A big pool of crude oil sits on the water just south and east of the mouth of the Mississippi River. Right now, it isn’t doing much. The fear of course is that the oil will wash ashore along the Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida gulf coasts, causing environmental damage, killing wildlife and ruining the economies of the coastal cities that depend on tourism. But this has not happened…yet.
People along the gulf coast got into a big panic at first, envisioning another Exxon Valdez-type of mess. We cannot blame them for that, considering the situation, which is most assuredly as bad as it gets. And it may happen – oil fouling our beaches. But so far it has not. And even if it does, it won’t be the goopy, thick, black crude that the Valdez was carrying. What will wash ashore here will likely be much thinner, more of a sheen in most places. A sheen that keeps coming and coming and coming. Whether it will be easier more difficult to clean up is open for debate.
This is surely a worst-case scenario for offshore drilling. In the future, whenever opponents to offshore oil exploration want to make their case, they will bring up the Deepwater Horizon accident of 2010. Oil proponents will squirm and shuffle their feet. There won’t be much they can say except that, “…Such events are very, very rare.” Yes, rare. Until they happen. Which they do. The names “Deepwater Horizon” and “Exxon Valdez” will both go down in history with similar significance.
Some people wonder why BP or even our own government isn’t doing “more” to stop the leak. Ahh, and that’s the problem: There really, truly is no quick or easy way to fix this. In fact, BP itself has admitted that they never really planned for such an event because the chances of it happening were (see above) extremely remote and it was assumed that the blowout preventers would work. So basically there was no contingency plan for a spill of this magnitude.
Interestingly, BP is piping down dispersant material to the surface, trying to reach the oil at the source as it comes out of the ground and breaking it up before it reaches the surfce. Reports seem to indicate that this is working to an extent, which is good news if true. They are also constructing a huge collection dome which will be positioned over the leaking wells and – hopefully – allow them to suck the oil up to awaiting tankers on the surface.
BP says that there are at least three sources of oil leaks, alluding perhaps to the fact that they had already drilled two wells and were working on a third when the blowout happened. But one wonders: There was at least 5,000 feet of pipe going from the rig down to the well they were working on. When the rig sank, this 5,000 feet of “tubing” (which is what they call it) is surely crumpled and mangled around the wellheads. I have not seen any clear footage from the bottom, but I wonder if this huge dome structure they’re building will even have a clear shot at covering the leaking wells? BP seems to think so or they wouldn’t even be attempting this. So we’ll see. And we wish them luck.
The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration (NOAA) has predicted that the oil slick could flow with certain currents that could take it down through the Florida Keys and out into the Atlantic. Below is a graphic that shows the current flow in the Gulf of Mexico. Needless to say, this has the entire state of Florida in the gulf coast panic-mode.
You can see the loops and eddies, which may influence the direction the oil will go more than the wind might. As of today, it appears that the main portion of the slick is drifting slightly westward, toward the marshy coastline of Louisiana south of New Orleans. But nobody can be sure of what is going to happen.
The oil is going to go somewhere, eventually. It will not just disappear.
However, every day, the oil on the surface disperses naturally through wave action and evaporation. Microbes in the water will even eat some of it. Unfortunately, every day more crude oil is added to the mix. So we all hold our breath, and watch and wait to see what the spill is going to do.