Monday, May 24, 2010

BP Gulf Oil Spill: Commission; Dispersants; Flow Rate; Actions

May 21: In his weekly radio address, President Obama announced that he had signed an executive order on May 21, establishing a bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. He also announced that the Commission will be led by co-chairs including former two-term Florida Governor and former Senator Bob Graham and former Administrator of U.S. EPA William Reilly. The Commission and executive order have been in the making for the last week [See WIMS 5/18/10].

    The bipartisan National Commission is tasked with providing recommendations on how to prevent and mitigate the impact of any future spills that may result from offshore drilling. A White House release indicates that: (1) The commission will be focused on the necessary environmental and safety precautions that must build into the regulatory framework in order to ensure an accident like this never happens again, taking into account the other investigations concerning the causes of the spill. (2) The commission will have bipartisan co-chairs with a total membership of seven people. Membership will include broad and diverse representation of individuals with relevant expertise. No sitting government employees or elected officials will sit on the commission. (3) The Commission's work will be transparent and subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act. The Commission will issue a report within six months.

    In his weekly address the President said, ". . . we are drawing on America's best minds and using the world's best technology to stop the leak. We've deployed over 1,100 vessels, about 24,000 personnel, and more than 2 million total feet of boom to help contain it. And we're doing all we can to assist struggling fishermen, and the small businesses and communities that depend on them. Folks on the Gulf Coast -- and across America -- are rightly demanding swift action to clean up BP's mess and end this ordeal. But they're also demanding to know how this happened in the first place, and how we can make sure it never happens again. . .
    ". . .even as we continue to hold BP accountable, we also need to hold Washington accountable. . . If the laws on our books are inadequate to prevent such an oil spill, or if we didn't enforce those laws – I want to know it.  I want to know what worked and what didn't work in our response to the disaster, and where oversight of the oil and gas industry broke down. We know, for example, that a cozy relationship between oil and gas companies and agencies that regulate them has long been a source of concern. . . If the laws on our books are inadequate to prevent such an oil spill, or if we didn't enforce those laws -- I want to know it. I want to know what worked and what didn't work in our response to the disaster, and where oversight of the oil and gas industry broke down. We know, for example, that a cozy relationship between oil and gas companies and agencies that regulate them has long been a source of concern."
    He concluded, "One of the reasons I ran for President was to put America on the path to energy independence, and I have not wavered from that commitment. To achieve that goal, we must pursue clean energy and energy efficiency, and we've taken significant steps to do so. And we must also pursue domestic sources of oil and gas. Because it represents 30 percent of our oil production, the Gulf of Mexico can play an important part in securing our energy future. But we can only pursue offshore oil drilling if we have assurances that a disaster like the BP oil spill will not happen again. This Commission will, I hope, help provide those assurances so we can continue to seek a secure energy future for the United States of America."   
    In the meantime as environmental impacts in the Gulf Coast worsen and frustration grows the Administration announced that a number of actions today (May 24). U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, joined by Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Nancy Sutley, returned to the Gulf Coast to monitor EPA's on-the-ground response to the BP oil spill and speak with residents about efforts to mitigate the spill's impact on the region. The visit includes a tour on a Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer (TAGA), a self-contained mobile laboratory being used by EPA to sample and analyze outdoor air quality in the gulf. Administrator Jackson and Chair Sutley will also tour oil impacted wetlands by boat in Venice.
    Also, Energy Secretary Steven Chu postponed a trip to China, scheduled for this week, at the request of President Obama to continue his work on response efforts to the BP oil spill. Chu is traveling to Houston to continue engagement on strategies to stop the oil spill. Chu said, "Finding a solution to this crisis is a matter of national importance. I want to continue to play a role in assisting in the efforts and stopping this leak as soon as possible." Chu has been working with DOE's National Laboratories and other top scientists to help BP determine how to stop the leak, and exploring ideas about the most effective scientific and engineering approaches to the problem.
    At the direction of the President, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano are in Louisiana to inspect the ongoing response to the BP oil spill and were accompanied by a bipartisan Senate delegation. Secretary Salazar, Secretary Napolitano and the Senate delegation will conduct a flyover of the affected areas; discuss the latest response efforts in Louisiana and along the Gulf Coast with federal officials leading the effort as well as BP representatives; and meet with Governor Bobby Jindal and local community and industry leaders. The Senate delegation accompanying Secretary Salazar and Secretary Napolitano will include: Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), and Senator David Vitter (R-LA).
    Additionally, with growing concerns and controversy over the rate of the leak of the oil spill [See WIMS 5/20/10], the National Incident Command has established a Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG) designed to support the response and inform the public by providing scientifically validated information about the amount of oil flowing from BP's leaking oil well. According to a fact sheet, the Administration-wide "response efforts have always been geared toward the possibility of a catastrophic event, and our deployment of resources and our tactics have been based on such a worst case scenario not an inexact number." However, "That said, the FRTG reflects the federal government's clear understanding of the long-term value of determining an oil flow rate, both in regards to the continued response and long-term recovery, as well as the important role this information may play in the final investigation of the failure of the blowout preventer and the resulting spill."
    The fact sheet indicates that the FRTG expects to have an "initial flow assessment" completed soon. The reports will be posted on the Unified Command website. Flow rate estimates produced by the group will include the sources of data used, a description of data quality, any assumptions made, and the names of models used. BP and government officials have continually said the best estimate of the flow rate of the spill is 5,000 barrels per day [See WIMS 5/19/10], however, a researcher from Purdue University said he is confident that the rate is an "order of magnitude" higher than the BP estimate and is likely in the range of 70,000 to 120,000 barrels per day.
    On May 20, EPA issued a directive requiring BP to identify and use a less toxic and more effective dispersant from the list of EPA authorized dispersants. On May 22, EPA released BP's 13-page response to the directive on dispersants. BP's response indicated that "given the above criteria [outlined by EPA], BP continues to believe the Corexit EC9500A is the best alternative."
EPA said that after receiving the response late Thursday night, the Agency immediately called a meeting with BP to discuss the issue on Friday, May 21 and said it would continue to work over the next 48 hours to ensure BP is complying with the directive.
    On May 24, BP said that subsea efforts continue to focus on progressing options to stop the flow of oil from the well through interventions via the blow out preventer (BOP) and to collect the flow of oil from the leak points. Plans continue to develop a so called "top kill" operation where heavy drilling fluids are injected into the well to stem the flow of oil and gas and ultimately kill the well. Successfully killing the well may be followed by cement to seal the well. Most of the equipment is on site and preparations continue for this operation, with a view to deployment in a few days. BP also announced a commitment of up to $500 million to an open research program studying the impact of the Deepwater Horizon incident, and its associated response, on the marine and shoreline environment of the Gulf of Mexico.
    Access a release from the White House on the Commission including the text of the President's address and background on the cochairs (click here). Access the Commission Executive Order (click here). Access the Unified Command website for complete updates (click here). Access the fact sheet on the FRTG (click here). Access EPA's Dispersant issue website for complete details on and documents (click here). Access the BP response website for complete details on their response efforts (click here). Access the Rep. Markey Global Warming website for the live video feed which (click here).