By Donald Boesch
Ten years ago, on April 20, 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 crew members and starting the largest ocean oil spill in history. Over the next three months, between 4 million and 5 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.
Safety improvements are threatened<p>The presidential commission recommended numerous reforms to reduce the risks and environmental damages from offshore oil and gas development. The industry developed <a href="https://www.noia.org/offshore-energy/safety/response-containment-systems/" target="_blank">systems to contain blowouts</a> in deep water and has deployed them worldwide. Improvements in operational safety were made within companies and <a href="https://www.centerforoffshoresafety.org/" target="_blank">across the industry</a>.</p><p>The Department of the Interior acted quickly to reorganize its units. It created a <a href="https://www.bsee.gov/who-we-are/about-us" target="_blank">Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement</a> to avoid conflicts of interests with its leasing, development and revenue collection responsibilities. After four years in development, the bureau issued <a href="https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/04/29/2016-08921/oil-and-gas-and-sulfur-operations-in-the-outer-continental-shelf-blowout-preventer-systems-and-well" target="_blank">new well control rules</a> in 2016 governing drilling safety.</p><p>But despite progress on a number of fronts, Congress has not enacted legislation to improve safety or even raise energy companies' ridiculously low liability limits for oil spills – currently just <a href="https://www.boem.gov/newsroom/press-releases/boem-adjusts-limit-liability-oil-spills-offshore-facilities" target="_blank">US$134 million</a> for offshore facilities like the Deepwater Horizon. The Trump administration has <a href="https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/bsee-finalizes-improved-blowout-preventer-and-well-control-regulations" target="_blank">reversed or relaxed safety reforms</a>. It has loosened the safe pressure margins allowed in a well, dispensed with independent inspections of blowout protectors and removed requirements for continuous onshore monitoring of offshore drilling.</p>
Where contamination lingers<p>Before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the deep Gulf of Mexico ecosystem was egregiously understudied in all respects, while a <a href="https://www.boem.gov/sites/default/files/oil-and-gas-energy-program/Leasing/Five-Year-Program/2019-2024/DPP/NP-Economic-Benefits.pdf" target="_blank">multi-billion-dollar industry</a> intruded into it. Now scientists know much more about what happens when large quantities of oil and gas are released in a seafloor blowout.</p><p>Scientists learned much about the effects of the spill through monitoring the blowout, assessing damages to natural resources and investigating the fate and effects of escaping oil. More has been spent on these studies and more results published than for any previous oil spill.</p><p>A substantial portion of oil released from the mile-deep well was entrained in a plume of droplets spreading out 3,000 feet below the Gulf's surface. Footprints of contamination and effects extended <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaw8863" target="_blank">far beyond the area where oil slicks were observed</a>.</p>
NASA | Satellites View Growing Gulf Oil Spill<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e0ae67b051718ba3863e543b577e9716"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/mCWW5xt3Hc8?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Nearly all of the oil released has since degraded. Populations of most affected organisms have recovered. But contamination lingers in sediments in the deep Gulf, and in some marshes and beaches where oil came ashore. Populations of <a href="https://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/sites/default/files/wp-content/uploads/Chapter-4_Injury_to_Natural_Resources_508.pdf" target="_blank">long-lived animals the oil killed </a> might not recover for decades. These include sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, seabirds and <a href="https://theconversation.com/deepwater-corals-thrive-at-the-bottom-of-the-ocean-but-cant-escape-human-impacts-104211" target="_blank">deepwater corals</a>.</p><p>And yet, as scientists synthesize results from this <a href="https://gulfresearchinitiative.org/" target="_blank">10-year research initiative</a>, very little practical advice is emerging about what can be done to respond more effectively to future blowouts from ever-deeper drilling in the Gulf.</p><p>Surely, we can more rapidly contain blowouts. The effectiveness of injecting chemical dispersants into the plume gushing from the well <a href="https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-030-12963-7_29" target="_blank">remains in debate</a>. How much oil do dispersants keep from reaching the surface, where it threatens those working to stanch the blowout, as well as birds, sea turtles and coastal ecosystems? But the research has not revealed more effective approaches in controlling released oil.</p>
Safety first is the big lesson<p>As I see it, the essential lesson from Deepwater Horizon is that industry and government should be putting their greatest energies into preventing operational accidents, blowouts and releases. Yet the Trump administration emphasizes <a href="https://theconversation.com/trumps-offshore-oil-drilling-plans-ignore-the-lessons-of-bp-deepwater-horizon-89570" target="_blank">increasing production and reducing regulations</a>. This undermines safety improvements made over the past 10 years.</p><p>Furthermore, the price of crude oil – already low because of high fracked oil production in the U.S. – has <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-oil-shock-of-2020-appears-to-be-here-and-the-pain-could-be-wide-and-deep-133293" target="_blank">declined drastically</a> since the beginning of 2020. Saudi and Russian oil had already glutted the market when the coronavirus pandemic reduced oil consumption.</p>
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Longtime Climate Science Foe David Schnare Uses 'Scare Tactics' to Bash Transportation Climate Initiative for Koch-Tied Think Tank
Opponents of a regional proposal to curb transportation sector emissions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are using a number of deceptive tactics to attack and criticize the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Groups tied to the oil industry have pointed to misleading studies, deployed questionable public opinion polling and circulated an open letter in opposition.
David Schnare's Long History Attacking Climate Science and Defending Fossil Fuel Interests<p>Schnare is currently the Director of the Center for Environmental Stewardship at the Thomas Jefferson Institute, and both he and <span style="background-color: initial;">TJI</span> are part of a larger network linked with fossil fuel interests that work against climate and environmental protection policies.</p><p>The Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy is a member of the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/state-policy-network" target="_blank">State Policy Network</a>, a Koch-backed web of right-wing think tanks promoting climate science denial and other policy positions that benefit corporate donors. The Jefferson Institute has received funding from <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/donors-capital-fund" target="_blank">Donors Capital Fund</a> ($214,450) and Donors Trust ($5,000), anonymous funding vehicles supporting a number of organizations that promote conservative and free enterprise interests. As DeSmog has <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/donors-capital-fund" target="_blank">noted</a>, "the groups and projects given grants from DCF and DT are among the most active in questioning the link between fossil fuel emissions and climate change and blocking attempts to legislate against greenhouse gas emissions." The Jefferson Institute is one such group, and was called out by name by <a href="https://www.whitehouse.senate.gov/news/release/senators-call-out-web-of-denial-blocking-action-on-climate-change" target="_blank">Senate Democrats in 2016 in a series of speeches denouncing climate change denial</a> from 32 organizations with links to fossil-fuel interests. </p><p>Schnare is a former EPA scientist and attorney and initially was a member of President Trump's EPA transition team. He is affiliated with climate denial groups like the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/heartland-institute" target="_blank">Heartland Institute</a>, and was a speaker at the 2017 Heartland Institute "America First Energy Conference," where he <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXtFGeo1lJQ&feature=youtu.be" target="_blank">discussed</a> how to challenge the EPA's 2009 endangerment finding that serves as the basis for regulating greenhouse gas emissions.</p><p>Schnare has a history of harassing climate scientists by suing universities to get access to the scientists' emails. In 2011, he unsuccessfully sued the University of Virginia to try to obtain Michael Mann's emails. As DeSmog previously reported, Schnare was <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/11/27/david-schnare-forced-to-disgorge-dark-money-from-fmelc-piggy-bank" target="_blank">forced to pay out $630,000 from a dark money group</a> he co-founded with <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/chris-horner" target="_blank">Christopher Horner</a>, the <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/free-market-environmental-law-clinic" target="_blank">Free Market Environmental Law Clinic</a>. The payout resulted from a heated legal dispute in which Schnare is alleged to have used FMELC as his personal piggy bank. </p>
Schnare's Reports Use Disinformation as “Scare Tactics”<p>Given this background, it is not surprising that Schnare and the Thomas Jefferson Institute are railing against the proposed Transportation and Climate Initiative. <span style="background-color: initial;">TJI</span> and Schnare have <a href="https://www.thomasjeffersoninst.org/" target="_blank">published</a> several misleading analyses of the program claiming it is a "carbon car tax" and would be "all pain and no gain," claims that are simply untrue. The latest legal analysis is a continuation of Schnare making these unfounded arguments. For example, Schnare's claim that <span style="background-color: initial;">TCI</span> "proposes rationing gasoline and diesel fuel sales" is blatantly false, as sources familiar with the program told DeSmog.</p><p>"This is a pollution reduction program," said Bruce Ho, senior advocate in the climate and clean energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The type of policy [Schnare and TJI] are describing in their paper is not the policy that states are actually proposing." </p><p>"The oil industry and its allies are going heavy on the scare tactics right now," added Morgan Butler, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. "TCI is not being designed to ration gas, but rather to help move us beyond it by investing revenues from the program in making cleaner and healthier transportation options more available to everyone." </p><p>Schnare's claim that Virginia's governor cannot unilaterally join TCI is also not accurate. As Kresowik explained, the governor does have authority to sign on to an agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU), and then the legislature would have to act to implement the program in the state. </p><p>"The governor can absolutely sign the memorandum of understanding and move forward with the other states," Kresowik said. </p><p>"The hand waving in this paper that Virginia is doing something that's not allowed is just wrong," added Ho. "Neither Virginia nor any other TCI jurisdiction has proposed skirting those legal requirements. They've been very upfront that they are going to go through all of the legally required processes within states." </p><p>Ho said that Schnare's entire analysis is disingenuous, as it mischaracterizes what the TCI program is actually proposing. "It's a clear case of fear-mongering, setting up a straw man argument that is just not reflective of reality," he said. </p><p>Schnare's case against TCI runs counter to even oil giant BP's recent endorsement of the program. BP America Chairman and President Susain Dio, in a <a href="https://www.richmond.com/opinion/columnists/susan-dio-column-gov-northam-and-general-assembly-leaders-can/article_c7b4cbf5-0cd1-5ee0-a0bf-3c6ff6022579.html" target="_blank">piece published last week</a> in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, urged Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the General Assembly to move forward with both TCI and RGGI. "While a national carbon pricing program would be the gold standard, state and regional plans can play a critical role now," Dio writes. "And we can't wait." BP's support of TCI falls inline with the company's <a href="https://www.desmog.co.uk/2020/02/14/new-bp-ceo-ends-greenwashing-ad-campaign" target="_blank">recent announcement that it will no longer lobby against policies that regulate or limit carbon pollution</a>. Though the sincerity of BP's statements are not yet clear, the company's surprise public support of TCI indirectly rebuts and counters both pieces of Schnare's flawed analysis. </p>
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