April 30, 2010

The Deepwater Horizon disaster

Mostly Cajun links to a PDF of images from the disaster. His entire post here:
Deepwater Horizon
This PDF has come at me from a couple of friends today. The first page is a descriptive writeup about the platform itself. Then there are 36 hours worth of pictures. It�s interesting to view if you�re interested in such things.
Horizon � 1 .5 megs

I find it a somewhat disturbing coincidence that only a couple of weeks after Obama generously deigns to allow offshore drilling in places that aren�t known for oil, this rig in the lucrative Gulf of Mexico just happens to blow up.

Note some numbers: This thing was in 5000 feet, that�s a mile, deep water, and it dropped a drilling pipe through a mile of water and drilled another THREE AND A HALF MILES into the earth to tap into oil-bearing formations. It was forty miles from land.

Friends, as somebody who grew up on the periphery of the oil business, this stuff today is freakin� magic. When I was a kid, an �offshore platform� sat on the floor of the gulf and did its business. And a drill that went more than a few thousand feet was a rarity.

The �easy� oil is gone. It takes men who are as much magicians as the teams that put America on the moon to get to oil where it is being found today. That work is still dangerous. Eleven lives lost on this platform are a testament to that fact. What is equal testament, though, it there are still a few thousand men out there on platforms working day and night to keep America�s energy flowing: both oil and natural gas, and they do it day in and day out, seven days on, seven days off, 14 and 14, whatever, living and working out there. The Gulf is criss-crossed daily by workboats and helicopters ferrying men and supplies out to those platforms. Additionally, there are dozens of strange craft, performing specialized tasks like working over old wells and repairing the wellheads and pipelines, and surveying the waters for more oil and gas.

All that takes place every day, men working in unforgiving and dangerous environs. Fatalities are rare. Injuries and deaths happen, but they ARE rare. That fact is testament to companies that care, and men that are careful and skilled. Yes, there are exceptions, but the old free-wheeling Wild West days of the oil biz are a bygone era. Oilfield is business, and you don�t stay in business by killing people and destroying half-billion-dollar platforms.
As horrible as this is, I bet that it is a lot safer than flying in an airline. When you look at the list of the big spills, they are incredibly rare -- 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, 1988 Piper Alpha blowout -- about every twenty years or so. If you look at the complete list of oil spills; yes, there are a lot of them but most are under 1,000 tons of oil spilled. The environment gets a lot more than this from natural seepage - from Science Daily:
Natural Petroleum Seeps Release Equivalent Of Up To 80 Exxon Valdez Oil Spills
Twenty years ago, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez was exiting Alaska's Prince William Sound when it struck a reef in the middle of the night. What happened next is considered one of the nation's worst environmental disasters: 10.8 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the pristine Alaskan waters, eventually covering 11,000 square miles of ocean.

Now, imagine 8 to 80 times the amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez accident.

According to new research by scientists from UC Santa Barbara and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), that's how much oil has made its way into sediments offshore from petroleum seeps near Coal Oil Point in the Santa Barbara Channel. Their research, reported in an article being published in the May 15 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, documents how the oil is released by the seeps, carried to the surface along a meandering plume, and then deposited on the ocean floor in sediments that stretch for miles northwest of Coal Oil Point.
And it's not just California that has this, this is common in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. The quantities of the natural petroleum seeps are so high that averaging the entire history of commercial petroleum production and accidents, the natural leaks are close to 50% of the total pollution. From the Global Marine Oil Pollution Information Gateway:
Natural Sources of marine oil pollution
Crude oil and natural gas seeps naturally out of fissures in the ocean seabed and eroding sedimentary rock. These seeps are natural springs where liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons leak out of the ground (like springs that ooze oil and gas instead of water). Whereas freshwater springs are fed by underground pools of water, oil and gas seeps are fed by natural underground accumulations of oil and natural gas (see USGS illustration). Natural oil seeps are used in identifying potential petroleum reserves.

As pointed out by the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, "natural oil seeps contribute the highest amount of oil to the marine environment, accounting for 46 per cent of the annual load to the world's oceans. -- Although they are entirely natural, these seeps significantly alter the nature of nearby marine environments. For this reason, they serve as natural laboratories where researchers can learn how marine organisms adapt over generations of chemical exposure. Seeps illustrate how dramatically animal and plant population levels can change with exposure to ocean petroleum".
Emphasis mine -- yes, this is a horrible tragedy and yes, the pollution from this is going to be expansive to clean up. No, this is not the result of a carelessly operated plant -- these people were at the top of their game. You do not get promoted to a job like this is you are cavalier or stupid. And when looking at the pollution, you need to remember that not all pollution is man-made. Posted by DaveH at April 30, 2010 7:25 PM
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