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BurP- A Case of Gas

In the history of bad ideas, this one is probably the single worst idea ever.

To appreciate what's going on here, you need to understand the situation. First of all, the geology. There is a vast lake of oil in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) that has been tapped for decades by the myriad wells that are currently in place. However, those wells have only been hitting small pockets at relatively shallow levels. Think of a lava lamp with small blobs of oil rising up off the mother lode at the bottom. Until now, it has been impossible to tap the larger source because the technology to reach depths of 10,000 feet of water did not exist. There was no way to build a platform, for one thing, no way to get divers to the well-head, and the pressures are beyond imagination at those depths. The Deepwater Horizon was a unique and cutting-edge vessel that used powerful thrusters to maintain its position and robots (ROVs) to remotely service the well-head. All the equipment involved was at the bleeding edge of technology. So when BP cut costs on blow-out preventers and well-bore constuction, they slit their own throats.

Now, this vast lake of oil sits on top of a balloon of methane that was kept in check by the pressure of the oil and geology on top of it. The amount of methane is not precisely known, but it is under very high pressure and only the weight bearing down on it has kept it from spewing out. As a consequence, the oil is also under tremendous pressure and when BP tapped the mother lode, it essentially put a small crack in the dam. Because they did not take maximum precautions, the pressure blew out the well-bore and ultimately sank the vessel. In the process, the well casing was damaged, allowing high-pressure oil and gas to escape the well-bore and seep into the surrounding rock. By itself, that has caused damage to the surrounding geology, allowing the oil and gas to erode the rock and thus making the well uncontrollable. Any attempts to stop the flow have only caused more oil and gas to invade the surrounding rock and further erode it making a dangerous situation into an emergency of the highest order.

As the rock around the well-bore erodes, more and more pressure is released and the flow rate increases over time. Ultimately, enough pressure will be relieved that the methane will no longer be kept in check and will release explosively through the overlying strata in a cataclysm the likes of which have never been witnessed. The water will lose buoyancy causing all vessels to sink instantly. The resulting gas cloud would be highly toxic and kill pretty much everything it touches for hundreds of miles around. The oil that is released will poison most of the Earth's oceans for a minimum of several decades. The coastal areas will be uninhabitable and the GOM will be unusable for food or recreation.

Using a nuke to try and seal the well-head will most likely have the opposite effect. It will further erode the geology and cause multiple fractures to form, which in turn will allow more oil and gas to escape through a far wider area, thus hastening the inevitable explosive release. Given the worst-case scenario, the current situation, as bad as it is, if far more preferable until a fully reasoned and carefully crafted response can be assembled. There is a tremdous amount of pressure politically to "do something," but because neither BP nor the Feds are being forthright about the situation, most people do not understand what is going on. Cauterizing the well might seem like a really good idea, until you consider all of the consequences. It's a choice between the worst oil spill in history, or an extinction-level event.

It's a classic case of the devil you know versus the devil you don't.


  1. Anonymous19.7.10

    maybe some people are smart to analyze some part of the devil you know versus the devil you don't but some of others was never know about kinda of that classic case......the point is you should learn all aspect be wide and deep you should see all aspects....

  2. Good article!
    Aceh shows what happens when oil men get involved. The clathrates from 2,000 years of rotting debris ignited and the tsunami reached Africa. Remember the submarine that "hit the invisible sea mount"? They underestimated the force of the event. Still, at least we now get Indonesian oil .....


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