This diary is a follow-on from yesterday’s update here.
Wind patterns have changed with the clearing weather in the region. This graphic clearly identifies the growing size and extent of the spill. It is now difficult, given the uneven borders of the spill, to exactly know the surface area of water now contaminated, but given that the leak at a rate of 42,000 gallons per day has continued unabated, and that the leak extent went from 400 to 600 then to 1800 square miles over the last three days, one can easily speculate that in excess of 2000 square miles of Gulf water is now topped with a layer of light, sweet crude oil.
The spill is at its widest points, according to the Coast Guard and NOAA, at 42 miles by 80. It’s widest extents were 39 by 50 miles yesterday.
A second oil rig has been evacuated due to the fire safety concerns associated with the encroaching and growing spill. A fire on the slick could cause, in principle, this second (ExxonMobil) rig to burn as well. ExxonMobil voluntarily evacuated this second rig, now 10 miles away from the farthest extent of the Horizon slick.
Of the three options for dealing with leaking riser pipe left behind the wreck of the Horizon:
- Activating the massive 450,000 kg well shut off valve by remote controlled submarine.
- Placing a dome over the leaking well, with a pipe that transports the leaking oil to the surface for ongoing capture until "something" can be done.
- Bringing in one or more Transoceanic deep drilling rigs to drill "intervention wells" near the leaking valve, stopping the leak.
It appears that BP is going for options 2 and 3. Apparently the two day effort to activate the cut off valve – which should have activated automatically, but apparently did not for some unknown reason – is not looking successful:
… BP began building an underwater dome to collect the oil near the seafloor, which may take two weeks to put in place, Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer for exploration and production, said at yesterday’s press conference in Robert, Louisiana.
The company intends to drill at least two additional wells extending 18,000 feet below the seafloor to permanently stop the leakage. That may take three months, BP said. The first drilling rig has arrived at the site, Swanson said. …
Addressing the leak from the Horizon’s fractured riser pipe will take months, in all likelihood, with a continuous removal operation taking place that will no doubt occupy all of the Coast Guard and NOAA’s response capabilities to remove the oil-contaminated water from the ocean at the surface as it arrives above the wreck site. It will take weeks to get the dome in place, during which time we can all expect the leak to keep spewing more and more oil into the Gulf.
There is still no mention of addressing the wreck of the Deepwater Horizon itself, the 32.5 million kilogram hulk, built for 350 million dollars and insured beyond a half-billion, now under 5000 feet of water rusting. The capsized wreck contains 700,000 gallons of heavy diesel fuel which, if released, could dwarf the pollution and environmental degradation impact of the leaking well enormously.
The only information I’ve seen as to Transoceanic’s intentions with the wreck are its statement on the insurance covering the wreck:
… SAN FRANCISCO, April 26 (Reuters) – Transocean Ltd (RIGN.S) (RIG.N) said on Monday its insurance covers the total loss of the Deepwater Horizon and wreck removal after the rig sank off the Louisiana coast last week.
Wreck removal coverage was only to the extent that it could be carried out and was needed, Transocean said, adding that the rig — with an insured value of $560 million — was about 1,500 feet northwest of the well and away from any subsea pipelines. ..
Any statement from the company that states that wreck removal is covered to the extent that it is possible and necessary indicates to me that Transoceanic has no intention whatsoever of draining or raising and removing the wreck unless forced to by Federal authority. The Gulf is without a doubt home to a toxic, rusting, deep-sea artificial reef that contains a ticking time bomb in the form of 3/4 of a million gallons of diesel, unless Transoceanic/BP can be at least forced to drain the fuel somehow.
Admittedly, raising a 32.5 million kilogram wrecked rig that was designed to float from 5,000 feet of Gulf water is a daunting challenge. Perhaps Federal authorities should have considered such a challenge prior to allowing this (or further) deep water drilling and exploration.
With the reversal of winds in the region in the near-term, it is unclear when the slick can be expected to make shorefall. However, when this happens, the ecological damage will be real and measurable:
… George Crozier, oceanographer and executive director at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, said he was studying wind and ocean currents driving the oil.
He said Pensacola, Fla., is probably the eastern edge of the threatened area, though no one really knows what the effects will be.
"We’ve never seen anything like this magnitude," he said. "The problems are going to be on the beaches themselves, that’s where it will be really visible."
Aaron Viles, director for New Orleans-based Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group, said he flew over the spill Sunday and saw what was likely a sperm whale in the oil sheen.
"There are going to be significant marine impacts," he said.
Concern Monday focused on the Chandeleur and Breton barrier islands in Louisiana, where thousands of birds are nesting.
"It’s already a fragile system. It would be devastating to see anything happen to that system," said Mark Kulp, a University of New Orleans geologist.
The spill also threatened oyster beds in Breton Sound on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. Harvesters could only watch and wait.
"That’s our main oyster-producing area," said John Tesvich, a fourth-generation oyster farmer with Port Sulphur Fisheries Co. His company has about 4,000 acres of oyster grounds that could be affected if the spill worsens.
"Trying to move crops would be totally speculative," Tesvich said. "You wouldn’t know where to move a crop. You might be moving a crop to a place that’s even worse." …
Aside from polite statements from a handful of mainstream environmental organizations (Oceana, the Sierra Club) not worthy of reprinting here, and a minor, boilerplate click-to-send email campaign from Greenpeace, there has not been much outcry from environmentalists. The email campaign page at the Greenpeace site is so ludicrously buried and obscure within the web site that I will not link to it. If Greenpeace wants to care about offshore oil drilling activism then they can conduct an effect web-based campaign.
Likewise, the only political response has been – as noted yesterday – from a tiny handful of Democratic figures – Senators Menendez and Lautenberg, and Representative Grayson. As noted yesterday, the Obama administration has essentially shrugged off the issue as if nothing has happened, cynically claiming to have "responded swiftly to save the environment" even as the slick spreads out of control, faster than any ability to contain it. Even as shorelines across the Gulf prepare for an oil slick to eventually hit shore, and a half-billion dollars of wrecked, fuel-engorged hulk sits at the bottom of the Gulf 45 miles from the mouth of the Mississipi River.
The Horizon disaster itself exposes both the inevitability of bad wrecks and spills coming from even the most modern, expensive rigs, as well as the near-complete incapability of the Federal government and oil companies acting together to handle what is a truly moderate spill in comparison to the 11 million gallons of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez tanker. The Coast Guard and NOAA are only able to accurately document and track the spill, essentially looking over the shoulder of British Petroleum, which in turn has its own engineers desperately trying ad-hoc, impromptu responses based on shallow-water procedures, which seem to be failing so far. To date, the Coast Guard has succeeded in removing one day’s worth of contaminated oil-water from the spill area, days into a moderate-rate spill.
In light of this disaster, the lack of outcry from environmental organizations and supposedly environmentalist politicians and Congressional factions such as the House Progressive Caucus – is simply shocking and appalling, as is the apparent indifference of the Obama administration to the event. As noted yesterday, the Obama team has no intention of altering or stopping their intention of expanding offshore oil exploration and drilling. These plans are, perversely, the only currently concrete part of a climate change legislation bill that appears permanently stalled in the dysfunctional, corrupt US Congress.
Industry appears to have no intention of slowing the charge, either:
Accidents Don’t Slow Gulf of Mexico Drilling
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
As the Coast Guard was trying to assess the potential environmental effect of the oil rig explosion near Louisiana, industry officials said Thursday that they did not expect drilling in the Gulf of Mexico’s deep waters to be curtailed.
“It’s a tragedy, but at the end of the day we are not going to stop doing things that need to be done,” said Larry Goldstein, a director of the Energy Policy Research Foundation …
Furthermore, it appears that offshore drilling will continue to be a growing factor in our domestic as well in international oil production:
… The gulf now produces more than 1.6 million barrels of crude a day, nearly a third of the country’s production. Techniques learned in the gulf have helped oil companies explore deepwater reservoirs worldwide. Deepwater production is expanding in places like Brazil and around West Africa, and now represents nearly 10 percent of global production.
The Deepwater Horizon, timed perfectly to highlight the risks of disaster associated with offshore drilling, should have raised an outcry from environmentalists and aligned politicians. Instead, the prospect of a rusting hulk filled with fuel and an near-term unstoppable oil slick that continues to grow in size has produced a collective shrug from the political class and activists.
Our oceans are in decline. We cannot continue to abuse this vast and vital resource. We do not even come close to fully understanding the oceans and the marine biosphere.
President Obama promised us a Moon-mission level investment in green technology and transformation of the energy economy away from extractive, environmentally wrecking, and unsustainable, insecure energy sources.
Instead, he’s given us the finger and a fast track to oil slicks and environmental degradation.
RLMiller has helpfully reposted the link to the Mineral Management Service public information site corresponding to the environmental impact assessment of offshore oil drilling. This site contains vital information for interested parties to submit public commentary into the regular review process at MMS. In truth, President Obama should be viewing this web site from his Oval Office computer, and submitting his commentary as to the need to stop drilling or in the very least build a major Federal preventative and response capacity into offshore drilling as a part of our energy policy, but unfortunately, he is not going to do that. If you’re reading this diary, here is your chance to do what President Obama (and Greenpeace, and the Democrats, and the Sierra Club, and the oil industry) will not which is find out how to make your voice heard where it might count.
It looks like Salazar and Napolitano are being forced to pursue an investigation:
… Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Energy Secretary Ken Salazar announced a joint investigation into the incident, with the power to issue subpoenas, hold public hearings and call witnesses.
"We will remain focused on providing every resource we can to support the massive response effort underway at the Deepwater Horizon, but we are also aggressively and quickly investigating what happened and what can be done to prevent this type of incident in the future," said Salazar …
We’ll have to see what actually comes from the investigation, given the foregone conclusion that their boss, Obama, has indicated he is not changing course on offshore drilling. I believe it likely there will be a summary, inconsequential report identifying "unavoidable" problems and an attempted sweeping of the issue under the rug.
On an odd note, we now have pressure from Waxman and … Bart Stupak … to investigate oil company readiness for disasters. Placing aside the weirdness of seeing Bart Stupak – best known as the Democratic Party’s chief anti-abortionist – seeming to hitch his wagon to a by-the-numbers investigation after a disaster, we’ll have to see what comes of the investigation. It is clearly not going to happen, that oil companies will ever have the level of resources in reserve to respond to even a moderate disaster like the Horizon. It will take the resources of the Federal government probably at a multi-agency level (Coast Guard and NOAA alone) to address offshore drilling disasters and that is not likely to come from legislation created by the Obama Democrats.