As I write this, the folks at British Petroleum are going ahead with plans to shove mud and eventually cement down the mouth of their leaking Gulf of Mexico well. I’d love to tell you that I have more faith in this version of a solution (Plan G? Plan H?) than the rest, but history isn’t on our side. So far, BP and the people managing the leak seem pretty good at developing plans and holding news conferences, but not too good at actually succeeding at much of anything.
To recap (pun strictly intended), BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform failed catastrophically on April 20th and sank in 5000 feet of water, taking the lives of eleven of her crew and tearing open the well bore, causing it to gush uncontrolled into the Gulf waters. There were repeated attempts to stem the flow – some traditional (blowout preventer), some not (top hat, junk shot, top kill) – but all were unsuccessful. A temporary cap was put in place on July 15th, limiting the flow to some seepage from the seabed, but no one’s sure just how long the cap can last. Relief wells are still being drilled, but are several weeks away from completion. Even if today’s effort to kill the well is successful, the relief wells will be completed to kill it deeper and decrease the likelihood of later failure.
If there’s any good news in all of this, it’s that the visible damage is far less than I or most others were expecting. Having watched the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, I was prepared for lots of oil on the beaches, but it seems that most areas have little more than tar balls. Even the areas closest to the blowout along the lower coast off Louisiana seem to have fared far better than anyone could have hoped. Perhaps it’s the difference in distance from shore between the spill in Prince William Sound (half a mile offshore) versus the Gulf (50 miles), or maybe I’m just watching the wrong newscasts. Maybe it’s all sitting just offshore waiting for the skimmers to finally arrive … or the first big hurricane. Whatever the cause, it’s a blessing.
Of course, that’s just the visible oil. Experts have said that the great depth of the blowout has resulted in huge amounts of oil mid-ocean, far below the surface, where cleanup is impossible. No one has any idea just how that is going to impact the Gulf, both now and far into the future. There’s also a great deal of concern over the use of chemical dispersants that were used to try and break down the oil. They were used extensively, and the concern is that you are simply trading one chemical demon for another. In any case, much like the sites of past disasters, we will be dealing with the results of this disaster for many years to come.
For now, let’s just get the damned thing capped.