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« Smoke on the water | Main | Party with Z »

Apr 29, 2010

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justcorbly

I wondered why these wells don't have some kind of failsafe shutoff device. Now I know.

Andrew Brod

"U.S. regulators don't mandate use of the remote-control device."

I wondered, is it "don't" or "can't"? Sometimes statutes prevent common-sense regulation. But in this case, it's "don't".

Also: "An acoustic trigger costs about $500,000, industry officials said. The Deepwater Horizon had a replacement cost of about $560 million, and BP says it is spending $6 million a day to battle the oil spill."

Obviously, ex post, they wish they'd spent that half-mil. Of course, for every disaster you can always point back to some relatively low-cost measure that would have prevented it. And a half-mil multiplied by the number of rigs is bound to be a big number, especially if there are doubts about the device's effectiveness.

bubba

"Nobody really knows how well it would have worked, and anyway regulations are for socialists."

It's all Bush's fault, isn't it?

Michele Forrest

"Nobody really knows how well it would have worked, and anyway regulations are for socialists."

LOL. Favorite. :)

Dave Ribar

Bob:

Actually, the decision not to require the acoustic swtiches appears to have been made by the federal government in 2003. So, yes, Pres. Bush can take ownership of the decision not to regulate.

bubba

Leave it to good old Dave to take things literally, and fulfill my prophecy.

Andrew Brod

Dave, the device that failed was the shut-off valve called a "blowout preventer," and I can't tell from this and other news reports whether it failed after being triggered or just wasn't triggered. All I'm reading is that it didn't operate as designed and crews are trying to trigger it now.

If the specific failure is found to be with the blowout preventer rather than whatever was supposed to trigger it, then I presume the absence of the acoustic switch would be irrelevant. But I'm no engineer, and perhaps this is a distinction without a difference.

Andrew Brod

By Bubba's logic, it's never Bush's fault.

Well, as is now par for the course, regardless of who caused the problem, it'll be up to Obama to fix it. The question everyone's asking is to what degree this spill will reduce support for his offshore-drilling initiative. I was feeling reasonably confident in it, after hearing industry pros swear up and down about the great technology now in place. I'm not so sure now. But my guess is that the promise of royalties, plus possible new federal regulation, will outweigh states' concerns about future spills.

bubba

"By Bubba's logic, it's never Bush's fault."

The credulity of your and your colleague's already marginal judgment skills is duly noted.

Ged

Sorry Andrew, no way no how this new drilling measure will pass. When this disaster is all done and counted (months from now) it will go down in history as one of the worst ever. Any momentum behind the effort will be lost as will (once again) the economic livelihood of the gulf region.

All signs are pointing to this being horrific in nature.

Andrew Brod

Just so we're clear here, Ged, I'm not rooting for offshore oil drilling. I've noted previously that the benefits won't accrue quickly, which means that the "drill, baby, drill" reaction to temporary spikes in the price of gasoline is pretty pointless. And given the way oil markets work, the relatively small addition to global oil supply will essentially lower everyone's price a little bit. I mean, the issue isn't quantity--it's price.

All in all, these seem like relatively paltry benefits to be weighed against the environmental risks.

But up to now, much of what we've been hearing from the industry is how small that environmental risk is. And so up to now, my assessment of the costs and benefits has been that offshore drilling might be okay.

I'm reassessing that.

Andrew Brod

Also, Ged, while you might be right that this will kill offshore drilling, I'm afraid it'll have to get bad before that happens. If we don't see vivid pictures of oil-coated birds, I'm not sure how much this will move public opinion. One of the commenters here believes that drilling mitigates the damage that would otherwise be caused by "natural offshore oil seepages."

Having said that, the new estimates of the amount spilled per day are scary-big, and at currently estimated rates, it'll be something like two months before this spill matches the 11 million gallons spilled by the Exxon Valdez. I heard today on NPR that the current best guess is that this thing could be spewing oil for three months.

But even if this matches the Exxon Valdez spill, much depends on how much of this hits the coast. The Exxon Valdez happened in a sound, whereas this spill is 40 miles offshore. I doubt anyone's going to get particularly upset by stories of benthic destruction. And it remains to be seen if anyone gets upset by ruined oyster beds. Oysters ain't cute.

Yes, we're seeing stories about the at-risk Louisiana and Mississippi coastal ecosystems. But if we find a way to stop this before much of it hits those areas and generates photos of oil-soaked birds, the reaction may well be that (1) accidents happen, (2) we stopped this one before it did its worst, and (3) where can we drill next?

Ged

You're points are well taken and I really hope they find a way to shut off the flow soon. But the really scary part is that hurricane season starts in the Gulf of Mexico on June 1st. You think what we see is bad now? Wait until you have a category 3 or 4 storm churning up the ocean and delivering that oil to every corner of the gulf. What we're seeing now is just a preview of coming attractions. It *will* get worse before it gets better.

Account Deleted

@Andrew:"Yes, we're seeing stories about the at-risk Louisiana and Mississippi coastal ecosystems. But if we find a way to stop this before much of it hits those areas and generates photos of oil-soaked birds, the reaction may well be that (1) accidents happen, (2) we stopped this one before it did its worst, and (3) where can we drill next?"


Unfortunately, Andrew is correct in his assessment of the probable public reaction. One thing that brings out the latent liberal in me is that I can't believe we actually are so quick to sacrifice our eco-system for cheaper commodities. I personally think something is gone terribly awry in our national mindset when that is the case.

I also agree with Andrew's assessment of the economic impact of "drill baby drill". It would be short term benefit for the same profit takers we have now. Who is to say OPEC won't cut production to maintain price?

But anyway, yeah, let's turn our Emerald Coast into the Gulf of Mexico. Who will mind "the occasional spill" anyway? Seriously. If they coat Nags Head and Ocracoke with oil we'll still have Topsail, Kure and Sunset. It will be too bad for Va. Beach since the Gulf Stream flows north.

Steve Harrison

Jeff, if it were just the Outer Banks impacted, it would be horrible enough. But even without hurricane forcing, that oil would creep into the Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, and in times of relative drought (like now) it would continue to creep into the estuaries and salt water marshes.

Catastrophe doesn't even come close to describing how that would impact the environment and wildlife that inhabit it.

Account Deleted

Good points Steve. I can see the lede:

"The town of Bath stood unfettered inside the Pamlico Sound for more than 305 years until yesterday when an oil slick from a damaged rig off of the coast coated the area with a dark pall not seen since the days of Edward Teach in the early 18th Century."

James

Not to mention the fact that the Pamlico Sound and related estuaries are major fisheries for more than half of all eastern Atlantic species.

beelzebubba

jimminy crissmus why do some people try to appease a planet that is trying to kill everything on it for the second or third time.

eric

Jeffrey -- The headline for that imaginary story might be: "Dirty water washes Bath down the drain".

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