Nel's New Day

January 10, 2013

Shell Drilling Would Destroy Arctic Waters

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:34 PM
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Shell Oil has spent almost $5 billion trying to set up offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, but the disaster at the end of December will hopefully prevent them from doing this—at least for a while. On New Year’s Eve, the 28,000-ton Kulluk, carrying about 140,000 gallons of diesel, grounded near Kodiak Island, Alaska, after losing its towing lines in heavy winds. The Coast Guard is coordinating a 500-plus person response to figure out the damage, but no one knows when or how they can regain control of the massive hulk.

One thing that is known is that Shell was most likely moving the rig in very harsh conditions to save $6 million in state taxes that they would pay if the rig stayed in Alaska waters on January 1. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) has provided detailed information about this situation. Bad news for Shell: it’s still in Alaska waters. This is the company that wants rights to drill offshore in Arctic waters.

Some of Shell’s 2012 problems:

  • February: A Government Accountability Office report identified challenges related to Arctic offshore drilling and concluding that Shell’s “dedicated capabilities do not completely mitigate some of the environmental and logistical risks associated with the remoteness and environment of the region.”
  • February: Sixty members of congress, nearly 400,000 American citizens and 573 scientists urged the administration to halt Arctic offshore drilling.
  • April: Lloyd’s of London warned that responding to an oil spill in a region that is “highly sensitive to damage” would present “multiple obstacles, which together constitute a unique and hard-to-manage risk.” (Does that mean no insurance?)
  • April: German bank WestLB refused to provide financing for any offshore oil or gas drilling in the Arctic, saying the “risks and costs are simply too high.”
  • July: Shell lost control of its Noble Discoverer rig when the vessel slipped its mooring and came close to running aground in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
  • July: Shell’s oil spill response barge, a key piece of oil spill response equipment, repeatedly failed to get Coast Guard certification keeping Shell from beginning drilling work on schedule.
  • August: Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil announces it will suspend its own plans to drill offshore in the Alaskan Arctic Ocean after watching Shell’s struggles. They said they were going to watch Shell before deciding to drill there.
  • September: A British parliamentary committee called for a halt to drilling in the Arctic Ocean until necessary steps are taken to protect the region from the potentially catastrophic consequences of an oil spill.
  • September: France-based Total SA, the fourth largest publicly traded oil and gas company in the world, became the first major oil producer to admit that offshore drilling in Arctic waters is a risky idea, saying such operations could be a “disaster” and warning other companies against drilling in the region.
  • September: Shell’s containment barge repeatedly failed to receive Coast Guard approval which forced Shell to postpone exploratory drilling operations until 2013 and settle instead for beginning to drill two non-oil producing preparatory wells.
  • September: Shell suspends drilling as a massive ice pack covering approximately 360 square miles drifts toward the site just one day after starting its preparatory drilling.
  • November: More than a week after preparatory drilling ended for the season, Shell experienced a number of complications when it tried to get its Kulluk rig out of the Beaufort Sea more than a week after the preparatory drilling season ended.
  • December: Internal emails between Interior Department officials showed that the September test of Shell’s oil spill containment system was not just a failure but a complete disaster. The containment dome “breached like a whale” and was “crushed like a beer can” – and all in the comparatively temperate waters of Puget Sound.
  • December: Shell’s second drilling rig, Kulluk, slips its cables while being towed out of Alaska waters on an accelerated schedule in order to dodge paying Alaska taxes in 2013. The rig, along with its 150,000 gallons of fuel and drilling fluid, washes up on an uninhabited island along one of Alaska’s most pristine coastlines.

Yet in June, June, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters “I believe there’s not going to be an oil spill.” The next month, Shell changed its spill response statement from recovering 95 percent of any spilled oil to encountering  95 percent of spilled oil with no provisions regarding what they would collect. Salazar now says the administration is committed to having exploration of oil in that region, but he isn’t sure it would happen this year. The Obama Administrations has ordered a sweeping review of Shell’s plans to drill in the Arctic.

Drilling rig Kulluk, photo from Alaska Dispatch

Drilling rig Kulluk, photo from Alaska Dispatch

Why can’t people trust Shell’s offshore drilling? Here are a few reasons beyond the company’s preference to save tax money rather than the environment:

  • Shell has no idea how much an oil spill clean-up would cost. That’s the word from Peter Velez, Shell’s head of emergency response in the Arctic.
  • Shell’s barge, the Arctic Challenger, was not deemed safe enough by the US government. The 36-year-old barge used to drag safety equipment through the ice is “no longer appropriate” for the Arctic environment—according to Shell!
  • The U.S. Coast Guard is “not confident” with Shell’s dispersants in the event of an oil spill. The commandant said, “I’m not confident what it will do in the colder water up in Alaska.”
  • Shell’s drill ship runs aground in a “stiff breeze.” The Noble Discoverer ran aground in the sheltered and relatively calm Dutch Harbour, Alaska, in a 35mph wind. Both this drill ship and the Kulluk are old, rusty vessels, and the Kulluk was mothballed for the last 13 years.
  • Shell’s drill ship catches fire. The Noble Discoverer caught fire when it returned to Dutch Harbour last November; the fire had to be put out by specialist fire crews.
  • Shell’s capping stack safety system was “crushed like a beer can” during testing. In December a Federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement revealed that this had happened three months earlier.
  • Shell’s Alaskan Vice-President admits: “There will be spills.” They just don’t know what to do about this.
  • Shell is more interested in money than safety. That’s what caused their oil rig, Kulluk, to run aground off the coast of Alaska while the company was trying to tow it back to Seattle. The Kullik hit heavy weather in the gulf of Alaska a few days earlier. Its 400-foot towing line broke and the rig drifted free. The tug managed to reconnect with the Kulluk, but it “experienced multiple engine failures” 50 miles south of Kodiak Island, causing the rig to drift free once again in 35-foot seas and 40-mph winds. The rig eventually ran aground on December 31, 2012, after another attempt to tow it away. The Kulluk has 139,000 gallons of diesel and 12,000 gallons of hydraulic oil on board.  Teams on the ground are currently still trying to secure the rig.

Tell Shell to stay out of the Arctic waters.

April 6, 2012

One Heart at a Time: LGBT Rights Progress

The Gay Politics Report comes into my email box a couple of times each week. Usually it has one or two articles that seem to move LGBT rights ahead with the majority providing discouraging news for equality. Somehow this edition was encouraging enough to make me search for even more good news for the LGBT community.

Lesbian chef Mirella Salemi has been awarded $1.6 million from restaurateur Edward Globokar after he held employee prayer meetings at his TriBeCa Mexican eatery, Mary Ann’s, to cure her of her “sexuality.” She worked there for six years before she quit in 2007. Globokar discriminated against employees in his six Manhattan restaurants, telling them they faced eternal damnation unless they went to church.

Joe Abell, an assistant school principal in Fullerton (CA), apologized to student Kearian Giertz after interrupting his speech for the annual Mr. Fullerton competition, walking him off the stage, and telling him he was disqualified. Giertz explained how he received Abell’s ire: “I said, ‘Hopefully, in 10 years time, I’ll be winning Emmys, Oscars and Tonys’–just, you know, the typical answer–and, then, I added, ‘But, more importantly, I’d really, really like to sit on the couch with the person that I love and say I’m married to them. In my case, that would be a male. And, I hope that, in 10 years time, that would be legal.’” Good for you, Kearian. Other students objected to this treatment.

After suing a southwest Ohio school district for not allowing him to wear a t-shirt with the statement “Jesus Is Not a Homophobe,” 16-year-old Maverick Couch will be permitted to wear the shirt for just one day—the Day of Silence that the school commemorates on April 20. That isn’t stopping Couch from continuing his lawsuit against Waynesville High School and the Wayne Local School District for violating his freedom of expression rights. School officials said the shirt was “sexual in nature,” indecent, and inappropriate at school. Couch said he wanted to wear the shirt to “promote respect for all students, gay or straight.” Couch’s attorney, Christopher Clark, said, “A student’s First Amendment rights are not restricted to one day of the year.”

U.S. Chief Judge Michael J. Davis has ruled that a marriage between a man and a transgender woman is legal under Minnesota law and that a health insurance plan could not drop the woman from her husband’s health benefits. The judge said that because one person is male and the other legally transitioned to female, the couple qualifies as legally married under the state’s Defense of Marriage Act. Davis is bucking the past trend of ruling the opposite way. A Texas judge voided a marriage last summer because a firefighter’s widow was born male. Kansas and Florida have had similar rulings based on the states’ Defense of Marriage Acts or state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

The rating for the film Bully has been changed from “R” to PG-13 because three expletives were edited out of the documentary. Bully was released on March 30 with no rating; a re-release with the new rating is scheduled for April 13. The film about school bullying follows five young people for a year. The monthlong rating dispute between The Weinstein Co. that released the film and the MPAA that gives ratings was made more public across the nation after 17-year-old Katy Butler of Ann Arbor (MI) started an online petition calling for a rating that would allow more young people to see it. The “R” rating for Bully for three expletives has been compared to the PG-13 rating for The Hunger Games in which ten teenagers are violently killed.

Four former DNC Chairs–Howard Dean, Donald Fowler, Steve Grossman and David Wilhelm—have joined Freedom to Marry’s Democrats: Say I Do campaign to secure a freedom-to-marry plank in the 2012 Democratic Party platform. The former chairs issued the following statement: ”We are proud that the Democratic Party fights for working families, economic justice, and equal opportunity for all.  Times change but our principles must always remain strong.  That is why, as former chairs of the Democratic National Committee, we stand with Freedom to Marry, 22 Democratic senators, Leader Nancy Pelosi, and more than 35,000 Americans in urging the Party to include a freedom to marry plank in the platform that is ratified at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this September.”

Robert “Bob” Kabel and Jill Homan have been elected to the posts of Republican national committeeman and committeewoman for the District of Columbia, making it the only jurisdiction with openly gay GOP committee members. Robert “Bob” Kabel and Jill Homan will officially take their positions in September at the conclusion of the 2012 Republican Convention.

The U.S. House of Representatives continues to use LGBT money to defend the Defense of Marriage Act preventing equality of marriage, this time before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. Paul Clement defended the discriminatory law, claiming that Congress had a rational basis for passing the law because, in 1996, Hawaii might become the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage and opponents worried that other states would be forced to recognize such marriages. He also said that Congress wanted to preserve a traditional and uniform definition of marriage and argued that Congress has the power to define the terms used in federal statutes to distribute federal benefits, the first time they would do since the adoption of the Constitution over 200 years ago.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery told the court that the Department of Justice would not be defending the constitutionality of the 1996 law regardless of the level of scrutiny the court found appropriate in the case. He supported that statement with President Obama’s February 2011 decision that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional because such laws should be subjected to heightened scrutiny and that, accordingly, DOJ would stop defending DOMA in court. He also argued that a law that denies same-sex couples a large number of federal benefits given to heterosexual couples amounts to “across-the-board disrespect.” Assistant Attorney General Maura Healey said “DOMA …. is really a rule of exclusion.” Mary Bonauto, an attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), said Congress passed the law out of “moral disapproval.”

Clement also tried to make the case that DOMA isn’t an anti-gay law. Although DOJ, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and GLAD argued that DOMA was motivated by “animus”—anti-gay sentiment—Clement used the argument that the impact of DOMA was not all bad. “In some cases,” he said, “it’s a net financial benefit to the same-sex couple; in some, it’s not.” Delery quoted from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down sodomy laws, when Kennedy held that “times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.”

The House of Representatives is appealing a judgment in Massachusetts that declared the heart of the law unconstitutional in 2010. Judge Joseph Tauro found that the law interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including the ability to file joint tax returns. Mary and Dorene Bowe-Shulman, of Acton, plaintiffs in the GLAD lawsuit, said they resent having to check the “single” box on their tax returns because they’ve been legally married in Massachusetts since 2004. “It’s humiliating to have to declare to the federal government once a year that we’re not married when we are married,” Mary Bowe-Shulman said.

Another heated court case may come from the supposed failure of Anchorage’s Proposition 5 that would have included gay and transgender citizens in the anti-discrimination Municipal Code that already protects others based on race, gender, age, marital status and other traits.  Voting was so high that polling places ran out of ballots, thousands of questioned ballots were cast, and some voters may have been illegally turned away from the polls.

Adding to the confusion—and illegality—was the statement from the opposition’s Facebook page from its administrator Jim Minnery: “Attention Young People or First Time Voters – YOU CAN REGISTER AND VOTE AT THE SAME LOCATION TODAY !! It is super easy. Take a few minutes TODAY and stop by a polling station, register to vote (all you need is your AK driver’s license) and cast a NO Vote on Prop. 5. We really need you to vote. Tell at least 3 of your friends how easy it is.” Even when reminded that Alaska requires voters to register 30 days before an election, Minnery didn’t take down his statement.

Meanwhile the Catholic Church in Washington state has declared war on marriage equality. Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo are deploying parishes to collect signatures for Referendum 74, a measure that would overturn marriage equality in the state. Their letter denies Gov. Christine Gregoire’s statement that refusing marriage to same-sex couples equates to discrimination.

“Treating different things differently is not unjust discrimination,” the bishops claim. The Catholic leaders deny that same-sex couples can achieve “the reality of the unique, fruitful, lifelong union.” Showing their sensitivity, the authors of the letter asked that signatures not be gathered on Easter. Both Gregoire and State Sen. Ed Murray, sponsor of the marriage equality bill, are Catholic.

With all the progress, it’s one heart at a time. One conservative mother had her heart changed when she found out that her son is gay. Every anti-LGBT person should read her narrative.

March 23, 2012

Anti-Choice People Get Crazier

How crazy can anti-choice people become? Just when you think you’ve seen it all ….

Members of an anti-choice group performed an exorcism outside a women’s clinic in Ohio last Sunday. Priests got permission from the Rev. Steve J. Angi, chancellor of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, to perform the “exorcism of locality,” designed to drive evil out of a place, rather than out of a person. Participants read the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1886, that states, “Seize the dragon, the ancient serpent, which is the devil and Satan, bind him and cast him into the bottomless pit, that he may no longer seduce the nations.”

While the Catholics are exorcising “locality,” Republican legislators are becoming more and more outrageous. In Arizona Rep. Terri Proud wants a bill to force women witness an abortion before they can have the procedure. An Alaskan bill requires women who opt for abortions to prove in writing that the fetuses’ fathers approve of the procedures.

To keep women from having abortions, both Arizona and Kansas are considering bills giving women’s doctors the legal right to lie about health issues regarding both the pregnant women’s and the fetuses’ health. In a 20-9 vote, the Arizona Senate approved a bill, sponsored by Nancy Barto, that prevents lawsuits if doctors fail to inform women of prenatal problems. The Kansas bill goes further, permitting doctors to outright lie outright if they discover a medical condition that could affect a pregnant women or fetus. Nine other states already have “wrongful birth” laws on their books allowing doctors to withhold information from pregnant women.

Idaho State Sen. Chuck Winder clearly states the arrogant attitude that many Republican legislators have toward women. While discussing his mandatory ultrasound bill, he said, “Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes in to a physician with a rape issue, that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”

Gov. Rick Perry (TX) stated that he can take money from Planned Parenthood because the Tenth Amendment allows him to do anything with federal money that he wants. Between the withdrawal of state and federal funds from Planned Parenthood, over 300,000 Texas women in poverty can no longer receive health care. Texas also has a 24-hour waiting period and ultrasound requirements for abortions. The Texas Observer has published a story about the pain that these laws cause for women carrying fetuses with irreversible medical conditions, an article that every Republican should be required to read.

Utah’s governor signed the bill that demands a 72-hour waiting period before women can get abortions. The rationale behind lengthy waits seems to be that women will change their minds if given enough time … or perhaps not meet the short window of time during which women can get abortions.

The trend against women, however, seems to be slightly reversing. Tennessee is thinking about not requiring the publication of the names of doctors’ who perform abortions although the women’s identity could still be obvious. The change comes from the only physician in the legislature, a Republican who wants to protect at least doctors if not women.

The Idaho House is backing off forced ultrasounds after the Senate passed the bill 23-12 with five Republicans voting against it. The cancellation of a House committee hearing gives the impression that the bill may have died. After the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would force doctors to lie to their patients by telling them legislature-specified statements that abortions give higher risks for breast cancer, legislators decided to take the bill back to committee so that it could be reconsidered. Abortions do NOT give a higher risk of breast cancer.

Arizona’s bill requiring women to tell their employees why they want contraception has already passed the House, but it’s being amended by its sponsor, Rep. Debbie Lesko, who pulled it from the Senate Rules Committee. The intent to return to committee is to work on amendments—what kind wasn’t disclosed. Gov. Jan Brewer said she was concerned that women might be “uncomfortable” with the bill.

Utah governor Gary Herbert vetoed a bill banning public schools from teaching about contraception in health education classes.

Women are still fighting back. Project TMI is still posting on legislators’ Facebook pages across the nation.

The National Organization for Women (NOW), which has been almost invisible in the past few years, has tackled the bust of Rush Limbaugh being sculpted for the Missouri state capitol. The state chapter’s program, “Flush Rush,” has sent hundreds of rolls of toilet paper to Steven Tilley, the state House Speaker responsible for inducting Limbaugh in the Hall of Famous Missourians. Tilley’s justification for keeping Limbaugh in the capitol is that the Hall is “not called the Hall of Universally Loved Missourians. We’ve inducted people like John Ashcroft, Warren Hearnes, and Harry Truman. They certainly had their detractors.” Apparently at least one Missouri Republican compares Limbaugh to Harry Truman.

Because of its opposition to Planned Parenthood, the Susan G. Komen Foundation is losing affiliate officers and events. Another group—one that’s pro-choice and spends more of its funding helping women prevent breast cancer—would better suited to take its place.

Conservative legislators are also more reluctant to fight in other areas such as same-sex marriage. Two-thirds of the New Hampshire House voted to keep its 2007 same-sex marriage law in a 211 to 116 vote. Republicans hold 189 seats in the House; they could easily have passed the bill.

Even with this trend, the country trends farther and farther to the right. There must a tipping point somewhere!


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