Solution to Gulf oil leak may be months away

Solution to Gulf oil leak may be months away

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


••• With BP making yet another attempt to stem the flow from a blown-out Gulf of Mexico oil well – this time only to contain the leak, not stop it – signs point to August before any real end is in sight. On top of that, hurricane season begins Tuesday.

Responding to suggestions that the military should take the lead in responding to the spill, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said on Monday the oil industry is better-equipped to deal with the disaster.

Military officials have looked at what they have available but ‘the best technology in the world, with respect to that, exists in the oil industry’, Mullen said on ABC television.

Mullen also said a decision on the military leading the response would come from the president.

The spill is already the worst in U.S. history – worse, even, than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. It has released between 20 million and 43 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, according to government estimates. The spill is the aftermath of a BP-operated drilling rig explosion on April 20 that killed 11 workers.

‘This is probably the biggest environmental disaster we’ve ever faced in this country,’ White House Energy and Climate Change Advisor Carol Browner said on NBC television on Sunday.

Using government figures, if the leak continues at its current pace and is stopped on August 1, 51 million to 106 million gallons will have spilled.
BP’s new plan carries the risk of making the torrent worse, top government officials warned on Sunday.

The British oil giant’s next containment effort involves an assortment of undersea robot manoeuvres that would redirect the oil up and out of the water it is poisoning.

The first step is the intricate removal of a damaged riser that brought oil to the surface of the Deepwater Horizon rig. The riser will be cut at the top of the crippled blowout preventer, creating a flat surface that a new containment valve can seal against.

The valve would force the oil into a new pipe that would bring it up to a ship. The seal, however, would not prevent all oil from escaping. Browner said the effort could result in a temporary 20 percent increase in the flow. BP has said it didn’t expect a significant increase in flow from the cutting and capping plan.

If the containment valve fails, BP may try installing a new blowout preventer on top of the existing one.

In the end, however, a relief well would ease the pressure on the runaway gusher in favour of a controlled pumping – essentially what the Deepwater Horizon was trying to do in the first place. But that will take at least two months.
As the oil washes ashore, crude-coated birds have become a frequent sight. At the sea’s bottom, no one knows what the oil will do to species like the newly discovered bottom-dwelling pancake batfish – and others that remain unknown but just as threatened.

Scientists from several universities have reported large underwater plumes of oil stretching for miles and reaching hundreds of feet beneath the Gulf’s surface, though BP chief executive Tony Hayward disputed their findings, saying the company’s tests found no such evidence of oily clouds underwater.

‘The oil is on the surface,’ Hayward said. ‘Oil has a specific gravity that’s about half that of water. It wants to get to the surface because of the difference in specific gravity.’

One researcher said their findings were bolstered by the fact that scientists from different institutions reached similar conclusions with separate tests.

‘There’s been enough evidence from enough different sources,’ said marine scientist James Cowan of Louisiana State University, who reported finding a plume last week about 80km from the spill site. Cowan said oil reached to depths of at least 0.07 mile.

Perhaps most alarming of all, 40 days after the Deepwater Horizon blew up and began the underwater deluge, hurricane season is at hand. It brings the horrifying possibility of wind-whipped, oil-soaked waves and water spinning ashore and coating areas much farther inland.
• Source(s): BP PLC


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