economics

March 12, 2011

Quake, Tsunami Slam Japan One of Largest Ever, Temblor Kills Hundreds, Raises Fears of Radiation Leaks at Nuclear Plant

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 2:18 am
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By MARIKO SANCHANTA and CHESTER DAWSON in Tokyo and DAISUKE WAKABAYASHI in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan

WSJ’s Daisuke Wakabayashi reports from Northern Japan, where the extent of the devastation from a 8.9-magnitude earthquake and subsequent Tsunami became even clearer with the arrival of daylight Saturday morning.

TOKYO—The most powerful earthquake ever to hit Japan triggered a 30-foot tsunami that washed away parts of the northern shore, leaving hundreds dead, forcing more than 100,000 people to evacuate their homes and raising fears of a radioactive release from some of the country’s many nuclear power plants.
Strong Quake Strikes Japan

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The quake was one of the world’s five strongest in more than a century of record-keeping, with a magnitude of 8.9. It inflicted particularly severe damage in Japan’s northeast, where powerful waves swallowed warehouses and fishing boats and swept across neighborhoods and rice paddies. A train was reported derailed and missing. A quake-sparked blaze at an oil-storage site spread throughout a town of 75,000.

Japan’s National Police Agency said Saturday morning that 236 people had died, 725 were missing and 1028 injured. That toll is likely to rise as figures were compiled across the country: Police said 200 to 300 bodies had been found in the city of Sendai, the closest major city to the quake’s epicenter.

Worries mounted early Saturday over safety at two nuclear-power plants north of Tokyo, after power outages disabled the systems that cool fuel rods. Radiation levels in a control room of one reactor reached around 1,000 times the normal level early Saturday, Kyodo News reported the government’s nuclear agency as saying. Officials said they had asked people living within about six miles of that plant to evacuate. Some 20,000 people had left the area around that and another troubled plant by Saturday morning, Kyodo reported.
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The impact of the quake’s first jolt, which hit at 2:46 p.m. on a clear Friday afternoon, was felt around the country, including in Tokyo. There, office buildings swayed. Trains, buses and phone service stopped. Millions of households lost power.

Japanese spent the rest of the day and night watching televised images of fires, collapsed buildings and deadly debris-filled waves, delivered by news anchors in hard hats. Dozens of powerful aftershocks emanated from off the eastern coast through Saturday morning, shaking the country and its people.

The quake’s footprint spread at about 3 a.m. local time, as new seismic activity rippled through the center to the country’s western coast, raising the specter of a series of quakes extending throughout the country, which sits atop crisscrossing fault lines on the so-called Pacific Rim of Fire.

“I really thought I was going to die,” Yuhei Sakaibara, a reporter for the local Sendai newspaper, said in a telephone interview Friday night. “Dishes went flying in every direction and huge cracks ripped up the walls. When I got outside, I saw that several houses in the neighborhood had collapsed.”

In a town of about 12,500 residents in neighboring Fukushima prefecture—at the outskirts of the worst-damaged areas—roads were cracked. Goro Okawara, a 68-year-old farmer who said he was in the fields when the first quake hit, said he thought the temblor would last 30 seconds but “it just kept going and kept getting worse and worse.”

The traditional kawara tiles on Mr. Okawara’s roof “came flying off,” he said, crumbling and spraying red clay blocks in all directions. A glass door shattered. A crater appeared in his driveway. Nearby, he said, the crematorium where his family was planning a funeral for a relative Saturday had collapsed. At the local cemetery, many headstones were snapped in half.

In all, about 100,000 residents of Fukushima province had evacuated by early Saturday, Kyodo reported.
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The quakes and waves slammed a nation that has had its prolonged share of miseries. An extended economic decline saw Japan recently slip behind China as the world’s second-largest economy. A series of scandals have not only discredited and paralyzed its political leadership, but also tarred institutions from elite universities to the ancient sumo sport.

Japan’s long-deadlocked parliament appeared initially to have set aside political bickering and rallied around calls for unity and new measures to keep the quake from further weakening the economy.

With damages estimates likely to mount quickly, news of the quake—which struck near the close of trading Friday on the Tokyo Stock Exchange—may pummel Japanese shares next week. Should the already debt-burdened government be forced to issues trillions of yen in reconstruction bonds, the move would affect the Japanese fixed-income market and weigh on Japan’s already-weakened credit rating from the world’s major rating agencies.

Yumiko Ono reports from Tokyo that more than 1000 people are dead or missing after a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and devastating tsunami struck Northern Japan Friday.
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Some economists have argued that a quake could actually lift the economy in the long run, by requiring a surge in rebuilding spending. But more immediately, the impact disrupted a spectrum of the nation’s industries, from auto and consumer-electronics makers to steel and beverage producers, forcing a number of them to shut factories.

Offers of sympathy were swift from around the world, with Japan’s foreign ministry saying it had recieved assistance offers from some 50 governments. These included China and Russia, which have recently had testy territorial disputes with Tokyo.

Premier Wen Jiabao expressed “deep sympathy and solicitude to the Japanese government and the people” and told Prime Minister Naoto Kan that China is willing to offer aid. An earthquake has been an occasion for China and Japan to set aside their differences before: After the 2008 Sichuan earthquake that killed at least 68,000 people, Japan’s Self Defense Forces were the first foreign aid and rescue team allowed into China.

“Today’s events remind us of just how fragile life can be,” U.S. President Barack Obama said at a news conference. “Our hearts go out to our friends in Japan and across the region and we’re going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy.”
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Mr. Obama said he spoke Friday morning with Mr. Kan and offered whatever assistance was needed, and said he expected U.S. aid to be focused on helping with the cleanup. He said the U.S. has an aircraft carrier in Japan now, with another is on the way. A third ship is en route to the Marianas Islands to assist as needed, he said. The U.S. has a large military presence in Japan, and there were signs troops were being mobilized quickly there to help out.

Friday’s quake was the largest ever to hit the earthquake-prone country in terms of strength, but didn’t appear, at least in the early hours, to be as devastating as two great quakes of the 20th century. More than 100,000 people died or went missing in the 7.9-magnitude Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. The 1995 Kobe earthquake, which registered 7.3, killed more than 6,000 people in the region.
Disastrous Japan Earthquakes

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In September 1923, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo.

See some of the most powerful earthquakes to have hit the island nation.
The World’s Biggest Earthquakes

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A photographer looked over wreckage as smoke rose in the background from burning oil storage tanks at Valdez, Alaska, March 29, 1964.

One reason for the lower death toll appeared to be a heightened readiness in Japan, raised particularly after the Kobe quake embarrassed the government and builders for weak preparedness.

“Japan has spent a huge effort preparing for a destructive earthquake off the east coast and is better prepared than most countries in the world,” said Kevin McCue, a director at Australian Seismological Centre.

Analysts say steps taken since the wake-up call of the Kobe quake include using improved construction methods for bridges to make them more responsive to the shock and giving the country’s self-defense forces authority to more immediately engage in relief efforts.

Citizens also got some advance warning from the world’s first early-warning system, developed by the country’s meteorological agency. The agency detected the initial quake’s shock wave near the seismic center and sent off the warning message, which appeared on national television and radio as well as on mobile-phone screens. Throughout the day, the tell-tale warning chime sounded regularly before new tremors hit.

After the quake hit, the government ordered the nation’s military, police and emergency rescue personnel to head for the affected areas to help with the rescue missions.

The central bank quickly announced that it has set up a disaster-management team, headed by Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa, and said it was standing ready to supply liquidity to ensure stability in financial markets.

The government will likely first use roughly 200 billion yen ($2.41 billion) in emergency funding left in the budget for the current fiscal year ending this month, several Finance Ministry officials said. They said the proposed budget for the new fiscal year contains another 350 billion yen for natural disasters and 810 billion yen in emergency funding.

Across Japan, ports, railways and airports shut down. Car-navigation systems indicated that almost every entry point in Tokyo to the nation’s highway system was closed.

In Tokyo, cellphone reception was down, causing long lines to snake around pay phones. Children walked home from school, some with protective head gear. People huddled around televisions, trying to grasp the extent of the damage.

Near Tokyo Station, people streamed onto the street, where the only option was to walk— buses and taxis weren’t available and all trains were halted.

Akira Nomiya, 74, in Tokyo from Sapporo to visit his grandchildren, said the quake hit right after he stepped out of a monorail. “It shook so badly that I couldn’t keep standing as I stepped out of the monorail. People were just hanging onto the wall or sitting down on the ground. Girls were screaming on the platform.”

“A screen fell off my desk,” said Varun Nayyar, an associate director at UBS Securities Japan, who hastily evacuated his building.

At 3:24 p.m., the first large aftershock could be felt by those standing outside of buildings in central Tokyo. Looking up at construction cranes shaking violently atop half-completed buildings, people gasped. As of early Saturday, at least 50 aftershocks were recorded.

The Japanese auto industry was also hit by the earthquake, with Nissan Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. among those shutting plants, but one automotive analyst called the expected impact on the industry “manageable.”

Toyota shut down two assembly plants. At Honda’s plant in Tochigi, north of Tokyo, a factory ceiling collapsed, crushing a worker to death and injuring 30 others. Nissan said five plants were shut down immediately after the quake struck, with small fires extinguished at two of them. It was assessing its operations and those of suppliers to see whether production could restart Monday.

Analysts from the main ratings agencies—which have recently downgraded Japan’s sovereign debt—said it was too early to say how the quake might affect the country’s credit ratings. Richard Jerram, a Singapore-based economist at Macquarie Securities with long experience in Japan, said that while the scale of damage was hard to predict, “the most obvious concern is the debt market. That’s going to be the thing to watch.”

Japan’s political logjam won’t likely be a problem, as “you’re obviously going to get a cooperative approach,” he said.
—Juro Osawa, Kana Inagaki, Yoshio Takahashi, Mari Iwata
and Kenneth Maxwell contributed to this article.
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“ This is truly a horrible tragedy. I feel very sorry for those affected as well as their family members. I hope they can get back on their feet quickly.

May 27, 2010

BP Used Riskier Method to Seal Oil Well Before Blast

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 2:15 pm
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WASHINGTON — Several days before the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, BP officials chose, partly for financial reasons, to use a type of casing for the well that the company knew was the riskier of two options, according to a BP document.
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The Deepwater Horizon ablaze on April 21, the day after the oil rig exploded.
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Douglas Brown, the Deepwater Horizon’s chief mechanic, testifying. His lawyers, Steve Gordon, seated, and Jeff Seely, conferred.

The concern with the method BP chose, the document said, was that if the cement around the casing pipe did not seal properly, gases could leak all the way to the wellhead, where only a single seal would serve as a barrier.

Using a different type of casing would have provided two barriers, according to the document, which was provided to The New York Times by a Congressional investigator.

Workers from the rig and company officials have said that hours before the explosion, gases were leaking through the cement, which had been set in place by the oil services contractor, Halliburton. Investigators have said these leaks were the likely cause of the explosion.

The approach taken by the company was described as the “best economic case” in the BP document. However, it also carried risks beyond the potential gas leaks, including the possibility that more work would be needed or that there would be delays, the document said.

BP’s decision was “without a doubt a riskier way to go,” said Greg McCormack, director of the Petroleum Extension Service at the University of Texas at Austin. Several other engineers agreed with Mr. McCormack’s assessment of the BP document.

Andrew Gowers, a spokesman for BP, said that there was no industry standard for the casing to be used in deepwater wells and that the approach by the Deepwater Horizon had not been unusual. “BP engineers evaluate various factors for each well to determine the most appropriate casing strategy,” he said.

The role of financial and time pressures in the rig blast is one focus of a series of hearings by the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service that began Wednesday in Kenner, just outside New Orleans.

Douglas H. Brown, the chief mechanic for the Deepwater Horizon, testified Wednesday that he witnessed a “skirmish” on the rig between a BP well site leader and crew members employed by Transocean, the rig’s owner, the morning of the blast.

Mr. Brown said the disagreement followed BP’s decision to replace heavy drilling fluid with lighter saltwater before the well was sealed with a final cement plug.

“Well, this is how it’s going to be,” the BP official said, according to Mr. Brown.

Mr. Gowers declined to answer questions about workers’ accusations or about whether cost may have factored into the company’s decision to use the casing system it chose for the Deepwater Horizon.

BP executives will probably face tough questioning about cost-cutting measures on Thursday when they testify before the House Committee on Natural Resources. As more details come to light about the events that led to the explosion, investigators are trying to determine which decisions and incidents — or combination of them — may have led to the accident, which killed 11 workers.

For example, Representative Nick J. Rahall II, Democrat of West Virginia and the chairman of the committee, said BP executives would face questions about why they let workers from Schlumberger, a drilling-services contractor, leave the morning of the accident without conducting a special test on the quality of the cement work.

Engineers have described these tests, called cement bond logs, as an important tool for ensuring cement integrity.

The decision about the casings will also come up during the hearings.

Professor McCormack said that while the type of casing that BP chose to use was more expensive in the short term, it was ultimately the more cost-effective and versatile alternative because it would have allowed the company to more easily drill deeper in the same hole if they decide to do so later.

But, the BP records explain, the casing chosen by the company may also cause problems if drilling mud or cement is lost or pushed away from the well into porous rocks as it is pumped.

Federal and company records indicate that that is just what happened, on more than one occasion. The rig lost all of its drilling mud in an incident in March, and in the days immediately before the explosion, records show. The well experienced several other instances of minor losses of drilling fluid and gas kicks, according to interviews with workers from the rig.

The April 20 disagreement between the BP well site leader and Transocean officials is also a growing focus of the investigation.

At a briefing in Washington on Wednesday, investigators laid out a chain of events, beginning with an operational error, that appear to have led to the accident.

The findings are preliminary, and come from BP, which owns the lease on the well and has pointed fingers at other companies for the problems on the rig, including Transocean.

The BP officials said that rig workers apparently had not pumped in enough water to fully replace the buffer liquid between the water and the mud, which stayed in the blowout preventer, the stack of safety valves at the wellhead.

This thick liquid, which is about one-third solid material, may have clogged the pipe that was used for crucial “negative pressure” tests to determine whether the well was properly sealed. The result was a pressure reading of zero (because the pipe was plugged, not because there was no pressure in the well) and the workers apparently misinterpreted that result as indicating a successful test.

Rig workers declared they were “satisfied” with the tests and started to replace drilling mud in the pipe to the seabed with water. About two hours later, the blowout and explosion occurred.

Evidence began emerging Wednesday that BP officials may have had an incentive to proceed quickly.

A member of the federal panel investigating the cause of the blast said that before the explosion, the company had hoped to use the Deepwater Horizon to drill another well by early March, but was behind schedule.

BP applied to use the Deepwater rig to drill in another oil field by March 8, said Jason Mathews, a petroleum engineer for the Minerals Management Service.

Based on an estimate of $500,000 per day to drill on the site, the delay of 43 days had cost BP more than $21 million by the day of the explosion on April 20, Mr. Mathews estimated.

A Transocean official — Adrian Rose, the company’s health, safety and environmental manager — confirmed that BP leased the rig for $533,000 per day. He could not confirm where the Deepwater Horizon was planning to go next, but he said it was going to undertake another drill, probably for BP.

Reporting was contributed by Henry Fountain and Tom Zeller Jr. from New York, Robbie Brown from Kenner, La., and Matthew L. Wald from Washington.

May 14, 2010

Gulf Spill May Far Exceed Official Estimates

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 6:52 pm
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The amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico may be at least 10 times the size of official estimates, according to an exclusive analysis conducted for NPR.

At NPR’s request, experts examined video that BP released Wednesday. Their findings suggest the BP spill is already far larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil.
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BP has said repeatedly that there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by looking at the oil gushing out of the pipe. But scientists say there are actually many proven techniques for doing just that.

Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry.

A computer program simply tracks particles and calculates how fast they are moving. Wereley put the BP video of the gusher into his computer. He made a few simple calculations and came up with an astonishing value for the rate of the oil spill: 70,000 barrels a day — much higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.

The method is accurate to a degree of plus or minus 20 percent.

Given that uncertainty, the amount of material spewing from the pipe could range from 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day. It is important to note that it’s not all oil. The short video BP released starts out with a shot of methane, but at the end it seems to be mostly oil.

“There’s potentially some fluctuation back and forth between methane and oil,” Wereley said.

But assuming that the lion’s share of the material coming out of the pipe is oil, Wereley’s calculations show that the official estimates are too low.

“We’re talking more than a factor-of-10 difference between what I calculate and the number that’s being thrown around,” he said.

At least two other calculations support him.

Timothy Crone, an associate research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used another well-accepted method to calculate fluid flows. Crone arrived at a similar figure, but he said he’d like better video from BP before drawing a firm conclusion.

Eugene Chiang, a professor of astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, also got a similar answer, using just pencil and paper.

Without even having a sense of scale from the BP video, he correctly deduced that the diameter of the pipe was about 20 inches. And though his calculation is less precise than Wereley’s, it is in the same ballpark.

“I would peg it at around 20,000 to 100,000 barrels per day,” he said.

Chiang called the current estimate of 5,000 barrels a day “almost certainly incorrect.”

Given this flow rate, it seems this is a spill of unprecedented proportions in U.S. waters.

“It would just take a few days, at most a week, for it to exceed the Exxon Valdez’s record,” Chiang said.

BP disputed these figures.

“We’ve said all along that there’s no way to estimate the flow coming out of the pipe accurately,” said Bill Salvin, a BP spokesman.

Instead, BP prefers to rely on measurements of oil on the sea surface made by the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Those are also contentious. Salvin also says these analyses should not assume that the oil is spewing from the 21-inch pipe, called a riser, shown in the video.

“The drill pipe, from which the oil is rising, is actually a 9-inch pipe that rests within the riser,” Slavin said.

But Wereley says that fact doesn’t skew his calculation. And though scientists say they hope BP will eventually release more video and information so they can refine their estimates, what they have now is good enough.

“It’s possible to get a pretty decent number by looking at the video,” Wereley said.

This new, much larger number suggests that capturing — and cleaning up — this oil may be a much bigger challenge than anyone has let on.

BP’s Hayward in ‘battle’ for hearts and minds By Sheila McNulty in Houston

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 1:43 am
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Published: May 13 2010 14:39 | Last updated: May 13 2010 14:39

It is 7pm at BP’s crisis centre in Houston, Texas, and two masseuses in royal blue scrubs are giving chair massages to those in need of a break on the night shift.

About 170 of the 500 people in the centre working to cap the oil well leak and contain the spill in the Gulf of Mexico are on duty. Several are filling Styrofoam plates at a buffet of barbecued chicken, rolls, salad and chocolate chip cookies.

One man sits in a room surrounded by eight empty bottles of water as if he has not moved in hours. On a table in another room, name cards from Halliburton, Oceaneering and others who have offered assistance are scattered across a table spread with papers.

The 12-hour shifts people have been assigned are turning into 14, given handing-over briefings at the start and end of their shifts. Nobody is taking holidays or weekends. Signs have been taped to the walls directing people to coffee. BP is making a point to highlight to staff the availability of a counsellor for anyone needing to talk.

“The stress gets pretty high,’’ says Kent Wells, BP’s senior vice-president for exploration and production. “This is an unprecedented technical challenge.’’

Yet, Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, appears to be taking it all in his stride. He began at 6am on Wednesday in discussions with the US secretaries of energy and the interior, Steven Chu and Ken Salazar, as well as top scientists and engineers on BP’s efforts to cap and contain the leak.

That ended close to noon, when he had a conference call with BP’s board – something he has been doing every week to 10 days to update them on progress. He spent the afternoon in Mississippi, meeting the governor and locals to ensure their claims for lost fishing or tourism were being processed. Then Mr Hayward returned to Houston for a night-time interview with journalists.

“We will only win this if we can win the hearts and minds of the local community,” he said. “It’s a big challenge.’’

Members of the US cabinet have his personal mobile number, he said, and they routinely call.

“Some nights I haven’t slept very well, but some nights I’ve been able to get five or six hours.’’ He is not up worrying, he said, but rather thinking how to “stay ahead’’ of the crisis that began on April 20 when a BP-contracted rig exploded in the Gulf.

Hate mail has come into BP, but so have 40,000 offers of help, including a call from James Cameron, the Avatar and Titanic writer and director, who offered manned submarines. BP has politely declined, given BP’s opportunity to use some from the defence department if need be. But it is appreciative of the support.

Mr Hayward called his counterparts at ExxonMobil, Chevron and other top deepwater producers for any assistance they could provide and they have responded.

“This is a global oil and gas industry problem being addressed by the oil and gas industry,’’ he said. Of the 500 people handling the crisis, he said, about 60 per cent were from BP, with the rest from the industry and government.

“We will be judged by the nature of our response,’’ he said before acknowledging he, in particular, also will be judged. Mr Hayward said he did not feel his job was on the line: ”I don’t, at the moment. That might change.”

Criticisms against BP have grown in recent days, culminating in allegations from a powerful US Congressional investigations panel on Wednesday that a litany of failures led to the catastrophic spill.

The allegations, pulled from 100,000 pages of documents from the companies involved, suggested many warning signs were overlooked. Mr Hayward declined to speak about the allegations, noting an investigation was under way.

Mr Hayward replaced Lord John Browne as chief executive, following a string of problems for BP in the US, including a fatal refinery explosion in Texas, corrosion and leaking pipes in Alaska and a propane scandal.

Lord Browne offered his support to Mr Hayward when his successors’ own crisis struck: “He sent me a text message of support,’’ Mr Hayward said.

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Mr Hayward said he has improved safety at the company in the years since he took over and, because of that, BP is in a position to deal with the current crisis and pull through.

“Apollo 13 did not stop the space programme. The Air France airplane that fell out of the sky off of Brazil did not stop the aviation industry,’’ he said.

“We have tried to be very aggressive on all fronts,’’ he said.

He came to the US just days after the explosion and went back to London for 36 hours to pack a bigger suitcase. He has travelled to Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama – the states that might be affected by the spill – as well as Washington for meetings with the Obama administration.

“I’ve been to some places I probably didn’t expect to get to,’’ he said. And he has steered clear of reading newspapers and watching television. “I don’t want my judgment clouded by what is being said about me or BP.”

On Thursday, he is spending the day in Louisiana, but says he makes his plans day by day. ”I’m not sure where I am after that.”

“I’ve actually got some good friends through this,’’ he said, noting he had been dealing with people he would not ordinarily. ”We are fighting a battle.”

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May 11, 2010

BP, subcontractors: Spill is the other guy’s fault

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 10:41 pm
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — The three oil companies primarily involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill blamed each other Tuesday for the accident last month that left 11 workers dead and oil still spewing into the Gulf.

At a hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, BP (BP), the well’s owner and lead operator of the project, sought to turn attention to Transocean, which had a contract to drill the well for BP using its Deepwater Horizon drill rig.

“Transocean, as owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, had responsibility for the safety of drilling operations,” said Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP America.

In particular, McKay drew attention to the valve that was supposed to shut off the well in case of an accident. The valve, known as a blowout preventer (BOP), is owned by Transocean.

“Clearly, the BOP remains a critical piece of equipment throughout all operations to ensure well control,” said McKay.

In written testimony before the hearing, Transocean (RIG) said the blowout preventer performed fine in tests just a week before the accident.

While it’s still unclear why the blowout preventer did not work, Transocean chief executive Steven Newman said the preventer is not the ultimate cause of the accident. He says that there must have been a failure of the well’s cementing or the casing that holds the wells in place.

Either way, Transocean said it’s the responsibility of the well’s owner to set all specifications for the drilling process.
0:00 /:41BP oil spill worries investors

“All offshore oil and gas production projects begin and end with the operator … in this case, BP,” Newman said.

Newman took a slightly more conciliatory tone during his testimony, but still sought to shift the focus away from the blowout preventer and to the well itself.

“Here was a sudden, catastrophic failure of the cement, the casing, or both,” he said. “Without a failure of one of those elements, the explosion could not have occurred.”

The well’s cementing was done by Halliburton (HAL, Fortune 500). But Halliburton’s chief safety and environmental officer, Tim Probert, said responsibility lay with either Transocean or BP.

“The casing shoe was cemented some 20 hours prior to the tragic incident,” said Probert. “Had the BOP functioned as expected, this catastrophe may well not have occurred.”

During the cementing of the well, Halliburton simply followed BP’s instructions, he said.

“Halliburton, as a service provider to the well owner, is contractually bound to comply with the well owner’s instructions on all matters relating to the performance of all work-related activities,” he said.
Emergency shut off

Senators were not impressed with the blame game.

“Shifting the blame does not get us very far,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “And it does not change America’s need for energy.”

Several senators focused on the blowout preventer, and why it didn’t work.

“Should we go forward with deep-water drilling when we know these blow out preventers may not function?” asked Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., whose state has been severely affected by the spill.

Elmer Danenberger, former head of the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling, said the blowout preventers usually work. But in some cases, such as thick sections where two joints come together, the preventers won’t cut through the pipe, which is necessary to pinch it shut and stop leaks.

Senators wanted to know why there weren’t two shears on the blowout preventer in case the first shear hit a thick spot on the pipe. They also asked why other backup systems were not in place.

“That was going to be in place, but apparently it never happened,” Danenberger answered.

It has been speculated that additional shears might make the devices too heavy for older drill rigs to carry.
Who pays?

Under federal law, BP, as the lead project operator, is responsible for all clean-up costs associated with the spill. On Monday, BP said it has spent $350 million so far.

But damages caused by closure of fishing grounds, shipping lanes and tourist spots could exceed the cleanup costs, and it’s unclear which party will pay those or how much they’ll add up to. Under current law, BP may only be liable for the first $75 million of claims that are expected to run into the billions.

BP has said it will pay all “legitimate claims” when it comes to compensating people for economic loss. At Tuesday’s hearing, BP’s McKay said the company expects to spend more than $75 million on compensating people for the spill.
Oil spill costs: What will BP really pay?

But under questioning from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the extent of the commitment wasn’t clear.

“So you’ll pay for lost fishing opportunities?,” asked Cantwell.

“All legitimate claims,” responded McKay.

“And lost tourism revenue?,” asked the senator.

“All legitimate claims,” McKay answered again.

“And how about lost tax revenues to towns and parishes?,” asked Cantwell.

“Question mark,” said McKay.

“And damages sustained to Louisiana’s brand?”

“I really don’t know,” said McKay.

While the subcontractors are thought to have some legal indemnification from BP and the federal government, lawyers say they could still be open to lawsuits from fisherman and others affected by the spill.

Ultimately, experts have said total costs could range from $2 billion to $14 billion or higher, depending on when the leaking well is closed and where the oil washes ashore.

Efforts are still underway to close the well, which is leaking some 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf each day.

Vow to Renew Flights Clouded by Ash Warning European Regulators Suggest Loosening Ban, but Pilots Ask for More Research; U.K. Sees New Plume From Iceland’s Volcano

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 4:26 pm
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The news came after European air-safety authorities agreed earlier Monday to relax flight bans that it enacted after Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano (ay-yah-FYAH’-tlah-yer-kuh-duhl) started erupting violently Thursday, spewing a cloud of fine but potentially dangerous dust high into the atmosphere. Days of airspace closures across most of northern and central Europe, the world’s biggest restriction of flights since 2001, have left more than eight million passengers dislocated and cost airlines at least $1 billion dollars.

Following criticism by airlines that authorities were being overly cautious in grounding flights, European Union officials agreed Monday to divide EU airspace into three zones based on ash concentrations in the atmosphere. European aviation authorities will establish a “limited” no-fly zone surrounded by a buffer area. Airlines will be allowed to fly outside the zone once they are opened by national authorities.Volcanic ash can badly scratch a jetliner, clog external sensors and damage jetliner fan blades. In higher concentrations, it can block the tiny holes in turbine blades and jet combustion chambers through which air and fuel pass, potentially snuffing out an engine.

But much about the impact of volcanic ash on jet engines remains unstudied. Moreover, the current eruption is different from many previous incidents because the Icelandic volcano is beneath a glacier. The interaction of heat and ice atomized the magma into much finer particles than is typical, and created a steam cloud that sent the ash higher than usual into the air.

On Monday, the volcano shifted from emitting ash to lava, Icelandic officials said, lowering the ash cloud’s altitude and potentially its threat to aviation. But the British advisory indicated that authorities remained very cautious about relaxing their ban.

Eurocontrol, an umbrella agency that coordinates air traffic across 38 European countries, said authorities will use satellite images to decide whether to open airspace, and rely less on computer models that indicated the ash cloud had spread over much of Europe. They will offer carriers scientific data on weather and volcanic ash as well as safety assessments from flights conducted with oversight from European aviation authorities.

“A low concentration of ashes is not necessarily a safety risk,” said Bo Redeborn, director of network design at Eurocontrol.

Concerns about flight safety were increased by reports that engines of a Finnish F-18 Hornet and an F-16 fighter jet operated by an unidentified country in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had been damaged by flying close to the ash cloud. The Finnish aircraft had been flying Friday in Lapland but details of the F-16 incident couldn’t immediately be learned. A spokesman for the U.S. Air Force said no U.S. aircraft had been damaged by the volcanic ash.
[EUROAIR]

Capt. Georg Fongern, an executive vice president of the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations, said Monday that additional data collection and analysis by regulators and engine manufacturers are essential before making a decision to fly in affected areas affected by ash from the eruption. Until those data are assembled, it would be “better to stay on the ground,” he said.

Some safety experts also remained skeptical about loosening the flight ban. “What they’re mainly relying on is hope that nothing bad will happen,” said David Pieri, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and an expert on volcanic ash and its impact on aircraft.

According to Mr. Pieri, relying on satellite images can be hazardous because they sometimes don’t indicate the precise location of ash plumes. An unusual amount of moisture in part of the atmosphere, he said, can cause satellites to miss ash particles. And even a light layer of ash that is invisible to satellite sensors or the naked eye can cause severe engine problems, he said. “I’m in the group urging caution” because the industry and regulators “don’t know enough about the long-term damage to engines.”

May 1, 2010

Choppy Seas Hinder Effort To Contain Oil Spill

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 2:14 am
Tags: , ,

by NPR Staff and Wires

Enlarge NASA/APThis satellite image taken Thursday shows the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico as it nears the shoreline, threatening wildlife along Louisiana’s fragile islands and barrier marshes.

ASA/APThis satellite image taken Thursday shows the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico as it nears the shoreline, threatening wildlife along Louisiana’s fragile islands and barrier marshes.

text size A A A

April 30, 2010

High winds and choppy seas frustrated efforts to hold back the oil spill seeping into Louisiana’s rich fishing grounds and nesting areas Friday, and the government desperately cast about for new ideas for dealing with the nation’s biggest environmental crisis in decades.

The seas were too rough and the winds too strong Friday to burn off the oil, suck it up effectively with skimmer vessels, or hold it in check with the miles of orange and yellow inflatable booms strung along the coast. The floating barriers broke loose in the choppy water, and waves sent oily water lapping over them.

Oil Slick’s Projected Path

NOAA estimates that the oil slick will reach parts of the Louisiana coast Friday.

“It just can’t take the wave action,” said Billy Nungesser, president of Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish.

Louisiana’s National Guard mobilized to fight the spill, but the first waves of crude neared the state’s wetlands.

Sheen from the vast oil slick was beginning to penetrate the ecologically rich coastal marshes and barriers island, according to several reports, though the heavy oil was still offshore. The state of Louisiana diverted thousands of gallons of fresh water from the Mississippi River to try to flush out the wetlands, though that effort was being hampered by wind.

High seas were in the forecast through Sunday and could push oil deep into the inlets, ponds, creeks and lakes that line the boot of southeastern Louisiana. With the wind blowing from the south, the mess could reach the Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coasts by Monday.

The Guard prepared to send communication equipment, boats, all-terrain vehicles and other equipment to help. Animal rescue workers say they’ve begun to clean oil off sea birds coated from the oil spill that’s begun to wash ashore along the Gulf Coast, according to Eileen Fleming of member station WWNO in New Orleans.

Weather May Drive Spill Deeper Inland

The National Weather Service predicted winds, high tides and waves through Sunday that could push oil deep into the inlets, ponds and lakes that line the boot of southeast Louisiana. Seas of 6 to 7 feet were pushing tides several feet above normal toward the coast, compounded by thunderstorms expected in the area Friday.

Crews are unable to skim oil from the surface or burn it off for the next couple of days because of the weather, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara said.

Waves may also wash over booms strung out just off shorelines to stop the oil, said Tom McKenzie, a spokesman for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is hoping booms will keep oil off the Chandeleur Islands, part of a national wildlife refuge. “The challenge is, are they going to hold up in any kind of serious weather,” McKenzie said. “And if there’s oil, will the oil overcome the barriers even though they’re … executed well?”

President Obama sought to reassure Gulf Coast communities Friday and counter any perception that his administration has been slow to respond. At a Rose Garden news conference, he said the federal government is “fully prepared” to meet its responsibilities to them as the spill becomes a worsening environmental disaster.

The president said no new offshore leases would be issued to oil companies unless they were subject to stricter safety measures, NPR’s Giles Snyder reported. But Obama, who recently lifted a drilling moratorium for many offshore areas, including the Atlantic and Gulf areas, underscored that offshore drilling remains an important part of U.S. energy policy.

The Coast Guard also defended the federal response to the spill.

Brice-O’Hara, appearing on multiple TV news shows, said the Coast Guard-led federal response to the spill has been rapid and sustained, and that it has adapted as the threat has grown since a drill rig exploded and sank last week. The Coast Guard, she said, has been closely monitoring efforts directed by oil company BP PLC to contain and stop the leak and has filled in gaps where needed.

Military Planes Awaiting Orders

The Gulf spill was up to five times larger than first estimated and could surpass the Exxon Valdez disaster in scope.

//

“It is of grave concern,” David Kennedy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told The Associated Press. “I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling.”

Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency as the slick spread across the Gulf. The declaration from Gov. Charlie Crist, which covers six counties in the state’s panhandle, frees up state money and activates Florida’s National Guard to respond to the crisis.

But Judith Smelser of member station WMFE in Orlando said some experts think ocean currents could carry the oil all the way around the Florida Peninsula.

Two Air Force planes have been sent to Mississippi and were awaiting orders to start dumping chemicals on the oil spill threatening the coast, as the government worked Friday to determine how large a role the military should play in the cleanup.

The C-130 Hercules cargo planes, specially designed for aerial spraying, were sent Thursday from the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Ohio, said a spokesman there, Master Sgt. Bob Barko Jr.

The planes and crews were standing ready in case they’re needed, said Maj. David Faggard, an Air Force spokesman at the Pentagon.

“If this mission comes to pass, it would be first time we have done this in a real world scenario,” Barko said, adding that the 910th Airlift Wing at Youngstown has trained for such a mission and has done other spraying such as mosquito-abatement flights after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

NPR’s Wade Goodwyn, reporting from New Orleans, said that as the slick moved closer to shore, a strong smell of crude oil had penetrated the city and other parts of southern Louisiana, extending as far as Baton Rouge. Authorities urged people with respiratory illness to take precautions or remain indoors.

Hundreds Of Gulf Coast Species Imperiled

The oil slick could become the nation’s worst environmental disaster in decades, threatening hundreds of species of fish, birds and other wildlife along the Gulf Coast, one of the world’s richest seafood grounds, teeming with shrimp, oysters and other marine life.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency Thursday, which allows the state to free up resources to prepare for the oil’s impact.

The Coast Guard has worked with British oil giant BP, which operated the rig that exploded April 20 and then sank, to deploy floating booms, skimmers and chemical dispersants, and to set controlled fires to burn the oil off the water’s surface.

Obama has pledged that his administration will use “every single resource at our disposal.” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and environmental protection administrator Lisa Jackson will travel to the Gulf of Mexico on Friday to oversee efforts to contain the spill.

Salazar said he pressed the chief executive of BP to “work harder and faster and smarter to get the job done.” He said the government will not rest until BP seals the well and “they clean up every drop of oil.”

As for the cause of the accident, he said: “I am confident we will get to the bottom of what happened here. Those responsible will be held accountable.”

BP confirmed Thursday that up to 5,000 barrels, or 200,000 gallons, of oil a day are spilling from the site of the deadly oil rig explosion in which 11 workers are still missing and presumed dead.

Many of the more than two dozen lawsuits filed in the wake of the explosion claim it was caused when workers for oil services contractor Halliburton Inc. improperly capped the well. Halliburton denied it.

At that rate, the spill could easily eclipse the worst oil spill in U.S. history — the 11 million gallons that leaked from the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989 — in the three months it could take to drill a relief well and plug the gushing well 5,000 feet underwater on the seafloor. Ultimately, the spill could grow much larger than the Valdez because Gulf of Mexico wells typically hold many times more oil than a single tanker.

At least 1.6 million gallons of oil have spilled, according to Coast Guard estimates.

’We’ll Take Help From Anyone’

Jackie Savitz, a toxicology scientist with the environmental group Oceani, says that at the current flow rate, the spill will reach the 11 million gallon mark of the Exxon Valdez spill in 50 days. The Gulf holds several endangered and threatened species, including four species of endangered sea turtle, in addition to dolphins, porpoises and whales.

“This is one of only two spawning areas for bluefin tuna in the world,” Savitz said. “If larvae are exposed, there’s a good chance they won’t survive or their survival will be reduced because of the oil spill.”

Doug Suttles, the oil company’s chief operating officer, told NBC’s Today show that oil is bubbling up from the ocean bottom at a rate of 1,000 to 5,000 barrels a day. He said the company would welcome help from the U.S. Defense Department and other agencies in containing the slick.

“We’ll take help from anyone,” Suttles said.

As the slick has grown, so have potential cleanup costs. Napolitano called BP the responsible party for costs “as the president and the law have made clear.”

Industry officials say replacing the Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and operated by BP, would cost up to $700 million. BP has said its costs for containing the spill are running at $6 million a day. The company said it will spend $100 million to drill the relief well. The Coast Guard has not yet reported its expenses.

The massive Gulf spill could result in billions of dollars losses for BP and curb plans to expand offshore drilling, according to NPR’s Chris Arnold.

The chairman of PFC Energy, Robin West, says BP could spend several hundred million dollars on cleanup efforts but that bigger costs could come from legal liability for spill-related damages.

“If it gets into all the bayous and estuaries and things like that, the potential liability is immense,” West said. “The Mississippi River delta is one of the great spawning grounds on earth.”

NEW ORLEANS — Officials in the Obama administration began for the first time Friday to publicly chastise BP America for its handling of the spreading oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, calling the oil company’s current resources inadequate to stop what is unfolding into a environmental catastrophe.

Multimedia
//

The Takeaway on the Spill With Clifford Krauss

//

What the Spill Means for Offshore Drilling

How should the environmental effects of deep sea oil exploration be weighed against its benefits?

Readers’ Comments

As oil edged toward the Louisiana coast, fears continued to grow that the seabed oil well could grow much larger and spiral out of control. A document prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the oil flow could grow from the current estimate of 5,000 barrels a day to an amount 10 times that much, which could be 2.1 million gallons a day.

The increased level of concern was reflected in the sharp new criticism by federal officials of BP for not stopping the leak and cleaning up the spill before it reached land, something the company’s officials had said was possible earlier in the week.

“It is clear that after several unsuccessful attempts to secure the source of the leak, it is time for BP to supplement their current mobilization as the slick of oil moves toward shore,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said pointedly, as the government announced steps to supplement its response with people and equipment from the Defense Department.

Geoffrey S. Morrell, deputy assistant secretary of defense, said in a statement that the government would hold BP accountable for the cost of the department’s deployment, which as of Friday night included the Louisiana National Guard to help clean up coastal areas once the oil comes ashore.

BP officials said they did everything possible, but a review of the response suggests that it may be too simplistic to place all the blame on the oil company. The federal government also had opportunities to move more quickly, but did not do so while it waited for a resolution to the spreading spill from BP, which was leasing the drilling rig that exploded in flames on April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven workers were left missing and are presumed dead..

The Department of Homeland Security waited until Thursday to declare that the incident was “a spill of national significance,” and then set up a second command center in Mobile. The actions came only after the estimate of the size of the spill was increased fivefold to 5,000 barrels a day.

The delay meant that the Homeland Security Department waited until late this week to formally request a more robust response from the Department of Defense, with Ms. Napolitano acknowledging even as late as Thursday afternoon that she did not know if the Defense Department even had equipment that might be helpful.

Officials initially seemed to underestimate the threat of a leak. Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the chief Coast Guard official in charge of the response, said on April 22, after the rig sank, that the oil that was on the surface appeared to be merely residual oil from the fire, though she acknowledged that it was unclear what was going on under the water. The day after, officials said that it appeared the well’s blowout preventer had kicked in and that there did not appear to be any oil emanating from the well, though they cautioned that it was not a guarantee.

BP officials, even after the oil leak was confirmed by using remote-controlled robots, expressed confidence that the leak was slow enough, and steps taken out in the Gulf of Mexico aggressive enough, that the oil would never reach the coast.

(The NOAA document regarding a far larger leak, first obtained by The Press-Register in Mobile, Ala., was described by agency officials as raising a possibility, though not a prediction.)

Some oil industry critics questioned whether the federal government is too reliant on oil companies to manage the response to major spills, leaving the government unable to evaluate if the response is robust enough.

“Here you have the company that is responsible for the accident leading the response to the crisis,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “There is a problem here, and the consequence is clear.”

But it is still the government, in this case the Coast Guard, that has the ultimate say.

A law passed a year after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster makes the owner of a rig or vessel responsible for cleaning up a spill. But oversight of the cleanup is designated to the Coast Guard, with advice from other federal agencies.

Rear Adm. Robert C. North, retired, who was commander of the Coast Guard’s Eighth District from 1994 to 1996, said that decisions in these situations are made collectively, but that the buck essentially stops with the federal coordinator — in this case, Admiral Landry. “The federal on-scene coordinator is kind of the one individual to say, ‘I think we need to do more or that’s adequate,’ ” he said.

NEW ORLEANS — Officials in the Obama administration began for the first time Friday to publicly chastise BP America for its handling of the spreading oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, calling the oil company’s current resources inadequate to stop what is unfolding into a environmental catastrophe.

As oil edged toward the Louisiana coast, fears continued to grow that the seabed oil well could grow much larger and spiral out of control. A document prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the oil flow could grow from the current estimate of 5,000 barrels a day to an amount 10 times that much, which could be 2.1 million gallons a day.

The increased level of concern was reflected in the sharp new criticism by federal officials of BP for not stopping the leak and cleaning up the spill before it reached land, something the company’s officials had said was possible earlier in the week.

“It is clear that after several unsuccessful attempts to secure the source of the leak, it is time for BP to supplement their current mobilization as the slick of oil moves toward shore,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said pointedly, as the government announced steps to supplement its response with people and equipment from the Defense Department.

Geoffrey S. Morrell, deputy assistant secretary of defense, said in a statement that the government would hold BP accountable for the cost of the department’s deployment, which as of Friday night included the Louisiana National Guard to help clean up coastal areas once the oil comes ashore.

BP officials said they did everything possible, but a review of the response suggests that it may be too simplistic to place all the blame on the oil company. The federal government also had opportunities to move more quickly, but did not do so while it waited for a resolution to the spreading spill from BP, which was leasing the drilling rig that exploded in flames on April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven workers were left missing and are presumed dead..

The Department of Homeland Security waited until Thursday to declare that the incident was “a spill of national significance,” and then set up a second command center in Mobile. The actions came only after the estimate of the size of the spill was increased fivefold to 5,000 barrels a day.

The delay meant that the Homeland Security Department waited until late this week to formally request a more robust response from the Department of Defense, with Ms. Napolitano acknowledging even as late as Thursday afternoon that she did not know if the Defense Department even had equipment that might be helpful.

Officials initially seemed to underestimate the threat of a leak. Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, the chief Coast Guard official in charge of the response, said on April 22, after the rig sank, that the oil that was on the surface appeared to be merely residual oil from the fire, though she acknowledged that it was unclear what was going on under the water. The day after, officials said that it appeared the well’s blowout preventer had kicked in and that there did not appear to be any oil emanating from the well, though they cautioned that it was not a guarantee.

BP officials, even after the oil leak was confirmed by using remote-controlled robots, expressed confidence that the leak was slow enough, and steps taken out in the Gulf of Mexico aggressive enough, that the oil would never reach the coast.

(The NOAA document regarding a far larger leak, first obtained by The Press-Register in Mobile, Ala., was described by agency officials as raising a possibility, though not a prediction.)

Some oil industry critics questioned whether the federal government is too reliant on oil companies to manage the response to major spills, leaving the government unable to evaluate if the response is robust enough.

“Here you have the company that is responsible for the accident leading the response to the crisis,” said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program. “There is a problem here, and the consequence is clear.”

But it is still the government, in this case the Coast Guard, that has the ultimate say.

A law passed a year after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster makes the owner of a rig or vessel responsible for cleaning up a spill. But oversight of the cleanup is designated to the Coast Guard, with advice from other federal agencies.

Rear Adm. Robert C. North, retired, who was commander of the Coast Guard’s Eighth District from 1994 to 1996, said that decisions in these situations are made collectively, but that the buck essentially stops with the federal coordinator — in this case, Admiral Landry. “The federal on-scene coordinator is kind of the one individual to say, ‘I think we need to do more or that’s adequate,’ ” he said.

If the government determines that the responsible party is not up to the job, it can federalize the spill, running the cleanup operations without the private company but billing it for the cost. This is a last resort, however.

In this case, Admiral North said, the oil companies have more technology and expertise than the government.

“It doesn’t appear that federalizing it would bring in any more resources,” he said.

Officials from BP and the federal government have repeatedly said they had prepared for a worst-case scenario.

“There are not much additional available resources in the world to fight this thing offshore,” said Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, in an interview. “We’ve basically thrown everything we have at it.”

Mr. Suttles said that BP’s efforts did not change after it was disclosed, on Wednesday night, that the leak was estimated at 5,000 barrels a day, five times larger than initial estimates suggested. He said BP, which is spending roughly $6 million a day and will likely spend far more when oil reaches land, had already been mobilizing for a far larger spill.

However, he did not deny that BP initially thought the slick could be stopped before it reached the coastline.

“In the early days the belief was that we probably could have contained it offshore,” Mr. Suttles said. “Unfortunately, since the event began we haven’t had that much good weather.” The first weekend after the sinking of the rig, choppy seas brought the cleanup to a near halt, and made more complicated tactics such as controlled burns impossible.

But even after the weather cleared — and just a couple of days before officials began acknowledging the likelihood of landfall — the chief executive of BP expressed confidence that the spill could be contained.

Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, said Friday that he agreed the situation is catastrophic and could continue to unfold for up to three months, but he said he remained satisfied with the response of his team, saying that even if they knew that the leak was 5,000 barrels a day, they would have responded the same.

“While it may not have been visible to the public, from the very start, we have been working this very hard,” he said.

Within a matter of hours of the report of the explosion, the Coast Guard had dispatched three cutters, four helicopters and a plane to the scene, helping ultimately to save 90 workers, including three critically injured workers who were sent by helicopter for emergency care.

“We have never tried so many different methods for a large spill on the surface as we have during this, and I have been doing oil spill response for 30 years,” Admiral Allen said.

But he acknowledged that the oil leaks are growing, and in fact said officials still do not understand why more oil is not already leaking from the drill site, as it is still a relatively limited flow compare to the enormous surge that could spew out of the well if there were no restraints on it.

The Gulf coast oil spill

Horror from the deep

Watching and waiting after the Deepwater Horizon spill

Apr 29th 2010 | HOUSTON | From The Economist print edition

THE spill has been unfolding for more than a week, pouring at least 1,000 barrels (159,000 litres) of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, and probably a lot more than that. It began on April 20th with a fire and an explosion on an exploratory rig 40 miles (65km) from the Louisiana coast. Eleven workers were lost, and several days later it became apparent that the well underneath had begun to leak. By April 26th the slick was 80 miles across, with the western part 36 miles from reaching the coast. By April 28th, as The Economist went to press, it was 100 miles wide and only 16 miles from Louisiana’s shores. It was feared that it might reach land by as early as April 29th.

An array of state and federal agencies are on the scene, skimming up oily water, installing thousands of feet of boom in an attempt to contain the oil, and burning off some of the slick. BP, which was leasing the rig, will spend at least $100m on the clean-up. Much depends on the wind, which could push the oil out towards the open sea—or in the other direction. If the oil does reach Louisiana, the costs will be grave. The coastal marshes are home to abundant and various animal life, as well as sizeable fishing and tourism industries.

It is terrible timing for Barack Obama. In March he proposed opening new stretches of America’s coasts to offshore drilling. Some observers guessed that he was trying to smooth the way for a climate-change bill by offering Republicans a present. So far, though, there has been no response.

Now environmentalists will point to the spill as a reminder of the dangers of offshore drilling. They have a point. Nancy Kinner, co-director of the Coastal Research Response Centre at the University of New Hampshire, explains that oil rigs rarely have accidents: “The risk might be one in 1,000, or one in 2,000.” Of course, she adds, there are hundreds of rigs out there. This spill might be shocking; but it was hardly unforeseeable.

RPezzie wrote:
Apr 29th 2010 3:32 GMT
I think that Obama’s plan to allow more off-shore drilling is like one step backwards before one step forwards. We have barely begun to secure real alternative energy momentum, and to allow more off-shore drilling throws the message in the wrong direction. We do not have time to to continue on the path of off-shore drilling, we need to be throwing all our energy into developing alternative energy strategies if we are going to have air clean enough to breathe and water clean enough to drink in 50 years
http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2010/04/30/ac.oil.slick.intv.cnn.html

April 25, 2010

The European air traffic crisis

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 4:13 am
Tags:

22 April 2010

In the course of history it is often an unexpected event which exposes the real nature of social relations. Such is the case with the eruption of a remote volcano situated on an island on the northern perimeter of Europe.

A century ago, the emissions from such a volcano would have concerned local inhabitants and perhaps a number of foreign scientists. If the plumes were sufficiently big, vulcanologists might have been motivated to send a ship to investigate the phenomenon.

Today, it is impossible to pick up a newspaper anywhere in the world which does not report at length about the clouds of ash emitted by the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. For nearly a week, the volcanic activity has paralysed air traffic in Europe, with huge knock-on effects on trade and travel around the world.

The consequences of the shutdown of European airspace are staggering and already exceed the dislocations which followed the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. According to the air traffic body Eurocontrol, around 7 million passengers have been directly affected by the cancellation of 95,000 flights across Europe.

Behind this bald statistic lies the plight of millions of individuals whose travel, holiday and work plans have been disrupted, often with severe consequences. Stranded at airports across the globe, passengers—including entire families, the elderly and the infirm—have been forced to pay out thousands of euros for emergency hotel accommodation or alternate forms of travel to companies charging extortionate rates.

The loss in income for airline companies is already estimated at one billion euros. The ability of highly indebted European economies such as Greece, Portugal and Spain to avert default has been damaged by the impact on their tourism industries.

In Kenya, 5,000 day labourers were laid off because the ash cloud stopped air freight traffic and prevented the crops they pick—vegetables and flowers—from reaching European households. The Japanese carmaker Nissan declared it will be forced to suspend production at two of its plants because it cannot import tyre pressure sensors from Ireland.

In Germany, carmaker BMW announced its assembly lines could come to a halt if it is unable to find alternatives to air cargo for transporting transmissions and other components.

The disruption resulting from the volcanic ash has underscored the enormous degree to which economic life is globally integrated. Billions of individuals around the world are united in a complex social process of production and distribution and dependent on the most rapid and effective forms of international transportation and communication. The breakdown of one major cog in this vast social mechanism has immense global consequences.

Modern society is mass society. Provincialism is almost a complete thing of the past. But under capitalism, it is impossible to mobilize social resources collectively and internationally to rationally and effectively respond to a volcanic eruption—or to address great social problems such as poverty, illiteracy, disease, hunger. Instead, the social infrastructure stagnates and deteriorates.

Why? First, because all considerations are subordinated under capitalism to profit and private ownership of the means of production. In this case, an effective and humane response is blocked by the profit interests of competing airlines and other corporate interests.

Second, because capitalism is based on the historically outmoded division of the world into competing nation states, which makes impossible a rational and coordinated international response to problems that are global in character—whether they be natural disasters, global warming or the social scourges of poverty and disease.

The current crisis has highlighted, in particular, the contradiction of a globalized air traffic system that consists of nationally based and privately owned airlines.

The governments and political establishments have shown themselves to be utterly unprepared for a crisis of this scope and indifferent to the fate of millions of people. After decades of worshipping the market, dismantling public services, glorifying individual enrichment and serving the predatory appetites of the financial elite, they refuse to acknowledge any responsibility for society as a whole.

Virtually no preparations had been made for this type of occurrence, which was not entirely unexpected even if its timing and extent could not have been predicted. No adequate equipment was available to measure the exact location and density of the ash clouds.

Having failed to take adequate precautions for such an event, European governments sat on their hands when it happened.

When the banks were at risk following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, heads of government moved heaven and earth to bail them out. Emergency cabinet meetings were held, special commissions established and parliamentary sessions called on short notice to free up billions of euros of taxpayer funds to provide massive no-strings-attached bailout packages for the banks.

The reaction of European governments to the social consequences of the current crisis was quite different. No efforts were made to establish a central European task force or corresponding national bodies to deal with the impact of the ash cloud on air traffic.

There have been no special sittings of cabinets or parliaments and no funds have been freed up to help passengers in distress. As the crisis was escalating, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on her way back from the United States, was enjoying a winding motor tour through southern Europe, accompanied by an entourage of journalists.

In Britain, Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a meeting of his emergency planning committee which decided to send three Royal Navy ships to southern Europe. Brown’s decision to evoke the spirit of Dunkirk has far more to do with the current general election campaign than concern for 150,000 stranded British travelers. One of the three warships picked up 500 soldiers who had completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan and a mere 150 ordinary people stranded in Spain.

It took five days after the flight ban had been imposed for European transport ministers to even meet via video conference for consultation on the crisis. Besides Europe’s 27 transport ministers, another 180 individuals representing special interests took part in the conference.

Only when major airlines and business interests began publicly demanding that the flight ban be lifted, regardless of safety concerns, did European governments stand to attention. Overnight, German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer gave in to the pressure from the corporate and airline lobbies. He agreed to open up German air space on a “flight by sight” basis, whereby pilots attempt to steer around the dangerous ash clouds.

Other countries have also eased restrictions on their air space, despite the fact that experts and pilots have expressed fears that a premature resumption of service could endanger passenger safety.

In its own way, the European air traffic crisis has exposed the backward and destructive character of capitalist social relations and the ruling classes whose wealth and power are based on these relations.

Stefan Steinberg

April 22, 2010

Volcano Eruption Halts Europe Flights Spewing Ash From Iceland Drifts Across Continent, Forcing ‘Unprecedented’ Airspace Closure; Disruptions Will Continue

Filed under: Uncategorized — ktetaichinh @ 7:32 pm
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A number of dangerous incidents involving volcanic ash interfering with airplane engines caused the United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization to establish the Volcanic Ash Warning System, a global system of nine centers that uses computer modeling to forecast the path of ash clouds and alerts aviation services if necessary. The VAWS alerted civil aviation authorities in Europe after Eyjafjallajokull’s eruption.

In 1982, a British Airways Boeing 747 flying over Indonesia flew through an ash cloud produced by the eruption of Mount Galunggung. The plane, flying at 37,000 feet, with 247 passengers and 15 crew on board, lost all four engines. The crew descended rapidly out of the cloud and managed to restart three engines, eventually landing safely at Jakarta airport. A number of similar incidents occurred in the 1980s as well.

Volcanic ash presents a serious threat to jetliners flying at high altitude. The ash, which has a consistency similar to talcum powder, can be invisible and often doesn’t show up on either ground-based radar or the weather radar systems on board jetliners, according to Paul Hayes, director of safety at Ascend Ltd., an aviation consulting firm in London.

The first warning a flight crew would have of volcanic dust is a sulfurous smell from the plane’s air-conditioning system and possibly electrical discharges, known as “St. Elmo’s fire,” on some external surfaces of the plane, Mr. Hayes said.

As of late Thursday, the volcano was still pumping out new ash, and civil aviation authorities across Europe worried that the volcano would continue disturbing air traffic for months.

“Volcanoes are notoriously irregular in their behavior,” said Pall Einarsson, professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland. “If there is any rule about them it is: There is no rule.”

—Mike Esterl and Doug Cameron contributed to this article.

Graphic

A look at some airports experiencing moderate or severe delays. Plus, previous ash cloud incidents. Click to enlarge image.

[VolcanoPromo]

April 12, 2010

Poland’s tragedy In Memoriam: Lech Kaczynski The death of Poland’s president carries a terrible echo of his country’s past

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Apr 11th 2010 | From The Economist online

HE WAS a figure from another age. Weekend guests at Lech Kaczynski’s presidential retreat on Poland’s Baltic coast often found the conversation turning to the opposition politics of 1970s Gdansk.

That is indeed a fascinating subject, though not necessarily the most burning one for the head of state of eastern Europe’s most important country nearly 40 years later. Mr Kaczynski, who died along with 95 others, including many of Poland’s military and political elite, in a plane crash in Russia on April 10th, epitomised some of the best and the worst features of Polish politics.

He was a man of unquestioned, almost painful, integrity. In 2005 he moved to the presidential palace not from one of the palatial homes favoured by most mainstream Polish politicians, but from the shabby flat in Warsaw in which he and his wife, Maria, had lived for decades. His values, attitudes, habits and behaviour were those of the pre-war Polish middle class: a culture so strong that it survived decapitation and evisceration under Soviet and Nazi occupation, and the regime installed at gunpoint after the war. Obstinate, old-fashioned, provincial, gutsy, rather shy, awkward, suspicious, pernickety and scrupulous, the 60-year-old law professor was utterly uninterested in the tactful doublespeak usually required of politicians in modern Europe.

He was an unabashed and instinctive Atlanticist. When government ministers tried to haggle with America about a planned missile-defence base, he undercut them. Poland would be happy to have the installation on any terms. He took a similar attitude to Lithuania, brushing aside that country’s refusal to allow its ethnic Polish minority to write their names in official documents with letters such as w, ł and ń that are not part of the standard Lithuanian alphabet. Other Polish politicians saw Lithuanian foot-dragging on the issue as deceitful and infuriating; for Mr Kaczynski it was merely a pity. His affection for the Baltic states, Ukraine and other ex-captive nations was palpable: had they not suffered, just like Poland? They should stand together.

When Russia invaded Georgia in August 2008, it was Mr Kaczynski who rushed to the rescue, leading a hair-raising trip to Tbilisi with leaders of other sympathetic ex-communist states. He tried to overrule protests by the presidential plane’s pilot, that the trip into a war zone was unsafe. Mr Kaczynski was furious at what he saw as cowardice; the pilot later got a medal for resolutely putting his passengers’ safety ahead of prestige. Mr Kaczynski may have repeated just that error in the minutes before the disastrous attempt to land the presidential plane at a fog-bound airport on April 10th.

That seems by far the most likely explanation for the tragedy. The Polish presidential plane was an ageing Tupolev 154: old, noisy and thirsty, admittedly, but also robust and reliable. It had been recently renovated with modern avionics. Russian air traffic controllers seem blameless too. They insisted that the fog at Smolensk airport was too thick and had repeatedly told the plane to land elsewhere. The pilot refused, making three abortive attempts to land before hitting tree-tops on the fourth try.

Mr Kaczynski’s single greatest political mistake was in failing to see that modern Germany, led by Angela Merkel, was a potentially powerful friend for Poland, rather than an adversary that harboured sinister revanchist tendencies. Along with his brother, Jaroslaw, who leads the main opposition Law and Justice party, Mr Kaczynski became a laughing stock in Germany for his dogged hostility and on occasion outright rudeness towards the federal republic. His distrust of Poland’s western neighbour was matched by a visceral hostility towards the Soviet Union and its defenders. To Mr Kaczyński, his brother, and many of their supporters, Russia was still a menace, run by the former KGB and with a shameful disregard for the atrocious crimes committed in the past. The complexities of modern Russia were often brushed aside.

His robust attitude to Poland’s enemies, past and present, pleased his supporters. But it was compounded by a pronounced tendency to make gaffes, and a staff who frequently seemed overwhelmed by the demands of even daily protocol, let alone strategic thinking. That invited criticism, and sometimes caustic caricature.

After Law and Justice lost power in 2007, a new government, in the hands of his arch-rival Donald Tusk, was pursuing an ambitiously emollient foreign policy. Where Mr Kaczynski stoked rows and fumed about historic wrongs, Mr Tusk, and his high-profile foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, smoothed them over. Poland defused tension with Germany, revived the Visegrad grouping of central European ex-communist states and managed a remarkable breakthrough with Russia.

This centred on the Katyn massacre, of 22,000 Polish officers in the spring of 1940. It was more than the illegal execution of prisoners-of-war. It was the decapitation of the country’s pre-war elite. The officers, including many reservists, were the lawyers, doctors, teachers and intellectuals who would have posed the most profound challenge to the cynical division of Poland under the Hitler-Stalin pact of 1939. They included, incidentally, the chief rabbi of the Polish army, Baruch Steinberg.

The crime of their murder was compounded by a grotesque Soviet lie: that the murders were the work of the Nazis, not the NKVD. It was only in 1990 under Mikhail Gorbachev that the Soviet Union finally admitted what Poles and their friends had maintained all along. Boris Yeltsin visited the Katyn monument in Warsaw, as Russian president, and said as he laid flowers “forgive us, if you can”.

But that was a high-water mark. Under Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, the clock started running backwards. In September 2007, a Russian government newspaper, Rossiskaya Gazeta, published a commentary casting doubt on the idea that Katyn was a Soviet massacre. Sued by relatives of the Katyn victims in the European Court of Human Rights, the Russian government argued that blame for the massacre was unclear. The judicial rehabilitation of the victims has been blocked; the archives are still sealed.

It was therefore a huge breakthrough that, after painstaking and intricate diplomacy, the Polish government was able to bring Mr Putin to Katyń for a joint commemoration ceremony on April 7th. That was preceded by an unprecedented showing on Russian television of a magnificent and harrowing film about Katyń by Andrzej Wajda, Poland’s greatest film-maker. The film was repeated, on a more widely watched channel, on the evening of April 11th.

At the joint ceremony, Mr Putin categorically acknowledged that the massacre was a crime of the Stalin regime—although he also brought up the deaths of captured Soviet officers in Polish prisoner-of-war camps 20 years earlier, apparently as a balancing item in the ledger of historical guilt. Many Poles felt that the Russian side had not gone nearly far enough.

It was that feeling which brought Mr Kacznyski, along with almost the entire foreign-policy leadership of his party, the commanders of the army, navy, air force and special forces, senior intelligence veterans and top historians, to board the plane that crashed on April 10th. They were paying their own private visit unencumbered by—in their eyes—the phoney reconciliation and dubious politicking of the event earlier in the week. The Russian authorities’ exemplary behaviour since the crash and visible displays of public grief by Mr Putin and others may have assuaged some of those feelings.

Poland is convulsed by the tragedy. Not since the height of Stalinist repressions have so many of the country’s best and brightest perished. Some find the conspiracy theories irresistible. Was not General Wladyslaw Sikorski murdered in 1943 for embarrassing the Soviet Union about Katyn? Now the same fate has befallen another brave Polish president. The sinister symmetry of that theory is misleading, though. Despite extensive investigation, nobody has found a credible sign of foul play in the death of General Sikorski. And it seems overwhelmingly likely that the latest plane crash is a tragic blunder-cum-accident.

For Poland’s friends and neighbours, condolences are mixed with questions about the country’s future. Mr Kaczynski was already facing an all but insuperable challenge from Mr Tusk’s Civic Platform party in the presidential elections in October. They will be held much sooner now. Bronislaw Komorowski, now acting president by virtue of his position as speaker of the lower house of parliament, the Sejm, is also the Civic Platform candidate. Law and Justice will struggle to find a candidate to beat him. Mr Tusk’s efforts to consolidate the centre-right of the Polish political spectrum are starting to look unstoppable.

A victory for Mr Komorowski would also make foreign policy run more smoothly. The Polish constitution is unclear about where the real responsibility for foreign policy lies. Who should attend EU summit meetings was a particular bone of contention between the presidency and the government. Mr Tusk’s aim is to have a German-style ceremonial presidency, with much reduced powers of veto. He seems likely to get it.

Yet the socially conservative, prickly, ethics-conscious and patriotic constituency that voted for Mr Kaczynski will not go away. And neither will the political ideas and values for which Law and Justice stands. Poland’s liberal-minded urban elite, exemplified by Civic Platform, have many qualities. They are able, cosmopolitan and flexible. But the lingering suspicion remains that the country’s old communist elite and their children have morphed into a new nomenklatura. Poles call this idea the “Układ”, an all but untranslatable word meaning something like “deal” or “arrangement”. The price of the communist regime’s surrender in 1989 was that members of the elite were able to turn their power into wealth, using their connections, slush funds and privileges to gain a head start in the country’s shift to capitalism.

Mr Kaczynski found that idea revolting, and wanted a fresh start: a “Fourth Republic”, in his words. During the ill-starred Law and Justice-led government of 2005 to 2007, the atmosphere was more Robespierre than Benjamin Franklin. Prosecutors conducted trial by press conference, denouncing victims on live television on what often seemed the flimsiest and most political of grounds.

An obsessive focus on the military intelligence service (known by its Polish acronym of WSI) also consumed huge amounts of time and energy. Undoubtedly the organisation needed reform. It had survived largely untouched since the collapse of communism. Its links with business and public life were alarming. But the cure proposed by Law and Justice seemed even worse than the disease. A close ally of the Kaczynskis, Antoni Macierewicz, was put in charge of a new military counter-intelligence service, as a political appointee. His investigations into past wrong-doings produced little of substance. But many feared that under his control, the new service would be used to spy on the Kaczynskis’ political opponents.

With Civic Platform in charge again, aggressive policies towards the well-connected old guard are off the agenda. People like Jan Kulczyk are finding life easier. A billionaire tycoon whose business career started in West Berlin in the early 1980s—an unimaginable privilege in communist Poland for those without the tightest connections to the old regime—he epitomises to the Kaczynski camp everything that is wrong with their country. While they were in power, he moved to London. Now he is a frequent visitor to Poland.

Poland’s economic success under the Tusk government has blunted the edge of public resentment over corruption and unfairness. Unlike any other country in Europe, Poland boasted economic growth last year, of 1.7%. Its banking system is stable; the public finances sound. Road-building—once a signal failure of public administration—has suddenly accelerated thanks to Mr Tusk’s ability to push local politicians into speedy agreement.

The new go-ahead Poland is looking forward to some time in the spotlight. It will host the European football championships in 2012, jointly with Ukraine. In 2011, less glamorously but probably more importantly, it will hold the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, preceded by Hungary. As the ex-communist country with the strongest economy, most solid government and most constructive diplomacy, it has gone a long way to dispel the old stereotypes of backwardness and chaos. This month’s accident is appalling. But it does not derail Poland’s path to success, out of the ruins of the pre-war republic, from the devastation of war and communist rule, and from the grim consequences of this week’s crash.

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