Monday, August 02, 2010

Day 105 BP Oil Spill: "Kill" Starts Tonight; Dispersant Concerns

Aug 1: At a mid-afternoon, Sunday press briefing, National Incident Commander for the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill, Admiral Thad Allen indicated that the current pressure in the capping stack is 6,980 pounds. He said it continues to rise and give indications he said is what they expect with a well with integrity.

    He said they were in the process of laying the final casing run for the relief well and casing has now been placed at the bottom of the well bore. BP is circulating fluids just to make sure it's clean and ready to go. He said they are making preparations (now expected to begin this evening) to do the hydrostatic or "static kill" (from the top).  He said BP will be doing what is called an "injectivity test" to make sure that all the systems are operating properly. And there is a sequence of events that has to be followed before they can actually start pumping mud into the capping stack itself.

    He said the mud boats, the pumping boats and the Q4000 are online and all the systems have been tested and they are ready to go. He indicated cleanup operations continue to survey the entire area for tar balls and any type of oil. Additionally, they are continuing to replace boom that was damaged during the recent storm and pick up absorbent boom that has oil on it and replace that with clean boom and we'll continue to do that. Allen also indicated that the interception from the relief well, or so-called "bottom kill" would begin "probably five to seven days at a minimum after the static kill. . . most optimistic five to seven days after the static kill."

    On Saturday, July 31, Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), Chair of the House Environment and Energy Committee, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, released a letter sent to National Incident Commander Thad Allen and documents revealing that the U.S. Coast Guard, tasked with limiting BP's use of toxic dispersants during the Gulf oil spill disaster, "repeatedly allowed the oil company to use excessive amounts of the chemical on the surface of the ocean." Markey indicates that these exemptions were granted on a daily basis despite a prior Federal directive that the company cease that tactic to combat the spill except in "rare" circumstances. The exemptions were also extended to Houma Unified Command, an oil spill response center in Houma, LA, which consists of U.S. Coast Guard and other personnel and reports to the Federal On Scene Coordinator.

    Markey indicates that, "In many cases, these applications appeared to be rubber stamped by the Coast Guard, including pre-approvals for weeks' worth of unlimited use, as well as retroactive approvals for surface applications of dispersants for which BP failed to obtain prior permission. These actions by the Coast Guard appear to have largely undercut a directive it co-signed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that said that dispersant chemicals be used on the ocean's surface only in 'rare cases,' and only with advance approval."

    Rep. Markey's letter was based on an analysis conducted by the Energy and Environment Subcommittee staff and showed that by comparing the amounts BP reported using to Congress to the amounts contained in the company's requests for exemptions from the ban on surface dispersants it submitted to the Coast Guard, that BP often exceeded its own requests, with little indication that it informed the Coast Guard or that the Coast Guard attempted to verify whether BP was shooting past the approved volumes.

    Markey said, "BP carpet bombed the ocean with these chemicals, and the Coast Guard allowed them to do it. Rep. Markey has authored numerous oversight letters to EPA, the Coast Guard and the FDA related to dispersant use, and has also introduced H.R.5608, legislation that would require more extensive testing of these chemicals before they are used. According to publicly disclosed amounts, more than 1.8 million gallons of toxic dispersants were used to break up the oil as it came out of the well, as well as after it reached the ocean surface. The validity of those numbers are now in question.

    Markey cites for example, in one approval request, one of BP's top executives, Doug Suttles, claimed that the maximum daily application of dispersants on the surface in the days preceding June 16, 2010 was 3,360 gallons. However, an examination of the dispersant totals BP provided to congressional staff in its daily "Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response Updates" indicates that on June 11, BP said it applied 14,305 gallons of the chemical on the surface; on June 13, 36,000 gallons; and on June 14, 10,706 gallons. Markey said, "Either BP was lying to Congress or to the Coast Guard about how much dispersants they were shooting onto the ocean. These huge discrepancies also raise the question of whether the Coast Guard made sufficient efforts to verify the information BP provided in support of its requests, and whether it exercised appropriate oversight surrounding the use of these toxic chemicals."

    When asked about Markey's most recent letter, Thad Allen said, "I have had numerous discussions with Lisa Jackson and continue to have numerous discussions regarding dispersant use. This is something that we have worked together as leaders. It was determined back in late May that we needed to reduce the amount of dispersant but we also understand that sometimes there is no other way to attack than to use dispersant if it's not a situation where you can skim or do an in-situ burn or the weather conditions might preclude those two. We established a goal to reduce dispersant use by 75 percent. At the time the capping stack went on we reduced that to 72 percent. . . There is no disagreement between Lisa Jackson and I regarding what we want to do with dispersants. It really is an issue of just trying to make decisions day to day based on where the oil is at out there."

    Allen emphasized, "Let me clear it up. It's not a decision by BP on whether or not to use dispersants. It's a decision by the Federal on-scene coordinator whether to approve the incident commander's recommendation to use dispersants once they've been located by surveillance aircraft and has an opportunity to use them. It's a very disciplined doctrinal process on how this works. In the end it may be executed by BP through a contractor. But these are all decisions made by the Federal on-scene coordinator because that's where the responsibility rests." EPA released its 2nd phase dispersant testing results today (August 2) [See article below].

    Access an update briefing from the Unified Command (click here). Access the on-going response update from UC (click here). Access a release from Rep. Markey with extensive links to letters and documentation (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).