Saturday, July 3, 2010

Danger Lurks In The Deep Water - 3

In this series we have been discussing the hydrate-caused mine field conditions on the seabed and the loop current in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM).

In the first post we noted that Atwater Valley, located in the Eastern Gulf in the middle of the geologic feature called the Mississippi Canyon, had a strong "loop current" in 2002-2004 when exploration was done.

When the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred the government informed us that the loop current was a hundred or so miles further south, and therefore conveniently away from the Deepwater Horizon oil gushing into the gulf.

That is suspicious because the Deepwater Horizon site is near "latitude 28° N and longitude 88° W", which means Atwater Valley and Deepwater Horizon are in the same Mississippi Canyon, and at about the same latitude north, with Deepwater Horizon being about 50 miles east of the Atwater Valley drill site where the loop current was "strong".

An article in Wikipedia indicates that there have been various theories about an eddy or two that spin off the loop current, extending it randomly and/or cyclically over the years.

That article focuses on surface matters, however, the study we cited to discussed strong currents near the seabed.

If the loop current is still where it was in 2002-2004 it is most likely that the oil and hydrates have been taken into the current, which means that dispersant chemicals, oil, and methane have been carried by the loop current down around the southern tip of Florida and into the Atlantic, probably from close to day one.

If so, these toxins being identified by scientists, will already be present to some degree in the Gulf Stream that flows North-east toward Europe, that is, much earlier than indicated by the federal government so far.

Notice how strong the currents are as far north as the Deepwater Horizon latitude:
Weather was generally excellent, with only one minor squall during the 35-day JIP cruise. The main problem was currents in the Atwater Valley location, which ran consistently 2-3 knots at the surface with subsurface effects felt down to about 1000 feet. The ship had no working current meter, and the strong loop current created problems for the Uncle John in holding position, causing thruster loads frequently above critical redundancy levels. Subsurface currents caused the drill pipe to drift at an angle beneath the vessel and created difficulties in tripping the pipe. A total of nine hours of downtime were attributed to problems created by currents.
(Cruise Report, p. 11 (p. 4 PDF), emphasis added). To those in Florida who want to test my theory: don't look for tar-balls, don't wait for tar-balls, that is a canard.

Instead, take samples like the University of Georgia folk do, be scientific, because the toxins are moving by you Florida, and are in the Gulf Stream now, under the surface.

The reason good samples have to be taken is that 27,000 abandoned oil wells in the GOM are not tested for leaks, so to identify a particular well the "DNA" of that particular oil well needs to be considered.


  1. All of which is no doubt why BP is working over time to restrict scientific access to the spill site. The good thing for BP is that if the loop current is moving this stuff out of the area as you speculate, it's also diffusing it as it does so and making its attribution to the Deepwater Horizon spill at least somewhat more difficult fom a legal standpoint. At this point, BP's two primary weapons are time and obfuscation. Time to let the furor surrounding the incident die down (notice how much it already has), and obfuscation to cast doubt on any would-be theorists who try to link any specific environmental effects back this particular spill.

    They've also got the fact that they're an oil company, producing the single most vital commodity for an oil-addicted world economy - which, amazingly, even results in surprising amounts of good will in the areas most affected by the spill - and the fact that they're a vital cog in Great Britain's pension machinery - virtually the US's only remaining and vital ally in it's imperial wars for resource acquisition and economic domination.

    It doesn't hurt that big oil's got virtually the entire GOP in their pocket and more than likely most of the Dems as well. We'll see how the victim compensation fund goes, but I think any reasonable observer knows that the liklihood that anyone will ever even be able to quantify the damage done to the Gulf Coast in terms of dollars (which are depreciating in value over time as well) is almost nil, never mind that the victims or the situation will actually be "made right," as BP claims, or "made even better than before," as Obama even more stupidly added.

    I imagine the longer term effects of this spill will be to merely redouble our exploration efforts in areas other than the deepwater for a while (ANWR anyone?), but eventually we'll be right back where we started after suitable assurances of enhanced regulation (Sarbanes-Oxley anyone?) have been issued. Given current energy policies and technologies, there's really no other choices available. Simply too many people and too great of a commitment to an auto/truck/airplane culture to feed and otherwise keep them occupied.

  2. Floridians,

    Get out there and check:

    1) methane levels in the water passing by (the Deepwater Horizon Juice is 40% methane)

    2) check oxygen levels (methane deminishes oxygen)

    3) check for dispersants (various chemicals)

    4) check for the oil DNA developed by UGA

    5) compare all that to your historical levels

    The tar-balls will show up long after the other stuff.

  3. disaffected,

    I was talking to a young lawyer once who was preparing for a trial.

    He was giving me all the intellectual stuff he was going to present to a jury about proof of damages.

    I explained to him that someday he would realize that lawyers do not present proof, they can only present evidence.

    There is a vast difference.

    Only a jury can produce proof, the lawyer who does not understand that lives "an interesting life" as the Chinese are wont to say.

  4. Actually, a jury can only produce a decision, which may or may not be overridden on appeal. The actual "proof" either way may never be arrived at, and is always subject to further evidentiary review in any case.

    Regardless, complex cases like this against corporate entities are notoriously hard to win given that the defendant has deep pockets, lots of time, lots of other "expert" resources within the industry, and numerous powerful political allies.

    In the end, the final decisions on this whole sordid affair will almost assuredly be political, and given that Obama's and the Dem's political goose is almost permanently cooked now, it's not hard to predict how all of this will eventually turn out.

    Regardless of long term economic and environmental outcomes, after a few short years any remaining complainants on the Gulf coast will be painted as "wellfare queens," and given the cold shoulder. Besides, in that time we could well have one or more disasters of a similar or entirely different nature of even greater magnitude, given our recent track record. Or, dare I say it, a nuclear showdown in IraqIranistan over what else, access to more oil, of the "easily" (at least when you fail to consider the geopolitical consequences) accessible kind.

    The Gulf spill is damn sure a tragedy of epic and unfolding proportions; but it wasn't the first of its class (at least so far), and failing a major reformation of our way of thinking regarding the environmental consequences of deepwater and other extreme environment exploration, it surely won't be the last.

  5. disaffected,

    "Actually, a jury can only produce a decision" ... actually it is a verdict, a court does a finding of facts and conclusions of law.

    Well that is the proof after all, the lawyer who believes obsessively in his or her "proof" is going to learn the hard way because it makes one let down, not realizing the belief they have the power of proof is an illusion. Only the jury has that power.

    Not a good idea to be dogmatic, emphatic, or absolutely sure of a case before a jury is the point, because they commonly prove lawyers like that wrong.

    The jury in the Exxon Valdez case gave "the little people" a 5 billion dollar verdict, surprising even Exxon's lawyers, who then had to slither over to judges for relief from the "bad jury".

    The jury was right, the judges were corrupt.

  6. It is probably not a good idea to tell a jury "it doesn't matter anyway cause in the end we all die" ...

    The oil companies are definitely welfare queens when it comes to taking but not giving back.

    Their "subsidies" (welfare) attitude is gross.

    I would not expect any jury to feel sorry for them, even if Joe Barton testifies and apologizes to them on the witness stand, or John Boehner does the same and cries.

  7. Dredd,

    Point taken, but whether you call it a decision, a verdict, or an opinion, it's just another "version" of the "truth."

    The point is, there is no real "proof" in any of this unless a consensus of humans observing the "facts" agrees there is. Further, that consensus will ALWAYS come down to a panel of politically appointed judges in any case worth arguing, which will almost always come to the same decisions regarding the "facts."

    Do you not get that - defining the very "facts" of the situation in the first place - is what big oil and big business is, and has ALWAYS, capitalized on?

    This is pretty basic stuff.

  8. Yep, and it only took them 30+ years (the $30M verdict) to do it. Thanks for making my point.

    Environmental/community impact in the meantime; DEVASTATING!

    Pardon me for asking; are you guys even for real? Dredd, you really have taken a utopian turn of late that's not at all realistic IMO. I'm at quite a loss to understand or explain any of it. Might be just me, but I don't think so.

    I'm no less inclined to blame our current problems on the usual suspects than you are, but, seemingly, I alone am willing to expand the search beyond the usual rogues' gallery. As well we all should IMO.

    Me thinks you all suffer from a failure of incrimination/imagination.

    But that's just me. And I could be wrong.


  9. Disaffected,

    The context here is oil spills and what juries think about them, and how to wisely think about proof in a case.

    Do you tell them what to decide or ask them? (If you haven't been there it probably won't register.)

    Exxon paid out $300,000,000 in claims to Alaskan residents who live near Valdez before it ever came to court, plus they paid $5,000,000,000 in clean-up costs before the trial.

    In addition to that, after the trial the jury gave "$5.3 billion in punitive damages" and "$287 million in compensatory damages" ... the proof of the case.

    So, $587,000,000 + $5,300,000,000 = $5,887,000,000, divided by 33,000 plaintiffs, means each plaintiff received $178,394 plus costs and attorney fees.

    That is why a jury is a better place for relief than a judge in an oil spill case.

    On the 4th of July it would be good to revisit the history and reason for juries, and remember how much worse it was before juries were a right.

    "Dredd, you really have taken a utopian turn of late that's not at all realistic IMO" ...

    My take is hardly a utopian viewpoint, it is an American viewpoint, hammered out by our forefathers and foremothers who suffered at the hands of tyrants.

    And it is a sane viewpoint, not a utopian viewpoint.

    In my estimation, since money is not worth as much now as it was then, the awards per plaintiff will be much greater in compensatory damage matched with an equal amount in punitive damages.

    The big difference in the cases is the foreseeability and personal involvement by BP executives, whereas in the Exxon case it was a drunk skipper who caused the problem (not Exxon officials personally).

  10. The 7th Amendment ("no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States") was violated in the Exxon case by the judges on appeal.

    Why blame the jury for what the judges did?

    It is not utopian to NOT throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  11. Q.----What effect does detonation of a device have upon thousands of years accumulation of clathrates?

    A.----Hundreds of thousands extra casualties and a sub that looks it smacked into a mountain at high speed!