Gusher Update

With considerable hoopla, BP has managed to fit a cap on the leaking pipe, which it claims is gathering gushing oil at a rate of about 10,000 barrels a day. CEO Tony “I can’t get my foot out of my mouth” Hayward claims that the cap will capture the “vast majority” of the gushing oil. BP has also ramped up spending, which is now running at about $27 million a day. The US Coast Guard is a bit less sanguine, unusual given their optimism to date, and is now talking about the Gulf being “under siege” until autumn. Which runs from late September through late December, it should be pointed out, so that could be another six months. But who’s counting? The natural comparison here is the Ixtoc I spill in 1979, which produced 140 million gallons, to date the largest spill of all time, which this may exceed. It’s good, I suppose, to remember that Ixtoc gushed for nine months. Ixtoc wasn’t deep, either—it was only 150 feet down, not nearly a mile.

The problem here is that a containment cap has never been used at this depth before with this much oil, so you might see a potential problem there. There’s another problem as well—the cap may be capturing only about half the oil. In fact, if you check out the gusher livecam that BP helpfully provides, it’s pretty clear there is still a whole lot of oil coming out. And if you go over to the even better livecam provided by WKRG, you’ll see the helpful little counter to that indicates the current flow. It’s not pretty. Notice that if you divide the number of gallons estimated to have leaked so far (and who knows whether this overstates or understates the actual case) by 55, you come up with a number in the region of 1 billion barrels of oil. And that’s to date. There is literally no way of knowing what the final count will be. Or even the current count, for that matter.

If you scroll down on the WKRG page, you’ll come to their handy little Gulf Oil Spill Map, in which they tell you what the forecast for spill movement for the next day or two will be. If you want a slightly longer term view, you can go here and get really depressed.

With all this going on, it’s good to know that life goes on in the region. Mississippi governor Haley Barbour assures us that Mississippi beaches are open, and there’s no oil—or, just a little bit, really, nothing to worry about. In fact, it’s the media coverage that’s the problem here, not the oil spill, which people are making entirely too much of. Needless to say, he’s been critical of the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf. Thank god for Republicans—if they didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them.

BP’s headquarters is directly across the street from my office. Aside from some Greenpeace folks hanging out a couple of weeks ago handing out leaflets, and one guy climbing to the roof (pretty easy—it’s only six stories) and setting up a Greenpeace flag, there have been virtually no protests here in London. Weird.

Oh, yeah, this too. Jeez.

10 replies »

  1. Haley Barbour aside, it isn’t only Republicans who are opposed to the moratorium. Not by a long shot. Jobs. Lots and lots of jobs.

  2. No, I get that. Much of this area is still poor, even with these jobs, and losing them would create some real economic hardship. We can probably take up some of the slack by retraining some of these workers to work in wind turbine factories, others in some new solar facilities. It’s time for some well-thought-out industrial policy, frankly, and there’s no reason, other than pure ideology, why Lousiiana and texas and whatnot shouldn’t benefit. These jobs are going to go at some point–we are now in a time of what Michael Klare calls “Extreme Energy.” Daniel Gross over at Slate succinctly puts it this way: “In Texas in 1901, wildcatters didn’t have to work very hard to tap into the great Beaumont gusher. The oil was essentially at the surface, all but seeping out of the earth’s crust. When the land-based oil was exhausted, American prospectors went to sea. And when the shallow-water oil was exhausted, they went farther out. In 1985, only 21 million barrels, or 6 percent of the oil produced in the Gulf of Mexico, came from wells drilled in water more than 1,000 feet deep. In 2009, such wells produced 456 million barrels, or 80 percent of total Gulf production. Today, deep-water Gulf wells account for about one-quarter of the oil the United States sucks from the earth.” To try to keep this madness going because of jobs is unsustainable. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, though–it just means the costs will be further deferred, and more expensive. I pick on Barbour because he’s representative of those who remain blissfully unconcerned with the costs of this ongoing fiasco.

  3. Interesting fact about the spill. According to most estimates, 45 million gallons of oil has leaked out so far. An Olympic swimming pool contains 662,000 gallons of water, so the total amount of the leakage so far is less than 100 Olympic swimming pools, which is like a needle in a haystack considering the size. The Gulf is a pretty big place, with 643 quadrillion (10^18) gallons of water and the dimensions of the gulf is 993 milesX550 miles. The Mississippi drains 3 million gallons a second into the Gulf and that’s only one source. While this spill is a bad disaster, it’s certainly not the worst disaster ever to become the world. The media is milking this for all it can, as they don’t have swine flu to kick around and Obama ‘s crooked ways is off limits. Frankly, I’m so tired of hearing people in Kansas, North Dakota, and Colorado bitch about the spill. I live directly on the Gulf and have skin in the game. I. along with my friends and neighbors are sick and tired of hearing doom and gloom from those who have no skin in the game,. Yes, it’s bad. BP fucked up because they’re not allowed to drill in shallow water. The disaster will take years to clean up, we all know that. Say what you want, but if you don’t have any skin in the game, please find another subject to harp on.

    • An interesting standard for political involvement, Jeff. If I don’t live on the Gulf, I really don’t have an opinion. Because the environment isn’t, you know, interconnected or anything.

      For the record, I think everybody here is immensely concerned for those who live on the Gulf and earn their livelihoods from it. No man is an island, as Donne said, so I hope you’ll understand if we don’t just STFU when corporations are trashing the only planet that we have.

  4. Jeff, sorry that we’re making you and your friends feel bad. Here’s a thought–if we can wean the US from its oil dependency, then you won’t have to listen to the rest of us whine about oil spills any more. How’s that for an incentive?

    And BP didn’t screw up because they weren’t allowed to drill in shallow water. They screwed up because they didn’t know how to fix the problem at hand–a problem that they had previously indicated, in various regulatory filings, they did know how to fix. Which gets to the obvious question–if you don’t know how to fix problems at 5000 feet, why should you be allowed to drill at that depth?

    And on size–yes, it’s a big gulf. Which already has a huge dead zone from agricultural chemical discharge coming in from the Mississippi. And it’s entirely plausible that the amount from this spill could double over the next several months. I suppose your response in that event would be 200 swimming pools. That’s still a lot of a substance that is toxic to marine organisms, in a gulf where most stocks are low, and where recovery from even current spill levels is by no means certain. And you might want to take note of the impact of a phenomenon known as “currents.”

  5. Wuf, I figured you probably understood.

    I pick on Barbour because he’s representative of those who remain blissfully unconcerned with the costs of this ongoing fiasco.

    Yes he is. Oh, yes he is. And if you ask anyone who actually does the work – on rigs, in refineries, on cleanup and salvage – they’ll tell you the same thing Gross said. Oil is a finite resource. Pushing and pushing into deeper and more remote areas, tapping more unpredictable and dangerous sources? Too many people start to die for a dying industry – but those same people have to eat, and feed their families and pay their mortgages. A well-planned shift to sustainable energy sources, with job training and transitional services would be a dream come true.

    • There’s a reason that the US military is so gung-ho on renewable energy and energy efficiency – it reduces the exposure of their supply lines. A base that can run on solar, wind, with diesel generators only for emergency backup is a base that needs a LOT less diesel. Similarly, vehicles that have hybrid engines or diesel generator-powered electric motors not only burn less diesel, but also have better performance. For example, unlike internal combustion engines, electric motors have full torque through their entire range, so the vehicle accelerates much faster.

  6. I read recently that some countries (Canada, iirc) requires that new wells be drilled with a relief well drilled simultaneously. That’s the reason BP’s saying it may yet be months, right? A relief well is the only sure answer.

    Of course, we’re talking about a company famed for cutting corners and lax safety procedures so, you know…and a government that does not do its job because it functions under the unproven thesis that government can’t do anything right.

  7. Good call on the gubbment, Lex. They can do a whole lot more than we will ever know! One reason given for BP not bombing the well deep inside or using another type of permanent cap/plug at the first opportunity is that the well site would be off limits to future extraction. Not sure if that means nearby areas as well, but I could see them being cheap enough to not want to lose the investment due to some spillage.

    I’m having a hard time finding out how many windmills it would take to produce another, the same for solar panels. One could bet that excluding the one-time investment of resources for engineering and design; the energy needed for material procurment, manufacturing processes, site prep, installation and maintainence would probably eat up alot.

    Our ability to change the world or even survive is based on and correlates directly to our ability to control fire. Every method for mechanical advantage, chemical reactions, and heating a bronto burger is most efficient with some sort of combustion. Don’t belive me? Try making a wooden turbine to put in the hoover dam or achieving cold fusion. Oil companies are wasting money to find alternative sources of energy when they should be funding the development of western mullahs so we can live just like the Afghanis, maybe without the AK’s. But then we would still make campfires and that would actually be ok with me.

  8. Relief wells? You’re saying this kind of accident was… foreseeable? Could have been taken into account before the drilling began? By the people who know more about the technology required than anyone else?

    Yes. Of course it was predictable. This is not the first deep water well drilled, nor will it be the last.

    This is also why “leave BP alone and let it get the cleanup done” was such an offensive comment. “Let’s not worry about responsibility; let’s get to work and celebrate the remarkable engineering feats…” that, oh yes, haven’t worked. Because the only one that is known to work wasn’t put into place at the only effective time it could have been. BP knew that. Period.

    If you don’t care about human lives, there’s the environmental impact (and I won’t argue with anyone who doesn’t understand the basics of a toxin dispersed in a contained and recirculating body of water). If you don’t care about the environment, there’s the fishing industry. If not that, tourism, coastal businesses and property values. If not that, the dwindling future of the oil industry and the industries dependent upon it (and those jobs, and those communities, and yes, those profits), going down in desperation while CEO’s and regulatory agencies fiddle. If not that, the image of the United States as a fossil fuel-starved global beggar.