Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oh No, Another Blowout In The Gulf!

Well obviously this hasn't happened yet, but the worst nightmare is that the so called relief wells will themselves cause a blowout. If you think that this isn't possible, then you need to more closely follow the record.

The two related NY Times articles below paint a very scary picture. The first story is 23 pages long so I will synopsize it for you:

1. Deep water oil drilling is a very dicey and not well-understood proposition...nothing earth shattering about this conclusion.

2. The ultimate fail-safe mechanism is the five-story tall blowout preventer which according to all reports is a Rube Goldberg device that relies on, in effect, giant scissors to sever and seal the mile-deep pipes when necessary.

3. Preventers are notoriously fickle. They have a single point of failure (certain valves) and in deep water usage, they fail 45% of the time. So much for Tony Hayward's stupid statistics about this being a 100,000 to 1 or 1,000,000 to 1 accident, as I have previously written about.

4. Everyone in the oil industry (yes that means you Exxon, Shell et al) employs this technology and they fully comprehended the risks and shortcomings associated with their blowout preventers.

5. The government including Obama and his retinue also knew about all this. Responsible agencies repeatedly failed not only to order redesigning the apparatus but also to demand that existing preventers be adequately tested.

6. The oil industry and the present government continually conspired to prepetuate the dangerous status quo with respect to deep water drilling.

The second NY Times piece outlines notes taken by on-site engineers which demonstrate how little even the "experts" know about how to contain this monster.

So what can we speculate about the ongoing situation? It's absolutely clear that there are no containment solutions on the horizon, other than attempting to drill relief wells, and even the abatement efforts are proving to be feckless so far. But the unspeakable truth is that nobody in authority is talking about what might happen if one or the other relief wells also blows out. And what is preventing that from occurring? You guessed it...a blowout preventer, albeit with some extra redundancy (2 scissors) but fundamentally, the same design as the original one that crapped out.

I wish I had answers or even suggestions that would apply to the present mess. But I do have well-founded fears that things could get very much worse, and I don't think that the oil industry should be running around doing more deep water drilling until they are prepared to demonstrate and deploy safety measures that are substantially more reliable than what exists today. I realize that considerable economic loss follows such a policy but as we have already seen, there are even worse consequences to continuing on the perilous path that led us to where we are today.

Here are the article links:



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