Saturday, May 1, 2010

Useful Data on the Oil Spill

Here's an import from It offers some informed data on the Transocean Horizon spill. I do not know the author of this.

Transocean Horizon Spill... "Obama's Katrina"?

Panic time, folks. News stories about impending environmental disasters. A couple of senators calling for hearings. The media calling it "Obama's Katrina". Time for that rarest of things, perspective.

1. Chance that a US operated Gulf of Mexico rig sinks and spills? A. 0.025% or 1 in 4000.

2. How much oil will this spill (worst case scenario)? A. 150,000 barrels.

3. How much is it leaking now? A. 5,000 barrels per day, although it sounds so much bigger when you multiply by 42 and put it into gallons.

4. How much natural oil seepage is there in the Gulf of Mexico? A. 5,000 barrels per day, although it is widely distributed and not point sourced.

5. Where will this rank? A. 37th in the world's top 71 man-made oil spills.

6. What happened to the 121,000 barrels spilled by the Mega Borg (the second largest spill in the GOM)? A. They burned it. 1800 barrels recovered, 270 barrels left after burning, so, in essence, via burning and wind and wave action biodegradation, 121,000 barrels turned into a little over 2000 barrels. The Prudhoe Bay incident was magnified because it had little wind or wave action... it was a closed system.

7. How does this compare to, say, wildfires? A. Wildfires fully devastate the areas they cover, and typically take 5-30 years to fully recover from a ground fire and up to 150 years to recover from a crown fire. Full recovery from an oil spill is typically a year or less.

8. OK, but how about the carbon footprint between them? A. In fully protected fire areas (a small amount of total forest), there are typically 10,000 to 30,000 forest fires per year world wide. These consume 16,000,000 hectares per year, and release 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year (mind you, this is just a small subset of fires, the subset we are most able to fight and protect). This spill will release, at most a little over 52,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. That is, 0.0033% of fully protected fightable wildfires.

9. But, but... the poor birds? A. Fires fully incinerate the animals they touch. Oily animals make fine, heart-rending posters and cover shots for Time.


Unknown said...

How long did it take for a recovery from Exxon? I was under the impression it took ten years for things to return to normal.

Carolyn said...

Mr. Caruba, while I don't relish the thought of seeing and walking through bits of tar like oil when I go to the beach, I agree that this is not going to be a great thing- but not going to be the worst either. I believe too about the differences between fires and oil spills. We had a fire out here going on 5 years now and still aren't seeing the amount of animals we used to have.
One thing I don't hear from anyone is how long we've had oil rigs out in the gulf, compared to how many spills. I lived in Texas before moving to Florida, and in all the years I've lived in both places, there has not been one major spill-even through the massive hurricanes which came through here the past few years.
Politicians need to get a grip and think with their brains. Yes, things like this are always a possibility, but in perspective- they are no worse, in fact a lot less so than any natural disaster.
God Bless~

Unknown said...

Sorting out the facts in this deal isn't easy. For instancce, the water depth at the well site is said to be 5,000 feet. The slope of the floor of the GOM is about ten feet per mile off the Texas and western Louisiana coasts...

The rig was said to be producing 35,000 bbl/day, IIRC. This was at less than max yield, in order to avoid erosion of the piping by sand particles in a higher-velocity flow. Now? The outflow might be more than 35,000 bbl/day.

Perspective about the length of time for environmental impacts: The east coast of the US was awash with gasoline, diesel and crude oil during WW II, from tanker sinkings by Nazi U-Boats. I don't know how many, although I vaguely recall reading of a number greater than sixty. Certainly, the warmer temperatures of the Gulf coast will be more helpful than the Arctic weather of the Valdez spill.

But we can anticipate many business failures among all those involved in tourism in the eastern Gulf coast. "It'll be all cleaned up in a couple of years" is no help this year in making those monthly payments.

The NOAA map is helpful insofar as location and trends.