Sunday, May 02, 2010

Sea of oil

NOAA sums of the efforts to contain the Deepwater Horizon oil carnage:
Oil continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico at an estimated to 5000 barrels (210,000 gallons) per day from three leaks in damaged piping on the sea floor. This afternoon NOAA tested a new technique to apply dispersants to oil at the source - 5000’ below the surface. Another test and follow-on analysis of the effects of dispersant and dispersed oil in the water column are necessary before the technique is operational, but if successful it could reduce or prevent an oil plume from forming at the surface. Preparation for drilling of a relief or cut-off well is underway - one drilling rig is on site and one should arrive this weekend, but the process will not be complete for several months. Work also continues on a piping system designed to take oil from a collection dome at the sea floor to tankers on the surface; this technique has never been tried at 5000’. High winds and seas curtailed surface skimming and application of dispersant by air today, but production of dispersant has ramped up to 70,000 barrels per day.

Wow. They are experimenting on the fly because they have no proven method for solving this sort of disaster. Doesn't exactly make you feel good about the prognosis. Especially when you read about potential scenarios.

The Coast Guard conceded Saturday that it's nearly impossible to know how much oil has gushed since the blast, after saying earlier it was at least 1.6 million gallons (6 million litres)...Even at that rate, the spill should eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident as the worst U.S. oil disaster in history in a matter of weeks. But a growing number of experts warned that the situation may already be much worse..."The spill and the spreading is getting so much faster and expanding much quicker than they estimated," said Hans Graber, executive director of the university's Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing. "Clearly, in the last couple of days, there was a big change in the size." Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer for exploration and production, said it was impossible to know just how much oil was gushing from the well, but company and federal officials were preparing for the worst-case scenario...BP said it had the capability to handle a "worst-case scenario" at the a leak of 162,000 barrels per day from an uncontrolled blowout — 6.8 million gallons each day. Oil industry experts and officials are reluctant to describe what, exactly, a worst-case scenario would look like — but if the oil gets into the Gulf Stream and carries it to the beaches of Florida, it stands to be an environmental and economic disaster of epic proportions.

The well is at the end of one branch of the Gulf Stream, the warm-water current that flows from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Atlantic. Several experts said that if the oil enters the stream, it would flow around the southern tip of Florida and up the eastern seaboard. "It will be on the East Coast of Florida in almost no time," Graber said. "I don't think we can prevent that. It's more of a question of when rather than if." At the joint command centre run by the government and BP near New Orleans, a Coast Guard spokesman maintained Saturday that the leakage remained around 5,000 barrels, or 200,000 gallons, per day. But Coast Guard commandant Adm. Thad Allen, appointed Saturday by Obama to lead the government's response, said no one could pinpoint how much oil is leaking because it is about a mile (1.6 kilometres) underwater. "And, in fact, any exact estimation of what's flowing out of those pipes down there is probably impossible at this time due to the depth of the water and our ability to try and assess that from remotely operated vehicles and video," Allen said during a conference call...

..."There's an equal amount that could be subsurface too," said Bea. And that oil below the surface "is damn near impossible to track." Louisiana State University professor Ed Overton, who heads a federal chemical hazard assessment team for oil spills, worries about a total collapse of the pipe inserted into the well. If that happens, there would be no warning and the resulting gusher could be even more devastating because regulating flow would then be impossible.

So, despite estimates of a 5000 bpd leak, it is currently impossible to calculate just how much is coming out. Dispersants at the source simply control surface slicks by diluting the oil in droplets within the water column but the oil still remains in the water along with millions of gallons of dispersant chemicals. The Gulf Stream will carry the slick around Florida and up the Eastern seaboard. Everyone is speaking in terms of months before any proper mitigation, if even possible, can be implemented. And Gaia help us if there's a pipe collapse.

Months puts us in hurricane season...

The potential environmental, social, and economic costs of this thing spell the end of tourism and coastal fisheries, and the livelihoods of millions residing in the communities stretched along thousands of kilometres of the US and Gulf state coastlines that support these industries. Talk about an ecological Chernobyl.

It's rage-inducing to think that a a couple of sentences of regulation mandating a bit more submarine cement and a $500 000 valve might have saved us the trouble.

No comments: