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      Watch this video. It’s only 39 seconds. It’s worth it. What’s interesting to me about this video is NOT what Bernie says, it’s the reaction. It’s how genuinely uncomfortable the people interviewing him (The NYTimes editors) are. They really think he’s saying something terrible. Something awkward. Something embarrassing. What is he saying? “I ignore the […] […]
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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?