Energy Roundup: Senator presses spill panel to examine Australian disaster
By Ben Geman and Darren Goode
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has an assignment for the presidential commission probing the BP oil spill.
He wants the panel — and a separate National Academy of Engineering review — to probe whether the disaster could have been avoided “had the oil industry and U.S. oil regulators properly heeded the warning signs of the Montara oil spill off the western coast of Australia in 2009.”
In a letter Tuesday, Menendez cites the spill in challenging claims by BP and federal officials that the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was unprecedented.
“As you know, the Montara spill followed a blowout of the wellhead platform on August 21, 2009, and continued leaking until November 3, 2009. This spill, the worst in Australian history, was similar to the Deepwater Horizon spill that occurred earlier this year in several respects,” he wrote to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, and the separate National Academy of Engineering-National Research Council panel.
“Both spills occurred as the result of offshore drilling, both spills occurred after a blowout, both spills were reportedly caused at least in part by failures of the cementing process, and the cementing contractor involved in both spills was Halliburton. These similarities suggest that the Deepwater Horizon spill was forseeable and it also begs the question of whether the Deepwater Horizon spill could have been avoided had the industry or oil regulators taken the Montara spill seriously,” Menendez adds.
Menendez flagged the Australian spill a year ago.
Menendez’s letter is the offshore drilling foe’s latest effort to call the 2009 blowout off Australia’s coast a troubling sign of U.S. drilling risks. A year ago, he cited the blowout — which spewed oil for 10 weeks — in arguing against proposals to expand U.S. offshore oil-and-gas leasing.
At a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing last November, Menendez used a large photo of the Montara platform and attached drilling rig engulfed in flames to make his point.
The words “This is offshore drilling” were written on the photo.
Australian officials plan tighter scrutiny after spill
Speaking of the Montara disaster, Reuters reports Wednesday that “Australia plans to tighten regulation of offshore oil exploration and review projects run by Thailand's PTT Exploration and Production after the nation's worst offshore oil spill last year.”
“An oil rig operated by the Thai company's Australian subsidiary caught fire off northwest Australia in August 2009 and spewed oil and condensate from the Montara wellhead for 74 days before it was stopped. ‘Widespread and systemic shortcomings in PTTEP Australasia's procedures were a direct cause of the loss of well control,’ Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said on Wednesday as he released a report into the spill.”
The Australian Broadcasting Corp., meanwhile, notes that Ferguson’s report also has “scathing” comments about the country’s oil regulators.
Would you like your turkey leaded or unleaded?
Three conservation and hunting groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday in response to the agency’s rejection of their petition to bar the use of lead in hunting ammunition and fishing tackle.
The Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Project Gutpile — a hunters’ organization — accuse the agency of shirking its responsibility.
Their petition cited nearly 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers illustrating lead poisoning to scavengers and waterfowl that ingest lead ammunition or fishing sinkers.
“The EPA’s failure to act is astonishing given the mountain of scientific evidence about the dangers of lead to wildlife,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Jeff Miller. He said there are already “safe and available alternatives” to lead.
EPA in August ruled it did not have the authority to regulate hunting ammunition, and later rejected efforts to bar lead in fishing tackles as well.
Republicans and the National Rifle Association had lined up against banning the lead ammunition and tackle, calling it an “assault on rural America.”
The conservation groups suing EPA say the Toxic Substances Control Act provides clear authority to regulate lead in ammunition and that the agency had proposed banning certain lead fishing weights in 1994.
New chapter for BP spill claims
The emergency payments phase of the $20 billion BP oil-spill fund is ending this week, and The New York Times notes that “now comes the hard part.” The Times reported on rules that Kenneth Feinberg, the administrator of the spill fund, is laying out governing final lump-sum settlements.
“More than $2.2 billion is being paid to some 150,000 individuals and businesses with documented claims, according to fund estimates. That emergency program came to an end Tuesday, and now the next phase begins: the negotiation of lump-sum final settlements for those affected by the spill. The rules for those settlements will be announced on Wednesday by Mr. Feinberg, after consulting with lawyers, state attorneys general, the Department of Justice and BP,” the Times reports.