Category Archives: Offshore drilling

Trump shielded Big Oil from government shutdown effects

Repost from the San Jose Mercury News

Administration brought back furloughed employees to plan for radically expanding offshore oil and gas drilling

By MARY CREASMAN, January 27, 2019 at 7:15 am, updated January 28, 2019 at 4:16 am
Tug boats transport an oil platform, in this photograph taken above Ingleside, Texas, on May 5, 2017. | Eddie Seal/Bloomberg News

President Trump’s government shutdown held our communities hostage over a racist and environmentally destructive border wall.

Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were forced to go without paychecks while the bills piled up. (How long could you go without a paycheck?) Our national parks suffered what could be permanent damage. Public health protections and safeguards against pollution were put on hold.

But one industry continued with business as usual — oil and gas.

During the shutdown, Acting Interior Secretary and former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt brought back furloughed employees to continue working on plans to radically expand offshore oil and gas drilling.

Leasing our oceans to polluters is apparently an “essential” function for this administration. As drafted, the plans would open nearly all of our nation’s coasts to oil and gas drilling, including California’s shoreline — where there have been no federal lease sales since 1984.

The offshore drilling expansion itself is unacceptable, but the fact that the Trump administration prioritized work on it during the shutdown is a slap in the face to the furloughed federal employees and all Californians who care about our beaches and healthy oceans.

And the Interior Department’s efforts to advance offshore drilling wasn’t Trump’s only effort to keep the oil and gas industry happy despite the shutdown.

While thousands of other government employees were furloughed, the Trump administration was quietly moving ahead with its efforts to advance drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Western Arctic region of Alaska.

Similarly, even as national parks remained largely unstaffed, the Bureau of Land Management, an agency in the Interior Department, moved forward on 22 new drilling permit applications on public lands in Alaska, North Dakota, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

This blatant catering to the oil industry is unprecedented. The shutdown was so good for Big Oil that the head of the American Petroleum Institute — the oil industry’s main trade association — admitted they “have not seen any major effects of the shutdown on our industry.”

That statement contrasts deeply with the harm imposed elsewhere by the shutdown. Here in California, communities suffering from drinking water contamination had to wait for the EPA to reopen for action on toxic chemicals.

Overflowing trash bins and toilets, permanent vandalism and destruction left lasting damage on our national parks, and these places had to rely on volunteers to fill the gaps while federal workers and contractors were forced off the job. Joshua Tree National Park, for example, saw visitors chopping down iconic Joshua trees, illegal off-roading and graffiti — and the Park Service didn’t have staff to investigate.

These misplaced priorities should not come as a surprise given the Trump administration’s efforts, from Day 1, to sell our public lands and waters to Big Oil and other corporate polluters. The administration is stacked with industry executives focused on profits over people.

Our environment and our communities deserved better than the needless damage inflicted by the Trump shutdown. Thankfully, we have representatives in Congress who will fight to protect our coast.

Reps. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, and Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, have introduced legislation that would preserve California’s coast from the Trump administration’s drilling expansion. And California voters decisively sent a bold and pro-environment freshman class to the House of Representatives to stand up to Trump’s toxic agenda.

The Trump administration is shameless about its agenda to ruin our environment and poison our families, all to ensure more corporate profits. But California is paying attention, and we won’t let it happen.

Mary Creasman is CEO of the California League of Conservation Voters.
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    Oil bust claims first casualties – Hercules Offshore

    Repost from MySanAntonio.com

    Hercules Offshore files bankruptcy with plan to convert debt

    By Bloomberg, August 13, 2015
    Several Texas oil and gas producers have either filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection or have missed interest payments and are heading toward restructuring.
    Several Texas oil and gas producers have either filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection or have missed interest payments and are heading toward restructuring. Photo: James Durbin

    Hercules Offshore Inc., owner of the largest fleet of shallow-water drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, filed for bankruptcy with a plan to be taken over by senior creditors.

    The company said it planned to use the bankruptcy process to implement a proposal, announced in July, to cut $1.2 billion in debt. The plan calls for investors to trade their senior notes for almost 97 percent of Hercules’s equity.

    Some noteholders would also lend the company $450 million to help finish building a new oil-drilling rig, the company said in a statement.

    Under the plan, current shareholders would have a chance to split the 3 percent of the company not going to noteholders, Hercules said. The plan must be approved by a bankruptcy judge in Wilmington, Delaware, where the case was filed Thursday.

    Hercules, which leases rigs to oil and gas producers, said the plan has the “overwhelming” support of the noteholders.

    The Houston-based company, formed in 2004 as a small gulf driller, has a fleet of 27 jack-up rigs and 21 lift boats.

    Flagging Demand

    Demand for both U.S. and international business has flagged as the price of oil has plunged. Drillers around the world have also been suffering from a glut of new sophisticated vessels displacing older rigs in the market. Cal Dive International Inc., a contractor that does manned diving and platform installation, sought creditor protection in March.

    Debt issues by Hercules and fellow Houston-based drilling rig provider Paragon Offshore were among the worst-performing oil and gas service bonds in the high-yield energy index in the first quarter of 2015, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Spencer Cutter and Yuanliang Huang.

    The number of rigs operating in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico has fallen by more than half from last year’s high of 63 in August, according to Baker Hughes Inc.

    Hercules listed liabilities of $1.3 billion and $546 million in assets as of Aug. 11.

    The case is In re Hercules Offshore Inc., 15-11685, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

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      Santa Barbara oil spill might have been far larger than projected

      Repost from Associated Press
      [Editor:  See also local coverage in the Benicia Herald.  – RS]

      Oil spill might be larger than projected

      By Michael R. Blood, Aug. 5, 2015 4:04 PM EDT
      In this May 21 file photo, David Ledig, a national monument manager from the Bureau of Land Management, walks past rocks covered in oil at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta. New documents released Wednesday show that the Plains All American Pipeline spill, originally estimated to be around 101,000 gallons, might have been much larger than projected. JAE C. HONG , THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

      LOS ANGELES (AP) — More than two months after oil from a ruptured pipeline fouled California beaches, documents released Wednesday disclosed that the spill might have been far larger than earlier projected.

      Plains All American Pipeline had estimated that the May 19 break along a corroded section of pipe near Santa Barbara released up to 101,000 gallons of crude. The resulting mess forced a popular state park to shut down for two months, and goo from the spill washed up on beaches as far as 100 miles away.

      In documents made public Wednesday, the Texas-based company said alternate calculations found the spill might have been up to 143,000 gallons, or about 40 percent larger.

      The company is continuing its analysis, and the figures are preliminary. Plains All American has hired an outside consultant as part of the effort to reconcile the differences, the documents said.

      At this point, the company considers the methodology used in its initial estimate to be “the most straight forward and accurate calculation.” However, it emphasized the estimate could change as the investigation continues.

      In a statement, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Massachusetts, faulted the federal agency responsible for regulating the nation’s pipelines for the conflicting figures.

      “The revelation that the Santa Barbara pipeline spill was much larger than originally thought underscores the importance of our pipeline safety agency providing complete information to Congress and the American people. Unfortunately, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s operational culture has been to withhold information from the American people and Congress,” he said.

      The company has been criticized for taking about 90 minutes to alert federal responders after confirming the spill, even though federal regulations require the company to notify the National Response Center, a clearinghouse for reports of hazardous-material releases, “at the earliest practicable moment.” State law requires immediate notification of a release or a threatened release.

      The cleanup is nearly complete, although the cause of the break is under investigation. The state attorney general and local prosecutors are considering possible charges, and the documents said the U.S. Justice Department is also investigating.

      The company said it’s covering legal costs for several employees who could be questioned by the Justice Department.

      No timeline has been set to restart the pipeline.

      CEO Greg Armstrong told Wall Street analysts in a phone call that the company faced as much as $257 million in potential costs from the break, which includes estimates for cleanup operations, possible legal claims and fines.

      At the end of June, the company said cleanup costs had hit $92 million.

      Wildlife officials reported that nearly 200 birds and more than 100 marine mammals were found dead in the spill area. Investigators have not yet determined what, if any, role the spill played in those deaths.

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        Big oil slick off Santa Barbara County coast sparks new concerns

        Repost from the Los Angeles Times
        [Editor:  See also ABC News, Coast Guard Says California Oil Slick Will Vanish on Its Own.  – RS]

        Big oil slick off Santa Barbara County coast sparks new concerns

        By Javier Panzar , Joseph Serna, Matt Hamilton, July 29, 2015 10:39pm

        That greasy luster returned once again to the waters off Santa Barbara County.

        An oil slick that stretched more than 3 miles was spotted Wednesday by some kayakers, about two months after a ruptured pipeline spilled more than 21,000 gallons of crude into the ocean off this picturesque coastline.

        The sheen — no thicker than a coat of paint — did not prompt the closure of any beaches, and the U.S. Coast Guard said the oily substance would dissipate on its own.

        As Coast Guard investigators awaited lab results that may pinpoint the oil’s source, images of a shiny patch of sea and splotches of tar along these pristine shores sent a quiver of anxiety through a community that’s still recovering from the May 19 spill.

        Goleta Beach oil spill“I just hoped it wasn’t another oil spill,” said Janine Dorn, a substitute teacher who brought her black poodle, Jack, to survey Goleta Beach before sunset. The oil spill in May had her fuming, she said. “Then I see this and it’s incredible. This can’t be happening again.”

        Shortly before 11 a.m., the kayakers reported seeing the sheen about 1,000 feet off Goleta Beach, according to the county fire department. A black and brown gooey substance had coated the kayaks and the kayakers’ legs, according to photos from the fire department.

        Initially described as measuring 60 feet wide, the sheen by Wednesday evening had stretched 3.5 miles long and half a mile wide, U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Ryan Schmid said. As tides moved, the oil split into sections and covered only about one-third of the total area, he said.

        The patch was seen floating near an oil platform owned by Venoco Inc., but the company denied that its platform was involved. That platform, known as Holly, was shut down in May, a company official said. Its pipeline was flushed of any oil and refilled with seawater.

        The Coast Guard, meanwhile, said the sheen could have been an ordinary, natural seepage. At Coal Oil Point, a seep field in the Santa Barbara Channel, thousands of gallons of oil flow into the ocean each day, something residents have grown accustomed to.

        “The earth burps all the time,” said Robert Hernandez, an electrician who fishes nearly every day off the Goleta pier. “You smell it, you get a little on you. No big deal.”

        Hernandez, 60, said he has been fishing along the Central Coast since he was 15. Sheens such as those spotted Wednesday are part of life in a region where the petroleum-rich sea bed regularly emits oil and natural gas, he said, which made him question why it was newsworthy. “It cracks me up,” he said. “At first I thought there was a shark attack or something.”

        Yet environmental activist Rebecca Claassen, an organizer with Food and Water Watch, said it’s too early to minimize the sheen as a natural occurrence, saying the oil platforms that dot the county’s coastline pose a daily risk. “We can see a spill any day as long as there is drilling off shore,” she said.

        Federal officials said Wednesday’s sheen also could be a remnant of this spring’s spill, when the corroded pipe operated by Plains All American Pipeline leaked an estimated 101,000 gallons of crude along the Gaviota coast and forced a weeks-long closure of Refugio State Beach.

        The director of the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, Charlton Bonham, said Wednesday that the cleanup of the Refugio spill is ongoing, with about 14,000 gallons of oily water removed from the ocean.

        Cleanup crews have responded to reports of tar balls as far away as Orange County, and one tar ball recovered in Manhattan Beach had the same oil “DNA” as the oil spilled at Refugio, he said.

        Appearing in Sacramento before the state Ocean Protection Council, Bonham said the natural seepage in the area is challenging how his agency assesses the effectiveness of recovery efforts. “What is clean?” he told the panel. “How clean is clean?”

        As federal and state investigators await the results of laboratory tests from Wednesday’s incident, Santa Barbara County’s director of public health, Dr. Takashi Wada, said there is no immediate risk to swimmers, and the county’s beaches and fishing piers remain open.

        After swimming in the water off Goleta Beach with her friend, Anya Schmitz, 16, opined that the water was crystal clear — perfect for a summer dip.

        “Conditions are great,” she said. “Seems like a lot of hype to me.”

        Panzar reported from Goleta; Serna and Hamilton from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Phil Willon in Sacramento contributed to this report.
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