Spill, Baby, Spill

This is a major disaster:

Officials worked Sunday to try to stop oil leaks coming from the deepwater well drilled by a rig that sank last week near Louisiana, but they acknowledged that it could be months before they are able to stem the flow of what is now about 42,000 gallons of oil a day pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.

The response team is trying three tacks: one that could stop the leaks within two days, one that would take months and one that would not stop the leaks but would capture the oil and deliver it to the surface while permanent measures are pursued.

Officials determined through weather patterns that the sheen of oil and water, now covering 600 square miles, would remain at least 30 miles from shore for the next three days. But states along the Gulf Coast have been warned to be on alert.

I’ve actually been following this off and on the past couple of days and forgot to write about it, and while it is a disaster, I will say that the BP folks either have a very good PR team or are actually very sincere about cleaning up the mess and mitigating the damage. Or both. I remembered reading some quotes and thinking there was no attempt at blameshifting or shirking responsibility, just point by point outlines of what they were doing to try to contain the mess.

Not that that makes this less of a disaster, but that was the impression I got from the BP folks.






74 replies
  1. 1
    beltane says:

    Such spills are a small price to pay for the cause of oil company profits. BP had some issues with one of their refineries a couple of years back, which forced them to beef up their PR team.

  2. 2
    Persia says:

    Public relations is not as hard as many people seem to think it is.

  3. 3
    Ash Can says:

    Kudos to BP if they’re being mature and responsible about this. Regardless, though, it’s a sobering reminder of the environmental dangers of offshore drilling.

  4. 4
    SGEW says:

    Cleaning up the mess and mitigating the damage is good PR.

  5. 5
    Dave says:

    It’s probably because they aren’t an American company. Mobil would be trying to blame it on anything and everything else.

  6. 6
    Dork says:

    Clearly what this accident shows is that we need a lot more of these things, up and down the entire coast of Florida and as close to the coral reefs as possible.

  7. 7
    beltane says:

    @Persia: All it takes are people skills and the ability to bullshit with a straight face. I’m not singling out BP, it’s the same with any corporate spokesperson. The companies that fare poorly at this game are the ones who have their heads so far up their asses that they believe their own bullshit (Goldman Sachs, anyone?).

  8. 8

    Actually, BP has been working for a while to burnish its “we’re not Exxon” cred.

    The refinery f*ck up mentioned above was one catalyst, but this being a large company indeed, some of this “attempt to be less evil” ethos has actually been in place for a while preceding that event.

    All of which is to be encouraged, IMHO.

  9. 9
    Jose Padilla says:

    Aren’t these rigs supposed to have a bunch of valves that are designed to shut off the oil flow when something like this happens?

  10. 10
    Face says:

    Really, no failsafe mechanism built in to immediately seal the drilling stem in the event the rig sinks/breaks? It’s no more than a glorified straw into the earth’s crust?

    Good fuckin Lord, I at least thought this thing would self-seal. 42K gallons of crude a day is a fucking nightmare.

  11. 11
    peach flavored shampoo says:

    /checks the maps…

    Yup. Drilling oil is the Republican’s solution, and sure enough, nothing but Republican states will soon be coated with this black sticky mess. Reap what you sow, bitches. Enjoy those black mackerel and Exxon swordfishes.

  12. 12

    @Face: Yeah, I’m no environmental expert by any means, but at that rate, assuming it takes some time to shut it down, we’re talking about devastation to immediately surrounding habitats.

  13. 13
    Mudge says:

    Compare to Exxon after Valdez. BP has no other choice in this case. An explosion occurred, workers died and the well casing has been breached. They’ll try their best to stop the flow.

    Now that I think of it the Navy had that explosion on the Iowa, sailors died and they spent massive amounts of PR capital covering it up and saying it was a smoker or revenge, or something.

  14. 14
    SapphireCate says:

    BBC has been reporting on this as breaking news since it happened (the gulf may be nearer the states, but BP is still British Petroleum). I doubt BP has had much room to do anything other than tell the truth and clean it up.

  15. 15
    Foxhunter says:

    @Face: Yes, it is a nightmare. And yes, there are failsafe mechs that are put on taps to prevent spills at sea and blow outs on land.

    However, the failsafe/cutoffs collapsed with the rig and at a range of 18,000 feet, they are having a difficult time finding the pinch with ROV’s.

    This is a nightmare for all…if they don’t get this under control in the next 48 hours, you might see black shore in Mobile within the week as a new front moves upward from the gulf towards the SE US.

  16. 16
    flounder says:

    I worked on a series of BP wells in Wyoming and they were really hardcore about both safety and the environment. Not a drop of fuel or chemical was supposed to hit the ground.
    There was a time when a filter (a big glass bulb) on one the diesel engines that run the drilling rig cracked and dumped a bunch of diesel out. I know the place was swarming with the clean up guys, and the roughnecks who were supposed to walk past and visually inspect the filters every 15 or 30 minutes or so got ran off the job.

  17. 17
    salacious crumb says:

    yeah BP is not doing this because they love the environment. Its because they cant afford to get any of the clusterfucking that Goldman Sachs or the health insurance industry or any thing tied to the word corporation is getting. They are shit scared of Obama administration and know that except for the racist teabaggers, the public, whether here or rest of the world, is not gonna put up, with their environment destroying shenanigans.

  18. 18
    Face says:

    @Foxhunter: Thanks for the info. I figured as much, but in my non-engineering mind, I thought something as simple as a one-way valve that slams shut via loss of tension or electronically would be employed, but I guess not.

    Does anyone know yet what caused the explosion itself?

  19. 19
    PanAmerican says:

    Yes, they are green washing.

    BP is one seriously cheap-assed outfit. They gutted Amoco’s safety infrastructure and culture.

  20. 20

    Even here in Florida, a substantial majority is now in favor of offshore drilling. To be brutally frank, the national consciousness doesn’t give a shit about a little oil in the areas struck by Katrina. But If we had a rig 15 miles off St. Petersburg with this kind of spill, which would cost massive sums of tourism money, I think the outrage might just be enough to stop it. sadly, I think it’s going to take just such a disaster.

  21. 21
    burnspbesq says:

    Do we have a mechanism other than litigation to ensure that all of the costs of this disaster are borne by the shareholders of BP? Did we at least learn that lesson from Valdez?

  22. 22
    Brandon says:

    You may want to ask BP about their rusty and leaking pipeline in Alaska, I think you would get a different response.

    BP has been about nothing but PR since their whole “Beyond Petroleum” greenwashing campaign.

  23. 23
    jon says:

    There are lots of safety and cut-off valves and on each and every drilling platform, but drilling platforms aren’t designed to be blown up by explosions and sink to the bottom of the ocean following long fires. I don’t think this was a design error any more than it was a design error for the makers of the architects of the Pentagon to not be able to make an office building that can handle a jet airliner crashing into it at a few hundred miles-per-hour. Coal miners won’t be going down with air tanks and flak vests. Firemen can’t all stay in the firetrucks.

    The cynic in me wants to say that BP is working so quickly just so it can get the oil, but it really does want to keep its corporate image from becoming like that of Exxon. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Public relations problems with this event would mostly focus on what caused the original explosion, but with missing drillers and a big spill and with most of the evidence on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico it won’t be something we’ll know conclusively any time soon. Asking questions that get answered with “We don’t know yet but are investigating” gets tiresome very quickly, so the media will let the PR campaign get to be about the missing drillers and the clean up efforts. Provided that BP can do even a barely-competent cleanup job, this will provide them with Earth Day ad material for the next decade.

  24. 24
    Fencedude says:

    @Face:

    Thanks for the info. I figured as much, but in my non-engineering mind, I thought something as simple as a one-way valve that slams shut via loss of tension or electronically would be employed, but I guess not.

    Speaking as an engineer, nothing, ever, is 100% failsafe.

    Major explosions tend to do really bad things to failsafes, particularly.

  25. 25
    Foxhunter says:

    @Face: I don’t know exactly what type of shutoff was used on the rig, but most use something called a ‘Christmas Tree’.

    If the valve on the seabed has been shifted, or even worse, compromised, then BP has a major problem on their hands. It’s it not going to be easy to shut off the flow using remote operated vehicles.

    On land, they TNT wellheads to collapse. Not so easy under water.

    They haven’t determined cause of explosion yet, but those rigs hold massive amounts of diesel for fueling generators. It could have been a line leak + spark for the go boom moment.

  26. 26
    Brandon says:

    Also too. You might want to read up on Natural Resource Damages under CERCLA.

    The more they voluntarily cleanup this mess now and the better job they do now ensures that they will save time and money down the road. Because if they do a half-assed job, they not only will have a lot of attorney’s fees, but also treble damages.

    Someone should ask Matt Welch if BP would be doing all of this if they did not have a regulatory sledgehammer hanging over their heads. This is the exact point of regulation, to drive behavior to the point where people do the right thing voluntarily.

  27. 27
    PeakVT says:

    I don’t think this spill will turn out to be another Ixtoc I, but nonetheless it could make a real mess.

    OT: I’ve made a GoogleMap of the Eyjafjallajökull eruption for those who are interested in such things. Visibility from the webcams is pretty poor today, unforunately.

  28. 28

    From the BBC:

    In 2009, BP was fined a record $87m (£53m) for failing to improve safety conditions following a massive explosion that killed 15 people at its Texas City refinery.

    The Miss. tornado is leading the headlines on Yahoo! News, and I can’t even find this story anywhere on the front page.

  29. 29
    Andy says:

    Recall that just over five years ago, a BP plant in Texas City, Texas exploded, killing 15 workers. That little bit of negligence has cost them billions. I don’t know if they’re a better company for it, or just better at managing the story, but either way, it would be a huge surprise if they didn’t have their act together this time.

  30. 30
    Foxhunter says:

    @Brandon: Yes, the Prudhoe Bay turned out to be their ‘PR’ wake up call…especially after it was determined that they were too cheap to send smartpigs downline to inspect pipes for corrosion.

  31. 31
    MMonides says:

    Your instincts aren’t too far off. BP is pretty altruistic for Oilies; they were the first company to break with the pack on climate and specifically say that they were in a long-long-term transfer to alternative energy sources. Further evidence: the other Oilies hate them.

    But OTOH, they are still an oil co and still frakking things up and trying to spin it as much as they can.

  32. 32
    gnomedad says:

    Cue up “liberals are exploiting this tragedy”.

  33. 33
    jwb says:

    @gnomedad: I think they’ll jump straight to liberals and environmentalists caused this tragedy with all their regulation.

  34. 34
    SGEW says:

    @jwb: It was caused by a liberal plant to make oil drilling look bad! It’s Greenpeace’s fault! I hear that they’re the ones who poison streams in WV, in order to falsely discredit all-American coal miners . . . why, they probably caused the mine disaster too!

  35. 35
    Ash Can says:

    @Foxhunter:

    smartpigs

    Had no idea what this was, it sounded too good not to Google, so I did, and learned something new. Neat-o.

  36. 36
  37. 37
    Remember November says:

    Maybe it’s because BP is a BritCO, and they are more sensible about focusing on the solution rather than spinning it politically.

  38. 38
    Tommy says:

    The spill is within 30 nautical miles of the Chandeleur Islands in the Breton National Wildlife Refuge. This region is still recovering from an oil spill in June 2005 followed by the destruction from Katrina.

  39. 39
    The Moar You Know says:

    Now that I think of it the Navy had that explosion on the Iowa, sailors died and they spent massive amounts of PR capital covering it up and saying it was a smoker or revenge, or something.

    @Mudge: You forgot the big claim; that the poor dead bastard they decided to frame for an officer’s stupid decision was gay and decided to commit suicide by overstuffing the magazine.

    Don’t think the Navy has ever apologized for that.

    The first investigation into the explosion, conducted by the US Navy, concluded that one of the gun turret crew members, Clayton Hartwig, who died in the explosion, had deliberately caused it. During the investigation, numerous leaks to the media, later attributed to Navy officers and investigators, implied that Hartwig and another sailor, Kendall Truitt, had engaged in a homosexual relationship and that Hartwig had caused the explosion after their relationship had soured.

  40. 40
    liberty60(Veteran, Great War of Yankee Aggression) says:

    Off topic, but did anyone catch the NYT Magazine article on Palin?

    I can give you the gist-

    She’s. A. Grifter.

  41. 41
    scarshapedstar says:

    Doncha know that if we’d just been drillin’ in ALASKA all this time, we wouldn’t have to have so many Gulf rigs to blow up in the first place? *wink*

    /Palin

  42. 42
    AhabTRuler says:

    All you hippies with your naieve faith in Automatic Safety Devices probably should read up on nuclear reactor safety (esp. TMI) & Normal Accident Theory.

  43. 43
    Brandon says:

    @Remember November: It has nothing to do with their country of domicile. The formulation is actually pretty simple. BP has spend god knows how much branding itself as the “green energy” (they’re “Beyond Petroleum” remember) company over the past 15 years. Recently, through the disasterous PR that they got from the Alaska pipeline, followed by the Texas refinery explosion, they saw that entire investment compromised. That, and their fear of a massive Natural Resouce Damages case against them are driving their response right now.

    Exxon on the other hand has learned an entirely different lesson. from their experiences. Exxon’s first response would be to hire an army of lawyers to figure out how to limit their legal liability for claims under both workers compensation for the dead workers and Natural Resource Damages, figuring out the bare minimum they could get away with and how much cost they could pass off onto taxpayers. The next thing they would do is hire an army of lobbyists to assault Congress and the Administration to ensure that their legal liabilities are further limited and the last thing they would do is hire an army of PR firms to assault the media and invoke platitudes about how important they are to the economy, these things happen, they are doing all they can and then in a totally unrelated move, make an announcement that they are plesging to support Mystery for another five years, just to remind the totebaggers who’s boss.

  44. 44
    Citizen_X says:

    Surely, this means it’s time for a “green tea party,” where environmentalists dump oil barrels into the Gulf.

  45. 45
    Evinfuilt says:

    @PanAmerican:
    The big sign to me for BP is they spent a ton of money touting all their green investments. In reality that spend a minuscule amount compared to Exxon. If that’s not the definition of Green Washing, what is.

  46. 46
    binzinerator says:

    @Foxhunter:

    It could have been a line leak + spark for the go boom moment.

    Diesel + spark = nada
    Diesel isn’t volatile like gasoline. But if a lot of methane came up with the crude oil and there was a leak, then a spark could be make a big boom.

  47. 47
    Original Lee says:

    Fairly current satellite image of the area near the disaster.

  48. 48
    someguy says:

    Do we have a mechanism other than litigation to ensure that all of the costs of this disaster are borne by the shareholders of BP?

    It would probably be difficult to pierce the corporate veil and go after shareholders in a public company under existing law. Maybe the finance reform bill will have some goodies like this in it. It should.

    As for the methods of imposing liability, the Oil Pollution Act is probably applicable, and possibly the Clean Water Act, depending on where the rig was sited – if far off shore, and the slick stays off short then CWA may not be.

  49. 49
    frankdawg says:

    I lived in Cocoa beach for awhile & went to Galveston for a conference. I wondered why the beaches in TX looked as good as the ones in FL as I drove by but didn’t have an endless row of hotels & condos on them. When I asked one of the locals said “Take a walk on the beach, you’ll figure it out.” So I did & the beach was a mess of oil sludge in many places.

    Maybe Obama has added a 12th dimension to his chess board; when the oil comes ashore in FL & SC they may become huge supporters of alternative energy!

  50. 50
    Foxhunter says:

    @Brandon: That Remember November comment had me scratching my head, too.

    And let’s not forget the wonderful ‘Exxon Mobil Teacher’s Academy‘ as brought to you by Phil Mickelson, Masters Champion®.

    Come on, BP/XOM/Aramco/whoever has one goal. Cash. Altruism is not their strong suit. Pig/lipstick and all that. Or silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Whatever. They pump some nasty shit out of Ma Earth for our consumption and make more of a mess in the process than we will ever know.

    I’m glad we can heat homes and drive vehicles to work using the combustion engine, but those folks who get us there use political spin regardless of domicile.

  51. 51
  52. 52
    les says:

    But…but…how can this be? Grampy McCain said there were never enviro problems from Gulf drilling!

  53. 53
    Foxhunter says:

    @binzinerator: You are correct and it appears that Transocean is pointing to a failed blow out preventer just after casing/concrete was done on the final drill depth.

    Compressed oil or methane could have ignited, fuel on board for generators only compounded the issue.

  54. 54
    binzinerator says:

    @frankdawg:

    Maybe Obama has added a 12th dimension to his chess board; when the oil comes ashore in FL & SC they may become huge supporters of alternative energy!

    I never thought of this as Obama 11th dimension chess but as pragmatic common sense. Some people will never understand a 2×4 until they get themselves whapped upside the head with one. Obama is giving the southern coastal tier of states exactly what they’ve been clamoring and waving signs for. And they’re gonna get themselves hit upside the head with it when the spills happen. And it’s going to take major spills fucking up their beaches and fishing and tourism industries before they’ll figure out why Drill baby Drill isn’t a panacea and why green energy isn’t for DFHs anymore.

  55. 55
    Corner Stone says:

    @jwb:

    I think they’ll jump straight to liberals and environmentalists caused this tragedy with all their regulation

    IMO, they’ll go with the, “Where were the regulators? With all this regulation and nobody doing their jobs!! If we’d let the free-market spend their money the way THEY know best this tragedy could’ve been prevented!”
    Grumble, gubmint, feedom, grumble

  56. 56
    debbie says:

    I remembered reading some quotes and thinking there was no attempt at blameshifting or shirking responsibility, just point by point outlines of what they were doing to try to contain the mess.

    This isn’t how I remember it. Up until yesterday, BP spokespeople specifically said there was no leak whatsoever and that BP was on this 24/7. Suddenly, yesterday, an underwater camera reveals an underwater leak.

  57. 57
    Paris says:

    Certainly, there is some way to blame this on Fidel Castro.

  58. 58
    Brett says:

    I’ll give BP their due – they are really trying to get this cleaned up. It’s hard, though – the spill in question is occurring more than a mile down in the Gulf of Mexico, which means the only way to reach it and try to fix it is a tricky maneuver with submersibles.

  59. 59
    fidelio says:

    Around 42,000 gallons a day? Let’s see, the oil barrel referred to in discussing amounts of petroleom contains 42 gallons, so that’s 1000 barrels of crude oil a day.

    The current spot price for light sweet crude oil is around $85.70; the futures price for June 2010 delivery is something like $84.33, so 1000 barrels is in the $84K-$85K range. Ten days of that gets you to $843K-$857K, and while that’s not a lot of money in terms of BP’s annual earnings, it’s oil they won’t get to sell now, or hold for the future when prices are even higher. Plus all those fines, and whatever it costs per day for the containment, repair, and clean-up crews. Anyone know what a remote deep level submersible plus crew runs per day?

  60. 60
    Foxhunter says:

    @fidelio: Those costs are nothing compared to the total loss of a rig. The largest offshore rig was constructed at a cost of 4.1 billion, Hibernia Oil Field), average cost of an offshore deep water rig starts at 450 – 500 million.

    Of course, all of these costs are insurable in one form or another…even the clean up.

  61. 61
    Elie says:

    Life is complex.

    We (locally) have a complex but generally good relationship with a BP refinery perched on Pt Whitehorn in state of WA. They have been great partners on supporting our stream and salmon restoration projects and have maintained the land surrounding their refinery as pristine and undeveloped as possible — since they don’t want to have a bunch of homes and people in the “kill zone” of a refinery accident. That of course, does not mitigate the fact that if one of their tankers runs aground out here in the Straights of Georgia (Puget Sound), that the mess would not devastate this region for decades, possibly forever, given the relative shallowness and complex nature of the geography here.

    As I said, life is complex. The relationships we need to forge and sustain on many issues are frequently uneasy and flexible partnerships that change with the needs of the situation.

  62. 62
    fidelio says:

    @foxhunter–I notice from the Wikipedia article (insert necessary caveats) tht the platform for this project was leased, which is probably typical for the industry, and as you say, there’s always insurance. The only things that aren’t replaceable are the human lives lost, the environmental damage (how are they doing with those petro-eating microbes for oil spill clean-up, anyway?) and the oil, of which we have less and less every day.

  63. 63
    trollhattan says:

    @Andy:

    I worked for the contracting engineering company that lost most of the workers in the Texas City explosion (11 or 12 of the 15 total). Ironically, they were meeting in a job shack at the site at the time, and were not associated with the unit that exploded. IIRC it was a gross case of facility mis-operation combined with contractor job shacks being sited improperly, in an inherently dangerous location.

    Texas City has some history with disasters.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_City_Disaster

    Nearly lost amidst the coal mine and oil platform accidents was this.

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.c.....st03m.html

    I would hope, futilely I suppose, that as we charge headlong into the second coming of newcuelarr power we can have an honest conversation about safety, human error, lax oversight and cost-cutting. It’s nobody’s intention to have an accident or lose lives, yet it still happens. Why?

  64. 64
    Fwiffo says:

    Frankly, I question the timing. Did ACORN plan this spill in response to Obama’s plans to open up more of the continental shelf to offshore drilling?

  65. 65
    The Populist says:

    Further proof that if California has done ANYTHING right, it’s rejecting more offshore drilling.

    My father in law and I fought over this very thing when driving through Huntington Beach on PCH. His comment to me was (he’s old I forgive him for his silliness) “the President will have to drill here soon and we need the oil” to which I laughed and argued (much to my wife’s bemusement).

    I am sorry they won’t I told him. We will fight it like we did last time. He looked at me annoyed as always and I shut up.

  66. 66
    DBrown says:

    @Fencedude: Yet rigs all along the coasts are then good? Nuc’s (Breeders, no less (ie can undergo a small nuke explosion)) near all our cities?

  67. 67
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    As I’ve mentioned on other threads, my son worked on the Deepwater Horizon for nearly five years. He knew six of the missing men. I have pictures of him on the bridge and helping run lifeboat drills. Needless to say, this feels very personal.

    The DWH was a top of the line rig, and the safety requirements were stringent. The fact that 115 men made it off the rig in five minutes is testimony to the emphasis they put on training.

    My understanding is that both Transaction and BP imposed strict environmental controls, above and beyond those required by law…they didn’t cut corners.

    If you want to see a good discussion as to the possible causes of the explosion and the failure of the blowout protector(s) by people in the industry, this is a good thread to follow:

    gCaptain forum

    It’s actually sort of heartbreaking to read the thread from the beginning, where they first report the fire.

  68. 68
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    Transaction = Transocean

    Didn’t even notice what spellcheck was doing there.

  69. 69
  70. 70
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    debbie @56:

    This isn’t how I remember it. Up until yesterday, BP spokespeople specifically said there was no leak whatsoever and that BP was on this 24/7. Suddenly, yesterday, an underwater camera reveals an underwater leak.

    Actually, it was the Coast Guard saying that.

  71. 71
    Suthrnboy says:

    It would be funny if it weren’t so sad…
    One would think that if you build an oil platform in the middle of the ocean, you would have contingency plans in place for a situation like this BEFORE you finish building it, not after there is an accident. Responsible corporations are certainly not, of late.

  72. 72
    joeyess says:

    The response team is trying three tacks: one that could stop the leaks within two days, one that would take months and one that would not stop the leaks but would capture the oil and deliver it to the surface while permanent measures are pursued

    Who’s betting that the bolded part of the quote above was actually the first idea that Benevolent Petroleum thought of?

  73. 73
    Mr Furious says:

    Call me a sucker for the green-washing (or their graphic design) but my Lesser of Many Evils ranking for where I buy gas is:

    1. BP
    2. Citgo (okay, call me a commie)
    3. whatever is cheapest among companies I’ve heard of before
    […]
    96. ExxonMobil

  74. 74
    Zuzu's Petals says:

    @joeyess:

    Well since they’ve been trying to engage the blowout preventer for several days now, I’d guess that would be the logical first choice.

    Drilling a second drawoff well nearby would be the obvious second choice.

    In the first two scenarios, the well is plugged and they can come back later and drill and pump a new well. Trying to capture contaminated oil using an untested, less efficient, and more expensive method, while they might consider it as a containment method while trying the first two methods, wouldn’t likely be anybody’s first choice.

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