On Tuesday the U.S. government repealed the six-month ban on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, enacted in May in response to BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“We are open for business,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters in a phone call Tuesday afternoon, adding, “We have made, and continue to make, significant progress in reducing the risks associated with deep-water drilling.” [The Washington Post].
The ban was supposed to be lifted on November 30th, but the government lifted it a few weeks early under pressure from Gulf Coast lawmakers. The drilling halt was deeply unpopular in the Gulf states where up to 12,000 jobs were temporarily lost (though some experts number the jobs directly and indirectly lost by the moratorium at around 175,000).
Drilling won’t resume immediately. The Obama administration has issued strict new operating and safety rules, and each offshore rig will need to pass inspection before it can resume work. The first permits allowing drilling will likely be issued before the new year. Says Michael Bromwich, director of the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement:
“We’ll be inspecting in a very careful and comprehensive way those rigs to make sure they’re compliant with the new rules,” Bromwich said…. “We won’t know [if they're compliant] until we begin to do those inspections.” [The Washington Post].
Take Manhattan, turn it into oil and drop it in the Gulf: That’s the size of the submerged oil plume that scientists found near the site of BP’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, casting more doubt on those claims that the plumes weren’t so bad, or that most of the oil has been accounted for.
The research was conducted in June during an expedition led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The study, which appears in Science, is the first peer-reviewed data on oil plumes from the leak in the Gulf, and comes from 57,000 direct measurements made during the visit.
The plume, which scientists said came from the busted Gulf well, shows the oil “is persisting for longer periods than we would have expected,” lead researcher Rich Camilli said in a statement issued with the study. “Many people speculated that subsurface oil droplets were being easily biodegraded. Well, we didn’t find that. We found it was still there” [MSNBC].
What do you get when you mix oil and dispersants? A mixture that doesn’t seem to be more toxic than oil alone, the EPA said yesterday. Their statement came after a second round of testing eight oil dispersants.
The EPA tested the response of two sensitive Gulf species, the mysid shrimp and a small fish called the inland silverside, which they exposed to mixtures of dispersants plus oil and to oil alone.
The results indicate that the eight dispersants tested are similar to one another based on standard toxicity tests on sensitive aquatic organisms found in the Gulf. These results confirm that the dispersant used in response to the oil spill in the Gulf, Corexit 9500A, is generally no more or less toxic than the other available alternatives. [EPA statement]
Perhaps remembering the company’s repeated failures to stanch the flow over these past months, some officials are calling the maneuver only one possible solution. National Incident Commander Thad Allen said:
“Static kill is not the end all, be all.” [The Telegraph]
Still some hope it is; said Darryl Bourgoyne, director of the Petroleum Engineering Research Lab at Louisiana State University:
“It could be the beginning of the end.” [AP]
Temporary fix or permanent plug, here’s how BP will do it:
In early July we brought you news of the Great Sea Turtle Relocation–an ambitious plan dreamed up by conservationists to scoop up some 70,000 sea turtle eggs from Gulf Coast beaches, to prevent the hatchlings from crawling straight into oil-fouled waters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service noted that the plan carried considerable risks to the unborn turtles, but said it was the best chance of preventing the die-off an entire generation.
Now the update: Over the past week, the plan has gone into action, and baby turtles are now swimming free in the Atlantic Ocean. But some experts question whether the launched turtles have a chance.
On Alabama and Florida beaches workers are carefully digging up nests, marking the eggs with “this end up” symbols, and packing them in styrofoam coolers for the truck ride to a Kennedy Space Center warehouse. The eggs belong mostly to threatened loggerheads, along with some endangered green, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley turtles.
Check out a photo gallery of the turtle rearing and release operations after the jump.
Will this solution finally be the solution? Today in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is attempting to secure another containment cap onto its oil leak, which the company says could trap and collect all the oil gushing from the leak—if it works.
On Saturday BP removed the leaky cap that had been catching a little bit of the oil, meaning that the oil is now flowing unchecked into the Gulf as engineers race to install the new one. This is the latest try in a string of attempts to cap the leak, and BP’s Kent Wells says that engineers are lowering the new, tighter-fitting cap into place this morning.
The new cap, which should eventually not allow any gas or oil to escape, will be used to divert more oil to collection ships that will be brought in over the next two to three weeks, Mr. Wells said. “We’ll continue to ramp up the capacity so that sometime along the line, whatever the flow is, we’ll capture it all,” he said [The New York Times].
On Saturday, five gallons of tar balls appeared on the Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island in Texas. Their arrival means that BP oil has now hit all five gulf states. Researchers don’t believe that ocean currents alone carried the balls, but instead say that the glops of gloop washed off recovery ship hulls.
Specifically, the researchers from a joint BP-Coast Guard response team looked at the tar balls’ “weathering,” which they say was too light for oil that had traveled from the leak site, around 550 miles away.
Galveston’s mayor, Joe Jaworski, said he was hopeful the analysis was correct and that the tar balls were not a sign of more oil to come. “This is good news. The water looks good. We’re cautiously optimistic this is an anomaly,” he said. [BBC]
Things may be looking up, ever so slightly, for the Gulf of Mexico’s endangered sea turtles. A few days ago, environmental groups announced that they were suing BP and the Coast Guard over the “controlled burns” that were intended to burn off oil slicks in the water; the environmentalists said that sea turtles were getting caught in the infernos and burned alive. This morning a judge was prepared to hear arguments on a proposed injunction, but at the last minute the parties declared that they’ve reached a settlement.
The agreement comes in advance of an emergency court hearing set today in New Orleans federal court, where environmentalists sought to force BP to either stop controlled burns or place rescuers on the boats to scoop federally protected sea turtles out of floating sludge patches before the corralled oil is ignited [Bloomberg].
According to Sea Turtles Restoration Project, one of the plaintiffs in the case, BP and the Coast Guard have agreed to station a qualified biologist on every vessel involved in the burns, and to remove turtles from the burn area before setting the blaze. This is good news for the leatherbacks, loggerheads, and Kemps Ridley turtles that make their home in the Gulf. Of course, it would be better news if their home wasn’t saturated with oil and periodically set on fire, but we’ll take what we can get.
Elsewhere in turtle news, conservationists are preparing to collect 70,000 turtle eggs from Alabama and Florida beaches. The ambitious scheme, coordinated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is seen as the best chance of preventing a massive die-off of the threatened creatures.
Alex was by no means a whopper, reaching category 2 status at its height and blowing with winds just over 100 miles per hour. While mild by hurricane standards, it meant that only the largest ships, like those doing the relief well drilling and oil capturing, could stay out at sea.
Hundreds of shrimp boats that were converted into oil skimmers now sit in port, and the tall waves tossed boom that was holding back the oil onto the beaches of Grand Isle, La. The beaches are now too dangerous even for cleanup crews. “Those booms, they don’t seem like they were designed for this kind of wave action,” said Matthew Slavich, an oyster fisherman hired by BP for cleanup efforts. He was out on the open water trying to lay boom today, but didn’t stay long [ABC News].
Besides hampering cleanup efforts, Alex also negated some of the work crews already did.
Build a wall of sand: That was Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s answer to protecting the state’s delicate marshlands when it became clear that BP wasn’t going to stop its gushing oil leak anytime soon. But now the federal government has put the kibosh on Louisiana’s construction, saying that the project to save one ecologically sensitive area will ruin another.
Scientists raised several objections to the state’s first proposal last month to build a long line of sand berms on 10 May. One key concern was that taking sand from in front of the Chandeleur Islands would make them more vulnerable to erosion. The state agreed to change its approach by taking sand from a site further away and then pumping it through pipes to build the berms [ScienceNOW].
However, that didn’t happen. Louisiana officials said they couldn’t get the pipes built in time, and asked the feds to let them dredge near Chandeleur at least until the other site was ready. OK, the Interior Department said—you’ve got a week. That week has lapsed, but Louisiana is still requesting more time to dredge near Chandeleur, promising to return the sand once the berm project has done its job.