Coach House Geography

Interesting Geography stuff for InterHigh

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 13 other followers

Louisiana Oil Spill Crisis Spirals out of control!

Posted by alec8c on April 29, 2010

Quite revelant to how humans can damage biomes or ecosystems and make them fragile environments, this oil spill seems to have been disastrously underestimated:

NEW ORLEANS — Government officials said late Wednesday that oil might be leaking from a well in the Gulf of Mexico at a rate five times larger than initial estimates have suggested.

In a hastily called news conference, Rear Adm. Mary Landry of the Coast Guard said a scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had concluded oil is leaking from the site of a rig blast at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day, not 1,000 as had been estimated.

While emphasizing that the estimates are rough, given that the leak is 5,000 feet below the surface, Landry said the new estimate came from observations made in flights over the spill, studying the trajectory of the spill and other variables.

Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for exploration and production at BP, said a third leak had been discovered as well. Officials had previously spoken of two leaks in the riser, the 5,000-foot-long pipe that connected the rig to the wellhead and is now detached and snaking along the sea floor. Landry said President Barack Obama had been notified. She also opened up the possibility that if the government determines BP — which leased the rig and is responsible for the cleanup — cannot handle the spill with the resources available in the private sector that the Department of Defense could become involved to contribute technology.

Wind patterns may push the spill into the coast of Louisiana as soon as Friday night, officials said, prompting consideration of more urgent measures to protect coastal wildlife, including using cannons to scare off birds and employing local shrimpers to use their boats as makeshift oil skimmers in the shallows.

Part of the oil slick was only 16 miles offshore and closing in on the marshlands at the southeastern tip of Louisiana, where the Mississippi River empties into the ocean. Already 100,000 feet of protective booming has been laid down to protect the shoreline, with 500,000 feet more standing by, said Charlie Henry, an oil-spill expert for NOAA.

“It’s premature to say this is catastrophic,” Landry said. “I will say this is very serious.”

On Wednesday, cleanup crews began corralling concentrated parts of the spill and burning it. The process has been tested effectively on other spills, but weather and ecological concerns can complicate things.

Landry called the burn “one tool in a tool kit” to tackle the spill. The other tactics include using remote-controlled vehicles to shut off the well at its source on the sea floor, an operation that has so far been unsuccessful; dropping domes over the leaks at the sea floor and routing the oil to the surface to be collected, an operation untested at such depths that would take at least two to four more weeks; and drilling relief wells to stop up the gushing cavity with concrete, mud or other heavy liquid, a solution that is months away.

An explosion and fire on the rig April 20 left 11 workers missing and presumed dead. The rig sank two days later. The riser that connected the rig to the wellhead detached and fell to the sea floor.

Officials activated a dramatic plan last night to set fire to a spreading oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, amid fears that it could reach the US coastline as early as tomorrow.

The oily tide, which spans 100 miles (160km) at its longest and 40 miles at its widest, has moved to within 20 miles of Louisiana. The United States Coast Guard said that it had conducted a test burn on an area of about 500 sq ft (46 sq m).

The controlled burn involves containing patches of the oil-water mixture inside booms and igniting them, probably using a flame-thrower device slung from a helicopter.

It would pollute the atmosphere with columns of smoke and ash thousands of feet high and experts say that only about 3 per cent of the pollutant could be removed this way.

However, it could be enough to prevent the black tide from overwhelming onshore wildlife habitats and sensitive marshland.

“We realise there are benefits and trade-offs,” said Rear-Admiral Mary Landry, of the Coast Guard, who is leading the Government’s response to the disaster. She described the incident as potentially “one of the most significant oilspills in US history”.

The interfaces between land and sea, and fresh and salt water are immensely productive, creating nursery grounds for almost all of the commercially important fish species in the Gulf.

Burning emulsified oil before a relief well can be drilled is an act of desperation, passing the problem from ocean to atmosphere to keep the coastlines of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida breathing. The plan is an admission that the $6 million a day (£4 million) operation to bring the crisis under control has failed.

BP, Britain’s second-largest company, was facing more questions yesterday over its role in the incident after the US Government announced three separate investigations into the cause of the disaster.

Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, said that the company was co-operating fully with the investigations by the Department of the Interior and the Department of Homeland Security, the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

It came to light yesterday, however, that BP rejected calls last year for stricter rules on offshore drilling proposed by US regulators. In a letter in September, Richard Morrison, BP’s vice-president of production for the Gulf of Mexico, said that the group was “not supportive of the extensive prescriptive regulations” proposed by America’s Minerals Management Service.

Oil started oozing out of the well last Tuesday when a surge of pressure forced its way up a pipe leading from the seabed to the Deepwater Horizon rig, causing it to erupt in a fireball. Eleven people were killed and 115 escaped in life capsules.

BP has drafted in experts from around the world to join a 1,000-strong task force.

But Aaron Wiles, of the Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental group in New Orleans, told The Times: “They haven’t shown any ability to contain this spill. We are concerned that the response is insufficient and that BP is not expending the necessary resources. As it stands already, this is a significant environmental catastrophe. If it comes ashore it gets even worse.”


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: