Sunday, May 2, 2010

They Struck Oil

"We first learned about massive oil spills when an oil well blowout occurred in Santa Barbara in 1969. The second-largest oil spill of all time occurred between June 1979 and March 1980, when the Ixtoc I well blew out in the Gulf of Mexico. This spill ran for eight months and released around 140 million gallons of oil. By comparison, the Exxon Valdez (only!) released 10.8 million gallons.

The impacts of extensive oil spills can last for decades. In the coming days, television news will figure out that there is still oil under the rocks in Prince William Sound, and that the fisheries are still recovering. . .

. . .No doubt, the industry apologists will go on about how rare these events are, and how they have a good safety record. But with enormous risks, “good” isn’t good enough. We cannot afford to jeopardize the entire Gulf ecosystem. But apparently, that is what we have already done. We need to get over our technological hubris and stop taking enormous risks with our global ecosystems." (italics mine) --Dr. Robert J. Brulle


"The oil is leaking because a shut-off valve that should automatically kick in when a problem occurs, has not functioned.

The valve, known as a blow-out preventer, was supplied by Cameron and operated, as an integral part of Transocean's rig."


The newly named point man for the oil spill said it was impossible to pinpoint precisely how much oil is leaking from a ruptured underwater well.


When the estimate is 210, 000 gallons a day, you can be sure that if the estimate is off, the actual figure will not be below the given estimation.

Catawissa Gazetteer has this post in which an article, the authenticity of which may be dubious, is quoted:

"I'm engineer [sic] with 25 years of experience. I've worked on some big projects with big machines. Maybe that's why this mess is so clear to me.

First, the BP platform was drilling for what they call deep oil. They go out where the ocean is about 5,000 feet deep and drill another 30,000 feet into the crust of the earth.
This it [sic] right on the edge of what human technology can do. Well, this time they hit a pocket of oil at such high pressure that it burst all of their safety valves all the way up to the drilling rig and then caused the rig to explode and sink. Take a moment to grasp the import of that. The pressure behind this oil is so high that it destroyed the maximum effort of human science to contain it." (emphasis mine)

"Leak" or "spill" is more comforting to hear than "geyser". So which one is it? The valve merely failed to function, or it did properly function but that it got blown to s*** by natural forces that were rather unnaturally released - in which case, this is real, real bad?

We are all too familiar with the attempts to consolidate catastrophe; to break down the process and re-live it as a means of getting some kind of hold over it, and thus master it. They remain attempts.

As is usual, in this process of consolidation we quickly arrive at the broken valve. It always comes down to a faulty part, which in turn gives rise to self-congratulation, as though we were figuring ourselves out more and more; though sometimes that really is the culprit (but it still would not excuse the guilt of the overall picture of what we are doing): in the midst of corporate irresponsibility, individual integrity gets repressed, and someone, or a group of someones, didn't do something he or they were supposed to do.

But is this the case with Deepwater Horizon? The quote above from the supposed engineer would have it that this is not a case of the broken valve with ensuing search for the culprits, but of an offshore Babel getting its desserts; something with which I would tend to agree (while not in the least incriminating the workers who were killed, as we should pray for their souls and not forget them in all the mess), if only because we have no real, clear picture of how deeply we have wed technology with our original sinfulness, or rather, how far-gone our sinfulness has become, in that it has reached out to such technological brinks and to the lees of the environment.

Does offshore oil drilling have that inevitable risk that they simply do not know the kind of pressure they are going to unleash at any given drilling site?

In the meantime they can make charts like this (click to enlarge):

But this is more realistic:

Image source

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