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March 01 2011

13:03

February 17 2011

19:06
Sponsored post

November 03 2010

13:52

For Jumpy Gulf Residents, a Trust Gap on Oil

Federal officials assert that surface oil has largely vanished from the gulf and that seafood from formerly oiled waters is safe to eat. Some fishermen and residents beg to differ

August 04 2010

18:58

August 02 2010

21:03

Citing Tests, E.P.A. Says It Was Wise to Use Oil Dispersant

The idea of fighting one toxic chemical, oil, with another, dispersant, does not sit well with all parties.

June 15 2010

20:07

May 24 2010

18:51

BP Still Resists Switching Dispersant

BP is continuing to spray a product in the gulf to break up the oil spill despite a demand by federal regulators that it switch to something less toxic.

May 21 2010

19:22

The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: BP Oil Hits the Louisiana Coast – and the Next Disaster Looms


A toxic smelling trail of "dispersed" oil just south of the mouth of the Mississippi river and 60 miles west of the Deepwater Horizon disasterBy Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger
(reposted with permission)

Oil has hit shore in Louisiana, and despite BP's best efforts to keep the media away, reporters can now touch the greasy stuff with their hands and feet. The onrush of oil into the Gulf has continued for over a month now, and while BP is still trying to staunch both the spill and media spin, the company is losing control over the information that's reaching the public.

The Environmental Protection Agency demanded this week that the company use a less toxic dispersant to clean up the spill, and independent scientists are releasing estimates of the spills volume that dwarf BP’s numbers in terms of magnitude.

Right now, a catastrophe of this scope seems like an unprecedented, one-off event. But across the energy industry, at other drilling sites, in other industries, companies are taking risks and courting environmental disasters on the same scale.

"Bayou Polluter”

BP, which was operating the rig before the spill, has other sins on its head. In Louisiana, “fishermen say BP spills oil every year and they point out marshes still dead from dispersants that were sprayed there,” marine biologist Riki Ott writes for Yes! Magazine.

The latest disaster could cause more exponentially more damage, but it is far from unique. On Democracy Now!, former EPA investigator Scott West, describes a case in which one of the company’s Alaska pipelines burst, spilling oil out onto the frozen tundra. BP had ignored workers’ concerns about the integrity of the pipeline, West says, and during warmer months, the resulting spill could have reached the Bering Sea and created a much bigger mess.

Now we’re seeing the same sort of thing in the Gulf, in this catastrophe,” West said. “And information is coming to light that corners were cut and that employees’ concerns were being ignored. It’s the exact same pattern that we saw with BP in Alaska.”

Beyond BP

But a new report, which combs over the oil industry as a whole, shows that “BP can’t be singled out,” writes Public News Service. The report “found that operating errors and incidents around the globe are more common than the public likely realizes because most events don't make the news.”

As countries like the United States become more desperate for fuel, accidents like the spill in the Gulf Coast become more likely. Extracting oil from tar sands, hydrofracking, deep-sea oil drilling: these are tricky techniques for extracting fossil fuel that are becoming popular only because the world’s store of easily accessible energy is almost gone. In The Nation, Michael Klare writes about the new quest for “extreme energy options” and the contingent risks.

By their very nature, such efforts involve an ever increasing risk of human and environmental catastrophe—something that has been far too little acknowledged," Klare writes. "As energy companies encounter fresh and unexpected hazards, their existing technologies…often prove incapable of responding adequately to the new challenges. And when disasters occur, as is increasingly likely, the resulting environmental damage is sure to prove exponentially more devastating than anything experienced in the industrial annals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”

Tar sands a slow-motion spill

It’s not just BP that’s playing fast and loose with its environmental impact. Extracting fuel from tar sands, a source for oil that’s gaining in popularity as an alternative to off-shore drilling, takes a dramatic toll on the environment.

Inter Press Service writes that, according to a new report, Oil sands development is "kind of like the gulf spill but playing out in slow motion.”

The extraction process demands lakes of water, which, once contaminated, are held in pools. “Those toxic ponds pose a hazard to migrating birds, risk contaminating nearby soil and water resources, present health problems to downstream communities and, the report notes, pose the risk of "a catastrophic breach,”” IPS explains.

A director at the National Resource Defense Council described tar sand extraction as “a slow-motion oil spill every day,” writes The Texas Observer’s Forrest Whittaker. The United States is poised to consume even more oil from this source, too, he reports:

In the works is a 2,000-mile underground pipeline from Alberta to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur, including BP’s Texas City facility. The high-pressure pipeline, proposed by TransCanada, would be capable of carrying 900,000 barrels per day, enough to more than double consumption of tar-sands oil in the U.S.”

Government intervention

As Whittaker reports, the Obama administration has been supportive of these sorts of efforts, and this week questions about the government's leniency towards BP and the energy industry started bubbling up. In this climate, the government should be stepping in to defend the safety of the country’s people and its environment; instead, even the Obama administration is giving the energy industry a long leash to pursue its projects. On Democracy Now!, Scott West, the EPA investigator, described the pattern he saw during his investigation:

What the government has done over the past several years is taught BP that it can do whatever it wants and will not be held accountable. So, decisions have been made, very poor decisions have been made, to increase profits and put workers at risk and been allowed and endorsed by the federal government.”

The current oversight has not much improved. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and his colleagues are pushing for a $10 billion cap on liability for oil companies, for instance, but the administration has argued for a lower limit, the Washington Independent reports.

Without real accountability from the government, BP could escape with little damage, Riki Ott explains in her Yes! Magazine piece.

In the Exxon Valdez spill, people counted on the oil company to respond to and clean up the mess, and we counted on Congress and the legal system to hold the oil industry accountable for damages to the environment and local communities and economies. In hindsight, these turned out to be bad ideas,” she writes. “Exxon dodged penalties through long court battles, systematically underestimating the scope of the spill, and leveraging the costs of clean-up to avoid fines and penalties.”

BP doesn’t need to escape accountability in the same way, though; Ott has suggestions for actions that anyone can take to ensure the company pays the price for the damage it has caused.

Image credit: NWFblogs, courtesy Flickr

—————-

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

May 18 2010

14:36

May 17 2010

18:11

Environmental News Wrap: May 10-16


GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

  • We are in the middle of a comment period for an EPA ruling on how to classify and treat Coal Ash. The two classifications to choose from are similar with one providing more protection for the environment. Previously, Coal Ash was treated as a benign waste product. Coal Ash received attention after a spill of a large amount into a residential area a couple of years ago in Tennessee. This article from Grist covers the issue and provides a link to more information about the ruling.
  • The Gulf of Mexico BP spill is growing larger and so are its environmental effects. Dispersants that BP mixed into the spill seem to be making the situation worse by creating fields of oil two to four thousand feet below the surface and hiding the amount of oil spilled from helicopter estimates.
  • Drilling in US waters requires a permit that is given only to operations that will not harm endangered species or marine mammals. This is spelled out in the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Companies have been drilling in US waters without this permit for years. The Minerals Management Service is being accused of obviously corrupting its own permitting process for underwater mineral extraction.
  • The New York Times reports that Obama is being tough on BP for the Gulf of Mexico spill.
  • Grist reports that Obama is going easy on BP for the Gulf of Mexico spill.
  • The Tar Sands issue continues and most large oil companies are invested. This report from The Guardian covers the current state of business at the Tar Sands, and concludes with the fact that companies have pumped $200 billion into this project already. Large organizations like BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and the Canadian government (the ones invested in the Tar Sands) do not spend $200 billion on a project and then not fight to the end to see a return on their investment.
  • In a post a couple of weeks ago I highlighted an article about the Dark Mountain writing project. The Guardian responds to the claims the project makes about humanity ruining itself in the next 200 years.
  • A desalinization plant in Israel opens up, providing a lot of fresh water to a water starved country. When nature no longer provides a service to us we have to pay for it. This plant costs $425 million, Israel also recently spent $500 million on the countries water transportation infrastructure to deliver this new supply of fresh water.
  • Shocks on cars that generate electricity have been developing for a while and are now being peddled to operators of large vehicles. These shocks represent yet another way that we can slowly become more efficient in our use of energy.
  • LED lights are also being developed to use energy more efficiently and are pushing their way into commercialization.

May 12 2010

17:02

May 06 2010

18:05

Chemical Antidote Is Unnerving to Some

Scientists and politicians are in more or less uncharted territory in putting so much dispersant -- chemicals that break down oil -- into the Gulf of Mexico to contain the spill there.
16:30

May 05 2010

16:26
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