Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Process management proving key in oil spill response

BP PLC executives painstakingly examined each part of each step in the “top kill” operation they started May 26 in efforts to halt the flow of oil and gas from a deepwater runaway well. Meanwhile, the public grows increasingly impatient for an end to the oil spill.

The longer it takes to stem the leaking Macondo well in 5,000 ft of water off Louisiana, the more detailed information BP is releasing about the process management behind each option being considered.

On its web site, BP posted illustrations showing a fleet of specialized vessels on the surface standing ready to do the top kill work. Progress at the seabed was monitored via video from numerous remotely operated vehicles. An illustration of subsea activity for the top kill emphasizes the complexity and the safety issues involved in deepwater efforts.

Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for BP Exploration & Production, told reporters that nothing is simple in 5,000 ft of water, and that any individual step can take longer than expected.

“I wish this thing would come to an end and come to an end very quickly,” Suttles said during a May 24 news conference from Robert, La. “I think everyone is very, very frustrated.”

What the public is learning is that nothing in the deepwater oil spill response effort happens instantly. Every decision is being made with much deliberation between BP, scientists, industry experts, and government officials.

So far, testimony from regulatory investigations primarily has involved talk about equipment. But I suspect process management issues also will come into play as regulators and companies figure out exactly what happened so that such an accident can be avoided in the future.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Fate of oil spilled from Macondo well unclear; reminiscent of Ixtoc

Scientists expect to monitor and measure the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and its possible consequences on the environment and marine life for some time regardless of how soon BP PLC seals the deepwater Macondo well.

Predictably, the American Petroleum Institute and others have studied oil spills for decades. “Fate of spilled oil in marine waters: Where does it go? What does it do? How do dispersants affect it?” is the title of a March 1999 report from API.

The booklet, the first of three in a series, was developed for oil spill response decision-makers. The booklet’s introduction sets out a scenario involving an oil spill from a tanker accident.

Time will tell what kind of information API develops after the Macondo well spill. The closest that the US has come to experiencing a spill from an offshore well was in 1979 when Pemex had a blowout at its 1 Ixtoc discovery well in Campeche Sound (OGJ, June 11, 1979, p. 33).

The Ixtoc well was in 164 ft of water while the deepwater Macondo well is in 5,000 ft of water. Time will tell what consequences, both operational and regulatory, might stem from the deepwater spill for both the oil industry and the environment.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

National Wildlife Refuge system, National Park Service responding to oil spill

The Deepwater Horizon rig accident and ensuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico happened during peak bird breeding and nesting season on coastal National Wildlife Refuges, some of which are on barrier islands. Oil was confirmed on the Chandeleur Islands chain off Louisiana, home to Breton National Wildlife Refuge, which has been closed to the public.

US Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said May 10 that daily flights are assessing the location of the leading edge of the oil spill, status of boom, and impacts on wildlife and habitat.

A Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team, which includes leading shore cleanup scientists and BP PLC environmental specialists, is making flights and shoreline surveys on Chandeleur Islands.

Ultimately, 24 National Wildlife Refuges could be affected, said the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the refuge system.

Acting Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service Rowan Gould worked out of Houma, La., May 11 as part of the federal government’s oil spill response efforts. Twenty wildlife teams have been deployed out of the Houma Command Center for wildlife recovery.

National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis worked out of Mobile, Ala., May 11 to supervise the park service response efforts. In Alabama, tar balls resulting from the oil spill have been confirmed on Dauphin Island, Rear Adm. Landry said.

The park service set up two incident management teams along the gulf coast where it manages various parks including Gulf Island National Seashore, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, and Everglades National park.

Meanwhile, various federal agencies are helping local and state governments prepare for potential oil spill-related consequences to Mississippi, Alabama, and the west coast of Florida.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

BP sets up numerous hotlines to deal with oil spill

I have received several emails from people with suggestions on how to stop the flow of oil leaking from BP’s deepwater Macondo well on Mississippi Canyon Block 252. Other readers are emailing me with questions about how they can volunteer or telling me that they have boats available to use in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill response.

BP has set up a number of hotlines for people to call with various offers or with damage claims:
--To report oiled shoreline or request volunteer information, call 866-448-5816.
--To submit alternate response technology, services, or products, call 281-366-5511.
--To submit your vessel to help with skimming, call 281-366-5511.
--To submit a claim for damages, call 800-440-0858.
--To report oiled wildlife, call 866-557-1401.

Some readers are asking why I am not reporting about oiled birds. The short answer is that there were few oiled birds as of early May. BP is working with various wildlife response organizations to ensure quality care for any oiled wildlife.

The first oiled bird to be recovered was a northern gannet, a seabird. It was caught on Apr. 30 and treated by Tristate Bird Rescue and Research, a company of bird experts hired by BP to rehabilitate wildlife.

Expertise and training is required to properly feed, hydrate, and clean oiled birds. The Joint Information Center is advising the public against attempting to rescue oiled or injured birds. People instead are urged to call the Oiled Wildlife hotline at 866-557-1401.

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