Friday, August 20, 2010

Day 121 BP Oil Spill: Maybe A "Kill" Labor Day Week; 22-Mile Plume

Aug 20: At the August 19, press briefing, Thad Allen, National Incident Commander explained that over the last week or so that intense negotiations and discussions between the government science, team headed by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and the BP engineers in Houston have taken place regarding the so-called "bottom kill" operation to intercept the well bore with a relief well and permanently close the well with mud and cement.
    Allen explained that the central point of discussion has revolved around the likelihood of pressure building in the annulus between the well and well bore at the time of intersection. The consultations thus far revolved around two potential scenarios. One involves going ahead and intersecting the annulus with the current blow out preventer and the capping stack in place. The other one is to replace the current blow out preventer and capping stack with a new blow out preventer prior to conducting the intersect. 
    He said that as those discussions were taking place, BP was directed to prepare the blow out preventer on Development Driller II -- the one that's associated with the second relief well -- for use as a blow out preventer, should it be needed. BP was also directed to flush out the current blow out preventer and capping stack, clean it out and fill it with sea water in anticipation of an ambient test with sea water in the BOP that is the same liquid that we have outside the BOP to allow us to do a more accurate pressure test. He said those operations have been completed and late August 18, the decision was made to proceed to remove the current blow out preventer and capping stack, replace it with a new blow preventer in advance of the well kill subject to conditions.
    Allen said the ambient pressure testing would take approximately 48 hours (i.e. ending August 21) and if there are no anomalies and no hydrocarbons present, then they would conduct what is being called a "fishing experiment." He said, "We are going to actually put a drill bit down in the blow out preventer and attempt to extract the drill pipe. The reason we want to try and extract the drill pipe that reduces the risk that when we remove the blow out preventer and put the new one on, there won't be an (off score) or some kind of a bar to having a seal with the new blow out preventer. And we have told BP you need to do the ambient test, conduct the fishing experiment, come back to us with the results and then we will proceed after that. . ."

    Allen said all of the operations have been done with an "overabundance of caution related to minimizing risk associated with the intersection of the well." He said, "We are very, very close to the end. This gets to be a very, very complex evolution and there are no black and white choices here and this has required a significant amount of discussion. . . At the press brief yesterday someone asked about a timeline, I said there was no timeline at the present and that was true.  There remains a sequence of events that will be carried out. They are conditions based. When we take one step and we are successful, we will move to the next step. Should all these steps prove successful and we move towards the eventual intersection of the well, that could take place sometime the week after Labor Day.
Researchers Find "Conclusively" A 22-Mile Gulf Oil Plume 
Aug 19: Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have detected a plume of hydrocarbons that is at least 22 miles long and more than 3,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, a residue of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The 1.2-mile-wide, 650-foot-high plume of trapped hydrocarbons provides at least a partial answer to recent questions asking where all the oil has gone as surface slicks shrink and disappear [See WIMS 8/17/10]. Christopher Reddy, a WHOI marine geochemist and oil spill expert and one of the authors of the study, which appears in the August 19 issue of the journal Science said, "These results indicate that efforts to book keep where the oil went must now include this plume" in the Gulf. 

    The researchers measured distinguishing petroleum hydrocarbons in the plume and, using them as an investigative tool, determined that the source of the plume could not have been natural oil seeps but had to have come from the blown out well. Moreover, they reported that deep-sea microbes were degrading the plume relatively slowly, and that it was possible that the plume had and will persist for some time.

    The WHOI team based its findings on some 57,000 discrete chemical analyses measured in real time during a June 19-28 scientific cruise aboard the R/V Endeavor, which is owned by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by the University of Rhode Island. They accomplished their feat using two highly advanced technologies: the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Sentry and a type of underwater mass spectrometer known as TETHYS (Tethered Yearlong Spectrometer). Richard Camilli of WHOI's Applied Ocean Physics and Engineering Department, chief scientist of the cruise and lead author of the paper said, "We've shown conclusively not only that a plume exists, but also defined its origin and near-field structure. Until now, these have been treated as a theoretical matter in the literature."
    Camilli said, the plume has shown that the oil already "is persisting for longer periods than we would have expected. Many people speculated that subsurface oil droplets were being easily biodegraded. Well, we didn't find that. We found it was still there." Reddy said, "Whether the plume's existence poses a significant threat to the Gulf is not yet clear, the researchers say. We don't know how toxic it is and we don't know how it formed, or why. But knowing the size, shape, depth, and heading of this plume will be vital for answering many of these questions."
    Access the transcript of the August 19 press briefing with Q&As (click here). Access more information on BP activities from the BP response website (click here). Access the Restore the Gulf website for more information (click here). [*Energy/OilSpill]
Access a lengthy release on the WHOI research with pictures, graphics and video (click here).

Thursday, August 19, 2010

EPA Sets Dates For Hearings On Coal Ash Regulations

Aug 19: The U.S. EPA announced that it will be hosting seven public hearings on the Agency's controversial proposal to regulate the disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants. On May 4, U.S. EPA announced it was proposing the first-ever national rules to ensure the safe disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants. Coal ash, are byproducts of the combustion of coal at power plants and are disposed of in liquid form at large surface impoundments and in solid form at landfills. The residuals contain contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic, which are associated with cancer and various other serious health effects. EPA's risk assessment and damage cases demonstrate that, without proper protections, these contaminants can leach into groundwater and can migrate to drinking water sources, posing significant health public concerns [See WIMS 5/4/10].
    On July 29, U.S. Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA) and 30 Members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce sent a letter to U.S. EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson, expressing his strong opposition to an EPA proposal to regulate coal combustion residuals (i.e. coal ash) [See WIMS 8/2/10]. Among other things, Boucher said, EPA regulation of coal ash as a hazardous waste could have the effect of destroying jobs by preventing the recycling of coal ash into useful construction products like cement and wall board. Among the signers to the letter were Michigan Representatives Bart Stupak (D) and Fred Upton (R).
    EPA said that each hearing will begin at 10:00 AM and continue until 9:00 PM with a break at noon and 5:00 PM local time. The hearings will continue past 9:00 PM if necessary. People who wish for a guaranteed slot to speak must register no later than three business days before each hearing (See link below). Additionally, walk-ins and written comments will be accepted at each hearing. The Agency will consider the public's comments in its final decision.

    The hearings are scheduled for: August 30: Hyatt Regency, 2799 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, VA; September 2: Grand Hyatt, 1750 Welton Street, Denver, CO; September 8: Hyatt Regency Dallas, 300 Reunion Boulevard, Dallas, TX; September 14: Holiday Inn Charlotte (Airport), 2707 Little Rock Road, Charlotte, NC;
September 16: Hilton Chicago, 720 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL; September 21: Omni Hotel, 530 William Penn Place, Pittsburgh, PA; and September 28: Seelbach Hilton, 500 Fourth Street, Louisville, KY.

    EPA said the need for national management criteria and regulation was emphasized by the December 2008 spill of coal ash from a surface impoundment near Kingston, TN. EPA indicated that the proposal would ensure for the first time that protective controls, such as liners and ground water monitoring, are in place at new landfills to protect groundwater and human health. Existing surface impoundments will also require liners, with strong incentives to close these impoundments and transition to safer landfills which store coal ash in dry form. The proposed regulations would ensure stronger oversight of the structural integrity of impoundments and promote environmentally safe and desirable forms of recycling coal ash, known as beneficial uses. EPA has proposed two main management approaches, one of which phases out surface impoundments and moves all coal ash to landfills; the other allows coal ash to be disposed in surface impoundments, but with stricter safety criteria.

    Access a release from EPA on the meetings (click here). Access EPA's docket on the coal ash regulations (click here). Access more information about the proposed regulation (click here). Access pre-register information by calling (703) 308-8429 or online (click here). Access more information about the proposed regulation (click here). Access a chart comparing the two proposed approaches (click here).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

62 Companies "Road Test" Two New GHG Protocol Standards

Aug 17: A release from World Resources Institute (WRI) indicates that more than 60 companies have completed the "road testing" of new global standards designed to help measure the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of their products and supply chains. Developed by WRI and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the two new GHG Protocol standards -- the Product Lifecycle Accounting and Reporting Standard and the Scope 3 (Corporate Value Chain) Accounting and Reporting Standard -- provide methods to account for emissions associated with individual products across their life-cycles and of corporations across their value chains.

    The 62 companies from multiple sectors and 17 countries started road testing the standards in January. In June, they submitted written feedback on their usability along with final GHG inventory reports. A summary of the feedback is posted on the GHG Protocol website. Jennifer Morgan, director of WRI's Climate and Energy Program said, "The road testing experience illustrates how developing rules around measurement, reporting, and verification involves complex technical and policy decisions that need real-world feedback to ensure the right balance is achieved between rigor and ease of use while keeping in view the capacity of both experienced and new users. The GHG Protocol approach to develop international standards provides us a model on how we might want to pursue the development of rules on tracking emissions at the country-level as well."

    The companies that road tested the Product Life Cycle Accounting and Reporting Standard reported they had little difficulty completing an inventory in conformance with the requirements and found the guidance provided in the draft helpful. The companies that road tested the Scope 3 Accounting and Reporting Standard found it achievable to complete a Scope 3 inventory and many companies believe it practical to complete one on an annual basis.

    The road testers shared similar views on the business value of using the standards. Most road testers agree that the standards help in identifying GHG reduction opportunities and prioritizing reduction efforts; engaging suppliers and enabling supply chain GHG management; understanding risks and opportunities associated with emissions in the supply chain; creating competitive advantage and product differentiation; and improving credibility and transparency in GHG reporting. The next steps will be to revise the standards based on feedback from the road testers as well as the Steering Committee and Technical Working Groups. The revised standards will be released at the end of September for a 30 day public comment period. The text will be finalized at the end of 2010 and the final versions will be published by March 2011.

    Companies that participated in the road testing exercise include: 3M, Abengoa, Acer Inc, Airbus S.A.S, AkzoNobel, Alcoa, Amcor, Ampacet, Anvil Knitwear, Inc., Autodesk, Inc., Baoshan Iron & Steel Co. Ltd, BASF SE, Belron International, Bloomberg LP, BT plc, Coca-Cola Erfrischungsgetränke AG, Danisco A/S, Deutsche Post DHL, Deutsche Telekom AG, DuPont, Ecolab, Ford Motor Company, General Electric, Gold'n Plump Poultry, LLC, Herman Miller, Inc, IKEA, Italcementi Group, JohnsonDiversey, Kraft Foods, Kun Shan Tai Ying Paint Co, Ltd., Lenovo, Levi Strauss & Co., Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation, National Grid, New Belgium Brewing¸ Ocean Spray Cranberries, Otarian, PE International, PepsiCo, Inc., Pfizer, Pinchin Environmental Ltd., PricewaterhouseCoopers (Hong Kong), Procter & Gamble Eurocor, Public Service Enterprise Group, Inc., Rogers Communications, SAP AG, SC Johnson, Shanghai Zidan Food Packaging and Printing Co., Ltd., Shell International Petroleum Company Ltd., Siemens AG, Suzano Pulp and Paper, Swire Beverages, TAL Apparel Limited, Tech-Front (Shanghai) Computer Co., Ltd. / Quanta Shanghai Manufacturing City, Veolia Water, Verso Paper Corp., Webcor Builders, WorldAutoSteel.

    Access a release from WRI (click here). Access the GHG Protocol website (click here).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 118 BP Oil Spill: 75% Gone; 79% Left; Confused?

Aug 16: A report released on August 16, by the Georgia Sea Grant and the University of Georgia concludes that up to 79 percent of the oil released into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon well has not been recovered and remains a threat to the ecosystem. Perhaps that sounds confusing because on August 4, the Federal government issued a report indicating that the vast majority of the oil from the BP oil spill (i.e. approximately 75 percent) had either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed -- much of which is in the process of being degraded [See WIMS 8/4/10]. At the time the government report was release officials said a significant amount of the removal was "the direct result of the robust federal response efforts." 

    The differences are significant because the percentages must be applied to the latest government estimate released by the Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG) on August 2, indicating that 4.9 million barrels -- nearly 206 million gallons -- of oil were released into the Gulf by the BP leak. The University of Georgia report also corrects that figure and says that it uses a figure of 4.1 million barrels since .8 million barrels were piped directly from the well to surface ships and, therefore, never entered Gulf waters.

    The University of Georgia report, authored by five prominent marine scientists, strongly contradicts media reports that suggest that only 25 percent of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill remains. Charles Hopkinson, director of Georgia Sea Grant and professor of marine sciences in the University of Georgia Franklin College of Arts and Sciences said, "One major misconception is that oil that has dissolved into water is gone and, therefore, harmless. The oil is still out there, and it will likely take years to completely degrade. We are still far from a complete understanding of what its impacts are."

    Co-authors on the paper include Jay Brandes, associate professor, Skidaway Institute of Oceanography; Samantha Joye, professor of marine sciences, UGA; Richard Lee, professor emeritus, Skidaway; and Ming-yi Sun, professor of marine sciences UGA. The group analyzed data from the August 2, National Incident Command Report, which calculated an "oil budget" that was widely interpreted to suggest that only 25 percent of the oil from the spill remained.

    Hopkinson notes that the reports arrive at different conclusions largely because the Sea Grant and UGA scientists estimate that the vast majority of the oil classified as dispersed, dissolved or residual is still present, whereas the NIC report has been interpreted to suggest that only the "residual" form of oil is still present. Hopkinson said that his group also estimated how much of the oil could have evaporated, degraded or weathered as of the date of the report. Using a range of reasonable evaporation and degradation estimates, the group calculated that 70-79 percent of oil spilled into the Gulf still remains. The group showed that "it was impossible for all the dissolved oil to have evaporated because only oil at the surface of the ocean can evaporate into the atmosphere and large plumes of oil are trapped in deep water."

    On a positive note, the group said that natural processes continue to transform, dilute, degrade and evaporate the oil. They add that circular current known as the Franklin Eddy is preventing the Loop Current from bringing oil-contaminated water from the Gulf to the Atlantic, which bodes well for the East Coast. Professor Joye said that both the NIC report and the Sea Grant report are best estimates and emphasizes the need for a sustained and coordinated research effort to better understand the impacts of what has become the world's worst maritime oil spill. She warned that neither report accounted for hydrocarbon gasses such as methane in their oil budgets. She said, "That's a gaping hole because hydrocarbon gasses are a huge portion of what was ejected from the well."

    Marine scientist Professor Joye and other faculty members directly involved in assessing the impacts of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been holding regular briefings for media since June 22. Joye continues to provide regular updates on her research findings through her widely read blog (see contact below). Joye is an expert in the cycling of nutrients, metals, and organic materials between the living and non-living components of the ecosystem (a field known as biogeochemistry) as well as microbial ecology, metabolism and physiology. She has conducted research in the Gulf of Mexico for about 15 years. When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, she was coordinating a research mission aboard a NOAA-funded research vessel that was just 8 miles from the disaster site.

    At an August 16, press briefing Thad Allen, National Incident Commander (NIC) explained in some details the current status of the BP attempt to intercept the well and conduct the so-called "bottom kill." He explained that BP engineers and the government's science team are working to look at test results and do investigations to define the best way to mitigate any risk of intercepting the annulus and increasing the pressure in the annulus. He said, "We want to make sure before I give the order and direct BP to do that, that we know the implications of that pressure, and how we will deal with it. There're basically two courses of action that are being looked at right now and at the same time we are continuing to do what we call a near ambient pressure test on the blow out preventer." The science team was scheduled to meet late yesterday and then would brief Secretary Chu and Secretary Salazar.  And the science team and Secretary Chu will make a recommendation on how to proceed. 

    Access a release from University of Georgia (click here). Access the complete Georgia Sea Grant/University of Georgia Oil Spill report (click here). Access figures from the report (click here). Access the Gulf Oil Blog by Professor Joye (click here). Access the latest NIC press briefing transcript with details on the intercept options (click here). Access more information on BP activities from the BP response website (click here). Access the Restore the Gulf website for more information (click here).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Day 117 BP Oil Spill: "Turning The Corner In the Gulf"

Aug 16: In a blog posting on the White House website, Carol Browner the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, provided an update on the progress the Administration has made in responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and said, "we're beginning to turn the corner in the Gulf." Browner also announce a live chat with Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), about the safety of seafood from the region. The chat was scheduled to begin at 2 PM EDT today.

    Browner said, "I'm pleased to report that no oil has leaked into the Gulf of Mexico since July 15, and because of the progress we've made capping the well, we don't anticipate that any additional oil will spill into the Gulf. We also have new information about the effectiveness of the Federal Government's response to the spill: Recently, government scientists released a report stating that the vast majority of the oil that spilled into the Gulf has evaporated, skimmed, burned off, been recovered from the wellhead or dispersed [See WIMS 8/4/10].
   "Over the weekend, President Obama and the First Lady travelled to Panama City, Florida and met with small business owners to discuss the impact the oil spill has had on their businesses. While we're beginning to turn the corner, it's clear that we still have a lot of work to do for the individuals, families and businesses in the region that have been impacted by this spill. We will hold BP accountable for the damage this spill has caused to the environment and the economy. We will not rest until the delicate ecosystems along the Gulf Coast and the people who call this region home have been made whole.
    "The men and women of the Gulf who make their livelihood harvesting fish, shrimp and oysters have been among those hardest hit by this spill. And I know many of you may have questions about the safety of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico. The Federal Government is paying close attention to the safety of seafood in the Gulf. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and NOAA, working closely with the states, are closely monitoring and testing the Gulf waters so they can be reopened as soon as they become safe. Seafood from these open areas is safe for you and your family to eat. In fact, if you're looking for a simple way to support the people of the Gulf who have been battered by this spill, enjoying some local seafood is one of the best things you can do."
    In a follow-up to last week's report that the static kill (from the top) may have permanently closed the well, Thad Allen, National Incident Commander (NIC) said in a briefing on Saturday, ". . .we have advised BP and I will be issuing a directive that will tell them to proceed with the relief well in the bottom kill, if you will. Prior to that, though, I will issue an order to BP this afternoon.  I've already communicated with their senior leadership, that required them to do some tests ahead of the time so we can make sure that we've accounted for any potential risk associated with the bottom kill. We're going to continue the -- what we call the near ambient pressure test, that is testing the pressure currently in the blowout preventer and the capping stack and we're going to continue to take pressure readings off of that.  We've also asked BP to provide us an analysis of the risks associated with the annulus and any risk associated that might cause communication between the reservoir and the annulus."
    Allen said, "Right now, the drill bit is at 3-1/2 feet away from the Macondo well and about 50 feet above the intercept point and they will be ready to go as soon as we give the order. In the meantime, we're going to conduct this ambient pressure test and analysis of the stability of the well to make sure that as we move forward we know exactly what we can expect and we have the best conversation we can have between the federal science team and the BP engineers. . . I would advise everybody, we're still dealing with part of the well that we can't see and only know from pressure readings and external indications what the condition is and we will not know until we actually intercept the well.
    Also, today (August 16), BP announced that it is providing $52 million to Federal and state health organizations to fund behavioral health support and outreach programs across the US Gulf Coast region. Specifically, BP is providing funding to five agencies, one at the federal level and one in each of the affected states. The funding is designed to help residents link up with support that is available through providers in their communities, through a variety of local outreach programs and a special toll free phone line where people can turn for information on available services. Lamar McKay, President of BP America and incoming leader of the Gulf Coast Restoration Organization said, "We appreciate that there is a great deal of stress and anxiety across the region and as part of our determination to make things right for the people of the region, we are providing this assistance now to help make sure individuals who need help know where to turn." 
    Additionally, NIC Allen announced the deployment of 19 additional Economic Assessment and Evaluation Teams to communities affected by the oil spill. The interagency teams will work with communities in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas to help them orient to their economic situation, develop action steps, and will offer guidance geared towards spearheading post-event economic recovery efforts. Brian McGowan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, who is coordinating the interagency National Incident Command Economic Solutions Team said, "Communities along the Gulf Coast are facing difficult and uncertain economic times. The Obama administration is committed to helping the region regain its economic footing and these assessments are one important step in the process to get local residents and the economy working again. This effort will help ensure a collaborative recovery process that targets resources and optimizes economic recovery efforts." Two pilot teams have already been deployed to communities in Louisiana, for a total of 21 teams.
    Access the White House blog for the Carol Browner posting (click here, posted soon). Access a lengthy speech from the President delivered in Panama City, FL (click here). Access links to the NOAA chat (click here). Access the full text of the NIC press briefing from Saturday (click here). Access the NIC order to BP (click here). Access a release from BP with further details on the $52 million funding (click here). Access an NIC release on the Evaluation Teams (click here).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Day 114 BP Oil Spill: Well May Be Permanently Plugged

Aug 13: In the evening of August 12, BP reported that, operating with the guidance and approval of the National Incident Commander (NIC), it had completed the four-hour near ambient pressure test on the MC252 well in the Gulf of Mexico. The results were under review on August 13 between BP and the Federal science team and a recommendation on the path forward is expected to go to the NIC.
    Yesterday afternoon, at a press briefing National Incident Commander Thad Allen explained the importance of the pressure testing and indicated, in fact they may show that the well is already "killed" or permanently closed from the top and bottom. In response to a question, Allen said, "We may be the victims of our own success here in that once they looked at the results of the cementing from the static kill from the top they raised the question of whether or not the cement that entered the reservoir might have actually gone back up the annulus and sealed that. We think this is a low probability outcome. But we didn't want to pass by it and not actually consider it just in case that happened because if you start pumping mud into the annulus and there is a seal on the bottom there is no communication with the reservoir it would travel up the annulus to the point where it goes to the hangar at the top which is where the -- all of the casing and everything is suspended from and with enough pressure there is a way for that hangar to rise and the seal to open which would move it up into the blow out preventer and the capping stack. . ."

    So, in response to a question -- Based on the results of the pressure test in response to a question does that mean you don't have to intercept the well? -- Allen said, "We would have the option not to do that. The decision not to do that would have to be accompanied by the analysis of the risks and that would be based on the results of the pressure tests that are being run right now. I wouldn't rule out anything at this point. We think it's a low probability that we would not finish the relief well and cement but we need to run the test and analyze the data. . ."

    In response to a follow-up question -- "Basically you're saying you may not do the bottom kill because as everyone's always been saying that will be final kill. That may not be the case now?" -- Allen replied, "No, the bottom kill is the bottom kill. The question is did we somehow accomplish part of that through the top kill with the cement going back up the annulus. And then we have oil just trapped in the annulus that actually could be taken care of some other way as we plug and abandon the well. We just don't know and we're trying to use this pressure test as a way to understand that. This well would not be permanently killed unless it is sealed off completely in the casing and the annulus. The issue is somehow is there a chance we might have accomplished that through the static kill and to the point where if we try to do a kill from the relief well there would be enough pressure increase in there it would drive up through the seals and to the blow out preventer and the capping stack. . ." [Note: As of early afternoon the NIC had not reported on the final decision. A report should be forthcoming soon].

    Also, the White House announced that on Monday, August 16, at 2:00 PM EDT, Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Dr. Jane Lubchenco will host a live chat to answer your questions about the safety of seafood from the Gulf of Mexico. A White House announcement indicates that, "The men and women of the Gulf who make their livelihood harvesting fish, shrimp, and oysters have been among those hardest hit by this spill. Enjoying some local seafood is one simple way Americans can support the people of the Gulf who have been battered by this spill." Questions may be submitted ahead of time via Facebook or a webform.

    Access a release from BP on the pressure test (click here). Access the transcript of the August 12 press briefing NIC (click here). Access an announcement and details on the White House live chat (click here). Access more information on BP activities from the BP response website (click here). Access the Restore the Gulf website for more information (click here). Access the Unified Command website which contains additional information (click here).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Task Force On Carbon Capture & Storage Recommendations

Aug 12: President Obama's Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), co-chaired by the U.S. EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE), delivered a series of recommendations to the President today (August 12) on overcoming the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years. CCS is a group of technologies for capturing, compressing, transporting and permanently storing power plant and industrial source emissions of carbon dioxide. Rapid development and deployment of clean coal technologies, particularly carbon capture and storage (CCS), will help position the United States as a leader in the global clean energy race. The report concludes that CCS can play an important role in domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions while preserving the option of using coal and other abundant domestic fossil energy resources.

    In February 2010, the President charged the task force with proposing a plan to overcome the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of carbon capture and storage within 10 years, with a goal of bringing five to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016 [See WIMS 2/4/10]. The Task Force announcement follows the August 6 announcement from DOE on
the $1 billion award toward the FutureGen 2.0, a clean coal repowering program and carbon dioxide (CO2) storage network -- the world's first, commercial-scale, oxy-combustion power plant [See WIMS 8/6/10].

    In a release from EPA & DOE the agencies said charting the path toward clean coal is essential to achieving the administration's clean energy goals, supporting American jobs and reducing emissions of carbon pollution. Already, the United States has made the largest government investment in carbon capture and storage of any nation in history, and these investments are being matched by private capital. DOE is currently pursuing multiple demonstration projects using close to $4 billion in Federal funds, matched by more than $7 billion in private investments, which will begin to pave the way for widespread deployment of advanced CCS technologies within a decade. Ongoing EPA efforts will clarify the existing regulatory framework by developing requirements tailored for CCS, which will reduce uncertainty for early projects and help to ensure safe and effective deployment.

    President Obama told the nation's governors when establishing the task force, "If we can develop the technology to capture the carbon pollution released by coal, it can create jobs and provide energy well into the future." EPA Administrator Jackson commented on the Task Force report and said, "These recommendations mark an important step forward in combating climate change and strengthening our economy through green jobs -- top priorities for this administration. Consistent with these recommendations, EPA is proactively developing regulations tailored to carbon storage technology that will reduce uncertainty for early projects and help to ensure safe and effective use of the technology. By encouraging efforts to develop clean coal technology we will obtain new tools to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, and make our nation more competitive in the global race for clean energy technology."

    DOE Secretary Chu said, "Around the world countries are moving aggressively on investing in clean energy. The U.S. has the ability to develop clean energy innovation here at home. Rather than sending billions overseas to pay for clean technologies, we should invest these dollars here -- in America's workers, industries, and innovations."

    Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) said, "A diversified energy portfolio, which includes coal, is important for a strong 21st century American economy. These recommendations move us toward bringing safe and deployable CCS technologies to the marketplace to help us meet the goal of reducing harmful carbon emissions while continuing to use this energy source."
    The report reflects input from 14 Federal agencies and departments as well as hundreds of stakeholders and CCS experts. It addresses the incentives for CCS adoption and any financial, economic, technological, legal, institutional, or other barriers to deployment. The Task Force also considered how best to coordinate existing Federal authorities and programs, as well as identify areas where additional federal authority may be necessary. The report's main findings and recommendations include:
  • CCS is Viable: There are no insurmountable technical, legal, institutional, or other barriers to the deployment of this technology.
  • A Carbon Price is Critical: Widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS is best achieved with a carbon price, but there are market drivers and actions that can and are taking place now, which are essential to support near-term CCS demonstration projects that will pave the way for broader deployment after a carbon price is in place.
  • Federal Coordination should be Strengthened: With additional Federal actions and coordination, the Task Force believes the nation can meet the President's near-term goal and get 5-10 commercial demonstration CCS demonstration projects online by 2016. The report recommends the creation of a standing Federal agency roundtable and expert committee to facilitate that goal.
  • Recommendations on Liability: The Task Force conducted an in-depth analysis of options to address concerns that long-term liability could be a barrier to CCS deployment. It concluded that open-ended Federal indemnification is not a viable alternative but that four approaches merit further consideration: relying on existing frameworks, limits on claims, a trust fund, and transfer of liability to the Federal government (with contingencies). Efforts to improve long-term liability and stewardship frameworks led by EPA, DOE and the Department of Justice (DOJ) will continue in order to provide evaluation and recommendations in these areas by late 2011.

    Additional recommendations include setting up an effort by DOE and EPA -- in consultation with other agencies -- to track regulatory implementation for early commercial CCS demonstration projects and consider whether additional statutory revisions are needed. The report also encourages leveraging existing efforts among Federal agencies, states, industry, and NGOs to gather information and evaluate potential key concerns about CCS in different areas of the United States and develop a comprehensive outreach strategy that would include: (1) a broad plan for public outreach targeted at the general public and decision makers; and (2) a more focused engagement with communities that are candidates for CCS projects, to address such issues as environmental justice.

    The agencies said many experts consider CCS an important option as part of a portfolio of strategies -- including increased efficiency and greater use of low-carbon energy resources -- to help mitigate growing atmospheric CO2 emissions from human sources. It can play a major role in reducing GHG emissions globally. However, widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS will occur only if the technology is commercially available at economically competitive prices and supportive national policy frameworks, such as a cap on carbon pollution, are in place. The administration's policy and technology initiatives are intended to address these needs.

    Access a release from the agencies (click here). Access the full report, the presidential memorandum, a fact sheet, an FAQ document, and executive summary (click here); or (click here). [*Energy/Coal; *Climate]

EPA Proposed Rules For GHG Emissions Permitting - Aug 12: U.S. EPA is proposing two rules to ensure that businesses planning to build new, large facilities or make major expansions to existing ones will be able to obtain Clean Air Act (CAA) permits that address their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In the spring of 2010, EPA finalized the GHG Tailoring Rule [See WIMS 5/14/10], which specifies that beginning in 2011, projects that will increase GHG emissions substantially will require an air permit. EPA said, "Today's rules will help ensure that these sources will be able to get those permits regardless of where they are located."

    According to a release, the Tailoring Rule covers large industrial facilities like power plants and oil refineries that are responsible for 70 percent of the GHGs from stationary sources. The new proposals announced today are a critical component for implementing the Tailoring Rule and would ensure that GHG emissions from these large facilities are minimized in all 50 states and that local economies can continue to grow. The Clean Air Act requires states to develop EPA-approved implementation plans that include requirements for issuing air permits. When Federal permitting requirements change, as they did after EPA finalized the GHG Tailoring Rule, states may need to modify these plans.

    In the first rule, EPA said it is proposing to require permitting programs in 13 states to make changes to their implementation plans to ensure that GHG emissions will be covered. All other states that implement an EPA-approved air permitting program must review their existing permitting authority and inform EPA if their programs do not address GHG emissions. The 13 specified states and substate areas are: Alaska; Arizona: Pinal County; Rest of Arizona (Excludes Maricopa County, Pima County, and Indian Country); Arkansas; California: Sacramento Metropolitan AQMD; Connecticut; Florida; Idaho; Kansas; Kentucky: Jefferson County; Rest of Kentucky; Nebraska: Lincoln Lancaster; Omaha; Rest of Nebraska; Nevada: Clark County; Oregon; and Texas.

    Because some states may not be able to develop and submit revisions to their plans before the Tailoring Rule becomes effective in 2011, in the second rule, EPA is proposing a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP), which would allow EPA to issue permits for large GHG emitters located in these states. This would be a temporary measure that is in place until the state can revise its own plan and resume responsibility for GHG permitting. 

    EPA said, states are best-suited to issue permits to sources of GHG emissions and have long-standing experience working together with industrial facilities. EPA will work closely and promptly with states to help them develop, submit, and approve necessary revisions to enable the affected states to issue air permits to GHG-emitting sources. Additionally, EPA will continue to provide guidance and act as a resource for the states as they make the various required permitting decisions for GHG emissions.

    EPA will accept comment on the first proposal for updated state implementation plans for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. EPA has scheduled a hearing on the second proposal for the FIP on August 25, 2010, and will accept comment for 30 days after that hearing. The Agency is working to finalize these rules prior to January 2, 2011, the earliest GHG permitting requirements will be effective.
    Access a release from EPA (click here). Access links to the proposed rules, fact sheet and notice of hearing (click here).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

GAO Report Calls For E-Waste Legislation & Improved Partnerships

Aug 11: The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report entitled, Electronic Waste: Considerations for Promoting Environmentally Sound Reuse and Recycling (GAO-10-626,  July 12, 2010). The report was requested by Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN) the Chair of the House Science & Technology Committee.  
    According to GAO, low recycling rates for used televisions, computers, and other electronics result in the loss of valuable resources, and electronic waste exports risk harming human health and the environment in countries that lack safe recycling and disposal capacity. The U.S. EPA regulates the management of used electronics that qualify as hazardous waste and promotes voluntary efforts among electronics manufacturers, recyclers, and other stakeholders. However, in the absence of a comprehensive national approach, a growing number of states have enacted electronics recycling laws, raising concerns about a patchwork of state requirements. In this context, GAO examined (1) EPA's efforts to facilitate environmentally sound used electronics management, (2) the views of various stakeholders on the state-by-state approach, and (3) considerations to further promote environmentally sound management. GAO reviewed EPA documents, interviewed EPA officials, and interviewed stakeholders in five states with electronics recycling legislation.
    GAO indicates that it found EPA's efforts to facilitate the environmentally sound management of used electronics consist largely of (1) enforcing its rule for the recycling and exporting of cathode-ray tubes (CRT), which contain significant quantities of lead, and (2) an array of partnership programs that encourage voluntary efforts among manufacturers and other stakeholders. GAO said that EPA has improved enforcement of export provisions of its CRT rule, but issues related to exports remain. In particular, EPA does not specifically regulate the export of many other electronic devices, such as cell phones, which typically are not within the regulatory definition of hazardous waste despite containing some toxic substances. In addition, the impact of EPA's partnership programs is limited or uncertain, and EPA has not systematically analyzed the programs to determine how their impact could be augmented.
    The views of stakeholders on the state-by-state approach to managing used electronics have been shaped by the increasing number of states with electronics recycling legislation. To varying degrees, the entities typically regulated under the state laws -- electronics manufacturers, retailers, and recyclers -- consider the increasing number of state laws to be a compliance burden. In contrast, in the five states GAO visited (California, Maine, Minnesota, Texas, and Washington), state and local solid waste management officials expressed overall support for states taking a lead role in the absence of a national approach. The officials attributed their varying levels of satisfaction more to the design and implementation of individual state recycling programs, rather than to the state-by-state approach.
    Options to further promote the environmentally sound management of used electronics involve a number of policy considerations and encompass many variations, which generally range from a continued reliance on state recycling programs to the establishment of Federal standards via legislation. The first approach provides the greatest degree of flexibility to states but does not address stakeholder concerns that the state-by-state approach is a compliance burden or will leave some states without electronics recycling programs. Moreover, EPA does not have a plan for coordinating its efforts with state recycling programs or articulating how EPA's partnership programs can best assist stakeholders to achieve the environmentally sound management of used electronics.
    Under the second approach, a primary policy issue is the degree to which federal standards would allow for stricter state standards, thereby providing states with flexibility but also potentially worsening the compliance burden from the standpoint of regulated entities. As a component of any approach, a greater Federal regulatory role over exports could address limitations on the authority of states to regulate exports. GAO previously recommended that EPA submit to Congress a legislative proposal for ratification of the Basel Convention, a multilateral environmental agreement that aims to protect against the adverse effects resulting from transboundary movements of hazardous waste. EPA officials told GAO that the agency had developed a legislative proposal under previous administrations but had not finalized a proposal with other Federal agencies.
    GAO recommended that the Administrator, EPA, (1) examine how EPA's partnership programs could be improved to contribute more effectively to used electronics management; and (2) work with other Federal agencies to finalize a legislative proposal on ratification of the Basel Convention for congressional consideration. GAO indicated that EPA agreed with the recommendations.
    WIMS has previously reported on the competing electronic waste recycling programs of the Basel Action Network (BAN) and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI) [See WIMS 4/16/10]. The GAO report acknowledges these programs and discusses them somewhat; however, it does not seem to reflect the depth of difference between the programs and various interest groups reactions to those differences.
    The Basel Action Network (BAN), the group that first documented the dumping of toxic electronic waste in China and Africa, announced the official launch of what it said was "the world's first global e-waste recycler certification" on April 15, 2010. BAN also indicated its program was the first such program backed by environmental organizations and major corporations alike. The accredited, third-party audited certification program has been endorsed by Greenpeace USA, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Electronics TakeBack Coalition and 68 other environmental organizations; as well as major corporate "e-Stewards Enterprises" including: Apollo Group, Inc.; Bank of America; Capitol One Financial Corp.; Ind. Distributors of Electronics Assoc.; Nemours Foundation; Premier, Inc.; Premier Farnell; Resource Media; Samsung; Sprout Creation; Stokes Lawrence; and Wells Fargo.
        The other major program is operated by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc. (ISRI). On March 25, 2010, ISRI announced that its board had laid out "a roadmap addressing the growing problem of the improper export of end-of-life electronic scrap." The Board voted unanimously to approve what they called "a new, aggressive policy to protect health, the environment and worker safety." They said the action signaled that ISRI members are behind efforts to stem possible health and environmental hazards that occur when e-scrap is not exported responsibly. ISRI said the Board's decision reinforces environmental, health and worker safety standards that closely track the EPA's Responsible Recycling (R2) program [See WIMS 3/25/10].
    On March 10, 2010, WIMS reported that a release from U.S. EPA regarding its sponsored R2 electronic recycling certification program did not mention what some consider to be a more restrictive and competing international certification program from the Basel Action Network (BAN) [See WIMS 3/10/10]. On July 18, 2010, EPA formally recognized the e-Stewards® Recycler Certification and associated e-Stewards® Standard for the Responsible Recycling and Reuse of Electronic Equipment.
    EPA updated its website to include a new notice on their e-Cycling webpage indicating: "EPA supports and will continue to push for further safe and protective recycling efforts and encourage improvements in best management practices for recyclers. There are existing recycling certification programs, such as R2 and e-Stewards that EPA believes advance environmentally safe practices and includes standards for use in third party certification of such efforts. . . Use of either an R2 certified or e-Stewards certified electronics recycler meets your federal requirements to employ environmentally sound practices with respect to disposition of electronic products.  Use of these certified recyclers requires no further due diligence."
    Access the complete 70-page GAO report (click here). Access EPA's Responsible Recycling Practices for Electronics Recyclers website for links to more information (click here). Access the BAN e-Stewards website for complete details on certification and related information (click here). Access ISRI's Electronics Recycling website for additional details (click here).

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

EPA Finalizes Air Rules For Portland Cement Manufacturing

Aug 9: U.S.EPA is issuing final rules which it says will protect Americans' health by cutting emissions of mercury, particle pollution and other harmful pollutants from Portland cement manufacturing -- the third-largest source of mercury air emissions in the United States. EPA said the rules are expected to yield $7 to $19 in public health benefits for every dollar in costs. Mercury can damage children's developing brains, and particle pollution is linked to a wide variety of serious health effects, including aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and premature death in people with heart and lung disease.

    EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said, "Americans throughout the country are suffering from the effects of pollutants in our air, especially our children who are more vulnerable to these chemicals. This administration is committed to reducing pollution that is hurting the health of our communities. With this historic step, we are going a long way in accomplishing that goal. By reducing harmful pollutants in the air we breathe, we cut the risk of asthma attacks and save lives."

    The action sets the nation's first limits on mercury air emissions from existing cement kilns, strengthens the limits for new kilns, and sets emission limits that will reduce acid gases. This final action also limits particle pollution from new and existing kilns, and sets new-kiln limits for particle and smog-forming nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. When fully implemented in 2013, EPA estimates the annual emissions will be reduced as follows: Mercury – 16,600 pounds or 92 percent; Total hydrocarbons – 10,600 tons or 83 percent; Particulate Matter – 11,500 tons or 92 percent; Acid gases – (measured as hydrochloric acid): 5,800 tons or 97 percent; Sulfur dioxide (SO2) – 110,000 tons or 78 percent; and Nitrogen oxides (NOx) – 6,600 tons or 5 percent.

    Mercury in the air eventually deposits into water, where it changes into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish. People are primarily exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish. Because the developing fetus is the most sensitive to the toxic effects of methylmercury, women of childbearing age and children are regarded as the populations of greatest concern. EPA estimates that the rules will yield $6.7 billion to $18 billion in health and environmental benefits, with costs estimated at $926 million to $950 million annually in 2013. Another EPA analysis estimates emission reductions and costs will be lower, with costs projected to be $350 million annually. The rules will become effective 60-days following publication in the Federal Register.
    On August 5, the Portland Cement Association (PCA) wrote to Administrator Jackson saying its members were "concerned that the final rule has not taken full advantage of a robust inter-agency process in producing the final rule." For example, PCA said, ".  . .the failure of the rule to consider fully subcategorization within the sector is likely to produce substantial cost to the industry and to hamper its international competitiveness without correlated environmental benefits. . . The rule will impact the cost of cement, creating an additional burden on public infrastructure development. . . Should EPA finalize this $4.7 billion rule without a truly complete inter-agency review, the result will provide uncertain environmental benefits while undermining the Administration's goal to get the economy back on track."
    Environmental organizations hailed the new rules. Earthjustice attorney James Pew said, "For years, the cement industry has gotten a free pass to pollute our air and water. Previous administrations ignored the law and turned a blind eye towards the cost of pollution on our health and environment. Under Lisa Jackson, the EPA has taken the necessary steps to finally curtail some of the biggest polluters and clean up our air and water. Today's announcement will save lives and prevent suffering from cement kiln pollution's devastating health effects for thousands of Americans." Bill Freese, Director for Huron Environmental Activist League said, "We've been living with the pollution from the Lafarge Cement plant in Alpena for decades. Cleaning up toxic air pollution from this cement plant and dozens more just like it across the country will mean cleaner air, fewer hospital visits, and better living for all."
    Access a release from EPA (click here). Access a prepublication copy of the final rules (click here). Access a fact sheet on the rules (click here). Access related information and background on the PCA rules (click here). Access the complete letter from PCA (click here). Access a lengthy release from Earthjustice and link to more information (click here).

Monday, August 09, 2010

Some Fear Copenhagen Climate Change Deal Unraveling

Aug 6: According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, the governments meeting at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn Germany (August 2 to 6) made progress towards deciding the shape of "a successful result at the November/December UN Climate Change Conference in Mexico," But, she said, the governments now need to narrow down the many options for action on climate change presently under negotiation. The Bonn UN Climate Change Conference was attended by 1656 participants from 175 countries.

    According to a release, many governments said they believed a set of COP decisions which quickly operationalize key elements of the Bali Action Plan would be an achievable outcome of Cancún. Figueres said, "This means countries could agree to take accountable action to, for example, manage and deploy climate finance, boost technology transfer, build skills and capacity to do this and deal with adaptation, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable countries." The Bali Action Plan, agreed in 2007, serves as a basis for work under the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention (AWG-LCA). The negotiating group is tasked to deliver a long-term global solution to the climate challenge. 

    The Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) also met in Bonn in parallel to the AWG-LCA. The focus of this group is on emissions reduction commitments for the 37 industrialized countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol for the period beyond 2012. The chair of the Kyoto Protocol negotiating track, John Ashe, produced a draft proposal text which governments will be able to consider between now and the next UNFCCC negotiating session in October. That text includes a possible set of draft decisions for Cancún, including impacts of agriculture on emissions, carbon markets and mechanisms, greenhouse gases, and the effects on different countries of moving to a low-emissions future.

    The UNFCCC Executive Secretary warned that many countries had reinserted established positions into the texts, increasing the number of options for action. She said, "To achieve desired outcomes in Cancún, governments must radically narrow down the choices on the table." She called on governments to agree further compromises at all levels between now and the UN Climate Change Conference in Cancún (November 29 to December 10). Significant opportunities for this are the high-level meetings which are scheduled in Geneva and New York in September, followed by the next UNFCCC negotiating session in Tianjin, China (October 4 to 9).

    Figueres said, "This week has given governments a final opportunity to be clear on their individual stances. Tianjin has to be the place where they make clear what their collective stance is going to be." She also said, "Progress at Cancún would also include a mandate to take the process inexorably forward towards an encompassing agreement with legally binding status, which would take more time."

    Despite the somewhat optimistic report from Secretary Figueres, the UK Guardian reports that, "Global climate talks have sunk to a new low after China and the US clashed and rich countries lined up against poor in a refusal to compromise on emission reduction targets. With just six days' negotiating time left before a critical meeting in Cancun, Mexico, some diplomats fear that the fragile deal struck in Copenhagen last December could unravel. Rather than slim down the negotiating text to allow politicians to make choices at Cancun, the US, China and many developing countries all added pages to draft texts in a series of tit-for-tat moves that critics said had sent the talks backwards after a week of meetings."

    The Guardian also reported that Jonathan Pershing, the lead US negotiator at meeting in Bonn said the U.S. failure to put in place domestic legislation that would commit it to reaching its target cuts was not a problem. He said, "The US stands by its commitments. We are not backing away from legislation. We have multiple tools at our disposal" for cutting emissions. . . Events outside [such as the Russian heatwave and the Pakistan floods] are consistent with what we can expect from climate change . . .But I am very concerned that some countries are walking backwards in the progress made since Copenhagen. If we continue to go down this road, there is no hope of an agreement in Cancun. All parties are stepping back."

    In a related matter, on August 6, a University of Delaware researcher reports that an "ice island" four times the size of Manhattan has calved from Greenland's Petermann Glacier. The last time the Arctic lost such a large chunk of ice was in 1962.  Andreas Muenchow, associate professor of physical ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. Muenchow's research in Nares Strait, between Greenland and Canada. Satellite imagery of this remote area about 620 miles south of the North Pole, reveals that Petermann Glacier lost about one-quarter of its 43-mile long floating ice-shelf. Muenchow said, "The freshwater stored in this ice island could keep the Delaware or Hudson rivers flowing for more than two years. It could also keep all U.S. public tap water flowing for 120 days."

    On August 7, Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming issued a statement on the report of the "giant ice island" comes following the warmest six months on record. Markey said, "An iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has broken off Greenland, creating plenty of room for global warming deniers to start their own country. So far, 2010 has been the hottest year on record, and scientists agree arctic ice is a canary in a coal mine that provides clear warnings on climate. Last summer, the House passed landmark legislation to create clean energy jobs that cut carbon pollution. However, it's still unclear how many giant blocks of ice it will take to break the block of Republican climate deniers in the U.S. Senate who continue hold this critical clean energy and climate legislation hostage."

        Access a release from UNFCCC (click here). Access the speaking notes of Secretary Figueres at the Bonn closing day press briefing (click here). Access the UNFCCC website for links to documents and more information (click here). Access the Guardian article (click here). Access a report from the University of Delaware with links to more information (click here). Access a release from Rep. Markey (click here).

Friday, August 06, 2010

Day 109 BP Oil Spill: Static Kill Cementing Completed

Aug 6: BP announced that it completed cementing operations at the MC252 well at 2:15 PM CDT, as part of the static kill procedure. Monitoring of the well is underway in order to confirm the effectiveness of the procedure. Operating with the guidance and approval of the National Incident Commander and government officials, BP continues the ongoing relief well operations. Depending upon weather conditions, mid-August is the current estimate of the most likely date by which the first relief well will intercept the Macondo well annulus. The latest operation completely seals the well and should assure that no more oil leaks into the Gulf.
    At noon today (August 6), Thad Allen, National Incident Commander for the Deepwater Horizon/BP provided a further update indicating that BP had complete a layer of fluid on top of the cement and then put more mud on top of that to press it down to help add pressure and cure the cement. That will be going on for 24 hours through today. Then BP will start pressure testing to make sure the cement is set and is holding in the well.
   At the same time, BP has commenced drilling through the cement shoe that was covering the end of the casing on the relief well, and will be proceeding forward. He said now that the well has been cemented from the top they are moving ahead with the relief well and cementing the well from the bottom. He said, "we are unequivocally committed to completing the relief wells, drilling into the annulus and cementing the annulus as the bottom portion of this kill."
    Allen said BP will "do a ranging run over the next 24 hours, and then drill approximately 30 feet further down into the well, and between the 8th of August and the 13th of August, there'll be three patterns where we will drill 30 feet, do a ranging run. That's putting the wire down the hole and sensing where the pipe is at on the Macondo well, and we expect to be somewhere around the annulus around the 13th of August, and the drilling portion into the annulus is expected to occur somewhere between the 14th and the 15th of August. The company, however, is prepared to move ahead and deal with the annulus somehow if they encounter it on the way down.  As I've told you in previous briefings, we're starting about 4-1/2 feet away from the well horizontally, and we'll drill down at a very, very slight angle.  If for some reason they penetrate the annulus in the process of doing that, they'll prepare – they'll be prepared to go ahead and assess the condition of the annulus at that point and go ahead and cement the well in."
    Access a release from BP on completing the cementing operation (click here). Access the transcript from the briefing by Allen (click here). Access more information on BP activities from the BP response website (click here). Access the Restore the Gulf website for more information (click here). Access the Unified Command website which contains additional information (click here).

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Senate Hearing On Dispersants In The BP Gulf Oil Spill

Aug 4: Senate Environment and Pubic Works (EPW) Committee, Full Committee and Subcommittee on Oversight joint hearing entitled, "Oversight Hearing on the Use of Oil Dispersants in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill." Witnesses included representatives from: U.S. EPA; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); Department of Environmental Toxicology, Texas Tech University; Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island; Louisiana State University Department of Environmental Science; and the environmental organization Oceana. Full Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member James Inhofe (R-OK) also delivered statements along with Senator John Barrasso (R-WY).
    In her opening statement Chairman Boxer indicated that as of August 3, 2010, the Unified Command reports that BP has used an extraordinary quantity of dispersants in dealing with the Gulf spill -- 1.8 million gallons all together, including 1.1 million gallons applied on the surface and almost 780,000 gallons beneath the surface of the sea.
    She said, ". . while dispersants may have been applied in the hope of reducing the effects of heavy oil slicks on shorelines and wildlife, more needs to be done to fully understand the impact the dispersant and dispersed oil are having beneath the surface. These decisions have very real consequences, not just for fish and wildlife that inhabit the gulf, but for the fishermen and oystermen and others whose livelihoods and families depend on the long-term health of the Gulf of Mexico. Questions have also been raised about the process the incident command and federal agencies used for approving dispersant use."
    Senator Inhofe said, "Following the tragic Exxon Valdez oil spill, the National Contingency Plan (NCP) was updated to address new issues that might arise in the event of an oil spill of national significance. Among other things, the NCP was amended to require a pre-approved list of dispersants deemed safe for emergency use by the Environmental Protection Agency. . . I am disappointed that this important tool–which was first approved for use by EPA and then-Administrator Carol Browner in 1994 -- was implemented in fits and starts. EPA first approved, then stopped, then approved again the use of dispersants. I am concerned that EPA's back and forth -- which runs counter to having a list approved prior to an emergency—may have exacerbated the damages caused by the BP spill."
    Inhofe continued, "The current dispersant being used, Corexit 9500, was formulated following the Exxon Valdez spill and approved by EPA for use in 1994. This dispersant is currently approved for use in 28 countries, and 30 groups have access to samples as well as complete access to its ingredients and mixtures. . . The House-passed language institutes a 2-year moratorium on dispersants and requires full public disclosure of ingredients. This would greatly limit our ability to respond to any potential future spills and could drastically diminish our domestic manufacture and supply of dispersants in the future. . . we must be measured in how we address these uncertainties, because we could ultimately do more harm than good. . ."
    Senator Barrasso said, "I would suggest that those who criticize the use of dispersants are the same people who cannot offer one alternative to the use of dispersants in this situation. They leave responders with a catch twenty two, where either you are blamed for dumping chemicals in the Gulf or you allow the oil to devastate the Gulf. Some who criticize the use of dispersants want to over-regulate the use of them. There is no proven need for such an action at this time. . . legislating new dispersant regulations before you even know how existing law is working makes no sense. It would only serve to create more regulation, and slow the response to any future spills."
    EPA testified that, "EPA will continue to provide full support to the USCG and the Unified Command and will continue to take a science based approach to dispersant use. We will continue monitoring, identifying, and responding to potential public health and environmental concerns, including waste management and beach cleanup. In coordination with our federal, state, and local partners, EPA is committed to protecting Gulf Coast communities from the adverse environmental effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We will persist in asking the hard questions until we more fully understand the long-term effects of the Gulf oil spill and conduct the investigations required to enable the Gulf's recovery. We have taken nothing for granted. EPA has constantly questioned, verified, and validated decisions with monitoring, analysis, and use of the best available science and data. EPA is fully committed to working with the people of the Gulf Coast, our federal partners, the scientific community and NGOs toward the recovery of the Gulf of Mexico and the restoration of its precious ecosystem."
    Dr. David Smith, Professor of Oceanography, Associate Dean, Graduate School of Oceanography University of Rhode Island testified that, "It will be difficult to assess the changes that will occur as a result of the oil and dispersants on the deep-sea community given our limited knowledge of the prespill community structure, particularly with regards to microorganisms. Working
in the deep-sea presents many challenges but it is essential to address these if we are to understand the impact of the large-scale experiment that has just been conducted in the Gulf of Mexico and we need to do so quickly."   

    Dr. Edward B. Overton, Ph.D. Professor Emeritus, Department of Environmental Sciences School of the Coast and Environment Louisiana State University, who has 34 years experience studying the environmental impacts of oil spills said, "Dispersant use has been controversial for years because initial formulations were shown to cause more environmental damage than was caused by the oil itself. Over the years, these formulations have evolved, and the current formulations are relatively benign in terms of potential environmental damage from the dispersant. In fact, most of the offshore environmental impacts associated with dispersant use are from the oil that has been dispersed rather than from the dispersant."
    Overton also said, "Oil dispersed into the water column will have environmental impacts on organisms exposed to the oil, and can have the potential to cause oxygen depletion in the water column due to natural biodegradation of the oil. Dispersant use represents a trade off between the areas of the environment that will be impacted to the greatest extent if covered with oil. Oil spills cause environmental damage, some very obvious, but much of the damage is to the very small, tiny organisms that are the basis of the ecological life cycle (larval and juvenile life cycle organisms) in both near shore and off shore marine environments. These damages are not readily observed during a spill and may not be obvious for several years after the damage takes place. Dispersant use will enhance the damage to these tiny organisms because it spreads the oil below the surface rather than leaving the oil concentrated on the surface. Therefore, offshore dispersant use represents a decision by responders that damage from on-shore oiling will be more severe than damage to offshore environments."
    Access the hearing website and link to all testimony and a webcast (click here).