Wednesday, July 28, 2010

NOAA tracking spilled Macondo oil and its consequences

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists are working throughout the Gulf of Mexico to assess where spilled Macondo oil has gone, where it might go, and to figure out the extent of any potential damages to the gulf ecosystem.

During a news conference on July 27, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said preliminary findings indicate the light crude has been biodegraded quickly by naturally occurring bacteria that is abundant in the warm-water gulf.

“We do know that over 600 miles of the gulf coast shoreline have already been oiled, and some [oil] remains on the surface although the amount on the surface is less and less,” Lubchenco said. “Recent satellite imagery indicates surface oil is continuing to break up into smaller scattered patches,” that are predominantly light sheens containing little recoverable oil.

NOAA scientists are studying short-term and long-term impacts. Four NOAA vessels, two aircraft, and five sea turtle rescue boats currently are busy with missions ranging from seafood safety to detecting submerged oil.

The NOAA ship Nancy Foster is using a remotely operated vehicle to monitor deep water bottom and coral habitats exposed to the oil dispersant mixture. The NOAA ship Oregon II is collecting samples of fish and shrimp off Louisiana that will be tested for contaminants.

A Twin Otter aircraft is using a multispectral scanner to measure surface oil density and thickness, and a second Twin Otter is providing aerial observations and surveys of dolphins, whales, and sea turtles in the area of the spill.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gulf of Mexico becomes science laboratory for dispersants

President Barack Obama requested $2 million in supplemental federal funds for dispersant research associated with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Record volumes of dispersants have been used on the gulf's surface and in the subsea at 5,000 ft of water. Most previous research on dispersants involved laboratory testing, but the spill resulted in scientists monitoring the effects of chemical dispersant on a much grander scale.

Lisa P. Jackson, administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, testified on July 15 before a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations about the request for funding dispersant research.

Dispersants played a big role in the Macondo oil spill response efforts. Scientists and others are studying the effects that dispersants might have on marine life. Federal officials and Louisiana state officials granted BP authorization to use approved dispersants to break down the oil into smaller drops.

In May, EPA and the US Coast Guard issued a directive requiring BP to implement a monitoring and assessment plan for subsurface and surface applications of dispersants. Federal authorities on May 26 asked BP to significantly decrease the overall volume of dispersants being used.

“Since that directive, we have seen the total volume of dispersants used fall by almost 70% from their peak levels,” Jackson said. EPA set up an extensive network to monitor the air, water, and sediments for the presence of dispersants and crude oil components.

The next phase of EPA’s testing will assess the acute toxicity of multiple concentrations of Louisiana sweet crude oil alone and combinations of Louisiana sweet crude oil with dispersants.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The count starts, how many deepwater rigs will leave GOM

Diamond Offshore is moving two of its deepwater drilling rigs out of the Gulf of Mexico for work outside the US given uncertainty about the length of a drilling moratorium on new deepwater drilling in the gulf. This marks the start of an ongoing count. The question is how many deepwater rigs might be relocated.

“We believe the risk that a substantial number of deepwater rigs will leave the gulf has risen considerably,” FBR Capital Markets analysts wrote in a July 13 research note after Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issued a second moratorium on deepwater drilling moratorium based on technology and drilling configurations instead of water depth.

A New Orleans federal judge struck down the first drilling ban. Salazar reissued a second drilling moratorium on July 12 until Nov. 30, pending interim rules that might end it sooner. He also reserves his right to end the moratorium earlier or to extend it.

“Despite the focus on a Nov. 30 horizon, we believe that the content of the decision memo will increase the uncertainty in the minds of the deepwater producers as to when the moratorium may end,” FBR analysts said.

They suggest the new moratorium could prompt more lawsuits, although analysts emphasize that litigation is unlikely to resolve the uncertainty.

“Interior’s decision to allow the drilling of waterflood and injection wells while not allowing the drilling of development wells could represent an avenue for further litigation,” FBR analysts said. “The DOI can continue to refine the moratorium or impose almost unlimited requirements regarding safety that will keep the drilling industry in limbo.”

One industry spokesman last week suggested this scenario reminds him of having his engine halfway out of his car. Given that situation, more deepwater rigs are very likely to be leaving the gulf.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is GOM drilling moratorium hurting or helping rig safety?

The International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) is urging its members to contact federal lawmakers to convey IADC’s dismay regarding the blanket suspension of deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

IADC Chairman Louis A. Raspino said uncertainty from Washington, DC, regarding deepwater drilling threatens the future of the US offshore drilling industry. Raspino, chief executive officer and president of Pride International Inc., spoke during an IADC town hall meeting in Houston on July 7.

The Interior Department imposed a 6-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling in the gulf following an Apr. 20 explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible drilling rig, which was working for BP PLC and partners on the Macondo well in 5,000 ft of water on Mississippi Canyon Block 252.

“Just about every rig sitting in the gulf right now is trying to find a way out of the gulf,” Raspino said. A federal judge in New Orleans issued a temporary injunction that effectively blocks the drilling moratorium, but the federal government is appealing that ruling to the appeals court.

Raspino and others speaking at the meeting all emphasized the importance of rig safety, but they also suggested that the motivation behind the moratorium was more about anti-drilling politics than it was about rig safety.

The moratorium is more likely to reduce safety than to improve safety, said Tom E. Williams, a member of a team of scientists advising Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Williams is managing director of Nautilus International LLC.

Several others at the town hall meeting emphasized that the US has higher environmental standards and drilling safety regulations than do many other countries.

“The national security issue is not even being discussed,” in Washington, Raspino said regarding the likelihood that a decrease in US drilling will contribute to higher US dependence upon imported oil.

Labels: , , , , , ,