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“I’ve got 20 million plus gallons of highly toxic sludge. Where do you want it?”

BREAKING June 23 – I was going to add this to an earlier diary entry, but I don’t think it should be buried.

It looks like the worst-case scenario is becoming stark reality. From the Associated Press via The Washington Post:

NEW ORLEANS — The Coast Guard says BP has been forced to remove a cap that was containing some of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen says an underwater robot bumped into the venting system. That sent gas rising through vent that carries warm water down to prevent ice-like crystals from forming in the cap.

Allen says the cap has been removed and crews are checking to see if crystals have formed before putting it back on. In the meantime, a different system is still burning oil on the surface.

Before the problem with the containment cap, it had collected about 700,000 gallons of oil in the previous 24 hours. Another 438,000 gallons was burned.

The current worst-case estimate of what’s spewing into the Gulf is about 2.5 million gallons a day.

What little containment there was on the spill has been removed, and there is as yet no report on the extent of the damage that has been done to either the well head or the fractured ground that is already leaking oil from the underground reservoir. And when a report is issued, do we have any reason to believe BP when they say (as we know they will) that the damage is “minimal” and “will have no impact on our ability to contain the oil”?

As efforts are made to clean up the oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, yet another potential disaster is brewing: what to do with the millions of gallons of sludge that is being cleaned up.

WWL TV in New Orleans reports that three area landfills have receive more than 5 million pounds of solid waste from the clean-up, including tar, rags and oil-smeared booms. Of course, BP is saying that this is all perfectly safe. Of course, the polluters have the authoritity under federal law to characterize the waste in whatever fashion they can get away with. From the article:

Collection totals are being reported to the top federal environmental agency, but BP cleanup officials would not release that information this week. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not released that information either, said Wilma Subra, a New Iberia chemist and environmental activist.

But some data about specific landfills has been made public. For instance, as of Wednesday, Colonial Landfill in Sorrento had received 1,910 tons of solid waste, Tidewater Landfill in Venice had nearly 780 tons and River Birch Landfill in Avondale had accumulated 28 tons. That equals more than 5 million pounds of waste to those three landfills alone.

Latter in the article:

Contractors hired by BP to clean up the oil, namely Heritage Environmental Services, are separating waste into appropriate containers at staging areas, (Sam) Phillips (solid-waste permits administrator at the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality) said. DEQ is monitoring that process.

“It is the responsibility of the generator, in this case BP and contractors, to characterize the waste,” Phillips said. (Emphasis added)

Heritage’s office staff said the company has no-comment policy “for the duration of this project.” A representative did confirm the firm is under contract with BP.

More below the fold.

USA Today had this to say on the matter:

Crews so far have skimmed and sucked up 21.1 million gallons of oil mixed with water, according to the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command. Because the out-of-control well may continue spewing for months, that total almost certainly will surge.

BP’s plan for handling the gooey mess, written in conjunction with the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency and Louisiana officials, calls for reclaiming or recycling as much as possible.

Some experts said that approach is the best option for the environment, but it has not worked in previous spills. It is not profitable to refine sludge that has mixed with water and seagoing debris because it can actually ruin refineries, they said.

“It has no longer got any economic value. It has to be disposed of as garbage,” said Marc Jones, a former Navy officer who helped oversee numerous oil spill cleanups, including the 1989 Exxon Valdez in Alaska. “The stuff that got recovered from the Exxon Valdez was just a nightmare.”

So far, BP has released little information about what it has done with the skimmed oil.

Let’s think on this for a moment. Nearly all of the oil now sitting on the ocean “has no longer got any economic value.” The volatiles that get refined into gasoline and other petroleum products have all evaporated, which is why the oil has turned into tar, so there is no incentive to send it to a refinery. Anyway, the huge number of impurities would almost certainly cause damage to the equipment.

What is being skimmed is mixed with salt water and Gaia alone knows how much dispersant, not to mention seaweed, drift wood, the corpses of animals killed by the oil and chemicals. Then there is the oily sand being stripped from beaches and coastal wetlands. BP has claimed from the beginning that all of this is extremely toxic, an excuse they have used to keep away scientists, the media and everyone else trying to find out the true scope of this tragedy. And it is being dumped in landfills?

Now, it is not all gloom-and-doom. An article by NPR notes that this could be good for the economy:

As the Gulf states struggle to deal with the effects of the oil spill, they’re facing a new challenge: a mountain of waste from the cleanup effort. Anything that is contaminated with oil – from seawater to workers’ clothing – has to be treated as potentially hazardous.

A network of companies is stepping in to handle the waste, and they’ll be billing BP for their efforts.

Money, money everwhere and not a drop that is safe to drink.

The spill has been going on now for 64 days. The current estimate of how much oil is pouring out every day is 100 times the original estimate given by BP, and it will be months before a relief well can be drilled. ASSUMING that the relief well completely stops the leak and ASSUMING that it also stops oil from leaking directly out of the sea bed and ASSUMING that BP has at long last started telling the truth about the spill, there is still going to be several more millions of gallons of sludge and tons of oil-smeared equipment that will have to deal with.

I’m not feeling terribly optimistic about this.

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Gregory Gadow

Gregory Gadow