BP continues kludgey, toxic attempts to contain Gulf oil spill, limit damage

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50 Responses to “BP continues kludgey, toxic attempts to contain Gulf oil spill, limit damage”

  1. kattw says:

    I dunno. I can fault BP for a lot with this, but realistically, it’s not a common occurrence, the weather is being rough, and there’s not exactly a manual for how to handle this kind of emergency. And at least they’re continuing to try to fix the problem, rather than closing their eyes and hoping it will go away (though I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a few people doing that too).

    Personally, I find it most amazing that they can get the oil when it’s a mile under sea level, but when it’s sitting right there, they’ve got no really good way to collect it. I think they need the giant transforming death star vacuum cleaner from Spaceballs.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for your continued coverage of this. The New York Times and other main stream media sites have completely shunted coverage off of the front cover to small news blurbs and sidelines. This may be the worst environment catastrophe since Chernobyl, it deserves to be covered.

  3. bkad says:

    Wow, this is a pretty inflammatory headline. Unbecoming, even.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “The acoustic trigger costs about $500,000.”

    Well, there are something like 3,800 rigs in the Gulf.
    3,800 x $500,000 = $1,900,000,000
    According to BP it is “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities”, and that “due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected”. Granted the rigs aren’t all owned by BP, but the industry did save $2B, so that’s good.

    “Estimated costs of the oil spill to Gulf Coast residents are now upward of $14 billion to gulf state communities.”
    Oh, wait …

  5. Patrick Austin says:

    BP is, like all gigantic industrial companies, a slightly evil organization. But…

    I have no doubt that BP has some monumentally talented engineers and scientists working on this. It’d be an understatement to say they have deep resources at their disposal. They’re doing the best they can and I’ve not heard anyone else put forward a magic solution. I feel bad for these bastards.

    I really have a hard time mustering much outrage over this. I’m sitting here typing on my plastic computer on my plastic chair talking to my on my plastic phone. She’s at her office, which she got to using gas and a plastic car. I’m almost as responsible for this as BP.

    • bbonyx says:

      Kudos on recognizing the sizable role that plastics play in the need for petroleum. I’m sick of so many only thinking of fuel, completely oblivious to the ubiquitous nature of oil and the products created from it that they use every second of every day.

    • grimc says:

      And I enjoy burning dinosaurs up as much as anyone, but before you start taking some of the blame, consider this: BP aggressively and successfully fought against additional layers of safety on its oil rigs (‘course, this was back during the Bush administration so “fought” may be too strong a word)–safety measures that European countries mandate. It’s fair to say this disaster could have been preventable, and if not preventable, at least mitigated if not for BP’s greed.

    • Anonymous says:

      Does plastic have to come from oil that isn’t acquired with proper safety precautions? Is it the fault of consumers (rather than say voters) when the companies involved decide to cut costs instead?

  6. Anonymous says:

    That is a nice quote. I also liked: “We will ultimately win it because ultimately one of the interventions to stop the leak will stop the leak.”

  7. Anonymous says:

    The acoustic switch is meant to be enabled via a sonic pulse. That is, if it can’t be accessed physically, you basically point a boom-box at it, play some Queen, and it does its thing.

    That being said, while I would have liked one on this rig, it probably wouldn’t have helped. My understanding is that the thing BEING switched on failed. As a poster above indicated, and I paraphrase, if a lightbulb burns out, it doesn’t matter how many on-off switches are attached to it. Neither the switch by the door, nor the one by the hallway, nor the Clapper, nor the fancy remote control, will turn that bulb on again.

    • Cowicide says:

      while I would have liked [an acoustic switch] on this rig, it probably wouldn’t have helped.

      O RLY?

      [citations sorely needed]

      Is there video evidence that Free Willy got stuck in the blowout preventer or something?

      And, please… some real sources… not the usual right wing drivel that also tries to prove jesus rode dinosaurs, m’kay?

      At this point, there’s absolutely NO evidence that the blowout preventer itself failed; it’s just a right wing fantasy at the moment. What we do know is that the damn thing should have had a backup device (an acoustic control, a.k.a., acoustic switch) to trigger it if all else failed to trigger the BOP…. but our good, conservative, corporatist friends fucked us all on that one.

      http://sg.wsj.net/public/resources/images/NA-BF715B_OILSP_NS_20100428231502.gif

      Time will tell if a Kraken’s penis got stuck in the blowout preventer. But the fact that they took such a catastrophic risk by not installing an acoustic control system will remain damning enough anyway.

  8. tomservojr says:

    Xeni, which methods would you suggest to stop the leak?

  9. phitz96 says:

    Sorry, I haven’t read all your comments. I assume, perhaps, most were whiney.

    Heroes come to the front in severe conditions. World War I and II had many. Just because some very questionable people induced these conflicts doesn’t mean that the heroism was less.

    Down in the Gulf, as you and I sit comfortably at home, there are men and women fighting hard. I suspect some of them may die.

    Their death will not be because of the love for BP. Their sacrifice will be for what motivates many of us, an unexplicable altruistic chauvinism.

    I honor many heroes. I wonder if I had been in their place I could have come forward.

    Wait for the story to develop and believe, fervently, that as usual some of us will be worth honoring.

  10. duquesne_pdx says:


    The problem isn’t that BP isn’t trying very hard to stop the leak and failing. The problem is that they did nothing to prevent a leak in the event of a catastrophic event in the first place, because the solution was too expensive. BP has a terrible record of cutting costs that lead directly to accidents (BP’s refinery in Texas City that exploded Easter 2005 was a direct result of lack of maintenance in the plant).

    @kattw We’re not “almost as responsible for this as BP.” BP — among other big oil companies — is responsible because they lobbied the US Congress and regulatory agencies for years to reduce oversight and regulations. In effect, they said that they could be trusted to prevent or mitigate any potential catastrophe. Their actions have shown over and over again that they are unable to do so. This spill was foreeable and therefore preventable.

    @tomservojr, I’m not sure what solution Xeni is supposed to come up with; she’s not one of the hundreds (if not thousands) of engineers paid to come up with solutions by BP.

  11. donniebnyc says:

    I have no sympathy for BP at all. They could have installed an automatic switch to prevent this spill at a cost of a measly $500,000, but they chose not to. Why? Because once again the anti-regulation people joined forces with industry lobbyists to put profits ahead of safety. The Bush/Cheney legacy will be haunting us for decades.

    From a piece by Robert Kennedy:

    “The absence of an acoustical regulator — a remotely triggered dead man’s switch that might have closed off BP’s gushing pipe at its sea floor wellhead when the manual switch failed (the fire and explosion on the drilling platform may have prevented the dying workers from pushing the button) — was directly attributable to industry pandering by the Bush team. Acoustic switches are required by law for all offshore rigs off Brazil and in Norway’s North Sea operations. BP uses the device voluntarily in Britain’s North Sea and elsewhere in the world as do other big players like Holland’s Shell and France’s Total. In 2000, the Minerals Management Service while weighing a comprehensive rulemaking for drilling safety, deemed the acoustic mechanism “essential” and proposed to mandate the mechanism on all gulf rigs.”

    “The acoustic trigger costs about $500,000. Estimated costs of the oil spill to Gulf Coast residents are now upward of $14 billion to gulf state communities. Bush’s 2005 energy bill officially dropped the requirement for the acoustic switch-off devices explaining that the industry’s existing practices are “failsafe.”

    Read the rest here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-f-kennedy-jr/sex-lies-and-oil-spills_b_564163.html

    • agnot says:

      “Bush’s 2005 energy bill officially dropped the requirement for the acoustic switch-off devices explaining that the industry’s existing practices are ‘failsafe.’”

      Nice. Haliburton again.

  12. anansi133 says:

    I still want to understand the difference between the two types of cutoff switch. I know there was *not* the half-million dollar acoustic switch (why is it called that? how does it work?) but there *was* supposedly a “dead man’s switch” which somehow failed to function.

    I understand that these depths are only workable by robots: how much deeper is the well head, than, say, the Benthic Explorer in _The_Abyss_? (is there even a real world counterpart, or was that part strictly science fiction?)

    Part of the problem with this story, is that it’s so far out of everyday experience, the experts can spin whatever tale they want to, and it will sound plausible.

    • Rindan says:

      I still want to understand the difference between the two types of cutoff switch. I know there was *not* the half-million dollar acoustic switch (why is it called that? how does it work?) but there *was* supposedly a “dead man’s switch” which somehow failed to function.

      I find your lack of a violent knee jerk reaction completely UNACCEPTABLE.

  13. agnot says:

    I don’t think this is a wholly laudable effort by BP. But I think that point avoids the issue.

    I think the effort is to continue staged act, or staged attempts, while they plod toward the fix everyone knows is the only real solution.

    The U.S. government would settle for nothing less, I am sure, despite, or because, of their culpability.

    It was Haliburton who did this. They caused an explosion while trying to get away with the quick-cheap-and-easy cap to this new undersea well. The concrete cap they used is considered dangerous. How many degrees of separation are there between Haliburton and the U.S. government?

    The fix is going to be to drill at least two or three wells circling this one in close proximity to reduce pressure to the point where there is actually some possibility of a fix. That will take months.

    So goodbye Gulf, hello $6 per gallon gas, hello more stress on the seafood industry, hello more economic crisis and unemployment when the debate is still whether or not this is a real recovery.

    I love the way the press is on board. They keep calling it a leak. It is a gusher. You know? Like when they strike oil in the movies. Except Haliburton bumbled the cap along any real possibility of a cap in the near future, not to mention killing 11 people and injuring others and sinking The Deep Water Horizon.

  14. Rindan says:

    In effect, they said that they could be trusted to prevent or mitigate any potential catastrophe. Their actions have shown over and over again that they are unable to do so. This spill was foreeable and therefore preventable.

    Regulating HOW to be safe is generally a poor idea, especially when doing something like experimental deep water drilling. I don’t know enough about how the explosion happened (and frankly, I doubt anyone really knows yet) to know if some EU mandated safety device would have prevented this. Regulators really just can’t keep up. The best way to deal with this sort of thing is to have loose mandates and that beat the living piss out of a company when they fail.

    So, you shouldn’t try and demand that if you work with chemical X you need safety equipment Y, you just mandate that if you work with something hazardous, you need “appropriate” safety equipment and slap in some fines for failing.

    My point is that I don’t know if more regulation is the answer. What I would rather see are some broad safety mandates (which I am guessing we already have), and then an ironclad legal framework for extracting both the cost of cleanup and damage, plus some punitive fines. Shit like spending 20 years to pry a few cents out of Exxon’s hands for the Valdez disaster shouldn’t be tolerated.

    • Mitch says:

      If regulation isn’t specific enough companies will use what they believe to be the most cost effective solution. Regulators need to work closely with scientists and engineers to determine the best possible safeguards that can be used and then require that they be used.

      BP was already obeying a broad, general directive to drill safely.

      • Trotsky says:

        How do we, as citizens, address lobbying and outright bribery by BP to undermine regulation and calculated attempts at always opting for liability over prevention? BP makes a deliberate effort to evade safety procedures and to undermine laws at the creation level to ensure profit above all other considerations. They are literally a criminal organization, except they have a more robust network of lobbyists, government assets than the Mafia. They commit the crime, but change the laws to make their crime legal.

        When the regulators are owned outright by BP, how should citizens respond?

        BP was obeying a “broad, general directive” to do whatever the fuck they wanted.

    • agnot says:

      “I don’t know enough about how the explosion happened (and frankly, I doubt anyone really knows yet) to know if some EU mandated safety device would have prevented this.”

      A concrete cap on the sea floor, placed by Haliburton, reacted with chemicals, creating a bubble of gas which expanded exponentially as it rose up the drill pipe from the extreme pressure of 5,000 ft depth. The drill pipe broke open above deck and the methane gas found an ignition source. Concrete caps are not considered prudent procedure under extreme conditions, like 5,000 depth.

    • grimc says:

      We have broad safety mandates, and the existing framework will force BP has to pay for all cleanup costs and up to $75MM in damages (Know how much BP netted in the 1Q 2009 alone? $6 billion). So the status quo is your ideal? Shrug and move on?

      It’s the lack of regulation that led to this disaster. Questioning whether ‘more regulation’ would do any good is just plain incomprehensible to me.

      • Rindan says:

        We have broad safety mandates, and the existing framework will force BP has to pay for all cleanup costs and up to $75MM in damages (Know how much BP netted in the 1Q 2009 alone? $6 billion). So the status quo is your ideal? Shrug and move on?

        If by “status quo” you mean force them to pay for all for all cleaning costs, all damages, plus punitive fines wrapped in a legal framework that will prevent the compensation phase from being dragged out for decades, then, um, yes, I am for the “status quo” which currently doesn’t exist.

        But hey, if you are all for a some random mandates by bureaucrats followed by a stern look and a furious finger waggling after an unexpected calamity not covered by a mandate piece of safety equipment, go for it.

        Safety should be job number one for any of these companies. The way you ensure that is to brutalize them when they fail and make sure they pay for all externalities associated with their failure. Setting a low bar minimum and then giving them stern looks when they fail is a pretty good way to ensure that they do the bare minimum. The problem is that the people who know best how to regulate safety work inside the company. The chances of a government desk jockey knowing the safest way to drill a mile underwater is pretty slim.

        Hell, I am even for mandating a few industrial standards, but when it comes down to it, especially on the bleeding edge of technology, you need to make companies WANT to be safe. The only way to do that is to hit them in the only spot that they care about.

        • grimc says:

          “The chances of a government desk jockey knowing the safest way to drill a mile underwater is pretty slim.”

          What a silly smear. Sure, the civil servants who develop and oversee safety regs on deepwater oil rigs have no special expertise–they really wanted to work at the DMV, but there weren’t any openings. Same goes for the CDC and FDA. No scientists or engineers, just “desk jockeys.” Far better to trust a BP number cruncher striving to keep the overhead low.

        • Anonymous says:

          You’re right. But as the bucks increase, so will the number of interest groups feeding of them. I am still waiting to see what happens afterwards. The start really did not look good with Obama trying to draw ire away from BP towards himself (it pays to take the blame at about a billion dollars). The face of government has already shown that its willing to sacrifice the president of the US for BP, what chance everyone else. By the way, when that didnt work, they tried to do the finger waggling and stern looks. That one will really work. All of you, take out your books and start writing, I will not be a naughty boy 1000 times!

  15. Cowicide says:

    Top hats and junk shots! And if that don’t work, there’s always golf balls and tires! Is anyone uploading this stuff to thereifixedit.com?

    You’d almost think that BP didn’t make any preliminary contingency plans if such a disaster was ever to happen.

    But I thought libertarians and corporatists thought of everything in a privatized world?

    Hmmm…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

  16. Anonymous says:

    No number of switches, acoustical or not, would have prevented this. You can’t make a burnt-out light bulb work by adding switches.

    The most likely hypothesis at this point is that the shear ram (the only one of the six shutoffs that can function when there’s still drill in the pipe) did not entirely block the pipe, probably because it struck the hardened joint between sections. At that point rapidly expanding methane propelled abrasive tailings and cement debris past the blade of the shear and wore it away to the point where it can no longer block the pipe. Adding more switches doesn’t magically make the shear blade invulnerable to abrasion, or magically make it able to chop through the hardened metal of section joins and drill tips.

    BP (who own the exploitation rights) and Transocean (who had the accident) and Cameron (who built the BPO) and Halliburton (who provided the cement that failed) were all acting to provide YOUR lazy ass with gasoline. If they didn’t do it, somebody else would; and we will always drill deeper and deeper and take bigger and bigger risks until we have a catastrophic accident – if not this time, then next time.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Don’t make light of such a serious situation. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is anymore. Someone has to take responsibility for stopping this catastrophe from spreading. BP could close up shop tomorrow and we would still be screwed. Please don’t keep any magical solutions to yourself.

  18. Trotsky says:

    But the Rastafarians are still locked up, right?! Phew.

    http://www.boingboing.net/2010/05/10/rastafarian-inmates.html#comment-783733

    Also, let’s make sure none of the executives from Massey Energy see the inside of a jail cell for the mining disaster in Montcoal, West Virginia.

    Beacon on a hill!

  19. Trotsky says:

    >> Xeni, which methods would you suggest to stop the leak?

    This remark is specious.

    This is the same argument people use to justify the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. They respond to critics by saying: “Well, how do you propose we withdraw?”

    The answer is don’t drill unless you have planned and implemented procedures for the accidents that inevitably occur. BP should not have drilled if they had no process or solutions in place to remedy something like this.

    This is the same as nuclear energy proponents who take no consideration or concern for the inevitable disposal of waste products until they’re neck deep in toxic, radioactive waste. And then it’s “Well, what do you propose we do?”

    The point is that America rarely, if ever, plans ahead. We pursue the fast and dirty cash above all other interests. It’s only when we are wading neck deep in our own shit that we decide to consider a solution to our dilemma.

    This ties in to the discussion on BB about body scanners as well. It’s implement first, make the money, and then clean up the corpses later, if at all. In many cases, the purpose of government is just to clean up the carnage after corporate abuse all on the taxpayers’ dime. The principles have long since shuffled the corporate deck to rebrand away liability.

    BP isn’t going to end up paying jack shit for this. They’ll pass all of the cost on to the taxpayers and just increase the cost at the pump. They don’t give a shit.

    And those motherfuckers need to be buried UNDER the jail. I sincerely wish I lived in an America where predator drones were used to deal with legitimate terrorists like BP. The car bomb in Times Square? Yes, that’s a crime and the perpetrator needs to be imprisoned. But if that thing went off, would it end up harming more people than this atrocity in the Gulf?

    One million people killed world-wide by Chernobyl.

    http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/apr2010/2010-04-26-01.html

    We won’t know how many people will be sickened by this crime. Although, 11 workers have already kicked off the tally.

    • Modusoperandi says:

      “The point is that America rarely, if ever, plans ahead.”

      That’s not America. That’s humanity. As the poet and philosopher Drew Carey once said, which I crudely paraphrase here, “The problem with ‘It made sense at the time’ is that everything makes sense at the time”.

  20. Modusoperandi says:

    Wups. Too italic.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I’ll just tidy that up for you. Movable Type sometimes has its own, special relationship to html.

  21. ADavies says:

    The only winning move is not to drill.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I say we just nuke it. The radioactive fallout will be much less dangerous (much less quantity, and it’ll disperse), and it should collapse the well head, shouldn’t it?

    Or, if you’re afraid of a bit of radioactivity, drop down a few thousand pounds of TnT. Shouldn’t cost more than what they’re going to lose.

    Of course, it could make the problem worse… but when has that stopped Haliburton et. al?

  23. Anonymous says:

    –The answer is don’t drill unless you have planned and implemented procedures for the accidents that inevitably occur. BP should not have drilled if they had no process or solutions in place to remedy something like this.–

    Okay – but now that the horse is out of the barn, now what do we do? We can fingerwag all we want about how we should have seen this coming, BP shouldn’t have made that deal with Satan, meth is not good for oil derrick operators, but that doesn’t really fix the problem.

    -Darren

    • loonquawl says:

      The horse is out of the barn, there are loads of qualified horse catchers around, the horse, admittably fast and furious will be caught. Expenses are to be paid by the barn owner. Nothing ‘we’ can do at that stage.

      Now back to the question of more barn-oversight: ‘We’ can lobby for more of that.

      • Anonymous says:

        –The horse is out of the barn, there are loads of qualified horse catchers around, the horse, admittably fast and furious will be caught. Expenses are to be paid by the barn owner. Nothing ‘we’ can do at that stage.

        Now back to the question of more barn-oversight: ‘We’ can lobby for more of that.–

        That’s a trenchant and insightful answer to my commentary. Thanks. :)

        -Darren MacLennan

    • Anonymous says:

      It won’t fix the specific problem. It’s still important, though, because nothing short of policy changes will fix the more general problem of which this is but a symptom.

  24. snakedart says:

    I suggest torches and pitchforks as a way to limit further damage.

  25. Anonymous says:

    The only organizations with much of any gear to help with this effort to stem the gusher are oil companies and oil services companies. What disturbs me is as of this moment, only ExxonMobil has anything on their website stating that they are helping bp.

  26. WalterBillington says:

    Xeni, your immoderated commentary on this disaster is ass.

    You seem to be in the pocket of some non-BP big oil organisation, as you’re failing to draw attention to the real facts of the problem. Why go after BP, and not just Big Oil? Or Any Oil?

    Your imbalance is designed to either draw student-ish ire to increase your readership, or feeds into some other wrong agenda.

    To clarify, at least three firms, two of which are US-based oil exploration firms, and one of which is the infamous Halliburton, so beloved of the Bush Administration:

    From today’s FT (anyone want decent journalism? good start here):

    Source: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ec1c368a-5c26-11df-95f9-00144feab49a.html

    Quote:
    “Two Senate committees will question Lamar Mackay, head of BP America, which owns the well; Steven Newman, chief executive of Transocean, which operated the rig; and Tim Probert of Halliburton, which poured the cement casings around the well.

    “We intend to do everything within our power to bring this well under control, to mitigate the environmental impact of the spill and to address economic claims in a responsible manner,” Mr Mackay said in prepared testimony.

    But he will repeatedly refer to the “Transocean Deepwater rig” and will say that Transocean owned the rig’s equipment, including the blow-out preventer, which was supposed to have cut off the well after the explosion.

    Mr Newman will say that Transocean was operating under BP’s orders. However, he will note that the most unusual aspect of the accident is that the explosion happened after the well-construction process was finished. This pointed not to a failure of the blow-out preventer but of the cement casings laid by Halliburton, which were meant to control pressure from the reservoir, Mr Newman will say, according to his advance remarks.”

  27. Anonymous says:

    BP’s public relations people are doing a wonderful job but than it must say something about the hidden costs of mitigating the political fallout that is happening yet, seems strangely quiet – if only one reads the news. What we are getting is comparisons with Nigeria, and Mexico’s oil pollution problems.
    It is obvious that the PR people are paying for positive views of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. From comparisons like the above (Nigeria looses much more oil than does BP), to ones about the technology needed to clean up the mess. Meanwhile, the reality is that a huge chunk of the US economy will be facing an oily future. Its not surprising that other oil producing countries such as the one I live in seem to also be painting a rather rosy picture of the whole incident.
    So, before Americans start believing that hey, its OK, its only a tarball, and thats way cute – maybe we should roll a tarball into sphere and stick a smily face on it, they may want to visit other countries that have virtual environment policies. Try swimming in beautiful tropical seas only to find you come away smelling distinctly of oil. The foaming waves are not foaming that way because of its inherent nutrients.
    The question is now whether Americans will be wealthy enough to answer this catastrophe – will they take BP to court and hammer them. One hopes so if only for the Americas

  28. Anonymous says:

    As Thomas Edinson said: If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward

    • Cowicide says:

      As Thomas Edinson said: If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward

      … and Thomas Edison was an asshole.

  29. Trotsky says:

    >> now what do we do?

    What do you mean WE?!

    BP = We.

    And if BP has to bankrupt their entire goddamn company to plug that hole, then that’s what “we” are going to have to do.

    If I come to your house and dump toxic waste on your lawn, and then ask “Now what are we going to do?,” you’d call the cops and say “‘We’ are going to jail.”

  30. Trotsky says:

    >> That’s not America. That’s humanity.

    I disagree. Some nations are better than others at addressing more innovative and long term solutions. America stands at the bottom of the heap in that regard. We like to fancy ourselves as the pinnacle of education, health, technology, democracy, pretty much anything involved with logistics, but we haven’t been even on par with the most mediocre banana republics in those areas for decades. We are fucking up. Not just for ourselves, but for the rest of the planet, human and non-human organisms.

    Most of what’s left of this nation is public relations, cooked books, and a laugh track. America harms more than it helps.

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