Thinking of the Oil Rig Explosion
A little over a week ago, the Deepwater Horizon oil platform asploded in the gulf, and two days later (on Earth Day) it collapsed and sank. This left several people dead, as well as a large tube in the bottom of the ocean presumably looking like an out of control garden hose–bleeding large amounts of oil into the gulf of Mexico.
The initial reports downplayed this leak, but I initially thought “is *any* amount of oil ok? Turns out, it’s much worse than initially reported.
If you’re in your mid thirties or so, the Exxon Valdez is the benchmark for oil-related accidents. In sheer volume of oil, this disaster will match the Valdez very quickly.
Valdez: 11 million gallons of oil
Deepwater Horizon will hit that in roughly a month and a half.
And to put it in perspective, Prince William Sound is larger than the gulf: 3000-5000 miles of shoreline vs about 2000 miles of US Gulf Coast.. 500-800 miles of PWS were affected by the Valdez. In other words, this will be more oil in less space.
The well is 35,000 feet deep, and 4000 feet of that is in the water. (for a comparison, the Titanic is 13,000 feet deep). It’s unclear how long it will take to ‘fix’ this problem. But if it takes several months this will be one of the worst disasters of any kind…ever.
Personally, all of this freaks me out. My mothers side of the family is from the panhandle of Florida, and beach trips have been a staple my whole life. It’s sickening to think of those environments being exposed to tens of millions of gallons of crude oil.
But from a general analysis…a few things are interesting to me about this. First, it’s interesting how such an epic disaster could sneak up on us like this. In two days oil will be washing ashore in the Gulf of Mexico. Wha? With all of our information-age bells and whistles, how was the potential for disaster not immediately apparent?
Second, this illustrates that not all oil is created equally. It’s very difficult to get some oil, very easy to get other oil. Most of the “easy” oil is going away. So when some company says they’ve found a huge reserve, this doesn’t necessarily mean our thirst for oil-based energy will benefit. It used to cost a couple bucks per barrel in Saudi Arabia. Now some places are spending 50-60 and more. 35,000 feet under the Gulf can’t be cheap.
Third thing is a test of “Oil Pollution Act of 1990″, passed as a result of the Exxon spill in Alaska. I’m all for low regulation and pro-business policies. But liability and risk should be a part of those calculations. Will this and other laws extract substantial enough amounts of cash from BP? Will it be severe enough so that spill prevention tech is a worthwhile investment? Will BP try to avoid it’s responsibility, or will it be “too big to fail”.
Lastly: the explosion. While this platform had a history of problems, it was not some minor facility. It had just drilled the deepest oil well ever. It was presumably well known in the industry. Now there’s a huge unexplained explosion that:
a) kills people
b) halts some rather significant policy initiatives regarding domestic oil drilling
c) creates a huge natural disaster of historic proportions
d) will result in substantial financial losses for large multinational company
Doesn’t that seem strange? I know there will be plenty of response to the disaster, but I hope there are some Federal agencies taking a keen interest into the cause of that fire. Sometimes a platform explosion is just an explosion. But it does seem a little too worst case.