Experts Warn: US ‘on Course to Repeat’ BP Gulf Disaster

“The risk of another blowout is real,” write former MMS head Elizabether Birnbaum, Oceana’s Jacqueline Savitz

– Andrea Germanos, staff writer

BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig ablaze on April 21, 2010. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. is “on a course to repeat our mistakes” and face another oil disaster like BP’s Macondo well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, two experts warn.

The chilling cautionary words are given by former offshore drilling regulator Elizabeth Birnbaum and Jacqueline Savitz, vice president for U.S. Oceans at conservation organizationOceana, in op-ed published in the New York Times days ahead of the fourth anniversary of the epic oil catastrophe.

Birnbaum was head of Minerals Management Service at the time of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but in a move seen by some as “scapegoat firing” was ousted from the position weeks after the well began to spew oil into the Gulf. She is now a consultant at SEB Strategies.

Birnbaum and Savitz write that the Obama administration has yet to act on recommendations which could make offshore drilling safer.

“We would never have imagined so little action would be taken to prevent something like this from happening again. But, four years later, the Obama administration still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety. As a result, we are on a course to repeat our mistakes,” they write.

One the remaining threats Birnbaum and Savitz highlight has to do with blowout preventers, a point outlined in a “detailed and damning” December 2011 report of the National Academy of Engineering. The report found fault with the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer, and indicated that that same equipment “may be present” at other drilling operations. Yet new standards for blowout preventers have yet to be enforced, deepwater drilling continues, and new drilling leases in the Gulf are issued each year.

“The risk of another blowout is real,” they write.

Rather than scale back drilling, oceans face another assault with the administration’s proposal to allow the use of seismic air guns for oil exploration along the Atlantic coast, which Oceana has warned could amount to “death sentence” for marine mammals.

“We have seen this pattern before. The expansion of drilling into deeper water and farther from shore was not coupled with advances in spill prevention and response,” Birnbaum and Savitz write in their op-ed.

This captures the ‘risk addiction’ award-winning journalist and author Naomi Klein described in her TED talk delivered months after the Macondo well blowout. Klein said that “even more striking than the ferocious power emanating from that well was the recklessness with which that power was unleashed — the carelessness, the lack of planning that characterized the operation from drilling to clean-up.”

“If there is one thing BP’s watery improv act made clear, it is that, as a culture, we have become far too willing to gamble with things that are precious and irreplaceable, and to do so without a back-up plan, without an exit strategy,” Klein continued.

That reckless gamble is all too real for the wildlife in the Gulf still suffering and community members still awaiting compensation for the catastrophe that is far from over.

“The request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010,” stated Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. “Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And, ensure that this never happens again.”

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If KXL is Approved, This WILL Happen ALL ALONG the Pipeline’s Route

Alberta, Canada has averaged two crude oil spills every day for the past 37 years — and that doesn’t even take into account spills of other types of toxic materials. Is the Obama administration willing to let the same thing happen right here in the United States?

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Speaker Boehner & his GOP Brethren Approve KXL, Spread Propaganda

I certainly hope that Representative Mark Amodei and Representative Joe Heck made a call to their insurance agents and purchased personal liability insurance for Tar Sands oil spills, because today the voted FOR passage of HR3, the Northern Route Approval Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) that approves construction of the Keystone pipeline. That means they are complicit in enabling the eventual pollution of our land, our aquifers and our nation’s breadbasket that puts food on our tables.  You think the Arkansas spill was bad?  Just wait, the eventual KXL pipeline spill will be absolutely catastrophic and we need to be prepared to hold each and every representative in Congress who voted for this catastrophe accountable.

Following the House vote on HR 3, Speaker immediately put out a press release that is tantamount to pure propaganda claiming the construction of the KXL pipeline will create 10s of thousands of jobs and will swamp our gas stations with abundant supplies of cheap gas.  The reality, however, is that if the KXL pipeline IS constructed, it will suck every gallon of gas they can pump out the the US down that pipeline for shipment to foreign countries, leaving us high and dry, with astronomical gas prices for the remainder of many of our lifetimes.  Here’s Speaker Boehner’s press release:

House Votes to Approve Keystone Pipeline, Create Tens of Thousands of Jobs & Increase Energy Security

Posted by Speaker Boehner Press Office
May 22, 2013
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today applauded House passage of the Northern Route Approval Act (H.R. 3), legislation introduced by Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) that approves the Keystone pipeline and eliminates legal and regulatory barriers to its construction and the tens of thousands of jobs it will create:

“When American families hit the road this Memorial Day weekend, they’ll once again be paying the price for the Obama administration’s failed energy policy.  Gas prices have nearly doubled on the president’s watch, draining family budgets and making it harder for small businesses to hire.  The Northern Route Approval Act, part of Republicans’ plan for economic growth and jobs, will help families and small businesses by approving the Keystone pipeline and removing barriers that could keep it tied up in legal limbo for years. 

“The Keystone pipeline will create tens of thousands of American jobs and pump nearly a million barrels of oil to U.S. refineries each day, helping to lower gas prices, boost economic growth, enhance our energy security, and revitalize manufacturing.  The project is backed by a majority of the American people, including members of the president’s own party.  Labor unions have rallied for its approval, saying it’s ‘not just a pipeline, it’s a lifeline.’  Unfortunately, after nearly five years of blocking the project, it’s a lifeline President Obama is refusing to toss American workers.

“House Republicans will continue fighting for the Keystone pipeline as part of our jobs plan that cuts red tape and unlocks more of America’s resources.  It is time for the president to put his political calculations aside, work with Republicans to approve the Keystone pipeline, and advance a growth and jobs agenda that will help our economy grow and put more Americans back to work.”

But just weeks ago, we learned from Ryan Koronowski, who posted an article on ThinkProgress, that the pipeline will not create 10s of thousands of jobs, but instead, will create a measly 35 permanent jobs, a far cry from even just 1000 permanent jobs.  And, to make matters worse, it will exacerbate the problems we’re experiencing with climate change.  The refining process for tar sands crude (if you can really define crude as tar sands mixed in toxic proprietary solvents) will emit more carbon into the atmosphere than 51 seriously dirty coal plants.  Not only that, but a series of amendments, some dealing with pipeline safety and the cost of cleaning up potential pipeline spills, were all defeated along party lines.  So once again, the GOP has shown us their true colors, showing preference to corporate profits and choosing to socialize cleanup costs for the corporations.

Keystone Pipeline Will Create Only 35 Permanent Jobs, Emit 51 Coal Plants’ Worth Of Carbon

By Ryan Koronowski on Apr 17, 2013 at 7:15 pm

On Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that he wasn’t touching the Keystone pipeline decision with a ten-foot pole:

“I am staying as far away from that as I can now so that when the appropriate time comes to me, I am not getting information from any place I shouldn’t be, and I am not getting engaged in the debate at a time that I shouldn’t be,” Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

Right now, Kerry has the State Department’s Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, but if that is all he information he relies on, he won’t get the full picture. While he will see that the project will only bring 35 permanent jobs, which is true, he would also see almost no discussion of the pipeline’s impact on the climate. (Oddly, he will be able to read an extended discussion of climate change’s projected impacts on the construction and maintenance of the proposed pipeline.)

So where is a Secretary of State sincerely concerned about climate change to go to find the climate consequences of approving the Keystone XL pipeline? He could peruse a new report out yesterday from Oil Change International called: “Cooking the Books: How The State Department Analysis Ignores The True Climate Impact of the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

The report’s recommendation:

In a world constrained by the realities of climate change, the proper measure of any project’s climate impact should not be based on the assumptions inherent in a business as usual scenario that guarantees climate disaster. Instead, the State Department should base these critical decisions on whether the project makes sense in a world that is actually seeking to minimize the real dangers of climate change. On this basis, we recommend that decision-makers consider the total amount of carbon that will be released by the project into the atmosphere.

How do they back that up?

  • Using industry analysis of carbon emissions from current tar sands production, the report says the pipeline will carry and emit 181 million metric tons of CO2 every year. That’smore than 37.7 million cars or 51 coal plants.
  • Both the IEA and the World Bank have said that if we want to avoid the catastrophic implications of warming the planet by more than 2 degrees C, we cannot burn any more than one-third of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves by 2050.
  • U.S. oil demand has fallen by 2.25 million barrels per day, but if we want to cut emissions to hold global temperature below 2 degrees C, there are very few scenarios that include a Keystone pipeline pumping 3.3 million barrels or tar sands oil per day.
  • Petcoke, which is a byproduct of the tar sands refining process, is exported for use as a coal substitute. Since petcoke is cheaper than coal, this encourages more coal burning, and therefore more carbon emissions. The State Department’s EIS does not acknowledge this.
  • The pipeline’s pump stations will emit 4.4 million metric tons of CO2 each year, after 240,000 metric tons during the construction phase. This is like adding an extra U.S. coal plant. This pipeline, remember, will pump 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil every day.
  • Tar sands pollute more than conventional oil — 27 million more metric tons of CO2 according to the EPA. This would be the same as 7 coal plants. Tar sands are so carbon intensive because of the way it burns, and how much energy is required to extract it. The State Department acknowledged that this will cause 17 percent more carbon emissions than regular oil.

Won’t the tar sands be extracted whether the pipeline is approved or rejected? Not so:

There are many compelling arguments against the fatalistic assertion that the tar sands will be fully exploited regardless of the Keystone XL pipeline. Other proposed pipelines also face substantial opposition in Canada and other regions of the United States. Further, increased costs associated with alternatives such as rail make it clear that the Keystone XL pipeline is far and away the industry’s first choice, and industry experts have been the first to admit this.

The State Department EIS dismisses out of hand the implications of burning the oil we’re projected to burn, saying it is business as usual. But this business is leading us to a very unusual climate future. The idea of approving the Keystone pipeline becomes more impossible as the facts become clearer. We can only hope that Secretary Kerry will stay engaged in the real debate and make the right choice for a livable climate.

[The article above, originally posted on ThinkProgress,  was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.]

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ExxonMobil’s Mayflower Mess

Tar sands crude is both more toxic and much harder to clean than ordinary oil.

By Michael Brune

Michael Brune

Several weeks after ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline gushed at least 500,000 gallons of tar sands crude and water into the Arkansas community of Mayflower, many of the evacuated families still can’t return to their homes.

Sierra Club organizer Glen Hooks, who grew up about 20 miles southeast of this disaster site, recently attended a meeting for the displaced families at Mayflower High School. “I had to really stare down some ExxonMobil goons who told me to leave because it was a private meeting,” he said. “I politely explained that it was a meeting in a public building about a public subject with numerous public officials in attendance, and that I was planning to stay.”

During the Mayflower meeting, Hooks listened as an ExxonMobil executive apologized to the families and said that the focus was on safety and helping the homeowners. “The meeting then moved into a phase where ExxonMobil met with individual family members about their claims in a side room guarded by no fewer than six uniformed police officers.”

Here’s something that the Big Oil leader probably didn’t tell those homeowners: In 2010, it was fined $26,200 by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration for failing to regularly inspect each point where the Pegasus line crosses under a navigable waterway.

image

This is a pipeline that crosses under the Mississippi River — just one of the places ExxonMobil failed to do inspections. It’s hard to say which is more shocking: that “safety first” ExxonMobil has been so cavalier about pipeline inspections or that it was fined such a pittance for its irresponsibility. By my calculation, $26,200 comes out to less than 0.0001 percent of the $30.5 billion in net income that ExxonMobil’s raked in over the course of 2010.

Let’s put that in perspective. If ExxonMobil’s income were the same as the median family income in Faulkner County, Arkansas, where its pipeline leaked, then ExxonMobil’s fine for endangering the Mississippi River would have been about four cents.

No matter how much ExxonMobil ends up spending to clean up the mess in Mayflower, the impact on its profit statement will be miniscule. Unfortunately, no amount of cash can buy peace of mind for the families whose homes were violated by tar sands.

Tar sands crude is both more toxic and much harder to clean than ordinary oil. Just ask Enbridge, which has now spent almost $1 billion and two years trying to clean up the Kalamazoo River after the largest onshore oil spill in U.S. history.

No wonder ExxonMobil is doing everything it can to keep reporters and everyone else as far away from the Mayflower disaster as possible. The more the American public learns about the real cost of tar sands crude, the more opposition to the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines will grow.

If the Keystone XL pipeline is built, it’s not a question of whether it will fail, but of when and where. The first disaster will be far worse than what happened in Mayflower, since TransCanada’s pipeline will pump 10 times as much tar sands crude as the Pegasus does.

I hope we heed this disaster’s two biggest lessons: No. 1: How oil companies talk about safety has no connection to how they act, and. No. 2: The last thing you want to wake up and find in your backyard is a tar sands spill.


Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club, the largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. www.sierraclub.org  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)