Thursday, May 20, 2010

The consequences of our thirst for oil

BP had told the US Government before they drilled the well that a spill of 165,000 barrels per day would not even reach land. They said they could handle it. The fact that the spill has reached land clearly shows that the size of the spill is probably well above 200,000 barrels per day. Yes, that's BARRELS, not gallons. There are 42 gallons per barrel, which means that over 8 million gallons of crude oil is pouring into the Gulf per day. Worse, most of it is not on the surface of the water, it is sinking to the floor – destroying the waters and seabed of the Gulf of Mexico. If that oil keeps flowing, if BP cannot stop the oil flow, it could eventually get caught in the Gulf Stream and carried to all oceans. This would destroy ocean life as we know it. The oceans are a critical factor in maintaining the proper oxygen level in the atmosphere for human life.

BP stepped over the edge

The BP platform was drilling for what they call “deep oil”. They went out beyond the shelf where the ocean is about 5,000 feet deep and then drilled another 30,000 feet into the crust of the earth. How deep is that? The US Navy Seawolf class of nuclear submarines can take no more than 2,300 feet of water before they’re crushed like a tin can. They hit a pocket of oil at such high pressure that it burst all of their safety valves (which we now know were defective) all the way up to the drilling rig and then caused the rig to explode and sink. Too deep for human intervention, the Deepwater Horizon well must be serviced by remote control robots.

The BP deep water oil well was right on the edge of what human technology can do – maybe over the edge. The deposit is so large that it is either the largest or the second largest oil deposit ever found. It is mostly natural gas. The central pressure in the deposit is 165 to 170 thousand PSI. Natural gas and oil is leaking out of the deposit as far inland as Central Alabama and way over into Florida and even over to Louisiana almost as far as Texas. This is a really massive deposit. Punching holes in the deposit is a really scary event as we are now seeing. In published reports, BP estimated a blow out could reach near 165,000 barrels per day but the current blow out has already surpassed this. It now covers a 25,000 square mile area.

In too big of a hurry

60 Minutes' Scott Pelley speaks to BP's Chief Electronics Technician Mike Williams, one of the survivors of the deadly Deepwater Horizon oil rig blast who was in a position to know what caused the disaster. Williams was in charge of the rig's computers and electrical systems. He said that the huge explosions before last month's sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig - leading to a massive oil slick threatening the Gulf of Mexico - came after BP ordered faster drilling.

When the rig was first drilling down in to the ocean floor for oil and gas, the bottom of the well split open and that well had to be abandoned. That move cost BP millions of dollars. With its drilling operations costing BP about $1 million a day and the extracting of oil behind schedule, a BP manager ordered a faster pace from the crew, meaning the drill would be going down in to the potentially explosive oil and gas faster. Then, according to Mr. Williams, four weeks before the explosion an accident on the rig damaged the most vital piece of safety equipment. It is a rubber gasket called an annular at the top of a blowout preventer that is meant to seal off the drill pipe in case of an emergency. However, when the crew did seal the pipe, a crew member accidentally applied hundreds of thousands of pounds of force, meaning chunks of rubber were discovered in the drilling fluid.

A volcano of oil erupting

Paul Noel*, an engineer with the U.S. Army, writes in Pure Energy Systems News:

“When the rig sank it flipped over and landed on top of the drill hole some 5,000 feet under the ocean. Now they have a hole in the ocean floor spewing 200,000 barrels of oil a day into the ocean. Take a moment and consider that!

“Here is what happens when oil hits the salt water. If it is poured on top of the sea, oil begins to do several things. First some of it dissolves in the salt water. This dissolving is a bit limited but amounts to several percent per day of the spill exposure to the ocean. As the oil dissolves, light components evaporate pretty quickly. Once these are gone the remaining oil is heavy fraction crude. This begins to sink into the water very slowly, eventually falling to the ocean bottom over about 6 weeks. Typically this floats into an area where the shoreline is and embeds about 18 inches deep in the sand. This buried oil is not harmless. Just because the beach might appear on the surface to be clear, the sub-surface oil continues its toxic work. It floats below the surface precisely where the little sea creatures live and goes on killing them for about 10 years.

“The reason a slick would carry farther than predicted is that the salt water is saturated with oil and the air around it is saturated, so the slick cannot dissipate. …In fact the chemicals added at the well head to disburse the oil, speed this process up. This oil is mixed into the water for the top 250 feet or so. Salinity and temperature issues probably keep this oil from ever reaching the very top of the water. The exact behavior here will not be known until studies are published some years from now. This is the first time humans have encountered a deep ocean leak of this magnitude. We're in uncharted territory here. Volume per volume, it is highly probable that due to this fractioning, this oil blowing into the ocean from a mile down is causing far more ecological trouble than a surface spill of similar size.”

It only takes one quart of motor oil to make 250,000 gallons of ocean water toxic to wildlife. If we cannot cap the hole, that oil is going to destroy much more than the Gulf of Mexico – with the Atlantic Ocean being the second body of water to be affected.

Are you starting to understand the magnitude of this problem?

Ocean scientists in the Gulf of Mexico have found giant plumes of oil coagulating at up to 4300 feet below the surface, raising fears that the BP oil spill may be larger than had been thought and that it might create huge "dead zones" in the Gulf. Experts from the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology have been traversing the area around the scene of the Deepwater Horizon, the oil rig that exploded and sank on 20 April. Using the latest sampling techniques, they have identified plumes of an oil/dispersant/plankton mixture about 1 mile below the surface (a gooey mess) miles away from the Deepwater Horizon well that continues to spew oil into the water at a rate of around 200,000 barrels a day. The largest plume found so far was 300 feet deep, three miles wide, and 10 miles long.

BP succeeded on Sunday in its second attempt at inserting a new tube (basically a “straw”) into its damaged oil pipe that has been gushing oil from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico for three and a half weeks, according to BP and federal officials. The four-inch wide pipe was inserted into the leaking riser, from which the majority of the flow of oil is coming. Some of the leaking oil from the damaged well is being siphoned into barges and tankers floating on the surface of the sea. But nothing real has been done about the well itself. The oil pouring out of the opening in the crust of the earth remains completely out of control. It is like a volcano with a grave danger of a more massive eruption. Until the well is completely shut down and pressure fully relieved, the danger remains high.

There is another danger that has not been reported by BP, the government, or the news media. The removal of 2 cubic miles of oil from this huge deposit could be setting us up for a sea floor collapse – which in turn could cause earthquakes, tsunamis, and worse. The risk grows each passing day. One can only pray for the success of the teams dealing with the oil well catastrophe. Failure for BP is failure for our planet.

They better fix it fast because hurricane season is coming…. This could become a catastrophe of Biblical proportions, unless God steps in and fixes it. I don’t think He will. I think we will have to suffer the consequences of our actions – come what may.

If these consequences do not disturb you, then think about this: We are funding terrorism with every gallon of oil we buy from the Middle East. Yes, we need their oil to run our cars, to warm our homes, to make cosmetics, plastics, and medicines. But if we could run our cars and warm our homes on natural gas, then we could use our own oil for the cosmetics, plastics, and medicines. The problem is Big Oil has Congress and the government regulators in its pockets.

*Paul Noel, 52, works is an engineer for the US Army at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. He has a vast experience base including education across a wide area of technical skills and sciences. He supplies technical expertise in all areas required for new products development associated with the US Army. He supplies the army with extensive expertise in the oil and gas industry.