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Oilpocalypse Update: Top Kill Setback

Marsh choked with oil

The New York Times reports:

BP had to halt its ambitious effort to plug its stricken oil well in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday afternoon when engineers saw that too much of the drilling fluid they were injecting into the well was escaping along with the leaking crude oil.

A technician at the BP command center said that pumping of the fluid had to be stopped temporarily while engineers were revising their plans, and that the company hoped to resume pumping by midnight, if federal officials approved.

The technician, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters, said the problem was not seen as serious. “We’re still quite optimistic,” he said, but cautioned: “It is not assured and its not a done deal yet. All of this will require some time.”

It’s so nice to know that BP is still optimistic.

Here is the comment thread at the Oil Drum, where they are discussing this and other developments. Dakinikat turned me on to the site.

One thing I’ve been wondering about is what will happen if a hurricane blows through the Gulf and stirs up all that oil, which the government now admits is probably way more than was released in the Exxon Valdez spill. Jeff Masters at Weather Underground wrote a lengthy piece that addresses this question. He says that

A hurricane has never passed over a sizable oil spill before, so there are a lot of unknowns about what might happen. The closest call came in 1979, after the greatest accidental oil spill in history, the massive Ixtoc I blowout. That disaster dumped 3 million barrels (126 million gallons) of oil into the Southern Gulf of Mexico between June 1979 and March 1980. Category 1 Hurricane Henri passed just north of the main portion of the oil spill on September 16 and 17, generating 15 foot seas and southwest winds of 15 – 25 knots over the spill region on the 16th….The main impact of the wind was to dilute the oil and weather it, converting it to a thick “mousse.”

Based on what happened back then, a hurricane can help clean up an oily beach, but the oil is then carried further away to foul other areas.

Consider the case of the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. The ill-fated tanker split open in Prince William Sound on March 24, and oil spill response crews were initially able to contain the spill behind booms and make good progress removing it. However, two days later, a powerful Gulf of Alaska storm with 70 mph winds roared through, overwhelming the containment booms and distributing the oil along a 90-mile stretch of coast. The oil went on to foul over 400 miles of Alaska coast, a far larger disaster than would have occurred than if the storm had not passed by. Similarly, a hurricane moving through the Gulf of Mexico spill will very likely make the disaster much worse, spreading out the oil over a larger region, and bringing the oil to shores that otherwise might not have seen oil. It is true that the oil will be diluted some by being spread out over a larger area, so some shores will not see a substantial oiling. But overall, a hurricane passing through the oil spill is likely to result in much higher damage to the coast.

What will be the effect of a hurricane on the giant plumes of oil that are being discovered just beneath the surface of the water? Masters writes:

Hurricanes act like huge blenders that plow through the ocean, thoroughly mixing surface waters to depths as great as 200 meters (650 feet), and pulling waters from depth to the surface. Thus if sub-surface plumes of oil are located within 200 meters of the surface, a hurricane could potentially bring them to the surface. However, the huge sub-surface plumes of oil found by the research vessel Pelican were at depths of 2300 – 4200 feet, and a hurricane will not affect the ocean circulation at those depths.

According to the report in the Washington Post, the recently discovered oil plume extends from just under the surface of the water down to 3200 feet and it is more than 6 miles wide. It is also invisible.

“Here is a situation where, unless you’re looking at the chemical fingerprints, [the oil] is absolutely not visible,” Hollander said. “It’s not some Italian vinaigrette or anything like that. It’s absolutely, perfectly clear.”

But, Hollander said, even this clear-looking water could contain enough oil to be toxic to small animals at the base of the gulf food chain. He said he was also worried that the oil contains traces of “dispersants,” soap-like chemicals sprayed into the oil to break it up.

What happens if a hurricane passes over that? Would it carry “invisible” dissolved oil for miles and drop it in far-away places where it won’t even be detected until it makes people and animals sick? I have no idea; I’m just asking.

What are you hearing?

47 Responses

  1. I’m scared. I don’t know why our dear leader is so calm.

    • He’s a robot

      • yeah, Al Gore got SO MUCH flack for being “wooden” – um, hello? BO’s not even as animated as those disneyland characters.

    • I’m scared too.

      Maybe the UN will intervene to help us, since our own president is MIA.

      I’m planning a trip to the oregon coast real soon, to appreciate a clean ocean while we have it.

    • “If you can keep your head while those around you are losing theirs, you obviously don’t understand what the fuck is going on.”

    • He’s clueless.

    • Hi… Thx for following this. Emily and I are on the road here. Boy, are folks around here pissed. The news is on and they are booing the president, admiral allen too.

      • Good! I hope they get booed tomorrow in person.

        • There’s this huge expectation that he’s going to come here and things are going to start happening.

          Nearly every one is saying Why did they wait so long? there’s this huge chorus of that … The TVs down here on on LSU’s baseball game and CNN covering the oil spill.

          Emily and I are going to Venice tomorrow in the morning. We’re going to try to blog and photo the president’s visit and the reaction to it. I was in a bar with fisherman all night like. All you hear is Why did they wait so long?

          • That marsh photo is heartbreaking, but what really gets me is how much of a one-two punch this to LA and other gulf coast states. First Katrina, now this. I cannot even imagine how demoralizing it is to you there, not just the crises, but the inadequate-to-the-point-of-immoral response by the platitudinous president.

            If I hear one more sycophantic “journalist” talk about how much B0 “cares,” I think I will spew.

            I wish you and others will document the h$ll out of this, so there is evidence of what was done and undone.

  2. I just know the Coast Guard admiral who announced the good news is walking them back
    Damn, I so wanted this to work!

    • It could still work. I just heard they are going to try a “junk shot” tonight and then resume the “top kill.”

      This terminology is so strange.

      • the terminology makes it sound as if Obama will be getting in a suit like Bush displaying his crotch any moment now.

        • LOL! That would be quite a sight. I have a feeling he would look more like Dukakis in the tank than Bush in the flight suit.

          • If the Corporate Media had been as hostile to Dubya as they were to Dukakis, Dubya in the flight suit would have been equated with Dukakis in the tank.

            As usual, IOKIYAR.

  3. Also, AP has a story about what happened at the time of the explosion

    “Steve Bertone, the chief engineer for Transocean, wrote in his witness statement that he ran up the bridge and heard the captain screaming at a worker for pressing the distress button. Bertone turned to Pleasant, who was manning the emergency disconnect system, and asked whether it had been engaged.

    Pleasant told Bertone that he needed approval first, according to Bertone’s sworn statement.”

  4. That marsh photo is heartbreaking.

    • it is so depressing I am worried about the future even if they cap this effing thing tonight. Clean up should have started right away and I do not care what anyone says, they have not been cleaning up. They have at best been covering up and that includes the White House.

    • Oops. Duplicated this up above. Thought it didn’t post.

  5. http://www.wwltv.com/news/3-in-hospital-receiving-treatment-for-contact-with-dispersant-4-more-on-way-94980259.html

    Posted on May 26, 2010 at 9:30 PM

    Updated today at 7:15 AM

    NEW ORLEANS – Seven people have been admitted into the West Jefferson Medical Center and are receiving treatment for having contact with dispersant while working to clean up the oil spill.

    Taslin Alfonso, a spokesperson for the hospital, said two of the men came by ambulance and one by helicopter. All three were on the same boat in Venice. The other four came by ground.

    Alfonso said it “seems to be the case” that some of the men, such as the one flown in by helicopter, have worse conditions than the rest, but the hospital can’t release any more information at this time.

    Because they are still being examined and treated by doctors, the cause of the men’s condition is still unknown. But Alfonso said the workers do believe that the dispersant caused their symptoms.

    Alfonso said they were all complaining of “severe” headaches, but none of these instances are considered critical. Alfonso said there are other health concerns at this time, but the family did not want to disclose that information to the media.

    “This is the first time that we’ve gotten patients complaining of something related to the oil spill, so at this time we’re just trying to assess the patients and making them safe,” Alfonso said.

    The men said they were in Venice about an hour offshore when they began to feel the symptoms.

    • Here’s another report from today (bold is mine):

      The Coast Guard pulled commercial fishing boats from oil cleanup efforts in Breton Sound off the Louisiana coast on Wednesday after several people became ill. Crew members on three vessels reported nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains, the Coast Guard said. Four people were hospitalized, including one who was flown to a hospital.

  6. Hillary says the rich aren’t paying their fair share (bold is added):

    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a rare foray into domestic politics today, offering her view that — given America’s high unemployment — wealthy Americans don’t pay enough taxes.

    “The rich are not paying their fair share in any nation that is facing the kind of employment issues [America currently does] — whether it’s individual, corporate or whatever [form of] taxation forms,” Clinton told an audience at the Brookings Institution, where she was discussing the Administration’s new National Security Strategy.

    Clinton said the comment was her personal opinion alone. “I’m not speaking for the administration, so I’ll preface that with a very clear caveat,” she said.

    Clinton went on to cite Brazil as a model.

    “Brazil has the highest tax-to-GDP rate in the Western Hemisphere and guess what — they’re growing like crazy,” Clinton said. “And the rich are getting richer, but they’re pulling people out of poverty.”

    • {{{ sigh }}}

    • they’re pulling people out of poverty.

      Whereas the current administration is pushing people into poverty.

      And Hillary would make BP shake in their $300 loafers.


      • I think the current administration has a goal of building and maintaining a huge disenfranchised class that will be perpetually angry, dependent on the government, and malleable as voters.

    • she is so smart and knows about what is happening all over the world and what works and what doesn’t…. “sigh” is right!

      On a lighter note, for thos of you looking for some entertainment: So You think You Can Dance is starting it’s new season tonight and they just had the hottest Latin dance couple I have seen ever!

    • Wow, that actually sounded like something a real liberal would agree with. So I know out of all the people in the Obama administration, it had to have come from Hillary. She’s one of the few people on his team with at least some idea of what liberalism means and how it can be used to improve the lives of ordinary people.

    • Great find Wonk. She’s right of course. Top marginal rates should be at least 50% if not higher, as it was under Reagan. Capital gains exclusions should be eliminated. Effective corporate rates should be held higher by closing loopholes. Brazil is booming because they are a young population, opposite of Greece, not because of their tax policy.

  7. {{{ sigh }}}

  8. Venice, Louisiana (CNN) — BP’s much-anticipated attempt to cap its undersea gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, a spill now estimated at twice the size of the Exxon Valdez disaster, was suspended for more than 16 hours before it was restarted late Thursday afternoon, a BP executive said Thursday.


    Did I miss something? They are now saying that it was suspended last night, and now again today? I’m confused.

    • I’ve heard so many different things now–I don’t know what to think.

    • Here’s a fun part of the article:

      A White House official told CNN that people inside the White House knew about the temporary halt in the “top kill,” but it wasn’t clear if Obama was aware of it.

      The official said the president wouldn’t micromanage every decision made by BP and government officials working the disaster site. The White House didn’t announce the break because it didn’t seem to be a major issue — the operation had continued throughout the break and the pumping of the liquid resumed later in the afternoon, the official said.

      Know what? I suspect the topkill has failed and they’re stalling because Obama told them he won’t be so nice if he has to go down to Louisiana tomorrow to a FAIL….so we’lll hear the truth this weekend when everyone is camping…..

  9. you know Obama’s in deep sh*t over this because Larry King is now airing a tribute on his “historic” inauguration. I think I’m gonna be sick

    • People were booing down here. I just got home from a bar filled with some really pissed off shrimpers, oystermen, etc.

      • This is really destroying a culture – no more nawlins seafood for a long time.

  10. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/37387931/ns/local_news-new_orleans_la/

    Davis said the tracking maps released by BP don’t accurately reflect the places that already have oil. Some of them are a lot closer to Lake Pontchartrain than anyone likes to think about.

    Davis and his staff have seen the thick black oil on places like Brush Island, near Lake Borgne, and they say that’s too close to St. Tammany Parish.

    But the oil is not showing up on BP’s maps.

    “Those should have red Xs on them so people know there is already oil there,” Davis said. “And they are not showing up, and we are trying to track that down and understand why they are not being put into the larger picture that is being produced.”


  11. http://blogs.reuters.com/ask/2010/05/27/has-the-obama-administrations-response-to-the-oil-spill-been-enough/

    Retuers poll asking if you think the Obama administration’s response to the Oil Spill has been adequate?

    Vote early and often because you know they do it that wayin Chicago!

  12. I’m hearing the preznit’s schedule is mostly flying around in the helicopter now and then to Grand Isle beach where they’ve been busing in people to clean up the area all morning. It’s basically turned into a Potemkin village. He’s going to give a speech and then leave.

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