Consumer Energy Report is now Energy Trends Insider -- Read More »

By Robert Rapier on May 4, 2010 with 44 responses

The Wake Up Call on the BP Drilling Disaster

Tags:

I have a few stories in the pipeline, but none seem particularly important with this BP disaster continuing to play out in the Gulf of Mexico. Following my previous story – in which I warned that the political fallout would be huge – President Obama has applied the brakes to new drilling projects, calling this spill a “massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster.” Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has also reversed his position on opening up offshore areas of California to drilling.

Schwarzenegger announced his decision on the plan Monday, saying TV images of the spill made him change his mind about the safety of ocean-based oil platforms.

“You turn on the television and see this enormous disaster, you say to yourself, ‘Why would we want to take on that kind of risk?’” he said at a news conference near Sacramento.

Senators from coastal areas of the United States have come out and said they will filibuster any legislation that attempts to open up new areas to drilling:

Democratic senators from two coastal states Tuesday called on President Obama to reverse his call for expanded offshore oil exploration after a massive spill from a damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I will make it short and to the point: The president’s proposal for offshore drilling is dead on arrival,” Florida Sen. Bill Nelson told reporters.

Meanwhile, the New York Times poses the question of how bad it really is:

Gulf Oil Spill Is Bad, but How Bad?

Some experts have been quick to predict apocalypse, painting grim pictures of 1,000 miles of irreplaceable wetlands and beaches at risk, fisheries damaged for seasons, fragile species wiped out and a region and an industry economically crippled for years.

“Right now what people are fearing has not materialized,” said Edward B. Overton, professor emeritus of environmental science at Louisiana State University and an expert on oil spills. “People have the idea of an Exxon Valdez, with a gunky, smelly black tide looming over the horizon waiting to wash ashore. I do not anticipate this will happen down here unless things get a lot worse.”

Nobody can say for certain just how bad the environmental fallout will be. It is too early to tell whether this will be ultimately comparable to the Exxon Valdez. But how bad is it? I am not one given to hyperbole, but beyond just the environmental implications, as I said in the previous essay I believe this is a death blow for the expansion of deepwater drilling in the U.S. Some will view that as a silver lining, others will view that as a potential disaster itself in that it will probably increase our dependence on foreign sources of petroleum in the short term, and exacerbate shortages in the long term.

This disaster calls into serious question the risk assessments that were done prior to drilling, which would have concluded that the risk of such an incident was remote. If the risk assessment concludes that there is anything other than an infinitesimal risk of something like this happening, you do not proceed unless the perceived risk is mitigated. But risk assessments are done by people, and people have blind spots. People make mistakes. I predict that when the incident investigation is complete, there will be specific risks identified that were overlooked or downplayed during the risk assessment. But then the next question is “What else has been overlooked?”

Who is ultimately responsible for this? BP and Transocean obviously bear the most direct responsibility. But keep in mind that we enable BP because we demand cheap energy. There are very real consequences from our cheap energy demands, and this incident casts a spotlight on one of those consequences. When gas prices spike, the public gets angry and politicians promise their constituents that they will fix the problem. So what is the result? We continue to scour the globe for cheap fossil fuels to satiate the public’s demand to be able to pull up to the pump and pay $2.50 a gallon for gasoline any time we feel like it. So while BP is certainly responsible, so are we all.

I have read of demands that this needs to be a wake-up call that we need cleaner sources of energy. I think we have already had that wake-up call. I think people recognize that we need cleaner sources of energy. If you poll the public, you will find broad support for that. No, the wake-up call needs to be that people connect the dots from their own energy consumption to oil spills in the gulf and explosions in coal mines. When that wake-up call is heeded, perhaps people can begin to understand the consequences of our perpetual demands for cheap energy. Then maybe we can all decide that the “non-negotiable American way of life” is actually negotiable.

  1. By Fat Man on May 4, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    My prediction is that this will all be forgotten by September, when gas is back at $4/gal.

    There is actually nothing here to debate. The USA is broke, busted, buddy can you spare a dime? We can drill all the oil we can find here or we can walk. Some of you may favor walking. Good for you. Those of us with kids and jobs and lives in fly-over country need to drive.

    Further, the chances of a disastrous spill increase if we do not drill offshore. Tankers are a bigger source of spills than drilling rigs. (see below for more context)

    Here is something to help you rationalize the situation. The well is leaking 5000 bbl/day. At ~160 l/bbl that is 800,000 l. A km^2 is 1,000,000 m^2. A prism with a base of 1 m and a height of 1 mm has a volume of 1 l. Therefore, the days leakage cannot cover 1 km^2 to a depth of 1 mm. Further, within a couple of days, half or more of the leakage will evaporate.

    Here is more context:

    http://books.nap.edu/catalog.p…..d_id=10388
    “Oil in the Sea III: Inputs, Fates, and Effects”
    National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences (2002)

    The 4 sources of oil in the environment are:

    Natural seeps:

    Natural seepage of crude oil from geologic formations below the seafloor to the marine environment off North America is estimated to exceed 160,000 tonnes (47,000,000 gallons), and 600,000 tonnes (180,000,000 gallons) globally, each year. Natural processes are therefore, responsible for over 60 percent of the petroleum entering North American waters, and over 45 percent of the petroleum entering the marine environment worldwide.

    Petroleum extraction:

    Activities associated with oil and gas exploration or production introduce, on average, an estimated 3,000 tonnes (880,000 gallons) of petroleum to North American waters, and 38,000 tonnes (11,000,000 gallons) worldwide, each year. Releases due to these activities, therefore, make up roughly 3 percent of the total petroleum input by anthropogenic activities to North American waters and 5 percent of the total worldwide.

    Petroleum transportation

    The transportation (including refining and distribution activities) of crude oil or refined products results in the release, on average, of an estimated 9,100 tonnes (2,700,000 gallons) of petroleum to North American waters, and 150,000 tonnes (44,000,000 gallons) worldwide, each year. Releases due to the transportation of petroleum, therefore, make up roughly 9 percent of the total petroleum input through anthropogenic activities to North American waters and less than 22 percent worldwide.

    Petroleum consumption

    Releases that occur during the consumption of petroleum, whether by individual car and boat owners, non-tank vessels, or runoff from increasingly paved urban areas, contribute the vast majority of petroleum introduced to the environment through human activity. On average, an estimated 84,000 tonnes (25,000,000 gallons) of petroleum are input to North American waters, and 480,000 tonnes (140,000,000 gallons) are input worldwide, each year from these diffuse sources. Therefore, releases associated with the consumption of petroleum make up nearly 70 percent of the petroleum introduced to the world’s oceans from anthropogenic sources and nearly 85 percent of the total petroleum input from anthropogenic sources to North American waters.

    Total:

    Collectively these four categories of sources add, each year on average, about 260,000 metric tonnes (about 76,000,000 gallons) of petroleum to the waters off North America. Annual worldwide estimates of petroleum input to the sea exceed 1,300,000 metric tonnes (about 380,000,000 gallons).

    The Deepwater Horizon spill is estimated to be 5000 barrels per day which is 210,000 gallons or 700 tonnes. It will have to continue for more than 7 months to reach the same order of magnitude as the natural seepage.

    [link]      
  2. By Monty on May 4, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Well said Fat Man. I completely agree.

    Not only that, I resent the title of this poorly written, unfactual article, as BP did not drill the well that had the blow out. And yes, details like that matter. A lot.

    [link]      
  3. By jrshipley on May 4, 2010 at 5:22 pm

    I sort of agree with Fat Man’s first comment about walking/driving and it’s exactly why I’d like to see the focus of the discussion around biofules shifted.  We all know the outline of the debate so far and it’s abundantly clear that biofuels are in no way a replacement option.  But as a niche regional option for those of us in Flyoversville maybe it makes more sense.  Strong supply of ethanol should help stabilize prices in Iowa over the summer, a nice return on the public investment that doesn’t get talked about in a lot of the smug anti-ethanol analysis. 

    And as the technology advances we can look into more efficiencies.  U Michigan scientists are cooking oil from wet algae.  Isn’t one of the other problems in the Gulf the algae blooms, fed by fertilizer runoff?  Can that be abated by capturing runoff for algae biofuel production?  There’s big questions about scale, volume, concentrations of nitrogen/phosphorous and I don’t have answers to defend the plausibility of the idea, but just imagine polluted water going into a plant and biodiesel and clean water coming out.  Our ecological and economic problems are integrated.  I can’t imagine the solutions won’t be.

    I’m not convinced by Fat Man’s second point simply because it doesn’t take into account the localization of the impacts of a disaster like this to compare it to releases spread out over the vast ocean floor.  To suggest that the local impact on people in the region, not to mention the ecology, can hardly be distinguished from natural seepage based on those calculations is astonishingly sophistical.

    [link]      
  4. By rrapier on May 4, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Not only that, I resent the title of this poorly written, unfactual article, as BP did not drill the well that had the blow out. And yes, details like that matter. A lot.

    BP did not drill the well, but they have already admitted their responsibility. So I am not accusing them of something they have not already themselves assumed responsibility for. BP is responsible under the law for contractors in their employ. Note that I didn’t say it was their fault, but it is their responsibility. It is their drilling disaster.

    Otherwise, I would certainly be interested to hear specific errors you feel are in the article.

    Regardless, I think you both missed the point. I believe this puts a serious damper on drilling. I predicted that in the first article, and people said “Oh, we will soon forget.” Then you have senators and governors all coming out and saying they have now changed your mind. So regardless of whether this turns out to be an unprecedented disaster, it is the perception that will change the debate.

    RR

    [link]      
  5. By rrapier on May 4, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    Those of us with kids and jobs and lives in fly-over country need to drive.

     

    I agree with that. The society we have built needs to drive. But we have built a society in which driving is enabled by a diminishing resource that has various negative externalities that we don’t pay for at the pump. So the immediate solution can’t be to stop driving, but the longer term solution needs to be to change the way we drive. Otherwise, whether we need to drive or not, if gasoline is $20 a gallon and only available part of the time, we are going to be forced into changing whether we like it or not. I would much rather manage that transition, which I think is going to be difficult in any case.

     

    Further, I am not in any way opposed to cheap energy or mobility. Mobility is freedom and improves our quality of life. I am concerned, though, when the cheap energy we are using isn’t going to be around forever, and we aren’t adequately preparing for the time that it’s all gone.

     

    RR

    [link]      
  6. By Kit P on May 4, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    “a nice return on the public
    investment that doesn’t get talked about in a lot of the smug
    anti-ethanol analysis.”

     

    By neuvo elitists who think anything
    German is a good idea for Flyoversville.

    [link]      
  7. By rrapier on May 4, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Kit, if you don’t have anything productive to add, please don’t say anything. I already have people e-mailing and asking me to ban you, so please behave.

    RR

    [link]      
  8. By Rufus on May 4, 2010 at 7:39 pm

    Well, this fall the citizens of Iowa (where E85 is selling for $1.86/gal in many places) will be able to drive a really nice Buick Sedan for approx $0.06/mile.

    [link]      
  9. By petes on May 4, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Rufus – even if you’re right about the E85 prices, you’re somewhat exaggerating even the most optimistic fuel efficiency of the 2010 “really nice Buick Sedans” I was able to Google. My mind still boggles that a 3.9L V6 is considered to be a sensible passenger car … it’s not even an interesting one. I guess nothing’s ever gonna change until price increases come and kick all our asses.

    [link]      
  10. By robert on May 4, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Those of us who live on the coast don’t give a damn if those of you with jobs and kids in flyover country need to drive. Or if gas cost four bucks. I like my beaches the way they are. White with snowy plovers on them. You can write your congressman demanding to drill in my backyard and the folks on the coast will tell you where to go. Listen to what the governator had to say. We don’t get jack for taking the risk.

    [link]      
  11. By Rufus on May 4, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Pete, this Buick Regal

    http://domesticfuel.com/2010/0…..o-be-ffvs/

    will have a 2.0L 4cyl Direct Injected, Turbocharged Engine that will get approx. within 5% the mileage on E85 that it will get on Gasoline. It should easily do 30mpg on E85.

    Here is a link to Iowa E85 Prices:

    http://e85prices.com/iowa.html

    [link]      
  12. By Rufus on May 4, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    You’ll notice, Pete, that the next iteration is expected to get, essentially, the same mileage on E85 as gasoline.

    BTW, this engine is being made in “Germany,” presumably from the Saab Biopower technology. The technology I’ve been pounding the table about for the last 2 years. And, for which I’ve received much derision.

    [link]      
  13. By Kit P on May 4, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    “please don’t say anything”

     

    Here is an idea. On the left side of
    the is column with the name of the author. If you do not like what I
    write don’t read it. I have a remote. When commercials for German
    car companies come on I switch to Fox News.

     

    I happen to live in country that does
    not like book burners. We dislike threats of censorship even if it
    means Nazis can hold rallies.

     

    RR you should not have the expectation
    of civility when you sling insults.

    [link]      
  14. By Wendell Mercantile on May 5, 2010 at 12:20 am

    The interesting thing about this oil leak is that it is not at all uncommon, it’s only concentrated and visible. Everyday at the bottoms of oceans all around the world, more oil than this one leak, plus all sorts of other noxious chemicals, continually seep out of undersea vents. It’s just that only a few scientists and oceanographers know about them, and hardly anyone — especially the media or politicans — care.

    The inconvenient truth is that oil seeping into the ocean is a natural process and has been for millions of years. The other truth is that oil is an organic material made of dead biomass and does decompose.

    I don’t want to see anyone’s white beach or shrimping grounds spoiled, but it will be self-correcting as part of nature’s scheme.

    It’s just like Three Mile Island in 1979. TMI actually did very little harm, it just scared the crap out of everyone, and those who could use that to their advantage did so.

    [link]      
  15. By Steve Funk on May 5, 2010 at 12:25 am

    So many people are saying we need to get off of our oil addiction. They don’t realize that closing down offshore drilling would no more stop our oil drilling than cutting taxes has reduced the size of government.
    What we need to do first is agree on a program to meet Sokolow’s goal of doubling vehicle fuel efficency and cutting vehicle miles in half. That would reduce total oil consumption about 45%.
    Then we need to decide whether it is better to produce the remainder of oil in our own offshore areas or to import it from the red sea, the caspian sea, the Brazilian Coast, the Mexican Gulf and the Canadian Tar sands.

    [link]      
  16. By takchess on May 5, 2010 at 6:31 am

    Robert,Do you agree with this ?

    Here is something to help you rationalize the situation. The well is leaking 5000 bbl/day. At ~160 l/bbl that is 800,000 l. A km^2 is 1,000,000 m^2. A prism with a base of 1 m and a height of 1 mm has a volume of 1 l. Therefore, the days leakage cannot cover 1 km^2 to a depth of 1 mm. Further, within a couple of days, half or more of the leakage will evaporate.

    Also, I don’t think that comparing seeps spread around the world across long period of time compares with a concentrated oil rig disaster, That’s an unsound argument although it was professionally presented.

    [link]      
  17. By DDHv on May 5, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Rufus said:

    You’ll notice, Pete, that the next iteration is expected to get, essentially, the same mileage on E85 as gasoline.

    BTW, this engine is being made in “Germany,” presumably from the Saab Biopower technology. The technology I’ve been pounding the table about for the last 2 years. And, for which I’ve received much derision.


     

    The Saab variable compression engine has been noted before, but with no information on how to get it. Having it in the USA is good news! The ability of ethanol to allow higher compression and thus an efficiency improvement should be used! Laugh

    On the general topic; our household is using bicycles with the largest baskets we can get for local transportation, drive as little as needed, use waste wood for part of our heat, blow summer air through the basement into the house for cooling (cuts winter heating bills also, the soil warms up), uses a back yard garden, and are actively looking for other things. These are cost saving means, not just energy savers. The savings are going into investments. Bluntly, we either spend on things that vanish, or on things that reproduce. Our choices, our consequences. Wink

    [link]      
  18. By Jerry Unruh on May 5, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Excellent article Robert. We all need to recognize our role in this disaster.

    [link]      
  19. By Stephen on May 5, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Thank you Rufus for the Buick link which shows one of your other posting names, “Kum Dollison.” With that moniker it seems you comment on a vast array of sites spouting the same ethanol talking points that I see here over and over. What insurance company did you work for again?

    [link]      
  20. By Rufus on May 5, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    You’re welcome, Stephen. Everyone here knows my name. As I stated in my first post on Robert’s old blog (which was blogspot,) I’ve had a blogspot account under Rufus since the start of Larry Kudlow’s blog.

    I couldn’t post under Rufus at the Oil Drum, and went to Kdolliso over there. It’s no big thing. All was disclosed.

    It’s interesting that you would think my name is more important than the news that we are entering a new generation of engines that will, by the next iteration, get the same fuel mileage on E85 as gasoline. And, at the same time, deliver more power, I might add.

    I brokered supplemental health coverage to employees of large groups (States, mostly.)

    [link]      
  21. By Benny BND Cole on May 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Happily, or otherwise, offshore drilling is not really vital to our future. We can easily conserve far more oil consumption that we can ever drill for offshore.

    Moreover, we have alternatives making their way to market, such as PHEVs, BEVs, and Rufus’ consarned E85.

    Personally I think a PHEV-methanol car would be doable and a deathray for OPEC.

    A methanol-PHEV would entirely eliminate demand for oil, and would run on domestic natural gas (methanol is made from natrual gas, at about $1.10 a gallon a current prices. Methanol has about half the BTUs of gasoline).

    GM is bringing the Volt to market later this year. ICEs can be converted to run on methanol rather easily. Such cars promise radical declines in oil demand, much cleaner urban air, and big increases in the domestic GDP, as money that used to flow out of the country to oil thug states would instead flow to domestic gas and methanol producers.

    Offshore drilling, in light of its scale, and the options coming to market, is really not that big of a deal. We can prosper with, or without, offshore oil.

    Note that I am not anti-drilling–I hope for much shale gas drilling.

    [link]      
  22. By Anonymous 2 on May 5, 2010 at 2:19 pm

    Robert,

    As an engineer, I’m curious about the safety devices, redundancy and how many systems had to fail to cause this explosion and oil leak. Do you know enough about these platforms to comment on that?

    We (engineers) can never design something to be completely fool-proof. I guess I’m curious how many events had to go wrong for the engineering safeguards to all fail.

    [link]      
  23. By rrapier on May 5, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Here is an idea. On the left side of the is column with the name of the author. If you do not like what I write don’t read it.

    Here is another idea. This forum is to further discussion on energy issues. When you post something that is nothing more than an insult and adds zero to the conversation, I will just delete it. How does that sound? You are a guest here, and I expect you to behave. The post I singled out above was merely antagonistic and added zero to the conversation. So instead of me just skipping over that tripe (your suggestion) I will just delete it to avoid the sort of mud-slinging that you are famous for instigating.

    I hope I have made myself clear.

    RR

    [link]      
  24. By rrapier on May 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    As an engineer, I’m curious about the safety devices, redundancy and how many systems had to fail to cause this explosion and oil leak. Do you know enough about these platforms to comment on that?

    I won’t speculate on cause, because it could in fact be a one in a million event that only took place because numerous highly unlikely factors lined up. Until they release the details of the incident investigation, you can’t be sure.

    However, in my personal experience, generally what is determined in these investigations is that even if a bunch of seemingly unlikely events line to cause an incident, the probability of those events lining up was been set too low. When we do safety studies, there may be a probability assigned to “High pressure alarm fails.” Many times there is enough data to assign a reasonable factor to that particular item, but sometimes it is just a swag. If you get enough swags on the low probability side, you can believe the probability of an event is one in a million when it is really one in a thousand.

    RR

    [link]      
  25. By Kit P on May 5, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    “TMI actually did very little harm,
    it just scared the crap out of everyone, and those who could use that
    to their advantage did so.”

     

    Wendell let me point out that TMI did
    no direct harm to workers, the public, or the environment. There may
    have indirect harm that resulted from replacement generation that did
    not have pollution controls we enjoy today. And Wendell if you ever
    let a journalist ‘scare the crap out of you’ it is your own fault for
    being gullible.

     

    We (engineers) can never design
    something to be completely fool-proof.

     

    The commercial nuclear power industry
    in the US and the west come pretty close. At TMI, the ‘engineering
    safeguards’ that protected the reactor core from damage did not fail
    but were turned off. Still several other defense in depth measures
    protected workers and public from harm.

     

    More than 10 years ago, two workers
    were killed from radiation poisoning at a fuel fabrication facility.
    There were 9 root causes. Nine things could have prevented the
    dearths.

     

    My personal pet peeve is blocked fire
    exits.

     

    Then there is this:

     

    “our household is using bicycles with
    the largest baskets we can get for local transportation

     

    Tell me this DDHv. Who has a better
    safety record? Coal miners, oil/gas platform workers, or bicyclists
    in heavy traffic carrying heavy loads. Is saving a little oil worth
    the death of a family member?

     

    It is like the German auto company who
    wants to replace the ‘dangerous’ 1 GWe nuke plant with 100,000
    0.0000000002 GWe ICE in the basement of homes with children.

     

    The safety benefit of using small
    amounts of energy far out weigh the risk of producing it considering
    that energy workers have an excellent safety record.

    [link]      
  26. By od on May 5, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    My understanding from lurking on drilling forums is Obama has only put a hold on new leases. Existing ones will still be drilled. I wouldn’t call that putting that brakes on offshore drilling. No surprise about the sentaor from Florida, he has made it clear he has been against offshore drilling from the start.

     

    It’s odd in a way watching this all unfold. When there was a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee last year, I don’t recall hearing massive calls for coal mining to come to a stop. Wonder why the double standard?

    [link]      
  27. By Wendell Mercantile on May 5, 2010 at 11:41 pm

    And Wendell if you ever let a journalist ’scare the crap out of you’ it is your own fault for being gullible.

    Kit P.

    I never let a journalist scare the crap out of me over TMI, and I’m not about to let them do it over an oil leak at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. It would not bother me to live near a nuclear reactor — I’d rather do that than live next to a coal-fired powerplant or an oil refinery.

    You’re right — not counting Hiroshima and Nagasaki — far more people have died from mining and burning coal than from nuclear power.

    And I know well nothing can be designed to be totally fool-proof or accident free. Close, but not perfect. As all engineers know the more reliable and fail-safe you want something to be, the more it will cost. For example, I could design a bridge that would never fail, but it would be massive and it’s cost would be prohibitive. The art of engineering is to design something that will do the job with an appropriate margin of safety while using minimum materials to do it.

    [link]      
  28. By disdaniel on May 6, 2010 at 2:19 am

    The wake up call needs to be that we invest in efficiency measures (nationwide) with IRRs of 20% or greater (especially ones that are back-stopped by government loans) like the program put forward about 1 year ago by Mayor Bloomberg in NYC, but was recently (~Dec. 09) made “voluntary” instead of mandatory, because a minimum 20% IRR is “too expensive” (huh?) for property owners.

    [link]      
  29. By Kit P on May 6, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    “It’s odd in a way watching this all unfold. When there was a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee last year, I don’t recall hearing massive calls for coal mining to come to a stop. Wonder why the double standard?”

     

    OD must not have been listening very close.  Second no one was hurt and there was no ball of fire for the TV cameras.  Third it was over very quickly with very limited environment impact.

     

    The attitude in the shoot something state familiar with coal is different than in the ban everything but magic wand state.

     

    “Hiroshima and Nagasaki”

     

    Wendell do you spend a lot of time comparing calculated acts of war to infrequent accidents?  

     

    “invest in efficiency measures (nationwide) with IRRs of 20% or greater”

     

    Could you provide some specific examples?  The wake up call for Disdaniel is that those types of investments have already been done or do not eixts.

    [link]      
  30. By rrapier on May 6, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    OD said:

    My understanding from lurking on drilling forums is Obama has only put a hold on new leases. Existing ones will still be drilled. I wouldn’t call that putting that brakes on offshore drilling. No surprise about the sentaor from Florida, he has made it clear he has been against offshore drilling from the start.

     

    It’s odd in a way watching this all unfold. When there was a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee last year, I don’t recall hearing massive calls for coal mining to come to a stop. Wonder why the double standard?


     

    OD, there are very specific reasons I used the words I used. I said “putting on the brakes” instead of “stopped” because the former implies a slowing down, which is in fact what Obama has done. That doesn’t mean things won’t speed back up from his perspective, but at this point he has tapped the brakes.

     

    I think the double-standard is because we all enjoy the beach. Nobody likes to think about the possibility of oil washing up on their beaches, and I think we can better emphathize with the people on the Gulf Coast who are watching the spill and worried about their livelihoods. We have also all seen pictures of oil-covered wildlife as a result of these spills, and I think those images are forever stuck in people’s minds. Most people probably couldn’t tell you what the coal ash spill looked like.

     

    RR

    [link]      
  31. By Wendell Mercantile on May 6, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    Wendell do you spend a lot of time comparing calculated acts of war to infrequent accidents?

    No, I was deliberately making a point of excluding those two Japanese cities so someone who was being pedantic couldn’t say, “Well, if you’re going to compare deaths due to coal against those of atomic power, what about Hiroshima and Nagasaki?”

    Of course those don’t count because they were deliberate acts, and not accidents. The point is that nuclear power is much safer — not to mention cleaner — than coal.

    Earlier I said I would rather live next to a nuclear reactor than next to a coal power plant or oil refinery. Let me also add I would rather live next to a reactor than next to a corn ethanol distillery.

    [link]      
  32. By od on May 6, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    KitP must not know how to get his/her point across without being smug and condensending. *rolls eyes*

    Wish there was an ignore feature.

    [link]      
  33. By Wayde Northrop on May 6, 2010 at 4:14 pm

    Third it was over very quickly with very limited environment impact.

    That’s debatable.

    [link]      
  34. By Kit P on May 6, 2010 at 6:23 pm

    Wayde I am here all week so debate
    away. I will be happy to respect your views by reading them. You
    could even get me to change my mind it you provided new information.

     

    The cleanup will TVA more than GPU at
    TMI. Just goes to show that messing up the inside of building is
    cheaper than messing up a neighborhood.

    [link]      
  35. By Geoffrey Goeggel on May 6, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    At one extreme end of this disaster is the complete death of the Gulf of Mexico.  If it’s still leaking 12 months from now, the Gukf is DEAD.  A cesspool of oil, spilling into the Carribean, and up the East Coast.

    But there is a solution : Bury It

    To remove harbor buildup caused by sediments, a cutter head suction dredge sucks up  8,000 CY of mud, travels offshore and releases the dredge spoil at an approved disposal site.  Ninety percent of the spoil plummets to the bottom as a turbidity current with velocities of 60-100 mph.  On impact with the bottom, the spoil forms a flattened debris cone. 

    We could bury this leak.  Mobilize all the Atlantic hopper dredges (10 or so), add 500 other dredging barges, and create a mound 1 mile in diameter and 500 feet deep over the leak site = 120,000,000 CY.  Trip time = 1 hour suction, 5 hours transit to leak site (50 miles @ 10 knots), 5 hours back = 2 trips per day/unit.  Buried in 15 days!  Need a real-time current meter array to mark the dump site and insure targeting of the spoil masses.

    It will cost $ 20/CY = $ 2.4 B.  BP should keep it very simple:  1) Here’s the approved areas to suck up the mud;  2)  Here’s where we want it to land;  3) Real time payment as soon as the spoil lands on its target.

     

    BP should assemble a team of 50 world experts and plan for the burial.  So if the cofferdam fails (probably will), the  leak can be buried by June 1st.

    [link]      
  36. By miket on May 7, 2010 at 12:15 am

    TMI was merely a level 5 event. It takes Soviet know how to create a level 7 (Chernobyl) or level 6 ( Kyshtym).
    http://www.damninteresting.com…..inates-you
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K…..#Explosion

    If you didnt know about that one it will make your head spin.
    Thankfully the western nuclear industry doesnt operate that way.

    Robert i woudlnt be suprised if this wasn’t one of those one in a million things. Im pretty sure the Klean energy plant explosion near me wasn’t. Who would of though that purging very vast amount of high pressure natural gas into an enclosed area where people were welding and grinding etc would be dangerous?

    [link]      
  37. By Kit P on May 8, 2010 at 8:46 am

    The USSR also hold the modern record for
    killing people with natural gas at 575.

     

    If you look at what was done at Hanford
    in a short period of time during WWII, the safety and environmental
    record is very impressive. Workers, the public, and the environment
    were protected. Maybe not to today’s standards but if you look at
    industrial accidents that occurred in Cleveland Ohio and Texas City
    Texas as examples of the worst US accidents they all occurred a long
    time ago.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L…..death_toll

    [link]      
  38. By BobC on May 8, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Robert Rapier said:

    I won’t speculate on cause, because it could in fact be a one in a million event that only took place because numerous highly unlikely factors lined up. Until they release the details of the incident investigation, you can’t be sure.


     

    Blowouts seem to be a lot more common than 1 in a million event would suggest. Remember that blow out preventers are the last resort when it comes to well control. It appears the accident occurring during well completion, ie. during or after casing and cementing.

    http://www.chron.com/disp/stor…..80770.html

    A 2007 MMS study
    found that although blowouts with offshore drilling operations were
    becoming less frequent, less deadly and less polluting,
    cementing-associated troubles persisted.

    Cementing problems
    were associated with 18 of 39 blowouts between 1992 and 2006, and 18 of
    70 from 1971 to 1991. There were 17 blowouts in the earlier period where
    contributing factors weren’t identified.

    Nearly all the
    blowouts examined occurred in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Also consider the MMS study from 2004 that showed only a minority of shear rams in use would actually work in a live situation. There is no rquirement that operators demonstrate that the shear rams work in situ, unlike in other regulatory domains (e.g. Brazil).

    Invariably when looking at these type of accidents, we find that the industry has had a series of close calls, the safety equipment that is the last resort is unproven, and both the industry and regulator have turned a blind eye to the problems. Add the fact that the deepwater wells are pushing the technology to its limits, a disaster was waiting to happen. This accident could, and shoud have been prevented.

    However, the oil industry is little different to any other industrial activity, whether it is nuclear, chemical or financial. If there is a possibility of the worst case happening, the nature of human behaviour and technology means that in the long run it probably will happen. We probably have to accept that fact, or choose not to perform activities that have a high impact when (not if) they fail.

    [link]      
  39. By miket on May 8, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Kitp, Kyshtym/Chelyabinsk is to Hanford what Chernobyl is to Three mile island.

     

    Fossil fuels are explosive, except if highly enriched nuclear fuels are not. Mining and drilling kills people all the time. Nuclear reactors require much less of it. Its sad/ironic that peole thing nuclear reactors are less safe. It must be a cold war thing. I dont understand it.

    Amazingly, nuclear has huge room for improvement left in fuel efficiency and waste reduction, ie Liquid Flouride Thorium Reactors. I dont see much roof for fossil fuel improvement so the gap is going to get magnitudes larger.

    [link]      
  40. By Kit P on May 8, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    “I dont understand it.”

     

    There are several factors. First
    there is irrational fear.

     

    Being in control is another factor.
    Flying is much safer than driving. I know this rationally but I
    still have a certain amount of fear of flying.

     

    We also fear what we do not understand.
    You do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out why your
    house could blow up with a NG leak. We have been trained to leave
    the house if we smell the odor of natural gas.

     

    Also fear sells. Horror movies are
    popular. What could be scarier than an out of control train carrying
    spent fuel rods? There have been no causes of accidental release of
    transportation casks but Greenpeace members chain themselves to the
    tracks to stop the trains in France. Most times they are able to
    stop the trains but there have been fatalities.

     

    Then there is fear mongering. It is a
    useful tool in persuading other to support your position.

    [link]      
  41. By paul-n on May 9, 2010 at 12:10 am

     

    The USSR also hold the modern record for
    killing people with natural gas at 575.

    Do you mean record for any industrial incident, or just NG? 

    [link]      
  42. By armchair261 on May 9, 2010 at 1:08 am

    “we find that the industry has had a series of close calls, the safety equipment that is the last resort is unproven, and both the industry and regulator have turned a blind eye to the problems. ”

    Maybe so. But (as I’ve posted before) let’s keep in mind that about 70,000 wells have been drilled in the offshore US, and only two events of this magnitude have occurred.

    [link]      
  43. By Kit P on May 9, 2010 at 7:25 am

    “Do you mean record for any
    industrial incident, or just NG?”

     

    Just NG in the context of producing
    energy after the lessons of Chernobyl should have been learned.
    There was also bad accident at a hydro plant in Russia during
    maintenance. Years and years of bad practices, the place was an
    accident waiting to happen.

     

    Of course the Bhopal disaster is the
    worst modern industrial incident. This is why chemical engineers
    like RR now know how to do a hazard analysis which were standard
    practice since the early 60s in the US nuclear industry.

     

    Unfortunately there are still too many
    examples of gross disregard for the safety of workers. The BP
    Refinery, Isomerization Unit Explosion that killed 15 and injured 180
    on March 23, 2005. The 2008 Georgia sugar refinery explosion was a
    dust explosions that 13 killed and injured 42.

    [link]      
  44. By jrshipley on May 10, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Robert Rapier said:

    As an engineer, I’m curious about the safety devices, redundancy and how many systems had to fail to cause this explosion and oil leak. Do you know enough about these platforms to comment on that?

    I won’t speculate on cause, because it could in fact be a one in a million event that only took place because numerous highly unlikely factors lined up. Until they release the details of the incident investigation, you can’t be sure.

    However, in my personal experience, generally what is determined in these investigations is that even if a bunch of seemingly unlikely events line to cause an incident, the probability of those events lining up was been set too low. When we do safety studies, there may be a probability assigned to “High pressure alarm fails.” Many times there is enough data to assign a reasonable factor to that particular item, but sometimes it is just a swag. If you get enough swags on the low probability side, you can believe the probability of an event is one in a million when it is really one in a thousand.

    RR


     

    So, I’m likely out of my league with the engineers in this thread, but I’ve done a lttle bit of research on the foundations of probability theory and the different mathematical models available because I’m a philosophy grad student interested in some epistemological issues surrounding uncertainty and prudential reasoning.  One really interesting model I encountered was the Imprecise Dirichlet Model.  It’s got a lot of nice features and deals well with some classical probability paradoxes, in my opinion (viz., Bertrand’s paradox).  Peter Walley has published a few articles developing this.  It’s based on the idea of using convex sets of probability functions rahter than trying to bo risk assesment based on a unique function.  I seem to recall that one of the examples that Walley cites as an application for the IDM is exactly in the area of deep water drilling.  When I read this I guess I just sort of assumed that it was actually being used by now.  If I recall Walley developed these ideas in the 90s.  If you’re using the IDM it should reduce the need to make a swag (that measn s__?__ wild assed guess, right?) wil because you get an interval of probabilities rather than a unique value.  Can anyone tell me if the IDM is actually being used?  Are they really doing risk assessments for this kind of event based on swags?  I guess if you have no data at all then the IDM isn’t going to helped, but I’d be interested to know if any of the nifty math I’ve been trying to learn is being used in any case.

    [link]      
Register or log in now to save your comments and get priority moderation!