Saturday, June 19, 2010

I ♥ Joe Biden

He may stick his foot in his mouth on a regular basis, but this response is a big, fucking deal. And I can't imagine that most of the country doesn't feel the same way.

There's something about Joe Biden that makes me feel he's more than just a politician. He gaffes because he cares. He wears his heart on his sleeve and comes across as a regular guy.

(H/T Bob Cesca)

And All The Kings Men... (Part 1 and a half)

posted by Armadillo Joe
Unexpectedly, I got some hits from my post yesterday about the Gulf disaster. One of them was a link from over at Political Carnival and it drove some traffic (and hence scrutiny) that I wasn't expecting with my quick and dirty original post. The whole episode over the last 12 hours has revealed to me that I wasn't as careful as I ought to have been and I want to make some clarifications here before I proceed with the rest of my case about why the American public and our leaders should all be much more concerned than they currently appear to be.
Two things:
1. I am not a petroleum expert, a geologist, an engineer or scientist. I am a guy who took some geology classes in college for his science credit, who reads a lot now, and who has enough of an understanding of the principles involved to roughly follow the discourse when the big brains start hashing out the particulars of this catastrophe. Anyone who links to the posts I'll be continuing over the next several days should understand that I am what you could consider a knowledgeable layman -- definitely not any manner of expert -- trying to broaden his own understanding of what is happening so that it can better inform his conclusions, and then sharing to the best of his ability those conclusions.
2. The items getting the biggest reaction yesterday were #3 and #4, not surprisingly. They were the most Hollywood disaster-movie apocalyptic. Allow me to clarify a little on each:
#3 - the Blow Out Preventer (BOP) dropping into the reservoir.
Not impossible, but very nearly so. I mischaracterized what could happen to the BOP, flat out. The oil reservoir is not a nougaty chamber of oily goodness with a thin crust of rock over it, through which the BOP could punch a hole like a spoon cracking the chocolate shell on a scoop of ice cream and sinking like a car crashing through the ice on a frozen lake.

The oil is in a pocket of sand (or a layer of sandstone) between layers of rock miles below the seabed and the most that could plausibly happen is that the compromised rock surrounding the bore hole, which is eroding fast as sand-saturated oil blasts & scrapes away at its structural integrity, would subside under pressure from the extremely heavy BOP (450 tons) resting on it in a point-load and also deflecting the concrete connection to the seabed to the breaking point by swaying in the ocean currents because the BOP is not only heavy, but also tall (see the picture). All that weight concentrates down to a single point at the bottom and the height makes it something of a sail and subject to lateral pressure from ocean currents. Should the surrounding seabed fail, the result would be a jagged column of broken rock with bits of BOP and drilling equipment stacked up inside it while oil squeezes up through the jumbled mess under pressure.
In other words, the image of the BOP crashing through the sea floor and fading into blackness in a lake of undersea oil like Leo DiCaprio at the end of Titanic is incorrect and I was wrong to leave that impression.
#4 - the oil "tsunami" -
Again, the word choice is rather poor. No 20-foot high black wave of oil is going to wash ashore across the Gulf; that's Hollywood disaster-movie stuff and that isn't a credible threat. 
What is a credible threat -- even if it a remote one -- is the layer containing the oil (essentially sand) compressing just enough as the reservoir pressure drops and the miles of rock above the sand layer that exert the very same pressure that turns any opening into a gusher continue to press downward even as the oil escapes and internal pressure drops. If it drops too far, the layers of rock can subside; afterall, the oil and sand compressed in place was enough to hold layers of rock apart.
In normal drilling situations, drilling fluid or "mud" is used not only to exert downward pressure in the drill string to control the upward flow of oil under pressure into the line, but also to maintain pressure in the reservoir and ensure that oil can continue to flow out. This is what pumping oil means. It isn't sucked out like you drink a milkshake through a straw; heavy fluid is pumped in to maintain pressure so the oil will come out on its own. Even the most productive reservoirs only give up about 50% of their available oil before equilibrium makes the necessary pressure too great for any man-made pumping machinery.
Thus, from my layman's rudimentary understanding of geology and drilling technology, it seems the relief wells being drilled in the area serve not only the purpose of lowering the pressure on the runaway gusher so it can be capped (by hitting the original bore from the side and giving the oil some other place to go besides a column of broken rock open to the sea above), but also to give the route for drilling mud to be pumped in to maintain reservoir pressure.
I don't know what kind of rock contains the oil and what manner of rock formation surrounds it. Most times something called lithostatic pressure (essentially, how tightly woven the rock is at a molecular level) holds the whole magilla together and prevents collapse. Also, collapses are more commonly associated with gas drilling because outright explosions and not the mere weight of the strata over a reservoir collapse the rock. And this well had been subject to quite a number of gas pockets. One such pocket may have been the catalyst for this whole calamity.
What I fear could happen, should the rock above subside (for whatever reason) and compress the reservoir layer, is that what is now a narrow column of broken and/or failing rock around the well bore could turn into a wide area of cracked rock as the dome subsides, through which the newly homeless oil will have no option but to suffuse and vent out, uncontrolled, in the form of leaks across a vast swath of the Gulf.
So, not so much a "tsunami" as a hemorrhaging. Again, not likely but not impossible. This guy thinks it might have already happened - Gulf Oil Spill Sea Floor Collapse and Seabed Leaks May Prevent BP From Capping Well.
So, again dear readers new and old, I apologize for the sloppy writing and hope this clears things up a bit.
More to come...

Bachmann In Headlights in the No Spin Zone

Kudos to Bill O'Reilly for truly having a "No Spin Zone" moment with Michele "Crazy Eyes" Bachmann and taking her to task for her idiotic remarks in categorizing President Obama's set up of the BP $20 billion escrow account to help with claims of Gulf coast victims as a"shakedown" and "extortion."

Bachmann keeps repeating that she is worried about who will administer this account. By now, we all know that Ken Feinberg has been chosen for the job, the same Feinberg that took care of payouts for the 9/11 victims. Perhaps Bachmann was too busy mudslinging to hear that bit of information. But if Feinberg was okay with Bachmann previously, why is she worried about it now? Oh, right. We have a Democrat in the White House now. And a Democratic majority in Congress. And in her twisted, feeble thing in her head that constitutes a brain, it's okay if you are a Republican.

Oh, and Michele? It's the "Democratic" Party, and the "Democratic" president, not "Democrat" you twit.

Must Reads

Peter Bregman: Why I Returned My iPad

Gail Collins: Wishing Will Make It So

Christopher Brauchli: The Maligning of BP

Katrina Vanden Heuvel: Where's Dick Cheney on the BP Oil Spill?

Kate Sheppard: Dick Cheney's Last Laugh

President Obama's Weekly Address - June 19, 2010

Republicans Blocking Progress

And All The King's Men... (Part 1)

posted by Armadillo Joe


NOTE -- OK, if you're arriving here from the Political Carnival link, I apologize if you tried earlier today with no success. Your author had knocked together a post for the readers here that was imprecise and sloppy in presentation. Not ever really having had much in the way of traffic, I figured I had a few hours (days?) to clarify and hone the content of the original post, not expecting anything like a larger audience to materialize. As the linking and tweeting heated up, I feared the spread of inaccuracies could tar my friend's blog as a source of bad info. I didn't want that and I panicked. Please accept my sincere apologies.

Hey, Blog-O-Maniacs. Back again to depress the lot of you.

I've been immersed in learning absolutely everything I can about the Gulf Gusher from the Web, from knowledgeable friends, from the news, so I haven't had much time to blog. But I was talking with Broadway Carl this afternoon, this topic came up, and he encouraged me to start posting all that I've learned and concluded.

So, I am. In installments. I think we are watching the greatest disaster to befall the human race in centuries, perhaps ever, and it is a little hard to take in the enormity of this disaster all at once.

Thus, I want to first describe what has happened, what I understand about what went wrong and how, then I want to describe how and why fixing this gusher very likely isn't possible now or perhaps ever because of the complexity of what is happening at the sea bed under the Gulf. And finally I will talk about what I think we will see happen in the coming weeks and months and years and how we can live with what is to come, because what is to come is very, very, very unpleasant.

The Gulf gusher hasn't been stopped or even slowed. It very likely can't be stopped and will probably go on gushing like it is right now, only ever more voluminously, for years. Perhaps decades. BP may very well have triggered environmental armageddon and we will see, for the first time since the Dust Bowl era, environmental refugees as the Gulf states empty of people.

How bad is it? Worse than you could possibly imagine. The criminal conduct begins (not surprisingly) with management.

As most of you know, I am from Texas, so it shouldn't surprise you that my best friend's two brothers are both employed in the petroleum industry. He wrote the following on his Facebook page:
I just had a long talk with my brothers, one of whom works for a company that researches heat transfer inside oil wells, and the other spent a decade mixing concrete and drilling fluids that create the casings for oil wells.

They explained, in detail, what happened, and how, and why the devices designed to prevent what happened failed.

And it is my considered opinion that the person who told the rig operator to keep drilling after they hit a gas pocket three weeks before the explosion should stand before a firing squad.

1) When BP spec'd the well, the purchased a Blow-Off-Preventer with standard shears. There is an option for Super Shears. This becomes important later.

2) BP set a drilling schedule that mimicked a land-based well schedule. The whole purpose of deep-water drilling is to skip over 5,000 feet of rock and be that much closer to the oil at the first cut of the drill.

3) Three weeks before the explosion, Deepwater Horizon hit a gas pocket. Conservative prospectors would have capped the well then and moved on. The order came to keep drilling.

4) Once they were into seabed but not yet into a harder substrate, and with the gas kicks already on record, the decision was made to set a well casing before proceeding into the oil-bearing substrate. This should be considered a bare-minimum precaution. This is the procedure done on land wells that keeps oil from seeping out as it comes to the surface and contaminating groundwater.

5) The casing got fucked up. I'll try to explain. You have a hole dug that's bigger than the pipe you have in it. You lift the pipe a little bit up from the bottom and then you fill the pipe with wet cement. You then pour some other substance into the pipe to push the cement out and make it fill up the gap between the outside of the pipe and the inside of the bore. When this cement sets, it bonds the pipeline to the rock and will keep oil from seeping into the substrates. Only the cement never set. And the fluid they were trying to push it around with was sea-water instead of an appropriately-mixed drilling fluid called kill-mud.

6) RATHER THAN STOP DRILLING TO FIX THE CASING, a BP manager ordered drilling to continue...with known gas pockets in play, with a known failure in the correct casing procedure...they made the choice to continue drilling into paydirt.

7) 6 hours before the explosion, the well took on the pressure of oil being released. The blow-off-preventer was fired. The pipe used to set the casing had been forced up the well under pressure and was now passing through the BOP. Casing pipe is significantly harder than regular oil pipeline. Remember that BP saved themselves $150K by using the cheaper BOP....which failed to cut through the casing pipe.

8) since the cement lining never set, the line from the oil pocket to the surface cannot be trusted. It is essentially a lubricated straw stuck in a high-pressure flow. That's why we can't just drop a big rock on it and call it a day.

In fact, if the BOP had worked correctly, oil would immediately have begun to flow into the sea-bed and could conceivably have ejected the remainder of the line stuck in it, leaving absolutely no control over the oil spilling out.

So...the guy who said "this is how it's going to be" indicating that Deepwater Horizon would keep drilling without successfully securing the liner is, as far as I'm concerned, personally responsible for 11 murders. The corporation that put him in a position to make that decision is equally guilty and oh, yeah, there's the matter of an oil slick that will literally have crossed the Atlantic Ocean by the time they get relief wells drilled and get the flow stopped.

All manner of criminal conduct on the part of BP, certainly, but at the moment it appears to many knowledgeable observers (especially this commenter at the indisposable that the window for even so much as a plausible solution, much less possible, is either closing rapidly or has already closed.

The Oil Drum commenter's online handle is Doug R. He makes many points and seems a knowledgeable petroleum industry professional, but the most salient point he makes is that the public doesn't really understand that we're not talking about one leak from the top of a failed well, but many, many leaks from:

1.) breaks throughout the failed machinery of the collapsed oil rig (the failed attempt to cut the top of the Blow Out Preventer (BOP) was to halt the flow into that long line of breaks and leaks, akin to a flat, perforated garden hose six-inches wide and a mile long)

but also from

2.) seams and cracks opening around the wellhead from the blow out damage, which are eroding ever larger from the sand that is suspended in the gushing oil, making the whole spewing mess one gi-normous sand-blaster that will only continue to degrade the condition of the machinery currently restricting the flow from being much, much worse and to degrade the rock that currently holds all that equipment

and also from

3.) leaks and cracks all over the seabed surrounding the BOP from substrate infused with oil leaked under pressure from around the failed well casing and made worse by the appearance that the ceiling of the reservoir around the BOP may be weakening from erosion, eventually leading to the collapse of the seabed under it, at which point the entire BOP (at 450 tons, not a small piece of machinery) would punch an enormous hole in the ocean floor and the current gusher would go from a 150,000 barrel per day "leak" to a "torrent" of unimaginable force and volume as it drops into the cavern of oil below and pulls all the attached machinery with it. We don't have a word for the amount of oil that would be unleashed.

which puts the whole thing at a very real risk for

4.) the entire reservoir ceiling eventually giving way as the reservoir empties and the internal pressure drops, giving rise to the possibility that the entire top of the reservoir cavern could crater under the pressure of a column of water a mile high above it, pushing down. The remaining oil would rush out all at once in one catastrophic tsunami

I have more where that came from. It only gets worse from there. This article at Mother Jonesgives an overview of the whole comment thread. It will scare the shit out of you. It should.

Back soon...

Anonymous said...

First off -- great post! Just one issue...

Your last paragraphs (#3 and #4) makes it sound like you have an incorrect view of oil reserves. You make it sound like there is a cavern of oil in the ground -- and if all the oil was sucked out of it, there would just be this empty space. I do not believe that is correct.

Oil that is in the ground exists in the pores of rocks. So imagine just miles and miles of rock that are soaked with oil. Since it is under so much earth (and in this case water as well), the oil will escape whenever it finds an opening because of the pressure. Thus when a well is drilled, oil will escape. At times, these wells will clog up, and require a procedure called a "Frac" (fracturing) where they force fluid down the pipe with hydraulic pumps and fracture the surrounding rocks to allow more oil to permeate it.

You may have heard of the "Oil Sands" or "Tar Sands" up north as new oil reserves. In these fields, there is sand instead of porous rock.

But all of this is to say that I don't believe #3 and #4 can happen as you explain it -- as there is no cavern -- it's just rock.

Armadillo Hussein Joe said...

Thank you for the compliment.

This whole event has been making me sick to even think about and the more I read, the more worried I get. Thank you again for your input, too. I was imprecise in my language in my speed to publish the post.

so, well, yes and no about the cavern. You are correct that I left the wrong impression about the nature of a reservoir by calling it a "cavern." I shouldn't have used that word.

I understand what you mean that oil exists in the pores of rocks, it does, and a reservoir is not a hollow pocket full of liquid that gets sucked out, per se, leaving an empty space behind when drained. It is actually interlocking rock strata and the oil usually exists in the seams between rock layers or infused in the lighter, more porous rock layers themselves. Thus, the rock that contains the oil is of a different density than the rock above it; that's why the oil is contained in the first place and has to be drilled down to.

If the oil isn't replaced by a liquid of comparable density as it is removed from the reservoir, the heavier, more dense rock above it can collapse the pocket. A collapse doesn't look necessarily like the implosion of sinking submarine - it's more like the pancaking of a collapsed parking garage; afterall, the weight of the higher layers of rock (along with natural gas deposits) was enough to put the whole reservoir under pressure in the first place.

So, as for the point load of the BOP causing a collapse of the bore-hole into the reservoir below and opening a much larger hole, I still think it likely. So do others:

The whole layer giving way into the reservoir below is less likely, certainly, and I am heartily glad for it. I can't find the link right now, but I followed a comment thread at The Oil Drum a few weeks ago where that was discussed as a possibility and no would rule it out categorically, mostly because we are in uncharted territory for reservoir behavior.

Thank you again for the input and for keeping me honest. More tomorrow

chris said...

Excellent piece, Joe. And scary as hell.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the quick response to my comment. I kinda liked it more when I had talked myself out of believing 3 & 4...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

GOP Defends BP! WTF? Rep. Joe Barton Apologizes To Hayward

I was out for most of the day today came back to watch Tweety in an understandable lather over Rep. "Texas" Joe Barton, ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee actually apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward, saying he was embarrassed by the "shakedown" those poor multi-millionaire criminals had to endure at the White House yesterday.

No, really. He apologized. He said he was "ashamed."

What is with this knee-jerk reaction of the Republican Party to steer 180° in the opposite direction of anything, ANYTHING this administration does as an automatic reaction? And to defend one of the most vile, corrupt oil companies in the process as these hearings continue to reveal!  Does Barton and his ilk think it's actually a good idea to try and win votes purely on Obama hate regardless of the issue? Calling BP's $20 billion escrow account for claims by thousands who've lost their livelihood due to the disaster a "shakedown"? Michele "Crazy Eyes" Bachmann calling it a "redistribution of wealth"?

Keep it up, Republicans.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


From The Guardian:

Thoughts On The First Oval Office Address

After watching the President's address on the Gulf disaster, I was a little surprised to hear the disappointed reaction and frustration of the talking heads. And I don't mean Fox News; they will do whatever it takes to tamp down anything positive about Obama. I mean the supposed Obama Channel, MSNBC.

While this disaster could have been capitalized into a JKF style, mission to the moon moment in terms of turning our country towards clean energy, a moment that in my opinion was disappointingly missed, I realized half way through the speech, that what I was hearing wasn't directed at me. It wasn't directed at the political junkies and cable news addicts of our country. It was directed at the other 300 million people of this country. People who's sole interaction with news is about 30 minutes of a local newscast, perhaps two or three of those minutes directed at the Gulf crisis. And in that sense, I feel it was a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation for the President.

MSNBC talking heads Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann ripped into President Obama for not being more specific in his "battle plan" for the Gulf. But if he had gone into greater detail, my guess would be that the criticism would have been that he's too professorial or too wonky. Had he revealed a plan to take BP into temporary receivership, as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has recently suggested, cries of "SOCIALISM!" would have drowned out all other points of his speech.

But what did we really want him to say? That BP is going to pay for everything? He said that.

...But make no mistake: we will fight this spill with everything we’ve got for as long it takes. We will make BP pay for the damage their company has caused. And we will do whatever’s necessary to help the Gulf Coast and its people recover from this tragedy.
Did we need him to mention something about prosecutions for possible crimes? Attorney General Eric Holder's already on it. Do we want a tough talker to make us feel better and then moan when he promises something that he knows (and we know) can't be delivered? Or do we want a smart pragmatist  who doesn't always shoot from the hip and later regret it?

He spoke to us like adults and didn't sugar coat the current situation.
...Because there has never been a leak of this size at this depth, stopping it has tested the limits of human technology. 
...The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, one that we will be fighting for months and even years. 
...But we have to recognize that despite our best efforts, oil has already caused damage to our coastline and its wildlife. And sadly, no matter how effective our response becomes, there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done.
It would have been a fist pumping moment for liberals and progressives to see a tough talking, no shit taking, mad as hell and not gonna take it anymore Barack Obama beating the crap out of BP, their CEO Tony Hayward, and small government hypocrites who are now crying the government isn't doing enough. But that's not who Barack Obama is, and I wonder why we keep getting surprised when he doesn't do something the way we'd like him to do it.  And when he does say something out of the ordinary in a rare display of frustration or anger, he's vilified for it as well.

But I am also tired of the impatience (I'm guilty of it myself sometimes) of expecting the last 8 years of a clusterfuck government and 30 years of deregulation and Reaganomics to be cleaned up in 18 months.

If Obama turns out to be a one term president, it will be because we have become a country of instant gratification and not figured out that that's not how the world works. You'd think that after the "wanted dead or alive" failed promises of the past decade, we'd know better.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Behold The Alternative!

The next time someone says how disappointed they are in President Obama for his "lack of leadership," I would suggest a little dose of reality and remind them of how things could have been...

... and then punch them in the throat.

Petraeus Faints at McCain's Stupidity

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, General David Petraeus apparently passed out after answering questions asked by Senator John "Loser 2008" McCain. According to witnesses, it wasn't so much the line of questioning about the war in Afghanistan that caused the commander of the U.S. Central Command to faint, but rather the stupidity of McCain's hackneyed "path to success/arbitrary deadline" talking points that he's been regurgitating since his failed presidential campaign over 18 months ago.


Several witnesses close to Petraeus heard him mumble of McCain's statements, "Oh, not this bullshit again" just before passing out. A source close to Petraeus noted that the General would do anything in order to get McCain to "shut the fuck up." "He's seen some pretty fucked up shit in his years of war, but anything McCain says is just too much to bear" said the source.

When McCain stopped his diatribe in mid-sentence, ranking Chairman Senator Carl Levin assumed that McCain has shit his diaper again as he had in so many other prior occasions and called for the Capitol Cleaning Crew. An amendment to replace McCain's chair on the bench with a toilet has been stalled due to the latest Republican filibuster on financial reform.

Just Let Nature Take Care Of It

Here's a picture taken from a NASA satellite of the Gulf coast.  That bright sheen you see is the oil reflecting the sun back into space, as opposed to the waves diffusing the light as it does in the lower left corner of the photo.

Funny how I haven't heard the "let it biodegrade naturally" crowd lately. I suppose they've crawled back under their rocks.

Thou Shalt Not Make For Yourself a Carved Image...

Touchdown Jesus was destroyed by lightning yesterday!   How... ironic.

Does this mean the Bengals and Browns have no shot this year?