Posted by: arnegrim | May 18, 2010

Deepwater Horizon oil spill

So… this has been going for almost a month now… and some progress has been made to slow the oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico.

Just some quick facts…

BP and the government currently have the oil leak estimated at 5,000 barrels of oil a day.  Is that figure accurate?  Probably not, but an accurate figure is going to be hard to come by.  If BP is forthcoming on real numbers, then a closer estimate should be able to be obtained by measuring how much oil their ‘straw’ is drawing from the well and examining the amount still outflowing around it.

Materially, the amount of oil spilled is nowhere near the worst oil spill (which incidentally was not an accident).  Many are comparing this to the Exxon Valdez… which was the largest US spill at 250,000 barrells… but ranks far down the list as far as largest oil spills.  Just some quick numbers… it takes about 7 barrels of oil to make a ton… if we assume 60,000 barrels of oil are leaking per day (far above the official estimate) the well has dumped about 1,680,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf as of the 20th.  That means that it will have dumped 240,000 tons of oil.  Just in the top 10 worst oil spills… nowhere near #1.  (not that any oil spill is ok)

Economically, this disaster is huge.  While it shouldn’t have any effect on gas or oil prices (it was only an exploratory well not a producing one), the disaster will be felt by all who depend on the Gulf of Mexico for their livelihood.  From fishermen to tourism, this will cause lasting pain.

Environmentally, this disaster is also huge.  Just how bad is again very difficult to tell.  There will be many ecosystems affected by this… but without a study of larger oil spills (one of which was in the Gulf of Mexico) and their environmental effects… where this ranks is hard to say.

Politically… the government is just as culpable due to their lax inspections.  (Note: the application for this well was approved in 2009)  “The Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling, has long been criticized for being too close to industry.” How to fix that?  I would suggest placing a third private company in charge of inspecting oil rigs… and put the government in charge of auditing that company.  Provide at least one more point where fraud or other serious issues can be caught.

BP needs to have their feet held to the fire over this… as does the government agency in charge of checking up on them.  Obama said there was enough blame to go around… and that should include the government itself.  The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 limits BPs liability to $75 million plus any clean-up costs.  That obviously needs to be reexamined as the economic impact of this will be felt for years if not decades to come.

I also believe that this gives us even more reason to build nuclear power-plants.  We have domestic oil… and we should keep working to obtain it to lessen our dependence on foreign oil… but we need to also move towards energy generation that does not use fossil fuels.  Nuclear is one that has been pushed aside way too long here in the US.



  1. Nice post, Rob. I don’t agree with all your conclusions but I think this is a well described summary and a good advocacy of your ideas.

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