Faster, Static! Kill! Kill!

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with the round-up

Bryan Walsh at Time:

BP stopped pumping heavy mud into the blown well around eight hours after beginning on Tuesday afternoon, saying that the procedure had achieved its “desired outcome.” Here’s part of the press release from BP:

The well is now being monitored, per the agreed procedure, to ensure it remains static. Further pumping of mud may or may not be required depending on results observed during monitoring.

The start of the static kill was based on the results of an injectivity test, which immediately preceded the static kill and lasted about two hours.

That doesn’t mean things are over—BP vice president Kent Wells told reporters yesterday that he wasn’t sure if mud alone would be enough to fully plug the well. But the fact that BP was able pump drilling mud into the well—at the weight of about 13.2 lbs. per gallon—means that its physical structure is likely still in good condition. And that should clear the way for the relief well, still set to be completed by mid-August. Most importantly, though, more than 100 days after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, it’s hard to imagine oil flowing from BP’s well again.

And it may turn out that the 4.9 million barrels of oil that did spill from BP’s well may leave less of a mark on the Gulf than first expected. According to the New York Times, the government is expected to announce today that nearly three-quarters of the oil has already evaporated, dispersed, been skimmed or burned—and that what’s left isn’t likely to do further damage, as White House energy czar Carol Browner told NBC’s Today show this morning:

The oil was captured. It was skimmed. It was burned. It was contained. Mother Nature did her part. And that’s good news.

According to the government’s report, a full quarter of the oil dispersed on the surface of the Gulf or dissolved in seawater, and another 16% dispersed naturally as the oil gushed out of the well. The actual cleanup played a smaller role—5% of the oil was removed in controlled burns, and 8% was broken up using chemical dispersants. The warm Gulf ecosystem—accustomed to breaking down oil—was the more significant factor.

Joel Achenbach at WaPo:

The static kill is underway. Whether it will kill, slightly impede, or merely pester BP’s Macondo well remained unknown late Tuesday, as engineers and scientists at BP’s headquarters in suburban Houston scrutinized pressure readings from the hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Federal officials huddled in BP’s operations center are trying to manage expectations, saying that even if the static kill goes as hoped, Macondo won’t be kaput until it is intercepted and cemented by a relief well that’s been three months in the drilling.

“You want to make sure it’s really dead dead dead. Don’t want anything to rise out of the grave,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu told The Washington Post late Tuesday afternoon.

BP initiated the process of pumping mud into the blown-out Macondo well at about 4 p.m. Tuesday. The static kill is not a quick operation by design, pumping mud at a leisurely rate of 2 barrels per minute. About 2,000 barrels will be needed to fill the well, engineers have calculated.

Ben Popkin at The Consumerist:

Doesn’t BP know the power of language? I don’t think the use of intense code names for the various operations has really helped assuage the public consciousness throughout this whole fracas. “Static Kill,” “Top Kill,” “Junk Shot,” really, much too exciting. How about “Containment Orocedure # 74 or “Earthen Inflowment Filling Process”? They should catch up on the collected works of your native son, Orwell.

And a new report says that 3/4 of the escaped oil has been burnt off, skimmed off, chemically dispersed, evaporated, or dissolved in the ocean, “like sugar.” That leaves only, ohh, about 53.5 million gallons floating around in the Gulf. Ballpark, that’s about 5 times the Exxon Valdez disaster. In the words of Borat, great success!

Dan Amira at New York Magazine:

There’s a strange amount of good news coming out of the Gulf today. Not only has the vast majority of the leaked oil now been wiped from the face of the Earth, but BP’s latest violently named leak-stopping effort is being declared successful. First there was the top kill, and now, the static kill, in which more of that heavy drilling mud we always hear about was pumped into the well to stabilize the pressure within.

BP called it a “significant milestone,” while CNN said it was “the biggest development in the long-running saga involving BP’s ruptured well since a tightly fitting cap was placed on it in mid-July, stopping oil from flowing into the Gulf for the first time in almost three months.”

The leak won’t be truly dead for good, though, until BP’s ultimate kill maneuver — the “bottom kill,” otherwise known as the relief well — is complete. Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, explains, “The static kill is going well, but ultimately, it’s the relief wells we ordered drilled that will be the ‘final kill-kill.'” You can tell by the nomenclature that they really are not very fond of this leak.

Dan Froomkin at The Huffington Post:

The Obama administration on Wednesday delivered an upbeat verdict on the fate of the estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil that spewed out of BP’s blown out well in the Gulf of Mexico, saying that most of it has either been dispersed, burned off, skimmed up, directly recaptured through containment efforts, evaporated or dissolved.

Relatively little, they announced, remains on the surface of the Gulf.

That last part is certainly cause to celebrate. But much of the dissolved or dispersed oil may still be causing massive environmental damage beneath the surface, even if it can’t easily be seen.

So along with the 26 percent of the oil that federal scientists still can’t fully account for, that means more than half could still be posing a serious and present danger to sea life and Gulf ecosystems.

A new report, which was authored by senior officials from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Geological Survey, was based on findings from government and non-government scientists. The underlying measurements and methodology were not made public, however, leaving much of it looking like so much guesswork. It did, however, include this neat graphic

[…]

President Obama himself weighed in earlier in the day. “A report out today by our scientists shows that the vast majority of the spilled oil has been dispersed or removed from the water,” he said.

But that’s a big “or”.

Under questioning by the White House press corps, Lubchenco was somewhat less upbeat. “No one is saying it’s not a threat anymore,” she said. “Diluted and out of sight doesn’t necessarily mean benign.”

She said the subsurface oil is biodegrading rapidly, but nevertheless may already have had a devastating effect on the young of many species — for instance, it may have wiped out a whole year’s worth of bluefin tuna eggs.

“I think the common view of most of the scientists inside and outside government is that the effects of this spill will likely linger for decades,” she said. “The fact that so much of the oil has been removed and in the process of being degraded is very significant and means that the impact will not be even worse than it might have been. But the oil that was released and has already impacted wildlife at the surface, young juvenile stages and eggs beneath the surface, will likely have very considerable impacts for years and possibly decades to come.”

Lubchenco also said that dissolved oil (like “sugar into your coffee or your teacup”) is not necessarily less dangerous than dispersed oil (“broken up from large chunks into smaller chunks”).

But there was a definite sense of triumphalism in the briefing room. “I think it is fairly safe to say that because of the environmental effects of Mother Nature, the warm waters of the Gulf and the federal response, that many of the doomsday scenarios that were talked about and repeated a lot have not and will not come to fruition because of that,” Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

“I think the original scenario was off the coast of Delaware and halfway to England by September, if I’m not mistaken.”

Lubchenco announced that there is “virtually no threat to the Keys of the East Coast remaining.” And she and White House environmental advisor Carol Browner refused to entertain the notion that their estimates might end up being off.

“We have a high degree of confidence in them,” Lubchenco said of the findings.

“The likelihood of large-scale change is very, very small, because we have so much certainty in some of the numbers,” Browner said.

One particularly unresolved issue, however, remains how much risk there is that dispersed oil will get into the Gulf’s food chain — and eventually to the dinner table.

Lubchenco notably ducked two food-chain questions on Thursday.

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