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Environment, Reality and the New Normal


by Bill Chameides | September 19th, 2011
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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After the Deepwater Horizon disaster you might think avoiding a repeat blowout would be priority Number 1 for the industry, but apparently not. Is this the new normal or just plain normal?

When it comes to the environment, is what’s considered normal changing … and getting downright weird?

Last week Al Gore’s Internet/TV show 24 Hours of Reality premiered, lighting up computer and television screens around the world with images of scientists and environmentalists presenting evidence, in 24 one-hour segments, that climate change is already occurring and poses significant threats.

“Across the globe, cataclysmic weather events are occurring with such regularity that it’s being called a new normal,” Gore states, “but there is nothing normal about it.” 

Ditto for the following environmental issues hot off the press.

The Deepwater Horizon Blowout

Last week a new report [pdf] by federal investigators was published on the events surrounding the Deepwater Horizon blowout on April 20, 2010, which killed 11 people and spewed some 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Not surprisingly, BP was found to be the central responsible party. Why? Among other factors, BP’s Deepwater operation was “significantly behind schedule” and “more than $58 million over budget” — and BP was in a rush to close up shop and move on.

That rush job translated into seven violations of federal regulations, namely the failure to: 

  • “protect health, safety, property, and the environment by (1) performing all operations in a safe and workmanlike manner; and (2) maintaining all equipment and work areas in a safe condition;”
  • “take measures to prevent the unauthorized release of hydrocarbons into the Gulf of Mexico;”
  • “take necessary precautions to keep the well under control at all times;”
  • “cement the well in a manner that would properly control formation pressures and fluids and prevent the release of fluids from any stratum through the wellbore into offshore waters;”
  • “use pressure integrity test and related hole‐behavior observations … to adjust the drilling fluid program and the setting depth of the next casing string;”
  • “conduct major inspections of all [blowout preventer] BOP stack components;” and
  • “perform the negative test procedures detailed in an application for a permit to modify its plans.”

And here’s the strange thing. Back then BP apparently could not take the time to follow protocols that very likely would have averted a catastrophe, but now many in industry are complaining that the government is taking too much time reviewing permits for new drilling operations in the gulf, time being taken presumably to assure safety and prevent another Deepwater Horizon accident.

But here’s another strange thing: permitting in the gulf is proceeding apace (see my recent post on and the Times-Picayune’s graphic of permit status).

So, after causing a major environmental catastrophe because BP did not take the time to do it right, there are those in the industry criticizing the government for taking the time to make sure to do it right and thus avoid a repeat catastrophe. You’d think avoiding another Deepwater Horizon would be priority Number 1 for the industry, but apparently not. Is this the new normal or just plain normal?

Congress Struggles With Words, Facts

With Congressional approval ratings dwindling faster than Arctic sea ice (see here and here), Congress has turned to hyperbole when it comes to all things environmental.

Even so, the latest salvos on regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, a topic I’ve written on quite a bit this year (see here and here for example), have reached new hyperbolic heights.

Last Tuesday, when members of the Energy and Power Subcommittee met to vote on bills that would stop EPA from setting emissions standards for industrial boilers and cement kilns, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) referred to the agency’s actions as “a jihad against jobs,” going on to say, “I don’t think we’d be here today if the EPA weren’t on some jihad against jobs in America.” He concluded with an invitation for his esteemed colleagues to “join us in this legislation and block the jihad against jobs that’s coming out of this EPA.” (Watch video.)

Not to be outdone, the following day from the Democratic side of the aisle came Rep. Bobby Rush, from Illinois, who, during a hearing on EPA’s new rules for coal-fired power plants, referred to “yet another Republican jihad assault on the EPA.”

Folks, this may be the new normal, but it’s also kinda insane.

Big Cat Invasion of New York City

It seems the boundaries between humans and wildlife are thinning.

This is an underlying premise, I understand, for the appearance of a new disease that kills millions in Stephen Soderbergh’s new movie Contagion. And is probably also the explanation for the appearance of wildlife in strange and unexpected places these days. Witness the appearance of a mountain lion from South Dakota in Milford, Connecticut, about 70 miles northeast of New York City. Apparently the big cat had spent about a year and a half making its way eastward passing though Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Now comes an even more incredible feline pilgrimage to the Big Apple — an apparent five-year, 1,800 mile journey from Boulder, Colorado, to midtown New York City. What kind of cat could have made that journey, you might ask? Not a mountain lion. A “chunky,” green-eyed calico with green eyes, whom its Boulder owners call Willow.

Now that’s just plain weird.

filed under: Arctic, climate change, energy, faculty, global warming, oceans, oil, policy, politics, wildlife
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