Unfortunately for BP and America, efforts at blocking the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico haven’t worked. In fact, the latest attempt may have made the leak worse by 20%.
It’s now officially the worst oil disaster in US history, and White House officials are suggesting it’s their worst environmental disaster of any kind.
Now experts are pointing out a well-known problem within the industry – that the technology to fix a well is a long way behind the technology to drill a well.
So far, BP has tried several unsuccessful options to stop the oil leak:
• remote-controlled submarines to trigger the blowout preventer (automatic blocking switch)
• a giant steel box over the leak to capture the oil and siphon it to the surface
• a smaller steel box to do the same thing
• a mile-long tube to channel the oil to the surface
None of these have been satisfactory in either blocking the leak or collecting a worthy amount of the leaking oil.
Their latest attempt called the ‘top kill’ method involved pumping thousands of litres of mud, chemicals and rubbish into the well to block it.
Unfortunately on Sunday BP announced that this had failed as well, and might actually have made the leak 20% worse.
Their next plan is to send robotic submarines down to slice a clean cut through the damaged pipe so they can connect another pipe to it.
This will take 4 days to set up and comes with the standard ‘no guarantee of success’ comment.
Now as efforts of trial and error continue, the sad reality is slowly dawning on everyone – that man simply does not have the technology to quickly block a well at such depth.
Technology short fall
The ability to drill at a sea depth of 5,000 feet (1.5km) and a well depth of 35,000 feet (10km) has only just been achieved in the last few years and is at the forefront of oil drilling technology.
However, experts acknowledge that the technology to fix a leaking well at such depths is still 20 years behind.
It’s an embarrassing figure highlighted graphically by the huge oil slick making its way around the Gulf.
The situation therefore begs the question: why are government officials allowing oil companies to drill at a depth they can’t fix?
The answer is because economics trumps caution.
Governments needed oil revenue to pay for their expenses. Officials enjoyed receiving gifts and event tickets from oil companies. And the people of Louisiana wanted those companies to bring them more jobs and money.
Decision-makers can be persuaded by such economics, especially when oil companies assure them that suck a leak is unlikely.
Oil money also contributes to election campaigns for a number of American politicians on the assumption that they will support favourable drilling laws.
For example, a law passed earlier by Congress says that the government must carry out an environmental study on the proposed drilling site within 30 days.
However, because such a study can’t be done in 30 days, it became standard practice that the environmental waiver was automatically given.
This is what happened with the Deepwater Horizon study.
“Drill baby drill” was a popular phrase in Congress only a couple of months ago. But the simple conclusion of all this must be: don’t drill for oil that you can’t stop leaking.
Some people may argue that there are over 4,000 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and this is the only one to have caused such a disaster.
However, the reality is that most of those rigs are drilling at shallow levels, and the technology exists to stop leaks at those depths.
But it’s too late for this crisis. The Obama administration is now preparing for the worst-case scenario – that the leak will not be blocked until August.
This is when a second well will be completed and used to block the leaking well from within the earth’s crust.
But with 1.9 million litres of oil leaking every day, and 75 million litres there already, August is a long way away.
By The Casual Truth
Photo – President Obama inspects the Gulf Coast