What lies beneath

Discussion in 'Environment' started by strollingbones, May 22, 2010.

  1. strollingbones
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    strollingbones Diamond Member

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    Science & Technology.
    The Gulf oil spill

    What lies beneath
    New and valuable lessons are being learnt from the massive operation to stop the Deepwater Horizon oil spill
    May 20th 2010 | From The Economist print edition

    IT IS not the invasion of Normandy, but by peacetime standards the flotilla stationed about 65km (40 miles) off the Louisiana coast is a mightily impressive one. Where once the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon drilling rig floated in solitary splendour, there are now two similar rigs, along with the Discoverer Enterprise, a drilling ship; the Viking Poseidon, which knows how to install things on the sea floor; four mother ships for remotely operated underwater vehicles; various barges and supply vessels; and the Q4000, a rig that specialises in repairing and closing wells. If the well that the Deepwater Horizon was in the process of closing off four weeks ago continues to spray oil into the sea for months to come, it won’t be for a lack of expensive, sophisticated and improbable-looking hardware a mile up above it.

    It is that mile which is the problem. The oil industry has been fixing blowouts for more than a century. The challenge is doing it under 150 atmospheres of pressure with the tools and lights of a robot mini-submarine that gets its power and instructions by way of a cable. Under these conditions well-laid plans can come to naught, as they did when icy methane hydrates that form when natural gas gets mixed up with cold water at high pressure scuppered plans to funnel the leaking oil up to Discoverer Enterprise. The hydrates did not just clog the pipes, they also buoyed up the 125-tonne cofferdam that had been lowered over the leak, lifting it right off the sea bed.

    On May 16th, though, oil did start to be collected, thanks to a subtler intervention. Oil is currently escaping from two leaks, one at each end of the well’s riser. The riser connected Deepwater Horizon to its blowout preventer, a stack of valves on the sea floor which marked the top of the well proper (see illustration). When the rig sank, the riser broke near the top while remaining attached to the blowout preventer at the bottom, bending itself like a pretzel in its subsequent collapse. Some oil is now flowing from where the riser and the blowout preventer meet; most is coming from the broken end of the riser, which has ended up about 300 metres away on the sea floor. It is from a tube slipped into that distal end that oil is now being pumped up to Discoverer Enterprise and its attendant barges.


    [​IMG]


    The insertion device, about a fifth of the diameter of the riser itself, is not supposed to block the flow of oil completely. If it did, the pressure of the oil would blow it out of the riser like a cork in a hose. Instead it sucks at the oil flowing around it, but gauging how hard to suck is tricky. Without enough suction more oil than necessary would continue to leak out; too much and it will let in water which will make the formation of those pesky hydrates more likely. Other anti-hydrate measures include a small pipe feeding methanol, an antifreeze, into the maw of the riser, and hot water circulating through a sleeve to warm the pipe bringing the oil to the surface. According to Kent Wells, vice-president of BP, the oil company in overall charge of the project, the amount of oil coming up through the pipe had risen to 2,000 barrels a day by May 17th.

    What fraction of the whole that represents is unclear. The American government has estimated that about 5,000 barrels a day are pouring out of the well. Other analysts reckon the flow rate may be five or ten times higher, on the basis of video images from mini-submarines and the area and thickness of the slicks at the surface. A well might produce 50,000 barrels a day. BP is keeping mum, but it does say that the plume of leaking oil looks significantly different now that suction is being applied. That suggests 2,000 barrels a day is a noticeable fraction of the whole.


    The Gulf oil spill: What lies beneath | The Economist


    excellent article on the oil spill.
     
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  2. editec
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    editec Mr. Forgot-it-All

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    It is truly distrubing that they cannot even tell us how much oil is spewing into the Gulf.

    How do you fix a problem if you can't even tell how big it is?
     
  3. Old Rocks
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    Old Rocks Diamond Member

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    I don't think this is a problem that will get 'fixed'. By the time they stop the oil, we are going to have damage that will not be repaired in the lifetime of anyone alive at present.

    For years the 'alarmists' have been stating that the real danger from global warming is that the food supply will be adversly affected in a world with a population of about 7 billion, headed for 9 billion. Now we have a case where just the seeking of one of the fossil fuels has reduced our food supply, for the Gulf is the primary source of seafood for the US.

    How bad does it have to get before we exploit the existing technologies and stop fouling our nest?
     
  4. editec
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    editec Mr. Forgot-it-All

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    It has to get so bad that the people in gated communities start to feel the pinch.

    That means that unless or until we have an negative outcome that everybody feels, one that is obviously the result of some environmental problem that we created, people will not be motivated to demand that we change.

    Real changes to how societies work, tend only to happen when conditions demand it.

    Those in charge of every society (ever in human history) support the status quo until enough people will simply not support it, or it falls apart despite their best efforts to keep it going.

    And even then, they'll fight the people to stay on top of the heap, and believe me, if there's lifeboats, they'll be the ones sailing off as the ship of state sinks into the vast ocean of history.

    That just human nature.
     
  5. American Horse
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    American Horse AKA "Mustang"

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    Today, Wednesday May 26, BP is supposed to try the "top-kill" method to stop the flow. Considering that the flow of oil from the well is being forced out by the weight of the Gulf's floor and the overlying water 5,000 feet deep pressing down on that floor there is no way that it can be stopped by blowing anything around it or into it that won't immediately be pushed out of the way by the pressure flow. It seems that then a lot of debris surrounding the site at the bottom would, because of buoyancy, seem to only clutter the site making any further activity there much more difficult, with the oil then surging out of numerous sources, not just one or two.

    That’s why this means to me that this is a "last ditch effort," with nothing left except the interception of the oil/pressure by drilling and extraction nearby.

    Unless BP can direct the intercepting well to a point very near to the present source, or unless the pressure at the new well could be used to reduce the overall pressure by some sort of suction a single well nearby would seem to only cut the flow by 50%.

    There is the possibility that the broken/bent riser acts as a pressure device since the breach openings may be less than the full size of the actual pipe. Imagine a rubber garden hose with a leaky connection when the faucet is turned on at the source. Water squirts out at a pretty good volume at the split or restricted breach. Once the sprayer at the end of the hose is fully open the water squirting from the leak diminishes but not completely.

    If there is only a fifty percent reduction in flow, there will have to be more wells drilled, and that means more elapsed time and more leakage. We need to do a lot more drilling for oil on land, but it will go on in the Gulf whether "we" do it or others do it like the Chinese or the South Koreans.
     
  6. Valerie
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    Valerie Gold Member

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    I think initially the official estimate was at least 5,000 barrels per day which amounts to 200,000 gallons per day. Then they said there was no way of knowing for sure and warned that those estimates could be way low.




    So, that would be at least 2 million gallons per day.

    Today is day ~ 36....That's ~ 72 million gallons of oil. :(
     
  7. Old Rocks
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    Old Rocks Diamond Member

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    You mean that the only super power left on earth cannot protect it's vital interests by declaring a moratorium on drilling off of it's shore, period? Have you bothered to tell all of those that are hollering for military action against Iran, how truly weak we are?

    Rather than increasing the drilling on land, spend that money on methods of transportation that does not need petroleum.
     
  8. American Horse
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    American Horse AKA "Mustang"

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    Who the heck is hollering for going to war in Iran, except those who throw it up as a red herring because it's extreme rhetoric that no one really wants. We are all aware that more than 200 miles off our shores we have no say so. If you are calling for a change of our territorial limits such that they would supercede those of Cuba. It is you who is either calling for American Imperialism or being hypocritical. Moreso because you know that is not about to happen.

    I understand that some of us believe we only have to order a new paradigm of transportation like all the heavy trucking that will never be done with electric motors, no matter what does develop in the distant future, it doesn't exist to be used right now.

    I have said right here on this forum and repeat now; we should have the commitment to our long term goal of developing a different source of energy for all our transportation and industrial needs by placing a heavy tax ($2-3 per gallon of gas or deisel) to reduce demand. It would also make costs for R&D for new coal gassification and clean technologies like coal carbon capture more competitive. And a part of that revenue would be used to offset loss of revenue to the highway trust fund.

    We could additionally use that $2-3 tax per gallon to both encourage research and for development of practical alternative sources for powering our society's needs into the future. Solar has a place, and even wind can supplement, but natural gas and particularly nuclear stands out as ways of offsetting a great deal of need for oil.
     
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    Last edited: May 26, 2010
  9. Old Rocks
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    Old Rocks Diamond Member

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    Natural gas is the least damaging of the fossil fuels, but still puts CO2 into the atmosphere.
    Nuclear has a problem in cost. The industry has yet to deliver reasonably priced power. Wind and solar, photovoltaic, are both, at present, viable technologies. Geo-thermal and solar thermal are both capable of 24-7 power.

    Comparative electrical generation costs - SourceWatch

    Busbar cost in cents per kilowatt-hour in 2008 dollars:

    Coal:

    Coal Supercritical: 10.554
    Coal Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC): 11.481
    Coal IGCC with Carbon Capture & Storage (IGCC with CCS): 17.317
    Alternatives:

    Biogas: 8.552
    Wind: 8.910
    Gas Combined Cycle: 9.382
    Geothermal: 10.182
    Hydroelectric: 10.527
    Concentrating solar thermal (CSP): 12.653
    Nuclear: 15.316
    Biomass: 16.485
     
  10. American Horse
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    American Horse AKA "Mustang"

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    The above are interesting cost figures.

    I wonder what would happen if the $2-3 gas tax was not applied to powering vehicles by (CNG) Compressed Natural Gas?

    To those who oppose any new tax, or a tax increase of any kind, I favor the gas tax (we might call it the (LTFT) Land-Transportation-Fuel-Tax) because it would be targeted and transparent. Like the (HTF) Highway Trust Fund, it would be easy to track to see if it was being used correctly, it would promote incentives to expand new modes, uses, and technologies, and unlike the cap-and-tax law, it would not harm the elderly or those who live in cities who do not drive very much but household energy costs are big. It would seem to do harm the tourism industry (for my own part, being one of those who don't fly, it would discourage any more vacations in Florida), but fuel for air travel could best be exempt from the tax, confinining it to "land transportation".

    So what would happen if CNG was further exempt from the proposed LTFT?
    Because of the benefit of low price compared to gas it would have a great advantage in the marketplace, and its use would quickly be developed for expansion from its present use which is almost exclusively in fleet vehicles. Fleet owners could be the first to sell fuel to the general driving public, so the infrastructure already exists in its infant stages.

    I predict, as it happened as a result of the energy shortage that produced the first surge in gas (gasoline) prices in the late 70's, we soon had an ubiquity of diesel powered automobiles because diesel fuel was so much cheaper; likewise we would soon have CNG powered automobiles everywhere.

    As an owner of a diesel farm tractor, and being well aware of the problems of water condensing in diesel fuel in diesels engines operating in cold temperatures, the noisiness of their operation, lack of fueling stations, I wouldn’t have expected the transition; but I would’ve been wrong.

    Perhaps the road tax (going to the HTF) would have to have a special system of equivalency to the gallon for collection.

    We would see a huge reduction in the domestic use of oil in this country with complementary expansion of new fuel technologies.

    The price of gasoline would drop, and by holding the combined tax gas and tax price at the pump, the resulting difference could go to the LTFT to compensate for any shortfall due to expanded CNG development.


    A side benefit might at least temporarily slow the decline and destruction of the nation’s rail system, and begin to bring it back to its place of importance in our system of transportation. But that seems to be all about point to point convenience demanded by the customer. (No new lumber yard should be given a permit without a railroad spur? Maybe not that, but strong incentives ought to be put in place for that consideration)
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2010

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