-based group Équiterre. “It’s not the oil people are used to. Beyond that, (it’s a question of whether) it’s light crude or heavy crude. … Depending on the type of crude oil, the environmental impacts, safety issues, decontamination issues are very different because of what’s in the oil.”

As was the case regarding recent oil spills in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas—both of which involved Canadian tar sands oil—these heavier crudes prove much more difficult to clean up, especially when they enter bodies of water.

“Typically what they have to do is try to scoop it up out of the water and dig up the soil that’s been contaminated and they can never get all of it,” said Guibeault. “It gets into the ecosystem, it gets into the water, it gets into the soil. Depending on the amount of oil spilled, the effects can be big, and they can mitigate the damage but not get rid of them entirely.”