David Kirkpatrick

August 27, 2010

Oil spill news

Filed under: Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 12:18 pm

Came across two interesting news items on oil spills. One is on a technology developed by MIT researchers on cleaning up surface oil after a spill and the second involves the BP Deepwater Horizon spill and how microbes may be cleaning at least the oil in deep water plumes.

From the second link:

Microbes may become the heroes of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill by gobbling up oil more rapidly than anyone expected. Now some experts suggest we ought to artificially stimulate such microbes in stricken marshland areas to aid their cleanup.

Evidence published this week shows that deep-water microbes in the Gulf may be rapidly chewing up BP’s spilled crude. This could sway federal authorities to use petroleum-digesting microbes or fertilizer additives that can stimulate naturally occurring bacteria for future spills. Such measures were originally rejected for the BP spill.

From the first link, the story on MIT’s oil spill clean-up tech comes from KurzweilAI.net:

MIT researchers unveil autonomous oil-absorbing robot

August 27, 2010 by Editor

Researchers at MIT have created a robotic prototype that could autonomously navigate the surface of the ocean to collect surface oil and process it on site.

The system, called Seaswarm, is a fleet of vehicles that may make cleaning up future oil spills both less expensive and more efficient than current skimming methods.

The Seaswarm robot uses a conveyor belt covered with a thin nanowire mesh to absorb oil. The fabric, previously featured in a paper published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, can absorb up to twenty times its own weight in oil while repelling water. By heating up the material, the oil can be removed and burnt locally and the nanofabric can be reused.

The Seaswarm robot, which is 16 feet long and seven feet wide, uses two square meters of solar panels for self-propulsion. With just 100 watts, the equivalent of one household light bulb, it could potentially clean continuously for weeks.

Using swarm behavior, the units will use wireless communication and GPS and manage their coordinates and ensure an even distribution over a spill site. By detecting the edge of a spill and moving inward, a single vehicle could clean an entire site autonomously or engage other vehicles for faster cleaning.

MIT researchers estimate that a fleet of 5,000 Seaswarm robots would be able to clean a spill the size of the gulf in one month. The team has future plans to enter their design into the X-Prize’s $1 million oil-cleanup competition. The award is given to the team that can most efficiently collect surface oil with the highest recovery rate.

By autonomously navigating the water’s surface, Seaswarm proposes a new system for ocean-skimming and oil removal. Video: Senseable City Lab

More info: MIT news

July 9, 2010

BP’s epic fail …

Filed under: Business, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 1:17 pm

illustrated.

(Hit the link for an interactive graphic, or head here for the PDF breakdown.)

June 15, 2010

Deepwater Horizon spill estimate jumps up again

Filed under: et.al. — Tags: , , , , — David Kirkpatrick @ 5:35 pm

Jumps up by a whole lot. This is truly a disaster of epic proportions, and it’s clear BP has been both hiding and outright lying about the truth on what’s happening to the Gulf of Mexico from day one. The company deserves to be bankrupted over this spill.

From the link:

A government panel raised its estimate of the flow rate from BP’s out-of-control well yet again on Tuesday, declaring that as much as 60,000 barrels a day could be flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. That is roughly 2.5 million gallons a day, and it means an amount equal to the Exxon Valdez spill could be gushing from the well about every four days.

The new estimate, that the flow rate ranges from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day, is a sharp increase from one issued only last week, of 25,000 to 30,000 barrels a day. It continues a pattern in which every new estimate of the flow rate has been sharply higher than the one before. The current range is far above the figure of 5,000 barrels a day that the government clung to for weeks after the spill started after the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.

The latest estimate is based on new information, including high-resolution video made after BP cut an underwater pipe called a riser on June 3 to install a new device to contain the oil. It is also based on pressure readings taken by a device that was inserted this week into the equipment at the sea floor. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, was personally involved in using those pressure readings to help make the latest estimate.

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June 11, 2010

Latest satellite image of Deepwater Horizon spill

I’ll just let NASA’s image and caption do the work in illuminating BP’s ecological disaster:

NASA Visible Image of Gulf Oil Slick-June 10

Caption: NASA’s Aqua satellite flew over the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, June 10 at 19:05 UTC (3:05 p.m. EDT) and the satellite’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument captured an image of the thickest part of the oil slick. In the image, the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico is positioned in sunglint. In the sunglint region—where the mirror-like reflection of the Sun gets blurred into a wide, bright silvery-gray strip—differences in the texture of the water surface may be enhanced. In the thickest part of the slick, oil smooths the water, making it a better “mirror.” Areas where thick oil cover the water are nearly white in this image. Additional oil may also be present.

Credit: NASA MODIS Rapid Response Team/ Holli Riebeek

Usage Restrictions: None

Related news release: NASA’s Aqua Satellite Saw Oil Slick in Sunglint on June 10

June 8, 2010

Anger and ideas for Deepwater Horizon spill

British Petroleum is about to get nailed six ways to Monday by what is safe to assume to be a multi-agency federal offensive. BP is taking a well-deserved public relations hit, and the Obama administration is taking it on the chin as well, because fair, or not, that’s the way these things play out politically.

This quote from the president should have BP quaking:

President Barack Obama said he wanted to know “whose ass to kick” over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, adding to the pressure on energy giant BP Plc as it sought to capture more of the leak from its gushing well.

In an interview with NBC News’ “Today” aired on Tuesday, Obama also said that if BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward worked for him, he would have fired him by now over his response to the 50-day-old spill, the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. It was triggered by an April 20 well blowout and rig explosion that killed 11 workers.

BP can’t say they aren’t being offered any solutions, but to be fair there’s no way to reasonably vet even a fraction of these 35,000-and-counting ideas for even a modicum of feasibility.

From the link in the previous graf:

BP has received almost 35,000 ideas in just over a month on how best to clean up the millions of gallons of oil from the biggest spill in U.S. history. So far, only four have made it into testing.

And:

If the ideas—which range from soaking up oil with human hair to enlisting oil-eating microbes—are seen as practical and don’t overlap with proposals already being explored, they’re sent to smaller teams of engineers to see if they can be applied, MacEwen said. About 800 proposals have made it to this stage, with just one-half of 1 percent of those in testing, he said. Most are duplicative or infeasible, MacEwen said.

May 27, 2010

Deepwater Horizon clearinghouse

If you’re looking for information on what is an absolute Gulf of Mexico ecological disaster from BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore oil well, hit this link for very thorough coverage from a news source with something of a dog in this fight — the Houston Chronicle.

May 10, 2010

Deepwater Horizon blowout caused by methane bubble

Doesn’t mitigate the extent of this disaster, but it is good to at least have an idea about what caused the blowout in the first place.

From the link:

The deadly blowout of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico was triggered by a bubble of methane gas that escaped from the well and shot up the drill column, expanding quickly as it burst through several seals and barriers before exploding, according to interviews with rig workers conducted during BP’s internal investigation.

While the cause of the explosion is still under investigation, the sequence of events described in the interviews provides the most detailed account of the April 20 blast that killed 11 workers and touched off the underwater gusher that has poured more than 3 million gallons of crude into the Gulf.

Also from the link, sounds like a very frightening few moments on the rig:

As the bubble rose up the drill column from the high-pressure environs of the deep to the less pressurized shallows, it intensified and grew, breaking through various safety barriers, Bea said.

“A small bubble becomes a really big bubble,” Bea said. “So the expanding bubble becomes like a cannon shooting the gas into your face.”

Up on the rig, the first thing workers noticed was the sea water in the drill column suddenly shooting back at them, rocketing 240 feet in the air, he said. Then, gas surfaced. Then oil.

“What we had learned when I worked as a drill rig laborer was swoosh, boom, run,” Bea said. “The swoosh is the gas, boom is the explosion and run is what you better be doing.”

The gas flooded into an adjoining room with exposed ignition sources, he said.

“That’s where the first explosion happened,” said Bea, who worked for Shell Oil in the 1960s during the last big northern  oil well blowout. “The mud room was next to the quarters where the party was. Then there was a series of explosions that subsequently ignited the oil that was coming from below.

May 4, 2010

Deepwater Horizons’ troubles were predicted

Not the blowout itself — those just happen to oil rigs and can’t be avoided — but the failure of the blowout preventer (BOP). BOPs are the primary, and clearly just about the only, defense the oil and gas industry has against blowouts in deepwater wells.

From the link:

While the Deepwater Horizon leaks’ depth is unprecedented, it was not unanticipated. A report by engineering consulting firm URS Corp. in 2002 concluded that “Technologies used in shallow waters are no longer adequate for water depths over 1,000 meters. As a result, the environmental consequences of some of the newer deepwater technologies are not well understood.”

In 2005 petroleum engineering researchers from Texas A&M University suggested that drilling in the “dangerous and unknown” ultra-deep environment required new blowout control measures: “While drilling as a whole may be advancing to keep up with these environments, some parts lag behind. An area that has seen this stagnation and resulting call for change has been blowout control.”

An analysis of incidents in the Gulf of Mexico by the Texas A&M researchers showed that offshore blowouts had continued at “a fairly stable rate” since 1960 despite the use of BOPs. Regulators require inspection of BOPs every 14 days. BP says it inspected the Deepwater Horizon’s 10 days before last month’s blowout.

Hit this link for satellite images of the slick from April 29, 2010.

Here is leaked oil heading toward the coastline of Louisiana:

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=deepwater+horizon&iid=8667038″ src=”6/c/1/c/Massive_Oil_Slick_f0cd.jpg?adImageId=12748687&imageId=8667038″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /]

May 1, 2010

Two recent images of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Very frightening. I feel for the folks in New Orleans (one of my favorite cities). From what I’ve read the air is already becoming too noxious to comfortably breathe and it’s only going to get worse over the next month (the current estimate to stop the flow of petroleum into the Gulf.)

satellite image of gulf oil spill

satellite image of gulf oil spill

Also from the link:

On April 29, the MODIS image on the Terra satellite captured a wide-view natural-color image of the oil slick (outlined in white) just off the Louisiana coast. The oil slick appears as dull gray interlocking comma shapes, one opaque and the other nearly transparent. Sunglint — the mirror-like reflection of the sun off the water — enhances the oil slick’s visibility. The northwestern tip of the oil slick almost touches the Mississippi Delta. Credit: NASA/Earth Observatory/Jesse Allen, using data provided courtesy of the University of Wisconsin’s Space Science and Engineering Center MODIS Direct Broadcast system.

Be sure to hit the link for larger version of these satellite images and for more information.