Choice & Consequence: solar, wind energy vs deepwater drilling..4.2 million oil spews into ocean /day..birds, turtles, fish dead
Top: "Large Air Spill at Wind Farm. No threats reported. Some claim to enjoy the breeze.". Bottom: in Gulf of Mexico, Deepwater Horizon oil rig explodes, burns, sinks (2 days later on Earth Day).
Gulf Oil Spill: ~210,000 gallons of oil leaking per day.
Top L: a catastrophic reminder of our dangerous and toxic dependence on fossil fuels was exposed when an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast. Top R: a least tern checks her two eggs on the beach in Gulfport, Mississippi. Environmentalists are concerned that the oil slick will destroy this generation of the bird that nests along the Gulf coast beaches during its migratory journey. Lower L: a dead pelican is seen on Chandeleur Island, Louisiana on May 3. The state bird of Louisiana, the brown pelican, was just removed from the endangered species list last year, and depending on how it fares, could come to symbolize the affects of the damage done by the oil spill. Their nesting season, which has just begun, lies in the direct path of the spill. Lower R: another dead sea turtle found washed up on the shore on May 3, and a dolphin swimming through the polluted waters of Drum Bay, Louisiana. There are as many as 5,000 dolphins in the Gulf area between the Mississippi and Louisiana coasts and the oil rig, many of which are in their reproductive season.
And as history shows, all it takes is one big disaster to alter the future of an entire industry. "This could be the equivalent of Three Mile Island for offshore oil," says Rubin, referring to the nuclear plant meltdown in 1979 that essentially halted the nuclear industry's growth for 30 years.
Updated on June 20, 2010 - AP:Documents Show Nearly 2M Gallon Margin of Error in Estimates; Judge To Hear Arguments for Lifting Drilling Moratorium - BP's Worst-Case Estimate Was 4.2M Gallons a Day Newly-released internal documents show BP PLC estimated 4.2 million gallons of oil a day could gush from a damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico if all equipment restricting the flow was removed and company models were wrong.
Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., released the documents Sunday showing BP said in a worst-case scenario the leak could gush between 2.3 million and 4.2 million gallons of oil per day.
The current worst-case estimate of what's leaking is 2.5 million gallons a day.
Newsweek: A ‘Three Mile Island for Offshore Oil’? How the Deep Horizon accident seriously hampers offshore drilling. It'll be years before we know the full extent of the damage caused by the Deep Horizon oil spill. But as thousands of barrels continue to leach out of the ocean floor, and with no way of stopping it anytime soon, the magnitude of the disaster has become clear: this is the worst oil spill in U.S. waters since the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The economic and environmental impact will likely be catastrophic.
But the bigger impact could be on the future of offshore oil production. At a time when the oil industry had seemingly conquered the extreme challenges of offshore drilling, the spill raises serious questions about our ability to safely tap what's seen as the final frontier of U.S. domestic oil reserves: the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.
Last September, the news surrounding Transocean's Deep Horizon drill rig was that it had successfully drilled the deepest vertical well in history, tapping BP's giant Tiber field 40,000 feet down, 250 miles southeast of Houston. The announcement was hailed as a huge step for deepwater drilling in the gulf, a moon shot of sorts, and something to be applauded even by BP's competitors. "We're happy about Tiber because it upgrades the prospects we have in that same vicinity," Chevron President Gary Luquette told NEWSWEEK at the time.
Seven months later though, with the Deep Horizon destroyed and 11 people dead as a result, we're reminded of the dangers of deepwater drilling. "I think we forgot just how dangerous drilling for oil in the deepwater really is," says Jeff Rubin, a former chief economist at CIBC World Markets, a Canadian investment bank, who has spent the past 30 years studying oil markets. Rubin points out that the spill comes just as the industry was regaining its footing in the Gulf of Mexico, which holds an estimated 70 billion barrels of oil. Half of that remains undiscovered, trapped beneath thousands of feet of muck, mud, rock, and, to top it off, an ancient layer of salt that has sealed off the oil for millions of years.
Oil companies have known it was down there since the mid-'90s. Getting to it was the problem. Huge investments were made in computer technology to create three-dimensional maps of the deepwater Gulf, and new drilling equipment was developed to withstand the heat and pressure of drilling three and four miles into the earth's crust. By 2000, a handful of successful deepwater wells had been drilled, and by 2002, they'd pushed overall Gulf of Mexico oil production to 1.6 million barrels a day. Pumping 2 million barrels a day seemed only a few years off.
But then the hurricanes started coming, big ones. From 2002 to 2008, eight Category 4 and 5 storms plowed through the Gulf of Mexico, including Ivan, Dennis, Katrina, Rita, Dean, and last year, Ike. They shut down production of millions of barrels of oil, delayed dozens of projects, and in some cases left billion-dollar, thousand-ton platforms listing in the water. In 2005, images of BP’s flagship Thunder Horse platform tilted at a 45 degree angle in the wake of Hurricane Dennis were met by immediate spikes in the price of oil. A month later, Thunder Horse was in the direct path of Katrina. It would be another three years before it started producing oil. Some began referring to the Gulf of Mexico as the Dead Sea, where oil companies go to die.
But as the price of oil continued to rise, peaking in the summer of 2008 at $147 a barrel, oil companies plowed more and more of their windfall profits into the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. Their persistence and investment paid off. In 2009, a handful of new deepwater projects reversed seven straight years of declining oil production.
Even the Deep Horizon disaster won't impact that: oil out of the deepwater Gulf of Mexico this year is still likely to power the first year-over-year increase in total U.S. domestic production since 1991. President Obama's decision to halt all new drilling projects in the Gulf will almost certainly decrease the amount of oil. But since it takes years to bring online a field like the one Deep Horizon was drilling, that won't show up for a while. The 3,500 platforms producing oil in the Gulf of Mexico are pumping just as much oil today as they were before the Deep Horizon exploded.
Continuing to develop the Gulf of Mexico is predicated on our ability to venture farther out, and drill deeper down. But this spill destroys—at least for the near term—the notion that the oil industry has conquered the technological challenges posed by deepwater drilling. And as history shows, all it takes is one big disaster to alter the future of an entire industry. "This could be the equivalent of Three Mile Island for offshore oil," says Rubin, referring to the nuclear plant meltdown in 1979 that essentially halted the nuclear industry's growth for 30 years.
At the very least, the cost of operating in the Gulf of Mexico will likely go up. Stiffer regulation from the Minerals Management Services will make sure of that. So will higher insurance premiums. The spill will likely cost BP several hundred million dollars, and tarnish its safety reputation. In 2005, 15 workers died in a Texas refinery explosion. BP will surely face fines for the Deep Horizon accident. Its stock price is down 17 percent since the accident occurred. Transocean, the company that owned the Deep Horizon rig, has seen its stock price fall 22 percent.
Beyond the economic losses, the real question is whether this changes public opinion on domestic drilling. Approval ratings have climbed in recent years, upwards of 70 percent, as imported oil has been cast as a national security threat. The "drill, baby, drill" crowd isn't likely to change their tune. The movement's political leaders tend to hail from places like Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio (See Rep. Mike Pence, Sen. Mitch McConnell, and House Minority Leader John Boehner), hundreds of miles away from any oil-soaked marshland. A spokesperson for Boehner said that the spill "does not change his position on the need for deepwater energy exploration." More relevant, it seems, is whether the accident changes the opinion of his constituents—and the rest of the country.
Explorers began work on 17 new Gulf of Mexico wells last week in waters deeper than 1,000 feet. The threat of pressure surges, or blowouts, that can smash steel equipment and create gushing columns of fire increases as drillers probe deeper, Neal Dingmann, an analyst at Wunderlich Securities, said.
U.S. Coast Guard rescuers said hope was fading of finding alive any of the 11 workers missing since an explosion Tuesday aboard Transocean Ltd.'s Deepwater Horizon rig, which the company said may have been caused by a blowout in an 18,000-foot well. The $365 million vessel sank, leaving an oil sheen large enough to cover more than half of Manhattan.
"Offshore drilling has always been high risk, but when you talk about wells going to these kinds of depths, the risks go even higher," Dingmann said in a telephone interview from Houston. "Once you go anywhere below 10,000 feet, all of a sudden the pressure and temperature become a lot more difficult to contend with."
If the 11 missing workers are declared dead, it will be the worst offshore oil-industry accident in U.S. waters since 1987, when a helicopter crashed into a Forest Oil Corp. platform, killing 14 people, according to a review of data from the U.S. Interior Department's Minerals Management Service.
The accident may spur calls for tougher oversight and increased regulation of the drilling industry, as well as raise legal risks for companies. President Barack Obama last month proposed expanding offshore drilling in some U.S. coastal areas.
On Friday, the White House said the accident shouldn't deter exploration. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the fatal explosion is no reason to give up plans to expand offshore drilling. Obama continues to believe that the United States needs a comprehensive solution to its energy problems — including expanded domestic production of oil and natural gas.
New York Times: Atop the Ocean, a Sea of Untapped Energy. The United States does not have a single offshore wind turbine, though there are more than 800 off the coast of nine European countries. The world has enough wind to supply 'the total energy need of humanity,' the study said.
Bobbing in the Atlantic, about nine miles from the sandy beaches of the Rockaway peninsula, a yellow buoy clangs and blinks, rising and dropping on the ocean swells. Fixed to the nose of the buoy are two anemometers that spin in the wind. They read the direction and speed of the wind 24 hours a day, like a dog with its head out the window of a car on an endless highway. This is Buoy 44065, and it sits at the entrance to New York Harbor. Attention must be paid, as the events of recent days have shown. On Wednesday (April 29), the federal government gave its approval for an energy company to plant a grove of giant windmills in the waters off Cape Cod. If they are built — and the plan still faces opposition from people who say, among other things, that they are too expensive or too intrusive — they could replace the electricity made by more than 100 million gallons of oil annually.
“There is a lot of power out there,” said Brian A. Colle, a professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at Stony Brook University. “We are in a pretty nice location for the winter and for the warm seasons.” The city and Long Island are now speaking to manufacturers and developers about building a wind park in the ocean about 13 miles from Rockaway, producing enough energy to power 250,000 homes. At least in the short term, electricity from wind would be much more expensive than what we are now billed for nuclear, gas and oil power, and New Yorkers already pay some of the highest prices in the country.
But utility bills tell only part of the story; no one knows yet what the costs will be to clean up the oil that has been pouring into the Gulf of Mexico since a rig exploded on April 20, creating a slick that has become a toxic country of its own. Much of the price will surely be paid by the general public. Each source of power comes with its own risks and off-the-books costs.
In December, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg visited Denmark, which makes more of its power from wind than any country and often sells it to its neighbors. Balancing wind production with demand is devilishly complicated; at times, when Danish wind production has been high, the price for power has dropped to zero, according to Nord Pool Spot, the regional electricity exchange. “Wind is an expensive source of energy, but you don’t just buy the low-cost source,” said Rohit Aggarwala, Mr. Bloomberg’s chief adviser on sustainability. Oil and gas may not look as cheap if a national carbon tax is enacted, and wind “would not fluctuate like the cost of natural gas and oil,” Mr. Aggarwala said. “It’s zero carbon, and it’s zero pollution.”
The world has enough wind to supply “the total energy need of humanity,” the study said.
The Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig is one of the most advanced engineering feats in the world, having drilled deeper than any other waterborne platform. But when the massive fifth-generation rig exploded late Tuesday night, injuring 17 workers and leaving 11 still missing, the accident proved even the most modern deepwater platforms are not immune to an age-old danger of tapping the earth: what roughnecks call, simply, blowout.
As Coast Guard planes and helicopters resumed the search for survivors Thursday morning, rescued rig hands arriving in Kenner, La., said that everything happened very fast. The Houston Chronicle quoted an unidentified survivor as saying, “It blew out and we had like zero time from the time the alarm went. It was all in flames.”
The Deepwater Horizon is on the cusp of global oil exploration, which is venturing ever further out to sea and deeper into the earth's crust.
The rig is in essence a giant flexible drill bit that can poke and prod for deposits up to 32,000 feet deep. It is run by roughnecks, roustabouts, tool pushers, directional drillers, and mud men, all directed by a "company man," employed, in this case, by BP, which is leasing the rig from Geneva-based Transocean.
The semi-submersible rig had anchored 41 miles off Louisiana, completing a concrete casing for a well drilled to 18,000 feet in an area called the Macondo Prospect.
The company acknowledged that something happened in the hole, evidenced by the fact that the fire was being fueled by escaping oil or gas. “There was undoubtedly some abnormal pressure buildup,” Transocean safety director Adrian Rose said, according to Business Week. Rose gave no other clues about why the rig blew or why the pressure couldn't be controlled.
But former oil rig mud engineer Rusty Galloway in Lafayette, La., explains one possible cause. So-called mud hands on the drill floor mix chemicals into a stream of mud that backstops the gas or oil while allowing the bit to continue to turn its clockwise rotation into the earth. "Basically, what can happen is you've got no weight or not enough weight to keep gas from coming out, from coming free," says Mr. Galloway.
The Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig is one of the most advanced engineering feats in the world, having drilled deeper than any other waterborne platform, on the cusp of global oil exploration, venturing ever further out to sea and deeper into the earth's crust. The accident ["It blew out and we had like zero time from the time the alarm went. It was all in flames."] proved even the most modern deepwater platforms are not immune to an age-old danger of tapping the earth: blowout.
Photos courtesy of Huffington Post, Gerald Herbert / AP, Gerald Herbert / AP, US Coast Guard, Sean Gallup / Getty Images, and The Times-Picayune
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