Tag Archives: oil spill

An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador's northeastern jungle. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP

Ecuador plans to move ahead controversial drilling efforts in the Amazon

An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador's northeastern jungle. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP

An aerial view of the Yasuni National Park, in Ecuador’s northeastern jungle. Photograph: Dolores Ochoa/AP

Yasuni National Park to be one of the world’s richest biological hotspots, home to one of the densest biodiversity in the world. The region has been under threat, however, from oil drilling efforts for many years now, and a recent announcement from behalf of the Ecuador government further tightens the knot on the Amazon basin.  President Rafael Correa said that as the nearly three-years long international appeal of raising $3.6 billion in exchange for foregoing drilling has been unsuccessful, the government ‘needs’ to move on with the project.

Some 10,000 square kilometers of land amount to Ecuador’s side of Yasuni National Park, a protected area where a great number of unique species live exclusively, some of which are endangered. The Ecudoarian side is also home to some of the few groups of indigenous tribal groups left in the world who are in voluntary isolation : the Waorani indigenous people and two nomadic Waorani clans. It’s also home to oil, a lot of oil –  three contiguous blocks known collectively as the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) oil field.

The Yasuni drilling in Ecuador has been a matter of great debate and controversy for many years. A while back, Correa launched what is called the Yasuni-ITT Initiative, a 13-year plan under which the government would forgo drilling in the park in exchange for donations equaling one-half of the value of the oil, a sum that analysts put at $3.6 billion. The initiative failed miserably, as a mere $13 million in donations have been collected. Correa blamed “the great hypocrisy” of nations who emit most of the world’s greenhouse gases.

“The world has failed us,” Correa said. “It was not charity that we sought from the international community, but co-responsibility in the face of climate change.”

Drilling oil in the middle of the Amazon


Of course, environmental groups were quick to oppose oil efforts in the region. According to recent polls, some 90% of Ecuadorians oppose drilling, however this number might dwindle has pro-drilling campaigns are prepped, meant to inform the general public on the benefits the project will have for the country’s economy and social well-being. This kind of advertisement will be joined by claims that the environmental impact of IIT Yasuni drilling will be minor.

Correa claims  that oil development would have an impact on less than 1% of the park and that the government would take steps to protect the environment. Local environmental specialists however are highly skeptical of this figure and question the means through which it was obtained.

“We know from experience that a road leads to loss or degradation of a swath of 5 to 8 kilometers wide,” says ecologist Kelly Swing, founder of the Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a field research center in the park. So “the 1% figure across the entire Yasuni Biosphere Reserve would amount to 20,000 hectares,” Swing says. “With over 100,000 species living in each hectare, we’re talking about a huge number of species and individuals.”

How ‘eco’ is Ecuador?

Just 50 kilometers north of Yasuni, a half-century of oil development has left little nature intact,  says  Kevin Koenig, Ecuador program coordinator at Amazon Watch in Quito. And other oil fields are being developed to the east and south, in effect surrounding Yasuni’s uncontacted tribes in the so-called intangible zone. One of the more troubling portions of Ecuador’s drilling plan is the inclusion of a 60-kilometer pipeline network to move the oil. Furthermore, there’s always the case of oil spills. With so much crude oil going about, were a spill to occur it could spell nothing short of disaster for Yasuni. “With this kind of heavy crude, it’s not a question of if there is going to be a spill,” he says. “Rather, when there is going to be a spill.”

Oil is Ecuador’s chief source of foreign earnings. The country produces 538,000 barrels of crude a day, delivering nearly half its production to the United States.

via Science Mag

New Chevron oil spill in Utah – bird refuge threatened

It’s Chevron’s third oil spill in three years in Utah alone; a June 2010 spill involved more than 30,000 gallons of crude oil near Red Butte Gardens in Salt Lake City, while a December 2010 leak near the same site involved about 21,000 gallons. This time, the spill was originally thought to be 27,000 gallons, but new estimates put the number way beyond that.


A split in a pipeline that runs from Salt Lake City to Spokane, Wash.,
is the main culprit according to the U.S. Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. I don’t really want to go into all this official political stuff – that’s really not up my alley -, but it just strikes you. I mean, an oil pipe passing right next to the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and Willard Bay State Park – how are they even allowed to do this? It’s easy to understand when you consider the net income that Chevron had in the fourth quarter of 2012 alone – which is $7.2 billion. Now, as a geophysicist, I fully understand how reliant our society is on oil at the moment, and how much money is involved in the oil business, but the problem is, when you give someone so much money and power, they will always cut corners, they will always be corrupted, and everyone else will always have to suffer.

Of course, one could argue that some oil spills are, to an extent, unavoidable – and that’s true. However, their frequency could be dramatically reduced if regulations and good practices were followed. They’re not. Reality is, these corporations cannot be held to be environmentally responsible, and this always happens when profit is the only aim.


Minor oil spills are underreported most of the time by oil companies

Oil spills, especially the big ones, can cause irremediable damage to the local ecosystem. Unfortunately once in a while, there’s a catastrophic disaster either from an oil rig or oil tanker leak, but these are the big ones  – the ones you hear about on TV, since frankly anyone today with an internet connection can check facts out via satellite imaging. Smaller oil spills, ranging from oil-drilling mishaps to ships discharging fuel, aren’t reported at all in the media, and according to a recently published study, they’re underreported by oil companies in attempts to disguise the level of damage they’ve caused.

minor-oilspillNow, the problem isn’t that big oil is lying about some oil spills. The actual number of reported oil spills, minor or not as mandated by US law if petroleum or derived products wash up in US waters, is rather solid. The lying takes places in the actual size of the oil spills, which are almost ubiquitously reported as being smaller than they actually are – a lot smaller.

The study was conducted by oceanographers from Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee, in collaboration with SkyTruth – a non-profit that tracks oil spills using publicly available tools like satellite images, on a mission to aware the general public on the real magnitude of such unfortunate events. Florida State has access to a database of much higher resolution satellite images, obtained via synthetic aperture radar (SAR), previously used to study slicks formed by natural oil seeps – rather the perfect tool for anthropomorphic slicks as well.

Minor spills can actually be major

The researchers identified sites of accidental slicks and then inputted the images in a special software that can differentiate the presence of oil from water texture. This allowed the researchers to calculate the respective slick area. The results were startling as most of the slicks caused by human hand were typically about 13 times larger than the estimates delivered by oil companies to the National Response Center.

“There is very consistent underreporting of the magnitude of [oil] releases,” says FSU team leader Ian MacDonald. “Sometimes it’s quite laughable.”

The team involved in the study acknowledged on the plus side, though, that the number of actual spills is correctly reported.

“It is not surprising that there are discrepancies” between the radar images and the assessments reported to the Coast Guard, says Emily Kennedy, a policy analyst at the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group in Washington DC. “Remote-sensing applications can be challenging, since they often provide false positives because of natural phenomenon like sea kelp.” She notes that such images require a lot of “ground truthing” — confirming that the image shows a real slick by visiting the site, for example.

Oil companies are mandated by the Coast Guard to reported any oil spill, big or small, otherwise they risk legal repercussions. However, there aren’t any legal repercussions for supplying false estimates. Typically, fines are issued proportional to the number of barrels spilled, but these are rarely pursued in the case of small slicks.

via Nature

BP to pay record fine in case of oil spill

Remember the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? It is one of the biggest environmental disasters in the human history, and it just couldn’t fade away, despite what big oil companies expected. According to three sources, the company will plead guilty to criminal misconduct, paying a record $7.8 billion.

They will settle on these terms in exchange for a waiver of future prosecution on the charges. The London based oil giant has been negotiating with the US government for two years, with the discussions being about “proposed resolutions of all U.S. federal government criminal and SEC claims against BP in connection with the Deepwater Horizon incident“.

BP has already announced settlements of $7.8 billion to resolve litigation brought by over 100.000 individuals, but they could be asked to pay an additional $21 billion under the Clean Water Act – something they hope to avoid.

Thankfully, justice seems to work in this case, and this criminal negligence will not go unpunished.

“That such a simple, yet fundamental and safety-critical test could have been so stunningly, blindingly botched in so many ways, by so many people, demonstrates gross negligence,” the government said in its August filing.

Via Reuters

Polymer oil spill

Sponge polymer soaks up oil and turns it into gel – viable option for cleaning oil spills

Polymer oil spillOil spills are one of the most devastating man-made ecological disasters out there. During such an outbreak, millions of gallons of oil can end up in the ocean, killing countless marine life, as well as harming the ecosystem. Handling such disasters, beyond pointing fingers which comes to no avail to the marine life, has become a priority for scientists aware of the consequences that oil spills pose. Various ingenious solutions have been proposed, like the magnetic sop. The latest comes from Pennsylvania State University, where scientists have developed a novel polymer capable of soaking crude oil like a sponge, unleashing a chemical reaction which turns the mix into a gel. The gel floating on the surface of the ocean can then be retrieved much easier, and moreover some of the petroleum can be reused.

In light of the 2010 BP disaster in Gulf of Mexico and the 2011 Exxon oil spill in Yellowstone river,  Mike Chung at Penn State along with colleagues have been working on a solution to recover oil spills by employing polyolefin-based oil super-absorbent polymer (oil-SAP) that exhibits high oil absorption capability (up to 50 times of its weight), fast kinetics, easy recovery from water surface, and no water absorption. The researchers claim that the new oil-SAP technology will drastically lower the damaging effects of oil spills on the environment, while also providing a cost effective method for retrieving the oil spilled in oceans. Also, the gel can then be shipped to refineries where the oil can be extracted and put to use – around 19 litres of oil can be recovered from a pound of the gel material.

New Scientist has a video demo of the polymer at work, embedded below.

Hopefully, though, the polyolefin polymer will never be set to use – not because it’s impractical, instead maybe oil companies might become responsible for a change. *Sigh.

BP and Halliburton point fingers at each other in the oil spill trial

British Petroleum (BP) accused Halliburton, one of the biggest oil service companies in the world, of destroying evidence which showed they did faulty cement work in the huge oil spill which took place last year in the Gulf of Mexico.

The accusation was launched during a BP court filing and it brought even more mystery and dirt into an already twisted trial, which is supposed to sort out the blame and damage done for the April 2010 oil spill blowout which occurred in April, last year.

Citing depositions and Halliburton’s own documents, BP seem to make a decent claim on this issue, claiming Halliburton “intentionally” destroyed the results of slurry testing for the well, in part to “eliminate any risk that this evidence would be used against it at trial”. The accusation seems pretty valid, as the information is indeed missing, and Halliburton claims it is simply “gone”; weird how things appear and disappear in the world of major oil companies, isn’t it?

No, what you’re seeing isn’t a road

When I saw this picture, it was morning, my eyes hadn’t opened up quite yet, and I thought “what’s so special of a picture of a road?”. But then it hit me. It wasn’t a road. It’s a Louisiana waterway literally covered with dead fish, crabs, stingray, eel, and there have been reports of even a whale.

The exact cause of why they are dying in such large numbers is unknown yet; it may very well be an oxygen depletion case, but usually, these cases tend to affect only some vulnerable species. Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser raised the flag and distributed these pictures to the local media. It’s still uncertain if this is somehow related to the BP oil spill, and most likely there will not be any answer in this direction.

Still, authorities will have to come up with some sort of solution to this kind of problem.

“We can’t continue to see these fish kills,” Nungesser said in a statement. “We need some additional tests to find out why these fish are dying in large numbers. If it is low oxygen, we need to identify the cause.”

Photos via Billy Nungesser/WWL