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National Wildlife Federation says environmental effects of BP spill far from over

Oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill collects in a boom at Pass a Loutre on June 11, 2010.  

By Mark Schleifstein, | The Times-Picayune

Two weeks before the third anniversary of the BP Gulf oil spill, the National Wildlife Federation has issued a report declaring that the environmental effects are far from over and recommending ways to respond to lingering impacts and prevent future spills.

In the report, the federation calls for the Justice Department to hold firm in its efforts to hold BP and other parties "fully accountable for gross negligence and willful misconduct" in the ongoing federal civil damages trial being held in New Orleans.

 Such a ruling could trigger billions of dollars in higher fines under the federal Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act. Concerns have been raised that the Justice Department could call for a lesser penalty in an attempt to settle the case out of court.

The report also recommends that a significant percentage of the fine money be spent to rebuild wetlands in Louisiana along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

...The national environmental group also urged that any final settlement of claims against the responsible parties include a "reopener clause" to ensure the companies can be held accountable if future damages from the spill occur. That provision is required under the Oil Pollution Act, the group points out.

The federation wants federal, state and local officials to commit to spending the 80 percent of money allocated to them from Clean Water Act fines to ecological restoration. The law actually allows some of the money to be used to compensate for economic impacts, and some states have indicated that they will use some of the money for that purpose.

The group also urged Congess and the Obama administration to reform oil and gas leasing practices and permitting requirements to provide better safeguards for wildlife and the environment.

The recommendations were included in "Restoring a Degraded Gulf of Mexico: Wildlife and Wetlands Three Years into the Gulf Oil Disaster," which was released Tuesday morning.

...The federation report gave grades to key environmental concerns that have been tracked by federation scientists during the past three years. They were:

-- Coastal wetlands: poor. The report said about 1,100 miles of shoreline were oiled, including coastal wetlands that already were rapidly eroding, especially in Louisiana's Mississippi River delta region. It recommends using fine money to restore barrier islands and to pay for sediment diversions, as recommended in the state's 2012 Coastal Master Plan. It also recommends implanting strategies to reduce nutrients carried in rivers that cause low oxygen "dead zones" in coastal waters.

-- Sea turtles: poor. More than 1,700 turtles were stranded between May 2010 and November 2012, more than three times the previous annual rate of strandings, said Doug Inkley, senior wildlife biologist with the federation. Most affected were Kemps ridley turtles, which are the most endangered species of sea turtles in the world, he said.

The turtle population could be helped through the restoration of seagrass beds and nearshore habitats, removing obstacles to nesting on beaches at night, and reducing and modifying beach lighting that disorients nesting turtles and hatchlings, the report said. A small part of $1 billion that BP already has set aside to pay for natural resource damages already has been dedicated to several such projects in Florida and Alabama.

-- Bluefin tuna: poor. Bluefin tuna are already in significant decline because of overfishing, according to the report. Lowered commercial fishing quotas in 2010 and 2011 and better enforcement against illegal fishing may have helped improve the fish's population numbers in the Gulf, the report said. But it pointed out that the economic pressure on the fishery is significant, as evidenced by the sale of a single 489-pound Pacific bluefin tuna in Japan for $1.8 million. The federation recommended using oil spill fine money to buy more selective fishing gear for commercial fishermen to reduce incidental take of bluefin tuna and other species, and research into adjusting the timing and location of long-line fishing in the Gulf to minimize bluefin bycatch.

-- Bottlenose dolphins: fair. This rating is despite the loss of 650 stranded dolphins during the past 3 years, including more than 130 infants or stillborn calves. "The poor health of dolphins in heavily-oiled areas and continuing unprecedented strandings, including babies, ever since the Gulf oil disaster, suggest that some local populations could be in decline," the report said. "How long these effects will last and how dolphins will fare in less heavily-oiled areas are unknown and are cause for concern."
The federation recommends using fine money to assist in dolphin recovery by restoring coastal wetlands and ensuring a more natural pattern of river flows into Gulf estuaries to support the animals' food web.

-- Deep sea coral: fair. Scientific reports following the spill indicated that several colonies of deep sea coral near the BP Macondo well in the deep Gulf were killed. Laboratory studies show coral larvae species from the Florida Keys exposed to oil, the dispersant Corexit and an oil/dispersant mix, had lower survival rates than uncontaminated larvae.

It recommended that some fine money could be used to upgrade coastal wastewater and stormwater systems that would protect sensitive land in watersheds and help rebuild oyster reefs.

-- Shrimp: good. Shrimp landings in the Gulf in 2011 were near the average for annual shrimp landings in the previous 20 years. However, the report noted that contaminated coastal wetlands are used by the juvenile stages of shrimp, and wetlands losses are expected to be a long-term threat to shrimp populations.

-- Brown pelicans: good. Despite the good rating, the report pointed out that 826 brown pelicans were collected from the spill area, 577 of which were either dead or later died. Oil also contaminated island mangrove thickets used for nesting, and the effects of oil on fish eaten by pelicans is still under way. The report said fine money can help continued efforts to rebuild the coast's pelican population through the creation of wetlands and islands and restoring vegetation on barrier islands used as rookeries.

Last edited on Tue Jun 25th, 2013 07:38 am by sydneyst


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Research Suggests Some Coral Will Survive Climate Change

Caveats Included Regarding Changes in Reefs  

Some species of coral will be winners and others losers as ocean temperatures rise, a new study suggests.

The research highlights the complexity of the changes that global warming is likely to have on ocean habitats. And which corals thrive and which struggle could determine what the coral reefs of the future look like.

"The good news is that, rather than experiencing wholesale destruction, many coral reefs will survive climate change by changing the mix of coral species as the ocean warms and becomes more acidic," Terry Hughes, a researcher at James Cook University in Australia, said in a statement. "That's important for people who rely on the rich and beautiful coral reefs of today for food, tourism and other livelihoods."

Most studies of changing coral reefs have used the relatively crude measure of total coral cover to gauge the health of reefs. Hughes and his colleagues wanted to get more detail and to understand how the composition, not just the total size, of the coral changes in different conditions. [Virtual Dive: Colorful Coral Photos]

The researchers examined more than 35,000 coral colonies along Australia's Great Barrier Reef. The sites studied were up to 1,081 miles (1,740 kilometers) apart.

"We chose the iconic Great Barrier Reef as our natural laboratory because water temperature varies by 8 to 9 degrees Celsius (14.4 to 16.2 degrees Fahrenheit) along its full length from summer to winter, and because there are wide local variations in pH [a measure of acidity]," Hughes said. "Its regional-scale natural gradients encompass the sorts of conditions that will apply several decades from now under business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions."

The results revealed "surprisingly flexible" assemblies of corals along the reef and in different environments within the reef, the researchers reported Thursday (April 12) in the journal Current Biology. For example, on the crests of the reef, nine of the 12 major scientific groupings found varied widely from region to region. Species colonizing reef crests likewise varied from reef slopes.

Earlier research has shown that corals' survival could depend on the presence of warm-water genes. Some solitary coral can survive in extremely acidic [url=]]submarine springs[/url], but these coral look very different from the iconic reef-building types known today.

The ultimate effects of climate change could mean that the reefs of the future look very different than the ones of today. For example, if branching corals were replaced by moundlike corals, fish would have fewer nooks and crannies for shelter, Hughes said. But the findings also indicate the reefs will ultimately survive climate change in some form — if something else doesn't kill them off first. 

"Coral reefs are also threatened by much more local impacts, especially by pollution and overfishing," Hughes said. "We need to address all of the threats, including climate change, to give coral reefs a fighting chance for the future."

Last edited on Thu Jan 17th, 2013 03:33 am by sydneyst


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Beautiful Film on Bygone Coral Reefs of Planet Earth


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Hazards of Arctic Exploitation Defined by New Scientist

Rampant economic activity in one of our last wildernesses is a disaster in the making. The world needs the Arctic and we have a responsibility to protect it

THE Arctic is turning into the new El Dorado. Until now, exploitation of resources in the far north has largely been confined to the land. But with climate change ripping away the ice shield protecting the ocean, vast stores of mineral and hydrocarbon wealth - and maybe fish stocks too - are becoming exposed to humanity's most predatory instincts. This year has seen a sharp increase in preparations to extract wealth from the ocean's extensive continental shelves (see "Industries make a dash for the Arctic").

Last month, a group of UK parliamentarians - the Environmental Audit Committee - condemned the rush to exploit the wilderness of the wild north. In their report, the MPs called for the UK government to use its observer status at the Arctic Council, a federation of the eight Arctic nations, to push for a ban on offshore oil exploitation - at least until we have the technology and institutions in place to contain oil spills in the Arctic, and a liability scheme so companies can prove they can bear clean-up costs.

That is good - if their recommendations are heeded. But oil spills are only part of the story. No agreement exists on managing fisheries as they become accessible in the high Arctic, beyond existing territorial waters. The shipping lanes now opening up likewise need rules. The creeping advance of infrastructure on the tundra will fragment one of the planet's last wildernesses. And there is no general agreement to conserve it.

So as the ice melts and the snow disappears, a dangerous political vacuum is opening up. There is a compelling case that the Arctic should be governed in some way. Time is short - already global corporations are moving in, from oil companies like BP and Shell to miners like India's iron giant ArcelorMittal, not to mention Australian company Greenland Minerals chasing rare earth elements.

What form should this new governance take? The British MPs called for the creation of an international environmental sanctuary in the high Arctic, akin to the provisions for the Antarctic. That is a good idea. In an ideal world, such a sanctuary would include every part of the Arctic not already covered by existing settled territorial claims.
That would include the disputed Lomonosov ridge, pursued by both Canada and Russia, which stretches underwater almost to the North Pole. It might also take in the zone covered by the 90-year-old Svalbard Treaty. This places the northerly archipelago under Norwegian management, but allows economic activity by other nations - including, staggeringly, coal mining just a few hundred kilometres from the North Pole.

But even if such a sanctuary were created, it wouldn't be enough to save the Arctic in itself, of course. It's more likely that a bunch of scientists and conservationists would head for the far north and watch helplessly as the ice world melts. Only urgent global action on climate change can halt that.

The Arctic's fate is too important to be left in the hands of the Arctic Council. Unfortunately, it may remain that way. The world is engaged in a rush to grab the region's resources. What is really needed is a rush to accept responsibility for its protection.

Last edited on Tue Dec 4th, 2012 03:41 am by sydneyst


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No 2012 Drilling in Arctic by Shell


Shell just announced that it was stopping its Arctic drilling program for 2012!

It's great news and a strong reminder of the power that people have when they come together around a single idea.

Shell was set to kickstart the Arctic oil rush. The company had already invested seven years and about $5,000,000,000 to make it happen. But thanks to Mother Nature, its own incompetence and the millions of people who have taken action to save the Arctic, Shell's plans have been put on hold until next year.

This is our opportunity to make sure Shell doesn't get a second chance next year and to save the Arctic once and for all.

Join the millions who have already taken action to save the Arctic and add your name to our petition calling for a global sanctuary in the high Arctic.

The importance of this moment can't be overestimated. Other major oil companies are now questioning the logic of Arctic drilling. Only a few days ago, the Norwegian company Statoil said it was going to wait and see how Shell's plan goes before moving forward with its own in the Arctic.

Shell has made it pretty clear that Arctic oil drilling is an expensive and risky mistake.

This is a huge day for our campaign to save the Arctic. We should take a minute and celebrate what we have accomplished together. But the fight isn't over. There is still work to do if we want to permanently protect the Arctic from Big Oil and climate change.

Add your name to our petition today and help us create a global sanctuary in the high Arctic where polar bears and the other living creatures that call it home will be protected.

Save the Arctic,

Dan Howells
Greenpeace USA Deputy Campaigns Director

Last edited on Tue Sep 18th, 2012 11:21 am by sydneyst


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CATASTROPHE IN THE gulf of Mexico: devastation persists

It’s been more than two years since BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and unleashing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. More than 200 million gallons of oil fouled the ocean and Gulf coastlines, while the Center for Biological Diversity began decisive action to expose illegal activities and lax offshore drilling regulation.
  • A Center study shows that more than 82,000 birds; about 6,000 sea turtles; nearly 26,000 marine mammals, including dolphins; and an unknown, massive number of fish and invertebrates may have been harmed by the spill and its aftermath.
  • The spill oiled more than 1,000 miles of shoreline.
  • More than 2 million gallons of toxic dispersants were sprayed into the Gulf, which may be making waters more toxic for species.
  • Offshore drilling projects are still moving forward — without the implementation of at least 10 regulatory reforms identified by the Center as critical for avoiding another oil-spill catastrophe.
Since our action in the early days of the spill, the Center remains on the front lines of this still-unfolding catastrophe because — despite the massive scope of the Gulf disaster — many of the fundamental dangers associated with offshore drilling remain unaddressed.

We’ve launched 12 lawsuits and ratcheted up the pressure on politicians to reform offshore oversight, halt dangerous drilling, save imperiled species and hold the federal government and BP accountable.

How much oil was spilled?
What areas are affected?

What species are harmed?
Who is responsible?
FAQ – dispersants What if a spill occurs in the Arctic?
Are oil spills inevitable?
How often do oil spills occur?
What can I do?
Read more about dispersants and see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s oil-impact assessment maps.
piping plover on the Chandeleur Islands.

Oiled gannets and brown pelicans were the first victims discovered by response teams; the goo permeated mangroves and has soaked birds and their eggs. Heavy oil also soaked the Queen Bess Island pelican rookery, a nesting site that has been essential to the recovery of the brown pelican population, and experts worry that the spill could set back the Louisiana state bird’s recovery from near-extinction. The timing of the spill could not have been worse.

Imperiled species including the Atlantic bluefin tuna, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, loggerhead sea turtles, piping plovers and sperm whales were flocking to the Gulf to spawn, migrate and feed just as the spill happened. For many of them, there was nowhere else to go. And in a disturbing development, large numbers of sharks, fish and other marine animals were seen gathered in shallow inshore waters, believed to be seeking areas where oxygen hasn’t been depleted by oil and the microbes that eat it. Marine animals can die when oxygen levels in the water drop below two parts per million — which was observed even in some inshore areas. Moreover, creatures congregating near the shore risked getting trapped between shore and the oil and depleting oxygen levels in even these refuge areas.

During spill-response efforts, concern arose that sea turtles were in oiled sargassum mats that were lit afire to burn off the oil. During June 2010, the Center initiated litigation on multiple fronts to prevent the injury and death of sea turtles during controlled burn operations, which resulted in requirements for observers to rescue sea turtles from this unnecessary and brutal threat.
Read more about threatened species and see our July 23 map of the spill and nearby critical habitat.

Last edited on Thu Sep 6th, 2012 06:00 am by sydneyst


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New ocean index grades world’s oceans at 60 out of 100

By Laura Shin | August 21, 2012, 3:01 AM PDT

Ben Halpern et al., N.C.E.A.S. 2012Scores on the Ocean Health Index ranged from 36 (Sierra Leone, in West Africa) to 86 (Jarvis Island in the Pacific).

The world’s oceans provide society with so many benefits: food, recreation, jobs, tourism dollars, plus environmental benefits such as carbon storage. And let’s not forget about pure beauty.

And now finally, we have a way of measuring how healthy oceans are — and how well they can keep giving us these benefits.

Over the last two years, dozens of scientists, policymakers and conservationists in the United States and Canada worked to develop the Ocean Health Index, which they described in a paper published in Nature

They then scored oceans all over the world, giving oceans worldwide a score of 60 out of 100. Among the 133 countries with countries, the worst score went to Sierra Leone (36) and the highest to Jarvis island, an uninhabited spot near Hawaii (86). The coastline of the U.S. got a score of 63.

“You can’t manage something like ocean health without actually having a tool to measure it,” Ben Halpern, director of the Center for Marine Assessment and Planning at the University of California, Santa Barbara and one of the leaders of the indexing project, told The New York Times.

Methodology The index focused on 10 benefits oceans provide people, such as food, jobs, carbon sequestration and beauty, plus awarded points for clean waters and biodiversity. Sustainability of its usage was a big factor in a region’s score.

To score each country, a group of more than 30 scientists gathered data from a number of sources: economic data from the United Nations and satellite data on ocean temperature from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. They defined each region by a shoreline on one side and 200 nautical miles out to sea on the other.

Study coauthor Larry Crowder, science director of the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford, compared the index to a hospital visit that begins by looking at a patient’s vital signs: ”When someone shows up at the ER, there are things people look at: breathing, heartbeat, pulse,” he told The LA Times.

Previous ways to measuring ocean health focused on the ways humans have damaged the ecosystem, whether by polluting it or driving species to extinction.

  Weighting scores by the values of a country The index doesn’t just give one score. Individual countries can determine which factors are most important to them and weight the score to prioritize them.
For instance, according to the New York Times,
“If a country thinks the best way to treat to the ocean is to preserve it, it can weight conservation factors more heavily in its score. If a country thinks the best use for the ocean is to extract resources from it, it can weight those factors more heavily.”
This index is more focused around various goals that the users of that particular ocean may have: for instance, prioritizing coastal jobs might harm the score for clean water but increase the overall score.

“The old model of trying to save nature by keeping people out simply won’t work,” study coauthor Steven Katona, managing director of the Ocean Health Index for the nonprofit environmental group Conservation International based in Arlington, Va., told The LA Times. “People and nature are not separate anymore.”

Last edited on Tue Aug 21st, 2012 01:19 pm by sydneyst


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Shell's Arctic Drilling Plan Delayed Due To Barge Problem, Salazar Says

AP  |  By By DAN JOLING Posted: 08/14/2012 7:17 pm Updated: 08/15/2012 8:31 am

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Shell Oil's delay in drilling Arctic Ocean exploratory wells off Alaska's northern shores is not due to heavy ice or federal regulators, according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The setback to drilling this year during the short open water season, he said, is due to Shell's inability to complete construction on a spill response barge that remains in Washington state.

"If they had got it done, they might be up there today, because the waters in the Chukchi (Sea) around the so-called Burger find are already open," he told reporters Monday. "So it's not a matter of ice. It's a matter of whether Shell has the mechanical capability to be able to comply with the exploration effort that had been approved by the government."

The "curtain of opportunity for 2012" is closing, Salazar said as he wrapped up a three-day visit to the state. Drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas will depend on obtaining Coast Guard certification for the spill response vessel in the next 10 to 20 days, he said.

"We don't have a lot of time," Salazar said. "Whatever activity takes place up there is activity that will have to take place in time to be able to complete it before the conditions ice over."

The containment barge, the Arctic Challenger, will be the company's fourth-line of defense against a spill, along with blowout preventers, shear rams and a capping stack, said Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith. The barge will carry a dome-shape containment system that could be lowered onto a leaking well to funnel oil and gas to a barge.

Shell's goal remains to complete as many wells as possible this year, Smith said. The company also will pursue top holes and mud-line cellars, holes in the sea floor for wellhead equipment such as blowout preventers, that would put the company ahead for 2013 drilling, Smith said.

Shell has made no request to modify its original 2012 drilling proposal, Smith said, but is considering it.

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Salazar said, the federal government overhauled how the country regulates ocean energy. Those standards will be enforced in the Arctic with Shell and other leaseholders.

"I will only say this: I will hold their feet to the fire in terms of making sure that we are doing everything we can to abide by the standards and regulations that we have set and to make sure that the environment in the Arctic seas are protected by their activities," he said.

Shell has invested more than $4 billion in Arctic offshore drilling. Salazar repeated his belief that Shell can drill exploratory wells safely.

"The exploration that takes place, if it does take place, will take place under the most cautious, highest guarded activity ever in the history of any kind of ocean energy development," he said.

Last edited on Fri Aug 17th, 2012 05:10 am by sydneyst


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Whales to Be Protected from Ships around San Francisco Bay
Tue, 17 Jul 2012 8:33a.m.

A humpback mother and calf (AAP file)

By Jason Dearen

Read more:

Tue, 17 Jul 2012 8:33a.m.

By Jason Dearen

Scientists studying the carcass of a 14m fin whale that washed up on a beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore last month found the creature's spine and ribs severed, likely from the propeller of one of the huge cargo ships that sail those waters.

There have been many victims of such accidents in recent years as migrating blue, fin and humpback whales have been lured close to California's shore by plentiful krill, the shrimp-like organisms they eat. All three species are endangered.

Now, after a two-year effort spurred by the uptick in accidents, federal maritime officials have approved a plan to protect whales in and around San Francisco Bay. It includes rerouting shipping traffic and establishing better ways to track whale locations.

The changes crafted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shipping industry representatives, whale researchers and the Coast Guard will likely take effect next year, after a final review by the United Nations International Maritime Organisation.

"In 2010 it really struck home when a female blue whale carrying a calf was found dead on the beach," said Maria Brown, NOAA's superintendent for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. "And blue whales' numbers are so small - to lose a female and a new whale coming into the population really sent home the message that we needed to look at the whale strike issue."

The shipping industry worked with federal authorities to establish new cargo lanes in one of the world's busiest ports.

"Nobody wants to hit a whale, just like anybody driving down the highway doesn't want to hit anything either," said John Berge, vice president of the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, who worked on the plan. "We want to do whatever can be done to mitigate the risk, but do it based on good science and good management strategies as opposed to saying, 'Let's just try this and see if it works.'"

The plan includes establishing a real-time whale monitoring network that would use trained sailors aboard commercial vessels to report when and where they see whales. Once sighted, a warning would be sent to other ship captains, giving them the option to slow down or take a different route.

Captains now must rely on historical data on whale locations. That means ships may slow down unnecessarily in certain area, delaying delivery of goods.

Though voluntary, industry groups like the shipping association and the Chamber of Shipping America, which also took part in the study, believe shippers will support the concept because it could save them money.

"(The) cost of additional training of the bridge crew pales in comparison to the additional cost associated with lost time if you take ships that normally travel at 20 knots and slow them down to 10 knots over a 70 nautical mile vessel traffic lane," said Kathy Metcalf, director of maritime affairs for the chamber.

If successful in San Francisco, the reporting network could become mandatory worldwide through the UN's IMO. That's a goal of those involved in drafting the plan.

"The ships themselves are the most ideal whale sighting platforms to use, and are the lynchpin to the success of this program," said John Calambokidis, an Olympia, Wash.-based scientist who has studied ship strikes off the West Coast for decades and who participated in the effort.

There are believed to be about 2,000 blue whales in the northeast Pacific, and about 10,000 worldwide. The largest animals on Earth, blue whales can grow up to 27m long, still a fraction of the size of cargo ships that can stretch 366m. There also are about 2,000 fin whales in the northeast Pacific, and about 2,500 humpbacks.

While fin and humpback whales have seen gains in population since the 1990s, the number of blues has declined or remained flat.

How many whales die from collisions each year isn't known because most accidents go undocumented and whales that are hit often sink. Whale researchers use population models that factor a species' reproductive rate and its natural mortality to come up with an estimate of how many are likely dying.

In 2010 there were just five confirmed fatal collisions recorded in the area outside San Francisco Bay. But the number of actual strikes of all whale species is likely 10 times higher, Calambokidis said.

PRBO Conservation Science, an environmental research group, conducts annual surveys of whales and other marine life in the sanctuaries around San Francisco Bay. Research director Jaime Jahncke said the number of blue and others whales is four to five times greater than in 2004, increasing the likelihood of ship strikes.

These surveys and other data were used to help map the new shipping lanes by showing vessel owners and federal officials where the whale grounds and shipping lanes were overlapping.

There currently are three shipping lanes coming in and out of San Francisco Bay.

The westbound shipping lane currently ends at the relatively shallow continental shelf, where ships disperse. The new westbound lane would extend three miles past the continental shelf, and contain traffic to a defined area over the whale feeding grounds. The new northbound lane would also be extended miles beyond the shelf, keeping vessels sailing in a straight line for a longer time, rather than allowing them to disperse where the whales congregate.


Last edited on Tue Jul 17th, 2012 12:49 am by sydneyst


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Whale Strikes From Commercial Shipping Off Sri Lanka

Growing Ship Traffic Threatens Blue Whales


MIRISSA, Sri Lanka — In early April, whale watchers off this country’s southern coast were greeted by a disturbing sight: the lifeless body of a 60-foot-long blue whale floating in the water about 12 miles offshore.

The body was swelling rapidly, and suckerfish swarmed across its skin. Even more unsettling was the condition of its tail, which had been nearly severed from the body.
“It was very obviously from a ship’s propeller,” said Mazdak Radjainia, a structural biologist and underwater photographer from the University of Auckland in New Zealand who happened upon the whale. “It must have been a really cruel death, because it was such a massive injury.”

Researchers say ship strikes are a leading cause of death among whales around the globe. Many that are killed are from endangered populations like blue whales that are barely holding on.

The problem is particularly troublesome here in Sri Lanka, where a largely unstudied population of blue whales, possibly numbering in the thousands, has come under increasing pressure from commercial shipping and from a boom in unregulated whale-watching boats.

Because these waters are poorly monitored, scientists do not know for sure whether ship strikes are on the rise. But the whale’s death in April was already the sixth of the year, according to news reports. In one grisly encounter in March, a blue whale was found draped over the bow of a container vessel in the harbor in the capital, Colombo, 90 miles north of this beach resort. Last year, some 20 whale carcasses (not all of them blue whales) were seen around the island, according to Arjan Rajasuriya, a research officer with the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency in Colombo. It is not known how many of the deaths resulted from ship strikes.

“These strikes likely represent only a portion of the likely true mortality,” said John Calambokidis, a whale researcher in Olympia, Wash., who documents ship strikes off the West Coast of the United States. Because blue whales often sink soon after they are struck, most such deaths go unrecorded, and Dr. Calambokidis says the true number “could be 10 or 20 times” the number seen.

Fifteen miles off the southern coast of Sri Lanka is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, and whales are known to swim regularly inside them. But some scientists believe that the increase in whale watching could be forcing whales to seek food farther out, pushing them into the big ships’ path.

“I’m afraid the whales are being harassed by the whale-watching boats and that this could affect their movement,” said Asha de Vos, a whale researcher here.

The threat to the whales has some researchers scrambling to learn as much as they can about them and to find a way to protect them.

“Having these whales right off the coast is pretty amazing,” said Ari S. Friedlaender, a research scientist at the Duke University Marine Laboratory. “We know so little about blue whales in general that any place that you have easy access to animals like this, your learning curve is going to be exponential.”

In 2009, Sri Lanka ended a deadly 25-year civil war that largely kept foreign scientists and researchers away from these waters. Several general surveys in the 1970s revealed that there were whales here, but it was not until the 1990s that interest started to grow. Researchers were particularly drawn by the whales’ tendency to stay here year round; other blue whale populations are known to migrate vast distances.

Perhaps no one has studied these whales and promoted their conservation as much as Ms. de Vos.

Three years ago, Ms. de Vos started the Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project, a long-term research program that she hopes will stop the carnage and raise awareness of the whales here. For the last three years, from December to May, she has been photographing the whales and using scientific instruments to better understand their feeding behaviors.

“Clearly, there’s something down there that’s keeping them around. But we need to know where it is and how much,” she said.

In March, Ms. de Vos was helped by a team of researchers from the Duke University Marine Lab who brought along an electronic echo sounder, which uses sound waves to measure the density of prey in the water. For 10 days, she and the team crisscrossed miles of water, taking measurements and finding spots thick with krill.

The data will help scientists better understand where and when the whales are feeding — and, she hopes, persuade the government to shift the shipping lanes farther out to sea.

Ms. de Vos, who was born and raised in Colombo, became a champion of the blue whales after she took a boat ride in 2006 and was astounded by what she saw.

“There were six whales within four square kilometers of where I was, and that was it for me,” she said. “That was a sign, and I knew I wanted to better understand and protect them.”

But her effort is fraught with challenges, including a lack of support from local authorities and the disadvantages of being a young woman in a society dominated by men. “I’m very much on my own around here,” she said. “I don’t have a lot of infrastructure or equipment to do my work.”

She has received some financial support from the University of Western Australia, where she is completing a doctorate in oceanography.

“Her work is really setting the stage for further research on these animals,” said Dr. Friedlaender, who hopes to visit the region next year.

Ms. de Vos notes that with the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war, there is now a major push to increase tourism, and whale watching is a critical part of the government’s development strategy. While the effort may bring much-needed economic development to this poor country, Ms. de Vos is concerned that it may all be happening too fast.

“Right now, whale-watching boats are driving helter-skelter around the animals,” she said. “I don’t want it to explode into something that becomes a harassment for the whales.”

In other countries with established whale-watching industries, laws prohibit getting close to the animals; the United States sets the minimum distance at 100 yards. Ms. de Vos would like to see similar regulations here.

“In this new era of peace, the blue whale is very fast becoming the symbol of our country,” she said. “It would be very sad to harm these animals because of our foolishness.”


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Fight Heats Up Over Arctic Drilling

From: Greenpeace
To: Sydney

Date: Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 4:30 AM
Subject: Save the Arctic


Right this minute a global fleet of Arctic destroyers is speeding towards one of the last unspoiled places on earth.

The ships are part of oil giant Shell's mission to drill the very first wells in the pristine waters off the coast of Alaska. It's insane, but melting sea ice from global warming has made it a reality. If Shell finds oil, the Arctic oil rush will be on.

It's not over yet though. People are pushing back. In New Zealand, Greenpeace activists (including Xena Warrior Princess star Lucy Lawless) occupied a drill ship and prevented it from leaving for the Arctic for several days. And just last week activists occupied two icebreakers in Finland.

...Widespread public opposition here in the US is going to be the key to stopping Shell. The US government is responsible for giving Shell the green light to drill. Greenpeace will be delivering these messages to the company soon. Our goal is to add the names of at least 40,000 Americans to that list before we do. Your message matters.

Shell isn't prepared for a disaster in the Arctic Ocean. No one is. The Arctic Ocean makes the Gulf of Mexico look like a flat, calm lake. With constant high seas, icebergs and massive waves, there's no way to effectively cleanup an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. Even the head of the US Coast Guard has publicly admitted that his agency would have little chance of dealing with a spill in the frozen Arctic on their own.  

The plan Shell has submitted actually includes using things like shovels, brooms and a sniffer dog called "Tara" to cleanup a potential spill. It would be funny if there wasn't so much at stake.

All Shell cares about is its corporate bottom line. Polar bears and unspoiled natural beauty are just obstacles to making ever greater profits. Together we can create a public obstacle Shell can't overcome -- but it's going to take millions of us.

Add your voice to the growing list of people who will not stay quiet as one of the last wildernesses on earth is destroyed and help save the Arctic.

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What Is Shipping Industry Doing to Prevent Overboard Containers? 

Rena Disaster Exemplifies the Problem

Oil Spill Disaster on New Zealand Shoreline
Oct 14, 2011

Nine days ago, a Liberian-flagged container ship called the Rena ran aground on Astrolabe Reef, 14 miles offshore from Tauranga Harbor on New Zealand's North Island. In addition to the 2,100 containers aboard, the Rena was carrying 1,700 tons of fuel oil and another 200 tons of diesel fuel. A cracked hull and rough seas have dislodged more than 80 containers and spilled some 300 tons of oil already, fouling Tauranga beaches and reportedly killing some 1,000 birds so far. Salvage teams are racing to offload as much remaining oil as possible while cleanup crews are hard at work, coping with New Zealand's worst environmental disaster in decades. [32 photos]

From Sydney's Thumb:

Over 10,000 containers are lost annually in the world's ocean largely as a result of collisions, high seas, and human error .  Sadly, lack of regulation, inadequate international protocols, callous disregard by shipping companies and insurers contribute to the the loss. Even more disturbing is the lack of salvage and recovery. Both problems only promise to get worse as shipping intensifies in the Arctic and climate change worsens the severity of storms. 

Exacerbating the problem, container ships are getting larger so that when an accident occurs, the number of containers lost can be large.   

The containers themselves contain a vast array or unregulated toxic substances including plastics that contribute to the growing ocean garbage patches that kill marine mammals, fish and turtles.

A sad reality is that this problem, particularly--mitigation and collection of overboard containers--could be easily addressed using existing technologies.  The time is ripe for people who care about oceans and marine animals to demand action on this problem by the IMO and the whales of the shipping industry.  These include the marine insurers.  Among other things, all shipping companies should be required to report immediately all lost containers as well their contents. 

Requirements should be established for prompt retrieval of the containers and and mitigation of the damage created when the containers lose integrity and disgorge their contents.

Further, highest standards should be established for container shipping in hazardous waters such as the Arctic or shipping that occurs in rich marine environments. 

For more on this problem and feasible solutions contact Sydney's Thumb. 


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Danish Commandos Defend Oil Rig Off Greenland from Greenpeace

UPI May 25, 2011 at 7:48 AM

NUUK, Greenland, May 25 (UPI) -- Danish soldiers are said to have boarded an oil rig off the coast of Greenland to prevent Greenpeace activists from interfering with operations.

"Along with a second Greenpeace ship, the Esperanza, we are now in a rather tense standoff with Danish navy commandos protecting the oil drilling operation," wrote Greenpeace's Nick Young from on board the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise.

Greenpeace published articles released under a Freedom of Information Act that suggests London sees an oil spill in the arctic waters as difficult to address.

Scottish energy company Cairn is planning to drill several new wells off the coast of Greenland. The energy company could drill at water depths deeper than the Gulf of Mexico well that failed last year and led to one of the worst oil disasters in the history of the industry.

Cairn said its four-well campaign for 2011 targets various structures in Greenland that have a mean prospective resource potential of 3.2 million barrels of oil equivalent.

Four activists with Greenpeace were arrested by Greenland police in September after severe winds and 18-foot waves led authorities to launch a rescue attempt at a Cairn oil rig in arctic waters.

Read more:

Danish commandoes wade into Greenpeace Arctic oil protest

from The Guardian

May 25,2010

Armed forces called in to prevent environmentalists interfering with Cairn Energy's exploration of Arctic waters

Greenpeace activists protect against Arctic oil exploration by the Leiv Eiriksson rig. Photograph: Markel Redondo/Greenpeace

Armed Danish commandoes are thought to have been landed on a giant oil rig by helicopter to prevent environmentalists interfering with a British oil company's controversial exploration of deep Arctic waters. In a stand-off in the Davis Strait, west of Greenland, the Danish navy has been shadowing the Greenpeace ship Esperanza as it tracked the 53,000 tonne Leiv Eiriksson in iceberg-strewn sea to the site where it plans to search for oil at depths of up to 5,000ft.

The confrontation between Denmark and Greenpeace, which argues that it is dangerous to drill for oil in pristine Arctic waters, follows the decision by Scottish oil company Cairn Energy to explore for oil and gas in Baffin Sea this summer.

Fears that an Arctic spill would be difficult if not impossible to clean up were confirmed in an email exchange between the British Foreign Office and the energy secretary, Chris Huhne, that was obtained by Greenpeace under freedom of information legislation. Officials briefed Huhne, saying: "It is difficult to get assistance in case of pollution problems in such areas, and near impossible to make good damage caused."

They warned of "significant" environmental challenges and the potential for a Gulf of Mexico-type spill. "The impact of such a spill in the Arctic would be proportionately higher due to the lower temperatures and (in winter) lack of sunlight that will inhibit oil eating bacteria (which played a large role in cleaning up the Macondo spill). The Arctic ecosystem is particularly vulnerable, and emergency responses would be slower and harder than the Gulf of Mexico due to the areas remoteness and the difficulty of operating in sub-zero temperatures. A situation compounded by response lag resulting from the vast distances between points of habitations and at certain times, winter ice."

Ruth Davis, chief policy adviser at Greenpeace UK said: "These documents make it clear that companies like Cairn are playing Russian roulette with one of the most important environments in the world. When even the UK government recognises the huge risks associated with the oil drilling in the Arctic then it must be time to halt the rush for oil in one of the most delicate ecosystems in the in the world."

Cairn says it has prepared comprehensive oil spill plans, and has put up a bond of $2bn. Last month it said in a statement: "Wherever it is active, Cairn seeks to operate in a safe and prudent manner. The Greenlandic Bureau of Minerals and Petroleum has established some of the most stringent operating regulations anywhere globally, which mirror those applied in the Norwegian North Sea. Cairn respects the rights of individuals and organisations to express their views in a safe manner."

Seven major oil companies have licenses to explore off Greenland but Cairn will be the only one to begin operations in the short July-October "summer window" when the ice has retreated. Cairn holds 11 licences covering over 80,000 square kilometres and plans to drill four exploratory wells to depths of around 5,000ft, the deepest ever attempted in the Arctic.

Fears that Greenpeace plan to prevent work have been heightened since the group occupied one of Cairn's drilling ships working in shallower Arctic waters last years, and 11 climbers also boarded the Leiv Eiriksson, when it left Turkey for Greenland last month. Greenpeace also tried to stop the rig as it passed Greece and Italy last month but was prevented by storms.

"We are in the Davis Straits doing 10 knots in big seas. There are icebergs everywhere. We're getting very close to where Cairn intends to drill.," said the Greenpeace campaigner Ben Ayliffe aboard the Esperanza.

Denmark is believed to have sent two warships to protect Cairn from Greenpeace, which in turn has sent two ships to monitor Cairn. Greenland is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.

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Greenpeace Standoff with Danish Navy off Greenland

By: Greenpeace

Greenland, 24th May 2011 – Two Greenpeace ships are in a tense stand-off with Danish navy commandos protecting an oil drilling operation in the freezing seas off Greenland.

The environmental campaigners have been involved in a week long search for the giant 53,000 tonne Leiv Eiriksson – the only oil rig scheduled to begin new off-shore arctic drilling operations this year. They found it last night 200 miles west of Greenland under escort by a Danish warship.

Greenpeace today released confidential UK Foreign Office documents, obtained under Freedom of Information, showing that the British government thinks an Arctic oil spill would be all but impossible to clean up.

Greenpeace International oil campaigner Ben Ayliffe is on board the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, within sight of the rig and its escort - a 120 metre Thetis-class NATO warship. He said: "The risks involved in Arctic deep water drilling make working in the Gulf of Mexico look like a walk in the park. An oil spill clean up operation here would be all but impossible, and it's not just us saying that, that's what the British government thinks too. Cairn Energy's operation are reckless in the extreme and should be abandoned, and their rig should leave the Arctic immediately."

The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise is also on the scene.

The documents, published today on the Greenpeace website, show the UK government's private concerns about the impact of an Arctic spill. In an email exchange British government officials told the UK Energy Secretary Chris Huhne: "It is difficult to get assistance in case of pollution problems in such areas, and near impossible to make good damage caused." Another document reports : "Considerable challenges remain. The most significant of these is environmental – and the possibility of a second Gulf of Mexico type event … The Arctic ecosystem is particularly vulnerable, and emergency responses would be slower and harder than in the Gulf of Mexico due to the area's remoteness and the difficulty of operating in sub-zero temperatures."

Even without an accident Cairn admits its drilling operation will result in at least 9,000 tonnes of toxic chemicals being discharged directly into the waters of the Davis Strait –releasing more red-listed chemicals than all annual oil drilling operations in Norway and Denmark combined.

The area Cairn intends to drill is known as 'Iceberg Alley'. The company intends to tow icebergs out of the rig's path or use water cannons to divert them to avoid a collision as the rig drills for oil. If the icebergs are too large the company has pledged to move the rig itself. Last year a 260km2 ice island broke off the Petermann glacier north of Iceberg Alley. The region is famous for its populations of blue whales, polar bears, seals and migratory birds.


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What Are the Resource Sensitivities in the Arctic 


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Dear Fergie,

Support Endangered Species Act
protections for bluefin tuna today.

Bluefin tuna urgently need your help. Overfishing has reduced Atlantic bluefin tuna populations by more than 80 percent since industrial fishing practices began. On September 21, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced it will consider protecting Atlantic bluefin tuna under the Endangered Species Act in response to a Center for Biological Diversity petition.

There are two imperiled populations of Atlantic bluefin tuna: one that spawns in the Gulf of Mexico and another that spawns in the Mediterranean. The petition seeks endangered status for both populations, which are intensely overfished due to demand for high-grade sushi. Scientists estimate that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill killed more than 20 percent of juvenile Atlantic bluefin tuna this year, further reducing an already-imperiled species.

Please take action today. Your letter will help persuade NMFS to act quickly and give these fish Endangered Species Act protections before it's too late.

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Another Platform Explosion and Spill in the Gulf;
Shallow Water This Time; 13 Workers Rescued

Structure off Louisiana is operated by Houston-based Mariner Energy Associated Press Sept. 2, 2010, 11:43AM

NEW ORLEANS, La. — An offshore petroleum platform exploded and was burning Friday in the Gulf of Mexico about 80 miles south of Vermilion Bay.

The Coast Guard says no one was killed in the explosion, which was reported by a commercial helicopter flying over the site around 9 a.m. CDT. All 13 people aboard the rig have been accounted for, with one injury. The extent of the injury was not known.
Coast Guard Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesau says seven Coast Guard helicopters, two airplanes and three cutters were dispatched to the scene from New Orleans, Houston and Mobile, Ala. She said authorities do not know whether oil is leaking from the site.

Ben-Iesau said all 13 people were rescued from the water by an offshore service vessel, the Crystal Clear, and taken to a nearby platform. All were being flown to the Terrebonne General Medical Center in Houma to be checked over.

The Department of Homeland Security said the platform, known as Vermilion Oil Platform 380, was owned by Mariner Energy of Houston. DHS said it was not producing oil and gas.
A call to the company seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Ben-Iesau says some of those from the rig were spotted in emergency flotation devices.
Mariner Energy focuses on oil and gas exploration and production company focused on the Gulf of Mexico. In April, Apache Corp., another independent petroleum company, announced plans to buy Mariner in a cash-and-stock deal valued at $3.9 billion, including the assumption of about $1.2 billion of Mariner's debt. That deal is pending.

Apache spokesman Bob Dye said the platform is in shallow water. A company report said the well was drilled in the third quarter of 2008 in 340 feet of water.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama was in a nationals ecurity meeting and did not know whether Obama had been informed of the explosion.
"We obviously have response assets ready for deployment should we receive reports of pollution in the water," Gibbs said.

Responding to an oil spill in shallow water is much easier than in deepwater, where crews depend on remote-operated vehicles access equipment on the sea floor.

The platform is about 200 miles west of BP's blown out Macondo well. On Friday, BP was expected to begin the process of removing the cap and failed blow-out preventer, another step toward completion of a relief well that would complete the choke of the well. The BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 people and setting off a massive oil spill.

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Gulf Oil Spill: University Study Contradicts Government Estimates, Up To 79% Of Oil Could Remain

AP/Huffington Post
First Posted: 08-17-10 03:10 AM   |   Updated: 08-17-10 03:15 AM

Get Green Alerts A group of scientists say that most of that BP oil the government claimed was gone from the Gulf of Mexico is actually still there. The scientists believe that roughly three-quarters of the oil (70% to 79%) still lurks under the surface.

The research team, affiliated with the University of Georgia, said that it is a misinterpretation of data to claim that oil that has dissolved is actually gone or harmless. The report was based on an analysis of federal estimates, but the Wall Street Journal notes that it hasn't been published or peer-reviewed yet.

Charles Hopkinson, who helped lead the investigation, claims "the oil is still out there, and it will likely take years to completely degrade." The UGA marine sciences professor, and director of the Georgia Sea Grant, added, "We are still far from a complete understanding of what its impacts are."

Earlier this month, federal scientists said that only about a quarter of the oil remained and the rest was either removed, dissolved or dispersed. Whether a glass is one-quarter full or one-quarter empty isn't exactly a matter of perspective. Why the discrepancy? According to a news release from UGA:
Hopkinson notes that the reports arrive at different conclusions largely because the Sea Grant and UGA scientists estimate that the vast majority of the oil classified as dispersed, dissolved or residual is still present, whereas the NIC report has been interpreted to suggest that only the "residual" form of oil is still present.

Hopkinson said that his group also estimated how much of the oil could have evaporated, degraded or weathered as of the date of the report. Using a range of reasonable evaporation and degradation estimates, the group calculated that 70-79 percent of oil spilled into the Gulf still remains. The group showed that it was impossible for all the dissolved oil to have evaporated because only oil at the surface of the ocean can evaporate into the atmosphere and large plumes of oil are trapped in deep water.
While both reports are optimistic that the oil will continue to break down, neither accounts for hydrocarbon gasses like methane. "That's a gaping hole [in the reports]," admitted one of the researchers.
Click here for the full UGA report (PDF).

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Evidence of Plume Quickens Argument on Oil Fate
Massive oil plume found underwater by scientists

Friday, August 20, 2010, 11:58 AM     Updated: Friday, August 20, 2010, 2:22 PM
A massive, 22-mile-long underwater plume of oil droplets flowed to the southwest of the BP's failed Macondo well at the end of June, and the threat it poses to natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico remains uncertain, scientists who mapped the plume said Thursday.

The finding confirms that plumes of oil from the failed well have existed deep beneath the surface, and that the oil is not seeping from natural fissures on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientists who authored the peer-reviewed article published Thursday in the online research magazine ScienceXpress.

The question of whether there are large oil plumes in the Gulf, hidden underwater, has been hotly debated. And the release of the new plume study comes as a debate rages over the rosy picture painted by an Aug. 4 federal interagency report on the fate of the vast majority of the 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled from the well. That report, released in a White House ceremony, concluded that only 26 percent of the oil remained on or near the surface of the Gulf or onshore, and that much of the rest of the oil had dissolved or was dispersed and is degrading naturally.

But on Tuesday, Bill Lehr of NOAA, the lead scientist on the White House report, backtracked from those estimates, telling a congressional committee that only about 10 percent of the spilled oil had been skimmed or burned off and between 60 and 90 percent is still in the Gulf in some form.

The new plume study uses the concentration of four toxic chemicals found in the plume that are ingredients of crude oil to estimate that twice as much oil was supplied by the wellhead to the plume during the time of the study than was released by all natural petroleum seeps in the northern Gulf of Mexico during the same time.

The results of the survey and previous surveys also indicate "that this plume persisted at this depth interval for months, " the report said, and calls into question assumptions used by some federal officials that the oil will be quickly eaten by microbes in the Gulf and disappear.

"The evidence we collected showed conclusively that the plume existed at that depth," said Woods Hole oceanographer Richard Camilli, lead author on the scientific paper, during a Thursday news conference. "Furthermore, it shows fairly clearly that it was created by the Macondo site, the Deepwater Horizon well, and it was not created by naturally occurring seeps."

Camilli said the monitoring indicated the plume stayed at a constant depth, flowing through what amounts to an underwater valley away from the wellhead, instead of floating to the surface.

He said the research cruise had to be cut short at the end of June as Hurricane Alex entered the Gulf.

"The data suggests the plume extended much further than we tracked it," he said.

The scientists found droplets of dispersed oil in a layer between 1,067 meters and 1,300 meters beneath the Gulf's surface, that contained concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons in excess of 50 parts per billion, which they said indicates that at least 12,125 pounds of the oil component entered the plume each day.

They based that conclusion on samples taken from the plume in several locations that were tested for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, also known as BTEX. Based on those measurements and the assumption that the well released between 53,000 and 62,000 barrels a day, they also concluded that between 6 percent and 7 percent of all BTEX leaking from the well was contained in the plume.

On Thursday, Camilli and Woods Hole marine geochemist Christopher Reddy said more work remains to be done on the samples collected from the plume. Reddy said the researchers are not yet sure how much oil actually was contained in the plume, or its potential effects on biological activity.

"We will know more with time as more data comes out of the pipeline, with the hundreds of samples we collected with NOAA," he said.

Reddy warned that the data represent a snapshot in time, and the fate of the oil that was measured then is unknown. And it likely won't be found in the same location, as the plume was moving at about 4 miles per day, due to currents at that depth.

Photographs taken during the cruise from a remotely operated vehicle about 1,500 feet southwest of the well site, which is about 65 miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River, show the beginning of brownish cloudy water at 1,065 meters, turning to a deeper brown color at 1,100 meters and 1,200 meters, and lessening in intensity at 1,300 meters. Photos from above and below those levels show purple- or blue-tinged water.

Cameron McIntyre / Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution via APChief Scientist Rich Camilli, left, a WHOI environmental engineer, and co-principal investigator Chris Reddy, a WHOI marine chemist and oil spill expert, aboard the research vessel Endeavor in the Gulf of Mexico. Camilli is the chief author of a study released Thursday in which scientists report the first conclusive evidence of an underwater plume from the BP spill. Aug. 19, 2010

The scientists reported that small oil droplets temporarily collected on the camera lens within the plume.

The scientists also found that oxygen levels near the plume did not seem to be affected by the presence of hydrocarbons, which they said raises questions about the ability of bacteria and other organisms to break down oil in deep water. But that may also be a plus for fisheries, they said.

"This suggests that if the hydrocarbons are indeed susceptible to biodegradation, then it may require many months before microbes significantly attenuate the hydrocarbon plume to the point that oxygen minimum zones develop that are intense enough to threaten Gulf fisheries, " they wrote.

Researchers from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney in Australia, and Monitor Instruments Co., LLC, also participated in the cruise aboard the R/V Endeavor between June 19 and June 28. The research was funded by three grants under the National Science Foundation RAPID grant award program, which has already spent $10 million on 90 grants for spill-related science.

View full size
The research also was conducted under testing protocols set up by federal officials as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process. Water samples were shared with NOAA and BP.

The scientists collected data using the National Deep Submergence Facility's autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry, which has no physical connection to the surface when lowered into the water, but is controlled by on-board computers. The Sentry carried a mass spectrometer that was able to determine the constituents of the petroleum, and other chemical sensors to analyze the water.

The research on the plume was conducted from June 23-27, during which time the Sentry made three surveys and traveled in a zig-zag pattern totaling 146 miles.

Water samples also were collected with a "rosette" of scientific instruments lowered into the water at different locations.

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Gulf Oil Spill:  What Happened to the Oil?

Argument Heats Up After NOAA Report  

from Science:

A Lot of Oil on the Loose, Not So Much to Be Found

by Richard Kerr

Now that the gusher that spewed oil for 85 days into the Gulf of Mexico has stopped, scientists are wondering where it all went. A federal report released last week should have begun to answer that question. Instead, political spin and media hype transformed the scientists' message even before it was released.

According to one CNN reporter, the interagency report led by the Department of the Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that of the 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled, "75% has been cleaned up by Man or Mother Nature." Nothing in the report supports that interpretation. But there are multiple ways to read the report's iconic pie chart while remaining grounded in fact.

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From NRDC:
Disaster on Ice

Dear Chris (and Sydney),

They’re BACK ...

The same company that just brought you the most catastrophic oil spill in American history is now planning a risky new project that would use untested drilling technology in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea -- the heart of America’s polar bear habitat.

BP’s so-called Liberty Project would use the biggest rig in the world -- propped up by a manmade gravel island three miles from shore – to drill up to eight miles horizontally, exposing pipes to the same kind of explosive “gas kicks” that led to the blowout in the Gulf.

In other words, this latest BP project is a disaster waiting to happen!

Please help stop it by signing this urgent Petition of Protest to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

You might have thought BP would lay low after the Gulf disaster: focusing on the cleanup effort and repairing its dismal environmental record.

Instead, the company is planning to begin drilling this fall in one of the two Polar Bear Seas that are home to HALF of our nation’s polar bears.

Let me share a few facts about BP’s Liberty Project:

  • Even though it’s three miles offshore, this project is NOT subject to President Obama’s moratorium on offshore drilling in the Arctic! That’s because the operation is built on a 31-acre manmade gravel island. In other words, BP is getting a free pass based on a technicality.
  • BP is prepared to drill up to eight miles horizontally in search of oil, even though this type of drilling is even more prone to gas kicks like the one that caused the huge blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. In order to drill these unprecedented wells, BP has commissioned the building of the largest drilling rig in the world!
  • Shockingly, BP was allowed to write its own environmental assessment and emergency response plan for the Liberty Project, just like it did in the Gulf. And we know what happened there.
The Obama Administration needs to make clear that the days of BP running the show are over.

Tell Secretary Salazar to stop the Liberty Project immediately by denying BP’s application to drill. He is unlikely to do that unless he hears a groundswell of public opposition -- starting with you.

BP’s horrendous environmental record is well documented. It is already responsible for the 2010 Gulf disaster, the 2006 oil spill on Alaska’s North Slope (the largest oil spill to date in the region) and the 2005 Texas City explosion that killed 15 workers and injured 170 more.

We can’t afford a repeat performance in the Arctic. High winds, freezing temperatures and dangerous sea ice could make cleanup impossible. The nearest Coast Guard station is over 1,000 miles away, and much of the oil spill response equipment on-site is more than two decades old!

Tell Secretary Salazar to prevent a disaster on ice by saying No to BP.


Peter Lehner
Executive Director
Natural Resources Defense Council 

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Whale Ship Looking to Swallow Oiled Ocean

U.S. Coast Guard photo

This week, all eyes have been on A-Whale, the 1,100-foot iron-ore and crude carrier that was recently converted into what’s being billed as the world’s first large scale oil skimmer.  The vessel, in theory, has the capacity to collect 500,000 barrels of oily water per day through 12 horizontal slits (shown in the image above) in the vessels bow.  The contaminated water is then “decanted” through a series of tanks that separates the oil before discharging the water back into the sea.


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Latest Weather: Winds to Carry Spill to Coast

Posted by: JeffMasters, 3:02 PM GMT on June 04, 2010
Onshore winds out of the south, southwest, or west are expected to blow over the northern Gulf of Mexico over through Tuesday, resulting in a continued threat of landfalling oil to Alabama, Mississippi, and the Florida Panhandle, according to the latest trajectory forecasts from NOAA and the State of Louisiana.

The latest ocean current forecasts from the NOAA HYCOM model show that these winds will generate a 0.5 mph current flowing from west to east along the Florida Panhandle coast Sunday through Tuesday.

If this current develops as predicted, it will be capable of bringing light amounts of oil as far east as Panama City, Florida, by Wednesday. Long range surface wind forecasts from the GFS model for the period 8 - 14 days from now predict a return to a southeasterly wind regime, which would bring the oil back over Louisiana by mid-June. If you spot oil, send in your report to, whose mission is to help the Gulf Coast recovery by creating a daily record of the oil spill.

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Latest Status Report on Turtles and Marine Mammals
Marine mammals and turtles (effective May 30):
Sea Turtles
  • The total number of sea turtles verified from April 30 to May 31 within the designated spill area is 253. Seven live turtles were captured on May 31 during directed search efforts from a search vessel that included NOAA, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission staff and other partners working approximately 40 miles offshore. All the turtles were pelagic stage juveniles (6 Kemp’s ridley and one green turtle), alive and very oiled. Their behavior was abnormal, but they were responsive. All were initially cleaned on the support vessel, received initial veterinary care and were transported to Audubon Aquarium outside New Orleans, where they are undergoing further care.  Another Kemp’s ridley was captured during a skimmer vessel operation approximately 17 miles offshore, oiled and alive. This turtle was transported to shore by the US Coast Guard and Louisiana Department of Fish and Wildlife and is also now at the Audubon Aquarium undergoing further care. On water surveys for sea turtles will continue this week. The 253 turtles verified in the spill area include 12 turtles collected alive with visible external evidence of oil and one dead stranded turtle with visible external evidence of oil. All others have not had visible evidence of external oil.
    A total of 228 turtles stranded dead. A total of 15 stranded alive. Three of those subsequently died and one of the live stranded turtles –caught in marine debris -- was disentangled and released. There are 21 turtles in rehabilitation. Turtle strandings during this time period have been higher in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama than in previous years for this same time period. This may be due in part to increased detection and reporting, but this does not fully account for the increase.
  • From April 30 to May 31, there have been 29 dead dolphins verified within the designated spill area. So far, one of the 29 dolphins had evidence of external oil. Because it was found on an oiled beach, we are unable at this time to determine whether the animal was covered in oil prior to its death or after its death. The other 28 dolphins have had no visible evidence of external oil. Since April 30, the stranding rate for dolphins in Louisiana has been higher than the historic numbers for the same time period in previous years. This may be due to increased detection and reporting and the lingering effects of the earlier observed spike in strandings.

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NOAA Launches Public Information Effort on Response Efforts, Damage Assessment,subtopic_id,topic_id&entry_id%28entry_subtopic_topic%29=809&subtopic_id%28entry_subtopic_topic%29=2&topic_id%28entry_subtopic_topic%29=1

Deepwater Horizon Incident, Gulf of Mexico

NOAA’s Damage Assessment Remediation and Restoration Program is conducting a Natural Resource Damage Assessment. The focus currently is to assemble existing data on resources and their habitats and collect baseline (pre-spill impact) data.  Data on oiled resources and habitats are also being collected. Current Trajectory Maps on this page for full-sized versions.
Natural Resource Damage Assessment. The focus currently is to assemble existing data on resources and their habitats and collect baseline (pre-spill impact) data.  Data on oiled resources and habitats are also being collected.

Current Trajectory Maps on this page for full-sized versions.

Ben Sherman, John Ewald or Rachel Wilhelm or phone 301.713.3066.

  • To offer suggestions to clean, contain, recover or stop the flow of oil visit Deepwater Horizon Response Suggestions. This website also provides procedures and forms for Alternative Response Tool Evaluation System (ARTES) proposals.
  • For response-related inquiries, please phone the Joint Information Center (JIC) at 985.902.5231 or 985.902.5240.
  • To report oil on land, or for general community information, please phone 866.448.5816.
  • To report oiled or injured wildlife, please phone 866.557.1401.
  • To learn about volunteer opportunities in all areas and what training is required, please phone  866.448.5816.
  • To discuss spill related damage claims, please phone 800.440.0858.
  • BP is asking fishermen for their assistance in cleaning up the oil spill. BP is calling this the Vessel of Opportunities Program and through it, BP is looking to contract shrimp boats, oyster boats and other vessels for hire to deploy boom in the Gulf of Mexico. To learn more about the Vessel of Opportunity Program, fishermen should phone 281.366.5511.[/list]


    Last edited on Wed Jun 2nd, 2010 07:49 am by sydneyst


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    BP Prepares to Take New Tack on Leak After ‘Top Kill’ Fails
    "Nothing is Good"

    Win Mcnamee/Getty Images Crews worked Saturday on the failed top kill effort to stanch the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. BP will try another strategy.

    May 29, 2010
    NEW ORLEANS — In another serious setback in the effort to stem the flow of oil gushing from a well a mile beneath the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers said Saturday that the “top kill” technique had failed and, after consultation with government officials, they had decided to move on to another strategy.
    Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, said at a news conference that the engineers would try once again to solve the problem with a containment cap and that it could take four to seven days for the device to be in place.

    fter three full days of attempting top kill, we now believe it is time to move on to the next of our options,” Mr. Suttles said. The abandonment of the top kill technique, the most ambitious effort yet to plug the well, was the latest in a series of failures.

    First, BP failed in efforts to repair a blowout preventer with submarine robots. Then its initial efforts to cap the well with a containment dome failed when it became clogged with a frothy mix of frigid water and gas. Efforts to use a hose to gather escaping oil have managed to catch only a fraction of the spill.

    BP has started work on two relief wells, but officials have said that they will not be completed until August — further contributing to what is already the worst
    in United States history.

    The latest failure will undoubtedly put more pressure — both politically and from the public — on the Obama administration to take some sort of action, perhaps taking control of the repair effort completely from BP.

    President Obama
    , who is spending the Memorial Day weekend in Chicago, issued a statement Saturday evening on the decision to abandon the top kill.
    “While we initially received optimistic reports about the procedure, it is now clear that it has not worked,” Mr. Obama said.

    He said that Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry of the Coast Guard had “directed BP to launch a new procedure whereby the riser pipe will be cut and a containment structure fitted over the leak.”

    “This approach is not without risk and has never been attempted before at this depth,” Mr. Obama said. “That is why it was not activated until other methods had been exhausted.”

    The president continued, “We will continue to pursue any and all responsible means of stopping this leak until the completion of the two relief wells currently being drilled.”

    For BP, the besieged British company, the failure could mean billions of dollars of additional liabilities, as the spill potentially worsens in the weeks and months ahead.

    “I am disappointed that this operation did not work,” Tony Hayward, chief executive of BP, said in a statement. “We remain committed to doing everything we can to make this situation right.”

    A technician who has been working on the project to stem the oil leak said Saturday that neither the top kill nor the “junk shot” came close to succeeding because the pressure of oil and gas escaping from the well was simply too powerful to overcome. He added that engineers never had a complete enough understanding of the inner workings of drill pipe casing or blowout preventer mechanisms to make the efforts work.

    “Simply too much of what we pumped in was escaping,” said the technician, who spoke on condition of remaining unnamed because he is not authorized to speak publicly for the company.

    “The engineers are disappointed, and management is upset,” said the technician. “Nothing is good, nothing is good.”

    Last edited on Sun May 30th, 2010 08:20 am by sydneyst


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    Obama Makes Promises on Gulf Spill

    GRANDE ISLE, Louisiana, May 28, 2010 (ENS) - As the top kill effort continues, President Barack Obama spent the day in Louisiana on his second visit to assess federal response to the oil spill. He met with LaFourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph; with members of Congress representing the Gulf states; with Incident Commander U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen; and with the governors of Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.
    Calling it "the largest spill in American history," President Obama said

    "I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis," Obama said. "I'm the President and the buck stops with me. So I give the people of this community and the entire Gulf my word that we're going to hold ourselves accountable to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to stop this catastrophe, to defend our natural resources, to repair the damage, and to keep this region on its feet."

    Sydney: Does Obama understand that only a small amount of oil can be cleaned up once it hits sensitive areas and that the damage will be long-lasting?  Who is advising him on this matters?

    "Justice will be done for those whose lives have been upended by this disaster, for the families of those whose lives have been lost," Obama said. "That is a solemn pledge that I am making."

    The government has stationed doctors and scientists across the five Gulf States to look out for people's health and then to monitor any ill effects felt by cleanup workers and local residents, Obama said. "We've begun setting up a system to track these effects and ensure folks get the care that they need. And we've told BP that we expect them to pay for that, too."

    The President says to prepare for more oil washing up onshore "in accordance with input from folks down here," he has directed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Admiral Allen to triple the manpower in places where oil has hit the shore or is within 24 hours of impact. He said that whatever Admiral Allen needs to respond will be provided.
    Admiral Allen today authorized building a two-mile-long land barrier that may stop some of the oil from coming ashore in Louisiana as requested by Governor Bobby Jindal.

    Oil clings to reeds in the mouth of the Mississippi River where it meets the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner courtesy Greenpeace) The authorized segment of the state and coastal parish sand boom plan to protect Louisiana is on a two-mile gap of an island off Plaquemines Parish. The state's total plan requests work on 24 segments totaling around 100 miles to protect the coast.

    "We need this first project to be done as quickly as possible so work on the next five segments can get underway," said Governor Jindal today. "This first segment is only two miles of a 100-mile sand boom plan."

    Governor Jindal said frustrated Louisiana officials have "started taking matters into our own hands." Last Friday, the governor redirected a dredge that was doing a coastal restoration of a barrier island in East Grand Terre near Grande Isle to build a 2.5 mile sand boom against the oil spill.

    Today, the governor and local elected officials visited the state-directed dredging work to view the effectiveness of sand booming operations in preventing oil from intruding into the interior wetlands.

    "We re-routed this project in support of our sand boom plan because we wanted to do whatever we could to keep more oil out of our marshes and off of our coast while we waited for approval from the Corps and the Coast Guard on our plan," Governor Jindal said.
    The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has confirmed shoreline impacts to date on about 100 miles of coastline on the Chandeleurs Islands, Whiskey Island, Trinity Island, Raccoon Island, South Pass, Fourchon Beach, Grand Isle, Elmer's Island, Pass A Loutre, Brush Island, Marsh Island, Lake Raccourci, East Timbalier Island, Devil's Bay shoreline, and Grand Terre. Cleanup operations are scheduled today for Grande Isle and Fourchon.

    A cleanup crew rakes in and collects oily waste in Grand Isle, Louisiana. May 27, 2010 (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard) Speaking at the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Grande Isle, President Obama addressed the people of the Gulf coast, saying, "I know that you've weathered your fair share of trials and tragedy. I know there have been times where you've wondered if you were being asked to face them alone. I am here to tell you that you're not alone. You will not be abandoned. You will not be left behind."

    "The cameras at some point may leave; the media may get tired of the story; but we will not. We are on your side and we will see this through. We're going to keep at this every day until the leak has stopped, until this coastline is clean, and your communities are made whole again," said the President. "That's my promise to you. And that is a promise on behalf of a nation. It is one that we will keep."

    Finally, today President Obama signed a proclamation designating June as National Oceans Month. "In 2010, this annual observance falls at a time of environmental crisis, as we continue our relentless efforts to stop and contain the oil spill threatening the Gulf Coast region," he wrote.

    "As we respond to this disaster, we must not forget that our oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes demand our constant attention," Obama wrote. "They have long been under considerable strain from pollution, overfishing, climate change, and other human activity."
    "This year marks the 40th anniversary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As we commemorate this special milestone, we are reminded by the ongoing Gulf Coast crisis that we still have much to do in order to safeguard our vast oceanic resources for generations to come," the President wrote. "Forty years from now, when our children look back on this moment, let them say that we did not waiver, but rather seized this opportunity to fulfill our duty to protect the waters that sustain us."
    Response by the numbers:
    • Some 20,000 people are currently responding to protect the shoreline and wildlife.
    • Approximately 1,300 vessels are responding on site, including skimmers, tugs, barges, and recovery vessels to assist in containment and cleanup efforts, in addition to dozens of aircraft, remotely operated vehicles, and multiple mobile offshore drilling units.
    • More than 1.88 million feet of containment boom and 1.25 million feet of sorbent boom have been deployed to contain the spill, and approximately 280,000 feet of containment boom and one million feet of sorbent boom are available.
    • Approximately 11.5 million gallons of an oil-water mix have been recovered.
    • About 850,000 gallons of total dispersant have been deployed - 700,000 on the surface and 150,000 subsea. More than 400,000 gallons are available.
    • 17 staging areas are in place and ready to protect sensitive shorelines, including: Dauphin Island, Orange Beach, and Theodore, Alabama; Panama City, Pensacola, Port St. Joe, and St. Marks, Florida; Amelia, Cocodrie, Grand Isle, Shell Beach, Slidell, St. Mary, and Venice, Louisiana; and Biloxi, Pascagoula, and Pass Christian, Mississippi.

    Last edited on Sat May 29th, 2010 06:29 am by sydneyst


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    BP Resumes Effort to Plug Oil Leak After Suspension

    Stephen Crowley/The New York Times President Barack Obama toured a beach in Port Fourchon, La., on Friday. He was joined by Admiral Thad W. Allen, far left, and the Lafourche parish president Charlotte Randolph.

    May 28, 2010

     HOUSTON — BP’s renewed efforts at plugging the flow of oil from its runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico stalled again on Friday, as the company suspended pumping operations for the second time in two days before resuming the procedure Friday evening, according to a technician involved with the response effort.

    In an operation known as a “junk shot,” BP engineers poured pieces of rubber, golf balls and other materials into the crippled blowout preventer, trying to clog the device that sits atop the wellhead. The maneuver was designed to work in conjunction with the continuing “top kill” operation, in which heavy drilling liquids are pumped into the well to counteract the pressure of the gushing oil.

    The company suspended pumping operations at 2:30 a.m. Friday after two junk shot attempts, said the technician, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the efforts. They resumed the procedure at about 3:45 local time, after the nearly 12-hour interruption.

    The suspension of the effort was not announced, and appeared to again contradict statements by company and government officials that suggested the top kill procedure was progressing Friday.

    Word that the top kill had been suspended came as President Obama
    , accompanied by Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard, the leader of the government effort, toured the region affected by the largest oil spill in United States history. Mr. Obama walked along a beach dotted with balls of tar in Port Fourchon, La., and met with the parish president, Charlotte Randolph, and with the governors of Alabama, Florida and Louisiana.
    In Grand Isle, La., Mr. Obama said that “we don’t know the outcome of the highly complex top kill procedure,” and added that if it was ultimately unsuccessful, experts were ready to intervene with alternative maneuvers.

    Standing on the beach with state and local officials, Mr. Obama called the spill “an assault on our shores, the people, our regional economy and on communities like this one.”

    “This isn’t just a mess that we’ve got to mop up,” he said. “People are watching their livelihoods wash up on the beach,Mr. Obama said he was ordering an increase in manpower involved in the containment and cleanup effort in the Gulf Coast and sought to reassure area residents that “you are not alone, you will not be abandoned, not left behind.” He added that even after the news media tired of the story, “we are on your side, and we will see this through.”

    On ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Friday, Admiral Allen said the top kill effort was continuing, and that BP engineers had been able “to push the hydrocarbons and the oil down with the mud.”

    But the technician working on the effort said later Friday that despite the injections at various pressure levels, engineers had been able to keep less than 10 percent of the injection fluids inside the stack of pipes above the well. He said that was barely an improvement on Wednesday’s results when the operation began and was suspended after 11 hours. BP resumed the pumping effort Thursday evening for about 10 more hours.

    “I won’t say progress was zero, but I don’t know if we can round up enough mud to make it work,” the technician said. “Everyone is disappointed at this time.”

    Last edited on Fri May 28th, 2010 11:15 pm by sydneyst


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    Latest Situation Maps Posted

     Deepwater Horizon (MC-252) - Situation Status Map 5/26/2010 0600 Hrs (pdf, 772KB)

    The maps below will be updated daily.

    Last edited on Wed May 26th, 2010 08:00 pm by sydneyst


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    Live Video Cam Shows Damaged Riser


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    Top Kill to Proceed May 26,2010

    John McCusker/The Times-PicayuneThese pelicans were photographed Tuesday on an oil-soaked island near Grand Isle. Armed with 50,000 barrels of mud, BP will attempt today to permanently stop the flow of oil from a broken Gulf of Mexico well. If the effort, called a "top kill," is successful it would bring to an end a monthlong expulsion of oil into the Gulf. If the maneuver is not successful BP will contain the spill as best it can until another method of permanently shutting off the flow of oil -- drilling of a relief well -- is complete this summer.

    Either way, the nation, and especially the residents of the Gulf Coast, will be watching and anxiously awaiting the result as BP tries to pull off a procedure that has never been performed at 5,000 feet below the water's surface.

    Click to see a larger version of the Top Kill operation graphic.

    The top kill process involves using a 30,000-hydraulic-horsepower engine to pump fabricated "kill mud," which is about twice the density of water, into the well at 40 to 50 barrels a minute to overcome the flow of oil.

    The material will be pumped from a vessel on the surface down a 6 5/8-inch drill pipe and into a set of 3-inch hoses attached to the choke and kill lines of the blowout preventer, which failed to seal the well after the rig exploded. If all goes well, the mud will push the oil back into the reservoir. Choke and kill lines are used to control the amount and pressure of drilling mud in the wellbore so that surges of oil and natural gas can be kept under control.

    The top kill will be performed near the smaller of the two leaks. The second, larger leak, has been affixed with a tube that is capturing some, but not all, of the oil and natural gas spilling from it. Because the top kill will be performed at the base of the broken pipe, down near the blowout preventer, it should permanently shut off both leaks if it is successful.

    The procedure has at least one immediate risk. If the mud is unable to overcome the flow of the oil, it could go back up the blowout preventer lines and find its way into the broken riser pipe, causing the pipe to erode and more leaks to form.

    Kent Wells, BP's senior vice president for exploration and production, appeared less concerned that damage to the casing pipe, which extends beneath the sea floor would pose a problem, though he said the company did not have a wealth of data about the condition of the pipe after the explosion.

    "I think there's a lot of things that we don't know for sure," Wells said. "So what we're trying to prepare for is a top kill procedure that is successful in any case."

    Tony Hayward, BP's chief executive officer, said Monday that there is a 60 percent to 70 percent chance the procedure will be successful. It could take "half a day to a couple days" to find out if it has succeeded, Wells said.

    ...Smith said he plans to watch the attempt live if it is aired. BP said Tuesday night that a live feed of the spill on the company's website will remain active during the top kill effort.
    Although the spill has not caused many vessels to abandon the Port of New Orleans in favor of other ports, it has added to shipping costs as vessels pause to have their hulls cleaned of oil before entering the river and take detours to avoid traveling through spill sites. As oil continues to spill the threat of cancellations grows, said John Hyatt, vice president of Irwin Brown Co., a freight forwarder.

    BP says that the top kill has been a part of its plan to shut the well for weeks but the procedure needed to be studied because it has never been attempted at 5,000 feet below the water's surface. The company also had to disconnect, bring to the surface, test, repair and reconnect the control center that will manipulate the valves in the blowout preventer that will direct the mud's flow.

    The process, along with building materials to complete the procedure, usually takes months, Wells said.

    "In terms of the top kill, we've actually been designing the top kill since day one," Wells said. "The pace at which this has been done is far faster than what we're typically able to do at this depth."

    With all of its equipment now staged at the site, scientists from BP and the Minerals Management Service spent Tuesday performing diagnostic tests on the failed blowout preventer. BP was testing five points on the blowout preventer to ensure they could withstand the pressure of the mud flowing down the five-story apparatus. The test results will guide BP's approach to filling the well.

    Unfavorable test results could push back the top kill attempt and possibly cancel it altogether, although the latter is unlikely, Wells said.

    "That is always a possibility," Wells said, referring to canceling top kill altogether. But he called the chance that it would happen "remote."

    "At the end of the day, we have one priority and that's to shut off the well."

    If the top kill doesn't immediately work, BP will try supplementing the effort with a "junk shot." The junk shot involves shooting debris, such as tennis balls and pieces of rubber tire, into the blowout preventer to clog the oil. That would be followed by another attempt at the top kill.

    But Wells said BP wants to avoid putting those "bridging agents" down the pipe because they may block the lines in places the company doesn't want.

    If the top kill and junk shot combination fails, the company said it will try to contain the oil by removing the broken riser pipe from the blowout preventer and affixing the blowout preventer with a cap attached to a riser tube that will suction oil from the well and feed it to a ship on the surface. The cap will have a seal to keep water from entering the pipe and creating ice crystals that could block oil flow.

    "We naturally are praying that this procedure will work, obviously," Briggs said. "We're as anxious as everyone is."

    Last edited on Wed May 26th, 2010 07:46 pm by sydneyst


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    Loop Current Temporarily Destabilizes--
    Could Lessen Immediate Threat to Florida

    05/20/2010)A large rotating cyclone of cold water is pushing into the southern body of the Gulf of Mexico's Loop Current and now appears likely to destabilize or even sever the current and the oil it contains from its connection to Florida, scientists said today.

    While the BP PLC oil spill has begun to enter the current, a powerful stream that could transport a small part of the slick to the Florida Keys in about a week, there are also signs that less oil -- at least on the surface -- has taken the turn south that was feared.

    Over the past weeks, small ocean flows spinning off the body of the Loop Current, known as cyclones or eddies, have pushed and prodded the Gulf slick. In particular, one counterclockwise eddy east of the oil's main body has determinedly dragged the crude toward the main current, resulting in its current entrainment (Greenwire, May 18).

    Satellite imagery today of the Loop Current has revealed a large cyclone (C1) that is threatening to destabilize or even sever the current's head. Little of the oil slick's "tail" has been entrained into the current so far, most caught in an eddy (C2) just north of the current. Map courtesy of Nan Walker. Click the map for a larger version.

    More importantly, Roffer said, satellite shots this morning showed that an eddy farther south along the Florida coast is expanding in size and strength. That cyclone appears likely to destabilize or even sever the Loop Current, greatly reducing the oil threat to the Florida Keys and beyond, he said.

    "If it forms, it's going to pull a lot of the oil away from Florida," Roffer said. There are no guarantees, he added, "but it looks very likely that this is forming."

    Such a beheading is common to the current, which becomes more unstable as it pushes deeper into the Gulf of Mexico. Typically, a forceful counterclockwise cyclone near southwest Florida "punches through the Loop Current," severing the flow from its connection to the Atlantic, said Nan Walker, the director of the Earth Scan Lab at Louisiana State University's School of the Coast and Environment.

    "It looks like that kind of scenario is imminent," Walker said.

    After a severing, the warm rotating water of the Loop Current's head -- called a "ring" -- begins to flow west toward Texas. But the ring can dawdle, too, and sometimes reattaches with the main current. Such fluctuations defy forecasting and remain an active area of research (Greenwire, May 5).

    "At this stage, it's a watch and waiting game," Walker said.

    Loop rings tend to survive for about six months as they drift toward Texas, said Frank Muller-Karger, a professor of biological oceanography at the University of South Florida. Scientists have little idea how much oil could be captured by such a ring and pulled westward.

    Even if the large southeastern eddy does not sever the current, it could capture oil that would have otherwise made its way to the Florida Keys, said Villy Kourafalou, a Gulf of Mexico modeler at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

    'Impossible to predict' It is too soon for East Coast residents to breathe a sigh of relief, however. Oil is still bobbing 120 miles off Tampa's coast, captured in the northern eddy, and before the Loop Current expires -- if it does -- it could still surge north and entrain more of the oil, Walker said. Or it could be caught in a ring and flow westward.

    The oil tendrils -- which federal officials have called a "sheen" -- are extremely visible on satellite imagery, suggesting to Walker that there is heavier oil present in the northern eddy than has been suggested. The government may be employing some "wishful thinking" when they call it a sheen, she said.

    Also, there is little certainty about how much oil has been captured by the Loop Current in deeper waters. Since much of the oil has been broken up by dispersants and is unlikely to reach the surface, it will tend to spread sideways through the Gulf, Muller-Karger said.
    "Just the same we see at the surface, where the oil is being entrained into the Loop Current, I can imagine that the same thing is happening at depth, that oil is being entrained and moving around and spreading with these currents," he said. "Now what the impact is? It's impossible to predict."

    "Based on the size of the plume and the estimates that we're hearing of what is being injected at the bottom, this is a very large problem," Muller-Karger added.

    The deep ocean is not a complete unknown, and oceanographers are working with the government to model how the oil may be spreading, Kourafalou said.

    "We know that there are counterflows and counter-rotating eddies ... and we know that circulation is much slower," she said. "Some data sets exist and have allowed the study of basic underlying dynamics. What does not exist is a comprehensive, sustained, observational system."

    While the Loop Current may be headed toward a severing, that will not stop oil from slowly spreading across the Gulf, especially when the hurricanes begin to hit, Walker said. Some of the oil is almost certain to affect countries like Cuba and Mexico, Muller-Karger added.
    "This is a problem," he said, "that we'll have to deal with for years, as opposed to months."

    Last edited on Wed Jun 2nd, 2010 07:43 am by sydneyst


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    Desperate Measures: Water Diversions Used to Protect Wetlands
    Louisiana using Mississippi River diversions in Gulf oil spill battle

    By The Times-Picayune

    May 13, 2010, 11:26AM

    The state has opened gates at the Bayou Lamoque freshwater diversion in Plaquemines Parish to use Mississippi River water to help protect the parish's fragile network of wetlands.

    The opening will send around 7,500 cubic feet per second of river water into wetlands adjacent to Black Bay and Breton Sound, the state Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said.

    The hope is that the river water will help push any oil from the Gulf oil spill away from the coastal wetlands.

    "The potential effects of this oil spill could last for decades, so we are using every means at our disposal to try to lessen the devastation the oil could inflict on our wetlands," Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department Secretary Robert Barham said.

    Garret Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said the Lamoque diversion joins several others already pressed into service.

    "We have been using diversions, siphons and locks on both the east and west side for more than 10 days to try and push the oil away from our coastal wetlands. Louisiana's coastal wetlands are a maze of marshy islands, grass beds, bayous, ponds and lakes. It will be nearly impossible for us to clean the oil out of these areas for years if it gets in there," Graves said.

    The state said seven diversions and siphons and one navigation lock are now in use to send river water into the coastal wetlands. The total measurable flow from these diversions is 29,550 cubic feet per second.

    They are:

    - Bayou Lamoque Diversion: Plaquemines Parish. 7,500 CFS (capacity 12,000)
    - Davis Pond Diversion: St. Charles Parish. 10,650 CFS (capacity 10,650)
    - Violet Siphon: St. Bernard Parish. 200 CFS (capacity 200)
    - Caernarvon Diversion: St. Bernard Parish. 8,000 CFS (capacity 8,800)
    - Whites Ditch Siphon: Plaquemines Parish. 200 CFS (capacity 200)
    - Naomi Siphon: Plaquemines Parish. 1,500 CFS (capacity 1500)
    - West Pointe A la Hache Siphon: Plaquemines Parish. 1,500 CFS (capacity 1500)

    Officials are also considering utilizing the Bohemia Spillway in Nairn to send river water into the wetlands.

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    Latest Mapping of Massive Discharge

    May 21 forecast: Size and density of Gulf of Mexico oil spill By Emmett Mayer III, The Times-Picayune May 20, 2010, 6:56PM

    View full size

    The size and shape of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico changes by the day, depending on weather conditions as well as conditions in the Gulf itself.

    This graphic shows the forecast for Friday, May 21. The shapes of the oil slick are created from information by pilots during flyovers, as well as trajectories created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Thursday.

    Last edited on Fri May 21st, 2010 06:31 pm by sydneyst


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    Gulf Turtle Deaths Triple Normal Number

    By Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune May 18, 2010, 1:55PM There have been 162 sea turtle strandings along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico between the Texas/Louisiana border and the panhandle of Florida this month, which could be triple the average number of dead turtles found on those beaches during May in the past five years, a NOAA senior scientist said today.

    David Quinn / The Associated PressA dead sea turtle lays on the beach in Pass Christian, Miss., last week.

    While necropsies -- animal autopsies -- of 156 of the turtles are not complete and the turtle corpses were not visibly oiled, the deaths seem linked to the spreading pool of Gulf of Mexico oil offshore from the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, said Steve Murawski, NOAA Fisheries director of science programs, during a teleconference with reporters.

    That compares to an average stranding rate of 47 for the past five years, he said.
    "The stranding rate is significantly higher than background levels," Murawski said. "I have to caution that a little bit, though, because of the increased effort of looking for turtles now, compared to before the spill."

    Scientists also are investigating a dozen bottlenosed dolphin fatalities and 23 dead oiled birds that have been recovered along the coast. There have been a dozen live oiled birds captured, with eight having been cleaned so far, and four have been released, said officials with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

    But the effects of the release of millions of gallons of oil and the use of hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants up on organisms and habitat areas away from the shoreline will be much more difficult to assess, the scientists said.
    "The impacts are difficult to detect offshore because the area is difficult to observe," Murawski said. "But the long-term impacts of this event are likely to express themselves for years to come."

    He pointed out that the oil release occurred at the height of the springtime spawning season for a wide variety of fisheries and marine mammals that live along the northern Gulf coast.

    And it's also the beginning of nesting season for some of the species of sea turtles that forage for food in the Gulf.

    The turtle strandings are largely juvenile Kemp's Ridley turtles that were populating a major feeding ground just offshore. Adults of that species, which is on the endangered species list, may have been spared because most are nesting on beaches in Mexico, he said.

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    Scientists Fault Lack of Studies Over Gulf Oil Spill


    Tensions between the Obama administration and the scientific community over the gulf oil spill are escalating, with prominent oceanographers accusing the government of failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the spill’s true scope.

    The scientists assert that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies have been slow to investigate the magnitude of the spill and the damage it is causing in the deep ocean. They are especially concerned about getting a better handle on problems that may be occurring from large plumes of oil droplets that appear to be spreading beneath the ocean surface.

    The scientists point out that in the month since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, the government has failed to make public a single test result on water from the deep ocean. And the scientists say the administration has been too reluctant to demand an accurate analysis of how many gallons of oil are flowing into the sea from the gushing oil well.

    “It seems baffling that we don’t know how much oil is being spilled,” Sylvia Earle, a famed oceanographer, said Wednesday on Capitol Hill. “It seems baffling that we don’t know where the oil is in the water column.”

    The administration acknowledges that its scientific resources are stretched by the disaster, but contends that it is moving to get better information, including a more complete picture of the underwater plumes.

    “We’re in the early stages of doing that, and we do not have a comprehensive understanding as of yet of where that oil is,” Jane Lubchenco, the NOAA administrator, told Congress on Wednesday. “But we are devoting all possible resources to understanding where the oil is and what its impact might be.”

    The administration has mounted a huge response to the spill, deploying 1,105 vessels to try to skim oil, burn it and block it from shorelines. As part of the effort, the federal government and the Gulf Coast states have begun an extensive effort to catalog any environmental damage to the coast. The Environmental Protection Agency is releasing results from water sampling near shore. In most places, save for parts of Louisiana, the contamination appears modest so far.

    The big scientific question now is what is happening in deeper water. While it is clear that water samples have been taken, the results have not been made public.

    Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, told Congress on Wednesday that she was pressing for the release of additional test results, including some samples taken by boats under contract to BP.

    While the total number of boats involved in the response is high, relatively few are involved in scientific assessment of the deep ocean.

    Of the 19 research vessels owned by NOAA, 5 are in the Gulf of Mexico and available for work on the spill, Dr. Lubchenco said, counting a newly commissioned boat. The flagship of the NOAA fleet, the research vessel Ronald H. Brown, was off the coast of Africa when the spill occurred on April 20, and according to NOAA tracking logs, it was not redirected until about May 11, three weeks after the disaster began. It is sailing toward the gulf.

    At least one vessel under contract to BP has collected samples from deep water, and so have a handful of university ships. NOAA is dropping instruments into the sea that should help give a better picture of conditions.

    On May 6, NOAA called attention to its role in financing the work of a small research ship called the Pelican, owned by a university consortium in Louisiana. But when scientists aboard that vessel reported over the weekend that they had discovered large plumes undersea that appeared to be made of oil droplets, NOAA criticized the results as premature and requiring further analysis.

    Rick Steiner, a marine biologist and a veteran of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, assailed NOAA in an interview, declaring that it had been derelict in analyzing conditions beneath the sea.

    Mr. Steiner said the likelihood of extensive undersea plumes of oil droplets should have been anticipated from the moment the spill began, given that such an effect from deepwater blowouts had been predicted in the scientific literature for more than a decade, and confirmed in a test off the coast of Norway. An extensive sampling program to map and characterize those plumes should have been put in place from the first days of the spill, he said.

    “A vast ecosystem is being exposed to contaminants right now, and nobody’s watching it,” Mr. Steiner said. “That seems to me like a catastrophic failure on the part of NOAA.”

    Mr. Steiner, long critical of offshore drilling, has fought past battles involving NOAA, including one in which he was stripped of a small university grant financed by the agency. He later resigned from the University of Alaska at Anchorage and now consults worldwide on oil-spill prevention and response.

    Oceanographers have also criticized the Obama administration over its reluctance to force BP, the oil company responsible for the spill, to permit an accurate calculation of the flow rate from the undersea well. The company has refused to permit scientists to send equipment to the ocean floor that would establish the rate with high accuracy.

    Ian MacDonald of Florida State University, an oceanographer who was among the first to question the official estimate of 210,000 gallons a day, said he had come to the conclusion that the oil company was bent on obstructing any accurate calculation. “They want to hide the body,” he said.

    Andrew Gowers, a spokesman for BP, said this was not correct. Given the complex operations going on at the sea floor to try to stop the flow, “introducing more equipment into the immediate vicinity would represent an unacceptable risk,” he said.
    Thad W. Allen, the Coast Guard admiral in charge of the response to the spill, said Wednesday evening that the government had decided to try to put equipment on the ocean floor to take accurate measurements. A technical team is at work devising a method, he said. “We are shoving pizzas under the door, and they are not coming out until they give us the answer,” he said.

    Scientists have long theorized that a shallow spill and a spill in the deep ocean — this one is a mile down — would behave quite differently. A 2003 report by the National Research Council predicted that the oil in a deepwater blowout could break into fine droplets, forming plumes of oil mixed with water that would not quickly rise to the surface.

    That prediction appeared to be confirmed Saturday when the researchers aboard the Pelican reported that they had detected immense plumes that they believed were made of oil particles. The results were not final, and came as a surprise to the government. They raise a major concern, that sea life in concentrated areas could be exposed to a heavy load of toxic materials as the plumes drift through the sea.  Under scrutiny from NOAA, the researchers have retreated to their laboratories to finish their analysis.

    In an interview, Dr. Lubchenco said she was mobilizing every possible NOAA asset to get a more accurate picture of the environmental damage, and was even in the process of hiring fishing vessels to do some scientific work.
    “Our intention is to deploy every single thing we’ve got,” Dr. Lubchenco said. “If it’s not in the region, we’re bringing it there.”

    Robert Gebeloff, Andrew W. Lehren, Campbell Robertson and Matthew L. Wald contributed reporting.

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    Gulf Oil Again Imperils Sea Turtle

    By LESLIE KAUFMAN Published: May 18, 2010 v

    The Kemp's ridley turtle, whose numbers plummeted after an oil rig blowout in 1979, are in danger from the latest giant spill.

    More Photos »

    The sea turtle, affectionately nicknamed Thelma by a National Park Service employee, has already beaten some terrible odds. Still in the egg, she was airlifted here from Mexico in the years after the 1979 blowout of the Ixtoc 1 rig, which spilled millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and covered the turtles’ primary nesting place.

    Now Thelma and others of her species are being monitored closely by worried scientists as another major oil disaster threatens their habitat. Federal officials said Tuesday that since April 30, 10 days after the accident on the Deepwater Horizon, they have recorded 156 sea turtle deaths; most of the turtles were Kemp’s ridleys. And though they cannot say for sure that the oil was responsible, the number is far higher than usual for this time of year, the officials said.

    The Deepwater Horizon spill menaces a wide variety of marine life, from dolphins to blue crabs. On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration expanded a fishing ban in the gulf because of the spreading oil. But of the endangered marine species that frequent gulf waters, only the Kemp’s ridley relies on the region as its sole breeding ground.

    Since the Ixtoc 1 spill, the turtles, whose numbers fell to several hundred in the 1980s, have made a fragile comeback, and there are now at least 8,000 adults, scientists say. But the oil gushing from the well could change that.

    The turtles may be more vulnerable than any other large marine animals to the oil spreading through the gulf. An ancient creature driven by instinct, it forages for food along the coast from Louisiana to Florida, in the path of the slick.

    “It lives its entire life cycle in the gulf, which is why we are so critically concerned,” said Dr. Pat Burchfield, a scientist at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Tex., who has studied the turtle for 38 years.

    The nesting season for the sea turtles runs until mid-July, and for most of that time the mothers will remain off Padre Island and the beaches of Mexico, where there is currently no oil. But then things become more chancy, as new sea turtle babies go off to sea, floating on currents in the gulf or on seaweed patches that could be covered by crude. Hungry after egg-laying, adult females are known to go to the mouth of the Mississippi, a particularly rich feeding ground, to replenish themselves.

    Juvenile turtles, who stay off the shore, have made up most of the turtle deaths in the gulf so far.  André M. Landry Jr. of the Sea Turtle and Fisheries Ecology Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University, Galveston, said satellite radios had been attached to several sea turtles, including Thelma, for research. He hopes these will offer clues about what is happening offshore.

    “If she is beached, it is going to be constantly sending out a signal as opposed to the random signals they send out when they randomly come up to breathe,” Dr. Landry said.

    Barbara Schroeder, national turtle coordinator for NOAA fisheries, the government agency charged with assessing damage to offshore life, said that the agency was investigating the sea turtle deaths intensively, but did not have many answers yet.
    She said that so far full necropsies had been performed on 50 turtles and partial necropsies on another 17. Internal inspections of the animals, she said, did not reveal oil. But she added that scientists still had to test tissue samples taken from some of the turtles for evidence of oil.

    She cautioned that it might be hard to determine conclusively how the turtles died or even how the spill was affecting the species more generally.

    “People think this is like television, where the mystery is solved in one hour,” she said. “It is very complex. Most of the impacts occurring to turtles are out of sight. Most turtles never wash ashore.”

    The Kemp’s ridley is millions of years old; its ancestors once swam with dinosaurs. Sandy olive in color, Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest of the sea turtles, only about two feet across. Although the turtles have been spotted along the Atlantic Seaboard, they return to the warm waters of the gulf to breed.

    As recently as the 1940s, they were abundant in the Mexican gulf waters. Tens of thousands at a time would come ashore on the same day at Rancho Nuevo, a remote Mexican beach in Tamaulipas State, to lay their eggs in the synchronized pattern unique to their breed. But pollution, the collection of eggs for food and aphrodisiacs and the nets of shrimp trawlers depleted their numbers.

    Then came the blowout on the Ixtoc 1. The deepwater well dumped three million barrels of crude into the gulf, covering the beach at Rancho Nuevo. Nine thousand hatchlings had to be airlifted to nearby beaches. Although the role of the oil in killing the turtles was never confirmed, by 1985, there were fewer than 1,000 Kemp’s ridleys left.

    To prevent a single environmental catastrophe from sending the turtles into extinction, eggs from remaining turtles, including an egg that became sea turtle No. 15, were brought here to Padre Island to begin a new colony. She came in 1986.
    At birth, the babies were set free in the surf down the road from the ranger station to allow them to imprint the beach on their memories, then captured again and protected until they were nine months old and less susceptible to becoming prey.
    “We called it head start, after the school program,” said Donna J. Shaver, chief of sea turtle science and recovery for the National Park Service at Padre Island, who has worked with the sea turtles there since 1980.

    No. 15 has returned to the island six times to lay clutches of eggs, burying her most recent round of 92 eggs in the sand by an enormous rusted, beached buoy only one and a half miles from where she was first put into the surf 24 years ago.

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    Oil Reaches South Pass in Mississippi Delta
    Beaches and Wetlands Fouled
    Greenpeace Photodocuments Effects

    Greenpeace photostream

    May 16, 2010
    rights reserved to Greenpeace

    View of Washington DC All rights reserved

    Fort Jackson, Louisiana (USA).
    May 15th, 2010.

    Fort Jackson, Louisiana (USA). May 15th, 2010. Veterinarian Erica Miller, left, of the International Bird Rescue Center

    Pelican From BP Oil 
    Fort Jackson, Louisiana (USA). May 15th, 2010.

    Interior Secretary Watches Bird Cleaning Salazar Looks On As Bird Is Cleaned in Gulf US Interior Secretary at Bird Rescue Center in the Gulf Region

    Fort Jackson, Louisiana (USA).
    May 15th, 2010. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar looks on.
     All rights reserved

    Fort Jackson, Louisiana (USA). May 15th, 2010. The Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar looks on.
    rights reserved

    Fort Jackson, Louisiana (USA). May 15th, 2010. The Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visits the

    Last edited on Wed May 19th, 2010 12:47 am by sydneyst


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    Do Dispersants Only Worsen the Problem?
    Australian Government Replies That Situationally They Help

    Protect Birds, Sensitive Wetlands, Potentially Lethal to fish Larvae

    excerpts on ecotoxicology:

    1. Are chemical dispersants toxic to marine life ?

    For the majority of laboratory tests the Australian approved Oil Spill Dispersants rate predominantly as "slightly toxic" to "practically non-toxic" by the International Maritime Organization/GESAMP classification system. (Sydney: note that this list includes Corexit, the dispersant primarily used in the Gulf).

    All dispersants approved for use within Australian waters must pass laboratory acute toxicity testing requirements for two temperate and two tropical marine species as specified by the National Plan protocol.

    The toxicity of dispersed oil is primarily due to the toxic components of the oil itself. Many laboratory studies on a range of test species have confirmed the fact that "the acute toxicity of dispersed oil generally does not reside in the dispersant but in the more toxic fractions of the oil".

    The toxicity of Oil Spill Dispersants to aquatic organisms under laboratory conditions appears to relate primarily to the chemical composition of the individual dispersant.
    At the application rates used in (most) oil spill incidents, and mixing conditions of the ocean, Oil Spill Dispersants would not, in most circumstances, be toxic to marine organisms.

    National Plan Guidelines for Acceptance of Oil Spill Dispersants).
    At present ten oil spill dispersants have been approved under the National Plan guidelines. Their "Trade Names" are listed below:

  • Tergo R-40
  • Ardrox 6120
  • BP-AB
  • Corexit 9500
  • Corexit 9527
  • Corexit 9550
  • Shell VDC
  • Shell VDC+
  • Slickgone NS
  • Slickgone LTSW.

  • 2. What are the negative effects of dispersants on the environment ?

    The acute toxicity of dispersed oil generally does not reside in the dispersant but in the more toxic fractions of the oil. Dispersing oil into the water in situations where there is little water movement or exchange, such as shallow embayments, increases exposure of subsurface, benthic organisms and fish to the toxic components of the oil.

    Fish and other marine life in the larvae stage or juvenile stages are more prone to the toxicity effects of oil and dispersants. Therefore it is unlikely dispersants will be used near commercial fisheries, important breeding grounds, fish nurseries, shellfish aquaculture etc. unless it is to protect a more important environmental resource.
    Seagrasses and coral reef communities are particularly sensitive to dispersed oil because instead of the oil "floating over" the reefs and submerged seagrass beds the oil/dispersant mixture in the water colour will come into direct contact with these sensitive ecosystems.

    Generally there is a reluctance by spill responders to use dispersants in shallow waters less than 5 metres deep, although there may be situations where using dispersants could save foreshore impacts or wildlife.

    3. What are the impacts of dispersed oil on coral reefs? Coral reef communities are highly sensitive to both oil and oil/dispersant mixtures. For example the exposure of coral to hydrocarbons can cause:

  • loss of symbiotic zooxanthellae (tiny algae living in coral),
  • reduced metabolism,
  • cellular atrophy,
  • decreased reproductive success,
  • impaired tissue development, and
  • death of the coral.

  • Spill responders will avoid using Oil Spill Dispersants in or near coral reefs, in shallow waters, sea grass beds or where poor water exchange or circulation is apparent, unless in exceptional circumstances to protect mangroves or other highly sensitive foreshores.

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    Less Toxic Dispersants Lose Out in BP Oil Spill Cleanup

    After the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and a deepwater well began gushing crude in the Gulf of Mexico three weeks ago, BP quickly marshaled a third of the world's available supply of dispersants, chemicals that break surface oil slicks into microscopic droplets that can sink into the sea.

    But the benefits of keeping some oil out of beaches and wetlands carry uncertain costs. Scientists warn that the dispersed oil, as well as the dispersants themselves, might cause long-term harm to marine life.

    So far, BP has told federal agencies that it has applied more than 400,000 gallons of a dispersant sold under the trade name Corexit and manufactured by Nalco Co., a company that was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and whose current leadership includes executives at both BP and Exxon. And another 805,000 gallons of Corexit are on order, the company said, with the possibility that hundreds of thousands of more gallons may be needed if the well continues spewing oil for weeks or months.

    But according to EPA data, Corexit ranks far above dispersants made by competitors in toxicity and far below them in effectiveness in handling southern Louisiana crude.  Of 18 dispersants whose use EPA has approved, 12 were found to be more effective on southern Louisiana crude than Corexit, EPA data show. Two of the 12 were found to be 100 percent effective on Gulf of Mexico crude, while the two Corexit products rated 56 percent and 63 percent effective, respectively. The toxicity of the 12 was shown to be either comparable to the Corexit line or, in some cases, 10 or 20 times less, according to EPA.

    EPA has not taken a stance on whether one dispersant should be used over another, leaving that up to BP. All the company is required to do is to choose an EPA-approved chemical, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters yesterday during a conference call aimed at addressing questions about dispersants being used in efforts to contain the Gulf spill.

    "Our regular responsibilities say, if it's on the list and they want to use it, then they are preauthorized to do so," Jackson said.

    One explanation for BP's reliance on Nalco's Corexit, which its competitors say dominates the niche market for dispersants because of its industry ties, was its availability in large quantities at the time of the Gulf spill.

    "Obviously, logistics and stockpiles and the ability for the responsible party to pull the materials together," Jackson said. "I'm sure that has a lot to do with the ones that they choose."

    Nonetheless, experts question BP's sustained commitment to Corexit, given apparently superior alternatives.

    "Why wouldn't you go for the lesser toxic formulation?" said Carys Mitchelmore, an assistant professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology at the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science. Mitchelmore testified on Capitol Hill this week about dispersants and co-authored a 2005 National Academy of Sciences report on the chemicals.

    ...Critics say Nalco, a joint partnership with Exxon Chemical that was spun off in the 1990s, boasts oil-industry insiders on its board of directors and among its executives, including an 11-year board member at BP and a top Exxon executive who spent 43 years with the oil giant.

    "It's a chemical that the oil industry makes to sell to itself, basically," said Richard Charter, a senior policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife.

    The older of the two Corexit products that BP has used in the Gulf spill, Corexit 9527, was also sprayed in 1989 on the 11-million-gallon slick created by the Exxon Valdez grounding in Alaska's Prince William Sound.

    Cleanup workers suffered health problems afterward, including blood in their urine and assorted kidney and liver disorders. Some health problems were blamed on the chemical 2-butoxyethanol, an ingredient discontinued in the latest version of Corexit, Corexit 9500, whose production Nalco officials say has been ramped up in response to the Gulf of Mexico disaster.

    Among Corexit's competitors, a product called Dispersit far outpaced Corexit 9500, EPA test results show, rating nearly twice as effective and between half and a third as toxic, based on two tests performed on fish and shrimp.

    Bruce Gebhardt, president of the company that manufactures Dispersit, U.S. Polychemical Corp., said BP asked for samples of his company's product two weeks ago. Later, he said, BP officials told him that EPA had wanted to ensure they had "crossed all their T's and dotted all their I's" before moving forward.

    Gebhardt says he could make 60,000 gallons a day of Dispersit to meet the needs of spill-containment efforts. Dispersit was formulated to outperform Corexit and got EPA approval 10 years ago, he said, but the dispersant has failed to grab market share from its larger rival.

    "When we came out with a safer product, we thought people would jump on board," he said. "That's not the case. We were never able to move anyone of any size off the Corexit product."

    He added, "We're just up against a giant."

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    Kemp Ridley Hatching Numbers for Texas Coast

    More Kemp's ridley nests are recorded at Padre Island National Seashore than at any other location in the U.S., making it the most important Kemp’s ridley nesting beach in the U.S. (Shaver, 2005).

    In 1996, two Kemp's ridley sea turtles with living tags came ashore and laid eggs at Padre Island National Seashore. These were the first recorded returnees from the 1978-1988 project. One of the turtles had been hatched in 1983 and the other in 1986. During nearly every year since 1996, a few turtles from this project have been found nesting. However, most of the turtles nesting in Texas today are from the wild stock. In 2009, 197 Kemp's ridley nests were located in Texas, including 117 at Padre Island National Seashore.

    Nesting by Kemp's ridleys has increased on the Texas coast in recent years. The annual numbers of nests and eggs documented, and hatchlings released on the Texas coast since 1996 are shown in the table below (Shaver, 2005, unpublished data).
    Kemp’s ridley nests documented on the Texas coast since 1996

    a) Of the 195 nests discovered, 185 of the nests kept in protected incubation contained 17,958 unbroken eggs (25 were broken). An additional unknown quantity of eggs were in the 10 nests that incubated on the beach. Over half of these in situ nests were predated and accurate egg counts could not be made.
    b) Overall, 15,819 hatchlings were released and successfully entered the water from the 185 nests in protected incubation. An additional unknown quantity were released from 10 nests that incubated unprotected on the beach (two of which failed to hatch).
    c) Of the 197 nests discovered, 186 of the nests kept in protected incubation contained 17,507 unbroken eggs (11 were broken). An additional unknown quantity of eggs were in the 11 nests that incubated on the beach. Over half of these in situ nests were predated and accurate egg counts could not be made.
    d) Overall, 14,506 hatchlings were released and successfully entered the water from the 186 nests in protected incubation. An additional unknown quantity were released from 11 nests that incubated unprotected on the beach.

    Attached Image (viewed 1294 times):


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    Powerful 60 Minutes Special Investigates Blow-out

    May 16,2010;housing
    Scott Pelley interviews Mike Williams, a survivor who tells of his improbable escape and the critical  decisions leading up to the blow-out that appeared to be based on speed and profit-making rather than safety.  A leading U Cal expert on blow-outs assesses the evidence.

    excerpts from transcript:

    But while it was shut tight, a crewman on deck accidentally nudged a joystick, applying hundreds of thousands of pounds of force, and moving 15 feet of drill pipe through the closed blowout preventer.

    Later, a man monitoring drilling fluid rising to the top made a troubling find
    (WILLIAMS) He discovered chunks of rubber in the drilling fluid.

    Mike Williams

    And, Williams says, he knew about another problem with the blowout preventer.
    The bop is operated from the surface by wires connected to two control pods. One is a back-up. Williams says one pod lost some of its function weeks before. Transocean tells us the bop was tested by remote control after these incidents and passed. But nearly a mile below, there was no way to know how much damage there was or whether the pod was unreliable.

    In the hours before the disaster, Deepwater Horizon’s work was nearly done. All that was left was to seal the well closed. The oil would be pumped out by another rig later. Williams says, that during a safety meeting, the manager for the rig owner, transocean, was explaining how they were going to close the well when the manager from BP interrupted.

    (WILLIAMS) I had the BP company man sitting directly beside me. And he literally perked up and said “Well my process is different. And I think we’re going to do it this way.”

    And they kind of lined out how he thought it should go that day.
    So there was short of a chest-bumping kind of deal. The communication seemed to break down as to who was ultimately in charge.

    The day of the accident, BP flew several managers to the Deep Water Horizon for a ceremony to congratulate the crew for seven years without an injury.
    While they where there, a surge of explosive gas came flying up the well from three miles below.

    The rig’s diesel engines which power its electric generators sucked in the gas and began to run wild.

    (WILLIAMS) I’m hearing hissing. Engines are over-revving. And then all of a sudden, all the lights in my shop just started getting brighter and brighter and brighter. And I knew then, we were, something bad was getting ready to happen.

    Read more:


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    Partial Lists Available Identifying Turtle Habitat in Path of Spill

    No composite map seems available for all the beach nests and habitat of the potentially affected turtle species.  Nevertheless, some localized maps or lists providing nest locations are available:
    2010 tracking information
    A project of Padre Island National Seashore Kemp's Ridley Tracking Program in conjunction with the partners and sponsors detailed below.

    Subscribe to receive daily project updates

    Padre Island National Seashore Kemp's Ridley Tracking - 2010

     Name                   Species           Life Stage    Release Date    Last Location     Days Transmitted

    47519 (YYA949)Kemp's Ridley  adult           2010-04-29      2010-05-1617
    47529 (YYA504)Kemp's Ridley  Adult           2010-05-06      2010-05-159
    47562 (YYA562)Kemp's Ridley  Adult           2010-05-06      2010-05-159
    47690 (YYA155)Kemp's Ridley  Adult           2010-05-11      2010-05-154

    Click on an animal's name for maps and more information.

    In 2009, a midyear census tallied 181 Kemp's ridley nests on the Texas coast including (north to south in state):

    Bolivar Peninsula 1
    Galveston Island 3
    Brazoria County, north of Surfside 3
    Surfside Beach 0
    Quintana Beach 1
    Bryan Beach 2
    San Bernard Wildlife Refuge 1
    Sargent Beach 1
    Matagorda Peninsula 3
    Matagorda Island 7
    San Jose Island 4
    Mustang Island 2
    Corpus Christi Bay 1
    North Padre Island 116, including 109 at Padre Island National Seashore
    South Padre Island 27
    Boca Chica Beach 9 provides a map of recent sitings of sea turtles in the gulf but the information is  not current:

    more general information on Kemp's Ridley turtles:

    Other links:

    NPS Photo
    Kemp's ridley hatchling

    Here are links to some important information on sea turtles, life history and habitat:

    Green Sea Turtle
    Hawksbill Sea Turtle
    Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
    Leatherback Sea Turtle
    Loggerhead Sea Turtle
    Current Information and Reporting
    Current Sea Turtle Nesting Season
    Hatchling Sea Turtle Releases
    Look for and Report Sea Turtles Nesting
    Look for and Report Stranded Sea Turtles
    Texas Area Contacts to Report Nesting and Stranded Sea Turtles
    Sea Turtle Research and Conservation
    Sea Turtle Science and Recovery Overview
    Sea Turtle Research, Conservation, and Monitoring Partners
    Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Recovery Project
    Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network
    Satellite Tracking of Nesting Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles

    Satellite Tracking of Adult Male Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles
    Netting, Satellite Tracking, and Strandings of Green Sea Turtles
    Other Related Information
    Media Coverage
    Community Support
    Trained Dog to Help Locate Nests
    Habits of Nesting Kemp's Ridley Turtles
    Habits of Emerging Kemp's Ridley Hatchlings

    Last edited on Sun May 16th, 2010 11:46 pm by sydneyst


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    Another Snag Hits As Oil Plumes Form Under Water
    by NPR Staff and Wires
    May 16

    May 16, 2010
    BP officials say they were on the verge of a breakthrough stemming the gushing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, but another accident has set them back. Meanwhile, scientists have found huge plumes of oil lurking under the surface of the water.

    Officials say they successfully inserted a new pipe into the broken pipe spewing oil into the Gulf. That new pipe started sending oil to a ship on the surface, but, just moments later, two remotely-operated robots crashed into each other and knocked the pipes partially apart. The robots were taking photos of the operation.

    Heard On 'All Things Considered' May 15, 2010

    BP spokesman Glenn DaGian says engineers estimate it will take about nine hours to fix the problem. Despite the debacle, he says, BP was able to prove that their latest effort to fix the well was working — however briefly.

    At least 210,000 gallons of oil a day has gushed into the Gulf of Mexico since an oil rig exploded April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven people were killed in the blast.
    Researchers from the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology say they have detected large oil plumes from just beneath the surface of the sea to more than 4,000 feet deep.

    Three or four large plumes have been found, at least one that is 10 miles long and a mile wide, said Samantha Joye, a marine science professor at the University of Georgia.

    Researchers Vernon Asper and Arne Dierks said in Web posts that the plumes were "perhaps due to the deep injection of dispersants which BP has stated that they are conducting."

    These researchers were also testing the effects of large amounts of subsea oil on oxygen levels in the water. The oil can deplete oxygen in the water, harming plankton and other tiny creatures that serve as food for a wide variety of sea critters.
    Oxygen levels in some areas have dropped 30 percent, and should continue to drop, Joye said.

    "It could take years, possibly decades, for the system to recover from an infusion of this quantity of oil and gas," Joye said. "We've never seen anything like this before. It's impossible to fathom the impact."

    Joye's lab was waiting for the research boat to return so a team of scientists can test about 75 water samples and 100 sediment samples gathered during the voyage. Researchers plan to go back out in about a month and sample the same areas to see if oil and oxygen levels have worsened.

    One expert said BP's latest idea seems to have the best chance for success so far. Inserting a pipe into the oil gusher would be easy at the surface, said Ed Overton, a LSU professor of environmental studies. But using robots in 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) of water with oil rushing out of the pipe makes things much more difficult.

    "It's something like threading the eye of a needle. But that can be tough to do up here. And you can imagine how hard it would be to do it down there with a robot," Overton said.

    The tube could capture more than three-quarters of the leak. BP also must contend with a smaller leak that's farther away. A week ago, the company tried to put a massive box over the main leak, but icelike crystals formed and BP scrapped that plan.
    n, and Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, contributed to this report.

    Last edited on Sun May 16th, 2010 11:56 pm by sydneyst


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    Studies Review Historical Evidence Regarding
    Biodegradation of Oil in Seawater

    Temperature, Pressure, Oil Chemistry, Weathering, Available Nutrients and Bacteria Type Affect Breakdown

    Complex processes of oil transformation in the marine environment start developing from the first seconds of oil's contact with seawater. The progression, duration, and result of these transformations depend on the properties and composition of the oil itself, parameters of the actual oil spill, and environmental conditions...

    Biosedimentation Effects

    Simultaneously, the process of biosedimentation happens. Plankton filtrators and other organisms absorb the emulsified oil. They sediment it to the bottom with their metabolites and remainders. The suspended forms of oil and its components undergo intense chemical and biological (microbial in particular) decomposition in the water column. However, this situation radically changes when the suspended oil reaches the sea bottom.

    Numerous experimental and field studies show that the decomposition rate of the oil buried on the bottom abruptly drops. The oxidation processes slow down, especially under anaerobic conditions in the bottom environment. The heavy oil fractions accumulated inside the sediments can be preserved for many months and even years...

    Microbial degradation.
    After a spill, hydrocarbons are subjected to physicochemical processes such as evaporation or photochemical oxidation which produce changes in oil composition. But the most important process acting on the spilled oil is biodegradation.

    It is well established that most crude oils are biodegradable to a great extent, especially components as short linear alkanes or simple aromatic hydrocarbons. However, the heavy fraction, made of long-chain saturated and polyaromatic hydrocarbons and a considerable fraction of asphaltenes and resins, is generally recalcitrant to degradation.

    The most important environmental factors that influence hydrocarbon biodegradation include temperature, concentration of nutrients and oxygen, and, of course, species composition and abundance of oil-degrading microorganisms. These complex and interconnected factors ...make interpreting and comparing available data about the rates and scale of oil biodegradation in the marine environment extremely difficult...

    ...About a hundred known species of bacteria and fungi are able to use oil components to sustain their growth and metabolism. In pristine areas, their proportions usually do not exceed 0.1-1.0% of the total abundance of heterotrophic bacterial communities. In areas polluted by oil, however, this portion increases to 1-10% [Atlas, 1993].

    Historical Spills and Evidence

    The spill of the supertanker Amoco Cadiz in March 1978 resulted in the largest oil spill to that date. In excess of 190,000 metric tons of oil was released into the marine environment during 2 weeks. A variety of intertidal sites off the Brittany coast was affected. Aminot (3) examined the fate of the oil in the water column before reaching the shoreline. He found a depletion of N, P, and 02 in the water column beneath
    the oil, which apparently resulted from microbial degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons.

    The in situ deficits of N, P, and 02 converted to a hydrocarbon biodegradation rate of 0.03 mg of oil degraded per liter per day in the water column under the oil. Aminot estimated that 9,000 metric tons of oil was biodegraded in the water column during the 2 weeks following the spill.

    ...The magnitude of the Amoco Cadiz spill was surpassed by the spill from the IXTOC-I well blowout. In June 1979, oil began spilling into the Bay of Campeche, Gulf of Mexico. The oil flowed for 10 months before the well was capped. Some of the oil washed onto the coastal beaches of Texas, but for the most part the current carried the oil away from U.S. waters. The oil from the IXTOC-I well formed a mousse.

    Boehm and VOL. 45, 1981 MICROBIOL. REV. Fiest (45) found little evidence for biological weathering of the hydrocarbons in the mousse.

    Atlas and co-workers (22, 23) found that biodegradation of mousse was greatly restricted, probably due to nutrient limitations and limited surface area for microbial attack. During a 6-month laboratory incubation under simulated natural conditions, 2 to 5% of the mousse (73) was converted to CO2. Despite favorable temperatures and high populations of hydrocarbon utilizers in association with the mousse, changes in n-alkane/ isoprenoid ratios took months rather than days to weeks.

    The contribution of biodegradation to weathering of oil from the IXTOC-I well was notably slower and of less magnitude than was found for the Amoco Cadiz. Pfaender and co-workers (52, 219) examined the degradation of hydrocarbons within the water column affected by the IXTOC-I oil. They found relatively rapid turnover times for hydrocarbons which had become dissolved in the water column. Rates of degradation ranged from 0.01 to 44pug of aliphatic hydrocarbon respired per liter per h with turnover times of 30 to 266 h.

    Last edited on Sun May 16th, 2010 11:57 pm by sydneyst


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    Giant Oil Plumes Now Being Detected in Deep Water

    Jim Wilson/The New York Times Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visited a wildlife treatment center in Louisiana on Saturday.

    Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots. The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.

    “There’s a shocking amount of oil in the deep water, relative to what you see in the surface water,” said Samantha Joye, a researcher at the University of Georgia who is involved in one of the first scientific missions to gather details about what is happening in the gulf. “There’s a tremendous amount of oil in multiple layers, three or four or five layers deep in the water column.”

    The plumes are depleting the oxygen dissolved in the gulf, worrying scientists, who fear that the oxygen level could eventually fall so low as to kill off much of the sea life near the plumes.

    Dr. Joye said the oxygen had already dropped 30 percent near some of the plumes in the month that the broken oil well had been flowing. “If you keep those kinds of rates up, you could draw the oxygen down to very low levels that are dangerous to animals in a couple of months,” she said Saturday. “That is alarming.”

    The plumes were discovered by scientists from several universities working aboard the research vessel Pelican, which sailed from Cocodrie, La., on May 3 and has gathered extensive samples and information about the disaster in the gulf.
    Scientists studying video of the gushing oil well have tentatively calculated that it could be flowing at a rate of 25,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil a day. The latter figure would be 3.4 million gallons a day. But the government, working from satellite images of the ocean surface, has calculated a flow rate of only 5,000 barrels a day.

    BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.

    “The answer is no to that,” a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said on Saturday. “We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.”

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    Latest Weather Forecast for Gulf

    3 to 5 ft Seas Over Most of the Gulf

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    Crisis in the Gulf: Where Were the Watchdogs?

    Red shades indicate concentration of oil patches and where government believes oil will be by Sunday. Gray line indicates margin of error.

    May 15, 2010: 9:06 AM ETNEW YORK ( -- After a week grilling oil executives over what caused the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, lawmakers are setting their sights on government regulators next week.They'll be asking the watchdogs about just what kind of role they had in approving the ill-fated drilling operation, and why they weren't better prepared to deal with the disaster.

    At least four hearings are scheduled, including a Senate appearance Monday by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Coast Guard Rear Admiral Peter Neffenger. More hearings are slated for Tuesday with other members of the administration.

    High on lawmakers' hit list is the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, the agency that issues permits for offshore drilling.

    MMS issued the permits for the BP-contracted Deepwater Horizon drill rig, which exploded April 20 and subsequently sank, claiming 11 lives and leaving an uncapped oil well spewing into the Gulf.

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    Size of Oil Spill Underestimated, Scientists Say

    Two weeks ago, the government put out a round estimate of the size of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico: 5,000 barrels a day. Repeated endlessly in news reports, it has become conventional wisdom. The criticism escalated on Thursday, a day after the release of a video that showed a huge black plume of oil gushing from the broken well at a seemingly high rate. BP has repeatedly claimed that measuring the plume would be impossible.

    The figure of 5,000 barrels a day was hastily produced by government scientists in Seattle. It appears to have been calculated using a method that is specifically not recommended for major oil spills.

    Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University who is an expert in the analysis of oil slicks, said he had made his own rough calculations using satellite imagery. They suggested that the leak could “easily be four or five times” the government estimate, he said.

    “The government has a responsibility to get good numbers,” Dr. MacDonald said. “If it’s beyond their technical capability, the whole world is ready to help them.”
    Scientists said that the size of the spill was directly related to the amount of damage it would do in the ocean and onshore, and that calculating it accurately was important for that reason.

    BP has repeatedly said that its highest priority is stopping the leak, not measuring it. “There’s just no way to measure it,” Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, said in a recent briefing.

    Yet for decades, specialists have used a technique that is almost tailor-made for the problem. With undersea gear that resembles the ultrasound machines in medical offices, they measure the flow rate from hot-water vents on the ocean floor. Scientists said that such equipment could be tuned to allow for accurate measurement of oil and gas flowing from the well.

    Richard Camilli and Andy Bowen, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who have routinely made such measurements, spoke extensively to BP last week, Mr. Bowen said. They were poised to fly to the gulf to conduct volume measurements.

    But they were contacted late in the week and told not to come, at around the time BP decided to lower a large metal container to try to capture the leak. That maneuver failed. They have not been invited again.

    “The government and BP are calling the shots, so I will have to respect their judgment,” Dr. Camilli said.

    BP did not respond Thursday to a question about why Dr. Camilli and Mr. Bowen were told to stand down. Speaking more broadly about the company’s policy on measuring the leak, a spokesman, David H. Nicholas, said in an e-mail message that “the estimated rate of flow would not affect either the direction or scale of our response, which is the largest in history.”

    Dr. MacDonald and other scientists said the government agency that monitors the oceans, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, had been slow to mount the research effort needed to analyze the leak and assess its effects. Sylvia Earle, a former chief scientist at NOAA and perhaps the country’s best-known oceanographer, said that she, too, was concerned by the pace of the scientific response.

    But Jane Lubchenco, the NOAA administrator, said in an interview on Thursday: “Our response has been instantaneous and sustained. We would like to have more assets. We would like to be doing more. We are throwing everything at it that we physically can.”

    The issue of how fast the well is leaking has been murky from the beginning. For several days after the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, the government and BP claimed that the well on the ocean floor was leaking about 1,000 barrels a day.

    A small organization called SkyTruth, which uses satellite images to monitor environmental problems, published an estimate on April 27 suggesting that the flow rate had to be at least 5,000 barrels a day, and probably several times that.
    The following day, the government — over public objections from BP — raised its estimate to 5,000 barrels a day. A barrel is 42 gallons, so the estimate works out to 210,000 gallons per day.

    BP later acknowledged to Congress that the worst case, if the leak accelerated, would be 60,000 barrels a day, a flow rate that would dump a plume the size of the Exxon Valdez spill into the gulf every four days. BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward, has estimated that the reservoir tapped by the out-of-control well holds at least 50 million barrels of oil.

    The 5,000-barrel-a-day estimate was produced in Seattle by a NOAA unit that responds to oil spills. It was calculated with a protocol known as the Bonn convention that calls for measuring the extent of an oil spill, using its color to judge the thickness of oil atop the water, and then multiplying.

    However, Alun Lewis, a British oil-spill consultant who is an authority on the Bonn convention, said the method was specifically not recommended for analyzing large spills like the one in the Gulf of Mexico, since the thickness was too difficult to judge in such a case.

    Even when used for smaller spills, he said, correct application of the technique would never produce a single point estimate, like the government’s figure of 5,000 barrels a day, but rather a range that would likely be quite wide.

    NOAA declined to supply detailed information on the mathematics behind the estimate, nor would it address the points raised by Mr. Lewis.

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    Marine Habitat Sanctuaries Near the Spill

    visit website for enlarged and more readable map

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    Sea Turtles in Gulf of Mexico

    Five of the world’s seven sea turtle species are found in the Gulf of Mexico: green, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley. All five species have been documented nesting on Padre Island National Seashore either historically or recently, but the majority of the nesting records are of the Kemp’s ridley. These magnificent marine animals, once abundant in the oceans, have declined during the last

    Kemp’s ridley sea turtle

    The Kemp’s ridley, Lepidochelys kempii, is the smallest of the fi ve sea turtles found in the Gulf of Mexico. It is the most endangered sea turtle worldwide. The average length of a Kemp’s ridley is 23 to 27 in. (58.5 to 70 cm) and an average weight of 100 lbs. (45 kg). This is the only species of sea turtle with an almost circular upper shell. Adults are olive green in color above and pale yellow below.  The Kemp’s ridley’s range is chiefl y in the Gulf of Mexico, but they can be found along the Atlantic coast as far north as New England and Nova Scotia. The primary nesting ground is a
    16-mile stretch of beach at Playa de Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, Mexico.


    The leatherback, Dermochelys coriacea, is the largest species of sea turtle and the largest reptile in the world. An adult leatherback can reach up to 2000 lbs. (907 kg) and nine feet (275 cm) in length. They are black in color with pinkish white mottled areas on their shells. The shell of the leatherback is not a hard bony
    shell, like that of other sea turtles, instead it is made of leathery, oil-saturated connective tissue loosely overlaying on interlocking dermal bones.

    In one day, a leatherback can eat its weight in jellies. Leatherbacks have a special adaptation that allows them to change their body temperature and dive into deeper, colder water than other sea turtles. This species is the most migratory and widespread of all the sea turtles and can be found nesting in the
    tropical beaches of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian

    Last edited on Wed May 12th, 2010 07:59 pm by sydneyst


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    Why Wetlands Are Such a Concern: Role in Gulf Ecosystem

    Shorelines and Coastal Habitats in the Gulf of Mexico


    Shorelines and coastal wetlands in the Gulf of Mexico
    The Gulf of Mexico coastal areas have more than half of the coastal wetlands within the lower 48 states; Louisiana alone has approximately 40 percent of the total.

    Although coastal areas are vital for fish species and protection of human life and property ashore, the Gulf of Mexico has been losing coastal land at a
    very high rate over the last 50 years. ...

    The effect of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on coastal erosion will be determined by how much oil reaches these habitats, and how long it stays there. A lot of oil resting on vegetated coastal shorelines could cause the vegetation to become stressed and die; this could cause the roots to die, weakening marsh soils. Weakened marsh soils would then be at risk of accelerated erosion from waves and storms.

    Habitat in the Gulf of Mexico

    97% (by weight) of the commercial fish and shellfish landings from the Gulf of Mexico are species that depend on estuaries and their wetlands at some point in their life cycle. Landings from the coastal zone in Louisiana alone make up nearly one-third (by weight) of the fish harvested in the entire continental United States.

    In such an incredibly productive area, important habitat in the Gulf covers nearly every part of the ecosystem. Some examples include the open water column, floating sargassum mats, deep-sea soft corals, hard coral reefs, rocky hard-bottom substrates, ledges and caves, limestone outcroppings, artificial reefs, mangroves, sandy bottom, muddy bottom, marshes, submerged aquatic vegetation, bays, lagoons and even the sandy beach, which turtles use for laying eggs.  In federal waters, species that use the surface would be most impacted by the early stages of the oil spill.

    As the crude oil sinks, the bottom-oriented fish community may be impacted.
    In general, the 42 reef fish species managed in the Gulf of Mexico are often found in bottom areas with high relief, such as coral reefs, artificial reefs, and rocky hard-bottom surfaces. These areas are usually deeper than 100 meters. As long as the oil spill remains on the surface and offshore, the impacts to reef fish habitat should be minor. However, if the oil slick reaches the bottom or nearshore/inshore areas, the 2 majority of the reef fish species could be impacted. However, some reef fish spawn in spring, and their eggs and larvae are usually planktonic, carried by currents rather than through their own control. These larvae would not be able to avoid or escape the oil if currents brought them together. Sargassum mats are
    nursery habitat for some species, including gray triggerfish and amberjacks. Sargassum mats that intersect the oil could impact these species.

    In state waters, all coastal species could be impacted if the oil spill reaches nearshore waters. In addition, shrimp larvae usually spend the early months of their life in inshore waters before migrating toward the ocean. Brown shrimp postlarvae migrate from February to April, and white shrimp being their migration from May through November. During spring and summer months, several Gulf shark species use coastal habitats as nursery areas, so if oil reaches coastal areas they use, they would be affected.

    How oil affects habitats and species

    Dispersed and dissolved oil (comprised of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, (PAHs)) in the water can result in exposure of aquatic resources to the toxicological effects of PAHs. This contact in the water column may be exacerbated by use of surfactants, weather conditions and other dispersal methods which increase mixing.

    PAHs can cause direct toxicity (mortality) to marine mammals, fish, and aquatic invertebrates through smothering and other physical and chemical mechanisms. Besides direct mortality, PAHs can also cause sublethal effects such as: DNA damage, liver disease, cancer, and reproductive, developmental, and immune system impairment in fish and other organisms. PAHs can accumulate in invertebrates, which
    may be unable to efficiently metabolize the compounds. PAHs can then be passed to higher trophic levels, such as fish and marine mammals, when they consume prey.
    The presence of discharged oil in the environment may cause decreased habitat use in the area, altered migration patterns, altered food availability, and disrupted life cycles.

    During past oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA has documented direct toxic impacts to commercially important aquatic fauna, including blue crabs, squid, shrimp and different finfish species.

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    Mangrove Swamps at Risk from Spill: Nursery for
     Marine Life

    Four species of tropical mangroves can be found around the Gulf of Mexico. Their extensive root systems protect the coast from erosion and storm damage. The mangrove here (inset) is a red mangrove.

    Mangrove swamps are coastal wetlands found in tropical and subtropical regions. They are characterized by halophytic (salt loving) trees, shrubs and other plants growing in brackish to saline tidal waters. These wetlands are often found in estuaries, where fresh water meets salt water and are infamous for their impenetrable maze of woody vegetation. In North America, they are found from the southern tip of Florida along the Gulf Coast to Texas. Florida's southwest coast supports one of the largest mangrove swamps in the world.

    Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans) is the most common mangrove in the United States outside of the everglades. The straw-like spikes surrounding this plant are pneumatophores.
    Mangrove trees dominate this wetland ecosystem due to their ability to survive in both salt and fresh water. In the continental United States, only three species of mangrove grow: red, black, and white mangroves.

    Red Mangrove (Rhizophera mangle) is easily recognized by its distinctive arching roots. Black Mangrove (Avicennia sp.), which often grows more inland, has root projections called pneumatophores, which help to supply the plant with air in submerged soils. White Mangroves (Laguncularia racemosa) often grow even farther inland with no outstanding root structures.

    A wide diversity of animals is found in mangrove swamps. Since these estuarine swamps are constantly replenished with nutrients transported by fresh water runoff from the land and flushed by the ebb and flow of the tides, they support a bursting population of bacteria and other decomposers and filter feeders. These ecosystems sustain billions of worms, protozoa, barnacles (Balanus spp.), oysters (Crassostrea spp.), and other invertebrates. These organisms in turn feed fish and shrimp, which support wading birds, pelicans, and the endangered Crocodile.

    The Snowy Egret (Egretta thula), now common, was hunted almost to extinction in the early 20th century for its fine feathers which were used to adorn hats.

    Functions & Values

    The importance of mangrove swamps has been well established. They function as nurseries for shrimp and recreational fisheries, exporters of organic matter to adjacent coastal food chains, and enormous sources of valuable nutrients. Their physical stability helps to prevent shoreline erosion, shielding inland areas from severe damage during hurricanes and tidal waves.


    As these wetlands are increasingly threatened by the damming of upstream sources, significant decline in their integrity and productivity has been observed. Mangrove swamps have experienced loss of 3.2 percent since the 1950s. However, efforts are underway to enhance the protection of these valuable ecosystems.

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    Hurricane Season Begins May 15 in Atlantic and Gulf

    Hurricane season in the Atlantic begins June 1st and ends November 30th.

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    Story of the Ixtoc I Blowout in the Gulf

    IXTOC I Bahia de Campeche, Mexico 
    1979-Jun-03 On June 3, 1979, the 2 mile deep exploratory well, IXTOC I, blew out in the Bahia de Campeche, 600 miles south of Texas in the Gulf of Mexico. The IXTOC I was being drilled by the SEDCO 135, a semi-submersible platform on lease to Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX). A loss of drilling mud circulation caused the blowout to occur. The oil and gas blowing out of the well ignited, causing the platform to catch fire.

    Estimates of the amount of oil spilled range from 3 million barrels to 5 million barrels .
    The oil that was extruded by the IXTOC I was carried by Gulf currents into American waters on August 6, 1979 . The U .S . was given two months to prepare for the oil slick and mounted a planned effort to protect the Texas coast against the effects
    of the IXTOC I accident .

    The burning platform collapsed into the wellhead area hindering any immediate attempts to control the blowout. PEMEX hired blowout control experts and other spill control experts including Red Adair, Martech International of Houston, and the Mexican diving company, Daivaz. The Martech response included 50 personnel on site, the remotely operated vehicle TREC, and the submersible Pioneer I.

     The TREC attempted to find a safe approach to the Blowout Preventer (BOP). The approach was complicated by poor visibility and debris on the seafloor including derrick wreckage and 3000 meters of drilling pipe. Divers were eventually able to reach and activate the BOP, but the pressure of the oil and gas caused the valves to begin rupturing. The BOP was reopened to prevent destroying it.

    Two relief wells were drilled to relieve pressure from the well to allow response personnel to cap it. Norwegian experts were contracted to bring in skimming equipment and containment booms, and to begin cleanup of the spilled oil. The IXTOC I well continued to spill oil at a rate of 10,000 - 30,000 barrels per day until it was finally capped on March 23, 1980. Keyword: Boom, Corexit 9527, skimmer, manual removal, volunteers, blowout, fire, evaporation, blowout preventer, relief well, submersible..

    View map
    Note: Documents are posted chronologically and early reports likely contain factual errors. These errors may be corrected in a later report.

    Incident Response Documents USCG Case History 1979-Jun-03 Behavior of Oil 1979-Jun-03 USCG Case History 1979-Jun-03 References 1979-Jun-03 Countermeasures/ Mitigation 1979-Jun-03 Other Special Interest 1979-Jun-03 Other Special Interest Issues 1979-Jun-03 Shoreline Types Impacted 1979-Jun-03 Incident Details Products of concern: IXTOC I crude oil

    Latitude (approximate): 19° 24.50' North Longitude (approximate): 92° 19.50' West
    Counter measures: Dispersants: Evaluated and applied In-Situ Burn: Evaluated and applied Bioremediation: Not applicable Photos and Maps

    IXTOC I - Impacted shoreline, south Texas 

    IXTOC I - aerial view of wellhead  IXTOC I well blowout

    Last edited on Thu May 13th, 2010 06:42 pm by sydneyst


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    Oil Spill May Approach Texas Early Next Week
    11 May

    The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has pushed steadily westward along the Louisiana coast, and is expected to reach central Louisiana near Atchafalaya Bay by Thursday, according to the latest trajectory forecasts from NOAA. Winds over the Gulf of Mexico this week will blow from the southeast at 15 - 20 knots, threatening to bring oil to large portions of the Louisiana coast.

    The Mississippi and Alabama coasts will also be at risk, but the risk to the Florida Panhandle is lower. It appears quite unlikely that oil will get into the Loop Current anytime over the next two weeks, and spread to the Florida Keys and beyond. However, the strong southeast winds are expected to shift more easterly late this week, and drive a westward-moving ocean surface current with a speed of 1 - 2 mph along the west coast of Louisiana late this week (Figure 2).

    This current may be capable of transporting oil all the way to the Louisiana/Texas border by Monday. However, the concentrations of oil in the water will be much less than what is present close to the blowout, and it is unclear what the potential danger is for the western Louisiana and eastern Texas coasts. The greatest danger is to the Eastern Louisiana coast.

    Figure 2. Surface ocean current in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, May 14, at 8pm EDT as forecast by the 8pm EDT run of the NOAA HYCOM model at 8pm EDT on Sunday, May 9, 2010. Note that a strong ocean current near 1 m/s (about 2 mph) is forecast to set up along the Western Louisiana coast, which could take oil close to the Texas offshore waters by Monday. Image credit: NOAA RTOFS.

    Jeff Masters

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    Latest Weather Service Forecasts for the Gulf of Mexico
    Gulf of Mexico Offshore Waters Forecast

    Comments Requested:  Proposed Changes to Offshore Waters Forecasts S FORECAST FOR THE GULF OF MEXICO
    430 PM CDT TUE MAY 11 2010
    430 PM CDT TUE MAY 11 2010

    This product is updated at approximately 2 AM, 8 AM, 2 PM, and 8 PM EDT from June 1 to November 30. Special outlooks may be issued as conditions warrant.

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    BP to Try Smaller Dome Against Oil Leak,0,645089.story

    Two Senate committees will start hearings on the gulf disaster as the oil company moves to Plan B.

    An engineer with pollution containment materials at the Martin Terminal work site May 3 in Port Fourchon, La. (Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images)

    Reporting from Washington and Los Angeles as they prepared to deal with political fallout on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, BP and its contractors scrambled Monday to develop fresh ways to battle the undersea geyser that has pumped about 4 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

    The latest proposed fix, dubbed a "top hat," is a smaller version of the 100-ton dome that failed over the weekend when hot gas from the well and cold sea water formed slushy hydrate crystals that gummed up the works.

    The smaller dimensions of the new steel box, which weighs 2 tons and could be in place within 72 hours, will allow heat from the spurting oil to build up in the interior much more quickly, the company said, preventing hydrates from forming and allowing the oil, water and gas mixture to more easily flow up a pipe to a waiting ship.

    David Valentine, a geochemist at UC Santa Barbara who has studied the formation of hydrates in deep ocean water, said the smaller dome should solve the temperature problem. But he expressed concern that the "top hat" might not be heavy enough to offset the buoyant effects of the captured gas. "Two tons seems a bit light to me," he said in an e-mail.

    BP also is working on two other fronts to stop the gusher. In one, known as a "hot tap," a hole is drilled in another part of the pipe and a connector is constructed to draw out the oil. Another option is to stop the source of the flow at the wellhead with a "junk shot" — forcing heavy materials into the broken apparatus to stop it up like a clogged toilet.

    The leading edge of the oil slick appeared to be less than 10 miles from some parts of the southern Louisiana coast Monday, and southeasterly winds this week could push some oil onshore in remote areas Tuesday, forecasters said.

    National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, at the incident command center in Mobile, Ala., said 24 national wildlife refuges and seven national park units could be affected by the spill. About 15 oiled birds have been treated so far.

    The White House disclosed on Monday that it has lent Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel-winning physicist, to the BP effort to restart the failed blowout preventer in the crippled Deepwater Horizon rig.

    Chu, a former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, has dispatched a team of senior officials from national labs to BP's operations center in Houston. For the last 10 days, the team has worked with the aid of national laboratory supercomputers to figure out what is wrong with the blowout preventer, which should cut off oil flow in the event of an accident.

    The oil spill will be center stage on Capitol Hill on Tuesday as industry officials face what is likely to be tough questioning from the Senate's energy and environment committees.

    Meanwhile, in Kenner, La., the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service, which oversees offshore drilling in federal waters, are launching two days of hearings into the cause and environmental effects of the leak.

    The energy committee, headed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), is considered industry-friendly. Even in the face of potential devastation to her state, committee member Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) has cautioned against overreaction.

    The scene is likely to be different at the environment committee hearing, chaired by California Democrat Barbara Boxer. Boxer, in the midst of a tough reelection campaign, has often been at odds with the industry and has pushed for cleaner alternatives to fossil fuels.

    The hearings are just the beginning for Congress as it cranks up its oversight machinery. No fewer than seven congressional panels are conducting investigations.

    One goal is to determine what kind of legislation is necessary to prevent future spills, and among those mentioned would be raising industry liability for spills and reinstituting a ban on new offshore drilling.

    Some finger-pointing appears likely. Steven Newman, chief executive of Transocean Ltd., which owned and operated the rig and performed the drilling under contract with BP, said in written testimony that the focus should look beyond the failure of the supposedly fail-safe blowout preventer to "why a cased and cemented wellbore suddenly and catastrophically failed."

    Tim Probert, president of Halliburton's global business lines, which did the cementing, said in his testimony that the company was confident that its cementing work was completed "in accordance with the requirements of the well owner's well construction plan."

    So far, BP says it has spent $350 million battling the spill, including $3.5 million to pay 295 of 4,700 claims it has received for economic damages. The company is required to cover economic damages up to $75 million, but legislation has been introduced to raise that cap to $10 billion.

    Times staff writers Julie Cart in Kenner, La., Scott Kraft and Margot Roosevelt in Los Angeles and Jim Tankersley in the Tribune Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

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    Oil Spill Swells to 4M Gallons; Fixes Days Off Yet

    May 10, 2010 (11:18p CDT)
    By HARRY R. WEBER and JOHN CURRAN (Associated Press Writers)

    ON THE GULF OF MEXICO -  Black Hawk helicopters peppered Louisiana's barrier islands with 1-ton sacks of sand Monday to bolster the state's crucial wetlands against the epic Gulf of Mexico oil spill - 4 million gallons and growing.

    At the site of the ruptured well a mile underwater, a remote-controlled submarine shot chemicals into the maw of the massive leak to dilute the flow, further evidence that BP expects the gusher to keep erupting into the Gulf for weeks or more.

    Crews using the deep-sea robot attempted to thin the oil - which is rushing up from the seabed at a pace of about 210,000 gallons per day - after getting approval from the Environmental Protection Agency, BP PLC officials said.

    Two previous tests were done to determine the potential impact on the environment, and the third round of spraying was to last into early Tuesday.

    The EPA said the effects of the chemicals were still widely unknown.

    BP engineers were casting about after an icelike buildup thwarted their plan to siphon off most of the leak using a 100-ton containment box. They pushed ahead with other potential short-term solutions, including using a smaller box and injecting the leak with junk such as golf balls and pieces of tire to plug it. If it works, the well will be filled with mud and cement and abandoned.

    "This is the largest, most comprehensive spill response mounted in the history of the United States and the oil and gas industry," BP chief executive Tony Hayward said in Houston.

    None of those methods has been attempted so deep. Workers were simultaneously drilling a relief well, the solution considered most permanent, but that was expected to take up to three months.

    At least 4 million gallons were believed to have leaked since an April 20 drilling rig blast killed 11. If the gusher continues unabated, it would surpass the Exxon Valdez disaster as the nation's worst spill by Father's Day. About 11 million gallons leaked in Alaska's Prince William Sound from the tanker in 1989.

    The new containment device is much smaller, about 4 feet in diameter, 5 feet tall and weighing just under 2 tons, said Doug Suttles, BP PLC chief operating officer. Unlike the bigger box, it will be connected to a drill ship on the surface by a pipe-within-a-pipe when it's lowered, which will allow crews to pump heated water and methanol immediately to prevent the ice buildup.

    In Grand Isle, at the tip of the Louisiana boot, a small army of heavy machinery - civilian and military dump trucks, Army jeeps and Hummers, front-end loaders and backhoes - scurried to fortify a breached section of beach. National Guard helicopters had dropped sandbags on the breach, and later piles of dirt were being pushed together to make a dam, keeping oil from reaching the marshes.

    As the sandbags plopped in place, workers farther inland used pumps and other structures to divert fresh water from the Mississippi River into the marshlands, hoping it would help push back the oily salt water lapping at the coast. The floodworks had been installed to help rebuild Louisiana's shrinking wetlands by injecting sediment-rich water from the river.

    "We're trying to save thousands of acres of marsh here in this area, where the shrimp lay their eggs, where the fin fish lay their eggs, where the crabs come in and out," said Chett Chiasson, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. "We're trying to save a heritage, a way of life, a culture that we know here in recreational and commercial fishing."

    BP - which is responsible for the cleanup - said the spill has cost it $350 million so far for immediate response, containment efforts, commitments to the Gulf Coast states, and settlements and federal costs. The company did not speculate on the final bill, which most analysts expect to run into tens of billions of dollars.

    Above the oil leak, waves of dark brown and black sludge crashed into the support ship Joe Griffin. The fumes there were so intense that a crew member and an AP photographer on board had to wear respirators while on deck.

    Oil - be it a surface sheen, globules or balls of tar - has washed up west of the Mississippi River and as far east as Dauphin Island, three miles off the Alabama mainland at the mouth of Mobile Bay.

    The blowout aboard the rig, which was being leased by BP, was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding, according to interviews with rig workers conducted during BP's initial, internal probe. The exact cause remains under investigation.

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    Envisat Monitors Oil Spill Proximity to Loop Current

      May 5, 2010) — As fears grow that the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico could soon catch the oil slick and drag it south towards coral reefs in the Florida Keys, scientists are monitoring the situation closely with ESA's Envisat radar data.

    By combining surface roughness and current flow information with Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) data of the spill, SAR image analysts are able to detect the direction in which the spill boundaries can drift.  In these two ASAR images for 29 April and 2 May, advanced processing methods have been performed to display ocean surface roughness variations and Doppler-derived ocean surface radial velocities. Merging this information provides insight into the spatial structure of the spill and its dispersion by the upper ocean turbulent flow.

    In the 29 April image, smooth surfaces appear as black patches inside the oil spill and in the very low wind region east of the spill, where the flow analysis is not possible.

    As visible in both images, the spill still appears relatively confined around its point of origin and is still north of the Loop Current, a powerful conveyor belt that circulates clockwise around the Gulf toward Florida before being joining the powerful Gulf Stream.

    An intriguing shape is detected in the 2 May image that seems to follow passively the flow derived from the Doppler measurements.

    The fear is that winds could push the oil slick south until it joins the Loop Current, which would carry the oil towards Florida. If that were to happen, the oil could flow into the Gulf Stream and be carried up to the US East Coast.

    "As observed, this does not seem to be the case at the moment as no connection between the spill and the intense current presently occurs," said Dr Bertrand Chapron of IFREMER, the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea. "Thanks to systematic Envisat ASAR planning over this area, close monitoring of the situation is ensured as long as there is some wind to contrast the surface roughness."

    Dr Chapron and Dr Fabrice Collard of France's CLS (formerly the BOOST Technologies Company) created these products using ASAR in Wide Swath mode. They have been working with radar data for many years and have developed sets of algorithms that allow ASAR data to be processed in near-real time and to produce state-of-the-art ocean parameters. These are made widely available on the SOPRANO ocean products demonstration website developed with ESA.

    "The upcoming Sentinel-1 SAR instrument will have an enhanced capability to capture the surface flow information on top of the higher resolution sea surface roughness," Dr Chapron explained. "As demonstrated, these combined products are very promising for strengthening the use of SAR data to help fight oil-spill consequences on coastal zones."

    Sentinel-1 is a two-satellite system. The first Sentinel-1 satellite is planned for launch at the end 2012 and will ensure the continuity of SAR data. The second Sentinel-1 satellite is planned for launch in 2014. The fleet of Sentinel satellites is being developed by ESA within the EU's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security initiative.

    Attached Image (viewed 793 times):


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    Oil from Gulf Spill Creeps Ashore in Louisiana


    AP – The containment vessel is lowered into the Gulf of Mexico at the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig collapse, …

    By Matthew Bigg Matthew Bigg – Thu May 6, 6:31 pm ET VENICE, Louisiana (Reuters)

    – Oil from a massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico came ashore on a chain of islands off the Louisiana coast on Thursday as BP Plc engineers prepared to start lowering a 98-ton metal chamber over the ruptured seabed well miles off the coast.
    A sheen of oil washed ashore on much of Chandeleur Islands, barrier islands that are part of the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, a spokeswoman for the U.S. response team said.

    "That's the only shoreline oiling that we have been able to find," Jacqui Michel, an official with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said at a news briefing. "It is pretty amazing that we've had the oil in the water for this long a period of time and so little shoreline oiling."

    The Breton refuge is an important breeding and nesting area for many endangered and threatened bird species.

    Oiled birds, including gannets and brown pelicans, Louisiana's state bird, have been found on the islands, said Jeff Dauzat of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

    Obama administration officials and U.S. lawmakers kept up the pressure on BP to make good on its promises to pick up the tab for cleaning up what could end up being the largest oil spill in United States history.

    "Very major mistakes" were made by companies involved in the deadly offshore rig explosion that led to the spill and no new offshore drilling permits will be issued until a review is complete, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Thursday.

    A barge carrying the massive white containment box arrived at the spill site where a BP-owned well blew out two weeks ago 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, causing the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

    Once the four-story-tall metal dome is lowered to the seabed in an operation that could take two days, it is supposed to capture leaking oil and channel it to a drilling ship on the surface. BP said the dome, the best short-term option for containing the leak, could begin operations by Monday.

    "We'll be lowering this containment vessel within the next 24 hours, weather permitting," Robert Dudley, a BP executive vice president, said after giving a speech in Boston.

    A Coast Guard official said the oil threatening the Chandeleurs was "largely just sheen," or the leading edge of the slick.

    Heavy oil remains further off the coast for now, close to the site of the leak. But the Mississippi Delta, Breton Sound, and Chandeleur Sound continue to be threatened by shoreline contacts over the next few days, officials said.

    By late Saturday night into Sunday morning winds in the Gulf region could pick up to 15 to 20 knots, said Tim Destri, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in New Orleans. That may make efforts to battle the slick more difficult.
    Oil workers, volunteers and the military have battled desperately to shut off the gushing leak and stop the huge spreading oil slick from reaching major ports, tourist beaches, wildlife refuges and fishing grounds on the Gulf Coast.

    While the calm weather continues, crews are taking advantage of a window of opportunity to fight the leak. About 270 boats deployed protective booms on Thursday to block the slick and dispersants to break up the thick oil.

    The chemical dispersants worried environmentalists. "These dispersants contain proprietary chemicals that have unknown effects," said Larry Schweiger, president the National Wildlife Federation, who called on BP to disclose what chemicals are in their dispersants.

    Scientists monitored the impact on marine and coastal wildlife of the oil slick, estimated to be at least 130 miles by 70 miles in size.

    "It has already hit some of the fishing areas further out," said Leonard Ball, a resident of Biloxi, Mississippi, adding he feared damage to oyster bays and the fishing community.

    "There's already a lot of devastation as far as the fishermen go," he said.
    Coast Guard and port officials said there had been no impact on ship traffic, and preparations were in place to clean vessels quickly en route to port to keep traffic moving.

    BP has capped one of three leaks in the ruptured well, but oil is still flowing at an unchanged 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons/795,000 liters) a day.
    The company is drilling a relief well that could take two or three months to complete, making the containment dome the centerpiece of the short-term fight against the slick.

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    Seagrant Describes Oil Spill BMP's
    No Spill Is the Same and Different Measures Employed

    No two oil spills are the same because of the variation in oil types, locations, and weather conditions involved. However, broadly speaking, there are four main methods of response. (1) Leave the oil alone so that it breaks down by natural means. If there is no possibility of the oil polluting coastal regions or marine industries, the best method is to leave it to disperse by natural means. A combination of wind, sun, current, and wave action will rapidly disperse and evaporate most oils. Light oils will disperse more quickly than heavy oils.

    (2) Contain the spill with booms and collect it from the water surface using skimmer equipment. Spilt oil floats on water and initially forms a slick that is a few millimeters thick. There are various types of booms that can be used either to surround and isolate a slick, or to block the passage of a slick to vulnerable areas such as the intake of a desalination plant or fish-farm pens or other sensitive locations. Boom types vary from inflatable neoprene tubes to solid, but buoyant material. Most rise up about a meter above the water line. Some are designed to sit flush on tidal flats while others are applicable to deeper water and have skirts which hang down about a meter below the waterline. Skimmers float across the top of the slick contained within the boom and suck or scoop the oil into storage tanks on nearby vessels or on the shore. However, booms and skimmers are less effective when deployed in high winds and high seas.

    (3) Use dispersants to break up the oil and speed its natural biodegradation. Dispersants act by reducing the surface tension that stops oil and water from mixing. Small droplets of oil are then formed, which helps promote rapid dilution of the oil by water movements. The formation of droplets also increases the oil surface area, thus increasing the exposure to natural evaporation and bacterial action. Dispersants are most effective when used within an hour or two of the initial spill. However, they are not appropriate for all oils and all locations. Successful dispersion of oil through the water column can affect marine organisms like deep-water corals and sea grass. It can also cause oil to be temporarily accumulated by subtidal seafood. Decisions on whether or not to use dispersants to combat an oil spill must be made in each individual case. The decision will take into account the time since the spill, the weather conditions, the particular environment involved, and the type of oil that has been spilt.

    (4) Introduce biological agents to the spill to hasten biodegradation. Most of the components of oil washed up along a shoreline can be broken down by bacteria and other microorganisms into harmless substances such as fatty acids and carbon dioxide. This action is called biodegradation. The natural process can be speeded up by the addition of fertilizing nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous, which stimulate growth of the microorganisms concerned. However the effectiveness of this technique depends on factors such as whether the ground treated has sand or pebbles and whether the fertilizer is water soluble or applied in pellet or liquid form.


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    U.S. Mineral Agency Saw Potential Impact as "Non Significant"

    Ruled  EIS Unnecessary Based On Previous Studies
    BP Pressured Agencies for Exemption

    The U.S. Mineral Management Service, under the US Department of Interior exempted BP's Gulf of Mexico drilling from a {formal environmental impact statement that would have required detailed analysis or spill potential and control measures.} 

    Edited from story by Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer

    three reviews the agencies concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.

    The decision by the department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP's lease at Deepwater Horizon a "categorical exclusion" from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 -- and BP's lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions -- show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.

    ...While the MMS assessed the environmental impact of drilling in the central and western Gulf of Mexico on three occasions in 2007 -- including a specific evaluation of BP's Lease 206 at Deepwater Horizon -- in each case it played down the prospect of a major blowout.

    In one assessment, the agency estimated that "a large oil spill" from a platform would not exceed a total of 1,500 barrels and that a "deepwater spill," occurring "offshore of the inner Continental shelf," would not reach the coast. In another assessment, it defined the most likely large spill as totaling 4,600 barrels and forecast that it would largely dissipate within 10 days and would be unlikely to make landfall.

    "They never did an analysis that took into account what turns out to be the very real possibility of a serious spill," said Holly Doremus, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has reviewed the documents.

    The MMS mandates that companies drilling in some areas identify under NEPA what could reduce a project's environmental impact. But Interior Department spokesman Matt Lee-Ashley said the service grants between 250 and 400 waivers a year for Gulf of Mexico projects. He added that Interior has now established the "first ever" board to examine safety procedures for offshore drilling. It will report back within 30 days on BP's oil spill and will conduct "a broader review of safety issues," Lee-Ashley said.

    BP's exploration plan for Lease 206, which calls the prospect of an oil spill "unlikely," stated that "no mitigation measures other than those required by regulation and BP policy will be employed to avoid, diminish or eliminate potential impacts on environmental resources."

    While the plan included a 13-page environmental impact analysis, it minimized the prospect of any serious damage associated with a spill, saying there would be only "sub-lethal" effects on fish and marine mammals, and "birds could become oiled. However it is unlikely that an accidental oil spill would occur from the proposed activities."

    Kierán Suckling, executive director of the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, said the federal waiver "put BP entirely in control" of the way it conducted its drilling.

    Agency a 'rubber stamp'

    "The agency's oversight role has devolved to little more than rubber-stamping British Petroleum's self-serving drilling plans," Suckling said.

    BP has lobbied the White House Council on Environmental Quality -- which provides NEPA guidance for all federal agencies-- to provide categorical exemptions more often. In an April 9 letter, BP America's senior federal affairs director, Margaret D. Laney, wrote to the council that such exemptions should be used in situations where environmental damage is likely to be "minimal or non-existent." An expansion in these waivers would help "avoid unnecessary paperwork and time delays," she added.

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    How an oil burn works See the step-by-step procedure involved in an oil burn.
    Potential ways to stop the leak Explore the three plans to stop the oil flow.

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    Despite plan, not a single fire boom on hand on Gulf Coast at time of oil spill

    By Ben Raines
    May 03, 2010, 12:09PM
    (Elastec/American Marine Photo)

    An image provided by Carmi, Ill.-based Elastec/American Marine shows an oil burn being conducted in one of its patented Hydro-Fire Boom systems. The inflatable, fire-resistant, water-cooled boom was developed to contain surface oil and burn it offshore, helping prevent destruction of critical environmentally sensitive shoreline habitats, company officials said.

    If U.S. officials had followed up on a 1994 response plan for a major Gulf oil spill, it is possible that the spill could have been kept under control and far from land.

    The problem: The federal government did not have a single fire boom on hand.

    (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 1st Class Justin Sawyer)This April 28, 2010 image made from video released by the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command, shows an in situ burn in the Gulf of Mexico, in response to the oil spill after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon. The "In-Situ Burn" plan produced by federal agencies in 1994 calls for responding to a major oil spill in the Gulf with the immediate use of fire booms.

    But in order to conduct a successful test burn eight days after the Deepwater Horizon well began releasing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf, officials had to purchase one from a company in Illinois.

    When federal officials called, Elastec/American Marine, shipped the only boom it had in stock, Jeff Bohleber, chief financial officer for Elastec, said today.

    At federal officials' behest, the company began calling customers in other countries and asking if the U.S. government could borrow their fire booms for a few days, he said.

    A single fire boom being towed by two boats can burn up to 1,800 barrels of oil an hour, Bohleber said. That translates to 75,000 gallons an hour, raising the possibility that the spill could have been contained at the accident scene 100 miles from shore.

    Video shows federal officials knew quickly of potential for massive oil flow in Gulf spill

    "They said this was the tool of last resort. No, this is absolutely the asset of first use. Get in there and start burning oil before the spill gets out of hand," Bohleber said. "If they had six or seven of these systems in place when this happened and got out there and started burning, it would have significantly lessened the amount of oil that got loose."

    In the days after the rig sank, U.S Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said the government had all the assets it needed. She did not discuss why officials waited more than a week to conduct a test burn. (Watch video footage of the test burn.)

    At the time, former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oil spill response coordinator Ron Gouguet -- who helped craft the 1994 plan -- told the Press-Register that officials had pre-approval for burning. "The whole reason the plan was created was so we could pull the trigger right away."

    Gouguet speculated that burning could have captured 95 percent of the oil as it spilled from the well.

    Bohleber said that his company was bringing several fire booms from South America, and he believed the National Response Center discovered that it had one in storage.

    Each boom costs a few hundred thousand dollars, Bohleber said, declining to give a specific price.

    Made of flame-retardant fabric, each boom has two pumps that push water through its 500-foot length. Two boats tow the U-shaped boom through an oil slick, gathering up about 75,000 gallons of oil at a time. That oil is dragged away from the larger spill, ignited and burns within an hour, he said.

    The boom can be used as long as waves are below 3 feet, Bohleber said.

    "Because of the complexity of the system and the obvious longer production time to build them, the emphasis is on obtaining and gathering the systems," he said.

    Bohleber said his company has conducted numerous tests with the Coast Guard since 1993, and it is now training crews on the use of the boom so workers will be ready when they arrive.

    "We're arranging for six to be shipped in. We keep running into delays. Hopefully, they will be here by Wednesday to be available for use on Thursday. Bear in mind, two days ago, we thought they would be here today."

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    Magnitude of Threat to World Oceans May Surpass Imagination

    Response to Assertion about Magnitude of the Disaster
    (which included the following assertions by an alleged engineer)

    1. wellhead pressure at source  is enormous
    2. Closing/capping the hole could take years
    3. the size of field is so huge that the world oceans are endangered

    by Paul Noel

    I really do think that the situation is getting further and further out of hand. 

    By yesterday morning, the nature of the crude had changed, indicating that the spill was collapsing the rock structures. How much I cannot say. If it is collapsing the rock structures, the least that can be said is that the rock is fragmenting and blowing up the tube with the oil. With that going on you have a high pressure abrasive sand blaster working on the kinks in the pipe eroding it causing the very real risk of increasing the leaks. 

    More than that is the very real risk of causing the casing to become unstable and literally blowing it up the well bringing the hole to totally open condition… Another possible scenario is a sea floor collapse. If that happens Katie bar the door. 

    Possible Fix

    I do not see any good possibilities from humans further fracturing the rock particularly at higher levels. That is the cap rock that is holding the deposit together. 

    I do see a possible use of explosives for favorable outcome. If a properly sized charge were applied in a shaped fashion around the drill pipe at some distance from it say 5 feet or so it is entirely possible that an explosive charge could pinch the pipe off similar to a hydraulic clamp. The resulting situation would vastly reduce the spill. …The end result would be to contain the spill and dramatically control any leaks because drill mud could then be entered into the pipe fitted to the exterior. In the end, the pipe could be controlled that way. The size of a charge to do this would be a few pounds not megatons. 

    A nuclear detonation carries the real risk of giving us the full doomsday scenario on this well. I just don't like doing that. There is no coming back from the brink when you do that one. If it works, which I see as unlikely, great. If it doesn't work, there is now a maybe a hole 1/4 mile across leaking oil. That looks worse than any possible outcomes otherwise. 

    Oil Deposit Capacity

    The BP people are not talking, but this well is into a deposit that easily could top 500,000 barrels production per day for 10 or 15 years. Letting that all go in one blast seems more than foolish.

    The deposit is one I have known about since 1988. The deposit is very big. The central pressure in the deposit is 165 to 170 thousand PSI. It contains so much hydrocarbon that you simply cannot imagine it. In published reports, BP estimated a blow out could reach near 200,000 Barrels per day (165,000) They may have estimated a flow rate on a 5 foot pipe. The deposit is well able to surpass this…. 

    (Regarding the rig that may be sitting on top the wellhead.)

    “I guess the size here sort of bends the imagination. This rig has a deck area of about 3 to 4 acres…

    Controls That Should Have Been In Place

    By the way, I am not against drilling it, I am just against doing so without proper controls.
      The rig that was drilling was not a US Flagged rig. That means US Inspectors were not allowed on board the rig to inspect it. As a matter of National Security under the GATT the USA has a right to demand US Only in various technology. The USA should never allow a foreign flag vessel to drill for oil in the US Economic Zone (200 mile limit).

      I think US Federal Inspectors should have to be resident on and inspecting rigs like this 24/7. ]I think that the drilling should be required to do some smaller holes that deliberately miss the main deposit that test the structure before main drilling operations happen. Careful procedures should be in place to set up wells before they hit the main deposit. The well casing should have to be inserted well before the drill hits the deposit and it should have to be cemented in at least 2 weeks prior to finishing the hole down to the oil or gas. This is to give the cement time to set.

      The casing should have ridging to make this cement have a tight wedged grip on the miles of rock around it. This is required because the lift pressure on a pipe in this case could easily reach 20 million pounds of lift. This is an insane amount of up pressure. Even at 70,000 psi it would lift about 140 million pounds. (almost 64,000 long tons!) 
    Paul Noel, 52, works as Software Engineer (as Contractor) for the US Army at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. He has a vast experience base including education across a wide area of technical skills and sciences. He supplies technical expertise in all areas required for new products development associated with the US Army office he works in. He supplies extensive expertise in understanding the Oil and Gas industry as well.

    also see:

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    Dear Fergie, 

    The Center for Biological Diversity has been a leading critic of the Senate climate bill and Obama's energy policy, because both encourage more dangerous offshore oil drilling. In the twisted world of Rush Limbaugh, this commitment to protecting our environment and endangered species is proof that we blew up the oil rig that is right now ravaging the Gulf of Mexico with a massive oil spill.

    In Rush's own blustering words:

    "But this bill, the cap-and-trade bill, was strongly criticized by hardcore environmentalist wackos because it supposedly allowed more offshore drilling and nuclear plants, nuclear plant investment. So, since they're sending SWAT teams down there, folks, since they're sending SWAT teams to inspect the other rigs, what better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig? I'm just noting the timing here." i
    Rush's toxic, illogical rant does beg the question, however: Who is responsible for the catastrophe?

    Haliburton? Possibly. British Petroleum? Undoubtedly.

    But to head off future oil-spill catastrophes, we have to hold the Obama administration accountable.

    The Obama administration approved the BP drilling plan that just caused what is likely to be the greatest industrial accident in American history.ii

    The administration also approved new offshore oil drilling by Shell Oil in the Arctic to commence this summer, against the objections of government wildlife scientists.iii

    And Obama announced an horrific decision just weeks ago to expand offshore oil drilling in the Arctic, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and along the Atlantic coast.

    Be furious at BP. Demand it clean the Gulf up and pay for all costs.

    But to prevent this from happening off the coast of Alaska, Delaware, Virginia, or Florida, hold the Obama administration accountable for promoting the biggest expansion of offshore oil drilling in 30 years. This is our best opportunity to stop more disastrous drilling.

    Please send a letter today calling on President Obama to immediately withdraw his decision to allow Shell Oil to drill this summer in the Arctic and to reverse his decision to expand offshore oil drilling nationwide. We can't afford to have what's happening in the Gulf happen ever again.

    Click here to find out more and take action.

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    Catastrophic Gulf Platform Blowout--42,000 Gallons Per Day Pour into Gulf

    From the above sources:
    On April 22rd   Leslie Kaufman of the New York Times quoted a Coast Guard Official as saying that the oil spill from the Gulf oil platform operated by British Petroleum and Transocean was not coming from a leak in the wellhead but riser linking the wellhead to the platform.  Hopes were dashed on April 26 as the New York Times confirmed that  over 42,000 gallons per day were in fact leaking from the wellhead and that the sheen now covered 600 square miles.  Within hours that was changed to 1800 square miles.

    The leaks were discovered Saturday April 24, in the riser, the 5,000-foot-long pipe that extended from the wellhead to the drilling platform. The riser detached from the platform after it exploded and sank, and it is now snaking up from the wellhead and back down to the sea floor. It is leaking in two places on the sea floor. The bends in the riser, like kinks in a garden hose, have apparently prevented a gush of oil. When the platform was on the ocean’s surface and the riser was still attached last week, oil and gas were shooting up through the riser, creating plumes of flame.
    Mitigation Focus on Sealing Leak with Blowout Preventer

    On Sunday morning, officials began using remote-controlled vehicles to try to activate the blowout preventer, a 450-ton valve sitting at the wellhead, 5,000 feet below the ocean’s surface. The blowout preventer can sometimes seal off a well, and is designed to do just that to prevent sudden pressure releases that possibly led to the first explosion on the oil rig on Tuesday night.

    But Doug Suttles, the chief operating officer for exploration and production at BP — which was leasing the drilling platform and is responsible for the cleanup under federal law — cautioned that the operation was “highly complex.”
    “It may not be successful,” Mr. Suttles said.

    Another effort described by officials Sunday — drilling relief wells nearby — would take two to three months to stop the flow.

    If the blowout preventer does not seal off the well, officials intend to place a large dome directly over the leaks to catch the oil and route it up to the surface, where it could be collected.

    This has been done before, but only in shallow waters, Mr. Suttles said.
    “It’s never been deployed in 5,000 feet of water,” he said. “But we have the world’s best experts working on that right now.”

    Rough seas halted the cleanup efforts on Saturday and most of Sunday. But as the weather cleared Sunday afternoon, aircraft resumed dumping dispersant, or chemicals that break down the oil. By evening, 15 vessels were headed to the area to resume skimming the oil off the surface of the ocean.

    The Coast Guard said in a statement on Monday that an aircrew from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service spotted five small whales in the vicinity of the oil spill on Sunday. Sea life that congregates at the surface and has no mobility of its own — like plankton and fish eggs — is the most vulnerable to the slick. A large-scale destruction of eggs could affect fish populations in the future.

    Attached Image (viewed 888 times):


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    Australia Expands Barrier Reef Protection After Ship Grounding

    April 20 (Bloomberg) -- Australia said it is expanding protection along the entire 3,000-kilometer (1,800-mile) Great Barrier Reef after a Chinese coal carrier ran aground this month, damaging a section of the World Heritage-listed area. Ships of 50 meters or more in length and oil tankers, liquefied gas and chemical carriers “irrespective of length” will be required to report their positions in the southern section of the reef, Transport Minister

    Anthony Albanese said in an e-mail. Currently, only vessels using the northern area must announce their positions.

    The “sensitive marine ecosystem” is “one of our most precious environmental assets,” Albanese said of the Barrier Reef that is home to 1,500 species of fish and 400 varieties of coral, according to the United Nations.

    More than 6,000 ships pass through the marine park off the coast of Australia’s Queensland state each year. The Shen Neng 1 slammed into the Douglas Shoal in the southern part of the reef on April 3, leaving a 3-kilometer-long scar and a trail of pulverized coral and spilling 4 metric tons of fuel oil.

    Custodial powers over the reef are granted to Australia, the world’s biggest coal exporter, by the International Maritime Organization and changes to shipping must be approved by the UN agency. Foreign ships carry 99 percent of Australia’s international trade and 30 percent of domestic coastal trade, according to the Maritime Union of Australia.

    The IMO approved the mandatory ship reporting system for the northern part of the marine park in 1997. The planned extension will cover a 600-kilometer stretch of the coast from Mackay to Bundaberg.

    Long Overdue
    “We would certainly support” the government’s application to the IMO, Chief Executive Officer of Shipping Australia Ltd.  said in a phone interview. “It is long overdue to extend it south.”

    Russell represents an industry that carries more than A$200 billion ($184 billion) worth of cargo in and out of Australia each year.

    The “sensible” plan to expand monitoring to the southern part of the reef without imposing other conditions such as mandatory use of marine pilots will reduce uncertainty for the industry, he said.

    Data from the tracking system will show whether vessels are straying or not reporting and will demonstrate whether pilots should be compulsory, Russell said. The pilots, who use local knowledge to guide ships through more difficult routes, are available now on a voluntary basis in international waters.

    Australian Prime Minister who is from Queensland, had called for a review of shipping routes, vessels and the wider use of pilots after the grounding of the Chinese vessel.

    Last edited on Fri Apr 23rd, 2010 06:48 pm by sydneyst


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    Great Barrier Reef Ship Crash Was Not Reported for Hour and a Half

    Australia is investigating how a Chinese coal ship crashed into the Great Barrier Reef. Photograph: AP

    A report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said the Shen Neng 1 hit the reef and came to a shuddering stop just after 5pm on 3 April but the captain did not report it until 6.40pm.

    The preliminary transport report says the crew decided to take a short cut but failed to correct course as planned. By the time they realised they were in a dangerous area it was too late to turn and they ran into Douglas Shoal. The bureau is to investigate whether fatigue played a role and will examine the work and rest policies of the ship's owners, Shenzen Energy Transport. The chief officer was said to have slept for only two and a half hours in the previous day and a half.

    Last edited on Fri Apr 23rd, 2010 06:41 pm by sydneyst


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    Richard Branson Aims to Rock the Boat for Green Shipping
    By Marc Gunther
    Published March 11, 2010

    Look around you -- the furniture in your office or house, the electronics, the clothes you are wearing, mostly likely some of your dinner -- chances are these things moved by boat. About 85 percent of worldwide cargo travels by ship, and so it’s no surprise that shipping is a major contributor to climate change.

    According to Richard Branson’s new NGO, which is called the Carbon War Room, the global shipping fleet is the equivalent on the sixth most polluting country in the world:
    Annual CO2e emissions currently exceed one million tons and are projected to grow to 18 percent of all manmade CO2e emissions by 2050. Yet existing technology presents an opportunity for up to 75 percent gains in efficiency, with required investments repaid in just a few years.

    Fixing shipping will take bold ideas -- see the ship at left, which is equipped with a kite from a company called SkySails -- and it will take simple ones, like slowing ships down a little, adopting the equivalent of a 55 mph limit on the open seas. (See this New York Times story, which is literally about a slow boat to China.) And it will require bringing shipping companies, customers, regulators and others to work together to attack the problem.

    Opportunities like these interest the Carbon War Room, which says its focus is to harness the power of business to bring about market-driven solutions to climate change.

    “We believe that climate change is the greatest challenge facing humankind,” says Jigar Shah, the CEO of the Carbon War Room. “And we need a war room-like effort to combat it.”

    I spoke recently with Jigar at the NGO’s new offices in downtown Washington. We’d met a couple of years ago, when he was running SunEdison, a solar industry startup, backed by Goldman Sachs, that was among the first to sell solar energy as a service (buy electricity, not PV panels), a business model that appealed to big customers including Wal-Mart. Jigar, who is 35, left SunEdison at the end of 2008 and became the top exec of Carbon War Room last June.

    Branson, who runs Virgin Group (airlines, music, telecom, green energy etc.), started Carbon War Room with Craig Cogut, the founder of private-equity firm Pegasus Capital, and Boudewijn Poelmann, the co-founder a chairman of the Dutch Postcode Lottery, a private lottery that raises money for good causes. (The Dutch lottery gave $1.3 million last year to the Rocky Mountain Institute.)

    They say:
    Our approach is to identify the barriers that are preventing market-based scale up of climate change solutions and thereby perpetuating the status quo. In addition to technology and policy gaps, these barriers include principal-agent problems, information gaps, and lack of common standards or metrics.
    Read more:


    Last edited on Fri Apr 23rd, 2010 06:37 pm by sydneyst


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    Weather Ends Underwater Inspection of Shen Neng 1

    ABC News © Enlarge photo
    Authorities will continue to monitor beaches on a Barrier Reef island where a small amount of oil from the Shen Neng 1 has washed ashore.

    About six bags of oil-tainted sand has been collected on North West Island about a fortnight after the Chinese coal carrier ran aground on the nearby Douglas Shoal.
    The ship was towed to safe anchorage off Great Keppel Island.

    However, Mike Lutze from Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) says weather conditions are too difficult for divers to check the damaged hull.

    "The weather has come away from the south-east - there is an east-south-easterly ground swell rolling in there at the moment, 25 to 30 knots," he said.
    "As they swung the ship she started to roll and that meant it was too dangerous for the divers to go down.

    "So now all diving operations have ceased until such time as the weather improves."
    Photographs were also released Wednesday morning showing the extent of the damage as the Shen Neng 1 battered against the remote coral reef, east of Rockhampton.

    The photos, released by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), show a diver swimming above a track which has been gouged in the reef at Douglas Shoal.

    Nesting ground
    Queensland Sustainability Minister Kate Jones says the coral cay where oil has washed ashore is a well known nesting ground for seabirds and turtles.

    "Staff are continuing to work around the clock to minimise the damage caused by the Shen Neng 1," she said.

    Professor Mike Kingsford from James Cook University says the oil spill could put wildlife at risk on North West Island.

    Professor Kingsford says there may be a minor threat to turtles on North West Island but the risk to half a million nesting birds is greater.

    "They are actually drinking and feeding from those local waters," he said.
    "Once the oil gets on their feathers that can be highly detrimental and either make them very sick or sometimes result in death.

    "Turtles, I would imagine that where the animals actually come ashore to lay their eggs, that the risk to them would relatively minimal as they stayed under the slick and paddled away from it."

    (A related story reports the arrest of the captain and 1st Officer by Austrialian Police)

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    Video Shows Continuing Damage Investigation of Ship and Reef


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    Chief Marine Scientist Says Damage Was Severe


    The bulk carrier Shen Neng 1, aground on the Great Barrier Reef 70 kilometers east of Great Keppel Island, is seen during operations to refloat the ship after salvage crews pumped heavy fuel oil off the stricken vessel. April 12, 2010. (CBS)

    Daily News, Tuesday, April 13, 2010

    SYDNEY (AP) - The chief scientist for Australia's Great Barrier Reef says a coal carrier that ran aground and leaked about 3 tons of oil on the reef completely pulverized parts of a shoal and caused damage so severe it could take marine life 20 years to recover.

    David Wachenfeld, who is coordinating the authority's assessment of the ship's impact, said Tuesday the initial assessments by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority found the 755-foot (230-meter) Shen Neng 1 left a scar 1.9 miles (3 kilometers) long and up to 820 feet (250 meters) wide along the world's largest coral reef.

    The Shen Neng 1 slammed into a shoal on April 3, and coral shredded part of its hull, causing a leak of about 3 tons of oil.

    Last edited on Tue Apr 13th, 2010 04:54 pm by sydneyst


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    Coal Ship Refloated, Break-up Averted As
    Investigation and Damage Assessment Begin

    see latest video

    other information from Sydney's Thumb:

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    Great Barrier Reef at Risk as Coal-Ship Traffic May Jump 67%


    April 08, 2010, 11:18 PM EDT
    By James Paton
    April 9 (Bloomberg) -- The corals, whales and giant clams of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are in the path of a “coal highway” to China that may see shipments jump 67 percent by 2016, increasing the threat of an ecological disaster after a coal carrier ran aground last week.

    Trade at Gladstone port in Queensland may rise to about 140 million tons, mostly coal, in six years from 84 million tons in the year ending in June, Gladstone Ports Corp. Chief Executive Officer Leo Zussino said in an interview. The port was the loading point for the Shen Neng 1, which hit a sand bank on April 3 at full speed carrying 68,000 metric tons of coal and 975 tons of fuel oil.

    “It’s only a matter of time before a serious oil spill occurs unless we have a better system for regulating the traffic,” said Peter Harrison, a professor at Southern Cross University in New South Wales who has studied the impact of oil pollution on coral reefs for three decades. “It’s a difficult place to navigate.”

    The reef, as much as 65 kilometers wide, is a breeding ground for humpback whales and is host to the world’s largest collection of corals, more than 1,500 species of tropical fish and more than 200 kinds of sea birds. Australia may tighten up monitoring of vessels travelling through the reef and require more pilots to guide ships, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said.

    Gladstone is one of 10 major ports near the World Heritage listed site, according to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Bob Brown, the senator who heads the Australian Greens party, said this week companies are “making a coal highway” out of the reef.

    Gas Boom
    About 1,500 ships are expected to pass through Gladstone this year, said an official at the port, who declined to be named because of company policy.

    photo by Reuters

    Attached Image (viewed 1090 times):


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    Rudd Seeks Reasons for ‘Outrageous’ Ship Stranding (Update1)

    Business Week Report by Marion Rae and Ben Sharples

    April 6 (Bloomberg) -- Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he wants to bring to account those responsible for the stranding of a Chinese coal carrier on a sandbank in the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef.

    “It is frankly outrageous that a vessel this size could find itself 12 kilometers (7 miles) in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef, and it’s time we got to the bottom of how this could have occurred and to hold those who are responsible for this accountable,” Rudd said in the Queensland city of Cairns. He earlier flew over the Shen Neng 1, which ran aground on April 3, about 100 kilometers off the northeast coast.

    Australia, the largest exporter of coal, is trying to protect an area named in 1981 as a United Nations World Heritage site along with the Galapagos Islands and the Pyramids of Egypt, and which attracts millions of tourists and scientists each year. An initial report by salvage experts shows the vessel’s rudder and engine were damaged when it slammed into the Douglas Shoals at full speed, Maritime Safety Queensland said.

    The threat of pollution from the Shen Neng 1 is “like a ticking time-bomb,” Australia’s Greens party leader Bob Brown told Sky News. “This is a A$60 billion ($55 billion) a year largely foreign-owned coal industry that’s making a coal highway out of the Great Barrier Reef,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio earlier today.

    Surveillance showed a thin oil sheen near the 230-meter bulk carrier, Patrick Quirk, general manager of Maritime Safety Queensland, said in an e-mailed statement today. The oil patch measured 600 meters by 300 meters.

    ‘Minimal’ Leak

    Aircraft dropped chemical dispersants to break up fuel leaking from the ship, with indications of a “minimal” amount of oil in the ocean, Environment Minister Peter Garrett said yesterday.

    The ship left the Port of Gladstone last week carrying 65,000 metric tons of coal for export to China and about 975 tons of fuel oil. It’s stranded about 38 nautical miles east of Great Keppel Island in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef. About 2 tons of oil has leaked out of the vessel, the Australian Associated Press reported.

    Overnight, a second vessel arrived to assist the specialist tug on site to stabilize the Shen Neng 1, Maritime Safety Queensland said. Gladstone Port has the capacity to export 75 million tons a year, according to its Web site.     The Shen Neng 1 may have been taking an illegal short-cut through a passage between reefs, the Brisbane-based Courier Mail reported today. “Ships have apparently regularly done that, if the rumors are true,” Greens leader Brown told Sky News.

    Shenzhen Energy

    Data compiled by Bloomberg show the vessel is owned by Shenzhen Energy Co., a unit of Cosco Group, China’s biggest shipping company. Zhang Fusheng, Cosco Group’s executive vice president, wasn’t immediately available for comment when telephoned in Beijing today. The Shen Neng 1 was heading for the Chinese port of Bayuquan.

    The 346,000 square-kilometer (134,000 square-mile) reef system off northeast Australia is largely administered as a marine reserve for about 400 varieties of coral, 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusk, according to the UN.

    “There is no greater natural asset for Australia than the Great Barrier Reef,” Rudd said today. “I take any threat to the Great Barrier Reef fundamentally seriously.”

    Officials from the national marine safety agency and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority will study the incident to decide whether any laws have been breached, Garrett said yesterday. Penalties for breaching laws governing the park extend to a fine of A$5.5 million, while the master of a ship guilty of negligence can be imprisoned for as long as three years, Rudd said today.

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    Foundering Coal Ship Lacked Pilot;

    Criticism Abounds


    The ship, carrying 65,000 tonnes of coal is leaking fuel oil that has produced a slick 3km long by 100m wide. The ship is understood to have approximately 975 tonnes of heavy fuel oil onboard. There is some risk the ship may break up, with the ship at risk of more damage on the reef with the current 2-3m swell.

    see YouTube video for dramatic footage:

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    Barge Arrives to Pump Oil Off Ship Stranded on Reef

    By Ben Sharples

    April 8 (Bloomberg) -- A barge has arrived at the Shen Neng 1, grounded on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, before an operation to remove 975 metric tons of fuel oil from the stranded Chinese coal carrier.

    The Shen Neng 1, which ran aground on April 3, hasn’t leaked any oil in the last two days, Patrick Quirk, general manager of Maritime Safety Queensland, said. Any compensation and liability arising from damage to the Reef will be pursued “forcefully,” Environment Minister Peter Garrett said in Rockhampton today, according to a transcript from his office.

    Authorities are investigating if the Shen Neng 1’s first mate was asleep when the vessel ran aground, the Australian newspaper reported today, without saying where it got the information. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is collecting evidence and plans to release a preliminary report in about 28 days, it said April 6.

    “The key thing is to make sure that those responsible for this are brought to account, and any further measures for the long-term protection of the Reef are put in place,” Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in a radio interview in north Queensland today, according to a transcript of his remarks.

    Penalties for breaching laws governing the park extend to a fine of A$5.5 million ($5.1 million), while the master of a ship guilty of negligence can be imprisoned, Rudd said today.

    Favorable Weather

    The weather forecast is favorable for the salvage operation of Shen Neng 1, which ran aground about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the northeast coast, Maritime Safety Queensland’s Quirk said in an e-mailed statement.

    The ship left the Port of Gladstone last week carrying 65,000 metric tons of coal for export to China and about 975 tons of fuel oil. It’s stranded about 38 nautical miles east of Great Keppel Island in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef. As much as 4 tons of oil has spilled from the vessel, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chief Scientist Dave Wachenseld said by phone yesterday.

    “It is fair to say that a vessel of this size, of this tonnage, landing on a coral reef is going to have some impact,” Garrett said. “The extent of that impact we won’t know until the vessel, hopefully, is successfully removed.”

    Australia, the largest exporter of coal, is trying to protect an area named in 1981 as a United Nations World Heritage site along with the Galapagos Islands and the Pyramids of Egypt, and which attracts millions of tourists and scientists each year.

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    Great Barrier Reef Rammed by Chinese Coal Ship

    Australian officials are attempting to minimize the effect that oil leaking from the vessel might have on the world's largest coral reef.

    from LA Times
    April 05, 2010|By John M. Glionna and Ju-min Park and Kenneth R. Weiss

    Reporting from Seoul Kenneth R. Weiss and Los Angeles -- Australians on Sunday scrambled to ensure that a Chinese-owned bulk coal carrier that rammed into the Great Barrier Reef would not break apart and seriously damage the planet's largest coral reef.

    Peter Garrett, the nation's environment protection minister, told reporters that the government was concerned about the effect an oil spill could have on the environmentally sensitive reef, one of the wonders of the natural world that was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.

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    Book Review: Flotsametrics and the Floating World
    By Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Eric Scigliano

    Review by Sid Perkins from Science News

    Buoyant items that end up in the sea — from tennis shoes to tree branches — drift at the mercy of winds and ocean currents, sometimes for thousands of miles. Seafarers have analyzed such debris, called flotsam, for centuries: Noticing odd items washed up on European beaches led Vikings to new harbors and Columbus to discover the New World, the authors reveal.

    Today, scientists recognize flotsam as a tremendous source of scientific data. As researcher Curtis Ebbesmeyer and science writer Eric Scigliano recount, beachcombing is a poor man’s oceanography. By knowing when and where a beachcomber stumbled upon an item, as well as when and where that item had entered the water, scientists can divine information about oceanic swirls of all sizes, from small eddies that spin off the Gulf Stream to looping, sea-spanning currents called gyres.

    Flotsametrics is a captivating memoir chronicling Ebbesmeyer’s journey into the floating world, from his childhood fascination with water to his professional studies of currents and tides. In the book’s final chapters, the authors describe a kind of flotsam that would have been unrecognizable to early seafarers: plastic trash.
    Many of the items floating within the ocean’s vast “garbage patches” — a term Ebbesmeyer coined in the 1990s — are plastics that contain potentially harmful chemicals and may not decay for hundreds of years.

    For better or worse, every piece of flotsam has a tale to tell, Ebbesmeyer contends. Any beachcomber willing to pay attention can help unravel the ocean’s story.
    Smithsonian Books/Collins, 2009, 286 p., $26.99

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    Armada of Floating Plastic Ducks

    29,000 Plastic Ducks Adrift in the Pacific


    The armada of Floatee bath toys consists of yellow ducks, green frogs, blue turtles and red beavers, each marked with the logo 'The First Years'. They've been wandering the oceans since 1992, when the ship on which they were traveling from China to Tacoma, Washington, on the north-west coast of the U.S., was hit by a freak storm in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

    Twelve cargo units were washed overboard, one containing the ducks. It split open when it hit the water and out popped the Floatees. Dr Ebbesmeyer is the world's leading authority on the Floatees. He first found out about the ducks when a few of the plastic raft made their first landfall, drifting onto the shores of Alaska in November 1992.

    NordNordWest Wikicommons
    Dr Curtis Ebbesmeyer Oceanographer and Floating Ducks Expert


    Dr Ebbesmeyer has studied the movement of flotsam. He came to public attention through his interest in The First Years' rubber ducks (actually Friendly Floatees) a consignment of bath toys washed into the Pacific Ocean in 1992.

    Dr Ebbesmeyer founded the nonprofit Beachcombers' and Oceanographers' International Association in 1996 for which he writes and publishes the magazine Beachcombers' Alert.

    Photo Wikicommons

    Last edited on Sun Mar 28th, 2010 09:31 pm by sydneyst


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    Scientists Reveal 'Secret Pathologies of Dolphins'

    What they learned from the bottlenose who call the Georgia coast home may have far-reaching impacts for oceans and human health


    As part of the Coastal Georgia Dolphin Health Assessment conducted late in 2009, a NOAA-led research team gave each dolphin a physical exam that included a small tissue biopsy. Analysis of the tissues revealed that the dolphins have the highest PCB levels ever reported in marine wildlife.

    Researchers tracked the movements of the study dolphins for several months via radio transmitters attached to their dorsal fins. They discovered that most of the dolphins did not range very far. The implication for human health is that people and dolphins in the region are eating the same seafood.

    Last summer, scientists from NOS and the NOAA Fisheries Service studied two groups of bottlenose dolphins. The first group is in Brunswick, Georgia, near a former industrial site where contaminants had leaked into an intertidal marsh. The second group is found at the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve, a virtually pristine-looking protected area about 30 miles up the coast toward Savannah.

    The purpose of the study, called NOAA’s Coastal Georgia Dolphin Health Assessment, was to gather data on the dolphins’ overall health and to measure the levels of human-made contaminants, called PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), in their tissues.
    The Georgia dolphins examined in the study had a secret to tell, indeed. Co-principal investigator Dr. Lori Schwacke and her colleagues discovered that the dolphins' tissues contained the highest concentrations of PCBs ever reported in marine mammals.

    "In the Brunswick dolphins, the levels are even higher than those seen in transient killer (or orca) whales from the Pacific Coast, which feed on other marine mammals, and are thus higher in the food chain. These orcas have been reported before as having the highest PCB levels in wildlife," Dr. Schwacke says. "And while PCB levels were significantly lower in the Sapelo Island dolphins, they were still higher than what we usually see in coastal U.S. dolphin populations."

    A team of researchers experienced in dolphin catch-and-release methods escorts a subject to a specially equipped research vessel. Little is known about the impacts of contaminants on cetaceans. NOAA’s research on the bottlenose dolphins of coastal Georgia sheds new light on these sensitive sentinels of the sea.

    While PCBs have been banned in the U.S. since the 1970s, they are known as "legacy contaminants," which, due to their persistence in the environment and their extensive use in the past, continue to be detected in soil, sediments, and living organisms. PCBs, which are known cancer-causing agents, have also been linked to other health issues.

    NOAA scientists' preliminary analyses of the Georgia dolphins’ tissues detected evidence of elevated liver enzymes, suppressed immune function, and altered levels of thyroid hormones—all of which are consistent with the known effects of PCBs on living organisms.

    "There are a number of reasons to be concerned about the high levels of PCBs we’re seeing in these dolphins," Schwacke continues. "For one, we learned that except for a few of the males, most of these animals do not range very far, which suggests that the contaminants are moving along the coast through the marine food web."
    And people eat the same seafood that dolphins do.

    The NOAA research is increasing scientists' knowledge of cetaceans—the group of marine mammals that includes dolphins, porpoises, and whales—which are hard to study in the wild. Until now, little has been known about the impacts that PCBs may be having on the health of cetaceans, which, as the typical apex predators in their habitats, are excellent "sentinel" species that may help scientists determine the overall health of an ecosystem.

    As summed up by Dr. Schwacke,"we have to be careful about what we’re doing along our coasts. These contaminants don’t go away. They last for generations. The pollutants that we allow to seep into our waters today are going to be around for decades to come."

    The Coastal Georgia Dolphin Health Assessment is a collaboration among NOAA's National Ocean Service, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, NOAA Center of Excellence for Oceans and Human Health at Hollings Marine Laboratory, NOAA Fisheries Service Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Chicago Zoological Society's Dolphin Research and Conservation Institute, University of Connecticut, Medical University of South Carolina, and Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve.

    Last edited on Wed Mar 17th, 2010 06:11 pm by sydneyst


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    U.N. meeting asked to regulate world shark trade

    By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Exploding Asian demand for shark fin soup has slashed worldwide shark populations, and global regulation is the best way to save eight species now under pressure, ocean conservationists reported on Monday.

    Eight types of sharks -- oceanic whitetip, dusky, sandbar, spurdog, porbeagle, scalloped, smooth and great hammerhead -- should be regulated under the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), a marine expert at the Washington-based group Oceana said.

    "The demand for the shark fin is so high, they're being taken out of the water faster than they can reproduce in the water to sustain their population," said Rebecca Greenberg, co-author of an Oceana report released at a U.N. CITES meeting on endangered species being held from March 13 to 25 in Doha, Qatar.

    Sharks are under particular pressure because of the growing Chinese appetite for shark fin soup, traditionally a symbol of power and prestige that was formerly reserved for the wealthy.

    One of the most expensive foods on Earth, a bowl of shark fin soup can cost $100, and a single fin can be worth $1,300, Greenberg said in a telephone interview from Doha.

    Formerly a delicacy reserved for the rich because of the difficulty of catching and processing sharks, shark fins are now within reach of the growing Asian middle class because of improved fishing and processing techniques, she said.

    Up to 22 million pounds (10 million kg) of shark fins are exported annually to Hong Kong by 87 countries, the Oceana report said. While not seeking a ban on the trade of shark fins, Oceana wants to limit international commerce in this commodity so that the only fins that can be traded and sold internationally are from sustainable shark populations, according to Greenberg.

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    EcoVision: Black Sea Showing Signs of Recovery from Shipping
    October 19,2009

    Excerpts: The approaching end to the recession in the overcrowded and heavily polluted waters of the Black Sea basin coincides with a marvellous gift bestowed by nature on the beleaguered world shipping industry: the infamous biological ’dead zones’ marring the seafloor near its western shores have largely disappeared.

    This baffles scientists. Other biological disaster areas associated with relentless marine pollution widely blamed on the industry by the uncomprehending public are on the increase elsewhere. A jubilant discussion paper just published by the World Bank concedes that the evident and substantial improvement of the Black Sea ecosystem may be in part one unexpected effect of the industrial slowdown affecting Eastern Europe — but there are also other forces at play.

    Also see:

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    World Coral Reef Map from Bryant (1998)



    Ocean Acidification and Its Effect on Coral Reefs

    The absorption of CO2 by the oceans leads to increasing ocean acidification. This alters the carbonate chemistry of seawater as pH decreases. Ocean acidification has already led to a decrease of pH of about 0.1 pH units and a resultant decrease in the availability of carbonate ions in seawater. This trend is projected to reduce pH by a further 0.3-0.4 units under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario by the end of this century.

    Corals and other marine species that are critical structural or functional components of marine ecosystems, build their skeletons from calcium carbonate. The vulnerability of these taxa to acidification depends on the form of carbonate that they secrete. High magnesium calcite is most soluble, aragonite of intermediate solubility
    and calcite is the most insoluble. Coral skeletons are formed of aragonite.

    A decrease in coral growth rate of 14% has already been observed on corals of the Great Barrier Reef and is likely to be a response to acidification or a combination of climate change impacts. Coralline algae, key cementing agents that are essential to reef building, secrete high magnesium carbonate and are particularly vulnerable to acidification.

    Prior to the industrial revolution 98% of the world’s coral reefs were found in waters more than 3.5 times saturated with aragonite. At an atmospheric CO2 concentration of 450 ppm only 8% of coral reefs will be surrounded by waters with this saturation level.

     At CO2 concentrations of more than 560 ppm it is projected that all reefs will be in an erosional state (atmospheric CO2 double the pre-industrial value). Under these conditions coral reefs ecosystems will collapse and become dominated by algae and microorganisms. This will be accompanied by extinctions of reef-building coral taxa and reef-associatedfish and invertebrate species.

    Source : Tittensor et al. 2009

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    Last edited on Thu Apr 8th, 2010 09:46 pm by sydneyst


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    What Does the Halpern Impact Map Tell Us?

    from NCEAS:

    See video discussion:

    First, we can compare different locations to determine the least and most impacted regions of the globe. There are large extents of heavily impacted ocean in the North Sea, the South and East China Seas, and the Bering Sea. Much of the coastal area of Europe, North America, the Caribbean, China and Southeast Asia are also heavily impacted.

    The least impacted areas are largely near the poles, but also appear along the north coast of Australia, and small, scattered locations along the coasts of South America, Africa, Indonesia and in the tropical Pacific.

    For additional videos of the model and information on the SST data, please visit the National Oceanographic Data Center.
    Second, the data summarized in the map provides critical information for evaluating where certain activities can continue with little effect on the oceans, where other activities might need to be stopped or moved to less sensitive areas, and where to focus efforts on protecting the last pristine areas. As management and conservation of the oceans turns toward marine protected areas (MPAs), ecosystem-based management (EBM) and ocean zoning to manage human influence, we hope our study will be useful to managers, conservation groups and policymakers.

    Last edited on Fri Sep 25th, 2009 07:22 pm by sydneyst


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    Science Magazine Ocean Impact Map

      from paper by Halpern, et al in 2008:

    Fig. 1. Global map (A) of cumulative human impact across 20 ocean ecosystem types. (Insets) Highly impacted regions in the Eastern Caribbean (B), the North Sea (C), and the Japanese waters (D) and one of the least impacted regions, in northern Australia and the Torres Strait (E).

    From the authors:
    The management and conservation of the world's oceans require synthesis of spatial data on the distribution and intensity of human activities and the overlap of their impacts on marine ecosystems. We developed an ecosystem-specific, multiscale spatial model to synthesize 17 global data sets of anthropogenic drivers of ecological change for 20 marine ecosystems. Our analysis indicates that no area is unaffected by human influence and that a large fraction (41%) is strongly affected by multiple drivers. However, large areas of relatively little human impact remain, particularly near the poles...

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    Northern Passage Rich with Marine Life

    Sydney has abstracted a map from the Arctic Marine Assessment
    showing marine mammals, birds, sanctuaries and other critical areas along the sea routes:

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    Last edited on Sat Sep 12th, 2009 08:06 am by sydneyst


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    Shipping Comes to the Arctic: How Will Impacts Be Avoided?

    The NY Times features a front page article on one of the first commercial passages to the Arctic:

    excerpts from:

    Arctic Shortcut Beckons Shippers as Ice Thaws 

    Beluga Group A German ship, following a Russian icebreaker, is about to complete a shipment from Asia to Europe via Arctic waters.

    Two German ships are poised to complete, for the first time, a commercial shipment transit from Asia to Europe over the waters of the Arctic north of Russia. For hundreds of years, mariners have dreamed of an Arctic shortcut that would allow them to speed trade between Asia and the West. Two German ships are poised to complete that transit for the first time, aided by the retreat of Arctic ice that scientists have linked to global warming.


    “It is global warming that enables us to think about using that route,” Verena Beckhusen, a spokeswoman for the shipping company, the Beluga Group of Bremen, Germany, said in a telephone interview.

    Lawson W. Brigham, a professor of geography at the University of Fairbanks who led the writing of an international report on Arctic commerce, the Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment, confirmed that the passage of the two German ships appeared to be the first true commercial transit of the entire Northeast Passage from Asia to the West.

    He credited Beluga for taking on both the summertime Arctic waters, which still pose threats despite the recent sea-ice retreats, and Russian red tape, a maze of permits and regulations.

    “This may be as much of a test run for the bureaucracy as for the ice,” said Dr. Brigham, an oceanographer who is a former Coast Guard icebreaker captain. But he also said it would be a long while before Arctic shipping routes took business from the Suez or Panama Canal.

    The pair of ice-hardened, 12,700-ton ships, the Beluga Fraternity and Beluga Foresight, were accompanied for most of the trip so far by one or two Russian nuclear icebreakers as a precaution, although they encountered only scattered small floes. At the most perilous leg of the journey, the passage around the northernmost tip of Siberia, the Vilkitsky Strait, ice covered about half the sea.

    The Northwest Passage, a meandering set of channels through Canada’s Arctic, has been increasingly tested as well, but has not so far become a reliable commercial route, with transit limited mainly to military or research craft.

    Last edited on Wed Mar 17th, 2010 06:02 pm by sydneyst


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    IFAW Reports on World-Wide Whale Watching

    Source: IFAW

    The International Fund for Animal Welfare has issued a report  revealing that world-wide, whale watching generated US$2.1 billion in tourist revenue.  

    This report was issued prior to the 61st annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Madeira, Portugal.  Over 80 countries are being respresented and will discuss
    the future of whaling and whale conservation.

    Last edited on Sun Jul 19th, 2009 09:44 pm by sydneyst


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    Coral Reefs Endangered by Climate Change

    special investigation by Sydney's Thumb 

    As oceans absorb carbon dioxide, seawater becomes more acidic. Already a 30 percent increase has occurred.  When oceans are acidified, seawater is depleted of compounds that organisms use to build shells and skeletons to armor themselves.  Directly affected creatures include coral, crabs, sea stars, sea urchins. The effects, however, reverberate through the food web. Increase in water temperature exacerbates the problem and leads to the starvation of coral, a phenomenean known as coral bleaching.

    Coral reefs are among the most biodiverse habitat on the planet and are often called “underwater rainforests.”  In 2002, Conservation International collaborated with the IUCN to identify 11 world-wide marine hotspots, many of them reef systems,  where planet biodiversity is under greatest threat.  


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    National Ocean Service Video Link

    see:  for a quality video on the work of the NOAA's National Ocean Service

    Last edited on Sat May 30th, 2009 07:14 pm by sydneyst

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