Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

BP stonewalling efforts to get better oil volcano damage estimate

Posted in BP, deregulation, energy, environment, offshore drilling, United States by allisonkilkenny on June 9, 2010

A bird covered in oil flails in the surf at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast Thursday, June 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The other day, I was discussing the “branding” of the BP disaster with a friend. Calling this catastrophe a “spill” seems like a laughable understatement, and my phrasing (the “oil geyser”) wasn’t really catchy. A few weeks ago, the term “oil volcano” emerged, I think because it was first used by Rachel Maddow, and I believe it captures the severity of the situation.

So this thing, the oil volcano, has been pumping thousands of barrels of oil into the ocean every single day. That much is undeniable. BP can’t approach the media and say, “Epic disaster is all over, folks!” because there are cameras (now HD video) down there, filming the whole thing.

The company attempted to use dispersants (hundreds of thousands of gallons of the toxic stuff) in order to coagulate the oil and sink it to the bottom, conveniently hiding the true toll of the oil volcano from the world. Except, that didn’t work entirely, and some endangered birds got snagged in the sludge.

Literally, there is nothing BP can now do in order to mend its public image except lie. And lie they have. Tony Hayward blamed workers’ illnesses on food poisoning instead of acknowledging exposure to oil fumes and dispersants tend to make individuals sick. BP denied the existence of those massive underwater oil plumes. You know, the ones NOAA just confirmed exist.

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Allegations emerge BP prevents fishermen from wearing respirators

Posted in Barack Obama, BP, energy, environment, offshore drilling, regulation, United States by allisonkilkenny on May 28, 2010
Inmate laborers erect a barrier fence around a...

Inmate laborers erect a barrier fence around a stockpile of absorbent oil booms that will be used to soak up some of the oil slick from the BP disaster. Image by AFP via @daylife

Though President Obama has asked the media to place the burden of responsibility on his shoulders, it’s clear BP was woefully unprepared for a disaster of this magnitude (even though they told the government they could handle a spill 60 times larger than Deepwater Horizon). The truth is the company really didn’t have a contingency plan for something of this scale.

A blowout like this one apparently wasn’t expected, although it should have been. One of the most stunning examples of BP’s lack of preparation is evidenced in the emergency-response strategy report it prepared in accordance with federal law. The report runs 583 pages, but is alarmingly short on how to stop a deep-sea spill.

Perhaps BP’s disaster management was a bit light on the details because the government wasn’t asking tough questions. The MMS, the agency charged with overseeing offshore drilling, is disastrously managed. A report issued recently by the IG outlines the same familiar type of cronyism and corruption that has become a systemic rot in Washington.

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What is Obama supposed to do about BP’s disaster?

Posted in Barack Obama, energy, politics, United States by allisonkilkenny on May 26, 2010
WASHINGTON - MAY 11:  Environmental activists ...

Image by Getty Images North America via @daylife

John Cole expresses the view of, I think, many liberals on his blog today when he asked: what exactly is the Obama administration supposed to about the oil spill?

He asks this after acknowledging all the terrible things BP and the government have done (missed deadlines, hidden the size of the spill, issued more permits to drill,) while failing to address some other points (BP buying off spill victims, using toxic dispersants, which have been banned in the UK, against the orders of the EPA, racing up to Canada to try to get their country to deregulate, too, etc.)

Cole isn’t an apologist for private business run amok. He just sincerely wants to know: what the hell is Obama supposed to do about this?

But he’s already answered the question with his last peeve point — a realization Cole appears to have at the very end of the post. The Obama administration isstill issuing permits. Despite the catastrophe of the Gulf oil geyser, Obama wants to expand offshore drilling. The rationale for this is articulated byInterior Secretary Ken Salazaar.

“We should be honest with ourselves. … We are dependent on oil and gas and we will be,” Salazar told senators. “As an economy in transition, it’s something that we need to do.”

And of course, Obama concurs.

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An Electrical Grid We Can Believe In

Posted in alternative energy, coal, energy, environment by allisonkilkenny on February 23, 2009

Matthew Yglesias

CAP’s Bracken Hendricks has a report out on the need to invest in and revitalize our national electricity transmission grid. There are a number of aspects to this problem, but perhaps the clearest and most compelling one from a progressive perspective is simply the fact that the current grid essentially locks us in to planet-destroying coal to power an enormous amount of the country. Why? Well, we don’t have any high-voltage transmission lines going into the part of the country where the best onshore wind resources are, and we have few lines going to where the best solar power sights are:

grid_map2.jpg 

Although the United States has vast onshore wind resources—more than enough to supply 20 percent of the nation’s electricity demand by 2030, according to a recent Department of Energy study—the best of these wind resources are located primarily in remote regions of the country. These areas are generally located far from major centers of electricity demand and have little or no access to the “backbone” extra- high-voltage transmission lines that would be required in order to transmit power efficiently from these regions to major electricity markets.

A similar problem confronts solar power developers, who have identified sparsely populated areas of the desert Southwest as optimal locations for large-scale solar power stations. Absent major investments in extra-high-voltage transmission lines connecting these areas of the country to major markets, it is unlikely that the United States will be able to fully exploit these renewable energy resources at a scale that can significantly contribute to our national appetite for energy. The development of remote geothermal resources faces similar transmission constraints.

Of course the larger reason why the grid has this shape is simply that it’s very old. The United States was a world leader in terms of large-scale electrification, especially of rural areas. But what that means is that the technology underlying the system is antiquated, and doesn’t take advantage of modern digital technology to manage the electricity. On top of that, the system is, for historical reasons, an odd patchwork of state-level regulators. In practice, however, the grid is an interstate concern. And especially if we want to pipe renewable energy from where the resources are to where the people live, that needs to be done on an interstate basis.