Who’s Awarding Pinocchios for Environmental Journalism?

Article at NOLA.com, the online presence of the New Orleans Advocate/Times-Picayune:

Seafloor damage from BP spill vastly underestimated in rush for legal settlement


Published in the journal PLOS One in June, [Texas A&M researcher Paul] Montagna’s full analysis of his 10-year-old samples showed damage to seafloor organisms stretching across at least 124 square miles. That’s nearly two times larger than the 66-square-mile footprint described in the abbreviated report Montagna turned over for the disaster’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment.

That paragraph is displayed right under the following graphic:

“Oh, my!” you might say. “Seafloor creatures were damaged almost all the way to Destin!”

But wait just a minute…

Even though the title purports to show “Damage to Seafloor Creatures”, note the legend: these blobs portray the areas assessed by Montagna’s study. The little scale bar on the upper right is 20 miles; a square that size would enclose an area of 400 square miles.

It’s not hard to portray the areas actually impacted by the spill; in fact, the graphic is part of the paper (linked in the quote block above).

The scale on the upper image (A) is zoomed in on the Macondo blowout area. The scale of the lower image (B) is comparable to NOLA.com’s in-house graphic; you’ll note Southeastern Louisiana and the mouth of the Mississippi River on the upper left of the image.

The Montagna paper notes:

The footprint of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill … was 321 km2  [124 mi2](Table 2). The most severe impacts were found in an area of approximately 58 km2 [22 mi2] around the Macondo well (Fig 5A). The footprint area of 321 km2 includes only the red and orange zones around the Macondo oil well, but not the coastal areas further to the north, which were likely affected by hypoxia of the “dead zone” (Fig 5B). The shape of the impact zone around the wellhead was approximately elliptical, stretched in an approximate southwest to northeast direction.

Emphasis mine.

The text of the NOLA.com reports the correct size of the assessed damage, but the combination of the headline, the graphic, and its title seem designed to create a lasting, and incorrect, impression of Gulf-wide devastation.

As Montagna’s Table 2 shows, less than 0.3% of the assessed area was rated as severe or moderate impact in the most recent study; 79% was assessed “no impact” or “pristine”.

Why did NOLA.com create an entirely new graphic to go along with the paper when an accurate graphic already existed to portray the true extent of the damage? Your guess is as good as mine, but I suspect it has something to do with advancing a narrative that 10 years out, wide swaths of the Gulf are still reeling from Macondo damage. That narrative is detached from reality.

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We’ve Been Worried About the Wrong Sickness

  1. President Trump – Enough with the tweets, enough with the tough guy act. Our country needs a leader now more than ever. We don’t need another blue-ribbon commission or task force. The peaceful protesters need to feel that justice will be done. Right now, they need evidence that their voice is heard.
  2. You are correct to designate ANTIFA as a terrorist organization. To the extent there are Proud Boys or other extremist groups involved in the violence, they deserve the same designation. These groups may not have an org chart, but they have organization, communication, coordination, and funding. Root it out.
  3. What I know about urban policing I’ve picked up from watching “Blue Bloods”, but I can’t help feeling that police unions and cop culture are a big part of the problem. The alleged bad actor in this case had been reported 18 times for excessive force. Is that typical? Three other cops watched as he kneeled on a cuffed and incapacitated suspect. If what we’re down to is thugs in blue protecting us from thugs in black, we’re toast.
  4. Face masks and distancing have robbed our society of the humanity it had left. Count me out. We need handshakes. We need hugs. We need smiles and affirmation. We need to protect our old folks and get on with our lives.
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Remembering the Deepwater Horizon Tragedy, Ten Years Later

April 20 marks the ten-year anniversary of the disastrous blowout and fire that led to the sinking of the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon and the loss of 11 of the drilling crew. The well, operated by BP and dubbed the Macondo Prospect, spewed an estimated five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the ensuing three months, until it was finally controlled in June.

The spill was an avoidable accident that we all hope never happens again. I blogged extensively about the spill at the time, and continued to write about its regulatory aftermath for several more years; this post from April 2011 contains links to other relevant posts: BP’s Macondo Disaster, One Year Later

The New Orleans Times-Picayune/Advocate marked the anniversary with this article: A decade after BP spill, Gulf of Mexico has rebounded, but wounds still visible (Apr 18, 2020). That article contains links to another TP/Advocate article from March 3, which drew heavily on a report from the George Soros-backed Center for American Progress. This trio of posts inspired me to update my blog.

To summarize…

  • The CAP study is cherry-picked specifically to show the industry in a bad light. The offshore safety and environmental record shows decades of improvement; why does CAP show only recent data with no historical context?
  • The Times-Picayune/Advocate article attempts to reconstruct the offshore fatality record from press reports and suggests that regulatory reform led to a 2019 spike in fatalities. Of the nine fatalities tallied in 2019, five souls were lost in two helicopter incidents. Four were victims of falls.
  • BSEE does not regulate helicopters; yes, they are hazardous. Falls are responsible for a large fraction of offshore injuries/deaths. BSEE is rolling back technical well operation and design issues. Regulatory reform did not increase the likelihood of falls.

More below the fold….

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Contemplating President Joe Biden

On Election Day, November 3, 2020, Joe Biden will be 2-1/2 weeks short of his 78th birthday: the exact age, to the day, as President Ronald Reagan on his last day in office.

Donald Trump, at 70, was the oldest President in history upon his first inaugural. He would achieve the age of 78 a few months before the end of his second term.

We’ve all seen Biden’s videos. Troubling. Even in comfortable settings, faced with the softest of softball questions, Biden stumbles, fumbles, stammers, wanders off-camera, and loses his train of thought.

Now, if you will …

  • Imagine a Biden State of the Union. Oof.
  • Imagine Biden with the passcodes for the nuclear football.
  • Imagine Biden in a time of true national crisis, like a 9/11, a Katrina, or a pandemic.

That scares the holy bejeezus out of me. Now …

  • Imagine a Biden vs Trump debate. There will be three.

That’s gotta scare the holy bejeezus out of the DNC.

It’s a long time from now until the Democratic Convention in August. My gut says there will be some compelling reason for Joe to step aside, to be lauded for a lifetime of service to his country. He’ll be replaced by acclamation, by a candidate with no delegates who has sidestepped the primary circus process.

But if I’m wrong, Joe’s choice of VP candidate matters. A lot.

The Constitution will also matter. Especially Amendment #25, Section 4.

God help us.

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COVID-19 at the Peak

Based on data through April 8, it would appear that we are at a peak (“inflection point” — see original post) of new COVID-19 cases, as reported by the states and compiled by the New York Times. The data are available at github.com.

This is about what I predicted for the nation back on March 30. I had also predicted New York to peak around April 3 or 4, but New York persists on more-or-less a plateau.

(Actually, the peak number of new cases nationwide, as well as in NY and US ex-NY, all happened on April 4, last Saturday. I’m relying on the 7-day moving average, as opposed to daily data, to call the inflection point as it takes any day-of-the-week influence out of the data.)

The highest day for deaths across the board was April 7, two days ago. That is good news, although the moving average for deaths persists above the inflection point. If this curve trends down, that will be very good news. On the current trend, the inflection point is still a few days away (about April 15 — See below.)

Mortality Apr 8

Growth Rate plot of 7-day moving average trends. The projection crosses 1.0 on or about 4/15.

Overall, the number of cases is tracking below my estimates. I’ll stand by my estimate of 800K to 1 million diagnosed infections, although I’ll revise the range of deaths slightly downward to 45- to 55K. If the trends continue improving, those numbers will be revised downward. (The last IHME numbers I saw were updated April 4, and had been revised down to 60,400 deaths, with a range from 32K to 137K. So we’re converging.)

LogLogNew CasesTotal US

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COVID-19: Updated Curves & Forecast (April 6)


New Cases continue to track below my estimate. I discount the significance of the recent dip in the curves; I think the 7-day moving average curves applied in the Growth Rate curves are more significant.


2020-04-06_14-03-402020-04-06_14-04-522020-04-06_14-04-26Curves are generally tracking below my original estimates but may peak April 8 or 9. Click to enlarge.

A look at Italy has caused me to adjust my projection of both ultimate cases and deaths. According to Italy curves (worldometer.com – see below), the peak in deaths lagged the peak in “new cases” by about six days. The current ratio of reported deaths to cumulative cases of six days ago is roughly 5.9%.

If the “new cases” curve is symmetrical, half the total cases would occur after the peak. The curve for Italy is skewed to the right, however, suggesting that the majority of cases occur after the peak.

Using the above logic, and my estimate that Total U.S. Cases will peak at 400K cumulative, by estimate of ultimate cases is in the range 800K to 1 million.

Applying the 5.9% to remaining cases suggest ultimate mortality of 48K to 60K.

The IHME estimate of deaths has been updated as of April 4. Estimated deaths 81.8K with a range of confidence from 50K to 137K.

State data courtesy New York Times at github.com.


Italy “New Cases” (above) and Italy “Deaths from worldometer.com. It appears that New Cases peaked on March 21, while Deaths peaked March 27. Note that neither curve appears particularly symmetrical about the peak.


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COVID-19: Updated Plots (April 4)

All data is courtesy New York Times via github.com. (Link is free, but requires registration.)

Original post here.


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COVID-19 and the Numbers (UPDATED)

[On April 2, I posted my assessment of the U.S. Total Cases and Mortality data associated with the current COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, I estimated 855,000 positive tests as reported by the states, and total related deaths of 24,000. The projection of cases was based on data through March 30.

As of today, April 3 (data through 4/2), the forecasts of “new cases” are looking good. New York is trending significantly under my forecast, while “U.S. excluding New York” is tracking pretty well on trend. 

I fear that I underestimated mortality as a percent of Total Cases. The next few days will tell.

For now I am sticking with my previous estimates, acknowledging that Cases may run on the low side (~760K) and deaths perhaps 10% above my prior estimate. I still think Total New Cases will peak midweek (around April 8). 

The graphs below show data updated through April 2, along with my original forecasts. Thank you for reading. SM]

If you’re like me, the press conferences and the resulting press coverage leave a lot of confusion about what to expect as the pandemic plays out. Stories and headlines like this one seem to miss the point completely:

White House projects 100K to 240K coronavirus deaths as Trump tells US to prepare for ‘very painful two weeks’

I saw that press conference too, and that wasn’t my conclusion. The “100 K to 240 K” model seemed like more of a cartoon that has not changed for weeks. Dr. Deborah Birx used a graph from this model that leads to a different projection: 84,000 deaths, with a confidence interval from 38,000 to 155,000 deaths. [Note: The study’s projections have been revised upward about 10% since yesterday.]

So what should we expect? When is this thing going to peak? When will things start to get back to normal?

I decided to look at the numbers myself, and I feel marginally better. See Page 2… Continue reading

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Sean Hannity is Dead Wrong About Hunter Biden

Sean Hannity is off base in his criticism of Burisma and its appointment of Hunter Biden to its board.

Hannity hammers away at the younger Biden’s lack of oil and gas experience. Fact is, that’s kind of the point of outside directors. Industry insiders can be subject to groupthink. Outside directors can bring perspective and expertise in general business. I would guess that most, if not all, American oil and gas corporations, both large and small, have lawyers, investment bankers, and general business professionals with no oil and gas experience on their boards.


Hunter Biden was a cokehead. That’s what makes his seat on Burisma’s board so objectionable. Hunter brought nothing to the picnic other than his name and his connection to his (then) powerful dad. Most legitimate companies would avoid anyone with Hunter’s checkered c.v.

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The Strange-But-True Story of Dr. Hubbert and Peak Oil (video)

I was invited to address the New Orleans Chapter of the Society of Independent Professional Earth Scientists (SIPES) on January 21, 2020.

The title of my talk was “The Man Who Would Be King: The Strange-But-True Story of Dr. Hubbert and Peak Oil.” I’d given this talk a few years ago at an industry luncheon in Lafayette, but with newly-updated data and a few new graphs, the story has come into sharper focus.

The audience on this occasion was mostly earth science professionals. In spite of moderate technical content, it should appeal to a broader audience as a tale of a forgotten slice of American history, radical politics, and the philosophy of growth and resource development.

A video of the presentation available at this link.

Sorry, I’m unable to embed the video. If you go to the website, scroll down until you find me.

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