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Too Deep to Fail = Too Deep to Drill

May 16, 2010

Lamar McKay, Chairman and President BP America

Listening to the senators grill BP’s Lamar McKay (BP photo, on left) and executives from Halliburton and Transcocean last week , one thing became very clear—no one really knows what is going on a mile below the surface. The gush rate may be 5,000 or 100,000 barrels a day. According to an article in today’s New York Times scientists have discovered enormous plumes deep in Gulf waters as big as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and as thick—indicating that the release rate may be much greater than BP’s 5,000 barrel per day estimate. Scientists fear that the submerged oil is likely to deplete dissolved oxygen critical to the survival of marine life.

And, as BP’s repeated failed efforts demonstrate, it’s very difficult to figure out how to shut off the flow at this depth. As those on the hot seat testified they have virtually no experience with such disasters. According to a number of Internet sources there are very few wells pumping from depths greater than 5,000 feet.

Source: Oilism

There are very few oil wells that pump oil from these depths. According to Shell’s website, the company’s Perdido Development (pictured below and pumping for a month) is the deepest installation in the world with a depth of 8,000 feet below the Gulf surface some 200 miles from the Texas coast. Perdido is pumping natural gas as well as crude through separate pipe lines to the shore. Like BP’s operation, remotely controlled robots (designed to withstand the enormous pressures) will patrol the well head area on the sea bed. We can only wonder what would happen if disaster strikes Shell’s new installation. Perdido means lost in Spanish.) Shell plans to use the same floating rig to pump oil from other deep water locations.

Source: Shell Oil

It is clear that much tougher regulations and enforcement are in store for offshore oil ventures. However, given the magnitude and duration of ecological destruction and costs to fishing, tourism and residents along the coast additional constraints will be needed.

According to Shell’s website, the Perdido is a floating rig that can be transported to oil rich Gulf sources hundreds of miles from the current location. However, it would make sense to restrict Perdido’s production until a complete investigation of the BP disaster and the Perdido installation (accident prevention, accident response and control measures and environmental impact assessments are completed.

In addition, there should be a complete moratorium on any new drilling in  U.S. coastal waters until the federal government can assure that we won’t have any repeats of the BP disaster.

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