Posts Tagged ‘Deepwater Horizon’

Oil drilling back to normal in the Gulf

March 12, 2012

Nearly two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the U.S. Gulf Coast, there is more oil drilling than before.  Back then, there were 25 oil rigs off the Gulf Coast; now there are 40 rigs.  BP has five oil rigs in operation, as many as before, and is scheduled to have eight rigs in operation by next year.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was blamed on negligence by BP and by the Minerals Management Service, the responsible U.S. regulatory agency.  The Obama administration has replaced it with a new agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement.

The manager of the new agency said it lacks the resources, personnel, training, technology, enforcement tools, regulations and training needed to assure there will be no repetition of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  The New York Times reported that the budget of the bureau and its predecessor have been basically flat since 1982, despite the huge growth of drilling activity in the past 30 years.

Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican nomination for President, said existing regulations are too burdensome and should be relaxed.  Meanwhile the oil companies are expanding their drilling to the coasts of Mexico and Cuba, which are outside the jurisdiction of U.S. regulation.

A few weeks before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, President Obama said increased offshore oil drilling on the U.S. Continental Shelf was part of his long-range energy plan.   It would seem that plan is back on track.

We Americans should not be in such a hurry to use up our domestic energy resources.  The faster we pump out the oil now, the less will be available for future generations.  The oil will not go away if the U.S. government calls a halt until better methods of drilling can be adopted.

But I admit this kind of thinking is not politically feasible.  We are not going to tolerate the temporary shutdown of a major industry while unemployment is above 8 percent, nor a halt to oil drilling when gasoline prices are approaching $4 a gallon (although increased oil drilling would have only a minor and delayed effect on prices at the pump).

Click on Deepwater Drilling Returns to Gulf and Grows As Blast Fades for a report by the New York Times.

Click on Is the US Gulf oil spill issue truly settled? for an Al Jazeera panel discussion of BP’s legal liability and proposed settlement.

Click on National Geographic Educator Resources Oil Spills Map for a National Geographic map of oil drilling across the Gulf of Mexico.

Click on Offshore Drilling and Exploration News for continuing coverage and updates from the New York Times.

Click on The Gumbo Chronicles for the effect of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on oysters, shrimp and crabs on the Gulf Coast.  [Added 3/16/12]

Why is BP still in charge?

May 26, 2010

The first thing BP did after the oil spill was to have its lawyers fan out along the Gulf Coast and try to get people to accept $5,000 payments for signing away their right to sue for damages. At the same time survivors of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion say they were held incommunicado until they signed away their right to sue for damages.

BP is using toxic industrial chemicals to try to disperse the oil. It refused to comply with an Environmental Protection Agency order to use a less-toxic chemical because it said the alternative wasn’t available.

When BP filed for its permit for the Deepwater Horizon well, it said it could easily handle an oil spill 60 times larger than Deepwater Horizon.  This was a falsehood, just like BP’s initial estimate of the amount of the spill.

BP executives meanwhile are acting like little tin dictators, barring the press from lands it doesn’t actually own.

With all this, why is BP still in charge of the cleanup?  Maybe it is because the Obama administration doesn’t have any better idea of how to deal with the situation than BP officials do.  This may be partly because the responsible government agencies were pretty much ruined under the Bush administration, and there hasn’t been time to rebuild.

Or maybe President Obama is, as usual, giving the benefit of the doubt to people and institutions who don’t deserve it.


Obama, the Gulf oil spill and the lunatic fringe

May 24, 2010

President Obama’s response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the least you could expect under the circumstances. And he is under attack from the right wing even for that.

When the seriousness of the disaster became apparent, President Obama formed a task force of top administration officials, while the Secretaries of the Interior and of Homeland Security and then Obama himself flew to the scene. But they left the actual work of trying to cap the spill was left to BP.  President Obama scolded BP, the oil rig owner Transocean and the oil services company Halliburton, but he reaffirmed his policy of continuing offshore oil drilling.

He announced a temporary moratorium on new oil drilling, and since then there have been seven new drilling permits and five environmental waivers (no permits for new wells, however).  He announced he will appoint a special commission to investigate the causes of the disaster and make recommendations, and one of the first two appointees to the commission is the head of the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

From the standpoint of the shrimp fishermen and property-owners along the Gulf Coast, this must seem like thin soup. But it is too strong for Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican Senatorial candidate. He said it is “un-American” for Obama administration officials to speak so harshly of BP, a foreign-owned company formerly known as British Petroleum.

Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican objected to a proposal to increase the cap on oil company liability for such disasters from $75 million to $10 billion (that’s million and billion) because it would be too burdensome. BP’s profit was $26.5 billion in 2008 and $14 billion last year, so such liability would not put it out of business.

But all these folks seem positively reasonable compared to Rush Limbaugh, who speculated, on the basis of nothing at all, that supporters of President Obama may have sabotaged the oil well in order to advance some kind of environmentalist agenda.

We don’t yet know how bad the Gulf disaster will be.  Some scientists expect a long-term degradation of the Gulf fishery and environment, rather than spectacular pollution as in the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster.

And we don’t whether better regulation could have averted the disaster. Maybe if we follow the best practices of the oil industry elsewhere, such as in the North Sea, we can guarantee it won’t happen again.  Maybe it is inherently impossible to drill for oil 5,000 feet beneath the ocean floor and do it safely. When you stop and think about it, it is amazing that it is possible at all.

The country wouldn’t suffer if we suspend drilling for now.  The Gulf provides a tiny fraction of our oil supply and provides a tiny fraction of our reserves.  If we ever really need it, it will be there. It won’t go away – except of the millions of gallons each day gushing out into the ocean from the failed Deepwater Horizon well.