Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – again

I had high hopes for the so called “top kill”. An end to the leak would mean that things can only get better from here on, that the beginning of the end has started. But no, it was not to be. :(

Here are a few bits and bobs I’ve run across this weekend:

This disaster (and the failed solutions attempted) is practically a re-run of an incident in 1979, when oil leaked for several months. Except that one was in 200 feet of water, not 5,000.

Our technology for getting oil out has improved since then, but not the technology for cleaning up spills.

A diver goes underwater to see what’s not visible from the surface.

It seems that the unprecedented amount of dispersants being used are having the effect of hiding a lot of the spill just beneath the surface.

Live streaming video of one of the leaks

According to Wikipedia, on May 28th “the government increased its official estimate to 12,000–19,000 barrels (500,000–800,000 US gallons; 1,900,000–3,000,000 litres) a day.”.

Renowned Marine Biologist Carl Safina on the BP Oil Spill’s Ecological Impact on the Gulf Coast and Worldwide:

http://theoildrum.com/ has been an incredible source of deeply technical discussion about events as they have unfolded. Highly recommended.

The #oilspill twitter hashtag has been informative too.

Russel Norman has jumped in, guns blazing.

Although this has been going for over a month now, I’m still struggling to make sense of what it all means. There is a lesson here, a real big one and it applies to all of us. But I can’t quite articulate it. Help me out?

53 thoughts on “Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – again

  1. It is interesting that when these sort of disasters happen there is a great reluctance to take responsibility. By the time people or organisations/institutions do, the damage has already been done. When BP failed to deliver a quick solution there should have been an immediate response from the President and failing that, the world. This may not be a natural disaster like an earthquake but the long term damage to the environment could be worse. All countries should be offering support as we will all share the consequences of this catastrophe to some extent.

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  2. If I had to guess, I would say that the world cannot sustain a new “worst environmental disaster ever” every twenty years. #cynical

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  3. And Brazil is trying to extract oil from the pre-salt … Are they prepared to act quickly in case of accidents?

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  4. As Peak Oil progresses, the effort to get at the remaining oil will cost more. Not being willing to bear the cost, people, particularly those who are greedy and in denial about the situation, will substitute environmental risk and damage for cost.

    Again stealing the environment from future generations.

    It is in the end, just another way of raping children.

    BJ

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  5. Once BP caused the problem there was not a heck of a lot to do. The tools to heal the earth are not in their toolbox. Nor in the toolbox of the US Military. It is too deep and the hole is too big.

    Basically it is a consequence of failed imagination. In some ways like global warming. People see the immediate need to satisfy the immediate greed and they have NEVER seen or imagined a consequence that their engineers can’t handle. The engineers involved had a good notion of the risks involved, no doubt at all… and probably better than we’ve heard to date. From what I have heard, they were overruled.

    Just like the scientists are being overruled and for much the same reasons.

    Deep trouble.

    BJ

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  6. Price increase will change behavior and making BP pay for the clean up will add to the price. Apparently allowing dispersant means the oil breaks up floating subsurface meaning it is harder to pin damage on BP.

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  7. You would think that this, may wake the world up to the fact that the constant thirst for fossil fuels is likely to be the death of the environment. At the moment it looks like, they just want someone to blame, rather than addressing the real issues ! It needs a shift of mentality…….

    Kia-ora

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  8. The live streaming video of the leak has been moved to another page, so that when people are discussing things here their bandwidth won’t get used up

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  9. This site has this to say about the dispersants.

    “Even worse, should a Katrina like tropical hurricane form in the Gulf of Mexico while tens of millions of gallons of Corexit 9500 are sitting on, or near, its surface the resulting “toxic rain” falling upon the North American continent could “theoretically” destroy all microbial life to any depth it reaches resulting in an “unimaginable environmental catastrophe” destroying all life forms from the “bottom of the evolutionary chart to the top”.”

    http://www.eutimes.net/2010/05/toxic-oil-spill-rains-warned-could-destroy-north-america/

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  10. Anyone know why they are NOT even trying to stop the oil coming ashore. There are no booms being used. (They could be using our wool booms) they are relying on dispersants and hoping to plug the hole. Nothing is being done to mitigate things.

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  11. Frog, there are two lessons.

    One is that any industry’s claim to not need to deploy a safety technology (past arguments about which have been canvassed on frogblog) needs to be treated with a small salt-mine.

    The other is that we need to know where the oil would land, if drilling in the Great South Basin, south of Southland, went bad.

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  12. Scoop has a couple of good stories – here’s one:
    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1005/S00242.htm

    has links to others, it’s a story they’re watching keenly.

    Some of us are not optimistic about BP coming to any safe solution here. :-(

    Time for the UN to wade in and tell the USA that they’re out of order & need to put up some action, now?

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  13. Maybe it is time to liquidate BP and use the proceeds for the clean up, and for some clean tech development. That might be a tolerable outcome…

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  14. The lesson is that we must power down and simplify. Although BP have a woeful track record and will, hopefully, disappear as a result of this catastrophe, the US government is also to blame for allowing such drilling and we are all to blame for going along with the ride for more and more consumption, and greater and greater complexity.

    You can guarantee that, if we don’t change our ways, this whole incident will eventually be papered over, “stricter” safety measures will be put in place, so that this could not possibly happen ever again. But it will happen again, along with other environmental disasters, if we don’t stop this reckless pursuit of economic growth.

    As it happens, the Gulf of Mexico was hardly a pristine environment before the disaster, though that merely highlights the utter mess we’re making of this world.

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  15. Link to the original thread:
    http://blog.greens.org.nz/2010/05/02/oil-spill-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-link-collection/

    I had high hopes of the top kill until a week ago, when it looked as if their well sprung a sub-terranean leak which made its way to the surface. After that, attempts to inject mud were unlikely to succeed, but they went ahead anyway. Apart from delaying their next option, the main result of the attempted top kill is probably the release of 30,000 gallons of toxic mud into the environment :(

    Trevor.

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  16. Hi guys, back from the croakie to suggest – if you will – take a look at whatever to save me repeating what little I can add on the topic..

    BP, BTW, have added new meaning to the price patterning which always hitherto displayed a fall in oil-product prices during Democratic administrations… a cynic might say how this gives effect to BigOil keeping the punters onside.. these days they are into falling stock prices… too.

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  17. “Every time that oil takes out a piece of the marsh, a piece of Louisiana is gone forever.” :(

    also

    hardcore doomer porn http://cryptogon.com/?p=15730 it’s the end of the wooolrd.

    man I’ve seen some real foamy blog posts out there on the internets! this one is bringing out an interesting side in people

    only worthy of a passing mention over at kiwiblog though! http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/?s=oil+spill

    DPF:

    “You have to feel sorry for Louisiana especially.”

    Is that it? The biggest environmental disaster in the USA ever and it merits one sentence of comment?

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  18. Oh look, there are a couple of sentences on not PC, too http://pc.blogspot.com/search?q=oil+spill

    Whaleoil: http://whaleoil.gotcha.co.nz/?s=oil+spill&x=0&y=0 Nothing!

    ACT party: http://www.google.co.nz/search?q=%22oil+spill%22+site%3Aact.org.nz&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a says nothing too

    The bloggers of the right appear to be simply looking the other way. “Reality, so inconvenient…”, they fret quietly. “so messy…”. “oh look, an iPad!”

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  19. Honestly, I think BP are doing everything they can, they are losing billions from this and gaining nothing.

    Pressuring from Obama and/or the UN is only going to make their attempts to plug the leaks even worse as there yelling isn’t going to stop stop the oil, no matter no much Obama thinks he has control of the elements :D

    It’s interesting that BP were yelled at also for use of particular dispersants…yes they may be toxic but i doubt as toxic as the massive amount of oil that went un dispersed because of the delay in getting a new dispersant that was less damaging

    What people need to do is stop pointing the blame at BP and get in their helping them with these exercises in containing the leak – that is what the UN and the USA should be doing rather than worrying about the fiscal cost – BP said it would cover as much as possible even though they don’t have to pay out over 700mill

    @rimu
    Right and left mean very little in terms of the environment- look at the Aral sea and what the Soviets did to it?

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  20. Yeah I’ve been reading conflicting things about dispersants’ toxicity. Somewhere I read said the one being used (despite being banned in many parts of the world) is 4 times more toxic than oil is.

    It depends on how you define toxic, though. If you were paying $1000 – $4000 per barrel of oil spilt, your definition of toxic might be ‘visible on the surface on the sea’, in which case the oil is way more harmful to you than the dispersant. (hence the dispersant being sprayed directly at the oil as soon as it comes out of the leaks)

    On the other hand if you were a creature who lived in the sea, or one who ate things from the sea, you might have a different definition of ‘toxic’. ;)

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  21. I suppose it’s dependant on how much dispersant needs to be used in light of the oil …

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  22. @Scott – they are using booms to try to stop the oil from spreading away from above the well, and they have small vessels skimming the surface to collect the oil. A few weeks ago, they reported having collected 19 million gallons of oil & water mix. They have also been conducting controlled burns. However it all seems too little, too late. I haven’t heard of any steps being taken to deal with the oil plumes under the water, or steps to mitigate the decreased oxygen levels in some areas in the sea due to oxidation of some of the oil depleting the oxygen.

    Trevor.

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  23. “Honestly, I think BP are doing everything they can”
    and still the poor wee things are “getting yelled at”
    What are we thinking???
    We mustn’t think that BP are responsible for all this devestation.
    They’re doing the best they can.
    And those chemical dispersants. Nothing irresponsible about their use! Of course companies that deal day in and day out with extracting substances like oil and gas should employ methods that use toxic chemicals – it’s their stock and trade – what would we expect them to do, something environmentally responsible?
    As for the suggestion that they shouldn’t have been undertaking such a high-risk venture in the first place, pshaw! we all agree that we’ve got to have oil!!
    Give BP credit where it’s due.
    Just doing their job.
    Good men and true.

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  24. stephensmikm, you “doubt” that the dispersants are more toxic than the oil they are trying to disperse? Can you find any evidence to back up your opinion? Even dispersed, the oil is still there. BP seems to be assuming that the dispersed oil (dispersed into tiny droplets) will be taken care of by microbes and so will ignore oil in the gulf and concentrate on clean up operations round the coast. That is, they intend to let nature take its course except in areas that may be less expensive and easier to deal with.

    BP’s legal limit may be 700 million US$ but it would be pursued to the death by governments and complainants, whose livelihoods will have been ruined, while BP continues to make billions. Please don’t make BP out to be sweethearts, because they most certainly are not, and have a history of cutting corners and environmental mismanagement.

    BP deserve to be pilloried and deserve to be finished as a separate company – this is just the final straw.

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  25. @Tony

    I wasn’t intending that at all , BP are a company and of course don’t have any other motive than to bring a dividend to it’s shareholders and a profit to the company itself, I am saying however that they do not deserve to be attacked because our own processes meant that there company has to exist and there processes of getting the goods had to exist – in this case it failed
    refer to my second note about dispersant…
    and they might be pursued to the death by govts but fi they don’t have to pay then they won’t – they can still make profit selling through third parties within those countries as needed….your argument makes no sense…I know that I wouldn’t pay anything more than the statutory requirement if the govt was hounding me for whatever strong accident had happened, I’d pay the statutory fine and then tell then to F*** off for not trying to help

    Why anger a company who can restore those ruined lives to some normality?

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  26. Because as environmentalists we are disgusted by the recklessness of such profit pursuing entities as BP?
    Because we have expressed our fears over this sort of incident for so long now?
    Because they spun and lied so blatantly while the disaster was unfolding?
    Because they did it?
    I dunno.
    But perhaps you are right, stephensmikm.
    Let’s forgive and forget.
    We don’t want to anger them, after all.

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  27. @greenfly

    well, if you feel principles are more important than restoring people’s livelihoods….I feel sorry for you …

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  28. Don’t feel sorry for me stephen.
    Principles eh! Gotta have ‘em, I reckon. No good jettisoning them just because a gigantic corporation might get angry, hearing what we really think of their actions.
    How about this. BP ‘restores peoples livelihoods’ and cleans up the environment it has destroyed, changes its now-proven-to-be hugely unsafe practices and takes the criticism it deserves, without getting ‘angry’.
    How about that stephen?

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  29. “I know that I wouldn’t pay anything more than the statutory requirement if the govt was hounding me for whatever strong accident had happened, I’d pay the statutory fine and then tell then to F*** off for not trying to help”

    I suppose you would.
    Myself, I’d pay for the damage I’d caused, even if I was being told straight what a reckless fool I’d been.

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  30. @ Greenfly

    Why take the BS when you don’t have to – you could say it was a form of self-smugness on their part (or on mine if you will) but frankly giving up 10 or so billion is no fun matter , particularly when you don’t even need to give up 10% of that and nothing will make you re-consider than millions of letters telling you to die or worse…

    You know the problem probably could have subsided to an extent by now if the UN and USA were fully willing to intervene from the start…but you know…

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  31. stephensmikm, once the issue has faded from the public consciousness a little and the court cases begin, I fully expect that all the corporations involved will do their utmost to avoid paying a cent more than they need to. Corporations have no social conscience, they are machines.

    Witness the actions of Transocean recently, when they invoked a 150 year old law to try to limit their liability: http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-05-30/transocean-request-to-cap-liability-unconscionable-u-s-says.html

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  32. BP might pay more than they are legally required to for the sake of “self smugness”?
    You what???

    Paying the full cost would be “no fun matter” for BP?
    Should it be a “fun matter”?
    Ruining the Gulf of Mexico is “no fun matter” in my opinion.
    Were you involved with the Exxon Valdez legal team stephen?

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  33. Still winding up slowly. They are up to 13,200 barrels per day:
    http://nz.news.yahoo.com/a/-/world/7361520/more-oil-being-captured-off-us-coast/

    There appears to be a typo in this report “3000” should be “13000”?

    An earlier report also said that in about a week, they hope to be able to draw more oil off the subsea assembly using side pipes – the same ones they used for the aborted “top-kill” attempt. However depending on the total flow, this might only allow them to capture perhaps 2/3 of the oil. (Note the Fed’s upper estimate is 28,600 barrels/day!)

    Trevor.

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  34. Actually, that article talks about gallons, not barrels. I suspect, though, that they mean barrels (otherwise, the leak is miniscule). In which case, the new upper estimate probably suggests that the well will still be leaking thousands of barrels a day even if BP regard the LMRP as successful.

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  35. The lesson is that we must power down and simplify. Although BP have a woeful track record and will, hopefully, disappear as a result of this catastrophe, the US government is also to blame for allowing such drilling and we are all to blame tutoriales de photoshop for going along with the ride for more and more consumption, and greater and greater complexity.

    You can guarantee that, if we don’t change our ways, this whole incident will eventually be papered over, “stricter” safety measures will be put in place, so that this could not possibly happen ever again. But it will happen again, along with other environmental disasters, if we don’t stop this reckless pursuit of economic growth.

    Actually, that article talks about gallons, not barrels. I suspect, though, that they mean barrels (otherwise, the leak is miniscule). In which case, the new upper estimate probably suggests that the well will still be leaking thousands of barrels a day even if BP regard the LMRP as successful.

    You know the problem probably could have subsided to an extent by now if the UN and USA were fully willing to intervene from the start…but you know…

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