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Archive for June 2010

Is the Deepwater Horizon accident similar enough to all other deepwater drilling operations to stop drilling offshore? One federal judge has said no.

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page olf of Judge Maetin Feldman's June 22 2010 decision

The full 22 page decision by New Orleans District Court Judge Martin Feldman can be viewed at whnuckolsconsulting.com/pdf/jf.pdf

Today in District Court in New Orleans Judge Martin Feldman overturned the Obama Administration’s moratorium on deepwater drilling, saying that the Administration’s decision was arbitrarily imposed. Hornbeck Offshore Services, while filed the case in court, argued that the Administration has provided no proof that other drilling operations posed the same threat as occurred when the Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, resulting in the ongoing spill that has caught the attention of the public and the media in the U.S.

The 22-page written ruling issues by Judge Martin brings attention away from tar balls on beaches and focuses attention on the regulation and legal aspects of the aftermath of the disaster.

While Robert Gibbs has stated that the Obama Administration will immediately appeal to the Circuit Court, it is likely that the back and forth in the appeals process is likely to escalate beyond the 5th Circuit before the litigation comes to a final conclusion.

Judge Feldman noted that the Administration has failed to document irreparable harm that warrants suspension of operations, nor how long it would take to implement new recommendations regarding safety. While the 24/7 news cycle does make one wonder if it really was necessary for the Administration to carefully document in written form that a major oil spill of epic proportions can occur when drilling deep offshore wells, I suspect it was the open ended timeline of the moratorium that has moved the oil services industry to push back this hard.

On the surface, the Administration’s decision to put a stop to an entire section of an industry for what was beginning to look to some like an ever lengthening period of time, is not in the tradition of government’s reaction to safety issues. When a plane crashes, a common reaction is to pull all planes of that design, or ones that use a suspected particular part, out of service until the defect is better understood and fixed. The same applies with recalls in the auto industry – a particular model of car is taken off of the market. But the analogy in the car business would be to say that because a Toyota Prius pedal became stuck on the highway, all cars who can go highway speeds would be taken off of the streets irrespective of who made the car. If you start looking at the oil drilling moratorium in this way one would be lead to think that the reaction to stop offshore deepwater drilling is way out of line.

Page 19 of the findings today show Judge Feldman questioning “If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are? Are all airplanes a danger because one was? All oil tankers like Exxon Valdez? All trains? All mines?” He then concludes “That sort of thinking seems heavyhanded, and rather overbearing.”

 The judge cited the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and noted that the APA cautions that an agency action may only be set aside if it is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or not otherwise not in accordance with law.” 5 U.S.C. §706(2)(A). Accordingly Judge Feldman needed to find a “clear error of judgment” by the federal government to decide in favor of the oil services companies who brought their case before the court. What the Judge had to see in the federal government’s case was a “rational connection between the facts found and the choice made” to shut down deepwater drilling.

 Judge Feldman wrote “After reviewing the Secretary’s Report, the Moratorium Memorandum, and the Notice to Lessees, the Court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium.”

 Further in the findings, Judge Feldman identifies holes in the definition of “deepwater drilling” and the back and forth of whether it means 500 or 1000 feet – a topic that has also been questioned in the media for the past few weeks.

 The judgment concludes by issuing a preliminary injunction against the government because the “defendants have failed to cogently reflect the decision to issue a blanket, generic, indeed punitive, moratorium with the facts developed during the thirty-day review. The plaintiffs have established a likelihood of successfully showing that the Administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing the moratorium.”

 Today’s findings state that the federal mandate for a suspension of drilling over 500 feet “cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country.”

 There do appear to be multiple options for the federal regulators to control deepwater drilling from this point forward.  As Press Secretary Robert Gibbs has stated, the Administration will take the case up on appeal at the Circuit court level, and a second review of the Administration’s procedures that resulted in the moratorium might result in a decision in the government’s favor.

 But the Department of the Interior does not need to hang its hat solely on the battles between attorneys. Flaws, be they overstated or real, identified by Judge Feldman, give DOI a roadmap to craft a second decision that could also result in a suspension of overly dangerous drilling procedures until improvements in the risk/reward balance are improved.

 It is important to note that no investigation will result in a set of recommendations that make drilling at any depth risk free. What is desired is a better balance between risk and the capabilities to manage the risk, and that is something that everyone can get behind.

The full 22 page decision by New Orleans District Court Judge Martin Feldman can be viewed at www.whnuckolsconsulting.com/documents/judgefeldman22June10.pdf

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

Written by Will Nuckols

June 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Our Transportation Future is Linked to our Plans for Offshore Energy Development

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Senator Dorgan at the Energy Committee

Today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing reviewed policies to reduce oil consumption through the promotion of accelerated deployment of electric-drive vehicles, as proposed in S. 3495, the Promoting Electric Vehicles Act of 2010. Senator Dorgan, pictured above, is the bill’s author.

Today’s Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing centered on the future of electric vehicles and Senator Dorgan’s bill S. 3495. The mood in the room indicated that we are definitely moving toward the electrification of our transportation system, and the questions centered around how to get there and how fast to move in that direction.

If this is indeed our future, there will be a need for electricity to power the coming fleet of vehicles, and those in the green energy sector have been saying for some time that offshore electricity production is an area ripe for exploitation.

But like the development of electric vehicles themselves, there is a delay in the development of offshore electricity generation systems, be they wind or hydrokinetic, based on the simple construction of these systems. But it isn’t the engineering constraints that have left the U.S. behind other countries thus far in offshore green energy development – it is the regulatory process. Yes, we are all celebrating the approval of the Cape Wind project in New England, but while we also congratulate ourselves for allowing that project to move forward we need to also be mindful to be critical of the time it took to get to this point.

Some have cited the necessity of slow, often times painfully slow, processes that need to occur when we cite green energy infrastructure, as it is the very slow building of consensus in communities that results in the best outcome of a public policy process. While I agree that some siting processes, particularly the locating of restricted use zones – a.k.a. marine protected areas, must proceed at a measured rate. Indeed, a wide public buy-in is crucial for several of the goals which are often included in marine protected area management plans.

However when looking at the catastrophic petroleum spills off of Louisiana, Australia and Mexico that occurred during the development of deep water oilfields, or at the seemingly endless series of climate change studies that indicate that older models have yet again underestimated just how bad climate change may affect the developed and undeveloped world, it becomes quickly clear that we do not have the luxury of time on our side.

To save our economy, to protect our national security and to save the very planet we rely on for our very existence, we need to move faster – even when faster will mean a more contentious process. We are at a time when we need to look at these issues not on a monthly basis when groups gather for meetings, or even weekly. The discussion needs to be a daily dialogue, bolstered by a bold national energy policy which would dovetail with a national ocean policy and a timeline containing milestones set for progress.

This video shows the Cape Wind project approval announcement by Secretary Salazar April 28, 2010

How fast we can react and how thoroughly we evaluate various proposals for various offshore energy generation projects from this point forward will be a key component of policies that will ultimately promote or push back on green energy development in the United States. The electrification of our transportation system could become a major driver for electricity generation in portions of the U.S.

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

Past delays in a unified energy policy mean: 1) continued offshore petroleum development 2) a need to immediately move forward with alternative transportation technologies as a catalyst for change

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Saldalow testifies at the Senate Energy Hearing

David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs, U.S. Department of Energy, clearly stated that “electric vehicles are the future. The only question is how soon.”

This morning the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing centering around the future of electric vehicles.  David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs, U.S. Department of Energy, clearly stated that “electric vehicles are the future. The only question is how soon.” The morning’s hearing was in part to examine provisions in Senator Dorgan’s bill S. 3495, the Promoting Electric Vehicles Act of 2010, which proposes a variety of mechanisms to stimulate the development of electric vehicles in the United States. Senator Dorgan reminded the Committee that 70% of the oil we consume is used in the transportation sector, and that the electrification of the transportation fleet is important for our economy and our national security.

When will we begin to move in the direction of the electrification of our vehicle fleets, and how fast we move, is of crucial importance to the overall U.S. energy development plans, and accordingly, how we plan to utilize our oceans.

The BP oil spill resulting from the Transocean Deepwater Horizon accident continues to highlight just one of the dangers of a dependence on an oil based transportation system – the warming of our planet is a less immediately visible, but likely more devastating impact.

Although Dorgan’s bill proposed large funds to stimulate research and development of emerging electric technologies, Senator Murkowski was quick to note that a) this is a large amount of money and b) the bill, if passed, would only allow for an authorization for funding. The process of providing appropriations to align with the goals in the bill would need to come even later.

Let’s assume that Durban’s bill S. 3495 passes, and that the Department of Energy builds a funding request into its next budget proposal– the federal fiscal year 2012 budget request from the President. At best speed, if the Congress reacts positively and supports an Administration funding request funds to jump start the development of the electrification of transportation would hit the street in calendar year 2012. Resulting research and incentives will result in a yet undetermined further lag until on the ground results begin to be seen.

Two fairly obvious conclusions result: 1. We are stuck in the existing oil dominated economy in the short run – especially if we see the short run as election cycles, and 2. We need to move forward with alternative technologies for our transportation systems immediately, as the delay will be there whether we start now or years from now. The fact that we did not move more robustly in this direction years ago should be a part of the motivation now.

A further conclusion that results from the realities of delays in changes in our transportation system is that we must still find ways to locate and develop petroleum in safe and also economically viable ways. And while we do this, particularly if we do seriously commit to the electrification of our transportation system, we need to address the regulatory reform and siting considerations for offshore energy technologies that directly produce electricity. We must multitask.

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

Congressional committee determines that all the major oil companies are ill positioned to protect Walruses in the event of a Gulf of Mexico oil spill….or something to that effect

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the Mythical Gulf of Mexico Walrus

The often cited mythical Gulf of Mexico Walrus is well protected according to the oil majors' Gulf of Mexico oil spill response plans

Today on Capitol Hill the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Environment is holding a hearing on oil spill response plans of the five oil majors in the U.S.  Congress requested that Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips provide copies of their response plans to the Energy and Commerce Committee.  

To no great surprise, the plans are more of less cookie cutter response plans, including some references to impacts on animals would only be found in the Gulf of Mexico in a zoo or an aquarium, such as the now well reported Gulf of Mexico walruses referenced in the five oil companies’ response plans. Maybe these sorts of errors occur when your experts are no longer among the living. Yes, experts, including Dr. Peter Lutz from the Florida Atlantic University, who have long passed are cited as experts in the oil response plans. And it is heartening to know that if one has questions about marine mammal impacts that you can go to the oil spill response plan and get a phone number for a deceased scientist. That’s sure to be a long, long distance call. 

The five oil spill majors' covers from the Oil Spill Gulf of Mexico Response Plans all use the same photos

The five oil spill majors' covers from the Oil Spill Gulf of Mexico Response Plans all use the same photos

Humor is easy when the oil companies put targets on themselves asking Congress to take pot shots at them. U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey highlighted a graphic of the covers of five oil majors’ response plan book covers and noted that not only were the contents largely the product of a copy-paste exercise, the cover art itself was the same with the exception of the overall color tone of the photos. Chairman Markey added that the state of the art technology brought to bear in the production on these plans seems to be the technology involved in a Xerox machine. 

But jokes and pot shots aside, perhaps it should be no surprise that the documents are quite similar. Personally, rather than each company reinventing the wheel and wasting funds on startup costs for projects whose intention is to provide a robust spill response plan, I would like to see those companies who operate in a particular geographic area spend their funds on getting the best of the best experts and updating their documents frequently to reflect knowledge gained from operations around the globe. 

For instance, the deepwater spills in Mexico, and disturbingly recently in Australia, should have triggered rewrites in the response plans. And the triggers should have been pulled both by the oil majors, for a simple sake of protecting their ultimate liability in the case of another deepwater spill in the U.S., and also by government regulators. Perhaps the $75 million liability cap has resulted in a lax attitude in the oil companies drilling in U.S. waters, although there is no smoking gun at this point to prove that theory. And there is not yet an explanation about why the U.S. government hasn’t reacted to other deepwater spills around the globe. 

Many questions and thus far there are few answers. The Presidential Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission will have its hand full looking at a wide range of issues. And with a call for a quick turn around and target of six-months for the delivery of their findings, it will be a busy summer and fall for the seven Commission members.

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

Written by Will Nuckols

June 15, 2010 at 10:36 am

Congressman Stupak highlights Exxon’s oil spill response plan’s focus on how to handle the media during an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

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While most of the oil majors’ response plans are virtually identical – that is to say they all are insufficient – today on Capitol Hill the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Energy and Commerce hearing Congressman Bart Stupak called Exxon Mobil out on its attention to address media concerns as a significant part of their 500 page response plan. Exxon Mobil’s plan has one difference from those of their competitors – Exxon’s plan has a 40-page focus on how to handle the media, including 13 pre-drafted press releases to address oil spill accidents. This is in contrast to only five pages addressing wildlife and nine pages on oil spill cleanup. Clearly Exxon’s experience in AK informed it about the importance of communications with the public. But with a focus on pre-built press releases that address a range of issues including dodging criminal culpability and calling a spill an “accident” even before any criminal investigation can begin, rather than a focus on transparency and an open flow of information, the public affairs section of the Exxon plan is sorely out of step with the open and transparent communications needs that arise during an oil spill. To put in another way, of you think the lack of early video footage from BP’s contractors’ ROVs was bad, imagine how it might have played out if the Exxon media plan was put into effect.

Written by Will Nuckols

June 15, 2010 at 8:39 am

President names remaining five members to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission

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Released today 6/14/10 at 5:45 by the White House:

President Obama Announces Members of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling Commission

 WASHINGTON – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to complete the membership of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling:

  • Frances G. Beinecke, Member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling
  • Donald Boesch, Member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling
  • Terry D. Garcia, Member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling
  • Cherry A. Murray, Member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling
  • Frances Ulmer, Member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

 The bipartisan Commission, established through an Executive Order, is tasked with providing recommendations on how we can prevent – and mitigate the impact of – any future spills that result from offshore drilling. The Council is co-chaired by former two-term Florida Governor and former U.S. Senator Bob Graham and former Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency William K. Reilly 

 President Obama said, “These individuals bring tremendous expertise and experience to the critical work of this commission. I am grateful they have agreed to serve as we work to determine the causes of this catastrophe and implement the safety and environmental protections we need to prevent a similar disaster from happening again.”


President Obama announced his intent to appoint the following individuals to key administration posts:

Frances G. Beinecke, Appointee for Member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

Frances Beinecke is currently the President of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit corporation that works to advance environmental policy in the United States and across the world. Ms. Beinecke has worked at NRDC for 35 years, serving as executive director, associate director and deputy executive director. From 1974 through 1983, Ms. Beinecke worked as a coastal resource specialist in NRDC’s water and coastal programs, fighting to protect marine ecosystems from the impact of offshore oil and gas development and advocating for sound coastal land use. Ms. Beinecke currently serves on the Board of the World Resources Institute and the steering committees of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership and the Energy Futures Coalition. She was a member of the Yale Corporation and currently serves on the advisory boards of the Yale School of Management and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Science. She is the co-author of the book, Clean Energy Common Sense: An American Call to Action on Global Climate Change. Ms. Beinecke received a B.S. from Yale University and a M.F.S. from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.


Donald Boesch, Appointee for Member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

Donald “Don” Boesch is the President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, where he is also a Professor of Marine Science and Vice Chancellor for Environmental Sustainability for the University System of Maryland.  Dr. Boesch assumed the position of President in 1990.  From 1980 to 1990, he served as the first Executive Director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium and worked as a Professor of Marine Science at Louisiana State University.  Dr. Boesch is a biological oceanographer who has conducted research on coastal ecosystems along the Atlantic Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, Australia and the East China Sea.  A native of Louisiana, he has assessed the long-term environmental effects of offshore oil and gas development and multiple environmental problems of the Gulf Coast.  A pioneer in the study of the environmental effects of offshore energy development, Dr. Boesch edited the seminal 1987 work, Long-Term Environmental Effects of Offshore Oil and Gas Development. He has served as science advisor to many state and federal agencies and regional, national and international programs.  Dr. Boesch is also Chair of the Ocean Studies Board of the National Research Council and a member of the National Academies Committee on America’s Climate Choices.  He holds a B.S. from Tulane University and a Ph.D. from the College of William & Mary.  Dr. Boesch was also a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia.

Terry D. Garcia, Appointee for Member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

Terry D. Garcia is currently Executive Vice President for Mission Programs for the National Geographic Society.  He is responsible for the Society’s core mission programs, including programs that support and manage more than 400 scientific field research, conservation and exploration projects annually.  Prior to joining the Society in 1999, Mr. Garcia was Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  In this role, he directed and coordinated U.S. coastal, ocean and atmospheric programs, including recovery of endangered species, habitat conservation planning, Clean Water Act implementation, development of the national marine sanctuary system and commercial satellite licensing.  From 1994 to 1996, he was General Counsel at NOAA and led the implementation of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Restoration Plan for Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska.  Before entering government service, Mr. Garcia was a partner in the law firms of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips and Hughes Hubbard & Reed.  Mr. Garcia has served on various boards and commissions, including the Institute for Exploration/Mystic Aquarium, the Amazonian Center for Environmental Education and Research, the U.S. National Committee for the Census of Marine Life and the Harte Research Institute of Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M University.  He is also a trustee emeritus of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.  Mr. Garcia has also served on panels convened by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Public Administration. He holds a B.A. from American University and a J.D. from The George Washington University.

Cherry A. Murray, Appointee for Member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

Dr. Cherry Murray was appointed the Dean of the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and John A. and Elizabeth S. Armstrong Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences in July 2009, and is currently the Past President of the American Physical Society. Dr. Murray’s expertise is in condensed matter and materials physics, phase transitions, light scattering and surface physics, including the study of soft condensed matter and complex fluids, as well as the management of science and technology. Previously, Dr. Murray was Principle Associate Director (2007-2009) and Deputy Director (2004-2007) for Science and Technology at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Dr. Murray joined Bell Laboratories in 1978 as a Staff Scientist, marking the beginning of a career that culminated in her position as Senior Vice President for Physical Sciences and Wireless Research at Lucent Technologies (2001-2004). Dr. Murray was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1999, to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001, and to the National Academy of Engineering in 2002. She has served on more than 80 national and international scientific advisory committees, governing boards, and National Research Council (NRC) panels, including chairing the Division of Engineering and Physical Science of the NRC, and serving on the visiting committee for Harvard’s Department of Physics from 1993 to 2004. In 2002, Discover Magazine named Dr. Murray one of the “50 Most Important Women in Science.” Dr. Murray holds a Bachelor of Science (1973) and a Ph.D. (1978), both in Physics, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Frances Ulmer, Appointee for Member, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

Fran Ulmer is Chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA), Alaska’s largest public university. In addition to serving as UAA’s Chancellor, Ms. Ulmer is a member of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Arctic Climate Change and holds Board positions with the Alaska Nature Conservancy, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Union of Concerned Scientists. Prior to her appointment as Chancellor in 2007, Ms. Ulmer was a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at UAA. During her more than 30 years of working in public service on the local, state, and national levels, Ms. Ulmer has helped to shape both public and environmental policy. As a state legislator, Ms. Ulmer served as a member on the Special Committee on the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Claims Settlement. In addition, she was the first Chair of the Alaska Coastal Policy Council, was a member of Governor Tony Knowles’ Alaska Highway Natural Gas Policy Council and served for more than 10 years on the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. Ms. Ulmer served as an elected official for 18 years as the mayor of Juneau, as a state representative and as Lieutenant Governor of Alaska. Ms. Ulmer served as Director of Policy Development for the State of Alaska, managing diverse programs, including coastal management, intergovernmental coordination, and public participation initiatives. At the national level, Ms. Ulmer served as a member of the Federal Communications Commission’s State and Local Advisory Committee, the Federal Elections Commission’s State Advisory Committee and co-chaired the National Academies of Science’s Committee on State Voter Registration Databases. Ms. Ulmer earned a J.D. cum laude from the University of Wisconsin Law School, and has been a Fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government.

The oil spill – “this is our Sputnik”

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Congressman Sam Farr speaks at CHOW in Washington, DC

Congressman Sam Farr calls the Deepwater Horizon accident "our Sputnik" and argues for America to "get off of the black: black coal and black oil."

On Wednesday June 9, 2010 Congressman Sam Farr spoke at the Capitol Hill Ocean Week (CHOW) conference and to no great surprise, the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico found its way into the Congressman’s remarks. Congressman Farr has been beating the drum for some time now for an overhaul of our system of governance and how we organize government to address ocean issues, as well as a need for an attention to budget allocations for oceans that are at least on par with our attention to the atmosphere part of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The oil spill – “this is our Sputnik”

The U.S.’s attention to those calling for missions to space changed dramatically on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I, a small artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball, into space. It had never been done before and the first people to do this successfully weren’t the Americans, but our cold war enemies the soviets.

Two years earlier in July 1955 the White House had announced plans to launch an Earth-orbiting satellite, a proposed 3.5 pound payload. But when Sputnik reached space the soviets not only got there first, they did it with a payload in excess of 180 pounds. In this they drove home the point that the soviets were faster than us, and achieved a technologically superior task by launching a much larger satellite than we had even hoped to put into orbit.

Further driving home the fact that U.S. technology and programs were not at the cutting edge, less than a month after Sputnik I launched, on November 3, the soviets launched Sputnik II complete with a dog named Laika into orbit.

The Sputnik launch led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In J958, Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act which created NASA as of October 1, 1958.

Any rational response to the gulf oil spill, given the real damages to the U.S. (in contract to the theoretical threat to the U.S. that Sputnik I and II posed), would include a significant response from the executive and legislative sides of government.

Congressman Farr certainly is not alone when he has called for a better organized executive structure that would more efficiently and effectively address the needs of the nation in our coastal and ocean zones. While broad reorganization is the realm of the Executive Office of the President, incremental steps forward should start immediately. As Representative Farr stated “we are still [operating] in our own silos.”

A call for an ocean policy that creates a focal point for all agencies to fall behind is a message that has been stated so many times in DC. While the call to action is common, the actual action thus far has been insufficient.

Governance issues aside, energy policy itself can drive significant improvements in the threats to our oceans. Sam Farr put it simply: “we need to get off of the black. Black coal and black oil.”

To hear these quotes, as well as some additional wise words from Congressman Farr, check out the two video links below.

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

Written by Will Nuckols

June 10, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Salazar announces 10 state wind partnership and an Atlantic renewable energy office

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Ken Salazar speaks at CHOW

Ken Salazar provided the opening remarks at Capitol Hill Ocean Week in Washington, DC

This morning at Capitol Hill Oceans week in Washington, DC, Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, made two announcements:   

1. Ten governors from Atlantic states have agreed to form a consortium that will focus on wind development on the Atlantic coast.   

2. DOI will be establishing an office that will focus on renewable energy development in the Atlantic.  The office will be located in Virginia.   

While the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska remain major traditional energy producers, it was clear today that for an expansion in the U.S.’s renewable energy portfolio, DOI will be focusing on the Atlantic coast.   

Secretary Salazar’s remarks at Capitol Hll Ocean Week are available the Vimeo at the link below.   

Secretary Salazar announces offshore wind energy consortium.

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

Written by Will Nuckols

June 8, 2010 at 9:48 am

Ocean currents likely to carry oil along Atlantic coast…..well, maybe

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 Today the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) released finding from their computer model and announced that ocean currents are likely to carry oil along the Atlantic Coast. This statement, along with some fun looking video on YouTube seen below, has been carried in the news today in a number of places, including national broadcast news – NBC’s Ann Thompson’s piece tonight included the NCAR YouTube clip in the Evening News.  

But seemingly everyone is leaving out a key caveat that NCAR included, but didn’t emphasize, in their release: 

“The modeling study is analogous to taking a dye and releasing it into water, then watching its pathway.”  The NCAR article then added “The dye tracer used in the model has no actual physical resemblance to true oil. Unlike oil, the dye has the same density as the surrounding water, does not coagulate or form slicks, and is not subject to chemical breakdown by bacteria or other forces.” 

While it is impressive modeling that NCAR has produced, what the model may better portray is that nutrients and other particles that come down the Mississippi can be caught in the loop current and make their way half way up the eastern seaboard. A potentially more valid finding of the NCAR model is to be aware that what you put on the landscape and send down your drains in the middle of the country because there are models that show materials may make their way past the Florida Straits and even up to the Carolinas. 

But it doesn’t take an expert in fluid dynamics to tell that crude oil, and the unknown range of types of products that result from dispersants, weathering and biological degradation all are unlikely to act like a dye pack. 

It is good to use what science we have on hand to the extent it can help us plan for this oil spill moving to other areas, or for contemplating where future oil spills of crude or refined oil products might go, but let’s also make sure to pay close attention to the caveats in the models that are being touted in the news today. 

From NCAR’s website: “This animation shows one scenario of how oil released at the location of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico may move in the upper 65 feet of the ocean. This is not a forecast, but rather, it illustrates a likely dispersal pathway of the oil for roughly four months following the spill.” and “The animation is based on a computer model simulation, using a virtual dye.”

Problem being, a spill of crude oil isn’t a dye pack.

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

Written by Will Nuckols

June 3, 2010 at 7:17 pm

With the label of “independent”, comes the freedom to return to moderate policies for Governor Crist in Florida.

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shredded yard waste

A Florida bill that would reverse a longtime prohibition on yard waste from being dumped into landfills was vetoed by Governor Crist

Long time moderate Charlie Crist made his way to the Governor’s office in Florida as a Republican who often shunned radical republican politics in favor of a moderate stance more in tune with the majority of those in Florida. That was until the run-up for the republican primary race for the open senate seat being vacated by Senator LeMieux. In a battle to see who can appeal more to the more extreme parts of the Republican Party, Crist’s once moderate positions seemed to becoming increasing extreme. Relying on the far right’s call for small government and cost containment, Crist denied any Florida state representatives to attend the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meeting in Washington DC in February. He did so, and maintained the ban on out of state travel, even though the costs of the travel would have been billed to the federal government and allowed the State of Florida to voice its concerns at the meeting at no cost to the Florida taxpayers. But when running to be “out-conservative” others in the race for the Republican primary, common sense seemed to have been sacrificed for political expediency.

But perhaps with Crist’s new moniker of independent, he is able to move back to policies that were more typical of his governing style. Yesterday Crist bucked the Florida legislature and vetoed a bill that would have allowed yard trash to be buried in landfills rather than recycled.

 While supporters of the bill stated that dumping ever increasing amounts of organic materials into Florida’s landfills would result in increased amounts of methane – a greenhouse gas that operators proposed to capture and make into energy, the more astute people following this debate were quick to point out that it was really the increased tipping fees that would result from dumping yard trash into landfills. Especially in tight economic times, what does a landfill operator need? More trash.

pile of mulch

Florida waste site operators lobbied to allow yard waste to be dumped into landfills, arguing that some of the methane could be captured and turned into electricity. Skeptics charged that landfills just wanted in the increases in tipping fees to line their pockets.

But Crist isn’t buying the quasi-science cited by those arguing for HB 569, and on June 1st he signed a letter outlining reasons for vetoing the bill. In Crist’s list of reasons there is one that I believe to be oddly omitted: any increase in greenhouse gas emissions, especially methane which has much more of punch than CO2 in terms of warming the planet, is a really bad idea when you live in a very flat state which is very close to the current sea level, much less the height oceans may reach of sea level rise models are correct.

How will these more moderate policies fare in the race for the U.S. Senate this fall? With as close as elections in Florida often are, even when the balloting machines are working correctly, it’s going to be an interesting race.

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

Written by Will Nuckols

June 2, 2010 at 1:41 pm