Friday, June 18, 2010

Drill, Baby, Drill!

There is a widely circulated new analysis of the Gulf spill that was posted on The Oil Drum recently, which claims that the true extent of the catastrophe is much greater than either BP and the government are, even now, letting on.

The post lays out a fairly convincing argument that the problems within the well go far beyond what we can see on the deep sea video-in other words, that the oil spewing from the wellhead is not the whole story.

The poster, who identifies himself as an expert in domestic energy business, claims that everything that we know about the leak points to a catastrophic sub-seafloor failure of the well pipe, and that it is now leaking at around 1000 feet below the seafloor. This leak will grow worse and worse, until it results in an unrestricted flow of oil from the reservoir below. And to make matters worse, if the relief well that is currently being drilled doesn’t reach the well pipe before it disintegrates, it will be useless and we will be out of options to stop it. And at this point, we could be looking at releases of 150,000 barrels per day.

At this point, the entire capacity of the underlying Macondo prospect will flow unrestricted into the Gulf of Mexico.

Does this sound scary? It should. The Macondo reserve holds an estimated 50 million barrels of crude oil. This is 2.1 billion gallons of crude. To put that in perspective, this is 200 times the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. It is an unimaginable figure, and would cause an environmental disaster of unimaginable proportions.

The post claims that it is probably too late to prevent this from happening. I don’t know if that is true or not. I hope it’s not. But so far, everything that BP and the government has told us has been either a lie, or frighteningly wrong. There is absolutely no reason to believe anything they say regarding what’s actually happening down there. And so we have to assume that there is a good chance that the doomsday scenario will happen-that the entire 50 million barrel reserve is going to end up in the Gulf and eventually spread to all four corners of the earth.

What is BP doing about this possibility? Nothing. The spill response plan that BP was required by law to have ready at all times was useless, a generalized plan written by a contractor that had references to saving walruses and proved to be completely inadequate for the current spill, and will be even more so if this entire well does, in fact, fail.

We are told that they are drilling a relief well, and have been told that this is guaranteed to work. But now, unsurprisingly, we are learning that there is a good chance that it will not work, even if the well does not fail. What then?

I think that there is one other thing that we could do which would mitigate the disaster. It would be expensive, and that’s probably why I haven’t heard BP make a peep about it. In fact, I haven’t heard this suggestion anywhere, but I’m going to make it anyways: It’s time to start drilling multiple wells into this reserve. By this I don’t mean a relief well, because these won’t work in case of complete failure. I mean separate wells.

If this gusher cannot be stopped, we can either get the oil out in a relatively safe manner, or it can get itself out. Every barrel that we can get out through a well is a barrel that won’t be escaping into the sea. We don’t need one well, or two, but as many as we can possibly drill, in as short a time as possible. And we should start drilling them now, because they will take a long time to complete.

BP, of course, doesn’t want to contemplate this. Deep sea wells are extremely expensive to drill. Multiple wells make no economic sense in normal times, because there is a fixed amount of oil in a reserve, and there is no hurry in getting it out.

But these are not normal times. Every single day tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of barrels of poison are escaping from that reserve. We are in a huge fucking hurry.

Will this be expensive? Of course. We may drill these wells almost to completion only to find that the original well has not deteriorated further, and we may decide at that point that we only risk making the problem worse by tapping the reserve with the same well technology that just recently failed so spectacularly.

But if this well fails completely, then we are going to need these wells. It won’t matter if they fail, anyway. And it will be far to late to drill them at that point.

BP will scream bloody murder, of course. But if they refuse, the United States government should nationalize them, and make them drill. There is plenty of precedent for doing this in the face of threats to the national security, and there can be no doubt that this is exactly such a threat.

Empty promises from BP to pay for the cleanup instead are unacceptable. There is a great likelihood that BP doesn’t have enough money to pay for the damage already done, and that’s assuming that you can even put a price on what’s happened. And I don’t believe that you can.

It’s past time for us to assume the worst. We can no longer trust BP when they say they have a plan, or when the government says it’s on top of things.We can no longer allow BP to base its response to this disaster on its own financial interests. It’s time to act.

1 comment: