Monday, May 17, 2010

Under pressure

Because of my longtime involvement with the oil industry, I have profoundly conflicting emotions about this God-awful situation down in the Gulf Coast, but I keep marveling over one thing: the pressure.

Think of diving to the bottom of a swimming pool. You feel the pressure and weight of the water above you. BP's leaking pipe is under 5000 feet of water. The ocean floor is a mystery for a reason. A human body would be instantaneously crushed at that depth, which is one reason the BP leak is so difficult--you can't send in a crew to fix it.

Now think of the oil. That oil and gas plume isn't just trickling out against that massive pressure, it's blasting like a fire hydrant.



What sort of pressure was the oil and gas under if it can overcome the force of 5000 feet of sea water?

Holy shit.

Then I think of just how angry that oily primordial ooze was before we went and starting poking it. This was an exploratory well. We sure did find something. First comes a murderous blast of methane to blow the shit out of everything, then the endless spewing fury that is more powerful than the weight of an entire ocean.

HOLY SHIT.

I understand the power and danger of oil and gas, which is one reason why I'm so maniacal about conserving them. You have to respect this stuff. It's angry. It has a temper. Sure, we control it most of the time, but when we fail, watch out. Mother Earth is boss and at the end of the day, she'll get our respect even if she has to force it out of us.

* * *

17 comments:

Tony Rugare said...

Your post should be required reading for all who subscribe to "drill baby, drill". I keep wondering why there were not better contingency plans to battle this kind of a disaster.

Bill said...

Good post E. I've heard about, but don't remember, the 1979 Mexican oil well accident that supposedsy spewed 10,000 barrels a day for 9 months. I'm not sure about the facts but wondering what consequences remain from that one.

LimesNow said...

I was startled by a news factoid yesterday. Oh, yes, I pay attention, but my mind had wandered. "For nearly one month!" Freaking god almighty.

Who knew? Who was supposed to know? Who didn't say anything about what they knew? Those are all of my questions. Makes the Exxon Valdez rodeo look amateurish.

Once Known as The Badger said...

We now live in the age of "it's way worse than we ever thought it could be!"

Anonymous said...

One of my all time favorite bumper stickers:

"God is coming and she's pissed."

If the primordial gases don't disturb your sleep consider what a physician friend and I were discussing today...Cross-species infections. If an ebola type virus (which is killing gorillas in Uganda as we speak) ever hits the general population it'll make HIV look like the common cold.

WV-"liquies"-"Them primordial liquies are not to be trifled with."

RJ

Amy L. Hanna said...

The very last sentence in your post pretty much sums things up in the epic sense of our petulant existence as a species. Sigh.

Bill said...

Head of BP says, today, that damage from spill, both environmental and economic, will be modest. We all scream "WTF!" but if you research lasting damage from previous "catastrophic" spills, there is very little evidence of it. Maybe God isn't really pissed. Hopefully She's comforting the families of the dead. Accidents happen. So far, more birds have been killed by the windmill farm in in the SF Bay Area, than by the gulf oil spill. The press is very excited to find any signs of the spill on shore. I'm sure they'll find some eventually.

Erin O'Brien said...

Eleven men lost their lives in that explosion, Bill. Maybe you forgot about that.

Vince said...

On the pressure thing, has it not something to do with all that water. It is like a person sitting on one of those fart balloons.

Erin O'Brien said...

I don't think know Vince, the pool of oil is under greater pressure than that of the ocean's floor or it wouldn't be gushing out.

If there's a physics genius out there who knows different, by all means chime in.

Bill said...

Erin: I did not forget about those 11 souls. I mentioned them in my post and implied that they, and their families, are, hopefully what God is most concerned with. These are very hard working men who chose a line of work that they knew was dangerous. Not many of us could do that difficult work. They know/knew the risk, just like the coal miners, and chose the career anyway. These are mostly very proud, rough, real men who want no sympathy. Coal miners, roughnecks, soldiers, choose dangerous jobs for their own reasons. Hopefully their families will be compensated generously. Of course there is no compensation adequate to replace anyone but accidents happen and people get killed. No government regulation will ever stop that.

Vince said...

Yes, but is it not under immense compression having come from the surface. I know the UK is still rising after the last ice age. Would it not be the same here only this has the full weight of a column of water sitting over it, and not with any spreading force either. As well as the column of air over that. Much like squirting a syringe of water in a full sink.

Anonymous said...

Bill your ability to rationalize tragedy is extraordinary.
"Accidents happen" Yeah I heard. Union Carbide told me. See: Bhopal, India See: Gravy-sucking pigs.

RJ

Bill said...

RJ: I remember the Bhopal Chemical plant tragedy. Are all companies, with profit motive, gravy sucking pigs? Are airlines, that ocassionaly have airliners fall out of the sky and kill hundreds, also gravy sucking pigs? Have you ever worked for a gravy sucking pig company? Just curious. I don't have to rationalize anything. Accidents happen. We have a legal system to help protect the victims of accidents and carelessness and criminal misconduct. It usually works well.

Anonymous said...

Mea Culpa Everyday I start my car and consume goods and services made by exploiting workers for the benefit of shareholders I oink just like the boards of directors.
The legal system is a sham and you know it. The laws are made by the corporations and regulatory agencies staffed by their lackies. Favorable rulings are available for those who can pay the going rate.
Yep, I got work to do. I'm part of the problem. Those that are supposed to know tell me acknowledging the problem is the first step to recovery.Maybe I can spend whatever time I have left teaching my kids how to get off grid.


RJ

Judy said...

The oil business / gulf situation brings out heated comments...I know that if I had caused 11 deaths and spilled a small amount of oil, I'd be in trouble...wonder who's going to be in trouble here...probably no one as they have already hired the best PR people to make the corporate "persons" look good...

Anonymous said...

My physics is rusty, but at 5000 feet you're talking about ~2200 psi. A blowout in an exploratory well can push with 10,000 psi of force, and they're guessing this one might be 2-3 times that. That's enough to blast out the containment equipment they used for underground atomic weapons testing.