In case you've had as hard of a time as we've had keeping up with all the bad news coming out about the Gulf Coast oil spill, GAP's brought together some of the more appalling tidbits from the last few days:
First, despite the fact that BP has said many times that it is impossible to accurately judge the extent of the Gulf spill by looking at video of oil gushing out of the broken pipe, experts analyzing the video at the request of NPR argue that it is possibleand that the spill is far worse than BP has estimated. While BP claims the oil is likely spilling at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day, the experts predict it is somewhere between 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day and that the oil spill has already surpassed the iconic Exxon Valdez spill in scope.
Similarly, the New York Times reports that environmental groups are raising concerns over why BP continues to claim it is impossible to measure the scope of the oil spill, and why they have produced and are sticking to the number of 5,000 barrels a day. The groups argue that there are accepted scientific methods that could be easily used to more accurately measure the leak, and that "the figure of 5,000 barrels a day was hastily produced by government scientists in Seattle. It appears to have been calculated using a method that is specifically not recommended for major oil spills."
Greenwire reports that, as we blogged about last week, BP is continuing to use risky chemicals called dispersants to break up the oil spill, but that the oil giant has bypassed the use of less toxic chemicals in favor of ones manufactured by a company with which they have close ties. The company, Nalco Co, was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and currently has leadership that includes executives from both BP and Exxon. Even worse, EPA data shows the Nalco dispersant to be less effective than less toxic alternatives in dealing with southern Louisiana crude oil.
Even though we thought it was impossible to top the barrage of troubling news that emerged last week about the oil spill (still going on!) that followed the explosion, fire and sinking of the oil platform Deepwater Horizon, even more disturbing information has come out since our last blog on the topic.
Hayward also neglected to point out that the chemicals themselves pose a threat to the fragile gulf ecosystem – and according to an expert, may be more toxic than oil. While not all of the compounds in the chemicals are known due to trade secrecy, at least one is associated with "headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses." From ProPublica:
“There is a chemical toxicity to the dispersant compound that in many ways is worse than oil,” said Richard Charter, a foremost expert on marine biology and oil spills who is a senior policy advisor for Marine Programs for Defenders of Wildlife and is chairman of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. “It’s a trade off – you’re damned if you do damned if you don’t – of trying to minimize the damage coming to shore, but in so doing you may be more seriously damaging the ecosystem offshore.”
The chemicals can also have a worrisome effect on food safety. Studies have shown toxic compounds from the chemicals can accumulate in shellfish, and affect the development of fish. The chemicals will likely negatively affect the Gulf Coast fish industry.
Many troubling details are beginning to come out about the explosion and sinking of the oil platform Deepwater Horizon, which oil giant BP was leasing from Transocean, the world's largest offshore drilling contractor. The platform exploded on April 20 and sank two days later, leaving 11 workers missing and presumed dead, and producing one of the largest oil spills in history in U.S. water.
On Tuesday, the London Guardian (UK) reported that the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the US government agency responsible for overseeing offshore oil activities, was expected to launch an investigation into the sinking of Deepwater Horizon.
MMS is currently investigating a whistleblower's claims that BP had broken the law by not keeping an up-to-date set of records on the oil platform Atlantis, also located in the Gulf of Mexico. In the event of an emergency, such records would be vital to shut down the platform. According to an email from a BP executive, not having the records could lead to "catastrophic operator errors." Atlantis, which is located 190 miles south of New Orleans, is the largest oil platform of any kind in the world.
This post was written by GAP Homeland Security Director Jesselyn Radack for her Daily Kos Blog.
The mainstream media, including the New York Times and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, have not covered an independent evaluation released in June by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that there are serious safety and reliability issues with hydraulic pumps that were installed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. http://www.osc.gov/... (the OSC report is the fifth from the bottom.) As the OSC told President Obama:
There appears to be little logical justification for: (1) restricting the emergency pumping capability . . . to only the untested hydraulic pump systems, (2) not requiring the installation of areliable pumping system which would adequately protect New Orleans, (3) spending hundreds of millions of dollars to install forty MWI hydraulic pumps which are scheduled to be replaced at a cost of greater than $430 million within 3-5 years. . .
It’s the peak of hurricane season and August 29 marks four years since deadly Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is marking the anniversary by pushing an astronomically expensive fix on Congress and the public, which the Corps conjured up to fund its supposed grand master "Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System." In reality, it’s a grotesque and wasteful maneuver to cover-up its own mistakes since Katrina.
Three official Project Information Reports that the Corps submitted to Congress to obtain authorization and funding for New Orleans’ hurricane protection repeatedly presented the economic lifespan analysis of water pumps using a 50-year period. Col. Jeff Bedey, commander of the Corps' Hurricane Protection Office in New Orleans, told the public a year and a half ago that the current pumps "have something around a 50-year lifespan. These were designed to be there for 50 years."
Moreover, as Karen Durham-Aguilera, director of the Corps' Task Force Hope in Louisiana, explained, the interim closure structures with installed pumps were supposed to be incorporated into the permanent hurricane protection solution, not scrapped.
But now, Brigadier General Michael J. Walsh, commander of the Mississippi Valley Division of the Corps, is claiming that today’s pumps were only meant to be "temporary." The Corps new assertion that pump replacement is required was never part of the original protection plan. Walsh’s assertion that the pumps were built to last just five to seven years, is repeated by Corps officials as if it were gospel, when in reality, a 50-year lifespan is what the Corps had always contemplated and what Congress approved. Think about it. Would Congress really have spent over a half billion dollars on something with only a five year lifespan? This would have a benefit-cost ratio in the negative double digits.
The proposed abandonment of the existing gated closure structures with installed pumps was never part of the original plan submitted to Congress. This newest plan by the Corps involves rebuilding the same gated structure with installed pumps a few hundred yards further downstream, except this time with "direct drive" pumps instead of the defective hydraulic pumps that will likely fail in the event of a hurricane. Instead of paying the estimated $275 million to correct the problems with the hydraulic pumps and roughly 200 million to increase the needed pumping capacity, the Army Corps is proposing to abandon the project they have already spent half a billion dollars on, destroy and haul away the "temporary" gated closure structure with installed pumps, and then spend almost $700 million to rebuild everything from scratch.
At the same time, and contradicted by its urgent push for replacement pumps, the Corps is making deceptive and dangerous public pronouncements that the present pumps have been battle-tested by two hurricanes, Gustav and Ike. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel hired an independent expert to evaluate the pumping system, and the expert criticized this very assertion because it fails to mention that the pumps were run at low operating speeds and pressures, intermittently, and for short periods during the hurricanes. The Special Counsel’s report and the "black box" information (known technically as "SCADA data") prove the hydraulic pumps were not utilized when canal water levels were highest at the beginning of each storm, not allowed to run at full operating speeds and pressures, and not allowed to run for extended periods of time. Instead, they were relegated to an "also pumped" status that was then turned into a straw man for hydraulic pump performance that was offered up to the highest levels of the Army Corps. The recorded storm SCADA data shows clearly that the hydraulic pump runs were not examples of pumping performance that replicate what is seen in a real-life hurricane event, but rather examples of what can charitably be called "demonstration" runs.
This information lies buried many clicks deep on the Office of Special Counsel website, linked in the Intro. I think the roughly 311,800 people currently living in New Orleans deserve to know where things stand as we mark the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, rather than being led down the garden path that has already been washed away once.
We continue a story today about hurricane protection equipment, pumps installed in New Orleans after Katrina. A Los Angeles-based Corps engineer says they won’t protect the city in a major storm. To this day no public records indicate that these pumps will work as designed. KPCC’s Molly Peterson reports on how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies have listened to this whistleblower’s concerns.