Officials respond to oil near Florida beaches; 90 days to stop

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On April 30, ten days after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon:

Governor Charlie Crist announced a state of emergency for the Panhandle counties.

Attorney General Bill McCollum issued a statement regarding meeting with Attorneys General from Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana tomorrow to discuss shared impacts and explore legal options.

President Obama shelves new offshore oil drilling until proper safety measures can be provided.

A leaked report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Emergency Ops document dated April 28 has the Coast Guard preparing for a worst case release that could potentially become an unchecked gusher meaning that instead of releasing 5,000 barrels a day or 210,000 gallons a day, it would release 50,000 barrels a day, or 2.1 million gallons a day.

“The following is not public,” reads the report, “Two additional release points were found today. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought.”

The concern is that kinks in the piping and a deteriorating wellhead are what’s currently controlling the flow to 5,000 barrels a day. The other concern is that sand which is an integral part of the formations that normally holds the oil under the Gulf is essentially sandblasting the pipe. The formation that was being drilled by the Deepwater Horizon is reported to have tens of millions of barrels of oil.

“The loss of a wellhead, this is totally unprecedented,” said Ron Gouget, a former oil spill response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “How bad it could get from that, you will have a tremendous volume of oil that is going to be offgassing on the coast. Depending on how much wind is there, and how those gases build up, that’s a significant health concern.”

“We’ll take help from anyone,” Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP’s exploration and production unit, said on NBC’s TODAY show.

“We’re not interested in where the idea comes from, what we’re interested in is how do we stop this flow and how do we stop it now?” Suttles said.

So, as the four Gulf Atlantic states, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida brace for the oncoming oil slick that is pouring from the ocean’s floor spewing more than 5,000 barrels or 210,000 gallons a day, it is ironic to recall President Obama’s comment just last week,  ”It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills.”

Today, President Obama announced that he will be shelving any new offshore oil drilling until rigs have new safeguards to prevent a repeat of the explosion and the devastation being caused by the massive oil spill that is threatening to be the worse than any in our history and if the wellhead is lost perhaps the world.

The leak erupted when the Deepwater Horizon platform approximately 50 miles offshore sank April 22, two days after a huge explosion on April 20 that killed 11 workers, forming a giant oil slick that threatens to pollute Louisiana’s fragile wetlands. This could be Florida’s headlines and considering that Governor Charlie Crist just issued a state of emergency for the panhandle region of the state it might be by tomorrow. Ten days later and BP officials are stating that it may take up to ninety days to fully cap the leak.

It is difficult to conceive that BP could not anticipate that an oil rig engulfed in flames would sink and cause further damage. Preparation for what might happen next to the worst case scenario should have been expected, and proactive rather than reactive measures should have been in place almost immediately. The company is today ramping up preparations for a major protection and cleaning effort on the shorelines of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Houma, Louisiana, the incident command post which is over-seeing the offshore containment effort and onshore response in Louisiana, BP is now establishing a similar onshore incident command post in Mobile, Alabama to oversee the onshore response in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Work will continue to complete installing marine protection booms along the coast. As well as 180,000 feet of boom already in the water, an additional 300,000 feet is staged or in the process of being deployed, with more on the way.

“In the past few days I have seen the full extent of BP’s global resources and capability being brought to bear on this problem, and welcome the offers of further assistance we have had from government agencies, oil companies and members of the public to defend the shoreline and fight this spill. We are determined to succeed.” said BP Group Chief Executive Tony Hayward.

Preliminary estimates indicate that current efforts to contain the spill and secure the well are costing the MC252 owners about $6 million per day with those costs expected to rise exponentially. To follow BP efforts to deal with this environmental crisis, visit www.deepwaterhorizonresponse.com.

According to a report “Potential Impacts of Oil & Gas Exploration in the Gulf”, dated February 2010, that was prepared by the Collins Center for Public Policy for presentation to the Century Commission for a Sustainable Florida, it was estimated that Florida would produce less than one week’s worth of national consumption or about 110 million barrels from oil rigs offshore its coasts.

Floridians have been reassured that our tourist business would not suffer visual “pollution” from an offshore oil rig as it would be under the ocean and too far away to be visible. This, we have been told, is because the technology is so advanced that this is possible. So if this same thinking is true then why would it take ten days for them to determine that the oil spill is serious and then require an additional ninety days to stop? This does not sound like very advanced technology in action. It sounds like wishful thinking hoping that a 2009 report by the U.S. Minerals and Management Service (New oil rig safety eyed even before blast” by Cain Burdeau, Miami Herald 4.23.10) which states that human error has been the cause of almost every oil spill isn’t true. It has also been shown by various investigations that the oil rigs are not currently being built to the level that is required for safe operation.

Considering human error is a major factor in oil spill accidents, it seems unlikely that this will be the last disaster that we will see. Drilling for oil is an idea that has come and perhaps should be reconsidered, to both stop the expansion of oil drilling as well phase out current operations.

As Americans we react when a crisis hits. Until then we are too often complacent settled into the routine of our lives without considering the ramifications of larger issues until it is driven home in a personal way. Perhaps it takes a boat to permanently scar the Great barrier Reef for two miles or for a huge oil rig to explode, collapse into the ocean setting off an oil spill of ever increasing magnitude.

The idea that President Obama has decided that this is a “bridge” approach to releasing us from our dependence on foreign oil and making us safer from terrorism until the renewable energy technology catches up is not going to work. There needs to be a dramatic shift from fossil fuel as a mainstay to meet our overly presumptuous energy needs and switch the need to renewables that at the worst might hit some one over the head with a solar panel. It cannot be gradual, it must be dramatic, a committed well thought out speaking to the right people who are not motivated by profit but by what is right and the picture in Louisiana couldn’t be more wrong.

Whether done for the right reasons or the wrong ones, when the legislative session for Florida recently dropped the bill pursuing lifting the moratorium for offshore oil drilling it sent a very clear message that this was not acceptable. The people made a hard choice (shame on you in the middle of the state who almost unilaterally voted for the drilling, you don’t go to the ocean so you don’t care?), and said no. With the current oil spill disaster that seems to increase in severity by the hour there is again a clear message being sent that this is not a source to fill our energy needs. We cannot afford the environmental, economic and social damage done by these kind of natural disasters. Even if BP pays back the federal government for the costs of stopping and reversing the current damage, it has taxed the system in ways that are difficult or nearly impossible to pay back.

An additional statement by Attorney General Bill McCollum today is one that we all hope is long remembered after this incident. “This mishap is an unfortunate example of why drilling threatens our state’s most precious resources – our pristine beaches, our vast wetlands, and countless other environmental treasures. Until technology advances, we must continue to be extraordinarily cautious with our consideration of any proposal that would further jeopardize our beaches and our environment for future generations.”

Signs sometimes appear subtlety; other times it is the hit-you-over-the-head kind. It seems that a massive oil spill not long after President Obama expressed his intentions to expand offshore oil and gas drilling seems auspicious.

President Obama won the Nobel Peace prize because of the idea of a promise of what he can do not what he has yet done. It is time for him to earn this most coveted of prizes and reconsider his position as to the pathway to release the United States from the grip of oil terrorism. Be the president we voted you to be, find a better way, a sustainable way, the world is watching.

Want the “cherry” on top? A second oil rig has overturned in the Charenton channel near Morgan City, Louisiana. So far, no injuries or oil spill have been reported. The vessel has a 20,000 gallon diesel fuel capacity. Even the environmental watchdog on high has a wry sense of humor.

Locally, we have stated that offshore oil drilling along the coast of Florida is not acceptable with  Hands Across the Sand, Rally for Clean Beaches and cities like Davie, Fort lauderdale and more passing ordinances opposing lifting the moratorium on offshore oil drilling.

To get involved:

350org:  http://www.350.org/drilling-ban

Surfrider Foundation

Environmental Defense Fund

Tell Ten Today, Tell Ten (million) Tomorrow! campaign

Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana website

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