Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

News & Supplemental  

Trouble on Oiled Waters, Pt. 2

Comment: BP has bought the Google and Yahoo search words relevant to researching the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, with the intent of redirecting searches for the purposes of damage control.

“BP buys Google, Yahoo Search Words to Keep People away from Real News on Gulf Oil Spill Disaster”by Maryann Tobin; examiner.com;  6/6/2010.

Excerpt: In their most tenacious effort to control the ‘spin’ on the worst oil spill disaster in the history, BP has purchased top internet search engine words so they can re-direct people away from real news on the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

BP spokesman Toby Odone confirmed to ABC News that the oil giant had in fact bought internet search terms. So now when someone searches the words ‘oil spill’,  on the internet, the top link will re-direct  them to BP’s official company website. . . .

Perhaps they are looking to avoid coverage indicating that the disaster was due to inexcusable corporate error, as appears to be the case.

“Rig Survivors: BP Ordered Shortcut on Day of Blast” By Scott Bronstein and Wayne Drash; CNN; 6/8/2010.

Excerpt: The morning the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, a BP executive and a Transocean official argued over how to proceed with the drilling, rig survivors told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview.

The survivors’ account paints perhaps the most detailed picture yet of what happened on the deepwater rig — and the possible causes of the April 20 explosion.

The BP official wanted workers to replace heavy mud, used to keep the well’s pressure down, with lighter seawater to help speed a process that was costing an estimated $750,000 a day and was already running five weeks late, rig survivors told CNN.

BP won the argument, said Doug Brown, the rig’s chief mechanic. “He basically said, ‘Well, this is how it’s gonna be.’ ”

“That’s what the big argument was about,” added Daniel Barron III.

Shortly after the exchange, chief driller Dewey Revette expressed concern and opposition too, the workers said, and on the drilling floor, they chatted among themselves.

“I don’t ever remember doing this,” they said, according to Barron.

“I think that’s why Dewey was so reluctant to try to do it,” Barron said, “because he didn’t feel it was the right way to have things done.” . . .

Discussion

8 comments for “Trouble on Oiled Waters, Pt. 2”

  1. As we all know, oil and water don’t mix. Fracking waste and water, on the other hand, can mix quite nicely. Living things, which contain lots of water, could probably mix with that fracking waste water too, but it’s not really recommended:

    Think Progress
    What Cows Can Tell Us About The Dangers Of Fracking

    by Andrew Breiner Posted on September 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Evidence on the way fracking affects the health of humans is scarce, in large part because drilling companies go to great lengths to keep that information hidden. That’s why two Cornell University researchers turned to cows to find out just how toxic fracking pollution is. The results were alarming, if not exactly surprising.

    The study, by Michelle Bamberger and Robert E. Oswald, found that consequences ranged from near-immediate death to stillbirths and genetic defects in offspring that persisted for years after exposure to fracking wastewater.

    While the authors noted that theirs was not a controlled experiment, which wouldn’t be feasible, two cases provided naturally-occurring control groups. On one farm, 60 head of cattle drank from an allegedly wastewater-polluted creek while 36 drank clean water. Of the 60, “21 died and 16 failed to produce calves the following spring. Of the 36 that were not exposed, no health problems were observed, and only one cow failed to breed.”

    But Bamberger and Oswald didn’t just look at livestock. They also include cases of humans and their “companion animals” suffering the effects of pollution. In one case, two homeowners “located within two miles of approximately 25 shale gas wells” saw multiple instances of wastewater dumping and spillage.

    Drillers frequently spread wastewater on roads near these homes, a practice that in many states is legal, even considered a “‘beneficial use’ — for deicing and dust suppression,” Bamberger and Oswald explained to Climate Progress in an email. “The example in [this case] was likely legal.”

    They argued in the email that exposure could be more limited with greater regulation, but not solved. The authors said:

    this remains a dangerous operation and there have been well blowouts, for example, for as long as there has been drilling. Flaring, venting, pollution from processing plants, etc. will go on regardless of improved regulation.

    Bamberger and Oswald also raised the question of food safety. They document several cases where animals were slaughtered after exposure to chemical contaminants without any testing, and entire contaminated farms that continue producing dairy and meat products without testing. And it is the large scale of today’s hydraulic fracturing that is making it so harmful, placing “the handling of huge volumes of toxic chemicals and waste products, as well as compressor stations and processing plants, near homes and farms,” Bamberger and Oswald said in an email.

    Since drilling companies refuse to reveal the exact chemicals in fracking solutions, and typically settle and impose nondisclosure agreements on any individuals harmed by the practice, there is nearly no record of how it impacts people’s health to live near a drilling operation. Doctors in Pennsylvania are even barred from revealing to their patients what chemicals they may be poisoned by.

    Although property owners often file suit claiming symptoms like breathing problems and burning eyes and skin, they are typically forced to drop those claims before the driller will agree to settle. That way, there’s never confirmation that fracking harms people’s health. This study constitutes an important step towards that confirmation.

    That report was from last year, so hopefully there are even more up to date studies on the impact of fracking pollutants on our health. If not, don’t worry. We’ll have lots more human data points sooner or later. Like the above study, which didn’t use data from controlled studies (because that would be unethical) and instead relied on data from two naturally-occurring control groups, researchers in the future should have plenty more naturally-occurring control groups, although they may not be very “naturally occurring”. Either way, these new fracking-exposure control groups are occuring:

    NBC Bay Area
    Waste Water from Oil Fracking Injected into Clean Aquifers
    California Dept. of Conservation Deputy Director admits that errors were made
    By Stephen Stock, Liza Meak, Mark Villarreal and Scott Pham

    Friday, Nov 14, 2014 • Updated at 11:52 PM PST

    State officials allowed oil and gas companies to pump nearly three billion gallons of waste water into underground aquifers that could have been used for drinking water or irrigation.

    Those aquifers are supposed to be off-limits to that kind of activity, protected by the EPA.

    “It’s inexcusable,” said Hollin Kretzmann, at the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. “At (a) time when California is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history, we’re allowing oil companies to contaminate what could otherwise be very useful ground water resources for irrigation and for drinking. It’s possible these aquifers are now contaminated irreparably.”

    California’s Department of Conservation’s Chief Deputy Director, Jason Marshall, told NBC Bay Area, “In multiple different places of the permitting process an error could have been made.”

    “There have been past issues where permits were issued to operators that they shouldn’t be injecting into those zones and so we’re fixing that,” Marshall added.

    In “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing operations, oil and gas companies use massive amounts of water to force the release of underground fossil fuels. The practice produces large amounts of waste water that must then be disposed of.

    Marshall said that often times, oil and gas companies simply re-inject that waste water back deep underground where the oil extraction took place. But other times, Marshall said, the waste water is re-injected into aquifers closer to the surface. Those injections are supposed to go into aquifers that the EPA calls “exempt”—in other words, not clean enough for humans to drink or use.

    But in the State’s letter to the EPA, officials admit that in at least nine waste water injection wells, the waste water was injected into “non-exempt” or clean aquifers containing high quality water.

    For the EPA, “non-exempt” aquifers are underground bodies of water that are “containing high quality water” that can be used by humans to drink, water animals or irrigate crops.

    If the waste water re-injection well “went into a non-exempt aquifer. It should not have been permitted,” said Marshall.

    The department ended up shutting down 11 wells: the nine that were known to be injecting into non-exempt aquifers, and another two in an abundance of caution.

    In its reply letter to the EPA, California’s Water Resources Control Board said its “staff identified 108 water supply wells located within a one-mile radius of seven…injection wells” and that The Central Valley Water Board conducted sampling of “eight water supply wells in the vicinity of some of these… wells.”

    “This is something that is going to slowly contaminate everything we know around here,” said fourth- generation Kern County almond grower Tom Frantz, who lives down the road from several of the injection wells in question.

    According to state records, as many as 40 water supply wells, including domestic drinking wells, are located within one mile of a single well that’s been injecting into non-exempt aquifers.

    That well is located in an area with several homes nearby, right in the middle of a citrus grove southeast of Bakersfield.

    State records show waste water from several sources, including from the oil and gas industry, has gone into the aquifer below where 60 different water supply wells are located within a one mile radius.

    “That’s a huge concern and communities who rely on water supply wells near these injection wells have a lot of reason to be concerned that they’re finding high levels of arsenic and thallium and other chemicals nearby where these injection wells have been allowed to operate,” said Kretzmann.

    “It is a clear worry,” said Juan Flores, a Kern County community organizer for the Center on Race, Poverty and The Environment. “We’re in a drought. The worst drought we’ve seen in decades. Probably the worst in the history of agriculture in California.”

    “No one from this community will drink from the water from out of their well,” said Flores. “The people are worried. They’re scared.”

    The trade association that represents many of California’s oil and gas companies says the water-injection is a “paperwork issue.” In a statement issued to NBC Bay Area, Western States Petroleum Association spokesman Tupper Hull said “there has never been a bona vide claim or evidence presented that the paperwork confusion resulted in any contamination of drinking supplies near the disputed injection wells.”

    However, state officials tested 8 water supply wells within a one-mile radius of some of those wells.

    Four water samples came back with higher than allowable levels of nitrate, arsenic, and thallium.

    Those same chemicals are used by the oil and gas industry in the hydraulic fracturing process and can be found in oil recovery waste-water.

    “We are still comparing the testing of what was the injection water to what is the tested water that came out of these wells to find out if they were background levels or whether that’s the result of oil and gas operation, but so far it’s looking like it’s background,” said James Marshall from the California Department of Conservation.

    Marshall acknowledged that those chemicals could have come from oil extraction, and not necessarily wastewater disposal.

    “But when those (further) test results come back, we’ll know for sure,” Marshall said.

    Glug, glug, glug….*gulp*

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 18, 2014, 1:06 pm
  2. Thirsty? No? You will be:

    California is letting oil companies dump their fluids and waste where the state gets its drinking water
    Associated Press

    Serdar Tumgoren, Associated Press

    Feb. 5, 2015, 2:50 PM

    BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — Regulators in California, the country’s third-largest oil-producing state, have authorized oil companies to inject production fluids and waste into what are now federally protected aquifers more than 2,500 times, risking contamination of underground water supplies that could be used for drinking water or irrigation, state records show.

    While some of the permits go back decades, an Associated Press analysis found that nearly half of those injection wells — 46 percent — were permitted or began injection in the last four years under Gov. Jerry Brown, who has pushed state oil and gas regulators to speed up the permitting process. And it happened despite warnings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 2011 that state regulators were failing to do enough to shield groundwater reserves from the threat of oilfield pollution.

    In California, “we need a big course correction. We need to get the system back in compliance,” said Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for the EPA. “Californians expect their water is not being polluted by oil producers … This poses that very real danger.”

    The injections are convenient to oil companies because drilling brings up 13 gallons of wastewater for every gallon of petroleum. And one of the easiest disposal methods is simply to send that waste back underground.

    The federal government is now demanding that state officials take immediate steps to find and deal with any contamination and end oil-industry operations in all aquifers set aside for families and farms.

    Those water supplies are especially vital because California, the nation’s most populous state and its agricultural leader, is now entering the fourth year of a historic drought.

    State officials acknowledge that regulators erred, citing confusion about the boundaries of aquifers and oil fields or long-standing state misinterpretations of federal water-safety requirements. The vast majority of the permits were granted after the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.

    For some of the permits, “we don’t know how this got approved,” said Jason Marshall, deputy director of the California Department of Conservation, which directly regulates the state’s oil and gas industry.

    In one case, regulators signed off on an application to inject wastewater into a federally protected aquifer, then realized their error and raced to the site.

    “He had done injection for about 20 minutes,” Marshall recalled. “We just said, ‘Stop! You can’t do that. Stop.'”

    So far, state officials say they have no evidence of water contamination. But worries persist.

    “The problem with just monitoring (for contaminants) is once you see it in the well, it’s too late,” said Timothy Parker, an independent Sacramento-based groundwater expert who has worked for the state Department of Water Resources and in the oil industry. “It’s very difficult to clean up an aquifer once it’s contaminated.”

    Over the summer, state oil and gas regulators sent the EPA lists of permits that allow oil companies to inject waste or production fluid into aquifers that were protected by the federal government. In December, the EPA gave the state until Friday to draft a plan for halting the practice and bringing the state into compliance with the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. The state has until 2017 to stop injections into any aquifer that has not been specifically designated for oil-industry waste disposal or drilling.

    Officials are determined to both “manage the transition” back into compliance with federal law and to “maintain a robust oil industry,” said Steve Bohlen, head of oil, gas and geothermal resources for the California Department of Conservation.

    Of the 2,553 injection wells that the state has identified as risking contamination of protected aquifers, 1,172 were approved by the state or began injection in the last four years since Brown took office, according to state records.

    Most of the permits were granted for drilling sites in central California’s Kern County, one of the country’s main oil-producing counties. Many of the injection wells are in oilfields thick with rigs, tanks and disposal wells. But others sit among citrus groves, row crops and homes.The AP found more than 170 permits involved aquifers met both federal and state standards for potential drinking water. That included at least 27 permits that authorized injections into aquifers with water state documents rated clean enough to tap for drinking without treatment.

    Note that Kern County, where most of the permits were granted, faces a tragically interesting conundrum: Moody’s just just downgraded Kern County due to a fiscal emergency tied to the plummeting price of oil. So…will Kern County find a way to even easier to drill in order to make up for lost revenues or move on to a non-suicidal economic strategy?

    Moody’s may cut rating of California’s Kern County after fiscal emergency
    Sat Jan 31, 2015 1:27am GMT

    By Tim Reid

    LOS ANGELES Jan 30 (Reuters) – California’s Kern County was put on notice for a possible downgrade on Friday by ratings agency Moody’s Investor Service, three days after the county declared a fiscal emergency.

    On Tuesday, Kern County in California’s Central Valley declared a fiscal emergency, citing plunging oil prices and growing pension debt as the main reasons for a projected $27 million general fund deficit in fiscal year 2015/16.

    Moody’s reacted on Friday evening, placing Kern County’s credit rating under review for possible downgrade. The ratings agency said the review affected approximately $86 million in debt, related to the county’s Series 2009A certificates of participation.

    Kern County, with a population of about 900,000, lies in the heart of California’s oil and gas producing region, and produces more oil than any other of the state’s counties.

    A roughly 50 percent drop in crude prices since July has cut projected oil-related property tax revenues by $61 million for fiscal year 2015/16, Kern officials said on Tuesday. They also said growing unfunded pension liabilities were increasing strains on the county budget.

    “In addition to Kern County economy’s concentration in the oil industry, the county’s credit quality is challenged by an above average, unfunded pension obligation and a below average socioeconomic profile,” Moody’s said.

    By declaring a fiscal emergency, Kern officials have the legal authority to tap into a $40 million reserve fund to shore up the county budget. It also gives them greater ability to cut staffing levels and benefits in the fire department.

    “By declaring a fiscal emergency, Kern officials have the legal authority to tap into a $40 million reserve fund to shore up the county budget. It also gives them greater ability to cut staffing levels and benefits in the fire department.” Hmmmm…sounds like they’re sticking with suicidal.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 5, 2015, 3:54 pm
  3. Thirsty? No? You will be:

    California is letting oil companies dump their fluids and waste where the state gets its drinking water
    Associated Press

    Serdar Tumgoren, Associated Press

    Feb. 5, 2015, 2:50 PM

    BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (AP) — Regulators in California, the country’s third-largest oil-producing state, have authorized oil companies to inject production fluids and waste into what are now federally protected aquifers more than 2,500 times, risking contamination of underground water supplies that could be used for drinking water or irrigation, state records show.

    While some of the permits go back decades, an Associated Press analysis found that nearly half of those injection wells — 46 percent — were permitted or began injection in the last four years under Gov. Jerry Brown, who has pushed state oil and gas regulators to speed up the permitting process. And it happened despite warnings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 2011 that state regulators were failing to do enough to shield groundwater reserves from the threat of oilfield pollution.

    In California, “we need a big course correction. We need to get the system back in compliance,” said Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for the EPA. “Californians expect their water is not being polluted by oil producers … This poses that very real danger.”

    The injections are convenient to oil companies because drilling brings up 13 gallons of wastewater for every gallon of petroleum. And one of the easiest disposal methods is simply to send that waste back underground.

    The federal government is now demanding that state officials take immediate steps to find and deal with any contamination and end oil-industry operations in all aquifers set aside for families and farms.

    Those water supplies are especially vital because California, the nation’s most populous state and its agricultural leader, is now entering the fourth year of a historic drought.

    State officials acknowledge that regulators erred, citing confusion about the boundaries of aquifers and oil fields or long-standing state misinterpretations of federal water-safety requirements. The vast majority of the permits were granted after the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974.

    For some of the permits, “we don’t know how this got approved,” said Jason Marshall, deputy director of the California Department of Conservation, which directly regulates the state’s oil and gas industry.

    In one case, regulators signed off on an application to inject wastewater into a federally protected aquifer, then realized their error and raced to the site.

    “He had done injection for about 20 minutes,” Marshall recalled. “We just said, ‘Stop! You can’t do that. Stop.'”

    So far, state officials say they have no evidence of water contamination. But worries persist.

    “The problem with just monitoring (for contaminants) is once you see it in the well, it’s too late,” said Timothy Parker, an independent Sacramento-based groundwater expert who has worked for the state Department of Water Resources and in the oil industry. “It’s very difficult to clean up an aquifer once it’s contaminated.”

    Over the summer, state oil and gas regulators sent the EPA lists of permits that allow oil companies to inject waste or production fluid into aquifers that were protected by the federal government. In December, the EPA gave the state until Friday to draft a plan for halting the practice and bringing the state into compliance with the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. The state has until 2017 to stop injections into any aquifer that has not been specifically designated for oil-industry waste disposal or drilling.

    Officials are determined to both “manage the transition” back into compliance with federal law and to “maintain a robust oil industry,” said Steve Bohlen, head of oil, gas and geothermal resources for the California Department of Conservation.

    Of the 2,553 injection wells that the state has identified as risking contamination of protected aquifers, 1,172 were approved by the state or began injection in the last four years since Brown took office, according to state records.

    Most of the permits were granted for drilling sites in central California’s Kern County, one of the country’s main oil-producing counties. Many of the injection wells are in oilfields thick with rigs, tanks and disposal wells. But others sit among citrus groves, row crops and homes.The AP found more than 170 permits involved aquifers met both federal and state standards for potential drinking water. That included at least 27 permits that authorized injections into aquifers with water state documents rated clean enough to tap for drinking without treatment.

    Note that Kern County, where most of the permits were granted, faces a tragically interesting conundrum: Moody’s just just downgraded Kern County due to a fiscal emergency tied to the plummeting price of oil. So…will Kern County find a way to even easier to drill in order to make up for lost revenues or move on to a non-suicidal economic strategy?

    Moody’s may cut rating of California’s Kern County after fiscal emergency
    Sat Jan 31, 2015 1:27am GMT

    By Tim Reid

    LOS ANGELES Jan 30 (Reuters) – California’s Kern County was put on notice for a possible downgrade on Friday by ratings agency Moody’s Investor Service, three days after the county declared a fiscal emergency.

    On Tuesday, Kern County in California’s Central Valley declared a fiscal emergency, citing plunging oil prices and growing pension debt as the main reasons for a projected $27 million general fund deficit in fiscal year 2015/16.

    Moody’s reacted on Friday evening, placing Kern County’s credit rating under review for possible downgrade. The ratings agency said the review affected approximately $86 million in debt, related to the county’s Series 2009A certificates of participation.

    Kern County, with a population of about 900,000, lies in the heart of California’s oil and gas producing region, and produces more oil than any other of the state’s counties.

    A roughly 50 percent drop in crude prices since July has cut projected oil-related property tax revenues by $61 million for fiscal year 2015/16, Kern officials said on Tuesday. They also said growing unfunded pension liabilities were increasing strains on the county budget.

    “In addition to Kern County economy’s concentration in the oil industry, the county’s credit quality is challenged by an above average, unfunded pension obligation and a below average socioeconomic profile,” Moody’s said.

    By declaring a fiscal emergency, Kern officials have the legal authority to tap into a $40 million reserve fund to shore up the county budget. It also gives them greater ability to cut staffing levels and benefits in the fire department.

    “By declaring a fiscal emergency, Kern officials have the legal authority to tap into a $40 million reserve fund to shore up the county budget. It also gives them greater ability to cut staffing levels and benefits in the fire department.” Hmmmm…sounds like they’re sticking with suicide.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 5, 2015, 3:54 pm
  4. Remember the case of the disappearing Macondo spill oil and Corexit, the mystery product used by BP to cause oil from the Macondo oil spill to sink and disperse? The BP spill cleanup workers no doubt remember, although some of the details might be hazy due to the memory loss cleanup workers experienced years after the disaster. Here’s a look back at how BP unleashed the Blob upon the Little Mermaid and the rest of her friends in the sea. Especially her friends on the sea floor:

    ABC NEws
    Oil From the BP Spill Found at Bottom of Gulf
    Sept. 12, 2010
    By MATT GUTMAN and KEVIN DOLAK

    Oil from the BP spill has not been completely cleared, but miles of it is sitting at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to a study currently under way.

    Professor Samantha Joye of the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, who is conducting a study on a research vessel just two miles from the spill zone, said the oil has not disappeared, but is on the sea floor in a layer of scum.

    “We’re finding it everywhere that we’ve looked. The oil is not gone,” Joye said. “It’s in places where nobody has looked for it.”

    All 13 of the core samples Joye and her UGA team have collected from the bottom of the gulf are showing oil from the spill, she said.

    In an interview with ABC News from her vessel, Joye said the oil cannot be natural seepage into the gulf, because the cores they’ve tested are showing oil only at the top. With natural seepage, the oil would spread from the top to the bottom of the core, she said.

    “It looks like you just took a strip of very sticky material and just passed it through the water column and all the stuff from the water column got stuck to it, and got transported to the bottom,” Joye said. “I know what a natural seep looks like — this is not natural seepage.”

    In some areas the oily material that Joye describes is more than two inches thick. Her team found the material as far as 70 miles away from BP’s well.

    “If we’re seeing two and half inches of oil 16 miles away, God knows what we’ll see close in — I really can’t even guess other than to say it’s going to be a whole lot more than two and a half inches,” Joye said.

    This oil remaining underwater has large implications for the state of sea life at the bottom of the gulf.

    Joye said she spent hours studying the core samples and was unable to find anything other than bacteria and microorganisms living within.

    “There is nothing living in these cores other than bacteria,” she said. “I’ve yet to see a living shrimp, a living worm, nothing.”

    Studies conducted by the University of Georgia and the University of South Florida caused controversy back in August when they found that almost 80 percent of the oil that leaked from BP’s well is still out in the waters of the Gulf.

    Their report stood in stark contrast to that of the federal government, which on Aug. 4 declared that 74 percent of the oil was gone, having broken down or been cleaned up.

    “A report out today by our scientists shows that the vast majority of the spilled oil has been dispersed or removed from the water,” President Obama said in August.

    The studies by Joye and other scientists found that what the government had reported to the public only meant that the oil still lurked, invisible in the water.

    Though initially denying the claim, BP — and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — acknowledged the existence of the dispersed oil. BP subsequently pledged $500 million for gulf research.

    “The concentrations that are currently out there in various locations are high enough to have a toxic effect on marine life,” said Charles Hopkinson, also of the University of Georgia’s marine sciences program.

    NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, the government’s top ocean scientist, has acknowledged concerns over the effects of dissolved oil, but has said that chemical dispersants had largely done their job.

    “Nobody should be surprised,” Joye said. “When you apply large scale dispersants, it goes to the bottom — it sediments out. It gets sticky.”

    As Dr. Joye pointed out:

    “There is nothing living in these cores other than bacteria,” she said. “I’ve yet to see a living shrimp, a living worm, nothing.”

    “Nobody should be surprised…When you apply large scale dispersants, it goes to the bottom — it sediments out. It gets sticky.” That sounds about right. Especially just months after an accident on that scale.

    Well that sounds nightmarish. And when you hear something like that four months after a blob attack, you shouldn’t be surprised when you read about things like large numbers of dolphin deaths in the blob-impacted region. You also probably shouldn’t be very surprised that BP vehemently denies that its blob had anything to do with with the dolphin deaths:

    Think Progress
    Unusual String Of Bottlenose Dolphin Deaths Linked To BP Oil Spill

    by Emily Atkin Posted on February 13, 2015 at 11:30 am

    An “unusual mortality event” among marine mammals — primarily bottlenose dolphins — in the northern Gulf of Mexico has been linked to BP’s historic 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

    In research published Wednesday in the journal PloS One, a team of marine scientists from across the country documented a large cluster of dolphin strandings and deaths in the Gulf of Mexico between 2010 and June 2013. Of those strandings and deaths, they said, most occurred in areas impacted by the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

    “[T]he location, timing, and magnitude of dolphin stranding trends observed following the [BP] oil spill, particularly statewide for Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, overlap with the location and magnitude of oil during and the year following [the] spill,” the research reads. “In comparison, the [Gulf of Mexico] coasts of Florida and Texas experienced little to no oiling, and … these areas lacked significant annual, statewide increases in stranded dolphins.”

    The peer-reviewed research is just the latest linking the Deepwater Horizon spill to extreme health problems in dolphins, particularly in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay. In a previous study published in 2013, scientists have said that the 4.2 million barrels of oil sloshed into the Gulf of Mexico may be linked to deteriorating dolphin health including missing teeth, lung disease, and hormonal imbalances. That study was funded by BP.

    “I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals,” said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration researcher Lori Schwacke, the lead author of the 2013 study.

    BP has vehemently denied that the oil spill was the direct cause of any adverse impacts to dolphin health. Indeed, neither of the studies imply direct causation — they merely note an overlap in the time of the spill and the discovery of sick or dead animals. BP has also noted that prior to the spill, there had been little to no studies of dolphin health, making it difficult to discern whether those problems were ongoing. Health assessments of the Gulf have shown other conditions unrelated to the oil spill that are detrimental to marine mammal health, including other types of pollution and cold temperatures. Because of that variability, the oil giant has made the case that the spill “didn’t ruin the Gulf.”

    “It’s important to note that unfortunately these large die-offs of dolphins aren’t unusual,” the company said in a statement to the Times-Picayune. “The study states that there were ten [unusual mortality events] involving bottlenose dolphins documented in the Gulf prior to 2010. Over the past years there have been dolphin UMEs relating to dolphins all over the world, with no connection to oil spills.”

    Wednesday’s research also acknowledges that the BP oil spill was not the initial cause of the unusual mortality event, noting that the blowout happened approximately 3 months after scientists had already declared that an unusual mortality event among bottleneck dolphins was occurring in the immediate area. But it speculates that the spill may have have worsened the situation. It says that “large increases in mortalities of birds, turtles, and mammals” were documented in the days and months following the oil release, and pointed out that the longest cluster of dolphin deaths occurred in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay between August 2010 and December 2011, where oil from the spill was present.

    The court case over how much money BP should be liable for the 2010 spill — the largest in U.S. history — is ongoing. Just last month, a Louisiana federal judge ruled that BP should only be held responsible for spilling 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, which is about a million barrels fewer than the U.S. government’s 4.2 million barrel estimate. Because of that ruling, BP’s maximum fine of $18 billion was decreased to $13.7 billion.

    Might the blob attack have something to do with the dolphin deaths? BP obviously doesn’t think so, suggesting that it could be due to other types of pollution. Aha.

    And, of course, since it was a blob attack that didn’t just include the sea, but also the surrounding coastal region , we also probably shouldn’t be surprised if the blob attack’s left a lot of human survivors that are going to be feeling the dolphins’ pain for many years to come:

    Eagle Ford Texas
    Chemical dispersant still wreaking havoc in Louisiana

    2/10/2015

    Marissa Hall | Shale Plays Media

    After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, BP and the U.S. Coast Guard used a chemical dispersant called Corexit—the same chemical used during the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989—to break down oil slicks. The dispersant then caused those slicks to sink below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, oil is still washing up on the shores of Louisiana today and causing irreparable damage to marine life. Chemical exposure is also having lasting effects on Louisianans, particularly those with members who aided in cleanup.

    Vice News made its way to New Orleans to investigate an issue that’s commonly recognized across the state. Soon after cleanup began, workers started reporting outbreaks of lesions and boils on their skin as well as respiratory irritation. Men, women and children alike across Louisiana’s coastline are suffering from skin and respiratory conditions that doctors struggle to treat.

    According to the Center for Biological Diversity, dispersants like Corexit break down oil slicks by chemically forcing it into smaller droplets, which are then water soluble. Unfortunately, this means that the combination of Corexit—already labeled a toxic chemical with a high risk for humans—and crude oil can then absorb into the body, human or otherwise.

    Marine toxicology Dr. Riki Ott told Vice News, “Corexit is definitely a poison by itself. The trouble is so is oil, and when oil and Corexit combine, it’s actually way worse than either alone, because Corexit pulls it into the body, into cells.” Research shows that crude oil combined with Corexit is actually 52 percent more toxic.

    However, almost two million gallons of Corexit were used in the aftermath of BP’s disaster. Because Corexit is effective at breaking up the oil, much of it sank below the Gulf’s surface. Today, Louisianans have become accustomed to seeing oil along their coastlines as well as in seafood produced from the Gulf.

    In related news, BP refutes new study finding oil embedded in Gulf floor.

    As we can see, the BP blob attack and its Corexit ‘cure’ are still synergizing away in the Gulf and surrounding regions. And maybe still on the sea floor. And in the bodies of the blob’s victims.

    But in all fairness to BP, it really did make a valid point when the it suggested that the dolphin deaths could have been due to some sort of pollution. It’s true. Some other forms of pollution that had nothing to do with an oil/Corexit blob attack could certainly have played role.

    Like plastic. Plastic has long-polluted the Gulf of Mexico and the rest of the seas. Although you might not know it if you just set out counting the plastic. Yes, it turns out that oil isn’t the only petroleum product we’re dumping into the oceans capable of a disappearing act:

    Vox
    We dump 8 million tons of plastic into the ocean each year. Where does it all go?

    Updated by Brad Plumer on February 12, 2015, 2:00 p.m. ET

    What happens to all our plastic bottles and lids and containers after we toss them out?

    The vast majority of plastic trash ends up in landfills, just sitting there and taking thousands of years to degrade. A smaller fraction gets recycled (about 9 percent in the United States).

    But there’s another big chunk that finds its way into the oceans, either from people chucking litter into waterways or from storm-water runoff carrying plastic debris to the coasts. And scientists have long worried that all this plastic could have adverse effects on marine life.

    Now we can finally quantify this problem: A new study in Science calculates that between 5 and 13 million metric tons of plastic waste made it into the ocean in 2010 alone. What’s more, the authors estimate this amount could more than quadruple by 2025 without better waste management.

    And here’s another surprise twist: We still don’t know where most of that ocean plastic actually ends up. A separate study last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences identified massive swirling garbage patches in each of the world’s oceans that contain up to 35,000 tons of plastic.

    Yet those patches accounted for less than 1 percent of the plastic thought to be in the oceans — and no one quite knows where the other 99 percent went. One possibility is that marine creatures are eating the rest of the plastic and it’s somehow entering the food chain. But that’s still unclear.

    The new Science study, led by Jenna R. Jambeck of the University of Georgia, was the first since the 1970s to try to quantify how much of our plastic waste on land ends up in the ocean each year.

    The authors looked at plastic production rates, data on waste management and disposal in 193 different coastal countries. Putting this all together, they estimated that the world threw out 275 million metric tons of plastic waste in 2010 (much of it from plastic packaging).

    They then estimated that between 4.7 and 12.7 million metric tons made its way to sea — with a best estimate of 8 million tons. That’s enough to cover the world’s entire coastline.

    What’s more, the researchers find, the amount of plastic waste could quadruple (or worse) by 2025 unless better waste-management techniques are adopted — like recycling or a reduction in packaging materials used.

    So where does this ocean plastic go?

    Many people have heard of the Great Pacific garbage patch — a massive patch of trash that’s accumulated in a swirling subtropical gyre in northern Pacific Ocean. Ocean currents carry trash from far and wide into this vortex.

    And it turns out that there are at least five of these floating garbage patches around the world. That’s according to a separate 2014 study in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led by Andres Cózar of the Universidad de Cadiz based on the results of a 2010 circumnavigation cruise.

    These garbage patches aren’t visible from up high — or even from a passing boat — since most of the plastic is bobbing just beneath the surface, and most of the particles are smaller than 1 centimeter in diameter. Over time, the plastic bits get broken down into ever smaller pieces as they get battered by waves and degraded by the sun.

    ..

    And yet, what was most surprising to researchers was that these plastic garbage patches weren’t even bigger. There should be millions of tons of plastic in the oceans. But these subtropical gyres only contained up to 35,000 tons. In particular, there seemed to be much less plastic smaller than 1 millimeter in diameter than expected. So where did the rest go?

    In the PNAS paper, the authors offer a couple of possible explanations for why they didn’t find nearly as much floating plastic as they expected. The most troubling is that fish and other organisms are eating all the plastic:

    1) Maybe the plastic is washing back ashore. The problem with this hypothesis is that most of the “missing” plastic is less than 1 millimeter in diameter. It’s unclear why only smaller bits would have washed up ashore.

    2) Perhaps the plastic somehow breaks down into really, really tiny, undetectable pieces. This is possible, although the authors note that “there is no reason to assume that the rate of solar-induced fragmentation increased since the 1980s.”

    3) Maybe small organisms are growing on some of the plastic bits, causing them to get heavier and sink deeper into the ocean. This is also possible, although other studies have found that when these plastic pieces sink, the organisms on them typically die and the plastic bobs back up to the surface.

    4) Plankton and fish are eating the plastic. This one’s a more plausible hypothesis. After all, the tiny plastic bits that seem to have vanished are small enough to be eaten by zooplankton, who are known to munch on plastic. The authors also argue that mesopelagic fish beneath the surface may be eating a lot of plastic too — and, perhaps, pooping it out down to the ocean bottom. This needs further testing though.

    Assuming fish are eating all that plastic and it’s entering the food chain, it’s still unclear how dangerous that is. Obviously some marine organisms, like seabirds, can get digestive problems (and can die) if they eat large pieces of plastic. But what about very tiny pieces? There’s some evidence that toxic chemicals can cling to plastic in the ocean and accumulate — but there’s still scant research on how much harm this might actually do as it passes through the food chain.

    5) Plastic is accumulating in the ice caps. Meanwhile, a separate 2014 study in Earth’s Future suggested that a great deal of microplastic is accumulating in the polar ice caps. As sea ice forms and expands, the argument goes, it essentially “scavenges” the plastic from the seawater. This, too, might be part of the story.

    6) Someone’s estimating wrong. Alternatively, it’s always possible that scientists’ best estimates of how much plastic is actually entering the oceans are incorrect. That might help explain the discrepancy.

    Either way, something doesn’t add up — the current numbers suggest that the vast majority of plastic trash in the ocean is vanishing, and no one seems to know where it went.

    “Yet those patches accounted for less than 1 percent of the plastic thought to be in the oceans — and no one quite knows where the other 99 percent went”

    So there you have it: Our civilization’s proud legacy not only includes a giant Corexit/oil blob that’s managed to embed itself into the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico; the giant plastic garbage patches we all know and love represent only 1% of the plastic we dump in the oceans and no one knows where the rest went. Where do we come up with all of our bright ideas for ocean management? Who knows, although presumably not from the oceanographers. It’s another one of those mysteries.

    In related news…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 14, 2015, 6:55 pm
  5. Of course that’s what happened:

    Think Progress
    Oil And Gas Companies Won’t Have To Pay For Damage Caused To Louisiana’s Coast, Judge Rules
    BY KATIE VALENTINE POSTED ON FEBRUARY 15, 2015 AT 11:57 AM

    Oil and gas companies won’t have to pay for decades of damage to Louisiana’s coast, after a lawsuit filed against the companies in 2013 was thrown out on Friday.

    U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown dismissed the lawsuit, which was filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against nearly 100 fossil fuel companies. The suit, which the New York Times called the “most ambitious environmental lawsuit ever,” could have cost the industry billions of dollars for its contribution to the erosion of Louisiana’s coast. The state’s coastline loses about a football field’s worth of land every hour, and the wells drilled by the oil and gas industry have been estimated by the Interior Department to have caused anywhere from 15 to 59 percent of the erosion. The lawsuit would have prompted the industry to help pay for the estimated $50 billion in coastal restoration and protection that Louisiana will need over the next several years.

    Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), who had long opposed the lawsuit and signed a bill last year to quash it — legislation that was later found unconstitutional — praised the judge’s decision, as did the state’s oil and gas industry, which called the lawsuit “ill-conceived, unwise and divisive.”

    The oil and gas industry may not be off the hook quite yet, however — the Flood Protection Authority is expected to appeal the judge’s decision to toss out the lawsuit.

    Louisiana has lost about 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930s, and the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the state’s coastal wetlands could disappear in as little as 200 years.

    That’s bad news for the state’s coastal communities, which get some protection from storm surge from the wetlands. Sea level rise is likely to exacerbate the land loss problem: coastal Louisiana has seen its sea level rise at a rate that’s roughly double the global rate over the last 50 years.

    John Barry, former vice chairman of the Flood Protection Authority who helped create the lawsuit against the 97 oil and gas companies, told the National Journal last year that the lawsuit was seeking to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for its damage to the coastline, especially since the industry itself admits that it’s responsible for 36 percent of the wetlands loss.

    “People want to call me an environmental activist, but this is not about activism. This is about law and order,” Barry said. “The law required [companies] to clean up after themselves, and they didn’t do it.”

    Well, that was predictably depressing, especially since the group that brought this lawsuit wasn’t some coalition of private environmental groups. The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East was created as part of a state law following the Katrina disaster to oversee flood protection efforts.

    So an organization set up by the state of Louisiana following the biggest flooding disaster in Lousiana’s history with the mission of preparing for and preventing future floods, just had its biggest initiative yet for financing those efforts flood prevention efforts tossed out into the sea:

    Judge tosses coastal damage suit against oil companies
    Posted on February 13, 2015 at 6:50 pm by Associated Press

    NEW ORLEANS — A lawsuit filed in 2013 by a Louisiana flood board that sought damages — potentially in the billions of dollars — from scores of oil, gas and pipeline companies over erosion of the state’s fragile coast was thrown out Friday evening by a federal judge.

    U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown dismissed the suit in a complex 49-page ruling.

    The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East had claimed in the lawsuit that coastal drilling and dredging activities contributed to the loss of coastal wetlands that form a natural hurricane protection buffer for New Orleans.

    The lawsuit caused a political furor in Louisiana. The suit’s backers said it was necessary to hold energy companies accountable for decades of damage and that it was one of the state’s few hopes for funding coastal protection and restoration efforts with an estimated price tag of at least $50 billion over the coming decades.

    Gov. Bobby Jindal and oil industry leaders condemned it as an attack on a vital industry and said it undermined the state’s efforts to protect and restore the coast. The Legislature passed a bill to kill the lawsuit although a state judge later declared that law unconstitutional, a ruling that was under appeal.

    “We are gratified by this court’s ruling to dismiss this ill-conceived, unwise and divisive litigation, which we have contended all along was nothing more than an attempt to subvert the existing legal and regulatory processes,” Greg Beuerman, spokesman for Shell, Chevron and BP, said in an email. Those three were among more than 90 companies, some big, some small, named in the lawsuit. At least one small defendant settled and others were removed for various reasons. Brown said there were 88 defendants at the time of her ruling.

    “We appreciate the judge’s ruling and are pleased that this frivolous lawsuit has come to an end,” Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates Dirmann said in an emailed statement.

    Attorneys for the SLFPA-E, which oversees New Orleans area levee boards and bears many of the costs of protecting the region from floods, were not immediately available for comment.

    The lawsuit originally was filed in state court in the summer of 2013. The oil companies succeeded in moving it to federal court, where Brown, after months of hearings and court filings, granted a motion to dismiss the case. The companies said that the SLFPA-E had failed to make a valid claim under the law. Brown agreed. Her 49-page ruling dealt with the permits under which the energy companies operated and arcane law and court precedents governing drainage and the rights and obligations of landowners.

    The lawsuit thrust the little known SLFPA-E into a political firestorm. The board, comprised of flood experts, engineers and lay people from other professions, had been formed as part of a flood control reform effort following the catastrophic levee failures of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Jindal replaced some members as their terms expired, including historian and author John Barry, who continued to fight for the suit even after his ouster from the board.

    “The suit’s backers said it was necessary to hold energy companies accountable for decades of damage and that it was one of the state’s few hopes for funding coastal protection and restoration efforts with an estimated price tag of at least $50 billion over the coming decades.
    Well, Louisiana probably didn’t need all that lost land anywaysand presumably feels the same way about the remaining coasts…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 16, 2015, 9:42 am
  6. Oh great: BP has apparently “lost faith in the conciliatory approach it had been pursuing and decided to fight everything” regarding the environmental damage to the Macondo disaster. For instance, how do we know the Rhode Island-sized oily “bathtub ring” sitting on the sea floor surrounding the disaster area wasn’t seeping naturally from the sea floor? Yep:

    Bloomberg News
    BP Labors to Cast Doubt on Gulf Spill Study It Dislikes

    by Bryan Gruley and Bradley Olson
    8:00 PM CDT
    March 11, 2015

    (Bloomberg) — BP Plc has apologized again and again for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Lately the company has been sounding less remorseful.

    Take a look at “The Whole Story.” It’s a web page operated by the London-based company that regularly addresses what BP calls “misinformation” about the region’s recovery and legal issues surrounding the 130 million-gallon (500 million-liter) spill, the largest in U.S. history.

    BP recently spent 525 words on what it termed the “questionable science” behind a study by oceanographer Jeff Chanton addressing an abiding mystery: What happened to the crude that never washed ashore? His finding: As much as 5 percent of the oil that poured from the Macondo well settled at the bottom of the gulf, potentially damaging the ecosystem for years.

    The study was “problematic in many ways,” according to BP’s Whole Story page. Chanton didn’t prove sediment he sampled was directly linked to Macondo, instead of oil seeping naturally from the sea floor, according to the BP report.

    The website addresses a broad range of issues related to the spill. That includes research that, in many cases, BP paid for itself through an initiative it funds, but doesn’t control in any way. Access to the $500 million fund is determined solely by a separate panel of academics, appointed through discussions with the White House, Gulf state governments and BP.

    Chanton’s research is among the studies paid for by that fund. A professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Chanton said he sticks by his methodology for the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

    The company’s response surprised him, he said.

    “It’s fine for (BP) to have their say,” Chanton said in an interview. “I just don’t understand why they aren’t taking credit. They’re funding all this work. Why aren’t they proud?”

    Obligation to Speak

    BP, meanwhile, said it has an obligation to speak out on research it doesn’t view as telling the full story.

    “Misinformation persists about the recovery of the Gulf,” said BP’s Geoff Morrell, senior vice president for U.S. communications & external affairs, speaking generally. “Advocacy groups cherry-pick facts and misrepresent studies to paint an incomplete and inaccurate picture. This leads to a narrow, one-sided perspective, in which studies that demonstrate that the Gulf is recovering are often overlooked.”

    As the five-year anniversary of the spill nears, BP is waging a public campaign to promote the idea that the gulf has largely recovered. The company’s public statements have hewed closer to the adversarial tone of litigation than the conciliatory stance the company struck immediately following the well blowout, which killed 11 men and fouled Gulf Coast beaches from Texas to Florida.

    ‘Sensationalizing’ Reports

    On its State of the Gulf website, in speeches and on social media, BP has criticized researchers, plaintiffs’ lawyers and the media for “sensationalizing” environmental damage to the gulf. Recent targets include a study suggesting the spill hurt bottlenose dolphin populations and a research team’s admission that it may have overstated the impact on recreational fishing.

    At the same time, BP has touted studies suggesting brown pelicans, red snapper and killfish have held up well. The company has repeatedly mentioned the $28 billion spent so far in cleanup and other costs, and highlighted evidence that Gulf tourism remains strong.

    BP is making its public-relations push even as a federal judge is deciding whether to sock the company with a maximum penalty of $13.7 billion under U.S. clean-water laws. BP has argued the fine should be much lower.

    Jim McGrath, a partner in Houston-based strategic communications firm Begala McGrath, said BP’s responses shouldn’t surprise anyone. ’’At some point, any company would say, enough is enough, and we’re fighting back, and they’ve obviously reached that point,’’ he said

    Running Tally

    BP lawyers have defended the company in U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier’s New Orleans courtroom. The company’s public-relations specialists have been equally as defensive on the State of the Gulf website, including a running tally of false claims by individuals involved in “instances of fraud that have resulted in criminal charges and convictions.” The tally reached $19.9 million as of March 3.

    It also offers copies of newspaper and magazine ads BP has published, as well as press releases.

    “Checkbook diplomacy only goes so far,” said McGrath, who is currently a spokesman for former President George H.W. Bush. “At some point, you’re going to have to engage in the court of public opinion.”

    The most combative feature is The Whole Story page, where in more than 80 posts, BP has attacked research and media reports it believes overstate spill-related threats to the gulf. It started in October 2013, after the settlement negotiations with the U.S. and affected states collapsed.

    ‘Lost Faith’

    That’s when “BP lost faith in the conciliatory approach it had been pursuing and decided to fight everything,” said David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the U.S. Justice Department’s environmental crimes section, in an interview.

    Battling simultaneously on legal and public-image fronts could backfire, according to Uhlmann, who is not involved in any BP-related litigation.

    “BP’s public relations campaign will have no effect on the judge, except to the extent that it annoys him and leads him to conclude that BP is not accepting responsibility and should pay a larger fine.”

    BP’s approach bears some resemblance to Exxon Mobil Corp.’s efforts to minimize public and financial damage after the tanker Valdez dumped more than 10 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989. Exxon went to the extremes of tailing a boat full of government researchers in a cruise ship and subpoenaing thousands of their records, according to the 2012 book “Private Empire” by Steve Coll.

    “Any legal action we took was as a consequence of the terms and conditions of the settlement with the state of Alaska and the federal government,” Exxon spokesman Alan Jeffers said.

    ‘Prolonged Oiling’

    The study led by Venn-Watson on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stopped short of blaming the oil spill for the deaths of hundreds of dolphins while noting that certain clusters overlapped “with locations that received heavy and prolonged oiling.”

    In a Whole Story post, BP dismissed the study as repeating prior research showing the deaths had little to do with oil.

    “Unfortunately, large die-offs of bottlenose dolphins aren’t unusual,” BP said.

    Venn-Watson said the company’s remarks, while technically accurate, were misleading. The researchers couldn’t yet prove oil caused dolphin deaths but did highlight evidence suggesting the spill contributed, she said. “It appears BP chose to talk about the limitations (of the study) and not how strong or weak they were,” said Venn-Watson.

    In contrast, BP highlighted a study published in the Journal of Field Ornithology’s December issue that concluded the Gulf’s brown pelican population had survived the spill fairly intact. “Multiple studies have demonstrated that any impacts to the Gulf’s bird population were limited and were followed by a strong recovery,” BP wrote.

    Scott T. Walter, a Tulane University research fellow who led the pelican study, said BP’s characterization of the research was accurate, while cautioning that pelican problems could surface in coming years. With the Exxon Valdez spill, “there were long-ranging effects on birds up to nine years after the spill,” Walter said.

    Might ‘prolonged oiling’ have contributed to an unusual spike in dolphin die offs in the Gulf? That seems like a very reasonable conclusion, especially since that’s the conclusion marine researchers are arrive at after studying the phenomena.

    But as BP points out, we can’t be sure the deaths are due to all that prolonged oiling. After all, large die-offs of bottlenose dolphins aren’t unusual, so who knows what’s killing them. It could be all sorts of different causes. For instance…:

    Newsweek
    Whales Are Being Killed by Noise Pollution
    By Ben Wolford / April 2, 2014 9:52 AM EDT

    After a Eubalaena glacialis whale dies, it floats. Moby-Dick-era whalers knew this and gave the species—treasured for its high blubber content—its common name: They’re the “right whale” to hunt. Now, with only around 500 of them left in the wild, North Atlantic right whales are the most endangered whale species in the world.

    Harpoons are no longer their enemy. Eight out of 10 right whales bear the scars left behind by accidental encounters with fishing rope, one Georgia wildlife official told Newsweek. These thick lines can wrap so tightly around the whales that they die from lacerations. Right whales are also uniquely disposed to collisions with ships. By nature, they swim toward boat noises, which often leads to gruesome accidents.

    Worse yet, as the oil and gas industry lobbies for permission to drill offshore, scientists say the deafening noise from seismic oil exploration could spawn devastating consequences. Extreme noise pollution has been known to kill hundreds of whales and dolphins at a time. In the worst case, they say it could someday lead to an extinction right before our eyes. “We’re filling their ocean with noise,” says Christopher W. Clark, a senior scientist at Cornell University. He tells Newsweek that, “their whole social network is dependent on calling back and forth.” It’s how they find food and stick together. He believes the constant groan of ship engines has already contributed to slow reproduction of the large, aquatic mammals.

    There’s evidence that jarringly loud noises could also lead to a surge in mass strandings, the deadly phenomena in which droves of marine mammals flop ashore. Scientists know these groundings have happened for millions of years. In 2010, for example, archaeologists investigated the fossils of 40 whales mysteriously beached 5 million years ago in Chile. The cause of such ancient strandings may never be proved, but one recent study attributed their deaths to toxic algae.

    There is no single cause, and most mass strandings go unexplained. Increasing evidence, however, suggests man-made sound might be driving up their occurrences. Beaked whales are perhaps the most sensitive to sound. Under normal circumstances, they’re known to safely dive thousands of feet in search of food. But when they hear loud noises, they dive recklessly—sometimes to the point where they die from the bends.

    Research also suggests that noises may lead to strandings. In a 2009 study, “Beaked Whale Strandings and Naval Exercises,” American scientists reported that there were 136 documented mass strandings of beaked whales between 1874 and 2004. All but 10 happened after the advent of high-powered military sonar in 1950. Some investigations have expressly linked strandings to sonar.

    The instruments used by the oil and gas industry could be equally destructive. Seismic surveys use sound waves to paint 3-D images of what’s under the sea floor. Based on these images, scientists can determine the best places to drill test wells. That’s great for the bottom line, but not so good for nearby wildlife. A mass stranding of around 100 melon-headed whales in Madagascar in 2008 prompted an international investigation, and the International Whaling Commission determined seismic surveys for ExxonMobil to be the cause.

    The surveys involve loud air guns blasted every 16 seconds. A government protocol requires that no animals be exposed to noise greater than 180 decibels. By comparison, standing a stone’s throw from a jet engine sounds like 140 decibels. But it’s worse underwater, where sound carries much farther than it does through air. There’s evidence, for example, of behavior changes among humpback whales more than 120 miles away from loud noise sources, Scott Kraus, vice president of research at the New England Aquarium, tells Newsweek.

    In February, the Interior Department released a highly anticipated report endorsing the environmental safety of nine proposals from oil and gas companies to conduct seismic surveys off the coast between Florida and Delaware. It said that most of the harmful effects of sound can be mitigated and clears the way for drilling once the Obama administration’s temporary ban, enacted after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, is lifted in 2017.

    The Interior Department acknowledged the possibility of wildlife deaths because of excessive noise, but it’s not easy to calculate an exact number. For example, among bottlenose dolphins (like Flipper) the number of deaths and injuries could be 2,091 annually, or it could be 11,748. Causes that are cited range from collisions with survey vessels to the bends to direct injury from concussive sound waves.

    Marine biologists mostly worry about long-term effects. They believe that because noise and other obstructions are making it difficult for North Atlantic right whales to find food, they have had a hard time keeping birth rates ahead of mortality rates. In good conditions, the whales alert one another when, for example, one finds a nice patch of plankton, but amid the drone of ships these alerts are difficult to hear. One 2012 study co-authored by Kraus found that right whales suffer from chronic stress; ships have them constantly on edge.

    In response to an interview request, the American Petroleum Institute pointed to its previous statements on the environmental impact of these surveys. “Like all offshore operations, seismic surveys are highly regulated, and surveyors follow strict guidelines to protect marine life,” said Erik Milito, a director at the institute, at a recent press conference.

    Those guidelines involve a slow ramp-up of audio levels, meant to give animals time to clear out. Then during the seismic surveying, two government-certified third-party contractors constantly scan the area with binoculars. If something wanders into the area, they stop the work until the animal leaves.

    Milito says offshore drilling between 2017 and 2035 could create 280,000 jobs, extract 1.3 million barrels of oil per day and generate $51 billion in tax revenue—if seismic surveys are allowed to go forward. The oil and gas industry is confident environmental safeguards are effective, and ultimately the Obama administration agrees. The environmental study “analyzes the best available scientific information, which indicates that the potential for seismic airgun noise to physically injure endangered whales is very limited and would only occur if an animal was in very close proximity (meters) of a large airgun source,” says Caren Madsen, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

    And in case you’re curious, yes, the offshore drilling industry employs seismic surveying techniques in the Gulf of Mexico. But don’t worry, Flipper will be fine. Or deaf. Or dead. But if he’s deaf or dead that had nothing to do with the prolonged oiling or seismic explorations or anything related to human activities, especially BP’s activities.

    So stop worrying about the dolphins. Or, better yet, start worrying about the dolphins and all the evil things they would do to you if they ever got the chance. At least BP cares about you. Really!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 13, 2015, 8:58 am
  7. Good news for California: The state may have hit a ‘water windfall’. That’s according to the results of a recent study by Stanford researchers of the volume and quality of underground water reserves deeper than the 1,000 feet normally surveyed for freshwater usage.

    Of course, there are a few catches to using this water. For instance, if you suck all that water out of the ground, the ground might sink even more.

    Also, if California wants to eventually drink this water, it can’t pollute it with fracking and oil drilling pollution. That would seem like an obvious and avoidable catch, but since the study also found that almost one in three of the deep water reservoirs they studied had oil or gas activities running directly on top of them, it’s an unfortunately large catch:

    Stanford News

    Stanford scientists find ‘water windfall’ beneath California’s Central Valley

    New research indicates that California’s Central Valley harbors three times more groundwater than previously estimated, but challenges to using it include pumping costs, ground subsidence and possible contamination from fracking and other oil and gas activities.

    By Ker Than
    June 27, 2016

    California’s drought-stricken Central Valley harbors three times more groundwater than previously estimated, Stanford scientists have found. Accessing this water in an economically feasible way and safeguarding it from possible contamination from oil and gas activities, however, will be challenging.

    “It’s not often that you find a ‘water windfall,’ but we just did,” said study co-author Robert Jackson, the Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor at Stanford. “There’s far more fresh water and usable water than we expected.”

    The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of June 27, highlights the need to better characterize and protect deep groundwater aquifers not only in California but in other parched regions as well.

    “Our findings are relevant to a lot of other places where there are water shortages, including Texas, China and Australia,” said study co-author Mary Kang, a postdoctoral associate at Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

    A fresh look at groundwater

    Previous estimates of groundwater in California are based on data that are decades old and only extend to a maximum depth of 1,000 feet, and often less. Until now, little was known about the amount and quality of water in deeper aquifers.

    “Water a thousand feet down used to be too expensive to use,” said Jackson, who is also a senior fellow at Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and at the Precourt Institute for Energy. “Today it’s used widely. We need to protect all of our good quality water.”

    In the new study, Jackson and Kang used data from 938 oil and gas pools and more than 35,000 oil and gas wells to characterize both shallow and deep groundwater sources in eight California counties.

    The researchers concluded that when deeper sources of groundwater are factored in, the amount of usable groundwater in the Central Valley increases to 2,700 cubic kilometers – or almost triple the state’s current estimates.

    Complications to consider

    While this is good news for California, the findings also raise some concerns. First, much of the water is 1,000 to 3,000 feet underground, so pumping it will be more expensive. Without proper studies, tapping these deeper aquifers might also exacerbate the ground subsidence – the gradual sinking of the land – that is already happening throughout the Central Valley. Groundwater pumping from shallow aquifers has already caused some regions to drop by tens of feet.

    Furthermore, some of the deep aquifer water is also brinier – higher in salt concentration – than shallower water, so desalination or other treatment will be required before it can be used for agriculture or for drinking.

    Another concern the Stanford scientists uncovered is that oil and gas drilling activities are occurring directly into as much as 30 percent of the sites where the deep groundwater resources are located. For example, in Kern County, where the core of California’s oil and gas industry is centered near the city of Bakersfield, one in every six cases of oil and gas activities was occurring directly into freshwater aquifers. For useable water – water that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems drinkable if treated – the number was one in three.

    Jackson and Kang stress that just because a company has hydraulically fractured or used some other chemical treatment near an aquifer doesn’t mean that the water is ruined.

    “What we are saying is that no one is monitoring deep aquifers. No one’s following them through time to see how and if the water quality is changing,” Kang said. “We might need to use this water in a decade, so it’s definitely worth protecting.”

    “Another concern the Stanford scientists uncovered is that oil and gas drilling activities are occurring directly into as much as 30 percent of the sites where the deep groundwater resources are located. For example, in Kern County, where the core of California’s oil and gas industry is centered near the city of Bakersfield, one in every six cases of oil and gas activities was occurring directly into freshwater aquifers. For useable water – water that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems drinkable if treated – the number was one in three.

    A tripling of the state’s water reserve estimates. Exactly what California needs. What spectacular news. Now all the state needs to do is not do something totally insane like poison the water before it slurps it up years from now.

    And in unfortunately related news, there’s a high probability that California will have a major deep ground water contamination issue in coming decades…

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 27, 2016, 6:14 pm
  8. This is one of those stories that raises the question of whether or not the fossil fuel industry isn’t yet satisfied with its ecological damage and actively trying to take it to the next level Guess what just happens to reside on Cushing, Oklahoma, an area that’s seen so much fracking that it’s now the most seismically active area of the lower 48 states: 15 percent of the oil stored in the US stored in hundreds of tanks known as “tank farms”, making it the largest store of oil in the world. Plus there’s a nexus of 14 major oil pipelines connecting through there. And, again, this is now the most seismically active area in the lower 48 states.

    So guess who is designing the oil containers and pipelines in that area to ensure they can withstand the growing frequency and intensity off all the fracking-induced earthquakes: the American Petroleum Institute. What could possibly go wrong?

    Politico

    How Man-made Earthquakes Could Cripple the U.S. Economy

    Massive tanks in Oklahoma brim with unrefined oil, but they weren’t designed to handle the rash of seismic activity caused by fracking-related activity.

    September 14, 2017
    By KATHRYN MILES

    When Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, U.S. oil refining plummeted to record lows. Now, nearly three weeks later, six key refineries remain shut down and an additional 11 are either struggling to come back on line or operating at a significantly reduced rate. That slowdown, coupled with predictions of decreased demand in the wake of Hurricane Irma and the devastating earthquake that struck Mexico last week, has shifted oil pressures in other places, too. And none may be quite as vulnerable as the tank farms in Cushing, Oklahoma.

    Dubbed the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World,” Cushing is the nexus of 14 major pipelines, including Keystone, which alone has the potential to transport as much as 600,000 barrels of oil a day. The small Oklahoma town is also home to the world’s largest store of oil, which sits in hundreds of enormous tanks there. Prior to this recent spate of natural disasters, Cushing oil levels were already high. They’ve increased nearly a million barrels, to nearly 60 million barrels, since Harvey hit.

    This concentration of oil, about 15 percent of U.S. demand, is one reason the Department of Homeland Security has designated Cushing “critical infrastructure,” which it defines as assets that, “whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.”

    The biggest potential cause of that incapacitation? According to Homeland Security, it’s not terrorism or mechanical malfunction. It’s natural disaster. And here’s the problem: When most of the Cushing tanks were constructed, the most logical cause of any such disaster seemed like a catastrophic tornado. No one anticipated swarms of earthquakes. But that’s what began occurring about five years ago, when wastewater injection and other fracking-related activities changed the seismic face of Oklahoma in dramatic fashion. Two hours before that deadly quake in Mexico, for instance, a magnitude 4.3 temblor shook Central Oklahoma, knocking out power for thousands. The earthquake, which had an epicenter just 100 miles northwest of Cushing, was the 186th quake in Oklahoma this year to register a magnitude 3.0 or higher.

    This man-made seismicity has changed the landscape of Oklahoma significantly, from a state with one of the lowest seismic rates in the country to the most seismically active in the lower 48, says Ken Erdmann, senior vice president at Matrix Engineering, the firm that designs, fabricates and builds many of the tanks in places like Cushing. “It’s not natural. It’s not Mother-nature based.”

    That’s a problem, he says, because the statistical analysis used to establish safe environmental loads is based on historical intervals—both the average and maximums of events like snowfall or wind or seismic activity.

    “When those levels become man-made induced numbers,” says Erdmann, “statistics are no longer really relevant.”

    But while the number of earthquakes and their intensity have increased in recent years, the strength of the regulatory apparatus in place to ensure their safety hasn’t kept pace. Oversight of the tanks has been left to a tiny agency buried inside the Department of Transportation that was never intended to serve this role. And the safety standards, which one earthquake expert calls the weakest permissible, were created by an industry trade group rather than the government agency. For those inclined to contemplate worst-case scenarios, the prospect of an earthquake rupturing the Cushing tanks would be an environmental catastrophe far greater than the Exxon Valdez spill.

    ***

    When most of these tanks were constructed, seismic activity in Oklahoma was negligible. In 2011, the state experienced a 5.6 quake. Last year, it had a 5.8—the same magnitude as the quake that rocked Washington, D.C., and much of the Eastern seaboard six years ago. That Oklahoma event toppled the exteriors of historic buildings and prompted the Pawnee nation to declare a state of emergency. Seismologists at the United States Geological Survey say the area around Cushing is capable of an even stronger quake—maybe even a 7.0. Earthquake magnitude is measured exponentially, which means that a 7.0 quake would be 15 times larger than the biggest one to hit Oklahoma so far. And it would release over 60 times as much energy.

    What would it do to the Cushing tanks? I posed that question to each of the five largest oil companies there.

    Michael Barnes, senior manager of U.S. Operations and Project Communications at Enbridge, which holds nearly half the oil at Cushing, says it’s the company’s policy not to comment on speculative questions such as mine “because by their very nature they are hypothetical.” What he would say is that the company regularly participates in safety drills, workshops and other activities. That includes protocols preparing for seismic activity.

    “In the event of an earthquake, procedures are in place to respond quickly and confirm Enbridge tanks and other facilities were not impacted and can continue to operate safely,” says Barnes. “This includes dispatching technicians and other experts to perform visual inspections and check instrumentation on tanks, pipes, motors and pumps.”

    I received a similar response from the other energy companies with major Cushing holdings: that they have procedures and protocols for natural disasters, but that they would not comment on the specific designs of their tanks, nor how those tanks would fare in a major earthquake.

    Getting an answer out of the government can be just as frustrating. A big part of the problem is the Byzantine system of governmental agencies regulating these tank farms. This oversight varies from state to state. In Oklahoma, most energy concerns are controlled by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. But, says spokesperson Matt Skinner, the OCC only regulates intrastate pipelines and tanks.

    “If any part of that oil leaves the state or comes from elsewhere,” says Skinner, “it becomes totally outside of our jurisdiction.”

    Determining that jurisdiction is no easy matter. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates “non-transportation-related oil storage tanks,” but that excludes farms like Cushing, which are tied to pipelines. The official I talked to at the EPA couldn’t tell me who regulates Cushing, nor could the spokesperson for the Department of Energy, which oversees our country’s petroleum reserve sites. The Department of Transportation regulates oil and gas pipelines unless they cross federal lands, in which case they are the purview of the Bureau of Land Management or the military. Gas and oil produced on the outer continental shelf falls under the Department of the Interior, which works in concert with the Department of Transportation to regulate its movement.

    I called those offices as well, asking whether they knew what agency regulated tanks like the ones at Cushing. No one I spoke to knew—including at the public affairs office of the Department of Transportation. As it turns out, a tiny office in the DOT known as the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulates the tanks. Established by President George W. Bush in 2004, PHMSA was intended to increase security around the transportation of hazardous fluids like gas and oil. As such, it was never really meant to govern stationary storage. I asked its spokesperson what seismic regulations are in place for tank farms like Cushing. He referred me to Appendix C of the Pipeline Safety Regulations. And it is true that there are seismic considerations there: provisions regarding safety reporting, any “unintended” or “abnormal” movement of a pipeline, or reduced capacity of a pipeline because of seismic activity. But none of these considerations mentions storage tanks per se. I asked that same spokesperson to direct me toward the language relating to tanks. He has yet to respond.

    None of this surprises the OCC’s Skinner. “I’ve gone through the standards a bunch of times,” he says. “I haven’t found any relating to tanks and seismic activity.”

    ***

    If the government isn’t explicitly regulating the ability of the tanks to withstand an earthquake, then who is? Turns out that what standards do exist are created by the American Petroleum Institute, a national trade organization representing the oil and gas industry. And the standards are not overly rigorous, say seismologists.

    Tom Heaton, professor of geophysics and director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, says most, if not all, of the tanks in Cushing are built to the weakest industry design standards. He thinks even a moderate quake could be enough to violently push the oil from one side of the tank to another. In geological terms, the phenomenon is known as a seiche: an internal wave or oscillation of a body of water. The more oil in a tank, the more dangerous that seiche becomes.

    That makes tank farms like Cushing particularly vulnerable in the face of other natural disasters like Harvey and Irma as oil and pipeline companies engage in a kind of shell game for oil storage—full tanks do better in high wind conditions like hurricanes and tornadoes; they fare far worse in earthquakes.

    And certainly there is precedent for the kind of damage Heaton predicts. In the years after the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California, the National Institute of Standards and Technology found evidence of seismically induced oil-tank damage going back as far as the 1930s and as recently as the 1994 quake, some of which was catastrophic.

    But Ken Erdmann is circumspect about just how much damage a major quake might wreak on the Cushing tank farms. In addition to his role at Matrix, Erdmann also heads up the API committee that creates standards for the tanks. He says it’s true that the ones in Cushing weren’t built for moderate or severe quakes, and that the shaking caused by one would almost certainly be “beyond allowable limits” for the API standards utilized at the Oklahoma farms. Probably, he says, you’d see buckling and deformation of the tanks rather than full failure.

    The real problem, he says, would be the pipelines themselves, says Ron Ripple, Mervin Bovaird professor of energy business and finance at the University of Tulsa. Ripple estimates that an earthquake or other disaster would have to knock out half those tanks to have a real impact on the market. Of bigger concern to him are the pipelines, which control a larger volume of oil. He points to the October 2016 explosion of the Colonial pipeline in rural Alabama as a corollary. The resulting fire kept crews from repairing the pipeline proper for six days. During that time, oil commodity prices jumped 60 percent—the highest spike in nearly a decade. Exporters clamored to find work-arounds, including tankers capable of moving the oil by sea. As a consequence, freight cargo rates increased by nearly 40 percent. Meanwhile, motorists in Southern states rushed the pumps, elevating prices there, too—forcing the governor of Georgia to issue an executive order warning about price gouging.

    It wouldn’t be unreasonable, says Ripple, to see a similar scenario were the Cushing pipelines to go down. The Colonial pipeline moves about 100 million gallons of oil and gasoline a day—about the equivalent of the Seaway pipeline, just one of the more than a dozen that converge on this town. That pipeline was also shut down in late 2016, after authorities in Cushing noticed a spill. The effect of that shutdown had the opposite effect, pushing the price of U.S. oil below $50 a barrel, as international traders worried they wouldn’t get their deliveries.

    “Prices move through the markets fairly quickly,” says Ripple. “We tend to see opportunistic changes in prices right after an event. Some of those look like a pretty close cause-and-effect relationship between supply and demand. Other times, you’ll see impacts that leave us all scratching our heads. In the end, you just don’t know how the market and consumers will react.”

    Johnson Bridgwater, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, says he’s mindful of the economic effects of such a spill, but it’s the impact on the landscape and the people who occupy it that most concerns him. Imagine, says Bridgwater, if Ripple’s scenario of losing half the tanks came to fruition.

    “That’s 50 million barrels,” he says. “We’d be looking at our own on-land Exxon Valdez.”

    Worse, actually. The Valdez was carrying just over a million barrels of oil. A quarter of that spilled. And light crude, the kind of oil stored in Cushing, poses particular challenges to an environment, often killing animals or plants on contact and emitting dangerous fumes that can kill both human and animal residents.

    “This would not be a simple cleanup,” says Bridgwater. “You’d have an uninhabitable community for a long time.”

    ———-

    “How Man-made Earthquakes Could Cripple the U.S. Economy” by KATHRYN MILES; Politico; 09/14/2017

    “Dubbed the “Pipeline Crossroads of the World,” Cushing is the nexus of 14 major pipelines, including Keystone, which alone has the potential to transport as much as 600,000 barrels of oil a day. The small Oklahoma town is also home to the world’s largest store of oil, which sits in hundreds of enormous tanks there. Prior to this recent spate of natural disasters, Cushing oil levels were already high. They’ve increased nearly a million barrels, to nearly 60 million barrels, since Harvey hit.”

    The largest store of oil in the world. So much that the Department of Homeland Security labels it “critical infrastructure”. Critical infrastructure now at risk from man-made earthquakes:


    This concentration of oil, about 15 percent of U.S. demand, is one reason the Department of Homeland Security has designated Cushing “critical infrastructure,” which it defines as assets that, “whether physical or virtual, are considered so vital to the United States that their incapacitation or destruction would have a debilitating effect on security, national economic security, national public health or safety, or any combination thereof.”

    The biggest potential cause of that incapacitation? According to Homeland Security, it’s not terrorism or mechanical malfunction. It’s natural disaster. And here’s the problem: When most of the Cushing tanks were constructed, the most logical cause of any such disaster seemed like a catastrophic tornado. No one anticipated swarms of earthquakes. But that’s what began occurring about five years ago, when wastewater injection and other fracking-related activities changed the seismic face of Oklahoma in dramatic fashion. Two hours before that deadly quake in Mexico, for instance, a magnitude 4.3 temblor shook Central Oklahoma, knocking out power for thousands. The earthquake, which had an epicenter just 100 miles northwest of Cushing, was the 186th quake in Oklahoma this year to register a magnitude 3.0 or higher.

    But don’t worry, this critical infrastructure, which could cripple the US economy if disaster strikes it, is build to meet a standard. A standard created by the petroleum lobby, who of course has the public interest at heart:


    If the government isn’t explicitly regulating the ability of the tanks to withstand an earthquake, then who is? Turns out that what standards do exist are created by the American Petroleum Institute, a national trade organization representing the oil and gas industry. And the standards are not overly rigorous, say seismologists.

    Tom Heaton, professor of geophysics and director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, says most, if not all, of the tanks in Cushing are built to the weakest industry design standards. He thinks even a moderate quake could be enough to violently push the oil from one side of the tank to another. In geological terms, the phenomenon is known as a seiche: an internal wave or oscillation of a body of water. The more oil in a tank, the more dangerous that seiche becomes.

    That makes tank farms like Cushing particularly vulnerable in the face of other natural disasters like Harvey and Irma as oil and pipeline companies engage in a kind of shell game for oil storage—full tanks do better in high wind conditions like hurricanes and tornadoes; they fare far worse in earthquakes.

    “Tom Heaton, professor of geophysics and director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, says most, if not all, of the tanks in Cushing are built to the weakest industry design standards.”

    Well done, petroleum industry. And the tank farms aren’t even the biggest potential source of spills:


    The real problem, he says, would be the pipelines themselves, says Ron Ripple, Mervin Bovaird professor of energy business and finance at the University of Tulsa. Ripple estimates that an earthquake or other disaster would have to knock out half those tanks to have a real impact on the market. Of bigger concern to him are the pipelines, which control a larger volume of oil. He points to the October 2016 explosion of the Colonial pipeline in rural Alabama as a corollary. The resulting fire kept crews from repairing the pipeline proper for six days. During that time, oil commodity prices jumped 60 percent—the highest spike in nearly a decade. Exporters clamored to find work-arounds, including tankers capable of moving the oil by sea. As a consequence, freight cargo rates increased by nearly 40 percent. Meanwhile, motorists in Southern states rushed the pumps, elevating prices there, too—forcing the governor of Georgia to issue an executive order warning about price gouging.

    Johnson Bridgwater, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Sierra Club, says he’s mindful of the economic effects of such a spill, but it’s the impact on the landscape and the people who occupy it that most concerns him. Imagine, says Bridgwater, if Ripple’s scenario of losing half the tanks came to fruition.

    “That’s 50 million barrels,” he says. “We’d be looking at our own on-land Exxon Valdez.”

    Worse, actually. The Valdez was carrying just over a million barrels of oil. A quarter of that spilled. And light crude, the kind of oil stored in Cushing, poses particular challenges to an environment, often killing animals or plants on contact and emitting dangerous fumes that can kill both human and animal residents.

    “This would not be a simple cleanup,” says Bridgwater. “You’d have an uninhabitable community for a long time.”

    “This would not be a simple cleanup, You’d have an uninhabitable community for a long time.”

    And don’t forget, all of this could have been avoided if the state government of Oklahoma had simply exercised a basic level of caution in regulating its fracking industry. But it didn’t, so here we are, with the world’s largest store of oil sitting on a man-made earthquake machine.

    So with that national security/ecological nightmare in mind (and don’t forget that ecological nightmares are national security nightmares on their own) it’s worth asking what the federal government might finally do about this situation. And as the following article about the current head of the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, makes clear, if the federal government does intervene it’s probably not going to be the EPA doing it:

    The Atlantic

    Could Scott Pruitt Have Fixed Oklahoma’s Earthquake Epidemic?

    Critics say he could have done much more to help the state’s citizens.

    Robinson Meyer Jan 18, 2017

    Scott Pruitt is Oklahoma’s attorney general and Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. He has an interesting environmental record, to say the least.

    In the past few years, he has cast doubt on one of the central findings of climate science. He has sued the EPA to block it from enforcing rules against regional smog and airborne mercury pollution. At one point, he copy-and-pasted a letter from an oil company onto official state letterhead, added his signature, and mailed it to the agency he will soon run.

    He even has a long-running kerfuffle about chickenshit. Drew Edmondson, Pruitt’s predecessor, alleged that Tyson Foods and other poultry companies were dumping too much chicken manure into the Illinois River. The river had become choked with toxic algae. But after becoming attorney general in 2011, Pruitt dropped that case, downgrading it to a voluntary investigation. He simultaneously dismantled his office’s in-house environmental-protection unit. The poultry industry later donated at least $40,000 to his reelection campaign.

    Oklahoma has been ailed this decade by an “induced-earthquake” problem, the consequences of which have wrecked walls, windows, and property values around the state. In a normal year—that is, in almost any before 2009—the state only saw one or two quakes. It now experiences one to two quakes per day. In 2015, it endured 857 earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 or higher, more than struck the rest of the lower 48 states combined.

    These tremors are not naturally occurring. They are caused by wastewater injection, a process in which million of gallons of salty water are pumped deep underground. This water is often a by-product of fracking, the natural-gas mining process that has spread across the country and revolutionized the U.S. energy industry.

    During Pruitt’s time as attorney general, Oklahoma developed the worst human-made-earthquake problem in the country. The state as a whole was slow to deal with the problem, and, for many years, it did not admit the quakes had a human origin. After that, it neglected to rapidly slow the rate of wastewater injection. This has allowed medium-scale earthquakes to continue: In November, a 5.0-magnitude quake damaged the structures of downtown Cushing, Oklahoma.

    Johnson Bridgwater, the director of the Sierra Club’s Oklahoma chapter, says that the failure to address the quakes lies with every state official, Pruitt included.

    “There are various places where the attorney general’s office could have stepped in to fix this overall problem,” he told me. “Its job is to protect citizens. Other states were proactive and took these issues on.” He criticized Pruitt for staying “completely silent” in the face of a major environmental problem for the state’s taxpayers.

    Bridgwater’s concerns have been echoed by the national Sierra Club. “When a a 2015 report from the Oklahoma Geological Survey found a direct link between oil and gas mining and increased destruction and property damage from earthquakes, Pruitt did nothing, even though as attorney general he is responsible for protecting Oklahomans,” said a statement from the organization last month.

    This allegation is true, as it goes. There was a human-made earthquake epidemic in Pruitt’s home state, and the best thing you can say about his response is that it didn’t exist. But how much responsibility did Pruitt plausibly bear for the slow-moving disaster? And what could he have done about it?

    Oklahoma is not the only state to have seen a surge in earthquakes this decade. Nearly every state in its region—Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, and Colorado—watched the number of earthquakes rise in the years after 2008. So did other states that embraced hydraulic fracturing, like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.

    Each of these states responded to the phenomenon differently, says Cliff Frohlich, a seismologist at the University of Texas at Austin. “If I were to generalize, I’d say it depends strongly on the importance of petroleum in the various states,” he told me. “The states that have been more sluggish—or careful—are the states that have a big financial investment in oil and gas. But at the same time, those were also the states that had more history with it.”

    The various state responses present a natural experiment, of sorts. Arkansas saw temblors spike in frequency before Oklahoma did. It had a handful of earthquakes in 2008, then 37 in 2009, and then a whopping 772 in 2010. In July 2011, the state’s panicked oil and gas commission issued a blanket moratorium on new injection wells, and the epidemic immediately began to subside.

    Texas and Oklahoma have been more circumspect. In some cases, this caution came from a long history of oil drilling in the state. “People in the oil patch would say, with truth, that they’d been pumping stuff into the ground for decades and it had not caused earthquakes,” Frohlich says.

    Oklahoma was also hurt by its own geology. In Texas, underground wastewater tends to travel to the nearest fault and cause small slips. This triggers local, shallow quakes that don’t travel far. But in Oklahoma, the rock can absorb wastewater for years without showing it. Over time, all that built-up fluid pressurizes entire formations and causes deep faults to unclamp and slip. This creates “swarms” or “clouds” of earthquakes, as dozens of minor but harmful quakes strike the same region repeatedly over a matter of days.

    Oklahoma was also extremely slow to acknowledge that humans were causing the quakes to occur. By 2013, scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey had made it clear that injection wells were increasing the state’s seismic risk. Yet it wasn’t until April 2015 that the state government of Oklahoma admitted that oil and gas activity was causing the earthquake epidemic. By that time, there were an average of two quakes per day.

    Throughout this long period, Pruitt did nothing. He did not issue a statement about the quakes. He did not announce action to stop them. He did not resuscitate the state attorney general’s environmental-protect unit, which he had previously taken apart.

    Perhaps he had nothing to do. Oklahoma’s corporation commission is charged with regulating wastewater injection, as is the state’s secretary of energy and environment. If the state was lax in its response, the fault primarily lies with those two offices.

    But experts confided that there were a number of legal questions on which Pruitt could have engaged. The state’s earthquake epidemic created a number of thorny legal problems on which the people’s lawyer could have spoken. These include:

    1. As Arkansas and Kansas began restricting wastewater injection, companies operating in those states began importing water across state lines into Oklahoma. Firms working in Colorado and Texas also imported brine. In 2015, mining companies brought 2.4 millions barrels of wastewater into Oklahoma, where it was injected far underground.

    The state’s corporation commission has said it cannot stop the wastewater coming into the state because it would violate the Constitution’s interstate-commerce clause. Yet this is a legal opinion, and Scott Pruitt said nothing about this issue. (Nor did Oklahoma officials seek a new law from Congress restricting the trade.)

    2. Other Sooners found that even if they did purchase earthquake insurance, it did not cover their claims. In September of last year, for instance, the town of Pawnee experienced a 5.8-magnitude temblor, the worst quake ever recorded in the state. The shaking dislodged walls, cabinets, and flooring.

    Within a month of the event, Pawnee residents had filed 274 claims to insurance providers. Only four were paid out, in part because the insurance companies don’t cover damage that occurs as a result of the quake after the shaking stops. Pruitt’s office has done nothing, and said nothing, about the 270 unpaid claims.

    3. No one has ever been able to answer the biggest underlying legal question behind all the earthquakes: Who is liable? In November, the residents of Pawnee sought an answer and filed a class-action lawsuit against 27 oil companies operating in the area.

    The state of Oklahoma, through Pruitt’s office, could have taken the side of its citizens and joined the case as an “intervenor.” It did not.

    And while it is true that Pruitt does not regulate oil and gas extraction in Oklahoma, other attorneys general have involved themselves in difficult fracking cases. In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Kathleen Kane sued multiple fracking companies, alleging that they had violated environmental laws and leaked toxic chemicals into the water supply. Her elected successor, Josh Shapiro, won his election in part by promising to go even harder on frackers.

    Perhaps Pruitt has been distracted by his own allegiances. Harold Hamm is an oil billionaire who first made his fortune by fracking the shale deposits of North Dakota. He believes in the moral imperative to frack: “Every time we can’t drill a well in America, terrorism is being funded,” he told the Republican National Convention last year. “Every onerous regulation puts American lives at risk.”

    As recently as last year, and despite all available evidence, he also believed that wastewater injection did not cause earthquakes. He was chairman of Pruitt’s reelection campaign in 2014.

    Until they get an answer, the vast majority of Oklahomans have had to deal with repair costs themselves. One of those Oklahomans is Mark Davies, a professor of social and ecological ethics at Oklahoma City University. His home is in one of the safer areas of the state, yet quakes have made small cracks in its ceiling and external stonework. He has handled the costs privately.

    “Attorney General Pruitt has been quite proactive in relation to lawsuits that are supportive of the oil and gas industry—for example, his lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan—but [he has been] notably absent in his response to induced seismicity,” he told me in an email. “The question is, Could Pruitt have been more involved to protect Oklahoma and its citizens in relation to the detrimental effects of induced seismicity? I think the answer to this question is yes.”

    Rex Buchanan has a distinct outlook on Oklahoma’s problems, as he spent many years analyzing them from the north. Buchanan was acting director of the Kansas Geological Survey from 2010 to 2016, where he led that state’s approach to its own induced-seismicity epidemic. He retired last year after nearly four decades with the state agency.

    His role meant that he spent many days in his southern neighbor state, talking about earthquakes. ( “I drove from Lawrence to Oklahoma City more than I would ever want to remember,” he told me. “We were treating this as a regional issue.”) He watched both states come to grips with their earthquake problems and begin to address them. In Kansas, he even did the addressing.

    “Through all that time, I never dealt with anyone in the Oklahoma attorney general’s office,” he says. “Before [Scott Pruitt] was nominated for that post, I never even heard his name.”

    This wasn’t unusual, he cautioned. It mirrored how the Kansas state government handled earthquakes. In Kansas, he had been asked by the governor to fix the problem, and the attorney general was not involved. In Oklahoma, the state’s corporation commissioners and its secretary of energy, Mike Ming, took the lead.

    “Now, having said that, the situation in Oklahoma is way different than it is in any other state,” Buchanan told me. “Oklahoma is much worse, in terms of sheer number and magnitude of earthquakes. They’ve had class-action lawsuits, they’ve had Supreme Court cases. There were days in this process where I felt sorry for myself, but it was pretty easy to look at Oklahoma and not feel so bad.”

    And the attorney general could have had a role in managing quakes, he said. “These are people suffering damage to their homes and businesses. But they can’t point to any specific well, and they can’t point to any specific company. You’ve got people suffering damage, with what I couldn’t see as a recourse. That’s an important legal question, I think,” he told me. It remains unresolved.

    Oklahoma finally began to impose regulations on wastewater injection last year. Its regulations are considered among the meekest in the country. Bridgwater wants the state to act more aggressively—it still waits to to react to big quakes instead of proactively planning for new ones, he alleges.

    An independent report released last month by Stanford seismologists says that the state is on the right track, though it could move faster. In 2017, Oklahoma faces a 40 percent risk of another major earthquake. The state will not return to normal seismicity until the end of the 2020s.

    ———-

    “Could Scott Pruitt Have Fixed Oklahoma’s Earthquake Epidemic?” by Robinson Meyer; The Atlantic; 01/18/2017

    And while it is true that Pruitt does not regulate oil and gas extraction in Oklahoma, other attorneys general have involved themselves in difficult fracking cases. In Pennsylvania, Attorney General Kathleen Kane sued multiple fracking companies, alleging that they had violated environmental laws and leaked toxic chemicals into the water supply. Her elected successor, Josh Shapiro, won his election in part by promising to go even harder on frackers.”

    This is the current head of the EPA. Because apparently we aren’t collapsing the biosphere fast enough.

    Of course, in Pruitt’s defense, as attorney general he wasn’t the state official in charge of regulating the fracking industry. But as the article made clear, he did have the power to intervene at a legal level but that never happened. For super mysterious reasons:


    Perhaps Pruitt has been distracted by his own allegiances. Harold Hamm is an oil billionaire who first made his fortune by fracking the shale deposits of North Dakota. He believes in the moral imperative to frack: “Every time we can’t drill a well in America, terrorism is being funded,” he told the Republican National Convention last year. “Every onerous regulation puts American lives at risk.”

    As recently as last year, and despite all available evidence, he also believed that wastewater injection did not cause earthquakes. He was chairman of Pruitt’s reelection campaign in 2014.”

    A fracking billionaire was chairman of Pruitt’s 2014 campaign. What a shocker. And at least by creating our own man-made earthquakes under an area of “critical infrastructure” the US is sending a signal to terrorists “don’t bother attacking this critical infrastructure…we got this!” It’s a very innovative counter-terrorism strategy.

    But perhaps the real shocker in this situation is that Oklahoma appears to have belated started regulating the fracking wastewater injections last year. And according to an independent report the state is on track to return to “normal seismicity” in the next decade:


    Oklahoma finally began to impose regulations on wastewater injection last year. Its regulations are considered among the meekest in the country. Bridgwater wants the state to act more aggressively—it still waits to to react to big quakes instead of proactively planning for new ones, he alleges.

    An independent report released last month by Stanford seismologists says that the state is on the right track, though it could move faster. In 2017, Oklahoma faces a 40 percent risk of another major earthquake. The state will not return to normal seismicity until the end of the 2020s.

    But note that the report predicting a return to normal seismicity bases that prediction on the assumption that Oklahoma actually sticks with its new regulations and doesn’t somehow make the situation worse. Which, of course, is an open question. A very open question thanks to Scott Pruitt. Of course, in his defense, he’s has help. A lot of help.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 15, 2017, 2:18 pm

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