UPDATED = Remember all that spilled oil after Katrina

201005250858.jpg Cox Bay spill from NOAA

It is so very easy to get apocalyptic about what is happening in the Gulf. And there definitely are some very important things we should change in our drilling process.

But ecosystems have a tremendous ability to adapt and survive. Hurricane Katrina caused 113 oil platforms to be completely destroyed, resulting in 124 offshore spills. The largest single spill, at Cox Bay, disgorged 3.7 million gallons of oil.

Pictures of the oil slicks from Katrina look eerily similar to what we see today. Yet the Gulf survived.

The Ixtoc spill in 1979 leaked oil for about 9 months, spilling an estimated 10 thousand or more barrels a day into the Gulf. Over 3 million barrels of oil were released. Yet the Gulf continued to survive.

Look at the area around Mount St. Helens, where entire ecosystems exist where only total destruction once stood.

Life will do fine. The major effects will be on us and on what we decide to do. There will be huge amounts of harm to human endeavors, jobs and economies. There will be trillions of dollars spent that did not have to. The social effects will not recover as easily as life does. We need to make some hard decisions.

This is not meant to be an apologia for BP. They need to have the book thrown at them. We need to recognize that Deep Sea drilling is as fraught with engineering perils as the Space shuttle is. We operate very close the the limits of our abilities in these areas but have apparently gotten too lax in our oversight.

This is not an area to cut corners, yet that appears to be exactly what happened. I have read that in Canada, a relied well is dug in parallel with the main well, so that it can very quickly be brought to bear in case of a blowout. If true, that demonstrates a much more realistic attitude towards the hazards of these engineering endeavors than the ad-speak we hear of “no one could have foreseen this happening.”

Of course, these things make the up front costs higher but is very much a case of pay me now or pay me later. We are definitely paying later.

Perhaps forcing more of the costs up front will make it much less likely that we have something like this happen again.

[Update – Found the article which mentioned how Canada and other countries drill relief wells at the same time in order to deal with blowouts. In fact, oil companies were trying to get that requirement removed saying that current technologies made blowouts a thing of the past. Guess they are not so sure about things now.]]