July 2010, Week 3


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Tue, 20 Jul 2010 21:33:10 -0400
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The Gulf's Murky Future

By Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin
Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, Brad Johnson, Alex Seitz-Wald, Tanya

The Progress Report

July 20, 2010


Three months after BP's Deepwater Horizon exploratory rig
exploded, the Gulf of Mexico faces a murky future of
imperfect solutions to intractable problems. The new cap
installed on the gushing wellhead has for the first time
stopped the flow of oil into the ocean, though there remains
serious concerns about the wellbore's integrity. If the cap
holds, the region will still have to deal with the millions
of gallons of oil spread throughout the Gulf and along
hundreds of miles of shoreline as the peak hurricane season
approaches. Over one third of the Gulf is closed to fishing,
and investigators still do not know what caused the April 20
explosion. In the coming months and years, thousands of
scientists will attempt to assess the damage done to the
valuable ecosystems of the region, although many will be
working for BP. Also unknown are the health effects to the
region and the tens of thousands of hired cleanup workers who
are handling the toxic oil and dispersants. For many, the BP
disaster is just the latest of many heavy blows. The region
awaits solutions to its endemic poverty, eroding coast, and
dependence on the oil industry that is killing the Gulf. The
Obama administration is attempting to brighten this future,
announcing yesterday a "new national policy for strengthening
the way the U.S. manages its oceans and coasts." Furthermore,
"the Senate now must provide additional safeguards for
offshore oil production, slash oil consumption, and reduce
global warming pollution."

CAPS, SEEPS, AND LEAKS: "New problems arose in the struggle
to contain the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as bubbles and
seepage appeared in four areas around the damaged BP well,
but Obama administration and company officials agreed to keep
the new well cap closed for at least 24 more hours as they
weigh the gravity of the developments." "It's the collective
opinion of folks that these small seepages do not indicate
there is any threat to the well bore," incident commander
Thad Allen said at a briefing in Washington. Even if these
leaks prove inconsequential and the gusher is plugged, the
region still faces the ongoing degradation and risk of
catastrophe from its ties to Big Oil. "Our national response
must drive a sustained effort to reduce our dependence on
fossil fuels," write Center for American Progress analysts
Bracken Hendricks, Kate Gordon, and Tom Kenworthy. "We must
target the structural causes of our vulnerability to oil in
an effort to rebuild and strengthen our national economy
while restoring the economic health of oil-dependent
regions." One of the first steps is capping the gusher of
billion-dollar subsidies for the oil industry, including the
write-off for punitive damages in cases like the BP disaster.
The United States must also finally cap the global spill of
greenhouse gas pollution and direct energy investment into
green jobs instead of toxic disasters.

ERODING HOPES: Since early May, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) has
pushed a crash effort to build artificial "barrier islands"
from dredged sand to prevent BP's toxic oil from reaching
Louisiana's fragile coastline. He and other Louisiana
politicians excoriated the federal government for waiting
until June 3 to authorize the $360 million project, even
though "categorically, across the board, every coastal
scientist" questioned its wisdom. In mid-May, Jindal
justified the barrier-island construction by saying it was
the "obvious" thing to do. "We know it works, we have seen it
work, but if they need to see it work, they need to do that
quickly," argued Jindal. On May 27, Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
attacked President Obama, calling the administration's
caution "absolutely outrageous." In reality, photographs
released by Louisiana scientist Leonard Bahr and the US Army
Corps of Engineers show that the artificial island E-4 --
intended to reach an 18-mile length -- is struggling to
survive at 1,100 feet. Jindal is pressing for the federal
government to approve the emergency construction of 125 miles
of sand berms, arguing the 0.2 miles constructed are "are
doing what they were intended to do." That plan would use up
valuable resources and take too much time, notes Climate
Progress' Joe Romm. However, Jindal has offered no "obvious"
answer for the long-term threats to Louisiana's eroding
coastline -- rising seas fueled by global warming, rivers
killed by agricultural pollution, and decades of oil industry

BP COVERUP: Meanwhile, BP is hard at work minimizing the
damage to its bottom line, not to America's coastline and
gulf economy. BP's legal and public-relations maneuvering has
increased as it faces tens of billions of dollars in damages
and fines. BP is on a spending spree, buying the silence of
Gulf Coast scientists. Scientists from Louisiana State
University, Mississippi State University, and Texas A&M have
"signed contracts with BP to work on their behalf in the
Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) process" that
determines how much ecological damage the Gulf of Mexico
region is suffering from BP's toxic black tide. The contract,
the Mobile Press-Register has learned, "prohibits the
scientists from publishing their research, sharing it with
other scientists or speaking about the data that they collect
for at least the next three years."  "Testimony before a
panel investigating the cause of the Deepwater Horizon
explosion grew heated Monday as lawyers for various companies
connected to the rig attempted to place blame on one another
and angled to expose maintenance problems they say existed
before the April 20 accident." Fortunately for BP, Vitter is
attacking "trial lawyers" who could threaten its bottom line.
BP was even caught posting a doctored photograph of its
crisis response center by blogger John Aravosis. "I guess if
you're doing fake crisis response," Aravosis commented, "you
might as well fake a photo of the crisis response center."
"Apparently BP is no more adept at doctoring photos than it
is at plugging deep-sea oil leaks," the Washington Post's
Steven Mufson jabbed.


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