Oil spill may be worst ever. BP warned of rig fault ten years ago. Bush fed regulators let industry police itself.

By | May 3, 2010

When I first heard about this, I thought, what’s the big deal, another oil tanker leaking oil. Well, it’s not a tanker, this is not a ship, it is an oil well under the ocean. Under 5,000 feet of water. This is almost a mile down. (A mile is 5,280 feet.) The pressure, I think, is a bone crushing 2,350 pounds per square inch. Take a look at the graphic below and you can see the problem. We opened the flood gates to huge reservoir of oil and it will just keep pouring out until we do something drastic. That’s why this is a big deal.

Image: Fisherman lay boomsObama fears unprecedented disaster

… The Coast Guard conceded Saturday that it’s nearly impossible to know how much oil has gushed since the blast, after saying earlier it was at least 1.6 million gallons — equivalent to about 2½ Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Even at that rate, the spill should eclipse the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident as the worst U.S. oil disaster in history in a matter of weeks. But a growing number of experts warned that the situation may already be much worse.

… Scientists were sampling the waters, and the federal government said all seafood harvested so far appeared safe.


BP faces fresh questions over the cause of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill after it emerged that problems with the type of equipment that led to the disaster were first reported a decade ago.

In June 2000, the oil giant issued a “notice of default” to Transocean, the operator of the rig that blew up last month. The dispute was over problems with a blowout preventer, a set of iron slabs that should close out-of-control wells. It failed on the Gulf of Mexico rig, triggering the explosion and oil spill.

Transocean acknowledged at the time that the preventer did “not work exactly right”. The rig in question, the Discover Enterprise, was unable to operate for extended periods while the problem was fixed.

The preventer was made by Hydril, now owned by GE’s oil and gas arm, and Cameron International, a Houston company. Cameron also made the preventer on the Deepwater Horizon, the rig that exploded. Its preventer was fitted at about the same time BP was complaining of problems with its sister vessel.

BP’s past problems with the preventer emerged as a giant oil slick, fed by the uncapped well, began lapping the coast of Louisiana, threatening to create America’s worst environmental disaster since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989.

The US Coast Guard estimated that it is releasing 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the sea – though some experts claim it may be flowing at fives times that rate.

Fears were growing this weekend that the well head could fall apart, potentially unleashing an unresticted flow into the ocean.

Tony Hayward, BP’s chief executive, flew to Houston today to manage the worsening crisis. More than $23billion (£15billion) has been wiped off BP’s market value amid growing worries over the costs of the clean-up. Estimates range from $3billion to $12billion. Hayward pledged to pay all “legitimate” claims arising from the spill.

Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida have all declared states of emergency as winds pushed the slick toward sensitive marshlands and fishing areas.

President Barack Obama issued a moratorium on new drilling until the cause of the disaster was determined. He also ordered the Department of Defense to use cargo planes to spray chemical dispersant. …

via BP warned of rig fault ten years ago – Times Online.

Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen called the bid to shut down a wellhead spewing at least 210,000 gallons of oil a day from nearly a mile beneath the ocean surface “one of the most complex things we’ve every done.”

He went on to say that, in a worst-case scenario, the well could vent 4.2 million gallons of oil into the Gulf daily. Currently, a crumpled “riser” pipe is preventing the full flow of oil – like a kinked garden hose – though reports suggest it is gradually deteriorating. …

BP, the company that owned the Louisiana oil rig that exploded last week, spent years battling federal regulators over how many layers of safeguards would be needed to prevent a deepwater well from this type of accident.

*** But according to aides to Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has followed offshore drilling issues for years, the industry aggressively lobbied against an additional layer of protection known as an “acoustic system,” saying it was too costly. In a March 2003 report, the agency reversed course, and said that layer of protection was no longer needed.

“There was a big debate under the Bush administration whether or not to require additional oil drilling safeguards but [federal regulators] decided not to require any additional mandatory safeguards, believing the industry would be motivated to do it themselves,” Carl Pope, Chairman of the Sierra Club told ABC News. – link

Video showing what a blowout preventer looks like:

Here’s a graphic showing three ways they will attempt to stop the flow:

9 thoughts on “Oil spill may be worst ever. BP warned of rig fault ten years ago. Bush fed regulators let industry police itself.

  1. Ann

    Nice combination of news articles, Xeno.

    Even before this catastrophic environmental tragedy, the Gulf of Mexico has the notorious reputation of having largest DEAD ZONE in the world.

    And, the Texas (wouldn’t you know it’s the home state of our previous psychotic president) Gulf Coast is known to have the greatest number of man-caused fish kills than any other coastal region in the country.

    You know, if we keep piling up events like this in the same place over time the Gulf of Mexico might get to be just one big dump.

    Satellite photos of the Gulf of Mexico do depict, however, a large circular body of water – kind of like looking down a big toilet bowel anyway. I guess this is what the future holds for the Gulf of Mexico (of Mexico … hmmm … like a former president of Mexico once said: SO FAR FROM HEAVEN, BUT SO CLOSE TO THE UNITED STATES.

    1. Xeno Post author

      His regulators. Not sure if he had any input on it. In the end, it isn’t republicans or democrats or conservatives or liberals, the problem, the thing that lead to this and to the housing crash, and to the war in Iraq, is greed. Greed trumps caution. We don’t invest in prevention. We want immediate gratification, and so, when we take shortcuts, we pay for it later. Seems we always do.

  2. populist

    Check out this podcast about how this is Big Oil’s Chernobyl moment, as well as mention of some of the worst case scenarios of this spill. Scary stuff.

  3. isochroma

    What a beautiful leak – twenty thousand barrels of lovely lube a day. I love the oily mass that bulges outwards from a bent pipe. A brown Rorschach blot of the automobile culture.

    An endless orgasm of brown to win the King’s crown. The ejaculate of Hell sent by the wind-whipped swell.

    My most fervent hope is that all efforts to stop and mitigate this masterwork are failures. The incontinent flow of hydrocarbons shall continue for the decay of all.

    I would love to see a sea of greasy Devil’s blood flowing into the ocean forever more. The spew that flew right on through.

    Then the World can move on into its next phase, the Dark Phase of death, decline and destruction. Soon, all the works of humans will decay and so too will themselves be brought to the altar of slaughter, to account for their crimes of existence.

  4. omi


    How can the scope of this ecological disaster be met with the silence of prayers- the silence of scientists and political organizations? No celebrity or world leader is willing to call for more action?

    It is time to look to our one world and one life force that unites and sustains us…

    We face challenges larger than corporate entity- larger than national pride or ego.. our home – this one earth is now facing destruction in a singular silence that is truly a crime against not just humanity- but all life forms.

    Where are the voices that could call out for the best minds and resources on the planet to come together and solve a problem that will devastate a huge piece of our planet and ecologies into the future in untold and ways with permanence that we can not yet understand.

    It would be an epic movie— saving the planet by working together, using the best and most immediate resources of the planet.. from all countries. Perhaps a script writer could stir a bit of action—but is it that the President is afraid that some other country would have the skills and tools to limit disaster in the American arena?

    Where are the religious leaders- that we are not asked to pray for creation and see our common fragility?

    God, by whatever the name

    Is saddened for sure

    And each soul shares the blame

    For a silence dishonoring the gift of the earth….

    Use your voice and your prayer
    How much power have the people of this planet given to a single company- which certainly can not pay the bill and restore the planet—? And how much power to a president who has such a national ego that his administration is selling out our planet’s future rather ask for international and immediate assistance and expertise?

  5. isochroma

    The oilmass grows like a joyous cancer full of many new kinds of life. Welcome to happy motoring.

    It’s time to drive to a slicker, browner future: put your keys in the ignition because Big Oil needs your dollars to make more oily art.

    For those who have already contributed, thank you for your kind support!

  6. Ann

    “Welcome to happy motoring.”

    Indeed! isochroma, such an inspiring name, by the way.

    And, Cole, you are quite right.

    We mustn’t forget our past and those organizations and institutions who led the way.

    Personally I think we owe a lot of gratitude to the efforts of the Dept. of Commerce, as well as General Motors, Firestone Tires and the other members of the highway lobbies including, of course, the petroleum industries during the Eisenhower administration for their thoughtful foresight in the construction of a more asphalted and paved American.

  7. Ann

    My I add? If you don’t believe the comment about fish kills off the coast of Texas, glance at this:

    Amanda Thronso, Antonietta Quigg, Fifty-Five Years of Fish Kills in Coastal Texas, Estuaries and Coasts 2008, 31 (4): 802-813

    And, about my reference to our former president’s sanity? Perhaps I should admit an error. After all, the Christian bible tells us Moses also talked to God.

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