Wednesday, May 26, 2010

'Swine Wednesday' May 26 BP Oil Spill Update

"Our Titleist golf balls can withstand even the earth-shaking force of a ferocious, off-balance, downward-pressuring vector-force that squirts the ball wildly off in any ol' direction on the compass." (below)

1. Pensacola Oil Forecast
No appreciable change from yesterday in the weekend forecast. Lookin' good for Memorial Day Weekend. A little rain, perhaps, but odds are low and any showers on the beach probably will be brief and bring a welcome cooling-off period.

2. Spreading Oil, Proliferating Projections.

BP's river of oil has spread so far and wide in the Gulf of Mexico that about a week ago NOAA began publishing two separate projection maps (see left), one for the "near shore" and one for the southern parts of the Gulf, which NOAA denominates as "offshore." How long will it be before they have to make a third map, projecting the oil flow up the East Coast?

3. Pigs Will Be Pigs.

Pensacola publisher Rick Outzen reported yesterday for The Daily Beast on the discovery of two internal BP memos that cast a dark cloud over the oil driller's business ethics -- to say nothing of its humanity. One company memo coldly calculates the value of a worker's life versus the profits to be made by skimping on safety. The other sneeringly compares the cost of building a pig's house with bricks, to foil the big bad wolf from blowing it down, and concludes the pig's life isn't worth the expense.

Outzen explains:
The two-page document, prepared by BP’s risk managers in October 2002 as part of a larger risk preparedness presentation, and titled “Cost benefit analysis of three little pigs,” is harrowing:

“Frequency—the big bad wolf blows with a frequency of once per lifetime.”

“Consequence—if the wolf blows down the house then the piggy is gobbled.”

“Maximum justifiable spend (MJS)—a piggy considers it’s worth $1000 to save its bacon.”

“Which type of house,” the report asks, “should the piggy build?”

It then answers its own question: a hand-written note, “optimal,” is marked next to an option that offers solid protection, but not the “blast resistant” trailer, typically all-welded steel structures, that cost 10 times as much.

The two documents originally surfaced during pre-trial discovery in connection with wrongful death lawsuits brought against BP after its Texas City refinery caught fire in 2005. Fifteen plant employees were killed in the inferno and 170 were injured. Eventually, Rick writes, BP settled the cases for $1.6 billion, BP was convicted of a felony violation of the Clean Air Act, it paid a fine of $50 million and "was sentenced to three years probation."

As with too many recidivist criminals, BP didn't learn its lesson. Outzen writes:
Last year, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied the largest monetary penalty in its history, $87 million, for "failing to correct safety problems identified after a 2005 explosion that killed 15 workers at its Texas City, Texas refinery."
A BP spokesman told The Daily Beast that BP has reformed its ways since then. “Those documents are several years old,” he said.

Has the corporation found religion? Was it 'born again?' Outzen isn't convinced:
We know that the Deepwater well lacked the remote-control, acoustical valve that experts believe would have shut off the well when the blowout protector failed. The acoustic trigger costs about $500,000. How would that stand up to a similar “Maximum Justifiable Spend” analysis (especially when BP’s liability is officially capped at $75 million by federal law)?
For a direct look at BP's swinish memos, click here.

4. Top Kill Reality TV.

If BP's "Top Kill" maneuver actually does begin today, you can watch it, live, right here. The Los Angeles Times has the vivid details:
Heavy mud will be forced into the well to counteract the upward pressure of the leaking oil and gas. Then cement will be poured in after the mud to seal the opening.

If for some reason the mud alone cannot push down the oil, BP officials said they might also try to stop the flow with a "junk shot" filled with golf balls, among other objects.

Success of the venture will depend on loading enough mud and cement into the well to stop the surge of oil and gas — a tricky proposition. Iraj Ershaghi, director of the petroleum engineering department at USC, estimated that the upward pressure was likely to be about 9,000 pounds per square inch. At a depth of 5,000 feet, the water pressure bearing down on the leak is about 2,500 pounds per square inch, he added.

That leaves a difference of about 6,500 pounds per square inch of upward pressure at the wellhead, explaining why the oil and gas flowing upward can easily overwhelm the water pressing down on it and why the crude has continued to gush into the ocean.
* * *
To make up the pressure difference, technicians plan to pump mud into the blowout preventer, a kind of surge protector that sits on top of the wellhead. The device had failed to cut off the flow of oil when the pressure surged too high.

The mud that will be used, drilling mud, is a dense mixture of water and minerals such as bentonite clay. It can be made even denser by adding heavier minerals such as barite and galena.

The heavier the mud, the more it will suppress the flow — but on the flip side, the harder it will be to pump in.

The mud will be pumped from surface vessels with a combined 50,000-horsepower pumping capacity into the internal cavity of the blowout preventer. BP officials said they planned to pump the mud at a rate of up to 40 barrels per minute.

It's unclear how much mud will be needed to stop the flow of oil, BP spokesman Bryan Ferguson said. It's possible, he said, that the entire cavity of the blowout preventer will have to be filled.

Once the oil flow has been contained, the hole will be covered with cement to permanently close the well.
5. Junk Shot Brand Placement.

Plan B (or is it "C" or "D"?) may follow immediately if the Top Kill fails. This means a "Junk Shot." Or, as the L.A. Times puts it, shooting into the disabled blowout preventer "odd objects such as rope knots, golf balls and shredded tires" to try to clog the leak.
These materials are picked for a reason — each odd shape serves a different function, and the more varied the shapes of the collected junk, the more effective the clog will be.
BP will not confirm that it plans to use Titleist golf balls in this maneuver. In our personal experience this brand of golf balls would be very effective.

Although we haven't tried it at a depth of 5,000 feet, based on prior experience we can say our Titleist golf balls can withstand even the earth-shaking force of a ferocious, off-balance, downward-pressuring vector-force that squirts the ball wildly off in any ol' direction on the compass. When the golf ball comes to rest a few feet farther on, moreover, it usually shows only one or two ragged cuts in the surface. The inner core remains perfectly intact.

Consequently, just as we do, BP could use and re-use a single collection of Titleist golf balls over and over again as the company's deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico blow up, one after the other. Less new "junk" to buy, more profits for the stockholders!

6. Golfo de Sopa.

7. Hurricane Debris.

Top Kill or no, hurricane season is right around the corner. And that means anything in the Gulf -- even lakes of oil and dispersants embedded in the sea bottom -- could wind up being transported deposited by high winds and water surges onto coastal beaches, wetlands, and marshes.

Pensacola Beach residents know better than anyone outside of Louisiana how much ancient detritus from the seafloor can be scooped up by a strong hurricane and thrown on shore. After hurricanes Opal (1995), Ivan (2004) and Katrina (2005), the shallows where the waves curl and then exhaust themselves on the beach all along Santa Rosa Island -- from Navarre Beach to Ft. Pickens -- yielded a treasure trove of huge ancient shells in shapes and colors most beachcombers had never seen before. Many looked primeval.

"Top Kill" or no, the approaching hurricane season is very bad news for coastal residents everywhere. It means that in addition to the usual daily anxiety about reported storms we'll have something new to fear: that the remains of BP's leaking oil, in whatever form it may take after chemically bonding with the 785,000 gallons of Corexit BP has poured into the Gulf, will be invading our homes and businesses.

8. Palin Country Oil Spill.

Mother Nature has a perverse sense of humor. Reuters is reporting that an oil pipeline in the ex-half-term Alaska governor's state "shut down on Tuesday after spilling several thousand barrels of crude oil into backup containers, drastically cutting supply down the main artery between refineries and Alaska's oilfields." Drill, baby, drill.


Bryan said...

Not that it really means anything much, but the primary owner of the Alaskan pipeline is BP, and this is not the first major leak that has occurred because they aren't doing routine maintenance.

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