Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Energy & The Mind

I clearly remember the efforts of U.S. administrations past (BBC post entitled "Bush calls for offshore drilling" dated Jun. 18, 2008) and present (Stephen Power and Ian Talley's post on The Wall Street Journal with the title "Obama to Propose More Oil Drilling in Gulf" dated Mar. 30, 2010), promoting greater offshore oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico. The bid was justified with the notion that new drilling for oil was necessary to ease the country's dependence on foreign oil. The nation was told that permitting the exploration of new oil fields in carefully selected hitherto-closed areas would pose negligible environmental risk. Despite hurricanes, oil and gas production in the Gulf had an excellent safety record. Environmental protection groups strongly opposed this view.

A week ago, the Deepwater Horizon, a half billion-dollar floating drilling rig the size of a football field, caught fire after a devastating explosion 41 miles Southeast off the coast of Louisiana. Seventeen workers were injured, four critically, and 11 are still missing and presumed dead. The burning platform sank two days after the accident.

According to Russel Gold and Guy Chazan's report with the title "Oil Spill Likely to reach Land in Days" for The Wall Street Journal today, 1,000 barrels of crude oil per day are spilling from the 5000-foot riser, that is the broken drill pipe, that collapsed onto the sea floor. In his report for CNNMoney entitled "Oil still leaking from sunken Gulf rig" yesterday, Steve Hargreaves reports 42,000 gallons are leaking per day. Campbell Robertson and Clifford Krauss concur with this number in their article with the title "Robots Work to Stop Leak of Oil in Gulf" published in yesterday's New York Times. The difference in number confounded me at first. I think metric. But, the standard American oil barrel contains 42 gallons. Hence, for the time being, the well is releasing crude oil into the Gulf at a rate of roughly 40 barrels/hour. As result, a 50 mile-long oil slick of 400 square-miles is advancing steadily toward the Gulf coast. Faster than anyone anticipated, the worst case scenario that the environmentalists had warned about seems to have come true.

The Gulf shore is one of a kind. Let it be spared!

Reuters provides an informative update here:

The true cost of energy is steep!

  • According to Robert Lee Hotz and Angel Gonzalez's post with the title "Oil Spill Estimates Raised Fivefold" for The Wall Street Journal this morning, the Coast Guard now estimates the rate of oil released into the Gulf at 5,000 barrels a day. Campbell Robertson and Leslie Kaufman reported the new estimates in their post for The New York Times entitled "Size of Spill in Gulf of Mexico Is Much Larger Than Thought" last night, and the number is all over the news today. I calculated that this amount would fill 23 standard tractor/trailer rigs a day. I shall keep an eye on my favorite beach spots (Schooners and Spinnaker), once the slick reaches the coast (04/29/10).
  • The prospect of a major oil slick landing on the beaches of the Gulf coast reminded me of the graphic images from the Amoco Cadiz disaster off the coast of the Brittany, France, more than 30 years ago.
    On Mar. 16, 1978, the supertanker Amoco Cadiz broke up three miles offshore and released its total cargo, 1.6 million barrels, of mid-heavy crude oil. By comparison, in the greatest oil tanker spill on U.S. shores, the Exxon Valdez released only 257,000 barrels on March 29, 1989. "Marée noire" or black tide deposited a thick layer of a sticky tar-like mousse on the rocky beaches of the Bretagne for 200 miles. Thousands of volunteers arrived from all over Europe to help carry off the sludge in any vessel they could bring. People sacrificed their cooking pots. The French government estimated the spill's cost at 2 billion dollars. The tanker's owner at the time of the accident Amoco eventually paid $120 million in damages. Amoco now belongs to BP. Perhaps of particular interest to business on the Gulf coast, the losses to the oyster and shellfish industry alone were conservatively estimated at $26 million three years after the incident, and the combined socioeconomic cost to tourism and the fishing industry were projected to be roughly $200 million (Grigalunas and others, 1986). Today, the Breton coast is still mending.

    Though much less and lighter oil is spilling into the Gulf, the Amoco Cadiz disaster may serve as a stark reminder of the profound impact a massive oil spill may exert on industry and wildlife of a populated coast.

    This video sums up the Amoco Cadiz incident pretty well. The video is narrated in French. Regardless, the footage chillingly conveys the traumatic impact of the spill (04/29/10):
Amoco Cadiz, trente ans après - Publimetro
Dans la nuit du 16 au 17 mars 1978 le supertanker s'échouait sur les roches de Portsall dans le Finistère nord... La marée noire s'étendra jusqu'à l'archipel de Bréhat dans les Côtes d'Armor et plusieurs mois furent nécessaires pour effacer les traces de la pollution. 30 ans après, une de nos équipes est allé à la rencontre de ceux qui ont intenté et gagné la première action en justice contre un groupe pétrolier.
  • Every day the estimates of the oil released from the well are revised upwards by an incredible factor 5. According to IanTalley, Stephen Power and Guy Chazan's report with the title "Oil Washes Up on Gulf Coast; Spill May Be Five Times Estimated Size" for The Wall Street Journal today, it now seems that 25,000 barrels spill a day. If this number is correct, the fleet of rigs filled every day would swell to 115. Meanwhile the first spilled oil washed on the Louisiana shore in Plaquemines Parish (04/30/10).
  • The Amoco Cadiz broke up close to shore, having a more localized impact than the spill in the Gulf which will affect the coast of at least four states. According to Mathew Bigg's report on Reuters with the title "U.S. fights to protect shore from massive oil spill" today, the damage to the fishing and tourist industry on the Gulf could reach 2.5 and 3.0 billion dollars, respectively. Listen to Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser assess the potential impact of the oil spill on his region in this interview entitled "La. Parish President Braces For Disaster From Oil Spill" with Melissa Block on NPR's All Things Considered today (04/30/10).
  • This Associated Press article with the title "Best-Case Scenario For Gulf Spill Still Looks Bleak" released by National Public Radio today assesses the current outlook on the environmental and economic impact of the oil spill in the Gulf. 6,800 square miles of federal fishing areas between the mouth of the Mississippi and Pensacola, Florida, have been closed. According to an interview with Wall Street Journal's Jeffrey Ball by Tom Ashbrook on today's broadcast of NPR's On Point with the title "Oil Danger and the Gulf Coast", the well is still releasing oil unabated and the slick is now estimated to cover 1,000 square miles. Watch this ABC News video simulation broadcast yesterday:
  • The cleanup onshore will rest on the shoulders of volunteers in no small ways. A swift response is going to depend on immediate reporting of contamination. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade provides a promising tool. We need to be able to act early, if wish to fight the Black Tide (05/05/10).
  • Today, Congress held a hearing with the CEOs of British Petroleum America Plc, Transocean Ltd and Halliburton & Co, the three companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon Gulf drilling project, on the events that led up to accident. BP owns the well and oversaw the project. Transocean owned the rig and ran the drilling operation. Halliburton carried out the concrete work. The hearing revealed unusual procedures during the shutdown of the oil well after exploratory drilling was concluded. Siobhan Hughes and Corey Boles report on the hearing in their Wall Street Journal post entitled "Oil-Spill Hearing Leads to Finger-Pointing" with great detail. Some commenters compared the accident in the Gulf with the Chernobyl nuclear reactor accident in 1986. Like Chernobyl, the oil spill in the Gulf appears to be the result of the erroneous belief that Man's role on Earth is to rule nature. Since we are so sure of ourselves, we do not need to check the consequences of our actions. The plant managers at Chernobyl were testing a new shutdown procedure, believing that they understood the processes going on in the reactor. The BP managers on the rig believed they could replace the liquid in the riser before the insertion of the concrete plug that is customarily used to shut off the well until production. In both incidents, the assumptions of the operators were wrong with disastrous results. In this respect, sovietmensch and capitalist do not seem to differ much. However, here the similarities end. The Chernobyl catastrophe had consequences this oil spill will never have. I have written about the incident in my post "No Country for Shrinking Violets" dated Jul. 18, 2009. In today's hearing, the CEOs were blaming each others' companies. It seems to me that the BP managers are to be held responsible, because they set the agenda for the well shutdown. Let us hope that at least the spill will be addressed with the necessary leadership and resolve in best coordination between government and enterprise (05/11/10).
  • Yesterday, BP released submersible-recorded footage of the oil spilling from the well on the sea floor. The tiny url links to the video below (05/12/10):
  • According to Richard Harris' report on NPR News today with the title "Gulf Spill Could Be Much Worse Than Believed", scientists estimate based on BP's video of the spill that the well releases between 56,000 and 70,000 barrels of oil a day, that is 15 times more than first believed (05/13/10).
  • The fateful events on the rig on the day of the blowout have become somewhat more transparent. According to Russel Gold's post today for The Wall Street Journal entitled "Crew Argued Over Drilling Plan Before Rig Explosion", BP and Transocean managers disagreed on the plans for the well shutdown. Now we need to know which party insisted on replacing the drill mud in the riser with water despite tests indicating that gas was possibly forming, and why BP consented to go ahead with the replacement, resulting in the blowout. Because the BP had to approve how to proceed with the shutdown, the company will be held responsible for this incident. Regardless who ultimately is to blame, it seems appropriate that the rig managers in charge of that day's fateful decisions step forward and apologize for their failure to the families of the crew who lost their lives (05/15/10).
  • Douglas A. Blackmon, Vanessa O'Connell, Alexandra Berzon and Ana Campoy provide the first detailed description of the events on the Deepwater Horizon immediately after the well blew out in their report for The Wall Street Journal with the title "There Was 'Nobody in Charge'" posted May 27, 2010. The report illustrates that nobody on the rig anticipated that a blowout was imminent. Rig and crew were ill-prepared to tackle a catastrophe of such incomprehensible dimension (05/29/10).
  • It is day 42 after the blowout, and the oil is still spilling into the Gulf of Mexico unabatedly. I find BP's live feed of the oil and gas spewing into the sea depressing to watch. To watch the relentless gusher on an Apple computer running Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6.3), I had to use Safari with Microsoft's Windows Media® Components for QuickTime. The plug-in is available at the Microsoft Download Center for free. I could not make it work with other browsers (05/31/10).
  • Robert Lee Holz reports in his post for The Wall Street Journal today with the title "Model Suggests Slick Could Zoom Up East Coast" on simulations carried out on national laboratory supercomputers, demonstrating that the Gulf Stream may soon pick up dispersed oil from the spill, carrying it up the East Coast at 100 miles per day. If the simulation comes true, the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon incident will become ever more costly. At present oil is still gushing from the well. Watch the simulation in this Wall Street Journal newscast below (06/03/10):
  • Eventually, BP has succeeded in installing a new riser pipe on the gusher. The amount of oil captured is unclear, but may constitute half or more of the amount released. According to Stephen Wisnewski and Nicholas Winning's report for the Wall Street Journal today with the title "BP: Cap Collects 10,000 Barrels at Well", reducing the oil flow further may take another week. Meanwhile brown tar balls are washing up on the beach of Pensacola, Florida (06/06/10).
  • According to CNN's update today entitled "Day 52: Latest oil disaster development", revised government estimates peg the gusher's release between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels of oil per day before the well was capped last week. In the four days since BP began pumping oil to the surface through the newly installed cap, the company managed to capture 73,300 barrels which corresponds to the low revised estimate of daily release (06/10/10).
  • Government scientists have again revised their estimate of the rate of oil released into the Gulf of Mexico upward to 35,000 - 60,000 barrels a day (Stephen Power, John Kell and Siobhan Hughes, "BP, Oil Industry Take Fire at Hearing", The Wall Street Journal, 06/16/2010).
  • Day 61: Today tar balls came ashore on Panama City Beach. Cleanup crews are being deployed. Check the beach cams (06/19/2010)!
  • Today, almost three months after the well blew out, BP succeeded in completely stopping the release of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Watch the video of this historic moment below (07/15/10):
  • Today, 107 days after the blow out, the well has been plugged with concrete (see Guy Chazan's report dated Aug. 6, 2010, on The Wall Street Journal online with the title "Cementing of Well Completed"). An estimated 5,000,000 barrels of oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. According to The Economist's chart with the title "Trouble on oiled waters" published online Jul. 20, 2010, the accidental spill may be largest of its kind (08/05/2010).
  • Neil King Jr. and Keith Johnson provide an in-depth background article in The Wall Street Journal entitled "An Oil-Thirsty America Barreled Into 'Dead Sea'" on the evolution of U.S. oil production policies that led up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The article was published online yesterday (10/08/10).
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