BP hit with $4.5 billion fine for Gulf oil spill

Company accepts criminal responsibility for 2010 disaster

A NASA satellite captures an image of a swirling oil slick from BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After spending more than $14 billion on the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP will pay another $4.5 billion in penalties under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice, the biggest fine ever levied by the department.

Federal officials said they will also pursue gross negligence charges under the Clean Water Act, which could result in up to $20 billion in additional fines, ranging up to $4,300 per barrel of spilled oil.

The explosion killed 11 workers on the drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico and sent millions of gallons of crude oil spewing into the water, damaging fisheries, smearing beaches and wetlands and squelching tourism in the region for months. Followup studies have shown that oil remnants may affect Gulf ecosystems for years to come. Continue reading

Gulf oysters tainted with heavy metals from oil spill

Caption: Oyster shells like this one, collected from the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, have been shown to contain higher concentrations of three heavy metals common in crude oil -- vanadium, cobalt, and chromium -- than specimens collected before the spill.
Credit: California Academy of Sciences

Researchers denied access to pure samples of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — BP’s oil continues to have toxic after-effects two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spewed millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists tracking the long-term impacts have found devastated corals on the sea floor, sick dolphins in coastal areas and most recently, heavy metal contamination in Gulf oysters linked to the oil.

“While there is still much to be done as we work to evaluate the impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill on the Gulf’s marine food web, our preliminary results suggest that heavy metals from the spill have impacted one of the region’s most iconic primary consumers and may affect the food chain as a whole,” said Dr. Peter Roopnarine, of the California Academy of Sciences.

Roopnarine has detected evidence that pollutants from the oil have entered the ecosystem’s food chain. For the past two years, the team has been studying oysters (Crassostrea virginica) collected both before and after the Deepwater Horizon oil reached the coasts of Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. Continue reading

Environment: Gulf drilling permits challenged in court

Gulf residents rally for oil spill health care bill, new leak detected off Louisiana

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in flames after a deadly explosion in 2010.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —For federal permitting agencies, it might be back to business as usual on oil drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico — but that’s not the case for Gulf Coast residents still feeling the aftermath of last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Many will rally today at the Capitol in Baton Rouge to call for passage of  the Oil Spill Health Bill (HB 389) sponsored by Representative Patrick Connick. The bill would step up monitoring for oil spill-related health impacts. More information here: Oil Spill Health Bill (HB 389).

At the same time, environmental groups monitoring the northern Gulf have detected a new oil spill in the past few days. SkyTruth reported on the new slick via Twitter:

The source of the oil was identified early Monday morning:

The slick isn’t far from the Delta National Wildlife Refuge. The National Wildlife Federation is reporting on the latest spill here. Continue reading

BP makes $1 billion ‘downpayment’ for Gulf restoration

Volunteers replanting a salt marsh in Louisiana. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Gulf states to split the money for high priority projects

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A $1 billion payment by BP will go toward rebuilding of coastal marshes, replenishing damaged beaches, conservation of sensitive areas for ocean habitat for injured wildlife, and restoration of barrier islands and wetlands that provide natural protection from storms, the federal government said, announcing what’s being called a voluntary “downpayment” toward BP’s obligation to fund the complete restoration of injured public resources, including the loss of use of those resources by the people living, working and visiting the area.

The money will be split among Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, the Department of the Interior, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“This milestone agreement will allow us to jump-start restoration projects that will bring Gulf Coast marshes, wetlands, and wildlife habitat back to health after the damage they suffered as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. “This agreement accelerates our work on Gulf Coast restoration and in no way limits the ability of all the Natural Resource Trustees from seeking full damages from those who are responsible as the natural resource damage assessment process moves forward.” Continue reading

Oil spill: One year later

Activists mark anniversary with protests, Gulf residents work toward recovery

Oil in the Gulf of Mexico. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Dozens of environmental, climate, and social justice groups  targetec government and corporate operations with  protests and civil disobedience in an international day of direct action against extraction organized by Rising Tide North America to commemorate the first anniversary of BP’s Gulf oil disaster. The protests were organized to demand an end to the environmental destruction and climate destabilization created by fossil fuel and other extraction industries.

Continue reading

Watchdog groups team up for aerial Gulf surveillance

Inaccurate, confusing and misleading government information shows need for independent environmental monitoring

Aerial surveillance by SouthWings discovered this oil spill last summer. Gerry Ellis/Minden Pictures courtesy SouthWings. Click to read the story about this leak on the SkyTruth blog.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Conflicting and often inaccurate information about last year’s oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico led to confusion and even affected the government response to the disaster, showing the need for better monitoring, said SkyTruth president John Amos, announcing the formation of a new partnership with the Waterkeeper Alliance and SouthWings that will systematically monitor the Gulf using satellite images and mapping, aerial reconnaissance and photography, and on-the-water observation and sampling.

Perhaps the best example of the need for independent monitoring came early during the disaster, when BP and the government drastically underestimated the rate of the leak, with consequences not only for the environment, but for the amount of the fines that BP will pay.

“The difference in the amount of the fines could be as much as $16 billion,” Amos said, referring to the company’s low-ball figures and the true amount of oil that gushed from BP’s failed well. “That could go a long way toward restoration. Damaging rumors and speculation take hold in the absence of good information, leading people in Gulf communities still reeling from the BP disaster to fear the worst: another major offshore spill,”  Amos said. Continue reading

EPA faces lawsuit over dispersant use in Gulf oil spill

Coast Guard vessels try to extinguish the burning Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. PHOTO COURTESY U.S. COAST GUARD.

Environmental group wants feds to study and disclose impacts of dispersants, as marine biologists continue to document an unusually high number of dead whales and dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — One year after the deadly Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the EPA is facing a potential lawsuit over the widespread use of chemical oil dispersants.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed an official notice of its intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for authorizing the use of the dispersants without ensuring that these chemicals would not harm endangered species or their habitats.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the EPA must pre-approve the use of chemical dispersants in the event of an oil spill, but has not taken steps to ensure that the use of these chemicals will not jeopardize endangered wildlife. The Center’s notice requests that the agency immediately study the effects of dispersants on endangered and threatened species such as sea turtles, endangered whales, piping plovers and corals.

“The Gulf of Mexico disaster was a wake-up call about the inadequacy of current oil-spill response technology,” said Deirdre McDonnell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Before the next spill happens, the government needs to ensure that these dispersants don’t do more harm than good to threatened and endangered species.” Continue reading

Gulf oil spill: Methane levels back to normal

Bacteria bloom digests massive quantities of gas

A NASA satellite photo shows oil near the Mississippi River delta.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After collecting thousands of water samples across 36,000 square miles in the Gulf of Mexico, university researchers last week said methane levels have returned to near normal just a few months after the massive blowout of BP’s oil well.

Back in mid-June, during the spill, the same team found methane concentrations up to 100,000 times above normal levels, but after the recent sampling, they concluded that massive bacterial blooms have consumed the immense gas plumes, estimated at more than 200,000 metric tons of dissolved methane. Continue reading

Opinion: ‘Trust, but verify’ holds true for Gulf oil spill

Oil spreading across the Gulf of Mexico in July, 2009. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

More unpleasant facts about the oil disaster coming to light in reports and documents obtained with Freedom of Information Act requests

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — I never thought I’d quote Ronald Reagan, but the latest news on the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster makes me think of his admonition to “trust, but verify.”

Late Wednesday, the federal government released a report on how it arrived at its conclusions about the rate of oil that was spewing from BP’s failed well, and as it turns out, the widespread skepticism about some of those estimates was more than justified.

The report was released at the start of the holiday weekend, at a time when the media traditionally focuses on cheery recipes and the latest shopping news from the local mall. It suggests that there was a lot of internal debate, not only about the numbers themselves, but about how the information was being communicated to the public, and about the role of government and non-government scientists involved in the oil spill calculations. Continue reading

Deepwater Horizon post mortem

Presidential panel offers detailed look at oil disaster and response

A BP diagram included in the report depicts early containment and collection efforts.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Both BP and the federal government were unprepared for the full-scale disaster than unfolded after the Deepwater Horizon drill rig exploded and burned in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a draft report from the presidential panel investigating the spill and response.

The commission issued the draft version of the report Nov. 22, concluding that on-the-spot improvisation and ingenuity helped to ultimately contain the oil spewing into the sea. Here’s one of the opening paragraphs from the report: Continue reading

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