May 2010


… the command doesn’t evaluate the effects of these programs. Its rapid personnel turnover rate, at times as little as 4 months, lead to cultural missteps, and difficulties tracking projects.

TANGA, Tanzania - Tanga Regional Commissioner Said Said Kalembo (right) and U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania Alfonso Lenhardt pump water from a newly-constructed well at Putini-Chonoleani Village, March 9, 2010. This is one of six wells that was constructed by Tanzanian contract company Hydrotech and financed by the U.S. government. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Wilson, CJTF-HOA)

MORONI, Comoros - Petty Officer 2nd Class Craig Kleffel and Petty Officer 2nd Class Duncan Keller assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion begin constructing the Hamramba Primary School in Moroni on the East African island nation of Comoros, November 20, 2009. NMCB 3 is deployed to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Kulp, CJTF-HOA)

Military Still Fumbling Humanitarian Projects

The U.S. military has been conducting development-like activities in Africa regularly since the Pentagon stood up the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in 2002 – and we’re still building white elephants.

Today the Government Accountability Agency released a report evaluating CJTF-HOA’s activities, finding that though most of its activities revolved around “civil affairs projects such as community medical care and bridge construction,” the command doesn’t evaluate the effects of these programs. Its rapid personnel turnover rate, at times as little as 4 months, lead to cultural missteps, and difficulties tracking projects.

Recently CJTF-HOA discovered they had previously built a school only to lose track of it, now finding that it had fallen into disrepair. On another occasion a well had been constructed but the local community hadn’t been trained to maintain it. CJTF-HOA has now added to its internal program nomination form a description of who will maintain the project in the long-term. Again, CJTF-HOA has been stationed in Djibouti since 2003.

The report itself is a one page document:

DOD Needs to Determine the Future of Its Horn of Africa Task Force (PDF)
GAO-10-504

Why GAO Did This Study

Originally established in 2002 to fight terrorism, the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), based at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, is the military’s main operational presence in Africa. The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), created in 2007 to focus on stability in Africa, has been assessing existing activities—as well as CJTF-HOA—against its mission of sustained security engagement in Africa. This report discusses: (1) AFRICOM’s decisions on CJTF-HOA’s future and whether CJTF-HOA’s activities align with the command’s mission, and (2) benefits of the task force and challenges it faces. For its review, GAO analyzed AFRICOM and CJTF-HOA guidance, conducted interviews at the command’s and task force’s headquarters, and obtained perspectives from U.S. embassies in the region.

What GAO Found

AFRICOM has been evaluating CJTF-HOA, but it has not yet made decisions on the future of the task force—including whether CJTF-HOA should continue to exist as a joint task force, and if so, whether changes are needed to the task force’s mission, structure, and resources to best support the command’s mission of sustained security engagement in Africa. AFRICOM officials said that decisions are pending but did not share details of their evaluation or provide a target date for decisions. Since the task force moved under AFRICOM, its status has not changed significantly. As of March 2010, CJTF-HOA had about 1,650 personnel. The Navy continues to fund the majority of its approximately $80 million budget as well as most of Camp Lemonnier’s $238 million budget. The task force’s activities have evolved over the years to focus on building relationships and fostering stability; for example, about 60 percent of its activities are civil affairs projects, such as community medical care and bridge construction. Other activities include military-to-military activities, peace support operations, personnel recovery, and counter-piracy activities. However, CJTF-HOA is currently not performing long-term follow up on activities to determine whether they are having their intended effects or whether modifications are needed to best align with AFRICOM’s mission. Additionally, the task force is generally not setting specific, achievable, and measurable goals for activities. Some activities, such as military-to-military efforts, appear to support AFRICOM’s mission. Others, such as a school built by CJTF-HOA but later found dilapidated, could have unintended consequences. Without long-term assessments of activities, it is difficult for AFRICOM to determine the effectiveness of CJTF-HOA, which is critical for overall planning efforts and decisions on the task force’s future.
CJTF-HOA’s force presence in the Horn of Africa provides several benefits, but the task force also faces challenges carrying out activities. CJTF-HOA’s presence in Africa offers benefits such as its ability to respond to contingencies, provide forces for AFRICOM activities, and build U.S.-African relationships. However, the task force’s sustainability is uncertain because AFRICOM, in concert with the Department of Defense or the Navy, has not developed options for funding the task force over the long term. It currently relies on overseas contingency operations appropriations, and GAO has previously encouraged that the projected costs of such ongoing operations be included in the military’s base budget requests. Moreover, task force staff have made cultural missteps because they did not understand local religious customs and may have unintentionally burdened embassies that must continuously train new staff on procedures. These problems may be exacerbated by limited training and compounded by short tour lengths (generally 4-12 months). Should AFRICOM opt to retain the task force, addressing challenges associated with long-term funding and staff skills would help ensure that it is effectively supporting U.S. efforts in Africa with the appropriate resources and trained personnel.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that AFRICOM, as part of its planning efforts, complete its evaluation of CJTF-HOA and determine the task force’s future. If the Department of Defense determines that sustaining the task force is consistent with its goals, GAO recommends long-term activity assessments, a funding plan, and training guidance for the task force. The Department of Defense generally agreed with the recommendations.

This rather confirms my view that the Africa Command’s humanitarian projects are primarily photo op projects to put a humanitarian face on the Africa Command’s frenzied efforts to militarize and disrupt the continent.  The soldiers who are working on humanitarian projects are probably optimistic about them, but since there is no staff continuity due to turnover, once finished the projects are forgotten. This is bumper sticker humanitarianism, random acts of kindness with no purpose and no follow through.   The only comprehensive and inclusive US development plan is to develop local militaries to proxy for the US.  Plus, the cost of military installations and operations needs to be in the budget and visible to US voters.

Meanwhile, forget humanitarian:

WASHINGTONThe top American commander in the Middle East has ordered a broad expansion of clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region, according to defense officials and military documents.

The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.

… Its goals are to build networks that could “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” Al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to “prepare the environment” for future attacks by American or local military forces, the document said. …

Officials said that many top commanders, General Petraeus among them, have advocated an expansive interpretation of the military’s role around the world, arguing that troops need to operate beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to better fight militant groups.

The order, which an official said was drafted in close coordination with Adm. Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command, calls for clandestine activities that “cannot or will not be accomplished” by conventional military operations or “interagency activities,” a reference to American spy agencies.

While the C.I.A. and the Pentagon have often been at odds over expansion of clandestine military activity, most recently over intelligence gathering by Pentagon contractors in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there does not appear to have been a significant dispute over the September order.

Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress, although Pentagon officials have said that any significant ventures are cleared through the National Security Council.

More than ever the Department of Defense, not the State Department, perhaps not even the President, is creating and running US foreign policy.  Most African countries would like to be friends with the US.  But the US is treating them all like enemies or potential enemies or dupes to be manipulated and used against each other.  Clandestine disruption and destruction operations that are not subject to review and approval of the President or the Congress, or not even reported to them, create enormous risk for the United States and its citizens both at home an abroad.  No amount of random humanitarian photo ops will change that.  Actions that impact the lives and safety of US citizens need the review of elected officials who will ultimately have to face the voters they represent.  Without that, you don’t have democracy, and you are well on your way to military government.

“I’ve never seen this kind of attitude, where safety doesn’t seem to matter.”

“Very big fish and very prized fish are moving in to spawn — it’s a critical time of the year … Larvae from the fish may end up eating droplets of oil.”

This post continues Deep Water Drilling – What Can Go Wrong?

Oil continues gushing from the Deepwater Horizon well. The big questions are still: what exactly happened, what is being done about it, and where is the oil going? Keep in mind that regardless of what safeguards or prohibitions the United States puts on deep water drilling in its own coastal waters, it still wants the drilling to continue and expand around the world, and so do all the world’s oil consumers. What is happening in the Gulf of Mexico could happen all along the Gulf of Guinea, and in increasingly numerous locations all around the world. Would governments be able to hold the oil companies to account for timely fixes and for damages? So far the US government is doing a poor job of protecting or investigating. There are lessons and warnings in the US Government’s approach to analysing and cleaning up following the spill.

I saw the satellite view of the spreading oil spill from May 4. The oil sheen nearest the leaking well, at the bottom of the picture, looks like a horse leaping out of the ocean and towards the gulf coast. The shape is not necessarily significant, but I certainly found it apocalyptically evocative, you can see in the detail and the original below.

Detail of the oil slick spreading in the Gulf of Mexico from a satellite picture taken May 4, 2010, and posted by SkyTruth on Flickr. The shape of the slick nearest the well looks like a horse leaping from the ocean and charging towards the Gulf coast

Oil slick spreading from the Deep Water Horizon oil well on May 4, 2010, flickr.com/photos/skytruth/4579765702/

60 Minutes interviewed a survivor of the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Based on information in that program, it looks like BP was reckless and irresponsible.

Williams says there was an accident on the rig that has not been reported before. He says, four weeks before the explosion, the rig’s most vital piece of safety equipment was damaged.

What strikes Bea is Williams’ description of the blowout preventer. Williams says in a drilling accident four weeks before the explosion, the critical rubber gasket, called an “annular,” was damaged and pieces of it started coming out of the well.

Here’s why that’s so important: the annular is used to seal the well for pressure tests. And those tests determine whether dangerous gas is seeping in.

“So if the annular is damaged, if I understand you correctly, you can’t do the pressure tests in a reliable way?” Pelley asked.

“That’s correct. You may get pressure test recordings, but because you’re leaking pressure, they are not reliable,” Bea explained.

Williams also told us that a backup control system to the blowout preventer called a pod had lost some of its functions.

“What is the standard operating procedure if you lose one of the control pods?” Pelley asked.

“Reestablish it, fix it. It’s like losing one of your legs,” Bea said.

This is a detail of the blowout preventer from the PDF: media.nola.com/news_impact/other/oil-cause-050710.pdf

You can see the complete diagram with a link to the PDF at Diagram of what happened. There is also a graphic that shows how leaking oil well might be plugged by the ‘top kill’ method. This has only been done on land before, not under the pressures at 1 mile deep.

There is an even larger potential danger from BP looming in the Gulf discussed in the 60 Minutes report:

Now, there is new concern about another BP facility in the Gulf: a former BP insider tells us the platform “Atlantis” is a greater threat than the Deepwater Horizon.

Ken Abbott has worked for Shell and GE. And in 2008 he was hired by BP to manage thousands of engineering drawings for the Atlantis platform.

They serve as blueprints and also as a operator manual, if you will, on how to make this work, and more importantly how to shut it down in an emergency,” Abbott explained.

But he says he found that 89 percent of those critical drawings had not been inspected and approved by BP engineers. Even worse, he says 95 percent of the underwater welding plans had never been approved either.

“Are these welding procedures supposed to be approved in the paperwork before the welds are done?” Pelley asked.

“Absolutely. Yeah,” Abbott replied. “They’re critical.”

Abbott’s charges are backed up by BP internal e-mails. In 2008, BP manager Barry Duff wrote that the lack of approved drawings could result in “catastrophic operator errors,” and “currently there are hundreds if not thousands of Subsea documents that have never been finalized.”

I’ve never seen this kind of attitude, where safety doesn’t seem to matter
(NYT)

Additionally:

Costly, time-consuming test of cement linings in Deepwater Horizon rig was omitted, spokesman says

BP hired a top oilfield service company to test the strength of cement linings on the Deepwater Horizon’s well, but sent the firm’s workers home 11 hours before the rig exploded April 20 without performing a final check that a top cementing company executive called “the only test that can really determine the actual effectiveness” of the well’s seal.

And what is happening to the oil, where is it going?

Scientists are finding enormous oil plumes in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, including one as large as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in spots. The discovery is fresh evidence that the leak from the broken undersea well could be substantially worse than estimates that the government and BP have given.

There’s a shocking amount of oil in the deep water, relative to what you see in the surface water,” said Samantha Joye, a researcher at the University of Georgia who is involved in one of the first scientific missions to gather details about what is happening in the gulf. “There’s a tremendous amount of oil in multiple layers, three or four or five layers deep in the water column.”

The plumes are depleting the oxygen dissolved in the gulf, worrying scientists, who fear that the oxygen level could eventually fall so low as to kill off much of the sea life near the plumes. (NYT)

For wildlife offshore, the damage from a spill can be invisible but still deadly (click to enlarge enough to read)

Spills Effects Underwater

In addition to measuring the amount of oil, researchers need to study the effect on fish larvae and bacteria, he said. “Very big fish and very prized fish are moving in to spawn — it’s a critical time of the year,” he told HuffPost. “Larvae from the fish may end up eating droplets of oil.

Steiner said NOAA is not only failing to fully measure the impact of the spill, but, he said, “if they rationally want to close and open fisheries, then they need to know where this stuff is going.” (Huffington Post)

The highly toxic chemicals BP is pumping in at the leak and using on the surface to disperse the oil could have an even more toxic effect on sea life, and up the food chain, than the oil. The government is now started thinking about this: Gulf oil spill: EPA orders BP to use less toxic dispersant and the White House has asked BP to be more transparent. I doubt asking, even from the White House, will make a big difference.

The US Government looks like it is using the Niger Delta as a model for its response. BP and the Coast Guard turned away CBS news and threatened them with arrest. BP Attempts to Block Media From Filming Extent of Oil Spill Disaster.

As concerns about the growing devastation the BP oil spill has inflicted on Gulf Cost communities increase, reports have surfaced that BP is blocking members of the press from filming the extent of the damage. A CBS news crew attempted to film a beach in South Pass, Louisiana, obscured by a thick coat of oil, and was barred from doing so by BP contractors and two coast guard officers aboard a boat who threatened to arrest the film crew. When asked why filming along the beach was not permitted they were told, “This is BP’s rules, it’s not ours.”

This is not the first report of such an incident. There have been other reports of camera and video equipment being confiscated or banned.

… After a boat tour of the affected areas along the coast, Jindal stated “the day that we have all been fearing is upon us today. This wasn’t tar balls. This wasn’t sheen. This is heavy oil in our wetlands. It’s already here but we know more is coming.”

The amount of oil sweeping the coast has caused many to believe that BP has misled the white house, government officials and the public by alleging that only 5,000 barrels of oil a day are leaking from the Deepwater Horizon. In fact, some scientists believe that approximately 25,000 barrels of oil could be leaking a day. Some reports have quoted a number as high as 80, 000 barrels of oil a day. These numbers have prompted Congressman Edward Markey to send a letter to BP asking the question that has been on everyone’s mind: “how much oil is leaking into the Gulf and how much oil can be expected to end up on our shores and our ocean environment?”

The fact that the Coast Guard is assisting BP in blocking the public’s right to know is particularly worrisome. Using Nigeria as a model, in the Niger Delta we have seen repeatedly the Nigerian government and the oil companies pointing at each other and saying we can’t do anything, our hands are tied, they are the only ones with the authority/ability/responsibility to act.  Anyone who tries to observe or investigate is subjected to arrest or worse. And nothing gets done for environmental protection or infrastructure development. In fact we can look at the Niger Delta to see the environmental effects when enormous amounts of oil are spilled on coastal wetlands.

Up to 13 million barrels of oil have spilled in the Niger Delta ecosystem over the past 50 years, representing about 50 times the estimated volume spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989. Niger Delta Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Project, PDF.

The EPA is saying BP is collecting the data, and they can’t compel BP to publish it, BP withholds oil spill facts — and government lets it.

WASHINGTON — BP, the company in charge of the rig that exploded last month in the Gulf of Mexico, hasn’t publicly divulged the results of tests on the extent of workers’ exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning of crude over the gulf, even though researchers say that data is crucial in determining whether the conditions are safe.

As Cynthia Kouril points out:

The EPA, the Coast Guard and OSHA don’t need anybody’s permission to take air or water samples. They don’t need anybody’s permission to ask those shrimp boat captains to wear a second air quality monitoring patch and turn those back to OSHA for analysis. They don’t need anybody’s permission to send their own remote cameras or submarines down to take pictures of the plume—at least NASA seems to “get” this, the space station folks have been taking photos of the oil spill without waiting for BP’s blessing.

BP may control the data from the patches on the shrimp boater’s sleeves and it may control its own data — which could still be pried loose with either an administrative or criminal subpoena, and probably should be — but nothing prevents the government from doing its own sampling. The notion that the federal agencies responsible for environmental, health and safety are somehow helpless bystanders is just nuts, or bullpucky. In fact, EPA, like NASA has already begun its own efforts.

The oil is now on its way out of the Gulf:

More oil than is already visible could be entering the Loop Current, which could carry it past the Florida Keys and up the Atlantic coast.

MODIS/Terra satellite image taken May 17, 2010, shows oil slick being entrained in the Loop Current, with a broad conveyor-belt-like extension of the slick sweeping in a gentle arc to the southeast and reaching 222 miles (357 km) from the location of the leaking well. Slick and sheen covers 10,170 square miles (26,341 km2), almost 100% larger than was visible in the 5/14 radar image.

The Loop Current that sometimes forms in the Gulf of Mexico connects to the Florida Current that is part of the Gulf Stream system. On the average, the inner edge of the Florida Current is within 10 miles of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, FL. In this illustration of the Loop Current and the Florida Current, the colors on the color wheel correspond to the directions of the currents, blue, red, cyan, yellow for north, south, east, and west.

“The fact that NOAA has missed the ball catastrophically on the tracking and effects monitoring of this spill is inexcusable,” said Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska marine conservationist … “They need 20 research ships on this, yesterday.”

Steiner explained: “This is probably turning out to be the largest oil spill in U.S. history and the most unique oil spill in world history,” on account of it occurring not on or near the surface, but nearly a mile below.

“They should have had a preexisting rapid response plan,” he told HuffPost. “They should have had vessels of opportunity — shrimp vessels, any vessel that can deploy a water-column sampling device — pre-contracted, on a list, to be called up in an event that this happened. And they blew it. And it’s been going on for a month now, and all that information has been lost.”

“I think that should be one of our biggest concerns, getting the technology and the research to try to understand how big this amorphous mass of water is, and how it moves,” he said.

It’s like an iceberg. Most of it is below the surface. And we just have no instruments below the surface that can help us monitor the size, the concentration and the movement.” (Huffington Post)

Envisat ASAR radar satellite image (black and white) taken May 18, 2010, shows oil slick entrained in the Loop Current and spreading out to the southeast. Slick and sheen covers 15,976 square miles (41,377 km2), about 50% larger than seen in yesterday's MODIS image and about twice the size of New Jersey. Image courtesy CSTARS. flickr.com/photos/skytruth/4622687873/

Here is more detail on the Gulf Loop Current:

The Gulf Loop is a strong current in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It can be a short loop or stretched very long. When it is long, it often pinches off a spinning body of water called an eddy . These eddies drift westward over many weeks. They slowly lose energy in the western Gulf. This cycle repeats itself several times a year.

graphic of a 3D model of the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico

1. Warm water from the Caribbean Sea enters the gulf.

2. A “Loop Current” gradually forms in the eastern gulf. Eventually, the loop breaks off and forms an eddy.

3. The eddy has a core of warm water, and rotates clockwise as it moves west across the gulf. Clockwise-rotating eddies in the northern hemisphere are called anticyclones.

4. Smaller eddies spin off the warm anticyclones. These rotate in the opposite direction, and are called cyclones.

A. In an anticyclone, warm water converges in the eddy center and is pushed toward the seaþoor [sic, sea floor]. Anticyclones contain few nutrients to support plant and animal life. They can be thought of as “ocean deserts.”

B. Cyclones draw cold, nutrient-rich water from the deep gulf up toward the surface. Near the surface the combination of sunlight and plenty of nutrients creates an “ocean oasis,” with abundant plankton for marine animals to eat.

When the oil gets into the ocean currents it can begin to travel the entire globe. If it is possible for some rubber ducks to travel the globe on the currents, it will certainly be possible for this vast volume of oil. Of course, just like the rubber duckies, oil does break apart and biodegrade. Below is some description of global ocean currents:

At the earth’s poles, when water freezes, the salt doesn’t necessarily freeze with it, so a large volume of dense cold, salt water is left behind. When this dense water sinks to the ocean floor, more water moves in to replace it, creating a current. The new water also gets cold and sinks, continuing the cycle and creating the Global Conveyor Belt.

The global conveyor belt begins with the cold water near the North Pole and heads south between South America and Africa toward Antarctica, partly directed by the landmasses it encounters. In Antarctica, it gets recharged with more cold water and then splits in two directions -- one section heads to the Indian Ocean and the other to the Pacific Ocean. As the two sections near the equator, they warm up and rise to the surface in what you may remember as upwelling. When they can't go any farther, the two sections loop back to the South Atlantic Ocean and finally back to the North Atlantic Ocean, where the cycle starts again.

The global conveyor belt moves much more slowly than surface currents — a few centimeters per second, compared to tens or hundreds of centimeters per second. Scientists estimate that it takes one section of the belt 1,000 years to complete one full circuit of the globe. However slow it is, though, it moves a vast amount of water — more than 100 times the flow of the Amazon River.

In addition to the Global Conveyor Belt there are a variety of great gyre currents in the world’s oceans. All the currents and their feeders, spinoffs and eddies have the potential to carry the oil.

Circular wind patterns create spiral ocean currents called gyres. Five major gyres flow both north and south of the equator: the North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific and Indian Ocean gyres. Smaller gyres also exist at the poles, and one circulates around Antarctica. Short-lasting, smaller currents often spin off both small and large gyres.

The currents may work to clean up the spill as well as spread it around. This article from Nieman Watchdog points out:

  • Crude oil is a natural substance, composed of a galaxy of hydrocarbon compounds, ranging from gasoline to tar. Compared to infinitely more toxic refined oil products like Diesel fuel, it is unstable and tends to disintegrate into volatile compounds.
  • Much of it will evaporate, given the right conditions.
  • What won’t evaporate will be attacked by oil-eating microbes in the sea water.
  • The degree of evaporation and the success of the microbe attack will depend upon several factors:
    1. The chemistry of the crude oil in question.
    2. The temperature of the air and of the water.
    3. The dynamic action of sun, wind and waves at the spill site.

  • The BP spill is unquestionably a calamity. There will be enormous costs, including costs to fish and wildlife interests. There will be some wetlands damage. But many of the same factors that ameliorated the Tobago spill are at work off the mouth of the Mississippi. Strong southeast winds have been spreading the spill and encouraging its evaporation. Air temperatures in the 80s water temperatures in the 70s and plenty of sun have encouraged the attack of oil-eating microbes.

    The month before the oil spill in Tobago [July 1979] the Mexican oil company Pemex had its Ixtoc I rig blow out in the Bay of Campeche, 600 miles south of the Texas coast. That resulted in one of the largest oil spills in history. The drilling platform burned and collapsed in an accident intriguingly similar to that of the BP rig off Louisiana. The well leaked from 10,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil a day for eight months before it was capped. Yet resulting coastal damage was minimal.

    How much oil there is, how widespread the damage, and how long it will take to recover are all still unknown. And the federal government does not seem to be in a hurry to learn. Wildlife and human beings will suffer, how many, how much, and how long are all still unknown.

    ________

    Update: May 24:

    How Much Oil’s Spilling? It’s Not Rocket Science


    Once one converts all the units and multiplies these numbers, the calculations show that a bit more than 70,000 barrels of oil have been leaking out of the pipe daily. He’s [Wereley] since upped his estimate by another 20,000 barrels a day because of other smaller leaks.

    Wereley said that the leak may be 20 percent more or less than his best estimate, but it’s still far, far above the 5,000 barrels per day that BP kept proclaiming until very recently — about 20 times as great.

    And from John Robb at Global Guerrillas

    LEAKING LEGITIMACY

    … prominent oceanographers [are] accusing the government of failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the spill’s true scope… The scientists point out that in the month since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, the government has failed to make public a single test result on water from the deep ocean. …

    Over the last month, it’s become increasingly clear that there is a coordinated information operations campaign in place to downplay the impact of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The US government and British Petroleum have imposed a scientific and media blackout to prevent the gathering of the information on the oil leak needed to generate precise estimates …

    Why is this effort in place? To reduce the political damage to both the government and BP. …

    Of course, this type of behavior is extremely bad over the longer term. Why is it so bad? For an increasing number of people it is yet another example of an approach, reinforced by ongoing global financial disasters, that uses media manipulation and confidence boosting as a substitute for real solutions. It fails to punish bad behavior due to the need for collusion between the government and the offending corporations to construct the information campaign. It fails to construct real solutions since the facts are not known and the number of people able to address the problem is extremely limited. Also, since these people are the same people that caused the crisis, real solutions are avoided to prevent adverse publicity. Most importantly, it is yet another body blow to the nation-state and the global market system as legitimate organizational constructs.

    The US Embassy in Accra refused a visa to the Ghana Minister of Energy in March and refused a visa for the Chairman of the GNPC, Ghana National Petroleum Commission, to visit the US.

    US and Ghana are in a diplomatic row in which it appears … that the US government is consciously targeting some key government officials for standing in the way of American interests in Ghana.

    [An official of GNPC] is reported to have told insiders that a consular officer at the US embassy told him that GNPC was “Anti- American”

    Map of Ghana offshore oil fields including Jubilee and Dzata

    Of course the job of the GNPC is to enable Ghana to make the best use of Ghana’s petroleum resources for the benefit of the Ghanaian people, not the American people. It is trying to correct some unethical deals involving Kosmos, the EO Group, and Exxon, that would have caused financial loss to Ghana. If the US acknowleges the sovereignty of sovereign nations, it needs to respect Ghana’s sovereignty. If the US does not respect Ghanaian sovereignty, and it appears that it does not, its motives and methods are a clear and obvious throwback to colonialism.

    The US has a very bad record when it comes to undermining and destabilizing governments that are not doing what the US wants, or when they are perceived by some as standing in the way of American interests. In this case, as in most, it is American corporate interests. Exxon wanted to buy the Kosmos share of Ghana’s oil. This move by the US Embassy in denying visas to Ghanaians who are critical to the Ghana oil industry is very worrisome. In what other ways is the US Embassy working against the interests of the Ghanaian people and the current Ghanaian government? This is a grave and dangerous development.

    Ghana is generally very pro American. But Ghanaians do not wish to be pushed around. And most Ghanaians are familiar with the fact that the US Embassy and the American CIA played a major role in the events leading to the overthrow of Nkrumah. The destructive ramifications of that action still reverberate throughout the continent. Ghana would not welcome this kind of interference again. I doubt other countries would look on it favorably.

    In addition the US Africa Command has been very active and very controversial in Ghana. Most Ghanaians think that AFRICOM is in Ghana and in the rest of Africa to secure oil and other natural resources for the United States. Since that is the reason the command was created, there is some justification for this view. The US Africa Command maintains a local headquarters in the US Embassy in Accra, and is deeply involved in what it calls partnering with a variety of Ghanaian military activities.

    You will find some more background on Kosmos and Ghana oil here, EO -Kosmos Rip-Off Exposed with a list of links bottom that provide more background and context .

    While the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) toiled over the years in pursuit of a vision that others described as a mirage, their critics were quietly lining up to plunder ‘the spoils.’

    As the controversy over how the E.O. Group a Ghanaian company, came by 3.5% carried interest in US-based Kosmos Energy’s initial 90% stake in the West Cape Three Points (WCTP) rages on, it has emerged that the Kufuor administration lowered the finishing tape for Kosmos Energy and EO Group at the expense of our beloved Ghana.

    As part of its vision of ensuring that Ghana maximized its earnings from harnessing the country’s hydrocarbon potential, GNPC, since the 1980s, evolved a model petroleum agreement, which has served as a blue print for preparing petroleum agreements to license its blocks of oil fields to oil companies that came to explore for the ‘black gold’ in Ghana.

    Whereas under previous petroleum agreements, royalties had been pegged between 10% – 12.5%, this was slashed to 5% under the Petroleum Agreement the Kufuor Government and GNPC signed with Kosmos Energy, and their E.O. partners. GNPC participation interest, a provision in petroleum agreements, which allows GNPC to acquire additional stake in the event of a commercial find, used to be 10%-15%, under previous petroleum agreements. However, this was also slashed down to 2.5%, under the petroleum agreement signed with Kosmos-E.O. Group, leaving it standing like a sore thumb, when matched against all other petroleum agreements, including those subsequently signed with other companies under the Kufuor regime.

    The Managing Director of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) Nana Boakye Asafu-Adjaye, has said the corporation’s decision to acquire the Kosmos Energy stake in the Jubilee Field, is necessary and critical to ensuring that Ghanaians derived the maximum benefits from the country’s oil resources. According to the GNPC boss, the state oil corporation, has already secured the necessary funding to acquire the stakes, and were in discussions with Kosmos Energy, who voluntarily decided to sell their stakes.

    GNPC’s Chief Economic Evaluation and Monitoring Officer, Mr. Kwame Ntow Amoah … emphasized the need for GNPC to acquire the Kosmos Energy stake in Ghana’s oil fields and explained that apart from the 10% initial carried interest, GNPC has exercised its right of acquiring additional interests in the Jubilee field. He explained that apart from these, royalties and income tax earnings from the oil sale would leave the nation with over 50% of the profits from the oil.

    This is a much better deal for Ghana.

    Here is the full article about the denial of US visas to Ghanian officials.

    US & Ghana In Diplomatic Row

    …Energy Minister & Atto Ahwoi denied visa.
    ..Govt. Fingers oil Politics

    There is a growing nerve racking diplomat anxiety between some top ranks of the Ghana government towards the US Embassy in Accra, resulting in suspicion that the US government is consciously targeting some key government officials for standing in the way of American interest in Ghana.

    On the controversy scale, the row has reached almost showdown levels, with some key government officials threatening to boycott travels to the US.

    There are serious murmurings within the corridors of the Ministry of Energy and GNPC that their insistence on exercising their right of first purchase of the oil interest of Kosmos Energy as against the company’s attempt to sell it’s oil interest to a fellow American company -Exxon Mobil (albeit through the backdoor) appears to have angered the US Embassy who are allegedly employing “embarrassing” diplomatic retaliatory tools targeted at key personalities in the energy sector.

    According to The Enquirer’s deep throat sources, The Minister of Energy, Dr. Oteng Adjei, who was leading a government delegation to the USA to attend a meeting with Blackstone and Warburg Pincus the financiers of Kosmos Energy was on March 27th, this year denied visa.

    The Energy Minister had applied for the visa with his diplomatic passport. Sources say, the embassy’s actions angered Osu Castle, the seat of Ghana’s Presidency, and that it took the personal intervention of the usually quiet and genteel Chief of Staff of Henry Martey Newman to secure a travelling visa for the Minister.

    On May 7th, 2010, Mr. Atto Ahwoi, Board Chairman of the Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), who returned from the USA last March, was refused visa by the embassy. Mr. Ahwoi has travelled to the US about 20 times and attended Harvard University in the United States, so many years ago.

    When The Enquirer contacted Mr. Ahwoi, he confirmed that the embassy had refused him a Non Immigrant Visa and expressed his surprise at what he called the surprising attitude of the embassy to certain key government people.

    When he was asked the reason for the refusal, he read out a letter given to him and signed by an unnamed consular officer which among other things stated that: “You have been temporally refused a visa under INA Section 221G, as you lack certain documents or information needed to reach a decision in your case. For further instructions please refer to the Checked Box below” he read out.

    He continued that the checked box read “We need to verify certain documents you have given us or statements you have made. We will contact you at the telephone numbers you provided us as soon as investigations are completed. There is nothing else you need to do at this stage”

    When asked whether he shared sentiments that his refusal had anything to with his position on the Kosmos-Energy deal, he said that could be the only reason. “This is about the 20th time I have been to the US, I schooled in the US, I attended Harvard University, At my age, I will not be migrating to the US, why this sudden change” he said.

    Early this year, a top officer of GNPC working within the Human Resource Department was also refused travelling visa whilst attempting to travel to US on official assignment.

    The official is reported to have told insiders that a consular officer at the US embassy told him that GNPC was “Anti- American”

    US EMBASSY RESPONDS

    When The Enquirer contacted the US Embassy for comments, Mr. Benjamin East, Information Officer stated that the embassy had no comments to all the issues raised above.

    In a telephone and email response the embassy said “The response at bottom applies to the three parts of your question, as I understand it, ie:

    1. That the Embassy refused a visa to the Minister of Energy in March, which was issued eventually due to intervention by the Chief of Staff.

    2. That the Embassy refused a visa for the Chairman of the GNPC.

    3. That the visa cases cited above are a response by the U.S. Government to recent actions/decisions taken with regards to Kosmos’ sale of its Jubilee stake to Exxon”.

    RESPONSE:

    “U.S. law prohibits the Embassy from commenting on individual visa cases.” Mr. Ahwoi, told The Enquirer that “I have decided I wont go there again, any American who wants to do business with us, must come here”

    90% of the revenue of Xe, formerly Blackwater, comes from the United States Government, which means it comes from United States taxpayers. What are taxpayers getting for their money?

    Prince proposed that the US government deploy armed private contractors to fight “terrorists” in Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia.

    Is this the work of Blackwater/Xe? This is from the aftermath of a mosque bombed in Mogadishu May 1, 2010, bombed while people were at worship. I do not usually include pictures of horrors, I do not like to disrespect those people caught in the chaos. But we need to ask: Are US taxpayers paying for this? If we are, what are we getting for our money?

    The Nation magazine has obtained an audio recording of a recent, private speech delivered by Prince to a friendly audience .  The speech, which Prince attempted to keep from public consumption, provides a stunning glimpse into his views and future plans and reveals details of previously undisclosed activities of Blackwater. The people of the United States have a right to media coverage of events featuring the owner of a company that generates 90% of its revenue from the United States government.

    Prince appears both clueless and contemptuous of Afghani and Pakistani opposition, calling them “barbarians” who “crawled out of the sewer.” This kind of COIN partnering will bring the US many more enemies. It is also unlikely to bring any victories, just more violent interludes. It seems unlikely that Prince and his company have any greater respect or concern for the people of Somalia than they do for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Prince claims he has been operating under US contract in Pakistan. Although the US and Pakistani governments officially deny this.

    “You know, people ask me that all the time, ‘Aren’t you concerned that you folks aren’t covered under the Geneva Convention in [operating] in the likes of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan? And I say, ‘Absolutely not,’ because these people, they crawled out of the sewer and they have a 1200 AD mentality. They’re barbarians. They don’t know where Geneva is, let alone that there was a convention there.”

    This kind of arrogance makes people blind. Blackwater/Xe was in charge of security at “the deadly suicide bombing on December 30 at the CIA station at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan.” Did arrogance cause them to miss important clues, or skip security protocols?

    Regarding the bombing of the mosque in Somalia:

    A senior official of Somalia’s radical Islamist group Al-Shabaab, who was target of Mogadishu mosque blast that killed several people have accused American security companies of the attacks.

    Sheikh Fu’ad Muhammad Khalaf aka Shongolo accused the Xe, formerly of Black Water, whom he alleges to based at Mogadishu airport of being behind the blast …

    No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks, which attracted condemnation from all quarters of the war-torn Somalia. (Garowe Online)

    Generally some group claims credit for bomb attacks. Bombing a mosque with no claim for credit makes it appear more likely that foreign fighters are involved, foreigners who are not allied with the various Somali Islamist movements. The largest group of foreign fighters in Somalia are those sponsored by the donor countries, chiefly the US and EU, trying to prop up the TFG, Transitional Federal Government, the government installed primarily by the US, which is neither federal nor a government. It limps along under constant propping and pressure from the US.

    Garowe Online: Somali warring sides condemn Mogadishu Mosque blasts

    A twin bomb explosion that killed scores of people inside a mosque in Somalia ’s restive capital Mogadishu on Saturday has been strongly condemned by all warring sides involved in Somali conflict.

    The attack took place inside a packed mosque in the main Bakara market, an area controlled by insurgent group Al-Shabaab.

    The leader of Somalia’s Hizbul Islam Islamist militant Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys said targets on worships are unheard off in Somalia but now seems to be getting its way into the country thanks to ‘foreign enemies’.

    The fragile UN-backed [read: foreign-backed] Somali government termed the incident as ‘new foreign barbaric phenomena’ that totally dints the historic Islamic culture of Somalis.

    Sheikh Abdullahi Abdirahman Abu Yusuf Al-Qadi, a spokesman for pro-government Ahlu-sunna Wal-jamaa group, which is involved in bloody war with insurgents groups Al-Shabaab and Hizbul Islam described the act as a foreign terror campaign that is finding its way into the Somali society.

    Al Shabaab movement blamed the attacks on foreign security firms operating in Mogadishu. The group is waging war against the UN-backed Somali government and its backer African Union troops.

    We know mercenary corporations are working for the US Government in Somalia. Dyncorp has its own offices in Mogadishu. Employing mercenaries, especially to commit acts of terrorism, will accomplish nothing, and earn the United States quite a few more enemies.

    Prince and Blackwater/Xe also want to go into Nigeria where they could make even more enemies for the US. In his speech Prince spoke about this.

    Prince also proposed using private armed contractors in the oil-rich African nation of Nigeria. Prince said that guerilla groups in the country are dramatically slowing oil production and extraction and stealing oil. “There’s more than a half million barrels a day stolen there, which is stolen and organized by very large criminal syndicates. There’s even some evidence it’s going to fund terrorist organizations,” Prince alleged. “These guerilla groups attack the pipeline, attack the pump house to knock it offline, which makes the pressure of the pipeline go soft. they cut that pipeline and they weld in their own patch with their own valves and they back a barge up into it. Ten thousand barrels at a time, take that oil, drive that 10,000 barrels out to sea and at $80 a barrel, that’s $800,000. That’s not a bad take for organized crime.” Prince made no mention of the nonviolent indigenous opposition to oil extraction and pollution, nor did he mention the notorious human rights abuses connected to multinational oil corporations in Nigeria that have sparked much of the resistance.

    Prince fails to note that many members of Nigeria’s government are reputed to be involved in the illegal oil bunkering. And that the neglect and exploitation by both the oil companies and the Nigerian government, is responsible for much unrest and dissatisfaction in the Niger Delta. The only help Blackwater/Xe might provide is assisting in some temporary financial gain by the exploiters, and quite likely for itself as well. Of course with Prince’s contempt for local populations, he may see this as a plus.

    Regardless of the income that comes from their employers, PMCs and their employees are ideally placed to deal in contraband, especially weapons, drugs, and slaves. All of these are traded and for sale in a war zone. Five Blackwater employees are currently under indictment for weapons charges.

    Poppy production continues strong in Afghanistan. Much of the product is currently being marketed in Iran and Russia. A PMC operating in Afghanistan is perfectly placed to take advantage of this trade without any US stigma that might attach to dealing drugs to the United States. They might even regard themselves as engaging in a patriotic activity or carrying out the wishes of their employers, at the same time making a huge profit.  This is especially the case for Prince who characterizes Iran as the source of evil in his speech.

    Prince claims:

    “The overall defense budget is going to have to be cut and they’re going to look for ways, they’re going to have to have ways to become more efficient,” he said. “And there’s a lot of ways that the private sector can operate with a much smaller, much lighter footprint.”

    The private sector also operates as a private sector, and can engage in additional enterprises including the trade in contraband to enhance and supplement their income. That is one way to be more efficient.

    If Blackwater is engaged in acts of terror, such as bombing mosques or other places where people are gathered, it hurts the United States. If taxpayers are paying for it, they need to know what they are getting. And the US taxpayers have a right and responsibility to monitor the words and deeds of Prince and his companies wherever they operate at taxpayer expense, and wherever their actions threaten the security and reputation of the United States.

    Artist's impression

    Graphic h/t to Ado on The Darkest of Liquids

    Photo credit from the bombing wardheernews.com PDF

    h/t africa comments where there is more information on ongoing events in Somalia

    The Gulf spill could end up dumping the equivalent of 4 Exxon Valdez spills per week.
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    This post is continued in Oil Spilling In The Ocean Currents and Into Coastal Wetlands
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    The Wall Street Journal reports that the well lacked a remote-control shut-off switch that is required by Brazil and Norway, two other major oil-producing nations.

    Experts have said that the remote-control switch may have been able to shut off the Deepwater Horizon well, and critics of have said the lack of the remote control is a sign U.S. authorities have been too lax with the industry.

    NWS forecast for oil spill spread in Gulf of Mexico as of May 3, 2010. Click on any of the pictures here to enlarge.

    The worst-case scenario for the broken and leaking well gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico would be the loss of the wellhead currently restricting the flow to 5,000 barrels — or 210,000 gallons per day.

    If the wellhead is lost, oil could leave the well at a much greater rate, perhaps up to 150,000 barrels — or more than 6 million gallons per day — based on government data showing daily production at another deepwater Gulf well.

    By comparison, the Exxon Valdez spill was 11 million gallons total. The Gulf spill could end up dumping the equivalent of 4 Exxon Valdez spills per week. (al.com)

    And no one knows for certain how or when they can shut down the flow.

    In this aerial photo taken in the Gulf of Mexico more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is seen burning Wednesday, April 21, 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

    The [Deepwater Horizon] platform exploded on April 20 and sank two days later, leaving 11 workers missing and presumed dead, and producing one of the largest oil spills in history in U.S. water.

    Soon after the explosion and sinking of the platform, which houses the machinery used to extract oil from the ocean floor through a hole called an oil well, the New York Times reported that federal authorities have recorded more than 500 fires on oil platforms, two deaths and 12 serious injuries due to platform fires in the Gulf of Mexico since 2006. None of the accidents has slowed the rate of drilling in the Gulf, which has increased over the past decade. In the aftermath of the explosion, industry officials said that despite the loss of the Deepwater Horizon, drilling in the Gulf will likely continue as usual.

    MMS is currently investigating a whistleblower’s claims that BP had broken the law by not keeping an up-to-date set of records on the oil platform Atlantis, also located in the Gulf of Mexico. In the event of an emergency, such records would be vital to shut down the platform. According to an email from a BP executive, not having the records could lead to “catastrophic operator errors.” Atlantis, which is located 190 miles south of New Orleans, is the largest oil platform of any kind in the world. (whistleblower.org)

    This image provided by the U.S. Coast Guard Saturday April 24, 2010 shows oil leaking from the drill pipe of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig after it sank Thursday. (AP photo/US Coast Guard)

    Kinks in the piping created as the rig sank to the seafloor may be all that is preventing the Deepwater Horizon well from releasing its maximum flow. BP is now drilling a relief well as the ultimate fix. The company said Thursday that process would take up to 3 months.

    Diagram of what is going on beneath the oil slick

    Sand is an integral part of the formations that hold oil under the Gulf. That sand, carried in the oil as it shoots through the piping, is blamed for the ongoing erosion described by BP.

    “The pipe could disintegrate. You’ve got sand getting into the pipe, its eroding the pipe all the time, like a sandblaster,” said Ron Gouget, a former oil spill response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    “When the oil is removed normally, it comes out at a controlled rate. You can still have abrasive particles in that. Well, now, at this well, its coming out at fairly high velocity,” Gouget continued. “Any erosive grains are abrading the inside of the pipe and all the steel that comes in contact with the liquid. It’s essentially sanding away the pipe.”

    An April 25, 2010 satellite photo provided by NASA shows a portion of an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, with ships visible at bottom left. (AP Photo/via NASA)

    The formation that was being drilled by the Deepwater Horizon when it exploded and sank last week is reported to have tens of millions of barrels of oil. A barrel contains 42 gallons.

    “The loss of a wellhead, this is totally unprecedented,” said Gouget. “How bad it could get from that, you will have a tremendous volume of oil that is going to be offgassing on the coast. Depending on how much wind is there, and how those gases build up, that’s a significant health concern.” (al.com)

    The growing oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is captured in this image from NASA's (MODIS) instrument aboard the Terra satellite. This natural-color image acquired April 29, 2010 shows a twisting patch of oil nearly 125 km (78 mi) wide. (NASA Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen/University of Wisconsin SSEC

    A publicly available Halliburton PowerPoint presentation from last November might tell us a lot about what could have caused the oil blowout, fire and massive oil gushing at the Horizon rig.

    Suppose you’re that division of Halliburton that has the dangerous job of “cementing” the drilling hole and the gaps between the hole and pipe. You’ve done this lots of times in shallow water wells, but you’ve learned through previous experience in deep water there’s a particularly difficult problem having to do with the presence of gas that has seeped to the ocean floor and been captured in essentially “frozen” crystallized formations.

    The problem is that when you drill into these formations, and then try to inject cement into the hole/gaps to prevent leakage, the curing process for that creates heat. That heat can, if not controlled, cause the gas to escape the frozen crystals. If a lot of gas is released all at once, as could happen during the cement/curing process, it can cause a blowout where the cementing is occurring, or force gas and/or oil up the pipeline to the drilling rig on the surface. And the heat created by the process may be just enough to ignite the gas, causing the explosion and fire.

    Did this happen at the Horizon rig? And if Halliburton already knew about this problem months (years) ago, and knew the risks it might create, why are we just now learning about this?

    From Halliburton’s presentation (large pdf), page 10, last November (my bold):

    Challenges

    • Shallow water flow may occur during or after cement job
    Under water blow out has happened
    • Gas flow may occur after a cement job in deepwater environments that contain major hydrate zones.
    • Destabilization of hydrates after the cement job is confirmed by downhole cameras.
    • The gas flow could slow down in hours to days if the de- stabilization is not severe.
    • However, the consequences could be more severe in worse cases.

    Page 13 lists the design objectives but then concedes they can’t all be met at once:

    Deepwater Well Objectives
    • Cement slurry should be placed in the entire annulus with no losses
    • Temperature increase during slurry hydration should not destabilize hydrates
    • There should be no influx of shallow water or gas into the annulus
    • The cement slurry should develop strength in the shortest time after placement
    Conditions in deepwater wells are not
    conducive to achieving all of these
    objectives simultaneously

    The presentation goes on to explain various options for dealing with the risks and assess the relative merits and costs. What’s interesting is that Halliburton appears to have been working at the edge of the technology and was not certain what would happen. Most experience was in shallower waters and no one was certain what would happen in deep waters. It conducted tests, but it’s not clear how complete or realistic those tests were or how costs factored into the choice of techniques. (FDL Scarecrow)

    Those negotiating deep water drilling contracts in Africa should take this to heart. One thing that should be possible is that a remote shut off should be a requirement in any deepwater drilling contract, though I’m not holding my breath. You cannot depend on the oil companies to police themselves, or even to make realistic assessments of the dangers and potential costs, particularly if they are not likely to pay much of those costs. We have the Niger Delta to remind us just how civic minded the oil companies can be, and how well leadership has stood up for the governed in dealing with the oil companies. The US has unleashed this monster upon itself because it has confused the corporate predator state with democracy, and governs more despite the people than for the people.

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    See more amazing photos from the Boston Globe, including the photos posted here.

    See more maps and photos at the US Coast Guard Deep Horizon Flickr photo stream.

    See the larger satellite view of the last picture above of the Gulf coastline.

    The Oil Drum has some good explanation and informed speculation as to what happened: Tech Talk: Revisiting Oil Well Pressures and Blowout Preventers after BP’s Oil Spill.

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    This post is continued in Oil Spilling In The Ocean Currents and Into Coastal Wetlands