Did They Plug The Hole Yet?

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39 days later, millions upon millions of gallons of oil have seeped from the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico. How many gallons is still imprecise—estimates have ranged from 5,000 gallons a day to 1,050,000 a day. But as you can see from the below video footage, the leak appears to be better classified as an underwater geyser of black gold.

Many attempts by BP to stop the gushing oil have ended in failure. They continually tried to reactivate seal-off valves that were designed to shut down the well, but to no avail. Then they tried lowering a 40-foot steel containment chamber to cap it off. After that disaster of an attempt BP decided to use a smaller containment chamber, called top hat that also didn’t work. Recently they’ve had a pipe redirecting the oil to a nearby tanker, obviously not stopping the leak.

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Where oil has made landfall. Image courtesy The New York Times.

On Wednesday they instituted a plan called top kill, which early estimates of the procedure are said to be working. Basically heavy drilling mud is pumped from the surface and into the choke and kill lines on the blowout preventer (the safety device at the wellhead that failed) and hopefully the force of continuous mud will surmount the pressure of the oil.

Top Kill

The logistics of top kill. Image courtesy The New York Times.

This Thursday morning President Obama held a news conference at the White House to discuss the catastrophe to date. He touched upon top kill, where responsibility lies, the failures of the Minerals Management Service (the Federal oversight agency for oil drilling), and his extension of the moratorium on permits to drill new deepwater wells for six more months. Here are a few of the key points he made that I picked out:

  • “A culture in which oil companies were able to get what they wanted with significant oversight was the norm. And that needs to change. Congress mandated that only 30 days could be allocated before a yes or no is given [on a proposed project by a company]. When I came into office you just gave the environmental waiver because you couldn’t complete an environmental study in 30 days.”
  • “Domestic oil is part of our greater energy approach. It has to be one facet. It can’t sustain forever, but we’re not going to be able to transition to these clean energies right away. It makes sense for us to develop our oil and natural gas resources to not rely on foreign products. Where I was wrong was that the oil companies had their act together when it came to worst-case scenarios. The federal agency charged with overseeing its safety and security [MMS] must be operating at the highest level for us to go forward with domestic oil production.”
  • “We can’t drill our way out of the problem, it may be part of the mix on a bridge to new technology and resources. The easily accessible oil has already been sucked out of the ground. That means there’s probably going to end up being more risk. What risks are we willing to accept?”

According to a New York Times report, President Obama’s extension of the moratorium will “halt further permits for new wells for six months, delay planned exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the coast of Alaska, cancel an August lease sale in the western Gulf, and cancel a lease sale off the coast of Virginia.”

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The oil spill site. Image courtesy The New York Times. Check out their tracker of how it grows in size.

As stated before, initial reports on the effectiveness of top kill are good, but everyone is still a bit cautious about saying it has stopped it completely. Plus there is still a great chance that it will fail. Which brings us to the bigger question: If we aren’t prepared to stop a major crisis like this, then why are we drilling our oceans? Laziness in oversight and safety regulations (along with greed) has caused this, and now the Gulf of Mexico will never be the same. With admission of inherently more risk involved with domestic oil production, one thing is clear: Don’t drill my ocean.—Ryan Brower

What You Can Do

  1. Federal Action Alert - Help us urge the Obama administration to demand more of a response at the spill site, and reinstate our Federal Offshore Moratorium. Over 10000 letters have been sent.
  2. Gulf Oil Spill Tracker - Surfrider Foundation and SkyTruth have launched an interactive website, that lets you document what’s happening to your coast. Using an interactive map, you can report text descriptions, photos, and links to video of your beach before oil hits and after.
  3. State Action Alert for Special Session (FL Only) – Our legislators are holding up Gov. Crist’s request for a special session to make oil drilling a 2010 ballet item.
  4. Training – BP has hired PEC Premier to organize training throughout Florida. There are a number of locations this weekend and next. Once you have done this step contact to volunteer your time.
  5. Walk your beaches daily to ensure no garbage or plastic debris is present. Do not disturb bird nesting areas!
  6. Save the Date: Hands Across the Sand Nationwide, June 26th event. Stay Tuned!

Contacts

  • To report oiled wildlife, please call 1-866-557-1401
  • To discuss spill related damage, please call 1-800-440-0858.
  • To report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information, please call 1-866-448-5816.


Head to Surfrider’s oil drilling specific blog oilonthebeach.blogspot.com for constant updates and tons more information on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.