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BP top kill method fails as cleanup workers are hospitalized from vapors - by Mike Adams, Editor
May 30, 2010
(NaturalNews) BP officials have announced today that the "top kill" effort to stop the Gulf oil leak has failed. Unanticipated problems doomed the project, which involved trying to pump tens of thousands of gallons of mud, shredded rubber tires and other "junk" into the hole to try to halt the outflow of oil.
At 6pm Saturday evening, BP officials announced the "top kill" effort had failed and now they were moving on to another plan (more below).
I am on site at the Gulf Coast right now, and while I haven't reached the areas where oil is washing up on the beaches, I'm learning some interesting information nonetheless. In particular, finding a hotel room anywhere near New Orleans has become virtually impossible, as BP has rented out virtually every available hotel room from St. Charles, Louisiana all the way to Pensacola, Florida. (I am currently staying in a fleabag hotel that miraculously has internet access...)
But it raises the question: Where are all these people? I haven't seen a single BP person anywhere, and I was out on some beaches today filming editorial segments for NaturalNews. I did see some small watercraft laying out protective barriers, but I didn't see any BP people anywhere.
I'll keep you posted on what we find tomorrow as we approach the beaches to the East of New Orleans.
Expect more oil for the next 10 weeks
Now that the top kill effort has failed, it means oil will keep spewing into the Gulf of Mexico until at least August. That's when two "pressure release" wells are expected to be completed. The purpose of these two wells is to siphon off the oil from underneath the ocean bed, thereby releasing the pressure that's currently pushing crude oil out of the existing hole under the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig.
This "plan C" effort remains extremely risky, of course. There's no guarantee it will work at all. And if it fails, this "volcano of oil" could continue to pollute the Earth's oceans for years. This could, in fact, be the global killer event I warned about in an earlier story about this BP oil spill. (
We could be looking at a global-scale environmental catastrophe that destroys virtually all marine life in the Gulf of Mexico and takes a century to fully recover. It's really that bad. If they can't stop this volcano of oil in the next week, we could be looking at the single most destructive environmental catastrophe ever to strike our planet since the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.
Get ready for more chemicals
In the mean time, now that the top kill effort has failed, BP has announced it is resuming the spraying of chemical dispersants into the massive oil plumes that remain deep under the surface of the Gulf of Mexico water. This means more chemicals that will kill more forms of marine life throughout the Gulf.
But it's not just aquatic life that's being threatened by these chemicals: BP workers are increasingly being sent to the hospital complaining of symptoms like vomiting, dizziness, difficult breathing and others. The obvious cause of such symptoms is the huge amount of crude oil bubbling up to the surface (some of which evaporates into the air) along with the massive injection of chemical dispersants into the waters (some of which also evaporates). CNN is reporting that BP claims it is monitoring air quality, but so far BP has not gone public with any air quality test results.
None of the cleanup workers have been outfitted with chemical masks that might protect them from the volatile chemicals now present in the Gulf waters. Yet CNN is reporting that the warning label on the chemical product made by NALCO states: "Avoid breathing vapor."
The EPA, meanwhile, remains silent on this whole issue. Remember: It is the EPA that ordered BP to stop using its selected brand of chemical dispersant, but BP utterly ignored the EPA and continues to dump that very same chemical into the Gulf of Mexico right now.
A chemical attack on America
What we are watching here, folks, is very nearly a chemical attack on America by BP and the oil industry. It's hard to say what's worse: The oil or the chemical dispersants. In fact, no one knows the answer to that question, and it can't even be studied by scientists because the disaster keeps growing by the day.
This is one environmental catastrophe that just keeps getting worse, and the cost to the marine ecosystem is incalculable. And that's not to even mention the economic cost to the region and all the people who depend on life in the Gulf of Mexico for their own livelihoods. Their lives are now being destroyed by this oil drilling catastrophe.
If there's one lesson that comes from all this, it is a reminder of the immense value Mother Nature provides us each and every day at no charge. The VALUE of a healthy ocean is incalculable. And the COST of killing it may be more than what human civilization can bear.
I suppose this resolves the whole question of what's more important: The environment or the economy? As we're rudely discovering today, the economy cannot exist without protecting the environment first.


Protecting our water supply
Miami Herald - by JULIE HILL-GABRIEL,
May 30, 2010
When constructed in 1928, the Tamiami Trail was a monument of progress, for the first time connecting Tampa and Miami by road. Like many ideas fulfilled in the name of progress, the Trail had unforeseen effects on people, birds and other wildlife.
Imagine billions of gallons of water held behind a dam in the Everglades, drowning tree islands and marshes to the north, while south of the dam, Everglades National Park is so dry that wading-bird populations decline 90 percent, and salty water in Florida Bay inundates the southern tip of Florida. That dam is the Tamiami Trail, and the ecological nightmare caused by the Trail has just found a solution.
Trail to be raised
The National Park Service announced last week a plan for 5.5 miles of bridging in the Tamiami Trail Next Steps project in addition to a one-mile bridge under construction. For Audubon and all Everglades advocates this is news worth celebrating. Audubon, whose scientists have studied wading birds and ecological conditions in the Everglades for over half a century, has urged for two decades that Tamiami Trail be raised. Bridging the Trail right at the natural heart of flow is necessary to recover the supercolonies of wading birds that once filled the skies over the river of grass.
A study required by Congress showed that this recommended plan will have the greatest ecological benefits of those reviewed by connecting marsh, ridge and slough habitat, and preventing wetland loss. The plan for bridging is cost effective and will increase ecological connectivity north and south of the Trail by 500 percent, substantially improving conditions for fish, birds and other wildlife that make the Everglades a unique natural treasure.
The bridging is also important to support South Florida's tourism and fishing industries, and for the seven million residents who depend on the Everglades as their source of fresh drinking water.
Moving freshwater under Tamiami Trail in a way that closely mimics nature will enable Everglades restoration as a whole to be more successful. Projects that need more freshwater will benefit, like the C-111 Canal project, which will restore the balance of freshwater and saltwater in the Florida Bay mangrove zone, and the Biscayne Bay Coastal Wetlands project, which will hold off saltwater intrusion in Biscayne Bay.
Congress must OK funds
Projects north of Tamiami Trail, including the removal of other damaging levees and canals known as the Decomp project, need the ability to move more water under the Trail. While today we celebrate a plan, there is much work to be done before this bold vision can become a reality. Congress must approve and provide funding for the bridging alongside other federal spending on roads and infrastructure, so it must be recognized that restoring the River of Grass is no less important than thousands of these projects across the state and nation.
All Everglades supporters from individuals and organizations to the local, state and federal governments involved in restoration must show their support to make this plan to bridge Tamiami Trail a reality. Finally removing the dam at the heart of the Everglades will protect our water supply, enable the once abundant populations of birds and other wildlife to thrive again and bring visitors from around the world to marvel at this spectacular natural wonder.
Julie Hill-Gabriel is Everglades policy associate with Audubon of Florida.
Read more:


(LO water releases) - Guest commentary
Charles Dauray / Estero Governing board member, South Florida Water Management District
May 29, 2010
An unusually wet “dry” season has forced South Florida’s water managers into an all-too-familiar balancing act.
Since Nov. 1, the 16-county region of the South Florida Water Management District, including Lee County, has received an average of almost six inches of rain more than normal. As recently as May 10, Lake Okeechobee’s water level stood above 15 feet — on the upper end of the management range used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The high lake level, the arrival of the wet season and forecasts for an active hurricane season have created the balancing act for the Corps and the district between the competing needs of flood control, public safety, water supply and the ecosystem. Working with a fixed system with limited storage and a 730-square-mile lake surrounded by the aging Herbert Hoover Dike, the Corps has been releasing water from the lake into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers to protect public safety.
Southwest Florida residents are understandably frustrated with that decision. They do not need to be reminded of the harmful effects these freshwater releases have had on the Caloosahatchee River and its estuary in past years. The district hears these concerns and is taking every reasonable step possible to evaluate and implement strategies that will minimize the need for lake releases when our region has an overabundance of water.
Working with an assortment of other agencies, environmental organizations, ranchers and researchers, the district has added 126,350 acre-feet of surface water storage capacity on private, public and tribal lands around Lake Okeechobee since 2005. This additional storage has been made available through regional public projects and a district program that encourages property owners to hold water on their land rather than drain it and to store regional runoff.
More storage is potentially available through planned projects, provided issues related to water quality, endangered species protection and funding can be addressed. The district is also examining the feasibility of storing water north and south of the lake on district lands and sites set aside for Everglades restoration projects.
While these alternative water-storage programs have shown potential, they cannot relieve the burden on the estuaries alone. For some perspective, 450,000 acre-feet of alternative storage in the watershed would potentially ease about a foot of water off the lake. Yet a single foot of rainfall in the watershed draining into the big lake can produce a 4-foot rise in water level virtually overnight.
The long-term solution for reducing freshwater discharges to the estuaries from Lake Okeechobee has to include the ongoing rehabilitation of the 75-year-old earthen dike that surrounds it. The Army Corps of Engineers recently awarded a $40 million contract for repairs to the most vulnerable section of the Herbert Hoover Dike, a 22-mile segment between Port Mayaca and Belle Glade. Improving the integrity of the dike will enable the Corps to safely contain more water in the lake instead of sending it to the coasts.
Everglades restoration efforts also promise to substantially increase water storage to the benefit of the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries. Over the last year, we have seen significant forward momentum on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP), which will eventually enable more clean water to go south to the Everglades — where it is needed. In addition, the district’s planned acquisition of 73,000 acres of land from U.S. Sugar Corp. will create unprecedented opportunities to store water that were never envisioned by CERP.
The Southwest Florida residents who live, work and play on the Caloosahatchee River depend on the health of the river and its estuary. The district will continue to work with the Corps, its partners and concerned stakeholders to ensure balanced decision-making and secure permanent solutions to protect and improve our treasured ecosystem.


Feds endorse freeing up Tamiami Trail water - by KEVIN WADLOW -
May 26, 2010
A draft federal plan for more bridges to replace earthen dams along the Tamiami Trail won applause from Florida Bay advocates this week.
The National Park Service's draft environmental impact statement for the Everglades, released May 19, recommends bridging more than five additional miles of U.S. 41, commonly known as the Tamiami Trail.
The first project to increase freshwater flow under the road, a one-mile bridge, broke ground in December for expected completion in 2013.
"More water is better," said Kahlil Kettering, Biscayne Bay restoration analyst for the National Parks Conservation Association.
"For several decades, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay have been dying of thirst from the need for fresh water," Kettering said. "More fresh water is so vital, not just for the habitat and wildlife, but for the Everglades that is South Florida's economic engine."
The environmental impact statement, still to be finalized, was released by the Department of the Interior at the Everglades Summit Roundtable in Washington, D.C.
The plan does not include a schedule for additional bridges, estimated to cost about $324 million. The one-mile bridge now under construction will cost $81 million.
"By committing to more than five miles of additional bridging, there will be measurable benefits for the environment of Everglades National Park and Florida Bay," said Kirk Fordham, chief executive of the Everglades Foundation, "as well as an economic booster shot for those in the construction sector who are working to save one of our country's national treasures."
In 2005, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers forwarded a plan to build the Everglades Skyway -- an 11-mile bridge along Tamiami Trail. However, three years later, Congress allocated enough money to construct just the one-mile bridge, notes an Everglades Foundation history.
"In the past 18 months, the federal government has emphasized its commitment to the Everglades National Park and Florida Bay," Kettering said. "We're very pleased with the movement and hope to see more projects coming down the pike."
The National Parks Conservation Association notes, "Since the 1920s, Tamiami Trail has acted as a dam, preventing water from freely flowing along its historic and natural path through the greater Everglades ecosystem ... into Everglades National Park and out to Florida Bay. The current NPS planning process provides an unparalleled opportunity to reverse this damage."
Sara Fain, the group's Everglades restoration program manager, said, "Moving this project forward is key to reversing the current ecological decline and ensuring we protect this nationally significant treasure for our children and grandchildren."


Gulf oil spill threatens Everglades and other parks
USA Today
May 26, 2010
The Everglades National Park in Florida and the Padre Island National Seashore in Texas are among 15 "special places" most threatened by the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, says a report today by two environmental groups.
The oil threatens, among other wildlife, brown pelicans, whooping cranes, manatees, bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles that live in these state parks, wildlife refuges and national parks, according to the report.
"This could become America's greatest environmental disaster," says Theo Spencer of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which co-wrote the report, adding it illustrates the dangers of U.S. "over-dependence on fossil fuels."
"Because the potential reach of this catastrophe is so broad, our list certainly cannot include more than a tiny fraction of what is at stake as oil continues to gush into and spread around the Gulf," says Stephen Saunders, president of the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization, the report's other author.
The report picked the following 15 places to show the range of protected public areas and their resources that are vulnerable to contamination:
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas
Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama
Breton National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida
Everglades National Park, Florida
Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi and Alabama
Gulf Islands National Seashore, Mississippi and Florida
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Florida
Key West National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Pass a Loutre Wildlife Management Area, Louisiana
Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
The report says the list does not reflect judgment on where the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, leased by BP, will go and which areas will be most affected. It says:
At this is being written, it still is not clear how much oil has already escaped from the BP blowout, when the gush of oil will be stopped, where the Gulf's currents and winds will take the oil, and what may happen if one or more hurricanes enters the Gulf this year. Instead, our list is based on, to begin with, the judgment of the National Park Service (NPS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that coastal areas they manage are vulnerable all around the Gulf.
It discusses how oil can harm various Gulf wildlife:
The iconic brown pelican, Louisiana's state bird, which feeds by plunging headfirst into waters to grab underwater fish. Their feathers can get fouled by oil to the point that they can no longer fly.
Whooping cranes, one of the world's rarest birds and America's tallest, which
survive primarily in one natural migratory flock that winters on the Texas coast and two introduced flocks that winter on Florida's Gulf Coast. Their seafood prey can be contaminated by oil, poisoning the cranes.
Manatees and bottlenose dolphins, marine mammals which must surface to breathe air. They can inhale oil and chemical dispersants on the surface of the water.
Sea turtles, which return to land only to nest on beaches around the Gulf. They can choke on oil in the water, and their eggs and hatchlings can be contaminated by oil on beaches.


Lee County denies mine application on Corkscrew Road - by TARA E. McLAUGHLIN
May 26, 2010
Lee County commissioners Wednesday killed a plan for a lime rock and aggregate mining operation on Corkscrew Road.
Resource Conservation Holdings will not be allowed to extract an estimated $200 million worth of materials beneath its 1,365 acres east of the Corkscrew and Alico Road intersection.
The county’s hearing examiner recommended the mine be approved in one of the longest zoning cases in the county’s history.
But county staff recommended against the plans, saying it could harm wildlife habitat, protected species, water recharge benefits and traffic.
Commissioner Frank Mann, in whose district the property is located, said he was struck by the dramatic differences in the recommendation by the hearing examiner and staff.
“The facts that (county staff) presented just cry out that that’s the only conclusion you could reach,” Mann said, following his comments with a motion to accept staff’s recommendation.
Commissioners voted 4-0 to support staff’s recommendation.
Bill Moore, attorney for Resource Conservation Holdings, declined to comment as to the miner’s next steps.
Moore said he will wait to see the county’s written resolution and confer with his client before making a decision on how to proceed.
Resource Conservation Holdings requested a zoning change to mining from agriculture four years ago but found its application locked in a back and forth between old and new county rules.
The new rules, established in 2008, are more restrictive of mining operations, particularly along Corkscrew Road.
Those rules don’t guarantee an approval, however.
The Schwab 640 mine was denied in 2001, the same year WestWind mine was approved. There are about half a dozen other applications to bring mining to that corridor.
Last year, a circuit court judge ruled that Resource Conservation Holdings had submitted its request before the 2008 changes were made and therefore had to be considered under 2007 rules.
A county hearing examiner recommended approval last month, saying the proposed project was consistent with county plans for the area, would not damage the surrounding environment and would not over-burden roads.
The county staff recommended denial finding the opposite.
Matt Noble, a county planner, said the mine could cause irreversible damage to natural resources, including surface water flow, as well as impacts on residents who live near the operations and share the roads with dump trucks transporting materials.
“No adequate conditions can be created to address all these issues,” Noble said.
The mine is within the county’s Density Reduction Groundwater Resource, the approximately 80,000 acres designation for mining, conservation and high-density development with conservation lands to the north and east.
Although mining is an allowable use in the DRGR, it is not automatically granted, said Chairwoman Tammy Hall.
“Those uses are there and you have to look at what’s around,” Hall said. “You don’t get that by right. You get that by request.”
More than 100 residents who filled commission chambers, many of whom pleaded with the commission to deny Resource Conservation Holdings’ request.
Amiel Villani lives on Corkscrew Road across from the proposed mine and owns a business near the Youngquist mine, where he has learned first hand the feel of explosive blasts breaking apart lime rock.
“You’re going to affect the quality of my life,” he told commissioners. Blast waves will shake his house, his view will include a 180-foot crane and his family will have to share the road with 70-ton dump trucks, he continued. “If this land mine was across the street from your home, would you want it?”
A few years ago, Teresa Fraioli bought five acres in Burgundy Farms, a community on the boundary with Resource Conservation Holdings’ land.
She planned to build a home where she’d retire, she said, but now because of the mining potential, the property is up for sale. She said she received a fax notice the day after her closing that her new neighbor could be a rock mine.
“The magnitude, the ugliness of this mine will destroy the area,” Fraioli said.
A miner watching the proceedings but not involved in the case said he believed the industry can mitigate for most of the concerns brought by residents.
Bill McDaniel, owner of Big Island Excavation, said growth is inevitable and governments must plan for them. Particularly, he said, cities and counties should widened the roads to lessen the impact of thousands of dump truck trips each day.
“If Corkscrew was two lanes we wouldn’t be here,” he said.
Conservation Resource Holdings estimated it would see 2,400 dump truck trips a day.
“If we don’t provide for aggregate from within, it will come from without,” McDaniel said.
A 2006 report from the Florida Transportation Commission, which oversees the Department of Transportation, showed 140 million tons of aggregate is used in Florida every year, 125 million tons of which is produced in state. It is used to make concrete to build roads and houses.
But people like Villani, who live across from the proposed mine, will be impacted for the rest of their lives, he conceded.
Bill Moore, attorney for Resource Conservation Holdings, did not respond to any remarks made during several hours of public comment. He said the issues have been dealt with and fully documented in the more than 5,000 pages of testimony and reports during the hearing examination process.
This did not sit well with Commissioner Ray Judah, who also commented on the hearing examiner’s findings in support of the mine.
“I’m surprised at the applicant’s brevity,” Judah said. ... “The hearing examiner erred egregiously in terms of not basing the decision on competent substantial evidence. ... There is clear adverse impact ... to water supply, to residential neighborhoods.”
Richard Gescheidt, deputy hearing examiner, oversaw the case.
Hall said his report was one of the most unusual in terms of the tone of his writing. She planned to address that with the lead hearing examiner, Diana Parker.


Local scientists probe Gulf for answers
May 25, 2010
St. Petersburg, Florida - Over the past few days, researchers from the USF College of Marine Science worked day and night with heavy equipment gathering water samples from the deep, dark Gulf.
On Tuesday, Mote Marine Laboratory scientists launched an underwater robot off Key West.
Both groups are trying to answer the same question: How much oil is in the loop current?
"What we don't know is where the oil is underwater; the satellite, the airplanes can't see that," Gary Kirkpatrick of Mote Marine tells 10 Connects.
Gallery: Oil spill in Gulf of Mexico
The Bellows, a USF research vessel, just returned on Monday from a five-day voyage. The boat criss-crossed the loop current. USF graduate student Brian Barnes was on board. He and others did not see any signs of oil, but that doesn't mean it's not there.
"Just visually looking at the water, you couldn't really see much. But the sensors we're using are a lot more sensitive than our eyes," says Barnes.
Water samples brought back by researchers aboard the Bellows are now being analyzed at several labs. It may be a week or more before results are ready.
As the oil continues to gush into the Gulf, local scientists will continue to use high-tech equipment to quantify its impact. "It's so important to know exactly what's going on and where the oil is going," says Barnes.


Sunrise may delay vote on hotel near Everglades
Sun Sentinel - by Susannah Bryan
May 25, 2010
SUNRISE, FL - Commissioner Sheila Alu says she plans to table an expected vote Tuesday night on a controversial hotel and corporate park planned near the edge of the Everglades.
Alu said she had no idea the project, planned on the west side of the Sawgrass Expressway near Sunrise Boulevard, was so close to the gun range at Markham Park.
That fact came to light in a Sun Sentinel report posted on the newspaper's web site on Monday.
Alu wants a ballistics study completed before voting on the developer's request for rezoning that would allow him to build closer to the property's edge.
Sunrise commissioners plan to meet at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the Everglades Corporate Park. The project calls for an 11-story Marriott hotel and three office towers.
The developer has had the right to build on the property since 1987, when Sunrise commissioners changed the site's zoning from recreational to commercial.
Mayor Roger Wishner voted for the zoning change in 1987, when he was a commissioner.
"Back then, we were just trying to help the tax base," Wishner told the Sun Sentinel last week. "No one considered whether the land was east or west of the Sawgrass Expressway."
Susannah Bryan can be reached at or 954-572-2077.


U.S. Sugar acquisition only option for our estuary and Everglades – Opinion, by Ray Judah
May 25, 2010
In the absence of adequate storage or the ability to send water south to the Everglades, these releases result in continued destruction of our coastal estuaries.
Releases also waste large freshwater supplies that could be utilized by both residents and agriculture during drought. Currently, these serious concerns are trumped by the health and safety threat posed by the unreliable Herbert Hoover Dike.
Until the U.S. Sugar land acquisition is completed, there is literally no opportunity of meeting state and federal water quality standards in the Everglades or of preventing the damaging releases to the coastal estuaries.
Florida's intensive drainage projects and current water management regime replaced expansive natural wetlands with sugar and development.
We lost the system's natural connectivity that historically cleaned and managed the massive amounts of water that flowed from Orlando to Florida Bay.
During previous restoration planning, sugar farmers south of Lake Okeechobee refused to relinquish land needed to provide this vital storage and connectivity - forcing engineers and scientists to rely on the politically expedient, but highly questionable, aquifer storage and recovery wells and rock pits to provide the massive storage needed to restore the system.
Today, we finally have a willing seller in the Everglades Agricultural Area.
U.S. Sugar has 180,000 acres of land south of Lake Okeechobee that can be used to store and clean huge amounts of water.
This purchase, along with proper planning and engineering, could prevent further damage to the estuaries and enable cleaner water to be sent south without violating the stringent water quality standards in the Everglades.
But once again, politics and powerful sugar interests threaten restoration.
Business rival Florida Crystals is suddenly concerned that the U.S. Sugar land acquisition will threaten restoration, a handy smoke screen to cover their strategic business interests.
- Ray Judah, is the Lee County commissioner for District 3.


Everglades find a friend
The Miami Herald - Commentary
May 24, 2010
Everglades National Park has a welcome friend in the White House, as the Obama administration continues to jump-start long-stalled projects to clean up and restore historic water levels in the River of Grass.
The Everglades is more than a unique ecosystem. It's also South Florida's water-supply reservoir. The cleanup matters as much to suburbanites as to wood storks and alligators.
Not long after President Obama took office, the Interior Department cleared long-standing hurdles to infuse $600 million into the ambitious $12 billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.
It was the first significant federal contribution to what is supposed to be a state-federal jointly funded project. Until recently, the state had outspent the feds by a 6-to-1 ratio.
Next came the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' long-awaited groundbreaking in 2009 of a one-mile bridge along the Tamiami Trail to restore some sheet flow to Northeast Shark River Slough, headwaters of eastern Everglades National Park.
To read the complete editorial, visit

Read more:

Sole calls Everglades plan his crown jewel - by JIM ASH
May 24, 2010
1:10 A.M. — One of the biggest outstanding projects in Mike Sole's administration as secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection is Everglades restoration, a massive cleanup plan that environmental critics - and at least two federal judges - say has been too-long delayed.
Less than two years ago, Gov. Crist announced a $1.7 billion plan to buy 290 square miles of U.S. Sugar land around Lake Okeechobee. The purchase has been downsized twice, now standing at $536 million for 114 square miles. Sole has appeared at every press conference, claiming victory over the deal.
Sole still says he will count Everglades restoration - and the deal initiated by Crist - among the biggest accomplishments of his tenure.
"We've invested more than $1 billion. I'll tell you, everyone has been looking at their budgets. These are difficult times," Sole said.
Sole has fought to preserve Florida Forever, the nation's largest environmental land-buying program, but he was forced to watch it fall to recession and budget constraints.
Last year, lawmakers failed to fund it for the first time in two decades. This spring, lawmakers found $25 million, but did not allow managers to leverage the money with bonds at a time when supporters argue that land is cheap.
Sole acknowledges that there is still "a long way to go," to lowering phosphorous levels and cleaning up Florida's waters.
Yet Sole's diplomacy has won admirers in the Legislature.
"He's a protector of the environment, but he's also cognizant of economic environment in Florida and we need both," said Rep. Ralph Poppell, a conservative Republican from Vero Beach who chairs an environmental appropriations committee. "We don't always have to agree for us to still work together and find a solution. I find that commendable."


Sunrise Attorney Has Twisted Role In Everglades Battle
Broward Palm Beach NewTimes - by Bob Norman
May. 24, 2010
When you watch the BP oil lap up onto shore and decimate fragile ecosystems, don't ever forget why that oil rig was ever allowed to be built: Cold cash. 
BP and other oil companies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars greasing the political wheels with campaign contributions and have paid phony "consultants" (Hank Fishkind anyone?) to spout nonsense about how safe it is.
Same goes for the Everglades Corporate Park planned in Sunrise west of the Sawgrass Expressway. The developer's lobbyist, Ruden McClosky's Dennis Mele, raised more than $15,000 for Mayor Roger Wishner's 2008 campaign and thousands more for Commissioner Don Rosen.
After taking the cash, the commission voted last year to create a new zoning status, known as B-7, designed to give Everglades Corporate the ability to ignore the city's development rules and build a bigger hotel and office park on the land that was originally meant to be a public park on the River of Grass.
The commission is set to vote Tuesday night on whether or not to grant the developer, Sawgrass Investors, the new zoning distinction. Those who oppose development on the Everglades will likely pack city hall, but the truth may be that the developer won the battle with that B-7 vote last year. 
And that vote came with the help from a city official who has no known financial tie to the developer at all: City Attorney Stuart Michelson, the husband of
Broward County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman. 
At the April 28, 2009 meeting, Michelson pooh-poohed the notion that voting to create the B-7 zoning would lock the commission into actually granting it to the Everglades Corporate development. 
"That's a legislative decision that this board would make," said Michelson during the meeting. "They [the developers] have no right to it."
Michelson was just flat wrong -- and he has contradicted himself about it since.
After the commission created the B-7 zoning, it is in a position that it must present a "competent and substantial" legal argument to deny the developers. It's not a "legislative" decision anymore at all, it's a legal decision to be made in what is called a "quasi-judicial" hearing -- and the developer holds the cards. 
What is Michelson saying now? Sheila Alu, the only commissioner to vote against creating the B-7 zoning, says he completely changed his tune. She says that both Michelson and another lawyer he hired on the issue, Tallahassee lawyer-lobbyist Bob Nabors, have both told her that either she vote for to give the Everglades Corporate Park the new zoning status or face a lawsuit. Alu said that Michelson was so fervent about it in phone calls that he warned that she could be sued personally if she didn't vote with the developer.  
When I asked Michelson, who communicated with me in emails, why he would do an about-face on such an important development, he initially said I had been "misinformed" before writing: "It is a quasi judicial hearing. The Commission must vote based on the facts presented at the hearing, and apply the facts to the law."
​If only he'd said that during last year's meeting instead of misrepresenting the issue. Michelson, for whatever reason, was either flat-out lying or was just dead wrong about what he told the commission in April 2009. 
And Michelson's charge, Nabors, is singing the same tune. He confirmed to me that his position is that the Everglades Corporate developers have right to the zoning and that there is no "competent and substantial" evidence to prove otherwise.
Michelson seems happy to have Nabors backing him up. In one email to Alu, Michelson wrote that Nabors "is widely regarded in the profession as the dean of land use."
Sorry, Stuart, wrong again. Nabors, a former county and school board attorney himself, is widely regarded as a lobbyist and hired-gun government lawyer. The first mention I could find of Nabors in the press came in a 1985 Miami Herald article headlined "Connections Pay Off For State Bond Lawyers." The article mentions that Nabors was given state bond work shortly after he left the employ of former Florida Gov. Bob Graham. When Nabors, who strictly does work for governments, ran for state office in Brevard County in 1992, Nabors was crushed at the polls, perhaps because of his involvement in a highly controversial land lease deal to build a government center there. "Was [Nabors] seen by voters as a major player in the quietly executed deal that culminated in the government complex?" asked the Orlando Sentinel after the rout.
In 2002, the same newspaper questioned Nabors' involvement in another controversial deal to use taxpayers' dollars to buy a private water utility. Nabors led the negotiations on behalf of taxpayers. "The deal that emerged from those talks, however, is riddled with too many unanswered questions, too many potential conflicts of interest and too little oversight by accountable public officials," wrote the Sentinel in an editorial.
Then the newspaper aims squarely at Nabors: "Attorney Bob Nabors is the authority's point man on the Florida Water Services deal. Mr. Nabors also holds a financial interest in the company that is paid to staff the authority. In addition, his firm serves as utility counsel to the authority and as bond counsel. As such, Mr. Nabors and his firm stand to make millions in fees -- but only if the deal goes through."
I asked Nabors -- who is flying down from Tallahassee to South Florida for Tuesday's commission meeting on the taxpayers' dime -- about these matters and he said he didn't want to discuss them. 
This is the guy Michelson chose to represent taxpayers' in the Everglades Corporate Park fiasco. Between Nabors' controversial history and Michelson's contradictions, perhaps the commission should demand a third opinion before voting on anything.


The social and economic impact of the Gulf oil spill - by Kristina Betinis
May 24, 2010
As the thick crude gushing from the broken well in the Gulf of Mexico coats wetlands along the Louisiana coast, reliable figures on the extent of the spill are precious and few. BP has withheld crucial information, while the Obama administration is following BP’s lead in insisting that clean-up efforts are not dependent on knowing how much oil is entering the Gulf.
These efforts are further hindered by the lack of current data about coastal areas produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The protracted underfunding of federal agencies—in addition to their subservience to corporate interests—is contributing to the criminal lack of oversight involved in this catastrophe. CNN reported that NOAA’s administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, told the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on May 18 that half of the environmental sensitivity index atlases identifying coastal areas at great risk are over 10 years old: “Many of them do not reflect current information.”
Two things that are becoming clearer are the extent to which coastal industries are threatened by the spill, and the grave health risks posed by widespread contamination.
Anxieties grow for fishing, tourism and hospitality industries
This is the peak of the spawning season for many species of Gulf fish, crabs and oysters, and the effects of the spill are expected to greatly reduce the quantity of marine life for several generations. Even as US commercial seafood harvests have dropped slightly over the last decade, the Gulf Coast is responsible for about half of the total US harvest in its high season. Fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is an estimated $2.4 billion industry. Nineteen percent of the Gulf Coast, or 46,000 square miles, is currently closed to fishing, between the Mississippi River and the Pensacola Bay. Currently, migratory species of fish are assumed to be most affected.
Richard Shelby, a Republican Senator from Alabama, wrote in a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on May 18: “It is indisputable that the crisis we now face is man-made. If the oil continues to spill in the Gulf unabated, it will not only destroy the fisheries this year, but will adversely impact the Gulf’s ecosystem for decades. Alabama’s fishing industry represents one of the largest economic engines in the state—accounting for more than $800 million in sales and nearly 18,000 jobs. We must proactively work to adequately deal with this situation.”
Alabama expects oil to hit its shores on or near May 24. Fumes from burning oil on the surface of the Gulf were reported on beaches.
This week, Rear Adm. Mary Landry, commander of the Eighth Coast Guard District, criticized BP for having “hesitated” in placing booms that were supposed to prevent much of the oil now blanketing the wetlands of Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana from reaching the area, where fishing, hunting and trapping still represent a significant sector of the economy. Commercial fish stocks live some or all of their lives in the wetlands.
The region’s tourism industry also faces devastation, which would further diminish jobs and state revenues, with the impact already being felt in states where oil has yet to come ashore.
Linda Hornsby, director of the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association, told the McClatchy news agency that occupancy at beachfront hotels was down 50 percent.
CBS News reported that occupancy rates in the Florida panhandle are also off 50 percent for Memorial Weekend, and that some hotels are reporting occupancy as low as 15 percent.
Island House Hotel on the Alabama Gulf Coast told CBS that its losses had already run up to $100,000-200,000 by the second week in May, not counting convention business.
A survey of Gulf Coast hotels conducted by the Knowland Group revealed that 42 percent of respondents had group cancellations, a 7 point increase. At the same time, some hotels in Louisiana have seen a marked increase in business owing to the nearly 25,000 scientists, reporters, photographers, cleanup workers, volunteers, environmentalists and others who are staying in the area.
This threatened bust for the key tourism sector comes in the midst of a deep and prolonged recession fueled by a mortgage crisis that caused enormous losses in property values—and thus tax revenues—in many of the affected areas. Louisiana’s industries, in many respects still recovering from the Hurricane Katrina disaster, are particularly hard hit. Tourism in Louisiana is centered in part on game-fishing charters in the wetlands.
Growing concern has been expressed by the Department of the Interior that the part of the Gulf Stream called the loop current will carry oil into the region of the Florida Keys—home to a coral reef that is by all accounts particularly sensitive—up the east coast of Florida as far north as Cape Canaveral, and out into the Atlantic Ocean. This would seriously hurt the state’s revenue from tourism, which has dropped off in recent years due to the deep recession. According to the Florida tourism board, the state’s tourism industry is estimated at $65 billion, employs over one million workers, and accounts for 21 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue.
In a report released by the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust, industry analysts have stated that if oil enters Florida’s Everglades region it would mean disaster for its $1.2 billion sport fishing industry. The report states that sport fishing in the Everglades “produces more than $378 million in wages that support 12,391 full-time equivalent jobs and brings in tax revenues exceeding $90 million (federal) and $72 million (state and local) from Florida’s 13 southernmost counties. More than 8,000 jobs linked to saltwater sport fishing could be jeopardized if oil reaches the Everglades region.” About 7 million people rely on the aquifers of the Everglades for drinking water.
While BP has promised millions to the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi for clean-up and for an advertising campaign to counter the fall in tourism, the sums are insufficient to losses that have already been suffered on the Louisiana coast, not to mention those states where oil has not yet hit land.
On May 22, Florida Governor Charlie Crist wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, noting that the company’s efforts were plodding and that fishing charters have already begun to drop off all over the state. He asked that Florida be immediately equipped with sufficient boom to protect the coasts that attract tourism. Instances of canceled recreational fishing trips are being reported from Houma to Miami. The effect of these losses on related industries is another worry, including recreational boat manufacturers, and fishing equipment and apparel producers.
Serious health concerns loom over clean-up efforts
Though clean-up efforts have been under way for weeks, BP remains silent about the serious health effects upon workers and volunteers of the chemicals and procedures being employed. Concerns are mounting over the health effects of “flaring” on spill workers, the process of burning the gas after it has been piped to the surface of the water, exposure to chemical dispersants used to break up the oil in the water, and exposure to burning crude oil as it rests on the water’s surface. No public entity is currently monitoring the health effects of the spill, only scientists contracted to BP.
McClatchy reported that BP, with the full complicity of the Obama administration, continues to conceal safety data as proprietary information. The company has not released results from air sampling tests to the public. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has access to the data, and has “urged [BP] to do so.” Since the data was collected by BP contractors, an OSHA regional administrator said, “It isn’t ours to publish.” A BP spokesperson stated that the safety information has been shared with the “legitimate interested parties.” Director of the worker training program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Joseph Hughes, told McClatchy he didn’t think “anyone has seen much of that data at all.”
The chemical dispersant used by BP in the Gulf of Mexico, Corexit 9500, known to be more toxic and less effective than other approved mixtures, has been deployed in large amounts and at great depths in an attempt to break up the oil billowing out of the well head, and on the surface of the Gulf. The environmental effects of its unprecedented use at great depths are not known. Additionally, the contents of dispersants are treated as trade secrets, and so it is currently unknown what exactly is being pumped into the Gulf in great quantities, much less its long-term impact.
Corexit 9500 was reportedly banned in Britain for use in oil spills over a decade ago because of concerns over its environmental impact. There are also reports that health problems among workers involved in the cleanup following the 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska, including respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders, were linked to an earlier version of the Corexit dispersant.
On May 19, the chairman and president of BP American, Lamar McKay, was asked by a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee why the company had decided to use such a toxic dispersant. The next day, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered BP to use a chemical dispersant less toxic than the Corexit 9500 currently being used to disperse the crude.
The company issued a statement over the weekend flatly rejecting the EPA’s demand: “Based on the information that is available today, BP continues to believe that Corexit was the best and most appropriate choice at the time when the incident occurred, and that Corexit remains the best option for subsea application.” Recent reports indicate that over 600,000 gallons of Corexit 9500 have been poured onto the surface of the Gulf, and 55,000 in deep water.
In the course of questioning McKay, major health issues came to light. New York Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler stated, “Corexit is 2.61 in toxicity, which means it’s highly toxic. It has an effectiveness of 54.7 in the south Louisiana crude-oil spill. [Dispersit―another agent] is 7.9 toxicity, which means it’s a lot less toxic, but it has an effectiveness rate of 100%. Mare Clean 200, its toxicity rate is 42, which is much, much better. Its effectiveness rate is 84, compared to Corexit at 54.” Another representative voiced concerns about the effects on humans of eating fish contaminated with toxic dispersant. No systematic attention has been given to safety—either in the operation of the well before the explosion, or in regard to environmental questions afterwards, as BP continues to withhold key information.
The ill effects of the clean-up efforts organized by BP may last long after those of the oil itself. On May 11, John T. Everett, formerly a climate change expert with NOAA who now operates a consulting firm to fisheries and ocean-related businesses, addressed a Senate subcommittee on Environment and Public Works. While he acknowledged “the importance of dealing with here and now threats to our sea-life and to ourselves,” Everett warned that “even the oil damage will eventually heal... The flow of chemical materials into our waters is another matter. There are too many insidious contaminants entering our estuaries, causing genetic harm and poisoning our birds, turtles, and seafood.”


Some fear impact of new city south of OIA in Osceola County
Orlando Sentinel - by Jeannette Rivera-Lyles
May 23, 2010
City of 32,000 proposed for land south of Orlando International Airport.
Conservationists say a new city proposed for 12,000 acres in northern Osceola County could cause havoc to an area crucial to the region's water resources.
They say the possible ecological devastation could be realized as far south as the Everglades. County officials say they would provide buffers to prevent harm.
"You're essentially going to cut mother nature's kidneys if you don't preserve this land," said Marjorie Holt, a member of the Central Florida Sierra Club executive committee.
The group, along with the Kissimmee Valley Audubon Society, says it will appeal to the state's Department of Community Affairs, which is reviewing the plan, to try to block the project.
The proposed city of 32,000 — referred to in documents as the Northeast District — would be built on the Osceola-Orange border, south of Orlando International Airport. County officials are counting on the project to bring high-paying jobs to Osceola and spur a strong tax base by piggybacking on Orange County's medical city less than 10 miles away.
But environmentalists say that building on the land, part of the Mormons' Deseret Ranch, could pollute water bodies that are the headwaters of the Everglades and major rivers. On the property are at least a dozen lakes that feed into the Econlockhatchee and Kissimmee rivers. The property is also home to the Econlockhatchee River swamp, the headwaters of that river.
The state tried to buy the land at one point with Florida Forever funds, but the owner did not want to sell.
Any pollution of the lakes, swamps and hundreds of acres of wetlands on the property could be carried far beyond its borders, activists say.
"It's like contaminating the source itself because all of these bodies of water are connected," said Mary-Slater Linn, chairwoman of the Central Florida chapter of the Sierra Club. "This will have a serious impact all the way to the Everglades, after taxpayers have spent millions to restore them and protect them."
Jeffrey Jones, Osceola's director of smart growth, said in planning the new city, officials went to great lengths to protect water bodies. Wetlands, he said, "will not be disturbed," and development near lakes will be prohibited in order to create a natural buffer.


Water Hyacinth Was a Disaster – by Cinnamon Bair
May 23, 2010
Eli Morgan wanted to feed his cattle
Mrs. W.F. Fuller wanted to decorate her fish pond.
The Japanese wanted to honor their American hosts by giving out pretty flowering plants.
All had good intentions. But the collective result of their introducing water hyacinths to Florida has been an ecological disaster for more than a century.
"The water hyacinth has become one of Florida's biggest headaches," the South Florida Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale reported in 1986. "Hyacinths jam canals, rivers and lakes, blocking boats, breaking wooden bridges, clogging up locks and spillways, even killing fish by using up the water's oxygen."
Water hyacinths are floating perennials with large green leaves, lovely purple flowers and dense, heavy roots that trail them in the water, according to information from the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida. In Florida, they grow much faster than even rabbits could think of reproducing, doubling in number in as little as 13 days.
Florida's problem with the plants began at the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition of 1884 - also known as the New Orleans World's Fair. The Sun-Sentinel reports the Japanese were giving water hyacinths to visitors as gifts.
Why the Japanese selected a South American plant to give away has been lost to time, but among the visitors who left the fair with a plant was Mrs. W.F. Fuller.
Mrs. Fuller and her husband, a citrus grower, lived along the St. Johns River in the area of Palatka. Mrs. Fuller brought the hyacinth home and placed it in her fish pond, The New York Times reported in 1964. When the plant choked her pond, she thinned out the plants and placed the extras at her boat landing on the St. John's River.
Two hundred miles of the St. John's River was soon rendered unnavigable.
"A field of it completely covers the water, and no steamboat can penetrate it beyond a short distance," a New Zealand newspaper reported in 1897.
If only the plants could have been contained to the St. Johns River. Before anyone could realize how invasive hyacinths would be, the plants had spread to our own Kissimmee River.
Cattleman Eli Morgan had come to admire the hyacinths he found in the St. Johns River. But the plant's attraction to him was practical rather than aesthetic. He wanted to use it to feed his cattle, the Sun-Sentinel reported. He brought the plants in the 1890s to the Kissimmee River.
While they are pretty, hyacinths aren't very nutritious. The plants are 96 percent water. "Cattle can starve to death eating them," the Sun-Sentinel wrote.
The damage, however, was done. From the Kissimmee, the plants were able to spread to Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades and the rest of South Florida. They have been a scourge throughout Florida ever since.
While the "Mrs. Fuller" story sounds almost mythical - did anyone else think of Mrs. O'Leary's cow? - it does seem to be true. She was later quoted saying that she thought the hyacinths would be "obvious improvements over the blossomless water lettuce that floated on Florida's waters."
"They are a beautiful plant," she said in the unnamed report, quoted by the Orlando Sentinel in 1995. "But they're a horror."
Incidentally, when Peru considered bringing piranhas to the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans, officials promptly said no.
[Cinnamon Bair, a PolkCounty native, can be reached at]


SFWMD, Town of Southwest Ranches Continue Cooperation to Improve Flood Protection, Stormwater Quality
May 22, 2010
The South Florida Water Management District issued the following news release:
The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) Governing Board recently approved investing in a project to improve flood protection and stormwater quality for residents in the Town of Southwest Ranches. The partnership with the southwestern Broward County community will also help enhance the quality of stormwater flowing into the Everglades.
"Stormwater enhancement and flood protection projects directly improve the quality of life for residents and have a positive effect on the environment," said SFWMD Governing Board member Shannon Estenoz. "As with many projects, local partnerships such as this bring regional returns as well as immediate residential benefits."
The Town of Southwest Ranches is a 13-square-mile community of more than 7,000 residents living amid farms, grazing animals and wildlife. The area, which has an elevation of just 4 feet NGVD, has historically been prone to flooding.
"It is vital that we help protect and preserve the rural lifestyle for town residents through implementing flood control solutions," said SFWMD Governing Board member Glenn J. Waldman. "This particular project not only helps to accomplish this goal, but also improves stormwater quality and provides benefits to the Everglades."
The Governing Board's investment of $205,200, strongly supported by Florida Sen. Nan H. Rich, will help the town construct water control structures and sediment sumps while also conducting water quality sampling through September 2011.
The structures will enhance flood protection by allowing canals within the town to be lowered prior to storms without impacting water levels in surrounding communities. The strategically located sumps consist of small pits or reservoirs that trap sediment while draining water. This will allow for cleaner stormwater to flow into the C-11 Canal, which leads to Water Conservation Area 2 within the Everglades.
The project also represents a continued commitment to improving flood protection and stormwater quality in the town. In March, the District and the town entered into a cooperative agreement to improve stormwater quality in the area of Southwest 54th Place.
Contact: Randy Smith, 561/682-2800


Water Management's L-8 reservoir has high chloride levels
Sun Sentinel – by Randy LaBauve
May 22, 2010
The Sun Sentinel's recent article, "FPL wants to take reservoir water intended for environment," on May 12 missed the mark by failing to recognize the innovation, savings and benefits of a short-term agreement between FPL and the South Florida Water Management District.
The District's L-8 reservoir currently suffers from high chloride levels, preventing the water from being used for its intended purpose — environmental restoration. Until chloride levels are reduced in the reservoir, the environmental benefits cannot be realized. FPL employees learned of this problem and worked with SFWMD to turn a simple idea into a smart solution.
A power plant requires water to cool its system as power is generated for customers. However, this water doesn't need to be as clean as the water you drink. To cool its West County Energy Center — the cleanest, most efficient natural gas plant in Florida — FPL will use reclaimed water beginning next year.
In the meantime, FPL is using brackish water from the Floridan Aquifer to cool the system. The news about the L-8 reservoir presented an opportunity for the company to help the SFWMD accomplish its environmental restoration goals and save money for customers at the same time.
FPL approached the SFWMD and offered to temporarily use high-chloride water from the L-8 reservoir to cool the West County Energy Center.
This short-term, innovative partnership will help the SFWMD reduce chloride levels in the reservoir, allow the water in the reservoir to be used for environmental restoration, and at the same time, save FPL and its customers money because it is more efficient and less expensive to use water from the L-8 reservoir since it requires less water treatment than the Floridan Aquifer water.
In other words, this simple idea would benefit everyone.
Randy LaBauve is FPL vice president of Environmental Services.


Anger Simmers Over Spreading Gulf Oil Slick
NPR - by Staff and Wires
May 21, 2010
Gulf Coast residents were expressing increasing anger and frustration over BP's inability to plug an undersea leak that has sent an oily slick washing ashore, threatening ecosystems and livelihoods from Louisiana to Florida.
In Louisiana, thick oil from the April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig blowout has crept into delicate marshes, feeding and breeding grounds for much of the state's famed seafood, as well as for birds and other wildlife.
Why wouldn't they have any contingency plan? I'm not a genius and even I would have thought of that.
- E.J. Boles, resident of Big Pine Key, Fla.
"This is just heartbreaking," said Emily Guidry Schatzel of the National Wildlife Federation as she examined stained reeds in a particularly devastated marsh.
Until now, only tar balls and a sheen of oil had come ashore in Louisiana. But chocolate brown and vivid orange globs and sheets of foul-smelling oil have begun coating the reeds and grasses of the state's wetlands.
In Florida, where the main slick has yet to reach, E.J. Boles said he was angry because BP and federal authorities didn't seem to have had a plan for preventing such a disaster.
"Why wouldn't they have any contingency plan? I'm not a genius and even I would have thought of that," said the 55-year-old musician from Big Pine Key.
State and local officials say the federal government isn't doing enough. President Obama faults the Minerals Management Service, the Interior Department agency that oversees offshore drilling. Republicans say the Coast Guard and the administration should have done more.
The Gulf of Mexico slick is also spreading fear among potential tourists as well, with resorts in the Florida Keys reporting waves of cancellations ahead of the financially important Memorial Day weekend.
"We've seen some a tremendous amount of phone calls, we have got some cancellations, primarily because of the news reports of the tar balls that showed up at a couple Key West beaches," said Andy Newman of the Florida Keys tourism council.
A month after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank, BP finally has finally conceded that there is much more oil coming out of the well than it has acknowledged. The company originally estimated the leak at 5,000 barrels a day, but independent analyses, including one done for NPR, show the flow rate is much higher.
BP said Thursday what some scientists have been saying for weeks: More oil is flowing from the leak than either the company or the Coast Guard had estimated, but it wouldn't say how much.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it is working on a new estimate of how much oil is gushing from the well. Agency officials also would not speculate on how big the leak might actually be.
The oil giant's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles, said he understands the public frustration. "I know people want more information ... I can tell you we're supplying information. We're trying to give the data as quick as we can," he told CBS' The Early Show on Friday.
In the worst-case scenario, he said, the gusher could continue until early August, when engineers may finish a new well being drilled to try to permanently cap the flow. But Suttles said he believes the rich Gulf environment will recover, in part because it is a large body of water that has withstood other oil spills.
"I'm optimistic, I'm very optimistic that the Gulf will fully recover," he said.
A live video feed of the underwater gusher, posted online after lawmakers exerted pressure on BP, is sure to fuel public anger. It shows what appears to be a large plume of oil and gas still spewing into the water next to the stopper-and-tube combination that BP inserted to carry some of the crude to the surface. The House committee website where the video was posted promptly crashed because so many people were trying to view it.
"I think now we're beginning to understand that we cannot trust BP," said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-MA). "BP has lost all credibility. ... It's clear that they have been hiding the actual consequences of this spill."
The Environmental Protection Agency directed BP on Thursday to employ a less toxic form of the chemical dispersants it has been using to break up the oil and keep it from reaching the surface.
BP is marshaling equipment for an attempt as early as Sunday at a "top kill," which involves pumping heavy mud into the top of the blown-out well to try to plug the gusher. If it doesn't work, backup plans include a "junk shot" — shooting golf balls, shredded tires, knotted rope and other material into the well to clog it up.
Steve Newborn of member station WUSF in Tampa, Fla., contributed to this report.


Conflict of Interest Worries Raised in Spill Tests
New York Times - by IAN URBINA
May 20, 2010
Local environmental officials throughout the Gulf Coast are feverishly collecting water, sediment and marine animal tissue samples that will be used in the coming months to help track pollution levels resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
 Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, since those readings will be used by the federal government and courts to establish liability claims against BP. But the laboratory that officials have chosen to process virtually all of the samples is part of an oil and gas services company in Texas that counts oil firms, including BP, among its biggest clients.
Some people are questioning the independence of the Texas lab. Taylor Kirschenfeld, an environmental official for Escambia County, Fla., rebuffed instructions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to send water samples to the lab, which is based at TDI-Brooks International in College Station, Tex. He opted instead to get a waiver so he could send his county’s samples to a local laboratory that is licensed to do the same tests.
Mr. Kirschenfeld said he was also troubled by another rule. Local animal rescue workers have volunteered to help treat birds affected by the slick and to collect data that would also be used to help calculate penalties for the spill. But federal officials have told the volunteers that the work must be done by a company hired by BP.
“Everywhere you look, if you look, you start seeing these conflicts of interest in how this disaster is getting handled,” Mr. Kirschenfeld said. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but there is just too much overlap between these people.”
The deadly explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig last month has drawn attention to the ties between regulators and the oil and gas industry. Last week, President Obama said he intended to end their “cozy relationship,” partly by separating the safety function of regulators from their role in permitting drilling and collecting royalties. “That way, there’s no conflict of interest, real or perceived,” he said.
Critics say a “revolving door” between industry and government is another area of concern. As one example, they point to the deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management at the Interior Department, Sylvia V. Baca, who helps oversee the Minerals Management Service, which regulates offshore drilling
She came to that post after eight years at BP, in a variety of senior positions, ranging from a focus on environmental initiatives to developing health, safety and emergency response programs. She also served in the Interior Department in the Clinton administration.
Under Interior Department conflict-of-interest rules, she is prohibited from playing any role in decisions involving BP, including the response to the crisis in the gulf. But her position gives her some responsibility for overseeing oil and gas, mining and renewable energy operations on public and Indian lands.
Officials in part of what will remain of the Minerals Management Service, after a major reorganization spurred by the events in the gulf, will continue to report to her.
“When you see more examples of this revolving door between industry and these regulatory agencies, the problem is that it raises questions as to whose interests are being served,” said Mandy Smithberger, an investigator with the nonprofit watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.
Interior officials declined to make Ms. Baca available for comment. A spokeswoman said Ms. Baca fully disclosed her BP ties, recused herself from all matters involving the company and was not currently involved in any offshore drilling policy decisions.
Patrick A. Parenteau, a professor at Vermont Law School, said that concerns about conflicts of interest in the cleanup are cropping up for reasons beyond examples of coziness between the industry and regulators.
He noted that because of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was passed after the Exxon Valdez spill, polluters must take more of a role in cleanups.
“I do think the law brings the polluter into the process, and that creates complications,” Professor Parenteau said. “That doesn’t mean, however, that the government has to exit the process or relinquish control over decision-making, like it may be in this case.”
Dismissing concerns about conflicts of interest at his lab, James M. Brooks, the president and chief executive of TDI-Brooks International, said his company was chosen because of its prior work for the federal government.
“It is a nonbiased process,” he said. “We give them the results, and they can have their lawyers argue over what the results mean.” He added that federal officials and BP were working together and sharing the test results.
Federal officials say that they remain in control and that the concerns about any potential conflicts are overblown.
Douglas Zimmer, a spokesman for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, said the agency simply did not have the staff to handle all the animals affected by the oil spill. BP has more resources to hire workers quickly, he said, and letting local organizations handle the birds would have been impractical and costly.
“I also just don’t believe that BP or their contractor would have any incentive to skew the data,” he said. “Even if they did, there are too many federal, state and local eyes keeping watch on them.”
But Stuart Smith, a lawyer representing fishermen hurt by the spill, remained skeptical, saying that federal and state authorities had not fulfilled their watchdog role.
Last month, for example, various state and federal Web sites included links that directed out-of-work fishermen to a BP Web site, which offered contracts that limited their right to file future claims against the company.
This month, a federal judge in New Orleans, Helen G. Berrigan, struck down that binding language in the contracts.
Collaboration between industry and regulators extends to how information about the spill is disseminated by a public affairs operation called the Joint Information Center.
The center, in a Shell-owned training and conference center in Robert, La., includes roughly 65 employees, 10 of whom work for BP. Together, they develop and issue news releases and coordinate posts on Facebook and Twitter.
“They have input into it; however, it is a unified effort,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Carleton, explaining BP’s role in the shared command structure.
He said such coordination in oil spill responses was mandated under federal law.
But even if collaboration were not required, Mr. Zimmer said, it would be prudent because federal and state authorities could only gain from BP’s expertise and equipment.
“Our priority has been to address the spill quickly and most effectively, and that requires working with BP — not in some needlessly adversarial way,” he said.
In deciding where to send their water, sediment and tissue samples, state environmental officials in Florida and Louisiana said NOAA instructed them to send them to BB Laboratories, which is run by TDI-Brooks.
Though Florida has its own state laboratory that is certified to analyze the same data, Amy Graham, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection there, said the state was sending samples to B & B “in an effort to ensure consistency and quality assurance.”
Scott Smullen, a spokesman for NOAA, said that two other labs, Alpha Analytics and Columbia Analytical Services, had also been contracted, but officials at those labs said B & B was taking the lead role and receiving virtually all of the samples.
The samples being collected are part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, which is the federal process for determining the extent of damage caused by a spill, the amount of money owed and how it should be spent to restore the environment.
The samples are also likely to be used in the civil suits — worth hundreds of millions of dollars — filed against the companies and possibly the federal government.
While TDI-Brooks and B & B have done extensive work for federal agencies like NOAA and the E.P.A., TDI-Brooks is also described by one industry partner on its Web site as being “widely acknowledged as the world leader in offshore oil and gas field exploration services.”
The Web site says that since 1996, it has “collected nearly 10,000 deep-water piston core sediment samples and heat flow stations for every major oil company.”
Hundreds of millions of dollars are also likely at stake in relation to the oil-slicked animals that are expected to wash ashore in coming weeks.
While Fish and Wildlife Service officials say that BP’s contractor will handle virtually all of the wildlife and compile data about how many — and how extensively — animals were affected by the spill, they add that they will oversee the process.
The data collected will likely form the basis for penalties against BP relating to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. In the case of the Exxon Valdez spill, Exxon was fined more than $100 million, partly for violations of that federal law.
John M. Broder, Andrew W. Lehren and Michael Luo contributed reporting.


Miccosukees fight IRS probe into former Chairman Billy Cypress
Miami Herald - by JAY WEAVER and CURTIS MORGAN -
May 21, 2010
The Miccosukee Indians are asserting their status as a sovereign nation to fight an IRS investigation into the tribe-generated income of their former chairman -- and how he spent it.
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The IRS is investigating Billy Cypress, the former longtime chairman of the Miccosukee Tribe, for alleged income tax violations linked to the tribe's multimillion dollar gambling operation -- a probe that coincides with a major shake-up in the tribe's leadership and the ouster of its longtime lawyer.
The Internal Revenue Service has issued a civil summons to Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, the tribe's Miami bank, seeking Cypress' credit card statements and other records from 2003 to 2005. The April 6 summons also demands the tribe's credit card records and the names of members authorized to use the Morgan Stanley account for the same three-year period.
Cypress, who lost leadership of the 650-member tribe to its longtime poker director, Colley Billie, in a January election, put the Miccosukee tribe in West Miami-Dade on the map.
During his tenure, the tribe built a casino resort, started construction on a new hospital and became a major political and legal force in Everglades restoration battles.
But Cypress also had a reputation for enjoying the high life, including frequent gambling trips to Las Vegas, according to several sources familiar with the IRS civil probe.
As an Indian tribe, the Miccosukees claim to be a sovereign nation, and say they therefore don't have to turn over records on Cypress or the tribe to the IRS. That has been a common tribal defense strategy used in litigation with Miami-Dade, state and federal authorities for decades.
They also are objecting to the broad scope of the IRS inquiry.
``The summons seeks a voluminous amount of sensitive, irrelevant tribal records from a third party in connection with the administrative investigation of a single tribal member,'' the tribe's lawyers, Sonia E. O'Donnell and James F. Jorden, wrote in a motion seeking to quash the IRS summons.
O'Donnell, the lead Miccosukee attorney who took over the tribe's litigation from lawyer Dexter Lehtinen, did not return a call seeking comment.
IRS officials also declined to comment about the investigation. But they cited federal law saying that while Indian tribes and their businesses are exempt from paying taxes, tribal members who receive income from such operations -- including gambling casinos -- are subject to federal reporting and taxes.
Cypress' income, along with that of other tribe members, largely comes from proceeds generated by the Miccosukee's casino resort.
Under an Indian gaming law passed by Congress in 1988, tribes can only distribute income to members after obtaining federal approval of paperwork known as a ``plan to allocate revenues.'' The plan shows how, in general, gambling revenues are to be distributed.
Indian tribes do not have to publicly disclose their gaming revenues. But the widely respected Casino City Indian Gaming Industry Report estimated that all Florida tribes -- primarily the Seminoles, who operate the popular Hard Rock Hotel and Casino near Hollywood -- generated about $1.6 billion in 2007.
Dennis Whittlesey, a Washington, D.C., attorney, who is involved with a wrongful-death lawsuit against a tribe member in Miami-Dade court, said the Miccosukees do not have a revenue allocation plan, ``meaning that any distribution of Indian gaming revenue is . . . subject to sanctions.''
The Miccosukees do not address a revenue allocation plan in their motion, but instead focus on the tribe's sovereign ``immunity,'' saying it is ``not a taxable entity.'' They also called the IRS summons, issued out of Oklahoma, ``a fishing expedition.''
``The summons is neither directed at nor limited to the records (if any) of Billy Cypress,'' wrote lawyers for the firm, Jorden Burt. ``Rather, the summons seeks production of all records for all accounts belonging to the entire Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.''
U.S. District Judge Alan S. Gold has set oral arguments in the dispute for June 28 in Miami.
The tribe's historic connection to the River of Grass and its deep pockets were behind aggressive legal campaigns waged by Lehtinen. He filed an array of lawsuits over Everglades and water quality issues that, among other things, forced the state to expand its pollution treatment marshes.
Lehtinen, who handled the tribe's environmental cases for 16 years, announced last week that the tribe had severed connection with his firm. Lehtinen could not be reached Thursday for comment, but last week said his ouster was ``unrelated to Everglades matters.''
He also refused to discuss whether tribal politics played a role, saying only, ``I hold no hostility toward the Miccosukee.''
One source familiar with the Miccosukee litigation and the IRS case said the tribe's new leaders ``wanted a changing of the guard.''
Another law firm that has represented the tribe in the wrongful-death suit and other litigation declined to answer questions about the Miccosukees.
Attorneys Guy Lewis and Michael Tein did not respond to e-mailed questions they requested.
Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.

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Everglades Summit: World's Largest Ecosystem Restoration Initiative
Epoch Times - by Nicholas Zifcak, Staff
May 20, 2010
A major wetland restoration project to improve water flow in Florida’s Everglades gained further support Wednesday. The U.S. Department of the Interior released a report recommending the Tamiami Trail bridging project be expanded another 5.5 miles.
The Tamiami Trail cuts east-west across the Everglades, effectively damming the water flow coming south to Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Turning sections of the roadway into a bridge to allow surface water to flow south has long been in the works. In December, with an infusion of federal funding, the project to elevate a mile of the roadway finally broke ground. Now the government is recommending another 5.5 miles be elevated to improve the flow of surface water. Money for the $330 million dollar project has yet to be authorized by Congress, but Secretary Salazar already committed $360 million in economic stimulus money and promised another $278 million in 2010.
The same day the recommendation was released, the Everglades Foundation hosted a summit panel discussion mediated by Tom Brokaw to discuss conservation efforts and progress. Held at Washington D.C.’s Newseum, the panel included local and federal water and conservation officials as well chairman of the Everglades Foundation Paul Tudor Jones II and senior foundation scientist Thomas Van Lent.
 “At the end of the day the environment gets attention as long as it’s an economic issue, so the fact that the environment and the economy are intertwined that’s really how you get things done,” said Everglades Foundation Chairman Paul Tudor Jones. “We can appeal to people’s altruistic motives all we want to, but when there is 9.7 percent unemployment that is going to carry the headline of the day.”
Jones explained preliminary findings of a study commissioned by the foundation found that an investment of $11 billion in restoration efforts today will yield $33 billion in benefits over the course of the next 40 years. The study also found that restoration efforts have the potential to create 330,000 jobs.
This he said “is the single most compelling reason why we need to make difficult political decisions to go forward with restoration.”  ”Economically, the Everglades are the single biggest engine in South Florida," he said.
Everglades conservation efforts have gained momentum in recent years and many on the panel credited cooperation and partnerships among government, advocacy groups, and local interests.
 “Only by coming together in the way of partnerships that I think that we can forge the resources and forge the commitment to carry out [restoration efforts]” said Gary Guzy, deputy director and general counsel of the Council on Environmental Quality.
The surrounding region is home to 7 million people who rely on the aquifers of Everglades to store their drinking water.
Before human intervention the whole Everglades ecosystem was twice the size of New Jersey. At that time, the Everglades was essentially an enormous 40-mile-wide river flowing from Lake Okeechobee to Florida’s southern tip that moved only a few feet per day.  Roads, canals, farming, and housing developments chopped up and shrank the wetlands over time, interrupting the flow of water.  The River of Grass, as it is often called, is home to an array of wildlife from alligators, fish, turtles, to panthers, otters and numerous species of birds.  Now some are threatened and some endangered.
Now with greater federal support and funding, conservation projects look to be moving forward after years of stagnation.  With proper leadership, successful restoration is possible, said foundation scientist Thomas Van Lent.


Final decision on 'inland port' site delayed over squabble
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
May 20, 2010
Sugar giant Florida Crystals on Thursday salvaged — at least temporarily — its deal to create a job-producing "inland port" industrial center in western Palm Beach County.
The Port of Palm Beach's board delayed a decision until June on whether to scrap plans to build the cargo distribution hub on Florida Crystals' land and move the project to an industrial site near Port St. Lucie.
The port board in December selected Florida Crystals over Port St. Lucie to house the proposed inland port.
But environmental concerns prompted Florida Crystals to move its proposed location for the industrial center and on Thursday the company tried to sell the Port of Palm Beach on the alternative site.
Backers of the site near Port St. Lucie contend that Florida Crystals' changing its location for the inland port should have been considered a "de facto withdrawal" from consideration. As the No. 2-ranked site during the bidding process, the Treasure Coast proposal should get the project, said Johnathan Ferguson, who represents the bid from the Port St. Lucie group.
The Port St. Lucie group has threatened a legal fight if their proposal gets passed over for Florida Crystal's new location.
With the delay, the Port of Palm Beach board agreed to consider Florida Crystals' altered plans.
"Obviously we have got some work to do," Port Board Chairman Blair Ciklin said.
The Port of Palm Beach has run out of room to expand along the coast. As a result, port officials are trying to collaborate with Broward County's Port Everglades, and the Port of Miami to build an inland industrial distribution center that would link coastal ports to rail and truck routes across the country.
The goal is to get the "inland port" in place by 2014, in time to take advantage of increased cargo shipments expected after improvements to the Panama Canal.
Local leaders are counting on the proposed cargo distribution hub to bring an economic boost to western Palm Beach County, where communities alongside Lake Okeechobee are struggling with 40 percent unemployment.
Florida Crystals first planned to build the inland port on 318 acres near its Okeelanta sugar mill and power plant west of U.S. 27.
After objections that putting the inland port there would interfere with Everglades restoration, Florida Crystals agreed to move the industrial development to 850 acres between Belle Glade, South Bay and Lake Okeechobee.
State regulators, environmental groups and the Palm Beach County Commission have already signed off on Florida Crystals' alternative site.
Now it's up to the Port of Palm Beach to decide whether to still try to partner with Florida Crystals to develop the inland port.
Florida Crystals Vice President Danny Martell said the company wants to strike a deal, but plans to push ahead with the industrial facility with or without the Port of Palm Beach.
"They are not the linchpin," Martell said about the Port of Palm Beach. "They can't tell the shippers where the [cargo] goes. Only the market can."
Ferguson said that litigation and permitting delays that could arise from Florida Crystals changing sites threaten to slow the push to get the distribution center ready in time for the expected influx in cargo.
"Unnecessary and unwarranted delays … will deprive the state of a much needed economic engine," Ferguson said in a letter to the port board.
Andy Reid can be reached at or 561-228-5504


Land Deal Likely to Improve Everglades, Ecologists Say - by Mary Caperton Morton
May 20, 2010
Tom Brokaw, Miss Florida, and the all stars of Florida Everglades advocacy came to Washington on May 19 to discuss the progress of restoration efforts. Packed into a small room down the street from the Capitol building, the environmentalists broke into cheers when the Obama adminstration unveiled a $324 million plan for new bridges to lift sections of a highway that now blocks water flow in the wetlands.
But panel speakers at the Everglades Summit made no big announcements about one of the most ambitious and controversial pieces of the $12 billion restoration puzzle -- a plan to buy agricultural land between the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee to the north. The purchase has been stalled by lawsuits and is under review in Florida's Supreme Court.
While debates continue to rage about the economics and politics of the $536 million land deal, Florida's wetland ecologists agree that, scientifically speaking, it is the best way to start to restoring much-needed water flow to Florida's "River of Grass".
Over the past 60 years as much as half of the wetland has been replaced by trickling canals and nutrient-hungry sugar cane. Everglades National Park is the third largest park in the lower 48 states, but according to the National Park Service, its 1.5 million acres protects less than half of the wetland’s original territory. The rest has been drained and developed into cities and into a vast swath of citrus and sugarcane-dominated farmland called the Everglades Agricultural Area.
This development has sapped water from south Florida’s famous wetlands and left them with ion and salinity “levels closer to an estuary rather than a fresh water system”, said Ronald Best, a wetlands ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Fort Lauderdale.
William Orem, a geochemist with the USGS in Reston, Va. who studies pollution in the Everglades, estimated that sulfate levels in the Everglades are already 60 times higher than pre-agricultural levels. Phosphorous, chloride, calcium, copper and iron are also found in alarmingly high concentrations and mercury levels in fish and wading birds are among the highest anywhere in the U.S.
With numbers like those, few would argue that the Everglades needs no ecological intervention. So in 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a jointly federal and state funded plan comprised of 50-plus projects to be completed over 30 years at a cost of more than $10 billion, making it the most comprehensive and expensive environmental repair plan ever undertaken in the U.S. One of CERP’s many goals was to increase freshwater flow into the Everglades by one-third. To this end, in 2008 the state of Florida proposed a $1.75 billion dollar plan to buy 180,000 acres of U.S. Sugar Corporation land south of Lake Okeechobee.
Two years and a recession later, that original plan has been reduced to $536 million dollars for 73,000 acres. And while the smaller price tag has appeased some critics, others, including Republican Florida state senator Paula Dockery, still have concerns about the patchwork nature of the land deal - the six tracts being offered for sale by U.S. Sugar don’t directly connect. And a dozen other Everglades restoration projects may have to be put on hold due to the expense of the land purchase, including a massive $300 million dollar water reservoir already underway in Palm Beach county.
According to Thomas Van Lent, a hydrologist with the Everglades Foundation, the current land deal, while frustratingly patchwork, is still an important step in the right direction. “There are lots of political and economic issues swirling around this U.S. Sugar deal, but you’re not hearing much about the science, because it’s not that controversial,” Van Lent said. “We know what needs to be done [to help the Everglades] and how to do it,” he said.
“Water quality is the Achilles' heel of this whole freshwater plan,” said Orem. “Right now they’re trying to move more water down into the park through the canal system, which is probably the worst way to do it,” he said. “Canals don’t support the natural biogeochemical processes that remove contaminants.”
By purchasing land south of Lake Okeechobee, the South Florida Water Management District will not only gain more access to the lake water, it will also gain the land it needs to clean and filter the water to make it Everglades-ready.
Lake Okeechobee has been badly contaminated by half a century of fertilizer and pesticide-heavy agriculture, “so we shouldn’t just dump that water into the Everglades,” Orem said. Instead, the parcels purchased from U.S. Sugar will be converted back into marshlands, which will naturally filter the heavily polluted Lake Okeechobee water before it is swept into the park.
“Wetlands are very effective at removing toxic levels of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous,” said Stephen Davis, a wetlands ecologist with the Everglades Foundation, a non-profit conservation and restoration group based in Palmetto Bay, Fla. “Recreating these marshes is a closer approximation to how the Everglades used to work, as opposed to chemical treatment plants.”
Although the new reduced acreage plan is less than ideal -- the patchwork map will continue to make water delivery tricky -- Davis said taking any amount of farmland land out of production is good for the Everglades. And if enough parcels of land could eventually be bought and traded, water could move through these marshes from the lake all the way south to the park.
But despite what scientists say are clear ecologic benefits, the U.S. Sugar land deal, originally scheduled to close March 31 but recently extended until September 30, continues to be fiercely criticized by Senator Dockery, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and thousands of Florida taxpayers, mainly due to its high price tag and long timeframe:
Purchasing all the U.S. Sugar land and engineering a continuous sheet-flow of water through it from the lake into the park is estimated to cost a staggering $12 billion. Reaching CERP's goal of increasing freshwater flow into the Everglades by a third “will probably take years, if not decades,” said Van Lent.
Van Lent conceded the land purchase may put some other restoration projects on hold, including the oft-cited reservoir and a proposed series of underground wells, but he said restored marshlands are a more ecologically sound way to store and deliver freshwater anyway. “The economic realities are going to force us to prioritize, which is always hard,” he said. “But land is key and I do think this plan is going to be a good for the Everglades in the long run.”
By pushing back the close of sale deadline by six months, the South Florida Water Management District will have more time to address some of the deal’s financial and political pitfalls. So for now, convinced ecologists will have to wait and see.
Provided by Inside Science News Service


New Tamiami Trail bridge plan elates environmentalists
Miami Herald - by CURTIS MORGAN -
May 20, 2010
Four additional bridges promise to help restore the natural flow of the River of Grass.
The Obama administration on Wednesday unveiled a plan to dramatically expand bridging on Tamiami Trail, long an asphalt dam across the Everglades.
Environmentalists were thrilled.
``This is huge,'' said Jonathan Ullman, senior Everglades organizer for the Sierra Club and longtime advocate for a ``skyway'' over the River of Grass. ``The Everglades now has a fighting chance.''
Tom Strickland, an assistant secretary of the Interior Department, made the announcement during an ``Everglades Summit'' in Washington, D.C., organized to boost support for a broader, $12 billion restoration project.
The plan calls for adding 5.5 miles of bridging to an $81 million, one-mile project finally begun last year after a 20-year battle. Four more bridges, ranging from a third of a mile to 2.6 miles, would replace other sections of the historic road, beginning about a mile west of Krome Avenue. Projected cost: $324 million.
Opening up the Trail is the last piece in the Modified Water Deliveries project, a handful of plumbing overhauls originally approved by Congress in 1989. The aim was to revive water flows to Northeast Shark River Slough, the headwaters of eastern Everglades National Park, which had been choked to a fifth of its historic volume.
But the project has been mired by changes in plans, bureaucratic bickering and multiple lawsuits, most recently by the Miccosukee Tribe. The tribe believes a $17 million plan to clean existing culverts would have provided faster, cheaper relief to high water that drowned tribal lands and wildlife, including the endangered Everglades kite, north of the Trail.
Environmentalists and park managers have long contended that extensive bridging was needed to revive the natural sheetflow of the Glades.
The one-mile bridge is scheduled for completion by 2013. There was no formal timetable for the additions, but Gary Guzy, deputy director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, told summit attendees that the Everglades ranked as ``the utmost of our natural-resources priorities.''
Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, which sponsored the summit, praised the proposal as a landmark.
``As resilient as Mother Nature is, we all understand that she can benefit from our help,'' he said.

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While off-shore drilling in question, Florida's onshore oil production still going strong
Palm Beach Post - by Dara Kam , Staff Writer
May 20, 2010
JAY — Less than 50 miles from Pensacola Bay, most members of this small farming community paid special attention to the April 20 blast on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig that left 11 workers missing and a massive mess in the Gulf of Mexico.
They've been glued to FoxNews, a favorite in this Panhandle Republican stronghold, but their interest is different from that of most Floridians because they've had a far more intimate relationship with the "black gold" now threatening the state's coastal eco-systems.
The folks in Jay are sitting on top of one of the state's most oil-rich areas, a place where not that long ago tens of millions of barrels a year flowed out of the ground and where more than a dozen active wells are still producing within the town's 1.5 square miles.
"It was like Christmas time once a month," Linda Carden, Jay's city clerk for 34 years, said of the late '70s boom years when local landowners received as much as $100,000 a month in royalties from the wells on their land.
"There was so much money being made that it was kind of a joke that people that owned cemetery plots were getting paid" lucrative royalties for their 5-by-7 foot grave sites, retired oil worker Fred Sasser recalled.
Sasser, born and raised in Jay, worked for Exxon for more than three decades after the oil giant first set up shop in the bucolic town of 575, which today shows few outward signs of its former income.
Likewise, with the focus on drilling for oil off Florida's coast, many people are unaware that Florida has had active onshore oil production for nearly 70 years.
The Northwest Florida oil tract, including the Jay field, as it's known, and a few other Panhandle locales in Santa Rosa and neighboring Okaloosa counties, is one of two main regions in the state where oil is still being produced.
The other is in southwest Florida, where the Sunniland field in Collier County opened the door to oil production in the Sunshine State in the early 1940s.
In 1943, the Humble Oil and Refining Co., which later became Exxon, won a $50,000 bounty offered by the Florida Cabinet for the first entity to discover oil. The company split the prize between the Florida College for Women, which later became Florida State University, and the University of Florida.
Since then, Florida has produced nearly 600 million barrels of oil. And without a mishap so far.
The bulk of it has come from the Jay field, although the Sunniland field, with more than three dozen wells, is still producing.
Just last week, Breitburn Florida, which operates the wells for the Collier family that owns the Sunniland mineral rights, asked the state to expand four of its Raccoon Point field wells on the federally-owned land in the Big Cypress National Preserve.
Despite its proximity to the environmentally sensitive Everglades National Park and the Big Cypress swamp, no one seems concerned.
"We can't find any specific significant environmental damage to it," said Audubon of Florida lobbyist Eric Draper. "I don't think anybody's going to go after an onshore ban on oil activity in Florida, either in Jay or in the Everglades. There's no documented environmental reason why anybody would object to those things."
Drop into the "Farmer's Country Market and Cookin" in the back of the Shell station on Highway 4 in Jay for some down-home fried catfish and okra or, on Tuesdays, chicken and dumplings, and you'll find many local farmers and their workers discussing the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but none in favor of banning oil drilling offshore either as lawmakers prepare for a possible special session on the issue.
"We need to be drilling instead of buying it overseas. It's been good for Santa Rosa County, better schools, better roads," said Max Ray Smith, who's been servicing vehicles for the oil companies and contractors at the Big M Tire Center he's owned for more than 40 years.
The Northwest Florida tract is part of the Smackover zone that runs from Smackover, Ark., through Florida into the Gulf of Mexico.
"There's a lot of places in Florida where there's oil but you can't get it out," Sasser said.
However, the Smackover zone is especially productive because the rock beneath the ground is so loosely packed that no pumping is necessary to force the oil into the pipeline.
In Jay's 1978-1980 boom years, at least 70 wells tapped into the "sweet oil" up to 17,000 feet below the surface. Sweet oil is a high-grade oil that takes very little refining to turn into gasoline.
The state produced about 45 million barrels of oil a year then, compared to fewer than 2 million barrels that the six remaining operators produced in 2008, the last year for which a full year's worth of data was available.
Exxon abandoned its Jay operations in 2007 when oil prices dropped and the oil giant had already tapped about 60 percent of the oil.
"The profits weren't what they used to be and the risk to the public was getting greater and the expenses were greater," said former Exxon employee Sasser. "It's all about profits."
Quantum Resources, a limited partnership based in Texas, purchased the Jay plant from Exxon and began using a more costly system, injecting first water and then nitrogen into the ground to force oil and natural gas trapped within sub-surface rock into the aging pipelines that run throughout Jay.
Recently, the decrepit pipelines — never replaced since Exxon constructed them nearly four decades ago — are starting to crack and residents are growing concerned about noxious fumes emanating from the ground.
Smith and his wife, Billie, and more than 30 family members live on top of one the area's most troubled pipeline portions.
They've had trouble breathing because of the sulfuric odors coming from the deteriorating pipeline seven times within the past two months, Smith said from his home adjacent to his tire center.
"It smells like rotten eggs," Billie Smith said. "It's so strong it will wake you up at night. It does concern me. My whole family lives here."
"If I was them, I'd move," Sasser said. "If most of the people knew how dangerous a place like that is, they would not live next door."
The state now reaps more than $1.6 million a year in taxes and fees from oil and natural gas mining activities.
Although there's oil left in Florida, it will likely take technological advances to get it out of the ground, an expensive proposition, experts say.
"It's analogous to a sponge soaked in oil. You poke straws in it to suck out the fluid and there's only so much you can get out of it," said Florida Geological Survey director John Arthur.
If oil prices climb high enough, big oil may one day decide to revisit the Sunshine State's bounty, said Florida Petroleum Council director David Mica.
"You could never rule out that big oil interest would want to move into one of those oil areas and try some new stuff," Mica said. "Some geologists think there's an awful lot more here."


Longer Tamiami bridge proposed to help Everglades
Sun Sentinel - by William Gibson
May 19, 2010
At a Washington gathering to showcase the Everglades, a federal official announced on Wednesday that the Obama administration plans to add 5.5 miles of bridges along Tamiami Trail to restore a natural waterflow.
The announcement sparked sustained applause from hundreds of environmentalists who came to “America’s Everglades Summit,” sponsored by the Everglades Foundation. Their mission is to raise the national profile of the ‘Glades and lobby Congress for more money to restore it.
The effort seemed to pay off when Tom Strickland, assistant secretary for fish and wildlife, used the occasion to propose further elevation of U.S. 41 in western Miami-Dade County.
After years of planning and litigation, work began last year to build a one-mile bridge to allow more water to pass under the roadway. Armed with a draft environmental impact statement, the administration will seek congressional approval to add 5.5 miles of bridges along the trail.
The announcement came during a panel discussion on the Everglades moderated by former NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw.
Strickland said the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico made everyone more aware of the value of protecting Florida’s delicate environment.
“I think the whole world is pulling for the Gulf Coast right now and for Florida, and we’re all looking to do the right thing,” Strickland said. “So hopefully it will add impetus to efforts like restoring the Everglades, which is not just an issue for South Florida, it’s an issue for the whole country.”
Participants at the “summit” plan to lobby members of Congress on Thursday to fund the bridge work and other Everglades projects.
“The president has been clear that work to restore the Everglades is the utmost of our natural-resources priorities,” said Gary Guzy, deputy director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. “This sits at the top of the list in terms of funding and the need to carry on.”


Lake Okeechobee water dump continues despite environmental damage
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
May 18, 2010
While South Florida braces for oil spill pollution potentially reaching its shores, weeks of dumping Lake Okeechobee water out to sea to protect South Florida from flooding has already created an environmental emergency to the north.
Higher-than-usual lake levels combined with safety concerns about the lake's 70-year-old dike means the damaging discharges must continue into the summer rainy season, Col. Alfred Pantano Jr., the Army Corps of Engineers' commander for Florida, told Palm Beach County officials on Monday.
In addition to wasting lake water that serves as South Florida's backup drinking water supply, dumping the lake water out to sea is already threatening to wipe out sea grasses, oyster beds, sport fish and other marine life in the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries
 Coastal residents in Stuart and elsewhere accuse the corps of sacrificing their waterways instead of sending more Lake Okeechobee water to South Florida.
But on Tuesday, Pantano told Palm Beach County commissioners that the ability to send lake water south is limited by environmental regulations, storage capacity and logistical hang-ups.
East and west discharges remain the main routes to dump the water, and with hurricane season fast approaching, those discharges will continue, Pantano said.
"It's killing the estuaries, that's a fact," Pantano said. "We are willingly and knowingly damaging the ecosystem … because protecting the public is foremost."
Pantano was in West Palm Beach on Tuesday to give an update on the slow-moving dike-rehab project. The nearly $1 billion project is intended to protect lakeside communities from flooding and give the lake more water storage capacity.
Frustrated with delays, county commissioners have called for the corps to speed up the project. On Tuesday, they agreed to lobby Congress for more money to shorten the decades-long timetable.
They want a faster fix to avoid possible New Orleans-style flooding in lakeside communities and to stop the environmental damage along the coast.
Stormwater that flows into Lake Okeechobee from the north once naturally overflowed the lake's southern rim, slowly drifting south in sheets of water that fed the Everglades.
More than 70 years ago, as more farming and development moved onto land that used to be the Everglades, the lake was corralled by an earthen dike to contain flooding.


2 scientists say oil is nearing a far-reaching current
The NewYork Times – by John M. Broder
May 18, 2010
WASHINGTON — Scientists warned yesterday that oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico is moving rapidly toward a current that could carry it into the Florida Keys and the Atlantic Ocean, threatening coral reefs and hundreds of miles of additional shoreline.
Government officials insisted that the oil had not yet entered the gulf’s so-called loop current and said they are continuing to monitor the movement of the spill closely. But two independent scientists, analyzing ocean current and satellite data, said the oil is in an eddy that is quickly being drawn into the current, portending a much wider spread of the hazardous slick.
Technicians from BP, the company that leased the drilling rig, said yesterday that they are still suctioning oil from the drilling pipe lying on the ocean floor 5,000 feet below the surface. They are pulling oil out through a narrow tube at the rate of about 1,000 barrels a day, roughly a fifth of the official estimate of the total leak.
Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer, said the tube could accommodate at least 5,000 barrels a day, but engineers are increasing the flow rate very carefully to avoid sucking up water, which might lead to the creation of the icelike structures, called hydrates, that form in the presence of seawater at low temperatures and high pressures and could clog the pipe.
“If we could get as much as half or more of the total flow, if we could actually see this recovering, say, in excess of 2,000 barrels a day,’’ Suttles said, “we would all be extraordinarily pleased.’’
Millions of gallons of oil have already escaped from the blown well, presenting an enormous challenge to contain it and keep it from killing ocean life and fouling Gulf Coast beaches and wetlands. That task will become immeasurably more difficult if the huge plume of oil moves into the powerful and unpredictable loop current, which carries warm water in a clockwise motion from the Yucatan Peninsula into the northern Gulf of Mexico, then south to the Florida Keys and out into the Atlantic.
At present, little oil appears to have reached the loop current proper. Rear Admiral Mary E. Landry of the Coast Guard, one of the top officials overseeing the spill response, said at a briefing yesterday: “We know that the oil has not entered the loop current at this time. There may be some leading edge sheen that’s getting closer to the loop current, but this spill has not entered the loop current proper.’’
But the independent scientists said that a portion of the wide oil slick is circulating in an eddy directly north of the loop current. This eddy, known as a cyclone, spins counterclockwise and is dragging the oil south.
“There is a very, very distinct trail of oil from the oil spill, all the way into this cyclone,’’ said Nan Walker, an oceanographer with the Earth Scan Lab at Louisiana State University. “It looks like the oil is continuing to be dragged around the cyclone, but eventually it’s going to be mixed in with the loop current and make its way south to Florida.’’
Chuanmin Hu, an oceanographer at the University of South Florida, said the amount of oil entering the cyclone has increased sharply in the past few days. “I see a huge oil plume being dragged in that direction,’’ he said. “It’s like a river.’’
Hu estimated that oil that enters the current could reach the Florida Keys in roughly two weeks.
Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said yesterday in an interview on PBS’s “NewsHour’’: “By the time the oil is in the loop current, it’s likely to be very, very diluted. And so it’s not likely to have a very significant impact. It sounds scarier than it is.’’
A new round of congressional hearings into the spill opened in Washington yesterday, with the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs taking testimony on the government and private sector response to the spill.


Robot subs deployed in search for oil under gulf's surface
Bradenton Herald - by Sara Kennedy
May 18, 2010
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MANATEE, Fla. — Scientists at Sarasota’s Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium on Monday were in the process of launching the first of three torpedo-shaped robots equipped to hunt for oil underwater in the Gulf of Mexico.
The robots, measuring about six feet long and with little wings, have in the past been used to search for red tide, but now will be hunting for oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, according to Gary Kirkpatrick, a Mote senior scientist.
Monday, Mote was in the process of launching one called “RU22.” It is on loan from Rutgers University, he said.
Its findings will be reported to the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, the U.S. Navy and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which are tracking oil spilled from the runaway Deepwater Horizon oil well.
Other universities, including the University of South Florida, are also in the process of putting out similar robots that will work in conjunction with those at Mote, USF officials said.
“These are automated small underwater vehicles that can travel around under their own propulsion, their own guidance, so we tell them where we want them to go, give them a set of coordinates, like a sailor might do out in the ocean, and then we cut it loose, put it in the water and let it go on its own,” Kirkpatrick said.
“It has a GPS antenna in it, so it can tell exactly where it is, plus a satellite telephone component in it, so it can call us back from anywhere in the world,” he said.
The crafts, formally named “Autonomous Underwater Vehicles,” or AUVs, are also called “gliders,” Kirkpatrick said. Each little craft is worth about $100,000, along with about another $15,000 worth of oil detectors in the craft’s instrument package, he said.
Mote’s two craft are named “Waldo” and “Nemo.”
The loaner, RU22, will run a survey line from approximately 20 miles off Venice, Fla., to about 100 miles off the coast, Kirkpatrick said.
Mote scientists hope to deploy another one just north of the Florida Keys, with a third slated to patrol parallel to the coast from Tampa Bay to Charlotte Harbor, Kirkpatrick said.
“We’re trying to keep an eye out for oil or dispersant, or a mixture of that, underwater,” said Kirkpatrick. “Satellite and airplanes and boats and stuff can visually see oil on the surface, but can’t see below the surface, so we don’t have a very good idea of where the oil or dispersants might be moving.”
In a locally-famous incident last year, Waldo went AWOL. After almost two weeks of silence, Mote researchers were happy when he finally did report in. Kirkpatrick said the robot may have become snagged in a net or rope on the sea bottom, and it just took time for the craft to work its way out.
About 210,000 gallons of oil or more are escaping daily from the Deepwater Horizon well off Louisiana after a fire and explosion at BP’s drilling rig and well there last month.
Kirkpatrick said the little gliders do not travel very fast, but have long endurance. They generally report back every couple of hours, he said.
“They go somewhere in the order of 15-20 miles in a day, but can stay out for 30 days or more,” he said. “They run on batteries, after awhile the batteries run down.”
“An important part of what they do, is every few hours — we can program that in — they come to the surface, and put their antenna out of the water, and call back, tell us where they are, what they’ve found, check to see if there’s anything different we want them to do,” he said.

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Time to stop dumping lake water into the Caloosahatchee: Carla Johnston – by Carla Johnston • Guest Opinion
May 18, 2010
When Lake O contained too much water between 2005 and 2007 extraordinary efforts were made to protect Southwest Florida's pristine environment, our tourism, fishing, and real estate economy, and our quality of life.
The city of Sanibel, (because we are at the wrong end of the Lake O sewer pipe,) led the charge. Lee County government, other municipalities, the governor, business and The News-Press cooperated in unprecedented ways to solve an Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District problem. Progress occurred. Now, instead of anger, let's take action and implement the emergency plans!
The 2006 premise was that all governments have Emergency Operation Plans. Why shouldn't the Corps and the water management District? In emergencies, water needs to go somewhere other than down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers, until Everglades restoration and the repairs to the dike around the lake are complete.
Sending even 450,000 acre-feet of water (approximately 1 foot of lake water) elsewhere can help relieve the Caloosahatchee. That much and more is possible.
At a May 16, 2006, Sanibel City Council meeting, water management district CEO Carole Wehle said 450,000 feet of storage capacity is available now. Army Corps staff said Water Conservation Areas can provide additional emergency storage. On Jan. 11, 2007, the district unanimously passed a resolution requesting the Corps to take into consideration availability of increased water storage capacity as relief for hardship caused by dumping water down the two rivers. The detail can be found in a Jan. 18, 2007, powerPoint and in the specific list of emergency storage land provided by Benita Whelan, Water Management District project manager for public private land storage initiative, and George Horne, district operations and maintenance director. Hopefully, now, three years later, this list has many updates.
The 2006-07 efforts to create emergency water storage relief gained remarkable momentum. The Governor's Office and the Legislature established the Northern Everglades district to slow water input to Lake O and to enable more storage. Gov. Charlie Crist initiated the plan to acquire land for a future flow way south. The SFWMD Board is helping accomplish that goal. The USACE and other government agencies are using stimulus monies to raise part of the Tamiami Trail to allow increased water flow toward the Everglades and they are working to fix the Lake O dike. At long last, we're moving toward solutions. Unprecedented stakeholder agreement supports emergency water storage. Agricultural interests and interior communities shared the self-interest of the coastal communities that it was foolish to dump so much water into the sea in 2006.
In other words, when USACE turns on the spigot, they need to point the water in multiple directions - not just toward the two rivers.
Here's the focal point for 2010 action.
Instead of lashing out in anger, let's finish the job. Let's implement the 2006-7 emergency water storage plans. Our environment, our already battered tourism, fishing and real estate economy, and our quality of life is at stake.
- Carla Brooks Johnston is a former mayor of Sanibel.


Deep sea oil plumes, dispersants endanger reefs
Associated Press - by JASON DEAREN and MATT SEDENSKY (AP)
May 17, 2010
NEW ORLEANS — Delicate coral reefs already have been tainted by plumes of crude oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, including a sensitive area that federal officials had tried to protect from drilling and other dangers.
And marine scientists are worried even more of the deep-sea reefs could be damaged as the thick goo creeps into two powerful Gulf currents. The oil has seeped into areas that are essential to underwater life, and the reefs tend to be an indicator for sea health: when creatures in the reefs thrive, so do other marine life.
The loop current could carry oil from the spill east and spread it about 450 miles to the Florida Keys, while the Louisiana coastal current could move the oil as far west as central Texas.
The depth of the gushing leaks and the use of more than 580,000 gallons of chemicals to disperse the oil, including unprecedented injections deep in the sea, have helped keep the crude beneath the sea surface. Officials report that more than 390,000 gallons of chemicals are stockpiled. Marine scientists say diffusing and sinking the oil helps protect the surface species and the Gulf Coast shoreline but increases the chance of harming deep-sea reefs.
"At first we had a lot of concern about surface animals like turtles, whales and dolphins," said Paul Montagna, a marine biologist at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi who studies Gulf reefs. "Now we're concerned about everything."
On Sunday, researchers said computer models show oil has already entered the loop current that could carry the toxic goo toward the Keys, the third-longest barrier reef in the world.
The oil is now over the western edge of a roughly 61-mile expanse of 300-to-500-foot-deep reef south of Louisiana known as the Pinnacles, about 25 miles north of where the Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 people and starting the spill that grows by the hour.
The Pinnacles is one of nine coral banks and hard-bottom areas stretching from Texas to Florida that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried in 2008 to get designated a marine sanctuary called Islands in the Stream.
This sanctuary would have restricted fishing and oil drilling around the identified reef "islands." But the plan was put on hold after vehement objections from Republican lawmakers, fishermen and the oil industry.
Scientists have found undersea plumes of oil at the spill as much as 10 miles long, which are an unprecedented danger to the deep sea environment, said Samantha Joye, a professor of marine sciences at the University of Georgia.
These plumes are being eaten by microbes thousands of feet deep, which removes oxygen from the water.
"Deepwater coral are abundant on the sea floor in this part of the Gulf, and they need oxygen," said Joye, who was involved in the plume discovery. "Without it, they can't survive."
Experts say the well's depth and Friday's decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to allow BP to shoot massive amounts of dispersing chemicals deep underwater may help protect vital marshes and wetlands on the Gulf Coast. But the tradeoff may result in significant effects on more sea life.
Oil mixed with the chemical agent can disperse into the water more easily, rather than it staying on the surface, where it could bypass deeper banks like Pinnacles, said Edward Van Vleet, a chemical oceanography professor at the University of South Florida.
The downside is that it causes oil to sink, coating corals and other reef organisms and smothering them, he said.
When the dispersed oil is broken into smaller globules, he said they are more easily eaten by smaller reef organisms and can kill them or cause tumors or something else harmful.
Federal officials who oversee marine sanctuaries and fisheries say it's too early to tell how reefs and other important habitats may be damaged, said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, NOAA's undersecretary of commerce for oceans.
NOAA, which manages marine sanctuaries, is also responsible for estimating financial costs of the spill on the sea environment and fisheries. The Pinnacles is a significant habitat for sea life vital to commercial fisheries such as red snapper, crab and shrimp.
The creation of a sanctuary across hundreds of miles of the Gulf would not have blocked oil and gas exploration where the Deepwater Horizon exploded, said Montagna. However, he said it could have resulted in stricter environmental regulation for reefs closest to the spill site, and likely less drilling.
"So you can imagine these animals that make a living on rocks, filtering food out of the water, and the dispersants come along and sink the oil; it's a big concern," Montagna said.
The area also is breeding ground for sperm whales and bluefin tuna, species not doing well, he said.
Studies published in a 2005 National Academy of Sciences report show that oil mixed with dispersants damaged certain corals' reproduction and deformed their larvae. The study concluded the federal government needed to study more before using massive amounts of dispersants.
Reefs are made up of living creatures that excrete a hard calcium carbonate exoskeleton.
Depending on the oil exposure, they can be smothered by the pollutants or become more susceptible to bleaching, which hinders reproduction and growth. While the warm temperatures of Florida could speed the recovery of damaged reefs there, some problems could be seen for a decade or more. In the deeper reefs in colder water closer to the spill, the damage could last even longer.
As the spill increases, the oil oozes toward other reefs that stretch from the blowout site eastward to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
The Keys exist in relatively shallow water, so the potential exposure to the oil is higher than for deeper reefs, though BP PLC officials say the oil would be more diffused after having broken down during its travel over hundreds of miles.
This week, researchers from USF and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are heading to the loop current to get a "chemical fingerprint" of any oil they find to confirm it is from the leaking well.
"We don't expect the loop current to carry oil onto beaches," William Hogarth, dean of the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science, said. "But we do have a great concern for the Keys."
If oil reaches the Keys, it could threaten one of the country's greatest underwater natural resources as well as its tourism industry.
Locals throughout the ribbon of islands not only relish their ties to the water but rely on it to help bring in 2 million visitors each year.
"They're not going to come if our beaches are tarred and our mangroves have died and it's a polluted dump," said Millard McCleary, program director of the Key West-based Reef Relief. "They'll go to the Bahamas or the Caymans or they'll go to Mexico."
Sedensky reported from Key West, Fla. Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.


Fears for Florida bays, estuaries, rising
Tampa Tribune – by Catherine Whittenburg
May 17, 2010


Fisheries fear oil spill impact
South Florida Business Journal - by Paul Brinkmann
May 17, 2010
Read more: Fisheries fear oil spill impact - South Florida Business Journal:
Scientists with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration noted Monday that tar balls from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could begin making their way into the Gulf of Mexico’s Loop Current this week.
That would provide direct transport to South Florida and the Florida Keys, and possible damage to local beaches and the $1.2 billion sport fishing industry.
A NOAA forecast, which came over the weekend, stated that weather patterns “may begin pushing tar balls on the oil spill’s southern edge to the southwest, and “potentially into the Loop Current.” Widespread media reports on Monday indicated some scientists believed that had already begun.
A news release from the nonprofit Everglades Foundation said the group had just received the results of a new study on the economic impact of the sport fishing industry, tagging it at $1.2 billion a year.
The study, by the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, estimated sport fishing alone annually generates $722 million in retail sales of equipment and other expenditures; $378 million in wages supporting 12,391 full-time equivalent jobs; and tax revenue of $162 million for federal and state entities.
The study surveyed more than 1,600 anglers, who were asked about the number of days they fished in the region, what they fished for and their related expenditures.
“We originally funded this study to quantify how much the Everglades had to contribute, economically. Sadly, it now it tells us what we stand to lose,” Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham said in a news release. “This potential tragedy makes our mission of preserving and restoring America’s Everglades even more urgent.”
The Everglades includes large coastal areas of mangrove islands and inlets that could be damaged by oil slicks.
The survey was limited to Florida residents and did not take into account those anglers who travel from out of state to fish in the Everglades region, thus the actual economic contribution – and potential loss – would likely be much greater than the findings suggest, according to the news release.
“The spill has really put the findings in a new light for me,” said fisheries economics specialist Tony Fedler, the study’s author, in the release. “The study now speaks to how fragile our environment is, how dependent we are on it and the consequences of failing to protect it.”
Aaron Adams, director of operations for Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, added: “In a worst-case scenario, oil reaches the mangrove habitats that serve as nurseries for so many of the game fish that support this sport fishing community, which would have far-reaching consequences. Juvenile tarpon, for example, which are the future of the fishery, depend on healthy mangrove habitats.”
Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties are among those included in the study.
A copy of the study can be found at the Everglades Foundation web site.
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No port site in this storm: Commission's only good choice is to start over.
Palm Beach Post – Opinion
May 17, 2010
After two years of lobbying for an inland port in the wrong place, Florida Crystals has faced reality. Now, the Palm Beach County Commission has every reason to do what the sugar company wants.
Commissioners will be asked today to approve a legal settlement that ends Florida Crystals' pursuit of a 318-acre site for an inland port next to its mill south of Lake Okeechobee. Florida Crystals has agreed to convert an 850-acre farm ringed by Belle Glade, South Bay and the lake into an inland port site. It's next to water and sewer lines in a more reasonable place for industrial development.
Commissioners approved the 318-acre site despite concerns that it would obstruct Everglades restoration. The Port of Palm Beach, acting on its own, selected the location for an inland port - a rail hub and warehouse and distribution center - that would serve the Port of Miami, Port Everglades in Broward County and the Palm Beach port.
The Florida Department of Community Affairs and growth-management advocate 1000 Friends of Florida objected for environmental reasons. Rather than fight a losing court battle, Florida Crystals agreed to its critics' preferred site. This alone is a stunning concession by the sugar company that has fought the longest and hardest against environmentalists' proposals for Everglades restoration. If commissioners approve the settlement today, they would have to rescind the industrial designation for the 318-acre site within 45 days.
That would leave the Port of Palm Beach without an inland port site. Port officials plan to ask for a delay, fearing that the new site would be problematic because freight trains would have to pass through South Bay to reach it. The port would like Florida Crystals to seek industrial designation on property south of South Bay, for use as a rail hub.
Construction of an expensive train line from Miami-Dade County to South Bay along U.S. 27, however, is a distant possibility at best. When port commissioners meet Thursday, they will be tempted to shift their selection to some new combination of Florida Crystals sites. Their second-place selection is a site in western St. Lucie County that would be hard-pressed to provide employment in the Glades, which will feel the loss of jobs from the sale of U.S. Sugar land for Everglades restoration.
The Port of Palm Beach Commission has made a mess of this site search and should start over. Instead of taking on a regional issue by themselves, port commissioners could give voting power to the entities that are needed to make an inland port a reality. Those would be the Port of Miami, Port Everglades and the Florida Department of Transportation.
As the commissioners have learned, forcing a big industrial project where it doesn't belong is a sure way to failure. Unless they stop trying to go it alone, the idea of a viable inland port is fantasy, not reality.


Scientists worry current could carry oil to Keys
Associated Press - by JEFFREY COLLINS and MATT SEDENSKY, Writers
May 17, 2010
ROBERT, La. (AP) -- With BP finally gaining some control over the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are increasingly worried that huge plumes of crude already spilled could get caught in a current that would carry the mess all the way to the Florida Keys and beyond, damaging coral reefs and killing wildlife.
Scientists said the oil will move into the so-called loop current soon if it hasn't already, though they could not say exactly when or how much there would be. Once it is in the loop, it could take 10 days or longer to reach the Keys.
"It's only a question of when," said Peter Ortner, a University of Miami oceanographer.
In the month since an offshore drilling platform exploded, killing 11 workers, BP has struggled to stop the leak, trying in vain to activate emergency valves and lowering a 100-ton box that got clogged with icy crystals. Over the weekend, the oil company finally succeeded in using a stopper-and-tube combination to siphon some of the gushing oil into a tanker, but millions of gallons are already in the Gulf.
The loop current is a ribbon of warm water that begins in the Gulf of Mexico and wraps around Florida. Some scientists project the current will draw the crude through the Keys and then up Florida's Atlantic Coast, where the oil might avoid the beaches of Miami and Fort Lauderdale but could wash up around Palm Beach.
Many scientists expect the oil to get no farther north than Cape Canaveral, midway up the coast, before it is carried out to sea and becomes more and more diluted.
The pollution could endanger Florida's shoreline mangroves, seagrass beds and the third-longest barrier reef in the world, the 221-mile-long Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which helps draw millions of snorkelers, fishermen and other tourists whose dollars are vital to the state's economy.
Pollutants can smother and kill corals - living creatures that excrete a hard exterior skeleton - or can hinder their ability to reproduce and grow. That, in turn, could harm thousands of species of exotic and colorful fish and other marine life that live in and around reefs.
In other developments:
- Chris Oynes, who oversees offshore drilling programs at the federal Minerals Management Service, will retire at the end of the month, becoming the Interior Department's first casualty of the disaster. Oynes has been criticized as too cozy with the oil industry.
- The White House will establish a presidential commission to investigate the spill, according to an administration official speaking of condition of anonymity.
- California Sen. Barbara Boxer and other Democrats are calling on the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation.
- BP said it has spent $500 million on the spill so far.
- The oil company said it will never again try to produce oil from the well, though it did not rule out drilling elsewhere in the reservoir. "The right thing to do is permanently plug this well, and that's what we will do," said Doug Suttles, BP chief operating officer.
William Hogarth, dean of the University of South Florida's College of Marine Science, said one computer model showed oil had already entered the loop current, while a second model showed the oil was three miles from it. Mike Sole, Florida's environmental protection secretary, said the edge could still be two to 18 miles away.
BP said it is having some success with a mile-long tube that is funneling a little more than 42,000 gallons of crude a day from the well into a tanker ship. That would be about a fifth of the 210,000 gallons the company estimated is gushing out each day, though scientists who have studied video of the leak say it could be much bigger.
Crews will slowly increase how much they are collecting over the next few days. They need to move slowly to prevent the formation of the ice-like crystals that doomed the effort to lower a big concrete-and-steel box over the blown-out well.
BP initially said it hoped the system would capture most of the leaking oil, but Suttles said Monday that officials would be pleased if the tube eventually sucks up half of it.
The siphoning is not a permanent solution. BP is preparing to shoot a mixture known as drilling mud into the well later this week in a procedure called a "top-kill" that would take several weeks but, if successful, would stop the flow altogether. Two relief wells are also being drilled to pump cement into the well to close it, but that will take months.
Chemicals being sprayed underwater are helping to disperse the oil and keep it from washing ashore in great quantities, but researchers said that in recent days they have discovered miles-long underwater plumes of oil that could poison or suffocate sea life across the food chain, with damage that could last for a decade or more.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday that the researchers' announcement of the oil plumes was premature and that further tests are needed to confirm that the plumes detected were indeed caused by the blowout.
Sedensky reported from Key Biscayne, Fla. Associated Press Writers Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans, Shelia Byrd in Jackson, Miss., Sarah Larimer in West Palm Beach, Fla., Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Fla., Christine Armario and Kelli Kennedy in Miami contributed to this report.


BP confident latest try to capture oil will work
Associated Press - by JEFFREY COLLINS, Writer
May 15, 2010
May 15, 2010
ROBERT, La. — BP was confident Saturday its latest experiment using a mile-long pipe would capture much of the oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, even as the company disclosed yet another setback in the environmental disaster.
Engineers hit a snag when they tried to connect two pieces of equipment a mile below the water's surface. BP PLC chief operating officer Doug Suttles said one piece of equipment, called the framework, had to be brought to the water's surface so that adjustments could be made to where it fits with the long tube that connects to a tanker above.
The framework holds a pipe and stopper, and engineers piloting submarine robots will try to use it to plug the massive leak and send the crude through the lengthy pipe to the surface.
"The frame shifted, so they were unable to make that connection," said Suttles, who believes the adjustments will make the device work.
At least 210,000 gallons of oil has been gushing into the Gulf of Mexico since an oil rig exploded April 20 and sank two days later. Eleven people were killed in the blast.
BP's latest idea seems to have the best chance for success so far, said Ed Overton, a LSU professor of environmental studies. At the surface this would be easy, Overton said, but using robots in 5,000 feet of water with oil gushing out of the pipe makes things much more difficult.
"It's something like threading the eye of a needle. But that can be tough to do up here. And you can imagine how hard it would be to do it down there with a robot," Overton said.
The tube could capture more than three-quarters of the leak; BP also must contend with a smaller leak that's farther away. If the tube works, it would be the first time the company has been able to capture any of the oil before it fouls the Gulf waters.
A week ago, the company tried to put a massive box over the leak, but icelike crystals formed and BP scrapped that plan.
BP is also drilling a relief well that is considered the permanent solution to stopping the leak. It's about halfway done and still months away from being completed. The company also is still considering using a smaller containment dome known as a "top hat," as well as a "junk shot," in which golf balls and rubber would be inserted to try to clog the leak.
Meanwhile, BP began spraying undersea dispersants at that leak site and said the chemicals appear to have reduced the amount of surface oil.
This unprecedented use of chemical dispersants underwater, and the depth of the leak has created many unknowns regarding environmental impact, and researchers hurriedly worked to chart its effects.
Researchers from the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology reported this week that they had detected large oil plumes from just beneath the surface of the sea to more than 4,000 feet deep.
Researchers Vernon Asper and Arne Dierks said in Web posts that the plumes were "perhaps due to the deep injection of dispersants which BP has stated that they are conducting."
Three or four large plumes have been found, at least one that is 10 miles long and a mile wide, said Samantha Joye, a marine science professor supporting the mission from her University of Georgia lab.
These researchers were also testing the effects of large amounts of subsea oil on oxygen levels in the water. The oil can deplete oxygen in the water, harming plankton and other tiny creatures that serve as food for a wide variety of sea critters.
Oxygen levels in some areas have dropped 30 percent, and should continue to drop, Joye said.
"It could take years, possibly decades, for the system to recover from an infusion of this quantity of oil and gas," Joye said. "We've never seen anything like this before. It's impossible to fathom the impact."
Joye's lab was waiting for the research boat to return so a team of scientists can test about 75 water samples and 100 sediment samples gathered during the voyage. Researchers plan to go back out in about a month and sample the same areas to see if oil and oxygen levels have worsened.
Federal regulators on Friday approved the underwater use of the chemicals, which act like a detergent to break the oil into small globules and allow it to disperse more quickly into the water or air before it comes ashore.
The decision by the Environmental Protection Agency angered state officials and fishermen, who complained that regulators ignored their concerns about the effects on the environment and fish.
"The EPA is conducting a giant experiment with our most productive fisheries by approving the use of these powerful chemicals on a massive, unprecedented scale," John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance, said in a news release.
Louisiana Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine sent a letter to BP outlining similar concerns, but the company and the Coast Guard said several tests were done before approval was given.
"We didn't cross this threshold lightly," Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said. "This is a tool that will be analyzed and monitored."
As crews worked to limit the environmental hazards, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano pressured BP to make clear whether the company would limit how much it will pay for clean up and compensation to those hurt by the spill.
In a letter to chief executive Tony Hayward, she noted that he and other executives have said they are taking full responsibility for cleaning up the spill and will pay what they call "legitimate" claims. Napolitano said the government believes this means BP will not limit its payments to a $75 million cap set by law for liability in some cases.
"The public has a right to a clear understanding of BP's commitment to redress all of the damage that has occurred or that will occur in the future as a result of the oil spill," Napolitano wrote.
On Friday, President Barack Obama assailed oil drillers and his own administration as he ordered extra scrutiny of drilling permits. He condemned the shifting of blame by oil executives and denounced a "cozy relationship" between the companies and the federal government.


Some oil spill events from Saturday, May 15, 2010
The Associated Press
May 15, 2010
Events May 15, Day 26 of a Gulf of Mexico oil spill that began with an explosion and fire on April 20 on the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd. and leased by BP PLC, which is in charge of cleanup and containment. The blast killed 11 workers. Since then, oil has been pouring into the Gulf from a blown-out undersea well at about 210,000 gallons per day.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said BP had a problem with its latest attempt to stop a massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill but continued the effort to stick a mile-long tube into the gusher at the ocean floor. Salazar offered few details about the snag. BP PLC technicians have been carefully trying to guide the 6-inch tube into the 21-inch leaking oil pipe to siphon crude to the surface, but the company offered scant details of its progress. A stopper surrounding the tube would keep oil from leaking into the ocean.
BP can now shoot chemicals directly at the leak, 5,000 feet below, to break apart the oil before it reaches the surface. U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said the Environmental Protection Agency approved use of the chemicals, called dispersants, after three underwater tests.Louisiana Health and Hospitals Secretary Alan Levine said federal regulators dismissed state worries about the chemicals by giving approval — and there is virtually no science that supports the use of the chemicals.


Former U.S. Attorney Lehtinen steps down as Miccosukee Everglades lawyer
TCPalm - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
May 14, 2010
For more than 20 years, former U.S. Attorney Dexter Lehtinen and the Miccosukee Tribe have made a formidable team in pushing for the cleanup of the Everglades.
On Thursday, they broke up, with Lehtinen filing court documents late in the day that said he was withdrawing from representing the tribe "for reasons unrelated to Everglades matters."
Lehtinen also wrote, "The Tribe is expected to litigate as aggressively as previously, and tribal positions remain unchanged," but other advocates for the Everglades said the split was not good for their cause.
"We're a small group and without Dexter and resources and energy of the Tribe and their consultants, it's going to be very difficult," said John Childe, attorney for The Friends of the Everglades. "Not many people have a handle on all the issues as Dexter."
The government agencies targeted in the relentless litigation were cautiously hopeful about Lehtinen's departure. That news coupled with the recent election of a new tribal Chairman could signal a change in the Tribe's priorities: spend less on lawyers and more on expanding its gambling operation.
Unlike the Seminole Tribe, which has over 3,000 members and operates the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in Fort Lauderdale, the Miccosukee Tribe has only 650 members, and operates a small resort and casino on the southeastern edge of the Everglades. Earlier this year Colley Billie, a poker manager at the casino, narrowly defeated Chairman Billy Cypress, a longtime supporter of the costly litigation.
Last month Eric Buermann, chairman of the South Florida Water Management District, met with Billie. The one-hour meeting between the legal adversaries turned into a three-hour meeting. Lehtinen was not invited.
"The position the Miccosukee have taken over the years is 'take no prisoners,'" Buermann said. "We're trying to forge some kind of working relationship and he seemed very interested in that. I think there may be an opportunity here for working better together."
Lehtinen, who grew up near the Everglades, is considered a legal renegade who launched the Everglades restoration with a novel lawsuit he filed in 1988. As U.S. Attorney General for the Southern District of Florida, Lehtinen sued Florida for violating its own water quality standards and damaging federal property - the Everglades National Park. In 1992 he left the U.S. Attorney's Office and began representing the Tribe.
Besides his encyclopedic knowledge of its history, science and legal wranglings of the Everglades, Lehtinen's political connections and clout are widely known and respected. During the 1980s he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and then the Florida Senate. He is married to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who represents parts of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Lehtinen's split with the Tribe comes after two of his biggest victories. Last month two frustrated federal judges sided with the Tribe's claim that state and federal agencies failed to enforce nutrient limits in waters flowing into the Everglades and had deliberately delayed cleanup efforts.
One judge ordered the District to resume construction of an $800 million, city-size reservoir in the cane fields south of Lake Okeechobee, despite the District's decision to cancel the project to free up money to buy U.S. Sugar land for the restoration.
The other judge wrote a scathing order demanding Lisa Jackson, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Mike Sole, the secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, personally appear in his Miami courtroom in October to explain why the agencies have failed to enforce the Clean Water Act.
Both the District and DEP will challenge those rulings in court. Those challenges, coupled with the steep learning curve for the Tribe's new attorney, Sonia O'Donnell - a former law partner of Lehtinen - will likely delay the litigation - and the restoration.
"I really thing that it can't help but slow down the process," said David Guest, attorney for EarthJustice, an organization involved in the Everglades lawsuits. "You have to remember, we the people who are trying to restore the Everglades will never give up."


How Long Will the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Last ?
Scientific American – by David Biello
May 14, 2010
It's not just a matter of stopping the spill, it's also a matter of where the oil ends up
More than 20 years after the Exxon Valdez foundered off the coast of Alaska, puddles of oil can still be found in Prince William Sound. Nearly 25 years after a storage tank ruptured, spilling oil into the mangrove swamps and coral reefs of Bahia Las Minas in Panama, oil slicks can still be found on the water. And more than 40 years after the barge Florida grounded off Cape Cod, dumping fuel oil, the muck beneath the marsh grasses still smells like a gas station.
"The conventional wisdom then was that the oil would only last for a few days," says marine chemist Chris Reddy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who is part of the "third or fourth" generation of scientists to study the Florida spill. "But in this small area you have chemical warfare still going on."
That spill was only roughly 190,000 gallons—or less in total than the ongoing BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico has gushed every day since April 22. The lightest parts of the current catastrophe may soon wash ashore from Louisiana to Alabama, and the thicker stuff is just a few kilometers behind at this point. So how long will the damage from this oil spill last?
"If the [oil] mousse gets into the marshes, it can last a real long time," says environmental chemist Jeffrey Short of environmental group Oceana, who has studied the aftereffects of the Exxon Valdez spill. "Once there's no oxygen, it doesn't break down fast at all; it's a long-term toxic reservoir."
There is no cure. "The only way to remove it is mechanically, and that will destroy further the whole habitat," says marine biologist Héctor Guzmán of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama, who is part of a team that conducted a long-term study of the impacts of the Panama oil spill in 1986. "The priority is to set up barriers and stop the oil."
Oily fate
Adding up all the spills from natural seeps, drilling, leaky vessels or pipelines and refueling means roughly 78 million gallons of oil enter U.S. waterways each year, according to a 2003 report from the National Academy of Sciences—dwarfing the roughly 4 million gallons (at least) of BP's Gulf oil spill, so far, based on the spill rate of roughly 200,000 gallons per day. So the marine environment is already dealing with lots of oil—how bad can it be?
The toxic compounds in oil vary, but largely fall in the group known to chemists as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), such as napthalenes, benzene, toluene and xylenes. All are known human carcinogens with other health effects for humans, animals and plants. "These hydrocarbons are particularly relevant if inhaled or ingested," says environmental toxicologist Ronald Kendall of Texas Tech University. "In the bodies of organisms such as mammals or birds, these aromatic hydrocarbons can be transformed into even more toxic products, which can affect DNA." In other words, the effects of the oil spill will linger in the genetics of Gulf coast animals long after the spill is gone, resulting in mutations that could lead to problems ranging from reduced fertility to cancer.
The oil from the Mississippi Canyon 252 well, which started leaking on April 22 when BP's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank, has been described as light, sweet crude, meaning that it may contain more such compounds that dissolve in water or evaporate. "There are components that make up that oil that will have some affinity to dissolve into the water, but how fast and to what extent I just don't know at 5,000 feet in this incredibly turbulent flow," Reddy says. "It's not how much of the oil got spilled, it's the concentration and the duration—how much of the components that have bioactive tendencies are in the water that [is] going across the gills of fish and for how long?"
Already, scientists in the Gulf have found plumes of oil floating roughly 1,000 meters beneath the surface—rather than rushing to the surface from the more than 1,500-meter-deep well as anticipated. And that means some of these compounds are literally washing off the oil and into the water. "It's going to be taking hours to get up," Reddy says.
Once the oil reaches the surface, it begins to evaporate, losing as much as 20 to 40 percent of the original hydrocarbons. "Evaporation is good; it selectively removes a lot of compounds we'd rather not have in the water," like PAHs, Reddy notes. It also emulsifies, forming the now ubiquitous mousse—a frothy mix of hydrocarbons and water—or clumps into so-called tar balls, like those found on the shore of Dauphin Island in Alabama on May 12.
The properties of the oil also change depending on whether it is at the release point more than 1,500 meters down, directly above the leak at the surface or a few kilometers east or west as it drifts. But "light [crude] components can be more pervasive in finding ways to infiltrate a salt marsh and impacting for a long period of time," Reddy says. And that's where the real problems begin.
Lifestyle choice
There are nearly 16,000 species of plants and animals in the Gulf of Mexico, according to marine biologist Thomas Shirley of Texas A&M University, "not counting microbes."
"There are a diversity of types of habitats in the Gulf, many very important in support of a variety of wildlife and fisheries," added marine biologist Jane Lubchenco, director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), at a May 12 press conference on the oil spill. "Many are at risk of being affected, but we don't have any direct way to know which ones or in what amount."
Looking specifically at the area impacted by the spill, more than half of the species—from 1,270 kinds of fish to 1,461 types of mollusks—call that region home. "Those that live in the area and are air breathing are most at risk," Shirley says. "Anything that's in the upper water column is going to be exposed to volatiles coming out of the oil."
Worse, sunlight can interact with PAHs to turn them deadly. In essence, PAHs act as catalysts to shovel energy from the sunlight into oxygen molecules, shifting them into a more reactive form and thereby oxidizing living cells. If oxygen naturally existed in that state "the whole Earth would burn up," notes Short.
That's bad news for the millions of translucent sea creatures out there—zooplankton—and could ultimately end up having cascading effects up the food chain. "If you start removing pieces of this big food web out there, what's going to happen?" Shirley asks. "We don't really know but probably not good things."
And the dispersed oil more readily crosses membranes as well as being more easily taken up by filter feeders, such as the deep-water coral in the vicinity or oysters nearer to shore. "Oysters will bioconcentrate this so fast," Kendall says.
Plus, spring is breeding season for species ranging from migratory birds to sea turtles, all congregating along the Gulf shore. "This is the time of year for larvae," Shirley notes, meaning that entire generations of short-lived species such as shrimp or crabs may disappear. "It's going to take immigration to replace some of those lost-year classes for things to get back to the level they were."
And there is the potential for the impacts of this oil spill to reach west to the Flower Garden Banks reefs off Texas or east to the coral reefs of the Florida coast and beyond. "My big nightmare is that this oil is going to get carried around to the Florida Keys and up the Eastern Seaboard," Shirley says. "That will happen. It's a matter of how much and when."
But it's when the oil gets into the marshes that the effects really start to accumulate. "That's your nurseries," Kendall notes, for species ranging from fish to birds. Adds Short: "It sets the stage for impacts from embryo toxicity. It gets into the developing eggs and induces aberrations in development. Even the smallest aberration in the field is lethal… these marshes are important nursery areas for pretty much everything."
How's the weather?
Whether the oil can be kept out of the wetlands all comes down to one thing: the weather. A relatively calm week has allowed containment efforts to proceed smoothly, but even one day of rougher seas—one- to two-meter swells—would swamp the booms keeping oil off the coast and would inundate the marshes in petroleum. "The longer [the oil slick] stays offshore and continues to weather and turn into mousse, the less likely it is to impact sensitive habitats on shore," Short says. And the oil that doesn't turn to mousse may clump into tar balls that "either land on a shoreline or become part of the ocean's immense tar ball population."
Unfortunately, NOAA predicts landfall of the leading edge of the slick from Isle Dernieres to the barrier islands off Gulfport in Louisiana by this weekend. And June 1 marks the official start of hurricane season, which would stir the Gulf dramatically. "A hurricane or even just a tropical depression could be catastrophic," Kendall says. "It will push oil into places that it's difficult to clean up."
After all, sea otters still routinely dig oil out of Prince William Sound in Alaska in their hunt for clams in the intertidal zone—and there are populations of sea birds, fish and other species that have never recovered from the Exxon Valdez oil spill there, Shirley and Short note.
Of course, the warmer conditions of the Gulf of Mexico will help bacteria and other natural forces more quickly degrade the oil in this case, particularly with the help of chemical dispersants—hundreds of thousands of gallons of which have been deployed, including an experimental deployment of more than 28,000 gallons at the site of the oil spill itself, 1,500 meters down, though they carry their own risks and toxicity. "When an oil spill occurs there are no good outcomes," Lubchenco said. "It's a trade-off decision to reduce the impact of the oil on the shoreline and to sensitive wildlife."
But "once the oil, because of high tides or high winds, gets into the coastal wetland, it gets trapped in the sediment," notes STRI's Guzmán. "Then for decades you continue to see oil coming back out, this chronic pollution." The coral reefs in Panama have never recovered, and oil is still found in the mangrove swamps.
The most important task is stopping the oil from spilling—a prospect that remains out of reach nearly a month after it began gushing from BP's deep water well in the Gulf of Mexico. "We've got to stop this spill. We have to shut off the valves," Reddy says. "This is like someone telling you I'm going to punch you in the face but I won't tell you when or how often. That's a miserable existence."


People to corps: Stop Lake O releases; Corps to people: No can do
TCPalm - by Tyler Treadway
STUART — The message from Treasure Coast residents was clear: Stop the discharges.
The message back from Col. Alfred Pantano of the Army Corps of Engineers was blunt: Sorry, but that’s not going to happen.
At a meeting Thursday of the South Florida Water Management District Board of Governors at the Blake Library, about 30 local residents voiced, in varying degrees, their concerns, displeasure, frustration and ire at releases of dirty freshwater from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River Estuary.
“This is our oil spill,” Martin County Commission Chairman Doug Smith told the board, referring to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “What the people in the Panhandle have been freaking out about recently, we deal with all the time, every day.”
Noting the extensive preparation in case the oil spill reaches the Florida coast, Smith added, “This is our oil spill, and it’s as if we’re doing nothing about it. That’s what gripes everybody here.”
The corps began pulse releases from Lake Okeechobee on March 27 to lower the lake level in anticipation of summer rains. The releases were increased May 3 to an average of 1,800 cubic feet per second.
Peter Doering, the district’s chief environmental scientist, told the board the releases and runoff from the local watershed have combined to drop salinity levels in the brackish estuary to levels that have killed most of the oysters there and threaten the ones barely hanging on.
Oysters are particularly important because they provide habitat for about 300 other species of plants and animals, said Mark Perry, director of the Stuart-based Florida Oceanographic Society.
Perry also pointed out the releases are wasting about 3.7 billion gallons of water a day and depositing muck on the bottom of the estuary. He passed out small plastic bags of the dark brown goo to members of the board and Pantano.
“I’ve seen the brown, soupy water,” Pantano told the board and the crowd. “I’ve seen what it’s doing to the ecosytems, to the estuaries and to your economy. I get it, and it pains me to see what’s going on. ... If you don’t think we (the corps) care about the ecosystem, you’re wrong. I personally care about it.”
Pantono added he takes personal responsibility for what the releases are doing.
“If you want to put a face to what’s happening in the estuary,” he said, “I’m responsible.”
Still, Pantano said, the releases will have to continue because the lake, which stood at 14.86 feet Thursday, is two to seven feet higher than it should be.
“The brutal fact is, we’ve got to lower it in preparation for the rain that could come in what is supposed to be a wetter-than-normal wet season,” he said.
Pantano said his first priority is protecting the people who live around Lake Okeechobee, adding that the Herbert Hoover Dike that surrounds it is “is 80 years old, was poorly built and leaks badly. ... I can’t put lives at risk.”
Here’s what some Treasure Coast residents (and one other) had to say at the South Florida Water Management Board of Governors meeting Thursday about releases of water from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie River Estuary:
Leon Abood - President of the Rivers Coalition
Showing board members a sign posted by the Martin County Health Department warning against contact with water in the estuary: “If this was posted in your community, how would it make you feel ?”
Henry Caimotto - Owner of The Snook Nook, Jensen Beach
“We’re been getting the same lip service today that we’ve been getting for years. It’s like a broken record. ... When are we going to get some action?”
Bob Ernst - Stuart
“Martin County citizens and taxpayers have done their part, spent millions of dollars on (local) projects to clean our water before it goes into the estuary. And what do we get for our efforts? You dump dirty water on us. Shame, shame shame.”
Jay Honan - Rocky Point, Stuart
“From the public’s perspective, you’re doing OK keeping our feet dry (flood control); but as for managing water, not so much. Stop killing our fish; stop killing our oysters.” - Shannon Estenoz
Board member, Broward County
“Ninety-five percent of what I’ve heard today, I 100 percent agree with. I’m frustrated and angry, too. This board is trying to make (a flow way to the south of Lake Okeechobee) a reality, but we’re being opposed at every juncture.”


Proposed purchase of U.S. Sugar land holds great promise for South Florida's aquatic ecosystem
TCPalm - Editorial
Posted May 13, 2010 at 1 a.m
The Florida Supreme Court will rule soon whether the state may proceed with its $536 million purchase of 73,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land.
There’s a lot riding on the court’s decision — not the least of which is our region’s golden opportunity to substantially correct major environmental problems.
It would be a setback if the high court halts the land acquisition project. Why? Because we’ve never been so close to real, significant restoration of our aquatic ecosystem.
This is the message from Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation, and Thomas Van Lent, the foundation’s senior scientist. Both men met recently with the editorial board of Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers to discuss Everglades restoration and the land-acquisition project.
The take-away? If the land deal is consummated, our region could see a sizable reduction in the amount of polluted water in the St. Lucie estuary within seven years.
The 73,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land is a lot less than what is needed to recreate the flow-way from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay, and restore the River of Grass. To recreate the flow-way, the South Florida Water Management District would have to purchase additional land from Florida Crystals, which has complained about being shut out of the conversation.
Despite this shortcoming, the 73,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area can be used for water treatment and water storage — to the great benefit of our region.
“It resolves two major issues,” Van Lent said of the additional land. “First, it resolves some of the existing water quality issues for the Loxahatchee River and back-pumping in Lake Okeechobee. Second, instead of sending water from Lake Okeechobee to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, it would allow for the development of a new outlet for water to the south.”
The result?
“It would be possible to substantially reduce damaging, high-water flows into the St. Lucie estuary,” Van Lent said.
It’s hard to imagine that scenario these days. In recent weeks, the Army Corps of Engineers has been releasing more than a billion gallons of polluted water a day into the estuary.
The proposed purchase of U.S. Sugar land is far from perfect. The cost — $536 million — will place a financial burden on the water management district and delay or terminate other restoration projects. Much more land is needed to recreate the flow-way. Also, the state should be negotiating with Florida Crystals, not just U.S. Sugar.
But, all things considered, the land acquisition project holds great promise for South Florida’s aquatic ecosystem.


Water releases from Lake Okeechobee begin - by DREW WINCHESTER,
May 13, 2010
Early rain events have caused water levels in Lake Okeechobee to rise unexpectedly, in turn forcing the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to start releasing water into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.
These water releases could create potential problems for Lee County, flushing nutrients and sediments into an estuary that's still trying to recover from similar events following Hurricane Charley.
Those nutrients - many collected in the lake from run-off from nearby agricultural communities - could damage plant and animal life in the river.
"We're losing sea grasses and it will certainly have an impact on the oyster population through a majority of the river," said Rae Ann Wessel, policy director for the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. "You add that on top of the stress from the cold snap, we're expecting to see loses in the marine habitat."
Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann said he is pleased the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers finally learned that Southwest Florida is part of a complex natural system.
While not pleased with the water releases, he said they are a realistic part of life in the local estuary, and it protects communities surrounding the lake from flooding.
"Public safety of the people that live around that lake takes priority over our critters ... from time to time our critters are going to be at risk," Mann said.
Commissioner Ray Judah said the key to these water releases is for the South Florida Water Management and the Army Corp to create storage areas for the water.
He called the situation "unfortunate," and said steps must be taken to install storage areas.
"This really speaks to the lack of storage," Judah said. "Without the proper storage, we continue to vulnerable to these adverse impacts."
Wessel echoed Judah's comments, adding that finalizing the deal for U.S. Sugar will go a long way to solving the problem permanently.
Wessel said the deal is currently being sorted out by the various parties in Florida's Supreme Court.
"It seems to be moving in the right direction," Wessel said.
Susan Jackson from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers could not be reached for comment.


Hotel Near Everglades Too Close for Comfort
May 12, 2010
Environmentalists bothered by $450 million development in Sunrise
A controversial building proposal in Sunrise that would put a massive hotel complex right on the border of the Everglades is a little too close for comfort for some local activists.
Much to the chagrin of environmentalists, the large, 22-acre parcel of land just north of Sunrise was zoned for business development 20 years ago, and now developers have big plans for it.
The proposal: an 11-story, 350-room hotel including three office towers, right on the edge of the Everglades.
Part of the Everglades Corporate Park project, the $450 million development would have nearly 650,000 square feet of office space and 30,000 square feet of commercial space.
Everglades Hotel Proposal
Sunrise city commissioners delayed a decision Tuesday night on whether to permit the project to go ahead, but not before hearing from local environmentalists.
"That would be the first commercial development in Broward County on the west side of the Sawgrass Expressway," said Phil Busey, with the Broward Sierra Club. "We can't necessarily stop the project totally."
Instead, Busey and others want to make sure the developers respect the two million acre wetland ecosystem that provides drinking water for South Florida.
"Worst case scenario is that somehow there's a leak or a pollution that gets into the aquifer," said Ryan. "There's gonna have to be a lot of care and a lot of study done to make sure we're not facing another BP in our Everglades." 
Dennis Mele, the attorney representing the developers, said his clients will be taking all environmental needs into consideration.
"Of course they care about the environment," Mele said. "None of our drainage goes into the Everglades."
City officials are expected to take up the issue at their next meeting May 25 at 6:30 p.m.


Inaugural Everglades Summit planned for D.C.
May 12, 2010
Emmy Award-winning news anchor and best-selling author Tom Brokaw and Grammy Award-winning band Blues Traveler are among those joining hundreds of Everglades restoration supporters in Washington, D.C., on May 19 and 20 for the first-ever America's Everglades Summit, hosted by the Palmetto Bay-based Everglades Foundation and its partners.
Brokaw will moderate the kickoff event, a multi-media roundtable discussion featuring top government officials from Washington and Tallahassee. It will highlight the ecological and economic benefits associated with the protection and restoration of America's Everglades. Participants in the roundtable discussion include:
  Eric Buermann, chairman, South Florida Water Management District governing board.
  Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the U.S. Army (Civil Works.).
  Gary Guzy, deputy director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
  Paul Tudor Jones, chairman of the Everglades Foundation.
  Dan Kimball, superintendent of Everglades and Dry Tortugas national parks.
  Col. Alfred Pantano Jr., district commander for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  Michael Sole, secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
  Tom Strickland, assistant secretary of parks for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  Carol Ann Wehle, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District.
On the evening of May 19, the summit will feature an Old Florida-style barbecue and reception to celebrate recent Everglades restoration successes. The highlight of the night will be a concert Blues Traveler at the historic Eastern Market on Capitol Hill.
On May 20, participants will hear from key congressional leaders before they fan out across Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers for continued support for Everglades restoration funding.
"Our message to policy makers will be clear: Maintaining support for Everglades restoration has never been more important," said Kirk Fordham, chief executive officer of the Everglades Foundation. "It is critical that we build on recently launched restoration projects to support continued funding in Congress for the advancement of this ecosystem restoration initiative."
The Everglades Foundation will also distribute preliminary results from a newly commissioned study that will attempt to quantify the economic benefits of Everglades restoration.
For more information about the America's Everglades Summit, visit
The Everglades Foundation was founded in 1993. It has several board members from the Keys, including Vice Chairwoman Mary Barley of Islamorada, Christopher Buckley of Islamorada and Quebec, Thomas Davidson of North Key Largo and Paul Tudor Jones of Islamorada and Connecticut.
Others on the board include singer Jimmy Buffett, golfer Jack Nicklaus and David Lawrence Jr., former published of the Miami Herald.


FPL wants to take reservoir water intended for environment, community supplies
Sun Sentinel - by Andy Reid
May 11, 2010
Reservoir water intended to replenish the Loxahatchee River and boost community supplies could instead get tapped by Florida Power & Light Co.'s new power plant in western Palm Beach County.
South Florida taxpayers invested $217 million to convert old rock mining pits at Palm Beach Aggregates, west of Royal Palm Beach, into a 15 billion-gallon reservoir.
The reservoir — criticized for its cost and touched by political scandal — was finished in 2008, but expensive pumps must still be constructed to start delivering water to the Loxahatchee. Also, water-quality concerns are hampering the reservoir's ability to replenish community water supplies.
In the meantime, FPL proposes dipping into the reservoir water to help run its nearby plant, also built on former Palm Beach Aggregates land.
The South Florida Water Management District's board on Thursday is to decide whether to allow FPL to install a temporary pump and pipeline to deliver reservoir water to the power plant.
"That wasn't the purpose of the reservoir. … They shouldn't set that precedent," said Drew Martin, of the Sierra Club.
FPL would pay for the temporary pump and pipeline, but wouldn't have to pay for using the reservoir water.
The long-term water-supply plan for the power plant is to use recycled, treated wastewater — typically used for irrigation — but Palm Beach County's water lines are not yet completed. FPL wants to use the reservoir water until early 2011.
Water management district officials contend that sending some of the water to FPL would help address water-quality problems arising from the stormwater now largely left stagnant in the reservoir.
Elevated levels of chloride in the reservoir water are raising concerns about its suitability for replenishing the Loxahatchee, or even replenishing community supplies during droughts.
The district has been cycling fresh water into the reservoir from the nearby L-8 stormwater drainage canal and then discharging mixed water back into the canal.
South Florida's system of canals flushes stormwater out to sea to guard against flooding. The purpose of the reservoir is to hold onto some of that water and use it to replenish the Loxahatchee River, cut off from water flows by decades of draining South Florida to make way for development and agriculture.
The reservoir also is intended to boost local community water supplies and during recent droughts helped prop up West Palm Beach's strained supplies.


Fresh water being released into Caloosahatchee, ''This is a 911 emergency situation for us.''
May 11, 2010
Read more:
LEE COUNTY, Fla. - People are fighting mad about water from Lake Okeechobee flowing toward Southwest Florida. Some say if any more of it comes this way it will ruin our economy.
Water is what Southwest Florida is known for, but people here are fighting to keep fresh water from Lake Okeechobee out of our salt water.
"This is a 911 emergency situation for us. It's going to impact our beaches, impact our livelihood."
In a public meeting, Corporal Alfred A. Pantano said because of a rainy dry season, water in the lake is much higher than it should be, so some of it needs to be released... straight into the Caloosahatchee River.
"At the end of the day, we have some really tough decisions to make and there's going to be some people who aren't going to be happy about it. There's no way around that."
But residents are still begging.
"This is not an environmental problem. It's not only an environmental problem. This is an economic problem. The economy of our region, the coastal region, is going to be damaged by what you're doing."
"This is our incubator for all of our shrimp and fish and living things."
"It messes up the fish and makes the water look nasty. It looks like ice tea instead of being real clear like it's supposed to be."
The former mayor of Sanibel said he won't give up.
"Here I am, once again, on bended knee and cap in hand saying we need some help."
The Army Corps of Engineers said the water from Lake Okeechobee is coming no matter what, but officials are still talking about how they will release it.
Read more:


More than an oil spill
Los Angeles Times – by James William Gibson
May 11, 2010
Disasters helped launch, and have reinvigorated, the environmental movement, but not all such events are equal.
We may well be living with the consequences of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill for the rest of the 21st century. But judging by past environmental disasters, the spill also has the potential to reinvigorate the environmental movement going forward. For more than a century, ecological crises have often strengthened environmental movements.
Take the fight over preserving the scenic Hetch Hetchy Valley just outside Yosemite National Park. The biggest environmental battle of naturalist John Muir's life was one that he lost — the fight to keep the city of San Francisco from erecting a dam on the Tuolumne River and flooding Hetch Hetchy.
The very idea of it appalled Muir: "These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for nature," Muir wrote at the time. "Dam Hetch Hetchy !  As well dam for water tanks the people's cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated in the heart of man."
But although the dam was approved by Congress in 1913 and the valley ultimately destroyed, the fight helped embolden a fledgling environmental movement, and the memory of Hetch Hetchy became a rallying cry for future struggles.
In south Florida's Everglades, too, it was crisis that prompted calls for protecting the region. In the early part of the century, vast tracts of the Everglades' subtropical wetlands were dammed and drained for development and agriculture. During the 1930s, Miami newspaper columnist Marjory Stoneman Douglas supported such development as necessary for south Florida. But in the mid-1940s, when devastating fires swept through the region, she had a change of heart.
"The whole Everglades was burning," she wrote in "The Everglades: River of Grass." "What had been a river of grass and sweet water that had given meaning and life and uniqueness to this whole enormous geography through centuries in which man had no place here was made, in one chaotic gesture of greed and ignorance and folly, a river of fire."
The fires, and Douglas' book, turned the tide of public opinion and galvanized the efforts of those who wanted to preserve the natural splendor of the region. Today, more than 60 years later, the Everglades restoration movement is close to finalizing the purchase of lands necessary to restore water flow.
By far the most famous catastrophe to spur change was the November 1969 oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel, which gave birth to a generation of activists who went on to organize direct action, file lawsuits and help pass the nation's fundamental environmental laws, including a moratorium on offshore oil drilling along the Pacific and North Atlantic coasts.
Of course, not all environmental disasters have spurred such activism. The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound, for example, destroyed fisheries and fouled pristine bays and estuaries. But because it was seen as stemming from negligence on the captain's part along with a solvable technical problem — namely that oil tankers should have double hulls — it led to few calls for more systemic protections.
Whether or not the current gulf spill sparks renewed environmental activism will depend on how it is scrutinized. If its causes are defined narrowly — focusing on the need, say, for a better drill, a better cutoff valve — then the broader movement is unlikely to be spurred to greater action.
Certainly the first focus needs to be containing the flow of oil, but long-term solutions will require examining the disaster more broadly and questioning the wisdom of drilling in the ocean at all. Offshore drilling in deep water may seem technically feasible if each piece of technology is viewed separately, but viewed as a system, the operation will always be prone to unforeseen accidents.
This is why environmentalists should focus on the big picture coming out of this disaster. Ocean drilling puts the nation's fisheries and coastal communities at high risk, and we must ask whether doing so in the name of oil is wise.
On issues of restoration, too, the problems must be broadly defined. Cleanup should not entail merely removing oil from the surface. Truly restoring gulf wetlands and coastal waters should be the goal.
And the United States needs to quicken its transition to solar and wind energy, reducing dependency on oil.
It's too early to say whether the gulf spill will give a new impetus to the environmental movement, but it might. Although the George W. Bush administration dismantled protections, and the Obama administration has been a disappointment, many millions of Americans still strongly support the environmental movement. Moreover, our society has changed since the Exxon Valdez disaster. Groups within most American religious denominations — Catholic, Protestant, Jewish — now support some version of green theology, on the principle that Earth is God's sacred creation and must be protected. Popular culture also shows growing environmental awareness, as in James Cameron's "Avatar”, an allegory about the dangers of destroying what is sacred in nature.  And the nation's hunters and fishers have become more involved in protecting wild lands and waters.
All told, a broad-based coalition could motivate politicians to pass visionary environmental legislation and make the gulf spill's legacy a historical turning point.
James William Gibson is a professor of sociology at Cal State Long Beach and the author, most recently, of "A Reenchanted World: The Quest for a New Kinship with Nature."


Oil spills and political futures
Southern Political Report - by Gary Reese
May 11, 2010 —
Congressional hearings have commenced about the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, with plenty of chest-thumping and finger-pointing to come. But two factors seem to be preventing most public officials in Washington and the Gulf states from taking drastic measures just yet.
First, no one knows how extensive or ultimately damaging and costly the spill will be. The oil rupture itself hasn’t been plugged. And nature – wind and weather, ocean currents – will have the final say on whether and how much oil reaches the Gulf shores. (Hurricane season starts June 1.)
Second, the issue is politically complicated for many players. A few examples will illustrate: Next to the IRS, the US government agency that brings the most money to the federal Treasury is the Minerals Management Service. It works closely with companies like BP and Exxon to find and drill for oil and natural gas. That’s an apparent conflict of interest when it comes to Washington’s role in safeguarding the Gulf and America’s Southern shores. It will be also be an easy political gesture for the Democrats: Congress will separate the two conflicting functions of MMS, and thus the Democrats will have "done something."
In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal is trying to get the Corps of Engineers to allow waters between the state’s barrier islands to be blocked by artificial sand deposits. But when he advocated this a while back for protection from hurricanes, environmentalists said that it would harm wildlife. 
Above all, and ironically, the oil spill may have put the congressional Democrats' cap-and-trade legislation on ice, at least for now. One of the bill's components was a a provision that would allow for more, not less, offshore drilling.
And then there’s gasoline prices as we approach the usual summer spike. With roughly a quarter of America’s domestic supply of oil coming from Gulf rigs, it’s not realistic to think drilling is going to stop. Not every American voter will be personally affected by tar balls on the beach. But gasoline prices are another matter. Democrats in Washington, and mostly Republican governors and lawmakers in Gulf states, must be careful not to overreact to the oil disaster by overly restricting future drilling.
If oil ever touches American shores in large volume, then public pressure will ratchet up, and so will political noise and perhaps action. For now, shrimpers have been shrimping and oil-drenched birds are being counted by the ones. Tourism, especially in Florida, has suffered, but that’s more because of alarmist media accounts than facts on the ground and in the water.
Worst-case scenarios have water seeping into the Florida Everglades, flowing into Chesapeake Bay, and even ruining commercial fishing at the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. Such epic environmental damage would be a policy and political nightmare especially for the ruling Democrats. Drilling would still need to continue, but pressure to fundamentally change American energy policy might then mount to an intolerable level for office-holders.   
As for Gulf state governors, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist are a study in contrasts. Barbour is preaching a wait-and-see attitude. Will the oil reach his state, and how damaging will it be if it does? He points out that, so far, most of the oil in the water is thin and comparatively non-threatening; unlike the dense oil spill from Exxon Valdez in 1989.
Crist is calling for a special legislative session right away to work towards a state constitutional amendment that would forever ban near-shore drilling in Florida. Crist, of course, is running for US Senate with no party affiliation. Recent polls seem to indicate that for him to win, he must raid liberal voters away from Kendrick Meek, the rather weak Democrat in the race. In fact, it was Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink who was the first prominent state elected official in Florida to call for a special session.   
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has acted a solid imitation of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who earned high praise from many Floridians for his obsessive canvassing of that state during the rash of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005. Riley has been to the Alabama coast almost daily since the April 20 oil-rig explosion. Mobile Bay stands ready to be closed with booms if oil gets close.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry mentioned that the rig explosion might have been an “act of God,” for which he caught flak for everything from implying that Jehovah conceived the accident, to making excuses for his Texas oil-company supporters.
In the end, BP, Halliburton and other corporate giants will be endlessly scolded and demonized, and few Republicans will dare to disagree very loudly. New regulations will be passed, including far stiffer fines on industry for the cleanups of spills, and for damage payments to affected citizens. In the long run, domestic energy prices likely will remain the main mover of substantive political action.    


Official State of Florida DEEPWATER HORIZON response
Longboat Key News

Sunrise may allow hotel on edge of Everglades
Sun Sentinel - by Susannah Bryan,
May 10, 2010
City also plans to rank firms to oversee $450 million project
SUNRISE:  City commissioners plan to take up two controversial issues Tuesday, including whether they should allow an 11-story hotel on sensitive land bordering the Everglades.
If the 350-room Marriott hotel wins approval, it will be the first commercial development on the west side of the Sawgrass Expressway.
"The whole idea is bad," said Phil Busey, chairman of the Sierra Club's Broward Group. "The entire Everglades is under threat from development around the edges, which is what this would be. Any pollutants would go into the conservation area."
The developer eventually plans to put three office towers on the same 22-acre parcel, which extends north and south of Sunrise Boulevard. The Everglades Corporate Park project would have nearly 650,000 square feet of office space and 30,000 square feet of commercial space.
Despite the downturn, there is a market for more office space in South Florida. "This is planning for the long term, not just tomorrow," said attorney Dennis Mele, who represents the two property owners.
Construction of the proposed Marriott Residence Inn & Courtyard would take 15 months, Mele said.
The Sunrise commission agreed last year to create a special zoning district for the project, with Commissioner Sheila Alu casting the only dissenting vote.
On Tuesday, commissioners will also take steps to hire a consulting company to oversee a proposed $450 million overhaul of the city's water and sewer system that will take a decade to finish.
The New Orleans Inspector General has accused one of the three engineering companies up for consideration, MWH Americas Inc., of overbilling the city for work after Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans hired MWH in December 2007 to oversee the reconstruction of public buildings and infrastructure damaged by the 2005 storm.
A spokeswoman for the Colorado-based company said Monday it did nothing wrong.
"There was no overcharging," Meg VanderLaan said. She said the allegations were based on a draft review by the inspector general that did not specify an overbilling amount.
Sunrise commissioners are expected to rank MWH and two other companies: Brown and Caldwell, and Malcolm Pirnie Inc. Staff will try to negotiate a contract with the top-ranked company. If negotiations fail, they will start talks with the second–ranked firm, and so on.
Mayor Roger Wishner said he has heard about the allegations against MWH.
"It wouldn't be fair to them to be [excluded] based on allegations," Wishner said. "But it needs to be looked into a little more for us to make an objective decision."


The Gulf Oil Spill Needs a Hero
Huffington Post
May 10, 2010
Could a flash of inspiration save the Gulf Coast states and sea life from the British Petroleum oil spill? Take a look at the six-minute YouTube video posted by the Walton County (FL) Sheriff's Department on its website. What looks like "a coupla good ole boys demonstrating how hay and straw could be used to pick up an oil spill" is actually Darryl Carpenter, Vice President of Florida-based CW Roberts Contracting and sub-contractor Otis Goodson stirring up a FIX for BP's oil spill.
Darryl Carpenter came up with the idea of using hay to soak up the oil spill from the ocean, while driving to a job site last Monday. The next minute he was on the phone with sub-contractor Goodson to ask: "Can you fill a large pan with water and oil, then grab a handful of hay and stir it in? Strain out the hay, then call me back and tell me what's left in the pan.
Eureka! Carpenter had found a solution. Goodson called back elated to say: "You're not going to believe how this works!" The hay had soaked up all of the oil in the pan. The water looked clear again. The Walton County Sheriff's real-time video confirms this.
In a scene reminiscent of a primetime cooking show, the Carpenter and Goodson video shows how Coastal Bermuda and Bahia hay could be scattered over the surface of the ocean with hay blowers to absorb the oil. To start, the two men pour oil into two large pans of water, stir in the hay, add a little "wave action," then skim off the oil-soaked hay.
The audience watching the Walton County video included representatives from BP, the Coast Guard and the Sheriff's office. CW Roberts then asks BP and the Coast Guard for the chance to do a 10-acre live demonstration in Gulf waters. They were told that approval has to come from higher up.
Will it come in time?
"We work along the whole Gulf of Mexico coastal area in Florida," says CW Roberts president, Charles Roberts. "We have everything mobilized. We can have boats and equipment on the water in less than a half-day. We have been getting calls from all over, from people who want to supply the hay. We want to be given the chance to see if it works. If it works on 10-acres, then give us a bigger assignment."
CW Roberts, a 700-employee contracting firm with headquarters in Tallahassee, Florida, and offices located all along the Gulf of Mexico from Destin to Fort Meyers, is now under contract with the Walton County's Office of Emergency Management to protect their beaches from the oil spill. A major component of their protection strategy is the use of bales of hay to keep the oil spill from reaching the Walton beaches.
As the oil spill moves closer to land, Roberts says: "We want to be given a chance to show that this simple strategy just might solve the problem. It's so simple that I think it scares people."
To jump start the process, the company is organizing another demonstration this Saturday morning to show how a hay blower and a conveyor can be put out on a boat to both distribute the hay, then pick it up. Shrimp boats can also be mobilized to pick it up with their nets, says Darryl Carpenter.
In fact, the idea of mobilizing a statewide group of hay farmers, a fleet of shrimp boat owners, and a network of 700 CW Roberts employees to solve a problem of catastrophic proportions -- that has challenged BP, the Coast Guard and the U.S. Government -- may be just the type of heroism the Gulf Coast and America needs right now.


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Making sense of Gulf oil spill
TCPalm - by Lee Bowman, Scripps Howard News Service
May 7, 2010
The British Petroleum well in the Gulf of Mexico that’s been spewing at least 210,000 gallons of oil a day since April 22 is not so much a spill as an eruption of crude, natural gas and mud.
Government and industry efforts continue to focus on stemming the leaks located 50 miles off the Louisiana coast and keeping a spreading blob of oil from the most environmentally sensitive areas onshore. But officials are certain that recovery from the disaster will be both long and costly.
Below, in a question-and-answer format, is an overview of what’s happened so far during one of the nation’s worst environmental mishaps and the outlook for the coming weeks and months.
Q: How did this happen?
A: The formal investigation of the accident has barely begun, but it appears that it began when an explosive mix of gas, oil and mud blew out of the well under extreme pressure and surged nearly a mile to the floating Deepwater Horizon rig at the surface. The failure could have involved a number of pieces of equipment deployed near where the well entered the seafloor, but it’s certain that a device called a blowout preventer — meant to crimp the well closed during an emergency — did not work.
Gas reached generators and other equipment running on the rig, producing a massive explosion and fire that eventually caused the floating platform to sink and ruptured piping to leak. At first, much of the leaking oil burned and it wasn’t until after the rig sank that the extent of the leak gradually became apparent. Eleven of 126 crewmen working on the rig are thought to have died in the initial explosion.
Q: What happened to the survivors of the rig’s crew ? What did they see ?
A: Although a number sustained burns or broken bones from leaping from the platform to the sea, all reached shore safely and only a few had to be hospitalized. Crew members interviewed by various media outlets since reaching shore have mentioned feeling two heavy thumps or thuds shake the platform, hearing a hissing sound, smelling petroleum and seeing mud and oil showering onto the deck from the rig’s derrick just before the explosions began.
Q: Has this sort of accident happened before? Could this be the worst oil spill in history?
A: There have been a number of major oil spills from offshore platforms, including the 1969 blowout of a Union Oil exploratory rig off Santa Barbara, Calif., that spilled 3.4 million gallons and became a rallying point for environmentalists. The 1979 blowout of an exploratory well, Ixtoc 1, in the Gulf of Mexico’s Bay of Campeche released an estimated 14.7 million gallons and took nine months to control; it is considered the second-worst oil spill behind only the Iraqi army’s destruction of hundreds of wells near the end of the first Persian Gulf War in 1991. The U.S. record is more than 10 million gallons released by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989.
Deepwater Horizon’s place on the list depends on how long it takes to stop the flow. So far, it’s released about the same amount as the Santa Barbara accident but far less than the estimated 8.7 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf and its estuaries by rigs and storage tanks damaged during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.
Q: How many oil and gas rigs are operating in the Gulf ? How many are in such deep water ?
A: There are about 3,500 active wells in the Gulf. There are about 120 mobile offshore floating rigs and 50 fixed rigs able to operate down to depths of 10,000 feet below the sea surface; oil-industry analyst ODS-Petrodata says about two-thirds of the mobile rigs and half of the fixed platforms are working. Several offshore rigs near the site of the accident were shut down as a precaution in late April.
Q: Has the government stepped up inspections of the other rigs to make sure this doesn’t happen again ?
A: Federal officials with the Minerals Management Service issued a number of safety alerts to all offshore operations in the Gulf and special inspection teams went out in the past week to visit 30 wells of particular concern. Interior Department officials said no major deficiencies were found. As investigations and congressional hearings on the accident continue, additional safety requirements for offshore wells are likely to be proposed.
Q: Who has responded to try and keep the spill from spreading ?
A: The response has been a combined effort between workers and contractors of British Petroleum, which holds the lease for the well and the destroyed rig, and numerous federal agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior, as well as many state agencies and volunteer groups working to protect shorelines.
BP’s efforts have mainly been toward using underwater robots and other devices to stop the leaks and clean up near the well with skimmer ships, while the Coast Guard has taken the lead in coordinating the application of hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants, the burning of small patches of oil slick and the placement of containment booms by an armada of more than 256 vessels. More than 8,000 people are involved in the recovery work and more are planning to protect other potentially endangered coasts. About 2,500 volunteers have also been trained.
Q: What is the estimated cost of the cleanup ? Who is going to pay the bill ?
A: Damage specialists initially put the cleanup cost at between $3 billion and $7 billion. A growing list of lawsuits suggests that liability for the spill, injuries and economic damage — and uncertainty about how long leaks will continue — could push the tab much higher. BP officials have pledged to pay “all necessary and appropriate cleanup costs” as well as “legitimate and objectively verifiable” damage claims, but some analysts have questioned whether the self-insured company and its partners can really cover all the expenses.
Q: How long might the effects of the oil spill be felt ? What happens to oil that’s beneath the surface ?
A: Some of the oil and residue are likely to remain in the silt and sand of the Gulf for decades. Wildlife and human-health officials are more concerned about how much of the oil will wind up passing through microbes and plankton up the fish, marine-mammal and bird food chains. The good news so far is that most of the seafood-harvesting region of Louisiana has not been affected, although there are signs the spill is starting to move in that direction.
Government scientists are starting to measure and track what’s happening with oil beneath the surface, but many unknown factors will determine how enduring the impact will be, including the ultimate amount of oil spilled, how well dispersants and barriers work and where the oil floats.
The Gulf’s warm air and water temperatures, marshes and sandbars can help degrade oil faster, say, than it has in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The Ixtoc spill left relatively little lingering damage in the eastern Gulf. And while a storm system in the first week of the spill hampered containment efforts, experts say the expected arrival of one or more tropical storms in the Gulf could help dissipate the oil.
Q: Will the section of the Gulf closest to the spill become a “dead zone” because of the oil and chemicals used to break it up ?
A: Marine biologists have been talking about a “dead zone” near the mouth of the Mississippi for many years, caused by agricultural runoff that nurtures algae but starves the water of oxygen.
Lisa Suatoni, a senior ocean scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who is monitoring the spill, said she’s “pretty sure the toxic qualities of the spill won’t cause its own version of a dead zone (farther out in the Gulf). Many of the effects will be sub-lethal, not acute.”
Q: What might be the impact of the spill if large quantities of oil are moved great distances by the Gulf Stream ?
A: Some of the grimmest scenarios painted by some academic experts on spills and currents have the spill drifting south in the “Loop Current” that circles the middle of the Gulf and eventually mixes with another current near the tip of Florida to become the Gulf Stream. That could spread the oil slick in the coral reefs and island of the Keys and on north as far as Cape Hatteras, N.C., where the current moves farther away from land.
Government scientists say they don’t know if this will happen, but state and federal officials in Florida have been making plans on how to react if it does.
Q: What factors could influence the oil reaching the Florida Keys and Atlantic beaches ?
A: Again, one issue is how much oil there is to float away. Government scientists are working to understand how the oil broken up by chemicals is behaving. Slicks on the surface tend to evaporate and sink over time. Although oceanographers know generally how the Gulf Stream moves, it wiggles and wobbles and even seemingly disappears at times. Weather at sea is too uncertain to forecast where the oil will spread more than a few days ahead. Winds, hurricanes and cold fronts are among the many things that could keep oil near shore or break it up.
Q: What are tar balls ? How dangerous are they to the environment ?
A: Weathering, sunlight, even salt water itself eventually turns globs of oil into hard, asphalt-type material fairly quickly. These tar balls linger for decades — they’re still all over Santa Barbara shorelines — but any toxic material inside them is basically inert and won’t hurt humans if they don’t handle them too much or eat them.
Q: If you scooped up a glass of the floating oil foam and drank it, what would happen ?
A: “Drinking oil is a bad idea,’’ says Dr. Gina Solomon, a public-health specialist with the NRDC. Most of what’s known about this comes from documenting suicides and attempts that involved drinking gasoline. Petroleum is corrosive to the esophagus and stomach, and swallowing even a little would make you vomit. That would put small bits of oil into the lungs and likely lead to respiratory collapse.
Q: Assuming less-direct exposure, what health effects might humans face from the oil spill ?
A: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lumps the several hundred chemical compounds found in crude oil as “total petroleum hydrocarbons” and says their leading effect is on the nervous system, typically producing dizziness or headache when fumes are inhaled or crude comes into extended contact with the skin, mouth or eyes.
There are several known and even more suspected carcinogens in hydrocarbons, but most health experts say the biggest immediate health threat from this spill inshore is to people with respiratory disorders and pregnant women. But they caution anyone who might do beach or wildlife cleanup to wear gloves, protective clothes, eyewear and boots and be sure to keep contaminated items out of homes.
Q: Should we expect oil and gas prices to increase because of this spill ?
A: They’re already going up and will go up more this summer as driving increases and the economy continues to recover. But energy experts say there’s no link to the spill — at least, not so far. Deepwater Horizon’s well, called Macondo, was not a producing well yet. The crews were actually preparing to cap it off for the time being.
The Gulf does account for about 40 percent of U.S. production, but most of the producing rigs are far south and west of the spill site, away from the direction the sheen has moved so far.
Still, if the leaking continues for many weeks and different wind patterns push the oil into those production zones — or if it affects shipping and refining capacity along the coast — there could be an effect on oil supplies. Longer term, new scrutiny of the safety of offshore, deepwater drilling could impact the ability of oil companies to develop new oil fields in the Gulf, off California and the East Coast.


The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill – The End Of the World As We Know It?
May 7, 2010
Some people seem oblivious to the possible outcome of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. It has the potential to release 4.2 million gallons a day. Multiply that by 90 days and you have 378 million gallons of black, life robbing goo in the Gulf and on the shore lines. If dispersants are used, you can add the number of gallons of semi-toxic to toxic chemicals it will take to disperse the oil. Dispersants don’t make the oil go away. They will simply suspend the oil in the water. The Gulf of Mexico will then become dirty dish water. For those interested in cashing in on this disaster, investing in sea food might be a wise move. It will soon become a rare dish that only the affluent will be able to afford. You might invest in other foods as well because the prices on them will go up since people will be forced off of seafood which will cause the demand for beef and pork to rise. It’s doubtful that canned tuna and potted meats will be inexpensive much longer. Household detergents might rapidly rise in price with the amount of detergents they will have to use if they decide to use dispersants. Of course, the price of everything will rise due to the price of transportation costs because of the resulting rise in the price of oil.
Besides sea life being destroyed, animals and birds which live in the marshes and wetlands will be threatened. The wildlife in the Florida Everglades could be eradicated. Rare birds, mammals, reptiles, plants, invertebrates, amphibians, and mollusks will suffer horrible deaths should the spill reach the area. Beach front property in the Gulf of Mexico will not be a very attractive commodity. The Gulf Stream could cause it to endanger the East Coast beaches and Gulf Stream islands as well.
Plants, animals, birds, and even humans in the long run, are at risk from this disaster. The toxins that are being and will be distributed into the briny waters will reach land as well. What is crude oil? The Earth Science from Moorland School website explains.
“Fossil fuels were formed from the fossilized remains of dead plants and animals that once lived millions of years ago. Oil and natural gas are the products of the deep burial and decomposition of dead plants and animals. Heat and pressure, in the absence of oxygen, transform the decomposed material into tiny pockets of gas and crude oil. The oil and gas then migrates through the pores in the rocks to eventually collect in reservoirs.”
“Crude oil is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons with small amounts of other chemicals such as sulfur. The crude oil is useless as a mixture and must be sent to an oil refinery to be separated. Crude oils from different parts of the world, or even from different depths in the same oilfield, contain different mixtures of hydrocarbons and other compounds. This is why they vary from light colored volatile liquids to thick, dark oils.”
Depending upon the makeup of the oil, it could have high levels of toxic chemicals such as benzene, xylene, and other chemicals that are hazardous to life.
From MadSci Network:
“Paraffins, Olefins, Naphthenes, and Aromatics. In this context, paraffins are straight-chain or branched hydrocarbons in which there are no double or triple bonds between carbon atoms. Olefins are similar to paraffins, but they contain at least one multiple bond in their chemical structure. Naphthenes are saturated hydrocarbons, just like paraffins, but they incorporate a ring of carbon atoms into their chemical structure. Aromatics contain a benzene ring in their structure. Oil refineries are factories for separating these different types of compounds from one another and for converting compounds from one type into compounds of another type. “
Burning the oil sends the chemicals into the atmosphere where they can be carried by the winds. Depending on the wind direction, this could cause harmful chemicals to make their way to cities along the coast lines. Generally, a large amount of methane will be released from oil wells as well. Unfortunately, it seems that API (American Petroleum Institute) has taken down the educational pages to which the engineer links to give more specific formulas for the makeup of crude oil as well as its other educational pages.


America, This Is Our Wake-up Call
The Huffington Post
May 6, 2010
From the moment the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, the news has moved in one direction -- from bad to worse to unthinkable. Eleven workers missing and now presumed dead. First some leaking oil, then a major spill, and now what could be the worst environmental disaster in our history.
This week, I flew over the Gulf with reporters and Sierra Club activists and saw for myself the beginnings of a devastation that will be inescapable for the Gulf Coast. Can it get worse? I'm afraid it could. If the oil reaches the powerful Gulf currents, it could be carried to Florida and up the Atlantic seaboard.
Local Sierra Club volunteers (more than 2,000 of them so far!) will do what they can to help. So will the local and national governments. Even BP, assuming we don't let them shirk their responsibility, will have to contribute, though they could never write a check big enough to cover all that's been lost. We probably won't even know the full extent of the damage for decades.
I don't care how much money the oil industry pumps into lobbying ($169 million in 2009) or how many slick PR campaigns they underwrite -- this disaster should make clear to every American that the price for prolonging our dependence on oil is just too high. And that's all we're doing -- prolonging. Sooner or later, we will make the transition to clean energy. We won't have a choice.
But what if we move too slowly?
Economically, our nation would be left behind by others that were quicker to embrace the future. Environmentally, we would see more horrific disasters like the one in the Gulf, as we take greater and greater risks to feed our oil and coal addiction. Perhaps most frighteningly, we might find it too late to stop runaway climate change -- a truly global catastrophe. Why risk all that when the solutions are right in front of us?
People often don't start taking care of themselves until after a wake-up call like a non-fatal heart attack. Many a smoker who simply couldn't quit has found that a grim diagnosis becomes a sudden boost to will power.
This is our wake-up call. We need to stop the expansion of offshore drilling, immediately. We need to eliminate subsidies and giveaways to companies like BP, which made more than $5.5 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2010 alone. We need our leaders to deliver a plan to get us off oil by promoting clean-energy solutions. Solutions like efficiency and clean cars already exist, we just need the political will to implement them.
Yes, it's been bad news, and I'm afraid there will be more. But this catastrophe should also be a turning point for our nation. Already, Americans are recognizing the hollowness of cries to drill, drill, drill. Now it's time to build on that epiphany and make the case, once and for all, that dirty fuels like coal and oil belong in our past, not our future.


Giant box lowered in Gulf to battle oil spill
Associated Press – by HARRY R. WEBER and TAMARA LUSH, Staff Writers
May 6, 2010 at 11:47 p.m.
ON THE GULF OF MEXICO (AP) — Workers late Thursday started lowering a giant concrete-and-steel box over the blown-out oil well at the bottom of the sea in a risky and untested bid to capture most of the gushing crude and avert a wider environmental disaster.
A crane lifted the box from the boat named The Joe Griffin and crews from a second boat started the box on its slow journey a mile underwater. It would take hours to reach the seafloor.
"We haven't done this before. It's very complex and we can't guarantee it," BP spokesman David Nicholas warned earlier.
The 100-ton containment vessel is designed to collect as much as 85 percent of the oil spewing into the Gulf and funnel it up to a tanker. It could take several hours to lower it into place by crane, after which a steel pipe will be installed between the top of the box and the tanker. The whole structure could be operating by Sunday.
The mission took on added urgency as oil started washing up on delicate barrier islands.
But the lowering of the box was delayed because of dangerous fumes rising from the oily water in the windless night, the captain of the supply boat hauling the box told The Associated Press. A spark caused by the scrape of metal on metal could cause a fire, Capt. Demi Shaffer said.
Deckhands wore respirators while workers on surrounding vessels took air-quality readings. Crews later were able to start the work. Black oil coated the white shell of the box as it was being lowered.
The technology has been used a few times in shallow waters, but never at such extreme depths — 5,000 feet down, where the water pressure is enough to crush a submarine.
The box — which looks a lot like a peaked, 40-foot-high outhouse, especially on the inside, with its rough timber framing — must be accurately positioned over the well, or it could damage the leaking pipe and make the problem worse.
BP spokesman Doug Suttles said he is not concerned about that happening. Underwater robots have been clearing pieces of pipe and other debris near where the box will be placed to avoid complications.
"We do not believe it could make things worse," he said.
Other risks include ice clogs in the pipes — a problem that crews will try to prevent by continuously pumping in warm water and methanol — and the danger of explosion when separating the mix of oil, gas and water that is brought to the surface.
"I'm worried about every part, as you can imagine," said David Clarkson, BP vice president of engineering projects.
If the box works, a second one now being built may be used to deal with a second, smaller leak from the sea floor.
"Hopefully, it will work better than they expect," The boat's first mate, Douglas Peake, told AP, the only news organization on board the vessel.
The well blew open on April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded 50 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers. It has been spewing an estimated 200,000 gallons a day in the nation's biggest oil spill since the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Thursday halted all new offshore drilling permits nationwide until at least the end of the month while the government investigates the Gulf spill.
Oil slicks stretched for miles off the Louisiana coast, where desperate efforts were under way to skim, corral and set the petroleum ablaze. People in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida watched in despair.
The dropping of the box is just one of many strategies being pursued to stave off a widespread environmental disaster. BP is drilling sideways into the blown-out well in hopes of plugging it from the bottom. Also, oil company engineers are examining whether the leak could be shut off by sealing it from the top instead.
The technique, called a "top kill," would use a tube to shoot mud and concrete directly into the well's blowout preventer, BP spokesman Bill Salvin said. The process would take two to three weeks, compared with the two to three months needed to drill a relief well.
On Thursday, oil reached several barrier islands off the Louisiana coast, many of them fragile animal habitats. Several birds were spotted diving into the oily, pinkish-brown water, and dead jellyfish washed up on the uninhabited islands.
"It's all over the place. We hope to get it cleaned up before it moves up the west side of the river," said Dustin Chauvin, a 20-year-old shrimp boat captain from Terrebonne Parish, La. "That's our whole fishing ground. That's our livelihood."
During a visit to Biloxi, Miss., Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said of the containment vessel: "I hope it works. But we are still proceeding as if it won't. If it does, of course, that will be a major positive development."
"We are facing an evolving situation," she warned. "The possibility remains that the BP oil spill could turn into an unprecedented environmental disaster. The possibility remains that it will be somewhat less."
Meanwhile, a six-member board composed of representatives of the Coast Guard and the federal Minerals Management Service will begin investigating the accident next week.
And a federal judicial panel in Washington has been asked to consolidate at least 65 potential class-action lawsuits claiming economic damage from the spill. Commercial fishermen, business and resort owners, charter boat captains, even would-be vacationers have sued from Texas to Florida, seeking damages that could reach into the billions.
"It's just going to kill us. It's going to destroy us," said Dodie Vegas, who owns a motel and cabins in Grand Isle, La., and has seen 10 guests cancel.
Associated Press writers Ray Henry, Cain Burdeau, Holbrook Mohr and Vicki Smith in Louisiana, Brian Skoloff in Mississippi and Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this story.


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Gulf Oil Spill: A Symbol Of What Fossil Fuels Do To The Earth Every Day, Say Environmentalists
The Huffington Post
May 6, 2010
The leading edge of a vast oil slick started to come ashore in Louisiana on Thursday night, a shroud of devastation falling on America's coastline even as the blown-out BP oil well that produced it continues to belch millions of gallons of thick crude into the Gulf of Mexico for a third straight week.
At moments like this, it's hard to see any silver lining here at all. But it's possible there is one. Many environmentalists say that the wrenching and omnipresent images of filth and death are at last providing Americans with visible, visceral and possibly mobilizing evidence of the effects that fossil fuels are having on our environment every day.
Rick Steiner is horrified at the damage. A University of Alaska marine specialist, he's watched cleanup efforts ever since the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, and has learned some bitter lessons.
"Government and industry will habitually understate the volume of the spill and the impact, and they will overstate the effectiveness of the cleanup and their response," he said. "There's never been an effective response -- ever -- where more than 10 or 20 percent of the oil is ever recovered from the water. Once the oil is in the water, the damage is done."
And most of the damage remains invisible deep below the surface, including the wide-scale destruction of essential plankton in the area and the wiping out of an entire generation of fish larvae. "This is real toxic stuff," Steiner said.
But the damage that is visible -- the vast and foul oil slick, the dolphins swimming through sludge, the birds coated in oil, the dead fish and sharks and turtles -- is enough to thoroughly disgust anyone paying attention.
And that, Steiner said, makes it a "teachable moment" that "will hopefully serve as a wake-up call that we need to turn to sustainable energy."
After all, that carbon we're seeing poison the Gulf was headed into the planetary ecosystem anyway, through tailpipe emissions.
"That's part of the irony of all this, is it just took a shortcut," Steiner said. "This carbon took a shortcut into the environment from what it normally does, and it's obvious to people what the problem is here."
A much smaller oil spill in Santa Barbara 40 years ago helped mobilize the Earth Day movement, which in turn led to most of the major environmental legislation of the 20th century. The Exxon Valdez disaster, 20 years later, led to tougher (but evidently not tough enough) rules about oil spills.
And now Steiner and fellow environmentalists think this spill provides an opportunity not just to revisit offshore oil drilling, but the whole carbon dynamic.
"This just reminds us, in a powerful way, how dirty the energy we rely on is," said environmental writer Bill McKibben. "If anything good is going to come out of this, it'll be because it focuses our attention -- but more palpably, focuses the president's attention -- on questions of dirty energy,"
McKibben is the founder of the global grassroots climate-change Web site and his latest book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet is about adjusting to a changed world.
"Our problem is not primarily that there's a stuck valve in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. That's a terrible problem," McKibben told HuffPost. "The bigger problem is that there's a stuck economy based on fossil fuels that the president hasn't really done anything major yet to fix.... The problem is that the whole system is dirty from beginning to end."
The Senate has been cobbling together tepid climate-change bills while President Obama sits on the sidelines, McKibben said. "Now is the moment when he could galvanize the nation. He could say: 'Let's really learn from what's happened in the Gulf. Let's think about the way that we're turning all the oceans of the world acid at a rapid rate by pouring carbon into the atmosphere. Let's think not only about those coal miners in West Virginia, but also about what burning coal is doing to people all over the world.' "
This would, McKibben acknowledges, require a bit of a turnaround. "In this case, Obama three weeks ago told us he wanted a lot more offshore oil drilling, and told us it was safe. He should get up and say 'I was wrong. And in a deeper sense, I was wrong not to be taking on whole hog, as the centerpiece of my presidency, the fight to finally get us really moving off coal and gas and oil.'"
It's a moment of reckoning, McKibben said.
"We'll find out in the next couple of weeks whether he's serious about an energy transformation, or whether he's as corporatist and cautious on this as he appears to be on other things."
Wesley Warren, director of programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, calls the Gulf spill "a watershed moment" much like Santa Barbara 40 years ago or the Exxon Valdez 20 years ago -- events that "really defined energy and environmental policy for a generation," he said.
"Washington needs a response that is as large as this spill is, to deal with our dependence on oil," he told HuffPost. "This is just a symptom of a system that's gone on too long, unchecked, when a change is needed."
It's not just the imagery, it's also the economic toll on fisherman and coastal communities that will make this spill so affecting, he said. "That makes it dramatic in a way that two weeks ago, there was no way to show the American people what was at stake. This is vivid and direct and is the consequence of an overdependence on oil that we could have rid ourselves of 40 years ago or 20 years ago," he said.
"The best thing to do with carbon is to keep it underground where it belongs."
Despite the White House's considerable effort to demonstrate that the administration is responding aggressively to the Gulf spill, there are, as of yet at least, no signs that Obama will seize the moment to advance an anti-carbon agenda.
Indeed, last week, he promised better safeguards for oil drilling going forward, but recommitted himself to domestic oil production.
Is there any chance there will be enough public outrage that Members of Congress will be pressured into voting for legislation that puts a stiff price on carbon going forward? So far there are no overt signs of that, either.
But Damon Moglen, global warming campaign director for Greenpeace USA, told HuffPost that the dynamics of the debate have already changed.
"I think objectively, number one, the proposal that we are going to offer new offshore drilling is dead. It's dead on delivery. I think in addition that there is a tremendous likelihood that we will have a ban or a return to the moratorium on drilling," Moglen said.
"And more broadly, I think this is going to break open the debate on both the climate and energy bills... I think we are going to have the opportunity to talk about a much more ambitious and visionary commitment to clean renewables and efficiency technologies, instead of continued hand-outs and support for the fossil fuels industry.
"The details of that ?  That'll be played out in the weeks to come."


Gulf of Mexico oil disaster: an “act of God”, Texas governor says
New Statesman - by Sholto Byrnes
May 5, 2010
But what is that, exactly?
Rick Perry, the Republican governor of Texas, has caused considerable offence Stateside by describing the oil spill off the coast of Louisiana as an "act of God".  In contrast to Barack Obama, who has already made it clear who he thinks is to blame -- "BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill," the president said -- Perry's view is that, "From time to time there are going to be things that occur that are acts of God that cannot be prevented."
The Texas governor later defended his remarks by saying that the term was a legal definition which meant "nobody knows what happened". Bearing him out, perhaps, my New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines "act of God" as "the operation of uncontrollable natural forces".
Why, however, should such events be blamed on God, and what consequences flow from assigning responsibility to Him? The term clearly dates from a time when belief in an omniscient and omnipotent god was near universal, and it made sense to ascribe events not connected with human activity -- earthquakes, volcanoes, and so on -- to divine action.
But this leads directly into a question familiar to any student of philosophy or theology -- the Problem of Evil. As St Augustine put it: "Either God cannot abolish evil or He will not: if He cannot then He is not all-powerful; if He will not then He is not all-good."
Favour to the Almighty
All the arguments justifying the necessity of natural evil have always seemed to me utterly bizarre -- even more so than the Free Will Defence, which seeks to explain human evil by claiming that a God who could have created a world in which everyone always chose to do good (Flew and Mackie's "good robots") preferred one in which He knew people would do evil instead.
Indeed, some argue that a consequence of divine omniscience is that nothing happens without God's say-so: in which case, as the late philosopher D Z Phillips wrote: "What are we to say of the child dying of throat cancer? . . . If this has been done to anyone, it is bad enough, but to be done for a purpose, to be planned from eternity -- that is the deepest evil. If God is this kind of agent, He cannot justify His actions, and His evil nature is revealed."
Richard Swinburne explained natural evil in The Existence of God thus: "If men are to have the opportunity to bring about serious evils for themselves or others by actions or negligence, or to prevent their occurrence, and if all knowledge of the future is obtained by induction from patterns of similar events in the past -- then there must be serious natural evils occurring to man or animals."
Convincing? Another popularly cited get-out clause, associated with St Augustine, was that natural evils are caused by fallen angels -- in which case such events should surely not be described as "acts of God" at all. 
Whichever way you look at it, it doesn't seem to me that describing an oil slick half the size of Wales, and which threatens 25 per cent of America's fresh fish haul, as an "act of God" is particularly helpful. It wouldn't appear to do the Almighty many favours, either: a point worth pondering in a country where professions of Christian faith by those in public life are almost compulsory.
Don't tell me: The people of Louisiana are being punished (yet again !) by a God who just hates blacks and the poor (they are a lot of them in that State).
I am just waiting for the next insane statement delivered by another deluded American in a position of power.
Something good happens: God loves America. Something bad happens: God is punishing people for their promiscuity, homosexuality, pack with the devil (in the case of Haiti), you name it!
I think the Americans do not believe in a good God, they believe in the Old Testament primitive god of wrath and vengeance, a god who, when he gets pissed off with his creatures, throws all sorts of untold disasters at them.
It is very scary to think the most powerful nation on earth is populated with and run by superstitious deluded human beings who mostly should be locked up in an asylum.
Meanwhile somebody should tell this moronic Republican governor that in fact it is BP who is responsible, NOT a supernatural creature !


Gulf oil spill could 'devastate' South Florida's environment as Gulf blowout gushes oil, fears grow for Florida's wildlife and beaches
Sun Sentinel - by David Fleshler,
May 5, 2010
Few parts of the United States would be as devastated by an oil slick as the southern coast of Florida.
A necklace of federal wildlife refuges wraps around the tip of the peninsula, protecting wading birds, Key deer, American crocodiles and nesting sea turtles. The largest coral reef system in the continental United States forms an undersea rainforest of fish, crabs, sponges and coral, extending from the southern end of the Keys to the shallows off Palm Beach. The beaches from Broward County up the coast are among the most important in the world for loggerhead sea turtles, now just beginning their annual nesting season.
"A major oil spill would devastate the ecosystem and the economy based on that ecosystem," said Larry Crowder, professor of marine biology at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment. "It's a particularly bad time of year because just about everything is nesting or replicating.
"In the Gulf of Mexico giant blue fin tuna are spawning, and their eggs and larvae float on the surface," he said. "Seabirds and gulls are nesting. For nesting sea turtles, obviously, oiling the beaches could have a devastating impact."
The critical question for South Florida is whether the slick spreading across the northern Gulf of Mexico will be dragged south by the Loop Current, a swift stream of water that flows from the Gulf through the Florida Straits between the Keys and Cuba, feeding into the Gulf Stream, a current that comes within a few miles of the southeast Florida beaches.
"Exactly when the oil will enter the Loop Current is unknown, but it appears to be imminent," said Robert Weisberg, an oceanographer at the University of South Florida who tracks the current. "Once it's in the Loop Current, it's only a matter of a week or so before the oil is at the entrance to the Florida Straits, and one more week in the vicinity of Miami and Palm Beach."
An estimating 200,000 gallons of oil a day is gushing from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, after an explosion and fire at a British Petroleum drilling platform killed 11 workers. Under immense public and government pressure over what's quickly becoming one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S.
history, the company is trying to plug the well and prevent the slick from spreading.
Even if the oil reaches South Florida, it's uncertain whether it would wash up on the beaches. That would depend on coastal winds and the eddies and currents that spin off the Gulf Stream, Weisberg said.
Also unknown is the condition of the oil when it arrives. Many people may think that thick, gooey black oil is the worst, but lighter oils such as the kind pouring into Gulf can be more dangerous to wildlife. That's because their chemicals can more easily become absorbed.
Oil changes over time. As oil floats along the ocean surface in the hot sun, volatile compounds will evaporate, reducing the oil's toxicity and making it thicker and gooier.
If the oil does come through on the Loop Current, it would first reach the coral reefs around Dry Tortugas National Park. Richard Dodge, director of the National Coral Reef Institute at Nova Southeastern University, said oil has many toxins for corals that could cause reproductive problems, bleaching and death.
"In Panama, for example, there was a major refinery spill some time ago," he said. "Even though that oil was thought to be primarily floating, there were some severe impacts to the reefs."
At Everglades National Park, the oil could drift into the cul-de-sac of Florida Bay  a shallow, seagrass-carpeted home to dolphins, sharks, wading birds and crocodiles. James Fourqurean, a professor at FIU's Department of Environmental Sciences, said the oil could end up stuck in the bay for years.
The seagrass could tolerate it, he said, but a vast variety of fish and other animals that live in the seagrass could die.
The mangrove islands of the bay and the Keys are especially vulnerable because the oil could clog their root systems, destroying habitat for crocodiles, manatees, fish, roseate spoonbills, great white herons, snook and sea trout.
"If the oil slick were to enter a mangrove ecosystem, it would blanket the wetlands," said Jerome Lorenz, an ecologist with Audubon on Florida. "Once it's in there, it can't be cleaned out. Most of the great wading bird colonies of the Everglades occur in mangrove habitat. This would potentially have a devastating impact."
Among the fishing guides in the Keys and Everglades  who navigate the labyrinthine, mangrove-lined waterways and island clusters of the southern Florida wilderness  the spill has generated deep worry.
"It would devastate Everglades National Park, for sure," said Capt. Brian Sanders, of Sunrise, who guides out of Chokoloskee Island. "There's so many animals that depend on that area to live, from the sea turtles that come in on the incoming tide to feed, you have Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, you have manatees and then you have just a vast array of birds. You have the pelicans, cormorants, terns, seagulls."
Capt. Jim Sharpe, charter captain out of Summerland Key near Key West, tried to be hopeful, noting that the Gulf Stream sometimes moves as far as 40 miles from the Keys. But if the oil does come, he said, it would be "catastrophic."
"There wouldn't be any fishing," he said. "And without fishing and diving in the Keys, there isn't much left."
As they watched the situation in the Gulf, cities and counties in South Florida began initial preparations for a potential disaster.
Palm Beach County established the Deepwater Horizons Planning Task Force to address such issues as protecting the county's four inlets and locating and paying for booms.
Broward County emergency officials were updating their oil-spill contingency plans and reviewing courses of action, such as whether to mobilize boat brigades to capture oil that slips past protective booms.
Fort Lauderdale placed contractors on standby to handle environmental cleanup.
Staff writers Steve Waters and Scott Wyman contributed to this report.
David Fleshler can be reached at or 954-356-4535.


In a hole, so stop digging: Too much mining in Everglades farm belt.
Palm Beach Post - by Joel Engelhardt
May 5, 2010
Farms cover nearly half of Palm Beach County. The county likes that. In fact, the county insists on it.
The county growth plan protects "bona fide agriculture" and objects to "encroachment of incompatible urban land uses" in the Everglades Agricultural Area. In 1989, when the county approved the growth plan, it spelled out exceptions for rock mining. It would be allowed under two circumstances: for "public roadway projects" or "to support agricultural purposes."
Those exceptions were so strict that in 2001 the county added a third option, just before the Palm Beach Aggregates mining operation applied for an expansion. The third way would allow mining for "water management projects associated with ecosystem restoration, regional water supply or flood protection." That came one year before the South Florida Water Management District agreed to pay $217 million to convert the holes left after mining at Palm Beach Aggregates into a reservoir.
Mining, however, remained relatively uncommon in the agricultural area, which is twice the size of Los Angeles. The farming region's potential changed when lawsuits raising environmental issues halted mining in Miami-Dade County. The first new mining proposals in Palm Beach County moved forward under the third standard: as water management projects. It didn't matter whether they would ever fulfill that potential. The county accepted as proof a vague letter from the water management district. And that was enough.
The district, however, has stopped sending such letters. Maybe the district is worried that ripping huge holes in the aquifer of the historic Everglades may actually impair ecosystem restoration, regional water supply or flood protection. Just to be safe, the letters now state concerns.
So miners have adjusted. They justify their plans to eradicate farmland on the basis that the rock will help build public roads. Not all of the rock, they freely admit. It would be impossible to track every pebble. After all, we're talking about millions of tons of rock. The material may go to pave private roads. It could be crushed into cement. It could be used for fill. No one can say for sure where it will end up.
And a commission majority merrily has gone along. Until now. Commissioner Karen Marcus on Tuesday proposed a mining halt to decide what the county wants. The wording in the growth plan that allows mines has evolved to this: "Mining may be permitted only to support public roadway projects or agricultural activities or water management projects … "
Did commissioners mean only these "projects" and "activities" and nothing else? Or, as long as you have one of these "projects" and "activities" you can have anything else?
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Edward Fine has decided for the commissioners. In December, Judge Fine ruled that the wording does "not require that the material excavated from mines … be used exclusively for the three enumerated purposes." The word only, at least in Palm Beach County, doesn't mean only.
The result is open season for mining. If commissioners wanted mining on a vast scale, why did they impose such narrow limits? Commissioner Marcus wants today's relatively new commission - four members have been added since 2006 - to spell out what they want and to stop new mining proposals until they do.
It's time commissioners confronted the real question about mining in the agricultural area. Do they want to restrict mines to preserve farmland, as their growth plan states? Or do they want to accommodate a multimillion-dollar industry, consequences to farming and the Everglades be damned?
Since 2006, the county has approved mines on 16,000 acres. Every time, commissioners cite their own rules to explain why they must allow the mines. Now, commissioners can close this loophole and show the public where they stand.
Joel Engelhardt is an editorial writer for The Palm Beach Post. His e-mail address is


US oil spill: BP caps one of leaks from rig
May 5, 2010
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BP declared a partial victory today in its battle to control a spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, after the company said it had succesfully capped one of three leaks from a pipe by applying a valve.
The oil giant, which is under mounting pressure from the US government to stop the leak, admitted that the operation would not reduce the overall rate of flow of the oil. But it claimed it was nevertheless a positive step because it “reduced the complexity of the situation being dealt with on the seabed”.
BP said the half-tonne valve had been installed on the end of a broken drill pipe last night using remote-controlled subsea robots.
The robots first cut the end of the pipe to leave a clean end and the valve was then placed in position on the seabed.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said oil was still flowing out at the same rate of 5,000 barrels per day, creating a slick measuring 130 miles by 70 miles.
Some 2.5 million gallons of crude are thought to have now bled into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening the region’s fragile ecosystem since a deadly blast on April 20 on board the Deepwater Horizon rig, which killed 11 workers.
Earlier Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, claimed that the company was winning the race to contain the spill and indicated that it was ready to fight some of the lawsuits heading its way.
Even as the first pictures emerged of oil breaking through protective booms and pooling round a string of islands off the Louisiana coast, Mr Hayward told The Times that the main slick had not yet made landfall “because we’ve contained it”.
“Let’s be very clear,” he said of the slick. “The reason it’s not getting to the beaches is because we’re containing it. We don’t know if we can continue to contain it, but for the moment we are.”
The unprecedented use of dispersant chemicals at the source of the leak a mile under water “seems to be working very effectively”, he said, describing an armada of surface ships working with an “air force” of aircraft spraying similar chemicals. “I’m using military rhetoric because that’s what we’re fighting, a battle, and we’re going to win,” he said.
An army of lawyers has descended on the Gulf Coast, determined to cripple BP with lawsuits on behalf of property owners and fishermen whose livelihoods they say could be ruined. Robert Kennedy Jr, son of the former presidential candidate and a prominent environmental lawyer, is suing BP.


Everglades, Florida Bay and shoreline ecologies particularly at risk from oil spill, scientists say
Naples Daily News - by MATT CLARK
May 4, 2010
NAPLES — There are few certainties in predicting whether the Deepwater Horizon oil spill will make its way to Florida’s shorelines, Florida Bay and the southern part of the Everglades, Florida scientists said Tuesday in a conference call held by the Everglades Foundation.
The scientists said it appears to be only a matter of time before the slick is picked up by the Gulf of Mexico’s loop current. However, whether the slick makes it to shorelines is a matter of winds at the time when the oil is passing by, and, of course, when the well is capped.
Scientists said the Everglades and Florida Bay would be particularly devastated if the oil somehow moved into it. If winds moved the oil — either at the surface of the water or diluted in the water — it could cause irreparable harm to plants and wildlife in the Everglades, they said.
“If a surface slick runs close to shore along the southern tip of the peninsula, it could be pulled in and remain in there for years,” said James Fourqurean, a seagrass ecologist with Florida International University, speaking of Florida Bay.
Fourqurean said seagrass would stand up well against oil, due to their receiving life support from below the water in the sediment. However, mangroves could be killed, he said.
“The only time the sea grass plants themselves are drastically affected are when the oil pools up in low tide a couple inches,” Fourqurean said. “When you take oil into the mangrove system, it can stop their activity and can actually smother the system.”
Killing mangroves would amplify the impact on animals, said Jerome Lorenz, a mangrove and wading bird ecologist with Audubon of Florida.
“A good portion of our game fish species spend a portion of their life in those mangrove habitats,” Lorenz said.
Species of red fish, snook, snapper, and sea trout could all be impacted by oil moving toward the shore, as could wading bird species such as osprey, heron and pelicans, the scientists said. Manatees, as well, could be affected if they come into contact with oil, Fourqurean said.
“If they have to come up through the oil, they come in direct contact with the oil,” Fourqurean said. “That is a physical problem for them, as well as being directly toxic.”
A full 84 percent of coral reefs in the U.S. are in Florida, said Richard Dodge, a coral reef biologist with Nova Southeastern University. These reefs can also be affected by oil, albeit of the diluted-in-water kind.
“We know there’s a slick, but we also know that there is a lot of emulsified oil. That oil typically doesn’t float,” Dodge said. “If that is significant, that could have some direct affect on some coral reefs ... dispersed oil is very toxic to coral reefs.”
It is certain the oil will be picked up by the Gulf of Mexico’s loop current, said Bob Weisberg, a physical oceanographer and modeler for the University of South Florida, College of Marine Science. He estimated the oil could be in the Florida Strait, below the state, within a week and east of Miami by two weeks.
But again, whether any of the other impacts occur depends on winds carrying the oil to shore. For models and forecasts of the currents and the wind, visit
“It will tend to stay on the in-shore side of the loop current,” Weisburg said. “Whether or not it gets into shallow water will be totally dependent upon what the winds will be doing.”


Drilling in Deep Water
Associated Press
May 4, 2010
It could be months before we know what caused the explosion and oil spill below the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon. But as we add up the economic costs and environmental damage (and mourn the 11 oil workers who died), we should also put the disaster in some perspective.
Washington is, as usual, showing no such restraint. As the oil in the Gulf of Mexico moves toward the Louisiana and Florida coasts, the left is already demanding that President Obama reverse his baby steps toward more offshore drilling. The Administration has partly obliged, declaring a moratorium pending an investigation. The President has raised the political temperature himself, declaring yesterday that the spill is a "massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster."
The harm will be considerable, which is why it is fortunate that such spills are so rare. The most recent spill of this magnitude was the Exxon Valdez tanker accident in 1989. The largest before that was the Santa Barbara offshore oil well leak in 1969.
The infrequency of big spills is extraordinary considering the size of the offshore oil industry that provides Americans with affordable energy. According to the Interior Department's most recent data, in 2002 the Outer Continental Shelf had 4,000 oil and gas facilities, 80,000 workers in offshore and support activities, and 33,000 miles of pipeline. Between 1985 and 2001, these offshore facilities produced seven billion barrels of oil. The spill rate was a minuscule 0.001%.
According to the National Academy of Sciences—which in 2002 completed the third version of its "Oil in the Sea" report—only 1% of oil discharges in North Americas are related to petroleum extraction. Some 62% of oil in U.S. waters is due to natural seepage from the ocean floor, putting 47 million gallons of crude oil into North American water every year. The Gulf leak is estimated to have leaked between two million and three million gallons in two weeks.
Such an accident is still unacceptable, which is why the drilling industry has invested heavily to prevent them. The BP well had a blowout preventer, which contains several mechanisms designed to seal pipes in the event of a problem. These protections have worked in the past, and the reason for the failure this time is unknown. This was no routine safety failure but a surprising first.
One reason the industry has a good track record is precisely because of the financial consequences of accidents. The Exxon Valdez dumped 260,000 barrels of oil, and Exxon spent $3.14 billion on cleanup. Do the math, and Exxon spent nearly 600 times more on cleanup and litigation than what the oil was worth at that time.
As for the environmental damage in the Gulf, much will depend on the weather that has made it more difficult to plug the leak and contain the spill before it reaches shore. The winds could push oil over the emergency containment barriers, or they could keep the oil swirling offshore, where it may sink and thus do less damage.
It is worth noting that this could have been worse. The Exxon Valdez caused so much damage in part because the state of Alaska dithered over an emergency spill response. Congress then passed the 1990 Oil Pollution Act that mandated more safety measures, and it gave the Coast Guard new powers during spill emergencies. We have seen the benefits in the last two weeks as the Coast Guard has deployed several containment techniques—from burning and chemical dispersants to physical barriers. America sometimes learns from its mistakes.
On the other hand, Washington's aversion to drilling closer to shore has pushed the industry into deeper, more difficult, waters farther out to sea. BP's well is 5,000 feet down, at a depth and pressure that test the most advanced engineering and technology. The depth complicates containment efforts when there is a disaster.
As for a drilling moratorium, it is no guarantee against oil spills. It may even lead to more of them. Political fantasies about ending our oil addiction notwithstanding, the U.S. economy will need oil and other fossil fuels for decades to come. If we don't drill for it at home, the oil will have to arrive by tanker and barges. Tankers are responsible for more spills than offshore wells, and those spills tend to be bigger and closer to shore—which usually means more environmental harm.
The larger reality is that energy production is never going to be accident free. No difficult human endeavor is, whether space travel or using giant cranes to build skyscrapers. The rest of the world is working to exploit its offshore oil and gas reserves despite the risk of spills. We need to be mindful of such risks, and to include prevention and clean up in the cost of doing business, but a modern economy can't run without oil.


Florida’s Loop Current could intersect with oil slick, scientists say - by David Fleshler and William E. Gibson / Sun Sentinel
May 4, 2010
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Outer bands of the powerful Loop Current moved north to within 31 miles of the destroyed wellhead, spewing thousands of barrels a day. If the current reaches the spill, it could drag the slick south to the Florida Keys within days, and push it north to Broward and Palm Beach counties in a week to two weeks, marine scientists said.
"If it continues to move in that direction, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t, the Loop Current could very well be at the wellhead," said Bob Weisberg, who is using satellite images to track the slick at the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida. "So there is a strong likelihood that at some point in the future oil will be entrained into the Loop Current."
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist on Monday extended a state of emergency south to Sarasota County. Everglades National Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Dry Tortugas National Park and Biscayne National Park began disaster preparations, establishing a response team comparable to that set up for hurricanes, and Tuesday they will begin assessing vulnerable natural systems, such as mangrove shorelines
"We certainly hope it’s not going to hit the park," said Linda Friar, spokeswoman for Everglades National Park. "We are concerned. There’s potential for the oil to impact Everglades, Dry Tortuga, Big Cypress and Biscayne."
Florida faces the risk of gooey oil washing up on beaches, smothering sea turtle hatchlings, ruining shorebird nests, contaminating coral reefs and killing a wide range of coastal wildlife. One scientist told the Coast Guard to consider laying a floating boom from Key West to Palm Beach to protect the coast.
In years of debates over expanding offshore drilling in the Gulf, environmentalists had invoked the danger of a slick riding the Loop Current through the Florida Straits. Now, even without more drilling, the danger appears to be real.
The current, which moves 2 to 6 mph, turns into the Gulf Stream, which runs near to the shores of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
"If you are standing on a beach in Miami, you can throw a stone at times into the Gulf Stream," Weisberg said. If winds blow an oil slick toward shore, "you are likely to get oil on the beach in Miami."
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said there are no projections of oil reaching Florida beaches through Thursday.
Federal agencies are cautious about predicting the slick’s path. "It’s way too early to tell," said Dave Miller, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "The tracking we have now only goes out three days. The science just isn’t there."
If the oil does come to South Florida, it will be a thicker, denser substance than the slick spreading in the Gulf, as volatile compounds have a chance to evaporate during the trip around the peninsula.
"If it washes up on our beaches, it will be a more gooey substance," said Stephen Leatherman, director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University, also known as Dr. Beach for his annual rankings of top beaches.
"The thing is, we really haven’t seen anything like this before. A lot of people didn’t think this was going to happen. We were sure, with all the modern technology out there, there was an infinitesimal chance this would happen," Leatherman said.
The oil would arrive at the worst possible time for many wildlife species engaged in the springtime rituals of mating, nesting and reproduction.
Sea turtles are crawling up on beaches to lay eggs. Brown pelicans, roseate terns and many other coastal bird species are nesting. Snapper, grouper and bluefin tuna are spawning, with larvae heading up to the ocean surface, where, if the worst comes true, they would end up coated in oil.
"We’re very concerned about the potential harm the oil could have on fish and wildlife," said Ken Warren, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s South Florida field office. "You’re talking more than 250 species of birds that could be negatively impacted. We’re especially concerned because this is sea turtle nesting season. It’s nesting season for avian species, and manatees are migrating."
Palm Beach County emergency officials will brief the County Commission Tuesday on plans for dealing with the oil.
"My point isn’t to create any type of panic. My point is what plans we have in place as a contingency in the event the oil flow comes to the east coast, as soon as possible," said Palm Beach Commissioner Steven Abrams, who requested the briefing. "This is all uncharted territory."
Abrams wants to know if Palm Beach County inlets, such as the Boynton Inlet, would have to be closed off to avoid an ecological disaster.
Winds had been nudging the slick farther north toward the Gulf Coast, but scientists said shifting winds could push the slick south to meet the Loop Current. The longer the cleanup, the greater the likelihood the slick and the Loop Current will intersect.
"It may take months to get the spill under control," said Frank E. Muller-Karger, an oceanographer also at the University of South Florida.
"The wind itself will move the oil in different directions," he said. "If it moves to the east, it will slowly drift to the Panhandle. If it blows to the south and gets caught in Loop Current, it will move south very quickly toward the Keys."
The winds already have broken up the big glob of oil into fragments, said Hans Graber, director of the University of Miami’s Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing.
Some part of that glob almost certainly will come to South Florida, he said.
"It’s not a question of if, but when," he said. "It won’t be tomorrow. Will it be by the end of next week or so?
"The spill has sort been torn apart, with patches breaking off, detaching themselves. Some patches will head north and end up on the Mississippi Coast. Other pieces will eventually head toward the Panhandle."
Graber told Coast Guard officials they might consider erecting a floating boom from Key West all the way up to Palm Beach to try to prevent as much oil as possible from fouling the shores and the reefs. "But even with a boom, you have to have some openings, for example around the ports of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. How do you protect that?"


Gulf of Mexico oil spill could impact Everglades
The Associated Press
May 4, 2010
MIAMI -- Researchers and environmentalists are concerned the Gulf of Mexico oil slick could eventually seep into the Everglades, harming plants, fish and other wildlife off Florida's southern coast.
Projections indicate the slick could be carried south through the Loop Current, putting Florida Bay, part of the treasured wetland ecosystem, at risk of contamination.
Researchers it will depend on the wind whether any of the oil gets pulled into the Everglades. It would take several days for the oil to reach the Everglades.
If oil does reach the Everglades, researchers are concerned it could remain in Florida Bay for years, smothering mangrove trees, an important feeding area for wading birds and game fish.
It could also damage coral reef and seagrass environments.

Read more:

Through oil-fouled water, big government looks better and better
The Washington Post - by Dana Milbank
May 4, 2010
There is something exquisite about the moment when a conservative decides he needs more government in his life.
It may have taken an ecological disaster, but the gulf-state conservatives' newfound respect for the powers and purse of the federal government is a timely reminder for them. As conservatives in Washington complain about excessive federal spending, the ones who would suffer the most from spending cuts are their own constituents.
An analysis of data from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation by Washington Post database specialist Dan Keating found that people in states that voted Republican were by far the biggest beneficiaries of federal spending. In states that voted strongly Republican, people received an average of $1.50 back from the federal government for every dollar they paid in federal taxes. In moderately Republican states, the amount was $1.19. In moderately Democratic states, people received on average of 99 cents in federal funds for each dollar they paid in taxes. In strongly Democratic states, people got back just 86 cents on the tax dollar.
If Sessions and Shelby succeed in shrinking government, their constituents in Alabama will be some of the biggest losers: They get $1.66 in federal benefits for every $1 they pay in taxes. If Louisiana's Vitter succeeds in shrinking government, his constituents will lose some of the $1.78 in federal benefits they receive for every dollar in taxes they pay. In Mississippi, it's $2.02.
That may explain why, as the oil slick hits the Gulf Coast, lawmakers from the region are willing to swallow their limited-government principles as they dangle federal aid before their constituents. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he would "make sure the federal government is poised to assist in every way necessary." His colleague Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said he is making sure "the federal government is doing all it can" -- even as he added his hope that "industry" would pay.
President Obama tried to remind the government-is-the-enemy crowd of this situation in a speech on Saturday. "Government is the police officers who are protecting our communities, and the servicemen and -women who are defending us abroad," he said. "Government is the roads you drove in on and the speed limits that kept you safe. Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them."
For the moment, some of the conservatives have new appreciation for governmental powers. "We're going to have the oil industry folks, the BP folks, in front of us on the Commerce Committee," Florida's LeMieux vowed in the news conference Monday. "We're going to talk about these drilling issues."
But not before the taxpayer sends some more big-government money down to the small-government politicians of the gulf.
It may have taken an ecological disaster, but the gulf-state conservatives' newfound respect for the powers and purse of the federal government is a timely reminder for them. As conservatives in Washington complain about excessive federal spending, the ones who would suffer the most from spending cuts are their own constituents.
An analysis of data from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation by Washington Post database specialist Dan Keating found that people in states that voted Republican were by far the biggest beneficiaries of federal spending. In states that voted strongly Republican, people received an average of $1.50 back from the federal government for every dollar they paid in federal taxes. In moderately Republican states, the amount was $1.19. In moderately Democratic states, people received on average of 99 cents in federal funds for each dollar they paid in taxes. In strongly Democratic states, people got back just 86 cents on the tax dollar.
If Sessions and Shelby succeed in shrinking government, their constituents in Alabama will be some of the biggest losers: They get $1.66 in federal benefits for every $1 they pay in taxes. If Louisiana's Vitter succeeds in shrinking government, his constituents will lose some of the $1.78 in federal benefits they receive for every dollar in taxes they pay. In Mississippi, it's $2.02.
That may explain why, as the oil slick hits the Gulf Coast, lawmakers from the region are willing to swallow their limited-government principles as they dangle federal aid before their constituents. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said he would "make sure the federal government is poised to assist in every way necessary." His colleague Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) said he is making sure "the federal government is doing all it can" -- even as he added his hope that "industry" would pay.
President Obama tried to remind the government-is-the-enemy crowd of this situation in a speech on Saturday. "Government is the police officers who are protecting our communities, and the servicemen and -women who are defending us abroad," he said. "Government is the roads you drove in on and the speed limits that kept you safe. Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them."
For the moment, some of the conservatives have new appreciation for governmental powers. "We're going to have the oil industry folks, the BP folks, in front of us on the Commerce Committee," Florida's LeMieux vowed in the news conference Monday. "We're going to talk about these drilling issues."
But not before the taxpayer sends some more big-government money down to the small-government politicians of the gulf.


BP says it will pay for Gulf spill's cleanup
Associated Press - By HOLBROOK MOHR and ALLEN G. BREED
May 3, 2010
VENICE, La. — BP PLC said Monday that it will pay for all the cleanup costs from a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that could continue spewing crude for at least another week.
The company posted a fact sheet on its Web site saying it took responsibility for the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill and would pay compensation for legitimate claims for property damage, personal injury and commercial losses.
"We are responsible, not for the accident, but we are responsible for the oil and for dealing with it and cleaning the situation up," chief executive Tony Hayward said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America." He said the equipment that failed on the rig and led to the spill belonged to owner Transocean Ltd., not BP, which operated the rig.
Guy Cantwell, a Transocean spokesman, responded by reading a statement without elaborating.
"We will await all the facts before drawing conclusions and we will not speculate," he said.
Meanwhile, Hayward said chemical dispersants seem to be having a significant impact keeping oil from flowing to the surface, though he did not elaborate.
The update on the dispersants came as BP was preparing a system never tried nearly a mile under water to siphon away the geyser of crude from a blown-out well a mile underwater. However, the plan to lower 74-ton, concrete-and-metal boxes being built to capture the oil and siphon it to a barge waiting at the surface will need at least another six to eight days to get it in place.
Officials also were trying to cap one of the three leaks to make it easier to place the first box on the sea floor.
Crews continued to lay boom in what increasingly feels like a futile effort to slow down the spill, though choppy seas have made that difficult and rendered much of the oil-corraling gear useless.
"I've been in Pensacola and I am very, very concerned about this filth in the Gulf of Mexico," Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said at a fundraiser for his U.S. Senate campaign Sunday night. "It's not a spill, it's a flow. Envision sort of an underground volcano of oil and it keeps spewing over 200,000 gallons every single day, if not more."
Fishermen from the mouth of the Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle got the news that more than 6,800 square miles of federal fishing areas were closed, fracturing their livelihood for at least 10 days and likely more just as the prime spring season was kicking in. The slick also was precariously close to a key shipping lane that feeds goods and materials to the interior of the U.S. by the Mississippi River.
Even if the well is shut off in a week, fishermen and wildlife officials wonder how long it will take for the Gulf to recover. Some compare it to Hurricane Katrina, which Louisiana is still recovering from after nearly five years.
"My kids will be talking about the effect of this when they're my age," said 41-year-old Venice charter boat captain Bob Kenney.
Everything engineers have tried so far has failed. After the April 20 oil rig explosion, which killed 11 people, the flow of oil should have been stopped by a blowout preventer, but the mechanism failed. Efforts to remotely activate it have proven fruitless.
The oil could keep gushing for months until a second well can be dug to relieve pressure from the first.
Besides the immediate impact on Gulf industries, shipping along the Mississippi River could soon be limited. Ships carrying food, oil, rubber and much more come through the Southwest Pass to enter the vital waterway.
Shipment delays — either because oil-splattered ships need to be cleaned off at sea before docking or because water lanes are shut down for a time — would raise the cost of transporting those goods.
"We saw that during Hurricane Katrina for a period of time — we saw some prices go up for food and other goods because they couldn't move some fruit down the shipping channels and it got spoiled," PFGBest analyst Phil Flynn said.
The Port of New Orleans said projections suggest the pass will be clear through Tuesday.
President Barack Obama toured the region Sunday, deflecting criticism that his administration was too slow to respond and did too little to stave off the catastrophe.
A piece of plywood along a Louisiana highway had these words painted on it: "OBAMA SEND HELP!!!!"
The blessing of the boats is normally a joyous kickoff to the spring fishing season in St. Bernard Parish. But this year, it had more the air of a funeral.
Some years, as many as 200 craft, most of them working boats, lined up at the Gulf Outlet Marina to be sprinkled with holy water by a priest. On Sunday, only four boats floated by — and not one a commercial vessel.
Capt. Doogie Robin, 84, sat at a bar, sipping a Budweiser from the jaws of an alligator-head beer cozy. He runs eight oyster boats.
"Katrina really hit us hard," he said. "And this here, I think this is going to finish us now. I think this will wipe us off the map."
The Coast Guard and BP have said it's nearly impossible to know exactly how much oil has gushed since the blast, though it has been roughly estimated to be at least 200,000 gallons a day.
At that rate, it would eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill — which dumped 11 million gallons off the Alaska coast — as the worst U.S. oil disaster in history in a matter of weeks.
Even if the oil stays mostly offshore, the consequences could be dire for sea turtles, dolphins and other deepwater marine life — and microscopic plankton and tiny creatures that are a staple of larger animals' diets.
Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss., said at least 20 dead sea turtles were found on the state's beaches. He said it's too soon to say whether oil contamination killed them but that it is unusual to have them turning up across such a wide stretch of coast, nearly 30 miles.
Some experts also have said oil could get into the Gulf Stream and flow to the beaches of Florida — and potentially whip around the state's southern tip and up the Eastern Seaboard. Tourist-magnet beaches and countless wildlife could be ruined.
Obama has halted any new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent another disaster.
The containment boxes being built were not part of BP's original response plan. The approach has been used previously only for spills in relatively shallow water. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said engineers are still examining whether the valves and other systems that feed oil to a ship on the surface can withstand the extra pressures of the deep.
BP was trying to cap the smallest of three leaks with underwater robots in the hope it will make it easier to place a single oil-siphoning container over the wreck. One of the robots cut the damaged end off a pipe at the smallest leak Sunday and officials were hoping to cap it with a sleeve and valve, Coast Guard spokesman Brandon Blackwell said Monday. He did not know how much oil was coming from that leak.
"We see this as an opportunity to simplify the seafloor mission a little bit, so we're working this aggressively," BP spokesman Steve Rinehart said.
BP has not said how much oil is beneath the seabed the Deepwater Horizon rig was tapping when it exploded. A company official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the volume of reserves, confirmed reports that it was tens of millions of barrels. Bob Fryar, senior vice president for BP in Angola, said any numbers being thrown out are just estimates at best.
Peter Young has worked nearly 18 years as a fishing guide and said he's afraid his way of life may be slipping away. The government has overreacted by shutting down vital fishing areas in the marshes, he said.
Until he sees oil himself, Young will keep fishing the closed areas.
"They can take me to jail," he said. "This is our livelihood. I'm not going to take customers into oil, but until I see it, I can't sit home and not work."
Associated Press writers Harry R. Weber, Jay Reeves, Mike Graczyk, Tamara Lush, Brian Skoloff, Melissa Nelson, Mary Foster, Chris Kahn, Vicki Smith, John Flesher, Holbrook Mohr and AP Photographer Dave Martin contributed to this report.


Obama fears disaster in the Gulf
PrimeBuzz - from msnbc
May 3, 2010
BP says it will pay for Gulf spill's cleanup
VENICE, La. - President Barack Obama toured the staging area for response efforts to the Gulf Coast oil spill on Sunday, afterwards saying "we're dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster."
Mindful of the political damage suffered by President George W. Bush for a slow response after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the same region, Obama defended his administration's actions, saying it had been preparing for the worst from "day one" even as it had "hoped for the best."
The president vowed that the administration, while doing all it could to mitigate the environmental and economic disaster, would require well-owner BP America to bear all costs.
"BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill," Obama, with rain dripping from his face, said in Venice, a Gulf Coast community serving as a staging area for the response.
Earlier Sunday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a much wider area — from Louisiana to parts of the Florida Panhandle — would be closed to commercial and recreational fishing for at least 10 days.
Scientists were sampling the waters, and the federal government said all seafood harvested so far appeared safe.
And Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told NBC that the potential environmental outlook is "a very grave scenario."
"A lot of oil could spread" since stopping the three leaks from the rig that blew up and then sank nearly two weeks ago could take three months, he told NBC's "Meet the Press".
BP, which operates the well, was more optimistic, telling NBC's "TODAY" show on Sunday that a temporary fix — domes that will be placed over the leaks until they can be cut off — was nearly ready to be deployed. The domes will have piping to send the spewing crude up to tankers for collection.
"We're forecasting (it) to be complete in eight to ten days," Doug Suttles, BP's chief for exploration and production, said of the first dome.
There has been little success stemming the flow from the ruptured well on the sea floor by skimming the oil, burning it or dispersing it with chemicals.
Long tendrils of oil sheen made their way into South Pass, a major channel through the salt marshes of Louisiana's southeastern bootheel that is a breeding ground for crab, oysters, shrimp, redfish and other seafood.
Adding to the gloomy outlook were warnings from experts that an uncontrolled gusher could create a nightmare scenario if the Gulf Stream current carries it toward the Atlantic.
There is growing criticism that the government and oil company BP PLC should have done more to stave off the disaster, which cast a pall over the region's economy and fragile environment.
Venice charter boat captain Bob Kenney lamented that there was no boom in the water to corral the oil, and said BP was "pretty much over their head in the deep water." 
"It's like a slow version of Katrina," he added. "My kids will be talking about the effect of this when they're my age."
Weather conditions were not helping. "We're going to have some pretty strong storms. These are just the worst conditions. When you have seas like that, you can hardly get the boats out, and the winds affect the aircraft," said Ken Graham, head of the National Weather Service office in New Orleans.
Critical questions lingered: Who created the conditions that caused the gusher? Did BP and the government react robustly enough in its early days? And, most important, how can it be stopped before the damage gets worse?
BP is having three domes built — each weighing 74 tons and made of metal and concrete. Each will be 40 feet tall, 24 feet wide and 14 feet deep.
Whether that will work for a leak 5,000 feet below the surface is anyone's guess; the method has previously worked only in shallower waters.
Company spokesman Bill Salvin said Sunday that the first of three domes is nearly done. It's being built in Port Fourchon, La., by a company called Wild Well Control. Another spokesman, Steve Rinehart, said the oil will flow into the chamber and then be sucked through a tube into a tanker ship at the surface. BP did not build the containment devices before the spill because it "seemed inconceivable" the blowout preventer on the rig would fail, Rinehart said. The blowout preventer typically activates after a blast or other event to cut off any oil that may spill. "I don't think anybody foresaw the circumstance that we're faced with now," he said. "The blowout preventer was the main line of defense against this type of incident, and it failed."
The April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon exploration rig killed 11 workers and the subsequent flow of oil threatens beaches, fragile marshes and marine mammals, along with fishing grounds that are among the world's most productive.
The Coast Guard conceded Saturday that it's nearly impossible to know how much oil has gushed since the blast, after saying earlier it was at least 1.6 million gallons — equivalent to about 2½ Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Even at that rate, the spill should eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident as the worst U.S. oil disaster in history in a matter of weeks. But a growing number of experts warned that the situation may already be much worse.
The oil slick over the water's surface appeared to triple in size over the past two days, which could indicate an increase in the rate that oil is spewing from the well, according to one analysis of images collected from satellites and reviewed by the University of Miami. While it's hard to judge the volume of oil by satellite because of depth, images do indicate growth, experts said.
"The spill and the spreading is getting so much faster and expanding much quicker than they estimated," said Hans Graber, head of the university's Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing. "Clearly, in the last couple of days, there was a big change in the size."

In an exploration plan and environmental impact analysis filed with the federal government in February 2009, BP said it had the capability to handle a "worst-case scenario" at the site, which the document described as a leak of 162,000 barrels per day from an uncontrolled blowout — 6.8 million gallons each day.
Oil industry experts and officials are reluctant to describe what, exactly, a worst-case scenario would look like — but if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream and carries it to the beaches of Florida, it stands to be an environmental and economic disaster of epic proportions.
The well is at the end of one branch of the Gulf Stream, the warm-water current that flows from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Atlantic. Several experts said that if the oil enters the stream, it would flow around the southern tip of Florida and up the eastern seaboard.
"It will be on the East Coast of Florida in almost no time," Graber said. "I don't think we can prevent that. It's more of a question of when rather than if."
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, appointed Saturday by Obama to lead the government's response, said no one could pinpoint how much oil is leaking because it is about a mile underwater.
"And, in fact, any exact estimation of what's flowing out of those pipes down there is probably impossible at this time due to the depth of the water and our ability to try and assess that from remotely operated vehicles and video," Allen said during a conference call.
Allen said a Friday test of new technology to reduce the amount of oil rising to the surface seemed to be successful. An underwater robot shot a chemical meant to break down the oil at the site of the leak rather than spraying it on the surface from boats or planes, where the compound can miss the oil slick.


Adding insult to estuary; What's next for the St. Lucie? Algae? Lesioned fish?
TCPalm – by Ed Killer
May 2, 2010
First of all, I finally received one e-mail suggesting I give the Army Corps of Engineers a break.
From a good guy, too. Made good points.
But I can’t lay off the Corps now. Naw, I’m just getting started.
Unfortunately, from the Corps’ latest press release, they are, too.
In case you missed it, the lake is full. Water cannot be stored north of the lake, south of the lake or in the lake. The only place it can be sent is east and west.
For the west, maybe it will help push off the oil spill. For us in the east, brace yourself. Instead of 475 cubic feet per second, it will now be 1,800 cfs, beginning Monday and running until they don’t need to run it anymore. Or until the entire St. Lucie River Estuary becomes a steamy cesspool of anaerobic inorganic suffocating brown fluffy flocculent ooze.
Makes your mouth water, doesn’t it? It should make your eyes water. Get it on your skin or ingest it and it will make your mouth and eyes foam.
Look out for the next thing to decorate our waterways. In 2005 it was a bright fluorescent green algae. Covered the entire river in some spots.
In 1998, it was fish with open runny sores and rotting fins and tails.
What could it be this year? Could the river catch fire? Could it dissolve fiberglass? That might be the answer to our derelict boat problem.
We already had dead fish floating once this year, but that was due to the cold weather. Could this deluge of unwanted stormwater runoff from as far away as Orlando wipe out the rest of our recovering snook population?
Folks here need to remember what our government is doing to us. This is what happened in 1998 — the Summer of the Lesioned Fish. That’s when Stuart temporarily took down its “Sailfish Capital of the World” signs and erected “Lesioned Snook Capital of the World” signs.
Put that on the Convention and Visitors’ Bureau website. The entire process is an outrage. Our community should be bending our iPhones (no one has plowshares anymore) into swords and marching to wherever we can march to get results. Tallahassee? Capitol Hill? The White House? Gun Club Road (South Florida Water Management District headquarters)?
Do one thing in the next week. Pack up the family in the hybrid minivan and trek out to the St. Lucie Lock and Dam. It’s at the end of Locks Road off Kanner Highway in western Stuart.
See what it looks like with your own eyes. Take photos and post them to your Facey-space pages and Tweester followers.
Then go home and write a letter to your congressman, senator and president and demand he do something or you will vote for his challenger.
The Board of Commissioners for Martin County can no longer be accused of standing pat on the issue of damaging discharges.
In a letter dated April 26 and addressed to Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District Commander Col. Alfred Pantano, the county uses strong language to demand the halt of the water coming out of the lake.
The closing line: “The citizens of Martin County are angry and vocal over the repeated insult to our estuary caused by these releases and the lack of federal and state initiatives to address this issue.”
I loved the letter. Now this county has to find a stronger way to send the message that this will not be tolerated.
Monday’s rain was not good for the St. Lucie River. Water poured through the flood gates at the St. Lucie Lock and Dam in Tropical Farms. There was one change with from where the water came.
Because 4-6 inches of rain fell in the western Martin county and St. Lucie county watersheds, some 4.97 billion gallons of our OWN runoff ran through the S-80 water control structure at the St. Lucie Lock.
Large amounts also flowed through the C-23, C-24 and Gordy Road structure on the St. Lucie’s North Fork, not to mention from all urban areas.
It makes an impact. A big one.
Since March 27, 13.8 billion gallons of water have gone to sea through the St. Lucie from Lake Okeechobee. A relatively low 1.5 billion of that was between Friday and April 23.
Including the Caloosahatchee River, the grand total to tide has been nearly 60 billion gallons just from the lake.
Again, if Ponce DeLeon never found Florida, the amount that would have made it into the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean at Fort Myers and Stuart, respectively, would have been almost zero gallons. (Make that zero to Stuart, a seasonal trickle to Fort Myers).
The pulse releases are scheduled to end Tuesday. Instead, due to the dire circumstances facing the Herbert Hoover Dike, the releases will be ratcheted up four times their present volume beginning Monday.
Ed Killer is a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects his opinion. For more on Outdoors and Fishing topics, follow his blog at Contact him at (772) 221-4201 or


Best case: Another week of unabated oil geyser
The Associated Press - by RAY HENRY
Atlanta Business News 6:46 p.m. Sunday, May 2, 2010
VENICE, La. — Federal officials shut down fishing from the Mississippi River to the Florida Panhandle on Sunday because of the uncontrolled gusher spewing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and the environmental disaster is still expected to take at least a week to cut off.
Even that toxic scenario may be too rosy because it depends on a low-tech strategy that has never been attempted before in deep water.
The plan: to lower 74-ton, concrete-and-metal boxes into the gulf to capture the oil and siphon it to a barge waiting at the surface. Whether that will work for a leak 5,000 feet below the surface is anyone's guess; the method has previously worked only in shallower waters.
If it doesn't, and efforts to activate a shutoff mechanism called a blowout preventer continue to prove fruitless, the oil probably will keep gushing for months until a second well can be dug to cut off the first. Oil giant BP PLC's latest plan will take six to eight days because welders have to assemble the boxes.
President Barack Obama toured the region Sunday, deflecting criticism that his administation was too slow to respond and did too little to stave off the catastrophe.
Satellite images indicate the rust-hued slick tripled in size in just two days, suggesting the oil could be pouring out faster than before. Wildlife including sea turtles have been found dead on the shore but it is too soon whether the spill, caused by a April 20 oil rig explosion, was to blame.
Even if the well is shut off in a week, fishermen and wildlife officials wonder how long it will take for the gulf to recover. Some compare it to the hurricane Louisiana is still recovering from after nearly five years.
"It's like a slow version of Katrina," Venice charter boat captain Bob Kenney said. "My kids will be talking about the effect of this when they're my age."
More than 6,800 square miles of fishing areas, from the mouth of the Mississippi to Florida's Pensacola Bay were closed for at least 10 days on Sunday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco says government scientists are taking samples from the waters near the spill to determine whether there is any danger.
Fishermen still were out working, however: They have been dropping miles of inflatable, oil-capturing boom around the region's fragile wetlands and prime fishing areas. Bad weather, however, was thwarting much of the work; Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said 80 percent of the booms laid down off his state over the previous three days had broken down.
The Coast Guard and BP have said it's nearly impossible to know exactly how much oil has gushed since the blast, though it has been roughly estimated the well was spewing at least 200,000 gallons a day.
At that rate, the spill would eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident as the worst U.S. oil disaster in history in a matter of weeks.
"None of us have ever had experience at this level before. It ain't good," said Bob Love, coastal and nongame resources administrator with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. "The longer it goes, the more fish and wildlife impacts there will be."
Even if the oil stays mostly offshore, the consequences could be dire for sea turtles, dolphins and other deepwater marine life — and microscopic plankton and tiny creatures that are a staple of larger animals' diets.
In Pass Christian, Miss., 61-year-old Jimmy Rowell, a third-generation shrimp and oyster fisherman, worked on his boat at the harbor and stared out at the choppy waters.
"It's over for us. If this oil comes ashore, it's just over for us," Rowell said angrily, rubbing his forehead. "Nobody wants no oily shrimp."
Moby Solangi, director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport, Miss., said 10 to 12 dead sea turtles were found on the state's beaches. He said it's too soon to say whether oil is a factor but that it is unusual to have them turning up across such a wide stretch of coast.
None of the turtles have oil on them, but Solangi said they could have ingested oily fish or breathed in oil on the surface. Necropsies will be performed Monday.
The situation could become even more grave if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream and flows to the beaches of Florida — and potentially whips around the state's southern tip and up the Eastern Seaboard. Tourist-magnet beaches and countless wildlife could be ruined.
Obama has halted any new offshore drilling projects unless rigs have new safeguards to prevent another disaster. On Sunday he called the spill a "massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster," and made clear that he was not accepting blame.
"BP is responsible for this leak. BP will be paying the bill," he said, rain dripping from his face in Venice, a Gulf Coast community serving as a staging area for the response.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said any comparison between the ruptured BP oil well and Katrina was "a total mischaracterization" and that the government has taken an "all hands on deck" approach.
After the oil rig explosion, which killed 11 people, the flow of oil should have been stopped by a blowout preventer, but the mechanism failed, as have continuing efforts to activate it.
"As you can imagine, this is like doing open-heart surgery at 5,000 feet, with — in the dark, with robot-controlled submarines," BP PLC Chairman Lamar McKay said on ABC's "This Week." He defended his company's safety record.
The containment boxes being built to stop the leak — 40 feet tall, 24 feet wide and 14 feet deep — were not part of the company's original response plan. But they appear to be the best hope for keeping the oil well from gushing for months.
The approach has been used previously only for spills in relatively shallow water. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said engineers are still examining whether the valves and other systems that feed oil to a ship on the surface can withstand the extra pressures of the deep.
"This is a completely new way of dealing with this problem," said Greg Pollock, commissioner of the oil spill prevention and response program at the Texas General Land Office. "Generally speaking, nobody's ever tried anything like this on this scale."
If the boxes don't work, BP also has begun work on its only other backup plan: a relief well that will take as long as three months to drill.
BP has not said how much oil is beneath the seabed the Deepwater Horizon rig was tapping when it exploded. A company official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the volume of reserves, confirmed reports that it was tens of millions of barrels. The rig was operated by BP and owned by Transocean Ltd.
Teams working to contain the spill have had limited success using airplanes to drop chemical dispersants meant to break up the oil, and rough seas have prevented ships from skimming crude from the surface.
In Alabama, National Guard soldiers arrived on the state's Dauphin Island to build a berm of sand-filled containers meant to buffer part of the island against the slick.
However, the oil on the surface is just part of the problem. There could be far more oil unseen below the surface. And the pipe sprouting from the well could completely collapse — leading to an even more devastating gusher.
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush, Brian Skoloff, Melissa Nelson, Mary Foster, Chris Kahn, Vicki Smith, John Flesher, Holbrook Mohr and AP Photographer Dave Martin contributed to this report.


Oil Options Weighed as Obama Travels to Gulf
May 2, 2010
NEW ORLEANS — As President Obama traveled to Louisiana on Sunday for a first-hand briefing on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, federal officials in Washington said they were putting their hopes on drilling a parallel relief well to plug the unabated gusher. Drilling such a well could take three months.
 “The scenario is a very grave scenario,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said on the NBC news program “Meet the Press.” “You’re looking at potentially 90 days before you get to the ultimate solution, which is drilling a relief well 3 1/2 miles below the ocean floor. In that time, lots of oil could spread.”
After arriving in New Orleans by midday, President Obama was expected to travel by helicopter to Venice, La., for a briefing with Coast Guard officials.
The slick, emanating from a pipe 50 miles offshore, was creeping into Louisiana’s fragile coastal wetlands as strong winds and rough waters hampered cleanup efforts. Oil could hit the shores of Alabama and Mississippi on Monday.
The spill was set off by an explosion on April 20 at the Deepwater Horizon rig in which 11 workers were killed. Two days later, the rig sank leading to the first visible signs of a spill.
The objective of drilling a relief well parallel to the original rig would be to pour cement into the damaged well and plug it. Efforts to turn off the ruptured well by using remotely operated underwater vehicles working a mile below the surface have failed so far.
The president and chairman of BP America, Lamar McKay, told ABC’s “This Week” program on Sunday that another possible solution — placing a dome over the damaged well, effectively capping it — could be deployed in six to eight days. He defended his company’s response as “extremely aggressive,” but he acknowledged that fail-safe mechanisms on the rig that were designed to prevent an oil spill had not worked as predicted and that a “failed piece of equipment” was to blame for the spill.
Janet Napolitano, homeland security secretary, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” said the Obama administration had organized an “all-hands-on-deck” response to the spill, which occurred just weeks after Mr. Obama announced plans to open additional areas for offshore oil drilling. That offshore decision, criticized by some environmental groups, has been placed on hold pending a re-evaluation after the Gulf Coast spill.
Meanwhile, The Associated Press reported that offshoots from the spill had made their way into South Pass, an important channel through the salt marshes of Southeastern Louisiana that is a breeding ground for crabs oysters, shrimp and redfish sold by a number of small seafood businesses dependent on healthy marshland for their livelihood.
“This is the very first sign of oil I’ve heard of inside South Pass,” Bob Kenney, a charter boat captain in Venice, told the AP. “It’s crushing, man, it’s crushing.”
The worst oil spill in American history is considered to be the rupture in the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, Calif., which in 1989 spewed 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska, though larger spills have occurred outside American waters. The Valdez spill killed hundreds of thousands of seabirds as well as sea otters, seals, bald eagles and a few orca whales.
Seabirds and fish are also endangered by the Deepwater Horizon spill as well as the coastal marshes that foster the growth of scores of species of wildlife.
There was concern that if the spill is not plugged, oil could seep into the Gulf Stream, the current that warms seawater and influences the climate in places as remote as Newfoundland and Europe. If that happens, slicks of oil could travel around the thumb-like tip of Florida and make it way to the eastern beaches.
“It will be on the East Coast of Florida in almost no time,” Hans Graber, executive director of the University of Miami’s Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing, told The Associated Press. “I don’t think we can prevent that. It’s more of a question of when rather than if.”
Officials in charge of the cleanup have also been speaking hopefully of a new technique to break down the oil nearer the wellhead: the distribution of chemical dispersants. The new approach would use these dispersants underwater, near the source of the leaks. In two tests the method appeared to keep crude oil from rising to the surface.
At least 600,000 feet of surface containment booms have been deployed or will soon be deployed, according to Doug Helton, a fisheries biologist who coordinates responses to spills for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But he acknowledged that was not enough to cover the shoreline.
Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, said Saturday that that capping the well was the priority.
“Estimates are useful, but we are planning far beyond that,” he said. It doesn’t really matter, the admiral said, whether it is 1,000 barrels or 5,000 barrels a day that are leaking.
Asked whether the slick was affecting shipping lanes and other offshore drilling operations, Admiral Allen said that disruptions had been minimal.
The tenor on shore among local residents was increasingly angry, with criticism directed at federal officials, who they said should have responded more quickly after the rig exploded April 20. Some said that not enough booms had been placed in the area, and fishermen noted the growing public concern over contaminated seafood, though they said such worries were premature.
Six of the 32 oyster beds on the east side of the Mississippi River have been closed, and the oil was still 70 or 80 miles away, according to Mike Voisin, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.
“We want people to know there is not tainted seafood right now,” said Harlon Pearce, chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board and owner of Harlon’s LA Fish. “Everything we’re doing is precautionary.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said at a news conference that he would meet soon with leaders from coastal parishes to develop local contingency plans. He called on BP, the company responsible for the cleanup, to pay for the plans and for the Coast Guard to approve them, arguing that local officials’ perspectives would prove crucial in the emergency response.
“This isn’t just about our coast, it’s about our way of life in Louisiana,” Mr. Jindal said.


U.S. oil spill could bill could exceed $14 billion
REUTERS - By Tom Bergin
Clean up costs estimated at $1 bln to $7 bln
* Damages could top $5.5 billion
* Fines, punitive damages also possible
* BP has no outside insurance for costs
LONDON, May 2 (Reuters) - The total bill related to the oil spill drifting toward Louisiana from a well operated by BP Plc in the Gulf of Mexico, could exceed $14 billion, analysts said.
Since an explosion almost two weeks ago on the Deepwater Horizon rig, a disaster scenario has emerged with hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil spewing unchecked into the Gulf and moving inexorably northward to the coast. The responsibility for the cleanup operation lies with the owners of the well, led by 65 percent shareholder, London-based oil company BP Plc (BP.L).
BP said last week that it was spending $6 million a day on the clean up but admitted this figure would rise sharply when the slick hits land.
Neither the company or its 25 percent partner, explorer Anadarko Petroleum (APC.N), have put an estimate on total costs, although BP CEO Tony Hayward told Reuters in an interview on Friday that he would pay all legitimate claims for damages.
The final bill for cleaning up the spill could be $7 billion, Neil McMahon, analyst at investment firm Bernstein said.
Analysts at Morgan Stanley put the figure at $3.5 billion, while analysts at Citigroup, Evolution Securities and Panmure Gordon put cleanup costs at under $1.1 billion.
Compensation that must be paid to those impacted by the slick could also amount to billions of dollars.
The cost to the fishing industry in Louisiana could be $2.5 billion, while the Florida tourism industry could lose $3 billion, Bernstein predicted.
BP will also have to spend $100 million to drill a relief well to try and stem the flow of the well, while the loss of the Deepwater Horizon well represents a hit of around $1 billion for its owner, Swizz-based drilling specialist Transocean (RIG.N).
Eleven workers are missing, presumed dead, following the rig explosion and compensation will have to be made to their families.
BP was forced to pay out $2 billion in compensation after 15 workers died in an explosion at its Texas City refinery in 2005, although Peter Hitchens at Panmure said it was likely liabilities related to the rig would be Transocean's responsibility.
BP and its partners in the oil block where the leaking well is located will have to cover the cleanup costs and damages on a basis proportionate to their shareholdings, which will leave BP with 65 percent of the bill.
The company self-insures through its own insurance company, named Jupiter. Contrary to press reports, Jupiter does not lay off risks onto reinsurers or syndicates at Lloyds of London, a spokesman said on Sunday.
Hence, BP will end up paying any costs out of its own pocket.
However, it is possible BP and Anadarko could seek to reclaim any damages from Transocean, the manufacturer of the well head equipment, which has been blamed for the accident or companies involved in maintaining the drilling machinery.
The oil is leaking because a shut-off valve that should automatically kick in when a problem occurs, has not functioned.
The valve, known as a blow-out preventer, was supplied by Cameron International Corp (CAM.N) and operated, as an integral part of Transocean's rig.
Oil services provider Halliburton (HAL.N) said it performed a variety of work on the rig.
If BP could prove that Halliburton or Cameron did something wrong, they could lay part of the blame on them, Mike Breard, an energy analyst with Hodges Capital Management in Dallas said last week.
Shares in BP have fallen around 13 percent since the accident, wiping out $20 billion of the company's market value.
Shares in Anadarko, Transocean, Cameron and Halliburton have also been hit.
If regulators find any wrongdoing or incompetence on the part of the companies involved, it could levy fines, although analysts said that going by previous fines, these would likely be in the range of tens of millions -- immaterial to the total bill.
In such a situation, the courts could also award punitive damages.
Exxon Mobil was hit with $5 billion in punitive damages after the its tanker Valdez leaked 258,000 barrels of heavy crude into Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989. The award was based on the fact Exxon had not taken due care when it employed a man with a drinking problem to skipper its tanker.
However, the damages against it were subsequently reduced to around $500 million on appeal.
All analysts agreed that the final bill for the Deepwater Horizon incident will depend on how much damage is caused.
Bernstein said the experience from the first Gulf War in 1991 suggested the damage across Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida could be less than many expect because of the warm water in the area.
"The Iraqi army opened valves on the Sea Island terminal, dumping up to 450 million gallons (around 11 million barrels) of crude into the sea in order to obstruct a potential landing by coalition forces," McMahon said in a research note.
"While the magnitude of the spill was vastly greater than the Exxon Valdez, it actually did relatively little long-term damage, as it dispersed in the warm waters," he added. (Reporting by Tom Bergin, editing by Bernard Orr)


EPA Looking Into New Water Quality Regulations
May 1, 2010
TAMPA -- The Environmental Protection Agency is looking to expose some tough new quality standards for Florida water, which doesn't sit well with some agricultural leaders.
Fertilizer helps newly planted orange trees in Lake Wales grow up healthier, but chemicals can end up in the water as a result.
The EPA is planning new rules to lower how much nitrogen and phosphorus is allowed to run into Florida's streams, canals, and lakes.
However, citrus growers like Vic Story say they are worried, because a new state agriculture department study finds that complying with the rules could cost Florida farmers billions of dollars.
"I guess a lot of us feel like the EPA is in our business when they don't need to be," says Story.
Story says growers are already cutting back on fertilizer by using high tech sprayers, and that he has testified to that at EPA hearings.
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"I feel like we're doing a good job of being stewards of the land and water," says Story.
But some environmentalists, like John Ryan with the Polk Sierra Club, says the EPA rules wouldn't really be as bad as folks in the agriculture industry think.
"There's going to be some additional costs," says Ryan. "I'm not suggesting there won't... The costs of implementing the program are dramatically overblown."
The EPA is still taking testimony on the proposed rules for Florida.


Florida should nix offshore drilling – by Larry Arnette
May 1, 2010
It's too early to say exactly just how much damage will be done to the Gulf Coast since the oil rig explosion has doused an area the size of Vermont (it used to be Delaware) with a tsunami of oil. That mess will be worsened by high winds and turbulent waves which makes it impossible to use booms to protect the coast and wetlands surrounding Louisiana. The extent of damage to other areas of the Gulf Coast  remains to be seen, but this will spread. This area, ranging from Texas to the Florida panhandle accounts for 90% of Gulf area seafood production.
Many in the Florida tourism industry who were never crazy about the idea of placing oil rigs off the state's coast, are now anxiously opposed and are seeking state officials attention and support in making sure that never happens. I don't blame them. Just watch, listen and read of the many accounts of people who lost  a business to Hurricaine Katrina, only to bounce back and were or are, in the process of regaining the ability to again make money in this area. They were wiped out by an act of God, only to be revisited by another disaster, this time by a man-made source. One man, interviewed by MSNBC, is in the process of rebuilding a marina. The water surrounding him may be days away from being inundated with oil sludge. He said, "he ran out of tears long ago", but just watching the potential ruin of a man fighting his way back to solvency was enough to make a viewer tear-up.
There may be, depending on wind direction, a possibility of oil-soaked water reaching the Florida panhandle within a week. The Florida coast is only about 400 miles from the oil spill. The amount of oil being spewed has increased to 100,000 gallons a day. Parts of Florida, like Louisiana, are dotted with wetlands and an ecosystem that is quite fragile. Oil soaked birds have been plucked from the Louisiana area already and here in Florida (& Texas as well as other Gulf Coast areas), the sea turtle nesting season has begun. These turtles make their way from the surf to locations on the beach to lay their eggs. Floridians are very protective of this process and go to lengths to make sure the turtles are not disturbed: locals and officials alike take steps like putting tape around an area where turtle eggs have been laid, and lights near beach areas are dimmed so as not to disturb the process.
It is this fragile ecosystem and all it represents that may be wiped out from such a disaster. It just looks, to me, like a coming catastrophe. There are crabs, lobster, shrimp, dolphins, whales and countless species of life within this environment that covers the Gulf area that stands to be destroyed. On a different level, the human toll in regards to those who lose their livelihood (from fishing and tourism) could be equally devastating. Florida cannot afford to lose an area to a crisis like this. The results stay and linger for years to come. Should that happen, many coastal cities could become ghost towns. The ripple effect to related industries that count on making a profit from being a coastal community, is incalculable. The coming hurricaine season could take this crisis to a new level should anything happen in the affected area.
The days of any oil drilling are far off for Florida. There are many steps that go into any major decision like this, not to mention the logistics of building and placing an offshore oil rig. This oil spill certainly gums of the works. The timing of this tragedy is amazing: so many Katrina victims who made their living from the Gulf were just getting back to work; President Obama made a recent decision to lift previous bans on oil drilling off the coasts of Virginia, the Carolinas and Florida; the hurricaine season begins in one month. If timing is everything, this disaster couldn't have been worse for so many, yet it may have come in time to to save other coastal regions from suffering a similar fate. All it takes is one accident to spoil a vast environment and a community. The trouble with a man-made mistake of this proportion, is it gets immersed into the environment which man has little control over. There aren't enough booms, national guard, chemical treatments, and other resolutions to protect an ecosystem: just ask those who lost their livelihood from the Exxon Valdez fiasco. They never even collected all the money originally judged to go to them as that amount was reduced on appeal. This tragedy now unfolding off the Gulf Coast has yet to be fully appreciated because it's damage continues to slowly seep towards a destination. I cannot imagine what it's like to have to sit and wait for the inevitable. My gut tells me this will get worse as time goes on. Hopefully, Florida can dodge a bullet. Future damage can be avoided by keeping oil rigs away from the Florida coast. After what is being played out off  Louisiana, I'd say it's time to advance on nuclear energy. If France can do it, so can we. I never thought I'd say that about a nuke plant, but I think it is time.


Machines and microbes will clean up oil
CNN-News - by Jim Kavanagh
May 1, 2010
 (CNN) -- There's no way to stop oily water from reaching land along the Gulf Coast, but experts will use tools both massive and microscopic to clean it up.
Oil-soaked sand on beaches in the eastern Gulf Coast can be scooped up with heavy equipment, but the grassy marshes in the Mississippi Delta can't be handled that way, said Ralph Portier, a professor of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University.
Along the Louisiana and Mississippi coast, "you're talking about a sea of grass, if you will," similar to the Florida Everglades, Portier said. "When it gets oiled, if you try and remove some of this stuff, you're going to do more damage than good.
"In Gulf Shores, Alabama, and Destin, Florida, you can do that, but not here in what we like to call the Redneck Riviera," the southern Louisiana native said.
Tides, wind and rain will drive the oil deeper into the marsh, down into the vegetative mat, making it impossible for humans to go in and clean manually, he said. But once the flow of oil is stopped -- and no one knows when that will be -- scientists will spread fertilizer to boost several species of microscopic plants that degrade hydrocarbons such as oil.
In areas of especially heavy oiling, millions more of these microbes, grown in laboratories, could be brought in as reinforcements, Portier said. In warm spring and summer weather, the light, sweet crude "will degrade in weeks to months," he said.
Asphalt-like balls of petroleum embedded in the marshes "will be a little more complicated," he said.
"The microbial community will have to bite off little pieces and degrade them a bit at a time," he said.
There is no environmental concern with the technique because the microbes are not toxic and are native to the area, with different species thriving in fresh, brackish and salt water, Portier added.
"The question is what that long time frame will do to those plant species and what that will mean for habitat for seafood and migratory birds," he said. "Picture if the Everglades were being oiled, what a national tragedy that would be. And this area is even more fragile and productive."
The Gulf Coast is home to vast numbers of birds, animals and fish that need to be protected, said Tom MacKenzie of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Endangered sea turtles are due to come in to shore soon and lay eggs in the coastal sand.
"A whole generation could be affected," MacKenzie said.
Floating booms to block oil from coming in cannot protect the entire coast, he said, so crews are prioritizing sensitive wildlife areas, including nesting grounds for pelicans and butterfly migration areas.
"This has the potential to be truly devastating," he said.
The oil spill response team has recovered 23,968 barrels (1,006,656 gallons) of an oil-water mix, according to the Deepwater Horizon Joint Information Center. Nearly 70 boats, including skimmers, tugs, barges and recovery vessels, are being used to deploy booms and chemical dispersant, which makes the oil evaporate more readily.
Another powerful tool being used to fight the oil slick is the Mississippi River itself, Portier said.
Engineers opened floodgates on Friday to divert Mississippi water through parts of the marshlands. The force of the river water flowing toward the Gulf will help push back against the oily seawater, and later it will help flush the contamination out of the grasslands, he said.
The damage to the crawfish, shrimp and oyster populations -- and the economy that relies on them -- could be severe, Portier said. Scientists can help rebuild the aquatic species, but many businesses could be ruined by then, he said.
"This whole economic fabric could be ripped, and that in turn will affect the cultural fabric" of the Delta region, he said. Still, Portier remains optimistic.
"All of us Cajuns are tragically hopeful," he said. "My ancestors -- if you can survive yellow fever and all the other things that happened growing up in the swamps and bayous of southern Louisiana, you'd better have a smile on your face, because that's about all you have some days."


Nightmare scenario feared if massive oil spill enters the Gulf Stream
The Associated Press
May 1, 2010
VENICE, La. | A sense of doom settled over the American coastline from V Louisiana to Florida on Saturday as the massive oil slick spewing from a ruptured well continued to grow.
Experts warned that the uncontrolled gusher could create a nightmare scenario if the Gulf Stream carries it toward the Atlantic.
President Barack Obama planned to visit the region today to assess the situation amid growing criticism that the government and the oil company BP PLC should have done more to avert the disaster. Meanwhile, efforts to stem the flow and remove oil from the surface by skimming it, burning it or spiking it with chemicals to disperse it continued with little success.
“These people, we’ve been beaten down, disaster after disaster,” said Matt O’Brien of Venice, whose fledgling wholesale shrimp dock business is under threat from the spill.
“They’ve all got a long stare in their eye,” he said. “They come asking me what I think’s going to happen. I ain’t got no answers for them. I ain’t got no answers for my investors. I ain’t got no answers.”
He wasn’t alone. As the spill surged toward disastrous proportions, critical questions lingered: Who created the conditions that caused the gusher? Did BP and the government react robustly enough in its early days? And, most important, how can it be stopped before the damage gets worse?
The new top commander heading the fight against the spill in the Gulf of Mexico said Saturday that it was impossible to estimate the size of the leak pouring into the water.
At a news conference, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen told reporters that the most important step was to stop the flow from at least three leaks in the well, about 5,000 feet under water.
Allen’s comments came as experts said the size of the leak was growing and was perhaps three times larger than previously thought.
“Any exact estimate is probably impossible at this time,” said Allen, who added that the focus would be stopping the flow at the wellhead and on efforts to clean up the oil now lapping at the Lousisana shore. Depending on the weather, more significant amounts of oil are expected to hit gulf state shores in 48 to 72 hours, he said.
“Estimates are useful, but we are planning far beyond that,” said Allen. “That’s why it is so important to stop (it) at the wellhead.”
At the joint command center run by the government and BP near New Orleans, a Coast Guard spokesman said Saturday that the leakage remained around 5,000 barrels, or 200,000 gallons, per day.
More than 1.5 million gallons of oil have leaked into gulf waters since the April 20 fire and explosion on the Transocean Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, 130 miles southeast of New Orleans. The rig sank two days later.
The blast killed 11 workers and now threatens beaches, marshes and marine mammals — along with fishing grounds that are among the world’s most productive.
Leaks from the well have fed the slick, which is estimated at about 600 miles in circumference, Neil Chapman, a spokesman for BP, said by phone Saturday. Others have said the slick is as much as three times larger.
On Thursday, the size of the slick was about 1,150 square miles but by the end of Friday, it had tripled to about 3,850 square miles, said Hans Graber, the executive director of the University of Florida’s Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing.
“The spill and the spreading is getting so much faster and expanding much quicker than they estimated,” Graber said Saturday.
Because the leaks have not been sealed, the gulf disaster could eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster when that tanker spilled 11 million gallons of oil off Alaska’s shores. Officials already have said the at-sea operations in the gulf could take months to complete.
Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, said it was impossible to know just how much oil was gushing from the well, but he said the company and federal officials were preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Oil industry experts and officials were reluctant to describe what, exactly, a worst-case scenario would look like — but if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream and is carried to the beaches of Florida, it could be an environmental and economic disaster of epic proportions.
The Deepwater Horizon well is at the end of one branch of the Gulf Stream, the famed warm-water current that flows from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Atlantic. Several experts said that if the oil enters the stream, it would flow around the southern tip of Florida and up the Eastern Seaboard.
“It will be on the East Coast of Florida in almost no time,” Graber said. “I don’t think we can prevent that. It’s more of a question of when rather than if.”
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.
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The Spill vs. a Need to Drill
NY Times
April 30, 2010
More than 40 years ago, a thick and pungent oil slick washed over the sandy-white beaches of Santa Barbara and went on to soil 40 miles of Southern California’s scenic coastline.
The Santa Barbara disaster of 1969 resulted from a blowout at an offshore platform that spilled 100,000 barrels of crude oil — 4.2 million gallons in all. It marked a turning point in the oil industry’s expansion, shelving any chance for drilling along most of the nation’s coastlines and leading to the creation of dozens of state and federal environmental laws.
Is history about to repeat itself in the Gulf of Mexico?
It may seem so this weekend. Emotions are running high as an oil slick washes over the Gulf Coast’s fragile ecosystem, threatening fisheries, shrimp farmers and perhaps even Florida’s tourism industry. Thousands could see their livelihoods ruined. A cleanup could take years.
Beyond railing at BP, the company that owns the well now spewing oil, some environmental groups have demanded an end to offshore exploration and urged President Obama to restore a moratorium on drilling. The White House has already said no new drilling permits will be approved until the causes of the accident are known. Additional government oversight seems inevitable.
But whatever the magnitude of the spill at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, it is unlikely to seriously impede offshore drilling in the Gulf. The country needs the oil — and the jobs.
Much has changed since 1969. The nation’s demand for oil has surged, rising more than 35 percent over the past four decades, while domestic production has declined by a third. Oil imports have doubled, and the United States now buys more than 12 million barrels of oil a day from other countries, about two-thirds of its needs.
The politics have also changed. Republicans want to boost domestic oil production to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. High on the Democratic agenda is reducing carbon emissions that cause global warming. To bridge the gap, the White House has backed a compromise that would expand domestic offshore exploration in exchange for Republican support for its climate policy.
There is another reason why offshore drilling is likely to continue. Most of the big new discoveries lie deep beneath the world’s oceans, including in the Gulf of Mexico. For the oil companies, these reserves are worth hundreds of billions of dollars and represent the industry’s future.
Since the 1980s, the Gulf has turned into a vast laboratory for the industry to test and showcase its most sophisticated technology — rivaling, the industry says, anything used for space exploration. This is where oil companies found ways to drill in ever-deeper water, where they developed bigger platforms to pump even more oil, where they pioneered the use of unmanned submarines and elaborate underwater systems straight out of a science fiction novel.
Some of the newest floating rigs can drill in more than 10,000 feet of water. They can stay in the same position for weeks, even as they sustain 40-foot waves, thanks to satellite positioning systems and tiny propellers below the hull. Hundreds of miles away, engineers sitting in control rooms in Houston monitor the drilling in real time.
All this has helped to turn the Gulf of Mexico into the fastest growing source of oil in the United States. The Gulf accounts for a third of the nation’s domestic supplies, or 1.7 million barrels a day, mostly from the deepwater region.
A similar expansion is happening around the world, most notably off the coast of Brazil, where billions of barrels of oil reserves have been discovered. Big discoveries have also been made off the coasts of Ghana and Sierra Leone by Anadarko Petroleum, using technology pioneered in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is a leading explorer.
This latest spill could have the same pronounced impact on public policy as the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989, which dumped 257,000 barrels of oil into the sensitive waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound. After that spill, tankers were forced to follow more stringent safety measures, and the owner of a rig or vessel was made legally responsible for cleaning up a spill. But tankers still roam the oceans.
Some in the environmental movement believe that public outrage will also push the government to aggressively develop alternatives to oil. They argue that the risks of oil production far outweigh the benefits.
“This is potentially a watershed environmental disaster,” said Wesley P. Warren, the director of programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This one is a gigantic wake up call on the need to move beyond oil as an energy source.”
But developing credible, cheap and abundant alternatives to oil will take many decades, and in the meantime, cars need gasoline and planes need kerosene. The United States is still the world’s top oil consumer by far. Even as China grows, the United States consumes twice as much oil.
Developing fossil fuels has never been risk free. Eleven people were killed when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, and between 2001 and 2007, according to the federal government, 41 people died and 302 were injured in accidents involving oil and gas production on federal lands and waters. There were 356 spills of varying degrees of seriousness.
No one seriously considered ending coal mining after the recent deaths of 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, the country’s worst mining disaster in four decades. Instead, there were calls for tougher regulations and oversight in an effort to reduce the risk of extracting the coal that generates half of the nation’s electricity.
In the wake of this Gulf spill, the government almost certainly will tighten oversight and force the industry to rethink its approach to safety in an effort to reconcile offshore production and safe environmental practices.
“We have not yet learned how to manage the challenges associated with energy development,” said Steve Cochran of the Environmental Defense Fund. “We assume our practices are safe, until a disaster strikes. That’s the hubris of mankind.”
But are there acceptable alternatives?
“A fossil-fuel free future isn’t inconceivable but it is decades away,” wrote Samuel Thernstrom, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, on The Times’s Room for Debate blog. “Meanwhile, we can’t drill our problems away, but drilling still has a role to play.”
Recent Past Coverage:
Gulf Coast Towns Brace as Huge Oil Slick Nears Marshes (May 1, 2010)
WHITE HOUSE MEMO; Shadow of Hurricane Katrina Hangs Over Obama After Spill (April 30, 2010)
Chevron Quarterly Profit Doubles April 30, 2010)
BP Is CriticizedOver Oil Spill, but U.S. MissedChances to Act (April 30, 2010)


Corps of Engineers to drain more of Lake Okeechobee before rainy season
Miami Herald  -  BY CURTIS MORGAN,
April 29, 2010
Engineers expect to dump more water from Lake Okeechobee next week to protect its aging dike as the hurricane and rainy seasons approach.
Lake Okeechobee, hammered by drought-driven lows over the past decade, brimmed Thursday with more than 15 feet of water. It will continue going up for several more days.
Problem is, South Florida's hurricane and rainy seasons are right around the corner. The big lake is rising when it ought to be falling.
That's not a good scenario for its aging dike or for aquatic life in the lake and river systems that will soon be getting big doses of dirty lake water. By next week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has been slowly trying to lower Lake O for months, will likely crank the flood gates open a lot wider.
``We would expect this during the wet season, but we're seeing it during the dry season,'' said Luis Alejandro, Lake Okeechobee basin manager for the Corps. ``We are in the high end of the range we would like to see.''
Under a management plan the Corps adopted two years ago intended to balance water supply demands with environmental protection, the goal is to keep the lake's water between 12.5 and 15.5 feet above sea level. But the peak is supposed to come at the end of the wet and hurricane seasons, not before they begin.
The primary reason for the higher levels: an extra rainy winter and spring.
For the Corps, the most immediate concern is protecting the nearly 80-year-old earthen levee, currently undergoing a decades-long, expensive -- estimated at more than $1 billion -- construction effort to beef it up.
``There is always a concern about dike safety,'' Alejandro said. ``That's the highest priority for the Corps.''
The lake is about a foot and a half above where the Corps would like to see it, and it's expected to continue rising for much of the week as runoff from Monday's heavy rains spill south down the Kissimmee River.
As the lake rises, the Corps increases its dike inspection, conducting daily reviews at 16.5 feet. Above that level, worries about leaks, seepage and more serious ruptures rise considerably.
Unseasonably high water levels also damage marsh plants that serve as shelter for bass and other fish.
The lake, the primary water supply for surrounding farms and towns and backup for the urban Southeast coast, typically falls in the winter and spring. But storms have reversed the trends this year.
In March, the Corps began a series of ``pulse releases,'' relatively small discharges down its main drainage channels, the Caloosahatchee River on the west and the St. Lucie on the east. But the lake has risen nearly three-quarters of a foot since then, and the Corps is considering ratcheting up dumping when the pulses end on Tuesday.
After the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, the Corps dumped massive volumes of lake water to protect the dike, but polluted runoff ravaged estuaries, killing fish and triggering algae blooms. These releases won't be as large, but the water still won't be happily received on either coast.
Alejandro said the Corps is exploring options, including sending some lake water into the Everglades. The South Florida Management District, under federal court orders to reduce phosphorous levels in the marsh, has discouraged that in past years.
With much of South Florida's basins full, Alejandro said there are few places to put excess lake water without raising flooding or environmental issues. Water managers and environmentalists tout Gov. Charlie Crist's controversial sugar land deal as the best way to resolve problems linked to the lake's roller-coaster water levels.
Concerns over the integrity of the dike -- built in the 1930s after hurricanes swamped Belle Glade and surrounding towns, killing 3,000 people -- intensified in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
In 2007, engineering experts hired by South Florida water managers issued an alarming report that said the dike was at high risk of breeching, a threat temporarily eliminated by record-low lake water levels.

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South Florida water managers urge feds to back off proposed tightening of pollution limits
Palm Beach Post - by Christine Stapleton, Staff Writer
April 30, 2010
The South Florida Water Management District -- recently blasted by a federal judge for failing to enforce the Clean Water Act -- "respectfully" recommended to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that it "reconstruct" its controversial proposal to limit nutrient pollution in Florida's inland waters.
In a 94-page report, filed just hours before the midnight deadline for public comment on Wednesday, the district challenged the science behind the EPA's proposal to limit phosphorus and nitrogen discharges into inland waters, including canals. Water managers also took aim at the EPA's cost estimate for implementing the nutrient criteria.
The EPA estimated the new rules would cost as much as $130 million to put into place and about $10 million a year after that. However, a study conducted by the state agriculture officials found the annual cost to be over $1 billion. More than 14,000 jobs would be lost and homeowners can expect their water bills to rise by about $700 every year.
"They're not practical people," Barney Bishop, president of Associated Industries, said about federal regulators. "These are people on a mission and that mission is to have clear air and water regardless of what it costs."
Phosphorous, nitrogen and other nutrients in fertilizer, manure and urban runoff have polluted Florida waters for decades, causing deadly algae blooms and red tides that kill fish and drive away tourists.
In 1998, the EPA ordered states to set their own nutrient pollution standards by 2004. Florida let the deadline pass, prompting environmentalists to sue in 2008. Last year a federal judge ordered the state to propose "nutrient water quality criteria" for inland waters by the end of 2010.
In January the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed criteria that would require Florida's inland waters rivers, springs, canals and lakes to meet criteria spelled out in the Federal Clean Water Act.This Site Tracked by WebTrendsLive.
The EPA's request for public comment attracted more than 1,400 environmentalists, ranchers, golfers, water managers, teachers, taxpayer watchdogs, growers, politicians, heads of industry and a Girl Scout Troop, who shared their very strong opinions about the nutrient criteria.
"This is a shift from no regulation to regulation," said David Guest, attorney for Earth Justice, the group that filed the lawsuit. "They are going from it costing zero to it costing something and they're in panic land."
Earlier this month a federal judge accused the EPA, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District of deliberately ignoring and refusing to enforce the laws limiting the amount of phosphorus discharged into the Everglades.
Next, the EPA will conduct a peer review study of the criteria. The agency will then re-evaluate its proposal and make revisions before it is implemented in November. Both sides expect the final criteria will be appealed in court.


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