I'm disgusted over the political blame game being played over the oil spill accident of Deepwater Horizons in the Gulf of Mexico. As at least 5,000 barrels of crude daily gushes a mile below the water surface, the confluence results in everyone, including wildlife, has an advocate.
It is depressing that I am accused of being an alarmist when I quote knowledgeable sources that the oil leak could become the worst ecological disaster in man's limited time of recorded history.
Yes, it could be under the worst case scenario. What engineers for Deepwater Horizons and the platform operators British Petroleum LCC are trying to do is something that never before has been attempted. It is a two-fold experiment in real time.
In the next several days the first effort will be sitting a steel dome over the source gusher exposure. A second effort is to install a shut-off valve under the sea bed to stem the flow. The final venture will be drilling 8,000 feet below the surface parallel to the old piping and then reach it with an arching 90-degree turn.
There are no guarantees any of these capping efforts will work. Based on the advanced technology of deep-water oil drilling improvements, I am confident that one or all of these frantic efforts will be successful.
But until all of the leak is contained, the oil slick will be washed ashore by winds and Gulf currents not only from Texas to the Florida Panhandle but around the Florida Keys and northward along the Atlantic seaboard.
Yes, chemical dispersants and shoreline booms will dissipate and capture some of the oil. But those efforts in the long run are no better than the Dutch boy sticking his finger in a hole to stop the leaking dike.
As for the damage on shore, I must remind readers that residual effects of the 1989 Exxon Valdez leak of 10 million gallons of oil in Alaska's Prince Edward pristine shoreline exist to this day. I was witness to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil leak and that was not a pretty site.
I still recall tears rolling down my cheeks as I saw volunteers dip rags into a bucket of Dawn soapy mix and clean the tar off feathers of a petrified sea gull that could barely breath, his eyes bulging wide.
Yet despite all these images past and present of man's mistakes committed on nature, I do not believe a knee-jerk response is to arbitrarily suspend off-shore oil drilling as my environmental friends and some politicians demand.
As we are learning from the Gulf of Mexico inquiry, engineers left to their own devices would have mitigated or prevented the Deepwater Horizons leak by installing all the safety devices they recommended.
We are learning that costs for installing these devices were balked at by the companies who sold a ration of crap to federal regulators that waived normal procedures such as an environmental impact report.
To me, it doesn't matter which political party was running the administration, the leak still occurred and if you believe the engineers could have been avoided.
Even the most effeciently operated off shore oil platform has experienced leaks, small fires and structural malfunctions. That's the nature of the business. It is a minor trade-off for producing fossil fuels to prime the energy pump of our nation's reliance on oil.
The only way to stop the leaks is to convert the nation to cleaner sources of energy. That cannot be done by waving a political magic wand and overnight the problem is solved.
And until that happens, shutting down our domestic off-shore oil platforms will only increase the cost of our fuel by buying it from foreign suppliers.
The New York Times on Thursday offers this excellent explanation of efforts to cap the gusher.
BATON ROUGE, La. — With remote-controlled robots a mile underwater unable to seal the gushing well, and with the drilling of relief wells that would allow crews to plug the spouting cavity months away from completion, it is time for the big box.
The end of the oil spill, or at least the end of much of the oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, may soon be delivered by a 98-ton steel box standing four stories tall, with a fresh coat of white paint.
The containment dome, as engineers are calling the structure, was built over the past week by a crew of more than two dozen welders working around the clock at a shipyard in Port Fourchon, La. On Wednesday, the dome began its journey to the site of the ruptured well, where it will be lowered by cable 5,000 feet beneath the sea to sit atop the larger of the two remaining leaks.
The dome will not shut off the gushing well, which is still spilling an estimated 210,000 gallons of oil a day; the goal is just to keep some of the oil out of the water by capturing it and then funneling it to a drill ship, called the Discoverer Enterprise, waiting on the surface.
Think of the dome as an inverted cup gathering the gushing oil, and the drill pipe as a straw carrying it to the surface. If it sounds simple, it is not. Containment domes have been used in shallow water, but never at this depth.
“This is new technology,” said Bob Fryar, BP’s senior vice president for operations in Angola, who was brought to Houston for the engineering effort. “It has never been done before.”
BP was leasing the Deepwater Horizon oil rig from the owner, Transocean, when it exploded on April 20. BP officials said they hoped the dome would be working by Monday. If successful, it will remove about 85 percent of the oil spilling into the sea, officials said.
To construct the dome, BP turned to Wild Well Control, a contractor that helps battle oil well disasters. Wild Well Control works in a crisis relief niche that rarely attracts such international attention but often provides high drama.
Despite the hopes placed on the big box, questions remain: Can it withstand the conditions nearly a mile beneath the sea? Will ice plug up the pipe? Will bad weather interrupt the work? Will the combination of gas, oil and water mix uneasily — or explosively — on the ship above? Add global scrutiny to the mix, and you have some anxious engineers.
“I’m worried,” said David Clarkson, BP’s vice president for project execution, “about every part.”
BP engineers in Houston have sketched out models to account for what they expect to happen in this novel approach, along with several contingency plans. To combat the ice, which is likely to form as gas bubbles out of the oil, engineers will inject warm water along the pipe, and methanol into the oil.
But as so many other response efforts so far have shown, engineering problems that can be solved on the ground can prove perilously stubborn 5,000 feet underwater.
“We’ll learn a lot in the first three or four days,” Mr. Clarkson said.
The oil captured in the box can be stored on the Discover Enterprise — more than five million gallons in all — and then offloaded to a standby vessel to be processed, Mr. Clarkson said. It may require special treatment at a refinery before it is reused, he said.
“We know that we can get the fluid into the drill ship,” Mr. Clarkson said. “We don’t know the exact conditions that will arrive in the drill ship.”
On Wednesday, for the first time in several days, cleanup crews were able to conduct a controlled burn in two of the most concentrated areas of the oil spill. Officials also said that engineers had shut off one of the three leaks from the damaged well late Tuesday night, although that did not appear to greatly diminish the overall flow.
Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry of the Coast Guard said the spill was close to the Chandeleur Islands. “But,” she said, “the heavy concentrations are farther offshore.”
BP continued to pursue other ways to bring the well under control soon. One idea being worked on by engineers, Mr. Fryar said, is called a top kill, and involves a heavy liquid being pumped into the well to overcome the pressure of the oil coming from below. That could stop the flow of oil.
Mr. Fryar said a second containment dome was being built to collect oil coming from a leak in the riser, directly above the blowout preventer. But putting the dome over that leak would make it extremely difficult to work on the blowout preventer, so no decision has been made to deploy it yet.
Engineers were continuing to try to get the blowout preventer to activate fully, which would shut off the flow. But after two weeks of futility, Mr. Fryar said, “the possibility of that is lessened.”
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