Yesterday, former members of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling released a report card evaluating the progress made by the federal government, Congress, and industry toward implementing the critical reforms recommended by the Commission in their 2011 report.
None of them make the honor roll. While the harshest rebukes were aimed at Congress, the report card finds that overall, “in every category, much more needs to be done.”
Big Oil, on the other hand, touted the reforms made by the oil and gas industry. Oil & Gas Journal reported “the industry has always demonstrated a strong commitment to operate safely and responsibly offshore, and has deepened that [sic] the commitment in the nearly 2 years since the Macondo well accident.”
Erik Milito, API’s upstream and industry operations group director, said “the bar continues to rise, the commitment is stronger, and the mechanisms are in place to support the strongest safety standards possible.”
Such assurances from API are dubious at best, considering the Commission’s 2011 report found a direct causal relationship between API’s role as the industry’s principal lobbyist and public policy advocate and “compromised” safety standards that were a direct contributor to the BP disaster:
API’s proffered safety and technical standards were a major casualty of this conflicted role … Because the Interior Department has in turn relied on API in developing its own regulatory safety standards, API’s shortfalls have undermined the entire federal regulatory system.
John Watson, CEO of oil giant Chevron, told USA Today that he’s confident production can occur safely, saying, “we’ve learned from the Macondo incident and others and have steadily improved our practices as an industry. We’re in a much better position as an industry today than we were a few years ago.”
That’s a questionable self-evaluation from a company recently slapped with an $11 billion lawsuit and criminal charges for a November 2011 spill off the coast Brazil and responsible for setting the ocean ablaze with a natural gas fire in Nigeria this year that burned for 46 days and took the lives of two workers.
While both the federal government and industry have taken steps to improve the serious shortfalls in safety and oversight that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, a great deal remains to be done – especially as the industry looks to move into frontier areas like the Arctic that are fraught with uncertainty and risk.
The Commission gave the administration an overall grade of B, industry a C+ and Congress a D. (The ocean conservation group Oceana released a similar report card yesterday comprised of nothing but D’s and F’s.)
Let’s take a look at the commission’s findings.
Safety and Environmental Protection: B
Spill Response and Containment: B-
While the former commissioners cited improvements in oversight and oil spill response in the wake of the BP spill, they emphasized that “these hold promise but continued improvements are required, and Congress has done nothing to make permanent the improvements that have been made.”
Impacts and Restoration: C
The former commissioners were “discouraged by the modest steps that have been taken” to implement their recommendations on impacts and restoration. Like the CAP-Oxfam report Beyond Recovery, the Commission’s report recommended that 80% of Clean Water Act fines charged to BP be dedicated to the long-term restoration of the Gulf Coast. The RESTORE Act has passed both the House and Senate, but Congress has yet to come to an agreement on its final passage.
Ensuring Adequate Resources: D
Although the Administration and Congress have provided increases in funding for the Department of the Interior to operate regulatory programs, the Commission recommended that the oil and gas industry should bear the cost of leasing and permitting review. Additionally, the liability for damages from offshore spills is held at $75 million – “a ceiling established over 20 years ago and which is much lower than the costs likely to be incurred today.” Congressional action is required both to create a self-funding program and raise the liability cap.
Frontier Areas—The Arctic: C
Though the commissioners found some progress being made in frontier areas, they “feel strongly that additional work must be done to understand the ecosystems of the Arctic and to establish the infrastructure necessary to protect this vulnerable and valuable region.”
The importance of infrastructure and preparedness cannot be overstated – especially when taking into account the unprecedented mobilization of resources required to respond to the Gulf spill coupled with the extremely harsh conditions in the Arctic. As the CAP report Putting a Freeze on Arctic Ocean Drilling: America’s Inability to Respond to an Oil Spill in the Arctic detailed, infrastructure, science, and oil spill response capacities are all severely lacking in this region.
“The risks will only increase as drilling moves into deeper waters with harsher, less familiar environmental conditions. Delays in taking the necessary precautions threaten new disasters, and their occurrence could, in turn, seriously threaten the nation’s energy security,” writes the Commission.
In this context, even mediocre grades could fail to prevent a disaster of epic proportions.
Kiley Kroh is the Associate Director of Ocean Communications at the Center for American Progress. Michael Conathan, Director of Ocean Policy, and Erin Gustafson, Energy and Environmental Policy intern, contributed to this piece.
by Tom Kenworthy
The Environmental Protection Agency today took an important step toward reducing the harmful health effects of air pollution from oil and gas drilling operations.
The agency issued new rules that will require companies to capture emissions of toxic chemicals, compounds that contribute to smog, and methane, a potent global warming gas.
In a significant concession to the oil and gas industry, which has lobbied furiously to water down the requirements, the agency extended the time for full implementation to nearly three years, setting a limit of January 2015. By that final 2015 deadline, companies must have equipment in place to capture emissions through so-called “green completions.” Prior to the deadline companies will be able to flare or burn escaping gas and chemicals.
Gina McCarthy, assistant EPA administrator for air and radiation, said the change in the compliance deadline came when EPA determined it would take time for industry to get the technology in place for capturing emissions and to train personnel.
“We took a look at the data. There does need to be time for equipment to be manufactured, for training to be conducted…. This is a reasonable step…. It wasn’t politically motivated.”
EPA rejected industry appeals to limit the rules only to wells emitting high levels of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.
The proposed rules include the first federal standards for hydraulic fracturing operations. The rules will cover the estimated 13,000 U.S. wells that are hydraulically fractured or re-fractured each year, and apply to various parts of the oil and gas development process, from well completion to processing.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a controversial practice that injects a high pressure mixture of water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations where gas and oil is trapped. These new rules could result in a significant reduction of methane leaks during well completions. The prime component of natural gas, methane is more than 20 times more potent a global warming gas than carbon monoxide.
EPA officials estimate that the regulations will cut smog-forming and toxic chemicals now released during well development by 95%, and cut about about a quarter — or 540,000 tons — of the industry’s overall release of VOCs. The oil and gas sector is the largest industrial emitter of VOCs, spewing some 2.2 million tons a year in 2009.
The rules require the use of an already proven technology to capture emissions released during “flowback,” a three to 10 day period when water, fluids, gas and chemicals rush to the surface after drilling is completed.
The flowback mixture usually includes lots of VOCs, methane and hazardous chemicals like benzene. The capturing technologies, known as green completions, are already required in Colorado and Wyoming. The EPA estimates that the industry will actually save $11 million to $19 million a year through the sale of captured gas.
A separate part of the new rules package will cut chemical emissions of toxic chemicals during transport and production of natural gas by imposing new standards on compressors, controllers, storage tanks and gas processing plants.
EPA also estimates the rules will cut methane releases by 26 percent and air toxics by almost 30 percent.
Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Following reports that the Syrian army ontinues to attack rebels, in some cases using heavy weapons in violation of the U.N-Arab League ceasefire which went into effect last week, Syria’s government said today that a U.N. observer mission needs no more than 250 monitors nor independent air support. The assessment runs counter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s call for more monitors and aircraft to make the mission more mobile in a country of Syria’s size. However, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told journalists in Beijing that monitors should come from “neutral” countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa and that Syria would supply air transport if necessary.
Over 2 million engineering jobs could be created over the next decade as the UK looks to cut carbon emissions to meet key targets.
The prediction has been made by engineering professor Julia King, vice-chancellor of Aston University, who says that the UK’s task of reducing emissions will lead to a surge in sustainable’ engineering jobs.
King, said: “Engineering is crucial to our quality of life and to combating climate change.
“There are great opportunities for engineers in helping to develop technologies which will help the world to adjust to climate change.”
Reducing our carbon emissions means replacing our operations, infrastructure and manufactured goods with low carbon alternatives as well as stimulating research and development and providing opportunities for companies to claim new markets; all of which require engineering, environmental and sustainability professionals.