Media and Intelligentsia Panic, Problem Solvers Get to Work
BP has initiated the process of drilling a relief well, to allow access for stopping the flow of pressurised hydrocarbons through the original well. One oil expert expects the oil flow to taper off on its own, without need for a relief well. The relief well could take from 6 weeks up to 3 months to complete.
In the meantime, BP is planning to create a containment vessel of some type to fit around the oil spill at the seafloor. This would limit the ultimate size of the oil slick at the surface. Captured hydrocarbons would then be pumped for storage.
Floating oil booms on the surface will allow for retrieval of some floating oil perhaps via Dracone barge, and a controlled burn of trapped oil that cannot be retrieved. Concurrently, large quantities of chemical dispersant and biological degradation agents will be applied to the spill from the air and sea. The current oil spill is light crude, a large portion of which tends to evaporate into the air.
The US Coast Guard, the US Navy, and the Louisiana National Guard will all be involved in slick control efforts and environmental remediation, as well as other agencies of the US government.
The above image illustrates some of the natural processes that occur after an oil seep or spill.
Natural dispersion: If there is no possibility of the oil polluting coastal regions or marine industries, the best method is to leave it to disperse by natural means. A combination of wind, sun, current and wave action will rapidly disperse and evaporate most oils. Light oils will disperse more quickly than heavy oils.
Booms and skimmers: Spilt oil floats on water and initially forms a slick that is a few millimetres thick. There are various types of booms which can be used either to surround and isolate a slick, or to block the passage of a slick to vulnerable areas such as the intake of a desalination plant or fish farm pens or other sensitive locations.
Boom types vary from inflatable neoprene tubes to solid, but buoyant material. Most rise up about a metre above the water line. Some are designed to sit flush on tidal flats while others are applicable to deeper water and have skirts which hang down about a metre below the waterline.
Skimmers float across the top of the slick contained within the boom and suck or scoop the oil into storage tanks on nearby vessels or on the shore.
However booms and skimmers are less effective when deployed in high winds and high seas.
Dispersants: These act by reducing the surface tension that stops oil and water from mixing. Small droplets of oil are then formed which helps promote rapid dilution of the oil by water movements. The formation of droplets also increases the oil surface area, thus increasing the exposure to natural evaporation and bacterial action.
Dispersants are most effective when used within an hour or two of the initial spill. However they are not appropriate for all oils and all locations. Successful dispersion of oil through the water column can affect marine organisms like deep water corals and seagrass. It can also cause oil to be temporarily accumulated by subtidal seafood.
...Most of the components of oil washed up along a shoreline;can be broken down by bacteria and other micro-organisms into harmless substances such as fatty acids and carbon dioxide. This action is called biodegradation. The natural process can be speeded up by the addition of fertilising nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous which stimulate growth of the micro-organisms concerned. _OilSpills
Only a small fraction of all petroleum spilled into marine waters comes from oil drilling activity.
The Deep Horizon disaster should not be brushed off or minimised. And yet, the news media and the Obama administration appear to be milking the tragedy for every ounce of profit and power-grabbing opportunism imaginable. And just wait until the lawyers start to show up!
Accusations that BP was too slow to react
More favourable description of BP's early response
Command center website and latest news
List of recent news articles from Offshore Mag
Futuristic swarm suction robot designed to suck up oil spills
Wikipedia article on oil well blowout
The distinction between the problem-solvers and the swinish opportunists has never been clearer. The next level will not allow the complete avoidance of disasters and catastrophes. But next level humans will not sit around and whine over a disaster. They will devise and implement imaginative yet competent solutions. That is the type of focus we should aim for.