Topics: Senate Repugs preparing to ram through ambitious new environment-destroying oil and gas drilling plans. Blowout preventers are no guarantee against disaster. The Obama administration flags idle oil and gas leases, while the industry says there aren't any idle leases. Missing BP laptop has personal information on claimants. New Orleans Times-Picayune editorial: Learn from mistakes.  Anniversary flight to Deepwater Horizon site planned. Scientists find 2,000 year old corals near spill site.

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GOP on a frenetic "drill, baby, drill" push for ANWR and other locations.

Largely hidden in legislation unveiled Thursday in the Senate, Sens. David Vitter (R-Pampers) and John Cornyn (R-Oilsucker) have slipped in items that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve to drilling, restrict environmental groups from taking legal action against habitat-destroying projects, and force the government to approve a pipeline to bring Canadian oil-sands crude to the Gulf Coast.

“This measure will take the boot off the neck of domestic energy producers and unlock our domestic energy potential,” Cornyn said.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said the legislation “gets Washington out of the way of America developing its own energy resources.”

Republicans cast the measure as an immediate balm for rising oil prices, which have been pushed up by unrest in Libya, Egypt and other parts of the Middle East.

...an immediate balm for rising oil prices... Yeah, right. Doesn't matter that it takes at least six to eight years from drill to gas tank... as long as the robber barons get their pockets lined as quickly as possible. And since oil prices/supplies are set globally, even "our" oil is not, nor has it ever been, "our" oil... But it is what the unwashed masses want to hear. The pipe dream of cheap gas again one day (and that's 'Murican gas, don't 'cha know) is enough to generate votes from the woefully uninformed... And that is just what Sen. Pampers is counting on.

But Vitter said he thinks the political pressure from rising gasoline prices could change the dynamic on Capitol Hill.

“Wait and watch,” he said. “As the price at the pump goes to four dollars, . . . attitudes can change pretty quickly. We saw that in the summer of 2008, and I think we’re about to see that again.”

Plans to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling are perennials on Capitol Hill, offered every time gasoline prices rise. Drilling advocates say opening the refuge would give the U.S. access to an estimated 11 billion barrels of oil in the region. But environmentalists say the oil gains would be small, especially given the risks of damage to wildlife and habitat.

In recent years, Republicans have tried new tactics to make ANWR drilling more attractive. The latest gambit, by Alaska’s senators — Republican Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Begich — would have allowed oil companies to use new horizontal drilling techniques to explore the refuge’s reserves, as long as their footprint was not within the federally protected area.

And with the American Petroleum Institute policing the safety of oil and gas drilling, less restrictive legislation would allow the industry virtual free rein with the environment, sinking a well wherever they please, even in a national park...

David Alberswerth, a senior policy adviser at The Wilderness Society, said the Republicans’ drilling bill “puts the foxes in charge of the hen house” by effectively ceding control of federal lands to oil and gas companies.
**And for your Friday morning listening pleasure, the theme song for today's diary, compliments of our very own Crashing Vor, is... They Want It ALL.

From the "well, duh!" files... Blowout preventers are no guarantee against disaster.

As expected, oil and gas producers are fearful of reports that blowout preventers are actually not as advertised - even in optimal conditions (which never occur) BOPs are not a sure-fire way to stop a raging gusher, especially at depths of a mile or more beneath the ocean's surface. Gary Luquette, Chevron’s president for North America exploration and production, says he hopes the perceived problems with the BOPs will not discourage the permitting process.

The best way to deal with a blowout is never to have one. In this case, the pipe was blown up the hole because of a loss of control situation. If you have complete loss of control, you can’t imagine a BOP that can be designed for that.

Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, seems to agree. He told FT Energy Source:

    We knew all along (since Macondo) the BOP didn’t serve its intended function. The specific ways it failed, as laid out in the report, is less significant than the fact that it failed.

Bromwich says that the system needs to be strengthened, and the blowout preventer should not, as he says others have, be accepted as the best safeguard against disaster.

There was a complacency that existed. The companies believed their own reassurances. It’s never been a riskless activity. There are risks. All you can do is drive down risks and prepare for the ‘what ifs’.

Marvin Odum, head of Shell’s US operations, said the BOP is an area that needs additional research and development to improve its function. But if companies are as careful as Shell has always tried to be, he said – with a full list of safety procedures that have gone above those required by regulators – then they will have their “bases covered”.

And speaking of permits and leases...as noted in the report from the Department of the Interiorthis past Tuesday, more than half of the oil and gas leases in the US and territorial waters are not currently being used, prompting accusations that the oil and gas industry - and not the government - is restricting production by sitting on leases, waiting for energy prices to increase, and the pain at the pump to become so uncomfortable that a bought-off Congress will let Big Oil drill anywhere they like.

Current status of well permits and leases from BOEMRE, as of 3/31/11.
“We continue to support safe and responsible domestic energy production, and as this report shows millions of acres that have already been leased to industry for oil and gas productions sit idle,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in a statement. “These are resources that belong to the American people, and they expect those supplies to be developed in a timely and responsible manner and with a fair return to taxpayers.”

Representative Ed Markey, (D-Mass) was less magnanimous, and said that “multi-billion dollar corporations (are) warehousing millions of acres of public lands, waiting for the price of oil to skyrocket.”

Sounds logical to me...

Senator Robert Menendez, (D-NJ) said that before opening new areas to drilling, Congress should do more to force companies to develop the leases they already have. He has accused oil companies of camping out on leases to pad their portfolios.

“It’s simply wrong for oil companies to be sitting on federal leases to boost their stock prices while American families feel the pain at the pump,” Menendez said.

Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute called the accusations a political stunt.

“This is clearly an effort to divert the attention of the American people away from the fact that the administration at every turn has delayed or deferred or restricted our own access here at home,” Gerard said in an interview. “It is a way to divert the public’s attention from their outright inaction.”

After all, industry representatives say, not every lease is home to valuable oil and gas — and it can take years to find out. In the meantime, lease-holding companies pay the federal government annual rental fees, on top of the money they already spent bidding on the drilling rights.

Industry representatives stressed that regulatory delays are partly to blame for inactive leases. API’s Gerard pointed to Shell’s proposed drilling in the Arctic waters near Alaska that has been delayed for years, most recently by a federal environmental appeals board’s ruling on essential air permits for the project.

Shell paid the government more than $2 billion for the right to drill in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas and has spent roughly $1.5 billion more preparing for the work, which is now on hold until 2012 at the earliest.

Gerard said it was preposterous to suggest that an industry that has spent billions and billions of dollars on leases that ultimately may not contain oil and gas would sit idle on them.

“There is a number of variables to this. It is not as simple as the administration is trying to make it seem,” Gerard said. “We are risking our capital, giving it to the government, and we pay an annual rental fee just for the right to hold it and look.”

A*holes... And remember, boys and girls...a department of the American Petroleum Institute is tasked with human and environmental safety on oil rigs. I know that makes me feel so much better...

And the excuses just keep on coming. Industry: No such thing as ‘idle leases’.

In his speech Wednesday outlining a broad national energy strategy, President Obama cited an Interior Department report that says the oil and gas industry has vast numbers of leases sitting idle.

The study says 70 percent of federal Gulf of Mexico leases and 57 percent of federal onshore leases “are not producing or not subject to approved or pending exploration or development plans.”

The oil and gas industry has heard this before and was ready with the reply: There really is not such thing as an idle lease.

In a press call this week the American Petroleum Institute chief lobbyist Erik Milito depicted the report as blind and deaf to how companies go about exploring for oil and gas.

“The administration’s report assumes that oil and natural gas are spread uniformly across the lease acreage – suggesting that 70 percent of idle leases equates to 70 percent idled resources. As if finding oil was no more difficult than sticking a pipe in the ground,” Milito said.

And if the claimants in the BP gusher legal wrangling didn't have enough to worry about already, like how to pay the mortgage and feed their families, now they have to worry about identity theft.

Missing BP laptop had personal data of Gulf oil spill claimants.

BP says one of its employees lost a laptop containing personal data belonging to thousands of residents who filed claims for compensation after the Gulf oil spill.

The oil giant disclosed the potential data security breach to The Associated Press on Tuesday. But BP spokesman Curtis Thomas said the company doesn't have any evidence that claimants' personal information has been misused.

Thomas said the company mailed out letters Monday to roughly 13,000 people, notifying them that their data was in the computer.

The data belonged to individuals who filed claims with BP before the Gulf Coast Claims Facility took over the processing of claims in August. BP paid roughly $400 million in claims before the switch.

An editorial from the New Orleans Times-Picayune says BP and government officials had no idea what they were doing after the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

Numerous reports and investigations have established that BP and government officials generally didn't know what they were doing in their early efforts to stop last year's Gulf spill. Now the experts who examined the blowout preventer from the Deepwater Horizon have concluded that some of those attempts to stop the flow may have inadvertently opened a wider path for the oil to gush.

It's important that two new industry-driven entities created to respond to future spills, as well as BOP engineers, absorb the lessons of BP's early bumbling.

According to Norway-based Det Norske Veritas, which performed an autopsy of the well's blowout preventer, BP and the government opened a new, larger path for the oil when they sliced through the pipe nine days after the blowout.

The autopsy showed that when the blowout first happened, some seals at the bottom of the BOP closed around the drill pipe, limiting the gusher to just the 5.5-inch pipe. But blind shear rams higher up in the BOP, which were supposed to cut and seal the pipe, didn't work because the blowout had knocked the pipe off center and the rams could only achieve a partial cut.

Engineers were able to activate another set of slicers, called the casing shear rams, on April 29 -- nine days after the blowout. But those rams are designed simply to cut the pipe and have no seals. That left oil and gas free to flow through the 15-inch wellbore. Over the next 78 days, the hydrocarbons eroded the underside of the blind shear ram and made larger pathways for the oil to flow.

Several experts said that would certainly have increased the rate of the oil flow, though Benton Baugh, president of Houston-based Radoil Tool Co. Inc., said erosion inside the BOP would have increased the flow over time anyway.

Mr. Baugh said that activating the casing shear rams might not have been the best option, "but hindsight is 20/20."

That's true, and obviously no one can change the past. But the industry and regulators can learn from the problems inside this BOP to review how the devices work and make adjustments if necessary.

Scientists find 2,000-year-old coral near site of BP oil spill.

Federal scientists say they have dated coral living near the site of the busted BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico at 2,000 years old.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday it had determined the age of the black coral in the Gulf for the first time. Scientists had been studying the ancient slow-growing corals before BP’s well blew out on April 20, 2010. The corals were found about 21 miles northeast of the BP well living 1,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf.

“They’re extremely old and extremely slow-growing,” said Nancy Prouty, a USGS scientist. “And there are big questions about their vulnerability and their ability for recovery.”

Black corals feed on organic matter sinking to the sea floor and it could take decades, or even centuries, to recover from “a disturbance to these ecosystems,” Prouty said.

She said scientists were looking at whether the ancient coral had been damaged by the BP oil spill, but the damage assessment had not been completed.

Anniversary flight to Gulf oil rig disaster site is planned.

The owner of the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico nearly one year ago is quietly arranging to fly relatives of the 11 men who died out to the disaster site on the anniversary next month.

Four families said they have been notified in telephone calls and emails about Transocean's plans for a morning flyover at sea and a private evening memorial service on land.

Shelley Anderson, whose husband was killed, said the helicopter will circle the site a few times and return to shore. Space is being limited to three people per family.

The families would then be flown from Louisiana to Houston for the service. A Transocean spokesman has not commented on the flyover.

News of the flyover comes as several families continue to press legal claims against the companies involved in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The AP reported in November that Transocean had reached long-term settlements with three families and set up a charitable fund that distributed $130,000 to all the families in July. Weise, who reached one of those three settlements, wouldn't disclose the amount, citing a confidentiality agreement she signed. A fourth settlement was reached in January, according to court records. Transocean and lawyers for the families have refused to disclose the amounts of the settlements.

The Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which has been handling oil spill victims' claims on behalf of BP, is in discussions with two families about a financial settlement, but no deal has been reached yet.

PLEASE visit Pam LaPier's diary to find out how you can help the Gulf now and in the future. We don't have to be idle! And thanks to Crashing Vor and Pam LaPier for working on this!

Previous Gulf Watcher diaries:

3-30-11 06:00 AM Gulf Watchers Wednesday - DOJ Cornering BP for Prison Orange - BP Catastrophe AUV #494 peraspera
3-28-11 06:30 PM Gulf Watchers Monday BP Catastrophe #493 Same old BP Phil S 33
3-27-11 11:56 AM Gulf Watchers Sunday - Feinberg Gets A Raise; Dolphin Deaths Silenced - BP Catastrophe AUV #492 Lorinda Pike
3-25-11 06:24 PM GW Friday Block Party--Movie Edition Phil S 33
The last Mothership has links to reference material.

Previous motherships and ROV's from this extensive live blog effort may be found here.

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