The oil rig that exploded and sank into the Gulf of Mexico a week ago continues to spew 42,000 gallons of crude oil a day from the broken well head on the ocean floor. Engineers with BP, the company that was leasing the rig, have been unable to activate a containment system that would remotely cap the well, and alternative solutions appear to be days if not weeks away.
Meanwhile, the oil slick continues its steady movement north and threatens to make landfall along the Gulf coasts of four states within the next few days. Louisiana has set up protective booms around particularly sensitive wildlife habitat, hoping to stave off the worst of the oil’s effects on nesting waterbirds. But concern is growing over the impacts on fish and filter-feeding organisms like oysters.
The Coast Guard is now considering a controlled burn where the surface oil slick is contained within a “fire boom” and then set alight, burning off up to 95 percent of the oil. The process does leave a petroleum residue behind that can then sink to the ocean floor, and the smoke generated by the burn is full of toxic chemicals and particulate matter, but the risk of exposing marine birds and other organisms to the oil slick itself is considered more immediate.
The SEANET blogger finds this situation deeply disheartening, and wonders what it will mean for the future of offshore oil drilling. It does not appear that adequate safeguards or remedies are in place to prevent or correct catastrophic failures like this one, and the thought of that volume of oil flowing unchecked into the ocean day after day is enough to lead one to despair. SEANET hopes for some good news soon.