Environment Forum

from Tales from the Trail:

White House commission wades into “Deep Water”

OILSPILL-BP/COMMISSIONThe great thing about presidential commissions is that they can soberly consider complicated matters and then offer unvarnished reports on what to do. The tough part is when that information rockets around Washington, as occurred after a White House commission issued its final report on the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The "Deep Water" report, apparently titled in reference to the doomed BP Deepwater Horizon rig, blames the deadly blowout and oil spill on government and industry complacency, and recommends more regulation of offshore drilling and a new independent safety agency. But as my colleague Ayesha Rascoe reports, the commission lacks the authority to establish drilling policies or punish companies.

Within minutes of the report's release, and even as commission co-chair William Reilly was bragging about bringing the report in on time and under budget, interest groups started the PR barrage, with industry critical and environmental outfits largely complimentary. Two Democratic members of Congress said they'd introduce legislation to implement the commission's recommendations.

Will that legislation go anywhere? Industry analysts are doubtful. To get an idea of how much action can be prompted by White House panels, it's useful to take a look at two previous ones.

OILSPILL-BP/COMMISSIONThe 911 Commission (formally called "The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States") was perhaps the ultimate in gracefully delivering its hard findings: "... on that September day we were unprepared.  We did not grasp the magnitude of a threat that had been gathering over time. As we detail in our report, this was a failure of policy, management, capability, and – above all – a failure of imagination."

from Reuters Investigates:

BP – Tough to price in the consequences

Two graphs tell an apparently conflicting story: analysts forecast a steady recovery in BP's dividends, but its valuation remains weak. Tom Bergin's close look at the potential costs facing BP as a result of its Gulf of Mexico oil spill helps explain the latter, but less so the former.

dividendsrange  pricebook

from Reuters Investigates:

Oil under ice

Still there

Still there

BP's Macondo Gulf spill would be nothing compared to the effect of a drilling accident in the Arctic, Jessica Bachman reports from "the foulest place in all of Russia."  Scientists and Russian officials are just starting to wake up to the fact that "if something happens on the Arctic Barents Sea in November it would be, 'OK, we'll come back for you in March,'" Jessica says.

But quite what Russia would do about that is not at all clear. The Russian government gets more than 50 percent of its revenues from oil and gas and Prime Minister Putin's stated aim is to keep producing more than 10 billion barrels a day through 2020. Environmentalists aren't the only ones who are worried.

That sinking feeling along the U.S. Gulf Coast

OIL-SPILL/The oil is no longer gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the broken BP well, and a final “bottom kill” is in prospect — though delayed by an iffy weather forecast. That means the environment’s on the mend along the Gulf Coast, right?

Not really. There’s the little problem of subsidence to deal with.

Because the Mississippi River has been channeled to control flooding, coastal wetlands have been starved of sediment. Without fresh sediment coming down the river, wetlands can’t keep up with erosion and protective marshes can turn into open water. Subsidence is what this phenomenon is called.

This sinking is already occurring near Venice, where marinas cluster around the toe of Louisiana’s boot shape. Take a look at a road that looks like a stream in a video clip I took in mid-July:

from Tales from the Trail:

Should U.S. oil royalties pay for studies of BP spill’s environmental impact?

OIL-SPILL/Oil caused the mess in the Gulf of Mexico. Should U.S. oil royalties pay for scientists to study what happened, and what's still happening, to this complex environment?

At least one scientist thinks so. Ed Overton of Louisiana State University figures the billions of dollars collected in royalties by the now-defunct and much-reviled Minerals Management Service -- re-named and re-organized as the Bureau of Ocean Energy -- must have enough money to pay for research into the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill.

Speaking at a Senate hearing last week on the effects of oil-dispersing chemicals, Overton and other experts called the BP spill an unintentional "grand experiment" into what deep water oil exploration can do to animals, plants, water and land in the Gulf. As Overton put it, the oil and dispersants are out there now. Best to study them over the months and years ahead to figure out what they're doing to the environment.

from Tales from the Trail:

What does an oiled pelican look like?

OIL-SPILL/You've probably seen the disturbing images of pelicans so badly mired in leaking oil in the Gulf of Mexico that they can barely be distinguished as birds at all -- they look like part of the muck.

But nearly three months after the blowout at BP's Deepwater Horizon rig, there are other pelicans touched by the oil where the impact is far less apparent, though still real.

Take a look at some video I took during a boat trip on July 15 along West Pass, a long channel stretching out into the ocean from Louisiana's southern-most tip:

BP, oil and seabirds — Baltic Sea ducks had worse luck

gannetBP’s vast and spreading oil disaster is killing ever more birds and other wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico — but one of the worst spills for birds was a harmless-sounding 5 tonnes of oil in the Baltic Sea in 1976.

That spill from a ship killed more than 60,000 long-tailed ducks wintering in the area after they fatally mistook the slick for an attractive patch of calm water, according to Arne Jernelov, of the Institute for Futures Studies in Stockholm, writing in today’s edition of the journal Nature.

By contrast, he writes that fewer than 1,200 birds have  so far been recorded killed after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, which has led to a leak of a gigantic 250,000 to 400,000 tonnes of oil in the Gulf of Mexico.  About 60,000 birds were killed off Alaska in 1989 by the accident usually known as the Exxon Valdez spill (…Exxon’s website calls it The Valdez Oil Spill ), previously the biggest spill off the United States at 37,000 tonnes.

from The Great Debate UK:

BP Gulf of Mexico crisis will transform the oil industry

OIL-SPILL/

-Kees Willemse is professor of off-shore engineering, Delft University.  The opinions expressed are his own.-

The news that a huge metal cap has been successfully placed over several of the leaking oil vents at the Deepwater Horizon site marks a potential turning point in the Gulf of Mexico crisis.

It is already estimated that each day some 10-15,000 barrels of the oil that are spilling out into the ocean are being captured and diverted to ships on the sea surface.

from Tales from the Trail:

Lockbox may be making a political comeback

Republicans may be coming around to former Vice President Al Gore's way of thinking. Not on climate change, but on the "lockbox."

OIL-SPILL/During his failed 2000 presidential bid, Gore talked about setting aside Social Security tax surpluses and putting them in a kind of  "lockbox"  to keep them off limits for other government spending and tax cuts. NBC's "Saturday Night Live" comedy show made great fun of the Democrat's comment.

Now Senate Republicans have revived the idea.

Not for Social Security, but for the oil spill clean up fund. Democrats are proposing to increase the oil spill clean up fund tax to 41 cents a barrel from 8 cents a barrel. The increase is part of a bill being considered by the Senate to help the long-term unemployed, offer relief to cash-strapped states and extend some expired business tax breaks.

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington spinmeisters start BP’s damage control

OIL-RIG/LEAKThe new public relations gurus hired by BP couldn't have started at a better time. The team, headed by Anne Womack-Kolton -- a former spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney and the White House -- had just started work when they had to deal with an unfortunate statement by BP chief executive Tony Hayward.

On Sunday Hayward infuriated many of those struggling to deal with the impact the massive oil spill has had on their lives and livelihood when he said he wanted his "life back" and wanted the oil spill mess to be over. So today his office issued the following email:

I made a hurtful and thoughtless comment on Sunday when I said that 'I wanted my life back.' When I read that recently, I was appalled. I apologize, especially to the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Those words don’t represent how I feel about this tragedy, and certainly don’t represent the hearts of the people of BP – many of whom live and work in the Gulf - who are doing everything they can to make things right. My first priority is doing all we can to restore the lives of the people of the Gulf region and their families – to restore their lives, not mine.

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