Friday, April 30, 2010

BP negligent in Gulf Coast Oil spill

Dave Martin/AP

[Update: if you have come here from a search, you will see that this was posted when the spill first happened. I hope you will find that the opinions given - that the oil companies need to have a far better proactive approach to oil spills - was accurate, and that the various investigations that will be carried out will confirm this first impression from a Green blogger. Indeed, the official report, published 8 months later, does bear my first impressions out. I would add that if Deepwater had occurred in Arctic or Antarctic waters, the difficulties in capping it would have been multiplied many times over. Deepwater drilling in hostile, iceberg laden environments is foolish in the extreme. It is simply wrong.]

11 humans dead, and a slow brown WMD on its way to an ecologically sensitive coastline. The BP oil spill  in the Gulf Coast shows the oil industry doing what it does best: maximising profits to the exclusion of other considerations.

Sure, accidents happen. They can be predicted, and effective emergency response plans can be laid down, ready to go into action. BP, and the oil industry generally, have negligently failed to do this.

There is evidence that BP was drilling deeper than licensed, and refused to put in a deep-water valve that might have prevented this spill.

The present disaster happened while the well head at the sea bed was being cemented in.
18 out of 39 oil blowouts between 1992 and 2006 were associated with this operation. Therefore BP was negligent in not being on the alert for a blowout during this operation.

What to do now?  There are many responses. I have put the ones with particular potential in bold.
  • Booms &c; Standard necessary procedure
  • Burn it off. It may have a role.
  • Skim it off.
  • Use booms to contain the slick.
  • Capture the oil at its points of escape.
  • Counter drill. This will take weeks.
  • Attach a pump to the end of the pipeline (the part that was attached to the rig) and lower the pressure in the pipe, thus reducing the leakage from the three fractures in the pipe.
  • Site funnels over the leaks to collect the oil.
  • Finally, cap it.
 All of these options should be implemented right now. It is a damned shame, and s sign of systemic negligence, that they were not put in place ten days ago, on April 20th when the disaster happened.

Three key reforms are needed: intensive use of skimming, preparedness of funnel technology, and use of pumping.


Oil can be removed from the surface using devices that suck off the slick. This is established technology, having been around since 1960. One form is the SLURP (Self-Levelling Unit for Removing Pollution) whose .pdf manual is here.

The oil industry is negligent in failing to provide large stocks of SLURPs in the vicinity of all oil operations. They could then be mobilised in bulk to deal with an emergency.  This is a simple, logical, practical physical form of insurance.

Funnel or Dome
This plan is similar to the design outlined on this blog a few weeks ago to contain the methane rising from the seabed.
This is not new - it was tried in 1979 but destroyed in high seas. It has never been used at this depth. The oil industry has had 30 years to develop and roll out the technology, but BP engineers are starting from scratch, cobbling one together on an ad hoc basis. More institutional negligence. 

The oil industry should have these domes, with ancillary equipment, laid up in strategic depots, in modular form so that they can be transported by air if necessary, to use in this kind of emergency.

Reduce the pressure in the pipe
It would be relatively easy to fit a pump to the end of the pipe, and pump the oil out at increasing rates until the oil is admixed with water. At that stage, the application of a membrane to the fractures will form an effective pressure seal.
In summary, the oil industry is systemically negligent in being unprepared for this predictable event.

Governments should now compel them to get their act together. Immediately.  What is the problem? The problem is that oil corporations regard themselves, and the Free Market that is their religion, as superior to governments. Remember that it is the oil industry that is behind the Climate Change Denial movement. They are adding the insult of denial to the injury they are doing to our beautiful, fragile environment.

One thing is for sure:
Multinational Corporations need to be brought under a legal framework.

We the people have a right to feel angry with BP and the oil industry. We should express our anger in peaceful but persistent demonstrations outside BP offices and even forecourt outlets, across the world.

Related issues

BP has lost $27billion in falling share prices. Total share price drop has wiped $44billion off value of associate companies.  Halliburton has lost $2.9 billion. Good.

[Update May 6th: I have sent this to BP on their site.   You might like to back it up so they notice.

I read that you have found and closed a valve on the pipe that was leaking. Is this the valve that would have been at or close to the rig? If so, is it possible to lock a pipe onto the valve? If so, oil could be pumped out of the pipe. This would lower pressure in the pipe, so that the fractures could be wrapped one after the other (beginning with the fracture closest to the said valve).

I would be grateful if you would consider this plan in case the coffer plan fails for whatever reason.

It is regrettable that the coffer has had to be assembled from scratch, after the event. In future, the oil industry should have coffers ready in the region of each well, especially while the well head is being cemented in.

Please acknowledge receipt of this communication.

[Update 13 May. They have received  a few thousand of these suggestions, and have made up a form. I have filled out their form. It looks as if the dome/coffer idea is stalled. Pity.]
[Update 22 May: detailed info on the Oil Drum here]

Want more?
Here's what we need to do about mega-corporations.
Expert Report: “BP was reckless, negligent” in Gulf oil spill
BP’s ‘Nightmare’ Well: Internal Documents Uncover Negligence


Anonymous said...

BP will only have to pay 8 cents on the dollar for the harm they have caused. The taxpayer will end up paying the other 92 cents. When people sue our corrupt courts force them to settle for just a fraction of what their claims are worth. In the United States of America corporations have rights. Hats off to the business community for this most recent disaster. What's next, a nuclear melt down???

DocRichard said...

Anonymous, we have to work up a framework of laws to bring the corporations into line with the ethical and juridical reality that the rest of us are expected to play by.
Thanks for commenting.

paleo said...

Why can't they just attach long flexible hose sover the leaking pipes (at least two of the leaks are from broken pipes I understand) and direct the oil into any containers they want? They obviously have subs that can work at these depths, as they must have used them to install the sea-floor-mounted equipment in the first place. What am I missing?

DocRichard said...

Hi Paleo
This is the plan - the dome idea. The problem is that they are building it now. They should have some ready and waiting.

Tom Zart said...


Overrun by war and uncontrolled greed
Our world becomes more dangerous each day.
Dishonest politicians, criminals and the media
Survive by their falsehoods at play.

Bible believers preach, that the end is near
Our world as a whole is beyond reform.
God will eradicate all, which is wicked
By His fire of eruption and storm.

To evil’s victory, I will never concede
May its supporters anguish in hell.
By the grace of God and the power of faith
The goodness of man will prevail.

What greed has done, Heaven will measure
As patriots respond to the blunders of man.
Protect and defend what we love till death
As tar balls pollute the air, sea and land.

By Soldier For The Lord
Tom Zart
Most Published Poet
On The Web

DocRichard said...

Thanks for that Tom.

Anonymous said...

This is really fustrating, are oil companies so corrupt and greedy that they cant see what sort of damage they are causing. To me it seems like they happily over look any sitaution or point that will not benefit them even if a dead oil covered bird hit them on the face. In my opinion it is time for them to take the responsbiltyy for their actions and appreciate the beuatiful natural world they dont seem to give second though about. Even if they simly clear up the mess now and pretend that nothing has happened the consequnces will have seriose impact in the future. Either they have to be 100 5 sure that no further oil spills will occur which clearly they cannot be or simply have a back up plan. All they need to do is invest a few million dollars or so. Its not that har is it?

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