We're in Deepwater

Michael Dudley's picture


What began on April 20th as a tragic industrial accident that claimed 11 lives is turning into an unprecedented ecological disaster.

People are already calling the massive eruption of oil in the Gulf of Mexico "America's Chernobyl," and, like that disaster, the Gulf oil mess will surely have significant implications for national energy policies: deep-sea oil drilling will now be seen to be on par with nuclear energy in terms of risk. It is difficult to imagine anyone again chanting "drill, baby drill".

News coverage and preparations have focused on the Gulf states and related environmental and economic impacts as the oil begins to take its toll on wildlife and the industries dependent on Gulf ecosystems, including fishing and tourism.

There is however a much more horrific scenario emerging that is only getting limited treatment in the media: that the Deepwater Horizon rig was drilling at the very edge of our technological capabilities and that the conditions on the ocean floor are so extreme, complex and dangerous that there may, in fact, be no way to control or stop the oil from gushing.

A report leaked to the media from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that if the pipe currently restricting flow breaks, the surge could increase to 50,000 barrels a day. Worse still, if the well head itself collapses under the pressure, the eruption would be completely uncontrolled – essentially an underwater volcano of oil. James Moore at the Huffington Post believes that the disaster may become a global one:

"[T]here is no way to know when and even if the well will ever be capped. In fact, if there is no plug placed in the hole, it is not inconceivable that no part of the planet's oceans will escape harm."

Paul Noel of the New Energy Congress also believes that the sheer size of the deposit into which Deepwater Horizon was drilling suggests that, if unchecked, the leak could poison all of the world's oceans

"[T]he BP people are not talking, but this well is into a deposit that easily could top 500,000 barrels production per day for 10 or 15 years...The deposit is very big. It contains so much hydrocarbon that you simply cannot imagine it. In published reports, BP estimated a blow out could reach near 200,000 Barrels per day (165,000) They may have estimated a flow rate on a 5 foot pipe. The deposit is well able to surpass this The deposit is so large that while I have never heard exact numbers it was described to me to be either the largest or the second largest oil deposit ever found [covering] an area off shore something like 25,000 square miles. Natural Gas and Oil is leaking out of the deposit as far inland as Central Alabama and way over into Florida and even over to Louisiana almost as far as Texas. This is a really massive deposit."

Hopefully, the 100 ton "dome" that is to be lowered over the leak will work and the spill will be successfully controlled. If not, and if the surge continues for months and years, with Gulf currents carrying the oil into the Atlantic and beyond, we will be facing an environmental catastrophe beyond our imaginations – perhaps even the death of the world's oceans.

Such scenarios may be extreme. We must hope so.

Beyond hope, however, there must be the recognition that the Deepwater Horizon disaster is just the most recent and alarming warning that our present energy regime is itself a disaster and must come to an end. Continuing to plan for a built environment dependent on cheap fossil fuels can no longer be considered tenable. We must move much more aggressively on reducing energy inputs and on facilitating a transition to a society based not on the exploitation of hydrocarbons but on renewable sources of energy. This means that we must stop assuming that "people will always drive," or that goods and people will always be able to easily jet to and from metropolitan areas.

In short, I believe that the disaster in the Gulf lends just about the most powerful moral imperative imaginable to efforts to promote Smart Growth, densification, mass transit, high-speed rail, transportation electrification, re-localization and alternative energy.

And, as a warning, it may be the last one we get. 


Michael Dudley is the Indigenous and Urban Services Librarian at the University of Winnipeg.



Rachel Maddow Revisits Oil Spills in Summary

Rachel Maddow revisited oil spills of the past 40 years- mistakes that have repeated themselves. Here's a link to her program on these spills:

America's Sad Cycle of Spilling and Drilling

Oil and the usual suspects.

And we also see the usual suspects - BushCo and esp Cheney, Halliburton - in this latest disaster. The Free Market (TM) simply does not work to protect natural resources. There must be oversight and regulation and I'm not sure politicians in the pocket of BP/Exxon are the ones to write the oversight (US$75M cap?!?!?!?!)




What is the alternative you are thinking about? If the ones who write the laws profit the most (as they assuredly do now) what will more oversight and regulation do (just look at the SEC staffers looking at porn and ignoring the guy who told them about Madoff 7 years before he blew up)? Does crony capitalism = free-market in your opinion?

Not the best answers to questions, surely.

First, one must acknowledge that the free market does not protect the environment and reducing regulation or oversight is detrimental.

Second, conjoined with the first, is a need to stop hiding and denying the fact that the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment.

Third, I suspect that our democracy is too far gone into corporatocracy to come back. When real changes actually happen, maybe we will come up with ideas to overcome greed and sloth. Until then, we need to be vigiliant and hope for the best.



Re: Not the best answers to questions, surely.

Thank you for the response. I believe we think similiarly with regards to answers two and three. With regards to the first, I see your point, but am greatly concerned about who/how/what form the regulation and oversight take (regulatory capture and all) and am not yet convinced that simple legal avenues couldn't do more than top down control. I simply have to glance over at Congress to know that those doing the regulating clearly do not have the best interests of "the people" at heart.

Re: RE: Not the best answers, surely.

I know where your 'legal avenues' comes from, and this is reactive rather than proactive. I suspect we think similarly on many issues.

Maybe threat of suing the pants off somebody has some preventative effect and should be part of a suite of strategies, altho I'm loath to double the population of lawyers. And loath to think of how many classes I'd be a part of for surface water pollution suits (maybe I can develop an app for that).



Not too far gone

Things are not too far gone. It's important to be realistic, but fatalism won't get us anywhere.

Regulation and more needed

This goes beyond planning, but what we need is a regulated market where regulation is respected- not just tossed to the wayside when a corporation requests that regulators turn the other cheek (it was revealed that BP's project was approved without proper enviro. review.) Both parties are responsible for making sure this happen- Dems have supported deregulation also, particularly Clinton.

Also, we need to clean up our campaign finance and lobbying laws and implement electoral reform. Fairvote.org does good work re electoral reform.

Laws regarding corporate rights in the constitution also need to be revisited. Visit Move to Amend at movetoamend.org or POCLAD poclad.org for more info.

Bill Moyers has said: "Our government isn't broken, it has been bought out from under us." Very true.

for more information on Deepwater Horizon

For folks who really want to dig into the details of Deepwater Horizon in particular, and unconventional oil production in general, there's more information than you could ever possibly read over at The Oil Drum.

This comment from an offshore oil veteran on a related article at Oil Drum goes in to especially interesting detail about the logistics of deepwater production.

Daniel Lerch
Post Carbon Institute

Offshore Drilling and Nuclear Power

It is difficult to imagine anyone again chanting “drill, baby drill”.

What are the odds that the same thing will happen with nuclear power? Congress will say that it is essential to build more nuclear power plants to make the nation energy-independent, as they did with offshore drilling – until there is a major nuclear accident in the United States. Then they will suddenly change their minds.

The difference is that a major nuclear accident could leave an area as large as the state of Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable.

Charles Siegel

If a nuke falls in the woods and no corporate media report it...

until there is a major nuclear accident in the United States. Then they will suddenly change their minds.

    Tainted nuke plant water reaches major NJ aquifer
    May 8, 2010 By WAYNE PARRY , Associated Press Writer

    (AP) -- Radioactive water that leaked from the nation's oldest nuclear power plant has now reached a major underground aquifer that supplies drinking water to much of southern New Jersey, the state's environmental chief said Friday.

    The state Department of Environmental Protection has ordered the Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station to halt the spread of contaminated water underground, even as it said there was no imminent threat to drinking water supplies.

    The department launched a new investigation Friday into the April 2009 spill and said the actions of plant owner Exelon Corp. have not been sufficient to contain water contaminated with tritium...



Similar to Vermont Yankee

This is similar to Vermont Yankee. Hey, the energy companies can do what the chemical companies do- greenwash their image by founding environmental initiatives such as nature centers or gardens.

The "Oyster Creek Preserve and Environmental Education Center"...

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