Home Sweet Oil Platform

Beyond Petroleum
Creative Commons License photo credit: jurvetson

We all breathed a sign of relief this weekend as Gustav spared the Houston area.  We hope that the hurricanes backed up for landing on our continent follow his example and fizzle out before causing as much harm as we have seen in the past century.  Katrina and Rita caused untold damage from which we are still struggling to recover.

The Gulf of Mexico normally produces about 1.5 million barrels a day of U.S. crude: 2% of global oil production and about a quarter of our domestic output. Many damaged platforms and oil rigs in the Gulf were sunk or put adrift after Katrina and Rita.  

This appears alarming at first,  and of course, oli platform cost us millions of dollars to replace – to say nothing of the production lost.  But the story is not all dark.  Our guest blogger,  Lindsey Goodier from the Oil and Gas Investor tells us more…

I learned something new yesterday – did you know that oil platforms are home to thousands of underwater creatures?

reef fish & soft coral
Creative Commons License photo credit: jon hanson

The protection provided by the platforms attracts a variety of fish and the structures become home to corals, crustaceans, and other invertebrates. Over the past 20 years, over 200 platforms that are no longer used have attracted many sea creatures. The conglomeration of sea creatures at these oil platforms has served as a learning center for marine life observation.

Especially in the Gulf of Mexico, the habitat the platforms create for fish is of value to fishermen. Since the GOM is a flat plain, comprised of mud, clay and sand with very little natural rock bottom and reef habitat, the platforms are one of the few places that habitats can form. Without oil platforms, fish and other marine life would be far more dispersed, making commercial fishing, recreational fishing and diving more difficult.

As observed and documented by the Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) diving scientists, invertebrates and plants attach to petroleum platforms within weeks of their placement in the marine environment. Within a year, the platform can be completely covered with plants and sessile invertebrates, attracting mobile invertebrates and fish species, and forming a highly complex food chain.

Now, I won’t be so naive as to ignore the fact that oil spills do occur. Yes, living under an oil platform can be a risky way of life. But the benefits of community living for these creatures seems to be greater than the risk of an actual spill. And the enjoyment that they bring to humans who can observe communities of marine life is the greatest benefit of all.

Lindsay Goodier is the Online Editor for OilandGasInvestor.com; check out her blog, Oil Rules.

Feeling energized?
Read about the Minerals Managment Service’s announcement about Sperm Whales.
See what Lindsay Goodier had to say about our Wiess Energy Hall.
Michael Phelps and solar power: what’s the connection?

A Whale of a Tale

ewf_7044_noorwegen 2007
Creative Commons License photo credit: Erwin Winkelman

HMNS was honored last week when Minerals Management Service  (MMS) chose our Wiess Energy Hall for an announcement about their six-year, $9.3 million study of endangered sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico. Part of the mission of MMS is to promote responsible use of energy and mineral resources on federal land and the Outer Continental Shelf. Their results indicate that the whales are only minimally affected by oil and gas exploration. You can read all the news articles written about this event by clicking here. 

The MMS partnered with several universities and scientists such as Doug Biggs,  a Texas A&M oceanographer who led the research.

Humpback Whale Breaching by Official Photographer (NOAA)
Creative Commons License photo credit: pingnews.com

As is often the case with science, we now have even more questions about sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico than we started with. In fact, most of us never even knew there were any kind of whales in the Gulf, probably because they live far from shore and spend their time diving as deep as 7,000 feet for squid and fish.

Because whales use echolocation, in the form of clicking and buzzing sounds, to find their prey, there was a concern that the loud seismic air guns used for oil and gas exploration would disorient them. However, the study showed that the noise had little affect. The study also gave us more information about the breeding and feeding patterns of the whales that can be used for future studies. The recent surge in interest in offshore drilling makes this Sperm Whale Seismic Study in the Gulf of Mexico even more important.

I love hearing that sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico are unharmed by seismic surveys, but another treat for me was the people who came to Houston from MMS for the press conference (held in the Wiess Energy Hall Explorations Theater). Caryl Fagot, and Eileen Angelico are as fun to work with as it must be playing with the whales in the Gulf! They are in the Public Affairs office in the MMS Gulf of Mexico Region Office in New Orleans. Carol Roden and Ann Jochens are research scientists on the team. I love seeing women scientists in action to prove to non-believers that YES women can be scientists.

Randall Luthi, Director, Minerals Management Service in Washington DC has a sense of humor that could even entertain a whale. He is from Wyoming and pointed out that he therefore has first-hand knowledge of whales, even though they have a different species than in the Gulf. (I hope this causes those of you who are not grinning to search a U.S. map for the humor involved.) I admire the dedication of Doug, Caryl, Eileen, Carol, Ann, Randall and all of the others in attendance, to keeping our wildlife safe from human harm.

Not to Be Long-Winded, But…

Creative Commons License photo credit: __Dori__

Just can’t get enough wind energy this month. NPR featured  (recently mentioned here) T. Boone Pickens, the venerable Texas oilman, and his plans to put 2500  wind turbines in the Texas panhandle–enough to power 1.3 million homes. He is a big advocate of using more wind energy to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by making more natural gas–currently used to generate electricity–available for powering transportation. Pickens points out a study citing that the land available in North Dakota for wind turbines–if used for that purpose–might be enough to power the entire USA.

And for those of you who are still stuck on the idea that wind turbines are ugly, you can soon try on a hot little number designed by French designer Philippe Starck. He’s designed a plastic wind turbine that can generate 20 to 60 percent (!) of your home electricity needs. NPR reports that it will be available later this year for only $630.  Maybe you should run down to your local wind boutique to make sure you’re on the list for this one. Fashion forward AND eco-friendly. How hip are you gonna be this fall?

Creative Commons License photo credit: CoreBurn

Speaking of wind, hurricane season is now in session, which means we’re also thinking a lot about the Gulf of Mexico – which is also closely related to our current energy crisis.

Offshore drilling on the Offshore Continental Shelf – (OCS) is an important factor in the equation which determines the cost of gasoline. Now you can actually keep an eye on the Minerals Management Service web site to see how the weather is effecting oil production in the GUlf of Mexico. For safety reasons, offshore oil rigs are shut down during dangerous conditions. But don’t worry too much, there are numerous procedures in place to make sure hurricanes don’t cause oil leaks.

Science Doesn’t Sleep (7.23.08)

Spotted dragonfly, perched
The new DelFly Micro is based on nature’s
design for a dragonfly.

Creative Commons License
photo credit: ragesoss

So here’s what went down after you logged off.

The dead zone off the Texas coast just keeps getting bigger.

A new flying camera weighs just three grams – and it’s so quick and maneuverable that it’s difficult to capture on film.

Think you’ve got what it takes? (Hint: start with a Ph.D and an M.B.A.) The Met, The Guggenheim, The Philadelphia Museum of Art and 17 other major museums are looking for new directors.

May’s powerful earthquake has put the culture of China’s “people in the clouds” in danger. (Via)

A solar eclipse is coming Aug. 1. Viewers in Canada, Greenland, the Arctic, central Russia, Mongolia and China will see it in totality; in North America, some will see a partial eclipse.

Engineers have taken a toy and turned it into the SnoMote – a remote-controlled data gathering device that lets climate researchers stay off of cracking ice sheets.