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Administration blocks Oil Spill Report lead investigators from testifying before Congress

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House Resources Chairman Doc Hastings request for a “Prompt Hearing on BOEMRE/Coast Guard Spill Report” is foiled by Administration delays. 

In an odd game of who gets to talk to whom, the House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee’s attempts to have, in the words of the Committee’s press release a “Prompt Hearing on BOEMRE/Coast Guard Spill Report” on the oil spill at the Macondo well and the loss of the Transocean drill platform which resulted in the spill of millions of gallons of oil and the loss of 11 lives, has been foiled – or at least delayed a bit.

photo of the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon

The loss of Transocean's Deepwater Horizon drilling platform and the wellhead blowout spilled millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico and took the lives of 11 workers on the platform. A joint U.S. Coast Guard and DOI report has been released detailing the government's findings on the causes of the disaster. Now Congress has expressed interest in quickly speaking with the lead investigators in a hearing in the House, but disagreements between the Committee and the Administration over who can speak about the report is resulting in delays in the hearing schedule. Originally scheduled for this morning, the hearing has been moved to October 6, 2011.

On September 14th the Natural Resource Committee released a statement that “On Friday, September 23rd, the Natural Resources Committee will hold a Full Committee oversight hearing on the final report of the BOEMRE/U.S. Coast Guard Joint Investigation Team.”

It then went on to add that:

“After repeated delays, the federal government is finally releasing the findings of its investigation into the tragic Deepwater Horizon incident,” Chairman Hastings said. “This is another significant report on the disaster and I’m hopeful it will give us a clearer picture about what happened so Congress, industry and the Administration can move forward responsibly and appropriately. We have waited far too long for this report, but the Committee is ready to take action and a hearing is now officially scheduled for next week. I’m confident that with a far more complete reporting of the facts, we will be able to take a thoughtful approach to real reforms to ensure continued safe American energy production.”

However, in order to get down to a back and forth dialogue about the facts and findings in the report there needs to be witnesses to testify to the facts and answer questions from members of both parties.  That part isn’t going very well at the moment.

In a press release on September 23rd House Natural Resource Committee Chairman Doc Hastings announced that “tomorrow’s Full Committee oversight hearing on the final report of the BOEMRE/U.S. Coast Guard Joint Investigation Team (JIT) will be postponed until October 6, 2011 due to the Obama Administration’s last-minute refusal to allow investigation team members to testify.”

“It took far too long for the final report to be issued and the Obama Administration is now further delaying proper oversight by suddenly refusing to allow members of the investigation team to testify. Based on numerous conversations between Committee staff and the Administration, it was confirmed that investigators from the BOEM and Coast Guard team would be testifying at Friday’s hearing. We were informed today, one day prior to the hearing, that this had changed. It’s unacceptable for the Committee not to be able to hear from the actual investigators who conducted the investigation and wrote the report.

“It’s always been my intention to first hear from the investigators about their findings, in order to get all the facts, and then hear from the specific companies that are cited in the report. The companies have been notified of this fact. The Administration’s actions are complicating and compromising the Committee’s ability to move forward on this matter.

One presumed rationale for asking the report’s lead investigators and authors to directly testify, rather that having senior Administration officials from DOI and the USCG testify – a common practice in DC where leadership typically responds to Congressional inquiries, not the career rank an file – if because Chairman Hastings is believed to be interested in asking not only substantive questions about the report itself, but to also ask questions about the reasons for the multiple delays in the production of the report. While that question has not yet been posed to any investigators from the joint report, some on the Hill are assuming that the delays are the result of DC agency leadership fighting with the report’s authors about language which would appear in the final report. At this stage there seems to be little evidence of a heavy hand by the agency leaderships or by the White House, but proving or dispelling that theory is being made difficult by the Administration’s refusal to allow the investigation team members to testify.

The current employment status of one of the lead investigators is surely a concern for the Administration – the Department Interior’s lead investigator, David Dykes, a former Minerals Management Service employee who worked for over a decade for MMS, has left government employment and now holds a new job.

On September 14th Time Magazine Senior Reporter Brian Walsh Tweeted “BOEMRE’s lead investigator on BP spill, J. David Dykes, left the agency earlier this month. New job: Chevron”

While this is obviously awkward for the Administration, it is unclear why efforts would be made to block the U.S. Coast Guard’s lead investigator as his failure to appear before the Natural Resources Committee only invites theories about the Administration’s motives, and gives fuel to the fire of those positioning to paint the report as something other than an accurate description of the investigators’ findings.

The Deepwater Horizon Joint Investigation Team Final Report can be found through the following links:

Chapters of the final JIT Investigative Report:

The Natural Resources Committee hearing, now scheduled for October 6, 2011, will occur in room 1324 of the Longworth House Office Building.  For those not in Washington DC and unable to attend in person the Committee will stream the video live on the internet.  Check out http://naturalresources.house.gov/ URL for the link to the live webcast on October 6, 2011.

photo of the The blowout preventer of the Deepwater Horizon on a barge

The blowout preventer of the Deepwater Horizon is transported on the Mississippi River into New Orleans, Sept. 11, 2010. The blowout preventer was DOI BOEM/US Coast Guard investigation determine the circumstances surrounding the explosion, fire, pollution, and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon platform. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen Lehmann.

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

You can follow Will Nuckols on Twitter at @enviroxpert



A year after the spill in the Gulf of Mexico, can we look for efficiencies as we move forward?

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photo of the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon

Transoceans Deepwater Horizon drilling platform was ablaze one year ago in the Gulf of Mexico. Now having had some time to step back, can we look to include some efficiencies as we guard against the next oil spill?

A question posed for the expert panel at the Smithsonian Institute’s event “One Year After the Gulf Oil Spill” at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC:

“There have been seemingly endless calls for “making sure nothing like this happens again” and accomplishing this ensuring that there are dramatic increases in response capabilities, both at the surface and at the challenging depths where drilling occurs. And there has also been a community of research scientists lamenting the limited availability of manned and unmanned craft which can readily access the depths to study the effects of the spill from the Macondo Prospect, or even doing simple background research before another event occurs in the future.

We need to combine these two concepts and use logic to drive a call for a discussion on the use of technologies which are very limited in their supply.

Do we want to develop large cashes of response equipment on perpetual standby, or should we call for a fleet of dual-use craft that could be used for major leaps forward in scientific study while also serve as emergency response technology in the case of accidents? A realistic view of resources, especially in this economy, says we can’t have a robust deep sea scientific program and also a robust set of emergency response deep sea craft that sits idle. Why not develop a program that maximizes day-to-day benefits for America through exploration and scientific study and also serves as the greatly improved deep sea response team that could be mobilized to address future undersea accidents?

And if you are looking at the government sector as a way to enhance the private sector (or as a guarantee that America’s assets are protected no matter how private sector interests react with their response), why not dramatically increase the oil spill and deep sea recon and salvage capabilities of the Navy’s office of the Supervisor of Salvage? We need those assets in our DoD portfolio as well – why not expand on the capabilities already there through a substantial increase in investment in Navy technologies, and when we do, make sure that the assets serve civilian needs when the military mission allows for their multiple use? We have a track record of success as the basis for civ-mil cooperation – think of the Navy’s NR-1 submarine and the civilian applications it also served. Why isn’t this approach being considered for the gulf?

-William Nuckols, Ocean Policy Expert and Government Efficiency Advocate”

A port bow view of the nuclear-powered research submersible NR-1

The Navy’s research submarine NR-1, recently decommissioned, is an example of how we can combine military defense needs efficiently with civilian needs to access deep offshore waters

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

Written by Will Nuckols

April 20, 2011 at 9:40 pm

A sadly ironic anniversary present for the United States

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Twenty-two years ago today an ecological disaster which at that time was unprecedented in scale resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil which covered wildlife and impacted the shoreline in a way that locals on the Alaska coast say continues to this day.  We know that accident as the Exxon Valdez oil spill. 

photo of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska 22 years ago on March 24, 1989. On this anniversary a mysterious oil sheen oozes toward the shores of Louisiana giving us a little nudge to make sure that even in a news cycle which has moved on to tsunamis and nuclear accidents we don't forget the unfinished business of developing a safe system for offshore oil and gas development

Never again. 

That’s what we told ourselves, and for years we went without another major oil spill in the offshore waters of the U.S.  But anyone who has picked up a paper, seen the nightly news, or listened to the radio knows that on one fateful night aboard the Transocean Horizon platform which was closing out their work at the BP Macondo well, a major blowout and loss of containment at the drill site occurred resulting in another major oil spill. 

Again, we said never again.  

Never will we be caught unaware and have uncontrolled oil released into the fragile environment of our coastal waters.

But today, on the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill, offshore on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico we are seeing oil sheens that extend for miles on the surface, leaving us again wondering what is the source of the oil, how much oil is there, and when will the leaks stop.

The Houston based company Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners has accepted responsibility for an oil spill from a dormant well, reporting to the Coast Guard that they are responsible for the uncontrolled release of less than five gallons of crude oil. Somehow a five gallon release doesn’t make much sense to those with a healthy amount of common sense as the slick on the water has been reported to be over 30 miles long.

A realistic look at the offshore oil and gas development industry tells us that, without driving costs up inordinately, a spill-free world isn’t realistic.  What we need to search for is a set of voluntary and mandatory guidelines that keeps workers out of harm’s way, minimizes the changes that additional spills will occur and has robust systems in place to address spills when they occur – systems that would include rapidly deployable assets to contain leaks as well as systems to capture leaked oil and rehabilitate damaged ecosystems and communities when leaks occur.  It sound s easy.  So easy one would have guessed that such as system was in place before the explosion and loss of the Deepwater Horizon platform. But real world experiences inform us that we are consistently not prepared to address all three components of a robust response system.  And even when we have what we believe are the right assets in place, the profit margins of companies are put to odds with the precautionary principle and we under-plan our response capabilities.

It is time to be a good bit more conservative when we look to balance environmental safety against short-term profits.  Ideally corporations would strike this balance on their own, as other than the oddities of limits on liabilities which the oil and gas companies enjoy, oil and gas companies want to reduce accidents as accident-free operations helps the bottom line. But corporations, like individuals, sometimes fail to act in their own self-interest, leaving an important role for a government system that compels companies to act responsibly.

Bombings in Libya, the wackiness of an ongoing series of super short duration spending bills on Capitol Hill, tsunamis and disasters at nuclear plants are already drawing the public attention to other things, and for those in places other than the still hard hit Gulf Coast, attention has turned away from oil and gas drilling accidents to other issues.

Perhaps a mysterious oil spill on the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez accident is just what we need to stay on track and finish efforts already underway to determine where and how oil and gas development should occur in the U.S. and the contingency plans we’ll need in place for those areas where we do decide to drill.

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

Written by Will Nuckols

March 24, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Oil Spill Commission Chairs Bill Reilly and Bob Graham interviewed by Ray Suarez at the Our Changing Oceans Conference

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National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE) kicked off the 11th National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment: Our Changing Oceans conference in Washington, DC with an interview of Oil Spill Commission Chairs Bill Reilly and Bob Graham being interviewed by PBS News Hour’s Ray Suarez.

An MP3 audio file of the interview can be downloaded at this link from the W.H. Nuckols Consulting website.

The Our Changing Oceans conference continues through January 21, 2011.

Commentary on additional sessions at this conference will appear on this blog as the week continues.

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

Written by Will Nuckols

January 20, 2011 at 6:59 am

Will new Obama ocean policy affect offshore drilling?

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Today President Obama became the first American President to codify a U.S. position on Oceans through the establishment of an Executive Order.    

While the recommendations to the President by the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force were just published in their final form today, indications of what would be in the policy document have been circulating since last fall, and while there are small changes in the final document, the Executive Order largely follows the draft recommendations from 2009.   

The “policy of the United States” for oceans does include some language that will potentially result in changes from the status-quo. The policy will “promote the well-being, prosperity, and security of present and future generations,” and depending on how this language is interpreted, decisions on resource utilization, which has too often been short-sighted, might finally take a long term view.   

Essential Elements of a Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning process

The nine “essential elements” of the Obama Administration’s process to select optimal uses and reduce/avoid use conflicts may result in a good long run public policy process, but it is doubtful that they could move fast enough to address the Gulf of Mexico issue of deepwater drilling or the Shell request to drill in the Arctic. Those decisions are likely to be made by DOI in a more traditional manner.


While there is a nod to the events in the Gulf of Mexico (“The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and resulting environmental crisis is a stark reminder of how vulnerable our marine environments are, and how much communities and the Nation rely on healthy and resilient ocean and coastal ecosystems”) there is little that directly addresses the problems that the people of the Gulf of Mexico struggle with today….with one potential exception: coastal and marine spatial planning.  But that process is intended to be a fairly through, methodical process with broad input from a range of federal, state and tribal stakeholders, in addition to input from affected parties and the public. These processes are designed to generate the greatest buy-in, but it is unlikely that they can move quickly enough at this point to address fast-moving policy issues that are on the Administration’s plate today, particularly the hot-button topic about whether to allow, or indefinitely block, new deepwater drilling in U.S. waters.   

 But while it doesn’t provide a clear roadmap that indicates where we are headed as a nation which continues to struggle with conflicting uses and practices that have significant impacts on the environment and the economy, it does provide a framework for organization.   

How the organizing governance bodies, headed by the National Ocean Council (NOC), make decisions will have a large role on the function of these groups, and their importance to public policy development and oversight. The last Administration did not declare how decisions would be made within the Commission on Ocean Policy (COP) or in their subordinate organizing groups, and this limited their usefulness for some policy areas. This Administration’s decision that “The Co-Chairs would seek to encourage decisions and recommendations based on consensus of the [National Ocean Council]” with disputes being forwarded to the President may mean that those frustrated with a NEPA process where those with “comment authority” are ultimately ignored and a Coastal Zone Management Act “coastal consistency” which allows veto power to one entity – the state – would become more balanced. Or these sorts of conflicts may never reach the NOC, having been deemed to fall into the category of decisions constrained by existing statutory processes which determine comment and decision authority. It might take a move by Congress if the processes surrounding those processes will change.   

So while we have a National Ocean Policy for the first time, and we have a 96 page policy recommendation that will be the Bible that this Administration follows, how this exactly plays out – we’ll have to wait a bit longer to wait and see. 


The full executive order is included below:    

The White House    

Office of the Press Secretary    

For Immediate Release
July 19, 2010

Executive Order–Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes    

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, it is hereby ordered as follows:    

Section 1. Purpose. The ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes provide jobs, food, energy resources, ecological services, recreation, and tourism opportunities, and play critical roles in our Nation’s transportation, economy, and trade, as well as the global mobility of our Armed Forces and the maintenance of international peace and security. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and resulting environmental crisis is a stark reminder of how vulnerable our marine environments are, and how much communities and the Nation rely on healthy and resilient ocean and coastal ecosystems. America’s stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes is intrinsically linked to environmental sustainability, human health and well-being, national prosperity, adaptation to climate and other environmental changes, social justice, international diplomacy, and national and homeland security.    

This order adopts the recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, except where otherwise provided in this order, and directs executive agencies to implement those recommendations under the guidance of a National Ocean Council. Based on those recommendations, this order establishes a national policy to ensure the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhance the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies, preserve our maritime heritage, support sustainable uses and access, provide for adaptive management to enhance our understanding of and capacity to respond to climate change and ocean acidification, and coordinate with our national security and foreign policy interests.    

This order also provides for the development of coastal and marine spatial plans that build upon and improve existing Federal, State, tribal, local, and regional decisionmaking and planning processes. These regional plans will enable a more integrated, comprehensive, ecosystem-based, flexible, and proactive approach to planning and managing sustainable multiple uses across sectors and improve the conservation of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes.    

Sec. 2. Policy. (a) To achieve an America whose stewardship ensures that the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes are healthy and resilient, safe and productive, and understood and treasured so as to promote the well-being, prosperity, and security of present and future generations, it is the policy of the United States to:    

  • (i) protect, maintain, and restore the health and biological diversity of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources;
  • (ii) improve the resiliency of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems, communities, and economies;
  • (iii) bolster the conservation and sustainable uses of land in ways that will improve the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems;
  • (iv) use the best available science and knowledge to inform decisions affecting the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes, and enhance humanity’s capacity to understand, respond, and adapt to a changing global environment;
  • (v) support sustainable, safe, secure, and productive access to, and uses of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes;
  • (vi) respect and preserve our Nation’s maritime heritage, including our social, cultural, recreational, and historical values;
  • (vii) exercise rights and jurisdiction and perform duties in accordance with applicable international law, including respect for and preservation of navigational rights and freedoms, which are essential for the global economy and international peace and security;
  • (viii) increase scientific understanding of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems as part of the global interconnected systems of air, land, ice, and water, including their relationships to humans and their activities;
  • (ix) improve our understanding and awareness of changing environmental conditions, trends, and their causes, and of human activities taking place in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes waters; and
  • (x) foster a public understanding of the value of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes to build a foundation for improved stewardship.

(b) The United States shall promote this policy by:    

  • (i) ensuring a comprehensive and collaborative framework for the stewardship of the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes that facilitates cohesive actions across the Federal Government, as well as participation of State, tribal, and local authorities, regional governance structures, nongovernmental organizations, the public, and the private sector;
  • (ii) cooperating and exercising leadership at the international level;
  • (iii) pursuing the United States’ accession to the Law of the Sea Convention; and
  • (iv) supporting ocean stewardship in a fiscally responsible manner.

Sec. 3. Definitions. As used in this order:    

(a) “Final Recommendations” means the Final Recommendations of the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force that shall be made publicly available and for which a notice of public availability shall be published in the Federal Register.    

(b) The term “coastal and marine spatial planning” means a comprehensive, adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-based, and transparent spatial planning process, based on sound science, for analyzing current and anticipated uses of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes areas. Coastal and marine spatial planning identifies areas most suitable for various types or classes of activities in order to reduce conflicts among uses, reduce environmental impacts, facilitate compatible uses, and preserve critical ecosystem services to meet economic, environmental, security, and social objectives. In practical terms, coastal and marine spatial planning provides a public policy process for society to better determine how the ocean, our coasts, and Great Lakes are sustainably used and protected — now and for future generations.    

(c) The term “coastal and marine spatial plans” means the plans that are certified by the National Ocean Council as developed in accordance with the definition, goals, principles, and process described in the Final Recommendations.    

Sec. 4. Establishment of National Ocean Council. (a) There is hereby established the National Ocean Council (Council).    

(b) The Council shall consist of the following:    

  • (i) the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, who shall be the Co-Chairs of the Council;
  • (ii) the Secretaries of State, Defense, the Interior, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Labor, Transportation, Energy, and Homeland Security, the Attorney General, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere (Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Director of National Intelligence, the Director of the National Science Foundation, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff;
  • (iii) the National Security Advisor and the Assistants to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, Domestic Policy, Energy and Climate Change, and Economic Policy;
  • (iv) an employee of the Federal Government designated by the Vice President; and
  • (v) such other officers or employees of the Federal Government as the Co-Chairs of the Council may from time to time designate.

(c) The Co-Chairs shall invite the participation of the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to the extent consistent with the Commission’s statutory authorities and legal obligations, and may invite the participation of such other independent agencies as the Council deems appropriate.    

(d) The Co-Chairs of the Council, in consultation with the National Security Advisor and the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, shall regularly convene and preside at meetings of the Council, determine its agenda, direct its work, and, as appropriate to address particular subject matters, establish and direct committees of the Council that shall consist exclusively of members of the Council.    

(e) A member of the Council may designate, to perform committee functions of the member, any person who is within such member’s department, agency, or office and who is (i) an officer of the United States appointed by the President, (ii) a member of the Senior Executive Service or the Senior Intelligence Service, (iii) a general officer or flag officer, or (iv) an employee of the Vice President.    

(f) Consistent with applicable law and subject to the availability of appropriations, the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Council on Environmental Quality shall provide the Council with funding, including through the National Science and Technology Council or the Office of Environmental Quality. The Council on Environmental Quality shall, to the extent permitted by law and subject to the availability of appropriations, provide administrative support necessary to implement this order.    

(g) The day-to-day operations of the Council shall be administered by a Director and a Deputy Director, who shall supervise a full-time staff to assist the Co-Chairs in their implementation of this order.    

Sec. 5. Functions of the Council. (a) The Council shall have the structure and function and operate as defined in the Final Recommendations. The Council is authorized, after the Council’s first year of operation, to make modifications to its structure, function, and operations to improve its effectiveness and efficiency in furthering the policy set forth in section 2 of this order.    

(b) To implement the policy set forth in section 2 of this order, the Council shall provide appropriate direction to ensure that executive departments’, agencies’, or offices’ decisions and actions affecting the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes will be guided by the stewardship principles and national priority objectives set forth in the Final Recommendations, to the extent consistent with applicable law. The Council shall base its decisions on the consensus of its members. With respect to those matters in which consensus cannot be reached, the National Security Advisor shall coordinate with the Co-Chairs and, as appropriate, the Assistants to the President for Energy and Climate Change, and Economic Policy, and the employee of the United States designated by the Vice President, subject to the limitations set forth in section 9 of this order, to present the disputed issue or issues for decision by the President.    

Sec. 6. Agency Responsibilities. (a) All executive departments, agencies, and offices that are members of the Council and any other executive department, agency, or office whose actions affect the ocean, our coasts, and the Great Lakes shall, to the fullest extent consistent with applicable law:    

  • (i) take such action as necessary to implement the policy set forth in section 2 of this order and the stewardship principles and national priority objectives as set forth in the Final Recommendations and subsequent guidance from the Council; and
  • (ii) participate in the process for coastal and marine spatial planning and comply with Council certified coastal and marine spatial plans, as described in the Final Recommendations and subsequent guidance from the Council.

(b)Each executive department, agency, and office that is required to take actions under this order shall prepare and make publicly available an annual report including a concise description of actions taken by the agency in the previous calendar year to implement the order, a description of written comments by persons or organizations regarding the agency’s compliance with this order, and the agency’s response to such comments.    

(c) Each executive department, agency, and office that is required to take actions under this order shall coordinate and contribute resources, as appropriate, to assist in establishing a common information management system as defined in the Final Recommendations and shall be held accountable for managing its own information assets by keeping them current, easily accessible, and consistent with Federal standards.    

(d) To the extent permitted by law, executive departments, agencies, and offices shall provide the Council such information, support, and assistance as the Council, through the Co-Chairs, may request.    

Sec. 7. Governance Coordinating Committee. The Council shall establish a Governance Coordinating Committee that shall consist of 18 officials from State, tribal, and local governments in accordance with the Final Recommendations. The Committee may establish subcommittees chaired by representatives of the Governance Coordinating Committee. These subcommittees may include additional representatives from State, tribal, and local governments, as appropriate to provide for greater collaboration and diversity of views.    

Sec. 8. Regional Advisory Committees. The lead Federal department, agency, or office for each regional planning body established for the development of regional coastal and marine spatial plans, in consultation with their nonfederal co-lead agencies and membership of their regional planning body, shall establish such advisory committees under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, 5 U.S.C. App., as they deem necessary to provide information and to advise the regional planning body on the development of regional coastal and marine spatial plans to promote the policy established in section 2 of this order.    

Sec. 9. General Provisions. (a) Nothing in this order, the establishment of the Council, and the Final Recommendations shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:    

  • (i) authority granted by law to an executive department or agency or the head thereof; or
  • (ii) functions assigned by the President to the National Security Council or Homeland Security Council (including subordinate bodies) relating to matters affecting foreign affairs, national security, homeland security, or intelligence.

(b) Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect the functions of the Director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative, or legislative proposals.    

(c) In carrying out the provisions of this order and implementing the Final Recommendations, all actions of the Council and the executive departments, agencies, and offices that constitute it shall be consistent with applicable international law, including customary international law, such as that reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention.    

(d) This order is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.    

Sec. 10. Revocation. Executive Order 13366 of December 17, 2004, is hereby revoked.    


THE WHITE HOUSE, July 19, 2010.    


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   

Oil Spill Commission emphasizes its independence at its first public hearing in New Orleans

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Bob Graham and Bill Reilly respond to questions during a press conference during the second day of the Oil Spill Commission in New Orleans

Bob Graham and Bill Reilly respond to questions during a press conference during the second day of the President's Oil Spill Commission in New Orleans, LA. Photo by Will Nuckols 2010.


Today at the lunchtime press conference during the first meeting of the President’s Oil Spill Commission, Chairs Bill Reilly and Senator Bob Graham fielded questions from a range of local and national media.     

Questioned yesterday on the first day of the meeting about the intention of the Commission and whether they will focus on moratorium for deepwater drilling, the Commission chairs stated that they believed the issue of the moratorium would be handled best by the Administration, and that the Commission would be primarily forward-looking.     

Reilly stated that large part of the contribution of the Commission will stem from its findings on the future of oil drilling in the U.S. –  not just in the Gulf of Mexico, but also in other sensitive areas.  Reilly highlighted Alaska as one of those areas of concern.     

But today the Commission may have changed its approach just one day into its work. Noting the significant concern expressed by so many people on the moratorium – both concerns expressed by witnesses at the hearings, as well as by people the commissioners met during their trips to gulf communities over the weekend – Reilly stated that he has changed his mind about how much emphasis should be paid to the moratorium.     

While no commission findings have yet been made (the co-Chairs again emphasized that their commission is only two days old), there were pointed questions by Bob Graham about a blanket approach to shut down all 33 rigs. Graham likened the oil drilling moratorium to recalls in the airline business. He said that he had read about a Boeing aircraft window safety concern, when 12,000 planes needed to be inspected. Graham said, “I am sure they didn’t wait until inspecting the 12,000th plane before putting the first plane back in service.” Graham further questioned DOI’s blanket approach when asking “why can’t [DOI] do a rig by rig evaluation?”     

While these statements may be seen as Administration criticisms, I suspect this is exactly the independence that the President wanted when he set up the Commission. If they are to act as a commission of independent experts, examination of Administration decisions must be a part of the analysis if the Commission’s final recommendations are to be of the highest value to the President.     

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 

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