offshore drilling

Shell's Arctic Oil Spill Gear "Crushed Like a Beer Can" In Simple Test

Parody advertisement from Greenpeace's mock "Arctic Ready" website.

Written by Brendan DeMelle, crossposted from DeSmogBlog.

Royal Dutch Shell, the massive multinational oil company, badly wants to be ready to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean next summer. This year, the company's plans to begin drilling in the treacherous seas of the Arctic were thwarted by its late start and repeated failures to get even basic oil spill response equipment into place. 

But the full extent of the company's failed attempts to test oil spill response gear was recently revealed by Seattle's NPR radio affiliate KUOW. Shell has faced repeated criticism and regulatory scrutiny over its cavalier attitude towards Arctic drilling, and the KUOW investigation makes clear why Shell is not "Arctic Ready" by a long shot.

Documents obtained by KUOW through FOIA requests indicate that Shell's oil spill response gear failed spectacularly in tests this fall in the relatively tranquil waters of Puget Sound. 

The containment dome - which Shell sought to assure federal regulators would be adequate to cap a blowout in the event of emergency at its Arctic operations - failed miserably in tests.  The dome "breached like a whale" after malfunctioning, and then sank 120 feet. When the crew of the Arctic Challenger recovered the 20-foot-tall containment dome, they found that it had "crushed like a beer can" under pressure.
 

That was the embarrassing news that emerged from documents released through FOIA from the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which required the tests of Shell's proposed oil spill response system. 


Environmentalist Todd Guiton sums up the implications of the failed tests on Shell's plans to drill in the Arctic: 


"It failed under very calm, tranquil conditions in the best time of year up here in the Pacific Northwest. If it can’t handle the best we have here, I really have my doubts it can handle even a little adversity in the Arctic."


Federal regulators are reviewing the wisdom of Shell's Arctic adventure, and are calling for more real-world testing in the Arctic Ocean to see how the oil spill response gear would stand up to extreme conditions. 

Besides the horrifying prospect of an out-of-control oil disaster in the far north, why would the Obama administration want to flirt with catastrophe in the Arctic when there is (supposedly) a huge oil boom going on in the Lower 48 anyway? If there really is such a glut of recoverable oil in unconventional shale plays via fracking, then why would the U.S. or any other nation allow Big Oil to rush into the Arctic? 

If Shell is this ill-prepared to operate critical safety equipment in the calm waters of Washington State, then they clearly have no business drilling for oil in the Arctic. 

Obama’s “New” Climate Initiative

Written by Kyle Ash, crossposted from Greenpeace Blogs

It has become tiresome to rip on President Obama for failing America and the world on climate. We could not help but get excited in November 2008 when we realized Bush II and his oil lackeys were out of office in two months. But one could argue that President Obama led us on by saying things like “Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all.” And, regarding White House leadership, “That will change when I take office.”

The bar for Obama administration action on climate has become so low that it doesn’t take much to get people excited. For example, the President used the words “climate change” during his recent state of the union address, having failed to mention this existential dilemma last year. Some people read a lot into that.

So, yesterday, it was unsurprising to see an over-excited reaction to a State Department announcement on a new climate initiative. President Obama’s Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, called a press conference to announce that the United States and several other countries would start a new, official collaboration to reduce short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane, black carbon and HFCs. However, it’s pretty clear that this is no announcement about US policy to reduce climate pollution. It’s great countries are talking, but also not new. The US contributed $12 million for this collaboration. This is is about what Mitt Romney would have earned after taxes if he paid the same tax rate my mother does. $12 million is lot of money for one person, but for an intergovernmental partnership to tackle global climate disruption, it’s laughable.

The best thing about Secretary Clinton’s announcement yesterday is that the Obama administration publicly professed to being active on climate, and reiterated actions they’ve been taking already to reduce climate pollution. The worst thing about yesterday’s announcement is that it reminded everyone of what the Obama administration has done to increase climate pollution. A large funder of Obama’s campaign in the past, who has contributed $35 million to campaigns and environmental causes, announced her support was gone because of Obama’s failures on climate.

Let’s put this in context.

A lot was achieved up front when the President pushed for passage of the American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009. The bill included grants and tax incentives for efficiency and renewables production and research, smart grid development, and low-emissions vehicles. The Obama administration has continued to press continuing incentives for renewables and efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency has not yet implemented any standards for large stationary sources of climate pollution that have any significant impact, but the new vehicle standards will have an impact. Expectations for EPA, however, remain much higher than for the rest of the Obama administration, and we still hold out hope for climate pollution standards to be strengthened on both vehicles and stationary sources.

So far, we can’t put a number on how much less climate pollution the world will see because of the Obama administration. We can say that the US goal of 17% under 2005 levels by 2020 is so unambitious that it was possibly imminent before the President announced it. We can also say that the Obama administration may be doing as much to increase climate pollution through other measures.

Although the President has continued to call for the removal of fossil fuel subsidies, the reality is that his administration has been a great friend to coal, oil, and gas.

President Obama’s administration has decided to increase coal mining on public lands, for example in Wyoming where federal leases will allow mining of about 758 million tons of coal. Although some of this coal will definitely be burned in the US, the administration intends to use coal mining expansion to help meet its goal of doubling exports by 2014. So, although we will succeed at shutting down old coal-fired power plants in America, US coal can still contribute to as the largest global contributor to climate disruption.

In the first quarter of 2011, US exports of coal rose by 49% compared to the same quarter of 2010, amounting to 26.6 million short tons. This is the highest amount of coal exported since 1992 (when 27 million short tons were exported).

Similarly, if vehicles in America become more efficient, the plan seems to be to make sure the oil is burned anyway. 2011 was the first year in almost two decades when the US became a ‘net exporter of fuel’. In each day of February, the US exported 54,000 more barrels of petroleum than it imported. To add insult to injury, the Obama administration now appears bent on drilling in the Arctic which is more accessible to climate polluters because they’ve made the ice melt.

An irony about the State Department initiative to reduce emissions of methane is the Global Shale Gas Initiative, and other efforts by the Obama administration, to push US methane (natural gas) abroad. There is a likelihood using shale gas for electricity leads to emissions as high as with coal, or higher. Shale gas that is liquified, transported, thousands of miles, and re-gasified I argue certainly has a higher carbon footprint than local coal.

It seems the general attitude among climate advocates has gone from glum to numb. To be fair, our despair about climate policy is fueled by the undying Republican platform that environmental ignorance and scorn are praiseworthy. There are also Democrats who have donned ignorant and scornful attitudes about climate disruption, but mostly their problem is letting Republicans spearhead the debate on climate. Climate disruption for the Obama White House seems to be viewed not as a real problem but a political problem.

Rachael Robson was a co-author of this blog.

President Obama echoes Big Oil talking points in State of the Union address

The annual State of the Union address is political theater at its best--millions of Americans tune in to watch the big wigs schmooze, applaud the President in partisan waves and reveal the administration's platform for the rest of the year. Entertaining as it can be, the State of the Union also gives frustrating examples of who is successfully framing the national debates in our country. This year it was obvious that Big Oil, particularly the American Petroleum Institute (API), is forcing the U.S. to adopt it's narrow idea of America's "energy future."

In fact, the President of the United States sounded a lot like the self-appointed President of U.S. Energy--API president and CEO Jack Gerard. Compare one of Jack Gerard's key talking points from his recent "State of American Energy" address with a line from Obama's State of the Union speech last night (emphasis added):

GERARD: "We need all of our resources—oil and natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, biofuels and more."

OBAMA: "This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy - a strategy that's cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs."

It appears that, after repeated circulation among oil lobbyists and their apologists in Congress, President Obama has bought into this "all of the above" nonsense, an empty rhetorical gesture designed to keep our country dependent upon dirty energy like synthetic tar sands crude oil and gas obtained through controversial hydraulic fracturing. The "all of the above" line has been promoted on the websites of the American Petroleum Institute as well as API's "Energy Tomorrow" blog, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers website and among members of Congress.

What Big Oil really means is that they'll continue to wave the carrot of clean energy in our faces as they push aggressively for increased oil and gas projects, subsidies and profits. This agenda infiltrates our government through the millions spent on Congressional campaign contributions and millions more on federal lobbying, and infiltrates the American public through expensive advertising campaigns like API's new "Vote 4 Energy" commercials. See Greenpeace's mock Vote 4 Energy commercial at the bottom of the blog.

While I'm sure Gerard and other oil lobbyists are thrilled with the results of their mass media campaigns and federal influence peddling, you can be their public response to the President's speech will be less appreciative.

Dirty energy lobbyists like Jack Gerard aren't going to stop harassing President Obama even if his administration "opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration." It will never be enough for Big Oil, which is why it's alarming that the President just bowed to two of the American Petroleum Institute's three major demands: opening up "75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources," which spells inevitable doom for our coastlines, and pushing dangerous gas fracking forward despite the inability for state regulators and the Environmental Protection Agency to keep up with the industry's voracious appetite. API and it's Big Oil members aren't going to stop griping over the rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline because of these concessions--they will continue to demonize Obama's cabinet as a perpetual obstruction to "freedom" and "prosperity" and bombard us all with inflated jobs claims cooked up by their own reports. Congressional Republicans are already demanding more in response to Obama's energy plan despite it's destructive concessions, repeating the "all of the above" line in the process.

These criticisms are not to say that the President got it all wrong on his energy ambitions. His statements on prioritizing clean energy development and investing in widespread energy efficiency are crucial to the reduction of greenhouse gas concentration in our atmosphere as well as securing our energy infrastructure, creating space for newer, safer jobs while reducing unnecessary risks like deadly air pollution from refineries and unstoppable oil spills started by foreign companies like BP.

Without making the connection to the oil industry (and every other large industry meddling in federal policies), President Obama mentioned the "corrosive influence of money in politics." The oil industry has spent over $55.7 million on federal politicians in the last five years and an additional $651 million on federal lobbying in the same timeframe. Activist leader and scholar Bill McKibben notes that the 234 House Representatives who voted last December to fast track the Keystone XL pipeline took $42 million from the fossil fuel industry, while the 193 opposing members took a cumulative $8 million.

If that's not corrosive influence, then I don't know what is.

Vote 4 Energy mock commercial:

Oil lobbyist Jack Gerard fact checked during Press Club speech

Jack Gerard announcing the Vote 4 Energy campaign in early January.

Photo: Fortune/CNN Money

Two days ago, President Obama denied the permit for the destructive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, much to the dismay of Big Oil's top lobbyist and propagandist. Speaking at the National Press Club to an audience dominated by oil, coal and nuclear representatives and lobbyists, American Petroleum Institute (API) president Jack Gerard continued to lash out at President Obama over the pipeline decision. However, activists attending their event fact checked Jack's big oil talking points.

Shortly after asking the president, "what are you thinking?!" a group of activists stood and delivered a call-and-response "fact check" over Gerard's speech -- see the full Fact Check video. After the event, PolluterWatch's Connor Gibson approached Jack Gerard on camera and repeatedly asked him how much the American Petroleum Institute (API) is spending on its new "Vote 4 Energy" advertising campaign (which, as Mr. Gerard has absurdly claimed, is "not an advertising campaign"). Jack refused to answer:

Vote 4 Energy, which was mocked by a parody commercial during its public release, is the American Petroleum Institute's newest money dump to pretend that most Americans support politicians who represent Big Oil more than their own constituents. Wrapping its talking points in patriotic rhetoric, API's real intent is to continue getting billions of taxpayer dollars each year to corporations like ExxonMobil, Shell and Chevron, which rank among the most profitable companies in the world

Vote 4 Energy sets the stage for API to push it's key priorities--unlimited offshore drilling, including in the Arctic, hydraulic fracturing for gas, pushing the rejected Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and keeping those massive taxpayer subsidies
 
On E&E TV yesterday, Jack Gerard was asked to address the fact that Keystone XL serves as a tool to export large amounts of Canadian tar sands to foreign markets after pumping it across the US. Rather than being able to echo API's dishonest claims of "energy security" through increased access to Canadian oil, Gerard was forced to acknowledge that Keystone XL could be used to boost foreign exports.
 
Despite a rocky week and an advertising campaign mocked by the spoof Vote 4 Energy commercial, Jack Gerard will continue working to increase Big Oil's influence on our election. Numerous API advertisements are airing across the country and API is holding "Energy Forums" in key states, peddling their energy lies to American voters. What voters should keep in mind is that Big Oil's Vote 4 Energy advertising campaign is really about a Vote 4 Big Oil.
 

ALEC EXPOSED: Polluter Front Group's Dirty Secrets Revealed

Crossposted from Greenpeace USA.

As revealed by The Nation and hosted by the Center for Media and Democracy’s new ALEC Exposed website, today marks a breakthrough in democratic transparency with the release of over 800 internal documents created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

Who is ALEC?

Greenpeace has tracked the American Legislative Exchange Council and its role in the climate denial machine, along with the money it receives from polluters including Koch Industries and ExxonMobil to peddle doubt over established conclusions of climate scientists. Check out some of ALEC’s climate denier deeds at ExxonSecrets.


ALEC links state legislators with some of corporate America's largest and most dubious players—Exxon, Koch, coal giant Peabody Energy, and Reynolds Tobacco for example—to create model state legislation. State legislators who pay a small fee to become ALEC members are granted access to a large pool of draft bills and resolutions created by representatives of the corporate giants who finance ALEC, some of which also help govern the organization. ALEC creates a cover for state legislators who ultimately benefit from ALEC’s corporate supporters without having to disclose who pays for the corporate-handout policies they push in state houses across the country.

The Nation's John Nichols explains the ALEC agenda:

"ALEC's model legislation reflects long-term goals: downsizing government, removing regulations on corporations and making it harder to hold the economically and politically powerful to account. Corporate donors retain veto power over the language, which is developed by the secretive task forces. The task forces cover issues from education to health policy. ALEC's priorities for the 2011 session included bills to privatize education, break unions, deregulate major industries, pass voter ID laws and more. In states across the country they succeeded, with stacks of new laws signed by GOP governors like Ohio's John Kasich and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, both ALEC alums."

ALEC's Dirty Assault on Environmental Causes

ALEC has long served corporate polluters in attacking or preempting environmental protections through state laws. A revealing article in Grist linked legislative repeals from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to ALEC's draft legislation, offering polluters like Koch Industries another avenue of attack to bolster the work of other front groups, including Americans for Prosperity's pressure on states participating in RGGI. Center for Media and Democracy Executive Director Lisa Graves and The Nation have more details on the connection between Koch Industries and ALEC.

The over 800 internal documents revealed at ALEC Exposed brings other laws drafted by and for corporate polluters to light. Examples include:

• A 2010 resolution [PDF] resisting long-overdue EPA classification of coal ash as hazardous material. Coal ash is a leftover product from burning coal containing neurotoxins, carcinogens and radioactive elements—not the type of material that should be less regulated than household garbage (as it currently is).
 
• A 2009 resolution to dodge federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing [PDF] for natural gas by promoting state-level regulation of hydrofracking. New York Times reporting has shown state fracking regulations are notably insufficient. Currently, the private sector chairs of ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force are Tom Moskitis of the American Gas Association and Martin Schultz, a lobbyist for a large firm representing dozens of corporate heavyweights including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway and oil supermajor ConocoPhillips.
 
• A 2008 resolution [PDF] to challenge the federal offshore drilling moratorium, which ignores the reality that offshore drilling won’t reduce gas prices. ALEC’s [Exxon-funded] language uses the American taxpayer as an excuse to push for more dangerous offshore drilling even as giant oil companies like Exxon take billions in taxpayer subsidies and make record profits. Currently, the private sector chair of ALEC's Civil Justice task force (which adopted the resolution) is Victor Schwartz of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, a law firm representing Peabody and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
 

The range of ALEC's model legislation provides a historical record of the most aggressive efforts to combat environmental protection. A resolution from 1998 getting states to oppose the Kyoto protocol [PDF] apparently passed in ten states and was introduced or passed by one legislative chamber in another ten states, according to an ALEC speech transcript. A resolution from 2002 shows ALEC’s role in early efforts to hijack chemical security legislation. After the U.S. Senate adopted a bill (S.1602) in July, 2002 that would have conditionally required the use of safer processes at high risk chemical plants, ALEC fought back, approving a Resolution in Opposition to S. 1602 [PDF] a month later. That fall, the chemical security bill fell on its face.

More to Come...

Greenpeace is continuing to research the contents of ALEC's documents. ALEC's template environmental bills repeatedly attack clean energy, push the most dangerous and dirty fossil fuel developments and try to roll back safeguards that reduce pollution. We will continue to update you on what we find.

Just released: 30k pages of BP oil spill documents. Help us find out what we've got!

The research team here at Greenpeace USA does some really great stuff. Uncloaking the Koch brothers, figuring out the truth about fracking, and pressuring polluters who are trying to influence our elected leaders.

But they can only do so much. In July 2010 the team began submitting Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests to the federal government about the BP oil disaster. They began to trickle back, slowly, and we stayed on top of it. But just like the gusher in the Gulf the trickle became a flood, and now we have around 30,000 pages of memos, reports and even flight records about the worst oil spill in American history.

While some of the agencies have simply ignored our requests, others have gotten back with some interesting documents. The problem is we simply don’t have time to go through them all. The Guardian ran a series of stories about them last week  but no one has the manpower to read the fine print. Plus, we’re getting more through the letterbox almost every day.

This is where you come in. We’ve created a new site which allows anyone to view, download and comment on these documents. We’re updating it with new stuff and categorizing it to make your life easier. Always imagined yourself winning a Pulitzer? Still mad at BP and want to find out what really happened out there? Searching for evidence for a compensation claim? Now’s your chance to dig up some gems.

Log on to www.polluterwatch.org/research and help us sift through the mountain of data. Get in touch if you find something interesting and we’ll try to get the news out.

You’re all part of the research team now.

Crossposted from Greenpeace USA with minor discrepancies (video added, link to NY Times photos).

BP Seeks to Resume Drilling in Gulf of Mexico Long Before Situtation is Made "Right" [VIDEOS]

Less than a year since BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded into flame, killed eleven rig employees and initiated an uncontrolled oil gusher that blasted over four million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the London-based oil giant is asking for more.

The Gulf ecosystem is still reeling from the dramatic oil and gas pollution that created underwater plumes that spanned for miles and effectively turned the ocean floor into a “graveyard.” While former BP CEO Tony Hayward promised his company would “make this right,” 300,000 Gulf residents still await their share of the $20 billion BP set aside for compensation.

Residents continue to worry about the quality of Gulf seafood and their own health:

As put by Greenpeace Research Director Kert Davies in an interview with ABC (above), "This is not even a year since the worst environmental disaster this country has ever seen and the culprit is being led right back to the scene of the crime and being given the keys."

Meanwhile, the offshore drilling contractor that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, Transocean, is now apologizing for handing out absurd bonuses to executives for safety in 2010, including a $200,000 salary increase to CEO Steven L. Newman. Newman made $5,374,687 in 2009.

The Department of the Interior has challenged Transocean's safety claims, and has stressed that no agreement to resume drilling has been made with BP, although the company continued other operations throughout 2010 and into 2011, as had Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Royal Dutch Shell recently obtained permission for a new drilling project off the coast of Louisiana.

Photo Credit: the Guardian

API threatens economic consequences if offshore drillers are held accountable

In typical form, Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute released a video claiming that holding oil companies accountable during offshore drilling operations and after oil spills will have the usual dire economic consequences: job loss, higher taxes, and "driving small-and mid-sized firms out of business and shutting down access to domestic energy resources."

This follows common scare-talk any time an industry giant faces new regulations in the public interest--ballooning the price tag of improving worker safety conditions or environmental precautions and predicting economic apocalypse.  As if the oil industry isn't making enough money, or spending enough money, buying Congress to prevent ever-dreaded accountability legislation.

Keep in mind, Jack, that history shows how frequently cost estimates of environmental regulations are blown way out of proportion beforehand, while it is actually cleanup costs that are grossly underestimated.  Kindly send a memo to BP, Halliburton, and your other members as well on that one.

While Gerard will never admit it, an Energy [R]evolution is possible, and calling out those who value green paper over a green planet is a vital part of getting the public behind real solutions: energy conservation and efficiency, a decentralized renewable energy economy, and a phase-out of the dirty fossil fuels that have led to global warming. 

Stalling and obstructing are not coveted American values, but innovation is.  It's time to go beyond oil, where the fortune of dirty influence peddlars like Jack will just be a stain on history.

Chevron had serious Gulf blowout in 2008

 

"A 2008 Chevron blowout appears in hindsight to have been a rehearsal for Deepwater Horizon and its design problems. Like BP, Chevron was in the final stages of drilling a well aboard Transocean rig Discoverer Deep Seas. Because of the blowout, drillers lost 500,000 gallons of drilling mud into the earth below the wellhead, and spilled 293 gallons onto the ocean floor."

Full article: "Deadly Gulf blowouts persist"

-Houston Chronicle, July 20, 2010

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