"Update on BP oil disaster and the Gulf’s Murky Future"
Three months after BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploratory rig exploded, the Gulf of Mexico faces a murky future of imperfect solutions to intractable problems. Think Progress has an update, cross-posted below:
The new cap installed on the gushing wellhead has for the first time stopped the flow of oil into the ocean, though there remains serious concerns about the wellbore’s integrity. If the cap holds, the region will still have to deal with the millions of gallons of oil spread throughout the Gulf and along hundreds of miles of shoreline as the peak hurricane season approaches. Over one third of the Gulf is closed to fishing, and investigators still do not know what caused the April 20 explosion. In the coming months and years, thousands of scientists will attempt to assess the damage done to the valuable ecosystems of the region, although many will be working for BP. Also unknown are the health effects to the region and the tens of thousands of hired cleanup workers who are handling the toxic oil and dispersants. For many, the BP disaster is just the latest of many heavy blows. The region awaits solutions to its endemic poverty, eroding coast, and dependence on the oil industry that is killing the Gulf. The Obama administration is attempting to brighten this future, announcing yesterday a “new national policy for strengthening the way the U.S. manages its oceans and coasts.” Furthermore, “the Senate now must provide additional safeguards for offshore oil production, slash oil consumption, and reduce global warming pollution.”
CAPS, SEEPS, AND LEAKS: “New problems arose in the struggle to contain the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as bubbles and seepage appeared in four areas around the damaged BP well, but Obama administration and company officials agreed to keep the new well cap closed for at least 24 more hours as they weigh the gravity of the developments.” “It’s the collective opinion of folks that these small seepages do not indicate there is any threat to the well bore,” incident commander Thad Allen said at a briefing in Washington. Even if these leaks prove inconsequential and the gusher is plugged, the region still faces the ongoing degradation and risk of catastrophe from its ties to Big Oil. “Our national response must drive a sustained effort to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels,” write Center for American Progress analysts Bracken Hendricks, Kate Gordon, and Tom Kenworthy. “We must target the structural causes of our vulnerability to oil in an effort to rebuild and strengthen our national economy while restoring the economic health of oil-dependent regions.” One of the first steps is capping the gusher of billion-dollar subsidies for the oil industry, including the write-off for punitive damages in cases like the BP disaster. The United States must also finally cap the global spill of greenhouse gas pollution and direct energy investment into green jobs instead of toxic disasters.
ERODING HOPES: Since early May, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) has pushed a crash effort to build artificial “barrier islands” from dredged sand to prevent BP’s toxic oil from reaching Louisiana’s fragile coastline. He and other Louisiana politicians excoriated the federal government for waiting until June 3 to authorize the $360 million project, even though “categorically, across the board, every coastal scientist” questioned its wisdom. In mid-May, Jindal justified the barrier-island construction by saying it was the “obvious” thing to do. “We know it works, we have seen it work, but if they need to see it work, they need to do that quickly,” argued Jindal. On May 27, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) attacked President Obama, calling the administration’s caution “absolutely outrageous.” In reality, photographs released by Louisiana scientist Leonard Bahr and the US Army Corps of Engineers show that the artificial island E-4 — intended to reach an 18-mile length — is struggling to survive at 1,100 feet. Jindal is pressing for the federal government to approve the emergency construction of 125 miles of sand berms, arguing the 0.2 miles constructed are “are doing what they were intended to do.” That plan would use up valuable resources and take too much time, notes Climate Progress’ Joe Romm. However, Jindal has offered no “obvious” answer for the long-term threats to Louisiana’s eroding coastline — rising seas fueled by global warming, rivers killed by agricultural pollution, and decades of oil industry development.
BP COVERUP: Meanwhile, BP is hard at work minimizing the damage to its bottom line, not to America’s coastline and gulf economy. BP’s legal and public-relations maneuvering has increased as it faces tens of billions of dollars in damages and fines. BP is on a spending spree, buying the silence of Gulf Coast scientists. Scientists from Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, and Texas A&M have “signed contracts with BP to work on their behalf in the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) process” that determines how much ecological damage the Gulf of Mexico region is suffering from BP’s toxic black tide. The contract, the Mobile Press-Register has learned, “prohibits the scientists from publishing their research, sharing it with other scientists or speaking about the data that they collect for at least the next three years.” “Testimony before a panel investigating the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion grew heated Monday as lawyers for various companies connected to the rig attempted to place blame on one another and angled to expose maintenance problems they say existed before the April 20 accident.” Fortunately for BP, Vitter is attacking “trial lawyers” who could threaten its bottom line. BP was even caught posting a doctored photograph of its crisis response center by blogger John Aravosis. “I guess if you’re doing fake crisis response,” Aravosis commented, “you might as well fake a photo of the crisis response center.” “Apparently BP is no more adept at doctoring photos than it is at plugging deep-sea oil leaks,” the Washington Post’s Steven Mufson jabbed.
— A TP cross-post