Saturday, May 01, 2010

Saturday Morning Oil Spill Update

1. Worse Case Spill.

A discouraging AP report by Seth Borenstein suggests if you sat down and modeled a "worst case" kind of oil spill, the BP Deepwater Horizon would be it:
Experts tick off the essentials: A relentless flow of oil from under the sea; a type of crude that mixes easily with water; a resultant gooey mixture that is hard to burn and even harder to clean; water that's home to vulnerable spawning grounds for new life; and a coastline with difficult-to-scrub marshlands.Gulf Coast experts have always talked about "the potential for a bad one," said Wes Tunnell, coastal ecology and oil spill expert at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

"And this is the bad one. This is just a biggie that finally happened."
* * *
The first analysis of oil spill samples showed it contains asphalt-like substances that make a major sticky mess, he said. This is because the oil is older than most oil in the region and is very dense.

This oil also emulsifies well, [LSU Professor Ed] Overton said. Emulsification is when oil and water mix thoroughly together, like a shampoo, which is mostly water, said Penn State engineering professor Anil Kulkarni.

It "makes a thick gooey chocolate mousse type of mix," Kulkarni said.

And once it becomes that kind of mix, it no longer evaporates as quickly as regular oil, doesn't rinse off as easily, can't be eaten by oil-munching microbes as easily, and doesn't burn as well, experts said.

That type of mixture essentially removes all the best oil clean-up weapons, Overton and others said.
If that weren't enough, it's now spawning season for fish and time for marshland plants to fragment, bud, and otherwise reproduce; the windy weather and strong currents offshore have been unfavorable; the river of oil will overwhelm many marshlands that are harder to clean than sandy beaches; and, of course, a new hurricane season is looming.

On this last point, LSU professor Ed Overton says, "A hurricane is Mother Nature's vacuum cleaner. Normally it cleans things up. But that's not a solution with a continuing spill."

2. Who Could Have Predicted?

We commented the other day about all the similarities between BP's Deepwater Horizon oil leak and the oil platform disaster last year in Australia's Timor Sea.

Turns out, the Wall Street Journal has identified yet another. Both oil platform explosions occurred about the same time Halliburton Corp. -- Dick Cheney's old outfit -- was finishing up a deep water well process called "cementing."
An oil-drilling procedure called cementing is coming under scrutiny as a possible cause of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico that has led to one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history, drilling experts said Thursday.

The process is supposed to prevent oil and natural gas from escaping by filling gaps between the outside of the well pipe and the inside of the hole bored into the ocean floor. Cement, pumped down the well from the drilling rig, is also used to plug wells after they have been abandoned or when drilling has finished but production hasn't begun.In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, workers had finished pumping cement to fill the space between the pipe and the sides of the hole and had begun temporarily plugging the well with cement; it isn't known whether they had completed the plugging process before the blast.

Regulators have previously identified problems in the cementing process as a leading cause of well blowouts, in which oil and natural gas surge out of a well with explosive force. When cement develops cracks or doesn't set properly, oil and gas can escape, ultimately flowing out of control. The gas is highly combustible and prone to ignite, as it appears to have done aboard the Deepwater Horizon, which was leased by BP PLC, the British oil giant.
* * *
Houston-based Halliburton is the largest company in the global cementing business, which accounted for $1.7 billion, or about 11%, of the company's revenue in 2009,
3. Come Monday.

The Pensacola News Journal reports the river of oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon well is expected to reach Pensacola as early as Monday. Also from the Pensacola News Journal, Escambia County Commissioners have come up with what they call a "plan" to seal off Pensacola Bay's East Pass.

It looks to us more like a Hail Mary pass:
The plan is to use about 30,000 feet of boom — now at Pensacola Naval Air Station, a staging area for oil company BP's response to the slick — and BP's resources to set up a "V-shaped" barrier across East Pensacola Pass to catch the oil.* * *
The hope is that the floating pools of oil coming into the pass will funnel into the center point of the "V," where there will be a "skimmer" or collection area where the oil can be removed, Turpin said.
On its web site, the News Journal is running a suspiciously cheesy-looking map showing a large, red-colored "V" superimposed on what seems to be an old NOAA satellite photo of the East Pass into Pensacola Bay. (Click here or on the image to the left). Better than nothing, perhaps, but if that's all the local governments have, good luck to us.

4. Boom-Boom.

As the Mobile Register reported late last night, typically --
About 1 foot of the boom sits above the surface. Waves taller than that can lap over a boom, something that had been reported Friday off the coast of Louisiana.
The tides will be over 1 foot on Monday, but moderate after that. However, Weather Underground (working as everyone does from NOAA data) is forecasting vigorous seas of 5 to 9 feet through Monday. it will be subsiding to a "light chop" of 2 to 3 feet by Wednesday. Wavefinder more or less agrees.

The nefarious thing, of course, is that no one can forecast the seas for the next three months, which Senator Bill Nelson identifies as the time it will take to drill a new hole and seal off the leaking Deepwater Horizon leak. And that assumes the wellhead doesn't blow.

Bring on the booms, but no one should expect them to be more than a band-aid on the bleeding rivers of oil.

5. Bumper Sticker Politicians.

Speaking of tides, J. Earle Bowden, justly known as the "Father of Gulf Islands National Seashore," understandably takes just about every politician in Florida to the woodshed -- along with President Obama -- for promoting an "oily future" for our "vulnerable Florida beaches" and "potentially shattering the state's mostly clean tourism economy."

Obama he derides as "Mr. Green, playing into the political intrigue, throwing proponents a bone, echoing McCain's willingness to pollute coastal waters to help wean America from its Mideastern obsession." Coming in for a double dose of venom are Governor Charlie Crist, Congressman Jeff ("Mr. Oil Spill") Miller, and those "South Florida politicians who seek to please the Big Oil lobby."

Bowden rants:
I cannot believe insensitive politicians, including Rep. Jeff Miller and U.S. Senate aspirant Charlie Crist, buying John McCain's "Drill, Baby! Drill!" desperation pitch before his campaign for the presidency was shipwrecked on the tides of Obamadom.
Oddly, it's becoming almost impossible to find anyone here in Tea Party country who will admit to having joined in that "drill, baby, drill" chorus. Just yesterday, we found ourselves being passed by a pickup truck that was sporting a "drill, baby, drill" bumper sticker, half-torn off.

We take that as sign that very soon now, all the oily politicians and their Tea Party supporters will be madly trying to erase their despicable records.

Reality is so unfair to right-wingers.

6. Blame Game.

It appears no one -- not BP, not escambia County, not even the federal government -- knows what the hell to do about the river of oil flowing over the Gulf Coast for what may be several months. So, instead of sucking their fingers, federal officials have begun pointing them at BP Corp., and corporate officials are quietly trying to stick them in the eye of federal government's MMS.

The New York Times headline captures the finger-pointing: "BP Is Criticized Over Oil Spill, but U.S. Missed Chances to Act."

At the heart of the story is BP's February, 2009 application to commence drilling at the Deepwater Horizon site. The multi-page application is here in pdf format. Below are some tantalizing excerpts we captured on the screen. Click on each image to read the original.

BP doesn't have a Deepwater Horizon "blowout scenario plan"

But BP does claim to have the "capability to respond" to the "worse-case scenario"

It looks like there's plenty of blame to go around:

U. S. Mineral Management Services "required" to "inspect" and ensure "compliance"

If BP's word can be trusted -- no sure thing -- the well also complied with Louisiana and Mississippi state law:

The Deepwater Horizon purportedly complied with Louisiana legal requirements:

And with Mississippi Law:

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