Weekly Mulch: Vermilion 380 Explosion Reignites Drilling Fears

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

On Thursday, a manageable explosion on a Gulf Coast oil rig reignited fears founded by the BP spill and revived calls for a reassessment of the country’s drilling policies.

Just before 9 a.m. Thursday morning, the Vermilion Oil Rig 380 exploded. Unlike the Deepwater Horizon rig, this one was located in shallow waters. By late afternoon, a sheen of oil had been spotted, spreading a mile long from the burning rig; but by Friday morning the Coast Guard was saying the that was a mistake—there was no sheen.

Mariner Energy, the company that owns the well, said the fire burned off the oil used to power the well and was out by 3 p.m. The rig had seven actively producing oil wells, but they were quickly shut off after the fire began.

Media coverage and the spill

After more than four months of worry over the BP oil spill, the entire political apparatus—politicians and journalists, activists and lobbyists—shot into action at the news of the fire.

In April, when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the media was slow to realize how serious a disaster the explosion represented. (The Mulch was as guilty as anyone else: the rig exploded April 20, but on April 23, this column featured the Cochabamba climate conference.) BP’s initial estimates of the spill’s volume, later increased by thousands of barrels per day, encouraged this impression.

On Thursday, however, the Vermilion story topped the agenda. Groups like the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity blasted out reactions, and as Andrew Restuccia reported at The Washington Independent, drilling opponents like Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) seized on the incident to push their legislative agenda.

“As the U.S. Coast Guard responds to this latest incident, we must redouble our efforts to accelerate the push for clean, renewable energy and end our nation’s dependence on oil,” Lautenberg said, in a statement.

Ticking time bombs in the Gulf

It looks like this explosion, unlike the one at BP’s Macondo well, will not extract a lasting price from the Gulf. That doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Like the BP explosion, the Mariner incident shows the systemic risk that drilling requires. The system would benefit from better regulation and oversight.

Consider this image, from Mother Jones, that shows 33,000 miles of pipeline, 50,000 wells, and thousands of abandoned rigs.

At Earth Island Journal, Jason Marks puts Thursday’s explosion into perspective. “Sure, this incident is frightening, and in that sense it’s newsworthy,” he writes. “But the fact is that fires, explosions, spills, and blowouts aren’t all that uncommon in the Gulf’s industrial archipelago…accidents happen all the time in the ocean oil fields.”

Oil on the mainland

The ocean isn’t the only place where the industry presents a danger, either. Grist’s Jonathan Hiskesflags a recent spill in North Dakota totaling more than 1,000 barrels of oil. And the Michigan Messenger has been reporting for more than a month on the fall-out from a significant pipeline spill in that state.

It’s notable, however, that incidents like these aren’t getting as much attention as Thursday’s non-spill. They represent real environmental disasters for the communities affected, but because they’re more than 100 miles from BP’s well, their problems don’t raise the same fears.

Follow through

Politicians like Lautenberg who want to clamp down on drilling would do well to keep playing off of those fears, however. By the time Congress was ready to respond to the BP incident, stories about the spill had become so routine as to be easily tuned out. Even if the Mariner explosion has a minimal environmental impact, the specter of Deepwater Horizon could breath new life into legislative efforts to limit drilling.

“The best outcome would be that the only lasting impact is political,” writes Change.org’s Jess Leber. “Let this incident— “accident” already seems too light —be more than just a reminder that the existing deep water moratorium needs to be in place longer….It should tell our elected officials they need to stop listening to inflated claims by the oil industry, and start looking at the evidence right before their eyes. All offshore drilling, in all its forms, needs to be re-examined at minimum.”

Should Obama lift the drilling moratorium?

The Obama administration has been making noise about lifting the drilling moratorium early, but perhaps this new incident will push the White House to reconsider. Over the past few months, president has had terrible timing vis-à-vis drilling: as soon as he made it a keystone of a compromise on the Senate’s energy bill, the BP spill happened. Now, just as his team has started making noise about lifting the ban, this explosion triggers memories about how bad the BP spill really was.

What if this explosion had triggered another oil spill? A temporary moratorium on new deep water drilling is not enough to make the entire endeavors of oil extraction a safe one. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard puts a fine point on it:

The moratorium was put in place so regulators could evaluate whether offshore drilling can be done safely. And despite the outcry from the industry, the moratorium is only temporary (six months), and it’s only on new exploratory operations. It doesn’t even touch the existing deep water platforms, or drilling in shallow waters. If anything, today’s news should be an indicator that we need to take the time to evaluate all offshore operations.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Edward James Olmos on the Definition of "Insanity"

Yesterday, the NRDC Action Fund launched a campaign featuring a powerful new ad by renowned environmental activist and celebrated actor, Edward James Olmos. In the video, which you can view here, Olmos explains what makes people - himself included - "locos" when it comes to U.S. energy and environmental policy. Now, as the Senate moves towards a possible debate on energy and climate legislation, we need to let everyone hear Olmos' message.

Hi, I'm Edward James Olmos. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I guess that's what makes Americans "locos." We keep yelling "drill baby drill" and expecting things to turn out ok. But the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is nothing new. The oil industry has been poisoning our oceans and wilderness for decades. It's time to regain our sanity. America doesn't want more oil disasters. We need safe, clean and renewable energy now. Think about it.

Sadly, Olmos' definition of "insanity" is exactly what we've been doing for decades in this country -- maintaining policies that keep us "addicted" to fossil fuels instead of moving towards a clean, prosperous, and sustainable economy.

As we all know, dirty, outdated energy sources have caused serious harm to our economy, to our national security, and of course - as the horrible Gulf oil disaster illustrates - to our environment. In 2008 alone, the U.S. spent nearly $400 billion, about half the entire U.S. trade deficit, importing foreign oil. Even worse, much of that $400 billion went to countries (and non-state actors) that don't have our best interests at heart.

As if all that's not bad enough, our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels also has resulted in tremendous environmental devastation, ranging from melting polar ice caps to record heat waves to oil-covered pelicans and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.

As Edward James Olmos says, it's enough to drive us all "locos."

Fortunately, there's a better way.

If you believe, as we passionately do, that it's time to kick our addiction to the dirty fuels of the past, then please help us get that message out there. Help us air Edward James Olmos' ad on TV in states with U.S. Senators who we believe can be persuaded to vote for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. If we can convince our politicians to do their jobs and to pass comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation this year, we will be on a path to a brighter, healthier future.

Thank you for your support.

NRDC Action Fund

 

 

Joe Barton funneling oil money to Republican candidates

Howie Klein wrote a must-read post at Down With Tyranny! about "a shady outfit called the Texas Freedom Fund":

If you've been following the news lately, you couldn't possibly have missed the dustup over Congress' most oily member, Joe Barton (R-TX). Turns out he's the sole owner of the Texas Freedom Fund and he uses it to funnel vast sums of cash from Big Oil executives and lobbyists into competitive campaigns around the country, particularly into campaigns where filthy oil money might prove embarrassing to the recipients. Now, keep in mind that Barton has taken more money from Big Oil than any other member of the House-- by far: $1,447,880, so far. And after his performance last week, apologizing to B.P. for being made to clean up their mess in the Gulf, there's every reason to believe that his own personal gusher will keep flowing strongly. As the Ranking Member of the House Energy Committee he is in a position to make sure the Oil Industry's agenda becomes official policy.

Click here to view a list of Republican members of Congress and Congressional candidates who have taken money from the Texas Freedom Fund this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data. State bloggers should take a look and spread the word if Republicans in their area are taking oil money via Barton. British Petroleum's approval rating could hardly be lower, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Joe Barton funneling oil money to Republican candidates

Howie Klein wrote a must-read post at Down With Tyranny! about "a shady outfit called the Texas Freedom Fund":

If you've been following the news lately, you couldn't possibly have missed the dustup over Congress' most oily member, Joe Barton (R-TX). Turns out he's the sole owner of the Texas Freedom Fund and he uses it to funnel vast sums of cash from Big Oil executives and lobbyists into competitive campaigns around the country, particularly into campaigns where filthy oil money might prove embarrassing to the recipients. Now, keep in mind that Barton has taken more money from Big Oil than any other member of the House-- by far: $1,447,880, so far. And after his performance last week, apologizing to B.P. for being made to clean up their mess in the Gulf, there's every reason to believe that his own personal gusher will keep flowing strongly. As the Ranking Member of the House Energy Committee he is in a position to make sure the Oil Industry's agenda becomes official policy.

Click here to view a list of Republican members of Congress and Congressional candidates who have taken money from the Texas Freedom Fund this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data. State bloggers should take a look and spread the word if Republicans in their area are taking oil money via Barton. British Petroleum's approval rating could hardly be lower, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Joe Barton funneling oil money to Republican candidates

Howie Klein wrote a must-read post at Down With Tyranny! about "a shady outfit called the Texas Freedom Fund":

If you've been following the news lately, you couldn't possibly have missed the dustup over Congress' most oily member, Joe Barton (R-TX). Turns out he's the sole owner of the Texas Freedom Fund and he uses it to funnel vast sums of cash from Big Oil executives and lobbyists into competitive campaigns around the country, particularly into campaigns where filthy oil money might prove embarrassing to the recipients. Now, keep in mind that Barton has taken more money from Big Oil than any other member of the House-- by far: $1,447,880, so far. And after his performance last week, apologizing to B.P. for being made to clean up their mess in the Gulf, there's every reason to believe that his own personal gusher will keep flowing strongly. As the Ranking Member of the House Energy Committee he is in a position to make sure the Oil Industry's agenda becomes official policy.

Click here to view a list of Republican members of Congress and Congressional candidates who have taken money from the Texas Freedom Fund this cycle, according to Federal Election Commission data. State bloggers should take a look and spread the word if Republicans in their area are taking oil money via Barton. British Petroleum's approval rating could hardly be lower, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

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