Terry Winckler's Blog Posts

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Terry Winckler's blog

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Everyone has The Right To Breathe clean air. Watch a video featuring Earthjustice Attorney Jim Pew and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a coal plant's smokestack, breathing in daily lungfuls of toxic air for more than two decades.

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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.

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Terry Winckler is Earthjustice's Editor and resident wordsmith who edits and produces our blog, online monthly newsletter and quarterly print magazine. His appreciation for all that is wild began as a child when he would spend countless hours outdoors, gazing at fireflies on soft summer nights, or listening to his father's tales of the vast primeval forest in Canada's North Woods. Terry's heroes include saints, do-gooders, champions of the underdog, free spirits and nature lovers. In his free time, he enjoys engaging with his spouse and children, eating fistfuls of peppermint stick ice cream and spinning a good yarn.

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19 May 2010, 3:34 PM
Salazar divides MMS into three bureaus
Heavy oil now in coastal marshes. Courtesy National Geographic

Exposed by the Gulf oil spill disaster as a conflict-ridden friend of oil companies it was supposed to regulate, the federal Minerals Management Service died today—dismantled by Interior Sec. Ken Salazar, who's obviously feeling the heat of eight congressional hearings and an angry president.

The MMS, corrupted by the sum of its dual roles to collect royalties from oil companies it oversees, was split into three separate agencies: Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

Unfortunately, the split comes too late for the Gulf of Mexico, which is reeling from millions of gallons of oil loosed into it by a British Petroleum offshore drilling scheme that MMS approved on assurances from BP that the chances of a big spill were insignificant and that, at any rate, BP could handle anything that happened.

It still isn't too late for the Arctic Ocean, however, whose sensitive offshore waters are to be drilled this summer by Shell Oil under an inadequate plan also approved by the MMS. At this point, only President Obama and/or Sec. Salazar can keep this from happening.

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19 May 2010, 8:16 AM
Surely, the nation and its president won't be smooth-talked this time
Chukchi Sea, Arctic - Courtesy Greenpeace

It's hard to imagine—as we watch oil billowing into the Gulf of Mexico and washing into coastal wetlands—that Shell Oil is using this out-of-control scenario to bolster its case to drill this summer in offshore Arctic waters.

Shell officials promised federal officials yesterday that it has learned the lesson of the Gulf and will have on hand all the safety goodies British Petroleum didn't—items like that containment dome (that failed), dispersants (toxic), robots and divers.

These assurances from Shell might carry some weight if we hadn't already been fed the same smooth line last year by BP in documents it filed with the Minerals Management Service—the federal regulatory agency that is being radically reorganized and is the focus of a presidential commission and eight congressional hearings because of its snuggly relationship with the oil industry. The Mobile Register did some snooping in those documents and came up with this:

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18 May 2010, 12:37 PM
As Gulf spill proves, drilling permits are too easily granted by MMS

Permits to sell hot dogs are harder to get than permits to drill offshore in deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, an Earthjustice attorney said this morning as he filed a lawsuit challenging the federal Minerals Management Service for letting companies like British Petroleum drill without adequate safety measures.

BP, which has struggled for a month to stop a catastrophic oil spill after its Gulf deepwater drill rig exploded, was given a wave-of-the-hand waiver of legal requirements by the MMS—and then started drilling. Only after the well blew out, and BP was confronted with a worst-case scenario that it hadn't been forced to plan for, did MMS's regulatory failure become obvious.

For attorney David Guest, what's frightening—and is at the heart of the Earthjustice suit—is that there are at least 60 other permits for deepwater drilling in the Gulf that received the same lenient waiver of requirements from MMS. That's five dozen time bombs that shouldn't be allowed to tick, he said.

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18 May 2010, 7:25 AM
President joins government search for answers in Gulf oil spill
A tar ball. Photo: USGS

Federal hearings into the Gulf oil spill are positively gushing in Washington D.C., and now President Obama is jumping directly into the fray with a presidential commission to investigate government and industry failures.

<Update: Did the Minerals Management Service simply take British Petroleum's word that drilling was safe in deep offshore waters? At today's Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the question was bluntly put to Interior Sec. Ken Salazar.> 

At yesterday's congressional hearing, Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano conceded that the federal government hasn't the expertise or background to deal with deep-water drilling scenarious, adding to a growing body of evidence that government agencies have been overly dependent on oil industry guidance and expertise.

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17 May 2010, 8:17 AM
As Congress probes further, oil's danger spreads unseen

So, here's the Gulf of Mexico oil situation after a weekend of struggles to stem the flood of oil, assessing where all the spilled oil has gone and what it's doing, and preparing for the immediate future.

<Update: A whistleblower filed suit today against British Petroleum, hoping to halt BP's drilling operation at another Gulf of Mexico offshore site. The reason: alleged failure to review engineering designs that could lead to an oil spill that could "dwarf" the one BP is dealing with now.>

<Update: The first political casualty of the Gulf oil spill is the top official overseeing offshore oil and gas drilling for the Minerals Management Service—the federal agency soon to be drastically reorganized because of its cozy relationship with the oil industry it is supposed to regulate.>

As British Petroleum shows some success in diverting oil from its ruptured well on the seabed, scientists have discovered vast plumes of undersea oil—one the size of Manhattan. The ecological implications are hard to grasp because it mostly is lurking out of sight. AP provides this:

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14 May 2010, 4:27 PM
Storm season brings unpredictable new threats to crippled Gulf

After facing a president's wrath today over a drilling operation gone catastrophically awry, British Petroleum now has only two weeks before Mother Nature's annual hurricane season arrives in the Gulf of Mexico.

And mama is particularly high strung this year, say meteorologists, who predict worse-than-usual storm activity from June through November, when the season ends. The powerful storms could savage BP's efforts to stop the spill and clean up the many millions of gallons of spilled oil. As for the oil itself—spread from ocean floor to surface across a Delaware-sized area—churning hurricane winds could do things no one can predict, although some are trying <Update: Here's a New York Times look at the hurricane connection>. According to a report in Reuters:

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14 May 2010, 7:39 AM
As BP struggles, a warning that spill could greatly increase

<Update: Today, President Obama endorsed a plan to radically reorganize the federal Minerals Management Services agency because of its conflict-of-interest relationship with the oil industry. The MMS collects billions of dollars in royalties from oil companies it is supposed to regulate. "It is pretty clear that the system failed, and failed badly," the president said in reference to how MMS and oil companies handled the approval process for the Gulf of Mexico oil well that blew out three weeks ago, gushing millions of gallons of oil into the sea.>

<Update: Also today, as reported by The New York Times:

Reacting to reports that federal regulators allowed extensive offshore drilling without first demanding the required environmental permits, the White House and the Interior Department said Friday that there would be a review of all actions taken by the Minerals Management Service, the agency responsible for offshore rigs, under the National Environmental Policy Act.

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13 May 2010, 8:31 AM
Spotlight on feds for being misled by earlier assurances

After passing blame for the Gulf oil spill during congressional hearings earlier this week, the head of British Petroleum is now accepting some—admitting that his company wasn't prepared to handle a spill that continues to pour 210,000 gallons of oil each day. <See the undersea video of leaking oil.>

The Wall Street Journal reports that BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward "in an interview with a small group of journalists Wednesday night, admitted the U.K.-based oil giant had not had the technology available to stop the leak, and said in hindsight it was 'probably true' that BP should have done more to prepare for an emergency of this kind."

Hayward's admission is in stark contrast to assurances BP made in convincing the federal Minerals Management Service to permit it to drill in mile-deep Gulf waters. Similar assurances by Shell Oil convinced MMS to permit Shell's exploratory offshore drilling this summer in the Arctic Ocean—something Earthjustice is working vigorously to prevent.

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12 May 2010, 11:25 AM
Carelessness and industry self-regulation created the calamity
Rep. Henry Waxman

Today—three long weeks into an oil spill that threatens ecological and economic disaster in the Gulf of Mexico—federal officials probing the accident seemed both angry and incredulous at what they were being told, The New York Times reports.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said at his committee's hearing on the accident:

This catastrophe appears to have been caused by a calamitous series of equipment and operational failures. If the largest oil and oil service companies in the world had been more careful, 11 lives might have been saved and our coastlines protected.

<Update: Reporting from the hearing, The Wall Street Journal said today's revelations about failed testing and equipment failure has shaken committee Republicans who "are long-time allies of the oil industry." Addressing the failure of the all-important blowout preventer, The Journal went on to report:


After being told that blowout preventers aren't designed for all disaster situations, Rep. Joe Barton (R., Texas) said that "I would think that your blowout preventer, your technology, your casing, should be designed to handle" a catastrophic release of pressure. If my assumption is wrong, then we have to reassess the entire OCS (outer continental shelf) drilling program."


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11 May 2010, 6:56 PM
Oil spill disaster in Gulf causes major swing in public opinion

<Update: Environmental groups are hopeful that public outrage over the Gulf oil spill strengthens a green movement towards more sustainable living.>

Public opinion is sharply reflecting three weeks of un-staunched oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Less than half of Americans now support offshore oil drilling—a huge drop from the days of "drill, baby, drill"—according to a new CBS poll.

Polling indicates a swing from 64 percent favorable to offshore drilling to only 46 percent now. Forty-one percent of those polled say the costs and risks of drilling are too great. Previously, only 28 percent held that position.