As BP stems flow (for now), Obama asserts, “This disaster should serve as a wake-up call that it’s time to move forward on” climate bill.
BP undertook a “top kill” maneuver to staunch the river of oil coming from the damaged well. This effort involved shooting drilling muds into the drilling apparatus on the ocean floor to block the oil from escape:
In the top kill maneuver, a 30,000-horsepower engine aboard a ship injected heavy drill liquids through two narrow flow lines into the stack of pipes and other equipment above the well to push the escaping oil and gas back down below the sea floor.
This effort appears to have worked – for now. The New York Times just reported
Engineers appeared to have stemmed the flow of oil, Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard, the leader of the government effort, said on Friday morning. But he stressed that the next 12 to 18 hours will be “very critical” in permanently stanching what is already the worst oil spill in United States history.
The success of this effort to plug the hole is critical to the public, economic, and ecological health of the Gulf Coast because experts now believe that much more oil is flooding the Gulf than previously estimated. The federal government’s analysis of the oil flow rate through the drill site found that it was two to five times greater than the earlier estimate of 5,000 barrels of oil per day.
USGS Director Dr. Marcia McNutt today announced that the National Incident Command’s Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG) has developed an independent, preliminary estimate of the amount of oil flowing from BP’s leaking oil well”¦
Based on three separate methodologies, outlined below, the independent analysis of the Flow Rate Technical Group has determined that the overall best initial estimate for the lower and upper boundaries of flow rates of oil is in the range of 12,000 and 19,000 barrels per day.
This translates to 504,000 to 798,000 gallons of oil per day have flowed from beneath the seabed into the Gulf of Mexico. The flood of oil could total between 18 million to nearly 30 million gallons since the Gulf nightmare began on April 20th. The Exxon Valdez incident spilled over 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound in 1989. The BP oil disaster now has the dubious record as the largest oil debacle in U.S. history.
After the initial explosion, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar launched a quick examination of the BP oil disaster, and to develop recommendations for immediate safety measures. He also declared a thirty day time out in new drilling, although the New York Times determined that “despite moratorium, drilling projects move ahead.”
On May 28th, the Department of Interior presented that report to the President. It recommended a longer time out for oil leasing, exploration, and drilling time in deep waters until the completion of the independent investigation led by former Senator Bob Graham and former EPA Administrator William Reilly. During his remarks today, the President announced this six month time out.
Its initial recommendations include aggressive new operating standards and requirements for offshore energy companies, which we will put in place.
Additionally, after reading the report’s recommendations with Secretary Salazar and other members of my administration, we’re going to be ordering the following the actions.
First, we will suspend the planned exploration of two locations off the coast of Alaska.
Second, we will cancel the pending lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico and the proposed lease sale off the coast of Virginia.
Third, we will continue the existing moratorium and suspend the issuance of new permits to drill new deepwater wells for six months.
And four, we will suspend action on 33 deepwater exploratory wells currently being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico.
This is a welcome reprieve for the northern coast of Alaska because it halts the exploratory wells that Shell was set to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The Alaska Wilderness League notes that
The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, the Arctic waters north of Alaska, are sometimes known as America’s ‘Polar Bear Seas’ – and for good reason”¦ These waters are home to the entire population of U.S. polar bears”¦Many of America’s most beloved sea animals thrive here, including the endangered bowhead whale, sea otters, walrus, seals and countless birds.
Little is known about the effects of a recently-proposed massive oil and gas program on this fragile ecosystem. The government’s Mineral Management Service predicted a 33 to 50 percent likelihood of a large oil spill in the Chukchi Sea alone if drilling proposals were to move forward, while acknowledging that the technology needed to clean up such a spill does not exist.
The report also made the following recommendations (subscription required) to improve safety on rigs.
Among the new safety restrictions Salazar is recommending in a report to Obama are requirements for all blowout preventers to be certified, stronger well control, tougher inspections, and expanded safety and training programs for rig workers.
In addition to describing the Administration’s efforts to respond to the oil spill, President Obama once again urged the Senate to pass comprehensive clean energy and global warming legislation:
This economic and environmental tragedy “¦ underscores the urgent need for this nation to develop clean, renewable sources of energy.
The House of Representatives has already passed a bill that would finally jump-start a permanent transition to a clean-energy economy. And there is currently a plan in the Senate, a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans, that would achieve the same goal.
This disaster should serve as a wake-up call that it’s time to move forward on this legislation. It’s time to accelerate the competition with countries like China who’ve already realized the future lies in renewable energy. And it’s time to seize that future ourselves. So I call on Democrats and Republicans in Congress, working with my administration, to answer this challenge once and for all.
To accomplish this critical goal, President Obama and Senate leaders must role up their sleeves, and pass legislation which would reduce oil use, establish new safety standards for offshore oil drilling, and cut global warming pollution. We don’t have much time left.
Guest blogger Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress.