Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Test Delay Wednesday: July 14 BP Oil Spill Update

1. Oilcast

Not much change from previous oil forecasts for Pensacola Beach. We remain well within the "uncertainty" area of NOAA's potential forecast of washed-up tarballs and mousse, but so far this week only about one percent of Pensacola Beach has been reported covered with "sporadic tarballs." Light southwest winds and off-and-on overcast conditions continue.

2. Pressure Test Postponed.

First the "well integrity" pressure tests were to start "immediately" after the new "18-foot-tall, 150,000-pound" stack cap was seated. Then, it was Monday. Then Tuesday morning. Then Tuesday by noon. Then Tuesday mid-afternoon. Then evening.

Now it may not be until Thursday -- if ever -- before pressure tests on BP's new cap stack begin. The New York Times and Bloomberg News were among the first to report late last night that start of the pressure testing --
was postponed after BP met with National Incident Commander Thad Allen, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and a government team of scientists and industry experts, who decided more analysis needed to be done before they proceeded, Allen said in a statement last night.

"We continue to prepare and review protocols for the well integrity test, including the seismic mapping run that was made around the well site this morning," Allen said. "As a result of these discussions, we decided that the process may benefit from additional analysis."
As the Times explains:
On its Web site, BP said in a statement that the test had been postponed after a meeting with Energy Secretary Stephen Chu “and his team of scientific and industry experts.”
According to a statement issued a little after 8:30 CDT last night, Admiral Thad Allen and Secretary Chu's group, seismic mapping of the seafloor yesterday morning convinced them "that the process may benefit from additional analysis that will be performed tonight and tomorrow."

BP's well bore is more than 12,000 feet, or 2+ miles into the Earth below the seafloor. There always has been concern that merely by "pressure testing" the new cap stack the oil company conceivably could cause additional, irreparable damage to the stack or the well itself, thus complicating or even negating August's relief well efforts. Hence, BP has issued multiple assurances that it would proceed slowly to close three open vent in the stack while trying to achieve higher pressures inside the stack; and it would re-open the vents if pressure dropped because that would signal problems below the seafloor.

Now, it seems, seismic imaging has caused concerns that the well bore, or the rocky formations around it beneath the seafloor, may have been compromised by the original April 20 explosion. As Rolling Stone Magazine's Osha Gray Davidson wrote late last night:
Allen’s reference to an already performed “seismic mapping run” as a reason for delaying the test, suggests the possibility of a second even more serious problem. Geologists may have detected cracks or fissures in the rock surrounding the well, weaknesses probably caused by the initial explosion.

If that’s true, the area may not be stable enough to proceed with the well test. The pressure generated by shutting off the flow of oil could lead to a catastrophic failure of the well — allowing crude to spew into the water at a rate even greater than it already is.

Sound familiar?

3. NPR's Leaking Coverage.

For some reason National Public Radio's coverage of the oil spill has been leaking a lot of oil lately. It's all surface and no depth. Faced with what may be the biggest man-made environmental disaster in history, so far as we can tell NPR has no correspondents on the leak scene or along the Gulf Coast.

This morning, NPR science reporter Richard Harris, still sitting at his desk in Washington D.C., continues his superficial "analysis" by confessing on air that he gets his information by "watching the robot under water" and that he really doesn't know what's going on or why. But, 'Rah-rah BP! It's all so exciting!

Confronted with a glass of oil and asked if it's half-full or half-empty, Harris would say it looks full to him -- and then he'd drink it. Give a listen if you have time to waste:

4. Executive Malaprop.

Goodman Ace would have been amused. During BP Corp. vice-president Kent Wells' afternoon telephone press briefing Tuesday, he opened the discussion about the cap stack's then-anticipated integrity tests with this apology:
So now let me move to the well integrity test. So I come with my head in my hand. I was a little optimistic this morning, thinking we’d get started by late morning or noon. [emphasis added]
We realize Wells meant to employ the usual shibboleth about apologetically approaching another with "hat in hand." But for Gulf Coast residents it was so much more apt the way he said it. Any number of coastal residents and businesses would like to have his head.

As Jane Ace might have said, being funny must be why Wells gets "the big busts." We look forward to seeing him put his foot in his mousse more often.

5. Beach Oil Study.

The National Science Foundation is supporting Florida State University professors Markus Huettel and Joel E. Kostka in their study of "how quickly the Deepwater Horizon oil carried into Gulf of Mexico beach sands is being degraded by the sands' natural microbial communities, and whether native oil-eating bacteria that wash ashore with the crude are helping or hindering that process."
St. George Island, Fla., and Dauphin Island, Ala., have served as the primary research sites since early June, when the one-year study began. In addition, the researchers have obtained heavily oiled sand from Pensacola Beach, Fla., and from a barrier island off the Louisiana coast.
* * *
Huettel and Kostka will analyze sediment cores collected from Gulf beaches to find out how much and to what depth oil washed onto the shore is carried into the sand; how rapidly microbes in the sand are breaking it down; and how the oil pollution may be impacting the structure and function of natural m
icrobial communities that help to protect water quality on the coast.
The results also may shed light on whether dispersants help or hurt in the degradation of beached oil, as well as possible techniques for accelerating the degradation process.

6. Oily Games.

We predicted it. An Xbox "indy" game is now available for download, called "Crisis in the Gulf." Price is $1.

No reimbursement from BP for your losses is assured.

In the game, the company saddled with stopping the leak is named "DP." Damned Petroleum? View a promo here.

7. Beached Oil Map.

The National Resources Defense Council, long a respected advocate for the environment, has posted a new interactive map showing the latest info on beached oil, "closures, advisories, and notifications." Click on any dirty-looking "sand pail" and you get a pop-up screen with additional links to follow:

8. BP's Oily Lockerbie Leak.

Yesterday, four U.S. senators from New York and New Jersey wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to demand an investigation into "whether oil giant BP played a role in winning last year's release of the man convicted of the Lockerbie airliner bombing." The "four Democrats said they were concerned BP may have put profits ahead of justice in the al-Megrahi case, given the petroleum giant's current handling of the Gulf oil spill."

There is not even a tenuous connection in any of this to the oil spill, of course. But, like the ongoing BP oil spill, it could be considered additional evidence that we are witnessing the early stages of an epic power struggle over who and by what means economic life on Earth is to be organized.

Is the paramount power now democratically-elected nation-states? Or, is it shareholder-owned mega-corporations? "Both," our friend who just retired from the oil industry told us last night.

The Lockerbie incident, like the oil spill, casts more light on that question. For those who don't remember, the BBC has a synopsis of events, with links to original news stories.

On December 21, 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 from London to New York exploded 31,000 feet over Lockerbie, Scotland after taking off from London. Two hundred and seventy people were killed; the great majority of them Americans. Almost three years later, two suspected intelligence agents working for Moammar Ghadhafi's Libyan government were charged with multiple counts of murder. After intervention by Nelson Mandela, Ghadhafi finally agreed to surrender the defendants in April, 1999.

They were tried over a nine-month period in 2000-2001 by a Scottish court sitting, unusually, in the Netherlands. One defendant was acquitted and the other, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi, was convicted. After al-Megrahi's last appeal was rejected in 2002, he began serving his life sentence in a Scottish prison. A year later, the government of Libya paid nearly $3 billion into a compensation fund for the Lockerbie victims.

And now we get to the BP angle:
  • On May 29, 2007, British Prime Minister Tony Blair signed "a memorandum of understanding" agreeing to "shortly 'commence negotiations' on prisoner transfer, extradition and mutual assistance in criminal law, with a final deal signed within 12 months."
  • February, 2008, it was "reported that Libya had just ratified a £450m contract with oil giant BP, after [British] ministers drafted a prisoner transfer agreement that [reports said] could cover al-Megrahi." The Scottish government protested. The British government, which had "said at the time that the [prisoner exchange] agreement did not cover Megrahi," now was admitting a prisoner exchange involving al-Megrahi was a "matter for discussion."
  • In October, 2008, al-Megrahi's lawyer publicly announced that the Libyan had been diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer.
  • In July, 2009, al-Megrahi applied to the Scottish courts for compassionate release because his cancer was terminal. The BBC reported at the time that "Traditionally, only applications from those with three months to live are granted."
  • On August 20, 2009 it was announced that Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill had issued a decision releasing al-Megrahi to go home. MacAskill said, among other things, that the decision was based on the statement by the Scottish prison system's Director of Health and Care "that a three-month prognosis is now a reasonable estimate" for al-Megrahi's life expectancy. Two other doctors examined him and concluded "Megrahi could live for 19 months."
  • A few days earlier, the London Times reported that "industry sources" and a Libyan informant were saying there was a direct connection between al-Megrahi's release and the British government's desire to "liberate Britain’s largest industrial company from a string of problems hampering its $900 million (£546 million) Libyan gas projects... ."
  • A year later, al-Megrahi is still alive and secure in Libya. The doctor who certified a year ago that he had three months to live is "embarrassed."
Moammar Ghadafi's son, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, recently told CNN --
that Libya pressured the British government to include the convicted terrorist in the prisoner release agreement. Initially, he said, Britain refused to heed Libya's demands that Megrahi be included in the prisoner release agreement.

"There was no mention of Mr. Megrahi until the British said 'we are ready to sign but there should be a clause mentioning that Mr. Megrahi is excluded.' And then we said no," Gadhafi said. "We were very very angry. It's not acceptable."

Gadhafi said the agreement was that Megrahi would be released if Libya dropped its appeals in the Lockerbie case. But, Gadhafi said, Libya still believes he is innocent.
If you think it's all about politics, think again. "Sà, cle l'argent! Sà, cle l'argent," wrote another chronicler of the fourteenth century in the age when newly invented nation-states were growing powerful enough to rival the papacy. "Money, money! Such is the cry which all the day long sounds in the ears of the famished people." [Masson, The Story of Mediaeval France]

Both justice and democracy are secondary. "That's just the way it is," our retired oil industry friend says.

1 comment:

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