The Gulf Oil Spill Disaster: On the Scale of Krakatoa?

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A good friend and former senior government official sent me this inquiry today. I’m just not an environment/oil industry expert, but the way this person frames the question certainly puts me on edge:

Steve,
Are you following the oil spill?
I have had several scientists and engineers — not the alarmist types — e-mail me in the last 48 hours that this is a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions. One engineer suggested the USG use a small yield nuclear device to try to seal the leak.
Another said that every ocean on earth is threatened — and not in a long time but a relatively short time. He also suggested there was no way to seal the leak due to the depth, high pressure with which the oil is being released — compared it to Krakatoa — and the fact that the heavy rig sunk and now lies on the site of the leak.
I have no way of evaluating the leak but find these scientists’ and engineers’ fears of deep concern — particularly when I know somewhat the track record of the WH, BP, Haliburton, et al with regard to these sorts of crises.
Are you hearing anything remotely like what I’m hearing?

It would be useful for knowledgeable commentators to share what they know or think in Comments.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

51 comments on “The Gulf Oil Spill Disaster: On the Scale of Krakatoa?

  1. elizabeth says:

    BP – they make billions $ on oil yet complain about
    paying when they cause a incident that has ruin the
    livelehood of many and damaged a already struggling
    ecosystem. The government- is corrupt
    By the way I found a website that give you prizes
    for your opinions here is the topic about this:
    http://opinion.ezwingame.com/topics/who-should-be-
    responsible-for-the-disaster-in-the-gulf

    Reply

  2. ... says:

    more then ””1”’ safety value, which ended up not working, would have been a cheap alternative to what is happening now…. got to remember the bottom line until their isn’t one…capitalism knows how to murder the environment and itself in one shot..

    Reply

  3. nadine says:

    MarkL, the plutocrats on Wall St give to Democrats over Republcans by 2 to 1. What do they know that you don’t? Ans: Lots. Big Government regulation is GOOD for Big Business: keeps the small fry out of competition.

    Reply

  4. Clarity says:

    There were very strict regulations and technical pre-requisites for this type of drilling on our lawbooks until 2003. Norway (which does a great deal of depth drilling at very cold temperatures in the North Atlantic) REQUIRES BY LAW emergency
    automatic shut-off technology (called acoustic triggers) for all of its offshore rigs. Simlar strict regulations in U.S. law were gutted in 2003 while Bush smirked and Cheney growled.
    Now we see the result. It may well turn out that
    Haliburton is hired to “fix” the disaster they helped to create thereby PROFITING once again by manipulation. In prehistoric kingdoms if the leadership erred and the harvest did not suffice the kings were slain in public.

    Reply

  5. MarkL says:

    Nadine,
    We have a nominal two-party system which is in fact a plutocracy where the voters have very minimal influence.
    It doesn’t matter whether a Republican or Democrat is in charge. The Republicans certainly offer no hope for anyone besides the top .1% .
    Anyway, I’m following David’s lead.
    Your lies and bullshit are not worth responding to.

    Reply

  6. nadine says:

    “I’ll probably be booed for saying this, but we might be off with an enlightened authoritarian government than what we have now (which is an unenlightened, barely democratic government).” (MarkL)
    Who will boo you? You are expressing the zeitgeist of the modern Democratic party. Obama clearly agrees with you, and considers himself the perfect enlightened autocrat. Every time he runs into trouble with Congress, he either muscles legislation through against the popular will, or simply instructs the Federal bureaucracy to ignore the will of Congress and impose his rules via regulation, such as having the EPA regulate carbon emission even if he can’t pass Cap and Trade. One can’t accuse Obama of being poll-driven; polls say voters oppose Obamacare by 60% yo 40%.
    However the American voter may have something to say about this would-be autocratic government.

    Reply

  7. MarkL says:

    David,
    Conservative reactionaries have a simple message, and they are well-funded by the energy industry.
    Also, oil has made ordinary people fatter and happier, hence more complacent.
    I’ll probably be booed for saying this, but we might be off with an enlightened authoritarian government than what we have now (which is an unenlightened, barely democratic government).

    Reply

  8. David says:

    Quite appropriate questions, Marcia, and I suspect the answers are likely unsettling.
    Meanwhile, this catastrophe is likely much greater than has sunk into the general consciousness. The only question that remains is what the total scope of the catastrophe will be, but there is no scenario by which it is either ok or acceptable.
    The consumption of oil is to the average American as crack is to an addict. It provides what has become essential pleasure, and there is no meaningful desire to end the addiction or the pleasure it provides. The consequences are ultimately externalities.
    We’ve known better for at least 40 years, just as we’ve known better than to allow the decimation of the rainforests. So what do we do? Increase our consumption of oil and escalate the destruction of the rainforests. Something went terribly wrong in the evolution of humans and their societies, and in any balance beam between what we get right and what we get wrong, what we get wrong is gaining the upper hand.
    And conservative reactionarism is the very last thing humankind needs if it is to have a positive future. Ameliorative conservatism is a pipe dream. Actual American conservatism is anything but conservative, of course. It is exploitive, it is denialist, and it is self-centered. It also prefers ideological myths over any rational accounting for the real world and what we are doing to it. Pity there is no real connection between American conservatism and effective conservation, even though there have been some very real champions of conservation among the ranks of those Republicans who are now an endangered species.
    Still, ne illegitimi non carborundum, and as Oat Willy the barkeep says, “Onward through the fog.”

    Reply

  9. Marcia says:

    There are a couple of things I’d like to know. What is our total consumption of oil? What is the ratio comsumed by the military compared to civil consumption? What is the ratio the military burns protecting oil supplies to the amount it actually protects?

    Reply

  10. David says:

    My very sincere apologies, POA. No wonder I kept thinking “This isn’t POA.” I no longer know what Nadine says. When I said a while back I wasn’t going to waste my time reading her nonsense, I meant it. There is nothing to learn from her, and there are too many insightful commenters to waste any reading time on her.
    The ecological degradation of the entire planet since we knew better than to do what we were doing is most disheartening.
    I understand your reaction to the shortcomings of even progressive programs regarding the human rights nightmare being inflicted on the Palestinians, but it was on Rachel Maddow’s show that I got a disturbingly clear picture of the extent to which the Exxon-Valdez spill continues to pollute the beaches on which it wrought havoc. She also highlighted the fact that Exxon has not had to pay out jack shit. Same will apparently be true for BP because of a laughably low limit on liability. Because of existing US law, BP will take a walk, and if anyone does get any significant judgments, the Supreme Court will do just what it did for Exxon – reduce them dramatically.
    Some journalist for the Orlando Sentinel who has in the past written some pretty good pieces weighed in on the BP catastrophe with something about how the public shouldn’t overreact. Yeah, well… Reports are emerging about how much ecological damage is being done to the sea floor, but then “Out of sight, out of mind.” Actually, make that “We really must be out of our effing minds.”

    Reply

  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    David, you attributed a comment to me that was actually a quotation from one of the comments of the jackass Nadine.
    Actually, I do not believe that nature can reverse some ecological degradations, at least not in the time mankind will be around. And things are happening rather quickly, aren’t they? When a man can see major ecological change in the span of his lifetime, which we have, the planet would seem to be in deep shit, would it not? One only hopes that its the likes of these deniers like the jackass Nadine that is the first to choke to death on her own shit, if only to serve as a warning to the rest of us that we better change our ways, (if theres enough time left).

    Reply

  12. David says:

    Not so regarding the Exxon-Valdez spill, POA, although generally true depending on the nature of the pollutant/toxic agent. Doubtful nature can deal with “depleted” uranium in any time frame helpful to human habitation wherever we have chosen to inflict it on resident populations. So yes, the sky can fall, even if there have been times when it hasn’t.
    Still, I’m with you on at least giving nature a chance.

    Reply

  13. Byrd Droppings says:

    WHY THE GOVERNMENT IN DC ACTS LIKE AMERICAN TERRORISTS!!
    Federal rule change allowed BP to avoid filing disaster plan
    By Michael Kunzelman and Richard T. Pienciak |
    Associated Press Writers | Posted: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 9:05 pm
    NEW ORLEANS — A rule change two years ago by the federal agency that regulates offshore oil rigs allowed BP to avoid filing a plan specifically for handling a major spill from an uncontrolled blowout at its Deepwater Horizon project — exactly the kind of disaster now unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.
    Oil rig operators generally are required to submit a detailed “blowout scenario.” But the federal Minerals Management Service issued a notice in 2008 that exempted some drilling projects in the Gulf under certain conditions.
    BP met those conditions, according to MMS, and as a result, the oil company had no plan written specifically for the Deepwater Horizon project, an Associated Press review of government and industry documents found.
    In a series of interviews, BP spokesman William Salvin insisted the company was nevertheless prepared to handle a blowout at that project because it had a detailed, 582-page regional plan for dealing with a catastrophic spill anywhere in the central Gulf.
    “We have a plan that has sufficient detail in it to deal with a blowout,” Salvin said.
    Still, the lack of a specific plan for the Deepwater Horizon project raises questions about whether the company could have been better prepared to deal with the oil leak, which is still spewing out of control at a rate estimated at more than 200,000 gallons a day.
    MMS, which is part of the Interior Department, has long been criticized as too cozy with the industry it regulates.
    Robert Wiygul, an Ocean Springs, Miss., environmental lawyer, said the lack of a blowout scenario “is kind of an outrageous omission, because you’re drilling in extremely deep waters, where by definition you’re looking for very large reservoirs to justify the cost.”
    “If the MMS was allowing companies to drill in this ultra-deep situation without a blowout scenario, then it seems clear they weren’t doing the job they were tasked with,” he said.
    The disaster was set in motion when the offshore platform 50 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico exploded April 20 and sank days later in 5,000 feet of water. Eleven workers were killed in the accident.
    AP pressed MMS for an explanation of why the rules were changed, but no official would speak on the record. However, one MMS official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter said the rules were changed because some elements were impractical for some deepwater drilling projects in the Gulf.
    But Wiygul said: “The MMS can’t change the law just by telling people that they don’t have to comply with it. I think it really indicates that somebody at MMS was asleep at the switch on this.”
    Speaking with reporters after touring a boom operation in Gulf Shores, Ala., Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said that he understood that BP was required to file plans for coping with a blowout at the well that failed.
    “My understanding is that everything was in its proper place,” Salazar said.
    However, an AP review of BP’s regional oil-spill plan found that it failed to specifically address all of the points required by the MMS in a blowout scenario.
    The blowout scenario rules, contained in the Code of Federal Regulations, require rig operators to estimate how much oil could flow from the well per day and the total amount that could leak from a single incident.
    They also require such things as an explanation of how a spill would be stopped, the methods that would be used, how long it would take to stop the leak, how long it would take to drill a relief well, and the potential for a well to stop leaking on its own.
    The MMS rule change, made in April 2008, says that Gulf rig operators are required to file a blowout scenario only if one of five conditions applies.
    For example, an operator must provide a blowout scenario when it proposes to install a “surface facility” in water deeper than 1,312 feet. While Deepwater Horizon was operating almost 5,000 feet below the surface, Salvin said the project did not meet the definition of a surface facility. The MMS official agreed.
    “The production platform is what’s considered a surface facility,” Salvin said. “This was an exploratory well, not a production well.”
    Brendan Cummings, a Joshua Tree, Calif.-based lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the exploration plan submitted by BP for Deepwater Horizon failed to adequately analyze the project’s oil spill risks. Cummings has filed a notice of intent to sue the government over another offshore drilling operation, by Royal Dutch Shell in Alaska.
    “The technology used on the now-sunken Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf was supposed to be the most advanced in the world, including various mechanisms to prevent or cap a blowout,” Cummings wrote in the filing. “None of these mechanisms worked, and the state-of-the-art technology completely failed to stop the spill.”
    In its 2009 exploration plan, BP strongly discounted the possibility of a catastrophic accident. Similary, Shell’s environmental impact analysis for its Beaufort Sea drilling plan asserts that the possibility of a “large liquid hydrocarbon spill … is regarded as too remote and speculative to be considered a reasonably foreseeable impacting event.”
    The Deepwater Horizon disaster is not the first time MMS has been criticized as too close to the oil industry.
    In 2008, the Interior Department took disciplinary action against eight MMS employees who accepted lavish gifts, partied and — in some cases — had sex with employees from the energy companies they regulated. An investigation cited a “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” involving employees in the agency’s Denver office.
    MMS workers were given upgraded ethics training.

    Reply

  14. nadine says:

    First of all, there isn’t enough oil in US territory to make a significant contribution to meeting oil demand, especially when you take into account the demand curve for India and China.
    There’s millions of barrels per year in we know about that we aren’t extracting, never mind the potentially billions of barrels offshore we haven’t even looked for. Plus, we could use our immense coal reserves to make synthetic gasoline.
    If there’s a demand curve for India and China, that will make oil MORE valuable and provides MORE reason to look for it. I swear, to be a liberal, requirement #1 is not understanding the basic laws of supply and demand.
    Conservation is fine, but it will only lower demand at the margins. It won’t offset the rising demand from India and China. Public transportation only makes sense in densely populated areas, it’s fine there. Global warming is based on computer models that keep predicting warming even though we’ve been cooling, not warming, for 12 years. My common sense conclusion is that the models need more work and that we should hold off destroying our economies for their sake meanwhile. I’ll believe it’s a crisis when the people who tell me it’s a crisis ACT like it’s crisis. Instead they build 20,000 sq ft homes then lecture ME on my carbon footprint.
    The numbers don’t work. To keep prosperity – and I like prosperity, don’t you? – we need cheap energy. That means oil, coal, hydro or nuclear. America has large reserves. It’s crazy not to use them.

    Reply

  15. MarkL says:

    A bunch more claptrap from Nadine.
    She totally blows off several points.
    First of all, there isn’t enough oil in US territory to make a significant contribution to meeting oil demand, especially when you take into account the demand curve for India and China.
    Second, she pretends that pollution from solar panels and windmills (are you fucking kidding?)
    is comparable to that from oil exploration.
    Third, she never talks about global warming and the need to move away from fossil fuels.
    Fourth, she never talks about conservation or public transportation as essential steps.
    What is your agenda? Do you own oil stocks?
    You are in favor of leaving the next generations with the worst world possible. Are you childless?
    I am, but I”m not that callous.
    I suppose this has something to do with Israel, since that is your main cause, but I can’t imagine the connection.

    Reply

  16. nadine says:

    DonS, the method of oil extraction that enviro-weenies really favor is extraction by far less safe methods in far away countries like Nigeria. They don’t admit it, but it is the inescapable consequence of the policies they favor.
    Whenever you ask what alternative methods they do want, they begin yapping about solar panels and windmills, which couldn’t supply more than 10% of our needs at max, and then only with some very serious environmental consequences of their own.
    About that point you realize that they wouldn’t understand the difference between economically viable energy sources and government boondoggles if it walked up and bit them on the ass, and you might as well say, “clap your hands if you believe in Tinkerbell” as cite any numbers to them.

    Reply

  17. DonS says:

    Anyone minimizing the effect of this disaster when there are alternatives to this method of extraction — talk about tradeoffs — has their priorities seriously screwed up. It’s not TWN commenters who are unfamiliar with tradeoffs, Nadine. And the biological health of the Gulf ecoregion, and probably further afield, should not be in the ‘tradeoff’ equation to satisfy corporate greed and, by extension, consumer gluttony. IMO, of course

    Reply

  18. nadine says:

    Nob, if the well was in 500 feet, it would hit the local coast but it could have been capped already because divers can work at that level. Everything’s a tradeoff, a concept apparently unfamiliar to TWN commentators. The deep sea blowouts keep pumping because it is so hard to get to them. This has happened before. The IXTOC I Blowout in 1979 pumped an estimated 3.5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf before the flow was plugged and diverted http://home.versatel.nl/the_sims/rig/ixtoc1.htm
    This talk about ‘worse than anything since an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs’ is way, way, way overblown.

    Reply

  19. nadine says:

    Nob, if the well was in 500 feet, it would hit the local coast but it could have been capped already because divers can work at that level. Everything’s a tradeoff, a concept apparently unfamiliar to TWN commentators. The deep sea blowouts keep pumping because it is so hard to get to them. This has happened before. The IXTOC I Blowout in 1979 pumped an estimated 3.5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf before the flow was plugged and diverted http://home.versatel.nl/the_sims/rig/ixtoc1.htm
    This talk about ‘worse than anything since an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs’ is way, way, way overblown.

    Reply

  20. Dangerous says:

    The impact of this accident is unfolding into a formaly unimaginable scale. The oil plume is now nearing the deep-water gulf current loop that will take the oil to Florida and around the panhandle and up the eastern coast of the United States. The methods under consideration for containing the oil aren’t likely to be realized before the current loop captures the flow. The flow is from a pressurized oil reservoir that can pump an amount into the ocean that is beyond anything that has ever been experienced since an asteroid hit the gulf and wiped out the dinosaurs.

    Reply

  21. Dan Kervick says:

    Thanks for the info Michele. This spill stinks to high heaven.

    Reply

  22. Michele Kearney says:

    The Interior Department exempted BP’s calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.
    The decision by the department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP’s lease at Deepwater Horizon a “categorical exclusion” from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 — and BP’s lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions — show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the gulf.

    Reply

  23. Big Hairy Ape says:

    The count so far is about 3 million gallons of oil
    has been pumped into the Gulf of Mexico. So just the
    cost of the oil wasted is about $6,000,000. The cost
    to our coastlines, our economy, our national
    security rises every day this continues. So
    including the average cost estimates of the clean up
    rapidly approaching 4 billion dollars – that means
    the tally is 14 eSolar type plants could be built
    and provide power to 56,000 homes with just the
    money from this one oil spill.

    Reply

  24. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Good luck with that. We need to restructure our cities to emphasize public transportation, walkable neighborhoods, and bike paths, etc.
    I’m up for saddlin’ neighbors and riding THEM to the grocery store.

    Reply

  25. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “I don’t know a scale which can measure that level of stupidity”
    Well, if you bred two first cousins, interbred their first and second born, corn fed ’em, and had Hagee educate the little twerps, you might not have a scale, but at least you’d have a model.

    Reply

  26. Nobcentral says:

    If the well was exploding in 500 feet of water, the wave of crude
    would have hit the shore and devastated everything in its wake. We
    don’t drill near the shore for a reason. We shouldn’t drill at all.
    ANWR is the biggest of red herrings – 10 years, 10 billion, for 6
    months of pumping. The only thing drilling in ANWR would do is
    make oil companies rich from the next wave of government
    kickbacks…and devastate the natural ecosystem. Good luck with
    that. We need to restructure our cities to emphasize public
    transportation, walkable neighborhoods, and bike paths, etc. At
    some point, we’re going to be up against it – reconfigure our world
    or suffer the unbearable consequence of economic collapse from a
    combination of ecological disaster, geopolitical entanglement, and
    energy shortage. Producing more won’t help the problem, it will
    only encourage more consumption.

    Reply

  27. MarkL says:

    Am I the only one who wonders if Nadine’s real name is Eliza?

    Reply

  28. MarkL says:

    Ok, Nadine seems to be arguing that since we don’t require homes to be built out of steel (as if there is that much iron available anyway), the gulf spill is not a problem.
    I don’t know a scale which can measure that level of stupidity.
    Can’t you keep your ignorance spewing confined to a few areas where you at least can use other people’s talking points??

    Reply

  29. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “There is a tendency to proclaim ecological disasters “the end of the world” and to become hysterical over them. I’m not trying to dismiss the potentially huge short-term ecological damage and immense financial damage to those who make their livings on the Gulf; but Nature is more self-repairing than we give her credit for”
    Well all right then, you effin’ jackass. Perhaps now you will migrate to Chernobyl.
    Its only fair. I mean after all, if your horns glowed in the dark, at least people would know when to run for their lives.

    Reply

  30. nadine says:

    Linda, wouldn’t it be more timely to ask why MMS doesn’t have any fire booms in stock to help contain and burn off any oil spill that occurs?
    There is always a tradeoff between safety regulations, risk and cost. There would be far few home fires if regulations required that every home be built out of steel; but we continue to build in wood and have fire departments instead.

    Reply

  31. nadine says:

    I’m just trying to point out that there is a lot of methane, natural gas, and crude oil seeping from California coastal waters; I have seen one non-profit claim it was the equivalnet of 2,000,000 barrels over the last 40 years. Yet the California coasts are not dead zones.
    There is a tendency to proclaim ecological disasters “the end of the world” and to become hysterical over them. I’m not trying to dismiss the potentially huge short-term ecological damage and immense financial damage to those who make their livings on the Gulf; but Nature is more self-repairing than we give her credit for.

    Reply

  32. Linda says:

    I’d bet that Obama will change his off-shore drilling policy–not sure that Bush would have.
    People should be aware that off-shore driling is regulated by the Minerals Management Service of the Department of the Interior. The rest of my comments are from a newsletter today from POGO (Project on Government Oversight) in DC. There’s more on their website:
    “There’s an untold story in the Gulf oil spill disaster: the role of the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS), the government agency tasked with overseeing offshore drilling. MMS’s track record raises questions about whether the agency has been working in the best interest of taxpayers. For example:
    MMS awarded Transocean (the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon rig) a safety award in 2009;
    MMS failed to bolster safety requirements for devices and equipment used on Deepwater Horizon in spite of being aware of the dangers they presented;
    MMS continues to be plagued by a revolving door problem with industry; and
    MMS understated the scale and environmental impact of oil spills, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
    You also might recognize the MMS as the agency in charge of the Royalty-In-Kind program, which for years shortchanged taxpayers on royalties for natural gas and oil leases on federal lands.
    I’m excited for the opportunity to bring our concerns about MMS to a wider audience: tonight I’m scheduled to appear on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer after 6:00 P.M. to talk more about the problems at the agency.
    You can find more information on our new resource page devoted to oversight of the Interior Department, which we set up after receiving so many inquiries about our work in this area.
    Hopefully, as congressional investigators widen their focus to include scrutiny of the agency, we’ll see concrete changes to ensure that the government is doing all it can do to prevent these costly disasters.”

    Reply

  33. Tom Sanders says:

    I really hope that animals and sea life are not affected by our mistakes. We need to be careful with our toxic creations. We not only destroy mother nature but create new wildlife disasters. Please give to your nearest Red Cross.

    Reply

  34. The Pessimist says:

    nadine,
    Are you honestly trying to draw a direct parallel between the almost immeasurable amounts of crude oil seeping naturally from the sea floor off the coast of California to the millions of gallons of crude oil hemorrhaging, and increasingly hemorrhaging, into the much smaller confines of the heavily populated Gulf of Mexico region?
    The first event is NATURAL, truly the

    Reply

  35. David Billington says:

    Nadine- Sorry, I thought you were referring to oil drilling on the
    coast. Thirty years ago the estimates of how much oil lies
    immediately offshore came, I believe, to about 36 months worth
    of consumption. Maybe there is more oil but I don’t think coastal
    drilling is the long-term answer to our needs.
    Nuclear energy may well be making a comeback, for a few
    decades at least, as a way to generate electricity without the
    environmental consequences of new coal-fired power plants.
    The Obama administration seems to have committed to nuclear
    energy and the Republicans are certainly not opposed.
    My point is that it is not enough to bring new energy online. We
    also need to improve the efficiency with which it is used. The
    question is whether we need for non-environmental reasons to
    shift to new kinds of motor vehicles. If we do, then we need to
    find ways to power them and make their components with less
    damage to the environment, or at least with less damage than
    continuing to burn oil and coal at current rates.

    Reply

  36. nadine says:

    ANWR is on land, David, and we have lots of coastal California wells that were capped 30 years ago. Reopening those wells would actually reduce crude oil seepage into the ocean. As for what other coastal reserves we have, nobody’s been allowed to drill for 30 years so they haven’t looked. Potentially we have enormous reserves, but what’s the point of looking if you can’t drill? We have the world’s largest coal reserves, and the ability to supply all electricity with nuclear power – except we haven’t been able to start a new power plant in 30 years either.
    Nobody else in the world cripples themselves this way by refusing to use their own energy sources.
    Water and wind can supply 10% of our needs, max. Before you dismiss fossil fuel as too polluting, take a look at what battery manufacture does to the landscape.

    Reply

  37. David Billington says:

    Nadine – I don’t think the U.S. has major untapped oil reserves
    on land, and coastal drilling (eg. ANWR) will only add a few years
    to our consumption. North America still has other fossil fuels
    but the costs of using them would be high.
    Energy is a only a problem relative to the machines that use it.
    If advances in battery design can give hybrid cars a normal daily
    driving range, we might get 100 mpg with hybrids. With further
    recharging at night, we might be able to moderate the needed
    increases in electrical generating capacity. A firm right now is
    exploring the idea of providing gas stations with batteries that
    electric cars could swap with, so that these cars could also drive
    longer distances without having to wait for a long recharge.
    We need to focus as much on the things that use energy as on
    the energy these things need to use.

    Reply

  38. The Pessimist says:

    This entire episode is the confluence of multiple factors going back decades. It didn’t spontaneously erupt from the Gulf floor on April 20, 2010.
    Attempting to identify a singular human villain for this ecological catastrophe is misguided and distracting.
    The fundamental cause of this most recent, but by no means unexpected disaster, is American style predatory capitalism. Period.

    Reply

  39. David says:

    The only solution I see is a shift in public consciousness which forces a shift in White House consciousness. Apparently, when Obama flew over the area, he was quite affected by both the oil spew and the degradation of the barrier wetlands. I really do not know how much power a president actually has over the corporate private sector, which has successfully made itself into de facto world government, not do I know to what extent a president is the prisoner of the American way of life.
    I do know that this is a catastrophe of horrendous proportions and that no one knows what in hell to do about it. The horrifying reality is that there might well be nothing anyone can do.
    And might I add that Bill Kristol is an ideologiclally driven intellectual farce. Rush Limbaugh is, of course, a clown without a worthy routine, and Sarah Palin is lost in her own mental wilderness.
    The scientist who suggested a small nuke to seal it is not terribly off base, given what this geyser will do over the next couple of months. Spew, baby, spew, Ms. Sarah Palin.

    Reply

  40. nadine says:

    David, we wouldn’t be doing this kind of deep sea drilling if environmentalists hadn’t shut off all new on-land and coastal seas drilling. If this well were 500 feet underwater instead of 5000 feet underwater we’d have a much more manageable problem.

    Reply

  41. David Billington says:

    If submarines cannot get the shut-off system at the wellhead to
    work, then a huge steel dome could be dropped with a conduit to
    the surface that can control and capture the flow of oil. A relief
    well drilled alongside the formation could relieve the pressure in a
    couple of months.
    Obviously it would be better if we didn’t do this kind of deep-sea
    drilling, but if the Obama administration remains committed to it,
    the question is whether it will now receive the kind of close
    regulation and control given to nuclear reactors.

    Reply

  42. tib says:

    Hmm, no hrefs, here are the missing links:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/04/us/04enviro.html
    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ezra-
    klein/2010/05/the_bp_oil_spill_is_not_alone.html

    Reply

  43. WigWag says:

    “Wigwag, Bush presidency was an unmitigated disaster because he ignored science and held secret meetings with oil and gas executives.
    At the very least Obama won’t do that and will mitigate and change his policy to fit with science and not trust the oil companies’ claims about safety.” (Linda)
    I agree that for a variety of reasons the Bush/Cheney Administration was a disaster; but to be fair Linda, the policy on off-shore drilling that Obama announced was far more muscular than anything proposed during the Bush Presidency.
    As you know, whatever aspirations George W. Bush had for off-shore drilling, those aspirations were kept in check by the opposition of his brother, then Governor Jeb Bush, to drilling off the coast of Florida.
    The simple reality is that when it comes to energy exploration off the coasts, the Obama policy is every bit as bad and quite possibly worse than any policy that Bush pursued.

    Reply

  44. tib says:

    The NY Times (via Ezra
    Klein) provides context. In a word, bad, but not the worst in
    oil history and certainly not unimaginable.

    Reply

  45. Michele Kearney says:

    By The Numbers: Here’s Everything The White House Is Doing To Save The Gulf
    he White House is rapidly growing fearful of the idea that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill somehow represents Obama’s Katrina. Obama has surrogates telling POLITICO that the spill does not represent a failure of government, but rather the limits of government.
    And last night, The White House put out a raft of talking points about how well it’s practically mobilized an army in the effort to stop the disaster.
    Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/white-house-deepwater-horizon-2010-5?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+clusterstock+%28ClusterStock%29#ixzz0myjablz7

    Reply

  46. Michele Kearney says:

    How Technology Failed in the Gulf Spill from Technology Review: Q&A: Mark Little, Head of GE Global Research
    The disaster exposes overreliance on blowout preventers that has been long disparaged by insiders. The unabated flow of crude oil from a well off the Louisiana coast speaks to “the tyranny of distance and the tyranny of depth,” according to Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, named by President Obama last week to be national incidence commander to take control of the response effort from BP.
    http://www.technologyreview.com/energy/252…ref=rss&a=f

    Reply

  47. Don Bacon says:

    Hey, Halliburton will profit, that’s the main thing.
    Halliburton was responsible for an oil drilling process known as “cementing,” which regulators had already identified as a frequent cause of well blowouts. The company says it’s premature to speculate on the cause of the disaster, but it has confirmed a few things: It had four employees stationed on the rig at the time of the accident; cementing was one of several services the company performed on the rig; it completed the cementing of a casing string roughly 20 hours before the accident; and the cement slurry design had been used in other similar applications.
    Last August, Halliburton was the cementer on a well in the Timor Sea that blew out and caused tens of thousands of barrels of oil to leak.
    Just eight days before the recent accident, Houston-based Halliburton acquired Boots & Coots Services, also based in Houston, in a $240 million cash and stock deal. Boots & Coots specializes in “pressure control and well intervention services.” In other words, when an oil well explodes, Boots & Coots can step in and help remedy the problem.
    Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), have asked Halliburton provide all documents relating to “the possibility or risk of an explosion or blowout” at the rig in the Gulf, according to a report in the LA Times.

    Reply

  48. John Robert BEHRMAN says:

    Oops, I forgot to add that …
    “For all their great navies, Anglo-America cannot deal with Somali or Cayman Island pirates.”
    Our ruling elite will pay the ransom with somebody else’s money.

    Reply

  49. John Robert BEHRMAN says:

    Steve,
    So far, President Obama’s response to this blow-out is all “optics” and, considering yours and his celebrity stuff Saturday night, even that is not all that good from my class warfare or, you can call it, retail political perspective.
    Once again, thousands, maybe millions, of lives are devastated, dozens are dead, and all our nomenklature inside the beltway can say is “who could have known?”
    That puzzlement is where Margaret Thatcher’s “There is no alternative!” has come to now.
    No, go back to auction of the block now being drilled and you will find convergence of a Clinton-era corporate welfare state with the Bush-era privatization of regulation. This is not a conspiracy, just a compound failure-mode we are still in.
    All Obama has brought to that demoralizing parody of responsible government is more and prettier lawyers. So, of course, the right-wing will focus on our cringing liberal elite and start spreading sensational lies.
    How else to fill the vacuum of accountability in BoWash and Londinium or, maybe, I should call it Big Easy on the Potomac? Once famous for engineers like Lucius Clay or Leslie Groves, all across bi-partisan, Anglo-America today’s civil engineering is done by bond-lawyers.
    And, of course, you know that, finally, even that ends up with “Lamah only represents sleaze-bags, mah deah. They require the best repreesentation money can buy!”
    So, what admiral has lost his command, what paper-shuffling bureaucrat has gotten a pink-slip, which lawyer, lobbyist, or executive is in an orange jump-suit? None.
    No, we have a government that looks like a prep school and we get insufferable lectures on personal responsibility from a wealthy and educated elite with little patriotism and no accountability at all.
    Of course, the right-wing will demonize my party over this. How could they pass up the opportunity we give them?
    The President’s “Heckava Job” moment will be the facetious claim that BP will pay for the damage.
    BP’s liability is minimal since the “project” is actually a series of “deals” (complex legal and financial transactions) going back to the Clinton Administration. These have already generated tons of profits, fees, and kickbacks in order to render the whole complex “too big to fail”, which is to say more taxes for the poor and more indemnity for the rich.
    Boy, that is going to play well at the polls.
    There is a pretty good likelihood that Tony Hayward no more than Barack Obama knows what lies under the sedimentary legalism now spewing sweet, light crude into the Gulf.
    Whatever BP has financial responsibility for, it is not “Deepwater Horizon” — a US registered, Marshall Islands flagged, Swiss-owned vessel.
    No, the government and the press do not even seem to have the “birth certificate”. They do not know the original name of the “block”, “prospect”, “project”, “charter”, … and on and on.
    This spill is located at the bottom of the food-chain for the whole South Atlantic and can spread eco-devastation to a third of the planet.
    But, the financial interests involved will be able to blackmail both the British and American governments into keeping the financial losses from spreading to anybody actually responsible for the mess.
    For all their great navies, Anglo-America cannot deal with Somali or Cayman Island pirates.

    Reply

  50. Linda says:

    I’m told by visitors to New Orleans last week that the air there smells like oil and not spring flowers.
    My sister in Pensacola reports that people are very worried about local fishing and tourist industries, vital to their economy, but also lined up 5 deep at Joe Patti’s and other seafood shops to purchase shrimp, etc. before prices go sky high.
    Wigwag, Bush presidency was an unmitigated disaster because he ignored science and held secret meetings with oil and gas executives.
    At the very least Obama won’t do that and will mitigate and change his policy to fit with science and not trust the oil companies’ claims about safety.
    Of course, I’d guess that Goldman Sachs and other investment bankers are probably already making millions on seafood commodities futures and developing cute seafood derivative swaps as well as oil and gas ones.

    Reply

  51. WigWag says:

    Here’s what our President was saying about off-shore oil drilling just 35 days ago. The report is from ABC News,
    “In a move that angered environmentalists, President Obama today said he is lifting bans on offshore drillingand oil and gas exploration off the Virginia coast, and is expanding lease sales for oil and gas exploration on the Atlantic seaboard.
    “This is not a decision that I’ve made lightly,” Obama said at Andrews Air Force base today. “But the bottom line is this: Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we’re going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.”
    The Obama administration’s move to allow the lease sale to go forward for oil and gas exploration 50 miles off the Virginia coast marks the first sale of offshore oil and gas drilling rights in the Atlantic in more than two decades.
    The Department of Interior will also allow seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf from Delaware south to the tip of Florida, to assess the quantity and location of potential oil and gas resources. The agency will continue lease sales in the central and western Gulf of Mexico, and will open up two-thirds of the resources in this region should Congress lift the moratorium imposed upon it. The administration may also the eastern Gulf of Mexico, 150 miles west of the Florida coast, for possible drilling as well…All in all, more than 400 million acres of ocean may be opened for offshore drilling…Obama today said opening up these sites to oil and gas exploration is critical to U.S. energy security.
    “We’ll be guided not by political ideology but by scientific evidence,” the president said.”
    The oil spill in the gulf looks like an unmitigated disaster; so does the Obama Presidency.

    Reply

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