The Dernogalizer

May 17, 2010

Hopeful News, a Corrupt Agency, and the Unseen Damage Beneath

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 12:18 am
Tags: , , ,

I’ve come across a number of articles in the past couple of days on the oil disaster in the gulf coast that highlight many of the angles of this catastrophe.  The following are some noteworthy excerpts from the articles, and a critique of President Obama for the lack of attention he is bringing to the broader problem with our addiction to fossil fuels.

Hopeful News

It appears that BP has scored a partial success at managing the oil disaster.

“In a significant step toward containing a massive Gulf of Mexico oil leak, BP said a mile-long tube was funneling crude Sunday from a blown well to a tanker ship after three days of wrestling to get the stopgap measure into place on the seafloor.”

“The contraption used by BP was hooked up successfully and sucking oil from a pipe at the blown well Sunday afternoon after being hindered by several setbacks. Engineers remotely guiding robot submersibles had worked since Friday to place the tube into a 21-inch pipe nearly a mile below the sea.

Kent Wells, BP’s senior vice president for exploration and production, said during a news conference that the amount being drawn was gradually increasing, and it would take several days to measure it. Company spokesman Mark Proegler at the joint spill command center in Louisiana had initially said the tube was containing most of the oil coming from the pipe, which is contributing an estimated 85 percent of the crude in the spill.”

The Minerals Management Service is corrupt, to say the least!  Obama agrees, that’s why he’s proposing to split it into one agency that regulates the mining sites and permits, and another that handles the collection of the royalties.

“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 was likely to have on the gulf.”

“The Minerals Management Service, or M.M.S., also routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of certain drilling proposals in the gulf and in Alaska, according to a half-dozen current and former agency scientists.”

““M.M.S. has given up any pretense of regulating the offshore oil industry,” said Kierán Suckling, director of theCenter 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.””

“On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced plans to reorganize the minerals agency to improve its regulatory role by separating safety oversight from 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.”

“Managers at the agency have routinely overruled staff scientists whose findings highlight the environmental risks of drilling, according to a half-dozen current or former agency scientists.

The scientists, none of whom wanted to be 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 an 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 biologist who left the agency in 2005 after more than five years said that agency officials went out of their way to accommodate the oil and gas industry.

He said, for example, that seismic activity from drilling can have a devastating effect on mammals and fish, but that agency officials rarely enforced the regulations meant to limit those effects.

He also said the agency routinely ceded to the drilling companies the responsibility for monitoring species that live or spawn near the drilling projects.”

The Damage Beneath the Ocean

Even though BP has used dangerous chemicals to disperse a lot of the oil to prevent it from reaching the surface, that doesn’t mean it won’t cause long-lasting damage below the ocean.  It’s been reported that giant plumes of oil are forming under the Gulf.

“There is beauty in the lightless deep as well. Fan corals, lacylike doilies, form gardens on the seafloor and on sunken ships. The deep is full of crabs, sponges, sea anemones. Sharks hunt in the dark depths, as do sperm whales that feed on giant squid. The sperm whales have formed a year-round colony near the mouth of the Mississippi River, and have been known to rub themselves on oil pipes just like grizzlies rubbing against pine trees.

This is the unseen world imperiled by the uncapped oil well a mile below the surface of the gulf. The millions of gallons of crude, and the introduction of chemicals to disperse it, have thrown this underwater ecosystem into chaos, and scientists have no answer to the question of how this unintended and uncontrolled experiment in marine biology and chemistry will ultimately play out.

The leaking gulf well, drilled by the now-sunken rig Deepwater Horizon, has cast a light on a part of the planet usually out of sight, out of mind, below the horizon, and beyond our ken. The well is surrounded by a complex ecosystem that only in recent years has been explored by scientists. Between the uncapped well and the surface is a mile of water that riots with life, and now contains a vast cloud of oil, gas and chemical dispersants and long, dense columns of clotted crude”

Of course, all this begs the question of whether simply trying to clean up a Federal Agency is going to solve the problem.  I think a Grist article by Jonathan Hiskes has it right.

“President Obama has so far declined to give voice to the connection between the massive, stomach-churning fossil-fuel disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the massive, stomach-turning damage that fossil fuels wreak every day. He hasn’t used his bully pulpit to highlight the opportunities to use energy more intelligently and gather it from cleaner sources.”

And that, President Obama, is the change we actually need.

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