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Obama Starts to Address Offshore Hazards and Calls for Clean Energy Action

Frances Beinecke

Posted May 27, 2010 in Curbing Pollution, Moving Beyond Oil

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I applaud President Obama’s announcement today that he is extending the moratorium on offshore drilling and calling a time out on lease sales off the coast of Alaska. These are forceful steps that will help protect America’s marine life and coastal communities in the immediate aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

President Obama is right to impose the moratorium on deepwater drilling until the independent commission completes its investigation into the BP oil disaster. But the moratorium should cover shallow water drilling as well. Last summer, a blowout occurred in Australia at a water depth of just 240 feet. It took 10 weeks to drill a relief well and the oil spread over thousands of square miles.

The president is right to cancel planned lease sales in the western Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Virginia. And he is right to delay planned drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the coast of Alaska.

But the President should go further. An oil spill in the fragile Arctic waters could be even more devastating than in the Gulf. Cold temperatures would make it almost impossible for oil to disperse and broken ice would make it difficult to clean up. There is much we don’t know about drilling in these conditions, and NRDC recommends delaying any drilling in the Arctic for several years while thorough study is done. We can't afford to gamble the future of this region on the promises of an industry that has so thoroughly failed us thus far.

The President is also right to strengthen government oversight of the oil industry and issue new safety regulations. Again, though, more needs to be done to address the welter of problems--inadequate regulation, uneven enforcement, close ties between regulators and industry--that led to this disaster in the Gulf.

Even as the President begins to address the hazards of offshore drilling, we must also focus on the root cause of the tragedy in the Gulf.

We can blame BP for the disaster, and we should. We can blame lack of adequate government oversight for the disaster, and we should. But in the end, we also must place the blame where it originated: America’s addiction to oil.

BP was drilling at 5,000 feet because our gluttonous appetite for oil demands it. It is the same force that powers destructive tars sands oil development in Alberta and feeds two wars overseas. Until we change this reality, there will be more blowouts, more devoured landscapes, and more soldiers lost on the battlefield.

President Obama can lead us in a cleaner future--one where American workers do the job of producing more fuel efficient cars and designing better public transit systems.

The President has taken several strong steps recently. On Friday he announced new cleaner vehicle standards for cars and heavy trucks. And at today’s press conference, he urged Congress to pass clean energy and climate legislation, saying: “If nothing else, this disaster should serve as a wake up call that it’s time to move forward on this legislation.”

I look forward to the President continuing to press the case for legislation at every opportunity.

Americans feel sickened by watching the Gulf of Mexico get destroyed. They want to see the disaster clean up and to create a future where this kind of tradeoff is no longer necessary. President Obama can guide the way.

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Comments

fatalgaeMay 27 2010 04:38 PM

The Gulf Catastrophe could have been avoided if the US were growing algae. Algae is renewable, does not affect the food channel and consumes CO2. No explosions, no fires, no deaths and no environmental problems. What's wrong with that???

Algae has been researched in US universities for over 35 years. It's time to move it out of the lab and go into commercial-scale production. Algaepreneurs are starting to build commercial-scale plants throughout the US using all off-the-shelf existing technologies. More algae production plants are coming online. Algae is one solution to get the US off of foreign oil and create new jobs right here in the US. The algae industry is being built today by Americans who all want to get off foreign oil.

PaulMay 28 2010 05:16 AM

I'm sick. I'm a 58 year old single father of a 2 year old and a 4 year old. I had a great job, made very good money as a fitter/welder with great benifets. I now just got layed because of Obama. we had 2 years of orders on the books but them the money crap happened. Orders were put on hold. Then that idiot in Washinton said "anyone building a coal fired power plant. Orders droped and guess what, Yuba Heat Transfer is no more. Now they are going to raise the cost of gas to $5 or more by shutting down production and drilling.
Tell me, how am I to raise my girls? He made 5 million last year but never really held a job. Does he care what gas costs? Does anyoff them care since they don"t pay for gas?

Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co.May 28 2010 02:29 PM

Although it is tempting to jump on "clean energy" at a time like this, it might be better to raise heck to get the crisis under control.

It is now May 28 and the live feed video from BP still shows the leak gushing oil and whatever, though the frame rate is too slow to enable an estimate of flow rate. This is after "Top Kill" has been done and failed. Yesterday they stopped pumping to "evaluate" but then they said they were refilling the stock of mud during that time. This suggests of course that they really stopped pumping because they had not provided for enough mud.

Back on May 17, the economist magazine reported that they were pumping to the surface and collecting 2000 barrels a day out of a big pipe by sucking through a little. From that ("one fifth diameter") we have to recognize that about 8000 barrels, at least, are being lost.

I get the feeling that BP is trying hardest to salvage this as a working well. Perhaps the potential here is so great that they are planning to tough it out with the environmental damage. I say that because there seems to be much that could be done with a heavy handed approach that would leave the well useless.

For example, putting the "Top Hat" back on and pumping concrete, yes ready-mix, downward should build up a containment block. As it filled to the top, there should be enough pressure to block flow. Yes, put a hatch on top of the "Top Hat" to allow oil to escape until enough concrete was in place to hold the "Hat" down. Then close that hatch. That should end it. Maybe it needs to be a much bigger top hat to cover both leaks.

This all would require a collection of much larger ships than those of the "flotilla" that impressed the author of the May 17 article.

Yes, it is time to bring in the big boys. What I suggest is an example; other large scale actions might be superior.

Though I think Pres. Obama has a steady hand on the controls of government for many kinds of crises, the frightening thing is that our government seems not capable of understanding the large scale actions needed.

Now back to the "clean" campaign. Might I suggest that an environmentalist view should include the impact of actions on human well being. I was concerned about the national prosperity when the action seemed to be heading toward making energy more expensive, given the status quo before the offshore disaster. Now that we should be thinking about much tighter controls on offshore oil and gas, tight limits on use of coal will be even more burdensome on the fragile economy environment.

When the economy environment fails, we should expect a greatly reduced enthusiasm for the remaining aspects of environmentalism.

Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co.May 29 2010 02:42 PM

The disaster now going on threatens the whole environmental scheme of things. I am speaking of the BP disaster going on as we watch. The ongoing failure to deal with this could well undo our energy based economy.

I viewed the "live spill stream" available on the Wall Street Journal page this morning and see that the brownish flow has turned dark black. I would interpret this as meaning that the mud has been fully disgorged by oil pressure upward and the disaster is completely unabated.

I am beginning to think more harshly about the ability of our government to take appropriate action in a national emergency.

The way things are going, I am afraid this is like allowing all air flights to continue throughout the day of 9-11 and for a month after, while limiting response to digging up bodies. It was true then that Al Qaeda had much expertise in the technology needed to stop the flow of terror. Just like BP has the expertise to stop the leak.

But I am suggesting, maybe BP is not really acting with stopping the leak as their highest priority, instead they are acting to stop the leak while preserving the oil well as an assett.

I am more and more convinced that BP is trying hardest to salvage this as a working well. Perhaps the potential here is so great that they are planning to tough it out with the environmental damage, and apperently there is a $75 million cap that can be used, if necessary, to keep the cost of damages charged to BP down. I say that because there seems to be much that could be done with a heavy handed approach that would leave the well useless. A leak that is allowed to go unplugged should be considered differently from a single quick spill when it comes to limits on damages charged to the drilling operator. The $75 Million cap on damages was put in place by Congress in 1990. So though BP has reportedly said they will waive that limit, this seems to be something that is their option. That must be a serious gulp when clean-up operations on the scale needed are ordered by government officials.

For a heavy handed but reasonably cheap example of how to stop the leak, putting the "Top Hat" back on and pumping concrete, yes ready-mix, downward should build up a containment block. As it filled to the top, there should be enough pressure to block flow. Yes, put a hatch on top of the "Top Hat" to allow oil to escape until enough concrete was in place to hold the "Hat" down. Then close that hatch. That should end it. Maybe it needs to be a much bigger top hat to cover both leaks. This would render the existing bore hole useless, though the resource would still be available to a new drilling operation.

I am not sure if the actions to stop the leak are understood to be different from actions to clean up the mess.

Though I think Pres. Obama has a steady hand on the controls of government for many kinds of crises, the frightening thing is that our government seems not capable of understanding the differenec between the kind of operations needed to save the environment versus the kind of operations needed to stop flow from the leak. Thus, choice of leak stopping actions may be limited to those that retain the ability to re-establish the well as a hugely profitable operation.

Not able to deal with the problem directly, we now have a broad moratorium on oil and gas production in ocean locations. This will seriously impact natural gas supplies. Then add the climate bill and get ready for our energy based economy to fail. Well, maybe that will be the solution for global warming.

ormganicsMay 31 2010 12:43 PM

Ms. Beinecke;

I agree that "President Obama’s announcement today that he is extending the moratorium on offshore drilling and calling a time out on lease sales off the coast of Alaska" is a step in the right direction but hardly "forceful." What is our government doing right now about stopping this well from leaking oil?

BP's "top-kill" effort has failed. Now they are forecasting that the oil will keep escaping until August, by which time, they say, they will have the "relief well" drilled, if we can believe that. If this is not a national emergency WHAT IS? Massive poisoning of our fisheries with oil and chemical dispersants and fouling of our shore with raw oil; recovery could take a hundred years or more! If our government is doing anything why are we not hearing about it?? They have aircraft carriers the size of a small city. It would not be a difficult feat to roll a 10-ton concrete block right off the deck of a carrier using a crane, and guide it down on top of the gusher to block the leak. A US Naval aircraft carrier I am sure must be capable of carrying several 10-ton blocks and at least a mile of steel cable. BP already has the in-situ the video and robot capability to help guide the block into position on top of the well. However, BP wants to maintain total control in hopes of recovering their profit-center. Our government meanwhile appears to be merely standing-by?
I heard one environmentalist say that there is the potential, if this oil continues leaking, for it to reach all the way to the coast of Maine. This is horrifying potential devastation, both environmentally and in economic terms. So let's hear what President Obama's plans are to deal with this emergency? Can you image Down-East Maine with NO LOBSTER FISHERIES and no fishermen!

Why do we all feel so helpless? This is another example of out of control exploitation and consequential damage, to our natural resources, by giant global corporations in search of pure profit with no social value, just the contrary! Will we ever be able to cleanse Washington and have a government of the people, by the people, for the people, instead of the the 'house of ill repute' it has become, where global corporations and all big money blocks can go to buy the service they want . . . it's out of control.

Jim Bullis, Miastrada Co.May 31 2010 04:54 PM

Ormganics, you are going in the right direction but you need to understand that 10 tons of concrete is not a lot.

Just for comparison, note that concrete dams are not big blocks of concrete that are lowered into a river, the concrete is cast in place and provision is made for sealing the perimeter.

Your concrete block would need skirts to seat deep into the mud. Since the original top hat would have provided this, it would just need to be filled with concrete to achieve the same thing you are hoping for with your concrete block, and a seal would be there as well.

Using the latest approach of May 31, if they rig the pipe that leads upward with a bottom hole pump they will not lose that much in leakage at the joint, and it should be able to keep the area vacuumed somewhat clear so that they can see while they are working. When they get this done they will have a highly productive oil well, which might pay for all the damage.

I continue to suggest that the first 'top hat' device could have been made to work, especially if they had cut that pipe at that time. And if not it could have been used to build a concrete containment block which would have rendered the well useless. I wonder if BP yanked that top hat away before anyone thought of the concrete idea.

I continue to question whether the decisions have been made with the environment coming first. Fixing this problem in a way that would ruin the well has not seemed to be on the table. And Carol Browner and Lisa Jackson seem to lack the insight to see the conflicting motivation on BP actions.

And what an idiotic thing for Carol Browner to worry about, that is, the idea that the flow might be increased 20% for a short time?

And another, what an idiotic thing to worry about, that being that there might be a leak at the connection. Take a look at the live video. A leak would be a sweet sight compared to that.

Frances BeineckeJun 1 2010 03:44 PM

I want to thank you all for your comments, but I would like to specifically address what Paul wrote.

Paul, I am sorry to hear about your layoff. Being a single parent is a challenge under the best of circumstances, never mind when times are hard, and I don’t blame you for being frustrated. The financial crisis has been devastating--for families, for manufacturing, and for entire communities.

Our economy is struggling to rebound, but several labor unions have identified one sector whose rapid growth is generating jobs for American workers: clean energy. Clean energy jobs are growing 2.5 times as fast as traditional jobs. Across America, opportunities are opening up for steelworkers who build wind turbines, electricians who install solar panels, and construction workers who retrofit buildings.

A recent report from UMass singled out welders for their capacity to help construct solar equipment, energy efficient cars, and public transit systems.

I don’t know where you live, Paul, or if these opportunities have arrived in your town yet, but I do know the best way to attract them: pass a clean energy and climate law, which would create nearly 2 million jobs across the country. That’s why unions, including the United Steelworkers and Sheet Metal Workers--support such a bill.

I share your frustration about rising gas prices, but make no mistake, opening new areas to offshore drilling will do nothing to bring prices down. The Department of Energy says “access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.”

In the meantime, our oil addition keeps enriching oil companies: back when the country started sliding into the worst recessions in 70 years, Exxon-Mobil racked up record profits of $45 billion. It’s time we pass a clean energy and climate bill that will provide cheaper, cleaner fuel options for American families like yours.


rich coleJun 4 2010 08:41 AM

Comments on Paul Papke I'm sick. I'm a 58 year old...I had a great job, made very good money as a fitter/welder with great benifets....

Paul, you're telling us you are the victim specifically of Obama. Realize it's much bigger than that. It would include all the people that voted him into office, some of which are environmentalists, some aren't.

I'm 50 still employed, with a good salary and the knowledge that over time things CHANGE and we must change too. You should never feel comfortable in your job, someone's out there figuring out a more efficient way to do it--ship it off overseas, automate it, etc... This is American, entrepreneurs, young kids trying to make their buck too.

How do we older Americans remain RELEVANT? That's really what it is I think. We must remain flexible, open-minded, and find where we fit in. If I blame Obama, I've just shut the door--my response is limited to voting him out of office, join the tea party, etc....

I think only blaming Obama makes me more vulnerable, and doesn't give me an answer. When I first started working someone told me that I'm the only that's looking out for my career. That's kept me on my toes for 20+ years.

On my toes vs. blame Obama,

Which is more likely to get you a job? Which attitude will keep you girls employed as they get older?

Rich Cole
colerw@gmail.com

JohnJun 4 2010 11:10 AM

Obama Starts to Address Offshore Hazard..

This is a farce... Start to read David Icke

Rona FriedJun 4 2010 12:05 PM

I don't understand why the oil couldn't be kept away from the coast.

Unlike Katrina and the earthquake in Haita, where thousands of volunteers were immediately mobilized, we're constantly hearing about unattended booms and beaches coated with oil but no clean-up workers.

Why hasn't the environmental NGO community mobilized thousands of volunteers to help the wildlife, take their eggs to safety, monitor the booms and do clean-up?

See my Reuters column: http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2010/05/26/now-is-not-the-time-to-research-oil-cleanup/

ormganicsJun 4 2010 06:23 PM

In a surprisingly forthright attempt at amelioration, Mr. Tony Hayward, CEO of BP plc., enunciated in today's Wall Street Journal, enunciated what needs to happen before anymore "undersea" oil drilling. I find Mr. Hayward's statements both revealing and alarming!
Although BP has been drilling and pumping oil out of the earth for about half a century, and one might think they are informed and in a position to project the need for new safety technology in new drilling environments, such as 5000 feet below the sea, apparently NOT! Mr. Hayward says: "Specialized equipment must be designed, built and tested, compressing operations that normally last weeks or months into days or even hours." He apparently admits, that before any more drilling beneath the sea can be considered a reasonable risk: "First, we need better safety technology. We in the industry have long had great confidence in the blow-out preventer as the ultimate failsafe piece of safety equipment. Yet on this occasion it failed, with disastrous consequences." Hayward now admits: "we need to be better prepared for a subsea disaster. It is clear that our industry should be better prepared to address deep sea accidents of this type and magnitude." He goes on to emphasize the painfully obvious, that the oil industry needs a "capability for dealing with with large undersea spills. BP intends to have a key role in creating this capability, and we believe that our competitors and counterparts in the industry will join us." WOW!
The imperative is loud and clear! The Obama administration must place a cease and desist order on all undersea drilling off America's shores until the safety "capability" Mr. Hayward is calling for is developed, tested and proven. As soon as the "relief well' is functional and the blow-out is capped, then the relief well should also be capped, and the whole operation shut-sown until we have at least the level of safety that Mr. Hayward himself is calling for. We cannot afford this enironmental catastrophe, and certainly not another one!

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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