Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hitting the Petro-Jackpot: Everyone loses

Winds, tides and ocean currents, changing like spinning wheels on a slot machine, have finally lined up to announce a Petro-Jackpot! Floating and submerged oily, syrupy petroleum filth is the unwelcome payoff as it finally glides into the Mississippi Sound.

BP's uncontrolled gusher of oil has assaulted our protective pristine offshore barrier islands and now is flowing into the shallow marine nursery grounds off the Mississippi coastal shoreline. The gulf is carpeted with long wide dark and slimy rainbow slivers and miles of weathered henna colored crude oil mousse that bob and drift toward the horizon. This menace is now within sight of our miles of white beachfront along coastal Highway 90.

The futility of pleading "Somebody do something!" becomes evident. Trying to skim and contain the millions of gallons of floating oil before it comes ashore is like trying to scoop up and dispose of billions of flu germs from ten thousand sneezes. Oil, assisted by a rolling sea, splashes over and eases under so-called oil containment booms. Also consider that we have had a daily heat index here averaging 100º to 108º for the past month. Suffocating heat adds to the futility of trying to sop up oil and tar before it arrives to coat the blazing beach sand.

All the political rhetoric, naive denial and assurances that "Our Beaches" are pristine and somehow exempt from the nautical nuance of Ma Nature, has stopped. The hastily produced TV commercials showing happy kids splashing along our water's edge, and couples strolling on the beach with a setting sun turning the water golden have been pulled off the air.

Now multi-faceted environmental damage begins right here on the beaches and in the seafood-rich waters fronting Gulfport and Biloxi. Recovering from this long term damage will not be like recovering from Hurricanes Camille and Katrina. The area around Valdez, Alaska has yet to truly recover from a much smaller amount of oil carelessly loosed on its shores 21 years ago when a fully loaded Exxon oil tanker ran aground splitting open its tanks releasing its load of crude.

Looking at today's NOAA oil trajectory map, above, one can visualize a double lobed, fat tube of 30-weight toothpaste being squeezed, with the cap having been unscrewed right at the flat line just off Gulfport. Governor Haley Barbour has urged churches to have special prayer services. I wonder if entreaties to a higher power to cause the deluge to somehow miss "our area" suggest that the glop would be prayed away to "some other area?" This has puzzled me since I was a little kid.

During an active hurricane season here a few years ago a large evangelical church's sign on a main Gulfport street proclaimed, "Glory . . . God turned the storm!"

A category three hurricane, indeed, veered away from our coast right into Florida causing several deaths and terrible destruction in the tens of millions of dollars.

How about we call off the location-specific prayer tug-of-war and instead all go take a nice walk down the beach in a couple of weeks?

There's lots of power in reality checks too.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Oil and Politics: Reality comes home to roost

The black and white logic of "Tea Party" rage with placard-waving people demanding the U.S. government stay out of their lives has suddenly taken on a new color ... a multi-hued rainbow sheen.

Nightly video of the uniquely American goofiness of angry folks dressing up in silly hats draped with tea bags calling for an end to government regulation has basically dropped off the nation's TV screens. The weak metaphor of tea bags was replaced almost overnight with the real-life drama of an out of control sub-sea oil well blowout belching a thick, noxious layer of oil up to the surface of the Gulf of Mexico some 40 miles off Louisiana.

This past April 20th as angry "don't tread on me" gatherings were demanding government do less regulating, a barely regulated petroleum giant, BP, was reportedly demanding hurried up completion of a deep sea exploratory well a mile beneath its leased drilling rig. We now hear that BP's hubris in pushing to cut costs and boost profits literally blew up in their faces.

Eleven workers died as the Deepwater Horizon became a floating inferno fed with oil and natural gas from an uncontrollable high pressure well blowout. The unthinkable had happened with fail-safe devices failing at all levels turning the drilling rig into an unquenchable fireball which eventually toppled and sank to the sea floor five thousand feet below.

Today marks 53 days that an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil a day from the well blowout has befouled the Gulf of Mexico waters. By now BP has finally stopped most of their their denials, low-ball estimates and promises that a jury-rigged connecting pipe was "capturing the vast majority" of the oil. Clearly, PR gambits could not keep the oil off the beaches of the Gulf South, or off untold numbers of helpless birds and marine life. It is hard to not see the ugly evidences of a million and a half barrels of oil stretching from Louisiana to Florida ... no matter how much dispersant you spray on it.

This is a marine environmental catastrophe the likes of which the United States has never faced, and it it promises to only get worse as it drags on into the Fall as relief wells will attempt to stop the blowout.

President Obama has been portrayed by the Tea Party folks as a "socialist" for thoughtfully beginning to overhaul and reactivate regulatory agencies across government. Departments that have basically done nothing except the bidding of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and lobbyists for giants of industry like BP for more than a decade are finally getting new marching orders. Unfortunately the disgraced Minerals Management Service with its Bush era staffing had not had their house cleaning yet and had allowed BP to skip past major environmental requirements.

I must ask the tea-bag draped folks who insist our government should take a hands-off approach to "their lives" what their reaction is to the increasing disaster along the coastline where I live. We don't see the funny hats and tea bags and self-righteous placards down here any more. Any blame game is long over, replaced by a scramble by hard working people and businesses dependent upon the Gulf just to make it day to day.

If anything, there is a quiet, resigned realization here that while BP is being held responsible for picking up the huge tab for the mess they have made, no one genuinely expects this huge corporation will ever pay up in full. They most certainly will tie up their legal responsibilities in the courts for years and years while we face dealing with the unimaginable long term damage they caused.

As we clean up the mess here, there are lessons to be learned from Valdez, Alaska where, twenty years later, their shores are still polluted from the Exxon Valdez tanker spill and once vital fishing industries have vanished.

To help understand the size of our disaster, the amount of the Valdez spill is now being released into the Gulf of Mexico every 8 to 10 days. This ain't no tea party.

Photo montage by Larry Ray

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

BP's Oily image and the Oopsie Daisy

It's Wednesday afternoon and BP officials have issued yet another announcement that all is not well with attempts to control their out of control gushing oil well. Another halt has been called in operations because a diamond encrusted loop saw has lost its glitter. It is jammed trying to lop off a crumpled riser pipe on top of the wide-open blowout preventer that failed to prevent after the well blew out and the rig above exploded and sank. The last-resort, half million dollar safety shut off valve failed to do a damned thing except to continue to allow tens of millions of gallons of raw crude oil to gush into the Gulf waters offshore from where I live. The record-breaking oil slick has been been growing since April 20th ... 44 days of impotence for BP.

Being powerless to do anything, I decided to redesign the cheery green and yellow enviro-daisy that BP's worldwide advertising folks suggest takes the oil giant "Beyond Petroleum." And it is true, they are at least a mile beyond petroleum gushing out of their well 5,007 feet below on the sea floor of the Gulf Of Mexico.

The oil soaked salt marshes of nearby South Louisiana suggested the theme for the revised BP logo. My new design might be an optical illusion, (or maybe optical pollution) . . . the cheery original green daisy logo has turned into an "Oopsie Daisy." Look at it long enough and you can see it morph into oil soaked birds and other marine critters.

Last night oil arrived on Petit Bois island just off our coastline between Biloxi and Pascagoula. More on the way we are told. The sugar white Florida beaches are now seriously threatened.

Oh, by the way if the diamond bladed saw does finish its cut through the crimped drill riser pipe which had been helping restrict the full pressure of the escaping oil, at least 20% more oil will immediately start to gush out, possibly lots more than that. BP says "in a few days" they will then "try to fit a containment cap" over the cut off pipe base to bring the oil to the surface into one of their tankers.

If that attempt works it will be the first of their cobbled-together, brainstormed ideas to do so. But if this gambit fails, like the others, we will have to wait till the end of August for two relief wells now drilling to reach the original well bore and try to seal it off. That extra increased flow from the sawed off riser pipe will also increase BP's disaster record by that additional 20% of oil they have decided to risk allowing to escape for the next three months.

This should present an opportunity for an even darker daisy design . . . if BP doesn't decide to just change its name and deflower its logo altogether for something that 'posies' less risk.

Here's a Google Earth Map of the size of the spill as I post this article.