Oil and Water

My big sister M’Liz sent me an email the other day. “I am surprised,” she wrote, “that Lies.com has not addressed the oil spill in the Gulf.” I guess she has a point; it’s the kind of thing I would normally say something about. I’ve been following the news (like everyone). The May 11 Senate hearing where executives from BP, Transocean, and Halliburton pointed fingers at each other was certainly a lies.com moment.

Since then there has been a parade of spin and counter-spin, with events in the Gulf providing an ongoing (and depressing) fact-check, culminating most-recently in the “top kill” failure, with Obama pronouncing the news “as enraging as it is heartbreaking.”

I’d like to talk to my brother-in-law Steve (M’Liz’s husband) about all this, partly because he works as a safety engineer for BP, and partly because he’s a really honest, decent, thoughtful kind of guy. But I haven’t had a chance to talk to him.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress reposted an interesting item today (I think it was originally written by Craig Severance, but it’s not completely clear to me which parts are Romm’s and which are Severance’s). Anyway: What will it take to end our oil addiction?

I also enjoyed reading self-described “modern day Thoreau” Barbara Tomlinson’s write-up of the training she received from BP as an oil-spill cleanup worker: Emergency vs. Post-Emergency.

Update: Also entertaining, in a depressing kind of way: Fishgrease: DKos Booming School.

Closer to home, I’ve been working as part of the effort to defeat Measure J, the local oil-drilling initiative placed on the ballot by Venoco. Steve McWhirter, a neighbor of mine and would-be politician (he was narrowly defeated in a run for city council last election, and says he’ll run again in November), forwarded the following video to me. It shows Tim Marquez, the CEO and majority shareholder of Venoco, talking about why Measure J would be such a great deal for Carpinterians:

Tim Marquez One on One Interview from YES on Measure J on Vimeo.

I think Marquez is probably a more or less decent guy, and that he honestly believes that what is good for Venoco (and himself) is good for Carpinteria. But as with my previous fisking of his ad in the local paper, I think he’s making misleading statements in an effort to get low-information voters to support the initiative.

The biggest issue I have with the video is when Marquez talks about environmental review. He says that even if Measure J passes, his project will still need to undergo “the same environmental review process” it would have faced without Measure J. That’s simply not true. Yes, there are a number of agencies that would need to approve the project either way. But if Measure J passes, the project will bypass the city’s review, as well as any oversight and mitigation measures the city might have imposed. That’s pretty much the whole point of Measure J.

When Marquez talks at 13:10 in the video about the “misperception out there; some of it’s intentional, some of it’s accidental” concerning the effect of Measure J on the environmental review process, he’s being disingenuous. Marquez has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to create the misperception in the minds of voters that Measure J will not let Venoco bypass environmental review. (Other arguments I’ve heard from Measure J supporters: Measure J would merely initiate the environmental review process, the environmental review by the city has already been completed, and the project described in the initiative is the same as the environmentally preferred alternative in the city’s environmental impact report. All untrue.)

I think it’s human nature that the farther away someone is, the less likely we are to rank their concerns ahead of our own. That plays out in various ways: The image of an oil rig burning can be awe-inspiring, even beautiful to look at, except that people were killed and injured in that fire, and for them, and for their families, that image is associated with horrible suffering and pain. Should I not look at it?

Tim Marquez, and Venoco’s contractors (like Steve McWhirter) are just trying to put food on the table and help themselves and their families get ahead in the world; should I really be willing to tell them no, they don’t get to rewrite the city’s planning laws to place their own interests ahead of those of the community, generally?

M’Liz mentioned something else in her email to me. She said that the ongoing disaster in the Gulf might at least contain “some good news for Carpinteria in a small way,” in terms of the impact the story will have on the Measure J vote. I’ve heard the same thing expressed, quietly, by people in the No on J campaign. I confess there is a part of me that, while not actually rooting against BP in their efforts to stop the undersea gusher, takes a measure of grim satisfaction in their failure: See? That’s what I was talking about. You can’t trust these companies. It’s a reaction that reminds me of the emotional response I had while tracking the Iraq war body count: I hated the lies that led us to war, and sympathized with the victims on both sides, but there was still an element of satisfaction in seeing it go so wrong. See? That’s what I’m talking about. You can’t trust these politicians.

I’m not defending that reaction. I’m appalled that I feel it. It’s wrong. But it’s part of me.

I wish the Deepwater Horizon blowout never happened. I know that any impact it has on the politics of a little town 2,000 miles away is completely insignificant compared to the suffering it is causing, and will continue to cause, for those who are closer to it, for many years to come.

41 Responses to “Oil and Water”

  1. Smith Says:

    It would be interesting to hear your brother-in-law’s take on the matter. Perhaps he could provide an insider’s view without all the spin.

    This http://twitter.com/bpglobalpr has been getting a lot of coverage lately. Interesting parody, but it seems to be quickly turning into little more than a sales pitch for t-shirts.

  2. nelyn Says:

    more inside scoops should be dished out for us to know what really is happening and are they doing something to deal with this matter.

  3. shcb Says:

    I liked the “addiction” article, it is about 70% practical I guess is the best way to put it, I was going to use “accurate” but it is more than 70% accurate, some of it is just pie in the sky, not bad though for this type of article.

  4. knarlyknight Says:

    “Deal with?” Sadly, the scale of this is beyond any group’s ability to deal with it. Tragically, idiots’ decided to use “dispersents” – aka toxic industrial solvents – to get the oil beneath the surface and have thus extended the death and destruction at all levels below the slick rather than just the surface layers & landfalls plus, almost as bad, the toxicity of the solvents will poison clean-up crews & nearby populations. (Exxon Valdez cleanup used similar toxic solvents with tragic results – some 3500 workers became sick with cold & flu like symptoms while working on the clean-up (key symptoms of the solvent poisoning) but get this: health insurance for industrial clean-up personel excludes colds & flu so they were immediately disqualified from benefits – even though symptoms for most have continued to this day.)

    Maybe this hell on earth inflicted on one of the most beautiful ecosystems in America is some sort of a national Karmic retribution for America’s infliction of a depleted uranium hell on earth in Fallujah and other cities of Iraq.

  5. NorthernLite Says:

    This is very, very bad. There are blobs floating under the surface that are thousands of kilometres wide and several thousand metres think. Bad bad bad.

    I lost confidence way back when BP’s idea of the week was to shoot golf balls and old tires at the hole to try and plug it.

    I think Obama should be doing more as well. He should be summoning all the oil company CEOs in the country and the brightest minds from MIT or wherever to stop this thing immediately and get to work on cleaning it up.

  6. knarlyknight Says:

    NL – Yes.

  7. knarlyknight Says:

    shcb – yes too. Add in that it was a very good summation of what should have already been common knowledge.

  8. knarlyknight Says:

    Yep, that cleanup worker sure sounds like a whiner complaining about a silly belyache from eatin’ too much fried chicken. (sarcasm) BP=Fuckin Assholes in operating in a Nazi-Corporate-Lovin-America.

  9. knarlyknight Says:

    This one: http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/05/31/oil.spill.order/

  10. shcb Says:

    Bottom line is we just are not anywhere near replacing oil anytime soon. We are working with some fairly state of the art solar cells right now, an array of (6) 1 foot by 6 foot cells only puts out about 350 watts in good light, we had it in the shop with just the light filtering in the windows and one cell isn’t even putting out the voltage of an AA battery. We are doing everything the technology allows us but it is little more than a marketing gimmick at this point.

    Technology simply isn’t there yet, lead acid batteries are fine for what they are designed for, starting cars, but they have some serious limitations I wasn’t aware of until we started this project.

    So yes, we need to do what we can to conserve and find ways of extracting the oil safely but it is going to be with us for a while. One of the things the “addiction” article sort of glossed over is the loss of quality of life we will experience if we do the things he wants us to do, it will be drastic. The he also doesn’t seem to understand how something that works in Europe doesn’t in America because of geography and population densities, simply doing it the way Europe does will even further deteriorate our way of life. I’m guessing he talks a good talk but would be the first to bitch if the new computer his livelihood depends on couldn’t be shipped overnight but had to be shipped rail and wouldn’t get there for 3 weeks, sounds good on paper but doesn’t work so well in practice.

  11. knarlyknight Says:

    Did you get the solar panels at Best Buy? I call BS on your assessment, homes in our neighborhood (okay just a few) are adding solar and there’s solar shingles out now and there’s solar film for tinting windows, a big roll out of even just these micro applications will take a big load off. Cost is still the problem, as production ramps up the per unit costs should start to drop (right?)

    Also, BS on shipping. Sounds like you’ve bought the trucking industry’s lobby efforts hook line and sinker. Long haul trucking is, hands down, far less efficient in all respects compared to rail/local truck distribution systems. The only reason trucking currently beats rail is government subsidies to the trucking industry & highways is about 1000000 times greater than government investments in rail.

  12. shcb Says:

    I can only tell the truth, now these cells are specialized, very thin and pliable. The technology will eventually make them very cheap since the conductive portion is printed on the substrate, at some point it may even be able to be translucent. You seem to have bought the enviros bs.

    You are absolutely correct that rail transportation is more efficient than trucking, the only method that is more efficient from an energy consumption standpoint is a barge. But my point still holds, the Air/truck combo is the quickest method we have ever developed, not the most fuel efficient, but the most efficient use of time. So sure we can go backwards and use rails to eliminate the air portion, and then use the rails to eliminate a major portion of the trucking but we will suffer on delivery times, the question is do we want to do that? Do we want to lower our standard of living? Food will be less fresh, that hard drive I bought today won’t be here for a week or two instead of Thursday, parts I order today from Chicago won’t be here tomorrow, they will be here sometime next week and the production line won’t run until then and our folks will go home without pay, lessening their standard of living. It’s a trade off.

  13. shcb Says:

    Even the most damning studies of rail vs truck put the subsidies at about 4 to 1 truck to rail, but if we modernized our rail system as the author wants that would change, since a ton of public funds would be used to make those improvements, and we would still need the roads for the cars and the trucks to haul the stuff from the rail yards to our front door. No free lunch here.

  14. knarlyknight Says:

    No argument from me on those points shcb…

  15. NorthernLite Says:

    This is a complete disaster and I am so fucking pissed off. Florida is now in the cross hairs of the ooze, it’s only a matter of hours now.

    I don’t think most Americans understand how bad this really is. The Gulf Coast is in dire straits here.

  16. shcb Says:

    I think you are right, I don’t think most Americans or anyone else understands how bad this is, and is just going to get worse. I think in most of these disaster situation you never know how bad it is unless it directly impact you. Not even quite recovering from Katrina doesn’t help either.

    Question to my friend up north, how do you think this will affect Obama? I don’t think it will have any effect on the congressional races, these things tend to be harder on the executive be that the president or governor. What are your thoughts?

  17. knarlyknight Says:


    You fail to grasp what NL meant by “complete disaster”.

    Let me try to get through to you by analogy. Say you lived in a small American town and a Muslim terrorist from North Korea snuck into your comfy house one night and used a Koran to slit the throats of your mother and your brother, leaving only you, your sister and your father alive. When you woke up, would you ask your father “How do you think this will affect the mayor?”

  18. shcb Says:

    i don’t think that is what he meant, I think he meant this is a disastor, like something really bad has happened. There will be political ramifications, seperate issue, using your analogy, if the guy, doesn’t matter what his religion, slit my family’s throats, it wouldn’t matter a wit to me the mayor’s political future, but it would be topical for the rest of the town

  19. knarlyknight Says:

    I should have expressed what I was thinking with my analogy more clearly. Lousianna, Mississipi, texas all make upp your mother, Florida & the other gulf regions are your sister. You are the west and midwest and your father is the east Coast and North. The town isn’t relevent but if you insist they are the other regions in the world and guess what? The tow is deeply saddened by the loss as the Gulf Coasts were a glimmer of sunshine with it’s abundant environmental treasures… we don’t really give a rats ass about Obama right now or ever, political futures are simply utterly insignificant next to the scale of this loss aka “complete disaster.”

  20. shcb Says:

    They weren’t when Bush was “in charge” of Katrina. This is a manmade disaster, one that Obama’s people were charged with making sure safety was assured, wells are checked, valves are tested, was this done properly on his watch, that is my question. Will Republicans make the case the government under Obama was lax, if they do will it stick?

    Your analogy is too broad, the “family” is just those people on the coast, even the people in Atlanta and Miami care exponentially less than those on the Gulf coast, people in the midwest will shake their heads and say how sad it is and then book a trip to the Rockies instead of the Gulf coast. It may not be right, but it is the way it is. So the question is will they care in two years?

  21. knarlyknight Says:

    Katrina was a hurricane. Relatively little if any lasting ecological damage. Worst case, rebuild in a decade or two. Move New Orleans to higher ground, or if you were smart you’d re-build it as a floating city.

    It appears that the BP oil/bitumen gusher has unleashed an ecological death that, although it’s surface area is estimated now as up to 10,000 sq. miles, it’s full scope underwater, on the seabed, and in depleting oxygen levels in gulf waters is, so far, too immense to measure. It’s going to be a bad couple of decades for sea-food harvesting in the region and may yet get as far as spawning grounds off Carolina’s coast. Besides, didn’t you see Avatar? The planet has been wounded.

    Katrina was just a hurricane. Bush ignored the warnings, had previously mis-allocated national guard troops to foreign service, and was slow to set the federal FEMA response in action. (Contrary to his administration’s actions on 911 when FEMA was already set up in lower Manhattan and ready for the WTC action.)

    Can’t say that the oil slick would be any smaller if Obama did anything different after the blowout. If Republicans hope to pin the oil volcano on Obama they will need to show that his administration was responsible for relaxing inspections or somehow approved oilfield equipment or drilling permits in a way that was more lax than what Bush or earlier administrations did.

    But if people are found to have been negligent and simply bowing in to oil industry pressures to relax standards thus raising the risk that this complete disaster would happen, I’ll supply the rope and you supply the tree. Careful though, given the de-regulating reputation of Republicans there may not be many remaining after the purge.

    Let’s do a quick comparison. You compile a list of all the off-shore regulations that Obama’s administration relaxed that may have contributed to this disaster. I’ll compile a list of the off-shore oil regulations relaxed under Bush’s watch that might have contributed to the disaster. I bet your list contains exactly Zero items. My list will contain at least these, from wiki:

    The BP wellhead had been fitted with a blowout preventer (BOP), but it was not fitted with remote-control or acoustically-activated triggers for use in case of an emergency requiring a platform to be evacuated. It did have a dead man’s switch designed to automatically cut the pipe and seal the well if communication from the platform is lost, but it was unknown whether the switch activated.[58] Regulators in both Norway and Brazil generally require acoustically-activated triggers on all offshore platforms, but when the Minerals Management Service considered requiring the remote device, a report commissioned by the agency as well as drilling companies questioned its cost and effectiveness.[58] In 2003, the agency determined that the device would not be required because drilling rigs had other back-up systems to cut off a well.

    In 2003? Let’s see that would have been which president?

    The Minerals Management Service changed rules in April 2008 to exempt certain projects in the central Gulf region, allowing BP to operate in the Macondo Prospect without filing a blowout plan.[249]

    In 2008, eh?

  22. shcb Says:

    There you go, all good points, so the question still remains, can and will Republicans make the point that Obama and his administration should have required these safety devices, remember they own the government right now, no regulation or law will be voted down on a party line vote. So just because the Republicans were in power before doesn’t exempt Democrats now. Of course Democrats will counter as you did above. Then the question is who will voters in Peoria believe?

    There is also the fact that this was manmade and therefore somewhat preventable, a hurricane isn’t. This disastor was also small and well contained at the start, look at the picture at the top of this page, flat seas. Katrina was huge, and the damage to NO largely preventable.

    Now I don’t blame Obama any more than I blame Bush for Katrina, they are only the president, there is only so much they can do, they are not king nor God, but uninformed and pissed off voters don’t know that.

  23. NorthernLite Says:

    I think Obama will take a hit for this, and he should. He campaigned heavily on being more competent and environmentally friendly than the previous administration and so far I don’t see either. He seemed really slow to respond to this and had a very hands off approach for the first 30 days. Whether that’s fair assessment or not I really don’t give a damn at this point.

  24. leftbehind Says:


    “…what they said…”

  25. shcb Says:

    I don’t agree with James C very often but he hit it on the head on this one.

  26. NorthernLite Says:

    And now they’re reporting up here that the oil is going to make it’s way to our East Coast. This is the poorest area of our country and tourism and fishing is all they have.

  27. knarlyknight Says:

    NL – it won’t get to Eastern Canada. North Carolina spawnibg grounds may be affected bad, but before it gets to Canada it’ll evaporate, sink, disperse, etc. and basically get eaten up by the mighty Atlantic. Nature might not be able to deal with a slick near the site of the oil gushing out of a 20 inch diameter pipe, and won’t be able to deal with it for a few hundred miles from the source until a few decades have passed, and even a thousand miles the spill will have devastation for a few years, but over the 4 thousand miles it would need to drift up to Canada, it’ll be unnoticeable to all but the most sensitive instruments and lifeforms. Despite the computer simulations based on hypothetical release of dyes … http://www2.ucar.edu/news/ocean-currents-likely-to-carry-oil-spill-along-atlantic-coast

  28. knarlyknight Says:

    This is good: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-ostertag/causes-and-consequences-o_b_599257.html

  29. shcb Says:

    That was really good, I actually read the whole thing. I disagree with him on a few items; he seems to think that the more complex the system is the more prone to failure it is, this is true to an extent, the more parts, the more chances for failure, but over simplification can be worse. When you layer systems on top of systems you are usually not reducing the risk of failure, although sometimes you are, usually you are using those systems to mitigate damage when the system below it does fail. In many cases you can use monitoring systems to shut down the initial system with a backup system, shutting down the first system in a controlled manner, battery backup systems for computers comes to mind.

    The trick is to do it properly, in this case it seems the one system they are missing is the predrilling of the hole they are now drilling. The rig would have failed, people would have died, oil would have spilled, but presumably it would have been able to be relieved in a matter of days, so yes we would still have a big oil spill, but not a huge spill of biblical proportions.

  30. NorthernLite Says:

    knarly, It appears you’re right and that most simulations show it won’t reach our East Coast. Which is very good news for those folks.

  31. knarlyknight Says:


    Indeed, they have enough to worry about in trying to bring the cod stocks back and praying another disaster doesn’t happen while drilling deep sea wells in far more challenging waters than the Gulf of Mexico.

    The flip side is that just because the oil is getting eaten by the Atlantic, that does not mean that everything is coming up roses. The oil is sickening the ecosystems wherever it goes, but by far the greater tragedy is the biological magnification of the industrial solvents (aka poisons) such as Corexit that were (still are?) being sprayed in vast quantities over the slick in the Gulf. This is one big science experiment except without any real observers and nothing to tie the health damages in people and animals 1, 2, 5, 10 or 25 years from now to this “experiment”. In other words it is stupid and insane. I’m not being arrogant, all the info is there, BP wants the oil to sink and mix in with lower levels of the ocean so it is out of sight and so they can save on clean-up costs. No-one is effectively sticking up for the subsurface biosphere and in the end the poisons and death will affect the surface as well. As they teach in grade 1, it’s all connected.

  32. knarlyknight Says:

    Coincidence or any connection to widespread spraying of record amounts of industrial solvents over the Gulf of Mexico? Were winds from the south or SE over the past 40 days?


  33. NorthernLite Says:

    Dolphin carcases, hundreds of millions of destroyed fish eggs, dead wildlife everywhere but don’t worry… “they’re in control.”

    Did you guys see that video comparing “Baghdad Bob” (the old Iraqi Information Minister” to the BP execs? It was on Olberman last night and I’m trying to track it down but no luck yet. It’s hilarious.

  34. knarlyknight Says:

    NL, the BP execs should be subjected to a firing squad and then given a fair trial. shcb was right, this was Obama’s Katrina – but the difference is that Obama did not create the Hurricane for Bush, and Bush pretty much set up the BP disaster for Obama. I am not shifting blame here, there is sufficient blame in this disaster to fry both Bush and Obama and their administrations. The whole mess simply highlights the utter failure of the American system of governance; and how badly it lies to you. Seriously.

    shcb, before responding, do yourself a favour and read this artile thoroughly, concentrating on grasping the full spectrum of how deregulation generally in the early Bush years and neutering of the Minerals Management Service specifically, set up the circumstances where this disaster became a near certainty which was then mismanaged by Obama, rather than pulling out snippets for your petty partisan snarks.


    Enk – You were right, it’s going to take a long time to clean up Bush’s “legacy”. I do not think Obama is capable of fixing your problems, but sadly there is no-one more capable of doing so on the horizon. Maaybe it is time to e-think who owns and runs America? – because from here it is clear it is not the citizenry.

  35. knarlyknight Says:


  36. shcb Says:


    Without reading the article and without defending any previous administration, the Obama administration has had two years and both houses to change anything that Bush did wrong.

  37. NorthernLite Says:

    BP Bob:


  38. knarlyknight Says:

    shcb, you’re so frickin brilliant it’s scary. It’s absolutely amazing the way you come up with these facts. But just so you know, there is a whole lot more damnation due to Obama (and Bush) than that. Do yourself a favour and read the article next time before commenting on it so you don’t come off looking like such a brilliant dolt.

  39. shcb Says:

    That was my bad, I didn’t read what you said close enough and the article won’t open on my computer at work, it is so flippin old. Sorry about that, I pulled an Enky and just skimmed a few key words off your comment and ran with it.

  40. shcb Says:

    Doesn’t look like Salizar read the whole thing either, of course my not reading it well wasn’t going to put thousands of people out of work.


    Ken is a nice enough guy but come on, claiming something was “peer reviewed” after you added a couple paragraphs isn’t very smart. This whole peer reviewed process is getting a bad rap lately isn’t it.

  41. knarlyknight Says:


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