Since the April 20 blowout and explosion in the Gulf of Mexico began and set in motion the growing environmental disaster, "27 new offshore drilling projects have been approved by the Mineral Management Service (MMS) the regulatory agency responsible for overseeing extraction of oil, gas, and other minerals," the London Guardian reported Sunday.[1]  --  This news was revealed on Friday by the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Arizon, which also reported that under the Interior Department's announced moratorium on new drilling projects, the MMS's consideration of environmental exemptions and drilling plans has in fact "not been halted.  Salazar is allowing . . . flawed drilling approvals to proceed and is only halting the issuance of a last technical check off that does not involve any environmental review."[2]  --  CBD posted a link to an 80-page document approving on May 6, 2010 drilling in Blocks 728 and 732 of the Green Canyon Area, near the center of the Gulf of Mexico, as well as a table showing that the approval uses the same or similar language as the 272 Mississippi Canyon Area approval.  --  BACKGROUND: The Center for Biological Diversity has opened a new website devoted to what it is calling the "Gulf Disaster."[2]  --  This site includes a link to a site where one can (with the Google Earth Plugin) compare the size of the oil slick to the size of one's city, the NOAA's page on the what it is calling the "Deepwater Horizon Incident."  --  CBD notes that "The Gulf of Mexico has by far the largest, best-equipped, most experienced oil spill-containment system in the nation.  It has hundreds of experienced volunteer fishing boats at its disposal.  The water is warm year round and relatively calm except in hurricane season.  Wildlife rehab and cleanup crews have access to a road system in close proximity to much of the shoreline.  Yet with all these advantages, the government and the oil industry are unable to contain the spill.   Imagine what would happen if a similar spill occurred in the Arctic -- 140 miles from land.  In subzero temperatures.  With miles of sea ice to hack through, ship-killing icebergs in all directions, and darkness for 20 hours a day in the winter." ...



Deepwater Horizon oil spill


By Suzanne Goldenberg

** Charges that ecological review waived on 26 new offshore drilling projects come as latest attempt to seal well fail **

Guardian (London)
May 9, 2010

The Obama administration waived environmental reviews for 26 new offshore drilling projects even as the BP oil disaster spewed hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, environmental activists said today.

The charge came as hopes for a quick fix to the Deepwater Horizon spill were dashed when a build-up of crystallized gas blocked pipes in a huge metal containment box that had been built to cap the well.  Engineers are now considering a "junk shot," shooting a mix of débris -- including shredded tires and golf balls -- into the well at high pressure to clog it, said Thad Allen, a U.S. coast guard commander.

With the spill still unchecked and spreading to Alabama's beaches, there was renewed focus on oversight procedures that allowed BP and Transocean to drill without backup plans in place.

The Center for Biological Diversity said that even after the disaster, the Obama administration did not tighten its oversight of offshore drilling.  An investigation by the respected environmental group revealed that since 20 April, when an explosion the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers, 27 new offshore drilling projects have been approved by the Mineral Management Service (MMS) the regulatory agency responsible for overseeing extraction of oil, gas, and other minerals.

All but one project was granted similar exemptions from environmental review as BP.  Two were submitted by the U.K. firm, and made the same claims about oil-rig safety and the implausibility of a spill damaging the environment, the center said.

"This oil spill has had absolutely no effect on MMS behavior at all," said Kieran Suckling, the director of the center.  "It's still business as usual which means rubber stamping oil drilling permits with no environmental review."

The charges were the latest in a string of revelations about lax oversight of offshore drilling that, while dating back to the George Bush era, have also damaged the Obama White House.  "I don't know where the regulators were on this.  They certainly were asleep," Richard Shelby, a Republican senator from Alabama, told CNN today.  "This reminds me of a big truck speeding along the Los Angeles freeway with no brakes."

With the Deepwater wellhead pumping 795,000 liters (210,000 gallons) of oil into the sea each day, authorities sought to stop its spread to the Alabama coastline.

Allen said a gate was being built to protect the port of Mobile, but owing to the unpredictability of winds and currents he said the entire region should remain on alert.  "The entire Gulf pretty much has to be on guard," he told CBS television.

BP crews were forced on yesterday to abandon their efforts to put a box over the leak after a combination of ice crystals, high pressure, and low temperatures made the 100-ton contraption too buoyant.

It was unclear whether BP would make a new attempt.  "I wouldn't say it has failed yet," Doug Suttles, the firm's chief operating officer, told reporters.  But Allen said BP was now looking at sealing the well with the junk shot.

The latest failure to seal the wellhead has deepened fears about the economic and environmental impact of the spill, which is on course to surpass the Exxon Valdez disaster.

"What it means is that we are most likely looking at one of the worst case scenarios," said Jacqueline Savitz, a scientist for the Oceana conservation group.  "The longer it gushes, and the more oil it spews, the more animals are going to be affected."

The prospect of oil continuing to gush until BP manages to drill a relief well in two or three months time has intensified concerns among those states now on the spill's trajectory.

Florida's Democratic senator, Bill Nelson, said the spill threatened his state's fishing and tourism industries and even its military bases.  "You are talking about massive economic losses," he told CNN.

Environmental and safety procedures on the Deepwater Horizon rig will come under even greater scrutiny this week as multiple investigations into the disaster get underway.  In Louisiana, the coast guard and the MMS will start their inquiries with two days of public hearings.

The Justice Department is also conducting an investigation into the spill and has not ruled out criminal charges.  "I've sent down representatives from the Justice Department to examine what our options are with regard to the activities that occurred there and whether or not there has been malfeasance on the part of BP or Transocean," Eric Holder, the U.S. attorney general, told ABC television.

Three separate congressional committees will also take a close look at offshore drilling and the disaster this week, with testimony from the executives of BP America, Transocean, the company which owned the sunken rig, and Halliburton, which made the cement cap on the well, whose failure set the disaster in motion.

BP's initial investigations suggest the blast was caused by a bubble of methane gas that shot up through the drill column and broke several protective seals and barriers, the Associated Press reported.

With oil still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico nearly three weeks after the initial explosion, the continuing catastrophe saw commentators from Al Gore to Fidel Castro weighing in at the weekend.

The Cuban leader, in a piece in the local media, said the spill was further evidence of corporate. [sic]

"The ecological disaster which occurred in the Gulf of Mexico shows how little can governments do against those who control financial capital," he wrote, adding "The hateful tyranny imposed on the world." [sic]


For immediate release, May 7, 2010

Contact: Kierán Suckling, (520) 274-5960


** 26 Were Exempted from Environmental Review, Including Two to BP **

** Salazar's "Moratoriaum" on New Drilling Permits Allows Continuation of the Same Flawed Environmental Exemption Process That Allowed the BP Catastrophe **

Center for Biological Diversity
May 7, 2010

TUCSON, Ariz.-- Even as the BP drilling explosion which killed eleven people continues to gush hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil per day into the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) has continued to exempt dangerous new drilling operations from environmental review.  Twenty-seven new offshore drilling projects have been approved since April 20, 2010, twenty-six under the same environmental review exemption used to approve the disastrous BP drilling that is fouling the Gulf and its wildlife.

“The MMS has learned absolutely nothing from this national catastrophe,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.  “It is still illegally exempting dangerous offshore drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico from all environmental review.  It is outrageous and unacceptable.”

The MMS became embroiled in controversy when it was revealed on May 5, 2010, that it exempted BP’s offshore drilling plan from environmental review by using a loophole in the National Environmental Policy Act meant only to apply to projects with no, or minimal, negative effects such as construction of outhouse and hiking trails.  The controversy deepened when it was revealed that MMS exempts hundreds of dangerous offshore oil drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico every year.

Two of the newly approved -- and environmentally exempted -- drilling operations were awarded to BP, despite the fact that the new plans are based on the exact same false assertions about oil rig safety and the improbability of environmental damage even [if an] oil spill occurs:

BP drilling plan approved April 6, 2010 (this is the one that exploded):  "2.7 Blowout Scenario -- A scenario for a potential blowout of the well from which BP would expect to have the highest volume of liquid hydrocarbons is not required for the operations proposed in this EP.”

BP drilling plan approved May 5, 2010:  "II.J. Blowout Scenario -- Information not required for activities proposed in this Initial Exploration Plan."

(See table below for further comparison [see original link]).

“It is inconceivable that MMS could look out its window at what is likely the worst oil spill in American history, then rubber stamp new BP drilling permits based on BP’s patently false statements that an oil spill cannot occur and would not be dangerous if it did.  Heads need to start rolling at MMS.”

In response to the environmental exemption scandal, embattled Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced yesterday that he had banned approval of new offshore oil drilling permits.  The public, of course, assumed he was halting the approval of drilling plans and environmental exemptions since they are the heart of the MMS scandal.  Today, however, the Interior Department acknowledged that environmental exemptions and drilling plans have not been halted.  Salazar is allowing those flawed drilling approvals to proceed and is only halting the issuance of a last technical check-off that does not involve any environmental review.

Under Salazar’s “moratorium,” the environmental review process will continue to be completely undermined in the exact same manner as in the BP oil spill.

“Salazar is playing a cynical shell game, making the public think he stopped issuing the faulty approvals that allowed the disastrous BP drilling to occur, when in fact he has given MMS the green light to keep issuing those very same approvals,” said Suckling.  “The only thing Salazar has stopped is the final, technical check-off which comes long after the environmental review.  His media sleight of hand does nothing to fix the broken system that allowed what may be the greatest environmental catastrophe of our generation to occur.”

“For Secretary Salazar to allow MMS to exempt 26 new oil wells from environmental review in the midst of the ongoing Gulf crisis shows an extraordinary lapse of judgment.  It is inconceivable that his attention is apparently on providing BP with new environmentally exempted offshore oil wells instead of shutting down the corrupt process which put billion of dollars into BP’s pocket and millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.”