Patterico's Pontifications


The Spill

Filed under: Environment — DRJ @ 9:55 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The Gulf Coast could be facing the greatest ecological disaster in its history — the BP Oil Spill:

“What makes an oil spill really bad? Most of the ingredients for it are now blending in the Gulf of Mexico.

Experts tick off the essentials: A relentless flow of oil from under the sea; a type of crude that mixes easily with water; a resultant gooey mixture that is hard to burn and even harder to clean; water that’s home to vulnerable spawning grounds for new life; and a coastline with difficult-to-scrub marshlands.

Gulf Coast experts have always talked about “the potential for a bad one,” said Wes Tunnell, coastal ecology and oil spill expert at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

“And this is the bad one. This is just a biggie that finally happened.”

Experts and almost experts are already weighing in. The Wall Street Journal reports the well had a blowout preventer and a Deadman’s switch but didn’t have an acoustic shut-off valve like North Sea offshore wells. Other reports are already suggesting that BP is to blame:

“British Petroleum once downplayed the possibility of a catastrophic accident at an offshore rig that exploded, causing the worst U.S. oil spill in decades along the Gulf Coast and endangering shoreline habitat.

In its 2009 exploration plan and environmental impact analysis for the well, BP suggested it was unlikely, or virtually impossible, for an accident to occur that would lead to a giant crude oil spill and serious damage to beaches, fish and mammals.”

BP is an easy target on the Gulf Coast, especially after the March 2005 explosion at BP North America’s Texas City refinery. However, it’s not clear whether BP, Transocean — the owner of the rig — or perhaps another company was in charge of the rig at the time of the explosion. Other problems, such as a defective blowout preventer, are also possible.

The resulting investigations will undoubtedly tell us more. In the meantime, offshore drilling may be put on hold and the economic impact on the Gulf Coast will be severe. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time.


24 Responses to “The Spill”

  1. “Other reports are already suggesting that BP is to blame:”

    I blame Bush and of course Halliburton.

    We’ve had what, three bad rig accidents in the Gulf in the past fifty years according to one timeline I saw, but the greenies will use this as an excuse to permanently shut down new offshore drilling. Nice. Can they use it as an excuse to stop China drilling in the Gulf too?

    daleyrocks (1d0d98)

  2. Offshore deep drilling is complex and dangerous, and being a human enterprise it will always pose risks of some very unpleasant things. That’s also true of many other worthwhile and essential things. The industry is smarter and usually better self-policed than it was 20 or 30 years ago, and safety records are remarkably good in a comparative sense. But in arguing for an “all of the above” energy policy, we have to be candid and up-front about the risks, and the fact that sometimes those risks will translate into actual disasters. TANSTAAFL.

    At least according to the news reports I was hearing yesterday on the radio, there was about a five-fold discrepancy between the volume of on-going spillage being estimated by government and industry groups. It’s not minimizing or rationalizing the disaster to point out that its scope is still mostly unknown, which is to say that it might turn out to be substantially better or worse than we now think.

    Beldar (b363e8)

  3. Rush was reporting that some at BP said the fault was the way the concrete that held the blow-out preventer at the well-head was set.
    And the beauty (for daleyrocks), the concrete was poured by Halliburton!

    Henry’s going to be calling some more executives up for a seat of honor at his grill.

    AD - RtR/OS! (df11ff)

  4. BP and Transocean would have been in control of the rig. When the explosion happened they were either setting casing or had just finished, which the Transocean crew would have been doing. BP, having contracted Transocean to drill the well, would have had a representative on the rig (the company man) overseeing everything. Third party companies are contracted to provide certain services, but BP and Transocean would have had complete control.

    Christian Dean (002bcf)

  5. Are you referring to this, AD?

    U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak sent letters requesting the testimony of officials from BP America, Transocean and Halliburton. BP operates the rig, which is owned by Transocean. Halliburton worked on the rig not long before the explosion.

    A date has not yet been set for the hearings.

    The hearings also will look into how recovery efforts are going, and what the companies’ safety measures were before the April 20 blast that caused the spill.

    DRJ (d15e92)

  6. BP, Transocean and Halliburton are at risk but they aren’t the only ones. Anadarko, Cameron and the insurers are, too.

    DRJ (d15e92)

  7. Just last month, Bloomberg reported Cramer recommended investors buy Transocean, Halliburton, BP and a couple of other companies. That didn’t work out.

    DRJ (d15e92)

  8. The weekend after the explosion, as millions of barrels of crude were beginning to spew into the gulf, our hard-working president and his missus took a well-deserved break for a datenight and golf outing to Asheville, North Carolina. Can you imagine the outrage that would be spewing from the MSM if George W. Bush had been president and he and Laura had done something like that, and this incident, unlike Katrina, is clearly in the federal government’s remit, not that of state and local governments.

    Spartan79 (511ca0)

  9. Just to second the concern Spartan79 raises, that some are pointing at a “slow response” by the feds as well. By all means the admin and others will point the finger at BP, etc. Others point finger at the gov. I’m sure drilling on the ground in ANWAR is much easier and safer than in deep water in the Gulf.

    I’m just repeating what I’ve heard.

    MD in Philly (0f793a)

  10. Say, is anyone else getting paranoid about the timing of this? Chicago style political theory argues that there are no coincidences. The timing sure works out for BHO.

    Unlikely but very unsettling.

    In other news, I continue to beta test for Steve Jobs as I write this via the poorly named iPad.

    Eric Blair (a2ecff)

  11. Possibly all those things maybe true, then again simple incompetence, can’t be ruled out

    ian cormac (d56635)

  12. Nappy seems to have only become interested in this catastrophe yesterday, despite all evidence to the contrary. Hmmm, guess those racist and violent teabaggers were more important at the time.

    However, BP has already demonstrated a lack of investment and interest in their infrastructure over the past years, particularly regarding safety processes. This is one accident that could have been much more effectively contained, and they share the blame for this, big – time.

    Dmac (21311c)

  13. Dmac – I think he’s been distracted by the National Enquirer’s scoop on Vera Baker:

    Here I didn’t think Obama liked women, nttawwt.

    daleyrocks (1d0d98)

  14. Don’t believe everything you read.

    I mean when is the last time the National Enquirer broke a real story?

    Sen. John Edwards (1d0d98)

  15. #8 Spartan79:

    as millions thousands of barrels of crude were beginning to spew into the gulf

    This is an area where over 1.1 million barrels seep out of the ground underwater every year, a figure that roughly translates to 3000 bbls/day. Even if the worst prognostications are true (and apparently there is a wide disparity between spillage estimates, depending on who is goring the ox), it seems likely that the spillage will be controlled in some fashion before it represents a significant fraction of what seeps out naturally every year.

    It will be disruptive, and will require a significant response, but it doesn’t seem to be near the “disaster” that it is being played up to be to me. As of late yesterday afternoon, there was a story on the radio of a single bird being rescued, not a flock, not a species, not even a nesting pair, but a single bird. Why do I get the feeling that the story is being wildly spun?

    EW1(SG) (edc268)

  16. Vera Baker is this year’s model of Rielle Hunter, aka Lisa Jo Druck.

    What did the president ______ and when did he ______ it?

    GeneralMalaise (53ce9e)

  17. Having written that, my heart goes out to Obambi in the same way it went out to William Jefferson Clinton, given their alternatives.

    GeneralMalaise (53ce9e)

  18. The questions on the actual size of the slick, the emphasis on who is “to blame”, and the finger pointing and recriminations over the slow response to the oil spill are unavoidable in this highly political milieu where so many groups are looking to make “points”. But let’s not overlook the horrific ecological disaster that is occurring to people’s livelihoods, and impacting plants and innocent animals in its path.

    With Katrina, most people at least had a fighting chance to get out to safety. In this case the birds, animals and other marine life in the gulf do not have that chance. I had already thought today was going to be a disturbing one with all the planned May Day protests. But this oil deal means the weekend is going to be extra sucky and sad, at least for me.

    elissa (dd0e5c)

  19. Drill, baby, drill!

    GeneralMalaise (53ce9e)

  20. congress and the criticizer in chief will accuse everyone involved with criminal negligence as though they did not care about losing a rig that cost 100’s of millions or the loss of life,the loss of production or the environment.the resulting loss of supply caused by this and the restrictions on all offshore drilling will drive up the price of existing supplies. the geniuses will solve that problem by printing oil coupons.

    clyde (1c2286)

  21. This NY Times piece is rather breathless about the scope which as EW1SG points out is not clear and likely exaggerated.

    However, the NYT in this piece also notes that Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security wherein the Coast Guard is located, had been sitting on her hands.

    It is pretty clear that Napolitano is utterly inept and must be replaced.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  22. The Obama administration had responsibility for this incident from the beginning. State and local governments have absolutely no jurisdiction and lack the ability or equipment required to deal with an oil spill miles and miles offshore. Only our federal government can act. It didn’t respond quickly and it may be too late to stem the damage.

    To put a focus on this administration’s mindset, one of the first things they did was to send a team from the DOJ. That’s their version of “First Responders”.

    GeneralMalaise (53ce9e)

  23. “To put a focus on this administration’s mindset, one of the first things they did was to send a team from the DOJ.”

    General – Remember Obama’s response a question in one of the debates was to call the lawyers.

    daleyrocks (1d0d98)

  24. Yes, daley, I do vaguely remember that, but can’t remember the exact question asked.

    GeneralMalaise (53ce9e)

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