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Part one of the digest of diaries is here and part two is here.

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In case you were sleeping too well at night:

A study report released in mid-December warns that refineries in the Gulf Coast state of Louisiana exhibit a pattern of frequent accidents and other warning signs similar to those ignored by BP in advance of April’s Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.   The study reviewed over 2,600 accident reports submitted by the state’s 17 refinery operators to the Department of Environmental Quality from 2005 through 2009.  The study’s authors reveal that, based on those reports, an average of 10 chemical accidents occurred each week throughout the five-year period.  Weather and equipment failures were cited as the leading causes of accidental emissions of chemical pollutants to the air and to the ground or water.

The study report, entitled Common Ground II [pdf], is the second publication of the Refinery Efficiency Initiative, a collaboration of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Environmental Working Group, the United Steelworkers Union, and others, including community groups located in parishes where refineries are situated.

One need only read the first and last points of the findings to get the full impact of the Common Ground study:

  1. Refinery accident data is underestimated; the number of accidents is likely far higher than detailed in the report.
  7. The refining industry is not capitalizing on the opportunity to collaborate to solve the accident problem.

Included in the report's recommendations:

1. Apply the lessons from this report to refinery operations.
The data in this report comes from the refineries’ own reports. Instead of wasting time arguing with this report’s findings, refineries should apply the information to their operations. A consultant would charge refineries tens of thousands of dollars — if not more — for this information.
3. Implement flare minimization programs.
Flare recovery systems should be a requirement for all flares in the refineries. Flare gas recovery technologies allow plants to recover gases, which are valuable products, rather than simply burning them off. It makes business sense. By recycling the gases recovered through these important emissions control technologies, companies can recover the costs of the systems and make a profit off the gases captured. The systems pay for themselves within a few years.
5. Improve emergency response
First responders are "individuals who in the early stages of an incident are responsible for the protection and preservation of life, property, evidence and the environment."... Those who live closest to a petrochemical facility — the neighbors — are the de facto first responders to public health emergencies that occur during accidents at the plants.

Current chemical emergency response operations in the state are completely dependent on information (or the lack thereof) from the company and do not involve citizen groups in the response. Refineries must immediately disclose all details of accidental releases to the public in order for first responders to do their job to prevent chemical exposures in the community as a result of an accident.


Lawsuits are flying fast and furious at BP. Last Wednesday's Gulf Watchers reported that recreational fisherman were filing a class action suit. This week brought many more suits, including this unlikely but compelling case:

America's favorite defendant, BP, faces another federal lawsuit, from a cattle-farming family who say a ruptured BP pipeline polluted their land with carcinogenic xylene, ethylbenzene and other chemicals.
    The Thomas family says runoff from the toxic leak continues to pollute their land and groundwater and a stream on their property, forcing them to seek other sources of potable water, and killing their cattle farm.
    Greg and Amanda Thomas sued BP Pipeline and two contractors the oil giant hired to remediate the spill: AECOM and RMT. The Thomases say that "Xylene, ethylbenze and other chemicals from BP's pipeline continue to pollute plaintiffs' irrigation and water wells. As a result, the plaintiffs have been forced to obtain other sources of potable water, and have been forced to cease cattle farming operations.
   "Significant amounts of xylene, ethylbenzene, and other chemicals remain in the soil and groundwater of the plaintiffs' land. Upon the occurrence of a significant rain event, stormwater runoff carrying xylene, ethylbenzene, and other chemicals flow into the stream on plaintiffs' land and into tributaries of Elk River, a water of the state, bearing a classification of Fish and Wildlife."
      They add: "Based upon information and belief, BP does not maintain a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit."

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest:

In an order signed just before the Christmas holiday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier officially prohibited BP from claiming any liability limits under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA).

[The order states] that BP and its affiliates "are hereby barred from raising as a defense to any claims by plaintiffs in this multidistrict litigation the statutory limit of liability under OPA."

The OPA mandate limits the liability of an oil company to just $75 million. In October, BP lawyers caused a little bit of a stir... when they wouldn't confirm earlier statements that BP would waive the OPA limits.

BP has said on several occasions that it would waive the OPA limits and pay out all legitimate claims stemming from the oil spill.

Barbier's order acknowledges BP's public statements to waive the limits.

From another report:

...New charges could be on the horizon for the beleaguered BP, which could add billions of dollars to its already multi-billion dollar bill, in the form of an investor lawsuit spearheaded by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. Judge Keith Ellison, out of Houston, Texas, named them as lead plaintiffs because they are responsible for their states’ pension funds, which hold most of BP’s US stock.

The class-action investor lawsuit is comprised of seven cases, and possibly thousands of other investors, aimed at garnering compensation for those investors that lost money in the wake of the oil spill. The suit claims that BP continuously lied, as far back as 2005, about its safety record. The suit will examine all of BP’s safety related statements since 2005, which will also include communications concerning any other accidents that have happened.

The suit further claims that BP’s corporate culture ignored environmental laws and safety protocols in favor of profits that, consequently, led directly to a fatal explosion in 2005, at its Texas City oil refinery as well as two Alaskan oil spills, which occurred in 2006.

The suit extends claims to include the Deepwater Horizon explosion and its miserable aftermath.

Lastly, Texas is taking action against BP for the Texas Refinery explosion.

BP is facing a $10 billion class action lawsuit filed by those living near its Texas City oil refinery, which has been the site of explosions, pollution leaks and numerous fatalities in recent years.

The plaintiffs characterize BP as "a known felon and serial polluter who purposely releases on a routine basis, toxic gases into the air," which has threatened the livelihood of neighborhoods near the refinery.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said BP was motivated by profits in allowing the harmful gases to leak into the air. "BP made very little attempt to minimize the emission of air contaminants caused by its actions, once again prioritizing profits over environmental compliance," states Abbott’s lawsuit.


Ken Salazar has proven once again that he's no friend to the Interior, and the creatures that inhabit it. h/t DawnN.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today issued a revised offshore oil plan that will allow drilling in the heart of polar bear habitat in Alaska. Salazar’s announcement, which came in response to a previous court ruling, finalized a revised 2007-2012 nationwide offshore oil leasing plan. The previous plan, issued under the Bush administration, had been overturned by a federal appeals court for failing to properly analyze impacts of drilling off the Arctic coast of Alaska. Salazar’s new plan reaffirms a 2008 lease sale in polar bear critical habitat in the Chukchi Sea.

"Once again Secretary Salazar has placed political expediency over sound science and the rule of law, and polar bears and other arctic species will suffer for it," said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Center for Biological Diversity and other organizations filed a court challenge to the 2007-2012 offshore oil leasing plan issued by the Bush administration. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia set aside that plan for failing to adequately assess the environmental impacts of opening up areas off Alaska to drilling. Today’s announcement comes in response to that ruling. A court in Alaska also separately ruled this year that the environmental analysis underlying the lease sale in the Chukchi Sea was unlawful.

"Secretary Salazar has apparently learned nothing from either the Gulf spill or the courts. No matter how many times the courts overturn his decisions to open the Arctic to oil, he comes back with the exact same decision," said Cummings. "This year in the Gulf of Mexico we saw the damage that a massive oil spill can cause. Given the lack of clean-up technology for an oil spill in the Arctic, Salazar’s decision to move forward with the Chukchi leases demonstrates that all the promised reforms following the Gulf spill ultimately mean nothing for the Arctic."

In a separate but related development, also in response to a court order, Salazar announced on Wednesday he would uphold a Bush-era decision to list polar bears as merely "threatened," rather than the more protective status of "endangered." Such a move allows Salazar to exempt greenhouse gas polluters nationwide, as well as oil companies operating in polar bear habitat, from some of the Endangered Species Act’s most protective provisions.

According to Cummings, "At this rate Secretary Salazar will be writing the polar bear’s obituary rather than its recovery plan."

BP doesn't save all it's damage for the U.S.  They've committed some deadly acts in England, too.

Dundee solicitor Scott Williamson received a much-needed delivery at his Tentsmuir home in north-east Fife on December 23 after running out a week earlier.

Though grateful that his and his wife's Christmas wasn't spent huddled round hastily-bought electric fires and checking water pipes weren't frozen, he isn't prepared to let BP off the hook.

His last delivery of liquid petroleum gas was in April and he said BP is meant to ensure customers receive regular deliveries through a top-up system.

Instead, without a delivery until December 23, his fuel did run out.
"I come back to my suspicion that BP hang back until the winter price rises are implemented before making deliveries — which will be of larger quantities at a sometimes significantly increased price."
"BP claim that market rises make this inevitable but if I had received a delivery in August, September or October it would have been for a smaller amount of gas — and at a significantly lower price."

And then the inevitable response from BP:

A spokesman for BP categorically denied deliveries were delayed to force customers to pay more.

Environmental journalist George Monbiot offers a (literally) chilling view of fuel poverty in the U.K.

Were you to list the factors that distinguish civilisation from barbarism, this would come close to the top: that the elderly are not left to die of cold. By this measure, the United Kingdom is a cruel land. Although we usually have one of the smallest differences between winter and summer temperatures at these latitudes, we also have one of the highest levels of excess winter deaths. Roughly twice as many people, per capita, die here than in Scandanavia and other parts of northern Europe, though our winters are typically milder. Even Siberia has lower levels of excess winter deaths than we do. Between 25,000 and 30,000 people a year are hastened to the grave by the cold here – this winter it could be much worse.
The main reason is that the privatised, liberalised utility companies have been allowed to get away with murder. In her excellent new book Fixing Fuel Poverty, Brenda Boardman shows that fuel poverty has risen so steeply in the UK because public control over the energy companies is so weak. In 2002 the regulator, Ofgem, decided that it would stop regulating consumer prices. The energy companies immediately increased their profit margins: 10-fold in one case(8). When world energy prices rise, the companies raise their tariffs, often far more steeply than the wholesale price justifies. When they fall, domestic prices often stay where they are.

The price rises are exacerbated by policies which penalise the poor. People who use pre-payment meters to buy gas and electricity (who are often the poorest) are stung for an extra £120 a year. Those who consume the most energy (generally the rich) are subsidised by everyone else: they pay a lower tariff beyond a certain level of use. It ought to be the other way round: the first units you consume should be the cheapest. Before the election, both the Tories and the Lib Dems demanded an inquiry into competition in the energy market. They’re not demanding it any more.

There should be a perfect synergy between climate change and social justice policies. As the Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee points out, "improving the energy efficiency of homes is the most effective way of tackling fuel poverty." But the government’s green policies are grossly unfair and regressive: everyone pays at an equal rate for reducing energy emissions, yet those who need the most help to green their homes and reduce their costs don’t get it. Policies such as the European emissions trading system, the carbon emissions reduction target and the feed-in tariff are, according to the government’s Climate Change Committee, likely to throw another 1.7m people into fuel poverty by 2022. This is an outrage.


Shell is pressing to move forward in the Arctic, claiming they're well-prepared for any spills, in spite of it's having been well-established that oil spill clean-up in the Arctic is a near-impossible task.

Shell officials hope to demonstrate that the company is prepared to drill responsibly and it's ready to clean up an oil spill if something goes wrong.

Near the end of the Aleutian Island chain is Dutch Harbor and the city of Unalaska. Shell is storing equipment there over the winter, including the 300-foot cleanup vessel Nanuq.

"She's a wonderful vessel," says Geoff Merrell, the Alaska region emergency response coordinator for Shell.

The Nanuq can store 12,000 barrels of recovered oil and there are tools on board to collect crude from water. Merrell points to one that looks like a very thick feather boa.

"[It's] what we call a fox-tail skimmer and it's connected to a roller and a squeegee system," he says. "They're very effective at removing pockets of oil in and amongst ice flows."

An anonymous whistle-blower, identified as a former Shell employee, has this to say about the Nanuq:

What were/are the pour points for the oils in those reservoirs at atmospheric conditions? I have seen oils so full of paraffin they solidify at 140 degrees F. This kind of stuff makes great candles.

If the pour point on the oils in those reservoirs is too above water temperature Shell’[s] ‘skimmer’ probably won’t work worth a darn. It is hard to skim solid wax or tar, or anything like molasses in the winter. Somebody should check that data to see whether Shell’s contingency plan accounts for the fact they may not have a system capable of slurping up almost solid goo.
I am sure those geniuses at DOI are utterly clueless about such issues, and Shell most [definitely] won’t let on if there is a problem. They want to get on with the drilling ASAP.

You might want to send this off to WWF. Let them ask DoI about all of this.


I can't tell any more: do we laugh, or do we cry?

Oh no! BP has settled in Mario Land and has caused another oil spill. Fish are dying. But Mario is a plumber and he will repair the leak. Collect black fish and use them to fill the holes. Be careful, BP sends bombs and divers.

The game may be downloaded at the link.

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:

12-31-10 18:29:59Gulf Watchers New Year's Eve Block PartyYasuragi
12-31-10 08:25:09Gulf Watchers Friday - Feinberg Active in Limiting BP Liability? - BP Catastrophe AUV #448Lorinda Pike
12-29-10 06:01:43Gulf Watchers Wednesday - Imperiled Bluefin Tuna Threatened by BP Spill - BP Catastrophe AUV #447peraspera
12-26-10 13:57:31Gulf Watchers Sunday - New Evidence BP Aided Release of Lockerbie Bomber - BP Catastrophe AUV #446Yasuragi

The last Mothership has links to reference material.

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

Again, to keep bandwidth down, please do not post images or videos.

Originally posted to Yasuragi on Sun Jan 02, 2011 at 05:29 AM PST.

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