Thad Allen: Oil Spill Is ‘Holding The Gulf Hostage’

Excerpt, from CNN Blog, June 6th 2010.

The federal government’s response manager to the Gulf oil disaster, Thad Allen, says BP has made progress, but cautioned it was too early to call the effort a success.

“We’re making the right progress. I don’t think anyone should be pleased as long as there’s oil in the water,” Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday.

Allen was responding to remarks over the weekend by BP’s senior vice president, Bob Fryar, who said the company was “pleased” with its operation to funnel crude up from the ruptured undersea well to a drilling ship a mile above on the Gulf of Mexico.

Fryar said the company funneled about 250,000 gallons of oil in the first 24 hours from a containment cap installed on the well to a drilling ship on the ocean surface.

But that’s only about 31 percent of the 798,000 gallons of crude federal authorities estimate is gushing into the sea every day.

Allen confirmed that BP has been able to bring oil to the surface after placing the cap, but said no one should be pleased until a relief well is completed and the leaking stops.

“This is an insidious enemy,” Allen said. “It’s attacking all of our shores, it’s holding the gulf hostage, basically.”

Even as the administration has tried to distance itself from oil company BP in recent days, with the Justice Department launching both criminal and civil investigations into the spill, it has not been enough to temper the frustration seething among residents along the coastline.

Original Article

Gulf oil spill: Cap starts doing its job, but officials remain cautious

Cap Oil

By Tina Susman, The Los Angeles Times.

Efforts to contain the flood of oil into the Gulf of Mexico showed the first signs of progress as 6,000 barrels of oil were pumped to the surface after the fitting of a containment cap over the blown well, officials said Saturday, but it was an incremental step that offered no guarantees of long-term success.

At a morning news briefing, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, commander of the national response to the disaster, said BP officials still had not closed the four vents of the containment cap, which would allow the well to begin pumping oil to the surface at far greater capacity.

In the meantime, thousands of gallons of oil are flowing into the sea as the massive slick hits shorelines and marshalnd in areas including Louisiana’s fishing towns and Florida’s white-sand beaches, where rust-colored globs are began washing ashore.

Allen said it was crucial to close the vents slowly to avoid putting too much pressure on the cap, which is being held in place with the help of a rubber gasket. “They’re easing the pressure up to the vessel … so they can maintain control of the oil,” said Allen.

As the vents are closed, officials must also ensure that water is not filtering in to mix with the oil and create hydrates, which led to the failure of an initial capping effort last month.

That requires the pumping downward of methanol, meaning officials must maintain a delicate balance at depths of 5,000 feet in conditions that could be disrupted in the event a major storm or hurricane forms. Hurricane season began Tuesday.
Allen said the full closure of the vents and the ramping up of oil production would depend on various conditions.

“They’re making sure they don’t increase the production rate until it is safe to do so,” said Allen. He also noted that the containment cap was only an interim, partial solution that was never guaranteed to fully plug the leak. A cap can only go so far – the only real solution is the completion of two relief wells currently being drilled. When they are finished, it will enable BP to plug the blown well and stop the spill, the worst in U.S. history.

One of the relief wells has been drilled to about 7,000 feet beneath the sea floor, less than half the distance it needs to go. The wells are not expected to be finished until early August.

Original Article

The damages caused by Singapore’s insatiable thirst for land

Sand Mining Bangladesh

By Tom Levitt.

While logging and deforestation has gained global attention the growing sand mining sector is being largely ignored. Fuelled by Singapore’s land and construction demands it is wreaking environmental destruction across south-east Asia

The fast growing market for sand in south-east Asia, particularly from Singapore, is being linked to widespread damage to coastal ecosystems and fish stocks.

The densely populated state of Singapore has expanded in size by more than 20 per cent since the 1960s by reclaiming vast amounts of land from the sea, in doing so becoming the world’s biggest importer of sand – 14.2 million tonnes in 2008.

Most of its exports have come from neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam but all three have now attempted to limit or ban exports of sand. With plans to expand its surface area by a further 7 per cent by 2020, Singapore is becoming increasingly reliant on another one of its neighbours, Cambodia, to meet its demand.

Although Cambodia publicly maintains that it has banned sand exports, an investigation by the NGO Global Witness has estimated that 796,000 tonnes of sand with a retail value of US$248 million are still being extracted and exported to Singapore every year from just one province, Koh Kong.

Ecological damage

The extraction is coming at a significant environmental cost. Dredging reduces water quality by increasing turbidity, blocking sunlight and killing off plant life, including seagrass and coral. Sand extraction also disrupts natural sedimentary regimes causing increased erosion and greater flood risks. There have also been reports of significant declines in fish stocks.

Campaigners are now worried that the rapid rise in sand mining activity in Cambodia could see the Koh Kong province in particular meet the same fate as Indonesia’s Riau Islands. Over-extraction there led to significant damage to coral reefs and entire islands disappearing, forcing the authorities to ban sand exports back in 2007.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, did announce a ban on sand exports last year but Global Witness later found this only covered river sand and not seabed sand. It claims the sector is rife with corruption and largely controlled by individuals close to the ruling elite in the country. 

Sand dredging licences, Global Witness maintains, are being allocated inside protected mangrove and seagrass habitats. Local newspapers have also reported villagers being attacked and killed during forced evictions from areas of increased sand extraction.

‘Ultimately the people who are reliant most on the natural resources will lose out: fishermen who are being evicted or seeing their stocks plummet from sand dredging boats coming through their catch area; and indigenous people,’ said Global Witness campaigner George Boden.


Having already logged much of the country’s forest resources, Global Witness accuse Cambodia’s elite, in collusion with mining companies, of switching their attention to sand.

The report says there is little evidence that any of the financial benefit from the booming sand mining trade is benefiting the country as a whole.

‘Millions of dollars are changing hands, but there is no way of tracking whether royalties, taxes and other revenues generated are reaching the national treasury…as usual, it is Cambodia’s poor who have borne the brunt of this elite capture, with loss of their livelihoods and coastal environments,’ the report says.

While the problem is being felt most critically in Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia, Global Witness says the majority of the blame lies with Singapore, which it accuses of ignoring concerns about the environmental impact of its sand imports as it gives the go-ahead to new racing tracks, casinos and port developments requiring yet more sand. 

In response to the NGOs findings, the Singapore Government said the import of sand to Singapore was done on a commercial basis and that they were ‘not party to any agreement or contract for the import of sand’.

However, Global Witness says it has evidence that government ministries were involved in buying sand, allegedly from Cambodia.

Illegal trade

In fact the industry has become so lucrative that as neighbouring countries implement bans to safeguard their ecosystems, there has been a growing market from Singapore for smuggled sand.

Greenpeace Indonesia says smugglers had no problem getting their exports into Singapore and were ‘rarely intercepted by customs boats or the navy’. It said 300 million cubic metres of sand was being exported illegally every year.

There have also been reports that Singapore is turning its attention to sand mining opportunities in Bangladesh, a country where erosion is already threatening its coastline.

Global Witness says the onus is now on Singapore to act: ‘The Singapore government tries to portray itself as a regional environmental leader and is hosting the World Cities Summit in June this year showcasing its environmental leadership. The reality is their demand for sand is having a hugely damaging impact on the environment in surrounding countries.

‘Its failure to mitigate the social and ecological cost of sand dredging represents hypocrisy on a grand scale,’ said Boden.

The NGO says the country should bring in guidelines for construction companies on the sustainable sourcing of raw materials.

Jerry Berne from Sustainable Shorelines, which campaigns on sand dredging, says reforming the sector may prove difficult.

‘Unfortunately for our coastlines and the ecosystems these sustain, the dredging industry, its consultants, shipping interests and many governmental agencies are deeply committed to this process and the profits it generates.’

However, he said dredging could be done sustainably. ‘Not all dredging is a bad thing. In its place and properly vetted for its environmental impacts (not the often questionable reports from industry backers), dredging might be a relatively safe mining practice. Today, however, too little efforts goes into insuring this.

‘Also, it seems too many of those who should know about the harm being done by it are either ignorant or remain silent,’ said Berne.

Original Article

Bangladesh and Illegal Sand Mining: Read Full Article, Dredging Today (01-26-2010)
The government is going to formulate a policy to stop haphazard sand extraction from different rivers as unplanned sand extraction is harming the country’s aquatic resources…

Isle Grand Terre, Louisiana; By Adam Griffith & Robert Young

Isle Grand Terre, Louisiana

By Adam Griffith and Robert Young.

Two months ago, few people had heard of the ironically-named Isle Grand Terre. This small, low-elevation barrier island sits on the edge of the Mississippi River Delta in southern Louisiana. Grand Terre is one of many very small barriers that have formed as delta sediments are reworked by waves into sandy ribbons fringing the inner estuary. Facing south into the Gulf of Mexico, the island has been a storm buffer for the delta’s coastal wetlands and habitat for numerous shore birds and other sea creatures.

Thick oil has been washing up on the shores of the island for days and the oil is coating the plants and animals of the wetlands, including the Brown Pelican, Louisiana’s state bird. The formerly beautiful barrier island, accessible only by boat, is covered with dune flowers. The impact of the oil on this unique ecosystem will be terrible.

On the 28th of May, President Obama visited the clean beaches of Grand Isle, Louisiana, a mere 0.4 miles to the southwest. Not a drop of oil or single tar ball could be seen on those beaches. In advance of his visit, four bus loads of workers combed the beach on Grand Isle for any sign of oil, but there was little if any oil to begin with. The contrast between these islands is as striking as the contrast between the puffy white clouds reflected in the pools of dark crude oil covering Isle Grand Terre.

When scientists arrived on Isle Grand Terre on the morning of May 27th, officers from Unified Command arrived 30 minutes later and asked them where the oil was. When the officers shouted to the scientists “Stop right there!” through the bushes, it was to take pictures of the scientists’ equipment with cell phone cameras. These actions were surprising and it made us wonder about the sense of urgency that is being conveyed to the workers. While it is easy to be critical of many parties in this still-unfolding tragedy, it is clear that scientists, industry, non-profits, and the government will all need to work together to clean up the mess that BP has left.

Cap collects some Gulf oil; crude washes into Fla.

By Greg Bluestein, Associated Press Writer.

Waves of gooey tar balls crashed into the white sands of the Florida Panhandle on Friday as BP engineers adjusted a sophisticated cap over the Gulf oil gusher, trying to collect the crude now fouling four states.

Even though the inverted funnel-like device was set over the leak late Thursday, crude continued to spew into the sea in the nation’s worst oil spill. Engineers hoped to close several open vents on the cap throughout the day in the latest attempt to contain the oil.

As they worked on the system underwater, the effect of the BP spill was widely seen. Swimmers at Pensacola Beach rushed out the water after wading into the mess. Brown pelicans coated in chocolate syrup-like oil flailed and struggled in the surf on a Louisiana island. The oil on the beaches of East Grand Terre near Grand Isle, La., were stained in hues of rust and crimson, much like the color of drying blood.

“In Revelations, it says the water will turn to blood. That’s what it looks like out here — like the Gulf is bleeding,” said P.J. Hahn, director of coastal zone management for Plaquemines Parish as he kneeled down to take a picture of an oil-coated feather. “This is going to choke the life out of everything.”

President Barack Obama was set to visit the Louisiana coast Friday, his second trip in a week and the third since the disaster unfolded following an April 20 oil rig explosion. Eleven workers were killed.

A mile below the water’s surface, the cap has different colored hoses loosely attached to it to help combat the near-freezing temperatures and icylike crystals that could clog it. The device started pumping oil and gas to a tanker on the surface overnight, but it wasn’t clear how much.

“Progress is being made, but we need to caution against over-optimism,” said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man for the disaster.

He said a very rough estimate of current collection would be about 42,000 gallons a day, though he stressed the information was anecdotal.

Robots a mile beneath the Gulf were shooting chemical dispersants at the escaping oil — though it looked more like flares when illuminated a mile underwater.

To put the cap in place, BP had to slice off the main pipe with giant shears after a diamond-edged saw became stuck. By doing so, they risked increasing the flow by as much as 20 percent, though Allen said it was still too soon to know whether that had happened.

“Once the containment cap is on and it’s working, we hope the rate is significantly reduced,” he said.

The jagged cut forced crews to use a looser fitting cap, but Allen did not rule out trying to again smooth out the cut with the diamond saw if officials aren’t satisfied with the current cap.

The best chance to plug the leak is a pair of relief wells, which are at least two months away. The well has spit out between 22 million and 47 million gallons of oil, according to government estimates.

In Florida, spotters who had been seeing a few tar balls in recent days found a substantially larger number before dawn on the beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and nearby areas, a county emergency official said. The park is a long string of connected barrier islands near Pensacola.

David Lucas, of Jonesville, La., and a group of friends abruptly ended their visit to Pensacola Beach after wading into oily water.
“It was sticky brown globs out there,” Lucas said after the group cleaned their feet in the parking lot and headed south to Orlando.

Just to the west at Gulf Shores, Ala., Wendi Butler watched glistening clumps of oil roll onto the white sand beach during a morning stroll. An oily smell was in the air.

“You don’t smell the beach breeze at all,” said Butler, 40.

Butler moved to Perdido Bay from Mobile days before the spill. Now, her two kids don’t want to visit because of the oil and she can’t find a job.

“Restaurants are cutting back to their winter staffs because of it. They’re not hiring,” she said.

Meanwhile, BP PLC Chief Executive Tony Hayward sought to reassure investors, saying the company has “considerable firepower” to cope with the severe, long-running costs. Hayward and other senior BP executives struck a penitent note in their first comprehensive update to shareholders since the oil rig explosion, stressing their commitment to rebuilding BP’s tarnished reputation, improving safety measures and restoring the damaged Gulf coast.

“We will meet our obligations both as a responsible company and also as a necessary step to rebuilding trust in BP as a long term member of the business communities in the U.S. and around the world,” said BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg. “This is in the interest of all our stakeholders.”

In oil-soaked Grand Isle, BP representative Jason French might as well have painted a bulls-eye on his back. His mission was to be BP’s representative at a meeting for 50 or so residents who had gathered at a church to vent.

“We are all angry and frustrated,” he said. “Feel free tonight to let me see that anger. Direct it at me, direct it at BP, but I want to assure you, the folks in this community, that we are working hard to remedy the situation.”

Residents weren’t buying it.

“Sorry doesn’t pay the bills,” said Susan Felio Price, who lives near Grand Isle.

“Through the negligence of BP we now find ourselves trying to roller-skate up a mountain,” she said. “We’re growing really weary. We’re tired. We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Someone’s got to help us get to the top of that mountain.”
Obama shared some of that anger ahead of his Gulf visit. He told CNN’s Larry King that he was frustrated and used his strongest language in assailing BP.

“I am furious at this entire situation because this is an example where somebody didn’t think through the consequences of their actions,” Obama said. “This is imperiling an entire way of life and an entire region for potentially years.”

Newly disclosed internal Coast Guard documents from the day after the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig indicated that U.S. officials were warning of a leak of 336,000 gallons per day of crude from the well in the event of a complete blowout.
The volume turned out to be much closer to that figure than the 42,000 gallons per day that BP first estimated. Weeks later it was revised to 210,000 gallons. Now, an estimated 500,000 to 1 million gallons of crude is believed to be leaking daily.

The Center for Public Integrity, which initially reported the Coast Guard logs, said it obtained them from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The logs also showed early in the disaster that remote underwater robots were unable to activate the rig’s blowout preventer, which was supposed to shut off the flow from the well in the event of such a catastrophic failure.

Original Article

A Challenge to Florida Beach-Driving Tradition

Daytona Beach, FL. Photo source: ©© Steven Martin


Questions linger after a 4-year-old girl from the United Kingdom was hit and killed by a car on the sand along Daytona Beach.

Debates over the practice of beach driving are nothing new. Over the decades, several lawsuits have been filed, either by environmentalists looking to protect sea turtles or by waterfront homeowners complaining about property rights…

Read Full Article, The New York Times

Beach Driving, Surfriders Foundation
Driving on the beach is a long-standing tradition in many areas of the United States, including Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, portions of the New Jersey shore, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Georgia’s islands, certain areas in Florida, North and South Padre Islands and other areas in Texas, and several areas in Oregon and Washington, including the Long Beach Peninsula shoreline.
It is widely recognized that beach driving can cause serious ecological impacts by potentially destroying nesting areas for sea turtles and birds such as the piping plover and damaging or destroying vegetation and dunes. Shore erosion can be accelerated by careless beach driving and vehicles on the beach can be a safety hazard to beach goers.
In recognition of the potential impacts of beach driving, most areas that allow this practice regulate it in some way, including:requiring licenses or passes, limiting the number of vehicles on the beach, limiting beach, driving to certain types of vehicles (e.g. 4WD), enforcing speed limits, specifying beach access ramps and the, allowed driving zone along the beach, prohibiting driving on dunes an in other ecologically sensitive areas, prohibiting driving during certain times of the year, such as during seabird or sea turtle nesting seasons or when beach pedestrian traffic is so high that vehicles on the beach would represent a safety hazard.
Volusia County in Florida is home of Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach, where there is a tradition of beach driving dating back to the early days of the automobile.

A Feast Interrupted

Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care


Every few days, in some places as often as twice a day, tractors roll along a hundred miles or so of sandy beaches in southern California, scooping up not only trash but also seaweed that’s washed ashore, along with the myriad small creatures that shelter in it. This mechanical “beach grooming”, practiced for decades, helps keep up the classic sand-and-surf image that draws millions of people to the region’s beaches, but it also sweeps away a resource that provides vital nourishment for shorebirds.

“Grooming sandy beaches changes rich coastal habitats into barren plains of unstable sand,” says Jenifer Dugan of the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose team has surveyed over 40 beaches, both those that are regularly groomed and beaches where beach wrack, kelps and seagrasses brought ashore by waves and tides, is left in place. Their ongoing studies since 1995, funded by California Sea Grant, California State Parks, Minerals Management Service, and the National Science Foundation, have found far fewer creatures and far lower diversity of life on beaches that are regularly cleaned by “sanitizer” tractors.

On beaches where wrack was left undisturbed, “Our surveys have found a very high abundance and diversity of intertidal life compared to similar beaches in other parts of the world,” Dugan says…

Read Full Article, By Hal Hughes, in Making Waves

How the Gulf Oil Spill Hurt Animals

By Doug Inkley, David Mizejewski and Hannah Schardt, National Wildlife Federation.

Twenty-one years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the wildlife of Alaska’s Prince William Sound is still struggling to recover. With a sunken BP oil rig gushing thousands of barrels of oil each day into the Gulf of Mexico, the battered Gulf Coast region, still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, is bracing for its own catastrophe.

Here are just a few of the ways Gulf wildlife could feel the effects of the spill for months, even years to come…

Sea Turtles
Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles are found in the Gulf of Mexico, and all of these five are listed as either endangered or threatened, including the loggerhead turtle.

These reptiles are threatened by oil at every stage of their lives: as eggs, hatchlings, juveniles and adults.

Studies have found that sea turtle eggs contaminated by oil, even a small amount, may either fail to hatch or produce weakened, deformed hatchlings. Those hatchlings that make it successfully from their sandy nests to the sea face several threats: Since they are tiny, they risk being impaired or overwhelmed by an oil slick. Young turtles spend much of their time swimming at the surface, making them more likely than adults to run into a slick on top of the water and leaving them prone to being poisoned or coated by the sticky oil.

Even adults, sea turtles can live longer than 50 years in the wild, are at risk. Studies have found that sea turtles, which are air-breathing animals and must surface regularly, show no natural avoidance behaviors when confronted with an oil slick. They will even attempt to feed upon tarballs, the dark chunks that form as crude oil weatherizes, or ages. Because oil can kill huge swaths of seagrass, one of the green sea turtle’s primary food sources, adult sea turtles may also suffer from malnutrition.

Birds that come into contact with oil can be impacted in many ways, often resulting in their death.

Species that frequent coastal waters are especially at risk from the BP Oil Spill. These include seabirds, brown pelicans (removed from the endangered species list in 2009 after a long recovery from the effects of DDT), terns (royal, Caspian, Sandwich and least), and laughing gulls, and wading birds, the roseate spoonbill (pictured), ibis, reddish egret and other herons and egrets, as well as the piping plover, a federally listed threatened species that winters along the coast of the Gulf. (Piping plovers are not currently in the Gulf but could suffer if they return to find their winter habitat damaged by the spill.)

Gulls, pelicans and other birds that frequently land and float on the water can experience deadly hypothermia when oil destroys the insulating quality of their feathers. The birds try to eat more to stay warm, but their ability to forage decreases as they sink lower and lower into the water, their buoyancy decreased by the oil. The birds desperately groom their feathers with their bills, inevitably consuming some oil, which may lead to very serious effects: ulcers, diarrhea, kidney and liver damage, anemia and even death. Breathing in oil can lead to pneumonia, neurological damage and eventually cancer.

Less obvious long-term impacts are likely to occur as well: The entire food chain, from phytoplankton and zooplankton to top level predators such as fish-eating birds, may be disrupted by the presence of oil. Toxic chemicals may accumulate in the birds’ bodies, weakening them and making them more prone to disease and predation. If oiled birds don’t die from the exposure, there is evidence that their reproductive success is lowered by exposure to even small quantities of residual oil.

Fish and Shellfish
The seafood industry has long been at the heart of coastal Louisiana’s economy. Shrimp, oysters and other seafood pump $2.4 billion a year into the Gulf coast economy. Fish and shellfish are a key link in the region’s food chain, with many seabirds and other wildlife relying on them for sustenance.

Following an oil spill, fish eggs and larvae are at particular risk because they are immobile and can’t escape the spreading oil slick.

Making matters worse in the current situation, the BP oil spill comes during spawning season, threatening the survival of the next generation of the Gulf’s fish and shellfish. The estuaries and mangroves where adult crustaceans breed are likely to suffer major damage from the spill, which could have a devastating effect on the region’s fishing industry.

The Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, even before the BP oil spill, was already taxed by decades of human impacts and by Hurricane Katrina. Because both shrimp and oysters readily consume environmental toxins, both are likely to pass on the contaminants from the spill to their predators, from fish to whales to humans.

Already, federal authorities have temporarily banned commercial and recreational fishing in the waters most affected by the spill, citing health concerns.

Marine Mammals
The effects of oil on marine mammals can be difficult to assess. Sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins (pictured) and other mammals in the gulf live most of their lives out at sea. For this reason, they are likely to be among the first Gulf inhabitants to encounter the spill. Unlike fish, marine mammals are air-breathers and must surface frequently, bringing them into contact with the slick that now covers thousands of square miles of the Gulf.

Marine mammals can suffer a variety of ill effects from exposure to oil: chemical burns and irritation from direct contact, ulcers and internal bleeding from consumption, and poisoning from feeding on contaminated prey. In other oil spills, marine mammals have suffered major losses to their populations. Two orca pods affected by the Exxon Valdez lost 40% of their numbers and still have not fully recovered; the pods’ reproductive success appears to have suffered long-term damage.

Original Article

Animals suffer after Oil Spill, AP

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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