LESSONS FROM THE GULF OF MEXICO BLOWOUT
By Paul K. Driessen
Suddenly, a thump and hiss were followed by a towering eruption of seawater, drilling mud, cement, oil, and natural gas. The BOP and backup systems had failed to work as designed, to control the massive amounts of unexpectedly high-pressure gas that were roaring up 23,000 feet of wellbore and riser.
Gas enveloped the area and ignited, engulfing the Horizon in a 500-foot high inferno that instantly killed eleven workers. Surviving crewmen abandoned ship in covered lifeboats or jumped 80 feet to the water.
The supply boat, Tidewater Damon Bankston, rushed to the scene and helped crewmen get their burned and injured colleagues aboard. Shore-based Coast Guard helicopters tore through the night sky to brave the flames and take critically injured men to hospitals.
Thirty-six hours later, the Deepwater Horizon capsized and sank, buckling the 21-inch diameter riser and breaking it off at the rig deck. Three leaks began spewing some 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of crude oil per day into the ocean. As the oil gathered on the surface and drifted toward shore, it threatened a major ecological disaster for estuaries, marine life, and all who depend on them for their livelihoods.
Thankfully, after getting rough for a couple days, the seas calmed. Industry, Coast Guard, NOAA, and Minerals Management Service (MMS) crews and volunteers from Louisiana to Alaska had some time to recalculate the spill’s trajectory, deploy oil skimmer boats and miles of containment booms, and burn some of the oil off the sea surface. They lowered ROVs (remotely operated vehicles) to cap the end of the riser and spray chemicals that break down and disperse the oil.
Aircraft sprayed more dispersants over floating oil, and technicians hurried to deploy cofferdams specially designed to sit atop the broken riser and BOP stack, fix the ice crystal (hydrates) problem, collect the leaking oil, and pipe it up to tanker barges. Drill ships are on the scene, to drill relief wells, intersect the original hole, cement it shut, and permanently stop the leak. ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips and many other companies have offered BP, Transocean and Halliburton assistance on all these fronts.
How bad will the disaster be? Much depends on how long the calm weather lasts, how quickly the cofferdams can be installed, and how successful the entire effort is. There is some cause for optimism – and much need for prayer, crossed fingers and hard work.
But it will take weeks to years of uncontrolled leakage, before this spill comes close to previous highs, such as the:
* Mega Borg tanker (1990): 121,400 barrels in the Gulf of Mexico off Galveston, TX;
* Exxon Valdez tanker (1989): 250,000 barrels along 1,300 miles of untouched Alaska shoreline;
* Ixtoc 1 oil platform blowout (1979): 3,500,000 barrels in Mexico’s Campeche Bay;
* Saddam Hussein oil field sabotage (1991): 857,000,000 barrels in Kuwait;
* Natural seeps in US waters: 1,119,000 barrels every year from natural cracks in the seafloor.
Cold water and climate meant Alaska’s Prince William Sound recovery was slow; Campeche beaches and coastal waters largely rebounded much more rapidly. Mississippi River flows through the warm Delta region may help keep some oil from pushing too far into the estuaries and speed recovery of oyster, shrimp and fishing areas, as it did with spills during pre-1960 drilling. Prayers and crossed fingers again.
Should we stop drilling offshore? We can hardly afford to. We still need to drill, so that we can drive, fly, farm, heat our homes, operate factories and do everything else that requires reliable, affordable petroleum. Indeed, over 62% of all U.S. energy still comes from oil and gas. And we certainly need the jobs and revenues that U.S. offshore energy development generates.
We’ve already banned drilling in ANWR, off the Florida, Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and in many other areas. We’ve made it nearly impossible to mine coal or uranium, or build new coal-fired power plants or nuclear reactors. We’ve largely forced companies to drill in deep Gulf waters, where risks and costs are far higher, and the ability to respond quickly and effectively to accidents is lower.
We’ve also forced companies to take drilling risks to foreign nations – and then increased the risks of tanker accidents that cause far greater spillage when they bring that oil to America. Meanwhile, Russia, China and Cuba are preparing to drill near the same Gulf and Caribbean waters that we’ve made off limits – employing their training, technologies, regulations, and ecological philosophies.
Even with this blowout and its 1969 Santa Barbara predecessor, America’s offshore record is excellent. Since 1969, we have drilled over 1,224,000 wells in state waters and on the Outer Continental Shelf. There have been 13 losses of well control involving more than 50 barrels: five were less than 100 barrels apiece; one was a little over 1,000 barrels; two (both in 1970) involved 30,000 barrels or more. Only in Santa Barbara (so far) did significant amounts of oil reach shore and cause serious environmental damage.
Globally, tankers have spilled four times more oil than drilling and production operations, often in much bigger mishaps, often in fragile areas – and chronic discharges from cars and boats dwarf tanker spills by a factor of eight. (All spill data are from the MMS and National Research Council.)
What should we do next? Recognize that life, technology, and civilization involve risks. Humans make mistakes. Equipment fails. Nature presents us with extreme, unprecedented, unexpected power and fury.
Learn the right lessons from this tragic, catastrophic, probably preventable accident. Avoid grandstanding and kneejerk reactions. Replace people’s lost income. Insist on responsible, adult thinking – and a thorough, expert, non-politicized investigation. Find solutions instead of assigning blame.
Why did the BOP and backups fail? What went wrong with the cement, plugs and pressure detection devices, supervisor and crew monitoring and reactions, to set off the catastrophic chain of events? How can we improve the technology and training, to make sure such a disaster never happens again? Did the regulators fail, too? How can we improve oil spill cleanup technologies and rapid response?
Ask what realistic alternatives we have. Not “Sim City” or “Sim USA” and virtual energy. Real energy.
Can we afford to shut down our domestic oil and gas industry – economically, ecologically, and ethically – and import more, as we export risks to other countries, and shift risks from drilling accidents to tanker accidents? Can we afford to replace dozens of offshore rigs with thousands of towering, unreliable offshore wind turbines, creating obstacle courses for ships laden with bunker fuel or crude oil?
Drilling in deep waters far from shore is a complex, difficult, dangerous business. Let us remember and pray for those who died, those who were burned and injured, and their families and loved ones. Let us also pray for all who daily risk life and limb, to bring us the energy that makes our lives, jobs, and living standards possible; for all whose lives have been affected by the spill; and for a rapid repair and cleanup.
Political Economy -- Philosophies, Systems, & Public Policies:
Government, the Economy, & Economic Prosperity
Paul Driessen is Senior Policy Advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow.
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
LINKS TO PARTICULAR ISSUES & SUBJECT MATTER CATEGORIES
TREATED IN THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, U.S.A.:
American Government 2 * American Government 3 * American Government 4
American Government 5 * American Politics * Anglosphere * Arabs
Arms Control & WMD * Aztlan Separatists * Big Government
Black Africa * Bureaucracy * Canada * China * Civil Liberties * Communism
Congress, U.S. * Conservative Groups * Conservative vs. Liberal
Constitutional Law * Counterterrorism * Criminal Justice * Disloyalty * Economy
Education * Elections, U.S. * Eminent Domain * Energy & Environment
English-Speaking World * Ethnicity & Race * Europe * Europe: Jews
Family Values * Far East * Fiscal Policy, U.S. * Foreign Aid, U.S. * Foreign Policy, U.S.
France * Hispanic Separatism * Hispanic Treason * Human Health * Immigration
Infrastructure, U.S. * Intelligence, U.S. * Iran * Iraq * Islamic North Africa
Islamic Threat * Islamism * Israeli vs. Arabs * Jews & Anti-Semitism
Jihad & Jihadism * Jihad Manifesto I * Jihad Manifesto II * Judges, U.S. Federal
Judicial Appointments * Judiciary, American * Latin America * Latino Separatism
Latino Treason * Lebanon * Leftists/Liberals * Legal Issues
Local Government, U.S. * Marriage & Family * Media Political Bias
Middle East: Arabs * Middle East: Iran * Middle East: Iraq * Middle East: Israel
Middle East: Lebanon * Middle East: Syria * Middle East: Tunisia
Middle East: Turkey * Militant Islam * Military Defense * Military Justice
Military Weaponry * Modern Welfare State * Morality & Decency
National Identity * National Security * Natural Resources * News Media Bias
North Africa * Patriot Act, USA * Patriotism * Political Culture * Political Ideologies
Political Parties * Political Philosophy * Politics, American * Presidency, U.S.
Private Property * Property Rights * Public Assistance * Radical Islam
Religion & America * Rogue States & WMD * Russia * Science & Ethics
Sedition & Treason * Senate, U.S. * Social Welfare Policy * South Africa
State Government, U.S. * Subsaharan Africa * Subversion * Syria * Terrorism 1
Terrorism 2 * Treason & Sedition * Tunisia * Turkey * Ukraine
UnAmerican Activity * UN & Its Agencies * USA Patriot Act * U.S. Foreign Aid
U.S. Infrastructure * U.S. Intelligence * U.S. Senate * War & Peace
Welfare Policy * WMD & Arms Control
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
POLITICAL EDUCATION, CONSERVATIVE ANALYSIS
POLITICS, SOCIETY, & THE SOVEREIGN STATE
Website of Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
An Online Journal of Political Commentary & Analysis
Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr., Editor