Monday, July 05, 2010

On that "A Whale" boat

A Taiwanese shipping magnate decided soon after the BP oil geyser began spewing to have a new oil tanker converted to be an oil skimmer. It was named A Whale, and is owned by a private company, TMT Offshore Group. For some, this has become a new complaint over "red tape." Republicans have found it convenient to promote vague stories about delays on accepting help that could be useful in order to focus attention on the shortcomings of the administration and away from BP.

Lauren Frayer in BP's Oil Spill Tab Now Tops $3 Billion AOL News 07/05/2010 gives an update on the status of the ship:

Results are also expected today from test runs of vessel billed as the world's largest oil skimmer, which could be put into regular service in the gulf as early as this week. The converted cargo ship, A Whale, spent the weekend attempting to clean up a 25-square mile area just north of BP's blown-out undersea well.

The Taiwanese-flagged ship is three and a half football fields long and extends 10 stories high. It's outfitted with 12 vents on either side of its bow, which experts hope will be able to suck up as many as 21 million gallons of oil-tainted water each day.

But its never-before-used technology means that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will need to sign off on the quality of the water that the ship dumps back into the gulf, after separating out the oil. Test results due back today will help the agency make that decision. [my emphasis]
The weather has also not been cooperative for the testing, as reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Whale of a skimmer not ready to attack Gulf oil after weekend of testing 07/05/2010.


There is some question as to how effective it will be even if approved by the EPA, as Mike Brunker reports for MSNBC in Oil-eating Whale or 'white elephant'? 07/02/2010:

But before the 1,115-foot-long ship with the big blue whale on funnel has even undergone testing, some experts are questioning whether it can fulfill those lofty expectations.

"I don't think the concept is that bad, but I don't see how in this situation it’s going to be a significant player," said Dennis Bryant, a former Coast Guard officer who worked on implementing regulations required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 before retiring and starting a maritime consulting business in Gainesville, Fla.

"In a case like the Exxon Valdez spill, where you had a lot of oil on the surface in a confined area, a vessel like this could have gone in and sucked up a whole lot," he said. "But in the Gulf, where the oil is pretty well dispersed over a vast area, I don’t see how it’s going to make a large dent."
Brunker also gives this summary of how TMT put this ship together:

Whether the A Whale, a Taiwanese-owned, Liberian-flagged ship, will even join the cleanup is unclear. TMT converted the oil/bulk ore carrier at a Portuguese shipyard over 10 days in early June without first obtaining a commitment from BP, which would need to sign the contract to enlist the ship in the spill response. Nor did it check with the U.S. government to ensure that the skimming operation would meet U.S. environmental and maritime standards.

Also, while the company says it conducted a successful test of the A Whale's ability to draw in oily water using fire foam, the concept has not undergone outside review. And Bob Grantham, a spokesman for the TMT Offshore Group, said Thursday that it's not yet clear how much oil can be removed from the water.

"Until we test the vessel in the oil spill environment, it is impossible to predict precisely how well it will perform," he said in a written response to questions from msnbc.com.
I've heard a lot of general gripes about useful help being turned down in the Gulf oil emergency response. But when the complaints get specific, like with this one, they may not be so convincing. Given how the Minerals Management Service (MMS) waved "red tape" aside to rush the Deepwater Horizon project into action, I'm not too impressed with the idea of rushing untested devices and technology into action on the oil cleanup. We may later wish the feds had been more closely restricting the use of dispersants and oil burning. (See David Biello, Is Using Dispersants on the BP Gulf Oil Spill Fighting Pollution with Pollution? Scientific American Online 06/18/2010)

One of my Facebook contacts, who I will keep anonymous because he may think better of being conned by TMT and Republicans on this issue, posted this last Friday:

A Serious P L E A D! ALL that will please call or email Congress and demand more to be done in the Gulf OIL Spill! There is a HUGE Ship the A Whale just sitting on the coast that can suck up so much OIL and The Obama Admin and Congress are killing valuable time on STUPID Red Tape.Turn everything loose on this SPILL!

http://www.contactingthecongress.org/

I have made 4 calls already today!
My favorite fact-check sites don't seem to have much of anything on this particular controversy or on BP oil-disaster whoppers in general. But Politifact does have this one: Scalise blames Obama for 'inaction' on berm plan to contain oil spill 06/29/2010. This was about Louisiana Republican Congressman Steve Scalise echoing Republian Gov. Bobby Jindal's complaint about his pet scheme to put up berms to protect Louisiana's marshes, a project it was probably foolish for the feds to approve at all, because its usefulness is highly dubious and may divert scarce resources from more effective measures. (See David Biello, Slosh and Berm: Building Sand Barriers off Louisiana's Coast to Hold Back Oil Spill Has Low Probability of Success Scientific American Online 06/18/2010.)

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