Remember that vanishing oil?

October 18, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

More here.

How the GOP’s stone age mentality and loyalty to big oil cost them a midterm landslide

October 7, 2010 by Peter · 1 Comment 

On August 7, 2010, Drudge blared: BP OIL LEAK: ‘The Disaster That Never Was.’

That was the crowning moment of a cynical and duplicitous campaign by oil companies and the Obama administration to bury the Deepwater Horizon leak and conceal profound and lasting damage to the Gulf. The motives of the former: money. The motives of the latter: politics.

As early as June, Tim Dickinson at Rolling Stone broke open the story of how the White House had bungled the Gulf spill:

Like the attacks by Al Qaeda, the disaster in the Gulf was preceded by ample warnings – yet the administration had ignored them. Instead of cracking down on MMS, as he had vowed to do even before taking office, Obama left in place many of the top officials who oversaw the agency’s culture of corruption. He permitted it to rubber-stamp dangerous drilling operations by BP – a firm with the worst safety record of any oil company – with virtually no environmental safeguards, using industry-friendly regulations drafted during the Bush years. He calibrated his response to the Gulf spill based on flawed and misleading estimates from BP – and then deployed his top aides to lowball the flow rate at a laughable 5,000 barrels a day, long after the best science made clear this catastrophe would eclipse the Exxon Valdez.

Since then, numerous articles and blog posts have been published chronicling the brazen – and largely successful – effort on the part of BP and the administration to spike the spill. This clip encapsulates much of that reporting:

I started writing about  what I tagged “Gulf Denialism” in August, when it became clear that the mother of all teachable environmental moments was becoming the mother of all transgressions shoved down the memory hole. Here are a few links/excerpts:

August 20:

I can think of few things more irresponsible and reprehensible than gambling with humanity’s future by pretending that our actions have no consequences. This is about the world my daughter will inhabit, so it’s as personal as it gets for me. And it is truly disturbing that rather than use the Gulf calamity as an inflection point and an opportunity to wake the country out of its environmental stupor, a Democratic administration would aid and abet oil companies in ‘disappearing’ the BP spill. It’s obvious why the White House and Democratic leaders don’t want to discuss the dangers and damaging effects of the spill: it’s bad for their electoral prospects in November. How utterly cynical and craven. … If Republicans weren’t in the pocket of oil companies, we’d be seeing the most serious crisis this administration has faced.

September 2:

Apparently the effort to bury the BP disaster hasn’t stopped reality from intervening: “An oil rig has exploded 80 miles off the coast of Louisiana, with 12 people overboard.” Further details: “The platform is owned by Mariner Energy. Many of the crews that responded to the blast are those in the area for the cleanup of the BP oil spill, which followed the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20. According to Mariner Energy’s website, the company engages in deepwater drilling in the gulf, including “higher-risk, high-impact projects that have the potential to create substantial value for our stockholders.” Despite the best efforts to pretend the Deepwater Horizon spill simply vanished, it’s just a matter of time before we face another such calamity. What will it take for us to wake up?

September 12:

This jaw-dropping piece from Fortune, BP walks back its role in the gulf oil spill, should have all Americans steaming mad: “As the last tar balls settle on the bottom of the Gulf, it looks like BP may have some extra cash on hand. The company might not have to pay all of the $20 billion in claims, incoming BP (BP) CEO Bob Dudley told analysts on Monday. This is the latest move in BP’s ongoing effort to back out of the spotlight since the spill.”

September 14:

We live in an age of denial, willfully suffocating the life out of our planet, our only home, while pretending everything will turn out just fine. It is irresponsibility and selfishness on a cosmic scale. The following photo, distributed by Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser is instantly iconic. It depicts a river of dead sea life and it will haunt you after a single glance:

September 17:

As soon as the White House and Democratic leaders conducted polls and focus groups and determined that a continued focus on the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe would harm their electoral prospects, the fate of the spill was sealed. With the help of BP’s massive spin operation, it was shoved down the memory hole so fast that the epic event and surrounding issues didn’t even warrant a mention at President Obama’s recent press conference. The cornerstone of the effort to obliterate the story was a hastily released government report that claimed most of the oil had vanished. That report has now sprung more leaks than the original rig, with numerous indications that the damage to the Gulf is profound and lasting.

In a September 18 post called the Age of Denial, I tried to put Gulf Denialism in a larger context:

America is in an Age of Denial, a time in which intolerable injustices are widely ignored, from preventable hunger, poverty and disease to irreversible environmental destruction to the global oppression of girls and women. It is an age where wealth disparities are at record levels, where a war based on lies and deceptions that resulted in unimaginable carnage is heralded as a success, where the assault on basic rights and liberties is greeted with a yawn — if not a cheer.

It is a time when a minor celebrity infraction receives more attention than an epidemic of sexual violence in which young girls have their insides shredded with broken bottles and sticks of wood, when a sports game arouses more passion and emotion than a million babies dying.

This denialism afflicts the entire nation, not one party, not one particular group, not one ideology.

Many liberals stand by while a Democratic administration affirms and cements the worst excesses and overreaches of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, authorizing extra-judicial killings, indefinite detention and rendition, among other egregious practices. They stand by as a catastrophic oil spill is purposely scrubbed from public awareness because it has an adverse effect on Democratic electoral prospects. They stand by as the lies and deceptions that led America into Iraq are forgiven and forgotten and the Republican architects and purveyors of those lies are lauded by Democratic leaders. They stand by as obscenely rich bankers are bailed out at the expense of struggling taxpayers.

Conservatives stand by as their leaders callously exploit fear and xenophobia. They stand by – or worse, participate – as rightwing blatherers spew an endless stream of hateful invective across the airwaves. They yearn for war, war and more war against an ill-defined enemy. They traffic in jingoistic soundbites and call it patriotism and stand in defense of a Constitution they haven’t bothered to read. And perhaps more destructively than anything else they say, do or deny, they willfully toy with our future by pretending that the wholesale ravaging of the environment has absolutely no effect.

Which brings me to today’s NYT report:

The Obama administration failed to act upon or fully inform the public of its own worst-case estimates of the amount of oil gushing from the blown-out BP well, slowing response efforts and keeping the American people in the dark for weeks about the size of the disaster, according to preliminary reports from the presidential commission investigating the accident. The government repeatedly underestimated how much oil was flowing into the Gulf of Mexico and how much was left after the well was capped in July, leading to a loss of faith in the government’s ability to handle the spill and a continuing breach between the federal authorities and state and local officials, the commission staff members found in a series of four reports issued Wednesday.

This confirms what many writers and activists suspected and warned about. The political ramifications are significant. If the GOP were not beholden to big oil or living in the stone age on environmentalism, they could ride this to a midterm landslide. That’s not to say that they won’t have a very successful election, even a historic one, but that this epic transgression by the White House could have inflicted near-fatal damage to Obama’s poll numbers and to Democrats’ standing and greatly enhanced Republican prospects.

After all, lying to the country about a matter that affects the fate of humanity, squandering a chance to revitalize the environmental movement and save countless lives, are monumental failings.

Fortunately for Obama and Democratic candidates, the right is hamstrung and simply can’t take political advantage.

Unfortunately for the planet, we’ve lost an unprecedented moment and are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Next time, it may not be so easy to spike.

A Gulf where the only things able to survive are jellyfish and bacteria

September 17, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

As soon as the White House and Democratic leaders conducted polls and focus groups and determined that a continued focus on the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe would harm their electoral prospects, the fate of the spill was sealed. With the help of BP’s massive spin operation, it was shoved down the memory hole so fast that the epic event and surrounding issues didn’t even warrant a mention at President Obama’s recent press conference.

The cornerstone of the effort to obliterate the story was a hastily released government report that claimed most of the oil had vanished. That report has now sprung more leaks than the original rig, with numerous indications that the damage to the Gulf is profound and lasting.

On September 10th, NPR published this story:

Scientists on a research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico are finding a substantial layer of oily sediment stretching for dozens of miles in all directions. Their discovery suggests that a lot of oil from the Deepwater Horizon didn’t simply evaporate or dissipate into the water — it has settled to the seafloor.

The Research Vessel Oceanus sailed on Aug. 21 on a mission to figure out what happened to the more than 4 million barrels of oil that gushed into the water. Onboard, Samantha Joye, a professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, says she suddenly has a pretty good idea about where a lot of it ended up. It’s showing up in samples of the seafloor, between the well site and the coast.

“I’ve collected literally hundreds of sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico, including around this area. And I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said in an interview via satellite phone from the boat.

Joye describes seeing layers of oily material — in some places more than 2 inches thick — covering the bottom of the seafloor.

This past week, at a University of Florida panel discussion, scientists warned about a grave threat to the Gulf’s resources:

Oil-soaked birds may be the iconic image of the BP spill, but marine biologist Edith Widder said equally tragic events occurred offshore out of sight of the public. The spill’s impact extends to aquatic species already on the brink of devastation, she said, such as Atlantic bluefin tuna that spawn in the area affected by the oil.

“It isn’t just water. This is part of our living ecosystem,” she said. “And what we have to recognize is this is the life-support system for our planet.”

Widder, senior scientist and CEO at the Ocean Research and Conservation Association, compared the spill to pushing on a light switch. If the switch flips, she said, the rich diversity of species in the Gulf will be replaced by a system in which the only things able to survive are jellyfish and bacteria.

In our Orwellian political environment, it’s no wonder that a historic spill could be spiked so easily. Sadly, making the story disappear won’t make the damage disappear.

Ignore this story: scientists discover thick layer of oil on Gulf seafloor [Update: BP walks back its role]

September 12, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

I’ve written extensively about gulf denialism, the corollary to climate denialism:

Exxon was a prominent member of the now-defunct Global Climate Coalition, one of the first industry groups established in 1989 to refute findings of the then-newly formed UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Since Exxon’s 1998 merger with Mobil, the oil giant has spent $23 million on stoking opposition to climate action, Greenpeace said. It continues to fund 28 groups that run denial campaigns, according to the report, though the oil giant is hardly alone in betting against climate change.

The report said that the think tanks at the forefront of challenging the science of warming — such as the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) — receive a majority of their climate-related funds from a raft of utility, coal, oil and car interests.

…I can think of few things more irresponsible and reprehensible than gambling with humanity’s future by pretending that our actions have no consequences. This is about the world my daughter will inhabit, so it’s as personal as it gets for me. And it is truly disturbing that rather than use the Gulf calamity as an inflection point and an opportunity to wake the country out of its environmental stupor, a Democratic administration would aid and abet oil companies in ‘disappearing’ the BP spill.

It’s obvious why the White House and Democratic leaders don’t want to discuss the dangers and damaging effects of the spill: it’s bad for their electoral prospects in November.

In that context, you can see why this explosive story will go absolutely nowhere:

Scientists on a research vessel in the Gulf of Mexico are finding a substantial layer of oily sediment stretching for dozens of miles in all directions. Their discovery suggests that a lot of oil from the Deepwater Horizon didn’t simply evaporate or dissipate into the water — it has settled to the seafloor.

The Research Vessel Oceanus sailed on Aug. 21 on a mission to figure out what happened to the more than 4 million barrels of oil that gushed into the water. Onboard, Samantha Joye, a professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia, says she suddenly has a pretty good idea about where a lot of it ended up. It’s showing up in samples of the seafloor, between the well site and the coast.

“I’ve collected literally hundreds of sediment cores from the Gulf of Mexico, including around this area. And I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said in an interview via satellite phone from the boat.

Joye describes seeing layers of oily material — in some places more than 2 inches thick — covering the bottom of the seafloor.

“It’s very fluffy and porous. And there are little tar balls in there you can see that look like microscopic cauliflower heads,” she says.

It’s very clearly a fresh layer. Right below it she finds much more typical seafloor mud. And in that layer, she finds recently dead shrimp, worms and other invertebrates.

So far, the research vessel has traveled in a large “X” across the Gulf within a few dozen miles of the well. Scientists have taken eight sets of samples, and Joye says they all contain this layer. It’s thin in some places, inches thick in others. Eventually, scientists hope to collect enough samples to figure out how much oil is now settling to the seafloor.

“It’s starting to sound like a tremendous amount of oil. And we haven’t even sampled close to the wellhead yet,” she says.

UPDATE: MSNBC has more on the ‘Slime highway’ of BP oil:

Samples taken from the seafloor near BP’s blown-out wellhead indicate miles of murky, oily residue sitting atop hard sediment. Moreover, inside that residue are dead shrimp, zooplankton, worms and other invertebrates.

“I expected to find oil on the sea floor,” Samantha Joye, a University of Georgia marine sciences professor, said Monday morning in a ship-to-shore telephone interview. “I did not expect to find this much. I didn’t expect to find layers two inches thick.”

If it is BP oil, it could undermine the federal government’s estimate that 75 percent of the spill either evaporated, was cleaned up or was consumed by natural microbes.

What the scientists do already know is that the oil is not coming naturally from below the surface.

“What we found today is not a natural seep,” Joye wrote in her blog on Sept. 5 when the first surprise sediment was found.

Kate Sheppard comments:

Joye is not the first to report finding oil on the Gulf floor; researchers from the University of South Florida reported last month that oil has been collecting below.

This of course makes it even more clear that the government’s claim last month that the “vast majority” of the oil was gone in the Gulf is simply not true. By all indications, our understanding of where the oil went is still far from complete.

UPDATE II: This jaw-dropping piece from Fortune, BP walks back its role in the gulf oil spill, should have all Americans steaming mad:

As the last tar balls settle on the bottom of the Gulf, it looks like BP may have some extra cash on hand.

The company might not have to pay all of the $20 billion in claims, incoming BP (BP) CEO Bob Dudley told analysts on Monday. This is the latest move in BP’s ongoing effort to back out of the spotlight since the spill.

Another Gulf rig explodes – Vermilion Oil Rig 380

September 2, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Apparently the effort to bury the BP disaster hasn’t stopped reality from intervening:

An oil rig has exploded 80 miles off the coast of Louisiana, with 12 people overboard… U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Colclough tells CNN that all 13 workers involved in the rig explosion are accounted for, but one person is injured.

Further details:

The platform is owned by Mariner Energy. Many of the crews that responded to the blast are those in the area for the cleanup of the BP oil spill, which followed the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20. According to Mariner Energy’s website, the company engages in deepwater drilling in the gulf, including “higher-risk, high-impact projects that have the potential to create substantial value for our stockholders.”

Despite the best efforts to pretend the Deepwater Horizon spill simply vanished, it’s just a matter of time before we face another such calamity. We’re getting one warning sign after another, from Pakistan floods to Russia fires to the Gulf spill to record temperatures, but heeding none of them. If anything, denialism is stronger than ever. What will it take for us to wake up?

UPDATE: And here we go

The Coast Guard is saying that a mile-long oil sheen is spreading from the site off an offshore petroleum platform that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana.

UPDATE II: Interesting data from Lindsay Beyerstein:

Another oil rig has blown up in the Gulf of Mexico. The Vermilion 380 is owned by Mariner Energy which was recently purchased by by Apache Energy, according to Think Progress. Together, these two companies have paid $745,000 in fines to the Minerals Management Service in 2010 alone, according to my review of public records.

UPDATE III: More disappearing oil:

The Coast Guard is backing off its earlier report that an oil sheen about a mile long was spreading following a platform explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.

James Cameron calls global warming skeptics “swine”

August 23, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Director James Cameron called global warming skeptics “swine” at a renewable energy conference in Aspen.

That’s the blunt approach.

Here’s another way of looking at it: what odds are deniers willing to accept that alarmists are right and they’re wrong? How willing are they to play Russian roulette with their children’s future? Are they so convinced of their position that they don’t even entertain the possibility they might be wrong? If so, they are delusional. There’s no certitude on what the next day might bring, let alone the next century.

If they do realize they’re gambling with their children’s future, then “swine” is too polite a term.

Climate deniers: belief in warming reflects “mental instability”

August 23, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Listen to this astonishing exchange and consider what it will sound like in 50 years:

Here’s some context:

Think Progress notes that all the major Republican candidates have joined the ranks of climate change deniers. This means that all three Republican candidates

Last week we found out that Susana Martinez and Steve Pearce also doubted that climate change was happening or was man-made. Pearce and Martinez both have received a lot of money from the oil and gas industries.

…To say that the science is not settled is to ignore the vast majority of scientists and scientific work and instead believe a small slice of scientists who are mostly conducting their research funded by oil and gas companies — not exactly uninterested parties in the topic.

The real price of a gallon of gas

August 22, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Simple, effective message from NRDC:

What is Gulf Denialism and why is it a potential crisis for the White House?

August 20, 2010 by Peter · Leave a Comment 

Gulf Denialism is the corollary to climate denialism, which Greenpeace explains in this detailed report:

Current efforts to deny climate science are part of an organized campaign that dates back 20 years, when the fossil fuel industry first formed a lobbying apparatus to stifle action on global warming, the environment group Greenpeace said on Wednesday.

In a report titled “Dealing in Doubt: The Climate Denial Industry and Climate Science,” the group accused ExxonMobil of being the ringleader of what it called a “campaign of denial.”

Exxon was a prominent member of the now-defunct Global Climate Coalition, one of the first industry groups established in 1989 to refute findings of the then-newly formed UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Since Exxon’s 1998 merger with Mobil, the oil giant has spent $23 million on stoking opposition to climate action, Greenpeace said. It continues to fund 28 groups that run denial campaigns, according to the report, though the oil giant is hardly alone in betting against climate change.

The report said that the think tanks at the forefront of challenging the science of warming — such as the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute and the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) — receive a majority of their climate-related funds from a raft of utility, coal, oil and car interests.

I’ve been pretty blunt about the anti-environmental movement:

Of all the wrongheaded ideas proudly trumpeted by America’s right, anti-environmentalism occupies a unique position: it is at once the most devoid of a rational or moral foundation and the most dangerous. It is selfish, crass, illogical, willfully blind, a denial of the undeniable reality that humans are pillaging irreplaceable natural resources and spewing filth into the air and water and soil at unsustainable rates.

Green-bashers stubbornly negate what is directly before them. In the face of irrefutable evidence that environmental degradation is a mortal threat, they put their hands over their ears, shut their eyes and scream, “Not true!” This isn’t about good faith questioning of science, much as these naysayers pretend it is. It isn’t about genuine skepticism, much as they want to believe it is. There is no moral imperative underlying their belief (or lack thereof). It’s about unbridled hostility at the suggestion that we must all make shared sacrifices. It’s about refusing to acknowledge that the environmental movement has been right to sound the alarm. It’s about laziness. And greed. And irresponsibility. And colossal shortsightedness. Forget about the tragedy of the commons, this is the abject and gleeful refutation of common sense.

…This is our only planet. It’s the only place we can survive. We can’t afford to take chances. We can’t afford to do anything less than everything in our power to rectify the problem. We have no choice but to be alarmists — there’s no second chance. We get it wrong and we’ve doomed our children and their children. For what? Because we don’t want to recycle? Because we don’t want to stop polluting? Because we don’t want to bother making sacrifices? Because we don’t want some eager young kid who cares about the earth to dictate to us? Because we don’t like Al Gore? How profoundly selfish can someone be, to deny what they see with their own eyes: car fumes, bus fumes, truck fumes, factory fumes, chemical waste, human waste, toxins coursing through our waterways, in our food, filth we create in immense quantities turning our planet into a garbage dump. If anything, we should be outdoing one another trying to address the issue, not smugly questioning the need for action under the guise that the science is imperfect. Reversing the damage we’re doing to the earth should be a priority for every citizen. Instead, environmentalism is treated like an annoyance that the media will occasionally poll about and that we bring to the fore once every April.

I can think of few things more irresponsible and reprehensible than gambling with humanity’s future by pretending that our actions have no consequences. This is about the world my daughter will inhabit, so it’s as personal as it gets for me. And it is truly disturbing that rather than use the Gulf calamity as an inflection point and an opportunity to wake the country out of its environmental stupor, a Democratic administration would aid and abet oil companies in ‘disappearing’ the BP spill. It’s obvious why the White House and Democratic leaders don’t want to discuss the dangers and damaging effects of the spill: it’s bad for their electoral prospects in November.

How utterly cynical and craven. But reality has a way of intruding whenever politics trumps principle:

Two congressmen on Thursday questioned why the Obama administration made a major announcement about what happened to the oil in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this month without the science to back it up .

Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey demanded that NOAA surrender the data and algorithms behind its increasingly controversial estimate, so that independent scientists could assess the credibility of its conclusion that the vast majority of the oil BP spilled in the Gulf is gone.

At a subcommittee hearing he chaired, Markey said the report was premature, has led to false confidence, and could be flat wrong.

…According to two congressional sources who were on the call, Lehr said the decision to release the oil budget to the media was made by the White House — not by administration scientists. Lehr reportedly also said that scientists had concerns about it being released.

Coming along with the capping of the well, it was a public relations coup for a White House eager to get the oil spill story off the front pages, reassert control over a narrative that had gotten away from them, and calm fears.

The White House also spun the report in a particularly favorable way. Deciding whether most of the oil is gone or not depends primarily on one’s views about oil that’s dissolved or been dispersed. When the report came out, administration officials encouraged the view that the approximately 50 percent of oil estimated to be dissolved or dispersed no longer posed a risk — was, essentially, gone. By contrast, some independent scientists have been saying for months that subsurface oil is likely causing massive environmental damage, even if it can’t easily be seen.

Since the oil budget went public, several independent scientists have called for the release of its supporting data. Others have reached their own, conflicting conclusions.

One group organized by the Georgia Sea Grant this week calculated that 70 to 79 percent of the oil remains underwater, and concluded that “the media interpretation of the report’s findings has been largely inaccurate and misleading.”

Scientists from the University of South Florida have found oil deep on the Gulf seafloor that they say may be more toxic to marine microorganisms than previously believed.

And in a major, peer-reviewed article in Science magazine, scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Thursday described their discovery in June of 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. That’s about the size of Manhattan.

Furthermore, the scientists found that contrary to the NOAA report, the oil was not “biodegrading quickly”– at least not at that depth.

I’ve been railing against Gulf Denialism for weeks and I’m glad to see that media coverage of this deadly serious issue is ramping up again. If Republicans weren’t in the pocket of oil companies, we’d be seeing the most serious crisis this administration has faced.

UPDATE: watch this PBS report…