Gulf Coast Oil Spill


Oil-stained cattle egret sits on crew swing – Yahoo! News Photos

http://news.yahoo.com/nphotos/Gulf-Coast-Oil-Spill/ss/events/us/042110oilrigexplode;_ylt=AiRVWiL.H7.bKyTb9_8AiUep_aF4;_ylu=X3oDMTFlcWFuNHZ0BHBvcwMzBHNlYwN5bl9yXzNzbG90X3NsaWRlc2hvdwRzbGsDc2xpLWV2LWxpbms-#photoViewer=/100510/480/urn_publicid_ap_org5c8d2c0c7e71448c81807ba6dc8ee41c

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Gulf spill reminds America: The era of ‘easy oil’ is over


WASHINGTON — To meet the world’s boundless thirst for oil, drillers are searching in the sand and mud of remote western Canada, the tough shale rock of North Dakota and more than a mile under the seas off the southern U.S. coast, where a drilling accident has sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Why are we going nearly to the ends of the earth and the bottom of the seas for oil?

The answer, say many experts, is that we’re consuming as much oil as we ever have but the era of “easy oil” is in our rearview mirror and receding fast.

Production from onshore oilfields in the U.S. has been declining since the 1970s, and near-shore production along the Gulf of Mexico peaked more than a decade ago. Many of the richest remaining conventional deposits are in places that are politically unstable, such as Iraq and Nigeria, or hostile to Western oil companies, such as Sudan, Venezuela and the Middle East.

While Americans remain tethered to a petro-driven economy and surging demand from China and other emerging markets is driving up global demand, the quest for new sources requires more money and technological wizardry than ever before. As anyone tracking the massive gulf spill can attest, it brings greater risks as well.

“No one goes and tries to drill in a mile of water if they can think of somewhere easier to do it,”

“The easy stuff that you have access to . . . is already spoken for. All that’s left is the frontiers, which are necessarily more technically challenging.”

Just as the space program pushed its horizons farther and farther away in the last century, occasionally suffering devastating setbacks, the 21st-century search for oil is testing the limits of science and the environment. It also confronts the Obama administration and Congress with a policy problem to which there’s no easy solution.

Weaning the U.S. off oil has never been politically convenient, and it’s even less so with the nation slowly climbing out of a deep recession. The most promising approaches include sharply higher gasoline taxes and mileage standards and increased use of nuclear power, wind, solar energy or geothermal power — all of which have their own drawbacks.

Pushing ahead with unconventional drilling in the wake of a major spill could seem risky, but putting the brakes on exploration would worsen what analysts warn is an impending oil price crunch as world demand increases and production slows.

“An oil spill here or there hasn’t gotten in the way of oil extraction anywhere,” said Peter Maass, the author of the 2009 book, “Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil.” “We want our oil, and we’re pretty much willing to pay any price for it.”

During the past decade, Americans have curbed per capita oil consumption slightly. Overall U.S. demand is roughly the same as it was in 2000, when the population was about 7 percent smaller, according to official statistics. However, with China and India together adding more than 1.2 million cars each month, according to figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, there’s more global competition for oil than ever before.

The U.S. still imports more than half the oil it consumes, and energy companies are racing to shore up the dwindling supply from conventional sources.

Before the Deepwater Horizon offshore rig exploded and sank late last month in the waters off Louisiana, drilling in ultra-deep water, usually described as water depths greater than 5,000 feet, was widely regarded as a vital part of future U.S. oil production. President Barack Obama has said he’ll wait for a 30-day review of the oil spill to decide whether to proceed with new offshore drilling.

“It was certainly seen as one of the most promising of the . . . new unconventional sources,” said Elliott Gue, the editor of the Energy Strategist, an investor newsletter. “It’s also very expensive.”

In 2008, BP paid $34 million for the rights to the 5,700-acre site off the Louisiana coast, outbidding nine other firms, according to the U.S. Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service. Experts estimate that the Macondo exploration well that’s now spilling oil into the gulf from 18,000 feet below the seafloor — which itself is 5,000 feet below the water’s surface — cost BP $100 million to build.

“They’re in this high-tech atmosphere where a lot of things have to work right and work perfect,” said Gary Taylor of Platts Oilgram News, an industry publication. “That is the kind of risk that’s probably out there with deepwater exploration, but the resources there are large, so potentially there’s money to be made.”

Other major new horizons include the claylike tar sands of northern Alberta, in Canada, and in dense shale rock formations scattered across the U.S. Tapping each of these sources is freighted with costs and complications that would have been unthinkable in the oil industry a decade ago.

Large shale formations such as Bakken in North Dakota and Barnett in Texas are thought to contain the light sweet crude that’s highly prized by oil companies. However, environmental groups have questioned whether the technique used to release the oil from the rock — deploying a mix of water, sand and chemicals to create cracks in the shale — could contaminate groundwater sources.

Extracting oil from the Canadian sands, meanwhile, requires chopping down vast swaths of forest, steam-heating the earth to release the crude, and then refining it — a process that scientists say produces three to five times the greenhouse-gas emissions of conventional oil refining. Canadian environmental groups also say the process has contaminated the nearby Athabasca River and destroyed wildlife habitats.

“For the people living in Alberta, it’s a catastrophe,” said Kjell Aleklett, the president of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas, a group of scientists who believe that the world’s oil stores are running out.

“The only thing the politicians can do. . . is to deal with an issue when a catastrophe happens. Now is the moment for politicians to sit down and look into” weaning the world off of oil, Aleklett said.

However, many say the economic forces driving unconventional oil production are too strong. The Obama administration has said BP is responsible for the spill and will pay for the cleanup. Tighter safety standards on offshore drilling are likely to follow.

Except none of this will force Americans to use less oil.

“If you want to drill less, you have to significantly decrease your demand for the stuff,” said Maass, the author. “Patting ourselves on the back for fining BP, increasing safety standards, making more areas off-limits to drilling — it doesn’t get at the fundamental problem . . . which is our high consumption of oil.”


THE BIG PICTURE

Oil spill approaches Louisiana coast

Oil spill approaches Louisiana coast – The Big Picture – Boston.com

Oil spill approaches Louisiana coast – The Big Picture – Boston.com


Oil spill approaches Louisiana coast


Late on the night of April 20th, 50 miles from the shore of Louisiana, a fire broke out aboard the Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig under lease by BP, with 126 individuals on board. After a massive explosion, all but 11 of the crew managed to escape as the rig was consumed by fire, later collapsing and sinking into the Gulf. Safeguards set in place to automatically cap the oil well in case of catastrophe did not work as expected, and now an estimated 5,000 barrels (over 200,000 gallons) of crude oil is pouring into the Gulf of Mexico every day – and could possibly continue to do so for months as complicated efforts are made to stop the leak. Collected here are several recent photos of the developing situation along Louisiana’s Gulf Shore – one with the potential to eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in scope and damage. (32 photos total)


Oil containment dome for Gulf of Mexico oil spill hits snag: report


Oil containment dome for Gulf of Mexico oil spill hits snag: report


LOS ANGELES, May 9 (Xinhua) — BP’s plan to contain the Gulf of Mexico oil leak with a big metal box was fraught with unknowns and potential problems, it was reported on Sunday.

Gas hydrates — slushy crystal formations of natural gas and water that form under pressure — had plugged the opening at the top of the box that is supposed to funnel the oil geyser into pipes connected to a ship, the Los Angeles Times said, quoting BP officials.

“I wouldn’t say it’s failed yet. But what we attempted to do last night didn’t work,” said Doug Suttles, BP’s chief operating officer.

BP had spent Friday lowering the specially built containment dome, which resembles a squat, four-story building, from a ship to the gulf floor nearly a mile (1.6 kilometer) below. It succeeded in placing the device over the main leak, a crumpled riser pipe that broke during the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion April 20.

But not long after the structure was in place, hydrates formed at its top. A crane positioned on a ship then moved it about 600 feet from the leak, where it is resting on the seafloor while BP tries to devise a remedy, the report said. Company engineers had anticipated that hydrates clogging the pipe system would be their biggest challenge, but they thought the hole at the top of the metal structure was too large to be blocked.

The hydrates, which fizz when brought to the surface, can be easily dislodged by raising the dome. But BP teams have to figure out how to prevent them from forming again at the leak’s 5,000- foot depth, according to the report.

They are trying to figure out whether there is “a way to overcome this problem,” Suttles said.

Containment devices have been used before, but never at such deep depths. “We’re doing things we’ve never done before and it’s difficult to know if they’ll work,” Suttles said.


Oil containment dome hits a snag


BP says gas hydrates have clogged the device and that it had to be moved. Oil continues to gush.


Gulf oil spill: Containment dome hits a snag – latimes.com


http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-oil-spill-20100509,0,1038312.story


What next? After failure, BP mulls gusher options


What next? After failure, BP mulls gusher options – Boston.com


http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2010/05/09/deep_sea_ice_crystals_stymie_gulf_oil_leak_fix/

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO—A day after icy slush clogged the massive box they hoped would contain an out-of-control oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico, BP officials on Sunday said they may try again — this time with a smaller box.

They also were considering several other options to stop the daily rush of at least 200,000 gallons of crude, which began washing up on beaches in thick blobs over the weekend.

With crippled equipment littering the ocean floor, oil company engineers scrambled to devise a fresh method to cap the ruptured well. Their previous best hope for containing the leak quickly, a four-story containment box, became encrusted with deep-sea crystals Saturday and had to be cast aside.

Among the plans under consideration:

— Deploying a new, smaller containment box in the hope that it would be less likely to get clogged. Officials said the new box could be in place by midweek.

“We’re going to pursue the first option that’s available to us and we think it’ll be the top hat,” the smaller box, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles said.

— Cutting the riser pipe, which extends from the mile-deep well, undersea and using larger piping to bring the gushing oil to a drill ship on the surface, a tactic considered difficult and less desirable because it will increase the flow of oil.

— Shooting mud and concrete directly into the well’s blowout preventer, a device that was supposed to shut off the flow of oil after a deadly April 20 oil rig explosion but failed. The technique, known as a “top kill,” is supposed to plug up the well and would take two to three weeks.

— Try again using the containment box that failed to work Saturday after finding a way to keep the crystals from building up.

The engineers appear to be “trying anything people can think of” to stop the leak, said Ed Overton, a LSU professor of environmental studies….

Federal regulators haven’t kept up with oil drilling expansion


When the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and oil started gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, neither the oil companies nor their watchdogs in the Interior Department were ready.

Federal regulators haven’t kept up with oil drilling expansion – latimes.com


http://www.latimes.com/news/science/la-na-oil-spill-risk-20100508,0,4512830.story?page=1

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