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Plumes, and Not the Feathery Kind: A Continuingly Slippery Open Thread

Well (no pun intended), BP managed to shove something up their greasy hole today (pun very specifically intended).  This is something many have suggested that they should do since the burning and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon on April 20.  The leak has not stopped, but at the moment some oil is being collected by a ship located above the site of the wreckage.  There is no word that this effort will contain all of the leak until new wells are drilled this summer, but something is better than nothing.

The official line is that the leak had been running at 5,000 barrels (200,000 gallons) per day, though estimates by outside sources put it at up to 70,000 barrels (2,800,000 gallons) per day.  To date, therefore, the accident has released between 5,200,000 gallons (half of the Exxon Valdez spill) to 72,800,000 million gallons (seven times the Exxon Valdez) into the Gulf of Mexico.

While the oil on the surface to date seems to match the lower release number, BP has been injecting dispersants into the stream of oil flowing from the ruptured well, causing the oil to stay below the surface creating oil plumes deep beneath the sea.  One such plume has been measured as being ten miles long, three miles wide and 100 meters (330 feet) thick.

In one estimate, of one plume, it is thought that there is a 10-mile long by 3-mile wide plume leading away from the oil well.

While the density of these plumes is unknown (BP will not allow anyone else to get near the source of the leak), this single plume would contain 1,851,428,571,448 gallons of contaminated liquid (yes, that’s about two trillion).  

That’s one plume.

The plumes are being eaten by microbes that consume the oil – which is good.  The microbes consume oxygen while doing their task – which is bad.  So far, these plumes have lowered the oxygen levels in surrounding waters by a third, explaining all the dead fish washing ashore where Gulf residents are waiting for the oil that will follow one way or another.  The Dead Zones in the Gulf created by this process will therefore add another layer of consequence to what now appears to be clear negligence on the part of BP and the regulatory agencies responsible for preventing this sort of thing.

Some have attempted to brush off the whole thing by referring to the Ixtoc I oil spill – the largest accidental and ocean-based oil spill in history – which dumped over 130,000,000 gallons of oil into the Bay of Campeche for nine months in 1979 and 1980.  If that didn’t kill everything in the Gulf, certainly this will be OK, too.  There are a couple problems with that theory:

o  The Ixtoc I was in 150 feet of water close to shore off the Yucatan Peninsula.

o  The oil from the Ixtoc I spill all floated to the surface, where according to Mexican officials a third burned off, a third evaporated and the rest that didn’t end up coating beaches degraded at sea.  The use of deepwater dispersants is keeping most of the Deepwater Horizon oil underwater where it is neither burning off nor evaporating.

o  The Ixtoc I was not located near the breeding grounds of the northern Gulf, and it occurred on June 3 in 1979, after peak breeding season.

As this cartoon of a disaster Laurel-and-Hardy’s it’s way further into reality – as America’s ability to produce the fuel it needs decreases faster due to corporate incompetence and government carelessness than any foreign enemy could possibly hope to manage themselves – the country becomes uncomfortably less able to ignore the possible impact every day.

We all hold our breaths hoping that somehow this won’t be as bad as we think it might be.  I somehow hope that something will make this better than it looks.   But it gets harder to hold that belief with each passing moment.  One thing seems certain, when we moved last year from our home on Siesta Key – a barrier island off Florida’s Sarasota Gulf coast – we made a surprisingly foresighted decision.

Consider this an extremely slippery Open Thread to cling to.


  1. sricki

    I have been meaning to write a diary on the subject, but honestly, the thought of immersing myself in it for more than a few consecutive minutes is rather daunting. Even though I am a bit inland, this catastrophe is still very much in my neck of the woods, and it’s breaking my heart. The Gulf is so vibrant and beautiful and full of life and vital… This is devastating. No one yet knows what the long term implications of this will be, but I think it’s clear that the destruction and suffering wrought by this tragedy will be vast, far-reaching, and long-lasting.

    If nothing else, I hope we learn something from this. I hope this puts an end to some of the calls for offshore drilling, and maybe it will show some people why the quest for alternative forms of energy is so important.  

  2. spacemanspiff

    While you read this oil keeps pouring in to the Gulf.

    For how long? When will they finally find a way to contain it?

    This proves we have never been prepared for such an event.

    How can drilling in the Gulf even be legal if we have no clue how to “fix” anything that goes wrong. This isn’t something that came ouf of the blue. Safety measures (which were ignored and abused) were put in place but the possibility of an event like the one that is being played out now had to be in the minds of those putting those safety measures in place. It’s the only reason they even exist. To prevent a catastrophe. Don’t know if that made sense. I’m just amazed that they have no clue how to even begin to stop this “leak.”


    Drill baby drill? Yeah. Right.

  3. but of course they won’t let anyone else calculate the flow, so we can read that as 1,000 barrels/day which could be anywhere from 20% to 1.5%.

    BP has resisted entreaties from scientists that they be allowed to use sophisticated instruments at the ocean floor that would give a far more accurate picture of how much oil is really gushing from the well.

    “The answer is no to that,” a BP spokesman, Tom Mueller, said on Saturday. “We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.”


    “How big is the fire?”

    “It doesn’t matter!  Send a fire truck!”

    Of course it flippin’ matters to the response effort.  How many damn fire trucks do we need?  Is it a damn bungalow or is the the World Trade Center?  That has a little bit of bearing on the damn response, no?

  4. Jjc2008

    the teacher left me a book called “Ocean” to read.  It’s a part of their poetry unit.   It’s a poem about a child relishing the joy of summer, the water, the beach.   Beautifully illustrated.  

    Of course it brought up the whole idea of the oil spill.  Even the little ones know what is happening.  This is a particularly bright group, many of the children coming from homes where the parents talk about current events, discuss things with their children.  Several children have parents who are college professors.

    They asked many questions.  I tried to be as honest as I could without “spinning”.  Many of their questions were about things our government should have asked.  Out of the mouths of a first grader, “If they did not have a way to fix a mistake, why did they drill?”  I did not even attempt to answer other than saying “sometimes even grown-ups don’t think things through enough or think about the consequences.”

    Then I looked over and one little girl, by far the most advanced student in the entire first grade, was crying.  I knew why.   She could hardly talk just saying in between sobs, “I am sad for the animals…they don’t even understand.”

    I can barely say much more it has saddened me so much.  And it’s all about greed.   Same old, same old.

    Any of you with kids, or anyone who wants to read a good book, a precautionary tale about environmental dangers, read “The Missing Persons’ League.”   It’s about sixth grade level. I used to use it with my sixth graders as a novel.   It’s  by Frank Bonham. It was published in 1976.   May not be available many places but it is on Amazon.

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