Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Good, The Bad, & The Unknown

First the good news; BP has apparently hooked up the pipe to collect oil flowing out of the riser. BP has not said exactly how much is being collected, and I suspect we'll need the ROVs to take pictures so we can see. I saw a headline suggesting BP needed 4 tries to make this work. It's a good solution until the relief well is in place and able to plug this one. The hook up will severely (we hope) constrain the amount of new oil that leaks into the sea. I am glad this one worked.

Now the bad news; scientists are discovering that the oil we see on the surface is not telling the whole story. There are plumes of oil throughout the depths, and their size varies. One is 10 miles x 3 miles, and we don't know how thick it is. The implications for sea life are very unpleasant. This oil is being dispersed with chemicals and oil-eating microbes. Between the oil and the microbes some amount of oxygen in the sea is getting sucked out. This is bad news for the sea life in the ocean, which also need that oxygen. How bad it will become is unknown.

It seems we are in uncharted territory with this spill. Reports from the Congressional hearings, combined with leaks from the survivors and others, suggest that there were a series of errors that led to this disaster. The well itself reportedly "kicked" a week prior to the explosion. Will this stop deep water drilling? No because the alternatives are no better, and not necessarily any easier to implement.

The technology is there, and is only as reliable as the people who use it. The geology is pretty well understood, but there is no "one size fits all" approach to the characteristics of an individual well or reservoir, regardless of location. The environmental considerations are serious, but I do not believe a die-off of sea life in the Gulf will slow down the drilling. New regulations will be written and the cost to implement them will be passed on to the consumers. Drilling will continue.

I do not believe the majority of Americans will accept a life style change unless they are forced into it. What has happened so far with the recession has included the expectation that things will turn around. Eventually that expectation will turn to dust. Perhaps not this time, but at some point in the future, and likely my lifetime. We are not ready for energy descent, but if we don't truly plan and act on the assumption that we need to change our relationship to energy and how we use it, then we will wake up one morning and find it staring us in the face. I don't think we'll like what we see.

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