Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cap Testing Thursday: July 15 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Oilcast

Today we configured NOAA's new interactive spill map for wind and wave projections over the next 72 hours (as above). It looks like the moderately light southerly breezes we saw on the beach yesterday will continue. By late yesterday afternoon, we made the wind out to be almost a two-club wind at times, or as brisk as 15 mph along unprotected shores. Small white caps dotted Pensacola Bay.

A southerly breeze generally means southerly currents near to shore. These days, with large sheets of oil hanging around offshore, that almost inevitably means at least some small tarballs and fresh oil mousse sloshing around in the surf. If the past is prologue, the farther west on Santa Rose Island one goes the more numerous and larger the tarballs even on days when the weather seems great.

2. Cap Test Delayed, Resumes, Delayed, Resumes, etc. etc. etc.

After a long day of on-again, off-again promises to begin the pressure testing on the new cap stack, late last night BP finally started the tests -- and discovered " a leak on a line on the choke valve of the new cap." Little wonder Energy Secretary Chu and his team thought it necessary to make BP re-check everything yesterday.

We shouldn't be surprised that BP's engineers missed something. For three months, BP has been acting as if they're filming "The Keystone Kops Drill for Oil." Even when the corporation stubbornly sticks to sharing only what little good news there is, and suppressing all of the bad, it screws up.

Yesterday, however, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen were more explicit about the risks BP is running than any official involved, government or otherwise, has been before. As the New York Times reported today:
Mr. Gibbs described the review as “a series of steps” that were being taken “in order to ensure that what we’re doing is being done out of an abundance of caution to do no harm.”

Among the concerns was that if the well was damaged during the test, oil and gas might leak from the seafloor around the well rather than up through the well bore as it is now.
* * *
Admiral Allen said the government had asked BP for more information on the structural strength of the well. And in allowing the test to proceed, the government stipulated that pressure be allowed to build up in intervals, with acoustic tests to gauge the well’s condition every six hours. That would most likely lengthen the du
ration of the test, which had been expected to last from 6 to 48 hours.

Earlier this morning, BP repaired the leaking hose. Now, says the New York Times in a late update, the "test can proceed." Remember that admonition of our dear old father. He wasn't a pessimist, just a clear-eyed realist.

3. Booms on the Water.

Even in a moderately light breeze, as mentioned above, the oil booms in unprotected waters don't fare well. Even low waves wash over them, twist them, and sometimes dislodge them altogether. Yesterday, the boom on the mainland at the Project Greenshores site at the north of the 3-mile bridge was close to breaking up in less than 2 feet seas (see photo, left).

It's disheartening to imagine what a stiff wind will do to them.

On the other hand, in protected waters like the entrance to Little Sabine Bay, the boom was doing fairly well yesterday:

4. The Story of O.

Yes, there are "oil impact notices" stuck here and there at Pensacola Beach warning visitors of the possible presence of "oil products." But what about the electronic sign? Nary a word that so much as starts with the letter "O."

Yesterday the sign read, "Swim with extra caution." Doesn't that sound almost like an invitation to swim rather than a health warning?

5. New Tourist Game: Tarballs and Mousse.

Not surprisingly, many land-lubbing tourists don't know a tarball from a mousse patty. Heck, most of us who've frequented the beach for years didn't know the difference either, until a couple of months ago.

It seems, now, that tourists well enough informed to know we're experiencing an oil emergency may be coming to the beach out of curiosity. Yesterday, we came across a small party beaching it along the road to Ft. Pickens. They were from Missouri, the "show me" state. They had to see for themselves.

Several were wading in the surf, playing at catching tarballs with each ebb and flow of the waves coming ashore. It's the latest tourist recreational activity, like shelling -- only for bits of oil pollution.

We saw Yvonne from St. Louis snatch something small and orange from the surf before it washed back into the Gulf.

"What's this?" she asked a friend.

He shrugged and shook his head. "A shell, maybe?"

"It's oil from the spill," we offered. "See how soft and pliable it is? They call that mousse."

"Really?" she said excitedly. "It doesn't look like oil."

We explained that the hard black things she had been grabbing out of the water are called tarballs. They are bits of oil that have weathered awhile in the air and water. The small orange glop she held in her hands now was unweathered oil. It had traveled from BP's well over a hundred and fifty miles away, probably under water for most of the time.

Yvonne was so excited that she proudly displayed her find to all of her friends. We obligingly took a photo:

We didn't mean to be censorious of our new-found acquaintances, but we couldn't help remarking that it seemed a little, well, inappropriate that she looked so happy about finding oil on the beach.

"You're right," she said after a moment's thought. "Here, take my picture again."

This time she wrinkled her nose and screwed her face into what she supposed would be the locally-accepted expression:

As they were leaving, we noticed that Yvonne took the mousse with her, despite our warning that it is toxic. A souvenir of her beach vacation.

6. Social Notes from Pensacola Beach.

Rick Outzen, publisher of the local weekly Independent News, reported yesterday that he's been getting complaints "from business owners that attended the SRIA cocktail party for the Blue Angels and their wives on Friday, July 9 at the Hilton."
First, the beach lifeguards were there and talked through most of the presentations. Second, the names and titles of the Blues were stated incorrectly. When the Blues wanted to make their presentation to the SRIA, no one could find the board chairman or a board member to accept it.

As one beach business owner and admitted Blues fan told me, "These men deserve our respect and admiration. That party was an embarrassment."
The most shocking lapse, to us, is the absence of anyone from the Santa Rosa Island Authority. SRIA executive car-counter Buck Lee likes to receive more awards than a TV exec at a sitcom convention. Once, he even had the SRIA give himself a Hummer.

7. Journalism Award.

Speaking of awards, Mac McClelland, who was on Pensacola Beach a couple of weeks ago, has won the Hillman Foundation's monthly Sidney Award for outstanding social consciousness in journalism. Her winning entry in Mother Jones magazine concerned BP's oil spill and the devastating effect it has had on the lives of families along the Louisiana coast. ["Depression, Abuse, Suicide: Fishermen's Wives Face Post-Spill Trauma"]

8. NPR Continues to Doze Through Its Oil Coverage.

National Public Radio this morning continued its miserably superficial coverage of the Great Oil-Poisoning of the Gulf of Mexico. At long distance from his sunny, eternally-optimistic desk in Washington D.C., where he's sure not to get his cuffs dirty, NPR'S science guy Richard Harris continues his completely credulous watch of the same robotic camera feeds that everyone else in the world sees. Then he reports what he thinks he saw.

Have time to waste? Give a listen. Then ask NPR, is this the kind of "serious, in-depth reporting" they claimed they would do with Joan Kroc's $200 million?

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