Thursday, May 20, 2010

Oil-A-Versary: Thursday BP Oil Spill Update

"There will not be any oil spills affecting Florida beaches."
-- MMS, June 2001, Palm Beach Post (Sept. 10, 2001, page 1A)

1. Happy Oil-a-versary.

One month ago today BP's Deepwater Horizon oil platform caught fire. We first took notice on this blog when the platform sank on April 22, Earth Day -- which just happened to be the one-year anniversary of the "drill, baby, drill" proposal Republicans unveiled in the Florida legislature.

Nice timing, G.O.P. Step forward, please, to receive your comeuppance.

2. Local TV Oil-Cast.

Oil slick predictions by local TV weathermen -- not the most reliable source we can imagine -- are leaving heads spinning in our household. At 10 pm last night, WEAR-TV's weatherman wore a long face as he dolefully told viewers it looked very much as if wind and water currents would be pushing the oil slick north and thus closer to Pensacola over the next forty-eight hours.

On line, however, a completely different weather-person offers a completely different oil-cast: "Over the next forty-eight hours we do not expect the oil to move toward the north." There is something to the overnight revised forecast. NOAA's Mobile, Alabama, regional weather station is predicting mostly south- to south-east winds through the weekend.

Now, we understand why WEAR-TV stopped uploading their full, unedited news broadcasts to their web site. It was simply too embarrassing.

Though the winds may be favorable, the WAVCIS map at LSU's Coastal Studies Institute (screenshot, above) shows an animation that brings the oil slick ever closer to Pensacola Beach over the next forty-eight hours.

3. Sizing Up the Leak.

McClatchey News reports that at yesterday's hearings by a House subcommittee headed by Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), a string of scientists, one after the other, scoffed at BP's estimate that about 5,000 barrels of oil are leaking every day. Kate Sheppard, the reliable environmental reporter for Mother Jones Magazine, was live twittering the hearing yesterday. Check her highly compressed summaries of each of the scientific witnesses.

Science News reports that one engineering professor, Purdue University's Steven Wereley, told the subcommittee "that his calculations of two leaks that are on videos BP released on Tuesday showed 70,000 barrels from one leak and 25,000 from the other."
He said the margin of error was about 20 percent, making the spill between 76,000 and 104,000 barrels a day. However, Wereley said he'd need to see videos that showed the flow over a longer period to get a better calculation of the mix of oil and gas from the wellhead.
"At least four other independent engineers," Science News added, "have pegged the figure at between 25,000 and 100,000 barrels a day. Prof. Wereley testified that all of the estimates from outside the industry “are considerably higher than BP’s” and "there's a good overlap between the outsider estimates.”
This would suggest BP’s number is an outlier, said subcommittee chairman Ed Markey (Dem.-Mass.). It is, Wereley assured him.
4. Laying Low.

As Marisa Taylor and Renee Schoof were reporting for McClatchy News yesterday, BP has been deliberately withholding facts about the spill from scientists as well as the government -- "and government lets it." They quote Toby Odone, a BP spokesman, as claiming that the company has been sharing data only with "legitimate interested parties." But --
When asked whether the information can be released publicly, he responded, "Why would one do it? Any parties with a legitimate interest can have access to it."
Click here, or on the graphic above left, to see the proposed reorganization chart.

The reorganization is long, long overdue.

7. MMS in Pensacola.

As residents of Pensacola may remember, MMS is the agency which back in 2001 was telling everyone from school children at "Susan Whitehurst's language arts class at Woodlawn Beach Middle School" to David Struhs, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation, "There will not be any oil spills affecting Florida beaches."

That's a direct quote from a September 10, 2001, Palm Beach Post article by reporter Mary Ellen Klas (now behind a subscription wall):
Drilling rigs are carefully monitored for pollution, [MMS] said. Plants and animals disturbed by the development of oil and gas platforms, in time, "will be the same as they were before." Besides, humans always cause "some unavoidable harm to some groups of animals and plants," like insects smashed "by the simple act of walking down a sidewalk."

This response infuriated environmentalists.

"We realize we can't depend on the MMS to express the true hazards of drilling," said Enid Sisskin, a biologist and spokeswoman for Gulf Coast Environmental Defense, a Pensacola-based opponent of drilling off the Panhandle. "They don't even pretend to be neutral.
In the article, "MMS and the industry" were as one in articulating a unified response to all concerns about the risks of oil pollution. No surprise, there. In 2001, both MMS and the Interior department were "headed by former executives in the oil and gas industry."
They argue that the discharge is so diluted when it is dumped into the gulf that the toxins do no harm.

They also point to their safety record and advancements on drilling techniques that have resulted in a blowout rate - the uncontrolled flow of oil or gas - of only one in every 1,000 well starts since 1996.
Under former president George W. Bush, the MMS agency only grew worse. It became a grotesque nest of "sleeze, sex, cocaine and... billions in lost revenues" to the U.S. treasury. Even before that, however, local environmentalists like Enid Sisskin were warning --
If a spill were to reach our sugar white beaches, within a few months to 2 years after cleanup, although disturbed beach configuration would adjust to approximately predisturbance conditions, some oil that penetrated to depths beneath the reach of the cleanup methods would persist in beach sands and could be released periodically when storms and high tides resuspend or flush through beach sediments. During hot, sunny days, tarballs buried near the surface of the beach sand could liquefy and cause a seep to the sand surface.
In the Palm Beach Post article, MMS critics were very detailed -- and, as it turns out, prescient -- in their warnings:
A gas well blowout can devastate bottom habitat and produce a wide area of toxic conditions within the water column," the EPA wrote in its comments on the proposed sale of Lease 181.
* * *
Another issue complicates natural gas drilling. Discoveries off the coast of Mobile, Ala., indicate that the same formation that extends to Florida contains sour gas, or hydrogen sulfite, which is corrosive and very poisonous, said Klaus Gohrbandt, a retired petroleum geologist living in Pensacola. Rig workers must wear gas masks and the hydrogen sulfite is removed at the processing plant before the natural gas is shipped to the transmission line, he said.

Little known about that depth

Finally, environmentalists note that little is known about marine conditions below depths of 8,000 feet or what impact the release of oil and gas will have in this intensely cold, high pressure environment.

Scientists have discovered unique plants and animals, such as the tube worm, living near seeps in the oil and gas formations deep under water. Recent research has also determined that the deep waters of the gulf are also home to hundreds of endangered sperm whales.

The risks of drilling in this unknown frontier are twofold. With giant offshore wells pumping more that 200,000 barrels of oil a day in depths of more than 1,000 feet, the MMS predicts that a well blowout "could easily turn out to be a potential show stopper ... if the industry and MMS do not come together as a whole to prevent such an incident."

The industry has a plan in place for an oil spill but even federal regulators working for the MMS admit they don't really know how quickly the industry can respond, how fast it can stop the well flow and what the environmental impact might be.
It's been nine years since those warnings were issued out of Pensacola by Enid, among others. They were right. MMS and the entire oil industry was wrong.

And now, BP wants to treat them as people who are not "legitimate interested parties?" MMS is not the only entity that needs serious overhauling.


k.k.subramanian said...


The recent explosion near the American coast, in the gulf of Mexico, has raised several questions, not only about the environmental hazards, but also about the very idea of exploration in the deep sea.

My theory is that the crust of the earth is a huge pressure cooker, the steam under very high pressure circulating the whole area below the ocean bed, through thousands of channels. It comes out in the form of hot springs (some are 416 degree C) or volcano or causes earthquakes, when the pressure becomes too high

When you try to make a hole in the bed, you are creating an artificial volcano. The strata between the oil well and the steam zone may be either thick or thin. So long as it is sufficient to prevent a link up between hot steam and the oil well, we are safe. As there are any number of steam channels, there is every likelihood of the steam forcing into the oil well, causing an explosion. This is probably what happened.

On the land we can at least try something or at least burn away the oil. Nothing is possible under a depth of 10.6 KM.

So banning oil exploration below the sea bed is a must.

The presence of oil indicates that forests were there, billions of years ago. How can trees grow in the deep sea? Of course, any form of life like fish, sea animals etc. (both animal and vegetables) can get converted into oil, but only under high pressure. So the question remains: how did it get under the sea bed?


Hindu mythology is rich in content and variety. For everything, there is a parallel.

It is said that suras and asuras decided to churn the sea, to obtain nectar (amrit, eating which one gets eternal life), like house wives churning milk for butter.

Well, God is continuously stirring the sea with the help of ocean currents, hot and cold, sweeping the whole length and breadth of the oceans. Each current is thousands of times bigger than the continental rivers, both in volume and sweep. This way, the saltiness and the temperature of water in the seas, the world over, is maintained fairly constant.

Then the volcanoes and hot springs disturb the sea, when billions of tons of water are thrown into it. The ocean bottom is thus whipped up, throwing sand up from the bottom of the water. How else, do sands come in the sea shores? If water is not pushed down continuously from the bottom of the ocean, to the interior of the earth, as described in my book GLOBAL WARMING IS A MYTH,mean sea level will rise every day.

During volcanic eruptions (there are thousands of volcanoes in the sea), magma is thrown up from the interior of the earth.

In short, unlike the continents, the three dimensional contour of the seas get transformed into different shapes, almost every day! This may be the explanation for the debris of vegetable and animal life forms getting underground, where it is subjected to the high temperature and pressure required for formation of coal and gas.


The oil companies doing exploration and mining of oil, should pay compensation to the nations of the world. All such activities should be banned. Do not play with fire.

Living Oceans said...

If Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project is approved it would carry half a million barrels of crude oil a day from the Alberta tar sands to the port of Kitimat, B.C. The oil would then be loaded into tankers that would sail through the narrow inlets of the Great Bear Rainforest before heading out to sea. At least 225 oil tankers a year would traverse this fragile coastal route, delivering tar sands oil to Asian markets.

Stop the Enbridge Pipeline. E-mail the Prime Minister and urge him to permanently ban super tankers so that B.C.'s North and Central Coast is not the site of the world’s next disastrous oil spill.

Action alert link:

dining room tables said...

Whatever that is underwater should stay there. Why are people so curious of what is underneath. Always not contented.