Where do we go from here

“The battle’s done and we kinda won, so we’ll sound our victory cheer. Where do we go from here” – Joss Whedon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Oct 13, 2010 – The Deepwater oil ban was lifted by the President, but what does it mean? On the surface, it would seem that deepwater drilling off the Gulf would get back to normal. As always, reality is far different. A number of different environmental organizations, such as the Sierra Club, think it’s too soon to lift the ban. Some drilling companies fear that even though the ban has been lifted, the new regulations and red tape will prevent them from being able to drill. So what does the lifting of the ban and the new regulations really mean?

On April 30th, the President issued a moratorium on offshore drilling based open depth, meaning that companies could not drill new wells at depths greater than 500 feet. This did not stop the wells that were already producing. It also did not stop new wells or modification of existing wells that had obtained their permits before the moratorium went into effect. What happened next is what almost happens with every new law, it was challenged in court. Judge Feldman ruled that the moratorium was overly broad and would harm the Gulf Economy.

A 2nd offshore drilling moratorium was put into place. This time it applied to any deep water facilities with drilling capabilities. And again, as soon as the law was in place it was challenged in court. The 2nd moratorium was to be in effect till November 30, but it was listed October 12, nearly 7 weeks early.

Does that mean that offshore drilling has taken off? No. No it does not. Now there are new regulations that must be met. Some of the new regulations include making the CEO responsible for making sure the well has met all the safety requirements and having equipment on site to help contain a blowout, if one should occur. Companies are waiting for a final list of the new regulations. Some environmental organizations are unhappy with how quickly the moratorium has been lifted, but some congressmen are unhappy about the moratorium effect’s on the jobs in the Gulf. Many of the offshore drilling platforms have left the Gulf for more profitable waters.


Deepwater Update

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is finally coming to an end. After over 100 days, it seems that a cap, a static kill and the relief well will finally stop oil from pouring into the sea.

The estimate for the flow of the well has changed many times over the past 3 months. It seems to be topping out at around 62,000 barrels a day. This is much higher than the original estimates, but how do they calculate the flow? The USGS used video of the oil spill, mass balance calculations and remote sensors to determine how much crude oil was flowing out of the break.

Chandeleur Islands - May 9, 2010
Creative Commons License photo credit: lagohsep

So what has happened to all the oil? Well, the White House says that 75% has been dispersed, collected, burned off or evaporated. Other reports have different numbers. In July the old cap on the well was replaced with a new and better one that captured most of the oil. Then a static kill, which uses mud to force pressure down in the well, helped to stanch the flow. The relief wells have been drilled and there seems to be no seeping. All of that means that the oil spill is over. 4.9 million barrels was pumped out in the Gulf, making this the largest oil spill in the Gulf and the third largest oil spill in history.

BP is waiting on a pressure test to see if they need to initiate a bottom kill. A bottom kill is when they drill to the bottom of the well and pump in mud and cement through the bottom of the well.

The spill has caused a lot of things to change. A moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf was put into effect. There have been several challenges to this.

Transocean's Development Driller III
Creative Commons License photo credit: uscgd8

Also the Mineral Management Services (MMS) has been broken up into the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The MMS was responsible for conservation and environmental protection on federal land used by energy companies as well as collecting royalties and enforcing regulations on companies that used federal lands to produce crude oil and natural gas. They were plagued with accusations of corruption and ineptitude. The new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or Bureau of Ocean Energy, has been subdivided into the Offshore Energy and Minerals Management and Minerals Revenue Management. This means that the people who enforce the regulation are not the same people who collect the revenue.

The 4.9 million barrels that were pumped out into the ocean will have long reaching environmental consequences. Some scientists worry that all the natural bacteria that ate the oil will help to form an area that is low in oxygen. However, a mass killing of fish does not require an oil disaster. Numerous beaches were closed to tourists and locals alike. Also some areas set aside for fishing (and shrimping) were closed because of the oil spill. Unfortunately, it will take a long time to see what the real lasting effects of the spill are. In fact, it will take years to determine the true effects. Most of the beaches and fishing areas have been reopened.

Waking up on April 20, no one would have thought that we would be dealing with an unprecedented disaster in the Gulf. No one thought that such a disaster would be linked with how we perceive the modern world or our every day life. Will we take steps to prevent the next one?