[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.
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.
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]
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