Wednesday, July 7, 2010

All Of Those Leaky Offshore Oil Wells

Well this is just peachy. AP has discovered the Gulf of Mexico is littered with over 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells, some dating back to the 1940s. None are being monitored to determine if they are leaking which, considering the age of some of these wells, they undoubtedly are.

I wrote about one such well three weeks ago. Taylor Energy’s Ocean Saratoga rig has been leaking 10 miles off the Louisiana coast since Hurricane Ivan hit back in 2004! (Remember when John McCain said hurricanes don’t affect offshore oil rigs? Yeah, me too.)

The Ocean Saratoga leak has been small -- an estimated 14 gallons a day -- but over six years it’s created a 10-mile-long oil slick captured on satellite. Worse, Taylor Energy says they’ve been working all this time to plug the leak. Okay, I’m going to call bullshit on that. Six years, people? You can’t stop a small oil leak after six years? If that’s the case, then things look pretty dim for BP's gusher. Excuse me for saying this, but I don't think the folks at Taylor Energy are trying very hard.

Anyway, I’m not surprised that the AP has uncovered leaky oil and gas wells going back decades. I’m not surprised that this is suddenly a news story. But I am surprised that people in the industry whose business it is to know about such things have basically kept quiet about it. I’m disturbed that the Interior Dept. has not conducted inspections, nor did it mandate that the oil industry do so. I'm tired of us ignoring things until a major disaster occurs, at which point we pass some legislation which inevitably is ignored.

I’m not surprised, but I’m very, very bothered by this:
Regulations for temporarily abandoned wells require oil companies to present plans to reuse or permanently plug such wells within a year, but the AP found that the rule is routinely circumvented, and that more than 1,000 wells have lingered in that unfinished condition for more than a decade. About three-quarters of temporarily abandoned wells have been left in that status for more than a year, and many since the 1950s and 1960s — even though sealing procedures for temporary abandonment are not as stringent as those for permanent closures.

As a forceful reminder of the potential harm, the well beneath BP's Deepwater Horizon rig was being sealed with cement for temporary abandonment when it blew April 20, leading to one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation's history. BP alone has abandoned about 600 wells in the Gulf, according to government data.

(Before we go any further, let me say the very first thing on the agenda for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation & Enforcement (formerly MMS) should be an immediate and thorough assessment of all abandoned oil wells.)

There seems to be a pattern here. After the Kingston coal sludge disaster, we learned about more leaky TVA coal sludge ponds. But what was done about it?

The EPA has spent the past year assessing coal ash containment facilities. Last month they announced two options for dealing with coal ash, one regulating it as “special waste” and one treating it as “non-hazardous” which means basically keeping things exactly the way they are:

The EPA itself admits that under its weaker option, many states will not adopt strict federal guidelines and that approximately 50% of the coal ash generated in the U.S. will continue to be managed under state programs that do not require basic disposal safeguards.

I wonder which option the coal industry and electrical utilities support?

It cannot be stated often enough or loudly enough: there is a cost to our inaction and denial. We simply can no longer afford to put the needs of the energy industry above the needs of everyone and everything else. We can no longer tolerate one industry riding roughshod over everyone and everything else.

We cannot allow Big Oil and King Coal to dictate the health of the water we drink and the air we breathe, to destroy an entire fishing industry for which we have no alternative. Oil and coal are important to our economy right now, that’s a fact of life. But they are transient. Guess what: we have alternatives to oil and coal. We don't have alternatives for clean air and water.

My message to Big Oil and Big Coal is a simple one: you’re selfish, greedy and irresponsible. Sorry guys, but you know it's true. You're important, but we do have alternatives. On top of which, your business depends on a finite resource. God stopped making dinosaurs a few million years ago. So if you want to keep playing on our playground, quit being bullies.

Learn to share.