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September 15, 2010 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Even as the Deepwater Horizon well nears the day when it will finally be sealed for good, and BP finds itself falling under continued criticism as it is discovered that oily sediment is coating the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, the US government has announced that 3,500 unused oil wells must be sealed by the companies which drilled them.

More than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells lurk beneath the Gulf of Mexico, and more than 1,000 oil rigs and platforms sit idle. An Associated Press investigation showed that many of the wells have been ignored for decades, with no one checking for leaks.

The order requires wells that been inactive for the past five years to be plugged. ...

Interior said the new directive "clarifies the regulation and mandates that any well that has not been used during the past five years for exploration or production must be plugged, and associated production platforms and pipelines must be decommissioned if no longer involved with exploration or production activities.
posted by hippybear (29 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why would this be controversial?
posted by boo_radley at 1:31 PM on September 15, 2010


... find out next on Fox!
posted by boo_radley at 1:31 PM on September 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


WASHINGTON — Oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico will have to permanently plug nearly 3,500 temporarily abandoned wells and dismantle about 650 production platforms that are no longer used, the Obama administration announced Wednesday.

Fucking awesome.

USA USA USA!
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:31 PM on September 15, 2010


WTF SENSIBLE!!!
posted by eugenen at 1:33 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there any possibility of recovering that oil on the sea floor for refining, or have the dispersants rendered it useless?
posted by Burhanistan at 1:43 PM on September 15, 2010


Damn I thought we could just show up somewhere, tear the shit out of it, extract all profits, and walk away, certainly in the ocean! It is covered in water* so no one saw us!
*"water" may contain dead sea life, dead mammals, abandoned equipment, kelp, an oil slick, that keg of beer Cheney threw overboard at our Salty Seas Kegger and Strip Poker night, and a quarter that fell out of my pocket.
posted by msbutah at 1:43 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yay, but.

How are we going to enforce this? What's our deadline? Is this going to be like ending torture and pulling our troops out, where it takes and indefinite amount of time to actually happen? What will we do to companies that don't comply? Extraordinary rendition?

I imagine this will just turn into a hot mess of endless legal battles as the oil companies just stall for time and each try to make sure their competitors are the first to pay the price of sealing wells before they do.

If only we had this kind of sense for the last 40 years, imagine how different things could have been.
posted by yeloson at 1:53 PM on September 15, 2010


Yeah, I'm sure some court will somehow decide that sealing the oil wells will turn out to be unconstitutional somehow in the next few days.
posted by JHarris at 1:54 PM on September 15, 2010


Going to war with the oil industry...

If a carbon tax is too difficult to pass in the congress then increasing the price of the stuff could be the next best thing...
posted by Shit Parade at 1:59 PM on September 15, 2010


Change I can believe in (although honestly I cannot believe this wasn't the law already)
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:05 PM on September 15, 2010


I wonder if it would be cheaper to "re-open" (Huh-huh-huh, one dude with an eyedropper) or "re-explore" (nar-nar-nar, one dude with a water sample kit) 3500 oil wells for the next six years while they wait for Republicans to come around again and clear their throats in a peremptory way and snap their fingers abolishing this order... than to actually seal them.

I expect someone somewhere is doing just this calculation.
And that is why corporations suck.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:05 PM on September 15, 2010 [8 favorites]


Is there any possibility of recovering that oil on the sea floor for refining

No. Doing so would likely cause more damage than risk this material poses to the environment. Also, this would be extremely hard to do. I don't think current recovery technology is up to it.

have the dispersants rendered it useless?

Dissolution and biodegradation have likely stripped the oil of many its commercially valuable components. It would need to be upgraded, if recovered. Chemical changes are a function of long exposure to water and bacteria and less an application of dispersant.

There are huge uncertainties over how much has sedimented right now. Joye's University of Georgia group has been very outspoken, but has not yet published nor has her group released any chemistry or other quantitative data on the oil. The only groups so far that have for the subsea oil are the Wood's Hole group and the Lawrence Berkley National Lab. To a certain extent these findings are contradictory, but it would be a real mistake to play battling scientists with these papers. It's better to say that the measurements are very hard and only a couple preliminary ones are in yet. I know of at least three measurement cruises that have not yet published and more that are happening today. Resolving these questions is very much at the front of peoples' minds right now, but it's very hard to do good science fast.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 2:07 PM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


THIS IS SOCIALIST AND HITLER!
posted by brundlefly at 2:53 PM on September 15, 2010 [5 favorites]


Smells like good sense and job creation.
posted by notmydesk at 3:01 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hope this doesn't bankrupt mom-and-pop oil and gas drilling and refining companies. Also, I hope this doesn't lead to vital oil and gas drilling jobs being off-shored.
posted by Mister_A at 3:05 PM on September 15, 2010 [4 favorites]


The Oil Drum hosted a discussion on the oily sediment layer a few days ago, after the NPR story was first published. If you’re not familiar with the site, it’s a forum for oil field and other energy professionals and engineers. The Oil Drum has been staying on top of the Macondo well disaster since day one and has been largely, and insightfully, critical of BP, with the exception of a handful of BP apologists who mostly joined the site after the oil spill... and who generally get hauled off behind the woodshed for a butt whipping.
posted by Huplescat at 3:11 PM on September 15, 2010 [2 favorites]


Don't worry for mom-n-pop oil and gas drilling and refining companies and their lovely apple pies set all around the derrick to cool down. They'll just open their faucet and start bottling gas!
posted by elpapacito at 3:11 PM on September 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


We've been doing this for nuclear power for quite awhile now. There is even a "process" for it!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:27 PM on September 15, 2010


Nice Carrie reference in the title.

Yeah that's all I have to say.
posted by Ouisch at 7:45 PM on September 15, 2010


BP finds itself falling under continued criticism as it is discovered that oily sediment is coating the floor of the Gulf of Mexico
Hey! Remember when Rick Sanches on CNN was all like "Where did the all the oil go? and then asked if the institutional left had to 'answer' for it being gone?

Well, I guess they found it.
posted by delmoi at 8:27 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Change I can believe in (although honestly I cannot believe this wasn't the law already)

I wish I could agree. The status of those wells in the Gulf never surprised me. I was talking to someone from the PA Department of Environmental Protection a few years ago for some research I was doing and their spokesman basically told me that there were thousands upon thousands of abandoned gas and oil wells, and storage tanks within the Allegheny National Forest alone. She mentioned that many, many of these abandoned wells were so old that no one really even knew who was legally responsible for them any longer. She went on to downplay the threat of contamination from these abandoned wells when I asked about it. Basically saying there was little threat outside the locality where the well or tank was at in the forest. I think her phrase was something like there are no more than "tens of gallons" of oil in any of those tanks or leaking out of any of those wells. Do the math though, with thousands of these abandoned sites in ANF alone that kind of "local contamination" adds up. Her logic also seemed to ignore that much of the land in ANF is very close to water, be it the Allegheny River, or the multitude of creeks and streams running through it. Walking around the forest it's impossible not to notice the impact of oil, gas and mineral exploitation (which is, admittedly within the purpose of the National Forest system in the U.S.), which ramped up significantly in the state and in ANF during the Bush administration.

Seems to me that it's just part of the danger of cheap energy at any cost, and thus, not surprising in the least that entities haven't been held responsible for older projects, considering the way they have been focused on all their new ones. So for every well we permanently plug in the sensitive Gulf of Mexico there are thousands upon thousands, probably tens or hundreds of thousands of abandoned well sites across the nation that are still being, and probably will continue to be, steadily ignored. It's a start, but we have a long way to go before the corporate hands that have poisoned our lands are finally severed.
posted by IvoShandor at 9:59 PM on September 15, 2010 [3 favorites]


Clearly all of these abandoned wells need to be inspected. But if a well is in good condition, and has been for 40 years, and looks like it will be for the next 40 years, what is the probability that during the operation to fix it, a leak like the Deepater leak will occur? Is it 1 in 100? 1 in a thousand? 1 in 3,500? Because that's how many there are.
posted by brenton at 2:05 AM on September 16, 2010


what is the probability that during the operation to fix it, a leak like the Deepater leak will occur? Is it 1 in 100? 1 in a thousand? 1 in 3,500? Because that's how many there are.

A better question might be what is the probability of a catastrophic leak if we sit back and do nothing. The article stated that many of these wells haven't been looked at in 50 years, that's a long time just sitting under the ocean.
posted by IvoShandor at 2:38 AM on September 16, 2010


So, Matt Simmons was right about the oil collecting on the ocean floor? Does that mean he was also right about bacteria breaking it down into methane? Does that then mean a direct hit on that area from a hurricane will release a vast methane cloud? Would that be sort of a volcano-scale gas release, or are we talking millions dead and writing off entire states for human habitation?
posted by AugieAugustus at 4:20 AM on September 16, 2010


Matt Simmons was right about the oil collecting on the ocean floor?

No, he was claiming something different, that the oil coming up from the reservoir was pooling underground miles from the Blow-Out Preventer and that the real, much bigger leak was from this sub-surface pool. He thought that the rock had fractured and that the "true" release was not coming from the top of the BOP, but over a wide area of broken sea floor miles from the DWH borehole.

What is being reported here is quite different. Most people now think that the oil did blowout of the borehole, but that some, a lot---no one is sure how much---never made it to the surface. This sub-sea oil spread out in large, diffuse clouds more than 1000m below the surface. These were reported as "sub-surface plumes" by the media in early June. What appears to be happening is that some of the oil in the plumes is collecting sediment from the water and falling to the sea floor. Oil+sand is heavier than water and so sinks.

Simmons was concerned that the "real" leak was elsewhere and that the rock below the ocean floor was much more porous than reported. No one has ever found evidence that this was happening. What's being reported now, is one of the fates of the oil from the BOP blowout that never made it to the surface.
posted by Anonymous 5$ Sockpuppet at 5:46 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is there any possibility of recovering that oil on the sea floor for refining?

Scientists at Roomba are working on this problem as we speak.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:06 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there any possibility of recovering that oil on the sea floor for refining?

Scientists at Roomba are working on this problem as we speak.
...And no doubt readying a highly-trained team of cats as Roomba pilots.
posted by uncorq at 7:15 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


what is the probability that during the operation to fix it, a leak like the Deepater leak will occur? Is it 1 in 100? 1 in a thousand? 1 in 3,500? Because that's how many there are.

A better question might be what is the probability of a catastrophic leak if we sit back and do nothing. The article stated that many of these wells haven't been looked at in 50 years, that's a long time just sitting under the ocean.


Now don't you be bringin' your highfalutin' "science" and "statistics" into this discussion. Why do you hate the environment and job creation?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:58 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]




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