Federal Gov’t Halts Sand Berm Dredging

Federal Gov’t Halts Sand Berm Dredging

Nungesser Pleads With President To Allow Work To Continue

 

POSTED: 5:37 pm CDT June 22, 2010
UPDATED: 9:21 am CDT June 23, 2010

 

NEW ORLEANS — The federal government is shutting down the dredging that was being done to create protective sand berms in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The berms are meant to protect the Louisiana coastline from oil. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department has concerns about where the dredging is being done. 

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, who was one of the most vocal advocates of the dredging plan, has sent a letter to President Barack Obama, pleading for the work to continue. 

Nungesser said the government has asked crews to move the dredging site two more miles farther off the coastline. 

“Once again, our government resource agencies, which are intended to protect us, are now leaving us vulnerable to the destruction of our coastline and marshes by the impending oil,” Nungesser wrote to Obama. “Furthermore, with the threat of hurricanes or tropical storms, we are being put at an increased risk for devastation to our area from the intrusion of oil. 

Nungesser has asked for the dredging to continue for the next seven days, the amount of time it would take to move the dredging operations two miles and out resume work. 

Work is scheduled to halt at midnight Wednesday. 

The California dredge located off the Chandelier Islands has pumped more than 50,000 cubic yards of material daily to create a sand berm, according to Plaquemines Parish officials. 

Nungesser’s letter includes an emotional plea to the president. 

“Please don’t let them shut this dredge down,” he wrote. “This requires your immediate attention!” 

 

Deepwater Drilling Ban Lifted by New Orleans Federal Judge

Deepwater Drilling Ban Lifted by New Orleans Federal Judge

By Laurel Brubaker Calkins and Margaret Cronin Fisk – Jun 22, 2010
U.S. Deepwater Drilling Ban Lifted

Cranes load and unload ships normally used for offshore drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Photographer: Derick E. Hingle/Bloomberg

A New Orleans federal judge lifted the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed by President Barack Obama following the largest oil spill in U.S. history. Drilling services shares jumped on the news.

Obama temporarily halted all drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet on May 27 to give a presidential commission time to study improvements in the safety of offshore operations. More than a dozen Louisiana offshore service and supply companies sued U.S. regulators to lift the ban. The U.S. said it will appeal the decision.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman today granted a preliminary injunction, halting the moratorium. He also “immediately prohibited” the U.S. from enforcing the ban. Government lawyers told Feldman that ban was based on findings in a U.S. report following the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig off the Louisiana coast in April.

“The court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium,” Feldman said in his 22-page decision. “The blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.”

Separate Order

“The court cannot substitute its judgment for that of the agency, but the agency must ‘cogently explain why it has exercised its discretion in a given manner,’” Feldman said, citing a previous ruling. “It has not done so.”

Feldman in a separate order today “immediately prohibited” the U.S. from enforcing the drilling moratorium, finding the offshore companies would otherwise incur “irreparable harm.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that “continuing to drill at these depths without knowing what happened does not make any sense.”

Transocean Ltd., which leased the Deepwater Horizon to BP Plc, jumped as much as 3.5 percent in New York trading after the decision was announced. Hornbeck Offshore Services Inc., which brought the suit, surged as much as 11 percent.

The U.S. argued that the moratorium was necessary to assure public safety.

“We need to make sure deepwater drilling is as safe as we thought it was the day before this incident,” Brian Collins, a lawyer for the government, told Feldman in a court hearing June 21. “It is crucial to take the time because to fail to do so would be to gamble with the long-term future of this region.”

Biggest Quantity

BP has two pipes collecting oil and gas from the ocean floor. They collected 25,830 barrels of oil yesterday, the biggest quantity diverted from the Gulf of Mexico since the April 20 spill began, London-based BP said in a statement. BP spokesman David Nicholas declined to comment on the ruling, saying the company was not a party to the case.

Lawyers for the drilling companies told Feldman the moratorium illegally sidesteps a required industry comment period. They also said regulators failed to tell Obama that all active deepwater rigs passed an immediate re-inspection after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank, with only two rigs reporting minor violations and the rest getting approval to continue operations.

Henry Dart, special counsel for the Louisiana attorney general, told Feldman that federal regulators failed to consult with state officials about the impact of the drilling ban, allegedly violating U.S. law.

Jobs in Danger

“Even after the catastrophic events of Sept. 11, the government only shut down the airlines for three days,” Louisiana said in court papers seeking to lift the ban.

Lawyers for the state and oilfield companies told Feldman that the ban could cost as many as 20,000 jobs if the moratorium lasted 18 months.

“The defendants trivialize such losses by characterizing them as merely a small percentage of the drilling rigs affected, but it does not follow that this will somehow reduce the convincing harm suffered,” Feldman said. He said the economic impacts of the ban would “clearly ripple throughout the economy of this region.”

Feldman granted the injunction after finding it likely the oilfield companies will succeed in proving “the agency’s decision was arbitrary and capricious,” which violates federal law governing policy decisions.

‘Immeasurable’ Effect

“An invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in depths over 500 feet simply 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 the country,” Feldman said.

“Today’s ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman is an important step in returning thousands of oil service workers to their jobs,” Royal Dutch Shell Plc spokesman Bill Tanner said in an e-mailed statement.

“Shell remains confident in its expertise and procedures to safely drill and complete deepwater wells.” Shell’s safety standards often exceed regulatory requirements and include including a rigorous training program for well engineers, Tanner said.

Kjersti Torgersen, a spokeswoman for Statoil ASA in Houston, did not immediately respond to a telephone call seeking comment. Todd M. Hornbeck, CEO of Hornbeck Offshore, didn’t immediately return a call for comment.

Little Change

Realistically, not a lot has changed, said Jud Bailey, an analyst at Jefferies & Co. in Houston.

“It’s a small victory for the industry, but clearly the administration has dug in its heels and is going to try to keep this moratorium, come hell or high water,” Bailey said today in a telephone interview. “Investors, as it relates to the drillers, are for the most part staying away. There’s too much uncertainty, too much headline risk.”

Bailey said he doesn’t think many operators would run out and immediately try to resume operations. “You run the risk of this getting overturned by the appellate court,” he said.

The case is Hornbeck Offshore Services LLC v. Salazar, 2:10-cv-01663, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

Will Obama Be the ‘Jimmy Carter of the 21st Century’?

06/17/2010 03:14 PM

The World from Berlin

Will Obama Be the ‘Jimmy Carter of the 21st Century’?

Can US President Barack Obama lead America away from fossil fuel dependency? German commentators don’t think so. Some say he is in danger of turning into an idealistic, one-term president like Jimmy Carter.

US President Barack Obama’s address from the Oval Office on Tuesday was supposed to be a moment of leadership during the worst environmental disaster in American history. But critics from across the political spectrum wondered afterwards whether he’d shown leadership at all. The geyser of oil in the Gulf of Mexico seems, technologically, to lie beyond anything either BP or the US government was prepared for, and Obama failed to mention any specific new ideas.

“The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean-energy future is now,” he declared, without offering policy details. Of course, it wasn’t a policy speech. But the fact that Obama failed to outline a clear path toward this clean-energy future seems to have disappointed a lot of people. “He didn’t boldly push an agenda,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, to Politico, the Washington-based news website. “I think a lot of people took that to mean lukewarm support for anything big.”

One immediate result of White House talks with the American arm of BP, though, was a series of concessions on Wednesday. BP Plc agreed to set aside $20 billion (€16.1 billion) in escrow to cover damage claims by shrimpers, restauranteurs and other Gulf-Coast residents hurt by the spill. The energy giant also said it would suspend shareholder dividends until 2011, when it expects to have a clearer notion of the catastrophe’s costs. Another $100 million (€80.8 million) will be set aside for compensation to BP workers hurt by the spill.

These gestures from the energy giant are the most tangible form of good news local residents have heard in the two months since the spill began. German commentators on Thursday think BP’s concessions are genuine as well as worthwhile — but they warn that Obama will need to paddle harder to realize the shining future he promised in his speech on Tuesday.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“Obama wants to lead the US out of its dependence on oil. Absolutely right. In fact it’s the very thing people have been wanting to hear from Obama for weeks.”

“But how cautious he seems, and how vague his suggestions. In 1961 President Kennedy declared a national mission to place a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Obama has chosen not to name concrete goals. No numbers, no time frame. He doesn’t dare mention how things will have to change to favor the climate. Professor Obama waits for new ideas and looks forward to a public debate. He doesn’t dare push the Senate to settle on a climate-change bill. This president won’t lead America out of a crisis this way — and he certainly won’t usher in a new era.”

The left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung argues:

“International markets have started to take environmental problems seriously. BP stock has fallen by almost 50 percent since the start of the oil catastrophe. Ratings agencies have downgraded its creditworthiness to near-junk status. And banks have stopped sealing long-term contracts with BP.”

“This situation is new. When oil companies in the past soiled the Niger Delta or the Amazon, markets tended to reward them — because corporations that skimped on security also increased their profits, to the detriment of the environment and the public interest. Now the costs of environmental damage have started to weigh on the balance sheet, with consequences extending to the possible bankruptcy of a multinational.”

“This new environmental sensibility has been possible not through a sudden display of reason on the markets, but through political decision-making. President Barack Obama made it clear (in early June) that BP won’t be exempt from criminal investigation. He’s also maintained a moratorium on new oil exploration on the deep-ocean floor, and looks determined to end corruption in federal oil agencies.”

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

“The oil company could be prosecuted by shareholders for paying billions upon billions into a fund for damages without being legally required to do so … It’s therefore a good thing that the US government has not asked for a blank check to cover damages. With the high sum (of $20 billion), the government can now offer quick and unbureaucratic First Aid (to people living near the Gulf).”

“But the firm can’t just run free now that an arbitrary sum has been set. What the final cost for damages might be, and which mistakes were made by whom, have yet to be determined. Civil and criminal complaints against BP have to remain an open possibility. This fund is just a first step toward stopping the holes that the oil catastrophe has ripped in the finances of many affected people.”

The conservative daily Die Welt writes:

“When Obama surprised people by lifting his opposition to offshore drilling, just before the , he meant it as one part of a package deal: Citizens who worried primarily about high fuel prices were meant to be placated by expanded domestic oil production — as a gambit to win more acceptance for the core of his new-energy agenda. This strategy is marked by a typical American pragmatism, unlike Europe’s forces of climate protection. The emphasis rests on incentives to save energy, on building more nuclear-energy plants and on developing new ideas in renewable energy.”

“This is the right way to make America independent of problematic nations. Going forward, the mix will also have to include exploitation of (America’s) domestic energy resources, even if it also means heavier regulation to avoid a new disaster. But if this oil shock accelerates America’s shift to new energies, and moves the West away from a dangerous dependency on fossil fuels, then the catastrophe will have at least one positive outcome.”

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

“If Barack Obama isn’t careful, he will become the Jimmy Carter of the 21st century.”

“In his speech, Obama tried to make a virtue of an emergency. He said a shift to new energy sources was now a ‘national mission.’ Just as the nation once mobilized its powers for World War II, now it needs to conquer its devilish dependence on fossil fuels … If Obama wins this debate, and achieves a true shift in energy dependence, then his name will perhaps be mentioned again in the same breath with great American presidents.”

“Politically, though, it’s fraught with risk. His opponents have already charged Obama with using the Gulf catastrophe to advance his climate agenda in Congress. Republicans rely on the tendency of Americans to prefer cheap fuel and big cars with a certain level of power. Over 30 years ago, after all, another president called for smarter American energy policies in a televised speech from the Oval Office. He wanted to know, ‘Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to resolve our serious energy problem?’ That president’s name was Jimmy Carter.”

— Michael Scott Moore

© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2010

Obama finally meets with BP brass—-20 MINUTE MEETING?!

Obama finally meets with BP brass
By: Carol E. Lee and Glenn Thrush
June 16, 2010 12:19 PM EDT
Oil giant BP has agreed to finance a $20 billion escrow fund to pay claims to people who lost income in the Gulf Coast oil spill, an administration source told POLITICO Wednesday.

Lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, who was in charge of payments to families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, will oversee the fund, the source said.

The news came as President Barack Obama finally had his showdown with top executives of BP Wednesday. The White House had announced over the weekend that it would press the company to set up a fund, which would be administered by a third party, to pay what is expected to be billions of dollars in damage claims from people and businesses up and down the Gulf Coast.

It was Obama’s first face-to-face meeting with BP CEO Tony Hayward and board chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, despite his four trips to the Gulf Coast. They met as the White House demands that BP create a third-party administered compensation fund to pay out claims filed by residents and business owners in the region.

The six BP executives arrived at the White House around 10 a.m. and were still inside after noon.

The oil giant brought its top brass, and even came armed with a top Clinton administration Justice Department official, Jamie Gorelick, whose name was floated as a possible attorney general pick for Obama. The White House side of the conference table in the Roosevelt Room was stacked: Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, five Cabinet secretaries, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, Attorney General Eric Holder and top presidential advisors. Both sides had their lawyers on hand.

Obama was scheduled to spend 20 minutes in the meeting. He entered the room with an entourage: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and her coordinator for claims oversight, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Commerce Secrertary Gary Locke, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, and senior advisor Valerie Jarrett.

The White House gave the executives a bit of cover, allowing to arrive on the side of the West Wing and walk past reporters from a distance, rather than forcing them to come through the main entrance for visitors that would have made it impossible for them to ignore the press.

But ignore the press they did, refusing to respond to shouted questions about the size of the proposed compensation fund and whether they had met with the families of the 11 workers who were killed on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig when it exploded on April 20 and sank off the coast of Louisiana.