18 May 2010

Tonight our topic is Oil and Water, specifically the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that has dominated the news the past several weeks. We talk on the phone with Marcie Keever of Friends of the Earth about the environmental and political consequences of the spill and about some broader issues concerning the role of petroleum in our future.

Some Background on the Gulf Oil Spill

You’ve no doubt been listening to the news about the spill, about its incredible size, about the unknown amount of oil being released, about unsuccessful and semisuccessful efforts to stem the flow, and about finger pointing among multinationals British Petroleum, Transocean Ltd, and Haliburton about who is responsible and who should foot the financial part of the bill. (We know that the environment itself will wind up footing the largest part of the bill through irremedial damage.)  So we thought it would be useful to give you an update on the spill with some stories that have come out within the last twenty-four hours.  From the Associated Press comes this review:

 The Gulf of Mexico oil spill began with an explosion and fire on April 20 on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC, which is in charge of cleanup and containment. The blast killed 11 workers. Since then, oil has been pouring into the Gulf from a blown-out undersea well at about 210,000 gallons per day.

With BP finally gaining some control over the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are increasingly worried that huge plumes of crude already spilled could get caught in a current that would carry the mess all the way to the Florida Keys and beyond, damaging coral reefs and killing wildlife. Scientists said the oil will move into the so-called loop current soon if it hasn’t already, though they could not say exactly when or how much there would be. Once it is in the loop, it could take 10 days or longer to reach the Keys.

A Washington-based research group says two BP refineries in the U.S. account for 97 percent of “egregious willful” violations given by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The study by the Center for Public Integrity says the violations were found in the last three years in BP’s Texas City refinery and another plant in Toledo, Ohio. In 2005, 15 people were killed in an explosion at the Texas City refinery.

A federal judge has been asked to shut down a BP oil and gas platform that operated with incomplete and inaccurate engineering documents in the same part of the Gulf as the massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court says the U.S. Interior Department failed to investigate warnings of possible safety problems with BP’s Atlantis platform.

Chris Oynes, who oversees offshore drilling programs at the Minerals Management Service, will retire at the end of the month, according to an e-mail sent by an agency official to staff and obtained by The Associated Press.

[The chemicals being used by BP to disperse the oil have been called into question:]  A marine toxicologist who was a veteran of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and Louisiana fishermen have called for President Barack Obama to order BP PLC to quit using a chemical dispersant in the Gulf of Mexico. Riki Ott, whose livelihood in the fishing industry was ended by the Valdez spill, said Monday that Venice-area residents are exhibiting symptoms of exposure to the oil and the dispersant, including headaches, nose bleeds, sinus problems and rashes.

[ Both President Obama and the  U.S. Senate are enraged by the handling of the spill by BP, Transocean, and Halliburton.]  Yesterday, California Sen. Barbara Boxer and other Democrats on the Senate environment committee [called] for the Department of Justice to open a criminal and civil investigation into the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Boxer, who chairs the environment panel, said that operators of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig did not appear to have required equipment and technology needed to respond to the spill, which has dumped millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.

[ British Petroleum is engaged in public relations efforts of a sizeable scale.] It is awarding $70 million in grants to help Gulf Coast states promote tourism in the aftermath of the massive oil spill. The company […] announced Monday that it will provide $25 million to Florida and $15 million each to Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. BP says the states can distribute the money as they see fit.

 [The Associated Press also reports in its update that:] Delicate coral reefs already have been tainted by plumes of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, including a sensitive area that federal officials had tried to protect from drilling and other dangers. And marine scientists are worried even more of the deep-sea reefs could be damaged as the thick goo creeps into two powerful Gulf currents.

[And finally,] [Louisiana] Gov. Bobby Jindal and leaders from several coastal parishes are pushing a $350 million barrier island repair plan as a way to protect Louisiana’s coast from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and reduce the ultimate cleanup and its costs. Sand dredged from the gulf’s floor would be built up in 86 miles of the gaps between islands, returning land eaten away by decades of storms and slower erosion.

Again, that summary of oil-spill-related events within the past twenty-four hours comes from the Associated Press.

Our Conversation with Marcie Keever:

Marcie Keever is on the staff of Friends of the Earth, which is actively engaged in oil and water issues. Marcie has previously served as program director for San Francisco Beautiful, where she implemented a campaign to stop the proliferation of digital billboards in California and prevented the placement of advertising on the Golden Gate Bridge. She holds a Doctor of Jurisprudence degree from Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco with a certificate in Environmental Law, and a B.A. from U.C. Santa Barbara with a double major in Environmental Studies and Law and Society. So she’s an attorney as well as an environmentalist.

Part I: The Gulf Oil Spill

  • At the beginning of the program, we provided an update on the BP Gulf Oil spill. Could you please tell us what you and Friends of the Earth see as happening at the moment?
  • What do you foresee as the environmental consequences of this catastrophe?  To what extent can we predict the full consequences?
  • What are the various earth-friendly organizations doing at the moment to mitigate the effects of the spill? 
  • In one press release, FOE argues that responsibility for the spill should not simply be borne by British Petroleum (as Obama said it would).  Who else should be held accountable?
  • Please review for us President Obama’s position on offshore drilling and how it has shifted.  [A recent cartoon in Humor Times mocks the President’s drilling plans by saying he’s going after “2% of the proven reserves of Republican goodwill untapped offshore.” Why is Obama catering to or at least trying to appease offshore drilling interests?]
  • A press release explains that “More than 16,000 activists have now joined Friends of the Earth’s call for President Obama to reconsider his plan for more offshore drilling.”  Who are these activists? How can interested listeners participate in this campaign?
  • Please also tell us about FOE’s television commercials opposing Drill Baby Drill.
  • What else would you like to tell us about yours and FOE’s response to the Gulf Oil Spill?

    Part II: Beyond the Gulf

In the first part of our conversation this evening, we’ve concentrated on the Gulf Oil Spill and offshore drilling issues.  But there is more to Oil and Water than that. 

  • You are Director of the Clean Vessels Campaign for Friends of the Earth.  Please tell us about that project.
    • What vessels are we talking about?  tankers?  cruise ships?
    • Leaks and tank cleaning versus dirty bunker fuel?
    • In earlier programs on the Copenhagen conference, we noted that emissions from vessels at sea were never a part of the proposed agreements.  Why not?
    • What sort of regulation or legislation would be required to control pollution by vessels at sea?
    • What initiatives will you be undertaking in coming months/years in the Clean Vessels Campaign
    • Beyond the issues of Oil and Water, FOE has clearly stated its opposition to global dependence on fossil fuels generally—coal as well as oil.
  • What do you see as viable alternatives? Nukes?  Wind and solar? Conservation?
  • A question we like to ask on this program:  Do you see changes in human and industrial behavior coming about through:
    • mandates?
    • incentives?
    • the good will of people?
    • desperation at the brink?
  • As we close, please remind us again of the mission of Friends of the Earth and tell our listeners how they can get involved.

Other Ways to Get Involved

 Here’s a petition opportunity from Avaaz dot org, the group that we also linked up with for our Chico Copenhagen Vigil in December. Avaaz writes:

 We’ve all seen the outrageous images: a monstrous oil spill is gushing as much as 2,500,000 gallons of crude a day into the Gulf of Mexico.

Before the spill, U.S. President Obama and Congressional leaders were planning to ramp up offshore drilling. Now, with the spill, the politics have shifted — and an opportunity has opened for the world’s biggest historical climate polluter to shift away from oil and towards climate-safe energy sources.

At a moment like this, when leaders are making up their minds, the world’s voices can help tip the balance. Sign the petition urging the U.S. to stop offshore drilling and invest instead in clean renewable energy — the signatures will be delivered to the White House in Washington DC when we reach 500,000!  


 On a more global note, Global Exchange is continuing its campaign to reign in Chevron, a topic we discussed with Antonia Juhaz in an earlier Ecotopia program. In a press release dated May 11, Global Exchange writes:

[A] Coalition of experts from communities harmed by oil operations [will] release [an] Alternative Annual Report and confront Chevron at a shareholder meeting in Houston, May 26, asking “Is Chevron Next?”

 The Global Exchange press release continues:

 Before it exploded, BP’s drilling rig was run by Transocean, the same company Chevron [uses] for its massive Gulf offshore operations. In fact, Chevron put its Gulf of Mexico ultra-deepwater drillship, the Discoverer Clear Leader, on the cover of its Annual Report this year shortly after signing a 5-year-lease with Transocean for the ship.

U.S. and international experts on the impact of oil will converge in Houston on May 25 and 26 at the time of Chevron’s annual shareholder meeting. They will release “The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report, 2010” written by nearly 50 contributing authors and edited by Antonia Juhasz, author of The Tyranny of Oil. They will expose the looming global disasters of big oil’s dangerous operations at public events, protest rallies, and at Chevron’s shareholder meeting

Just days prior to publication of its Annual Report, 18,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a Chevron operated pipeline in the Delta National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Louisiana. Chevron has lobbied aggressively to open up more waters to offshore drilling and is right now drilling the deepest offshore oil well in Canada’s history at 8,530 feet. Meanwhile, in Alaska, Chevron has been fighting with federal regulators to allow it to continue to use a corroded pipe that has lost more than 60 percent of its wall thickness indefinitely to carry oil from its offshore operations to shore. 

Global Exchange concludes:

Chevron has pushed the boundaries offshore, just as it has pushed them beyond what should be acceptable in its oil, natural gas, and coal operations. Across the globe, Chevron’s operations put our climate, security, and the health of our communities at great risk. That is why it’s the focus of a growing resistance.

You can read more about Global Exchange and Chevron at  www.TrueCostofChevron.com.

 We also just received an article and press reslease from Dan Jocobson of Environment California, which exposes even more BP violations and provides a petition link calling for Congress to hold BP accountable.  Sign the petition at  http://www.environmentcalifornia.org/action/oceans/bp-pay2?id4=es  You can read the full details at www.environmentcalifornia dot org.

Playlist for Ecotopia #86: Oil and Water

1. North Sea Oil (2004 Digital Remaster)        3:12        Jethro Tull       Stormwatch       

2. Oil Spill Summer        2:47        Butt       


3. Industrial Disease        5:50        Dire Straits       

        Love Over Gold                               

4. Only So Much Oil In The Ground (LP Version)        3:50        Tower of Power       

        Urban Renewal       

5. Nature’s Way        2:40        Spirit       

        Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus       

6. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary       

        The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary       

7. Zemelya-Chernozem. Black Soil. (Variations )        3:35        Andrei Krylov       

        Russian Classical Guitar Music. Vol 2. Romance, Folk Songs.       

8. Laws Of Motion        6:40        The Tiptons Sax Quartet       Laws Of Motion


That completes our look at the Gulf Oil Spill on Ecotopia, and we will continue to monitor this catastrophe as well as global oil issues in coming programs.