Research Paper: Government's Reaction on the Gulf Oil Spill

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Government's Reaction On The Gulf Oil Spill

On April 20, 2010, catastrophe struck the Gulf of Mexico with the explosion and eventual sinking of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig which resulted in the death of 11 crew members and left many others injured. While threatening at least 400 species, at least 19 vital wildlife refuges, and communities depending on the Gulf's multibillion dollar commercial and recreational fishing and tourist industries, the spill is set to become one of the United State's worst environmental disasters. The oil spill, which was considered the worst in the U.S. history for several weeks, set a new and notorious record as the worst ever in the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster, which began in April 20 this year, has spewed approximately 140.6 million gallons of oil into the Gulf waters (Jernelo and Olof 305). This eclipses the previous record of 140 million gallons set by the Ixtoc I spill off the coast of Mexico from 1979 to 1980 (Koch).

The explosion o the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has captured the general public's attention as well as that of the government officials on a scale that is historical. The BP has become the public's focus of the spill. Though it is still early to determine the spill's full environmental, operational and regulatory impact, as well as the full range of public and private sector responses, key issues are beginning to emerge that will have significant implications for the energy industry as a whole, beyond those entities engaged in or supporting, offshore drilling and the manner in which the United States produces, transports and consumes energy (Jonnson). According to Jonsson, the Gulf oil spill blowout was so large and intense that by the time the BP capped the well in mid-July, the pressure within the estimated 50 million barrel reservoir beneath it had declined noticeably. The government panel that was tasked with measuring the flow rate from the well released new data on Monday that suggested that the well released 62,000 barrels or 2.6 million gallons of oil daily initially, but that it slowed down eventually to 52,000 barrels a day by June.

The BP's efforts at the bottom of the Gulf that was referred to as the "top kill" effort failed. This was their only bid to stop rather than to contain the flow of oil. The company now believes that it can shut down the well permanently by drilling a relief well that intersects the leaking well. It will them pump heavy drilling mud through the relief well into the leaking well so as to slow the flow of oil and afterwards cement the leaking well near the source (Walker 27). The primary relief well and a backup are scheduled to be finished at some point in August. The task of intersecting a well into the leaking well to slow the flow is difficult and could require several attempts, pushing back the actual shutdown date (Sappenfield, 1). The BP is trying to limit the damage the spill by collecting oil at the source. It is also fighting the oil spill at sea by skimming oil form the surface, carrying out controlled burns and spraying dispersant.

A containment cap has been doing a reasonably good job, a June 23 mishap meant that it had to be removed for a day. When it is working, it captures about 15,000 barrels of oil a day which are processed on the surface by a ship by the name Discoverer Enterprise (Sappenfield, 1). A second ship called the Q4000, was linked to the valve on June 16, on the side of the blowout preventer and began burning off about 10,000 barrels a day. A third ship, the Helix Producer, with a capacity to burn 25,000 barrels of oil a day was set to be hooked up to another valve on the blowout preventer by June 29 but this plan was delayed due to high seas (Sappenfield, 1). The containment cap is essentially a stopgap measure and BP would like to replace it with a more robust one called the overshot tool. The overshot tool promises advantages like capturing more oil, due to it being bolted directly to the blowout preventer and thus providing a better seal. It also has two, more flexible risers that ships could connect to and disconnect from more easily should there be a hurricane. The danger that this poses is that the existing cap would have to be removed and allow oil to flow more freely until the new cap is affixed (Sappenfield, 1).

The U.S. government officials have classified the situation as an "incident of national significance" which is also defined as an event that requires a coordinated response to minimize damage, saves lives and plan for long-term economic recovery. The government's National Response Team which is composed of 16 federal agencies and departments, coordinates the federal response. The government's job according to the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is to "keep the boot on the neck" of BP (Sappenfield, 2). Due to the government being unable to take over from BP at the wellhead and unwilling to displace the web of contractors leading the cleanup at the BP's behest, the administration has taken on the role of foreman on the process of providing relief in the Gulf. It has also pushed the BP to speed up containment efforts at the well. Sometimes, the pressure it has placed on the BP has been ignored as was the case when the BP refused to switch to a dispersant that was less toxic and more effective. President Obama forced the BP's hand on June 16th by establishing a $20 billion escrow account, to be funded by the BP, from which all damage claims could be paid. The account is to be run by Kenneth Feinberg who was also responsible for running the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. The government and BP Oil have deployed 1,178 people to the region to ensure protection of the Gulf Coast shoreline and its wildlife. Officials have established five staging areas, namely, Biloxi, Pensacola, Venice, Pascagoula and Theodore to protect sensitive shorelines (Michalowski and Kramer 118).

The United States Coast Guard and BP deployed 76 response vessels which include skimmers, tugs, barges and recovery vessels to assist in containment and clean up efforts. They have also sent six fixed wind aircraft, 11 helicopters, 10 remotely operated vehicles and two mobile offshore drilling units. The public-private response is using 174,060 feet of boom to contain the spill with a total 265,460 feet ordered as at last Friday morning. The Defense Department has two C-130 Hercules cargo planes specifically designed for aerial spraying sent to Mississippi and are awaiting orders to start dumping chemicals on the oil spill. The Navy has also sent equipment for the cleanup, (O'Keefe).

The environmental protection agency is monitoring air quality in the region to measure the potential impact of the controlled burn of some of the oil. The agency will also consult and consider "low tech" or "no tech" solutions for preserving the Gulf coast's fragile ecosystem. The Interior Department deployed SWAT teams from the Minerals Management Service to inspect 30 drilling rigs operating in the deepwater sections of the Gulf. Inspectors will check to see whether the rigs have conducted blow-out preventer tests as well as inspect related records. The teams will also verify that emergency well control exercises are taking place. The inspectors will then inspect 47 deep-water production platforms in the gulf through a process that will take longer that rig inspections because of the complexities of the structures. The Justice Department in the meantime will be dispatching attorneys from multiple divisions of the Justice Department to New Orleans to meet with the U.S. attorney and response teams and to monitor the oil spill. The team will be led by Ignacia S. Moreno who heads the environment and natural resources division and Tony West who is the head of the criminal division, (O'Keefe).

The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is providing on-site support and predicting the oil spill's trajectory. The Office of Response and Restoration is conducting over flight surveys to track the oil slick (O'Keefe). The National Weather Service is providing weather forecasts to the entire response team and NOAA is consulting the government and the BP on the potential impact to fish, birds, marine mammals and sea turtles. It is also using experimental satellite data to survey the marine pollution and will work on determining the full nature and extent of the damage to natural resources and the restoration work needed. The Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told the press that any future offshore drilling will not be done at the risk of having to spend billions of dollars cleaning up the spills that result from it. It is in this light that the U.S. lawmakers are expected to unveil a condensed new energy bill to help make offshore drilling safer. The bill is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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