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Retired Coast Guard Admiral,Thad Allen, who did (or didn't depending on your perspective) keep us informed of containment operations during the Gulf oil spill, has spoken out against Arctic drilling at least any time soon. Former Alaskan lieutenant governor, Fran Ulmer is in agreement. Meanwhile the Alaskan politicians cry foul over delayed drilling permits. According to Allen, the equipment and infrastructure that would be necessary if a spill should occur are just not there.

Only one of the US Coast Guard's three ice breakers is operational and would be available to respond to a disaster off Alaska's northern coast, which is icebound for much of the year, retired admiral Thad Allen told reporters this week.

Former Alaska lieutenant governor Fran Ulmer said that before drilling in the Arctic, the United States must "invest in the Coast Guard."

"It's not an option; it's a mandatory next step for our country to take," said Ulmer, who was a member of a presidential commission that last month called for more government oversight to prevent a repeat of the Gulf of Mexico disaster.
But funding for expensive new icebreakers is unlikely to be high on the list of priorities of Republicans who gained control of the House of Representatives by vowing to slash spending.

Allen spoke about the lack of infrastructure.

Allen drew a grim picture of the difficulties that would face authorities responding to an offshore emergency in the Arctic.

Hundreds of clean-up workers, spill investigators, counsellors and advisers poured into Louisiana after the Gulf of Mexico spill, taking over entire coastal towns.

But the town of Barrow, which is close to the offshore areas and where some rigs and offshore islands have already been erected, there are few facilities to house workers, let alone oil spill response crews or rescuers, he said.

"If you have 30 people, you've maxed out the beds," he said.

The town has no de-icing facilities and no hangar for fixed-wing aircraft, which were used extensively in the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"At this point the lack of a forward operating base would be a significant impediment not only to oil spill response but to search and rescue," said Allen.
Drilling in Alaska would be in shallower water than the BP well, but challenges including harsh weather, ice floes and the fact that the closest Coast Guard base is hundreds of miles away would make rescue and clean-up operations very difficult, said Marilyn Heijman, director of the Pew Environment Group's offshore energy reform and US Arctic campaigns.

Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, put a ban on new drilling in parts of the Gulf and Atlantic, but Arctic drilling could proceed. Permits, however, have yet to be approved to the delight of environmental groups. The political fallout has been bipartisan.

The delay brought praise from environmental groups but criticism from Alaska politicians like Republican Governor Sean Parnell who said the delay was an example of the "federal government dragging its feet, killing jobs and making us even more reliant on oil from the Middle East and elsewhere."

Alaska Democratic Senator Mark Begich also railed at the government, saying it has "taken virtually every opportunity to block responsible development of Alaska's resources.

Citizens's  advisory council, put in place after the 1989 Exon Valdez spill, is taken to task by BP for Gulf oil spill consultations.

The Prince William Sound Regional Citizen's Advisory Council conducts research, monitors oil shipping operations, testifies on issues regarding the marine terminal, including employment and staffing concerns, and has pushed to see that there is adequate funding for the state agencies overseeing oil shipping. They are a model organization and a huge success story. Their funding,under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, comes almost totally from Alyeska, of which BP is the majority owner. There's the rub. Since they are essentially "under contract", Alyeska has the right to do an audit. Many believe this threatens the groups independence.

{A} copy of the audit provided to Alaska Dispatch by the citizens' advisory council under a public records request shows Alyeska is protesting more than $184,000 the group spent in the past year, including more than $22,000 to help address questions and concerns related to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The pipeline company also is challenging money paid to a former executive director and specific though small amounts paid out by staff, mainly while attending conferences, throughout the three-year audit period.

But it's the questioning of Gulf spill related costs that is raising the most eyebrows. Moreover, the audit also suggests that Alyeska will be protesting other "outreach" expenses in the future, and it questions -- although is not now challenging -- money the group spent to travel to conferences and scientific workshops in Canada, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and Mexico.

Alyeska claims the Gulf expenses are outside the realm of the groups contract.

Alyeska says any costs related to the Gulf of Mexico spill are not allowed under the contract.

"The scope of RCAC's activities to be funded by Alyeska consist of those promoting environmentally safe operations of terminal facilities in Prince William Sound (PWS) and the crude oil tankers in PWS, for the benefit of its stated membership," the audit says. "The activities and related costs coded to the Gulf Spill account do not appear to fall within that scope."

Executive Director Mark Swanson is concerned that the  the independence of the council is maintained and he believes that the council needs to keep up with the latest developments in oil spill response, to learn from others' experiences, and to share what they have accomplished.

That was the case last summer when more than a dozen people from the Gulf traveled to Alaska to meet with the Prince William Sound group's staff and visit communities that had been hard hit by the 1989 spill. Swanson said not only did the Gulf visitors learn a lot about the effects of the Exxon Valdez spill and how communities have coped over the past 20 years, but local residents in Cordova and Valdez learned a good deal about oil spill response capabilities and efforts that were going on in the Gulf. That information will be valuable when issues arise here, he said.
Several members of Congress and the National Oil Spill Commission have recommended putting in place similar oversight groups in other areas where offshore drilling occurs, including the Arctic.

Some believe that BP is trying to limit the information coming out of the Gulf Spill.

Alyeska is mainly BP and BP is trying to limit the lessons shared in the Gulf. There's a distinct conflict of interest there," said Rick Steiner, a marine biologist and former University of Alaska Anchorage professor who was deeply involved in the Exxon Valdez incident and has spent the past 20 years advocating for environmental restoration and financial restitution for victims of the Exxon Valdez spill.

Steiner spent much of the summer helping Gulf of Mexico spill victims and advising on the response and cleanup efforts.
Steiner says there's no question that the citizens' advisory council has benefited from attending scientific and technical conferences in other parts of the world where the latest oil spill cleanup and response techniques are being discussed. And, he noted, the Prince William Sound staff has contributed to the world's knowledge on those issues as well from the lessons learned here.

"They need to be doing that; there's nothing new about that," he said. "What's new here is BP trying to shut this sort of thing down."

The audit also challenges small amounts of money staff spent at various times, such as a meal while attending a conference instead of eating at the conference or paying for gas for a relative who drove a staffer to the airport instead of paying for a taxi.

"It is simply extraordinary that Alyeska seems more worried about the trivial details of the RCAC staff's eating habits at conferences than their own aging, broken down pipeline," Steiner said. "The PWSRCAC has saved the Alyeska owners tens of billions of dollars by helping them prevent catastrophic oil spills.

BP spokesman Steve Rinehart declined to comment

Twenty years after the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, the US Senate issued a report challenging the assertion that al-Megrahi was terminally ill, and accusing the UK and Scotland of entering the Prisoner Transfer Agreement in order to secure lucrative trade deals, including a $900 billion Libyan agreement with BP

The U.K. Government played a direct, critical role in al-Megrahi’s release. The U.K. has
always been protective of its energy companies, especially BP, which has strong historical and
economic ties to the government, and it has a history of intervening with foreign governments on
behalf of BP. Libyan oil and natural resources were extremely attractive to U.K. energy
companies, and, at the time of al-Megrahi’s release, BP was negotiating a $900 million oil
exploration deal that would secure a much-needed reliable source of energy for the U.K.
Keeping al-Megrahi in prison threatened this oil agreement, as well as other profitable trade
deals and investments with Libya.

Yasuragi covered this extensively in AUV #446 Now newly released Wikileaks suggests that the British Government played an active role in getting the bomber released.

A Foreign Office minister sent Libyan officials detailed legal advice on how to use Abdelbaset al-Megrahi’s cancer diagnosis to ensure he was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds.

The Duke of York is also said to have played a behind-the-scenes role in encouraging the terrorist’s release.

The disclosure seriously undermines British Government claims that is was not complicit in the release of al-Megrahi, and that the decision to free the convicted terrorist was taken by the Scottish Executive alone.

It will also lead to renewed pressure from senior American politicians on David Cameron to release all internal documents detailing Britain’s role in the scandal. Last summer, the Prime Minister pledged to release the relevant information – but the publication has yet to occur sparking fears that a cover-up may have been ordered.
The documents disclose in detail how British ministers and officials were desperate not to allow Libyan anger over the ongoing imprisonment of Megrahi to derail the growing commercial relationship between the two countries.

al-Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence officer, was imprisoned in 2001 for life after being found guilty of bombing Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988.

al-Megrahi's diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2008 occurred just as the libyan government was putting increased pressure on the UK foe a prisoner transfer agreement.

It can now be disclosed that within a week of the diagnosis, Bill Rammell, a junior Foreign Office minister, had written to his Libyan counterpart advising him on how this could be used as the grounds of securing al-Megrahi’s compassionate release from prison.

Rob Dixon, a senior Foreign Office official, met with the American Ambassador to brief him on the letter. An official American memo on the meeting states: "FCO Minister for the Middle East Bill Rammell sent Libyan Deputy FM Abdulati al-Obeidi a letter, which was cleared both by HMG and by the Scottish Executive, on October 17 outlining the procedure for obtaining compassionate release.

"It cites Section 3 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act of 1993 as the basis for release of prisoners, on license, on compassionate grounds. Although the Scottish Crown informed the families of the Pan Am 103 victims in an email October 21 that the time frame for compassionate release is normally three months from time of death, Dixon stressed to us that the three month time frame is not codified in the law."

Although the cables linked here do not mention BP. the US embassy predicted "dire" consequences should al-Megrahi die in Scottish prison.


3.(C/NF) U.K. Embassy interlocutors here tell us they are planning for a scenario in which the U.K.-Libya Prisoner Transfer Agreement (PTA) is ratified in early March and the GOL makes application shortly thereafter for al-Megrahi's transfer to Libya. They do not anticipate that GOL officials will pursue another application for bail, and said they had no information from the FCO to suggest that al-Megrahi's application for compassionate release, which was denied in November, would be re-submitted in light of his deteriorating medical condition. U.K. Emboffs began consulting with us in December about deliberations concerning their security posture and tripwires for action should al-Megrahi die in Scottish prison. Consistent with information reported reftel, GOL officials have warned U.K. Emboffs in demarches here that the consequences for the U.K.-Libya bilateral relationship would be "dire" were al-Megrahi to die in Scottish prison. Specific threats have included the immediate cessation of all U.K. commercial activity in Libya, a diminishment or severing of political ties and demonstrations against official U.K. facilities. GOL officials also implied, but did not directly state, that the welfare of U.K. diplomats and citizens in Libya would be at risk.

The document also states that if the US opposed the release,the US embassy and any private US citizens in Libya would be in danger.

While the oil industry and Mary Landrieu obsess over the lack of drilling permits, there are more drlling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico at the present time than before the spill.
One can only read this as optimism on the part of operators.

The latest tracking information from ODS-Petrodata, a Houston-based compiler of oil and gas data, shows there are 10 more rigs in the Gulf now than there were last April.

While only 34 of the 125 rigs in the Gulf are actually working -- half the total that were active before the Macondo well blowout -- the vast majority of the idle rigs, particularly those slated for big-ticket jobs in deepwater, will remain under contract for the rest of 2011.
In the shallow-water Gulf oil fields, where the government has never officially banned drilling but has issued few work permits in the past several months, activity has rebounded to near its pre-blowout levels.

There are 26 shallow-water rigs operating now, just 11 fewer than before the BP blowout, according to ODS-Petrodata. In December, the government issued seven shallow-water drilling permits, matching the monthly average from the year leading up to the BP disaster

The first plans for deepwater drilling (3 wells by Shell) are under review now by the BOEMRE. Bromwich says he could use more engineers to review the plans; President Obama asked Congress for $100 million, but so far has received $23 million. Part of the slower review is that Bromwich has promised a case by case environmental assessment of each application.

The government has always had a 30-day review period for new drilling plans, including a 10-day public comment period, but it has never called much attention to it before now.

The agency put out a press release Jan. 28 inviting comments on Shell's Auger plan at its website, After the Minerals Management Service was roundly blasted for issuing categorical exceptions for nearly all of the environmental assessments required by law before the BP blowout, BOEMRE, its successor agency, promised a case-by-case review for every plan moving forward.

Bromwich publicly touted the 30-day review of Shell's plan as an example of the government's new dedication to environmental protection. The environmental assessments would no longer be cookie-cutter documents, he said, like the ones that lifted language about walruses in Arctic drilling zones and included them in assessments of the subtropical Gulf environment.

Still sounds like business as usual to me; we will have to wait and see if this new agency has any teeth.

British snark on BP twitter feed. Leave it to the Brits to find humor in BP's inane use of social media. Several times a day, or more BP tweets what it believes to be positive news about the Gulf Spill recovery. These are also posted on their Facebook page. (over 50,000 friends? wonder how many are employees?)The problem is that sometimes, when you go to the link they have find information that contradicts the positive tweet! Guess their attention span is as short as the tweet itself.

New study finds methane bacteria has eaten all the methane from the oil spill earlier than expected.

This is a tweet from whoever is employed to sit, fingers poised (there's already been 18 tweets today, as I write, and it's only 4pm) behind the Twitter app for BP America. But click on the full story they've linked to and you'll see marine ecologist Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia in Athens counter:

"Not so fast ... Just because you can't find methane in the spot where you lowered your [instruments] doesn't mean there's no methane out there somewhere ... the more parsimonious explanation for why the group found no BP methane: They lost track of the freaking plume."

Remember the bright yellow and orange "booms" that corralled the oil during the spill? "BP teams will test Gulf waters for any remaining boom anchors and use a 'safe and proven' method for removal," BP tweeted. Read the story it links to and you find that there are an estimated 3,500 of those "orphaned anchors" in St Bernard Parish alone. "Thousands more are estimated in Jefferson and Plaquemines." A member of the local council says the anchors will be removed by any means necessary – even "if we need to initiate litigation against BP".

Sometimes the information is selectively wrong...

BP's cleanup operations are 'on track' with the goal of cleaning Gulf beaches by spring tourist season," BP Tweets, linking to a Q&A with Mike Utsler, the oil company appointee responsible for overseeing the cleanup, who adds: "The beaches are beautiful." Er, not according to Ed Overton, a Louisiana State University chemist who analysed the spill for the US government and was quoted in an Associated Press report at the end of December that said it was unlikely they would clean the beaches by the time college students began flocking to the Gulf coast for spring break. "There is so much oil under the sand, mud and oyster shells that tar balls may be washing up for months, if not years.

"Scientists say Gulf seafood is the safest it's ever been due to extensive testing," BP tweeted; and in another, that the company's Mike Utsler is "absolutely confident" of its safety. What they didn't tweet is that those scientists are far from unanimous. An MSNBC report at the end of December said some scientists remained skeptical that the government testing has been rigorous enough to protect public health and that one New Orleans law firm has challenged those government assurances in court, saying it poses "a significant danger to public health".
William Sawyer is a Florida-based toxicologist whose research was used by one of the attorneys involved in that lawsuit. I asked him why he was worried about Gulf seafood when the government and BP is saying it's OK.

"I've done a tremendous amount of work on seafood using lab methodologies beyond what the FDA and NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) have used. They've relied on the so-called 'sniff test' for other hydrocarbons. But I found a big problem with that. I found a high level of petroleum hydrocarbons within fin fish, crabs and oysters, which presents a health hazard. FDA labs, through NOAA, have not tested for these hydrocarbons. They assumed they would show up in the sensory test, so there is a gap in their testing."

Sawyer told me high levels of these hydrocarbons can cause liver damage

Sometimes the tweets border on silly.

BP often throws in some curveball tweets for good measure. Here's one from 30 January: "Preliminary data from a count of manatees [an aquatic mammal also known as a 'sea cow'] in Florida waters show above-average numbers." The linked story confirms that.

But isn't this the same stretch of Florida coast that was almost untouched by the spill? I called Carli Segelson, a researcher at Florida's Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "Yes," she said. "The oil spill impacted parts of the panhandle, but there are no manatees there

Follow BP Tweets here. Or not.

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:

2-06-11 24:00:16Gulf Watchers Sunday - Justice and Interior Bear Down on BP - BP Catastrophe AUV #469Yasuragi
2-04-11 21:26:13Gulf Watchers Block Party - Street Paradekhowell
2-04-11 18:30:13Gulf Watchers Block Party - A Little Pride is Not Uncalled ForYasuragi
2-04-11 08:46:38Gulf Watchers Friday - The 55-Gallon Drum of Worms - BP Catastrophe AUV #468Lorinda Pike
2-02-11 06:00:00Gulf Watchers - EPA Caving to BP on Spill Size - BP Catastrophe AUV #467peraspera

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 shanesnana on Mon Feb 07, 2011 at 02:21 PM PST.

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