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March 30 2012


Deadly Bacteria Found In Gulf Coast Tar Balls

Since the very first tar balls began rolling onshore along the Gulf of Mexico following 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion and subsequent underwater oil geyser, the oil industry told us to relax because those tar balls were completely harmless. But as we approach the two year anniversary of the disaster, new studies have confirmed that the tar balls we’re seeing along our beaches contain bacteria that are capable of killing human beings.

The new study, conducted by scientists at Auburn University, confirmed the presence of a bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus. According to researchers, this is the same bacteria that is responsible for causing illness and death from eating bad oysters. The tar balls contained concentrations of this bacteria more than 100 times greater than the surrounding water. The Centers for Disease Control says the following regarding Vibrio vulnificus:

Wound infections may start as redness and swelling at the site of the wound that then can progress to affect the whole body. V. vulnificus typically causes a severe and life-threatening illness characterized by fever and chills, decreased blood pressure (septic shock), and blood-tinged blistering skin lesions (hemorrhagic bullae). Overall, V. vulnificus infections are fatal about 40% of the time. Wound infections with V. vulnificus are fatal about 20% of the time, and aggressive surgical treatment can prevent death.

Persons who have immunocompromising conditions and especially persons with chronic liver disease are particularly at risk for V. vulnificus infection when they eat raw or undercooked seafood, particularly shellfish harvested from the Gulf of Mexico, or if they bathe a cut or scrape in marine waters. About three-quarters of patients with V. vulnificus infections have known underlying hepatic disease or other immunocompromising illness. Otherwise healthy persons are at much lower risk of V. vulnificus infection.

It is important to remember that this isn’t a fleeting threat to those of us who live, work, and play along the Gulf Coast. National Geographic recently pointed out that tarballs are continuously washing up along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico, meaning that the threat of bacterial infection is not only real, but it is persistent. And with Spring Break season in high gear, beaches along the Gulf Coast are currently inundated with out of state families playing and relaxing on top of these toxic bacteria balls.

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January 19 2012

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December 16 2011


A BP Christmas: Is That an Oil Slick in my Stocking?

Musings of a Malcontent: Environmental Irony in an Imperfect (but humorous?) World“Musings of a Malcontent” is a weekly op-ed by GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Carlyle Coash

I think I’m going to vomit.

Just saw the new BP Gulf States ad.

The theme? The Best Tourist Season EVER for a long time in the Gulf States!

Brought to you by BP.

Yeah, vomit is definitely on the way.

I realize that I have become jaded over the years – so much so that I just cannot trust when the company that caused the damage is telling me everything is just great. I know, they spent all this money and they feel awful bad for what they done. Shucks – awful bad. They done wrecked things up good and proper, so much so it seemed like all was lost. Hung their heads deep and low they did – so bad they felt. Yet look how happy everyone is! It’s not us – not our employees at all – the people in this commercial live here and they are happy as punch. They got this spill by the horns and they are not letting go!

Sorry – I do not buy it.

For one – all the main spokespeople are business owners or representatives of business organizations. No offense, but I think they will say almost anything to get people to come to their states and spend money. I would. For second – brought to you by BP? Really? BP you are responsible for the best year of tourism in these states? I think not. Do you think we all just got lobotomies? I know they are sale at Walmart this week – but seriously.

BP – you have nothing to be proud of. All you have done is brought us down.

To me anyway that is what it implies when they take credit like that – patting themselves on the back. They want us all to be impressed with what they are doing to make things right. Yet they may want to hold off on that. At least until they actually STOP the damage they are doing in the Gulf. Might be a good idea before taking credit for things.

At this point perhaps you are intrigued. There is damage still being done? What is this he speaks of? Everything is good down there in the Gulf. The commercials tell me so. I can sleep at night again knowing that no more oil is spilling into the Gulf. I can sleep knowing that BP is hard at work to make this a viable area again – one that is rich in heritage and activity.

You are smarter than that of course.

As you might know, BP still has wells that are leaking in the Gulfone of them since 2004 – and there seems little being done to relate to them. Now you might be saying to yourself that I have no idea what I am talking about. After all a commercial with spokespeople from 4 Gulf States – 4 I tell ya – are saying that everything is shiny bright where they are. Heck – they are actually inviting us to go romping in the nice warm water during this winter season. Common y’all! The water is great!

Is that oil between your toes or are you just happy to see me?

They are right. It is shiny bright down there – shiny bright from the oil slicks that are appearing in several spots in the Gulf Coast area. Thanks to Jonathan Henderson, a journalist exploring the Gulf Coast region last week, we have some great photographs of at least 3 lovely slicks doing their thing. Two do not seem to have an origin point – a little scary – although could very likely be coming from a pipe underwater. The third is from a platform that was taken out in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan.

I’m sorry – did you say 2004?

Yes – I have said it three times now. 2004. Ivan came in and knocked the platform down. Solution? Leave it there and let it leak.

Brought to you by BP alright.

We felt, after all, that this was the most humane thing to do really. Leave it where it lay – so to speak. Respect for the dead. Also we wanted to give proper mourning time for the other platforms in the area who would be upset if we rushed in and cleaned things up too quickly. They take these losses very hard in our experience. So we felt it best to let the oil from the platform continue to leak in the Gulf as an expression of grief for all. A black shroud of mourning floating around as a reminder of the vast hole we carry in our hearts for our fallen comrade. Platform – be free of your burden now. Go now into the light.

Let me hear an Amen.

If you need me, I’ll be by the toilet.

Please check out the links in this article and the related article below –  Any feedback would be appreciated!

December 01 2011


LNG Groundhog Day: Cheniere Energy Signs Yet Another Gas Export Deal on Gulf Coast

Another day, another unconventional gas export deal signed. Nascent North American LNG (liquefied natural gas) export deals are happening so fast and furiously that it is hard to keep track of them all.

The latest: On November 21, Cheniere Energy Partners signed a 20-year LNG export deal with Gas Natural Fenosa, an energy company which operates primarily in Spain but also in such countries as Italy, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and Morocco. Cheniere will maintain the Sabine Pass LNG export terminal located off of Sabine Lake between Texas and Louisiana, which feeds into the Gulf of Mexico, while Gas Natural Fenosa will ship the gas to the global market.

Cheniere, which made waves when its CEO Charif Souki announced that his corporation's business model would center exclusively around LNG export terminals, also recently signed a 20-year export deal with BG Group, short for British Gas Group.

Like the recent export deal with BG Group, which involves carrying fracked unconventional gas from various shale basins around the United States via pipelines to the Sabine Pass LNG export terminal, the Gas Natural Fenosa deal also centers around the export of gas from Sabine Pass to the global market.

This new deal will presumably center around shipment of LNG to the Latin American market, whereas the BG Group deal centers around exports to the European market.

A press release explaining the details of the deal reads, “LNG will be loaded onto Gas Natural Fenosa's vessels…[with] twenty years commencing upon the date of first commercial delivery, and an extension option of up to ten years. LNG deliveries are expected to commence in 2016.”

It is increasingly clear that export is the name of the game for the gas companies fracking all over America, exploding the industry's claims to support U.S. energy independence.

A recent Senate hearing confirmed that the industry's plans to export gas from the U.S. will raise gas prices for Americans.

So much for that oil and gas industry canard that unconventional gas fracking "promises more affordable energy for Americans."


Image Credit: Oleksandr Kalinichenko / Shutterstock

November 18 2011


ExxonMobil and Shell Eyeing North American LNG Export Deals

Yesterday, LNG World News reported that ExxonMobil Vice President Andrew Swiger announced, at a conference hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, that it was actively seeking LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminals throughout North America, including, but not limited to, in British Columbia and on the Gulf Coast.

In terms of exports from North America, whether it is the Gulf Coast or whether it is Western Canada, it’s something we’re actively looking at,” said Swiger.

So, where are these prospective export terminals located, what are the key pipelines carrying the unconventional gas produced from shale basins, and what are the key shale basins in the mix? Hold tight for an explanation.

Golden Pass LNG Terminal and Golden Pass Pipeline

The LNG World News article explains that ExxonMobil "has a stake in the Golden Pass LNG Terminal in Texas," but does not explain exactly what the "stake" is.

A bit of research shows that ExxonMobil is a 17.6% stakeholder in the Golden Pass LNG Terminal, according to a March 2011 article publshed by Platts. It is co-owned by ConocoPhillips and Qatar Petroleum, who own a 12.4% and 70% stake in Golden Pass LNG, respectively.

Golden Pass LNG is stationed in Sabine Pass, TX, located on the Gulf Coast on the Texas-Louisiana border, which is in close proximity to Cheniere's Sabine Pass LNG export terminal, a terminal which has been written about in-depth by DeSmogBlog.

As of now, Golden Pass is an import terminal, and "is among the largest LNG import facilities worldwide, with the capacity to import 15.6 million metric tons of LNG annually," explains LNG World News. But many import facilities have turned into export facilities, including the Jordan Cove LNG terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon, the Dominion Cove LNG terminal in Lusby, Maryland, and Kitimat LNG terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia. Gas corporations often execute the bait-and-switch, transforming what were originally import terminals into export terminals.

If history repeats itself, which is highly likely based on this latest report from LNG World News, then the Golden Pass LNG Terminal could soon be transformed into an export terminal, making it export terminal number two in Sabine Pass.

It appears for now that the gas would come from the shale basins surrounding Sabine Pass, meaning the Barnett Shale, the Eagle Ford Shale, the Haynesville Shale, and the Fayetteville Shale, and flow out these respective shale basins via an extensive pipeline system, to the key Golden Pass and Sabine Pass hubs. 

For example, Golden Pass also owns Golden Pass Pipeline, which runs from the Haynesville Shale down to the Golden Pass LNG terminal.

Horn River Basin Shale and Pacific Trail Pipelines

LNG World News' article also mentions that ExxonMobil "has 340,000 shale gas acres in Western Canada’s Horn River Basin." The Horn River Shale Basin is located in northeastern British Columbia and sits on 250 trillion cubic feet of unconventional gas, producred through the toxic hydraulic fracturing, or fracking process. 

Assuming ExxonMobil holds true to the pronouncement made by Swiger, much of the gas produced in the Horn River Basin will flow westward to Kitimat LNG export terminal, which ships gas to the Asian market. 

One of these facilities is co-owned by EOG Resources (EOG), EnCana Corporation (EnCana), and Apache Corporation (Apache). In October 2011, Canada’s National Energy Board, the Canadian equivalent to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, granted Kitimat LNG a 20-year Export Licence to serve international markets. The Pacific Trail Pipelines connect the Horn River Basin to the Kitimat LNG facility and are also co-owned by EOG, EnCana, and Apache. 

Another key LNG export terminal in the works will be co-owned by Shell, Korea Gas Corporation, China National Petroleum Corporation, and Mitsubishi Corporation.

The Globe and Mail explained the looming deal, writing

Shell is examining plans for a 3.6 billion cubic feet a day project, which would be among the largest under consideration in the world…Kitimat LNG intends to build a 700-million cubic foot facility first, at a cost greater than $5-billion, but has received an export licence that allows it to double that. The partnership intends to make a final investment decision early next year, but is already spending several hundred million dollars to terrace the sloped site of the intended terminal, the first step in construction.

A pipeline arrangement paralleling the EOG, EnCana, Apache agreement will likely follow the Shell export deal announcement, carrying gas fracked from the Horn River Shale Basin to Kitimat, in order to be exported, in the form of LNG, to the profitable Asian market. 

North American Export Market a Huge Racket

As is now perfectly clear and has been made clear by DeSmogBlog on multiple occasions, not only is the unconventional gas industry unconcerned with the "domestic consumption" of gas for "national security" purposes, but perhaps even more importantly, two of the largest fossil fuel corporations in the world, Shell and ExxonMobil, are now in the fray of the export game.

Deals of this nature will likely proliferate as time progresses, with what has been coined the "one-percent" by the Occupy Wall Street movement, standing with the most to gain from them.

November 09 2011


Valero Positioning To Export Tar Sands Oil, Guarding Pot of Gold at End of Keystone XL Pipeline

In the heated Keystone XL debate, the Canadian company TransCanada, which is attempting to build the line, and the Koch brothers, who are throwing their considerable weight behind it in the interest of their Koch Industries’ subsidiaries, receive a lot of attention.

But there are other benefactors that are worth a closer look, as nobody stands to benefit as much in the longer term (if the Keystone XL pipeline is ever built) as the companies that operate the refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Let’s step back and review what the refineries actually do. The diluted tar sands bitumen (or “DilBit”) that would flow through Keystone XL is an ultra-acidic, highly viscous mess, that doesn’t at all resemble the refined petroleum products like diesel or gasoline or even jet fuel that are sold on the commercial markets. DilBit is, in the words of Keith Schneider, ”thick as peanut butter and more acidic, highly corrosive, and abrasive” than typical crude.

This tar sands DilBit needs to be refined before it can be sold. But only certain refineries are capable of handling the corrosive DilBit.

Refiners along the Texas Gulf Coast, where the Keystone XL pipeline would ultimately deliver tar sands DilBit from Canada, are eager to accomodate. The company that appears positioned to receive and refine more of TransCanada’s crude than anyone else is the Valero Energy Corporation (NYSE: VLO).

Valero "Dedicated" To Keystone XL - And Ready To Profit From It
Valero is the world’s largest independent refiner, with 15 refineries that have a collective capacity to process 2.9 million barrels per day. While their commitments to TransCanada are confidential, Valero is publicly “dedicated” to the Keystone XL project, and their 310,000 barrels per day Port Arthur, Texas refinery would receive the Alberta-born crude. Valero has invested heavily to upgrade the Port Arthur plant to handle “heavy” “sour” crude (a.k.a. tar sands DilBit) for the past few years, anticipating the pipeline’s completion.

The company has long hoped for a steady supply of Alberta’s tar sands crude, first signing on to Keystone in July of 2008. In 2010, when the Texas company was pouring money into California’s Prop 23 battle, spokesperson Bill Day urged that Alberta is “a tremendous potential supplier for us.”  

While their involvement with Keystone XL has largely flown under the radar, Valero was exposed in the bombshell “Exporting Energy Security: Keystone XL Exposed” (PDF) report by Oil Change International in September. The report found that, despite constant claims by TransCanada and other Keystone supporters of increased “energy security,” much of the crude that flows through Keystone XL would be exported. Valero was held up as a prime example of how and why. From that report:

Valero, the top beneficiary of the Keystone XL pipeline, has recently explicitly detailed an export strategy to its investors.  The nation’s top refiner has locked in at least 20 percent of the pipeline’s capacity, and, because its refinery in Port Arthur is within a Foreign Trade Zone, the company will accomplish its export strategy tax free.

Shell’s subsidiary Motiva and Total, both “shippers” with long-term contracts with TransCanada, also operate in this Foreign Trade Zone, meaning that they are exempt from customs duties on imports and exports, and also from state and local taxes.

In other words: they can sell the Keystone XL crude overseas without paying American taxes. Combine that with the fact that the Port Arthur plants are conditioned to take low-grade tar sands crude and refine it to diesel—which has much higher demand overseas— and the incentive for Valero to export the Keystone XL crude is huge.

The Oil Change International report caused quite the stir, and put Valero on the defensive. Company spokesperson Bill Day told Platts EnergyWeek that "the vast majority of products that Valero makes in the US are sold in the US…As far as I know, we've never said anything about exporting products to China, nor do we have plans to.”

On China, Day was referring to a statement by Sierra Club president Michael Brune, which was technically inaccurate. Despite Brune’s error, Valero’s overall export strategy is clear and obvious to anyone who takes the time to read their September report to investors.

Here are two telling slides.

This map shows clearly the company’s strategy to export diesel from the Gulf Coast refineries (like Port Arthur) to European, Mexican, and South American markets, while importing gasoline from overseas.

And here is a slide showing explicitly Valero’s plans to export diesel to the strong European market.

Finally, here's their slide on the Port Arthur plant, which is ready "to process over 150,000 barrels/day of high-acid, heavy sour Canadian crude," and which produces "high-quality diesel and jet fuel for growing global demand for middle distillates, and is "located at large, Gulf Coast refinery to leverage existing operations and export logistics." (Emphasis mine.)

If there's any doubt that Valero intends on exporting the tar sands crude that Keystone XL delivers, this investor presentation should put that to rest.

September 14 2011


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.

April 22 2011


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?

April 18 2011


Emails Reveal BP Attempted To Manipulate Oil Spill Studies

Emails obtained by Greenpeace last Friday have revealed that BP was actively trying to manipulate studies designed to assess the damage from last year’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. In the wake of the disaster, BP created a $500 million fund to study the effects of the oil on the environment, and the emails obtained by Greenpeace show that the company was trying to control which scientists worked on the project, attempting to cherry-pick those who would downplay the effects of the oil.

The Guardian reports:

Russell Putt, a BP environmental expert, wrote in an email to colleagues on 24 June 2010: "Can we 'direct' GRI [Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative] funding to a specific study (as we now see the governor's offices trying to do)? What influence do we have over the vessels/equipment driving the studies vs the questions?".

The Guardian has the full emails available here.  But the new emails are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to BP’s efforts to manipulate science. Last summer, a report by the Mobile Press-Register revealed that BP was offering large sums of cash to any scientist willing to join their camp. The oil giant had been meeting with scientists from universities in the South since the early days of the oil leak, offering to pay $250 an hour to scientists in exchange for their silence on the oil disaster.
The University of South Alabama declined an offer from BP to “purchase” their entire marine sciences department after BP wanted them to sign a confidentiality agreement that would have prevented them from making their research findings public, even if asked by a court.

There were two reasons why purchasing these scientists and manipulating the studies would have been useful for BP: First, it allows them to control the flow of information relating to the oil leak. Second, it would have prevented any scientist or university who accepted money from the company from testifying in court, taking away a valuable resource for plaintiff’s attorneys filing lawsuits against the energy company.

So what was BP so afraid of? The environmental damages of the gusher are still being calculated, many of which have happened far beneath the surface of the Gulf waters, but the impacts on human health are already making themselves known onshore. New reports show that contract cleanup workers for BP are now beginning to show symptoms from their exposure to both the oil and the dispersants used to help congeal the oil. Doctors along the Gulf Coast are reporting numerous instances of patients suffering from a variety of symptoms including racing heartbeats, vomiting, dizziness, ear infections, swollen throats, respiratory infections, and memory loss.

As many as 52,000 workers helped clean up oil in the Gulf of Mexico and along the shore, and scientists say that the studies on their health were woefully inadequate. Their main problem is that the chemical Benzene, a known carcinogen that is present in crude oil, disappears from the body within four months of exposure, leaving only the damage to a person’s body behind. However, health safety studies weren’t conducted until six months after exposure, meaning that workers tested negative for benzene in their bodies.

The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to cost BP billions of dollars, and every new piece of information that comes out makes their case harder to defend in a court, making them even more likely to pay large sums before the saga ends. Their efforts to purchase scientists and manipulate data have so far been unsuccessful, but that could change in the years of battles still ahead for the company.

April 06 2011


Olivia Bouler – Olivia’s Birds

One 11-year-old girl can make a difference, as budding Long Island ornithologist and artist Olivia Bouler proved by raising over $175,000 for the Gulf oil spill recovery for Gulf recovery efforts and the idea took flight. She proceeded to send out over 500 paintings, many of which are captured in Olivia’s Birds (Sterling Children’s Books, [...]

March 01 2011


November 03 2010


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

September 28 2010


July 20 2010


The 'Super Skimmer' That Wasn't

The recent setbacks of a "super skimmer" tanker in the gulf suggests that, no matter how good intentions are, there is no substitute for good engineering based on good information.

July 02 2010


Update: The Oil's Trajectory

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has released projections of where the oil from the gulf spill could be most likely to travel.

June 24 2010


Court Lifts Moratorium, Green Lights More Deepwater Drilling in the Gulf

EarthJustice.org Decision jeopardizes safety for short-term oil profits June 22, 2010 New Orleans, LA — Environmental groups expressed disappointment over a federal district court decision today to halt a six-month federal moratorium on new deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The moratorium would have allowed for safety reviews after the loss of life in the Deepwater [...]

June 12 2010


The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: The BP Spill, the Climate Bill, and the Possibility of Real Change

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger
(reposted with permission)

"There's a dead dolphin on this beach," Mother Jones' Mac McClelland, wrote yesterday in Louisiana. It's one snapshot of the harm visited on the Gulf Coast by the BP oil spill. Back in Washington, the Senate climate bill, which would put the country on a path to cleaner energy consumption, is on its last legs.

You’d think that after a seemingly unstoppable oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (official estimates are up to 50,000 barrels a day, as of yesterday) and the hottest spring on record (hello, climate change!), U.S. citizens and elected representatives would recognize that our country's thirst for resources has consequences.

It’s not just that oil is spilling into the Gulf, even after BP hit on a fix. Besides the blow-out that has dominated headlines, another, more routine spill showed up near the Louisiana coast. The Deepwater Horizon spill is now the larger of two spills in the Gulf Coast, according to Care2. A week ago in Pennsylvania, a natural gas well owned by EOG Resources (formerly Enron) shot a geyser of chemical-laced water 75 feet into the air; and on Monday, in West Virginia, another natural gas well, this one owned by Chief Oil and Natural Gas, also exploded, as AlterNet reports.

Yet BP is still supplying the Pentagon with oil and gas, as Jeremy Scahill writes at The Nation. Senators are still supporting natural gas exploration and offshore oil drilling. The White House has also abandoned any intention of pushing for strong legislation that would push for better, cleaner energy.

Lifestyle vs. lives

Americans aren’t willing to give up their lifestyle, so wild animals are giving up their lives. One casualty of the BP spill in the Gulf might be bluefin tuna. Their population is 20% of what it was 40 years ago, Inter Press Service reports. Although the effects of the oil spill won't be entirely clear for a few years, scientists are worried.

“Biologically, bluefin are already unlucky,” IPS writes. “The fish – which can be as long as and faster than a sports car – only spawn once a year and only in certain locations.”

Schools of the tuna, IPS reports, are headed now towards the Gulf of Mexico.

The spill has been going on during their peak spawning period in the only place the western population spawns, so in timing and location it's probably the worst place you could have it and during the worst time," Lee Crocket, director of federal fisheries policy at Pew Environment, told IPS.

All the creatures of the sea

It's not just tuna that are at risk, either. Mother Jones’ Julia Whitty has been documenting the fate of birds, fish, and other sea creatures that come into contact with the oil in the Gulf. She visited Elmer’s Island, LA, and snapped a shot of one of the dead jelly fish that had washed up on the shore:

There were dead Portuguese man o'war jellies—one of the few species that weather the travails of the dead zone that afflicts these waters each summer. The dead zone is an area around the outflow of the Mississippi River made hypoxic by too many nutrients flowing downstream, mostly from farms and ranches. If you're a jellyfish, a dead zone is survivable. Apparently an oiled zone is not.”

BP's shroud of secrecy

BP has been remarkably cagey with the public about what’s going on in the Gulf. In addition to keeping reporters away from soiled area, the company hasn't shown much interest in understanding exactly how much oil it’s spilling into the ocean. Initial estimates of 1,000 barrels per day have blossomed into estimates, on the low end, of 25,000 barrels. On Democracy Now!, scientist Ira Leifer said that the company is being more forthcoming with information now than it was originally. But he’d like a fuller picture:

What there really should be at these kind of sites is some acoustic methods, whether it’s sonar or passive listening devices, or other approaches that continuously are monitoring and waiting for something to happen and then would provide a nonstop, steady data stream, so we could actually learn from what happens….These things, they’re not steady states. They belch. They have large eruptions.”

What that means, Leifer said, is that it’s not necessarily accurate to talk about a definitive rate at which the oil is pouring out. In his words, “the flow today is not necessarily the flow tomorrow.” What’s more, the attempts to stop the spill can make it worse. One concern is that the rock surrounding the pipe could “give out,” Leifer says. In that scenario, the oil would not just come from the pipe but from many sites in the surrounding sea bed.

“This reservoir is massive, and it could easily flow that kind of oil for the next twenty or thirty years, if it was left to go unattended,” Leifer said. “So the amount of oil that could end up in the environment if measures are not successful is at what I would call unimaginable.”

Spin, BP, spin

Given that sort of doomsday scenario, it’s not surprising that BP has plans to promise as little as possible to the spill's victims. As Justin Elliott reports at TPMMuckraker, the company’s plan for oil spills instructs its spokespeople not to promise anything.

BP’s June 2009 Gulf of Mexico Regional Oil Spill Response Plan reads: "No statement shall be made containing … Promises that property, ecology, or anything else will be restored to normal,” Elliott writes.


How to move beyond these horror stories? This week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) completely disowned the climate legislation he was working on before, and both Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum and The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen bemoaned the climate bill’s fate.

Yesterday, the Senate narrowly defeated an amendment offered by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) that would have stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its power to regulate carbon. Although the amendment failed, support from Democrats like Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln signals that the support isn't there for even unambitious climate legislation. And at this juncture, it seems like the U.S. has done more harm than good in the international arena.

Coping with Copenhagen

International leaders are at Bonn this week, trying to pick up the pieces from last December’s climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.

"Copenhagen was a pretty horrible conference," conceded Yvo de Boer, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as IPS reports. "This year it’s about restoring trust.”

For the U.S., passing climate legislation would help.


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.

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June 04 2010


The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: The Oil Spill Could Bring Mass Extinctions to the Gulf

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger
(reposted with permission)

A cap placed over a severed pipe is siphoning some oil from the broken BP well in the Gulf Coast, the company said today. The company's CEO said this morning on CBS that it was possible that this fix could capture up to 90% of the oil, but that it will take 24 to 48 hours to understand how well this solution is working. Adm. Thad Allen, the former Coast Guard chief and oil spill incident commander, called the cap "only a temporary and partial fix."

Despite the capping procedure, it became clear this week that the onrush of oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon rig will not cease any time soon. Even in the best case scenario, thousands of barrels of oil will still flow into the ocean. Destruction is already spreading along the Gulf Coast, and before the oil stops leaking, species might be extinct and industries destroyed.

In the coming months—it’s not clear how many—oil will continue to pollute the Gulf of Mexico. BP and the Obama administration are talking about August as the end of this crisis, but other experts have projected that the spill could last until Christmas.

As Justin Elliott reports for TPMMuckraker, BP told the government it could handle a spill much larger than this one. In the initial exploration plan for the well, BP claimed "it was prepared to respond to a blowout flowing at 300,000 barrels per day — as much as 25 times the rate of the current spill," Elliott writes. BP cannot, it turns out, respond to a blowout flowing less than 20,000 barrels per day, and the consequences for the Gulf communities are only beginning to emerge. The first casualty will be Gulf ecosystem and its inhabitants. The second casualty will be the livelihood of Gulf communities that have depended on fish, shrimp, and oysters for survival.

How long?

In 1979, another company released torrents of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, in much shallower waters than where BP was drilling. As Rachel Slajda writes for TPMMuckeraker, the clean-up methods the oil industry relied on three decades ago are similar to the technology BP is trying now. The Ixtoc spill was comparatively easy to address; yet it still took 10 months to stop.

During that spill, the nearest state, Texas, had two months to prepare for the oil to hit shore, and still “1,421 birds were found with oiled feathers and feet,” Slajda writes. The fishing industry escaped much damage, but the tourism industry lost 7-10% of its business.

Dead fish

In Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and other states affected by this spill, fish, fowl, restaurateurs, and oystermen won't get off easy. As Care2 reports, the National Wildlife Federation has already documented the deaths of more than 150 threatened or endangered sea turtles and of 316 seabirds (“mostly brown pelicans and northern gannets”).

And BP is trying to keep images of the animal victims away from the public. Julia Whitty, reporting from Louisiana, writes for Mother Jones:

All up and down this shoreline angry and scared people told me some scary and infuriating stories in the past few days. I heard about the the dead and dying wildlife we're never going to see because the victims are being carted away to early responder ships and to inaccessible buildings onshore. I've seen some of those photographs which can't be shown (according to BP's new orders) of dolphins swimming through thick gunky oil, struggling sperm whales trailing wakes a mile long in thick gunky oil, dead jellyfish in gunky oil".


The impact of the oil spill goes beyond those individual bodies, though. As Inter Press Service reports, environmentalists and scientists “are beginning to reckon with the reality of a massive annihilation of sea creatures and wildlife.”

“You could potentially lose whole species, have extinction events,” Michael Blum, a Tulane ecology professor told IPS. “Brown pelicans were just taken off the endangered species list. On this threshold, a big dieback and mortality event, they would be pushed back into a situation where they could be endangered.” Also at Care2, Jay Holcomb, Executive Director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center, demonstrates a brown pelican being de-oiled, her feathers shampooed with Dawn detergent, her head and pouch cleaned with Q-tips.

Livelihoods destroyed

For generations, Gulf Coast residents made their living by fishing. Their fishing grounds are now off-limits. Some have found short-term work with BP fighting the oil. But those jobs come with new hazards.

Some clean-up workers have reported dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath that they think comes from exposure to chemical dispersants. BP is not providing safety gear that would clean the air workers breathe and has threatened to fire clean-up workers who bring their own, Colorlines reports.

In the long-term, Gulf Coast fishermen may have no source of income and will have to abandon their homes and professions.

“It’s a way of life,” shrimper Dean Blachard told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman this week. “They destroyed a way of life, a way of life that if you take it away too long, you can’t learn this in a school. This is passed from generation to generation, so the daddy teaches the son, and the son teaches his son. And, you know, once the chain is broke, you’re never going to get it back.”

It’s understandable that the residents of the Gulf Coast might want BP to pay for the damage. At The Nation, Chris Hayes reveals that BP could be on the hook for mitigation, the cash value of injured property, and for punitive damages–all beyond the cost of cleanup itself. But, as Zygmunt J. B. Plater, a law professor who chaired a legal task force on the Exxon Valdez spill, explains:

In Alaska, most of the damage was suffered by communities who had their quality of life destroyed, and there’s no way to put a dollar value on that.”


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 28 2010


The Weekly Mulch from the Media Consortium: The BP Oil Spill – Who's in Charge?

A member of a Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Team removes oil from a beach in Port Fourchon, La.—part of ongoing response efforts to minimize shoreline impacts from the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, May 23, 2010. The teams—made up of representatives from the Coast Guard, the State of Louisiana and workers contracted by BP—are working to clean up any oil that washes up on the Louisiana coast. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley.  By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger
(reposted with permission)

President Barack Obama is in Louisiana today, and BP is saying it will know in 48 hours if its attempt to “top kill” the leaking oil well in the Gulf Coast by pouring mud and cement over it has worked.

If the scramble to stop the leak has ended, the slog to clean up is just beginning. Thousands of fisherman are still out of work, as ColorLines notes. But there are new jobs in Louisiana. This week Mother Jones’ Mac McClelland visited workers raking oil off a beach in Louisiana. One man, she writes, “can't count how many times he's raked this same spot in the 33 hours he's worked it since Thursday, but one thing he's sure of, he says, is that he'll be standing right here tomorrow and the next day, too.”

Next moves

Although the regulatory infrastructure that was supposed to oversee companies like BP failed in this case, the administration is stepping up to ensure that the spill is stopped and the clean-up begun. “I take responsibility,” the president told reporters yesterday. "It is my job to make sure everything is done to shut this down."

Kevin Drum calls this performance and the media affirmation that came after it “the kabuki of our times”—a show that only pretends that the government has the wherewithal to stop the leak without the resources of private industry.

The president has to be In Charge whether he can actually do anything or not,” Drum writes. “What everyone should be asking is not what the feds are going to do about capping the leak, but what they're going to do to make sure all the oil is cleaned up afterward.”

Going forward, the government needs to make sure that BP fulfills its clean-up promises. Without strong oversight, the company could slip out of paying its debts. That’s what happened last time an energy company left a lake of oil in American waters, as Riki Ott’s Not One Drop documents. The book “describes firsthand the impacts of oil companies’ broken promises when the Exxon Valdez spills most of its cargo and despoils thousands of miles of shore,” according to Chelsea Green.

BP’s behavior

BP has little incentive to clean up its operations or to take responsibility for the damage it has already incurred. As Care2 reports, another BP rig had to shut down this week when a power outage caused crude oil to spill from its storage tank to “secondary containment.” And on the Hill, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) charged that the company was deliberately low-balling its estimates of the Gulf spill’s size to avoid additional fines.

At The American Prospect, Monica Potts delves into the logic behind BP’s operations. Even when using one of the highest estimates of the spill's volume—70,000 barrels a day, or more than 2 million barrels overall—she writes, “Americans burn about 10 times that, 21 million barrels, each day. It would only take us a couple of hours to use up everything in the Gulf. This is despite everything we know about how bad burning oil is. Given that, it's not surprising that an oil company might rank our desire for oil more highly than our undemonstrated desire to avoid ecological disaster.”

Environmental obscenities

In Texas, activists tried this week to demonstrate to BP that consumers do desire to avoid such disasters, AlterNet reports. A group of women traveled to the company’s headquarters and, wearing little more than sandwich boards, tried to expose “the naked truth about drill, baby, drill.”

AlterNet reports that Diane Wilson, who organized the protest “doesn’t take nudity lightly.” Growing up in rural Texas, “I was taught that flesh is sinful, it’s the devil,” she said. “So for me, using nudity to expose the truth about BP was WAY outside my comfort zone. But I realized that it’s the destruction of our ecosystem by corporate greed that’s obscene, not a woman’s body.”

Real responsibility

It’s important to realize that such destruction is not limited to this one catastrophe in the Gulf. As David Roberts writes at Grist:

We don't get back the land we destroy by mining. We don't get back the species lost from deforestation and development. We don't get back islands lost to rising seas. We don't get back the coral lost to bleaching or the marine food chains lost to nitrogen runoff. Once we lose the climatic conditions in which our species evolved, we won't get them back either.”

Fixing the system

If Obama is ready to take responsibility for the oil spill, he might want to focus on strengthening the government regulators who oversee these dangerous industry. The lack of oversight from the Minerals Management Service—which was rotting from the inside-out long before Obama came into office, TPM reports—played a huge role in this spill. Across the country, the government bodies that are supposed to be guarding the environment have stepped away from that responsibility.

Consider, for instance, Forrest Whittaker’s report in The Texas Observer about his state’s environmental oversight agency. “In decision after decision, the Texas agency that’s supposed to protect the public and the environment has sided with polluters,” Whittaker writes.

President Obama may not be able to fix Texas’ problems, but he can provide leadership by correctly regulating corporations that pollute. In that way, the president can take responsibility not just for cleaning up this spill, but for preventing the next one.


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 05 2010


Offshore Drilling Industry Has Its Own 'Conservation Organization'

One surefire way for conservation groups not to criticize the largest offshore drilling company in the world in the wake of a huge spill is for that company to sponsor and support its own conservation organization.

In this 2005 image, GMF President John LaRue accepts a check from BP's Hugh Depland (left) at a recent reception.

Unfortunately, the deep connections between the Gulf of Mexico Foundation and Transocean Limited, (owners of the disastrous Deepwater Horizon rig) were omitted by the New York Times this week, which wrote a surprisingly positive front-page story about how the drilling disaster 'wasn't that bad'.  NYTimes reporters Tom Zeller Jr. and John M. Broder spend the first half of the article on quotes from Edward Overton of LSU and Quenton Dokken of the Gulf of Mexico Foundation.
ProPublica reported that "At least half of the 19 members of [GMF's] board of directors have direct ties to the offshore drilling industry."  One, Dr. Ian Richard Hudson, is the current Head of Corporate Responsibility and Environment at Transocean.  Directors also hail from stalwarts of the conservation movement like ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Marathon, ConocoPhillips and other extraction industry players.

In fact, the GMF website proudly displays photos of checks being presented by oil company executives to fund education programs and outreach efforts.

And check out this one from   May 2006 - Rowan's CEO Danny McNease presents Dr. Quenton Dokken, GMF's Executive Director, with a check for $25,000 during a meeting at Rowan's headquarters.Here, Rowan's CEO Danny McNease presents Dr. Quenton Dokken, GMF's Executive Director, with a check for $25,000 during a meeting at Rowan's headquarters.

Executive Director Quenton Dokken responded to ProPublica saying that the oil industry has "never tried to dictate the direction of the Foundation or change the mission of the Foundation."  ProPublica adds, via Dokken, "the Foundation has a budget of about $2 million. A quarter of its funding comes from private sector sources, including oil and gas companies."

Education programs are a favorite kind of project for extractive industries to support because they reach new audiences with information tailored to present a neat and clean version of an ecosystem.  They do this by taking teachers on guided tours, promoting online games that teach kids about ecosystems, and their award-winning program to teach Spanish-speaking youth about conservation. 

While efforts to connect youth to conservation are typically not to be belittled, one major result in this case is the director of a "conservation organization" on the front page of the NYTimes stating that the Gulf oil disaster 'isn't that bad'.

Transocean efforts to brand itself as an environmentally friendly company don't stop there.  The company proudly participates in the Carbon Disclosure Project and counts its emissions, it conducts research on deep sea life, claims to use environmentally friendly chemicals underwater and proudly recycles

All this raises the question: how 'green' can the world's largest offshore drilling company really be?

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