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Topics: Nearly one year in, where are we? Oil still washing ashore. BP says dead oysters are not their problem. New (and untested) capping stacks ready to go. BP tried to limit political damage. Offshore failures or new permits? Hydrofracking is probably worse than advertised. Praise for rescue efforts.

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Oil still coming ashore nearly a year after the blowout.

Nearly one year in after the explosion and blowout on the Deepwater Horizon, Coast residents say the disaster is still wreaking havoc with their lives. New words are being invented to describe what is happening: "chronic re-oiling" as submerged oil mats break apart and and produce "surface residue balls" that wash onto beaches and into marshes. Coast Guard Commander Dan Lauer says the residual oil poses no health risk to humans (but it does look nasty on the beaches, and might offend tourists...) so cleanups are being continued before the hurricane season, when a storm would churn more sludge onto the shore.

Lauer said Thursday that crews are experimenting with different types of sonar and radar to locate the mats resting on the sea floor. They are typically about 300 square feet and have been found from Louisiana to Florida, he said.

The mats have been easier to find in the relatively clear waters of the eastern Gulf than in the murky waters off Louisiana's coast, Lauer said.

"It's very difficult to find them, and then to remove them is a whole different matter," Lauer said. "We're doing the research and development as we go."

Oil-choked mats of marshgrass in Barataria Bay and Pass a Loutre are a particular problem, and crews have been cutting back the grasses in an attempt to encourage oil degradation.

"There is absolutely some damage to the wetlands, but we're also seeing good regrowth," he said. "If the root system stays healthy, the grass seems to grow back very well."

But residents of Grand Isle have not been impressed, maintaining that the Coast Guard is performing cleanup for the TV cameras only, and the real work goes undone.

"How come we don't see this every day and not just when the TV cameras are here?" said Dean Blanchard, who owns a seafood-processing plant on the barrier island.

"How much are they paid to hold up shovels?" asked a woman.

Lauer said the sand-sifting "is typical of the work that we are doing on a daily basis."

"We had them do it here so the media wouldn't have to run all over the beach to see how it's being done," he said.

Lauer says cleanup will continue through the hurricane season, that a reassessment on more cleaning will be made. If more oil comes ashore, he says the Coast Guard will be there to clean that up too.

"Regardless of where the oil came from, we are mandated to take care of it," he said. "We'll be here as long as it takes."

And how is the continuing impact of the spill affecting the non-tourists? You know, the things that live here, like... say, things IN the ocean? Well, BP says it is in no way responsible for dead oysters. Wasn't their fault.It was all that fresh water that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and state officials diverted from the Mississippi River in a futile attempt to keep the oil out. They can't be responsible for a few dead oysters. Why, oysters aren't cute and cuddly. Who cares about them?

Well, maybe the oyster fishermen do. And the Gulf food chain certainly does. But a senior BP official says the diversion was not approved by the Unified Command overseaing the response, and BP cannot be blamed.

"Having been a part of this response since the beginning, I can tell you categorically that the Coast Guard indicated that it was not necessary and was not seen as a viable response technique," Mike Utsler, chief operating officer of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, said Friday. "As a Unified Command, we saw this as a not-needed exercise, and the state still chose to pursue that course of action."

Utsler said that's one reason why BP has so far refused to pay to restore oyster beds with cultch, the shell material on which oyster eggs attach and grow in the spring and fall.

A second reason, Utsler said, is research released this week by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists that he said showed that oysters process and expel oil contaminants so quickly that they would not have been hurt by the spill.

"I can only quote the fact that there's an article this week by NOAA... that there's no evidence that oysters have been tainted by or retained any residual oil. And that's testing not only by NOAA, but it was by FDA, EPA and the five states that all participated," he said.

Jindal's coastal adviser, Garret Graves, immediately went on the offensive, stating that the Coast Guard, the Army Corps of Engineers (long known for their stellar environmental work) and BP agreed that the flow diversion would be effective.

"BP's comments prove what we have been saying all along -- BP thinks that they are unilaterally in charge of the Deepwater Horizon disaster response and recovery," said Graves, who is chairman of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. "Neither the Coast Guard, that was supposed to be in charge, nor BP objected to the use of diversions.

"We had two choices: oil on our oysters or water on our oysters," he said, adding that the freshwater flushing technique was part of the state's existing oil spill contingency plan. "I'd choose water every time."

Well, if I remember my biology, oysters are estuary/tidal range dwellers, and are euryhaline - able to tolerate changes in salinity. But too much fresh water weakens oysters, and when they are in fresh water only, they die.

Utsler's comments came hours after Graves and other state officials held a news conference to slam BP for not paying for cultch projects, and to announce that the state had increased by $2 million, to $4 million, the amount of money it had found in various departments to pay for the projects.

"We have been shaking out the couches at our agency looking for funds to help ensure a healthy spat set," said Randy Pausina, who oversees fisheries programs at the state Department of Wildlife & Fisheries.

The large amount of fresh water flowing over oyster beds caused significant damage to both private and public oyster beds, said Earl Melancon, an oyster biologist at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux.

The worst damage occurred in the upper reaches of Barataria Bay and Breton Sound, where mortality rates neared 100 percent, he said. The percentage of dead oysters dropped off to the south, as the fresh water mixed with saltier water from the Gulf of Mexico.

That meant the average mortality was between 30 to 40 percent in Barataria Bay and 50 to 80 percent in Breton Sound, he said.

So...oil=dead.  Lots of fresh water=dead. Such a Catch-22... How about we work on not having a blowout, and don't have the oil in the first place? Just a thought.

But we can drill deep in complete safety now, with the New and Improved CAPPING STACK!

The new Marine Well Containment Company's capping stack is ready to go. As yet untested in real world extreme conditions, the company claims the New and Improved CAPPING STACK! can capture 60,000 barrels a day in 8,000 feet of water. But wait! There's MORE! You can have your very own capping stack for the bargain price of only ONE BILLION DOLLARS! Don't let this offer slip away! CALL NOW! Operators are standing by to take your call!

Standing 30 feet tall and weighing 100 tons, the capping stack is designed to be lowered on top of a runaway well, with the goal of either shutting it in or, if that can’t be done safely, collecting and routing the oil to ships above.

In that way, it is very similar to the piece of equipment that ultimately halted the oil gushing from Macondo on July 15 – but not before it bled more than 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days.

Marty Massey, CEO of the Marine Well Containment Co., or MWCC, said by contrast its new system can be trucked and shipped to an offshore well “in a matter of days.”

“The bottom line in all of this is the Marine Well Containment Co. is prepared and ready to go,” Massey told reporters in a briefing at a Trendsetter Engineering yard, where the capping stack was developed and will be stored.

The capping stack took more than two months to build, and drew heavily on lessons from the frenzied Macondo well-plugging effort. It is flexible enough to be installed atop a well’s blowout preventer, the towering stack of shut-off valves that sits on a well head on the sea floor, or directly on a well head if the BOP stack is damaged.

Once in place, a set of well-sealing rams are very slowly closed by dextrous robot submarines. Then, four other outlet points are closed off, keeping a close eye on pressure readings throughout. At that point, the well could either be deemed shut in or the operator might decide pressures were too high and choose to produce the oil through the outlet points.

As a condition of winning new permits to drill in the deep-water Gulf of Mexico, the Interior Department now requires oil companies to prove they have access to spill-containment equipment, built to withstand even worst-case blowout scenarios.

...shipped to an offshore well “in a matter of days.” Okay.
...slowly closed by dextrous robot submarines. Okay... Those ROV guys are really good, but we know how long it takes (and how difficult it is to drop a lid on something that is gushing at 60,000 barrels a day, so add several more days to that "matter of days" thingy...

So, best case scenario for this Rube Goldberg contraption is only a week to ten days or so of fouling whatever ocean is the next unlucky victim of greed and corporate excess...

Makes me feel better already.


BP oil spill: British diplomatic damage control efforts revealed.

British diplomats in Washington made immediate attempts to limit the political damage following the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, documents obtained under the US Freedom of Information Act reveal.

Embassy officials clearly realised – well before the full magnitude of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico became evident – that BP's leaking oil well had the potential for far-reaching political and economic effects in America.

The documents suggest that an early priority was to avoid a backlash against British interests. "We need to be active and empathetic," the ambassador, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, wrote in a memo on 30 April 2010, 10 days after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig. He asked if British government agencies were offering assistance.

A consular official in Houston was even more explicit on the need for damage control. "Is there discussion about taking some steps to distance ourselves from the problem or mount a media response campaign?" the 24 May memo said. "If we need to ramp up activity we can." Both memos were among documents obtained by Greenpeace and shared with the Guardian.

Are offshore failures preferable to new permits?

The offshore energy industry has been awash in conspiracy theories for the past year, many of which go something like this: the Obama administration is trying to destroy the oil business by withholding drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico.

There’s one area, though, where the administration seems to be giving its support: antitrust clearance for mergers.

“The Obama administration recognizes the hardship that’s been imposed on Gulf businesses,” Tom Fina, an attorney with Baker Botts in Washington, D.C., who specializes in antitrust issues, told me yesterday. “There’s a recognition by the administration that the failing firm defense applies here.”

The failing firm defense is a consideration in antitrust approval that basically justifies a merger if a firm has exhausted all other avenues and will fail without a merger, even if the acquiring company will dominate the market.

“To the extent that you have Gulf-centric businesses that are either suffering or are basically facing bankruptcy, they may be able to sell themselves to strategic buyers,” he said.

Despite great protests to the contrary, more chemicals than you can ever imagineare used in the fracking process. Even instant coffee. Srsly...

Oil and gas companies injected hundreds of millions of gallons of hazardous or carcinogenic chemicals into wells in more than 13 states from 2005 to 2009, according to an investigation by Congressional Democrats.

Hydrofracking has attracted increased scrutiny from lawmakers and environmentalists in part because of fears that the chemicals used during the process can contaminate underground sources of drinking water.

“Questions about the safety of hydraulic fracturing persist, which are compounded by the secrecy surrounding the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids,” said the report, which was written by Representatives Henry A. Waxman of California, Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts and Diana DeGette of Colorado.

Some of the ingredients mixed into the hydraulic fracturing fluids were common and generally harmless, like salt and citric acid. Others were unexpected, like instant coffee and walnut hulls, the report said. Many of the ingredients were “extremely toxic,” including benzene, a known human carcinogen, and lead.

The American Petroleum Institute could not be reached for comment...

Please click on the link and read the whole story of the tender/supply ship Damon B. Bankston, and the heroic efforts of the captain and crew on the night of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Rescue at fiery oil rig earns acclaim.

Alwin Landry stood silently in a Coast Guard hangar Friday morning, appearing gracious amid more of the kind of attention he's received during the past year.

As the captain of the offshore supply vessel Damon B. Bankston, Landry played an instrumental role in the rescue of 115 crew members from the Deepwater Horizon rig after it exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and triggering the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Landry has received accolades from his employer, Tidewater Marine, a trade publication in Great Britain and from the National Ocean Industries Association.

The honors continued Friday at Coast Guard Air Station, New Orleans, where he was presented with one of its top awards for civilian heroics, the Certificate of Valor.

"It's a direct reflection of the actions of my crew," said Landry, 42, of Patterson.

In a formal ceremony attended by some of the Coast Guard's top officers, the agency awarded medals and commendations to the Bankston crew and to Coast Guard aviators who were dispatched from Belle Chasse and Mobile, Ala., to the Deepwater Horizon as it floated in flames in the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles off the Plaquemines Parish coast.

The 13 Bankston crew members received the Distinguished Public Service Award, while three of its crew received individual awards. The nine who attended Friday's ceremony were not allowed to speak freely with news media. But Tidewater Chairman Dean Taylor said the Bankston crew has been "absolutely honored" by the attention.

"They treat it like it was the ordinary course of business," Taylor said.

Heroes, for real... And I will take it as good that they are not talking to the media. They know a great deal of what happened, both leading up to that night and what occurred during and after the explosion. What they can tell is evidence, and should probably be kept that way until a trial.. if that ever happens. It might.

I still want to see Tony Hayward's perp walk.

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:

4-15-11 06:37 PM Gulf Watchers Block Party - Who Are You? Lorinda Pike
4-15-11 08:15 AM Gulf Watchers Friday - We'll Have Another Blowout Within Five Years - BP Catastrophe AUV #503 Lorinda Pike
4-13-11 06:00 AM Gulf Watchers Wednesday - Mississippi AG v/s Feinberg, Round 2 - BP Catastrophe AUV #502 peraspera
4-11-11 05:42 PM Gulf Watchers Monday-BP Money Paid for That? - BP Catastrophe AUV #501 shanesnana
4-10-11 11:57 AM Gulf Watchers Sunday - Why did BP buy a beach? - BP Catastrophe AUV #500 Lorinda Pike
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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