Monday, June 14, 2010

What's going on in the Gulf of Mexico?

I'm growing more and more concerned about the lack of hard information from BP and/or the Administration about the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Consider:

  • There hasn't been any authoritative estimate of the rate of leakage - just a widely varying range of 'guesstimates'. After almost two months, you'd think that the experts knew what we were facing: but if they know, they're not talking.
  • There appears to be a concerted effort by BP and the Administration to restrict information about what's going on. Access to many beaches and critical areas is restricted, and there are more than a few reports of journalists trying to obtain information who are being 'hassled' and prevented from doing their jobs.
  • We've still seen no evidence that any viable solution exists to stop the leak. All we're told is that various methods are 'under investigation' or 'being tried' or 'are being evaluated'. In other words, even after all this time, no-one can figure out a sure-fire, certain way to stop the leak.

Meanwhile, some experts postulate that the crisis is being exacerbated by a deterioration in the well itself, not just the wellhead and Blow-Out Preventer (BOP) mechanism. In other words, the ocean bed itself, and the ground beneath it, is gradually giving way as oil leaks through the well pipe deep below ground, undermining the structures on the seabed. This could have catastrophic consequences. As The Oil Drum puts it:

I am convinced the erosion and compromising of the entire system is accelerating and attacking more key structural areas of the well, the blow out preventer and surrounding strata holding it all up and together. This is evidenced by the tilt of the blow out preventer and the erosion which has exposed the well head connection. What eventually will happen is that the blow out preventer will literally tip over if they do not run supports to it as the currents push on it. I suspect they will run those supports as cables tied to anchors very soon, if they don't, they are inviting disaster that much sooner.

Eventually even that will be futile as the well casings cannot support the weight of the massive system above with out the cement bond to the earth and that bond is being eroded away. When enough is eroded away the casings will buckle and the BOP will collapse the well. If and when you begin to see oil and gas coming up around the well area from under the BOP? or the area around the well head connection and casing sinking more and more rapidly? won't be too long after that the entire system fails. BP must be aware of this, they are mapping the sea floor sonically and that is not a mere exercise. Our Gov't must be well aware too, they just are not telling us.

All of these things lead to only one place, a fully wide open well bore directly to the oil deposit...after that, it goes into the realm of "the worst things you can think of". The well may come completely apart as the inner liners fail. There is still a very long drill string in the well, that could literally come flying I said...all the worst things you can think of are a possibility, but the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now? the only real chance we have left to stop it all.

It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.

We are not even 2 months into it, barely half way by even optimistic estimates. The damage done by the leaked oil now is virtually immeasurable already and it will not get better, it can only get worse. No matter how much they can collect, there will still be thousands and thousands of gallons leaking out every minute, every hour of every day. We have 2 months left before the relief wells are even near in position and set up to take a kill shot and that is being optimistic as I said.

Over the next 2 months the mechanical situation also cannot improve, it can only get worse, getting better is an impossibility. While they may make some gains on collecting the leaked oil, the structural situation cannot heal itself. It will continue to erode and flow out more oil and eventually the inevitable collapse which cannot be stopped will happen. It is only a simple matter of who can "get there first" or the well.

We can only hope the race against that eventuality is one we can win, but my assessment I am sad to say is that we will not.

The system will collapse or fail substantially before we reach the finish line ahead of the well and the worst is yet to come.

Sorry to bring you that news, I know it is grim, but that is the way I see it....I sincerely hope I am wrong.

We need to prepare for the possibility of this blow out sending more oil into the gulf per week then what we already have now, because that is what a collapse of the system will cause. All the collection efforts that have captured oil will be erased in short order. The magnitude of this disaster will increase exponentially by the time we can do anything to halt it and our odds of actually even being able to halt it will go down.

The magnitude and impact of this disaster will eclipse anything we have known in our life times if the worst or even near worst happens...

There's more at the link. It makes very disturbing reading.

There's also the little problem of recovering the costs of this disaster from BP. As Popehat points out:

1) As Walter Olson points out, President Obama’s assertion that he is going to make BP pay for all of the costs of its negligence is ludicrous. President Obama is lying to people in the gulf region, most of whom are injured because they’ve lost their jobs.

1a) The tort system won’t allow those people to recover from BP. A business owner, or a corporation, which goes under as a result of another’s negligence may recover its present net worth, an amortization of income after deduction for costs over a reasonable period of time.

1b) Many of the people hurt most, the employees of fishermen, shrimpers, hotels, restaurants, and the like, who will lose their livelihoods, have no cause of action against BP. They are merely costs, their salaries or commissions to be deducted from their employers’ revenue forecasts. That’s right. The more they made before the spill, the less their employers recover. They get bupkis.

1c) As if I haven’t made it plain, the employees, as opposed to the owners, have to get another job, move to a part of the country that isn’t wrecked, or go on welfare. You will pay for the welfare, not the government, and not BP. You will also pay for the crime and natural blight (how does one value the extinction of loggerhead sea turtles, which may well occur as a result of this spill? The courts won’t) created by this displacement.

2) Everyone who promises compensation is lying. Unfortunately, most of the people (the employees) who are told that “BP will pay” hear that they’ll recover the income lost as a result of their lost jobs, unless they’re cynics (probably most of the people in the gulf region are cynics now). The people propagating this lie know that’s what the suckers hear. They also know that that isn’t what they’re, technically, saying.

3) To make BP pay for these “non-consequential” damages, the government would have to upend tort law, federalizing it across all 50 states and also passing an “ex post facto” law which would require a constitutional amendment. This would, unfortunately, wreak more economic havoc than the oil spill. Far more. So it isn’t happening. Obama, a constitutional law professor as he pointed out endlessly during his campaign, knows this.

Again, there's more at the link.

There seems to be a paralysis at the highest levels of the Administration (and every lower level as well). Rolling Stone magazine last week published a searing critique of the Administration's response to the crisis (or lack thereof). Amongst its findings were these:

Instead of seizing the reins, the Obama administration cast itself in a supporting role, insisting that BP was responsible for cleaning up the mess. "When you say the company is responsible and the government has oversight," a reporter asked Gibbs on May 3rd, "does that mean that the government is ultimately in charge of the cleanup?" Gibbs was blunt: "No," he insisted, "the responsible party is BP." In fact, the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan – the federal regulations that lay out the command-and-control responsibilities for cleaning up an oil spill – makes clear that an oil company like BP cannot be left in charge of such a serious disaster. The plan plainly states that the government must "direct all federal, state or private actions" to clean up a spill "where a discharge or threat of discharge poses a substantial threat to the public health or welfare of the United States."

"The government is in a situation where it's required to be in charge," says William Funk, a professor of environmental and administrative law at Lewis and Clark College who previously worked as a staff attorney in the Justice Department.

What's more, the administration failed to ensure that BP was prepared to respond to the mess on the surface, where a lack of ships and equipment has left more than 100 miles of the coast – including vast stretches of fragile marshlands – covered in crude. According to MMS regulations, the agency is supposed to "inspect the stockpiles of industry's equipment for the containment and cleanup of oil spills." In BP's case, the agency should have made sure the company was prepared to clean up a spill of 250,000 barrels a day. But when Rolling Stone asked MMS whether BP had the required containment equipment on hand, the agency's head of public affairs in the Gulf replied, "I am not clear if MMS has the info that you are requesting."

The effect of leaving BP in charge of capping the well, says a scientist involved in the government side of the effort, has been "like a drunk driver getting into a car wreck and then helping the police with the accident investigation." Indeed, the administration has seemed oddly untroubled about leaving the Gulf's fate in the hands of a repeat criminal offender, and uncurious about the crimes that may have been committed leading up to the initial sinking of the rig. The Obama Justice Department took more than 40 days after the initial blast killed 11 workers to announce it was opening a criminal probe.

From the start, the administration has seemed intent on allowing BP to operate in near-total secrecy. Much of what the public knows about the crisis it owes to Rep. Ed Markey, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment. Under pressure from Markey, BP was forced to release footage of the gusher, admit that its early estimates put the leak as high as 14,000 barrels a day and post a live feed of its undersea operations on the Internet – video that administration officials had possessed from the earliest days of the disaster. "We cannot trust BP," Markey said. "It's clear they have been hiding the actual consequences of this spill."

But rather than applying such skepticism to BP's math, the Obama administration has instead attacked scientists who released independent estimates of the spill. When one scientist funded by NOAA released a figure much higher than the government's estimate, he found himself being pressured to retract it by officials at the agency. "Are you sure you want to keep saying this?" they badgered him. Lubchenco, the head of NOAA, even denounced as "misleading" and "premature" reports that scientists aboard the research vessel Pelican had discovered a massive subsea oil plume. Speaking to PBS, she offered a bizarre denial of the obvious. "It's clear that there is something at depth," she said, "but we don't even know that it's oil yet."

Scientists were stunned that NOAA, an agency widely respected for its scientific integrity, appeared to have been co-opted by the White House spin machine. "NOAA has actively pushed back on every fact that has ever come out," says one ocean scientist who works with the agency. "They're denying until the facts are so overwhelming, they finally come out and issue an admittance." Others are furious at the agency for criticizing the work of scientists studying the oil plumes rather than leading them. "Why they didn't have vessels there right then and start to gather the scientific data on oil and what the impacts are to different organisms is inexcusable," says a former government marine biologist. "They should have been right on top of that." Only six weeks into the disaster did the agency finally deploy its own research vessel to investigate the plumes.

Again, there's more at the link. It's a must-read article for the behind-the-scenes information it provides.

I'm really, really worried by what's going on - mostly because we have so little real, verifiable information about it. If The Oil Drum's worst fears are realized, we could be looking at the 'death' of the entire Gulf of Mexico - all the fishing, all the tourism, all the coastal communities . . . the whole damn lot. With a spill as potentially catastrophic as this one, they won't come back in our lifetime.

Am I confident the Administration's doing all it can to minimize the risk of that happening? Like hell I am!



LL said...

The Obama Administration has been operating under the general rubric: Admit nothing, deny everything, demand proof, make counter-allegations.

And I fear you are right in terms of where the evolution or devolution of the wellhead is going. It doesn't seem as though we've come close to seeing the bottom of this disaster.

And the Gulf Coast will reap a very bitter harvest indeed, for years to come.

LL said...

The initial barack hussein obama administration response in and among themselves (from a man I know who briefs the regime leadership on other matters) was simply this, "Do nothing! For if we do anything, it will be said that we could have done something, and we'll be blamed."

joe said...

As for the lack of information, recall "the 5th". In today's legal and political environment, can you really blame a corporation who is less than forthcoming with information about such a thing? Not giving BP a pass, but I think I can understand some of their reluctance to be completely open.

Anonymous said...

Interesting times just got a lot more interesting.


Stranger said...

One quibble. No matter who claims Obama was a "Constitutional Law Professor," he was never more than a hired substitute for a teaching graduate student.

He was never on a career track to become a professor, and never did the research necessary to become a professor. Under UC rules, he should "not have been retained" for the second year.


Anonymous said...

"we could be looking at the 'death' of the entire Gulf of Mexico - all the fishing, all the tourism, all the coastal communities . . . the whole damn lot. With a spill as potentially catastrophic as this one, they won't come back in our lifetime."

Eventually the currents will begin taking it up the East Coast, and even across the sea.

I've heard rumors that they are even considering the use of nukes to stop the well.


Miz Minka said...

This whole fiasco is utterly depressing. Romans 8:22 comes to mind. :(

Buddy said...

As an AMT for a large airline in TX, I have been getting NOTAMS from the FAA about the airspace above the well site, specifically TFRs... Why, and for what reason? What are they trying to hide?

JB said...

After listening to Obama tonight, it just reiterates what I see every day here on the Gulf Coast. The administration, and BP don't care about the Gulf Coast or it's people. It's all about the money. Well I am here to tell you, those of us that live here are mad as hell, especially when my home is being destroyed right before my eyes. It is time to stand up here on the coast and take control of this.