oil spill, deep horizon

Awaiting Disaster courtesy Quantum Physics (flickr)

The underwater gusher dropping 200,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day continues unabated, and the unprecedented nature of the incident, basically an undersea volcano spitting oil out from a mile deep, makes it impossible to predict when it will ever be mitigated.

The problem with the April 20 spill is that it isn’t really a spill: It‘s a gush, like an underwater oil volcano. A hot column of oil and gas is spurting into freezing, black waters nearly a mile down, where the pressure nears a ton per inch, impossible for divers to endure. Experts call it a continuous, round-the-clock calamity, unlike a leaking tanker, which might empty in hours or days.

“Everything about it is unprecedented,” said geochemist Christopher Reddy, an oil-spill expert and head of the Coastal Ocean Institute at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “All our knowledge is based on a one-shot event…. With this, we don’t know when it’s going to stop.” [...]

To BP falls the daunting task of trying to stop the gush before it becomes the most damaging spill in American history. If the flow is not stopped, it will exhaust the natural reservoir of oil beneath the sea floor, experts say. Many months, at least, could pass.

You can basically say goodbye to oil drilling in the Gulf at this point because it’s about to all be gone, skimming to the surface and heading for shore. And this cleanup, far from the simple process claimed by shills for the oil industry, will take years if not decades.

What we’re learning about BP’s emergency preparation is shocking, to say the least. The company repeatedly downplayed the possibility of any accident, claiming that it would have no impact on marine life, refuge areas, or human health. Beth Adelson notes more revelations:

MMS is currently investigating a whistleblower’s claims that BP had broken the law by not keeping an up-to-date set of records on the oil platform Atlantis, also located in the Gulf of Mexico. In the event of an emergency, such records would be vital to shut down the platform. According to an email from a BP executive, not having the records could lead to “catastrophic operator errors.” Atlantis, which is located 190 miles south of New Orleans, is the largest oil platform of any kind in the world [...]

The Wall Street Journal reports that the well lacked a remote-control shut-off switch that is required by Brazil and Norway, two other major oil-producing nations. The switch, a back-up measure to shut off oil flow, would allow a crew to remotely shut off the well even if a rig was damaged or sunken. BP said it couldn’t explain why its primary shut-off measures did not work.

U.S. regulators considered requiring the mechanism several years ago. They decided against the measure when drilling companies protested, saying the cost was too high, the device was only questionably effective, and that primary shut-off measures were enough to control an oil spill. A 2001 industry report argued against the shut-off device:

“Significant doubts remain in regard to the ability of this type of system to provide a reliable emergency back-up control system during an actual well flowing incident.”

As horrific as the current state of affairs looks, it has the potential to be much worse if the wellhead is lost – and then 6 million gallons would spill into the Gulf. A secret government report acknowledges this possibility.

All commercial and recreational fishing has been shut down in the Gulf for a second straight day, and remember we may not control this leak – or outright gusher – for several months. That area provides a third of the nation’s seafood. Basically, the livelihoods of tens if not hundreds of thousands of Americans are at stake. Humans have played a dangerous game with the Earth’s natural resources for centuries, and in this case, Mother Nature is striking back with tremendous force.

The President will visit the area tomorrow. I don’t recommend a flyover.