Thoughts and Summaries on the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill

Posted: June 9th, 2010 by: h2

In another comment thread (Schlumberger BP), Diogenes II asked a few questions, but the answer was too long for a comment, so I’m posting it here. Hopefully the questions will be clear from the answer, but if not, read the original questions from .

What follows is a more general overview and a background set of observations.

Questions and Answers about the BP Spill

Q: How to find a quick technological fix?
A: Resist the urge for fairy tale quick fixes, remember, no single entity is losing more money per day on this event than BP. BP has direct access to any and all resources of any company out there (remember, this spill event is negatively impacting ALL offshore drilling globally, and especially in the gulf). BP also made about 16 billion after tax profit last year if I read it right, so they can actually pay for this all more or less in cash. And they are paying. I have repeatedly seen drilling engineers say: wow, if I had gotten the design and implementation assignment for some of the stuff BP has done so far, it would have taken 4-6 months to complete, and they have gotten some parts done in weeks. I am not a fan of BP, they are clearly negligent if not actually criminally negligent in this process, but don’t confuse that with incompetence now, now the job is to fix this as soon as possible.

Q: what actually happened? Where is the rig located? What is the geology of the Gulf?
A: For an in-depth chronology of events, including background data, see What caused the Deepwater Horizon disaster?.

The rig is I think about 500 feet from the wellhead. The Ixtoc blowout, if I remember right, at 150 ft, was where the rig sank ontop of the wellhead/BOP unit.

Gulf geology is outside any area I can pretend competence at, google it, it’s complex, unstable, and varies widely depending on where you are drilling from shallow to deep to ultra deep.

Q: Why can’t we just dump microbes on the spill and have it magically get all cleaned up? Or: why can’t technology just fix this now?
A: The bacteria is what will eat the oil, the gulf is filled with bacteria, because the gulf seeps an unknown but very large quantity of petroleum products every year. The problem is that what is being spilled is in a concentrated area, and is all at once. Avoid mcgiver solutions, again. There has been quite a bit of discussion about microbial action, and one thing that has been pointed out is that, besides the fact that they work best at higher temperatures, they also consume oxygen in the water to catalyze the oil. So you’re talking about the potential of creating even larger dead zones than the gulf already was suffering from because of nitrate and other pollutants being tossed into the gulf from our agricultural heartlands via the Mississippi river and other rivers that dump their wastes into the gulf.

There’s a lot of totally unwarranted near religious faith in the ability of technology to clear this up, but sadly it’s of no greater intellectual or practical value than the cargo cults of the Pacific islanders. What you are watching unfold IS THE BEST THAT CAN BE DONE. Many view it as not good enough, but the time to worry about having potential deep water blowout (or shallow, for that matter) responses tested, double fail-safed, with active and intense external drilling safety regulatory bodies in place, was BEFORE this happened, not after. Let me suggest a small test: ask every single person who is screaming for a fast fix what their position on government deregulation was prior to the 2008 Wall street meltdown and the 2010 Gulf Spill.

The fast fix is having the event never happen, and the way that happens is by implementing powerful, strong, unbending regulations that do not allow bad practices to take place. Or even better, to stop drilling our last remaining oil supplies, leaving nothing for our kids and their kids. Remember, after the deep water and ultra deep waters, there are no further horizons to be crossed, that’s the end of the game.

Again, avoid fairy tale scenarios where the great wizard technos flies in on his magic steeds and clears up the disaster with a wave of his technological wand. Exxon Valdez spill still is not recovered, my understanding is that the herring fishery is still completely wiped out, along with various other long term never to be solved affects. But that’s also in very cold water, and the microbes aren’t active at those temperatures. The Ixtoc warm waters plus the native gulf microbial activity cleared up those fishing grounds in about 2 years, which was quite fast. But once the oil hits the shore, you’re screwed, it is out of the water and so won’t be cleared up by microbes etc.

Also, there’s a very great concern for the long term affects of the dispersants they are using, which are I believe as toxic or more toxic than the oil, but which do keep the oil broken up and suspended in small drops that are more readily consumed by microbes.

Q: Is this a problem with capitalism? Can we reason our way out of this problem?
A: I don’t see the problem as capitalism per se, after all, the USSR and in name communist China today are/were doing a bang up job destroying the environment and ecosystem. I’d point the finger at the deeper issue of the religious doctrine we have come to almost all believe that mankind can engage in perpetual growth/consumption, both of population and of consumption of finite raw materials. Perpetual growth is not one of the options in the set of sustainable options. All non-sustainable trajectories are not sustainable, and thus fundamentally irrational. That’s not going to stop us from following them to the bitter end, but if we are going to discuss ratioality, that’s an important qualification. This is not an ideological position, although many out there will attempt to resist this fundamental fact using various ideological constructs, left, right, center, all resist it equally I find, though in different ways.


So many people need to learn to not say anything unless it is intelligent, factual, scrutinized/ evaluated and they can prove it or back it up with verifiable facts.

In other words they need to develop an honest and critical thought and speaking process.

Mental fabrications, propaganda, myths, misinformation, beliefs, opinions, hearsay and gossip are not part of that function.

A: Getting way off topic, I disagree that “Mental fabrications, propaganda, myths, misinformation, beliefs, opinions, hearsay and gossip are not part of that function.” In fact, I would say that human discourse and society functions precisely in mental fabrications, myths, beliefs, hearsay, and gossip. The problem comes about when you disconnect this process from more fundamental levels of existence, feedback loops with nature, the social body as a whole, etc, and let them float free, pushed about by commercial, for profit interests that have no greater views about society than extracting profit to carry out their business. It’s been said for thousands of years, mankind is not rational… and that is correct, we are not. Tough position to be in when we need to be rational though to move out of the problems we are creating. We were not designed to live in the world we live in, it’s not how our minds or cultures work. There’s a reason a huge percentage of Americans are on anti-depressants or other psycho active agents, legal or illegal.

However, we can certainly use reason, assuming we learned how to do it, which most people haven’t, to try to filter out garbage and end up with something close to reality. Can’t ever actually touch reality with reason, but that’s another question altogether which I’ll resist following through on.

One Response to “Thoughts and Summaries on the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill”

  1. Diogenese II says:


    Thanks for your reply.

    On the philosophical thread:

    You misunderstood my words:

    “Mental fabrications, propaganda, myths, misinformation, beliefs, opinions, hearsay and gossip are not part of that function.”

    I meant that those activities are not part of rational or critical thought (those with good reasoning powers ).

    They are indeed part of normal human discourse, those low on the scale of intellectual evolution.

    On using bacteria:

    According to the video,

    Yes, there are bacteria everywhere but obviously not in sufficient concentrations to eat up that much oil. The video also states that many different strains were collected from around the world to make up this special mix.

    The Texas Land office successfully used bacteria to clean up an oil spill near Galveston with no side effects.

    And there is no mention of depleting the water of oxygen, could be due to the bacteria only doing it’s job on the surface where the oil is in the presence of oxygen, not below surface to any significant depth.

    And storms and folding and lapping wave action is continuously replenishing the water with oxygen.

    Re: Capitalism:

    Yes, you are correct in your reply. Socialist economies also caused a lot of damage to the environment. Thanks for clarifying that.

    I am also fully aware that both systems are a failure. I do not know what the solution is. The human race has a huge problem on it’s hands.

    I think the human and environment factors have to be entered/ embedded in the business- bottom line equation.