Skip to main content

Terry Winckler's blog

<Editor's Note: Our newest blogger, Earthjustice attorney Marianne Engelman-Lados, compiled this report.>

The response to the oil spill in the Gulf has exposed fundamental flaws in the current system for regulating the use of chemical dispersants. Since April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded, BP has added nearly two million gallons of dispersants to the waters of the Gulf.

<Update 7/9: The 5th Circuit Appeals Court decided not to intervene on an emergency basis - and reinstate the administration's moratorium on offshore drilling - unless deepwater drilling is actually going to resume, reports Patti Goldman, vice-president of litigation for Earthjustice. The shoe is now on the oil industry's foot. If they choose to resume drilling, they risk another quick trip to the 5th Circuit.>

<Update 7/8: A 3-panel appeals court has refused to reinstate a moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf of California.>

The immediate future of deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is at stake today in a federal appeals court, where Earthjustice and the Obama administration are arguing to reinstate a moratorium put in place after the BP oil well rupture. Oil industry advocates convinced a federal district court to lift the moratorium last month.

With oil gushing into the Gulf at an estimated 2.4 million gallons a day, our argument for the moratorium should be obvious—we can't afford this kind of risky drilling until the BP oil spill is fully quelled and we know exactly why this devastating incident occurred. We already know that the approval process for the BP well and others in the Gulf was corrupted by a too-cozy relationship between the oil industry and regulatory agencies, especially the Minerals Management Service.

Until the government can clean up its regulatory act, and the industry shows that it can clean up—and prevent—major oil spills, we will continue to argue against resumption of deep water drilling. And let's be clear—the moratorium only affects a small number of drilling operations in the Gulf. The vast majority continue to operate and are not affected by this court action.

If the appeals court refuses to lift the moratorium, the Interior Department said it will institute a revised, new moratorium in short order.

<Update 7/6: High seas have disrupted testing of the "A Whale" oil skimmer, the Coast Guard reports.>

<Update 7/1: Speaking of whales, a number of whale sharks have been spotted in the oil spill area, which is particularly bad for them, as they are plankton eaters—meaning they sieve the oil-laden waters. The species is among six described as most threatened by the spill, according to AOL. Other species listed are sea turtles, bluefin tuna, sperm whales, dolphins and brown pelicans.>

A record described as "notorious" in a USA Today headline is being reached today in the Gulf of Mexico as BP's oil spill tops the estimated 140-million-gallon mark. The previous record Gulf spill was 139 million gallons in the 1979 spill off Mexico's coast—but it took a year of gushing to get there. BP's spill has been gushing from its blown-out well since April 20 at up to 2.4 million gallons a day.

Even as that unhappy record is being achieved, the federal government has brought on scene the latest attempt to clean up the oil. A monster skimmer ship—3 1/2 football fields long and 10 stories high and named the "A Whale"—chugged in today, especially equipped to skim as much as 21 million gallons of oiled water per day—if the EPA gives the go ahead. The ship has never been tested.

<Update 7/1: All BP oil spill cleanup and containment efforts are on hold as wind and waves from the former Hurricane Alex push through the oil spill area. Although the storm stayed 600 miles to the west, it still had enough punch to not only stop the cleanup but actually push oil deeper into coastal wetlands and onto beaches.>

<Update: BP has replaced the containment cap on its damaged Gulf oil well, after it had been removed the day before to be inspected, according to AP.>

Oil is once more gushing almost unrestricted into the Gulf of Mexico, after an apparent undersea accident today forced BP to remove the cap which has allowed the company to capture much of the oil that has been escaping from its damaged well.

According to various media reports, a remote operated submersible bumped the cap's vent, disrupting the system set up three weeks. This is just the latest in a series of mishaps thwarting BP's attempts to close the well after an explosion ruptured the wellhead more than two months ago.

According to reports in both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, the removed cap is being inspected for any signs of hydrates formation, which can plug the cap. There was no estimate of when the cap might be replaced. A second oil removal system, that takes away up to 10,000 barrels a day and burns it off, is still operating. Total estimated outflow from the well is up to 60,000 barrels daily.
 

Now that human technology has failed to keep oil out of Gulf coast wetlands, some scientists think the solution lies with one of nature's most ancient techniques—flooding of the Mississippi River.

The scientists have concluded that powerful river flows kept oil from the BP/Gulf spill from invading large areas of wetlands. But as winter runoff diminished, so too did the river flow, and now oil is making a destructive invasion. The strong flow could be restored, however, by simply adjusting dams upstream that are diverting water out of the river bed.

Pages

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.