Sale of Biden Gulf Oil means more drilling at old chemicals dump site
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The Biden administration oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico last week not only lock in decades of drilling and upcoming greenhouse gas emissions, it is also opening more mining in an area where chemical companies have dumped tons of hazardous industrial waste.
Off the coast of Louisiana, in an area known as Mississippi Canyon, thousands of 55-gallon drums containing decades-old toxic waste remain scattered over a 200 square mile expanse of the ocean floor, according to the HuffPost revealed earlier this year. The chemical giants received federal permits to dump waste there in the 1970s, and there has been little monitoring of the area in the decades since.
The Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged that it was not monitoring the old landfill and that it understood little, if at all, of the lingering environmental impacts. In light of HuffPost reports, the agency said it had launched an assessment to determine whether the site was eligible for cleanup under the federal Superfund program.
But the decades-old waste has not deterred fossil fuel interests in the region. Oil and gas companies are already drilling in barrel field, with federal agencies allowing them to determine the best way to avoid and reduce impacts on existing drums. In fact, it was a Shell drilling plan that shed light on the condition of the remaining barrels, noting that many “still appear to be intact” and “may or may not contain their original contents.”
At last week’s auction – the largest offshore oil and gas concession sale in U.S. history – Chevron Corp., Murphy Exploration & Production Co., and Houston Energy LP have secured new drilling rights to offshore rental blocks where barrels have been located.
Chevron paid $ 256,442.40 to rent two blocks that are part of the dump. Murphy Exploration and Houston Energy paid $ 154,362.80 and $ 151,744.80, respectively, to lease one block each.
These three companies did not respond to requests for comment from HuffPost.
As with previous Gulf lease sales, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has alerted potential bidders to the “idle industrial waste disposal site” in its final sale notice.
“The site was created by the [Environmental Protection Agency] in 1973 under the Law on Protection, Research and Marine Sanctuaries to allow the deposit on the seabed of about 205,000 barrels of steel containing chemical wastes and chlorinated hydrocarbons, ”said the notice. “Bidders and tenants are advised that the blocks associated with the disposal site and adjacent blocks that are included in the sales area may present risks related to the contents of the barrels (toxic, corrosive and / or potentially explosive materials). “
The document lists rental blocks where barrels are known to exist, but that probably doesn’t give the full picture. Ocean surveys have revealed barrels up to 10 miles from the designated discharge limit, according to previous notices to tenants.
At the Mississippi Canyon site, fuel additive company Ethyl Corp. obtained EPA approval to discharge approximately 19,000 barrels of waste sludge containing liquid metal salts and calcium – drums that could still pose an explosion hazard. And DuPont dumped at least 1,300 barrels of trash, including “a wide variety of inorganic salts, industrial organics and chlorinated hydrocarbons” from its LaPlace, Louisiana plant, according to a 1975 National Academy of Sciences. report on ocean contaminants.
Chlorinated hydrocarbons, or CHCs, are a family of toxic chemicals that can persist in the environment and concentrate in marine organisms.
Previously interviewed HuffPost scientists expressed concerns about the potential for these substances to migrate through the food chain, where they could pose a risk to human health. They also argued that oil giant Shell’s internal policy of maintaining a distance of 10 meters from the barrels is insufficient to avoid disturbing the remaining contents.
“Hazard studies are needed before bottom-disturbing activities can be approved in plans and permits,” the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management wrote in its notice for the Gulf sale last week. “Drilling and rig / pipeline placement may require precautions, such as avoidance (recommended minimum distance of 30 feet from individual barrels), equipment decontamination, and health and safety procedures. Staff. ”
An EPA spokeswoman told HuffPost that she was close to completing her first Superfund selection by the end of the year.
It is not clear whether BOEM has considered excluding parts of Mississippi Canyon from its recent lease sale pending the outcome of the EPA’s assessment. BOEM spokesperson John Filostrat said the office was unable to comment on the pending EPA report.
“For Sale 257, BOEM has included lease exclusions and stipulations to protect biologically sensitive resources, mitigate potential negative effects on protected species, and avoid potential conflicts between oil and gas development and other activities and users in the Gulf of Mexico, ”he said via email. . “Before any activity taking place on the outer continental shelf, companies are required to study the seabed and shallow water sediments to identify potential hazards before carrying out activities that disturb the bottom. This helps to avoid any danger.
Environmentalists and climate activists with force decried the Biden administration’s lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico last week, which clearly contradicts the president’s own climate goals and comes at a time when the world can least afford wealthy nations to expand the development of fossil fuels.
The auction ultimately grossed over $ 191 million, with oil and gas companies purchasing rights to drill over 1.7 million acres offshore – an area larger than the state of Delaware.
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