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Reach of BP Oil Spill Still Strong Two Years Later

BP has made headlines again, two years after the Gulf oil spill. For the spill, the company stands to pay billions of dollars in environmental fines under the Clean Water Act; a new study indicates thousands of jobs could be created along the coast if those funds were used for coastal restoration. Specifically, if $1.5 billion per year over the course of the next decade were spent on coastal restoration, it could result in close to 57,000 jobs. Penalty figures are still being decided.

As Hollywood actors are clenched in a legal battle over technology that may have helped clean the Gulf following the spill, federal investigators are looking at whether BP officials lied to Congress about just how much oil was actually leaking between April 20 and July 15, 2010. Internal e-mails, to the highest levels of BP, show a struggle over well flow and reveal that some company engineers warned early on that size estimates of the undersea leak might be too low. Meanwhile, another set of recently released e-mails—some 3,000 to be exact—is stirring up controversy. In a Boston Globe op-ed two Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute scientists detail how they reluctantly acceded to BP’s demands for confidential e-mails detailing the scientific process they used to calculate oil flow rate following a court order. The scientists cited concerns over “not simply invasion of privacy, but the erosion of the scientific deliberative process.” BP’s request for access to White House e-mails related to the spill, however, was denied.

While people are beginning to return to the Gulf to vacation and Gulf leases to oil and gas companies are on sale for the first time since the spill, the tiny microbes that once inhabited the area’s beach sands still haven’t bounced back.

Negotiators Face Stumbling Blocks on Way to Rio+20

Spring in the U.S. has been the warmest since record keeping started in 1895. As temperatures rise, representatives from some 135 heads of state will be present when United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20 Earth Summit, begins June 20. A newly surfaced document indicates there may be some difficulty reaching a blueprint for sustainable development that all can agree on. Specifically, just 20 percent of the wording in the draft—addressing everything from corporate sustainability reporting to universal access to clean energy—has been agreed upon. With the deadline for negotiations soon approaching, WWF director general Jim Leape worried about the prospect of “an agreement so weak it is meaningless, or complete collapse.”

In a recent interview with Yale e360, the International Energy Agency’s Fatih Birol urges countries to band together to address dangerous rises in global temperatures. “Individual efforts of countries or sectors will not bring us to 2 degrees,” said Birol. “And if the trends continue like this, we can very soon kiss goodbye to a 2-degree trajectory.”

Despite worldwide criticism, a senate panel in North Carolina approved a bill that would prohibit some scientific data to be used to predict future sea level rise. The current bill allows only the state’s Coastal Resources Commission to calculate the rate of rise using historic data, not projections of sea level rise from climate change. The senate went on to approve the controversial bill Tuesday by a vote of 35-12. Virginia appears to have taken a similar approach. Lawmakers there have commissioned a study of the coastline, only after references to climate change were removed.

The New Hampshire legislature passed a bill that would pave the way for the state to exit the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), but the law would require that two other states leave the cap-and-trade pact first. New England’s emissions have fallen recently—supporters of the cap-and-trade pact attribute this RGGI; others say cheap natural gas explains the decrease. “Natural gas has changed the complexion of the whole situation,” said the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions’ Brian Murray. Meanwhile, a New York judge has dismissed a lawsuit that would have ended that state’s participation in RGGI.

U.S. Energy Output Soars

As global energy consumption grew 2.5 percent worldwide, so did the United States’ energy output, as the U.S. became the world’s largest natural gas producer and its oil output grew more than any nation outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Meanwhile, two industry groups have come out with a study indicating the Obama administration has overestimated methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued the first regulations for fracking in April.

North Carolina is closer to legalizing hydraulic fracturing, despite new evidence that the state’s reserves might be much smaller than previously thought. New Jersey is looking to restrict wastewater treatment plants from accepting water used in hydraulic fracturing—claiming it could harm water supplies.

Hydraulic fracturing is not the only energy method in the spotlight. A new U.N. report shows global investment in renewable energy is at a record high. In fact, in 2011 it was up 17 percent to $257 billion—with solar investment surging past wind to take the lead.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.