Posts Tagged Gulf of Mexico

Vermillion 380 Explosion

Posted by on Thursday, 2 September, 2010

The Vermillion 380 offshore platform, owned by Mariner Energy, has exploded. This disaster is occurring while there is still oil throughout the Gulf of Mexico because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Vermillion 380 platform gets its name from Vermillion Bay, Louisiana which is north of the platform. Although this platform was about 90 miles south of the Louisiana shore, it was in shallow water, so the special hazards and difficulties of working a mile underwater to stop the Deepwater Horizon are not present.

Louisiana officials have responded quickly to this disaster. The Vermilion platform caught on fire on the morning of September 2. Governor Bobby Jindal consulted Coast Guard professionals, as well as other state and federal experts, and held a press conference a few hours later. According to the Louisiana Emergency Website, all 13 of the platform workers were successfully rescued by the Coast Guard. Mariner claims that this platform produced up to 1,800 barrels of oil a day, which is much less than what the Deepwater Horizon could produce.

There have been previous safety accidents related to Vermillion platforms. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, a helicopter which was flying from the Vermillion 408 platform to the Vermillion 369 platform never made it to the second platform. The Coast Guard did not find the missing helicopter or the helicopter pilot, so Coast Guard officials believe that this was a fatal accident.

The federal government does provide grants to assist residents who are affected by disasters in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the United States Department of Commerce, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke provided a grant of $30.7 million dollars to the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration. This grant will allow the agency to rebuild a barrier headland. Although the source talks about this grant with respect to the BP disaster, the actual project this money will fund seems like it will be a lot more useful for protecting Gulf residents from hurricanes, such as Hurricane Katrina.

The Department of the Interior is now working with scientists at government laboratories, as well as universities and companies, to create a scenario modeling tool to make spill recovery efforts more effective. According to the Department of the Interior, the project will model the long term effects of the Deepwater Horizon on the Gulf of Mexico, such as the loss of fishing and shrimping jobs, the loss in tourism and related restaurant and hotel sales declines, and the cost of health care for residents who have physically suffered due to the oil and the toxic dispersants used to clean up spills.

Corexit Alternatives

Posted by on Sunday, 15 August, 2010

After the spill in the Gulf, British Petroleum used Corexit to disperse the oil in the ocean. Corexit is harmful to sea life, so many people protest the use of this compound. BP claims that Corexit is the safest dispersant it can use. So I decided to see if I could find any alternatives to Corexit. There are safer dispersants available, but they do not have EPA approval, although they have approval in Europe.

The IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute provides a list of 25 chemical dispersants which various countries authorize for use cleaning up oil spills. The two dispersants which have seen widespread use in the Gulf of Mexico, Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527, receive approval in several countries, while other dispersants have less widespread authorization. Two other versions of Corexit, Corexit 9550 and Corexit CRX-8, are only approved for use in Canada as of 2001.

Dispersants do vary in toxicity. A list compiled by Cornell University includes a study which compares the toxic effects of several dispersants on corals. The study concludes that Slickgone, which is approved for use in Norway and Great Britain, has the least effect on coral. In ascending toxicity, the other dispersants in the study are Petrotech, Inipol and Bioreico, Emulgel, and Dispolene. Inipol and Dispolene are approved for use in several counries according to the IVL, and the other dispersants are not mentioned on the list.

A visit to Dasic shows that the company is aware of problems with dispersant toxicity and has designed its dispersants to address these issues. Of the two Dasic Slickgones on the IVL list, Dasic claims it did not maintain approval in Britain for Slickgone LTSW, and still has British approval for Slickgone NS. Dasic mentions that it also makes Slickgone EW, a newer product version. Of note, there is also a freshwater version of Dasic Slickgone, which is important in case the oil spreads up the Missisippi. Dasic mentions that freshwater dispersants are less commonly available. According to the Bonn Agreement, Belgium also uses Slickgone NS.

BP does have stocks of Slickgone. According to the Epoch Times, BP has ordered 150 metric tons of Dasic Slickgone, and claims that it hasn’t been delivered yet because it doesn’t have EPA approval. The IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute list does not show that Dasic Slickgone is approved for use in either the USA or Canada. EPA approved dispersants appear on the National Contingency Plan Product Schedule, along with surface washing agents and bioremediation agents which the EPA has approved. The Epoch Times article also mentions that Norway does not allow the use of Corexit 9500 in the North Sea because it is considered to be too toxic.

Stopping the Spill at the Macondo Prospect

Posted by on Tuesday, 15 June, 2010

Oil continues to flow into the Gulf of Mexico and new information suggests some of the public’s worst fears may be true. A post at the Oil Drum, from a Democratic Underground link, suggests that the well is structurally damaged in a way that makes it nearly impossible to fix.

The poster, Dougr, claims that the well bore structure is damaged. This means that any of British Petroleum’s attempts to push mud into the top of the well cannot work. The basic explanation is that the top several hundred feet of the well is a pipe built in soft sea floor material, which consists of sand and mud, and this well pipe itself is now damaged, is leaking oil far underneath this sea floor layer, and is in danger of falling over since the weakened sea floor cannot support the structure. According to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the top layer of the sea floor consists of sand and mud sediment which can be up to a kilometer thick.

A relief well is one method of redirecting this oil flow. According to the Globe and Mail, Canada requires a same season relief well requirement. This requires any oil extraction company to have the ability to drill a relief well during the season it drills the extraction well. Oil companies contest this law because it can take more than a season to drill wells deep below the ocean, several years in some cases. Canada has strict relief well requirements because it is not possible to drill relief wells under the ice in winter. This regulation still potentially allows a lot of oil to spill. If oil is leaking at 100,000 barrels a day, it’s possible that 9 million barrels could leak out in a month, since a season is around 90 days.

Dougr claims that BP’s other alternative is simply to let the oil flow out of the well and attempt to clean it up afterward. This explains why BP abandoned its top kill attempt, since pouring 115,000 barrels of mud per day into the pipe is greater than the highest estimates of the oil flow speed and would have closed off the well if the pipe was not damaged. Opening the well up as far as possible releases all of the oil into the same area, so the oil will be concentrated in one spot for the tankers to collect. If BP has done this and the rate of oil flow has not increased, it means that the pipe was already leaking as much oil as the maximum controlled extraction rate. According to Macleans, BP told the US government that a relief well blowout could spill oil at the same rate as the main well, doubling the flow rate.

Oil Spill Dispersant Information

Posted by on Saturday, 29 May, 2010

BP is using dispersants to mitigate the effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A dispersant breaks up large patches of oil on the surface and forces them to sink into the ocean. Some dispersants are toxic, some are less toxic. The dispersant BP is using is called Corexit. According to the MSDS, it is a hydrocarbon with several other additives. Nalco, the manufacturer, does not give the exact formulation of Corexit, likely because it is a trade secret. This makes it very difficult to determine the toxicity of this dispersant.

Searching for more information on the formulation gives some information on the typical components of a dispersant. The National Academy of Sciences mentions some of the chemicals which make up a surfactant. There are ionic and nonionic chemicals present in the surfactant. Nonionic surfactants that are in Corexit surfactants include sorbitan oleates and their derivatives. Sorbitan oleate is an emulsifier and an oil soluble surfactant. Derivatives include several chemicals known as tweens, such as Tween 80. Tween 80 itself is safe enough to be used as a food ingredient, but manufacturing it requires the use of the precursor ethylene oxide, which is a carcinogen and might be present as an impurity. Tween 80 is also known as polysorbate 80. This substance includes very long chain hydrocarbons, so it is related to fats and oils and it is soluble in petroleum. According to the National Academy of Sciences, the chemical sodium dioctyl sulfosuccinate is the main ionic surfactant. It is also considered safe for use in food as a cocoa additive, according to Ohio State.

Scientists at the University of California, Davis specifically tested one type of Corexit, Corexit 9500, to determine its toxicity for sea life. UC Davis is a large university in Davis, a town outside California’s capital, Sacramento. This school has a great reputation for research, and it is one of the best ranked universities in California. Davis focuses heavily on agricultural research because of its inland location near a lot of farmland around the state capital. The main conclusion from this study is that the different formulations of Corexit had similar toxicities. Corexit 9500 is designed to be less toxic than the previous formula, Corexit 9527. According to the National Academies the Corexit solvent was changed from glycol ether, which was irritating people, to a variety of long chain hydrocarbons, basically chains longer than octane like nonane and decane, up to hexadecane where anything with a longer chain isn’t liquid at room temperature anymore and behaves more like a wax.

Corexit appears to have irritant effects on humans from what I’ve seen so far, although many individual components are safe. It does seem like it can interfere with the respiration of sea life according to the UC Davis study. The oil spill itself is going to kill a lot more sea animals than the dispersant will. There is an alternative, Dispersit, which is designed to create less problems than Corexit. According to Elon University, a study on Dispersit shows that it is harmful to brine shrimp.

Is the Oil Leak Finally Over?

Posted by on Thursday, 27 May, 2010

New reports are coming out today that BP’s top kill plan is a success. The pipe full of mud is blocking further flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The news can’t come soon enough since it’s definitely possible that the well was leaking 100,000 barrels a day.

The top kill is a temporary method before the well is completely sealed off with concrete. Hopefully it holds until the final seal is placed over the well. There are also rumors of additional leaks. A well blowout this large creates a mess that affects visibility and measuring instruments in the entire area, so it’s too soon to tell whether there are additional leaks nearby. Sealing off the main leak might put pressure elsewhere if the sea floor that is holding the oil in place has been damaged.

New oil wells will not be approved, but there are still many other wells operating in the Gulf of Mexico. The heightened concern is a good motivator to go and check the nearby deep water rigs to make sure that they are not at risk. There is another issue here, wells that other companies operate now get an excuse for any leaks they produce, since they can blame oil in the Gulf and on the beaches on the BP disaster. The exact amount that leaked from the spill must be calculated.

How much oil flowed out of the well? If it was going at 100,000 barrels a day for the entire month, that’s 3 million barrels. From the reports it sounds like the rate was much lower initially, and increased gradually over the period, 1000 barrels per day on the first day. An average rate of 50,000 barrels throughout the entire month is 1.5 million barrels. The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons, according to the State of Alaska, or 250,000 barrels.

The Macondo Prospect: How Much Oil in an Oil Spill?

Posted by on Wednesday, 26 May, 2010

The recent spill after the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon is releasing large quantities of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The reports are still unclear about the amount of oil that this well is releasing. Information about the underwater drilling methods and the field itself provides data which can help estimate the amount of oil that the Macondo Prospect will release.

Initial estimates were that the oil well was releasing about a thousand barrels per day, although the situation has deteriorated further since April 22nd. A month of efforts did not stop the oil flow and additional reports are that the rate of flow has greatly increased.

The Macondo well is located in one of the oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Columbia University, there may be as much as 46 billion barrels of oil in the area. Individual oil fields contain a portion of this total. The Tiber field, which is also operated by BP, is estimated to contain 3 billion barrels of oil. The Deepwater Horizon worked on the Tiber well before it was moved to the Macondo well, so an earlier disaster would have had the potential to cause a leak from the Tiber field.

A deep water well can release a lot more than a thousand barrels of oil a day. BP and the other petroleum extraction companies moved to deep water because wells there can access large reservoirs which are still untapped, producing much greater amounts of oil than current shallow water and land oil fields in the United States. According to Columbia University, single oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico can produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day during a controlled extraction. A blowout will release oil faster since the ground breaks apart under the pressure. Some reports mention average rates of 2000 barrels per day or 5000 barrels per day. Professor Ian MacDonald, who teaches classes at Florida State University, estimates that the oil flow rate from the Macondo well is around 26,000 barrels per day.

Steve Wereley, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, provided additional estimate information on the size of the oil spill in testimony in front of the House. Legal penalties apply to anyone who gives false testimony in front of Congress. Dr. Wereley’s calculations show that around 72,000 barrels of oil are being released into the Gulf each day, and he gives a range of 56,000 to 84,000 barrels per day because of the margin of error. Other presenting scientists provided a wider range of between 20,000 and 100,000 barrels of oil, this is a specific research field of Dr. Wereley so he can give a more precise estimate. This information matches the information from Columbia about how much oil a deep water well is capable of releasing under controlled conditions.

The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund

Posted by on Monday, 24 May, 2010

This fund is established to create a government account to pay for oil spill cleanup, and was financed in the past by a tax on sales of oil barrels. Tax collection expired in 1994 along with other Superfund tax collection, but now there are rumors that this tax will return at a higher level. According to Breitbart it may even return as a rider to the unemployment extension bill. The unemployment extension bills have a good chance to pass while unemployment remains high.

Although taxes haven’t been collected for this cleanup fund in 16 years, the current oil spill liability trust fund still contains $1.6 billion according to Breitbart. The funds will not be depleted unless the federal government cannot find the responsible party for the oil spill, according to the EPA, and it’s obvious who is responsible when a tanker or an oil rig spills oil all over the ocean. Of course, the company could refuse to pay and fight the federal government in court, but that will increase their costs further as well as adding even more damage to their reputation.

This fund is managed by the US Coast Guard. The Coast Guard uses part of the money to clean up the oil spill and reserves the rest of it to pay out claims. All of the people living along the southern coast of the United States are affected by the Gulf disaster, and they can receive compensation from this trust fund. Federal On Site Coordinators can use the fund directly for emergency response to the cleanup, other government agencies have to get approval from these coordinators, and private citizens have to submit claims about specific property or loss of livelihood related to the oil spill.

The Coast Guard spends money out of the fund, and the responsible party assumes liability for all of its expenses. This makes sure that claims can be paid quickly and the oil spill is cleaned up as fast as possible, since the Coast Guard has many ships at its disposal. British Petroleum has to pay back all of the money the federal government uses through this trust fund both to clean up the beaches and disperse oil in the water, and pay the claims from shrimp boats, fishers, and other Gulf residents who are not receiving income because of this disaster.

Oil Spills Under the Sea

Posted by on Monday, 17 May, 2010

The leak in the Gulf is different from many other famous oil spills. Tanker catastrophes like the Exxon Valdez crash dump oil mostly at the top of the ocean. This time, a large quantity of oil is being spilled deep under the waves.

The IXTOC disaster in 1979, which was also in the Gulf of Mexico, also involved a large underwater oil spill. According to Jerome Milligram, a containment dome was used to control the IXTOC spill, as it was in the 2010 leak. In that spill the containment dome, or cap, was successful, although there were issues because of nowhere to place the oil and water which was captured, such as a ship.

Dispersants are used above and beneath the surface of the ocean, to break up the oil. The dispersants do include their own toxicity and environmental dangers, so the decision to use them involves a tradeoff. The Deepwater Horizon response team does not have complete information about the consistency of layers of oil underneath the
ocean, as this spill is deep underwater. This makes any cleanup effort and effort to shut down the spill very difficult.

It is difficult to monitor a sudden disaster, so Canada has come up with a unique solution. Canadian researchers are planning to spill oil in the Arctic to test monitoring and cleanup methods, according to Canada East. This should provide useful data, although the Nunavut Inuit are not happy with the oil spill plans. This project will also test a different type of dispersal method that scatters clay instead of the chemical dispersants which are causing concern in the Gulf of Mexico.

PESTLE and the Gulf Oil Spill

Posted by on Tuesday, 11 May, 2010

PESTLE analysis is a marketing planning tool that focuses on the external forces which affect a company. This type of analysis adds the additional factors, environment and law, to the basic PEST analysis which includes political, sociological, economic, and technological factors. Rapid Bi provides some detail about PESTLE and its numerous variations.

PESTLE provides information about the implications of the Gulf Oil spill for British Petroleum, which is responsible for this event, as well as its competitors and all of the other people and organizations along the southern coast of the United States and the eastern coast of Mexico. Politically, this crisis provides a major advantage to environmental groups who wish to reduce the oil consumption of the United States and other developed nations. New offshore oil drilling has already been suspended by President Obama, and this crisis has impressed the risks of petroleum extraction on many people around the world.

Economic factors come into play with the large oil spill. The cleanup costs will be paid by British Petroleum, likely raising the price of oil since the petroleum extractors will budget the likely cleanup costs and other expenses into their sale prices. Additional regulations that restrict the areas that companies can drill in reduce the total amount of oil that can be easily extracted, requiring additional extraction from remote areas and materials where extraction is difficult such as shale oil.

Sociologically, this spill destroyed the reputation of British Petroleum. The company’s greenwashing will not be effective now, and competitors like Shell must prepare for a consumer backlash that can easily effect them. This spill increases the motivation of consumers to buy renewable energy from various sources.

Technologically, the cleanup methods have not been effective at cleaning up the mess. This includes the gigantic concrete containment dome, which does not appear cheap to make. This accident provides much greater motivation for researchers to invent new methods of cleaning up an oil spill, such as bacteria that eat the oil.

Legally, there will be many new restrictions on oil extraction in the future. This might convince the public to support other measures such as carbon taxes and increased restrictions on coal mining, especially when the spill took place soon after the mine collapse disaster. Natural gas may also be restricted because Liquid Natural Gas Terminals provoke concern about explosion risk in coastal communities.

Environmental factors include each of the issues mentioned above. This oil spill is one of the milestone events, and similar disasters such as the sinking of the Exxon Valdez catalyzed the necessity of environmental management for the public and lawmakers. This disaster caused people to recall several other large incidents such as the oil spill off Santa Barbara and the large oil spill in 1979 in the Gulf of Mexico.

Analyzing the Gulf Coast Oil Spill

Posted by on Saturday, 1 May, 2010

An accident in the Gulf of Mexico created a large oil spill that is still growing, and British Petroleum has to pay for the cleanup costs. Already costing millions of dollars a day, the cleanup expenses will increase even more once the spill reaches the shore of states such as Florida and Louisiana. British Petroleum will be paying a lot of the damages, but how much will the total cost of this spill add up to?

British Petroleum is paying several costs. The oil spill itself is expensive to clean up. A comparison can be made to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, a famous accident that occurred in Alaska twenty years ago. The pilot of the oil tanker, who was suspected to be drunk at the time, crashed the tanker and released more than 257,000 barrels of oil into the ocean. This is equivalent to about 38,800 metric tons, according to the Alaska website.

The Exxon accident is actually not the largest oil spill on record, it is well known because of the amount of environmental damage and cleanup cost. There was a very large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 1979, at an oil well named the Ixtoc I. The well was not shut down for almost a year, and the oil that was released caught on fire, sending a vast plume of smoke into the air. Although this location is farther south than the BP spill, the oil still reached as far as the beach of Texas. Coastal areas of Mexico absorbed much higher amounts of oil, affecting beach resorts like Veracruz as well as the fishing industry, tropical fruit plantations, and other businesses. Information on exactly how much oil was released in this accident varies. It is suspected to be at least 454,000 tons, according to Cedre. This figure is more than ten times as much oil as the Exxon spill.

Although the cost of the barrels of oil is significant, it is much less than the cost of the environmental cleanup. A million barrels at $80 each is 80 million dollars, and the cleanup costs, including fines and other expenses, were in the billions for both British Petroleum and Pemex. These spills occurred several decades ago so the effect of inflation is added to cost estimates of the current spill. According to CNN, the biggest hit so far was to British Petroleum’s stock price; since the oil spill occurred the value of BP’s stock has dropped by 25 billion dollars. If the well can be capped quickly, the cleanup and restoration costs will not be that high. BP planned to give itself an environmentalist image by manufacturing green power supplies such as solar panels. Their credibility is now destroyed, losing them goodwill and potential investors. Federal and state legislation is likely to block drilling in many locations, especially offshore, where BP was planning to drill for oil, eliminating expected revenue and leaving BP with properties that other oil companies will not want to buy.