25 years after Exxon Valdez, the full extent of harm is still being discovered

March 25, 2014 by admin  
Filed under Toxic Spills

I guess it was 15 years ago, pretty much on the dot, that a group of Twin Cities environmentalists came to see me at the Strib editorial board bearing a fruit jar of water, pebbles and —  they said — crude oil from the Exxon Valdez.

You couldn’t see the oil, exactly. But you sure could smell it.

The occasion was the 10th anniversary of the tanker’s catastrophic grounding and the news that March was dominated by coverage of the decade’ s massive cleanup efforts, with a focus on how much better things were all over Prince William Sound, generally speaking, although some problems persisted, etc., etc.

My visitors had come to make the counterpoint — underscored by the jar that sat uncapped and fragrant on the conference table — that the successes were all superficial. The real problems, they insisted, continued just below the tidied surfaces. Sometimes just inches below, where this particular sample had recently been gathered.

Being new to environmental subjects, and inclined by newspaper service toward a certain alertness for gimmicks, I silently wondered: How do I know this really came from Cordova? How, for that matter, do they?

Now we are at the 25th anniversary of what was then the largest oil spill in U.S. history, although it holds that rank no longer. Further experience has unburdened this journalist and many others of much skepticism about the persistent impacts and possibly permanent harm that flowed from the Valdez’s ruptured hull on March 24, 1989.

Oil persists everywhere

And the fruit-jar demonstration for reporters remains popular. From a National Public Radio feature about Cordova’s 25-year struggle to survive the loss of its fisheries, its economic base and very nearly, at times, its will to endure:

Dave Janka captains the Auklet, a 58-foot wooden boat he uses for private charters. Most of his clients are scientists studying the oil spill’s impact. Along the way, Janka has collected his own samples.

He opens a jar labeled “February 19, 2014.” Janka collected the dark black oily-water mixture from Eleanor Island in Prince William Sound, digging down about 6 inches beneath the rocky shoreline. It smells like your hand after pumping gas at a service station.

“Looks like oil, smells like oil. It’s oil,” Janka says. “If you or I, in our backyard or at our mom and pop gas station, had a fuel tank leak, we would be held to the point of bankruptcy to clean that up.”

Bankruptcy is a fate that has been visited on more than a few Cordova households and businesses afflicted by the disaster but not, of course, on the company responsible for their misery. Exxon Mobil is mostly off the hook, though continuing cleanup needs are such that, according to the Anchorage Daily News,

The federal and state governments are still weighing the science of the spill’s effects and deciding whether to seek more money from Exxon Mobil for cleaning up remaining oil.

If there is evidence the spill is causing unexpected, continuing damage, the company could be forced to pay up to $100 million on top of the $900 million civil settlement that Exxon paid in 1991. The case lives on in the courts.

For perspective and fairness, I will point out this billion bucks is only a portion of Exxon Mobil’s total outlays for cleanup, out-of-court settlements and various other fines and penalties, which add to well over $4 billion.

Also, that Exxon Mobil spokesmen say the company learned valuable lessons from the Valdez disaster (which may be true), and that “The sound is thriving environmentally and we’ve had a very solid, complete recovery” (which is sheer snake oil).

Some species recover, others don’t

Here’s a summary of pluses and minuses for some of the marquee species in Prince William Sound:

Pink salmon and sockeye salmon are considered to have recovered, as have black cod. Herring, however, remain in bad shape, and this is bad news for the commercial fishing sector that was Cordova’s economic mainstay, because the spring herring catch filled in between the other important seasons.

The herring problem is also bad news for the overall ecosystem of Prince William Sound, because herring were an important food source for birds, other fish, and killer whales. One group of orcas is struggling back toward stability, another is expected to go extinct.

Sea otters have struggled to hold on, their greatly diminished numbers bumping along with little change until fairly recently, and though the recent populations have shown both ups and downs, federal officials announced a few weeks ago that their numbers had reached pre-spill numbers for the first time in 25 years. Cross your fingers.

For scientists studying the Valdez’s impacts, writes Elizabeth Shogren, also at NPR, there have been major revelations below the surface, from endeavors she likens to an autopsy that takes a quarter-century to complete:

When the tanker leaked millions of gallons of the Alaskan coast, scientists predicted major environmental damage, but they expected those effects to be short lived. Instead, they’ve stretched out for many years.

What researchers learned as they puzzled through the reasons for the delayed recovery fundamentally changed the way scientists view oil spills. One of their most surprising discoveries was that long-lasting components of oil thought to be benign turned out to cause chronic damage to fish hearts when fish were exposed to tiny concentrations of the compounds as embryos. …

Scientists had traditionally believed that oil basically had to cover an animal or embryo to hurt it. But the evidence they saw in Alaska suggested it didn’t take much oil to do a lot of damage. And that damage could manifest in different ways.

For example, oil under rocks and in sediments contaminated clams that sea otters ate. It didn’t kill the otters outright: Wildlife biologist Dan Esler of the U.S. Geological Survey says it shortened otters’ lives and suppressed the population for 20 years.

Social costs of destruction

Many who have followed the Valdez story will remember the early human misery, including the divisions between residents who got payouts from Exxon Mobil and those who did not; the mysterious illnesses that seemed to be related to chemical exposure from the spilled oil or the dispersants used to break it up; the suicide of a Cordova mayor.

That suffering continues, too, in different forms and at different levels. An interesting piece at phys.org focused on research by the University of Colorado’s Liesel Ritchie, who has been part of a 24-year-long (and counting) longitudinal study of “serious community conflict and mental health issues” in Cordova.

“What has fostered so much stress and anxiety in the community as a whole is different science says different things,” she said. “For example, Exxon scientists say everything is fine, that the impacts were minimal to begin with and that they subsided very quickly. Then other scientists who are not being paid by Exxon have other findings. What we’re talking about here at that level then is contested science which tends to cause uncertainty and stress in populations that are receiving this information and not knowing entirely how to interpret that.”

Even with a smaller than expected settlement, Ritchie says the people of Cordova appear to be moving on and doing their best to revive their fishing economy. However, she says, they have a long way to go. Before the spill Cordova consistently ranked in the top 10 most profitable U.S. seafood ports. A quarter century later, it’s not even in the top 25.

The most recent data, she said, show the first decline in community stress levels since the spill.

As a result of the Valdez grounding, Congress finally required tankers operating in U.S. waters to be of double-hull design, and federal and state regulations on tanker traffic in Prince William Sound and some other places were tightened, especially in regard to emergency preparedness.

A good look at some significant gains and serious continuing deficits can be found in the Homer Tribune, which noted that whatever preparations are made, ” the best plans can be challenged by weather. A drill last fall proved that when spill response efforts were entirely thwarted by a storm.”

“They couldn’t respond at all,” said Lisa Matlock, the council’s outreach coordinator. “It was one of those real-world experiences. From doing those real-world drills, we get better planning put in place.”

While the regional citizens advisory council set up in Prince William Sound has helped protect that 15,000 square mile body of water, other areas of the state, such as the Aleutian Islands, the Arctic and even Cook Inlet, which has an advisory council, are significantly less protected, many say. In those regions, if a tanker runs aground, rescue equipment can be hours or days away, and limited to what is available regionally.

Not all people who live Outside would necessarily know that Cook Inlet’s shoreline includes Anchorage.

Broken faith in justice

As I read about Alaskans’ broken faith with Big Oil, government regulation and especially the American court system, I was struck particularly by this comment from Jim Kallander, a fisherman and former Cordova mayor who watched Exxon Mobil fight successfully to have its penalties reduced in a 19-year series of appeals that reached finally to victory before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“All my life, I’d been brought up to think that, you know, you get to the Supreme Court and everything is made right. People are made whole. Issues are corrected. And I’m still disappointed. I’ll never get over it.”

Also, by the comments of Rick Steiner, an Alaskan professor of marine conservation who has studied the spill’s impacts for 25 years and does his own version of the fruit-jar trick with a pocket-size jar of oily stones he carries around. From Al-Jazeera America:

“This is beach gravel from Eleanor Island,” Steiner said, pointing out to Prince William Sound. ”It’s covered in oil from the Exxon Valdez, 25 years on, and I didn’t have to dig very deep to find it. I dug it up earlier this year.

… ”We can do better at reducing the risk. But once oil has spilled, you cannot clean it up, you cannot restore an oil-injured ecosystem and you can’t adequately rebuild human communities that are unravelled by these big industrial disasters.

“Some of these injuries persist. And industry rhetoric aside, we know these disasters do cause long-term, permanent environmental damage. And that’s one of the take-home lessons from Exxon Valdez a quarter of a century later: Once it happens, it’s never over.”

I suppose Minnesotans reading about Cordova’s plight and the hobbled ecosystem of Prince William Sound can be glad once again that we’re not an oil-producing state.

But we have our share of pipelines, and our share of risk in their probable future expansion, and in the expansion of terminals in the port of Superior, just across the bay from Duluth, to handle the rising flow of Canadian tar-sands oil.

Then there are the copper-nickel mines proposed at the edge of the Boundary Waters, whose champions assure us that new technologies guarantee that mining can be done right, that state regulation can ensure the natural environment is protected, that regulators and courts would insist that any accidental damage is mitigated and the responsible parties brought to account, that some kind of bond or insurance or trust fund will pay for whatever could possibly go wrong for centuries into the future.

Surely we can trust those official assurances. Can’t we?

Article source: http://www.minnpost.com/earth-journal/2014/03/25-years-after-exxon-valdez-full-extent-harm-still-being-discovered

Oil Platform Fire Sends Shockwaves Through Gulf On Heels of Record BP Fines

November 20, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Toxic Spills

An oil platform explosion and fire today near the site of the nation’s greatest offshore oil spill in history—BP’s Deepwater Horizon—sent shivers up the spines of many Gulf residents as the U.S. Coast Guard reported that 11 crewmembers were flown to area hospitals and two crewmembers were still missing as of Friday evening. News reports said four workers were critically injured with burns.

A Coast Guard spokesman said the oil and gas platform was 20 miles southeast of Grand Isle, LA, and was owned by Black Elk Energy, a fast-growing oil and gas drilling operation based in Houston. News reports stated the oil platform was not actively producing oil and that a welder involved in a maintenance operation may have caused the accident. Although there were reports of an oil sheen near the platform, there were no reports of a major oil leak.

NRDC President Frances Beinecke, a member of the presidential national oil commission that investigated the BP oil disaster, issued this statement:

“Though the BP criminal case is settled, today’s accident makes clear that the hazards of oil and gas drilling are not in America’s rear view.  It is a sad reminder that offshore drilling is an inherently dangerous business. Workers and communities are put in harm’s way every day and will continue to be as long as we prioritize this risky energy development. Our leaders must keep that squarely in mind when considering where and how to allow further drilling along our coasts and in our communities.”

The Black Elk Energy accident came the day after the U.S. Justice Department announced a criminal settlement with BP involving a record-setting $4.5 billion in fines, indicting three company officials on criminal charges. Civil penalties against BP are still pending.

Many people in the Gulf are still recovering from the BP oil disaster that residents say continues to impact their fisheries and beaches more than two years later. Grand Isle mayor David Camardelle, whose community has been one of the hardest hit by the oil disaster, said he was saddened to learn of the latest offshore oil rig fire and injuries to workers. “It’s a tragic accident and my sympathies go out to the families of the workers who were impacted. But thankfully it appears this is not another BP disaster.”

Tar balls found on Grand Isle, LA, this month            Photo: Mac MacKenzie

Camardelle said his community still has oil and tar balls on its beaches after storms, especially after Hurricane Isaac hit their area last August. And he said many fishermen are suffering from reduced catches and have not been adequately compensated by BP for their losses. “We feel like we’re forgotten sometimes,” he said. “We can put robots on Mars, but we can’t tell how much BP oil is still out in the Gulf. Something’s wrong with that.”

Kindra Arnesen, wife of a fisherman in Buras, LA, said she too was saddened by the accident, which she says hits close to home since so many of her friends and neighbors work in the oil industry. “My heart goes out to those families,” she said. “This may have been a fluke accident, but it makes me wonder, what really has changed in the oil industry since the BP explosion? We’re still using the same blowout preventers, so it seems like we should be doing something better.”

That point was made in a blog this summer by NRDC’s David Pettit, part of a coalition of conservation groups that filed a lawsuit to push for greater drilling safety in the Gulf. He reminded people that many questions raised by the presidential commission still remain unanswered:

Their investigation uncovered serious flaws in oil industry and regulatory practices.  These accidents-waiting-to-happen remain unaddressed, with the Gulf’s battered ecosystems and vital billion-dollar tourism and fisheries hanging in the balance. If drilling is to continue, more must be done to improve drilling safety and safeguard our natural resources.  The largest oil spill in America’s history should have been a wakeup call.  If we refuse to learn from that mistake, it will become a recurring nightmare instead.

That’s a nightmare no one wants to live through again.

Article source: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/rkistner/an_explosion_and_fire_on.html

How Isaac could affect wildlife and marine life already hurt from oil spill

August 28, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Toxic Spills

By: Laurie Wiegler

As Isaac develops into a hurricane today, many are thinking not only of themselves but of their pets and of the wildlife and marine life that grace the Gulf of Mexico region.

In anticipation of the hurricane, Examiner tapped an expert to talk about these matters, Peter Tuttle, a Contaminants Specialist with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Deepwater Horizon NRDA (Natural Resource Damage Assessment) Office in Daphne, Ala.

Following is the transcript of that e-mail conversation from today:

Examiner: Isaac could hit areas greatly impacted by the 2010 BP oil spill. What do you know about wildlife and marine life still in these areas, and which would be hardest hit?

The Gulf Coast supports a rich diversity of fish and wildlife and a variety of species occur in areas potentially impacted by the storm. On a positive note, bird nesting season is largely complete and many of the bird species that winter on the Gulf Coast have not yet arrived in the area. On the negative side, loggerhead sea turtle nesting season is in full swing, and many nests are at risk of flooding.

Examiner: Do animals and fish naturally have a sense to swim away from hurricanes? Can they get away fast enough?

Hurricanes are naturally-occurring events on the Gulf Coast. The plant and animal species that occur on the Gulf Coast have adapted to these periodic disturbances. As strong storm systems move in, there are shifts in water levels, temperature, and air pressure. Animals are sensitive to these quick shifts in conditions. Animals respond and seek refuge, whether it be thicker cover, higher ground, or deeper water.

Examiner: As horrific as a hurricane is for man, is there an upside at all when we think of the Gulf of Mexico? Could Isaac actually flush out some of the oil and contaminants (Corexit) still left in gulf? Is this just too simplistic?

The fate of much of the oil released in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill remains uncertain. Oil remains in some coastal marshes and submerged oil mats remain in some offshore areas. As such, hurricanes and tropical storms pose a risk of remobilizing this oil and causing recontamination in coastal areas.

Examiner: Are you seeing any improvement in the numbers of fish and wildlife in the Gulf? How, for example, is the brown pelican population doing? Are babies born to oil-spill-affected mothers surviving? What about egrets? Other birds and fish?

State and Federal Natural Resource Trustees are continuing to collect and evaluate information on the effects of the oil spill to fish and wildlife in the Gulf. In some cases, affected species appear to be recovering, while in other cases there is cause for continuing concern. The full impact of the spill on the survival and reproduction of fish and wildlife resources may not be understood for some time.

To read about the Louisiana Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries closures due to Isaac, please click here.

Read more about Laurie Wiegler here: http://www.lauriewiegler.com

Article source: http://www.examiner.com/article/how-isaac-could-affect-wildlife-and-marine-life-already-hurt-from-oil-spill

New NRDC Report Shows Arctic Oil Development Needs to be Put on Hold

August 23, 2012 by admin  
Filed under Toxic Spills, Uncategorized

With the Department of the Interior considering whether to grant Shell permits to drill in America’s Arctic Ocean, and Shell scrambling to get started amid a flurry of problems, a new NRDC report details the huge risks that come with the rush toward oil and gas development off of Alaska’s North Slope.

The findings are eye-opening for anybody who has listened to Big Oil’s laissez-faire approach to drilling in one of the world’s last truly pristine and wild places.

The author of the report is Jeff Goodyear, Ph.D., an accomplished oceanographer and marine ecologist with over twenty-five years of experience contributing to new scientific discoveries, who has led field research projects in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic. This report combines his expertise with interviews of local residents, scientists and officials. To read the full report, click here. Some highlights:

  • Alaska’s North Slope lacks the infrastructure to support any significant spill cleanup. Essentially, there are no roads, few airports, no deep-water ports and the nearest Coast Guard base is 1,000 miles away.
  • The likelihood of spills in the Arctic is high – too high. In fact, the report shows, on average there has been a spill of oil or associated chemicals once a day since oil and gas development began on the North Slope.
  • Shell’s claims about its capabilities to clean up an oil spill in icy water are overblown. Traditional means of recovery and clean up—booms and skimmers, in-situ burning, and chemical dispersants—have each been shown to be dramatically less effective in conditions typical of the Arctic than in calmer, warmer waters such as those in the Gulf of Mexico. Given these factors, effectively responding to an oil spill would be nearly impossible.

The release of this report could not be more timely—the final drill permits have not yet been issued and last week Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced he would “hold [Shell’s] feet to the fire in terms of making sure that we are doing everything we can to abide by the standards and regulations that we have set and make sure the environment in the Arctic seas are protected.”

Peter E. Slaiby, Shell’s vice president in charge of Alaskan operations, responded, “We absolutely expect to drill this year.” Shell is chomping at the bit to begin drilling in the final weeks of the already short window of relief from ocean ice. However, the Arctic Challenger, a major component of Shell’s oil spill response plan, is undergoing a major retrofit in a shipyard near Seattle and is not yet certified by the Coast Guard. Raising additional concerns over Shell’s preparedness to safely and responsibly operate in the harsh, unpredictable conditions of the Arctic Ocean is the incident last month when the Noble Discoverer (a 1960’s log ship converted into a drill ship in the 1970’s) slipped anchor while in harbor.

Shell is acting as if drilling this summer is a done deal, as if final approval has been granted. It has not. And Shell is not ready to begin drilling in Arctic waters. The administration must absolutely hold Shell to its commitments. Secretary Salazar must stand by his words, “It’s a necessity for Shell to be able to demonstrate that they have met regulatory requirements…if they are not met, there won’t be Shell exploration efforts that will occur this year.”

America’s Arctic Ocean is too precious to wager on hasty oil and gas development. The risks involved, as the report shows, warrant postponing offshore drilling in the Arctic until comprehensive research can be completed and a proven and thoroughly effective system for responding to spills is in place.

The administration needs to hold Shell’s feet to the fire.

Clint Kincaid aided Chuck Clusen with this post.

Article source: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/cclusen/new_nrdc_report_shows_arctic_o.html

Texas Petroleum Investment Company Fined for Violating the Clean Water Act (LA, TX)

August 11, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Water Quality

Texas Petroleum Investment Company Fined for Violating the Clean Water Act (LA, TX)

(DALLAS – August 11, 2011) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has fined the Texas Petroleum Company of Houston, Texas, $163,487 for violating federal Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations outlined under the Clean Water Act.

A federal inspection of oil production facilities in Terrebonne, Plaquemines, Lafourche, St. Charles and Iberia parishes in Louisiana revealed the company had failed to prepare and implement SPCC plans as required by federal regulations. Today’s announcement also settles Clean Water Act violations for discharges of oil into wetland areas and unnamed canals in Terrebonne, Plaquemines and Iberia parishes.

SPCC regulations require onshore oil production or bulk storage facilities to provide oil spill prevention, preparedness and responses to prevent oil discharges. The SPCC program helps protect our nation’s water quality. A spill of only one gallon of oil can contaminate one million gallons of water.

Additional information on SPCC regulations is available at: http://www.epa.gov/oilspill

More about activities in EPA Region 6: http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/region6.html

EPA audio file is available at: http://www.epa.gov/region6/6xa/podcast/aug2011.html


Article source: http://www.manufacturing.net/News/Feeds/2011/08/mnet-mnet-industry-focus-environmental-texas-petroleum-investment-company-fined-for-viola/

Yellowstone River Damaged by Exxon Pipeline Oil Spill - Exxon’s History in …

July 5, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Toxic Spills

Oil in Montana's Yellowstone River  Photo by NWF's Alexis Bonogofsky

While everyone is holding their collective breath, hoping that future developments do not worsen regarding the news that an Exxon pipeline carrying oil crude broke in the middle of the Yellowstone River outside of Billings Montana releasing thousands of gallons of crude into the river, industry’s record for safeguarding oil and gas pipelines in the state of Montana – and Exxon specifically – is dismal.

While we cannot predict what will happen in the near future, if other Big Oil disasters are any evidence, we can probably foresee in the next few hours and days that Exxon will pull out an all too familiar public relations playbook to avoid further scrutiny of their actions in order to avoid full culpability:

One, Exxon will claim that the immediate disaster is over and the natural resource damage and impacts to human health are minimal. They will also likely underreport, or deemphasize the amount of oil actually spilled. A day into the disaster, Exxon has already begun to do this.  Exxon spokesman have said that the spill has been fairly well contained and that there is “very little soiling” of stream banks beyond 10-miles.  Given that no one has been able to actually inspect the ruptured pipeline, since its submerged at the bottom of a raging free-flowing river that is two-feet above flood stage, one wonders how Exxon can claim so soon that everything is now abated and the damage is negligible.

Two, Exxon will pledge that they will fully clean and repair the damaged resources. Again, Exxon is saying as much in a statement today, “We will stay with the cleanup until it is complete…” Even if this is the case and Exxon is fully committed to cleanup, we know that their version of what is cleaned is not the same as others – see Prince William Sound.  Exposure to oil, especially to aquatic life, is devastating and long-lasting (see NRDC’s Matthew Skoglund and his recent posting on the importance of the Yellowstone River’s fishery for the region and beyond).

Three, Exxon will claim that safety is their number one priority. Predictably, Exxon has said as much in the last 24-hours, that the pipeline was inspected six months ago and met “all regulatory requirements.” Given their emphasis on oversized profits, I would go back to the previous exhibit, which speaks to Exxon’s thought process leading it to site an oil pipeline in one the most scenic, ecologically critical, and longest undammed river in the contiguous United States.

Four, Exxon will probably maintain that this was a freak accident and could not have been foretold or prevented. A full airing of Exxon’s record will show that this is simply not the case.  One only has to look at how it has maintained (or not) their Yellowstone Pipeline.  The Yellowstone Pipeline is a 550-mile pipeline that originates from the refineries in Billings, MT, makings its way westward to deliver petroleum products to Idaho and the state of Washington (the Yellowstone Pipeline and the Silvertip crude pipeline that failed this week, are nominally part of a larger system that Exxon oversees).  The pipeline was sited in some of the most rugged country to be found in this nation.  But rather than respecting the fact that the Yellowstone Pipeline was situated in such a harsh environment, Exxon and Conoco who co-managed the pipeline, failed often to maintain it satisfactorily.  In its 55-plus year history, it has leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of petroleum into Montana’s rivers and lands.

Most famously, Exxon and Conoco in the mid 1990’s realized that a right-of-way for the Yellowstone Pipeline that went through the middle of the sovereign Flathead Indian Reservation, was soon to expire and had to be renewed with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes who controlled the lease. Problem was the pipeline had spilled at least 71 times on the 1.2 million acre reservation, contaminating tribal fishing and hunting grounds.  When it came time to renew, the tribal members had only recently witnessed a spill with the pipeline that resulted in a whopping 163,000 gallons leaking into a reservation creek.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes, were to say the least, reticent to renew the lease given the damage that Exxon and company had caused.  In this milieu, the Yellowstone Pipeline management went to the extraordinary measures to apologize to tribal members by posting a full-page advertisement in the tribal newspaper saying, “We’ve done serious damage to the land’ ‘For this we are truly sorry ‘ We’re asking for a chance to do things right.”  And while Exxon and Conoco approved the ad, they did not notice the howling coyote that was seemingly inserted by the paper’s staff within the oil company’s advertisement.  As High Country News reported at the time, “Tribal members must have noticed: Coyote is known as a trickster in many tribal legends, one who can’t always be trusted.”  With that, the tribal members rejected the renewal of the lease, and turned away from millions of dollars from Exxon; possibly realizing that millions in dollars cannot compensate for the loss of irreplaceable natural resources.

Which brings me back to Claim #4 in trying to pawn this accident as a freak occurence, Exxon can commit all they want to cleaning up the damage – as they should – but we should question the accidental nature of these incidents.  As history has shown, Exxon has often chosen a path that allows for spills, and the environment and human health are often the losers.  The Yellowstone spill might actually be a rare accident – if and when all the facts come to light – but this only proves that stronger enforcement and accountability for current pipelines are an absolute must.

Note: this is not the only insult to Montana’s environment that is happening under Exxon’s watch.  Exxon also plans to turn the scenic highways of Montana into an industrial superhighway to serve tar sands extraction in Canada by sending hundreds of “megaload” shipments through the state’s scenic highways.   For more information see: Exxon Solves Their Megaload Problem - By Cutting the Trees to Shreds

Article source: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/bmcenaney/yellowstone_river_damaged_by_e.html

U.S. oil spill containment firms may work together: BP

April 19, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Toxic Spills


WASHINGTON |
Mon Apr 18, 2011 8:17pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two competing oil spill response systems developed for the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the massive BP oil spill may eventually join forces, a BP executive said on Monday.

Exxon Mobil and other oil majors formed the non-profit Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC) to develop a system to rapidly respond to major spills after BP’s oil spill exposed the lack of equipment available to contain a deepwater spill.

Helix Energy Solutions Group Inc also developed a separate response and containment system for Gulf producers after the BP drilling disaster.

At the first meeting of a new government advisory panel on offshore drilling issues, the Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee panel questioned whether having two separate safety systems was practical when there was limited design expertise in that area.

The 15-member panel made up of industry, government and academic experts was set up by the U.S. Interior Department to provide guidance on offshore drilling research and practices after last year’s explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and unleashed nearly 5 million barrels of oil from the Macondo well.

“I think at some point and time in the future…these things will hopefully come together,” James Dupree, Gulf of Mexico regional president for BP, told the panel.

BP joined MWCC after it capped its ruptured Macondo well last year.

At the advisory committee meeting, held two days before the one-year anniversary of the Gulf spill, Dupree discussed some of the lessons BP learned after being involved in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Dupree said the two containment systems were designed to address different needs, with Helix an option for smaller firms who may not want to make a large commitment up front.

“One of the goals potentially of the MWCC group is to see how we can work together with the Helix group to try to accommodate solutions for all of the Gulf of Mexico,” Dupree said.

The MWCC system includes a huge “capping stack” of valves and pipes, controlled by underwater robots, that can be placed atop a spewing well in 8,000 feet of water to stop the oil flow.

The Helix system involves placing a subsea shut-off device, valves and pipes atop a blowout preventer or well production equipment at the seabed. It would contain and channel oil and gas to production and storage vessels at the surface.

“They both bring something to the table at this point,” said Lars Herbst, of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

(Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

Article source: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/19/us-usa-oil-containment-idUSTRE73I02120110419?feedType=RSS

ReThink Review: Gasland — Is Your Tap Water Flammable?

January 4, 2011 by admin  
Filed under Toxic Spills

A man holds a lighter up to a running faucet, only to have the water burst into a fireball that comes perilously close to engulfing the man’s torso in flames. This has become the iconic image of Josh Fox’s documentary examining the dangers of natural gas extraction, Gasland, and for good reason — it’s such a stark, dramatic illustration of the damage energy companies are willing to inflict on both the environment and human lives as they attempt to extract natural gas using the controversial method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” See the trailer for Gasland below.


Fracking, which was first developed by Halliburton (who else?) over 50 years ago, involves drilling a deep, L-shaped well (in the case of horizontal fracking) into an area believed to contain natural gas, then pumping in millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals (known as fracking fluid) to crack the earth around the gas deposit, allowing the gas to escape so it can be captured closer to the surface. However, natural gas as well as the toxic chemicals found in fracking fluid can make their way into aquifers used to supply drinking water, effectively poisoning wells and making tap water combustible.

See my ReThink Review of Gasland below, as well as my conversation with Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks (and MSNBC!) about the dangerous chemicals found in fracking fluid, the energy industry’s response to Gasland, and the connections between fracking, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and peak oil.

As I mentioned in my review, the natural gas industry has responded to Gasland by launching a website called Energy In Depth to debunk its claims. But what’s interesting is what is admitted through this website if one actually reads it, like the fact that fracking has never been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act — something which might have happened in 2004 if a study by Bush’s EPA hadn’t concluded that there was no evidence that fracking polluted water supplies, yet conducted no water tests that would have found such evidence. Or if Dick Cheney’s 2005 energy policy had re-classified fracked wells as injection wells.

It also may be true that only 1% of fracking fluid contains the dozens of dangerous chemicals — like arsenic, asbestos, barium, cadmium, chromium, cyanide, lead, mercury, chlorobenzene, dichlorobenzene, dioxin, polychlorinated biphenyls, toluene, trichloroethylene, xylene, radium 226-228, uranium, etc. — that can be found on energyindepth.org (if you look hard enough, like on page 2-13 through 2-16). But when you consider the fact that each frack uses 3-8 million gallons of fracking fluid, and that wells are commonly fracked dozens of times (and maybe even upwards of 300 times), that 1% adds up to millions of gallons of chemicals, much of which is never recovered for treatment.

In an interview with the New York Times, Fox promised a response to Energy in Depth’s attacks on Gasland, which you can find here. But perhaps the clearest response by the energy industry is their reluctance to respond to what would seem like a simple request by Fox:

I’ve been asking the industry since the movie has been out there, “If you’ve got a town where there’s more than 100 wells, and everything’s going fine, and you don’t have these issues, take me there.”

Gasland is now available on DVD and Netflix. To find out more about Gasland, visit gaslandthemovie.com.

You can also find out more about the FRAC Act and efforts to prevent fracking in the Marcellus Shale formation that runs under parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland and Tennessee by visiting MarcellusProtest.org.

For more ReThink Reviews, visit ReThinkReviews.net

To subscribe to ReThink Reviews on YouTube, go here.


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Article source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-kim/rethink-review-emgaslande_b_803961.html

Spill devastates creek and raises troubling questions

December 31, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Toxic Spills

The chemicals that spilled after a fire at the JJ Chemical Co. plant off Olympic Drive wiped out aquatic life in a stretch of Trail Creek and cost two dozen people their jobs.

PHOTOTABLE

But the July 28 fire and resulting chemical spill exposed a much more troubling problem, some believe.

See photos from the spill.

See photos from the fire.

“One of the things that sticks with me still is that this is what it looks like on the ground when some of the very basics of the state government’s role in our communities are eroded by budget cuts and staff reductions,” said Ben Emanuel, Oconee River projects coordinator for the Altamaha Riverkeeper, one of the groups that banded together to gather information and post warning signs after the spill.

Emanuel believes budget cuts over the past few years at the state Environmental Protection Division, the lead state agency in environmental disasters like the Trail Creek spill, may be so deep that the agency may not be able to do its job of environmental protection any more.

EPD workers put in long hours trying to assess the spill and limit its effects, but an EPD emergency team took hours to respond as the fire launched exploding fireballs and sent towering plumes of black smoke into the Athens night sky. And like citizens and elected officials, both the EPD and local emergency response teams had a hard time at first finding out just what was in the chemical runoff that poured into a branch of Trail Creek as firefighters used 740,000 gallons of water to keep the fire from spreading.

The water flowing off the fire site at the building on Trans Tech Drive, in Northeast Clarke County, carried thousands of gallons of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, paradichlorobenzene and dozens of other chemicals downstream. Also in the mix were oily perfumes and a brilliant blue dye that made it easy to see the contamination as it flowed down Trail Creek and into the North Oconee River at Dudley Park.

But most people at first knew only that the water looked and smelled funny.

“The first few days was a real exercise in frustration,” said District 9 Commissioner Kelly Girtz, one of many who struggled to get answers in the days following the fire about the runoff and whether it was dangerous to people or pets.

“I think I spent about 30 hours … dealing with phone calls and messages,” Girtz said. “I was getting the sense that there was incomplete information at best, and seemingly no one steering the ship.”

In the end, it was not the RPD or the Athens-Clarke government but volunteers from a coalition of environmental groups Emanuel pulled together that posted warning signs along the stream telling people to avoid contact with the water - four days after runoff from the fire gushed downstream.

Commissioners like Girtz and Andy Herod got dozens of e-mails and calls from constituents, alarmed after noticing the water smelled like urinal cakes or seeing it flow toilet-bowl blue and wondering if they were safe.

Herod couldn’t tell them anything at first because he couldn’t find out anything, either, he said.

“I think there was a general failure to communicate,” Herod said. “The elected officials were basically left in the dark as to what was going on.”

Athens-Clarke government administrators vowed to do a better job of communicating to the public and to officials in future emergencies.

“One of the main things it reinforces for me is that we are a community that thrives on information. The better information we can share, the more confidence the community has in what we do,” said Athens-Clarke Manager Alan Reddish.

EPD officials said the agency would communicate better in the future, both within the agency and to outsiders. But EPD emergency responders were hampered during the Trail Creek spill because they couldn’t get information quickly from the chemical company or the cleanup company it hired about what chemicals were in the plant or about the unfolding crisis, according to an EPD report on the spill.

Emanuel wonders if the spill signals the beginning of an era of do-it-yourself environmental protection for the state.

“EPD has been gutted, and that hampered their ability to respond,” he said.

Meanwhile, Emanuel and others are keeping a close eye on the stream, wondering how long it may take to recover.

Eventually, the blue water flowed on downstream, along with the toxic chemicals. Water samples taken in mid-November showed no detectable levels of paradichlorobenzene, the EPD announced early in December. The formaldehyde was gone by September, the agency said.

But life has been slow to return to the creek, said Jessica Sterling, a graduate student in ecology and a member of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, which has for years monitored the health of Trail Creek and other Athens waterways.

UOWN volunteers last tested Trail Creek’s waters Nov. 13, and will test again early next year.

Contamination remains at a small wetland off Olympic Drive, just downstream from JJ Chemical, Sterling said.

“We could still smell that perfume, and see that grayish-blue color,” she said. “It makes you wonder what’s still there.”

But UOWN volunteers did find a few living creatures such as blood worms, which can survive in polluted water; in August, they found none.

Although Athens-Clarke officials have made progress in reducing pollution from everyday sources such as runoff from parking lots, Sterling wonders how much planning local officials have done to protect area waters from catastrophic chemical spills like the one that killed Trail Creek.

The county had another major spill just seven years ago, when gasoline wiped out life in Hunnicutt Creek, which flows into the Middle Oconee River at Ben Burton Park.

“It doesn’t seem like we’re prepared for that at all,” she said. “What is the plan? Is there a plan?”

Life returned to Hunnicutt Creek in about a year, but neither environmental officials nor local water activists can say if Trail Creek will recover that quickly.

Gasoline, the major pollutant in the Hunnicutt Creek spill, is lighter than water, so most of the poison was flushed downstream quickly.

Sterling and other water activists suspect some of the toxic chemicals that poisoned Trail Creek may have sunk into stream sediments and will be slowly released into the creek’s waters for a long time to come.

A company hired to clean up the land around the chemical factory is scheduled to finish its cleanup and issue a final report to EPD officials by Jan. 14; after that, officials in the environmental agency will decide whether the company will also have to undertake a second cleanup in Trail Creek itself.

Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Friday, December 31, 2010

Article source: http://onlineathens.com/stories/123110/new_763658698.shtml

Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues to foul 168 miles of Louisiana coastline

December 30, 2010 by admin  
Filed under Toxic Spills

Published: Thursday, December 30, 2010, 7:30 PM Updated: Thursday, December 30, 2010, 8:10 PM

Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune


By

Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune

Louisiana’s coastline continues to be smeared with significant amounts of oil and oiled material from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, with cleanup teams struggling to remove as much as possible of the toxic material by the time migratory birds arrive at the end of February, said the program manager of the Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Teams, which are working for BP and the federal government.

gulf_oil_toney_edison.jpg

BP cleanup worker Toney Edison was photographed Dec. 16 holding chunks of tar that were found buried underneath a layer of sand on East Grand Terre Island.

There are 113 miles of Louisiana coastline under active cleanup, with another 55 miles awaiting approval to start the cleanup process, according to SCAT statistics. Teams have finished cleaning almost 72 miles to levels where oil is no longer observable or where no further treatment is necessary.

But that’s not the whole story for the state’s coastline. According to SCAT statistics, there’s another 2,846 miles of beach and wetland areas where oil was once found but is no longer observable or is not treatable.

Gary Hayward, the Newfields Environmental Planning and Compliance contractor who oversees the SCAT program, said that large area will be placed into a new “monitor and maintenance” category, once Louisiana state and local officials agree to the procedures to be used for that category.

“With rare exceptions, most of the marshes still have a bathtub ring that we have all collectively decided we aren’t going to clean any more than we already have because we’d be doing more harm to the marshes than the oil is going to be doing to them,” Hayward said.

The cleanup protocols for each state have been approved by state and local governments, federal agencies and BP, he said.

gulf_oil_east_grand_terre.jpg

Patrick Semansky, The Associated PressWorkers were photographed Dec. 16 digging up sand impacted by the BP oil spill on East Grand Terre Island.

Louisiana’s senior coastal official says the state is monitoring the cleanup, and remains concerned with end-of-year conclusions that the cleanup is almost complete.

“The reality is we still have hundreds of miles of oiled shoreline today,” said Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “We still have oilings on a regular basis in areas of Jefferson and Plaquemines Parish, and there’s still a lot of oil buried back in the marshes where it was carried during high water events.

“The threat is absolutely still there and the oil is absolutely still there,” he said.

‘We know we’re not done’

Hayward does not disagree.

“We know we’re not done. We’re still working,” he said. “We have some challenges ahead of us, including winter weather that will slow us down a bit. But we’ve made a lot of progress.”

At the height of the oil recovery and cleanup effort over the summer, the response program included 48,200 workers and 9,700 vessels. As of Dec. 23, there were still 6,170 workers and 260 vessels, although not all of those are participating in the cleanup.

gulf_oil_auger_east_grand_terre.jpg

Patrick Semansky, The Associated PressWorkers were photographed Dec. 16 looking into a hole dug by an auger, left, while searching for buried layers of tar from the BP oil spill on East Grand Terre Island.

Hayward said that the aim is for the cleanup to evolve into a long-term monitoring program for both beaches and marshes by the end of April all along the coast, but that could depend on shoreline re-evaluations scheduled for April and May.

“We’ll be assisted by very low tides in April and May, where we can really see how things have worked out in the winter,” he said.

Hurricane Alex

The biggest remaining problem in Louisiana, Hayward said, is a large area of marsh along the shores of Bay Jimmy in northernmost Barataria Bay, west of Port Sulphur, that was fouled when storm surge from Hurricane Alex in late June pushed oil into the bay system, even though Alex went ashore near the Mexico-Texas border.

“There was enough high water in the tide surge and enough oil on top of the water that it came down on the marsh surface and flattened the grass along a 40- or 50-foot swath along the marsh front,” he said. “And when it did that, it pushed the grass over and left an oily mat on the surface. That has since dried and has become a very crusty surface, underneath which there is still gooey oil.”

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Cleanup contractors have tried several methods over the past few months to remove that oil.

“We tried burning and that didn’t work,” Hayward said. “We tried various methods of cutting the marsh and raking the black tarry mat up, and met with some success. We’ve tried four different ways to cut the marsh and let the young sprouts come through.

“But oddly, what we saw was that even though that marsh was quite heavily impacted, before the growing season stopped, the marsh sprouts were coming up through that stuff,” he said. “So we feel pretty confident that even though it looks like hell, that area will recover in the spring when things start to green up again.”

February target date

The target date of February is aimed at removing the threat of oil from areas along Louisiana’s shoreline by the time migratory birds return to roost or rest on their way from Central and South America in the spring, Hayward said. The hope is also to assure clean beaches in advance of the tourist season on Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island and Fourchon Beach.

BP oil spill
Enlarge

Times-Picayune Staff
DAVID GRUNFELD / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, left, who hasn’t had much sleep in the past week, listens to BP 1st Global Properties Director Dave Kinnaird while he addresses the shrimpers and residents of Plaquemine Parish who gather to volunteer and learn how to use booms during a training session at old Boothville/Venice School in Boothville, LA., Friday April 30, 2010. According to the U. S. Coast Guard, oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil platform that exploded and sank over a week ago has reached Louisiana land in the Mississippi Delta Friday.

The 3,086 miles of targeted coastline in Louisiana, which makes up the SCAT western district, dwarfs the 1,598 miles of mostly beaches targeted for clean-up in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, which comprise the eastern district. Hayward said cleanup efforts also are aimed at February completion in those states.

“There’s a lot of pressure to get it done because of the loss of the last tourist season, and they want to get open for the winter months and they want to get open for spring breakers,” he said.

Unlike Louisiana’s rough texture beaches, a mix of sand, Mississippi River sediment and organic material, beaches to the east, especially along the Florida Panhandle, are a sugary, powdery white sand that’s more difficult to separate from the weathered remains from the BP spill.

“It’s really not oil. It’s not sticky, it’s not tacky, it’s basically a very crumbly, weathered oil residue,” Hayward said. “You can pick it up in your fingers and crumble it and it will just disintegrate.”

Mats of weathered oil

However, the cleanup plan is still struggling with tar balls and other material washing ashore from mats of weathered oil that are located in the surf zone just off several key beach areas, including Pensacola, Fla.; Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge at Gulf Shores, Ala.; and the barrier islands off Mississippi’s coast. Officials are concerned submerged tar mats may also be the source of tar balls that continue to be spotted along Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island and Fourchon Beach.

“People are concerned about the chunk of oil that they can’t find counted” in the federal description of how much oil remains in the Gulf of Mexico, Hayward said, and the tar mats explain a small part of the missing oil.

“These tar mats can be three or four or five yards wide and a couple hundred meters long, and they’re discontinuous,” he said. “They’re being found in 2 or 3 feet of water, just below the low-tide line.”

“These are areas where tar balls keep washing ashore,” Hayward said. “The shallow water (where the tar mats are believed to be located) precludes a lot of vessel activity. It’s a very turbulent area.”

Mark Schleifstein can be reached at mschleifstein@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3327.

Article source: http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2010/12/gulf_of_mexico_oil_spill_conti.html

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