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March 2011 Coastal Scuttlebutt

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40 acres and a mule Photo credit John N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic images

March 14

What about coastal reparations from the oil and gas industry?

The virtual truism that the Louisiana economy could not survive more stringent regulation of offshore oil and gas production is challenged by an essay cited in the March 11 coastal mini-post and an article cited in yesterday’s offering (scroll down). These references are complemented by a memorable interview by Jim Engster with Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell on March 10, who said that state officials should demand that the oil and gas industry pay its fair share for having destroyed at least 30% percent of south Louisiana since the 1950s.

On a related subject, a letter to the editor in today’s The Times-Picayune applauded the refreshing candor of T-P Outdoors Editor Bob Marshall, who recently compared the silence on the part of Louisiana pols to a coast made black and blue by oil and gas operations to a battered wife who won’t press charges. Marshal was also credited for pointing out the serious coastal implications of the draconian budget cuts proposed by the 112th Congress.

Growing doubts about government funding of coastal protection and restoration make the reluctance on the part of Louisiana officials to demand ‘coastal reparations’ from the oil and gas industry increasingly paradoxical.

Thirty percent of 2,300 square miles of south Louisiana have so far been destroyed directly and indirectly by oil and gas operations. That equals about 700 square miles, or almost 450,000 acres. Louisiana officials haven’t even asked big oil for so much as 40 acres and a mule.

March 13

The sky is falling!!!

Drilling moratorium did not impact the Louisiana economy!

I’m don’t always smirk when I’m correct, but occasionally it gives me supreme pleasure to say, “I told you so!”

LaCoastPost has called attention to the astonishing knee jerk reaction from state officials who screamed bloody murder when President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar imposed a six month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the gulf following the Deepwater Horizon well blowout. The moratorium was enacted so that a determination could be made as to why 11 men were killed and 4.9 million barrels of crude oil erupted from the sea floor off of south Louisiana, unchecked for three months.

The Chicken Little wannabees who crowed from the rooftops that ‘Louisiana’s economic sky’ would fall unless and until the moratorium had been lifted included Gov. Bobby Jindal and conservative economist Dr. Loren Scott, long term buddy of the oil industry. These critics saw the disaster as too improbable to ever happen again and they insisted that industry-regulated ‘Drill Baby Drill’ should continue as the standard operating procedure.

Well, this article in the March 11 Bloomberg BusinessWeek, kindly forwarded by Don Boesch, a member of the presidential oil spill commission and a true friend of the coast, proves that we were right and they were as wrong as wrong can be.

After reading this honest assessment of the moratorium on deepwater drilling, run, don’t walk, to your local newsstand to pick up a copy of the March 14 New Yorker to see a truly fascinating article by Raffi Katchadourian on the response to the BP disaster, including a section on the origin of the berm concept and how it got approved. Check out the hissy fit by Plaquemines Parish Prez Billy Nungesser.

My sister Beth and brother-in-law Maurice Fox gave me a subscription to The New Yorker for Christmas so I didn’t have to leave the house to read the piece. Although I’m not quoted, I spoke at length to Ms. Katchadourian, who did a piece of journalism worthy of the magazine.

March 12

Science and reporting budgets to be cut in the face of historic environmental disaster

The top global coastal story continues to unfold as the effects of the one-two punch of an historic earthquake and colossal tsunami surge in Japan become apparent. Whole towns and passenger-filled trains have disappeared. One of the biggest fears is the possible meltdown of one of five nuclear plants that have been seriously damaged. The most complete coverage of the disaster that I have seen so far is a special report carried by NPR. Remember that NPR faces the threat of total elimination of its federal funding by the 112th Congress. It was also reported on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday that the Pacific Tsunami warning system appears to have been a success, in terms of providing time for susceptible coastal interests in Hawaii and California.

The occasion of this disaster showcases the current state of science and its incredibly sophisticated tools on which 3+ billion global coastal residents are increasingly dependent. The above graphic from the National Oceanogrsphic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the energy released from the earthquake is a perfect example.

GOP cutting Tsunami warning program to be cut

As Sam Stein reports in today’s HuffingtonPost, the budget-slashing proposal by the anti-science Congress would reduce funding for the National Weather Service, including the Tsunami alert program. Nice timing.

GOP plans to cripple EPA

According to Kate Shephard’s article in the March 11 Mother Jones, the 112th congress is shaping up to be the most anti-environmental in history. As a perfect example is a plan to slash the operating budget of EPA.

Louisiana politicians crticize President Obama over energy

Jonathan Tilove reported in today’s The Times-Picayune and Gerard Shields reported in The Advocate that Louisiana elected officials are heaping scorn on remarks about national energy policy by President Obama made during his press conference yesterday. These are the folks who vociferously deny anthropogenic climate change.

March 11

Japanese Earthquake and Pacific rim tsunami is THE coastal story

This morning all media outlets around the world are headlining the evolving coastal story about the historic earthquake in Japan that is triggering a tsunami threatening the entire Pacific Ocean Basin, including the ‘Left’ coast of the US, Mexico and Central and South America. This AP feature article in The Times-Picayune was out of date as soon as it was published.

By days-end news reports will doubtless be reporting a massive disaster causing widespread physical impacts and misery extending over many thousands of miles. As I write this Hawaii is only minutes away from possibly huge surges.

Two ironies of this global coastal story are (1) that it is probably not a direct consequence of anthropogenic climate change; and (2) that south Louisiana is not at serious risk for Tsunami surge. On the other hand, as sea level continues to rise as a result of climate change (see below) surges from both tsunamis and cyclones threaten literally billions of coastal residents, including two million souls in south Louisiana.

Victims come in all ages and circumstances but among the most innocent are the poor people who don’t drive SUVs on the small Pacific Islands that are rapidly disappearing under water. These folks don’t have carbon footprints.

Why is sea level rising?

An article by Joanna Zelman in yesterday’s HuffingtonPost concluded that global sea level rise is currently most influenced not by thermal expansion of sea water but by melting Greenland ice sheets. Current rates are about 3.5 mm/year (much higher in Louisiana because of subsidence) and highly likely to accelerate.

Paying the tab for the damage caused by MRGO

Amy Wold reported in today’s The Advocate that the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection and Restoration met yesterday in Baton Rouge. Apparently the primary agenda item was the huge elephant in the coastal room, namely: the source of funds for coastal repairs in general and specifically the cost of ‘fixing’ the massive damage caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). This fundamental cost issue obviously remains unresolved and it looms ever larger on the horizon as the coast sinks and federal fiscal belt-tightening continues.

Oil and the economy

Zachary Karabell wrote an essay for TheDailyBeast yesterday claiming that the economy is no longer closely linked to oil price. I’m not convinced but this is worth reading.

Climate change game

Here’s a link to a fascinating video clip from the BBC about an educational game on climate change effects currently under development.

March 10

Did Shaw just buy a coastal pig in a poke?

Pig in a poke: something not adequately appraised or of undetermined value, as an offering or purchase.

Today’s mini-post represents a follow up from yesterday’s comments on the The Shaw Group, the company that is currently receiving the lion’s share of contracts related to saving the coast of Louisiana. As noted, Shaw just paid $26 million to purchase a coastal engineering company based in Boca Raton, Florida – Coastal Planning and Engineering, Inc. (CPE).

Shaw presumably purchased CPE in order to upgrade its (Shaw’s) capability to perform detailed numerical modeling studies to predict the outcome of various coastal engineering projects. Now it appears that Shaw may have bought a pig in a poke. After reading yesterday’s post a coastal authority for whom I have the highest respect sent the following comment:

CPE is the most incompetent and corrupt consulting firm in Florida…Their modeling expertise is completely discredited…

The complete message describes a situation in which a Florida judge determined that the results of a CPE study that had been commissioned to predict the impacts on shoreline retreat and longshore sediment transport in the area of a proposed engineering project in Palm Springs were totally invalid.

The relevance of this critique to Louisiana is obvious. If state officials continue to depend on Shaw for coastal advice and if Shaw depends on CPE to predict the outcome of coastal engineering prouecs we’re in even deeper doo doo!

March 9

Shaw’s coastal empire expands

Ted Griggs reports in today’s The Advocate that the Baton Rouge-based Shaw Group, a huge international engineering company ranked number 309 on the Fortune 500 list and by far the largest purveyor of coastal engineering in the Bayou State. Shaw just expanded its coastal expertise, paying $26 million to purchase Coastal Planning and Engineering, Inc., in Boca Raton Florida. Here’s a quote from the article:

…The firm does more of the evaluating and modeling of ports and harbors than Shaw, which does the engineering and construction…

On one hand, this purchase elevates the profile of the fundamental role of coastal engineering in the salvation of America’s Delta. On the other hand, it will further expand Shaw’s obvious influence on coastal policy in Louisiana. Here’s a quote from the company’s web site in terms of its achievements in 2007:

Shaw completes the Comprehensive Master Plan for Coastal Restoration and Hurricane Protection for the State of Louisiana Department of Natural Resources and is chosen by the South Florida Water Management District to provide comprehensive engineering services as part of the continued efforts to restore the Everglades.

I’ve been highly critical of this Master Plan, which is long on promises and short on specifics. More worrisome, however, is that Shaw was the major player in the Governor’s pet coastal sand berm project, the $220 million BP-funded enterprise that has been universally panned by scientists and in the final report of the presidential oil spill commission.

Jim Bernhard is Shaw’s chairman, president and CEO. He was briefly head of the Louisiana Democratic Party; he has a record of opposing Governor Jindal on issues such as budget cuts to higher education; and he is clearly not a right wing ideologue on issues with coastal implications. For example, read his response in 2010 to a question from The Baton Rouge Business Report on his attitude about the institution of cap-and-trade legislation to reduce industrial CO2 emissions:

On global warming, I think you should leave your air and your water as clean as your dad left it to you. The policy on how they incentivize people to do the right thing—they need to do what they need to do. But at the end of the day, we need to leave the same quality of air and water that our parents and grandparents left to us.

I hold no animus toward Mr. Shaw, who I have never met and whose company has boosted the Louisiana economy and put lots of folks to work.

Nevertheless it concerns me that Shaw has accepted lucrative contracts to implement flawed coastal policy…policy established by an autocratic governor who makes technical decisions contrary to scientific recommendations. I would hope that the modeling expertise of Shaw’s new acquisition would be put to good use to predict the outcome of such trial-and-error coastal engineering experiments, such as building ephemeral sand berms or ill-conceived and unsustainable barrier dikes such as the Morganza-to-the-Gulf project.

March 8

Happy Mardi Gras and see you in the Quarter!

Nucor breaks ground for huge iron/steel plant, no mention of help for Maurepas swamp

David J. Mitchell reported in today’s The Advocate that Gov. Jindal and Dan DiMicco, CEO of the Nucor Corporation based in Charlotte, NC, broke ground yesterday for what could be the largest industrial plant construction project in Louisiana history. The plant site, on the east bank of the Mississippi River downstream from the Sunshine Bridge, would be the ideal spot for diverting some river water northeast to nourish the dying Maurepas coastal forest, which is critical to the entire Pontchartrain Basin.

So far no one on Jindal’s staff has asked the Nucor folks to consider granting an easement for a modest channel across the iron plant site to convey river water to the dying Maurepas coastal swamps. Will this be another golden coastal opportunity squandered? What do you say, Garret Graves?

Comite diversion project correction

Check out an anonymous but credible-sounding correction to yesterday’s mini-post on the Comite River Diversion Project (scroll down to comments).

Jindal sand berms once again

A friend sent me this link to a story on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s sand berms in a satirical NOLA pub called New Orleans Levee…slogan: “We don’t hold anything back!”

March 7

How not to divert water in America’s Delta

Today’s The Advocate carries an article by Bob Anderson that should have been featured on the front page, rather than being relegated to section ‘B’ status. The piece describes a classic public works project designed (of course) by the US Army Corps of Engineers to alter natural water flow in south Louisiana.

Anderson reports that the $188 million Comite River Diversion Project is now four years behind schedule. If past is prologue, the final tab for this project will be well over $200 million. That puts it in the price range of the infamous Jindal-Nungesser $220 million sand berm extravaganza.

Rather than being the political pet of LAGov. Bobby and Plaquemine Prez Billy, however, this egregious and extravagant earmark is a pet of former Congressman Richard Baker (R-Baton Rouge). The difference, without much distinction, is that, whereas the pricey sand castles were paid for by BP, taxpayers are picking up the tab for the Comite River fiasco.

Pumping water from the Comite/Amite River basin up to the mainstem Mississippi represents the classic approach to reducing coastal flood risk the hard way…by pumping water uphill out of a flood basin rather than buying out at-risk homeowners and restoring natural hydrology.

Sisyphus was the disgraced king who, in Greek mythology, was sentenced to carrying a rock uphill in perpetuity. The Sisyphusian strategy, the pay-to-pump approach, should be verboten on any Louisiana landscape that is not currently below sea level.

Ironically enough, the delay…and a major cost of the project…is buying land required for the footprint of the project, while new residents are allowed to move into the flood plain that will presumably be protected!

Although this project has undeniable coastal implications, the term coast is not included in the article. The Comite River diversion canal exemplifies why successful coastal restoration is so problematic. Local politics will always trump big picture solutions, which require leaders willing to crack political eggs.

A supreme irony of this project is that, while diverting river water out of the Mississippi back into its delta to save the coast…a process that uses gravity and mimics nature… is inevitably blocked by provincial interests, this silly project to pump flood water in reverse, into the river, was authorized and funded virtually without objection.

March 6

Filaments from possible cyanobacteria found on extraterrestrial 'rock'

Life far beyond coastal Louisiana…or any other coast on Earth

Yesterday in his consistently fascinating environmental blog in the The New York Times’ DotEarth, Andrew Revkin posted an article of Universe-shaking importance. A noted astrobiologist named Richard Hoover has found highly persuasive evidence of extraterrestrial life, fossilized remains of an ancient form of bacterium on meteorites.

Bacteria are members of the Kingdom Monera, prokaryotes, or cellular organisms lacking a cell nucleus. Cyanobacteria are arguably the most important form of life ever known. Their three plus billion-year old ancestors were apparently the first critters on Earth to use solar energy to convert water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates, releasing oxygen as a waste product.

Cyanobacteria released free oxygen into the world ocean over 3 billion years ago, which later leaked into the atmosphere about 2.4 billion years ago. Atmospheric oxygen eventually provided the ingredients for the formation of the stratospheric ozone shield that allowed our ancestors to emerge from the sea onto land 400 million years ago. Mardi Gras came a little later.

As you can imagine, many enquiring minds are examining Dr. Hoover’s evidence, which, if borne out, would seem to have an impact on life science as profound as Darwin’s Origin of the Species.

March 5

Climate change skepticism, a personal anecdote

On March 3rd I took my well-worn little German car in for repairs to a shop that has become a virtual magnet for my credit card. Aside from the rising tide of repair bills, I enjoy visiting this shop, which is refreshingly unlike the Baton Rouge businesses that subject their customers to numbingly noxious Fox ‘News.’

The owner and his staff are thoughtful and technically informed about more than just automotive issues and they happily engage in discussions about Louisiana’s coastal crises. Thus I was somewhat surprised to learn on my last visit that they still doubt the reality of anthropogenic climate change (ACC) and global warming.

This skepticism is a measure of success of the brilliant campaign by fossil fuel purveyors to discredit the overwhelming evidence for ACC…and failure of the scientific community to make their case. As long as smart and educated folks like these who can maintain extremely sophisticated machinery remain skeptical about global warming it would seem extremely unlikely to convince the great unwashed.

The Navy now recognizes climate change as a major security threat

On NPR’s Science Friday yesterday, Ira Flatow interviewed Rear Admiral David Titley, oceanographer for the US Navy, who believes that sea level rise of one meter during the 21st century predicted by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is far too conservative. He thinks that the rise may turn out to be twice that.

Currently the rise is ‘only’ 3.5 mm/year but new evidence for accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet could change everything. Ironically enough, Admiral Titley is a trained meteorologist who was formerly a global warming skeptic.

March 4

Jumping ahead in time

I mistakenly dated yesterday’s (March 3) mini-post March 4. Sorry; Maybe I’m too anxious!

Reconnecting the river to America’s Delta

On March 2 I also missed an important article by Amy Wold in The Advocate describing a scientific workshop on river diversions held in Lafayette last week. The article describes an ongoing and long term disagreement between proponents and opponents of the absolute need to divert Mississippi River water as THE principal tool by which to sustain some of the coast. I plan to post a feature article on river water diversions…just as soon as I can steal enough time to do it justice!

More Oil Things Considered

Jonathan Tilove wrote an article for today’s The Times-Picayune in which he described the latest round in what has become a tiresome boxing match between Louisiana politicos and Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Department of Interior, over the slow pace of granting offshore drilling permits. Louisiana Congressmen John Fleming (R-Minden) and Jeff Landry (R-New Iberia) are double teaming Salazar, going so far as to suggest an anti-drilling conspiracy. The idea is that the administration is purposely stalling drilling permits in order to reduce domestic oil production in a scheme to drive up gasoline prices so as to improve the climate (pun intended) for green energy!

Louisiana Governors in the news

Jindal family efforts to enhance education

The New York Times ran a March 2 story by Eric Lipton about the ethical implications of a charity run by Supriya Jindal to raise money to enhance math and science teaching for Louisiana schools. Some of the money has come from her husband’s corporate campaign contributors. The article didn’t pick up on the supreme irony that Governor Jindal supported and signed the Louisiana Science Education Act, which undermines science education by casting doubt on evolution and anthropogenic climate change.

In terms of the Jindal family interest in enhancing the state educational climate, yesterday during his show on WRKF-FM, Jim Engster interviewed Baton Rouge TV host Scott Rogers, a proponent of more and better guns to reduce crime. During the discussion I learned that our governor advocates allowing LSU students and professors to pack heat on campus. I can picture 100,000 passionate tailgaters in and around Deaf Valley on a bright fall Saturday, many of them young, intoxicated, testosterone-laden…and armed. Wow!

Roemer running for prez

Yesterday my first boss in the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities officially announced his interest in running against Barack Obama for president in 2012. Here’s one of the media accounts of this announcement, by Jason Linkins in HuffingtonPost.

Former Louisiana Governor Charles “Buddy” Roemer has now become only the second Louisianan in history to take a serious overt interest in living in the White House (after Huey Pierce Long). It was during Buddy’s administration in 1989 that Louisiana’s coastal restoration program – and the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities – was created.

For anyone interested out there, the folks who have had the good fortune(?) to head this critical office have been, in order: David Chambers, me, Karen Gautreaux, Sidney Coffee and Garret Graves. Maybe this diverse group of two Cs, two Gs and a B should pool our memories as the basis for a Coastal coffee table compendium…or not.

March 3

Oil Things Considered…again

Bob Marshall recently described coastal Louisiana as a spouse being abused by its Big Oil partner. This analogy is apt and it bears more discussion. Like a bridal couple facing a very uncertain future of linked but conflicting interests, south Louisiana and oil and gas issues are, for better or worse, for richer for poorer, through sickness and health, inextricably linked for the foreseeable future…‘til death do they part?

According to the overwhelming majority of the folks who make state policy (and their deep-pocketed contributors) the economy of the region is absolutely contingent on balls-to-the-wall production of oil and gas, wherever it exists.

According to the overwhelming majority of coastal and climate scientists, the continued existence of America’s Delta is contingent on a dramatic reduction in the total volume of carbon dioxide generated by a rapidly expanding human population.

The Macondo well blowout has brought into focus many of the ironies created by the conflicts between these two star crossed partners. As the disaster fades into history from a national standpoint, it will continue to remain newsworthy, a.k.a. controversial, from a local coastal standpoint, into the foreseeable future.

Persisting uncertainties not likely to be resolved soon include: (1) the bottom line of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA); (2) the total penalties charged to BP and the other industrial perps under the Clean Water Act and NRDA; (3) the amount of residual oil remaining in gulf sediments and Barataria marshes; (4) potential impacts on the annual recruitment of larval fish and shellfish; (5) fair remuneration of economically damaged individuals and businesses; (6) elevated petroleum constituents in the blood of gulf residents; (7) impacts on oyster production and deflated sales of gulf seafood…and; last but not least, (8) effects of the disaster on the future of offshore oil and gas production off of south Louisiana, especially its impacts on the economy of the Bayou State.

I for one would love to see a serious discussion of the latter subject, in the context of its implication on the funding of coastal protection and restoration, which is increasingly tenuous, given federal budget woes.

Here are some oil-related stories of the day:

NPR’s Marketplace carried an interesting story by Jaclyn Glovis on March 2 about the history of global oil disruptions of oil prices, which shows the relative impact of the Libyan crisis. It would be interesting to note whether and how the Louisiana state economy was affected during each incident, most of which occurred before 1989 when the coastal restoration program was inaugurated.

Graphic from NPR Marketplace

NPR’s Morning Edition carries a feature story by Christopher Joyce on a renewed search for more domestic oil. The Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) , Canadian oil in tar sands and the Gulf of Mexico are the three chief targets. Each potential source has huge drawbacks, of course, time being one of them, but Louisiana’s economy will likely be affected.

March 2

Important coastal press conference…for a change!

Another press conference on the ongoing coastal crises was held yesterday in Baton Rouge. I considered attending but didn’t, assuming that it would be like so many such gatherings that I have yawned through over the past decade. Based on a description of the conference by Amy Wold in today’s The Advocate, however, this one was refreshingly different…and more significant.

The Americas’ Wetland Foundation announced the release of the Deltas 2010 World Dialogues report that was based on a

conference on the decline of the world’s major deltas that was held in October in New Orleans. The conference and the report that it generated reflect an extremely sober tone, as distinct from state coastal planning documents, which inevitably substitute rosy scenarios for science and promote levees rather than ‘natural’ solutions.

I must disclose that I know the history of the America’s Wetland Foundation and its principals and I have some philosophical reservations about the objectivity of the organization, which is partly sponsored by oil and gas interests.

I also believe that the moniker America’s Wetland should be changed to America’s Delta, so as to distinguish it from other wetland-related restoration efforts, including the Everglades program. This would also reflect the global status of the Mississippi River delta, as described at the conference sponsored by the Foundation.

Those criticisms having been laid on the table, I have been very impressed by what would appear to be a radically realistic tone of the new report, by its scientific foundation and because, unlike its many preceding reports, it recognizes the undeniable consequences of climate change.

As reported frequently in LaCoastPost, ongoing anthropogenic climate change, global warming and sea level rise are obviously verboten subjects for state coastal officials. In contrast, Wold’s article quotes America’s Wetland leaders describing the need for coastal retreat as a key response to ongoing deltaic dysfunction.

Finally, a little bird told me that during the press conference someone at the governor’s office notified the press assembled at the America’s Wetland gathering about a competing press conference being held at the Capitol, presumably to announce the decision by Governor Jindal to reprogram the whopping sum of $12 million coastal dollars to restore some oyster reefs. Could it be that the Governor’s Office of Coastal Activities is threatened by the America’s Wetland report?

March 1

You fix the coast; I'm broke!

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration: just another unfunded plan?

Today in The Times-Picayune Mark Schleifstein reported on the meeting in New Orleans yesterday of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force that was established by President Obama on October 5, 2010. The task force was established to develop a plan to restore the gulf coast from the effects of the Macondo well blowout AND the devastating impact of a century of abuse to the largest delta in North America and its adjacent coast. This new plan, which will apparently be a warmed over amalgamation of existing restoration plans,* will be due on October 4, 2011.

I arrived at the meeting after the opening remarks by John Barry (distinguished author of Rising Tide) but several colleagues reported that Mr. Barry effectively set the context for the underlying causes of the current abysmal state of what I refer to as America’s Delta. Barry told me that he began his remarks by reciting the following, very appropriate quote from the legendary English clergyman and poet John Donne (1572-1631):

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

Schleifstein’s article lists the following sources of information on a restoration plan that will be developed by October 2011: a toll-free telephone number to request information on state issues: 1.855.427.9263; a web site: restorethegulf.gov and a public list serve that can be joined by e-mailing gulfcoasttaskforce@epa.gov.

I strongly support the mission of the task force but I remain extremely cynical about its chances for success, based on the makeup of the task force, what I heard from speakers and side bar conversations with spectators. Hopefully my cynicism will be proven wrong.

Even more unlikely, but apparently not discussed at the meeting yesterday, was the chance for federal funding to implement a gulf coast restoration program. I see no funds beyond the not unlimited deep pockets of BP. I can just hear the Tea Party gearing up to shout that the government has no business sending money to Louisiana or its neighbor states.

*Not a particularly reassuring concept.

Revolutionary liquid fuel technology or energy sham akin to perpetual motion?

Continuing on the subject of wishful thinking, an article in HuffingtonPost raises the vision of unlimited liquid fuels generated by a genetically modified cyanobacterium that would suck up waste carbon dioxide from power plants. It’s an intriguing concept but I remain highly skeptical, as do others, because of the second law of thermodynamics.

Deepwater drilling resumes in Gulf

Various news reports today, including this AP piece in HuffingtonPost, report that Michael Bromwich, who heads the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, issued a permit yesterday to Noble Energy Inc. to continue work on its Santiago well about 70 miles southeast of Venice, La. Drilling was halted after the Macondo well blowout on April 20.

The Santiago well is deeper than Macondo, with an even larger potential blowout potential, but Noble has contracted with the Helix Well Containment Group to use its emergency capping stack that was described here to stop the flow of oil in case the well would get out of control. I remain perplexed that Louisiana missed out on the lucrative planning and fabrication contracts let to develop new well capping tools.


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  4. Dietmar Rietschier says:

    Like most blogs there is a lot of talk and not much in the way of facts. The Comite River Diversion Canal is a GRAVITY FLOW channel and does not “pump” water to the MIssissippi River.
    There is more than coastal flooding in Louisiana and the people in the Amite River Basin deserve protection just like everybody else. You need to get your facts straight before you write your articles.

    • Dietmar-
      Your comment is appropriate about the Comite River diversion project being driven by gravity flow, not pumping and I was wrong to criticize the project on that basis. That doesn’t change my underlying premise, however, to whit:
      Public works projects that alter natural hydrology, purportedly to reduce flood risk, inevitably have the opposite effect, partly by inducing development within so-called ‘flood protected’ zones.
      I’d be happy to debate my premise…and the overall factual content of LaCoastPost…with you anytime.
      BTW, my opinion is not influenced by any political considerations, such as being employed as executive director of the Amite River Basin Commission.
      Len

  5. Kelly Haggar says:

    Regarding reparations, see footnote 12 from the barge suits (barges won). Thus, even assuming without deciding that the the “E&P canals destroyed the coast” claim is correct, liability does not follow.

    As regards the merits of the E&P claim, note again that Andy Nyman called an audible at the line on 23 Feb 11 at the Diversions workshop held at LITE.

    Footnote begins -

    As the district court noted, this case bears some similarities to Barasich v. Columbia Gulf Transmission Co., 467 F. Supp. 2d 676 (E.D. La. 2006), in which the plaintiffs alleged that damage to wetlands caused by the exploration and extraction efforts of numerous oil and gas companies contributed significantly to the destructive impact of Hurricane Katrina. Applying Louisiana tort law but citing Consolidated Aluminum, the court concluded as a matter of law that the defendants did not owe a duty to the plaintiffs because the connection between the harm alleged—extensive flooding after a significant hurricane—and the defendants’ behavior—allegedly negligent acts in connection with oil exploration and production that resulted in harm to wetlands—was too attenuated. Id. at 692.

    In Re: In the Matter of the Complaint of GREAT LAKES DREDGE & DOCK COMPANY LLC, As Owner of the dredges California, Manhattan Island,
    Padre Island, and Alaska, and as owner pro hac vice of the Dredge Texas from Exoneration from the Limitation of Liability, 5th Cir, October 14, 2010

  6. Anonymous says:

    Along with requiring oil companies to return some profits to account for their environmental costs–we need to tax landowners, commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen, coastal residents, and all our citizens who benefit from our coast. In other words, it’s time to “levee” the burden on everyone!

  7. john doe says:

    You mentioned Shaw’s poor attempt at the 2007 Master Plan, but as someone loosely connected, I wanted to remind you that the 2012 Master Plan update is almost a complete re-do. This plan supposedly will make the hard decisions and revelations about what we can and cannot do. I advise reading the 2011 and 2012 Annual Plan appendices that hold some pretty interesting information on the 2012 MP update.

    hopefully OCPR gets this one right.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The Comite River Diversion may not be the best approach to flood damage reduction; but it will not affect salinity in Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain. Again it will only divert occasional extreme floods in the Comite River. Most years, no diversion at all will take place. The stage in the Mississippi River floodplain will not affect the Comite Diversion—the Lilly Bayou outfall structure cannot be “drowned” by the Mississippi River.

  9. Kelly Haggar says:

    “Alien life found” claim is taking some hits -

    http://www.astrobiology.com/news/viewsr.html?pid=36316

    Doesn’t seem he has a PhD, either.

    http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=32928

    NASA Statement on Astrobiology Paper by Richard Hoover
    Source: NASA HQ
    Posted Monday, March 7, 2011

    “NASA is a scientific and technical agency committed to a culture of openness with the media and public. While we value the free exchange of ideas, data, and information as part of scientific and technical inquiry, NASA cannot stand behind or support a scientific claim unless it has been peer-reviewed or thoroughly examined by other qualified experts. This paper was submitted in 2007 to the International Journal of Astrobiology. However, the peer review process was not completed for that submission. NASA also was unaware of the recent submission of the paper to the Journal of Cosmology or of the paper’s subsequent publication. Additional questions should be directed to the author of the paper.” – Dr. Paul Hertz, chief scientist of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington

    Keith’s 4:25 pm EST update: Just posted on NASA Watch in the comments section: “The statement “This paper was submitted in 2007 to the International Journal of Astrobiology. However, the peer review process was not completed for that submission.”Is not true, The paper was rejected, after peer review. Rocco Mancinelli, Ph.D., Editor, International Journal of Astrobiology.”

  10. Mike Waldon says:

    My recollection is that there actually were many of us who attended public meetings to express opposition. Benefit cost study was a fiction. However, public opposition was not enough when the decision was alreadymade.

  11. piers chapman says:

    Len,
    Re your statement on March 4 about people in Louisiana wanting students and faculty to be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus, this is something we are likely to have to put up with in Texas. A bill to allow exactly this didn’t quite make it through our legislature last session, but it did pass the Senate. This time, over 50% of House representatives have already signed on, so it looks as though passage will be inevitable, even though the faculty at TAMU are overwhelmingly against the idea and even the student body voted against it (by 57% this time, compared with 54% two years ago). See you in the gun store?

    And by the way, happy Mardi Gras.

  12. riverrat says:

    Backing up Anon’s point, the Comite Diversion project was built as an alternative to buying out the people who were allowed to build in a floodplain. It’s estimated cost when it was sold to the public was $150 million. And it will be useless during those periods every year when the level of the Mississippi is too high for the diversion canal to drain into the river.
    The estimated cost would have exceeded three years’ worth of spending on coastal restoration at the time.

  13. Sorry about the double-post, you can remove the first one…

  14. Regarding the Comite diversion: This project cuts the wrists of the Comite-Amite watershed denying badly needed fresh water to the very troubled Lake Maurepas and in-need-of-fresh-water Lake Pontchartrain. It is a double-down bet on stupid.

    That it was even conceived to pump water to the Mississippi when it, too, could be at flood stage during a local flood event is yet another layer of dumb and dumber.

    To truly mitigate and reduce future flood damage, laws should require raised construction and prohibit slab-on-grade. That would be a good start.

    Where are the NGO’s whose mission is to protect and restore these watersheds and why have they not been opposed to the very obviously flawed and destructive design of this project from the beginning?

  15. The Comite diversion cuts across the wrists of the Maurepas-Pontchartrain Basin, denying badly needed fresh water to these troubled systems. It is a double-down investment in stupid.

    It is inconceivable that we’d pump flood waters into the Mississippi since it, too, may be near flood stage when this outrageously expensive and poorly designed diversion is needed.

    Regarding flood impacts: If you build in a flood plain, build raised. In fact, nobody should build slab-on-grade anywhere near this area or most areas in Louisiana. That should be the law.

    This project is an investment in further deteriorating our watersheds and encourages people to build in areas they should not. I cannot understand how it has gotten this far or why major NGOs responsible for restoration of the watersheds have not strongly opposed this from the beginning.

  16. Anonymous says:

    A few technical corrections re the Comite River Diversion: 1) the diversion operates ONLY at very high flood stages in the Comite River; 2) there is no diversion in normal-dry stages–in great contrast to the Amite River Divesion Canal; 3) it flows BY GRAVITY (no pumping)–diverting flood water to the Mississippi River floodplain; 4) the cost justification for the project is based on reduced property losses in EBR, Livingston, Ascension Parishes–as if we had a 1983 style flood today. This is not to say that the project is the best way to address flood damages in the BR area–but just a clarification to the facts.

  17. Kelly Haggar says:

    While you’re stealing time to write about this river diversion workshop at LITE last month, be aware that Andy Nyman of LSU called an audible at the line and reworked his presentation because of some earlier slides he had seen. Andy was also the only speaker who got off the flat plate world of that workshop. (Rod refusal at -15 ft isn’t 3D. That’s about 39,985 ft short of the vertical field in play in our part of the world .)

    The abstracts are already up on the MVD web site and it was announced that in due time all the presentations themselves would also be up.

    P.S. I told Don Boesch you’d say “Hi” if you could have attended.

  18. Maurice-
    For more years than I care to remember I’ve been hearing about revolutionary schemes for producing cheap energy without generating greenhouse gases so as to avoid reducing per capita consumption. Inevitably these schemes fail to take the second law into account and so amount to perpetual motion. Does the name Cold Fusion sound familiar to you?
    In this case of the genetically modified cyanobacteria turning waste CO2 into kerosene, it may work at a bench scale where ‘minor’ subsidies are ignored. I suspect, however that the designers of the system have not realistically included the total real world energy cost (not dollar cost) of constructing and maintaining the collectors, keeping the bacteria happy by managing temperature and pumping water and CO2 and collecting and concentrating the product will considerably reduce the net energy output. I hope I’m wrong, but there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

  19. Maurice Fox says:

    ‘scuse me for jumping in here, but I don’t get the crack about the second law of thermodynamics in reference to the Cyanobacteria article. Aren’t they primary producers, absorbing solar radiation so they can do their magic? If so, it’s not a closed system, so Th. II doesn’t apply.

    This is not to imply that I buy the promise of unlimited free diesel and so on, as claimed in the article.

    Full disclosure: I am Len’s brother in law.

    Maurice

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