Gulf Coast Oil Spill Crisis

On Saturday May 29th, 2010, in Business, News, Politics, Technology, by Michael Watson
Oil Slick in the Gulf of Mexico May 24th View ...
Image by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via Flickr

We are all experiencing what will be one of the most tragic events in our lifetime. On April 20th an explosion rang out on the Deep Horizon, a BP oil rig that was positioned 52 miles southeast of Venice, LA. There were 126 people on board at the time. Sadly 11 people died and 7 were hurt. Two days later the oil rig sank and an oil slick was spotted over the ocean. At first the slick was believed to be residual after the rig had sunk but the world found out fast that this was not the case. About four days into the disaster it was clear to the Coast Guard that a well underneath the ocean was spewing out a great deal of oil. As a result, the response started picking up. By the 29th, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security had declared the oil spill as a crisis of “national significance” which allowed the government to aide in the blockage of the oil leaks and clean-up efforts. Chemicals were being dispersed from aircraft and boats which allowed the oil to break up easier. 33 miles of oil capturing booms and 100,000 gallons of dispersant had been used. Another resource they used was fire to burn the oil slicks before they reached the shore.

As May came around, Obama stated that the stoppage of the leaks would be difficult considering “the most advance technology available”. The issue with fixing the leaks is that everything has to be done by machine as humans are not able to travel to the depths in which they are drilling from (approx. 5,000 feet). On the 3rd BP announced that it would hold itself responsible for the damage the disaster created. They will end up paying not only for the future clean-up but also for the jobs and money lost from their negligence. A day later oil started reaching the shores of Louisiana. BP capped the smallest of the three leaks on the 5th and announced their plan to position a dome over the others. This dome would encase the leak and then funnel it up through hoses to ships. By the 8th it was clear that the dome would not work as BP did not anticipate the fullness that the reaction of water and gas fusing creating hydrate crystals made. The next day they decided to move to a plan that would clog the blowout preventer, which rest at the bottom of the ocean, with debris hoping that it would clog the well and not let oil out. May 12th, BP started lowering a smaller dome that used methanol to prevent hydrate buildup. The same day Obama created a plan to use $118 million towards the clean-up effort with the understanding that BP would pay most of it back. Two days later BP decided to put aside the dome and try to insert a tube to collect the oil from the leaking tube.

The tube was pretty sucessful at capturing the oil but as Obama explained, it would not be a permanent solution. On the 16th of May, the top-kill procedure was introduced in which BP would pump heavy fluid in order to stabilize the pressure in the well so that cement could later be pumped in to cap the well. On the 18th the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency closed more fishing grounds in what amounted to 19% of the gulf coast. By the 19th BP had expressed their pleasure with the performance of the tube insertion. Obama put together a commission on the 22nd with the objective to find the cause of the incident and recommend ways of preventing it in the future. The commission would report their findings after six months. The top-kill procedure was ready to commence on the 25th. BP had reported some success so far but is not confident that the mud is heavy enough to prevent to oil from flowing out before they can cap the well. Progress on the top-kill has been placed on pause a couple of times, insisted in order to do tests. They also tried a junk shot which entails shooting debris in the blowout preventer in order to clog it up. However today, BP announced that the top-kill procedure was not successful, that the pressure of the well was too high. They are continuing an initiative to drill a relief well near the existing leak in order to reduce the pressure where the leak is; however the relief well will not be ready until August. The next step is to install a Lower Marine Riser Package. This would be a cap over the existing blowout preventer but it would eliminate water which show not allow hydrate buildup. The cap would capture most of the oil but not all of it and would take a handful of days. If the LMRP would fail, they would try to replace the blowout preventer.

There is speculation that the blowout preventers had failed in this situation that may have been able to prevent the occurrence. What was rumored to have happened was that BP had decided to use sea water instead of heavier liquid in the drilling pipes from the well to the platform in order to use the heavier liquid elsewhere. This came after the fact that there had been some abnormal pressure reading coming from these pipes. Then on the day that BP management was celebrating the safety record on the platform, all hell broke loose. The crew saw the sea water rushing up the pipes as that meant oil was coming with it. At the same time there was a buildup of methane gas around the platform. Theory is that the methane ignited therefore engulfing the rig. The blowout preventer was supposed to stop the oil from coming back at the platform. It has been detailed that after the platform ignited and the crew was aware that oil was coming back up out of the well that employees were wary of manually engaging the emergency button as it had to be authorized by a specific crew member on the rig. There has also been some other fishy occurrences since like the hiring of 300-400 people by BP to clean up a specific beach before the president arrived to see it.

source: cnn