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Crews dealt setback in placing containment dome in Gulf oil spill

CNN wire staff
The effort to place a massive containment dome over a gushing underwater wellhead in the Gulf of Mexico was dealt a setback when a large volume of hydrates — icelike crystals that form when gas combines with water — accumulated inside the vessel, a BP official said Saturday.

The dome was moved off to the side of the wellhead and is resting on the seabed while crews work to overcome the challenge, a process expected to take at least two days, BP’s chief operations officer Doug Suttles said.

Suttles declined to call it a failed operation but said “What we attempted to do last night didn’t work.”

Suttles said the gas hydrates are lighter than water and, as a result, made the dome buoyant. The crystals also blocked the top of the dome, which would prevent oil from being funneled up to a drill ship.

“We did anticipate hydrates being a problem, but not this significant [of one],” he said.
Also Saturday, response crews discovered tar balls on a beach on Dauphin Island, Alabama, and sent them to a lab to determine if they’re from the Gulf Coast oil slick.

The analysis could take 48 hours to complete, the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center said Saturday…
(8 May 2010)

Oil production hit for decades after BP spill

David Strahan, The Independent
Even as the first oil from BP’s stricken Macondo well in the US Gulf of Mexico washed ashore this weekend, and as the clamour mounts, experts claim the slick will be nothing like as catastrophic as forecast – for either the environment or the oil industry. However, some analysts warn the accident could still seriously hurt global oil supply later this decade.

The fate of the Louisiana coastline is in the hands of BP engineers working to place a cofferdam, or 100 tonne steel and concrete funnel, over the worst leaks, using remote-controlled submarines a mile down on the seabed. If the operation succeeds early next week, as BP hopes, it should capture around 85 per cent of the leaking oil, sharply reducing the potential impact. “Once they have the cofferdam in place they’re almost home and dry”, says Dr Simon Boxall, an oil spill expert from the University of Southampton, “if they succeed, this won’t even make it into the top 100 oil spills by volume”.

Around 100,000 barrels, or 4.2 million gallons, have leaked from pipes damaged when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank last month, less than half the amount spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. But if the cofferdam fails, the impact would be much worse. BP, led by chief executive Tony Haywood (pictured) is already drilling a second well to intercept and plug the first just above the oil field itself, 13,000ft below the seabed, though that might take three months. If so the spill could reach 450,000 barrels, just under twice the Exxon Valdez. But even that would only rank in the top 50 spills. “It could clearly do a lot of damage,” says Dr Boxall, “but when people claim this is the oil industry’s Chernobyl, it’s really nothing like it”.

The rising backlash against deepwater drilling – anything over 500 meters, far too deep for divers to work should anything go wrong – is unlikely to damage the industry as much as the noise on Capitol Hill would suggest, because it is too vital to the oil supply. According to analysts Douglas Westwood, deepwater oil production has soared from under two million barrels per day in 2000 to eight mb/d in 2010, almost 10 per cent of global consumption, and must rise further as onshore and shallow offshore production declines. “They can’t ban deepwater because the industry has nowhere else to go”, says chairman John Westwood. Last year, 500 deepwater wells were drilled, costing up to $100m each, and Douglas Westwood predicts $167bn will be spent on deepwater development to 2014…
(9 May 2010)

How big is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?

Elena Egawhary, BBCnews
Size of world spills

The current size of the Deepwater Horizon spill is hard to measure exactly, but attempts can be made to estimate it.

Based on oil flow calculations from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Dr Simon Boxall, a marine pollution expert, says a total current spill can be estimated at about 7,000 to 10,000 tonnes of oil. (See factbox below for how this was worked out.)

But such estimates should always carry a caveat, he says, as these can be affected by factors such as the condition of the rig, the well and the quality of information available.

After the incident on 21 April, first estimate of the volume of oil leaking to surface was about 1,000 barrels a day

On 29 April this was increased to 5,000 barrels a day and remains unchanged

In terms of lives lost (11 workers died in the rig explosion), financial cost and environmental damage, the Deepwater Horizon incident is clearly serious. But it is not one of the world’s largest spills in terms of size alone.

In fact, based on the estimate above, it would not register in the largest 50 single incident, offshore oil spills that have occurred worldwide. Even the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill – despite the controversy and coverage – is not in the top 10.

However the potential for damage caused by Deepwater Horizon is apparent when looking at the events of June 1979 in the Bay of Campeche, also in the Gulf of Mexico.

In that spill, the exploratory oil well Ixtoc 1 suffered a blowout and wasn’t capped until more than nine months later, having released 461,000 tonnes of oil in total.

With the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico still uncertain, Dr Boxall, of the University of Southampton, points out reasons for optimism.

A plan to place a giant funnel over the leak could change things dramatically, he says.

“They reckon they will reduce the flow by 80% to 90%. And while there is no such thing as a good oil spill, the environment can cope much better with 70 tonnes a day than with 700 tonnes a day.”

Only two of the spills in our list of the world’s largest originated from oil rig explosions, the rest are tanker-related.

The largest of these came also in 1979, from the Atlantic Empress. It collided with the Aegean Captain in the Caribbean sea, spilling 287,000 tonnes of oil.

But far bigger than any of these peacetime accidents is the amount of oil spilled in the immediate aftermath of the first Iraq War, 1991. Although not a single offshore spill, it saw massive oil leaks that easily dwarf Ixtoc 1 with an estimated 1.4 million to 1.5 million tonnes of oil released into the Persian Gulf by Iraqi forces as they retreated from Kuwait.

(7 May 2010)

Tread carefully, Mr Obama. You need big oil

Carl Mortished, The Times
The Obama White House is taking a tough line on big oil. At least, that is how it appeared as pictures of the first oil-soaked birds in the Gulf of Mexico filled TV screens. Ken Salazar, the US Interior Secretary, said he would “keep the boot on the neck of BP” over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But he needs to be careful. If he treads too hard, his other boot will land on the neck of Joe Plumber and every American who objects to $3 gasoline.

Until the market mayhem over Greece took the shine off the oil price, American petrol prices were hovering at that critical $3 a gallon number, which causes blue-collar rage. Oil analysts are seeing demand destruction, the point at which the price begins to alter motorist behaviour. Between January and March, consumption of road fuel began to decline much as it did in 2008 when American eyeballs were popping at $4 gallons. When prices are too high, Americans drive fewer miles, not helpful when the world is on a cliff-edge of debt, insolvency and possibly a new recession.

At this juncture, President Obama cannot afford to pander to the green lobby and congressional big-oil bashers. It is true that BP has little credibility in Washington. Its onshore safety record was shredded by the Texas City explosion and leaky Alaskan pipelines. However, the President faces a bigger issue: imported oil. America imports more than half its crude oil, and the battle to keep the balance from tipping further towards Opec becomes ever more difficult…
(10 April 2010)