Friday, October 12, 2012

Petition | Tony Burke: Reverse approval for Hancock's coal export terminal at Abbot Point |

Petition | Tony Burke: Reverse approval for Hancock's coal export terminal at Abbot Point | Last Thursday Federal Environment minister Tony Burke quietly approved a huge new coal export terminal at Abbot Point in the Great Barrier Reef, but new findings show that the adjacent Caley Valley wetland is home to a federally threatened species.


  1. A look at how safety (and attitudes)in deepwater drilling has hardly changed since the Macondo disaster.

    As weathered oil and dead marine life continue to wash up on Gulf shores, environmentalists worry that America has failed to heed the lessons of the summer of 2010, when an ocean of oil gushed from a broken pipe, and mesmerized a nation.

    On a hot summer day in June, representatives from some of the world's richest oil companies gathered at the Superdome in New Orleans, where Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declared, "[The] Gulf of Mexico is back in business," as he kicked off a federal auction of 39 million acres of offshore drilling leases.
    BP bid nearly $240 million that day, just two years after the catastrophic blowout, and gobbled up 43 drilling leases in the same central region of the Gulf where the company struggled for months to stop the oil gushing from the now-infamous Macondo well.
    Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) linked unusually high numbers of dead and beached dolphins to the oil spill. But don't expect to hear much about dead dolphins or tall balls on the campaign trail. Environmentalists say our leaders are suffering from oil spill "amnesia."
    David Pettit, a senior attorney for the NRDC. "Fresh oil from the Macondo well continues to wash ashore ... and the government is being negligent by issuing leases to drill now and drill deeper without ensuring all necessary precautions."
    Pettit told Truthout that, despite reforms to deep-water drilling regulation made since the BP spill, regulators continue to issue drilling permits without the detailed analysis necessary to understand the potential environmental impacts on already damaged ecosystems. On his blog, Pettit explains that the DESIGN FLAW in Cameron-style BLOWOUT preventers like those that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster "still exists today."


    The industry has developed new technology since the spill, but Pettit told Truthout that he has yet to be convinced that the new systems are sufficient to stop another ecological disaster.

    One deep-water containment system, the Helix, was developed by a consortium of gas drilling firms, but has only been tested theoretically on desktops with model exercises, not in the ocean itself. In fact, a full-scale test of how regulators and the industry would respond to another runaway offshore well in the Gulf of Mexico was not completed until July 30, 2012, when Shell successfully tested a new capping stack 6,900 feet below the surface of the Gulf.

    "I was glad to see the ... test work out. But things didn't go so well for Shell in Alaska," Pettit said in a reference to Shell's recent decision to temporarily suspend a controversial drilling operation off Alaska's north coast after an oil spill containment dome malfunctioned during a test run last month.

    "I don't think we know enough to be comfortable yet. I'd like to see a no-advance-notice test in deep water 50 miles off of [the] Gulf Coast," Pettit said.



      This lease sale is in the Mississippi Canyon, ground zero for Deepwater Horizon. You’d think the oil spill would’ve been on their minds, but the environmental impact statement for the sale boldly ignored the spill’s catastrophic effects on wildlife. Instead, it relied on incomplete information from before the BP spill, in clear violation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

      It is dangerously wishful thinking to believe that Gulf ecosystems and fisheries still reeling from the oily onslaught two years ago could withstand a second avoidable ecological disaster. For example, as my colleague Michael Jasny has documented, coastal dolphin populations have been decimated. The survivors are “severely ill” and, instead of recovering, are still undergoing an unprecedented die-off. But as far as BOEM is concerned, nothing has changed.


      If a similar disaster happened today, there’s no guarantee that we wouldn’t get the same result: oil covered beaches and wetlands, oil drenched birds and sea turtles, millions of gallons of toxic dispersants introduced into the environment and our food chain, a fishing industry struggling to survive, and a mass die off of dolphins.

      “Trust us,” said the oil and gas industry before the BP disaster, “Our blowout preventers will work and we can clean up any spilled oil before it seriously impacts the environment.” Today, the oil and gas industry continues to ask for our trust, even though the design flaw in the Cameron-style blowout preventers that was identified in the BOEMRE-commissioned technical report still exists, and even though the undersea containment systems that the industry and BOEM are relying on to cap a wild well quickly have not been tested at the depths and pressures of current and proposed deepwater wells. The Helix system has been tested on a tabletop in Houston, but the tabletop was not under water.
      One of many circumstances to be considered is danger to marine mammals in the Gulf. For example, as my colleague Michael Jasny has written about the Gulf’s dolphin die-off, “[n]ever have the dolphins experienced a die-off that has lasted as long, involved as many animals, or afflicted as many calves.” As many of these dolphins are from small, near-coastal, and potentially distinct populations, the status of the populations must be assessed in light of the die-off. Only then can the public and decision makers properly weight the risk new oil and gas activities pose to species already ravaged by the BP disaster.

      No one should be under the illusion that decisions on expanded oil and gas activities in the Gulf have been informed by an assessment of the Gulf’s post-BP environmental and health baseline or that the risks from another oil spill have been adequately weighed. Nor should the public assume that it’s gotten any more guarantees on safety and containment from the oil and gas industry.



    Turns out blowout preventers may not prevent blowouts

    On March 23, 2001, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management and Regulation (BOEMRE) released the results of a technical study of the blowout preventer that failed to stop the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout nearly a year ago. I was shocked by the results, as were many others.

    A blowout preventer is supposed to be the last, fail-safe defense against a well blowout. According to the Dallas News:

    Three years ago, Cameron senior manager Melvyn Whitby wrote about the importance of deepwater blowout preventers in Drilling Contractor magazine: When "the BOP is called on to function in an emergency situation, it is the main barrier protecting human life, capital equipment and the environment. Therefore, it must function without fail."

    But the Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer, manufactured by Cameron, did fail. It failed because the pressure of the escaping oil and gas buckled the drill pipe and pushed it off-center so that the jaws of the blowout preventer’s shear rams, which are supposed to cut and seal the drill pipe, jammed and could not close. In my view, this is a fundamental design defect in the design of the Cameron-style blowout preventers, which are widely used in deepwater exploration. We now know that there is a critical failure mode in these devices which has not been designed against.

    This shows that the blowout preventers are not fail-safe, and do not meet the standards that Cameron’s Mr. Whitby set out. Indeed, BOEMRE knows that blowout preventers are not fail-safe: studies that BOEMRE’s predecessor did or commissioned show that these devices do fail on occasion. Not always – but from the safety standpoint, sometimes is unacceptable.
    Here is an unbelievable quote from the Wall Street Journal article on the BOEMRE technical report: “In testimony before the presidential commission investigating the spill last year, Bill Ambrose, a Transocean executive,
    Oh really, Mr. Ambrose? So in the view of Transocean (who owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon rig), the blowout preventer is not designed to prevent a blowout? How safe can oil wells be considered while blowout preventers have this fundamental flaw?

    said "blowout preventers weren't designed to cut off a flowing well.”


    1. above paragraph should read:

      Here is an unbelievable quote from the Wall Street Journal article on the BOEMRE technical report: “In testimony before the presidential commission investigating the spill last year, Bill Ambrose, a Transocean executive,
      said "blowout preventers weren't designed to cut off a flowing well.”

      Oh really, Mr. Ambrose? So in the view of Transocean (who owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon rig), the blowout preventer is not designed to prevent a blowout? How safe can oil wells be considered while blowout preventers have this fundamental flaw?

  3. The quest for "cheap foreign labour" continues.

    They will not be happy untill they can bring these people in and pay them a lot less than Aussie workers.

    Some things they will try are;

    They do not need to be paid as much because they do not live in the Australian community and prices back home are a lot less.

    Charge them more for food and accom.

    Make them refund fares and finders fees.

    And lots of other tricks.

    MORE foreign workers are expected to service Australian resources projects within the next few years as major companies look to save on labour costs.

    The Australian mining industry is gearing up to use "pit stop" crews of temporary workers to maintain and service major operations in the nation's north-west.

    While teams of overseas workers are already servicing offshore oil and gas facilities, Karsten Gustera, the strategy and developments director of mining services group Logicamms, says many large remote onshore mining operations could soon be maintained by temporary crews rather than a permanent workforce.

    "I think in a couple of years time, probably on a five-year horizon, we're probably going to see pit stop maintenance crews coming from overseas to maintain these mine facilities because it's going to be too expensive to get Australian labour," Mr Gustera said.

    "You can either embrace these changes that are coming or you can fight it, in which case you'll probably die as a service provider."

    Logicamms organises operational and regulatory work with high profile resources companies such as Rio Tinto and Chevron.

    Mr Gustera said the hydrocarbon sector was already talking about using pit stop maintenance crews of overseas workers as cost pressures on labour forced proponents of bigger projects to look offshore.

    And some big mining projects were already delivering projects using overseas labour.

    "They're disguised as specialists, but in reality they're basically doing the maintenance activities."

    Foreign workers would likely be sought for projects valued at more than $100 million, he said.

  4. And the quest to destroy all that is good continues unabated.

    It's a good point - why cut down these 600 year old trees to wood chip them,send them to Japan and have them return as junk mail brochures,to be thrown away?

    A conservation group is calling on the State Government to change the criteria for classifying old growth forest after it found karri trees up to 600 years old are being wood-chipped.

    The Forest Alliance sent two karri samples - one from a stump in a clear-fell area and the other from a woodchip mill - to a laboratory in New Zealand for testing.

    Alliance spokeswoman Jess Beckerling says the results are astounding.

    "We've gone to the best radio carbon dating laboratory that is available and we've gone to the head of that school and he's given us a 91.4% probability that the sample that we sent from the woodchip mill is between 511 and 596 years old," Ms Beckerling said.

    "These 600 year old trees - ancient trees - are trees that are our natural heritage and for them to be getting torn down predominantly for woodchips, and those woodchips are being exported to Japan and coming back to us as junk mail brochures, is shocking to everybody in Western Australia, I'm sure."

    The Environment Minister Bill Marmion has been contacted for comment.

  5. Aussie loggers : eh what?We've done nothing wrong!

    An Australian-led logging company in Papua New Guinea has been involved in arrangements which have seen more than 2 million hectares of land, much of it pristine forest, taken out of customary ownership.

    Land in PNG is almost sacred but over the past eight years it has been under assault from a land scandal that has seen 11 per cent of the country leased under controversial Special Agricultural and Business Leases.

    The leases are meant to be for small agricultural developments, not for logging, but they have been rorted by logging interests.
    IT&S offered to build the highway in return for harvesting logs along the route, but as time went by, the plan grew.

    The original plan was for a road corridor of 40 metres, 20 metres each side of the carriageway, which landowners welcomed.

    But it soon became a plan for a corridor stretching to 1 kilometre each side of the road, then to 5 kilometres.

    Finally, IT&S arranged for landowner companies to lease the land of all the communities living on more than 2 million hectares of land. The land would then be made available for projects with IT&S.

    The paperwork and approval for the leases, including ascertaining they had landowner permission, was supposed to be prepared independently by the PNG government Lands Department. But in this case, it was prepared by IT&S.
    In correspondence to a PNG environment organisation, obtained by Background Briefing, Mr Harsley said the joint venture agreements that gave IT&S access to the 2 million hectares of land have terms of only 25 years, not 99 years.

    "Independent Timbers and Stevedoring went to considerable lengths to protect, by contract, that all landowners had the right to live, hunt and fish on customary lands," Mr Harsley said in the letter.

    "We cannot remove them, their rights are protected by contract."