Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bobby's berms and BP's oil

Fortunately for those of us who actually care what's happening with the BP oil catastrophe, there has been some pretty good reporting coming out from some of the area papers. The New Orleans Times-Picayune, that did a great job reporting on the Katrina disaster five years ago, is also providing good original coverage of this one, with an aggregator page for their 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill stories. The Biloxi Sun-Herald on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is a McClatchy paper, and McClatchy actually expects their journalists to do real reporting. Facing South has been following the story closely, and ProPublica has been doing investigative reporting on BP and the oil spill in conjunction with Frontline. McClatchy Newspapers also has a Gulf Oil Spill page with McClatchy stories on the disaster, many of them from the Sun-Herald. (Hey, folks, wouldn't oil geyser or oil spew or oil disaster be a more appropriate title for those aggregator pages?)

Len Bahr, who a month ago was calling Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's pet sand berm project a "Maginot line" after the French defensive line that the Germans were easily able to bypass during the Second World War, has on op-ed on the scheme in the Times-Picayune of 07/05/2010, Sand berms a dubious solution. Bahr lists the following concerns about the project:

1) Absence of science: Vague plans for the sand barriers were hastily drawn up by "outside experts" from Holland, with no input from Louisiana coastal scientists. Project details subsequently released have been universally panned by these scientists.

2) Questionable justification: The sand dredging project was proposed by and heavily lobbied by vested dredging interests, and it reeks of potential conflicts.

3) Opportunity cost: This emergency and temporary project will deplete and waste finite sand resources needed for a credible barrier shoreline nourishment project.

4) Environmental cost: Dredging holes in the very delta that we're trying to restore is irrational.

5) Changes to natural flow regime: Attempting to barricade tidal passes speeds up water velocity, causing barrier island erosion and potentially sucking even more oil into the estuary.

6) Lengthy construction time: The contractors project a completion date nine months away [!!!], by which time deflecting BP oil could be a moot issue.

7) Sand berm fragility: Sand-filled Hesco baskets (a type of sand berm) completed three weeks ago by the Louisiana National Guard along Holly Beach to protect against BP oil washed away like sand castles during a glancing blow by Hurricane Alex.

8) Dubious benefits: A huge volume of crude oil has already drifted into the very marsh areas that would supposedly be protected by sand barriers. Completed berms could trap rather than repel some of this oil.

9) An alternative active response: Whether or not BP pays for the sand barrier project, there are more effective and risk-free ways to spend $350 million. For example, I estimate that for that amount 2 million tons of oil-absorbing hay could be spread on the oil by boats and planes, soaking up perhaps 4 million tons of oil, then raked up by shrimp boats for onshore disposal. [my emphasis]
Other than that, the sand beams should work fine!

Classic Republican Predator State policymaking. Ole Bobby is a devout creationist, so he's not so sure about all this here science stuff to begin with. So some of his cronies tell him, hey, Bobby, you git us some of that BP cleanup money, and we'll dredge up a bunch of sand for you. Look, these old boys here from over in Holland, you know, where there's dikes and stuff, say it will work just fine. And it'll only take nine months to finish it!

Then Bobby and the Republicans use the fact that the Coast Guard insisted on reviewing the scheme for a few days as an example of how the fedrul gubment and that thar Kenyan Marxist in the White House isn't lettin' them take care of their coasts!


I'm thinking it's a legitimate criticism of the federal response that the feds approved this scheme at all.

Between panicky politicians, BP's efforts to suppress information and minimize their own liability and stock price loss, hucksters and cranks hawking dubious solutions, federal-state-private disaster planning that wasn't remotely prepared to deal with a disaster of this magnitude, and the sheer volume of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, it's really a marvel that any oil has been cleaned up at all.

There are problems with the federal response, like the failure to mobilize adequate scientific research work so far. The underground oil "plumes" are a huge thing. And oil distributed that way from so deep in the water in anything like these volumes is really a new thing.

And there probably are legitimate criticisms of the slowness of the mobilization of available cleanup resources. But so far, every time I've drilled down into specific complaints like those about the "A Whale" ship, alleged by its owners to be a super-skimmer, and ole Bobby's oil berms, they have turned out to be either frivolous or unclear.

I don't want to let BP or the federal and state response efforts off the hook for anything they should be doing. At the same time, part of the reality of this thing is that there is so much oil spewing into the water in the Gulf already - with the end of it so far being like the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel" during the Vietnam War - that even an absolutely optimal response starting from Day 1 surely couldn't have prevented major damage from being doing to coastal fishing, tourism and public health. BP was drilling a well on which it couldn't begin to adequate manage the downside risks of a blowout like the Deepwater Horizon. And neither the private, state or federal response agencies have the resources to adequately deal with the consequences right away.

If this oil geyser gets plugged anytime in the foreseeable future, it would be good to see Congress actually do their job and hold meaningful hearings to provide a real investigation of the blowout and the response effort. Obama has already appointed a coverup commission to study it, but that's not nearly good enough.


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