Massive disaster looms in Gulf of Mexico spill

May 10, 2010 by Guillaume Decamme
Oil booms are seen washed on to a beach as high winds and waves push the booms ashore on May 9, 2010 in Lafourche Parish, Louisiana. BP officials desperately searched for a new fix to the enormous Gulf of Mexico oil spill after efforts to cap a gushing leak with a containment dome hit a perilous snag.

BP officials desperately searched for a new fix to the enormous Gulf of Mexico oil spill after efforts to cap a gushing leak with a containment dome hit a perilous snag.

British energy giant BP, which owns the lion's share of the leaking oil and has accepted responsibility for the clean-up, is facing the jaw-dropping possibility that, failing a swift fix it has yet to deliver with a containment dome, the crisis could spiral into an even worse environmental calamity.

The White House also was scrambling to contain fallout from the massive disaster threatening to take a toll on President Barack Obama's political and energy agenda.

In Washington, Obama on Monday "will meet with a number of Cabinet members and senior staff in the White House Situation Room to review BP efforts to stop the oil leak, as well as to decide on next steps to ensure all is being done to contain the spread, mitigate the environmental impact and provide assistance to affected states," a White House statement said.

Meanwhile the Minerals Management Service (MMS) said it "continues to work with BP to explore all options that could stop or mitigate oil leaks from the damaged well."

The BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig sank some 80 km (50 miles) southeast of Venice, Louisiana April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers.

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

Sheen from the leading edge of the slick has surrounded island nature reserves off the coast of Louisiana and tar balls have reached as far as the Alabama coast, threatening tourist beaches further east.

Sea life is being affected in a low-lying region that contains vital spawning grounds for fish, shrimp and crabs and is a major migratory stop for many species of rare birds.

The 2.4-billion-dollar Louisiana has been slapped with a temporary ban in certain areas due to health concerns about polluted fish.

But officials with the Louisiana departments of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Health and Hospitals (DHH), and Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) said they were working with federal agencies to protect public health and guarantee Gulf Coast-harvested seafood products are safe.

"Our primary concerns (are) the health and safety of residents near the oil spill, and the safety of anyone who enjoys Louisiana seafood," said DHH Secretary Alan Levine. "We believe this enhanced monitoring will give us the proper baseline of information we need to keep the public safe."

BP, facing a barrage of lawsuits and clean-up costs soaring above 10 million dollars a day, had pinned its hopes on a 98-ton concrete and steel containment box that it successfully lowered 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) down over the main leak.

But the contraption lay idle on the seabed as engineers furiously tried to figure out how to stop it clogging with ice crystals.

"I wouldn't say it's failed yet," BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said on Saturday. "What we attempted to do last night didn't work because these (ice crystal) hydrates plugged up the top of the dome."

Still, if efforts fail to make the giant funnel system effective, there is no solid plan B to prevent potentially tens of millions of gallons of crude from causing one of the worst ever environmental catastrophes.

Untold damage is already being done by the 3.5 million gallons estimated to be in the sea so far, but the extent of that harm will rise exponentially if the only solution is a relief well that takes months to drill.

Admiral Thad Allen, head of the US Coast Guard, suggested they were considering what he called a "junk shot" to plug the main leak.

"They're actually going to take a bunch of debris, shredded up tires, golf balls and things like that and under very high pressure shoot it into the preventer itself and see if they can clog it up and stop the leak," Allen, who is leading the US government's response, told CBS television.

This could be risky as experts have warned that excessive tinkering with the blowout preventer -- a huge 450-ton valve system that should have shut off the oil -- could see crude shoot out unchecked at 12 times the current rate.

There are also fears the slick, which covers an area of about 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers), could be carried around the Florida peninsula if it spreads far enough south to be picked up by a special Gulf current.

"If this gusher continues for several months, it's going to cover up the Gulf coast and it's going to get down into the loop current and that's going to take it down the Florida Keys and up the east coast of Florida," warned Florida Senator Bill Nelson.

"You are talking about massive economic loss to our tourism, our beaches, to our fisheries, very possibly disruption of our military testing and training, which is in the ," he told CNN.

On the dome front, clearing out the slushy crystals is easy -- the chamber just has to be raised to warmer levels, Suttles told reporters. Keeping the crystals out so that a pipe can be lowered into the dome to suck the oil to a waiting barge is another matter.

BP began drilling a first relief well one week ago, but that will take up to three months to drill -- by which time some 20 million gallons of crude could have streamed into the sea and ruined the fragile ecology of the Gulf.

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User comments : 29

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Ravenrant
1 / 5 (1) May 10, 2010
No it doesn't, just ask that ecological expert Rush Limbaugh. We should follow his advice and just leave it alone and let nature take it's course, sort of ecological non-regulation.
Shootist
1.4 / 5 (10) May 10, 2010
No it doesn't, just ask that ecological expert Rush Limbaugh. We should follow his advice and just leave it alone and let nature take it's course, sort of ecological non-regulation.


Some smart person with little else to do should research how many oil tankers and their cargos were sunk in the Gulf of Mexico by German subs during WWII.

They should also research the naturally occurring amounts of petroleum seeping from the Gulf's floor every year. And go check on that asphalt volcano off the coast of California and how many giga-tons of material it is spewing out all over the pretty ocean floor.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (8) May 10, 2010

They should also research the naturally occurring amounts of petroleum seeping from the Gulf's floor every year. And go check on that asphalt volcano off the coast of California and how many giga-tons of material it is spewing out all over the pretty ocean floor.


Precisely why I do not believe "Fossil Fuels" come from fossils at all.

If every human being on this planet today died and instantly was converted to coal, oil, and methane, and if we ignored the fact that 70% of the body is water, and another 15% or so calcium and other metals, then only about 15% of the human body is composed of substances that form hydrocarbons. Anyway, you would only be able to make a maximum of ~600 million tons of hydrocarbons from all humans combined. The world consumes 11 times that much in coal alone each year, 6.7billion tons, not counting other "fossil fuels".

It doesn't add up. It would take the death of nearly all life on earth to make one oil field, and they are everywhere.
otto1923
5 / 5 (8) May 10, 2010
"Let all the poisons which lurk in the mud hatch out." -I Claudius

Precisely why I do not believe "Fossil Fuels" come from fossils at all.
No, you believe they come from god, right?
It doesn't add up. It would take the death of nearly all life on earth to make one oil field, and they are everywhere.
And all life currently living will die, to be replaced by the next generation ad infinitum. This has been going on for a few billion years, which, if you could do the math, adds up to enough mass to create limestone mountains and an oxygen atmosphere among other things.

Youre probably right, extraterrestrial abiogenic hydrocarbons are too common not to expect them to be found here; but your concepts are woefully errant. I would blame your belief in superstitious fantasy which pollutes reason and clear thought; what do you think?

otto1923
5 / 5 (1) May 10, 2010
This spill is making natural gas look better all the time, yes? Just as Russia has signed megadeals with australia and others. A new world economy based on gas: natural, biogas, methane made from atmospheric CO2...?
kwikit
not rated yet May 10, 2010
The hut idea was silly to begin with, but they should have sent down a hut with a big hose attached to the top, so they could relieve pressure inside the hut while it's being lowered, and then to be able to siphen off the oil as it's collecting in the hut.
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
The hut idea was silly to begin with, but they should have sent down a hut with a big hose attached to the top, so they could relieve pressure inside the hut while it's being lowered, and then to be able to siphen off the oil as it's collecting in the hut.

That was the idea, then the relative ease with which methane will enter hydrate solution under pressure threw a kink in their plan as they were pushing the limits of their capping technology.

Basically they went ahead and drilled without an "Oh Shit" plan.
jimbo92107
3.3 / 5 (3) May 10, 2010
Maybe it doesn't matter, but BP was also drilling at a depth that was about 1.5 miles farther down than the 18,000 feet listed on their permit. Of course, they assured everyone that their deep-ocean oil drilling was completely safe. Just like the major of the little seaside town in Jaws.

The executives of British Petroleum have murdered the entire Gulf of Mexico. Should they be held accountable?
otto1923
not rated yet May 10, 2010
That was the idea, then the relative ease with which methane will enter hydrate solution under pressure threw a kink in their plan as they were pushing the limits of their capping technology.
Which they should have been well aware of. I think theyre stalling. Why? Why, you ask??
rb1
2.3 / 5 (3) May 10, 2010
BP may be getting the blame on this, but don't you think all of society really is the root cause? Would this even have happened if society wasn't demanding more and more petroleum? Let's all stand up and take our portion of the blame and get the problem fixed.
JayK
May 10, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (1) May 10, 2010
@jimbo92107,
Maybe it doesn't matter, but BP was also drilling at a depth that was about 1.5 miles farther down than the 18,000 feet listed on their permit.
Huh? The article, at least, states:
BP, facing a barrage of lawsuits and clean-up costs soaring above 10 million dollars a day, had pinned its hopes on a 98-ton concrete and steel containment box that it successfully lowered 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) down over the main leak.
Now pardon my skills at basic arithmetic, but 5,000 feet seems like a lot less than 18,000 feet, and by a good margin too.
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (3) May 10, 2010
Drill, baby, drill.
One of the dumbest and most annoying slogans, ever.

I hereby propose that henceforth, we should refer to wielders of the above-quoted slogan, as "Baby Drillers". =P
otto1923
2.3 / 5 (3) May 10, 2010
Well, it seems Otto is not alone in his infirmity:
http://www.boingb...pir.html
-One idea I posted earlier (Plowshare-type nuke option)
-One funny one I thought of but didnt post (N Korean torpedo)
-One pretty obvious one (militant earth-firsters)
-The list grows like crud on beaches-
Re: nuke; "could instantly seal the leak, "the only known and proven means" to do so. But that "would leave the UN's nuclear conference in shambles with every Nation in the World having oil rigs off their coasts demanding an equal right to atomic weapons to protect their environment from catastrophes too, including Iran." -Well, what the heck? And you thought they were just for Armageddon...
Caliban
3.7 / 5 (3) May 10, 2010
Maybe it doesn't matter, but BP was also drilling at a depth that was about 1.5 miles farther down than the 18,000 feet listed on their permit. Of course, they assured everyone that their deep-ocean oil drilling was completely safe. Just like the major of the little seaside town in Jaws.

The executives of British Petroleum have murdered the entire Gulf of Mexico. Should they be held accountable?


That the well was drilled to a depth considerably in excess of the 18k feet permitted for was my understanding, as well(that's 18k ft depth-of-well).

Supposedly, Halliburton was cementing to ONLY 18k, which left a void of not-clearly-known depth in the bore, but at any rate considerably more than the cementing ops were intended to fill.

A large pulse/bubble of methane migrates into that void, and just like an "air hammer" in a water pipe, blew the blowout prevention valve(BOP).
alarson
3 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
The way to stop this Deepwater Horizons oil leak is to send down a powerful hydraulic set of pinchers and put it over the oil pipeline. When it's in position, actuate the pinchers and pinch the pipeline closed, without cutting the metal. If necessary, leave the pinchers locked on the pipeline to eliminate any possibiliy of it's reopening. Guide the pinchers on to the pipeline with a submersble.
I've been sending this suggestion to BP, the coast guard, the state of Florida, etc., for the past week. This is a disaster; why are we still pissing around?
None of their so-called action phone lines get you in touch with anyone of consequence.

I am a retired engineer. If the engineers on site can't figure this out, send me an airticket and I'll fly down there to show them how it's done.
A Larson
Ravenrant
5 / 5 (2) May 10, 2010
Spill baby, spill.

I Claudius is one of my favorites by the way, great quote, appropo.

Like it or not this spill is a poster child for the evil of no regulation. BP has shown that it put profit above safety because there were no regulations to stop it. There should have been regulations to make sure that there was a shut-off valve on the floor. It would have added to the cost but prevented the spill. It shows that common sense is still an extremely rare commodity.
Skeptic_Heretic
4.2 / 5 (6) May 11, 2010
Huh? The article, at least, states:
BP, facing a barrage of lawsuits and clean-up costs soaring above 10 million dollars a day, had pinned its hopes on a 98-ton concrete and steel containment box that it successfully lowered 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) down over the main leak.
Now pardon my skills at basic arithmetic, but 5,000 feet seems like a lot less than 18,000 feet, and by a good margin too.

The drill hole is deeper than the ocean floor which is at a depth of 5000 feet.

So you have 5000 feet of water to the break in the pipe followed by another 20,000 feet of pipe that goes down to the drill site. Total of 25,000 feet, 20,000 of which is below the seafloor, thereby violating their 18,000 foot permit by 2000 feet in total.

So your math skills are on point, your reading skills could use a little more work (j/k PE)
Shootist
5 / 5 (3) May 11, 2010

Precisely why I do not believe "Fossil Fuels" come from fossils at all.


Having looked into abiogenic production of oil I will have to come down on the side of both. Oil is definitely produced from plant and animal remains. It is so proven.

However it appears that ethane and methane are both produced abiogenicly. If this is the case, and it seems likely, then at least some petroleum is produced without direct contributions of carbon from formerly living material.

But no, naturally occurring petroleum seeps do not in and of themselves indicate non-biologic petroleum.
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (2) May 11, 2010
ethane and methane are not kerogen nor are they petroleum.

The abiotic vector for petroleum is non-existent at this time.
otto1923
5 / 5 (1) May 11, 2010
@ravenrant
A little more to that quote which also rings true:

"It will be bad,
exceedingly bad...worse even than Caligula but they have to have the whole
terrible truth about just how bad it can be before they come to their senses. Let
all of the poisons that lurk in the mud, hatch out."

-Should have looked it up first, usually do. I suppose because of this mess we'll only be swapping one poison for another, but such is the burden of Progress...
freethinking
1 / 5 (4) May 11, 2010
Let me first state that I dont blame Obama for this accident. But, if Bush was the largest recipient of BP's political donation this fact would be dragged out repeatedly everytime the media would report on the blowout. Also BP was exempted from doing a environmental impact analysis. Again if Bush or the republicans did this the media would report this continually.

PinkElephant
5 / 5 (3) May 11, 2010
@freethinking,

None of that is nearly as sexy, as the story of the MMS regulators being literally in bed with the people they were supposed to be regulating. I do believe this sort of lax/corrupt (de)regulation culture emerged and prospered in the Bush years. So there you go: something to blame Bush for, after all =P
Skeptic_Heretic
2.3 / 5 (3) May 11, 2010
Started far further back than Bush. Carpetbaggers are the original special interests.
freethinking
1.4 / 5 (10) May 12, 2010
Hey I fogot the media by in large consists of progressives and since BP money went to a progressive and since progressives are known and expected to be corrupt, and since to ends justify to means, it isnt news. But if a conservative who is expected to follow and respect the law has even the hint of anything amiss, progressives need to destroy them.
JayK
3.4 / 5 (5) May 12, 2010
Looks like the whaaaaaaambulance is running behind. Quick, stat, lets get a whiner-cart for non-freethinking!
Shootist
1 / 5 (1) May 15, 2010
Maybe it doesn't matter, but BP was also drilling at a depth that was about 1.5 miles farther down than the 18,000 feet listed on their permit. Of course, they assured everyone that their deep-ocean oil drilling was completely safe. Just like the major of the little seaside town in Jaws.

The executives of British Petroleum have murdered the entire Gulf of Mexico. Should they be held accountable?


Why the lies and half-truths?
Shootist
1 / 5 (3) May 15, 2010
Drill, baby, drill.
One of the dumbest and most annoying slogans, ever.

I hereby propose that henceforth, we should refer to wielders of the above-quoted slogan, as "Baby Drillers". =P


the correct quote is "Drill here, drill now" and it is the only viable option available. Unless you want to sit in the dark and freeze.

Oh, and 100 1GW fission plants will go along way towards reducing use of petroleum and coal.

Drill here, Drill now. Take it all.
Caliban
4 / 5 (4) May 15, 2010
the correct quote is "Drill here, drill now" and it is the only viable option available. Unless you want to sit in the dark and freeze.


Hey Shootist- what, did the dingo eat your baby?

I heard the woman say "Drill, baby-drill!", with my own two ears, while I watched her speechifyin' on television.

Take your revision of history and peddle it where people are in the habit of only remembering what they hear from foxy news each day.
There, you can take up your rightful place among the continually reborn.

DickWilhelm
5 / 5 (2) May 16, 2010
Using any sort of nuke would irradiate the already damaged area, and probably cause a storm of political fallout so it won't be happening. I think its really going to take 3 months to have an impact on this leak and serious focus should be turned onto how to keep our oceans healthy. Considering how the Mississippi Delta was previously know to be below the level of hypoxia and this leak of crude and natural gas causes a similar oxygen-depletion. The wellhead is only 50 miles offshore of the delta.

BP has no desire to protect the areas they drill in. They can blame Transocean for the rig or Haliburton for the wellhead, but they are the ones who lobby the government to relax safety regulations. Just because $900 million or whatever in lawsuits is dwarfed by the revenue from deep wells does not make it morally correct. Not all people are bad, and the same for companies, but BP is a bastard of a corporation.