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December 17 2011

22:27

Report Partially Blames Federal Government For Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Explosion

Perhaps one of the most honest assessments of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion reveals the numerous failures of both industry and the federal government in the worst marine oil disaster in U.S. history.

The U.S. Department of the Interior sanctioned the report, compiled by more than a dozen experts operating with the temporary group called the Committee for Analysis of Causes of the Deepwater Horizon Explosion, Fire, and Oil Spill to Identify Measures to Prevent Similar Accidents in the Future (The Committee). And while the experts on The Committee identified failures we’ve documented in the past - particularly the shoddy design of the well’s blowout preventer - the committee highlighted plenty of new information as well.

Noting again that it was sanctioned by the federal government, it's interesting that this was one of the first reports to explicitly implicate the federal government’s irresponsible actions as a cause of the massive oil disaster that followed the explosion:

The regulatory regime was ineffective in addressing the risks of the Macondo well. The actions of the regulators did not display an awareness of the risks or the very narrow margins of safety.

As DeSmog has reported in the past, the federal government’s role in the disaster can be traced all the way back to 2001, when then-Vice President Dick Cheney was holding his secret Energy Task Force meetings with oil industry executives. During those meetings, the industry insiders in attendance helped the Vice President draft legislation that would eviscerate basic health and safety standards that protected workers and the public from the oil industry's reckless practices.

Among the regulations that were revoked was the requirement for offshore rigs to maintain an acoustic switch – a device that would explode and seal off an oil well permanently in the event of a blowout. There was no acoustic switch installed on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Triggering the switch makes the well no longer usable.

Another failure of the government involved the actual rig inspections. Again, our previous reports revealed that the regulators charged with insuring the rig’s safety allowed the oil companies to fill out their own inspection reports in pencil, with the regulators going back over them in pen after they were sent back.

While these aspects were not specifically mentioned in the new report, it does at least put some blame on the government.

The new report also lays plenty of blame at the feet of the companies involved with the Deepwater Horizon rig, which were BP, Transocean, and Halliburton:

The actions, policies, and procedures of the corporations involved did not provide an effective systems safety approach commensurate with the risks of the Macondo well. The lack of a strong safety culture resulting from a deficient overall systems approach to safety is evident in the multiple flawed decisions that led to the blowout…

The (blow-out-prevention) system was neither designed nor tested for the dynamic conditions that most likely existed at the time that attempts were made to recapture well control. Furthermore, the design, test, operation, and maintenance of the (blow out prevention) system were not consistent with a high-reliability, fail-safe device.

Earlier this year, rig-owner Transocean attempted to claim in their own report that the blame for the explosion and oil leak should be levied at BP and Halliburton, and that the Transocean-owned blowout preventer was fully operational. An additional Transocean report tried to lay the blame for the explosion on the rig workers.

The new report also comes on the heels of a recent lawsuit filed by BP claiming that Halliburton was attempting to destroy evidence of their shoddy cement work prior to trial.

November 18 2011

03:22

Brazilian Officials Investigating Chevron Oil Spill Off Coast

Law enforcement agencies in Brazil announced today that they would begin investigating the cause of an oil spill that occurred off the coast. Chevron's Frade Well off the coast of Brazil has been leaking for more than a week. From the start, Chevron tried to downplay the significance of the spill, suggesting it had natural causes, but Brazilian officials are now saying that Chevron did, in fact, cause an oil spill.

Mike G at The Understory lays out the story:

Brazil’s Federal Police agency has announced that it is investigating the spill, and said in a statement that those responsible could be facing up to 5 years in prison…After Chevron tried to blame it on natural seepage for a week, officials have confirmed that the oil spill off the Brazilian coast is in fact the result of Chevron’s operations at its Frade well.

Echoing last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and BP’s defensive and often misleading public communications during that disaster, Chevron has continuously downplayed and underestimated the amount of oil that has leaked out of their well (which, according to the company, was sealed today). The oil giant claims that the amount of oil leaked out of the Frade well was somewhere between 400 and 650 barrels of oil, with only about 65 barrels worth of oil remaining on the surface of the water after a week of natural dissipation and the application of chemical dispersants.

However, independent analyses performed by organizations tell a different story.

From The Washington Post:

SkyTruth, a nonprofit group that uses satellite imagery to detect environmental problems, said on its website the oil spill extended 918 square miles (2,379 square kilometers) and that the spill rate as of Tuesday was up to at least 3,738 barrels per day.

Chevron said in its statement that it “continues to fully inform and work with Brazilian government agencies and industry partners on all aspects of this matter.”

“If Chevron is not doing what it should (to contain the spill) it will be severely punished,” Mines and Energy Minister Edison Lobao said Thursday.

In another eerie similarity to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, the contractor of Chevron’s Frade well was Transocean, the company that actually owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

Unlike the “justice” being served in America to BP and the other companies involved in last year’s oil disaster, Chevron executives in Brazil could actually face prison time for their disaster, as Mike G mentions in his piece.

This would be a tremendous precedent to set for other oil companies who have run roughshod over communities and the environment across the globe without any remorse or true accountability.

September 14 2011

22:02

Deepwater Horizon Still A Massive Headache For BP

The problems facing BP along the Gulf Coast continue to pile up. After more than a year of investigations, the U.S. Coast Guard has finally released their long-awaited assessment of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. Their conclusion was that the ultimate blame for the disaster rests squarely on BP’s shoulders.

The new report, put together by The Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), was among the most exhaustive investigations to date, according to Reuters. The report claims that the decisions made by BP in the days before the rig explosion are what led to the catastrophe. Among those were BP’s decision to ignore the safeguarding of the cement plug, and the oil company’s decision to only use one type of cement to seal the well. The report also said that the location that BP chose for the casing was very poor, making it difficult to access in an emergency.

The new report does lay some blame at the feet of other companies involved, including Transocean and Halliburton, but they said that at the end of the day, BP was in charge of the decision-making process, and therefore they are the responsible party. This is a far cry from a recent report by Marshall Islands investigators, who recently pinned the blame for the disaster on the rig workers themselves, rather than the companies involved in the rig’s management. The new report is on par with other reports that also put most of the blame on BP.


But the report wasn’t just another episode of the blame game, it actually offered solutions to prevent further disasters. The Associated Press notes the recommendations of the panel as follows:
  

The panel recommended further changes to offshore drilling practices, including requiring at least two barriers to be placed in a well — one mechanical, and one cement. The Macondo well had a single barrier, the cement seal at the bottom, so when the blowout happened the only thing to stop it was the blowout preventer. That didn't work, the panel says, because the kink in the pipe caused by the force of the blowout kept it out of reach of the safety device's shearing rams. The rams are supposed to pinch a well shut in an emergency by slicing through the well's drill pipe.
 

But the Coast Guard report isn’t the only problem that BP is having to deal with in regards to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Reports over the last few weeks have been surfacing about oil sheens appearing in the Gulf of Mexico around the “sealed off” Macondo well where the Deepwater Horizon rig was located. Today, a new report by Al Jazeera highlighted the seriousness of the new oil being found in the Gulf:
  

Al Jazeera flew to the area on Sunday, September 11, and spotted a swath of silvery oil sheen, approximately 7 km long and 10 to 50 meters wide, at a location roughly 19 km northeast of the now-capped Macondo 252 well.

Edward Overton, a professor emeritus at Louisiana State University's environmental sciences department, examined data from recent samples taken of the new oil. Overton, who is also a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contractor, told Al Jazeera, "After examining the data, I think it's a dead ringer for the MC252 [Macondo Well] oil, as good a match as I've seen".

While not ruling out the possibility that oil could be seeping out of the giant reservoir, which would be the worst-case scenario, Overton believes the oil currently reaching the surface is likely from oil that was trapped in the damaged rigging on the seafloor. He said the oil could either be leaking from the broken riser pipe that connected the Deepwater Horizon to the well, or that oil is leaking from the Deepwater Horizon itself.
 

Other scientists along the Gulf Coast are worried that the oil could actually be coming from the actual oil reserve itself – speculating fissures developing along the floor of the Gulf of Mexico are leaking oil from the 50 million gallon reservoir beneath the sand. While events like that are actually quite common, none have been known to create sheens as massive as the current one being tracked in the Gulf.

While it will be difficult to prove where the new oil is coming from without extensive underwater surveillance, one thing is for sure: The damage from the Deepwater Horizon disaster will not be subsiding any time soon, and BP’s troubles will linger even longer.

August 26 2011

06:19

Breaking: State Department Calls Keystone XL Environmental Impact "Limited," Ignoring Evidence

The State Department just released their Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The 27-page document does not flag any significant environmental concerns. The EIS suggests that construction of the pipeline as proposed is preferable to alternatives considered, including: not building the pipeline, rerouting the proposed location, and transporting the oil through alternative means.

In typical agency beurocratic-speak, the main alternatives are described as such:

  • No Action Alternative – potential scenarios that could occur if the proposed Project is not built and operated;
  • System Alternatives − the use of other pipeline systems or other methods of providing Canadian crude oil to the Cushing tank farm and the Gulf Coast market;
  • Major Route Alternatives − other potential pipeline routes for transporting heavy crude oil from the U.S./Canada border to Cushing, Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast market.

None of the alternatives were considered by the State Department to be preferable to proposed construction.

The Department will have to conduct another assessment of whether the pipeline is in the “national interest”, as well as a 90-day public comment period, but the public hearings scheduled for the fall are unlikely to change the positive decision. Thus today's State Department report is widely considered the final say on approval. The only recourse now is President Obama's power to overrule that approval. People are now watching Obama's biggest test on climate and the environment before 2012 with bated breath.

TransCanada has already begun planning to start construction on the pipeline as early as 2012, and for a pipeline that TransCanada's President for Energy and Oil Pipelines Alexander J. Pourbaix calls "the safest oil pipeline built in the U.S", there are a lot of reasons to believe otherwise.

The State Department Environmental Assessment of the already-constructed Keystone I pipeline predicted a maximum of 1 spill approximately every 7 years. Similarly, TransCanada's projections suggest 11 significant spills over Keystone XL's pipeline's 50 year operational lifetime.
Transcanada’s Keystone I pipeline has already sprung 12 leaks in the past year alone, spilling nearly 30,000 gallons of bitumen crude. In May, EPA forced TransCanada to shut down the pipeline for several days until it met increased safety standards. Then, in June, the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a Corrective Action Order, stopping use of the pipeline until safety problems had been corrected.

Independent analysis performed by University of Nebraska professor Dr. John Stansbury argues that TransCanada's used faulty information to calculate safety assessments for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
  • The “Keystone XL Worst-Case Spills Study found that rather than 11 significant spills, a more realistic assessment is 91 significant spills over the pipeline’s operational lifetime
  • Stansbury alleges that TransCanada ignored historical data that represents 23 percent of historical pipeline spills, and made the assumption that its pipeline would only half as many spills as other pipelines. 
  • According to Stansbury’s report, TransCanada's calculations use a 19-minute shut down time, but the company assumes that it will only take 11 minutes and 30 seconds to shut down the pipeline. Stansbury shows that a “response to a leak at a river crossing could conservatively take more than ten times longer” than TransCanada estimates. 
These inadequate estimations mean that worst-case spill volumes will likely be significantly larger than those estimated by TransCanada.

Finally, in the Supplemental Draft EIS (not the report issued today, which we are still reviewing), Keystone XL is expected to leak due to flooding and washout only once every 87,800 years. After July’s ExxonMobil Yellowstone spill, it seems outrageous to claim that flooding and washout will claim a pipeline once every 90,000 years. With climate change, there will be increased rainfall and extreme weather, and current models of erosion prediction will be inaccurate.

The Supplemental Draft EIS also expects one incident due to corrosion every 3,400 yearsTransCanada failed to take into account that tar sands pipelines are operated at higher temperatures and pressures, and that, because of its chemical makeup, it is well known that bitumen is more acidic than the conventional crude and more corrosive, with more abrasive agents in it. 

TransCanada's track record with Keystone I is poor, and it seems foolhardy to trust them with the drinking water for two million people, the health of hundreds of communities, and for numerous ecologically vulnerable regions.

As Amy Goodman writes, in architecture, a "keystone" is the stone at the top of an arch that holds it together. With it, the structure is strong, but without, the structure collapses. To our "keystone": Obama, we're waiting with breathless anticipation. 

August 24 2011

04:24

Justice Department Launches Investigation Into BP's Oil Gusher Cover Up

The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an official investigation to determine whether or not BP lied to the public and to the government about the amount of oil that was leaking from a broken pipe during last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. The leak was the result of the explosion and subsequent sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, owned by Transocean but operated by BP.

During the initial days of the oil leak, BP was constantly updating their estimates of how much oil was flowing out of the broken pipeline. In spite of their advanced camera, computer, and other data technologies, they were somehow never able to give an accurate, or even close to accurate, account of what was happening beneath the water’s surface. The Justice Department is hoping to find out whether the company was acting dishonestly, or if they actually couldn’t determine the flow rate despite all the data available to them.

From a lengthy Huffington Post report on the investigation:

According to federal officials, BP was solely responsible for producing the very first spill estimate of 1,000 barrels per day, a figure which led to a sense of complacency about the seriousness of the event among some federal and state responders at the outset of the disaster, the presidential commission on the oil spill concluded in January 2011. BP has never publicly acknowledged generating this figure and even the commission’s investigators could not determine the methodology used to produce it.

Documents and interviews also indicate that BP, using reservoir data, computer modeling and imagery of the leaking pipe, may have had the ability to calculate a far more accurate estimate of the well's flow rate early on in the spill than it provided to the government. The company either never fully ran those calculations or their results were not disclosed to federal responders.

Obviously, it would have been in the company’s own best interest to convince the public that the disaster was smaller than it actually was, as the company was facing environmental fines of up to $4,300 per barrel of oil leaked into the Gulf. But it is hard to believe that BP couldn’t get an accurate count of what was coming out of that broken pipe, or even a reasonable rough estimate. After all, the company boasted in 2008 that they had developed technology that was capable of determining the flow rate of oil through a broken pipe – the very situation that was happening in the Gulf. They invented the technology, bragged about it, but when it would have actually been useful to deploy, BP claimed they couldn’t accurately measure the flow rate, and thus the scope of the disaster.

There’s no question that this investigation is a fantastic start. Especially when you consider that our current DOJ has spent more time investigating John Edwards' extramarital affair than they have investigating the Wall Street bankers whose actions helped bring down our economy. On top of that, we have an Attorney General who spent most of his career defending oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, and Wall Street banks – the same suspects we’re supposed to trust him to investigate. So this investigation is certainly a step in the right direction, but it needs to go much, much deeper than BP’s flow number irregularities.

To begin with, the DOJ needs to look into what was happening at the oil company before the Gulf disaster even occurred. Reports show that the company calculated the cost of safety measures for oil rigs versus the cost (value) they put on a worker’s life. Internal documents obtained by The Daily Beast show that BP called this analysis the “Three Little Pigs” scenario. After they realized that it was more cost-effective to pay losses to the families of injured workers, they opted to forgo certain safety measures. This is clearly an area where the Justice Department should focus significant attention.

The Justice Department should also look hard into the aggressive misinformation campaign that BP launched during the oil leak. After the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, BP sent its PR machine into overdrive trying to misdirect the public about what was happening in the Gulf of Mexico.

Leaked BP emails show that the company actively attempted to “buy” scientists near the Gulf Coast, in order to produce favorable reports on the impact the oil would have on the environment. This tactic would have also prevented these scientific experts from later testifying for plaintiff’s attorneys representing oil disaster victims, as their payments from BP would have provided a significant conflict of interest.

BP's campaigns stretched far beyond buying scientists. The oil giant launched an aggressive online ad campaign, spending a staggering $3.7 million in just one month on Google AdWords relating to the oil spill - BP bought relevant search terms such as "oil spill," "leak," and "top kill." Buying these search terms gave BP an online advantage, as it put their sponsored links (most of which are still active today) ahead of relevant news stories and other information relating to the oil disaster in a web search.

After the online ad campaign took off, the company then began their “grassroots” efforts. Two industry-funded organizations went into heavy action: The Gulf of Mexico Foundation and the America’s Wetland Foundation. The Gulf of Mexico Foundation pulled its board of directors from the oil industry, and most members of the board were either actively working for oil companies, or for offshore oil drilling interests. America’s Wetland Foundation was even less discrete than hiring an oil industry board of directors – they took funding directly from the oil industry, including: Shell, Chevron, the American Petroleum Institute, Citgo, Entergy, and Exxon Mobil.

BP also donated $5 million to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in July 2011, 3 months after the oil leak began. After this cash infusion, the Sea Lab released a report claiming that the massive dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico were being caused by the cold water, not the oil and Corexit that BP poured into the waters. Scientists at the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration pointed out that dolphins actually swim away to avoid cold water.

Companies across the globe have been fined for misleading the public on a variety of issues. As the above clearly shows, BP actively set out to mislead the public in numerous ways regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. These are active misinformation campaigns that continue to this day. Until the Justice Department looks into all of these matters, it is unlikely that the misinformation from BP is going to stop any time soon.

August 22 2011

20:03

Is Deepwater Horizon Rig Owner Trying To Blame Victims For Gulf Oil Disaster?

A new report released by authorities in the Marshall Islands says that the failure of oil rig workers to properly address safety issues led to last year's catastrophic blowout and explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The Deepwater Horizon was registered in the Marshall Islands by rig owner Transocean. Much like large ships, oil rigs are often registered in overseas territories for tax purposes.

The Marshall Islands report is one of the first to explicitly put the blame for the disaster on workers rather than the companies involved – BP, Transocean, Halliburton, and Cameron International. While the new report is not the first to claim that communications broke down in the moments leading up to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, it is the first to place the blame mostly on the backs of the people who did everything in their power to avert the disaster, while only casually mentioning the fact that BP’s actions and those of the other companies with a stake in the rig might have also helped cause the disaster.

From The Star Tribune:

In somewhat of a pass for Transocean, the report concluded that confusion regarding decision-making authority during the incident was not a cause of the disaster.

The report also recommended rig operators ensure that new crew members, contractors and visitors be told when they board about the roles and responsibilities of people in charge of the vessel, and how the chain of command works in emergencies.

The report also makes the claim that the oil rig was completely fit for service during the time of the explosion. This claim is contrary to previous reports that Halliburton’s cement mixture was substandard, that BP cut corners on rig safety to save money and forged inspection documents, and that the design of the blowout preventer made the device utterly worthless.

An investigation this past April also revealed that the Marshall Islands had failed in their duties to inspect the vessel, which could have potentially implicated the nation in the spate of lawsuits surrounding the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

This report is similar to a report released earlier this year by investigators at Transocean. The Transocean internal report placed the blame squarely on the backs of both BP and Halliburon for a mix of failures, but also claimed that their rig was fit for duty.

What the report ultimately does is vindicate rig owner Transocean from any wrongdoing in the matter. It also protects the Marshall Islands’ stake in offshore drilling vessel registrations.

As mentioned above, oil rigs are usually registered overseas to help cut down on tax liabilities. Transocean, a company based in Sweden, owns roughly 50% of all deepwater rigs in existence, with countless rigs registered in the Marshall Islands. So the Marshall Islands has a deep interest in making sure that Transocean remains free of blame in the matter – they have a lot to gain financially from the company.

However, a report by the U.S. Coast Guard shows that the two entities might be the ones responsible for the command breakdown that they are now blaming for the disaster. From the Coast Guard’s report:

Because of a ‘clerical error,’ by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, DEEPWATER HORIZON, was classified in a manner that permitted it to have a dual-command organizational structure under which the OIM was in charge when the vessel was latched on to the well, but the master was in charge when the MODU was underway between locations or in an emergency situation. When the explosions began, however, there was no immediate transfer of authority from the OIM to the master, and the master asked permission from the OIM to the master, and the master asked permission from the OIM to activate the vessel’s EDS. This command confusion at a critical point in the emergency may have impacted the decision to activate the EDS.”

The Republic of the Marshall Islands’ (RMI’) “clerical error” in listing DEEPWATER HORIZON as a self-propelled MODU instead of a dynamic positioned vessel enabled Transocean to implement a dual-command organizational structure on board the vessel. This arrangement may have impacted the decision to activate the vessel’s emergency disconnect system (EDS). Even though the master, who was responsible for the safety of his vessel, was in the CCR at the time of the well blowout, it cannot be conclusively determined whether his questionable reaction was due to his indecisiveness, a lack of training on how to activate the EDS or the failure to properly execute an emergency transfer of authority as required by the vessel’s operations manual. U.S. regulations do not address whether the master or OIM has the ultimate authority onboard foreign registered dynamic positioned MODUs operating on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.”

In essence, by blaming the crew and the breakdown in the chain of command in the run up to the explosion, both Transocean and the Marshall Islands are actually blaming themselves.

So far, every corporate entity involved in the Gulf oil disaster has attempted to put the blame onto someone else. And as long as oil continues to roll up onto our shores, it is unlikely that the blame game will end.

July 11 2011

16:40

Expert Warns That TransCanada's Keystone XL Pipeline Assessments Are Misleading

An independent analysis performed by University of Nebraska professor Dr. John Stansbury, an environmental engineer, claims that TransCanada's safety assessments for their proposed Keystone XL pipeline are misleading and based on faulty information. The Keystone XL pipeline would carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Texas, crossing numerous states in the U.S.

TransCanada, the company hoping to build the pipeline, was required under the Clean Water Act to conduct a complete review and present their data on worst-case-scenario oil spills from their proposed pipeline. According to his new report titled “Keystone XL Worst-Case Spills Study,” Dr. Stansbury’s analysis of TransCanada’s government reports found that their methodology for determining the safety of their pipeline was inherently flawed because the company deliberately relied on information that was known to be false.
Among the major findings from Dr. Stanbury’s report:

While TransCanada estimates that the Keystone XL will have 11 significant spills (more than 50 barrels of crude oil) over 50 years, a more realistic assessment is 91 significant spills over the pipeline’s operational lifetime.

TransCanada arbitrarily and improperly adjusted spill factors to produce an estimate of one major spill on the 1,673 miles of pipeline about every five years, but federal data on the actual incidence of spills on comparable pipelines indicate a more likely average of almost two major spills per year. (The existing Keystone I pipeline has had one major spill and 11 smaller spills in its first year of operation.)

Analysis of the time needed to shut down the pipeline shows that response to a leak at a river crossing could conservatively take more than ten times longer than the 11 minutes and 30 seconds that TransCanada assumes. (After the June 2010 spill of more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River, an Enbridge tar sands pipeline – a 30 inch pipe compared to the 36-inch Keystone XL – was not completely shut down for 12 hours.)

Realistic calculations yield worst-case spill estimates of more than 180,000 barrels (about 7.9 million gallons) in the Nebraska Sandhills above the Ogallala Aquifer, more than 160,000 barrels (about 6.9 million gallons) of crude oil at the Yellowstone River crossings, more than 140,000 barrels (about 5.9 million gallons) at the Platte River crossing and more than 120,000 barrels (about 5.2 million gallons) at the Missouri River crossing.

One of the main categories that Stansbury says TransCanada left out of their computations was the “other causes” category for oil spills. “Other causes” are identified as spills with no apparent cause – pipeline erosion, busted pipes, explosions – and account for as much as 23% of all pipeline spills. By not factoring these potential causes into their analyses, TransCanada was able to downplay the likelihood of a major spill. 

During a media briefing on Monday morning, Dr. Stansbury said that when these factors are calculated, we can expect no fewer than 2 major spills per state during the 50-year projected lifetime of the pipeline.  These spills could release as much as 5 - 7 million barrels of oil each.

Another factor that led to TransCanada's low spill estimate is that they relied on technological improvements to help protect the Keystone XL pipeline. However, as Stansbury tells us, they are only calculating enhanced computer monitoring technology, not enhanced pipeline construction, which will only alert the company to a leak, not help to prevent one. This is a very significant point, because as we reported in June, TransCanada has freely admitted that their oversight of the pipeline is going to be scarce. By their own admission, TransCanada will have very few foot patrols along the pipeline, and most of the monitoring will be done by bi-weekly flyovers which will not be able to identify an underground leak.

Additionally, their proposed computer systems will not be able to identify pinhole leaks, which could potentially lead to thousands of gallons of oil escaping the pipeline for months before the company notices. TransCanada’s own documents, as detailed by Stansbury, show that the company acknowledges that pinhole leaks could take as long as 90 days to detect.

One of the main concerns for the pipeline itself, and one that makes the possibility of spills even more likely, is that the pipeline will be delivering what is known as diluted bitumen (DilBit.) This form of crude oil is much more corrosive than traditional crude oils, meaning that the pipeline will suffer wear and tear at a significantly increased rate.

Stansbury’s report also outlines the dangers of a potential oil spill. Because the pipeline will travel through numerous states, each with their own unique environment and wildlife, it is nearly impossible to fully predict what sort of impact a spill would have. The report says the following about the impacts of a spill near an aquifer:

The primary constituents of concern in surface water are: benzene, PAHs, hydrogen sul- fide, and bulk crude oil. The amounts of these constituents in the surface water are affected by several factors including: the concentration of the constituent in the crude oil, the solubility of the constituent, and the turbulence and velocity of the water. Constituents of special concern are benzene and certain PAHs because they are carcinogenic.

Contaminants from a release at the Missouri or Yellowstone River crossing would enter Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota where they would adversely affect drinking water intakes, aquatic wildlife, and recreation. Contaminants from a spill at the Platte River crossing would travel downstream un- abated into the Missouri River for several hundred miles affecting drinking water intakes for hundreds of thousands of people (e.g., Lincoln, NE; Omaha, NE; Nebraska City, NE; St. Joseph, MO; Kansas City, MO) as well as aquatic habitats and recreational activities. In addition, other constituents from the spill would pose serious risks to humans and to aquatic species in the river.

The worst-case site for such a spill is in the Sandhills region of Nebraska. The Sandhills are an- cient sand dunes that have been stabilized by grasses. Because of their very permeable geology, nearly 100 percent of the annual rainfall infiltrates to a very shallow aquifer, often less than 20 feet below the surface. This aquifer is the well-known Ogallala Aquifer that is one of the most productive and impor- tant aquifers in the world.

Stansbury provided the following maps to illustrate the most vulnerable areas, as well as the main chemicals that would be released into the air, water, and terrestrial environment from a spill:

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In the wake of ExxonMobil’s recent Yellowstone River oil spill, the severity and inevitability of oil spills are fresh on the minds of the American public. But as time ticks on, TransCanada continues to inch closer and closer to getting their Keystone XL pipeline approved by the Obama administration. The political odds are in their favor, as the Checks and Balances Project blog points out the political ties that TransCanada has to the current administration:

TransCanada’s main Washington, DC lobbyist is Paul Elliot, who served as the Secretary of State’s national deputy director for her failed presidential run in 2008. This cozy relationship has resulted in several organization filing requests to see the discussions between Clinton and Elliot throughout this process. Currently, the Secretary of State’s office is in the review stages of the approval process for the pipeline, which if given the go-ahead would allow for 900,000 barrels of crude to be pumped into the United States every day.

If the EPA allows TransCanada’s flawed spill report to pass the test, Americans and Canadians alike could see construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the near future. Dr. Stansbury’s report raises serious questions about the consequences of approving this unsafe pipeline, which is essentially guaranteed to leak oil into the waterways and properties of nearby communities. Why would the Obama administration approve such a disaster in the making?

June 24 2011

11:45

Transocean Report Blames BP For Gulf Oil Disaster

Offshore oil drilling giant Transocean released the results of an internal investigation this week on the causes of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. The investigation concluded that well owner BP was to blame for the explosion and the resulting 3-month oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico.

Transocean claims that BP’s actions led to the blowout, as they were in charge of most of the decision-making on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Transocean says that BP’s poor decisions caused a succession of problems ranging from the well design itself to the construction process of the Macondo rig. Transocean officials also fault BP for causing a breakdown in communication during construction, which they claim led to many of the failures aboard the oil rig. Here are a few highlights from their report:

BP did not properly communicate to the drill crew the lack of testing on the cement or the uncertainty surrounding critical tests and procedures used to confirm the integrity of the barriers intended to inhibit the flow of hydrocarbons from the well. A hydrocarbon is a compound consisting of hydrogen and carbon that is found in oil and gas.

BP adopted a technically complex nitrogen foam cement program for sealing the well. The resulting cementing job was of minimal quantity, left little margin for error, and was not tested adequately before or after the cementing operation. Further, the integrity of the cement may have been compromised by contamination, instability, and an inadequate number of devices used to center the casing in the wellbore.

Cement contractor Halliburton and BP did not adequately test the cement slurry used to seal the well.

BP also failed to assess the risk of the temporary abandonment procedure used at Macondo. At the time of the explosion, BP was making sure the well was sealed so it could temporarily abandon the site and perhaps come back at some point in the future to produce oil from the exploratory well. Transocean said BP generated at least five different temporary abandonment plans for the Macondo well between April 12, 2010, and April 20, 2010. After this series of last-minute alterations, BP proceeded with a temporary abandonment plan that created risk and did not have the required government approval.

Transocean’s report also claims that their blowout preventer (BOP) was fully operational and played no part in the explosion and oil leak. Transocean was the owner of the blowout preventer, a device that had the potential to prevent the massive oil leak into the Gulf of Mexico. Their claim that the BOP was working properly goes against the findings of previous reports.

As we’ve reported in the past, numerous failures led to last year’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, including a lack of regular inspections and a cozy relationship between rig owners and federal regulators.

Transocean is facing numerous lawsuits for their role in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, and their report is likely an attempt to shift the blame onto BP and Halliburton. The likelihood of their internal investigation playing a significant role in litigation remains small, as the government’s report has clearly stated that all parties share in the responsibility for the catastrophe.

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June 10 2011

18:12

Proposed Keystone XL Pipeline Would Feature Woefully Inadequate Spill Detection System

According to the NRDC, the proposed $13 billion Keystone XL tar sands pipeline would not be able to detect “pinhole leaks” in the pipeline that release fewer than 700,000 gallons of tar sands oil a day. The company proposing to build the pipeline, TransCanada, has admitted that their leak detection system be unable to detect such leaks in real-time, meaning a small but powerful leak could continue for weeks before the company became aware of the problem.

What’s worse is that the proposed pipeline would run directly over the Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest underwater freshwater reserves in America, meaning that a pinhole leak could poison millions of gallons of water in an area that cannot be easily accessed, and that provides drinking water to millions of Americans.<!--break-->
From the NRDC:

TransCanada has admitted that Keystone XL’s real time leak detection system will not detect pinhole leaks and can’t be relied upon to detect leaks smaller than about 700,000 gallons a day. Despite this significant shortcoming, the only route that the State Department has seriously considered for Keystone XL would take it through the heart of the Ogallala Aquifer, our nation’s largest underground water source. Enbridge’s recent 63,000 gallon spill on its Norman Wells pipeline in Canada provides an indication of the types of leaks that can go undetected for weeks on pipelines like Keystone XL that rely on conventional leak detection systems to identify leaks. What is really surprising about the Enbridge spill is that 63,000 gallons of oil leaked from a hole in the pipeline that was “about the size of a pinhole.” The Enbridge spill shows what a big deal a small leak can be.

A spill on Keystone XL in the Ogallala Aquifer would be far worse. Keystone XL would be an 830,000 bpd tar sands pipeline placed underground, actually running through the Ogallala Aquifer itself in many places. The Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) for Keystone XL states that the water conductivity - or the rate that water moves through the soil – in the Ogallala Aquifer can be as high as one hundred feet per day. This proves a substantial point, as the SDEIS concedes Keystone XL does not have the technology to detect a single leak that is less than 1.5-2% of the pipeline’s flow-rate. It also mentions that a pinhole leak could go on for weeks before discovery.

Despite the fact that the automated system will allow leaks to go unnoticed, TransCanada has stated that it will not be sending employees to walk the pipeline to look for leaks. Instead, the company will send small aircraft to view the pipeline from above every 3 weeks, and ground patrol will only occur when a leak is confirmed. In the time between flyovers, a pinhole leak at a rate of 700,000 gallons a day could release more than 14.7 million gallons of tar sands oil into the environment before anyone noticed.

As DeSmogBlog’s Emma Pullman noted recently, TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline was shut down for days by the EPA due to a high number of leaks – the Keystone I pipeline is currently averaging about 1 leak per month in its first year of operation. If their safety record for this pipeline is any indication, the Keystone XL could be riddled with just as many, if not more, problems.

The EPA recently faulted the State Department’s "insufficient" analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline in its Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS). You can find more information on that assessment here.

April 22 2011

17:24

Lawsuits Fly And Fizzle To Mark Anniversary Of Deepwater Horizon Explosion

BP is attempting to shift the blame for last year’s oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico onto Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig. BP has also announced plans to sue Cameron International, the manufacturer of the blowout preventer on the rig, claiming that the poor design of the blowout preventer led to the device’s failure. In all, BP is seeking $40 billion in damages from the two companies.

In court papers filed by BP, the company claims that every single backup device and safety measure on the Deepwater Horizon rig completely failed in last year’s explosion. BP said the following in its filing:

"BP Parties bring this action to hold Transocean accountable for having caused the blowout, explosion, fire, deaths and personal injuries, and subsequent oil spill …But for Transocean’s improper conduct, errors, omissions, and violations of maritime law, there would not have been any blowout of the exploratory well."


In the suit filed against Cameron International, the manufacturer of the blowout preventer (BOP), BP claimed the following:

“The Deepwater Horizon BOP was unreasonably dangerous, and has caused and continues to cause harm, loss, injuries, and damages to BP (and others) stemming from the blowout of Macondo well, the resulting explosion and fire onboard the Deepwater Horizon, the efforts to regain control of the Macondo well, and the oil spill that ensued before control of the Macondo well could be regained.”

Wednesday was the deadline for companies to file suit against one another. BP has already filed a suit against Halliburton, which supplied the flawed cement that was supposed to hold the rig in place.

While BP is clearly trying to shift blame onto the other companies, it might have every reason to do so. Reports show that both Transocean and Cameron International routinely cut corners on safety. Earlier this month, Mike Fry, an equipment manager for Transocean, testified before a government committee that while Transocean did regularly inspect, repair, and replace any damaged safety equipment on the rig, including the blowout preventer, they never fully overhauled the device after five years as mandated by safety standards. The rig was in operation for nine years before it exploded last year, meaning that the blowout preventer should have been completely overhauled four years prior to the accident.

When asked whether the safety standards on the rig could have allowed faulty equipment to remain in operation, Fry said that they would keep a device in use as long as it appeared to be operating. This means that even if flaws were detected, if the device would still technically operate, it was left alone.

Transocean has also filed for judgments against BP, Cameron, and Halliburton totaling more than $30 million. Transocean claims it is owed this money as part of its contracts with BP and Halliburton, which can no longer be carried out due to the rig’s blowout.

With all of the lawsuits flying around the Gulf Coast and the available evidence, you’d think that the states themselves would be jumping into the fray to recoup the billions of dollars in lost tourism revenue and other economic impacts. States like Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama have all joined a class action against BP and others, but the state of Florida has decided that they don’t need the money.

Florida’s Republican governor Rick Scott announced this week that his state would not be joining the class action because he says “litigation is expensive.” Instead, Scott says that he’ll try to negotiate out of court settlements for Florida, a tactic that has little chance of success. It is worth keeping in mind that Scott made this announcement on Pensacola Beach, where they had to remove 850 pounds of oil in order for him to have a "clean" area to give a speech. 

As a resident of an area that was hit hard by the oil disaster, I see the fight continuing every day. Everyone is fighting – citizens are fighting the government; citizens are fighting the corporations; corporations are fighting each other; the government is fighting corporations.

The media might have paid lip service to the situation down here during this week’s anniversary, but it isn’t enough. When the cameras leave, the fighting resumes, and still no one has been held truly accountable for the disaster.  Will we have a solution by the next anniversary? Or will it be more business as usual bickering and finger-pointing?

January 30 2010

19:07

Climategate: confusion over the law in email case

The Information Commission claims it is powerless to bring charges over the Climatic Research Unit 'conspiracy', says Christopher Booker
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