Deepwater Horizon as global tipping point: our readers write

Three months have now passed since the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher began in the Gulf of Mexico. The “spill” (as it is generally called, not quite accurately) was only last week brought under tentative and temporary control. Politicians exploit the disaster, while some environmentalists warn (hyperbolically, we hope) of a potential “Earth extinction event” if it isn’t contained. Our June Exit Poll (extended into July for lack of responses) was: “Will future generations note April 20, 2010 as a greater turning point than Sept. 11, 2001?” We finally received the following responses:

From J. Everden, in Penticton, British Columbia:

This exit poll question demands an essay. I’m cynical about future generations being able to conceive of their past.


From Dennis Watts, in Anaheim, California:

I don’t think any generation will remember 4/20/10. The only way they will is if a President of the United States demands the country, as a whole, end their dependence on oil. This would require a visionary leader like Roosevelt or Kennedy. I voted for Obama thinking he was a visionary. I was wrong. He’s accomplished some great things against much opposition, but it’s going to take someone dynamic to get this country on a new energy track. Let’s be upfront.

I work at a community college. Most of the students don’t know which came first, Vietnam or WWII. If they can’t remember that, how are they going to remember 9/11 or even April 20, 2010. If I believed in a God; I’d say everyone needs to pray.

From Tom Burghardt of the Antifascist Calling website, in the San Francisco Bay Area:

It depends on what you mean by “turning point.” Both 9/11 and 4/20 represent the triumph of corporatist dictatorship over any notion of democracy. In the case of 9/11, the capitalist state leveraged an attack on the “heimat” (by their “renegade” proxies, no less) into a pretext to extend the Empire’s global reach, enriching their cronies in the defense and security industries in a systematic program of endless wars for control of vital resources owned by other people. 4/20 on the other hand, represents the utter decadence of a system in thrall to their energy corp “friends.” A silver lining? Only if the onrushing freight train of the current economic meltdown leads to the Empire’s collapse.

World War 4 Report responds: The Empire’s collapse could be pretty ugly. We no longer share the nihilist faith that it will lead to humanity’s liberation. It could look more like A Canticle for Liebowitz… On a lesser point, you are using the word “corporatist” incorrectly—ironically, to refer to the opposite of what you really mean. The corporatist (centralist, clientelist) elements of the US system, instated in the New Deal era, have today been largely dismantled in favor of a corporate (free-trade or “neoliberal”) state—that is, one dominated by the big corporations, which is what you are referring to.

From Peter N. Jones of the Bauu Institute in Boulder, Colorado:

Sorry to have missed it the first time. No, I don’t think so. The environment sadly takes a distant second or third in the minds of most Americans, while “war” or “terror” seem to capture our attention and hold it for some time. I envision the Gulf Spill ending up like the Exxon Valdez spill, or even worse, the Chevron/Texaco one in Ecuador—as a quaint memory that we had to deal with but ultimately solved through technology and “better” regulations. The Gulf Spill is almost not even covered by the media anymore—we’ve moved on to the more “important” issues of stopping “terrorism” (such a quaint idea), “securing” our borders, and preventing “evil” in the world. Got to love the media—oh, but that is why I read the World War 4 Report!

Keep it up. When I get some extra funds, I’ll pass it along.

World War 4 Report responds: Thanks. But if the Gulf disaster turns into an “Earth extinction event,” it isn’t going to be so easy to ignore…

From Michael Laird, somewhere in cyberspace:

April 20, 2010 can be seen as a result of 911, so I’ll stick to the earlier date. Would the BP disaster have happened anyway? Perhaps, but 911 reaffirmed the one-(corporate)-party state the is the United States, in which events like this are inevitable. In any event, burning buildings and exploding oil wells may become an increasingly familiar site in the years to come. Both represent missed opportunities for real (and vital) change.

From Margery Coffey in Rosalie, Nebraska:

No. 9/11 was an instantly graphically explosive event that burned itself into the brain. This generation remembers where they were when they heard the news. Just as older generations remember where they were when Kennedy was shot in Dallas. April 20th was a creeping disaster. It slowly grew until it came to the attention of the whole world. By the time it became apparent that BP had no clue as to what to do and had badly mishandled the world’s greatest environmental disaster April 20th was long gone. Even now with the disaster continuing so long it has lost the emergency shock value to multiple generations that are keyed to following the crisis of the moment not the enduring tragedy. How else could we block out the ongoing hells we have created in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our instant society cannot handle a long term tragedy. New Orleans’ problems are not over and neither are Haiti’s but people, by and large, are not paying attention to them any more. They have been relegated to the relief organizations that dun you for dollars on a regular basis. Coupled with the fact that 9/11 was the emergency call number for the police and 4/20 is the traditional time for pot smokers to get high, you don’t even have the date working for remembrance going for it.

World War 4 Report responds: We’ve noted some more ominous implications of the date 4-20…

From Kim Sky in San Diego:

NO — the date has already been obscured in my mind — perhaps this is because Sept. 11, 2001 took place on one day and received ultimate media coverage. We [the media leading the charge] refer to the Oil-gusher as an “oil-spill”. Yes this tragedy is still getting worse by the day.

We need no terrorists to take down the system — the system is taking itself down at quite a clip these days. The war on Iran seems to be progressing well, the economic war-on-the-world seems to be progressing rapidly too! My prognosis is: What we remember about this period in history will be something that has not yet taken place — but will be more apocalyptic than the “oil-spill”.

World War 4 Report responds: Gee, thanks…

From John Hughes, somewhere in cyberspace:

No, the Earthday oil volcano wasn’t the big one. We lookin for that in November.
Check out predictive linguistics at Really gettin ugly, EH!

World War 4 Report responds: Once again—Gee, thanks…

From John Edley, somewhere in cyberspace:

I absolutely think that the 9/11 event will be the best remembered, although I feel that the oil spill will affect a lot of Americans, too.

From Gwendolyn Albert in Prague:

ok that will depend on how deeply 20 April impacts civil liberties, foreign policy, and travel (so far it has impacted none of these as far as I can tell?)

if it means a permanent moratorium on all underwater drilling forever and the development of genuinely clean energy, then it has the potential to be an even bigger turning point, but that does not look likely to happen

From David Mandl of the Brooklyn Psychogeographical Association:

No, they probably won’t. But it is much much worse. 3000 deaths is a terrible thing, but this spill has the potential to cause vastly more harm.

From Coskun Musluk in Ankara:

Well, in fact, they should, but I don’t believe they are going to. This has several reasons: First of all, the two circumstances and the context, especially the political, of the two incidents are pretty much different; secondly, we know how the “consent” is “being manufactured”, thanks to Chomsky and how the media and mass-communication tools are being controlled and directed by the grand capital and their vassals, thanks to Robert Cox and many others, and we again know the way and for what goals they do use them. 9/11 began the great fear, which served as a motor for the new global regime based on the eternal power of the global monopolies, and fired the fuze of the global war bomb, under the name of “global war on terror”, which is desired by the same global oligarchy, in expanse to the wealth and even lives of the world peoples. However, this event is something demonstrating directly how they destroy all our lives and our world; that’s a sufficient reason for their media apparatus to conceal this incident as long as they can. Therefore, I’m pessimistic about this, but I still want to keep alive my hopes that the Humanity is going to note the great responsibility and crimes of these global criminals.

From Columbe in New York City:

No, although I personally believe that April 20 2010 is a much, MUCH GREATER turning point, I do not believe as a whole, people will acknowledge that… sadly enough

From Brian Tokar of the Institute for Social Ecology in Plainfield, Vermont:

Not in the near to medium term, but perhaps for future generations. Today, the interests that have the most to gain by continuing to inflate the importance of 9-11 still control the propaganda system. If that changes, the oil disaster will be widely seen as the beginning of a decisive shift.

On the other hand, the oil mess is ongoing. The date it began has yet to imprint itself on people’s consciousness. The Exxon Valdez was a huge story, but few can recall the year, much less the date it happened. For now, the militarists are a lot better at shaping perceptions of history to fit their mythology than anyone else. Perhaps that will change.

World War 4 Report responds: We wouldn’t say the importance of 9-11 has been “inflated” exactly, and if you lived in New York City you might not either. That it has been exploited for the most sinister of agendas is practically superfluous to mention. We do fear that the global implications of 4-20 could end up being far greater…

From Albert Wahrhaftig, somewhere in cyberspace:

I haven’t responded to the poll beause I think the question is stupid. Talk about comparing apples to orangs [sic]. Do we really want to compare an event that was wholly intentional with one that, however much it was the result of negligence, was accidental?

World War 4 Report responds: Two responses. First, we aren’t talking about moral culpability—just whether the Gulf disaster will have greater long-term social impact than 9-11. That said, we do not buy this “accident” talk. When they (BP and the government “regulators”) know the inevitable risks and how high the stakes are, and continue with criminally irresponsible behavior anyway, they cannot plead off that it was only an “accident.” It is willful destruction of the planet. Tony Hayward and the rest should be brought before an international tribunal on ecological crimes.

From JG in New York City:

Too soon to tell. The scope of the BP disaster won’t be known until next year when the well is hopefully capped and the environmental damage can start to be assessed. Ixtoc was a big disaster but not as catastrophic as initially appeared possible but the Gulf is probably more fragile now. I say “probably” because there is much we don’t know about ecosystems. While humans will just muddle through the ocean itself may have a plan. That plan may not include the restoration of this “way of life” that keeps getting talked about, and as our current “way of life” also includes agribiz run off, extreme car culture and “safe” off shore drilling a better gauge might be how much the BP disaster effects the American psyche. Bush and co. used 9/11 to push their brutal incompetent agenda, Obama doesn’t have an agenda so there will be no concerted push from the top. My current guess is: Baring a catastrophic ecological tipping point, which may be in the cards, the BP disaster will be replaced in the zeitgeist by a changing of the channel in the numb 24 hour spectacle to… the mid term elections, jobsjobsjobs, the extreme right wing electoral split, Russian spies … etc … though the fouled beaches and depressed property values will make the news on and off for years to come.

World War 4 Report responds: The ocean has a “plan”? Shades of Solaris

See our last Exit Poll results, and our last posts on BP and the politics of oil spills.

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  1. Oil spill scary enough as it is
    “Earth extinction event” is off the hyperbole scale, purely from the domain of fringe web posts in the same camp as the “NUKE IT!” idiots. While anything is of course possible it takes a lot of science fiction to make the worst case bad enough to kill off the gulf, much less an ocean. There has been oil leaking into the oceans for a lot longer than there have been homosapiens. As you well know the amount of oil spilled in Africa every year is extreme. The amount of damage to the gulf ecosystem will have to do with how resilient the various ecosystems are. Some species may be in trouble again, the sub-sea systems may (or may not) take a really bad hit, there will be weathered oil washing up on the beaches, there seems to be some toxic air coming off the spill probably because of the dispersant(?). However … the ocean, from the microbes to the currents, will deal with the oil and dispersant in time. That is of course what I meant by “has a plan”. A tragedy and a heinous crime to be sure, but save warnings of total ecological collapse for real evidence. Global overfishing and the plastic patch in the Pacific combined with generic global warming issues are way scarier than this BP mess.

    1. We sure hope you’re right…
      …but when we read warnings from unimpeachable sources like Environment News Service about the possibility of the leak becoming “uncontrollable” if efforts to cap it go awry, we are not comforted. Is there a limit on how much crude the ocean can handle? The late biologist (and pop-science writer) Lewis Thomas, another unimpeachable source, warned that the one way to kill off all terrestrial life was to fire our nukes into the sea, wiping out the oxygen-giving microbes there. (The Lives of a Cell, p. 30) Is there enough oil under the sea to do this if the gusher really becomes uncontrollable and all of it eventually winds up in the sea? I don’t know. Do you?

      1. your unimpeachable source …
        Was saying that the leak would become uncontrollable until the relief well is completed – which is now looking like best case scenario next week – not that the sea floor has potentially been ruptured, whatever that would mean. As there are no credible predictions of this well somehow emptying the entire reservoir – which would take years – speculation on effect that amount of oil in the ocean at once is limited to the fringe non scientific community. As that describes me I’d say real bad and maybe a tipping point given all the other damage done to the oceans on a regular basis. It’s also good to understand that the floor of the gulf is not entirely stable, its a pile of rocks and shifting sands. For reality based analysis I recommend the oil drum who address lots of post petroleum issues and have been following the BP fiasco with real knowledge of the industry and the ecology involved.

        Unclear what your other unimpeachable source was referring to. Huge hydrogen bombs have been detonated under water and in the atmosphere. If the US and Russians in some truly psychedelic freak out decided to fire their entire nuclear arsenals at the oceans (for whatever reason) it would be a bad thing. Which I suppose is more entertaining than worrying about over fishing which is a real and present nightmare.

        1. …is apparently being misconstrued
          The ENS account cited the possibility that efforts to cap the leaking pipe could “force [the oil] out through natural weak points in the geological formation of the sea floor, making the leaking uncontrollable.” In other words, a bigger gusher, which the relief well could not contain. Look, I certainly hope you are right, but I am not going to consider us out of these metaphorical woods until the leak is stopped for good.

          As for Lewis Thomas, he actually suggested that a full-scale US-Soviet nuclear exchange (which would presumably include lots of nukes going off in the sea in an attempt to take out n-armed submarines) could kill off the photosynthetic microbes that make the planet habitable for us aerobic life-forms: “If we let fly enough of them at once, we can even burn out the one-celled green creatures in the sea, and thus turn off the oxygen.”

          You may know more science than I do, but Lewis Thomas knew way more than either of us ever will. That isn’t to say scientific opinion may not differ, but we aren’t talking about the DIY pseudo-science of the UFO and 9-11 “Truth” loonies.

          Thanks for the Oil Drum tip, I will add it to the links page.

          1. undersea geology
            A full scale nuclear exchange would also include high altitude explosions to attempt to disrupt bombers and incoming missiles (which was the Soviet plan during the Cuban missile crisis). It would be a bad day all around. Killing the ocean with the H bombs? Certainly a possibility which would suck for anything left alive once the fires went out. The way to make the leak uncontrollable is to use a tactical nuclear explosion which luckily all the adults have classified accurately as “insane”.

            > ENS account cited the possibility that efforts to cap the leaking pipe could “force [the oil] out through natural weak points in the geological formation of the sea floor, making the leaking uncontrollable.”

            As far as I can tell following the technical discussions that makes no sense. Oil already seeps up through the floor of the gulf, the initial seep they were scared about after capping the well turned out to be natural. As mentioned up-thread the sea floor is not a stable material but shifting rocks and sand and silt. I don’t find that level of speculation on the insane side – truthers, UFOs – it’s understandable given BP’s habit of flat out lying and random photoshopping of ROV stills – but that particular scenario doesn’t seem to have much basis in what we actually know about undersea geography. While the Feds – Adm Allen and Chu – have insisted on daily seismic tests, any flow from the original hole stops when the well is killed from the bottom.

            One thing we can probably agree on on this website is that drilling in the ocean is a bad idea. Unfortunately there is a big contingency system being proposed by Chevon et al involving all manner of the technology we’ve been hearing about since the leak started. They’re going to claim that “we’re prepared now” and drilling will continue. And, playing the spineless centrists with their eye on the economy and elections, the current administration will go along with them after taking the hit for JOBSJOBSJOBS with their 6 month trial ban.

            Stupid. And agri runoff will continue as will overfishing.

            1. Just for the record
              The ENS account portrayed federal government (“Thad Allen and Unified Area Command”) concern for the scenario outlined as the reason why there was a 48-hour “well integrity test” before implementing the cap. Yes, the nuclear option has thankfully been ruled out, but note that the stupid Soviets actually did it. From the New York Times, June 2:

              Nuclear Option on Gulf Oil Spill? No Way, U.S. Says
              The chatter began weeks ago as armchair engineers brainstormed for ways to stop the torrent of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico: What about nuking the well?

              Decades ago, the Soviet Union reportedly used nuclear blasts to successfully seal off runaway gas wells, inserting a bomb deep underground and letting its fiery heat melt the surrounding rock to shut off the flow. Why not try it here?

              The idea has gained fans with each failed attempt to stem the leak and each new setback…

              “Probably the only thing we can do is create a weapon system and send it down 18,000 feet and detonate it, hopefully encasing the oil,” Matt Simmons, a Houston energy expert and investment banker, told Bloomberg News on Friday, attributing the nuclear idea to “all the best scientists.”

              Or as the CNN reporter John Roberts suggested last week, “Drill a hole, drop a nuke in and seal up the well.”

              This week, with the failure of the “top kill” attempt, the buzz had grown loud enough that federal officials felt compelled to respond.

              Stephanie Mueller, a spokeswoman for the Energy Department, said that neither Energy Secretary Steven Chu nor anyone else was thinking about a nuclear blast under the gulf. The nuclear option was not — and never had been — on the table, federal officials said.

              “It’s crazy,” one senior official said.

              Government and private nuclear experts agreed that using a nuclear bomb would be not only risky technically, with unknown and possibly disastrous consequences from radiation, but also unwise geopolitically — it would violate arms treaties that the United States has signed and championed over the decades and do so at a time when President Obama is pushing for global nuclear disarmament.


              Much of the enthusiasm for an atomic approach is based on reports that the Soviet Union succeeded in using nuclear blasts to seal off gas wells. Milo D. Nordyke, in a 2000 technical paper for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif., described five Soviet blasts from 1966 to 1981.

              All but the last blast were successful. The 1966 explosion put out a gas well fire that had raged uncontrolled for three years. But the last blast of the series, Mr. Nordyke wrote, “did not seal the well,” perhaps because the nuclear engineers had poor geological data on the exact location of the borehole.

              Robert S. Norris, author of Racing for the Bomb and an atomic historian, noted that all the Soviet blasts were on land and never involved oil…

              The account closes with a blogger’s riddle: “What’s worse than an oil spill? A radioactive oil spill.”

              1. concern was for breaking the pipe
                My understanding is their concern was for an uncontrollable leak until the relief well was completed which would happen if the pipe was compromised down hole. Not in destabilizing the sea floor which isn’t stable to begin with, oil has been seeping for ages. While the pipe bursting would mean uncontrolled flow for a while and not good I’ve seen no credible “uncontrolled collapse empties entire oil reservoir” scenarios discussed – though there have been a few tech talk scare posts that got lots of traction while being thoroughly debunked by the independent (by which I mean very skeptical of BP and the Feds) web tech community. If you have other information from serious sources that says otherwise I’m interested. I suspect Chu is kept up nights worrying about “unknown unknowns”, we’re learning but still don’t know enough about ocean floor geology, and we’ll all breath easier once the well is killed. Until the next one …

                One scenario bandied about was that Chu was worried about the pipe breaking and wanted BP to start collecting the oil again but BP was worried that the Feds would then have a more accurate count of the oil coming up and that would affect the amount of the fine they are going to pay – unless the Republicans retake the Congress in Nov.

                1. “Seeping” isn’t gushing
                  This July 19 report from ENS (which I really do consider the best source on this stuff) also indicates Allen & co. were not just concerned with the pipe being overwhelmed, but with the ocean floor being destabilized:

                  BP Continues Testing Capped Well, Seepage Unrelated
                  BP can continue testing its capped oil well in the Gulf of Mexico after determining that nearby oil seepage is not related to the test of the well’s structural integrity, National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen said Monday.

                  “No seepages or leaks are associated with the well integrity test,” Allen told reporters.

                  The seepage of oil into the gulf was detected about three kilometers (1.9 miles) from the blown out Deepwater Horizon well that has been gushing oil into the gulf since April 20.

                  BP stopped the oil spill on Thursday by installing a complex stack of valves called a capping stack. Admiral Allen said the company can continue to increase pressure within stack of valves for another 24 hours to determine whether the well is structurally sound.

                  The company is testing to determine whether the damaged well can be safely shut in using the new cap without creating new problems, that might include countless new oil seeps and leaks in the sea floor.

                  The company is extending the test in 24-hour intervals, subject to U.S. government approval. The current extension holds until Tuesday afternoon.

                  But while there is no more oil leaking into the gulf at the moment, the runaway well is not permanently shut in.

                  That doesn’t mean Allen was concerned with an end-of-the-world scenario, but still…

                  1. why do you consider them an authority?
                    > without creating new problems, that might include countless new oil seeps and leaks in the sea floor.

                    Is this referenced anywhere else? Do they mention that the sea floor already leaks? Do they specifically say that the disaster they are positing, the bursting of the pipe, would continue after the relief well kills the leaking/gushing well from the bottom? And if so, do they back it up with more than “might happen”? There has been Apocalyptic speculation about destabilizing the sea floor but I haven’t seen any from anybody with a real level of expertise.

                    1. Why are you so skeptical?
                      From Dow Jones, July 19:

                      The U.S. government authorized BP Plc (BP) to keep a tightly sealed cap on the damaged well on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico for an additional 24 hours, as concerns linger about the possibility that oil or methane could be seeping from nearby locations as a result of the procedure… The integrity test of the containment cap, originally scheduled to last 48 hours, was extended on Saturday to allow for additional monitoring of the sea floor for signs of new leaks.

                      From BBC News, July 19:

                      BP is being allowed to keep the cap on its damaged well shut for another 24 hours, says the US official in charge of the Gulf of Mexico oil clean-up. In a letter to BP, Adm Thad Allen expressed concern about a “detected seep” on the sea floor near the well and other “undetermined anomalies”.

                      The firm has pledged to monitor the sea floor for signs of a new leak closely. On Monday, Coast Guard Adm Paul Zukunft said: “We’ve had no indication of oil being released at the site.” BP has noted that seepage can be a natural phenomenon.

                      From NPR, July 19:

                      BP reports that the seepage about two miles away from the broken Macondo well isn’t related to the troubled well.

                      There had been concern that the seepage spotted over the weekend could mean oil and gas from the damaged well was flowing into geologic formations from which they could eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico. That would be a much more difficult situation to deal with it.

                      From a Rep. Edward Markey press release, July 14:

                      Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today renewed his request to BP to release information on the integrity of the wellbore and sea floor leaks, especially in light of the delayed attempt to conduct pressure tests on the new containment cap system for the BP Macondo well. These efforts were delayed, at least in part, because of the need to review seismic data—which could provide information about the integrity of the wellbore—from around the well site.

                      From WREX, Rockford, Ill., July 19:

                      Scientists are monitoring what is being called a “seep” on the sea floor.

                      The seep was discovered Sunday and has been closely monitored ever since.

                      In a statement released Monday morning, Incident Commander Thad Allen described several issues, including the seep from the seabed and the possibility that methane was detected over the well.

                      The government is allowing BP to keep the cap shut tight for at least another 24 hours, as long as they continue to closely monitor the seep and methane levels on the sea floor.

                      From the Houston Chronicle, July 20:

                      Small leaks of oil and natural gas have developed in five spots on the well, but federal and company officials say the leaks aren’t causing significant concern.

                      A natural gas seep that was spotted 1.8 miles away from the well appears to be related to another well, either abandoned or not in production, Allen said.

                      Macondo well pressure continued to rise slowly, said BP Vice President Kent Wells, reaching 6,834 pounds per square inch. The longer the pressure continues to rise the less likely it is that the well casing below the sea floor has suffered a major failure and is leaking hydrocarbons in the surrounding strata.

                      From Newsweek, July 19:

                      The spill in the gulf seemed to be under control last Friday. Then came troubling news over the weekend that seepage close to the well could spell big trouble. The government has allowed BP to stay the course for now, but the oil giant has been warned to keep a close eye on the containment efforts. So what exactly are they looking for, and was this weekend’s emergency a false alarm?

                      The potential seep was troubling because it indicated that the cap —which has sealed off the well until a relief well can be drilled—could potentially make the spill worse by exacerbating smaller underground leaks of oil that might eventually rise to the surface and gush into the ocean. Ongoing tests at the well head will try to determine whether that’s happening, but doing so will not be easy.

                      OK? You can do a Google News search as easily as I can.

                    2. none of these links say what you “want”
                      Every link here talks about a failure in the well bore. Which would leak uncontrollably into the Gulf. Until the relief well kills the well.

                      > the integrity of the wellbore

                      Did you notice that’s what they’re all discussing? You do understand the depth at which the relief well will intersect the leaking well? It is (well) bellow the seafloor.

                      I understand you respect your original source but you, and they, have not justified the Apocalyptic alarmist approach. Hysteria only gives cover to the right wing industry shills when any talk of regulation comes up. If you want to keep looking, start by going over the almost endless technical threads on and see if you find anything to justify claims of a potential catastrophic collapse in the sea floor causing a rupture that would not be stopped by killing the well. I’m not saying it’s not there, just that I haven’t seen it and you haven’t found it in the above responses.

                    3. No words like “apocalyptic,” “alarmist” and “catastrophic”…
                      …were in my original source (ENS). All of the above cited sources agree with ENS that the feds were concerned not only with a bigger leak from the well, but with new leaks being caused directly from the sea floor.

                      This is getting a little old.

  2. Congressional hearing on Michigan oil spill set
    From the Detroit Free Press, Aug. 5:

    As workers at the site of last week’s oil spill prepared to remove the piece of pipeline that ruptured, the congressman who represents the area announced a hearing next month on the spill that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River.

    US Rep. Mark Schauer, a Battle Creek Democrat, said today that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee he serves on will hold the hearing in Washington on Sept. 15 to determine what happened and why.

    Enbridge Energy Partners reported the spill of 19,500 barrels—about 820,000 gallons—of oil from Line 6B near Marshall along its 1,900-mile Lakehead System on July 26, but Schauer has said the company could have reported it earlier.

    “The hearing will get to the bottom of the cause of the Enbridge spill and hold the company accountable for poisoning our waterways,” Schauer said. “It has become clear to me that Enbridge violated federal regulations in reporting the spill in Marshall.”

    The section of broken pipeline was expected to be ready for removal Friday. After it’s inspected, the pipe will be tested by the National Transportation Safety Board, which has said it could take as long as 18 months to determine the cause. The US Environmental Protection Agency also is investigating.

    Meanwhile, state officials said today they had discovered that hundreds of fish and seven species of mussels died at Allegan Lake downstream from the spill site, after the lake’s water levels were drawn down 2 feet to catch overflow from the river in the eventuality of heavy rains. Officials asked for the lake levels to be restored a foot in an attempt to save more of the wildlife.

  3. 27,000 abandoned Gulf oil wells may be leaking
    From AP, July 7:

    More than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells lurk in the hard rock beneath the Gulf of Mexico, an environmental minefield that has been ignored for decades. No one—not industry, not government—is checking to see if they are leaking, an Associated Press investigation shows.

    The oldest of these wells were abandoned in the late 1940s, raising the prospect that many deteriorating sealing jobs are already failing.

    The AP investigation uncovered particular concern with 3,500 of the neglected wells—those characterized in federal government records as “temporarily abandoned.”

    Regulations for temporarily abandoned wells require oil companies to present plans to reuse or permanently plug such wells within a year, but the AP found that the rule is routinely circumvented, and that more than 1,000 wells have lingered in that unfinished condition for more than a decade. About three-quarters of temporarily abandoned wells have been left in that status for more than a year, and many since the 1950s and 1960s—even though sealing procedures for temporary abandonment are not as stringent as those for permanent closures.

    As a forceful reminder of the potential harm, the well beneath BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig was being sealed with cement for temporary abandonment when it blew April 20, leading to one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation’s history. BP alone has abandoned about 600 wells in the Gulf, according to government data.

    There’s ample reason for worry about all permanently and temporarily abandoned wells—history shows that at least on land, they often leak. Wells are sealed underwater much as they are on land. And wells on land and in water face similar risk of failure. Plus, records reviewed by the AP show that some offshore wells have failed.

    Asked in multiple requests over several weeks how often abandoned wells have failed, the US Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged Tuesday—as this story was being released—that it has had to deal with leaks at abandoned wells in shallow state waters of Louisiana and Texas. The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement—which oversees wells in federal waters±also acknowledged Tuesday that it has dealt with “a few” failed abandoned wells farther out in the Gulf. But the information was released only through the public affairs offices and neither agency provided experts for follow-up.

    Experts say abandoned wells can repressurize, much like a dormant volcano can awaken. And years of exposure to sea water and underground pressure can cause cementing and piping to corrode and weaken.

    “You can have changing geological conditions where a well could be repressurized,” said Andy Radford, a petroleum engineer for the American Petroleum Institute trade group.

    Gee, we can hardly wait.