See more photos and information at WattsUpWithThat.
There has been lots of information and quite a bit of mis-information about the April 20th explosion and the release of millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Prior to reading the linked source above, I had the impression these rigs are tethered to the bottom and that the Horizon had safety features that were inferior to more modern offshore rigs. Both of these impressions appear to be false.
"The rig represents the cutting edge of drilling technology. It is a floating rig, capable of working in up to 10,000 ft water depth. The rig is not moored; It does not use anchors because it would be too costly and too heavy to suspend this mooring load from the floating structure. Rather, a triply-redundant computer system uses satellite positioning to control powerful thrusters that keep the rig on station within a few feet of its intended location, at all times. This is called Dynamic Positioning."
Someone told me this rig did not have an automatic shut-off in case of an accident. That is also incorrect.
"With a floating drilling rig setup, because it moves with the waves, currents, and winds, all of the main pressure control equipment sits on the seabed – the uppermost unmoving point in the well. This pressure control equipment – the Blowout Preventers, or ‘BOP’s' as they’re called, are controlled with redundant systems from the rig. In the event of a serious emergency, there are multiple Panic Buttons to hit, and even fail-safe Deadman systems that should be automatically engaged when something of this proportion breaks out. None of them were aparently activated, suggesting that the blowout was especially swift to escalate at the surface."
Far from reassuring me that this accident was preventable with better safety equipment -or at least that the resultant large spill could have been avoided- , it now seems to me that even the best offshore drilling technology is likely to result in occasional disasters. When human beings are involved there will always be mistakes and accidents that overwhelm any supposed fail-safe system.
If I lived along the shorelines of Lousiana or Mississippi or Texas where many rigs currently operate, or along the Florida coast where President Obama recently authorized drilling (since suspended), I would be very, very worried. If I was invested in the commercial fishing industry or in beach-related tourism, or employed there, I would try to get out.
I have been on the "drill baby drill" bandwagon for some time but this disaster has me thinking about getting off.
Baring a loss of pressure or the sudden self-sealing of the leak, it will be weeks or months before the oil stops leaking.
"In the coming weeks they will move in at least one other rig to drill a fresh well that will intersect the blowing one at its pay zone. They will use technology that is capable of drilling from a floating rig, over 3 miles deep to an exact specific point in the earth – with a target radius of just a few feet plus or minus. Once they intersect their target, a heavy fluid will be pumped that exceeds the formation’s pressure, thus causing the flow to cease and rendering the well safe at last. It will take at least a couple of months to get this done, bringing all available technology to bear."
So, here I sit in Central Florida, an hour from either the Gulf or the Atlantic coastline, trying to balance higher fuel bills for myself if we don't drill vs authorizing more domestic drilling and endangering the livelihoods and investments of coastal employees and investors. An alternative would be continued dependence on foreign oil but that comes with a cost in American blood to protect that access.
Then there is nuclear power with attendant risks of terrorist attack or accidental release of radiation, plus the problem of nuclear waste. France has done quite well, so far, with nuclear, but, even if we go whole hog down that road, it will be decades before nuclear can impact our need for traditional energy sources.
Wind, solar, water, tides and other alternative clean energy sources are -at least now- inadequate to make much of an impact on our appetite for energy. Conservation is also good I tell myself as I do 40-50 miles per week on my bicycle and ride around in my electric golf cart and hybrid Prius, but it too is inadequate to save much energy.
Finally, there is coal, and the possibility of what President Obama calls "clean coal technology". The US has lots of coal. The problem is continued release of CO2 and worries about continuing global warming due to the "greenhouse" effect. Let us hope that we skeptics and lukewarmers are correct that the dangers of CO2 have been overblown and that the recent stabilization in global temperatures, and perhaps a bit of global cooling, will hang on for a while.