Where Are the Oil Skimmers?

How inept has the Obama administration been in responding to the Deepwater Horizon oil gusher? Reports from the field suggest that, nearly 70 days into the crisis, the federal response to the oil clean-up is still in disarray. For evidence, we Virginians need look no farther than the port of Norfolk, where the world’s largest oil skimmer, the “A Whale,” is berthed and waiting for federal authority to proceed to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Taiwanese-owned, South Korean-built supertanker has 12, 16-foot intake vents designed to skim the oil off the water’s surface. As the Daily Press quotes its owner, Nobu Su, the ship would float across the Gulf “like a lawn mower cutting the grass,” ingesting up to 500,000 barrels of oil-contaminated water a day.

What’s the hold-up? The big problem appears to be the lack of formal government approval, presumably from the Coast Guard, allowing it to assist in the clean-up. Also complicating matters are the lack of a contract with BP to perform the work (although I’m not sure why that’s an issue if the A Whale is willing to pitch in without a contract), and possible Jones Act restrictions against the operation of foreign-manned vessels in American waters.

News of the A Whale follows revelations that the Obama administration spurned assistance from the Dutch government to dispatch its own oil-skimming vessels and to prepare for the U.S. a contingency plan to protect Louisiana’s marshlands with sand barriers. According to Canada’s Financial Post, “One Dutch research institute specializing in deltas, coastal areas and rivers, in fact, developed a strategy to begin building 60-mile-long sand dikes within three weeks.” The U.S. response: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Unlike the Katrina disaster, where state and local governments resisted Bush administration intervention in the hurricane response, there is no question whatsoever that the federal government is in charge of the clean-up of U.S. territorial waters. It’s bad enough that the Feds were so ill prepared to deal with the disaster — we can forgive them, perhaps, for failing to imagine such a collossal oil spill — but there is no excuse for the inept, bureaucratic response once the magnitude of the disaster became apparent. Seventy days into the event, the pettifogging legalisms continue to hamstring the the clean-up.

While Obama played golf and the bureaucrats picked their bureaucratic nits, massive quantities of oil, which could have been skimmed or blocked by sand berms, began befouling the marshes and beaches of the Gulf Coast.

George W. Bush was rightfully pilloried for his lamentable comment, “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job,” which showed how out of touch he was from the situation on the ground. But let us remember: Katrina hit Louisiana on Aug. 29, 2005. FEMA Director Michael Brown was fired from on Sept. 12, 2005 — 15 days later. Obama has threatened to “kick ass,” he has declared an offshore drilling moratorium (which was promptly overturned in court), he has initiated criminal investigations into BP, and he has squeezed $20 billion from the oil giant for reparation payments… everything but actually organize a clean up. Nearly 70 days and counting, and Obama has yet to relieve anyone responsible for the disorganized response. Pathetic.

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31 responses to “Where Are the Oil Skimmers?”

  1. I have heard two stories:

    1) One that the Jones act has prevented foreign built and manned ships from operating in US Waters.

    2) Oil skimmers from the Netherlands were rejected on the grounds that they would have returned some wter to the gulf that was not cleaned to the high EPA standards. As I understand it we are talking minor differences like 99.95% requires vs 99.2% actually available.

    In the Netherlands, oil companies are expected to clean up after themselves, and if they do not the government does it for you and sends you the bill.

    If either of these stories are true, then someone should get their ass kicked, by the president himself.

  2. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    I fail to see how the "inept" Obama Administration is at fault completely here.
    If you read the Daily Press story you would learn that the ship's owner has launched a big publicity campaign to get the ship involved in the spill. If there is the Jones Act to blame, well gee, that's the law. Likewise Obama cannot force BP to rush into a contract with the ship's owner.
    It seems like you are being duped into buying the PR campaign of the ship's owner just to write something nasty about Obama. One wonders: why are this ship and the owner sudenly showing up 66 days AFTER the spill? Where were they before?
    Peter Galuszka

  3. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Peter, I believe that the Jones Act can be waived by executive authority in the event of an emergency. Bush waived it during Katrina. The Jones Act is designed to protect the American maritime unions from competition and it's hard to avoid the suspicion that either Obama or his minions do not want to rustle any union feathers. Hey, what's more important anyway? Clean beaches in a bunch of red states — or union campaign contributions?

  4. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Peter, You do raise interesting questions about the Taiwanese ship. I, too, would like to know why it has taken 66 days for the ship to reach Norfolk. I, too, would like to know the relevance of a BP contract. Knowing the answers might partially absolve the Obama administration — or make it look even more negligent and culpable. Hopefully, someone will pursue the questions.

    What say you about the Dutch? Am I being duped by a bunch of canny Dutch government officials looking for PR?

  5. "The Jones Act is designed to protect the American maritime unions from competition and it's hard to avoid the suspicion that either Obama or his minions do not want to rustle any union feathers."


    I was watching an interview that included John Hofmeister, former Shell Oil President and he basically said the same thing about the unions.

    He also said the people we need to call are the Saudi's…they have the technology to clean up a spill this size and have done so in the past.

    Here is the link;


    It's worth a look for those that want to spend the time watching it.

  6. Larry G Avatar

    I'm going to have to side with Jim Bacon on this – at least until I hear a better explanation that we have had to date but the union worker stuff is pure claptrap.

    People don't blame Obama for the blowout.

    They blame him for blabbering on and on about his Nobel-led Scientific team that is "on the job".

    I'm dismayed at just how dumb the Obama administration is on this.

    He could have captivated the country with a "let's all roll up our sleeves and do the best we can to clean up this mess and try to protect our shoreline".

    It sure sounds like the Coast Guard, and EPA, and others are playing stupid turf games and this is where we should expect the President to kick butt and give orders – to his own team – to cut the red tape and get the skimmers ..

    He's the really stupid part of this.

    Let's say that there really is no hope.. that the disaster is going to be a disaster no matter what we do.

    That's not what we elect Presidents for.

    We want that man to demonstrate the basic American "can do" ethic and instead he blathers on about his "team" AKA "helluva job Brownie".

    So the man and his advisors are just as tone deaf on this as Bush was.

    Clinton said it today.

    We can figure out who shot John later on… right now we need to have all hands on deck and in Obama's case – for those with truly cynical minds – we don't even need to actually have all hands on deck – nope – all Obama has to do is SAY IT and then send some skimmers with "embedded" journalist on them.

    Bonus Question:

    Choose ONE: Hillary Clinton or John McCain would have done this better.

  7. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    "why are this ship and the owner sudenly showing up 66 days AFTER the spill? Where were they before?"

    The ship is a brand new supertanker. With shipping being laid up by the hundreds, there probably wasn't a lot of commercial use for a new ship. The owner modified it in Europe for this specific project. That's why it didn't show up for 66 days.

    Heck, it's unique. Why not give it a try? Have the feds 'encourage' BP to give em a week long contract and see what happens.

  8. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    Hey you lovely right wingers,
    The Jones Act has been around for a zillion years. Blaming Obama is ridiculous.
    Reminds me of Nick and Nora in the Thin Man:

    "Ever hear of the SUulivan Act?"

    "It's okay, we're married."

    Peter Galuszka

  9. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    In any event, I think we will find out in a couple of days whether the A Whale idea works or not. According to the live AIS info, the ship is about 30 miles SSW of Key West running at 16 kts.

  10. Larry G Avatar

    hey Darrell.. is AIS info some kind of web tracking data where we can see where ships are?

  11. Larry G Avatar

    why does the Prez have to "encourage" BP – as his only response?

    Why not let BP do whatever BP is going to do .. and go about the government's own separate response without having to run it by BP?

    that's part of my frustration …

  12. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    I'd be willing to have the feds give A Whale a week contract to test. If the idea works, that's better than anything else that has been done.

    Not all ships display on AIS. It's line of sight VHF only, although there is work going on a SatCom version that would be global. Surprised they haven't done that yet since the technology isn't that difficult. Oh, and no military either.

    Here is the link to one of the better sites.


  13. Obama could hire the ship and send BP the bill.


  14. Larry G Avatar

    Darrell, very cool! thanks!

  15. Larry G Avatar

    I'd like to propose a solution to the skimmer "problem".

    Mr. Obama appears on the TV and says that the spill is massive and our deficit is massive and that we are not only not paying for the wars (necessary to secure access to middle east oil) but buying skimmers and providing entitlement benefits to those harmed by the spill is a fiscal threat to our country and could turn us into another Greece if we are not careful.

    So he recommends that each one of us step up to the plate and sign up for monthly payments to "adopt a skimmer" …

    Once we sign up, we will get daily reports and pictures of our own skimmer performing it's mission of good.

    We'll get to know the captain and all the deck hands and we see the great gobs of goo that they are scooping up…

    All of this for a mere $99 per month – which once we get the gulf under control, will continue …as we then will "adopt a platoon" of one of our middle east military groups.

    Again, we'll get pictures .. share the triumphs and the tragedies… and we'll know with great certainty that not only are we doing the right thing for America but we are proving to everyone that we will NOT pass crushing debt on to our kids.

    No more sitting on your tail carping about the govt and Obama.

    Nope. We're tired of waiting on govt to fix this and now is the time for all good men to get their butts in gear…

    less talk – more action…

    I call this – "Revenge of those who really do care about America".

    let the lily-livered, hand-wringing whiners..whine… real men will step up…….

  16. It is a shame to see that Mr. Bacon failed to research the facts adequately.


  17. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Frank, Thanks for the citation. I retract the comment I made about the Jones Act. I stand by the rest of my post, however. Indeed, the O Team's inaction and disorganization regarding the skimmers becomes all the more indecipherable given the fact that the Jones Act was not a significant hurdle.

  18. Anonymous Avatar

    Hon. Larry Gross:

    You RULE!

    Now if we could just get you to focus your immagination, open mindedness and solution orientation on human settlement patterns…

    Seriously, your comments are the sort of ideas and perspectives that are needed to achieve a sustainable tranjectory.


  19. Larry G Avatar

    re: fact checking.

    yes.. this has been my experience also.

    Question: " What is a "fact" to an anti-Obama right-winger"

    Answer: "it's what he(she) just heard or read from another right winger.

    The internet has gone viral on "information" that is taken as fact by many..including our esteemed head blogger.. they take them as fact FIRST and repeat them to others as FACT.. BEFORE they actually verify.

    shame shame Jim Bacon.

    If you don't check your facts, why should I believe the rest of what you say?


  20. Larry G Avatar

    The right-wing-blather-machine just continues on …

    it's not about facts at all.

    it's about Obama not being a "fit" President — then you just fill in the reasons whether they are factual or not.

    I call it Limbaugology

  21. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    Fact checking:

    In the case of Prince Williams' Coprey Stewart I was amazed that Fox ran data from him in a tabular form as fact when it contained significant inaccuracies.

    This is the scary part of the right wing media machine. It's called the Big Lie. Repeat it enough and people believe it.

    Shame on Bacon for running with this crap without checking it out. He used to be a journalist.

    Peter Galuszka

  22. Larry G Avatar

    "This is the scary part of the right wing media machine. It's called the Big Lie. Repeat it enough and people believe it

    true.. but what can you say about those who hew to the right who seem to have no interest in what the facts are to start with – and go right ahead and formulate their opinions anyhow?

    This is what I have noticed over and over with many of the right-wingers… they repeat things that are simply not true and then as a group – they treat these things like they are fundamental truths that prove that this administration is inept, incompetent, corrupt, etc, etc, etc.

    Never mind that the previous administration and especially the Republican congress were those things and worse… if you talk to the right wingers, the remedy to the Obama administration is to put those same Republicans back in charge….

    I call this the " we want to rule the country and if we can't then we're going to make life miserable for everyone until you give up and put us back in power" … syndrome…

  23. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Hold on, Frank caught me on a fact check in a *comment*, not in a post. In the post, I drew from the Daily Press article, to wit:
    "possible Jones Act restrictions against the operation of foreign-manned vessels in American waters."

    I do take care to check my facts for posts. Comments, well, that forum is a little more fast and loose.

  24. Larry G Avatar

    Maybe …. but the Jones Act and Obama's "refusal to accept assistance" is blathered far and wide throughout the right wing media machine and practitioners and what we are seeing is that out of the thousands, millions of blog posts about it that not one right-winger took the time to fact check – just repeated what the RWMSM (that's Right WING Mainstream media)… did a full lie about and all of you believed it without verification?

    What kind of honest dialog is that?

    This is worse than catching one guy in a lie. we're catching the whole movement in a lie.

    shame shame

    and to think .. it was a Republican who dared to shout "YOU LIE".

    shame shame.

  25. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    Iknow you conservatives hate the Huffington Post but here is an interesting cite:


    It says that the A-Whale has moved from Norfolk to he Gulf and the problem with it isn't the Jonesd Act but that its technology is untested.

    SHould be blame Obama for that, too?


  26. Larry G Avatar

    " SHould be blame Obama for that, too?"

    by all means.. but I can guarantee you no matter how soon you do – you won't beat the right-wing-blather-machine.

    HOWEVER, if you ask me, I'd rather see Obama throw everything he has at it – and go down fighting that regaling us with his Nobel prize-winning "team".

    I have to be careful here or folks are going to confuse me with Bacon or Groveton.

  27. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    Larry nailed it. Obama needs to throw everything at the oil containment problem including the kitchen sink. The "A Whale" skimmer may be untested. So what? Test it! Gee, maybe it removes "only" 99% of the oil. Right now, beggars can't be choosers!

  28. I understand these problems hae been resolved and dozens of foreign oil skimmers are on their way to help.


  29. Anonymous Avatar

    Let's try to clear up the record:
    Allen downplays impact of Jones Act on oil spill response
    SOURCE: Mobile Press-Register
    DATE: 30 Jun 10
    LINK: < http://bit.ly/9kkrpu&gt;
    MOBILE, Ala. – U.S. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen sought to quell the idea that the federal Jones Act has hampered cleanup efforts associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
    The effect of the Jones Act on the cleanup has become a hot-button issue in recent days, thanks in part to a scorching op-ed by author Winston Groom and published Wednesday in the Press-Register. A e-mail circulated by the Island Property Owners Association encouraged coastal residents to call the White House to lobby President Obama to suspend the Jones Act.
    Allen said today that no Jones Act waivers are needed for vessels operating more than three miles from shore.
    "At no time have we been inhibited by the Jones Act or Jones Act waivers," Allen said.
    He said there have been 107 offers of foreign assistance — 68 from governments and another 39 from private agencies — since the oil spill began April 20. The offers have come from 44 countries and four international organizations, he said.
    Of the 68 from governments, 35 were determined by the State Department to be helpful in the spill cleanup. Nine of the 35 have been accepted, and the other 24 are being reviewed by State Department officials, Allen said.
    Allen also said the number of skimmers in the Gulf has tripled in recent weeks.

  30. James A. Bacon Avatar
    James A. Bacon

    The oil spill: Your government at work.

  31. Larry G Avatar
    Larry G

    Somebody needs to knock some heads – no question.

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