No, the BP oil disaster is not “Worse Than Katrina”

In Katrina, “at least 1,836 people lost their lives…. Total damage was $81 billion.”

HuffPost 2

I get it.  Many progressives are angry with Obama for many grievances, some of which are genuine, such as his inane seeming embrace of offshore drilling (though, ironically, he actually closed off most of the coastal US to offshore drilling).  But some progressives seem to be taking the anger a bit far.

I’ve been as outspoken as anyone on the devastation — human and environmental — that the BP oil disaster is going to cause (see “The human dimensions of oil spills” and “The BP oil disaster is a health disaster, too” and “BP’s dispersants are toxic “” but not as toxic as dispersed oil“).  And 11 people have been killed in this tragedy (so far) — by the reckless behavior of BP.

That said, I would have thought people knew what happened in Katrina.  But maybe not.  Of Katrina, Wikipedia reports:

At least 1,836 people lost their lives in the actual hurricane and in the subsequent floods, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was the largest natural disaster in the history of the United States. Total damage was $81 billion (2005 USD), nearly triple the damage wrought by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

So we have a long, long way to go before the BP oil disaster is even close to Katrina.

Since progressives never believe low-ball official estimates, try googling “Katrina deaths.”  And you’ll find USA Today reported in 2007:

Hurricane Katrina’s tragic aftermath lingered for at least a year after the storm abated, boosting New Orleans’ death rate last year by 47% compared with two years before the levees broke, researchers reported Thursday….

“We can get hung up on the numbers, but the bottom line is that people are dying at a faster rate here post-Katrina,” says Jullette Saussy, director of New Orleans EMS.

“The lack of primary care, of mental health care and of long waits in emergency rooms all have (worsened) people’s normally controllable chronic diseases,” she says. “Diabetes, respiratory disease and hypertension all are killers, especially when they’re not dealt with.”

The storm’s impact on the state office that tracks vital statistics made those deaths difficult to measure. To get information, Stephens’ team tracked death notices in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and compared the findings with the state’s vital statistics. He said the study wasn’t designed to determine what caused the excess deaths.

From January to June 2006, they found on average 1,317 death notices a month, for a mortality rate of about 91 per 100,000 people. In 2002 and 2004, the average was 924 notices a month, for a death rate of 62 per 100,000, 47% fewer than after the storm.

So while the BP oil disaster is an unmitigated catastrophe and sure to get even worse, it can’t be compared to Katrina.  There is no point.  And it does a disservice to the memory of those who suffered and died in that superstorm.

Finally, the link in the HuffPost story goes here, which has no comparison to Katrina at all.  It makes clear that “the Gulf oil spill is probably the biggest environmental disaster the country has ever faced.”  And that is probably true (if we don’t count global warming).  But it still ain’t Katrina.

67 Responses to No, the BP oil disaster is not “Worse Than Katrina”

  1. prokaryote says:

    ” – So we have a long, long way to go before the BP oil disaster is even close to Katrina.”

    You cannot compare those two events. Katrina has been a local event where the oil leak affects gulf and atlantic nations. The current will spread the oil/dispersants to atlantic fishing grounds and shores. Containments will end up in the food chain for the next hundred or thousand years. This contributes further to fish population decline.

    According to a 2008 UN report, the world’s fishing fleets are losing $50 billion USD each year through depleted stocks and poor fisheries management. The report, produced jointly by the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), asserts that half the world’s fishing fleet could be scrapped with no change in catch. In addition, the biomass of global fish stocks have been allowed to run down to the point where it is no longer possible to catch the amount of fish that could be caught.[10] Increased incidence of schistosomiasis in Africa has been linked to declines of fish species that eat the snails carrying the disease-causing parasites.[11] Massive growth of jellyfish populations threaten fish stocks, as they compete with fish for food, eat fish eggs, and poison or swarm fish, and can survive in oxygen depleted environments where fish cannot; they wreak massive havoc on commercial fisheries. Overfishing eliminates a major jellyfish competitor and predator exacerbating the jellyfish population explosion.

    [JR: “You cannot compare those two events.” My point exactly. Yes, we’re destroying the oceans as I’ve said many times. BP or no BP, on our current emissions path, the oceans are screwed, as is LA, for that matter.]

  2. mike roddy says:

    The dollar damage from the two could be close if the destruction of ocean habitat is factored in, but you’re right, this is still disrespectful due to the much greater loss of life from Katrina.

    There is a big difference this time, though- the blowout was a direct result of human stupidity and greed, not an act of nature where disaster response was poor. There are many ways that this blowout could have been prevented, but the main cause has been the lack of oversight in our government.

    Conditions are probably worse for offshore platforms in the North Sea, but they never had a spill like this one. If they had, relief wells are there already.

    Obama was naive in believing that offshore drilling is safe, but if we’re going to blame someone here it’s obvious that the oil companies and the Bush Administrations are at fault. Bush Sr. let Exxon off the hook for the Valdez spill, making it cost effective for oil companies to take risks in subsequent years. Clinton and Obama have not exactly been heroic, but let’s put the Drill Baby Drill people’s feet to the fire this time.

  3. prokaryote says:

    Factbox: Gulf oil spill impacts fisheries, wildlife, tourism

    Louisiana’s $2.4 billion seafood industry supplies up to 40 percent of U.S. seafood and employs over 27,000 people. The state is the second-biggest U.S. seafood harvester, after Alaska, and the top provider of shrimp, oysters, crab and crawfish.

    Of all the threatened states, Florida has the most to lose. Tourism is its economic lifeblood, its largest industry, generating $60 billion in spending from more than 80 million visitors a year, bringing in 21 percent of all state sales taxes and employing nearly 1 million Floridians.

    Officials say even the threat of pollution that could come from the spill is enough to make a significant “dent” in the tourism industries of Florida and other Gulf states.

  4. prokaryote says:

    The federal government should immediately request that BP put a minimum of $200 billion in an escrow account to pay for claims that the federal government, not BP, considers “legitimate.”

  5. PeterW says:

    Joe, It seems just a tad over the top to criticize all progressives because of one article on the Huffington Post.

    [JR: Didn’t think I was doing that. Hope I’ve made myself clearer.]

  6. BR says:

    Thank you Joe for injecting some sense into the discussion.

    I’m not sure why the media can’t understand what’s going on in the gulf without coming up with nonsense comparisons. Why can’t folks understand that this is a uniquely bad situation with unique effects and no it’s not Katrina or Three Mile Island or any of the other things folks have compared it to, and the circumstances are different than all of those.

  7. Xopher says:

    While this is an unmitigated environmental catastrophe, we should take such good from it as we can. Hopefully, this will put pay to the dreamworld Americans have been living in of “cheap oil” and prices will rise substantially to reflect the real cost of extraction and processing. I’m sorry to have to say this, because I know such a development will cause hardship for a great many in as much as the modern American economy is founded on the ability of large numbers of people being able to drive at whim for great distances. This simply can no longer be the case. The oil and auto companies have gotten away with the current model for far to long and if we are to survive (and not just humans) this has to change as soon as is possible. This rape of the planet and its resources has to stop immediately.

  8. Xopher says:

    Furthermore, I think there is a comparison to Katrina (not Obama’s) but not in the way is is presented by the media or by the above comparison of human lives lost (which seems at best a narcissistic formulation). We are not the only species on the planet. We are not the best species on the planet. Oh, we are certainly the best at pillaging and destroying especially over silly philosophical ideas (Sorry, I just came back from seeing “Agora” so I’m pretty worked up about that.) and especially with technology which has the benefit of removing us by one or more steps from the actual damage done. This is the Gulf of Mexico’s Katrina. This time, however, it has been caused by the hand of man, not nature. Humans are the most serious threat to the continuation of the biosphere as we have known it and, frankly at all. Until humans get under control with the greed and the continually exploding population, I do not see a happy future for any living thing.

  9. Bob Wright says:

    I have a suggestion for plugging the leak, and I hope Joe or some reader can take it to someone working on the problem.

    There is a simple reaction (called “thermit”) between iron oxide and aluminum metal. You simply mix stoichiometric amounts of the two, light it off, and you have a white hot puddle of iron metal and Al2O3 slag on top. You can add wollastonite to the mix to moderate the reaction and/or control the properties of the slag.

    The problem with top kill was the drilling mud got blown out of the hole as soon as they released the pressure. You put several tons of themit mix on top of the bore hole, protecting it from getting wet enough to cause a steam explosion, remotely light it off, and liquid iron runs down the bore hole and solidifies with several tons of iron and slag to hold it in place.

    It would take a pretty good engineering team to determine how much to use, how to contain the mix and the reaction, whether to vent the hole as the thermit reacts… but it might be possible.

  10. Andy says:

    There are some very important facts being overlooked by the media regarding this well blow-out. This was a man-made disaster, unlike Katrina. And this disaster was largely made by Louisianans as a consequence of oil production whose jobs were mostly benefiting Louisianans. Even the Dept. of Interior Minerals Management Service office in charge was in Louisiana and therefore most of its employees were Louisianans. Oil production is a much larger industry than the seafood industry in Louisiana. There are no larger proponents of the oil industry than Louisiana’s Washington contingent. Senator Landrieu being front and center but also don’t forget past Senate giant Breaux.

    Louisiana’s marshes have been deteriorating for many decades now. They are losing about 30 square miles of marsh a year. These losses are largely due to subsidence and most of this is now known to be a direct result of oil and gas production. This is a relatively new finding. The diversion of the Mississippi River prevents the marshes from rebuilding, but currently it is the subsidence of the land due to depressurization and collapse of oil and gas reservoirs that is causing most of the losses. In the 1970’s, at the peak of onshore oil and gas production and when there was little ongoing eustatic sea level rise, the loss of Louisiana wetlands was 40 square miles a year.

    Louisianans have been killing their State for a long time now. The losses due to this oil spill are relatively minor when compared to the permanent loss of marshland and barrier islands caused by subsidence-induced oil and gas production.

    We should empathize with Louisiana, and it is important to remember that those who are most affected by the spill such as fishers, shrimper and oyster harvestors, don’t have the culpability that those who work in the oil and gas industry do. Though often the two are inextricably linked.

    I do feel that many Louisiana politicians have come off as hypocrites regarding their laying of blame on the federal government. They’ve been “burning the furniture for heat” for quite a while in Louisiana and this oil spill only makes it more evident.

    Here are some accessible publications.

    Pamphlet on current rates of marsh loss in Louisiana

    Journal article on subsidence, oil production and subsequent marsh loss (abstract only)

    Open access publication on oil production, subsidence, and marsh loss

    From the introduction of the USGS publication:

    “Since 1999, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been
    conducting research directed toward a better understanding of
    the physical processes that contribute to wetland loss in the Gulf
    Coast region. Recent USGS efforts have focused on hotspot areas
    of the Mississippi delta plain, where high rates of interior wetland
    loss are difficult to explain when only surficial processes and wetland
    ecology are considered. Prior USGS studies that examined
    the temporal and spatial distribution of interior wetland loss in
    Lafourche and Terrebonne Parishes in Terrebonne basin demonstrated
    close temporal and spatial correlations between wetland
    loss, delta-plain subsidence, and deep-subsurface hydrocarbon
    production (Morton and others, 2003; 2005; 2006).”

    Dr. Robert Morton has been working on this issue for a long time now and he has taken a tremendous amount of heat over it. No one likes to bite the hand that feeds it, including many of those now crying foul. Regarding progressives and their view of the Obama whitehouse; research and the elucidation of environmental problems such as represented by Dr. Morton’s work, was actively stifled under the previous administration.

  11. Leif says:

    So Nature won this round… However, man is learning and next time Man will win. We have learned to burn fossil fuel.

  12. Walter Miale says:

    The death toll from the Gulf cataclysm is not yet calculable. Easy to imagine (is it not?) that with indirect effects (such as cancer from eating contaminated fish) included the numbers of people killed will FAR surpass Katrina. And while the effects on humans and on Mother Earth are incommensurable, the magnitude of BP event is of a higher order.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Okay, it may be disrespectful to those who died in Katrina to compare the man-made disaster of the BP oil deluge (I refuse to call it a “spill”) to the hurricane, but there is a legitimate comparison. (Also, keep in mind, that we don’t know yet how many deaths will result from this man-made disaster.)

    The current administration has not responded adequately to protecting the coastal areas from the oil onslaught, just as the former administration’s lack of response to the rooftop-stranded refugees of Hurricane Katrina was abysmal. Nor has the Obama administration reassured the public that it will take the necessary steps to do everything possible to ensure that a second Deepwater Horizon man-made disaster does not occur again.

    I wish Joe Romm and other Obama apologists would stop with the idolatry and realize that Obama apparently will have to be forced into taking a leadership role.

    He’s as bad as BP. He gives the impression that he doesn’t know “what’s next.”

  14. Bob Wallace says:

    Peter #5, it’s not just Huffington. Daily Kos has had tons of posts by self-described progressives who are very angry with Obama for not stopping this disaster.

    That said, Huffington Post has some absolutely horrible headlines at times. They ran one yesterday stating that the Vatican expert on sex crimes had called for pedophile priests to receive the death penalty. When you read the article he said nothing of the sort.

    I think someone at HP is trying to boost page hits.

    Anonymous, I doubt that Obama does know what is next. He’s not an oil drilling expert. The experts, from all oil companies and multiple government agencies, are working on this problem and they obviously haven’t come up with a solution to date.

    I really have no idea what your idea of Obama taking a “leadership role” in stopping the flow would look like. He’s a lawyer, specializing in Constitutional law. He’s neither physicist, engineer, nor underwater robot operator. For him to get in the middle of the problem solving and start giving orders would be silly.

    He is putting resources into play to curtail the spread of the oil. Here’s a day by day synopsis of what the Administration has done in an attempt to curtail the spread of oil. You seem like you could use a bit of info….

  15. Bob Wallace says:

    Ain’t that sweet?

    My text-only post gets sent to moderation.

    My link post goes right on through….

  16. Aaron Lewis says:

    Hard to tell until the event is over, and ALL the costs are tallied.

    At this point we do not know how many people will starve as a result reduced protein from various fisheries. Maybe nobody! (Maybe limited impact on fisheries? With Corexit, we do not know!) Maybe we lose millions of tons of fish protein. How many extra people will starve if we do not harvest X^XX kilograms of protein from the ocean? And, this loss of protein capacity would occur at about peak oil, meaning that the cost of protein from industrial agriculture will be rising.

    I am an old fashioned kind of guy. I think minimum damage to the ocean occurs when you let the oil come to the surface and “weather” — be exposed to sun and atmosphre. Then, you boom and skim like crazy. It is expensive, but it works. I do not like the idea of leaving huge toxic plumes under the sea, moving with the currents.

  17. prokaryote says:

    Aaron Lewis, if you look at the history of the Exxon Valdez disaster it could mean the end for ocean fishery – for at least decades.

    Exxon Valdez oil-spill recovery still is work in progress, 20 years later

    The herring population’s failure to rebound has emerged as among the most perplexing ecological mysteries of the spill’s legacy.

    Herring are a prime source of protein for marine mammals, birds and many fish. They also were a major source of income for Renner and other fishermen.

  18. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Walter at #10 –

    You are right to suggest that the scale of human lives lost due to BP’s Deep Horizon negligence are as yet speculative – there will plainly be more than just eleven.

    Katrina’s known body count is huge, but it too is far from complete. With over 1800 bodies recovered, and around 400 deaths per month as delayed casualties in the following year, it plainly killed far more Americans outright than the twin towers circus. Yet that is not the full count – the last I heard over 6,600 who were in the flooded areas are still listed as missing.

    If you’d like to construct a comparison between these events’ severity, then consider also the ongoing intensification of droughts, off the time-lagged warming from 330 ppmv in 1975, that is reflected in the current crop failures in Chad and Niger – 100% loss in some areas. The UN reports that over 10 million people now face famine.

    Given America’s dominant share of accumulated airborne GHGs, and the vast scale of the loss and suffering they’ve just begun to cause, it makes concerns over just how many more than eleven people will be killed by BP’s operational negligence look rather, well, nationalistic ?



  19. prokaryote says:

    ” – And, this loss of protein capacity would occur at about peak oil, meaning that the cost of protein from industrial agriculture will be rising.”

    These Homo species were culturally conservative, but after 50,000 BP modern human culture started to change at a much greater speed. Jared Diamond, author of The Third Chimpanzee, and some anthropologists characterize this as a “Great Leap Forward.”

    Classic evidence of behavioral modernity includes:
    * fishing

    Animal Source Foods and Human Health during Evolution

    A three-decade long study published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, found that Guatemalan men who had been well-fed soon after they were born earned almost 50% more in average salary than those who had not. The blind trial was performed by giving a high-nutrition supplement to some infants and a lower-nutrition supplement to others, with only the researchers knowing which infants received which supplements. The infants that received the high-nutrition supplement had higher average salaries as adults

    Complete proteins, also known as high quality proteins, “contain all the essential amino acids in amounts adequate for human use; it may or may not contain all the others. Generally proteins derived from animal foods (meats, fish, poultry, cheese, eggs, yogurt, and milk) are complete, though gelatin is an exception. Proteins derived from plant foods (legumes, grains, and vegetables) tend to be limited in essential amino acids. Some are notably low, such as corn protein.

  20. Scott says:

    HuffingtonPost is about page views and click-throughs. Their editorial view is progressive, but they are not opposed to misleading headlines and sensationalism to boost their advertising revenue.

  21. Leif says:

    Lewis Cleverdon: If you have not already seen them I would like your thoughts on Chris and my brain storming to control the well. Comments ~50 on.

  22. prokaryote says:

    Underwater Oil Plumes Disputed By BP CEO Tony Hayward

    “There’s been enough evidence from enough different sources,” said marine scientist James Cowan of Louisiana State University, who reported finding a plume last of oil last week about 50 miles from the spill site. Cowan said oil reached to depths of at least 400 feet.

    An even larger plume – 22 miles long, six miles wide and more than a thousand feet deep – was reported by the University of South Florida.
    Story continues below

    “We stand behind it,” said William Hogarth, dean of the school’s College of Marine Science. Hogarth, the former head of the National Marine Fisheries Service, said laboratory results are due this week.

    But Hogarth and Cowan said BP’s use of chemical dispersants to break up the oil before it reaches the surface could reduce its buoyancy, keeping it in deeper water.

  23. MarkB says:

    The majority of the Katrina comparisons are coming from Republicans and a sensationalist media. It’s a shame to see HuffingtonPost do this. It’s ironic that in an effort to score political points against the president, Republicans are helping to give the impression to the public that it’s a disaster on par with the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. This helps environmentalists. Support for offshore drilling is plunging.

    While BP surely deserves the blame for not being able to fix their own problem, there’s plenty of finger-pointing going around. But what should be painfully clear at this point: Offshore drilling presents risks that can lead to environmental disasters that cannot be fixed.

  24. Jackie says:

    Ya, may be from the view of statistics katrina was much more devastating, but we have to realize that that was natural and this stupid BP oil disaster is by men. So please don’t even compare the two. We should be more careful about our deeds.

  25. catman306 says:

    BP’s [Tony Hayward] has said on NPR this morning that there are no oil plumes beneath the surface in the GOM. What a misinformed CEO. He’s a bad liar.

    Real data about oil in the water column from real scientists.

  26. Rick DeLong says:

    While death counts are perhaps a decent measure of the human impact of different catastrophes, it’s a very narrow measurement with very little correlation to the true cost to the future long-term productivity and robustness of the human habitat. In terms of damage to the human habitat, it may well be true that the oil spill is worse, though many of its effects will be felt less directly and over a longer period of time.

    [JR: My brother lost his home in Katrina, and more people lost their home in Katrina than in the 1930s Dust Bowl. So Katrina also had very broad impacts beyond the death toll. Again, readers know I am not minimizing the environmental catastrophe we face, indeed, I’ve called this Oilpocalypse. I just think these two catastrophes are not comparable. I would also note that the failure to design a levees to withstand a Category Five hurricane was also a great human blunder.]

  27. Lauren says:

    Before we know if this disaster is worse than Katrina, we need more answers. For example, is it true, as some reports suggest, that there are multiple leaks several miles away from the Deep Horizon well?

    There have been reports that the cement casings in the well might be faulty, which could mean that oil is escaping from the well from a deeper breach point. This oil could then be leaking through permeable sea-floor and escaping from other locations (even miles away) that they haven’t officially disclosed. This would not be the first time this kind of thing has happened.

    Maybe this is why they are keeping the media at bay, for fear of having to disclose the true seriousness of this fiasco.

  28. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Leif –

    the reason I didn’t post on this was a sense that the problems with ‘ad hoc blockage’ options are unknown – due to the uncertain internal status of the BOP. This implies that a failed ‘blockage’ option may in turn cause unpredictable further problems.

    Cutting off the BOP to access the well direct would bypass this issue, but at the cost of increased outflow.

    Which points to the paramount need for a ‘containmant’ option as backup in the event of a ‘blockage’ option failing to suppress the oil rising up the well.

    That containment would be simple, but very substantial in its logistics.
    It demands:
    – the delivery by MMF chutes of sufficient ballast to make a substantial foundation pad around the wellhead (30 bargeloads ?);
    – the preparation of a large double skinned dome surmounted by an outflow pipe and stopcock, with the inner skin conical to sweep out any hydrates, and the heavy duty outer skin having concrete-inlet connections and being roughly domed to withstand more ballast falling from 5,000ft;
    – the commandeering of sufficient barges both to deliver concrete to fill the space between the skins and form a seal with the foundation pad (before the stopcock is very slowly closed), as well as enough to then bury the stopcock under a deep layer, and also enough ballast for permanent burial of the whole dome.

    The containment could well be made large enough to fit over the BOP, and should, as a matter of basic prudence, have been deployed as a backup from the outset. Allowing up to three weeks preparation, that would have put it on site at least two weeks ago, ready for use.

    Given that the Whitehouse is now warning of the relief wells’ late August intervention as the possible solution (if they function: misses are not rare), it seems to me that preparing the ‘containment’ options is now the rational approach, and should be commissioned without delay. Once available, its far greater reliability mitigates against spending time with an open well attempting the bockage option. In fact, if it were made to enclose the entire BOP, it would avoid the increased outflow from the BOP’s removal.

    IMHO the Whitehouse could and should start thinking of this solution as being “outside the BOP”, and should apply US naval capacities to its immediate execution as a most urgent priority.



  29. Leif says:

    Another thought Lewis. Could HEAVY ball bearings be injected with the water/mud to sink to the bottom, assuming there is a bottom and we have not just tapped a void. Obviously gulf balls get in there. We just need them heavy. It will not take them long to sink to the hopefully bottom. Once past the BOP constriction flow rate will slow. Even bouncing around they will be removing energy from the system. A few hundred feet of them would do wonders.

  30. Leif says:

    In my haste to post I failed to thank you for your efforts, Lewis. Thank you.

    So the questions are:

    Is there a “bottom” to this well?
    Is the drill head just hanging in a big void?
    If the drill shaft were cut at the top would it fall enough to clear 10 feet or so for a pre positioned heavy needle valve to be inserted.?
    If there is a bottom then depleted uranium? shot would not take long to build up in a 21″ casing. As the flow rate subsided led shot could replace the expensive stuff. It may be that lead might make it thru as is once past the BOP. If we knew the flow rate a test could be set up to proof the whole. What a concept!

  31. Leif says:

    With radioactive weight we could position a Geiger counter close to the plume and even see which way the stuff is going.

  32. Fr. Tom says:

    The loss of human life in the damage from Katrina was a true tragedy. The loss of animal and plant life in the damage from this BP disaster is … what? Not a true tragedy. I am reminded of a marvelous section of the 104th Psalm, “Yonder is the great and wide sea with is living creatures too many to number, creatures both small and great. There move the ships, and there is that leviathan, which you (God) made to sport in it.”

    But, of course, BP had a better idea.

  33. Leif says:

    Lewis, back again: I have read some reports that oil may be rupturing away from the sight. If that is the case then plugging the well from the bottom up represents the only answer that comes to my mind.

  34. SecularAnimist says:

    The number of direct, immediate human fatalities is an absurd measure of whether Katrina or the BP oil leak is “worse”.

    The BP oil leak is in the process of poisoning some of the most vital ecosystems on Earth to death.

    With all due respect, the anthropocentrism that leads one to conclude that the death of a couple of thousand humans is “worse” than the irreversible mass destruction of entire ecosystems is the same view that leads BP to do what it does.

  35. prokaryote says:

    Lauren, 28# ” – This oil could then be leaking through permeable sea-floor and escaping from other locations (even miles away) that they haven’t officially disclosed.”

    What if the methane deposits nearby the leakage are start to escape?
    Maybe the entire seafloor methane deposits are becoming unstable.

    Leif, 30# ” – Could HEAVY ball bearings be injected with the water/mud to sink to the bottom, assuming there is a bottom and we have not just tapped a void.”

    To get a solution for shutting down a leak i would start to think about how our organism reacts in such situation.

    In the meantime – till this all begun it would make more sense to deploy enough ships with pumps to collect oil which first start to bubble up. No dispersants to make oil sink and contribute to more spread and underwater plumes. Even if this is not a nice idea when considering huge amounts still find it’s way to the beaches. At the shore it can be still collected and microorganism could be used to help accelerate break-down process of the oil molecules.

    The way BP is handling the situation now, will make it just worth in the long run.

  36. Aaron Lewis says:

    Re 3 18, 20.
    I started estimating protein loss. With dispersants, it will certainly be very large – The question is will it be large enough to change global protein supplies, in ways that change global nutrition? EV damageed a lot of fisheries, but it never changed the global protein balance. However, now we have fisheries and species that are on a knife’s edge. Today, we may already have spilled enough oil/Corexit to damage this year’s spawn of Atlantic tuna, bill fish, and the bait fish that they live on. However, those are the fish of the rich, and do not really affect our protein balance. In another few weeks, the spill may be large enough to affect our global protein supplies for the long term. With enough crude oil stabilized below the surface with Corexit, we could affect our protein supplies for thousands of years. For example, we could kill off an entire herring fishery. Just because a molecule of the oil has killed one critter does not mean that molecule of oil has been detoxified.

  37. Leif says:

    Can anyone tell me what the bottom of this hole looks like. Have we punched into a cavern void of everything but oil and gas or is it permeable “something?” If it is “something” then there is no reason that a thousand feet of “lead” shot can not be dumped in thru the existing piping. What is the flow rate? Once below the constriction of the BOP I cannot believe that the flow rate is so high that lead will not sink in it.

  38. Leif says:

    Can one of you engineer types answer this? Assuming a maximum of 20,000 bpd, (maximum estimate), coming out a 6″ pipe, what is the flow rate. If it is less than 32 ft per second lead shot should come close to sinking in it. Once that shot is in the big pipe it will fall that much faster. If there is any bottom in this beast the shot will pile up and increase resistance where it does the most good. Before the gas gets to expand exponentially. A thousand feet of shot will change the perspective in a big way.

  39. Anonymous says:

    @ #14: Bob Wallace, your reading comprehension skills are limited. Obama seldom knows “what’s next” — his handlers have him make a speech in reaction to any bad news, then they instruct him to lay back hoping the dust will settle in their favor, without expending any political capital.

    FYI, it’s been reported that contrary to what you claim, “the experts, from all oil companies…are working on this problem,” that experts from other oil companies have offered their expertise and advice and have been ignored by the administration.

    You’re right when you say…”they obviously haven’t come up with a solution to date.” BP should never have been allowed to drill the well without a disaster plan/solution, but they were given permits anyway.

    I wasn’t referring specifically to stopping the leak in “taking a leadership role” — I was noting that Obama has, thus far, not shown the American people that the government is in charge (as Obama claims is the case), as evidenced in the fact that BP has disregarded direction from EPA and other agencies, and continues to do so.

    And, no it wouldn’t be silly for him to start giving orders — he should have independent experts give him the best available information and act on it. A good start would be to have ALL of the permits rescinded that were approved AFTER the Deepwater Horizon explosion. That’s one order that he could give with the stroke of a pen.

  40. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Leif –

    The earliest report of remote seabed leaks 5 to 6 miles off was from Matt Symmonds (oil investment banker and unique PO advocate) who has also been urging a nucular solution. I’m hoping the poor man has lost his mind due to excessive stress.

    You’re right that only a seal within the deep geological strata over the reserve would serve if (IF) remote leaks are under way. But WRT weighted junk, the odds & ends planned for the junk shot were extremely carefully selected for their capacity to get through the convoluted BOP pipe network: nothing heavier would pass as I understand it.

    Cutting away the riser from the BOP and somehow dropping the drill pipe, or removing the BOP itself, would give better access for heavy materials, but I suspect there are still issues against the option since at face value it looks useful, but there is no professional discussion of it I can find – maybe the bore goes into a void, and/or the oil is under too much pressure?



  41. Leif says:

    Lewis: Heavier is different than denser. What I am trying to convey is shot of high density, Lead or even depleted uranium BB shot? that is heavy enough to fall thru the rising column of oil. I am convinced that at least past the BOP restriction which is ~10 the volume of the riser and as such a lot slower, it will all sink to the bottom and pile up assuming that there is a bottom and not a lake of oil as visualized often. Even if that is the case the drill head is there and should offer an initial blockage to build from. The wall of the drill hole will support a lot of the weight of the stack as it builds up as well. Even a few tons in a 21″ pipe will offer a substantial stack and significant flow restriction. High pressure water flow did manage to push below the BOP and if it carried BB shot to sink the rest of the way???? Besides we know gulf balls got in there they just went up because they were light. If they were lead? I am also convinced that the flow rate even in the riser is slower than 32 ft/sec. or else the output would be a lot higher than ~20,000 b/d.

  42. Leif says:

    Lewis: I do see one problem with the flow rate. The escape volume could be a lot smaller that I envision down than up causing much higher velocities. However the fact remains that mud got down and there must be some play as mud and tailings come up someplace in normal operation.. Once the shot slurry got below the riser it is duck soup if there is a bottom. Porous something and not a lake.

  43. Chris Dudley says:


    I’ve been roughing out a calculation of the length of rebar needed to overcome the outflowing oil using gravity and I am seeing that the standard length 60 ft might not be enough. Spherical objects probably won’t do the job. It did occur to me that if a narrow straight path is not available, it might be made with a drill down through the BOP. If extra length is needed to get the stuff to sink, it should not be too difficult to tie rebar together as is usually done in construction if it is hard to get a special order of longer lengths. I’ll try to be a little more quantitative tomorrow.

  44. fj2 says:

    The environmental and human devastation caused by transportation systems based on cars and especially running on oil is many times more than the gulf oil catastrophe.

    Just try to imagine what cities would be like without the noise, danger, pollution, heat island effects of the requisite roads, congestion and space that automobiles waste, most of the time parked doing nothing. In New York City congestion costs the city $13 billion annually. In New York State road accidents cost $19 billion per year. Worldwide road accidents kill in excess of 1.2 million people per year and help to perpetuate extreme disparities in rich and poor.

    The list goes on and on and transportation systems based on cars make absolutely no sense since it is readily easy to develop distributed on-demand transportation and transit based on small highly-modular less-than-human-weight vehicles that run on-and-off systems that would be much more practical, safe, higher performance, much lower in cost and use less than one percent of the resources of transportation systems based on cars.

    Local monopolies are maintained by the corrupting influence of Big Oil and the extreme danger that automobiles present to other forms of much more sensible, much higher performance, practical, low-cost, human and environmentally safe forms of transportation.

    Transportation is not an extreme sport and cars do not create and perpetuate advanced civilizations nor are they God’s will. If anything, they are just the opposite.

  45. Raul says:

    Well Just an opinion from me.
    My goodness fj2 that was well writ.

  46. Leif says:

    Chris, #44: Glad to see that you are still on it. I have talked with Jeff Huggins in privet email. He computed that the flow rate of 20,000 b/d thru a 6″ inch pipe would be ~6.5 ft/sec. Not all that fast. It would be at least 10 times slower in the 21″ section. Admittedly the oil is viscous but it is warm and permeated with gas at least for a way. The thing I like about round stuff is the ease of insertion. The plumbing is all there good to go and tested. A slurry of lead BB shot once past the BOP would fall like a stone in the bigger section at least. I am assuming that there are two sizes of well The upper of 21″ and cased and a lower that goes thru solid strata that is lower, smaller and un-cased. (and may be leaking as well) Even just a big pile at the base of the big section will slow the flow rate and once slowed the shot would start to dribble down along the drill core in the lower section eventually fetching up on the drill bit at the bottom. As that began to fill there would be very little fight left in the bitch IMO.

  47. Chris Dudley says:

    Leif (#47),

    Here is a nice little write up on terminal velocity:

    For an 8 mm diameter steel sphere they measure a terminal velocity under normal gravity in motor oil of 30 cm/s. Increasing the density of the sphere you might get that to 80 cm/s assuming DU. You might also go up to 2 cm diameter which would bring your terminal velocity up to 5 m/s. So, yes, you might get such stuff to sink once it is below the BOP.

    I like lead because eventually it will deform under the weight of the lead above it and close up the spaces between the spheres. Might switch up once the flow is reduced.

    The Navy has some high density darts for clearing underwater mines which might be shot like bullets into the top of the BOP and, owing to their shape and size, they should also sink. ONR used to display these on its lab afloat boat. There might be a danger to the integrity of the pipe below the BOP using these projectiles.

    Using gravity to fall past a 10 cm^2 constriction on the BOP I estimate an oil velocity of 40 m/s at the constriction. Setting dp/dt for the oil equal to mass of a steel rod adjusted for buoyancy in the water above the well times gravitational acceleration I calculate that I need about 15 m of steel rod for it to fall past the constriction and into the well. So, a standard 60 ft length of rebar might work. For a tighter constriction it would be harder.

    I think there are options beyond mud for stemming the flow.

  48. Leif says:

    Chris, #48: Thank you for keeping up on this issue even if only as an intellectual exercise. (I believe BP never considered abandoning this well.) The method that I currently favor is to use a mud or water back flush to force the BB shot slurry past the BOP and into the large casing. They did the mud a few days ago so we know it can be done, just have to add the shot to it. If the water or mud is the total out put that would imply that the oil flow was then close to ZERO! Lead shot will sink even if the stuff was toothpaste. A hundred tons of shot would make a long pile in a 21″ column with a 4″ drill bit taking up space as well. We got miles to work with. With the volumes that we are working with, a 100 tons of shot would be injected in a few hours.

  49. Chris Dudley says:

    Hi Leif (#49),

    Sounds like they don’t want to risk adding pressure to the well now. The rebar might still work.

  50. Leif says:

    They want that oil. 20,000 b/d @ 77/b = $1.5 million a day and dollars to donuts they get much more out of it. They could be in the black in a year.

    One conciliation, we will soon get an idea how much the flow rate is by their production numbers. Of course they will be all over that with pipe kinks and random gulf balls and more. Of course having no scientific instruments to just add confusion, so much the better.


  51. Doug Bostrom says:

    Contrary to all my previous spluttering, they’ve got the diamond wire saw on the riser, the hanging bit of riser has been shortened and suspended and it looks as though they’re imminently going to start cutting.

    ROV ballet.

    Here, in case anybody has not found the link:

    (my previous confusion arose from seeing the broken-off end of the riser lying on the seabed, a few yards from the BOP)

  52. Doug Bostrom says:

    BTW, technical information on diamond cutter here:

  53. Leif says:

    Chris, tell me this: Which course of action would you choose?

    One option you kill the well and are prevented from ever drilling in deep water again. Probably bankrupt as well.

    Second you manage to collect the oil in a make shift fashion that only you know how to operate or would want to take the liability for and that pays you a couple of million a day. You would also be forced to stick it out till the source was empty, don’t you think?

    You want to factor in that you are vermin.

  54. Leif says:

    Doug. It would be interesting to know if that piece of equipment is off the shelf hardware or if something had to be modified for this unique situation and when it was completed if so.

    I am convinced that those vermin were just biding their time and sacrificing the Gulf. It is becoming all too pat. IMO

  55. Doug Bostrom says:

    Leif, looks like standard kit.

    That post was out of context; my earlier post is stuck in moderation but there I mentioned they seem to have everything in place to start slicing off the riser (contrary to my earlier ravings, based on an unfamiliar view of the wreckage…)

  56. Lauren says:

    “biding their time” for what?

    To kill the well using a relief well?

    While I can see BP wanting to save the well in the beginning, I don’t see how they can believe it’s still saveable. Even if the containment strategy works, they’ll still be leaking oil, and to save the well they’d have to risk reopening the well to full force at some point to try to fix it. We wouldn’t allow that anymore–not after all the damage it has caused to both the environment and to Obama. Considering that BP is now at risk of going under if this well does enough damage, I think it is obvious BP wants this well killed ASAP so it can start working on its reputation and so it can kill the criminal probe ASAP. The more damage this well causes the more likely a criminal probe will result in prosecution, and the sooner it is contained, the more likely the probe will be dropped or become impotent.

  57. Leif says:

    Lauren, #57: I beg to differ. The well has been open to fill force all along with the exception of a few kinks in the line which they are in the process of removing. They lost control the moment of the first blowup and fire.

    The very fact that a boat builder and a few ragtag engineer bloggers, (No disrespect intended Jeff, Chris and others), quite likely figured how to kill this puppy would imply to me that those high payed dedicated specialists had it figured out long ago. They want that oil. It has cost them a bundle to get this close. There may be billions of dollars in that hole. They did not get where they are today by not doubling down.
    Review comment #54.

    Doug, #56: I agree that it is standard tech but you can be sure modifications were needed for remote operations a mile down on mangled metal. It had to match the BOP well head for starters. Provision needs to allow the salvage to come clear and not jam the last bit of cut. There is a mile of pipe torquing on the cut. It is not on the shop floor. Much room for error yet. Without a clean cut… ??? Broken blade from a jam…??? They know the pressures and flow rates even thou they will not tell us. They had that all figured the day of the mud pump.

  58. Chris Dudley says:

    Leif #54,

    I expect I’d try to figure out why Thunder Horse is not producing as much as expected and see if I could make up production there. I’d be softening up politicians from Alaska some more maybe by hiring their public relations friends. I’d be considering a stock buyback since cash on hand looks tempting to lawmen and it can’t be used for new drilling right now. I’d get pet opinion writers to talk about how complicated everything is. I’d next try to get the price of oil talked up. There are plenty of damage control activities. I don’t think that trying to save one well is a big priority.

  59. Leif says:

    Chris, I have a comment stuck in moderation for over an hour.

    A short reply. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

    There could be billions of dollars in that hole. You can be sure that they have a good idea of the value.

  60. Chris Dudley says:

    Leif (#58),

    We haven’t figured it out, we’ve just overcome some problems with the mud. There may be other problems. And, what we have discussed is something petroleum engineers try to avoid out of habit: don’t lose stuff down the well. So we might have thought of this first, lacking that habit.

    BP has already said that they do not intend to produce from this well. There may be a good tax benefit that goes along with writing it off, I don’t know.

  61. MaryGJ says:

    I guess I am trying to understand where you get that progressives are calling this Obama’s Katrina. THAT is the mantra of the republicans as they continue to look for ANYTHING to pin on President Obama that would be as disastrous as what republicans put us through under George W. Bush.

    I am also curious about a couple of things.

    1. Why didn’t Louisianans get upset about the oil spill that occurred during Katrina? Seems to me that would have been a good time to check on the oil companies safety plans then so what happened?

    2. LaFourche Parish and Plaquemine Parish seem to be on different pages. LaFourche lobbies the POTUS to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling while Plaquemine Parish is bashing the POTUS every chance they get. What gives?

    3. Your politicians who speak with forked tongue are hypocrites. Melancon, while crying about his beloved Louisiana, has voted in support of oil companies over 60% of the time. Mary Landrieu, big oil defender, never met an oil company she did not support. Louisiana appears to want it both ways.

    Lastly, all you Louisianans who consistently vote republican I ask how do you feel about your republican party being the protector of big oil? How do you feel about their blocking of the amount of liability BP has for this spill? How do you feel about your republican Rand Paul calling the POTUS un-American for attacking a foreign company? How do you feel about that? How do you feel about republicans, including your own governor, being beholden to the oil companies?

    Just wondering…BTW this is not Obama’s Katrina and never will be. AND my son and his family were devastated by Katrina so when I hear that comparison it outrages me that republicans can be so callous in their effort to regain power.

  62. Chris Dudley says:

    Leif (#60)

    I submitted the following to the Unified Command this morning:


    Removing the riser may reveal a constricted but straight path into the well. At a leak rate of 20,000 barrels per day through a 10 cm^2 constriction, the speed of the oil would be about 40 m/s which would tend to force out anything that might be introduced into the well. However, a long straight dense object might sink into the well via gravity if it were long enough. Standard length 60 foot steel rebar appears to meet this criterion with the assumed constriction size. Thus, without adding pressure to the well, it should be possible to reduce the flow from the well by filling the bottom of the well with rebar. This might then allow mud to be used without worry about the rupture disk that has halted further attempts with mud.

    The flow velocity within the well pipe may be 5 m/s. The terminal velocity of a depleted uranium sphere with a diameter of 2 cm falling in motor oil is about that speed. The terminal velocity should be larger than the oil flow speed. Lacking a straight path into the well, reuse of the path used for the junk shot may allow introduction of material that can sink to the bottom and strangle the flow. The added pressure may not be so large once the riser is removed so the procedure may not present too great a risk to the rupture disk.


    Standard 60 ft rebar or depleted uranium (2 cm) or perhaps lead shot (3cm).


    ROV to guide rebar into well from the top or the junk shot equipment already in place.


    Knowledge of flow speed at constriction in BOP and its geometry or knowledge of flow speed and oil viscosity in well pipe to better calculate terminal velocity of falling objects to allow access to the bottom of the well via gravity assist.

    You might want to add something or improve on this. You can get a link to their web form by calling 281 366 5511

  63. Leif says:

    You get a raise this morning Chris.

  64. Leif says:

    Perhaps the boast of figuring out how to kill this puppy is a bit over the top. However one must admit, first that we are working with limited well information and second given the information we have it does appear that our solution is quite workable and apparently unique given the information available.

    I stand by my previous statement. You get a raise. From nothing an hour to nothing and a half at least. A lot of effort was over a holiday weekend so lets make it double time.

    Seriously I would like to know the rational for their back pressure concern. Nothing that I have heard makes any sense to me so far on that front. Back pumping is not going to raise the pressure that much as the top is still open, we have substituted water or mud for oil.

    One other point for the next round. If the drill bit is still in the BOP and gets cut with this process the flow rate may not increase that much or any because the small part may be the BOP and not the kinks.

    Which brings to mind. How can the pipe show such a profound kink with the drill bit still in there. Where is that damn thing. Lots of questions…..

    Oh well the top comes off today or perhaps already. New ball game.

    It has been fun working with you Chris, Jeff, and others. Thank you Joe for the format for all of this.

    Two Palms Up,


  65. Leif says:

    Good grief. If the top comes off we could thread a catheter thru all past the high velocity constriction and control that smaller pipe quite easily thus injecting shot directly into the big momma. We could call it the “Main Line Kill” It is a winner in appropriate name if nothing else . The press should eat it up.

  66. prokaryote says:

    Aaron Lewis 37#, ” – I started estimating protein loss. ”

    Early humans had taste for aquatic diet
    Aquatic animals may have provided nourishment that allowed our ancestors to boost their brain size