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May Coastal Scuttlebutt: daily miniposts continued


Editor’s note: Miniposts from May 1-16 can be found here.

bpoillogoMay 31

I ran into several friends yesterday at the D Day Museum in New Orleans. A visit to this unique museum is a sober reminder on Memorial Day of the sacrifices being made every day by members of the military – and civilian victims of wars both declared and undeclared.

Coming right on the heels of the extremely bleak news about the failure of Top Kill to shut down BP’s rampaging oil well, Mark Schleifstein reported in today’s The Times-Picayune that Garret Graves, the governor’s coastal advisor, has announced a second aggressive project to redistribute sediments in the lower delta to create artificial (sacrificial?) marsh terraces, supposedly to intercept invading oil. This would be in addition to dredging sand to build 86 miles of temporary sand berms for the same purpose, a concept that was designed by ‘outside experts’ from Holland and that is highly controversial but that has now been signed off on by the Corps of Engineers.

Schleifstein’s article doesn’t say whether Graves revealed the designer of the new plan, or whether it was created with any ‘adult supervision,’ input by the experts who best know the delta. I suspect I know the answer and will post an article tomorrow on this subject.

May 30

Top Kill misses target and BP still stands for ‘Bottom Problem’*

Most readers will by now have learned that OperationTop Kill failed to shut off the BP fountain spewing tons of crude oil directly off what was already the most threatened coast in the world. Rather than citing dismal statistics on this Memorial Day weekend I call your attention to an important philosophical essay by Elizabeth Rosenthal in The New York Times on May 28 in which she describes what may be a misplaced American faith in technology to solve intractable modern problems from cancer to terrorism. These problems include accidental blowouts in a frantic high tech rush to find oil in increasingly remote places to feed our addiction.

Today’s Washington Post carries an important column with several commentators weighing in on the political significance of the BP disaster. I was particularly struck by what I think are very wise comments by NOLA native Donna Brazile, Democratic Party consultant.

After several folks implied that they didn’t understand my suggested name for this disaster: BPOCALYPSE I decided to make the play on words more obvious by inserting a period after B, making it B. POCALYPSE as a logical follow up to APOCALYPSE.

I’m holding up on a followup post on the highly controversial ‘Dutch Dune’ sandy Band-aid project promoted by the state until Tuesday, when most folks return to work. Hearing the voice of Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday this morning encouraging his constituents in calls to “Dredge Baby Dredge,” was evidence that this proposal is out of control and seriously misguided.

*Problem is a euphemism, like an oncologist referring to an untreatable malignant tumor as a ‘problem.’

May 29

Dredge Baby Dredge!

Yesterday at 7:00 PM Louisiana Public Broadcasting (LPB) aired Louisiana the State We’re In, which focused on the BP Oil disaster, and one segment of the program included interviews with various authorities on the controversial emergency sand berm project being promoted by the governor’s office. Believe it or not, I recommend watching this show not just because I’m one of the interviewees! The show will be rebroadcast tomorrow, May 30 at 2:00 PM on LPB Channel 27.

I missed seeing the LPB show on the ‘Dutch Dunes’ or ‘Sandy Band-aid’ project because I was in downtown Baton Rouge, attending the final Friday Downtown Alive concert of the Spring. During several fascinating conversations with friends and colleagues I was pulled aside by a highly credible source and told the following:

Vital state expertise, as well as Louisiana academic knowledge was overlooked during discussions of this highly controversial sand relocation project. Agency employees with extensive and vital information on coastal geoscience – and oil drilling – were consciously and conspicuously excluded as the sand plan was developed behind closed doors. This situation is scandalous and indefensible.

May 28

Oil flow shutting down?

See live video feed of the Deep Horizon well here.

As of 7:00 AM CDT, BP and various media sources are reporting (very tentatively) that the Top Kill has been at least partially successful but that the answer will require another 24 hours or more. It’s obviously far too early to celebrate. Even if no more oil leaks up into the water column the environmental impacts are only beginning.

Scale of the disaster

The media reported yesterday that the BP disaster will be remembered as the worst release of crude oil in American history at 17-39 million gallons, closing in on a million barrels far worse than Exxon-Valdez in 1989.

Bruce Alpert and Jonathan Tilove wrote this article for The Times-Picayune with the grim statistics.

Standoff in sand bar wars

In today’s The Times-Picayune Mark Schleifstein describes what looks like a truce in the sand wars between state and federal officials, with the state getting roughly 1/3rd of what it wanted, with expanded approvals possible on the horizon.

As reported by Schleifstein, yesterday afternoon Louisiana got provisional approval for 40-45 miles of an originally proposed 128 miles of ‘sandy Band-aids.’ The state’s proposal had previously been scaled back to 86 miles.

The accompanying graphic from The Times-Picayune shows the sand bar approvals. Depending on your point of view, the Barataria (western) side of the river got either the benefit or the impact of this decision.sandybandaid5.28

Meanwhile, critics from Louisiana’s vaunted coastal brain trust were left on the sidelines, their expertise and concerns having been virtually ignored. Last night WBRZ-TV 2 presented a video interview with one of the academic critics, Dr. Greg Stone. This evening LPB will air interviews on this controversy including segments with Garret Graves and yours truly.

A post on this bizarre situation is under preparation for posting later today.

Katrina hero van Heerden out at LSU

Dr. Ivor van Heerden lost his long struggle to remain on the LSU faculty. His contract runs out on Memorial Day, Monday, May 31. LSU may have won the skirmish but lost the war in terms of damage done to its image as an open institution dedicated to academic independence.

May 27

It’s increasingly difficult to keep up with the gush of words accompanying the so-far unchecked gush of oil from BP’s ill-fated Deep Horizon well. I will continue to search for the most credible reports.

Today I recommend a description by Dan Froomkin in Huffpost of the daunting dilemmas facing President Obama as he prepares to face aggressive reporters in a White House press conference today and angry south Louisianans tomorrow when he flies down to face the actual victims of the crisis.

The best possible news today would be evidence by about 1:00 PM that 24 hours of pumping drilling mud down into the broken well mechanism is overcoming the upward pressure of gas and oil. This seems like trying to pump sealant into a faulty tire valve.

Having had the recent pleasure of shaking the hand of the multi-talented and self-described investigative satirist Harry Shearer, I also  recommend Shearer’s somber reminder, also in Huffpost, that the passage of time isn’t making it easier for President Obama to clean his plate. Harry has become an indefatigable supporter of saving south Louisiana.

May 26

I can’t resist posting this link to a short video of a BP ad that was doctored to mock the company whose well is creating so much anguish. Check it out and I dare you not to laugh.

Many thanks to LaCoastPost reader Steve Fourrier for alerting me to this detailed description of the likely causes of the failure of the Deepwater Horizon well that blew out on April 20, killing eleven workers and beginning the ongoing tragedy in the gulf. The article was published on May 22 in, an oil industry insider blog.

I’m in no position to judge the credibility of the author’s assessment of the failure, but the diagram of the well anatomy and well log appear authentic and are definitely worth examining. Here’s what Steve said about the article:

This is an excellent breakdown by Art Berman on the BP disaster.  Of particular interest is the discussion/comments following the article.  There’s a lot of experience talking on there . . .

May 25

Mark Schleifstein reported today in The Times-Picayune on an interview with Chris D’Elia, new Dean of the LSU School of the Coast and my old UGA grad school buddy, about a prospective $500 million grant from British Petroleum to fund research on oil spill dispersants. This is good news in the sense that the best science will be brought to bear on critical uncertainties but bad news in that the work should have been done before the horses were out of the barn. I was glad to see that LSU raised the issue, which has been picked up by Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Bob Barham (not Joe).

Speaking of LSU and the huge scientific uncertainties of the oil release, last night I stayed up to see Dr. Ed Overton close out the Dave Letterman Show on CBS. Ed is Professor Emeritus at LSU’s Department of Environmental Studies, and he leads a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) team to research the impacts of BP’s accident.

Earlier, during his evening show on MSNBC liberal host Keith Olberman interviewed guests who suggested that a high estimate of the volume of oil probably already released into the gulf  (15 million barrels) is similar to one day’s US consumption.

May 24

A story carried in today’s The Washington Post shows how the British Petroleum oil disaster is creating philosophical issues and political conflicts for The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that accept financial support from the oil and gas industry, including BP, and that have board members from the industry.

TNC is a well-known environmental organization with a long and distinguished performance record helping to protect and restore critical parts of coastal Louisiana. TNC’s effectiveness has partly resulted from working with the Louisiana business community, including the oil and gas industry, in pragmatic, non-confrontational partnerships, e.g., to purchase and protect threatened ecosystems.

This article exemplifies an additional dimension of the tragedy of BP’s failure. The petrochemical industry, which has contributed roughly 1/3rd of the damage to coastal Louisiana, has deep and inseparable roots in both the economy and culture of the state.  Like it or not, we share the same lifeboat with oil and gas. This makes what BP did – and didn’t do – even more tragic and despicable.

Today’s The Washington Post has a graphic illustrating the effects of oil on salt marshes – the ecosystem currently being coated by toxic crude oil from BP.

Governor Jindal apparently intends to move forward with his ‘sandy Band-aid’ barrier berm project, despite not having received the requisite federal permits. The conclusion of a two-part post on this precedent-setting issue will be published tomorrow.

May 23

Bob Marshall’s must read column in today’s The Times-Picayune connects locking a barn door after horses have already gone missing and sending astronauts to Mars. Great metaphors for what is now being called the worst human-caused environmental tragedy in history.

Bob’s article is a perfect complement to the accompanying cartoon and this biting satirical comment in The Washington Post a couple days ago:tolescartoon

There IS no oil leak in the Gulf! If there is, it can’t be CONFIRMED! The evidence is inconclusive! Maybe oil in the water is a GOOD THING! Maybe the leak will FIX ITSELF! There’s nothing we can do! We should WAIT until we have more time to gather data! It’s TOO EXPENSIVE to plug the leak.

Think of the INCONVENIENCE of trying to fix it! HUMANS didn’t cause the leak! Oil is NATURAL! You call it POLLUTION, we call it LIFE! It’s EGOTISTICAL to think humans could damage the Gulf! It’s a HOAX! A CONSPIRACY! EVERYONE is in on it! Environmentalists use oil, so THEY’RE to blame! More important than the oil in the water are those badly worded EMAILS! There’s no oil on THIS beach YET! The sand HERE is still clean! If THIS is an OIL SPILL, I’ll TAKE IT! HA HA! Jed Clampett made a leak with his SHOTGUN and ended up a rich BEVERLY HILLBILLY!

Try having a sane conversation with people who argue like this. Just try.–Tom Toles

May 22

A second Day of Infamy in south Louisiana within five years is wreaking unspeakable havoc on the vital deltaic landscape a few miles inland from the site where on April 20, 2010 eleven men perished on an exploding oil platform. Long before April 20, Paul Harrison belonged to a team of effective advocates in Washington, DC for a new management paradigm for the Mississippi River watershed and the largest delta on the continent.

I strongly recommend reading this essay by Paul, just published in the widely read and influential Huffington Post. Based on my personal experience, I believe (and hope) that Mr. Harrison will be among those shaping the take home lessons of this unfolding tragedy for the policy makers inside the DC Beltway.

May 21

‘Oil reaches Grand Isle.’ That news and the cancellation of the Tarpon Festival exemplify how serious BP’s blunder is to coastal Louisiana, as hurricane season approaches.

Sandy Davis reports in today’s The Advocate that the permit to dredge sand to create berms against the invading petroleum was delayed yesterday At any rate it appaears that the horse has already left the barn. I’m working on a post on this subject to be published later today.

May 20

On the one month anniversary of BP’s disaster I propose this new term for the disaster and new logo for British Petroleum.

Not drip, drip, drip but gush, gush, gush. There’s so much oil coverage in the media today that I want to spotlight two other coastal issues. I’m currently writing a new post on Governor Jindal’s so-called ‘Dutch Dunes’ dredging project, to be posted later today or tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Photo from NPR

Photo from NPR

Climate change back in the headlines

Yesterday (May 19) on All Things Considered NPR described the release on May 18 of an extremely important update on anthropogenic climate change (ACC). The National Research Council (NRC), the most authoritative voice of American science, has issued the latest and most definitive statement to date that ACC is no longer a global threat but a reality. I have not read the new report yet but apparently it concludes that documenting the reality of ACC is wasting time and resources that should be spent developing a serious plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by one third during the next 40 years.

Fight between Tulane President Scott Cowen and LCA President Dan Borne makes national news

Huffpost reports that the Louisiana Senate Commerce Committee yesterday deferred without objection the (BP-supported) Senate bill 549 by Robert Adley (and Dan Borne with the Louisiana Chemical Association) to kill the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.

May 19

This is a huge coastal day.

*The BP oil blowout continues to pollute and threaten the most productive ecosystem in North America. In today’s The Advocate Sandy Davis and Amy Wold describe the dreaded arrival of oil on the lower fringes of Plaquemines Parish.

*The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA meets at the Department of Natural Resources Building in Baton Rouge.

*Governor Jindal and Plaquemines Parsh President Nungesser expect word from the Corps of Engineers on permission to implement a $350 million plan to dredge and pump coastal sediments to create sandy band aid barrier islands on either side of the lower river in an attempt to keep oil from marshes.

*Well-known coastal geologist Ivor van Heerden, a hero to many for his prescience in warning of devastation from Hurricane Katrina and a pariah to others for pointing out Corps of Engineers’ culpability for the devastation, has a court hearing to find out whether LSU has the right to sever his contract at the end of the month.

*The State Senate Commerce Committee will debate Senate Bill 549 by Senator Robert Adley, which would effectively end the distinguished role of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic, long defender of coastal Louisianans suffering from industrial pollution.

*Two congressional hearings on the Hill in DC will explore the oil cleanup effort, who’s to blame for the accident and whether the volume of crude released has been accurately reported.

May 18

John M. Broder reported in The New York Times on May 17 that the White House is setting up an independent panel to investigate the causes of the Deep Horizon oil well failure and the best ways to solve the problem and to prevent a similar reoccurrence. Excellent article, definitely worth reading.

Speaking of The Old Gray Lady, I note that The New York Times has moved the highly credible blog site known as Dot Earth, created by Andrew C. Revkin, from its science section to its opinion section. I could be wrong but I interpret this as a shift in political thinking on the part of what many regard as the ultimate standard of print journalism.

Read the Times’ notice about this change here and Read Revkin’s diplomatic statement about the change here. Some readers may remember that I named Andrew C. Revkin as one of the top ten most influential American authorities on the issue of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) and global warming. This reminds me of the controversial decision by The Advocate to move Doonesbury from the comic section to the opinion page.

May 17

BP still sucks

The AP reports in today’s The Times-Picayune that a giant sucking sound heard ‘round the world  is British Petroleum successfully pumping about 1,000 barrels of crude oil a day through a six inch diameter drinking straw a mile long into a tanker floating over the blown out well. That’s 20% of what BP says has been leaking, but only 4% of what independent experts say has already created a vast plume of oil 60 square miles that is poised to enter the Gulf Loop current and perhaps find its way to the Florida Straits between Key West and Cuba.

Suck a little harder, BP.

Gulf Aid a huge success!

On a much more positive note, this disaster gave rise to the nicest day I’ve had in many years, being part of what turned out to be an amazingly successful concert at Mardi Gras World on the river in New Orleans to raise funds for the growing number of victims of BP’s ineptitude. In what was a hopeful symbolic sign from Mother Nature, the day began with torrential rainfall but became a gorgeous balmy, clear, cool afternoon with a huge crowd of hopeful people.

Picture this, my daughter Emilie, a delightful new friend named Guille Novello and I got to hear great music from an incredible array of musicians and to converse with Harry Shearer, Marcia Ball, David Freedman, Beth Galante, Mark and Susan Davis, Windell Curole, Ben Sandmel, Jakob Rosenzweig and many other equally passionate coastal advocates.

My congratulations to the organizers, musicians, volunteers, sponsors and attendees of an awesome event put together in only eight days!

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  4. a quibble with the Wash.Post graphic: it lists Mullet as a “large fish” that eats “fish and shellfish.”

    I would have picked a Shark or Speckled Trout.

    Mullet are interphase feeders, detrivores, insectivores. They may pick up a clam or two, but mostly eat Muck, forams, and algae,etc

    Two diet surveys in Lake Pontchartrain confirm this, Darnell ’69 and Levine in Stone et al. 1980

  5. Walt Sikora says:

    The use of dispersants amounts to “sweeping it under the rug” so to speak, removing the oil from sight, breaking it up so sinks to the bottom of the water column. The practice should be totally outlawed as a fraud as far as oil spill clean-up concerned. No matter how toxic or nontoxic the dispersant itself is, the practice ensures toxic oil components will remain in the system longer than if no dispersants were used, Of course if the dispersant itself is toxic, the worse the situation is made.

    For some time it’s been recognized that the most toxic components of oil are the volatile compounds and in order for the oil to be rendered less toxic, these volatiles must evaporate at the surface and be eventually broken down by ultraviolet solar radiation. Dispersant-treated oil will settle to the bottom and create more benthic dead zones and/or more of these toxic compounds will enter the food chain if they don’t kill the animals outright.

    The strategy should be to skim up as much as possible and then treat that which can’t be removed with solutions of extremophile bacteria selected for the ability to break down petroleum. These organisms do exist and they do break oil down and should work a lot better in Louisiana than when first tried in Alaska’s cold waters.

    Why don’t we hear any mention of this approach?

    • scott eustis says:

      I would also like to hear more about this approach. I hear that Oak Ridge Labs has engineered this, and some arm of the Texas Government field-tested it on the Megaborg Tanker spill decades ago.
      (look up Megaborg Oil Spill

      Where are our microbes, BP?

  6. Ben Taylor says:

    So Tony Hayward thinks their their oil spill is “relatively tiny” when compared to the “very big ocean.” This, as he sprays oil dispersants banned in the UK. I’ve had it with arrogant “New Elizabethan” a**holes, pretending the world is their fiefdom. To suggest our little corner of the world is inconsequential to such lordly ambition, and mistakes, is contemptible. If I had my druthers, BP’s assets would be seized and liquidated right here in the good ole U.S.A. Just the dispersant fiasco is enough of a reason. Imagine, covering up this mistake like a kitty cat tries to cover up its turds. Since when is emulsified oil mixed in a cloud Nalco better? Shame on the federal government for going along with it. Ben

  7. HeidiHoe says:

    Also interesting to read on Page 12 of the June National Geographic about “doctored photographs” appearing in the magazine recently…….

    I question about anything published anymore…..

    Too many agendas; too little time……

  8. HeidiHoe says:

    Interesting article in the June issue of National Geographic; about Greenland being ‘ground zero’ for Global Warming……

    a sub-title on Page 49 starts out stating “As Greenland returns to the warm climate that allowed Vikings to colonize it in the Middle Ages…..”

    Interesting, that we are RETURNING to a WARM CLIMATE…….

    Kinda like we’ve been there before; even back before the internal combustion engine was a purring along…..

  9. The tube was going to be 6 inches but it is 4 inches. Also the flow is reported to be 2000 barrels a day now. Hopefully this will increase further and hopefully the flow is closer to 5000 than we fear.

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