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

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.

Crustaceans rule!

Mex_00-hrEver wondered what kinds of wildlife dominate the world’s seas and oceans? Now there’s an answer, at least in terms of the number of species in different categories. It’s not fish. It’s not mammals. It’s crustaceans!

A mammoth Census of Marine Life has revealed that nearly one-fifth, or 19 percent, of all the marine species known to humans are crustaceans — crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill, barnacles and others far too numerous to mention here. The census didn’t count the actual numbers of animals beneath the waves — that would have been impossible — but it did count up the number of species in 25 marine areas. The aim is to set down a biodiversity baseline for future use.

Car_00-hrIt took 360 scientists to figure this out. Their findings were posted on Monday in PLoS ONE, an open-source peer-reviewed online scientific journal. An even more fulsome list will be out in October.

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:

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.

Logo designers compete to create a new oil-spill themed icon for BP

bp_Logo01Does BP’s now-familiar yellow-and-green sunflower logo need an update? Joe Daley thinks so. As the founder of a website that acts as a clearinghouse for logo designers around the world, Daley reckons the British oil giant’s corporate icon should reflect the spreading oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. So Daley’s launched an online contest to find an appropriate replacement logo.

These kinds of logo competitions are nothing new; that’s how the website works to match designers with businesses, with the businesses paying the prize to the winning design. Daley himself put up the $200 in prize money for the BP logo redesign contest — BP has nothing to do with it — to raise awareness of the spill.

BPThe idea evolved after he was chatting online with several designers about the BP oil spill, and a couple of them asked, “What spill?” “That’s when I decided to get it out in a more creative way,” Daley said by telephone from Columbus, Ohio.

Walruses in Louisiana? Eyebrow-raising details of BP’s spill response plan

LIFE WALRUSLouisiana walruses? Seals swimming along the Gulf Coast?

These creatures normally live in the Arctic Ocean, not the Gulf of Mexico, but they’re listed as “sensitive biological resources” that could be affected by an oil spill in the area in a document filed by BP last June with the U.S. Minerals Management Service. More than a month after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig blew out and sank on April 20, the British oil giant’s regional spill response plan drew some severe criticism from the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

One problem with BP’s nearly 600-page spill response plan? “It was utterly useless in the event of a spill,” Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, said by telephone. His group, which acts as a kind of safe haven for government whistle-blowers, detailed what it called “outright inanities”  in BP’s filing and the government’s approval of it.

PEER noted BP’s plan referred to “sea lions, seals, sea otters (and) walruses” as wildlife that might be affected in the Gulf of Mexico, and suggested this reference was taken from a previous plan for Arctic exploratory drilling, where these animals could be affected.

from The Great Debate UK:

How much damage will the BP oil spill cause?

-Kees Willemse is professor of offshore engineering at Delft University. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Last month’s explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig continues to result in the leakage of an estimated 200,000 gallons (910,000 litres) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day.

According to U.S. President Barack Obama, “we are dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster”.

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