Thursday, May 20, 2010

BP's Priority Is Not Stopping The Leak

It's becoming pretty obvious that BP's top priority at the moment is not mitigating the damage from the gulf oil spill, but trying to find a way to keep from paying for what they've done.
The New York Times is reporting that the EPA has ordered BP to find a new chemical dispersant to use on the gulf oil leak.
Citing worries about a fragile coastal environment, the federal Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday gave the giant energy company BP 24 hours to select a less toxic chemical than the one that it is now using to break up crude oil gushing from a ruined well in the Gulf of Mexico…
In seeking to break up the oil bubbling to the surface from the Deepwater Horizon well, BP has sprayed nearly 700,000 gallons of Corexit chemical dispersants on the surface of the gulf and directly onto the leaking well head, a mile underwater. It is by far the largest use of chemicals to break up an oil spill in United States waters to date.
That's a lot of dispersant. I realize that the United States government is only recently beginning to care about science again, but someone must have an idea of whether these dispersants make sense to use.
The purpose of the dispersants is to break up the crude oil into tiny droplets that will sink into the water rather than float, and thus be more easily diluted by ocean currents, so that oil slicks do not hurt marine life on the surface or affect sensitive shoreline ecosystems.
But all dispersants are types of detergents and at best are mildly toxic, so applying them requires a careful calculation about whether the dispersant-oil mixture will cause more or fewer problems than untreated crude oil would.
Now, you may have heard that BP is refusing to allow scientists to use accurate, modern equipment to measure the flow rate at the wellhead, and is teaming up with the government to try to make its original much lower estimate stick, an estimate that has been widely discredited by independent observers. From an earlier story
BP has repeatedly said that its highest priority is stopping the leak, not measuring it. “There’s just no way to measure it,” Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, said in a recent briefing.
This is PR bullshit. How can you possibly begin to know how to stop the leak if you don't even know how big it is? There are a whole host of reasons to figure this out, foremost among them being that it's essential to solving the engineering problem. But there are two other reasons that are almost as important. The first is so that we can accurately assess the damage when it comes time to make BP pay for what it's done. The second is so that we can have a much better understanding of the risks involved in drilling these wells, risks that the industry repeatedly lied about.
Yet for decades, specialists have used a technique that is almost tailor-made for the problem. With undersea gear that resembles the ultrasound machines in medical offices, they measure the flow rate from hot-water vents on the ocean floor. Scientists said that such equipment could be tuned to allow for accurate measurement of oil and gas flowing from the well.
Richard Camilli and Andy Bowen, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who have routinely made such measurements, spoke extensively to BP last week, Mr. Bowen said. They were poised to fly to the gulf to conduct volume measurements.
But they were contacted late in the week and told not to come, at around the time BP decided to lower a large metal container to try to capture the leak. That maneuver failed. They have not been invited again.
Ok, so BP is using chemical dispersants that require "careful calculations" in order to determine whether or not their use causes more damage than doing nothing. And yet they refuse to allow independent scientists in to determine the actual rate of flow. 
Now, you may wonder why BP wouldn't want an accurate flow rate. After all, it's obviously something they'll need in order to mitigate this disaster, right?
The problem is that BP has no interest in mitigating this disaster. BP is interested in mitigating how much this disaster is going to cost BP, and that's it. 
From the first story:
Many experts in the field wonder why dispersants are being used at all so far out in the gulf, and why the federal agencies whose approval was required to apply the chemicals signed off on the plan.
Dispersants are conventionally applied to move oil off the surface of the ocean to protect marine life there and to prevent large amounts of surface oil from coming ashore. Yet the well that was left leaking by the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April is 50 miles from shore, which could be too far for the dispersants to play a helpful role in protecting coastal ecosystems, some experts said.
Why would BP spend millions on dispersants that will have no net benefit to the environment?
Here's your answer:
Recent research shows that rather than degrading the oil so that it disappears — a natural process that occurs over time — the dispersants move it to a different part of the ocean where, in theory, it causes less trouble. As in a shaken bottle of vegetable oil-based salad dressing, “what goes down, eventually comes up” somewhere, Dr. Fingas said.
Huge underwater plumes of dispersed oil have been spotted drifting in the gulf over the last week — a predictable consequence of dispersant use, according to experts including Dr. Fingas, because the oil droplets sink and are carried by underwater currents.
Frederic Hauge, head of the international environment group Bellona, said that the use of dispersants can make it harder to track a spill and to measure the effect of the oil and chemicals, because “you don’t know where it will pop up next.”
So BP is refusing to allow anyone to take the critical measurements of the flow rate from this well, because they know damn well that it a hell of a lot more than 5000 barrels a day. In fact, McClatchy reported today that a scientist testified to a House Energy subcommittee that his estimate of the flow rate was 95,000 barrels (4 millions gallons!) per day. And in order to make sure that no one can prove that this 5000 barrel number is wrong, they're using dangerous chemicals to disperse the oil across the world's seas so that no one will ever be able hold them liable for the true cost of the disaster.
Sure, all that dispersant will just make things worse, but who ever really believed that BP gave a damn about the environment anyway?


  1. They obviously don't care about the environment, this is just about protecting their profit share over the long term. It's blatantly obvious that solving an engineering problem of this magnitude requires knowing how much oil is leaking per second because there are potentially dozens of different methods that could be applied based on estimated flow-rate.

    Throwing tons of dispersent into the water is also troubling. What might be relatively benign in smaller quantities might grossly affect an eco-system if its not checked. But we know BP would rather kill the fish than show pictures of dead birds on TV.

    Sammy Jones

  2. And its no surprise. It's all about the profit motive for any company that gets itself into a mess like this. They are all tarred with the same brush.

  3. Start killing the CEO'S of these companies that fuck the earth, and see what happens. People act different when they fear for there lives and the lives of their families.

  4. The content posted above is really appreciable and worth a read. Good job done