October Coastal Scuttlebutt: daily miniposts
Two year anniversary!!
Today marks the official second year anniversary of LaCoastPost, first going on line on October 15, 2008. What a ride this has been! On this auspicious occasion blog manager Allie Stevens and I want to gratefully acknowledge the support of our many regular readers and we look forward to expanding this exceptionally perceptive group of coastal advocates throughout our third year.
The coastal news du jour is displaced today because I’m in an all day meeting in New Orleans hosted by Google to learn how to make this blog better. More later.
I’ve already expressed my dismay to Google staffers about the gnormous company canceling my gmail accounts – twice – after two lowlifes hacked into my gmail address book, stole many of your addresses and begged for big bucks to bail me out of Britain.
Oil spill commission discusses its draft report on BP disaster
In today’s The Times-Picayune Jonathan Tilove described the latest meeting of the Presidential Oil Spill Commission that was held yesterday in Washington, DC. He describes a spirited discussion among the seven members of the commission regarding a draft report on the accident that will be finalized and released in January 2011.
Interestingly enough, Tilove notes that Congress did not grant subpoena power to the commission. This is very unfortunate, in terms of the members’ capability to fully explore the detailed forensics of the disaster. The cynic in me assumes that some members of congress may fear what sworn testimony might unearth in terms of contributions from and bennies to the energy industry during the previous administration.
Winging it on coastal policy – or not!
Koran Addo reported in today’s The Advocate that Governor Jindal announced yesterday that he will be addressing the state budget shortfall on October 22. The governor reportedly reiterated his pledge to never raise taxes and said that he will balance the budget with (unspecified) spending cuts, presumably on state agencies. He also criticized the federal response to the BP disaster. This complements the message presented at the Baton Rouge Press Club on October 11 by his fellow ‘sand berm buddy’ Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser.
On a coastal (technical) note, during his remarks Governor Jindal mentioned the issue of lowering the water level of False River and preventing the influx of silt to the lake. He said that he would defer to the staff at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries on this matter. Here’s a memorable quote that should be framed and hung in the lobby of the 4th Floor of the State Capitol and in the Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration:
“This (False River) is an incredibly important resource for this community and for the whole state,” Jindal said. “We want our experts to weigh in.”
Would that all – or at least some – coastal policy decisions were arbitrated by Louisiana experts.
Drilling ban lifted; so why the long faces?
The biggest coastal news du jour is the announcement that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has decided, with President Obama’s blessing, to lift the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The drilling ban was abolished about seven weeks earlier than the announced date of November 30, but no one seems very happy.
The national environmental community seems to be universally concerned, believing that the ban should not have been lifted until all the studies were complete on the causes of the Macondo well blowout.
More surprising, however, is the undercurrent of grousing by industry leaders and state officials that lifting the moratorium should have happened long ago. I’m frankly amazed at the latter attitude, which of course is politically motivated. There should be some red faces over the fact that the moratorium didn’t cause the sky to fall and the predicted loss of 22,000 jobs never happened. So much for the credibility of grossly overpaid Louisiana economists who believe: (1) that the economic health of Louisiana will perpetually hinge on gulf oil production; and (2) that climate change is a myth. See the piece on sea level rise below.
At any rate for your convenience here are links to a number of media accounts of the event.
An article in HuffingtonPost.
An NPR Morning Edition story by Kathy Lohr, including an interview with a Houma resident and drill rig worker.
An NPR Marketplace story by Jeremy Hobson on changes in the drilling industry now that drilling ban has been lifted.
In a related story by Steve Chiotakis also on Marketplace, a drilling moratorium in Europe is under consideration. Is that ironic or what? Here’s a quote from the story:
Shell seems to be ingratiating itself with American authorities, angling for new permits. Yesterday Shell’s CEO criticized BP’s well design and lack of safety measures in the Gulf, putting as much distance between himself and BP as possible.
An article in today’s The Advocate by Gerard Shields.
An editorial in today’s The Times-Picayune.
Coping with rising sea level
A new book on sea level rise was cited in Scientificcomputing.com and it will be described at an international meeting on that subject beginning today in New Zealand. This reference was kindly sent by my friend Thomas Marino.
In today’s The Advocate Sandy Davis described a Columbus Day performance at the Baton Rouge Press Club by Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, consistently curmudgeonly Coast Guard critic. He apparently railed once more about what he characterizes as an ineffectual federal response to the BP blowout, keeping him in the spotlight. One wonders, however, how repeatedly tweaking the noses of the bureaucratic benefactors of Plaquemines Parish can possibly benefit Billy’s constituents. His affection for microphones and serial media events imply that Billy has statewide political ambitions, once his powerful sand berm accomplice either finds a federal job or term limits out as governor. The question is how much longer the issue of ‘oil-soaked Plaquemines shores’ will resonate sufficiently to generate interest beyond Buras.
With my apologies to the late John Lennon, here’s my takeoff on his iconic song Imagine.
Imagine there’s no sound bites; it isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to shill or lie for; and real conviction too.
Imagine all officials – caring for the coast…
You may say that I’m dreaming, that the truth is out of style.
But if science were in fashion – the Ol’ Miss delta could last a while.
It’s rare and gratifying to post a positive piece of coastal news du jour. Here’s such an item by John Collins Rudolf on loggerhead turtles in the post Macondo well era that I discovered in The New York Times today. The last time I posted on loggerheads was a sobering note on August 21 when I noted multiple loggerhead mortalities caused by dredges building the notorious anti-oil sand berms along the Chandeleur Islands. Thirty-nine or forty years ago, while a graduate student studying the dynamics of the intertidal oyster reef community along the coast of Georgia, I collected the skull bones of an adult loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) from the beach at Sapelo Island (~50 miles south of Savannah). This magnificent creature, in 1971 not yet listed as a member of an endangered species, had presumably drowned in a shrimp net. That was a common occurrence in those days before the ‘storm troopers’ from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), so dreaded by fans of The Tea Party, required shrimp trawlers to use ‘TEDs’ or turtle excluder devices. I still have the loggerhead artifact, sans a piece of its palate, and it’s surprising how few non-biologists over the years have successfully identified it even as the skull of a reptile, let alone as a marine turtle. Because birds are close evolutionary relatives of reptiles I like to show folks the turtle skull along with a pelican skull that I found on Grand Terre Island back in the early eighties. They don’t look even remotely like kissin’ cousins. Among the many potential impacts of the Macondo well disaster was additional mortality on the rapidly shrinking population of loggerhead turtles in the gulf. Thus, among many oil disaster responses mounted by various conservationists and scientists, was an effort to remove turtle eggs from nests along the northern gulf and move them to beaches along Florida’s Atlantic coast. This article by Melissa Gaskill in Naturenews suggests that the effort has been successful but there’s a question about whether the tiny portion of emerging turtle hatchlings that survive to adulthood will return to Atlantic or Gulf beaches. Here’s the link to a National Geographic video clip of a sea turtle relocation operation from Gulf Shores, Alabama to Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The state’s bicentennial: A river runs through it That’s the title of an editorial in The Times-Picayune endorsing the concept of using the Mississippi River as the central theme of the Louisiana Bicentennial, happening in 2012. This innovative idea was proposed by Windell Curole, who heads the South Lafourche Levee District and whose family has lived in South Louisiana for many generations. I would propose including the two hundred year old crises in America’s Delta as a fundamental part of the bicentennial theme. BTW, the title of this editorial is accurate in that the river, which created all of south Louisiana, sadly now only runs through it, adding nothing to America’s Delta, let alone America’s Wetlands. That’s exactly the problem and we need to change it long before the Louisiana tri-centennial in 2112. Three decades Three decades represent exactly 15% of the past two centuries, and 2010 marks a number of notable 30-year anniversaries, including the birth of my wonderful daughter Emilie; the beginning of my two favorite radio stations, WRKF-FM in Baton Rouge and WWOZ-FM in New Orleans; and the tragic and senseless end of John Lennon’s life. This year is also an auspicious coastal 30-year anniversary. Jim Rives, friend, coastal colleague and recently retired state official, reminded me that Friday, October 1 marked the 30th anniversary of the Louisiana Coastal Resources Program (LCRP). In 1980 this program, having been approved by the state legislature, was formally approved by the federal government under the Coastal Zone Management Act. Approval established an official state coastal zone; a federal funding mechanism to administer and staff the state program (within the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, or LDNR); and funding to assist coastal parishes to develop local planning efforts to help protect renewable coastal resources. Jim added:
Please note that this is a big deal to me. I was there in the beginning, and I never thought it would last this long. The LCRP did way better than it should have, considering what it was up against. In the early days, we pushed the limits hard and got slapped down a lot. If we had the same type of staff as __ or __ (some other state bureaucracies) the program would have made no difference at all.
I should point out that the LCRP (sometimes called the coastal management program, or CMP) preceded by nine years the creation by the Louisiana Legislature of the Louisiana Coastal Restoration Program, which in 1989 ‘captured’ LCRP to become the Louisiana Coastal Restoration and Management Program. In the post-Katrina era a new Coastal Protection and Restoration Program split off from coastal management to form a quasi-agency known as the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration (OCPR). Now LCRP remains alone as it began in LDNR.
Football, baseball and crude oil
On another beautiful fall weekend, football and baseball playoff games are likely on the minds of many readers of LaCoastPost. I say that because some sports fans spend considerable time in post-game play by play analyses. Far more important than what may either go right (or horribly wrong) for the Tigers this evening in the swamp in Gainesville, however, is the detailed breakdown of the Macondo well blowout. Will the gulf coast remain on the disabled player roster for the remainder of the decade?
After having read key sections of the Working Papers of the Presidential Oil Spill Commission provided by commission member Don Boesch I highly recommend a similar investment in time by anyone interested in an authoritative and candid description of the Macondo well disaster, its aftermath and recommendations for improving the federal response to future large scale accidental releases of oil or other toxic materials. I was struck, but not terribly surprised by the fact that effective federal-state coordination was an issue with state officials in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida but that a working relationship with Louisiana was particularly challenging, largely for petty political reasons. For the sake of America’s (Delta) Wetlands, can’t we all just get along?
Nevermind! Yesterday I posted once again on the Gordian knot that the Horizon Deepwater well blowout has led to, linking to three media accounts of the contents of a new report by the president’s oil spill commission. Don Boesch is a notable member of that commission, who suggested that I unwittingly helped give legs to the misleading MSM meme that, before the oil flow ceased on July 15th, the Obama administration had been suppressing science and low-balling the volume of oil being released. Here’s the gist of Don’s message: The news accounts have predominantly focused on the flow rate estimate issue, which did not have much significance in our report, other than to mislead the public. There’s a lot of information far more significant in these papers, including the use of dispersants. You should go to the actual Oil Spill Commission Staff Working Papers. In terms of your allusion to Governor Jindal replacing Roland Guidry as state on-scene oil spill coordinator, go to Decision Making within the Unified Command (pp. 19-20). Also, more about the sand berm issue can be found on (pp. 22-23). In addition to these helpful insights, I’m republishing here the following comments to the October Coastal Scuttlebutt that Don had already submitted yesterday:
Len – On your October 6 post on the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force created by President Obama’s Executive Order and headed by Lisa Jackson, this is the interim task force called for in the Mabus report. It will continue until Congress can create the recommended Gulf Coast Recovery Council, after which it could be modified or dissolved. It is not yet another parallel restoration effort, but is intended to pull together the Roadmap for Restoring Ecosystem Resiliency and Sustainability that was released in March, the Hypoxia Action Plan and the new National Ocean Council. Similarly, the Oil Spill Commission, headed by Bob Graham and Bill Reilly, will in January make recommendations about Gulf Coast restoration, including the implementation of the Mabus plan. It will complete its charge at that time and will not be an implementing commission.?? Don
Key sites: America’s Gulf Coast (Mabus report); Executive Order creating Restoration Task Force; Summary of CEQ gulf coast initiative; 2008 hypoxia action plan; Oil Spill Commission. Plea for longer days LaCoastPost readers will have noticed that feature posts have become less frequent recently, in favor of the daily scuttlebutt, or coastal news du jour. I’ve been limited by time, not by inspiration for subjects. For some reason my discretionary time for thinking and writing seems to be shrinking, right along with day length.
Whitehouse lowballs the oil release estimate The biggest coastal news du jour is a report released yesterday by the Obama Oil Spill Commission highly critical of the administration for withholding its in-house scientific estimates of the volume of crude oil gushing into the gulf beginning on April 20. The official estimate was only 10% of the actual release rate. This gross lowball is like the POTUS’ first pitch at a ball game hitting the ground fifty feet short of Home Plate! The report came out on the very day that Roy Halladay pitched a no-hitter post-season baseball game for the Philadelphia Phillies, against the Cincinnati Reds. The low ball oil story was covered here by Gerard Shields in today’s The Advocate, here by Dina Cappiello in HuffingtonPost, and by Ari Shapiro on NPR’s Morning Edition. Here’s a telling quote from Shapiro’s piece:
By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf,” the report says, “the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem.
All three accounts describe the administration failure but Shields reported that the oil commission also faults Governor Jindal for delaying effective response to the blowout. After the blowout the official job of Roland Guidry, long-term oil spill coordinator for Louisiana, was inexplicably taken over by the governor himself and later by Jerome Zeringue with the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities. Critics say that this decision caused unnecessary confusion and delay. Not surprisingly, the governor’s coastal advisor Garret Graves disputes this claim. Daimler dike? No, Chevy levee! Nikki Buskey reported in today’s Houma Courier that sections of the Larose to Golden Meadow levee system that surrounds residents in parts of southern Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes failed an inspection by the US Army Corps of Engineers. The South Lafourche Levee District headed by Windell Curole finds itself between growing surge risk and limited funds. Residents understandably prefer a cheap ‘Chevy levee’ today rather than a pricey ‘Daimler dike’ tomorrow. I appreciate Windell’s dilemma as he deals with the moral hazard of trying to save his neighbors as the lifeboat sinks and the leaks worsen.
Gulf ecosystem restoration task force Mark Schleifstein wrote an article for today’s The Times-Picayune on the biggest coastal news du jour, the formation by President Obama of an official task force to oversee, within a year, the development of a restoration plan for the northern gulf coast. This task force was announced yesterday in New Orleans by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. On one hand I wonder how this task force will be integrated with existing commissions to address the dysfunction of the gulf coast, including the commission headed by Navy Secretary Ray Maybus and the oil spill commission headed by Bill Reilly and Bob Graham. I’m also somewhat cynical about the formation of yet another plan. For example, see this post Katrina, pre-BP northern gulf coast science plan 2007-2011 developed by the US Geological Survey (USGS). On the other hand I’m heartened by the one year time horizon of this effort and by the fact that this state/federal effort will be headed, not by the US Army Corps of Engineers, but by EPA. The Corps of Engineers has not exactly distinguished itself as the chair of (and banker for) the 20 year old interagency restoration task force established under the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA). I’m assuming that as chair of the task force EPA will also manage the money – most of which will come from a settlement with BP over fines levied by the federal government under the Clean Water Act. I was very glad to read in Schleifstein’s article that Ms. Jackson mentioned gulf hypoxia as a serious issue to be addressed in the restoration of the northern gulf is critical. Solar energy at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. President Obama plans to put solar panels back on the roof of the White House, as recommended by Bill McKibben! Here’s a piece about this symbolic but significant effort in HuffingtonPost.com.
Figurehead science input to Louisiana coastal policy Amy Wold waded into one of my favorite subjects in her article in today’s The Advocate, a report on the 20-member science advisory team that was established by the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities (GOCA) after the Horizon Deepwater Well disaster. The narrow and limited role of this team is indicated by its very name: H-SERT, for Horizon-Science and Engineering Review Team (love those acronyms). Creating (and disbanding) a science advisory group is easy and not controversial if its role is limited to a very specific issue. The cynical view is that H-SERT was established as a perfunctory exercise to pay lip service to the need for science input, in terms of developing appropriate responses to the worst oil spill in American history. Wold interviewed four members of the team: Andy Nyman and John Pardue with LSU; Denise Reed with UNO; and Mark Zappi with ULL. She also quoted Jerome Zeringue and Kyle Graham with the GOCA. Her final and most telling quote was from John Barry, a member of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority:
“Right now, we are basically asking the federal government to trust us to do things the right way and to give us billions of dollars,” he (Barry) said. “To get that money, and that trust, we have to have credibility and we have to deserve that credibility. The H-SERT advisory process is important to that.”
Readers can infer from the quotes of Drs. Nyman and Reed that H-SERT recommendations were not taken seriously by the state; whereas comments from Drs. Pardue and Zappi are more positive. Readers should note that the paychecks of everyone mentioned in the article (except for Barry) bear the governor’s signature. I hear much more pointed criticism from academic scientists – who are understandably reluctant to be quoted. Watch for an upcoming post on academic freedom and its limitations in Louisiana. Shallow water dead zone? A video clip posted yesterday on the AP website describes a pattern of dead fouling organisms (barnacles, bivalves and corals) on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico from the surface to a depth of 65 feet. Louisiana scientists Paul Summarco and Ed Overton appear in the clip, both of whom suggest that oil released during the Macondo well blowout (and chemical dispersants used to mitigate the oil) are likely culprits.
Trapping sand in lieu of dredging and pumping In the first of two stories in today’s Daily Comet Nikki Buskey described a modest but so far successful project to trap wind-blown sand on Elmer’s Island between Fourchon and Grand Isle, using what my former Yankee colleagues call snow fencing but down here at around 29 degrees N Latitude it’s known as sand fencing. How ’bout dem sand berms! In her second article Ms. Buskey described the early stages of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process that will attempt to quantify the cost in dollar terms of environmental damage attributed to the Deepwater Horizon well blowout. This is not a simple task, partly because assigning dollar values to an acre of oiled marsh or a specific number of dead pelicans or se turtles is not something most coastal scientists engage in. On the other hand, some of the former grad students of the late ecologist Howard Odum have carried on his efforts to ascribe values to the natural work services performed by coastal ecosystems, sometimes quantified in terms of the capture and allocation of solar energy. I would hope that the state and federal agency reps involved with the NRDA program become familiar with what Dr. Odum used to call an ‘energy theory of vslue,’ based loosely on the second law of thermodynamics and the dollar cost to replace what Mother Nature does for free.
Who should be in charge of cleaning up the next oil spill? Sheila Grissett wrote a very insightful commentary about Admiral Thad Allen in today’s The Times-Picayune. She evaluated his performance as the federal government’s point person on the response to the BP disaster as objective, dispassionate and unswayed by the very predictable and justifiable public approbation of BP. Admiral Allen recently told the members of the Presidential Oil Spill Commission that the current system that requires the responsible party to clean up its mess is dysfunctional and needs to be scrapped. This system was apparently established after the Exxon Valdez spill. Since April 20 BP has been clearly conflicted between its need on the one hand to deal fairly with the victim’s families and the aggrieved public and (to the extent possible) make the coast whole – while at the same time satisfying its stockholders by minimizing the costs of these processes. This would be the case independent of the company involved, its previous environmental record, or the insensitive remarks of its CEO. The perpetrator of an accident should pay for the bodywork, not apply Bondo in lieu of replacing sheet metal. It seems to me that the Department of Interior needs the discretion and authority to commission the expertise, technology and equipment necessary to mount an appropriate response to the next major oil disaster.
Finally, a look at coastal marsh insects! In a front page article in today’s The Advocate Amy Wold described a study of the effects on salt marshes of oil from the BP blowout. This study is underway by a team of researchers from LSU led by R. Eugene Turner, a long term coastal colleague since grad school days in the early seventies. Two things struck me about the description of the research, one very positive and one of concern. On the good side, marsh insects are being used as an indicator of coastal stress. As a coastal ecologist I have long been curious why the insect community is typically ignored in wetland research. I expressed this concern in a three part post beginning on January 26, 2010, as well as to my fellow travelers during my sole visit to coastal salt marshes during the peak of the oiling. On the less positive side, the article didn’t mention a closely analogous team study of salt marshes stressed by drought in the year 2000 (the so-called ‘Brown marsh’ incident). I would urge the members of the oil stress study to discuss their effort with some of the folks involved in the brown marsh study.
More on Where’s Wally Oily? and new offshore drilling rules As October rolls around with the prettiest weather since the gulf oil disaster, the biggest coastal news still involves that historic event and its long term effects. The many newsworthy topics include questions about how much oil remains and where it is; what kinds of safety regulations are appropriate to prevent the blowout re-occurrence; how much these regulations will cost; and how the drilling industry will react. The mystery of oil residues got more mysterious yesterday. Sandy Davis reported in today’s The Advocate that scientists from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently collected 114 bottom samples surrounding the Deepwater Horizon well site and closer to shore. Curiously enough, they were unable to find the visible layer of bottom oil that was reported by Samantha Joye from the University of Georgia. This is another example of government researchers finding lower levels of contamination than has been reported by independent academic scientists. It will be of great interest to see how oil residues decline in succeeding months. More samples are being collected and laboratory assays are incomplete. The best news is that NOAA scientists reported that oil constituent concentrations in the water column have dramatically declined from the parts per million to parts per billion range. New and more stringent regulations on deepwater drilling for oil and gas were announced yesterday by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Three accounts of this important announcement (two local and one national) include an AP article by Jonathan Tilove published today in The Times-Picayune, an article by Gerard Shields in today’s The Advocate and an article by Matthew Daly in Huffingtonpost. Secretary Salazar obviously frustrated state and industry officials by not answering the pregnant question, which is if (and when) the moratorium on deepwater drilling will be ended before the original date of November 30. Later today I will be joining two local coastal authorities for a meeting with a member of the Presidential Oil Spill Commission in New Orleans. Presumably I will come away with the latest ‘hot skinny’ on the state of understanding of the above topics. Stay tuned.