Saturday, May 1, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill: Where are the Thunderbirds, When You Need Them?

"U.S. fights to defend fragile coast from big oil spill"
Reuters (April 30, 2010)

"The U.S. government scrambled on Friday to ward off an environmental disaster that could cost billions of dollars as a huge oil spill reached coastal Louisiana, imperiling shrimp fishing grounds, oyster beds and fragile wetlands with a rich variety of wildlife.

"With oil gushing unchecked from a ruptured deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana, President Barack Obama's administration heaped pressure on London-based energy giant BP, the majority owner of the blown-out well, to do more to shut off the flow and contain the spreading slick...."

I'm pretty sure that this isn't the end of the world, or even of civilization as we know it. On the other hand, folks making a living on and near the coasts of Louisianna and western Florida are not having a good time. At all.

More news:

"Oil spill prompts premature shrimp season"
FIS (Fish Info & Services) (April 30, 2010)

"Louisiana officials have allowed a special shrimp season to open along the coastline on Thursday due to an impending oil slick from the Gulf of Mexico.

"Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) Secretary Robert Barham said the area spans from the mouth of the Mississippi River to the Atchfalaya, including waters between Freshwater Bayou Canal and the Atchaflaya River Ship Channel. Specific portions of the mouth of the river and the Mississippi River Delta area were also declared open, all until further notice.

"Shrimpers are trying to bring in as much of the maturing shrimp harvest as possible before the oil spill wreaks havoc on the coastline's and inland ecosystems.

"Barham announced that the special shrimp season will close at 6 am on Friday in the portion of Shrimp Management Zone 1 south of the southern shore of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, and the open waters of Breton and Chandeleur Sounds.

"On Thursday, Barham opened Shrimp Management Zone 2 to shrimp harvesting until further notice...."

On the whole, I'm glad to hear that the president of the United States is on the same page as folks who think that the flow of oil out of that broken wellhead should be turned off. The job isn't as easy as it may seem, though.

"BP to try dispersing oil at the wellhead" (Biloxi-Gulfport and South Mississippi (April 30, 2010)

"Undersea applications to break up oil as it escapes the wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico are set to begin by 5 p.m. today.

"BP CEO Doug Suttles said at a press conference earlier today at the unified command center in Robert, La., that this method, which calls for the dispersant to be shot directly onto the source of the leak, has never been attempted at these depths.

"The well is 5,000 feet, or roughly one mile, below the water's surface, and is leaking 5,000 barrels of crude into the Gulf each day...."

If you're not used to English measurements - feet, miles, that sort of thing - 5,000 feet is about 1.524 kilometers.

The top of that well is under a lot of water.

And it's not just a matter of getting somebody - or something - down there to turn a crank.

"BP says oil leak in gulf could be 5,000 b/d"
Oil&Gas Journal (April 29, 2010)

"A BP PLC executive told NBC's 'Today' show on Apr. 29 that the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico could be five times larger than earlier believed. His comment came the day after a controlled burn on part of the oil spill and a third leak was found.

"Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP Exploration & Production Inc., confirmed what US Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry first said at a hastily called news conference in a Louisiana command center late Apr. 28 in which she announced a third leak.

"Landry estimated 5,000 b/d rather than the 1,000 b/d could be spilling into the gulf. For days, officials have estimated 1,000 b/d was leaking from the Macondo well Transocean Ltd.'s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible drilled on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 in 4,992 ft of water near Rigel gas field. Deepwater Horizon was working for BP.

"An Apr. 20 explosion and fire rocked the semi, leaving 11 crew members missing and presumed dead and injuring 17. A total of 115 people evacuated the rig. On Apr. 22, the semi sank. Cause of the accident remains under investigation.

On Apr. 29, Suttles said the leak could be as high as the USCG's latest estimate. Previously, he had told reporters that it's difficult and imprecise to measure spilled oil....

I'll skip the usual stuff about Big Oil and uncaring plutocrats. You've heard it all before.

Still, it'd be nice if today was like The Future imagined in Thunderbirds (1965). Then we'd have seen Thunderbird 2 drop something very technological and cool into the Gulf of Mexico, the well capped, and the oil recovered - all without too much delay.

My guess is that British Petroleum wouldn't mind getting help from International Rescue. Stopping that flow of petroleum at the bottom of the Gulf is going to be a huge job:

"...Suttles said on Apr. 28 that a subsea oil collection system is being built onshore. It would consist of a dome to cover the well and riser. Collected oil would be sent by pipes to a storage vessel on the surface. Authorities estimate it could take 2-4 weeks to implement this subsea dome system.

"BP also is preparing to drill a relief well, which was expected to start Apr. 29, into the exploration well using the Transocean Development Driller III, which already is in place. MMS already approved the plans and granted drilling permits.

"A second drillship, Transocean's Discoverer Enterprise, is also on its way to the site."
("Oil&Gas Journal)

Two to four weeks?! International Rescue would have had the situation wrapped up in 35 minutes of airtime, not counting commercials. This is the real world, though: and I'm not convinced that a Congressional investigation, or even a court order, could speed up the process by much.

Vaguely-related posts:


Anonymous said...

Strange you should mention thunderbirds: The episode "Atlantic inferno" featured a undersea gas feild breached by an expolosion, thunderbird 2 then dropped off a special dome to cap the vent (pretty much the same as what BP are trying to do) - Life imitating art?

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


Strange - Particularly since I hadn't watched the series. (Thunderbirds fans: There's a fairly detail synopsis of "Atlantic Inferno" on

Life imitating art? Looks like it - but then, Thunderbirds was set in the 21st century. And now, we're living in 'The Future.'

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