There is no argument that the explosion and sinking of Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico – injuring 17 and presumably killing the 11 men missing who were on the main level of the platform – is a tragedy. No less tragic than the loss of life and injuries is the environmental impact the ensuing oil spill will have on fragile US Gulf Coast ecosystems and economy. As all hands hit the deck… from private contractors and military… to contain the spill heading towards land masses, fueled by weather, there is much the rest of us can ponder.
How vast can the damage be? And how should this affect Obama’s recent nod to offshore drilling?
It was only yesterday when Obama and Gibbs announced they remained committed to offshore drilling exploration. But today’s a new day. Whether bowing to Congressional peer pressure, or simply stunned by the speed at which the tragedy escalated, the POTUS shifted gears and today declared all plans are on hold until the Dept of Interior and Homeland Security complete their investigations for the cause.
It’s too early to tell, but already speculation has begun. The rig is a fifth generation engineering feat… but all the advancements in the world cannot eliminate the risk of a blowout. Transocean acknowledges that something happened in the hole… some abnormal build up of pressure. But at least two oil rig savvy engineers find that surprising, with the complex safeguards built in to minimize that event.
As for the damage estimates, the jury is still out on the Horizon’s impact. According to a CBS story yesterday, it would take two months for the 5000 bbls (or 210,000 gallons) daily, continuing to leak from the seabed floor, to equal the volume of the Exxon Valdez 11,000 million gallon spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. in 1989. The question is, how much time will it take to turn off the oil tap?
It remains unclear how much oil will flow into the Gulf before the flow can be cut off. The teams of state, federal and company officials charged with the cleanup have tried unsuccessfully to activate an underwater cutoff valve and now say they plan to dig a relief well half a mile away – a process that could take weeks or months. (BP, the company that leased the sunken rig, is currently leading the cleanup effort but has asked the military for assistance.)
While British energy giant, BP – singled out by the POTUS as the fiscally responsibly culprit – remains the corporate spokesman for the press, the rig was actually under lease contract. The Deepwater Horizon was designed, constructed, maintained and operated by Transocean LTD, headquartered out of Switzerland. As of Feb 2009, Transocean owned, had partial ownership interests in or operated 136 mobile offshore drilling rigs. The Deepwater Horizon is only one of 12 of the company’s ultra-deepsea rigs, drillerships or semi-submersibles in the Gulf. They have a commendable safety record.
When assessing the risks, there are two major categories… the loss of life in oil rig accidents, and any ensuing oil spills.
In the first category, the loss of life, the Deepwater Horizon doesn’t even come close to measuring up to the nine deadliest rig disasters. The most horrific toll of life was in 1988 aboard Occidental’s Piper Alpha Platform on the UK Continental shelf, where 167 of some of the stoutest industry workers lost their lives due to a gas explosion and fire. There was no oil spill. The 9th position deadliest disaster was in October 2007 on Petróleos Mexicanos Perforadora Central Usumacinta Jack-Up in Kab Field, Bay of Campeche, Gulf of Mexico. Twenty-two workers died during a storm collision between the platform and the vessel, the Usumacinta.
The adverse weather conditions caused oscillating movements of Usumacinta jack-up from around 1200 hours on the 23 October. These movements caused the cantilever deck of the Usumacinta to strike the top of the production valve tree on the Kab-101 platform, resulting in a leak of oil and gas. At 1420 hours, the subsurface safety valves of wells 101 and 121 were closed by PEMEX personnel, but the valves were unable to seal completely allowing the continued leaking of oil and gas. At around 1535 hours on 23 October, the 81 personnel on the Usumacinta were evacuated by lifeboat, with the ship Morrison Tide providing fire support. Rough seas hampered the rescue operation and appear to have caused the break-up of at least one liferaft.
Well control personnel were despatched to the Kab-101, with operations delayed by further bad weather and H2S release. Well control operations commenced with attempts to inject heavy mud followed by cement. Operations were again delayed on 13 November when a spark initiated by on-going work caused a fire to break out. The fire was extinguished the following day on 14 November at 2350 hours. A second fire broke out on 20 November, causing the collapse of the Usumacinta’s derrick and major damage to the cantilever and connecting bridge. The fire was extinguished the same day with no injuries.
Several phases of work then commenced, including debris removal from the Usumacinta, the attachment of a valve for controlled flaring, the installation of a blow-out preventer and finally the shutting in of the well followed by killing with heavy mud and plugging with cement. By 17 December 2007, PEMEX reported complete control of the well.
The resulting spill was “…circa 422 barrels per day of mostly light crude, of which 40% was estimated to have evaporated.”
As even the current POTUS noted just 18 days before the Horizon tragedy, oil rigs generally are not the source of oil spills.
I don’t agree with the notion that we shouldn’t do anything. It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills. They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the oil rigs, they came from the refineries onshore.
The lib/prog site, FireDogLake, was quick to point out that that rigs do indeed create oil spills on occasion…. 124 of them alone during Hurricane Rita and Katrina. However, lacking a perspective, FireDogLake doesn’t put the amounts it cites into proper perspective. The total of all those spills was 743,700 gallons – a mixture of crude and condensate, plus refined oil. Compared to the Horizon’s output, that’s the equivalent of leaking 3.5 days, and containable.
In fact, when it comes to oil spills, oil rigs are not the culprit. Using The Mariner Group’s statistics of oil spills from 1967 to 2004, there’s noted record of 120 major oil spill occurences. Out of those, approx three were the result of oil rigs… two of them on the same rig operated by Brazil’s Petrobras – a company with a record of violations and less than stellar safety record. The other was a Canadian rig in Nov 2004.
Approximately eight of those 120 were pipeline breaks, and one from an exploratory well accident.
The rest? Oil tankers take up the bulk of these. And not necessarily accidents. Often it’s just a common, but illegal, discharging of the tanks they do while underway at sea.
When taken into perspective, do we need to turn overprotective and skittish because of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, backing away from a practice that historically has a good record for safety and performance?
And if we decide to punish oil rigs and offshore drilling with a kneejerk reaction, what will be the reaction to the true largest offender – the oil tankers crisscrossing the seas 24/7?
It’s likely the public will never get the true dose of reality on oil rigs and oil spills from the MSM… or even the infrequency of such accidents. Because I’m quite sure this will be seized upon for political purposes… And I’m equally sure that the political battle will rage, and take center stage even while all powers that be race to minimize the loss of wildlife and environmental damage.
It’s time we pulled our perspectives into focus. We do experience crises and accidents. There is no power in the world, or even the best laid of precautions, that will eliminate accidents – no more than a mother can keep her son, who broke his arm while climbing a tree, safe by moving him to the desert for the rest of his life. This is a great tragedy. But we must also temper our reactions with a hefty dose of reality.
Transocean Ltd. Provides Deepwater Horizon Update
ZUG, SWITZERLAND, Apr 26, 2010 (MARKETWIRE via COMTEX) –Transocean Ltd. (NYSE: RIG) (SIX: RIGN) today provided the following update on the Deepwater Horizon and the company’s role in supporting BP Exploration & Production, Inc. and the Unified Area Command in stemming the flow of hydrocarbons from the well.
The Deepwater Horizon is insured for total loss coverage and for wreck removal, to the extent removal can be carried out and is required. The total insured value of the rig is $560 million.
The rig sank in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico after an explosion and fire last week, and it is now located on the sea floor approximately 1,500 feet northwest of the well center and away from any subsea pipelines. Transocean is committing all necessary resources to support ongoing efforts to stop the flow of hydrocarbons from the well.
Transocean is the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor and the leading provider of drilling management services worldwide. With a fleet of 139 mobile offshore drilling units plus three ultra-deepwater units under construction, the company’s fleet is considered one of the most modern and versatile in the world due to its emphasis on technically demanding segments of the offshore drilling business. Its worldwide fleet is more than twice the size of the next-largest competitor. The company owns or operates a contract drilling fleet of 45 High-Specification Floaters (Ultra-Deepwater, Deepwater and Harsh-Environment semisubmersibles and drillships), 26 Midwater Floaters, 10 High-Specification Jackups, 55 Standard Jackups and other assets utilized in the support of offshore drilling activities worldwide.
Statements regarding any future aspect of the incident on the Deepwater Horizon, the effects, damage assessment, support of efforts by others, insurance coverage, as well as any other statements that are not historical facts, are forward-looking statements that involve certain risks, uncertainties and assumptions. These include but are not limited to actions by the Unified Area Command and governmental agencies, actions by insurers, customers and other third parties, results of investigations and assessments, and other factors detailed in Transocean’s most recent Form 10-K and other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which are available free of charge on the SEC’s website at www.sec.gov. Should one or more of these risks or uncertainties materialize, or should underlying assumptions prove incorrect, actual results may vary materially from those indicated.
Vietnam era Navy wife, indy/conservative, and an official California escapee now residing as a red speck in the sea of Oregon blue.