Oil Spill Update: Ban Might Help Fisheries Recover; Hurricane Predictions; Dolphins and Sea Turtles; Oil Plume Controversy

Oil Spill Update: Ban Might Help Fisheries Recover; Hurricane Predictions; Dolphins and Sea Turtles; Oil Plume Controversy

Alisa Opar
Published: 05/18/2010

 
Underwater oil plume controversy
On Sunday, there were reports that scientists aboard Pelican, a research vessel recording data and taking water samples of the oil slick, discovered huge oil plumes more than 2,000 feet below the surface near the 5,000-foot-deep broken pipe that’s spewing crude into the ocean. Marine scientist Vernon Asper described to NPR three plumes—which consume oxygen, harming marine life—that are “roughly 10 or 15 miles long” and “more than100 meters thick.”
 
But yesterday Jane Lubchenco, head of NOAA, said that it’s too early to tell whether the plumes really do consist of oil. "Media reports related to the research work conducted aboard the R/V Pelican included information that was misleading, premature and, in some cases, inaccurate,” said Lubchenco in a press release. “No definitive conclusions have been reached by this research team about the composition of the undersea layers they discovered. Characterization of these layers will require analysis of samples and calibration of key instruments. The hypothesis that the layers consist of oil remains to be verified.”
 
The Los Angeles Times has more on the controversy.
 

Gas from the damaged Deepwater Horizon wellhead is burned by the drillship Discoverer Enterprise May 16, 2010, in a process known as flaring.

BP’s recovery efforts

On Sunday, BP announced that it succeeded in its second try to insert a new tube into the broken pipe on the sea floor that oil has been streaming out of for nearly a month. The company estimates that the riser insertion tube tool containment system is collecting and carrying about 2,000 barrels a day of oil to flow up 5,000 feet to the drill ship Discoverer Enterprise. BP is storing the oil it recovers on the ship, and burning off the gas.
 
The company continues to drill two relief wells (one started on May 2, the other on May 16), which will take about three months each to complete. BP is also working to develop a “top kill” operation. Here’s how that’s expected to work:
 

Heavy drilling fluids are injected into the well to stem the flow of oil and gas, followed by cement to seal the well. Most of the equipment is on site and preparations continue for this operation, with a view to deployment in the next week or so. Options have also been developed to potentially combine this with the injection under pressure of a variety of materials into the BOP to seal off upward flow.

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