Posted by: Kevin | May 4, 2010

Oil Spills

First I want to second this thought from Ezra Klein.

“If the cost of spills like this one is too high to bear, then we have to wean ourselves off of oil, not simply get really upset about this spill. Because there will be more spills. And they will happen in parts of the world that we don’t pay much attention to, and that don’t have our high safety standards or our ability to rush mitigation measures into place. What we’re seeing here is not a horrible disaster (though it is that), but a cost of relying on this particular type of fuel.”

They’ll eventually stop the oil from leaking out of the well.  Then we’ll have hearings and possibly trials where we’ll learn all sorts of interesting things.  We’ll learn that BP didn’t do enough to safeguard the wellhead and Halliburton screwed up cementing the pipe.  We’ll learn that the government didn’t have enough assets in place to mitigate the damage.  This process is necessary and hopefully will include someone writing a big check the residents of the gulf coast who will bear the brunt of the environmental impact.

While all this fascinating learning is going on, we’ll kick up the AC, because it’ll be August and it’ll be hot.  Then we’ll drive to work or maybe the grocery store to buy produce shipped from South America.  In other words, we’ll consider the crisis and then continue to make the choices which ensure that there will be more crises to come.

It seems likely that some errors and miscalculation led to the current oil spill in the gulf.  That shouldn’t obscure the single largest cause for this event.  We’ve been reduced to looking for oil a mile underneath the ocean.

The first oil well drilled in the United States was only 21 meters deep near Titusville, Pennsylvania.  The first “gusher” wasn’t drilled until 1901 in Texas.  The depth of that well was 370 meters, quite a bit deeper but also on dry land.  By comparison, the wellhead of the Deepwater Horizon rig is 1,500 meters under water.  The hole itself is another 4,000 meters deep (roughly 1610meters/1mile).  Deepwater Horizon happens to hold the record for the deepest undersea well drilled at 10,685 meters, of which the first 1,259 meters were water.

We’re working awfully hard to extract oil now.  Where we once could identify a potential field by looking for oil seeps, places were oil literally bubbles to the surface, we’re now looking a mile under the ocean through 3 or more miles of rock.  Where it once took the energy equivalent of 1 barrel of oil to extract 100 barrels of oil, that ratio has fallen to 1 barrel to extract less than 10.

Our primary fuel has become more expensive to extract, not just the specific cost of finding/drilling/refining/distributing but also the societal cost of cleaning up spills/buying oil from people who hate us/long term environmental consequences.  We either must learn to accept these costs with the knowledge that they’ll only grow until the oil can no longer be extracted or we start identifying a new primary fuel.

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Responses

  1. What a beautiful leak – twenty thousand barrels of lovely lube a day. I love the oily mass that bulges outwards from a bent pipe. A brown Rorschach blot of the automobile culture.

    An endless orgasm of brown to win the King’s crown. The ejaculate of Hell sent by the wind-whipped swell.

    My most fervent hope is that all efforts to stop and mitigate this masterwork are failures. The incontinent flow of hydrocarbons shall continue for the decay of all.

    I would love to see a sea of greasy Devil’s blood flowing into the ocean forever more. The spew that flew right on through.

    Then the World can move on into its next phase, the Dark Phase of death, decline and destruction. Soon, all the works of humans will decay and so too will themselves be brought to the altar of slaughter, to account for their crimes of existence.

  2. OMINOUS RESOUNDING SILENCE IN THE FACE OF CATACLYSMIC DISASTER.

    How can the scope of this ecological disaster be met with the silence of prayers- the silence of scientists and political organizations? No celebrity or world leader is willing to call for more action?

    It is time to look to our one world and one life force that unites and sustains us…

    We face challenges larger than corporate entity- larger than national pride or ego.. our home – this one earth is now facing destruction in a singular silence that is truly a crime against not just humanity- but all life forms.

    Where are the voices that could call out for the best minds and resources on the planet to come together and solve a problem that will devastate a huge piece of our planet and ecologies into the future in untold and ways with permanence that we can not yet understand.

    It would be an epic movie— saving the planet by working together, using the best and most immediate resources of the planet.. from all countries. Perhaps a script writer could stir a bit of action—but is it that the President is afraid that some other country would have the skills and tools to limit disaster in the American arena?

    Where are the religious leaders- that we are not asked to pray for creation and see our common fragility?

    God, by whatever the name

    Is saddened for sure

    And each soul shares the blame

    For a silence dishonoring the gift of the earth….

    Use your voice and your prayer
    How much power have the people of this planet given to a single company- which certainly can not pay the bill and restore the planet—? And how much power to a president who has such a national ego that his administration is selling out our planet’s future rather ask for international and immediate assistance and expertise?

  3. The oilmass grows like a joyous cancer full of many new kinds of life. Welcome to happy motoring.

    It’s time to drive to a slicker, browner future: put your keys in the ignition because Big Oil needs your dollars to make more oily art.

    For those who have already contributed, thank you for your kind support!

  4. What a beautiful leak – twenty thousand barrels of lovely lube a day. I love the oily mass that bulges outwards from a bent pipe. A brown Rorschach blot of the automobile culture. A creamy dreamy brown chocolatey nougat for the wildlife to absorb. Living towels soon to be buried by trowels.

    An endless orgasm of brown to win the King’s crown. The ejaculate of Hell sent by the wind-whipped swell.

    My most fervent hope is that all efforts to stop and mitigate this masterwork are failures. The incontinent flow of hydrocarbons shall continue for the decay of all.

    I would love to see a sea of greasy Devil’s blood flowing into the ocean forever more. The spew that flew right on through.

    Then the World can move on into its next phase, the Dark Phase of death, decline and destruction. Soon, all the works of humans will decay and so too will themselves be brought to the altar of slaughter, to account for their crimes of existence.

  5. In the U.S., the most effective way to wean Americans from oil is to pay, at the pump, the costs of oil extraction/import (i.e., increased gasoline taxes). But that’s still political suicide for any administration.

    Until Americans have to literally pay at the pump for environmental and strategic catastrophe, we will always have a self-defeating energy policy as far as fuel is concerned.

    Regarding alternative energy sources, I heard on NPR about 6-8 weeks ago that South Korean engineers had successfully produced a car that ran solely on electromagnetic energy. I’m scientifically illiterate, so I can’t comment on it, but the South Koreans thought it was promising. Could be good news.

  6. The only way to get people to pay the real cost at the pump is to force the oil companies themselves to pay. The companies will then pass those costs unto the consumers. It would be nice to see a real effort made right now to make that happen, but I’m not holding my breath.


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