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Oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Julie Dermansky

Nearly 400,000 Gallons of Oil Spew Into Gulf of Mexico, Could Be Largest Spill Since Deepwater Horizon

Last week, a pipe owned by offshore oil and gas operator LLOG Exploration Company, LLC spilled up to 393,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, reminding many observers of the Deepwater Horizon explosion seven years ago that spewed approximately 210 million gallons of crude into familiar territory.

Now, a report from Bloomberg suggests that the LLOG spill could be the largest in the U.S. since the 2010 BP blowout, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

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Animals
BP oil spill led to baby dolphin deaths and diseases along the Gulf Coast. Truth Wire

Oil Spills Can Disrupt Entire Aquatic Food Web, New Study Shows

From dead fish to beaches covered in sludge, the immediate damage from an oil spill is easy to see.

But a new study, published this week in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology (AECT), found that the damage caused by these spills are much wider in scope and can indirectly disrupt the entire aquatic food web.

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BP oil spill led to baby dolphin deaths and diseases along the Gulf Coast. Truth Wire

Rush Limbaugh Claims BP Oil Spill Didn't Harm Environment

BP's 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that claimed the lives of 11 men, killed numerous dolphins and other marine life, and released millions of barrels of oil and natural gas into the Gulf of Mexico was an environmental disaster. The catastrophe has left far-reaching impacts on the region's economy and ecosystems that continue to this day. This is fact.

But leave it to Rush Limbaugh to alternative fact the BP oil spill, claiming on his radio show this week that it "didn't do any damage" to the environment.

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Energy

Natural Gas Rig Fire in the Gulf, Another Wakeup Call

National Wildlife Federation

By Lacey McCormick

Late last night, a natural gas drilling rig known as Hercules 265 exploded. The rig has now partially collapsed and is burning out of control, too dangerous for firefighters to approach.

This incident begs the question: if the safety recommendations of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill had been implemented swiftly, would this accident have occurred at all?

It is particularly notable that the blowout preventer appears not to have worked in this instance, just as is it didn’t on the Deepwater Horizon. Whatever the facts of this case turn out to be, accidents like this one are part of a long industry pattern that places profit ahead of communities, local economies and the environment.

There are still many unknowns. For example, we don’t know how much gas is being released or if the well is releasing gas below the surface as well as above.

On Wings of Truth flew over the runaway well yesterday, before the fire, and made this video available:

While natural gas is less toxic than crude oil, when released from a well it can contain smaller quantities of volatile petroleum condensates, like kerosene and gasoline. And natural gas alone can have significant impacts on marine species, particularly when the water is warm. Dr. Irene Novaczek writes:

The gas can rapidly penetrate the bodies of fish, doing direct damage to gills, skin, chemoreceptors and eyes, and filling up the gas bladder, making the fish unable to control its buoyancy. … Shellfish are also killed by exposure to gas. Zooplankton and phytoplankton can tolerate higher concentrations of gas than fish or shellfish can (i.e. they die at two–five mg/l).

If all the hydrocarbons are being released above the surface of the Gulf, then the immediate impacts to marine wildlife would be lessened, as the Associated Press reports:

"Gas being discharged now would not necessarily affect the water system of the Gulf proper,” said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science and a member of the federal panel that investigated the BP oil spill. That’s because it’s likely most of the gas is venting directly into the atmosphere given the fire and shallow depth of the well, he said.

Houston-based Walter Oil & Gas Corp is now looking to drill a relief well to stop the flow of gas, an operation that could take days or even weeks. Thankfully, all 44 workers on board the rig were evacuated safely and there does not appear to be any real potential for a disaster on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon.

Whatever ultimately happens with the Hercules 256, it’s clear that it is long past time for Congress and the Obama Administration to reform oil and gas leasing practices and permitting requirements to better safeguard wildlife and the environment.

This not the first wake-up call we have had in the Gulf. Let’s hope our nation’s leaders don’t hit the snooze button this time—as they have so many times in the past.

Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY and GULF OIL SPILL pages for more related news on this topic.

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BP Trial 'Close to Settlement'

Oil Change International

By Andy Rowell

So the trial of the century may not happen after all.

On the morning of Feb. 27, lawyers representing more than 116,000 plaintiffs had been due in court in New Orleans to begin the trial against BP and other defendants resulting from the Deepwater Horizon.

The trial could have lasted two years. Documents in the case run to more than 72 million pages—that makes a pile of paper four-and-a-half miles high.

But the Financial Times is reporting that the two sides could be “close to a possible settlement."

Bloomberg is also reporting that the settlement could be in the region of $14 billion, which is in line with analysts’ expectations.

Late Feb. 26, the judge agreed to postpone the trial for a week to see if a pre-trial deal could be done. In a joint statement, BP and the 90 or so plaintiff lawyers said they “working to reach agreement to fairly compensate people and businesses affected by the Deepwater Horizon accident and oil spill."

The trial is now due to begin on March 5th  if no deal is reached.

So is it better for the plaintiffs to try and settle or go to trial? On the one hand, the lesson of history is not great.

Remember the Exxon Valdez? In the decades it took for the case to grind through the court, through numerous appeals it took so long that a third of the original plaintiffs died. At the end they had to settle for about $15,000. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Exxon had offered them $50,000.

So the real winner was Exxon (and its fat-cat lawyers), who dragged litigation out for 20 years or so.

However, many industry analysts and experts say a quick settlement is in BP’s best interest, especially if it was a “super settlement” that settled all claims including those from the U.S. government and Gulf states. This would free up BP to expand drilling in the U.S. again.

So could a global deal be close that would end the claims together? “Before today, I had almost given up on the possibility of a global settlement before a trial began,” Edward Sherman, a professor at Tulane University Law School and specialist in complex litigation told Reuters. “Now, with an extra week, it seems to improve the chances.”

What we do know is that the lawyers have already got rich and will get a whole lot richer. For the defendants’ lawyers, the case is already a “well-fed cash cow”, with BP’s legal costs some $1.73bn. The plaintiffs’ lawyers who have already racked up a bill that could be higher, looks set to earn billions if there is a settlement, as they receive 30-40 per cent of the damages.

But settling may not be in the interests of the ordinary plaintiffs, who could be denied proper justice and to hear the truth of what really happened on that fateful day.

There is really good reason to go to trial, to determine why the rig exploded, who was at fault, how much oil was really spilled and the real extent of the environmental damage.

One person who intends to be in court if the trial goes head is Sheryl Revette, whose husband husband, Dewey, was one of the 11 rig workers killed in the disaster.

I think she deserves her day in court to see BP in the dock and to find out why her husband died.

For more information, click here.

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As BP Trial Begins, Offshore Drilling Remains the Same

The Wilderness Society

When the massive trial over liability in the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill begins in New Orleans on Feb. 27, teams of lawyers will debate what led to the deaths of 11 workers and an oil spill that spewed into the ocean for 86 days. But there’s an ugly truth they won’t be discussing—Very little has changed regarding governmental oversight of offshore drilling.

Twenty-two months after the start of America’s worst environmental catastrophe, which spilled more than 4 million barrels of oil, offshore drilling in the U.S. is essentially as dangerous as it was before BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded. The federal government has since issued only a small number of new safety requirements. The vast majority of recommendations from the various investigative commissions organized following the spill have not been enacted according to a new report by engineer and Arctic Program Director Lois Epstein, P.E., of The Wilderness Society.

Despite this lack of progress, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management plans to oversee extensive new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean during the next five years, even though drilling safety has not significantly improved.

“It could take up to a decade to put in place the laws, regulatory structures, transparency, staffing and effective enforcement necessary for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and its sister agency, the federal Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement, to prevent major oil spills,” said Epstein, who advised the federal Office of Pipeline Safety for 12 years. “Since Congress has not passed a single law remedying any of the problems that resulted in the BP spill, a decade for significant safety improvements may be optimistic.”

Epstein’s report compiles the key recommendations of the Department of the Interior’s 30-day safety report for which she served as an expert advisor, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling report, the National Academy of Engineering/National Research Council report, and the Joint Investigation Team report by the U.S. Coast Guard and the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

Epstein cites the need for new blowout preventer design requirements for new and existing wells, identified by the National Academy of Engineering, as an example of key changes needed. “Congress and the Obama administration need to get moving on the many excellent recommendations from the various post-spill investigative commissions. Until that is done, more significant and devastating spill events are inevitable.”

For more information, click here.

Without Passage of RESTORE Act, BP Could Get Sweet Settlement Deal

National Wildlife Federation

By Jaclyn McDougal

BP could soon squirm its way to a sweet settlement deal this week for the Gulf oil disaster—a move that would allow the company’s pockets to continue to expand on the heels of their record profits, while leaving more uncertainty for restoring the Gulf of Mexico to an environmentally and economically healthy state.

News reports indicate that BP may be close to reaching a settlement for its part in the Gulf oil disaster. The proposed settlement allegedly requires BP to pay a mere 3 percent of the full amount of Clean Water Act (CWA) penalties it could be fined under the law. Reports suggest the agreement would require BP to pay only $142 per barrel of oil spilled into the Gulf, although CWA allows up to $4,300 per barrel to be assessed against a liable party. BP has reportedly set aside $3.5 billion in preparation for paying CWA fines, but this settlement deal would be significantly less.

The settlements do not stop there. MOEX Offshore recently settled to pay only $90 million for its part in the Deepwater Horizon blowout. The settlement would send $45 million to the federal government for penalties and restoration. In addition to paying $25 million in CWA penalty funds to the states, MOEX will acquire $20 million worth of properties containing habitat and natural resources worthy of conservation in perpetuity, and/or which will protect water quality in the Gulf of Mexico region.

According to the Department of Justice, there are no federal requirements for how the states use the penalty money.

“The states should use the $25 million in penalty funds to help the damaged Gulf ecosystems and the people in the Gulf that depend on those ecosystems for their livelihoods and quality of life,” said John Kostyack, National Wildlife Federation’s vice president for wildlife conservation, reacting to the initial MOEX settlement. “As far as the $20 million goes, we need a lot more transparency on where that money is going and what projects it will fund. It is hard to support this without knowing which properties will be acquired or restored and how they intend to restore water quality.”

Now is a critical time to get the RESTORE Act passed—it’s been nearly two years since the Gulf oil disaster. Last week Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Richard Shelby (R-AL) introduced an amendment to the Senate Transportation bill (S.1813) that would ensure BP fines from the oil spill go to the Gulf where they belong. Unless Congress takes action now, before a settlement is reached, a significant portion of the funds BP pays could be used for unrelated federal spending, instead of helping the Gulf.

For more information, click here.

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ACTION: Tweet Your #LOVE for the Gulf

RESTORE the Mississippi River Delta

Want to help show your love for the Gulf this Valentine’s Day? It’s easy. Just click on one of the messages below to tell Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that you want money from the BP oil spill to go back to the Gulf.

Background on the RESTORE Act:

The BP oil disaster dumped nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, damaging the wildlife, ecosystems and economy of the Gulf Coast.

The RESTORE Act seeks to ensure that at least 80 percent of the penalties paid by BP are returned to the Gulf to be used for restoring the region’s communities, economies and environments.

However unless Congress acts quickly, these penalties could go toward unrelated federal spending. We must act now if we want to ensure that this money goes back to where the damage was done.

Click on one of the messages below to tweet your love for the Gulf.

Be sure to check out our Facebook page as well and share our Valentine's Day image with your friends.

For more information, click here.

With BP Settlement Likely, Sierra Club Calls on Obama to Restore the Gulf Coast

Sierra Club

Michael Brune, Sierra Club executive director, called on President Obama Feb. 6 to take strong action in any settlement of claims under the Clean Water Act and Oil Pollution Act from BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill to ensure comprehensive restoration and recovery of the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem and communities, and to protect the region from future oil spill disasters. With the public largely shut out of the legal process, Brune weighed in directly in a letter to the president, requesting that specific measures be included in any settlement agreement over the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Sierra Club summarized six main points from their Feb. 6, 2012, letter to President Obama.

  • Establish a Natural Resource Damages Fund in an amount assessed by the Natural Resource Trustees for comprehensive, long-term ecosystem restoration and monitoring that satisfies Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) regulations and prioritizes the public interest
  • Create a fund of no less than $10 billion to execute the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force Early Restoration Strategy with $500 million dedicated to long-term monitoring
  • Establish a fund of no less than $20 billion or an amount equivalent to the Clean Water Act penalties assessment for “gross negligence” dedicated to Supplemental Environmental Projects that enhance NRDA restoration, including long-term monitoring and independent scientific studies
  • Include a broad re-opener provision that allows the government to re-open the settlement for at least 30 years and requires the responsible parties to reimburse the U.S. for latent, unforeseen damages
  • Establish and fund the operation of a Gulf of Mexico Regional Citizen’s Advisory Council to ensure formal public oversight and industry accountability of offshore drilling activities in the region
  • Ensure that all activities executed under a settlement comply with Executive Order 12898 on Environmental Justice.

The full letter is available here.

For more information, click here.

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