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The 90 Day Plan

Friday, April 30, 2010

Worst-Case Scenario for the Gulf of Mexico

This is an update from our good friends @ the Louisiana Environmental Action Network

Louisiana Environmental Action NetworkLMRK logoLouisiana Environmental Action Network
Lower Mississippi RIVERKEEPER©

Helping to Make Louisiana Safe for Future Generations

  APRIL 30, 2010
Worst Case Scenerio: Spilling Gulf Oil Well Could Exceed Valdez every 6 days

Reports from multiple independent sources have corroborated reports that there is concern that the well head of the leaking Gulf oil well could be shorn from the well by abrasive sandy grit in the flowing oil causing an unchecked flow of oil from the well.

Illustration of the Deepwater Horizon disaster

Presently the leaking oil is flowing through the failed blowout preventer and a long section of riser pipe that remained attached to the well head after the Deepwater Horizon sank. The kinks and bends in the riser pipe are restricting the flow of oil from the well. However, there is concern that abrasive sand particles are mixing with the flowing oil and acting like a "sand blaster" and eroding the interior of the pipe.

A source close to LEAN reported that employees of a contractor working on the clean up were told to be prepared to move out of the Venice area in the event that the well head were eroded to the point of failure by sand in the oil.

The reason given for being prepared to move from the area was the concern that if unprecedented volumes of oil were to be released into the Gulf of Mexico that air quality could become degraded enough to require an evacuation of people from the coastal areas.

In addition, the Alabama Press-Register released articles earlier today outlining just such a scenario with a leaked NOAA emergency response document as evidence.

The NOAA emergency response document from April 28, 2010 stated:

"The following is not public... two additional release points were found today in the tangled riser. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought... There is no official change in the volume released but the USCG is no longer stating that the release rate is 1,000 barrels a day, Instead they are saying that they are preparing for a worst-case release and bringing all assets to bear."

From the Press-Register article:

In scientific circles, an order of magnitude means something is 10 times larger. In this case, an order of magnitude higher would mean the volume of oil coming from the well could be 10 times higher than the 5,000 barrels a day coming out now. That would mean 50,000 barrels a day, or 2.1 million gallons a day. It appears the new leaks mentioned in the Wednesday release are the leaks reported to the public late Wednesday night.   

The emergency document also states that the spill has grown in size so quickly that only 1 to 2 percent of it has been sprayed with dispersants.  

The Press-Register obtained the emergency report from a government official. The White House, NOAA, the Coast Guard and BP Plc did not immediately return calls for comment made early this morning. 

The worst-case scenario for the broken and leaking well pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico would be the loss of the wellhead and kinked piping currently restricting the flow to 5,000 barrels -- or 210,000 gallons -- per day.

If the wellhead is lost, oil could leave the well at a much greater rate.

"Typically, a very good well in the Gulf can produce 30,000 barrels a day, but that's under control. I have no idea what an uncontrolled release could be," said Stephen Sears, chairman of the petroleum engineering department at Louisiana State University. 

Let us hope that this scenario does not play out.

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