Saturday, May 1, 2010

Oil Be Damned

It now looks like the oil gushing out into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico from the ill-fated oil drilling platform will probably equal in environmental devastation that of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Details are a bit murky, similar to the waters one mile down where the oil is leaking from, but it seems the pipe is leaking in three places and dumping about 5000 barrels or 210,000 gallons a day – 1 barrel equals 42 gallons – into the Gulf. British Petroleum, owner of the oil, has sent down remote controlled submersibles to try to activate the shut off valve to no avail. It’s not easy working down there under the extreme pressure of a mile of water.

Too bad the oil giants, including BP, were just recently successful in preventing new regulations that would’ve strengthened fail-safe mechanisms designed to prevent such disaster scenarios. As for Obama, egg on his face for only one month ago opening up large areas of America’s coastline to drilling, saying the technology is now so advanced there’s little chance of environmental catastrophe.

I imagine everything, all the machinery and piping, is a bit twisted and askew as a result of the rig blowing up and sinking, so it may not be possible to turn off the well. If so the only alternative is to drill another well beside the existing one and use it to block off the one that’s gushing. That, unfortunately, will take at least 3 months at which time about 450,000 barrels of oil will have been fouling the sea and coast.

Meanwhile strong winds are currently hampering efforts to stem the flow of oil toward land and that area is entering storm season.

Barring a miracle a one billion dollar seafood industry is about to go down the tubes. The Exxon spill killed 3/4 of all sea life in the spill area, and many parts have still not fully recovered. The Exxon spill, in fact, was probably easier to handle since it all came at once. This is likely to go on for a long time.

All of the oil that’s still to be found and tapped in the world is in similarly difficult geology. The well in question actually goes down 3 miles below the sea floor. These oil spills will almost certainly become more frequent as drilling goes into more and more difficult circumstances.

One thing you can bet on is that mega-corpses like BP will go to great lengths to mold the rules to their profit margin no matter the potential harm to society or the environment. They’ll take big gambles - play the odds - in order to increase their profits. If they lose the bet, we, and our environment, pay.

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