February 25, 2013

Gulf coast beach.     Photo: The Latest Slub/Flickr

BP Goes to Court Today

Trial on worst offshore spill in U.S. history

Roughly three years after the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, BP and other companies involved in the spill are scheduled to go to court today. Reports of a last-minute settlement between the government and BP surfaced over the weekend, but no deal has yet been made.

BP, which has already paid a reported $37 billion on cleanup, restoration, payouts, settlements, and fines, faces the prospect of billions to tens of billions of dollar more in penalties. The New York Times reported on Sunday that federal and state governments had an offer of $16 billion on the table.

The plan, worth a total of $16 billion, would limit the fines paid by BP under the Clean Water Act to $6 billion, a proposal that could help reduce its tax liability, said one person briefed on the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

BP would also pay $9 billion in penalties to cover damages to natural resources as well as the cost of restoration, that person said. The remaining $1 billion would be set aside in a fund that could be tapped if unanticipated environmental damages related to the spill developed.

No one at BP, the Justice Department, or the states involved has commented on any settlement proposal, but several lawyers briefed on the negotiations said that a $16 billion proposal had been made. The affected states are Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, although only Alabama and Louisiana are participating in the trial.

If the case goes to trail and plaintiffs show gross negligence on the part of BP and other companies, high punitive damages could be demanded. For example, potential fines for violating the Clean Water Act could reach $17.6 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal. NPR has a four-minute summary of what's at stake in the trial.

The explosion on the rig killed 11 men and allowed roughly four million barrels of oil to spill into the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists are still working to uncover the full environmental effects of the disaster.

To follow along with the trial and BP's role in the spill, check out The New York Times page on BP. To read an account filed from the Gulf of Mexico months after the spill, read "The Gumbo Chronicles."

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Ranulph Fiennes     Photo: Courtesy of The Coldest Journey

Ranulph Fiennes Pulls Out of Polar Trek

Explorer suffered frostbite

More difficult than crossing Antarctica in winter? Raising millions of dollars and making years of preparations to cross Antarctica in winter, then having to drop out due to frostbite from a training run.

British explorer Ranulph Fiennes, described by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's greatest living explorer, was due to lead a record-breaking expedition to the South Pole as part of the "The Coldest Journey" beginning March 21. But on a practice ski near base camp in Antarctica this past week, he attempted to fix a ski binding using his bare hands in -85-degree temperatures, injuring himself and forcing an emergency evacuation.

The 68-year-old Fiennes has suffered frostbitten hands before—and taken it upon himself to amputate his own fingers using a fretsaw. But a winter expedition to the South Pole offers no opportunity for resuce, so even a minor injury would be considered a deal-breaker. The team plans to continue the 2,000-mile trek without him.

But first they have to get Fiennes off the ice, which, according to the press release, seems no simple matter:

Right now the team is working toward evacuating Fiennes from Antarctica. He will be transported by skidoo to the Princess Elisabeth Station about 70km away from his current position, from where he will be flown to Novo to get a connecting flight to Cape Town. This plan is currently being hampered due to a blizzard at their present location, which is making the first stage of the evacuation impossible. Until there is a let up in the weather conditions, Fiennes will be unable to leave.

The team recently posted a video of the extreme weather conditions that might have contributed to the injury:

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    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Gov't to Drop Toxic Mice on Guam Snakes

To combat invasive species

Florida is not the only U.S. territory with a snake problem. For 60 years Guam has been feeling the bite of the brown tree snake, an invasive species that has all but wiped out the island’s once verdant bird population. The tree snakes, which can grow up to 10 feet long, have also been known to bite humans and even knock out power lines by slithering into transformers. Fearing that the snakes may soon spread to Hawaii and eventually the West Coast, officials have concocted a plan to contain the snakes using dead mice loaded with cold medicine dropped from a helicopter by way of tiny parachutes. Yes.

Unlike most species of snake, brown tree snakes have no reservations about eating dead prey. According to NPR, he dead mice will be loaded with acetaminophen, the active ingredient in medications like Tylenol, which is harmless to humans. The mice will fall into Guam’s jungle canopy, where they will hopefully prove to be an enticing meal.

Daniel Vice, assistant state director of U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services in Hawaii, says the goal is not to wipe out the snakes, but merely to rein in their population. A 2010 study conducted by the National Wildlife Research Center found that a brown tree snake invasion in Hawaii could potentially cost the state over $2 billion in economic damages.

Officials say that the risk of accidental cross-species targeting with the strategy is low, mostly due to the snakes themselves. “One concern was that crows may eat mice with the toxicant," said William Pitt of the U.S. National Wildlife Research Center. "However, there are no longer wild crows on Guam.”

The dead mouse drop is currently scheduled for April or May.

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Fauja Singh.     Photo: Courtesy of the City of Surrey

101-Year-Old Marathoner Runs Final Race

Last run at Hong Kong Marathon

This past weekend, at 101 years old, the world's oldest marathon runner ran his final competitive race.

Fauja Singh, known as the "Turbaned Tornado," finished the Hong Kong Marathon's 10K in 1 hour, 32 minutes, and 28 seconds. (From CBS: “Singh, a Sikh, wore a saffron turban and sported a flowing white beard.” I love the idea of “sporting” a beard that took, like, 25 years to grow.) He spoke to reporters before the race:

I am feeling a bit of happiness and a bit of sadness mixed together. I am happy that I am retiring at the top of the game but I am sad that the time has come for me to not be part of it. And there will always be times in the future where I will be thinking, "Well, I used to do that."

While he’s no longer racing, don’t expect Singh to take to the couch. As he told us: “Running keeps me alive. It is like asking, ‘Why not stop breathing?’”

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The Revelstoke Mountains, site of a deadly avalanche.     Photo: Klim Levene/Flickr

BC Avalanche Near Revelstoke Kills 1

Second deadly slide in a week

A 24-year-old skier was killed in an avalanche on Friday on the backside of Revelstoke Mountain Resort in British Columbia. He and four others were skiing out of bounds when three of them were caught in the slide. Two of them walked away uninjured, but the third was found dead.

Authorities have not released the identity of the skier who died, but the resort's general manager, Rob Elliott, said that the man was German and a staff member in the rentals department.

"He had been out in the backcountry quite often and he was pretty excited because, it being the touring mecca for Canada here, he was always out there every chance he could get," Elliott said.

The death marks the second deadly avalanche in Southeast British Columbia in a week. On Monday another German skier was killed in a slide while he and a group were heli-skiing on Jumbo Glacier. The Canadian Avalanche Centre had upgraded the avalanche risk to "High" on Friday after large wet snows covered "weak interface" layers from mid-February.

Via CBC News

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Lindsey Vonn crashes in Schladming, Austria.     Photo: Screenshot

Vonn Blames Crash on Course Conditions

Hopes to be back on skis by November

Injured ski racer Lindsey Vonn blamed her season-ending crash at a super-G in Austria on unsafe course conditions in her first public comments since her accident. Vonn tore her anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments and sustained a hairline fracture on February 5, after flying off a jump during the race in Schladming.

"My right ski completely stopped as I landed, and my knee buckled," Vonn said in an interview with the New York Times. "I flew over the tops of my skis. That loose snow was 100 percent the reason I crashed."

Vonn said that after her crash, she called over her coach, Alex Hoedlmoser, who was serving as a race jury member, and urged him to stop the race.

While Vonn had never severely injured either leg before Schladming, she said she was confident that she would be in shape for the Sochi Olympics in 2014. She expects to return to skiing by November.

Read Peter Vigneron's profile of Lindsey Vonn.

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