Monday, May 31, 2010

Panel's makeup in dispute

Luckily Drilling Santa Fe has been keeping up with the local news. Anyways, onwards with today's news.

Las Vegas Optic
31 May 2010
Panel's makeup in dispute
By David Giuliani

Some are alleging that San Miguel County’s new task force on oil and gas regulations is heavily weighted toward the industry.

Of the 10 members, four of them have ties to oil and gas.

In April, the County Commission formed the panel to make recommendations for an ordinance that would deal specifically with oil and gas drilling. No requests for drilling are pending, but officials said they wanted to be prepared.

Both the county and the city of Las Vegas have enacted moratoriums on any drilling until they can enact new regulations.

For its task force, the county has divided the members into four groups — oil and gas industry, environmental and educational, citizens and county representatives.

The oil industry members consist of Karin Foster, an attorney with the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico, and John Michael Richardson of the Petroleum and Mineral Land Services firm.

The environmental and educational members are Jeffrey Mills of the state Environment Department and Ken Bentson, a forestry professor at Highlands University.

The citizen members are general contractor J. David Blagg, retiree Ernesto Borunda and resident Larry Webb.

The county representatives are County Commissioner Nicolas Leger, County Manager Les Montoya and Planning and Zoning Supervisor Alex Tafoya.

Besides Foster and Richardson, both Webb and Mills are linked to the oil and gas industry.

In March, Webb urged the County Commission to do away with the moratorium. He said he had leases with companies for oil and gas drilling on the county’s east side. The moratorium, he said, was taking away his private property rights without just compensation.

He lists a Newkirk, N.M., address, which is in Guadalupe County. It’s not clear whether a citizen member can live outside San Miguel County.

Mills, an environmental member, said he is not on the task force as a representative of the Environment Department. Rather, he said he was there to provide his expertise because of his years of work in the oil and gas industry.

Mills acknowledged that he had discovered oil in the Gulf of Mexico and is a beneficiary of oil and gas royalties in Texas and Louisiana. He has worked for the Environment Department since 2001.

Mills praised the county for being “proactive” in its approach to possible oil and gas drilling. He said he is not affiliated with any oil and gas interests in New Mexico.

He said that when he wrote the county about his interest in a task force position, he focused on his experience in the industry, not as an employee of the Environment Department.

Pat Leahan of the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center said she is concerned that the task force isn’t representative of science and community concerns.

“We can have industry people on the task force. But we need to have balance,” she said.

She said she and 13 others applied to belong to the task force and that none of them were pushing for a complete ban on drilling. More>>>

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Our "good neighbors"

While polished executives are getting cozy with your county commission, their companies are practicing a different kind of business.

More state land oil and gas leases being sold in Mora, San Miguel, Colfax

The State land office will be offering more Northeastern New Meexico land up for oil and gas. The auction is to be held on June 15,2010. The tracts are in Mora, San Miguel, and Colfax Counties.

Click here to view listing of tracts

To map the leases, click here. Choose New Mexico, and enter the tract data.

Friday, May 21, 2010

EPA Officials Weigh Sanctions Against BP’s U.S. Operations

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - May 21, 2010 1:27 pm EDT

Officials at the Environmental Protection Agency are considering whether to bar BP from receiving government contracts, a move that would ultimately cost the company billions in revenue and could end its drilling in federally controlled oil fields.

Over the past 10 years, BP has paid tens of millions of dollars in fines and been implicated in four separate instances of criminal misconduct that could have prompted this far more serious action. Until now, the company's executives and their lawyers have fended off such a penalty by promising that BP would change its ways.

That strategy may no longer work.

Days ago, in an unannounced move, the EPA suspended negotiations with the petroleum giant over whether it would be barred from federal contracts because of the environmental crimes it committed before the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Officials said they are putting the talks on hold until they learn more about the British company's responsibility for the plume of oil that is spreading across the Gulf.

The EPA said in a statement that, according to its regulations, it can consider banning BP from future contracts after weighing "the frequency and pattern of the incidents, corporate attitude both before and after the incidents, changes in policies, procedures, and practices."

Several former senior EPA debarment attorneys and people close to the BP investigation told ProPublica that means the agency will re-evaluate BP and examine whether the latest incident in the Gulf is evidence of an institutional problem inside BP, a precursor to the action called debarment.

Federal law allows agencies to suspend or bar from government contracts companies that engage in fraudulent, reckless or criminal conduct. The sanctions can be applied to a single facility or an entire corporation. Government agencies have the power to forbid a company to collect any benefit from the federal government in the forms of contracts, land leases, drilling rights, or loans.

The most serious, sweeping kind of suspension is called "discretionary debarment" and it is applied to an entire company. If this were imposed on BP, it would cancel not only the company's contracts to sell fuel to the military but prohibit BP from leasing or renewing drilling leases on federal land. In the worst cast, it could also lead to the cancellation of BP's existing federal leases, worth billions of dollars.

Present and former officials said the crucial question in deciding whether to impose such a sanction is assessing the offending company's culture and approach: Do its executives display an attitude of non-compliance? The law is not intended to punish actions by rogue employees and is focused on making contractor relationships work to the benefit of the government. In its negotiations with EPA officials before the Gulf spill, BP had been insisting that it had made far-reaching changes in its approach to safety and maintenance, and that environmental officials could trust its promises that it would commit no further violations of the law.

EPA officials declined to speculate on the likelihood that BP will ultimately be suspended or barred from government contracts. Such a step will be weighed against the effect on BP's thousands of employees and on the government's costs of replacing it as a contractor.

(U.S Coast Guard Photo)Even a temporary expulsion from the U.S. could be devastating for BP's business. BP is the largest oil and gas producer in the Gulf of Mexico and operates some 22,000 oil and gas wells across United States, many of them on federal lands or waters. According to the company, those wells produce 39 percent of the company's global revenue from oil and gas production each year -- $16 billion.

Discretionary debarment is a step that government investigators have long sought to avoid, and which many experts had considered highly unlikely because BP is a major supplier of fuel to the U.S. military. The company could petition U.S. courts for an exception, arguing that ending that contract is a national security risk. That segment of BP's business alone was worth roughly $4.6 billion over the last decade, according to the government contracts website USAspending.

Because debarment is supposed to protect American interests, the government also must weigh such an action's effect on the economy against punishing BP for its transgressions. The government would, for instance, be wary of interrupting oil and gas production that could affect energy prices, or taking action that could threaten the jobs of thousands of BP employees.

A BP spokesman said the company would not comment on pending legal matters.

The EPA did not make its debarment officials available for comment or explain its intentions, but in an e-mailed response to questions submitted by ProPublica the agency confirmed that its Suspension and Debarment Office has "temporarily suspended" any further discussion with BP regarding its unresolved debarment cases in Alaska and Texas until an investigation into the unfolding Gulf disaster can be included.

The fact that the government is looking at BP's pattern of incidents gets at one of the key factors in deciding a discretionary debarment, said Robert Meunier, the EPA's debarment official under President Bush and an author of the EPA's debarment regulations. It means officials will try to determine whether BP has had a string of isolated or perhaps unlucky mistakes, or whether it has consistently displayed contempt for the regulatory process and carelessness in its operations.

In the past decade environmental accidents at BP facilities have killed at least 26 workers, led to the largest oil spill on Alaska's North Slope and now sullied some of the country's best coastal habitat, along with fishing and tourism economies along the Gulf.

Meunier said that when a business with a record of problems like BP's has to justify its actions and corporate management decisions to the EPA "it's going to get very dicey for the company."

"How many times can a debarring official grant a resolution to an agreement if it looks like no matter how many times they agree to fix something it keeps manifesting itself as a problem?" he said.

Documents obtained by ProPublica show that the EPA's debarment negotiations with BP were strained even before the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig. The fact that Doug Suttles, the BP executive responsible for offshore drilling in the Gulf, used to head BP Alaska and was the point person for negotiations with debarment officials there, only complicates matters. Now, the ongoing accident in the Gulf may push those relations to a break.

Discretionary debarment for BP has been considered at several points over the years, said Jeanne Pascal, a former EPA debarment attorney who headed the agency's BP negotiations for six years until she retired last year.

"In 10 years we've got four convictions," Pascal said, referring to BP's three environmental crimes and a 2009 deferred prosecution for manipulating the gas market, which counts as a conviction under debarment law. "At some point if a contractor's behavior is so egregious and so bad, debarment would have to be an option."

In the three instances where BP has had a felony or misdemeanor conviction under the Clean Air or Clean Water Acts, the facilities where the accidents happened automatically faced a statutory debarment, a lesser form of debarment that affects only the specific facility where the accident happened.

One of those cases has been settled. In October 2000, after a felony conviction for illegally dumping hazardous waste down a well hole to cut costs, BP's Alaska subsidiary, BP Exploration Alaska, agreed to a five-year probation period and settlement. That agreement expired at the end of 2005.

The other two debarment actions are still open, and those are the cases that EPA officials and the company have been negotiating for several years.

In the first incident, on March 23, 2005, an explosion at BP's Texas City refinery killed 15 workers. An investigation found the company had restarted a fuel tower without warning systems in place, and BP was eventually fined more than $62 million and convicted of a felony violation of the Clean Air Act. BP Products North America, the responsible subsidiary, was listed as debarred and the Texas City refinery was deemed ineligible for any federally funded contracts. But the company as a whole proceeded unhindered.

Workers respond on March 3, 2006 to the largest oil spill on Alaska's North Slope after 200,000 gallons of oil leaked from a hole in a pipeline in Prudhoe Bay. (BPXA)A year later, in March 2006, a hole in a pipeline in Prudhoe Bay led to the largest ever oil spill on Alaska's North Slope – 200,000 gallons -- and the temporary disruption of oil supplies to the continental U.S. An investigation found that BP had ignored warnings about corrosion in its pipelines and had cut back on precautionary measures to save money. The company's Alaska subsidiary was convicted of a misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act and, again, debarred and listed as ineligible for government income at its Prudhoe Bay pipeline facilities. That debarment is still in effect.

That accident alone -- which led to congressional investigations and revelations that BP executives harassed employees who warned of safety problems and ignored corrosion problems for years -- was thought by some inside the EPA to be grounds for the more serious discretionary debarment.

"EPA routinely discretionarily debars companies that have Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act convictions," said Pascal, the former EPA debarment attorney who ran the BP case. "The reason this case is different is because of the Defense Department's extreme need for BP."

Instead of a discretionary debarment, the EPA worked to negotiate a compromise that would bring BP into compliance but keep its services available. The goal was to reach an agreement that would guarantee that BP improve its safety operations, inspections, and treatment of employees not only at the Prudhoe Bay pipeline facility, but at its other facilities across the country.

According to e-mails obtained by ProPublica and several people close to the government's investigation, the company rejected some of the basic settlement conditions proposed by the EPA -- including who would police the progress -- and took a confrontational approach with debarment officials.

One person close to the negotiations said he was confounded by what he characterized as the company's stubborn approach to the debarment discussions. Given the history of BP's problems, he said, any settlement would have been a second chance, a gift. Still, the e-mails show, BP resisted.

As more evidence is gathered about what went wrong in the Gulf, BP may soon wish it hadn't.

It's doubtful that the EPA will make any decisions about BP's future in the United States until the Gulf investigation is completed, a process that could last a year. But as more information emerges about the causes of the accident there -- about faulty blowout preventers and hasty orders to skip key steps and tests that could have prevented a blowout -- the more the emerging story begins to echo the narrative of BP's other disasters. That, Meunier said, could leave the EPA with little choice as it considers how "a corporate attitude of non-compliance" should affect the prospect of the company's debarment going forward.

ProPublica reporters Mosi Secret and Ryan Knutson and director of research Lisa Schwartz contributed to this report.
Visit ProPublica website for their full coverage of the BP spill

The City of Las Vegas [NM] passes moratorium

Yesterday, the Las Vegas City Council unanimously passed a two year moratorium on oil and gas development within city limits.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Santa Fe Reporter--Trust Issues

Two sides have locked horns over white peak—which land commissioner candidate can sort out the tangle?
By Alexa Schirtzinger

In the far northeast corner of New Mexico, there’s a rugged sanctuary where eagles wing silently overhead and elk roam unmolested through forests of pine and juniper—at least until hunting season begins. Come autumn, this place roars to life with all-terrain vehicles and gunfire as hunters collect on this season’s elk licenses.

This is the now-infamous White Peak, a patchwork of state and private lands that has become a focal point for a series of political and ideological conflicts.

The brouhaha began last summer when New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Patrick Lyons proposed to exchange state trust land for private ranch holdings. Just a few days before the first swap was set to close, on Nov. 20, a firestorm of criticism erupted. Jeremy Vesbach, the executive director of the hunters’ conservation group New Mexico Wildlife Federation, calls it a “sweetheart deal.” In a public statement, Gov. Bill Richardson condemned the swaps as “a behind-the-scenes deal with virtually no public input.” Hunters rallied and decried the loss of land they had accessed for decades. Others speculated the deal would lead to housing developments, and oil and gas drilling on one of the state’s most scenic corners.

Lyons and supporters of the deal say the swap will ease mounting tensions between hunters and ranchers. More pointedly, Lyons has reiterated the potential financial gains the cash-strapped state could realize under the deal.

These competing narratives in the White Peak controversy reveal larger tensions in New Mexico’s fraught oversight of its land and the concomitant conflicts between conservation and generating revenue.

Add politics to the mix: It’s an election year, and the open seat for land commissioner (Lyons is term-limited) has drawn a crowded field for the June 1 primary, which will lead to a partisan race come November.

The candidates—like so many others in the White Peak debate—see the outcome of the White Peak deal as one that could redefine not just the State Land Office but also the strategy behind public lands in New Mexico for years to come. More>>>

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

It's a gas for pols, lobbyists

'Tis the season for voting and it's also the season to ask, who is paying for all those shiny flyer's and television ads for political hopefuls?

Published: May 18, 2010

On the theory that a modest tax on extraction of natural gas somehow could deter development of one of the world's largest natural gas fields, some Pennsylvania lawmakers have thwarted such a tax even as the industry rapidly has expanded.

Fortunately for the politicians, the folks who run the industry are not ingrates.

A new study by Common Cause of Pennsylvania, "Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets: The Campaign Contributions and Lobbying Expenditures of the Natural Gas Industry in Pennsylvania," tracks the rapidly growing amount of money that drillers have injected into the state's political landscape.

The report tracks campaign spending by industry figures back to 2002, when Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Fisher received $98,000 from industry sources and Ed Rendell received $10,000.

Compared with current contributions, that is pocket change. Republican gubernatorial candidate and current attorney general Tom Corbett has received more than $300,000 from industry sources since January 2008, while Democrat Dan Onorato has received nearly $60,000.

State law still bans corporate donations, so the money has been contributed by individuals. Christine Toretti, CEO of S.W. Jack Drilling of Indiana County, contributed $990,000 to candidates between 2001 and 2009, according to the report, about a third of the industry money donated. Terrance Pegula, founder of East Resources of Warrendale, and his wife, Kim, contributed more than $330,000 to candidates over the period.

Do you think the recipients answer their calls?

On the lobbying side the study goes back only to 2007, when Pennsylvania finally adopted a law requiring disclosure. Since then, the gas industry has spent more than $4.2 million lobbying Pennsylvania government officials, more than $715,000 in the first quarter of this year alone.

Do campaign contributions and lobbying affect policy? The industry must think so or it wouldn't spend so much money.

The study pointed out that when the state House recently passed a moratorium on further gas leases on state forest land, the 33 representatives who voted against it had received, on average, 3.4 times more campaign donations from industry sources than those who voted for the measure. That bill has not yet moved in the Senate.

Industry officials clearly believe that extensive lobbying and heavy campaign contributions are the cost of doing business. That is exactly what an extraction tax should be. The Legislature should adopt one with this year's budget.
Click here to visit article source.

Monday, May 17, 2010

ProPublica--Whistleblower Sues to Stop Another BP Rig From Operating

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - May 17, 2010 1:27 pm EDT
A whistleblower filed a lawsuit today to force the federal government to halt operations at another massive BP oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, alleging that BP never reviewed critical engineering designs for the operation and is therefore risking another catastrophic accident that could "dwarf" the company's Deepwater Horizon spill.

The allegations about BP's Atlantis platform were first made last year, but they were laid out in fresh detail in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Houston against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Minerals and Management Service, the agency responsible for regulating offshore drilling in the Gulf.

The whistleblower is Kenneth Abbott, a former project control supervisor contracted by BP who also gave an interview to "60 Minutes" on Sunday night. In a conversation last week with ProPublica, Abbott alleged that BP failed to review thousands of final design documents for systems and equipment on the Atlantis platform -- meaning BP management never confirmed the systems were built as they were intended – and didn't properly file the documentation that functions as an instruction manual for rig workers to shut down operations in the case of a blowout or other emergency.

Abbott alleges that when he warned BP about the dangers presented by the missing documentation the company ignored his concerns and instead emphasized saving money.

"There were hundreds, if not thousands, of drawings that hadn't been approved and to send drawings (to the rig) that hadn't been approved could result in catastrophic operator errors," Abbott told ProPublica. "They turned their eye away from their responsibility to make sure the overall design works. Instead they are having bits and pieces fabricated and they are just hoping that these contractors who make all these separate pieces can pull it together and make it safe. The truth is these contractors see a piece of the puzzle; they don't see the whole thing."

BP did not respond to a request for comment from ProPublica, but has previously addressed Abbott's concerns in a January letter to Congressional investigators stating that the allegations are unfounded and that the Atlantis platform had final documentation in place before it began operating.

According to an email sent to Abbott by BP's ombudsman's office, an independent group employed by the company to address internal complaints, BP had not complied with its own rules governing how and where the documentation should be kept but had not necessarily violated any regulations for drilling. The email does not address the specifics raised in the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for the Department of Interior said the agency would not comment on pending litigation.

Congress and the Minerals and Management Service have been investigating Abbott's concerns since last year, when he and Food and Water Watch, a Washington D.C.-based environmental organization, first filed the complaints. But according to both Abbott and FWW, little has been done. After the Deepwater Horizon Gulf spill underscored their concerns, they decided to jointly file the lawsuit. Abbott was laid off shortly after he raised the concerns to BP management.

According to the lawsuit, by Nov. 28, 2008, when Abbott last had access to BP's files, only half of the 7,176 drawings detailing Atlantis' sub-sea equipment had been approved for design by an engineer and only 274 had been approved "as built," meaning they were checked and confirmed to meet quality and design standards and the documentation made available to the rig crew. Ninety percent of the design documents, the suit alleges, had never been approved at all.

The Atlantis rig is even larger than the Deepwater Horizon rig that sank in April. It began producing oil in 2007 and can produce 8.4 million gallons of oil a day.

The components include some of the critical infrastructure to protect against a spill. According the suit, none of the sub-sea risers – the pipelines and hoses that serve as a conduit for moving materials from the bottom of the ocean to the facility had been "issued for design." The suit also alleges that none of the wellhead documents were approved, and that none of the documents for the manifolds that combine multiple pipeline flows into a single line at the seafloor has been reviewed for final use.

Directions for how to use the piping and instrument systems that help shut down operations in the event of an emergency, as well as the computer software used to enact an emergency shutdown, have also not been approved, the lawsuit says. According to the lawsuit, 14 percent those documents had been approved for construction, and none received final approval to ensure they were built and functioning properly.

"BP's worst-case scenario indicates that an oil spill from the BP Atlantis Facility could be many times larger than the current oil spill from the BP Deepwater Horizon," the lawsuit states. "The catastrophic Horizon oil spill would be a mere drop in the bucket when compared to the potential size of a spill from the BP Atlantis facility."

It is not clear from the lawsuit or the limited statements made by BP or federal regulators if BP has corrected the documentation problem since Abbott was laid off.

Abbott told ProPublica he raised the documentation issues repeatedly in emails and conversations with management, "saying this was critical to operator safety and rig safety."

"They just ignored my requests for help," he said. "There seemed to be a big emphasis to push the contractors to get things done. And that was always at the forefront of the operation."

Visit ProPublica website>>>

Resident refuses gas company's right-of-way request to run pipeline

Many of us don't give natural gas pipelines much thought; however, they are an inevitable part of the development process. Unfortunately, allowing a pipeline to be installed across your property is not always a choice. Pipelines inherently pose hazards of their own because they transport such a volatile substance. I have been told by a New Mexico rancher who lives with wells and pipelines on his property, that he is always hitting the pipeline with his plow because companies are only required to install them four inches below the surface.

By Elizabeth Skrapits (Staff Writer)
Published: May 17, 2010
DALLAS TWP. - When the men first came around, Emily Sallitt thought they were utility workers talking about a gas line for her home.

"They said, 'oh, you can't use this gas, it's dirty gas,'" she said. "Then when I looked it up, I said, 'oh my glory, those were the gas men."

And Emily and her husband, Joseph, wanted no part of what they were after.

Chief Gathering LLC, a subsidiary of Dallas, Texas-based Chief Oil & Gas LLC, has been sounding out landowners in Franklin and Dallas townships to see if they are willing to grant the company a right-of-way to run a natural gas pipeline through their properties.

The most productive natural gas well in Pennsylvania isn't worth much unless there's a way to get the gas to market. As drilling companies flock into the state to exploit the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, the need for connections to natural gas pipelines is growing.

The Sallitts' 12-acre property on Upper Demunds Road, less than a mile from the Dallas school district where they taught before retirement, was one of those eyed by Chief for a right-of-way acquisition.

The 1950s-vintage Transco pipeline, owned by Tulsa, Okla.-based Williams Partners LP, is an interstate natural gas pipeline system that runs from south Texas, through the Gulf Coast and up the Eastern Seaboard. It runs through Dallas, near the Sallitts' house.

Part of the Sallitts' backyard is fenced off as a pasture for Emily's horse, Doba. Much of it is woods; they leave it that way for the wild animals, she said.

The gas company would have to clear-cut a strip of the property to lay the pipe, Emily Sallitt said.

"We would have lost all this, all this privacy, part of the horse pasture," she said, indicating the woods separating her property from the neighbors.

The natural gas company drilling Luzerne County's first exploratory wells, Encana Oil & Gas USA Inc., is tapping into the Transco pipeline, which is conveniently close to the Fairmount Township property where one of the wells will be located.

But Chief's planned drilling sites are directly to the north of Luzerne County, miles away from Transco, which is the closest pipeline.

Records from the state Department of Environmental Protection show Chief has permits to drill in 11 counties, including at Springville, Lathrop and Lenox in Susquehanna County and Nicholson in Wyoming County.

Chief has drilled in Lycoming County since 2007, has wells under way in Bradford and Susquehanna counties, and wants to drill in Wyoming County, but not for a couple of months, spokeswoman Kristi Gittins confirmed. Chief has also been purchasing rights-of-way all over Northeastern Pennsylvania and has 170 miles' worth already, she said.

However, the company has not set a definitive plan for a pipeline to tap into the Transco in Dallas, she said.

"There's a whole list of permits and approvals that would have to be received," Gittins said. "And sometimes there are route changes because there's something amiss in the areas. … When we start working in an area, my team does community affairs, and this isn't even on our radar."

Chief wouldn't even begin putting down pipeline until the new sites are drilled and prove worthwhile. Laying pipeline is expensive, and it costs more than $1 million to tap into Transco, she said.

"You don't lay pipeline first, unless you're in an area where you know there has been a lot of drilling and production," Gittins said. More>>>

Public News Service--Former Land Managers: Look at Onshore Drilling Safety, Too

May 17, 2010
CASPER, Wyo. - The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has led Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to announce there will be reforms on how leases are granted for offshore drilling. Meanwhile, 60 former land managers have sent him a letter about onshore drilling, asking him to finalize reforms he announced in January.

Gloria Flora formerly supervised the largest national forest in the Lower 48 states, the Humboldt-Toiyabe, where she dealt with what she saw as the destruction of natural resources. She signed onto the letter because she claims accidents happen almost everywhere there is production - with Wyoming having more issues than many other states in recent years.

"We've seen problems crop up continuously with onshore oil and gas drilling, and so you do wonder what it's going to take."

Mike Dombeck, former Chief of the U.S. Forest and director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, also has signed the letter. His point is restoration of balance in all uses of public lands, instead of making development a priority.

"We should protect the health of the land that includes hunting and fishing and grazing and all the other uses, and have that be on an equal plane with oil and gas development."

Oil and gas companies say they take safety seriously; they accuse environmental groups of taking advantage of the Gulf accident to try to ban all domestic production.

The letter to Secretary Salazar does not call for a halt in drilling. It recommends a middle ground that allows development to continue, but be more tightly monitored.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - WY

Visit article source>>>

Saturday, May 15, 2010

the contrarian: Republicans Move To Protect BP

by Dave McGill
May 14, 2010 08:03 PM EDT
It seemed like a no-brainer, yesterday, when Democratic leaders tried to raise the liability limit for companies involved in drilling operations from $75 million to $10 billion. But that was before it ran into Republican opposition and failed to pass.

The American Petroleum Institute had vigorously opposed the effort claiming that it would increase the cost of exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico by 25%. In effectively saying it would be better for the American taxpayer to pony up the money, the institute further claimed that increasing the cap would reduce government revenues, cost thousands of American jobs and threaten our nation’s energy security.

Thus, the oil gushing into the gulf has apparently been matched by the convoluted logic being spewed by those opposing the bill. The insanity may have reached a peak when Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) complained that the “Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act,” as she called it, would empower only “the biggest of the big oil companies” to do the deep water drilling.

Hello - isn’t it obvious that when shoddy work results in billions of dollars of liability and cleanup costs, the companies had better be the “the biggest of the big?”

Meanwhile, there are a couple of new wrinkles in the Deepwater Horizon operation that may discourage even the Republicans from protecting the companies involved. First of all, a whistleblower/former oil worker told CNN yesterday that it is common practice for the drilling companies to shortcut the tests called for except when inspectors are present. High pressure tests that are required to be maintained for a minimum of five minutes, for example, are dispensed of within a few seconds, he said.

Secondly, the release of the video of the pipe gushing out the oil has had unintended consequences for the three finger-pointing companies involved. They were probably unaware of a scientist named Steve Werely who has made a career of performing liquid flow analyses and has written a book on flow measurement. Based on his analysis of the video, Werely told National Public Radio and, later, CNN, that the estimate of 5,000 barrels per day that has been floated out by BP is way off the mark. Using a technique called particle image velocimetry, he found that the outflow is, in fact, 70,000 barrels per day with a possible error factor of plus or minus 20%, or somewhere between 56,000 and 84,000 barrels per day.

So, rather than the 210,000 gallons a day that we’ve been told about, the gusher may be unloading more than 2.9 million gallons a day, and if there is a miscalculation of that size, it could explain why the attempted solutions aren't working.

According to Werely’s analysis, the oil flow is the equivalent of the Exxon Valdez spill every four days and, in the 24 days since the disaster started, 70 million gallons may have already fouled the waters of the Gulf.

The McClatchy Newspaper chain reported today that it could take months to contain the problem and it has been reported that the scientific community feels it is not being sufficiently utilized.

Clearly, this already represents an ecological and economic disaster of historic proportions. It is high time for the Obama administration to step in and bring all resources to bear on the problem.

Dave McGill, News Correspondent
Visit source page>>>

Community Peace Radio Show

I got busy and let this announcement slip through the cracks.

Community Peace Radio airs "live" every Saturday from 10-11:00AM on KFUN-AM1230 and KLVF-FM100.7. Today's show will feature Gilbert Armenta and Debra Anderson of "Split Estate"
If you miss the live show, they are all are archived at (just click on "radiocasts").

Friday, May 14, 2010

San Miguel County Commission Candidate Forum

A few quotes from the Las Vegas Optic:
By David Giuliani

"QUESTION: All of you have said you are against oil and gas drilling in the county. But some people argue that property right issues are at stake and would say they can do what they want on their land. How do you approach that issue?
Ortega: I’m a property owner, but we’ve got to use some common sense here. For example, there is no scientific evidence what goes on under my land isn’t going to impact someone else’s property. We’ve got to look at the big picture, and stop using tunnel vision and do what’s right for humanity. Turn on the television and look at what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico. That was tunnel vision, and the gulf will never be the same. I support land rights, private property, but we’ve got to consider what’s right for humanity.
Ulibarri: He’s (Ortega) right. When they drill, they don’t know what’s down there. Last month, there was an explosion in Shreveport, Louisiana, and they told every resident to not drink the water, bathe, wash clothes, light pilot lights or smoke. The whole city was shut down because of the poison gases coming through the pipes. Can you imagine what kind of effect we would have in Las Vegas if that happened here? It does affect everyone, and the task force looking into this is heavily stacked on the side of big oil, and I’d like to restack that deck.
Lucero: I will fight for a moratorium on oil drilling in San Miguel County. I will leave it up to the voters to decide."
Click here to read the full article.

New York Times--Obama Vows End to ‘Cozy’ Oversight of Oil Industry

Promises sound really good...

Published: May 14, 2010
WASHINGTON — President Obama angrily denounced the finger-pointing among the three companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a “ridiculous spectacle,” and vowed on Friday to end what he called the “cozy relationship” between the government and the oil industry that has existed for a decade or more.

In sharp remarks during an appearance in the Rose Garden, Mr. Obama announced a review of environmental safeguards for oil and gas exploration to prevent future spills. He said that he “will not tolerate any more finger-pointing or irresponsibility” from the industry or the government over who made the mess or how to fix it.

“This is a responsibility that all of us share,” Mr. Obama said. “The oil companies share it. The manufacturers of this equipment share it. The agencies and the federal government in charge of oversight share that responsibility.”

Mr. Obama said that he, too, feels the “anger and frustration” expressed by many Americans, and particularly by residents and business people in the gulf region.

“We know there’s a level of uncertainty,” Mr. Obama said, over just how much oil is gushing into the gulf from the undersea well that was left damaged and leaking by an explosion and fire that sank a drilling rig in April. He added that his administration’s response has always been “geared toward the possibility of a catastrophic event.” More>>>

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Venezuela Offshore Rig Sinks

Two in one month?!

New York Times:
Published: May 13, 2010

LIMA, Peru — An offshore natural gas exploration rig leased to Venezuela’s national oil company sank off the coast of northeastern Venezuela and forced the rig to evacuate all 95 of its workers, President Hugo Chávez announced early Thursday.

In an attempt to calm nerves after the explosion of an offshore drilling rig last month in the Gulf of Mexico, Venezuelan energy officials said that the sunken natural gas rig posed no environment threat and that no workers had died. The cause of the sinking was unclear.

Mr. Chávez, who made the initial announcement about the sunken rig via his account on Twitter, the social networking site, also said that two Venezuelan Navy patrols were sent to the waters by the rig, which is owned by Aban Singapore, a wholly owned subsidiary of Aban Offshore, India’s largest oil rig company.

“You know this platform is semisubmergible,” Mr. Chávez told his followers on Twitter. “At midnight it listed, took on water, ceased operations and they evacuated,” he said. More>>>

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

New Mexico Independent--In oil and coal disasters, parallel tales of lax regulation

I'm an advocate for regulation and have been told many times that the oil and gas industry is regulated, so what's my problem. My problem is this: Not only are existing regulations insufficient, they are not properly enforced. All the regulations in the world aren't going to make a bit of difference if they are not enforced.

Laws intended to prevent recent tragedies went largely unenforced
By Mike Lillis 5/12/10 9:08 AM

On the surface, the two accidents couldn’t have been more different. The first occurred in the rugged mountains of Appalachia; the second was more than a thousand miles away in the Gulf of Mexico. One was miles underground; the other thousands of feet underwater. One happened in pursuit of coal; the other in the unending search for domestic oil.

Yet last month’s deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in southern West Virginia, and the more recent fatal blast on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig off the coast of Louisiana, have at least this much in common: Both were likely preventable, according to a growing number of lawmakers and workplace safety experts — if only federal regulations designed to prevent such disasters had been enforced.

“I don’t believe it is enough to label this catastrophic failure as an unpredictable and unforeseeable occurrence,” Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said during a Tuesday hearing on the Deepwater Horizon disaster. “If this is like other catastrophic failures of technological systems in modern history … we will likely discover that there was a cascade of failures: technical, human and regulatory.”

The message is clear: Regulations are only as good as the people enforcing them. And Congress, some experts are warning, would do well to recognize that trend as lawmakers contemplate reforms as diverse as those governing coal mines, oil rigs and Wall Street.

Along those lines, Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist for the New York Times, noted this week that the problems at the Interior Department are by no means unique. Instead, they represent “a broader pattern that includes the failure of banking regulation and the transformation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency … into a cruel joke.” The common thread, Krugman argued, “is the degradation of effective government by antigovernment ideology.”

Krugman targeted the Bush administration in particular. But many work safety experts are quick to note that the lax enforcement over the extraction industries represents a much broader trend, beginning well before Bush took office, and extending well beyond his exit. Along the way, federal enforcement agencies have been stacked, at times, with anti-regulation regulators — many of whom still remain. And the industries have showered millions of dollars on Congress in order to persuade lawmakers that, when it comes to protecting workers, business knows best. The results have been predictable.

“We have a strong anti-regulatory bent in this country,” said Celeste Monforton, former work-safety official in the Labor Department who’s now at George Washington University, “Regulation is like a four-letter word.” More>>>

Worker believes cancer caused by fracking fluids

Many people feel that oil and gas development will benefit the individual counties in which it takes place because everybody needs work these days. In areas where drilling is common, residents often say that the labor force is imported from other locations. Either way, we need to closely examine what it means to work for the oil and gas industry and decide if those jobs are really worth it.

Worker believes cancer caused by fracking fluids
By Dennis Webb
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

When Rifle resident Jose Lara, 42, began working for Rain for Rent about a half-dozen years ago, his job required climbing inside tanks to power-wash them after they’d been emptied of hydraulic fracturing fluids used in area oil and gas wells.

At times, Lara said, the stench was overpowering.

“It’s nasty inside the tanks, and sometimes I needed to run outside,” he recalled.

Lara sought fresh air to combat the dizziness he said he and other workers experienced. Now he’s undergoing chemotherapy and other treatment to fight incurable pancreatic and liver cancer that he believes are a result of working around the fracking fluids.

Lara, who is married and has four children from ages 6 to 17, also is in the preliminary investigative stages of filing a lawsuit against several companies providing local fracking services.

Through his attorney, Paul Gertz, Lara is seeking to be allowed to give a pre-lawsuit deposition to preserve his videotaped testimony. The purpose would be to enable a jury to view the testimony if a suit Gertz is preparing to file for Lara and his family goes to trial after Lara has died.

Lara was diagnosed in late December, and people with his condition typically live only six months to a year after their diagnosis, his petition states.

If a judge approves what’s called a petition to perpetuate testimony, potential targets of the product liability suit also would have the chance to cross-examine Lara.

At least two of the companies named have filed responses denying responsibility for Lara’s cancer.

Lara also is pursuing a workers’ compensation claim against Rain for Rent. He said he isn’t blaming his employer but is trying to act on behalf of his family and his fellow workers. He said he would like to see companies do fracturing “without the bad chemicals.”

He also wants companies to have to make their fracturing fluids’ contents public for the benefit of workers.

A bill proposed by U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, both Colorado Democrats, and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., would mandate the contents’ disclosure.

The energy industry says fracking fluids consist mostly of water and sand, with only small amounts of other additives. Fracturing companies generally consider their fluids’ formulas to be proprietary information.

Gertz said not knowing what Lara was exposed to makes suing over his cancer more of a challenge.

“It’s hard for us to make a definite link because the companies have been so secretive about what’s in the fracking liquids,” he said. More>>>

Las Vegas Optic--City oil and gas moratorium urged

By David Giuliani

Oil and gas drilling just doesn’t occur in rural areas; it happens in cities, too.

As such, the City Council is considering passing a moratorium on such activity in the city limits. The county already did so a few months ago, so it could have time to draft a more detailed ordinance dealing with energy development.

Some New Mexico towns, including Carlsbad, Hobbs and Artesia, have oil and gas wells inside city limits. Seven years ago, a rig in Carlsbad had a blowout, causing the evacuation of part of that town.

Last week, the Las Vegas City Council held the first of two public hearings on whether to enact a moratorium.

Ten residents spoke for the proposed moratorium; no one spoke against it.

“This is an issue of greater importance than many may realize,” said Pat Leahan of the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center. “Oil and gas drilling has, in fact, been done in municipalities and urban settings. Some of these hazardous wells are within 150 feet of people’s homes, in some cases without even the consent of those families.”

Mayor Alfonso Ortiz said the money generated from oil and gas drilling wouldn’t pay for the damages.

“We can’t be spoiling our environment. It’s not good for Las Vegas or San Miguel County,” the mayor said.

The City Council is expected to hold another hearing next month and then vote on the matter. There are no pending requests for oil and gas drilling before the city.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Tests show high levels of air-borne chemicals at Venice

I doubt that many coastal communities have really thought about what they might now be breathing thanks to the BP disaster.

Written by Walter Pierce
Monday, 10 May 2010

Tests conducted last week in Venice by environmental chemist Wilma Subra show highly elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide and other volatile organic chemicals, according to the Louisiana Environmental Action Network. Subra monitored the air in Venice — one of the southernmost points of coastal Louisiana and the base of operations for much of the oil-containment efforts related to last month's Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill — from April 28 to May 7.

Her analyses show that hydrogen sulfide, a colorless, flammable gas that is found in high concentration in natural gas and in smaller concentrations in crude oil, reached a high point of 1,192 parts per billion on May 3. Hydrogen sulfide is detectable by smell at .5 ppb and can cause physical reactions such as irritation to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs as well as nausea, dizziness, confusion and headache at 5 to 10 ppb. On three of the days during the monitoring period, hydrogen sulfide exceeded the physical reaction level by 100 to 120 times.

Subra’s analysis also found that between April 30 and May 6, levels of volatile organic chemicals such as benzene, tetrachloroethane, nitropropane and ethylene chloride likely exceeded Louisiana Ambient Air Standards and may have exceed the highest concentration of Annual Average Standard by up to 50 times.

Subra’s analysis of air quality at Venice was conducted at the request of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Click here for source article

Protest to seize BP

Wednesday, May 12, 4-6 PM
Assemble at corner of Copper and 2nd St., Galleria Plaza
at office of Rep. Heinrich.
March to offices of Senators Udall and Bingaman to demand action against BP polluters

To endorse, or for more information, call 505 268-2488 or email

Seize BP website

The New Mexico Independent--Businesses at site of PNM gas leak were not warned of explosive hazard

By Bryant Furlow 5/10/10 12:13 PM
At Albuquerque’s busy Montgomery and Carlisle Blvd. intersection, managers of a hair salon and flower shop expressed shock Saturday over news reports that the PNM work crews that had dug up their parking lot in 2008 were responding to a potentially explosive natural gas pipeline leak.

The leak had been allowed to languish without repair for two months, between May and July 2008, The Independent reported Friday.

“One of the (PNM) guys, he said, ‘let’s see if we blow the place up’,” Ray Lueras told The Independent Saturday. “I thought he was joking but I remember looking at him because he wasn’t laughing.”

Lueras owns the Hairs to You salon, between an adjoining flower shop and the buried pipeline.

“I’d smelled gas in the back and thought there was a leak at the meter, so I called it in,” Albuquerque Wholesale Florist manager Robert Torres said, shaking his head. “Nobody took smoke breaks out back, thank God.”

The Carlisle entrance to the businesses’ parking lot was closed for more than a week while PNM crews worked, both men said.

In 2000, a campfire near a leaking natural gas pipeline southeast of Carlsbad caused an explosion that killed 12 campers, including five children. The following year, a small gas pipeline leak in Santa Fe led to an explosion that leveled a business building after an employee lit a cigarette.

‘There was no precaution’

“They dug it all up, built a big container there and did pipe work and I don’t know what else,” Lueras said. “But they didn’t tell me there was a leak. I’m a little disappointed we weren’t at least told about it, if not warned. What if somebody had gone out there to light a cigarette? There was no precaution.”

The amount of gas from the leak was enough to cause a significant explosive hazard, but according to Lueras and Torres, PNM crews did not explain what they were doing and no barracades warning signs were posted around the work site.

Nine people interviewed by PRC investigators said PNM personnel entered the underground vault around the pipeline without checking oxygen levels and without training for confined space work, according to a September 2009 PRC report. It was also unclear whether or not explosion-proof flashlights were used by the work crew, the report states.

Gas could have escaped into the businesses, an October 2008 PRC report states.

“It’s a little scary,” Torres said Saturday. “I have family and friends come in here all the time. My grandchildren come here.”

Pausing, Torres shook his head again.

“Man, I wouldn’t have come to work,” he said. “It’s not worth my life or my employees’ lives.”

Torres walked along the back of the building Saturday, pointing to asphalt patches where the PNM crews had dug up a swath of the parking lot and around the bases of three gas meters next to the building shared by the businesses.

Some of the crew’s patchwork in the parking lot is visible in satellite imagery at Google Maps, just south of a black dumpster.

Although PNM is subject to $500,000 in fines for violations of the Pipeline Safety Act and state regulations, PNM and Public Regulation Commission (PRC) Pipeline Safety Bureau staff have agreed to a proposed settlement of $66,000 in penalties for the incident, according to PRC records.

PRC Commissioners will review and approve or disapprove the settlement Monday.

“I think they should be fined the whole amount,” Torres said Saturday. “That was not right not to tell us (of the hazard).”

PRC commissioners will take public testimony Monday morning before deciding whether or not to accept the proposed $66,000 settlement worked out between PRC pipeline safety staff and PNM, Albuquerque PRC Commissioner Jason Marks told The Independent.

“Somebody made a decision that we’ll try to hide this,” Marks said. “I don’t know how high it went (but) it’s pretty serious.”

Residents worry about pipeline’s safety

A large apartment complex shares the rear parking lot with the businesses on the corner. More>>>

Monday, May 10, 2010

Common BP, US Search for New Fix to US Oil Spill

BP, US Search for New Fix to US Oil Spill
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana - BP officials desperately searched Monday for a new fix to the enormous Gulf of Mexico oil spill after efforts to cap a gushing leak with a containment dome hit a perilous snag.

British energy giant BP, which owns the lion's share of the leaking oil and has accepted responsibility for the clean-up, is facing the jaw-dropping possibility that, failing a swift fix it has yet to deliver with a containment dome, the crisis could spiral into an even worse environmental calamity.

The White House also was scrambling to contain fallout from the massive disaster threatening to take a toll on President Barack Obama's political and energy agenda.

In Washington, Obama on Monday "will meet with a number of Cabinet members and senior staff in the White House Situation Room to review BP efforts to stop the oil leak, as well as to decide on next steps to ensure all is being done to contain the spread, mitigate the environmental impact and provide assistance to affected states," a White House statement said.

Meanwhile the Minerals Management Service (MMS) said it "continues to work with BP to explore all options that could stop or mitigate oil leaks from the damaged well."

The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig sank some 80 km (50 miles) southeast of Venice, Louisiana April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers.

The riser pipe that had connected the rig to the wellhead now lies fractured on the seabed a mile below, spewing out oil at a rate at some 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, a day.

Sheen from the leading edge of the slick has surrounded island nature reserves off the coast of Louisiana and tar balls have reached as far as the Alabama coast, threatening tourist beaches further east.

Sea life is being affected in a low-lying region that contains vital spawning grounds for fish, shrimp and crabs and is a major migratory stop for many species of rare birds.

The 2.4-billion-dollar Louisiana fishing industry has been slapped with a temporary ban in certain areas due to health concerns about polluted fish.

BP, facing a barrage of lawsuits and clean-up costs soaring above 10 million dollars a day, had pinned its hopes on a 98-ton concrete and steel containment box that it successfully lowered 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) down over the main leak.

But the contraption lay idle on the seabed as engineers furiously tried to figure out how to stop it clogging with ice crystals.

Still, if efforts fail to make the giant funnel system effective, there is no solid plan B to prevent potentially tens of millions of gallons of crude from causing one of the worst ever environmental catastrophes.

Untold damage is already being done by the 3.5 million gallons estimated to be in the sea so far, but the extent of that harm will rise exponentially if the only solution is a relief well that takes months to drill.

Admiral Thad Allen, head of the US Coast Guard, suggested they were considering what he called a "junk shot" to plug the main leak.

"They're actually going to take a bunch of debris, shredded up tires, golf balls and things like that and under very high pressure shoot it into the preventer itself and see if they can clog it up and stop the leak," Allen, who is leading the US government's response, told CBS television.

This could be risky as experts have warned that excessive tinkering with the blowout preventer -- a huge 450-ton valve system that should have shut off the oil -- could see crude shoot out unchecked at 12 times the current rate.

There are also fears the slick, which covers an area of about 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers), could be carried around the Florida peninsula if it spreads far enough south to be picked up by a special Gulf current.

"If this gusher continues for several months, it's going to cover up the Gulf coast and it's going to get down into the loop current and that's going to take it down the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida," warned Florida Senator Bill Nelson. More>>>

Commissioner [San Miguel County], state representative forums this week

As I have said before, oil and gas development is very much a political issue. It's important to keep up with the various candidates and know their positions because they have a tremendous impact on regulations.

Published in the Las Vegas Optic:

By Las Vegas Optic

Forums for San Miguel County Commission and state representative candidates are planned for Wednesday and Thursday.

The forum for candidates for the District 1 and 3 County Commission seats will be 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Highlands University’s G35 (Leveo Sanchez Lecture Hall), which is next to Donnelly Library.

The forum for District 70 state representative hopefuls is Thursday, with the same hours and place.

The forums are sponsored by the Committee for the People and the Las Vegas Optic.

The candidates for the District 1 commission seat are incumbent June Garcia, Ron Ortega, Rock Ulibarri and Joe “Yunta” Lucero. For District 3 are incumbent Albert Padilla and Art Padilla. All are Democrats.

The Democratic state representative candidates are incumbent Richard Vigil, Barbara Perea Casey, Eric Michael Cummings and Chris Lopez.

The Democratic and Republican primaries are June 1.

For more information on the forums, call the Optic’s David Giuliani at 425-6796.

Friday, May 7, 2010

What the ****?

Industry representatives will say anything to landowners. I do mean Anything. And if you think your health department, public officials, and regulating bodies are any better, you may want to think again.
A Colorado resident was told something that would be completely laughable if the situation wasn't so serious. She was complaining about emmissions "you know, VOC's and stuff" and the county health guy told her, well you know, pine trees give of VOC's too. What the?? But wait, it keeps getting better. Here is a few things industry representatives have said to a Texas resident:
Oxygen turns water red.
Methane seeps from the ground all the time, you just never noticed it before.
Igniting bubbles in your backyard is normal, you just never tried it before now.
Thermal incinerators give off rainbow fairy dust (or at least give off no more emissions than your husband's truck).
What odor?
Its just a little benzene.
It's just sand.
It's just mud.
Nothing to see here.

Wow. Those are some really good neighbors huh.

Dispersant 'may make Deepwater Horizon oil spill more toxic'

It seems pretty counter-productive to be using a substance more hazardous than oil in an attempt to clean up the mess.

Guardian, May 5, 2010
Dispersant 'may make Deepwater Horizon oil spill more toxic'
Scientists fear chemicals used in oil clean-up can cause genetic mutations and cancer, and threaten sea turtles and tuna
By Suzanne Goldenberg

Chemicals used to break up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill before it reaches shore could do lasting damage to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, environmental scientists say.

By BP's own account, it has mobilised a third of the world's supply of dispersant, so far pouring about 140,000 gallons (637,000 litres) of the cocktail into the Gulf as of today. Some of the dispersant has been injected directly into the source of the spill on the ocean floor, a technique never deployed before, deepening concerns about further damage to the environment.

The dispersants are designed to break down crude into tiny drops, which can be eaten up by naturally occurring bacteria, to lessen the impact of a giant sea of crude washing on to oyster beds and birds' nests on shore. But environmental scientists say the dispersants, which can cause genetic mutations and cancer, add to the toxicity of the spill. That exposes sea turtles and bluefin tuna to an even greater risk than crude alone. Dolphins and whales have already been spotted in the spill.The dangers are even greater for dispersants poured into the source of the spill, where they are picked up by the current and wash through the Gulf. More>>>

Thursday, May 6, 2010

ProPublica--Congressmen Raised Concerns About BP Safety Before Gulf Oil Spill

I think I need a label titled "incompetence." I have this feeling it would have to be applied to just about every post though...

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - May 4, 2010 5:30 pm EDT
May 5: This post has been corrected.

A 2006 oil leak in Alaska, which temporarily shut down the Prudhoe Bay drilling field pipeline, was referenced in a letter dated Jan. 14, 2010, from two congressman to BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.
In the months before BP's Deepwater Horizon rig sank in a ball of fire in the Gulf of Mexico, the company had four close calls on pipelines and facilities it operates in Alaska, according to a letter from two congressmen obtained by ProPublica [2].

In that letter, dated Jan. 14, 2010, Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Bart Stupak, D-Mich., noted that the company's efforts to cut costs could imperil safety at BP facilities.

Between September 2008 and November 2009, three BP gas and oil pipelines on Alaska's North Slope ruptured or clogged, leading to a risk of explosions, the letter said. A potentially cataclysmic explosion was also avoided at a BP gas compressor plant, where a key piece of equipment designed to prevent the buildup of gas failed to operate, and the backup equipment intended to warn workers was not properly installed.

The letter was addressed to BP's president of Alaskan operations, John Mingé. The congressmen have been investigating BP's safety and operations since 2006, when a 4,800-barrel oil spill temporarily shut down the Prudhoe Bay drilling field pipeline.

[Anonymous Tipline: If you work for BP or a contractor on a rig in the Gulf, or anywhere else, we'd like to hear from you. Tell us about your work conditions, your management, and your observations of what is happening. We will not publish your identity. Call 917-512-0254, fax documents to 212-514-5250 or e-mail]

Neither Waxman nor Stupak returned calls for comment, and it wasn't clear from the letter how they obtained the information. The pipeline problems were mentioned in trade and local press, but the compressor plant incident does not appear to have been previously reported.

In 2006, after a string of highly publicized accidents, BP publicly committed to improving its safety record, and by many accounts it made progress. But this letter suggests that concerns about the safety of BP operations persisted in the months leading up to the accident in the Gulf this April, which killed 11 workers and has led to the largest U.S. oil spill in recent history.

In the letter, the congressmen say the "serious safety and production incidents" could affect the operation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, a "vital energy security asset" that supplies one-fourth of the nation's daily oil needs.

BP announced strong profits on April 27. According to a banking analyst report, the company benefited from having cut some 5,000 jobs and saving $4 billion in operating expenses.

A BP spokesman in Alaska did not respond by the time of publication after requesting and receiving detailed questions from ProPublica. More>>>

Concerned Citizens of Wagon Mound and Mora County Educational Forum

The Concerned Citizens of Wagon Mound and Mora County will be having an educational forum regarding the issue of oil and gas development on Tuesday, May 11th, 6:30 P.M at the Wagon Mound school auditorium.

Their presenter is Mr. Gilbert Armenta, a San Juan County rancher. He will be speaking about the impacts of natural gas development and the difficulty of living with it in daily life. Having seen Mr. Armenta present and speaking to him and his wife, I can tell you he is a very moving speaker. I am extremely grateful to people like Mr. Armenta for making the effort to talk to our community. He is a painful example of what it the oil and gas industry is really like when they set up shop on your land. There is nothing like the truth of experience to clean off the whitewash.

Mora County Commission Meeting

The May Mora County Commission meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 11, 10:00 AM at the Mora County High School administration building. Agendas are available 24 hours in advance at the county manager's office.
The Concerned Citizens of Wagon Mound will be doing a ten minute presentation with examples of why unregulated oil and gas development is incompatible with Mora County. Royal Dutch Shell will also be given ten minutes to present their points. Anyone who is able to go and give public comment should do so. It will be a good opportunity to address the issue and point out the necessity of strict and comprehensive regulations.

BP: Billionaire Polluter

BP has a really stellar operating record...In an imaginary universe where all oil companies are responsible and honest.

Posted on May 4, 2010
By Amy Goodman

Less than a week after British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and unleashing what could be the worst industrial environmental disaster in U.S. history, the company announced more than $6 billion in profits for the first quarter of 2010, more than doubling profits from the same period the year before. Oil industry analyst Antonia Juhasz notes: “BP is one of the most powerful corporations operating in the United States. Its 2009 revenues of $327 billion are enough to rank BP as the third-largest corporation in the country. It spends aggressively to influence U.S. policy and regulatory oversight.” The power and wealth that BP and other oil giants wield are almost without parallel in the world, and pose a threat to the lives of workers, to the environment and to our prospects for democracy.

Sixty years ago, BP was called the Anglo-Iranian Oil Co. (AIOC). A popular, progressive, elected Iranian government had asked the AIOC, a largely British-owned monopoly, to share more of its profits from Iranian oil with the people of Iran. The AIOC refused, so Iran nationalized its oil industry. That didn’t sit well with the U.S., so the CIA organized a coup d’é tat against Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. After he was deposed, the AIOC, renamed British Petroleum, got a large part of its monopoly back, and the Iranians got the brutal Shah of Iran imposed upon them, planting the seeds of the 1979 Iranian revolution, the subsequent hostage crisis and the political turmoil that besets Iran to this day.

In 2000, British Petroleum rebranded itself as BP, adopting a flowery green-and-yellow logo, and began besieging the U.S. public with an advertising campaign claiming it was moving “beyond petroleum.” BP’s aggressive growth, outrageous profit and track record of petroleum-related disasters paint a much different picture, however. In 2005, BP’s Texas City refinery exploded, killing 15 people and injuring 170. In 2006, a BP pipeline in Alaska leaked 200,000 gallons of crude oil, causing what the Environmental Protection Agency calls “the largest spill that ever occurred on the [Alaskan] North Slope.” BP was fined $60 million for the two disasters. Then, in 2009, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined BP an additional $87 million for the refinery blast. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said: “BP has allowed hundreds of potential hazards to continue unabated. ... Workplace safety is more than a slogan. It’s the law.” BP responded by formally contesting all of OSHA’s charges.

President Barack Obama said of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, “Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak; BP will be paying the bill.” Riki Ott is not so sure. She is a marine toxicologist and former “fisherma’am” from Alaska, and was one of the first people to respond to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster. Exxon deployed an army of lawyers to delay and defeat the legal claims of the people who were physically and/or financially harmed by the Valdez spill. “What we know is that the industry does everything it can to limit its liability,” she told me.

The (Mobile, Ala.) Press-Register reported that Alabama Attorney General Troy King told BP to “stop circulating settlement agreements among coastal Alabamians.” Apparently, BP was requiring owners of fishing boats seeking work mitigating the spill to waive any and all rights to sue BP in the future. Despite a BP spokesperson’s pledge that the waivers would not be enforced, the news report stated, “King said late Sunday that he was still concerned that people would lose their right to sue by accepting settlements from BP of up to $5,000.”

Even if BP doesn’t trick victims into signing away the right to sue, the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, while requiring polluters to pay the actual hard costs of the cleanup, caps the additional financial liability of a spill at just $75 million. Given that millions of people will be impacted by the spill, by the loss of fisheries and tourism, and by the cascade of impacts on related industries, $75 million is small change. More>>>

Kirtland Air Force fuel leak in Exxon Valdez oil spill category

By Marjorie Childress 5/5/10 9:22 AM
The jet fuel leak that has been slowly creeping off Kirtland Airforce Base, and contaminating Albuquerque’s water supply while its at it, is “massive.” So massive that it’s in the Exxon Valdez oil spill category, said Albuquerque Journal science writer John Fleck yesterday in a column. And state officials think its a very serious problem.

The numbers are in dispute, Fleck noted, with the air force claiming the spill is between one and two million gallons, but the state environment department claiming its an eight-million gallon spill. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil in Alaska’s Prince Williams Sound in 1989.

The Kirtland jet fuel leak was discovered in 1999 but the problem began in the 1970s. It was only made public in 2008, when air force officials discovered it had migrated off the base into nearby groundwater. The fuel is sitting on top of groundwater, more than a foot deep in some areas.

Air Force officials downplayed the danger of the spill in 2008, saying that it would be cleaned up before it ever reached a drinking water well. But state environment department officials have a greater sense of urgency apparently.While there are 27 cases of contaminated groundwater in Bernalillo County, nothing comes close to the scale of the Kirtland jet fuel leak, and state officials want it cleaned up, said Fleck: More>>>

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

ProPublica Continues Coverage Related to BP Oil Spill

If you pay attention to the fines issued to oil and gas companies when they mess up (sometimes), you quickly catch on that the fines amount to basically nothing. Usually ranging in the low thousands, they are nothing more than a minor slap on the wrist. A story published today by ProPublica, raises the issue of this in relation to offshore drilling. To read the article, click here.
Another story published today by ProPublica, raises serious questions about members of a nonprofit conservation group and its close ties to the oil and gas industry. So close in fact, that one of thier board members is an executive at Transocean, the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded last month. To read the article, click here.

EARTHWORKS Press Release

Natural Gas Drilling Toxics Exceed State Standards
Air quality testing shows extreme greenhouse gas and chemical emissions; debunks clean energy myth

DISH, TX, 5/4 -- Final results released today indicate that the gas drilling industry is polluting the air of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan region with toxic emissions in excess of state limits. A team of environmental scientists who conducted independent air quality tests in March 2010 released the results. Preliminary results released immediately after the March tests, now corroborated, showed alarming levels of toxic chemical and greenhouse gas emissions that threaten human health and the environment.

"These definitive results not only show extreme methane emissions from gas well sites but also startling levels of chemicals that pose public health risks," said Wilma Subra, EARTHWORKS board member, environmental scientist and MacArthur "Genius" Grant recipient.

The March tests employed a new technology that enables drive-through emissions testing on shale gas drilling and pumping facilities -- without leaving the vehicle or slowing down from normal driving speeds. They were backed up with traditional air canister sampling -- the results of which were released today.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is between twenty and thirty times more effective at trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere than carbon dioxide. In addition to methane, fifteen volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were detected in the air in association with the methane emissions downwind from the DISH Compressor Station Complex during the undercover testing in March. VOCs are organic chemical compounds which have significant vapor pressures and which can affect the environment and human health. The levels of Carbon Disulfide, Dimethyl Disulfide, Methylethyl Disulfide, Benzene, m&p-Xylene exceeded the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) standards.

The team also measured emissions at two locations in Flower Mound, Texas. Five VOCs were detected at Scenic Road and seven at the Williams Tank Farm. The Scenic Road Carbon Disulfide emissions were in excess of TCEQ levels and the Williams location showed Benzene and Toluene, known carcinogens, along with other VOCs.

DISH residents suffer a host of air-quality-related illnesses, including respiratory ailments and headaches, brain disorders, pre-cancerous lesions and impairment of motor skills. A community health survey conducted by EARTHWORKS and the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project shows an alarming 61% of those health effects were directly attributed to natural gas industry emissions. Recent testing by the state found elevated levels of toxins in the blood, urine and water of DISH residents.

A survey of Flower Mound residents has yet to be performed.

"The technology exists today that would reduce these emissions by 90%, and industry can afford to use it," stated Sharon Wilson of the Texas Oil & Gas Accountability Project. "EARTHWORKS and Texas OGAP call on TCEQ to protect public health and require that industry employ the highest levels of control technology as set forth in Drill-Right Texas: Best Oil and Gas Development Practices for Texas."

"As our country struggles to address climate change, natural gas is being promoted as a clean energy solution," said Wilson. "Natural gas is anything but clean and industry must be required to use technology that is already available to mitigate its impacts."

Texas OGAP will work with communities statewide to prevent and minimize the impacts caused by energy development. EARTHWORKS has 29,000 members nationwide, and offices in California, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Texas and Washington, D.C.

-- ENDS --

Click here to visit EARTHWORKS OGAP

Mora County Candidate Forum

Citizens for Honest Government, will be holding a Mora County Candidate Forum on Saturday, May 8Th at the Mora High School lecture hall. The forum for commission candidates is from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM. Forum for other seats is scheduled for 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM.
I strongly encourage attending the county commissioner forum. Ultimately our county commission will determine what kind of oil and gas ordinance is implemented in Mora County. It is important for us to know the candidates stance on this issue and to tell them what the citizens of Mora County want for their future.

I'm sure Texas is thanking us for all those jobs we sent their way

Okay, it's no secret that jobs and money are a big issue for most of us. Suzana Martinez is making her bid to be the next Governor of New Mexico. Her latest ad mentions "job killing regulations [that] drove our jobs to Texas." Now, she's referring to the pit rule which requires all waste pits to be lined, and states that those who benefit from the rule have ties to Governor Richardson. I see a couple of not so funny things about this. For one, I think that the people who benefit most from the pit rule are those who actually live or ranch near them. As well as the minor fact that anything liquid will eventually sink into the ground and burying it does nothing to minimize the environmental damage. Instances of water contamination from unlined waste pits is not as rare as one might hope. For two, I don't think the residents of Texas are thanking us for all those great jobs we apparently sent their way by implementing the pit rule. I want to see an oil and gas executive or political candidate who has a waste pit in their backyard and doesn't want to see it lined. Anybody got some?

Las Vegas (NM) City Council Meeting

Just a reminder post that the Las Vegas City Council will be holding a meeting at 6PM, Wednesday May 5 at the City Council chambers (across Grand from the Abe Montoya Rec Center). They will be implementing a moratorium on oil and gas development within Las Vegas city limits. Anyone who can is encouraged to attend and offer their support for this proactive measure.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Wall Street Journal--Safety Device Questioned in '04

Federal regulators learned in a 2004 study that a vital piece of oil-drilling safety equipment may not function in deep-water seas but did nothing to bolster industry requirements.

The equipment, called shear rams, is supposed to seal off out-of-control oil and gas wells by pinching the pipe closed and cutting it.

As oil companies drilled wells in deeper water, the shear rams had to become stronger and manufacturers responded. But the federally commissioned study questioned whether enough was known about the force required to shear off a pipe at these depths to set proper standards.

.Experts theorize the rams may have failed to work as expected in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, contributing to accident that left 11 dead and an open pipe spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP PLC, the giant British oil company that leased the Deepwater Horizon, says it learned from evacuees who escaped the burning rig that workers had tried to activate the shear rams. BP was leasing the rig from Transocean Ltd. and most of the workers were employees of Transocean.

A Transocean spokesman declined comment.

The shear rams are an integral part of the giant blowout preventer, which sits on the sea floor, 5,000 feet below the surface. R. Scott Amann, a spokesman for the sheer ram manufacturer, Cameron International Corp., said he did not know exactly what happened.

"We remind you that our devices have never been involved in an accident like this," he said.

The cause of the oil well blow-out remains unclear. Petroleum engineers say it was probably related to the cementing process, which is supposed to secure the well and prevent oil and natural gas from escaping by filling in the space around the pipe and plugging the well.

But once workers lost control of the well, which was spewing a flammable mixture of crude oil and natural gas, the blowout preventer became the only option for stopping the flow.

Investigators are expected to focus on whether the blowout preventer received a signal from workers on the rig. The Deepwater Horizon wasn't equipped with a backup remote trigger that is a common drill-rig requirement in other oil-producing nations, but not the U.S.

If the blowout preventer did receive the signal, experts say, a critical question is why the rams didn't seal off the well.

Some newer rigs have blowout preventers with two separate pairs of shear rams—providing an added safeguard in case one shear malfunctions or hits an obstruction in the pipe. The Deepwater Horizon had a single pair of shear rams.

The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, which regulates offshore drilling, questioned whether shear rams were strong enough to shear through a pipe.

In two offshore incidents in 2001, the rams didn't work as expected. The agency issued new rules in 2003 instructing the oil industry to make sure the rams would work reliably.

In 2004, a study commissioned by the MMS raised significant questions about the ability of rams to cut through the stronger pipes used in deep-water drilling. Those thicker pipes—as well as the shear rams—must withstand the enormous pressures found at 5,000 feet below sea level.

The study noted there was no agreement on how to determine if the sheer rams would work properly in deep-water conditions. More>>>

Saturday, May 1, 2010

EPA is now paying attention to the BP oil spill and on a related note, the chemicals meant to clean it up are raising concern

Friends of the Earth has an online petition asking President Obama to concentrate on renewable energy sources instead of offshore drilling. To sign the petition, click here.

The EPA has established a website regarding the BP oil spill that is devastating the gulf of Mexico.
EPA Press release:

"EPA launches site to inform the public about health, environmental impacts of spill

WASHINGTON – As part of the ongoing federal response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, EPA today established a website to inform the public about the spill’s impact on the environment and the health of nearby residents. The website – - will contain data from EPA’s ongoing air monitoring along with other information about the agency’s activities in the region. Also today, Administrator Jackson joined Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to tour the region. The Administrator will spend the next 36 hours visiting with community groups and meeting EPA staff responding to the spill.

Additional information on the broader response from the U.S. Coast Guard and other responding agencies is available at:

On a related note, Pro-Publica has published an article about concerns regarding the environmental and health impacts of the chemicals BP is using in an attempt to clean up the spill.

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - April 30, 2010 5:44 pm EDT

Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images The chemicals BP is now relying on to break up the steady flow of leaking oil from deep below the Gulf of Mexico could create a new set of environmental problems.

Even if the materials, called dispersants, are effective, BP has already bought up more than a third of the world’s supply. If the leak from 5,000 feet beneath the surface continues for weeks, or months, that stockpile could run out.

On Thursday BP began using the chemical compounds to dissolve the crude oil, both on the surface and deep below, deploying an estimated 100,000 gallons. Dispersing the oil is considered one of the best ways to protect birds and keep the slick from making landfall. But the dispersants contain harmful toxins of their own and can concentrate leftover oil toxins in the water, where they can kill fish and migrate great distances.

The exact makeup of the dispersants is kept secret under competitive trade laws, but a worker safety sheet for one product, called Corexit, says it includes 2-butoxyethanol, a compound associated with headaches, vomiting and reproductive problems at high doses.

“There is a chemical toxicity to the dispersant compound that in many ways is worse than oil,” said Richard Charter, a foremost expert on marine biology and oil spills who is a senior policy advisor for Marine Programs for Defenders of Wildlife and is chairman of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. “It’s a trade off – you’re damned if you do damned if you don’t -- of trying to minimize the damage coming to shore, but in so doing you may be more seriously damaging the ecosystem offshore.”

BP did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Dispersants are mixtures of solvents, surfactants and other additives that break up the surface tension of an oil slick and make oil more soluble in water, according to a paper published by the National Academy of Sciences. They are spread over or in the water in very low concentration – a single gallon may cover several acres.

Once they are dispersed, the tiny droplets of oil are more likely to sink or remain suspended in deep water rather than floating to the surface and collecting in a continuous slick. Dispersed oil can spread quickly in three directions instead of two and is more easily dissipated by waves and turbulence that break it up further and help many of its most toxic hydrocarbons evaporate.

But the dispersed oil can also collect on the seabed, where it becomes food for microscopic organisms at the bottom of the food chain and eventually winds up in shellfish and other organisms. The evaporation process can also concentrate the toxic compounds left behind, particularly oil-derived compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs.

Studies if oil dispersal have found that the chemicals used can accumulate in shellfish and other organisms. (Getty Images file photo) According to a 2005 National Academy of Sciences report, the dispersants and the oil they leave behind can kill fish eggs. A study of oil dispersal in Coos Bay, Ore. found that PAH accumulated in mussels, the Academy’s paper noted. Another study examining fish health after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 found that PAHs affected the developing hearts of Pacific herring and pink salmon embryos. The research suggests the dispersal of the oil that’s leaking in the Gulf could affect the seafood industry there.

“One of the most difficult decisions that oil spill responders and natural resource managers face during a spill is evaluating the trade-offs associated with dispersant use,” said the Academy report, titled Oil Spill Dispersants, Efficacy and Effects. “There is insufficient understanding of the fate of dispersed oil in aquatic ecosystems.”

A version of Corexit was widely used after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and, according to a literature review performed by the group the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, was later linked with health impacts in people including respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders. But the Academy report makes clear that the dispersants used today are less toxic than those used a decade ago. More>>>