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Topics: Study: BP oil only slowly degrading on Gulf floor, BP oil spill report may prompt $30 billion pay-out, BP Shortcuts Led to Gulf Oil Spill, Report Says, Will BP Offer “the Mother of All Settlements” to Gulf Spill Victims?, NOAA researchers release study on emissions from BP/Deepwater Horizon controlled burns, Remotely Operated Vehicle footage of Macondo Well 252 collected Aug. 26, 2011, New Macondo videos posted in response to rumors, Top Interior official heads to law firm representing BP on Gulf oil spill, BP Says It Didn’t Hide Information About Danger Before Gulf Well Blowout, BP to Pay $20.5M to Settle Royalties Case, Shareholders Can't Sue BP in Texas

You are in the current Gulf Watchers BP Catastrophe - AUV #557. ROV #556 is here.

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Gulf Watchers Diary Schedule
Wednesday - afternoon
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Part one of the digest of diaries is here and part two is here.

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So much for No Oil At All's (NOAA) "the bacteria will gobble up all the oil" theory. I don't know who shared the magical thinking "widely held belief" all the remaining oil would be weathered but I never saw any evidence of that in the independent scientific community.

More disturbingly, the scientific work had to be done at the behest of the communities who suffered tar balls washing up on their beaches recently during tropical storm Lee. This type of basic research should have been done many, many, many months ago by the federal government. Unfortunately, they were too busy pretending that the oil removal fairy had taken all the icky oil away. h/t Phil S 33

Study: BP oil only slowly degrading on Gulf floor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Tar balls washed onto Gulf of Mexico beaches by Tropical Storm Lee earlier this month show that oil left over from last year's BP spill isn't breaking down as quickly as some scientists thought it would, university researchers said Tuesday.

"The data question the validity of the widely held belief that submerged oil from the Deepwater Horizon accident is substantially weathered and thus depleted" of most toxic hydrocarbons, Auburn University researchers wrote.

The experts, who studied tar samples at the request of coastal leaders, said the latest wave of gooey orbs and chunks appeared relatively fresh, smelled strongly and were hardly changed chemically from the weathered oil that collected on Gulf beaches during the spill.

The study (pdf) concluded that mats of oil — not weathered tar, which is harder and contains fewer hydrocarbons — are still submerged on the seabed and could pose a long-term risk to coastal ecosystems.

BP didn't immediately comment on the study, but the company added cleanup crews and extended their hours after large patches of tar balls polluted the white sand at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach starting around Sept. 6. Tar balls also washed ashore in Pensacola, Fla., which is to the east and was farther from the storm's path.

Marine scientist George Crozier said the findings make sense because submerged oil degrades slowly due to the relatively low amount of oxygen in the Gulf's sandy bottom.

"It weathered to some extent after it moved from southern Louisiana to Alabama ... but not much has happened to it since then," said Crozier, longtime director of the state sea laboratory at Dauphin Island.

Crozier said remnants of the spill are "economically toxic" for tourism, but he doubts there is much of an environmental threat. The oil lingering on the seabed is of a consistency and chemical composition somewhere between crude oil and tar, he said.

Still, the Auburn researchers noted that their study "supports the hypothesis that submerged oil may continue to pose some level of long‐term risk to nearshore ecosystems."

BP refused a request by the city of Gulf Shores to expand the latest cleanup efforts to include heavy machinery.

Auburn analyzed tar balls dredged up by Lee at the request of the city of Orange Beach with outside funding from the city, the National Science Foundation and the Marine Environmental Sciences Consortium. The study wasn't reviewed by outside scientists before its release.

It seems to me that #30 billion would be a bargain for all the damage BP inflicted on the Gulf. Given BP's uninterrupted thwarting of the law and its bankable willingness to put greed above all else a more fitting punishment would seem to be to put BP out of business permanently in the US.

BP oil spill report may prompt $30 billion pay-out

Findings of the second major investigation by the U.S. government into the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, may press BP into putting over $30 billion on the table to quickly settle its outstanding legal headaches.

The report, released on Wednesday, was even more damning of BP’s behaviour than the Presidential panel’s findings, which were issued in January and February. Both reports also highlighted mistakes made by BP’s contractors, driller Transocean and cement specialist Halliburton.
Exxon Mobil fought claims related to the 1989 Valdez spill for almost 20 years, confident it could beat down the massive sums sought by, and initially awarded to, its opponents. In the end, it was largely successful.

But BP’s case is not seen to be as strong. The Valdez spill happened when a drunk captain guided his tanker onto a reef, while the official investigations put most of the blame for Macondo on BP management structures and decisions.

The man hearing the civil damages claims against BP, Judge Carl Barbier, has set a February trial date. BP is likely to make a “significant” offer soon afterwards, the insider said.

“I expect that early next year you will see the mother of all settlements,” another source close to the company said.

$30 billion settlement?

BP estimates the cost of the oil spill will end up at around $42 billion, including all environmental costs, compensation, legal claims and fines. So far, it has spent around $25 billion.
Even before the conclusion of the highly critical official investigations, the government indicated it would press for the higher level of fines associated with gross negligence.  However, the oil industry lobby’s growing strength in recent months, combined with the Obama administration’s wish to see the case resolved well before presidential elections in November 2012 could mean the DoJ accepts a discount to the maximum fine.

Nonetheless, a fine of over $10 billion is possible, lawyers say.

BP’s provision also excludes punitive damages but Judge Barbier has ruled these can be claimed, at least in relation to maritime-related cases, such as losses by fishermen, which Coon estimated at around $5 billion.

While recent awards have generally seen punitive damages awarded at levels equal to or less than actual economic damages, ZygmuntPlater, Professor at the Boston College Law school, said claimants could receive a multiple of any compensatory award because the latest government report linked the accident to BP’s cost-cutting efforts.

Even at a 1:1 punitive-to-economic damage ratio, BP may have to offer an additional $5 billion to cover punitive awards.

Combined, it appears BP may have to put over $30 billion on the table to cover the DoJ and civil claimant cases against it -- some $20 billion above what it has budgeted for.

Plater, however, said the risk of a court awarding much more meant that if BP could put all criminal and civil cases against it to rest for $40 billion, it should jump at the chance.
Nonetheless, BP insiders say the company is not willing to offer any amount to win legal peace. A third source familiar with the company’s thinking said the period around February could represent a window for cutting deals, but that if claimants were not “reasonable,” the company could take the Exxon route and litigate for ten or 20 years.

It's buried in the environmental blog section but the NYT at least deigned to cover the recently released joint Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the Coast Guard final report. There seems to be consensus among legal experts that the report is not good news for BP. Sadly, none are talking about prison sentences for top BP execs.

BP Shortcuts Led to Gulf Oil Spill, Report Says

WASHINGTON — BP, running weeks behind schedule and tens of millions of dollars over budget in trying to complete its troubled Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, took many shortcuts that contributed to the disastrous blowout and oil spill there last year, federal investigators concluded in a report released on Wednesday.

The central cause of the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig was a failure of the cement at the base of the 18,000-foot-deep well that was supposed to contain oil and gas within the well bore. That led to a cascade of human and mechanical errors that allowed natural gas under tremendous pressure to shoot onto the drilling platform, causing an explosion and fire that killed 11 of the 126 crew members and caused an oil spill that took 87 days to get under control.

The two-part report, compiled by a joint task force of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and the Coast Guard and covering more than 500 pages, is the most comprehensive to date on the April 2010 disaster. Its findings largely mirror those of other investigations, including the inquiry by a commission named by President Obama to determine the causes of the calamity. That panel issued its findings in January.

“The loss of life at the Macondo site on April 20, 2010, and the subsequent pollution of the Gulf of Mexico through the summer of 2010 were the result of poor risk management, last-minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response and insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible for drilling at the Macondo well and for the operation of the Deepwater Horizon,” the latest report said.
The study goes further than previous reports, citing seven violations of federal regulations as factors. Among them were violations of laws that required BP and its contractors to operate in a safe manner, to take measures to contain oil and gas for the protection of health and the environment, to conduct reliable tests of well pressures and to notify federal regulators of changes in drilling plans.

The Justice Department is conducting a criminal investigation that could bring indictments and heavy fines.

David M. Uhlmann, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and former chief of the Justice Department’s environmental crimes section, said the Justice Department almost certainly reviewed the findings of the study before it was released.

“Today’s report increases the likelihood that BP, Transocean and Halliburton will face criminal charges for their roles in causing the gulf oil spill,” Mr. Uhlmann said in an e-mail. “The Justice Department may have outside experts for both its criminal and civil cases, and it could develop additional information about the causes of the spill in those investigations, but it will be hard for the Department to distance itself from the findings of the Coast Guard and Boemre.”

The well blowout unleashed a spill of nearly five million barrels of oil, fouling the gulf and hundreds of miles of beaches, marshes and fish habitats and causing billions of dollars in damage.

The three companies have pointed fingers at one another and are engaged in multibillion-dollar litigation to try to spread the enormous costs of the accident. Families of crew members are suing the companies in federal court, seeking compensation and damages.

Stuart Smith, an environmental attorney and dkos member, posted his take on the legal consequences of the joint BOEMRE and Coast Guard final report. Smith says the report pretty much assures that BP will be found to be guilty of the form of negligence that carries higher civil penalties and will provide serious ammo for criminal prosecution.

Will BP Offer “the Mother of All Settlements” to Gulf Spill Victims?

The state of BP’s legal liability just went from bad to disastrous. The federal government’s second major investigation into last year’s Gulf oil spill presents incriminating new evidence that exposes BP to a whole new level of liability and greatly increases the likelihood that criminal charges will be brought. The report pulls no punches, citing egregious safety lapses, a sloppy cement job, a rush to meet a completion deadline and reckless cost-cutting efforts by BP and its contractors as key causes of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history – and the deaths of 11 workers.

The 212-page report [pdf]– generated from a sweeping 18-month investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement – is even more critical than the findings from the presidential oil spill commission. And that’s saying something. The latest federal report on what went wrong aboard the Deepwater Horizon and why is devastating to BP’s legal exposure – and the oil giant is scrambling to keep a cap on the damage.
There’s an old plaintiff’s attorney saying about punitive damages. They can be awarded for really stupid behavior (gross negligence), such as we witnessed in the drunkenness of Captain Joe Hazelwood when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Punitives can also be awarded for really mean-spirited and reckless behavior. BP’s actions constitute the latter. The constitutional limits on punitive damages are much higher for mean-spirited and reckless conduct.

In addition to hefty punitive awards, the new report makes “gross negligence” charges tied to pollution fines pretty much a foregone conclusion. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990, assesses fines of $1,000 per barrel or, in the case of “gross negligence,” $3,000 per barrel.

BP’s provision…includes $3.5 billion related to Clean Water Act fines. But if BP is found to have been grossly negligent, which it denies, it could be fined over $21 billion.

Even before the conclusion of the highly critical official investigations, the government indicated it would press for the higher level of fines associated with gross negligence.

In addition to gross negligence fines and punitive awards (should the trial move forward), the new report makes it much more likely that the Department of Justice ultimately will bring criminal charges both against BP, the company, and employees in charge aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig leading up to the deadly explosion.

I guess better late than never for the report but it seems that no one at the time bothered to do diddley squat to protect Gulf residents or cleanup workers from the adverse health impacts from the filthy air. The government was not sufficiently embarrassed by its grotesque failure to protect residents and workers at ground zero after 911 to protect people against the hazards of BP's black monster. It seems doubtful that any sense of shame will prompt them to do any better in the future.

I also found it curious that No Oil At All (NOAA) only bothered to use its expensive, high tech equipment to analyze a single smoke plume.

NOAA researchers release study on emissions from BP/Deepwater Horizon controlled burns

During the 2010 BP/Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill, an estimated one of every 20 barrels of spilled oil was deliberately burned off to reduce the size of surface oil slicks and minimize impacts of oil on sensitive shoreline ecosystems and marine life. In response to the spill, NOAA quickly redirected its WP-3D research aircraft to survey the atmosphere above the spill site in June. During a flight through one of the black plumes, scientists used sophisticated instrumentation on board, including NOAA's single-particle soot photometer, to characterize individual black carbon particles.

The black smoke that rose from the water’s surface during the controlled burns pumped more than 1 million pounds of black carbon (soot) pollution into the atmosphere, according to a new study published last week by researchers at NOAA and its Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) in Boulder, Colo.

This amount is roughly equal to the total black carbon emissions normally released by all ships that travel the Gulf of Mexico during a 9-week period, scientists noted.

Black carbon, whose primary component is often called soot, is known to degrade air quality and contribute to warming of the Earth’s atmosphere. The new study, published online this week in Geophysical Research Letters, provides some of the most detailed observations made of black carbon sent airborne by burning surface oil.

“Scientists have wanted to know more about how much black carbon pollution comes from controlled burning and the physical and chemical properties of that pollution. Now we know a lot more,” said lead author Anne Perring, a scientist with CIRES and the Chemical Sciences Division of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, Colo.

Black carbon is the most light-absorbing airborne particle in the atmosphere and the reason for the black color in the smoky plumes that rise from the surface oil fires. Black carbon can also cause warming of the atmosphere by absorbing light. Prolonged exposure to breathing black carbon particles from human and natural burning sources is known to cause human health effects.

During the 9 weeks active surface oil burning, a total of 1.4 to 4.6 million pounds (0.63 to 2.07 million kilograms) of black carbon was sent into the atmosphere of the Gulf of Mexico, the study estimated.

The study found that the hot soot plumes from the controlled burns reached much higher into the atmosphere than ship emissions normally rise, potentially prolonging the amount of time the black carbon can remain in the atmosphere, which would affect where the black carbon ends up.

The researchers also found that the average size of the black carbon particles was much larger than that emitted from other sources in the Gulf region, and that the emitted particles produced were almost all black carbon, unlike other sources such as forest fires that tend to produce other particles along with black carbon.

“The size and makeup of the black carbon particles determine how fast the particles are removed from the atmosphere by various processes, which ultimately affects their impact on climate,” says Perring. Larger particles are removed from the atmosphere more quickly and thus have smaller climate impacts. And, those same properties of black carbon are important for assessing human health impacts.

Finally, Perring and her colleagues found that of the oil that was burned, 4 percent of the mass was released as black carbon, an important metric rarely observed during cleanup of an oceanic oil spill, which could help guide future decision-making.

The new paper, Characteristics of Black Carbon Aerosol from a Surface Oil Burn During the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, has 15 co-authors from NOAA ESRL and CIRES and can be found on the Geophysical Research Letters website.

BP released video footage of the Macondo in an effort to prove that the Macondo was not responsible for the large oil sheens that have recently been spotted in the Gulf. However, the videos don't prove much of anything since BP did not provide publicly available real time footage. Also, I seriously doubt that the government reps viewing the footage were watching the 24/7 like the Gulf Watchers do.

When we last saw the leak at the mudline shortly before the well was capped it was only bubbling periodically so showing footage of it not bubbling would hardly be difficult even the mudline continued to bubble. BP attempted to conceal the mudline bubbling by sending down a ROV in the wee hours of the morning when fewer people would be watching to check the mudline leak.

I'm not sure why the insistence about nitrogen from the cement being responsible for the bubbling that is still present. I haven't had time to look at much of the new video. If nitrogen was responsible for the mudline seep we saw earlier it isn't benign as BP was having to spend many hours a day to clean off the hydrates the bubbling was producing.

Remotely Operated Vehicle footage of Macondo Well 252 collected Aug. 26, 2011 |

Following is a link to Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) video footage collected by BP of the Macondo well (MC 252 #1) and relief  well (MC 252 #3) wellheads in response to a request from the US Coast Guard to investigate the possible source of a reported spill in the vicinity.  These visual wellhead inspections, conducted on Aug. 25 and 26, 2011, confirmed that there is no release of oil from either well and that both wells are secure.

The ROV video inspection was conducted in the presence of representatives from the Gulf Coast Incident Management Team (GCIMT) (formerly MC252 Unified Command) located in New Orleans. GCIMT members watching the live video feed included representatives of the US Coast Guard, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the Department of Interior and representatives from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

The inspection was prompted by press reports that sheens of oil observed in the vicinity were from the Macondo well. The Macondo well was capped on July 15, 2010 and permanently killed by sealing the well and annulus with cement on Sept. 19, 2010. The well was later plugged and abandoned with the approval and oversight of the US government.

During the course of inspecting both wellheads, small, intermittent bubbles were observed emanating from cement ports at the base of the wellheads. These observations are consistent with testing and sampling performed last year that detected nitrogen bubbles, a residual byproduct of the nitrified foam used in setting the wells’ surface casing cement.

Video 1
Video 2
Video 3
Video 4
Video 5 

Fuel Fix has posted some of the recently taken and released Macondo video footage showing the memorial cap seriously askew. Click through to see their video to compare with the footage I took from the public feeds when the memorial cap was put in place. I've no idea what have could have cause the cap to get so off-kilter.

New Macondo videos posted in response to rumors

BP’s runaway Macondo well was killed and capped in July 2010, but a recurring oil slick in the Gulf in August had rumors swirling that the well had come back to life.

In response to the public pressure, the U.S. Coast Guard asked BP to send remote controlled submarines to the well site late last month to get a closer look. Footage from the ROV visits has finally been posted on the web site the Coast Guard maintains.
Of course even that may not be enough to convince everyone the August oil slicks weren’t from the Macondo. Doesn’t that memorial cap on the well in Video 5 look a little crooked to you?

The love-fest between top-ranking BOEMRE officials and big oil, including the reprehensible BP, continues apace.

Top Interior official heads to law firm representing BP on Gulf oil spill

WASHINGTON — The former chief of staff to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has taken a job with one of the law firms representing BP in legal proceedings stemming from the massive Gulf oil spill last year.

Tom Strickland joined the Interior Department as Salazar’s chief of staff and an assistant secretary in 2009. He worked there at time when the department ushered in reforms and new ethical rules to reduce conflicts of interest between offshore oil drilling’s regulator and drilling companies after a series of scandals at offices in Colorado and along the Gulf Coast.
A managing partner for his new firm, Wilmer Hale, said Strickland would have no role in the firm’s work for BP in connection with April 2010 oil spill. The law firm is representing the company in the congressional, criminal and other executive branch investigations into the cause of the blowout, which resulted in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history and killed 11 workers.

BP is claiming that there should be no legal consequences for them keeping the discovery of gas secret from Halliburton. They are using the "we were too stupid to understand" defense.

BP Says It Didn’t Hide Information About Danger Before Gulf Well Blowout

BP Plc (BP) said it didn’t hide information about a possibly dangerous condition in the Macondo oil well before or after it blew out in April 2010, killing 11 people and triggering the biggest U.S. offshore oil spill.

BP personnel determined that a sand layer above the target zone was water-bearing rather than a gas-containing “hydrocarbon zone” and provided supporting data to its well partners before the blowout, the company said yesterday in a court filing. BP investigators reported publicly after the explosion that this may have been gas-containing sand, while determining it wasn’t a cause of the incident, the company said.

A Halliburton Co. (HAL) unit that provided cementing services for the well asked a federal court in New Orleans Sept. 1 to allow it to add a claim of fraud in its lawsuit against BP over the spill, alleging the hydrocarbon zone was concealed.

Halliburton shouldn’t be allowed to add the new claim, BP said in its filing.

“There is no evidence that BP held the pre-incident belief that the sand was hydrocarbon-bearing, or that it had any intent to conceal,” the company said.

BP distributed information about the shallower sand within days of the incident, it said.

“Had BP disclosed the higher hydrocarbon zone in April 2010, Halliburton would not have pumped the cement program unless and until changes were made to the cement program, changes that likely would have required BP to redesign the production casing, ”Tara Mullee Agard, a spokeswoman for Houston-based Halliburton, said today by e-mail.
Halliburton alleges slander and business disparagement in a separate suit against BP in Houston federal court, contending that the oil company “knew or should have known about an additional hydrocarbon zone in the well that BP failed to disclose” before Halliburton designed the cement program for the well.

This is yet another in a long line of particularly ugly behavior from BP and its big oil brethren. There are no adjectives vile enough to describe knowingly thieving "the least of these" for profit. To add to the shame of it all it took a whistleblower to uncover the theft.

BP to Pay $20.5M to Settle Royalties Case

Six BP Plc (BP/) units will pay $20.5 million to resolve claims they knowingly underpaid royalties on natural gas drawn from leased federal and Indian lands, the U.S. Justice Department said.

The companies, including U.S.-based BP Corp. North America Inc., Amoco Production Co. and Atlantic Richfield Co., allegedly reported processed gas as unprocessed, improperly deducted some production costs to reduce the amount of money owed and departed from required accounting practices.

“Natural gas royalties provide an important source of income for the United States, Native Americans and various states and help support critical programs from which we all benefit,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tony West said in a statement today announcing the accord.

The agreement resolves a 2003 whistleblower lawsuit filed in federal court in Texarkana, Texas, by Harrold Wright, who has since died, according to the U.S. The U.S. moved to intervene as against BP for settlement purposes yesterday.
The case is U.S. ex rel. Wright v. Chevron USA Inc., 03cv264, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas (Texarkana).

I don't pretend to understand the law justifying Judge Keith's decision. The decision was previously covered in Gulf Watchers but Courthouse News has some more information about Keith's decision to defer to the English courts. I don't see why BP should be allowed all the benefits and privileges of having a headquarters in Texas while retaining the legal right to hide under English legal petticoats.

Shareholders Can't Sue BP in Texas

The English High Court is a more appropriate forum for a shareholder class action that makes claims based on British law against the directors of BP, a federal judge ruled.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Keith  vvv granted the defendants' motion to dismiss based on forum non conveniens. This doctrine allows federal judges to decline jurisdiction if the moving party establishes that the interests of justice, and convenience to the parties and court, dictate the case should be tried in another forum.

"Because this derivative lawsuit involves the internal governance of an English corporation, the convenience of the parties and the interests of justice favor England as a more convenient forum," Ellison wrote.

The lawsuit also "calls for an inquiry into the knowledge and actions of BP's directors, the lion's share of the relevant documents and the majority of the individual defendants are located in England," according to the 31-page decision.

English law governs this dispute, and the Southern District of Texas would be faced with the task of interpreting a still-new and evolving foreign law if the case were allowed to continue stateside. 

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:

9-18-11 02:21 PM Gulf Watchers Sunday - BP Faces "Pathetically Inadequate" Fines - BP Catastrophe AUV #556 Lorinda Pike
9-16-11 06:45 PM Gulf Watchers Block Party: Road Trip Edition BlackSheep1
9-14-11 04:00 PM Gulf Watchers Wednesday - Final Report on Spill Out Today - BP Catastrophe AUV #555 shanesnana
9-11-11 03:57 PM Gulf Watchers Sunday - BP Fouls Gulf Beaches Again - BP Catastrophe AUV #554 Lorinda Pike
9-09-11 06:59 PM Gulf Watchers Block Party: Burning State Editio BlackSheep1
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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