Gulf Spill Officially “Dead” and Future Implications
While the leak in the gulf was stopped a month ago, the US government and BP, after drilling a relief well and capping it with cement, have finally declared it dead. The well leaked 5 million barrels of oil and cleanup efforts spread 2 million gallons of poisonous dispersants. Suffice to say that recovery efforts and the future of the wildlife in the area is still up in the air. Despite the Deepwater Horizon being one of the worst spills in history, the reserves are still open to public auction.
According to the New York Times, there is still approximiately 50 billion barrels of oil still left intact below the reserve well, which equates to roughly $3.5 billion. Though BP is not likely to drill in the area ever again, the possibility of auctioning it off to a competitor is highly likely. The two relief wells would be the obvious target as both could be tapped into the reserve. The first well is located 13,000 feet below the seabed while the second was halted at 10,000. Most agree that any company would avoid the original well due to previous complications, though techanically it would still be possible. Still, the fact that the relief wells already are almost to formation and encased in cement for added safety make eitherchoice a more attractive option. Experts state that there are no technical or commercial reasons any oil company could not extract oil from the well, despite arguments that theoriginal leak might affect the oil- and gas-bearing sands that make up the formation and that the well was more problematic than others. Tadeusz W. Patzek of the University of Texas, states that the well has the same amount of issues as other wells and that drillers would have to take the usual precautions to avoid previous mistakes. Despite the possibility of drilling more oil, BP appears as though it is going to auction off the well to a different provider in order to avoid bad publicity. News of the final end of the 5 month long spill raised BP stocks 1.8 percent [Source: Financial Times]. BP has also joined the Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC), headed by Exxon Mobil, and is making its underwater well containment equipment available to all oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf. This is in a joint $1 billion effort to contain future subsea oil spills [Source: Reuters]. The US government is also stepping in and has drafted new drilling rules for future offshore wells. The new rules will encompass both shallow and deepwater drilling. While the rules are not complete, the include most of the suggestions from the May 27 Interior Report which includes:
- new well-design standards and safety measures, including a provision to make sure blowout preventers have two sets of blind shear rams that are spaced at least four feet apart.
- certification standards that require oil and gas companies to vouch for safety reviews of well-control system equipment, drilling and cementing practices, and emergency procedures.
- top-level executives must personally certify their companies’ compliance with the operating rules [Source: NASDAQ].
Despite the environmental impact of the oil and dispersants, there have been governmental claims that the impact was not as disastrous as many believed. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced in August that 75 percent of the oil was either collected or dispersed, though the University of Georgia discovered a two inch layer of oil on the Gulf floor killing shrimp and other aquatic lifeforms [Source: Christian Science Monitor]. According to an interagency federal report:
- 25 percent of the oil was burned, skimmed or directly recovered
- 25 percent naturally evaporated or dissipated
- 24 percent was dispersed naturally or as a result of operations
- 26 percent is either on or just below the surface and has washed ashore, been collected or is buried in sand and sediment.
The government, after rigourous testing of local shrimp, shrimp, swordfish and tuna, found that none of the creatures contained an signs of oil. As of August, the US government has opened up 83 percent of fishing along the Gulf. Still, many fishermen and locals dispute the claim that the oil is gone. In fact, The Guardian states that 3,000 plastic trash bags are filled with oiled sand from marshes almost everyday, and cleanup lasting over a full year. Only a week ago, crabbers in Louisiana reported crabs that had a pungent oily smell and sheen, which was ignored by local biologists. On top of that, a study from the University of Georgia records a two inch layer of oil on the Gulf floor that is affecting shrimp and beneficial micro organisms [Source: Politics Daily]. While the federal report has stated that the majority of the oil is in the process of degradation, they refuse to acknowledge any evidence that the deep sea oil slick has anything to do with the Maconda incident. Any deep sea oil will take much longer to degrade due to lack of sunlight and oxygen.
Without proper research, cleanup efforts and action, the recovery of the Gulf will be delayed for years to come. While the US government and various oil companies appear to be taking stricter measures to prevent oil spills, the main problem is our continued dependence on this fossil fuel. At the heart of the matter is our unwillingness to veer away from these products and force oil companies and governments to begin investing in cleaner technology. Better machinery, technology and stricter rules can certainly help lessed the chances, however there will always be the human error factor that could lead to another environmental disaster.