Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Tales from the Gulf oil leak

USGS Director Marcia McNutt gave her first public talk on the Deepwater Horizon - Gulf oil leak last night, and talked frankly about some some of the politics and controversial decisions. She may be the first senior official other than Adm. Thad Allen to speak publicly since the leak was halted.

She spoke at the monthly dinner meeting of the Arizona Geological Society last night in Tucson.

She described how local politicians were publicly berating federal officials for not immediately approving their demands for sand berms on barrier islands. The USGS had warned that the berms were too far from shore, and the sand source would create new problems, among other problems.

Objections were ignored, the predicted problems occurred, and now some of those same politicians are screaming that the feds are to blame. [update, 9-9-10, 11:45: author Michael Welland who blogs at "Through the Sandglass" offers a pretty stinging review of the sand berm controversy in Louisiana in a new post.]

A second story that caught my attention was when the final cap was placed over the well and the leak appeared to be stopped. But the pressure readings caused some to worry that oil was leaking below the sea bed with the potential to rupture through the surrounding sediments. One group wanted to remove the cap to prevent a possible catastrophic subsurface blowout to occur, but allowing the oil to resume leaking. Others argued the pressure gradients showed the system as stable.

The pressure charts were apparently confidential but USGS petrophysicist took a picture of one with his cell phone and emailed it to USGS geologist Paul Hseih in Menlo Park who worked through the night analyzing the data. By morning he concluded the well was intact. His interpretation carried the day and the cap was left in place.

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