Nel's New Day

March 26, 2014

Oil Spends Money on Drilling, Not Cleanup

On the 25th anniversary of the  Exxon Valdez oil spill last Sunday, the Houston Ship Channel was closed after a barge spilled almost 170,000 gallons of tar-like crude after a collision with a ship. At this time of the year, tens of thousands of shorebirds are migrating, right into the oil that’s gone as far as 12 miles offshore. Dead and oiled birds are already showing up. History repeating itself.

Twenty-five years after the oil spill at Alaska’s Bligh Reef, the oil remains in the inner tidal zone.  The spill of 11 million gallons covered 1,300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean. Those who lost their livelihood because of the dead fish recently settled for pennies on the dollar. Twenty years ago, they were awarded $2.5 billion; the Supreme Court decided that it should be $500 million for 32,000 people. Herring licenses worth $300,000 dropped to $15,000 after the disaster—about $625 for each year that they waited.

This coming month sees the fourth anniversary of the BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig explosion that killed 11 people and dumped 210 million gallons of oil into the fragile Gulf of Mexico—almost ten times the amount of thick crude oil that polluted Prince William Sound from the Exxon Valdez. Four years later, BP oil is still being tossed in the air from waves because of the BP’s use of dispersants on the Gulf surface and a mile deep. BP claimed that it wasn’t a problem, but Science magazine published a 2011 study showing that much of the material formed plumes toward the Louisiana coastline. Tar balls are also still washing up on the beaches.

BP has paid a little over one-third of its $9.2-billion estimate to businesses affected by fouled beaches. The company tried a stall in court, claiming that payments were going to people who had no losses. In early March, however, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit appeals court ruled against BP, declaring that the class action settlement for businesses suffering losses is legal—at least for the time being. The British company goes to court again on January 20, 2015 regarding federal Clean Water Act penalties.

While BP stalls, CEO Robert Dudley’s salary has tripled since 2012 when he agreed to a massive settlement. Dudley may have deserved his $13.2 million because BP made a $13.4-billion profit last year. And the United States government has let BP off the hook by reinstating the company’s right to federal contracts and drilling.

Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, wrote:

“Today’s announcement lets a corporate felon and repeat offender off the hook for its crimes against people and the environment. This is a company that was on criminal probation at the time of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, and it has failed to prove that it is a responsible contractor deserving of lucrative taxpayer deals.”

BP pled guilty to 11 charges of manslaughter and lying to Congress about the disaster.  It “ruined coastal areas in five states,” according to Monique Harden of the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights. “It is all about political deal-making.” The BP’s ban on U.S. contracts and new leases was done in 2012 because the company had not fully addressed the issues. After BP sued the EPA, the agency settled by allowing the contracts and releases. The deal was made just in time for the Interior Department lease sale of 40 million acres in the Gulf waters.

Not happy with polluting the Gulf of Mexico, BP has moved on to Lake Michigan. Less than a year after it “upgraded” its Whiting refinery in northwestern Indiana for heavy Canadian tar-sands oil, the refinery spewed oil into the lake. BP had already piled up petroleum coke in nearby Chicago. Lake Michigan is the source of drinking water for 7 million people. Both Illinois U.S. Senators—both Republican—took notice of the problem. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin released a joint statement:

“[T]hree weeks ago, BP announced a plan to nearly double its processing of heavy crude oil at its BP Whiting Refinery. Given today’s events and BP’s decision to increase production, we are extremely concerned about the possibility of a future spill that may not be so easily contained. We plan to hold BP accountable for this spill and will ask for a thorough report about the cause of this spill, the impact of the Whiting Refinery’s production increase on Lake Michigan, and what steps are being taken to prevent any future spill.”

Good luck with that!

North Dakota is cleaning up a 34,000-gallon oil spill 75 miles away from another accident in a wheat field last year. In Ohio, 20,000 gallons of crude recently leaked out of a pipeline onto a nature preserve. Denver-based Zavanna LLC has been fined after one of its wells spilled up to 1,400 gallons of oil near the confluence of Yellowstone and Missouri rivers during recent North Dakota flooding.

A bonus to the industry, the new head of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee is oil-friendly Mary Landrieu (D-LA). She took the job after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) moved to chair the Finance Committee with the departure of Max Baucus. GOP may complain about the environmental bent of the Democratic party, but they’re not talking about Landrieu. These are some of her votes:

  • In favor of an amendment sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to reverse the EPA’s decision to label CO2 a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.
  • Against the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
  • For an amendment to the 2012 transportation bill that would have opened up vast areas of coastline to offshore drilling, potentially damaging coastal industries and interfering with military activity.

Landrieu was missing when 31 Democratic senators had an all-night talk-a-thon about climate change this month. Her allegiance to the oil and gas industry has paid off: they’ve paid her $564,350 for this year’s campaign.

If her opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), gets Landrieu’s job, the Dems will have lost one of the 53 Democratic senators. If the Senate gains a GOP majority, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) will become Energy chair. Landrieu’s lifetime rating from the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is 49 percent, but Cassidy is at 11 percent and Murkowski at 21 percent. Even Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has a 69 percent score.

Dune Lankard is an Alaskan native, an Eyak of the Eagle clan, who has lived his entire life in Cordova, one of the hardest-hit towns by the Valdez disaster. Talking about the future of his home, he described the use of dispersants, like those used in the BP disaster.

“They spewed two million gallons of Corexit, which is more damaging to the environment than the oil spill itself because it’s like dumping carburetor fluid in the water. And so dispersants, bioremediation, using hot water washes that kills all the enzymes and all the organisms in the tidal zone, they found that that wasn’t the best thing that we could’ve done. So the best thing we can do is prevent oil spills from happening in the first place.”

As Lankard knows, however, the oil industry has put all its money into new drilling techniques and no money into handling oil spills.

Alaska’s other problem is the 35-year-old Trans-Alaska Pipeline, built to last 30 years. Lankyard’s suggestion is to clean it out and run water to the United States because of the growing shortage in the Lower 48.  If the GOP takes over the Senate, Lisa Murkowski takes over the Energy Committee. She’s from Alaska, and she loves the oil industry.

alaska_featured A bit of humor for the day: In less than a week over 25,000 Alaskans have signed an official White House petition to secede to Russia. A little less than 150 years ago, the United States bought Alaska because Russia lost so much money in the Crimean War. What might the United States buy from Russia now if Putin’s actions tank his country’s economy? It’s a thought.

May 22, 2013

House Passes Another Useless, Destructive Bill

Overturning Obamacare—for the 37th time—was the focus for the House of Representatives last week. This week they have wasted their time with the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Today with the help of 19 Democrats, GOP representatives approved a H.R. 3, “The Northern Route Approval Act,” declaring that a cross-border presidential permit was not needed from the president to approve the Canada-to-Nebraska leg of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

I call the action useless because it has to go through the Senate, where it will most likely fail, and then be signed by the president, who said that he veto it. In a memo yesterday, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said that the House bill “conflicts with long-standing Executive branch procedures.”

They did spend time proposing amendments, allowing nine of them to Democrats, some concerned with pipeline safety and clean-up costs for pipeline spills. All of these failed along party lines. And it’s only the seventh time that the House has voted on the bill, wasting fewer millions of dollars than on Obamacare.

The proposed pipeline would carry dangerous tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. That Oklahoma to Texas leg is finished, and TransCanada needs permits to get the oil to Nebraska.

Conservatives are quite insistent about getting the pipeline approved because of all the money that they have taken from the oil industry. Congressional members have taken $56 million from fossil fuel interests, $36 from just oil industry interests. The pipeline supporters have paid almost $400,000. Members opposing the pipeline have received less than $50,000.

Just three weeks ago, the Pegasus oil pipeline that devastated the Arkansas community in Mayflower and surrounding area, again developed a leak, this time in Missouri. Although the leak was small, it shows the problem with pipelines, especially when oil companies claim that they are not responsible for clean-up because of the chemicals added to the tar sands oil. The leak also occurred while the pipeline was closed.

Oil companies have a history of not paying for the damage that they cause. Three years after the epic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that caused 11 deaths, the BP, the responsible company, is lying about the dispersant used for clean-up and refusing to pay for the countless illnesses that workers have suffered.

It’s not as if the company can’t afford to pay: their 2013 first quarter profit was $4.2 billion. In the first three months of this year, BP made enough to almost pay the $4.5 billion fine levied against the corporation. BP put aside $8 billion of medical expenses related to the spill, but the illnesses of people who did the clean-up are not covered by that settlement.

BP has almost $28 billion in cash reserves and paid CEO Bob Dudley $2.7 million last year. The company gave over $400,000 in federal campaign contributions and spent almost $9 million on lobbying.

Perhaps new Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz can persuade BP to loosen their purse strings for the people suffering from their toxic chemicals. He did serve on the company’s Technology Advisory Board for six years.

Some of the people on the Keystone pipeline route are beginning to fight back. Residents of Manchester, a Houston neighborhood, now realize that children trying to play in a park playground in the shadow of an oil refinery get sick. People living near there are subject to chronic headaches, nosebleeds, sore throats, and red sores on their skin that don’t heal for month.

When they try to document the problems at the playground, they are told that they cannot photograph the playground where they take their children, but guards video people who go there. An activist teacher, her partner, and a few other young people have set up a community space in the yard of a house with free donated clothing, food, information on air pollution, meetings of local government officials, and trainings in skills like talking to the media and filing pollution complaints with the city.

After a small rally and march last year, two activists from the Gulf Coast locked themselves to trucks entering a the oil refinery and launched a 45-day hunger strike, demanding that the oil refinery divest from the Keystone XL pipeline. People who actually live in the community lack the resources and support to protest like this.

The Keystone XL pipeline is “the fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet,” according to former NASA climate scientist James Hansen. Tar sands crude oil is much more toxic than regular crude, and contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, and 5 times more lead. That makes it a threat to everyone who lives along its path.

People who live in the area of the proposed pipeline and think that it is a boon don’t understand that they can lose their land. Several states have granted eminent domain authority to private entities, including oil and gas companies. Thus private companies can force the sale of anyone’s property even if the seller is unwilling to do so.

The Supreme Court cemented this deal in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) when it ruled that the city of New London could take private property and give to a private company for “economic development.” The people were all forced out, the houses knocked down, and the land left lying fallow because the private company never followed through with its “development.”

When North Carolina legalized fracking, it also gave private entities the right to take private property. This law is not restricted to just laying pipelines; the private companies are now designated as “public enterprises,” giving them unlimited rights to anyone’s private property. Pennsylvania and Texas have the same rights to anyone’s property.

We don’t need the pipeline. First, it will provide approximately 3,000 jobs for the first two years and then only 35 jobs for maintenance after that. Second, the oil that is refined will largely be shipped out of the country so that people in the United States don’t benefit from it.

And third, alternative forms of energy exist. In Washington, D.C., where the conservatives in the House voted today to destroy the environment and give away private property, Union Station has started using only wind power for its energy and will continue that for another three years. The nearly 19 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year will come from wind farms, reducing gasoline consumption by 1.4 million gallons.

union station

Wind energy grew 28 percent in 2012. According to the America Wind Energy Association:

“Over 6,700 new wind turbines were erected, which produce enough electricity to power the equivalent of 3.5 million homes. Overall, America finished the year with 45,100 wind turbines that can power 15.2 million homes.”

This sounds much better than promoting vast desolation of the land and chronic illnesses.

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