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A Faerie's Farthing

Flitting through the internets looking for sparkly bits. All content mine and not to be reproduced without permission.

Location: All Material Copyrighted, United States

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Big Oil's Fingers In So Very Many Pies...

Big Oil's Fingers In So Very Many Pies...

Not that I've professionally done the first thing with it, but I have a degree in biology, believe it or not. So, naturally, I take a healthy interest in scientific news stories. Given the release of An Inconvenient Truth, and the contentiousness inherent in the global warming debate, it was with quite an interest indeed that I read this recent AP article.

I can't even say why it caught my fancy; it's a perfectly respectable piece about the ice cores taken from beneath the Arctic Ocean and what they tell us of the geologic record. But something about it just seemed odd; I suppose seeing the North Pole described as a tropical paradise will do that to a person. So I decided to make my own expedition of sorts and look into the groups and organizations sponsoring this research. Shall we explore the layers of sediment below the fold?

Reading the article, we learn that this exercise was undertaken by a group identified only as the "Arctic Coring Expedition." Layer 1, if you will. A few moments with google leads us to layer 2, an organization called ECORD, whose website then points us to the third layer, the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. This is where things get interesting, starting with the history of the organization. The IODP has two predecessors - The Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) and before that, the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP):

The Levingston Shipbuilding Company laid the keel of the D/V Glomar Challenger on October 18, 1967, in Orange, Texas. The ship was launched on March 23, 1967, from that city. It sailed down the Sabine River to the Gulf of Mexico, and after a period of testing, the Deep Sea Drilling Project accepted the ship on August 11, 1968.

Over the next 30 months, Phase II consisted of drilling and coring in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans as well as the Mediterranean and Red Seas. Technical and scientific reports followed during a ten month period. Phase II ended on August 11, 1972, and ship began a successful scientific and engineering career.

The success of the Challenger was almost immediate. On Leg 1 Site 2 under a water depth of 1067 m (3500 ft), core samples revealed the existence of salt domes. Oil companies received samples after an agreement to publish their analyses. The potential of oil beneath deep ocean salt domes remains an important avenue for commercial development today.

But the purpose of the Glomar Challenger was scientific exploration.

Are they reminding us or themselves, I wonder? Digging into yet another layer, IODP has a nonprofit managing company, IODP Management International, Inc. (IODP-MI).

IODP-MI serves as the central management organization for IODP, receiving advice from Science Advisory Structure (SAS), and working in consultation with vessel/platform operators referred to as “Implementing Organizations” or IOs. IODP-MI's job is to translate the scientific priorities of the international scientific ocean drilling community into annual program plans.

IODP-MI has offices in Washington, D.C. and Sapporo, Japan and is responsible for program-wide science planning, and oversight of engineering development, publications, education and outreach, site survey data management, and core sample repositories.

I'm sure you can guess where I'm going with this...some of the main players at that Washington, D.C. office have ties to the oil/energy industry:

Manik Talwani, President & CEO - received a Master’s degree in Physics from Delhi University in India. Following that he received his Ph.D. from Columbia University and served as professor of geophysics there through 1982 and as the director of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory (now the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) from 1973 to 1981. He left Lamont to join Gulf Oil Company to serve first as director of the Center for Crustal Studies and then as chief scientist. When Chevron acquired Gulf in 1985, he left Gulf to accept the appointment at Rice and simultaneously he founded the Geotechnology Research Institute at the Houston Advanced Research Center where he served as its director until 1998.

...Hans Christian Larsen, IODP-MI Vice President for Science Planning - received his scientific degree in geologically applied geophysics from University of Copenhagen in 1977. He served as a researcher in the Geological Survey of Greenland before being promoted in 1984 to be leader of the department for basin analysis and petroleum exploration. During his tenure as department leader he established major co-operative projects with industry.

John Emmitte is their Contracts Officer. I'm still trying to confirm iformation on him, but it seems like his past lies on K Street, where he worked as director of Grants Management for the lobbyists at the Propane Council. And to think we've just begun our explorations!

It turns out that IODP's science is guided by yet another acronym, SAS. I suppose this is layer five, but it's hard to keep track.

IODP-MI submits an annual IODP Program Plan for review and approval first to the executive committee of the SAS, called the Science Planning and Policy Oversight Committee (SPPOC), then to the IODP-MI Board of Governors (BoG), and finally to the Lead Agencies who give final budget approval.

...IODP science planning is provided by the Science Advisory Structure (SAS), which involves many scientists and engineers on eight standing committees and panels. IODP-MI Sapporo works very closely with the SAS by managing the submission and review of drilling proposals, assisting SAS committee chairs, and organizing and maintaining public records of SAS activities.

According to the IODP's directives, "educational and/or research organizations, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and for-profit companies ineligible for membership." According to their committee rosters, though, the rule doesn't seem so cut and dry; besides the fact that IODP actually has an "Industry-IODP Science Program Planning Group," the eight committees of SAS all seem to be fairly crowded with oil interests. Here's a list from just three of the panels - Industry Group, Environmental Protection and Safety, and Engineering Development:

John Hogg - ConocoPhillips

Andrew Pepper - Hess

Martin Perlmutter - Chevron Corporation

David Roberts Rockall Geosciences Ltd.

Kurt Rudolph - ExxonMobil

Yoshihiro Tsuji - Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation

Yasuhiro Yamada - Kyoto U, Petroleum geology

Robert Bruce - BHP Petroleum

Akito Furutani - JDC

Masahiro Kamata - Schlumberger K.K.

Barry Katz - Chevron

Jean Mascle - Geosciences Azur

Sumito Morita - GSJ

Jerome Schubert - Texas A&M U, Petroleum engineering

Craig Shipp - Shell Internat'l E&P

Dieter Strack - Private consultant, Petroleum geology

Mark Alberty - BP

Masafumi Fukuhara - Schlumberger K.K.

Leon Holloway - ConocoPhilips

Yoichiro Ichikawa - JDC, Ltd

Yoshihiro Masuda - U. of Tokyo

Haruya Nakata - Geothermal Energy R&D Co., Ltd.

Roland Person - IFREMER

Peter Schultheiss - GEOTEK Ltd., UK

Axel Sperber - Private Consultant, drilling technologies

Mitsugu Takemura - JAPEX

And so it goes, panel after panel. One of the organizations involved, IFREMER, has a name that says it all: The French Research Institute for Ocean Exploitation. At least they're being honest, I guess. So what does this all mean? I'm not sure. This doesn't seem to be a case of buying science; the article does the fossil fuel industry no favors, citing greenhouse gases as responsible for an Arctic tropical paradise:

First-of-its-kind core samples dug up from deep beneath the Arctic Ocean floor show that 55 million years ago an area near the North Pole was practically a subtropical paradise, three new studies show.

The scientists say their findings are a glimpse backward into a much warmer-than-thought polar region heated by run-amok greenhouse gases that came about naturally.

...Millions of years ago the Earth experienced an extended period of natural global warming. But around 55 million years ago there was a sudden supercharged spike of carbon dioxide that accelerated the greenhouse effect.

Scientists already knew this "thermal event" happened but are not sure what caused it. Perhaps massive releases of methane from the ocean, the continent-sized burning of trees, lots of volcanic eruptions.

So, if they're not there to skew the science, what is the skinny? Like Deepthroat said, "follow the money." IODP is funded by its four "international partners." Some of these members are entities from Japan, one of them is an international consortium. And one of them is our very own National Science Foundation. While it's always possible the scientists in league with the oil industry could manipulate the scientific reports, it seems to be more a case of yet another taxpayer subsidy to Big Oil - we are, it would appear, sponsoring their exploration exercises.

I wish I could say I was shocked...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since this comment comes from someone that has been "tainted" by Big Oil, you probably will not believe me when I tell you why there are so many representatives from Big Oil on the various IODP committees. You see, I am one of the members of the Environmental Protection and Safety Panel, EPSP. The reason that I am on the panel is because I am an expert in deepwater drilling and blowout prevention. Other members of this panel from Big Oil are experts in identifying shallow below seafloor hazards one of which is natural gas.

Since the vessel that drills these scientific wells has almost no way to prevent hydrocarbon blowouts should a hydrocarbon bearing formation be penetrated, all locations are picked where they are not likely to penetrate these potentially hazardous formations. Who would be better to determine where there are no hydrocarbon bearing formations than experts who make their living finding and detecting these same formations.

The sole purpose of the EPSP is to provide guidance to the IODP so that the wells that they do drill can be drilled safely without the risk of accidental release of hydrocarbons to the oceans.


Dr. Jerome J. Schubert, PE

7:51 AM  

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