The cultural significance of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

April 30, 2010

in Politics, The environment

Louie Miller, director of the Mississippi state Sierra Club, had this to say about the ongoing Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico:

Unfortunately, the genie is out of the bottle with this oil spill, and I don’t think I’m overstating the case by saying this is America’s Chernobyl.

The incident certainly contains all the psychological triggers that human beings seem to required to get concerned about things. It is happening right now. It is visible. There are specific people to whom the disaster can be attributed.

It would certainly be nice to see an event that clarifies for people some of the many hidden costs associated with fossil fuel dependence. While fourteen years passed between the Chernobyl disaster and the shutdown of the last reactor at the Chernobyl site, the incident made people around the world acutely aware of the dangers associated with nuclear power.

It is slightly ironic, perhaps, that those environmentalists who joined the movement around the time of Chernobyl seem to be those that maintain a reflexive fear and distrust of nuclear energy. At the same time, environmentalists today who are overwhelmingly concerned with the threat from climate change seem much more likely to view nuclear power as part of the solution to our most pressing environmental problem.

Alternatively, rather than being ironic, perhaps this is just a sign of how our environmental problems are deepening and growing more threatening. What people worried about just twenty or thirty years ago now looks like small potatoes to us.

[Update: 2 May 2010] See also: Obama expands US offshore drilling

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

. May 3, 2010 at 8:27 am

“Republicans who have been pushing the President to lift the moratorium are mostly unbowed by the oil slick in the Gulf.

“It is a setback,” conceded Senator Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, Sunday. But he added that a failure to expand U.S. oil supplies from offshore wells would only increase the country’s dependence on foreigners in the two decades it might take to develop alternative energy sources. The United States consumes 12 billion barrels of oil per day, two-thirds of it imported.

“Unless we want $14-a-gallon gasoline and tankers bringing oil from Saudi Arabia, which has been responsible for 99 per cent of the oil spills in history, we’re going to have to find a way to drill safely in the Gulf of Mexico,” Mr. Alexander said.

But each day the oil leak in the Gulf goes uncapped increases the likelihood that Mr. Obama will have to shelve plans to lift the moratorium – and with them his hope of reaching a bargain on climate change legislation.

Milan May 3, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Bill McKibben points out that the same dynamic is playing out here as with the coal tanker that ran aground in Australia earlier: “If that oil had traveled down a pipeline to a refinery and then into the fuel tank of a car, it would have wrecked the planet just as powerfully. The slick of carbon dioxide spreading invisibly across the atmosphere is driving change on a massive scale… You can’t see it, but it’s wrecking marine life far more effectively and insidiously even than the spreading oil.”

. May 7, 2010 at 8:45 am

Prentice sees no need for drilling moratorium

Environment Minister will rely on Canada’s ‘strong regulatory environment’ to ensure disaster in the Gulf is not repeated here

Gloria Galloway and Grant Robertson

From Friday’s Globe and Mail Published on Thursday, May. 06, 2010 7:53PM EDT Last updated on Friday, May. 07, 2010 7:51AM EDT

Environment Minister Jim Prentice says there is no need for a moratorium on future offshore drilling in Canadian waters while the world tries to figure out what went wrong in the Gulf of Mexico.

Canada’s response to the disaster runs counter to that of U.S. President Barack Obama, who put future drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on hold until more is known about the cause of the catastrophic leak that began on April 20.

The spill of thousands of barrels of crude a day into the Gulf, and the environmental devastation that now threatens the Louisiana shore, have prompted other governments to put future drilling on hold, even if it could mean higher energy prices.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has issued a moratorium on future oil drilling permits off the state’s coast until it can be determined that a disaster similar to the one in the Gulf of Mexico can be avoided.

But Mr. Prentice sees no need to follow the example set south of the border.

“I don’t think the answer is a moratorium,” the minister told reporters on Thursday. “We are all appalled by what we’re seeing in the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone is worried about that. Here in Canada, we’ve not had those kinds of incidents and that’s because of the strong regulatory environment that we have had with the National Energy Board (NEB).”

. May 7, 2010 at 11:29 am

“Both the Santa Barbara and the Valdez spills were significant political events in the United States, leading to a rise in environmentalism and stricter regulation on energy companies and offshore drilling. The Deepwater Horizon incident appears destined to have a similar or even greater impact. It has already prompted California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to abandon his push to expand regional offshore drilling, and caused pressure for U.S. President Barack Obama to suspend his recently announced plans to expand federal offshore drilling. Schwarzenegger’s plan was designed to bring in oil revenues that would help patch California’s large budget deficits, while Obama’s plan was designed to help attract political support for his proposed energy reform bill and to mitigate (at least somewhat) U.S. dependence on foreign oil. These are not trivial policies, and the full political consequences have yet to play out.

That brings us to our primary question, which is not so much about the mechanics of the spill and the cleanup, but rather how deep an impression the cumulative effect will make on the American psyche — and how it will affect the nation’s behavior. Popular revulsion to all offshore oil drilling raises the problem of finding alternatives for the United States’ insatiable demand for oil. Onshore drilling is not palatable either. Of course, the country is gradually pursuing ways of diversifying its energy mix, but these efforts are only beginning, and it will take many years before alternative sources make an appreciable dent in the United States’ consumption of oil. The only other option is seeking more oil from foreign states that have very different interests, are often at odds with American foreign policy, and are sometimes outright hostile. The political aftermath of Deepwater Horizon will necessarily be painful, and will constrain Obama’s ability to address energy strategy for at least the near term, but it is not yet clear whether the pain will cross a threshold. Our question is whether this incident will become influential enough to cause the United States to perceive — whether justifiably or not — offshore energy production to be unsafe and unreliable, and what the reaction to such a perception might be.”

. May 10, 2010 at 11:40 am

“On the sea floor beneath the Deepwater Horizon sat a device called a blowout preventer, capable of sealing off the well with a number of hydraulic systems, including one designed to slice right through the whole stack. Had it been activated beforehand it should have been able to contain the pressure in the well, saving the rig. Activated after the blowout, it would have done nothing to save the rig, but should still have been able to isolate the oil in the well from the sea above it. But neither of the two systems that should have activated the preventer after the blowout seems to have done so—or if they did, the preventer did not do its job. Oil continued to flow into the spindled and mutilated remains of the piping that had originally risen from the sea floor to the drilling platform, coming out of that wreckage at three different points and spreading over thousands of square kilometres.

The United States Coast Guard has estimated that 5,000 barrels of oil are being added to the slick every day. Ian MacDonald, a marine biologist at Florida State University who studies oil that comes out of natural seeps on the sea floor, estimates on the basis of pictures and maps from the coastguard that the rate may be as much as five times that. The largest accidental oil spill in history, which was also in the Gulf, was due to a 1979 blowout on a Mexican rig called Ixtoc-1 (see chart). Between June 1979 and March 1980 it released around 3.3m barrels. For comparison, the Exxon Valdez fiasco in Alaska in 1989, America’s most infamous oil spill, released just 260,000 barrels. At the coastguard rate the Deepwater Horizon leak would take years to match Ixtoc-1; at Mr MacDonald’s rate, months.”

. May 10, 2010 at 1:02 pm

By now, you would think that every oil executive worth his weight in petrodollars would recognize the ability of a single spill to set back the entire industry by decades. The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, after all, has queered the prospects of prospecting off the California coast for 41 years—and counting. Given this, you would have expected the global oil industry to rush in with equipment and expertise to clean up the Gulf spill. Sure, British Petroleum first downplayed the size of the spill, which started on April 20, and then said Transocean, which owned the rig, was responsible for cleaning up the mess. Yes, Shell did offer up its training facility in Roberts, La., to BP as a command center, and Exxon did help transport booms. But the broader industry generally remained mum, more concerned about liability and competitive issues than about stopping the biggest PR disaster for the oil industry in 20 years. The CEOs should have formed a human boom to stop the slick. Instead, the industry outsourced the cleanup to BP, a company with a dodgy safety record that appears to be taking a public relations lesson from Goldman Sachs.

This seemingly blasé attitude has been enormously damaging ­to the entire petroleum industry. With “Drill, baby, drill!” replaced by “Spill, baby, spill,” the window for offshore drilling has been slammed, nailed, and caulked shut. On May 3, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a recent convert to the offshore drilling cause, changed his mind and came out against it. A Rasmussen poll found support for offshore drilling fell from 72 percent in March to 58 percent in early May.”

. May 10, 2010 at 2:44 pm

The Crisis Comes Ashore
Why the oil spill could change everything.

Al Gore

The continuing undersea gusher of oil 50 miles off the shores of Louisiana is not the only source of dangerous uncontrolled pollution spewing into the environment. Worldwide, the amount of man-made CO2 being spilled every three seconds into the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding the planet equals the highest current estimate of the amount of oil spilling from the Macondo well every day. Indeed, the average American coal-fired power generating plant gushes more than three times as much global-warming pollution into the atmosphere each day—and there are over 1,400 of them.

Just as the oil companies told us that deep-water drilling was safe, they tell us that it’s perfectly all right to dump 90 million tons of CO2 into the air of the world every 24 hours. Even as the oil spill continues to grow—even as BP warns that the flow could increase multi-fold, to 60,000 barrels per day, and that it may continue for months—the head of the American Petroleum Institute, Jack Gerard, says, “Nothing has changed. When we get back to the politics of energy, oil and natural gas are essential to the economy and our way of life.” His reaction reminds me of the day Elvis Presley died. Upon hearing the tragic news, Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, said, “This changes nothing.”

. May 11, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Oil Leak Could Be Stopped With a Nuke

“The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico could be stopped with an underground nuclear blast, a Russian newspaper reports. Komsomoloskaya Pravda, the best-selling Russian daily, reports that in Soviet times such leaks were plugged with controlled nuclear blasts underground. The idea is simple, KP writes: ‘The underground explosion moves the rock, presses on it, and, in essence, squeezes the well’s channel.’ It’s so simple, in fact, that the Soviet Union used this method five times to deal with petrocalamities, and it only didn’t work once.”

. May 12, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Stephen Harper derides ‘disgraceful’ attack on Canadian environmental regulator

Gloria Galloway

The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the potential for a similar calamity off the coasts of this country were on the minds of both Liberals and New Democrats at the outset of Tuesday’s Question Period.

Liberal environment critic David McGuinty wanted to know why there is no protection plan for drilling in the Beaufort Sea.

And NDP Leader Jack Layton asked what action had been taken by the Conservative government since the explosion in the Gulf three weeks ago. He accused the National Energy Board, which is responsible for both regulation and environmental protection in the Beaufort Sea, of being an “industry friendly body” that recently considered requests from big oil companies to relax regulations on Arctic drilling.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper took Mr. Layton’s question as a slight against Canada.

“I am fascinated that a series of disgraceful events in the United States are used as a platform to attack a Canadian regulator,” Mr. Harper said. “Of course the National Energy Board as a consequence of this action, as a consequence of its ongoing work, will continually examine the regulatory environment to see if improvements have to be made. … To try and turn this into an attack on Canada and into an attack in a Canadian regulator is without any foundation in fact.”

One strange turn in the debate came when Mr. Harper said he was “shocked to hear some of the opposition members suggesting we would copy American regulation.”

In fact, with some aspects of environmental policy – emissions standards, for instance – that is exactly what the Conservative government has said it would do to create continental “harmonization.”

. May 12, 2010 at 1:31 pm

So far, the spill has probably not altered many people’s minds about Mr Obama. That could change: no one knows how long the crisis will linger, or how bad the damage will be. But for now, the spill’s main political effect has been to pollute the debate about energy. Before the rig exploded, America was inching fitfully towards a coherent energy policy. Not a perfect one, and certainly not a moment too soon, but a better one than before, and better late than never. Before the spill, Mr Obama’s approach was to offer something for everyone. To please greens, he proposed subsidies for renewable energy and curbs on greenhouse gases. To stop consumers from revolting, he was prepared to phase in those curbs slowly. To placate conservatives, he promoted nuclear power and recently came out for more offshore oil-drilling. That last idea is now on hold.”

. May 14, 2010 at 2:11 pm

A Volcano of Oil, Erupting ~Million Bpd

“Here’s a listing of several scientific and economic guides for estimating the volume of flow of the leak in the Gulf erupting at a rate of somewhere around 1 million barrels per day. A new video released shows the largest hole spewing oil and natural gas from an aperture 5 feet in diameter at a rate of approximately 4 barrels per second. The oil coming up through 5,000 feet of pressurized salt water acts like a fractioning column. What you see on the surface is just around 20% of what is actually underneath the approximate 9,000 square miles of slick on the surface. The natural gas doesn’t bubble to the top but gets suspended in the water depleting the oxygen from the water. BP would not have been celebrating with execs on the rig just prior to the explosion if it had not been capable producing at least 500,000 barrels per day — under control. If the rock gave way due to the out of control gushing (or due to a nuke being detonated to contain the leak), it could become a Yellowstone Caldera type event, except from below a mile of sea, with a 1/4-mile opening, with up to 150,000 psi of oil and natural gas behind it, from a reserve nearly as large as the Gulf of Mexico containing trillions of barrels of oil. That would be an Earth extinction event.”

. May 15, 2010 at 9:27 pm

The politics of offshore drilling

* May 14, 2010 4:07 PM
* By Alison Crawford

It has taken weeks for the tar balls and other oil pollution to start washing ashore in the southeastern United States after the deadly explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In Canada, it has taken just as long for governments and regulators to ask “What if something similar happened here?”

This week there was a flurry of activity on that front. In Nova Scotia, the provincial government announced an extention of the moratorium on oil and gas exploration on the fertile fishing grounds of Georges Bank. That’s not a huge surprise, considering the Obama Administration has also banned drilling on its section of the bank.

But Premier Darrell Dexter says the pause in drilling will allow the government to have fully learned the lessons from the spill in Louisiana when the moratorium is reconsidered in December 2015, “This is not a decision that we made lightly. To say that this is a complex situation would be a gross understatement. This is a balancing act between the environment and the economy.”

In Newfoundland and Labrador, opposition politicians asked the government to halt drilling on Canada’s deepest offshore well. Chevron started work this week on its exploration well in the Orphan Basin, more than 400 km northeast of St. John’s and 2.5 km underwater. Natural Resources Minister Kathy Dunderdale brushed off requests to stop drilling, saying Canada and the province have decided the risks in offshore drilling were “acceptable.”

However this week the government did appoint Master Mariner Captain Mark Turner to conduct a review.

Jon May 17, 2010 at 10:38 pm

They have to be madmen.
Do they not realize that the off shore well disasters are potentially the biblical prophecy of Revelation coming true that “all the seas will be polluted and all of the fish will be poisoned”. How can they stop the flow of a huge undersea reservoir of oil once the bladder of the seabed is punctured with all of the millions of tons of water weight bearing down on it. Especially as they are working at the outer limits of their ability being over a mile deep.

. May 25, 2010 at 10:57 am

US warns it may ‘push BP aside’ on Gulf oil clean-up

Oil firm BP may be “pushed out of the way” if it fails to perform in the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster clean-up, a top US official has warned.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the British company had missed “deadline after deadline” in its efforts to seal a blown-out oil well.

But he said BP had agreed to pay clean-up costs beyond the current US $75m (£52m) liability limit.

Mr Salazar is due to visit the disaster site on Monday with other officials.

The oil leak began more than a month ago, when a drilling rig operated on behalf of BP exploded, killing 11 people.

Tens of thousands of barrels of oil have spewed into the ocean since then from the well’s ruptured riser pipe, 1,524m (5,000ft) beneath the surface

The spill has reached Louisiana and is threatening Florida and Cuba.

. May 25, 2010 at 12:05 pm
. May 26, 2010 at 3:06 pm

What if the oil spill just can’t be fixed?

I’m curious to see how the public’s mood shifts once it becomes clear that we are powerless in the face of this thing. What if there’s just nothing we can do? That’s not a feeling to which Americans are accustomed.

Once we know that accidents can be catastrophic and irreversible, it becomes clear that there is no margin of error. We’re operating a brittle system, unable to contain failure and unable to recover from it. Consider how deepwater drilling will look in that new light.

The thing is, we’re already operating in those circumstances in a thousand different ways — it’s just that the risks and the damages tend to be distributed and obscured from view. They’re not thrust in our face like they are in the Gulf. We don’t get back the land we destroy by mining. We don’t get back the species lost from deforestation and development. We don’t get back islands lost to rising seas. We don’t get back the coral lost to bleaching or the marine food chains lost to nitrogen runoff. Once we lose the climatic conditions in which our species evolved, we won’t get them back either.

We’re doing damage as big as the Gulf oil spill every day, and there’s no fixing it. Humanity has grown in power, wealth, and appetite to the point that there is no more margin of error anywhere. We’re on a knife’s edge, facing the very real possibility that for our children, all the world may be one big Gulf of Mexico, inexorably and irreversibly deteriorating.

. May 27, 2010 at 10:54 am

News You Can Use
Why aren’t Democrats emotionally exploiting the oil spill?
By Christopher Beam

Posted Wednesday, May 26, 2010, at 6:29 PM ET

“Rule 1: Never allow a crisis to go to waste,” said Rahm Emanuel on Nov. 9, 2008. “They are opportunities to do big things.” But in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, Democrats have failed to follow Rule 2: Shameless emotional exploitation is your friend.

Logic would suggest that the BP oil spill would make comprehensive energy legislation more likely, if not inevitable—especially if, as appears to be the case, there were systemic lapses that contributed to the accident. Instead, legislation has become less likely.

The Senate energy bill predates the spill, and the disaster may actually succeed in killing it. After the accident, the White House put a freeze on new offshore drilling. This caused Senate Republicans whose support of any legislation depended on its allowance of continued drilling to back away from the bill. Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, wouldn’t commit to a bill that would allow drilling. (Of course, before all this happened, Sen. Lindsey Graham, the bill’s lone Republican sponsor, pulled his support of the bill after Democrats broke their promise to prioritize energy over immigration reform.)
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It’s hard to exaggerate the absurdity of this scenario. Imagine if, after 9/11, a group of fiscally hawkish senators opposed invading Afghanistan because it would cost too much. You can’t, can you? Their position would have been untenable. America was attacked and all you care about is deficit reduction? Supporters of an invasion would have milked the moment for all its emotional worth. And the fiscal hawks would have buckled.

. May 27, 2010 at 10:57 am

How To Punish BP
Fine? Boycott? Lawsuit? What’s the best way to make the company pay for the oil spill?
By Daniel Gross
Posted Wednesday, May 26, 2010, at 6:28 PM ET

The damage from BP’s oil spill is mounting. The lucrative tourism business in Florida is suffering. Housing predictor estimates that homes in the path of the leak will lose “at least 30 percent in value as a result of the environmental catastrophe.” The thriving seafood industry in the Gulf has largely been shut down. Huge quantities of oil have been wasted. The spill may cause severe long-term damage to sea life in the Gulf, destroy sensitive coastal marshes, and send oil washing up on Atlantic Ocean beaches. And don’t forget all the jobs and profits that could have materialized from opening up new areas to offshore drilling—but that likely won’t thanks to the spill.

Meanwhile, BP is displaying a frustrating combination of incompetence and insouciance. What with this spill, the explosion in 2005 at an oil refinery in Texas City that killed 15 people, and another spill in the Trans-Alaska pipeline, which it operates, you get the sense that BP is very unlucky or not particularly good at running its operations safely or not particularly interested in the well-being of America’s environment.

Which brings us to the $64 billion question: BP should pay—and pay dearly—for the damage. But how much? And, more importantly, how? What should the United States do to BP that would be satisfying, punish the company appropriately, and, most importantly, provide incentives for BP and other oil firms to act with greater care? I’ve puzzled over this and have come up with a few ideas—none of them very satisfying.
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We could tar and feather the senior executives and board of directors. Thanks to BP, there’s an ample supply of both tar and feathers—and tarred feathers—in the Gulf. That would be emotionally satisfying and poetically just but won’t have a long-term benefit.

. May 27, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Opposition Motion

May 26, 2010 — Ms. Duncan (Edmonton—Strathcona) — That this House notes the horror with which Canadians observe the ecological disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico and their call for action to prevent such an event in Canada, and therefore calls on the government immediately to conduct a thorough review and revision of all relevant federal laws, regulations and policies regarding the development of unconventional sources of oil and gas, including oil sands, deepwater oil and gas recovery, and shale gas, through a transparent process and the broadest possible consultation with all interested stakeholders to ensure Canada has the strongest environmental and safety rules in the world, and to report to the House for appropriate action.

. June 10, 2010 at 11:03 am

“[BP] applied the same deadly cost-cutting mentality to its oil rig in the Gulf. BP, it is important to note, is less an oil company than a bank that finances oil exploration; unlike ExxonMobil, which owns most of the equipment it uses to drill, BP contracts out almost everything. That includes the Deepwater Horizon rig that it leased from a firm called Transocean. BP shaved $500,000 off its overhead by deploying a blowout preventer without a remote-control trigger – a fail-safe measure required in many countries but not mandated by MMS, thanks to intense industry lobbying. It opted to use cheap, single-walled piping for the well, and installed only six of the 21 cement spacers recommended by its contractor, Halliburton – decisions that significantly increased the risk of a severe explosion. It also skimped on critical testing that could have shown whether explosive gas was getting into the system as it was being cemented, and began removing mud that protected the well before it was sealed with cement plugs.”

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/17390/111965?RS_show_page=0

. June 15, 2010 at 10:55 pm

U.S. Scientific Team Draws on New Data, Multiple Scientific Methodologies to Reach Updated Estimate of Oil Flows from BP’s Well

Washington – Based on updated information and scientific assessments, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and Chair of the National Incident Command’s Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG) Dr. Marcia McNutt (Director of the U.S. Geological Survey) today announced an improved estimate of how much oil is flowing from the leaking BP well.

Secretary Chu, Secretary Salazar, and Dr. McNutt convened a group of federal and independent scientists on Monday to discuss new analyses and data points obtained over the weekend to produce updated flow rate estimates. Working together, U.S. government and independent scientists estimate that the most likely flow rate of oil today is between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels per day. The improved estimate is based on more and better data that is now available and that helps increase the scientific confidence in the accuracy of the estimate.

At the direction of the federal government, BP is implementing multiple strategies to significantly expand the leak containment capabilities at the sea floor even beyond the upper level of today’s improved estimate. The Lower Marine Riser Package (LMRP) cap that is currently in place can capture up to 18,000 barrels of oil per day. At the direction of the federal government, BP is deploying today a second containment option, called the Q4000, which could expand total leak containment capacity to 20,000-28,000 barrels per day. Overall, the leak containment strategy that BP was required to develop projects containment capacity expanding to 40,000-53,000 barrels per day by the end of June and 60,000-80,000 barrels per day by mid-July.

. June 23, 2010 at 12:26 pm

BP’s Dumb Investors
Posted June 21, 2010

The companies now threatening to sue BP have only themselves to blame.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 22nd June 2010

Call me a hard-hearted bastard, but I’m finding it difficult to summon up the sympathy demanded by the institutional investors now threatening to sue BP. They claim that the company inflated its share price by misrepresenting its safety record. I don’t know whether this is true, but I do know that the investors did all they could not to find out. They have just been presented with the bill for the years they spent shouting down anyone who questioned the company.

They might not have been warned by BP, but they were warned repeatedly by environmental groups and ethical investment funds. Every year, at BP’s annual general meetings, they were invited to ask the firm to provide more information about the environmental and social risks it was taking. Every year they voted instead for BP to keep them in the dark. While relying on this company for a disproportionate share of their income (BP pays 12% of all UK firms’ dividends), they refused to hold it to account.

It’s not as if the warning signs were hard to spot. One of them is splashed across the front page of BP’s 2009 annual review: the title is “Operating at the Energy Frontiers”. Like all multinational oil companies, BP has been shut out of the easy fields by the decline of its old reserves and the rising power of state-owned companies. So, to keep the money flowing, BP takes risks that other companies won’t contemplate. “Risk”, the review states, “remains a key issue for every business, but at BP it is fundamental to what we do. We operate at the frontiers of the energy industry, in an environment where attitude to risk is key … We continue to show our ability to take on and manage risk, doing the difficult things that others either can’t do or choose not to do.”

. June 28, 2010 at 4:10 pm

The well bore structure is compromised “Down hole”.

That is something which is a “Worst nightmare” conclusion to reach. While many have been saying this for some time as with any complex disaster of this proportion many have “said” a lot of things with no real sound reasons or evidence for jumping to such conclusions, well this time it appears that they may have jumped into the right place…

TOP KILL – FAILS:
This was probably our best and only chance to kill this well from the top down. This “kill mud” is a tried and true method of killing wells and usually has a very good chance of success. The depth of this well presented some logistical challenges, but it really should not of presented any functional obstructions. The pumping capacity was there and it would have worked, should have worked, but it didn’t.

It didn’t work, but it did create evidence of what is really happening. First of all the method used in this particular top kill made no sense, did not follow the standard operating procedure used to kill many other wells and in fact for the most part was completely contrary to the procedure which would have given it any real chance of working.

We later learned the pumping was shut down at midnight, we weren’t told about that until almost 16 hours later, but by then…I’m sure BP had learned the worst. The mud they were pumping in was not only leaking out the “behind” leaks…it was leaking out of someplace forward…and since they were not even near being able to pump mud into the deposit itself, because the well would be dead long before…and the oil was still coming up, there could only be one conclusion…the wells casings were ruptured and it was leaking “down hole”

They tried the “Junk shot”…the “bridging materials” which also failed and likely made things worse in regards to the ruptured well casings.

What does this mean?

It means they will never cap the gusher after the wellhead. They cannot…the more they try and restrict the oil gushing out the bop?…the more it will transfer to the leaks below. Just like a leaky garden hose with a nozzle on it. When you open up the nozzle?…it doesn’t leak so bad, you close the nozzle?…it leaks real bad,
same dynamics. It is why they sawed the riser off…or tried to anyway…but they clipped it off, to relieve pressure on the leaks “down hole”. I’m sure there was a bit of panic time after they crimp/pinched off the large riser pipe and the Diamond wire saw got stuck and failed…because that crimp diverted pressure and flow to the rupture down below.

What is likely to happen now?

Well…none of what is likely to happen is good, in fact…it’s about as bad as it gets. I am convinced the erosion and compromising of the entire system is accelerating and attacking more key structural areas of the well, the blow out preventer and surrounding strata holding it all up and together. This is evidenced by the tilt of the blow out preventer and the erosion which has exposed the well head connection. What eventually will happen is that the blow out preventer will literally tip over if they do not run supports to it as the currents push on it. I suspect they will run those supports as cables tied to anchors very soon, if they don’t, they are inviting disaster that much sooner.

Eventually even that will be futile as the well casings cannot support the weight of the massive system above with out the cement bond to the earth and that bond is being eroded away. When enough is eroded away the casings will buckle and the BOP will collapse the well. If and when you begin to see oil and gas coming up around the well area from under the BOP? or the area around the well head connection and casing sinking more and more rapidly? …it won’t be too long after that the entire system fails. BP must be aware of this, they are mapping the sea floor sonically and that is not a mere exercise. Our Gov’t must be well aware too, they just are not telling us.

All of these things lead to only one place, a fully wide open well bore directly to the oil deposit…after that, it goes into the realm of “the worst things you can think of” The well may come completely apart as the inner liners fail. There is still a very long drill string in the well, that could literally come flying out…as I said…all the worst things you can think of are a possibility, but the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn’t any “cap dome” or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now?….is the only real chance we have left to stop it all.

. June 28, 2010 at 4:15 pm

BP’s Deepwater Oil Spill – Response to DougR’s Concerns – and Open Thread

Posted by Gail the Actuary on June 25, 2010 – 10:00am

First, I will say that in one area we are in complete agreement. BP and the USCG have been less than forthcoming, and in doing so have hurt both themselves and the general public as all kinds of wild rumors and technical misinformation abound. Some of this misinformation results in harm to individuals and businesses as people suffer increased stress and tourists cancel vacations.

Looking at this from an engineering view point and using real data instead of conjecture and hyperbole I come to a much different conclusion.

The BOP is not in danger of tipping over.

I’m not sure if he is actually that frightened himself or if he just enjoys scaring others, but his conclusions come pretty close to fear mongering.

Besides painting a picture of a completely out of control blowout (which is a true worst case), in his “very least damaging outcome” he pretty much doubles the amount of maximum flow that this well could produce according to analysis that has been presented on TOD by well experts.

. July 5, 2010 at 10:13 am

Relief well rules under review at NEB

While regulators for the Gulf and Atlantic Canada aren’t likely to adopt such a costly approach, in the Arctic it’s a different story

Shawn McCarthy

Ottawa — From Monday’s Globe and Mail Published on Sunday, Jul. 04, 2010 8:04PM EDT Last updated on Monday, Jul. 05, 2010 7:11AM EDT

The National Energy Board is considering forcing oil companies to drill a secondary relief well in any deepwater Arctic exploration project, as part of a review of its regulations following BP BP-N Gulf of Mexico blowout.

Ottawa is set to issue new exploration licences for the Beaufort Sea in an auction that closes next week. But before companies can begin drilling, the federal regulator must decide on the regulations governing relief wells, which are the last defence for killing blowouts.

BP has been drilling its first relief well for the past two months as of today, and is still several weeks away from completing the operation, as crude continues to gush into the ocean, causing massive environmental damage along the coast.

. July 5, 2010 at 9:26 pm

The Gulf Disaster As You Have Not Yet Seen It

By fourcheesemac on oilslick

BP Slick Covers Dolphins and Whales.(YouTube)John L. Wathen, (MySpace Video)Hurricane Creekkeeper and Alabama environmental activist, flew over the oil slick area on June 21. This video documents a truly terrifying aerial tour of the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, with activist and journalist David Helvarg providing narration. More remarkable videos can be found on his YouTube channel.

. July 5, 2010 at 9:34 pm

“One of the lessons we’ve learned from this spill is that we need better regulations better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling. But a larger lesson is that no matter how much we improve our regulation of the industry, drilling for oil these days entails greater risk. After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20% of the world’s oil, but have less than 2% of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean – because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.

For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered. For decades, we have talked and talked about the need to end America’s century-long addiction to fossil fuels. And for decades, we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires. Time and again, the path forward has been blocked – not only by oil industry lobbyists, but also by a lack of political courage and candor.

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be here in America. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.

We cannot consign our children to this future. The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now. Now is the moment for this generation to embark on a national mission to unleash American innovation and seize control of our own destiny.

This is not some distant vision for America. The transition away from fossil fuels will take some time, but over the last year and a half, we have already taken unprecedented action to jumpstart the clean energy industry. As we speak, old factories are reopening to produce wind turbines, people are going back to work installing energy-efficient windows, and small businesses are making solar panels. Consumers are buying more efficient cars and trucks, and families are making their homes more energy-efficient. Scientists and researchers are discovering clean energy technologies that will someday lead to entire new industries.”

-Barack Obama

. July 7, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Anticipating avalanche of lawsuits, BP scooped up oil-spill experts
By Brett Michael Dykes

A recent report from the McClatchy News Service highlights a little-noted feature of BP’s corporate damage-control strategy in the aftermath of the catastrophic Gulf oil spill: a plan to stockpile as many oil-industry experts as it could to prevent them from aiding potential plaintiffs in spill-related lawsuits against the oil giant.

BP has already earned much hostility from Gulf residents, thanks to the litigation waivers it obtained from many spill-cleanup volunteers and out-of-work fishermen. And in the immediate wake of the April Deepwater Horizon rig explosion that triggered the spill, the company took a similar preventive approach to sewing up the expert-witness market. McClatchy reporter Mark Caputo notes that the company’s gone on a retainer spree, lining up scientists, air and water data-collection labs, and other assorted oil-industry experts who could prove formidable enemies on the other side of a plaintiffs suit.

. July 12, 2010 at 10:01 am

27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in Gulf of Mexico ignored by government, industry
Published: Wednesday, July 07, 2010, 7:12 AM

More than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells lurk in the hard rock beneath the Gulf of Mexico, an environmental minefield that has been ignored for decades. No one — not industry, not government — is checking to see if they are leaking, an Associated Press investigation shows.

The oldest of these wells were abandoned in the late 1940s, raising the prospect that many deteriorating sealing jobs are already failing.

The AP investigation uncovered particular concern with 3,500 of the neglected wells — those characterized in federal government records as “temporarily abandoned.”

Regulations for temporarily abandoned wells require oil companies to present plans to reuse or permanently plug such wells within a year, but the AP found that the rule is routinely circumvented, and that more than 1,000 wells have lingered in that unfinished condition for more than a decade. About three-quarters of temporarily abandoned wells have been left in that status for more than a year, and many since the 1950s and 1960s — eveb though sealing procedures for temporary abandonment are not as stringent as those for permanent closures.

. July 13, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Oil drilling in the Arctic
Facing a freeze
Governments are reviewing plans to open Arctic waters to oilmen

Jun 10th 2010 | ottawa

WHEN BP’s Macondo well began spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the firm was in the midst of an effort to persuade Canada’s energy regulator that safety standards for offshore drilling in the Canadian Arctic were expensive, impractical and should be relaxed. Hearings on the subject were promptly suspended and the regulator declared that no new drilling permits would be issued pending a review of existing rules. “We have a duty to pause, to take stock of the incident,” says Gaétan Caron, head of the National Energy Board.

For a time it looked as though the Arctic would be the next frontier for Western oil firms, which have only limited access to the most promising prospects in sunnier climes. The retreat of the polar ice cap is making the region easier to work in, and there is thought to be lots of oil and gas to tap. But Canada is not the only country now thinking twice: America, Norway and even Russia are all contemplating tighter rules for drilling.

Canada’s stay on drilling, like a similar one imposed in America, is temporary. But environmental groups and some indigenous people advocate more lasting restrictions, on the ground that the Arctic is particularly ecologically fragile, far from clean-up crews and blanketed for much of the year in oil-trapping ice.

. July 16, 2010 at 10:29 am

BP Claims Gulf Well Has Been Stopped

By timothy on ha-ha-only-serious

An anonymous reader writes with word that BP has announced the Gulf oil spill has been stopped. Another reader adds more detail: “The last valve on the new cap has been closed, and the flow of oil and gas into the sea has stopped. That doesn’t mean it’s over. It is unclear whether the steel casing deep in the well can contain the pressure. The risk is that it could burst, which would eventually cause a rupture on the sea floor that would make things much messier to deal with. However, they’re monitoring the pressure buildup carefully and if the pressure holds over the next 48 hours (indicating there is no leak below the sea floor), they’ll assess what to do next. If it doesn’t hold at the expected readings, then they’ll re-attach the pipe used for producing to the surface and start collecting again. Regardless of what happens the relief well still has to be completed to permanently plug the well with cement, which could take a couple more weeks.”

. July 19, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Louisiana’s economy
Sue, baby, sue
The state is up in arms about the ban on deepwater drilling

Jul 1st 2010 | New orleans

IRONY surrounds the Obama administration’s moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The people it presumably intends to protect—the residents of south Louisiana, whose fisheries and shorelines are being fouled by BP’s still-gushing Macondo well, and the oilfield workers who could be at risk from another disaster—are probably its loudest critics. Nearly two out of three Americans support the ban, according to one recent poll, but gulf coast residents are split down the middle. And in Louisiana, where the energy industry is a mainstay of the economy, state leaders and opinion-makers have been nearly unanimous in opposing the moratorium.

Opponents estimate that as many as 22,000 well-paid jobs are at stake—those of rig workers and the people who provide support services for them. Although the moratorium is supposed to be in force for only six months, critics fear its effect could last much longer, as rig-owners are likely to have moved their equipment in the meantime to rival drilling locations, such as off Brazil and west Africa.

Already, moratorium opponents note, Louisiana’s rich fishing grounds, which produce about a third of the seafood eaten in the lower 48 states, have largely been shut down, and their future is in grave peril. For coastal communities, the impact of these two blows could be crippling.

“We’ll go from the lowest unemployment in the nation to the highest,” Damon Chouest, vice-president of a large oil-vessel support firm, recently told the Times-Picayune, Louisiana’s largest newspaper and a vocal opponent of the drilling ban. “The spill was bad, but the worst impact on the economy is from this moratorium.”

. August 16, 2010 at 2:35 pm

The Fear Mongers

I was amazed throughout this incident at the number of people willing to listen to the fear mongers. I specifically addressed Matt Simmons with a couple of posts, but there were lots of others like Mike Ruppert spinning incredibly doomerish scenarios:

“I believe that the leaks are devastating for all life in the Gulf and that large portions of the Gulf will be dead zones from seabed to surface within maybe six months. I believe that an announcement of a pending nuclear detonation will come within a week to ten days. I predict that US Continuity of Government provisions will be activated and that FEMA will, before end of summer, be placed in complete control of the Southeast United States… limited martial law.”

That was from May 29th. I think people should be held accountable for the things they say and write (myself included), particularly when it impacts large numbers of people. To my knowledge, there has been no mea culpa for just how silly these particular predictions were, but then again you can’t get Ruppert’s nuggets of wisdom for free any more. Shortly after making that prediction he started charging people $10 per month for this stuff.

Gulf Coast residents were terrorized by some of the far-fetched claims, and the media was complicit by continuing to bring people like Simmons on because they could count on him to say jaw-dropping things. But that is irresponsible journalism. Once Simmons started to make some of these claims, the media should have gone out to look for sources to back them up or discredit them. Instead, they continued to bring Simmons on and he continued to make claims that got ever more outrageous.

. August 23, 2010 at 4:18 pm

“WITH 500 barrels of hard-set cement now gumming up the Macondo well, a number of inquiries are looking back at the loss of the Deepwater Horizon rig and the subsequent spilling of 5m barrels of oil. How much of the fault is found to lie with the well’s design, how much with the way the design was implemented and how much with the way the rig was run will determine how such ventures will be regulated from now on. It will also settle whether BP, the well’s operator, was grossly negligent—a finding that could be worth well over $10 billion in fines and liabilities.

Meanwhile, the oil industry is already getting to grips with the question of what to do if such a thing should happen again. This is in part prudent politics: credible assurances that a future blowout could be better dealt with will be vital to restoring the industry’s fortunes in the Gulf of Mexico. It is also a matter of economic self-interest. The costs facing BP would have been far smaller if it had been possible to shut the well down a lot quicker.

The position taken by ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell, which are clubbing together to put $1 billion into creating and equipping a new not-for-profit firm, the Marine Well Containment Company, is that the capability to do much better than at Macondo depends on having hardware designed for the job and available from day one. The companies outlined their plans at a public meeting held in New Orleans on August 4th by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

. September 7, 2010 at 12:05 pm

BP oil well ‘poses no further risk’, Allen says

The BP well which spilled 206m gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico poses no further risk to the environment, says the US official leading the clean-up.

Adm Thad Allen made the announcement after engineers replaced a damaged valve on the sea bed.

The failure of a similar blowout preventer is thought to have caused the oil spill, the worst in modern times.

That faulty device has been brought to the surface and will be examined as part of an enquiry into the leak.

Engineers plan to pump concrete from a second relief well to seal the ruptured well for good.

That operation is expected to begin some time in the coming week.

The flow of oil was stopped more than a month ago, but there had been fears the well could start leaking again under pressure.

. October 4, 2010 at 6:30 pm

“By the end of April, about sixty thousand barrels of oil a day were flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. To many environmentalists, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe was a potential turning point, a disaster that might resurrect the climate legislation. But in Washington the oil spill had the opposite effect. Kerry and Lieberman were left sponsoring a bill with a sweeping expansion of offshore drilling at a moment when the newspapers were filled with photographs of birds soaking in oil. Even worse, the lone Republican, who had written the oil-drilling section to appeal to his Republican colleagues, was gone. The White House’s “grand bargain” of oil drilling in exchange for a cap on carbon had backfired spectacularly.

For three months, a period of record-high temperatures in Washington, what was now called the Kerry-Lieberman bill was debated and discussed as if it were a viable piece of legislation, but no Republican stepped forward to support it. During one speech in early June, Obama said that he knew “the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.” He never found them, and he didn’t appear to be looking very hard.

Kerry and Lieberman abandoned their attempt to cap the emissions of the oil industry and heavy manufacturers and pared the bill back so that it would cover only the utility industry. The E.E.I. wanted even more if utilities were to be the only guinea pigs for cap-and-trade. This time, the electric companies demanded regulatory relief from non-greenhouse-gas emissions, like mercury and other poisons, as well as more free allowances. Kerry refused to discuss those pollutants, but, in what was probably the nadir of the twenty-month effort, he responded, “Well, what if we gave you more time to comply and decreased the rigor of the reduction targets?” The cap was supposed to be sacrosanct, but Kerry had put it on the table. As a participant said afterward, “The poster child of this bill is its seventeen-per-cent-reduction target. It’s the President’s position in Copenhagen. It’s equal to the House bill.” Now Kerry was saying they could go lower.”

. October 21, 2010 at 12:43 pm

The blowout from the Macondo well has created a terminal condition: denial. We don’t want to own, much less accept, the cost of our actions. We don’t want to see, much less feel, the results of our inactions. And so, as Americans, we continue to live as though these 5 million barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf have nothing to do with us. The only skill I know how to employ in the magnitude of this political, ecological, and spiritual crisis is to share the stories that were shared with me by the people who live here. I simply wish to bear witness to the places we traveled and the people we met, and give voice to the beauty and devastation of both.

To bear witness is not a passive act.

. December 5, 2010 at 6:31 pm

BP ignored the advice of safety modeling software in an attempt to save time before the disastrous Gulf of Mexico oil spill, according to a presentation slide (PDF) prepared by US investigators. The slide in question briefly appeared on the Oil Spill Commission’s website in error, but was quickly retracted. Advanced cement modeling software, provided by BP’s cement contractor Halliburton, had highlighted serious stability concerns with the well.”

. December 18, 2010 at 5:54 pm

US extends oil drilling ban in Gulf of Mexico

President Barack Obama’s administration is to maintain a ban on off-shore oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Atlantic coast.

The decision reverses a plan to open up new areas announced by Mr Obama in the spring, just before the BP oil spill.

Wednesday’s move sparked protests from oil firms and their allies in Congress.

Announcing the ban, which will last until 2017, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar cited the need for “caution and focus” and stricter regulation.

“Our revised strategy lays out a careful, responsible path for meeting our nation’s energy needs while protecting our oceans and coastal communities,” he said in a statement.

. January 5, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Tony Hayward – The Brief, Shining Return Of The Classic British Gentleman
Businessman

December 16, 2010 | ISSUE 46•50

Emulating the gallantry, adaptability, and dedication to duty displayed by English gentlemen throughout the imperial occupation of India and decades of adventurism in darkest Africa, former BP CEO Tony Hayward’s flip, and often arrogant, response to the Deepwater Horizon’s devastating oil spill this April marked, at long last, a shining, highly public return of the classic British gentleman.

Only Hayward possessed the uniquely English unctuousness and resolve to note that the spill—the largest of its kind in North American history—was “tiny in relation to the total volume of water” in the ocean. Nobly disdaining the outrage of shrimp-boat-owning commoners whose petty livelihoods were foundering in muck from the Macondo well, Hayward, like the dukes and regents of yore, dutifully took time off to attend a yacht race, expressing the bitter regret proper to his station in life when his yacht did not win.

As public uproar grew, Hayward refused to lower his standards, and in a moment that perfectly encapsulated the British byword “Keep Calm and Carry On,” he declared, without a hint of irony, “I’d like my life back.”

. January 18, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Blame and shame

A chronicle of deaths that should have been foretold

TONY HAYWARD, BP’s chief executive when the Deepwater Horizon rig caught fire and sank in April 2010, famously remarked that, “To put it simply, there was a bad cement job.” The report of the National Oil Spill Commission set up by Barack Obama to look into the loss of the rig and the subsequent massive oil spill, a portion of which was released on January 6th, differs subtly but crucially. The fundamental problem was not the dodgy cementing: it was BP’s failure to exercise proper caution before relying on that cementing.

As previous analyses of the accident, including BP’s own, have shown, the flawed cementing that let oil into the bottom of the supposedly sealed well was not the only issue. Subsequent portents were missed, procedures altered and tests muffed which should have saved the rig. Where the new report stands out is in showing how options that would have reduced the risk, like thorough cement testing, were systematically forgone in favour of cheaper alternatives without due consideration.

. April 21, 2011 at 9:18 pm

The BP Gulf Coast Oil Spill, Option Value, and the Offshore Drilling Debate
April 2011

Institute for Policy Integrity
New York University School of Law

One year after crude oil began gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, little action has been taken to prevent a similar disaster. A Policy Integrity report authored by Gaia Larsen and Michael A. Livermore finds that overly simplistic economic analysis by the government may have helped lead to the accident.

America likely drills for oil too much too soon, taking on too much risk, and potentially misses out on higher pay-offs for taxpayers. The problem starts with the federal agency responsible for these natural resources using an out of date economic formula when deciding when to sell offshore drilling leases.

The current equation treats drilling like a now-or-never decision instead of accounting for more complex factors like uncertainty about prices and environmental risks. This blunt calculation can lead to the sale of leases for less than they are worth and to aggressive drilling without proper safety technology.

With more finely-tuned economic models than the ones in use today, the government would incorporate the uncertainty about factors like the future value of the oil and the rate of technological development to determine when a sale is good or bad deal for the American public.

Oil companies will not necessarily benefit from this change—they already profit from the government’s current system. But the American public has much to gain in public revenue if the value of this shared resource is maximized.

. May 2, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Deepwater Horizon, one year later
The shores of recovery
Much remains to be done, but signs of revival are everywhere

Apr 20th 2011 | GRAND ISLE, LOUISIANA | from the print edition

THE hand-scrawled signs advertise houses for sale, boats for sale, garage sales. There are fresh strawberries, fresh eggs, fresh shrimp and crayfish, either fresh or boiled. Other families are selling heifers, chicks and rabbits. These are the traditional products of the small towns in south Louisiana, sold along narrow roads that wend their way through land so low it seems to sag into the water. But there is something new on offer to workers totting up their recent losses: signs are popping up saying “Spill Claims Denied?”

It has been a year since the blowout at Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico some 50 miles from south-east Louisiana. Eleven workers were killed and the platform burned for two days before it sank to the sea floor, 5,000 feet below. Oil gushed from the well for 87 days. Workers at the rig tried to contain it, while responders scrambled to corral it, burn it or disperse it. By the time the well was capped, on July 15th, the government estimates that nearly 5m barrels of oil had escaped, making the disaster the largest accidental offshore oil spill in history. Vast tracts of fisheries were closed. People who drew their livings from the waters, by fishing or tourism, feared devastation.

A year on, it is too early for a full account of the long-term impact. The Natural Resource Damage Assessment, a process mandated for oil spills, is still in its injury-assessment and restoration-planning phase. Detailed research into what happened and what it means awaits the full flowering of the Gulf Research Initiative, independently managed but to be paid for by BP to the tune of $500m over ten years. So far $40m of this has been dispensed, and requests for proposals on how to spend a fair chunk of the rest may be announced as soon as the end of April.

. May 2, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Deepwater Horizon
Writings from the black hole
What to read at the first anniversary of the blowout

THE oil prospect from which the Deepwater Horizon rig was disengaging itself when disaster struck on April 20th 2010 was named Macondo after the setting of Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. Some of the spreading slick of books on the Deepwater blowout and its subsequent oil spill dutifully attempt to cash in on this literary reference—invoking Macondo’s ageless origins, its propensity for the innominate and the extremes of irreality and, more than once, its hurricane-mediated erasure from all subsequent memory. The ploy never quite seems to fit, though. How much easier it would have been for the authors if the Márquez reference that had come to the mind of the well’s nameless name-giver had been from “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”; its spirit of the botched and the inevitable would underpin the narrative like a pile driven into ocean sediments.

The sense of the pressure of events as of the overburden of a mile of rock, of the tragic irony of life as usual on the rig even in the minutes that its oily nemesis was roaring up from the well below, is well caught in the best and cheapest of the available accounts, that of the presidential commission on the spill, available free on the internet. Anyone wanting a book-length account of the disaster which goes into satisfying detail about its causes, its context, its impact and what should be done next should start there. It is gripping in those places where that is appropriate: well judged, nicely written—by the standards of books you might otherwise pay for, not just by the standards of committee reports—and well illustrated with both photographs and diagrams. The last matters quite a lot. To come close to understanding the intricacies of the disaster without diagrams is next to impossible. Why the commercial offerings do without diagrams showing the structure of the well and its components is a mystery. If they think they’ll put readers off they should have more faith (and draw them nicely).

. August 21, 2012 at 1:55 pm

By the spring of 2010, Sens. Kerry and Graham, along with independent Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), did hammer out that compromise. They secured endorsements from some oil companies to back a bill capping carbon emissions, for the first time ever. They persuaded the main oil lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, to refrain from spending money attacking the bill. They made plans for a major public announcement on April 26 showing the breadth of the liberal-corporate coalition behind capping carbon — with oil company executives standing on the stage alongside environmental leaders.

Then, six days before the planned announcement, one of those oil companies in the coalition began to spill millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

And everything fell apart.

The provision to increase offshore oil drilling suddenly became politically toxic, with environmentalist senators from New Jersey and Florida threatening to withdraw support. Graham withdrew his public support for the bill he helped draft, partly because it was no longer the right political moment to expand drilling. The press conference was postponed until the next month. BP and Shell still offered support, but only via written statement, because it was no longer politically advantageous to have them up on the stage.

Meanwhile, environmental groups, instead of coolly explaining to their memberships — both before and during the oil spill — that they had an ally in BP and other oil companies to pass monumental climate protection, reverted to form. They hoped to channel public anger into a teachable moment that would transform the political dynamic, reducing the need for corporate compromise. If BP could be demonized enough, the public would rise up and hesitant senators would be compelled to embrace green legislation.

The oil industry also retreated to its usual corner, spending its energies defending the practice of offshore drilling and doing nothing to advance the compromise following its unveiling.

By the end of the Gulf gusher, BP was plenty hated by the public. But the public did not connect that hatred to the need for passing the Kerry-Lieberman bill. And not one undecided senator moved to embrace it. Despite one of the biggest environmental disasters of all time, the attempt to change the political dynamic in the Senate without the assistance of the corporate community went nowhere.

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