Web edition: May 5, 2010
Reporters from all over the world have probing the impacts of the Gulf spill, what might have contributed to it and ongoing efforts to stem the gushing oil. Because no one news outlet can carry it all, I share a smattering here of what my colleagues have posted over the past day.
For starters: Oil has reached the Mississippi Delta and the Chandeleur chain of barrier islands off of the Louisiana coast, according to an Associated Press story posted around noon on May 5. I encountered the story on the Tampa Bay paper’s site. The posting notes that the oil is “very close to coming ashore” and runs the risk of being picked up by the Loop Current, which could carry the crude towards Florida and its Keys.
British Petroleum officials briefed members of Congress in a closed door meeting, Tuesday. In it, they apparently warned that the current best guesstimate of how much oil is being spewed by the wrecked rig — some 5,000 barrels per day — might soon worsen. Indeed, it could begin gushing up to 60,000 barrels per day, according to a May 4 story in the New York Times. That story also said: “Federal officials have raised the possibility of a leak of more than 100,000 barrels a day if the well were to flow unchecked, but the chances of that situation occurring were unclear.” For perspective, there are 42 gallons in a barrel.
Reporters in a May 5 Los Angeles Times story report similar numbers and quoted a source who attended the closed door meeting who said “What we heard was worst-case scenario, with no good solutions.” This story also cites an attorney who has filed a class action lawsuit against BP and its contractors which claims the BP “rig was drilling deeper than the approximately 20,000 feet allowed by its federal permit and that BP failed to install a ‘deep-hole safety valve’ that could have cut off the flow of oil after an accident.”
Coast Guard officials say that the smallest of three leaks from the wrecked rig has been sealed off with a valve. The operation took place between 6 p.m. Tuesday and 6 a.m.Wednesday. The remaining, more substantial leaks, “which are farther down a collapsed riser, or pipe, that had originally connected the wellhead with the drilling rig, continue to gush oil, and the overall rate of the spill is likely the same,” writes Richard Fausset in his May 5 L.A. Times blog.
A noontime May 5 report by Rebecca Mowbray of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that a four-story oil-containment dome to funnel oil from one of the remaining big leaks had just begun its 12-hour journey from a fabrication facility to the accident site. Lowering the dome into place on the seafloor was predicted to take another 48 hours. If all went as planned, it would take a few days more until the oil was on its way to a collection system aboard a floating oil platform. But Mowbray also quoted Eric Smith of the Tulane Energy Institute as saying BP is worrying that new leaks may develop in the riser pipe that had carried oil from the well head to the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon floating platform. That riser sustained a lot of trauma as it weathered the accident and plummeted to the seabed, Smith explained.
The Guardian of London reports that on May 4, BP announced it had commenced the drilling of a relief well to siphon off oil from the leaking wellhead. The story quoted the energy company as estimating that the operation would take “’some three months” as it would have to drill 13,000 feet beneath the seabed through extremely hard rock and under enormous water pressure to reach the well.”
Last year, the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service gave BP’s drilling operation — the one from which oil is now gushing from the seafloor — a “categorical exclusion” from having to prepare a detailed environmental impact analysis. This news comes care of Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post. MMS evaluated environmental risks from drilling in the Gulf three times, she says, and in one concluded the most credible big spill would likely total just 4,600 barrels and dissipate within 10 days — before it would likely reach land.
On May 4, Mike Soraghan of Greenwire reported the failure 10 years ago of a blowout preventer — the supposedly failsafe system to keep oil from flowing unchecked from a damaged offshore oil rig. That incident, he noted in his May 4 New York Times piece, “highlighted that the rig, a floating outfit like the now-sunken Deepwater Horizon, did not have a backup system for activating the blow-out preventer.” Federal officials responded by sending out a safety alert ordering offshore drilling companies to have backups, but left it up to those companies to decide what technologies to employ.
A leaked Jan. 14 letter to BP’s president of Alaskan operations from two U.S. congressmen noted a series of close calls the company had experienced in the past 18 months that could have resulted in environmental disasters. In his May 4 story, Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica says that in their letter, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich), expressed concern that BP’s cost-cutting measures might imperil safety at its facilities.
And for my take on all of this, see: Preventing disastrous offshore spills may require space-program diligence
Associated Press. 2010. Satellite expert says oil reaches Mississippi Delta. Tampa Bay Online (May 5): [Go to]
Broder, J.M., C. Robertson and C. Krass. 2010. Amount of Spill Could Escalate, Company Admits. New York Times (May 4).A1. [Go to]
Eilperin, J. 2010. U.S. Exempted BP Rigs from Impact Analysis: Prior Reviews Concluded That a Large Spill in the Area Was Unlikely. Washington Post (May5):A4. [Go to]
Fausset, R., J. Leovy, and J. Tankersley. 2010. BP Gives Congress Gloomy Outlook on Gulf Oil Spill: In the worst case, the disaster could grow at 12 times the rate of current estimates, BP officials say at a Capitol Hill briefing. Los Angeles Times. (May 5). [Go to]
Fausset, R. 2010. Gulf oil spill: Smallest leak sealed off. Los Angeles Times (May 5). [Go to]
Lustgarten, A. 2010. Congressmen Raised Concerns About BP Safety in Months Before Gulf Spill. ProPublica (May 4). [Go to]
Mowbray, R. 2010. BP attaches shut-off valve, will begin shipping containment structures for Gulf of Mexico oil spill. New Orleans Times-Picayune (May4). [Go to]
Soraghan, M. 2010. Warnings on Backup Systems for Oil Rigs Sounded 10 Years Ago. Greenwire for the New York Times (May 4). [Go to]
Webb, T. 2010. BP Shareholders Challenge Company over Environmental Safety: Coalition of Investors Turn Pressure on Deepwater Drilling after US Oil Rig Disaster (May 4). Guardian. [Go to]