Showing posts with label Gulf of Mexico. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gulf of Mexico. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Top Kill Redeux

As much as I would prefer to write just about anything else, I seem to be helplessly drawn into the vortex of what has become part of a national Zeitgeist of failure, our (industry and government) inept attempts, first, on a macro scale – not having the proper guidelines and oversight for off shore drilling – and then the resulting disaster at hand, BP’s poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico. Three months into this catastrophe and we are now playing a dangerous game again, pondering a new “top kill” AKA “static kill” which, who knows (no confidence they do), might carry the danger of erupting the sea bed, the final straw in finishing off the Gulf of Mexico. If, on the other hand it is successful, or if at least the latest BP cap on its errant well holds without such an attempt, it proves only one thing: there are technical solutions that could have been part of a non fabricated contingency plan, one that would have cost BP (as well as other oil companies) a bunch of money to have standing by, but would have spared the Gulf of Mexico a fate that is still unknown in its gravity. The lack of oversight that accepted the BP’s original plan as the only shield for the ecosystem of the Gulf and the livelihood of its inhabitants is appalling. Future deep water drilling without a credible contingency plan, which should also include the concurrent drilling of a potential relief well, is unthinkable.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Out of the Frying Pan

The last entry fondly described our summer home, a boat. One of the motivations for having this “home” is to leave Florida during the hot, hurricane prone season, and be in Connecticut where there are normally cool evenings, especially on the water. So, we drove 1,250 miles to our boat and to the worst heat wave in almost ten years, reaching 100 F during the peak of the afternoon. Florida was 15 degrees cooler!

I remember several years ago when we were at our mooring overnight, astonished to watch the lights slowly dim and disappear on the shore, the last widespread blackout in the Northeast. Anticipating a repeat in this heat wave, I began to prep the boat for departure to our mooring if there was a similar loss of power.

First thing was to check our fresh water pump to access the 100 gallons of water we carry. Air was trapped in the system and the pump would not self prime, so that will need rebuilding or replacement. As a work around I cleaned out an ice container to hold fresh water for an overnight.

The generator, which is needed for systems on the boat, started up but slowly died as it overheated – probably the impeller needs replacement. Consequently the prospect of leaving the dock for an overnight faded as well. We got through the worst of the afternoon with no power problems, but as the sun set so did the power on the dock. There were lights on across the river, but not on our side. We heard everything would be back on in about four hours. OK, we can run our refrigeration off our batteries, and luckily, we had just cooked dinner so we had something to eat and we hunkered down. But in four hours we heard it would be at least several more. For the first time since our early boating years, when we were much younger and adventuresome, we tried to sleep in the 90 degree heat, the windows open, inviting a breeze that failed to visit. It was not only a hot night, it was silently still. One tiny DC fan circulated the stale air and until 4.00 am we revisited our boating past. I will have to reread my last entry to remind myself why we still do this!

Meanwhile, on more important matters, the AP just reported New cap, ships could contain Gulf leak by Monday. If this is feasible, it might be the first good news on this disaster, although I fear the damage to the Gulf will linger for generations. Lessons to be learned? Perhaps the same ones from the financial crisis: regulations are necessary as well oversight. And, the final lesson: drilling our way to energy independence is a myth. For decades we have talked about making the development of alternative energy sources a priority. The time is now.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Lack of Contingency Planning Redeux

It is a sickening feeling, helplessly watching the slow motion catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, which is rapidly becoming a dead sea. Now we are told that the pipe that was sending warm water to eliminate the formation of hydrates was damaged by one of the remote subs and it had to be withdrawn for inspection and perhaps repair, sending tens of thousands more barrels of oil into the Gulf daily. Given the incredibly high stakes, how could there not be another such pipe ready for immediate deployment? Or an entire lower marine riser package cap? Where is the contingency planning and who is responsible, the government, BP, or is it Larry, Curley and Moe?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

“Legitimate” Claims

By now we’ve all seen the $50 million media blitz by BP in which Tony Hayward articulates that all “legitimate” claims will be honored, as well the recent news story that it will pay these claims for "as long as it takes." There is a world of meaning in the word “legitimate” and in a first step to define it before BP’s legal army begins to mobilize, BP announced it would appoint an “Independent Mediator to review and assist in the claims process,” that person apparently yet to be appointed (again, by BP, not an independent authority). This “Independent Mediator” will make advisory decisions” on claims, with those decisions subject to the following:

* If the claimant feels the advisory decision is unreasonable, he or she retains all rights under OPA either to seek reimbursement from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund or to file a claim in court.
* If BP feels the advisory decision is unreasonable, the company may choose not to accept it, but the claimant then may use the Independent Mediator's decision in claiming against the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund or in a subsequent court action

Note the reference to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund as the first line of defense for BP. Congress created this Fund in 1986 to pay the claims of “any person or organization that has incurred removal costs or suffered damages due to an oil spill may submit a claim.” Supposedly it is funded at $2.7 billion. However, the Fund site says: “British Petroleum is now accepting claims for the Gulf Coast oil spill. Please call them at 1-800-440-0858.” So, back to you BP!

According to BP, “90 percent of the damages or income loss claims paid out so far had gone to individuals -- primarily fishermen, shrimpers, oyster fishermen and crabbers. The rest had gone to smaller businesses, and the company was also moving to respond to claims by medium- and large-sized businesses.”

No mention is made of the elephant in the room: state and local governments along the Gulf that depend on their revenue from property tax and sales tax. These are under stress to begin with and, now, with tourism disappearing, and properties along the Gulf going unsold (anyone want to buy a home near a beach with tar balls for an unknown period of time?), home valuations are plummeting, along with the associated property tax. Florida, which has no state income tax, is dependent sales tax revenue, a large portion of which comes from tourism with its beaches and water being the major attraction. And, with the Gulf Stream, no part of Florida is immune to the threat of oil contamination.

The ripple effects of lost revenue to small to large businesses, increased unemployment, plummeting home values and increased foreclosures, and finally to tax revenue, are large and long lasting. So, BP, what about the “legitimacy” of claims of state and local governments for the lost tax revenue, this year and perhaps years to come? Thus far BP’s track record, on promptly paying claims, truthfully reporting the scope of the spillage, going all out to save the precious wildlife and shorelines of the Gulf, is poor. This does not bode well for how BP’s legal team will finally attempt to define “legitimate.”


Friday, June 4, 2010

Spill, Baby, Kill

The first heartbreaking images of oil-soaked, dying wildlife are now reaching the media, a reminder of the Exxon Alaska disaster. When will we ever learn that technology is not a failsafe solution and we have no business drilling in 5,000 feet of water without ironclad contingency plans? And, now, this is in our own backyard. Indeed, we might as well have set off a nuclear bomb in the Gulf of Mexico, as the long-term effects will be similar. Barring a quick capping of the “spill” a wasteland waits, destroying the delicate ecosystem along our very borders, and inevitably to the promised economic recovery as well.

New supercomputer studies suggest it is "very likely" ocean currents will carry oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico around the tip of Florida and thousands of miles up the U.S. East Coast this summer. Perhaps Washington will finally get the message when the Gulf Stream delivers some of this oil to the Potomac River.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Perfect Storm

It is Memorial Day weekend, one of profound sadness, for the service men and women who gave their lives for our country, and now what seems like a deathwatch for the fragile ecology of the Gulf of Mexico.

The latest failure on the part of BP to stop the oil leak in the Gulf via a “top kill,” one that was said to have a 60-70% probability of succeeding, now seems like just another attempt to string along an anxious nation until the “permanent fix” of drilling an intercept relief well is supposed to be concluded in August.

Now there is a new stop gap “plan,” which involves cutting off the damaged riser and capping it with a containment valve. Per BP: "We're confident the job will work but obviously we can't guarantee success," pretty much what was said of the top kill method. So we can all hope that this is not just more media hype and cutting the damaged riser does not just release more oil. One cynically gets the sense, watching all of these improvised attempts, that we’ve seen this movie before, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland (the Government and BP) saying “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!”

Here’s the “perfect storm” scenario: NOAA’s forecast that the impending hurricane season being nearly as active as the one in 2005 and the possible impact on the rescue and cleanup activity by the armada of ships and platforms and miles and miles of containment booms in the Gulf.

It is speculation as to how a Katrina might further spread oil inland or even suck up and deposit surface oil in its torrential rain-making machine, but one thing is clear: clean up efforts and relief well drilling would be profoundly effected. The combination of the spill and an active hurricane season is an environmental catastrophe of even more untold proportions. And it bears noting that early season named storms are more likely to form nearby, particularly in the Gulf and the Caribbean.

The only potential “good” to come from this might be our country’s willingness to make the sacrifices we made in fighting wars, pulling together as a nation and declaring energy independence via alternative energy. I am not some Pollyanna thinking that we can suddenly drive our energy needs via alternative means. We need better technology, an improved infrastructure, and be willing to pay a steep tax on fossil fuels to support such efforts.

But that is what it is all about: the national willpower to achieve this objective and to save our environment as well. President Kennedy declared that we would put a man on the moon in ten years at the beginning of the 1960’s; we can do the same for alternative energy today. Since we seemed doomed to forever plan using a rear view mirror, this might be the only good that can come from this disaster.

Monday, May 24, 2010


Towards the end of the week I am going into the hospital for “a procedure” (a minor one to the medical community, a major one to me) so I attribute this posting to some free floating anxiety and an attempt to get some thoughts down on several topics, all suitable for their own entries. I think of them as a bunch of tweets, albeit more than 140 characters.

The first thing on my mind, other than “the procedure” is how quickly we’ve become inured to the major catastrophic saga of the last month: the oil “spill” in the Gulf of Mexico. I present as anecdotal evidence Sunday’s New York Times. “All the News That’s Fit to Print” fails to mention anything on the topic until more than halfway into the first section, although the front page did carry an article on premium prices for a Jon Bon Jovi “concert” in Hershey, Pa.

Why, I wonder, are we not pressing with all the public opinion power at our disposal for some resolution to this disaster? To watch BP, Transocean, and Halliburton in the brief Congressional Hearings was sickening, each pointing to the other to blame in a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil routine, finally all pointing to the Minerals Management Service which “oversees” drilling activity. BP says it will pay "all legitimate claims," the operative word being their interpretation of “legitimate,” but that is far from the main issues: why were there no contingency plans in place and how, with all this country’s resources, is there no way to stop this fire hose of black destruction on the pristine waters of the Gulf? Every single one of us should be holding these companies and the federal government responsible and let our justifiable anger be heard.

Maybe I take this personally as we live in Florida and appreciate the natural beauty of its waterways and beaches. But I felt the same way after the Exxon Valdez and it is absolutely stunning that we have failed to learn the sad lessons of drilling in fragile environments.

Then, I shift to another aspect of living in Florida, particularly south Florida that is blessed with some of the finest theatre talent. I’ve written before on the incredible productions at Dramaworks, the West Palm Beach theatre dedicated “to theatre to think about.” Yesterday we saw a concert version of Sondheim’s classic Into the Woods performed by the Caldwell Theatre Company. There we discovered that some of the actors we’ve seen repeatedly at Dramaworks and Florida Stage not only can also sing, but do so at professional levels befitting Broadway. In particular I mention Jim Ballard (who we saw only a few nights before in a Noel Coward reading at Dramaworks), Elizabeth Dimon, Wayne LeGette, and Margery Lowe, and I apologize if I am overlooking others. Also, as a pianist myself, I found Michael O’Dell’s keyboard accompaniment remarkable – almost three hours of Sondheim’s intricate melodies played flawlessly and lovingly. All in all it was a great performance of one of Sondheim’s best works, the lyrics of Children Will Listen reverberating in memory:

Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
So learn what to be
Careful before you say 'Listen to me'
Children will listen

We saw Stephen Sondheim last year in West Palm Beach on the eve of his 80th birthday (I regret that Google has removed music uploads from the link). He is a national treasure, our last remaining tie to the greats of Broadway.

Finally, and I’m not sure about the appropriate transition to this topic, but I continue to be mesmerized by Raymond Carver’s writings, including his essay “On Writing.”

From that essay, here is classic Carver as it is exactly what he does: ”It’s possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring – with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine.”

Thinking about a friend who admitted he wrote something just to make a deadline and make a buck, knowing he could have written something better if he took the time, Carver writes, “If writing can’t be made as good as it is within us to make it, then why do it? In the end, the satisfaction of having done our best, and the proof of that labor, is the one thing we can take into the grave. I wanted to say to my friend, for heaven’s sake go do something else. There have to be easier and maybe more honest ways to try and earn a living. Or else just do it to the best of your abilities, your talents, and then don’t justify or make excuses. Don’t complain, don’t explain.”

It seems this advice is applicable to everything as we journey into the woods.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

(Lack of) Contingency Planning

It is sickening to watch the unfolding environmental and economic tragedy in the Gulf. I know nothing about the business of drilling for oil, but even in the modest publishing business I ran for decades, contingency planning had to be formalized and a high priority on an ongoing basis. One needs to be prepared for the unthinkable. In our business, we built safeguards and redundancies in case our business data was wiped out or there was a natural disaster such as a flood. Of course, if such a disaster did occur and if all our planning failed, it would have affected little more than our business and our authors and customers. One would think that disaster planning for companies in the business of drilling for oil along our fragile coast would be of a magnitude and comprehensiveness befitting the potential consequences, to not only their own business, but to the environment as well.

BP’s (and presumably the oil industry’s) singular reliance on a device known as a blowout preventer to circumvent such a disaster seems to be a plan without any backup plan. Isn’t this where the federal government should have had an active role – overseeing any drilling of this nature, requiring not only a first line of safeguards, but a disaster plan that can be immediately implemented in the event the first line fails? Much more, so much more, is at stake here.

Now we are told that BP has contracted to have three huge rectangular concrete and steel chambers built that can be lowered onto each of the three leaks. Apparently, this, too, is not without risk, but it may be the best chance at stemming the flow. These will be ready in about a week! Meanwhile, oil continues to gush. Why, why, are not such chambers ready for immediate deployment around the Gulf? It seems that, like with Hurricane Katrina, we are doomed to “plan” using a rear view mirror, drilling, baby, drilling our planet into oblivion.