What started on April 20th, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico has since raged continuously onward for two months, without a clear end in sight. Mounting costs could lead one to speculate at a light at the end of the tunnel, but an examination of the evidence points toward a gloomy, slow, and expensive recovery which may resonate far into the future.
Forecasters quickly scrambled to make projected cost estimates immediately following the incident, ranging into the hundreds of millions of dollars. As evidence surfaced, however, a time line using official statements released by Bank of America illustrates how new data has sent costs sky-rocketing.
• April 30: “If we assume the clean-up takes 6 months and include relief well costs, total costs would be in the US $2 billion range.”
• May 28: “We note this new information makes no difference to our worst case liability estimate of US $10 [billion].” (After USGS updated flow rate of spill)
• June 17: “Given the uncertainties presented by the spill, our base case cost estimated is $28 [billion], but the worst case scenario cannot be quantified.”
The picture below was taken June 12th, showing the affected regions, and the following picture is the same region a week later. The oil can be identified as silvery ribbons in the water, which has been drifted northeast of the leak zone.
Other forecasters followed similar patterns of increasing estimates as the attempts to stop the flow failed repeatedly, as new data came to light. Raymond James’s estimation of solely legal costs in comparison to Exxon Valdez, a week later, was “a grand total of $62.9 billion”. By May 27th, government estimates showed that indeed this disaster had surpassed all others as the worst oil spill in US history.
The multi-national oil powerhouse has been implementing different countermeasures for gathering, destroying, and blocking the crude spew. The first attempt was made using underwater robotic submarines to “switch-off” a preventer valve. On May 2nd, BP began drilling the first relief well a half-mile away from the leak site to intercept the flow 16,000 feet beneath the ocean floor. On May 5th, BP planned to lower a cofferdam over the leak to capture the flow, however hydrate, crystals halted the attempt and made it ineffective. On May 16th, a riser insertion tube tool was inserted and successfully began siphoning away approximately 2,000 barrels a day. Drilling of a second relief well followed the next day. After 3 days of pumping heavy mud into the well, an approach known as “top kill”, BP admitted defeat in plugging the leaks on May 29th. On June 1st, a new method known as the ‘cut and cap’ procedure was deployed to sever the pipe and place a siphoning tube over the new opening. By June 3rd the lower marine riser package (LMRP) was installed and effectively collecting portions of the leak. Tragically, on June 16th, Dr Steven Wereley of the University of Purdue and an expert in fluid flow research, testified to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee that the total volume of the two leaks is 95,000 barrels a day with a 20% margin of error.
With this update, BP still has yet to reach the precipice of the effects of this catastrophe. That glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel is two relief wells, the first due to be finished in August. Upon reaching the climactic moment of fully containing the problem, hopefully we will remain vigilant in seeing this disaster to its end and restoring the beautiful region it is polluting.