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U.S. Accepts International Assistance for Oil Spill

12:22 PM, Jun 30, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Today, 70 days into the oill spill in the Gulf, the U.S. accepted international assistance from 12 countries and foreign organizations to help with the mess.

The State Department has not yet identified exactly which ones. Another offer of help, the largest skimmer in the world— the A-Whale, reportedly capable of cleaning 500,000 barrels of oil from the Gulf per day— will arrive today in the Gulf but needs clearance from the federal government before it can start its work.

The Coast Guard will not clear the Taiwan-owned ship – which is reportedly the length of 3 football fields and 10 stories high – to join the clean-up until it undergoes a test.

“The Coast Guard research and development center has a team of personnel that are ready to observe the tests to test the efficacy of the vessels systems, as well as its ability to safely operate in that area down there,” Coast Guard spokesman Ron LaBrec told The Daily Caller.

The ship's captain was hopeful clearance could be gotten for the ship during its trip from Norfolk to the Gulf, but it looks like testing will take place in the Gulf. The giant skimmer has never been used on a spill of this magnitude, but a spokesman for the Taiwanese company that owns it is speaking Barack Obama's language, so maybe that will help:

“I believe this spill is unprecedented and you need an unprecedented solution,“ said T.K. Ong, senior vice president for TMT.

The issue of international offers of help has been addressed several times during the oil spill, but it's never been terribly clear what the hold-up was in securing it. It is the State Department's duty to formally accept offers of international help, as it has done today, but the leadership in the Gulf must make the final decision on whether such help will be used on the ground, according to the State Department.

On May 27, ABC News reported that 17 countries had offered to help with the oil spill, yet offers from only two countries had been accepted. That night, ABC's Jake Tapper asked Obama about those offers of help, but got little in the way of an answer:

JAKE TAPPER: You say that everything that could be done is being done...And then, of course, there's the fact that there are 17 countries that have offered to help, and it's only been accepted from two countries, Norway and Mexico. How can you say that everything that can be done is being done with all these experts and all these officials saying that's not true?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, let me distinguish between -- if the question is, are we doing everything perfectly out there, then the answer is absolutely not.  We can always do better. 

If the question is, are we, each time there is an idea, evaluating it and making a decision, is this the best option that we have right now, based on how quickly we can stop this leak and how much damage can we mitigate, then the answer is yes...

So the point is, on each of these points that you just mentioned, if the job of our response team is to say, OK, if 17 countries have offered equipment and help, let's evaluate what they've offered, how fast can it get here; is it actually going to be redundant or will it actually add to the overall effort?
  
Because, in some cases, more may not actually be better, and decisions have been made, based on the best information available, that says, here's what we need right now; it may be that, a week from now or two weeks from now or a month from now the offers from some of those countries might be more effectively utilized.

On June 15, ABC News again reported on international assistance, finding that the State Department had sent two missives looking for specific help in the Gulf after first announcing May 5 it did not need help. By that time, the U.S. had accepted assistance from four countries — Mexico, Norway, Canada, the Netherlands.

On May 13 the first notice went out from the embassies asking countries (and companies) if they had ocean boom. Again on June 10 the US asked if countries have 18-24 inch containment boom and fireboom. The State Department says it has received some responses and they’re sending those on to the Unified Area Command, who will ultimately decide what is needed. Today the department said it had been told by the International Maritime Organization that it had located boom in 10 countries, including Belgium, Canada, China, France, Germany, Israel, Kenya, Norway, Spain, and Tunisia.

The first notice was sent just days after the US first said it did not need any assistance from other countries in containing the spill, which had not yet reached shore.

“While there is no need right now that the U.S. cannot meet, the U.S. Coast Guard is assessing these offers of assistance to see if there will be something which we will need in the near future,” the State Department said in a statement on May 5.

I'm sure the State Department would argue that it simply took time to evaluate and inventory the resources offered by different countries and organizations and implemented them as quickly and effectively as possible. Certainly, in a large crisis, you don't want redundant or incompetent help from other countries clogging up your response. But some of the chief complaints of local governments and workers have been insufficient boom and skimmers, which seem to be exactly what many of these foreign entities are offering, so I'm skeptical that the State Department was entirely on its game, here.

The Heritage Foundation offers two rather simple ways (on a list of 10) that Obama could help with the Gulf by simply lifting bureaucratic barriers to the clean up:

7. Waive or Suspend EPA Regulations: Because more water than oil is collected in skimming operations (85% to 90% is water according to Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen), operators need to discharge the filtered water back into the Gulf so they can continue to collect oil.  The discharged water is vastly cleaner than when it was skimmed, but not sufficiently pure according to normal EPA regulations.  If the water has to be kept in the vessel and taken back to shore for purification, it vastly multiples the resources and time needed, requiring cleanup ships to make extra round trips, transporting seven times as much water as the oil they collect.  We already have insufficient cleanup ships (as the Coast Guard officially determined); they need to be cleaning up oil, not transporting water. For more information, click here.

8. Temporarily Loosen Coast Guard Inspections: In early June, sixteen barges that were vacuuming oil out of the Gulf were ordered to halt work. The Coast Guard had the clean-up vessels sit idle as they were inspected for fire extinguishers and life vests. Maritime safety is clearly a priority, but speed is of the essence in the Gulf waters. The U.S. Coast Guard should either temporarily loosen its inspection procedures or implement a process that allows inspections to occur as the ships operate. For more information, click here.

There's nothing that can get in the way of common sense like a government regulator. It's unclear whether the EPA rule is actually causing a delay with the A-Whale. There have been conflicting reports about the EPA's environmental concerns about the vessel, and the EPA did not respond with a comment for The Daily Caller today. Whatever the problem is, let's hope the A-Whale is ready for service and on the sea before long.

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