WASHINGTON (Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Tuesday renewed his efforts to enact legislation to enhance penalties for corporations and individuals responsible for environmental crimes. Leahy first introduced the Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act in June 2010, following the April explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Leahy authored bill will strengthen penalties for companies who violate the Clean Water Act and provide victims of environmental crime with access to compensation for their loss. An important goal of the Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act is to ensure that there are meaningful penalties for corporate misconduct including prison time, not fines alone, which can be a mere cost of doing business. The Judiciary Committee approved the legislation last year, but it was not acted on by the full Senate.
“This bill takes two common sense steps – well-reasoned increases in sentences and mandatory restitution for environmental crime,” said Leahy. “These measures are tough but fair. They are important steps toward deterring criminal conduct that can cause environmental and economic disaster and toward helping those who have suffered so much from the wrongdoing of big oil and other large corporations.”
The Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act directs the Sentencing Commission to review and amend sentencing guidelines to reflect the seriousness of environmental crime. It also makes restitution mandatory for Clean Water Act violations. Under current law, restitution is discretionary, and only available under limited circumstances. The Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act will help victims like those affected by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, including the families of those killed by the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, seek compensation for their losses caused by criminal activity.
The Environmental Crimes Enforcement Act is cosponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.).
Leahy chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing last summer in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster to examine victim compensation and the existing liability caps for corporations responsible for the cleanup of such disasters.
Athens, Ga. – A new University of Georgia study that is the first to examine comprehensively the magnitude of hydrocarbon gases released during the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil discharge has found that up to 500,000 tons of gaseous hydrocarbons were emitted into the deep ocean. The authors conclude that such a large gas discharge—which generated concentrations 75,000 times the norm—could result in small-scale zones of “extensive and persistent depletion of oxygen” as microbial processes degrade the gaseous hydrocarbons. Read more
MARY FOSTER Associated Press
February 5, 2011, 8:54 a.m
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Sales of Gulf of Mexico seafood are getting a boost from the military after being hammered by last year’s BP oil spill, which left consumers fearing the water’s bounty had been tainted.
Ten products including fish, shrimp, oysters, crab cakes, and packaged Cajun dishes such as jambalaya and shrimp etouffee are being promoted at 72 base commissaries along the East Coast, said Milt Ackerman, president of Military Solutions Inc., which is supplying seafood to the businesses. Read the full story
Updated: Friday, January 07, 2011, 11:44 PM
By Paul Rioux, The Times-Picayune
Standing on a makeshift plywood boardwalk placed atop an oil-choked mat of dead marsh grass in Bay Jimmy, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser blasted the pace of cleanup efforts, saying the wetlands look worse than when BP’s gushing well was capped nearly six months ago.
The land is washing away as we speak,” Nungesser said Friday, his white shrimp boots smeared with oil. “With so little being done to clean this up, we’re never going to win this battle.”
Coast Guard Commander Dan Lauer said tests are under way to determine the best cleanup method as the focus shifts from emergency response to long-term recovery from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Read the full story
By MIKE SORAGHAN of Greenwire Published: February 3, 2011
WASHINGTON (February 1, 2011) – With BP’s announcement today that they intend to restart dividend payments to shareholders, despite losing money in 2010 and tens of billions still outstanding from their company’s spill, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) called on the company to cease their challenge of the size of the spill or cease handing out dividends. BP has challenged the flow rate and total spill numbers reached by the U.S. government’s scientific team, which will be critical in determining the amount BP will have to pay in fines. Read the full story
By DAVID GOODHUE
Posted – Saturday, January 22, 2011 11:01 AM EST
By midsummer, a Spanish oil company, on a huge Italian-owned semi-submersible rig made in China, will be drilling for oil about 40 to 60 miles from Key West in the Straits of Florida.
And because of the 50-year-old trade embargo against Cuba by the United States government, none of the approximately 220 crew members working aboard the vessel will be Americans. Also, if disaster strikes and there is an oil spill that threatens the Florida coast and reef, U.S. companies would be barred for the most part from helping stop the leak. Read the full article
To combat last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill, nearly 800,000 gallons of chemical dispersant were injected directly into the oil and gas flow coming out of the wellhead nearly one mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, as scientists begin to assess how well the strategy worked at breaking up oil droplets, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) chemist Elizabeth B. Kujawinski and her colleagues report that a major component of the dispersant itself was contained within an oil-gas-laden plume in the deep ocean and had still not degraded some three months after it was applied.
While the results suggest the dispersant did mingle with the oil and gas flowing from the mile-deep wellhead, they also raise questions about what impact the deep-water residue of oil and dispersant—which some say has its own toxic effects—might have had on environment and marine life in the Gulf.
“This study gives our colleagues the first environmental data on the fate of dispersants in the spill,” said Kujawinski, who led a team that also included scientists from UC Santa Barbara. “These data will form the basis of toxicity studies and modeling studies that can assess the efficacy and impact of the dispersants.
“We don’t know if the dispersant broke up the oil,” she added. “We found that it didn’t go away, and that was somewhat surprising.”
The study, which appears online Jan. 26 in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Environmental Science &Technology, is the first peer-reviewed research to be published on the dispersant applied to the Gulf spill and the first data in general on deep application of a dispersant, according to ACS and Kujawinski. Some previous studies had indicated that dispersants applied to surface oil spills can help prevent surface slicks from endangering marshes and coastlines.
Kujawinski and her colleagues found one of the dispersant’s key components, called DOSS (dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate), was present in May and June—in parts-per-million concentrations–in the plume from the spill more than 3,000 feet deep. The plume carried its mixture of oil, natural gas and dispersant in a southwest direction, and DOSS was detected there at lower (parts-per-billion) concentrations in September.
Using a new, highly sensitive chromatographic technique that she and WHOI colleague Melissa C. Kido Soule developed, Kujawinski reports those concentrations of DOSS indicate that little or no biodegradation of the dispersant substance had occurred. The deep-water levels suggested any decrease in the compound could be attributed to normal, predictable dilution. They found further evidence that the substance did not mix with the 1.4 million gallons of dispersant applied at the ocean surface and appeared to have become trapped in deepwater plumes of oil and natural gas reported previously by other WHOI scientists and members of this research team. The team also found a striking relationship between DOSS levels and levels of methane, which further supports their assertion that DOSS became trapped in the subsurface.
Though the study was not aimed at assessing the possible toxicity of the lingering mixture—Kujawinski said she would “be hard pressed to say it was toxic”—it nevertheless warrants toxicity studies into possible effects on corals and deep-water fish such as tuna, she said. The EPA and others have already begun or are planning such research, she added.
David Valentine of UC Santa Barbara and a co-investigator in the study, said, “This work provides a first glimpse at the fate and reactivity of chemical dispersants applied in the deep ocean. By knowing how the dispersant was distributed in the deep ocean, we can begin to assess the subsurface biological exposure, and ultimately what effects the dispersant might have had.”
“The results indicate that an important component of the chemical dispersant injected into the oil in the deep ocean remained there, and resisted rapid biodegradation,” said Valentine, whose team collected the samples for Kujawinski’s laboratory analysis. “This knowledge will ultimately help us to understand the efficacy of the dispersant application, as well as the biological effects.”
Kujawinski and Valentine were joined in the study by Soule and Krista Longnecker of WHOI, Angela K. Boysen a summer student at WHOI, and Molly C. Redmond of UC Santa Barbara. The work was funded by WHOI and the National Science Foundation. The instrumentation was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
In Kujawinski’s technique, the target molecule was extracted from Gulf water samples with a cartridge that isolates the DOSS molecule. She and her colleagues then observed the molecule through a mass spectrometer, ultimately calculating its concentration levels in the oil and gas plume. This method is 1,000 times more sensitive than that used by the EPA and could be used to monitor this molecule for longer time periods over longer distances from the wellhead, she said.
“With this method, we were able to tell how much [dispersant] was there and where it went,” Kujawinski said. She and her colleagues detected DOSS up to around 200 miles from the wellhead two to three months after the deep-water injection took place, indicating the mixture was not biodegrading rapidly.
“Over 290,000 kg, or 640,000 pounds, of DOSS was injected into the deep ocean from April to July,” she said. “That’s a staggering amount, especially when you consider that this compound comprises only 10% of the total dispersant that was added.”
Kujawinski cautioned that “we can’t be alarmist” about the possible implications of the lingering dispersant. Concentrations considered “toxic” are at least 1,000 times greater than those observed by Kujawinski and her colleagues, she said. But because relatively little is known about the potential effects of this type of dispersant/hydrocarbon combination in the deep ocean, she added, “We need toxicity studies.”
“The decision to use chemical dispersants at the sea floor was a classic choice between bad and worse,” Valentine said. “And while we have provided needed insight into the fate and transport of the dispersant we still don’t know just how serious the threat is; the deep ocean is a sensitive ecosystem unaccustomed to chemical irruptions like this, and there is a lot we don’t understand about this cold, dark world.”
“The good news is that the dispersant stayed in the deep ocean after it was first applied,” Kujawinski says. “The bad news is that it stayed in the deep ocean and did not degrade.”
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent organization in Falmouth, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment.
SEA TURTLE HOMECOMING, CLASS OF 2010: A Proactive Coastal Conservation Agenda for Florida
For the people who live near the Gulf of Mexico —– and, indeed, for
Americans everywhere —– the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill during the summer of 2010 will be an event forever etched in our memories. It was a time of great uncertainty and fear about the plight of the region’s coastal wetlands, beaches, and ocean waters and the many benefits that they provide for us all. But it also was a time in which our conservation ethic truly bloomed. One of the most compelling symbols of our love and concern for the species that share our coastal and marine systems was the unprecedented effort to relocate the nests of threatened and endangered sea turtles along the Gulf Coast to oil-free habitats on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.
Read the report : Sea Turtle Homecoming
Friday, January 14, 2011; 9:18 PM The Jan. 6 news story “As Arctic melts, U.S. ill-positioned to tap resources” highlighted the potential for U.S. exploitation of mineral resources at the top of the world. What it failed to point out is that sites proposed for drilling in Alaska’s Arctic Ocean are some of the most remote and extreme areas on Earth. At the same time, the fragile ecosystem is already feeling the impact of warming, which is happening there at twice the rate as on of the rest of the planet.
Rushing to drill for oil and gas without proper measures to safeguard an environment as challenging and vulnerable as the Arctic would tell the world that the United States had failed to heed the lessons of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Joshua Reichert, Washington
The writer is managing director of the Pew Environment Group.