Leaders stand behind quality and safety of La. seafoodAug 10th, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: top story
As well kill nears completion, attention begins to turn to recovery.
Reports began to surface Aug. 4: BP’s static kill procedure, aimed at injecting heavy drilling mud and cement into the top of the blown out well, was working as planned. The news came on day 107 of the disaster.
By Friday, the static kill was complete, with the flow of oil totally sealed off.
National Incident Commander Thad Allen, a retired Coast Guard admiral, though, remained steadfast throughout the week that the static kill, no matter how successful in stopping the flow of oil, was not the final solution. For Allen, the ultimate solution is the relief well.
“The static kill is not the end-all-be-all. It is a diagnostic test that will tell us a lot about the integrity of the casing and the well bore. It will tell us about the tolerance for volume and pressure,” Allen said. “But in the long run, drilling into the annulus and into the casing pipe from below, filling that with mud and then filling that with cement, is the only solution to the end of this.”
The so-called bottom kill by way of the relief well could begin late this week.
Feds release oil capture report
News of the encouraging progress at the wellhead last week came the same day the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) released a new study called the “Oil Budget Calculator,” which offered an estimate as to how much oil is still at sea.
The report estimates that about 4.9 million barrels, or 205 million gallons, of oil has been released into the Gulf of Mexico since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
Of that oil, “the vast majority of the oil from the BP spill has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed,” according to the report.
In total, NOAA and DOI found that about 33 percent of the oil released has been captured, burned or dispersed. Additionally, a quarter has naturally evaporated or dissolved, while another 16 percent has naturally dispersed, the report said.
The remaining 26 percent of the oil released by the blown out well – potentially 1.3 million barrels of oil – is “either on or just below the surface as residue and weathered tar balls, has washed ashore or been collected from the shore, or is buried in sand and sediments,” according to the report. Even if that is an accurate figure, the 1.3 million barrels remaining in the Gulf is still 1.7 times the Exxon Valdez spill amount.
“Less oil on the surface does not mean that there isn’t oil still in the water column or that our beaches and marshes aren’t still at risk,” Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, said last week. “Knowing generally what happened to the oil helps us better understand areas of risk and likely impacts.”
Plaquemines Parish leaders agree “mission accomplished” cannot yet be declared. With an estimated 26 percent of the spilled oil still lurking in the Gulf, and with four months of hurricane season left, leaders must remain watchful, Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said.
“It’s more clear to me now than ever, we can’t let our guard down now,” Nungesser said. “We’re in a fight for survival to retain enough assets.”
Throughout the New Orleans metropolitan area, leaders have feared that, when BP successfully seals the well, the company will begin drastically scaling back cleanup operations. Those same leaders are working to ensure that no cleanup equipment leaves the area without their knowledge.
Coastal Zone Management Director PJ Hahn said he’s not sold on the study’s findings.
“I love how that for three months they couldn’t tell you how much oil was coming out and, all of a sudden, they can tell you how much was collected,” said Hahn, “Do I think they collected 75 percent of the oil on top of the water? Sure, maybe that’s accurate. But it doesn’t begin to accound for what’s below the surface.”
“I think there’s a ton of oil still out there, and I know it’s below the surface,” he said.
Leaders press BP for seafood support
With less oil being reported both onshore and offshore, more fishing grounds are reopening around the state.
Late last month, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, in partnership with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, began restoring recreational and commercial fishing in state waters. July 29 brought a massive reopening of commercial fishing areas, with the exception of commercial harvest of crabs and oysters.
And though that’s a welcome development, it also is presenting some challenges for the industry. Many fishermen remain wary of fishing in waters that were potentially impacted by oil. The reopening of fishing grounds also brings renewed concern over the Louisiana seafood brand, which has received a black eye from the nationwide broadcast of oily waters and marshes.
Local elected leaders met in Venice Aug. 2 to push BP officials to approve a seafood marketing and testing plan designed to difuse those fears. The plan was first pitched to BP in late May. More than two months later, state leaders have received no firm response.
The 20 year, $457 million seafood testing and marketing plan would stringently test seafood caught in Louisiana waters and create a Louisiana seafood certification program. It would also fund a short-term and long-term consumer information campaign designed to reestablish the Louisiana brand.
“Given the size and magnitude of the Louisiana seafood industry, and given the generations of work that has been done to build the Louisiana brand, we believe the investment required is not insignificant,” Secretary of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Robert Barham wrote then-BP CEO Tony Hayward May 29.
Late last week, BP officials reportedly offered to pay for just two years of seafood testing. Nungesser said that’s not enough.
“That’s not acceptable,” Nungesser said. “We need a long term commitment.”
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal last week praised the reopening of recreational and commercial fishing in much of the state, but he added that, to secure the long term viability of the state’s fisheries, consumer confidence must be restored.
“And I think the key to consumer confidence is the comprehensive testing,” Jindal said.