May coastal scuttlebutt: daily miniposts
I encourage LaCoastPost readers to join me and lots of other folks at the Gulf Aid benefit concert today (Sunday May 16) on the river in New Orleans from noon to ten or so. Click on the link to see schedule details. Anyone deeply concerned about the manmade disaster represented by the crude oil gusher directly off the Louisiana coast should attend and show support for the victims of this incident.
Rebecca Mowbray wrote The Times-Picayune’s latest update on BP’s attempt to clean up its mess. She noted that Steven Chu, Nobel winning physicist and President Obama’s secretary of the US Department of Energy, as well as Ken Salazar, secretary of the Department of Interior, are both now involved. Since the article was written, NPR reported on Weekend Edition Sunday that the mile long ‘drinking straw,’ through which BP hopes to suck up some of the flow, has been successfully threaded by robotic subs into the broken riser pipe. We’ll see whether it works or not. Commence sucking, BP!
Amy Wold wrote a story for today’s The Advocate about the complicating implications of the rapidly approaching 2010 hurricane season on the uncapped BP oil gusher. Read it here.
Sandy Davis wrote an update on attempts to insert a “soda straw” into the broken riser tube to suck out the leaking oil. This delicate operation, conducted remotely by 12 robotic submarines, is still incomplete.
Kind words for Bobby Jindal
Emily Wagster Pettus and Melinda Deslatte wrote an interesting story posted in Huffpost yesterday, comparing Governors Bobby Jindal and Haley Barbour in terms of their concern about and reaction to the BP disaster.
Regular readers of LaCoastPost.com know that I’m often a critic of Louisiana’s young governor on science, fiscal and other issues with coastal implications but so far he has shown far more concern and has been far more engaged on the BP blowout than his counterpart in Mississippi. I’ve also been impressed with the statements of DHH secretary Alan Levine and DWL&F secretary Bob Barham.
Bad words for Tony Hayward
The Guardian UK published a pretty amazing article about Tony Hayward, CEO of British Petroeum in which he acknowledges that his job is on the line but belittles the importance and scale of the leak.
Oil Release Grossly Underestimated
Check out this breaking news in Huffpost.
Band-aid Barrier Island Project
Chris Kirkham wrote an update and fleshed out some details about the emergency barrier island project referred to in my post on May 10 and in the May 13 minipost. He reported that local, state and federal officials are attempting to turn on its ear the lengthy process of public comment and environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and cumbersome coastal restoration procedures.
That may be possible partly because the project would be privately funded by BP, not from government sources.
Whereas I’m intrigued with the first coastal project ever undertaken on an expedited time frame I’m concerned about the scientific input (e.g., modeling) that has gone behind this. I particularly wonder where the borrow sites are and the long term net effects of digging deep holes in some parts of the delta to elevate other sites to six feet above sea level.
It would be great if a team of coastal geologists, oceanographers and engineers were engaged for just such emergencies. I’d be glad to recommend the membership of such a group.
Tulane Environmental Law Clinic Under Attack by Louisiana Industry
Sonia Smith wrote a story for AP on the escalating attack on the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic by the Louisiana Chemical Association (LCA). Dan Borne, President of LCA, claims that the clinic’s legal support of lawsuits to reduce ozone levels in Baton Rouge will drive industrial jobs out of Louisiana. The coastal implications of this ill-conceived attack are ominous, e.g., LCA is the brains behind the state’s battle against EPA’s regulation of industrial CO2 emissions and President Obama’s energy and climate legislation.
The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, directed by Adam Babich, has proven invaluable to poor victims of Louisiana industrial pollution of all forms. Tulane University President Scott Cowen calls the attack reprehensible. I wonder where his counterpart in Baton Rouge, LSU President John Lombardi, stands on this issue.
The Big Bertha cannon being employed by LCA in this unprecedented frontal assault on Tulane is Senate Bill 549, authored by State Senator Robert Adley that would effectively shut the clinic down. This bill was criticized by James Gill in The Times-Picayune as described below under May 12.
This bill will be debated at the State Capitol by the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday May 19 – in direct conflict with the upcoming meeting of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. Coincidence?
National Guard at Elmer’s Island?
Is the ongoing BP crisis providing an excuse to take emergency coastal actions even more damaging than massive oil pollution? An observant colleague who did not specifically authorize using his name emailed the following urgent information last night about an ongoing coastal project west of Grand Isle about which I’ve read nothing nor heard any discussion by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA):
Was doing some recon on the spill around Grand Isle today. Was very dismayed to see the Elmer’s Island levee being erected. The waterways into the marsh behind the island are now cut off as the (National) Guard erects a levee 7 feet high and 70 feet at the base.
This is what the Guard told me. It’s already effecting hydrology as the water was seeking a different route out today. They were like ants on the landscape, a constant flow of soldiers and dirt trucks.
I knew they wanted to build a great barrier island, but did not know about Elmer’s Island. Shades of the first reach of the Great Wall of Louisiana?
Can someone comment on this project? I assume that it’s a BP blowout-related effort to block oil from part of the Barataria Basin but who’s in charge here and what scientists have been involved?
Here’s new information from a very trustworthy source on the activities described above:
Re: The Elmer’s Island “levee.” It is part of a plan by David Camardelle, Grand Isle Mayor, the state OCPR, and Parish Governments from Lafourche and Jefferson and approved by the Coast Guard. The National Guard are performing the labor. From Port Fourchon to Caminada, they’ve decided to combat the oil by filling in cuts in the shoreline they say were formed by Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike with National Guard Assistance. They are using “super” sandbags in some locations, like Port Fourchon at Thunder Bayou, where five cuts are being filled in what must be a temporary fix. But on Elmer’s Island and, possibly, Caminada (I’m told they’ve identified up to 20 cuts on the Caminada headland they’d like to fill but are awaiting approval from BP and the Coast Guard), they sent the National Guard in to fill the cuts with dump trucks, bulldozers and fill material.
The primary goal of this project, as conveyed to the media, is to close off as many cuts in the fractured Lafourche-Jefferson headland to keep oil out of the Barataria Basin. But it may also be a sneaky attempt to get some cuts filled in on the headland quickly and via other monetary outlets (as Gov. Jindal seems to want to do by dredging and placing sand on the barrier islands). I do not know who was consulted, though I do know of at least one scientist who helped the parishes draft their protection plans so there was at least some minor scientific input.
I have been slightly concerned about what the after effects of all this quick dirt work will be. Jindal only announced this plan to the public last Thursday in Grand Isle (I was in attendence) and work began on Sunday or Monday.
This morning NPR’s Morning Edition featured a story on the politics of the oil disaster, in which Mississippi Governor Hayley Barbour is saying, “no big deal,” and taking no action while Florida Governor Charlie Crist is calling the blowout tantamount to an underwater volcano of unprecedented proportions. It was noted that 1,000 members of the Louisiana National Guard are working the response to BP blowout, whereas members of the Mississippi National Guard remain inactive.
Alternative Solutions to the Diaster
Over the weekend The NY Times ran an opinion column on alternative approaches to dealing with the BP blowout. Five authorities (including one from Mississippi) contributed to this short piece that definitely bears reading.
James Gill wrote an appropriately sarcastic column in today’s The Times-Picayune about what he calls a purely vindictive anti-anti pollution bill by State Senator Robert Adley (R-Benton) that will be heard today at the State Capitol. This bill (SB549) is being promoted by the petrochemical lobby, led by Dan Borne, president and ‘political sports announcer’ of the LCA (Louisiana Chemical Association).
Here’s the innocuous-sounding summary of the bill:
Provides for the receipt of certain pro bono legal services from state and private university law schools by small and emerging businesses and prohibits certain activities by law school clinics.
This bill would force the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic out of the business of protecting Louisiana residents from pollution of their air and water. As the wise Mr. Gill points out, this ridiculous bill was written before the BP blowout. I wonder what author Adley and his oil industry backers will say today about the oil now floating into our wetlands and the oil fumes floating over NOLA.
S..t happens, as they say.
Attentive LaCoastPost readers may have noted that my “right” to discuss the BP Blowout has been challenged in that I’m not a petroleum engineer or an offshore worker with drilling mud under my fingernails. Freely acknowledged. Here’s a helpful comment on what happened on April 20 that was emailed to me yesterday:
I think that you missed something very important in the saga of the major oil leak resulting from the explosion on the Transocean rig. The front page of The Times-Picayune on Friday (7 May) had a story about how BP, Transocean and whoever else was involved were removing fluid mud from the mile long pipe before the second cement plug was in place.
The density of the fluid mud is used to maintain pressure and keep any gas bubbles from coming up the pipe. Standard procedure is to keep the mud in place as a safety precaution.
What appears to have happened is that they thought they were done and were packing up ($700,000/day is a huge incentive to return from the rig a 24 hours early). Then a bubble of gas pushed its way up the pipe and with the resulting explosion, it was all over, or, from Louisiana’s standpoint, it was all beginning.
An engineer colleague
These details are very helpful and appreciated. Coincidentally, the best blow-by-blow description I’ve heard of the sequence of events that led to the disaster was broadcast yesterday (May 10) on NPR’s All Things Considered. This riveting account is worth a listen here or you can read the transcript. Here’s a telling (and chilling) quote:
Christopher Choy, a crewman on the Deepwater Horizon, told NPR’s Joe Shapiro that the rig had encountered frequent problems with gas “kicking” up from this well.”We’d taken little kicks previously,” Choy said. “This well didn’t want to be drilled. It just had problems from the start.”
Click on Choy’s name above to see his picture and read his first hand description of what happened. My hat is off to the many folks like Choy who risk their lives working offshore on oil production platforms and the diligent reporters who are uncovering the details of this disaster.
The ticking clock continues. Mark Schleifstein describes a discouraging westward flow of the visible part of the gigantic oil slick from the BP blowout in today’s The Times-Picayune.
Here’s a great read to get your mind temporarily away from oil on the Louisiana coast. It’s a tribute to every mother since sex evolved about 2 billion years ago, long before crude oil existed. Daniel Eagleman wrote this awesome post for Slate magazine that’s absolutely perfect for Mother’s Day.
Tick, tick, tick…Day 18 and counting. Oil continues to gush unabated into the cold 42 degree water column from a mile deep in the gulf at the Deepwater Horizon BP Blowout, known as the Macondo Well. I just discovered SubSeaIQ, Offshore Field Development Projects, an excellent source of technical stats on the well history.
I call your attention to this extremely thoughtful article in The New Republic by former VP Al Gore in which he puts the BP Blowout into perspective from a global standpoint and argues that this could finally trigger a change in energy policy – the topic of part two of my post under preparation on coastal paradigm shifts. Yesterday I attended a fascinating lecture at LSU by Professor Emeritus John Day, which touched on related issues challenging the sustainability of current American energy policy.
Here’s a link to The Times-Picayune’s excellent ongoing coverage of the catastrophe. It is important to note that some surface oil has oozed west of the Bird’s Foot delta as described in this story from Huffpost. Yesterday I talked with some of the LSU experts mentioned in these accounts. I heard nothing to reassure me.
In a very different wrinkle, this story by Jon Bowermaster in Takepart.com/news shows that while some authorities advocate diverting as much river water swollen from the 14 inch rainfall in Nashville to help keep the oil at bay (see the top May 7 item below) some Louisiana commercial fishery spokespeople are concerned that this could flush fish larvae into the danger zone. We can’t win for losing.
As a final note, yesterday at the Friday afternoon Downtown Alive concert in Baton Rouge I ran into Bob Harper, the newly-appointed acting secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR) which recently spun off some 140 employees (I think he said) to form the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR) a quasi agency. Based on my brief conversation, Bob, a very long veteran of state employment with extensive experience in budget matters, doesn’t envision any major policy shifts relative to coastal issues on his watch.
An alert reader pointed out a May 5 report by Angelle Bergeron in Engineering News Record (ENR.com) about a study now underway by the Corps of Engineers research lab in Vicksburg to see whether the unusual surge in Mississippi River flow associated with the recent flooding upstream at Nashville could be used advantageously to help push floating oil out of fragile coastal marshes. The basic concept would be to open the Bonnet Carre structure and other river diversion sites to help keep oil at bay.
I applaud the effort and interest by an agency not known for its creativity. On the other hand I’m very curious about two things: (1) why haven’t these diversion sites being used this Spring even without the BP blowout; and (2) why wasn’t the numerical modeling being carried out as part of this new study completed years ago when Davis Pond, Caernarvon and the controversial Bonnet Carre project that was so popular with former Mississippi Senator Trent Lott were being evaluated. The millions of tax dollars spent by the corps to carry out its infamous MRSNFR study in the ‘90s should have provided exactly the information being developed now.
Deja Voodoo all over again?
An AP update of the ongoing saga on the BP Blowout (BPB) in The Times-Picayune includes a description of the ongoing and apparently almost completed placement of a cofferdam onto the main oil leak on the Gulf floor. Progress was delayed yesterday because of a high level of air toxins from evaporating petroleum compounds that made conditions unsafe for workers. Many fingers are still crossed.
Jordan Blum wrote a story in today’s The Advocate that includes serious concerns by LSU experts including Bob Carney and Ralph Portier on what is probably happening beneath the surface of the gulf, unseen by dramatic aerial images of the floating slick. Fish eggs, for example, are sensitive to the dispersants (detergents, some with undisclosed constituents) being applied at record levels.
As noted yesterday afternoon, The Times-Picayune carried a guest column by yours truly about BP pushing the technological envelope. My words generated some highly critical emails, as well as very positive notes. The negative messages, lengthy and passionate, were from folks experienced in offshore oil technology who called me out for criticizing a field in which I have little knowledge, such as, how dare I question BP’s capability to use the technology necessary to operate safely.
I never claimed to have specific knowledge about operating oil wells, either onshore or in a mile deep setting. Nevertheless, the fact is inescapable that a major failure occurred that still hasn’t been identified and Louisiana’s coastal marshes are in serious jeopardy because of it. I rest my case.
News Flash: Today’s The Times-Picayune published a guest column that I wrote re BP pushing the technological envelope in drilling their infamous well. The column has generated some interesting comments. Read it here.
It becomes increasingly difficult to follow the goings on around the BP Blowout. Luckily we have excellent reporters on the scene. For example, Cain Burdeau and Harry Weber have been doing yeoman work for the AP covering the latest wrinkles in the attempts to stop the bleeding. See this post on potential effects of the spills, which includes interviews with Drs. Jim Cowan and Bob Carney, both seasoned coastal scientists at LSU. These researchers discuss possible impacts in the water column and sea bottom that remain invisible on the surface.
Also see this new story published in today’s The Advocate about the crucial attempt to lower a 100 ton concrete box over the well head. Lot’s of fingers are crossed.
As part of an update by The Advocate on the coastal oil release Sandy Davis and Amy Wold interviewed LSU oceanographer Dr. Greg Stone, for his prediction of the fate and trajectory of the massive oil slick. Barring a very unlikely cold front the slick will continue to approach southeast Louisiana as ominously and persistently as Freddie stalks his teenage victims in Friday the 13th horror films.
The Times-Picayune staff reporters, including coastal veterans Mark Schleifstein and Bob Marshall, been providing a breaking news update on the BP oil release (I have a hard time calling it a spill) of great interest .
Today’s The Times-Picayune published an insightful opinion editorial on the state and national political ramifications of the BP fiasco by highly respected Louisiana commentator John Maginnis.
Today’s The Times-Picayune carries an AP story that describes parallels between the gulf coast oil gusher with the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska’s pristine Prince William Sound two decades ago. The comparison is far from encouraging.
I highly recommend viewing this video of the Rachel Maddow show run on MSNBC last night that was recorded live from Venice Louisiana. Rachel did her homework very well and she makes a dramatic plea for Americans to understand the conflicts of life in the Mississippi River delta.
Justin Gardner reported today in True/Slant that Rush Limbaugh says “Not to worry,” about the ongoing volcanic eruption of oil off the Louisiana coast, that it’s natural and that Mother Nature will take care of it. I would have laughed at this ignorant prognostication until I read a report by Donna Melton in The Sun Herald that quoted our neighbor state’s coastal Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) and Bill Walker, Mississippi Director of Marine Resources, who, after flying over the Louisiana coast for three hours yesterday, pronounced that it doesn’t look all that bad.
Meanwhile President Obama, who had a similar flyover pronounced the same incident as a potentially unprecedented environmental disaster. A video of his talk from Huffington Post can be seen here. Anthony Hayward, CEO of BP, was interviewed by Steve Inskeep on today’s Morning Edition on NPR. He called the incident an unprecedented technological accident. Sandy Davis wrote a clear description in today’s The Advocate of the effort to shut off the oil gusher.
Congratulations, NOLA Mayor Mitch! Michelle Krupa reports in today’s The Times-Picayune on the 70th mayoral inauguration in New Orleans.
Today, on the 12th day since the BP offshore oil drilling platform exploded, an article in Huffingtonpost.com by Allen G. Breed and Seth Borenstein carries the following headline: Gulf Stream May Send Oil Spill Up East Coast.
What is becoming the worst oil release in history may likely move east toward Florida where it could become a part of the Gulf Stream that would carry it up the East Coast toward Washington, DC. If a ‘tourniquet’ can’t be applied soon to staunch the bleeding this incredible incident could not just wreak terrible havoc on the Louisiana coastal ecosystem and economy, it could also mark an historical change in the politics of petroleum-based transportation.
Yesterday, while driving toward the Jazz Fest* I heard an astounding interview on my favorite music station WWOZ-90.7 FM, broadcasting live from the Fairgrounds. The interviewee characterized what is happening at the coast not as an ecological and economic tragedy but as a political disaster, which will lead to Socialism and an inevitable government takeover of the entire oil and gas industry! The speaker despaired about oil workers who could ultimately lose jobs. Not a word about what is already happening to Louisiana outdoorsfolk, as described in today’s The Times-Picayune by Bob Marshall.
I’ve never heard such a political diatribe on the normally apolitical O Z, especially comments that sounded like they were coming from one of Roger Ailes’ shills for Fox News.
*In the interest of full disclosure I should add that my ticket to the festival, sponsored by Shell Oil, was given to me by Janet Fox, the sister of my brother-in-law Maurice. Janet works for Shell in Houston.
Read the featured story on the coastal oil disaster by Bruce Nolan in The Times-Picayune to greet first day of the month. Frankly, I’d rather not write about it.
Huffingtonpost.com features a thoughtful account by John McQuaid of another Louisiana tragedy.
Here’s a more positive view of the possible implications of the unfolding crisis in Louisiana, written by Bill McKibben and featured in TheDailyBeast.com. What if this tragedy in the Mississippi River delta ultimately led to the passage energy legislation appropriate for the 21st century?