Oil industry has yet to adopt lessons of BP spill

Oil Spill Lessons

By Harry Weber, AP

Oil industry and government officials could get caught flat-footed again by another deep-water blowout in the coming months because they have yet to incorporate many of the lessons learned during the BP disaster, experts inside and outside the business tell The Associated Press.

For one thing, it could be another year before a bigger, better cap-and-siphon containment system is developed to choke off leaks many thousands of feet below the surface. Also, existing skimmers still don’t have the capacity to quickly suck up millions of gallons of oil flowing at once.

In interviews with the AP, environmental experts, industry veterans and government officials also said the industry needs better technology and more thorough testing and analysis to prevent blowouts from happening in the first place.

And despite an overhaul of the federal agency that regulates the industry, there are lingering doubts about whether the government can effectively police Big Oil at the same time it relies on the industry for revenue.

“It’s going to take five years before all those lessons are fleshed out and can be implemented,” warned Louisiana State University environmental sciences professor Ed Overton.

The government’s moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is set to expire Nov. 30 and could be lifted even sooner amid pressure from the industry and its allies.

BP signaled last week that it realizes there is still a lot of work to do, firing a top official responsible for deep-water wells. It also welcomed a new CEO on Friday, the first American ever to lead the British company.

Erik Milito, director of upstream and industry operations for the industry group American Petroleum Institute, acknowledged room for improvement. But he insisted that the industry learned from the BP disaster.

“If this happens again, the difference will be it will get capped a heck of a lot quicker,” Milito said. “It won’t take 90 days again.”

Exxon Mobil Corp. is leading a coalition of oil companies building a one-of-a-kind system to contain an oil leak in up to 10,000 feet of water — twice the depth of the BP blowout. BP recently joined the $1 billion project and agreed to submit the equipment it used to eventually kill its runaway well.

But it could be 16 months before the system is completed, tested and ready to be used. Drawings of the proposed system show a cap and a series of undersea devices — including cables, a riser, a manifold and a piece of equipment that would pump dispersant. Lines would be hooked up to vessels on the surface.

Cleaning up oil once it reaches the surface also still poses problems. Even with a fleet of large skimmers used during the BP crisis, the process was slow-going at times. Industry experts and others are pressing for development of more effective skimmer technology.

“We have to do whatever we can to get the most out of those technologies,” Milito said.

Industry and the government are also faced with trying to prevent such a disaster in the first place.

In its own report on the blast, BP acknowledged among other things that it misinterpreted a key pressure test of its well before the explosion. BP, which was leasing the rig from Transocean, also blamed employees from both companies for failing to respond to other warning signs that the well was in danger of blowing out.

Testimony before a federal investigative panel showed that real-time data from the rig was available to BP managers on shore, but not to Transocean. And two men who were key to the successful operation of the rig — one for BP and one for Transocean — rarely had contact with each other, according to testimony.

Elgie Holstein, a former Energy Department official who now works for an environmental group, said it is a problem that real-time data on a well’s ability to withstand pressure is usually only transmitted from the rig to the headquarters of the company in charge of the well. He said data should be made available more widely to industry experts, a safety consortium or government safety officials so they can determine if the readings are being interpreted correctly.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently cited the need for more effective sensors in key components such as blowout preventers that can quickly detect whether the devices are functioning properly. In the BP episode, the blowout preventer failed to clamp off the flow of oil. Investigators are trying to figure out why.

Preventing another such disaster is going to require a change in the industry’s safety culture, some experts say.

Last week, BP’s new CEO announced creation of a special unit to police safety practices throughout the company.

“Our response to the incident needs to go beyond deep-water drilling,” Bob Dudley said. “There are lessons for us relating to the way we operate, the way we organize our company and the way we manage risk.”

Rich Haut, an engineering expert who previously worked as a well technology manager for Exxon and as a deep-water technical manager at Halliburton, said it is important that all oil and gas companies develop a culture of safety and “make sure everyone from the executive suite to the rig floor understand that.”

Because of the moratorium, exploratory drilling on 33 deep-water rigs in the Gulf was put on hold.

By law, BP had a major role in cleaning up the spill. But retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who was in charge of the government’s response to the crisis, recently proposed that in the event of another such disaster, a third party from the oil and gas industry that does not have a stake in the polluter’s profits coordinate the cleanup.

Allen did not elaborate except to say that it may require a change in federal law. In Congress, there has been no movement on the idea.

The government’s relationship with the very companies it is supposed to regulate has also raised questions.

In the wake of the BP spill, the Obama administration overhauled the Minerals Management Service, renaming it the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and separating its conflicting responsibilities for both policing the oil and gas industry and collecting billions in royalties from it.

But the commission appointed by the President to investigate the spill has questioned whether the government has truly eliminated the conflict. It was noted that the reorganization would have the bureau responsible for managing leases along the Outer Continental Shelf and the bureau responsible for enforcing safety and environmental standards report to the same person.

“I won’t be satisfied until the government demonstrates a continued willingness, not just a brief willingness, to be a tough cop on the beat, and the industry delivers on its promises that something like the BP blowout will never happen again,” said Holstein, the former Energy Department official.

Original Article

So Much to Learn About the Oceans From Sand

Sand Dune
Photo Source: National Geographic

By Cornelia Dean, The New York Times

As a young geophysicist in the 1980s, Rob Holman attended a conference in San Francisco that included a field trip to a beach. Dr. Holman, who grew up inland, in Ottawa, stared at the ocean, assessing the strengths and vectors of the waves and currents. But when he looked around, everyone else was studying the sand.

He realized, he recalled, that “sand is not the same everywhere.” So he started collecting it. “I collected a few samples and put them in jars,” he said. “Then I had so many I built a rack. Then I built three more racks. Then I built four more.”

Today Dr. Holman is best known as a coastal oceanographer at Oregon State University whose computerized photography system, called Argus, has given researchers new ways to observe and measure beaches. But he still collects sand, which he displays on shelves in the corridor outside his office. By now he has almost a thousand samples. They come from his travels and from geologists and amateurs all over the world (including this reporter) who send him grainy shipments in envelopes, plastic bags, paper towels and other wrappings. Each offering is dried and transferred to glass laboratory jars a few inches high, which Dr. Holman labels by latitude and longitude of their site, as best he can determine them from the sometimes sketchy information his contributors provide.

The collection includes sand from all continents, including Antarctica. “Dutch colleagues are particularly good” at mailing in sand, Dr. Holman said. “Africa is lacking in samples,” a deficiency he attributes in part to an unfortunate accident. “Early on, I had a rack collapse,” he said.

Though these offerings have not necessarily ended up in the formal display, he has also received a bottle containing a gimmick portrait in purple sand, Hawaiian sand samples sold in packages to tourists, salt and pepper (“that was actually my secretary”) and all kinds of other things that were found on beaches, or might have been, including jelly beans and M&Ms. He accepts contributions of sand from inland riverbeds and places like Ayers Rock, in the Australian Outback, and even from hotel lobby ashtrays “if it’s a high-class place,” he said. These are listed as “miscellaneous.”

For Dr. Holman, what started almost as a joke has become a valuable teaching tool. Geology students at the university study his collection, and they can learn a lot from it. “This row is a north to south transect along the East Coast,” he said one day recently, pointing to tubes containing samples collected at sites from Cape Cod to Key West. “It just gets lighter and finer.” That is because most of the time sand is not stationary on the beach. On the East Coast, “the big waves come in from the northeast, and they drive the littoral drift predominantly from north to south,” Dr. Holman said, referring to the longshore movement of sand.

White Sand

By the time a grain of sand washes up on a beach in Florida, it has been battered by waves for a long time. “The physical action of being continually beaten causes the grains to break down, the angular corners to break off,” he said. “They become more rounded.”

And relatively dense mineral grains, like garnet, have settled out. The result is a row of samples shifting from the relatively dark, coarse grains of the Northeast to the fine white beach sand of the Southeast.

Dr. Holman keeps about two dozen especially telling samples in a portable “teaching rack” for use in classes and at lectures. Some are dark volcanic grains. One vial, from the Banzai Pipeline, a surfing mecca in Oahu, “is all broken up shells with rounded edges,” he said. “This sand cannot last very long.”

The rack “illustrates a lot of the things we need to know about how beach sands are different,” he said. “I have occasionally taken in sand to a student exam and said, ‘Tell me about this beach.’ A good person can do very well. There are a number of characteristics you can look at — the nature of the sand and the shape, where would the minerals come from, different transport and aging. Those all affect the sand you see on the beach.”

Dr. Holman also takes the teaching rack with him when he gives talks to the public, an effort to encourage people “to think about what they see on beaches.”

“Then I show them some Argus pictures, which always make them think about sandbars and how mobile they are,” he said.

Argus is the system Dr. Holman developed in research he began about 20 years ago at the Army Corps of Engineers research pier on the coast at Duck, N.C. Researchers assigned to the Duck pier regularly send instruments into the surf to make precise measurements of the underwater topography in the surf zone, particularly the formation and movement of sandbars along the beach.

Understanding these sandbars is critical to study of beach erosion and climate-related sea level rise, but the surf zone is a notoriously hostile research environment. Setting up and maintaining instruments there is almost impossible unless the equipment is so sturdy it distorts its own data, by interfering with the flow of water and sand. As a practical matter, the measurements made routinely at Duck are unobtainable almost anywhere else, and certainly not here in Oregon, where the wave climate is the harshest of any coastline in the Lower 48.

Dr. Holman used the Duck instrument data and time-lapse film from a camera he mounted on a tower at the Corps installation to figure out how to correlate photographic information to changes in the topography under the surf.

The results were surprising. For one thing, sandbars were not moving in simple patterns, as many coastal scientists had thought they did. “The biggest thing we learned is how much more complicated it is than we thought it was,” he said. “There is a richness of morphologies.”

Using Argus data, scientists can watch, almost in real time, as sandbars appear, disappear, curve, drift, breach and otherwise act up under the camouflage of breaking waves. The system can even be used to spot rip currents in real time. The lesson of Argus, he said, is “never give up observing”

S. Jeffress Williams, a coastal geologist with the United States Geological Survey, called the system “a critical piece of new technology.”

“The Argus system allows us to quantify and document visually the changes that take place along the coast on a variety of different time frames,” he said. Dr. Williams, a contributor to Dr. Holman’s collection, said that without the system, these observations would be difficult or even impossible. “A lot of the changes take place during storms and at times when it is difficult to have people out on the beach making observations and taking measurements.”

Sei Jawi Beach Indonesia

At one time, Dr. Holman said, coastal scientists thought that if they understood all the underlying physics, they would understand everything about beaches. “The pendulum has swung back,” he said. “Argus has been part of that. Argus helped us realize that our simple concepts were simple.”

While it is true that all beaches “live by the same rules” in that the movement of wind, water, waves and sand is always a matter of F = ma (force equals mass times acceleration), beaches behave differently. “We hope to figure that out,” he said.

Today, there are Argus installations at Duck and in Oregon, California, Hawaii, England, the Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Italy and Brazil.

Dr. Holman has also begun working with NATO in hopes of adapting routine reconnaissance images, most of which are discarded, to the Argus system.

Meanwhile, sand keeps piling up. When he first displayed the collection, Dr. Holman said, “the dean was a little queasy” about investing in shelving. But now it may be time for another infusion of money. Though he installed shelves with what he thought was ample room, he said, “we have run out of space.”

Rob Holman of Oregon State University with sand samples from nearly 1,000 sites around the world.

Original Article

Global Groundwater Depletion Leads to Sea Level Rise

Sea Level Rise
Almost half of the current sea level rise can be explained by expansion of warming sea water, just over one quarter by the melting of glaciers and ice caps and slightly less than one quarter by groundwater depletion. Previous studies have identified groundwater depletion as a possible contribution to sea level rise. However, due to the high uncertainty about the size of its contribution, groundwater depletion is not included in the latest IPCC report.
This new study confirms with higher certainty that groundwater depletion is indeed a significant factor.

Photo Source: National Geographic


Large-scale groundwater extraction for irrigation, drinking water or industry results in an annual rise in sea levels of approximately 0.8 mm, accounting for about one-quarter of total annual sea-level rise (3.1 mm), which is a surprisingly large amount. That’s about as much sea-level rise as caused by the melting of glaciers and icecaps outside of Greenland and Antarctica, and it exceeds or falls into the high end of previous estimates of groundwater depletion’s contribution to sea level rise.

According to hydrologists from Utrecht University and the research institute Deltares, the rise in sea levels can be attributed to the fact that most of the groundwater extracted ultimately winds up in the sea. The hydrologists explain their findings in an article to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Groundwater extraction is more common in more arid regions of the world, where there is less available surface water…

Read Full Article, Utrecht University, Netherlands

International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre

Me and you three; 2 Years, 4 Artists, 8 Beaches: Part Two

Annik Cullinane, Judes Crow, Mary Flynn, Gerry Price.
An exhibition by four island of Wight artists, at Michael West Gallery. Students showed their responses in the form of their own artwork.

For two years, four artists have been making site visits together to coastal locations and visits to eight island beaches, around the Isle of Wight, UK. The result is an eclectic exhibition made cohesive by linking the marine environment to humanity. The work communicates experiences of loss and bereavement, conflict between the undeniable beauty of the coast and evidence of decay, thoughts about permanence and transience, and the rythm and inevitability of change.

Artists Annik Cullinane, Judes Crow, Mary Flynn and Gerry Price created opportunities for young people to engage with the ideas and process that inform the exhibition Me and You three; 2 years, 4 artists, 8 beaches in the Michael West Gallery.

Groups of young people from three local Isle of Wight’s schools visited the exhibition.

These students showed their responses in the form of their own artwork. This took place in the Learning Curve Gallery at Quay Arts Centre 12th June – 24th July 2010.

Over the summer a changing collection of work has unfolded creating a developping exhibition by students from Clatterford Tuition Center, Cowes High School and St George’s Community School.

Clatterford students are 12 to 15 years old, who find attending school difficult for various reasons. They are taught in a centre which aims to get them back into mainstream schools.

St George’s Special School students have varying learning and physical differences and were age 12 to 13.

Cowes High School students’ age 17, are studying for an exam in art.

New York Seas to Rise Twice as Much as Rest of U.S.

New York. Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care


Sea levels around New York City and much of the U.S. Northeast will rise twice as much as in other parts of the United States this century, according to new climate models (U.S. Northeast map).

Driven by changes in ocean circulation, the rapid sea level rise will bring increased risk of damage from hurricanes and winter storm surges, researchers say…

Read Full Article, National Geographic

Five architects’ plans for managing a globally warmed future, MoMA

Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront, MoMA, March 24–October 11, 2010

Copenhagen Accord Loopholes and Risks to the “Rainforests of the Sea”

Bleached coral. Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care


A global temperature increase of up to 4.2 º C and the end of coral reefs could become reality by 2100 if national targets are not revised in the Copenhagen Accord, the international pledge which was agreed at last year’s Copenhagen’s COP15 climate change conference…

Read Full Article, Science Daily

Coral Bleaching Likely in Caribbean This Year, NOAA

Six Grains of Sand, Maui; By Dr. Gary Greenberg

grains of sand

The miracles of nature are tangible, and they can be seen directly through the microscope. The magnificence of nature lies in its consciousness. When we commune with nature, we become conscious of our connection with the universe.”

By © Dr. Gary Greenberg

A Grain of Sand – Nature’s Secret Wonder.
The Amazing Microphotography of Dr. Gary Greenberg.

Every grain of sand is a jewel waiting to be discovered. That’s what Dr. Gary Greenberg found when he first turned his microscope on beach sand. Author and photographer Dr. Gary Greenberg is a visual artist who creatively combines art with science.

Originally a photographer and filmmaker, at the age of 33 he moved from Los Angeles to London to earn a Ph.D. in biomedical research from University College London. Dr. Greenberg is currently the director of the Microscopy & Microanalysis Laboratory at the University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy in Maui, HI.

Since 2001, Dr. Greenberg focuses his microscopes on common objects, such as grains of sand, flowers, and food. These everyday objects take on a new reality when magnified hundreds of times, revealing hidden and unexpected aspects of nature. Dr. Greenberg’s images of sand make us realize that as we walk along a beach we are strolling upon thousands of years of biological and geological history.

You will never look at a beach the same way again.

This picture represents Six Grains of Sands, from Maui.
Blue, Orange & Pink Sand Grains

The tip of a spiral shell has broken off and become a grain of sand. After being repeatedly tumbled by action of the surf this spiral sand grain has become opalescent in character. It is surrounded by bits of coral, shell, and volcanic material.

“The miracles of nature are tangible, and they can be seen directly through the microscope. The magnificence of nature lies in its consciousness. When we commune with nature, we become conscious of our connection with the universe.”

Eighty Mile beach, North Western Australia; By Andrew Short

80 Mile Beach, AU

View of the northern end of Eighty Mile beach at Cape Missiessy showing the wide ultradissipative beach at low tide with the low tide flats extending 100 ‘s m offshore and mangroves fringing the cape shore.

By Andrew Short, School of Geosiences, University of Sidney

Eighty Mile beach is one of the three longest beaches in Australia extending for 222 km from Cape Keraudren in the south to Cape Missiessy in the north between latitudes 19-20°S. The beach is located across in the Canning Basin a 400 000 km2 sedimentary basin that has been infilling since the Ordivician.

The beach is located in the arid northwest of Western Australia and has a hot dry desert climate with rainfall less than 400 mm per year, with temperatures averaging over in the 30°C during summer. The beach is however exposed to summer tropical cyclones, which tend to track down the coast usually crossing at cyclone alley just south of the beach between Onslow (20°S) and Port Heland (21°S). Cyclones do however make landfall along the beach and in the past they have wiped out the pearling fleet, which used to operate along the coast.

The beach is exposed to macro-tides up to 7 m, with waves usually low owing to the predominately offshore westerlies. The low waves, high tides and fine to medium carbonate (80-96%) sand maintain a well developed ultradissipative beach morphology. At low tide it is possible to walk hundreds of metres out across the low tide flats. The beach and flats do however produce an abundance of shells, and people come to visit the beach just to collect shells.

The beach is backed by a series of well-developed foredune ridges, which in the south have been activated into a transverse dune field. A series of eight tidal creeks also cross the beach, which in some places is also interrupted by beachrock outcrops.

The only development on the beach is the Eighty Mile Beach caravan park, located towards the centre behind the foredune. Pastoral properties carrying sheep back some of the beach, and in the south at Cape Keraudren is an informal camping area very popular during the winter months. The North West highway runs 20-30 km inland.

The mission of the Santa Aguila Foundation is to raise awareness of and mobilize people against the ongoing decimation of coastlines around the world.

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