RESOURCES: OIL (OIL-
SPILL HISTORY) AND COAL: POLITICO-
FINANCIAL IMPACT? OIL AND WATER
DON'T MIX, ESPECIALLY IN HURRICANE SEASON - FOLLOW STORY FROM ACROSS
THE POND; U.S. FEDERAL COURT
STEPS IN. OTHER FUELS...
- NEWS :
- So how much oil are we talking
- Hydraulic fracturing;
new page on
"oil and water"
- Congress getting
into the act.
- NATURAL GAS AN
ALTERNATIVE? IN CT, TOO? NOT. OR IS THAT "NYET".
- As price rises, it is more
reasonable to seek oil in shale, deep-deep and, heaven forbid, find alternative sources of fuel!
- This June 2006 photo shows the Jack 2
well located in the Gulf of
Mexico in about 7,000 feet of water. A trio of oil companies has tapped
a petroleum pool deep beneath the Gulf that could boost the nation's
reserves by more than 50 percent. OOPS!
2010 spill in Gulf of Mexico, gushing unabated, puts an end, for now,
to more off-shore drilling.
OR NOT? Will this get to the U.S. Supreme Court? Or will
U.S. goverment just redo its order?
- LOCAL ISSUE;
Remember the isssue of
poisoning opposition, freely elected
Ukraine's Battle for Europe
By OLEH KOTSYUBA
November 29, 2013
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — On Nov. 21, summoned by a Facebook post by a
journalist named Mustafa Nayem, more than 1,500 Ukrainians showed up in
Independence Square in Kiev to protest their government’s decision to
“pause” preparations for signing an association agreement with the
European Union. The next day, more crowds gathered, in Kiev and other
cities. Soon, the protesters numbered over 100,000.
This month is the ninth anniversary of the “Orange Revolution,” which
forced the authorities to annul the results of a contested presidential
runoff and hold a revote. But in a country that has been largely
apathetic for nearly a decade, no one could have expected such a strong
reaction to a decision that would not even guarantee Ukraine’s full
membership in the European Union — not even in the future.
The government’s arguments against the agreement seemed reasonable
enough: Russia was pressuring Ukraine to join a Russian-led customs
union, and the country could not risk losing access to the Russian
market, which would surely happen if it signed a free-trade deal with
the European Union.
Yet Ukrainians, despite poverty and cynicism, care. President Viktor
Yanukovich had raised hopes for integration, and Parliament had passed
measures that would move Ukraine toward compliance with the terms
necessary to sign an association agreement and form a free trade zone
with the European Union. Polls showed that a strong majority of
Ukrainians supported integration with Europe, even in the East, the
region most oriented toward Russia.
The dashing of those hopes — formalized at the end of a two-day summit
meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Friday — comes as a bitter
The protesters have at times called for resignations, impeachments and
new elections. But what’s most striking is their association of Europe
with a set of values that results in absence of corruption, a strong
social safety net, an inclusive health-care system, fair wages, a
stable currency and a responsible government that delivers reliable
services and treats citizens with respect. For them, these were even
more valuable than the tangible benefits of joining the E.U., like the
right to work in other European countries and the prospect of big
European investments in Ukraine.
The 20- to 40-year-olds protesting today are the first generation to be
fully free of the grip of the Cold War’s totalitarian heritage. They
were disappointed by the failure of the last president, Viktor
Yushchenko, whom the Orange Revolution brought to power, to fight
corruption, reform the government, remove barriers to entrepreneurship
and bring the country closer to Europe.
This generation watches little TV, gets its news and entertainment
online, and, until now, has mostly avoided politics. The organizers of
the recent protests took advantage of this. Amateur broadcasting on
Ustream and YouTube quickly spread news of the events. Independent,
crowd-funded radio and television networks used the same low-budget
streaming technology to deliver live content from an attic apartment in
Kiev. Every movement of the unpopular Berkut (the Ukrainian special
forces) was closely followed on Facebook and Twitter; supporters were
mobilized to defend tents erected by protesters.
The protesters also insisted that the political parties have no overt
role — from uniforms to banners to speeches — in the demonstrations.
They didn’t want to play into the hands of the government, which would
have claimed that the protests were merely a political attempt to
Still, it remains to be seen whether the pro-European movement will
survive these efforts. Representatives of various rightist parties —
including Svoboda, whose nationalist, xenophobic, anti-intellectual and
homophobic messages have frustrated European-minded Ukrainians in the
past — were embedded in the protests early on.
The protesters express their Europeanness frequently, with excitement,
and often touchingly: They emphasize politeness, friendliness and
cleanliness. Why? Because this is “the European way.” Everything else
is perceived as backward, inconsiderate and annoying — in short, it’s
“sovok,” or the dustbin, a euphemism for the disappointing post-Soviet
More conservative Ukrainians have a different view. They’ve lumped
together tolerance, nondiscrimination and openness into the term
“tolerasty,” a neologism that suggests that those who are oriented
toward the West are weak, decadent and dangerous. Sexuality is a
hot-button issue: To join the Union, Ukraine would have to prohibit
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
According to this view, the promotion of so-called European values
would lead to the annihilation of the Ukrainian family. This is a
powerful discourse. For decades, religion, speech, language and culture
were suppressed in Ukraine. The horror of tragedies like the famine of
1932-33 were never confronted.
The activists are very much aware of the power of these scare tactics.
With their apolitical messages, they are trying to alleviate the fears
of a post-Soviet society that has only begun to grapple with the
traumas of its past.
They have been inspired by prominent intellectuals, like the political
philosopher and essayist Mykhailo Minakov, who has called on the
protesters to heed the lessons from the Orange Revolution: peaceful
demonstrations, generational and cultural solidarity, ideological
neutrality and reintegration around European ideals as a counterbalance
to nationalist and separatist impulses.
Even if they don’t succeed in pushing Ukraine’s leaders toward Europe,
the activists are continuing the work of building a nonviolent,
nonideological movement of justice and solidarity.
The strength of the fragile civil society that these activists are
helping to build will be most tested not in the streets, but back home,
where liberal values will be challenged every day, after the current
battle for them is won, or lost.
Oleh Kotsyuba is a doctoral candidate
in Slavic languages and literature at Harvard and the online editor of
Krytyka, an intellectual journal in Ukraine.
Ukraine Backs Down
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, NYTIMES
November 28, 2013
It is difficult to sympathize in any way with Ukraine’s corrupt and
cynical president, Viktor Yanukovich, but the choice before him was
indeed nasty. To sign an association and free-trade agreement with the
European Union was to invite brutal Russian economic punishment, which
Ukraine’s badly suffering economy is in no shape to absorb. Europe
could only offer medium- to long-term advantages. Not signing, however,
inevitably meant protests in Ukraine, whose population has consistently
expressed support for European integration. Sure enough, tens of
thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets as soon as their government
announced last week that it was suspending negotiations with the
Thus has Russia won the tug of war over Ukraine. Or has it? Not if
Russia’s goal is to find its place in the democratic and civilized
world, as it proclaimed it wanted when it overthrew Communist rule 22
The Kremlin’s strong-arm tactics against Ukraine and other former
republics seeking closer ties with Europe may be popular with those of
President Vladimir Putin’s countrymen who still rankle at the loss of
empire, but they strongly reinforce the image of Mr. Putin as an
unreconstructed cold warrior who will stop at nothing to retain
influence over what Moscow calls the “near abroad.”
His government has said, disingenuously, that talks with the European
Union can continue, with Russia’s participation. But Mr. Putin’s real
objective is to bring Ukraine and several other former Soviet republics
into a customs union, and then into a Eurasian Union, with Moscow. The
Kremlin portrays this as an alternative to the European Union, but it
is not. The European Union is a voluntary partnership based on shared
democratic values and economic rules. Mr. Putin’s Eurasian Union would
be a coerced association with no standards of behavior except for
fealty to Moscow.
Mr. Yanukovich is an unsavory leader, a fact he has displayed in his
refusal to release his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, from her blatantly
political incarceration. Europe had made Ms. Tymoshenko’s release an
unofficial condition for any agreement, but as Mr. Yanukovich backed
away from the deal, his party in Parliament voted down several bills
that would have set Ms. Tymoshenko free.
At the summit meeting this week in Vilnius, Lithuania, the European
Union should make absolutely clear that its doors remain open to
Ukraine. The association agreement is negotiated and ready for signing
any time Mr. Yanukovich or his successor finds the courage to defy
Russia. And until then, Europe should seek ways of easing Ukraine’s
severe economic tribulations. That would show that it does not play by
Moscow rules, and that moving Westward need not carry an unbearable
Hess, under pressure, aims to
of retail business
Article published Mar 5, 2013
New York - Hess is getting out of the gas station business and
ridding itself of its energy trading and marketing businesses, as it
shifts its focus further into exploration and production.
The company will also nominate a slate of six independent directors to
its board, replacing six that already hold seats.
The announcement arrives about a month after the hedge fund Elliott
Management, one of the company's largest shareholders, accused the
board of "poor oversight," and said that the company's management was
responsible for more than a "decade of failures."
Elliott, which holds a 4 percent stake in Hess, is pushing to seat five
outsiders on the board.
But Hess rejected Elliott's nominees in a letter to shareholders
Monday, accusing the firm of trying to disrupt progress it has already
made in reshaping itself. It said that Elliott hasn't taken into
account how much shares have risen since it began to shed previous
Hess said the nominees chosen by Elliott would effectively dismantle
Hess shares fell sharply after the recession, as did shares of most
energy companies, but the stock began to rebound last summer and on
Monday, they hit their highest levels almost two years.
Shedding the green and white gas stations that stretch from New
Hampshire to Florida, the vast majority of which are owned by Hess
rather than franchisees, will allow the company to broaden exploration
and production capabilities.
Spokesman Jon Pepper would not elaborate further on the sale.
Hess, based in New York, has already announced the sale of U.S. oil
storage terminals and plans to close a New Jersey refinery as it exits
the volatile refining business. Other energy companies are doing much
the same, focusing the booming domestic drilling and also high-risk
drilling operations at deep-water drill sites.
Murphy Oil, ConocoPhillips and Marathon Oil Corp. have all split off
their refining businesses in recent years to focus on production.
Elliott has said it wants Hess to boost shareholder value through
various means, including a potential spin-off of its holdings in North
Dakota's Bakken shale-oil field.
Transocean, Justice Department
$1.4B settlement over rig owner’s role in Gulf oil spill
By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, January 3, 1:14 PM
NEW ORLEANS — The Justice Department reached a $1.4 billion settlement
Thursday with Transocean Ltd., the owner of the drilling rig that sank
after an explosion killed 11 workers and spawned the massive 2010 oil
spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The proposed settlement resolves the department’s civil and criminal
probe of Transocean’s role in the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster. It
requires the Switzerland-based company to pay $1 billion in civil
penalties and $400 million in criminal penalties and plead guilty to a
misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act, according to a
The deal, which is subject to a federal judge’s approval, also calls
for Transocean to implement a series of operational safety and
emergency response improvements on its rigs.
“This resolution of criminal allegations and civil claims against
Transocean brings us one significant step closer to justice for the
human, environmental and economic devastation wrought by the Deepwater
Horizon disaster,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
Transocean described the settlement as a positive development in a
“These important agreements, which the company believes to be in the
best interest of its shareholders and employees, remove much of the
uncertainty associated with the accident,” the company said. “This is a
positive step forward, but it is also a time to reflect on the 11 men
who lost their lives aboard the Deepwater Horizon. Their families
continue to be in the thoughts and prayers of all of us at Transocean.”
Much of $1.4 billion will fund environmental restoration projects and
spill-prevention research and training. The company has two years to
pay the $1 billion civil penalty.
BP PLC, which leased the rig from Transocean, already has agreed to pay
a record $4.5 billion in penalties and plead guilty to manslaughter and
other criminal charges related to the spill. The deal with BP doesn’t
resolve the federal government’s civil claims against the London-based
Transocean previously announced it had reserved $2 billion for paying
claims related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Transocean also said in a September regulatory filing that it had
rejected settlement offers last year from BP and a group of attorneys
for Gulf Coast residents and businesses who blame the spill for
economic damages. Those claims are still pending.
Last month, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans gave final
approval to a class-action settlement agreement between BP and a team
of private plaintiffs’ attorneys. BP estimates it will pay about $7.8
billion to resolve these claims, but the settlement isn’t capped.
Barbier also is set to preside over a trial designed to identify the
causes of BP’s deadly well blowout and assign percentages of fault to
the companies involved. The first phase of the trial is scheduled to
start Feb. 25.
BP reported profits of more than $25 billion in 2011, but for
Transocean the year resulted in a loss of about $5.7 billion, some of
it attributed to contingencies for litigation resulting from the
sinking of the Deepwater Horizon.
A series of government investigations has spread out the blame for the
nation’s worst offshore oil spill among BP, Transocean and other
partners on the project, including cementing contractor Halliburton.
The Deepwater Horizon was drilling in water a mile deep about 50 miles
southeast of the Louisiana coast when it exploded on the night of April
The Justice Department says Transocean crew members on the rig, acting
at the direction of BP supervisors, failed to fully investigate clear
signs that the well was not secure and that oil and gas were flowing
into the well.
The rig burned for about 36 hours before sinking.
As engineers made repeated attempts to halt the flow of oil from BP’s
burst well, millions of gallons of crude flowed out. Marshes, beaches
and fishing grounds across the northern Gulf were fouled by the oil.
Iran Warns 6 Countries in
Will Cut Off Oil
By RICK GLADSTONE and ALAN COWELL, NYTIMES
February 15, 2012
Besieged by international sanctions over the Iranian nuclear program
including a planned oil embargo by Europe, Iran warned six European
buyers on Wednesday that it might strike first by immediately cutting
them off from Iranian oil.
Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency said the threat was
conveyed to the ambassadors of Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands,
Greece and Portugal in separate meetings at the Foreign Ministry in
Tehran. Officials said an earlier report by Press TV, Iran’s
state-financed satellite broadcaster, that Iran had already cut
supplies to the six countries was inaccurate — but not before word of
the Press TV report sent a brief shudder through the global oil market,
sending prices up slightly.
“Iran warns Europe it will find other customers for its oil,” the
Islamic Republic News Agency said. “European people should know that if
Iran changes destinations of the oil it gives to them, the
responsibility will rest with the European governments themselves.”
Last month the European Union decided to impose an oil embargo on Iran
as of July 1 as part of a coordinated campaign of Western sanctions
aimed at pressuring Iran to halt its disputed uranium enrichment
program, and the Europeans have been making arrangements since then to
find other sources.
The European Union has been one of Iran’s biggest markets for oil,
taking about 18 percent of total Iranian petroleum exports in 2011.
Among the European Union members, the biggest buyers have been Italy,
Spain and France.
Iran forecasted in December that a cutoff of Iranian oil could double
the global price. But a combination of lower demand because of European
economic weakness and ample sources of supply elsewhere have helped
cushion the anticipated effects of both the planned embargo and Iran’s
threat to stop exporting oil to Europe well before the embargo starts.
Saudi Arabia, the top producer in the Organization of Petroleum
Exporting Countries, has said it could compensate for much of the
shortfall from Iran, which is OPEC’s second-largest producer. And
resurgent production from Libya, long crippled by the conflict there
last year, has further added to the total global supply.
The relatively mild effects of the Iranian threat on Wednesday were
reflected on prices at the New York Mercantile Exchange, where the
March-delivery price for oil closed up $1.06 a barrel on Wednesday to
$101.80, a gain of 1 percent.
The impact of sanctions, including severe restraints on Iran’s ability
to conduct routine banking and shipping operations, have caused severe
disruptions to Iran’s economy as the nuclear program remains an
increasingly acrimonious issue between Iran and the West.
The Iranian warning came on a day of mixed messages emanating from
Iran’s hierarchy about its nuclear program, which Western nations and
Israel have called a cover for Iranian attempts to become capable of
making a weapon. Iran has said the program is peaceful.
At the same time Iran was warning its biggest European oil buyers, it
also announced it was willing to reopen nuclear talks suspended a year
ago in a letter to Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign
policy official. The Iranians also announced new advances in their
nuclear program, including escalation of Iran’s enrichment practices,
which if accurate could serve to further aggravate tensions.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Ashton confirmed receipt of a letter from Dr.
Saeed Jalili, who heads Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, sent
in response to a letter from Ms. Ashton in October of last year. The
spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, did not disclose the contents but said
“we are carefully studying the letter.”
The Iranian side also did not reveal the letter’s contents, but the
Islamic Republic News agency paraphrased Mr. Jalili as saying in the
letter that “returning to the negotiation table would be the best means
to broaden cooperation between the two sides.”
In Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presided over ceremonies to
mark advances in Iran’s nuclear program, partly to project an image of
Iranian defiance against the Western sanctions. The new advances
include centrifuges that Iran said were capable of enriching uranium at
a much faster rate, and the insertion of the first domestically
produced nuclear fuel rod into a nuclear reactor in Tehran.
“The era of bullying nations has past,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a
televised broadcast of the ceremony. “The arrogant powers cannot
monopolize nuclear technology. They tried to prevent us by issuing
sanctions and resolutions but failed.”
Iran’s nuclear announcements came as tensions have escalated in
particular with Israel, which regards Iran as an existential threat and
has hinted at the possibility of a pre-emptive military strike on
Iran’s nuclear facilities to forestall its suspected ambitions.
Iran has accused Israel, a nuclear weapons state, of responsibility for
a clandestine campaign aimed at sabotaging Iran’s nuclear ambitions,
including the assassinations of at least four Iranian scientists since
2010. Israel has counter accused Iran in recent days of retaliatory
plots aimed at Israeli targets in Georgia, India and Thailand, which
Iran has denied.
Rick Gladstone reported from New
York, and Alan Cowell from London. Steven Erlanger contributed
reporting from Paris, and Artin Afkhami from Boston.
U N D E R
T O W E F F E C T ?
DID THE OIIL GO?
destruction; will the wetlands recover? Check the cancer rates
along the shore in a few years. The Gulf of Mexico oil
disaster could cost BP
$40bn, analysts say; next, earlier oil leak...9/11 "paymaster"
called in again to handle claims. Summer hurricane season begins
By NICOLE GELINAS
Last Updated: 3:37 AM, June 27, 2011
Posted: 10:23 PM, June 26, 2011
Why is last week's surprise release of 60 million bar rels of oil from
government reserves bad news? Because it's the West's -- and President
Obama's -- last hope to goose the economy. Obama and European leaders
are so desperate that they'll even promote burning cheap hydrocarbons
-- they'd rather save the banks than the planet.
Worse, they're still bent on avoiding post-bubble reality.
America, Germany, France, Spain, Japan and Italy dropped their
bombshell Thursday. Over a month, they'll draw on emergency oil
reserves, with America providing half the supply. It's only the
third time that the West has ever taken such action. The jolt was
supposed to push prices down, and it worked -- oil dropped 7 percent.
Good idea, right? Over a month, we're replacing the 1.4 million daily
barrels that war-torn Libya isn't producing, and then some. Sure, it's
not much in the long run, compared to the 82.1 barrels the world makes
daily. Why not wield power to scare OPEC and the speculators?
Because it stinks of desperation. Going into his second long, hot
"recovery summer," Obama will do anything to keep gas prices below $4.
As growth in Europe slows, Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and rest will
also take any short-term fix. The move should anger people on the
left and right. First, these leaders are obviously perfectly willing to
ditch a prime capitalist principle: Markets should set commodity prices.
Libya's disruption is part of the market. Whether you're buying an SUV
or a jetliner fleet, you need to remember that Mideast supplies aren't
100 percent reliable. Prices can spike. A real emergency would be
different. It would be OK to tap petroleum reserves if, say, al Qaeda
took over Saudi Arabia and the West couldn't buy its 10 million
barrels. But Libya's lost output is far smaller. It's also a slap
at environmental thinking -- which says that gas prices should be high,
so that people buy smaller cars and drive less. Want to wean the West
off oil? Make sure gas prices hurt.
Why are Western leaders torching their beliefs? Because everything
they've tried over the last four years to juice growth isn't working --
and they're terrified.
Interest rates can't go lower. The Federal Reserve is out of tricks --
Fed chief Ben Bernanke said so last Wednesday. Congress won't approve
more stimulus -- indeed, the House won't even raise the debt limit
without major cuts in spending. Europe's central bank, too, is tired of
providing extraordinary aid. We've wasted more than three years
without admitting the real problem.
In America, people still bear their bubble-era debt -- with no bubble
to show for it. Remember, mortgage debt doubled between 2000 and 2007,
and is down only 5 percent now. Banks pretend that Americans can
pay this back without suffocating growth. Americans are pretending
right back -- 'cuz they don't want to admit that the house value they
needed for retirement isn't coming back. Europe, meanwhile, has
spent more than a year pretending that Greece can afford debt of more
than 150 percent of GDP. Greece has half-heartedly pretended, too. But
it's getting old.
Fantasy finance has frozen the West's economy. Nobody can do anything
until they find out what debt will be repaid, and what debt won't --
and until they learn whether the banks can withstand the shakeout.
Until then, banks are just sloshing around money and making fees.
That the West will do almost anything to avoid reality adds to the
unease. The White House and regulators are afraid to pull the
trigger on forcing faster foreclosures and writedowns of bad housing
debt. They'd rather let banks "work out" bad mortgages by delaying
forever and then tacking impossible mortgage payments into the future
(worked well in 2005, with "teaser-rate" mortgages). If banks had to
face the real housing market, they'd eat right through their reserves.
And Europe is afraid to pull the trigger on Greece - because nobody
knows what would happen to global banks and money-market funds.
We need to burn up some of that bad debt, and let lenders suffer the
free-market consequences of their bad decisions. A brief oil gusher may
confuse markets for a while, but Western economies won't leave the
doldrums till our leaders face reality.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing
editor to the Manhattan Insti tute's City Journal.
was the oil spill a contributor?
Climate: UN report highlights ocean acidification
Thu Dec 2, 2010, 6:01 pm ET
CANCUN, Mexico (AFP) – Carbon emissions from fossil fuels may bear a
greater risk for the marine environment than thought, with wide-ranging
impacts on reproduction, biodiversity richness and fisheries, a report
at the UN climate talks here on Thursday said.
Each year, billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal
greenhouse gas, are absorbed by the sea and are very gradually turning
the water more acidic, according to the study launched by the UN
Environment Program (UNEP). In the coming decades, the
consequences are likely to be felt throughout the marine food chain, it
Rising acidity levels have an impact on calcium-based lifeforms,
ranging from tiny organisms called ptetropods that are the primary food
source, to crabs, fish, lobsters and coral, it said. The report
was compiled by scientists from Plymouth Marine Laboratory and the
National Oceanography Centre in Britain, and the Intergovernmental
Oceanographic Commission, part of the UN Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).
"We are seeing an overall negative impact from ocean acidification
directly on organisms and on some key ecosystems that help provide food
for billions," said Carol Turley, a senior scientist at Britain's Ocean
Acidification Research Programme, who headed the report.
"We need to start thinking about the risk to food security."
Turley cautioned there many unknowns about ocean acidification.
For instance, some research indicated that adult lobsters might
actually increase shell-building in response to rising acidity levels,
but it may be the juveniles who are less able to build healthy
skeletons, she said.
Similarly, the smelling systems of some species of young fish could be
impaired, but adults may be unaffected. There could be some
winners as well as losers, she said.
"It is clearly not enough to look at a (single) species. Scientists
will need to study all parts of the life cycle to see whether certain
forms are more or less vulnerable," Turley said.
UNEP chief Achim Steiner described ocean acidification as "yet another
red flag being raised" about greenhouse gases.
"It is a new and emerging piece in the scientific jigsaw puzzle, but
one that is triggering rising concern."
The report calls for cuts in man-made CO2 emissions to reduce
acidification and support for further work to quantify the risk and
identify species that could be most in peril. The "greenhouse"
effect from CO2 is already a known problem for the sea. By trapping
solar radiation, the gas warms the atmosphere and thus the Earth's
Warming has already been linked to changes in fish migration, and some
biologists fear that cases of coral die-out in recent years are clearly
linked to higher temperatures.
White House altered drilling safety report
By DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press
10 November 2010
WASHINGTON – The Interior Department's inspector general says the White
House edited a drilling safety report in a way that made it falsely
appear that scientists and experts supported the administration's
six-month ban on new drilling. The inspector general says the
editing changes resulted "in the implication that the moratorium
recommendation had been peer reviewed." But it hadn't been. The
scientists were only asked to review new safety measures for offshore
The investigation is the latest in a string of incidents where the
Obama administration has been accused of overstating the science behind
official reports and political decisions made after the massive Gulf
oil spill. In the wake of the April 20 disaster, the administration
struggled to portray that it — not BP — was in charge of responding to
the blowout, which killed 11 and spewed millions of gallons of oil into
the Gulf. Last month, staff for the presidential oil spill
commission said that the White House's budget office delayed
publication of a report by federal scientists that forecast how much
oil could potentially reach the Gulf's shores. Federal scientists
initially used a volume of oil that did not account for the
administration's various cleanup efforts. A smaller volume was
The same report said that President Barack Obama's energy adviser,
Carol Browner, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration head
Jane Lubchenco contributed to the public's perception that a government
report on where the oil had gone was more exact than it was by
emphasizing peer review. Browner, the commission's staff said, also
mischaracterized the analysis on national TV, saying it showed most of
the oil was "gone." The report said it could still be there.
The IG report says Browner's staff could have implied scientists had
endorsed the moratorium, by moving up a reference to peer review in the
drilling safety report. Steve Black, an adviser for Interior Secretary
Ken Salazar who reviewed the final version of the text from the White
House at 2 or 3 a.m. the day it was released, said he did not have any
issues with the changes.
"There was no intent to mislead the public," said Kendra Barkoff, a
spokeswoman for Salazar, who also recommended in the May 27 safety
report that a moratorium be placed on deepwater oil and gas
exploration. "The decision to impose a temporary moratorium on
deepwater drilling was made by the secretary, following consultation
with colleagues including the White House."
The Interior Department, after one of the reviewers complained about
the inference, promptly issued an apology during a conference call,
with a letter and personal meeting in June. At least eight of the
15 experts asked to review the Interior Department's work expressed
concern about the change made by the White House, saying that it
differed in important ways from the draft they had signed off on. But
the experts also questioned the basis for the drilling ban.
"We believe the report does not justify the moratorium as written and
that the moratorium as changed will not contribute measurably to
increased safety and will have immediate and long-term economic
effects," the scientists wrote in a fax sent to Louisiana Gov. Bobby
Jindal, and Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, earlier
this year. "The secretary should be free to recommend whatever he
thinks is correct, but he should not be free to use our names to
justify his political decisions."
A federal judge in New Orleans struck down the Interior Department's
first moratorium in June, saying the government didn't justify it. U.S.
District Judge Martin Feldman also ruled that the department improperly
issued safety rules because it issued them without soliciting public
comment. Jindal, in a statement released Wednesday, said the
Obama administration should have listened to the experts who backed
specific steps to improve oversight and safety of offshore drilling.
"Instead, the Obama administration issued an arbitrary and capricious
moratorium...which has threatened the livelihoods of thousands of
Americans," Jindal said.
The inspector general's report, which was originally requested by
Vitter and Rep. Steve Scalise in June, said the administration did not
violate federal rules because the executive summary did not say the
experts approved the recommendations, and the department offered a
formal apology and had publicly clarified the nature of the expert
review. The report also says the engineer that levied the
concerns accepted Salazar's explanation that the language was a mistake
rather than an intentional attempt to use the peer-reviewers' names to
justify a political decision.
The conclusion, however, did little to assuage Gulf Coast lawmakers,
and will likely fuel Republicans taking over the House next year to
push for further inquiries into administration decisions following the
Vitter said the Obama administration appears to have "deliberately
violated" a law that sets government-wide procedures to ensure the
integrity of information put out by federal agencies. "This report
reveals exactly what I suspected all along," he said. "I wanted to make
sure that the federal government was basing policy decisions that would
directly impact so many Louisianians on science — not politics.
Unfortunately, this report reveals the contrary."
Louisiana Rep. Bill Cassidy, a Republican, agreed.
"Candidate Obama promised that he would guided by science, not
ideology," he said.
Panel: Dollars did not trump
By DINA CAPPIELLO and SETH BORENSTEIN, Associated Press
8 November 2010
WASHINGTON – The presidential commission investigating the massive Gulf
oil spill has found no instance where a decision deliberately
sacrificed safety to cut costs.
Fred H. Bartlit, Jr., the panel's chief counsel, in a presentation
Monday said the probe did not uncover any case where an individual made
a conscious choice to "favor dollars over safety."
That statement conflicts with investigations by Democrats in Congress
who have accused BP of cutting corners when it made several critical
well design decisions. Those decisions have also been questioned by
other major oil companies.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further
information. AP's earlier story is below.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The early findings of the president's independent
commission into what caused BP's Gulf oil spill will support many of
the conclusions the oil company made in its own internal investigation.
Fred H. Bartlit, Jr., the panel's chief investigator, said Monday he
agreed with about 90 percent of BP's findings. He said there were some
areas where the panel's probe conflicted.
BP PLC's report found flaws with contractor Halliburton's cement job
and maintenance performed by rig owner Transocean Ltd. The company's
report has been criticized as self-serving, and a preview of its legal
Bartlit said the findings he will present later Monday are not meant to
assign blame or liability but to get to the root cause "without a lot
of bickering and self-serving statements."
blocked worst-case oil spill figures
By DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press Writer
6 October 2010
WASHINGTON – The White House blocked efforts by federal scientists to
tell the public just how bad the Gulf oil spill could have been,
according to a panel appointed by President Barack Obama to investigate
the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
In documents released Wednesday, the national oil spill commission's
staff reveals that in late April or early May the White House budget
office denied a request from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration to make public the worst-case discharge from the
blown-out well. The Unified Command — the government team in charge of
the spill response — also was discussing the possibility of making the
numbers public, the report says, citing interviews with government
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
But Jerry Miller, head of the White House science office's ocean
subcommittee, told The Associated Press in an interview at a St.
Petersburg, Fla., conference on the oil's flow that he didn't think the
budget office censored NOAA.
"I would very much doubt that anyone would put restrictions on NOAA's
ability to articulate factual information," Miller said.
The April 20 blowout and explosion in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11
workers, spewed 206 million gallons of oil from the damaged oil well,
and sunk the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
After the Gulf oil spill, is it "clean energy now" or still "drill,
BP's drilling permit for the Macondo well originally estimated the
worst scenario to be a leak of 6.8 million gallons per day. In late
April, the Coast Guard and NOAA received an updated estimate of 2.7
million to 4.6 million gallons per day.
While those figures were used as the basis for the government's
response to the spill — they appeared on an internal Coast Guard
Situation report and on a dry-erase board in NOAA's Seattle war room —
the public was never told.
In the meantime, government officials were telling the public that the
well was releasing 210,000 gallons per day â€” a figure that
would be later adjusted to be much closer to the worst-case estimates.
"Despite the fact that the Unified Command had this information, relied
on it for operations, and publicly states that it was operating under a
worst-case scenario, the government never disclosed what its...scenario
was," the report says.
University of South Florida oceanographer David Hollander, who was also
at the St. Petersburg meeting of 150 scientists studying the oil flow
on Wednesday, said he was surprised to find that the White House budget
office gagged NOAA. He said public disclosure would have helped
scientists to figure out what was going on.
"It would have been much better to know from a scientific point of view
the reality," he said in an interview with The Associated Press.
New Haven Register
Published: Saturday, September 18, 2010
NEW ORLEANS — Crews started pumping cement Friday deep under the sea
floor to permanently plug BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of
spokesman for BP said there no longer was a need to use mud in tandem
with the cement because pressure from the well wasn’t an issue.
expects the well to be completely sealed today. The government had
previously said it expected the well to be declared dead by Sunday, but
Friday the Coast Guard indicated it was likely to be today.
Cement began flowing at 1:30 p.m. CDT. It was expected to flow for
several hours and then take up to 24 hours to set, according to
The pumping of cement followed the successful intersection late
Thursday between a relief well drilled nearly 2 1/2 miles beneath the
floor of the Gulf and the blown-out well. An April 20 explosion
11 workers, sank a drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill
in U.S. history.
“I am ready for that cigar now,” John Wright, who led the team drilling
the relief well, said in an e-mail Friday from aboard the Development
Driller III vessel.
Wright, who is not a BP employee, but is working on a contract basis,
had said in August that he was looking forward to finishing his mission
and celebrating with a cigar, a dinner party with his crew and a trip
somewhere quiet to unwind with his wife. He has never missed his
target over the years, with this relief well being the 41st he’s
successfully drilled. The gusher was contained in mid-July after
temporary cap was successfully fitted atop the well. Mud and cement
were later pushed down through the top of the well, allowing the cap to
be removed. But the blown-out well cannot be declared dead until it is
sealed from the bottom.
The blast sank the Deepwater Horizon rig and triggered the spill that
spewed 206 million gallons of oil from the well. BP PLC is a
owner of the well and was leasing the rig from owner Transocean Ltd.
The disaster caused an environmental and economic nightmare for people
who live, work and play along hundreds of miles of Gulf shoreline from
Florida to Texas. It also spurred civil and criminal investigations,
cost gaffe-prone BP chief Tony Hayward his job and brought increased
governmental scrutiny of the oil and gas industry, including a costly
moratorium on deepwater offshore drilling that is still in place.
Gulf residents will be feeling the pain for years to come. There is
still plenty of oil in the water, and some continues to wash up on
Many people are still struggling to make ends meet with some waters
still closed to fishing. Shrimpers who are allowed to fish are finding
it difficult to sell their catch because of the perception — largely
from people outside the region — that the seafood is not safe to eat.
Tourism along the Gulf has taken a hit.
BP took some of the blame for the Gulf oil disaster in an internal
report issued earlier this month, acknowledging among other things that
it misinterpreted a key pressure test of the well. But in a possible
preview of its legal strategy, it also pointed the finger at its
partners on the doomed rig.
way up...above left. And it arrives at the surface, with only
government, BP and AP present.
Key oil spill evidence
raised to Gulf's surface
By HARRY R. WEBER, Associated Press
5 September 2010
ON THE GULF OF MEXICO – Investigators looking into what went wrong in
the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are a step closer to answers now that a
key piece of evidence is secure aboard a ship. Engineers took 29
1/2 hours to lift the 50-foot, 300-ton blowout preventer from a mile
beneath the sea. The five-story high device breached the water's
surface at 6:54 p.m. CDT, and looked largely intact with black stains
on the yellow metal.
FBI agents were among the 137 people aboard the Helix Q4000 vessel,
taking photos and video of the device. They will escort it back to a
NASA facility in Louisiana for analysis. The AP was the only news
outlet with a print reporter and photographer on board the ship.
The blowout preventer was placed into a metal contraption specifically
designed to hold the massive device at 9:16 p.m. CDT Saturday. As it
was maneuvered into place, crew members were silent and water dripped
off the device.
Crews had been delayed raising the device after icelike crystals —
called hydrates — formed on it. The device couldn't be safely lifted
from the water until the hydrates melted because the hydrates are
combustible, said Darin Hilton, the captain of the Helix Q4000.
Hydrates form when gases such as methane mix with water under high
pressure and cold temperatures. The crystals caused BP PLC problems in
May, when hydrates formed on a 100-ton, four-story dome the company
tried to place over the leak to contain it.
As a large hatch opened up on the Helix to allow the blowout preventer
to pass through, several hundred feet of light sheen could be seen near
the boat, though crews weren't exactly sure what it was.
The April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon killed 11 workers
and led to 206 million gallons of oil spewing from BP PLC's undersea
well. Investigators know the explosion was triggered by a bubble
of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column,
expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before
igniting. But they don't know exactly how or why the gas escaped.
And they don't know why the blowout preventer didn't seal the well pipe
at the sea bottom after the eruption, as it was supposed to. While the
device didn't close — or may have closed partially — investigative
hearings have produced no clear picture of why it didn't plug the well.
Documents emerged showing that a part of the device had a hydraulic
leak, which would have reduced its effectiveness, and that a passive
"deadman" trigger had a low, perhaps even dead, battery. Steve
Newman, president of rig owner Transocean, told lawmakers following the
disaster that there was no evidence the device itself failed and
suggested debris might have been forced into it by the surging
gas. There has also been testimony that the blowout preventer
didn't undergo a rigorous recertification process in 2005 as required
by federal regulators.
Testimony from BP and Transocean officials also showed that repairs
were not always authorized by the manufacturer, Cameron International,
and that confusion about the equipment delayed attempts to close the
well in the days after the explosion.
A Transocean official has said he knew the blowout preventer was
functioning because he personally oversaw its maintenance, and he said
the device underwent tests to ensure it was working. The device, he
said, had undergone a maintenance overhaul in February as it was being
moved to the Deepwater Horizon to be placed over BP's well.
Also, according to testimony, a BP well site leader performed a
pressure test April 9 on the blowout preventer, and he said it
passed. Some have cautioned that the blowout preventer will not
provide clues to what caused the gas bubble. And it is possible a
thorough review may not be able to show why it didn't work. That
could leave investigators to speculate on causes using data, records
Lawyers will be watching closely, too, as hundreds of lawsuits have
been filed over the oil spill. Future liabilities faced by a number of
corporations could be riding on what the analysis of the blowout
A temporary cap that stopped oil from gushing into the Gulf in mid-July
was removed Thursday. No more oil was expected to leak into the sea,
but crews were standing by with collection vessels in case. The
government said a new blowout preventer was placed on the blown-out
well late Friday.
Officials Assess Damage From Blast in
Gulf of Mexico
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and SARAH WHEATON
September 2, 2010
NEW ORLEANS — An oil platform exploded and caught fire in the Gulf of
Mexico on Thursday morning, forcing 13 workers overboard from the rig.
Officials were scrambling to see if any oil had seeped into the Gulf.
Coast Guard officials said there was no sign of an oil leak near the
damaged platform late Thursday afternoon, despite earlier reports that
a sheen had been sighted.
“The boats and aircraft on scene cannot see a sheen,” said Capt. Peter
Troedsson, the chief of staff for the Coast Guard’s Eighth District. He
could not explain an earlier report of a visible layer of oil — which
he said came from one of Mariner Energy’s response vessels — but simply
said that Coast Guard responders could not spot any signs of oil.
The platform’s owner said the structure had not been producing at the
time of the accident, and a spokesman for the company, Mariner Energy,
told CNBC that there was no evidence of any spill.
The explosion unnerved a region still recovering from the environmental
and financial toll of the months-long spill at a BP well this year. It
occurred around 9 a.m. Thursday, touching off a fire that had been
contained but not extinguished by the afternoon. The production
platform was positioned in relatively shallow waters — 340 feet deep —
and to the west of where a drilling rig leased by BP blew up and sank
in April, killing 11 people and touching off an environmental calamity.
All 13 members of the work crew on board Thursday were accounted for,
the Coast Guard said, though there were conflicting reports about
whether one worker had been injured. The crew were pulled from the
water by a civilian boat that had been in the area, the Crystal Clear,
and taken to a nearby rig, Coast Guard officials said.
Rescuers, who arrived about an hour after receiving reports of the
explosion, took the crew to Terrebonne General Medical Center in Houma,
La. Hospital officials did not respond to requests for comment on the
condition of the workers.
It was unclear what had touched off the blast on the structure, known
as Vermilion Block 380, but the Mariner spokesman told CNBC that crews
had been painting and sandblasting at the time.
In a statement, Mariner said that during the last week of August, the
platform had produced about 9.2 million cubic feet of natural gas a day
and 1,400 barrels of oil and condensate.
The company said it would begin an investigation into the accident and
cooperate with federal officials.
The platform, roughly 100 miles off the Louisiana coast, has been the
site of at least four accidents — two of them fires — since 2000,
according to federal records.
In June 2007, a welder using a torch to cut a pipe was injured when
oily sand in the pipe flared up, reddening his face, neck and ears. In
December 2002, before Mariner owned the rig, a mechanic suffered burns
when exhaust from a pump fueled by natural gas caught fire.
In May 2008, a crew member was seriously hurt when a chain came loose
and struck him in the face. And a pipeline leak was reported in 2000,
when the platform was operated by a different company.
The platform was not affected by the Obama administration’s recent
moratorium on deepwater oil drilling, imposed on projects more than 500
feet deep in the wake of the BP spill.
The moratorium is currently scheduled to expire on Nov. 30, but Michael
R. Bromwich, the director of the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean
Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, is reviewing safety
policies and records of the deepwater drilling companies to determine
whether the suspension could be modified or lifted sooner.
An Interior Department spokeswoman said that the Nov. 30 date had not
been revised in light of Thursday’s accident.
Shallow-water drilling companies have complained that new safety and
environmental rules adopted after the BP spill have slowed and in many
cases stopped projects in shallow water, imposing a de facto moratorium.
Interior Department officials insist that there is no hold on
shallow-water wells and that work on them can resume as soon as
operators meet the new rules, which require safety certifications,
additional inspections of blowout preventers and other cautionary steps.
The accident was first reported at 9:19 a.m. Thursday when helicopters
in the area spotted a rig on fire, Coast Guard officials said. The
Coast Guard scrambled seven helicopters to reach the site of the
explosion, located 80 miles south of Vermilion Bay in Louisiana.
For Dan Shaw, captain of the Crystal Clear, the radio call for a rescue
boat marked a moment he was prepared for, but did not really expect.
“This isn’t something that happens everyday,” said Mr. Shaw. “But
everyone out here trains for this just in case.”
His team of four men reached the scene at 10:30 a.m., and by 11 a.m.,
there were seven Coast Guard helicopters on the scene, five from New
Orleans and two from Houston, and five Cutters.
The workers, who “huddled together,” had been in the water for about
two hours and floated about a mile away from the rig, which Mr. Shaw
could see buring in the distance as he pulled them into his boat, he
“They all were remaining calm. They all got aboard pretty quickly.
Nobody looked panic stricken,” Mr. Shaw said.
Mariner Energy, which describes itself as one of the largest
independent oil and gas companies in the Gulf, has 195 active drilling
A spokesman for Mariner Energy, whose stock slid on Wall Street
following news of the blast, told CNN that the platform was not engaged
in any active drilling.
Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said that President Obama was
in a national security meeting in the White House Situation Room when
news of the explosion began to circulate, and he was not certain
whether the president had been informed.
“We obviously have response assets ready for deployment should we
receive reports of pollution in the water,” Mr. Gibbs said, during a
regular televised briefing.
He noted that the experience gained from the BP oil spill could prove
useful in dealing with the latest incident, but said that he did not
know who the highest ranking official near the scene might be.
On Thursday afternoon, the three ranking House Democrats in the energy
field were demanding to know what had happened. Henry A. Waxman of
California, the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, along
with Bart Stupak of Michigan and Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts,
sent a letter to Scott D. Josey, the chairman and chief executive of
Mariner Energy asking for a briefing by next Friday.
Workers in Gulf oil fields described an explosion of this magnitude as
“They’ve got a lot of safety systems out there, a lot of them,” said
Jim Shugart, executive vice president of ERA helicopters, of Lake
Charles, La., which specializes in oil field operations. In response to
the blast, the Coast Guard asked ERA to send two helicopters.
“For the most part, they take care of any abnormality, just like on an
automobile or a helicopter,” said Mr. Shugart, who said his company
gets a call for help like the one on Thursday less than once a year.
Campbell Robertson reported from New Orleans and Sarah Wheaton from New
York. Matt Wald, John M. Broder, Brian Knowlton, Andrew W. Lehren, Jack
Healy and Clifford Krauss contributed reporting.
NY Post headline in paper's tradition ("Stevenson
Drops Dead" is one I can reall from the summer of 1965...)
BP: "Static kill'
gusher plug holding
Last Updated: 8:39 AM, August 4, 2010
Posted: 7:21 AM, August 4, 2010
A "static kill" procedure to plug the Macondo oil well in the Gulf of
Mexico achieved the "desired outcome," BP said Wednesday, calling the
success a "significant milestone."
It came as the U.S. government prepared Wednesday to announce that much
of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon was now gone and that the
remaining spill was so diluted that it may not pose much of an
additional environmental threat.
In a company statement, BP said: "The well pressure is now being
controlled by the hydrostatic pressure of the drilling mud, the desired
outcome of the static kill procedure,"
The procedure involved pumping heavy drilling fluid, known in the trade
as mud, into the busted well to push leaking crude oil back into its
"The pumping of heavy drilling mud was stopped after about eight hours
of pumping drilling mud down the well. The well is now being monitored,
per the procedure, to ensure the well remains static," BP said.
"Further pumping of mud may or may not be required depending on the
results observed during monitoring. BP will continue to work with the
National Incident Commander and other government officials to determine
the next course of action, which includes assessing whether to inject
cement in the well via the same route."
BP said operations on drilling two relief wells were continuing as
planned to permanently plug the well. The good news for BP was
continue Wednesday with the publication of a new government report,
which concludes just 26 percent of the oil released from the Macondo
leak is still in the water or onshore; most of it light sheen at the
surface of the ocean or in a dispersed form.
"The scientists are telling us about 25 percent was not captured or
evaporated or taken care of by mother nature," said Carol Browner, a
top energy adviser to President Barack Obama, on ABC's "Good Morning
"This is an initial assessment by our scientists in the government and
outside the government. We think it's important to make this available
to the public. That's what we'll be doing today."
"Mother nature will continue to break it down," she said. "But some of
it may come onshore, as weathered tar balls. And those will be cleaned
up. They can be cleaned up. And we will make sure they are cleaned up."
Two thirds of the oil has dispersed, been captured or evaporated, the
New York Times reported earlier Wednesday, with the rest so diluted
that it poses little additional threat. People on the Gulf Coast
voiced fears more oil could surface bringing a fresh wave of
environmental problems but this was discounted by federal scientists
who believe the oil is breaking down rapidly.
absolutely no evidence that there’s any significant concentration of
oil that’s out there that we haven’t accounted for,” said Jane
Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,
the lead agency in producing the new report.
Lubchenco said the
government was still concerned about the ecological damage already done
and said it would continue to monitor the situation.
“I think we don’t know yet the full impact of this spill on the
ecosystem or the people of the gulf,” Lubchenco said.
The updated condition of the well emerged after the Financial Times
reported that BP faced penalties of more than $20 billion for the oil
spill if it was found liable for gross negligence. Under the U.S.
Clean Water Act, fines range from $1,100 a barrel spilled to as high as
$4,300 per barrel. BP, which insists it can rebut the charge of
negligence, could therefore face a total fine of $21 billion -- given
the latest estimates of 4.9 million barrels having gushed from the well
An official at the Department of Energy said the most recent estimates
would be a part of the calculation for any potential BP fines under the
act. Jane Barrett, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at
University of Maryland School of Law, explained: “Given the political
and economic ramifications of this spill, the loss of life and
extensive damage to the Gulf ecosystem, the government is going to seek
the highest fine possible.”
Official penalties aside, the battle for compensation after American’s
worst oil spill is likely to blight BP for decades, with tens of
thousands of individuals and businesses already preparing to lodge
claims. Law firms are queuing up to represent anybody who can
forward with even the most tenuous claim to have suffered loss of
earnings as a result of the explosion and subsequent oil spill across
thousands of miles of U.S. coastline.
Highway 23, the route to Louisiana’s most badly affected fishing ports,
is lined with giant billboards carrying pictures of grinning lawyers
and the slogan “Oil spill claim? Call toll-free.”
Adding to BP's troubles is a new $10 billion class action lawsuit,
myFOXhouston.com reported Tuesday. The complaint, on behalf of
than 2,000 people, is related to alleged releases of benzene from the
company's Texas City refinery in April and May.
Patrick Semansky/AP Photo
In this Wednesday, July 14, 2010, photo, a commercial fishing vessel
assists in a controlled burn of contained oil on the Gulf of Mexico
near the coast of Louisiana.
BP, scientists try to make sense of well puzzle
HARRY R. WEBER and COLLEEN LONG, Associated Press Writers
17 July 2010
NEW ORLEANS – Engineers kept vigil Saturday over the massive cap
holding back oil from BP's busted Gulf well, their eyes glued to
monitors in a faraway control room that displayed pressure readings,
temperature gauges and underwater images.
Their round-the-clock work deciphering a puzzle of data from undersea
robots and instruments at the wellhead is helping BP and the government
determine whether the cap is holding tight as the end of a critical
48-hour testing window approaches. Signs so far have been promising but
Saturday afternoon will mark two full days since BP stopped the oil
from leaking into the Gulf and entered into the pressure-testing phase.
At that point engineers could offer more definitive evidence that the
cap is working, or call for more testing. At any time before then, they
could also reopen the cap and allow some oil to spill into the sea
again. Scientists are watching for leaks either in the well itself or
the sea floor.
Kent Wells, a BP PLC vice president, said on an evening conference call
that engineers had found no indication that the well has started
"No news is good news, I guess that's how I'd say it," Wells said.
One mysterious development was that the pressure readings were not
rising as high as expected, said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen,
the government's point man on the crisis.
Allen said two possible reasons were being debated by scientists: The
reservoir that is the source of the oil could be running lower three
months into the spill. Or there could be an undiscovered leak somewhere
down in the well. Allen ordered further study but remained confident.
"This is generally good news," he said. But he cautioned, "We need to
be careful not to do any harm or create a situation that cannot be
Inside BP's command center hundreds of miles away in Houston,
engineers, scientists and technicians have been carefully monitoring
reams of data around the clock, BP's chief operating officer, Doug
Suttles, told The Associated Press Friday. Other engineers watched on
monitors aboard ships at sea.
"You've got a very, very focused group of people because this is very
important," Suttles said.
Asked if people are nervous, knowing the whole world is watching and
government officials are sitting with them to monitor their work,
Suttles replied: "I wouldn't say they are nervous. I would use the word
Throughout the day, no one was declaring victory — or failure.
President Barack Obama cautioned the public "not to get too far ahead
of ourselves," warning of the danger of new leaks "that could be even
Even if the cap passes the test, more uncertainties lie ahead: Where
will the oil already spilled go? How long will it take to clean up the
coast? What will happen to the region's fishermen? And will life on the
Gulf Coast ever be the same again?
On Thursday, BP closed the vents on the new, tight-fitting cap and
finally stopped crude from spewing into the Gulf of Mexico for the
first time since the April 20 oil-rig explosion that killed 11 workers
and unleashed the spill 5,000 feet down.
With the cap working like a giant cork to keep the oil inside the well,
scientists kept watch in case the buildup of pressure underground
caused new leaks in the well pipe and in the surrounding bedrock that
could make the disaster even worse.
Pressure readings after 24 hours were about 6,700 pounds per square
inch and rising slowly, Allen said, below the 7,500 psi that would
clearly show the well was not leaking. He said pressure continued to
rise between 2 and 10 psi per hour. A low pressure reading, or a
falling one, could mean the oil is escaping.
But Allen said a seismic probe of the surrounding sea floor found no
sign of a leak in the ground.
Benton F. Baugh, president of Radoil Inc. in Houston and a National
Academy of Engineering member who specializes in underwater oil
operations, warned that the pressure readings could mean that an
underground blowout could occur. He said the oil coming up the well may
be leaking out underground and entering a geological pocket that might
not be able to hold it.
But Roger N. Anderson, a professor of marine geology and geophysics at
Columbia University, said the oil pressure might be rising slowly not
because of a leak, but because of some kind of blockage in the well.
"If it's rising slowly, that means the pipe's integrity's still there.
It's just getting around obstacles," he said. He added that "any
increase in pressure is good, not bad."
The cap is designed to prevent oil from spilling into the Gulf, either
by keeping it bottled up in the well, or by capturing it and piping it
to ships on the surface. It is not yet clear which way the cap will be
used if it passes the pressure test.
Either way, the cap is a temporary measure until a relief well can be
completed and mud and cement can be pumped into the broken well deep
underground to seal it more securely than the cap. The first of the two
relief wells being drilled could be done by late July or August.
In a positive sign, work on the relief wells resumed Friday. The
project had been suspended earlier this week for fear that the capping
of the well could interfere with it.
There was no end in sight to the cleanup in the water and on shore.
Somewhere between 94 million and 184 million gallons have spilled into
the Gulf, according to government estimates.
In Orange Beach, Ala., long strands of white absorbent boom strung
along the shore were stained chocolate brown after a fresh wave of
BB-size tar balls washed up. Charter boat captains who can't fish
because of the spill patrolled the shore, looking for oil slicks.
Fishing guides spent their time ferrying Coast Guard personnel. A
flotilla of fishing boats operating as skimmers plied the waters across
Large sections of the Gulf Coast have been closed to fishing and
shellfish harvesting. Many fishermen have been hired out by BP to do
Cade Thomas, a 38-year-old fishing guide from Pine, La., said the whole
mentality of the place is different.
"It's all changed dramatically. The fishing stories aren't there," he
said. "There's no stories to tell except where we went to today and how
much oil we saw."
In Grand Isle, La., most of the summer rental cottages are vacant,
tables at the single high-end seafood restaurant are empty, and
souvenir shops are barely doing enough business to pay the bills. A
hand-painted sign along the main road rechristens the tourist town
Folks are grateful the gusher has been stopped, but many say it is too
late to save this summer. Thousands of tourists have gone elsewhere.
Scientists cannot say for certain what the long-term environmental
effect will be. But long after the well is finally plugged, oil could
still be washing up in marshes and on beaches as tar balls or patties.
There is also fear that months from now, those tar balls could move
west to Corpus Christi, Texas, or travel up and around Florida to Miami
or North Carolina's Outer Banks.
Capping the well was a milestone in the long catastrophe, but people
shouldn't let their guards down, said Billy Nungesser, the president of
Plaquemines Parish, one of the hardest hit areas along the Gulf.
"For the first day, we'll be pulling more oil out of the Gulf than is
leaking in," Nungesser said Friday. "We can see the light at the end of
the tunnel, but that's a very long tunnel."
BP: No oil
leaking into Gulf from busted well
The Associated Press
published Jul 15, 2010
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ BP says oil from its broken well has stopped gushing
into the Gulf of Mexico for the first time since April.
The announcement Thursday came after company officials said all valves
had been shut on a new cap over the busted well in an experiment to
stop the spill.
Kent Wells, a BP PLC vice president, said at a news briefing that oil
stopped flowing into the water at 2:25 p.m. CDT.
It was a long-awaited milestone in one of the nation's worst
While not a permanent solution to plug the busted well, the success in
capturing the oil spewing out was welcome news.
The crisis began when BP's deepwater rig exploded, killing 11 workers.
The cap is not a permanent fix. BP is drilling two relief wells so it
can pump mud and cement into the leaking well in hopes of plugging it
Hitting a Tiny Bull’s-Eye Miles Under the
By HENRY FOUNTAIN
HOUSTON — To hear the people at Baker Hughes tell it, a drill string —
length after length of narrow pipe that can extend for miles into the
earth — is far from a rigid assembly of high-strength steel. It is more
like a wet noodle.
“The challenge is not to get it to bend,” said Aravindh Kaniappan, a
product manager for Baker Hughes, a drilling equipment and services
company. “It’s to get it to not bend.”
Because a string of drill pipe, along with the rotating bit at its
cutting end, tends to go this way and that, drillers need critical
information about the location of a well as it is being drilled.
“First you need to know where you are,” Mr. Kaniappan said. “Then you
need to know from where you are, where you need to go.”
The need for accurate location information — in a subterranean
environment that Global Positioning System satellite signals cannot
reach — is true now more than ever, as oil and gas wells go deeper and
become more complex, veering off horizontally through narrow
hydrocarbon reservoirs or parallel existing wells.
But it is especially true right now in the Gulf of Mexico, where BP is
drilling a relief well to intersect the runaway well that has been
spewing oil since April.
The relief well will be used to pump heavy drilling mud, followed by
cement, into the damaged well to stop the gusher permanently. But first
it, or a second relief well being drilled nearby as a backup, must hit
the target — the existing well’s steel casing pipe, only seven inches
in diameter, more than 3 miles below the surface of the gulf.
The first relief well is currently about 20 feet horizontally and less
than 1,000 feet vertically from the interception point. “We feel very
good about the progress we’ve made,” Kent Wells, a BP vice president
overseeing the relief well effort, said at a recent news conference,
but did not revise an estimated completion date of early August.
Baker Hughes and other companies are helping BP reach the target,
providing specialized techniques and tools for measuring and surveying
the relief wells as they are drilled, and steering them in the right
Many of these services — variously described as “measuring while
drilling,” “logging while drilling” and “directional drilling” — are
used in almost all wells, and have been for decades. But the techniques
have been improved and expanded over the years, aided by advances in
sensors and processing.
Baker Hughes and companies like Halliburton, Schlumberger and Vector
Magnetics use sophisticated accelerometers and magnetometers to
determine the inclination, or angle, and azimuth, or compass direction,
of the hole, sending the data back to the drill rig as binary pulses in
the drilling mud that circulates through the drill pipe. If the drill
bit has strayed, it can be steered back on course by several means, one
of which uses pressure pads against the well bore to change the bit’s
With the relief wells, magnetometers are also being used to locate the
target, by detecting the electromagnetic field created by an electric
current induced in the runaway well’s casing pipe. The relief wells are
then being steered closer and closer to the intercept point, nearly
18,000 feet down.
More than direction and location, though, sensing tools — hollow pipes
that resemble thin, shiny torpedoes, up to 30 feet long, with sensors
and processors installed in precisely machined cavities — can help oil
companies better understand rock and hydrocarbon reservoirs, often in
real time as they are drilling through them.
“During the last five to 10 years there has been a step change in the
technology,” said Mattiass Schlecht, Baker Hughes’s vice president for
drilling systems. Tools measure the natural gamma radiation emitted by
rock, the electrical resistance of any fluids within, and even, through
a kind of inverse M.R.I. device, the magnetic resonance of the nuclei
of hydrocarbon atoms.
Gamma measurements can determine whether the bit is drilling through
sand (which is more likely to contain hydrocarbons) or shale.
Resistance information shows whether the formation contains oil, gas or
water. And nuclear resonance data indicates how easily the oil will
flow out of the porous rock. “How much of that fluid you can really
move out of the pores and into the well bore,” Dr. Schlecht said.
Stephen Prensky, a consultant in Silver Spring, Md., who follows trends
in drilling technology, said that many of the changes have been
evolutionary, improvements to existing measurements using newer
electronics. But the move toward more real-time data collection is
crucial, he said, with deepwater and other complex wells costing upward
of $100 million.
“You want to have as much information as possible to make sure you
drill the best well possible,” Mr. Prensky said. “Real-time information
is essential in those circumstances.”
But even in relatively simple vertical wells, measurement and other
data is crucial. Geologists may have mapped the various rock formations
in advance based on seismic surveys, but formations are far from
homogeneous, so it can be important to know precisely what kind of rock
the well has traveled through. And a well cannot be allowed to veer
across a lease line, for example.
Drill bits stray all the time, as the bit encounters pockets of softer
or harder rock. “Drilling straight down doesn’t necessarily mean you go
straight down,” said Scott Schmidt, Baker Hughes’s president of
drilling and evaluation services. “The bit wants to follow the path of
In any well, one goal is to keep the well bore smooth and any turns
gradual, avoiding what drilling engineers call “high dogleg severity.”
“Once you have a kink in there it will hurt you for the rest of the
well,” Dr. Schlecht said. It will create higher friction for the drill
string, he said, and make it more difficult to send casing pipe down
Decades ago, well surveys were done only after pulling the drill pipe
out of the hole, a process that, depending on depth, could take a day
or more. Instruments were lowered on a wire, readings were taken, and
the instruments were brought back up. (Some of the earliest equipment,
called single-shot tools, actually took a photograph of a compass rose
lowered deep in the hole; drillers would have to wait for the film to
be developed to determine azimuth.)
Now the high-tech tools usually form a permanent part of the drill
string, assembled at the very end. Together with the drill bit, perhaps
a mud-driven motor to rotate it and steering equipment, the tools form
a “bottom hole assembly” that can be well over 100 feet long — and
easily worth several million dollars, particularly since the bit is
usually encrusted with synthetic diamonds.
Because the tools form part of the drill string, they must be hollow to
allow the drilling mud to pass through to the bit, where it provides
lubrication and cooling and carries the rock cuttings back to the rig.
That makes the job of the tool designer more difficult, as all the
sensors, silicon chips and power supplies have to sit in the walls of
the pipe. At a long and low building near Houston’s international
airport where Baker Hughes makes its tools, workers regularly perform
extreme feats of machining, like drilling a small hole for wires down
through 30 feet of pipe wall.
Not all the tools can provide data while the well is being drilled,
however. Accelerometers, tiny silicon devices that measure
gravitational pull along three axes, work best when there is not much
external vibration, so drilling is usually stopped to take
measurements, although the drill pipe remains in place.
Magnetometers work best when there is no magnetic interference from
other steel, so in the early stages of drilling BP’s relief wells,
“ranging” runs to determine how close the relief wells were to the
runaway well were performed with the drill pipe pulled out of the hole
and a separate magnetometer lowered on a wire. A device sent a current
into the formation, inducing a current in the metal casing pipe of the
runaway well. The magnetometer detected the field created by the
induced current, and software sorted out the signal to determine the
distance to the pipe.
In later ranging runs, however, the drillers have been using a faster
system that does not require the drill string to be pulled completely
out of the well. The system also has a sensor directly behind the bit,
which gives drillers a more accurate reading of the most important
piece of information: where the actual bit is in relation to the
Those magnetometers are connected to the surface by a wire that can
handle a lot of data. For other tools that form part of the drill
string, however, data is usually sent to the rig through mud pulse. A
simple valve raises and lowers the pressure in the mud inside the drill
string, and a sensor on the rig measures the small pressure changes.
With the data being transmitted at about 10 bits per second, it takes
about 30 seconds to transmit basic measurement data, and that is with
much of the data being crunched in processors on the tool.
That is glacially slow by modern standards, but as Mr. Kaniappan
describes it, still a remarkable feat to distinguish the small pressure
changes that make up the signal from all the background noise. “It’s
amazing the technology we have,” he said.
This article has
been revised to reflect the following correction:
An earlier version
of this article incorrectly stated that rock formations were "far from
heterogeneous." They are far from homogeneous.
SURFS UP - Hurricane Alex throws
cleanup for a loop (r)
This image (l) provided by NOAA was acquired Tuesday June 29, 2010,
at 5:32 p.m. EDT shows Hurricane Alex churning through the western
Gulf, taking aim at the Mexico-Texas border and far away from the
massive oil spill. (AP Photo/NOAA)This image provided by NOAA was
acquired Tuesday June 29, 2010, at 5:32 p.m. EDT shows Hurricane Alex
churning through the western Gulf, taking aim at the Mexico-Texas
border and far away from the massive oil spill. (AP Photo/NOAA)
Tar balls from Gulf oil spill turn
By JUAN A. LOZANO, Associated Press Writer
5 July 2010
GALVESTON, Texas – A Texas official said Monday that tar balls from the
Gulf oil spill have been found on state beaches, becoming the first
known evidence that gushing crude from the Deepwater Horizon well has
now reached all the Gulf states.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said two crews were removing tar
balls found on the Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island on Sunday.
"We've said since day one that if and when we have an impact from
Deepwater Horizon, it would be in the form of tarballs," Patterson said
in a news release. "This shows that our modeling is accurate. Any Texas
shores impacted by the Deepwater spill will be cleaned up quickly and
BP will be picking up the tab."
The state said responders have recovered about 35 gallons of waste
material tainted by the oil from the two sites.
Signs of landfall by oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill had
previously only been reported in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and
the Florida Panhandle.
The distance between the westernmost reach of the spill in Texas and
the easternmost reports of oil in Florida is about 550 miles. Oil was
first spotted on land near the mouth of the Mississippi River on April
And the spill is reaching deeper into Louisiana. Strings of oil were
also seen Monday in the Rigolets, one of two waterways that connect
Lake Ponchartrain, the large lake north of New Orleans, with the Gulf.
"So far it's scattered stuff showing up, mostly tar balls," said
Louisiana Office of Fisheries Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina. "It
will pull out with the tide, and then show back up."
Pausina said he expected the oil to clear the passes and move directly
into the lake, taking a backdoor route to New Orleans.
National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration has released a new interactive BP oil spill
It may have become the most popular video on the internet. The National
Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), part of the Commerce
Department, created a computer simulation of the direction of the
Deepwater Horizon oil spill from the day the leak began to Day 132. It
shows the slick moving to the tip of Florida, up the East Coast nearly
to Washington D.C., and then thousands of miles into the Atlantic Ocean
by the end of the summer.
The interactive map, made using computer models by NCAR scientists and
collaborators, shows one scenario of how oil from the leak could move.
It is based on the behavior of dye -- not oil -- in water. "This is not
a forecast, but rather, it illustrates a likely dispersal pathway of
the oil for roughly four months following the spill. It assumes oil
spilling continuously from April 20 to June 20," the NCAR writes.
The public seems to have ignored the caveat as the video has been
picked up by website after website. The NCAR adds,"The computer
simulations indicate that, once the oil in the uppermost ocean has
become entrained in the Gulf of Mexico's fast-moving Loop Current, it
is likely to reach Florida's Atlantic coast within weeks. It can then
move north as far as about Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with the Gulf
Stream, before turning east. Whether the oil will be a thin film on the
surface or mostly subsurface due to mixing in the uppermost region of
the ocean is not known."
The model assumes that the oil flow could carry crude that lies as deep
as 65 feet beneath the surface. Other simulations assume that the crude
sits in a thin film on the top of the water. By the time this pool of
crude reaches the East Coast, it could move north at a rate of 100
miles per day.
The simulation will increase the debate about the potential damage of
the catastrophe. Current estimated are extremely wide-ranging -- from a
few billions dollars to tens of billions -- depending on which
direction the oil goes and how much of the Gulf shoreline and fishing
industry is affected.
Should the simulation be correct, beaches all along the Eastern
Seaboard could be impacted, and tourism and fishing could be in trouble
as far north as the Carolinas. In other world, the costs would be
See full article from DailyFinance: http://srph.it/9rRzfG
cleanup idled by poor weather in
By BRENDAN FARRINGTON and TOM BREEN, Associated Press Writers
5 July 2010
PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. – Across a wide stretch of the Gulf of Mexico,
the cleanup of the region's worst-ever oil spill has been essentially
landlocked for more than a week, leaving skimmers stuck close to shore.
Last week, the faraway Hurricane Alex idled the skimming fleet off
Alabama, Florida and Mississippi with choppy seas and stiff winds. Now
they're stymied by a succession of smaller storms that could last well
into this week.
"We're just lying in wait to see if we can send some people out there
to do some skimming," said Courtnee Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the
Joint Information Command in Mobile, Ala.
Officials have plans for the worst-case scenario: a hurricane barreling
up the Gulf toward the spill site. But the less-dramatic weather
conditions have been met with a more makeshift response.
Skimming operations across the Gulf have scooped up about 23.5 million
gallons of oil-fouled water so far, but officials say it's impossible
to know how much crude could have been skimmed in good weather because
of the fluctuating number of vessels and other variables.
Jerry Biggs, a commercial fisherman in Pass Christian, Miss., who has
had to shut down because of the spill, is now hiring out his 13 boats
and 40-man crew to BP for cleanup. He said the skimming operation is
severely hampered by the weather.
"We don't even have the equipment to do the job right," Biggs said.
"The (equipment) we're trying to do this with is inoperable in over 1
foot of seas."
From Louisiana, where skimming resumed after a three-day halt last
week, to Florida, there are about 44,500 people, nearly 6,600 boats and
113 aircraft enlisted in the cleanup and containment effort, according
to BP PLC.
The British company has now seen its costs from the spill reach $3.12
billion, a figure that doesn't include a $20 billion fund for damages
the company created last month.
For many involved in the cleanup effort, nagging storms have whipped up
choppy seas and gusty winds that make offshore work both unsafe and
ineffective, stranding crews on dry land.
"We have to send our guys out every day and look at the weather and
ask, 'Can we do this?'" said Courtnee Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the
Joint Information Command in Mobile, Ala., which oversees operations in
Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.
In the absence of offshore skimming, efforts in the three Gulf states
east of Louisiana have turned largely on containment boom, about 550
miles of which has been deployed along the entire Gulf, and shoreline
efforts to clean tar balls and other oily debris from beaches.
"We're operating 24 hours a day on the beaches, and anything that
washes ashore we're able to get," Ferguson said.
It may be days before those beach crews are aided by skimming vessels,
though, according to weather forecasters.
Heavy rain and scattered thunderstorms are predicted throughout the
region into Wednesday, National Weather Service meteorolgist Tim Destri
said Monday. The National Hurricane Center is also watching a low
pressure system in the Caribbean Sea that has a low chance of becoming
a tropical depression in the next two days.
If it does develop, it would more likely head toward northern Mexico or
southern Texas, Destri said. But it's too early to predict its path
The storms have not affected drilling work on a relief well that BP
says is the best chance for finally plugging the leak. The company
expects drilling to be finished by mid-August.
As it works to both clean up and contain the spill, BP is billing
partners Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Japan's Mitsui for their shares
of the cleanup. BP has billed Anadarko, a 25-percent stakeholder in the
blown-out well, for more than a quarter billion dollars so far. It also
has reportedly billed Mitsui, a 10-percent partner, for $111 million.
Biggs, clearly angry over the situation, said the hurricane season will
just further hurt the cleanup effort, saying one big storm will push
the oil everywhere.
"This isn't going away. This isn't a sneeze or a hiccup. This is
diarrhea for a long time," he said. "My lifestyle is screwed. It's
over. The thing that I love the most I'm not going to be able to do
cleanup takes hit as Hurricane
Alex kicks oily waves onto Gulf coast shores
NY Daily News
BY Sean Alfano
Wednesday, June 30th 2010, 11:36 AMAs
Hurricane Alex sweeps toward the Texas-Mexico coast, the
storm's high winds have kicked up oily waves that are slamming into
Gulf coast beaches.
For some residents, the Category 1 storm has washed away progress made
in fighting the massive oil spill plaguing the Gulf of Mexico.
Tar balls have popped up on Louisiana beaches that had been relatively
oil-free for a few weeks. Alex's 80 mile-per-hour winds have
forced boats fighting the spill to suspend their efforts, making
beaches more vulnerable to oil washing ashore.
"With this weather, we lost all the progress we made," Michael Malone,
a marine science technician, told The Associated Press.
The storm is expected to make landfall Wednesday evening and drench the
Gulf coast through Thursday. Until then, oil spill workers can
only sit and wait. The worst oil disaster in U.S. history started
April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the Louisiana
coast, killing 11 workers. The government estimates between 70
million and 137 million gallons of oil have leaked into the Gulf.
BP, the oil giant that leased the rig, continues to try to contain the
spill, while drilling a relief well, which government officials say is
the best chance of permanently stopping the underwater gusher.
toward Mexico, Texas coasts
By Christopher Sherman and Paul J. Weber ASSOCIATED PRESS
5:14 a.m., Wednesday, June 30, 2010
BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Hurricane Alex churned westward through the
Gulf of Mexico early Wednesday, far from oil spill cleanup efforts but
on a collision course with Mexico and the southern Texas coastline.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami upgraded the storm to a Category
1 hurricane — the least powerful type — shortly before 10 p.m. CDT
Tuesday after measuring sustained winds of 75 mph. Alex became the
first June hurricane in the Atlantic since 1995, the center said.
Texas residents had been preparing for the storm for days, readying
their homes and businesses and stocking up on household essentials. But
the storm was expected to deal only a glancing blow to the state and to
make landfall Wednesday evening south of Matamoros, Mexico, and some
100 miles south of Brownsville.
The storm was expected to pack winds of at least 90 mph when it comes
ashore, but wasn't expected to become one of the more powerful
categories of hurricane...
Tropical Storm Ida
shown above is in the Pacific
Storm could be
latest problem in spill cleanup
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press Writer
26 June 2010
NEW ORLEANS – A tropical storm churning in the Caribbean could be the
latest bad news for BP crews trying to contain and clean up the massive
oil spill in the Gulf, an effort that has been plagued by setbacks for
more than two months.
It is still too early to tell exactly where Tropical Storm Alex might
go, or how it might affect oil on and below the surface of the Gulf of
Mexico, forecasters said. An armada of ships is working on the spill.
That includes those drilling two relief wells, projected to be done by
mid-August, which are the best hope for halting the crude that has been
gushing since an April 20 explosion touched off the biggest offshore
oil spill in U.S. history.
BP's effort to drill through 2 1/2 miles of rock is on target, the oil
giant said Friday. But BP's stock tumbled anyway over the mounting
costs of the disaster and the company's inability to plug the leak
sooner. The crew that has been drilling the relief well since
early May ran a test to confirm it is on the right path, using a tool
that detects the magnetic field around the casing of the original,
"The layman's translation is, 'We are where we thought we were,'" said
BP spokesman Bill Salvin.
Once the new well intersects the ruptured one, BP plans to pump heavy
drilling mud in to stop the oil flow and plug it with cement.
Despite the encouraging news, BP stock tumbled 6 percent in New York on
Friday to a 14-year low on news that BP has now spent $2.35 billion
dealing with the disaster. BP has lost more than $100 billion in
market value since its deep-water drilling platform blew up, and its
stock is worth less than half the $60 or so it was selling for on the
day of the explosion. If the bad weather heads toward the Gulf,
it could add to BP's problems.
Forecasters can't say yet if Alex — which blew into a tropical storm
early Saturday — will hit the northeastern part of the Gulf, where the
spill has spread over the past 10 weeks. Somewhere between 69
million and 132 million gallons of crude have spewed into the water
since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11
workers. Most storm prediction models show it traveling over the
Yucatan Peninsula over the weekend and into the southern Gulf by
Monday. Where it goes next is the question.
Jack Bevins, a forecaster with the National Hurricane Center in Miami,
said early prediction models Saturday morning no longer had it going
across the oil spill. But Alex's track could quickly change in the
coming days as conditions shift. The effort to capture the oil
gushing from the sea bottom could be interrupted for up to two weeks if
a storm forces BP to move its equipment out of harm's way, said Coast
Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the crisis.
BP would need about five days to secure or move all its equipment to
safety from an approaching storm but is working to shorten that to two
days, Salvin said. The equipment includes ships that are processing the
oil sucked up by the containment cap on the well and the rigs drilling
the two relief wells.
In other news:
• A financial disclosure report released Friday shows that the
Louisiana judge who struck down the Obama administration's six-month
ban on deep-water drilling in the Gulf has sold many of his energy
investments. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman still owns eight
energy-related investments, including stock in Exxon Mobil Corp. Among
the assets he sold was stock in Transocean, which owned the rig that
exploded. The Justice Department asked a federal appeals court Friday
to delay Feldman's ruling "to preserve the status quo" during the
• Labor Secretary Hilda Solis slammed BP — along with Massey Energy,
owner of the West Virginia coal mine where 29 workers died in an
explosion in April — saying they need better safety measures. "We are
not saying go out of business," she said. "Do your job better. Make an
investment in your employees. We want you to make a profit, but not at
the expense of killing your employees."
• Vice President Joe Biden will head to the Gulf on Tuesday to visit a
command center in New Orleans and the oil-fouled Florida Panhandle.
• The IRS said payments for lost wages from BP's $20 billion victims
compensation fund are taxable just like regular income. Payments for
physical injuries or property loss are generally tax-free.
BP is capturing anywhere from 840,000 to 1.2 million gallons of oil a
day. Worst-case government estimates say 2.5 million gallons a day are
leaking from the well, though no one really knows for sure.
BP is working to develop a different containment system that would be
easier to disconnect and hook back up if a storm interrupted the work.
More oil gushing into Gulf after
problem with cap
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press Writer
23 June 2010
NEW ORLEANS – Tens of thousands of gallons more oil gushed into the
Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday after an undersea robot bumped a venting
system, forcing BP to remove the cap that had been containing some of
It was yet another setback in the nine-week effort to stop the gusher,
and it came as thick pools of oil washed up on Pensacola Beach in
Florida and the Obama administration tried to figure out how to
resurrect a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling.
When the robot bumped the system just before 10 a.m. Wednesday, gas
rose through the vent that carries warm water down to prevent ice-like
crystals from forming, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said.
Crews were checking to see if crystals had formed before putting it
back on. BP spokesman Bill Salvin could not say how long that might
"We're doing it as quickly as possible," he said.
Before the problem with the containment cap, it had collected about
700,000 gallons of oil in 24 hours. That's oil that's now pouring into
the Gulf. Another 438,000 gallons was burned on the surface by a
different system that was not affected by the issue with the cap.
A similar problem doomed the effort to put a bigger containment device
over the blown-out well in May. BP had to abandon the four-story box
after the crystals called hydrates clogged it, threatening to make it
The smaller cap, which had worked fine until now, had been in place
since early June. To get it there, though, crews had to slice away a
section of the leaking pipe, meaning the flow of oil could be stronger
now than before.
The current worst-case estimate of what's spewing into the Gulf is
about 2.5 million gallons a day. Anywhere from 67 million to 127
million gallons have spilled since the April 20 explosion on the
Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and blew out the well
5,000 feet underwater. BP PLC was leasing the rig from owner Transocean
Meanwhile, the Obama administration plotted its next steps after U.S.
District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans overturned its moratorium
on new drilling, saying the government simply assumed that because one
rig exploded, the others pose an imminent danger, too.
Feldman, a 1983 appointee of President Ronald Reagan, has reported
extensive investments in the oil and gas industry, including owning
less than $15,000 of Transocean stock, according to financial
disclosure reports for 2008, the most recent available. He did not
return calls for comment on his investments.
The White House promised an immediate appeal of his ruling. The
Interior Department imposed the moratorium last month in the wake of
the BP disaster, halting approval of any new permits for deepwater
projects and suspending drilling on 33 exploratory wells.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement that within the next
few days he would issue a new order imposing a moratorium that
eliminates any doubt it is needed and appropriate.
"It's important that we don't move forward with new drilling until we
know it can be done in a safe way," he told a Senate subcommittee
Several companies, including Shell and Marathon Oil, said they would
await the outcome of any appeals before they start drilling again.
Asked about it Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show, BP managing director
Bob Dudley said his company will "step back" from the issue while it
investigates the rig explosion.
BP said Wednesday that Dudley has been appointed to head the new Gulf
Coast Restoration Organization, which is in charge of cleaning up the
oil spill. He takes over from BP CEO Tony Hayward, who has been widely
criticized for his handling of the crisis.
In Florida, dozens of workers used shovels to scoop up pools of oil
that washed up overnight, turning the sand orange.
Tar balls have been reported as far west as Panama City, Fla., and
heavier oil is predicted to wash ashore further east along the coast
line in the coming days. Oil has also washed up on beaches in Alabama
and coated wetlands in Louisiana.
Gulf paymaster: People are in
Mon Jun 21, 8:01 am ET
WASHINGTON – The man President Barack Obama picked to run the $20
billion Gulf oil spill damage fund said Monday many people are in
"desperate financial straits" and need immediate relief.
"Do not underestimate the emotionalism and the frustration and the
anger of people in the Gulf uncertain of their financial future,"
Kenneth Feinberg told interviewers. "It's very pronounced. I witnessed
it firsthand last week."
Feinberg, who ran the victims claim fund set up in the wake of the
Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, said he is determined to speed up
payment of claims.
His appearance came a week after the administration worked out an
arrangement with oil giant BP to establish an independent claims fund —
initially $20 billion — and pledged to reconfigure the system and
expedite payments. Feinberg said BP has paid out over $100 million so
far, and various estimates place total claims so far in excess of $600
"The top message is the message conveyed to me by the president,"
Feinberg said. " ... We want to get these claims out quicker. We want
to get these claims out with more transparency." He said people can
file electronically for relief, if they wish, and they need not hire a
lawyer. He also said he believes that "when a person comes in and asks
for emergency assistance, they shouldn't have to keep coming back,"
suggesting lump-sum emergency payments.
Asked how officials can guard against false claims, Feinberg said he
didn't think that would be a major problem, and said that in the 9/11
experience, there were only a handful of such claims. He did say there
could be an issue involving claimants who say they were indirectly
harmed by the spill, such as a Boston restaurateur theoretically
arguing that his business was hurt by the inability to bring shrimp in
from the Gulf.
In such instances, Feinberg said, officials might have to resort to
whatever existing state law says on that issue.
In another interview, he said, "The emergency payments going out under
my watch do not require that any claimant give up rights to litigate or
go forward in court ... If you want to litigate, go ahead."
But he added that he considers that "very unwise," because it could
take years to resolve the issue that way.
"The emergency payments are without any conditions," Feinberg said.
He appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," CNN and NBC's "Today" show.
BP could face
'annihilation', says Medvedev
Page last updated at 12:18 GMT,
Friday, 18 June 2010 13:18 UK
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has
questioned the future of BP, saying the oil giant may face
"annihilation" after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he described
the spill as a "wake-up call", and said that "hopefully [BP] can afford
Moody's rating agency also downgraded BP's credit rating by
BP, which says its finances are sound, has agreed to put
aside $20bn (£13.5bn) to compensate victims of the oil spill.
Moody's said the full costs of the oil spill would have a
negative impact on the company's cash flow for "a number of years".
As a result, it downgraded BP from A2 to Aa2.
However, it said the company's payments into the compensation
fund were "manageable".
Earlier this week, the two other major international credit
ratings agencies, Fitch and Standard & Poor's, also downgraded BP.
Despite the downgrade, BP shares were up 1.7% in early
afternoon trading, having climbed almost 7% on Thursday.
Mr Medvedev was less sure about BP's ability to cover its
payments in the coming months.
"What I know is that BP will have to pay a lot of money this
year," he said.
"Whether the company can digest those expenditures, whether
they will lead to the annihilation of the company or its break up is a
matter of expediency".
BP has said that it continues to perform well, with cash flow
"expected to exceed $30bn in 2010 before taking into consideration
costs related to the Deepwater Horizon spill."
On Thursday, BP boss Tony Hayward was grilled by US
congressmen who accused the company of "astonishing complacency" in
ignoring dangers when drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP has agreed to pay $5bn into the compensation fund this
year, followed by quarterly payments of $1.25bn until the total $20bn
The company has also said it will be selling about $10bn
worth of "non-core" assets to raise cash, and has cancelled dividend
payments this year.
There has been a great deal of speculation about what assets
it might sell.
In Russia, BP holds a 50% stake in TNK-BP - a joint venture
with AAR, which is owned by a group of Russian billionaires.
According to analysts at Moscow investment bank Troika
Dialog, BP's stake in TNK-BP is worth about $16-$18bn.
However, analysts said that BP may have to take a hit on the
price if it is forced to sell.
"If BP decides to sell its [stake in TNK], it will have to do
so with a discount to find a buyer faster," Viktor Mishnyakov, energy
expert from Uralsib, told the BBC Russian Service.
BP also owns about 1% of the Russian state-run company
Rosneft, which is worth another $900m. Rumours about a possible
sell-off caused Rosneft's share price to fall by 6% on Thursday.
The head of BP's Russian operations was forced to deny the
rumours on Friday, saying that BP has yet to decide exactly which
assets to dispose of.
For its part, Lukoil, one of Russia's biggest oil producers,
said it would not be interested in buying any of BP assets should the
UK oil company decide to sell.
"We are not wolves, we do not eat the weak," said the
company's boss Vagit Alekperov.
BP made a profit last year of $14bn, down from $25bn a year
Analysts say that the compensation fund and initial clean-up
costs would, therefore, be easily affordable for BP.
However, they also warn that the threat of legal action and
significant fines means it needs to conserve cash.
Standard Chartered warned last week that the total cost to
the company, including legal costs, could top $40bn.
David Willis, BBC News,
Maybe it was President Obama's decision to dispatch the Attorney
General - Eric Holder - to the Gulf Of Mexico a few weeks back to look
into the possibility of criminal charges against BP that made the
company's CEO so cautious as he gave testimony.
Time after time, to their growing frustration, Tony Hayward told
members of Congress that it would be "premature" to prejudge the
outcome of investigations into the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon
well nearly two months ago.
Mr Hayward's reticence to be drawn further into the causes of the
disaster led to growing frustration on the part of committee members,
one of whom accused him of "stonewalling".
Another recurring theme of Mr Hayward's testimony was that he wasn't
personally involved in decisions relating to the construction of the
well which could have impacted on safety.
Committee members had accused BP of cutting corners in order to get the
well into operation, but Mr Hayward professed himself out of the loop
on those matters.
""With respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells a year around the
world," he informed Republican committee member Michael Burgess.
"Yes I know, Mr Burgess replied dryly, "That's what's scaring me right
coming to the Gulf, we trust?
Tropical depression forms off Mexico's coast
16 June 2010
MIAMI – A tropical depression has formed in the Pacific off Mexico's
southwestern coast and a tropical storm warning was issued for the area.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the tropical storm warning
is for the coast of Mexico from Salina Cruz to Lagunas de Chacahua. A
tropical storm watch was in effect for the Mexican coast from west of
Lagunas de Chacahua to Punta Maldonado.
The depression has maximum sustained winds near 30 mph (45 kph).
Forecasters say some gradual strengthening is expected during the next
48 hours and the depression could become a tropical storm by Thursday.
The depression is centered about 100 miles (160 kilometers)
south-southwest of Salina Cruz and is expected to be within the warning
area over the next day or two.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further
information. AP's earlier story is below.
MIAMI (AP) — A tropical depression has formed in the Pacific off
Mexico's southeastern coast and a tropical storm warning was issued for
The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the tropical storm warning
is for the coast of Mexico from Salina Cruz to Lagunas de Chacahua. A
tropical storm watch was in effect for the Mexican coast from west of
Lagunas de Chacahua to Punta Maldonado.
The depression has maximum sustained winds near 30 mph (45 kph).
Forecasters say some gradual strengthening is expected during the next
48 hours and the depression could become a tropical storm by Thursday.
The depression is centered about 100 miles (160 kilometers)
south-southwest of Salina Cruz and is expected to be within the warning
area over the next day or two.
(This version CORRECTS APNewsNow. corrects that depression is off
southwestern coast, not southeastern.)
BP executives arrive at WH to
16 June 2010
WASHINGTON – Top BP oil company officials, including chief executive
Tony Hayward, have arrived at the White House for a meeting Wednesday
with President Barack Obama.
Obama told the nation Tuesday night that he intends to make BP pay for
the damage it has caused to the Gulf of Mexico and coastal areas.
Obama wants the company to create a multibillion dollar fund to
compensate Gulf Coast residents who are suffering economically after an
oil rig BP was leasing exploded and sank in April. Millions of gallons
of oil have spewed into the Gulf since then, creating the worst
environmental disaster in U.S. history.
HERO IN REAL
Kevin Costner hopes that his
device can help to quickly clean up the Gulf of Mexico. BP has
purchased 32 of his machines and is testing them now in the hopes of
getting them to the spill site soon.
BP to test out actor Kevin
Costner's oil spill clean-up machine for possible use in Gulf Coast
BY Nick Klopsis, DAILY NEWS WRITER
Monday, June 14th 2010, 10:09 AM
Kevin Costner hopes his invention can make the oil spill saga
have a Hollywood ending.
The "Field of Dreams" actor called his oil separator a "life
preserver," saying that his device can help clean up the Gulf and that
it's not too late to put it into action.
Costner told ABC's Sam Champion on "Good Morning America" that BP has
already purchased 32 of the machines.
"I'm not on a white horse," Costner said. "I'm not the savior to this
thing. But I'm kind of saying, like, I got a life preserver."
The device, which is designed to be brought to the spill site on
barges, can separate 99% of oil from water and recycle up to 2,000
barrels per day. Costner spent 15 years and $20 million of his own
money to develop the machine.
"If 20 of my V20s would have been at the Exxon Valdez, 90 percent of
that oil would have been cleaned up within the week," Costner said.
The "Dances with Wolves" and "Waterworld" star said he got the idea to
develop the centrifuge while watching the Exxon-Valdez spill in 1989.
"... [W]hat happened is as a young man, as a boy, I would see these
things, these images, and I could tell my parents would stop and look
at the TV," he said. "And when you're young, you look at them and you
go, 'Something stopped them.' And what stopped them was these images.
"So I looked at those images myself and it was rubber boots. And it was
straw. And it was pitch forks. And then I looked at it again ten years
later and I wasn't a boy anymore. And I'm looking at it. And now I'm
going, the same images, the oil coming up like pudding and people again
on beaches with rubber boots and straw."
BP tested a version of Costner's device earlier this year, but the test
failed after the machine gave the oil a peanut butter-like consistency.
That problem has since been fixed, and BP is retesting the machine now
in the hopes of getting it to the Gulf soon.
Despite the fact that the oil has reached the shores of Mississippi,
Louisiana, and Alabama, Costner is confident that his oil separator can
step in and make an immediate impact on the clean-up process.
"That oil's going to keep coming towards those people," Costner said.
"That well has not stopped. So we have to be out at the source, sucking
it up on some major, I mean, we have to treat it a little bit like a
war. We mustered logistically everything we had to get the Beaches of
Normandy. We have to muster everything we can to keep it from hitting
And the actor hopes that the machine can help prevent large-scale
incidents like this from occurring in the future.
"... [W]e know accidents are going to happen, "Costner said. "But if
we're going to operate on our high seas, we have to have-- we have to
have this equipment there and ... it should be able to operate the
minute the oil comes into contact with water."
How We're Fighting the Gulf Oil Spill
from fiber optics and high-speed centrifuges to
antifreeze and pantyhose.
June 7, 2010 4:00 A.M.
The BP spill is giving Man, and his works to assert mastery over
nature, a bad name. But just as technology caused this mess, technology
will eventually end it. Below, the five most impressive technological
forces at work in the Gulf saga.
Yes, the scorched hulk of the Deepwater Horizon that set this
catastrophe in motion now lies in ruins at the bottom of the Gulf of
Mexico, but before it became the site of tragedy for eleven families
and a symbol of capitalist hubris for the enemies of domestic drilling,
the $500 million Horizon was a record-breaking technological dynamo,
and an innovation spurred by the political pressures that are pushing
drilling ever farther off our shores. Designed by Houston’s Reading
& Bates Corp. and built by Hyundai in 2001, the Deepwater Horizon
was one of a small number of semi-submersible, dynamically positionable
ultra-deepwater rigs. That is, unlike “jackup” rigs, with legs that
rest on the ocean floor, the Deepwater Horizon floated on four massive
stabilizing pontoons, which kept it stationary and level as waves
washed beneath it. This allowed the rig to move anywhere it was needed,
withstand 40-foot waves and 100-knot winds, and operate in water as
deep as 10,000 feet. Powered by two 9,775-hp, 7,000-kilowatt AC
generators, and outfitted with awesome-sounding machinery like the
“heave compensator,” “cascading shaker,” “hydraulic power choke,” and
“iron roughneck,” it obliterated the previous world record — and its
own nominal capacities — for offshore drill depth when it hit 35,055
feet in the Gulf.
THE COSTNER SOLUTION
In a world in which the combination of Hollywood and politics is often
nauseating, Kevin Costner’s unlikely emergence as a potential hero of
the Gulf cleanup effort is a welcome exception. After the 1989 Exxon
Valdez spill, and inspired by a fictional machine that turned urine
into drinking water in his notorious 1995 flop Waterworld, Costner
collaborated with his scientist brother and invested $24 million of his
own money to develop a series of machines that can separate oil from
water. Essentially powerful vacuums attached to centrifuges, Costner’s
contraptions can reportedly remove oil from water at a rate of 200
gallons a minute with a level of 97 to 99 percent purity. Six of them
are currently being tested by BP and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Costner calls them “Ocean Therapy” machines, but if they manage to keep
some of those oil plumes from hitting the Gulf coast, the region’s
inhabitants might call them “The Bodyguard.”
THE MIGHTY MISSISSIPPI
The effort to contain the oil that has already escaped the well is
unprecedented in size and scope, encompassing a vast fleet of ships and
nearly 20,000 workers employing a variety of often ingenious mitigation
methods. In favorable weather conditions, controlled fires are burning
through oil slicks pooled at the surface. Deeper underwater, powerful
chemical dispersants are breaking up monolithic oil plumes into
micro-layers, zillions of little oil droplets distributed throughout
the water instead of heading toward the marshlands in sheets. Miles and
miles of oil booms — floating fences meant to collect oil and keep it
from hitting vulnerable coastlines — are being deployed (some
reportedly using human hair wrapped in recycled pantyhose, an excellent
absorbent and proven oil collector). But perhaps the most powerful
weapon that responders have turned to is the force that has instigated
so many catastrophes in the past: the mighty Mississippi. Swollen with
floodwaters from the Ohio River, the Mississippi in mid-May was
emptying into the Delta at a rate of half a million cubic feet per
second. This gave the engineers manning the complex system of levees
and spillways that protects New Orleans and its surroundings a bold
idea: Open the floodgates and provide what one Louisiana flood engineer
called “a freshwater wedge” to push back against the oil being being
carried ashore by the Gulf currents.
With its immense pressures, frigid temperatures, and pitch-black
darkness, the crippled wellhead of the Deepwater Horizon might as well
be on the dark side of the moon — if the dark side of the moon were
also under water and gushing oil at a rate of 20,000 barrels a day.
Shallow-water rigs have traditionally employed human divers to install
and repair equipment under water. But since no conventional manned
vessel can reach the depths of the leak, every effort to contain it
must be done via truck-sized Remote-Operated Vehicles, or ROVs. Piloted
by joystick-wielding BP engineers from mission-control centers aboard
command ships, ROVs like Oceaneering’s 8,800-pound Millenium Plus model
feature precision-grip hydraulic arms that are uncannily human in their
movements. Most of the vehicles are fed power and telemetry via
fiber-optic cables that link them back to the surface, but an
increasing number are wireless and “autonomous.” The machines have been
instrumental in each successive effort to repair the wellhead, from the
early attempt to reactivate the blowout preventer to the ill-fated
containment-dome and “top kill” operations.
The robots were also instrumental in the latest and (fingers crossed)
most successful effort to contain the leak, using a “Lower Marine Riser
Package” (LMRP) to fit a new cap over the failed blowout preventer. How
did it work? First, ROVs were brought in to clear the mangled pipes
from atop the failed blowout preventer, using a diamond-tipped circular
saw and eventually a pair of giant shears. Then the drill-ship
Enterprise, with an exposed “moon pool” and derrick amidships,
positioned itself over a newly fabricated cap, which sat on the seabed
near the blowout preventer. It carefully lowered its LMRP drill pipe
and maneuvered it into position to latch onto the cap, continuously
pumping hot seawater and methanol “anti-freeze” through the system to
keep it free of hydrates — compounds formed at the low temperatures and
high pressures around the oil plume that would quickly crystallize and
block up the works. The cap was brought alongside the newly smooth cut
over the leak and swiftly wedded to it. At first, opened valves allowed
high-pressure oil and gas to flow through the cap, until hydrogen
pumped down the LMRP could equalize the pressure, allowing oil to be
directed up through the riser to be collected by the Enterprise at the
surface. ROVs were then dropped in again to close the valves. With this
system in place, BP is now keeping up to 10,000 barrels of oil a day
from reaching the Gulf coast.
Oil Could Reach Atlantic Coasts
By ANDREW C. REVKIN, NYTIMES
June 3, 2010, 12:17 pm
For weeks there have been discussions about the potential for the
spreading Gulf of Mexico oil slick to slip around Florida and flow up
the East Coast. Now a suite of simulations, run by an international
team of ocean and climate scientists, shows this is a likely outcome
should the flow remain unabated this summer. The researchers stress
there are caveats and uncertainties, most notably related to the state
of the gulf’s highly variable loop current in coming weeks.
But nearly all of the simulations end up with oil flowing east and
north. There’s even a small chance some of the oil could cross the
Atlantic Ocean and reach Europe, although Martin Visbeck, a German
oceanographer involved with the work, noted that it would most likely
be extremely diluted and degraded by then.
If some of the gulf oil starts coating beaches in the Hamptons while
media and political power players relax there this summer, will
President Obama’s call for a new American energy revolution get more
I doubt it, given that the coastal states are already relatively
engaged on the issue. Overall, it still seems to take a shock to the
wallet to have a deeper impact.
Here’s some more background on the modeling effort, sent to me by
Visbeck, the head of the physical oceanography unit at the Leibniz
Institute of Marine Sciences at Kiel University in Germany. In mid-May,
he was in Boulder, Colo., to attend a research meeting at the National
Center for Atmospheric Research. I’ll provide links to clarify the
acronyms a bit later today.
During that meeting the first news of some amounts of the oil
reaching the loop current broke and several news agencies contacted
IFM-GEOMAR to get a perspective of the risk of the oil reaching the
European shore lines. I have made some very rough and ready forecasts
based on my general knowledge of the ocean circulation. That same day I
met Synte Peacock, a former Ph.D. student of mine, in the cafeteria and
we decided to use the NCAR-LANL high resolution model to perform some
dye release studies. A few days later, Mathew Maltrud from Los Alamos
National Lab had secured some computing time and the first dye release
experiments could start.
Synte and Mat scanned through 100 years of control simulations
of the model to find a situation in the Gulf of Mexico that somewhat
resembles the current state of the Loop Current. Two days later the
first results were available and we all were surprised how quickly the
dye was spreading into the Florida Current and Gulf Stream system.
Within three months significant concentrations were present
along the U.S. South Atlantic Bight. Since the we have performed many
more simulations to explore how typical the first run was. Several
robust feature became apparent.
We were still hoping that our simulations would be a purely
academic exercise and that the oil leak would have been stopped by now.
However, we also performed some simulations with a dye injection of
four months’ duration.
There are several caveats with the current simulation. First we
are using climatological wind forcing and can not take into account the
real weather situations. Second the evolution of the Loop Current
system is a very critical factor in influencing how much of the the dye
(a proxy for the oil) remains in the Gulf of Mexico and what fraction
can reach the Florida Current.
The oil will begin to disintegrate to a wide range of chemical
reactions that depend on the biological activity. We have made no
attempt to include that into our calculations.
We cannot be sure that this model is very realistic. With a grid
cell size of slightly less than 10 square kilometers the model can not
resolve near shore processes and might underestimate the lateral
exchange in the Gulf Stream system. On the other hand, models of this
type have also been criticized to have still to slow currents and to
much numerical diffusion. More scientific work needs to be done to have
a better idea of the fate of the spilled oil.
BP says so far, Gulf well plug
By BEN NUCKOLS, Associated Press Writer
29 May 2010
COVINGTON, La. – A risky procedure to stop the oil spewing into the
Gulf of Mexico has yet to show much success, and BP is considering
scrapping it in favor of a different method to contain the worst oil
spill in U.S. history, an executive said Saturday.
The comments from BP PLC chief operating officer Doug Suttles came amid
increasing skepticism that the "top kill" operation — which involves
pumping heavy drilling mud into a crippled well 5,000 feet underwater —
would halt the leak.
The top kill began Wednesday, and "to date it hasn't yet stopped the
flow," Suttles told reporters at Port Fourchon. "What I don't know is
whether it ultimately will or not."
If the top kill fails, BP would cut off the damaged riser from which
the oil is leaking and cap it with a containment valve that's already
resting on the seafloor. BP is already preparing for that operation,
Since the top kill began Wednesday, BP has pumped huge amounts mud into
the well at a rate of up to 2,700 gallons per minute, but it's unclear
how much is staying there. A robotic camera on the seafloor appeared to
show mud escaping at various times during the operation. On Saturday,
the substance spewing from the well appeared to be oil, experts
said. BP has also tried several times to shoot assorted junk into
the well's crippled blowout preventer to clog it up and force the mud
down the well bore. That, too, has met with limited success.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, addressing reporters after he spoke at
a high school graduation ceremony in Denver, echoed what Suttles said
and said officials were evaluating the next step. He said the relief
well was the ultimate solution, but said something was needed to stop
the spill until then.
"We're doing everything with the best minds in the world to make sure
that happens," he said.
The oil spill began after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded
in April, killing 11 people. It's the worst spill in U.S. history —
exceeding even the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 off the Alaska coast —
dumping between 18 million and 40 million gallons into the Gulf,
according to government estimates. Experts and other observers
were growing increasingly skeptical that BP would be able to plug the
well. Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute,
said Saturday that the top kill appeared headed for failure.
"They warned us not to draw too many conclusions from the effluent, but
... it doesn't look like it's working," he said.
BP had pegged the top kill's chances of success at 60 to 70 percent.
The company says the best way to stop the flow of oil is by drilling
relief wells, but those won't be completed until August. Chris
Roberts, a councilman in Louisiana's Jefferson Parish, said he was
frustrated by BP's failures and perceived lack of transparency.
"We're wondering whether or not they're attempting to give everybody
false hope in order to drag out the time until the ultimate resolution
to it" — the completion of the relief wells, Roberts said.
Meanwhile, Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service officials heard
a sixth day of testimony during hearings into the disaster in Kenner.
David Sims, BP's drilling operations manager for exploration and
appraisal in the Gulf of Mexico, testified he was aware of well
problems experienced by the Deepwater Horizon's drilling crew in the
weeks and months leading up to the explosion. He said there were no
serious problems the day the rig exploded.
Judge blocks Gulf offshore
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press Writer
22 June 2010
NEW ORLEANS – A federal judge on Tuesday blocked a six-month moratorium
on new deepwater drilling projects imposed after the massive Gulf oil
The White House promised an immediate appeal. President Barack Obama's
administration had halted approval of any new permits for deepwater
drilling and suspended drilling of 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf.
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Obama believes strongly that drilling
at such depths does not make any sense and puts the safety of workers
"at a danger that the president does not believe we can afford."
Several companies that ferry people and supplies and provide other
services to offshore drilling rigs asked U.S. District Judge Martin
Feldman in New Orleans to overturn the moratorium, arguing it was
Feldman agreed, saying in his ruling the Interior Department assumed
that because one rig failed, all companies and rigs doing deepwater
drilling pose an imminent danger.
"The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is an unprecedented, sad, ugly and
inhuman disaster," he wrote. "What seems clear is that the federal
government has been pressed by what happened on the Deepwater Horizon
into an otherwise sweeping confirmation that all Gulf deepwater
drilling activities put us all in a universal threat of irreparable
The moratorium was imposed after the April 20 explosion on the
Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers and blew out the
well 5,000 feet underwater that has spewed millions of gallons of oil
into the Gulf.
The Interior Department said it needed time to study the risks of
deepwater drilling. But the lawsuit filed by Hornbeck Offshore Services
of Covington, La., claimed there was no proof the other operations
posed a threat.
Company CEO Todd Hornbeck said after the ruling that he is looking
forward to getting back to work.
"It's the right thing for not only the industry but the country," he
The moratorium was declared May 6 and originally was to last only
through the month. Obama announced May 27 that he was extending it for
In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal and corporate leaders said the
moratorium would force drilling rigs to leave the Gulf of Mexico for
lucrative business in foreign waters.
They said the loss of business would cost the area thousands of
lucrative jobs, most paying more than $50,000 a year. The state's other
major economic sector, tourism, is a largely low-wage industry.
Tim Kerner, the mayor of Lafitte, La., cheered Feldman's ruling.
"I love it. I think it's great for the jobs here and the people who
depend on them," said Kerner, whose constituents make their living,
primarily, from commercial fishing or oil.
But in its response to the lawsuit, the Interior Department said the
moratorium is necessary as attempts to stop the leak and clean the Gulf
continue and new safety standards are developed.
"A second deepwater blowout could overwhelm the efforts to respond to
the current disaster," the Interior Department said.
The government also challenged contentions the moratorium would lead to
long-term economic harm. Although 33 deepwater drilling sites were
affected, there are still 3,600 oil and natural gas production
platforms in the Gulf.
Catherine Wannamaker, a lawyer for environmental groups that intervened
in the case and supported the moratorium, called the ruling "a step in
the wrong direction."
"We think it overlooks the ongoing harm in the Gulf, the devastation it
has had on people's lives," she said. "The harm at issue with the
Deepwater Horizon spill is bigger than just the Louisiana economy. It
affects all of the Gulf."
Endangered? Dispersant only
soooooooooo much, says then E.P.A. Administrator Lisa Jackson
species eats oil.
New microbe discovered eating oil spill in Gulf
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer
Wed Aug 25, 10:32 am ET
WASHINGTON – The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has revealed a previously
unknown type of oil-eating bacteria, which is suddenly
flourishing. Scientists discovered the new microbe while studying
the underwater dispersion of millions of gallons of oil spilled into
the Gulf following the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling
rig. And the microbe works without significantly depleting oxygen
in the water, researchers led by Terry Hazen at Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory reported Tuesday in the online journal Science
"Our findings, which provide the first data ever on microbial activity
from a deepwater dispersed oil plume, suggest" a great potential for
bacteria to help dispose of oil plumes in the deep-sea, Hazen said in a
Environmentalists have raised concerns about the giant oil spill and
the underwater plume of dispersed oil, particularly its potential
effects on sea life. A report just last week described a 22-mile long
underwater mist of tiny oil droplets.
"Our findings show that the influx of oil profoundly altered the
microbial community by significantly stimulating deep-sea" cold
temperature bacteria that are closely related to known
petroleum-degrading microbes, Hazen reported.
Before the spill the microbes in the deepest parts of the Gulf were not
well known and there was little carbon present in the area of cool
temperatures and high pressure.
"We deployed on two ships to determine the physical, chemical and
microbiological properties of the deepwater oil plume," Hazen said.
"The oil escaping from the damaged wellhead represented an enormous
carbon input to the water column."
Their findings are based on more than 200 samples collected from 17
deepwater sites between May 25 and June 2. They found that the dominant
microbe in the oil plume is a new species, closely related to members
This microbe thrives in cold water, with temperatures in the deep
recorded at 5 degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit). Hazen suggested
that the bacteria may have adapted over time due to periodic leaks and
natural seeps of oil in the Gulf. Scientists also had been
concerned that oil-eating activity by microbes would consume large
amounts of oxygen in the water, creating a "dead zone" dangerous to
other life. But the new study found that oxygen saturation outside the
oil plume was 67 percent, while within the plume it was 59 percent.
The research was supported by an existing grant with the Energy
Biosciences Institute, a partnership led by the University of
California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois that is funded by a
$500 million, 10-year grant from BP. Other support came from the U.S.
Department of Energy and the University of Oklahoma Research Foundation.
Sciencexpress is the online edition of the journal Science.
Oil Plume May Be Breaking Down Slowly
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
August 19, 2010, 3:04 pm
In the first ambitious journal article related to the gulf oil spill,
scientists report that a huge plume of dispersed oil may not be
breaking down rapidly. The data used to form their conclusion was
gathered in late June.
Gulf Oil Plume Is Not Breaking Down Fast, Research Says
By JUSTIN GILLIS and JOHN COLLINS RUDOLF
August 19, 2010
New research confirms the existence of a huge plume of dispersed oil
deep in the Gulf of Mexico and suggests that it has not broken down
rapidly, raising the possibility that it might pose a threat to
wildlife for months or even years.
The study, the most ambitious scientific paper to emerge so far from
the Deepwater Horizon spill, casts some doubt on recent statements by
the federal government that oil in the gulf appears to be dissipating
at a brisk clip. However, the lead scientist in the research, Richard
Camilli, cautioned that the samples were taken in June and
circumstances could have changed in the last two months.
The paper, which is to appear in Friday’s issue of the journal Science,
adds to a welter of recent, and to some extent conflicting, scientific
claims about the status of the gulf. While scientists generally agree
that the risk of additional harm at the surface and near shore has
diminished since the well was capped a month ago, a sharp debate has
arisen about the continuing risk from oil in the deep waters.
So far, scientific information about the gulf has emerged largely from
government reports and statements issued by scientists. Many additional
research papers are in the works, and it could be months before a clear
scientific picture emerges.
The slow breakdown of deep oil that Dr. Camilli’s group found had a
silver lining: it meant that the bacteria trying to eat the oil did not
appear to have consumed an excessive amount of oxygen in the vicinity
of the spill, alleviating concerns that the oxygen might have declined
so much that it threatened sea life. On this point, Dr. Camilli’s
research backs statements that the government has been making for weeks.
Dr. Camilli, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole,
Mass., said the plume, at the time he studied it, was dissipating so
slowly that it could still be in the gulf many months from now.
Assuming that the physics of the plume are still similar to what his
team saw in June, “it’s going to persist for quite a while before it
finally dissipates or dilutes away,” he said.
Concentrations of hydrocarbons in the plume were generally low and
declined gradually as the plume traveled through the gulf, although Dr.
Camilli’s team has not yet completed tests on how toxic the chemicals
might be to sea life.
In a report on Aug. 4, a team of government and independent scientists
organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
estimatedthat 74 percent of the oil from the leak had been captured
directly from the wellhead; had been skimmed, burned, dispersed
chemically or by natural processes; had evaporated from the ocean
surface; or had dissolved into the water in microscopic droplets.
The report found the remaining 26 percent of the oil had mostly washed
ashore or been collected there, was buried in sand and sediment, or was
still on or below the water surface as sheen or tar balls.
While the government report expressed concern about the continuing
impact of the spill, it was widely viewed as evidence that the risk of
additional harm in the gulf was declining.
This week, scientists at the University of Georgia, who in May were
among the first to report the existence of the large plume studied by
Dr. Camilli’s team, sharply challenged the government’s assessment.
They contended that the government had overestimated rates of
evaporation and breakdown of the oil.
“The idea that 75 percent of the oil is gone and is of no further
concern to the environment is just incorrect,” said Samantha Joye, a
professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia. She has
studied the spill extensively but has not yet published her results.
Responding to the University of Georgia criticism, Jane Lubchenco, the
NOAA administrator, said that the government stood by its calculations.
“Some of those numbers we can measure directly,” she said. “The others
are the best estimates that are out there.”
Dr. Lubchenco has noted repeatedly that some of the remaining oil
existed in the form of undersea plumes and cautioned that this
subsurface oil could pose a threat to marine life.
In another report this week, researchers from the University of South
Florida said they had found oil droplets scattered in sediment along
the gulf floor and in the water column, where they could pose a threat
to some of the gulf’s most important fisheries.
The dispersed oil appeared to be having a toxic effect on bacteria and
on phytoplankton, a group of micro-organisms that serves as a vital
food for fish and other marine life, the scientists said, although they
cautioned that further testing was needed.
Dr. Camilli’s paper tends to support the view that considerable oil may
be lingering below the surface of the gulf. He said he was not
especially surprised by the slow rate of breakdown, considering that
the deep waters of the gulf are cold, about 40 degrees Fahrenheit in
the vicinity of the plume.
“In colder environments, microbes operate more slowly,” Dr. Camilli
said. “That’s why we have refrigerators.”
For weeks, BP, the company that owned the out-of-control well, disputed
claims from scientists that a huge plume of dispersed oil droplets had
formed in the gulf, with its chief executive at the time, Tony Hayward,
declaring at one point, “There aren’t any plumes.”
NOAA, while initially skeptical, ultimately confirmed the existence of
such plumes in two reports. The new paper appears to dispel any
lingering doubt, providing detailed evidence that one major plume and
at least one minor plume existed and that they contained large
quantities of hydrocarbons, albeit dispersed into tiny droplets.
Dr. Camilli’s team measured the main plume at roughly 3,600 feet below
the surface; it extended for more than 20 miles southwest of the well.
It was more than a mile wide in places and 600 feet thick, traveling at
about four miles a day.
At the time his team studied it in June, the plume appeared to have
narrowed from measurements reported early in the spill by a team that
included Dr. Joye and Vernon Asper, a marine scientist from the
University of Southern Mississippi, but Dr. Camilli’s results otherwise
matched their report.
The slow breakdown of the plume, if verified by additional research,
suggests that scientists may find themselves tracking the toxic
compounds from BP’s well and trying to discern their impact on sea life
for a long time.
“I expect the hydrocarbon imprint of the BP discharge will be
detectable in the marine environment for the rest of my life,” Ian
MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University, told Congress
in prepared testimony on Thursday. “The oil is not gone and is not
going away anytime soon.”
Major study charts long-lasting oil plume in Gulf
By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer
19 August 2010
WASHINGTON – A 22-mile-long invisible mist of oil is meandering far
below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, where it will probably loiter
for months or more, scientists reported Thursday in the first
conclusive evidence of an underwater plume from the BP spill.
The most worrisome part is the slow pace at which the oil is breaking
down in the cold, 40-degree water, making it a long-lasting but unseen
threat to vulnerable marine life, experts said.
Earlier this month, top federal officials declared the oil in the spill
was mostly "gone," and it is gone in the sense you can't see it. But
the chemical ingredients of the oil persist more than a half-mile
beneath the surface, researchers found.
And the oil is degrading at one-tenth the pace at which it breaks down
at the surface. That means "the plumes could stick around for quite a
while," said study co-author Ben Van Mooy of the Woods Hole
Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, which led the research
published online in the journal Science.
Monty Graham, a scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama who
was not involved in the study, said: "We absolutely should be concerned
that this material is drifting around for who knows how long. They say
months in the (research) paper, but more likely we'll be able to track
this stuff for years."
The underwater oil was measured close to BP's blown-out well, which is
about 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. The plume started three miles
from the well and extended more than 20 miles to the southwest. The oil
droplets are odorless and too small to be seen by the human eye. If you
swam through the plume, you wouldn't notice it.
"The water samples when we were right in the plume look like spring
water," study chief author Richard Camilli said. "You certainly didn't
see any oil droplets and you certainly didn't smell it."
The scientists used complex instruments — including a special
underwater mass spectrometer — to detect the chemical signature of the
oil that spewed from the BP well after it ruptured April 20. The
equipment was carried into the deep by submersible devices.
With more than 57,000 of these measurements, the scientists mapped a
huge plume in late June when the well was still leaking. The components
of oil were detected in a flow that measured more than a mile wide and
more than 650 feet from top to bottom.
Federal officials said there are signs that the plume has started to
break into smaller ones since the Woods Hole research cruise ended. But
scientists said that wouldn't lessen the overall harm from the oil.
The oil is at depths of 3,000 to 4,000 feet, far below the environment
of the most popular Gulf fish like red snapper, tuna and mackerel. But
it is not harmless. These depths are where small fish and crustaceans
live. And one of the biggest migrations on Earth involves small fish
that go from deep water to more shallow areas, taking nutrients from
the ocean depths up to the large fish and mammals.
Those smaller creatures could be harmed by going through the oil, said
Larry McKinney, director of Texas A&M University's Gulf of Mexico
research center in Corpus Christi.
Some aspects of that region are so little known that "we might lose
species that we don't know now exist," said Graham of the Dauphin
"This is a highly sensitive ecosystem," agreed Steve Murawski, chief
fisheries scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration. "The animals down at 3,300 to 3,400 feet grow slowly."
The oil not only has toxic components but could cause genetic problems
even at low concentrations, he said.
For much of the summer, the mere existence of underwater plumes of oil
was the subject of a debate that at times pitted outside scientists
against federal officials who downplayed the idea of plumes of trapped
oil. Now federal officials say as much as 42 million gallons of oil may
be lurking below the surface in amounts that are much smaller than the
width of a human hair.
While federal officials prefer to describe the lurking oil as "an
ephemeral cloud," the Woods Hole scientists use the word "plume"
The study conclusively shows that a plume exists, that it came from the
BP well and that it probably never got close to the surface of the Gulf
of Mexico, Camilli said. It is probably even larger than 22 miles long,
but scientists had to stop measuring because of Hurricane Alex.
Earlier this week a University of South Florida team reported oil in
amounts that were toxic to critical plant plankton deep underwater, but
the crude was not necessarily in plumes. Those findings have not been
reviewed by other scientists or published.
The plume is probably still around, but moving west-southwest of the BP
well site at about 4 miles a day, Camilli said.
While praising the study that ended on June 28, Murawski said more
recent observations show that the cloud of oil has "broken apart into a
bunch of very small features, some them much farther away." Texas
A&M's McKinney said marine life can suffer harm whether it is
several smaller plumes or one giant one.
NOAA redirected much of its sampling for underwater oil after
consulting with Woods Hole researchers. The federal agency is now using
the techniques that the team pioneered with a robotic sub and an
underwater mass spectrometer, Murawski said.
Previous attempts to define the plume were "like watching the Super
Bowl on a 12-inch black-and-white TV and we try to bring to the table a
36-inch HD TV," said Woods Hole scientist Chris Reddy. The paper,
fast-tracked for the world of peer-reviewed science, was written on a
boat while still in the Gulf, he said.
Reddy said he could not yet explain why the underwater plume formed at
that depth. But other experts point to three factors: cold water, the
way the oil spewed from the broken well, and the use of massive amounts
of dispersants to break up the oil before it gets to the surface.
The decision to use 1.8 million gallons of dispersants amounted to an
environmental trade-off — it meant less oil tainting the surface, where
there is noticeable and productive life, but the risk of longer-term
problems down below.
At a federal science conference, officials looked at the relative risks
and decided "it was worth the effort" to use dispersants, Murawski said.
Given the slow rate at which the oil is degrading in the cold water,
Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, and others say it is too
early to even think about closing the books on the spill: "The full
environmental impacts of the spill will thus not be felt for some
Rule, BP Used Dispersant, Panel Finds
By MATTHEW L. WALD
31 July 2010
The Coast Guard approved dozens of requests by BP to spread hundreds of
thousands of gallons of surface oil dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico
despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s directive on May 26 that
they should be used only rarely, according to documents and
correspondence analyzed by a Congressional subcommittee.
In some cases, the Coast Guard approved BP’s requests even though the
company did not set an upper limit on the amount of dispersant it
planned to use.
The dispersants contributed to “a toxic stew of chemicals, oil and gas,
with impacts that are not well understood,” Representative Edward J.
Markey of Massachusetts, the Democratic chairman of the House
Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, wrote in a letter sent late
Friday to Thad W. Allen, the retired Coast Guard admiral who is leading
the federal response to the oil spill.
In a conference call on Saturday morning, Admiral Allen and Lisa P.
Jackson, the E.P.A. administrator, said they had worked together
closely and had come very near to achieving the agency’s goal of
reducing dispersant amounts by 75 percent.
On May 26, the E.P.A. directed BP to stop using dispersants on the
ocean surface, except in “rare cases when there may have to be an
exemption,” and to limit use of the chemicals underwater.
But Mr. Markey’s letter pointed to more than 74 exemption requests in
48 days, of which all but 10 were fully approved by the Coast Guard. In
some cases, BP asked for permission after it had already applied the
chemicals, the letter said. And in one case, the Coast Guard approved
the use of a larger volume of dispersants than the company had applied
As an example of the conflicting numbers, Mr. Markey said that in a
request filed on June 16, BP told the Coast Guard that in the previous
several days it had used a maximum of 3,365 gallons of dispersant in a
single day. But in e-mails to members of Congress giving updates on the
spill response, the company said it had used 14,305 gallons of
dispersant on June 12 and 36,000 gallons on June 13.
Admiral Allen and Ms. Jackson said they had reduced dispersant use by
72 percent. “In any government program I’ve worked in, that’s pretty
significant progress,” Admiral Allen said.
Admiral Allen said his agency would try to reconcile the conflicting
numbers that were issued during what he called “the equivalent of an
The two officials said the government would conduct a postmortem
evaluation of the effectiveness of skimming, burning and spreading
dispersants to determine what had worked best.
But Ms. Jackson said, “There’s absolutely no doubt that use of
dispersants was one of several essential tools to mitigate this spill’s
A spokesman for BP, Scott Dean, also said he could not respond in
detail because the company had not seen Mr. Markey’s letter. But he
said, “From the outset we’ve operated in a unified command that has
included E.P.A. and the Coast Guard.”
Mr. Dean said BP had worked “hand in glove” with the two agencies on
dispersant decisions. Under the “joint command” structure set up in the
Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the federal government and the oil company
mount a response to a spill.
While it was known that BP continued the use of surface dispersant
after the May 26 directive, it was not clear how much was being used.
According to the documents analyzed by the committee, the company did
cut back substantially on the use of underwater dispersants after the
directive was issued.
The E.P.A. and the Coast Guard have both described the use of the
dispersants as a trade-off. The chemicals break down blobs of oil into
smaller droplets that are easier for naturally occurring bacteria to
digest. But they can also have harmful effects on marine animals. And
if the dispersants are too successful and allow a proliferation of
bacteria, the bacteria can use up all the oxygen in the water and kill
the fish and other organisms.
In testimony before Congress on July 15, Ms. Jackson said her agency
had been looking for signs of unusually low oxygen levels and had not
In his letter, Mr. Markey said the May 26 directive had “become more of
a meaningless paperwork exercise than an attempt to abide by the
directive and eliminate surface applications of chemical dispersants.”
In fact, other government correspondence disclosed by Mr. Markey
indicates a dispute within the E.P.A. about the proper use of
dispersants. At one point, the Dallas regional office of the agency
agreed that the incident command center, run by the Coast Guard and BP,
should get blanket approval to use 5,000 gallons of dispersant a day,
to “improve operational efficiency.”
But the next day, the Dallas office rescinded that policy, saying that
the center should make a request each evening about the amount it
wanted to use the next day and that the agency would make a decision
Mr. Markey said that while the agency said on May 26 that applications
for surface dispersant use should be rare, the Coast Guard, in
approving the applications, cited routine factors like there being too
much oil to skim.
16 June 2010 Last updated at 08:32 ET
Q&A: Why estimates of the BP oil
spill keep changing
Estimates of the amount of oil escaping from BP's damaged well in the
Gulf of Mexico have risen 60-fold since the disaster unfolded on 20
April. So why have the calculations varied so much and how is the spill
measured? Just how sharply have the estimates changed?
US scientists issued a figure of 35,000-60,000 barrels (1.5-2.5 million
gallons) per day on 15 June.
The figure was accepted by US Energy Secretary Steven Chu as "a
significant step forward in our effort to put a number on the oil".
By contrast, an estimate announced by US officials on 26 April put the
flow at just 1,000 barrels per day. That figure was later revised to
5,000 barrels. Then it was 12,000-19,000, then 20,000-40,000.
Why does the flow rate keep rising?
Normally the flow from a well is measured on a rig but the flow meters
on the Deepwater Horizon were destroyed along with the rig in the
explosion. The 15 June estimate is based partially on data
gathered from pressure meters placed on the sea-bed on BP's containment
cap, which is collecting some of the oil.
Another method scientists have used to measure the flow is to combine
data from satellite photos of the slick on the sea surface with
estimates of the oil's thickness. But the reliability of this approach
depends partly on how much oil has reached the surface, says Geoffrey
Maitland, professor of energy engineering at Imperial College, London.
Experts in fluid mechanics have been tracking particles coming out of
the broken riser pipe and measuring their velocity. They have been
refining their models of the flow based on the levels of oil, gas and
solid particles coming from the well. Other estimates are based
on video from the downhole of the well.
A team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US is also
using acoustic techniques to measure flow rates.
How much oil is being collected by BP?
BP says the containment cap (the lower marine riser package, or LMRP)
it placed on the well's damaged blowout preventer (BOP) on 3 June is
collecting about 15,000 barrels a day, piping it up to a ship on the
surface. Even if the amount of oil escaping is the low-end figure of
35,000 barrels, that leaves 20,000 leaking into the sea daily.
The British company was due, as of mid-June, to start up a second
containment system (SCS) that would increase collection to
20,000-28,000 barrels a day.
The SCS is meant to take oil and gas from the BOP's choke line through
a separate riser pipe to another vessel on the surface, where the fuels
will be burnt off.
The company plans to be able to handle 80,000 barrels of escaped oil
per day by mid-July.
BP "under-estimated the flow rate" and "over-estimated their ability to
fight against that flow rate", says Ian MacDonald, professor of
oceanography at Florida State University.
He told the BBC: "This was perhaps a fatal miscalculation... with the
result that this crisis has continued much longer, with much greater
release of oil than would have been necessary had they [BP] made much
more accurate flow rates at the very start."
How accurate are the latest measurements?
It is very difficult to say because the models are constantly being
revised and combined with observation.
The main plume of oil is being treated with dispersants and
surfactants, wetting agents which lower the surface tension of the oil
so it can mix with the water. These make an emulsion which brings the
oil more quickly to the surface, where it can be scooped up by
There are concerns that some of the oil is forming separate, smaller
plumes below the surface, Professor Maitland says. This may make it
more difficult to estimate the total size of the spill.
Not all the oil has surfaced yet, but it will eventually, because oil
is lighter than water.
The uncertainty in measuring the total size of the spill is harming BP,
Professor Maitland warns.
"It depletes confidence that BP have complete control of what is going
on and their ability to collect the oil or cap it eventually."
Scientists Build Case for Undersea
By JUSTIN GILLIS
May 28, 2010
IN THE GULF OF MEXICO — The ocean caught fire.
As it blazed, a dense column of black smoke rose toward the sky. Oily
water, the color of strong tea, slopped up the sides of boats. The
breeze carried an acrid smell, like gasoline fumes. Aboard the
research vessel F.G. Walton Smith, anxiety was growing. Five
scientists and six students had come to study the oil leak and its
effect on the sea. They brought flasks and gloves, refrigerators and
freezers, tiny tools and huge cylinders of gas.
They were not looking for oil on the surface, where it was so thick in
places that it was being burned off, but for plumes of fine oil
droplets far beneath the waves.
The stakes were high. Two weeks earlier, when some of these scientists
had disclosed evidence of undersea oil plumes, their claim had been
greeted skeptically by the government. The scientists’ credibility was
on the line. If the plumes did exist, much of the wisdom about
combating oil spills might need to be reconsidered. The plumes would
suggest that any future oil leak in deep water could be expected to do
much of its damage in the sea, not on shore.
But where were the plumes?
After a slow start, American science is finally beginning to tackle the
oil disaster in earnest. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, the federal agency charged with monitoring the health
of the oceans, is sending multiple boats into the gulf. The National
Science Foundation, another arm of the government, is issuing rapid
grants to finance academic teams, including the one aboard the Walton
Smith. BP, the oil company responsible for the spill, has pledged $500
million for research. And scientists like those aboard the Walton Smith
are getting emergency financing from the government for their studies.
This stepped-up effort is starting to bear fruit. This week, another
research vessel confirmed the existence of a huge undersea plume. And
on Thursday, a team of scientists appointed by the Obama administration
offered a more credible estimate of the flow rate at the broken well,
putting it at two to four times the previous calculation.
That higher estimate only added to the sense among academic scientists
that much of the oil must be hovering in the deep sea, instead of
surfacing. The goal of the researchers aboard the Walton Smith was to
nail the existence of such deep-sea plumes beyond any doubt.
They sailed early this week from Gulfport, Miss., and went back to the
spot where they had originally discovered a large plume. It was no
All one afternoon, the Walton Smith hopscotched across the gulf. The
top scientists on board, Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia and
Vernon Asper of the University of Southern Mississippi, peered intently
at instrument readouts, hoping for a signal. Down to the bottom
of the sea went a huge apparatus designed to test the water and grab
samples of it. The results kept coming up clean. Then, late in
the afternoon of the second day at sea, the entire scientific crew
suddenly leapt to attention.
The boat had arrived at a new sampling site, west of the oil leak, and
the instruments were traveling once again to the bottom. In a clean
ocean, they would be expected to produce fairly straight lines on a
Instead, wild squiggles were showing up. The display looked like one of
those seismograph readings taken in the throes of an earthquake. At
three different depths, the instruments picked up plumes of material
drifting through the deep ocean. Dr. Asper stood back, arms
crossed, watching the squiggles appear. “To see something like this is
a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “It’s really remarkable.”
Soon, a giant winch on the rear of the boat hauled special bottles back
from the deep, carrying water samples. The younger researchers rushed
to the rear deck. Working quickly in a daisy chain, circling the
bottles, they filled small vials and other containers, then hustled
back to their makeshift laboratory on the main deck of the Walton
Smith. Over the next few hours, they filtered some of the water.
They shook some samples. They stirred some. They pickled some. They
bubbled gases through the water. They refrigerated some vials. They
froze some more.
Then they got ready to do it all again.
Within a day, word would come that a separate university vessel, the
Weatherbird II, had discovered a giant plume stretching in the other
direction from the broken well, toward Mobile Bay. That one threatens
some of the finest fishing territory in the gulf. It will take
weeks of laboratory work to confirm with certainty that the plumes are
made of oil droplets, or more likely, some complex mixture of oil and
natural gas. If that idea holds up, the existence of these undersea
plumes may well turn out to be the major scientific discovery of the
great oil spill of 2010.
It could take years for scientists to assess the deep-sea damage fully,
if that is even possible. Among other problems, gulf researchers have
long been hobbled by a critical shortage of vessels equipped for
oceanography. Only a handful of such ships ply the Gulf of
Mexico, and the best-outfitted boats tend to work for the oil industry.
Exploring and protecting the gulf has simply not been as high a
national priority as drilling it for oil.
Still uncertain are the fates of deep coral reefs that live in the
gulf, as well as the condition of a unique cluster of bottom-dwelling
organisms only nine miles from the damaged well. The ultimate impact
the spill will have on commercially important fish like tuna and
snapper is anyone’s guess.
As the week wore on, the Joye-Asper team found more and more evidence
for the existence of the plumes. The water samples they pulled up
suggested that any oil in the plumes was highly diffuse — not even
visible to the naked eye. But when several gallons of the water were
forced through a fine filter, tiny black oil droplets appeared.
Even in that diffuse form, the plumes were having a drastic impact on
the chemistry of the ocean, with dissolved oxygen levels plunging as
each plume drifted through the sea.
That, Dr. Joye said, was most likely because bacteria were ramping up
to consume the oil and gas — a good thing, over all, but it was
creating a heavy demand for oxygen and other nutrients. Aside from the
toxic effect of the oil, the declining oxygen was a potential threat to
Slowly, as the Walton Smith and other boats worked the gulf this past
week, the weird physics of a deep-water well blowout came into better
focus. The idea that oil rises quickly to the surface of an ocean may
be one of the casualties of this disaster.
“Nothing really makes sense out here,” Dr. Joye said as her ship plowed
through orange slicks of oil. “I don’t know that you can necessarily
trust your intuition.”
From the bridge of the ship, Capt. Shawn Lake made an announcement.
Everyone rushed to the outside decks.
Once again, in the middle distance, the ocean was burning.
oil plume under Gulf nears
San Francisco Chronicle
By MATTHEW BROWN and JASON DEAREN, Associated Press Writers
Friday, May 28, 2010
(05-28) 07:40 PDT
New Orleans (AP) --
A thick, 22-mile plume of oil discovered by researchers off the BP
spill site was nearing an underwater canyon, where it could poison the
foodchain for sealife in the waters off Florida.
The discovery by researchers on the University of South Florida College
of Marine Science's Weatherbird II vessel is the second significant
undersea plume reported since the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April
20. The plume is more than 6 miles wide and its presence was reported
The cloud was nearing a large underwater canyon whose currents fuel the
foodchain in Gulf waters off Florida and could potentially wash the
tiny plants and animals that feed larger organisms in a stew of toxic
chemicals, another researcher said Friday.
Larry McKinney, executive director of the Harte Research Institute for
Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, said
the DeSoto Canyon off the Florida Panhandle sends nutrient-rich water
from the deep sea up to shallower waters.
McKinney said that in a best-case scenario, oil riding the current out
of the canyon would rise close enough to the surface to be broken down
by sunlight. But if the plume remains relatively intact, it could sweep
down the west coast of Florida as a toxic soup as far as the Keys,
through what he called some of the most productive parts of the Gulf.
The plume was detected just beneath the surface down to about 3,300
feet, said David Hollander, associate professor of chemical
oceanography at USF.
Hollander said the team detected the thickest amount of hydrocarbons,
likely from the oil spewing from the blown out well, at about 1,300
feet in the same spot on two separate days this week.
The discovery was important, he said, because it confirmed that the
substance found in the water was not naturally occurring and that the
plume was at its highest concentration in deeper waters. The
researchers will use further testing to determine whether the
hydrocarbons they found are the result of dispersants or the
emulsification of oil as it traveled away from the well.
The first such plume detected by scientists stretched from the well
southwest toward the open sea, but this new undersea oil cloud is
headed miles inland into shallower waters where many fish and other
The researchers say they are worried these undersea plumes may be the
result of the unprecedented use of chemical dispersants to break up the
oil a mile undersea at the site of the leak.
Hollander said the oil they detected has dissolved into the water, and
is no longer visible, leading to fears from researchers that the
toxicity from the oil and dispersants could pose a big danger to fish
larvae and creatures that filter the waters for food.
"There are two elements to it," Hollander said. "The plume reaching
waters on the continental shelf could have a toxic effect on fish
larvae, and we also may see a long term response as it cascades up the
Dispersants contain surfactants, which are similar to dishwashing soap.
A Louisiana State University researcher who has studied their effects
on marine life said that by breaking oil into small particles,
surfactants make it easier for fish and other animals to soak up the
oil's toxic chemicals. That can impair the animals' immune systems and
cause reproductive problems.
"The oil's not at the surface, so it doesn't look so bad, but you have
a situation where it's more available to fish," said Kevin Kleinow, a
professor in LSU's school of veterinary medicine.
Court Backs Oil Project
By WILLIAM YARDLEY
May 13, 2010
A federal appeals court on Thursday rejected an effort by environmental
and Native American groups to stop exploratory oil drilling off the
coast of Alaska that could begin this summer.
The decision, by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of
Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, rejected several claims by the groups,
including that the United States Minerals Management Service did not
adequately consider the possibility that the project could cause a
large oil spill in the remote Arctic.
The project is led by Shell Oil, which paid $2.1 billion in 2008 for
rights to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, off Alaska’s north
The project could still be delayed. Last week, Interior Secretary Ken
Salazar ordered a halt to all new offshore projects while his
department reviewed safety measures for the work in light of the spill
in the Gulf of Mexico. As part of the review, the minerals service
asked Shell to explain ways it could improve its ability to prevent and
respond to a spill. Shell is supposed to respond by Tuesday. The
Interior Department report is to be submitted to the White House by May
Erik Grafe, a lawyer for Earthjustice in Alaska, one of the groups that
challenged the Shell plan, said the court’s decision left the fate of
the project “squarely in Secretary Salazar’s and Obama’s hands.”
U.S. Said to
Allow Drilling Without
By IAN URBINA
May 13, 2010
WASHINGTON — The federal Minerals Management Service gave permission to
BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico
without first getting required permits from another agency that
assesses threats to endangered species — and despite strong warnings
from that agency about the impact the drilling would likely have on the
Those approvals, federal records show, include one for the well drilled
by the Deepwater Horizon, which exploded on April 20, killing 11
workers and resulting in thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the
gulf each day. The Minerals Management Service, or M.M.S., also
routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised
concerns about safety and environmental impact of certain drilling
proposals in the gulf and in Alaska, according to a half dozen current
and former M.M.S. scientists.
Those scientists said they were also regularly pressured by agency
officials to change the findings of their internal studies if they
predicted an accident was likely to occur or if wildlife might be
harmed. Under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal
Protection Act, the Minerals Management Service is required to get
permits to allow drilling anywhere that might harm endangered species
or marine mammals.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is
responsible for protecting endangered species and marine mammals. It
has said on repeated occasions that drilling in the gulf affects these
animals, but the minerals agency has approved since January 2009 at
least three huge lease sales, 103 seismic blasting projects, and 346
drilling plans. Agency records also show permission for those
and plans was granted without getting the permits required under
“M.M.S. has given up any pretense of regulating the off-shore oil
industry,” said Kieran Suckling, director of the Center for Biological
Diversity, an environmental advocacy group in Tucson, which filed
notice of intent to sue the agency over its noncompliance with federal
law concerning endangered species. “The agency seems to think its
mission is to help the oil industry evade environmental laws.”
Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for M.M.S., said her agency had full
consultations with NOAA about endangered species in the gulf. But she
declined to respond to additional questions about whether her agency
had obtained the relevant permits. Federal records indicate that
consultations ended with NOAA instructing the minerals agency that
continued drilling in the gulf was harming endangered marine mammals
and that the agency needed to get permits to be in compliance with
Responding to the accusations that agency scientists were being
silenced, Ms. Barkoff added, “Under the previous administration, there
was a pattern of suppressing science in decisions, and we are working
very hard to change the culture and empower scientists in the
Department of the Interior.”
The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon has led to accusations that
M.M.S. provided lax oversight. On Tuesday, the secretary of the
interior, Ken Salazar, announced plans to reorganize the agency to
improve its regulatory role by separating safety oversight of the
division that collects royalties from oil and gas companies. But that
reorganization is not likely to have any bearing on how and whether the
agency seeks required permits from other agencies like NOAA.
Criticisms of the minerals agency have grown in recent days as more
information has emerged about how it handled drilling in the
a letter from September 2009, obtained by The New York Times, NOAA
accused the minerals agency of a pattern of understating the likelihood
and potential consequences of a major spill in the gulf and
understating the frequency of spills that have already occurred there.
The letter accuses the M.M.S. of highlighting the safety of the
offshore oil drilling operations, while overlooking more recent
evidence to the contrary. The data used by the agency to justify its
approval of drilling operations in the gulf plays down the fact that
spills have been on the increase and the “risks and impacts of
accidental spills and chronic impacts are understated,” the letter
states. NOAA declined several requests for comment.
The allegation that the minerals agency has ignored risks is also being
levied by scientists working for the agency. Managers at the
have routinely overruled staff scientists whose findings highlight the
environmental risks of drilling, according to a half dozen current or
former M.M.S. scientists. The scientists, none of whom wanted to
quoted by name for fear of reprisals by the agency or by those in the
industry, said they had repeatedly had their scientific findings
changed to indicate no environmental impact or had their calculations
of spill risks downgraded.
“You simply are not allowed to conclude that the drilling will have
impact,” said one scientist who has worked for the minerals agency for
more than a decade. “If you find the risks of a spill are high or you
conclude that a certain species will be affected, your report gets
disappeared in a desk drawer and they find another scientist to redo it
or they rewrite it for you.”
Another agency biologist who left the agency in 2005 after more than
five years, and now works as an industry consultant, said agency
officials go out of their way to accommodate the oil and gas
He said, for example, seismic activity from drilling can have a
devastating impact on mammals and fish, but agency officials rarely
enforced the regulations meant to limit those effects. He also
that the agency routinely ceded to the drilling companies the authority
and responsibility for the monitoring of species that live or spawn
near the drilling projects.
“What I observed was M.M.S. was trying to undermine the monitoring and
mitigation requirements that would be imposed on the industry,” he said.
Aside from allowing BP and other companies to drill in the gulf without
getting the required permits concerning endangered species from NOAA,
the minerals agency has also given BP and other drilling companies in
the gulf blanket exemptions from having to provide environmental impact
statements. Much as BP’s drilling plan asserted that there was no
chance of an oil spill, the company also claimed in federal documents
that its drilling would not have any adverse affect on endangered
The gulf is known for its bio-diversity. Various endangered species are
found in the area where the Deepwater Horizon was drilling, including
sperm whales, blue whales and fin whales. In some instance, the
minerals agency has indeed sought and received permits in the gulf to
harm certain endangered species like green and loggerhead sea turtles.
But the agency has not received these permits for endangered species
like the sperm and humpback whales that are more common in the areas
where drilling occurs and thus are more likely to be affected.
Tensions between scientists and managers at the agency erupted in one
case last year involving a rig in the gulf called the BP Atlantis. An
agency scientist complained to his bosses of catastrophic safety and
environmental violations. The engineer said these complaints were
ignored, so he took his concerns to higher officials at the Department
of the Interior.
“The purpose of this letter is to restate in writing our concern that
the BP Atlantis Project presently poses a threat of serious, immediate,
potentially irreparable and catastrophic harm to the waters of the Gulf
of Mexico and its marine environment, and to summarize how BP’s conduct
has violated federal law and regulations,” wrote the M.M.S. scientist,
Kenneth Abbott, in a May 27, 2009, letter to officials at the Interior
Department, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.
The letter added: “From our conversation on the phone, we understand
that MMS is already aware that undersea manifolds have been leaking and
that major flow lines must already be replaced. Failure of this
critical undersea equipment has potentially catastrophic environmental
Almost two months before the Deepwater Horizon exploded, Representative
Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, sent a letter to M.M.S.
concerns about the BP Atlantis and questioning the agency’s oversight
of the rig. After the disaster, Mr. Salazar said he would delay
granting any new oil drilling permits.
But the minerals agency issued at least five final approval permits to
new drilling projects in the gulf since last week, records show.
Despite being shown records indicating otherwise, Ms. Barkoff said her
agency had granted no new permits since Mr. Salazar made his
announcement. Other agencies besides NOAA have begun criticizing
At a public hearing in Louisiana this week, a joint panel of Coast
Guard and Minerals Management Service officials investigating the
explosion grilled agency officials for allowing the offshore drilling
industry to be essentially “self-certified,” in the phrase of Capt.
Hung Nguyen of the Coast Guard, a co-chairman of the investigation.
In addition to the minerals agency and the Coast Guard, the Deepwater
Horizon was overseen by the Marshall Islands, the “flag of convenience”
under which it was registered.
No one from the Marshall Islands ever inspected the rig. The
nongovernmental organizations that did were paid by the rig’s operator,
in this case Transocean.
Campbell Robertson contributed
reporting from New Orleans, and Andy Lehren from New York.
washes up on political shores
By Paul Adams, BBC News, Louisiana
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger withdrew
support for expanded drilling
The full environmental impact of the oil spill deep under
water in the Gulf of Mexico has yet to emerge. But there has already
been a sizeable political fallout.
Two Republican governors, in California and Florida, have
withdrawn their support for the idea of expanded offshore drilling and
a number of Democrats in Congress have warned that they can no longer
support energy reform legislation if it includes such provisions.
President Barack Obama recently announced that he was willing
to lift a decades-long moratorium on drilling in new areas of the Gulf
of Mexico and the Atlantic coastline.
At the time, he said any new exploration would "balance the
need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect
America's natural resources".
The president clearly hoped to win support for his wider
energy policies among Republicans who are sceptical about his efforts
to combat climate change and believe that America should make the most
of its own energy resources.
Win over some of the "drill, baby, drill" crowd, the thinking
went, and you can persuade them to contemplate legislation that tackles
But along came a spill, and look what happened.
"You turn on television and you see this enormous disaster,"
said California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, "and you say to
yourself, why would we want to take that risk?"
The governor promptly announced that he was no longer in
favour of expanded drilling off the California coast, despite that fact
that the state's empty coffers could badly use some extra cash.
Florida's Governor Charlie Crist also withdrew his support.
But if the thought of renewed offshore drilling seems rather
less appetising now, where does that leave the sort of wider energy
legislation the president wants to see passed?
Another Floridian, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, bluntly
suggested that the sop to conservatives was no longer an option.
"If offshore drilling off the continental coast of the United
States is part of it, this legislation's not going anywhere," he told
reporters on Tuesday.
Of course, not everyone agrees. Mary Landrieu, Democratic
senator for Louisiana, told the Senate last week the US could not
afford to bury its head in the sand over its energy needs and "must
continue to drill".
Speaking to a New Orleans TV station on Sunday, she said:
"Our country needs this oil, there is no question about that.
"We have to produce this oil at home unless we want to be
completely reliant. We've got to investigate, fine, clean up and do the
research necessary to make sure this will never happen again. We have
to continue to go forward."
And in a statement on Monday, Republican House leader John
Boehner insisted that the US needed a "real, comprehensive energy plan"
- one that would include drilling.
Democratic leaders are still hopeful the bill will go
through. "I don't think this is something that will stop" the bill,
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Tuesday.
But the fate of the bill, and its offshore drilling
provisions, remain open questions.
Among the ranks of environmental activists, meanwhile, there
is a feeling that this is a decisive opportunity.
"There have been two game-changing developments," says Damon
Moglen, global warming campaign director for the environmental group
"This terrible accident in the coal mine in West Virginia
[which killed 29 workers] has really called into question the notion of
more funding for coal," he says. "At the same time, this horrific oil
spill... has really changed the dynamics."
Greenpeace was already highly critical of the energy reform
bill working its way, very slowly, through the Senate. The bill would
reduce carbon emissions, but, says Damon Moglen, offers far too many
concessions to oil, coal and nuclear energy.
"This is a terrible, terrible tragedy and it is a historic,
teachable moment for this president," he says.
"This is an opportunity where we can say... the cost of using
petroleum and other fossil fuels should be deadly clear."
And if lifting the moratorium on new offshore drilling is no
longer on the table, he says, then this will be more than made up for
by renewed pressure for better legislation.
"In the political calculations of a month ago, it looked like
success on the climate change legislation might lie in wooing a few
Republicans over and taking Democrats for granted. That dynamic has
But with the true consequences of the spill yet to be
determined, this is perhaps a little premature. What is more clear is
that making history seems less of a priority right now than
Last week, it was Wall Street "fat cats" who were being
roasted by members of Congress. This week, it's been representatives of
BP and Transocean Ltd.
A boat continues with clean-up efforts
near Louisiana's Chandeleur Islands
But while venting anger and debating when and how to
reintroduce a moratorium might make people feel good, what does it
"That's what's sad about this opportunity," says Lisa
Margonelli of the New America Foundation.
"We're going to expend a lot of energy towards these
moratoriums when we could be addressing the underlying problem, which
is the oil consumption itself."
Perhaps, if the worst fears are realised, something will
emerge that addresses such fundamental issues. If so, it wouldn't be
the first time a disaster spawned a piece of legislation.
"After the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989, that helped to
create a political environment that was more favourable to restricting
pollution and making polluters pay," says Daniel Weiss, director of
climate strategy at the liberal Centre for American Progress.
One indirect result, Mr Weiss says, was passage of the Clean
Air Act Amendments in 1990, even though the act and the spill were
"The same is possible here," he suggests.
Of course all of this depends on a disaster which hasn't
quite materialised yet. But it seems clear that the fate of energy
legislation, just like the fate of beaches, wildlife and livelihoods
along the Gulf Coast, rests to great extent on the wind, the tide and
Scientists find damage to coral
By CAIN BURDEAU, Associated Press
Fri Nov 5, 7:07 pm ET
NEW ORLEANS – For the first time, federal scientists have found damage
to deep sea coral and other marine life on the ocean floor several
miles from the blown-out BP well — a strong indication that damage from
the spill could be significantly greater than officials had previously
Tests are needed to verify that the coral died from oil that spewed
into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, but
the chief scientist who led the government-funded expedition said
Friday he was convinced it was related.
"What we have at this point is the smoking gun," said Charles Fisher, a
biologist with Penn State University who led the expedition aboard the
Ronald Brown, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
"There is an abundance of circumstantial data that suggests that what
happened is related to the recent oil spill," Fisher said.
For the government, the findings were a departure from earlier
statements. Until now, federal teams have painted relatively rosy
pictures about the spill's effect on the sea and its ecosystem, saying
they had not found any damage on the ocean floor.
In early August, a federal report said that nearly 70 percent of the
170 million gallons of oil that gushed from the well into the sea had
dissolved naturally, or was burned, skimmed, dispersed or captured,
with almost nothing left to see — at least on top of the water. The
report was blasted by scientists.
Most of the Gulf's bottom is muddy, but coral colonies that pop up
every once in a while are vital oases for marine life in the chilly
Coral is essential to the Gulf because it provides a habitat for fish
and other organisms such as snails and crabs, making any large-scale
death of coral a problem for many species. It might need years, or even
decades, to grow back.
"It's cold on the bottom, and things don't grow as quickly," said Paul
Montagna, a marine scientist at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf
of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi. He was
not on the expedition.
Montagna said the affected area is so large, and scientists' ability to
explore it with underwater robots so limited that "we'll never be able
to see everything that happened down there."
Using a robot called Jason II, researchers found the dead coral in an
area measuring up to 130 feet by 50 feet, about 4,600 feet under the
"These kinds of coral are normally beautiful, brightly colored," Fisher
said. "What you saw was a field of brown corals with exposed skeleton —
white, brittle stars tightly wound around the skeleton, not waving
their arms like they usually do."
Fisher described the soft and hard coral they found seven miles
southwest of the well as an underwater graveyard. He said oil probably
passed over the coral and killed it.
The coral has "been dying for months," he said. "What we are looking at
is a combination of dead gooey tissues and sediment. Gunk is a good
word for what it is."
Eric Cordes, a Temple University marine scientist on the expedition,
said his colleagues have identified about 25 other sites in the
vicinity of the well where similar damage may have occurred. An
expedition is planned for next month to explore those sites.
When coral is threatened, its first reaction is to release large
amounts of mucus, "and anything drifting by in the water column would
get bound up in this mucus," Cordes said. "And that is what this
(brown) substance would be: A variety of things bound up in the mucus."
About 90 percent of the large coral was damaged, Fisher said.
The expedition was funded by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The mission was
part of a four-year study of the Gulf's depths, but it was expanded
this year to look at oil spill damage.
In a statement released Thursday night, NOAA Administrator Jane
Lubchenco said the expedition underscored that the damage to marine
life from the oil spill is "not easily seen." She added that more
research was needed to gain a "comprehensive understanding of impacts
to the Gulf."
"Given the toxic nature of oil, and the unprecedented amount of oil
spilled, it would be surprising if we did not find damage," she said.
NOAA did not provide any officials or scientists of its own who went on
the expedition. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said its
researcher on the expedition was unavailable.
Cordes said that the expedition did not find dramatic visual evidence
of coral damage in other sites north of the well. But he said it was
premature to say coral elsewhere in the Gulf was not damaged.
The new findings, though, could mean long-term trouble for the coral
southwest of the well, where computer models and research cruises
mapped much of the deepwater oil.
Referring to one type of coral known as "gorgonians," Cordes said he
had never seen them "come back from having lost so much tissue. It
would have to be re-colonization from scratch."
Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Friday, 30
April 2010 14:51 UK
The already threatened manatee could be a casualty of the oil leak
Oil slick threatens
How bad will the Gulf of Mexico oil
spill turn out to be - for wildlife and for people whose jobs depend on
wildlife, such as fishermen?
At the moment, the only completely accurate answer would
appear to be: we do not know.
For David Kennedy from the US National Ocean Service, it is
"a very very significant event, and of great concern".
"I'm frightened," he adds.
But Clifford Jones, an oil and gas engineering specialist
from the UK's Aberdeen University, suggests it should not be considered
in the same category as the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989, with which it
is regularly being compared.
It is a threat to the ecosystem, he allows: but "Exxon Valdez
was a supertanker holding 11 million barrels, and exit of oil from it
was simply by gravity.
"Whereas this current incident involves a well that's under
the sea, and at most about four million barrels will have leaked out
before the pressure within the well drops sufficiently for there to be
no further discharge."
Whether or not the estimate of four million barrels turns out
to be correct - and it is disputed - there is no doubt that the oil is
coming out much more slowly than is normal from a tanker spill.
In principle, this allows the authorities greater time to
deal with it - although clearly in this case their efforts have met
with mixed success.
Oil breaks down naturally in seawater, and in the warm Gulf
of Mexico water, this would proceed much faster than in Alaska's Prince
William Sound, where the Exxon Valdez ran aground.
In oil spills, as in medicine, prevention is always better
than cure. And the first priority for authorities in Louisiana and
elsewhere along the Gulf coast is to stop oil washing up on shore.
Booms are being deployed, dispersants sprayed, and some
patches of oil are being burned. The Louisiana Coastal Protection and
Restoration Authority is increasing the flow of water through two
inland water channels in an attempt to wash oil-tainted seawater out of
ecologically important wetlands.
"Home not only to a thriving fishing industry but also a
substantial nature reserve, the potential for damage is enormous," says
Simon Coxall from the UK's National Oceanography Centre in Southampton.
The coastline sees land interlacing delicately with the sea (oil slick
"Booming the area off with floating dams to protect these
areas is the best option; but the size of the spill will exhaust the
world's supply of oil booms very quickly."
What makes this region ecologically special is the unusual
patterns of land and sea conjured into existence by the lazy and
variegated exit of the mighty Mississippi into the Gulf.
Here lie about 25% of US wetlands - areas rich with life,
where human occupancy is low, and birds and other animals can thrive.
"For birds, the timing could not be worse; they are breeding,
nesting and especially vulnerable in many of the places where the oil
could come ashore," warns Melanie Driscoll, a Louisiana-based bird
conservation director with the National Audubon Society, the leading US
bird conservation group.
"We have to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst,
including a true catastrophe for birds."
The society's list of species potentially affected includes
resident seabirds, waders and waterfowl, including heron, brown
pelicans and oystercatchers, and migratory birds such as plovers,
swallows and buntings that use the Gulf wetlands as a stopover.
The society points out that for some species, this is the now
only home they have, with human development further inland having
fenced them into these extremities.
The oil slick changes shape and direction rapidly, so
predicting where it will make landfall and with what frequency is a
Clearly, the longer it takes BP to stem the flow, the greater
the chance that its impacts will be felt further around the shores of
the Gulf of Mexico, and indeed in its open water.
If the oil flows east, it will encounter the seagrass beds
that form a key habitat for manatees, among other species.
"If you've got seagrass beds badly contaminated, clearly the
manatees could be seriously affected," says Carl-Gustaf Lundin, head of
the Marine Programme at the International Union for the Conservation of
Here again is a species that is already under severe stress.
Fewer than 2,500 adults remain, and the IUCN Red List says the Florida
subspecies is expected to decline by at least 20% over the next 40
years, with various factors implicated, including climate change and
impacts from boats.
Spawning of bluefin tuna takes place in the oil-affected waters
The Gulf waters are already affected annually by fertilisers
washing down from southern US farmlands, resulting in a "dead zone"
where algae have consumed most of the dissolved oxygen and nothing else
The Atlantic bluefin tuna is another possible victim.
Over the next six weeks, the western population of this
heavily depleted species will spawn in the Gulf of Mexico - principally
in the northern portion where the slick is growing.
"The oil would have an impact - it might be toxic to eggs or
to the young fry," says Dr Lundin.
"Also, the young hide in sargassum (floating marine plants) -
they're very vulnerable at this stage - and this could also be affected
Each of these possible impacts on wildlife translates into
For tuna and shrimp, you can read jobs in the fishing
industry and food supplies for US consumers.
For birds and manatees, you can read tourist income.
No two oil spills are alike; and given the vagaries of winds
and sea currents, predicting the likely impact of this one is very
But you can see why local authorities and conservation groups
are beginning to be seriously concerned.
US to set
oil rig leak
Page last updated at 15:41 GMT,
Wednesday, 28 April 2010 16:41 UK
The US coast guard has said it will set fire to an oil spill in the
Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday as efforts to stem a leak after a rig blast
Officials are concerned that, unless controlled, the leak
could cause one of the worst spills in US history.
Coast Guard Rear Adm Mary Landry has said work on sealing
leaks using robotic submersibles could take months.
Around 1,000 barrels are leaking every day after the
Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank last week.
Eleven of the rig's workers are still missing and presumed
dead in the disaster off the Louisiana coast.
A "controlled burn" would involve setting fire to an area of
oil trapped by special containment booms on the water's surface.
Environmental experts say birds and animals are more
likely to escape a burning patch of water than an oil slick, although
toxic fumes could endanger wildlife.
"We fully understand there are benefits and
trade-offs," said Adm Landry.
But she noted that with the spill moving toward land,
the impact on Louisiana's coastline, which contains some 40% of the
nation's wetlands and spawning grounds for countless fish and birds,
had to be considered.
Controlled burns had been tried and tested before, and
had been shown to be "effective in burning 50 to 95% of oil collected
in a fire boom", she said.
She warned that if the well was not secured soon, "this
could be one of the most significant oil spills in US history".
The leaks - about 5,000ft (1,525m) under the surface -
were found on Saturday, four days after the Deepwater Horizon platform,
to which the pipe was attached, exploded and sank.
About 1,000 barrels (42,000 US gallons; 35,000 imperial
gallons) of oil a day have been gushing into the sea since the blast.
The resulting oil slick now has a circumference of
about 600 miles (970km) and covers about 28,600 sq miles (74,100 sq
The slick is now about 20 miles (32km) off the coast of
Louisiana, but wind projections indicate it will not reach land before
It would have to continue for more than eight months to
match the 11m-gallon spill from the oil tanker Exxon Valdez off Alaska
Workers on a nearby oil platform were evacuated by the
US authorities on Monday after the oil slick came dangerously close.
British oil company BP, one of the firms operating the
rig, has not been able to activate a device known as a blow-out
preventer, designed to stop oil flow in an emergency.
OIL SPILL DISASTERS
1991: 520m gallons were
deliberately released from Iraqi oil tankers during the first Gulf War
to impede the US invasion
1979: 140m gallons were
spilt over nine months after a well blow-out in the Bay of Campeche off
1979: 90m gallons leaked
from a Greek oil tanker after it collided with another ship off the
coast of Trinidad
1983: 80m gallons leaked
into the Gulf over several months after a tanker collided with a
1989: 11m gallons were
spilt into Alaska's Prince William Sound in the Exxon Valdez disaster
Doug Suttles, the chief operating officer for
exploration and production at BP, said it had not yet given up on
engaging the valve, but was considering other possible solutions.
These include placing a dome directly over the leaks to
catch the oil and send it up to the surface, where it could be
collected by ships. This has only been done in shallow water before and
is still two to four weeks from being operational.
BP will also begin drilling a "relief well"
intersecting the original well, but it is also experimental and could
take two to three months to stop the flow.
Forty-nine vessels - oil skimmers, tugboats barges and
special recovery boats that separate oil from water - were working to
round up oil, BP said.
An investigation has been ordered into the cause of the
leak by the interior and homeland security departments.
It will have the power to compel witnesses to testify,
and will look into possible violations by the operators of the rig,
Iraq has the world's third largest oil
reserves, after Saudi Arabia and Iran
Page last updated at 11:28 GMT,
Saturday, 12 December 2009
'to reach 12m barrels per day'
Iraq's oil capacity could reach 12 million
barrels per day (bpd) in six years, the country's oil minister says.
al-Shahristani told reporters in Baghdad that oil producers would not
necessarily operate at full capacity, but would take into account
Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil exporter, has a
capacity of 12.5m bpd.
a joint bid by Russian and Norwegian oil firms won the contract for the
"supergiant" West Qurna field, said to have reserves of 13bn barrels.
and Statoil will get $1.15 a barrel and will work to raise output from
West Qurna Phase 2, in the Basra region, to 1.8m bpd. In June, a
winning bid to develop another Iraqi field received $2 a barrel.
On Friday, the contract to develop the 12.6bn-barrel Majnoon
in southern Iraq was won by a consortium led by Shell. It also pledged
to increase daily production to 1.8m barrels, up from only 46,000.
for the eastern Halfaya field, with 4.1bn barrels of reserves, went to
a consortium led by the Chinese state oil company, CNPC.
the East Baghdad field, part of which lies under the city's Sadr City
area, and another in the Diyala province attracted no bids.
a news conference on Saturday, Mr Shahristani called the result of
Iraq's second international oil auction since 2003 a "major success".
"It is a big achievement for Iraq to win such contracts at
the current prices," he said.
minister said the contracts awarded over the past two days, coupled
with those from the last auction in June and government efforts, would
allow Iraq to boost daily production from 2.5m barrels to 12m.
The projected plateau production from the winning bids of the
second round alone was 4.765m bpd, he said.
If a daily total of 12m barrels was achieved, Iraq would
Russia and challenge Saudi Arabia for the position of the world's
largest oil producer. However, Riyadh says it could produce 15 bpd.
proven reserves now stand at 115bn barrels, below Iran's 137bn and
Saudi Arabia's 264bn. But Iraq's data dates from the 1970s, before
improvements in technology transformed the industry.
Shahristani declared that Iraq had "scores" of oilfields, including
"supergiants" - fields of 5bn barrels or more - to offer international
companies in the future.
On Friday, he insisted that bidders
had not been deterred by security concerns, pointing out that they had
agreed to help develop Iraq's biggest oil fields at remuneration levels
lower than they hoped for.
A series of bombings in Baghdad on Tuesday left 127 people
terrorists tried to send a message to the companies through the
bombings... that Iraq is unstable and investment will be overshadowed
by risks," he told state television.
"But this message was not
delivered and never deceived them. They came and submitted competitive
offers that surprised the global oil industry," he added.
correspondents say the failure to attract bids for more than half of
the oilfields suggests Iraq's abundance of easily extractable oil was
not enough to overcome many firms' concerns about security, as well as
Iraq's political and legal system.
Page last updated at 02:50 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 03:50 UK
The report warns the situation will be "extremely
global oil 'decline'
By Sarah Mukherjee,
Environment correspondent, BBC News
There is a "significant risk" that global
production of conventional oil could "peak" and decline by 2020, a
report has warned.
The UK Energy Research Centre study says there is a consensus
that the era of cheap oil is at an end.
But it warns that most governments, including the UK's,
exhibit little concern about oil depletion.
The report's authors also state that the 10 largest oil
producing fields in the world are all in decline.
As this report points out, the debate about peak oil is a
one side, there are those who say that global supplies have already
reached their zenith, and we are unprepared for the crisis that will
hit world economies in the years to come.
On the other, there are oil companies and many energy
analysts who dismiss the notion that supplies are running out.
report's authors admit it is hard to tell who is right, as the world
lacks a reliable gauge with which to measure oil depletion.
Problems are created by "inconsistent definitions", it says,
the "paucity of reliable data, the frequent absence of third-party
auditing of that data and the corresponding uncertainty surrounding the
data that is available".
It goes on: "The difficulties are greatest where they matter
most, namely the oil reserves of Opec countries.
they also apply at a much more basic level, such as uncertainties over
the amount of oil produced by a given country in a given year.
resulting confusion both fuels the peak oil debate and creates
substantial risk in relying on any particular set of numbers."
of the difficulty in estimating the amount of oil left is that those
with the reserves are often unwilling to divulge what can be
commercially very sensitive information.
Countries and companies are notoriously reticent about their
the report suggests the easy oil has already been found, and new
reserves will become increasingly difficult and expensive to extract,
and will not make up for the current major oil fields as they decline.
says: "More than two-thirds of current crude oil production capacity
may need to be replaced by 2030, simply to keep production constant.
"At best, this is likely to prove extremely challenging."
More attention urged
This report does not contain new research, but is a review of
data already available.
the authors say the risk presented by global oil depletion deserves
much more serious attention by the research and policy communities.
existing research focuses upon the economic and political threats to
oil supply security and fails to either assess or to effectively
integrate the risks presented by physical depletion," they argue.
"This has meant that the probability and consequences of
different outcomes has not been adequately assessed."
the evidence, the report notes with some surprise that the UK
government rarely mentions the issue in official publications.
Contractor, Laboratory Owner
Of Scheme Involving Removal Of
In-Ground Oil Tanks
The Hartford Courant
By ALAINE GRIFFIN
September 8, 2009
When Michael and Elizabeth McGrath converted the heating system in
their Fairfield home from oil to natural gas, they had the underground
oil storage tank removed from their yard.
But the initial $1,400 bill for the tank removal soon jumped to
$30,994.01 when they were informed of some bad news — their soil was
contaminated with oil that had leaked from the tank.
Prosecutors in the environmental crimes unit of the chief state's
attorney's office say the remediation work was unnecessary and have
taken the issue to criminal court. They say that Ronald J. Passaro Jr.,
president of Envirotech of Fairfield, and Michael Zubarev, owner of
Brooks Laboratory of Norwalk, worked together to scam the McGraths and
two other homeowners out of tens of thousands of dollars.
Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental
Protection, said that such cases are rare.
"If these charges are substantiated, this would be a highly unusual
case of a licensed professional in the environmental field violating
legal and ethical standards that people depend upon," Schain said.
Passaro, 45, of Bethel, has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of
first-degree larceny, conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny,
attempt to commit first-degree larceny and perjury charges. Zubarev,
40, of Norwalk, has also pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree
larceny, attempt to commit first-degree larceny and conspiracy to
commit first-degree larceny.
According to arrest warrant affidavits, police said the scheme involved
Envirotech performing unnecessary remediation while Brooks Laboratories
provided false sample analysis reports to justify the work.On Aug. 31,
Passaro and Zubarev appeared in Superior Court in Danbury, where
motions were discussed for an upcoming criminal trial. Both Passaro's
attorney, Andrew J. Buzzi Jr., and William A. Pelletreau, who
represents Zubarev, declined to comment.
Authorities started investigating Envirotech in June 2007 when a former
employee of the company made an anonymous complaint to the DEP. Citing
a sworn statement, the arrest warrant affidavit states that the
whistle-blower, Terry McGuinness, said she began making copies of
company documents when she suspected Envirotech was doing phony
"I could not sleep at night knowing what [Passaro] was doing to his
clients," McGuinness said, according to the affidavit.
McGuinness, the company's office manager, told investigators that she
tried talking to Passaro about the allegedly unneeded remediation, but
"his response was to begin to withhold information from her that was
necessary for her to do her job," the warrant said.
In April 2007, McGuinness was fired. She told investigators that the
firing followed a dispute about a lack of heat in the office. She then
went to the DEP with the photocopied documents relating to the
McGraths' home and two other residences, those of Howard and Karen
Sulzman of New Fairfield and James and Sarah Naphen of Newtown.
McGuinness claimed the documents showed that when initial analysis
reports for each of the properties showed that total petroleum
hydrocarbon levels in the soil were below the suggested remediation
level published by the DEP, Passaro would contact Zubarev, who "within
a matter of minutes was able to produce a report listing the TPH levels
as being above" the suggested limit, the arrest warrant states.
Neither the McGraths nor the Sulzmans returned calls for comment. The
arrest warrant alleges that the McGraths were scammed out of $29,594
and the Sulzmans out of $34,190. James Naphen declined to comment,
citing an ongoing civil court matter related to the case.
According to the arrest warrant, the Naphens fired Envirotech before
remediation could be completed at their home. The warrant alleges that
the Naphens were scammed out of $10,661.
Copyright © 2009, The Hartford Courant
U.S. Considers Curbs on
Trading of Oil
By EDMUND L. ANDREWS
July 8, 2009
WASHINGTON — Reacting to swings in oil prices in recent months, federal
regulators announced on Tuesday that they were considering trading
restrictions on hedge funds and other “speculative” traders in markets
for oil, natural gas and other energy products.
In a big departure from the hands-off approach to market regulation of
the last two decades, the chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading
Commission, Gary Gensler, said his agency would consider new limits on
the volume of energy futures contracts that purely financial investors
would be allowed to hold.
The agency also announced that it would pull back part of the veil on
the oil and gas markets, publishing more detailed information about the
aggregate activity of hedge funds and traders who arbitrage between
domestic and foreign energy prices.
“My firm belief is that we must aggressively use all existing
authorities to ensure market integrity,” Mr. Gensler said in a written
Mr. Gensler announced that his agency will hold several hearings in
July and August, the first of which will examine whether to impose
federal “speculative limits” on futures contracts for energy products.
Oil prices have swung wildly in the last year, hitting about $145 a
barrel last summer, then plunging to $33 in December before rising to
Much of that gyration stemmed from chaos in the global financial
system, as banks and much of Wall Street came perilously close to
collapse last September and the global economy fell into the most
severe recession in decades.
But a growing number of critics have blamed some of the extreme
volatility on the role of purely financial investors — those who are
simply betting on the direction of energy prices, as opposed to those
who actually use such products, like airlines.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, an independent regulatory
agency that regulates the trading of futures contracts for commodities
ranging from wheat and corn to oil, precious metals and currencies, has
for years followed a deregulatory path that rarely interfered with the
burgeoning markets they regulated.
Federal officials said “speculative” traders were primarily those that
the agency defines as “non-commercial,” which are essentially financial
investors who are not users or producers of the commodities and are
primarily interested in betting on the direction of prices. “Commercial
users,” by contrast, include farmers, airlines and oil companies that
want to hedge against the risk of rapid price changes.
Non-commercial traders accounted for almost a fifth of the activity in
several major oil and gas products for the week that ended June 30,
according to data compiled by the commodities agency.
Mr. Gensler, who was nominated by President Obama and took over the
agency earlier this year, made it clear that he is pushing toward
tighter regulation on several fronts. His efforts mirror actions taken
by the Justice Department to strengthen antitrust enforcement and by
financial regulators to police banks and investment firms much more
Mr. Gensler noted that his agency already imposes volume limits on
speculative trading in agricultural products like wheat and corn. But
in the case of energy products, the agency allows the futures exchanges
— primarily the New York Mercantile Exchange — to set limits.
A future is a contract to buy or to sell a particular volume of a
commodity by a particular date. Futures contracts were originally
created to help farmers shield themselves from price volatility between
the time they planted their crops and the time of harvest. But futures
are now used to hedge price swings in everything from oil and gas to
electricity, Treasury bonds and foreign currencies.
In the case of energy products, Mr. Gensler said, the exchanges were
not required to set or enforce position limits aimed at preventing
“excessive speculation.” The contrast between approaches taken for
agricultural and energy commodities, he said, “deserves thoughtful
Mr. Gensler added that the agency would be reviewing the manner in
which traders receive exemptions from trading limits by claiming the
need to carry out “bona fide hedging transactions.”
Chavez to Seek Arab Backing for
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 10:51 a.m. ET
March 31, 2009
DOHA, Qatar (AP) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
sought Arab support Tuesday for a proposed oil-backed currency to
challenge the U.S. dollar in his latest swipe at Washington's dominance
in global financial affairs. It's highly unlikely Chavez will
gain any serious momentum for his ''petro-currency'' proposal at a
summit of South American and Arab League leaders, but it represented
another attempt to undercut the dollar's standing as the world's
leading commercial currency.
China has struck deals -- most recently this week with Argentina -- to
conduct trade in currencies other than the dollar. Iran has proposed
replacing the dollar with the euro or other currencies to set worldwide
oil prices. Chavez plans to visit both Iran and China following
the one-day Qatar gathering, whose agenda focuses on trade issues but
also touches on Arab worries about rival Iran's growing influence in
Key oil-producing members of the Arab League, such as Saudi Arabia and
Gulf states, have close ties to Washington and will almost certainly
reject any plan to shun the dollar. But the summit kicks off another
high-profile foreign trip for Chavez in his efforts to build economic
and diplomatic links to confront the United States.
''A new world is being born. Empires fall. There is a world crisis of
capitalism, it's shaking the planet,'' Chavez told Venezuelan state
radio after arriving in Qatar.
OPEC members -- including Venezuela and many Arab Leagues states --
have been hit hard by falling oil prices, which edged toward $50 a
barrel on Tuesday. Leaders also are seeking to boost the current $21
billion trade between the two regions, which includes oil and gas from
the Middle East and steel and agricultural products from South
America. Delegates also plan to discuss ways to expand technology
exchanges, including nuclear engineering. Argentina helped build one of
Egypt's nuclear reactors and hopes to continue civil nuclear
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told the gathering that
the economic crisis is having ''deep repercussions'' on all economies,
but it offers an opportunity ''to correct the financial system and
restore balance to global trade.''
He repeated his appeals for major developing nations to have a greater
voice in global financial bodies, such as the International Monetary
Fund. Commercial ties are a way for Arab leaders to counter
Iran's increasing footholds in Latin America, particularly through
Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales. In November, Chavez was
hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran and said the
two nations were ''united like a single fist.''
Chavez's bonds with Tehran give Arab leaders pause.
He is wildly popular among ordinary Arabs for his public support for
Palestinians, including cutting diplomatic relations with Israel in
response to the offensive into Gaza that ended in January. In a recent
interview with Al-Jazeera television, Chavez said he saw no immediate
chance to restore ties with Israel. But his close rapport with
Ahmadinejad is viewed with suspicion by governments in many Arab
Chavez said he plans to seek Arab League backing for his proposed new
currency, which would be supported by the oil reserves of major
producers such as Venezuela and other OPEC members, according to a
government statement. Chavez also backed the Arab League's
declaration Monday to reject the International Criminal Court charges
against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for alleged war crimes in
''Why don't they order the capture of (former President George W.)
Bush? Or the president of Israel?'' Chavez said on Venezuelan state
television. ''It's a monstrosity of justice and a disrespect to the
people of the Third World.''
Other South American leaders at the summit include Morales and Chile's
president, Michelle Bachelet.
Total, the French Oil Company, Places Its Bets Globally
By JAD MOUAWAD
February 22, 2009
IT’S been a tough first year for Martin Deffontaines in this arid,
impoverished and secluded country on the southern tip of the Arabian
Since moving here 13 months ago as the local manager for Total, the
French oil giant, Mr. Deffontaines has seen his main export pipeline
damaged by terrorists, endured devastating flash floods and sent
expatriate families back home because of security concerns.
Despite these challenges, Mr. Deffontaines, a lanky, 43-year-old
Parisian, doesn’t appear overly anxious. Indeed, Yemen is a showcase
for Total, whose experience here shows how far an oil company will go
these days to unearth new energy supplies.
Because of the endlessly complicated interplay of geology and
geopolitics, access to petroleum resources is increasingly constrained,
costs have soared and energy projects are becoming more complex. Add
the recent, dizzying collapse in oil prices to that picture, and you
have a raft of companies rethinking their investments and scurrying to
So Mr. Deffontaines was philosophical, and a little amused, when he
recounted some of the challenges the company had faced here, like
negotiating with tribal leaders and sending actors to remote villages
to stage a play about the hazards of gas pipelines. In meetings with
government officials to thrash out problems, participants typically
chew khat, a mildly narcotic plant that is widely consumed in Yemen but
banned in many places around the world.
This is a country where tribes are often better armed than government
troops, where piracy runs rampant along the coastline, and where many
trappings of modern life are absent.
The risks are so pervasive that Total employees can’t travel around
town without an escort and are not allowed to leave Sana, the Yemeni
capital, on their own. A wave of attacks linked to Al Qaeda occurred
last year, including suicide bombings at the United States Embassy in
September that left almost 20 dead, 6 of them attackers. But
Total has still gained a strong foothold here. It will soon start
shipping liquefied natural gas from the Gulf of Aden, completing a $4
billion project begun less than four years ago. Those shipments will
make Yemen the newest member of the world’s small club of gas exporters
— and earn the government as much as $50 billion in tax revenue over
the next 25 years.
“If we can build this here, we can do it anywhere,” says
Stéphane Venes, a construction manager at Total’s natural gas
plant in Balhaf, a coastal town. Building the plant required about
10,000 workers, a monumental endeavor in such an isolated place. It
also meant building a 210-mile pipeline that had to snake through 22
different tribal lands and one of the world’s most unforgiving deserts.
Such “audace” is precisely what Christophe de Margerie, Total’s chief
executive, says he would like to instill throughout his company.
“I make a big distinction between being risky and being bold,” says Mr.
de Margerie, 57, in an interview at Total’s headquarters in La
Défense, the business district on the outskirts of Paris.
“If you’re in a desert without water, that’s not bold, that’s dumb,” he
says. “If you storm out of the trenches with your sword drawn while
machine guns fire at you, it’s not bold, it’s dumb. Times have changed.”
Total doesn’t have much choice but to charge ahead. Although it managed
for years to expand its hydrocarbon production — even as larger rivals
like Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell struggled to keep output from
falling — that run ended last year when it reported a production
drop. Like its competitors, Total now faces one of the sharpest
downturns in the history of the oil business, with consumption
collapsing and oil prices shedding 73 percent of their value since
peaking in July. At the same time, public opinion is sharply divided
about oil companies themselves as environmental concerns take an
increasingly important place in debates about the future of the energy
With no domestic production but deep roots in the Middle East and
Africa, Total — as well as its longtime domestic rival Elf Aquitaine,
which it acquired in 2000 — has always been forced to blaze or bully
its way through faraway lands. It has struck deals in countries
where few wished to do business, like Sudan and Myanmar, or sailed
against the tide when it saw lucrative opportunities, as it did in Iran
in the 1990s. Such forays have come with complications: in separate
investigations, French judges have been examining Total’s role in the
United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq, and whether it made secret
payments to enter the Iranian market.
Total’s appetite for risk has also turned it into the top-ranked
Western oil company in Africa, and the second-largest in the Middle
East, after Exxon. Total pumps an average of 2.3 million barrels of oil
and gas a day, and it earned more than $15 billion last year.
While the company has operations throughout the Middle East, some of
its biggest bets in the region have not yet paid off.
During the 1990s, Total negotiated with the government of Saddam
Hussein and laid the groundwork to eventually develop Iraqi oil fields.
But now, some Iraqi officials prefer American companies to European
ones and view Total with suspicion because of this past. In Iran, a
political confrontation with the West has forced a reluctant Total to
walk away — at least for now — from a multibillion-dollar investment to
develop a huge natural gas field there.
Total still has its eyes on other targets. It’s aggressively developing
assets around the world, whether in Angola’s deep offshore sites, the
Sahara in Libya or the forests of Venezuela. And it has decided that
part of its future lies in developing expertise in nuclear energy.
“They are very good at capturing deals,” says J. Robinson West, the
chairman of PFC Energy, a consulting firm based in Washington that
counts Total as a client. “They are also prepared to ride through
storms where American companies aren’t. And they are more commercial
and agile than others.”
NESTLED at the foot of the Pyrenees near the Basque country in
southwestern France, the town of Pau is home to Total’s global research
center and a communication hub linking its global operations.
Teams from around the world send core samples from wells — which the
French call “carottes” — for analysis there. Lab workers use magnetic
imaging technology, also employed in the medical industry, to look for
traces of oil in the samples. The center is home to one of the world’s
most powerful computers, which can crunch billions of bits of seismic
information and provide invaluable clues as to where oil deposits are
hidden. Geologists analyzing that data can then consult with drill
sites thousands of miles away, using technology that links the research
center to platforms around the world.
Total spends about $1 billion on research annually to find better ways
to discover, squeeze or refine oil and gas.
Technological advantages are becoming crucial in the race for petroleum
resources. The world’s easy oil reserves have mostly been found,
forcing companies to drill at ever-greater depths — sometimes exceeding
30,000 feet — and to look for hydrocarbons in remote places, like the
“I don’t think we should be alarmed about reserves’ running out,” says
Manoelle Lepoutre, Total’s vice president for research and development.
“The potential is there. Engineers know how to extract resources. It’s
not a question of resources, but more of production capacity.”
Yet there are increasing limits to oil exploration, which are worrying
both engineers and energy experts. At a conference in London two years
ago, Mr. de Margerie shook up his colleagues and challenged the
industry’s consensus when he warned that the world would not be able to
pump enough oil to meet energy demands in coming decades. At the
time, most energy forecasters, including those at the Department of
Energy in the United States, expected that supplies would rise above
120 million barrels a day by 2030, up from around 85 million barrels.
But in Mr. de Margerie’s estimation, world production will struggle to
rise to 95 million barrels a day, mostly because of geopolitical
constraints but also because oil fields produce less and less as they
“In a wine cellar, you know exactly how much wine you have,” says
Jean-Jacques Mosconi, Total’s director of strategy. “For oil, it’s
different. You only know your final reserves once you run out.”
More recently, Total has warned that a “major oil supply crisis” will
emerge if oil prices remain at today’s lower levels and companies cut
Of course, Total has long been accustomed to provoking the status quo.
After buying Petrofina of Belgium in 1999, Total surprised the French
establishment when it started a hostile takeover bid for Elf. Total
prevailed after a corporate battle by paying about $50 billion for the
company, which was nearly twice its size. Overnight, the
hard-fought merger propelled Total into the small club of “super
majors,” pitting it against much larger American corporations.
Total recently outplayed its rivals when it grabbed a piece of a huge
offshore natural gas field in Russia, beating out Chevron and
ConocoPhillips to snare 25 percent of the project. The field, Shtokman,
in the Barents Sea, about 350 miles northeast of Murmansk, will cost
$20 billion to $25 billion to develop. It is likely to be one of the
biggest energy projects of the next decade.
While that deal was a success, the company suffered a setback more
recently in Saudi Arabia’s treacherous Rub al-Khali desert, where the
kingdom in 2001 had taken the rare step of allowing foreign investors
to look for natural gas.
The new policy initially generated great enthusiasm among Total and
other foreign oil companies, which saw it as the kingdom’s first step
toward reopening its oil sector after nationalizing Aramco in the early
But the excitement quickly waned after the Saudis imposed strict limits
on foreign partners, including mandates that all oil discoveries
belonged solely to the kingdom and that all gas found there had to be
sold on the Saudi market at a cut rate. Total left Rub al-Khali early
last year, after its program there ran far over its budget and its
teams drilled three wells that came up dry. Shell, another shareholder
in the venture, has decided to stick with the project.
No hard feelings, however. After Total left Rub al-Khali, Aramco
renewed its commitment to build a new refinery with the French company
in the Red Sea port town of Jubayl, said Michel Bénézit,
Total’s president for refining and marketing. The refinery is
expected to be completed by around 2013.
IN a conference room at Total’s headquarters, Mr. de Margerie lingered
with a visitor recently, joking, stretching his schedule after an
already long day and straining the nerves of his assistants, who
complain that the boss is always late. A few years ago, after
arriving nearly two hours late for a meeting with Qatar’s oil minister,
Abdullah al-Attiyah, Mr. de Margerie fell to one knee to apologize for
Such bonhomie has endeared him to colleagues, clients and analysts
since his days as Total’s chief for the Middle East in the 1990s. But
it also made him an unlikely choice to replace Thierry Desmarest as
C.E.O. two years ago. Mr. Desmarest, who was seen as cold and
reserved, is nonetheless widely credited for the success of the merger
with Elf, and he remains the company’s chairman.
Mr. de Margerie is neither an engineer nor a geologist. He joined Total
in 1974, just after graduating from the École Supérieure
de Commerce in Paris, a business school, and picked oil over diplomacy
or a career running the family business. His grandfather, Pierre
Taittinger, founded the Champagne company that bears his name. Mr. de
Margerie’s family also once owned the Crillon hotel in Paris and
Baccarat, the maker of crystal and jewelry.
A gregarious talker with a taste for fine whiskey, Mr. de Margerie can
be alternately humorous, rambling or serious and single-minded. He is a
bon vivant who enjoys long lunches, preferably with a good bottle of
wine and pleasant company.
His bushy, starburst mustache, which The Economist magazine once said
“would look right at home on the face of a British cavalry officer,”
earned him the nickname “Big Mustache” in the French press.
He also used to have a Kazakh Army hat on hand, which he would wear
when he wanted to scold his assistants. (“It was a joke,” he cautions.)
Now he keeps nearby a graceful Indonesian figurine from the island of
Java to “keep evil people at bay.” It was given to him by an employee
after he was investigated on suspicion of corruption two years
ago. The episode still rankles him. In March 2007, a little more
than a month after being named chief executive, he was held in an
investigative judge’s chambers for nearly 36 hours to answer questions
about a 10-year-old gas deal in Iran. The judge ordered that Mr. de
Margerie’s tie, shoelaces and belt be removed, lest he try to harm
It was not the first time that he had found himself in such an
uncomfortable position. The previous year, he was questioned about his
role in the United Nations oil-for-food program in Iraq, which Saddam
Hussein used to skim billions of dollars in fees. Total and Mr.
de Margerie deny any wrongdoing. No charges have been brought forward,
and neither case is part of an active prosecution. For his part,
Mr. De Margerie says other issues demand his attention.
At a time when national oil companies — like Aramco, Petronas in
Malaysia, Petrobras in Brazil and Gazprom in Russia — control large
shares of the world’s reserves, and nationalistic governments tighten
the screws on foreign companies, the traditional role of Western oil
companies is under threat.
“Being accepted simply means being able to perform your job even in the
most hostile environments,” Mr. de Margerie says.
THE Hadhramaut region of central Yemen offers a stunning natural
backdrop of deep gorges and lush valleys interlacing one another like
delicate fingers. It also provides a good window on how Total
balances the requirements of its oil business and its relationship with
the locals. Total operates its main oil-producing block on a
desert plateau about 700 feet above the valley. The company’s rigs are
practically invisible from below. On the plateau, the scene feels like
a lunar landscape. The facility, called Block 10, produces around
50,000 barrels a day, a relatively small operation compared with the
huge fields found in neighboring Saudi Arabia.
Despite its size, the operation exemplifies the hardships that Total is
willing to take on in its hunt for new energy sources. The
company, which has been in Yemen since the 1980s, is now the country’s
largest outside investor. While the government has welcomed foreign
concerns, dealings can be complicated. In 2006, a joint venture
between the Hunt Oil Company and Exxon ended abruptly after Yemen
canceled a contract to explore a field known as Marib al-Jawf.
Total’s managers here believe that their work with local communities —
building schools or financing computer classes and sewing tutorials —
can help them avoid similar problems. But dealing with local
residents can still be tricky. A few months ago, torrential rains
devastated the region that lies beneath Total’s operations, uprooting
nearly half the palm trees in the area and killing 44 people. The
company says it has provided more than $300,000 in emergency aid to
help deal with the flooding, in addition to $800,000 it spends each
year for its own local development programs.
On a recent morning, Mr. Deffontaines, Total’s general manager in
Yemen, was meeting with residents hit by the floods. Sitting among
tribal representatives, Mr. Deffontaines grew uncomfortable as Dr. Awad
al-Jabery, a local politician, asked Total for more money for
reconstruction in the region.
“We are like kids demanding things from their father,” Dr. al-Jabery
said. “Oil will one day be depleted in this area for Total, but if you
contribute to this project, you will be remembered here for centuries.”
Mr. Deffontaines defused the tension with a broad smile and a quick
“I prefer to keep a brotherly relationship with you rather than one of
father and son,” he said.
So it goes for Mr. Deffontaines, who says he spends about a third of
his time on community-related issues in Yemen — in addition to
attending to such matters as the explosive charge placed on his
pipeline by terrorists last year that punched a fist-size hole in the
tube. More recently, he has had to contend with thorny personnel
issues. In April, in response to growing security concerns, he decided
to send the families of his workers back to France. His own wife, son
and twin daughters were among those forced to depart.
Mr. Deffontaines says that sending loved ones home was among the
hardest choices he’s had to make, but it may have been very wise. A few
months later, militants disguised as soldiers detonated two car bombs
outside the American Embassy compound here.
While Mr. Deffontaines chalks up all of this to the ups and downs — and
the thrills — of working for Total, he says his family is less enamored
of the hardships.
“My wife’s not too thrilled,” he says. “You could say she doesn’t fill
up at Total these days.”
oil supply less than demand
SEBASTIAN ABBOT Associated Press Writer
Article Last Updated: 06/21/2008 10:35:32 PM EDT
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The U.S. energy secretary said Saturday
that insufficient oil production, not financial speculation, was
driving soaring crude prices.
Secretary Samuel Bodman's comments on the eve of an energy summit in
the Saudi port city of Jiddah set the stage for a showdown between the
U.S. and conference host Saudi Arabia, which has largely blamed
speculation in the oil markets for record prices.
The U.S. and many other Western nations have put increasing pressure on
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, to increase production.
Saudi officials have been hesitant to do so, arguing that soaring
prices have not been caused by a shortage of supply. Bodman
disputed that assertion Saturday, saying oil production has not kept
pace with growing demand, especially from developing countries like
China and India.
"Market fundamentals show us that production has not kept pace with
growing demand for oil, resulting in increasing prices and increasingly
volatile prices," Bodman told reporters. "There is no evidence that we
can find that speculators are driving futures prices" for oil.
He said commodities markets have experienced a huge influx of money
from financial investors in recent years, but they have been following
the market upward rather than driving the increase in the price of oil.
Saudi Arabia called the unusual meeting in Jiddah between oil producing
and consuming nations as a way to show that it was not deaf to
international cries that high oil prices have caused social and
economic turmoil. The Gulf nation has also become increasingly
concerned that record oil prices could hinder growth in the U.S. and
other major industrialized economies, potentially leading to a decline
in oil demand and a sharp drop-off in prices.
While Saudi Arabia has been reluctant to drastically increase
production, it has announced several small increases recently that it
says were made to satisfy increased customer demand. The country has
consistently said that it will produce enough oil to ensure the market
The kingdom increased oil production by 300,000 barrels a day in May,
and a Saudi official confirmed Saturday that the country would add
another 200,000 barrels a day in July. The official spoke on condition
of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.
Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi also confirmed the increase ahead of
the conference. But neither announcement has done much to stem the
run-up in the price of oil, which closed near $135 on Friday.
Saudi assistant oil minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, told a news
conference Saturday that the delegates were "congregating to achieve
results" and try to draw "a collective way forward for how to attend to
"This situation as we see it today as it exists needs everybody's
attention simply because it no longer is a luxury to talk about it or
... to keep bouncing back and forth blame," he added.
The prince said that Saudi Arabia has been working with several
international organizations to put together a background paper to focus
Sunday's discussions and reiterated that the kingdom was ready to meet
demand from its customers and foster stable prices. He said it
would be "wrong" to judge the success of the meeting by oil prices the
day after it ends.
Many countries around the world have experienced social unrest by
populations angry that rising fuel prices have driven significant
increases in the cost of food and other basic goods.
Bodman said that every 1 percent increase in the demand for oil
requires a 20 percent rise in price to balance the market. Demand in
China, India and the Middle East has been soaring in recent years as
the countries consume more energy to fuel economic growth. Rising
demand in the developing world has coincided with historically low
levels of spare oil production capacity, which fell below two million
barrels per day among OPEC countries in May for the first time since
the third quarter of 2006, according to the International Energy Agency.
Bodman made clear that the responsibility for reducing oil prices did
not simply fall on the shoulders of producing nations, saying consuming
countries must increase energy efficiency and invest in the development
of alternative fuels. But he saved his strongest words for oil
producers like Saudi Arabia, who he said must step up long-term
investment in production and spare capacity.
"The incentive (for investing) is simply reasonable prices so that
we're not faced with having to drop everything and race to Jiddah for a
meeting that was called on a week's notice," said Bodman.
Saudi Arabia is completing a $50 billion plan to increase capacity to
12.5 million barrels a day but has signaled it would not go beyond
that. CNBC said Saturday that Saudi Arabia's current capacity is
11.3 million barrels per day, quoting al-Naimi's adviser, Ibrahim
al-Muhanna. Previous estimates by the International Energy Agency put
current Saudi capacity at about 10.7 million barrels per day. The
kingdom currently produces about 9.5 million barrels per day.
Suggest Major Oil Discovery In Gulf Of Mexico; Scientists see
potential for 15 billion barrels, but impact years away
By Brad Foss, AP Writer
Published on 9/6/2006
Washington — Move over, Alaska. Geoscientists have made what may be the
nation's largest oil discovery off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas.
It could be the biggest domestic oil find in 38 years, but production
is years away, and even then it won't reverse America's growing
reliance on imports or have any meaningful effect at the gasoline pump.
A group led by Chevron Corp. has tapped a petroleum pool that lies 270
miles south of New Orleans — and almost four miles beneath the ocean
floor — in a region that could hold as much as 15 billion barrels of
oil, or more than Alaska's Prudhoe Bay.
“It confirms a new frontier, a new horizon in the ultra-deep water,”
said Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates
and author of “The Prize,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the
oil industry. “It isn't energy independence,” he added.
Nevertheless, the announcement of a test well that sustained a flow
rate of more than 6,000 barrels per day is a boon to Western oil
companies at a time when they are finding it harder and more expensive
to gain access to countries such as Russia and Venezuela, and when
foreign supplies are increasingly at risk because of political unrest
across Africa and the Middle East.
The proximity of the Gulf of Mexico to the world's largest oil
consuming nation makes the new discovery extra attractive to the
industry; however, analysts said the new find could bring pressure on
Florida and other states to relax limits they have placed on drilling
in their offshore waters for environmental and tourism reasons.
Chevron estimated that the 300-square-mile region known as the lower
tertiary, a rock formation that is 24 million to 65 million years old,
contains between 3 billion and 15 billion barrels. The upper end of
that range would be enough oil to expand the country's reserves by 50
percent. But the first drop of oil from the lower tertiary isn't
expected to hit the market until at least 2010 and at best it will only
slow the decline in annual U.S. production.
Some analysts urged caution in inferring too much, too soon.
“One well doesn't tell you a lot of information,” said Matthew Simmons,
a Houston investment banker and author of “Twilight in the Desert: the
Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the Global Economy.”
At its height in 1988, the Prudhoe Bay field produced an average of 1.6
million barrels per day; in 2005, it yielded less than 400,000 barrels
per day. (An Alaska wildlife refuge the industry has sought to drill is
believed to contain some 10 billion barrels.)
Output from the lower tertiary could eventually reach 750,000 barrels a
day, or more, analysts said, but it won't significantly dent the
country's energy imbalance.
“It's a nice positive, but the U.S. still has a big difference between
its consumption and indigenous production,” said Art Smith, chief
executive of energy consultant John S. Herold. “We'll still be
importing more than 50 percent of our oil needs.”
While the industry was mostly upbeat about the potential of this new
discovery, it also acknowledged some challenges, including a dearth of
rigs capable of drilling in such deep water and the long lead times
required to drill and complete deep-water wells.
The U.S. consumes roughly 5.7 billion barrels of crude-oil in a year,
while its reserves currently exceed 29 billion barrels, according to
the U.S. Energy Department. To put that into perspective, Saudi
Arabia's reserves are believed to exceed 250 billion barrels.
Chevron's test well, called “Jack 2,” was drilled in about 7,000 feet
of water. Chevron has a 50 percent stake in the field, while partners
Statoil ASA of Norway and Devon Energy Corp. of Oklahoma City own 25
The financial implications of “Jack 2” and other prospects in the lower
tertiary are most significant for independent oil and gas producer
Devon, which is the smallest of the three partners. Devon's shares
soared about 15 percent on the New York Stock Exchange.
“Relative to its size, Devon has one of the greatest exposures to the
deepwater Gulf of Mexico,” said Oppenheimer & Co. analyst Fadel
That said, many companies, including BP PLC, Exxon Mobil Corp. and
Anadarko Petroleum Corp., stand to benefit from their own projects in
the lower tertiary. “If the current thinking is correct, this is only a
beginning,” Gheit said.
The well was drilled in the Walker Ridge area of the Gulf, 175 miles
off the coast of Louisiana. It is an area the industry has been
exploring for about five years.
San Ramon, Calif.-based Chevron said the well set a variety of records,
including the deepest well successfully tested in the Gulf of Mexico.
Chevron said the well was drilled more than 20,000 feet under the sea
Well, the crisis may be over for now...as of
January 2009. But guess what? 2013 - Ukraine seems to be the most
important independent country bordering Russia.
politics in the Ukraine from 2004?
Two "Victor Y." candidates; Orange
party eventually won, but their leader was being poisoned with
dioxin...and eventually the other Victor Y. became President.(see
Antigovernment Activist Beaten
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, NYTIMES
December 25, 2013
MOSCOW — A crusading antigovernment journalist and activist in Ukraine,
who became famous last year after documenting the opulence of the
heavily guarded residential compound of President Viktor F. Yanukovich,
was savagely beaten early Wednesday morning.
The assault on the activist, Tetyana Chornovol, 34, just outside the
capital, Kiev, was the latest attack on government opponents who have
been participating in sustained protests that have shaken the country.
On Tuesday evening, Dmitri Pylypets, a protest organizer in the eastern
Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, was beaten and stabbed four times while
walking on the street near his apartment, local news media reported.
Just hours before she was ambushed, Ms. Chornovol published a blog item
about a “country manor” being constructed for Ukraine’s embattled
interior minister, Vitaly Zakharchenko, in the village of Pidhirtsi,
The assaults have occurred as protesters continue to occupy
Independence Square in Kiev, where they first gathered last month in
anger at Mr. Yanukovich’s decision to back away from sweeping political
and free trade agreements with the European Union.
There were also ominous signs that the Ukrainian government was turning
inward. The Ukrainian Security Service confirmed this week that it had
blocked an unspecified number of foreigners, including several
Americans, from entering the country, on suspicion that they were
colluding with protest leaders and trying to destabilize Ukraine.
Photographs taken in a hospital where Ms. Chornovol was said to be
undergoing surgery showed her lying on a bed, her face battered and
bloodied, with one eye blackened and shut, and her lips hugely swollen
and cut. In a brief video posted on YouTube, she said she did not
believe her attackers had said anything as they beat her.
In the video, she said she had been driving home when a sport utility
vehicle blocked her path. “People came out of it and began beating me,”
she said. “I tried to bypass it, but it was impossible. The jeep hit
me. It tried to kill me. They broke my window. I jumped out, tried to
run. I was caught and they began beating me.”
“The attempt on the life of Tetyana Chornovol leaves no words, only
rage and shame” Petro Poroshenko, a pro-Western businessman and member
of Parliament, wrote on Facebook. He added, “The Ukrainian people will
not be intimidated.”
Mr. Zakharchenko, the interior minister and a close ally of Mr.
Yanukovich, has faced a barrage of criticism over a violent crackdown
by the police on peaceful demonstrators in Independence Square on Nov.
Although lower-level officials have been disciplined in connection with
the violence, their role is not clear. Mr. Zakharchenko is the most
senior government official with direct authority over the police units
involved in the enforcement action, and there have been repeated calls
by the opposition for his dismissal.
In response to Ms. Chornovol’s beating, several protest leaders called
for picketing outside the Interior Ministry. Mr. Yanukovich’s office
issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon saying that he had ordered
the Interior Ministry and the general prosecutor’s office to
investigate the attack.
Although Ms. Chornovol has been involved in a number of episodes
involving high-profile activists, she is most famous for an incident in
August 2012 in which she scaled the walls of Mr. Yanukovich’s
residential compound, called Mezyrgirya after the park where it is
located and which consists of 345 acres of forested hills along the
Other investigative journalists had unearthed evidence that the house
had been illegally privatized by companies connected to Mr. Yanukovich,
with the park then leased to the government. Although Mr. Yanukovich
had portrayed the home as modest during official tours for journalists,
a fuller portrait has emerged of a grandiose marble-columned mansion
with helipads and a pen for pet ostriches.
Ms. Chornovol, who ran unsuccessfully for Parliament later in 2012,
spent nearly three hours wandering the property and taking photographs
before she was detained by security officers.
During the recent antigovernment protests in Kiev, Ms. Chornovol was
often at the center of the action, including in a standoff between
protesters and the riot police near the presidential administration
headquarters that briefly turned violent.
Ukraine, which has been struggling with an increasingly dire financial
crisis, this week received the first installment of a $15 billion
bailout from Russia, which had maneuvered aggressively to stop the
accords with Europe. After Mr. Yanukovich scuttled the agreements, he
turned to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for help, and Moscow
ultimately came to the rescue with the loans and a steep discount on
natural gas prices.
Regulators Approve Draft Natural Gas Expansion Plans
by Hugh McQuaid | Nov 7, 2013 12:35pm
State utility regulators gave preliminary approval Wednesday to
a plan by the state’s three natural gas utilities to greatly expand
their natural gas operations in Connecticut.
In a draft ruling, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority approved a
joint proposal by Southern Connecticut Gas, Connecticut Natural Gas,
and Yankee Gas to expand 900 miles of natural gas lines to 280,000
customers over the next 10 years. The expansion is part of Gov. Dannel
P. Malloy’s “Comprehensive Energy Strategy” legislation that was
approved earlier this year by the General Assembly.
The 10-year plan seeks to reduce upfront costs for homeowners and
businesses who want to convert to natural gas systems. Rather than
paying an upfront cost, the ruling would create a new, higher rate for
new natural gas customers to incrementally cover the costs over 10
years. After that period the new customers would return to paying
Regulators called for a premium increase of 10 percent for new
customers who live on gas mains, a 30 percent increase for those who
live off-main, and a 50 percent increase for some businesses and
multifamily homes located off gas mains.
In a Wednesday statement, Malloy praised the regulators’ decision as
“The action today by utility regulators is great news for Connecticut
consumers. Part of our plan to provide cleaner, cheaper and more
reliable energy is to expand natural gas service to people who are
interested in lowering their energy costs. The approval of this
expansion and our efforts to increase energy efficiency will mean lower
monthly bills, a more competitive posture for our businesses, and new
jobs and improved air quality,” he said.
Oil companies who have opposed the plan disagreed. Chris Herb,
president of the Connecticut Energy Marketers Association, which
represents 600 home heating oil and propane dealers, said the proposal
benefits large utility companies while hurting small oil companies.
“This tainted plan will increase energy costs for everyone and not
lower them. Meanwhile, our family-run home heating oil companies, which
have always played by the rules for generations, will be forced to
close-up shop and some 4,000 people could be out of work. And when
utilities are the only game in town, prices will increase even more but
by then, it will be too late,” he said.
Herb said the plan amounted to government intrusion into business
affairs and likened it to the Affordable Care Act.
In their draft decision, regulators said it may be impossible to avoid
some increases in rates.
“The Authority is very concerned about the potential rate impact of the
plan. While some rate impact may be inevitable, the Authority wants to
ensure that any increases in rates for existing customers are minimized
as much as practical while at the same time expanding the current gas
system infrastructure to serve new customers,” the decision reads.
Regulators are planning to make a final decision on the proposal by
Nov. 21. They are accepting written comments on their draft decision
until Nov. 12 and will hear oral arguments on the case on Nov. 14.
The natural gas draft ruling was one of two pieces of energy policy
touted by the Malloy administration Wednesday. The administration also
pointed to an annual energy efficiency scorecard by the American
Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, which ranked Connecticut as
the fifth most efficient state.
The scorecard credited the state’s recently-passed energy legislation
with helping to “close the gap” with other states. This year
Connecticut ranked behind just Massachusetts, New York, California, and
“Our state’s ranking this year recognizes our focus on capturing the
benefits of energy efficiency to lower monthly electric and natural gas
bills for families and businesses,” Malloy said in a statement. “Energy
efficiency is at the heart of my Comprehensive Energy Strategy because
the cheapest energy is the energy that we don’t use through efficiency
measures we all can undertake – with every dollar spent on efficiency
returning nearly $2.40 in savings on energy bills.”
gas may be losing its luster
in New England
By DAVE GRAM Associated Press
published Jul 14, 2013
Montpelier, Vt. - New England's
love affair with natural gas appears to be showing strain as the
regional power grid operator voices worry about too much demand on
limited supplies and a leading environmental group criticizes the fuel
it once supported.
The changing mood follows more than a decade
of explosive growth in the use of natural gas to heat and especially to
power the six-state region's homes and businesses. Natural gas industry
leaders say they are poised for continued rapid growth despite the
warning bells being rung in other quarters.
In 2000, about 15 percent of New England's
electricity was produced at generating stations that burned natural
gas; in 2012, that number had grown to 52 percent, according to ISO-New
England, the independent system operator that manages the regional
ISO-New England spokeswoman Marcia Blomberg
said this past week that the organization is in the midst of a major
study to determine whether the region's power grid has become too
reliant on natural gas and, if so, what might be done to address the
Gordon van Welie, the grid
operator's CEO, testified recently before a U.S. Senate committee that
the key natural gas supply issue is the limited capacity of pipelines
carrying the fuel into New England. Twice this past winter, during a
cold snap in late January and a blizzard in early February, competing
demand for gas for other uses, including home heating, meant power
generators had difficulty getting the supplies they needed, van Welie
"And we were very close to the edge of
reliability in very poor weather circumstances," van Welie said at a
May 14 hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
"As a system operator, that makes us very nervous and we want to solve
that problem as quickly as we possibly can."
Dan Whitten, spokesman for the
Washington-based America's Natural Gas Alliance, said it appears that
New England's real problem with natural gas is that it can't get enough.
Meanwhile, the Conservation Law Foundation,
whose affiliate CLF Ventures was an active partner in a gas-fired power
plant in Londonderry, N.H., that went fully operational in 2002, now is
trying to block Vermont Gas Systems from extending a gas pipeline from
the area of northwestern Vermont that it currently serves southward
along the western side of the state.
CLF, which is based in Boston and has
offices around the region, won praise from the New Hampshire project's
lead developer for helping win public acceptance of it. "CLF Ventures
provided a much needed calming voice. Their credibility was a real
asset," Roger Sant, since retired as chairman of AES Corp., is quoted
on the CLF Ventures website as saying.
But in Vermont Public Service Board
proceedings on Vermont Gas Systems' Addison Pipeline project, a CLF
expert, Elizabeth Stanton of Cambridge, Mass.-based Synapse Energy
Economics, rebutted Vermont Gas Systems' claim that the project would
reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On the contrary, Stanton testified,
any savings from using cleaner-burning gas over heating oil in homes
and businesses along the route would be more than offset by pipeline
leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.
Hasn't peaked yet
CLF senior attorney Sandra Levine
said in an interview that even at the height of its support for natural
gas in the late 1990s, CLF considered it a "transitional fuel," useful
for getting New England to use less coal and oil. Eventually, natural
gas, a fossil fuel that produces greenhouse gases, should be replaced
by renewable energy sources, and CLF is pushing in that direction, she
Pipelines and power plants are
infrastructure designed to last 30 to 50 years. CLF is unlikely to
support more such projects because they would lock New England into
natural gas until the latter half of this century, she said.
"Gas has already helped us as a region move
away from coal," Levine said. "The transition we need now is to move
away from fossil fuels."
Levine also noted concern about hydraulic
fracturing, or fracking, a hotly debated method for gas extraction that
many environmentalists blame for contaminating water supplies. Vermont
banned fracking last year, a move widely seen as symbolic since the
state has no known natural gas deposits within its borders.
Thomas Kiley, president of the Northeast Gas
Association, said the use of natural gas hasn't peaked in New England
yet. But state governments, including those in Connecticut,
Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont, have gone on the record to support
When Vermont Gas announced last week that it
was expanding its system eastward to Enosburg Falls, allowing
homeowners to tap into a heating fuel that could save them up to $2,000
over the cost of heating oil, Gov. Peter Shumlin called it "great news
for residents and business owners alike."
Companies wouldn't be expanding systems if
they didn't see pent-up customer demand, Kiley said. "It's interesting
that the state that bans fracking wants the benefits of low prices, or
at least the customers do," he said.
New England, a Natural Gas Trap
By MATTHEW L. WALD, NYTIMES
February 15, 2013
Electricity prices in New England have been four to eight times higher
than normal in the last few weeks, as the region’s extreme reliance on
natural gas for power supplies has collided with a surge in demand for
Frigid temperatures and the snowstorm that hammered parts of the
Northeast last week have revived concerns about the lack of
alternatives to natural gas. Many plants that ran on coal or oil have
been shuttered, and the few that remain cannot be put into service
quickly enough to meet spikes in demand. The price of electricity is
determined by the price of gas.
Last year, natural gas provided 52 percent of New England’s
electricity, and that share is expected to grow. Gas is generally
cheaper than other energy sources, and the lower costs have spurred the
retirement of aging coal generators and nuclear reactors. The six-state
New England region and parts of Long Island are the most vulnerable now
to overreliance on gas, a vulnerability heightened by a shortage of
natural gas pipeline capacity, but officials worry that similar
problems could spread to the Midwest.
“We are sticking a lot of straws into this soft drink,” said William P.
Short III, an energy consultant whose clients include companies that
move and burn gas. “This is a harbinger of things to come in New
England, as well as New York.”
James G. Daly, vice president for energy supply at Northeast Utilities,
a company that, through its subsidiaries, provides electricity to homes
and businesses in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, said:
“There is concern we don’t have enough capacity to supply heating and
Northeast and many other companies are temporarily insulated from the
spot market because they sign long-term contracts for electricity
supply. But Northeast’s energy charges next year could be 10 percent
higher than they are now, Mr. Daly said, because the companies that
sell power on a long-term basis will charge more to absorb the risk of
short-term spikes in prices.
“It is certainly true that a region like New England that relies on a
single fuel source like natural gas for the bulk of its power does
leave itself open for more disruptions than a region with a more
diverse fuel mix,” said Jay Apt, executive director of the Electricity
Industry Center at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “It’s not
a knock against natural gas; it’s a knock against a single fuel source.”
The American Public Power Association has warned since 2010 that demand
is outpacing the delivery capacity of gas infrastructure. At coal
plants, “you can look out the window and see that 60-day supply of your
fuel,” said Joe Nipper, the group’s senior vice president of government
relations. But gas plants tend to deliver fuel just as it is needed.
The gyrations of the spot market are hard to follow because prices are
set in units few consumers understand. Electricity is sold on the
wholesale market in megawatt-hours, or thousands of kilowatt-hours; a
megawatt-hour is enough to run a big suburban house for a month.
Natural gas is sold in a unit called an MMBtu, or a million British
thermal units. An MMBtu equals 10 therms, the unit home heating
customers pay for.
Normally, a megawatt-hour costs $30 to $50, and an MMBtu less than $4.
But not lately.
The problem began late last year. During a cold snap around
Thanksgiving, electricity prices in New England shot up to the highest
in the country: $103.20 per megawatt-hour and $12.37 per MMBtu on Nov.
On Jan. 24, the cost of an MMBtu of natural gas at Algonquin Citygate,
a spot near Boston where gas is traded, rose to $31.20, pushing the
price of a megawatt-hour over $200. Constellation Energy, which
operates plants in the region, attributed the jump to temperatures 15
to 20 degrees below average.
A megawatt-hour cost about $150 early this month, according to weekly
reports from ISO New England, the independent operator that maintains
the region’s electricity market. A year ago, the price was around $30.
New England’s problems have been moderated somewhat by imports.
“Without Indian Point, New England would have been toast,” Mr. Short
said. “We’re importing 1,400 megawatts out of New York.” Indian Point
is a twin-unit nuclear plant on the Hudson River that New York State is
seeking to close.
But the region is littered with 1950s- and 1960s-era coal and oil
plants that have been retired in the last few years. The 214-megawatt,
coal-fired AES Thames unit near Uncasville, Conn., shut down in 2011;
Somerset Station, a 174-megawatt, coal-fired plant in Somerset, Mass.,
closed in 2010.
The Salem Harbor plant in Salem, Mass., once had four coal and oil
units, with a capacity of 745 megawatts. Two have closed, and the
others will probably close next year. A new owner intends to build a
630-megawatt plant that will run on natural gas.
The underlying issue in New England is that gas pipeline capacity is
inadequate to keep prices steady in times of high home heating demand,
said Vamsi Chadalavada, executive vice president and chief operating
officer of ISO New England. ISO is leading a study focused mainly on
reliability, but reliability is intertwined with price, he said.
Importing liquefied natural gas would help, Dr. Chadalavada said, but
cargoes are going instead to Europe and South America, where prices are
Several companies want to liquefy and export gas from the continental
United States because of the shale gas glut, and the events in New
England could affect that debate. Opposition has come mostly from
domestic industries that use the gas. A spokesman for Senator Ron
Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and chairman of the Senate Committee on
Energy and Natural Resources, said Mr. Wyden saw the price gyrations in
New England as a reason to “look before we leap ahead with unfettered
exports of gas.”
But the biggest problem may be the inadequacy of existing pipelines. On
Feb. 7, ISO New England told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
that it was concerned about “increasing reliance on natural gas-fueled
generators at times when there is an increasingly tight availability of
pipeline capacity to deliver natural gas from the south and west to New
Additionally, experts say that the natural gas market and the electric
market mesh poorly, because while the electric market runs around the
clock, the gas market closes down at night.
During the storm last week, with transmission lines being knocked out
by snow and high winds, ISO asked some gas-fired generators to start
running in the middle of the night, Dr. Chadalavada said, and found
they could not. “We were sitting here, 3 in the morning, trying to get
gas generators to start up, and we started seeing where they couldn’t
access that market in the overnight hours,” he said.
About 30 percent of the generators in the region burn coal and oil, Dr.
Chadalavada said, but they produce less than 1 percent of the energy
because they run so seldom. Some can take 24 hours to return to service.
ISO and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees
interstate electricity and gas markets and transmission, are trying to
make the systems mesh better.
GREENBRIER: Famous golf courses.
The world-renowned resort, is in West Virginia, NOT related to fracking.
Insight: Arkansas lawsuits test
fracking wastewater link to quakes
By Mica Rosenberg
27 August 2013 1:42am EDT
GREENBRIER, Arkansas (Reuters) - Tony Davis, a 54-year-old construction
worker in central Arkansas, said he welcomed the boom in natural gas
drilling that brought jobs and new businesses to his hometown starting
about a decade ago. But that was before the earth shook.
In 2010 and 2011, the quiet farming town of Greenbrier, Arkansas, was
rattled by a swarm of more than 1,000 minor earthquakes. The biggest,
with a magnitude of 4.7, had its epicenter less than 1,500 feet from
Davis's front porch. "This should not be happening in Greenbrier,"
Davis recalls thinking. He said the shaking damaged the support beams
under an addition to his home.
Then came another surprise: University of Memphis and Arkansas
Geological Survey scientists said the quakes were likely triggered by
the disposal of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing - commonly known
as fracking - into deep, underground wells. That finding prompted
regulators from the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission to order several
wells in the area shut down, and the earthquakes soon subsided.
It also prompted Davis and more than a dozen of his neighbors to file
five lawsuits in federal court against Chesapeake Operating Inc, as the
owner in 2010 of two injection wells near Davis' home, and BHP
Billiton, which purchased Chesapeake's shale gas assets in 2011.
Another company, Clarita Operating LLC, owned a third well that was
shut down, but the company went bankrupt and was dropped from the
litigation in 2011.
Chesapeake and BHP both declined to comment, citing policies not to
discuss ongoing litigation. In court documents they denied they were
responsible for the quakes and for any damage the quakes may have
The litigation marks the first legal effort to link earthquakes to
wastewater injection wells, according to a search of the Westlaw
database and interviews with legal experts, and the first attempt to
win compensation from drilling companies for quake damage.
If any of the earthquake cases make it to a jury and the plaintiffs
prevail, the outcome could spark additional litigation, since
wastewater injection wells are used not only in fracking, but in other
kinds of oil and gas drilling and geothermal energy production.
"The scientific community is really focusing on this issue so I imagine
we will see more cases because of that," said Barclay Nicholson, a
Houston lawyer who represents major oil and gas companies and is not
involved in the Arkansas cases. "That's one of the new battlegrounds."
The first of the suits, filed in U.S. District Court in Eastern
Arkansas, is scheduled to go to trial before Judge J. Leon Holmes next
March, though the parties have been engaged in settlement talks,
according to the court docket.
The Arkansas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners, an oil and gas
industry group, acknowledges that scientists found a possible
connection between the disposal wells and the spate of minor quakes in
and around Greenbrier.
But J. Kelly Robbins, the group's executive vice president, said the
companies had no way of knowing of any such link before wastewater
injection began, and he said the operators shut the wells down when
questions were raised.
"The appropriate state agencies stepped up, collected data, did what
they were supposed to do and made a decision," Robbins said in an
interview. "Industry abided by that and those wells were closed."
Robbins also said that while Arkansas is a traditional oil and gas
producing state, fracking in the Fayetteville shale had brought
billions of dollars of investment and boosted the state's natural gas
production ninefold in seven years.
The earthquake cases are part of a wave of litigation that has followed
the rapid expansion in natural gas production across the United States
using fracking, a drilling process that deploys a highly pressurized
mix of water and chemicals to break apart shale rock to release oil and
Since 2009, some 40 civil suits related to fracking have been filed in
eight states, claiming harm ranging from groundwater contamination to
air pollution to excessive noise.
So far none of the lawsuits has made it to trial and about half have
been dismissed or settled, with company lawyers mainly arguing that a
link between fracking and contaminated groundwater or other
environmental problems has not been proven, according to a Reuters
analysis of legal filings.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to issue a major
report on fracking and drinking water next year that could have an
impact on these cases, lawyers closely following the litigation say.
The Arkansas litigation does not target fracking itself, but rather the
disposal of the leftover toxic, briny water known as "flowback."
Millions of gallons of wastewater are typically trucked from the
fracking site to the well site, where they are injected thousands of
feet underground into porous rock layers, often for weeks or months at
Seismologists say fracking can cause tiny "micro earthquakes" that are
rarely felt on the surface. The process of disposing of the wastewater,
though, can trigger slightly larger quakes when water is pumped near an
already stressed fault, even one that hasn't moved in millions of
years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Only a handful of the 30,000 injection wells across the country have
been suspected of causing earthquakes, the U.S. Geological Survey has
That rare event likely happened in central Arkansas, said Scott
Ausbrooks, a geologist at the Arkansas Geological Survey in Little Rock
who lives in Greenbrier and said he received calls from panicked
neighbors when the quakes were rattling the town more than a dozen
times a day.
Ausbrooks said he became interested in studying wastewater injection in
the area because it had previously experienced some earthquakes,
including a notable swarm in the 1980s.
He worked with Steve Horton from the University of Memphis Center for
Earthquake Research and Information to set up seismic monitors around
eight disposal wells. They found that 98 percent of the 2010-11 swarm
of small quakes occurred within 3.7 miles of two of the wells.
"Given the strong spatial and temporal correlation between the two
wells and seismic activity on the fault," Horton wrote in a study
published in "Seismological Research Letters" in the March/April 2012
issue, "it would be an extraordinary coincidence if the recent
earthquakes were not triggered by the fluid injection. For these
reasons, I conclude that fluid injection triggered the recent
It was only after the wastewater injection wells went online that
scientists discovered a previously unknown fault, now called the
Guy-Greenbrier fault, Ausbrooks and Horton said.
The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission declared a permanent moratorium on
new injection wells in almost 1,200 square miles (3,100 sq km) around
the newly discovered fault. The commission now requires new wells to be
between 1 mile and 5 miles from known faults, and it more closely
monitors the amount and pressure of injected wastewater.
The EPA currently has no regulations relating to earthquakes and
disposal wells - known as Class II wells - but the agency began working
on a report addressing the issue in the wake of a spike in quakes in
the central and eastern United States.
In a November 2012 draft report, the EPA said it was studying
"injection-induced seismicity" in central Arkansas; north Texas;
Braxton County, West Virginia; and Youngstown, Ohio.
In Texas, operators in 2009 voluntarily plugged two disposal sites
after regulators started investigating whether the wells touched off
several quakes around the Dallas Forth-Fort Worth International
Airport. Virginia's Department of Environmental Protection in 2010
reduced the rate of wastewater injection allowed after a series of
small tremors. And in Ohio, officials shut down five injection wells in
Youngstown following a 4.0 earthquake on New Year's Eve 2011 in an area
that had never experienced seismic activity before, the EPA report said.
The EPA said the draft, obtained by the specialized news service
EnergyWire through a Freedom of Information Act request, was a
"technical report" as opposed to a policy blueprint and "is still under
While the federal regulatory process plays out, the relationship
between injection wells and earthquakes could first be thrashed out in
court. Defense lawyers say proving negligence could be a difficult
"You have to prove that the conduct was unreasonable," said Thomas
Daily, an Arkansas lawyer who represents energy firms and is not
involved in the earthquake cases. "You are not liable for a bolt out of
The plaintiffs' attorneys, from the Little Rock firm Emerson Poynter,
claim the companies should have known the risks of drilling in a
historically seismic area.
"The scientific proof is absolutely there," said plaintiffs' lawyer
Emerson Poynter lawyers said they currently represent 35 homeowners,
about half of whom have yet to file lawsuits but plan to do so in state
court. Along U.S. highway Route 65, which cuts through Greenbrier, the
firm sprung for a billboard that features an illustration of a cracked
brick wall next to the caption, "Earthquake damage?" written in a shaky
looking font. The firm's phone number is at the top.
No matter how many people sign on, state regulators said the lawsuits
will not deter oil and gas drilling.
"It's something that happened, we addressed it and developed some rules
to keep it from happening again and everyone has moved on," said
Lawrence Bengal, director of the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission.
"Whether the past will result in some award of money to someone I
really don't know. But I don't know what more could have been done."
(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Dilts;
Editing by Eric Effron and Tim Dobbyn)
© Thomson Reuters 2011. All
rights reserved. Users may download and print extracts of content from
this website for their own personal and non-commercial use only.
Facing Frack hysteria
By KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON
Last Updated: 11:16 PM, February 8, 2012
Posted: 11:03 PM, February 8, 2012
Learning how to exploit the rich vein of natural gas buried in the
Marcellus Shale beneath Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York has been a boon
to the nation, but another remarkable discovery’s gone along with it.
The Keystone State has devised a system of environmental-protection
regulations that actually works.
Exploiting shale gas to its full capability has the potential to
radically alter some fundamental economic and national-security
equations. After all, oil imports account for about half of the total
US trade deficit, and US policymakers suffer insomnia every time some
random ayatollah starts making scary noises about the Strait of Hormuz.
Environmental ones, too. About half of US electricity comes from
burning coal — which, on its best day, is a lot more environmentally
problematic than natural gas (something to think about while tooling
down to Trader Joe’s in your 45 percent coal-powered Chevy Volt or
Then there’s the jobs.
Since Marcellus production really picked up around 2008, tens of
thousands of jobs have been created. (Want $60,000 a year to drive a
water truck with a $2,000 signing bonus? Pennsylvania is calling.)
What’s more, tens of billions of dollars in new wealth have been
injected into the ailing US economy.
Pennsylvania and West Virginia saw 57,000 new Marcellus jobs in a
single year. (New York, which still severely restricts gas development,
gets none of that.)
So what’s not to love?
The problem is hysteria over the gas-drilling technique known as
hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
Fracking uses a blend of water and sand to create tiny fractures in the
shale through which natural gas can escape. Critics have raised fears
that the practice could contaminate aquifers (the main source of our
drinking water), but there’s a mile or more of impermeable stone
between the Marcellus shale and the water table.
There are real environmental concerns about gas drilling, says John
Hanger, an environmental activist, former Pennsylvania environmental
secretary and sometimes sharp critic of the gas industry — but the
concerns have little to do with fracking.
Fracking is in many ways less likely to pollute groundwater than are
other forms of gas drilling, because it happens so far from the
groundwater, with so much rock in between — which isn’t the case with
shallower wells and more traditional gas exploration.
“Prior to the Marcellus [exploitation], there have probably been 50 to
150 private water wells, out of more than a million in the state, that
have had methane contamination as a result of mistakes in the drilling
process — but that has nothing to do with fracking,” Hanger says. “Some
in the industry deny that it ever happens, and that is false.
“But frack fluids returning from depth, from 5,000 to 8,000 feet under
the ground, to contaminate an aquifer? When the industry says that’s
never happened, that has in fact never happened. And fracking has had
no impact on the public water supply.”
In fact, the advent of fracking actually moved Pennsylvania to crack
down. The sudden sea change in industrial practices prompted the state
Department of Environmental Protection to overhaul its regulatory
regime, working closely with individual firms and industry groups to
develop best practices and high environmental standards.
The real environmental challenge, it turns out, isn’t any exotic
concern on fracking, but the age-old problem of disposing of wastewater.
“Drilling wastewater is highly polluted,” says Hanger. But “when the
Pennsylvania industry was small, we were dumping drilling wastewater
untreated into rivers and streams and hoping that dilution would keep
concentrations below levels that would cause damage to aquatic life or
drinking water. There is probably less water going untreated into the
rivers today than before the first Marcellus well. It’s a success
There’s also money to be made treating wastewater, as a number of
Pennsylvania startups have found. By raising standards for water that
can be discharged into streams, the state pushed drillers to start
recycling their wastewater instead. The DEP estimates that most
frackers in Pennsylvania today are recycling 70 percent to 75 percent
of their wastewater, with some recycling 100 percent.
Says Hanger: “If you look at the top 10 things impacting water in
Pennsylvania right now, the gas industry would not be on the list, and
certainly not fracking. Industry, environmentalists and regulators all
ought to be celebrating.”
Kevin D. Williamson, a deputy
managing editor at National Review, adapted this column from his
article in the Feb. 20 NR.
York Times and natural gas: Don’t facts matter any more?
June 27, 2011 | Posted by Ken Cohen, for Exxon/Mobil blog
You really have to wonder why the New York Times is campaigning against
cleaner-burning, domestically produced natural gas.
In the latest installment (stories published yesterday and today), the
Times questions the value of our country’s vast shale gas
resources with little more than anonymous sourcing, two-year-old emails
and analysis unsupported by fact. Ironically, author Ian Urbina did not
call ExxonMobil, the largest natural gas producer in the United States,
for comment. You would think an investigative journalist for one of the
world’s great newspapers would have been curious to know why the
world’s largest publicly traded energy company has invested billions of
dollars in a so-called “Ponzi scheme.” Of course we’re doing no such
thing, no matter how hard the article works to imply otherwise.
What does the Times have against an industry that supports more than
2.8 million American jobs and contributes $385 billion annually to the
U.S. economy? In Pennsylvania alone, more than 48,000 jobs were created
in 2010 because of the development of the Marcellus Shale resources
there. U.S. natural gas production in 2010 was at its highest level
since 1973 thanks to industry breakthroughs in shale gas production –
facts which the Times fails to mention.
Though he did not bother talking to us, the writer did seem to put a
lot of weight on the word of a retired geologist who just two years ago
wrote that it was “difficult to imagine” that the “Haynesville Shale
can become commercial.” Ironically, the Haynesville Shale is now the
largest gas producer in the United States.
The writer also invokes the Federal Reserve to try to lend credibility
to his premise that the shale gas revolution is a flash in the pan like
the dot-com bubble and built upon misleading or even illegal accounting
practices – in this case reserves reporting – like the Enron scandal.
A closer read and a quick Google search shows that the person he is
quoting from the Fed was appointed to the Dallas Fed’s advisory
committee and is a long-time shale gas opponent. The writer
conveniently omits a report issued last year by economists who actually
work for the Dallas Fed that notes that “the Texas experiment in the
Barnett Shale proved the technical feasibility of shale gas development
and brought costs within bounds that promise to give shale gas an
important role in global energy supplies for decades to come.”
The current low price of natural gas, which may indeed make certain
wells for some companies uneconomic to drill at this time, is in part a
result of increased supply on the market. And that’s a function of the
industry’s ingenuity in applying technology to tap resources that had
been uneconomic to develop before. These increased supplies of domestic
natural gas enhance U.S. energy security and economic competitiveness.
Risks are inherent in the oil and natural gas business. There is no
guarantee that oil and gas will be found in quantities that will make
it economic to produce. There is always uncertainty in predicting
ultimate recoveries, particularly in the early stages of development.
The U.S. oil and gas industry is experienced in reducing this
uncertainty through studies and the integration of production histories
and other data. For example, in the Bakken Formation of North Dakota
and Montana, the U.S. Geological Survey now says 3 billion to 4 billion
barrels of undiscovered oil are available – 25 times more than the
original estimate made in 1995.
If the writer had bothered to call us, we would have told him that
ExxonMobil’s investment approach is disciplined and based on a
long-term view of global market conditions. We invest through market
cycles and are not driven to hasty decisions because of day-to-day
commodity market volatility. It was this long-term vision that led to
the acquisition of XTO and subsequent shale gas ventures. Today, we are
the largest producer of natural gas in the United States, and we are
positioned to double our U.S. unconventional production over the next
decade with an inventory of approximately 50,000 drillable well
locations. We have strong positions in the Barnett, the Woodford, the
Haynesville, the Fayetteville, the Eagle Ford, Marcellus and the Bakken
Technology development and application are and will remain key elements
in maximizing the full value of these large, long-life resources. Here
are some examples: Unconventional production from Haynesville increased
four-fold in 2010, while production in Fayetteville doubled in 2010.
The Barnett Shale, where we currently have gross production of
approximately 900 million cubic feet per day of gas, is another good
example of value creation through technology. We have been able to
maximize long-term ultimate recovery with longer lateral lengths and
improved drilling and completion efficiency. And our net unit
development cost in this shale play is about $1 per thousand cubic feet
equivalent, a 50 percent improvement in the last five years, which is
yielding attractive drilling program returns. Our confidence in
per-well recoveries in the Barnett is underpinned by a decade of
production history of early vertical wells drilled in the play – hardly
a flash in the pan.
On the Enron allegation, reserve filings with the Securities and
Exchange Commission are taken very seriously by the oil and gas
industry and come with serious consequences for misreporting.
ExxonMobil takes a rigorous and methodical approach to booking proved
reserves. All reserve additions are subject to a long-standing,
thorough management review process regarding the reasonable certainty
of recovery, which is the standard set by the SEC.
It is unfortunate that the words “rigorous” and “methodical” can’t be
applied to the New York Times’ recent articles. Understanding the facts
surrounding the potential for development of our nation’s energy
resources is every American’s business. Our economic recovery,
environmental progress and energy security depends in part on a sound,
stable and sensible policy and regulatory framework informed by honest,
fact-filled debate. The Times’ current campaign undermines this
debate and is a disservice to its readers.
Malloy To Unveil Friday A Sweeping
The Hartford Courant
By MARA LEE, firstname.lastname@example.org
11:32 PM EDT, October 4, 2012
HARTFORD — Converting up to 300,000 households to natural gas by 2020
is the most ambitious piece of a sweeping energy plan that the governor
will unveil Friday.
Aiming to provide residents with "cheaper, cleaner and more reliable
electricity," the Connecticut Comprehensive Energy Strategy outlines
various methods to encourage individuals and businesses to move to
cleaner sources of energy for heating, to buy more efficient appliances
and to use additional insulation.
An executive summary of the energy strategy calls for millions of
dollars for electric and natural gas fueling stations for cars and
trucks and for alternative energy research to be based at the
University of Connecticut. It also suggests that the existing
requirement that utilities buy 20 percent renewable power by 2020 could
be raised, and that an energy efficiency standard for new construction
should be established.
The report notes that just 31 percent of Connecticut homes have natural
gas heat — which is significantly less expensive than oil heat —
compared with 47 percent in Massachusetts and 48 percent in Rhode
Island. New Jersey has 70 percent of homes using natural gas.
For about 40,000 Connecticut homes, the switch from heating oil or
propane would be easy because they already have gas lines in their
houses for stoves or water heaters. There are another 187,000 houses
within 150 feet of a gas line.
The typical oil-heat customer in Connecticut spends $2,650 a year on
fuel, and the typical natural gas customer spends just $1,100 — which
includes the whole year's costs for gas cooking, water heaters and
Ron Araujo, manager of conservation for Connecticut Light & Power
and Yankee Gas, has some experience with showing customers how spending
some money now on insulation; a more efficient water heater, furnace or
refrigerator; or other investments can save them money.
"Customers are very unwilling to take on debt," Araujo said. "We have
greater uptake on the zero percent for insulation. They look at it more
as a repayment plan."
The investment to buy and install a new furnace is substantial — about
The state proposes that it link banks or other lenders with customers
for loans, which would be paid back through utility bill payments over
10 years. If the interest rate was 5 percent — the highest interest
rate now for loans for high-efficiency appliances subsidized through
the utilities' conservation programs — such a loan would cost $80 a
month. Even after subtracting the cost of paying back the loan, a
family would still save $600 a year by switching.
The state currently helps low-income families convert through its
Connecticut Housing Investment Fund, but the scale of this proposed
program is far larger. It would be available to families at all income
levels, and would cost $6 billion over seven years, if demand
The utilities paid the full freight for 11,578 low-income households so
far this year, with an average $1,500 in improvements.
So far this year, another 16,003 households that make too much money to
qualify for free insulation or appliances have had energy audits, which
include caulking and replacement light bulbs. Just 12 percent, or fewer
than 2,000, ever go further, adding insulation or replacing appliances
or windows. And that's when the utilities are offering an interest-free
loan for insulation projects of less than $2,500.
There have been 87 customers who accepted the interest-free loans for
insulation, 57 customers who did more than one project and borrowed at
2.99 percent, and 32 customers who did a single project and borrowed at
Both of these programs are paid for with $123 million in the state's
energy efficiency fund. That fund also subsidizes businesses' energy
conservation investments, and pays for education promoting conversation
and the financing of large-scale renewable energy installations to
provide electricity to the utilities.
About $90 million of that fund comes from a surcharge on United
Illuminating and CL&P bills. The draft plan would increase that
surcharge by 0.37 cents a kilowatt hour, which would roughly double the
Araujo said the residential and business audit and retrofitting
programs — together close to $50 million a year — almost always have
enough money to meet the demand.
"Demand isn't as high as we would like it to see," he said, although he
expects to be able to spend it all by the end of the year. Last year,
CL&P had $8 million left over, which rolled over to this year.
Araujo said that more people need to take out loans for thousands of
dollars in improvements for the fund to be fully subscribed. He thinks
that within three years, the spending could be doubled.
"There's a commitment from the current administration making energy
efficiency a key means of meeting its environmental and energy goals,"
he said. Past administrations either diverted the surcharge or
threatened to do so, he said, which dampened interest in the programs
and led to energy auditor layoffs.
But if the current programs don't have demand past $50 million, how is
the state going to inspire almost $1 billion a year worth of spending
on natural gas conversions?
A member of the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy who asked to
remain anonymous said there could be incentives to sign up, possibly a
tax credit on the state income tax, or some kind of Groupon model that
could persuade most households on a street to sign up, even where there
is not a gas line now.
The cost to tap into a line at the street is small, Araujo said, but
bringing a gas line to a street that doesn't now have one is more
expensive. There are about 80,000 homes in Connecticut near a gas main,
but the street itself doesn't have a gas line.
"We're like uniquely missing the boat," the source said, especially
because Connecticut doesn't have the excuse that New Hampshire and
Maine do, that many people live in rural areas, where natural gas
infrastructure isn't as cost-effective.
If the marketing campaign can persuade people to borrow to realize
immediate heating savings, the administration believes it will be easy
to find private lenders for the billions needed. Defaults when loans
are repaid through utility bills are exceedingly rare, so a 5 percent
rate of return is considered good for such a low-risk loan.
Copyright © 2012, The Hartford Courant
More Gas from the New York Times
August 11, 2011 9:15 AM
While the New York Times can barely conceal its glee at the
phone-hacking scandal embroiling the rival Murdoch empire, The
Scrapbook confesses to a certain schadenfreude of its own at the Gray
Lady’s latest embarrassment. The Times’s slanted coverage of the
natural gas industry continues to generate radioactive fallout.
Steven F. Hayward explained round one in our August 1 issue (“New York
Times Passes Gas”). In a pair of long front-page stories in late June,
the Times purported to expose the prospects of the “gas revolution” as
not just hyped but likely fraudulent: Industry dissidents were likening
the shale gas boom to the dot-com bubble and a Ponzi scheme.
Hayward’s chief criticism of the series was its “stupefying economic
ignorance and disregard for any data analysis.” But he also faulted its
reliance on “the sensational views of two would-be whistle-blowing
‘insiders,’ along with leaked emails and documents.” The Times posted
online hundreds of pages of source materials but took care to black out
the names of email senders and recipients.
The series brought a hail of criticism, including from the paper’s own
ombudsman. His column in mid-July argued that “such a pointed article
needed more convincing substantiation.”
In particular, he deplored the misleading identification of one of the
few sources actually named, Deborah Rogers. Far from being an energy
industry insider, Rogers is a goat farmer proud of her prize-winning
artisanal cheeses. While the Times correctly stated that she once
worked as a stockbroker and is a member of an advisory council to the
Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, it failed to note that this group of
business-people, academics, and local notables meets twice a year to
offer thoughts about business conditions, for which participants
receive $100 a pop. Also left out was Rogers’s personal clash “with
Chesapeake Energy, a leading shale gas producer, over its drilling on
land next to hers” and her activism with the anti-shale-gas Oil and Gas
Oddly, the author of the piece, reporter Ian Urbina, and his editors,
instead of admitting missteps and moving on, dug in their heels.
National editor Richard L. Berke defended the story as “deeply sourced,
meticulously reported and measured.” The editors, he said, “would not
change a word.”
Time for round two, or “Why Redacting E-Mails Is a Bad Idea.” That
headline announced the second column by ombudsman Arthur S. Brisbane on
July 30. By now, Brisbane had read, unredacted, the internal emails
from the Energy Information Administration, the independent data branch
of the Department of Energy, of which the series made extensive use. He
found that some redactions of content had distorted the writers’
meaning. Most preposterously, an intern hired out of college in 2009
and promoted to an entry-level position this past March had been given
pumped-up billing. Wrote Brisbane:
One of his emails
was attributed to “one official” who said the shale industry may be
“set up for failure.” Later, he was an “energy analyst” wondering, “Am
I just totally crazy, or does it seem like everyone and their mother
are endorsing shale gas without getting a really good understanding of
the economics at the business level?” Next he was “one federal analyst”
who said, “It seems that science is pointing in one direction and
industry PR is pointing in another.”
Brisbane concluded with admirable restraint: “Anonymous material says
to the reader: Trust us. But if the reader ends up feeling burned—if,
for example, an ‘official’ proves to be an intern—the trust won’t be
there the next time.”
Conceding nothing, the editors stand by Urbina, whose latest
contribution to a well-rounded view of his subject is an August 3 piece
on the only publicly documented instance of contamination of a drinking
well by the controversial drilling process known as fracking—which
occurred, as he reveals in paragraph 11, in 1984. When he finishes
speculating that evidence of similar atrocities may lie hidden in
sealed case files somewhere, Urbina no doubt - will unleash his
reportorial zeal on the technological advances in gas extraction made
in the past 27 years.
Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural
NYTIMES (click above to the TIMES' research file)
By IAN URBINA
June 26, 2011
Energy companies have worked hard to promote the idea that natural gas
is the fossil fuel of tomorrow, and they have found reliable allies
among policy makers in Washington.
“The potential for natural gas is enormous,” President Obama said in a
speech this year, having cited it as an issue on which Democrats and
Republicans can agree.
The Department of Energy boasts in news releases about helping
jump-start the boom in drilling by financing some research that made it
possible to tap the gas trapped in shale formations deep underground.
In its annual forecasting reports, the United States Energy Information
Administration, a division of the Energy Department, has steadily
increased its estimates of domestic supplies of natural gas, and
investors and the oil and gas industry have repeated them widely to
make their case about a prosperous future.
But not everyone in the Energy Information Administration agrees. In
scores of internal e-mails and documents, officials within the Energy
Information Administration, or E.I.A., voice skepticism about the shale
One official says the shale industry may be “set up for failure.” “It
is quite likely that many of these companies will go bankrupt,” a
senior adviser to the Energy Information Administration administrator
predicts. Several officials echo concerns raised during previous
bubbles, in housing and in technology stocks, for example, that ended
in a bust.
Energy Information Administration employees also explain in e-mails and
documents, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, that
industry estimates might overstate the amount of gas that companies can
affordably get out of the ground.
They discuss the uncertainties about how long the wells will be
productive as well as the high prices some companies paid during the
land rush to lease mineral rights. They also raise concerns about the
unpredictability of shale gas drilling.
One senior Energy Information Administration official describes an
“irrational exuberance” around shale gas. An internal Energy
Information Administration document says companies have exaggerated
“the appearance of shale gas well profitability,” are highlighting the
performance of only their best wells and may be using overly optimistic
models for projecting the wells’ productivity over the next several
While there are environmental and economic benefits to natural gas
compared with other fossil fuels, its widespread popularity as an
energy source is relatively new. As a result, it has not received the
same level of scrutiny, according to some environmentalists and energy
The Energy Information Administration e-mails indicate that some of
these difficult questions are being raised.
“Am I just totally crazy, or does it seem like everyone and their
mothers are endorsing shale gas without getting a really good
understanding of the economics at the business level?” an energy
analyst at the Energy Information Administration wrote in an April 27
e-mail to a colleague.
Another e-mail expresses similar doubts. “I agree with your concerns
regarding the euphoria for shale gas and oil,”wrote a senior officialin
the forecasting division of the Energy Information Administration in an
April 13 e-mail to a colleague at the administration.
“We might be in a ‘gold rush’ wherein a few folks have developed
‘monster’ wells,” he wrote, “so everyone assumes that all the wells
will be ‘monsters.’ ”
The Energy Information Administration’s annual reports are widely
followed by investors, companies and policy makers because they are
considered scientifically rigorous and independent from industry. They
also inform legislators’ initiatives. Congress, for example, has been
considering major subsidies to promote vehicles fueled by natural gas
and cutting taxes for the industry.
In any organization as big as the Energy Information Administration,
with its 370 or so employees, there inevitably will be differences of
opinion, particularly in private e-mails shared among colleagues. A
spokesman for the agency said that it stands by its reports, and that
it has been clear about the uncertainties of shale gas production.
“One guiding principle that we employ is, ‘look at the data,’ ” said
Michael Schaal, director of the Office of Petroleum, Natural Gas and
Biofuels Analysis within the Energy Information Administration. “It is
clear the data shows that shale gas has become a significant source of
domestic natural gas supply.”
But the doubts and concerns expressed in the e-mails and correspondence
obtained by The Times are noteworthy because they are shared by many
employees, some of them in senior roles. The documents and e-mails,
which were provided to The Times by industry consultants, federal
energy officials and Congressional researchers, show skepticism about
shale gas economics, sometimes even from senior agency officials.
The e-mails were provided by several people to The Times under the
condition that the names of those sending and receiving them would not
Some of the e-mails suggest frustrations among the staff members in
their attempt to push for a more accurate discussion of shale gas. One
federal analyst, describing an Energy Information Administration
publication on shale gas, complained that the administration shared the
industry’s optimism. “It seems that science is pointing in one
direction and industry PR is pointing in another,” wrote the analyst
about shale gas drilling in an e-mail. “We still have to present the
middle, even if the middle neglects to point out the strengths of
scientific evidence over PR.”
The Energy Information Administration, with its mission of providing
“independent and impartial energy information to promote sound
policymaking” and “efficient markets,” was created in response to the
energy crisis of the 1970s because lawmakers believed that sound data
could help the country avoid similar crises in the future.
As a protection from industry or political pressure, the Energy
Information Administration’s reports, by law, are supposed to be
independent and do not require approval by any other arm of government.
Its administrator, Richard G. Newell, who announced this month his
plans to resign to take a job at Duke University, has hailed the
prospects for shale gas, calling it a “game changer” in the United
States energy mix. “The energy outlook for natural gas has changed
dramatically over the past several years,” Mr. Newell told the Natural
Gas Roundtable, a nonprofit group tied to the American Gas Association.
“The most significant story is the transformative role played by shale
A number of factors have also helped create more interest in shale gas.
The nuclear disaster in Japan in March has focused attention on the
promise of natural gas as a safer energy source.
And last year, as energy market analysts warned about tougher federal
regulations on oil and coal, particularly after the BP oil spill and
the Massey coal mining accident, they also pointed to natural gas as a
more attractive investment.
But a look at the Energy Information Administration’s methods raises
questions about its independence from energy companies, since the
industry lends a helping hand to the government to compile those
The Energy Information Administration, for example, relies on research
from outside consultants with ties to the industry. And some of those
consultants pull the data they supply to the government from energy
company news releases, according to Energy Information Administration
e-mails. Projections about future supplies of natural gas are based not
just on science but also some guesswork and modeling.
Two of the primary contractors, Intek and Advanced Resources
International, provided shale gas estimates and data for the Energy
Information Administration’s major annual forecasting reports on
domestic and foreign oil and gas resources. Both of them have major
clients in the oil and gas industry, according to corporate tax records
from the contractors. The president of Advanced Resources, Vello A.
Kuuskraa, is also a stockholder and board member of Southwestern
Energy, an energy company heavily involved in drilling for gas in the
Fayetteville shale formation in Arkansas.
The contractors said they did not see any conflict of interest.
“Firstly, the report is an extremely transparent assessment,” said
Tyler Van Leeuwen, an analyst at Advanced Resources, adding that many
experts agreed with its conclusions and that by identifying promising
areas, the report heightened competition for Southwestern.
Intek verified that it produced data for Energy Information
Administration reports but declined to comment on questions about
whether, given its ties to industry, it had a conflict of interest.
Some government watchdog groups, however, faulted the Energy
Information Administration for not maintaining more independence from
“E.I.A.’s heavy reliance on industry for their analysis fundamentally
undermines the agency’s mission to provide independent expertise,” said
Danielle Brian, the executive director of the Project on Government
Oversight, a group that investigates federal agencies and Congress.
“The Chemical Safety Board and the National Transportation Safety Board
both show that government agencies can conduct complex, niche analysis
without being captured or heavily relying upon industry expertise,” Ms.
Brian added, referring to two independent federal agencies that conduct
investigations of accidents.
These sorts of concerns have also led to complaints within the
In an April 27 e-mail, a senior petroleum geologist who works for the
Energy Information Administration wrote that upper management relied
too heavily on outside contractors and used “incomplete/selective and
all too often unreal data,” much of which comes from industry news
“E.I.A., irrespective of what or how many ‘specialty’ contractors are
hired, is NOT TECHNICALLY COMPETENT to estimate the undiscovered
resources of anything made by Mother Nature, period,” he wrote.
Energy officials have also quietly criticized in internal e-mails the
department’s shale gas primer, a source of information for the public,
saying it may be “on the rosy side.”
The primer is written by the Ground Water Protection Council, a
research group that, according to tax records, is partly financed by
The Ground Water Protection Council declined to respond to questions.
Tiffany Edwards, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy, said that
the shale gas primer was never intended as a comprehensive review and
that further study was continuing.
Asked about the views expressed in the internal e-mails, Mr. Schaal
says his administration has been very explicit in acknowledging the
uncertainties surrounding shale gas development.
He said news reports and company presentations were included among a
range of information sources used in Energy Information Administration
studies. Though the administration depends on contractors with
specialized expertise, he added, it conforms with all relevant federal
And while production from shale gas has not slowed down and may not any
time soon, he said, a lively debate continues within the administration
about shale gas prospects.
Robbie Brown contributed reporting
from Atlanta. Kitty Bennett contributed research.
'Last chance' gas talks
Vladimir Putin and
Ukraine's Yulia Tymoshenko are in Moscow
High-level talks in Moscow between the prime ministers of
Russia and Ukraine have so far failed to resolve the dispute disrupting
supplies of gas.
Moscow has indicated that the Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko does not
have the full authority needed to negotiate a deal, a claim denied by
Almost 20 countries in Europe have been affected. Russia supplies gas
to Western Europe via Ukraine.
It switched off the gas this month amid payment and theft allegations.
Earlier, the EU said the talks were Kiev and Moscow's "last chance".
Some central and east European states have been reduced to rationing
gas, while others have been seeking alternatives to the pipelines
carrying Russian gas via Ukraine.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev said he hoped gas deliveries would
begin in the next few days.
The BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow says Brussels stepped up pressure to
bring an end to the EU's worst ever energy crisis, ahead of Saturday's
meeting between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and the Ukrainian
European Commission spokesman Johannes Laitenberger said the talks
"offer the last and best chance for Russia and Ukraine to demonstrate
they are serious about resolving this dispute".
Ukrainians burn a poster of Mr Putin as a Gollum figure turning off a
"The gas must flow. We will regard this period as a test case for
judging whether or not they are credible partners."
EU states import a quarter of their gas from Russia and 80% of supplies
come via Ukraine.
Russia halted supplies of gas to Ukraine on 1 January after talks on
the price Kiev should pay in 2009 collapsed.
A week later it cut the supply to Europe via Ukraine, saying it was
forced to do so because Kiev was stealing the gas.
Ukrainian officials deny the allegation and accuse Russia of provoking
Mr Putin, fresh from a visit to Germany, one of Moscow's biggest gas
clients, said on Friday that a deal could be nearer after he discussed
the formation of a gas transit consortium.
He said a deal was being brokered between Russia's Gazprom and EU firms
to cover part of the cost of pumping gas from Russia to Europe.
It is not clear whether Ukraine would accept such a deal.
Meanwhile, divisions exist in Ukraine over the domestic supply and
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has said the two contracts were
linked but Mrs Tymoshenko, his political rival, argued they were not
"The issue of natural gas supplies to Ukraine and the issue of transit
are interlinked and must be discussed as a single package," Mr
Yushchenko's office said on the eve of the Moscow talks.
Speaking the same day, Mrs Tymoshenko said: "The Ukrainian government
does not link the issue of concluding an agreement on [Russian] gas
supplies to Ukraine with the issue of resuming gas transit to Europe."
Such a link, she added, would be "groundless and unfair".
She also demanded that Ukraine speak with one voice in the
"Simply speaking, I need two things: Don't throw a spoke in the wheel
and don't stab any backs," she said in Kiev.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has invited EU leaders to an
emergency gas summit on Saturday but it appears that only envoys will
be sent, including EU Energy Commissioner Andries Pielbags.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was scathing about the decision
not to send EU heads of state.
"We expect anyone interested in resolving the problem as soon as
possible to come to the summit being held in Moscow tomorrow," he said
He urged the EU to "show its famous solidarity" and put pressure on
Gazprom Dispute With Ukraine Entangles
By DAVID JOLLY and JULIA WERDIGIER
7, 2009 - dated ahead again (guess they are checking it out!)
PARIS — Russia’s gas price dispute with Ukraine escalated Tuesday,
disrupting deliveries to the European Union in the midst of a bitter
cold spell, with a number of countries reporting that gas supplies had
been suspended or reduced, and Germany predicting a possible shortage.
Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, the Czech Republic, Austria and other
countries including Croatia, Macedonia and Turkey reported that gas
supplies had been suspended or reduced after Gazprom, the Russian gas
monopoly, reduced gas shipments through Ukraine. Aleksandr I.
Medvedev, a deputy chief executive of Gazprom, said at a news
conference in London that three export pipelines within Ukraine had
been shut down early Tuesday morning.
“The flow to Europe through the Ukraine is now about seven times less
than the norm and the situation continues to deteriorate,” Mr. Medvedev
said. “The Ukraine is in obvious breach of its commitments.”
“We face this challenge together with our European colleagues,” he
added. “It’s a question of absolute irresponsibility,” and he called on
the European Union to “go after Ukraine.”
Nonetheless, he said, Gazprom is “ready to go to the negotiation table
any day, any minute.”
The European Commission and the European Union presidency responded to
the Russian move with a statement demanding that “gas supplies be
restored immediately to the E.U. and that the two parties resume
negotiations at once with a view to a definitive settlement of their
bilateral commercial dispute.” They said the E.U. would seek to
“intensify the dialogue with both parties so that they can reach an
E.ON Ruhrgas, the German gas company, said its gas supplies via Ukraine
at its Waidhaus station had been “massively reduced,” and predicted
that deliveries would completely stop in the next few days. E.ON said
it would soon be unable to meet demand if supplies were not restored
and temperatures remained low.
The Bulgarian Energy Ministry said that its deliveries were suspended
early Tuesday, including gas intended for transit to Turkey, Greece and
Macedonia. Bulgaria gets the vast majority of its gas from Russia.
Bulgarian leaders announced that natural gas supplies would be slashed
by two thirds on Tuesday, forcing the nation to rely on reserves in the
village of Chiren in central Bulgaria that could last up to two
Prime Minister Sergey Stanishev said that the storage facility had
reserves of 570 million cubic meters of gas and could provide about 4.5
million cubic meters daily — about a third of the country’s normal
The Turkish energy minister, Hilmi Guler, on Tuesday told reporters in
Ankara that the Russian gas from a pipeline that transits Ukraine had
been completely cut. But Turkey is seeking to increase deliveries of
Russian gas via a Black Sea pipeline, he said.
In Prague, the Czech pipeline operator RWE Transgas said the flow of
gas “delivered by the transit pipe line system through the Ukraine and
Slovakia to the Czech republic and other EU countries has dropped
significantly.” It said it would increase purchases of Norwegian gas
delivered via another pipeline.
The Romanian Economy Ministry also released a statement saying that a
pipeline delivering Gazprom gas had been shut down. A second pipeline
in the north of the country continues to operate, however. In Vienna,
the Austrian energy company OMV said its supply of Russian gas via
Gazprom was down 90 percent Tuesday. Werner Auli, a member of the OMV
board said in a statement: “The supply of natural gas to our customers
is still secured for the time being.”
Gazprom began reducing deliveries Monday for transit through Ukraine to
Western European customers, saying it was seeking to make up for gas
stolen by Ukraine. The Gazprom chief executive, Aleksei B. Miller, said
in a conversation with Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin broadcast
Monday on Russian state television that Gazprom would reduce exports
bound for Western Europe through Ukrainian pipes by the same amount
that it accused Ukraine of diverting. Gazprom had already cut off all
fuel supplies meant for Ukraine over the dispute.
It said that any countries that suffer shortages as a result should
blame Ukraine for not paying a fair price for Russia’s natural gas.
Russia and Ukraine, which has a pro-Western government, have been
haggling over gas prices for years, in disputes that often carry
political overtones. In the current fracas, Ukraine resisted an
increase in Russian gas to $250 per 1,000 cubic meters from the current
$179.50. Russia then raised the price to $418 for the same volume and
again to $450.
The Russian announcement Monday was, in essence, a partial Russian fuel
embargo of Europe, something policy makers in Western capitals have
feared for some time as relations with Moscow bottomed out last summer
following the war in Georgia. The announcement took the form of a
conversation between Mr. Putin and Mr. Miller during an evening
newscast. As they have in the past, the men accused Ukraine of
diverting gas from pipelines that send it through Ukraine to Europe,
something the Ukrainian government has denied doing.
Mr. Putin asked Mr. Miller how much Ukraine had diverted. About 65.3
million cubic meters of natural gas since Jan. 1, the executive said.
“What are you going to do?” Mr. Putin then asked. Mr. Miller responded
that he was considering ordering Gazprom to immediately cut exports
bound for Western Europe through Ukrainian pipes by this same
amount. He said Gazprom would seek to mitigate shortages by
shipping more gas through Belarus and Turkey, and by withdrawing gas
from storage. But he suggested that European nations should blame
Ukraine for likely deficits of heating fuel. Mr. Putin asked, “How
about the supplies to our Western European consumers under long-term
Mr. Miller said that Europe would only lack what “Ukraine had stolen.”
Mr. Putin then said: “Good, I agree, cut it from today.”
In the days ahead, Mr. Miller added, Gazprom would each day reduce the
volume of gas supplied at Ukraine’s border and intended for re-export
to Europe by the amount it suspects Ukraine of diverting from the
pipelines. Russia diminished the flow of gas to Ukraine on Jan. 1 by
about 100 million cubic meters per day. Since then, Russia has accused
Ukraine of withdrawing gas from the export pipelines. Ukraine
countered that it was diverting only enough fuel, about 21 million
cubic meters, to power compressors. Authorities in Kiev said they were
meeting internal demand from reserves and domestic production.
While ostensibly intended to force higher payments on Ukraine, the
latest cuts directly affect gas bound for Western markets, something
that energy experts said was seemingly designed to drag the European
Union into the dispute, forcing it to assume a mediating role, assist
Ukraine with payments or face shortages in its member nations’ markets.
In 2006, a similar dispute prompted the European Union to side with
Kiev. This time the bloc has urged a swift end to the crisis, but it
has so far refused to get involved. “It has to be resolved by the two
parties,” said Ferran Tarradellas Espuny, an energy spokesman for the
European Commission in Brussels.
The global recession has reduced demand for energy and allowed many
countries to salt away stockpiles in national reserves, making any
embargo easier to weather than in 2006.
David Jolly reported from Paris, and
Julia Werdigier from London. Andrew E. Kramer contributed from Moscow,
and Doreen Carvajal from Paris.
3 January 2008 - I-BBC
Several gas pipelines run through Ukraine
to the rest of Europe
gas theories abound
By Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
BBC News, Moscow
Winston Churchill once famously described Russia as
"a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma". This week Russia has
once again lived up to its difficult reputation.
As an outsider it's extremely easy to be desperately
confused by the way this country behaves.
Is Russia's decision to cut gas supplies to Ukraine
simply a commercial dispute?
Is it the Kremlin extracting political revenge for
Ukraine's Orange Revolution?
Or is it an even more convoluted conspiracy involving
powerful political figures in Moscow and Kiev?
Depending on who you talk to, it's all of the above.
Talk to the deputy chairman of Russia's state gas giant
Gazprom, Alexander Medvedev, and he'll tell you it's purely a
"The rest of Europe pays more than $400
for each thousand cubic metres of gas it gets from Russia."
Alexander Medevdev says Gazprom
needs 'alternative transit routes'
He tells me: "We have offered Ukraine extremely
favourable terms for gas deliveries in 2009, but they have still
refused to sign a new contract.
"So now we have no legal basis to continue supplying
gas to them."
All of this is true. Up to now Ukraine has got its gas
at just $179 per thousand cubic metres. This year Russia wants to raise
that to $250.
That's still far below what the rest of Europe pays.
But talk to Masha Lipmann, a well-known political
commentator at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in
Moscow, and you'll hear a very different story.
"Moscow can't pretend this is purely a commercial
dispute" she says.
"There's little doubt that Russia is using its energy
resources as a political tool."
But why? What does the Kremlin want to achieve?
According to those who subscribe to the political
weapon theory, Russia's purpose is to bring down the government of
Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko.
The Kremlin has never forgiven Mr Yushchenko for
leading the Orange Revolution in 2004, and for moving Ukraine out of
the Russian fold and towards a much closer relationship with Europe and
Mr Yushchenko has applied to join Nato, and says he
wants Ukraine to eventually join the European Union.
This is anathema to many Russians who consider
Ukraine a part of the Slavic heartland.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is famously supposed to
have told US President George W Bush once that "Ukraine isn't even a
And then there are the conspiracy theories.
The first goes like this: Gazprom wants to build a
pipeline down the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine, to supply its gas
directly to the rich markets of Western Europe.
But the project, known as "Nordstream" is hugely
expensive, fraught with environmental problems, and unnecessary.
The current pipeline network through Ukraine is
perfectly adequate. Except, that is, if Ukraine keeps jeopardising
supplies to Europe.
Consider this from Gazprom's Alexander Medvedev on
Friday: "The question is can we rely on a transit country like Ukraine?
Obviously there is no positive answer to this question.
"This is why we believe it is necessary to develop, as
soon as possible, alternative transit routes. We hope that Europe takes
the necessary steps to support this."
Perhaps not so far-fetched then.
But the final theory is even more outlandish: that
powerful political figures in Ukraine are colluding with the Kremlin to
foment the crisis and bring down President Yushchenko.
That would allow his political enemies to gain power.
Who would benefit from such a scenario? Ukraine's
increasingly powerful Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko.
Supporters of this theory say we can expect Ms
Timoshenko to turn up in Moscow some time next week, sign a deal with
the Kremlin, and return home to Kiev in triumph, having saved Ukraine
Cuts Off Gas Deliveries to
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
January 2, 2009
MOSCOW — Gazprom, the Russian energy monopoly, shut the entire flow of
natural gas intended for Ukraine’s domestic consumption Thursday
morning after negotiations over prices and transit fees unraveled the
“Gas deliveries in the Ukrainian direction were reduced by 90 million
cubic meters per day,” Gazprom said in a statement carried by the
Interfax news agency, or about the average daily consumption of the
country of 46 million people which is at the peak of the winter heating
Ukraine’s national energy company confirmed pressure in the country’s
natural gas pipeline system had begun to drop Thursday morning, Reuters
If the interruption continues, customers in Western Europe would likely
experience shortages, since the same pipelines in Ukraine that are used
for internal distribution are also used for export. That is a problem
that has bedeviled Europe’s energy supplies from Russia for years.
About 80 percent of Russia’s gas exports to Europe go through Ukraine.
In the statement Thursday, Gazprom said it was continuing to ship gas
to Ukraine that was intended for re-export to Europe.
The transit of Russian natural gas across former Soviet states to
customers in Western Europe is a pivotal economic and security interest
of the Russian government: taxes on exports of oil and natural gas
account for about 60 percent of its budget.
How quickly Western European consumers may go cold from a shortage of
natural gas was unclear. While the European Union as a bloc depends on
Russia for about a quarter of its natural gas imports, some countries
are more vulnerable. Bulgaria, for example, gets all of its gas from
Gazprom, while Ireland imports no Russian gas.
The effect on Western Europe will depend on the scale and duration of
the supply cutoff that began Thursday morning.
The conflict could sharply escalate tensions between Ukraine and
Russia, the two largest successor states of the former Soviet Union.
In comments broadcast Wednesday evening on Russian state television,
Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir V. Putin, said that any interference
with Russia’s gas exports to Europe would carry “serious consequences
for the transit country itself.” He did not elaborate.
Underlying the gas dispute are long-running tensions between Russia and
Ukraine, a former Soviet republic. In 2004, after the street protests
known as the Orange Revolution installed a pro-Western government in
Ukraine, talks over gas supply and its transit became strained.
In 2006, Russia halted supplies to Ukraine for three days, in an
ostensible dispute over pricing and transit fees. A drop in pressure in
the integrated European pipeline system led to shortages as far away as
Italy, as Ukraine withdrew gas from its export shipments to meet
internal demand. This year, Ukrainian authorities say they have
sufficient reserves of gas to meet internal demand for three months.
Moscow’s renewed pressure on Ukraine comes after Russia’s war in August
with Georgia, another former Soviet republic, and the Kremlin’s
subsequent claim to a renewed sphere of influence in the region. Like
Georgia, Ukraine has angered Russia by seeking NATO membership.
Ukraine said it paid $1.5 billion on Tuesday to RosUkrEnergo, the
Swiss-based gas trader Gazprom uses to supply Ukraine. President Viktor
A. Yushchenko issued a statement saying that Ukraine had settled for
all deliveries in 2008. Gazprom maintains that Ukraine must also pay
$600 million in late fees.
By Wednesday evening, the sides had not settled on the price for 2009
deliveries or the tariff that Ukraine would charge for shipping Russian
natural gas to customers in Western Europe.
Mr. Putin said that Gazprom is asking Ukraine to pay $250 per 1,000
cubic meters in 2009, up from $179 for the same volume in 2008. He
characterized the 2009 fee as a subsidized rate. Bohdan I. Sokolovsky,
Mr. Yushchenko’s energy adviser, had said Wednesday evening that
Ukraine would not accept that price unless Russia offset the increase
by paying Ukraine more to export gas to Europe.
Dividing Democrats Over Energy
By JOHN M. BRODER
January 27, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Obama is moving quickly to act on the
environmental promises that were a centerpiece of his campaign. But
tackling global warming will be far more difficult — and more costly —
than the new emissions standards for automobiles he ordered with the
stroke of a pen on Monday.
Already, the Congressional Democrats Mr. Obama will need to carry out
his mandate are feuding with one another.
By coincidence or design, most of the policy makers on Capitol Hill and
in the administration charged with shaping legislation to address
global warming come from California or the East Coast, regions that
lead the country in environmental regulation and the push for renewable
That is a problem, says a group of Democratic lawmakers from the
Midwest and Plains States, which are heavily dependent on coal and
manufacturing. The lawmakers have banded together to fight legislation
they think might further damage their economies.
“There’s a bias in our Congress and government against manufacturing,
or at least indifference to us, especially on the coasts,” said Senator
Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio. “It’s up to those of us in the Midwest
to show how important manufacturing is. If we pass a climate bill the
wrong way, it will hurt American jobs and the American economy, as more
and more production jobs go to places like China, where it’s cheaper.”
This brown state-green state clash is likely to encumber any effort to
set a mandatory ceiling on the carbon dioxide emissions blamed as the
biggest contributor to global warming, something Mr. Obama has declared
to be one of his highest priorities. Mr. Obama has said he intends to
press ahead on such an initiative, despite opposition within his own
party in Congress and divisions among some of his advisers over the
timing, scope and cost of legislation to curb carbon emissions.
The centrist Democrats who urge a slower-paced approach represent
states that are crucial electoral battlegrounds and that stand to lose
the most from such regulation. They say they believe that global
warming is a serious threat and they will support legislation to
address the problem — but not at the expense of their already-strained
workers and industries.
These Democrats are concerned, they say, that climate bills will be
written by committees in the House and Senate led by two liberal
California Democrats, Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Henry A.
Waxman, and shaped by Mr. Obama’s team of environmental and energy
advisers, virtually all of whom are from California or the East Coast.
For decades, California has led the nation in environmental regulation,
including the most sweeping effort to address global warming by
imposing mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2012.
Following California’s lead, a group of Northeastern States have
created a partnership known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
to control carbon emissions.
But California and many East Coast States also differ sharply in the
extent to which they depend on coal — a fossil fuel that is a major
culprit in producing carbon emissions. California, for example, derived
only 20.7 percent of its electricity from coal and 40 percent from
hydroelectric power and renewable sources in 2005, while Ohio drew 86
percent of its electricity from coal that year, according to the
Department of Energy. Other states of the Great Lakes and Plains are
much more like Ohio than California in energy usage.
In the space of a single afternoon this month, Ms. Boxer, Mr. Waxman
and the House speaker Nancy Pelosi, another California Democrat, issued
statements declaring their intent to work with Mr. Obama to act quickly
on comprehensive climate and energy legislation, with a goal of passage
this year. Mr. Waxman said he expected to move a climate bill out of
his Energy and Commerce Committee by Memorial Day. Ms. Boxer said “the
writing is on the wall that legislation to combat global warming is
Rahm Emanuel, the new White House chief of staff, endorsed the
lawmakers’ timetable and said he believed the goal of passage of a
broad climate change bill this year was “realistic,” given the
substantial Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.
Mr. Obama and leaders in Congress have endorsed a so-called
cap-and-trade system in which power plant owners and other polluters
could meet limits on heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide by either
reducing emissions on their own or buying credits from more efficient
Mr. Obama’s energy and environmental advisers include Lisa P. Jackson,
the former head of the New Jersey environmental agency who will head
the Environmental Protection Agency; Steven Chu, former director of the
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, who is the new
secretary of energy; and Nancy Sutley, former deputy mayor of Los
Angeles for environmental affairs, the new chairwoman of the White
House Council on Environmental Quality.
Carol M. Browner, who will occupy the new post of White House
coordinator for climate and energy policy, is a former head of the
E.P.A., a former director of Florida’s environmental agency and was a
senior adviser to former Vice President Al Gore.
The appointees come to office with a mandate from the president to
transform the nation’s energy economy and to lead the world in
addressing climate change.
But their ambitions confront a brutal reality of a weak economy, fading
public concern about climate change and serious qualms within their own
party about the costs of taking on global warming and who will pay them.
They will also have to deal with bruised feelings among many Democrats
over the coup Mr. Waxman mounted last November to wrest the gavel of
the Energy and Commerce Committee from its longtime leader,
Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan and a longtime
champion of the auto industry and other Midwest manufacturers.
“For us, it’s still a big disappointment,” said Senator Debbie
Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, referring to the unseating of Mr.
Dingell, who was pursuing a more moderate climate proposal than those
advocated by Ms. Boxer and Mr. Waxman.
“My message over all is that for us to support what needs to be done in
addressing global warming we need to demonstrate that, in fact, jobs
are created,” Ms. Stabenow said. “It’s not a theoretical argument. We
have to come up with a policy that makes sense, that is manageable on
the cost end, that creates new technology — and that treats states
equitably and addresses regional differences.”
Ms. Stabenow is a leader of the so-called Gang of 10, representing the
coal-dependent states in the middle of the country; the group was
formed after the failure of a Senate global warming bill pushed by Ms.
Boxer last June. The members’ goal is to assure that their concerns are
met in any future legislation.
The other original members are Senators Brown of Ohio, John D.
Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, Carl Levin of Michigan, Blanche
Lincoln of Arkansas, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Jim Webb of Virginia, Evan
Bayh of Indiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and Ben Nelson of
In the fall, six more Democratic senators joined the group: Jeff
Bingaman of New Mexico, Kent Conrad and Byron L. Dorgan of North
Dakota, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Tim Johnson of South Dakota
and Ken Salazar of Colorado.
Mr. Salazar has since left the Senate to become secretary of the
“We will play an important role in the final bill,” Ms. Stabenow said.
Representative Edward J. Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who has
been a leader in Congress on environmental matters for three decades,
has been assigned by Mr. Waxman to write the House’s version of global
warming legislation. Mr. Markey said he was very aware of the concerns
of coal-state Democrats.
He noted that Mr. Obama, who comes from Illinois, a coal-dependent
state, had traveled to Ohio last week to speak at a factory that
produces parts for wind turbines.
“Every single wind turbine takes 26 tons of steel to construct,” Mr.
Markey said. “A lot of new jobs will be created if we craft a piece of
global warming legislation correctly, and that is our intention.”
Large China oil spill threatens sea life, water
By CARA ANNA, Associated Press Writer
21 July 2010
BEIJING – China's largest reported oil spill emptied beaches along the
Yellow Sea as its size doubled Wednesday, while cleanup efforts
included straw mats and frazzled workers with little more than rubber
An official warned the spill posed a "severe threat" to sea life and
water quality as China's latest environmental crisis spread off the
shores of Dalian, once named China's most livable city.
One cleanup worker has drowned, his body coated in crude.
"I've been to a few bays today and discovered they were almost entirely
covered with dark oil," said Zhong Yu with environmental group
Greenpeace China, who spent the day on a boat inspecting the spill.
"The oil is half-solid and half liquid and is as sticky as asphalt,"
she told The Associated Press by telephone.
The oil had spread over 165 square miles (430 square kilometers) of
water five days since a pipeline at the busy northeastern port
exploded, hurting oil shipments from part of China's strategic oil
reserves to the rest of the country. Shipments remained reduced
Wednesday. State media has said no more oil is leaking into the
sea, but the total amount of oil spilled is not yet clear.
Greenpeace China released photos Wednesday of inky beaches and of straw
mats about 2 square meters (21 square feet) in size scattered on the
sea, meant to absorb the oil. Fishing in the waters around Dalian
has been banned through the end of August, the state-run Xinhua News
"The oil spill will pose a severe threat to marine animals, and water
quality, and the sea birds," Huang Yong, deputy bureau chief for the
city's Maritime Safety Administration, told Dragon TV.
At least one person died during cleanup efforts. A 25-year-old
firefighter, Zhang Liang, drowned Tuesday when a wave threw him from a
vessel, Xinhua reported. Officials, oil company workers and
volunteers were turning out by the hundreds to clean blackened beaches.
"We don't have proper oil cleanup materials, so our workers are wearing
rubber gloves and using chopsticks," an official with the Jinshitan
Golden Beach Administration Committee told the Beijing Youth Daily
newspaper, in apparent exasperation.
"This kind of inefficiency means the oil will keep coming to shore. ...
This stretch of oil is really difficult to clean up in the short term."
But 40 oil-skimming boats and about 800 fishing boats were also
deployed to clean up the spill, and Xinhua said more than 15 kilometers
(9 miles) of oil barriers had been set up to keep the slick from
Central Television earlier reported an estimate of 1,500 tons of oil
has spilled. That would amount roughly to 400,000 gallons (1,500,000
liters) — as compared with 94 million to 184 million gallons in the BP
oil spill off the U.S. coast.
China's State Oceanic Administration released the latest size of the
contaminated area in a statement Tuesday. The cause of the
explosion that started the spill was still not clear. The pipeline is
owned by China National Petroleum Corp., Asia's biggest oil and gas
producer by volume. Friday's images of 100-foot-high
(30-meter-high) flames at China's second largest port for crude oil
imports drew the immediate attention of President Hu Jintao and other
top leaders. Now the challenge is cleaning up the greasy plume.
"Our priority is to collect the spilled oil within five days to reduce
the possibility of contaminating international waters," Dalian's vice
mayor, Dai Yulin, told Xinhua on Tuesday.
But an official with the State Oceanic Administration has warned the
spill will be difficult to clean up even in twice that amount of
time. Some locals said the area's economy was already hurting.
"Let's wait and see how well they deal with the oil until Sept. 1, if
the oil can't be cleaned up by then, the seafood products will all be
ruined," an unnamed fisherman told Dragon TV. "No one will buy them in
the market because of the smell of the oil."