Questions have begun to be raised about supposed refusal by EPA of Dutch offers to supply large skimmers to help at the Gulf (reversed only recently.)
Here are links to a May 4 article about the Dutch skimmers (the earliest reference that I’m aware) blaming the refusal on EPA. I’ve also heard stories blaming the refusal on the Jones Act. The story is very murky right now. I’ve linked to a recent FOI request by San Francisco reporter Yobie Benjamin for information on the handling of foreign offers of help.
The article says that the Dutch clean up method is based on processing the spill to extract the maximum amount of oil in the minimum amount of time. In order to do so, they discharge oily water from which the majority of oil has been removed, but not drinking water standard. According to the interview, EPA refused the Dutch skimmers because EPA regulations prohibit the discharge of oily water even if the processing mitigated the majority of the problem. (No one knows whether this is really the story – hopefully, the documents in the FOI request will clarify matters.) The article stated:
Two Dutch companies are on stand-by to help the Americans tackle an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. The two companies use huge booms to sweep and suck the oil from the surface of the sea. The US authorities, however, have difficulties with the method they use.
What do the Dutch have that the Americans don’t when it comes to tackling oil spills at sea? “Skimmers,” answers Wierd Koops, chairman of the Dutch organisation for combating oil spills, Spill Response Group Holland.
The Americans don’t have spill response vessels with skimmers because their environment regulations do not allow it. With the Dutch method seawater is sucked up with the oil by the skimmer. The oil is stored in the tanker and the superfluous water is pumped overboard. But the water does contain some oil residue, and that is too much according to US environment regulations.[media:factfile1]
Wierd Koops thinks the US approach is nonsense, because otherwise you would have to store the surplus seawater in the tanks as well.
“We say no, you have to get as much oil as possible into the storage tanks and as little water as possible. So we pump the water, which contains drops of oil, back overboard.”
US regulations are contradictory, Mr Knoops stresses. Pumping water back into the sea with oil residue is not allowed. But you are allowed to combat the spill with chemicals so that the oil dissolves in the seawater. In both cases, the dissolved oil is naturally broken down quite quickly.
It is possible the Americans will opt for the Dutch method as the damage the oil spill could cause to the mud flats and salt marshes along the coast is much worse, warns Wetland expert Hans Revier.
“You have to make sure you clear up the oil at sea. As soon as the oil reaches the mud flats and salt marshes, it is too late. The only thing you can do then is dig it up. But then the solution is worse than the problem.”
If the Dutch technology works as described, it seems hard to believe that someone wouldn’t have moved heaven and earth to get the Dutch skimmers over to the Gulf of Mexico.
This story has been in the air for a while.
On June 12, reporter Yobie Benjamin sent an interesting FOI request here for further details.
From: Yobie Benjamin (yobXXXXXX@XXXXXXX.XXX)
Date: Sat, Jun 12, 2010 at 10:32 AM
Subject: Formal (FOIA) Freedom of Information Act Request as per FOIA 5 U.S.C. subsection 552
To: “Carroll, Sean CDR” (XXXXXXXroll@uscg.mil), “O’Neil, Christopher LCDR” (XXXXXXXeil@uscg.mil), “Halvorson, Erik LT” (XXXXXXrson@uscg.mil)
delivered via electronic mail June 12, 2010
delivery by postal mail to immediately follow
TO: Information Officer/s-in-Charge; Deepwater Horizon Response Unified Command; Sean Carroll, CDR, United States Coast Guard , Christopher O’Neil LCDR, United States Coast Guard Erik Halvorson, LT
Dear Information Officer/s and/or FOIA Compliance Officer/s:
Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. subsection 552, I am requesting information and records related to:
1. Countries, non-governmental organizations and international agencies that have offered assistance to help respond to the BP oil spill and what specific boats, marine vessels and said boats or marine vessels’ technical capabilities and operational capacities.
2. The list of countries and their respective offers that were accepted and put into service into the theater of operations
3. The list of countries and their respective offers that were not accepted and therefore not put into service into the theater of operations
4. The reasons why certain countries and their respective offers that were not accepted by the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command
If there are any fees for copying the records related to my request, I will pay for them.
If you refuse or deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific exemption you think justifies your refusal to release the information and notify me of appeal procedures available under the law.
The purpose of this request is to publish the findings and response on my City Brights blog which can be accessed on the following URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/ybenjamin/index
Finally please provide the mailing address of the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command so I can send a copy of this email request via by postal mail.
This, of course, is merely one aspect of EPA’s puzzling conduct in the entire affair – conduct that is, at least, puzzling to me given EPA’s legislated leadership role in the National Contingency Plan Act and its virtual invisibility in the oil blowout response other than cavilling about which dispersant to use.