Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hard Truths Tuesday: May 25 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Pensacola Beach Oilcast.

Multiple local reports are saying that the northeastern edge of BP's oil slick is about 50 miles south of Pensacola Beach, which puts it for beach-goers well over the horizon and out of sight. Weather forecasts remain favorable, too. As NOAA's extended oil forecast says --
Trajectories for remaining observed oil within this region suggest some of these scattered sheens will continue to be entrained in the counter-clockwise eddy [i.e., east-to-west and northwest], while a smaller portion may move into the Loop Current [due south] and persist as very widely scattered tarballs not visible from imagery.
Memorial Day weekend weather is forecast to be sunny and hot with calm winds. No guarantees, but there's reason to hope we'll continue to see clear, oil-free water.

2. Destin Oil-Sick Pelican Dies.

Has an advance finger of oil slick skirted Pensacola? A brown pelican found late last week near the shore some forty miles to the east of Pensacola, in Destin, has died at the Northwest Wildlife Sanctuary in Pensacola.

The afflicted bird was transferred there for treatment by volunteers from the Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research foundation out of Delaware. According to one volunteer, the pelican had other health issues, too, and "was very lethargic and depressed." Its body temperature was only 96.2, or nearly eight degrees lower than normal for a pelican.

News reports say it's "unclear where the pelican came into contact with oil," which has been described as a light sheen.

3. Hard Truths.

A trio of New York Times reporters on site in coastal Louisiana publish today some hard truths about the BP oil disaster. They write, "Several things have become clear over the past month:"
  • Neither BP nor the government was prepared for an oil release of this size or at this depth.
  • The federal Minerals Management Service, charged with overseeing offshore oil development, has for too long served as a handmaiden of industry.
  • Laws governing deepwater drilling have fallen far behind the technology and the attendant risks.
  • And no one can estimate the extent of the economic and environmental damage, or how long it will last.
Those last two are the hardest truths of all for most Americans to embrace. No one knows with certainty what to do about the oil catastrophe BP has launched at our shores and the consequence of our scientific and technical ignorance is unfathomable.

4. Dream Team.

Rachel Maddow had a superb interview last night with Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. Three and a half weeks ago, President Obama delegated Chu, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, to assemble and supervise a "dream team" of the brightest minds in America to see what can be done.

Don't be surprised if they can't come up with a solution, either. As the ants tell it, we are now governed not by brains but by --
greed and money lust of a thousand little kings
who slashed the timber all to hell
and would not be controlled
and changed the climate
and stole the rainfall from posterity
Here's as much as Chu's dream team has found so far:

5. 60-Percent Solution.

Wednesday (unless it's postponed again) BP will try what they're calling a "Top Kill." The Oil Drum website has a silent illustration followed by a detailed explanation of what BP hopes to do:

The latest word is that BP had delayed the attempt until late Wednesday as it tries to figure out whether it will work.

. Top Kill Risks.

BP's chief operating officer, Tony Hayward, claims that the chances a Top Kill will work are "sixty-to seventy percent." Remember, however, this is the same guy who a month ago was claiming only 1,000 barrels of oil were leaking from the wellhead. As Kate Sheppard of Mother Jones Magazine puts it, BP 'is bad at math.'

BP acknowledges that if the Top Kill effort fails, the oil gusher will get a lot worse:

The top kill process involves pumping fabricated "kill mud," which is about twice the density of water, into the well at 50 barrels a minute to overcome the flow.

The material will be pumped at that high pressure down the choke and kill lines of the blowout preventer, which failed to seal the well after the rig exploded, to push the oil back into the reservoir. Choke and kill lines are used to control the amount and pressure of drilling mud in the wellbore so that surges of oil and natural gas can be kept under control.

If the kill mud is not able to overcom
e the flow of oil, it could get trapped in the riser pipe and erode it, which could lead to additional leaks, Suttles said.
Reuters compares the Deepwater Horizon blow-up with Pemex's Ixtoc disaster off the coast of Mexico in 1979. There, too, a "top hat," "top kill," and "junk shot," and eventually a second relief well. All failed -- even the secondary relief well:
[T]he experience of Mexico's state oil company Pemex shows that relief wells are no silver bullet. Ixtoc, off the coast of the southeastern Mexican state of Campeche, continued to leak oil more than three months after Pemex completed its first relief well.
7. Sharing Information.

Here's an odd one: BP says that only yesterday it "began sharing initial perspectives of its review of the causes of the tragic Deepwater Horizon fire and oil spill."

8. International Oil Spill Conference.

In case you were feeling the time pressure, you'll be relieved to hear that the deadline for submission of that scientific oil spill paper you've been working on for the "Triennial International Oil Spill Conference" has been extended to next Monday, May 31. The conference will be held May 23-26, 2011, in Portland, Oregon.

This is true. There actually is a triennial International Oil Spill Conference in North America. And it rotates with two other triennial "oil spill conferences" in Australia and Europe. Just a week before the BP oil platform blew up, they finished a similar conference in Australia.

Next year, for the Portland conference they're thinking about having an "on-water demonstrations of state of the art spill response technologies." What could go wrong?

After they've brought ruin to the Willamette River, all of you oil engineers out there can begin registering for the March, 2012 Interspill Conference in London. We hear the Thames River isn't yet completely dead yet.

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