42,000 Gallons of Oil a Day…

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | April 26, 2010 6:57 pm

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NEW ORLEANS — Coast Guard officials said Monday afternoon that the oil spill near Louisiana was now covering an area in the Gulf of Mexico of 48 miles by 39 miles at its widest points, and they have been unable to engage a mechanism that could shut off the well thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface.

More at the New York Times

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Conservation, Marine Science

Comments (28)

  1. Guy

    It’s a tragic event, especially since people lost their lives, and also for all the ecological damage it will cause.

  2. D

    NASA’s Earth Observatory Image of the Day for April 27, 2010 has a great image of the oil spill (Click my name for the link). Don’t forget to embiggen the first image.

  3. Old Gringo Stan

    Very sad….and it provides ammo for the green eco zealots….

  4. Brian Too

    Seems like when things go bad on an oil rig, they go very bad indeed. Just look up the history on the Piper Alpha rig, as well as the Ocean Ranger. The fires got completely out of hand and the rigs eventually burned right to the waterline.

  5. Sean McCorkle

    All of us who drive fossil-hydrocarbon-powered vehicles are responsible for this. There are no “green” cars.

  6. yeah, so I’m thinking that’s bad.

    and I’d be willing to bet the “green eco-zealots” would be more than willing to STFU if maybe we didn’t do this kind of thing anymore.

    Maybe you might be the right guy to let the fishermen in the area know how long they’re out of work.

  7. This wellhead is under 5,000 feet of water, making it physically impossible for any human to even reach it, except perhaps via a submersible like Alvin. Given this, it would seem logical for a well like this to be equipped with multiple redundant (say 20) seals that would automatically trigger if the pipe ruptured. So much for the skills and commitment of the most advanced capitalist and scientifically developed nation on Earth.

    Oops.

  8. MartyM

    Oh yeah!!! Drill Baby Drill!!!!

    I’m just kidding folks. It’s really appalling and I don’t think we need more ocean wells.

  9. Woody Tanaka

    @Old Gringo Stan “…and it provides ammo for the green eco zealots….”

    Yeah, because only “green eco zealots” would be upset with 42,000 gallons of oil per day in the water. Moron.

  10. Woody Tanaka

    @Sean McCorkle “All of us who drive fossil-hydrocarbon-powered vehicles are responsible for this.”

    No, the people who are responsible for this are the negligent designers, manufacturers, owners and operators of this rig as well as the oil industry who fights regulations designed to protect the environment, and each and every politician, lobbyist, voter and commentator who opposes environmental protections and regulations on damaging, polluting industries.

    (And in a just world would be required to pay every cent of clean up cost and pay every person affected by this event, and the people who built and ran this thing would be in prison for the better part of the rest of their lives.)

    This wasn’t an accident. This was the foreseeable result of the foregoing people not giving a damn how badly they destroy the environment, so long as they can stick a filthy dollar in their pockets.

  11. Woody, you are right – negligent design and loose regulations are huge contributors to this disaster. But Sean is right as well – if fewer people wanted to drive individual vehicles in this country, we’d need less oil, and thus we’d need fewer deep water oil rigs (since the shallow GOM fields are mostly dried up).

    As to paying for the clean-up, I can tell you that the USCG is very good at billing polluters for such costs (thanks to some really surprisingly tough laws called RICRA and CERCLA), and the oil company involved in already spending tens of thousands of dollars a day on private skimmers, boon and dispersants. the aerial assault from USCG planes comes out of our pockets for now – the on water work is all being done by contractor vessels under USCG supervision.

  12. Woody Tanaka

    Philip H, Sean is correct in terms of abstract, but-for causation. (i.e., but for the people driving cars, this rig wouldn’t have been pumping oil.) However, that caustion is trivial compared to the others, because even if “we the driving public” caused them to pump, we didn’t cause them to pump in a way that did not include multiple redundant safety devices that would have prevented this from happening.

    And while it is good that the USCG will bill the polluters, I would also like to see those responsbile be required to do things like pay whatever it takes (up to the entire value of the corporation as well as the personal assets of upper management and major shareholders) to entirely restore any effect the spill had on the eco system, and to replace – dollar for dollar – any economic loss it caused anybody, from fisherman in the area, to state agencies monitoring it, to lost revenue in beach towns if this stuff spoils beaches… anybody. Hell, they should have to pay NASA for the cost of taking the pictures of this mess from space.

    AND there should be a way where they can’t fight it in court for 2 decades. I say an arbitration system, paid for as a percentage of the compensation paid by the polluters, whereby the polluter has to pay the claim unless they establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the claim is fraudulent.

  13. Sean McCorkle

    Woody and Phillip: I don’t mean to remove responsibility from the industry that caused this. But its an amoral institution which places money above all other considerations. We enable them, with our dollars, every time we gas up. We endorse them by giving them what exactly what they want, every week, every day, at the pumps, by the millions and millions. That rig that blew up, burned down, and then fell over and is now spewing oil into the gulf – we payed for that. And we elect the public officials who let them get away with it.

    I’m a proponent of good governance and civil society, but trying to get between corporate magnates and their money is like getting between a mama bear and her cub. We can press our elected officials to better police these industries, and it can work, but it takes a lot of effort, and after the bad news cycles die down, corporate interests push back quietly and effectively.

    Our relationship with big oil is like the addict’s relationship with the drug cartels. Their leverage over us is our “need” for their product. That’s where we should apply pressure and hit ‘em where it really hurts: don’t buy their product. I know its hard to do that, for some people more than others. But I’m thinking long term, effecting a social change over time. Before people move to their next home, let them consider a location that doesn’t require automobile commutes to work or for shopping. Let them consider a radically energy efficient home that doesn’t require any oil to heat or any significant power to cool. Get towns & local governments to put in bike paths. That kind of thing.

    Great discussion guys. Thanks.

  14. Eric the Leaf

    Hit them where it hurts? Really? Long term, probably medium term, maybe even short term, oil is depleting. It will hit us where it really hurts.

  15. Sean McCorkle

    All the more reason to kick the habit sooner rather than later.

  16. Dark Tent

    As bad as it is, the net effect in the long run.

    Obama had just proposed opening up vast new areas for offshore drilling, claiming that such wells are very safe.

    Now everyone can see how (laughaably) inaccurate he was.

    Given where the platforms are located (subject to hurricanes and other storms) and how deep the well-heads are (and thus inaccessible if something goes wrong), there is virtually NO way you can make these wells “fail-safe”.

    If Obama’s main focus in this really is “national security” as he has claimed, what is really needed is a policy that reduces foreign oil dependence by actually reducing total oil use.

    His argument in this case is a lot like the “national security” argument for more drilling in ANWR.

    In the latter case, the oil would flow through the Trans Alaska Pipeline, which is very susceptible to an attack along its hundreds of miles of (largely) unguarded Alaskan stretch — and hence a VERY INSECURE source of oil. Even a relatively small bomb in the dead o f winter could shut the whole thing down for MONTHS: once the oil congealed in the pipe, it would be summer before anyone could get it moving again.

    This is really not rocket science.

    Good thing too, because Obama is no rocket scientist.

    But hey, he gives a good speech, right?

  17. Dark Tent

    Left off some words from the first sentence above

    “As bad as it is, the net effect in the long run might be positive”

  18. Dark Tent

    By the way, remember how the offshore wells and coastal oil and gas refineries in the Gulf Coast area shut down during and after Katrina and Rita?

    How’s that for “national security”?

    Laughable.

  19. Eric the Leaf

    Well, Sean, I believe that there is little time to kick the habit, even if that was possible, which it really isn’t. However, we will be forced by circumstances to power down, and it will not be pretty.

  20. What I find so ironic in all this is that Iowa is getting 20% of its electricity from wind power. Right now. And with the Interior Secretary’s approval of the Nantucket wind farm, Massachusetts is headed that way. Those are big energy stories, and they point out how little we really need oil or coal. But you won’t see that contrast drawn in the media anytime soon.

  21. dark tent

    Phillip:

    Based on the topography of Iowa (mile after mile of corn fields), I’d be willing to bet that Iowa could get much more (maybe even close to 100%) of its electricity from wind.

    the US could clearly reduce its oil use significantly in short order, but the public AND our leadership largely lacks the will to do so (including Obama who talks a good talk but has trouble in the delivery department)

    Witness the opposition to Cape Wind (off Cape Cod’s coast). Cape wind has spent YEARS trying to get a license and has met stiff resistance whose only rationale is that it will “ruin the view” — eg, folks like the late Senator Ted Kennedy who live along the shore and simply can’t stand the idea of seeing their precious view “despoiled” by a tiny row of half inch tall “sticks “on the horizon (which is what the proposed wind towers would look like from Nantucket and cape Code)

    It’s absurd, but hey, that’s the mentality that we are dealing with here.

  22. cjm

    Why don’t they just send a couple 1,000 lbs of TNT to the bottom of the ocean and blow the damn thing up? And if that doesn’t work dump a couple thousand boulders on top of it… And if that doesn’t work, we’ve got clay loam in Wisconsin that’ll seal anything.

  23. steve

    a few observations

    1 we can’t judge if these wells are generally safe or not without knowing how many there are total. if there are 10 of these platforms in the world, and 1 blows up, they might not be safe. If there are 750 of them and we have one disaster in 20 years, then i’d say they are safe.

    2 scienceblogs.com has shocked me with their near-total ignorance of the event. There’ve been a tiny handful of posts over there about this. Very disappointing

    3 Why haven’t any stories discussed how this is going to get resolved? according to wikipedia, even with special suits, dives only down to 2300 feet have been performed.

  24. steve

    That NYT story is the only one I’ve read mentioning how it’s going to be fixed. I’d read a dozen without hearing about the robots.

  25. steve

    “Until last week’s accident, the industry has had few recent spills in the Gulf of Mexico. Amy Myers Jaffe, an energy expert at Rice University, noted that in the last 15 years there was not a single spill of over 1,000 barrels among the 4,000 active platforms off the shores of the United States.”

    so that was the situation when obama said such platforms were ‘generally safe’. Hindsight is 20/20, but at the time he said it, he was completely correct. And if we have one of these disasters for every 6,000 platform-years, i’d say it

  26. steve

    is still correct.

    (sorry, that would be 60,000 platform years. mibad)

  27. Woody Tanaka

    If this disaster is the result of settling for “generally safe” then we need to require them to be “perfectly safe” and make the CEOs and top executives criminal liable if these things fail. There is no reason why the suits at BP should not be in prison right now for causing this, though their neglect in not engineering in sufficient redundancies and shut offs to protect the ecosystem.

    I also think we need to require companies like BP to submit to the EPA cash equal to the estimated clean up costs and payments to people like fisherman who are going to be lose their livelihood over this criminal neglect. No more corporate welfare. If they can’t put, say, $20 billion in cash, up front, to cover future environmental damages, then we should tell them to go to hell.

  28. Dark Tent

    Steve:

    You may want to read the criticisms that NOAA scientists made last September ( in this report) about the Obama admin’s proposal for offshore drilling.

    In support of his offshore drilling plan, Obama stated that

    It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.

    But, if you read that NOAA report, you will see that there are very basic problems with both of Obama’s statements.

    The first (“oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills”) only tells part of the “risk story”. When it comes to “risk assessment”, in addition to “frequency of occurrence” (of spills from drill rigs, in this case) one also MUST consider “potential impacts” from “low frequency events” (like the BP “blowout”).

    Who knows what the final cost (economic and environmental) in this case will be?

    Second, the claim that “during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs” is just BS.

    It would appear that the information in that NOAA report either never got to Obama’s desk — or, if it did, he ignored it.

    Actually, even if he never saw the NOAA report or a summary of its findings, Obama is certainly smart enough to appreciate that his comment that “oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills” only tells part of the risk story.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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