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The Macondo/Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, With Running Updates


For newer updates on the spill and the recovery effort, click here.

UPDATE NO. 51, 5/14/10, 4:00 p.m.: We understand that video showing how ordinary hay can be used to sop up oil on a slick has begun making its way around Congress and into the official circles of the response. The two guys on that video apparently got a contract from Ft. Walton County in Florida to experiment with slicks arising over there, but depending on the reaction of the folks in charge to their idea you might see a little wider use of the hay method.

Two questions about hay will need to be answered. First, when the hay gets saturated with oil will it sink? The thought here is probably not. And second, can enough hay be brought to bear to do any good? Not sure on that one, but there’s an awful lot of hay out there. And considering that if you can absorb $80-a-barrel oil with hay and then retrieve it, BP might well be in a position to pay good money for as much hay as somebody with high grass in their fields can chop down and put on a truck.

Meanwhile, another proposal is making the rounds courtesy of a company called Versabar:

We asked for a few details on how this might work, and company officials were kind enough to help us out.

First, in answer to our question about how much oil can fit in each of these barges they propose to drop down to that well, storage is a function of barge size. The barge that has a weight of 1,000 tons discussed in the video has an internal volume of around two million gallons. Versabar says their apparatus can handle larger barges that could store up to five to six million gallons, though – which means every week or so a new barge might need to be lowered to the site to collect the oil.

Second, since oil is lighter than sea water it would gravitate to the top of the barge and thus not leak out of the bottom once a barge is moved off the well site. The upshot of that is that once the oil is in those barges, it’s effectively stored until the well is killed and the crisis is over.

And finally…

The oil would be removed later using a pipe to surface like currently proposed. The BIG difference is that our plan allows for the immediate capture of the oil and hence the stopping of the pollution. The pipe to surface is in itself a complex technical and operational problem which is made even more challenging when combined with trying to do all the other capture activities at the same time – as is currently being worked on. As you can see the oil is still polluting.

It’s interesting. We don’t have the engineering acumen or training to properly evaluate this idea, but it’s interesting. And we thought it was worth putting out there and giving folks a chance to have a look at it. Feedback is welcome.

UPDATE NO. 50, 5/14/10, 12:30 p.m.: President Obama has now out-asshatted the asshat. Ed Markey is off the hook for now.

Obama just gave a speech at the Rose Garden on the oil spill which was so breathtakingly dishonest and ridiculous as to call the credibility of his office into question for the remainder of his term.

Here’s a transcript, with our notes…

Good afternoon, everybody. I just finished meeting with some of my Cabinet and administration officials about the ongoing efforts to stop the BP oil spill. And I wanted to give the American people an update on these efforts, but I also want to underscore the seriousness and urgency of this crisis.

The potential devastation to the Gulf Coast, its economy, and its people require us to continue our relentless efforts to stop the leak and contain the damage. There’s already been a loss of life, damage to our coastline, to fish and wildlife, and to the livelihoods of everyone from fishermen to restaurant and hotel owners. I saw firsthand the anger and frustration felt by our neighbors in the Gulf. And let me tell you, it is an anger and frustration that I share as President. And I’m not going to rest or be satisfied until the leak is stopped at the source, the oil in the Gulf is contained and cleaned up, and the people of the Gulf are able to go back to their lives and their livelihoods.

That’s comforting to know. Of course, BP is the one who is attempting to stop the leak at the source and it’s their money which will contain and clean up the oil, and since Obama has kaiboshed new offshore drilling permits it’s hard to see how oil-patch workers will “go back to their livelihoods” when this spill is cleaned up.

Now, the most important order of business is to stop the leak. I know there have been varying reports over the last few days about how large the leak is, but since no one can get down there in person, we know there is a level of uncertainty. But as Admiral Thad Allen said today, our mobilization and response efforts have always been geared toward the possibility of a catastrophic event. And what really matters is this: There’s oil leaking and we need to stop it –- and we need to stop it as soon as possible. With that source being 5,000 feet under the ocean’s surface, this has been extremely difficult. But scientists and engineers are currently using the best, most advanced technology that exists to try to stop the flow of oil as quickly as possible.

Our second task has been to contain the spill and protect the Gulf Coast and the people who live there. We are using every available resource to stop the oil from coming ashore. Over one million feet of barrier boom have been deployed to hold the oil back. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of dispersant have helped to break up the oil, and about four million gallons of oily water have been recovered; 13,000 people have been mobilized to protect the shoreline and its wildlife, as has the National Guard.

Great, though how much of this is Obama’s doing is worth questioning. What’s also worth questioning, once again, is who gave the order to put that fire out at the well site?

This week, we also sent to Congress legislation that would provide us with the additional resources to mitigate the damage caused by this spill. And I ask for prompt action on this legislation. That would help with cleanup efforts, it would provide unemployment assistance and job training to folks whose jobs are affected by this crisis, and it would help with the region’s economic recovery. That’s why this legislation is important.

The people of the Gulf don’t want unemployment assistance, and they don’t want job training. They want to spill cleaned up. And the ones who work offshore want to produce oil that we otherwise would have to buy from Hugo Chavez and people like him.

It would also help ensure that companies like BP that are responsible for oil spills are the ones that pay for the harm caused by these oil spills -– not the taxpayers. This is in addition to the low-interest loans that we’ve made available to small businesses that are suffering financial losses from the spill.

Let me also say, by the way, a word here about BP and the other companies involved in this mess. I know BP has committed to pay for the response effort, and we will hold them to their obligation. I have to say, though, I did not appreciate what I considered to be a ridiculous spectacle during the congressional hearings into this matter. You had executives of BP and Transocean and Halliburton falling over each other to point the finger of blame at somebody else. The American people could not have been impressed with that display, and I certainly wasn’t.

A “ridiculous spectacle?” Obama is an expert on that subject. Just look at his attorney general’s performance yesterday. Just look at his disgusting demogoguery of the Arizona immigration law – which was enacted specifically because Obama refuses to do his job and control the border without his demands for an amnesty program that would convert illegal aliens into Democrat voters being met. Was it discomforting to watch BP, Transocean and Halliburton offering differing explanations for what happened to cause the spill? Of course. Was it a surprise given the looming lawsuits, the pressure on those forced to testify and the financial stakes at hand? Of course not.

Of course, the reason for the “ridiculous spectacle” in the first place was Obama’s Senate and House Democrat minions, who thought it would be a good idea to perform a public autopsy of the victim before he even stopped breathing. Any idiot could tell you that it’s too soon to call hearings into the oil spill while it’s still going on and operations to kill that well aren’t finished; Obama has no criticism of that asinine and premature decision on offer.

I understand that there are legal and financial issues involved, and a full investigation will tell us exactly what happened. But it is pretty clear that the system failed, and it failed badly. And for that, there is enough responsibility to go around. And all parties should be willing to accept it.

That includes, by the way, the federal government. For too long, for a decade or more, there has been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill. It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore. To borrow an old phrase, we will trust but we will verify.

So the federal government is to blame. But in this case, Obama defines “federal government” as “George W. Bush.” This after a bunch of tough talk about Big Oil throwing blame around to somebody else. Don’t they vet these speeches before putting them on his teleprompter? Didn’t anybody over there realize what a complete and total laughingstock this makes the president? Or are Obama and his gang comfortable with his new status as Blame-Shifter-In-Chief?

Now, from the day he took office as Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar has recognized these problems and he’s worked to solve them. Oftentimes he has been slammed by the industry, suggesting that somehow these necessary reforms would impede economic growth. Well, as I just told Ken, we are going to keep on going to do what needs to be done.

And so I’ve asked Secretary Salazar to conduct a top-to-bottom reform of the Minerals Management Service. This week, he announced that the part of the agency which permits oil and gas drilling and collects royalties will be separated from the part of the agency in charge of inspecting the safety of oil rigs and platforms and enforcing the law. That way, there’s no conflict of interest, real or perceived.

In English, this means that Obama and Salazar will now purge MMS of anyone with any knowledge of the oil business and replace them with left-wing radicals committed to destroying the domestic energy industry. He just declared war on offshore oil. And onshore oil and natural gas, too, in all probability.

We’ve also ordered immediate inspections of all deepwater operations in the Gulf of Mexico. And we’ve announced that no permits for drilling new wells will go forward until the 30-day safety and environmental review that I requested is completed. We’re also closing the loophole that has allowed some oil companies to bypass some critical environmental reviews, and today we’re announcing a new examination of the environmental procedures for oil and gas exploration and development.

That 30-day period will extend to January 2013. Book it.

Now, as I’ve said before, domestic oil drilling continues to be one part of an overall energy strategy that now includes more clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency than at any other time in our history. But it’s absolutely essential that going forward we put in place every necessary safeguard and protection so that a tragedy like this oil spill does not happen again. This is a responsibility that all of us share -– the oil companies share it; the manufacturers of this equipment share it; the agencies in the federal government in charge of oversight share that responsibility. I will not tolerate more finger pointing or irresponsibility.

Unless he can pin blame on his predecessor or Big Oil, that is.

The people of the Gulf Coast need our help, and they deserve nothing less than for us to stand up and do whatever is necessary to stop this spill, prevent further damage, and compensate all those who’ve been harmed already. That’s our job.

It’s also our job to make sure this kind of mess doesn’t happen again. It’s a job we’ve been doing. It’s a job we will keep doing until the well is capped and the spill is cleaned up, and all claims are paid.

Thank you very much.

[sigh]

Is there a fast-forward button to Election Day 2012 somewhere we can press?

UPDATE NO. 49, 5/14/10, 10:20 a.m.: Leave it to Ed Markey (D-Soros) to play Environmental Asshat on a Friday.

Markey apparently listens to NPR, and now he’s just shocked that somebody is estimating there’s more than 5,000 barrels of oil a day coming out of the Macondo well. He wants a formal inquiry into the question.

“I am concerned that an underestimation of the oil spill’s flow may be impeding the ability to solve the leak and handle the management of the disaster,” he said in a statement Thursday. “If you don’t understand the scope of the problem, the capacity to find the answer is severely compromised.”

Has Markey been to Louisiana? Has he taken a helicopter ride to the Gulf? Does he have a friggin’ clue what he’s talking about? Your answers are no, no and no. All this self-important bought-and-paid-for George Soros stooge, who is taking time off from his efforts to strangle the shale gas industry in its crib to attempt to demogogue the offshore oil issue with the spill, is doing is trying to advance the destruction of domestic energy production for corrupt purposes.

Adm. Thad Allen is down here, and Adm. Thad Allen is the Coast Guard incident commander for the response. Most people generally regard Adm. Thad Allen as a sane, competent guy with a record of managing emergencies fairly well. We thought he did excellent work managing the Coast Guard’s Katrina response. In other words, Allen is worth paying more attention to than Markey.

And Allen said this morning that the level of resources available for the response is calibrated toward a far larger volume of oil than 5,000 barrels a day. A larger volume doesn’t change Allen’s plan in the least – they’re still trying to shut off the flow of oil at the source, and they’re still going to skim, disperse and burn all the oil they can regardless of how much it is.

But the assessment of someone who is actually on the scene and knows what the hell he’s talking about interferes with Markey’s desire to preen in front of TV cameras in an effort to build consensus to shut down as much domestic energy production as possible so that his benefactor can profit from investments in foreign oil and gas companies. So after we’ve already had House and Senate hearings THIS WEEK on the spill, pulling the attention of BP, Transocean and Halliburton away from the recovery effort in order to prepare for a Capitol Hill circus, now we’ll get more.

And they wonder why people hate Congress. And politicians.

UPDATE NO. 48, 5/14/10, 9:15 a.m.: Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen is having a press conference now and he’s saying the top hat is what BP is doing today rather than the riser insertion tube. He’s also said that the character of the slick has changed; it has broken up into smaller pieces with open water in between.

“That’s not a bad thing,” he said.

He’s also saying that while the response is being deployed as though it’s a “catastrophic spill,” he wouldn’t quite say it is. He said it has the potential to be one. And when asked about the volume of the spill, he cautioned against making too many judgements based on two-dimensional images of a three-dimensional event.

That’s unlikely to make it on NPR.

UPDATE NO. 47, 5/14/10, 9:00 a.m.: Lots of stuff this morning, but we’ll start with one of our favorite subjects – which is the irresponsibility of the legacy media which seeks to pursue an agenda rather than the truth – regardless of how many people they hurt in the process.

Today’s culprit is National Public Radio. They’re running a story saying that video BP released of oil shooting out of the broken riser of the Macondo well (see the video here) indicates to scientists they’ve talked to that the actual amount of oil coming out of the well is more like 70,000 barrels a day instead of the 5,000 the Coast Guard estimated three weeks ago based on what they saw coming to the surface.

Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry.

A computer program simply tracks particles and calculates how fast they are moving. Wereley put the BP video of the gusher into his computer. He made a few simple calculations and came up with an astonishing value for the rate of the oil spill: 70,000 barrels a day — much higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.

The method is accurate to a degree of plus or minus 20 percent.

Given that uncertainty, the amount of material spewing from the pipe could range from 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day. It is important to note that it’s not all oil. The short video BP released starts out with a shot of methane, but at the end it seems to be mostly oil.

“There’s potentially some fluctuation back and forth between methane and oil,” Wereley said.

But assuming that the lion’s share of the material coming out of the pipe is oil, Wereley’s calculations show that the official estimates are too low.

“We’re talking more than a factor-of-10 difference between what I calculate and the number that’s being thrown around,” he said.

At least two other calculations support him.

Timothy Crone, an associate research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used another well-accepted method to calculate fluid flows. Crone arrived at a similar figure, but he said he’d like better video from BP before drawing a firm conclusion.

Eugene Chiang, a professor of astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, also got a similar answer, using just pencil and paper.

Without even having a sense of scale from the BP video, he correctly deduced that the diameter of the pipe was about 20 inches. And though his calculation is less precise than Wereley’s, it is in the same ballpark.

“I would peg it at around 20,000 to 100,000 barrels per day,” he said.

Chiang called the current estimate of 5,000 barrels a day “almost certainly incorrect.”

Given this flow rate, it seems this is a spill of unprecedented proportions in U.S. waters.

“It would just take a few days, at most a week, for it to exceed the Exxon Valdez’s record,” Chiang said.

BP disputes these guys wholeheartedly…

“We’ve said all along that there’s no way to estimate the flow coming out of the pipe accurately,” said Bill Salvin, a BP spokesman.

Instead, BP prefers to rely on measurements of oil on the sea surface made by the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Those are also contentious. Salvin also says these analyses should not assume that the oil is spewing from the 21-inch pipe, called a riser, shown in the video.

“The drill pipe, from which the oil is rising, is actually a 9-inch pipe that rests within the riser,” Slavin said.

But get this…

But Wereley says that fact doesn’t skew his calculation. And though scientists say they hope BP will eventually release more video and information so they can refine their estimates, what they have now is good enough.

“It’s possible to get a pretty decent number by looking at the video,” Wereley said.

The NPR story is bound to be The Big Deal Of The Day, which means they’ve managed to score a win already by going with it. And based on the fact that the recovery operation has already skimmed 5 million gallons of an oily-water mix, if all that was coming out of that well was 5,000 barrels of oil a day they’d be all but finished cleaning up the slick by now. So kudos to NPR for proving the obvious fact that more than 5,000 barrels a day is coming out of the well.

But you can Google a diagram of a marine riser and find out that a 21-inch diameter marine riser does NOT equal a 21-inch drill pipe. Things go down a marine riser just as often as they come up, often at the same time. Like for example the concrete for casing for the well as it’s drilled. And yet these guys pulled out their calculators and plugged in a 21-inch pipe spewing oil rather than the 9-inch drill pipe it’s actually coming out of, to come up with 70,000 barrels of oil a day.

As such, we’d like to announce that a Hayride investigation has concluded that 15,000 barrels a day are coming out of the Macondo well. We arrive at that number by applying the math from the 70,000-barrel claim based on a 21-inch pipe and reducing it down to a 9-inch pipe. That gives us 30,000 barrels, and since it looks like what’s coming out of that pipe is as much natural gas as oil, we’re cutting our number in half to get 15,000.

It’s hardly science, but it doesn’t seem a whole lot worse than what NPR did.

Meanwhile, the Republicans in the Senate are sticking it to BP a good bit more than the Democrats are. A bill authored by Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) would put a whole year’s profits on the table to pay off claims from an oil spill, rather than the current $75 million cap imposed by the 1990 Oil Pollution Act that nobody says they’ll abide by. Previous Democrat-proposed legislation would have raised the cap to $10 billion; this bill goes further while also keeping the independent drillers in the market from being completely wiped out by a spill.

At the well site, BP is working on the riser insertion tube option as their solution du jour. They’ve got the tube on the way down to the site now, and sometime today they’re going to try sticking the thing into the broken riser. The tube has a washer around it which they’re hoping will form a seal against the edges of the drill pipe, and if that works they’ll be siphoning oil up to a drillship and process it from there until the well is killed either by a junk shot or a relief well (or both). The big concern here is the same as with the Macondome – methane hydrates forming in the tube.

The junk shot is a week off. The relief well is further down the road than that. They’ve stalled the relief well because – get this – they’re testing its blowout preventer according to new MMS standards. It’s 9,000 feet deep at this point, halfway where it needs to be.

And then there’s the top hat. It’s on standby waiting to see how the insertion tube option does.

UPDATE NO. 46, 5/13/10, 5:10 p.m.: OK, those of you who are in the know – feel free to shoot holes in this idea:

UPDATE NO. 45, 5/13/10, 11:10 a.m.: We’ve said before that the reaction to the spill by the media and idiot politicians was likely to make things worse than the spill actually is.

Two easy examples to offer with respect to our assertion:

(1) the damage to the market for Louisiana seafood when that seafood is NOT tainted by the spill. The vast majority of Louisiana’s fisheries are still unaffected by the spill, but a picture of total environmental devastation from Corpus Christi to Key West like the legacy media is pushing will wipe out the ability to market the best seafood in the world regardless of what the truth is.

(2) the pictures of destruction of beaches with oil, which hasn’t happened anywhere yet and can be cleaned without an enormous amount of difficulty (it’s been done again and again), will kill beach tourism on the Gulf Coast for no good reason – particularly in places like Florida, where there is less and less reason to believe the spill will be a factor.

And while BP says it will pay “all legitimate claims,” it is virtually assured that when aggrieved parties make an effort to collect in those two cases, BP is going to fight. And they’ve got a case, because the $450 million the company has already spent in an effort to fight the spill and mitigate its damage is expressly intended to alleviate the harm. If oil doesn’t come to a beach in Florida, BP will argue with good reason that BP shouldn’t pay for folks not wanting to come to that beach. And if BP (or folks BP writes a check to) stops the oil from destroying Louisiana shrimp beds somewhere and that shrimp is plenty good to eat, BP is going to fight a claim of loss from the spill based on what Katie Couric said.

Enter Charlie Crist to crystallize our second example.

The strangely orange Florida governor, of dubious sexuality and even more dubious Senatorial candidacy, declared emergencies in coastal counties all over the state at the outset of the oil spill’s spread and made a big show of “never” allowing offshore drilling in waters off the Sunshine State. Crist used the spill to promote his independent run for the U.S. Senate – shamelessly so – and made national headlines in doing so.

Now Crist wants to shake down BP, even as there is no oil near Florida beaches.

His solution: A $35 million advertising blitz, paid for by the company that owns the leaking oil well. That, he says, would enable the state’s tourism marketing company, Visit Florida, to launch an advertising campaign to counter the rumors about coastlines covered in oil slicks and tar balls.

“One of the things that we want to do is be able to market to states north of Florida,” Crist said, “that our beaches are still clean, that our hotels are still open, our restaurants are doing well, and we want people to continue to come on down and help our tourist industries.”

We’ve said several times that BP needs to be EXTREMELY generous in spreading money around to alleviate the effects of the spill, if for no other reason than to tamp down the idiocy of the Left in advocating the destruction of the offshore oil exploration business. But in this case, BP should tell Crist to do something anatomically improbable.

UPDATE NO. 44, 5/13/10, 8:35 a.m.: Is the federal government helping to mitigate the effects of the oil spill? In Gulf Shores they’re not convinced.

That’s because Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar came to town and did a photo op placing boom in a lagoon which is cut off from the Gulf by a five-foot high sand berm. The Daily Caller smoked out the embarrassing story:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, clad in life vest and wader boots, visited the west end of Little Lagoon in Gulf Shores, Ala., last week to help BP contractors install an oil retention boom to protect the area’s white beaches from the oil spill.

But according to one area homeowner, the boom Salazar helped place — during a photo shoot that was covered widely by the media — offers no protection to the shores and wildlife.

“We call it the ‘boom to nowhere,’” said Laguna Key homeowner John Simms. “Where the boom is placed it doesn’t keep the oil out of the lagoon and it doesn’t protect the marsh.”

A shallow waterway connects the lagoon, where the boom was placed, to the Gulf of Mexico, where oil is expected to come from. A five-foot high and 15-foot wide sand berm was previously built across that waterway area to stop any possible oil from making its way into the area, so residents say the boom’s necessity in that particular location is questionable.

Even if oil penetrated the sand berm in the picturesque area, they say, the booms placed by Salazar are positioned in a way that would not stop the oil from entering the lagoon from the shallow waterway. “The boom does not enclose the area that would be breached,” said another resident, Connie Smith. “It is a single line stretched into the lagoon a short way, and the oil would simply glide around it and back into the wetlands.”

Of course, while the story is somewhat comical in indicating the feeble nature of Salazar’s involvement in the spill cleanup, it also brings to mind a serious issue which has come to light – namely the fact that Louisiana is Ground Zero with respect to the disaster and Louisiana doesn’t have enough boom. Why is Ken Salazar doing photo ops laying boom where it’s not needed when Louisiana citizens are scrambling for every foot of boom we can get?

Sen. David Vitter wrote this letter to Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen yesterday:

Admiral Thad W. Allen
Commandant of the United States Coast Guard
Coast Guard Headquarters
2100 Second Street, SW Stop 7101
Washington, DC 20593-7101

Dear Admiral Allen:

I continue to receive disturbing news regarding the ongoing inequity in the allocation of boom. Despite our many discussions and your acknowledgment of the need, efforts to protect Louisiana’s coast with boom are still falling short.

According to the Louisiana National Guard, only 10,000 feet of the 27,000 feet of boom flown into Louisiana yesterday will be used in Louisiana. That is only 37 percent, yet we have more than half of the coastline within 200 miles of the well. As you and I have discussed numerous times, we must immediately correct the allocation of boom and distribute it fairly to protect Louisiana.

Also, according to the Guard, another 42,000 feet of boom is currently on standby in Morgan City. Please explain how that boom will be allocated and how quickly will it be deployed. With the oil now moving to the west along Louisiana’s coast, now is not the time for standby. We must get as much boom as is available deployed immediately as we do everything possible to protect our coastal areas.

Based on our last discussion, I was under the impression that a boom deployment metric was being developed that would ensure equitable distribution across all effected coastline. When can I expect to see a full accounting of deployed boom using this metric?

I ask that you immediately provide a fair allocation of boom to protect Louisiana’s coast. Thank you for your ongoing work in leading the federal response.

Sincerely,

David Vitter
United States Senate

The federal government was energetic as could be in hauling executives from the companies involved in the spill up to Washington for hearings Tuesday and yesterday while efforts to stop the spill and clean up the damage were ongoing. Who will haul the federal government into hearings about why Ken Salazar gets boom to shoot bullshit photo ops with while Louisiana’s coast goes unprotected?

UPDATE NO. 43, 5/13/10, 8:15 a.m.: Stopping U.S. offshore drilling won’t end accidents offshore; they can happen in places like Venezuela:

Aban Offshore’s Aban Pearl semi-submersible drilling rig sank into the Caribbean early this morning, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced in a message sent out on social media platform Twitter.

The semisub was operating for Venezuela’s state-run producer PDVSA at the Mariscal Sucre complex development under a five-year contract which came into effect last year.

In his tweet, Chavez said all 95 crew on the rig were evacuated safely. He later added two navy patrols were in the area.

Chavez’ first tweet said: “To my sorrow, I want to inform that the natural gas platform Aban Pearl sunk a few moments ago. The good news is that the 95 workers are safe.”

Aban Offshore later issued a statement saying the semisub was evacuated “following an incident … which impacted its stability”.

It did not give further details.

According to PDVSA’s website, the Aban Pearl was operating in water depths of 160 metres at the time of the accident.

Meanwhile, PDVSA’s head Rafael Ramirez, who is also Venezuela’s oil minister, said the sinking of the rig poses no risk to the environment.

If there are issues with transparency and honesty where BP and Transocean are concerned, how many folks outside of Danny Glover and Robert Kennedy Junior are satisfied with the quality of information coming out of Hugo Chavez?

UPDATE NO. 42, 5/12/10, 5:30 p.m.: BP has three tracks they’re now working on.

The first is the “junk shot” idea, which is the technique of injecting cut-up tires and golf balls, among other items, into the blowout preventer to clog it up and kill the Macondo well. Along those lines, the company has now dropped a manifold for the “junk shot” and it will be near the spill site in the next day or so. But it would be a week from now before BP would be ready to start doing the junk shot.

Next, the “Top Hat” is on its way down to the spill site as well. In fact, the second attempt at using a collection dome to catch the spill has already made the sea floor, and they’re now working on getting it ready to deploy. Within the next couple of days we’ll see if the top hat works.

And a new method is on the drawing boards. This one is called a “riser insertion tube,” and it will be on site late tonight. With this, BP would stick a tube down into the broken riser from the well and use it to collect oil and siphon it up to the surface.

Meantime, they’re now cleaning up tarballs at South Pass. And heavy oil is beginning to show up near the Chandeleurs.

UPDATE NO. 41, 5/12/10, 4:45 p.m.: The AP has a story out this afternoon from today’s House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing which pins the blame for the Deepwater Horizon explosion on a busted blowout preventer.

A BP document marked “classified” but shared with Congressional investigators indicates that there were at least four significant problems with the BOP at the time of the explosion – including a dead battery on the “deadman” switch and a hydraulic leak.

This information would cast doubt on the previous theory that the BOP failed because the shear ram was lined up against a tool joint when the accident happened.

They said that BP documents and others also indicated conflicting pipe pressure tests should have warned those on the rig that poor pipe integrity may have been allowing explosive methane gas to leak into the well.

“Significant pressure discrepancies were observed in at least two of these tests, which were conducted just hours before the explosion,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., at a House hearing on the rig fire and oil leak, citing documents his committee had received from BP.

Asked about the tests, Steven Newman, president of Transocean, which owned the drilling rig, and Lamar McKay, president of BP America told the committee the pressure readings were worrisome.

They indicated “that there was something happening in the well bore that shouldn’t be happening,” said Newman. McKay said the issue “is critical in the investigation” into the cause of the accident.

The well explosion unleashed a massive oil spill that after three weeks remains uncontained.

But Waxman said important elements of what went wrong were beginning to surface.

While “we have far more questions than answers,” it appears clear that there were problems with the blowout preventers before the accident and confusion almost right up to the time of the explosion over the success of a process in which cement is injected into the well to temporarily close it in anticipation of future production.

Having Henry Waxman poring through documents which make you look like you’re using broken safety equipment 5,000 feet below the Gulf of Mexico is not good news. It feeds the insane left-wing drumbeat about shutting down offshore oil drilling and almost makes it sound reasonable. The potential consequences are severe.

UPDATE NO. 40, 5/12/10, 8:40 a.m.: The amount of natural gas coming out of the Macondo well might have ruined the chances of using the Macondome to cover the spill, as the cofferdam filled up with methane hydrates and was rendered unusable. But there’s a silver lining to every gray cloud, and ABC News reports that there might be evidence all that natural gas escaping from the well is slowing down the amount of oil leaking out.

When satellite images of the oil slick from May 1 are compared with the slick today, it appears smaller in size. On explanation is that it now appears that the natural gas forcing its way out of the well could be reducing the amount of oil escaping. Instead of floating on the surface, the natural gas escapes into the atmosphere.

BP confirms that it is seeing some changes in the nature of the leak, but because it is not measured, they cannot say precisely what is happening.

“The pressure data we have observed in recent days gives us more confidence in a direct intervention,” BP spokesman Andrew Gowers said today.

The size of the slick probably has less to do with natural gas escaping from the well in larger amounts and more to do with the fact that skimming operations, controlled burns, dispersant applied both on the surface and at the spill itself and Mother Nature degrading the oil have all acted to mitigate it.

In fact, Fox News reports that even within BP there are questions about whether the amount of natural gas coming out of the well is really any different than it’s always been.

Uncertainty over what was happening a mile underwater seemed to confuse Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who was touring the Alabama coast. While admitting it had not been verified, she said there was cause for hope that the spill was slowing down because tests indicated less oil and more natural gas was coming out.

But BP spokesman Mark Proegler said there has always been a mixture of gas and oil coming up and that scientists haven’t noticed any significant change in the leak.

What may be a safe assumption in the face of all this is that because of the high concentration of gas, the “junk shot” option of injecting cut-up tires and golf balls into the blowout preventer to kill the well has a lot more potential than originally thought. A gassy mix of oil is easier to inject stuff into than a flow of heavy crude.

At present, though, BP is working on the second collection dome. The “Top Hat” dome has been brought to the scene of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and is currently being lowered to the sea floor. This second attempt at collecting the oil from the well at the spill site is pre-fitted with an apparatus which will pump warm water from the surface into the riser to heat the oil as it comes from the collection area of the dome up the pipe to the drillship. BP hopes that because the area inside this new dome is less than in the Macondome, there will be less opportunity for methane hydrates to form from the well’s natural gas mixing with seawater inside the cofferdam.

UPDATE TO UPDATE NO. 39, 5/11/10, 6:20 p.m.: We’re told it was Barbara Boxer who inflicted the latest washed-up actor on us. Thanks, Senator. Hopefully we won’t have to call you that for too much longer.

UPDATE NO. 39, 5/11/10, 5:35 p.m.: Don’t this beat all. Now we’re told we need to stop offshore drilling – by Sam Waterston.

Who gives a rat’s derriere what Sam Waterston thinks? The Senate, apparently.

 

(Hat tip: Jim Nolte at BigHollywood.com)

Of course, Sam Waterston flew to Washington so he could offer up his ignorant arrogance with glasses perched at the tip of his nose. We suppose he’s OK with buying the oil to make the jet fuel for his next trip to tell us what to do from Hugo Chavez or Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. He’s also OK with putting tens or even hundreds of thousands of non-Yale graduates from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi out of work to satisfy his intellectual vanity and love of sea turtles.

That this self-important dunce would spew his far-left bilge with zero thought to its effect on the livelihoods of people who do more than play-act for a living is one thing. That some elected cretin would offer a Senate hearing to him to spew such bilge is a matter for the public interest. We’re looking into the question of who invited Waterston to ask for the destruction of the offshore oil business.

UPDATE NO. 38, 5/11/10, 2:25 p.m.: The Senate hearing from this morning is over, though another one is going on as to the environmental impact of the oil spill. Our friend Connie Hair from Human Events is covering that one, so we’ll post a link to the writeup she posts when it’s ready.

One of the items discussed this morning is this business of Transocean employees being asked to sign a waiver of some kind, which is the subject of some lawyeration out of the Deepwater Horizon workers. Several of their attorneys have alleged that before Transocean would allow them to go home after being rescued they had to sign waivers saying they weren’t hurt or had no first-hand knowledge about the accident.

Seems like an outlandish claim, and Transocean’s CEO denied the characterization of it. One wonders if maybe this thing is a bit overblown – obviously Transocean had an interest in debriefing their employees about what happened to their $350 million drilling rig while the information might still have been fresh in their heads, but it’s hard to imagine anybody at the company thought the workers weren’t going to file lawsuits regardless of some piece of paper they signed at a hotel somewhere.

C-SPAN now has on-demand video of the morning hearing. You can see the video of the first panel here; it’s the one where the former MMS regulator gets piled on by the Democrats, and the main panel is here; it’s the one where the BP, Transocean and Halliburton suits get a taste of the Inquisition.

UPDATE NO. 37, 5/11/10, 12:20 p.m.: The Senate hearing continues, with such highlights as Maria Cantwell offering up a helpful opinion that “we need to get off oil,” as though she’s going to stop driving her car or using plastic anytime soon, but we thought we’d pass along this short piece from Agence France-Press on something we’ve been saying for two weeks:

VENICE (Louisiana) – LOUISIANA’S charter fishermen are slamming US media coverage of the Gulf oil spill for doing more damage to the tourism industry than the slick itself, with livelihoods at risk.

‘Before the spill, I had three days open this month. Now I got all kinds of days open,’ charter boat captain Chris Wilson told AFP, as he cut up a dozen-strong bounty of speckled trout, channel bass and even yellowfin tuna he caught with clients.

Venice Marina, proudly proclaiming itself ‘The Fishing Capital of the World’ is all deserted but for Mr Wilson – the only fisherman preparing a catch – and some bored restaurant staff standing around the empty wharf-side bar.

But Mr Wilson’s friend and Venice Marina’s former owner Dave Ballay does not blame the mammoth and growing oil slick in the nearby Gulf of Mexico. Instead, people here blame the media, which day after night for over two weeks has detailed the doom and gloom facing the coast and its beleaguered residents.

‘Ninety-five per cent of the state of Louisiana’s waters are still fishable,’ Mr Ballay said with a bemused but angered tone.

All fishing off Louisiana’s coast east of the Mississippi River has been closed since April 30, but boats leaving from Venice can simply turn westward when they leave the marina. Last week, officials moved to ban areas west of Mississippi but only for those catching shrimp. ‘The area that is closed, which to tell the truth is mostly a precaution, just a drop in the bucket,’ Mr Ballay said. ‘There are huge parts of the state’s waters (that are) open, but that’s not the story the media wants to tell – it’s got to bleed to read, and the industry is taking the hit. It’s terrible.’

True enough. And if these guys think that, even though BP has said it will pay all “legitimate” claims arising out of this disaster, the company is going to cough up for losses which have come out of the agenda-driven media’s overblowing the spill without a fight, they have another thing coming. A perfectly-clean Florida beach which can’t draw tourists because Charlie Crist declared a state of emergency and swore off offshore drilling ever again, creating the impression of pollution where there probably won’t be any, isn’t going to have a “legitimate claim” against BP. They might have one against Fox News or CNN or Charlie Crist, but not BP. And BP will fight that claim, as they should.

UPDATE NO. 36, 5/11/10, 11:40 a.m.: Under questioning from Sen. Mary Landrieu, BP Americas head Lamar McKay just said BP will pay all substantiated claims related to the spill, and that the company regards the current $75 million cap on damages from the 1990 Oil Pollution Act as “irrelevant.”

Watch the live stream of the committee hearings here.

Sen. Jeff Sessions asked all three company representatives about the decision to pull the drilling mud out of the well before the second concrete plug was put in. Nobody could answer it. That’s interesting; Transocean’s Steven Newman said it’s not unprecedented to do so but he wouldn’t go any further.

The guess here is that BP and Transocean are eventually going to get into a pretty big fight about who made that decision and why.

Ron Wyden is now railing against BP because they’ve had safety problems and wants to know what changes they’ve made since then. And now Bob Menendez is making comparisons to the Titanic. It’s sound-bite time.

UPDATE NO. 35, 5/11/10, 10:30 a.m.: The first panel up in front of this Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee contained a guy named Elmer Danenberger, who is the former Offshore Regulatory Program Chief at MMS. He’s a 38-year veteran of MMS and was at the top of the offshore regulatory food chain in the George W. Bush administration, which obviously made him an inviting target for the Democrats on the committee. True to form, Danenberger got to be excoriated and berated by preening airheads like Ron Wyden, Robert Menendez, Blanche Lincoln, Mark Udall and Debbie Stabenow, who accused him of incompetence and complicity in the spill in not so many words. That these people continued to attempt to score points in blaming the previous administration for current troubles is anything but news.

But what is significant – and unsettling – is the demonstrated lack of technical knowledge among members of the committee. Danenberger is talking about the problem inherent in a situation where a tool joint might be lined up against a shear ram of a blowout preventer, and how a shear ram is not going to be able to break through a tool joint, and then he’s getting asked why an acoustic switch wasn’t on the BOP like they have in the North Sea.

It’s amazing, if unsurprising. These guys are a bunch of lawyers who know how to sue people, and as such they come to the Senate with virtually no useful knowledge of any kind. But they’re not idiots; assumedly if you’re a member of the Senate Energy & Natural Resources committee for any length of time you’d think you would pick up some semblance of understanding how an oil rig works. There appears to be very little, if any of that.

The second panel has begun. Representatives of BP, Transocean and Halliburton are now beginning their testimony. BP’s Lamar McKay’s statement can be found here.

UPDATE NO. 34, 5/11/10, 10:00 a.m.: Some stats which might be of interest, from Deepwaterhorizonresponse.com, the official web site of the spill response:

Total response vessels: more than 464
Boom deployed: more than 1.4 million feet (regular plus sorbent boom)
Boom available: more than 1.4 million feet (regular plus sorbent boom)
Oily water recovered: approximately 4 million gallons
Dispersant used: approximately 428,300 gallons
Dispersant available: approximately 120,00 gallons
Overall personnel responding: approximately 13,000

That 4 million gallon number indicates that a huge percentage of the spill has been skimmed to date, as yesterday BP estimated that the spill itself was about 3.5 million gallons of oil. Being as though the “oily water” is probably more than half water, you’re still likely looking at some million or two million gallons which have been recovered. That would indicate how fortunate it is that the spill happened 50 miles offshore as opposed to right next to the shore in a bay, like in the case of the Exxon Valdez.

On C-SPAN right now is a Senate Energy & Natural Resources hearing on the spill, where a Texas A&M professor and a former regulator from the Minerals Management Service are answering questions about the spill. Apparently BP America boss Lamar McKay, Transocean head Steve Newman and Halliburton safety chief Timothy Probert are going to testify later today at this hearing – one would have to ask why on earth those guys are in DC dealing with a bunch of politicians instead of working on getting the spill stopped. But in case you think it’s idiotic that the post-mortem commences before the patient is even dead, be warned that tomorrow at House Energy & Commerce – Henry Waxman’s committee – they’ll do the exact same thing.

UPDATE NO. 33, 5/11/10, 9:00 a.m.: Here is BP chief of operations Doug Suttles talking about the difference between the first “Macondome” and the “Top Hat” sitting at Port Fourchon and waiting to deploy in the last three days, along with dealing with sneering questions from CNN producers and others….

UPDATE NO. 32, 5/10/10, 5:00 p.m.: On Twitter it looks like folks have decided to go bonkers about the fact that they’re finding tar balls on Dauphin Island!

They found six.

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO — A Coast Guard official says tar balls that are believed to be from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are washing up on Dauphin Island.

Coast Guard chief warrant officer Adam Wine said about a half-dozen tar balls had been collected by this afternoon on the island. He said the substance needs to be tested, but officials think it came from the oil spill.

The Alabama barrier island is at the mouth of Mobile Bay and about three miles from the coast.

Obviously the situation is a bit more serious to the west, as the oil slick is beginning to make its way west of the Mississippi. And there isn’t enough boom to protect Louisiana’s coastline.

As a result, Gov. Bobby Jindal is using sand to rebuild barrier islands. It’s a lot easier to pick tar balls off beaches than it is to try to clean oil off marshland.

And while the guess here is that no Democrat anywhere will believe it whether it’s true or not, Halliburton is swearing up and down that the concrete work around the Macondo well they completed 20 hours before the blowout was tested and it worked.

UPDATE NO. 31, 5/10/10, 10:40 a.m.: BP has now apparently decided that the major problem with the “Macondome” which found itself clogged with methane hydrates Saturday when it was lowered over the spill, was that it was too big. They’re now bringing a smaller dome online at the site, with the idea that with less space inside the dome less natural gas can accumulate in there and mix with sea water to form hydrates. Upstream Online has the quote:

BP spokesman Matt Taylor said the supermajor is confident the small dome – or “top hat” – would not become clogged with hydrates, as the larger dome had been.

“There should be a higher concentration of oil and less sea water under the smaller dome than there was under the large one,” he said. “We believe this will hinder the formation of hydrates.”

A piece of good news at the site is that pressure readings inside the blowout preventer are a little lower than previously thought. That news was not accompanied by a new estimate of how much oil is flowing through the well, but what it means is that BP now thinks a “junk shot” into the BOP is feasible as a means of killing the well. Believe it or not, golf balls – apparently a key ingredient in “junk shots” – might be the key to clogging the blowout preventer and ending the spill.

If that turns out to be the case, it’s a little reminiscent of War Of The Worlds, where the Martians are finally beaten by bacteria.

Of course, work is ahead of schedule on the relief well BP is drilling in an effort at a final resolution of the Macondo spill. On Saturday the company confirmed that they’d made 9,000 feet on the relief well they’re drilling, with the target depth at 18,000 feet. Based on the speed the drilling is going they might be able to get that project completed a little faster than the 60-90 days projected for it.

At the surface, things are steadily getting worse. The spill is spreading westward, with Lafourche Parish now in a state of emergency. BP says some 3.5 million gallons of oil have already spilled, though how much of that oil has been skimmed, burned or dispersed hasn’t been officially estimated.

UPDATE NO. 30, 5/8/10, 9:45 p.m.: Methane hydrate.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s a chalky, icy substance which forms when natural gas mixes with cold water. There is a substantial amount of methane hydrate on sea floors around the world. It’s even regarded as a potential future energy source if it can be profitably extracted, which it currently cannot.

So as of right now, methane hydrate is more or less a nuisance. Particularly if you’re trying to install a collection dome to stop an oil spill 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

Certainly BP thinks so, as methane hydrate building up at the top of the “Macondome” as it was lowered to the sea floor over one of the two sources of the Macondo well spill has forced the company to pull the dome out of its position and re-think its deployment with an eye toward trying to keep methane hydrate from forming inside the cofferdam and impeding the flow of oil up through the pipe BP wants to run from the dome to a drillship for collection.

It will take two more days to resolve the situation and then they’ll try again to deploy the dome.

Meanwhile, BP is working on another plan to kill the well through the blowout preventer – a “junk shot.” The theory is to inject a large amount of material – cut up tires, flash-setting cement and probably anything else they can think of – into the BOP to clog it up and thus stop the flow of oil through it.

BP is also busy burning off the slick, and estimates between 10,000 and 13,000 barrels of oil have been torched at the disaster site. That’s about 55,000 gallons, or about 2 1/2 days worth of oil. Should have been much more, but how much BP is to blame for that and how much responsibility the Coast Guard should shoulder for not having ordered a massive oil burn from the outset is a good question.

In other oil spill news, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenko says fish caught in the Gulf are safe to eat; obviously she means all the fish caught in areas where fishing hasn’t been banned. She’s probably right, since fish are capable of getting out of areas where the oil spill is particularly bad.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and St. Bernard Parish President Billy Nungesser say that the spill is a perfect opportunity to execute coastal restoration plans – specifically rebuilding barrier islands like the Chandeleurs – as a plan to keep the oil spill from getting into the marshes. Whether they can get BP on board to pay the check for it – it’s going to take hundreds of millions of dollars and several months – is a question. But one can make the argument that filling in the Chandeleurs is a way to keep oil from getting into the inland marshes east of the Mississippi and fouling oyster beds and fisheries, which would cost the company billions. It’s not all that outlandish an idea, and since Louisiana needs that done for hurricane protection anyway, it sure would be a nice gesture by the company to say yes to something which might actually result in their leaving the place better than they found it after the Deepwater Horizon exploded.

As for the shrimp and oyster seasons, it looks like they’re wasted this year, at least from Vermilion Bay east to the Mississippi line. BP’s going to have to come across with a pile of cash for that. It’s not yet known whether the shrimp or oysters in the affected area are going to be contaminated or for how long it will happen; hopefully they’ll manage a quick recovery in a year or two.

By the way, you might not know this but the Obama administration’s response to the spill has been all hands on deck from Day One. You know this because the Times-Picayune told you so.

UPDATE NO. 29, 5/7/10, 2:45 p.m.: This came from an e-mail release by the Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, and it’s worth including because it gives a good bit of information on the 1990 Oil Pollution Act and how it governs spills like the one following the Deepwater Horizon explosion: 

As emergency response efforts continue in the Gulf, EPW Policy Brief presents a new Gulf oil spill policy series to help interested parties understand the ins and outs of federal policies, regulations, and key issues that apply to the tragic Gulf spill. 

In addition, we are launching a new webpage with all the latest information on the Gulf spill including upcoming hearings, links to U.S. agencies and outside resources, a timeline of events, and the most up-to-date news. [See webpage here

In our first Policy Beat installment, we provide an overview of the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990, passed in response to the Exxon-Valdez oil spill in 1989.  The OPA is the overarching federal statute that delineates the roles and functions of federal agencies involved in responding to a spill in coastal waters. 

We think the Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides an excellent overview of the OPA.  Released on April 30, the report, titled “Oil Spills in U.S. Coastal Waters: Background, Governance, and Issues for Congress,” updates CRS’s earlier work on the subject.   CRS provides the historical context behind the OPA to help readers understand why it was passed and delves into details of the act’s key provisions and the evolution of the act’s implementing regulations. 

What follows are excerpts from the report that highlight the essential features of the OPA and the provisions of the law that have the most relevance to the Gulf spill:

Background

“When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in March 1989, there were multiple federal statutes, state statutes, and international conventions that dealt with oil discharges. The governing framework for oil spills in the United States remains a combination of federal, state, and international authorities. Within this framework, several federal agencies have the authority to implement oil spill regulations. The framework and primary federal funding process (the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund) used to respond to oil spills is described below.”

“With the enactment of OPA on August 18, 1990, Congress consolidated the existing federal oil spill laws under one program. The 1990 law expanded the existing liability provisions within the CWA and created new free-standing requirements regarding oil spill prevention and response. Key OPA provisions are discussed below.”

Oil Pollution Act of 1990

Spill Response Authority: “Oil spill response authority is determined by the location of the spill: the USCG has response authority in coastal waters, and the EPA covers inland oil spills.

 - “As the primary response authority in coastal waters, the USCG has the ultimate authority to ensure that an oil spill is effectively removed and actions are taken to prevent further discharge from the source. During response operations, the USCG coordinates the efforts of federal, state, and private parties.

 -  “Coast Guard response efforts are supported by NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. NOAA provides scientific analysis and consultation during oil spill response activities. “Assistance can include oil spill tracking, cleanup alternatives, and knowledge of at-risk natural resources. Moreover, NOAA experts begin to collect data to assess natural resource damages during response operations.”

National Contingency Plan: “OPA expanded the role and breadth of the NCP. The 1990 law established a multi-layered planning and response system to improve preparedness and response to spills in marine environments.  Among other things, the act also required the President to establish procedures and standards (as part of the NCP) for responding to worst-case oil spill scenarios.”

Tank Vessel and Facility Response Plans: “As a component of the enhanced NCP, OPA amended the [Clean Water Act] to require that U.S. tank vessels, offshore facilities, and certain onshore facilities prepare and submit oil spill response plans to the relevant federal agency. In general, vessels and facilities are prohibited from handling, storing, or transporting oil if they do not have a plan approved by (or submitted to) the appropriate agency.”

Liability Issues: “OPA unified the liability provisions of existing oil spill law, creating a freestanding liability regime. Section 1002 states that responsible parties are liable for any discharge of oil (or threat of discharge) from a vessel or facility to navigable waters, adjoining shorelines, or the exclusive economic zone of the United States (i.e., 200 miles beyond the shore).”

“OPA broadened the scope of damages (i.e., costs) for which an oil spiller would be liable. Under OPA, a responsible party is liable for all cleanup costs incurred, not only by a government entity, but also by a private party. In addition to cleanup costs, OPA significantly increased the range of liable damages to include the following:

 - injury to natural resources,

 - loss of personal property (and resultant economic losses),

 - loss of subsistence use of natural resources,

 - lost revenues resulting from destruction of property or natural resource injury,

 - lost profits resulting from property loss or natural resource injury, and

 - costs of providing extra public services during or after spill response.

“Mobile offshore drilling units (MODUs), like the Deepwater Horizon unit involved in the April 2010 incident in the Gulf of Mexico, are first treated as tank vessels for their liability caps. If removal and damage costs exceed this liability cap, a MODU is deemed to be an offshore facility for the excess amount.

“Offshore facility liability is capped at ‘all removal costs plus $75 million’; onshore facilities and deepwater port liability is limited to $350 million. Although these limits are much higher than under the pre-OPA liability structure, Congress did not alter the limits with the tank vessel increases.”

The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund: “Prior to OPA, federal funding for oil spill response was generally considered inadequate, and damage recovery was difficult for private parties. To help address these issues, Congress established the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF).

Pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 12777, the USCG created the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) to manage the trust fund in 1991. The fund may be used for several purposes:

 - prompt payment of costs for responding to and removing oil spills;

 - payment of the costs incurred by the federal and state trustees of natural resources for assessing the injuries to natural resources caused by an oil spill, and developing and implementing the plans to restore or replace the injured natural resources;

 - payment of parties’ claims for uncompensated removal costs, and for uncompensated damages (e.g., financial losses of fishermen, hotels, and beachfront businesses);

 - payment for the net loss of government revenue, and for increased public services by a state or its political subdivisions; and

 - payment of federal administrative and operational costs, including research and development, and $25 million per year for the Coast Guard’s operating expenses.

“In 2005, Congress reinstated the 5-cent-per-barrel tax on oil, thus providing a dedicated source of revenue for the trust fund.  In 2006, Congress raised the vessel liability limits, thus requiring the responsible party to pay a greater proportion of the oil spill costs. In 2008, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA; P.L. 110-343) increased the tax rate to 8 cents per barrel through 2016; in 2017, the rate is scheduled to increase to 9 cents per barrel. The tax terminates at the end of 2017.

“In addition to increasing the tax rate, EESA repealed the requirement that the tax be suspended if the unobligated balance of the fund exceeded $2.7 billion. Under the original tax legislation (the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1989 (P.L. 101-239), the per-barrel tax would be suspended in any calendar quarter if the fund balance reached $1 billion, restarting again if it dipped below that number. With the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58), Congress raised this threshold from $1 billion to $2.7 billion.

“[T]he fund is currently projected to crest $3.5 billion by 2016. Policymakers may question whether it is necessary to have the trust fund reach this level. Others have suggested increasing the amount of trust fund monies that can be used to support oil spill research and development programs.”

 

UPDATE NO. 28, 5/7/10, 11:00 a.m.: And now drops the shoe: the Interior Department has halted all new offshore drilling permits.

HOUSTON — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar ordered a halt Thursday to all new offshore drilling permits nationwide until at least the end of the month, stepping up scrutiny of the entire industry amid a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Salazar spoke to reporters Thursday outside BP’s Houston crisis center and said lifting the moratorium on new permits will depend on the outcome of a federal investigation over the Gulf spill and the recommendations to be delivered to the president May 28.

He said until then, “We are putting things on hold relative to the granting of permits for well construction on the outer continental shelf.”

Salazar also said he believed BP’s “life was very much on the line here,” and that he believed the company was taking the situation “very seriously.”

The ramifications of his order extend beyond the Gulf and affect permits pending in Alaska as well.

“They will not get those permits until we have an opportunity to complete this review,” he said. “We will see what lessons we learn between now and then and at that point will make a decision about how we’re going to move forward.”

Earlier today, President Obama was in the White House Rose Garden crowing about how the private sector had created 230,000 new jobs in April (though he didn’t mention much about the fact that the unemployment rate was now 9.9 percent). What does a ban on offshore drilling anywhere in the country do to that number for May? How many oilfield workers did Salazar just lay off today?

This has been said before, but will Obama ground every commercial flight in the country the next time a plane crashes? As Mike Youngblood notes, why hasn’t he halted coal mining after the last couple of mine accidents?

Political pandering like this hurts real people. It ruins lives. Salazar and his boss will likely get bouquets from the lefty media for their “prudent” decision to shut off drilling, but nobody will give a damn about the poor guy in Houston or Lafayette whose business or job just went up in smoke because of this “prudent” decision.

We do. This is an atrocious call by Salazar. It introduces the same kind of political risk into American energy production that exists in banana republics like Nigeria and Sao Tome and Principe.

UPDATE NO. 27, 5/7/10, 12:45 a.m.: Blowout preventers don’t have “black boxes” like airplanes do. But they do have “yellow pods.” And BP has recovered the “yellow pod” from the BOP of the Macondo well, and they’ve been playing sawbones with it. The surgery the engineers have been doing on the BOP, they hope, will allow the company to put it back into service.

Not that the BOP is going to be able to shut off the flow of oil from the well, mind you – it’s too late for that; the BOP has been damaged and it can’t function the way it was intended. But what they can do with the equipment’s brain back in service is take readings on pressure coming up out of the well. Having that information will allow for an estimate of how much oil is coming out of it, and perhaps most importantly tell the engineers whether it’s feasible to install another BOP, one which they’ve currently got on site aboard the Discoverer Enterprise, on top of the failed unit and then kill the well that way.

Obviously, if BP can kill the well with another BOP unit they’ll save the 90 days and $100 million they currently envision by drilling a relief well.

Another option they’ll have a better idea about by re-braining the BOP is whether they can kill the well simply by injecting drilling mud or concrete or some other material into it so as to plug the well on a jury-rig basis using the existing structure. It will be interesting to see how the government suits feel about that idea; the pressure might be on BP to go ahead and drill the relief well anyway to be on the safe side.

Meanwhile, work continues on a number of fronts. They’re injecting dispersant into the flow from the wellhead, they’re drilling a relief well and they’re installing the “Macondome” at the site now and should have it functional by this weekend – BP is publicly poo-pooing the chances of success with the cofferdam, but we’re told by folks on the inside that privately they have a much higher degree of confidence than they’re letting on.

The Times-Picayune has a story tonight on a lawsuit filed by the worker on the Deepwater Horizon who had called in to Mark Levin’s radio show last week and told the story of what happened in the moments leading up to the explosion. “James,” as the caller called himself during his appearance on Levin, is alleging that the blowout of the Macondo well happened because of some improper practices in sealing the well before the Deepwater Horizon abandoned it.

This is a little technical, but here goes – the Deepwater Horizon’s function at the Macondo well was to drill an exploratory well, get an estimate of how much product was down there, put some infrastructure in place and then seal the thing up so that another rig could come in and put the well into production. They were in the process of sealing the well, and the way that’s done is that crews will install a concrete plug at the bottom of the well, inject “drilling mud” from the top to the bottom and then put another concrete plug further up the well to finish the seal. When the second plug is put in, the mud can be removed and replaced with sea water.

The lawsuit alleges that the Deepwater Horizon crew screwed up by starting to pull the mud out of the well before the second plug was put in. As a result of their having done so, a “burp” of natural gas at high pressure was able to either dislodge the concrete plug at the bottom of the well or cause a failure of the concrete lining of the well that Halliburton had finished installing some 20 hours before the blowout (the latter possibility being the one lefties all over America, including Gail Collins at the New York Times, are creepily hoping and wishing for), and that gas rose through the BOP together with the column of seawater up the riser and eventually shot up 200 feet in the air upon reaching the surface. Something sparked at that point, and the Deepwater Horizon was doomed from there. Eleven people – the drill crew – perished in the explosion.

The Picayune has a pretty good graphic on the blowout as explained by the lawsuit here.

The Picayune article also has a snippet of explanation for why the BOP might have failed…

According to internal BP documents obtained by The Times-Picayune, the preventer on the Deepwater Horizon’s well head had a series of six valves and “pipe rams” that are activated by hydraulic pistons and constrict around the drill pipe to close off the well. BP said those valves failed to close the well before the rig was abandoned. In addition, there’s a last-ditch mechanism, called a shear ram, that is supposed to use high pressure to slice clear through the drill pipe and shut off the whole opening.

But shear rams have a weakness. They are not engineered to cut through tool joints, the knuckles where sections of the drill pipe are connected every 30 feet. That means that about 10 percent of a pipe is made up of tool joints that a shear ram isn’t strong enough to penetrate, said Per Holand, a drilling expert from Norway who has advised the MMS.

“If they do not know the exact location of the tool joint, they would normally close a pipe ram and lower the drillpipe until it stops against the pipe ram to ensure that the shear blind ram does not hit a tool joint,” Holand said. “This may of course be difficult if you have a crisis on the rig.”

The removal of the mud could have limited the amount of time the crew had to work through the process Holand described.

The shear ram is activated by a button on a control panel on the drill ship. An MMS safety alert in 2000 urged drill operators on the Outer Continental Shelf to have a backup method for activating the blowout preventer.

The article goes on to say that it probably didn’t matter that the rig wasn’t equipped with an acoustic switch like some in the media have attempted to argue should have been there, since the ROV’s the company has sent to the BOP to close it haven’t even been able to do it manually. It’s a decent bet the tool joint happened to be in the way of the shear ram and blocked the BOP from closing. There is a 10 percent chance of this happening, along with everything else which isn’t supposed to go wrong, but that’s bad luck for you.

There’s obviously a lot of screaming about this cascade of failure, and without question you’ll see a good deal more regulation of offshore drilling practices put in place as a result if oil companies are lucky enough to be allowed to drill new offshore wells in American waters after this. Better practices are certainly a good thing, but let’s also remember that the more you regulate something the more it’s going to cost folks to do it – and if the government goes overboard they’ll make it unprofitable to drill domestically compared to places like Cuba or Angola or Brazil or Nigeria, where nobody gives a rat’s rear end about safety or the environment and, what’s worse, the royalties from the oil will end up in the hands of slimeball dictators who hate America.

So there’s a tradeoff in everything.

UPDATE NO. 26, 5/6/10, 1:50 p.m.: Here’s something interesting – the Corps of Engineers is now looking into whether the Tennessee floodwaters can help drive the Gulf oil spill away from Louisiana’s coastline. By May 18, the Ohio River Valley flood waters should start making their way down to the mouth of the Mississippi River, and that’s expected to double the river’s flow to about a million cubic feet of water per second.

With that much water coming in, opening some flood diversion channels could well make for a natural barrier to push the oil slick back out into the Gulf.

Specifically, the Corps is looking at the potential impact of the Caernarvon (currently at maximum 10,000 cubic ft. per second) and Davis Pond (maximum 8,000 cfs) freshwater diversion sites.

The initial results were not promising. “Based on preliminary modeling, it looks like the current winds and tidal wave action will offset any good the added flow from the diversions might make,” Anderson said on the morning of May 5.

The state would make the decision on whether or not to operate the diversions, but the Corps is working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to model oil flow rates and perform hydraulic modeling to advise about water flows and salinity levels if the diversions were opened.

“We’re also looking at how we can equate the impacts of opening the diversions to the number of acres protected,” Anderson says.

Additionally, the Corps is beginning modeling on the possible benefits/consequences of opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway.

The heavy rains to the north may provide an opportunity to save the coast.

The normal trigger to open the Bonnet Carre spillway is a flow of 1.25 million cfs, but the Corps is looking at whether an earlier opening may help push the oil away from shore.

“First of all we want to know if it will have any impact on the spill and, if it pushes the oil away, where it would push it to,” Anderson says. The Corps is also considering the impact of opening the spillway on the supply of clay borrow material that is being harvested there for ongoing levee work in New Orleans.

And then there’s this, from the New York Times: Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida says that BP global CEO Tony Hayward wouldn’t commit to paying off all economic losses from the spill.

Uhhh, no kidding. Does Nelson actually believe Hayward was going to make a blanket statement like that? How many straight answers to difficult questions does he typically give?

UPDATE NO. 25, 5/6/10, 10:30 a.m.: A BP representative, David Rainey (he’s the VP of Gulf Of Mexico Operations), is testifying in the Louisiana House Natural Resources Committee right now. See it here.

So far, there isn’t a lot of earth-shaking news coming out of the hearing. It’s a lot of questions about logistical stuff. “How much boom can BP get to St. Bernard?” “What is chemical dispersant made out of?” and so on.

Rainey did say that the federal government has decided it doesn’t like oil-eating microbes, so those are off-limits as part of the cleanup. He confirmed that some oil has come ashore in the Chandeleurs and that BP has crews headed out there now to begin efforts to get the oil out of there.

Meanwhile, the M/V Joe Griffin has made it to the Macondo well site, and they’re moving the “Macondome” into place. By the weekend, the cofferdam should be up and running and hopefully it will work to stop the flow of oil into the slick.

And while we’ve been pretty friendly toward BP and highlighted their efforts to mitigate this thing, we find ourselves strangely in agreement with Harry Reid. The Senate Democrats want to up the liability limit for oil spills in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 from $75 million to $10 billion, and it’s justified to do so.

UPDATE NO. 24, 5/6/10, 12:01 a.m.: Remember those sea turtles washing up on the beaches in Mississippi? A couple of days ago they were all the rage – evidence that the oil spill was destroying all life in the Gulf Of Mexico.

Except they aren’t.

ROBERT, La. – There have been 38 sea turtle strandings reported from Alabama through the Louisiana delta since April 30. Sea turtle stranding responders working under the guidance of NOAA – who responds to thousands of sea turtle strandings every year – recovered all but one of the turtles. All those recovered were dead except one, which died shortly thereafter. Most of the turtles identified so far are endangered juvenile Kemp’s ridley turtles. No evidence of oil was found on the beaches where the strandings occurred.

“Based on careful examination, NOAA scientists do not believe that these sea turtle strandings are related to the oil spill. NOAA and its partners have conducted 10 necropsies so far – none of ten turtles showed evidence of oil, externally or internally,” said Barbara Schroeder, NOAA national sea turtle coordinator.

It is possible that the sea turtles could have fallen prey to the chemical dispersant being sprayed on the oil. That stuff isn’t too good for people or animals to ingest. On the other hand, there is no proof of the dispersant being the cause of the turtle strandings. Dead sea turtles flopping on beaches are not particularly uncommon occurrences.

On the other hand, WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge is now reporting that the Chandeleurs are taking oil onshore, though the report is pretty sketchy. We’ll find out more tomorrow.

And if you’re a Louisiana resident looking to be insulted as a slave to Big Oil, Salon.com has just the article for you.

UPDATE NO. 23, 5/5/10, 10:00 p.m.: You don’t really need us to comment on this, do you?

Though his agency was charged with coordinating the federal response to the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland was in the Grand Canyon with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting, ABC News has learned.

Other leaders of the Interior Department were focused on the Gulf, joined by other agencies and literally thousands of other employees. But Strickland’s participation in a trip that administration officials insisted was “work-focused” raised eyebrows among other Obama administration officials and even within even his own department, sources told ABC News.

Strickland, who also serves as Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, was in the Grand Canyon with his wife Beth for a total of three days, including one day of rafting….

One government official, asking for anonymity because of the political sensitivities involved, told ABC News that some Interior Department employees thought it was “irresponsible” for Strickland to have gone on the trip, given the crisis in the Gulf, which was fully apparent at the time he departed for the Grand Canyon.

Mike Brown was too busy getting dress shirts at Cohn Turner to do his job, but at least he was on site. Heckuva job, Stricklie!

(Hat tip: Ace Of Spades.)

UPDATE NO. 23, 5/5/10, 6:00 p.m.: Upstream Online reports that the “Macondome” is on its way to the Macondo well site, aboard the Edison Chouest workboat M/V Joe Griffin. Sometime tomorrow morning the Joe Griffin should reach the well site, and then it will be time to see if a 70-ton, 40-foot-high concrete-and-steel box will work at 5,000 feet below sea level as well as similar contraptions have worked in shallow water.

Cautious optimism seems to be the rule on the collection dome/cofferdam idea…

Hopes are high that the structure will help control the massive slick looming in the Gulf, but Coast Guard and BP officials warned the public not to expect too much from the experimental technology.

“We are all hoping the contain system works” Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said, but it is first time the dome system has ever been deployed in deep water.

“I have to manage your expectations,” she said, cautioning the public to expect hiccups in the start up of the system.

Also, Keith Ouchley of the Louisiana Nature Conservancy reports that so far no oil has reached either Breton Island or the Chandeleurs, which is good news for the brown pelicans and other birds which nest there.

UPDATE NO. 22, 5/5/10, 3:45 p.m.: The New York Times’ Gail Collins is hateful. At the tail end of a back-and-forth with the NYT’s pet “conservative” David Brooks, Collins brushes aside Brooks’ fawning over what he calls the collected, cool calmness of President Obama’s response to everything on his plate to suggest that the Gulf oil spill is a good thing because it will help resurrect environmentalist attacks on Louisiana’s top industry…

David Brooks: I seem to be simpleminded because most people seem to root for one source over another — wind good, nuclear bad — but my heart doesn’t go pitter-patter in the face of any of them. They all have pros and cons — even wind farms can be ugly, though I suppose that’s better than an oil slick. Does this make me a bad person? I recall thinking that it might back in the day, when I would watch the “No Nukes” movie. I loved the music, but never could muster the outrage.

Gail Collins: Polls show that the country as a whole has lost a lot of its passion for environmental issues. Maybe the oil spill will bring it back. That’d be one bright spot in all this mess. And if it turns out that we’re going to be able to pin at least part of the blame on Halliburton, there’d be a second.

Gail Collins hates Louisiana. Is it OK to hate her back?

UPDATE NO. 21, 5/5/10, 3:00 p.m.: From a release by Sen. David Vitter’s office:

“As we move forward with the process of providing relief for individuals along the Gulf Coast, it’s important that we ensure that this process is fair for those who are most affected by the spill,” said Vitter. “I’ve established a hotline so that anyone who is having difficulty with the BP claims process can call and have their concerns investigated by my office. We’ll keep a close eye on the process to make sure that BP provides emergency assistance to these folks without requiring them to sign away their legal rights to further assistance down the road.”

The hotline number is (866) 345-0931. If callers have difficulty getting through due to high call volume, they may also dial (504) 589-2753.

Yesterday, Vitter spoke with BP CEO Tony Hayward to address concerns expressed by many south Louisiana fishermen and others who have begun to seek relief from BP to deal with the effects of the spill on their businesses. Vitter said that in their conversation Hayward told him that Gulf Coast residents who have lost wages as a direct result of the spill can apply for advance assistance checks to help mitigate their financial losses.

Also, shrimping has been closed in the Breton and Chandeleur Sounds, plus the east side of the Mississippi River delta out to the Southwest Pass. Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, in coordination with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, issued the closure of both recreational and commercial fishing and oyster harvesting in Zone 1 (the marine area east of the Mississippi), excluding the coastal boundaries of Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurapas. And NOAA has restricted fishing until at least May 12, 2010, in federal waters most affected by the BP oil spill, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida’s Pensacola Bay.

Finally, the identity of the Congressman who said BP’s people had a “deer in the headlights” look to them in that meeting with the House Energy and Commerce Committee was – according to London’s Financial Times – Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). Go figure.

UPDATE NO. 20, 5/5/10, 9:00 a.m.: There’s some good news of sorts on the Macondo well today, as last night BP reported they were able to install a valve on the end of the drill pipe and in so doing managed to close off one of three sources for the oil leaking out of the well apparatus.

Stopping the leak out of the end of the drill pipe doesn’t stop the flow of oil out of the well, as there are still two breaks in the riser from which some estimated 5,000 barrels of oil a day are flowing. Toward that end BP is deploying a 40-foot high collection dome to the well from Port Fourchon today; they were hoping to get the dome underway yesterday, but were delayed. The work boat transporting the dome to the well site is scheduled to get underway at noon today.

It’s a 12-hour trip from Fourchon to the well site. Once on site , the dome will be deployed and secured to the sea floor in 48 hours or so, and then connected to Transocean’s drillship Discoverer Enterprise through a system of pipes. By the end of the week, it’s hoped that between the collection dome and the chemical dispersant being applied directly to the spill the bulk of the leak from the well can be eliminated.

As to the oil slick in the Gulf and it’s potential landfall, Upstream Online has an interesting report:

There have been no confirmed reports of oil making landfall on the southern Louisiana coast, Coast Guard officials said.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry said the Coast Guard investigated reports that oil had hit the beach at Chandeleur Island but did not find any oil.

Landry said containment operation was tracking “heavy pockets of emulsified oil” to prevent them from hitting the coastline, but some surface oil “sheen” may eventually reach the shore.

Meanwhile, storms that had moved through the Gulf are clearing, leaving calmer seas, and winds are expected to shift to the north, slowing the oil’s approach to the coast.

BP’s chief operating officer Doug Suttles said the huge oil slick is not expected to hit the shore for another three days.

Forecasts for the trajectory of the huge oil slick off the US Gulf Coast did not show it hitting the shore for another three days, he told a press conference.

It is believed that at least two offshore gas processing platforms have been shut in due to the spill, but the Coast Guard has issued conflicting reports on the number and status of those platforms.

The Los Angeles Times, however, reports that while BP is working on solutions to the spill they apparently didn’t make as much progress in meeting with members of Congress.

BP officials Tuesday told congressional representatives that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill could grow at a rate more than 10 times current estimates in a worst-case scenario — greatly enlarging the potential scope of the disaster.

Most of the handful of congressional Democrats and Republicans who met with representatives from BP, Transocean Ltd. and Halliburton in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill walked away unimpressed.

A source who attended the meeting said that the companies’ representatives had a “deer in headlights” look and that the tenor of the conversation was that the firms “are attempting to solve a problem which they have never had to solve before at this depth…at this scope of disaster. They essentially said as much.”

“What we heard was worst-case scenario, with no good solutions,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the meeting.

Officials have estimated that the leak is gushing oil at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day. But if things go badly, representatives for the companies worried that that figure could turn into 60,000 barrels a day, or 2.5 million gallons. Just four days at that rate would exceed the amount of oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez off Alaska, the worst spill in U.S. history.

We’ll know by the end of the week whether the impressions from that meeting given to the L.A. Times were an accurate reflection of reality – or whether they reflected the agenda of the Times’ source.

On shore, New Orleans restaurateurs report that folks are eating seafood like it’s no tomorrow. Almost literally.

The Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee is making hay while the sun is shining, by the way. Here’s an e-mail they sent out yesterday:

[H]ere’s a perfect example of why we must keep fighting:

Last week’s deadly oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico has unleashed an oil spill that threatens livelihoods, pristine beaches, and wildlife along America’s coast. The spill could eclipse the damage done by the 1989 Exxon-Valdez disaster.

The Obama administration has vowed to “keep a boot on the throat” of BP to ensure the corporation is held accountable for the spill. But Republican Leader Rush Limbaugh has a different plan. He said there’s no need to clean up the spill because “the ocean will take care of this on its own,” and that oil is “natural. It’s as natural as the ocean water is.”

Sign our petition. Stand with President Obama to hold BP accountable for this disastrous spill. Rush Limbaugh is entirely wrong: This oil will not clean itself up. Corporations must be held accountable for their actions….

Gotta love that DSCC.

UPDATE NO. 19, 5/4/10, 9:30 a.m.: Well, this is interesting – the AP is now taking shots at the Obama administration’s response, and particularly the administration’s continuing assertion that BP will be responsible for everything associated with the spill.

To hear Obama administration officials tell it, they’ve been fully engaged on the Gulf Coast oil spill since Day One, bringing every resource to bear and able to ensure without question that taxpayers will be protected.

Not quite.

Take President Barack Obama’s repeated claims that BP will be responsible for all the costs associated with the devastating spill that began after an oil rig operated by the company exploded April 20, killing 11 workers and later sinking.

“Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak; BP will be paying the bill,” Obama said while touring the area Sunday.

While it’s true that the federal Oil Pollution Act, enacted in 1990 in response to the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, makes BP responsible for cleanup costs, the law caps the company’s liability for economic damages — such as lost wages, shortened fishing seasons or lagging tourism — at $75 million, a pittance compared to potential losses.

Administration officials insist BP will be held responsible anyway, noting that if the company is found negligent or criminally liable, the cap disappears. Claims also can potentially be made under other state or federal laws, officials said.

Yet the liability cap is problematic enough that a trio of Democratic senators introduced legislation Monday raising it to $10 billion, and the administration quickly announced its support. Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Bill Nelson of Florida voiced concerns that unless the cap is raised, BP would avoid paying for the mess and leave small businesses, local government and fishermen with the bill.

“They’re not going to want to pay any more than what the law says they have to,” Nelson said.

AP writer Erica Werner then goes on to de-bunk Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano’s “all hands on deck” rhetoric by reciting a series of quotes from the first week of this crisis which indicated the administration was completely asleep at the switch. It’s an astonishing bit of actual journalism from what is all too often a propaganda organ for the administration.

Nelson just did a segment with Fox News on the $75 million cap in which he all but said all oil companies are liars – as if the Democrat Senator who held his Obamacare vote out for the “Gatoraid” bribe has any room to talk about honesty or integrity. Perhaps the legislation he’s involved with to raise the damages cap is worthy, but the evidence BP is trying to weasel out of paying the tab on this disaster isn’t present right now. Given what BP has already spent trying to mitigate this disaster (it’s well over $75 million), Nelson looks like (and is) a complete ass for having attempted to demogogue the issue.

UPDATE NO. 18, 5/4/10, 8:45 a.m.: The biggest non-issue of all time is now surfacing – namely, the subject of BP’s political donations and lobbying efforts.

The British oil giant spent $16 million on lobbying last year and has as one of its lobbyists in Washington Tony Podesta, whose brother John heads the Soros-funded Center For American Progress. And BP gave Barack Obama $71,000 in the 2008 election cycle.

Turns out BP’s top campaign recipient in all the House and Senate races in the 2008 cycle was Mary Landrieu, who received $17,000 in campaign contributions. She told the Times-Picayune she doesn’t plan on giving back any of that money.

What to make of this? Blogger Cassy Fiano says it’s why Barack Obama was so slow to respond to the Macondo well disaster. We’re thinking that had nothing to do with it.

We stick to Charles Krauthammer’s maxim on this one: “In explaining any puzzling Washington phenomenon, always choose stupidity over conspiracy, incompetence over cunning. Anything else gives them too much credit.”

All you have to do is look at Janet Napolitano and you’ve got all the information you need to understand why it took this administration so long to effectively respond to this disaster. Now, their political posturing and stage-setting to assault the domestic oil industry is anything but incompetent – but that’s politics, not governance. There is a difference. Obama’s gang does the former reasonably well, the latter almost not at all.

And now we’ve got another loopy story to dispel – the idea that a North Korean submarine torpedoed the Deepwater Horizon:

Twenty-four days later, on April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig owned by the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor Transocean, and operated by British Petroleum, suddenly exploded and caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico. More than a dozen were injured and 11 assumed dead.

Still uncapped as of this writing, the bore hole is gushing oil at a rate some say is more than 210,000 gallons a day. Experts estimate the magnitude of the disaster may be much bigger and more damaging to the environment than the crude oil supertanker Exxon Valdez accident off of Alaska March 24, 1989 .

Hundreds of billions of dollars are expected to be lost, the Gulf fishing industry destroyed and oil production for the United States significantly disrupted.

The U.S. economy, still reeling in a state of severe recession, is now being assaulted on multiple fronts: the impact on the fishing industry, depleted oil production, less gasoline and diesel production, disrupted natural gas production and the mammoth cost of the long term clean-up—a task that cannot begin until the oil flow has been stopped.

Some speculate cutting off the oil flow may take up to three months creating the greatest ecological catastrophe in history, if the time line holds true.

Now as SKorea vows retaliation for NKorea’s act of war, evidence has surfaced that NKorea may have deployed the same type of armed military submersible against Deepwater Horizon.

Facts have also emerged that Hyandai Heavy Industries of Seoul, South Korea built the rig at a cost of $1 billion and despite insurance may have to write off significant losses. The oil rig explosion also has repercussions for the SKorean economy.

So with one attack, NKorea could have dealt a serious blow to two of its greatest enemies.

According to some reports, suspicion has fallen on a NKorean merchant vessel, the Dai Hong Dan, that left a port in Cuba the night of April 18th. The merchant vessel is the class of ship that intelligence agencies have long known can be fitted for—and has carried in the past—NKorea’s two-man mini-submarines.

Uh, no. First of all, the Deepwater Horizon cost $365 million, not $1 billion. What repercussions to South Korea this disaster might have are totally unclear. Second, witnesses to the explosion described a bubble of water and natural gas which rose some 200 feet in the air under the rig and bathed it in gas and was then ignited. That’s a blowout; it’s not a torpedo attack.

The Norks certainly sank that South Korean warship with a torpedo. They didn’t sink the Deepwater Horizon. Mother Nature did that.

UPDATE NO. 17, 5/3/10, 6:45 p.m.: Tonight, BP expects to have a valve installed at the end of the Macondo well drill pipe, one of three sources of the leak, and in doing so they expect to have that source killed. That would leave two other leaks, both of which are on the riser which used to lead from the wellhead to the Deepwater Horizon rig on the surface before the latter sank, but BP is working on addressing those two.

Most notably by use of the collection dome, or cofferdam, that BP has completed fabricating at a yard in New Orleans. That dome will load onto a work boat in the morning and make its way to the site. Within a week BP hopes to have that dome deployed and trapping oil for transport to the surface, where the Transocean drillship Discoverer Enterprise will then service the well and load the product on tankers for processing.

BP also reported that the Transocean semi-submersible rig Development Driller III spud the first of two relief wells which will be the eventual end of this crisis. It will take 60-90 days to complete the relief well.

Meanwhile, Mother Nature is helping out

Heavy rain along the Gulf Coast is helping to disperse the oil slick from BP’s ruptured Deepwater Horizon rig, potentially diluting its environmental impact, state and federal officials said today.

“The weather is helping us. It is breaking up and dispersing the plume” of oil, said Bruce Freeman, director of emergency response for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

Freeman said rain and rough seas have hampered the state’s efforts to install protective booms along the coastline, but that those efforts were continuing.

Wind and water currents in the Gulf of Mexico are keeping the massive oil slick away from Alabama’s shores, according to Capt. Steve Poulin, the top U.S. Coast Guard officer in Mobile.

The leading edge of the slick is about 45 miles southwest of Dauphin Island and is not likely to reach Alabama before Wednesday, Poulin said.

“Right now, the conditions are good,” Poulin told a gathering of Mobile area elected leaders this morning. “Severe weather constrains our booming strategy, but it is breaking the sheen, diminishing it and helping biodegrade it into the environment.”

In other words, the light sheen which constitutes 80 percent of the slick is – surprise! – biodegradable. We knew that. You probably did, too. Apparently the major media doesn’t, as it is continuously flogging the idea that the oil slick is going to catch the loop current in the Gulf and be up the east coast by the end of the week, destroying everything in its path. Anything is possible, we guess, but it’s pretty darned unlikely that doomsday scenario is going to happen. After all, so far the oil slick isn’t even affecting shipping at the mouth of the Mississippi.

UPDATE NO. 16, 5/3/10, 5:00 p.m.: And now we get this excrement courtesy of the George Soros stooges at MoveOn.org:

Bear in mind that Soros is heavily invested in the energy industry, most notably with foreign companies (Petrobras, InterOil) who get hydrocarbons from foreign sources. Soros is also engaged in lots of deals with the Russians and Saudis.

In other words, one could plausibly state that Soros is invested in the concept of America’s economic enslavement at the hands of those who hate us. So anything he or his mouthpieces say about American domestic energy production – and windmills are not domestic energy, they’re the most egregious example of corporate welfare in the field today – should be taken with the understanding that his interests are directly in conflict with the majority of Americans.

The ad is shameful. And anything but a surprise.

UPDATE NO. 15, 5/3/10, 3:45 p.m.: From a release out of Sen. David Vitter’s office comes this…

U.S. Sen. David Vitter today joined Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser on a conference call with President Obama and Coast Guard officials. During the call, Vitter and Nungesser learned that the administration planned to allowed local parishes, including Plaquemines, the autonomy to move forward with their own coastal protection plans without having to work through BP. Vitter had advocated for this type of streamlining in his Friday meetings with Obama cabinet officials.

“In our phone call today, the president reaffirmed his commitment to assisting in expediting the protection of our coastline and wildlife and fisheries. He also reaffirmed that his administration wants to hear from local leaders, like Billy, who have a more instinctive grasp on how to address these issues,” said Vitter. “It is still clear that BP is spread too thin in trying to both cap the well and remediate the damage along the coastline, producing an inefficient and ineffective response, but I was pleased to learn that the federal government will allow Plaquemines Parish officials to move forward with their coastal protection plan and bypass BP so that federal and state officials can focus their efforts on protecting and cleaning up the coast.”

Also, there is continued criticism of the government’s decision to put out the fire at the site – this time, from a former head of Louisiana’s oil disaster response team

MOBILE, Ala. — Federal officials should have started burning oil off the surface of the Gulf last week, almost as soon as the spill happened, said the former oil spill response coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ron Gouget, who also managed Louisiana’s oil response team for a time, said federal officials missed a narrow window of opportunity to gain control of the spill by burning last week, before the spill spread hundreds of miles across the Gulf, and before winds began blowing toward shore.

He also said the heavy use of dispersants, which cause oil to sink, has likely knocked so much oil into the water column that portions of the Gulf may be on the threshold of becoming toxic to marine life. Add in the oil spreading into the water as it rises from the seafloor, and Gouget said he expected officials would have to think about limiting the use of the dispersants.

Gouget’s assessment of the situation, which comes off as borderline alarmist as the article continues (which might not be Gouget’s fault based on the over-the-top and sensationalized reporting of the spill), includes something unique compared to the rest of the pundits out there – he’s not a big fan of using chemical dispersants. He says that burning the oil is the absolute best way to dispose of it but believes politics got in the way of doing that.

Meanwhile, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour was just on Fox News echoing the sentiments of Mississippi congressman Gene Taylor that the spill is not the end of the world and most of the oil is breaking up naturally. Barbour said more than 80 percent of the oil slick is a light sheen which is not indistinguishable from the leftover suntan lotion you might see at a pool a lot of people have been swimming in, the majority of the rest is an “emulsified” material which is heavier but is breaking down naturally, and only a small percentage is “black crude oil.” Gouget would say the black crude is the stuff that needs burning.

Finally, UpstreamOnline.com reports that BP has now begun the process of drilling the relief well.

UPDATE NO. 14, 5/3/10, 9:40 a.m.: We’re not going to try to make the case at this point that the BP spill isn’t that bad. It’s bad. But the scale of the disaster will only come close to matching the frenzy of the reporting we’re seeing if BP can’t stanch the flow of the oil at the source.

As of right now, the amount of oil spilled from the Macondo well represents less than 15 percent or so of what was spilled when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989, and for this spill to represent a disaster on the scale of Valdez would require a free flow of oil from the source for 6-8 weeks or more.

Is that possible? Sure. Anything is possible. All kinds of terrible things could happen as BP attempts to shut down that spill in advance of completing a relief well in 60-90 days, and theoretically all of their actions described in our update last night could come to nothing.

But there are other possibilities. And those possibilities mostly serve to mitigate the amount of oil coming from the source.

BP has lots of assets out on the water engaged in an operation to skim the oil off the water. The effectiveness of a skimming operation depends on the weather – at first, before the high winds and seas kicked in over the weekend in the Gulf, BP had said they’d pulled some 20,000 barrels of an oil-water mix out of the slick in the first week or so. That represented some 20-40 percent of the Macondo spill at the time.

Since then they haven’t been able to make a lot of progress with skimming the oil. But conditions are improving, and when the weather cooperates, skimming can get as much as 60-80 percent of the oil on the slick.

Even assuming conditions don’t cooperate, if skimming operations can get 30 percent of the oil from the Macondo well that’s 30 percent more oil than was recovered in Alaska before the Valdez spill reached shore. Bear in mind that spill came from a supertanker running aground – the oil which came out of the Valdez was on land almost immediately, and the slick from the Valdez was a foot thick as opposed to the thin layer of oil floating on top of the Gulf at present.

In addition to skimming, they’re also spraying chemical dispersant both at the source and on the slick. As yet it’s difficult to say what percentage of the oil will be disposed of from the dispersant, but it’s generally regarded to be highly effective. Dispersant breaks an oil slick (or flow) into smaller droplets which are eaten away by bacteria, further broken apart by wave action or otherwise degraded.

The Valdez spill was ashore before anybody could do anything to disperse the oil. This spill happened 50 miles out and to date the oil still hasn’t come ashore, with the latest estimate saying it will be three more days before it does.

The lack of dramatic on-shore damage led Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Mississippi), who is the Congressman from the Gulf Coast area, to dismiss the spill as a major disaster

U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis said oil from the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico is “naturally breaking up as it’s heading to shore” and that he’s less concerned about it after witnessing it firsthand.

“This isn’t Katrina. It’s not Armageddon,” Taylor said. “A lot of people are scared and I don’t think they should be,”

Taylor, along with Department of Marine Resources Director Bill Walker and U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., flew at 1,000 feet over the spill today on a Coast Guard twin-engine CASA 144.

He described the spill as a light, rainbow sheen with patches that looked like chocolate milk.

He did not see any traces along the Louisiana shore, near the Chandeleur Islands in Louisiana or the barrier islands in Mississippi, he said.

This was Taylor’s first time to see the spill for himself.

“At the moment, it’s not as bad I thought it would be,” he said.

Taylor said the good news was the spill seemed to be breaking up and very little may actually come ashore here.

“If it gets here, it will be a very light sheen,” Walker said.

Walker said the sheen could collect on beaches and in estuaries, but it will evaporate after a few days to a week.

His advice is to “leave it alone and let nature take it’s course.”

Compare Taylor’s quote with CBS’ apocalyptic reporting of the spill, and you wonder whether we’re all living on the same planet.

UPDATE NO. 13, 5/2/10, 11:00 p.m.: BP has been busy.

According to Upstream Online, the operator of the Macondo well, who is on the hook for the costs associated with the cleanup and recovery of the well, is working on no less than five different projects in an effort to get the spill stopped.

First, they’re working on the current blowout preventer. Apparently, they’ve been able to close all six rams on the BOP at the wellhead – but that hasn’t stopped the flow. It appears the rubber parts in the BOP have been chewed up by sand in the “flowback” of the well – that’s what 30,000 psi of oil and gas will do as it flows through the unit when it doesn’t shut down like it’s supposed to – but Charlie Holt, BP’s Gulf Of Mexico drilling and completions operations chief, did say that they’ve managed to repair some hydraulics leaks in the BOP.

You would expect based on that news that the flow of oil through that BOP might be less than it was a couple of days ago. But there really isn’t any way to tell, which is why initially the estimate was of 1,000 barrels a day and it’s now 5,000 – and there are alarmists out there saying the real number is more like 25,000. So BP is trying to install a meter to gauge the pressure on the lower marine riser package (LMRP), which sits on top of the existing BOP; if they can do that, they’ll be able to get a more accurate measure of how much oil is coming out of that hole.

They’re also working on the idea of installing a second BOP on top of the first one – and that might kill the well if they can accomplish it. The second BOP is, in fact, at the site – it’s on board the Discoverer Enterprise, a drillship owned by Transocean which is already there. Some time in the next three days they’re hoping to shear off the broken riser and LMRP unit and then “stab” or stack a second BOP unit on top of the original BOP. If pressures aren’t too high, they might be able to pull it off and that would put an end to the spill.

A third potential remedy is chemical dispersant. Friday’s test of the dispersant being deployed at the source with a ROV-controlled wand attached to a long pipe from a surface ship was apparently quite successful, and now BP is planning to inject dispersant through a pipe into the riser before the points at which it’s leaking. This is obviously a temporary mitigation which would last only until the point where the well gets killed, but the more oil you can disperse at the source the less of a slick you’ve got to clean up at the surface. Bear in mind again that twice the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill is put into to the Gulf each year by Mother Nature; the Gulf is approximately 600,000 square miles, measuring approximately 995 miles from east to west, 560 miles from north to south, and that’s an enormous area through which to spread oil around without substantial damage. So long as they can keep a lot of oil away from the shore (and stop the spigot, obviously), this disaster can be kept from destroying the Louisiana seafood industry and the coastal ecosystem.

Fourth, as BP Americas chairman Lamar McKay told ABC this morning, they’ve got a collection dome already built and they expect to have it deployed within a week or so. The dome, 14 feet by 24 feet by 40 feet, has been completed at a yard in Louisiana and it’s the first of three the company expects to have on the site before it’s over. The first dome is expected to sit over the top of the wellhead and hook up to a production ship which will process the oil and load it onto tankers; it will work a little like a really bad production platform. BP is working on two other domes which it will place over the leaks on the risers; hopefully some of the other things they’re working on will make those unnecessary.

And fifth, relief wells. Note, we said “wells,” as in plural. They’re not just drilling one relief well at a cost of $100 million, they’re now going to drill two of them. The Transocean Development Driller III is already on site waiting to begin drilling, but high seas and bad weather in the Gulf is holding them up. As soon as the weather clears they’ll get started, and it’s going to take 60-90 days to get that to happen. Once a relief well is drilled to intersect to the Macondo well somewhere deep below the wellhead, they’re going to plug the whole thing.

But now a race is on. Transocean Development Driller II is in the process of securing a well on other BP acreage in the Gulf, but once that’s done it will get on location in 10 to 12 days and will “race” to spud a second relief bore. BP said both rigs were needed in case one ran into problems while drilling and to ensure a relief well is drilled as fast as possible.

So while the company might be out of its depth in terms of managing the onshore response (a tweet from Sen. David Vitter earlier tonight said that St. Bernard Parish fishermen put out four times more boom in one day than BP’s contractor had put out in the previous two days) and the logistical issues of fighting a slick as big as this one is might be more than one company – even one as big as BP is – can handle, it’s hard not to be impressed with the amount of engineering wherewithal being brought to bear to resolve that spill at the source.

UPDATE NO. 12, 5/2/10, 10:15 a.m.: Another bit of information which might be useful is this – it came from LABIRD, a Louisiana birdwatchers’ forum:

I have a bit of first hand, on-the-ground information that concerns the oil spill that may be of interest. Two days ago I was “un-retired” and am serving as a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service liason officer at Delta Natl. Wildlife Refuge at Venice. By the way, 3 frigate birds just flew past my office window here at the end of the road. As it pertains to the bird resouces here, we are currently most concerned with nesting brown pelicans on North Breton (1,300 nests), New Harbor West (450 nests), and North Island (17 nests). Some had hatched last week. An overflight this morning indicated that no oil had reached the area yet, and that none was close. In fact, we have no indication that any oil has reached the refuges. Weather is bad now and will continue so through the weekend. Winds at this office are sustained 26 mph from the south with gusts well above 30 mph. This in combination with unusually high tides has seriously hampered monitoring/preventative activities today. Ironically, the severe weather threatens to overwash some of the pelican nests, an event that occurs on occasional years.

The only oiled bird that I am aware of is the single northern gannet that was found offshore and broadcast on seemingly every news network in the world last night. To say that there is considerable media interest here in this entire situation would be an understatement.

Although we are coordinating closely with BP, other state and federal agencies, etc., our “window” here is relatively small in the whole scheme of things. This area, however, does seem to be the current “bullseye” for the potential resource damage.

Kelby Ouchley

Also, in a previous update we erroneously stated that natural gas is heavier than air. That’s not true, and we knew better than that. Enormous amounts of natural gas can certainly linger in an area, though. Another issue of concern is that if you’re in a boat on water heavily infused with natural gas you’re going to find yourself a good bit less buoyant than normal, and it’s possible to sink.

Also, the way a blowout preventer is designed, the rams are supposed to shut almost like a pair of pliers. The idea that something would be in the BOP preventing it from engaging is being called into question by an engineer friend of ours who knows offshore drilling like the back of his hand…

Blind rams or shear rams are designed to close no matter what. If drill pipe were in the BOP, it would cut it like a piece of spaghetti. Then their metal-to-metal seal would seal the pressure.

Anything’s possible, but I would suspect that some problem with the BOP itself is the culprit.

What happened between a successful test of the BOP minutes before the incident in question and its failure to prevent the tragedy at the Deepwater Horizon is going to be one of those timeless questions you’ll see on the History Channel every two weeks for the rest of our lives.

UPDATE NO. 11, 5/2/10, 9:45 a.m.: BP’s chairman, Lamar McKay (no relation, I don’t know him, leave me alone), told ABC’s This Week that the Macondo spill was the result of “a failed piece of equipment.”

McKay said that he doesn’t know how much oil is flowing from the Macondo well. He says that estimates of 5,000 barrels a day are “uncertain.”

BP is “throwing every resource that we’ve got” into plugging the well. Part of that effort now includes injecting chemical dispersant into the spill at the subsea source – which is a promising technique they began using Friday night. Getting enough dispersant to the wellhead is going to be a challenge, but if the company can manage to keep a pipeline of dispersant flowing to the source it will help mitigate the growth of the problem.

McKay admitted he can’t say when the well might be closed. But he says he believes a dome that could be placed over the well is expected to be deployed in six to eight days. That would be an expedited delivery from the two to four weeks originally predicted.

Meanwhile, here’s video from Sen. David Vitter’s appearance on MSNBC yesterday discussing the BOP failure and recovery efforts:

UPDATE NO. 10, 5/1/10, 10:00 a.m.: Hooray! Obama’s coming to town.

The President, who spent the first eight days of the Deepwater Horizon crisis trying to energize blacks, feminists, college kids and Hispanics to vote Democrat in November, interviewing potential Supreme Court picks, honoring teachers, honoring the New York Yankees, meeting with Billy Graham, bashing Republicans over his financial legislation and getting SWAT teams to protect him from tea party grandmothers as he gave a speech in Illinois, will be in Ann Arbor today giving a commencement speech at the University of Michigan. He’ll make it down to Louisiana within the next couple of days.

It was Thursday of this week – nine days after the spill began – before Obama’s administration made any noticeable showing of interest in the disaster. The Coast Guard was on hand immediately, and there is some question whether they helped or hindered efforts to stop the oil from leaking or the slick from spreading. Now, 11 days after the explosion on board the Deepwater Horizon, we’re finding out that Obama himself will come to Louisiana sometime before it’s two full weeks since the crisis began.

Of course, when President Bush did a flyover of New Orleans in Air Force One Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005, the day after the levees broke, it was evidence he didn’t care about the city, or black people. Bush visited New Orleans on Friday, September 2, 2005 – by then a full-fledged scandal had erupted and his presidency was doomed for all practical purposes because of the inattention he showed. To be fair, Bush FEMA director Michael Brown was an incompetent and the “yer doin’ a heckuva job, Brownie” comment mere days before relieving him added a tragic-comic element to the sluggish federal response.

What seems increasingly evident is that Obama’s underlings aren’t any more inspiring of confidence. Yesterday, in a press conference, Coast Guard Rear Admiral Sally Bryce O’Hara apparently stepped in a big pile of “poor choice of words” by referring to BP as the Federal Government’s “partner” in combatting the oil spill…

O’Hara’s statement shouldn’t have been particularly controversial, in that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has also referred to other actors in this play as the federal government’s “partners” and Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano (who incidentally makes Michael Brown look like William Tecumseh Sherman) has said BP is in a leadership role in this effort. But no sooner did the word escape her lips than she turned six different colors, immediately backtracked and was corrected – by Napolitano, from the sound of it – that “they’re NOT our partner.”

In the meantime virtually everyone involved at the state level seems to be screaming for more help from Washington, and while everyone agrees that BP ultimately needs to write the check to pay for the response it’s clear that this situation is considerably bigger than even the largest of companies has the logistical resources to handle.

Is this Obama’s Katrina? Only in the flimsiest of comparisons. Rome burning might be a little more appropriate. If Obama had descended on the Gulf Coast with the resources Bush did within a week of the initial event in the crisis, we would without question be in a better position to combat the problem – and it would have been done on BP’s dime, to boot.

Meanwhile, Bruce Thompson at the American Thinker proposes a potential solution: Freeze the well shut

Given the pressures due to the depth of water and the already cold temperature, the methane from the well is close to becoming methane hydrate naturally. The solution may be to help the process along.

I would suggest injecting liquid nitrogen into the soil around the casing as deep as possible using the remotely operated submersibles. The idea is to freeze the methane in the pipe. Once the well is frozen, you would cut off the blowout preventer and weld the casing shut. As long as there is a frozen plug far enough below the weld, there ought to be time to complete the welds before the plug melts.

It is a novel solution, but it is a weapon that already exists in the oil patch arsenal.

UPDATE NO. 9, 4/30/10, 11:25 p.m.: A caller who went by “James” (not his real name) who was on the Deepwater Horizon rig was on Mark Levin’s radio show tonight and described what happened when the rig exploded. If you have any interest in the topic at hand, the interview with “James” is a must-listen.

Additionally, we found this writeup on the explosion.

From those two sources and some others we’ve been able to draw from tonight, a few pieces of information and/or speculation…

- The find at the Macondo well was estimated at 100 million barrels of oil. If that’s accurate, this spill could be nine times worse than the Exxon Valdez.

- BP executed their lease on Mississippi Canyon Block 252, where the Macondo well is situated, in October of 2008. Prior to BP owning it, we’re told Shell had the lease and gave it up because of problems with pressure – the kinds of “kicks” that ultimately destroyed the Deepwater Horizon.

- We haven’t been able to confirm this, and we’re highly uncomfortable bringing it up, but we’re beginning to become extremely concerned about air quality at the site and the question of whether the spill can be shut down. We already know that a huge amount of natural gas ignited at the rig and killed the 11 workers on it, ultimately leading to its destruction. It is certainly a valid assumption that if 5,000 barrels of oil a day are spewing from the well via the drill pipe and a weak point somewhere along the twisted riser as it lies on the sea floor, then a certain amount of natural gas is surely leaking as well.

Natural gas is lighter than water, but a little heavier than air – so when it hits the surface of the Gulf, it’s not going to rise. It’s going to just hang there. At what point is there so much accumulation of natural gas at the site that you can’t run boats and helicopters, powered as they are by combustion engines? And if you get to that point, how are you going to access the site to stop the spill?

For that matter, how do you drill the relief well if the air where you need to drill it is flammable?

We’re screaming about winds and high seas making the collection booms along the shore ineffective – but as it turns out we may need some wind to blow that gas off the site and disperse it.

UPDATE NO. 8, 4/30/10, 6:45 p.m.: The feds are all over BP’s rear ends to get the spill cleaned up, but it looks like they’re not the only company about to be raked over the coals. UpstreamOnline.com reports that today Haliburton got a letter from Henry Waxman announcing a coming examination surrounding their role in cementing the area around the wellhead at the Macondo well.

Halliburton has drawn increasing scrutiny for its role in cementing and plugging operations on Macondo as people continue to speculate about the causes of the deadly blowout.

Members of the committee, which is headed by Representative Henry Waxman, want any documents related to the procedures by 7 May and have asked Halliburton officials to come to Washington for a briefing on 5 May.

“Problems with cementing have frequently been identified as the causes of well blowouts,” the letter states.

After declining to comment on its operations on Deepwater Horizon for the past week, Halliburton confirmed today that it had the cementing contract with BP.

Plug not set yet

In a statement today, Halliburton said its crew cemented the Macondo exploration well but never set a cement plug to cap the bore as operations had not yet reached a stage where a final plug was needed.

“Halliburton had completed the cementing of the final production casing string in accordance with the well design approximately 20 hours prior to the incident,” the company said in a release.

“The cement slurry design was consistent with that utilised in other similar applications.”

Halliburton also said the cement and casing job had been tested.

“At the time of the incident, well operations had not yet reached the point requiring the placement of the final cement plug which would enable the planned temporary abandonment of the well, consistent with normal oilfield practice,” the company said.

Maybe Halliburton is at fault here. It’s possible. But does anyboy really believe a committee chaired by Henry Waxman will give those people a fair hearing? You can hear The Song Of The Kangaroos all the way from Washington.

Meanwhile, BP says they’re doing everything they can to stop the flow at the wellhead by getting the blowout preventer to work, and that they’re also finished fabricating one of the three collection domes they’ll be attempting to deploy as a medium-term solution to stop the bleeding.

Finally, Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser gets the award for Verbiage All Over The Place for the day while actually making some sense in doing so:

“This could be six Katrinas, where for years and years and years there’s not as much work,” he said. “These people have fished their entire lives. They don’t know anything else.”

Still, he said, his job requires balancing the area’s two dominant local industries. He urged federal officials to not let this disaster lead to less oil excavation in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Don’t overreact,” he said. “We don’t ground every plane every time one plane crashes.”

UPDATE NO. 7, 4/30/10, 6:15 p.m.: Defense Secretary Robert Gates has approved Gov. Jindal’s request to put the Louisiana National Guard under Title 32 status, which means Jindal now has 6,000 Guardsmen available for the next 90 days to fight the spill onshore.

That’s good, because whether you even knew it or not, this spill threatens Louisiana’s mink population. Didn’t even know we had mink. We might not have too many of them anymore.

What we’ll have instead is lawyers. Attorney General Eric Holder has helpfully dispatched a team of Justice Department suits to monitor the spill and the recovery.

“The Justice Department stands ready to make available every resource at our disposal to vigorously enforce the laws that protect the people who work and reside near the Gulf, the wildlife, the environment and the American taxpayers,” Holder said in a statement.

What are they gonna do, sue the oil slick?

Anyway, the water is apparently too choppy right now to spread more boom, and the waves are washing the oil sheen over the boom which has already been spread. The oil is going to hit the coast, period. The question is how much, because a little bit of oil won’t substantially affect the ecosystem on the coast. And that’s why it’s absolutely paramount that BP gets that spill stopped at the wellhead. Now.

Meanwhile, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has offered a great response – more government bureaucracy! Never let a crisis go to waste. From a release this afternoon…

As part of the federal government’s coordinated oversight and support of BP’s response to its spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Department of the Interior will establish a new Outer Continental Shelf Safety Board, conduct a full review of offshore drilling safety and technology issues, and further tighten oversight of industry equipment testing, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced today.

“In this eleventh day of the massive, coordinated response to the Deepwater Horizon incident, we must continue to do everything we can to oversee and support BP’s efforts to stop and clean up the oil that is spilling from the well head,” said Salazar, during a visit to command centers in Houma and Robert, Louisiana, with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. “At the same time, we must take aggressive action to verify the safety of other offshore oil and gas operations, further tighten our oversight of industry’s practices, and take a careful look at all the questions that this disaster is raising.”

The Department of the Interior’s Outer Continental Shelf Safety Oversight Board, established today by Secretarial Order, will provide recommendations regarding interim measures that may enhance OCS safety and recommendations for improving and strengthening the Department’s overall management, regulation and oversight of OCS operations. The Oversight Board, on which Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Wilma Lewis, DOI Inspector General Mary Kendall, and Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget Rhea Suh will serve, will also provide oversight of the MMS regarding the Joint Investigation that MMS and the United States Coast Guard have undertaken into the Deepwater Horizon incident. Secretary Salazar will provide a report to President Obama within 30 days on what, if any, immediate additional precautions and technologies should be required.

Salazar also said that MMS will continue rigorous oversight of industry operations to ensure compliance with all drilling laws and regulations. (For information about existing MMS regulations, click here.) At Secretary Salazar’s direction, MMS is conducting immediate inspections of all 30 deepwater drilling rigs and 47 deepwater production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. This operation is underway and consists of targeted inspections ensuring that tests of BOP (blowout preventer) stacks have been completed, related records are available for inspection, and that emergency well control exercises are taking place. MMS inspectors should complete inspections of deepwater drilling rigs within seven days, whereupon they will immediately start inspecting all deepwater production platforms.

Salazar urged oil and gas leaders and technical experts yesterday evening to do everything possible to assist BP with its response to its spill and to take every available precaution as they conduct their own operations. At Salazar’s direction, MMS today issued a special safety alert to operators emphasizing that all safety procedures and testing must be conducted fully and that operators should verify that BOP stacks are properly tested and configured.

The findings of the Joint Investigation and the recommendations of the Oversight Board will help inform the implementation of the Obama Administration’s comprehensive energy strategy for the Outer Continental Shelf, said Salazar. “As we evaluate new areas for potential exploration and development in the OCS, we will conduct thorough environmental analysis and scientific study, gather public input and comment, and carefully examine the potential safety and spill risk considerations, including the findings of the Joint Investigation and the recommendations of the new oversight board.”

Interior agencies with responsibility for public lands and natural resources are working with federal and state officials to place boom barriers around sensitive areas of the Gulf Coast.

This effort has already deployed about 100,000 feet of boom along sensitive Louisiana sites, including 23,000 feet of boom to protect pelican nesting colonies at North and New Harbor Islands (behind Chandeleur Islands) and 23,000 feet deployed around the Breton National Wildlife Refuge, where additional boom is being deployed.

Booms are being placed to protect coastal marshes in southeast Louisiana and ecologically sensitive areas in Florida. In Alabama and Mississippi, the placement of booms to protect priority areas has been initiated and will continue through the next few days. Priority areas include ecologically sensitive areas identified by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service as part of the Area Contingency Plan and Environmental Sensitivity Index Map planning processes.

UPDATE NO. 6, 4/30/10, 4:30 p.m.: From the “you’ve gotta be freakin’ kiddin’ me” department comes this news:

(Reuters) – The U.S. Coast Guard said Friday it was responding to another oil drilling rig accident near Morgan City, Louisiana.

The “mobile inland drilling unit” overturned in the Charenton navigational channel south of U.S. Highway 90 at Morgan City.

Come on, for crying out loud.

UPDATE NO. 5, 4/30/10, 3:30 p.m.: From a release by Gov. Bobby Jindal’s office following his afternoon presser, he agrees with Vitter that BP’s resources on this thing simply aren’t enough and while they can write a check and pay for the thing, state and federal governments will have to pick up the slack:

ROBERT, LA – Governor Jindal today met with DHS Sec. Napolitano, Dept. of Interior Sec. Salazar, EPA Administrator Jackson, White House Energy Dir. Browner, Coast Guard’s Admiral Landry, and BP officials at the Shell Robert Training & Conference Center in Robert, LA. The Governor received an update on the efforts to respond to the oil spilling into the Gulf and stressed the need for federal support resources that have already been requested by the state from federal agencies.

Governor Jindal said, “I appreciate Secretary Salazar, Secretary Napolitano and Secretary Jackson for coming down to Louisiana and seeing first-hand the response efforts. As I told the President yesterday, we’re urging the federal government and BP to deploy more resources to help mitigate the impact of the oil spill that is threatening the coast of our state.

“We must do everything we can to contain the oil spill that threatens our wildlife and vast natural resources. And I am worried that the booms as currently deployed are not effective. The areas that will be impacted first by this oil spill are critical and fragile coastal sites. These next few days are critical and that’s why we must do everything necessary to protect our coasts.

“I do have concerns that BP’s current resources are not adequate to meet the three challenges we face and I have urged them to seek more help. The three challenges we face are stopping the leak, protecting our coasts and preparation for a swift clean up of the impacted areas. We’ve been working with local officials to access their needs and help them request resources from BP and the Coast Guard. It’s critical that the Coast Guard and BP uphold their commitment and responsibility to provide resources to the coastal areas that could be affected by this spill. On the state side, we’re taking every step we can to help protect our coasts, wildlife, environment and our people.”

State Requests for Federal Support

Specifically, Governor Jindal outlined the specific federal support the state has formally requested from its federal partners.

Governor Jindal said, “Last night I sent letters to Secretary Gates and Secretary Napolitano requesting that the Louisiana National Guard be placed under federal Title 32 status so that we can mobilize the resources of the Louisiana National Guard. This will provide support for at least 90 days of military duty from up to 6,000 soldiers and airmen serving on active duty in support of our response to the threat of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

“The National Guard will provide security, medical capabilities, engineers, clean-up efforts and communication support in response to this threat. After helping our state respond and recover from four storms in three years, the Guard is ready to help us respond to this oil spill. If the Department of Defense approves the request, the Louisiana National Guard is prepared to have 600 guardsmen on the ground as part of the first deployment.

“We’re also working to make sure that our fisheries and small businesses are protected from the oil spill. We have written the U.S. Secretary of Commerce requesting the declaration of a commercial fisheries failure as well as support from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration for commercial and recreational fishing businesses.

“This declaration will provide financial assistance to individual fishermen, assistance for the restoration of fisheries and assistance for commercial and recreational fishing businesses. Louisiana is the top producer of commercial fisheries in the lower 48 states and one of the top recreational fishing destinations in the nation. The oil spill will adversely affect the productivity of this ecosystem and fishing families across our state. It’s critical that our fishermen and their families have the type of support they need to get through this event.

“We have also asked the U.S. Small Business Administration to activate all appropriate federal disaster declaration clauses that would enable the SBA to assist the small businesses in the state that will be impacted by the oil spill. Specifically, we’re asking the SBA to consider temporarily suspending loan repayments for coastal businesses that are impacted by the oil spill and also those who have 2005 and 2008 SBA disaster and economic injury loans as a result of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav.”

State Action – Emergency Declaration

The Governor also stressed the state action taken to respond to the oil spilling into the Gulf, including his proclamation of a state of emergency to support local and state response efforts to the incident.

Governor Jindal said, “I declared a state of emergency yesterday to ready the deployment of state assets.

“Our Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority officials are opening the Caernarvon Diversion in Plaquemines Parish and the Davis Pond Diversion in St. Charles Parish to try to help prevent any oil from penetrating deep into coastal marshes.

“CPRA is also working on a second line of defense in the wetlands where you would anchor the booms in place.

“The Department of Corrections is also working with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to train inmates in oil spill clean-up efforts so they can assist the federal lead agencies.

“LDWF is also training National Guard trainers so they can train the guardsmen, and the Guard is in the process of ordering 1,500 suits so their soldiers can handle material affected by oil.

“We have offered these resources repeatedly to BP and we are still waiting for a response from them.

In a precautionary move, the Department of Health and Hospitals is working with Wildlife and Fisheries to close oyster beds along the eastern Louisiana coast. Specifically, they will be closing harvesting Areas 2 through 7 at sunset tonight, which are east of the Mississippi River in the coastal parishes of Plaquemines and St. Bernard.

“We’ve been told by BP they have 20 rapid response teams. Ten have been mobilized and there will be 50 in place. We have offered BP personnel to help clean-up wetlands from State Police, DEQ and DNR among other agencies

“Today, our office of Homeland Security is reaching out to other states through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact to identify oil spill coordinators.

“The Office of Homeland Security is also deploying staff to Plaquemines Parish and St. Bernard Parish to assist their emergency responders with the oil spill effort. We have also set up a mobile command center here in Robert and today we are also sending a mobile command center to the Coast Guard’s site in Houma.

“The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has closed the Lower Breton Sound area to shrimpers and they plan to close the upper Breton sound area at 6PM tonight. Additionally, LDWF has deployed 40 field biologists and they have 160 additional biologists staged for wildlife rescues.”

Air Quality Monitoring

The Governor also spoke about air quality monitoring efforts the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health and Hospitals are conducting with the support of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Governor Jindal said, “The Department of Environmental Quality has 40 regional staff members with oil spill and hazard experience deployed. DEQ and the Department of Health and Hospitals have reported that residents of coastal areas of southeast Louisiana, including New Orleans, may be detecting an odor possibly resulting from the oil spill approaching the Louisiana coast.

“DHH and DEQ have requested continuous air quality testing and monitoring from the EPA, and DEQ will be assisting the EPA by increasing the frequency of air sampling at its Kenner and Chalmette monitors. These samples will receive expedited turnaround by EPA labs.

“The EPA is also deploying mobile air quality units that can travel throughout coastal parishes to quickly check air quality information and ensure the safety of residents. At this time, they are reporting there are no harmful levels of contaminants in the air.”

State Preparing Plans for Special Needs Shelters

Governor Jindal also announced today that the state is beginning to preparing their plans to open special needs shelters in the event that the air quality deteriorates to harmful levels, which would be especially harmful to those with preexisting medical conditions.

Governor Jindal said, “Out of an abundance of caution, I have activated the joint Department of Transportation-Dept of Social Services shelter team in case special needs sheltering becomes necessary due to deteriorating air quality.”

Governor Meeting with Coastal Leaders

Governor Jindal also announced that later today he would meet with the presidents of Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes and tour the spill area by helicopter.

Governor Jindal said, “Later this afternoon, I will be traveling to Venice and other impacted areas along with Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser and St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro to assess the needs of our local officials and see first-hand the response efforts that are taking place. We will continue to take every step we can to help protect our coasts, wildlife, environment and our people.”

UPDATE NO. 4, 4/30/10, 3:15 p.m.: A tight-sphincter response, which you might expect, on a company conference call from Cameron’s CEO about the blowout preventer (via Dow Jones Newswires):

Cameron International’s (CAM) CEO declined to comment on the role a company device designed to prevent oil well blowouts played in the events leading to a fire that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig last week.

Cameron’s blowout preventer was installed in the well the Transocean Inc. ( RIG) rig was working on last Tuesday, when a surge of oil to the surface sparked a fire. The rig sank on Thursday, killing 11 workers. The well is now leaking as much as 5,000 barrels of oil a day, creating a slick that is nearing the Louisiana shoreline. The rig was contracted by BP PLC (BP).

Cameron Chief Executive Jack Moore said he “would not want to speculate” on how the company’s blowout preventer operated before the fire, speaking during a conference call to discuss first-quarter earnings.

“Right now all the efforts are really geared around getting this well shut in, ” Moore said. “There will be a full investigation and I think that will bear out hopefully to everyone what happened. It’s just too early to speculate on when.”

No Cameron personnel were on the rig at the time of the fire, Moore said. Cameron has a $500 million liability policy to respond to any legal claims related to the fire, company officials said on the call.

That $500 million isn’t likely to get Cameron very far if a structural defect is found on that BOP. The Deepwater Horizon’s replacement cost alone is $700 million, and the $100 million BP is going to spend on the relief well would add to the bill. BP is also going to spend probably $20 million putting a collection dome over the Macondo wellhead, so add that to the kitty. And there’s a $6 million-a-day cost to the spill response now, which is a figure that will probably double between now and 30 days from now or so when the collection dome is fully functional, so that’s easily another half-billion dollars. And then you can throw in the $4-5 billion in lawsuits from fishermen, shrimpers, oystermen, tourism industry types, restaurateurs and whoever else can make a claim, and this is easily a $6-8 billion loss. If Cameron’s BOP was faulty, $500 million is peanuts.

UPDATE NO. 3, 4/30/10, 2:30 p.m.: Among other items of interest, the Times-Picayune is reporting that the chemical smell wafting over New Orleans yesterday has now largely dissipated – an indication that in all likelihood that smell was the result of the controlled oil burn in the Gulf from Wednesday. If the winds and seas die down and more of the slick is burned off, Southeast Louisiana can expect more pungent odors.

And if you want to see an extremely technical discussion of the blowout preventer issue at the Macondo wellhead, the comments under the photoat this page are a great resource. It appears that the reason the BOP isn’t working might be that something is lodged inside of it which is keeping the rams from closing. If that’s the case, the BOP probably isn’t going to get fixed – and the collection dome is the next method of stopping the spill from growing, which is two to four weeks from implementation.

In the meantime, the efforts to fight the effects of the spill continue to mount. The current scope includes 180,000 feet of boom already deployed along the shoreline in an effort to trap the oil, with another 300,000 feet coming online shortly. To date, the oil spill response team has recovered 20,313 barrels (853,146 gallons) of an oil-water mix – which would indicate somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of the oil has been skimmed off to date. There are now 75 response vessels being used including skimmers, tugs, barges and recovery vessels.

Additionally, 139,459 gallons of dispersant have been deployed and an additional 51,000 gallons are available. If you’re in the chemical dispersant business, Christmas has come early for you.

Five staging areas are in place and ready to protect sensitive shorelines. These areas include: Biloxi, Miss., Pensacola, Fla. Venice, La., Pascagoula, Miss., and Theodore, Ala. A sixth staging area is being set up in Port Sulphur near the mouth of the Mississippi.

But BP’s efforts to date don’t seem to be enough for Sen. David Vitter, who just put out this statement:

“Based on the latest briefings and discussions with the federal and state parties involved, BP is spread too thin in trying to both cap the well and remediate the damage along the coastline, producing an inefficient and ineffective response,” said Vitter. “I urge all involved to allow BP to focus all of its efforts on building a dome and drilling a relief well at the source of the spill so that federal and state officials can focus their efforts on protecting and cleaning up the coast.”

UPDATE NO. 2, 4/30/10, 10:24 a.m.: Word now has it that the blowout preventer (BOP) on the Deepwater Horizon rig which failed and caused the worsening oil spill at the Macondo well is a model made by Cameron, which is the gold-standard leader in manufacturing of oilfield equipment. The Cameron BOP was made at the company’s facility in Ville Platte, Louisiana, and tested at 15,000 psi. The BOP also passed U.S. Minerals Management Service inspection earlier this year.

It’s not known at this point whether the failure of the BOP is electronic, mechanical or from some other source. Meanwhile, Cameron’s share price took a 13 percent dump yesterday amid fears of lawsuits and liability.

Let’s also keep in mind three things. First, there are some 4,000 wells active in the northern Gulf…

…and only one of 4,000 has had a major spill in decades.

And second, bad though it will certainly be this spill is not going to be the worst of all time. It won’t be the worst of all time in the Gulf. In 1979, a Pemex well in the Bay of Campeche blew up and poured oil into the Gulf for a year. Beaches in Texas had to be cleaned repeatedly throughout that year.

Third, and virtually nobody knows this, but natural seepage in the Gulf Of Mexico every year comes to double the 11 million gallons of the Exxon Valdez spill with no harmful effects on the ecosystem.

Are we trying to put a happy face on this? No. It’s a major disaster, and BP is rightfully on the hook for billions of dollars to make whole the folks affected by the oil slick. But some perspective is in order. The world is not going to come to an end here. Louisiana survived and recovered from Hurricane Katrina, and we will survive and recover from this as well.

UPDATE: A chilling eyewitness account of the rig’s explosion by some recreational fishermen who were nearby can be found here.

So far, the best information on the Macondo well blowout and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf can be found in this update at UpstreamOnline.com, an oil industry site…

BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles said interviews with Transocean workers on the rig revealed crewmembers tried to activate the BOP from the rig’s bridge before the fire forced them to evacuate, but the BOP did not close off the well.

Suttles also revealed that BP remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) had hit “subsea access points” that should close the BOP, but that they also failed to trigger the mechanism to shut.

“We don’t know why the BOP failed to stop the flow,” he said. “Ultimately we will recover the BOP, get it to the surface and find out.”

“I’m sure Transocean, who actually owned blowout preventer, will be interested to find out why it didn’t work,” Suttles said.

An MMS official estimated that the SWAT teams would have all the Gulf’s offshore drilling units inspected in the next seven days.

After that, the regulator would turn its attention to production platforms at the order of US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

“We expect industry to be fully compliant with the law,” MMS field boss Mike Saucier said at a press conference.

Saucier said the entire MMS inspection staff has been mobilised for the effort.

Policy threats

Meanwhile, the Macondo spill could lead to a temporary ban on offshore drilling, a White House official said today.

When asked if the federal government would consider a pause in offshore drilling, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes replied “Everything is on the table.”

Hayes added that he believes the fundamental practices of offshore drilling are safe, but the administration was not limiting its possible policy response to the spill in any way.

Offshore industry bosses have been invited to the White House for a meeting later today to discuss this incident and safety procedures in the Gulf, Gibbs said.

The list of those invited includes BP and Macondo partner Anadarko, US supermajor ExxonMobil, Italian giant Eni and services giant Halliburton, who is understood to have had the cement contract on the Deepwater Horizon.

“When it comes to the safety of offshore personnel and protecting the environment, we want answers as much as anyone and will strive to fully cooperate during this response process,” an Anadarko representative told Upstream, adding that Anadarko operations chief Al Walker would attend the meeting.

Congress was briefed on the incident last night.

After the briefing, Representative Henry Waxman called BP’s response inadequate, a comment Gibbs declined to address.

Five times larger

Last night the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revised its estimate for the amount of oil leaking from the well to 5000 barrels per day, up from initial estimates of 1000 bpd.

At first both BP and the Coast Guard resisted the revision, but it has since become accepted that the leak is five times larger than first thought.

Suttles later accepted the updated estimate but stressed that any estimates have wide margins of uncertainty.

“What we can actually measure is what we see on the surface,” he said, explaining that there was no way to measure the actual outflow from the well underwater.

Concurrently, the UK supermajor said there is a second breach in the marine riser just above the well’s BOP, which means oil is leaking from three sites on the riser.

The additional leak is not a sign that the integrity of the rise is deteriorating and does not foretell an increase in output from the well, Suttles said.

“We don’t think it represents any difference in the sense of the pressure or flow rate,” he said.

Attempts to shut off the flow through the BOP with an ROV have not been successful, Suttles said, but those efforts will continue with six different ROVs working simultaneously.

BP spokesman Daren Beaudo confirmed earlier that the company had contracted three ROV support vessels, each carrying a pair of ROVs; Ocean Intervention III from Oceaneering, Boa Sub C which is on long-term charter to Aker Marine Contractors and Skandi Neptune from Subsea 7.

Bracing for Impact

BP has welcomed an offer of assistance from the US Defence Department to help contain the massive slick, which now threatens the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

The US Navy is reportedly sending additional skimmers and boom to the Gulf Coast.

BP has asked the Defense Department if it had access to better aerial imaging to monitor the spill or better ROV technology.

The slick was within three miles of the Louisiana coast this morning and could hit the Mississippi River delta area later tonight, a NOAA official said today.

The number of vessels working on the spill now has swelled to 76.

Skimmers have so far gathered about 18,000 barrels of oily water, Suttles said, but noted that those operations will likely be forced to stop soon due to bad weather.

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency as the spill is projected to hit his state’s southern coastline late tomorrow.

A group of Louisiana shrimpers and fishermen have already filed a pair of lawsuits over the spill, which claim BP, Transocean and Halliburton are responsible for damaging the $2.6 billion Louisiana seafood industry.

Fighting the slick

Meanwhile, BP completed the first controlled burn of a small portion of the oil slick heading toward the Mississippi River delta yesterday.

The burn, which consumed about 100 barrels of oil, started at 4:45pm. “The technique clearly worked,” Suttles said.

In the future, Suttles said he thinks that crews could increase the size of the burns to between 500 barrels and 1000 barrels at a time.

Burns require calm seas, however, and right now no further burns are scheduled because of rough weather moving into the Gulf, Suttles said.

Suttles said he was excited about the possibility of piping dispersant under the water to try to break up the oil before it hits the surface.

The new technique has not been tried in the past in the Gulf but Suttles said experts that BP has consulted believe it might be more effective than aerial spraying.

BP has a reel of coiled tubing and dispersants ready to deploy and is waiting government approval.

Suttles hopes to have the system deployed by tonight.

BP has called in experts from rivals ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and Anadarko to the BP command center in Houston to consult on techniques to both close the well and address the spill.

BP is spending more than $6 million per day to contain the spill, which started after an explosion on the Transocean semi-submersible rig Deepwater Horizon last Tuesday.

As the operator of Mississippi Canyon Block 252, BP will pay for the clean-up costs.

Relief well plans

Transocean’s semi-submersible rig Development Driller III was scheduled to spud a relief well tomorrow but Suttles said today it would spud within 48 hours.

Development Driller III was already under contract to BP in Mississippi Canyon Block 778, where it was working on the Thunder Horse South development, according to MMS information.

The well will be spud about half a mile from the Macondo well, in Mississippi Canyon Block 252, and will attempt to intercept the wellbore close to its total depth of 18,000 feet.

Once that is accomplished, heavy fluids will be pumped downhole, followed by cement, to kill the well.

The MMS has already approved the permits submitted for drilling the relief well and is considering permits for a second relief well, Saucier said.

BP has said the well would take two to three months to drill and is expected to cost about $100 million.

 

Capturing the oil

Meanwhile, the UK supermajor is fabricating components to connect a subsea oil recovery system to Transocean’s drillship Discoverer Enterprise in order to collect oil leaking from Macondo and store it within the rig’s storage tanks.

One structure was already completed at the Wild Well Control yard in Port Fourchon, Louisiana and crews are working on two more, Suttles said today.

Work continues as well on the equipment needed to connect the structure to the Discoverer Enterprise.

The Discoverer Enterprise is capable of receiving 20,000 barrels per day and can store over 125,000 barrels within its hull, Suttles said.

The oil will then be offloaded using the 300,000 barrel Overseas Cascade shuttle tanker, which was recently converted for Brazilian operator Petrobras.

BP expects to deploy this recovery system within two to four weeks. The same system has been used in shallow water, but never in the deep-water Gulf.

“The issue is to make certain it can withstand the pressure of the much deeper water at the side and to be able to sort out the various topsides processing issues,” BP chief financial officer Byron Grote said in an analysts call earlier this week.

11 presumed dead

The Macondo well – a discovery well which was to be temporarily abandoned ahead of later completion as a subsea producer – blew out late last Tuesday evening.

The well had been drilled to 18,000 feet when an explosion rocked the semi-sub before the rig was engulfed in flames. The semisub sank on Thursday morning, extinguishing the blaze.

A senior Transocean executive, Adrian Rose, said the company had not begun to determine if the rig, which was found in 5000 feet of water Saturday, could be salvaged.

Transocean has said the rig was insured for up to $560 million.

The initial cause of the accident is still unknown, although Rose earlier indicated it seems likely the well blew out.

“We don’t know what caused the accident,” he said. When asked if the incident involved a blowout, he replied: “Basically, yes.”

Eleven of the 126 crew on board the Deepwater Horizon at the time of the explosion are missing, presumed dead.

Drilling giant Transocean has confirmed nine of its employees are among the missing. Two worked for services outfit Smith International and Schlumberger’s M-I Swaco joint venture.

BP holds 65% of the Macondo prospect and operated the well.

US independent Anadarko holds a 25% working interest and Japan’s Mitsui holds the remaining 10%.

There are several questions regarding the recovery effort following the spill, and we are endeavoring to find clear answers to them…

1. Why was the fire at the Deepwater Horizon platform extinguished? Even after the platform sank, the oil was still burning. It could have been allowed to burn up until weather conditions changed today and the winds and seas picked up. Burning off a crude oil spill can eliminate up to 98 percent of the product; it simply doesn’t make sense to have allowed the better part of 40,000 barrels of oil to produce a slick that now threatens to wipe out Louisiana’s coastal fisheries and cause an environmental disaster along our shores.

2. BP is hard at work recruiting fishermen, oystermen, shrimpers and everybody else with a boat to deploy booms to contain the oil, which is a smart response. But eight days after the explosion and with the outer reaches of the spill likely hitting the coast tonight, it’s a bit late for such a massive deployment. Why wasn’t a much larger fleet dispatched with booms immediately to corral the oil closer to the disaster site? Wouldn’t it have been more effective to have an immediate collection action underway?

3. The default position for BOP’s (Blowout preventers) is the “down” position, meaning that they seal the wellbore. Why did Deepwater Horizon’s BOP fail? It’s not totally unheard of for this to happen, but it’s extremely rare. And for ROV attempts at closing the BOP to fail as they have is even stranger. Rumors that the rig came down on top of the BOP are apparently not accurate.

There are fresh rumors in the oil patch that standard protocols in dealing with this disaster have been departed from as a result of interference from federal agencies – specifically the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service which is now dispatching “SWAT teams” (not real SWAT teams, apparently) to offshore rigs to check on the functionality of BOP devices throughout the Gulf. Whether those rumors hold water or not, since BP as the operator of the Macondo well is on the hook for all the costs of the spill and since those costs grow exponentially as time goes on and the spill reaches the coast one would have expected an all-out effort from the start by BP to do everything possible to put an end to the flow from the wellbore.

That the recovery efforts appear so sluggish in the face of such circumstances seems more than a little strange. We expect answers to come over time; with Waxman and Mary Landrieu both calling for Congressional hearings next week, it’s vital that the truth come out sooner rather than later.


30 Comments

  1. "There but for the grace of God…" It's interesting to note that there are no rivals or competitors in the face of this disaster. It's also interesting that the response has been so slow. Yours are good questions that deserve truthful and expedient responses. This spill could be disastrous for the domestic exploration industry, which ironically will open up our shores to exploration by less responsible countries and companies.

  2. "There but for the grace of God…" It's interesting to note that there are no rivals or competitors in the face of this disaster. It's also interesting that the response has been so slow. Yours are good questions that deserve truthful and expedient responses. This spill could be disastrous for the domestic exploration industry, which ironically will open up our shores to exploration by less responsible countries and companies.

  3. macaoidh says:

    If anyone thinks that CNOOC drilling 45 miles off Key West presents anything but much larger risk than BP drilling at the Macondo well, they are greatly mistaken. The extent of this disaster is enormous, but the political effect is the largest threat of all.

  4. macaoidh says:

    If anyone thinks that CNOOC drilling 45 miles off Key West presents anything but much larger risk than BP drilling at the Macondo well, they are greatly mistaken. The extent of this disaster is enormous, but the political effect is the largest threat of all.

  5. [...] Information This site seems to have some better info than the stuff the networks are putting out, including some eye witness accounts from fishermen below the platform. The Macondo/Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, With Running Updates | The Hayride [...]

  6. [...] The Macondo/Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, With Running Updates Posted in Uncategorized. Leave a Comment » [...]

  7. [...] The Macondo/Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, With Running Updates [...]

  8. Judy says:

    I have seen this "Beneath the Oil Slick" illustration many times. Am I the only person who finds it ludicrous? I'm not sure if the person who created it was just crazily uniformed or if this is a genuine (although idiotic) effort to deceive. In either case, the average or even the somewhat dim witted can easily deduce that it can not possibly be anything close to the reality of the situation. I mean think about it; supposedly there is an enormous pressure being released (30,000 psi) when the oil and gas comes shooting out of the ground. Once the drilling riser disconnected from the rig (d/t the uncontained pressure caused by the failure of the BOPs) we're supposed to believe that the now unconnected at the top riser just fell onto the sea floor, despite the fact that the oil is still shooting out of it at 30,000 psi? Now you know that stream of high pressure fluid would cause the riser to continue to maintain its vertical position directly over the hole. Obviously it would only collapse if there was no oil coming out of it.

  9. Judy says:

    I have seen this "Beneath the Oil Slick" illustration many times. Am I the only person who finds it ludicrous? I'm not sure if the person who created it was just crazily uniformed or if this is a genuine (although idiotic) effort to deceive. In either case, the average or even the somewhat dim witted can easily deduce that it can not possibly be anything close to the reality of the situation. I mean think about it; supposedly there is an enormous pressure being released (30,000 psi) when the oil and gas comes shooting out of the ground. Once the drilling riser disconnected from the rig (d/t the uncontained pressure caused by the failure of the BOPs) we're supposed to believe that the now unconnected at the top riser just fell onto the sea floor, despite the fact that the oil is still shooting out of it at 30,000 psi? Now you know that stream of high pressure fluid would cause the riser to continue to maintain its vertical position directly over the hole. Obviously it would only collapse if there was no oil coming out of it.

  10. Judy says:

    . My conjecture is that they devised this as a way to explain the fact that they got busted underestimating (lying about) the flow by at least 500% and they're sticking with it. Figure if the BOPs failed, the amount of oil being released is the exact same amount that would be released if the wellhead didn't exist, because it was the BOPs that control the flow, not the wellhead, and the BOPs failed.. So the amount of oil is the maximum possible. I can't remember what that is, but I think I read it’s something like 6.5 million barrels/day. In other words, it would surpass the total for the Exxon Valdez in 2 days. I'd figure that is almost certainly what is going on, and then be pleasantly surprised if it isn't.

  11. Judy says:

    . My conjecture is that they devised this as a way to explain the fact that they got busted underestimating (lying about) the flow by at least 500% and they're sticking with it. Figure if the BOPs failed, the amount of oil being released is the exact same amount that would be released if the wellhead didn't exist, because it was the BOPs that control the flow, not the wellhead, and the BOPs failed.. So the amount of oil is the maximum possible. I can't remember what that is, but I think I read it’s something like 6.5 million barrels/day. In other words, it would surpass the total for the Exxon Valdez in 2 days. I'd figure that is almost certainly what is going on, and then be pleasantly surprised if it isn't.

  12. Judy says:

    Second, they are trying to convince us that holes in the riser are contributing to an additional amount of oil. This is completely ridiculous. There is a certain amount of oil coming out of the hole and it doesn’t matter how many holes exist in the riser, the amount of oil disgorged is always going to be the same, and that is the amount coming out of the hole. The riser isn’t producing oil, the hole is producing oil. Whether oil is coming out one hole in the riser or 20, it’s the same amount of oil. The whole notion and diagram are just beyond silly. I'm no physicist but I would speculate that almost no oil under that kind of pressure comes out of any additional holes but the one at the top of the vertical column. It's just shooting straight up bypassing any chinks that might have occurred along the way.

  13. Judy says:

    Second, they are trying to convince us that holes in the riser are contributing to an additional amount of oil. This is completely ridiculous. There is a certain amount of oil coming out of the hole and it doesn’t matter how many holes exist in the riser, the amount of oil disgorged is always going to be the same, and that is the amount coming out of the hole. The riser isn’t producing oil, the hole is producing oil. Whether oil is coming out one hole in the riser or 20, it’s the same amount of oil. The whole notion and diagram are just beyond silly. I'm no physicist but I would speculate that almost no oil under that kind of pressure comes out of any additional holes but the one at the top of the vertical column. It's just shooting straight up bypassing any chinks that might have occurred along the way.

  14. Judy says:

    Okay the amount of 6.5 mil barrels/day is crazy. A realistic max is something like 65,000 barrels/day. That would equal the Valdez in about 4 days. The Valdez spilled 270,000 barrels.

  15. Judy says:

    Okay the amount of 6.5 mil barrels/day is crazy. A realistic max is something like 65,000 barrels/day. That would equal the Valdez in about 4 days. The Valdez spilled 270,000 barrels.

  16. Suzanne Broussard says:

    There are other issues to consider as well, like the fact that wages and salaries for offshore oil workers have fallen and that inexperienced workers are being hired now at the lower wages. There is also the issue of drug testing that encourages the use of more addictive and dangerous drugs that don't show up on drug tests, while those who use much milder drugs (marijuana) are fired or not hired in spite of the fact that they might be more qualified. This is an issue that has never been covered in the news, but anyone who lives in this area and knows people who work offshore can attest to.

  17. Suzanne Broussard says:

    There are other issues to consider as well, like the fact that wages and salaries for offshore oil workers have fallen and that inexperienced workers are being hired now at the lower wages. There is also the issue of drug testing that encourages the use of more addictive and dangerous drugs that don't show up on drug tests, while those who use much milder drugs (marijuana) are fired or not hired in spite of the fact that they might be more qualified. This is an issue that has never been covered in the news, but anyone who lives in this area and knows people who work offshore can attest to.

  18. [...] while we’re asking, we repeat the fundamental question already raised at The Hayride; the spill was burning when the rig went down.  Who gave the order to put the fire [...]

  19. Alan Hinkel says:

    To Mr. Waterston,and All famous,rich,and pretty much ignorant people that don't live in the real world.First you say we must end our dependence on foriegn oil.How do you propose we do that?Please give me an answer.Also,this is the second major oil spill since March 24,1998 when the Exxon Valdez ran aground due to human error.This wasn't.Even though you probably think it was since you were probably against offshore drilling before this happened,which is a slap in the face of the dead and injured.Finally,I don't imagine you live on the Gulf Coast.Do You?We can't end our dependence on foriegn oil without drilling and since 2/3rds of the Earth is water it only makes since that we drill offshore.If you think unemployment is high now.If we stop offshore drilling it will be twice as bad.Do ya'll think before making comments like this?It was an accident.We have God knows how many Oil Rigs in the Gulf.If you stop that.The people that work offshore are out of a job,places that fix and build offshore rigs are gonna have to make huge layoffs or shut down and we increase our dependence on foriegn oil.Please think before you speak.You sound like a complete dumbass.

  20. Alan Hinkel says:

    To Mr. Waterston,and All famous,rich,and pretty much ignorant people that don't live in the real world.First you say we must end our dependence on foriegn oil.How do you propose we do that?Please give me an answer.Also,this is the second major oil spill since March 24,1998 when the Exxon Valdez ran aground due to human error.This wasn't.Even though you probably think it was since you were probably against offshore drilling before this happened,which is a slap in the face of the dead and injured.Finally,I don't imagine you live on the Gulf Coast.Do You?We can't end our dependence on foriegn oil without drilling and since 2/3rds of the Earth is water it only makes since that we drill offshore.If you think unemployment is high now.If we stop offshore drilling it will be twice as bad.Do ya'll think before making comments like this?It was an accident.We have God knows how many Oil Rigs in the Gulf.If you stop that.The people that work offshore are out of a job,places that fix and build offshore rigs are gonna have to make huge layoffs or shut down and we increase our dependence on foriegn oil.Please think before you speak.You sound like a complete dumbass.

  21. [...] in the Pacific looks increasingly unlikely in the wake of the Gulf oil spill, as 20 congressional Democrats have now proposed to permanently ban drilling off the West Coast. As [...]

  22. [...] For updates dated from May 16 to the early morning hours of May 26, click here. And for older updates prior to May 16, click here. [...]

  23. [...] For updates from last week (May 26 to the morning of June 1), click here. For updates dated from May 16 to the early morning hours of May 26, click here. And for older updates prior to May 16, click here. [...]

  24. [...] by the spill will be paid, and all others fought tooth and nail in the court.  For example, via The Hayride I came across this article: VENICE (Louisiana) – LOUISIANA’S charter fishermen are slamming US [...]

  25. [...] We’re now splitting our Gulf spill updates into two threads going forward – this one will focus on efforts to stop the spill at the source, while another thread starting today will cover the Obamoratorium and the devastation it wreaks on the economy of Louisiana. For previous updates on the spill, click here for updates from June 1 to June 14. Also, click here for updates from May 26 to June 1. For updates dated from May 16 to the early morning hours of May 26, click here. And for older updates prior to May 16, click here. [...]

  26. Tumblr article…

    I saw someone writing about this on Tumblr and it linked to…

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