Saturday, July 10, 2010
Cap On Gusher Removed, Oil Flows Freely
Robotic submarines removed the cap from the gushing well in the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday, beginning a period of at least two days when oil will flow freely into the sea.
It's the first step in placing a tighter dome that is supposed to funnel more oil to collection ships on the surface a mile above. If all goes according to plan, the tandem of the tighter cap and the surface ships could keep all the oil from polluting the fragile Gulf as soon as Monday.
BP spokesman Mark Proegler said the old cap was removed at 12:37 p.m. CDT on Saturday.
"Over the next four to seven days, depending on how things go, we should get that sealing cap on. That's our plan," said Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president.
It would be only a temporary solution to the catastrophe unleashed by a drilling rig explosion nearly 12 weeks ago. It won't plug the busted well and it remains uncertain that it will succeed.
The oil is flowing mostly unabated into the water for about 48 hours — long enough for as much as 5 million gallons to gush out — until the new cap is installed.
The hope for a permanent solution remains with two relief wells intended to plug it completely far beneath the seafloor.
Engineers now begin removing a bolted flange below the dome. The flange has to be taken off so another piece of equipment called a flange spool can go over the drill pipe, where the sealing cap will be connected.
The work could spill over into Sunday, Wells said, depending on how hard it is to pull off the flange. BP has a backup plan in case that doesn't work: A piece of machinery will pry the top and the bottom of the flange apart.
On Friday, National Incident Commander Thad Allen had said the cap could be in place by Monday. That's still possible, given the timeline BP submitted to the federal government, but officials say it could take up to a week of tests before it's clear whether the new cap is working.
The cap now in use was installed June 4, but because it had to be fitted over a jagged cut in the well pipe, it allows some crude to escape. The new cap — dubbed "Top Hat Number 10" — follows 80 days of failures to contain or plug the leak.
My question is, why the wait of two days or more to replace the cap thus allowing millions more gallons of oil to flow freely into the sea? Why not have the new cap ready to place on once the old one is taken off?
There has been much I have been reading on this, and I can say with sureness that the amount of methane mixed with other chemicals and toxic Corexit have made the Gulf Of Mexico a toxic stew that over time and even now will be lethal to live near. All the way up the food chain from micro organisms to whales, this toxic soup has affected the web of life. Yet, no moral outrage from this government or the people en masse.
How BP is even being allowed to take this cap off without replacing it the same day is ludicrous. It seems however, that words are not having effect anymore, so perhaps song is where we need to go:
I'm beginning to think this wasn't an accident.
Millions Face Starvation As Niger Prays In Vain For Rain
To the north of Niger, the creeping Sahara; to the south, oil rich and agriculturally lush Nigeria – this nation straddles the Sahel – dry, hot and cruel. It has suffered catastrophic droughts – 1974, 1984 and 2005. And now, another.
Five times the size of the United Kingdom, Niger is one of the poorest nations on earth with child mortality worse than Afghanistan. The absence of regular rainfall throughout 2009 has led to poor harvests, lack of grazing for animals and food reserves exhausted.
Hungry people have started adding "bitter" berries to their diet – this is survival food, normally unpalatable but when starving, the unpalatable becomes welcome – essential.
The tipping point, according to one expert is about a week away – 15 July. That is when the rainy season is expected. But the starving livestock may nibble away whatever green-shoots push through.
Ten leading aid agencies launched a joint appeal yesterday, warning that up to 10 million people across the eastern Sahel, faced acute hunger. The United Nations agrees, it says that the situation is of a magnitude not previously seen. Niger is at the centre of this crisis, with half of its population – 7 million people – going hungry.
The statistics, generally, for this West African country, are overwhelming – less than a third of the people are literate: boys spend on average five years in school; girls, just three. Two-thirds of the people of Niger live beneath the poverty line, 85 per cent on less than $2 – or £1 – a day.
But set that against these great ironies: Niger has uranium aplenty and sells it to France's burgeoning nuclear power industry. The fruits of this trade are hard to see. And there is oil, as in northern neighbour Libya. The partners are the Chinese who will begin production soon. Again, there is little hope the benefits of geological
benevolence will bless these beleaguered people. Half of Niger's government budget derives from donor aid. The proceeds of its natural resources will benefit Paris and Beijing before Niamey.
Heading east, into the badlands, we pass acres of planted millet and the occasional pool of orange, muddy water from the recent short, sharp rains. Two glaring truths are evident: the curative, durable work can and is being done; but the vicissitudes of climate makes it all a gamble at the edge of survival.
The "swollen-tummy" syndrome may not have taken root everywhere yet but with real fears that the harvest of 2010 will be a frighteningly small affair. And by then, for thousands, it will be too late.
At a health centre in Goumbi Kano, established by the charity Care International, one of those taking part in the appeal, and part-funded by the Niger government, I meet two women who had walked 8km, with their malnourished babies, to see Dr Moustaphe Chaibou.
Hasana and Maimouna, and babies Farida and Saredja, have been regulars for six weeks.
"I have no milk. When the baby cries, I give her millet," Hasana says.
The babies are showing signs of improvement. They get their regular prescription of a "plumpy nut" product, antibiotics and anti-malarial drugs. Still frighteningly underweight for their age, the 17 -month old was still a babe in arms, the 10-month old like a newborn – both about 20 per cent under the expected weight for their ages.
They left their village after prayers at 5.30am and arrived at opening time, around 8am. Then they headed back before the noon heat.
I asked the doctor what would happen if the rains failed: "Catastrophe, désolé," he said in perfect French.
The drought of 2009 made the September harvest poor – what it yielded was cornered by speculators – poor people had very little to see them through and it is now gone. The "biscuit-barrel" grain stores are empty and have been for weeks.
It has already been a long, hungry wait ameliorated by aid workers, the World Food Fund and other UN agencies. But they have got their sums, by all accounts, badly wrong. They budgeted for 1.7 million hungry souls but find themselves $97 million short . The aid community say the numbers in need are closer to 7 million – and about 3 million are in desperate need now. The target, recently raised, was too low, the budget inadequate and still under-funded.
The people still have until September to wait for handouts and hope.
In 1973 the community of N-Guigmi hardly existed. It now has a population of about 15,000 – people who were driven there from a pastoral existence in the countryside by drought and famine to a town, and a new way of life.
It is a terrifying template for this country unless a lasting solution is found. Those souls gave up waiting and gave up hope.
We meet Ishan Ila Gamma, a widow with eight dependents, in Tajae Nomade village. "I used to have more than 30 animals," she says. "Now I only have one good one remaining. I have been forced to sell all the others at cheap prices. I was forced to go to the city, I beg and sell herbs."
Again, the people of Niger are playing the waiting game – waiting for rain and for an autumn harvest; waiting for the UN and the World Food Programme to get their sums right and attract the donations to pay for the food aid; or waiting for the world to add Niger to the desperate list of Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea.
If I truly believed praying for rain would bring it to these people to see their crops grow, I would. This is truly a human catastrophe. Global warming is now gravely affecting these areas. Per scientists this will be the warmest year on record. Animals are already dying, and many of all species will follow the longer we continue to think this is just a political grandstanding game in this country. Drought is now affecting close to 40% of our world, and as global temperatures increase it will become more common as will starvation. If their rains do not come soon, as was said in this article it will be "catastrophe, désolé." And this is just the beginning. But there are things you can do...
Tree Nation In Niger
Tree Nation is a wonderful organization I am proud to be a part of that is dedicated to planting 8 million trees in the shape of a heart in the heart of Niger to provide mitigation and adaptation to climate change, fight poverty, hunger and deforestation, and bring water back to the roots of this land.
You can plant a tree in Niger from your modem and make a difference in the lives of many people. Solving this crisis will not come from politicians, it will come from us.
Moringa Oleifera is the answer!
Number of dams by country
I will try to find a more updated source, but as of 2008 Africa had 1269 dams. Could be one reason why so many countries there are now experiencing drought as well. Using solar power in Africa on a massive scale and breaching the dams that are unnecessary and were only built to make government officials and construction companies richer would also go very far in bringing back agricultural lands to Africa and mitigating global warming, hunger and poverty.
Just as a point of reference, according to this list China had 22,000 dams (yes, thousand) and Australia 486. Two more places where drought is pronounced and life threatening with failing crops. The correlation between excessive dam building that causes environmental devastation, exacerbation of CO 2 emissions, loss of fish stocks and agricultural land and diversion of water sources in my view cannot be denied.
Iraq's Marshes Reborn
One of Saddam Hussein's greatest acts of ecological destruction – the draining of the Mesopotamian marshes – has been reversed as birds and rivers return to the region
Iraq's marshes drained by Saddam in the 90s to punish rebellious marsh inhabitants are now thriving once more. Photograph: Korsh Ararat, Omar Fadil and Mudhafar Salim/Nature Iraq
Saddam Hussein's draining of the Mesopotamian marshes of Iraq – recorded as the Garden of Eden in the Bible - was one of the most infamous outrages of his regime, leaving a vast area of once-teeming river delta a dry, salt-encrusted desert, emptied of insects, birds and the people who lived on them.
But nearly two decades later the area is buzzing and twittering with life again after local people and a new breed of Iraqi conservationists have restored much of what was once the world's third largest wetland to some of its former glory.
The story of this once almost impossible restoration is told in an exhibition of photographs that has opened in the UK. They show the huge expanses of reeds and open water – now at least half the size of the Florida Everglades – where plants, insects and fish have returned, creating a vast feeding area for migrating and breeding birds, including the majestic Sacred Ibis, the endemic Basrah Reed Warbler and the Iraq Babbler, along with most of the world's population of Marbled Teal ducks, bee-eaters and many more.
"We call them stop-over sites, refuelling sites," said Richard Porter, Middle East advisor for the conservation group Birdlife International, who has helped train biologists and other experts for the local Birdlife partner Nature Iraq. "They are as important as the breeding and over-wintering grounds for species; if you have got to make a journey from central Africa to norther Europe and Asia, and you've got nothing to feed on, you're stuffed."
The Mesopotamian marshes originally made up an area more than three times the size of Norfolk, where the exhibition is showing, in Holt. It sprawled across thousands of square kilometres of floodplain where the Euphrates and Tigris rivers divided into a network of tributaries meandering and pulsating south to the Arabian sea. They were home to more than 80 bird species, otters and long-fingered bats, and hundreds of thousands of Marsh Arabs who grew rice and dates, raised water buffalo, fished and built boats and homes from reeds.
In the early 1990s, this way of life came to an abrupt end when Hussein ordered the marshes to be drained to punish the local population for an uprising after his failed invasion of Kuwait, a problem exacerbated by the continued construction of dams upstream.
He ordered the area to be hemmed in by constructing around 4,000km of earthen walls that towered up to 7m above the unbroken flat landscape. The wetlands retreated to as little as 5-10% of their original size, according to a 2001 United Nations Environment Agency report.
After Hussein was toppled by American forces in 2003, Azzam Alwash returned from his adopted home in the US to the area, where he had lived for part of his childhood, and learned to hunt ducks with his father while they inspected the irrigation ditches. Alwash found the local people who had stayed had already begun to break up the walls with shovels or earth diggers, and they have continued to do so. They have destroyed up to 98% of the embankments, he told the Guardian, "not because they are tree-huggers or bird-lovers, but because it's a source of economic income to them, because they can harvest reeds and sell them. They can fish and feed a family or sell them to earn extra income."
Alwash, a civil engineer, set up Nature Iraq and has organised training for graduates who help with monitoring work. "We take guards with us with Kalashnikovs, but the most difficult part is the road between [the capital] Baghdad to the marsh," said Alwash. "Once I'm inside the marshes it's relatively safe."
About half the original marshland has been restored - even more had been reinstated, but there was a setback last year because of a drought. Nature Iraq has now drawn up a plan to cope with the diminishing water flows from dams upstream in Turkey by channelling irrigation water back into the rivers and building a barrage to retain meltwater from the mountains and create a "mechanical flood" of water to replicate the important pulses of freshwater that wash through the marshlands every spring.
Iraq's Marshes and Corporate Control
This was an entry I wrote on the marshlands about four years ago, discussing lack of water in Iraq, corporate control of water in Iraq by Bechtel, and the hope that any restoration of this diverse and beautiful area would be left in the control of the people there and not the corporate beneficiaries of the invasion.
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
But, can the marshlands compare to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon? Some dispute their existence but archeologists claim to have uncovered structure that lends to the story of their existence. Just the mechnism used to bring water from the Euphrates to irrigate the mountain gardens is incredible.
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