September 22 News: Is America Prepared for a Cuban Deep Water Drilling Disaster?

Is the White House ready for a Cuban deep water drilling disaster?

The good news? Cuban energy officials are taking the lessons of the BP oil spill disaster very seriously, according to a group of oil drilling and environmental experts just back from Cuba, including the co-chairman of the Bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (also former EPA administrator), the head of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, a former senior executive for Royal Dutch Shell, and a longtime Cuba expert with the Environmental Defense Fund.

The bad news? Less than three months before deep water drilling begins in Cuban waters in the Gulf of Mexico, neither Congress nor the Obama administration has taken the necessary steps to help prevent or respond to a similar disaster that could impact even more US coastline. Granted, it seems a bit far-fetched to imagine the present Congress sending any legislation to the president these days, so the burden of preparedness essentially rests with the administration.

That’s got CNN’s Fareed Zakaria wondering, “What in the World?”


“What happens if there’s another oil spill? Will it be easy and quick to clean up? No. You see, the nearest and best experts on safety procedures and dealing with oil spills are all American, but we are forbidden by our laws from being involved in any way with Cuba. Our trade embargo on Cuba not only prevents us from doing business with our neighbor but it also bars us from sending equipment and expertise to help even in a crisis. So, if there is an explosion, we will watch while the waters of the Gulf Coast get polluted.”

Just days before the BP disaster struck last year, Jorge Piñón, the foremost expert on oil drilling in Cuba and where US policy intersects it, and I urged the US to talk to Cuba about oil spill prevention and response. At that time, deepwater exploration in Cuban waters was slated for late 2010. Unfortunately, the BP disaster made our call for prevention and planning with Cuba all the more salient.

Now, after several delays, with a Chinese-built Italian oil rig, the Scarabeo 9, on its way to Cuba, drilling of the first of five exploratory wells in Cuban deep water is set to commence this December.

A spill from this first, easternmost exploratory well to be drilled by the Repsol consortium could be particularly damaging due to its location where the Gulf Stream exits the Gulf of Mexico for the Atlantic. Whereas the BP disaster was somewhat “contained” in the northern Gulf, Piñón tells me to “imagine a fan-shaped spill with the well as the axis.” If something were to go wrong on Scarabeo 9, we could see and feel the effects of a major oil spill in Cuban deep water not just in Florida, but far up the Atlantic coast.

Failure is Not an Option in Climate Change Talks

The B4E Climate Summit, which took place in London last week, closed with a determined statement of intent — and a warning. Ambassador NJ Mxakato-Diseko, the South African ambassador at large to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNCCC) talks in Durban later this year, will announce at Durban that failure is not an option.

Diseko, who spoke on the closing day of the London summit, emphasised the necessity of making progress at the UNCCC talks to avoid a “collapse of the system”. In doing so, he highlighted the vital importance of the talks in tackling the serious threats posed by climate change.

It probably comes as no surprise that here at WWF we agree with the ambassador. But the message coming out of the B4E Summit, organised by Global Initiatives in partnership with WWF and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), might surprise people who assume that the standard view in the business world is that there is no compelling case for urgent action, that the costs of tackling climate change are too high, and that we can carry on with business as usual.

Issa Sought Clean Energy Aid

Republican Representative Darrell Issa, who said government subsidies to specific companies can encourage corruption, sought U.S. help in the past for clean- energy projects in his home state of California.

Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote Energy Secretary Steven Chu to support an Energy Department loan for Aptera Motors Inc., a Carlsbad, California, electric-car maker, according to a letter received by the department Jan. 14, 2010.

“Awarding this opportunity to Aptera Motors will greatly assist a leading developer of electric vehicles in my district,” Issa wrote in letters obtained yesterday.

Issa’s committee has been investigating regulations proposed by the Obama administration and now is examining the system of federal support, including loan guarantees for companies such as Fremont, California-based Solyndra LLC. The solar-panel manufacturer filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 6 after receiving $535 million in U.S. loan guarantees since 2009.

TransCanada pipeline lobbyist works all the angles with former colleagues

In lobbying for a presidential permit to construct a massive oil pipeline stretching from Canada to the Gulf Coast, TransCanada’s Paul Elliott has tried nearly every angle.

Elliott — who served as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s national deputy campaign manager in 2008 — sought to broker multiple meetings between senior State Department officials and TransCanada executives. He offered to enlist TransCanada officials’ aid in helping State officials forge an international climate agreement. And he deluged administration officials with letters testifying to the virtues of the Keystone XL expansion project, which would ship crude oil from Canada’s oil sands region to American refiners.

The State Department, which completed its environmental assessment of the project last month, has indicated that it will decide later this year whether to allow the company to construct the 1,700-mile pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border.

South Korea Plans Carbon Law as Companies Oppose $5 Billion Cost

South Korea aims to pass a law this year to help start carbon dioxide emissions trading by 2015, a plan opposed by manufacturers who say it will increase costs and make exports less competitive globally.

The National Assembly is expected to pass by December a bill for the proposed emission trading scheme, or ETS, Park Chun Kyoo, director general of the Presidential Committee on Green Growth overseeing climate change policy, said in an interview.

“Prospects for the bill appear quite healthy as it has backing from the ruling and opposition parties,” said Victoria Cuming, senior analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in London.

The country will become the third in Asia Pacific to tax polluters after Australia and New Zealand. South Korea has pledged a 30 percent reduction in emissions from expected levels by 2020 and offered tax breaks to companies including Posco and Samsung Electronics Co. to pollute less and use renewable energy.

South Korea is taking a “step by step” approach to implement the ETS,’’ Park, 47, said Sept. 20 in his office in Seoul. “We hope to give a clear signal to companies that our binding commitments will continue.”

Austin area’s ozone at worst levels since 2006

Austin is in the middle of its worst smog season in five years, and Texas has seven of the smoggiest metropolitan areas in the country, according to an environmental study released Wednesday.

The Capital Area Council of Governments has recorded eight high-ozone days in the Austin area this year; the smog season lasts until the end of October. If Austin exceeds national standards again, it will join Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston on the list of Texas metro areas to have fallen out of compliance with the federal Clean Air Act. This year’s ozone levels are the worst since 2006, when the area recorded 18 days of ozone more than 75 parts per billion.

In addition to pollution from coal-fired energy plants and refineries, a lot of the blame for the smog lies with Austin traffic. And the wildfires that broke out Labor Day weekend might have been a contributing factor, said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, a group that advocates clean air, water and green spaces.

Regulators look at the fourth-most-polluted day each year in three consecutive years. If ozone concentrations on those three days average more than 75 parts per billion, a region falls out of compliance with the Clean Air Act. Noncompliant areas face stringent restrictions and a risk of losing federal highway dollars. Austin has previously come close to noncompliance but has been able to avoid violating the federal rule.