Friday, May 28, 2010

Oil in perspective

Images of oil-- picturing scale

I am trying to construct a narrative that is large enough to encompass the new facts and ensuing time since the Deep Horizon oil rig explosion and the unfolding disaster began in the gulf of Mexico.

I gather that the trouble started because they were attempting to cap the oil well.   Some report this was an exploratory drill that was to be capped and then possibly returned to in the future.  Others say that the  well was disappointingly "unproductive"and British Petroleum (BP) who bought the rights to this oil field wanted to move the oil rig elsewhere in the gulf.  Reportedly it costs $500,000 per day for BP to rent an oil rig from its owner Transocean Ltd, and, running the operation costs another $ 500,000 per day so, one day and  ~$ 1million gets the crude oil out of the ground (water).   Thus, the amount of oil we see spewing into the gulf waters via webcam was, prior to April 20, 2010, "trivial" relative to some level of profitability and consumption.  At day 35 in this ecological, humanitarian, economic, political, and moral disaster, lack of oil production is not the problem.

Looking for ways to chip in and help I donated money to Audubon and then 34 more days have passed. In an effort match the personal response needed or, at the very least, visualize it, I thought perhaps I should reduce my own daily consumption (and that of my less enthusiastic family members) by the amount this represents.  This led me to review some basic facts and then try to shake these into some pattern that I could work with.  What I have is not a coherent story but a pile of shattered fragments that, taken together, are unbelievable.

A barrel of crude oil is 42 gallons. Out of every 100 measures of liquid crude oil one would get about 40 measures of gasoline (or about 40% of crude oil is gasoline). Chemical means have allowed us to increase this proportion by breaking larger hydrocarbons or combining smaller ones to make more gasoline.

What is flowing out of that 21 inch diameter pipe is crude oil-- at a rate that was, until yesterday reported to be 5000 to 100,000 barrels per day or 210,000 to 4,200,000 US gallons.  However according to the Associate Press reports today two separate teams of experts using different methods report that 17 million to 39 million gallons of oil have leaked thus far (1/2-1 million gallons per day).
So how much is that? 

In America we use 20 billion barrels of oil per day.
A billion is a thousand million or 1,000,000,000.
Of this total, 9 billion barrels per day is used in cars.  In the more familiar measure this is ~390 billion gallons per day of gasoline.
The ANWR reserve in Alaska that we keep almost drilling, "drill baby drill", is estimated to have 10.4 billion barrels of oil total. As someone pointed out, not enough for a day.
The oil field in the gulf that was tapped by the Deep Horizon was estimated by BP to have a total of 50 million barrels (7.9×10^6 m3) of oil prior to the blowout.  When BP submitted documents for permits they estimated 160,000 barrels per day as "worst case scenario". These were updated by them to 240,000 barrels per day.  Thus, presumably unless the fish get mechanically inclined we may have a calculable, albeit tragic, end point.  No, I do not know why I would believe that number was credible.

The largest oil spill in history was not the Exxon Valdez with the paltry 11 million (mind your zeros) gallons (not barrels) it was a 10 month long spill in Mexico.

BP has accepted responsibility for the oil spill and the cleanup costs, but indicated they are not at fault as the platform was run by Transocean personnel.
Haliburton corp (yes, they do seem to do everything and be everywhere) put the cement in the well pipes 20 hours prior to the explosion and were to put in a final cement cap so that the well could be re-tapped in the future if it became more profitable to do so.

A group of BP executives were on board the platform celebrating the project's safety record when the blowout occurred;[46] they were injured but survived.

The US coastguard discovered the spill on April 22.
On April 23 BP sent a remotely operated vehicle and reported there was no oil leakage. The coast guard agreed.
On April 24 the coast guard said there was a leak.
As of May 2, 2010, BP had sent six remotely operated underwater vehicles to close the blowout preventer valves, but all attempts were ultimately unsuccessful.
Oil was known to be leaking into the gulf from three different locations. On May 5, BP announced that the smallest of three known leaks had been capped. This did not reduce the amount of oil flowing out, but it did allow the repair group to focus their efforts on the two remaining leaks.[103]
On May 18, 2010, CBS reporter Kelly Cobiella tried to visit the beaches in the Gulf of Mexico to report on the disaster. She was met by BP contractors and American Coast Guard officers who threatened her with arrest if she did not leave. The Coast Guard officials specified that they were acting under the authority of BP.[98]
On May 19, scientists monitoring the spill with the European Space Agency Envisat radar satellite stated that oil reached the Loop Current, which flows clockwise around the Gulf of Mexico towards Florida, and may reach Florida within 6 days
On May 20, 2010 (one month or 30 days) the US secretary of the interior stated that the U.S. government will verify how much oil has leaked into the Gulf of Mexico
On May 14, engineers began the process of positioning a riser insertion tube tool at the largest oil leak site. After three days, BP reported the tube was working. Since then, collection rates have varied daily between 1,000 and 5,000 barrels (42,000 and 210,000 US gallons; 160,000 and 790,000 litres), the average being 2,000 barrels (84,000 US gallons; 320,000 litres) a day,
U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, the chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming discovers that there is a video clip of the oil leak on Youtube and demands BP release video footage and feed to US government.
May 21 tube removed so BP can "close the well".
At this point BP continues to report spill rates of 5000 barrels per day.
On May 25, a scheduled flyover was denied permission after BP officials learned that a member of the press would be on board.[99]
PBS' "Newshour" converted a video feed from BP to make it work on most Web browsers and has made that available for free.
May 26th BP starts the "top kill" operation
On May 27, U.S. Coast Guard reports that BP engineers had succeeded in stopping the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf of Mexico. He further stated that the well still has low pressure, but cement will be used to cap the well permanently as soon as the pressure hits zero.[114]

Tonight we learned that the US government and BP officials reported to the news media that "things" were going well with the newest operation to stop the oil spill by blocking the pipe with mud and concrete from above.  These reports were provided to us when in fact the operation stopped at 11 pm the previous evening.  Incredibly, this means the US government is relying on BP to provide valid and timely information.  Couldn't the US government wiretap BP officials or constrain them in some way to operate under surveillance? Perhaps it is a trend in the right direction insofar as the lifespan of lies is less than 12 hours.

Seven fisherpeople of the gulf were taken to hospital today with what was deemed toxic effects of oil and dehydration. Thus, all private (or non-corporate) boats working to mitigate the effects of the oil spill were called back to shore.

Two additional relief wells are being drilled into the oil field to reduce the pressure. These will take 2-3 months before they will be able to contribute significantly to the solution.

The head of the Mining agency resigned today. It was cited that this agency was given tickets to ballgames by BP and shared computer porn.

All the means of prevention that are standard in other countries we do not employ- cost you know.

I will keep up my calculations to see if I can figure out means to express the amount of oil as percent of daily energy use or car drives or something that we can respond. I do know that I want people to stop telling me their response is adequate unless they are closing the well or washing birds. Our leadership needs to get the data, get in charge, and then give us all a way to take this disaster and make a commitment to lower cost (lower environmentally costly) fuels and reduced consumption. High oil prices in 2008 reduced our use and changed our habit in one month. For example, Americans travel 7 billion miles per day but with hike in gas prices we reduced our miles driven by 9.6 billion in the 31 days of May 2008.

We act like we cannot change. Its simply impossible to expect sacrifices in terms of energy or the need to use petrochemicals and coals. But, the people that live in LA, FL, AL, are sacrificing again, with everything and maybe a few of us could make life changing moves too. To reduce the risks of oil spills, oil wars, loss of integrity and oh, yes, global warming.

With great sorrow I see so many dirty hands and shortcuts from years of the same until its normalized.

Let me know if this is useful to you or what you think would help tell the story better.



online rent payment said...

This type of disasters will ruin the whole environment. This will pollute the environment that it will have large and devastating effects of our lives.

Anonymous said...

This is a really good reflection. I haven't been able to stop wanting to cry in the last few days. It's a huge bolus of grief I'm carrying in my chest and all I want to do is put my head down and sob. What you offer in data is the possibility of action and a witness of solidarity with what the coastline of our nation is enduring.