Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lemming Tracks: BP, the Gulf Mess, Oil in the Water, and Another Leaky Well

It's fairly obvious that quite a few people living near the Gulf of Mexico are not having a good time. Gobs of oil on the beach and dirty pelicans are simply not festive.

The Lemming is on the same page as Jim Cantore's assessment of the Gulf oil leak: "Just sick about this."

No Rant about Big Oil or Foreign Investors?

It'd be nice, in a way, if we could sit in the shade of a sustainable tree and "live on love and honey." That hasn't been possible, at least as far back as the invention of agriculture, and I think there's a reason why our ancestors toiled and sacrificed so that we didn't have to live in a 'natural' environment.
It's Not a Perfect World: Or, Putting Out Fires
Not that today's world is perfect. We're in an awkward period, when the bugs are being worked out of quite a few new technologies. It's like the old gag: "Hundreds of thousands of years ago, Man learned how to make fire. Generations later, Man learned how to put out fires."

Or, in our case, how to cap gushing oil wells a mile under the ocean's surface.

My guess is that we'll have Thunderbirds-level technology to take care of things like the BP oil leak about the time that some of the new power sources come online.

And then, we'll start dealing with glitches in those technologies.

I'm not pessimistic, though: humanity has learned how to put out a whole lot of 'fires' over the ages.
Something Went Wrong: Duh
What about being angry at British Petroleum, or somebody?

Something went wrong. Obviously. But right now, I don't think it's reasonable to assume that British Petroleum intentionally killed 11 of its employees, destroyed a drilling operation, fouled the waters of the Gulf, and made itself open to derision and legal action.

My guess is that we'll eventually learn that someone in management - or an executive - decided to cut corners. Probably to save a few bucks. But that's just a guess at this point.

If that's what happened, it was an incredibly foolish, costly mistake. And BP will probably be expected to make good on its offer to pay for damages.

That's as much 'rant' as the Lemming will do right now.

Finally News About the Gulf Oil Mess

"Subsea oil plumes found 142 miles from rig"
Today, msnbc.com (June 8, 2010)

"Clouds of oil have been found drifting underwater in the Gulf of Mexico as far as 142 miles from the wrecked Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, government officials said Tuesday.

"At a briefing, Jane Lubchenko, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said that tests conducted at three sites by a University of South Florida research vessel confirmed oil as far as 3,300 feet below the surface.

"The oil was found 42 miles northeast of the well site and also 142 miles to the southeast.

"Lubchenko said the tests 'indicate there is definitely oil sub surface. It's in very low concentrations' of 0.5 parts per million.

"There have been reports of such underwater 'plumes' previously, but BP had questioned whether oil was actually forming below water. ["forming?!" The last I heard, oil "formed" a very long time ago, and some is now leaking into the Gulf.]

"On May 30, BP's CEO Tony Hayward denied the existence of oil plumes. 'The oil is on the surface. It's very difficult for oil to stay in a column,' he said. 'It wants to go to the surface because of the difference in specific gravity.'

"This is the first time the presence of oil plumes has been confirmed by a government agency.

"Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen said while the term plume had been used widely for several weeks, it was technically incorrect. 'Cloud is a better term,' he said Tuesday.

"Allen added that one of the four vents on the containment cap was now closed.

"Lubchenco said the oil could be compared to ash from a volcano, with the liquid rising in a plume and then forming an underwater cloud that drifts about the currents, NBC reported...."
[emphasis mine]

I think it'd be nice if the concentration of oil in the Gulf waters was zero, rather than 0.5 parts per million. On the other hand, 0.5 parts per million isn't all that much. Let's put it this way: a stack of a million pennies would be 4,630 feet tall. ("Lesson Plan #: AELP-MEA0204," Jessica E. Diethrick, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, via The Educator's Reference Desk (February 3, 2001)) That's about 9/10 of a mile. Take one of the pennies and cut it in half. That's 0.5 parts per million of that stack of pennies.

Oil on the surface seems to be a bigger problem. I think we'll be seeing pictures in the news, of oily beaches and sick pelicans for quite a while.
Oh, Great: Another Leak
"Second Rig Unrelated to Deepwater Spill Reportedly Leaking in Gulf"
FOXNews (June 8, 2010)

"A second rig unrelated to the Deepwater Horizon spill has been leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico since late April, according to reports that appear to show a clearly visible slick at the second location.

"The slick from the Ocean Saratoga rig appears to be several miles long off the coast of Louisiana, according to satellite images visible from space and posted on the website of Skytruth.org, a group that monitors environmental issues. The company that operates the rig has been working to plug the leak, which Skytruth reported on May 15, according to local news reports.

"Federal officials asked about the second leak in a morning briefing could not verify its existence, or provide details. But more information could be forthcoming shortly.

" 'We're going to get detailed information and make a statement later this afternoon,' said Admiral Thad Allen, the Coast Guard official who is the federal government's point person on the Gulf oil spill...."
[emphasis mine]

I don't envy Admiral Thad Allen. He's expected to have answers, to know what's going on - and he's probably limited to what he can get through 'official channels.' I've gotten the impression that the United States government is making an effort to enter the Information Age: but it's a bureaucracy, and those things don't change easily.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are zipping along with Google Earth, Skytruth.org, and whatever service you use to keep track of weather, finances, pop stars, or whatever you're interested in.

It's really not fair, I sometimes think, to expect admirals and members of Congress to have the sort of access to information that a teenager in, say, Poughkeepsie has. The admiral or legislator has more experience, and may be smarter: but that's another topic.

Back to that FOXNews article, and an informed view of why miracles haven't happened in the Gulf.

"...A member of the Coast Guard team that's trying to determine how much oil is still leaking told The Associated Press it's possible that estimates the team will generate could be a bit higher than current government estimates.

"The team member, University of Texas engineering professor Paul Bommer, said he understands why people might wonder why BP didn't try the cap sooner, especially now that it appears to be doing its job.

" 'Hindsight is always 20/20,' Bommer said. 'I think we have to give some credence to the notion they were trying to make things better without making things worse.'

"BP announced plans recently to swap out the current cap with a bigger one next month that can capture more oil, raising questions about why such plans weren't in place at first as a backup.

" 'I know it takes some time to fabricate these things,' Bommer said. 'It's not something you just go to Wal-Mart and buy.'..."
[emphasis mine]

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