Oil Spill: Here's The Inside Scoop

George Washington's picture

Washington’s Blog

The Gulf oil spill is much worse than originally believed.

As the Christian Science Monitor writes:

It's now likely that the actual amount of the oil spill dwarfs the Coast Guard's figure of 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, a day.

Independent scientists estimate that the renegade wellhead at the bottom of the Gulf could be spewing up to 25,000 barrels a day. If chokeholds on the riser pipe break down further, up to 50,000 barrels a day could be released, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration memo obtained by the Mobile, Ala., Press-Register.

CNN quotes the lead government official responding to the spill - the commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen - as stating:

If we lost a total well head, it could be 100,000 barrels or more a day.

Indeed, an environmental document filed by the company running the oil drilling rig - BP - estimates the maximum as 162,000 barrels a day:

In an exploration plan and environmental impact analysis filed with the federal government in February 2009, BP said it had the capability to handle a “worst-case scenario” at the Deepwater Horizon site, which the document described as a leak of 162,000 barrels per day from an uncontrolled blowout — 6.8 million gallons each day.

Best-Case Scenario

BP is trying to perform a difficult task of capping the leak by using robotic submarines to trigger a "blowout preventer" 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. Here's a photo of the robot trying to activate the switch on April 22nd:

(courtesy of the US Coast Guard)

If successful, the leak could be stopped any day. Everyone is rooting for the engineers, so that they may successfully cap the leak.

Already, however, the spill is worse than the Exxon Valdez, and will cause enormous and very costly destruction to the shrimping, fishing and tourism industries along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Florida. It will be years before good estimates on the number of dead fish, turtles, birds and other animals can be made.

The Backup Plan

If the blowout preventer can't be triggered, the backup plan is to drill another well to relieve pressure from the leaking well.

Here's a drawing prepared by BP showing the plan (the drilling rig on the left will take months to drill down and relieve pressure from the leaking rig):

Here's a graphic from the Times-Picayune showing the same thing (and accurately showing that there are currently 3 leaking oil plumes):

BP will also attempt to drop concrete and metal "cages" over the leak sites, to try to buy time by collecting oil in the cages, and then draining oil away in a safer manner.    In addition, BP is using chemical disperents to try to break up the oil plumes as they arise.

Worst-Case Scenario

As the Associated Press notes:

Experts warned that an uncontrolled gusher could create a nightmare scenario if the Gulf Stream carries it toward the Atlantic.

This would, in fact, be very bad, as it would carry oil far up the Eastern seaboard.

Specifically, as the red arrows at the left of the following drawing show, the Gulf Stream runs from Florida up the Eastern Coast of the United States:

[Click here for full image.]

But how could the oil get all the way from Louisiana to Florida, where the Gulf Stream flows?

As Discovery explains:

Many ocean scientists are now raising concerns that a powerful current could spread the still-bubbling slick from the Florida Keys all the way to Cape Hatteras off North Carolina.


These oceanographers are carefully watching the Gulf Loop Current, a clockwise swirl of warm water that sets up in the Gulf of Mexico each spring and summer. If the spill meets the loop -- the disaster becomes a runaway.


"It could make it from Louisiana all the way to Miami in a week, maybe less." said Eric Chassignet, director of the Center for Ocean Atmospheric Prediction Studies at Florida State University. "It is pretty fast."


Right now, some computer models show the spill 30 to 50 miles north of the loop current. If the onshore winds turn around and push the oil further south: "That would be a nightmare," said Yonggang Liu, research associate at the University of South Florida who models the current. "Hopefully we are lucky, but who knows. The winds are changing and difficult to predict."


Imagine the loop current as an ocean-going highway, transporting tiny plankton, fish and other marine life along a watery conveyor belt. Sometimes it even picks up a slug of freshwater from the Mississippi River -- sending it on a wandering journey up to North Carolina.


The Gulf Loop Current acts like a jet of warm water that squirts in from the Caribbean basin and sloshes around the Gulf of Mexico before being squeezed out the Florida Strait, where it joins the larger and more powerful Gulf Stream current.




Oceanographer George Maul worries that the current could push the oil slick right through the Florida Keys and its 6,000 coral reefs.


"I looked at some recent satellite imagery and it looks like some of the oil may be shifted to the south," said Maul, a professor at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla. "If it gets entrained in the loop, it could spread throughout much of the Atlantic."


In fact, new animation from a consortium of Florida institutions and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, predicts a slight southward shift in the oil over the next few days.

A graphic from the Discovery article shows what the Gulf loop current looks like:

loop current
The Gulf Loop Current enters from the Caribbean basin,
moves around the Gulf of Mexico and
exits out the Florida Strait, where it joins
the more powerful Gulf Stream current.

Naval Oceanographic Office


According to ROFFS, the oil spill is getting close to the loop current:


In a worst-case scenario - if the oil leak continued for a very long period of time - the oil could conceivably be carried from the Gulf Stream into world-wide ocean currents (see drawing above).


I do not believe this will happen. Even with the staggering quantity of oil being released, I don't think it's enough to make its way into other ocean currents. I think that either engineers will figure out how to cap the leak, or the oil deposits will simply run out. It might get into the Gulf loop current, and some might get into the Gulf Stream. But I don't believe the apocalyptic scenarios where oil is carried world-wide by teh Gulf Stream or other ocean currents.

Changing the Climate

There is an even more dramatic - but even less likely - scenario.

Specifically, global warming activists have warned for years that warming could cause the "great conveyor belt" of warm ocean water to shut down. They say that such a shut down could - in turn - cause the climate to abruptly change, and a new ice age to begin. (This essay neither tries to endorse or refute global warming or global cooling in general: I am focusing solely on the oil spill.)

The drawing above shows the worldwide "great conveyer belt" of ocean currents, which are largely driven by the interaction of normal ocean water with colder and saltier ocean currents.

Conceivably -  if the oil spill continued for years - the greater thickness or "viscosity" of the oil in comparison to ocean water, or the different ability of oil and seawater to hold warmth (called "specific heat"), could interfere with the normal temperature and salinity processes which drive the ocean currents, and thus shut down the ocean currents and change the world's climate.

However, while this is an interesting theory (and could make for a good novel or movie), it simply will not happen.

Why not?

Because there simply is not enough oil in the leaking oil pocket to interfere with global ocean currents. And even if this turns out to be a much bigger oil pocket than geologists  predict, some smart engineer will figure out how to cap the leak well before any doomsday scenario could possibly happen.

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Ripped Chunk's picture


BP say's "It's not our fault" but they are going around Alabama offering $5,000 to anyone they think might be party to a suit in exchange for an indemnity waiver.

BP = Big Pigs


Shrimp Head's picture

Thank God Halliburton (Hal) bought Boots and Coots (Wel) just eight days before the incident. 


Put that in your tin foil and smoke it...

J.B. Books's picture




Did everyone hear that? Maybe true…maybe just BS. But just heard a story re: the displacement of the drilling mud with sea water from the riser. The mud was being pumped into a boat at the rig. Normal procedure. But at one point the boat captain notified the rig his tanks were almost full. But that didn’t match the volume of mud that could have been pumped in the time span.

What this might mean: when you’re drilling and you stop to add a new section of drill pipe you monitor the return mud tank. When you stop your mud pumps, the flow of mud from the well bore should also stop. If it doesn’t then something down hole must be pushing the mud up and out… oil/NG/water or any combination. That’s why you do a “flow check”. To make sure the hole is static. Pure speculation on my part based upon the unconfirmed report of excessive mud pumped to the boat: the well started coming in and no one was monitoring the flow back. There are also electronic monitors to watch for this but they don’t work very well (or at all) during such an offloading op.

But if true this goes a long way toward explaining why the accident happened so fast. As others have mentioned there are procedures to kill a kick or an actual well flow. But those actions are only taken when you know they well is coming at you. As we say in the oil patch: “When you see it coming at you through the kelly (the drill floor) you’re probably already dead.”

Augustus's picture

The mud pit that they monitor for that volume change is on the rig.

The work boat was there to take off the mud as they were finished drilling and were preparing to relocate the rig.  Empty the rig mud pit before moving.

Howard_Beale's picture

HuffPo is often on top of things--they started the move your money campaign to starve the banks of deposits. Thanks for the link.

Oso's picture

BP official: 'We've significantly cut the flow' of oil from damaged rig

By George Talbot   http://blog.al.com/live/2010/05/bp_official_weve_significantly.html  

May 03, 2010, 11:42AM

MOBILE, Ala. -- BP has significantly cut the flow of oil leaking from its damaged Deepwater Horizon rig on the Gulf of Mexico sea floor, a company spokesman said this morning.

Jeff Childs, a deputy incident commander for BP, said in a briefing with Alabama officials that the company successfully shut a set of hydraulic shears known as annular rams, helping to clamp the ruptured pipe and block the leaking oil.

"We've significantly cut the flow through the pipe," Childs said at the Mobile briefing hosted by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa.

Childs said the company was still trying to activate a set of shear rams that are designed to seal the well by shearing off the drill pipe. The job is complicated, he said, because it is occurring at depths of more than 5,000 feet.

Shelby said the development was good news for the Gulf Coast.

"If we can stop that oil from pumping, or even slow it down, that's a big step," Shelby said.

Childs' statement came after BP chief executive Tony Hayward said earlier this morning that chemical dispersants being injected into the oil flow near the spill source have worked to some degree to keep oil from flowing to the surface, though he did not elaborate.

Officials also said as BP is preparing a system never tried nearly a mile under water to siphon away the geyser of crude from a blown-out well a mile under Gulf of Mexico waters.
BP officials said they hope the system could collect as much as 85 percent of oil rising from the seafloor.

The plan to lower 74-ton, concrete-and-metal boxes being built to capture the oil and siphon it to a barge waiting at the surface will need at least another six to eight days to get it in place, with weather also a factor.


pcrotty41@hotmail.com's picture

That sounds promising...lets hope those limey engineers show their salt and get this hole in the ocean floor plugged. 

Oso's picture

BP saying that there has been no change to the flow in an e-mailed statement; earlier there was a rumor suggesting that the rate of flow had decreased

Sudden Debt's picture

Can't we just fix the problem with a media blackout?

Ripped Chunk's picture

This is a game changer folks.

Finance and investment will not matter if what is really to be believed about this event comes to pass.

MilleniumJane's picture

And if the comments and George Washington's blog haven't sent chills up your spine yet, read this:

"Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that she was changing the federal leadership of the oil spill operations. Adm. Thad W. Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard, is now directly overseeing the work of Rear Adm. Mary E. Landry, who had been in charge of the response. Admiral Allen was in charge of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina."

From http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/us/02oil.html?hp



Debtless's picture


If they airlifted 200 West St. NYC building and dropped it squarely in the gulf it would plug the hole nicely. I've done the hard math. Fits perfect. Problems solved.

WineSorbet's picture

You all see disaster where I see opportunity for the fishing industry in the gulf.  That's right, it's a new BIO DIESEL!!!!  Just take the daily catch, put it through a blender and then right into gas tanks!  Take that Al Gore!

Jim in MN's picture




  • The Gulf Loop Current is a clockwise swirl of warm water in the Gulf of Mexico during spring and summer.
  • If the oil slick meets up with the current, the disaster could be carried all the way to Cape Hatteras.
  • The coral reefs in the Florida Keys are also in the path of the current.
Cammy Le Flage's picture

Thanks for noticing.   South Florida is watching this disaster unfold with shock and awe.   Frankly, the Gulf Loop Current is very close to the spill right now and moving that oil at approximately 4 - 5 mph through the Florida Keys will ruin it.   The coral reef will most likely die and the mangroves....well, forget about it.   The Florida Keys are very small barrier islands and most of them are  below sea level if not right at it.   The word from the University of South Florida and most captains is not if the slick hits the loop current, but when.   However, if there is full sun (oil evaporates), it could evaporate as it moves through the current.   That natural process could assist excepting that the well is still pumping oil into the Gulf and at this point, no one really knows how much it is pumping.   This disaster is a bit bigger than everyone realizes.  What to do at this point....watch and wait.

whatsinaname's picture

I hope the oil somehow misses the Key West area and the coral reefs thereabout !! Its a really nice area with a lot of poverty and does not deserve more pain. God help Florida.

kaiserhoff's picture

Thank god for the Picayune!  This discussion more than compensates for the rants and posing that go on here.

Before we all bet on the end of the world, one phrase "light sweet crude."  World of difference between that and the heavy shit as in Exxon Valdez.  If not, there would be dead birds from the Big Easy to Tiera del Fuego already.

More to the point, look at the size of this sucker...after we cash the BP puts, what's the best way to short the House of Saud?

kaiserhoff's picture

You may well be right, Wang. Absence of evidence has its limitations, but there are thousands of talking heads looking for the worst possible stink on this.  If we could capture all of that hot air, we wouldn't need oil.

Miles Kendig's picture

Just remember that this is relatively early and all that hot air may well fall short of the eventual reality..  Thank goodness I didn't pull the trigger on that Panama City property...

The sad fact of the matter is that the Obama Administration is having their Katrina moment and are suffering an even more epic fail that dubya did.

MsCreant's picture

This is just true, but stay tuned.

Miles Kendig's picture

.. as we get reacquainted with Murphy's Law.  Damn, I sure do have a righteous case of Eeyore about this one.

MsCreant's picture

Me too sweetness, me too.

Howard Beale's picture

If it continues to leak I am sure the Administration will send more lawyers down there.

Problem solved.

Howard_Beale's picture

Well well well....so there are two of us now and you have been lurking here for 13 weeks. Lol

Thoreau's picture


I hope LA, FL & MS sue the living shit out of BP & Uncle Scam.

anynonmous's picture

Obama is Correct!  BP is on the hook for the cost of the clean up/containment efforts.


but beyond that their liability is capped at  $75 million thanks to the "Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, the operators of the offshore rig face no more than $75 million in liability for the damages that might be claimed by individuals, companies or the government"





whatsinaname's picture

Yeah right !! But how much of that trust fund is actually in that fund ? Is it kinda like the SSTF where the fund money has been used for some other pet projects ?

Look for Gulf Cleanup Effort Tax soon coming your way ..

TuffsNotEnuff's picture

Clean-up, yes.

Civil liabilities, no-no-no.

A guess: this BP liability/pay-out will small both the asbestos cases and the Erin Brockovich cases.

Debtless's picture

i'd like to understand why the development driller would be positioned far away and have to drill all the way through the oil to reach the existing well (3 months). Why not just slip in a lot closer to it to achieve the same relieving effect? But then again I'm a rocket scientist not an oilman.

silvertrain's picture

 I was thinking along those lines also.why not the drill the new bit into the exsisting well closer to the earth as rather than drilling down the depth of the first one..Like drill down 1k feet or so and then do your detour right into to the exsisting pipe..

  Maybe there is more info they have and we dont..Im not an expert either so Ill let them deal with it..

anynonmous's picture

archives 2006

Houston - Last week the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) charged British oil giant BP (nyse: BP - news - people ) with conspiring to manipulate the propane market. The Commission seems to have BP dead to rights on conspiracy charges. In volumes of recorded conversations, BP traders brag that if their scheme worked they would “be able to control the market at will.” 


Sudden Debt's picture


Put in a poll!

Do you think the Gulf oil spill costs will be charged to the consumers? Oil 120$?

Sudden Debt's picture

Read this!

This is a effect after a blowout in India. This is a volcano created because of a gas drilling gone bad!

And in the Gulf of Mexico, you have one of the biggest caldera's in the world!



Rusty Shorts's picture

Yes it could, check this blowout in Vietnam a few years ago;



Sudden Debt's picture



Miss American's picture


by pitz
on Sun, 05/02/2010 - 22:28

"There is definitely a technical element to this story, but the root cause of this disaster is the motherfuckers who drove the price of oil down to such an extent that outfits like BP could not put adequate resources into engineering and maintenance (see:  Prudhoe Bay pipeline disintegration) while still providing an acceptable return to stakeholders."

Well then Pitz, I guess they shouldn't have been drilling then, huh?

The Sesame Street type car bomb in NY was probably quickly assembled to divert our attention, with the media's usual cooperation.  It's just a little too convenient.  That tells me that this probably IS the biggest environmental disaster ever.  And the SWAT teams?  Give me a break!  This is just another diversion to take the focus off BP's shoddy and sloppy business practices, Obama's slow response,  and the government's usual lack of oversight (ie. payoffs to let it ride).  See Jason Leopold's article at Truthout, and find out about BP's other ticking time bomb in the gulf.




Pondmaster's picture

2500 psi !!!


Dispersant is working to break up oil from the Deepwater Horizon well before it reaches the Gulf’s surface, a BP spokesman said Sunday afternoon.

The dispersant has been widely used in the oil industry, but never at 5,000 feet below sea level.

“We are hopeful for a significant reduction in the amount of oil reaching the surface,” spokesman Bill Salvin said. BP first experimented with the dispersant Saturday. A second test Sunday went so well that the dispersant will continue to be used at subsea depths.

Salvin could not say what percentage of oil the dispersant is breaking up. He said concentrations of oil are about 80 miles off the Mississippi shoreline and only 9 miles from Plaquemines Parish, La. Responders were not saying when the oil might reach Mississippi shores because too many factors are at play, including rough weather.

BP is hoping for better weather Monday to again work with underwater vehicles in an effort to stop the flow.

“We haven’t been successful yet,” Salvin said, “but we’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep trying.”

BP is now saying the gusher could be contained in eight days with the subsea containment system, essentially large chambers of steel where the oil would be trapped, then piped to a tanker. The structures are being designed by company engineers in Houston and being built in Port Fourshon, La. by Wild Well Control.

The chambers also have been previously used, but Salvin said company engineers are designing for the tremendous pressure at such a depth, which is 2,500 pounds per square inch.

Read more: http://www.sunherald.com/2010/05/01/2147341/oil-dispersant-working-bp-says.html#ixzz0mqvcSCNj
anynonmous's picture

Bill Salvin formerly of BP's PR department now has his own PR shop


"Dispersant is working to break up oil from the Deepwater Horizon well before it reaches the Gulf’s surface, a BP spokesman said Sunday afternoon."

"Salvin could not say what percentage of oil the dispersant is breaking up."

primefool's picture

Do we have enough really top notch engineers/petroleum engineers/geologists?  All the smartest, most driven ones go to wall street where they can make millions playing accounting games. I am hoping to see eyepopping salaries and bonuses for really smart engineers.

moneymutt's picture

ummm...actually, after 20 years of making not much and going into science teaching and such, geology has been a very lucrative field lately, guys graduating with a BS in geology were getting better offers in 2008 than MBA's.....

Pondmaster's picture

Okay - found it . Underwater Oil disperant manf.

NLC - Nalco Holdings - in the news this weekend 

AnAnonymous's picture

Impressive how such an event grows terrible when it happens of your coasts.

moneymutt's picture

so true, it be the worst disaster in human history if the oil was lapping up to the shore at the Hamptons

MsCreant's picture

George Washington,

Thanks for making a space for this discussion. I am no expert, but I posted on this a while back when I learned they were going to be burning the ocean to get rid of the oil. I knew in my gut this was being played waaay down.  Many of the comments here are spot on. The best we can hope for is an epic disaster we eventually recover from. Finances be damned. Honestly, the only hope I have is that other countries will see the peril to themselves and lend a hand to help get it under control. Maybe it would bring us together more. 

Yeah, I am too hopeful.

Own this. We did this to ourselves. We created the demand for oil by living the lifestyles we are leading. Don't know if "auditing the fed" much matters any more, or putting GS scumbags behind bars. We inherited the lifestyle, we took it as normal and our entitlement, but we did it. The greedy bastards just poked a hole in the only rock we have to live on, hoping to turn a buck.