Sunday, May 30, 2010

What the Federal Government Should Have Done About the Oil Spil

Republicans are pointing out that this oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is President Obama's "Katrina." And the comparison is apt (except Republicans also say that Bush and the Federal Government didn't do anything wrong in their reaction to the floodig of New Orleans.)

The difference is that New Orleans belongs to the state of Louisiana, and thus the local officials had jurisdiction over what was happening in that city. It was their failure that response was delayed, really. (Although, if the Army Corps of Engineers had done their job and ensured that the levies were in proper working order, the whole disaster need never have occurred in the first place.)

With the Deep Water Horizon oil spill, its a diffrent matter entirely. The rig was miles and miles out in the Gulf - which made it federal jurisdiction from the beginning. The government didn't have to wait for local politicians to call them and ask for help - it was their responsbility from the beginning to prevent the oil from that spill from reaching the coast of the United States. [Ironically, on the other hand, the States had to submit requests to the Federal government on how to do their own work to prevent the encroaching oil, and at least as far as Bobby Jindal's Louisiana is concerned, they asked for permission and were stoned-walled for several days - recieving neither a yes or no, therefore essentially a no.

And now the oil has reached the shore.

What could Obama have done? Why, make sure that a plan from 1994, laid out to handle just this type of emergency, was implemented.

Despite plan, not a single fire boom on hand on Gulf Coast at time of oil spill
If U.S. officials had followed up on a 1994 response plan for a major Gulf oil spill, it is possible that the spill could have been kept under control and far from land.

The problem: The federal government did not have a single fire boom on hand.

View full size(AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 1st Class Justin Sawyer)This April 28, 2010 image made from video released by the Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command, shows an in situ burn in the Gulf of Mexico, in response to the oil spill after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon. The "In-Situ Burn" plan produced by federal agencies in 1994 calls for responding to a major oil spill in the Gulf with the immediate use of fire booms.

But in order to conduct a successful test burn eight days after the Deepwater Horizon well began releasing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf, officials had to purchase one from a company in Illinois.

When federal officials called, Elastec/American Marine, shipped the only boom it had in stock, Jeff Bohleber, chief financial officer for Elastec, said today.

At federal officials' behest, the company began calling customers in other countries and asking if the U.S. government could borrow their fire booms for a few days, he said.

A single fire boom being towed by two boats can burn up to 1,800 barrels of oil an hour, Bohleber said. That translates to 75,000 gallons an hour, raising the possibility that the spill could have been contained at the accident scene 100 miles from shore.

"They said this was the tool of last resort. No, this is absolutely the asset of first use. Get in there and start burning oil before the spill gets out of hand," Bohleber said. "If they had six or seven of these systems in place when this happened and got out there and started burning, it would have significantly lessened the amount of oil that got loose."

In the days after the rig sank, U.S Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said the government had all the assets it needed. She did not discuss why officials waited more than a week to conduct a test burn. (Watch video footage of the test burn.)

At the time, former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oil spill response coordinator Ron Gouguet -- who helped craft the 1994 plan -- told the Press-Register that officials had pre-approval for burning. "The whole reason the plan was created was so we could pull the trigger right away."

Gouguet speculated that burning could have captured 95 percent of the oil as it spilled from the well.

Bohleber said that his company was bringing several fire booms from South America, and he believed the National Response Center discovered that it had one in storage.

Each boom costs a few hundred thousand dollars, Bohleber said, declining to give a specific price.

Made of flame-retardant fabric, each boom has two pumps that push water through its 500-foot length. Two boats tow the U-shaped boom through an oil slick, gathering up about 75,000 gallons of oil at a time. That oil is dragged away from the larger spill, ignited and burns within an hour, he said.

The boom can be used as long as waves are below 3 feet, Bohleber said.

"Because of the complexity of the system and the obvious longer production time to build them, the emphasis is on obtaining and gathering the systems," he said.

Bohleber said his company has conducted numerous tests with the Coast Guard since 1993, and it is now training crews on the use of the boom so workers will be ready when they arrive.

"We're arranging for six to be shipped in. We keep running into delays. Hopefully, they will be here by Wednesday to be available for use on Thursday. Bear in mind, two days ago, we thought they would be here today."

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