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Archive for May 2010

On Memorial Day we look forward to a day when a memorial to military divers will join the other monuments in Washington, DC

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Today is Memorial Day, May 31st, 2010. We look forward to a day when a memorial to military divers will join the other monuments in Washington, DC, that honor the contributions of those who have served our nation.

View the new the new video on YouTube that shows the preliminary design for the Man in the Sea Memorial Monument.

Written by Will Nuckols

May 31, 2010 at 10:00 pm

At this morning’s House Natural Resources Committee hearing on the oil spill, ethics where a major theme

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House Resources Committee Hearing 26 May 2010

The House Resources Committee Hearing was well attended by members, the press and the public

At this morning’s hearing at the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, following opening remarks from Chairman Rahall and Ranking Member Hastings, Secretary Salazar called for a changes to be supported by the House Resources to support two of Secretary Salazar’s main themes:

1. Reform is essential and

2. We need to move to a new energy frontier.

While little of the remarks provided details about new energy, as that topic has been the subject of several prior hearings, there was much discussion by Secretary Salazar and in questions from Chairman Rahall and Ranking Member Hastings about the topic of reform and ethics.

Salazar stated that reform efforts are not new, and that a reform agenda has been on his agenda since he started the job as Secretary of the Interior. In addition to the internal ethics committee investigations and training at DOI/MMS, Sec. Salazar emphasized that congressional action was also needed for reform to be effective. Salazar called for Congress to provide an “organic act” for the Minerals Management Service, and argued the importance of organic authorization for an agency that (a) collects $13 billion a year in funds from oil and gas development and (b) develops the offshore oil and gas resources in the U.S.

Nick Rahall House Resources Chairman 26 May 2010 Hearing

Congressman Nick Rahall is the Chair of the House Resources Committee

Chairman Rahall asked Secretary Salazar if splitting MMS into three parts address the ethics problems that have been highlighted in the Inspector General reports and have the ethics reform package that the Secretary sited really taken hold yet?

Salazar stated that we do think that organizational change is necessary. The reorganization will be moving to remove the revenue collectors and separate them from the leasing and inspection functions of MMS.

Ranking Member Hastings asked if there are people in MMS identified as doing the wrong things, have they been removed from the government payroll?  Salazar responded that if they have done something wrong that requires termination they have been terminated. And some have even been prosecuted and have gone to jail.

But Hastings responded that it is his understanding that some of these people are still on the job. The distinction between removed and still on the job may be because employees named by the IG have been placed on Administrative leave pending further examination of the issues.

While the back and forth about ethics concerns continued, what did not emerge in a concise form was a depiction of what reforms would be possible only through the passage of organic authorization language for MMS compared to what can be changed today based on the authority of the Secretary.

Labels of blame can be suspect in the world of politics, and as such perhaps an accurate analysis will only come in fits and spurts through the Congressional hearing processes. While quite valuable, this will not be our only avenue to determining the cause of the gulf oil spill and also providing recommendations for changes that should occur as we continue to produce oil and gas offshore in the U.S. Last Friday President Obama named a bipartisan commission, chaired by Bob Graham, former Senator and Governor from Florida, and Bill Reilly, the EPA Administrator under President Bush’s Administration. These two chairs, and the five additional Commission members yet to be named, may be our best chance for a balanced and independent review of offshore oil and gas production.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.

Transocean moves $1 billion to stockholders. Senate Committee questions liability provisions in the law.

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Thomas Perrelli, DOJ, at the May 25, 2010 Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing

Mr. Thomas Perrelli, Esq. - Associate Attorney General, testifies at the May 25, 2010 Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on a number of issues, including what can be done about Transocean’s moves which seem to be aimed at ensuring that their liability is at a maximum $26 million.

Today at the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, responding to questions from Senator Widen, DOJ representatives, Mr. Thomas Perrelli, Esq., Associate Attorney General, said “We will be saying in the strongest way that what Transocean is trying to do [in Admiralty court to limit its liability to some 26 million under provisions of an admiralty court] is improper.” This references an early move in court in Texas, which has now been followed up by a move at a closed door meeting in Switzerland in which Transocean leadership decided to move $1 billion in Transocean corporate assets to their shareholders. How much of this was to stop a drop in stock price, and how much was to limit Transocean’s appeal as a target for lawsuits is unclear.

It was noted a few times at the beginning of the hearing that while there may be federal limits on liability that can be assessed to companies responsible to the spill, there are possibly no limits on claims based on lawsuits brought through state courts. Perhaps the threat to corporate profits from non-federal lawsuits are real. But then again maybe when Senator Murkowski (R-AK) suggested that state laws would be able to pick up any shortfalls in a federal legal system she was off base, for lawsuits, whether likely to be ultimately legitimate and successful in courts or not, at times follow a route to those entities with cash on hand. Transocean’s recent moves might not be supporting Murkowski’s statement, even though on the surface it does seem that they fear claims coming from some source. Is Transocean reducing its cash holdings to make them less appealing to legitimate, or only to spurious lawsuits?

While there is no clear smoking gun, no corporate strategy memo that has been uncovered that explains their motivation, one would not need to be a conspiracy theorist to reasonably assume that Transocean has a tangible fear that they are likely to be found to be at fault in at least some portion of the Deepwater Horizon spill. If legislation passes that retroactively alters or eliminates the $75 million liability cap, and that law is upheld in the courts as DOJ believes it would be, Transocean’s recent moves may prove to be prudent by a company who is clearly working to avoid liability or at least to avoid paying claims. Whether prudent moves are also ethical corporate behavior remains to be determined.

Some days doing what you can to save the planet is easy – even fun

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Today is May 21st, and here in DC it’s Bike to Work Day. View the below short video for a piece on this morning’s commute – for many, it was by bike.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.

Written by Will Nuckols

May 21, 2010 at 9:27 am

“Policies are no good unless there is an implementation strategy to carry them out,” ADM Watkins

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Admiral James Watkins at the podium at the Marine Technology Society

At the May 15, 2010 Marine Technology Society meeting, when discussing the vast work that has occured over the years on ocean policy, ADM James Watkins stated “Policies are no good unless there is an implementation strategy to carry them out.”

 

On Saturday May 15, 2010 at the Navy Heritage Center in Washington, D.C., a newly reinvigorated Marine Technology Society (MTS) held a meeting to kickoff the first “Admiral James D. Watkins Honorary Lecture,” so named in honor of ADM Watkins, former Chief of Naval Operations, Secretary of Energy and Chair of the HIV/AIDS commission. The lecture series is likely tied not to those impressive accomplishments but more for his role as the Chair of the Bush Administration’s Commission on Ocean Policy and later, merging with Leon Panetta’s work at The Pew Trusts, as the co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI). 

 Before Dr. Rick Spinrad, who recently retired from NOAA to take a position at Oregon State University, made his remarks as the first lecturer in the newly named Admiral James D. Watkins Honorary Lecture series, ADM Watkins made a few remarks himself. In addition to a call for the MTS to increase its input and vocal participation in policy matters in our nation’s capital, ADM Watkins stated “Policies are no good unless there is an implementation strategy to carry them out.” 

 It is the implementation of policy that is the most difficult and critical phase of effective ocean governance. With the subsidence of catastrophic ocean accidents we will soon be on the verge of this Administration’s rollout of its policies for our oceans and coasts. Is the ocean community ready to move forward? 

When seeking input from the public during the public meetings when the Obama Administration Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force was drafting their interim report, a clear call for recommendations on an implementation strategy was sought, but little, boarding on none, was received from the community of ocean experts. That opportunity missed, we need to now sharpen our pencils and draw up plans that we think would move policies forward. For instance, calls for a policy that includes better regulation of offshore drilling or a policy that calls for a more robust spill response capability are the easy part. Of course we want to protect our oceans through responsible oversight and also be ready to respond if our best engineering plans fail and another spill occurs. The hard part, and the phase that will only be optimized if the top people in multiple disciplines pull together, will be the implementation. What specifically should the steps be, and what are the funding streams that would support these efforts? And while we conduct this mental exercise, don’t forget the tight economic constraints we operate under nationally, so developing cost-efficient implementation steps are a must-do

 Just as there is a call for bright people to help stop the ongoing oil leak at the Deepwater Horizon drilling site, a call that has mobilized many experts, we need to also put our collective strengths together and be ready to contribute a host of implementation strategies that will move forward a range of ocean and coastal issues. Start a personal list of good ideas now – the White House ocean policy announcement will be here sooner than later – and we shouldn’t wait to think about an optimized implementation plans. As a professional community of policy, budget, engineering, science and management experts we need to be ready to roll. 

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.

Senator Murkowski’s rationale for blocking the Senate bill to raise oil spill liability to $10 billion is severely flawed

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On May 4, 2010 Senator Menendez (D-NJ), backed by 14 cosponsors, introduced Senate bill S.3305, the Big Oil Bailout Prevention Liability Act of 2010 – an incredibly streamlined bill that has one significant line of policy:    

“Section 1004(a)(3) of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (33 U.S.C. 2704(a)(3)) is amended by striking `$75,000,000′ and inserting `$10,000,000,000′ ”    

Senator Murkowski's opening remarks at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Ranking Member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, clearly stated in her own remarks in a Senate hearing that “production of energy will never be without risk or environmental consequence"

 

 By stopping a voice vote on the floor yesterday, Senator Murkowski (R-AK) blocked the quick passage of the short bill. As rationale for the procedural move, Senator Murkowski said raising the liability limit for oil producers from 75 would unfairly advantage large oil companies by pricing the small companies out of the market. But the goal of keeping in the small companies who cannot withstand the cost burden of oil spills means that the taxpayer will end up footing the bill of a large cleanup.    

In some sense we are lucky that the accident in the Gulf of Mexico happened to one of the oil majors and not a small producer. BP has the financial ability to step up and make the promises that have been made publically – to pay all legitimate claims for damages resulting from the spill. BP is self-insured and will take a hit in terms of the global company’s profits, but they can withstand the losses. If this happened to a small company with significantly less assets, would they volunteer to pay beyond the current $75 million cap allowed in current legislation? It is quite likely that they would not. And who picks up that bill? Obviously the public does.    

So given that on May 11, 2010 Senator Lisa Murkowski, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, clearly stated in her own remarks in a Senate hearing that “production of energy will never be without risk or environmental consequence,” one can only conclude that another spill will occur one day.    

The question at hand then is who will pay to clean up the spill and address its environmental damages. If small producers are unable to guarantee that they will fix and harm they cause at levels above $75 million, we need to seriously consider whether we want those companies who are marginal to be allowed to drill in U.S. waters.    

Competition in the marketplace is great, but it is important in any well-functioning market to have a level playing field. And in this case, a level playing field should mean those companies who want access to the public’s offshore oil assets must be able to guarantee that they can address a mess if one comes up.    

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.

Why the rush to explore space, when the oceans are the likely key to life on earth?

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While much news for the past month focused on plans for NASA going – or not going –  back to the moon, then exploring the wonders of the sun, and yesterday a hearing on manned spaceflight, keep this in mind:  we’ve only ever been to the deepest point in the ocean once – and that was before much of the population of the United States was even born.  Since 1968, we’ve landed on the moon six times, and nine times we’ve flown by it.  Between 1968 and 1972 there were nine missions to the moon. And yet there has only ever been one mission to the deepest part of our ocean.  It was Jan. 23, 1960. It’s been 50 years since we’ve reached the deepest ocean depths. 

On May 12, 2010 at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on the Future of Manned Space Flight, Apollo 11 Astronaut Neil Armstrong noted President Bush’s plans to finish the International Space Station, return to the moon, establish a permanent presence there, and venture onward toward Mars. But there remain no analogous plans by that Administration nor the Obama Administration to commit to a serious exploration of our planet’s ocean depths. 

So other than the fact that some people like deep sea exploration and others like space exploration, does the difference matter? 

In a word – YES. 

1959 Navy photo of the Bathyscape Trieste hoisted from the water

1959 U.S. Navy photo of the Bathyscape Trieste hoisted from the water

 

Yes because unlike moon landings, when we failed to find any life, and have spent much time, money and effort wondering if it ever did support life, in 1960 when the Navy submersible Trieste reached Challenger Deep, the deepest ocean spot known, they saw with their own eyes what few suspected they would – life. 

Not just invertebrates, like shrimp and worms which some thought might live at such extreme depths – they saw fish.  Yes, fish at 35,800 feet.  There are flatfish in the shallows of our bays and estuaries all along the east coast.  As a young boy, still too small to hold a fishing rod, I remember catching other types of flatfish on a hand-line in my formative years on the Chesapeake Bay. And thanks to two brave men from the Navy, we know that flatfish also live seven miles beneath the sea. 

What is so much more exciting about the oceans than space?  Both have extreme conditions. Both require technology, engineering expertise and dedicated people to make visiting these places possible. But what sets the ocean deep apart from space is life itself. 

What is occurring on at the bottom of our oceans that allows for complex food chains that could support vertebrate life to exist? We have only one brief direct human observation to answer countless questions about life at the deepest part of the sea. 

We once saw the oceans as simply a form or transportation, a way to more easily move goods and armies long distances, and a way to fill hungry stomachs. But in the last century we have come to understand that terrestrial life itself depends on the oceans. Without the food it produces, the oxygen it releases into the atmosphere, terrestrial life on our planet would be very different, if it could exist at all. And now climate scientists and oceanographers alert us that the oceans have a significant role regulating climate too, and that the oceans have likely been serving as a sponge that have soaked up significant CO2 produced by human activity for some time now. How full is the sponge? We really don’t know yet, nor do we know whether the sponge keeps CO2 forever. Will the oceans later change and have a negative impact on our planet as atmospheric conditions continue to change? That is currently uncertain too. As are the impacts, either positive or negative, on life in the depths of the ocean. 

CO2 levels have been documented as changing over the last several decades. Does life in Challenger Deep it look any different than it did in 1960? Unless we build the craft to return to these vast depths, we can only guess. 

So should we stop exploring space and only explore our globe, and focus on the most extreme depths? My hunch is no, as space also provides a return on investment. Historically there has been significant technology spinoffs from the space programs – spinoffs that have been good for the American economy. How big that return on investment is for America, and whether we need to rush into expanded space exploration, or take a more metered approach, I will leave to others. 

Trieste pressure sphere

The small pressure sphere at the bottom of the Trieste is where the only direct observations of the deepest part of the ocean was made

 

But this year, the 50th anniversary of the only time humans sat, even ever so briefly, on the ocean’s deepest spot, I say that we have consistently underfunded the understanding of our oceans. And from this ignorance we likely risk further damaging our planet. Mankind does have a long history of harming that which we do not understand. 

So for even those of us who SCUBA dive, those who are able to see first-hand many wonders of the ocean’s first tens of meters, consider that we can spend years exploring those shallow depths and be left with one certainly: there is much of our planet that we still do not understand, not even at a rudimentary level. And while the advent of robots and autonomous sea vehicles will help us greatly expand our understanding of the undersea world, there is no substitute for a human seeing and experiencing first-hand, the most extreme places on earth.

Who will be the next to go back to the greatest ocean depths?  Will it be this generation, or will opportunity pass us by as it has the professional careers of those in decision making positions in the 70’s, 80’s 90’s and 2000’s? 

Let’s use this 50th anniversary of the Trieste expedition to build the support necessary to take ocean exploration seriously.  For when the next time humans make it back to the deepest of the ocean depths, and almost certainly make new discoveries, wouldn’t you like to tell your friends and children “did you hear about that new scientific discovery? I was a part of a group of visionary people who built the support to make it happen.” 

Navt All Hands Video image
Click on the Link below to view the Navy ALL HANDS VIDEO on the Trieste

LINK TO ALL HANDS VIDEO 

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.

Stopping oil exploration is not a realistic option

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It’s time for the environmental community to return to reality about the nation’s energy policy.

     

Deepwater Horizon oil platform on fire before sinking

The Deepwater Horizon accident has put an end to the denial that major oil spills are a thing of the past

 

Is the ongoing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico that likely resulted from the failure of the blowout preventer 5000 feet beneath Transocean’s floating drill platform Deepwater Horizon anything short of a huge ecological mess? Definitely not. But should this cause an overreaction to offshore drilling, cancelling all efforts to extract oil from US waters? No, not now.     

I know that my fellow ardent environmentalists are saying “Will, how can you support an oil economy given the recent disaster?” to which I say my response is pragmatic. I readily admit that I do wish an idealist environmental response would be the right public policy option. I really do. But it is not.     

Today on Capitol Hill numerous elected officials were motivated to chime in on day-one of what is sure to be many more days of Congressional hearings about the Deepwater Horizon accident and subsequent oil leaks.     

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, began her statements with two disturbing, and realistic, statements:     

  1. Production of energy will never be without risk

  2. Our nation will need a lot of oil for a long time to come

    

overflow from for Senate EPW oil spill hearing 70 people watch

Significant press coverage and a wide range of interested parties attended the May 11, 2009 afternoon Senate Environment and Public Works hearings - so many so that more than 70 people had to watch the hearing on a large screen in the basement of the Dirksen Senate Office Building

 

 Having the ranking Republican and Alaska native so clearly admit that there will always be dangers with oil drilling means that the oil leaks in the Gulf of Mexico have brought seemingly everyone from their stupor of denial that too long were pervasive energy in policy discussions. It is a sad reality that in the short run (read as for several more years) we will remain largely dependent on an oil  economy, and as a result we are still too easily influenced by offshore interests who can affect the price and access to foreign oil. Moves toward a green energy economy are sorely needed, and should be supported by policies and government assistance as a catalyst; however the projects those policy moves would generate won’t show up overnight. Let’s be realists and remember that it was only a few days ago that we finally approved the Cape Wind project. No clear-headed person can call the timeline to green light the Cape Wind wind-turbine project as “fast tracked national policy” that’s for sure.   

We should have done something about promoting green energy production and infrastructure 20 years ago but we did not. We can’t change the past. However, we do need to be smart about the implications of that past failure to act.     

at a recent peak we still only produced 27% of what we consumed daily

Even in November 2009 when the US hit a domestic oil production high not seen since 2005, we still consumed 3x more imported oil than domestic oil

 

Drill baby drill was an insane plan. Insane because it proposed that domestic oil supply was the savior to our economic and foreign policy struggles. It is not a panacea even for those areas. But, I am sad to say, some domestic production is a necessary evil if we want to make sure our economy and foreign relations issues don’t become even more strained. So what should we do in the ocean and energy policy areas following this disaster? We should all be pressing hard for rational decision making. The Obama Administration’s Ocean Policy Task Force interim report released last fall called for “science based decision making,” and at this juncture that still remains a wise plan of action.   

We should use engineering and risk assessment to determine what design changes, inspections (by industry itself and by government) and disaster response drills and procedures need to be in place if we are to continue to drill, produce and transport petroleum in locations that could affect the environment if a leak occurs. Potentially affected waters would be defined by anyone that has seen NOAA’s Essential Fish Habitat maps for the U.S. as encompassing essentially everywhere in our coastal and marine waters. In other words there are areas we should be vigilant, and areas we should be extremely vigilant. There is no place mapped by NOAA that shows any place where we can slack-off on our emergency plans and procedures as we plan for when our best engineering still fails.   

We should use science to decide which areas can generate significant energy resources, and hold those numbers up against possible economic harms from another disaster. Only when the knee-jerk reactions based on the shock of this horrible oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico subside will we be able to get back to making sound policy decisions for our nation.   

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.   

Today is a good day to wear a Whale Tie

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It’s time for everybody to visibly show their support for these majestic sea creatures.Whale Tie   

This morning the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on issues surrounding the International Whaling Commission (IWC) – namely the fact that many years after signing a convention to put in place a moratorium on whaling we are still allowing the killing and consumption of a disturbing number of whales by Japan, Norway and Iceland.   

Even in places with names that make the uninformed of us feel quite happy about our progress on protecting marine life, like the “southern ocean sanctuary” which sounds nice, until one realizes that Japan still conducts whaling there too. Given that Japan is the nation with the largest whaling catch, the Japanese’s continuing to kill whales means it’s not much of a sanctuary.   

Similarly, a moratorium on whaling, with small exceptions for indigenous and subsistence take, sounds good too. Until you realize that one exception to the moratorium is “scientific collections.” Japan takes a lot of scientific collections, and unlike the U.S., which is able to conduct its DNA research with just a non lethal plug of tissue removed for study, Japan seems to think they need the whole whale. So what does one do with a whale after you kill it to study it? Well, you eat it of course. And make a commercial profit in the process. Such is the rationale that Japan, Norway and Iceland have been using for years to continue their commercial whale harvest.   

House Foreign Affairs Committe hearing on the International Whaling Commission

David Bolton, State, and Monica Medina, NOAA, testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee

 

So the question before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee today was how do you get allies of the U.S. to change their behavior when it is clear that they adamantly do not want to stop the commercial harvest of whales? Are sanctions the answer? As David Bolton, U.S. State Department, stated today, no prior Administration has even been willing to use sanctions against allies to encourage them to stop the commercial harvest of whales. This begs the obvious question: Will the Obama Administration be any different from their predecessors?   

One solution to the illegal harvest of whales that is being floated by the International Whaling Commission is legalizing some portion of Japan, Norway and Iceland’s illegal commercial whale harvest. In a move that would never be acceptable to a community – politicians saying that an illegal activity is on the decrease, only because you eliminated killing from the definition of the illegal activities – the U.S. delegation is actually contemplating supporting some variation of the IWC proposal.   

Aside from my personal feeling that killing these majestic creatures as a luxury food item is wrong in the most basic sense of wrong, even if you didn’t think that whales are anything special the IWC proposal is flawed and quite dangerous.   

IWC experts testified today that even if you want to treat whales just like any other sea creature that we see fit to kill for our own pleasures, adopting the kill numbers in the IWC proposal is potentially devastating to whale populations. Why? Because the basic scientific stock assessment of most whale species, which needs to be completed before one could determine the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) number is determined, has yet to be completed. In other words, while Norway, Iceland and Japan claim that their commercial harvest of whales is actually for science, here we are decades later and there is no international consensus on stock assessments for the whales being killed and eaten.   

And even if you don’t think whales are special creatures, and even if you don’t care if we carelessly pick harvest numbers which might cause the demise of various whale species, if you are on the side of promoting any size legal commercial whale harvest you are still wrong. Wrong because there is evidence that whales, orcas for instance, that are accumulating disturbingly high levels of dangerous chemicals in their bodies. Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society’s work to highlight “flame proof killer whales,” which are loaded synthetic flame retardant chemicals, is enough to make one think shouldn’t be eating whale meat. Check out Jean-Michel Cousteau’s video and his cautionary message to political leaders who are considering the IWC proposal. I think his message is spot on. And I hope the White House international trade staff break new ground and begins to do what no other Administration has done: bring the full political and economic influence of the U.S. to bear to address an ocean policy issue.   

Japan proved it could easily dominate the U.S. when we attended the CITES convention and supported the listing of blue fin tuna by CITES. Let’s hope that us getting our rears kicked in the tuna arena motivates the Office of the United States Trade Representative to get behind the members of the House Foreign Relations Committee and begins a serious dialog at the highest political levels about options to defeat the IWC proposal and to find other ways to stop Norway, Iceland and Japan’s illegal whaling.   

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com

We need a primer on how oil and gas exploration and production works for our elected officials

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From the Washington Post article “Schwarzenegger Ends Support For California Oil Drilling

re: “Sen. Tony Strickland of Thousand Oaks said it was unfair for the governor to compare the type of drilling proposed in the Tranquillon Ridge area off California’s coast to the drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. They are two completely different types of drilling. In the Gulf they had to use floating platforms because of deep waters. T-ridge is only 1,000 feet deep and the platforms would be fixed,” Strickland said.”

This is yet another policy maker proving that what we need to do first, before we move forward on further exploration, is educate our elected officials.

Transocean’s floating drill platform Deepwater Horizon is, or rather was, a state of the art platform which uses dynamic positioning systems that keep the rig within just a few feet of a location.  While the reason for the blowout preventer failing isn’t yet known, one thing is clear:  Whether you drill in 100, 1000, or 5000 feet of water the blowout preventer sits on the seafloor as a part of the wellhead. Drilling in 1000 feet of water off of California is still a risky business.

We had a similar uninformed discussion about drilling back here on the east coast during the race for the Virginia governor.  Statements were made that supported offshore drilling – but only for natural gas, not oil – which was supposed to be some sort of recognition of the hazards of oil spills to the tourist economy in Virginia Beach.  Problem is that you can’t drill for natural gas and avoid drilling for oil. When you drill, you just drill, and you get what you get.

We need a primer on how oil and gas exploration and production works for our decision makers before they yet again take an incorrect policy stance based on less than perfect knowledge.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.