Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

The nation’s other non-BP disasters

Surely, the BP disaster deserves the obsessive coverage it has received (thus far). But at the risk of missing some other important stories, I want to briefly address two somewhat overlooked catastrophes – one that has already taken place, and one that possesses the potential to be horrific, but we still have time to stop.

Many Americans would be surprised to hear there’s another domestic oil spill – in Salt Late City. (via)

Chevron says a hole the size of a quarter caused their pipeline to rupture around 33,000 gallons of oil into the creek.

The manager of Chevron’s refinery in the Salt Lake City area said Monday that the company believes the rupture in the 10-inch pipeline was caused by an electrical arc that traveled through a metal fence post. Mark Sullivan says the arc acted like an electrical torch, causing the hole.

Sullivan couldn’t say how long the pipeline was leaking before Chevron was notified of the problem Saturday morning. But Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker says residents could smell the odor of petroleum overnight Friday.

The spill has coated about 300 birds at area creeks and ponds, and the oil is possibly threatening an endangered fish.

Chairman of the Salt Lake City Council,  J.T. Martin, calls the event a horrible tragedy.

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Contractors raking in mad cash in wake of BP disaster

Posted in Barack Obama, BP, corporations, deregulation, environment, offshore drilling, regulation by allisonkilkenny on June 12, 2010

A rescue worker captures one oil-covered brown pelican off the coast of Louisiana. AP Photo

God, this is depressing. The industrial sector is just about extinct, corporations are fleeing the country to exploit cheap foreign labor, unions are gasping their last breaths, and 6.8 million Americans have been unemployed 27 weeks, or longer (the numbers are higher in places like Detriot, which has 30 percent unemployment, but the media doesn’t really focus on that reality).

But there is good news! Well, kind of. If your trade is oil spill clean-up, you’re experiencing a bonanza right now.

Hundreds of contractors and subcontractors are doing jobs both complex and mundane, whether it’s building the robots that BP sends 5,000 feet underwater to capture live video of the broken wellhead or providing boats to skim oil from the water’s surface. And then there is the cottage industry that has sprung up overnight to support the 24,600 cleanup workers, catering their meals, hauling away their trash and supplying portable toilets.

“There’s money flowing in the streets,” said Michael E. Hoffman, director of research at Wunderlich Securities, a Memphis-based brokerage firm.

America may be losing the race to evolve technology, and alternative fuels, but at least we still lead the way in creating horrible catastrophes that our unemployed masses can then toil to clean up.

Ever the barometer of compassionate altruism, Wall Street immediately rushed to figure out who would be the winners of the BP disaster. The financial sector doesn’t price superfluous biological waste like sea turtles, or oceans because things like endangered pelicans don’t make the right people money. However, Wall Street does know how to price stuff like hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic dispersants.

Within two weeks of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion, the stock price of Clean Harbors, a Boston-based hazardous-waste management company, shot up more than 20 percent. During the same period, Nalco Holding Co., which makes the chemical dispersant Corexit, rose to nearly a year high.

Sure, Nalco, made a killing during the disaster. It helps that one of its board members, Rodney F. Chase, is a former BP board member. That cozy relationship provides Nalco with unique access to the big business of oil spill cleanup. The Wapost article doesn’t mention that stuff (why get messy?) but it does include this nugget:

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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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MMS continues to issue shallow-water drilling permits

Posted in Barack Obama, offshore drilling, regulation, United States by allisonkilkenny on June 3, 2010

OMFG Photo: AP

The MMS granted a drilling permit yesterday to Bandon Oil and Gas that will allow the company to drill 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana in a water depth of 115 feet. Reports of MMS banning drilling for six months apply only to depths greater than 500 feet. Nonetheless, the fact that MMS is still issuing any permits has angered some people.

“I’m outraged,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director for the Tucson, Ariz.,-based Center for Biological Diversity, after a reporter told him of the new permit. “How is it that shallow water drilling suddenly became safe again?”

[snip]

Suckling said the administration was misleading the public by quietly resuming work in shallow waters while acting as if it was taking a tough look at deepwater work.

Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff assures everyone that anyone drilling in shallow-water operations will have to meet certain specified standards.

“All operators who are drilling or intend to drill in shallow water must first meet applicable interim safety standards announced last week by the president,” Barkoff said. “Those operators who are already drilling must stop at a safe place and implement the safety requirements before continuing.”

It’s difficult to take any assurances coming from ID or MMS seriously, since the startling mismanagement and deregulation trends began under their watch. It’s a bit like if a surgeon severs a patient’s pulmonary vein, and as blood shoots up like a mini-geyser, asks the entire OR to “just trust” them.

It’s easier to trust people who haven’t massively fucked up everything.

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Canadian government dumping toxic waste in Arctic

Posted in deregulation, environment, world by allisonkilkenny on May 30, 2010

Colin Horgan follows up on an article I wrote about BP racing up to Canada in order to get northern legislators to deregulate their industry (because that worked out super well in America). This time, the villain is the Canadian government itself.

After two years and a request under the Access to Information Act, the Canadian Press has revealed that there have been numerous toxic spills and dumps in the Arctic, and that “one of the most frequent offenders is the federal government.”

The CP report continues:

The analysis found 260 spills in the North over five years. There were 137 spills in the Northwest Territories, 82 in Nunavut and 41 in the Yukon.

The biggest spill happened in Nunavut two years ago. Residents of Hall Beach marked Canada Day in 2008 with a dike failure that released 13.5 million litres of sewage in their remote hamlet.

Environment Canada says sewage seeped out of a lagoon into a wetlands area. The sewage didn’t make it into any bodies of water where fish could be affected.

[…]

Some spills took weeks or even months to clean up, while others were dealt with in a day or less.

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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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Massive new oil plume may have been caused by dispersants

Posted in BP, environment, offshore drilling by allisonkilkenny on May 27, 2010
A handout picture obtained on February 17, 200...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via @daylife

Scientists have discovered a massive new oil plume stretching 22 miles toward Mobile Bay, Alabama. This is the second major plume to be discovered (the first was found underwater). Ironically, dispersants, the stuff that is supposed to coagulate the oil and sink it beneath the surface of the water, may be the culprits responsible for the plumes.

The researchers say they are worried these undersea plumes may be the result of the unprecedented use of chemical dispersants to break up the oil a mile undersea at the site of the leak.

[David Hollander, associate professor of chemical oceanography at the University of South Florida College of Marine Science,] said the oil they detected has dissolved into the water, and is no longer visible, leading to fears from researchers that the toxicity from the oil and dispersants could pose a big danger to fish larvae and creatures that filter the waters for food.

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Oil spill clean-up workers report feeling ‘drugged, disoriented’

Posted in corporations by allisonkilkenny on May 26, 2010

This was to be expected.

Last week, the wives of some of the fishermen spoke out publicly about the symptoms their husbands were experiencing. This week, some fishermen are starting to come forward. In this WDSU TV interview, one of the fishermen reports feeling drugged, disoriented, tingling, fatigued, and also reporting shortness of breath and cough. These are symptoms that are consistent with what one might expect from exposure to hydrocarbons in oil.

HOPEDALE, LA - MAY 13:  Crab trap builder Shaw...

Crab trap builder Shawn Platt stands with his idle traps in on May 13, 2010 in Hopedale, Louisiana. Image by Getty Images North America via @daylife

Maybe. But these are also some of the symptoms reported by individuals who were exposed to Corexit.

One of the two Corexit products that BP is suing [sic] in the Gulf also contains a compound that is associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems

Corexit is also linked with respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders.

Obviously, there’s no way to tell what is causing these symptoms, and BP has no interest in allowing the media to find out. Many of the fishermen working for BP signed contracts that forbid them to talk to the press, and BP is ruling the Gulf area with an iron fist. Even CEO Tony Hayward has joined the fun, and is shouting at random cameramen.

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A Real, Live Hero Needs Your Help

Posted in environment by allisonkilkenny on January 6, 2009

decristopherwebTim DeChristopher is a hero, and that’s not hyperbole.

I previously posted about him over here. DeChristopher “bought” 22,000 acres of land in an attempt to save the property from drilling. The sale had been strongly opposed by many environmental groups. Stephen Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said, “This is the fire sale, the Bush administration’s last great gift to the oil and gas industry.”

Basically, DeChristopher posed as a drilling company representative and bid on the public land. And he won. 

Now, he needs our help. Actually, he needs $45,000 to protect the land he sacrificed his freedom for:

As you may have already heard, on December 19th I chose to disrupt the BLM oil and gas auction through an act of civil disobedience by bidding against participating oil & gas companies. I ended up “winning” the leases for 22,500 acres of beautiful land near Moab. You can find more details at www.bidder70.org.

    The tremendous support I’ve received in response to my action was unexpected and utterly inspiring. Hundreds of people have contributed over $10,000 to my legal defense and to the $45,000 bond obligation for the leases. And countless others have expressed their solidarity and support for the long American tradition of meaningful civil disobedience.

    In addition to the moving effect on me, this support has also opened up the real possibility of paying off the leases which I “won”. The initial payment on this, required to secure the land, is around $45,000. After a good deal of struggling over this choice, I have decided to raise the money to secure the leases. With much advice from my legal team, it has become clear to me that making the down payment on the leases is the best way to protect the land until we can restore open, transparent and democratic procedures for determining the fate of valuable public lands.

     It is still unclear how the new administration will deal with this inappropriate auction and the disruption I caused to it, but I can only hope the President Obama follows through on his promise for a transparent government. Until then I will make sure that no drilling or development happens on this land, and for that I need your help. This is an opportunity for all of us to make a clear statement of how much we care for our land, our climate and participatory democracy.

    Please donate to help protect these 22,500 acres of wilderness (and reduce the chance of prison for me). Together we can protect this land and show that we are all willing to make the sacrifices necessary for a livable future.

    Please forward this email on to as many people as you can and continue to spread the word of the need for critical action. Thank you for being a part of protecting the future for all of us.

    Sincerely,
    Tim DeChristopher

DONATE WHATEVER YOU CAN SPARE HERE

WATCH TIM ON DEMOCRACY NOW HERE

ABC Refused to Air Clean Energy Ad

Posted in environment by allisonkilkenny on January 4, 2009

abc-logothumbnailTarget: ABC
Sponsored by: Alliance for Climate Protection – We Can Solve It
ABC recently refused to run Alliance for Climate Protection’s Repower America ad, even though they run ads from oil companies like Chevron and Exxon that mislead the American people about the role fossil fuels play in the climate crisis.

The Repower America ad has a clear and simple message — that massive spending by oil and coal companies on advertising is a key reason our nation hasn’t switched to clean and renewable sources for our energy.

Ask ABC to reconsider their decision and air Alliance for Climate Protection’s Repower America ad.

Watch the ad here

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