Monday, June 21, 2010

Some Sobering Thoughts

UPDATE:  A BP-supplied tape describing how the relief well operation is expected work can be viewed here.


According to news reports, BP has abandoned any attempts to "cap" the leaking well and is relying on "relief" wells which are scheduled to be completed in August. Here is the latest information pertaining to the relief wells.

Now, I would like to offer a sobering thought: The relief wells may not be finished in August and, even if they are, they may not work. Please keep in mind my "day job" is risk mitigation. Since you can't manage risks you don't anticipate, lets think through some scenarios.

Lets start with the first problem, a delayed completion of a relief well(s). That's easy: A hurricane or even a tropical storm. These offshore platforms must be evacuated at the slightest risk of a hurricane or tropical storm. It is easy to envision scenarios where the operation runs weeks behind because of actual or threatened severe weather.

Other possible sources of delays: Equipment breakdown, unexpected rock formations, continued erosion of the existing underwater infrastructure, lightning strikes the leaking oil causing a fire(s), etc.

Conclusion number one: We can't count on the flow of oil stopping in August. 

Second, even if the relief well is drilled on time, it might not work. Envision there is a hole in Hoover Dam causing a large leak of water and the only way to stop the leak is to set up a platform on the dry side of the dam, one mile away, and then drill a second hole into the dam, bend the pipe once through to the dam's wet side, and snake concrete through the drill pipe, and fill in the hole from the wet side of the dam. Then, you have to successfully fill in the second hole.

This is a tricky -- and risky -- procedure. There is a chance you could make the first hole larger or have a leak with the relief hole.

So, even if the relief well is completed on time, it might not work. 

Why am I telling you this? Because at least 95% of the oil in that well (according to engineers' reports I have read) has not leaked out yet. It will keep leaking until the relief well gambit works or the well exhausts itself.

This threatens an ecological and economic disaster unseen in the U.S. in our lifetimes. Yet, from reading everything I can about it, we are not doing everything we can to sop up the oil that has leaked so far. Read this article about how there are 1,500 boats that could be on the scene sopping up the oil but are not!

People are focused on the mesmerizing sight of the oil pouring out of that pipe on the floor of the Gulf. It does not appear we are focused on what will happen if that oil continues to flow (which it certainly will) at least through August and what will happen if it flows -- literally -- for months after.

There will be plenty of time to assess blame and that can come later. Right now, all of our efforts should be focused on mitigating the spill to date and creating and executing a plan for what to do if the oil is leaking 4-5 months, or more, from now. 

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