Since April 20, the doomed drilling rig Deepwater Horizon has been vomiting forth about 800,000 litres of oil per day, or about 5,000 barrels. That much oil, by the way, could be used to produce nearly 400,000 litres of gasoline. Per day. The fisheries in the area have been closed down, and the United States federal government has declared a moratorium on further off-shore drilling starts.
So what has British Petroleum, the company that, at heart, bears responsibility for this disaster, been doing about it? What have they done to try to make things right? Aside from spending about $350 million so far. (Then again, BP saw $6.1 billion in first quarter profits in 2010).
On May 7, 2010, a massive 100-ton cofferdam was lowered to the site of the breached wellhead, in an attempt to contain the outpouring of crude. Due to a buildup of buoyant methyl hydrate crystals in the cofferdam, the initial attempt failed. Methyl hydrates are produced when natural gas hits the cold, high-pressure waters at the wellhead site. Ironically, it was a natural gas surge that likely caused the blowout and explosion to begin with. Well, that, and the lack of a blow-out preventer on the drilling platform itself.
In the meantime, BP has employed now-out-of-work fishermen to set up shore booms, run skimmer booms, and help in the cleanup operations. This is a good idea, as it provides employment to the people who were put out of work by the disaster. Of course, the liability waivers that BP tried to get them to sign, exempting BP from any claims of damage suffered while helping BP clean up its mess, weren’t such a good idea, and were later dropped.
BP has also started to offer payments for damages caused. Which is good. However, these claims are limited to $5,000, and anyone who signs up for these claims now will have no recourse against BP in the future, as these settlements require signing away the right to pursue further damage claims. The only people these settlements are good for are BP and its shareholders.
As far as stopping the ongoing disaster, BP has a new platform in place, and has started drilling a relief well to permanently stop the flow of oil. Drilling this new line is expected to take up to 3 months. Once the new well has intercepted the old one, a special heavy liquid is pumped in to the well, and it is expected (or hoped) that this denser liquid will exert enough pressure on the oil to stop the flow.
In the meantime, BP is making heavy use of dispersant agents, both on the surface and at the wellhead itself. Dispersants break the oil up, and make it easier and quicker to undergo natural degradation. Unfortunately, the dispersants themselves are fairly toxic to marine organisms.
British Petroleum is facing a massive problem, and has accepted responsibility for the oil spill and it’s clean-up. In light of some of their actions, it is difficult to say how far they will actually go, but for the moment they do seem to be making a concerted effort. Time will tell whether their actions on cleanup can remedy their actions in causing the disaster in the first place.