For those watching the news recently, the Diamond Horizon oil disaster is front page and live news everywhere. But, for those really listening and reading, there are all manner of potential disasters that are waiting to happen, and are almost inevitable going forward.
A prior engineer of BP recently reported that drilling engineers had warned BP about potential dangers of shortcuts they were taking on the Diamond Horizon platform. According to one engineer, some of the shortcuts were taken because BP was running behind on getting the well up and running. Shortcuts were able to save BP and drilling partners a million here and a million there – risks that were deemed worth taking. It would seem, in retrospect that those millions would have been money well spent as the cost of this disaster could run, according to some estimates, as high as $100 billion!
According to a recent Washington Post report, “In one instance, four days before the April 20 explosion, Brett Cocales, one of BP’s operations drilling engineers, sent an e-mail to a colleague noting that engineers had not taken all the usual steps to center the steel pipe in the drill hole, a standard procedure designed to ensure that the pipe would be properly cemented in place. ”
Still other reports indicate that “short cuts” might have been taken on other BP drilling platforms currently in operation in the gulf that could potentially lead to future catastrophes.
Other dangers that lurk beneath the surface involve the thousands of miles of pipeline from drilling platforms to refineries and shipping lines – some of this pipeline decades old, laid before current environmental protection laws and standards were in force. It is unknown if or when any of this old pipeline was last inspected to ensure that it is safe from leakage. This pipeline runs through the gulf and into the wetlands – another disaster or disasters waiting to happen?
It is known that much of this pipeline, and in fact the land displacement from drilling, is causing severe erosion of the wetlands along the Louisiana coastline. These wetlands are vital to the health of the gulf, but also help as the first line of defense in Lousiana against storm surge during hurricanes and tropical storms.
Louisiana is home to 40% of the wetlands in the United States and 90% of the coastal wetlands in the 48 mainland states. Currently, the wetlands are eroding at the rate of 25 to 35 square miles per year. Prior to the spill, an area the size of Rhode Island would have been lost (underwater) by the year 2050. BUT, with this oil spill, the destruction of wetlands has intensified so dramatically that no one knows what the new rate of erosion will be. As the growth that held the land in place is killed by this spill, the erosion rate will increase exponentially. So far, it is unclear how to stop the death of the flora, since most oil mop up techniques will kill the plant life, even if the oil doesn’t kill it first.
In addition to protecting the Louisiana shoreline from storm surge, these wetlands also support multiple industries including fisheries, wildlife and waterfowl with a total economic impact of $36.6 billion over the next 50 years. The wetlands also protect the buried pipelines mentioned above, and ensure that the pipes remain buried and relatively protected.
As has been widely reported, BP is setting up a $20 billion fund to pay damages to businesses being affected by the spill, throughout the gulf. The funds will be managed by a separate agency in the U.S. as the Obama administration is finally stepping in and taking some control over this fiasco.
It is now day 60, with an estimated 100 million barrels of oil already destroying the coastlines of the gulf states – and hurricane season is officially underway.
The health consequences of this spill are yet to be determined – but all manner of symptoms are being reported by people in the gulf region, and most notably among those working to clean up the spill.
It is known that 20 years after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, those who worked on oil clean up are still reporting oil related illnesses – so it is likely the health affects of disasters such as this will continue to mount for decades after this spill is finally capped or stopped.
View an interactive map on the current range of the spill, and projected trajectory over time created by ERMA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Environmental Protection Agency)
Photo: June 14, 2010 (AP Photo/Derick E. Hingle)