Offshore drilling: Reaping the whirlwind

In the last few days, estimates of the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf from BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling site have increased from 1,000 to 5,000 to 25,000 barrels a day, with predictions that it could get much, much worse if the well casing collapses.

Estimates of the size of the slick have grown from the “size of Delaware” to “the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined,” to larger than “all of Puerto Rico.”

Overlay maps on a Sunday morning news program showed the area of the slick is now larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez slick in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. And the Gulf Coast, especially in the spring, is far more fragile than Alaska’s.

Predictions that originally said the oil would reach Louisiana, then Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, are now saying the oil could even round the southern tip of Florida, reach into the Atlantic, and spread up the East Coast.

Drilling an adjacent well to reach and cap the blowout will take 2 to 3 months. At best, the clean-up will take months; the recovery, years.

The recently opened Louisiana fishing season has already ended because protective booms are keeping boats off the fishing grounds. Their season over and their livelihoods gone, possibly for years to come, fishermen are now lining up for hazmat jobs with BP, or simply volunteering. “It’s like takin’ ya heart out of ya chest,” said Jerry Parria, 43. “I did a little investigation into that Exxon Valdez. It ain’t never got right over there.”

And still BP America Chairman Lamar McKay insists BP is “throwing every resource that we’ve got” into trying to plug the well. Really?

It didn’t occur to him not to hire Halliburton, a company whose shoddy well cementing practices have been implicated in a number of past blowouts? It didn’t occur to him to install widely used acoustic blowout preventers, even though the U.S. doesn’t require them? It didn’t occur to him that an underwater dome for containing escaping oil should be built and ready to employ before a blowout occurred?

Indeed, when BP filed its environmental impact analysis, it contended it was “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities” and that even if it did, “due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected.”

BP is the fourth largest company in the world. If this is the best it can do, we need to seriously reconsider the wisdom of offshore drilling.


Note: There were approximately 4,000 active oil and gas drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico in 2006, according to NOAA.

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... and that's my two cents