Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oil Spill: Worse Than Government or BP Can Handle

Tanker recovering oil from the leaking riser pipe / U.S. Coast Guard photo

Yesterday one of my questions about BP's siphon was answered: the siphon and tanker are capturing about 2,000 barrels of oil per day from the leaking Deepwater Horizon wellhead. However, since the size of the leak is disputed, we do not know for certain how much is still leaking. Even with the siphon, the remaining leak is taxing the abilities of the government to control the growing oil slick.
The Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Thad Allen, said that despite the siphoning, the spilled oil is spreading and now stretches from western Louisiana to Florida's Key West. The extent of the spill was straining even the substantial resources deployed for one of the worst ecological disasters in recent history, he said.

Allen said the approximately 20,000 people now working to prevent the spill from reaching land were struggling to deal with an environmental threat that he called "omni-directional and almost indeterminate" in size. He said federal disaster plans had been formulated to deal with far more localized spills.

"We're dealing with something that's more complicated than any spill I've ever dealt with," Allen told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. "The national system did not contemplate that we would have to do all of this at once."

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration widened its no-fishing zone to cover 19 percent of the Gulf, or 45,728 square miles, and its head, Jane Lubchenco, told a news conference that "a light tendril of oil" is spreading eastward and approaching the loop current, a powerful warm-water current that could drag the oil around Florida and into the Gulf Stream that flows up the Atlantic coast.
There are still unanswered questions (at least in public) about the spill and its effects.
BP, the company in charge of the rig that exploded last month in the Gulf of Mexico, hasn't publicly divulged the results of tests on the extent of workers' exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning of crude over the gulf, even though researchers say that data is crucial in determining whether the conditions are safe.

Moreover, the company isn't monitoring the extent of the spill and only reluctantly released videos of the spill site that could give scientists a clue to the amount of the oil in gulf....

The company also hasn't publicly released air sampling for oil spill workers although Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency in charge of monitoring compliance with worker safety regulations, is relying on the information and has urged it to do so.

"It is not ours to publish," said Dean Wingo, OSHA's assistant regional administrator who oversees Louisiana. "We are working with (BP) and encouraging them to post the data so that it is publicly available." ...

Unlike the response to other past national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina where the government was in charge, BP has been designated as the "responsible party" under federal law and is overseeing much of the response to the spill. The government is acting more as an adviser.

So far, the government has been slow to press BP to release its data and permit others to evaluate the extent of the crisis.
Meanwhile, 156 sea turtles have now washed up dead on beaches around the Gulf of Mexico. A link to the oil spill is still unproven, since the turtles show no signs of oil, but the event is remarkably unusual.

Finally here is a list of the oiled birds treated by the International Bird Rescue Research Center.