Weekly Mulch: The Sticky Truth about Oil Spills and Tar Sands

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

The National Oil Spill Commission released its report on last year’s BP oil spill this week. The report laid out the blame for the spill, tagging each of the three companies working on the Deepwater Horizon at the time, Halliburton, Transocean and BP, and also offered prescriptions for avoiding similar disasters in the future.

As Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard notes, it’s unlikely the recommendations will impact policy going forward.

“I think the recommendations are pretty tepid given the severity of the crisis,” Jackie Savitz, director of pollution campaigns at the advocacy group Oceana, told Sheppard. “Even the small things they’re suggesting, I think it’s going to be hard to convince Congress to make those changes.”

No transparency for you!

Last summer, after the spill, the Obama administration tried hard to look like it was pushing back against the oil industry, even though just weeks before the spill, the president had promised to open new areas of the East Coast to offshore drilling.

This week brought new evidence that, despite some posturing to the contrary, the administration is not exactly unfriendly to the energy industry. One of the key decisions the administration faces about the country’s energy future is whether to support the Keystone XL, a pipeline that would pump oil from tar sands in Canada down to Texas refineries.  And one of the key lobbyists for TransCanada, the company intending to build the pipeline, is a former staffer for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, filed a Freedom of Information requesting correspondence between the lobbyist, Paul Elliott, and his former boss, but the State Department denied the request.

“We do not believe that the State Department has legitimate legal grounds to deny our FOIA request, and assert that the agency is ignoring its own written guidance regarding FOIA requests and the release of public information,” said Marcie Keever, the group’s legal director, The Michigan Messenger’s Ed Brayton reports. “This is the type of delay tactic we would have expected from the Bush administration, not the Obama administration, which has touted its efforts to usher in a new era of transparency in government, including elevated standards in dealing with lobbyists.”

Tar sands’ black mark

What are the consequences if the government approves the pipeline? As Care2’s Beth Buczynski writes, “Communities along the Keystone XL pipeline’s proposed path would face increased risk of spills, and, at the pipeline’s end, the health of those living near Texas refineries would suffer, as tar sands oil spews higher levels of dangerous pollutants into the air when processed.”

What’s more, the tar sands extraction process has already brought environmental devastation to the areas like Alberta, Canada, where tar sands mining occurs. Earth Island Journal’s Jason Mark recently visited the Oil Sands Discovery Centre in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, which he calls “impressively forthright” in its discussion of the environmental issues brought on by oil sands. (The museum is run by Alberta’s provincial government.) Mark reports:

The section on habitat fragmentation was especially good. As one panel put it, “Increasingly, Alberta’s remaining forested areas resemble islands of trees in a larger network of cut lines, well sites, mine, pipeline corridors, plant sites, and human settlements. … Forest disturbances can also encourage increased predation and put some plants and animals at risk.”

Not renewable, just new

The museum that Mark visited also made clear that extracting and refining oil from tar sands is a labor-intensive practice. He writes:

Mining, we learn, is just the start. Then the tar has to be “upgraded” into synthetic petroleum via a process that involves “conditioning,” “separation” into a bitumen froth, then “deaeration” to take out gases, and finally injection into a dual-system centrifuge that removes the last of the solids. Next comes distillation, thermal conversion, catalytic conversion, and hydrotreating. At that point the recombined petroleum is ready to be refined into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. It all felt like a flashback to high school chemistry.

Why bother with this at all? In short, because with easily accessible sources of oil largely tapped out, techniques like tar sands mining and deepwater drilling are the only fonts of oil available. This problem is going to get worse, as The Nation is explaining over the next few weeks in its video series on peak oil.

Energy and the economy

Traditional ideas about energy dictate that even as the world uses up limited resources like oil, technology will create access to new sources, find ways to use limited resources more efficiently, or find ways to consume new sources of energy. These advances will head off any problems with consumption rates. The peak oil theory, on the contrary, argues that it is possible to use up a resource like oil, that there’s a peak in supply.

Once the peak has been passed, the consequences, particularly the economic consequences, become dire, as Richard Heinberg, senior fellow with the Post Carbon Institute explains. “If the amount of energy we can use is declining, we may be seeing the end of economic growth as we define it right now,” he told The Nation. Watch more below:

Light green

Part of the problem is that the energy resources that could replace fossil fuels like oil—wind and solar energy, for instance—likely won’t be in place before the oil wells run dry. And as Monica Potts reports at The American Prospect, our new green economy is getting off to a slow start.

Although the administration has talked incessantly about supporting green jobs, Potts writes that the federal government hasn’t even finalized what count as a “green job” yet. The working definition, which is currently under review, asserts that green jobs are in industries that “benefit the environment or conserve national resources” or entails work to green a company’s “production process.” But what does that actually mean?

“That definition was rightly criticized as overly broad,” Potts writes. She continues:

While nearly everyone would include installing solar panels as a green job, what about an architect who designs a green house? (Under the proposed definition, both would count.) … Another problem comes in weighing green purposes against green execution: We could count, for example, public-transit train operators as green workers. But how do we break down transportation as an industry more broadly? Most would probably agree that truckers who drive tractor-trailers running on diesel fuel wouldn’t count as green workers even if they’re transporting wind-turbine parts. And many of the jobs we would count as green already exist.

It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence that the country is moving swiftly toward a bright green future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

US Court Denies Offshore Drilling Halt

As reported in Al-Jazeera, an Appeals court in Louisiana has recently rejected a request by the federal government to put a halt on offshore drilling and deep-ocean exploration.  This, as if it even needs to be mentioned, comes into place during the infamous BP oil catastrophe occurring off the coast of where this court is actually located.

In the ruling on Thursday, which upheld a lower court's decision last month, the court said the government failed to show it would suffer "irreparable injury'' if the ban was lifted.

The same appeals court is expected to hear arguments on the merits of the government's moratorium case in late August.

The decision offers a temporary reprieve for 33 oil and natural gas service companies to resume deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

It said that the administration also "made no showing that there is any likelihood that drilling activities will be resumed pending appeal".

Source:  Al-Jazeera

The proposed 6-month ban, in lieu of the oil spill, seemed pretty reasonable (at least to me) given our current offshore oil drilling situation.  The ensuing, and on-going, appeals process by the Dept. of the Interior will likely be courting (no pun intended) for the temporary ban to stand until the case is ruled on its merits.  

The interior department appealed, asking the appeals court to let the temporary ban stand until it ruled on the merits of the case.

After the moratorium was overturned, Salazar announced he will issue a new, refined moratorium that reflects offshore conditions.

"Effectively the government's getting what they want by default. It's too risky for companies to start up the deepwater drilling process when you know the rug could be pulled out from underneath you"

Dan Pickering, research head, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co

"We continue to believe that it is not appropriate to drill new deepwater wells in the Gulf until we can be assured that future drilling activity can be conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner," Kendra Barkoff, an interior department spokeswoman, said after Thursday's ruling.

An interesting decision by the Appeals court.  No doubt the neo-cons will be happy, but what is this really doing to help the process?  Ensuring that our drilling system isn't broken?  I think thats out of the question.

 

 

 

US Court Denies Offshore Drilling Halt

As reported in Al-Jazeera, an Appeals court in Louisiana has recently rejected a request by the federal government to put a halt on offshore drilling and deep-ocean exploration.  This, as if it even needs to be mentioned, comes into place during the infamous BP oil catastrophe occurring off the coast of where this court is actually located.

In the ruling on Thursday, which upheld a lower court's decision last month, the court said the government failed to show it would suffer "irreparable injury'' if the ban was lifted.

The same appeals court is expected to hear arguments on the merits of the government's moratorium case in late August.

The decision offers a temporary reprieve for 33 oil and natural gas service companies to resume deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

It said that the administration also "made no showing that there is any likelihood that drilling activities will be resumed pending appeal".

Source:  Al-Jazeera

The proposed 6-month ban, in lieu of the oil spill, seemed pretty reasonable (at least to me) given our current offshore oil drilling situation.  The ensuing, and on-going, appeals process by the Dept. of the Interior will likely be courting (no pun intended) for the temporary ban to stand until the case is ruled on its merits.  

The interior department appealed, asking the appeals court to let the temporary ban stand until it ruled on the merits of the case.

After the moratorium was overturned, Salazar announced he will issue a new, refined moratorium that reflects offshore conditions.

"Effectively the government's getting what they want by default. It's too risky for companies to start up the deepwater drilling process when you know the rug could be pulled out from underneath you"

Dan Pickering, research head, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co

"We continue to believe that it is not appropriate to drill new deepwater wells in the Gulf until we can be assured that future drilling activity can be conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner," Kendra Barkoff, an interior department spokeswoman, said after Thursday's ruling.

An interesting decision by the Appeals court.  No doubt the neo-cons will be happy, but what is this really doing to help the process?  Ensuring that our drilling system isn't broken?  I think thats out of the question.

 

 

 

Some House Republicans Have Gone Off the Deep End: Plan to Ask for Deepwater Drilling to Resume

In a few hours, the House Republicans will hold a press conference at the Capitol to call for an END TO THE MORATORIUM on deepwater drilling. 

Seriously.

Do they know that the oil from the Deepwater Horizon is still spewing? 

Do they know that no one seems to know how to make it stop?

In the past, lots of folks bought the lies that deepwater drilling was safe but now we have evidence that not only does it cost lives, it can devastate economies and destroy entire ecosystems.  We know that if there is an accident, that oil companies can only offer a “Doh!” and half-hearted assurances that they will make things right.  This is a different day.

So, how in the world is it possible that these Members of Congress believe that we should start deepwater drilling again? We still don't know exactly what caused the spill, how to prevent it from happening again, or even how to be prepared if one happens again.

It is disrespectful to those in the gulf.  It is disrespectful to those with a brain.

Here is the list of people participating in today’s press conference.  Please reach out to them… or maybe suggest that they see a doctor to have their head examined.

House Republicans will hold a news conference to call for an end to the moratorium on new deepwater drilling.

Contact: Jamie Hennigan at 202-225-2777 Jamie.Hennigan@mail.house.gov

Date:  Today, Tuesday, June 15, 2pm ET

Place:  House Triangle, Capitol Building

Speakers; Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas

Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., R-La.

Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss.

Rep. Robert B. Aderholt, R-Ala.

Rep. Joe L. Barton, R-Texas

Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas

Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas

Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas

Rep. Ralph M. Hall, R-Texas

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas

Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas

Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas

Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-La.

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La.

Rep. John Fleming, R-La.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.

 

 

 

Just what the Gulf of Mexico needs: another oil well

Oil from BP's blown-out Deepwater Horizon well continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico and will do so until August at the earliest. In response, the Obama administration extended a moratorium on deepwater drilling for six months last week. However, the president also "quietly allowed a three-week-old ban on drilling in shallow water to expire" last week (hat tip Open Left). As a result,

Federal regulators approved Wednesday the first new Gulf of Mexico oil well since President Barack Obama lifted a brief ban on drilling in shallow water, even while deepwater projects remain frozen after the massive BP spill.

The Minerals Management Service granted a new drilling permit sought by Bandon Oil and Gas for a site about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana and 115 feet below the ocean's surface. It's south of Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge and Game Preserve, far to the west of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the BP spill.

Chris Bowers put it mildly when he described the Obama administration's action here as "difficult to fathom." The president gave a speech on the economy today and talked about investing in alternative energy, but like all my parenting books say, actions speak louder than words. The greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, and BP doesn't know how to stop it, but it's business as usual at the Minerals Management Service. Nor is today's permit approval an isolated case:

In the days since President Obama announced a moratorium on permits for drilling new offshore oil wells and a halt to a controversial type of environmental waiver that was given to the Deepwater Horizon rig, at least seven new permits for various types of drilling and five environmental waivers have been granted, according to records.

The records also indicate that since the April 20 explosion on the rig, federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits, most of which were for types of work like that on the Deepwater Horizon shortly before it exploded, pouring a ceaseless current of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Words fail me, so you'll have to share your thoughts in this thread.

UPDATE: In 1979 it took nine months to stop oil gushing from a shallow well in the Gulf of Mexico.

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