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Methane-Trapping Ice May Have Triggered Gulf Spill

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the packs-a-punch dept.

Earth 341

sciencehabit writes with an excerpt from Science that begins: "Methane-trapping ice of the kind that has frustrated the first attempt to contain oil gushing offshore of Louisiana may have been a root cause of the blowout that started the spill in the first place, according to [UC Berkeley] professor Robert Bea, who has extensive access to BP p.l.c. documents on the incident. If methane hydrates are eventually implicated, the US oil and gas industry would have to tread even more lightly as it pushes farther and farther offshore in search of energy."

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341 comments

Spill baby spill! (4, Insightful)

BlueKitties (1541613) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163814)

Yeah, so I'm trolling, wanna fight about it? But in all seriousness, this is why I'm against sudden rapid expansions of industry into sensitive environmental areas.

Re:Spill baby spill! (5, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164132)

this is why I'm against sudden rapid expansions of industry into sensitive environmental areas.

Article says "Drillers have long been wary of methane hydrates because they can pack a powerful punch. One liter of water ice that has trapped individual methane molecules in the "cages" of its crystal structure can release 168 liters of methane gas when the ice decomposes."

Doesn't exactly sound like this was a new and unforseen problem, it doesn't sound like this happened because we were being hasty. It sounds like it happened because they were on some level being stupid and ignoring a well-known risk. In my book, that's an even stronger reason not to drill. We've known about that for a long time and the oil companies -still- haven't made sure this can't happen? These are not people who should be making potentially environment-altering decisions for the rest of us.

Re:Spill baby spill! (5, Interesting)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164190)

One liter of water ice that has trapped individual methane molecules in the "cages" of its crystal structure can release 168 liters of methane gas when the ice decomposes."

I wonder if that can be harnessed as an energy source?

Re:Spill baby spill! (2, Insightful)

Dragoniz3r (992309) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164302)

You'd sure think so. If, with my 20 liter tank, I can store over 3000 liters of methane gas, that would seem to me to be a fairly efficient fuel storage mechanism. The devil may be in the details of keeping the ice frozen, and decomposing it in a controlled fashion though.

You're seeing the problem (4, Insightful)

sean.peters (568334) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164428)

Clathrates require enormous pressures and very cold temperatures to remain stable. Warm them up to room temperature... and let's just say your gas tank won't be remaining whole very long.

Re:Spill baby spill! (3, Funny)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164344)

....need more vespene gas?

Re:Spill baby spill! (5, Informative)

jbengt (874751) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164508)

Article says "Drillers have long been wary of methane hydrates because they can pack a powerful punch.. . . " . . . Doesn't exactly sound like this was a new and unforseen problem, . . .

The drilling is taking place in deeper and deeper water. Deep waters have high pressure and the low temperature. Both of these make formation of methane clathrates more likely. The high pressures a mile beneath the ocean surface also make it easier to dissolve gas in the oil. Avoiding pipeline blockages and explosive decompressions is not trivial. To the extent the industry is pushing the limits of what has been done before (and they are pushing limits of depth) they can be surprised by details that they haven't encountered before.

Re:Spill baby spill! (4, Interesting)

Lars T. (470328) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164600)

this is why I'm against sudden rapid expansions of industry into sensitive environmental areas.

Article says "Drillers have long been wary of methane hydrates because they can pack a powerful punch. One liter of water ice that has trapped individual methane molecules in the "cages" of its crystal structure can release 168 liters of methane gas when the ice decomposes."

Doesn't exactly sound like this was a new and unforseen problem, it doesn't sound like this happened because we were being hasty.

But it does sound like a sudden rapid expansion. And it sure does sound that the problem was hastily ignored, because preventing it simply cost too much money.

The good news is that there will be a charity concert in New Orleans, so BP won't have to pay so much money to their victims.

homosexuals (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32163822)

homosexuals must be eliminated

Re:homosexuals (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164208)

Why is anal always associated with sodomites? Here are some hot testimonies In Praise of Anal Sex [analsexyes.com]

Well look at that, the math checks out. (-1, Offtopic)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164612)

I thought this was a random troll, but I looked into it and the figures check out looking back as far as 1960. I guess I'll add this one to the list:

* Global warming is inversely proportional to number of pirates.
* Global warming is directly proportional to cultural acceptance of homosexuality.

Thus explaining how the Pirates of the Caribbean series failed to have the expected cooling effect.

interestingly, themselves sometimes touted (4, Interesting)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163832)

Since these methane hydrates contain a significant amount of methane (i.e. natural gas), in the years since it was discovered that there are large deposits of them, they've periodically been touted as something we should actively drill for, as e.g. in this 1997 PopSci article [google.com] .

Re:interestingly, themselves sometimes touted (4, Insightful)

je ne sais quoi (987177) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163982)

Yeah but they never get past the "touted as the next best thing" and graduate to the "best thing". The issues are precisely what is the problem with the dome on the deepwater horizon well -- the clathrates (gas hydrates) clog everything. Also, since they're a solid phase, they don't flow very well while trying to extract them. You can try heating sections of subsurface to thaw them, and you get some, but then they freeze again on the way up to the surface. You can try reducing the pressure to inhibit freezing, but then you're also reducing flow. As far as I know, to date there's only one well that's ever actually produced any significant amount of gas from the clathrates and that was essentially a fluke since the clathrates were sitting just below a traditional gas reservoir and as the gas came up from that, the clathrates sublimated and boosted the pressure slightly.

Re:interestingly, themselves sometimes touted (1, Insightful)

LockeOnLogic (723968) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164028)

Yea cause that's just what we need, another source of fossil fuel to further delay action on the energy crisis.

Re:interestingly, themselves sometimes touted (4, Interesting)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164230)

If it's methane gas that will otherwise be freed to the atmosphere, it's much better to burn that for fuel than to free it and drill for oil under it. Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, by about 80 times.

Re:interestingly, themselves sometimes touted (3, Insightful)

clustermonkey (320537) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164324)

Yeah, 'cause artificially limiting the use of available energy sources while not providing any viable alternatives won't deepen the energy crisis.

We need innovative people to come up with viable alternatives, not endlessly complain about the impacts of available options. If someone actually comes up with a feasible, scalable alternative to fossil fuels, the switch to using that idea would just take care of itself due to market forces. The ugly truth is - there's currently no real alternative to switch to and complaining without providing viable alternatives won't change that.

Alternative sources could compete (4, Insightful)

sean.peters (568334) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164532)

... if 1) we didn't massively subsidize the use of fossil fuels, and 2) the price of various forms of environmental devastation wasn't treated as an externality. Consider that the continental shelf is the property of the US government, and we have been and continue to lease the mineral rights to BP, et al, for way below market rates. And that we provide massive security services to various oil companies in the form of huge military commitments in the Middle East. And we provide an enormous interstate highway system, the cost of which is only partly offset by user fees such as tolls and gas taxes.

Also, consider that fossil fuel extractors and consumers are essentially paying nothing for the privilege of dumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the atmosphere, even though everyone is paying the cost in the form of climate disturbances, poor air quality, etc. And that when these major spills happen, the companies involved generally get off without paying significant damages (note that after years of litigation, Exxon ended up paying a tiny fraction of the total estimated damages from the Exxon Valdez spill - local fishing and tourism industries were left holding the bag).

Greener alternatives such as wind and solar could compete, if the true costs of fossil fuels were paid at the pump. But they're not.

Re:interestingly, themselves sometimes touted (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164588)

Uh... obviously it would. If we banned all forms of energy production, deforestation and .... forest fires the agw climate crisis would be solved. Itd suck for humans and such for a while. But I imagine we'd come up with a really clean alternative in a few years being sufficiently motivated. That OR we could just switch over to nuclear plants and electric cars within 20years and end the issue entirely for another 100+ years.

Re:interestingly, themselves sometimes touted (2, Interesting)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164146)

Since these methane hydrates contain a significant amount of methane (i.e. natural gas), in the years since it was discovered that there are large deposits of them

The article says 168 liters of methane from 1 liter of methane hydrates... I have no idea how much methane hydrates would be released, or how much methane would have to be released before it became an issue, but that sounds like a lot of methane and I've heard methane is quite a bit better at soaking up heat from solar rays than carbon dioxide.

So, is that a concern, or would that just be a small drop in the bucket?

Clathrates == Oceanic farts: smelly and too warm (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164488)

So, is that a concern, or would that just be a small drop in the bucket?

Read up on the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum [wikipedia.org] . The whole world was so warm, there was basically no ice anywhere on the surface (maybe some at extreme depths), and the Arctic Ocean was warm enough for alligators. One theory [wikipedia.org] for why temperatures spiked so high has to do with a runaway positive feedback loop, where rising temperatures cause clathrates to melt out, which causes more heating.

So no, not just a drop in the bucket.

Cheers,

Re:interestingly, themselves sometimes touted (1)

jbengt (874751) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164576)

It is a concern that release of methane from clathrates could be one of the positive feedback mechanisms: Warmer oceans could cause the clathrates to decompose, releasing methane, which would add to the greenhouse effect, further warming the oceans. On the other hand, methane doesn't last as long in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, only 10 to 15 years compared to centuries for CO2. Still, CH4 is a much more powerful greenhouse gas, and over 100 years has a much bigger impact than CO2 (23 GWP or so).

Re:interestingly, themselves sometimes touted (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164416)

That was before the global warming hysteria started. Now any discussion of peak oil is irrelevant unless it is being used as justification for switching to more environmentally friendly power sources (or as just a reason why we should all go live in trees). There was a time when peak oil was an economic argument, but now it is firmly a doom-and-gloom, we're-killing-the-earth argument.

         

Farther offshore? (1)

Dan East (318230) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163842)

"would have to tread even more lightly as it pushes farther and farther offshore in search of energy"

Is there a correlation between the amount of methane hydrates and the distance from shore?

Re:Farther offshore? (5, Informative)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163848)

Depth, pressure.

Re:Farther offshore? (5, Funny)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163914)

Sharks, which tend to stay relatively close to shore, eat the hydrates to power their lasers. This has caused the hydrates to be in relatively low concentration in shallower areas.

Re:Farther offshore? (1)

Xyrus (755017) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164174)

It's related to the decline in pirates. Pirates produce methane, and that is processed by midgets to make the methane ice to feed the sharks. Thus completing the great circle of life, as dictated by his noodliness.

Ramen

Re:Farther offshore? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164204)

faggot

They dug too deep (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164364)

It's related to the decline in pirates.

But there are more pirates active now than at any other time in history and the rate of piracy is on the rise. Or is this a localised phenomenon you are talking about? Or is this just typical religious denial of facts? Damn FSM fundies!

For myself a LoTR analogy suggested itself. As with the Mines of Moria, "they dug too deep!"

Re:Farther offshore? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164318)

Comments like this being given a "5 + funny" moderation are enough to make me
want to remove Slashdot from my bookmarks.

This shit isn't funny, it's stupid high-school humor and the shark jokes are so goddamned
old that only a desperate idiot would continue to use that shit in an attempt at humor.

T Murphy, if you have ever considered suicide, you have my encouragement to get on with it.

Re:Farther offshore? (1)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164494)

5 funny doesn't discern between popular and quality jokes. I don't claim originality or quality on my above shark joke, although I at least claim originality on other jokes I've made here on slashdot. I kind of agree with your sentiment about over-used jokes, but I think c'est la vie applies first.

Re:Farther offshore? (5, Informative)

TubeSteak (669689) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163950)

Is there a correlation between the amount of methane hydrates and the distance from shore?

The correlation is between distance from shore and depth + temperature.
Here's some nice graphs showing depth vs temperature for methane hydrates [doe.gov]

And here's a picture of seafloor depths for context [wikipedia.org]

Re:Farther offshore? (2, Funny)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164002)

Whats needed is a fully submersible drilling platform. Fortunately Ed Harris is still available.

Re:Farther offshore? (1, Offtopic)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164220)

Sweet. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio has a nice rack. Didn't they make a movie about that once that happened to take place underwater? ;)

Arctic? (2, Interesting)

RobertM1968 (951074) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163854)

I wonder how they've avoided the problems up around Alaska or other places where it's actually cold enough for there to be ice - much less methane trapping ice.

Re:Arctic? (0, Flamebait)

Trona Andy (983314) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163916)

It still doesn't get down to 259 F in Alaska, the freezing point of methane, even after the resignation of Sarah Palin.

Re:Arctic? (1)

ooshna (1654125) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164030)

I don't think you've ever been to Alaska hell I can tell by pictures of it that it gets well below the boiling point of water. In fact most of the year it seems to be below the freezing point of water also.

Re:Arctic? (1)

RobertM1968 (951074) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164098)

You misread my post... ;-)

Re:Arctic? (1)

ooshna (1654125) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164116)

No Trona Andy mistyped

Re:Arctic? (1)

Trona Andy (983314) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164572)

Ooshna is right. That's supposed to be -259 Farhrenheit. I'm not much of a copy editor.

Re:Arctic? (5, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163944)

This doesn't really answer why it's not a problem in Alaska, but the temperatures aren't actually much different. Alaskan offshore drilling is in relatively shallow water, which at those latitudes is somewhere in the low single digits C once you get below the ice pack; while this operation in the Gulf was at about 1700 meters depth, where the temperatures are also in the low single digits C. (There's lots of complicating factors, but this graph [blogspot.com] of depth v. temperature for three different latitudes gives an idea.) There's differences in pressure, which might matter, but also big differences in geology.

Re:Arctic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32163966)

It's mostly due to the high pressures at the depth they are drilling, not due to temperature.

Re:Arctic? (5, Interesting)

LehiNephi (695428) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164078)

Hydrates require both high pressure and low temperature to form, along with the proper composition of water and methane. Take away any of the three, and hydrates disappear. Typically the gas/water/oil is warm enough when it reaches the surface that hydrates do not form, and by the time it cools down enough, it has already been processed so that the water and methane are no longer mixed.

Re:Arctic? (2, Interesting)

Albinoman (584294) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164138)

I've been wondering how warm oil is coming out of ground. Surely the oil coming out from such deep depths and with all the friction from the sand it carries along the way, the oil should be pretty hot.

Re:Arctic? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164308)

The reason why they aren't more of a problem around Alaska is because methane hydrates aren't formed on the surface, where surface temps would come into play. Instead they form at the bottom of the ocean, where the temp is ~33 degrees pretty much everywhere on earth and where there is enough pressure to cause a phase change in the methane from gas to solid.

I believe the actual source of the methane is from cracks in the ocean floor, but i'm not as sure about that one.

oil leaks aren't natural? (2, Interesting)

3seas (184403) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163870)

Don't cha just gotta wonder with ocean floor earthquakes why we havn't have more natural oil spills in the ocean?

Re:oil leaks aren't natural? (4, Informative)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163932)

Of course we do. The Gulf is said to leak 2000 barrels a day naturally.

Some natural leaks in the gulf of California are even bigger.

Re:oil leaks aren't natural? (3, Informative)

capnkr (1153623) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164482)

..and 2000 *barrels* @42 gal/per = 84,000 *gallons* per day. (Barrels to gallons conversion made because otherwise the numbers seem so disparate...).

The California seafloor leaks are much larger. I don't think they know exactly how much, but this source [isa.org] quotes "8-80 Exxon Valdez spills", I would guess they mean annually. That's somewhere between 86.4 and 864 million gallons.

Re:oil leaks aren't natural? (1)

Rijnzael (1294596) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163946)

Possibly because if there were oil near faults, it would be boiled and/or ignited (oxygen permitting). It's entirely possible that there are oil deposits near these places, but the proximate volcano would likely grab our attention more so. But IANAG (I am not a Geologist).

Re:oil leaks aren't natural? (1)

Daetrin (576516) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164032)

The short answer is that we do have natural oil spills in the ocean. It's at a comparatively small amounts leaking through indirect cracks spread over wide areas and over long periods of time, so nature is able to adapt to it. That's as opposed to a giant hole drilled directly into the oil field allowing it to gush out at a rapid rate in a very small area. Believe it or not concentration and/or intensity of something often makes a big different on the effect it has. Take a look at little kids setting insects on fire with magnifying glasses. Sunlight is natural, so it can't be hurting the insects, right?

Re:oil leaks aren't natural? (1)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164036)

Not really - for oil deposites as they're found today: they've been sitting where they are for the millions of years it took to form them, without major leakage. So what are the chances of natural leakage within the few centuries that mankind has been looking? And perhaps where major leakage has happened (loooonggg ago), that oil deposit just wouldn't be there anymore.

Also no one is saying there aren't any oil leaks with natural causes - it's just that the vast majority has human causes (or at least I'd guess that to be the case).

Re:oil leaks aren't natural? (3, Interesting)

Huntr (951770) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164096)

The oil deposits are about 20000 ft below the sea floor. If there were an earthquake that could unleash a significant amount of oil from 4 miles down, i.e., similar to this or other man-made oil disasters, we might have bigger problems to worry about.

Re:oil leaks aren't natural? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164294)

It takes a really long time for oil to form, and only a relatively short time for it to leak. There are natural leaks, but any natural leak this size would have run dry long ago.

probably a bit ignorant here (3, Insightful)

nimbius (983462) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163904)

but if the risk of offshore drilling is so great why do we continue to do it? if it costs more to make alternative fuels, where is the breaking point where a disaster is more or less expensive? why are we still allowed to continue drilling offshore when known unknown conditions exist which have not been fully counter measured?

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32163970)

Uh, dude, look around you. 99.99% of everything you eat, own, use, buy, throw away or want is brought to you by oil. *Nothing* matches it for chemical versatility, nothing else even comes close to the energy density of oil.

It's one of our very few true energy sources. There is also hydro-electricity, nuclear electricity, and coal/gas electricity. Everything else is farts.

You can't run our civilization on electricity alone. All air traffic would immediately and forever stop. Car traffic would essentially disappear. You'll go back to wooden sail ships (how are you gonna mine, refine and transform metal without oil? With coal? Good luck with that, *no one* is gonna want that in their backyard, except poor countries...)

Food production depends on oil for everything. Fertilizers, harvesting, transportation, transformation and your drive to the supermarket. All oil.

Your job, your house in the suburbs, your car? Oil.

You want to know what your kids should learn?

How to raise, breed and ride horses.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (2, Funny)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164040)

Step 1: Use your diesel tractor to plow a field and plant some hay.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164544)

Precisely. You know what people these days REALLY need to watch? The first episode of James Burke's Connections.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (2, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164066)

You are not very imaginative. You can run on electricity alone, you use that to make whatever hydrocarbons you want.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (2, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164200)

You can run on electricity alone, you use that to make whatever hydrocarbons you want.

Sure. Of course the only carbon free electrical source that can scale like that is nuclear....

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1)

Delwin (599872) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164422)

so far.

I'd lay odds that orbital solar can bring down a hell of a lot more energy with a lot less mess and risk than nuclear.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164424)

So use it. I fully support Wind, Solar, Tidal and clean nukes. By clean nukes I mean ones good at breeding fuel, so the waste ratio is lower.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164454)

Neither are you.

We are barely able to supply electrical demand as it is. Now you want to suddenly supply all our hydrocarbons with some magical electrical process?

1) Where are you going to do this? At what scale? With what technology? You will need to build a LOT of these plants to supply the hydrocarbon energy we use daily. A *LOT*.
2) Where are you going to get this electricity? Still have some snide, off-the-cuff retort? Now please, go ahead and design, plan, implement and pass all the environmental, political and social hurdles for all these plants, everywhere where they will be needed. Pretty much the whole planet.

Given an unlimited budget, think in even 50 years you'll get ahead with this?

Nazi Germany was able to gasify coal to run a war machine. It was mostly done with slave labor in a fascist state.... No gas for your pretty SUV and your absurd house in the suburbs. It can't be done economically because it's energy-negative.

Drilling for oil, even now, still takes less than one barrel of oil to get one barrel out of the ground... When that equation becomes 1:1, what do you think that means? Think about it for more than the time it takes to make some smart aleck remark.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164492)

I own no SUV nor home in the burbs, oh trollish one.

I support any and all non-fossil fuel based energy solutions. The reality is this problem will be solved, once the price of oil is high enough alternatives start to look very attractive.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (2, Insightful)

fwr (69372) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163974)

The amazing thing is, if we allowed ocean drilling much closer to shore we wouldn't have these problems. One, the depth would not be so great that the pressure created these methane and ice / sludge pockets. Two, a leak, if one were to occur, would be much easier to contain. You could actually send someone down to fix the problem if it were close enough to the shore. You are not sending someone down under 5000 feet of water... So, ironically, it is the wacko environmentalists that are to blame for this situation. Their answer? Either don't drill at all, or if you do, drill even further out, where the problems are even greater. Yea, that makes a lot of sense...

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (5, Informative)

je ne sais quoi (987177) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164128)

"Wacko environmentalists" have absolutely nothing to do with it. The big problem with doing that is, unfortunately, there's precious little oil left close to shore. You could fill the entire U.S. coast so full of wells it looks like a pin cushion and it would hardly make a dent in the oil price. You can see the chart right here [wordpress.com] , U.S. oil production has been on a steady decline for decades and will never, ever recover, it doesn't matter how many wells you drill. Even the discovery of the north slope of Alaska and building the pipeline never got the U.S. production to recover from its 1972 peak. ANWR? Forget about it [blogspot.com] , ANWR's a blip that's laughably too little, too late. This is why the Republican chant of "drill baby drill" is so ridiculous, drilling is pointless without oil to find. We've used up most of the oil near shore, which is why BP was drilling in 5000 feet of water, it has nothing to do with environmentalists.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1, Troll)

Jeffrey Baker (6191) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164142)

Alternate theory: you're a total fucking idiot. [wikimedia.org]

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164592)

Perhaps, but I'd guess he's probably not enough an idiot that he makes arguments about the change in the distribution remaining oil reserves with a plot of gas production for a single year.

That takes a special brand of idiocy... one that probably requires a new word.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164248)

The amazing thing is, if we allowed ocean drilling much closer to shore we wouldn't have these problems.

From what I've read, BP or one of their partners were to blame, this could have been avoided where it was, but corners were cut, regulations were eased, etc. I'm not convinced the way to prevent these things is to let those same idiots drill closer to the shore. I think the way to prevent these things is to not have idiots drilling anywhere.

ironically, it is the wacko environmentalists that are to blame for this situation

You have some odd views there. Environmentalists don't want drilling -anywhere-. They're not to blame.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1)

LockeOnLogic (723968) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163992)

Because there is a very large, very powerful industry whose best interests involve drilling.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (4, Interesting)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164070)

And, more importantly, why do we want to make drilling off the cost of Florida legal?

I'll tell you why: it's the same reason we aren't all driving electric cars. Because the oil industry, by hook and crook, has done everything it can to make damned sure we're totally dependent on them for our transportation needs, such as buying up all the patents to make sure NIMH and Li-Ion batteries couldn't be used in cars, lobbying hard against ZEV-promoting initiatives, etc. See Who Killed the Electric Car? [wikipedia.org] .

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (2, Informative)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164564)

Cobasys is no longer controlled by Chevron (it is jointly owned by Samsung and Bosch):

http://www.cobasys.com/investors/ [cobasys.com]

They will sell you nimh battery packs:

http://www.cobasys.com/products/transportation.shtml [cobasys.com]

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164618)

Wow, imagine that they now sell batteries to be used in electric vehicles now that they are no longer owned by an oil company. I must say I am totally surprised that it appears an oil company would do something like this.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (5, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164104)

Oil is really valuable, so there's a very high bar for the monetary cost of disaster to be not worth it, on a purely profits-vs-cleanup-costs basis.

Some back-of-the-envelope estimates. Say this disaster ends up costing BP $10 billion. Say that any given rig has a 1% chance of causing a disaster of that magnitude. So we assign a $100 million amortized cost per rig, to cover the "chance this rig will catastrophically blow up". Is it still worth drilling in that case? Well, it actually barely changes the economics at all: these deep-water wells cost about $500-600 million to drill and put into production to begin with. So add to $100m to that and total costs are basically still on the same order of magnitude.

In particular, these rigs can produce a lot of oil. BP's Thunder Horse rig in the gulf produces 250,000 barrels per day. Even if they make only $10/barrel operating profit (probably a low estimate), that's $2.5m per day in profits from the well, i.e. almost a billion dollars per year. Unless fully 10% of such wells incur $10b catastrophic cleanup costs every year, BP comes out ahead.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (4, Insightful)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164292)

Finally someone who sees the numbers for what they are.

I keep saying that BP laughs all the way to the bank.

What they are doing right now with the dome and booms is just PR stalling. They know full well that drilling the relief is the only way to fix the problem, but the public would go apeshit if they "did nothing" for 3 months. Of course the fact that they are in fact, umm, drilling the relief well is quickly lost on mostly everyone.

The best thing we can do is buy up as much of their stock as we can. That way we can partake in their profits!

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (3, Insightful)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164432)

I think making them pay the actual total cost of cleanup might be a better solution. By that I mean they must clean every grain of sand that oil touched, if this bankrupts them good.

Only higher oil costs will move us to better fuels.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (0)

khallow (566160) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164554)

I think making them pay the actual total cost of cleanup might be a better solution. By that I mean they must clean every grain of sand that oil touched, if this bankrupts them good.

Why make them pay for a problem that'll go away in a few years? And sand sort of by definition starts dirty. I think a good faith effort to contain the oil and cap the well is adequate.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1)

je ne sais quoi (987177) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164464)

This is an excellent post. To put it another way though, they certainly have a monetary incentive to cap the well: if the well really is leaking 5000 barrels of oil a day, that's 1.8 million barrels per year. At the current crude oil price of $77/barrel [bloomberg.com] , that's $140 million a year they're losing by having all this oil leak out into the gulf since a lot of their development costs are paid for (i.e., drilling the well). Of course, that 5000 barrels/day estimate is malarky, the WSJ is putting it at more like 25,000 barrels per day [wsj.com] , that's $700 million per year.

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164584)

The WSJ number is from one guy at Florida State (Or maybe Florida).

Industry folks with no motivation to lie (it ain't their problem) apparently say he is way out there (but maybe it is leaking lots more than BP says, just not 5x).

Re:probably a bit ignorant here (1)

fredmosby (545378) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164394)

Even with the disasters that have happened, in terms of the cost to the human race, it's a lot less damaging than fighting a war to get oil. We should continue to develop new technologies that don't rely on oil. But until those technologies can replace oil offshore drilling is our best alternative.

When industry polices itself... (1)

LockeOnLogic (723968) | more than 4 years ago | (#32163972)

This is why government needs to step in and make industry take actions which affect the bottom line adversely but are in the public interest. Will the industry suffer and lose profits from added safety regulation and oversight? Of course. But those profits are unfairly being funded by the damage and suffering resulting from this kind of reckless corperate activity.

Re:When industry polices itself... (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164056)

It seems pretty clear that they still have no idea why this happened, so it is a bit premature to assume that a government regulator (no matter how powerful) would have been able to foresee the problem.

If prevention is simply a matter of installing a few million dollars of hardware, you can rest assured that they will do so next time. At a minimum, their insurance company will require it.

Re:When industry polices itself... (1)

LehiNephi (695428) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164114)

It's really a matter of tradeoffs. Stricter regulation means higher costs, which get passed on to the rest of the economy. Sure, safety can be increased, but at what cost? And how much damage would we prevent? We're really bumping up against the law of diminishing returns.

Think of it this way: does one major disaster every thirty years (if you take Exxon Valdez plus BP Deepwater Horizon and extrapolate) outweigh thirty years of economic growth made possible by cheap energy? Considering the sheer quantity of oil/gas that is produced worldwide, the fact that so few accidents of this nature occur is really a tribute to how safe the industry (generally) operates.

Re:When industry polices itself... (1)

XeroSine (1067136) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164304)

When will people learn that It isn't the governments job to control private industry? Shit happens, Sometimes it is of no fault to any company or man/woman. Old equipment that they can only service when the government says its okay? Seems to me like the government is the one to blame because of all the regulations and ridiculous tariffs they shove up the industries ass whenever they go and send a crew down to work on oil caps and other equipment that keeps all of this from happening. You want to stop oil spills in the ocean? Let the drills tap more LANDMASS. On water operations are twice as likely to have issues because of all the policies, regulations, and anti-industry/anti-corporation BS they have to deal with. Yes its terrible when something like this happens, but if the industry is allowed to do what they need to do to service their equipment without a bunch of politicians getting involved then i think they would happen far less frequently.

Re:When industry polices itself... (3, Insightful)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164390)

The problem is we need oil and we need those companies to drill for it. Given that there are about 4000 oil rigs in the gulf [noaa.gov] , it is unrealistic to expect 0 accidents forever. When you say the government needs to step in and make industry take actions you are almost always on a very slippery surface. The devil is in the details. Can the accidents still happen even if those regulations are followed exactly? Unless those regulations require miracles then the answer is probably, and they just allow the industry to say "Hew, it's not our fault, we followed the government's safety rules exactly". Much better to require as we do now for the companies that own that oil to pay for the cleanup. What is needed is full enforcement of that, but my prediction is that after years of wrangling and lawsuits, BP will really only pay a fraction of the true cost.

Better Article (5, Informative)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164010)

This one has more detail [myway.com] , and is actually really-well written. Really, an AP story with some investigative journalism. Kudos, guy, you're making your co-workers look bad. :)

Re:Better Article (2, Interesting)

nbauman (624611) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164520)

I agree. That was the best story of dozens that I read on the entire subject.

There were 2 reasons for that: (1) Schwartz and Weber interviewed Robert Bea http://www.ce.berkeley.edu/~bea/ [berkeley.edu] and (2) They were smart enough to understand what Bea was talking about.

The reason Bea is so brilliant is that (1) He understands the technology thoroughly and (2) He concentrates on the question of why engineers don't do what they know they have to do in order to prevent accidents. Bea does for civil engineering what Feynmann did for the Challenger disaster.

It's the BP spill, not Gulf spill. (1)

zero_out (1705074) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164012)

Could we please stop calling it the "Gulf" spill? Oil spills are conventionally named after the company responsible. That would be BP, or Transocean (the company that leased the rig to BP). Additionally, it's not really a "spill," but for lack of a clearly better word (gucher perhaps?), I am willing to accept that. Calling it the "Gulf" spill doesn't put enough responsibility on those who should be bearing it.

Re:It's the BP spill, not Gulf spill. (1)

chill (34294) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164130)

Well, it looks like the crew doing the cementing was from Haliburton, so can we call it the Haliburton Spill?

Re:It's the BP spill, not Gulf spill. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164194)

Haliburton Disaster? er... everything they do is a disaster so that doesn't really help matters.

Re:It's the BP spill, not Gulf spill. (4, Informative)

itlurksbeneath (952654) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164534)

And what if it turns out that, in fact, BP broke no regulations, bent no rules and this was simply something that nobody could have for-seen and no safety equipment on the planet could have withstood the pressure released from below the earth's surface? Would it be the Mother Nature spill?

Also, I don't think a lot of you appreciate the safety culture in an offshore environment for American companies. Safety is number one. Nobody wants to die on the job, nobody wants their actions to cause somebody else's death and no company wants to tell someody's loved one they died on the job. Safety is a very serious thing offshore - for employees and employers. Following procedures, regulations, safety protocols is paramount to everything else.

Re:It's the BP spill, not Gulf spill. (4, Insightful)

dAzED1 (33635) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164196)

I worry about permanently assigning blame only once those responsible decide they're going to do nothing (or next to nothing) ala Exxon Valdez. Accidents happen, and unless BP acted in gross negligence, and unless they don't put much effort in to fixing the problem, I won't be worried about permanently affixing their name to it.

But ymmv, I'm not your spiritual leader.

Re:It's the BP spill, not Gulf spill. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164448)

You mean how BP acted during Exxon Valdez? And here again?

During Exxon Valdez they lied about cleanup equipment and personnel being available, this time they neglected to use safety equipment other governments would have required.

Re:It's the BP spill, not Gulf spill. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164214)

Yeah, but if you call it the "BP spill", people are going to confuse it with all the other BP spills!

Re:It's the BP spill, not Gulf spill. (1, Insightful)

topherama (1344245) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164374)

Could we please stop calling it the "Gulf" spill? Oil spills are conventionally named after the company responsible. That would be BP, or Transocean (the company that leased the rig to BP). Additionally, it's not really a "spill," but for lack of a clearly better word (gucher perhaps?), I am willing to accept that. Calling it the "Gulf" spill doesn't put enough responsibility on those who should be bearing it.

I'm so tired of this filth people bullshit and then repeat, and it's getting worse even here. The company responsible isn't BP, they're just the company that owns the asset (the rig itself). The company responsible, and thus liable, is the CONTRACTOR. You know, the little engineering company that BP contracted to drill the well, who was supposed to get it working and then hand over control to BP for capturing and refinement. The engineer drilling the well fucked up, his famous last words of "there's water everywhere" (paraphrase) mean the casement was fucked, water was entering the pipe, and everything was coming straight up from 5000 feet like a fatass sucking a shake through a straw. Unequal pressure through incompetent drilling led to the explosion and this whole thing.

Oh, one more thing, that little engineering company that is LEGALLY LIABLE for the fuck-up is only worth $50 or a $100 million, and just declared bankruptcy (hypothetically, of course). So there goes pretty much all of the money for the clean-up, save what BP donates to make themselves look good. The stupid shit Obama thinks he can pin this on BP, and there's not a chance in hell they're paying a dime more than they want.

Re:It's the BP spill, not Gulf spill. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164456)

BP is responsible they hired these assholes. You can't push it off on a contractor. Like it or not, their oil is leaking onto someones land, BP's problem to fix.

So does this mean......... (1)

ArcadeNut (85398) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164034)

That they are treading on thin ice?

Shiny object... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164052)

"started the spill in the first place" Make no mistake about it, the root cause was our nations dependance on oil. More precisely BP drilling for oil to quench the thirst.
Look shiny object, now that it has been summed up in some irrelevant detail, we can all go back to not caring.

New buzzphrase (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164082)

Spill, baby, spill?

You 7ail hit (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#32164188)

surpxrise to the Lay down paper

This may be secondary (1)

no-body (127863) | more than 4 years ago | (#32164538)

To me, the underlying cause is that some disconnected individuals in a power hierarchy are taking irresponsible risks playing Russian Roulette with our environment.

Details on this and against it can be easily researched. If one takes a more distant perspective, it may become more clear - or not - who cares at the moment?

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