Friday, June 18, 2010

Apology Friday: June 18 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Pensacola Oil Forecast.

A slight northerly breeze overnight and this morning (good) continued to keep the worst of the oil away from Pensacola Beach. No more than small, light, and "sporadic tarballs" were seen on Pensacola Beach. This afternoon, the breeze will shift to blowing onshore from the southwest (bad) but it is expected to remain relatively light. Surface currents will remain modest, too (good).

Early next week will see a gradual stiffening in the breeze and wave action increasing to 2 to 3 feet.

2. GeoPlatform.

NOAA, in conjunction with the University of New Hampshire (who knew?) and Google has created a nifty new interactive oil spill tool for public use. It offers graphic evidence of just about anything you might want to know about the current status of the oil gusher and various responses. (Click here or on the graphic, above)

You can choose among scores of "layers" -- and scores more "sublayers" within them -- to graphically depict everything from the current and projected locations of large oil sheets and sheens, to clean-up assessments, claim center locations, sea animal "standings," fishing closure boundaries, and much, much more. From what we can tell, the information is no older than 24 hours and often up-to-the-hour.

The web site also enables you to zoom in powerfully to have a look a specific areas along the Gulf Coast. Below, for example, we've taken a screenshot of the current and 72-hour projected location of the surface oil nearest to Pensacola Beach. This is what you've been hearing about for the past couple of weeks as the "leading edge" of the BP oil leak nearest to us. In the graphic below it is shown in green, with a modest zoom. On the web site itself, you can zoom in at least twice as close.

3. Apologies all around.

Congressman Joe Barton's apology -- followed by his non-apology apology and then, later in the day, his scripted second try at an apology for the apology -- was the big news yesterday. But while that Republican sideshow was going on, BP's CEO Tony Hayward was unapologetically stonewalling a congressional committee. The Christian Science Monitor describes how:
Throughout the day on Thursday, Hayward refused to answer direct questions on such issues. His responses ranged from "I was not involved in that decision, so it's impossible for me to answer that question” to “I'm afraid I can’t recall that” or, simply, “I don't know.”
To be sure, as two Wall Street Journal news reporters observe, "Summoning executives of companies caught up in financial or legal trouble to receive televised scoldings is a ritual of U.S. politics." Hayward knew it was coming.
Even by the standards of these proceedings, the fury directed at Mr. Hayward was unusual. Democrats accused BP of sacrificing safety for profit. One said the video of the Gulf spill made her physically ill. A Louisiana Republican held up a photograph of an oil-slimed pelican.
Okay. So that's what passes in Washington for a "grilling." But it wouldn't even qualify as luke warm milk in England. There, members of parliament tend to be a whole lot more articulate than the vast majority of self-absorbed, under-educated clowns we send to Congress.

And when a Brit is vexed, he really knows how to skin a guy with the tongue. Remember how George Galloway, M.P., savaged the former senator from Minnesota, Norm Coleman, from the witness chair Coleman gave him? Ex-senator Coleman lost his reelection bid that very moment.

According to another WSJ reporter who was live blogging the hearing, "Rep. Welch says Hayward has answered “don’t know” 65 times... . It erodes confidence."

Actually, you'd think it would disqualify him from being "chief executive officer." No one expects the CEO of an oil corporation to fix the leak with his own hands. But when his company has caused the largest man-made environmental disaster in the history of the world you'd expect him to know, two months afterward, at least a little something about how and why it happened. Either Hayward was lying to Congress, under oath no less, or he's a complete fool.

In either event, like vastly too many corporate CEO's these days, he is scandalously overpaid.

Even the British press was disgusted. The U.K. Telegraph said, "he looked like a tired undertaker who was rather bored with having to look mournful."A London Times columnist thought he looked like "a weary registrar in a South London crematorium."

The Guardian put its finger on the problem: Hayward "had been carefully coached by legal and media teams." So too, of course, were the senators. So what you had were two contesting, carefully coached Kabuki troupes dancing around a stage and crashing into the scenery props, all for the benefit of ... well, themselves. Who else?

4. The Reality Show.

The real show yesterday was on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Almost everyone missed it. For the fourth time since April 20, "Democrats attempted Thursday to create unlimited liability for oil companies" and for the fourth time a Republican senator abused Senate rules to object to the measure coming to the floor for debate.

This time, it was Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), "ranking member of the Environmental and Public Works Committee." Being the "ranking" Republican means he's the one who would head the Senate's most important committee overseeing Gulf drilling if the G.O.P. takes back the Senate majority. On the House side, the comparable "ranking" Republican is Joe ("I apologize") Barton.

God help anyone whose claims haven't been paid by the time congressional Republicans are voted back into a majority.

5. Nightmare Scenario.

We've known about this for time. But we haven't mentioned it publicly because it is unverified speculation from an anonymous message board poster -- hardly a reliable source, at least without knowing more about deep sea engineering than we do. But now that two blog sites we respect have done so, it's probably time we caved in.

Both Heather Parton (blogging as "digby" at Hullaballo) and Rick Outzen (Independent News) have shined a public light on a nightmare scenario that first surfaced last Sunday at The Oil Drum in the comments section.

We hasten to add The Oil Drum's comment section isn't like the kind of newspaper comment board Reginald Dogan rightly dismissed in yesterday's PNJ as mostly mostly "negative and nasty... offensive, racist and uninformed." A lot of oil industry engineers, maintenance personnel, mid-level executives, and investors hang out at The Oil Drum. A number of them appear to know what they're talking about.

As Sharon Astyk assesses it on one of the Science Blog sites:
This one passes my smell test, which is usually pretty good - that doesn't mean I claim commenter Doug R is right - it means I think his information is interesting enough to be worth exposing to a wider audience for clarification or correction.
At The Oil Drum, someone with the screen name "dougr" assayed a range of facts, graphics, BP corporation statements, the mysterious lack of other information, and certain speculations to advance the thought that BP's "well pipes below the sea floor are broken and leaking."

"The system below the sea floor," he concludes, "has serious failures of varying magnitude in the complicated chain, and it is breaking down and it will continue to."
What does this mean? It means they will never cap the gusher after the wellhead. They cannot...the more they try and restrict the oil gushing out the bop ...the more it will transfer to the leaks below.
* * *
They have shifted from stopping or restricting the gusher to opening it up and catching it. This only makes sense if they want to relieve pressure at the leak hidden down below the seabed.....and that sort of leak is one of the most dangerous and potentially damaging kind of leak there could be. It is also inaccessible which compounds our problems. There is no way to stop that leak from above, all they can do is relieve the pressure on it and the only way to do that right now is to open up the nozzle above and gush more oil into the gulf and hopefully catch it.

[A]ll the worst things you can think of are a possibility, but the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf.
* * *
It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.
* * *
We can only hope the race against that eventuality is one we can win, but my assessment I am sad to say is that we will not.

The system will collapse or fail substantially before we reach the finish line ahead of the well and the worst is yet to come.
Essentially, as we understand it, "dougr" is saying that the well bore, which stretches to a depth of "more than six miles" beneath the Gulf water, is eroding. Multiple holes could blow open in the oil deposit directly into the water; the whole thing could continue for years until all of the oil and gas under pressure has escaped into the water. The entire Gulf of Mexico could be poisoned, perhaps forever.

Being a message on a message board, you will not be surprised to learn that others at The Oil Drum disagree with "dougr." But so far as we have been able to ascertain no one has yet convincingly shown that his speculation is either based on misinformation or completely groundless.

As we read what "dougr" has written, however, even on his own terms a relief well that successfully intercepts the well bore could save us from that nightmare scenario -- if it is accomplished in time. If for any reason the relief wells don't succeed, then what we see happening today is likely to be the best the Gulf Coast can expect for years to come.

As Digby says, one wishes that "some real geologists and oil experts" would either refute or confirm "dougr's" scenario "because it's scaring the hell out of people."

minor edit 6-18pm


dining room tables said...

Scary! The whole thing is so scary. It is fast spreading and many are affected and this is not good for us. said...

I saw so much useful data in this post! said...

Here, I don't actually consider it is likely to have effect.