This weekend in watery Venice, Italy, MIT scientists will demonstrate a creation called Seaswarm, a fleet of autonomous swimming bots intended to skim the water’s surface; each bot would drag a sort of mesh net to collect the crude sitting there. According to their creators, the machines will be able to find oil on their own and talk to one another to compute the most efficient way to tidy it up.
The Seaswarm robots, which were developed by a team from MIT’s Senseable City Lab, look like a treadmill conveyor belt that’s been attached to an ice cooler. The conveyor belt piece of the system floats on the surface of the ocean. As it turns, the belt propels the robot forward and lifts oil off the water with the help of a nanomaterial that’s engineered to attract oil and repel water [CNN].
Take Manhattan, turn it into oil and drop it in the Gulf: That’s the size of the submerged oil plume that scientists found near the site of BP’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, casting more doubt on those claims that the plumes weren’t so bad, or that most of the oil has been accounted for.
The research was conducted in June during an expedition led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. The study, which appears in Science, is the first peer-reviewed data on oil plumes from the leak in the Gulf, and comes from 57,000 direct measurements made during the visit.
The plume, which scientists said came from the busted Gulf well, shows the oil “is persisting for longer periods than we would have expected,” lead researcher Rich Camilli said in a statement issued with the study. “Many people speculated that subsurface oil droplets were being easily biodegraded. Well, we didn’t find that. We found it was still there” [MSNBC].
The BP oil spill isn’t over. But, as CNN says, we could be at the beginning of the end.
The first part of BP’s “static kill,” in which it used mud to try to plug the leak, appears to have worked well and stemmed the flow of oil. Last night National Incident Commander Thad Allen gave the OK for the second part: pumping concrete. That could begin today.
BP’s “static kill” operation finished ahead of schedule. It took eight hours to fill the 13,000-foot well pipe with heavy drill mud, holding back the oil with its weight. … Now, the column of mud ensures that oil will never be released from the well again, officials say. A permanent cement plug will be put in place later this month [ABC News].
This business of pumping mud probably sounds familiar. That’s because it’s basically the same thing BP tried to do many weeks ago with its “top kill” maneuver. This time, though, the mud seems to be working, probably because the temporary cap BP put on the leak in July made it easier to smother the oil flow.
What do you get when you mix oil and dispersants? A mixture that doesn’t seem to be more toxic than oil alone, the EPA said yesterday. Their statement came after a second round of testing eight oil dispersants.
The EPA tested the response of two sensitive Gulf species, the mysid shrimp and a small fish called the inland silverside, which they exposed to mixtures of dispersants plus oil and to oil alone.
The results indicate that the eight dispersants tested are similar to one another based on standard toxicity tests on sensitive aquatic organisms found in the Gulf. These results confirm that the dispersant used in response to the oil spill in the Gulf, Corexit 9500A, is generally no more or less toxic than the other available alternatives. [EPA statement]
Perhaps remembering the company’s repeated failures to stanch the flow over these past months, some officials are calling the maneuver only one possible solution. National Incident Commander Thad Allen said:
“Static kill is not the end all, be all.” [The Telegraph]
Still some hope it is; said Darryl Bourgoyne, director of the Petroleum Engineering Research Lab at Louisiana State University:
“It could be the beginning of the end.” [AP]
Temporary fix or permanent plug, here’s how BP will do it:
The Ting River
The waste water came from the Zijinshan mine in China’s Fujian province. Though earlier this month mine operators blamed weather for waste water entering the river, this week they admitted to and contaminating the river with–as The Sydney Morning Herald puts it–“four Olympic-size swimming pools” worth of waste water containing acidic copper.
Zijin’s board of directors expresses “its deep regret regarding the incident and the improper handling of information disclosure by the company, for causing substantial losses to the fish farmers located at the reservoir downstream of the mine and having a harmful impact on society,” the company said yesterday. [Bloomberg Businessweek]
Chinese police have detained two of the mine’s operators. Meanwhile, acidic copper has reportedly killed 4 million pounds of fish and threatens drinking water.
Reports from China’s official Xinhua News Agency suggest that Zijin is being required only to fix the problem and compensate locals with an offer of three yuan for every kilogram of dead fish. That makes the potential payout about 6 million yuan, [about $900,000]. [Sidney Morning Herald]
If three months of waiting for BP to fix its oil leak have taught us anything, it’s not to get too optimistic about potential fixes. On Thursday, BP installed a cap that appeared to cut off the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, but yesterday the federal government officials overseeing the leak response said (pdf) that there appear to be hydrocarbons leaking from the seafloor near the well, and possibly methane detected above the well.
The upshot is that BP has until tomorrow (Tuesday) to investigate this possible leak. If it is there, the government could force BP to reopen the cap and resume pumping oil up to tankers on the surface.
The discovery of a seep and the unspecified anomalies suggest that the well could be damaged and that it may have to be reopened soon to avoid making the situation worse [The New York Times].
Do you hear that? That’s the sound of oil not gushing uncontrollably into the Gulf of Mexico from BP’s leak, for the first time in nearly three months. BP is still running tests on the new cap the company installed this week, but at least for now there’s some for slight optimism.
The flow stopped yesterday afternoon, and BP video feed of its leak site showed quiet containment.
The view on Thursday afternoon was eerily tranquil, just the slate blue of the deep interspersed with small white particles floating across the screen. Though the exact amount of the oil that has poured out of the well may never be known, it was suddenly and for the first time a fixed amount. The disaster was, for a little while at least, finite [The New York Times].
The task now is a pressure test, which will take place over two days. Lower pressure inside the well would mean the surrounding rocks are leaking a little; high pressure would indicate the well is sealed off.
Will this solution finally be the solution? Today in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is attempting to secure another containment cap onto its oil leak, which the company says could trap and collect all the oil gushing from the leak—if it works.
On Saturday BP removed the leaky cap that had been catching a little bit of the oil, meaning that the oil is now flowing unchecked into the Gulf as engineers race to install the new one. This is the latest try in a string of attempts to cap the leak, and BP’s Kent Wells says that engineers are lowering the new, tighter-fitting cap into place this morning.
The new cap, which should eventually not allow any gas or oil to escape, will be used to divert more oil to collection ships that will be brought in over the next two to three weeks, Mr. Wells said. “We’ll continue to ramp up the capacity so that sometime along the line, whatever the flow is, we’ll capture it all,” he said [The New York Times].
With the perpetual flow of filthy crude from BP’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, just about anything seems like a better energy solution than deep sea offshore drilling. One new proposal, though, has the potential for similarly disastrous environmental harm.
The Keystone XL is a huge proposed pipeline that could carry oil from Canada’s oil sands on a snaking path through the American Midwest and all the way down to Texas, where it will be refined. The idea has been up for public comment for months, and that period comes to a close soon. So, should we build this thing?
There is one good thing about the project: It would be a source of energy that’s not the Middle East, Iran, Venezuela, or another region or country hostile to the United States.
From an energy perspective, Keystone XL delivers one thing the United States needs: plentiful oil from a friendly neighbor. Most oil companies have invested heavily in Canadian oil sands and are firmly behind it [The New York Times].
The project would bring in another million barrels of oil per day from Canada, which is already our biggest foreign oil supplier.
A study released this month by the Perryman Group, an economic analysis firm based in Waco, concluded that the project could generate as much as $2.3 billion in new spending for Texas during construction and $1.1 billion in property taxes to local and county governments over the pipeline’s operating lifetime [Houston Chronicle].
The oil sands are one of the dirtiest energy projects in the world. The oil is dirty to extract and dirty to refine, plus there are the transportation dangers.