The Beacon

Blog Tags: Oil Spills

Infographic: BP to Blame for 2010 Deepwater Oil Disaster, Rules Judge

BP found to be at fault for Deepwater Horizon oil spill

A controlled burn near the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. (Photo: Deepwater Horizon Response / Flickr Creative Commons)

Last week, a United States federal judge ruled that BP’s reckless and negligent behavior is at fault for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which killed 11 people and caused 200 million gallons of oil to flood into the Gulf of Mexico. Today’s ruling opens up BP to billions of dollars in possible civil penalty fines, including a possible $18 billion under the Clean Water Act.


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Portraits from the Gulf: Al Sunseri

Al Sunseri, co-owner and president of P&J Oyster Company.

Al Sunseri, co-owner and president of P&J Oyster Company. (Photo: Oceana / Joshua Prindiville)

April 20 marked the four-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the process of filming a short film about the aftermath of the spill, “Drill, Spill, Repeat,” Oceana staff met Al Sunseri, co-owner and president of P&J Oyster Company. His company has been in business for 138 years. Oceana staff sat down with Sunseri to discuss how the oyster industry is struggling four years after the spill. This is the final story in a three-part blog series that highlights the many faces of the Gulf’s recovery.


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Tell Obama: Turn Shell's Ships Around

Every day brings Shell a little closer to drilling in Arctic waters, home to seals, whales, and polar bears.

With that drilling comes the risk of an oil spill, which could be devastating to the ocean ecosystem and those dependent on it. But it’s not too late—there is still a chance for President Obama to turn Shell’s boats around and insist on good science and demonstrated response technology.

Drilling in the Arctic isn’t like drilling anywhere else. Stormy seas, freezing temperatures, and a lack of infrastructure create a dangerous and possibly deadly trifecta. If an accident occurs, it would be impossible to clean up the spilled oil and keep the water safe for the whales and seals who live there.

Oceana and its partners gathered more than one million signatures seeking good decisions about our Arctic Ocean resources. These signatures are being delivered to the White House today asking President Obama to turn Shell’s ships around and keep the Arctic safe.

But there is still more to do. Today, we’re asking you to call the White House and ask President Obama to stop Shell until we have the science and response capacity needed to make good decisions. We’ve made it easy for you—you can just dial 202-456-1111, or check out our handy form with talking points here. And then let us know how it goes!


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Blowout Causes North Sea Gas Leak

Gas has been leaking into the United Kingdom’s North Sea for three days, after an attempt to close an underwater oil well caused a blowout.

Oil drilling accidents happen more often than you might think. Smaller spills and leaks don’t usually make the news, although they can still affect the local environment. And this is why offshore drilling is so dangerous—it’s even harder to contain a leak when it’s underwater.

In this case, there is not much that can be done for the time being. The actual well is plugged, but the highly-pressurized gas (a light crude oil called condensate) is coming from a reservoir close to the surface. It’s possible the leak might close itself within a few days. But if it doesn’t, the only way to resolve it will be to drill a relief well, which will take six months. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico was eventually resolved.

The comparisons don’t end there. Jake Molloy, regional organizer for RMT union, also compared the two accidents: “It’s unprecedented. High pressure gas flowing from a well with no means of preventing it. We are in the realm of the unknown, comparable to the Deepwater Horizon.”

This leak will not have the same scope of destruction as the Gulf leak, since the condensate is thin and will hopefully evaporate. But after two days, there was already a sheen of condensate two miles long in the North Sea. A vapor cloud is visible rising from the rig, and the area has been evacuated out of fear of an explosion.

Accidents occur everywhere we drill, and there is no way to safeguard the environment from the effects of oil. Shell is currently on its way to begin drilling in the Arctic, far from civilization. If a spill occurs there, the story could be even worse. Join us in calling on President Obama to protect the Arctic environment and all the animals that call it home.


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What BP Owes Americans

This blog was originally posted on the Huffington Post.

There has been a lot of news lately about whether BP will settle all of the legal claims against it stemming from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe two years ago, or whether the company will end up in court. As is typical of most things surrounding the oil spill issue, much of the information that has come out in recent weeks has done little more than muddy the waters.

First of all, despite a settlement announced late last Friday, most of the legal claims against BP have not been settled. The recent $7.8 billion settlement only represents the private injury claims brought by local residents, fishermen, tourism companies, and the like whose businesses and livelihoods were devastated by the oil spill. That's important, but it's not even close to half of the story. The remaining claims -- what BP owes the American people -- could amount to many times that amount.

BP has yet to settle with the Federal Government, which represents "we the people," and it hasn't settled with the affected states. The Feds have already brought one suit seeking civil penalties and natural resource damages from BP, and could bring more in the future. Estimates of the total amount that BP owes us just for those federal claims have varied from $20 to $60 billion.

These numbers might seem large, but the truth is they don't come close to the total amount that BP could -- and should -- be required to pay. Our nation's environmental laws allow the Justice Department to seek damages and penalties against BP that could be as high as $90 billion. But recent discussions in the press of a possible future settlement between BP and the Federal Government have focused on much lower amounts in the $20-25 billion range. Compared to what BP could be asked to pay -- and what we have the right to demand -- that's not a deal the American people should be happy about.

To help add some clarity to these numbers, here are a few of the key components that will be decided either through a trial, or by an agreement between BP and the Justice Department:


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Melting Ice Beckons Ships, Oil Drills to Arctic

© Oceana

The Arctic’s Northeast Passage is home to walruses, beluga whales, narwhals, and many other marine animals, most of whom have probably never seen an oil tanker or shipping vessel. Unfortunately, thanks to global climate change, that could soon change.

As the planet continues to warm, the coveted Northeast Passage has become ice-free and thus open to cargo ships, oil drillers, and fishing vessels for the first time.

There’s huge incentive for commerce and industry to use the Northeast Passage. The New York Times writes that the opening of the Passage shortens the travel time and reduces costs for shipping between Northern Europe and Asian markets. Companies like Exxon Mobil are attracted to the potential of oil and minerals in the Arctic seabed. And the elusive Arctic “Donut Hole,” a patch of international and unregulated waters in the center of the Ocean, is full of valuable fish including overfished Atlantic cod stocks. 

Offshore drilling, increased shipping traffic, and fishing vessels in the Northeast Passage threatens one of the great patches of marine wilderness in the world. Drilling in the Arctic could mean a spill in a place as remote as Northern Russia, which would make the Gulf of Mexico oil spill cleanup look like a cinch, primarily because cleanup mechanisms such as booms don’t work properly in icy waters.

We’ve been campaigning against offshore oil drilling to protect vulnerable Arctic habitats. We'll continue working with local native communities to ensure that future generations will see a healthy and vibrant Arctic. You can help by supporting our work to fight oil drilling in the Arctic.


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New Zealand Oil Spill Brings Reminders of Gulf Spill

little blue penguin

A little blue penguin covered in oil. © Jeremy Gray/Flickr

Matthew Huelsenbeck is a marine scientist at Oceana.

A cargo ship has wrecked on a reef off the coast of New Zealand and the oil spill and wreckage is being called the worst maritime environmental disaster in the country’s history.

Reminders of last year’s Gulf oil spill are playing out as oil is lapping up on some of New Zealand’s most popular beaches, and hazmat suit workers are attempting to clean it up. Graphic images are emerging of oil soaked penguins and birds washing up dead.

Videos show the cargo ship tilted at a severe angle and it is feared to be splitting in half. Several of the cargo containers hold hazardous materials that could ignite in flames when in contact with water. New Zealand’s emergency response team is having difficulties containing the spill and accessing the ship due to high seas and strong winds. 

During a college study abroad at the University of Auckland, I experienced the unspoiled beaches of New Zealand, and the little blue penguins that are now washing ashore dead. New Zealand’s respect for the coastlines and marine life has given them great protection and status in their country, so this is indeed a sad day for their citizens and all of us who appreciate the oceans. I hope that the political response in New Zealand to this disaster is better than what has happened so far in the United States, which is a whole lot of talk and no action.

Here in the U.S., Shell is pushing to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean and making outrageous claims that they could clean up after an oil spill under even more extreme weather, seasonal darkness, sea ice, and no harbors. Previous spill cleanup drills in the Arctic have failed miserably. 

America still has a chance! Protect walruses and seals by helping us keep similar oil spills out of the Arctic Ocean.


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Why We Believe in Offshore Wind

windmill

© Oceana

Oceana is an event partner for the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) Offshore Wind Conference in Baltimore, MD next week, October 11-13.

I’ll be at the conference representing Oceana, and I’ll be speaking on a panel about stakeholder engagement, which will focus on how best to engage and educate key stakeholders in the offshore wind development process. 

Why is Oceana such a strong advocate for offshore wind, anyway? Here are a few big reasons:

  • Because we have seen the damage that drilling for and burning fossil fuels can do to the health of the oceans and marine life, and we must find a better way to satisfy our energy needs. 
  • Because windmills harness a clean and infinite source of energy, while eliminating the risk of deadly oil spills and creating three times as many jobs as the oil industry.
  • Because we believe that the environmentally safe and responsible development of offshore wind is one of the best chances we have as a country to end our addiction to fossil fuels and to finally stop the dangerous practice of oil and gas drilling in our oceans. 
  • Because we believe that, if sited correctly, offshore wind could be the ocean-based part of the solution to climate change and its "evil twin," ocean acidification.
  • Because Oceana is in a unique position as both a stakeholder in the process and an advocate for offshore wind to the stakeholders/decision-makers in Congress, where we engage and educate congressional staff on the benefits of offshore wind. We collaborate with other environmental organizations and the offshore wind industry to advocate for legislative policies that help promote the development of offshore wind.

At last year’s conference, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed the first U.S. lease for offshore wind development, and since then, he and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu unveiled a National Offshore Wind Strategy. The plan includes the deployment of 10 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020 and 54 gigawatts by 2030, and Salazar and Chu announced $50.5 million in funding opportunities for projects that support offshore wind energy deployment.

In other words, it’s an exciting time in the world of offshore wind – and we’re thrilled to be a part of the action.

You can help, too! Tell your senators to replace dirty oil drills with clean windmills.

Nancy Sopko is an Ocean Advocate at Oceana.


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Spills Happen!

Image via Wikimedia Commons

...And more often than people think. Just days after the President offered up more of our coasts to the oil industry, an oil pipeline operated by Chevron Pipe Line Co leaked at least 18,000 gallons of crude oil into the Delta National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana.
 
This is another example of how dangerous exposure to an oil spill can potentially be to coastal wildlife and habitat, in a national wildlife refuge no less. Spills happen at every stage of oil production. Whether it is from drilling, pipelines, tankers, or refineries; a spill can occur at every stage of the oil production process. Then when we burn the oil, it contributes to climate change.

Big Oil would have us believe that spills are a thing of the past thanks to modern technology. Unfortunately, the facts play out otherwise. Oil spills are not rare occurrence. Almost one million gallons of oil enter the oceans of North America every year through extraction activities alone.


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