Massive oil spill spreads across Gulf of Mexico

As families mourn the 11 workers thrown overboard in the worst oil rig disaster in decades and as the resulting spill continues to spread through the Gulf of Mexico, new questions are being raised about the training of the drill operators and about the oil company’s commitment to safety.

Deepwater Horizon, the giant technically-advanced rig which exploded on April 20 and sank two days later, is leaking an estimated 42,000 gallons per day through a pipe about 5,000 feet below the surface. The spill has spread across 1,800 square miles – an area larger than Rhode Island – according to satellite images, oozing its way toward the Louisiana coast and posing a threat to wildlife, including a sperm whale spotted in the oil sheen.

The massive $600 million rig, which holds the record for boring the deepest oil and gas well in the world – at 35,050 feet - had passed three recent federal inspections, the most recent on April 1, since it moved to its current location in January. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

Yet relatives of workers who are presumed dead claim that the oil behemoth BP and rig owner TransOcean violated “numerous statutes and regulations” issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, according to a lawsuit filed by Natalie Roshto, whose husband Shane, a deck floor hand, was thrown overboard by the force of the explosion and whose body has not yet been located.

Both companies failed to provide a competent crew, failed to properly supervise its employees and failed to provide Rushto with a safe place to work, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The lawsuit also names oil-services giant Halliburton as a defendant, claiming that the company “prior to the explosion, was engaged in cementing operations of the well and well cap and, upon information and belief, improperly and negligently performed these duties, which was a cause of the explosion.”

BP and TransOcean have also aggressively opposed new safety regulations proposed last year by a federal agency that oversees offshore drilling – which were prompted by a study that found many accidents in the industry.

As the massive oil spill caused by the worst rig explosion in decades continues to spread across the Gulf of Mexico, more questions are being raised about the safety procedures and environmental response plans of BP and TransOcean, the oil behemoth and contractor drilling the well.

On Monday, the Huffington Post reported that BP and Transocean, along with dozens of other members of the oil industry, have vigorously opposed new safety regulations proposed last year by a federal agency that oversees offshore drilling. The new regulations, which have been attacked by the industry in over 100 letters sent to the agency, were prompted by a study showing many accidents on such rigs from 2001 to 2007.

In addition, a lawsuit filed by the wife of one of the 11 oil workers presumed dead in the accident claims that the companies violated “numerous statutes and regulations” issued by federal agencies. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

Now, members of Congress are demanding answers from the companies and the agency and administration officials have launched a full investigation of the incident.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Energy Secretary Ken Salazar announced a joint investigation into the incident – with the power to issue subpoenas, hold public hearings and call witnesses – which will probe possible criminal or civil violations by the operators of the rig.

“We will remain focused on providing every resource we can to support the massive response effort underway at the Deepwater Horizon, but we are also aggressively and quickly investigating what happened and what can be done to prevent this type of incident in the future,” said Salazar.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote a letter to MMS on Tuesday, demanding that the agency “stand up to industry pressure, and finalize its proposed rulemaking” to require operators to develop and implement a safety and environmental management plan for offshore oil and gas development.

He continues:

Until the investigation is complete we have no way of knowing whether this rule could have prevented the tragedy at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, but if this rule can make oil rig operations safer then we should finalize the rule as soon as possible.

I understand BP and other major oil operators have opposed this rulemaking, but given the current tragedy unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico it seems clear that tighter safety procedures are in order.

In addition, the House Committee On Energy and Commerce announced an investigation into the companies’ environmental response plan to the incident, including “the adequacy of the companies’ risk management.” Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) sent letters to Lamar McKay, the chairman and president of BP America, and Steven Newman, president and CEO of TransOcean.

Also, BP is being investigated by MMS over a whistleblower’s claims that the company violated federal law by not keeping key documents related to another deepwater production platform in the Gulf of Mexico, reports the Guardian.

Spokespersons for BP and TransOcean did not return calls for comment.

Source: the Huffington Post

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Update: Oil spill probably won’t hit Florida’s Panhandle beaches this weekend

Governor: State will cooperate in cleanup

By Paul Flemming
Florida Capital Bureau

1:55 p.m.

A massive oil slick from a collapsed rig 130 miles off the coast of New Orleans is so big it’s “humbling,” but probably won’t hit Florida’s pristine Panhandle beaches this weekend, Florida’s top environmental regulator told Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday.

Briefing Crist at a regularly scheduled meeting of agency heads, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole warned that prevailing winds could shift quickly and that emergency managers and the National Guard are gearing up.

“We need to be prepared,” Sole said. “It’s something that can change quickly, and for the worse for Florida.”

The rig is spewing 1,000 barrels of oil a day and if remotely operated submarines are unable to activate an automatic shutoff valve, it could take weeks or possibly months to contain, Sole said. He said it is likely at least some of the oil will reach Florida.

“It’s in God’s hands now,” Crist said.

Crist and Sole flew over the slick on Tuesday in a Coast Guard airplane based in Mobile, Ala.

Crist briefly interrupted the report to tell a surprised David Halstead that he was being promoted from acting director of the Division of Emergency Management to director.

Halstead said that BP Corp. had sent crews and booms to Escambia County, where the local Emergency Operations Center has been activated and residents are complaining about strong petroleum fumes.

“They’re smelling it down there,” Halstead said.

Major Gen. Douglas Burnett, adjutant general of the Florida National Guard, told Crist that he was leaving today for Alabama to coordinate response from a command center that has been established in Mobile.

Crist’s office is making plans to declare a state of emergency if necessary.

In today’s paper

Gov. Charlie Crist Tuesday took a look for himself at the oil spill that could threaten Florida’s coast as well as proposals to allow drilling in state waters.

The governor was briefed by federal responders in Mobile before taking a 90-minute flight into the Gulf to survey the growing spill.

Crist said Florida would cooperate with other states and the federal effort to protect the Gulf Coast.

“A lot of this is in God’s hands at this time,” Crist said after the flight.

In the morning, Crist said the explosion and ongoing spill from a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico put a different light on proposals to drill in state waters. Crist supported a bill passed by the House last year and left by the Senate without action.

“If this doesn’t give somebody pause, there’s something wrong,” Crist said. “As I’ve always said, it would need to be far enough, clean enough and safe enough. I’m not sure that this was far enough, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t clean enough and it doesn’t sound like it was safe enough.”

Chief drilling proponent, Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said the accident calls for further study.

“Until we have all of the facts and all the answers about what happened and why, we shouldn’t move forward,” Cannon said.

Dave Rauschkolb, a Panhandle beach-side restaurateur who led a statewide protest against drilling earlier this year, said the incident reveals what Florida risks.

“Allowing drilling as close as three to 10 miles from Florida’s shores is pure folly,” Rauschkolb said. “This spill very well could put me and so many others out of business just as our busy season starts.”

The proposal was already shelved this year as hearings and studies were conducted.

Sen. Mike Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican who is the lead for the proposal in the Senate, said there are dangers associated with other activities that are otherwise worthwhile.

“Anytime you look at any exploration, whether it’s energy or space, there are inherent risks. We just saw 29 miners killed in West Virginia, getting coal,” Haridopolos said.

Haridopolos also said there’s time to find out what happened in this instance and apply the lessons to considering the proposal.

“Next year, we want to know what happened in Louisiana — was it sabotage, human error, how could it be prevented,” Haridopolos said. “This is a big change in policy and something like this gives us pause.”

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Sole said his agency is monitoring U.S. Coast Guard and federal Minerals Management Service efforts to cap the spill from last week’s rig explosion off the Louisiana coast.

“The good news is it’s tracking more east, it was tracking northeast,” Sole said.

Though that means the spilled oil may threaten the beaches of the Panhandle less, more distant Florida shores could still be at risk. Sole said relatively, the spilled oil is a greater threat to estuaries and mangroves.

“It’s easier to get off the beach,” Sole said.

Travis Griggs and Bill Cotterell contributed to this story.

The Coast Guard says a new leak has been found at the site where a oil platform exploded and sank off in the Gulf of Mexico.

Rear Adm. Mary Landry says that 5,000 barrels a day is now what is estimated to be leaking. Officials had been saying for days that it was 1,000 barrels a day. The new estimate comes from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Landry says.

Oil is pouring into the Gulf from a site where the rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank last week. Officials say the leading edge of the oil was nearing the Louisiana coast and could impact it as early as Friday evening.

Earlier Wednesday, the Coast Guard started a test burn of an area about 30 miles east of the Mississippi River Delta to see how a plan to burn up an oil spill before it could wash ashore and wreak environmental havoc was working.

Crews turned to the plan after failing to stop a 1,000-barrel-a-day leak at the spot where a deepwater oil platform exploded and sank. A 500-foot boom was to be used to corral several thousand gallons of the thickest oil on the surface, which will then be towed to a more remote area, set on fire and allowed to burn for about an hour.

NPR’s Wade Goodwyn, who is at the Unified Command Center in Robert, La., said this isn’t tried-and-true territory.

“Nobody is sure how well this is going to work in the open Gulf,” Goodwyn told NPR’s Melissa Block. “It’s not going to be a large percentage of the spill because burning only works where the spill is thick, emulsified, and that’s only about 3 percent of the entire oil sick.”

He cautioned that even if the experiment works, it’s not going to be a big fix. Goodwyn said the burning does not compare with planes dropping dispersants, which are having the most impact in controlling the spill.

About 42,000 gallons of oil a day are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico from the blown-out well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

Greg Pollock, head of the oil spill division of the Texas General Land Office, which is providing equipment for crews in the Gulf, said he is not aware of a similar burn ever being done off the U.S. coast.

“When you can get oil ignited, it is an absolutely effective way of getting rid of a huge percentage of the oil,” he said. “I can’t overstate how important it is to get the oil off the surface of the water.”

The oil has the consistency of thick roofing tar.

When the flames go out, Pollock said, the material that is left resembles a hardened ball of tar that can be removed from the water with nets or skimmers.

“I would say there is little threat to the environment because it won’t coat an animal; and because all the volatiles have been consumed if it gets on a shore, it can be simply picked up,” he said.

Authorities also said they expect minimal impact on sea turtles and marine mammals in the burn area.

A graphic posted by the Coast Guard and the industry task force fighting the slick showed it covering an area about 100 miles long and 45 miles across at its widest point.

“It’s premature to say this is catastrophic. I will say this is very serious,” said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry.

More than two dozen vessels moved about in the heart of the slick-pulling, oil-sopping booms.

As the task force worked far offshore, local officials prepared for the worst in case the oil reaches land.

Goodwyn said the oil is likely to come ashore around the Mississippi River Delta. He said the government and rig operator BP PLC both have about 100,000 feet of surface booms to put there; another 500,000 feet of booms are available. The slick is expected to hit Friday.

“There’s no stopping this from coming ashore everywhere, and if it’s going to be weeks of oil spilling out of this well before they can get it stopped, this could turn into quite an impressive mess,” Goodwyn said.

The decision to burn some of the oil came after crews operating submersible robots failed to activate a shut-off device that would halt the flow of oil on the sea bottom 5,000 feet below.

BP says work will begin as early as Thursday to drill a relief well to relieve pressure at the blowout site, but that could take months.

Another option is a dome-like device to cover oil rising to the surface and pump it to container vessels, but that will take two weeks to put in place, BP said.

Winds and currents in the Gulf have helped crews in recent days as they try to contain the leak. The immediate threat to sandy beaches in coastal Alabama and Mississippi has eased. But the spill has moved steadily toward the mouth of the Mississippi River, home to hundreds of species of wildlife and near some rich oyster grounds.

The cost of the disaster continues to rise and could easily top $1 billion.

Industry officials say replacing the Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and operated by BP, would cost up to $700 million. BP has said its costs for containing the spill are running at $6 million a day. The company said it will spend $100 million to drill the relief well. The Coast Guard has not yet reported its expenses.

Material from NPR’s Wade Goodwyn and the Associated Press was used in this report.

Sooooo, this should move Obama’s offshore drilling plan right along…

Help close the door on another drilling disaster. Urge the Obama administration to reject expanded offshore drilling exploration. The deadline for public comments on the proposal is Monday, May 3rd so please send your message now…

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Gov. Crist declares state of emergency in response to oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

By Paul Flemming
Florida Capital Bureau

Gov. Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency Friday morning in response to the growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The oil slick is generally moving in a northerly direction and threatens Florida’s coast,” Crist wrote in his order.

Crist’s declaration kicks in Florida’s participation in multi-state and federal efforts to contain and stop the 5,000-barrel-a-day spill from a well off the coast of Louisiana.

The Deepwater Horizon spill is now estimated to spread over 600 square miles in the Gulf.

Crist’s declaration also frees up emergency money, waives highway weight limits if needed to respond to the crisis, begins price-gouging enforcement and activates the Florida National Guard.

Oil from the spill has begun to come ashore in Louisiana. The disaster has grown in scale in the last days as estimates of the oil daily spewing into Gulf waters was increased five-fold. BP, the oil company that leased the rig that blew out, has been taking primary initial response. Yesterday, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force help began in the Gulf in addition to the U.S. Coast Guard, Mineral Management Services and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that are leading the combined effort.

“Oil continues to so spill from the well as all efforts to stop the discharge have failed and may not succeed for an extended period of time,” Crist said in his emergency declaration.

Director of Emergency Management David Halstead was named state coordinating officer for the response. Halstead was officially named by Crist as division’s director. He had been serving as interim director.

The state’s Department of Environmental Protection is the lead state agency.
Florida is a part of a unified command response. The effort has four staging areas for containment and cleanup that include Pensacola.

A 60-page operational plan of the unified command was updated in 2008 and written with the help of Florida’s responders. It delineates responsibilities, command structure and containment and cleanup procedures.

BP Is Criticized Over Oil Spill, but U.S. Missed Chances to Act
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and ERIC LIPTON/New York Times
NEW ORLEANS — Officials in the Obama administration began for the first time Friday to publicly chastise BP America for its handling of the spreading oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, calling the oil company’s current resources inadequate to stop what is unfolding into an environmental catastrophe.

As oil edged toward the Louisiana coast, fears continued to grow that the leak from the seabed oil well could spiral out of control. One official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a widely distributed warning on Friday, said the oil flow could grow from the current estimate of 5,000 barrels a day to “an order of magnitude higher than that.”

The increased level of concern was reflected in the sharp new criticism by federal officials of BP for not stopping the leak and cleaning up the spill before it reached land, something the company’s officials had said was possible earlier in the week.

“It is clear that after several unsuccessful attempts to secure the source of the leak, it is time for BP to supplement their current mobilization as the slick of oil moves toward shore,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said pointedly, as the government announced steps to supplement its response with people and equipment from the Defense Department.

Geoffrey S. Morrell, deputy assistant secretary of defense, said in a statement that the government would hold BP accountable for the cost of the department’s deployment, which as of Friday night included the Louisiana National Guard to help clean up coastal areas once the oil comes ashore.

BP officials said they did everything possible, and a review of the response suggests it may be too simplistic to place all the blame on the oil company. The federal government also had opportunities to move more quickly, but did not do so while it waited for a resolution to the spreading spill from BP, which was leasing the drilling rig that exploded in flames on April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven workers are missing and presumed dead.

The Department of Homeland Security waited until Thursday to declare that the incident was “a spill of national significance,” and then set up a second command center in Mobile. The actions came only after the estimate of the size of the spill was increased fivefold to 5,000 barrels a day.

The delay meant that the Homeland Security Department waited until late this week to formally request a more robust response from the Department of Defense, with Ms. Napolitano acknowledging even as late as Thursday afternoon that she did not know if the Defense Department even had equipment that might be helpful.

By Friday afternoon, she said, the Defense Department had agreed to send two large military transport planes to spray chemicals that can disperse the oil while it is still in the Gulf.

Officials initially seemed to underestimate the threat of a leak, just as BP did last year when it told the government such an event was highly unlikely. Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the chief Coast Guard official in charge of the response, said on April 22, after the rig sank, that the oil that was on the surface appeared to be merely residual oil from the fire, though she said it was unclear what was going on underwater. The day after, officials said that it appeared the well’s blowout preventer had kicked in and that there did not seem to be any oil leaking from the well, though they cautioned it was not a guarantee.

BP officials, even after the oil leak was confirmed by using remote-controlled robots, expressed confidence that the leak was slow enough, and steps taken out in the Gulf of Mexico aggressive enough, that the oil would never reach the coast.

(The NOAA document on a potentially far larger leak, first obtained by The Press-Register in Mobile, Ala., was described by an agency spokesman as simply a possibility raised by a staff member, not an official prediction.)

Some oil industry critics questioned whether the federal government is too reliant on oil companies to manage the response to major spills, leaving the government unable to evaluate if the response is robust enough.

“Here you have the company that is responsible for the accident leading the response to the crisis,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “There is a problem here, and the consequence is clear.”

But it is still the government, in this case the Coast Guard, that has the final say. A law passed a year after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster makes the owner of a rig or vessel responsible for cleaning up a spill. But oversight of the cleanup is designated to the Coast Guard, with advice from other federal agencies.

Rear Adm. Robert C. North, retired, who was commander of the Coast Guard’s Eighth District from 1994 to 1996, said that decisions in these situations are made collectively, but that the buck essentially stops with the federal coordinator — in this case, Admiral Landry. “The federal on-scene coordinator is kind of the one individual to say, ‘I think we need to do more’ or ‘That’s adequate,’ ” he said.

If the government determines that the responsible party is not up to the job, it can federalize the spill, running the cleanup operations without the private company but billing it for the cost. This is a last resort, however.

In this case, Admiral North said, the oil companies have more technology and expertise than the government. “It doesn’t appear that federalizing it would bring in any more resources,” he said.

Officials from BP and the federal government have repeatedly said they had prepared for the worst, even though a plan filed last year with the government said it was highly unlikely that a spill or leak would ever result from the Deep Horizon rig.

“There are not much additional available resources in the world to fight this thing offshore,” said Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, in an interview. “We’ve basically thrown everything we have at it.”

Mr. Suttles said BP’s efforts did not change after it was disclosed Wednesday night that the leak was estimated at 5,000 barrels a day, five times larger than initial estimates had suggested. He said BP, which is spending roughly $6 million a day and will likely spend far more when oil reaches land, had already been mobilizing for a far larger spill.

However, he did not deny that BP initially thought the slick could be stopped before it reached the coastline.

“In the early days, the belief was that we probably could have contained it offshore,” Mr. Suttles said. “Unfortunately, since the event began we haven’t had that much good weather.” The first weekend after the sinking of the rig, choppy seas brought the cleanup to a near halt, and made more complicated tactics like controlled burns impossible.

But even after the weather cleared — and just a few days before officials began acknowledging the likelihood of landfall — Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, expressed confidence the spill could be contained.

Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, said Friday that he agreed the situation was catastrophic and could continue to unfold for up to three months, but he said he remained satisfied with his team’s response, saying that even if it had initially known that the leak was 5,000 barrels a day, the response would have been the same. “While it may not have been visible to the public, from the very start, we have been working this very hard,” he said.

Within a matter of hours of the report of the explosion, the Coast Guard had dispatched three cutters, four helicopters and a plane to the scene, helping to save 90 workers, including three critically injured ones who were sent by helicopter for emergency care.

“We have never tried so many different methods for a large spill on the surface as we have during this, and I have been doing oil spill response for 30 years,” Admiral Allen said.

Campbell Robertson reported from New Orleans, and Eric Lipton from Washington. Tom Zeller Jr. contributed reporting from New York, and Leslie Kaufman from New Orleans.

– “The worst U.S. oil spill in decades reached into precious shoreline habitat along the Gulf Coast as documents emerged showing British Petroleum downplayed the possibility of a catastrophic accident at the offshore rig that exploded. BP suggested in a 2009 exploration plan and environmental impact analysis for the well that an accident leading to a giant crude oil spill – and serious damage to beaches, fish and mammals - was unlikely, or virtually impossible.” (Associated Press)

  • “Ocean scientists say the Gulf of Mexico’s strong loop current could move the oil spill around the tip of Florida and up the Atlantic Coast.” (Houston Chronicle)

Why does any of this matter again?

Whether or not it matters depends on one’s values. Even an individual who merely values the health of U.S. economy ought to be able to see the negative impact this will have on industries that depend on the Gulf of Mexico. Consider the fishing industry for example. It has taken twenty years for the fishing industry to recover from the Exxon Valdiz oil spill. If this oil leak continues for a month at 5000 barrels a day, it will dwarf the impact of the Exxon Valdiz.

"The seafood and tourist industries are going to be hit hard by the oil spill. Already people are canceling their summer reservations to the affected areas in Dauphin Island, Alabama. Many speculate that the tourist industries in Alabama, Mississippi, and the Florida panhandle will be devastated.

In addition, the American Consumer will experience higher seafood prices, as 25% of the nation’s consumption of seafood comes from the Gulf. Imported seafood from other countries such as China could be necessary to meet our demand."

Source: Fox News

The sky is falling.

No, the earth is bleeding into the ocean.

Only living things bleed.

Don’t you use metaphors?

Anyway, do you seriously think a giant oil spill in the Gulf doesn’t matter?

It’s not that it doesn’t matter - but that it should be put in perspective. Disasters happen. Sh*t happens. You can’t regulate risk away, any more than you can wish it away. Oil drilling is incredibly dangerous - and the consequences of disasters severe. Why do we do it – why do we sanction it through our purchasing decisions? Because it makes our energy dependent lives possible. Human life is more important to me than marine life.

That said - do the oceans support human life vis a vis the global biosphere? Sure does. Is this spill - or even a hundred like it capable of killing the oceans? Not even remotely. The last 10 years of deep water exploration work has revealed that more active volancoes are spewing toxic chemicals into the oceans in such mind boggling quantities that comparatively speaking, these spills – while tragic – aren’t even a drop in the bucket.

Perspective. Let’s not chastise and decry the immorality of offshore oil drilling when, very likely, every object within 10 feet of us is a direct result of oil. Let’s give credit where credit is due - mourn the tragedies as they occur - but keep things in perspective.

Dairdo, yours is a reasonable right of center position. What I don’t understand is The Last Man’s complete dismissal of an ecological disaster as something to care about. Hopefully I’m reading too much into his curt comments.