Madness: BP Left Off Second Emergency Cutoff + When Do We Say 'Enough'?


Map of potential spill trajectory over the next few days: NOAA

It just keeps going and going. New revelations about how little it would have cost to prevent the BP oil spill (only slightly exaggerating, half a million dollars for a part to the oil industry is like a couple nice dinners out to you or me), new worst-case scenarios about how long this could continue on, and (thankfully) some particularly poignant thoughts to counterbalance the mindless damage control by the chattering right wing pundits. Here's some of the best and worst of an increasingly bad situation:BP Left Off A SECOND Emergency Shut Off!
Climate Progress cuts through the reporting of the New York Times to remind us that in addition to the $500,000 acoustic cut-off switch, that could of prevented this all but was left off in an effort to save money, apparently there was another safety measure, allegedly also left off as a cost-saving measure, that could have been employed by BP:

Another worker familiar with the rig told the lawyers that the company had chosen not to install a deep-water valve that would have been placed about 200 feet under the sea floor. Much like blowout preventers, devices that are meant to seal leaks, this valve could have served as a cutoff of last resort in explosions, the lawyers said.

"The company took their chances in not having the valve so they could save money," said Mike Papantonio, one of the lawyers representing the shrimpers and fishermen.

Mr. Gowers [a BP spokesman] declined to comment on that claim except to say that the investigation was continuing and that it was too early to speculate.

Let that sit for a second. Not one backup safety procedure rejected, but two. Two. And now we have a problem of such proportions that the words epic, tragic, and catastrophic all are inadequate.

No One Honestly Knows How Long It'll Take To Stop the Oil Flow
Then consider the words of James Moore over at Huffington Post. Moore presents a worst-case scenario, gleaned from a leaked memo from NOAA and correlated with the 1979 Ixtoc oil spill, which went for nine months before being capped.

Although BP and Washington are trying very hard to convince the public that everything possible is being done to stem the flow of crude, there is seemingly little that might be accomplished. 5000 feet below the surface of the water with oil blasting out at tens of thousands of PSI, and wreckage from the giant rig scattered about, fixes are not easy to find. The latest plan is for a special funnel to be placed over the spout, which will then force the flow into a pumping channel. But how does a funnel get placed over the top of anything pushing at that kind of pressure? Consider that story to be an unrealistic solution.

The Ixtoc disaster, however, is spit in the ocean compared to the British Petroleum apocalypse. Estimates are the current blowout is putting 200,000 gallons or 5000 barrels of crude per day into the waters of the Gulf. Ixtoc's blowout was not capped until two relief wells were drilled and completed at the end of those nine months, and regardless of optimistic scenarios from the federal government or BP, relieving the pressure on the current flow is probably the only way to stop the polluting release of oil. The only way to relieve that pressure is with additional wells. No one is going to honestly say how much time is needed to drill such wells but consider the scope of environmental damage we are confronting if it requires at least as long as Ixtoc. Nine months of 5000 barrels of crude per day ought to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a lifeless spill pond and set toxins on currents that will carry them to deadly business around the globe.

NOAA apparently believes the situation is on the verge of getting worse. A leaked memo suggests that the tangle of pipes on the ocean floor are covering and constraining two other release points. Pressure is likely to blow those loose and, according to NOAA, the gusher will increase by "orders of magnitude." In most interpretations, that phrase means a ten-fold rise in the flow, which will replicate the Ixtoc disaster in three days.

What price does the Gulf of Mexico command? Is it the price of all that oil traded on the international market? Is the lost income to fisherman all along the Gulf's shores? Or is it something more? How can numbers on paper, columns on a spreadsheet, profit and loss, commodity, convey this?

Is There No Point At Which Humanity Says, Enough
Which brings me to the question I've been trying to stick in front of people a number of times since the Deepwater Horizon sank and started a river of oil gushing from the floor of the sea. Andrew Sullivan describes it as The Morality of Oil:

These wounds, these temperatures, these destructive weather patterns are symptoms of a planet in distress. At some point, those of us who see our relationship to the natural world as something more than mere economics - as something sacred - need to face up to the fact that our civilization is not taking this sacredness seriously enough. When do we ask ourselves: by what right do humans believe we can despoil the earth for every other species with impunity? By what self-love have we granted ourselves not just dominion over the earth but wanton exploitation of its every treasure?

Is there no point at which we can say: this is enough?

Increasingly I'm starting to identify with the doctor in The Bridge on the River Kwai who, upon seeing the senseless carnage at the end of the film can only utter, "Madness... madness."

Like this? Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

More on BP Oil Spill:
India Establishes National Environmental Tribunal - Should the US Start One Too?
Will The BP Oil Spill Be Our Collective Zen Slap Into Eco-Realization? Let's Hope So
BP Gulf Oil Spill Cheat Sheet: A Timeline of Unfortunate Events

Tags: Energy | Oil | United States