If this investigating professor is to be believed, it started several weeks before the Deepwater Horizon rig, positioned several miles offshore, drilling in 5000 ft deep ocean, was due to be capped and moved to another location for drilling. Based on his interviews with people who were involved in the rig's operation
"There was an "intense kick" of natural gas caused the rig to be shut down over fears of a catastrophic explosion just weeks before one such influx of gas did so."
Deepwater Horizon is one of the most advanced rigs of its kind. Or at least, it was, till it became an expensive piece of trash(albeit insured for up to $560 million), lying 1500 ft from its original position on the sea bed. The Swiss-based company Transocean, one of the largest contractors for oil drilling, owned and operated over 150 similar rigs for various oil company customers all over the world. Deepwater Horizon was being used to extract sweet crude for the BP oil company, moving from location to location as it completed the drilling, relying on precise positioning in the ocean locked in place by GPS systems.
After the drilling operation was completed, BP had another contractor, Halliburton, come in to cap the drilled location, and that was completed 'successfully', according to the parties involved. Until it wasn't, and 20 hours later, on April 20, the oil rig exploded catastrophically. The initial days were spent in looking for survivors and the rig sank on April 22. For a few days, reassuring statements regarding the small amount of oil spilling into the gulf were being put out, but not for long. The spill was growing at a tremendous rate and the amount released per day was eventually admitted to be five times as much as had been previously thought: 210,000 gallons a day, rather than 40,000.
Timeline (from chron.com)
In a hearing started yesterday in Congress, and continuing today, the blame-game of Musical chairs continues with full gusto, while the administration mulls its options to split the Mineral Management Services into separate bodies for regulation and lease oversight, given that the unholy nexus between the MMS officials and oil industry executives contributed considerably to lax regulation and this disaster.
"A top American executive for BP, Lamar McKay, said a critical safety device known as a blowout-preventer failed catastrophically. Separately, the owner of the rig off Louisiana's coast said that BP managed it and was responsible for all work conducted at the site. A third company defended work that it performed on the deepwater oil well as "accepted industry practice" prior to last month's explosion.
"We are looking at why the blowout preventer did not work because that was to be the fail-safe in case of an accident," McKay, chairman and president of BP America, said in testimony prepared for a Senate hearing Tuesday. A copy of his testimony was obtained by The Associated Press. "Transocean's blowout preventer failed to operate."
The chief executive for Swiss-based Transocean, which owned the oil rig and the blowout preventer, shifted blame to BP.
"All offshore oil and gas production projects begin and end with the operator, in this case BP," CEO Steven Newman said in his Senate testimony, also obtained by the AP. Newman said that BP was responsible for submitting a detailed plan specifying where and how a well is to be drilled, cased, cemented and completed.
Newman also said that BP's contractor, Halliburton Inc., was responsible for encasing the well in cement, putting a temporary plug in the top of the well, and ensuring the cement's integrity. That cementing process was dictated by BP's well plan, Newman said.
A Halliburton executive, Tim Probert, said the company safely finished a cementing operation 20 hours before the rig went up in flames. Probert said Halliburton completed work on the well according to accepted industry practice and at the direction of federal regulators."
Efforts to manage the spill ( now exceeding 3 million gallons and counting) included the use of a high-tech dome to cap the spill and siphon off the oil through a sort of funnel to a ship waiting above it. But this attempt was doomed, with methane ice-crystal formed inside the dome, buoying it up too high to contain the leak.
""I wouldn't say it failed yet," said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of BP, the London-based company that owns the leaking well. "What I would say is what we attempted to do last night didn't work."
Low-tech attempts are being made as well, by volunteer groups such as Matter of Trust.
They are calling for donations of human and pet hair to use in creating home-made booms and mats to soak up the oil from the spill, based on prior experience with the Cosco Busan oil spill clean-up.
As we humans bemoan the loss of pristine beaches, now risking the messy tarballs that are washing up on beaches from Louisiana upto Galveston, and Florida, and the terrible smells wafting on-shore from the gazillion gallons floating on the surface as the spill takes on the dimensions of Texas in square miles, we are but the chickens while the birds, the fish and the shrimp are the pigs. ( Scrum terminology: Chickens are involved, but the pigs are committed.)
We've all seen the one gannet that seems to be the only bird being cleaned after the disaster, on myriad TV screens and internet article photos. But there are others, unseen and unsung, being presumably cleaned of the oil in their feathers. But no hard numbers seem to exist for these unfortunates.
One German expert went so far as to advocate euthanizing them, stating that their survival rates even after cleaning and release into the wild are not good.
But I suspect her advice stems from the use of older technology. Newer studies with more recent oil spills and cleaning methods have shown that while mortality is still higher than normal for cleaned and rehabilitated birds, released birds that make it past the initial month or so have as good a chance as any unaffected bird to survive in the wild.
As for aquatic life, the list of risks are too long to enumerate, all depending on the types of terrain along the coastline where the spill will come ashore.Ecosystems in the marshlands,lowlands and mangroves are most at risk compared with sand and gravel beaches,or even the deep sea, where fish populations can swim away and evade the worst effects of the spilled oil. But bottom-oriented populations of fish that live close to the ocean bed could be impacted by the tarry deposits that remain in the vicinity of the well-head. as will predator species that rely on them for food.
Fishing is done for several years, possibly, in the Gulf of Mexico. Maybe, some day as fishing trawlers move back into the zone, they may find a new kind of fish population, evolved to deal with the exigencies of surviving in polluted ocean waters, and not necessarily ready for human consumption for another generation.