BP seals first oil leak in Gulf of Mexico

May 05, 2010 by Allen Johnson
A sand berm built by local authorities intended to keep oil off the beaches in Pass Christian, Mississippi. BP capped Wednesday one of three leaks hemorraging crude into the Gulf of Mexico, as emergency crews rushed to protect fragile shorelines and islands at risk from the spreading oil slick.

BP capped Wednesday one of three leaks hemorraging crude into the Gulf of Mexico, as emergency crews rushed to protect fragile shorelines and islands at risk from the spreading oil slick.

Days of work off the coast of Louisiana with underwater submarines nearly a mile below the surface finally bore fruit as a valve was secured over the smallest of the three leaks and the flow shut off.

The feat does not alter the overall amount of crude spilling into the sea and threatening the fragile US Gulf coast, but is significant nonetheless as the focus can now narrow on just two remaining leaks.

"Working with two leaks is going to be a lot easier than working with three leaks. Progress is being made," US Coast Guard Petty Officer Brandon Blackwell told AFP.

More than two weeks after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the full impact of the disaster is being realized as a massive slick looms off the US Gulf coast, imperilling the livelihoods of shoreline communities.

If estimates are correct, some 2.5 million gallons of crude have entered the sea since the BP-leased platform spectacularly sank on April 22, still ablaze more than two days after the initial blast that killed 11 workers.

The riser pipe that had connected the rig to the well-head now lies fractured on the a mile below spewing out oil at a rate at some 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, a day.

The spill has sparked fears of an environmental catastrophe as the region boasts 40 percent of US wetlands -- prime spawning waters for fish, shrimp and crabs and a major stop for .

But BP spokesman John Curry said teams hoped to turn the tide in the battle against the slick with the deployment of a five-story "dome" that could contain the main leak and funnel the oil up to a massive ship on the surface.

"The collection system is on the boat," Curry told AFP. "It will be going out today. We hope to have that deployed by the end of the week. That system will contain the greater source of flow."

With oil still rushing unabated from the ruptured offshore well, volunteers and others descended on the region to help stave off a looming environmental crisis from the huge oil patch.

Pentagon officials authorized the use of additional National Guard troops to assist. As many as 6,000 in Louisiana can be mobilized, with 3,000 in Alabama, 2,500 in Florida and 6,000 in Mississippi.

Government officials said an estimated 7,500 people were mobilizing to protect the shoreline and wildlife, as fears grew about the impact of the catastrophe.

A sea turtle was spotted swimming through a massive oil slick about 25 kilometers (15 miles) south of Louisiana by officials from the National Wildlife Foundation. The group hired a boat from the port town of Venice and went out into the through an outlet in the Mississippi River.

Nobody on board was trained in animal rescue and they were forced to leave the obviously distressed turtle in the slick and simply report the coordinates to a hotline.

"It was very upsetting," said Karla Raettig of Coastal Louisiana Restoration at the Federation.

More than 600 animal species are threatened by the expanding oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, officials say.

Twelve shrimp trawlers and 10 official response boats frantically laid protective booms around some of the Chandeleur Islands -- a group of uninhabited prime marsh and wildlife area -- but initially failed to confirm any land impacts.

In Florida, authorities were preparing for the impact of the if loop currents bring the pollution to the state's shores. Coast Guard officials said the mobilization was occurring as far away as Key West.

"Although it is still too soon to predict if or how the Florida Keys may be impacted by the Deepwater Horizon spill, we are focused on preparing for whatever those impacts may be," said Captain Pat DeQuattro, sector commander at Coast Guard Sector Key West.

On the coastal areas of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, forecasters suggested that the bulk of the slick won't make landfall before the end of the week, officials said.

AFP journalists on an overflight Tuesday of the Chandeleur Islands saw reddish brown streaks of oil and said light sheen appeared to be lapping the shore in certain places.

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LariAnn
1.3 / 5 (4) May 05, 2010
I'm still amazed that with all the endless regulations on business with regard to the environment, it occurred to no one to require an emergency shut-off valving system on every wellhead located at the bottom of the ocean. The fact that a pipe a mile deep in the ocean is so hard to get to makes it even more amazing that no one thought about what would happen if a leak sprung way down there.

Also, I haven't heard anyone ask why BP is drilling for oil off OUR shores. Letting other countries take up our oil when we need so much is no way for the US to become energy independent.
solrey
4 / 5 (4) May 05, 2010
There are regulations requiring emergency shut-off valves for offshore drilling in every country on the planet except for the US and the UK where enforcement of regulations that do exist is rather lax, to say the least.

Governments like the US don't extract their own resources for the exclusive use of their citizens. They sell to corporations leases to resource rights on land and in the waters within their territories. Territorial exclusive economic zones extend 200 nautical miles form shore. The owner of the lease then subcontracts out various parts of the operation as necessary, from drilling platforms to shipping/pipelines and even to the boats that ferry drill platform workers to and from shore. Operations like offshore drilling include a maze of subcontractors. The governments see little real benefit in this arrangement but will often absorb most of the cost for cleanup.

Are you under the illusion that we live in a truly democratic free market society or something?
HealingMindN
2.3 / 5 (4) May 05, 2010
Human science was not prepared to deal with this because of economic pressures - just like those coal mines collapsing w/o proper safety measures.

According to an engineer w/25 yrs experience:

First, the BP platform was drilling for what they call deep oil. They go out where the ocean is about 5,000 feet deep and drill another 30,000 feet into the crust of the earth. This is on the edge of what human technology can do. Well, this time they hit a pocket of oil at such high pressure that it burst all of their safety valves all the way up to the drilling rig and then caused the rig to explode and sink.

Take a moment to grasp the importance of that: The pressure behind this oil is so high that it destroyed the maximum effort of human science to contain it.

No need to imagine the effect of greed and huge egos pushing the boundaries of human science... BTW: It only takes one quart of motor oil to make 250,000 gallons of ocean water toxic to wildlife.
solrey
4.8 / 5 (5) May 05, 2010
HealingMindN, I saw the same article. They don't know what they're talking about. An engineer is not a geologist.

This well is not 30,000 feet deep. It's 18,000 feet and there's nothing unusual about the depth or the pressure. The day before the blowout a subcontractor, Haliburton (now where have we heard of them before?), had cemented around the well head but the cement failed which is ultimately what caused the accident by allowing natural gas seepage to mix with the crude. That led to the explosion up on the drilling platform. The half a million dollar safety valve that's used practically everywhere else in the world was not required by US regs due to oil industry lobbying and their good friend Cheney as VP at the time the regs were being revised. Shoddy workmanship combined with lax regulations and oversight. Much like what led to the failure of the poorly constructed and managed levees during Katrina. This blowout is absolutely the result of greed and arrogance.
Caliban
5 / 5 (2) May 06, 2010
I read that something like 18 out of 28 cementing jobs that Halliburton has been employed to do in the recent past, have resulted in a blowout. Not a good record.

I also read that the particular BOP, "blow-out preventer" installed on this well head has a record of improper function leading to failure for at least the last ten years, including more than once while in use with BP drilling projects. Apparently, it is cheaper than some of it's competitors.

Frequently, as in so many other large corporate endeavors, the subcontractors are wholly- or partially-owned subsidiaries of the contractor(in this case BP), which means that the parent corp makes money all the way to the end user, while still justifying pricing by invoking the "middleman" as the culprit increasing cost.

This also helps to dilute liability in the case of disaster. And DISASTER it is- in a closed-door congressional meeting, BP execs admitted that the leak could be as much as 60,000 barrels per day, not 5,000.
John_Branch
4 / 5 (1) May 07, 2010
I don't know what LariAnn and solrey mean by an "emergency shut-off valve," but as the later comments imply, this well had one: that's the purpose of a blowout preventer (BOP). BOPs are widely used, maybe universally used, and for more than one reason: they protect crew safety during drilling, they protect against the loss of valuable oil and gas (whatever else you may think about oil companies, they're not in business to let their wells blow out and lose the very thing they're drilling for), and quite likely they're required in many countries. Whether requirements and enforcement should be tougher is a different question. For more on that, see http://www.nytime...ncy.html .

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