As many of you are for sure now aware, on April 20th a massive explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig situated off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting explosion sunk the rig two days later… unserendipitously on Earth Day. As a result we won’t soon forget Earth Day 2010. Initial reports started that the oil spill wasn’t that bad, leaking about 1,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf. Still sounds terrible to me, but it doesn’t sound so bad a week later.
New estimates say that 5,000 gallons of oil are leaking into the Gulf of Mexico per day. BP, who leased the platform, has not been able to plug the leak yet. The Coast Guard has suggested lighting the slick on fire. And what could be one of the worst oil spills in history shows no sign of slowing down.
By using the “barrels” as a unit of measurement, we are really neglecting the severity of this spill. One barrel is 42 U.S. gallons. 5,000 x 42 is 210,000 gallons of oil per day. If that rate has been sustained since the rig sunk ten days ago, that means over 2 million gallons of oil have already poured into the Gulf, and the spill is quickly approaching the Louisiana coastline. The Coast Guard wants to conduct a controlled burn of the oil, while dispersant and booms are being deployed to control the slick. President Obama has even suspenseded all talk of new off-shore drilling operations until they figure out what happened, and the offshore fishing industry will be hurt very badly by this spill, not to mention all the coastal estuary damage.
The Deepwater Horizon had recently drilled the deepest oil well in the world at a vertical depth of 35,050 feet. They were in the process of cementing a new well in place when the explosion occurred. That is a long way to drill for oil, and it just shows you the lengths we are resorting to to feed our fuel addiction. So what will happen as a result of this explosion?
Many environmentalists are no doubt up in arms, and with good reason. President Obama had recently opened up thousands of miles of ocean for exploration. Summer and high gas prices were already around the corner, and this spill could send prices soaring even higher. More than anything though, it underscores the need for making operations like this cleaner and safer. There were obviously not enough safeguards in place to turn this well off in case of disaster, as the blowout valve preventer is not working. BP says plugging the well will be very difficult, and they have suggested filling the well with mud, dropping a collection dome over the leak, and drilling a second well to relieve the pressure. But these plans could take weeks or months. This could get even uglier.
What do you think? Is this a sign that we should be re-evaluating our offshore drilling policies, or is it a rare occurrence that we can deal with as a consequence of drilling? Is it a sign that we have gone too far to feed our oil addiction?
Source: NPR | Image: Coast Guard