Static Kill

At the Macondo well site, BP is preparing to pump drilling mud and cement through the Deepwater Horizon’s blowout preventer in an attempt to permanently kill a well which is now being contained by a containment stack but has spewed some 184 million gallons of oil since the rig exploded and sank on April 20.

The “injection test” being prepared by the company was scheduled to start around 3 p.m. central time, with a process to last from 33 to 61 hours, according to National Incident Commander Thad Allen.

It’s clear that fear of hurricanes has a lot to do with BP’s interest in what’s called a “static kill.” While no oil is flowing from the well at present, the company and the federal government are worried that a major storm might disturb the well.

“If we can get this thing shut in permanently before the August hurricane season, we will have dodged a huge bullet,” said Rear Adm. Paul Zukunft, the government’s on-scene coordinator.

That the containment cap has stopped the flow of the oil makes a static kill easier to implement. The previous “top kill” attempt wasn’t successful because the mud couldn’t overcome the flow of the oil. With the cap in place, BP thinks they can use less mud for this kill attempt.

The static kill is expected to be followed shortly by a “bottom kill” from the relief well the company is drilling and is mere feet away from intersecting the Macondo well. There are now questions about whether the bottom kill is even needed, though – BP vice president Kent Wells indicated that if they’re able to get cement down to the bottom of the wellbore via the blowout preventer, it might not be necessary to intersect. They’ve got the ability to kill the well either way, Wells said.

In other Gulf Oil Spill news, it’s still quite apparent that the media firestorm surrounding the disaster has overblown the damage and, as we predicted on the Hayride, caused economic damage beyond the spill itself.

“The impacts have been much, much less than everyone feared,” federal contractor and geochemist Jacqueline Michel told Time. Ivor van Heerden, another scientist working on the spill, says “there’s just no data to suggest this is an environmental disaster. I have no interest in making BP look good — I think they lied about the size of the spill — but we’re not seeing catastrophic impacts.” He adds: “There’s a lot of hype, but no evidence to justify it.”

At this point, while oil is still out in the Gulf but not in quantities which appear to threaten shorelines and ecosystems in the manner suggested by media sources, the biggest question appears to be the salvage of Louisiana’s fishing industry. With commercial fisheries being reopened in Louisiana waters east of the Mississippi on Friday, Gov. Bobby Jindal is now pushing BP to fund a major study to certify the safety of fisheries which have not been oiled.

Jindal first announced the seafood safety and marketing plan in June, which calls on BP to fund long-term testing that would involve checking more than 400 seafood samples a month from Louisiana waters. It would also contain a 20-year certification program meant to establish quality standards for wild-caught Louisiana seafood.

The plan was officially submitted to BP in late May. Jindal said the state has not heard back on a decision from BP to fund the program.

“To me it would be a better investment (for BP) to invest on the front end than to have to pay for continued damages that could total up to billions of dollars,” he said. “It just makes sense to me that they would want to invest in getting this industry back on its feet.”

St. Bernard Parish President Craig Taffaro, whose waters encompass a wide swath of the newly reopened commercial fishing grounds, said the long-term monitoring is important for fishers, processors and suppliers who have an uphill battle in re-establishing the state’s brand.

“We’re not just dealing with local seafood consumption, we’re dealing with national seafood consumption,” Taffaro said. “If the national media, the national retailers do not believe that we have a safe product, our commercial fishermen can fish all day long and the market will not be there for them to sell.”

But reopening the fisheries seems to be getting mixed reviewsfrom the fishermen.

When shrimp season opens in a couple of weeks and fisherman Rusty Graybill drags his nets across the mucky bottom, he worries that he’ll also collect traces of oil and dispersants — and that even if his catch doesn’t smell, buyers and consumers will turn up their noses.

“If I put fish in a barrel of water and poured oil and Dove detergent over that, and mixed it up, would you eat that fish?” asked Graybill, a 28-year-old commercial oyster, blue crab and shrimp angler who grew up fishing the marshes of St. Bernard. “I wouldn’t feed it to you or my family. I’m afraid someone’s going to get sick.”

Certainly Graybill’s concern is sincere, but one wonders whether it’s not an incredibly dumb idea to be voicing it to the media. If you trash your product, you’re unlikely going to sell much of it. Until the catch is proven to be unsafe or inedible, the answer seems to be to leave well enough alone. If fishermen like Graybill see evidence of an unsafe catch, then obviously it’s a different story, but predicting folks will get sick from eating what you catch in Louisiana waters is uncommonly bad marketing.

But that doesn’t seem to be slowing some of these folks down.

Across the street from where Graybill usually delivers his catch, Dawn Nunez’s family has for 30 years operated a wholesale business that sells shrimp to restaurants and seafood processors. She worries no one will want to eat the local catch.

It’s absurd that the government is reopening the fishery when so many doubts linger, she said.

“It’s nothing but a PR move,” she said. “It’s going to take years to know what damage they’ve done. It’s just killed us all.”

And relying only on a smell tests stinks, said Ryan Lambert, 52, a charter fishing captain who sometimes takes his clients out in the waters that just reopened. Fishing shouldn’t resume, he said, until more data exist and better dispersant testing is devised.

“I have no confidence in their testing methods,” Lambert said.

“But BP has just wanted to push, push, push to get us back fishing. You can’t hurry it and then find something bad later,” he said. “You can only cry wolf so many times before (customers) decide they aren’t coming back.”

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