Archive for July, 2010

New Drilling Moratorium
July 12, 2010

Today Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a “revised” moratorium on deep water drilling. This is not a surprise given that was the government’s intention ever since a federal judge in New Orleans struck down the original ban as overly broad and unnecessary. Last week the federal appeals court in New Orleans also rejected the government’s argument and agreed with the lower court’s ruling. Secretary Salazar stated the revised moratorium is supported by “an extensive record of existing and new information indicating that allowing new deepwater drilling to commence would pose a threat of serious, irreparable, or immediate harm or damage to the marine, coastal, and human environment.” The new moratorium will last until November 30th and no longer simply applies to water depth. This one applies to floating rigs who have a Blow Out Preventer below the water line. Here is the government’s explanation of how the new moratorium works. newmoratorium

Critical Days Ahead…
July 9, 2010

I just finished up a teleconference with Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen. Admiral Allen outlined what will be taking place over the next several days at the well site. These are extremely critical junctures in killing this well. First, the containment cap that is in place now will be removed, possibly as early as tomorrow. This is a necessary step, but it comes with consequences. While the cap is off 15,000 barrels of oil currently being captured will be released into the Gulf. Admiral Allen says it will take three to four days to get the new cap on (target day is Sunday). This new cap will serve two purposes. One is to set in place a new containment system that will capture more oil and gas than is currently being captured. Two, this new cap will allow BP to “shut in”  the well. This doesn’t actually kill the well, but it will stop oil from flowing into the Gulf. The new cap will also set the stage for finally killing this well. When the well is “shut in” pressure readings will be taken. If the pressure in the well holds at 9,000 psi then the chances for the killing the well from the bottom (relief wells) dramatically increases. However, if the pressure in the well dips below 9,000 psi that means the well is damaged below the surface and is allowing hydrocarbons, oil and gas to leak into the surrounding rock formations. If you remember, I reported several weeks ago there are serious concerns the well is damaged below the surface. BP admitted this is why “top kill” did not work, or more specifically, why it could not be sustained. The real worry here is if the well is “shut in” and fluids are leaking into the surrounding rock formations then pressure will build up and potentially cause a sub-surface blow out. That would be the “doomsday scenario” as oil industry expert Bob Cavnar put it. So once the new cap is on and the well is “shut in” then BP and the Coast Guard will know whether there is damage below the surface and will give them a better handle on exactly what needs to be done to kill the well with the relief wells. As Admiral Allen said, “we do not know to a virtual certainty the condition of the well bore.” As for the relief wells, Admiral Allen said they are planning to drill into the annulus (space surrounding the pipe) next week and depending on how that goes, they will then drill into the pipe itself. Admiral Allen says NOAA is predicting seven to ten days of good weather which should allow all these operations to move forward. These next few operations will determine how quickly this well can finally killed. I will keep you posted.

Beneath The Surface…
July 8, 2010

A lot of attention has been focused on clean up and capping the well, but the toll the BP oil spill has taken on the marine life seems to be getting a little lost in the shuffle. I got some updated numbers today from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. I will just cut and paste their response to my question below. Also, NOAA has a good interactive map showing all the strandings. It takes a little while to get the hang of the map. On the right hand side of the page users are given several choices to add layers to the map. One of the choices involves stranded marine life. Here is the link to NOAA’s map.

Here is NOAA’s response to my question. What is not included here is oiled birds. According to the latest Consolidated Fish and Wildlife report 1,543 oiled birds have been found, nine more are listed as pending. The report also shows one oiled “other reptile.”

A total of 601 sea turtles have been verified from April 30 to July 5within the designated spill area from the Texas/Louisiana border to Apalachicola, Fla. There are 148 sea turtles in rehabilitation centers.  These include 100 sea turtles captured as part of the on-water survey and rescue operations, and 48 turtles that stranded alive. A total of 115 stranded or captured turtles have had visible evidence of external oil since verifications began on April 30. All others have not had visible evidence of external oil.

Of the 601 turtles verified from April 30 to July 5, a total of 438 stranded turtles were found dead, 56 stranded alive. Four of those subsequently died. Four live stranded turtles were released, and 48 live stranded turtles are being cared for at rehabilitation centers. This report contains some corrected numbers from earlier reports. Turtle strandings during this time period have been much higher in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle than in previous years for this same time period. This may be due in part to increased detection and reporting, but this does not fully account for the increase.

Whales

The NOAA Ship Pisces reported a dead 25-foot sperm whale on June 15, 2010, that was located 150 miles due south of Pascagoula, Miss. and approximately 77 miles due south of the spill site last week. The whale was decomposed and heavily scavenged. Samples of skin and blubber have been taken and will be analyzed. The whale had not evidence of external oil. Sperm whales are the only endangered resident cetacean in the Upper Gulf of Mexico. There are no records of stranded whales in the Gulf of Mexico for the month of June for the period 2003-2007.

Dolphins

From April 30 to July 5, 58 stranded dolphins have been verified in the designated spill area. One was verified in Mississippi on July 5. Of the 58 strandings, five were live strandings, three of which died shortly after stranding, one was released and one is in rehabilitation.  Fifty-three dolphins were found stranded dead. Visible evidence of external oil was confirmed on five dolphins, two live and three dead stranded animals. We are unable at this time to determine whether three of the dead stranded dolphins were externally oiled before or after death. Since April 30, the stranding rate for dolphins in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle has been higher than the historic numbers for the same time period in previous years. In part, this may be due to increased detection and reporting and the lingering effects of an earlier observed spike in strandings for the winter of 2010.
A stranding is defined as a dead or debilitated animal that washes ashore or is found in the water. NOAA and its partners are analyzing the cause of death for the dead stranded and dead captured sea turtles and the stranded marine mammals.

On my desk in 24 hours…
July 8, 2010

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen just sent BP a stern letter demanding the company provide him with hard deadlines and plans for capping this well. Admiral Allen wants answers on his desk within 24 hours. Here is a copy of the letter sent to BP…Allen Letter

Of Moratoriums and Invoices…
July 7, 2010

As I write this post I’m heading to Freeport to work on a taxpayer boondoggle story, so for the sake of efficiency I’m combining two issues into one post.

First is the issue of the deepwater drilling ban. As you may recall the Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar issued a six month ban on all deepwater drilling. Many of the experts the government relied cried foul, saying their names were unfairly used to justify a moratorium they feel is unsafe and unreasonable. A federal judge in New Orleans then struck down the government’s ban. Immediately Secretary Salazar issued a statement reading the government would appeal the judge’s ruling and issue a new, more specific moratorium that would prove “deepwater drilling poses a unecessary risk.” To Secretary Salazar’s credit he still met face-to-face with the same experts he angered and asked for their input on why they feel the moratorium is unnecessary. Ken Arnold is one of those experts who met with the Secretary. Arnold told me he was hopeful after the meeting and was told their would be another meeting in two weeks. Arnold is no longer hopeful. After providing the Secretary and the Minerals Management Service with information contradicting the need for the current ban, he has not a heard a word from the government. No second meeting, no follow-up questions as Secretary Salazar crafts a new moratorium. When I asked the Department of the Interior when this new moratorium would be announced I was told, ” in the coming days.” Here is a copy of the power point presentation Arnold presented to Secretary Salazar during his meeting in Washington, DC two weeks ago. Presentation to Secretary of Interior – Rev 4[1]

The second issue is a bill sent to Anadarko Petroleum by BP. Anadarko owns 25 percent of the doomed well and the invoice sent to the company requests payment in the amount of roughly $168 million for operation of the well for the month of June. This price also includes clean-up costs. When I asked Anadarko whether it would pay this bill I was sent a terse statement reading, “we are reviewing it and assessing our contractual remedies.” If I may be permitted to read between the lines on this one it looks like Anadarko feels like it shouldn’t have shoulder the burden of this disaster and is looking for a way out of paying this bill. When I spoke with BP officials about the invoice and Anadarko’s statement I was told, “this is a matter between the two companies.” Last month US Rep Ed Markey told Bloomberg Television that BP’s partners in this well should start setting money aside to the help clean up the mess. Send in the lawyers.