Monday, August 30, 2010

Crude Oil Spill Control and Mitigation Technologies: An Arrested Development?

From the 1979 era “world’s worst” crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to the BP Deep Water Horizon spill of April 20, 2010, has crude oil spill control and mitigation technologies moving sideways for over 30 years?

By: Ringo Bones

When it comes to the worst ever industrial accident scenarios with the greatest environmental impact being prophesised by environmentalists during the past 50 years, nobody would have predicted that crude oil spills would claim their title as the top undisputed industrial disaster with the greatest environmental impact. Nuclear fission power plant accidents and chemical spills were predicted as the most probable industrial accidents that could irreparably ruin the environment and drive humanity to extinction. Yet now, it is a toss up between crude oil spills and irreversible global warming and climate change related environmental disasters caused by our insatiable “addiction” to crude oil that may spell the end of mankind. Similar crude oil spills had happened before, but the methods of mitigation and control stayed the same for 31 years despite of the increase of our consumption for the black stuff.

Back in July 3, 1979, a Mexican crude oil well named Ixtoc I began spewing crude oil in the Gulf of Campeche. By the middle of August 1979, millions of gallons of crude stretched nearly 1,000 miles (1,600-km) towards Texas and Louisiana, threatening a number of fragile wildlife habitats and a popular resort area on Padre Island. Attempts to contain the slick with booms continued into the fall of 1979, while crews worked to cap the well. Although relatively little of the crude oil reached the United States back then, more than 5 miles (8-km) of beaches were contaminated, and some of the spill remained adrift. And the full scope of such environmental disaster took years to fully assess.

Back in July 21, 1979, what could have been then the largest crude oil spill in history via supertanker mishap was narrowly averted when two supertankers filled with crude oil collided and burned at the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea, just north of the island of Tobago. Timely cleanup response and favourable sea currents prevented extensive crude oil contamination of lucrative Caribbean beaches and thus averted what might have been – back in pre Exxon Valdez supertanker accident days – the largest crude oil spill via supertanker in history. Two supertankerfuls worth of crude oil burned at virtually 0 miles per gallon mileage rating.

Prior to the Exxon Valdez crude oil spill of 1989 and the BP Deep Water Horizon spill of April 20, 2010, the Gulf of Campeche - and potentially the Tobago coast collision of two oil supertankers of July 21, 1979 – were considered the worst crude oil spill in history. The Ixtoc I off the Gulf of Campeche contaminated the Gulf of Mexico with more than 100-million gallons (378.5-million liters) of crude oil. Back in 1979, the full environmental consequence of the tragedy was only assessed several years later.

Booms, caps, top kill and controlled burning, it seems that crude oil spill control and mitigation technologies seems to have stayed the same since 1979. And yet we are drilling offshore wells that are even too deep for helium-oxygen mix saturation divers to maintain at ever greater numbers just to satisfy our insatiable demand for crude oil. Due to our failure – and our government’s indifference to energy use conservation programs – we are transporting crude in ever greater quantities via supertankers whose spill control and mitigation measures remained unchanged for over 30 years. No, Mother Nature won’t be killed off via nuclear waste and polychlorinated biphenyls, crude oil will be the death knell for all of us.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: A Much Politicized Environmental Issue?

Dubbed by far-right talk radio pundit Rush Limbaugh as “Obama’s Katrina”, is the Deep Horizons offshore oilrig disaster become a political rather than an environmental issue?

By: Ringo Bones

This particular environmental disaster was supposedly to remind us the urgency of lowering our carbon footprint, but unfortunately it devolved into something that can be used against the fiercest critics of US President Barack Obama. With extreme-right talk radio pundit Rush Limbaugh calling it “Obama’s Katrina”, will this disaster be the start of a conservative right-wing environmental movement in America? Not to mention that a few weeks before the disaster President Obama gave the o.k. for a proposed offshore crude oil exploration in the US East Coast.

With a carbon footprint probably just a notch below that of Paris Hilton without even enjoying the said indulgence, Rush Limbaugh will probably be the oddest environmentalist America has ever seen. Will the former Alaska governor Sarah Palin be starting her very own campaign to save the polar bears? Unfortunately, the last time the conservative far-right of America showed their environmental concerns was probably back around 1987. When they criticized the money spent in the Farm Aid concerts headlined by Guns N’ Roses and Poison would bear better results when used in greenhouse gas emissions reduction research and global warming studies. Or of their critique of McDonalds buying beef raised on the clear cutting of the Amazon Rain Forest just because these cows are 5 US cents cheaper per head than the ones raised in America near the end of the 1980s.

Politics or not, the Deep Horizons offshore oilrig disaster not only resulted in the loss of 11 oilrig workers but also the long-term environmental devastation of the Gulf of Mexico’s fragile ecosystem. With the oil leak ten times more than previously thought, this environmental disaster now threatens the livelihoods of oyster and shrimp fisheries of the state of Louisiana. Even the Biloxi Bay Chamber of Commerce had raised concerns over the livelihood impact of a widespread environmental disaster in slow motion.

During the course of the investigation, British Petroleum – the oil company that owns the Deep Horizons offshore oilrig – points the blame at TransOcean. While TransOcean points the blame at Halliburton – the company that provides the oil drilling equipment, while Halliburton returns the favor by blaming TransOcean. The endless finger pointing has started to peeve President Obama because it might allow BP to get away from paying punitive fines.

On the safety aspect of things, BP has been blamed for lax safety concerns for a Texas oil refinery explosion a few years ago. Unfortunately, the involvement of Halliburton in this latest Gulf of Mexico oil spill that could potentially be bigger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 would probably allow BP to escape scot-free from this investigation. Especially when you consider the way former US Vice President Dick Cheney runs Halliburton like his very own Mafia. The people involved in the fishing industry of the state of Louisiana and Mississippi will be getting a raw deal, just like the fishing folks of Prince William Sound 20 years before.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Earth Hour: An Exercise In Futility?

Started as a way to spread awareness about climate change, does the observance of Earth Hour nothing more than an exercise in futility?

By: Ringo Bones

Remember that Native American Chief who shed a tear after witnessing drive-by litterbugs that became an environmental awareness icon of the late 1960s and early 1970s? Well, he’ll be crying double after knowing that the most easily “greenable” and “carbon neutral ready” industry – namely electricity generation – has been undermined from becoming truly environmentally friendly by our elected officials who are now beholden by the fossil fuel conglomerate. Knowing this piece of crucial info, is turning our lights for one hour this coming Saturday, March 27, sending the right message to our “carbon enslaved” elected officials that we are serious about climate change and global warming?

The polling precinct would have been a better venue of expressing our stance on climate change and global warming. And yes, I still do freely chose to switch off lights and forego Internet use for an hour this coming March 27 after a couple of weeks of rescheduling my itinerary. But I too have doubts whether turning our lights for one hour during Earth Hour will be seen by our elected officials who are now in too deep with the fossil fuel industry lobbyists as our statement of concern for caring more for our environment.

Since most of my electrical needs for my Internet and entertainment needs are met by off-the-grid power generation with my makeshift solar photo-voltaic and discarded submarine battery power source, I still chose to switch off on Earth Hour. Just because our local elected officials had been dragging their feet when it comes to plans to start carbon neutral electricity generation. But given that climate change skepticism has become intellectually fashionable these days – especially when coupled with neo-Nazism, then maybe we should express our concerns for global warming in other fronts. Not just during Earth Hour but also during election time. If the Australian environment minister, Peter Garret, managed to embroil himself in that Gunns pulp mill debacle, then maybe we should all be electing leaders who are not beholden by polluters.