Oilpocalypse Now: WSJ reports BP oil disaster may be leaking at rate of 1 million gallons a day

Spill may exceed Exxon Valdez within days — not weeks

If you live along the Gulf Coast or have relevant expertise (e.g. offshore drilling, the near-impossible task of cleaning up these messes) — and are interested in writing guest posts — please contact me (click here).

Climate Progress will be following the BP oil disaster story closely for several reasons:

  1. It will be the biggest energy and environmental news story for the foreseeable future.  Eleven people are already dead and if yesterday’s Wall Street Journal story, “Experts: Oil May Be Leaking at Rate of 25,000 Barrels a Day in Gulf” (subs. req’d, excerpted below) is accurate, then the scope of the environmental disaster is far beyond anything we’ve imagined.
  2. How the story plays out will probably determine more than anything else whether there is comprehensive energy and climate legislation this year.
  3. I have been writing, researching, and speaking about oil for two decades now. My first two books discussed the oil security issue extensively, including the one I wrote for the Council on Foreign Relations in 1993, Defining National Security: the Nonmilitary Aspects. My first Congressional testimony representing the Department of Energy in 1996 was on an analysis that I did on the threat posed by growing US oil dependence (hard to read HTML here, massive PDF here). I have been following the oil and the drilling debate closely here on CP.  As I discussed in a March post, here’s what we’re going to get for all that new drilling people want to do:  EIA: New offshore drilling will lower gas prices in 2030 a few pennies a gallon.
  4. I’m already getting bombarded with emails from experts with angles and analyses on the disaster that I haven’t seen discussed in the media yet.

Did I mention it’s time to get off the dirty, unsafe energy sources of the 19th century that can’t sustain the human race and that’s it’s time to redouble our efforts to embrace the clean, safe energy sources of the 21st century that never run out?

Here is my segment on Countdown with Keith Olbermann from Thursday night, when we had just learned that BP’s confident statements the leak was small and they could handle it were dead wrong:

When I went on, we had just learned that the spill rate was 5 times the 1,000-barrels-a-day rate BP had been insisting on.   Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson reported Friday morning that the rate could be 20,000 barrels a day, according to John Amos, the president and founder of the nonprofit firm SkyTruth, “which specializes in gathering and analyzing satellite and aerial data to promote environmental conservation.”

Now the WSJ piece reports it could be even worse than that:

Ian MacDonald, professor of oceanography at Florida State University who specializes in tracking ocean oil seeps from satellite imagery, said there may already be more than 9 million gallons of oil floating in the Gulf now, based on his estimate of a 25,000 barrel-a-day leak rate. That’s compared to 12 million gallons spilled in the Valdez accident.

Interior Department officials said it may take 90 days to cap the leaking well. If the 25,000 barrels a day is accurate and it leaks for 90 days, that’s 2.25 million barrels or 94.5 million gallons.

Mr. MacDonald and his colleagues at the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science Department have worked jointly with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the past on oil spill tracking, and have shared their estimates with NOAA scientists. He said the NOAA scientists didn’t dispute the calculations.

A NOAA spokeswoman said the government estimate of 5,000 barrels a day leaking from the BP PLC deep sea well was based on collaborative assessments produced by BP, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard….

John Amos, a geologist who has worked as a consultant with companies such as BP, ExxonMobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC on tracking and measuring oil spills from satellite data, said NOAA raised its estimates to 5,000 barrels a day after he and his colleagues published calculations that showed the original figures were far too low based on the NOAA data. Amos has also previously participated in a joint industry-NASA study using satellite imagines to detect and track oil slicks.

Mr. Amos said the 5,000 barrels a day is the “extremely low end” of their estimates. He said, based on NOAA maps, a more realistic figure is 20,000 barrels a day.

John Curry, a spokesman for BP working from their Gulf coast central command operations, said the 5,000 barrel a day was a “guestimate.” “There’s a range of uncertainty, and it’s very difficult to accurately gauge how much there is,” he said.

“Guestimate” is a euphemism for BP’s whole effort — from buying a rig without the latest backup shut off switch (one that even Brazil requires) to opposing Interior Department efforts to strengthen the voluntary, “trust me,” self regulation the industry got under Bush-Cheney to their rosy worst-case scenario that they sold to the Obama Administration to their post-disaster claims that they could handle a spill.

Stay tuned, there’s a lot more going to come out on the role of BP — and Halliburton — in this oilpocalypse.

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93 Responses to Oilpocalypse Now: WSJ reports BP oil disaster may be leaking at rate of 1 million gallons a day

  1. Oh I wonder, does oil on the water mean cooler or warmer seas in the Gulf?

    For instance, does surface oil reflect the sun light warming radiation, or does it act to reflect and insulate?

  2. As far as votes int he Senate, read somewhere (Wonk room, Kate Shepard?) that there’s only 41 votes for K-G-L.

    Does anyone know if dropping the offshore drilling gets more votes than that? I would have thought, based on all previous votes that there were all but 2-4 (max)D votes for CEJAPA without all the dirty energy trinkets to get R votes. We only need 3-5 Rs in that case, and we already would have Collins and Snowe. So 1-3 more Rs.- Graham = only 2 more. Aren’t 2 Rs retiring?

  3. Wit's End says:

    It is critical that JR and prominent experts like him frame this discussion, and fast. Already people are trying to call this Obama’s Katrina. I love way the same crowd who fights government regulation thinks they can blame the government for not intervening soon enough. Don’t let them!!

  4. Dana Pearson says:

    What this disaster demands is a radical change in direction…electric cars powered by rapidly deployed photovoltaics/offshore wind, and oodles of other completely safe job generating opportunities. Where is the leadership? WAKE UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. fj2 says:

    This may be part of the dreaded “Pearl Harbor” that many have been expecting — except ironically, that it is manmade — to shock the people of this country to move with complete military speed to try and limit the daunting environmental crisis and our own undoing.

  6. prokaryote says:

    BP’s containment problem is unprecedented
    The company must stop a relentless gush of oil nearly a mile below the surface, in a situation that hasn’t been dealt with before.

    The problem with the April 20 spill is that it isn’t really a spill: It‘s a gush, like an underwater oil volcano. A hot column of oil and gas is spurting into freezing, black waters nearly a mile down, where the pressure nears a ton per inch, impossible for divers to endure. Experts call it a continuous, round-the-clock calamity, unlike a leaking tanker, which might empty in hours or days.

    “Everything about it is unprecedented,” said geochemist Christopher Reddy, an oil-spill expert and head of the Coastal Ocean Institute at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “All our knowledge is based on a one-shot event…. With this, we don’t know when it’s going to stop.”

    Accidents have occurred before in which oil has gushed from damaged wells, he said. But he knew of none in water so deep.,0,323202,full.story

  7. fj2 says:

    On the extremely important yet under-appreciated concept of scale, a really good blog post comes from “State of the Planet,” Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

    “Challenges Inherent in Teaching Geosciences”

    Scale is extraordinary; almost like one of the senses yet cognitive, intellectual, and abstract.

    A sense of scale is really important for dealing with things especially on a planetary scale which necessitates learning crucial skills and mindsets.

  8. substanti8 says:

    So much for Beyond Petroleum.  Of course, anyone familiar with the emerald paintbrush knew that was actually beyond preposterous.

  9. Leif says:

    I do not have an answer for you Richard on your direct question but there is no doubt that the oil makes for deadlier seas. Not only for the fish, foul and mammals of the sea but much of the coastal and estuary life as well including humans that make their daily livelihoods in this transition zone.

    Think about all the sea life that must intermittently surface for air only to have their lungs filled with crud oil, their feathers coated to disfunction, their eyes useless, their beings in essence incased in a plastic bag and confined to the deeps. Their world no more. Over hundreds and soon thousands of square miles, Sleep on that BP, Halliburton, power mongers and anyone else with a finger in the pie.

    I am at a lose for words in the face of disasters like this.

    Humanity First, Status Quo, NO!

  10. Paul K2 says:

    Joe, if you know anyone who interviews BP representative, could they ask BP this question:

    Could BP position a semi-submersible rig over the end of the riser laying on the floor, hang a string of casing from the rig, then lower a string of drill pipe inside the casing and snag the end of the riser? Then the riser can be pulled up inside the string of casing.

    The oil and gas will accumulate in the casing, lower the hydrostatic head, and flow to the surface where the oil/water/gas mixture can be processed in separation equipment.

    If this works with the end of the riser, then likely a good portion of the oil can be trapped and the spill rate could be reduced. I understand BP has mobilized two rigs, and that one has already spudded a relief well. It is possible that the second rig could attempt this “fishing expedition” for the riser end.

  11. Ryan T says:

    I saw at least one reporter trying to apply some positive spin by saying it’s a light, sweet crude that more easily degrades (vs. the Valdez stuff, some of which persists to this day). Not very reassuring, especially in these quantities. You’d think at least some will still accumulate and glom onto sand/soil particles on the coast. Presumably, conditions are still expected to be favorable for strong storms in the upcoming hurricane season too, so they’d better get a handle on this.

  12. prokaryote says:

    Gulf of Mexico oil spill shows disastrous legacy of Halliburton and the real cost of the oil era

    Nearly 50% of the seafood consumed by Americans comes from the Gulf of Mexico, by the way. That explains why seafood contains such an alarmingly high concentration of mercury as well as industrial chemicals — because the Gulf of Mexico is America’s toilet where every toxic chemical, heavy metal and pharmaceutical that’s flushed down the drain ends up getting dumped. No wonder the Gulf of Mexico is home to one of the planet’s largest ocean “dead zones” — over 6,000 square miles of dead water where fish can’t even survive

    Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill 2010

    We’re looking for all photos showing the impacts of the catastrophic April 2010 blowout and oil spill from the BP / Transocean Deepwater Horizon drill rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

  13. Doug Bostrom says:

    BP’s application for this well, w/details on potential environmental impacts, BP’s thinly (and erroneously) supported conclusion that no significant risks to shore were present:

    BP Initial Exploration Plan

    Duly accepted by our stewards, mistakenly as it turns out.

  14. with the doves says:

    “Oh I wonder, does oil on the water mean cooler or warmer seas in the Gulf? ”

    I think it oil would mean warmer water, because it would inhibit evaporation.

  15. prokaryote says:

    The beaches and water front lines should be cluttered with oil soaking materials, like hayballs, feathers, wool, everything which acts like a sponge.

  16. Doug Bostrom says:

    When I read BP’s plan (link above, “BP Exploration Plan”) I’m struck by the absence of any useful numbers attached to the emergency response sketch. I say “sketch” because that’s all we see. This work of art has no useful numbers attached to it, making it pointless as a means of evaluating whether BP could actually manage an emerging situation. BP’s report blithely states that BP has the means to respond to a worst-case scenario, which they say is a volume of 300,000 gallons per day, when clearly the reality is they do not have the means to do so effectively.

    The report also dismisses the chances of significant oil reaching the shoreline. This is a truly remarkable assertion, unaccompanied as it is by any scientific demonstration of how a worst-case slick could somehow avoid the shore.

    BP will fall back on loose regulations. Here’s the key problem with the plan and the requirements it fulfills, regarding spill forecasting:

    “7.2 Modeling Report

    A model of a potential oil or hazardous substance spill is not required for the activities proposed in this plan.”

    I suspect that’s going to change…

    Again, I encourage folks to read BP’s exploration plan to see how impoverished it is w/regard to explaining what will happen when things go wrong. Remember, all similar exploration activity in the Gulf follows the same requirements, thus it’s all defective w/regard to disaster planning.

  17. prokaryote says:

    Gulf Oil Spill – New Spill Calculation – Exxon Valdez Surpassed Today
    Dr. Ian MacDonald at FSU just produced a new spill-size estimate based on the US Coast Guard aerial overflight map of the oil slick on April 28, 2010. The bottom line: that map implies that on April 28, there was a total of 8.9 million gallons floating on the surface of the Gulf.

    That implies a minimum average flow rate of slightly more than 1 million gallons of oil (26,000 barrels) per day from the leaking well on the seafloor. Since we’re now in Day 11 of the spill, which began with a blowout and explosion on April 20, we estimate that by the end of the today 12.2 million gallons of oil, at a minimum, have been spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

    The oft-quoted official estimate for the Exxon Valdez spill is 11 million gallons, although some think that is the lower limit of the likely range. It appears that we’ve just set a very sad new record.

  18. substanti8 says:

    Considering the role of Texas in the oil industry, I think this disaster gives new meaning to the classic understatement: “Houston, we have a problem.”

  19. prokaryote says:

    Surface area of Gulf spill has tripled

    Rig had history of spills, fires before big one

  20. Doug Bostrom says:

    Regarding the upsized leak rate, it’s worth remembering that the rig did not appear to begin spilling significantly until it sank, destroying the riser. So the “good” news is that maybe this won’t surpass E. Valdez until tomorrow? I’ll hang on to my hallelujahs.

  21. prokaryote says:

    Louisiana State University professor Ed Overton, who heads a federal chemical hazard assessment team for oil spills, cautioned that the satellite imagery could be deceiving.

    He said satellites can’t measure the thickness of the sheen and makes it difficult to judge how much oil is on the water.

    Another issue is that the oil slicks are not one giant uniform spill the size of an island. Instead, they are “little globs of oil in an area of big water,” Overton said.

    One expert also cautioned that if the spill continues growing unchecked, sea currents could suck the sheen down past the Florida Keys and then up the Eastern Seaboard.

    The Florida Keys are home to the only living coral barrier reef in North America, and the third largest coral barrier reef in the world. About 84 percent of the nation’s coral reefs are located in Florida, where hundreds of marine species live, breed and spawn.

    “If it gets into the Keys, that would be devastating,” said Duke University biologist Larry Crowder.

    Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanography professor at Florida State University, said his examination of Coast Guard charts and satellite images indicated that 8 million to 9 million gallons had already spilled by April 28.

    “I hope I’m wrong. I hope there’s less oil out there than that. But that’s what I get when I apply the numbers,” he said.

    Alabama’s governor said his state was preparing for a worst-case scenario of 150,000 barrels, or more than 6 million gallons per day. At that rate the spill would amount to a Valdez-sized spill every two days, and the situation could last for months.

  22. Doug Bostrom says:

    substanti8 says: May 1, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    “Houston, we have a problem.”

    There’s a rumor (to be seen at to the effect that Houston had asked that after cementing was complete and found satisfactory the synthetic ($) mud be displaced w/seawater and recovered. It of course does not take a genius to figure out that by recovering the mud and replacing it with (less dense) seawater, if a late-breaking issue w/the cement bonding, cure etc. revealed itself the rig is totally screwed from a formation pressure control viewpoint. Formation pressure control is how unplanned flow events are avoided.

    A rumor, anyway. Found here (where if you follow the beginning of the thread there’s interesting eyewitness stuff from workboat crews plus some input from the most recent-but-one master of the Deepwater Horizon:

  23. fj2 says:

    17. prokaroyte, “It appears that we’ve just set a very sad new record.”

    Maybe for area but not number of gallons (so far).

    It seems that the estimate is 30 million gallons from Exxon Mobil for Newtown Creek in Greenpoint Brooklyn, New York.

    Reference Mike Wallace’s Pulitzer Prize book “Gotham” for early explorers’ descriptions of New York as Eden and a tragic sense of paradise lost.

  24. BB says:

    I think we all learned a valuable lesson here…

    …There’s way more oil available for us in the Gulf of Mexico than we ever thought!!


  25. Wit's End says:

    I pass this on with no knowledge of its veracity (but it has great pictures):

  26. Dorothy says:

    Anyone of us who has lost a loved one knows how many of us feel about this tragedy. You walk from room to room, picking up things and putting them down, wondering how you’re going to get through this day, and then the next.

    I watched Robert Kennedy, Jr. on CNN’s Rick’s List yesterday, telling us that the coastal wetlands affected by this spill will NEVER recover; that it will be impossible to get back in there and remove the oil from the reed and grasses. I’m glad he’s filed a lawsuit against BP, though this won’t save the many thousands of birds which are bound to die.

    I made a post about this yesterday, Changing Our Moral Consciousness, One Heron at a Time:, which has more information about Kennedy’s lawsuit, with a link on how to help.

    Thank you, Joe, for this update, saddening though it is. I’ll add a link to your article to our site.

    I hope the sound I imagine I hear in the near distance is the thunderous rumble of public protest. This appalling event could be a turning point, could trigger global outrage and an upwelling of public concern. Enough to stop the fossil fuel industry right in its tracks.

  27. prokaryote says:

    Tides, wind and rain will drive the oil deeper into the marsh, down into the vegetative mat, making it impossible for humans to go in and clean manually, he said. But once the flow of oil is stopped — and no one knows when that will be — scientists will spread fertilizer to boost several species of microscopic plants that degrade hydrocarbons such as oil.

    You could save the marsh with fences which you stick into the soils and on top have some cotton or stuff like that “old clothes”. Than boats could drive there every day and suck up the collected oil infront.

  28. Mike #22 says:

    I really hope the big engineering firms are on this right now. The White House needs to commandeer the companies like Bechtel yesterday or sooner, get a whole lot of hardware designed yesterday, have that hardware built in manageable pieces at all available shipyards immediately, air lifted down there right now, and bolted together. Skimmers, pumps, bells, funnels, something big and heavy that clamps onto the BOP, heavy duty oils booms, seperators. Spend whatever is necessary–this is the White House’s problem now.

  29. nika says:

    “secret” NOAA doc suggests its 2.1 million gals / day, see this

    “The following is not public,” reads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Emergency Response document dated April 28. “Two additional release points were found today in the tangled riser. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought.”

    “Regarding the possibility of the spill becoming an order of magnitude larger, Smullen said, “I’m letting the document you have speak for itself.”

    In scientific circles, an order of magnitude means something is 10 times larger. In this case, an order of magnitude higher would mean the volume of oil coming from the well could be 10 times higher than the 5,000 barrels a day coming out now. That would mean 50,000 barrels a day, or 2.1 million gallons a day. It appears the new leaks mentioned in the Wednesday release are the leaks reported to the public late Wednesday night. “

  30. Doug Bostrom says:

    Wit’s End says: May 1, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    That’s a nice little writeup. The deadman control for the BOP should have actuated on loss of contact w/the rig itself; the deadman is a passive safety so even if nobody’s on the rig at all the BOP should function once contact w/the rig is lost. The BOP has hydraulic accumulators and the necessary bits and pieces required to function (in this circumstance) independently of the rig.

    This is a fairly thorough and useful description of the technical situation at the well (ignoring the rosy assessment at the very end):

    and a followup on setting casing:

  31. Doug Bostrom says:

    It strikes me that if anything further were needed to indicate how ridiculous our out-of-control habit of burning petroleum has become, we need look no further than this incident.

    Step back for a moment and think about the ridiculously baroque nature of this exploration operation. Take a look at the complication of the rig, the logistical hurdles of making it function, the risks entailed. All this of course pales in comparison to any subsequent production effort.

    Truly absurd.

  32. prokaryote says:

    Doug Bostrom, you’re right but even without deepwater oil extraction (bann), things will go not as planed. Extraction, transport and burning of fossil fuels destroys environment and lifeforms. The only solution is to go with clean energy.

    Energy companys should switch now to off-shore wind farms, solar parks and alike. The government could subsidize it the same way it does with oil exploration. The energy firms could have still an huge income in the long run, once the cost turn into profits and prevent catastrophes like this. If they don’t someone else will. But the energy companys could for once do big steps here and at the same time give something back …

    This is the only way, if you like it or not.

  33. climate undergrad says:

    Bush’s 2nd Katrina is (as we say in scientific circles) an order of magnitude more accurate than Obama’s Katrina.

    -Beyond Political

  34. James says:

    Will your tea-partiers still be calling for an end to the EPA and ‘tyrannical’ federal regulations after this catastrophe? Given their cognitive dissonance I wouldn’t bet against it.

  35. David B. Benson says:

    Another legacy of the Bush 43 administration?

  36. Lou Grinzo says:

    James: Of course they won’t change course. They will simply double their bet and claim that the accident happened BECAUSE of “government interference with the free market”.

    That’s how it works, don’tcha know? [add Palin-esque wink here if you can stomach it]

  37. Ryan T says:

    One thing that’s interesting to consider is that the national appetite for oil is anywhere between 780 and 4,000 times the spill rate in the gulf, depending on which disaster estimate you use.

  38. Lore says:

    If you consider a barrel of oil contains approximately 40 gallons of gas, then we are talking about the spill wasting around 16,000 auto tank fills of gas a day or $600,000 in retail sales. A pathetic gamble for the risk of doing it wrong and the expense to both the economy and the environment on the other side.

  39. substanti8 says:

    Ryan (36) … Yes, and that’s the basis of the spin that is already being generated by public relations specialists for the oil industry.  They will point to the 99 percent of oil that is retrieved without “incident” and say, “See what a good safety record we have.”

  40. substanti8 says:

    Here’s more crude apologia that needs to be publicly debunked.  The source is David Brooks of the New York Times:

    “The only final thing I would say is, hey, there is no energy source that comes without risk.  We were just talking about a mine disaster a couple weeks ago.  Every single energy source has risks and costs.  That doesn’t mean you can’t rely on them.

    You know, we have to be able to assess risks in this country.  You know, tankers coming from Saudi Arabia are also a risk.  Coal is a risk.  Everything is a risk.  And so we have a terrible episode, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss the whole energy source.”

    He made no mention of the relative magnitude of risks among various energy sources, and neither Mark Shields nor Judy Woodruff challenged him on that point.  It’s one more example showing that even the PBS News Hour (now sponsored by Monsanto) treats its audience like gullible sheep.

  41. catman306 says:

    I’m starting to understand the feelings of the Easter Island people when they realized they’d cut all the trees, could no longer build ocean going canoes, and were stranded in a dead end culture. If they’d have only saved 1 or 2 percent of the trees.

    If BP had only hired a more modern drilling rig with newer and safer equipment…

  42. Wit's End says:

    #39, exactly. The take home point is that as fossil fuel energy becomes more difficult and problematic to extract, such mining and drilling disasters will become increasingly common, thus adding to the manifold reasons for society to transform to REAL clean and green energy…solar, wind and geothermal…and not the false gods of biofuels with their own unexplored and inevitable unintended emission consequences.

    This notion is graphically explicit in this video:

    and also well expressed in Susan Shamel’s post I found on facebook:

    “Richard Heinberg talk: I learned tonight that one gallon of oil is derived from 100 tons of ancient plant matter. This matter was converted from carbohydrates to hydrocarbons at two specific periods in the past, 9 million and 15 million years ago, when rampant algae blooms were consumed by plankton, sunk and compressed into the ocean.”

  43. john says:

    I wish they would stop the oil spoil.

  44. HighTest says:

    Could someone answer a project management question: How could you run a facility like this without 10 worst-case scenarios that you’ve planned for, rehearsed in detail regularly, and hope you never have to use? Are the many other wells in the Gulf run with such touching faith than nothing will go wrong?

  45. Wit's End says:

    JR, excellent video on Olbermann! You are going to become a regular no doubt!

    Hammer in the hidden COSTS of relying on oil and coal. Offshore oil spills, mining disasters, cancer, extreme weather, loss of biodiversity, etc. This will resonate with the listeners.

  46. Lore says:

    HighTest #43:

    It’s the simple premise that big business works on in that it owes nothing more then to return value to its investors. This means stripping as much of the unnecessary costs from any project as possible. Also, and often mistakenly, that it’s cheaper to beg for forgiveness then to ask for permission.

  47. Ryan T says:

    Some (many?) may swallow that spin, substanti8, but clearly it’s not very soothing when potentially devastating consequences are involved. And as suggested by another commenter, a significant expansion of offshore drilling will only raise those odds. Drill-baby-drill sentiment isn’t likely to go away until we get the fossil fuel appetite under control. Especially if fuel prices rise toward $5 in the future. Look how fast the Exxon Valdez disaster became a vague memory to most of the nation. People went right back to buying gas guzzlers and supporting an expansion of domestic oil drilling.

  48. sailrick says:

    James 33

    And how ironic that the teabaggers are willing to give police in Arizona unconstitutional powers to ask anyone they feel like for identification, while espousing anti regulation policies.

    But don’t interfere with their right to bring guns to an Obama event.
    Or with industy rights to pollute, or with Wall Street’s right to cheat us all.

    Somehow it reminds me of a comment I saw at:

    by nautilus_mr

    “Yikes, it seems the trouble with ‘skeptics’ these days, is they’ll believe anything!”

    Well said.

  49. Frank Monachello says:

    Agree with previous comments that this is one more “canary in a coal mine” incident that should bolster the efforts of policy-makers and energy and climate experts in America to unite behind a bold and farsighted energy and climate policy that accounts for the “external costs” of various energy options as accurately as possible. For Obama to educate the public about the wisdom of moving toward a “cap and dividend” policy now, for example, will resonate with voters more effectively in the midst of this and other recent carbon-related disasters. If not now, when?

  50. paulm says:

    Not just hurting the Gulf states…anyone notice the price of gas this weekend!

  51. Andy says:

    The folks I’ve seen interviewed on the news and those politicians calling this an inadequate response, don’t seem to realize that no matter how much money or personnel is thrown at this, it won’t make much of a difference.

    Despite the potential for disasters, no technology has been developed that if deployed would prevent environmental damage once a blow-out occurred. The offshore oil industry has never developed a safety net for big, offshore spills.

    I just hope that in an effort to look like they’re trying to do something, more damage isn’t done by people tromping around the marshes or getting onto the nesting islands.

    We need to sit back and wait for the relief well to be dug and the blow-out to be blocked up. A few months.

    Looks like the eastern Gulf will never be the same.

  52. paulm says:

    Joe you’r becoming a real natural with the media.

  53. Doug Bostrom says:

    HighTest says: May 1, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    Take a look at BP’s exploration plan and you’ll see nothing but the haziest notion of a disaster script.

    It’s worth noting, the personnel operating equipment such as what just sunk in the Gulf are exposed to a ton of training for a myriad of more narrow scenarios and they take their jobs really seriously. Visible death whirling madly just inches from your body concentrates the mind wonderfully. This is another case of a war steered by leadership with conflicted success metrics. It does not matter how good the soldiers are, if the generals are working a budget describing “win” as something including what most of us consider “lose”, trench folks are going to be disappointed, let down, one might even say betrayed by their management.

    The sad thing is, the same trench people are now scrambling to clean up the mess even while knowing they’ll be the ones disemployed because of this leadership failure.


    If BP had only hired a more modern drilling rig with newer and safer equipment…

    It was essentially the newest and the best. There are only a handful of such devices on the planet; ripples are emanating not just from the spot where the rig sank but also into work schedules for a year or more to come because this machine is now gone. Somebody fouled up the cementing and/or pressure control around cementing and then the BOP failed to work, or a close variation on that theme. It’s the usual chain of nonfatal failures running through a process that -almost- was working perfectly, summing up in disaster.

  54. Chris Dudley says:


    It is not that our domestic effort to produce more oil will lower prices, it is rather that it sustains high prices. These desperate high tech efforts to drill where no man has drilled before require high oil prices. If we made a better economy and low oil prices our goal, none of this would be happening. All we need to do that is to get on a declining oil consumption trajectory, make sure we are not trying to consume any oil that is not cheap to produce. We need an era of intentionally cheap oil as we end our use of it. If we don’t do that, we’ll be stuck with these risky and damaging expensive and desperate projects that merely harm our energy security, our economy and our environment.

  55. substanti8 says:

    When I visited Florida many years ago, I was struck by the band of oil tar at the high tide mark, for the entire length of every beach.  We had to bring acetone with us to clean our feet before putting socks back on.

    The “sweet crude” (now there’s an oxymoron for you) that washes ashore will stain the Gulf coast for decades.  We need a name for this crime that sticks to the perpetrators for decades.  I suggest The British Petroleum Disaster.

  56. substanti8 says:

    Here’s a map of the hypothetical Great New Jersey Oil Disaster on a future date.

  57. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    HighTest –
    it sounds as if you have understanding of the situation reflecting practical experience, so I’m hoping you can clarify some aspects.

    First, “somebody fouled up the cementing and/or pressure control” implies a lack of training, and/or a lack of inspection of the work, and/or a lack of testing, (if the latter is feasible).
    Would owner-oversight staff normally have a monitoring role in the assembly of so critical a component ?

    Second, there has been discussion of how an ‘audio shut-off valve’, required in other countries, would have controlled the event.
    Was what you refer to as a BOP really the newest and the best, or were operator-management and owner-oversight skimping in using such a device ?

    Third, as a layman, I find it hard to believe that 1,000-strong shifts of skilled ship builders working round the clock would need more than a few days at Port Fouchon to produce the necessary steel ‘mega-funnel-with-a-stopcock’ to cap the well. Allow 3 more days to finish cutting wreckage out of the way and to sink it into position, and 4 more days to bury it under many bargeloads of ballast, before closing the stopcock. (This would not require fancy engineering for a future reconnection to a rig, as the priority is sealing the well).
    So can you say why the projections are of a 90-day schedule for closing the well, rather than less than a fortnight ?



  58. Wit's End says:

    It is ironic in a way that people are so agitated about this oil spewing from beneath the ocean and fouling the water and air, because oil fouls the water and air every day anyway, when we burn it in our cars, trucks and planes. It just isn’t so visible, because it turns into invisible gases, like CO2, nitrous oxide and sulphur dioxide.

    But just because these gases are invisible, doesn’t mean they are aren’t every bit as toxic as this oil “spill.” In fact ozone is pure poison and causes cancer, emphysema, and asthma. It also damages vegetation and causes billions of dollars in crop losses every year. On top of that, ozone is killing trees of all species, all ages, in every habitat. Just take a look at them! The foresters beholden to the timber industry blame insects, disease and fungus but the fact is the trees are so weakened by exposure to ozone that they cannot fight off natural pests.

    If people don’t wake up – and soon – to the consequences of burning fossil fuels we are going to have a world without fruit, nuts, wood, and shade. And of course, removing a major carbon sink will increase average global temperature rise and violent weather. for photographs and links to independent scientific research.

  59. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Chris Dudley –

    while you’re right to observe that current US oil consumption (around 20m Bbls/day out of around 85m Bbls/day global usage) helps sustain high oil prices, your propsal of only using cheap oil is negated by the geological reality of reserve depletion and the geo-economic reality of global demand. Prices having risen from $12 in ’97 to $83 and-rising today reflect the fact that, even with western nations in heavy recession, global demand is for more oil, not less. It is, literally, the primary fuel for economic growth.

    The US could and should slash its usage, but it would still pay global prices for the remainder, even if it were of US origin, due to its fundamental treaty commitments to global trade.

    Moreover, the context is of having mostly exhausted the global supply of cheaply extracted light oils, leaving heavier more expensive crudes as the main commodity. This position is worsening rapidly according to many credible industry, academic and official sources.

    A well written article posted here:
    links to and discusses a graph from a recent DOE report, with which the US military’s Joint Forces Command concurs, showing liquid fuels from all projected sources declining after 2012 to reach a 4%/year decline from 2015 onward, implying a halving of global supply by 2030.

    The unprecedented price spike to $147/Bbl in 2008 reflected global demand consuming the market ‘cushion’ of around a million barrels that had kept prices stable. The subsequent recession and price crash was entirely predictable from the historical record of parallel events.

    Thus under a rapidly declining supply there is little prospect, even with the necessary global climate treaty constraining fossil fuel usage, of restoring stable low oil prices – just the resulting economic dislocation will force nations to pay all and more for liquid fuels than they can afford.

    I suggest that in reality we have passed over the first price-peak of a foreseeable sawtooth pattern of oil price instability, where demand rises, exceeds supply, and generates an untenable price peak that crashes us back into recession, destroying wealth as it does so, after which the cycle repeats, but with declining price peaks owing to serial global impoverishment and economic destabilization.

    This is a prospect that governments are loth to discuss, primarily due to its potential to wipe out investor confidence. It is a major reason why China is converting its dollar holdings into any oil reserves it can buy worldwide ASAP, plus deploying 100 million electric bikes (so far), plus going flat out for non-fossil energies.

    Governments have been fully cognizant of the position for many years e.g.: King Hubbert’s seminal analysis was provided in ’56, Cheyney is on record speaking of it in the ’90s, and Bush sent his advisor Matt Simmons to Ruppert of “From the Wilderness” to start left-field public awareness early this decade. Sadly Western governments are too schlerotic to face this challenge even to the extent of commanding the energy-supply corporations to change course as an issue of national security. Consider that, in the first decade of the UK labour government elected in ’97, public investment in renewable energy roughly kept up with that in rural bus services.

    In sum one can say that while cheap oil is over – unaffordable oil is coming over the horizon.

    The major upside of this is that without a stringent climate treaty constraining fossil fuel usage substantially below predicted potential total supply, the global economy will be terminated, chaotically, – which is perhaps the sufficient motivation for starting to actually negotiate that treaty rather than just playing brinkmanship.



  60. Brooks Bridges says:

    My first thought was the Gulf Stream. I immediately found this:

    ” The Deepwater Horizon well is at the end of one branch of the Gulf Stream, the famed warm-water current that flows from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Atlantic. Several experts said that if the oil enters the stream, it would flow around the southern tip of Florida and up the Eastern Seaboard.

    “It will be on the East Coast of Florida in almost no time,” Graber said. “I don’t think we can prevent that. It’s more of a question of when rather than if.”

    Read more:

  61. Bob Wallace says:

    Lewis #58

    “I suggest that in reality we have passed over the first price-peak of a foreseeable sawtooth pattern of oil price instability, where demand rises, exceeds supply, and generates an untenable price peak that crashes us back into recession, destroying wealth as it does so, after which the cycle repeats, but with declining price peaks owing to serial global impoverishment and economic destabilization.”

    We could let this be our fate, should we choose. And we would make our choice by doing nothing to replace oil before it gets too dear to afford.

    But, what if we did not allow ourselves to be helpless critters but took our fates in our own hands?

    If, for example, oil supply is to decline by 4% per year we could increase public transportation by ~2% per year and shift ~2% of our personal transportation to electricity. Increasing the mileage of our ICE fleet and increasing insulation/efficiency in our oil-heated houses should round out the needed savings.

    (That’s not an insurmountable goal. We turn over about 5% of our personal transportation each year. Buses are quick to build. A small crew can insulate and upgrade windows in a house in a couple of days.)

    There’s a common problem when people write doomer scenarios and try to use Jeavon’s paradox to explain why conservation won’t work. They leave their problem solving skills sitting idle in the closet.

  62. prokaryote says:

    substanti8, The British Petroleum Disaster
    I think this is kind of missleading. It is a global problem of the entire oil industry, not just BP’s or “british” as the name implies.

    If oil and natural gas (methane) extraction proceeds we will see or better feel the environmental, economic and threat to life/health consequences in the future more often.

  63. Wit's End says:

    Bob Wallace, speaking for myself as pretty more or less a doomer, it’s not that I think conservation won’t work. It’s that I see no evidence that people will conserve – especially not in time to stop the slow-moving but rapidly accelerating train wreck of global climate change. It’s quite likely the conservation should have started decades ago to avert the tipping points that now seem inevitable.

    I do not see how society can ameliorate, mitigate, or otherwise compensate until and unless we collectively acknowledge the extent of the damage.

  64. Bob Wallace says:

    If you drive a 30 MPG car and drive the US average of 12,000 miles a year then you will spend $1,200 for $3 a gallon gas plus $100 to $200 for oil changes a year. When gas goes to $5 a gallon that $1,200 goes to $2,000. At $8 a gallon it becomes $3,200.

    12,000 miles in an EV “burning” 0.25 kWh per mile will cost you $315 at average US electricity prices. And your brakes will last 2x to 5x longer.

    Around $8 a gallon you can make payments on a new EV for what gas would cost you.

    We have the data that shows that when rapid rail is available people will choose rail over flight for moderate length trips. Look and see what has happened in Europe.

    Visit Bangkok and see what has happened to intercity driving once the SkyTrain and Metro were initiated. Public transportation is highly used. As are the buses. Public transportation works there, unlike in many parts of the US.

    “We”, the populace in general, do not have to acknowledge jack. “We”, the rest, have to push for better alternatives than a fleet of ICE vehicles with an average mileage of 25MPG or less.

    When people sign up for utility-supported/government subsidized home insulation programs they don’t need to acknowledge climate change or the dangers of oil/coal extraction. They just need to be given a choice between higher or lower monthly utility bills.

  65. fj2 says:

    #62. Wit’s End, “I see no evidence that people will conserve”

    Difficult financial times have greatly reduced transportation excesses including reduced driving, automotive consumption, and resultant mortality rates the lowest for many decades.

    Bicycles and more advanced small vehicles are increasing in use — greater than 25% in New York City over last year — with disruptively positive environmental footprints one percent and lower than those of cars.

    Infrastructure footprints for small vehicles are substantially lower than one percent than for cars since oversize vehicles greatly amplify environmental footprints. A bridge required to hold a 25 pound vehicle has a much smaller footprint than one percent of a bridge required to hold a 2,500 pound car which is further amplified for each bridge that has to be crossed.

  66. Doug Bostrom says:

    Lewis Cleverdon says: May 2, 2010 at 7:30 am

    First, “somebody fouled up the cementing and/or pressure control” implies a lack of training, and/or a lack of inspection of the work, and/or a lack of testing, (if the latter is feasible).

    The situation might reflect pressure to move the rig to other productive work or control costs, possibly not allowing enough time for the cement situation to resolve itself. If the mud was replaced with seawater too early, there would then be no means of controlling formation pressure if a late-emerging cement problem revealed itself.

    There are a number of ways for the cementing to go wrong having not so much to do with training or overall competence but instead with the vagaries of dealing with a multi-mile hole going through various rock strata. Most of these problems can be resolved with money, time and patience. It’s not uncommon for operators to have a well logging service inspect various parameters of casing and cementing, such as bonding quality and cement compressive strength, a means of improving confidence in the quality of the cement job. This hole was deep and hot, financial and logistical disincentives to running a bond log, but on the other hand the formation pressure and flow availability seems like an strong incentive to make sure it was done right. Actually, as we see, it was -exactly- the right place to spend time, money and patience making sure the cement job was effective. 20-20 hindsight.

    Second, there has been discussion of how an ‘audio shut-off valve’, required in other countries, would have controlled the event.

    If as appears to be the case the BOP was incapable of doing its job due to either a tool joint or a fault it ultimately does not matter whether it was equipped with audio controls, smoke signals, tin cans with strings or whatever.

    The BOP was equipped with a “deadman” control, a facility to cause the BOP to close itself independently of any requirement for action by a human or other agency once contact was lost with the rig. Contact with the rig would be lost shortly after the fire erupted; not only did the rig immediately black out but the control lines for the BOP would have been burned away very early in the event, being at “ground zero” as they were.

    So the BOP– the primary line of defense against a loss of formation pressure control for whatever reason– did not work as intended. Conventional wisdom says there’s one main “legitimate” reason for it to fail, which is if it happened to have a tool joint (connection between two segments of pipe) sitting in the path of the shears. Why an emergency device of this sort should depend on not coincidentally hitting the 2% or so of the drill string comprising joints temporarily remains an open question but one which will no doubt resolve itself to dollars and cents once the dust has settled.

    If the BOP did not hit a joint then it failed because of a technical fault; somebody was not sufficiently meticulous, or the device experienced a random component failure. We’ll surely find out what went wrong– the BOP will be recovered and will become the subject of complete fascination to a myriad of industry participants, regulators and lawyers.

  67. substanti8 says:

    Continual growth runs roughshod over efficiency improvements.  The primary problem is the incompatibility of our capitalist economic system with a world of limits.  All solutions to that problem require changing the system we use, defying or postponing limits, or a combination of both.  Most of what I see in the United States is a proclivity for only defying limits, and reductions in either population or affluence are taboo.  In the end, our problem solving skills are only as good as our ability to understand the relentless consequences of the exponential function.

  68. Doug Bostrom says:

    Actually I can think of another possibility for the BOP to fail. The rig will have lost dynamic positioning (DP) as soon as it completely blacked out, leaving the riser as the impromptu vessel “anchor” line. The riser is not meant to perform this job and meanwhile the riser passes through the BOP. I suppose it’s possible that if DP was lost -before- the BOP detected a loss of control from the surface, the BOP might have sat and waited patiently while leverage, torgue and other forces damaged the BOP to the point where it could not function.

    Why might that happen? Swerving into pure speculation, I wonder if the folks who designed the rig thought about power failure sequences? If the BOP supervisory controls were on a power supply (UPS?) that could outlast whatever power supply enables the DP system to function that would be a mistake. There would have to be some UPS systems in the picture; the vessel was equipped with an auxiliary electrical generator which requires seconds to start.

  69. substanti8 says:

    “… remains an open question but one which will no doubt resolve itself to dollars and cents once the dust has settled.”

    I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that the valve failed due to financial considerations.  Risking ecological destruction is a classic example of externalizing costs to increase profit margins.

    “The BOP will be recovered and will become the subject of complete fascination to a myriad of industry participants, regulators and lawyers.”

    No doubt – similar to the o-rings on the Challenger.

  70. Bob Wallace says:

    Doug Bostrom –

    First, let me say I appreciate your input on this thread. It’s nice to get input from someone familiar/informed on issues.

    Second may I ask you a possibly simple-minded question about a simple solution to this particular problem?

    Why could we not just rip off any extended pipe above the ocean floor and set a great big hunk of concrete/whatever over the opening? Just plug the sucker.

  71. fj2 says:

    #67. substanti8, “Continual growth runs roughshod over efficiency improvements.”

    Yes! This is definitely true.

    But, there are technological paths the can positively disruptively deal with growth, especially in the developing world completely eliminating poverty which should be the highest priority.

    First, would be rapid conversion to small vehicle transit with environmental footprints significantly lower than one percent of transportation systems based on cars and infrastructure improvements many times better. China may already be about half-way there with 430 million cyclists and 120 million using electric bicycles. China need only convert over to more advanced hybrid human-electric vehicles and systems capable of completely safe hands-free automated control at high speed based on existing technology.

    Second, might be accelerated development of nanotechnologies — on the scale of Manhattan and Space race to the moon projects; such as rapid commercialization of molecular strength carbon nanotubes and graphene 100 to 200 stronger than steel per weight — capable of transformational improvements creating environmental footprints again, much less than one percent of the current built environment; with additional “blue sky” capabilities of providing safe low-cost low-footprint geo-engineering tools and solutions removing massive amounts of carbon from the environment.

  72. fj2 says:

    70. fj2 (continued)

    Of course, much of rapid commercialization of nanotechnologies is “blue sky” as projected for mid-century but the risk-benefit of the type of virtuous cycles resultant from accelerated developments might be worth the effort.

  73. substanti8 says:

    fj2 wrote:

    “But, there are technological paths [that] can positively disruptively deal with growth …”

    What does “positively disruptively deal with” mean?

    “… completely eliminating poverty which should be the highest priority.”

    Poverty reduction is very important, but it will not last without achieving ecological harmony (a.k.a. “sustainability”).  Human society is unfortunately based on the false premise that human welfare is more important than the ecosystem.

    “… with environmental footprints significantly lower than one percent of transportation systems based on cars …”

    What’s the source of that claim?

    “China may already be about half-way there with 430 million cyclists”

    China is rapidly reducing its use of bicycles:

    “Perhaps it’s the years of Western chest-beating about the grandeur of capitalism and consumerism.  Or perhaps it’s the simple human desire to have and consume more, to be more comfortable.  Whatever it is, the Chinese are going the American way….

    Automobiles are rapidly replacing the bikes that are disappearing from the streets of Chinese cities at a phenomenal rate….

    Before the 1980s China did not allow private citizens to purchase vehicles for private use and there were few automobiles on the roads.  By 2005, there were 20 million cars in use.  By 2020, it is estimated, there will be 140 million.” – Henry Gold, 2007

  74. fj2 says:

    72. substanti8, “What does positively disruptively mean?”

    Positive disruptive means dramatic disruptive improvement as opposed to negative disruptive technology, actions, wars, giant oil spills, etc.

  75. fj2 says:

    #73. substanti8, “Human society is unfortunately based on the false premise that human welfare is more important than the ecosystem.

    Kind of a cynical view!

    Human society and civilization is ultimately the ecosystem.

    Life is intelligence and virtually the same. Nature provides everything.

    Survival is the only option.

  76. Chris Dudley says:

    Lewis #59,

    It does not seem to me that you have done the math correctly. Intrinsically expensive oil does not yet dominate world supply, oil that costs less than $12/barrel to produce does. Thus, oil can be cheap with only moderate conservation. Provide the Saudis with 6 million barrels a day of excess capacity and the price of oil will plunge. We are half way there now. We only need to cut our consumption by 15% to force the price of oil down. Additional annual cuts of 4% can keep the price down until we use so little oil that it does not matter to us what the price is.

    The first 15% is easy, lots of low hanging fruit these days. The subsequent cuts need some planning. However, the economic benefits of low priced oil are very much worth the effort.

    I find it very surprising that you consider that we have a ‘free market’ obligation when it comes to oil. It is a cartel that dominates supply. The oil market is a brute force market, not a free market. However, there is a single actor that can dominate demand which means that a supply cartel can be forcibly broken by the choice of a single entity.

  77. fj2 says:

    #73. substanti8,

    “What’s the source of that claim?”

    ‘China may already be about half-way there with 430 million cyclists’

    Cars do not fit in the future. If you believe that cars fit in the future just tell me how? . . . describe the scenario!

    Survival is the only option.

    We are the stuff of living things some of which have been around for billions of years! It is in our DNA; our instincts; our chemistry.

  78. fj2 says:

    And, there are 120 million electric bicycles plus 430 million cyclists is about half the Chinese population.

  79. fj2 says:

    #72, substanti8, What part of this do you not understand?

  80. substanti8 says:

    fj2 wrote:

    “Kind of a cynical view!”

    Yes, it wasn’t until after I had submitted by comment that I noticed I had used the wrong word.  Thanks for catching the error.  I meant to write that industrial society is unfortunately based on the false premise that human welfare is more important than the ecosystem.  There are obviously numerous alternatives, but industrialism happens to be the dominant kind of human society at this moment in history.

    FWIW … here’s my understanding of the difference between a “skeptic” and a “cynic”.  A skeptic says, “That’s not true,” or, “That’s wrong.”  A cynic says, “That’s wrong, but there’s nothing we can do about it.”

  81. substanti8 says:

    P.S.  At the risk of being pedantic, I’ll add this:


    “an economic organization of society built largely on mechanized industry rather than agriculture, craftsmanship, or commerce”
    – Random House Dictionary

    “an economic and social system based on the development of large-scale industries and marked by the production of large quantities of inexpensive manufactured goods and the concentration of employment in urban factories” – American Heritage Dictionary

  82. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Doug Bostrom at 68 –

    thanks for your very well informed response.

    It seems astonishing that the well-being of the eastern GOM and, given the Gulf Stream, potentially the east coast too should be trusted to a BOP with a 1 in 50 chance of hitting a tool joint. A second set of shears a few feet away would have cost only chump change as a fraction of project costs.

    ‘Self Regulation’ gets yet another proof of being an oxymoron.

    I’d doubt whether the DP loss and drift would have allowed the drill string to ‘bend’ the BOP before the rig’s explosion cut contact thus triggering the BOP. OTOH, if the explosion was great enough to release the drill string might that have been a sufficient instantaneous distortion to disable the BOP ?



  83. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Bob Wallace and Chris Dudley –
    Thanks for your responses to mine at #59.

    Having wrestled with the issue of Peak Oil for four years now I can say that the easy routes you suggest are not remotely sufficient to avoid massive geo-economic destabilization: the shortages are a fundamental obstruction of the prosperity and physical industry required to maintain current services and replace the fossil fuel dependent and the low-efficiency infrastructure worldwide and build new infrastructure etc in developing countries.

    Agreeing a stringent climate treaty will help: say a global 98% GHG cut off 1990 by 2040, but there is as yet no discussion of guaranteeing subsistence shares of oil supply to all nations to avoid their collapse and its contagious consequences. Nor is there any sign at all of the political will to agree so stringent a climate treaty. (Even 50% by 2050 is an ‘aspiration’).

    The ‘techno-cornucopean’ position has been amply rehearsed but has never yet got near refuting the core of the problem, (as described authoritatively in the seminal ‘Hirsch Report’ written for the DOD) that we’d need 20 years for a crash program of global transformation prior to declining supply to be able to avoid geo-economic destabilization. According to the 2009 DOE report and others, we have about 2 years.

    I’d urge you to study that report as a critical factor in assessing our best course of action: “Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management.”

    The primary weakness of the idea that the US could get by by cutting 4%/yr of its oil usage is that the 4% decline is global, i.e. 4% of 85m Bbls/day = 3.4m Bbls/day per year, which is ~17% of current US consumption, each year. To do that much, year on year, is patently untenable; to do still more so as to drop global prices is just wishful thinking.

    Other nations have led the way in cutting oil use over many years, and will continue to do so, (EU per capita usage is about half that of the US) but developing nations with a determination to raise their average incomes rightly observe that US current and historical profligate fossil fuel use is the core of both the climate problem and of the peak oil problem, so don’t expect that much cut in their usage for a while – on the contrary, even under a stringent “Treaty of the Atmospheric Commons” their demand will help push global prices along the sawtooth pattern I described earlier.

    Any move by the US to renege on its treaty obligations under the WTO to allow US oil onto the open market would rebound upon it in spades, as its prosperity is founded on the open access to commodities from around the world. It would also fail to avoid the high prices that current extreme oil drilling requires. That home production, which has fallen since peaking in ’72 to become just a small fraction of home usage, will be priced by world markets as a commodity which the US cannot afford to withhold. There are of course right-wingnut demagogues who’d welcome the idea of a ‘Fortress America’ economy, but I doubt whether, in practice, you’d like their prescriptions any better than I.

    As Ross Gelbspan wrote recently (in a positive review of “Straight Up” on Grist) concerning our response to the issue of climate destabilization :
    “The question of how to reorganize society in the face of impending collapse comes down to a choice between a radically more coordinated, cooperative global community and a scatter of fortressed, tribalized, and highly defended enclaves.”

    As I see it, establishing a “Treaty of the Atmospheric Commons” will be laying the foundations for the essentially co-operative global society that is capable of enduring the coming stresses. In this context Peak Oil should now be wielded as a major additional motivation for the US to stop stonewalling on a 3.67% cut off 1990 by 2020, acknowledge its responsibilities and start actually negotiating the requisite treaty.



  84. jyyh says:

    Once tried an electric bicycle but thought my fitness is better served with regular cycling or walking, liked it though, it gave a sort of sense of invincibility when facing a hill… But I have to admit, moving anything over 20 kg for over a couple of miles without powered help (say a car/moped (electric would be preferred)) is quite arduous.

  85. fj2 says:

    84. jyyh, “anything over 20kg for over a couple of miles without powered help”

    I carry over 20kg every work day without powered help and have no problem but, you are correct; auxiliary powering is a necessary feature. Going up hill is where weight is an issue.

    Hybrid human-electric vehicles are the type of vehicles suitable for daily commutes for the broadest spectrum of the population including the elderly and the disabled.

    People are somewhat fixated on bicycles with their high level of success in riding near automobiles which are very dangerous. Much more suitable are recumbent and semi-recumbent tricycles with auxiliary power — hybrid human-electric — for the broadest section of the population including the elderly, disabled, mothers with small children, etc. but, they are much lower to the ground providing difficult and dangerous visibility when traveling alongside cars, trucks, and buses. The dangers caused by cars is what perpetuates the local monopolies of cars to benefit the insurance, finance, oil and automobile industries stifling development of much better mobility solutions.

    Normal mortals in recumbent vehicles are capable of traveling at urban speed limits under human power alone. Elite athletes have achieved unassisted speeds of over 80 miles per hour. It is also much less likely to go over the handlebars in crashes and they are much safer and are more amenable to safety adaptations, enclosures, modularity; they are much more comfortable having real seats; capable of being folded next to one’s bed or in one’s cubicle or, carried on conventional transit, etc. Guide ways and rail systems along with magnetic levitation and linear induction motoring can provide for safe hands-free high-density transit of these modular vehicles with performance, practicality and comfort characteristics far beyond automobiles at less than one percent their environmental footprints.

    Famed MIT Mechanical Engineering Professor Emeritus David Gordon Wilson — wrote the book “Bicycle Science” — is 76 years old and rides his human-powered-only recumbent 16 miles to work every day.

  86. Chris Dudley says:

    Lewis (#83),

    We appear to be talking at cross purposes. I made no suggestion that US oil stay of the world market and oil is exempt from WTO rules in any case. You also seem to think that a 4% decline is inevitable. It is not. Reducing demand now makes the slope less negative since depleting resources are shifted to spare capacity.

    All of this is pretty simple in terms of transformation. We will extend the lives of our SUVs and use them in car pools but we’ll use more efficient transportation for low occupancy. If an SUV lasts 20 years (your timescale) because it is driven less, the owner will be happy to have a free an clear vehicle for such a long time. This is not hard at all. We’ve already done it before and we have a plan approved by congress already to do it again. Heck, we’ve even curbed oil consumption to conserve rubber before. There is nothing magical about it.

  87. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Chris –

    you seem to think you can reduce GLOBAL oil consumption by MORE than 4% per year (currently 3.4 mBbls/day, ~17% of US consumption) year on year for more than 25 years, with no mention of the aid of a climate treaty to cap and reduce all nations’ FF usage, nor any indication of sufficient extant US political will, and starting by 2012 ?

    And given that you’ve not had time to study the seminal Hirsch Report to the DOD, you’re not that interested in learning about the crippling issues involved ?

    Well all I can say is good luck with that!



    P.S. If you whitewash the windows, strip out the engine and seats, and replace the floor with wire mesh, the SUV will make a half-decent mobile chicken ark when you can no longer afford the petrol.

  88. Chris Dudley says:

    Lewis (#87),

    Again, you seem to be out of touch with the math. Are we currently experiencing a 4% annual decline? No. Conservation now avoids a steep decline later. I am not proposing at all what you suggest. It is your failure to appreciate our current situation which is the problem I think.

  89. Doug Bostrom says:

    Lewis Cleverdon says: May 2, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    OTOH, if the explosion was great enough to release the drill string might that have been a sufficient instantaneous distortion to disable the BOP ?

    Sounds reasonable.

    A second set of shears a few feet away would have cost only chump change…

    Penny-wise, pounds foolish. Has some industry economist or actuary figured out that it seems worth risking the occasional $10 billion disaster to save that little bit of money when looking at the total pool of drilling projects? Has anybody worked out the numbers on this at all? Taking the exploration plan as an example, I have to say I doubt it.

    The plan presented strikes me as a sham, a nod and wink exchanged between partners. The near complete absence of any numerical analysis showing justification for the assertions made in BP’s plan is astonishing, really.

  90. substanti8 says:

    jyyh wrote:

    “moving anything over 20 kg for over a couple of miles without powered help is quite arduous.”

    That’s only true if the trip involves any significant uphill grade, as fj2 mentioned.  The Stout Family Bike Move and numerous other examples demonstrate that with the proper equipment human muscle power is all you need.

  91. fj2 says:

    90. substanti8

    There are major advantages in scaling all transportation around those easily powered by human power.

    A high level of modularity makes these vehicles the major building blocks in mass transit systems moving millions of people per hour in urban areas.

    High speed and range is achieved by dramatic reductions in air resistance potentially eliminating much of the practicality of airplanes.

    With human power virtually always available this transport technology provides a high level of resilience, reliability, and adaptability.

    Transport technology scaled around basic vehicles easily powered by human power follows current technological trends and provides the solution to the transportation problem.

  92. Anonymous says:

    Doing the math in a worst-case senario, we are looking at almost 100,000,000 gallons released in the next 90 days. Can the ocean survive that?

  93. Anonymous says:

    100,000,000 gallons might be a best case!