Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How Much Oil Must Be Spilt on Louisiana's Coast Before that Coast is Worth Saving?

The BP Gulf Gusher hit day 57 today. Somewhere between 40 million and 55 million gallons of oil have blown from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico since the well blew out on April 20 and relief is at least six weeks away.

Tens of millions more gallons of oil will have gushed by the time relief wells are completed in August. If the relief wells work, the end of the beginning of this nightmare might be over. BP's record of predicting when they will get this well under control is almost as shoddy as its safety record for North American operations in recent years.

There are doubts within the industry that the relief wells themselves will work in putting an end to the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Louisiana political and business leaders are working more frantically to bring an end to the six-month moratorium on deep water drilling ordered by President Obama than they are to protect Louisiana's coast.

Governor Jindal led a pep rally in Houma and called the White House to urge an end to the moratorium.

Senator David Vitter (John DC/LA) wrote a letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar calling for an end to the moratorium — ooops! No, this letter to the White House is the one I meant to link to (sorry!).

Senator Mary Landrieu questioned Salazar about why the moratorium was ordered when his panel of experts convened in the wake of the blowout did not recommend it.

Newly minted interim Lieutenant Governor Scott Angelle blasted the President claiming the moratorium was based on his dislike of the industry when Angelle launched a PR effort to gin up state support for an end to the ban (or is this another Jindal fund-raising effort by Angelle while on public duty?).

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell criticized the moratorium during a presentation to a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday (but it did not help him get approval to direct legal work to his contributors the best legal minds he could find to sue BP). And, of course, the Louisiana House of Representatives took a position, as well.

At the core of the issue for those politicians is the fact that the moratorium will cost offshore service jobs. Just how many is subject to debate and the industry is playing it cute, saying they'll wait a month before deciding what to do. Interestingly, other governments are taking a tougher line on environmental and safety requirements as the disaster in the Gulf continues to unfold.

The fact that the affected companies include some of the state's largest political contributors in what has become the state's zone of the deepest political pockets (think the Bollingers and Chouests for starters) and it is easy to see why Louisiana politicians are clamoring for an end to this moratorium.

Money affecting politics? In Louisiana? Nah!

Beyond Politics

To hear his Louisiana critics, President Obama decided to impose the deep water drilling moratorium without considering the economic impact of the decision on Louisiana. That was not the case and, in fact, he made that clear in appearances in Louisiana last week. He also made it clear through a proposal to have BP pick up the tab for those oil workers laid off as a result of the moratorium.

One undeniable fact in the Gulf of Mexico is that the well on the floor of the Gulf that was once drilled by the Deepwater horizon continues spewing very large amounts of oil into the water, just as it has done for the past 56 days.

It has done this despite the best efforts of BP and all of the major players oil and gas industry to get this well capped and the flow of oil staunched.

As we see every day, nothing has worked.

Since the scope of the problem has been recognized, BP's peers have been providing the company engineering and technical assistance because they recognize that this blowout is a problem for the entire deep water drilling industry. Royal Dutch Shell is lending expertise. Chevron is helping BP. Exxon-Mobil is helping.

They are all helping BP because they see this disaster for what it is: a threat to the future of the deep water drilling industry.

And while there are those in state government and the industry parroting figures about how many thousands of wells have been drilled offshore over the years without any accidents, the Deepwater Horizon incident, the resulting gusher, and the so-far-futile attempts to stop that gusher prove conclusively that deep water drilling presents a much higher degree of difficulty than drilling in shallow waters.

Think about how many times someone from BP has used the phrase "never been tried before at this depth" in describing attempts to cap this gusher. Whether it was the Top Hat, Junk Shot, whatever. The depth has been an issue.

The Deepwater Horizon was drilling a mile above the Gulf floor. Other deep water rigs in the Gulf were operating at greater depths.

The industry has demonstrated on a daily basis that it is not prepared to deal with a blowout in deep water where pressures on oil and gas in the ground are greater, where the pressure from the water column of the Gulf is greater, and where the temperature of the water is more extreme. These deep water operations are far more complex than those in shallow coastal waters.

How can any serious person (that is, not in the pocket of the energy industry) argue to end this moratorium when the causes of the Deepwater Horizon incident are not known; when the measures that might better prepare companies to deal with future incidents have been neither identified nor implemented; and when the gusher resulting from the April 20 explosion and fire still has not been brought under control?

What Cost Louisiana's Coast?

Louisiana's environment, in general, and our wetlands, in particular, have long been considered expendable by the energy industry and by our state's political and business leaders. They were willing to sacrifice a football field of wetlands every 38 minutes in exchange for tax revenue and campaign contributions. When the tax revenue shrank, the political leaders were willing to settle for the campaign contributions.

Since the end of World War II, Jame Carville writes, Louisiana has lost more land than all of Delaware, a significant portion of that attributable to oil and gas activity in the marshes and offshore.

So, let the record show that only Dave Treen and Foster Campbell had the temerity to publicly say that this was a bad deal. Treen said it in the early 1980s while he was governor. Foster Campbell said it during his 2007 campaign for governor (he's still saying it today). Senator Rob Marionneaux of Grosse Tete tried to get a processing tax similar to that proposed by Campbell passed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon incident but got only six votes in the Senate.

The bottom line is that for the vast majority of Louisiana's political elite —in both parties — sacrificing Louisiana's coastal wetlands and the protections those wetlands provided against storms and tidal surge was an agreeable price in exchange for the largess of the oil industry in the form of taxes and/or campaign contributions.

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon incident, the cost to Louisiana's fisheries and coastal communities appeared to briefly bring around even those who had never shown any interest in environmental matters, such as the Barn Stormin' Bermer Bobby Jindal.

Ah, but when a few thousand oilfield jobs were imperiled by the President's moratorium, Jindal reverted to form, as did the rest of the political elite.

It is apparent that there is a price point where Jindal and others in the Louisiana political elite feel that Louisiana's coast is worth defending. What we are doing now is haggling over establishing that precise price point.

Early on day 57 of the Gulf Gusher, we know that our political elites consider the possible loss of  6,000 deep water jobs outweighs 40 million gallons of oil threatening the coast. If the moratorium sticks and the gusher continues for, say another month, would 10,000 jobs outweigh 50 million gallons of oil?

What if the moratorium sticks and the relief wells don't work (maybe there's a storm in the Gulf) until November? Would 20,000 jobs outweigh 80 million gallons of oil in the Gulf, probably a good bit of it in our wetlands and on our shores?

Our political elites say they value Louisiana's coast. We're just trying to establish the price at which point they will stop selling it out.


~~Just Me in T~~ said...

This entire toxic scenario is frightening……
Did You Know?
BP engineers alerted federal regulators at the Minerals Management Service that they were having difficulty controlling the Macondo well (Deepwater Horizon) six weeks before the disaster, according to e- mails released by the Energy and Commerce Committee.

“I don’t think this would have happened on Exxon’s watch,” Tom Bower, author of “The Squeeze: Oil, Money and Greed in the 21st Century,” said in a June 11 Bloomberg Television interview. “They’d be much more careful and much more conscious of the need to supervise subcontractors.”

WELL excuse me your sainted Exxon……. and Chevron and ConocoPhillips.

Let’s just take a look at a few of your past misdemeanours, and then we can consider again – if the moratorium on deepwater drilling should be lifted, and place it all firmly back into your nice clean hands!


Gilda said...

It is embarrassing to claim our legislators as belonging to and elected by Louisianians. From Jingle Bell to our Capitol Hill bunch to the local chiefs like Nungesser--what a pitiful lot! Their end-the-moratorium pleas are short-sighted ignorance personified.

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