Appears BP has stopped most of leak, but in the end, scientist says, Mother Nature will take care of much of the oil that has spilled into the Gulf of Mexico
BY KAY CASHMAN, GREENING OF OIL STAFF
It appears BP’s attempt to use subsea robots to make a clean cut on the wellhead riser pipe at its leaking Macondo exploration well in the Gulf of Mexico in order to install a containment cap to divert most of the oil may have been successful. BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles told the CBS “Early Show” and NBC’s “Today” June 4 that BP did have the cap in place and that the company was hoping to stop 90 percent of the leak. The process is a precursor to the ultimate solution—a relief well— which is currently being drilled.
Suttles, former BP chief in Alaska, was the first company official to talk about the containment cap operation.
The next step, which Suttles said would take 24 to 48 hours and was already under way, is to divert the oil and gas through a pipe to the surface where much of the gas will be flared off and the rest of the liquids—mostly oil, but also water and natural gas—will be to collected by the drillship Discoverer Enterprise. (The Lower Marine Riser Package, or LMRP, containment cap, which is the top half of the blowout preventer stack, was connected to the Discoverer Enterprise and moved to standby position at approximately 6:00 am CDT on June 3 per the BP command center website.)
“I would like to see us capture 90 plus percent of this flow. I think that's possible with this design,” Suttles said on the television program.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said a short time later, still early June 4, that the cap was already collecting some of the oil and gas and delivering it to a tanker, but officials would not know how much until later in the day.
31,600 ideas received by BP so far
The technology used for the containment cap operation was proven and already in use by the oil industry.
But new ideas are pouring into the company on a daily basis, largely through emails and an official help phone line set up on BP’s Houston campus (Westlake 3) to receive general assistance calls and “alternative response technology, services or products to BP for use in the Gulf spill cleanup.” Members of the press also have been the recipient of ideas, presumably to help gain the attention of beleaguered BP officials.
Those ideas include everything from using oyster mushrooms as dispersants to bombs to Smart Sponge® technology.
Daren Beaudo, a BP press officer for Deepwater Horizon Incident Response, told Greening of Oil June 4 that BP has received “over 110,000 calls” to its helpline, (281) 366-5511.
“Of those, over 31,600 have been suggestions and ideas on how to resolve the incident and over 8,000 people have submitted their ideas on paper. Of these, 235 are now being processed through to stage 3 — stage 4 is the field testing stage. Ten percent of those are focused on stopping the leak, the remainder is directed at spill response,” Beaudo said via email.
Eighty people currently staff the call center, he said.
As to how the process works, Beaudo said, “Suggestions may be submitted by telephone or email. Proposals are reviewed for technical feasibility and application. Feasible solutions are forwarded for additional consideration. A reply is sent via email or fax to each caller informing them of the outcome of the technical review. Callers whose ideas are considered feasible are advised by email that BP will contact them if and when their support is needed.
“All submitters are advised that their solution may have already been proposed by another party or attempted. Given this quantity of technical proposals suggested by industry professionals and the public, it is taking some time to technically review each one.”
Here is what BP officials have told other reporters in the last four weeks about the company’s handling of ideas on how to remedy the oil spill in the Gulf:
Associated Press: ‘So many ideas you become numb to them’
From a May 19, Associated Press article:
• BP spokesman Mark Salt said the company wants the public's help, but that considering proposed fixes takes time.“They're taking bits of ideas from lots of places.”
• Once ideas are received, “And then we ask, is this something new?” BP spokesman David Nicholas said. “Can we incorporate it into our stuff, or is there an overlap?”
• (Moved by the catastrophic Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, Academy Award winning actor and ardent fisherman Kevin Costner bought new centrifugal oil separators from the government in 1995, investing $24 million along with business partner John Houghtaling II of New Orleans in Ocean Therapy Solutions, to develop the vacuum-like machines for the private sector.) On Tuesday (May 18), Houghtaling said BP has agreed to test the devices, which can be dropped into the oil spill to separate water from oil, storing the petroleum in tanks. The smallest weighs 150 pounds; the largest 4,500 pounds. “It's like a big vacuum cleaner,” Houghtaling said. “These machines are ready to be employed. The technology is familiar to the industry.”
• It's not just BP that's been receiving ideas. “You name it, it's been suggested. At least 15 times a day we get something about exploding the well — bombs, nuclear bombs, torpedoes,” said Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Carleton, who helps handle the flood of social media responses. He said he receives about a dozen emails a day with a link to a YouTube video of a man using hay to sop up oil.“There's so many ideas you become numb to them.”
• Bill Walker, director of Mississippi's Department of Marine Resources, said he believes the company is properly considering each proposal. “We all want it shut down — probably nobody anymore than BP does.”
Market Watch: BP says Sorbent booms superior to hair booms
From a May 11, Market Watch report:
• Volunteer efforts to collect hair cuttings from pets and people for oil-protective barriers to contain the spill in the Gulf of Mexico are blossoming in recent weeks. Stoked by social-networking sites as well as coverage in the mainstream media, San Francisco-based charity Matter of Trust now reports hundreds of thousands of pounds of hair have been donated from every state in the United States, as well as from Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom. The oil major (BP) is aware of the hair-based booms, but it's decided to stick with Sorbent booms for now, BP spokesman Mark Salt said Tuesday (May 18). The Sorbent booms are made by Andax Industries, based in St. Marys, Kan. “It's great that people are involved, but we're sticking with the Sorbent booms, since there's no shortage of them at the moment,” (BP’s Mark) Salt commented. “We don't want to dismiss the hair booms, but the Sorbent boom is superior.”
New York Times: Taking advice from the military
From a June 3, New York Times report:
• On Dauphin Island, a barrier island off the coast of Alabama with marshes that are home to herons and pelicans, hundreds of Alabama National Guardsmen have built a five-mile, or eight-kilometer, barricade that some officials are calling the “the longest oil-water separator in the world.” The barricade is made of wire-mesh containers 4 feet, or 1.2 meters, tall that would normally be filled with sand and used to stop bullets in Iraq or Afghanistan. On Dauphin Island, they are wrapped in a green fabric and will be filled with a polymer powder that officials hope will protect the island’s fragile bird habitats and oyster beds when oil starts to wash ashore. … “The scale of this is perhaps bigger than we are used to but we know it works and it’s clean,” said Dan Parker, president of C.I. Agent Solutions, a company based in Louisville, Ky., that makes the polymer. Mr. Parker and his team have been on Dauphin Island for about a month after being hired by BP at the request of the Alabama Department of Emergency Management.
• About 150 miles to the east, Walton County in Florida is looking to another … technology to protect its 26 miles of beaches. The plan involves barges miles offshore filled with 1,400-pound, or 635-kilogram, rolls of hay. The barges, equipped with high-powered blowers, would spray the cut hay into the oily waters and then retrieve it with machines called aqua conveyors. Back on shore, the oil-soaked hay would be burned for fuel. Charles Roberts, president of C.W. Roberts Contracting, a Florida road building company that proposed the idea to the county, said the company had used hay for years to prevent erosion and to keep contaminants away from environmentally sensitive areas. “We think this has the potential, especially in isolated areas, to stop the oil before it gets to the shore.” Mr. Roberts said the company would like to do a large-scale test of the cleanup method in deep water, but had not had a response from either BP or the U.S. Coast Guard. Meanwhile, a video demonstration of the hay cleanup process, showing large bowls filled with water, oil and hay, has become a viral hit on YouTube, being viewed nearly 1.5 million times.
•“We are an entrepreneurial people and when people see a problem they want to solve it,” said Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane University Energy Institute in New Orleans. The problem, Mr. Smith said, is that most new ideas will not help because by the time they could be put into practice, the crisis will have passed. “The one good thing that can come out of this,” Mr. Smith said, “is if people cool off and say ‘Let’s get prepared in case this ever happens again.”’
Bloomberg: ‘everybody comes out of the woodwork’
From a June 2, Bloomberg report:
• (Executives Ken Griffin, of Oak Ridge, Tenn., and James Reindl, of New York, are frustrated with BP.) Both have companies that specialize in oil cleanup products they say are more efficient or less toxic than what’s in use in the Gulf. Both contacted BP through its online suggestion box to offer help. Griffin’s company received a form letter in the last few days saying its product was being considered, about one month after the idea was submitted. Reindl heard nothing, he said. … (He said he) telephoned BP’s call-in line, was re-directed to the website where he filed information describing the product on May 3. He received a form letter on June 1.
• (After ideas received by the help line) they are then vetted by 43 engineers from BP, the Coast Guard and other U.S. agencies, according to Graham MacEwen, a BP spokesman.
“If the ideas … are initially seen as practical and don’t overlap with proposals already being explored, they are sent to smaller teams of engineers to see if and how they can be applied,” MacEwen said. About 800 proposals have made it to this stage, he said.
• (More on Costner.) Costner didn’t go through the website triage process. BP spokesman John Curry, though, listed centrifuge machines as being among the four types of technology being tested. Houghtaling … said the actor was hooked up with BP through Billy Nunngesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, a governmental district in coastal Louisiana. Nunngesser had seen a presentation of the technology by the actor at an Offshore Technology Conference a decade ago. Nunngesser sent a letter on Costner’s behalf to Doug Suttles …and BP executives who had attended the same conference also supported the idea, Houghtaling said. Even with the help, Costner’s company has met with delays and won’t start open-water testing until this week.
• The small number of unsolicited ideas that make it to stage 3 within BP’s triage system reflects the fact that the vast majority are either duplicative or infeasible, MacEwen said. “There have been many ideas that we can’t use. But I feel certain this system has gotten us far more ideas than we would have gotten on our own.”
• Pristine Sea was developed about 18 years ago by Louisiana State University and Lockheed Martin Corp. in Bethesda, Md. It has been tested in the Baltic Sea by the Finns and Russians, according to Impact Services website. LSU is currently testing Pristine Sea on samples from the spill. “When things like the spill happen, everybody comes out of the woodwork with their own brand of magic dust, but often it hasn’t been tested,” said Greg Broda, executive vice president at Impact Services, in a telephone interview. “We have a viable, tested, nontoxic product and we’re having a problem getting anyone to listen to us let alone selling it.” Broda said that he met with local officials of St. Bernard’s Parish in Louisiana and they told him that if he had some official indication from BP that his product worked, they were ready to use it.
Mother Nature will take care of much of it over time
And then, probably the most interesting comment to USA Today in a June 2 report: The massive influx of workers into environmentally sensitive marshes and wetlands areas could make the environmental problems from the spill worse, says LuAnn White of the Tulane University Center for Applied Environmental Health in New Orleans. She says a rush of well-meaning volunteers “might be introducing more (damaging) things than they're taking out. … Even in the cleanup, you have to be really careful. … Mother Nature will take care of much of the damage from the oil as it disintegrates over time.”
Links of interest
Could oyster mushrooms help clean the Gulf?
Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said in a mid-May news release that BP complied with his request that a live feed of the oil spill be made publicly available on the Web.
BP: Gulf of Mexico Response
Roberts Contracting, hay clean-up process, YouTube video
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