A new word for people who got rich from British Petroleum from the oil spill in the Gulf:

The oil spill that was once expected to bring economic ruin to the Gulf Coast appears to have delivered something entirely different: a gusher of money.

So many people cashed in that they earned nicknames: “spillionaires” or “BP rich.” Others hurt by the spill wound up getting comparatively little. Many people who got money deserved it. But in the end, BP’s attempt to make things right — spending more than $16 billion so far, mostly on damage claims and cleanup — created new divisions and even new wrongs.

Some of the inequities arose from the chaos that followed the April 20 spill. But in at least one corner of Louisiana, the dramatic differences can be traced in part to local powerbrokers.

To show how the money flowed, ProPublica interviewed people who worked on the spill and examined records for St. Bernard Parish, a coastal community about five miles southeast of downtown New Orleans.

Those documents show that companies with ties to parish insiders got lucrative contracts and then charged BP for every possible expense. The prime cleanup company submitted bills with little or no documentation. A subcontractor billed BP $15,400 per month to rent a generator that usually cost $1,500 a month. Another company charged BP more than a $1 million a month for land it had been renting for less than $1,700 a month. Assignments for individual fishermen also fell under the control of political leaders.

“This parish raped BP,” said Wayne Landry, chairman of the St. Bernard Parish Council, referring to the conduct of its political leadership. “At the end of the day, it really just frustrates me. I’m an elected official. I have guilt by association.”

via ‘Spillionaires’ are the new rich after BP oil spill payouts – The Washington Post.

Would it be fair to say that the environmental damage from the oil spill was much less than it was hyped up to be, and that BP was the victim of extortion?

Money pollution in the Gulf

The Gulf coast way of life survived the oil spill.  But will it survive all of that money BP has thrown at them?

On a truly normal evening, Acy Cooper Jr. would be out shrimping. Instead, one recent night, he was staying home, as he has done more often these days.

“Why? It don’t pay me to do that when they’re going to pay my claim anyway,” said Cooper, vice president of the state’s shrimpers association.

Today, it is BP’s money, not its oil, that is most visibly altering the Gulf Coast. The company has been trying – on federal orders – to protect not just the water but the way of life there. But BP’s waterfall of cash has changed people’s lives profoundly.

The oil company has already paid out $965 million and set aside $20 billion in a separate compensation fund. The money has been welcomed as a lifeline. But it has made the coast feel like an open-air economic experiment: Some hardworking fishermen think it’s in their best interest to be idle, losing market share they will need next year. And those who haven’t been paid are looking for legal and illegal ways to work the system. . . .

So far, BP has paid $569 million to locals who participated in the Vessels of Opportunity program, helping to spot, sop up and burn the oil.

It also gave out about $396 million to compensate fishermen, hotel owners and others who lost money during the spill, before handing the process over to Feinberg in August.

For those who played their cards right, BP’s money brought a summer of quiet windfall. Ted Melancon, a shrimper from Cut Off, La., worked for BP for 130 days.

“They sure helped us out, you know, they stepped up to the plate and helped us out. . . . It would have been a bad year,” said Melancon (pronounced “meh-lan-sahn”). He said he hasn’t counted his full take, but he made enough to buy new nets and new cable for his shrimp boat, as well as a new Ford F-150 pickup.

“Which I didn’t really need, but I had to buy. Because, you know, tax write-offs,” he said, meaning that the truck and other items could be written off as business expenses. On top of that, he’s expecting to get another BP payout, compensation for the shrimping he couldn’t do this summer while large areas of the gulf were closed.

“I’m done for the season,” Melancon said. “It don’t pay to go back to work.”

via Adrift in oil, then money.

The Gulf oil spill in perspective

Paul Schwennesen puts the environmental disaster in perspective:

Picture your neighbor’s pool. Unless you live in Malibu, it’ll contain about 6,000 gallons. That’s the “Gulf” for purposes of discussion. Now go to your garage, get a quart of oil and pour it in when he’s not looking. Pretty good sense of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, right?

Nope, not even close. Put a drop of that oil onto a sheet of paper and carefully cut it in half. Now do it again and toss that quarter of a drop into the deep end. Even this quarter droplet (about the size of the comma in this sentence) is about 10% too large, but NOW you have a sense of what 4.9 million barrels of oil in the Gulf looks like.[1]

Now that we’ve grappled with the issue of scale, let’s look at the aftermath of this ‘catastrophe.’ According to the government scientists, seventy-five percent of that sliver of a droplet has now evaporated, been eaten by microbes, skimmed or burnt. (This estimate is in dispute, but every day the released oil is being reduced to get to that figure, if not beyond it.)

Now, you’re going to need to borrow your kid’s microscope for the rest of this exercise….

“Ah,” says the ecologist in you, “but oil is like poison to an ecosystem, and so any amount is disproportionately harmful.” Well, the science doesn’t agree, but let’s assume for the moment that you’re right. Ignoring that the vast majority of this poison-oil has already been happily consumed by portions of this delicate ecosystem, let’s pretend that oil is to the Gulf what botulinum toxin is to man (really bad news, as it’s the deadliest substance known). Distributed uniformly, oil would contaminate the water of the Gulf at a ratio of eight thousand millionths per gallon. If the same concentration of botulinum existed in your swimming pool, you could safely spend the day in it without a second thought.[2] Sure, oil is not distributed uniformly, but shrill cries about the “collapse” of the Gulf’s ecosystem imply that it effects are. It is indeed true that every action has reverberating ecological consequences, but if we delude ourselves into thinking this means disintegration then we risk making poor policy choices.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am firmly in the camp of those who think the Gulf ecosystem is a wonderful and valuable thing that we should never take for granted. Furthermore, it’s not my intention here to dismiss or minimize BP’s bungle. Neither am I suggesting cleanup shouldn’t continue with the utmost diligence. After all, “scale” matters not one whit if that sliver of oil washes into your crab pots. Legally, BP should be held to account for their negligence and must make whole anyone whose property or livelihood they have harmed.

But two lessons rise to the surface here. The first is to never underestimate the power of ecosystems to absorb shocks and adapt to change. While we should not treat Nature with reckless disregard, we should also not dishonor her by intimating that she stands in precarious balance, perennially on the brink of human-caused collapse. As ecology continues to develop as a science, I expect that it will be the extraordinary resilience of natural systems that will become the prevailing acknowledgment.

The second lesson is that we must demand a sense of perspective when dealing with issues of environmental concern. The natural inclination when faced with torrents of extremely focused media coverage is to extrapolate broadly to “the ecosystem” at large. Hysteria and fear do not make for good policy, however. An inability to properly understand ecological sensitivity leads to dire predictions which fuel misguided regulatory reaction.

via The Catastrophe That Wasn’t: The Gulf Oil Spill in Perspective — MasterResource.

HT:Joe Carter

Yet another study says the oil IS broken down

I admit that I have no idea what is going on with the oil in the gulf.  The latest scientific findings keep changing:

A week after a high-profile paper suggested that the vast Deepwater Horizon oil plume could linger for months, another study claims bacteria are breaking the oil down quickly, and that the plume is likely gone.

The conflict between the results are striking. Other researchers warn that there’s just too little data to draw any conclusions. But the new findings are at least encouraging.

“We saw the same plume they did,” said Terry Hazen, an ecologist and oil spill specialist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, whose research is funded in part by BP. “We found that very large proportions of genes from water in the plume have the ability to produce enzymes that break down the oil.”

As with last week’s study, Hazen’s involved samples taken from the deep-sea oil plume that in late June was 22 miles long, one mile wide and 650 feet thick, and was published in Science.

The previous study, led by researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, found few signs microbial activity around the oil. From those measurements, it seemed that months would pass before bugs broke down the oil.

The WHOI team didn’t look directly at bacteria in the water, but used oxygen depletion — caused by bugs multiplying and going into metabolic overdrive while eating — as a sign of their activity.

By contrast, Hazen’s team extracted microbial DNA from plume water samples, sequenced the genes and identified their functions. Many of the genes produce enzymes that break down some of the compounds in crude oil.

The researchers also identified a previously-unknown strain of ostensibly oil-gobbling Oceanospirillum that doesn’t consume oxygen. Its activity would have gone unnoticed by the WHOI team.

“That particular species becomes dominant in the plume. It out competes some of the other bacteria that are normally present. It can break down the oil quite well,” said Hazen, who noted that the Gulf’s deep-sea microbes have evolved to handle crude oil that seeps naturally from the seafloor.

When Hazen’s team put oil samples in a laboratory setup designed to mimic Gulf conditions, it had a half-life of between one and six days. And according to Hazen, the researchers have found no sign of the plume in the last three weeks, suggesting its breakdown.

via Oil-Gobbling Bug Raises Gulf Hopes … for Now | Reuters.

This study has its critics too.  But their bottom line is that we just don’t know.

There is still oil in the Gulf after all

We earlier blogged about how the oil that gushed out of that BP well in the Gulf appeared to be gone, having been broken down by natural processes.  That was the line from the Obama administration.  But now scientists are finding that the oil, indeed, is out there:

The oil is there, at least 22 miles of it. You just can’t see it.

A lot of the crude that spewed from BP’s ruptured well is still in the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s far below the surface and invisible. And it’s likely to linger for months on end, scientists said Thursday in the first conclusive evidence of an underwater plume of oil from the disaster.

The plume consists of droplets too small for the eye to see, more than a half-mile down, said researchers who mapped it with high-tech sensors.

Scientists fear it could be a threat to certain small fish and crustaceans deep in the ocean. They will have plenty of time to study it for answers.

In the cold, 40-degree water, the oil is degrading at one-tenth the pace at which it breaks down at the surface. That means “the plumes could stick around for quite a while,” said Ben Van Mooy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, a co-author of the research, published online in the journal Science.

Earlier this month, top federal officials declared the oil in the spill was mostly “gone,” and it is gone in the sense that you can’t see it. But the chemical ingredients of the oil persist, researchers found.

Monty Graham, a scientist at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama who was not involved in the new research, said: “We absolutely should be concerned that this material is drifting around for who knows how long. They say months in the (research) paper, but more likely we’ll be able to track this stuff for years.”

via Major study proves oil plume that’s not going away.

Well, I don’t think that even the most optimistic scientists believed the oil literally ceased to exist, violating the law of the conservation of matter.  If the oil now exists only as microscopic dots widely diffused and dispersed, detectable only by high-tech instruments, I’d say that is pretty much what “breaking down” means.  And it’s hard to imagine how oil in this form would be all that harmful, since it’s the sludge that’s so bad for the environment, individual molecules of oil being nothing but carbon.  You’d think environmentalists would be happy that the environment is not being devastated as predicted, but they seem strangely disappointed.  They assume nature is so fragile that man can destroy it, playing down its self-renewing power.  But OK, I’ll admit that the jury is out.  Maybe this will turn into an eco-catastrophe after all.

The spilled oil is gone?

As workers finally manage to cap the leaking oil well in the Gulf, some scientists have reached conclusions about what happened to all of that spilled oil:

Nearly three-fourths of oil from the BP (BP.L)(BP.N) spill is gone from the Gulf of Mexico, with 26 percent remaining as a sheen or tarballs, buried in sediment or washed ashore, U.S. scientists said on Wednesday.

“It is estimated that burning, skimming and direct recovery from the wellhead removed one quarter (25 percent) of the oil released from the wellhead,” the scientists said in the report “BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Budget: What Happened to the Oil?”

Another 25 percent naturally evaporated or dissolved and 24 percent was dispersed, either naturally or “as the result of operations,” into small droplets, the report said.

The rest of the estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude spilled into the Gulf after the April 20 rig explosion that triggered the leak is either on or just beneath the water’s surface as “light sheen or weathered tarballs,” has washed ashore where it may have been collected, or is buried in sand and sediments at the sea bottom.

The report found 33 percent of the oil has been dealt with by the Unified Command, which includes government and private efforts.

“This includes oil that was captured directly from the wellhead by the riser pipe insertion tube and top hat systems (17 percent), burning (5 percent), skimming (3 percent) and chemical dispersion (8 percent),” the report found.

Natural processes broke down the rest of the 74 percent that has been removed from the Gulf.

“The good news is that the vast majority of the oil appears to be gone,” Carol Browner, energy and climate change adviser to President Barack Obama, said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “That’s what the initial assessment of our scientists is telling us.”

via UPDATE 3-Nearly 3/4 of BP spill oil gone from Gulf | Reuters.

So no catastrophe, no greatest environmental disaster of all time.  A financial disaster for BP to be sure, and the mess had to be taken care of.   But man and nature seem to have been able to take care of it.

UPDATE: Other scientists are questioning this rosy picture from the Obama administration, saying the findings are based on computer projections rather than actual measurement and that the toxicity of what remains is not known.