Million Gallons of Oil a Day Gush into Gulf of Mexico

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Interviews with surviving Deepwater Horizon rig workers show how explosions led to what may be the world’s worst oil spill

By David Randall

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Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) holds a can of oil collected from the Gulf of Mexico during the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce committee hearing on the Deepwater Horizon Rig Oil Spill on Capitol Hill in Washington May 12, 2010.

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

An extraordinary account of how the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred emerged yesterday in leaked interviews with surviving workers from the rig. They said that a methane gas bubble had formed, rocketed to the surface and caused a series of fires and explosions which destroyed the rig and began the gushing of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening wildlife and coastal livelihoods. Oil-covered birds caught by the outer edges of the 135-mile slick are now being found.

Word also came yesterday that the oil spill may be five times worse than previously thought. Ian MacDonald, a biological oceanographer at Florida State University, said he believed, after studying Nasa data, that about one million gallons a day were leeching into the sea, and that the volume discharged may have already exceeded the 11 million gallons of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, widely regarded as the world’s worst marine pollution incident. Mr MacDonald said there was, as of Friday, possibly as much as 6,178 square miles of oil-covered water in the Gulf.

Meanwhile, at the site of the ill-fated well, a mile beneath the surface, a massive metal chamber had been positioned over the rupture so it could contain and then capture the bulk of the leaking oil. The operation, which uses undersea robots, and has never before been attempted at this depth and pressure. But last night, the formation of ice crystals meant the dome had to be moved away from the leak.

The interviews with rig workers, described to the Associated Press by Robert Bea, a University of California Berkeley engineering professor, recall the chain reaction of events that led to the disaster. They said that on 20 April a group of BP executives were on board the Deepwater Horizon rig celebrating the project’s safety record. Far below, the rig was being converted from an exploration well to a production well.

The workers set and then tested a cement seal at the bottom of the well, reduced the pressure in the drill column and attempted to set a second seal below the sea floor. But a chemical reaction caused by the setting cement created heat and a gas bubble which destroyed the seal.

As the bubble rose up the drill column from the high-pressure environs of the deep to the less pressurised shallows, it intensified and grew, breaking through various safety barriers. “A small bubble becomes a really big bubble,” Professor Bea said. “So the expanding bubble becomes like a cannon shooting the gas into your face.”

Up on the rig, the first thing workers noticed was the sea water in the drill column suddenly shooting back at them, rocketing 240ft in the air. Then, gas surfaced, followed by oil. “What we had learned when I worked as a drill rig labourer was swoosh, boom, run,” he said. “The swoosh is the gas, boom is the explosion and run is what you better be doing.” The gas flooded into an adjoining room with exposed ignition sources, he said. “That’s where the first explosion happened,” said Professor Bea, who worked for Shell Oil in the 1960s during the last big northern Gulf of Mexico oil well blow-out. “The mud room was next to the quarters where the party was. Then there was a series of explosions that subsequently ignited the oil that was coming from below.”

According to one interview transcript, a gas cloud covered the rig, causing giant engines on the drill floor to run too fast and explode. The engines blew off the rig and set “everything on fire”. Another explosion below blew more equipment overboard. The BP executives were injured but nine crew on the rig floor and two engineers died. “The furniture and walls trapped some and broke some bones, but they managed to get in the lifeboats with assistance from others,” said the transcript. The workers’ accounts are likely to be presented in some form to the hearings held by the US Coastguard and Minerals Management Service, which begin next week.

By then, the success of the dome-lowering, if it is resumed, will be known. On Friday, a BP-chartered vessel lowered a 100-ton concrete and steel vault on to the ruptured well in an attempt to stop most of the gushing crude from fouling the sea. “We are essentially taking a four-storey building and lowering it 5,000ft and setting it on the head of a pin,” said BP spokesman Bill Salvin. With the contraption on the seafloor, workers needed at least 12 hours to let it settle and stabilise before the robots could hook up a pipe and hose that will funnel the oil up to a tanker. By today, the box the size of a house could be capturing up to 85 per cent of the oil.

The task became urgent as toxic oil crept deeper into the bays and marshes of the Mississippi Delta. A sheen of oil began arriving on land last week, and crews have been laying booms, spraying chemical dispersants and setting fire to the slick to try to keep it from coming ashore. But now the thicker, stickier goo is drawing closer to Louisiana’s coastal communities.

There are still untold risks and unknowns with the containment box. The approach has never been tried at such depths, where the water pressure is enough to crush a submarine, and any wrong move could damage the leaking pipe and make the problem worse. The seafloor is pitch black and the water murky, though lights on the robots illuminate the area where they are working. If the box works, another one will be dropped on to a second, smaller leak at the bottom of the Gulf. At the same time, crews are drilling sideways into the well in the hope of plugging it up with mud and concrete, and they are working on other ways to cap it.

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War & Water in South Asia

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Los Angeles—April 10th—Ashok C. Shukla, an independent scholar, who has written and edited several books on South Asian security issues that are largely available in India, but, unfortunately, too often have to be imported from there into North America.  He has been commissioned by an editor to compose a chapter on energy security in the environs for as yet unnamed publisher.

Most of the presentation was on the problematic future transport of oil and gas across Pakistan into India.  Yet, the crucial issue of water came up early.  With today’s political situation, fresh water is problematical there, too — competitive to say the least. The Ganges-Brahmaputra basin provides the fresh water or part of it for all but two of the area’s nations.  This probably supplies a billion people with their drinkable supply of water.  The competition between India and Pakistan is a volatile one, and most likely will not terminate itself to the satisfaction of all parties anytime soon.  At the very worse it could become a trigger for thermo-nuclear war between the two military giants within Southern Asia that could destroy hundreds of millions of people along with its ancient civilization!

(Also, not as pressing, towards the east, there have been unsubstantiated accusations that India has been skimming off part of Bangladesh’s aquifer.)

As has been intimated, Dr. Shukla’s chapter will examine the energy insecurity of the remarkably expanding economy of India.  (Since this is the Muslim Observer, although Bharat (India’s) population is only 12% Islamic [about the same percentage as Afro-Americans in the United States], it has the second highest Islamic national numbers in the world.  In Pakistan, 98% of the country is Muslim; Afghanistan, who potentially could play a role in the transportation of oil and gas to the Subcontinent, is circa 99%.  Bangladesh is an Islamic State Constitutionally along with substantial non-Muslim minorities, though; and most of the new raw energy-rich former Soviet Republics are (Socialist) secularized Islamic States currently rediscovering their Islamic roots.  (Your essayist wishes to point to the veracity of the Islamic political issues of the discussion which were not considered by Mr. Shukla.)

Both India and Pakistan are important to the interests of Washington because of the economic rise of New Delhi and the strategic military significance of Rawalpindi.  Also, within, South Asia, there are overbearing ecological issues impacting the entire globe.  India desperately, requires propulsion sources for their spectacularly expanding industries which resides in raw form in Central Asia and Iran, but Islamabad (and to a lesser extent Afghanistan) holds the key transit routes for the necessary pipelines.  The bad feeling between Indo-Pakistan means that in any crisis the Pakistanis have the capability to turn off the valves bringing India’s burgeoning economy to a halt.  Further, the United States is against India buying Iranian gas which would, also, transverse Pakistan.  (This goes back to our bad relations with the Persians which probably will turn out to be temporary anyway.) The United States is pressing for the pipelines to go through Turkestan.  Nevertheless, added to American opposition, New Delhi does not accept Pakistan’s terms to permit a pipeline from Tehran.) 

Whatever, SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) will not involve itself in political matters between India and Pakistan by the very nature of its charter (it is only an economic organization), and, thus, will not intervene in bi-lateral matters.  (For this reason, it lacks relevance as a prospective influential territorial negotiator on dangerous political issues over the vastness of the geographical extent of the Indic sphere. 

Ashok C. Shukla ended his proposed chapter with the statement that South Asia totally lacks energy security.

(Your reporter pointed to the fact that Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, may be sitting on a sea of gas.  Although a Muslim country it is friendly to India [as is Iran and the Central Asian Republics].  One of the reasons that the gas fields have not been developed is that the technology to liquefy the gaseous energy has not been perfected yet in large enough quantities to ship it to the West and China on ships.  It would make sense, though, to send it to India through pipes, and that would solve the energy security issue for New Delhi, and, further, it would help with the ecological problem since the Republic of India depends on coal for its industrial expansion, and natural gas is much, much cleaner burning).

Dr. Shukla rejected this due to Bangladesh’s nationalistic sensibilities (which your writer finds it hard to believe, for the East Bengals badly require foreign exchange, and their gas could make them as rich as some of the Middle East oil giants! ) 

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Will Obama Play the War Card?

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick J. Buchanan, Antiwar.com

Republicans already counting the seats they will pick up this fall should keep in mind Obama has a big card yet to play.

Should the president declare he has gone the last mile for a negotiated end to Iran’s nuclear program and impose the “crippling” sanctions he promised in 2008, America would be on an escalator to confrontation that could lead straight to war.

And should war come, that would be the end of GOP dreams of adding three-dozen seats in the House and half a dozen in the Senate.

Harry Reid is surely aware a U.S. clash with Iran, with him at the presidents side, could assure his re-election. Last week, Reid whistled through the Senate, by voice vote, a bill to put us on that escalator.

Senate bill 2799 would punish any company exporting gasoline to Iran. Though swimming in oil, Iran has a limited refining capacity and must import 40 percent of the gas to operate its cars and trucks and heat its homes.

And cutting off a country’s oil or gas is a proven path to war.

In 1941, the United States froze Japans assets, denying her the funds to pay for the U.S. oil on which she relied, forcing Tokyo either to retreat from her empire or seize the only oil in reach, in the Dutch East Indies.

The only force able to interfere with a Japanese drive into the East Indies? The U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor.

Egypts Gamel Abdel Nasser in 1967 threatened to close the Straits of Tiran between the Red Sea and Gulf of Aqaba to ships going to the Israeli port of Elath. That would have cut off 95 percent of Israel’s oil.

Israel response: a pre-emptive war that destroyed Egypt’s air force and put Israeli troops at Sharm el-Sheikh on the Straits of Tiran.

Were Reid and colleagues seeking to strengthen Obama’s negotiating hand?

The opposite is true. The Senate is trying to force Obama’s hand, box him in, restrict his freedom of action, by making him impose sanctions that would cut off the negotiating track and put us on a track to war a war to deny Iran weapons that the U.S. Intelligence community said in December 2007 Iran gave up trying to acquire in 2003.

Sound familiar?

Republican leader Mitch McConnell has made clear the Senate is seizing control of the Iran portfolio. “If the Obama administration will not take action against this regime, then Congress must.”

U.S. interests would seem to dictate supporting those elements in Iran who wish to be rid of the regime and re-engage the West. But if that is our goal, the Senate bill, and a House version that passed 412 to 12, seem almost diabolically perverse.

For a cutoff in gas would hammer Irans middle class. The Revolutionary Guard and Basij militia on their motorbikes would get all they need. Thus the leaders of the Green Movement who have stood up to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah oppose sanctions that inflict suffering on their own people.

Cutting off gas to Iran would cause many deaths. And the families of the sick, the old, the weak, the women and the children who die are unlikely to feel gratitude toward those who killed them.

And despite the hysteria about Iran’s imminent testing of a bomb, the U.S. intelligence community still has not changed its finding that Tehran is not seeking a bomb.

The low-enriched uranium at Natanz, enough for one test, has neither been moved nor enriched to weapons grade. Ahmadinejad this week offered to take the Wests deal and trade it for fuel for its reactor. Irans known nuclear facilities are under U.N. watch. The number of centrifuges operating at Natanz has fallen below 4,000. There is speculation they are breaking down or have been sabotaged.

And if Iran is hell-bent on a bomb, why has Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair not revised the 2007 finding and given us the hard evidence?

U.S. anti-missile ships are moving into the Gulf. Anti-missile batteries are being deployed on the Arab shore. Yet, Gen. David Petraeus warned yesterday that a strike on Iran could stir nationalist sentiment behind the regime.

Nevertheless, the war drums have again begun to beat.

Daniel Pipes in a National Review Online piece featured by the Jerusalem Post “How to Save the Obama Presidency: Bomb Iran” urges Obama to make a “dramatic gesture to change the public perception of him as a lightweight, bumbling ideologue” by ordering the U.S. military to attack Irans nuclear facilities.

Citing six polls, Pipes says Americans support an attack today and will “presumably rally around the flag” when the bombs fall.

Will Obama cynically yield to temptation, play the war card and make “conservatives swoon,” in Pipes phrase, to save himself and his party? We shall see.

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Russia, China, Iran Redraw Energy Map

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By M K Bhadrakumar

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The inauguration of the Dauletabad-Sarakhs-Khangiran pipeline on Wednesday connecting Iran’s northern Caspian region with Turkmenistan’s vast gas field may go unnoticed amid the Western media cacophony that it is “apocalypse now” for the Islamic regime in Tehran.

The event sends strong messages for regional security. Within the space of three weeks, Turkmenistan has committed its entire gas exports to China, Russia and Iran. It has no urgent need of the pipelines that the United States and the European Union have been advancing. Are we hearing the faint notes of a Russia-China-Iran symphony?

The 182-kilometer Turkmen-Iranian pipeline starts modestly with the pumping of 8 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Turkmen gas. But its annual capacity is 20bcm, and that would meet the energy requirements of Iran’s Caspian region and enable Tehran to free its own gas production in the southern fields for export. The mutual interest is perfect: Ashgabat gets an assured market next door; northern Iran can consume without fear of winter shortages; Tehran can generate more surplus for exports; Turkmenistan can seek transportation routes to the world market via Iran; and Iran can aspire to take advantage of its excellent geographical location as a hub for the Turkmen exports.

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Israeli Soldiers Shoot Tear Gas at Al Jazeera Correspondent

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Israeli soldiers have fired tear gas on Palestinians protesting against the Israeli separation barrier which cuts through their West Bank village.

The soldiers also fired tear gas at Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera’s correspondent who was covering the event live from near the village of Bilin.

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