Blue Marble - June 2010

EPA Releases Dispersant Test Results

| Wed Jun. 30, 2010 1:45 PM EDT

The EPA just released the first round of results from its ongoing testing of dispersants. The agency has been studying at the short- and long-term impacts of Corexit, the type of dispersant BP has been using in massive quantities in the Gulf, and seven alternative products. Here's the agency's conclusion:

EPA’s results indicated that none of the eight dispersants tested, including the product in use in the Gulf, displayed biologically significant endocrine disrupting activity. While the dispersant products alone—not mixed with oil—have roughly the same impact on aquatic life, JD-2000 and Corexit 9500 were generally less toxic to small fish and JD-2000 and SAF-RON GOLD were least toxic to mysid shrimp.

The release includes this key caveat, however: "While this is important information to have, additional testing is needed to further inform the use of dispersants." This is only the "first stage" of testing, the agency said.

The agency also upheld their directive last month that BP reduce the use of dispersants in the Gulf, noting that "EPA believes BP should use as little dispersant as necessary." (BP has not been meeting the agency's goals, however.)

"We want to ensure that every tool is available to mitigate the impact of the BP spill and protect our fragile wetlands," said EPA administrator Lisa Jackson in a statement. "But we continue to direct BP to use dispersants responsibly and in as limited an amount as possible."

The next phase of EPA's testing will assess the acute toxicity of multiple concentrations of Louisiana Sweet Crude Oil alone and in combinations with each of the eight dispersants.

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Elena Kagan Talks Environment

| Wed Jun. 30, 2010 11:15 AM EDT

At yesterday's confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) brought up the question of whether citizens should have the right to sue for damage to the environment.

This has been the subject of some debate. There are those who argue that citizens don't have the constitutional standing to bring such cases because they can't prove they've been directly harmed by problems like global warming, the elimination of a species, or air or water pollution. Kagan affirmed that she believes citizens do have this right. Here's the video of the exchange:

Enviro Links: Climate Flop at White House, Cities Getting Hotter, and More

| Wed Jun. 30, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

Today in climate news:

In yesterday's White House energy and climate summit, President Obama apparently called for a carbon cap in comprehensive legislation. Democrats offered to scale back plans, with John Kerry remarking, "We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further."

But Republicans rejected the entreaty, bashing it as an "energy tax." Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) says that the climate bill looks even less likely to pass now. So, yesterday was basically just another day in Washington.

Meanwhile, the planet is still getting warmer, and those cities that are already hot cities are just going to get hotter. That includes Washington, D.C. in fact, in case you're paying attention, senators.

In oil disaster news:

Turns out, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's ranting about the government response to the Gulf disaster is mostly off base.

Red tape and a slow approval process are preventing foreign skimmers from joining the clean-up effort in the Gulf, reports the Times-Picayune.

BP agreed to put up $500 million for academic research over the next 10 years, but since the White House directed BP to consult with Gulf Coast governors on allotting the funds, the money is all going to state universities.

The Project on Government Oversight wants to know why the entity formerly known as the Minerals Management Service (now the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) has not yet consulted with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on new oil rig safety guidelines.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) wants to end the royalty relief program for deepwater drilling.

Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharon Angle argues that the real problem in the US is that we're "over regulating" the oil and coal industries.

The Atlantic looks at five lessons we should take away from the oil disaster.

ProPublica finds a BP presentation form March on the company's "key sources of growth" beyond 2015. Number one was to expand deepwater drilling, which has worked out so well for them now.

In other environmental news:

Let us not forget that the late Sen. Robert Byrd was also a leading advocate for the humane treatment of animals.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has filed suit to force the Food and Drug Administration to ban bisphenol A in food packaging.

Photos From the Gulf

| Wed Jun. 30, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

At a TED conference in Washington, DC yesterday, a small band of photographers presented images they'd acquired during a week-long trip to the Gulf. Along with a journalist who blogged about the trip, the photographers found ways around BP's control of oiled beaches and the airspace over the Gulf. They captured aerial views of frothy crude and controlled burns, panoramic scenes of pelicans rising above oiled wetlands, and moving portraits of Gulf residents.

Click here for a slide show of some of their photos. You can find their full archive on flickr.

This post was produced by the Atlantic as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The Gulf of Oil from Space on Day 68

| Tue Jun. 29, 2010 12:52 PM EDT

Here's the shot from Earth orbit of the oil catastrophe off the Mississippi barrier islands on 27 June 2010. You can see a bigger image here. From the Earth Observatory explanation:

"As of June 27, 2010, the entire gulf-facing beachfront of several barrier islands in eastern Mississippi (offshore of Pascagoula) had received a designation of at least “lightly oiled” by the interagency Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team that is responding to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A few small stretches of Petit Bois Island had been labeled heavily or moderately oiled.

"This high-resolution image shows Petit Bois Island (top right) and the eastern end of Horn Island (top left) on June 26. In general, oil-covered waters are silvery and cleaner waters are blue-gray. This pattern is especially consistent farther from the islands. The intensely bright patches of water directly offshore of the barrier islands, however, may be from a combination of factors, including sediment and organic material, coastal currents and surf, and oil.

"The islands provide a sense of scale for the ribbons of oil swirling into the area from the south. Petit Bois Island is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) long. It is one of seven barrier islands that, along with some mainland areas of Mississippi and Florida, make up the Gulf Islands National Seashore. According to the National Park Service Gulf Islands National Seashore Website, all the islands remained open to the public as of June 28, 2010, and clean-up crews were on hand to respond to any oil coming ashore."

How Cocaine Works in the Addict's Brain

| Tue Jun. 29, 2010 12:00 PM EDT

For a long time scientists thought that drug addiction was distinctly human behavior. Then researchers discovered that rats can form addictions, too. Aside from being just one more reminder of how frighteningly similar we are to our lab companions, this finding offered scientists a chance to study how addiction actually works. Why is it that only some drug users spiral into addictive behavior? Is the addict's brain actually different? There was really only one way to find out: Give a bunch of rats some coke and see what happens.

In a study published in the June 25th edition of Science, a team of researchers attached laboratory rats to a device that allowed the rodents to self-administer doses of cocaine—a coke IV of sorts. After a month, the researchers began identifying which rats had become hooked on the drug by looking for the hallmark signs of addiction: difficulty stopping or limiting drug use; high motivation to continue use; and continued use despite negative consequences. Only 20 percent of the rats exhibited all three signs of addiction, while 40 percent exhibited none. The researchers were left to figure out what it was that made addiction-prone rats—and presumably people—different from the rest. Here's what they found.

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BP's Bad Science

| Tue Jun. 29, 2010 10:41 AM EDT

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) are pressuring BP to ditch a private contractor, the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH), that it hired to do public health response in the Gulf. The company, they say, has been "cited in a long line of controversial cases" in which it has botched data collection methods and supplied bad data. These bad test results, Capps and Welch say, have served to promote the "corporate interests" of CTEH's employers over the protection of public health.

One example of the "long pattern of tainted results" from the Arkansas-based consulting firm happened after a 2008 coal ash spill in Tennessee. Local community members and an EPA audit both caught CTEH using inaccurate monitoring procedures to survey air quality. The company was also caught using bad sampling techniques to evaluate soil contamination at a refinery spill in Chalmette, La. following Hurricane Katrina and to analyze hazardous Chinese drywall in Florida, as Energy & Environment reports.

In each of these cases, CTEH was alleged to be supplying the data that its employers wanted while falsely assuring the public that everything was OK. As Elizabeth Grossman reports, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has also been relying on monitoring data from CTEH. The company has been supplying data that finds that there are no risks of exposure to toxic chemicals for Gulf cleanup workers. But the company has been criticized for failing to provide federal health officials with their complete testing information.

"BP needs to fire CTEH and hire a firm without such a questionable track record," Capps said.

Enviro Links: White House Energy Huddle, Biden in the Gulf, and More

| Tue Jun. 29, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

Today in climate news:

Wondering what Sen. Robert Byrd's death means for a climate and energy bill? Here's a good exploration of the subject. The most important issue is who Gov. Joe Manchin (D) will appoint to finish out the rest of Byrd's term. Manchin, who last year named coal the state rock, is likely to pick someone in line with his own politics to hold the seat, and may well make a bid himself in 2012.

The climate and energy huddle with President Obama and a bipartisan group of 23 senators has been rescheduled for this morning. Dems reportedly on the invite list: Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Tom Carper (Del.), Maria Cantwell (Wash.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Harry Reid (Nev.), John Kerry (Mass.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.), Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.); Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.). Republicans: Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Olympia Snow (Maine), George Voinovich (Ohio), Richard Lugar (Ind.), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Judd Gregg (N.H.) and Susan Collins (Maine). Lindsey Graham (SC) was invited, but he says he's too busy to attend.

Still, most Republicans are not planning to endorse climate legislation this year, no way, no how.

ClimateWire reports that it is looking more likely that a final vote on an energy and climate package might come in a lame-duck session after the November elections.

Brad Johnson at Wonk Room says Majority Leader Harry Reid's plan to group climate and energy will call out the "climate peacocks"—the senators who voted to block the EPA from regulating climate change because they said they believe that it should be the job of Congress.

And in BP oil disaster news:

Tropical Storm Alex looks likely to become a hurricane. While it is not expected to hit the oil-slicked region of the Gulf, it may delay efforts to capture more oil from the gusher.

Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Louisiana and Florida today to survey oil disaster damage and response.

Oil has now hit Mississippi's beaches.

Best quote from the TEDxOilSpill Conference yesterday, from ecologist Carl Safina: "If you put the murderer in charge of the crime scene, they will try to hide the body."

Also at TEDx, Francis Beland, a VP at the XPrize Foundation, announced they will offer a $10 million prize for the best ideas about how to deal with the oil spill. Got a good idea? Email him: francis@xprize.org.

Not only do we need to worry about the polluted Gulf, but the level of pollutants in the air in the region is also raising red flags. Scientists aren't yet sure whether it's the oil, the dispersants, or a combination of the two that is causing the high levels of toxic chemicals in the air.

House Democrats bash other oil companies for their pitiful spill response planning, which looks suspiciously like BP's.

Wildlife rescuers are taking extraordinary measures to save turtle hatchlings from the oil disaster in the Gulf, the St. Petersburg Times reports. State and federal biologists plan to move 800 nests along Florida's Panhandle and the Alabama coast 500 miles to the east, possibly to a climate-controlled warehouse.

BP is now spending more than $100 million a day on containing and cleaning up the oil disaster.

US seafood suppliers are turning to Asian shrimpers to make up for the deficit due to the Gulf disaster.

And in other environmental news:

Old roof shingles are being used to pave roads.

Dengue fever is making a comeback in the United States.

Science of the Spill: 28 June 2010

| Mon Jun. 28, 2010 9:09 PM EDT

From this point on it this summer it becomes impossible to think about the oil catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico without talking about the weather.

  • First off, there are record-breaking high sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Gulf of Mexico right now. This map gives you a sense of just how hot those waters are compared to the Atlantic, Caribbean, or equatorial Pacific at the moment. (The map scale is in centigrade, convertible to Fahrenheit here.)
  • So the question naturally arises, are these record-breaking SSTs in any way related to the fact that oil is covering a large part of the surface waters of the Gulf? A lot of scarily high temperatures are coming in from NOAA's buoy #42040, 64 nautical miles south of Dauphin Island, Alabama. There's an interesting discussion of that at Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog. Are the sensors gummed with oil? Or is it really that hot? In regards to air temperatures, Ferrell writes:

"It's been fairly hot all over the Gulf States this monthnot including Texas there have been over 100 daily record highs reported so far in June. In the Florida Keys, it's the hottest first half of June in recorded history.

  • Whatever the fate of the instruments at the #42020 buoy, SSTs in much of the northern Gulf are above 84 degrees F already. In this high resolution NOAA-AMOL image, you can see how closely the hot water mirrors the oiled water.
  • Roy Spencer, a climate denier published by the überconservative Encounter Books, doesn't think the oil is contributing to the warmer waters of the Gulf. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. But Spencer also doesn't believe we have anything to fear from more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  • Jeff Masters at WunderBlog discusses whether the oil on the surface of the Gulf's waters might reduce evaporation enough to limit the growth-potential of a tropical storm system:

"Hurricanes are sustained by the heat liberated when water vapor that has evaporated from warm ocean waters condenses into rain. If one can reduce the amount of water evaporating from the ocean, a decrease in the hurricane's strength will result. Oil on the surface of the ocean will act to limit evaporation, and could potentially decrease the strength of a hurricane. However, if the oil is mixed away from the surface by the strong winds of a hurricane, the oil will have a very limited ability to reduce evaporation. According to a 2005 article in Popular Science magazine, Dr. Kerry Emanuel of MIT performed some tests in 2002 to see if oil on the surface of water could significantly reduce evaporation into a hurricane. He found that the slick quickly dissipated under high wind conditions that generated rough seas."

  • Masters writes this evening about the prospects for Tropical Storm Alex:

"Satellite loops show that Alex has a very large circulation covering about 2/3 of the Gulf of Mexico. We can expect that should Alex become a Category 2 or stronger hurricane, its storm surge will affect a much wider stretch of coast than Hurricane Dolly of 2008 did.

  • Whatever the effects of oil on the water, and whatever Alex's ultimate track path, it looks like there will be enough weather in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon gusher in the next few days to prevent BP from deploying its third oil containment rig.
  • And if you check out this water vapor image in the next 24 hours, you'll likely see a fairly energy intensive pulse of moisture coming off the west coast of Africa, en route to the Caribbean and maybe the Gulf, sometime in the next week or so, along a route known as Hurricane Alley.

 

 

Enviro Links: Moratorium Judge Ditches Energy Stocks, Alex Threatens Gulf, and More

| Mon Jun. 28, 2010 7:00 AM EDT

In BP oil disaster news:

Thousands of people around the United States gathered on their local beaches on Saturday for Hands Across the Sand, in protest of offshore drilling. In Florida, hundreds gathered on an oil-slicked strip of Pensacola Beach, including Gov. Charlie Crist.

Here are some heartbreaking images of those Pensacola beaches.

Martin Feldman, the federal court judge who blocked the Obama administration's moratorium on new offshore drilling sold off his stock in a number of energy companies, including his investments in Transocean. But he waited to sell his stock in ExxonMobil until just five hours before he ruled to overturn the six-month drilling pause.

The National Weather Service raised the classification of Alex, the season's first major Gulf storm, back up to a tropical storm on Sunday evening. While it does not appear likely to hit the oiled region of the Gulf at this point, the storm has raised anxieties about what a severe storm might mean for residents.

Nalco, the chemical company that makes the dispersant that BP has been using in unprecedented volumes in the Gulf, has hired some high-caliber lobbyists.

Shell's CEO doesn't think that the Gulf disaster will impact offshore drilling in the US.

Former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is still bashing Obama's oil spill response, and reporters are still dutifully writing about it.

In climate news:

President Obama's bipartisan meeting on energy policy has been rescheduled for Tuesday.

Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) says he doesn't see 60 votes for a climate bill in the Senate.

In a pleasant and surprising turn of events, on Sunday G20 nations agreed to remove the word "voluntary" from the pledge to cut fossil fuel subsidies that will be included in the final communiqué.

And in other environmental news:

Scientists have discovered that Jupiter has a very stinky moon.

An Alberta judge has found the oil company Syncrude Canada, the biggest producer in the tar sands, guilty in the deaths of 1,600 ducks. The ducks met their untimely end in 2008 after landing on a toxic pond.