The twin disasters of the April 20th explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11, continue to generate coverage and worries over the long term effects of the blown-out well and the massive oil on the Gulf Coast.
Here are some facts and observations on the spill, the blow-out, and long term ramifications:
- BP’s original estimates were that oil was pouring out of the well at a rate of 210,000 gallons per day. After challenges by scientists and environmental groups, BP now admits that the spill rate is much higher.
- Even if BP’s original numbers were correct, an estimated 6 million gallons has leaked so far. That amount is half of the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989.
- BP’s tab for the spill so far stands at $700 million, a number virtually guaranteed to go up.
- The spill has tainted 150 miles of coastline stretching from Dauphin Island, Alabama to Grande Isle, Louisiana. Oil has penetrated more than 12 miles into Louisiana's sensitive wetlands.
- The sticky and gooey oil from the spill poses such a cleanup challenge that it may never be removed. While some aggressive cleanup tactics have been proposed such as flooding or setting fire to the wetlands, the long term damage of those actions could outweigh the effects of the spill. Many experts are now resigned to the fact that the best course could be to stand by while the sludge is broken down naturally over a period of years.
- Expect a bull market for congressional hearings as politicians use the disaster to curry favor with voters in this election year.
- We can also expect multiple commissions to investigate the spill for the same reasons as the congressional hearings.
- The loop current, which moves in a clockwise direction, could eventually take the spill to the Florida Keys. In its present position, the current isn’t a threat but a slight change in its trajectory could change all that.
- BP’s best shot at plugging the blow-out at present is an operation called “top kill”. The planned procedure would shoot in heavy mud to slow the gushing oil followed by cement to seal the pipe.
The sheer force of the blow-out and the depth of the well-head at 5,000 feet have prevented efforts to cap the well until now. Still, one would think that strategies for capping blow-outs would be thought out prior to drilling. That is obviously not the case here, much to the detriment of everything in the oil spill’s path.