Kill Spill, Pass Bill!

As BP stems flow (for now), Obama asserts, “This disaster should serve as a wake-up call that it’s time to move forward on” climate bill.

Kill SPillThe 37th day since the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig saw several very dark clouds in the BP oil disaster, as well as a silver lining.

BP undertook a “top kill” maneuver to staunch the river of oil coming from the damaged well.   This effort involved shooting drilling muds into the drilling apparatus on the ocean floor to block the oil from escape:

In the top kill maneuver, a 30,000-horsepower engine aboard a ship injected heavy drill liquids through two narrow flow lines into the stack of pipes and other equipment above the well to push the escaping oil and gas back down below the sea floor.

This effort appears to have worked – for now.  The New York Times just reported

Engineers appeared to have stemmed the flow of oil, Adm. Thad W. Allen of the Coast Guard, the leader of the government effort, said on Friday morning. But he stressed that the next 12 to 18 hours will be “very critical” in permanently stanching what is already the worst oil spill in United States history.

The success of this effort to plug the hole is critical to the public, economic, and ecological health of the Gulf Coast because experts now believe that much more oil is flooding the Gulf than previously estimated.  The federal government’s analysis of the oil flow rate through the drill site found that it was two to five times greater than the earlier estimate of 5,000 barrels of oil per day.

USGS Director Dr. Marcia McNutt today announced that the National Incident Command’s Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG) has developed an independent, preliminary estimate of the amount of oil flowing from BP’s leaking oil well”¦

Based on three separate methodologies, outlined below, the independent analysis of the Flow Rate Technical Group has determined that the overall best initial estimate for the lower and upper boundaries of flow rates of oil is in the range of 12,000 and 19,000 barrels per day.

This translates to 504,000 to 798,000 gallons of oil per day have flowed from beneath the seabed into the Gulf of Mexico.  The flood of oil could total between 18 million to nearly 30 million gallons since the Gulf nightmare began on April 20th.  The Exxon Valdez incident spilled over 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound in 1989.   The BP oil disaster now has the dubious record as the largest oil debacle in U.S. history.

After the initial explosion, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar launched a quick examination of the BP oil disaster, and to develop recommendations for immediate safety measures.  He also declared a thirty day time out in new drilling, although the New York Times determined that “despite moratorium, drilling projects move ahead.”

On May 28th, the Department of Interior presented that report to the President. It recommended a longer time out for oil leasing, exploration, and drilling time in deep waters until the completion of the independent investigation led by former Senator Bob Graham and former EPA Administrator William Reilly.  During his remarks today, the President announced this six month time out.

Its initial recommendations include aggressive new operating standards and requirements for offshore energy companies, which we will put in place.

Additionally, after reading the report’s recommendations with Secretary Salazar and other members of my administration, we’re going to be ordering the following the actions.

First, we will suspend the planned exploration of two locations off the coast of Alaska.

Second, we will cancel the pending lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico and the proposed lease sale off the coast of Virginia.

Third, we will continue the existing moratorium and suspend the issuance of new permits to drill new deepwater wells for six months.

And four, we will suspend action on 33 deepwater exploratory wells currently being drilled in the Gulf of Mexico.

This is a welcome reprieve for the northern coast of Alaska because it halts the exploratory wells that Shell was set to drill in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.  The Alaska Wilderness League notes that

The Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, the Arctic waters north of Alaska, are sometimes known as America’s ‘Polar Bear Seas’ – and for good reason”¦  These waters are home to the entire population of U.S. polar bears”¦Many of America’s most beloved sea animals thrive here, including the endangered bowhead whale, sea otters, walrus, seals and countless birds.

Little is known about the effects of a recently-proposed massive oil and gas program on this fragile ecosystem. The government’s Mineral Management Service predicted a 33 to 50 percent likelihood of a large oil spill in the Chukchi Sea alone if drilling proposals were to move forward, while acknowledging that the technology needed to clean up such a spill does not exist.

The report also made the following recommendations (subscription required) to improve safety on rigs.

Among the new safety restrictions Salazar is recommending in a report to Obama are requirements for all blowout preventers to be certified, stronger well control, tougher inspections, and expanded safety and training programs for rig workers.

In addition to describing the Administration’s efforts to respond to the oil spill, President Obama once again urged the Senate to pass comprehensive clean energy and global warming legislation:

This economic and environmental tragedy “¦ underscores the urgent need for this nation to develop clean, renewable sources of energy.

The House of Representatives has already passed a bill that would finally jump-start a permanent transition to a clean-energy economy. And there is currently a plan in the Senate, a plan that was developed with ideas from Democrats and Republicans, that would achieve the same goal.

This disaster should serve as a wake-up call that it’s time to move forward on this legislation. It’s time to accelerate the competition with countries like China who’ve already realized the future lies in renewable energy. And it’s time to seize that future ourselves. So I call on Democrats and Republicans in Congress, working with my administration, to answer this challenge once and for all.

To accomplish this critical goal, President Obama and Senate leaders must role up their sleeves, and pass legislation which would reduce oil use, establish new safety standards for offshore oil drilling, and cut global warming pollution.  We don’t have much time left.

Guest blogger Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress.

22 Responses to Kill Spill, Pass Bill!

  1. Chris Dudley says:

    Let’s hope this works. I did read a statement by BP that they will never use this well to produce oil. What a sad situation.

  2. Dave says:

    Top Kill is a failure. This morning there was failure at the riser. You can see large chunks rain down on the ROV at around the 1:14 point in this video.

    This disaster is more than a wake-up call. I appreciate the efforts now to enforce a deep water moratorium and clean house. The fact that these steps did not occur until after large undersea plumes developed and the pathetic attempt at booming allowed the oil to hit the wetlands is annoying. We are 38 days into this catastrophe. The northern Gulf may not recover for decades.

    We have the technology to rapidly transition off oil in our transportation systems. We also have an economic incentive to move toward new systems to create jobs. It is now a question of political will.

  3. Raul says:

    Has Alaska worked out the issues of permafrost melt causing
    foundation cracks in Fed. buildings that opens paths of methane.
    Certainly workers there could order inexpensive gas detectors
    for their homes and workplaces.
    Med says methane can cause confusion and undue aggression.

  4. jcwinnie says:

    There seem to be conflicting reports. Monkeyfister is reporting a fail while the Gray Lady is reporting stemmed for now.

    At least Barry dinna overreact, eh?

  5. paulm says:

    Anyone spot this…

    Oil Spill Might Be Message From God – Ted Turner, CNN

  6. Doug says:

    Does anyone know what the long-lasting effects were/are of the Ixtoc 1 blowout in 1979?

    That disaster was also located in the gulf, in Mexican waters, by the Mexican oil company Pemex. It sounds like the flow rate was similar to today’s Deepwater gusher, but it continued for 10 months until the relief well was finished. Total of 3.3 to 3.5 million barrels into the Gulf. It was the largest accidental oil spill in history, 2nd largest overall (the largest overall was what happened in the Gulf War).

    The wiki an other pages have plenty of info about the incident, but I haven’t found anything yet about the lasting impacts (ecological or otherwise).

  7. Windsong says:

    This is soooo dispicable! These people (BP officials) should be in prison! The Earth is not dieing; it’s being killed and we know who the killers are! I wish to heck I could do something about it!!!!!

    There’s a war going on between those who are trying to save the planet (and the living creatures on it!) and the large Corporations who don’t give a hoot about anything except money! (Read the books, “Eco-barons”, “Blessed Unrest” and even the movie, “Avatar” to glimpse this). In the near future, this war is bound to escalate and intensify and I for one, can’t wait!

  8. Windsong says:

    I read there are huge oil plummes, 10 miles or so long and hundreds of feet deep out in the ocean. I guess basically the Gulf will become one huge dead zone. The people responsible should likewise be in a dead zone– or at least inprisoned!

  9. prokaryote says:

    Doug, it seems the oil swept on the coast and got either removed and/or broke down over the last 3 decades.
    This time we have the ocean current and dispersants, most oil inside the water. Now most cannot be removed and will effect not only the coast but the ocean (specialy the foodchain) for a couple of hundred or thousand years.

    You would need a huge current filter to prevent the oil/dispersant reaching out further.


    In the next nine months, experts and divers including Red Adair were brought in to contain and cap the oil well.[6] An average of approximately ten thousand to thirty thousand barrels per day were discharged into the Gulf until it was finally capped on 23 March 1980, nearly 10 months later.[7] Prevailing currents carried the oil towards the Texas coastline. The US government had two months to prepare booms to protect major inlets. Eventually, in the US, 162 miles (261 km) of beaches and 1421 birds were affected by 3,000,000 barrels (480,000 m3) of oil.[7] Pemex spent $100 million to clean up the spill and avoided paying compensation by asserting sovereign immunity.

    During the Ixtoc spill, scientists experimented with spreading fertilizer on the slick to encourage bacteria that break down the oil. That may not be a good idea near the Louisiana coast, which already has too much algae because of fertilizer runoff from the Mississippi River, said Terry Hazen, an oil spill cleanup expert at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The algae created a “dead zone” of low oxygen levels in the Gulf.

    In August 1979, balls of sticky tar began washing up on the hotel beaches of South Padre Island in Texas. Crews scraped them up with construction equipment and giant vacuum cleaners, and the Coast Guard stretched a net across the Port Mansfield inlet to catch submerged tar balls.

    The Ixtoc spill wiped out fishing along the Mexican coast for nearly two years, said fisherman Agapito Quintana Gomez, 73.

    Reaching under a boat behind the offices of the Miguel Aleman Fisherman’s Cooperative in Coatzacoalcos, Quintana pulled out what looked like a lump of rubber: hardened sludge from a more recent oil spill. Inside, it was glossy black and smelled like especially pungent tar. “This stuff is poison,” Quintana said. “It’s going to go everywhere. We saw this happen in ’79.”

  10. J Bowers says:

    Not sure if it’s been brought up on CP, but there’s been another BP oil spill in Alaska which seems to have go unnoticed which Greg Palast writes about: Smart Pig: BP’s OTHER Spill this Week

    “On Tuesday, Pump Station 9, at Delta Junction on the 800-mile pipeline, busted. Thousands of barrels began spewing an explosive cocktail of hydrocarbons after “procedures weren’t properly implemented” by BP operators, say state inspectors “Procedures weren’t properly implemented” is, it seems, BP’s company motto.

    Few Americans know that BP owns the controlling stake in the trans-Alaska pipeline; but, unlike with the Deepwater Horizon, BP keeps its Limey name off the Big Pipe.


    How does BP get away with it? The same way the Godfather got away with it: bad things happen to folks who blow the whistle. BP has a habit of hunting down and destroying the careers of those who warn of pipeline problems.

    In one case, BP’s CEO of Alaskan operations hired a former CIA expert to break into the home of a whistleblower, Chuck Hamel, who had complained of conditions at the pipe’s tanker facility. BP tapped his phone calls with a US congressman and ran a surveillance and smear campaign against him. When caught, a US federal judge said BP’s acts were “reminiscent of Nazi Germany.”

    This was not an isolated case. Captain James Woodle, once in charge of the pipe’s Valdez terminus, was blackmailed into resigning the post when he complained of disastrous conditions there. The weapon used on Woodle was a file of faked evidence of marital infidelity. Nice guys, eh?…”

  11. J Bowers says:

    I’ll just add that Greg Palast is one of those journalists nobody on any side of the political fence really likes. He’s thorough beyond thorough (an ex-auditor no less) and has regularly contributed to the UK’s Newsnight programme with big scoops and stories.

  12. Chris Dudley says:

    The top kill seems to be having some trouble. Now that they have access to the flow though, I wonder if some angioplasty might work? If an automobile airbag were slipped down past the flow of oil and then deployed the way balloons are used to clear arteries it might be possible to form a plug that would hold.

  13. Doug says:

    Hmmm. The “normal” dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico are due to fertilizers, and probably not extremely rich in organics. But the dispersed-oil dead zones will be full of… dispersed oil.

    From wiki:

    Hydrogen sulfide (or hydrogen sulphide) is the chemical compound with the formula H2S. It is a colorless, very poisonous, flammable gas with the characteristic foul odor of rotten eggs. It often results from the bacterial breakdown of organic matter in the absence of oxygen, …

    There is a theory that several of the great extinction events that have occurred in Earth’s history have been due to H2S releases resulting from very low oxygen levels in the oceans, most likely due to high temps resulting from extremely high C02 levels, 1000ppm+, for thousands of years.

    Obviously this is a much smaller timescale, so hopefully a vibrant ecosystem of H2s-producing bacteria won’t develop in these plumes.


  14. prokaryote says:

    Singapore oil spill spreads to Malaysian waters
    Some of the 2,000 tonnes of crude oil which spilled into the Singapore Strait following the collision of two tankers on Monday has spread to Malaysian waters.

    Efforts to contain the spill have failed. The oil slick reached Tanjung Ayam in Pengerang yesterday.

    Could someone explain to me why there is so many oil spilled recently?
    When ships collide is one thing but it seems methane is becoming more and more unstable.

  15. Chris Winter says:

    It looks like we’ll have to wait through the week-end to find out whether the well is well and truly stoppered. According to Reuters, Tony Hayward says, “We’ve wrestled it to the ground but we haven’t put a bullet in its head yet.”

    Maybe if you put your boot on its throat…

  16. Kathy says:

    I fear this oil volcano will run till it’s empty, for lack of ability &/or imagination to stop it.

    If so, we will get a lesson in the geography of ocean currents. Atlantic coast oiled, the Gulf Stream conveying surface oil to coasts, dispersant/oil plumes flowing along the braided ocean circulation (temperature, salinity gradients), and droplets of toxic goo adhering to everything solid enough to impact them, a persistent, poisoned stew. All this a gold mine for whatever learns to eat it (bacteria > jelly fish > people ?).

    My advice, continue attempts to cap well. Angioplasty balloon interesting. Stop using dispersants. Study and get good at predicting where plume will reach surface, surround ‘target’ with fleet of dredges, suck up the oil, clean it and sell it. Ask for input from various fishing communities & scientists.

    Put a boom line outside the dredges. Consider something like a bubble net outside the booms to warn away fish, turtles, mammals.

    Get ideas from kindergarten kids, and 10 yr/olds. Form teams of high school kids to poll younger kids. Have a doctoral candidate watch all this and help make it function. Get experienced, respected faculty advisors involved.

    In this is a crisis, we need to harvest our best imagination.

  17. dhogaza says:

    If an automobile airbag were slipped down past the flow of oil and then deployed the way balloons are used to clear arteries it might be possible to form a plug that would hold.

    Here’s a number to think about. 13,000. Pounds. per. Square. Inch. pressure.

  18. lizardo says:

    No matter what BP says (or their various mouthpieces, or dump talkiing heads, one way to know that the well is actually temporarily cemented would be the moving off of all the pumping boats that are on station now (something like 3 or 4, plus I think the remotely operated vehicles (ROVs might have their own smaller command boats). Or that might finally be the signal that BP has finally reached the part of the plan that says kiss your ass goodbye (til August).

    Right now the constant pumping of mud is holding the oil and gas back but driller type folks seem to be saying that there are reasons why this approach can’t be continued for the incredibly long time it would take to drill the two relief wells. (That can’t be speeded up is the short version on that.) The second half re depth is harder, then they have to go horizontally or I guess diagonally down and intercept DWH well.

    The only slightly good news is while they are pumping the mud, some people watching the video night and day who claim to know drilling stuff thing that BP might not be using dispersents at the moment, let’s hope so, although with all that shipping nearby they might have to because too much oil on the suface would be a fire hazard.

    I have zero confidence in any of BP’s mentioned fall back plans for the interim. Partly because some of them sound like they could have been done weeks ago and frankly I am getting more and more convinced by the minute that BP (and govt enablers) are simply doing stuff to be seen to be doing stuff now. Which is what we are all yelling.

    BP seems to have been criminally negligent from start to finish, and so duplicity at this point just follows night/day logically.

    What we need is an administrative (or legislative or judicial, I don’t care) decision that neither BP nor anyone else can “develop” this lease block (thus this tract’s access to whatever oil is left down there) ever. Ever. If we or the powers that be are going to continue to allow BP to have all the say, or any say at all, this ought to help orient Tony Hayward’s et al’s thinking towards limiting their liability, stock price fall, reputation trashing etc etc. i.e. CAP THE WELL for good. Forget the reservoir. Otherwise his fiduciary duty (ugh ugh ugh) is always going to surely be to weigh both halves of the equation and try to have it both ways.

    Sorry if this is a dummer than hell comment, I’m exhausted.

  19. PurpleOzone says:

    Finally people are pointing out what I’ve been saying: BP had to be lying about the flow rate. It’s 15 or 20 times their original estimate and they must have known it. Or else they are so freaking incompetent that they knew less basics physics than a master plumber. In which case, they shouldn’t be allowed to change the pipe under my sink, much less drill 3 miles into the earth from a base of a mile below the sea.

    There’s a case to be made for incompetence. They changed plans at the last minute, when they had a challenging engineering project. They saved money by reducing a crew from 6 guys to 3, adding 1 back when the 3 couldn’t handle the work. They changed to a cheaper material. Saving ~$100,000 in salaries, ? on the material. It sounds like bean counters were in charge of the decisions, not engineers.

    I hope a full investigation is made of this affair and some strong new guidelines be put in. Maybe a case can be made for criminal negligence.

  20. Chris Dudley says:


    Yes, a little reenforcement of the membrane would be needed…. Wire mesh maybe…? Kevlar or carbon fiber cloth might form the membrane….

  21. norris hall says:

    The silver lining in this environmental disaster is that for once Americans are starting to question our dependence and addiction to oil

    The oil spill is changing a lot of minds. In California both Republican candidates for governor have switch from “Drill, Baby, Drill” to putting a stop to further offshore drilling. Even ultra consevative Pozner is feeling the heat as the worst enviormental disaster in US history starts to wash on shore.
    The once pro drilling Republican governor Arnold (what’s his last name) now supports and ban on offshore oil drilling
    And polls of Americans in general now show that suppport for offshore drilling has plunged by 20 points just in the last 3 weeks.
    My guess is that the disasterous effects of this spill are just starting to be felt and even if they plug the leak, the millions of gallons of oil will soon make their way onshore.

    As for me, I was a fence sitter. But the scope of this disaster and the fact that it was caused by human error, poor decision making and equipment failure have convinced me that no technology can save us from another disaster like this

    The most heart rendering video showed an oil covered seabird trying to peck it’s way into the hull of a small boat. It then disappeared under the water.

    Let’s get off the oil bandwagon once and for all. We are just polluting our own environment and killing our own wildlife. There are much safer and cleaner forms of energy that need to be developed.

    The age of the combustion engine is coming to a close and we all need to move on into the 21st century