BP bows to demands from Congress and scientists for live feed of oil leak

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
One month after the fiery collapse of the Deepwater Horizon, BP bowed to demands from scientists and members of Congress yesterday and said it would post a live video feed of the gusher of oil on the ocean floor.

The decision came only hours after a hearing in Congress in which BP was accused of withholding data from the ocean floor, and blocking efforts by independent scientists to come up with estimates for the amount of crude spewing into the Gulf each day.

Ed Markey, who presided over the hearing, said BP would post the footage on the website of his house subcommitte on energy independence and global warming as early as last night. This morning it was still not live.

The footage could help defuse rising anger at BP from scientists and news organisations at the oil company’s reluctance even to discuss the size of the spill. BP has refused to share data gathered by cameras on its submersible robots. Its officials have also insisted repeatedly that it is impossible to determine the size of the spill.

The lack of disclosure put BP under fire yesterday.

“Oil has been spewing into the ocean for 30 days yet the true extent of this spill remains a mystery,” an angry Markey told the hearing yesterday. “BP thinks this is their ocean so they should control information about the spill”…
(20 May 2010)

Gulf spill reminds America: The era of ‘easy oil’ is over

Shashank Bengali, McClatchy Newspapers
To meet the world’s boundless thirst for oil, drillers are searching in the sand and mud of remote western Canada, the tough shale rock of North Dakota and more than a mile under the seas off the southern U.S. coast, where a drilling accident has sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Why are we going nearly to the ends of the earth and the bottom of the seas for oil?

The answer, say many experts, is that we’re consuming as much oil as we ever have but the era of “easy oil” is in our rearview mirror and receding fast.

Production from onshore oilfields in the U.S. has been declining since the 1970s, and near-shore production along the Gulf of Mexico peaked more than a decade ago. Many of the richest remaining conventional deposits are in places that are politically unstable, such as Iraq and Nigeria, or hostile to Western oil companies, such as Sudan, Venezuela and the Middle East.

While Americans remain tethered to a petro-driven economy and surging demand from China and other emerging markets is driving up global demand, the quest for new sources requires more money and technological wizardry than ever before. As anyone tracking the massive gulf spill can attest, it brings greater risks as well.

“No one goes and tries to drill in a mile of water if they can think of somewhere easier to do it,” said Chris Skrebowski, a former strategist for British Petroleum who now runs a London consultancy that studies oil depletion.

“The easy stuff that you have access to . . . is already spoken for. All that’s left is the frontiers, which are necessarily more technically challenging.”

Just as the space program pushed its horizons farther and farther away in the last century, occasionally suffering devastating setbacks, the 21st-century search for oil is testing the limits of science and the environment. It also confronts the Obama administration and Congress with a policy problem to which there’s no easy solution.

…In 2008, BP paid $34 million for the rights to the 5,700-acre site off the Louisiana coast, outbidding nine other firms, according to the U.S. Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service. Experts estimate that the Macondo exploration well that’s now spilling oil into the gulf from 18,000 feet below the seafloor — which itself is 5,000 feet below the water’s surface — cost BP $100 million to build.

“They’re in this high-tech atmosphere where a lot of things have to work right and work perfect,” said Gary Taylor of Platts Oilgram News, an industry publication. “That is the kind of risk that’s probably out there with deepwater exploration, but the resources there are large, so potentially there’s money to be made.”

Other major new horizons include the claylike tar sands of northern Alberta, in Canada, and in dense shale rock formations scattered across the U.S. Tapping each of these sources is freighted with costs and complications that would have been unthinkable in the oil industry a decade ago.

Large shale formations such as Bakken in North Dakota and Barnett in Texas are thought to contain the light sweet crude that’s highly prized by oil companies. However, environmental groups have questioned whether the technique used to release the oil from the rock — deploying a mix of water, sand and chemicals to create cracks in the shale — could contaminate groundwater sources.

Extracting oil from the Canadian sands, meanwhile, requires chopping down vast swaths of forest, steam-heating the earth to release the crude, and then refining it — a process that scientists say produces three to five times the greenhouse-gas emissions of conventional oil refining. Canadian environmental groups also say the process has contaminated the nearby Athabasca River and destroyed wildlife habitats.

“For the people living in Alberta, it’s a catastrophe,” said Kjell Aleklett, the president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, a group of scientists who believe that the world’s oil stores are running out.

“The only thing the politicians can do. . . is to deal with an issue when a catastrophe happens. Now is the moment for politicians to sit down and look into” weaning the world off of oil, Aleklett said…
(7 May 2010)

How the global oil watchdog failed its mission (1/3)

Lionel Badal, Le Monde blog
12 years ago, the International Energy Agency (IEA) discovered that Peak Oil would threaten the prosperity and stability of our societies. Yes, they knew it. While some IEA officials tried to inform the world about this game-changing event, it appears that others had different priorities…

In 1998, the IEA team working on the influential World Energy Outlook (WEO) made a detailed and authoritative assessment about the future of oil production. The team was composed of the world’s finest energy experts, amongst whom Jean-Marie Bourdaire, coordinator of the study, Ken Wigley, Keith Miller and the man who would later become Chief-Economist of the IEA, Dr. Fatih Birol.

By using confidential databases and sophisticated expertise, they reached a dramatic conclusion: Peak Oil, the moment when global oil production starts its irreversible decline, would happen well before 2020, around 2014.

Although the IEA publicly claims to be free of any external meddling, the team was under intense pressure and scrutiny. As recalled by the veteran geologist and former vice-president of Fina Dr. Colin Campbell, who advised the IEA on the 1998 WEO, at one point, Bourdaire had to stop calling him from his IEA office as the issue apparently became “so sensitive” that he couldn’t be seen in contact with him…