Monday, February 21, 2011
BP oil spill revisited
Dead crab at ocean bottom Hat tip to University of Georgia
I see the Gulf of Mexico is now well polluted. As I said at the time of the posts of the oil spill that's what would happen. A couple of things happened with the oil. As I mentioned when oil is released in water it floats on the surface for a while. Then after a time it emulsifies and remains suspended between the surface and the bottom in a slimy column. Eventually it sinks to the bottom. The problem with the Gulf is that there was no way to collect that much oil in short order. The only option was to treat it with dispersant to prevent it from coming to shore and as we saw even that didn't work very well either. By my guesstimations there really isn't a way to prevent such an event from happening again. That is unless they start following extreme safety measures to prevent a spill in the first place. No more "good enough" write offs of procedures. And no more ignoring or turning off alarms. We've witnessed too many accidents of this type over the last five or ten years. All it takes is old equipment or improperly trained people to result in deaths. Process safety I believe will be the next big item that is if politics and greed don't get in the way.
In looking at the investigations of the CSB over the last five or ten years all events that resulted in death were the result of failures in process safety.
As for the critters in the Gulf, a lot of them at the bottom will die as a result of this spill. There are areas in the Gulf that have massive amounts of hydrates (hydrocarbon gasses locked in ice) that were the result of natural and oil leaks. They pose no great threat to wildlife at the bottom but what BP unleashed is another story. There isn't enough microbes there to do the job of breaking down the oil and even if there were it would make the oxygen levels unfit for aquatic life. At present we have no technology to deal with such a situation. There are no giant vacuums to do the clean up job and by the looks of it mother nature can't do it either.
So there's a problem that may take a generation to solve, separating the hydrogen from the carbon, sequestering the carbon in order to have usable hydrogen as a fuel source. Then there's the problem of just collecting the material a few miles deep in the ocean.