Archive for BP Oil Disaster
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Deepwater Horizon Trustees Release Draft Early Restoration Plan
Natural Resource Damage Assessment Process Moves Forward
(New Orleans, LA—December 6, 2013) Today, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees have released their draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and their draft Restoration Plan for Phase III of early NRDA restoration projects. These projects, which were first announced April 30, will be funded through the $1 billion early NRDA funds that BP agreed to invest in restoration of damaged natural resources resulting from the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.
Leading national and local conservation organizations working on Mississippi River Delta restoration — Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana — released the following statement in response:
“More than three years after the largest oil spill in our nation’s history, today’s announcement is a positive step toward healing the battered Gulf. The Natural Resource Damage Assessment process moving forward through release of the PEIS signifies progress toward restoration. We encourage the NRDA trustees, BP and stakeholders to continue working together to implement these early restoration projects and help revive the Gulf Coast’s struggling natural resources.
“The trustees’ commitment to funding environmental projects in Louisiana, including nearly $320 million proposed for barrier island restoration, is an exciting advancement toward restoring the Mississippi River Delta. Barrier islands provide critical storm protection and are the first line of defense for New Orleans and other coastal communities. They also provide habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife, including the Louisiana brown pelican. These early restoration funds will help rebuild four barrier islands, including the Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge, which was ground zero during the oil spill.
“We look forward to reviewing and providing public comments on the draft PEIS and to working with the NRDA Trustees during the public comment period and the implementation stage to complete these vital restoration efforts. The communities and economies of the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River Delta have waited long enough for restoration, and these early restoration projects are a key step toward fairness and recovery.”
Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition submits comments on proposed RESTORE Act Treasury regulationsNovember 19, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, RESTORE Act
By Whit Remer and Elizabeth Weiner, Environmental Defense Fund
Earlier this month, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition submitted public comments to the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury) on a proposed rule governing disbursements from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was established by the RESTORE Act, enacted in 2012, and is funded by 80 percent of the civil Clean Water Act penalties that have been, and will be, paid by the parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The Act mandates that the Trust Fund be housed within and managed by Treasury and requires that Treasury propose and finalize a rule, with input from the public, regarding its management protocols. This is common practice for federal trust fund management. It is important because funding cannot be disbursed from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund for urgently needed Gulf restoration until the rule promulgation process is complete.
Multiple federal rules, developed in similar manners, are necessary to implement the RESTORE Act. They may overlap with other implementation documents and reiterate statutory language. We believe that when overlap exists, the entities involved should ensure as much consistently and clarity as possible. For example, the RESTORE Act language and the Final Initial Comprehensive Plan direct the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council’s funding allocation exclusively to ecosystem restoration projects. Our comments suggested that the language and instruction in the final Treasury rule could more clearly reflect that specific direction from Congress and the Council.
As part of its management role, Treasury must also develop a compliance and auditing program – compliance on the front end to verify that grant applications comply with statutory requirements, and auditing on the back end to ensure that applicants did what they said they would do with the funds. Within Treasury, the Treasury RESTORE program will handle some aspects of this, and Treasury Inspector General will handle others. Because of the RESTORE Act’s unique structure with different funding components, the Council also has compliance and auditing authorities. Our comments urged Treasury to more clearly delineate the compliance and auditing roles of each of these federal entities so as to minimize delays and duplication and maximize the amount of funding that can be spent directly on restoration efforts.
Our comments also encouraged Treasury to consider adopting Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan as the RESTORE Act’s mandatory state expenditure plan. To receive funds from the Spill Impact Component, states must submit a multi-year expenditure plan that describes each program, project and activity for which the state seeks funding. Due to Louisiana’s substantial land loss crisis, the state has already developed a science-based planning process. The most recent product of that process is the 2012 Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The State of Louisiana has dedicated, by state law, all funds from the RESTORE Act to its constitutionally protected Coastal Restoration and Protection Fund to be spent solely on projects in this plan. Recognizing that projects in the master plan still have to be sequenced for the purpose of serving as a RESTORE multi-year plan, we have advocated that the Plan meets, and often exceeds, the requirements of the State Expenditure Plan. If Treasury accepts the master plan process as compliant with the process set forth in the rule, the State of Louisiana will be ready to apply for RESTORE funds and utilize grant dollars more quickly.
Over the next few weeks, Treasury will read and consider comments submitted by the public as they prepare the final rule for the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Fund. The Council will also have to promulgate a rule regarding the RESTORE Act Spill Impact Component.No Comments
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Expert testimony on how much oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 oil disaster is expected to wrap up today in a New Orleans federal courtroom. This testimony is part of the Quantification Segment of the second phase of the BP trial, which began on September 30 and is ending a full week earlier than expected. Phase two is focused on efforts to stop the flow of oil from the well (Source Control Segment) and how much oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day disaster (Quantification Segment). Phase one of trial, which lasted two months and ended in April, covered the events that caused the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. Despite the nearly concurrent federal government shutdown, trial continued relatively unfazed over the past three weeks.
Phase two kicked off with the Source Control Segment, where presiding Judge Carl Barbier heard testimony on the multiple engineering feats BP attempted to seal the uncontrolled Macondo well. The Quantification Segment pitted the U.S. Department of Justice against BP, each side offering conflicting expert testimony on the amount of oil that gushed from the well. The Quantification Segment is focused on a simple question with a not-so-simple answer: How much oil did BP spill into the Gulf of Mexico? Under the Clean Water Act, BP is subject to per-barrel fines based on how much oil was released into the Gulf. The government believes BP is liable for 4.2 million barrels, while BP contends they are responsible for no more than 2.45 million barrels. Each side is offering highly complex and technical scientific and engineering evidence related to how they estimated the total amount offered in court, and the judge will consider these testimonies when he determines how much BP will pay.
BP has maintained that the government exaggerated the amount of oil spilled during the disaster. The company argues that flow rates offered by the government were generated “over a single weekend” at the beginning of the spill. BP contends that the flow rate from the well was variable over time, and that it actually decreased as the spill progressed. Attorneys for the government attacked BP’s witnesses’ findings and even suggested potential bias, citing a $100 million donation made by BP to the Imperial College London which employs two of BP’s trial witnesses.
While it is plausible that Judge Barbier will come down somewhere in the middle of the 2.45 to 4.2 million barrel range, the total amount of Clean Water Act fines could quadruple if BP is found grossly negligent. A ruling on negligence, which has not been issued, will likely be based on evidence from both phase one and phase two of trial. Judge Barbier has noted that he will schedule a third penalty phase to help him assess fines in the case, presumably sometime next year. Eighty percent of the penalty money assessed in this case under the Clean Water Act will be distributed to the Gulf Coast states for restoration through the RESTORE Act, the federal law passed last year.No Comments
By Alisha Renfro, Coastal Scientist, National Wildlife Federation
The unprecedented scale of the 2010 BP oil spill and the further complexity introduced by its deep water location pushed scientists involved in the response effort to apply both old and new research methods to estimate the rate of oil flow from the well and the total volume of oil spilled. Currently in New Orleans, phase II of the BP oil spill trial – which will focus on that very question of how much oil gushed from the well into the Gulf during the 86 days between the initial blowout and when the well was finally capped – is underway. Ultimately, this total volume of oil spilled will play a key role in determining the amount of Clean Water Act penalties BP will pay. The decisions made during this phase of trial will come down on the hard work and innovation of the scientific community’s response to a spill that happened under difficult conditions that didn't have easy solutions.
In an article in the December 2012 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists involved in the response reviewed the different methods used to estimate the flow rate of crude oil from the well. The researchers concluded that the science supports flow rates that ranged from 50,000 to 70,000 barrels of oil per day, resulting in a total release of around 5 million barrels of oil from the well, with 4.2 million barrels making it into the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem due to recapturing efforts by BP.
In the days immediately following the April 20, 2010 well blowout, the flow rate of oil from the well was one of the most critical pieces of information needed to inform response efforts and prepare designs and procedures that could be used to try and cap the well. Measuring the rate of flow of oil was more complicated than it may seem as the material gushing from the well consisted of a combination of oil and natural gas. To meet this need, an official technical group was gathered which included experts from a variety of scientific disciplines that would work on estimating flow rate and the total volume of oil released.
Flow rate estimates were calculated from a variety of different methods, including oil collection at the sea surface, acoustic and video observations, sampling and analysis of the composition of the discharge material, infrared imaging from aircraft and from modeling the depletion of the reservoir after the well was capped. Some of these methods yielded what were considered more reliable estimates than others. However, quite remarkably, almost all of the methods reviewed in this article converged on flow rates that ranged from 50,000 to 70,000 barrels per day.
Based on the flow rate of oil and its variability with time, the science team involved estimated that approximately 5 million barrels of oil would have been discharged from the well over the 86 days it remained uncapped. Differences between flow rate measured at the well and flow rates calculated from what was observed at the ocean surface suggest that 2 million barrels of oil never made it to the ocean surface and remain in the deep sea. This suggests that the ongoing effects of the oil spill may not be known for years to come.
As phase II of trial continues this week, expert witnesses will testify on rate of oil flow from the Macondo well, using sound science to support their conclusions.No Comments
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
BP and the U.S. Department of Justice sparred in federal court this week over how much oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day Gulf oil disaster during a part of the trial named the Quantification Segment. Last week, BP defended its multiple engineering attempts to stop the oil leak during the Source Control Segment. Both of these segments make up the second phase of trial, which was originally expected to last four weeks but may wrap up sooner. The first phase, which focused on the cause of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, concluded in April 2013 after nearly two months in the courtroom. A yet to be scheduled third phase will focus on penalties in the case, which could reach the tens of billions of dollars.
This week during the Quantification Segment, presiding Judge Carl Barbier has been hearing expert testimony from each side on the amount of oil spilled. BP is contending that 3.1 million barrels were released, while the U.S. government believes the number is closer to 4.9 million barrels. Both sides have agreed not to fine BP for 810,000 barrels that the company collected during the spill. BP was able to sell around 65,000 barrels of that collected oil, fetching approximately $4.5 million, which was placed in a trust fund for wildlife rehabilitation.
Experts testifying in the case specialize in fields such as hydrology, petroleum engineering and thermodynamic modeling. Judge Barbier will weigh evidence offered by these experts on possible daily flow rates and the total amount of oil spilled. On Monday and Tuesday, experts for the U.S. testified about pressure levels in the geologic formation that contained the oil where the Macondo well was being drilled. Pressure in the rock formation gives scientists an idea about how much oil could be released each day. BP argued that calculating the flow of oil from the Macondo well was possibly slowed by obstructions resulting from the rig collapse like sheared metal components. The U.S. called Stewart Griffiths, a fluid dynamics expert, to rebut the argument by testifying that the metal would have likely eroded within hours or days of the blowout.
Another complicating factor in determining the amount of oil spilled is distinguishing between solid oil and gas. Video images of oil gushing from the wellhead and broken riser pipe were played around the world during the disaster (check out the video below for clips of the spill and a timeline of events). The gushing brown stream consisted of both solid oil and gas, known collectively as hydrocarbons. Under the Clean Water Act – the primary law controlling the Quantification Segment of trail – BP can only be fined for the release of solid oil, not gas.
To help determine how much of the release consisted of solid oil, the U.S. called Aaron Zick, an independent contractor who specializes in thermodynamic modeling of oil and gas formations, to the stand. Zick offered a complex formula to help distinguish solid oil from gas when analyzing potential flow rates at the well head. The formula had to be adapted for deep sea pressure readings because the extreme differences in temperature at the ocean floor. The hydrocarbon mixture is nearing boiling when it enters the freezing ocean. The extreme reactions make the analyses more difficult than those tested in shallow water.
Chemistry class aside, the Quantification Segment is important because BP will be fined under the Clean Water Act based on how much solid oil entered the Gulf of Mexico. Through the federal RESTORE Act, that fine money will be used for environmental and economic restoration activities along the Gulf Coast.No Comments
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Testimony wrapped up this afternoon for the Source Control segment of the second phase of the BP oil spill trial. Phase I of the trial, which lasted nearly two months earlier this year, covered events that caused the rig to explode by focusing on BP’s corporate culture, drilling practices, and safety plans.
Currently, the trial is in its second phase. Judge Carl Barbier is hearing testimony on BP’s efforts to stop the flow of oil (Source Control) and expert opinions on how much oil spilled (Quantification). The Source Control segment kicked off Monday and has focused on the engineering operations the company attempted to seal the well. Experts offered different opinions on why it took so many attempts and 87 days to finally stop the oil spill.
The Aligned Parties spent much of their time pressing BP on why an operation known as “top kill” failed. Top kill pumps heavy mud from a ship on the ocean’s surface down into the leaking well to stop the leak. For the technique to be successful, the momentum of the mud must be greater than that of the leak. Information about the flow rate of the well is, therefore, extremely important. All parties understood the operation would only be successful if less than 15,000 barrels of oil per day were leaking. The actual number, which is still disputed, was much higher and eventually caused the operation to fail. The Aligned Parties contend BP knew the flow was higher than the purported 5,000 barrels a day that the company cited.
Each side in the case had 15 hours this week to present their evidence and witnesses. BP spent the majority of its time trying to prove the company was following all government regulations and industry standards at the time of the blowout. Much of the testimony today was given by Iain Adams, an expert for BP on well control. Adams testified that it was simply not possible to have prefabricated the kind of engineering equipment needed to stop the well prior to the Macondo well blowout. The flow was eventually stopped when BP placed a capping stack on the leak. The Aligned Parties contend that considering the depth and high risk associated with deepwater drilling, that kind of capping stack should have been envisioned by the company and on call for emergencies.
Decisions like BP’s preparedness for a deepwater disaster and BP’s corporate culture are important factors Judge Barbier may consider when determining whether the company should be found grossly negligent for their part in the disaster. That ruling, in turn, is important for coastal restoration because Judge Barbier must assess civil Clean Water Act fines, which are based on the amount of oil spilled and “level of culpability,” or simply put, blame. Under the RESTORE Act, the civil Clean Water Act fines that BP pays can be used for coastal restoration.
The next three weeks of evidence will focus on the amount of oil spilled. That portion of the litigation is being spearheaded by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Judge Barbier will likely issue a ruling on the negligence and quantification issues before the third phase of trial – the Penalty Phase – kicks off. That third phase has not been scheduled yet.No Comments
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Today was the third day of testimony in the phase II of the BP trial for the massive 2010 Gulf oil disaster. Attorneys for BP began calling witnesses to support their position that the company did everything possible to stop the massive oil leak from the Macondo well. Just to recap, this phase of the trial focuses on presiding Federal District Court Judge Carl Barbier hearing testimony on BP’s efforts to stop the flow of oil (Source Control) and calculate how many barrels ultimately flowed (Quantification) into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day disaster. The Source Control segment will conclude tomorrow and the Quantification segment will begin next week with the US Department of Justice offering evidence that 4.2 million barrels of oil spewed from the well. BP alleges the total amount is closer to 2.45 million barrels.
It’s been the company’s position all along that a deepwater blowout, like the one that occurred at Macondo had never occurred and that the company had all the required precautions in place. The Aligned Parties contend that the company did have oil spill plans in place, but none of those plans had specific instructions on how to effectively control and or cap a wild well about 5,000 feet below the ocean surface. The Aligned Parties have been eager to distinguish the difference between any oil spill response plans BP had and other Source Control plans that could have dramatically cut down the response time. BP continues to argue the company had all necessary plans standard in the industry and required by the government, and that a blow out like Macondo simply had never been contemplated.
James Dupre, a BP employee who worked on one of the operations to control the well, admitted that if the company had a Source Control plan for deepwater blowouts the well likely could have been capped earlier.
Mark Mazzella, a BP employee and expert in well control took the stand late in the morning to testify his team did everything they could to shut in the well. Mr. Mazzella’s team focused much of their time on a method known as “top kill” to stop the flow of oil. Top kill is an operation that pumps heavy mud into the gushing well from boats floating nearly 5,000 feet above on the ocean’s surface. After the mud begins to enter the blowout preventer, engineers can pump other materials—for example, golf balls—to further clog the well.
Later in the afternoon BP called Trevor Smith to testify about all the engineering technologies being tested onshore during the disaster.
All of this testimony will be under consideration by Judge Barbier as he contemplates the efforts to stop the flow of oil when determining whether the disaster was a result of the BP’s gross negligence. Such a ruling could quadruple civil fines under the Clean Water Act.No Comments
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Attorneys in court today for phase two of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill trial focused on BP’s oil spill response plans and the engineering operations contemplated to stop the flow of the oil from the Macondo well. Measures to control and stop oil are referred to as “Source Control” in this part of trial.
Robert Turlak of Transocean took the stand early in the morning to testify about an operation called “BOP on BOP” to stop the flow of oil that was in planning in the early days of the disaster. BOP stands for Blowout Preventer, the piece of equipment that rests on the seabed and transfers oil from underground to a riser pipe which is connected to a floating drilling rig on the ocean surface. The primary purpose of a BOP is to cut off the flow during drilling emergencies where well control is lost, known in the industry as a “blow out.”
Mr. Turlak was on the team in charge of designing a new BOP that would be placed on top of the existing BOP, after it was not activated in time during the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The new BOP would be lowered from a boat nearly 5,000 feet above the ocean seabed and put in place with a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV). The new BOP could then be activated from the surface and either cut off the flow of oil completely or divert it through vents on the new BOP, which would carry the oil to the surface. Mr. Turlak’s team worked exhaustively at the direction of BP to prepare the BOP on BOP operation. However, just days before the final components were complete to carry out the operation, BP pulled the plug on the operation in favor of alternative plans, further extending the disaster.
Later in the day, the Aligned Parties called Dr. Robert Bea, an expert on process safety, which is the field of study that focuses on safety planning for high-risk operations such as deepwater drilling or space travel. Dr. Bea testified that while BP had oil spill response plans consistent with industry standards, they lacked plans to control blow outs in very deep drilling situations, like that of the Macondo well. The Aligned Parties offered evidence that BP certified to the Minerals Management Services, the former government agency in charge of overseeing drilling safety, that the company employed individuals trained to deal with deepwater blowouts. However, video testimony of BP’s top engineering officials revealed none had training in deepwater Source Control.
BP seems to be taking the position that they followed the rules of the industry and that all their response plans were signed off on by government officials, but Judge Barbier will have to decide what weight to give to BP’s efforts to stop the flow of oil in light of a crisis that had never before been experienced by the oil and gas industry or government. BP’s efforts to stop the flow of oil and their cooperation with the government may ultimately reduce the amount they have to pay in Clean Water Act civil penalties, which could reach up to $17.6 billion.No Comments
Yesterday, September 30, 2013, as phase II of the 2010 BP oil spill civil trial began in New Orleans, members of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign gathered outside the courthouse to demand BP be held fully accountable for the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.
At 6:30 am, we debuted a brand new BP oil spill timeline video LIVE outside the courthouse on a 16-foot, high definition LED billboard in an effort to highlight the ongoing need for restoration and to publicly hold BP accountable. The video screen, which was adorned with a giant banner atop saying "#makeBPrestore," will be directly outside the U.S. District Courthouse in New Orleans for the first two days of the BP trial playing our video on constant loop. Check out the video below. Please LIKE the video and SHARE it so that we may send a strong, unified message that it's time for BP to restore the Gulf.
And click the photo below to see an album of photos from the day!No Comments
By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund
Yesterday morning kicked off the second phase of what is expected to be a four-week trial in the BP oil spill case. This phase follows the nearly two-month trial that took place earlier this year and covered all the events that caused the troubled drilling rig to explode. The second phase will cover events happening after the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
Phase II is broken into two mini phases: The first mini phase will cover the multiple attempts to stop the flow of oil from the well, which is known as Source Control, and the second mini phase will determine how much oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day ordeal, in a process called Quantification. The Source Control mini phase pits private plaintiffs, Gulf Coast states, Transocean and Halliburton (all collectively known as the Aligned Parties) against BP. The Quantification mini phase is being tried by the U.S. Department of Justice against BP. Presiding Judge Carl Barbier mentioned there would also be a third phase of trial to assess penalties in the case.
Yesterday, the Aligned Parties set the stage with opening statements that accused BP of withholding critical information about how much oil was flowing into the Gulf. The Aligned Parties called their first witness, Dr. John Wilson, an expert hydrogeologist, to testify about how predicated flow rates informed the type of engineering necessary to stop the flow of oil. Dr. Wilson testified that a technique known as “top kill” would be successful only if 15,000 barrels a day or less were spewing from the well. He went on to note that BP told the public, Congress and government officials working to stop the spill that the number of barrels of oil spilling per day was as low as 5,000 barrels. Dr. Wilson testified that the government relied on expert flow estimates provided by BP and signed off on the top kill plan only to later realize far too much oil was flowing from the well for it to be successful.
The top kill method consists of pumping heavy mud into the blowout preventer but requires enough velocity to counter the force of flowing oil. After the heavy mud is pumped in, engineers can mix an assortment of material into the mud in hopes that it will essentially clog the flow. The materials, known as “junk shot,” can be anything from golf balls to ground up paper to cloth. Unfortunately, the flow of oil was too fast for the technique to be successful. The second witness called by the Aligned Parties was Gregg Perkins, who made the colorful analogy that using the top kill method in a well that was spewing more than 15,000 barrels per day was like trying to dam the Colorado River with raisins.
Throughout the day, the Aligned Parties mixed in video deposition testimony from Steven Chu, former U.S. Secretary of Energy and Mary Landry, U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral. The two high-ranking government officials both admitted that they relied on BP for important data to guide decisions on how to cap the well. The Aligned Parties seemed poised to prove that their dependence on this information, which consisted of well-flow estimates far below the actual rate of flow, led to failed multiple attempts and ultimately delayed finally capping the well by weeks.
Judge Barbier may factor in these misrepresentations when he determines BP’s level of negligence. If BP is found to be grossly negligent, their liability under the Clean Water Act could quadruple.2 Comments